Something of Immortality + The Pegasus at the Gate + Tell Me Everything + The Last Letter + Dawn at Sunset + The Faithful Student
And they were good years, rich and full, under the benevolent and loving light of the moon—to speak poetically, as ponies found themselves more and more inclined to in the years of what came to be called the Sleep. Celestia slept, ponies said, and her dreams came to life in Equestria; such was the mood of that time.
From Canterlot, Princess Luna ruled with a passion and dynamism that contrasted deeply with Celestia's loving, distant light. She poured herself into improving the lives of her little ponies, every moment of every day, and carried herself with an energetic sort of mystery that entranced everypony around her. She quickly became at least as beloved as Celestia throughout all of Equestria; although as ever, the ponies of Ponyville loved her deeply and were, in turn, especially beloved by Luna, who visited there regularly.
And from Ponyville came the Elements of Harmony, who spent their long lives traveling, exploring, inspiring...triumphing. The Magic of Friendship, true friendship, ran strong in them, and with that strength, even their smallest misadventures seemed to ripple outwards, building into great currents of change, and hope, and inspiration...they were a legacy, it was said, of Princess Celestia's love, left behind while she rested to watch over Equestria in her absence.
In time, the six of them, and the dragon Spike, became at least as renowned and beloved as the Sisters themselves; their deeds and accomplishments leaving innumerable, permanent marks on Equestria, all for the better. Peace and harmony followed in their wake, enriching the lives of everypony they encountered, it seemed. And ever at the center of the greatest adventures was the Arch-Mage Twilight Sparkle, best-beloved of the Sun and the Moon, sister to the princess, friend to everypony and everyone she met.
So if the sun rested for a time, after a thousand years shining over Equestria...nopony resented it. In the dark times—and there always were, no matter how wondrous the age—they did not feel abandoned. They had a fierce love for Princess Luna, who was so beautiful in her passion and alluring in her mystique, which was rewarded with a deep love from her in return—and In its heart, Equestria held firm the conviction that one day...the sun would rise anew.
In the loving, rich light of the moon...things changed.
And it was good.
But all things, in time, come to an end, and transition.
Winter thaws into spring, which blossoms into summer, which ages into autumn, which falls into winter yet again; that is the measure of a year.
Villages become towns become cities—or perhaps they don't; that is the measure of a community...
Seeds become saplings become trees, become libraries; that is the measure of a landmark.
Foals become adults, become elderly...and pass. They must, to make room in the world for the next generation.
But that is the very least way to measure of a life—the most technical, the most spare, the most unfeeling, because ponies, and other thinking beings, are not like landmarks or seasons or cities; they think, and move, and act...and in their legacy, in the way they moved the world and the ponies around them, they can know something of immortality.
Princess Luna lay atop the tall tower attached to her private chambers, as she had for the past three days; she stared off into the sunset, face dispassionate, eyes half-closed and pensive.
It was full moon, tonight; she was in the fullness of her majesty in the waking world, waxed fully into a tall, proud creature, her mane a spectacular field of stars. Atop her head sat the silver crown of Equestria, the inset sapphire burning like a frozen, azure flame in the dying sunlight.
An end was coming, in the wake of this most troubled month of her solitary reign—for her, anyways—and she welcomed it. Still, when the end was coming was unknown to her. But it was coming...in its own time.
Until then, she waited.
The sun sank lower on the horizon, an amber disc now, its light spilling into the valley where Canterlot Town lay, flowing out into the plains beyond, as if the landscape was gilt in polished gold.
After awhile, the princess heard the wingbeats, heavy and burdened, of an approaching pegasus guard, who alighted behind her.
“Good evening.” Luna said, calmly, not turning around. "What is it?"
It was a formality, a pleasantry; she hadn't given any explicit orders, but over the years Luna had become quite good at making her desires clear to everypony without actually having to do anything so crass as say them. Thus she knew that there was only one reason her guard would feel ready to disturb her, at the moment.
“My lady,” the guard—a mare named Whitecloud—said, in her usual clipped, professional tone. “A pegasus mare matching the description you gave the duty officer is approaching the palace gates, asking to see you.”
Luna turned her head, very slightly. “By all means, admit her, then. Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“It was my pleasure, lady. I am, as always, at your service.”
