Rainbow Dash lay on a cloud, head in her hooves, looking out at nothing in particular. She had to keep her gaze down to keep the sun out of her eyes, and ended up pony-watching. Nothing in particular was going on; it was early enough in the summer that the heat hadn't gotten bad, but after planting season. Ponies went about their business in the late morning, a few deciding on an early lunch while most ran errands or still worked. Nothing special at all. At least, until she saw Fluttershy rushing through town with full saddlebags. It was odd enough to see Fluttershy in such a hurry, let alone with her packs. Rainbow Dash decided to see what her longtime friend was up to and took off from her cloud. She easily caught up to her Fluttershy by flying just above the ground.
"Hey Fluttershy. What's up?" she asked, making her flight look casual next to the hurried pony.
"Twilight said it was an emergency!" Fluttershy explained. It really came out more in gasps; Fluttershy was hardly an athlete.
"Huh? Emergency? What's going on?" Rainbow Dash knew that somehow or another, Twilight managed to get herself in the middle of a lot of crazy problems - whether it was relocating dragons or grumpy ursa minors, or even the return of a psycho-goddess, something always seemed to be happening to that pony. This would certainly make her day more exciting.
Fluttershy shook her head, not sparing the breath for more of an answer. With a slight frown, Dash whisked ahead. What emergency could she have contacted Fluttershy for?
If it was anything more dangerous than a mildly clogged sink, Fluttershy would probably turn back around and go hide under her bed.
Of course, Rainbow Dash made it to the library in a matter of seconds. What most of ponies considered to be "on the edge of town" to her was "not-quite-instantaneous to get to". She didn't exactly burst through the door, but she certainly didn't stop and knock. It was a library after all.
"Oh, Fluttershy, is that - oh hey Rainbow Dash!" Twilight's head popped up over a stack of luggage. "Do you need help with anything? I'm kinda busy."
"Do I - Fluttershy said there was an emergency" Rainbow Dash replied, looking around. It looked like Twilight was planning for a vacation! What kind of emergency was this? Did she need to borrow a hairbrush for her trip?
"Twilight?" Fluttershy ran in through the open door, sliding to a stop. "I'm here! Is everything okay?"
"Fluttershy..." Twilight said lightly, coming around the stack of luggage that was bigger than her. Rainbow Dash noticed Spike tying a belt around the biggest suitcase, trying to seal it closed. It looked like she was taking half the library with her.
"I'm sorry to worry you. I said there's been a bit of an emergency at the castle. Since you're both here, I'll explain. Princess Celestia told me that Princess Luna has come down with something. We're not sure what, but she's pretty ill. Princess Celestia wants me there to help take care of her sister, since she can't be there all the time."
"Why you?" Rainbow Dash asked. "You're smart, Twi, but you're no Nurse Tenderheart."
"I think it's just that...I think it's that Princess Celestia wants to be there, and it hurts that she can't. I think she wants me because I'm one of the only other ponies to know Princess Luna."
"So...why'd you need Fluttershy?" Rainbow Dash ask, nodding towards her friend. Twilight had turned away, and seemed to be counting something in her head as she gazed over her luggage.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone, and I need a house-sitter. I remember Pinkie Pie saying you two were good at it - which is surprising, actually - and I could only get a hold of Fluttershy." she finished her count and turned back to the two pegasus ponies.
"I was also hoping to get some advice from Fluttershy. Not medical advice, precisely, I have my books, but my bedside manner is...well...."
"Doesn't exist?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"Oh, I'd be happy to help. I mean, I've never cared for royalty before...unless you count Philomena." Fluttershy responded.
"We can definitely look after the library for ya, Twi!" Rainbow Dash told her. Twilight looked relieved.
"Great, thanks. Owlowiscious is going to stay behind to help with keeping the library running. Rainbow, why don't you two get acquainted while I compare notes with Fluttershy." Twilight pointed a hoof to a desk by the window. There, on a wooden perch by the desk, a brown owl opened his eyes and turned to stare right at Rainbow Dash. Straight. At. Her. Rainbow Dash trotted up as she heard her friends chatter.
"Hey, I'm Rainbow Dash." she told the owl.
