By Chatoyance

Chapter Four: The Canterlot That Can't

"Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels."
- Foalcisco de Goya

Twilight Sparkle didn't have time to wait for the train. She needed to get to Canterlot immediately, or rather she needed to get to her mentor and friend Princess Celestia immediately, and the next train was more than an hour away. It would take all day to gallop to the castle, and it would take at least an hour to set up her balloon. Fortunately, she was a very talented unicorn.

Teleportation is a relatively high level skill, demanding intense study and massive ability. Most unicorns never learn it at all, concentrating only on spells and abilities useful to the focus of their interest, represented by their cutie marks. But Twilight Sparkle's cutie mark, her primary focus was magic itself, and from the youngest age she had demonstrated an uncanny, and sometimes terrifying facility for wielding it.

This was why, at a very young age, she was taken entirely from her parents and put in Celestia's care. It had been represented to her as a opportunity to learn magic at the highest level, and she had been overjoyed. But the fact of it was that there had been no other option. This had been made clear during her horrifying entrance exam for Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. She had lost control of her vast natural power and nearly destroyed Canterlot itself. If Celestia had not intervened, and bound Twilight's magic, the very structure of reality itself would have continued to unravel, spreading outward from the chaos and destruction she had already wrought on the exam hall - and everypony there. She had only found out later that she had unknowingly transformed her own parents into potted plants during her complete loss of control.

She had been a danger to herself and the very world, so Celestia had taken her under her wing, both literally and figuratively. While her life in Canterlot had been rich and splendid and ordered, she had missed out on having a proper foalhood entirely. She had been a loner even with her parents, always studying, an only foal that kept to her room and her books. At Canterlot, she was no more social, and Celestia permitted this, even encouraging her solitude, supposedly for the safety of others. It was only when she finally was sent to Ponyville that she first learned the value and worth of having friends. That lesson, that first taste of companionship and friendship was the very spark that had ignited the Elements Of Harmony. Had she been a social animal before that profound, life changing moment, eternal night might have been the fate of Equestria.

Celestia moves in mysterious ways. As was appropriate for a being more than two thousand years old, at minimum. Celestia had spoken of the thousand-year reign of Discord, under which she and her sister suffered so. A thousand years of Discord, a thousand more caring for the world with her sister in exile within the moon. Twilight had no concept of how old Celestia might truly be.

Celestia would help. Celestia would make everything that had happened to her this day make sense. It could not be otherwise - Celestia predated the sun and the stars, she had turned Discords chaos into the land that was Equestria, she was immortal and all powerful. She was humble, but no less a goddess.

Twilight performed long line-of sight jumps, teleporting to a spot far in the distance that she could see. A flash of brilliant light marked her departure and another her arrival, as she passed outside of the normal dimensions and reentered the world at a new location. This most difficult of spells, mastered only by the Royal Unicorns was foal's play to her - she often teleported about merely for simple convenience. Her years of solitude and study had granted her powers beyond the pale at a very young age. It was no wonder she was Celestia's favorite student, or that Celestia kept a close eye on her activities.

To cheer her as she made her way up the mountain to Canterlot, popping in and out of standard Eucliquestrian spacetime, she recited from memory the oldest story from the Pony Book. It had no official name, it was far too ancient. Written in the earliest form of Royal Unicorn, the book was possibly the oldest surviving tome in Equestria. It was heavily illustrated, an illuminated manuscript of great beauty and wonder. It had the head of an equine on the cover, but the face was strange - exceedingly long of muzzle and curiously shaped. Twilight had speculated on whether it represented some extinct breed of ponykind, or perhaps, if the book was as old as some suggested, the face on the cover was what ponies once had been, just after the conquering of Discord. Nopony knew. Even Celestia would not answer her most pointed inquiries.

Twilight had memorized the book, and especially the creation story in the beginning, which described how Celestia and Luna had worked together to remake the world after the terror of Discord. Twilight began, when she had appeared from the spaces between one moment and the next "Once upon a time..."

There was another burst of light and Twilight was nearly a thousand hooves down the road "In the magical land of Equestria," Twilight paused her recitation and adjusted her targeting to account for the bend in the road as it climbed the mountain. "there were two regal sisters who ruled together." Twilight paused to consider just how far her next teleport could reach. There were two bends, where the road ducked into the mountain and reappeared, she considered if the could reach the farther one safely. Caution won, and she decided to target the nearer bend. She did not want to miscalculate and appear between the bends, only to fall into a chasm below.

"The eldest used her unicorn powers to raise the sun while the younger used her powers to raise the moon." Twilight looked past her hooves at a stone spiraling down into the shadowed cleft of the rock face. Her forehooves were almost over the precipitous edge. She backed up, carefully. That was just a little touch close. She would need to be more careful. She decided to finish her words before her next teleport, and not split her attention further. "Thus, the two unicorns brought balance to the world."

