The sun was low in the sky. Captain Noctis stood atop one of the castle’s many spires, staring into the distant horizon. His armor was battered and caked with soil and broken bits of masonry, his helm tossed aside near his hooves. The evening breeze ruffled his close-cut mane, his wings quivering slightly. He stood there and watched as the sun slowly made its descent towards the edge of the world, and contemplated what his next course of action should be.
The disaster relief forces were finishing their work. Down below, unicorns from all walks of life repaired the blasted stone and restored shattered glass. Exhausted earth ponies and pegasi were tending to the injured in makeshift hospital tents, while those survivors who were lucky did all they could to accommodate those who had lost everything. Still, the sound of children crying out for their parents echoed through the castle grounds, forever going unheard. It was too much to bear.
Suddenly, horns sounded across the castle grounds. Everypony turned quickly, looking for the source of the trumpet blasts. Soon, their eyes and ears were fixated upon Princess Celestia’s tower. An entourage of Royal Guards was standing on the balcony, their horns playing the familiar aria of a Royal Proclamation. The detail lowered their horns as a Sergeant of the Guard stepped onto the balcony. He looked below, into the castle courtyard, where the majority of Canterlot’s citizens and regional representatives were still gathered.
“Attention citizens of Canterlot!” he bellowed from above. “It is my duty to inform you that Princess Celestia has requested your presence in the Castle Theatre, beyond the gardens. It is here that the Princess will address the citizens of Canterlot, and by extension, the citizens of Equestria. She asks that all who are available be seated within the next half-hour,” and with that short declaration, the Sergeant and his detail retreated into the tower.
Below, the citizens glanced at each other solemnly. Some immediately collapsed into tears, while others began shouting and cursing the Princess for remaining in her chambers while her citizens suffered. Others still simply went about their way, too exhausted and grief-stricken with the events of the day to have any opinion on the matter.
Captain Noctis picked up him tattered helm and slid it snuggly onto his head. With a deep sigh and a final gaze beyond the horizon, he spread his wings and soared down to the courtyard below. He landed near one of the larger tents, where two Guards saluted as he passed by. He returned the salute and continued walking, doing his best to block out the moans of agony emanating from within. He slowly made his way through the courtyard and into the castle gardens, where the uninjured were tending to the young and old. Shadow set his gaze forward, consciously making an effort not to meet anypony’s gaze. A small stream of citizens had begun to follow him through the gardens, mumbling softly.
The rumors had already begun to circulate. After all, was it not Princess Luna who had caused such horror the night before? That is what they say. And who has been her lifelong friend and closest confidant? Was he not with her the night of the incident? And where was he during the attack? Perhaps he had been secretly assisting her. Is that why none could locate him the morning after?
Shadow did his best to pay no heed to these rumors. They did, however, worry him, for their accusations were not baseless. From the outside looking in, Captain Noctis would most certainly have been suspicious of himself. No doubt others in the Royal and Nocturnal Guard felt the same way. He was sure Lieutenant Nova was at least partly to blame for soliciting such questions. He would have a discussion with him later.
As he entered the outdoor theater from the south, Shadow made a right hook and quickly proceeded to the rear row. He could scarcely blame anypony for not wanting to sit near him. Others had already begun to filter in from the north and south entrances. Pegasi were landing among the slowly filling seats as the earthbound ponies made their way through the aisles. Shadow sat quietly, observing as a platoon of Celestia’s Royal Guard entered from the west and took their positions, flanking the center stage of the theater. Several minutes passed, and soon the auditorium was completely full. Soft mutterings and hushed voices filled the night air.
Suddenly, a bright flash and a ball of white energy encompassed the stage. Everypony shielded their eyes. The blinding light quickly dissipated, and below, on the stage, stood Princess Celestia. Her eyes were closed, her face the image of sorrow. Her body was battered, the plumage of her wings charred and ruffled. The theatre fell into deathly silence. Slowly, majestically, she stepped forward to the edge of the stage and raised her head, her eyes now filled with the sting of grief and tragedy.
“Fellow subjects, citizens of Canterlot, and representatives of Equestria, welcome,” she began. “I have called forth this gathering to speak about the terrible events of last night.” Her gaze swept across the crowd. Shadow locked eyes with the Princess, if only momentarily. He shifted uncomfortably.
In a hushed tone, she continued. “I regret to inform you that my sister, Princess Luna, is no longer with us.”
A stunned gasp swept through the crowd. Whispers began with a renewed fervor, the implications of her statement settling heavily amongst the gathered ponies. Captain Noctis felt his jaw slacken, his mouth fall slightly agape. His head was pounding, his heart searching for a way to escape through his breastplate. A bead of cold sweat fell from his temple.
This cannot be.
Celestia continued, “Please, mares and gentlecolts, allow me to clarify.” She began to pace slowly. “My sister, for reasons I shall make clear, is no longer the Princess Luna you once knew. Last night, a long-concealed and powerful darkness rose from within and took dominion of her body, converting her into a malevolent and malicious creature.”
“She assumed the title of Nightmare Moon; this being, whatever she may have been, threatened to cast all of Equestria into eternal night, refusing to lower the moon. No doubt it is clear to all of you the devastation such an action would have wreaked on the land.”