"Rainbow Dash." Rainbow repeated.
Rainbow Dash's brow furrowed. "Me. Rain-bow Daaaaash. Champion speedster? Only pony to do a sonic rainboom, and twice? Future Wonderbolt?"
On top of a pile of suitcases, Spike gave the scene a flat look. "Been there sister." he muttered to himself. "We're all ready to go, Twilight!" he told his friend. Twilight looked up from her conversation with Fluttershy.
"Great. That's my number one assistant. Could you start loading them into the balloon please?"
"Me?" Spike asked. There were a half dozen suitcases (mostly filled with books, as Rainbow Dash had guessed), all of them bigger than him. By a sizable margin.
"Number one assistant." was all Twilight said before returning to her conversation. Spike dropped his arms and sighed. He clambered down the pile and sized up his adversary a pale blue suitcase four inches taller than he. He tugged on the nearest handle, moving the suitcase all of....nowhere. He gave it another go, putting his weight into it. Given he was a baby dragon, this made about as much of a difference as one would expect. Finally, spitting in his palms and rubbing them together, Spike prepared for the mother of all heaves. He gripped the handle tightly, took a breath, and pulled with all his might. And the suitcase moved! Up!
"Sorry Spike, I got it." Twilight said, levitating all the suitcases with ease. Spike whistled and dropped from the suitcase. Twilight didn't seem to notice it, but when they had first come to Ponyville, Twilight couldn't have moved six books at once, not with any coordination. Both her power and finesse had taken a sharp upswing in the eleven months they had been here. Now she trotted out with the suitcases in tow like they weighed nothing at all.
"Thanks girls! Let the others know I'm gone, would you please?" the balloon was as of yet deflated, just a basket sitting out back. Spike shooed away a couple of birds that had started picking at the weaving. Twilight placed the suitcases inside.
"I hate to leave on such short notice." Twilight said, giving her friends an apologetic look. Rainbow Dash waved it away.
"Nah, it's all good! What better place to nap then a library? I shoulda started hanging out here months ago."
"We'll take good care of Owlowiscious too." Fluttershy promised. Twilight nodded. and hopped in the balloon.
"I promise I'll find time to write."
"Uh...Twilight?" Spike interrupted. "It's going to take me a while to inflate this."
"Oh! I meant to tell you, I've got an idea. Here." with that, her horn began to glow. The balloon lifted overhead, Twilight even going so far as to force it into shape. She turned to Spike.
"A little heat, please." she said. Curious (even upright, the balloon wouldn't be going anywhere without a lot of heat), he breathed his best flame upwards at the mouth of the balloon's envelope. To his surprise, however, the flame didn't dissipate. Instead it began to swirl into a little ball in midair. A faint purplish glow told him that this was Twilight's doing. That ball of fire made its way into the balloon. Twilight focused (she didn't even seem to be straining) and Spike heard a whoomph of flame. With that the envelope billowed out. Twilight released her telekinetic hold, and it began to rise.
"Hop in Spike!" Twilight said. Spike recovered from his amazement (she had definitely not done that before) and scrambled in.
"Bye girls! Thanks again!" she waved to her friends. Both waved back, and Twilight only turned away once she saw Rainbow Dash turn to Fluttershy to talk
"Excited to go back to Canterlot?" Twilight asked. Spike nodded and looked up at the balloon. He decided to give it a puff of flame for safety's sake.
"The last time we went was the gala, and we all remember how that went."
"A-heh." Twilight smiled. She looked off towards the horizon and her expression dropped.
"I hope Princess Luna is going to be okay. I didn't know goddesses could get sick."
"Yeah, what's with that?" Spike asked. "You'd think that anypony who can survive a thousand years on the moon could deal with a cold or whatever."
Twilight shook her head. "It may be because she's spent a thousand years on the moon. The world's changed a lot, I'm sure."
Spike had nothing to add to that, so instead decided to watch the scenery, occasionally adding heat to the balloon. Twilight said nothing, her gaze barely moving from the same spot on the horizon. She knew where Canterlot was, but they wouldn't be in sight of it for a while yet. Spike watched as her expression struggled between worry and excitement. Canterlot was still their home, in a way. Twilight knew the palace halls better than her own house. Then there was also the matter of actually spending time with Princess Celestia. Sure, the two of them spoke once and a while at celebrations, and there were of course the letters, but this would be the first time in a while when time wasn't so limited.
