Walking Through Fire

by SPark

Chapter 1: Cider and Sunfire

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“The best thing about having Luna back,” said Celestia as she set down her fork, “is having Luna back. But the second best thing about having Luna back is having a bit more free time.”

“I'd like to think I've helped a little bit too,” said Twilight, after a pause to swallow her last bite of cake.

“You have indeed.” Celestia smiled impishly. “I should declare you the Princess of Bookkeeping instead of the Princess of Friendship. You have done so much to streamline the new dual-rule system. I owe you a great debt. And,” she added, her smile turning softer, more sincere, “I owe you an even greater one for bringing her back to me. I will never forget that.”

Twilight found herself flushing, unfolding and refolding her wings awkwardly as she tried to think of a response.. “Oh, well, you know... I'm just glad you're happy.”

“I am.” Celestia beamed at Twilight, and Twilight felt a warm little glow joining her flush. Perhaps... She considered, then discarded the notion for the thousandth time. Celestia was just her beloved mentor. That was all. She was beautiful, and graceful, and wise and kind and of course Twilight would find her attractive. The little glow of love was nothing more than the love of a student for her best teacher, mixed with a silly schoolfilly crush. That was all.

“I have been considering having a... what do they call it these days? A 'night on the town'?”

Twilight attempted to picture Celestia going bar-hopping, or clubbing, and failed spectacularly. “Uhm. If you mean going out, getting drunk, and doing things you'll regret the next morning, yes that's what they call it these days.”

Celestia's laugh was like a pealing bell. “Well, nothing quite that adventurous. I was actually considering going to a tea house. Ponies keep recommending one or another of them to me, but I've always put it off; there was never time, and I could have any tea I wanted brought here. I am told, however, that going to the place itself is part of the experience.”

Now it was Twilight's turn to laugh. “Why am I not surprised that your idea of a night on the town is having tea?”

“Tea is one of life's great pleasures,” said Celestia solemnly.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Tea tastes like warm, wet grass. If I wanted grass I would just graze.”

“What would you suggest I do instead, then?”

“I know of a couple of very good cider houses,” said Twilight, taking the opportunity to once again prod gently at the small mystery of Celestia and cider. She had never been able to figure out why Celestia didn't drink. “I'd love to take you to one. They're much quieter and classier than your average bar, I promise.”

Celestia shook her head. “It isn't about quiet or class, Twilight. You know I don't drink cider.”

“Well, a mare can always hope for something nicer than tea.” Twilight stuck her tongue out.

Celestia laughed. “Come. It is time for me to lower the sun. After that, I do believe I shall dare to go out and visit a tea house.” She smiled graciously at Twilight. “You may come with me, if you wish. I am told that they do serve things other than tea there.”

Twilight smiled back, trying to be equally gracious and having no idea if she'd succeeded. “Of course! I would love to.”


A little over an hour later, the two ponies sat across from each other at a low table. They were in a small, private alcove, curtained off from the rest of the tea house. It was cozy and intimate, quite unlike any of the palace tea parlors.

Celestia had been served a delicate little pot of tea, the first of many. She had informed Twilight that she meant to sample at least half a dozen blends before leaving. Twilight had eventually selected a glass of Caberneigh from the somewhat limited selection of non-tea beverages provided. Both also had little plates of tea biscuits, which Twilight nibbled more than she sipped her wine. If they were going to be there through multiple pots of tea, she felt she needed to pace herself.

Lanterns cast a golden light over Celestia's pearl-white coat. She raised the first cup of tea in her magic and sipped from it delicately. Her eyes went half-closed, and the corners of her mouth curled upward slightly. She set the cup down with a contented sigh.

Twilight couldn't help but look at the way the lamplight glimmered in Celestia's half-lidded eyes. She couldn't keep from noticing the way it lent golden highlights to the shimmering flow of her mane. She couldn't help but admire, for the thousandth time, the fine-boned yet strong shape of Celestia's face, and the grace and ease with which she sat, even now, at a tiny table built for ponies half her size.

Twilight sighed. With a crush—just a crush!— on a mare as beautiful and wonderful and... and... and perfect as her, it's no wonder nopony else has ever caught my eye. I sometimes think nopony ever will.

“Bit for your thoughts?” said Celestia, setting down her cup.

“It's nothing.”

Celestia shook her head, still smiling gently. “A sigh like that rarely stems from nothing.”

