A soft and comfortably familiar voice whispered softly into her ear, "Come on, Twilight. Time to get up, it's your big day!"
Big day or not, Twilight's head was pounding, her body was aching and her eyes refused to open. She felt like an absolute train wreck. She rolled over and pulled her covers over her head. Maybe the intruder would go away if she ignored them.
"I thought you'd be excited! What's wrong with- Oh, I see..."
Whoever it was, they fell silent as the clopping of hooves reached Twilight's ears, fading off into another room. A couple minutes later, they returned, grabbed one of Twilight's forelegs and pulled her off of her vastly over-sized bed, causing her to land roughly on her hooves. Leaning against her waker, she felt herself being guided somewhere. Where didn't exactly matter, as long as she didn't have to wake up completely.
"Alright, Twilight, climb in here," her guide whispered to her, directing Twilight's hooves to a smooth, hard object.
The bath? Yes a nice hot bath would be perfect. She could climb in, get nice and warm, and just drift back off- "WHAT IN THE NAME OF- WHO THE- OH MY STARS THAT'S COLD!"
Fully alert and squealing loudly, Twilight hurled herself over the edge of the tub, landing on the floor in a crumpled shivering heap.
"Oh, good, you're awake," a grinning Quill-Pen chuckled down at Twilight.
"Charming. Here I'll draw you a warm one this time." Twilight glared spitefully at Quill-Pen as her future seneschal drew a second bath before helping Twilight back into the golden cistern, a mischievous smile on the older mare's face the entire time. "So, how're you feeling?"
"Awful. I feel like I just got bucked in the forehead by Applejack."
"I think I may know why," Quill-Pen replied. Snorting as she tried to hold back her laughter, she levitated an empty wine bottle over to Twilight.
"You've got to me kidding me. Did I really drink that whole thing?"
"So it would seem," Quill-Pen murmured as she set the bottle down on the floor. She floated a bottle of shampoo over to Twilight and continued, "Care to tell me why you did this to yourself?"
"I didn't mean to," Twilight whined, "it just sorta happened. That wine is... was Princess Celestia's favorite and I found the bottle last night in her old wardrobe. It actually hurt. I think I even started crying again, so I decided to have a glass in her honor, but that only made me feel worse, so I had a second one. Then one thing led to another and I guess I drank the whole thing. I don't remember much after the second glass."
"I'm not surprised, she did like her drink a little stronger than most ponies. That was probably equal to a bottle-and-a-half of normal wine. Maybe in a thousand years when you're as big as she was you'll be able to handle that, but for the moment you're the same size as you were before all this," the old mare said tenderly. "What I'm more concerned about, however, is not how much you drank, but why you'd drink that much in the first place."
"I know, I know, that was pretty stupid. I just miss her. I admit that I've wanted to be a princess since before she even took me as her student, but I wanted to be a princess with her, not instead of her."
"I understand, Twilight, but all the same I'm removing all of the alcohol the Princess had stashed for herself in there. If you would like some wine, you'll have to ask the kitchens so that I can monitor your intake. I'll let you keep your own when I'm sure that this won't be a problem."
"Wait a minute," Twilight muttered back with a hint of a glare, "I'm going to become princess in a few hours and you're going to treat me like a little filly?"
"Yes. Yes I am."
"Well thanks, that's definitely for the better," Twilight giggled, bringing her headache roaring back. "Seriously, though, I don't think I'll be drinking anything again anytime soon.
"Anything?" Quill-Pen replied in a teasing tone, waving a crystal chalice of water in front of Twilight's nose.
"You know what I meant, smartmule," Twilight grumbled back as she swiped the cup out of the air and sucked the cool liquid down.
"You honestly didn't think I'd let you get away with this, did you? I'll make sure you don't live this down for a while," Quill-Pen chucked, trotting over to the sink to refill the glass. "Now, I hate to hassle you in this state, but its my job and you did re-hire me after all. Sunrise is in about five minutes, you know what to do there. The ceremony starts at noon sharp and I'd like at least two hours of time to get you ready just to make sure we have time to deal with any snags. Until then, I'll let you do whatever you want, even take a nap to sleep off that hangover."
"Alright, thanks. Will you come and get me when its time to go?" Twilight murmured in reply, taking the glass back and sipping from it slowly this time around.
"I'll do that. Enjoy your morning, lightweight," Quill-Pen said with a short nod before turning and leaving Twilight alone with her bath.