"I think Princess Celestia is gonna be real impressed with your magic." Spike said, trying to get Twilight to calm down - or at least settle on how she wanted to feel about this trip.
"Huh?" It took a moment for Twilight to snap back to here and now. "Oh, thanks Spike. This trip is first and foremost about Princess Luna, of course." she said, her tone almost diplomatic. Spike rolled his eyes. He still knew who Twilight would be fawning over when they arrived. Still, Twilight at least seemed to know how she felt about their trip - she was expectant, eager, leaning over the basket as if to get closer to Canterlot. Spike could read it clearly on his friend's face, not that Twilight ever worked to hide her emotions. He wasn't sure what Canterlot would hold for them, but he knew this would be one interesting trip.
"Princess Celestia!" Twilight didn't even wait for the balloon to touch the ground before hopping out. They had landed in the palace's outer gardens, and the Princess herself had come to meet them, flanked by a pair of royal guards. The guards knew Twilight well enough that they did nothing as the young unicorn rushed up to her mentor. While any other pony surely would have stopped to bow with respect to the Goddess living, Twilight nuzzled against her foreleg like a filly greeting her mother. Celestia had a calm smile on her face.
"It's good to see you again, my star pupil." she said. "I only wish it were under better circumstances.
Twilight righted herself, and gave a worried nod.
"How is Princess Luna? Is it bad?"
Princess Celestia closed her eyes, taking a moment to gather herself. It worsened Twilight's fears, and Twilight was the kind to worry at the drop of a hat.
"Why don't you come inside. I'm sure we have much to discuss." she turned away slightly, gesturing to the Castle's entrance. Celestia's left wing flicked, and the guards moved towards the balloon.
"We'll get you settled in in no time. Come." Spike and Twilight followed Celestia towards the castle. The castle was clearly designed with the sunlight in mind - plenty of tall windows, open spaces for the light to fill, along with openings and balconies every few yards to allow one to see the sky. The light stone floors and bright tapestries further made it feel as sunny and cheerful as the outdoors themselves. Twilight recognized the grand entry hall from the gala. The soft rug beneath her feet trailed all the way up the stairs, winding the length of the room.
"It's been so wonderful to have my sister by my side, after so long." Celestia said, keeping her gaze ahead of her. Spike jumped onto Twilight's back to keep up with the two ponies, and Twilight either didn't care or more likely didn't notice as she kept her eyes on her mentor.
"I suppose I was there with every change, but to her the world is quite different from how she left it. She's done her best to adapt, but I worry that it's just too much for her." They climbed the stairs together, Celestia's long legs taking them two at a time.
"I have done well enough one my own for the past thousand years, but it is not easy. I am hoping a friendly face will help Luna recover. And I must confess, Twilight, I have my own reasons for bringing you here to Canterlot."
"Hmm?" Twilight hadn't expected to hear that. For a second, despite her smile, Princess Celestia's expression looked downcast, even sorrowful.
"We'll discuss more later. Luna has been very expectant since I suggest you come here. Let's not keep her waiting, shall we?"
Twilight nodded, her brow furrowing. Even during the incident with Nightmare Moon, it had been clear that Princess Celestia had had things under control the entire time. When Philomena had been stolen under her nose and promptly died (death being more routine for phoenixes than most creatures), Celestia hadn't shown the slightest worry. Nothing ever seemed to fluster her. So Twilight's mind churned with worry over seeing her mentor's distress. How bad could things be?
The palace was intimately familiar to Twilight, but like any child who comes back home older and (perhaps) wiser, Twilight noticed slight changes, things that didn't match up to her pleasant memories. There seemed to be more guards about. Sometimes she caught only a flank or hoof here or there from beyond a pillar or inside a doorway - as if their presence was not something to be noticeable. Of other castle staff there were definitely fewer. Twilight was used to seeing tour guides, maintenance workers, and hordes of clerks balancing an absurd number of papers on their backs. Twilight began to feel like she had swallowed a rock.
