It was a beautiful day in the northern reaches of Equestria. The rolling hills and grassy plains were, under the bright yellow sun, truly a sight to behold. Going straight through the middle of this lovely countryside was a single long train track, and upon it, a brightly coloured train. It was moving along at a good pace and heading towards a place that, until a year ago, was nothing more than a frozen wasteland. Within the train were a multitude of ponies, earth, pegasi and unicorn alike, from many different villages and towns to the south, all travelling together towards the northern Crystal Empire.
But among them was a particularly special group of ponies, and one young dragon. In a car towards the back of the train, a close collection of friends were all sitting in their seats, admiring the view. Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Applejack and Spike were all doing their best to enjoy the train ride, which was usually something they looked forward to. But not today. Because today, they dared not enjoy themselves, at least not in present company. For right at the back of the car was a lone purple-coloured mare. Twilight Sparkle.
She was sitting alone, staring out of the window with a look on her face that made it clear that she wasn't happy. Her friends would glance back at her from time-to-time during this trip, but never so overtly that she knew they were doing so. Twilight's life had, very recently, taken a rather bad turn, as evidenced by all when they looked at her. A mere fortnight ago, she was as she'd always been, a unicorn, and one of great talent at that. But now, by the actions of one she'd held dear, she'd been changed. For there, upon her back, were the wings of an alicorn.
Princess Celestia had changed her after Twilight had managed to help her friends from having their destinies changed forever. Doing so had allowed her to create some new magic, and in doing so, she'd ascended to the role of alicorn and princess. But what Celestia, or indeed anypony, could not have foreseen was that this was not something Twilight wanted. She'd felt betrayed by the whole thing, to the point where she'd outright rejected Celestia and ran away from her, something nopony would ever think she'd do before her great change.
Even now, it was clear that she still felt bad over what had happened to her. Although her friends didn't like to look at it, they found they had little choice. Twilight's new wings were bound to the side of her body by a long strand of black fabric, almost like a belt. When she first got those wings, she had a hard time getting them under control. They'd move about in an unwanted fashion, so much so that she eventually got frustrated enough to simply bind them completely, preventing any form of movement. But in truth, Twilight was angry that she had these wings at all, so this was probably something she would have eventually done to herself anyway.
Although none of her friends were happy about seeing her like this, Rainbow in particular didn't like it, as it reminded her of a couple of times when her own wings were bound, most notably during a race against Applejack. Although a part of her felt she was wrong to deny this part of her, she was a loyal enough friend to know that that would have been the worst thing she could say to her right now. None of her friends were happy about what Twilight had gone through. The sense of betrayal, feeling like her whole future had been changed, none of it. But right now, none of them knew how to cheer her up, even after two weeks had passed.
And so the train trip went by with an air of discomfort hanging over the seven friends. This lasted until the train made it's final stop. The group looked at each other before turning to Twilight. The young mare was still staring out of the window for a few moments before getting out of her seat. The others waited until she passed by before following. The group made their way off the train and, as the train began to move off again, looked up at the magnificent sight before therm. The Crystal Empire, just as spectacular as they day they'd first laid eyes on it.
The six mares and Spike walked along the now-familiar path leading through the main part of the city. But while before they would have been able to travel through this place without much notice, today, things were different. Mares and stallions alike all gave shocked glances at the group. Everypony knew why. As far as the general public were concerned, there were only three alicorns in the entire world, Celestia, Luna and Cadence. now, all of a sudden, here was a fourth one walking down the street.
The group, seeing this, moved closer to Twilight and surrounded her as they walked, in an attempt to shield her from the prying eyes of the other ponies. But it was clear from the way Twilight hung her head that this was only making her feel worse about all this. However, they soon reached their destination, the crystal palace. Beautiful, even compared to the rest of the empire. A tall spire of glittering blue crystal, and at it's base, the glowing form of the crystal heart, ever ready to protect the empire should the need arise.
As they approached the main gates of the palace, the massive doors opened and the group stopped. From within emerged two figures, the sight of whom brought a much-needed smile to Twilight's face. Shining Armour and Princess Cadence. Twilight moved past her friends, who were pleased to see her happy about something at last, and towards her relatives, who in turn approached her with smiles. Once together, Twilight and Shining Embraced each other in a hug. While it had not been long since they last saw each other, much had happened since their last visit.