Luna noticed a soupçon of...something in her voice. Not quite sympathy, not quite hope... “Canterlot is a bad place for rumors and secrets, wouldn't you say, Lieutenant?”
“With respect, my lady, the castle has many mouths, and twice as many ears and eyes,” Whitecloud replied. She paused for a moment, then said, in the same, even tone: “But half as many brains, I think...”
Luna let out a little laugh. “Between one mare and another...you are extremely optimistic. Please, have my guest admitted, will you?”
“At once, princess,” Whitecloud said. The tiniest little grin of private amusement was evident on her voice such that the princess felt no need to turn and see it. In a busy moment of wingbeats, the guard vanished down to the castle gates.
So here it was, at last.
Luna lingered for a while longer, watching the sunset and thinking about what she would say. Before long she rose and leapt from the tower, her huge wings splaying and catching the air. With practiced finesse she turned her dive into a wide spiral around the tower, long and slow, such that as she reached the base, she needed bank only slightly to land, lightly, on one of the Great Hall's receiving balconies, moving at a brisk trot.
As always, the Hall was busy even without court in session. Gaggles of conspirators, friends, and schemers huddled together in little groups, some splitting off from one to join another from time to time. As Luna entered, almost everypony turned their head to regard her, some ponies even stepping forward to approach her—
“Night Court is suspended,” Luna announced, loudly, as she took her place on the black throne. “I will be receiving my guest privately. Leave us, I beg.”
Clearing the hall took some time; there were a great many ponies standing about, and some of them internally edited "leave us" to mean "stand just far away enough that you can only eavesdrop inefficiently". Eventually, Luna rolled her eyes and had the guards reinforce her command with some very serious expressions and a lot of pushing.
When she had satisfied herself of her solitude, she nodded to the guards on the doors, who wordlessly took station on the opposite side, which signaled the princess' readiness for the private interview.
The main doors of the Great Hall opened slightly to admit two pegasi, walking side-by-side. One was Lieutenant Whitecloud, her face a vision of professional dispassion that would have brought a tear to the eye of the most psychotic drill sergeant. Next to her, walking with deliberate and magisterial pride, was a wizened old mare, her coat dull and fiery mane faded. Her gait, for all that it was slow, was graceful and even, and she held her head up proudly, not flinching from the sight of Princess Luna in the fullness of her majesty even for a second.
When Whitecloud and the mare arrived in the receiving area before the raised dais of the thrones, the lieutenant bowed to Luna with a muttered “My lady,” and made polite haste to one of the balconies, taking off into the fading daylight.
Silence reigned, for a very, very long time, as the two mares regarded each other. If somepony had seen this moment, they would have been at a loss to say which looked more regal: the Princess of the Moon, proud and imperial upon the throne, or the ancient old mare, who looked into the face of immortal power without flinching, the weight of years pressing upon her vainly.
“I'm so sorry,” Luna said, eventually, in a small voice.
The old pegasus sighed. “We knew it would happen, someday,” Celestia said. Her voice was deeply, deeply tired.
Luna cocked her head. “Nevertheless.”
“I...” Celestia closed her eyes and turned away. “Well, you're right, of course. I never let myself really accept it, foolish mare that I am.”
They sat in silence for a while longer.
“Peaceful. We were together...”
Luna gave her a look of deep sympathy. “Oh, Celestia...”
“I'm fine,” Celestia lied. “I've spent a lot of time thinking about it.”
“I should think so. It's been three weeks now, and nopony's seen hide nor hair of you. You had the guard out of their minds with terror...” Luna trailed off, sharing a sad little smile with her sister.
“Old I may be—and let me tell you, being old is very different than having been around for a long time—but I am not completely helpless.”
Luna smiled, a little. “I knew you'd turn up eventually.”
The pegasus nodded, and took a few steps back.
“It's time, then?” Luna asked.
“It's been time for twenty-five years,” Celestia said, looking up at Luna with a sudden, broad grin. “I had a chat with the the Sun back when she first returned from her rest...and she agreed that she could stand to sleep a while longer.”
Luna bristled. “You subjected to me to the nobleponies, alone, for twenty-five years more than I had to?” she said, with ridiculously exaggerated indignation. This very minor selfishness was extremely easy to forgive, all things considered. It was no scratch on a millennium.