"Here we are. Your room is just down there." Celestia raised a hoof at an ornate wooden door three down from the similar door they stood in front of now. Twilight was caught off guard. Shouldn't a princess's room be....somewhere special? More aloof? Apparently not as Celestia knocked on the door.
"Sister hasn't gotten used to being a Princess again, she says. She prefers the quiet side of things." Celestia said, as if she knew what was on Twilight's mind. Twilight nodded. That made sense. She could only imagine how it could feel to be thrust into such a (normally) busy castle when one had had a thousand years of solace.
"Come in!" they both heard. Celestia pushed the door open. The room inside was only dimly lit as the afternoon sunlight pushed its way through silky purple curtains. It was not a large room, nor did it seemed particularly lived in. The dresser may have well been untouched, not so much as a brush laying out by the attached mirror, and there wasn't a lamp or candle to be found.
Only half out of bed, Princess Luna looked at them as they came in. She was dressed in a deep blue nightie that just covered her flanks. Something about it seemed...intimate, almost indecent, which was an odd way for a pony to think of purely optional clothing. Twilight looked away out of embarrassment and respect for the younger goddess.
"Ah! Sister! You might have told me that Twilight Sparkle was here!" Luna cried, cheeks going red. She got all the way out of bed.
"Please pardon me." she said, actually bowing down. It was most definitely directed at Twilight. "I'm not used to being up this time of day."
"Uh.." Twilight was taken aback. "The honor is mine, Princess." she settled on quickly, bowing down and trying to make sure she did so deeper and more respectfully than the Princess. Idiot, she thought to herself. Princess Luna hadn't said anything about honor. Still, what was one supposed to say in such a situation? Sure, she felt a certain level of familiarity with Princess Celestia, but they were still princesses, and she had no such relationship with the moon princess. She slowly worked her way out of her bow only after seeing Luna was already getting up.
"I'm sorry to have to trouble you so. Celly simply insisted."
Twilight blinked several times, trying to hide her confusion. Celly? A court advisor? Perhaps a doctor?
Princess Celestia gave a small laugh and tapped one hoof against the ground a few times. "If the doctors insist you get your bed rest, dear sister, I must ensure you have proper company. Besides which, I'm sure Twilight would let us know if there were any trouble?" she turned her gaze to the young pony. Twilight's mouth made an 'o'. Celly - Princess Celestia! She felt almost ashamed to hear such an informal moniker applied to her mentor. Of course, this was still a younger mare referring to her big sister - even among princesses, it made sense. Twilight realized something was being expected of her.
"Ah! No, I mean of course it's no trouble." Princess Luna didn't look convinced, so Twilight felt compelled to add; "Besides, it's been too long since I've been in Canterlot. It's good to be back." That softened Luna's gaze, and she nodded just slightly.
"We will let you rest." Celestia said. "I hope you don't mind if I take Twilight from you for this afternoon."
"Not at all." Luna said. "You'll see. I'll be better in no time." she turned around and clambered back into bed as the two left.
"Princess, is she okay? Is there anything I should know?" Twilight asked after they had exited. Aside from looking sleepy, nothing had marked the Princess Luna as ill.
"Yes, my faithful student." Celestia said with a bow of her head. "I know you are no medic, though I imagine you've already begun furious study. It is your talent with magic I seek."
"Really?" Twilight could only imagine what the Princess was getting at.
"I have never in well over a thousand years gotten ill. I never knew sister to have, beforehand. I never considered the...poison Nightmare Moon was to her. I would like somepony familiar with such magics by her side, and in all of Equestria that leaves you and I alone."
Twilight found her throat too dry to swallow. Her steps faltered as if she carried a heavy load now. She knew the princess trusted her, but she couldn't help but question her own ability. Before, she had had the elements of harmony with her - along with the less official but all important element of surprise.
"You always were quick to worry, my little pony." Celestia said, watching her. "Nothing shall come of it, but I simply must be sure for my sister's sake. In the meantime, and before I must go to lower the sun, why don't we visit the grand library, while you let me know what has gone on in Ponyville. A letter can only carry so much..."