"Hey Twily." He said affectionately.
In spite of everything, Twilight chuckled, her old nickname bringing many happy memories of the two of them growing up together.
"I'm happy to see you, BBBFF."
The two parted from each other and Twilight turned her attention to her sister-in-law, Cadence, who also embraced her in greeting. Their hug wasn't as long as that with her brother, and they too parted from each other. Still smiling, Twilight spoke, though in a quiet and less energized tone than one might expect of her.
"I'm truly glad to see both of you."
The married couple glanced at each other before Shining spoke up.
"To be honest sis, I'm surprised you agreed to come."
Twilight nodded at that. In truth, she was indeed hesitant to accept his invitation. For the next few days were the annual princess summit of Equestria. And even though Twilight had rejected the role, she'd come simply because her friends and family had urged her that it might be good for her to get away from Ponyville for a little while. Still ,the presence of the summit made Twilight all too aware of who else would be here, and that was not something she revelled in.
"I thought coming here would be good for me. We haven't seen enough of each other in the last year. You or Cadence. I'm keep to catch up."
Shining nodded at that, but his expression became somewhat less happy, as did that of Cadence. From their eyes, it was evident to Twilight that they were both looking at the bindings on her wings, which made her uncomfortable. She knew that neither of them would have wanted to see her unhappy, or doing things like this to herself, but that was simply the way things were. Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when she began to see another figure emerge from the main gates of the palace.
Twilight's eyes narrowed somewhat as she saw that it was none other than Princess Celestia herself. Seeing the look on Twilight's face, Shining and Cadence turned to see the elder princess approach. Everypony there sudden felt an air of unease, as this was the first time Twilight and Celestia had been in each other's company since the former's change. Celestia stopped just a few feet away from Twilight, and the two stared at each other for some time. In days gone by, Twilight would have been thrilled to see her mentor, but not today. Today, her face was drained of all the joy that would have normally been there when she was with Celestia. Instead of greeting her enthusiastically, Twilight simply bowed to her in a formal manner.
"Greetings Princess. I trust the day treats you well?"
Everypony there was taken aback by that. Twilight's voice was devoid of all warmth. Never once had she ever spoken to Celestia like that, as the princess herself knew all too well. To see her student, one who had come to mean so much to her, speak to her in such an empty manner, it was almost enough to break her heart. It was proof, if ever such a thing was needed, that Twilight was still angry at her for what she had done. Still, a greeting, however empty, had been given, and Celestia nodded her head at the young alicorn.
"And to you, Miss Sparkle".
Twilight got up from her bowing position and turned her gaze away from Celestia, turning it instead towards her brother.
"Would it be alright if I got settled in my room?" She asked.
Shining glanced quickly at the sun princess before sighing and nodding his head towards his sister. Twilight then walked past him, not even bothering to glance up at Celestia as she passed her, and made her way inside the palace. This display, this utter lack of affection she'd shown, stunned her friends and family, but they'd have been lying if they didn't understand why she was behaving this way. She wasn't going out of her way to be harsh or angry towards Celestia, nor was she the kind of pony who'd want to appear this way, but this sadness that had taken root in her was, as all could see, changing her. All of them looked at each other, hoping that one of them would say something that they could do to make this situation more bearable.
Eventually, after a lengthy silence, it was Cadence who finally spoke.
"I'll talk to her."
The group looked at her, and Shining placed a hoof upon his shoulder's wife.
"No. I should be the one to do it."
Cadence smiled lovingly at her husband and placed her hoof upon his, before shaking her head.
"No, my love. Trust me on this. This will need more than a big brother's comfort."
Shining looked at his wife, unsure about all this, before nodding. Cadence looked at the rest of the group, who were all giving her encouraging looks, before turning her sight towards Celestia. The look on the princess' face made it all too clear that she was hurting. Twilight practically meant the world to her, and to see the young mare turn away from her, and in such anger, much have been difficult for her. Cadence knew what she had to do. And she hoped with all her heart that it would work.