Twilight hesitated. Then, her ever-curious mind seized on an idea. “I'll tell you, if you tell me why we're here at the tea shop, and not a cider house.”

Celestia cocked her head to the side in puzzlement. “We are here because I like tea.”

“And you don't drink cider. You, the pony who I have personally seen shoot down three different attempts at legal prohibition. The pony who bought me my first bottle of wine on the day I came of age. The pony who is a connoisseur of absolutely everything else, from tea to donuts! I would like to know why I have never seen that pony lift an alcoholic beverage of any kind to her lips even once.”

“Ah. I see.” Celestia took a slow, measured sip of her tea before continuing. “One does not need to have a moral objection to alcohol to abstain, Twilight. The fact that I do not myself drink doesn't mean I can't see why other ponies enjoy it. I know that many of my little ponies gain great pleasure from imbibing, even if quite a few of the younger ones could stand to be a little bit more moderate in their consumption.” She smiled at Twilight, a smile that invited Twilight to share her amusement at the foibles of youth. “I also appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into a fine wine or a good cider; it's like a work of art. I could never support a law that banned art.”

Twilight took a sip of her wine and nodded her agreement with that. Celestia was certainly right that a good wine was a work of art. This one was quite fine. Not the best she'd had, but better than she'd expected from a place that had only three wines on the menu, and fifty-seven varieties of tea. Her mind wandered on that subject for some time before she realized that Celestia's answer had been rather evasive. She explained why she doesn't object to alcohol, but that's not actually an explanation for why she doesn't drink. She had to smile at the way Celestia had once again performed conversational judo on her by answering the question without actually answering it at all.

Just as she opened her mouth to try again, Celestia said, “Now... I believe it is your turn.” She smiled; that amused, almost impish smile that few ponies ever saw.

Uh oh. Twilight shifted, her wings moving nervously. She'd been so focused on her curiosity she hadn't really thought her sudden plan through. She'd been thinking about her crush—just a crush!—on Celestia. She couldn't possibly tell Celestia that!

“Come, whatever it is, it can't be that dreadful.”

“I was just thinking about love,” blurted Twilight. She immediately blushed brightly. She had not meant to say that. Celestia lifted one inquisitive eyebrow, inviting her to say more. She fumbled around for some kind of explanation. Her panicked brain couldn't seem to find any lies, so some of the truth came out somehow instead. “I mean... I was thinking about crushes. I, uh... I don't think I've ever been in love, but I've had a crush on somepony for a while now.”

“Oh? Anypony I would know?”

“Ah ha, ha, ha, of course not. Just... somepony. Nopony in particular.”

“I see.” Celestia still sounded amused, and Twilight flushed, knowing that the princess hadn't bought it. Thankfully, Celestia seemed disinclined to pursue the matter. Twilight spent the rest of their time at the tea house being too relieved that Celestia hadn't pried any further to remember that Celestia also hadn't actually answered her question about drinking.


Quite some time later, the pair strolled together through the streets of Canterlot towards the palace. It was a fine, clear evening, with Luna's moon a bright, waxing crescent overhead. Twilight had had three glasses of wine, and felt ever so slightly giddy. They had been spread out over several hours and many teapots' worth of tea, and now that she was a good bit taller she'd once been she found that it took a proportionately greater volume of alcohol to get her drunk, but all the same she did feel a faint lightness, and she found herself mentally checking that her wings were still held firmly to her ribs.

Mostly, though, she just felt happy. It was a beautiful night, and she was walking by Celestia's side—she didn't even have to trot to keep up anymore! Admittedly, she still wasn't anywhere near as tall as Celestia herself, but she had nearly caught up to Luna now. It was a bit strange to be taller than pretty much every mare—and a fair number of the stallions—that she knew, and she had to watch out for low doorways, but it did have its benefits.

As they reached the palace gates, Twilight decided to voice her enjoyment. “It's such a lovely night. I'll have to compliment Luna on it.”

Celestia came to a halt just outside the gates, looking upward. She glanced briefly at Twilight before returning her attention to sky. “It is quite beautiful. Luna has a finer touch with the night than I ever did. I missed her nights while she was gone.”

There was a long moment of companionable silence as both ponies' eyes wandered across the sky. Abruptly, Twilight broke the silence. “I'm not really ready to sleep yet,”

“I must confess that I am not either.. Perhaps we could take a walk through the gardens?”

Twilight smiled. “That sounds very nice.”

