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Has That Always Been There? · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Walk With Me, Twilight Sparkle
Walk With Me, Twilight Sparkle

Silence. Blessed silence.

Celestia hated it.

Silence was the sound of sorrow, of mourning. The absence of joy. Darkness where there should have been light. The absence of her sister.

The day was anything but silent. The sounds of ponies filled the castle, talking among themselves, the chime of their shoes against the hard stone of the corridors, and the neverending rustle of unsigned papers. It was music to her ears, a mix of voices and background sounds that could easily compare to a choir backed up by the largest symphony orchestra in the world.

It was life, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her sane through the years.

Not all of the ponies in the castle sang or played from the same metaphorical music, either. They would laugh inappropriately in solemn places, or run where ponies were forbidden to do more than a slow walk. And that was just the adults. Whenever the schools sent a group of students on a field trip, all of the rules got delightfully trampled. Sometimes the little scamps would even evade her trusted Royal Guards and intrude on Celestia’s personal space, once even to the point where she found a mischievous pair of them bouncing on her own bed much the same way Luna used to when she was smaller.

How ironic that two such free-willed and capricious unicorns had two quiet and unassuming children with astonishing potential, one of whom was sitting almost silently by Celestia’s side.

The hustle and bustle of what was almost laughingly called ‘Night Court’ had been over for a while, and nearly every pony had already departed the dark and silent courtroom except for the single batwinged Royal Guard by the main door. There had only been a few ponies with requests for the Crown tonight, mostly citizens with awkward problems or ones with jobs during the day, but leaving them until the evening allowed Celestia a comfortable amount of time to deal with their individual issues.


She was an immortal alicorn who had more time than any other pony in Equestria, but Celestia found herself giving from that infinite store to all of the world until she had almost none for herself. There was always one more disagreement that needed smoothing out, or some worthwhile project that needed just a little boost. Here, a charity needed her to make a personal appearance, there a diplomat begged her presence to ease the tensions between rival countries. So many things to do for so many centuries and only one alicorn to do them until recently.

The arrival of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza had been an unexpected shock to her routine, an infant alicorn who needed to be raised by an ancient one, but now that the young princess was of age, she had proven herself to be an invaluable diplomat. Sometimes, perhaps a little too invaluable, as there had been more than one squabble between countries which Celestia suspected had been stirred up by both sides just to get a diplomatic visit from the Princess of Love. The time Celestia had invested in Cadence’s education was being paid back tenfold, giving her the precious time to spend with her current student in the hopes…

Celestia glanced downward from the writing table, heaped high with the inevitable paperwork she had been behind schedule in completing when she first took her place as an Equestrian princess and still was now. Twilight Sparkle did not notice the silence at first, deeply engrossed in at least three books at the same time with bookmarks in a half-dozen more to her side. After a few moments, her nearest ear twitched at the absence of the perpetual quill scratching, rotated in Celestia’s direction to double-check the unconscious auditory observation, then once several bookmarks had taken flight and inserted themselves into each perused book, Twilight Sparkle looked up at her.

“Did you need something, Princess? Was I reading too loud?”

It was so typical of her student, and triggered a small, very unprincesslike giggle. Over the decade since Celestia had taken on her second student, little Twilight Sparkle had proven so different than Sunset Shimmer. Loyalty was one thing, but Twilight took the concept to levels even the Royal Guard might consider mildly overdone.

The dark batwinged guard at the back of the room had suppressed a brief snort very similar to his Dread Sovereign, but he was just as loyal to her as Twilight Sparkle, each in their own fashion. He had sworn to lay down his life in defense of Equestria, sacrificed from his own life in order to protect others, and would die rather than see Celestia injured. If Celestia commanded it, he would fly to fight Nightmare Moon with his fellow comrades, who were most certainly friends as the Elements of Harmony would require. They could use the Elements, but they would use the ancient artifact as a weapon, and Luna would be either killed or banished again.

A wave of cold guilt swept across Celestia’s shoulders again, much like a draft in the huge stone courtroom. If anypony deserved to confront Nightmare Moon, it was the sister who had been so responsible for her fall. If anypony was to be punished for the crimes of centuries gone past, it should be the criminal.