Twilight very carefully, by way of her magic, lifted her things out of her travel pack. She was in her usual room in the palace, on he eastern side so she could get a good view of the rising sun. She was busying herself with unpacking her things, trying her best to keep her mind occupied, as she often would during unhappy times. Once all of her things were removed, she was at a loss over what to do next. After the way she acted at the gates, she knew it wouldn't be proper to go anywhere in the palace that Celestia was likely to go. And, even though her friends would no doubt want to cheer her up, she really didn't feel like socialising right now.
Then, she caught a glimmer in the corner of her eye. Turning, she was that it was a nearby vanity mirror, located next to her bed. For a moment, she hesitated. Even after the last two weeks, she still couldn't get used to her new appearance, to the point where, back at ponyville, she'd actually taken to taking down all mirrors in her tree-house. She didn't want to do this, but some part of her urged her to do it. And so, ever so slowly, she walked over to the mirror.
She looked at her reflection and, sure enough, her eyes immediately darted to the two wings on the side of her body, still pinned there by the black fabric. A look of disdain grew on Twilight's face, as though those wings were an unwelcome guest, or some unsightly blemish. Hesitantly, her horn began to glow, and the fabric binding the wings was gently removed and placed on the side. Twilight had put no effort whatsoever into learning how to control these new appendages, but now, in this private moment, stretched them out, giving her a good look at them.
She stared at her reflection for several minutes, thinking of it as somepony else. Not her. Not who she wanted to be. Seeing those wings, stretched out, these things she'd never wanted but had been given without her consent, a sudden wave of all the sadness she'd tried to get away from came washing over her. Her eyes began to well up and, as the first tears started flowing down her cheeks, she sat down on the vanity's wooden chair, buried her face in her hooves and collapsed herself on it, her sobbing now the only sound that could be heard in her room.
Twilight would have probably gone on like this for a long time, if not for the sudden knocking at her door. Lifting her head up, Twilight raised a hoof to her eyes and wiped away her tears before turning around.
"Come in." She said, her voice still wobbling a little.
The door to her room opened slowly and on the other side, Twilight saw her sister-in-law, Cadence, begin to enter. The two alicorns smiled at each other as the elder entered, closing the door behind her.
"Cadence! Hello. Can I help you?" Twilight asked.
Cadence approached the younger alicorn, her smile mixed with a look of concern.
"Actually, I was wondering if I could help you."
Twilight's smile faded. This was it, she told herself. The intervention that she'd known for some time was coming. She'd suspected that one or more of her friends would try and help her through all this, perhaps trying to convince her that she should be happy about what had happened to her. To say that she wasn't in the mood for such a talk would have been a great understatement. Still, Twilight knew that neither Cadence nor her friends were responsible for her current form, so they deserved the courtesy of her at least appreciating their wanting to help.
"Thanks Cadence. But I really just want to be alone for the moment."
Cadence sighed before walking closer to the mare she'd spent so many days foal-sitting for all those years ago. Twilight though, still adamant about wanting to be left alone, turned away from her, her gaze now upon her new reflection. She saw Cadence approach her in the mirror, before the latter placed a hoof upon Twilight's shoulder.
"Twilight.......we need to talk about this."
It was at this moment that Twilight finally let loose. She spun around with a look of anger in her face, taking Cadence aback at the sight of her. The purple alicorn hopped off her chair and stood her ground, her tone of voice a mixture of both anger and devastation.
"Talk? About what? How Celestia tricked me for all those years? About how I've been changed without anypony ever asking me what I want? How I was supposed to be something I never wanted to be? How could we possibly talk about it? How could you possibly know how.......how much this HURTS me?!"
With every word Twilight spat out, more and more tears grew in her eyes, until, by the time she'd finished, her cheeks were utterly drenched. The young mare, her anger now exhausted, shut her eyes tight and simply cried whilst standing. Cadnece meanwhile, had simply stood there, taking in every accusation Twilight had thrown out. She'd simply listened, knowing full-well that Twilight wasn't really angry, not at her anyway. The elder alicorn approached her friend and embraced her in a hug. The princess gave Twilight all the time she needed to get this all out, because she knew that she wasn't going to be able to help her if anything was held back.
Eventually, Twilight had dried her eyes and, with her breathing still a little shaky, looking up at Cadence remorsefully.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to....."
But Cadence raised a hoof, stopping her from speaking.
