Baby Pictures

by QueenMoriarty

Chapter 1: Fate Shall be Cruel, and Order Unkind

"Oh, and here you are in the bathtub! Look at all of those pretty bubbles!"

Shining Armor tried not to blush as his mother pointed out the picture, while Twilight chuckled. Shining's baby pictures were all adorable, filled with misadventures of magic and masculinity as they were. This one was a rare gem that encompassed every aspect of Shining Armor's childhood, and why Cadance was forbidden from attending photo album nights.

"You're right, dear," Night Light chimed in from over Twilight's shoulder. "Those bubbles are quite masterful."

"Such amazing control," Twilight Velvet agreed. "Such impressive manipulation."

"You always were a prodigy, son. Pulling off a spell like this when you were just four years old is no small feat."

Shining Armor was hanging his head by this point, torn between laughing or dying from humiliation. "Can't we just... turn to the next page, or something?"

"Come on, Shiny, you know the rules." Twilight bumped him playfully in the shoulder. "You run the empire, I run Ponyville, and Mom and Dad's domain is Family Night. What they say goes, and right now they say we keep praising you for this..."

"Marvel of magical ingenuity, that's what!"

"Dad..." Shining groaned, "it's a bubble penis. Made out of bubbles that are shaped like penises."

"For a four-year-old, this kind of magical power and control is practically impossible!" Twilight Velvet was doing her best to sound genuinely proud, but there was a hint of giggling around the edges of her voice.

"Honestly, it's just a shame that it was one of those rare days when one of your professors wasn't over for dinner!"

Shining's blush had grown so much that it could almost be mistaken for his natural color. Twilight started laughing, and that seemed to be the cue for their parents to break down into hooting and hollering. They spent a good five minutes falling over each other and laughing so loud that the walls shook, during which Shining Armor took the opportunity to turn the page of the photo album.

"Hey, Mom," he had to speak up just a little to be heard over the laughter, "do you remember Twily's eighth birthday?"

The alicorn princess in question stiffened in fear when she heard that, and felt her comeuppance fast approaching as she stared at the picture that her brother had turned to. At first glance, it was a serene scene, with a whole pod of dolphins swimming in a giant bubble of water that was hovering in the middle of a mostly empty concert hall. The Sparkle family was all there, with the addition of Princess Celestia, but rather than watching the dolphins, everypony in the photo was concentrating on a young Twilight Sparkle, whose horn was quite visibly sparking and whose aura encircled the hall-spanning bubble.

Twilight Velvet tugged the album away from her son, and smiled a warm motherly smile that was only slightly off-put by the laughter lines in her face. "Ah, yes, that was the year that dear old Celestia arranged for a private performance by the Royal Canterlot Orchestra."

Twilight hid behind her wings.

"And put sneezing powder in the canapes," Night Light reminded them all, prompting a round of chuckles.

Twilight laid down on the floor, trying to hide her head beneath her hooves.

"It could have gone a lot worse," Shining admitted. "We're just lucky she ended up turning the audience into water." That triggered an onslaught of laughter.

Twilight started burrowing under the carpet. "Can't we look at something earlier?" she begged. "How about we make fun of how bad Mom was at tying diapers?"

"That's a splendid idea, Twilight," Night Light declared as he flicked the carpet off her head with a spell. The sound of pages flickering insanely fast in her father's aura was enough to assure Twilight that, for the moment at least, she was safe from embarrassment.

"Oh, there's a good one," Shining spoke up. Twilight turned around, gauged her father's grin and her mother's quickly growing blush, and smiled. She had made, if not the winning move, then at least a move that could buy her a few minutes to recoup.

"You know she was a difficult child, Shiny," Velvet tried to salvage her position. "I can hardly be blamed for one or two small snafus."

"One or two, I'll concede." Night Light's voice was filled with so much confidence that he probably could have talked his way into winning a poker game against an opponent holding a Royal Flush. "But we've got at least twenty such incidents in this album..." He signaled Twilight to finish the attack.

"...And that's just the ones that Dad managed to catch on camera," she followed up flawlessly. Velvet grew a few shades closer to her namesake, and Night Light held out his hoof for a celebratory bump. Meanwhile, Shining was smiling sympathetically at his mother.