Even that method of assuaging her guilt was unavailable. The Elements of Harmony were just as unresponsive to her touch as the day after Celestia had used them to imprison Luna in her moon. In desperation a few months ago, she had even taken Cadence secretly to the ruins of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters where the inert lumps of stone still sat and encouraged her to do… anything.


There was no other option other than the small unicorn pupil still looking up at her teacher from the book-nest she had made on the floor next to the courtroom desk. The signs had been impossible to ignore, no matter how hard Celestia tried. The only way to get her sister back was to trust far more than she had ever trusted before.

Trust runs both ways.

As much as she trusted her faithful student, Celestia had never told her the one thing she had fought so hard to keep a secret. Over the centuries, history books had been subtly changed, statues moved, facts turned into myths and legends. Luna’s private rooms in the castle had been sealed away behind plaster and preservation spells while the sharp dividing line between Night and Day had been blurred, smudged, and every so slowly, erased. Even Twilight Sparkle’s vigorous war against ignorance had not unearthed the truth despite the evidence of Luna’s life being right in front of her nose, from the batwinged guards to the bifurcated nature of the entire castle.

I shall not send this child into the darkness without giving her a light to illuminate her path.

“Walk with me, Twilight Sparkle.”

Princess Celestia stood, leaving the undone papers behind for the moment. Somepony else would be along eventually and move them to the Day side of the castle for tomorrow. It really did not seem that important anymore, because if tomorrow went as she wanted, the paperwork would be inconsequential.

Taking the steps down from the Night Desk slowly, one deliberate hoof at a time, Celestia strode toward the back door of the courtroom with Twilight Sparkle tagging along. It was such a normal feeling to have her small purple shadow trotting along to match Celestia’s much longer stride. If… no, when Luna was freed from that monster and returned to Celestia’s side, it would be like losing a part of herself to see Twilight go away, even if it were just a few body lengths distance.

The polished onyx hallways of the darkened Night wing passed under Celestia’s golden slippers with the slow clicks of her measured pace and the rapid tapping of Twilight Sparkle to her side. Celestia had no particular physical destination in mind tonight, but she could not for the life of her figure out just how to best teach the lesson she had put off for far too long.

“Where are we going, Princess Celestia?” asked Twilight Sparkle with a badly hidden hint of curiosity in her eager voice. “There’s an upcoming stellar conjunction if you want to go the observatory, or the night-blooming crocuses out in the garden are supposed to be exceptional.”

“You’ll see, Twilight.”

There were so many different ways to pass this painful lesson on to her faithful student that Celestia could not decide which one to use. Would it be best to tell her in the closed-off corridors and rooms of Luna’s private library? No, with that many unread rare books within reach, Twilight Sparkle might not even hear the words. So much of Luna’s previous life in the castle had been moved or stored over the centuries that Celestia had to seriously think about what was left. Even Luna’s moonstone throne had been quietly slipped into a storeroom sometime just a few years after her banishment and could require several weeks for a well-funded expedition into the archives to locate.

The stately progress of Celestia’s hooves made up her mind while she walked, directing her path in the direction of the gardens. It was a place of sustained life, even in the concealing darkness. A place where things grew and children played during the day, with statues and topiary bushes to hide behind and one particular statue which was only really appreciated once a year.

Standing beside the statue of Nightmare Moon would be a good place to tell of her sister’s fall, much as the frightening visage had been used to terrify small foals for generations. All alone with her student except for the moonlit garden and the stars all around, she could tell Twilight about how her failings as a sister led to the Nightmare, how she allowed doubt and fear to corrupt Luna until she had to be imprisoned in her beloved…

No, that would not do at all. Twilight Sparkle needed to know the pony inside, the Luna whom Celestia knew so well instead of the corrupted monster she had become.

She changed her course at random, opening a wide set of doors with her magic and strolling into the silent ballroom hidden behind them. In the darkness, the little flecks and chips of crystal scattered across the ceiling reflected what dim light they could gather, making it seem as if the two of them were striding underneath the night sky. It was some of Luna’s greatest work, but was drowned out by the bright lights preferred by the ponies at the Grand Galloping Gala. The echoing of their hooves was a far cry from those joyous sounds, with music and dancing until late at night and the laughter of the ponies under their benevolent rule as both the highest and the lowest shared a time of celebration. Laughter was supposed to be the theme, but in the countless years since her sister had been banished, laughter had gone out of her life, and so also had it vanished from the yearly celebration when the lights had been turned up.