They walked together in silence through the mostly empty palace halls. There was a faint murmur in the distance at one point, as they passed near the throne room where Luna's Night Court was in session. Other than that, the only sign of life they saw was the statue-like presence of the Night Guard at their stations throughout the palace.

Soon, they emerged on the other side of the main palace building, to the open ground where the great hedge maze lay, and the zoological gardens, and the rose garden, and who knew how many more gardens and greenhouses and gazebos. Twilight had never managed to fully explore them all.

Twilight enjoyed the silence as they walked. Being with Celestia felt comfortable, despite everything that had changed. As they passed through the zoological gardens, and she caught a glimpse of a napping buzzard, she remembered her first Grand Galloping Gala. All she had wanted was to spend time with Celestia, but instead she'd ended up shaking hooves with an uncountably infinite number of ponies before the whole night had collapsed into disaster. Today, she'd had an entire evening with Celestia all to herself, and it had been wonderful. It was still wonderful.

Eventually, as they strolled through the hedge maze—much smaller and more easily solved now that Discord wasn't at its heart—Celestia spoke. “It is something of a cliché that we regret the things we do not do more than the things we do. I think there's a great deal of truth in it, though. Words unspoken, opportunities ungrasped,” she smiled at Twilight, with a hint of impish mischief, “and crushes left unconfessed can all be causes for great sorrow.”

Twilight immediately blushed. Had Celestia guessed? Did she knew how Twilight felt about her? “Uhm...”

“You don't need to tell me who it is you feel that way about, Twilight, but you should tell that pony. Rejection may sting for a while, but regret lasts for a lifetime.” A strange half-smile crossed Celestia's muzzle, “And that is a very long time indeed, for an alicorn.”

Oh thank goodness, she doesn't know. Twilight relaxed slightly. They walked a little farther in silence. Eventually Twilight spoke. “If it's just a crush though,” she ventured, “should I really? It's not as though it's true love.”

Celestia chuckled softly and shook her head. “True love as it is portrayed in songs and poems, and in books—where I am sure you've read a great deal about it—doesn't exist. All love begins as a mere attraction; a 'crush' as you put it. Whether it blossoms depends on how the ponies in question grow together. The 'true love' that lasts for a lifetime and the fling that lasts for a day both begin the same way. It is only with care and nourishment that the one grows, and only with neglect or incompatibility that the other withers.”

“I see.”

“So you should confess it, Twilight. Confess it as soon as the opportunity arrives. Be brave. Be bold!” There was a brief beat before Celestia continued, a bit more reserved, “Don't let your life fill up with regrets.”

She's right. I would regret it if I never said anything to her, thought Twilight. She nodded hesitantly.

“I'm glad you agree,” said Celestia, smiling with satisfaction.

Twilight smiled back nervously. Her heart was racing. How was she supposed to tell Celestia how she felt? She tried to string together some explanation, but she couldn't think of any way to begin. The words just wouldn't come.

The alicorn pair came out into the center of the maze, a broad, open space filled with topiary sculptures. Celestia sat down on the grass there and looked up at the night sky. Twilight sat next to her. She let herself lean against Celestia's side, her heart still racing. If I can't think of the words, perhaps I could tell her without words? She said to be bold... She glanced up at Celestia. Celestia turned her head towards Twilight. “Is something else troubling you?”

“I... Uhm...” Be brave. Be bold, Twilight repeated to herself. She suddenly darted her head forward and kissed Celestia directly on the lips. Firmly. At length. Having decided on her course of action, she didn't want to leave Celestia with any doubts about what she meant by the kiss.

For just an instant Celestia kissed back. Her lips moved against Twilight's, her eyes sliding shut. Twilight felt a wonderful warmth spring up within her. Maybe Celestia did return her feelings! Then, she felt a warmth on her hide. It was a strange warmth, that was very rapidly growing from wonderful to uncomfortable.

Celestia suddenly jerked her head back and leaped to her feet, away from Twilight. Twilight gaped at her. Tiny flickers of fire were running all over Celestia's coat. Celestia took a deep breath, then let it out, and the flames faded and died.

“What just happened?” Twilight was still gaping at Celestia in shock.

Celestia sighed and sat down a short distance from Twilight. “I'm very sorry, Twilight. I didn't realize that your crush was on me. I do not want to hurt you, but I'm afraid I must turn you down.”

“B-but why?”

“Because of what just happened.”