"You know, to be fair to Mom, an alicorn baby does pose a little more challenge than your average unicorn."

Twilight chuckled. "Yeah, I guess that would be a bit of a... wait, what did you say?"

She teleported over to Shining's side, and paled in shock as she saw the photo in question. It depicted her mother with a half-assembled diaper clasped loosely between her teeth, both hooves and glowing horn all trying desperately to stop a tiny purple alicorn from flying away. Twilight stared at the wings on her infant self, daring them to be fake, but they looked as much like flesh and blood as the same wings on her own back.

"How is this possible?" she whispered.

"Well you see, dear," Night Light launched into the most cliché joke possible as though completely oblivious to the impossibility of the situation, "when two ponies love each other very much..."

Twilight had already tuned out the bad joke, focused instead on flipping through the pages of the photo album at speeds that should have been causing the pages to spontaneously combust from friction. Her eyes scanned every photograph as soon as they could, all of them bearing the same disquieting addition; a pair of absolutely real, definitely not post-production wings on a baby that had most definitely not been born with them. She flipped forward to pages where she was more than half a year old, and even more perplexing was how she was just a unicorn in the more recent pictures.

"Mom? What tribe was I born into?" Twilight flipped back to a series of photos taken just a few weeks before her first birthday, the first pictures of her that had been 'professionally' taken.

"I'm not sure there's enough alicorns in the world for them to really count as a tribe," Velvet said, just a little nervously. Twilight sighed in annoyance, something that she probably would have had the decency to apologize for if she wasn't so busy freaking out.

The pages finally stopped flickering under her aura, stopping on a picture that seemed to hold the key to this entire debacle. It was a simple shot of her laying on her tummy, smiling up at the camera with eyes full of the wonderment that only children could use effectively. It was probably Twilight's favorite of her own baby pictures, completely simple and utterly devoid of magical chaos.

But on the bare back of that far-gone vision of her youth, there were two translucent purple shadows. They held the shape of wings, but in a simple, outline-y sort of way, as though drawn by the same child that they adorned. There were one or two details that looked like the beginnings of primary feathers, and as Twilight magnified her vision a thousandfold, she could see one of the feathers being ever so slowly sketched into being by an invisible pen. Each stroke of that pen was impossibly small, and Twilight made a rough calculation that it would be seven hours before the unassisted eye would observe a change.

"Twily? Is something wrong?" There wasn't any joking in Shining's voice, and his face had grown grim and seemed braced to strike.

"Somepony's cast a Level Three memory spell on us," she announced as calmly as she could. "Possibly Level Four. I'm outside the horizon of it, but the three of you are so deep you aren't even noticing it."

Some families might have blanched in horror. Some might have shrieked, or demanded to know what they could do or order Twilight to stop playing games. The Sparkle family, by contrast, had spent their entire lives dealing with volatile mages that could probably end the universe if they had a particularly bad temper tantrum, and were very well-trained in how to deal with any variety of magical emergency. Shining took charge, shepherding his parents into the Horavian shelter, but that was mostly his Royal Guard training building on a decade of dodging spells that hadn't actually been properly invented yet.

While they retreated to a hopefully safer place, Twilight slid the changing picture out of the album. A cursory scan with her magic gave her nothing. A more detailed scan produced similar results. The most thorough examination of magical radiation that she could whip up in a hurry provided literally no information on what was making the picture change.

With all of the immediately obvious solutions exhausted, Twilight fell back on the tried and tested Plan B: teleport into Celestia's bedroom.

"The knight moves in a sort of 'L' formation. It can only move to a square that is two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two squares vertically and one square horizontally, of the square it currently sits on." Celestia set down the chess piece, and smiled across the board at her opponent. "Any questions?"

"NO, THANK YOU." The Pale Horse made a sigh like the dying breaths of a thousand orphans, opting to move his pawn rather than try the knight. "YOU WOULD THINK I WOULD KNOW HOW TO PLAY THIS GAME BY NOW. IT'S NOT AS IF IT'S CHANGED AT ALL."