“I recognize this place,” said Twilight Sparkle. “This is where the Grand Galloping Gala is held. It sounded like such a nice party last year. And the year before that.” The small unicorn squirmed in shame, much as if she were still the little filly Celestia had begun training over a decade ago. “I’m sorry I missed it,” whispered Twilight in the stillness of the cavernous empty room. “This year, I won’t get caught up in my studying. I promise.”

It was the same promise she had made a year ago when Celestia found her in the middle of a circle of open books, snoring like a saw and drooling a little onto the works of a magical theorist who Celestia thought deserved every drip. Still, her plaintive student had such a serious, intent air about her that it was impossible to be angered. In fact, her expression reminded Celestia of the time Luna had been caught swimming in the punch bowl right about where Twilight was standing now, and despite herself, she had to chuckle.

The cold, sterile echo of that laugh sucked all the joy away from the moment, making Celestia pause before responding in the most gentle voice she could muster. “I assure you, my faithful student, you did not miss much. However, I shall ensure you receive a pair of tickets for this year’s Gala, and expect your attendance.”

If. The word fairly cried out to be inserted into the sentence, forcefully if possible. If Luna could be freed from Nightmare’s grasp by the Elements of Harmony, the entire world would rejoice. If not…

She turned her slow pace back out into the empty corridors of the castle and continued to walk with Twilight Sparkle at her side. Celestia’s original goal had seemed so clear, and yet now it began to fade and decay. Up stairs and down quiet corridors she walked as she thought, passing along windowed walkways between castle towers and between ancient statues and beautiful vases. Without the sun shining down outside, the hallway of stained glass windows was filled with shadows of memories and the dread of the future, not worthy of even a pause. It had been her dream to immortalize Twilight Sparkle in stained glass for the courageous acts she was certain to accomplish, but it seemed her newest student had none of the driving aspirations to greatness that her previous student had in such terrible abundance.

“Twilight, have you made many friends while you have been my student?”

The words just slipped out while they walked, and Celestia had to slow her pace when Twilight nearly stumbled while struggling for a response that would hopefully pass whatever obscure test her teacher was setting forth.

“I… uh… There’s this guard who lets me into the library archives at night.” The slightly built unicorn bit her bottom lip, frantically looking through her memory for an extra credit point or two. “And… um… There’s a party tomorrow or something. Spike mentioned it. Oh! Spike! He’s a friend.”

Still, it was two more than Sunset Shimmer, even if Twilight could not remember the name of the guard and had forgotten totally about Cadence. At first, Celestia had thought allowing Princess Mi Amore Cadenza to fillysit Twilight had been a stroke of genius. Cadence could walk down any hallway or street in Canterlot and make a dozen friends in the amount of time it took Twilight to turn a page. It was only after the first few years that Celestia realized her stroke of genius was more of a stroke and less genius, because anypony who might possibly think of becoming friends with Twilight was quickly ensnared by the brilliant light of Cadence’s gift, leaving the little bookworm in her shadow just as much as Luna had been in the shadow of her far larger and brighter sister.

Six Elements of Harmony. One little unicorn. So much depending on the balance of Harmony and it would be so easy to gently bump that celestial scale just the slightest.

The idea bothered her, particularly since one of those elements would not like the concept of cheating, even when the stakes were this high. Celestia had betrayed their trust once before, and the Elements of Harmony were forever beyond her grasp now. It was time to pass that responsibility onto others. It was time for her sun to set in order to give way to a new light, which she had nurtured and encouraged ever since the day Twilight Sparkle had so dramatically passed her entrance exam to the school.

It was time.

With a flick of her tail, Celestia turned and began to stride back toward her suite of rooms, almost heedless of the rapid clatter of hooves behind her. The maze of corridors and hallways bent and twisted around her perceptions while she walked, unconsciously hurrying her steps until Twilight Sparkle was quite nearly at a gallop. After a thousand years and uncounted nights, the burden she had shouldered on that terrible long night could finally be shared. There were only hours left before Luna’s return, and Celestia was wishing she could dole out those last few fractions of her life with an eyedropper in order to use them where they needed to be used.