"It's alright. I understand."
Twilight looked away from Cadence, but her attention was drawn back to her when the princess placed a hoof on her shoulder once more.
"Really, I do. Believe it or not, I was no less angry than you when this happened to me."
Twilight's expression changed immediately to one of both surprise and curiosity. It was a look that did not escape Cadence's notice.
"I never told you how I became an alicorn myself, did I?" She asked.
Twilight considered this for a moment before shaking her head. It seemed obvious now, but to her shame, it never once occurred to her to ask Cadence how she ended up like this. Back when she was Twilight's foal-sitter, an alicorn is all Twilight had ever known her to be. She'd never asked if she had ever been anything else. Realising this, Twilight now understood that Cadence was, perhaps, the only pony she could talk to who understood what she was going through. And so, she looked up at her old friend, her face bearing an expectant look that made it clear she was ready to hear what the princess had to say.
Cadence took a deep breath before speaking.
"When I was born, I was a pegasus. I never knew my mother, or my father, nor do I know the circumstances that led to me being found like I was."
Twilight's eyes widened with shock.
"You.......you were abandoned? As a baby?"
Cadence nodded, her expression one of thoughtfulness. Twilight couldn't quiet believe what she'd heard. The idea of a pony simply abandoning their child like that was anathema to her. She had no idea what could have possibly prompted Cadence's parents to do such a thing, or if it was even their choice. But for all the questions this raised, she knew the story was far from over, as evidenced when Cadence resumed speaking.
"I was found in the woods by a group of earth ponies. They took me back to their village, where they raised me as their own. I was happy there. I wanted for nothing and the ponies never treated me like an outsider. To my adopted parents, I WAS their daughter, regardless of my ancestry."
Cadence's face lit up with a smile, making it clear to Twilight that she was doubtless recalling the many happy memories from her childhood. Growing up and playing with the other earth pony children. Being raised by loving parents, adopted or otherwise. Cadence had truly been happy there if it caused her to grow nostalgic like this. But then, her expression became somewhat sour.
"Then, one day, something terrible began to happen in the village. A cruel pony, named Prismia, conjured a spell that stole love from others. She bore an amulet that amplified her own jealousy, as well as her natural evil traits."
Twilight's mind conjured up images of a certain show-pony who had once worn a similar amulet, corrupting her and what she was, harming those around her in the process. Still Twilight's mind soon snapped back to Cadence's story.
"When I confronted her, her amulet increased my own love, allowing me to undo her spell on the earth ponies. With her power broken, Prismia changed her ways. But that victory had also changed me. I was suddenly surrounded by a bright light, and taken to a strange place. There, I met, for the first time, Princess celestia."
Twilight's expression became one of discomfort. Cadence's story was becoming all too familiar to her. She too had been taken by a bright light to an unknown realm. And like her, Celestia had been waiting for Twilight also. The young alicorn didn't have to do much guesswork to understand what was coming next in Cadence's story.
"That meeting with the princess led to a great magic surrounding me, and when I woke, I was as you see now, an alicorn."
Twilight's guess had been right on the mark. It was just as it had been with her. The rest of Cadence's life, Twilight knew pretty well. She was officially adopted as Celestia's niece shortly after her transformation, and it was only a few years later that she first met Twilight and became her foal-sitter. But as much as she'd been enthralled by the princess' story, there was once concern on Twilight's mind. A concern she now wished to voice.
"And.......were you okay with it? Being an alicorn?"
Cadence's expression became more stern as she looked down at her sister-in-law. It was not a look that Twilight could ever remember Cadence having before, and it unnerved her.
"Actually, if I'm being honest, I was like you. I was angry. I had a happy life among the earth ponies, and would have been content to go back and live among them once Prismia was taken care of. Then, out of nowhere, Celestia, a complete stranger to me, takes me away from that life, changes what I was, who I was, and tells me I have a whole future now laid out for me that I never wanted or asked for."
Twilight almost regretted asking the question now. Clearly it had brought up bad memories for Cadence. Memories of her being in the exact same position Twilight was now in. If anything, this actually made the purple mare feel worse about this whole situation. Not only had Celestia changed her without her wanting it, but it wasn't even the first time she'd done so. Looking up at Cadence, she listened on as the latter kept speaking, her eyes now shut tight.