“That doesn't answer my question when I have no idea what that was! Would you mind explaining it to me?” Twilight knew that she sounded petulant and cranky, and that she really shouldn't talk like that to Celestia, but she really wanted to know what in the world was going on.

“Very well,” said Celestia, looking up at the night sky as she spoke. “Tell me, Twilight, have you ever seen Luna drunk?”

Twilight was a bit taken aback by the sudden change of subject, but eventually she slowly nodded. “Once. Last Nightmare Night, she and Rainbow Dash had a cider chugging contest.”

“She started glowing, didn't she?”

“Yeah. It was kind of pretty, but also kind of strange.”

“It was moonlight. She would radiate it constantly if she did not maintain a certain habitual discipline at all times. Alcohol weakens that discipline, even in fairly small amounts. And I, well... The sun is much fiercer than the moon, Twilight.”

“You mean you'd blind ponies?”

“I mean I would set them on fire.”

“Oh.” The cause of the strange flames suddenly became clear to Twilight.

“It is not merely drinking, however, that can lead to this. Any loss of control can cause it. Strong anger. Physical passion, as you have just seen. All the things that I must deny myself, lest I spread flame and destruction wherever I go.”

“You do feel something for me then,” whispered Twilight.

“It doesn't matter if I do, Twilight,” said Celestia gently. “Any expression of passion between us would kill you.”

“We wouldn't have to... to make love. We could just be...”

“Platonic friends? As we are now?” Celestia's smile was sad and wry at once.

“Heh.” Twilight had no idea what she was feeling. Hope and sadness and confusion churned in her. “I just finally realized that I like you. It seems like you like me too. How can a little fire stand in the way of that? Surely there's something that can be done?”

Celestia shook her head slowly. “Let this seedling die, Twilight. Nurture another bloom in its place—nothing can be done for this one. I do care for you deeply, but it can never be anything more than friendship. You will only hurt yourself if you persist.”

“But if we both care for each other, surely there must be a way!”

Celestia's words simply continued down the same track. “Your heart will mend in time. Trust me. Hearts are resilient things, I know.” Her voice was gentle, reassuring, but also sorrowful.

Twilight looked over at Celestia, still sitting a few lengths away, still staring up into the star-strewn sky, not meeting her eyes. How many times had she had this conversation, over the centuries? How many times had she sent somepony she loved away, so they could plant a new seed and find love with another pony? Twilight felt that her heart was breaking, but it wasn't because Celestia had rejected her. It was breaking in sympathy with Celestia's, that must be scarred indeed after so many years with no love. No wonder she treasured Luna so. No wonder she treasured friendship, too.

“Celestia,” said Twilight, softly, “I'm so sorry.”

“I'm sorry too,” said Celestia, finally lowering her head and looking at Twilight again. “But this is the way things have to be.”

Seeing the sadness in Celestia's eyes, Twilight felt a spark of determination light in her own. “Celestia... exactly how hot is this fire?”

Celestia gave Twilight a quelling look. “I know what you're thinking. It has been tried. It won't work.”

Twilight managed a mischievous smile, feeling suddenly better. Maybe it wouldn't work. Maybe this really was the way things had to be. But maybe not. If there was another way, any other way, Twilight was going to find it. “Probably not. I still want to know.” She gave Celestia the most wide-eyed, innocent, pleading look she could muster. “For science?”

Celestia rolled her eyes at that, but she was smiling again. “For science, then. It's hot enough to melt steel, when the, ah, effect is at full strength.”

“You've never measured the temperature?” Twilight was just a little bit shocked at that.

“Science has not been the subject at the forefront of my mind on any of the occasions when this has happened,” said Celetia dryly.

Twilight cleared her throat sheepishly. “Ah, I suppose it wouldn't be. I need more information though. Are we talking immediately fully liquid, or merely softening?”

“Not immediately, but it does become fully liquified eventually.”

“I don't suppose you've noted any difference between high carbon and low carbon steel?”

Celestia laughed at that. “I'm sorry, but I haven't, no.”

“That makes it a bit more difficult to say for certain. What about wrought iron? That has a slightly hotter melting point than steel, you know.”

Celestia chuckled. “I did know that, actually. Wrought iron glows and softens, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it actually melt, now that you mention it. There were those gates at the gryphon palace, back in the day... I'm fairly certain that they were wrought iron and they weren't a puddle afterward.”