She drew up short on the balcony of her room, looking out across the moon-dappled city and endless stars with the frantic panting of Twilight Sparkle slowly turning into a more regular breathing behind her. Waiting as long as she could hold herself back, Celestia finally turned and regarded the alert young student sitting patiently on the floor.

“Twilight Sparkle, you have been my student for many years of your young life. You have learned every lesson I have given you and more. I am proud of you, and therefore have a critical task for you to accomplish tomorrow, more important than any I have ever given you before. Are you prepared?”

Yes, Princess Celestia!” said Twilight Sparkle with almost a squeak of joy. A bright and cheerful grin encompassed her entire face, and her eyes twinkled in the moonlight. It gave Celestia a sudden sinking feeling in her gut as the reflection of Luna’s corrupted moon showed in each pupil of her faithful student’s eyes, much as if Nightmare Moon were lurking in the shadows, waiting to ensnare yet another innocent soul.

I cannot do this. It would be cruel beyond any measure to tell her about my sister. If anything, I’ve underestimated Twilight Sparkle’s loyalty to me. If she knows the truth about Nightmare Moon, she will be unable to use the Elements of Harmony against her. She will see the monster as my sister, and be unable to resist her commands. Unable to do what needs to be done. Unable to do what I cannot, again.

“Yes, Princess?” Twilight’s eyes were still reflecting the moon in an eager expression that made Celestia’s dark conclusion more inevitable. It took all of Celestia’s willpower to keep her emotions in check while reaching for a nearby book with her magic. She floated the thick tome over to her student and took a surreptitious trembling breath while those bright violet eyes looked down for a second.

Predictions and Prophecies?” As expected, Twilight Sparkle lit up her horn and tried to open the aged tome, but Celestia held it closed with her own magic.

Tomorrow, my faithful student. We have kept you up far too long this evening. Go back to your quarters and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, you may resume your studies.” Celestia forced a smile. “I look forward to your insights.”

“I won’t disappoint you, Princess.” That eager smile stayed on Twilight Sparkle’s face until Celestia nudged her out into the corridor and closed the door, and remained in Celestia’s mind while she returned to the balcony.

This far from the ground, it was almost perfectly silent. Even the faint breeze carried away whatever noises might be coming from the garden far below, and the stars spread out in all their multitudes around her did nothing but twinkle and glow in apparent anticipation. It was difficult, far more than holding a secret from her faithful student, but Celestia raised her eyes to the sky to gaze at the corrupted moon and the prison for her sister.

Even if Twilight Sparkle sets you free from that monster, can you ever forgive me for what I have done to you? Can we ever return to what we once were?

“Soon, dear sister,” she whispered through dry lips. “Soon.”

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#1 · 1
· · >>georg
This was very comfy. As expected from a story told mostly from within the mind of Celestia. Taking the reader through Celestia's thought process on how to guide Twilight towards the Elements of Harmony and the redemption of Luna.

I only wish the reversal of her decision had been more gradual instead of happening in the span of a few paragraphs. Myabe starting with her mind set on telling everythign to Twilight, but as the story progresses, she doubts and finally decides to take a different path.

On that note, perhaps it would benefit the story if the process of Celestia's decision making wasn't kept just to her mind? By this I mean that external factors should play directly in Celestia's plan. The way it is right now, you could have Celestia have those same thoughts in her study and end with her sending Twilight a letter and the book, and the story wouldn't change all that much.

If what Twilight says and does act as a catalyst for Celestia's change of mind, then the story becomes less one-note, it becomes more vivid. For example, when Twilight mentions how she doesn't have many friends, that could be brought in to hammer Celestia's decision of sending Twilight to make friends in Ponyville, and tie it together with her mission of redeeming Luna.

It's just an idea, but the story could benefit from taking influence from what happens around Celestia instead of confining it to her own thoughs.
#2 · 2
· · >>georg
I know this whole concept has been written again and again… but I loved this all the same. This is a pleasantly complex, fallible Celestia and a suitably adorable young Twilight (which is really saying something considering how few words you put to that use).

My complaints are few:
The initial mention of Cadence felt forced to me. This is already a description-heavy story (and justifiably so), but I’d like to see a spot of action right there, perhaps her seeing something that reminds her of Cadence or of her sudden appearance.