“I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me.” Celestia's tired, old face was a portrait of contrition, but her eyes twinkled.
Luna frowned, playfully. “Well, I suppose.”
Celestia lay down at the center of the receiving area, on a large, inlaid mosaic of the sisters circling a spherical object that was half purple-blue, half gold, and looked up at her sister.
“You might want to close your eyes for this part,” she said, smirking just a bit.
Then she lay her head down, and died.
Celestia opened her eyes, and felt...wrong.
Which was ridiculous, of course, because she was back to normal, in a very real sense. She felt the extra magical senses of her horn once again, and tried to set herself aside and merely observe how they seemed both intensely familiar and completely alien at the same time, because experiencing this sensation was very disconcerting indeed. The weight of the horn on her forehead alone was bizarre, never mind actually sensing magic around her. Especially here, somewhere.
She flapped her wings a couple times; they were broad, soaring wings, once again. She'd benefited from some extremely intense re-education from Rainbow Dash and Spitfire, learning to deal with both wings and a body that were the wrong shape and weight distribution entirely, back...long ago.
She sighed, closing her eyes, and felt the pain of change.
All of it. All of them, gone now.
That had been...her life. Hers. For her. Hers.
All of it.
And now...it was over.
She realized she'd been crying ever since she'd noticed her horn, and didn't care.
Celestia looked up and met the gaze of the Sun, who stood at the cliffside before a table set for two. A kettle sat on it, with a little blue flame burning underneath; it was just starting to steam.
“So,” the Sun said, quietly. “How was it?”
Celestia took a deep breath...and remembered.
She remembered...friends. The love she'd shared, with so many ponies; all their joy. The jokes, the parties, the late nights with too much alcohol flowing, the cooperation, the quiet chats, the loud singing...
She remembered all the close friends she'd made; not just the Elements, but the friends she'd made outside that immediate circle, who were something special that she was never entirely a part of. Macintosh, with his quiet wisdom. Cheerilee, with her infinite patience and dry humor. The earth pony cellist, Octavia, over their mutual love of classical music, and her friend the unicorn DJ Vinyl Scratch, who had introduced Celestia to a thrilling new kind of music, which Spike had eventually demanded she stop playing so loudly in the library. Everypony in Ponyville, it seemed sometimes...
She remembered the adventures. The excitement of discovery, the frustration of challenge, the sudden blaze of courage as things seemed surmountable. She remembered Applejack's determination very clearly, in this context, and Rainbow Dash's rash, enthusiastic bravery.
She remembered life. Cooking. Cleaning. Shelving in the library with Spike; modeling for Rarity, both of them thrilling in the danger she'd be recognized; experiments in baking with Pinkie Pie; hauling with Big Mac, and chatting amiably about nothing in particular with Fluttershy while they watched him buck in the orchard. Flying around on errands, for—
Celestia, restored, remembered Twilight Sparkle.
She remembered...so much. She remembered that first day, when everything had seemed so frightening and intimidating, and Twilight had just stood there on the Library floor, smiling warmly, letting Celestia touch everything in quiet awe, as if it were the first time. She remembered that wonderful day when she'd woken up, greeting Twilight and Spike automatically, and realized for the very first time that it had seemed like home. She remembered when they had gone off to find a dwelling near Ponyville suitable for a growing dragon—the first big adventure they'd shared together, just the two of them.
Celestia remembered, in a blur, the long, slow process of change as the last little vestiges of their old, imbalanced relationship had given way to a deep and abiding friendship between equals. She remembered that little feeling of connection she so loved when they just thoughtlessly relied on one another, even in the most trying circumstances, which had grown of their mutual respect and unquestionable loyalty to one another.
She remembered how, when Twilight would lecture to the most prestigious of guests on the Library floor, they would catch each other's glance and roll their eyes at each other in irritation as their happy little library became a little lie...and how they'd share a quiet moment when it was finished, both making sure the other had taken her mask off.
She remembered the hardships, the times when she'd needed Twilight, and the times when Twilight had needed her; and those times, which were at once difficult and beautiful, when they had stood together, come what may. There had been many such times, in their long, eventful life. Magical challenges, political squabbles, little missions from Luna, crises between their friends...