"I was angry at her for so long, more so when I found out there was no going back for me. Never to be a pegasus again. I wanted to hate her. To push her and everypony else away from me. But........"
Cadence's expression softened and she opened her eyes once more.
"........for one reason or another, I chose to stay, as her niece. And as the months passed, my anger faded, replaced with happiness over what had happened to me. And now, looking back over my life, I realise that my change truly gave me a better life than if I'd stayed a pegasus."
Twilight was rather taken aback by that. After all the negative feeling that Cadence had been showing over her transformation, she was shocked to hear her now speak so positively about it.
"By becoming an alicorn, I've been able to help so many ponies. And if it had not been for my change, I would never have met so many of my current friends. I would never have met you. And through you, I met Shining Armour, the stallion who became the love of my life."
Cadence's expression became one of joy, as a massive smile grew on her face.
"I was truly blessed for what Celestia gave me. And though my anger for her was great once, now there is only gratitude."
Twilight was speechless. Her mind struggled as hard as it could to grasp everything that had been said to her. She could not deny that Cadence had been given a great opportunity, to help many ponies throughout Equestria. She could also not deny that if she had never met Celestia, or be made into an alicorn, Twilight herself would never have met her. As much as it pained Twilight to admit, Cadence had a point. Celestia had indeed done something wonderful for her. And though she still rested having it happen to her, she had no doubt that Celestia had the same well meaning when she changed Twilight as she did when she changed Cadence.
But in spite of that, Twilight knew that she wasn't Cadence. What might have brought her sister-in-law happiness was not going to do the same for her. She had dreams of how her life would be. Dreams that would now never happen because of Celestia's secret plan for her. It was a betrayal of her trust, something that brought Twilight to a place of anger and bitterness once more. The young alicorn shut her eyes tight, and it didn't take long for Cadence to notice this and realise what was going on in her mind.
She placed her hoof under Twilight's chin and moved her face up so she was looking directly at her, Twilight's eyes now open once more.
"I know that with you things are different. You never wanted this, and I understand that. But even so, ask yourself this. Celestia has been a friend and mentor to you for as long as you can remember. She's practically become family to you. And knowing that, do you truly want her to be cut out of your life like this? Regardless of what she's done to you?"
Twilight considered that carefully. Although she was still hurt over Celestia's actions, she could not deny that Cadence was right. The thought of no longer having the princess in her life, no longer being friends with her and avoiding her at every turn over her sense of betrayal, was not a prospect that endeared itself to her. Realising this, The young mare, looked down at the floor and sighed deeply.
"Thank you Cadence." She said quietly.
The princess smile at Twilight and placed her hoof on her shoulder.
"Twilight......you know what you need to do now."
Twilight grimaced at that remark. She didn't want to admit it, and after everything that had happened, she knew it would be easy, but Cadence was right. There was something very important that she now needed to do. She looked up at her sister-in-law and gave her a smile, which was soon returned. She then made her way to the door of her room and, after looking back to see Cadence give her a look of encouragement, left her room and began walking down the hall.
As she stared at the large wooden door, Twilight couldn't help but feel a great many conflicting emotions over what she was about to do. Anger. Fear. Apprehension. Nervousness. Even a degree of shame. But she knew that, after what had just happened between her and Cadence, it would have been wrong for her not to do this. And so, taking a deep breath, she raised a hoof and knocked on the door. There was a few moments of silence until finally, a very familiar voice could be heard from the other side.
This is it, Twilight told herself, and she placed her hoof upon the door and pushed it. She entered the room within and looked at it with all the warmth that open might look upon an old home. This was the private chamber of Princess Celestia herself. It was not quite as grand as many of the other rooms of the crystal palace, but it was clear it was where somepony important would reside. Many of Celestia's things from her chambers had been brought here for her to enjoy during her time at the summit. Old book-cases, furniture, and many other things. Twilight had spent many days within Celestia's chambers back at Canterlot when she first became her student, learning magic and many other lessons. Seeing this room crafted in the image of that old one brought forth many happy memories for her.