This story isn’t very long, but you could tighten up the prose a bit all the same to keep things moving (and thus keep the reader’s interest). Once Celestia and Twilight start walking, things really picked up.
#3 · 2
· · >>georg
The first time I tried reading this, I was completely at a loss. It was impossible to follow, and nothing about it made sense. I was all set to stick it at the bottom of my slate and ignore it for the rest of the Writeoff.

Then I remembered that I had barely slept because I'd been up all night working on my own submission, and that it'd probably go smoother with at least (but no fewer than) thirty winks. So I slept and re-read it, and it made a lot more sense. I do think that some of your sentences are overwritten (for instance, the description of Twilight putting bookmarks into her books), but the prose and the inner monologue do a good job of conveying both action and character to me. The simple act of walking down a hallway while listening to Twilight be precocious has never been more pleasant to read.

The initial mention of Cadence felt forced to me. This is already a description-heavy story (and justifiably so), but I’d like to see a spot of action right there, perhaps her seeing something that reminds her of Cadence or of her sudden appearance.

Perhaps Cadance could suddenly appear? :V Actually, I thought the mention of Sunset was a little more forced. Cadance actually had some relevance to Celestia's inner monologue re: Twilight.

Actually, hey, wait. Why didn't Twilight think of her BBBFF when Celestia prompted her to name a couple friends? She remembered the pet dragon she barely tolerates and some guy whose name she doesn't even know, but not the big brother who's boffing her babysitter?

Ugh, that's not really enough to turn me against this story, but now that I've noticed it I can't unnotice it, and it's driving down your score to a paltry 8/10.
#4 · 1
· · >>georg
Genre: Rogue One Backstory set immediately before the first movie episode

Thoughts: I bounced off the opening section during my initial attempt to read this. It tries to establish the scene and set an appropriately heavy tone but it drags hard with a vengeance. On my second read through, I made it to the "Walk with me" line, and then it was like the story began.

The latter part of the story is heavy and slow, but satisfying. I thought the references to Cadance and Sunset made sense and worked well. Celestia's agony comes through clearly. Actually, the thing with the bat pony guy toward the beginning was interesting, if a little overdone. (Man I hope we get some bat pone background in S7.)

But I digress. How to rank this? I think it Needs Work on the one hand, but most of the Work it Needs is taking an axe to that beginning. So I can be persuaded to go up to:

Tier: Almost There
#5 ·
· · >>georg
Backstory answers questions already answered (mostly).

This story wants to be shorter. The undercurrent of grief and uncertainty runs through the entire work, but its course is so familiar that it is boring for its length. The introspection is exhaustingly tangential, with each ray lending itself to concision or greater integration to improve the whole; compounding the issue is that this path is quite well-trodden.

Twilight's presence is mostly auxiliary: partly as mnemonic or springboard, form which more of Celestia's thoughts emerge, and partly as a frame, providing a contextual border for irrelevant forward references. The pertinent activity of naming her friends could have as easily been presented in a letter.

TAILS (sum of 20 points)
Technical (Correctness) : 4
Abstract (Clarity) : 4
Impact (Consequence) : 4
Language (Congruence) : 4
Structure (Composition) : 4
Gestalt (Considered): Acceptable
#6 ·
· · >>georg
This story would probably benefit from being cut down to 2000 words or less. As is, it just sort of ends up dragging because, ultimately... nothing happens. The story is mostly fluff. Emotive fluff, but fluff nevertheless. Celestia gives Twilight a book. That's the whole story. To be honest, I'm pretty sure you could cut everything before the line "Walk with me, Twilight Sparkle" and you'd still have a functional piece.

Moreover, I have trouble coming to grips with the emotional core of the story because I can't quite work out what the core issue Celestia is actually wrestling with is. I guess it is talking about what happened with her sister? But it kinda reads as if she is reluctant to tell Twilight NMM is her sister, which seems like common knowledge considering the fairy tail version of it is literally what the series opens on.
#7 · 1
· · >>georg
I want to like this more than I do because hey, Celestia pieces, and Celestia-Twilight studies are fun.