"And you would think I would know how to deal with magical disasters by now," Celestia countered, sliding her remaining rook into a slightly better position. "Everything that exists must have some kind of flaw. At least yours doesn't get in the way of your job."

"Princess Celestia!" The all-too-familiar screams of Twilight Sparkle echoed from the adjoining room. "We have a serious problem!"

"Speaking of which," Celestia sighed in resignation as she rose from her seat. "It seems we must put our little game on hold for now."

"I CAN WAIT," the personification of death assured her. Celestia gave him a motherly smile, and slipped through the door into her bedroom.

There was the briefest fraction of a second where the sight of Twilight Sparkle, quivering with fear and obvious distress, almost made Celestia feel concern. Then she saw the photograph wavering in her former student's aura, and concern was replaced with a crushing reminder of the inevitable.

"Hello, Twilight," she said, expertly masking her true feelings behind a supportive smile. "Are you alright?"

"Am I alright?" Twilight sounded borderline hysterical. "Am I alright? How could I possibly be alright when somepony is tampering with my family's memories?" She brandished the photo as proof, waving it so fast that Celestia wouldn't have been able to see it clearly if she hadn't already stolen a look.

"I'm sure that's not what's happening, Twilight." She tugged the photo out of Twilight's grasp with a quick flick of a spell. She examined the transparent wings, half-expecting them to become solid in the time it took her to blink. She was pleasantly surprised when she had to squint to see destiny weaving its tapestry of new truth. "You know, I'm actually jealous of you, Twilight."

"Jealous?" The younger alicorn sputtered. "You're jealous of an attack on my family?"

"Even if that were the case, that's not what I meant." Celestia gestured to the picture. "I'm jealous of the age in which you grew up. When this happened to me, the most revolutionary technology that my ponies had come up with was the plow. The only images of ponies that could be found were oil paintings, and they didn't start painting me until after I had already transformed. It took me almost ten years to realize what was happening."

Twilight snatched the picture back, obviously trying not to glare at Celestia. "So you do know what's going on."

"Regrettably, yes." In the corner of her eye, Celestia watched a moth buzzing against an oil lamp. "What do you know about alicorns, Twilight?"

"We're an insanely powerful fusion of the three main pony tribes," Twilight responded almost immediately, a little bit of tension draining out of her as her brain latched onto the distraction. "The four of us- wait, five of us - all possess strength, speed, stamina and magical ability all well beyond what's generally held to be the physical limit for normal ponies. That, coupled with our incredibly long lifespans, has led some scholars to formulate the theory that alicorns are literal goddesses."

"Do you think we are?"

Twilight shrugged. "Would it matter if we were? There will still be ponies who see us as the masters of their fates, no matter what we say. If they say that I'm a god, that's what I am."

"Yes, but gods usually aren't made." Celestia started to move toward the balcony, and felt her heart sink as she realized it was still a good few hours until sunset. "Can you create something more powerful than yourself with magic, Twilight?"

"No, but how is that relevant? Aren't you stronger than me?"

To Twilight's audible surprise, Celestia burst out laughing at that suggestion. "Twilight, I am merely the hoof that guides the sun in its turning 'round our planet. You are the physical incarnation of magic itself. If you weren't stronger than me before your ascension, you could definitely wipe the floor with me today. And yet your current form is the result of Star Swirl the Bearded's enchantments. The incomplete, long-faded magic of a stallion who would be as an ant before you if he were alive today. Does that seem right to you?"

Celestia counted three seconds before Twilight mumbled the words "Not really, no".

"Of course it doesn't. Because it's impossible. Just like all of magic."

"What?" She could practically taste Twilight's indignation. "Magic is entirely possible! Star Swirl himself defined magic as the simple transformation of thoughts into power!"

"Yes, but the mage Meadowbrook, regarded by many as the superior authority on irrefutable truths of the universe, had a very different definition." Celestia turned to her student, letting the slightest note of disapproval enter her facial expression. "Can you remember what that definition is?"

A moment of reflection, an answer delivered by rote. "In his twentieth letter to the Maharaja of Saddle Arabia, Meadowbrook explained that '[magic] is a rejection of reality that is only possible because the majority of mages are too pigheaded to realize it is impossible'." Twilight was visibly confused and slightly disgusted as she quoted the old sage. "Are you saying he was right?"