Twilight finished washing out her mane and sat back in the warm water, taking the time to stare out the window and enjoy the last moments of the night sky. A short time later, she felt something buzz in her head, like some form of alarm clock. She closed her eyes and expanded her thoughts, the strange catharsis coming much easier this time. She quickly found herself floating before the sun for the third time and could tell that it wasn't happy to see her in the least.
Before you do whatever childish thing you're about to, listen. I had an awful night and feel just as awful, so I would really, really appreciate it if you didn't give me any fuss this morning. Also, you owe me for yesterday, remember?
She felt the sun ready some form of rebuke, a rebuke that never came. Maybe the solar orb sensed her distress, or perhaps there just wasn't any fun in throwing a fit if she wasn't going to argue back, but it allowed her to push it up towards the horizon without a fight. Twilight hadn't honestly expected reasoning with it to work, but wasn't going to complain that it did.
With little else to do, she slid her consciousness back into her body and climbed out of the bathtub, stopping only to let out the water and collect her cup, before making her way back to Celestia's- rather, her- room. After glancing around for a few moments, she trotted out to the balcony and sat down in the cool morning air. Within minutes, she had dropped down to her stomach, laying with one flank resting against the cool marble.
She must've dozed off at some point, because it seemed like only a minute or two before Quill-Pen returned with a stack of toast and dragged her off to whatever preparations needed to be done. Before she knew it, Twilight was sitting in a dressing room in what amounted to a glorified salon chair as a half-dozen ponies tugged on her mane and covered her with more makeup than she had ever seen in her life.
"So when you said preparations..."
"Twilight, did you honestly think you'd be the one organizing these events anymore?"
"I had hoped."
"Well that's just too bad," Quill-Pen teased. "I realize you don't care for all this pomp, but the ponies of Equestria do. Such is the sacrifice you must make for your ponies."
Twilight opened her mouth to form a rebuttal, but was cut off as the room's door slammed open, an ecstatic Rarity trotting in with Fluttershy close behind.
"Twilight! How are youuuu- just what do you ruffians think you are doing to her?"
"Pardon me?" one of the stylists gasped at the outburst.
"This is all wrong! Twilight doesn't need even half that much makeup! And are those hairclips? What in Celestia's name are you thinking?"
"I'll have you know that I have been Canterlot's top makeup arteest for well over a decade!"
"And you have learned nothing! You can't just primp Twilight up like some run-of-the-mill noblepony! Her's is a much more subtle beauty that must be coaxed out gently by a practiced hoof, not covered up in powder and poise! Get out! I will not have you ruining her special day! OUT I SAID!"
Despite their protests, the Royal Stylists were all tossed out of the room in an ungraceful pile, then the door slammed and locked shut in their snouts.
"That wasn't very nice, Rarity. They were just trying to make Twilight look pretty," Fluttershy grumbled.
"There is no 'trying' with Twilight, dear. I'm sure Quill-Pen would agree with me that Twilight is gorgeous enough on her own."
"You're the expert," the gray mare chuckled.
"Well, thanks I guess, Rarity," Twilight grumbled.
"Now now, I know you'd prefer if we just let you go 'as is'," Rarity cooed as she brought a wet cloth up to Twilight's face. "Oh, hold still, I need to get that abominable eye shadow off... There! Where was I? Oh, yes! Every single pony in Equestria will be looking up to you now, and while it's true that one does not need be beautiful to be a good role-model, you are going to be the new face of Equestria! It's only prudent that we accentuate your natural beauty for all to see! Besides, I want my work to last and I suspect your mane will eventually turn into something like Celestia's and Luna's, so I'd like to find a workable style that won't require any extra... attachments."
It must have made sense to Rarity, but Twilight had bigger things on her mind. Luckily a distraction came in the form of a light tugging on one of her wings, so she turned to see Fluttershy gently running a hoof through her feathers. She wasn't quite sure what the pegasus was doing, but it was relieving the tension in her back. A little.
"So, Rarity, where is Spike? You said you were going to bring him here when he woke up and I know that even he wouldn't sleep this long. Though I wouldn't put it past him to try," Twilight quipped with a smirk, drawing a soft giggle from both of her friends.