The issue here is again we really don't have much of a conflict. "Celestia wants to tell Twilight about Nightmare Moon, and decides not to." That's the heart of the story here. So, then - what does Celestia want? She wants Luna back, and everything is in service to that. So I really think this would benefit more from twisting to be "Celestia wants Luna back and believes telling Twilight everything is the best course. Over the story, she comes to realize that this is wrong for some reason, and as a result takes the path we see in Episode 1'. However, we're still missing a conflict - something to drive the narrative. That, I'm less certain of what it should be. The obvious is 'Things that keep keeping her from telling Twilight'. Choosing a venue can be one, certainly, but there should be others - and each obstacle chips away at her confidence in her decision.

For example, rather than simply 'Gosh, Sunset was headstrong', why not have their walk take them somewhere that reminds Celestia of Sunset - and reminds Celestia that telling Sunset too much is part of what turned Sunset against her, leading her to wonder to remember the times she hasn't told Twilight the core of a lesson as part of teaching it itself, and how some of the strongest lessons MUST be learned firsthoof rather than imparted through books.

Things like that - let her decision arise from the narrative, rather than us being witness to her simply going through internal monologue until she changes her mind.
#8 ·
· · >>BlazzingInferno
Walk With Me, Twilight Sparkle - Yep, this one is mine. I really didn't expect to place very high because it's ground well trod by many before me, and an internal monologue to boot. The concept is still sound, and I may revisit it at a future date by adding virtual characters, such as Sunset Shimmer and Princess Luna who exist only in Celestia's mind (which will take more work.)

"You're breaking down, sister." Now the quiet hoofsteps to her side matched the silver shoes of Princess Luna, looking almost exactly the same way she had before their fight so long ago. Little swirls of disturbed nebulae in her flowing mane coiled in inky darkness, while the deep bags under her eyes could no longer be hidden by eyeshadow. "You're seeing things which do not exist. We have been consumed by the Nightmare and can no longer be saved. All of your work, all of your planning, and it will all be over tomorrow night."

You were right, my sister. I should have seen the signs. I should have been there for you. I shall not fail you again.

"The great Celestia, the infallible and wisest of all alicorns," whispered Nightmare Moon. The demon had smoothly slid into Luna's place without a sound, licking her sharp teeth and glaring with slitted eyes. "You thought to lock me away forever for what I did to your sister. How good it will feel to be free once again."

>>AndrewRogue Emotive fluff, yes. But important emotive fluff. It's a little like saying Citizen Kane could better be cut down to about five or ten minutes with the sled. :)

>>Morning Sun Good point, which is why I'm considering bringing in virtual characters.

>>KwirkyJ I will go so far as to say the MLP cartoon has never explained just *why* Celestia did not level with Twilight Sparkle during lunch anytime over their ten years or so of study. Seriously, one line. "By the way, the Mare in the Moon is really Nightmare Moon, who was my sister Luna a thousand years ago before she went nuts and tried to take over Equestria's heavens. Would you like another piece of cake?"

>>CoffeeMinion Not an axe. CONFLICT right from the beginning. As an example:

"Time grows short, Celestia." Nightmare Moon grinned out of the darkness that hid in the corners of the Night courtroom, bright white teeth glittering much the same as the phantom which had haunted Princess Celestia's dreams for far too many centuries.

Begone, delusion. You are naught but lies and falsehoods.

"More like guilt." The faint hiss of serpentine scales murmured through the room while Celestia attempted to ignore the truth caught in her own guilty conscious.

>>Posh 8 of 10, huh? Yea, I'm in a tie for first place in your scorecard! (a 19 way tie, but still...)

>>Zaid Val'Roa
So, what do you two think about expanding the character count (by delusions, admittedly, but still...)
#9 ·
· · >>georg
I think that's a great idea, but I do agree it'll take some work to pull off effectively. You'll have to balance how.. for lack of a better term, crazy this makes Celestia seem. It could land anywhere from her being seriously delusional to masterfully predicting the reactions of others.

My favorite and upvote will be waiting :)
#10 ·
>>BlazzingInferno It's going to be *less* crazy Celestia than the story I plan on writing someday where she really *did* go off her coconut after banishing Luna, and for the last thousand years, there has been a quiet conspiracy of staff and royalty who have been faking Celestia being in full control of her facilities while she *really* is lost in this 60 IQ dreamworld of sorts, kinda Luna Lovegood style. Twilight Sparkle, Royal Keeper of sorts.