She couldn't see the upper surface of the road now, it was too high above her. That was a problem. Considering what had just happened, she was not going to make a 'best guess'. She'd have to hoof it uphill for a while, until she could once again get a good line of sight. Teleporting blind was a good way to end up a former pony. Twilight trotted on at a careful speed, one she had learned during the Running Of The Leaves.

As she made her way up the winding, steep road, she tried to imagine what the world had been like before Celestia and Luna had remade it. When she and her friends had fought Discord, she had gotten just a taste of what things must have been like for the two immortal princesses. Discord had only just begun to remake the world, and Ponyville and its environs had become a nightmare realm of floating mountains, distorted space, soap for earth and bubblegum for sky. During Discord's thousand-year reign, there literally must have been no world at all, not as Twilight understood the term. It must have been true, pure, maddening primal chaos.

The power that Celestia and her sister represented. To construct an entire, rational world out of such random horror, to place the mountains and pour the seas, to manufacture the sky and create a working biosphere. To bring the species and breeds of the world into existence. To make ponykind and to let them loose upon the newly formed world. To will into existence the sun and the moon and the stars, to even be able to imagine a rational reality, after a thousand years of absolute and total chaos.

Discord had called Celestia 'grim'. If she was, then it was because she must know what a lack of order meant. A love of order and organization was something Twilight shared with her beloved mentor. Celestia would make things right. Any being that could order the universe, and lift the sun as if it were a party balloon was as close to ommipotent as any reasonable definition of the word could be. The humble deity who called herself a princess and mingled with her creations. Twilight loved her princess for that.

She was at the top of the mountain now, and could resume her teleportation. Her studies about long-distance running had served her once more, she was only slightly out of breath. Burst of light after burst of light brought her closer and closer to the main gates of Canterlot. Celestia must be lowering the sun, now, her sister preparing to raise the moon. The sky was red and the day was ending. To move the very stars. The concept was beyond staggering.

The Hearth's Warming Eve play, a favorite holiday treat for foals - and adults too - carried the conceit that mere unicorns could control the universe and its functions. It was a silly notion, but the stage play was useful - it taught the value of working together and of the eternal bond the three breeds shared. It had been rumored that Celestia herself had written it long ago, to give her new creations a myth to cling to, to keep them together when she and Luna were still reconstructing reality after Discord. Another rumor suggested that Luna had penned it. Nopony truly knew. As Twilight made the front gates across the bridge, she wondered what it would feel like, to have such supernal power. The thought frightened her.

For a thousand years after Discord, Celestia had held both day and night in her hooves, while Luna was in exile. Celestia could control the entire cosmos, alone. Twilight shook her head, her mane rippling as she ran. It didn't do to dwell on such things, they were too vast, too grand, even for her bright mind. Leave the cosmos to Celestia. To whom it belonged.

After Celestia lowered the sun, it was her habit to take tea in the gallery that overlooked the Maze Garden. Twilight resolved to intercept her mentor there, and explain to her the strangeness of the day, and to beg her help. It was the most logical and rational thing to do, and Twilight ever loved the fruits of reason. She lowered her head to make speed, and ran on down the twisting, complicated paths and roads of the mountain castle. First through one tunnel in the rock and then across a terrace garden she galloped, the night descending, the darkness enshrouding all in violet-hued beauty.

Twilight wasn't sure what she had hit, but it was large, and heavy, and she instantly regretted it. She should have been watching, she should have been paying more attention. When she was able to stand again, she shook her head to clear it. The large, white stallion she had collided with steadied her with a hoof. Oddly, rather than being upset, he was smiling indulgently at her. Beside him was a pink pegasus, long of leg and regal of bearing.

Twilight began to apologize but was interrupted "Twi? What are you... you have to watch where you're going, sis. Where are you going in such a hurry, anyway?" The white stallion addressing her was dressed in royal garb, with twin sashes and a shield-shaped badge of honor.

The pink pegasus seemed concerned for the stallion, they must be a couple "Are you hurt dear?" at the shake of the stallion's head, the pegasus addressed Twilight next "Are you alright, Twilight? You took a nasty spill! Are you sure you are okay?" her eyes were kind and loving. That was when Twilight noticed her head.

On it was a horn.

This pink pegasus was not a pegasus at all. She was... she was an alicorn. Like the princesses. Like Celestia and Luna. It wasn't possible. This could not be real. Twilight stepped back in horror. A third deity. A third absolute power in the universe. The disappearing mountain could not compete with this destruction of reality. "Twilight? What's the matter dear?"