"Most definitely. He may have been incredibly tribalist towards pigs, but Meadowbrook was very rarely wrong when discussing reality." Celestia allowed herself a moment to reflect on the far-too-distant past, remembering the long talks that she and Meadowbrook would have as they sipped bubble tea while sheltering from the burning rains of Castamare. "He was the one I turned to for aid when I realized that the memories of my... I suppose the best word would be mortal days were fading from the memories of my friends and family."

"Was he able to give you an answer?"

"I'd hardly be so calm about this if he hadn't," Celestia tried not to sound too condescending. "Of course, you won't like the answer."

"Will I be able to sleep at night?"

"Do you think knowing that the universe itself, on a fundamental level, despises you for the simple crime of existing, would be the sort of thing to keep you awake at night?" Celestia turned around to gauge Twilight's reaction.

In a small way, it was reassuring to see Twilight's face gape in shock at the idea. When Cadance had learned the truth, she had been disturbingly calm about the whole thing.

"The concepts of destiny, order, fate and harmony are not just concepts. In one capacity or another, they are all very much alive. Shortly after the beginning of time, this world saw the first of many visits from a species we've come to classify as draconequus." Celestia caught Twilight's spit in her magic before it could hit the carpet. "Their unique powers left our reality very much beaten and bruised, and the damage only grows greater each time one of them wanders into our corner of causality. Meadowbrook discovered that the chaos powers of the draconequui are the entire reason why our world is capable of magic, while worlds like the mirror realm can only dream of the concept."

"But how does this tie into alicorns?"

"I'm getting to that," she chided. "Now, with most instances of magic, order and harmony are willing to live and let live. After all, you don't get a universe to survive two full-on attacks from Discord without loosening the rules a little. Now, the logical extreme of magic is an alicorn. It actually isn't possible for something more powerful than alicorn magic to exist. So, according to the rules of magic, as they have evolved over our eons of largely-consistent use, it should be impossible to create a pony-sized concentration of alicorn magic." Celestia rounded on Twilight. "So, how does the universe deal with something it knows for a fact to be impossible?"

It took Twilight almost an entire minute to come up with an answer. "It stops the impossible thing from having happened."

"More often, the universe changes its own rules, so that what we thought was impossible was actually always possible. We used to think it was impossible to switch cutie marks, and until mages like Star Swirl and Starlight Glimmer turned their overwhelming power to the task, it probably was impossible. But now that it's done, it either has to be doable, or time has to be rewritten."

"So it used to be impossible to transform a unicorn into an alicorn, but now it is doable." Twilight gestured with the photograph again. "But that doesn't explain why my life is being rewritten for everypony except for me."

Celestia shook her head. "Think about it, Twilight. If it was actually, consistently possible for your average mage to create a being a hundred times more powerful than themselves, we'd be up to our ears in alicorns. Fate cannot allow such things to be possible for our ponies. So there is a choice that they must make; Either Twilight Sparkle has always been an alicorn, or Twilight Sparkle can never be an alicorn."

As the sun finally began to slip beneath the clouds, Celestia could practically hear the pieces of the puzzle click together in Twilight's mind. "History is rewriting itself around me. They decided I was worth keeping around."

"We always are." Celestia threw open the doors of the balcony, basking in the late afternoon sunlight. "A world like ours, barely subject to order, isn't regularly visited like other worlds. By the time they show up and realize there's a new alicorn, that alicorn has usually already done something to save the world. To erase us from time is to doom Equestria. Making our friends and family forget that we were once like them is hardly a demanding price to pay for all of ponykind."

It felt like hours before Twilight finally spoke again, and when she did, it could not have sounded more empty. "Will I forget, too?"

In the blink of an eye, Celestia was beside her student, spreading a comforting wing over her. "Of course not. Twilight Sparkle the unicorn will never fade from your memory, unless you let her. And I must urge you, don't ever use this as an excuse to let go of your humility."

Twilight sank slowly to the floor, Celestia doing her best to match pace. "Don't worry, Celestia. I promise. I won't forget where I came from. Even if all the world ever sees is a goddess, I will still see a unicorn when I look in the mirror."


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