“Excellent! Somewhere around fifteen hundred degrees then. Hotter than dragon's fire! Quite impressive.”

Celestia quirked a wry eyebrow at her. “I'll take that as a compliment.”

“That's not actually as hot as the sun though, you know. It's not even all that close.”

Celestia chuckled again. “I am not the actual sun, Twilight. I am merely a conduit for the sun's energy. Some of it, but not all of it at once, or I would probably have destroyed the entire world when I first gained my powers.”

“That's... a good thing, then.”

“Indeed it is. But Twilight... I know you are still thinking of finding a way to make things work between us. Please accept that it's not possible.”

“Celestia... I can't just flip a switch and decide that I don't care for you anymore.”

“Perhaps not. But clinging to hope for a romance that can never be will hurt you more than letting it go. Find a way to move on, Twilight.” Celestia's stern tone, that of a teacher chastising her wayward student, was one that Twilight hadn't heard in a long time. “If you can't, then I'm afraid I won't be able to see you again.”

“I...” Twilight hesitated. Celestia was convinced it was impossible. Twilight was sure there was a way. They could argue in circles for hours and accomplish nothing save to irritate Celestia enough to send her away. I could actually get effectively banished, although she probably wouldn't imprison me in the place she banishes me to, she thought with a touch of amusement. So. Arguing wouldn't get her anywhere. Now that she had a concrete, numerical goal to work towards, she had work to do anyway. “Perhaps I should take a little time away from you to get over this,” said Twilight. She felt a tiny twinge of guilt at the near-lie, but it was only a very tiny twinge. If it was actually impossible, then her research would help her come to terms with that. If it wasn't...

“That's probably for the best. Luna and I have things under control here, really. Why don't you spend some time back in Ponyville? I'm sure your friends would love to see you more often.”

Twilight put on her best smile for Celestia. “That sounds like a good idea.”


Celestia ignored the commotion by the doors to her throne room. The guards would deal with whatever it was, one way or another. A familiar name amid snatched of shouting, however, made her ears swivel towards the conflict.

“...trying to tell you! Princess Twilight...inside the thing...won't...bellows are off, but...see Princess Celestia, please!

Celestia rose and descended from her throne. As she walked down the long red carpet at the center of the room she saw her guards holding back a dark-coated earth pony stallion who seemed to be almost frantic. “We'll report this to the princess,” said one of them sternly.

“It can't wait! I don't know why Princess Twilight did this, but if anything goes wrong she'll be burnt to a cinder!”

“What exactly,” said Celestia sternly as she approached the doors, “has my former pupil done now?”

The guards lifted their spears and stepped back, letting the panicked stallion step forward. “She's in my blast furnace, your highness.”

Celestia blinked. “What?”

“In my blast furnace. We've stopped the bellows, so it's cooling, but it's several thousand degrees in there still and she has to be standing hock-deep in molten iron. We tried to stop her from going in, but she just magicked everypony aside and jumped straight into the thing, in the middle of a batch of pig iron. She won't come out, no matter what we say. She's got to be using some kind of magic, but if anything goes wrong with it, she'll be cooked in an instant! Please, your highness, we've tried everything we can think of to convince her to come out, but she just won't. You have to come and get her out of there.”

Celestia's heart thudded faster in her breast. What was Twilight thinking? “I'll come at once,” she said. “Just lead the way.”

“Thank Cel— uh, thank you,” said the stallion. He turned and headed back the way he'd come at a gallop, Celestia following close on his heels. With her longer legs, she barely had to canter to keep up, which left her mind free to think about what was going on.

She had not seen Twilight in months. The ever-studious mare had been obviously buried deep in some project or other. She'd shown all the signs: she had stopped sending letters, she'd visited the Royal Library twice without taking the time to see either Celestia or her parents, and she'd generally been difficult to reach and absent-minded when one did get her attention.

Except... she had responded to a few of Celestia's messages. In retrospect, that should have been highly suspicious. She'd volunteered without even being asked to go on that routine diplomatic visit to the Garnet Tribe diamond dogs... who happened to live very near an active volcano. And before that, there had been that trip to negotiate with an old dragon who'd recently established a territory inside Equestria's borders. There had been so many minor crises piled on top of each other at the time that Celestia had been glad to have Twilight take a pair of them off of her hooves, and hadn't thought too deeply about the reasons why a Twilight in the midst of a scholarly obsession would have done so. Then there was the paper on phoenix behavior Twilight had just gotten published. That right there should have raised alarm bells, but Celestia had just assumed that Twilight's recent obsession must be phoenixes and had dismissed it without further thought. She should have noticed the pattern.