She remembered the fights, too. The arguments. Two strong, intelligent personalities under one roof? There'd been hundreds, about anything and everything. They got pretty vicious, sometimes; Celestia remembered a week of staying at Spitfire's, when Twilight and Luna had noticed Celestia getting a little jealous of their long, long nights together doing magical research and Twilight had—
That had been a bit bad, hadn't it? Thank goodness for Fluttershy and Cheerilee...
But the fights had only lasted for so long because they'd been open with each other, and had been able to look to their friends for guidance and reinforcement. They had shared the Magic of Friendship deeply, and gloried in its quiet strength...together.
No masks. Never again did they wear a mask for one another.
One soul, in two bodies.
And finally, Celestia let herself feel the pain that accompanied the fierce, private joy of the memories of so many late nights, stargazing—including that very last one, when they had laid down in the dying light of the day and were just together, quietly, as...twilight had passed, peacefully, into night.
Her Faithful Student had walked with her, all the way to the very, uttermost end...just as she'd promised.
“It was...” Celestia said, swallowing. Her tears flowed freely, now, huge fat beads of joy and sorrow and loss and triumph and every emotion, all at once, overwhelming her. She sniffed, taking a deep breath, and forced her mouth to cooperate.
There had been so much; Celestia had remarked to Twilight once that she'd probably spend the next century understanding all of it, and coming to terms with everything she had done in this one lifetime, as well as what she hadn't. It was bizarre to think—she'd been around for a millennium and more beforehand, been a princess and a warrior-queen and a powerful mage without peer—but these years, these precious years...she felt like she could drown in them.
It had not been completely happy—not always. Nor unburdened with strife, or conflict, or hardship, or loss, or longing...
But in its imperfection, Celestia's life really and truly had been—
“It was perfect,” Celestia whispered.
The Sun smiled warmly and gestured to the table, where the kettle was now whistling.
“Tell me everything,” she said.
Luna regarded the little corpse for a time, uncomfortably; then she felt...something.
It was strangely familiar, and made her think of feathers—and just as she understood why, brilliant light flared from Celestia's fallen body. Luna recoiled, one hoof drawn up in front of her eyes.
“Completely melodramatic,” she murmured, smiling.
The body, now a glaring knot of pure sunlight, raised into the air; Luna's senses were overwhelmed by it, and she turned away, cursing at length at the intensity of the experience. Even disoriented like this, though, she sensed the immense magical power that was coalescing before her; an ancient, primal magic that she had not felt in many, many years.
And along with the sensory experience came an intense wave of emotion. Luna was about as protected from this sort of thing as anypony in Equestria could claim to be, but nevertheless she felt an overwhelming wave of happiness, contentment, and hope flow into her. Everything was going to be okay, the universe seemed to sing, resonating in every ounce of her being; the experience was so intense that Luna had to struggle not to break into tears of furious, heart-bursting joy.
Then it all subsided, and Luna turned back to face a glowing silhouette of an alicorn, shining brightly in midair. Its head was thrown back in a pose of ecstatic rapture, wings spread wide and beautiful, raw power radiating off of her like the spray from a waterfall, bright jewels of multicolored light flaring around her.
Luna was taken aback. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
The figure's eyes, wide and loving, opened wide. Luna met their gaze, and was transfixed, paralyzed, feeling an intense impulse never to look away, as if the universe would fall away if she did...
The light began to fade further, and as it did so, it appeared to flake off like the petals of cherry blossoms, swirling madly around the figure with a strange, magically-empowered wind. Luna laughed with joy as Celestia's muzzle was revealed, surrounded by a whirling, mad blur of glowing shards which continued to spiral as the light fell off of Celestia, who smiled beatifically as more and more of her was revealed. First her head was uncovered, then down her neck and across her body, down her legs, and finally, her great outstretched wings...
The shards whirled around her, burning themselves out like cinders dancing above a fire. The wind died away, and she lowered to the ground gently, wings giving one great beat to cushion herself.
Celestia, the Princess of the Sun, stood before her sister once again.
Luna's eyes grew wide, her smile hurrying to match. “Your mane!”
It was pink as the first kiss of dawn, as it had been in ancient times.
Celestia smiled, gently. “It will fade again, quickly,” she said, her voice restored to its immortal serenity. “But for now, I am the Rising Sun, once again.”
Luna stepped down from the throne and the sisters embraced one another joyously.