"Yes, I'm sorry for that, but the poor little guy stayed up so long that it made him rather sick, so I forced him to stay in bed yesterday. My parents were caring for him, but I sent Rainbow Dash to go retrieve him this morning and she should be back within the hour. Ill or not, I wouldn't let him be absent on a day like today." The fashionista finished up with Twilight's mane and rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Yes, much better. As much as I love to experiment with your looks, no matter what I do it always seems to end up better when I take a minimalist approach."
"Thanks, really. I think this has been the longest I've ever gone without seeing him." Rarity spun the chair around so that Twilight was looking in the mirror. Twilight half-groaned as she turned her head to inspect her friend's work. "Alright, I'll admit it. You were right this time, Rarity."
"It was my pleasure and, honestly, was there ever any doubt? Next, up!" With her magic, Rarity lifted the immaculate centerpiece of the Royal Regalia that Celestia always wore around her neck and slipped it over Twilight's head. "Fits perfectly! Ah, the wonders of magic. Now for the shoes. Lovely. And where's the tiara?"
"It's part of the ceremony, so Luna has it at the moment."
"Oh, of course! Then in that case we'll head out as soon as Fluttershy has finished preening those lovely wings. I'm ashamed to say that those particular limbs are something I just can't seem to get the hang of."
"Oh! I wasn't actually preening her, her feathers really didn't need it. It's just that Twilight looks a little nervous and having my wings stroked has always helped me relax. I thought it might help."
Fluttershy let the feathered appendage fall from her grasp and Twilight stretched it out with a pleasured moan. "Actually, I think it did, Fluttershy. Thank you."
"Alright!" Quill-Pen shouted, causing everypony to jump at the unexpected outburst. "Now that we're done here, first things first, Twilight, we must go see if the reckless wonder has come back with the reptile. As for you two, Princess Luna had front-row seats reserved for you and the other three. I'd suggest you go fill them ASAP."
With surprising efficiency, Quill-Pen pushed them all out of the room and directed Rarity and Fluttershy in the direction of the Throne Room. She then mentioned for Twilight to follow her. She led Twilight to a narrow hallway that ran between the inner castle and the back of the Throne Room, one of the halls through which Celestia would often disappear into after a difficult court session to avoid having to deal with anypony on the way to her chambers.
"Long story short, we wait here until you're announced, then you enter and essentially just follow the Princess' lead. Got your speech ready?"
"Joking. You'll be expected to say a few words, but it really doesn't have to be anything beyond the standard 'I'm honored'. Any questions?"
"Just one: was scaring me like that really necessary?"
"Yes. Yes it was. I was hoping it would loosen you up. Did it work?"
"Oh well, can't blame me for trying."
Twilight sat down and closed her eyes, trying to settle the parasprites in her stomach. She hadn't noticed how nervous she was when she had been getting made-up by that group of ponies nor while she was being groomed by Rarity and Fluttershy, but now it was all starting to hit her.
She wasn't ready for this. She was too young, too inexperienced. She still had so much to see, so many things to learn before she would even be close to prepared to even teach a class at her old school, let alone run a country. This was all happening way too fast!
She had begun to hyperventilate and was seriously thinking of just teleporting out of there when a familiar voice brought her back to reality. "Twilight!"
"Spike?" Her number-one assistant, eyes full of tears, ran over to her as quickly as his stubby legs could carry him and threw his arms around her neck. She sat in shock for a few seconds before pulling him closer with one of her hooves. "Thanks, Rainbow," she mused as she saw the pegasus posing in the doorway behind them.
"I wouldn't leave ya hangin', Twi."
"Let's leave them alone, shall we?" Quill-Pen muttered as she walked by Rainbow Dash, nudging her back towards the Throne Room. "Come on, I'll show you where you're sitting."
"Lead the way!"
Twilight ignored the back-and-forth, instead letting the calming effect of Spike's company wash over her.
After holding her silently for nearly a minute, he finally burst out. "Don't you ever scare me like that again!"
"I'm sorry, Spike," she murmured back, "it's just-"
"I know why you did it. Just don't do it again," Spike interrupted, burying his face into Twilight's chest as he spoke.
The pair sat in silence for a few more minutes, content to just be in the other's presence.
"For reminding me that I'm not alone," Twilight whispered to him. She gave him one last squeeze then pulled away. "Why don't you go sit down? I'm sure the girls saved you a seat right next to Rarity!" His eyes lit up as he ran off, leaving Twilight alone.