In any case, it was now quite clear that Twilight had been researching something else entirely. It was also clear that she had once more gone overboard while in the grasp of her mania—that was the only possible explanation for her leaping into a blast furnace! Celestia grimaced. She never liked it when she had to rein Twilight back from some ill-considered course of action; that incident with Smarty Pants had been one of the low points in her relationship with her pupil. Now, it seemed she was about to find an even lower one. Twilight had been reckless before, but never this reckless!

Celestia suppressed a twinge of guilt as she arrived at the inevitable conclusion that this new high—or low—of reckless behavior was entirely her fault. If she hadn't satisfied Twilight's curiosity, if she'd shut her down more firmly all those months ago, Twilight wouldn't be risking her life now.

The stallion in front of her skidded to a halt outside a towering brick structure, and Celestia, lost in unpleasant thought, nearly collided with him.

“Where is she?”

“In the furnace. Here, I'll show you.” He turned and clattered up a set of stairs that climbed a bit over half way up the side of the tapered tower. A dark doorway at the top led within, with heat and fumes radiating from it. Celestia stepped inside. The heat didn't bother her, but the stallion was instantly sweating. The passage immediately led to a square chamber, where large bins of ore, coke, and lime waited. Another sweating stallion was standing there with a large shovel in his hoof. Ahead of him a glowing square in the floor belched roiling fumes into the air, which vanished upwards into a broad chimney. “In there,” said the stallion, pointing at the glowing pit.

Celestia didn't hesitate: she jumped straight into the furnace. The space was too narrow to spread her wings, and gliding down while the superheated air raced up around her would have been impossible anyway, so she used her magic to cushion her fall.

She splashed down into a lake of molten iron, sinking just to her barrel before bobbing up in the dense liquid. It was a strange sensation, floating so high. It was a bit like swimming, but more like walking belly-deep in a bowl of preserves.

Twilight Sparkle was lying down on the bed of molten metal, curled up tidily as if she had perched herself on a fine pillow. She was sunk only a few inches in it thanks to the larger surface area she'd put in contact with the metal, but the ripples from Celestia's landing lapped at her coat. A book floated on the metal before her, and she appeared to be entirely engrossed in its contents. The chamber was so quiet that Celestia could hear the rustle of pages turning. Normally the furnace would be filled with a deafening roar as air was pumped in to power the process that melted and refined the iron. Now, though, the chamber was eerily still.

“Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia called out sternly.

Twilight carefully closed her book, resting a hoof atop it, and looked up. “Sola Celestia Invictus,” she said mildly, her expression neutral.

Celestia scowled. “I am very disappointed in you, Twilight. Risking your life like this is foolish. You should know better than to act so recklessly. You need to leave here right now before you lose concentration and your spell breaks.”

“I'm not casting anything just now,” said Twilight, with a small, smug smile.

Celestia blinked. Her eyes flicked to Twilight's horn. A small ring set with a clear gem was nestled at the base of it, but there was no magenta field glowing around it. Twilight wasn't casting. “How...?” she started, then stopped. “That isn't possible,” she finally said.

Twilight's smile grew broader and she got to her feet. She sank knee-deep in the molten metal, which put her nearly at eye level with Celestia. “I am an alicorn whose special talent is magic. I can do the impossible, when sufficiently motivated. I've invested the gem on this ring with a protective spell that requires nothing more from me than to put it on. I've spent the last four months working on it. I spent nearly an entire month just finding the perfect ruby. I ended up having to make it perfect; I've erased its flaws at a molecular level. Did you know that the red color in rubies is because of the flaws? Without any, they're actually clear.”

“But—” began Celestia, but Twilight didn't give her a chance to interrupt, she just continued talking, sounding almost like a teacher giving a lecture.

“Because it's flawless, the gem can't shatter from the force of the spell. It allows me to use an exponentially smaller gem than would otherwise be needed for a spell of this power. In fact I had room to put nearly a dozen interconnected spells on it.” She started talking faster, her voice rising.


“Including spells that prevent heat from harming it, protect it from thermal shock, and keep it from shattering when struck, to name just a few. I expect this ring to be in perfect condition ten thousand years from now. I've tested it in every situation I could think of, from hearth fires to dragon's fire to an active volcano to right here. It works, Celestia.”