They had not, in a literal sense, been separated from one another by anything but distance; however, in a real sense, Celestia had been living another life, elsewhere, in which Luna had been a noticeable but relatively distant part. Conversely, Luna had ruled alone for many, many years—two generations of ponies or so—and had learned much growing into the fullness of her majesty.
They were meeting again, now, for the first time, after an extended absence. The Rising Sun met the Full Moon, tempered by long labor into a strong and beautiful thing, as it was always meant to be.
Celestia pulled away, her expression fading into solemnity. Luna stepped back, giving her as encouraging a smile as she could.
“There's...something I have to do,” Celestia said, her voice strained.
Luna nodded. “I know.”
Celestia gave her a grateful look and turned to one of the massive panel windows. For the first time, it seemed, she reached out with magic and turned a distant knob halfway up its soaring height, letting its halves swing open. She started at the unfamiliar sensation of touching something with magic, and gave Luna a sheepish look. The dusky princess chuckled.
“Spike? Are you there, old friend?” Celestia called.
With a terrible speed that his immense size seemed to make impossible, Spike's gargantuan head suddenly appeared in the window. It was at least as big as a full-grown pony's now, and even the alicorn sisters in the fullness of their glory were dwarfed by his scaly bulk. He was magnificent, by draconic standards; sleek and powerful, his body more like a tiger's than most dragons, who grew fat and bulky.
“I'm here, princess,” he said, his voice deep and thunderous. “And may I say...you look as beautiful as ever. It's too bad...she isn't here to see you...” he added, expressing himself with a somewhat typical frankness, overlooking how this might make everyone else feel; a bad habit that was the downside of spending the last several decades so huge that barely anypony would call him on doing so.
“You honor me,” Celestia replied, politely. She cleared her throat. “Would you...take a letter, for me?”
Spike's expression of sorrow had a lot of landscape to cover, almost seeming ridiculous. “On the side of the mountain, maybe,” he said, raising a massive, taloned paw up, wiggling them in what might have otherwise been a somewhat threatening display. “I'm afraid my letter-writing days were over a long time ago.”
“I know, my friend. I know. Forgive me for indulging in nostalgia,” Celestia said, soothingly. She approached him as he rested his head on the window frame, reaching out and touching his massive snout with a hoof. “Will you stay with me, as I write one?”
“Anything for you, princess,” he murmured. Being him, this still rang off the furthest reaches of the Hall.
“Thank you,” Celestia whispered.
Luna summoned a quill and parchment from a stand nearby. “May I?” she asked, quietly.
“Please,” her sister said, her voice choked. She pulled away from Spike, and reclined on the floor, facing out into the setting sun beyond him, holding her silence for a long time.
There was a moment when Spike looked as if he was about to speak, but Luna shot him a severe look, and he settled down, looking uncomfortable.
The first time Celestia opened her mouth, all that came out was a strangled, dry croak. She paused, breathing heavily through her open mouth for a moment, and then cleared her throat, looking pained.
The second time, her voice was a barely-audible whisper.
And then, in a weak but determined voice:
“My dear, dear Twilight Sparkle...”
My dear, dear Twilight Sparkle,
I am not sure how to begin this, my last missive to you; I am not even sure I understand its purpose beyond knowing, deep in my heart, that I must cause it to be. For me. Letters were always special between us, even when we lived under the same roof.
I...have returned, to myself. And feel wrong, as you predicted I would. In your great wisdom, you have always seen me apart from the shape I was—you always saw Celestia, not the Princess, or the pegasus. Although I must say, I will not miss having to carry everything in my mouth. My sympathy for the non-magical tribes abounds...
In one thing we were fortunate, in a way. Our last moment together was as peaceful and gentle as anypony could ask, and we had one last little private moment to say good-bye which would not have been afforded to the Princess and the Arch-Mage. It pained me dearly to watch you leave me and join our friends in rest, but I am, after all, only one of the many, many ponies who loved you, although I take you at your word that I was particularly dear to your heart.
I have wandered Equestria for several weeks, wrestling with myself, trying to bear the pain of change that is the burden and purpose of my long life without you there to help me. I will confess that many times, especially as our time together drew to a close, that I thought: is there some way I can have you join me in eternity? Can you ascend, somehow, and truly join Luna and I, as you so richly deserve?