“Last night, this Nightmare Moon launched a furious assault on my chambers. It is then that she made her intentions clear. Having grown tired of Equestria’s citizen’s shunning the night and worshipping the day, bitter and resentful that they loved me more than my sister, she would cast the land into eternal darkness. I could not allow this to occur. We engaged in a fierce battle, the consequences of which you have seen with your own eyes.”
Celestia stopped pacing and raised her head to the crowd, tears welling in her eyes. “No words can describe the sorrow and heartache this has caused me. My regretful actions, made in haste, have caused widespread suffering amongst my people. I do not seek your acceptance of my apologies, for what I have done cannot be forgiven. I accept that the burden I must carry will remain with me for the rest of my days. I am so sorry.”
The Princess began to weep. The crowd stirred ever so slightly, none daring to say a word. Tears streaming from her eyes, Celestia continued.
“During the fray, Nightmare Moon’s rage-fueled power became clear. Her tenacity and persistence were overpowering. I was quickly becoming fatigued, losing what strength I had left. I had no choice.” She paused, again locking eyes with the crowd. Tears continued to fall onto the stage.
“I entered Canterlot Tower and opened a chamber, sealed by a powerful protection spell only I could unlock. Within, I gathered Equestria’s most powerful sources of pure magical power, the Elements of Harmony.”
Again, the crowd stirred. The Elements of Harmony were mythical, legendary artifacts containing the purest and most powerful forms of magical energy known to Equestria. Their existence could not be confirmed, and for centuries, the artifacts were the trappings of fairy tales and bedtime stories. This revelation shattered many perceptions for the gathered crowd. She continued.
“With their power at my disposal, I…” Celestia lowered her head, anguish saturating her heart-wrenching sobs, “I did what had to be done. I have taken responsibility for raising and lowering both sun and moon, for I have banished my sister, Princess Luna… the monstrosity she has become… to one thousand years of desolation and solitude. I have bound her body and soul within the moon.”
The crowd could no longer contain themselves. Pandemonium seized them. Shouts of joy, anger, despair, and every emotion thereof echoed through the stadium. Ponies held their heads in their hooves, sobbing. Members of the Nocturnal Guard quietly slid off their helms, dropping them to floor, and stared at the night sky, the bright white disk hanging silently above. Others were simply too stunned to move, too exhausted to react, their emotions deadened and worn away. Princess Celestia remained on the stage, quietly sobbing. She was whispering something to herself. I’m so sorry, she mouthed, over and over.
In the back row, above the commotion, stood Captain Shadow Noctis, an empty shell of his former self. He could no longer sense anything. The scene before him began to lose shape and focus. Sounds were becoming suppressed, smothered. The dull pain within his weary body faded into nothingness.
With sudden ferocity, emotions welled within and overcame him. A flood of horror, agony, grief, and misery washed over him, overpowering rational thought. He gritted his teeth, fought for control. His eyes clamped shut of their own accord. He began to stomp the ground beneath him.
“Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!” he cursed between his teeth. New emotions began to arise. Anger began to replace remorse, rage overwhelming sadness. He looked up, a burning fury climbing, finding release.
The crowd became silent. Everypony turned around, looking directly at Captain Noctis. He leaped into the air, his wings unfolding with explosive force. He soared directly onto the stage, landing mere paces away from Princess Celestia.
Her face was in a state between surprise and shock, the dampness under her eyes shining softly in the moonlight. He started towards her, but was stopped abruptly as several Royal Guards rushed forth and seized him, tackling him to the ground. He struggled under their combined might to free himself, to no avail. He simply stared upwards, his gaze locked fiercely with that of Celestia’s.
“How could you!? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO HER! She was your sister! Did you even try to save her? Did you try to free her!? DID YOU!?”
Celestia struggled to find her voice, “Captain, I did… what was necessary…”
“Necessary?” He continued to writhe as the guards picked him up and held tight. “It was necessary to banish her for one thousand years!? Is that your idea of mercy?” He shook his head with dismay, and yelled, “I will ask again, did you try to save her!?”
Celestia looked at him with bitterness in her eyes. “What would you have had me do, Captain? Have you not seen the devastation wrought by her? I am fully aware that she is… was… my sister. I had no… other… option.” She said the last words with finality.
His rage quickly fading, Shadow met her gaze. It was his turn to allow tears to fall.
“She was still there, Princess. I saw her, I saw your sister. I spoke with her. She was still in there… she was still there… ”
Princess Celestia closed her eyes, and whispered two words.
Shadow tensed. His eyes widened. Adrenaline filled his muscles. He swiftly flung open his wings, knocking away the guards holding him captive. But instead of charging the Princess, he leaped into the sky and flew as fast as he could in the direction of Princess Luna’s castle tower.
Two Royal Guard pegasi sprung into the air, ready to give chase, when the Princess intervened.
“No, leave him be.” She gazed at the moon with tearful eyes. “I know the fathomless pain he must feel.”
Within Princess Luna’s former chambers, Captain Noctis lay, and wept silently.