She closed her eyes again and raised her head to the ceiling, taking a deep breath. She wasn't ready. She wasn't ready, but that didn't matter. She had been taught to be the best, by the best. Sure, she was nervous- no terrified- of this burden fate placed upon her, but there were hundreds- thousands, even- of ponies depending on her to step up. Celestia had trusted that she could do this, so she had to trust that she could as well, as hard as it may be. Sure, she'd make mistakes, but that's how you learned.
Trumpets sounded from the throne room. It was starting.
Everything's fine. Everything'll go fine.
The flowing, masculine voice of Prime Minister Sterling Sea permeated the air. "Mares and Gentlecolts, today we are gathered to bear witness to an event none of us had ever thought we'd see. Today, a new princess will ascend to the throne of Equestria to lead us into a new era full of peace and prosperity."
"The pony we speak of," Luna's voice chimed in, "was discovered by the late Princess Celestia in a most unusual fashion. At the center of one of the most powerful magical flares ever recorded, Celestia found a small filly we all know as Twilight Sparkle and took the young pony under her wing as her protégé and apprentice. In Twilight Sparkle, Celestia found not just a powerful magician, but a kind, affectionate, curious, and very intelligent pony. She found a pony who deeply reminded her of, more than anything else, herself."
Twilight felt a wet drop running down her cheek. Luna, this is too much.
"Since becoming the late Princess' student," Sterling Sea continued on, "Twilight Sparkle has gained the respect and admiration of nearly every professor at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, earned record-breaking marks in every class she took. She even took the initiative to sit in on hundreds of sessions of Royal Court."
"But that is not all she accomplished under my sister's tutelage. Two years ago she was sent to Ponyville, where she learned the true value of friendship. With these new friends, she has saved Equestria from catastrophe multiple times," a low murmur ran through the crowd, "and in the process changed from a secluded scholar to a true social butterfly and has become one of Ponyville's most beloved citizens." Another excited murmur. Nearly all of Equestria knew of Twilight the heroine, but it had never occurred to Twilight that she was practically a legend. Nopony knew of the simple facets of her life that made her, well, her! "She has even shown unheard-of compassion, going so far as to extend a hoof in friendship to me when nopony else would and has since become my dearest friend. As such, I bequeath you to love her as you loved my sister. Now, Twilight Sparkle, step forward!"
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. Oh please let me be able to do this.
She felt her hooves moving, though she wasn't actually sure she was the one controlling them. Her vision narrowed. She was acutely aware of the crowd's judging gaze, but she could only see Luna's face. The Princess wore a stern, emotionless expression, though her eyes were filled with an overwhelming medley of feelings. Twilight found herself standing face-to-face with the regal mare, heart racing, mind numb. The crowd was deathly silent, nopony willing to break the sacred silence.
"Twilight Sparkle. You have been named by my sister, Celestia, Princess of the Sun, as sole heir to her throne. Do you accept the burden laid before you?"
"Yes," Twilight's voice announced. Was somepony speaking in her voice? No, it was Twilight herself speaking. She was doing this. She wasn't ready for this, nor was she sure she wanted it, but she had made her decision. There was nopony here who could force her to go through with this, not Luna, not even Celestia.
With a renewed confidence, she stared straight into Luna's eyes and said with more force, "Yes I do."
"Do you vow, for the rest of your days, to serve the ponies of Equestria as they will serve you? To lead them through suffering and prosperity? To commit yourself, body, mind, and spirit to ensuring a brighter future for all?"
This is it, no turning back now. "I do."
"Then kneel," Luna proclaimed, levitating a heart-wrenchingly familiar headpiece towards Twilight.
Twilight did as Luna said, kneeling on her forelegs, bowing her head reverently.
"With the power granted to me by the Creator and the ponies of Equestria, I crown thee Twilight Sparkle, Princess of the Sun and of Equestria." Twilight gasped softly as a light weight was placed gently just behind her horn. "Rise, Princess Twilight Sparkle and present yourself to our subjects."
A cacophony of cheers erupted, as if all of Canterlot- all of Equestria- was voicing their joy at the moment. One ancient monarch had passed on, yet a fresh-faced young mare stood up to the challenge before her and took the reins.
A new princess has been crowned.
Twilight pushed herself back to her hooves and smiled out at the roaring sea of faces staring back at her. There were so many things she wanted to be feeling. She wanted to be humbled by the opportunity before her or to be nervous at the task she had accepted. What she wanted most was to be sad at the terrible way fate had given her this gift; but to be completely and brutally honest with herself, she really felt like she had just got her cutie mark all over again.