The creature seemed to know her by name. "Twi, did you get a knock on the head? What's with you? You look half scared to death!" The white stallion seemed half concerned, and half perturbed at Twilight's reaction.

"W-Who are you? How do you know my name?" Twilight backed up farther, slowly, carefully.

"Twi, stop messing around. Is this one of your games?" The white stallion seemed more towards the annoyed side of things now.

"A game? How wonderful!" The pink... alicorn... seemed happy at the thought of play. She seemed pleasant, at least.

"Remember how Twi used to love pretend games when we were growing up? She'd just come up and pretend to be somepony else, usually somepony from history?" The pink... creature... seemed very familiar with this false history. She smiled and nodded as if in remembrance.

The stallion turned and stared intently at Twilight "Is that it? Who are you this time... Starswirl the Bearded again, traveling in time? That's it, isn't it?" The stallion turned to his pink companion. "Twi just adores 'ol Starswirl. That was her favorite, pretending to be that old coot. My sister, the history freak!" The stallion laughed.

Sister. In this world her alternate self must have had a brother. This was him. Twilight's mind reeled. She had been an only foal. If she had known a brother, her life would have been entirely different - she would be an entirely different pony. A brother to play with, to confide in, would have brought her out of her shell, brought her out into the world. She would have known friendship before the pivotal moment where the Elements Of Harmony were awakened. That moment would not have happened, the spark that had come from her shock and amazement at finally comprehending the wonder of friendship would not have been the bright and powerful, life-changing event that it was.

And in any case, how could she had even had time for a brother? Celestia had taken her to live in Canterlot at an extremely early age, as a mere foal. Her life had been study, Celestia, baby Spike, and her tower. A brother would have changed her unrecognizably. And she would not have needed to study friendship, because she would have inevitably been shown it, brought into contact with others through such a brother. Not a single element of her life history would make sense with a brother.

Yet in this world, there he stood.

"Twi! Stop messing around, at least say hello to Cadence!"

The burst of light was bright. Twilight felt slightly crispy when she regained her senses. She was somewhere in the castle, she wasn't sure where at the moment. It had been a blind teleport. She had panicked. It was a stupid, foolish act - she was fortunate to have survived. It was only because she had spent so much of her life in the castle that she had not ended up fused with a wall, or embedded, dying, in a floor or ceiling. She had spent her entire childhood, what there was of it, inside these walls, inside this castle and its towers. It was her childhood. It had been her life.

Twilight Sparkle slumped against a marble pillar and wept. She cried and howled, brought to the level of a mere foal inside. She had been so lonely. Celestia was wonderful, of course, and more a mother to her than her own, and she had not lacked for books or lessons or any material thing. But she had been lonely, even if she had not understood it. She had lost herself in her love of learning, but deep down....

She had sometimes fantasized about having a big brother. She had wished for a big brother who would play with her and show her the sort of fun that she saw other ponies having when she looked out of her tower windows. In this reality, he existed, just as she had imagined him. He was there, right there, down in that city, somewhere. The brother that had never been.

As she sobbed, she realized that not everything about this strange shadow world was bad. In this world, Rainbow Dash read books. To have even one pony share her love of reading would be wonderful - she had devoutly wished that one of her new friends would share that with her. In this world, Pinkie Pie was a pony that could be talked to, seriously, about serious things. She wasn't hyperactive and constantly bouncing about. In this world, Twilight just might find out how smart Pinkie really was.

And in this world, she had a brother, perfect and tall and shining, just as she had pictured in her foalhood, when she had felt particularly alone. She had always been so alone. When she had awakened, at last, to true friendship, the power of that moment was enough to ignite the Elements Of Harmony, but in her heart, she wished that it had not needed to be that way. If she could have only had a happy, playful foalhood... like normal unicorns...

But she wasn't normal. That was the point. She was the most 'gifted' - wasn't that the word the princess always used? - the most 'gifted' unicorn that Celestia had ever known. It was a dubious gift. She had nearly destroyed her parents and Canterlot on her exam day. It could have been the world. Of course she needed to be isolated. Celestia would have been a fool to do otherwise. Celestia, ageless and wise beyond measure, was no fool.

Twilight rubbed her eyes with her fetlocks, letting her coat absorb her tears. She sniffled and tried to clear her nose. She swallowed and coughed briefly. Celestia. She had to get to Celestia, no matter what.

"What is the matter, my dearest student?" Celestia had found her.

Twilight's heart raced in joy. Finally, finally, everything would be alright. Her teacher, her princess, her... Celestia... was here, finally, now, here in front of her! Everything would make sense at last.

Twilight looked up, into the concerned face of her beloved princess. Her eyes scanned the adored countenance, savoring it. It was then that she noticed Celestia's broken horn.

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