But that warmth faded somewhat when her eyes fell upon Celestia herself, who was sitting in front of a roaring fire, upon a large purple cushion. The princess was staring at the flame, and had not yet turned to see who had entered her room. But as Twilight approached, Celestia turned, and her eyes widened when she finally realised who it was. The elder alicorn got up quickly, clearly shocked that her student would come to her like this. Truth be told, Twilight was also unsure of her place here.
There was an awkward silence between them. Both of them held the events of earlier today fresh in their minds. Both knew how badly the other was feeling, yet neither wanted to be the first to speak. After a lengthy, not to mention uncomfortable, silence, Celestia exhaled before opening her mouth to speak. But before she could do so, Twilight raised her hoof, stopping her. There was a time when it would have been unthinkable for Twilight to consider doing such a thing. But today, she knew what needed to be said.
"Princess........I understand why you did what you did. Ever since we first met, you believed that I had great potential. That I had a great destiny before me. And though you didn't tell me, your teachings were all to help me become a better person."
Celestia remained silent through her student's words, listening very carefully and not letting her face show what she was thinking.
"And though my anger over what you did was real.........I've had time to think. And I realise that, for good or bad, you did what you thought was best for me. Just as you've always done. And though I may have acted otherwise, I want you to know that I don't hate you. Not even a little."
Celestia's famous poker-face finally began to break, replaced by eyes beginning to well up. Twilight, upon seeing this, became somewhat tearful herself, and she spoke her next words with a slight wobble in her voice.
"I'm sorry for what I said to you. You gave me something special and I threw it back in your face. I'm........I'm sorry."
With those words, the two launched forward, embracing each other in a hug, finally allowing themselves to let out all of the regret and sorrow they'd built up but never wanted to show to each other. Celestia felt relief like she'd never felt before. For the last few weeks, she'd feared that Twilight, who had become like her own daughter, would turn away from her forever, which would have undoubtedly broken the sun princess' heart. But here she was, trying to make things better between them. Nothing in the whole world could have made Celestia happier.
After some time had passed, the two broke apart from each other.
"Twilight. I cannot tell you how happy I am that you still want me to be a part of your life. After what happened......I never thought you could ever forgive me for what I did."
Twilight's expression became somewhat stern after that, giving Celestia cause for concern.
"Please understand. Being a princess was never something I wanted. That hasn't changed. I still don't want anything to do with being a princess, regardless of whether or not I'm an alicorn for life now. An as for that..........I don't think I can ever forgive you for changing me."
For a brief moment, Celestia felt her heart sink. To know that there was still a part of Twilight which resented what she did was enough to almost wipe away the joy she'd felt mere moments ago. But that melancholy was itself lost when Twilight regained her smile.
"But I can forgive you for WHY you changed me. It was a great honour and........I just didn't realise it."
Celestia smiled again, content that her student did not want to completely exorcise Celestia from her life. The two eventually parted from each other's embrace and simply allowed themselves to enjoy this peaceful moment, something they'd both feared they could never enjoy again. Celestia looked over to her cushion and, using her head, gestured to it. Twilight got the message and the two moved over, sitting down next to the fire and enjoying being in each other's company, like they used to do when Twilight was younger. After some silence, Celestia spoke.
"I've been thinking about what you said, and I realise that you were right."
Twilight looked up at her mentor, a look of confusion on her face.
"I changed you without your knowledge because I thought it was what was best for you. But I never considered that you might have other goals in life. Other dreams. It never occurred to me to even ask. And for that I'm sorry."
Twilight said nothing, but smiled in appreciation. That was indeed how Twilight felt about the whole matter and she placed a hoof on Celestia's shoulder gently, letting her mentor know that she accepted her apology. Celestia smiled at that.
"If you do not wish to be a princess, then you have my blessing for that choice."
Twilight's smile grew further, appreciating that her mentor now understood her that much better. The two, now content with the understanding they now shared about each other, carried on smiling, knowing that, even after such dark times had occurred between them, they could now move forward, as though they were family once more. Twilight did not know how her life would be now that she was forever changed, nor did either of them know how Equestria would react to the idea of an alicorn that wasn't a princess. But to Twilight, those things didn't matter now. It had been a slow and painful recovery from the shock of her transformation, but she was ready to face the world again.
"Yeah." Twilight said. "Everything will be just fine".