She paused to take a breath, and Celestia managed, “But Twilight—” before Twilight started talking over her again.

“I also happen to know that one of your workrooms, the one in the deep basement, has heat protective sigils on all the walls, floor, and ceiling, so there is at least one somewhat more convenient place where we are guaranteed to not set anything on fire if we kiss.”

“But I—”

Twilight plunged on, hardly stopping to take a breath now. “The ring's enchantments include one that prevents it from falling off even if I stand on my head, so that particular accident isn't possible. I've thought this through from top to bottom, Celestia. As long as you keep saying 'but', I'm going to keep telling you that this can work. This can work. Please, at least give it—give me—a chance.”

Celestia opened her mouth, about to say “but” again, then shut it. She looked at Twilight, seeing her expression of fixed determination. Celestia felt a strange stirring in her chest. It felt like something within her was breaking, but it felt good. Thousands of years worth of walls were crumbling away beneath the powerful determination on Twilight's face. Finally Celestia summoned a shaky ghost of her usual serene smile. “You seem to be suggesting we go straight to my workroom and, ah, test out your spell, to put it delicately.”

Twilight let out a little chuckle at that, a faint blush tinting her cheeks as she finally shifted her gaze to one side. “I, ah... I wouldn't put up very much of a fight if that's what you want, but I just want you to know that it's an option. All I'm really suggesting,” said Twilight, her eyes shining with sincerity as she fixed them on Celestia once again, “is that I would love to go on a date with you. Not a 'just friends' date, but an actual date-date. And at some point during the course of that date, after carefully making sure we're not near anything flammable, I would like to give you a goodnight kiss. We can worry about whatever else... as it comes.”

Slowly the last of the those ancient walls crumbled. Twilight had brought down every last stone. Celestia felt something take flight from within those walls, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Hope unfolded gentle wings within her and she finally smiled as she looked into Twilight's eyes. At last she answered, “That sounds wonderful, Twilight.”

Twilight's smile broke into a huge grin, and she bounced up and down in the molten iron, sending waves of it to lap against Celestia's coat. The memory of Twilight as a filly, shouting “Yes, yes, yes!” and leaping around her passed through Celestia's mind. Twilight bounded forward and wrapped her wings around Celestia in a fervent, enthusiastic embrace. Celestia folded her own wings around Twilight in turn. They stayed that way for a long moment, before Celestia finally let her wings fall to her sides. Twilight smiled up at her warmly. “Thank you, Celestia. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for giving me a chance.”

“Thank you, Twilight, for giving me one. I am touched by how much you've been willing to go through for my sake.”

“I've always known I would walk through fire for you,” said Twilight simply. Then, with a wry smile, she added, “This is for me too, though. Being with you makes me happy. I remember my first Gala, and how all I wanted to do was to spend time with you. That's still all I want.”

Celestia gave Twilight a matching smile in return. “That was the best Gala I'd had in years. And not just because of the excitement your friends caused.” She lifted a hoof and stroked Twilight's mane gently. “Seeing you so happy just to be with me, and spending time with you and your friends at Donut Joe's afterward, was wonderful. You are wonderful. I never dared hope that I could be with any pony. Being able to be with you is a dream come true.”

Celestia was never sure, afterward, whether it was her lips that sought Twilight's, or Twilight's lips that sought hers, but either way they met in a kiss that was no less heated than the molten metal beneath them.

When at last they broke reluctantly apart, Celestia was almost tempted to dive in for another kiss. Instead, with a soft sigh, she said, “We should leave. The foundry owner will no doubt appreciate being able to resume his work.”

Twilight echoed her sigh. “I suppose.”

Celestia gathered her magic and leaped into the air. With beads of molten iron trailing behind her, she shot up to the top of the furnace and kept going, past the startled pair of stallions still standing in the room above, through the broad chimney, and out the top of the furnace tower. Twilight followed close behind.

In the clean, cool air above, Celestia spread her wings. Twilight came up beside her and did the same. As the furnace smoke vanished behind them, they flew, with wingtips almost touching, through a clear, open sky, and above them the sun shone down like a benediction.

Author's Notes:

For the pedantic among you, I did a fair amount of research on blast furnaces and similar technologies for this story. I ended up using a design loosely based on this 18th century furnace, which seemed to fit fairly well with Equestria's general tech level as seen in the show, although I picture the exterior as somewhat resembling this older German design.

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