But then I...understood. I think you always did. To even think this insults you, because the true beauty of your life, the true greatness of Twilight Sparkle, was that in one lifetime you accomplished so much. Because of how much you changed and affected things, you will never truly leave it, such was your triumph—and the capstone of this glory was the grace with which you went to your well-deserved rest, leaving a world so much better for you having been in it.
Forgive me the poetry of this, but it's the only way I can put words around my feelings without feeling foolish and awkward. I thought of Luna's comment to me after you rescued her from the Nightmare, so long ago: that your name is so coincidental to your role in our affairs. Your...overwhelming role, where you, in one lifetime, brought us back together, and taught us both so much...
I...I am the day, and Luna, my beloved Luna...is the night. Twilight is very, very brief, lasting for all too short a time; it is rich, and beautiful, and in that moment the proud sun learns to set, and rest, and the moon ascends to watch over the peace of night. And then twilight is over, leaving the sun and moon to remember its beauty and wonder, after it has gone, changed forever by that brief moment of transition.
This, you did, with unparalleled grace and strength.
I almost feel the need to apologize to you once again, as I have so many times, for your entire life being burdened with the internal struggles of an immortal...but then I remember what you would whisper to me, and am comforted:
"Immortal or mortal, you are my friend, and I love you. Your troubles are my troubles, and my troubles are yours; this is the true magic of friendship, and I share it with you willingly. And it's not like I haven't gotten a lot out of it myself...”
I am rambling, Twilight, because I want this letter to last forever. I feel that signing it, that saying your name and sealing the scroll...then you will really, truly be gone, and I will remain, diminished. The pain of that possibility terrifies me, as I knew it would.
But all things change, and the future awaits me. The strength you helped me learn is flowing in me now, though I confess part of me wishes it wouldn't. Part of me is still weak, and wants to cry, and lament, from now until the time finally comes for me, too, to join you in whatever awaits us beyond waking life...
As we said, so many times: parts of us think many things.
To indulge that weakness would be to reject everything we learned together, and I will not do it. I choose to be strong.
And I remember the promise I made to you, the one you begged me to renew as we faced the end: I have love to share with friends yet unknown, and life to live, a world to experience, in days that have yet to come to pass. I will not let myself be alone ever again...because you taught me such fierce joy of living that even now, suffering the pain of loss that is the price of my long life, I cannot wait to see what tomorrow holds.
I already have plans. It should be...fun.
You changed me, Twilight.
But more importantly, I pursued the dreams of my heart, in waking life...and changed myself, for you.
So I say farewell, for the very last time, Twilight. I wish you peace, you who saved my sister. Who overthrew my enemies for me, and enriched the country I love. The pony who came to me, in the depths of my greatest failure, and loved me so fearlessly that the very Sun was moved...
Good-bye, my Faithful Student.
I love you, so, so much.
I will remain forever yours,
Spike's chuffing sobs bounced off the distant parts of the Hall, though in the way of his folk, he did not weep. Celestia caught his eye and they understood that she wept for them both. Despite her tears, she was quite quiet, now; everything about her seemed hushed, even if it had nothing to do with sound. She stared out into the sunset, face still and impassive save the tears which flowed unrestrained down her beautiful face.
Luna quietly bound the parchment in a scroll case—a gold one, one of Celestia's—having sealed it with red wax. She held it in front of herself, regarding it pensively.
“Sister...” she said, speculatively, though her throat was also quite thick. She had been moved, quite moved, by the poetry of Celestia's memorial. “How do you feel?”
Celestia turned to her, smiling just a little, through the tears. “I was afraid, sister, that saying good-bye would...just make the absence worse,” she said. “But I feel better for having said it, of course.”
“A bit lonely, though?”
“A...little,” Celestia said, looking from Spike to Luna, fondly. “But it's not so bad.” She rose, and touched Spike's snout again; he closed his eyes, looking as grateful as he could. “I will never stop missing her—no I think...I hope I never stop missing her. Remembering how strong she was, and how much I loved her, and how much...she loved...” She trailed off, smiling distantly. “It is the most beautiful pain I could feel.”
Luna gave her a wry grin. “You've gotten romantic. Too much time with musicians, I think...”
“Ha! And there will be more!” Celestia declared, firmly, in the strange, shaky tone of someone triumphing over their sorrow. “It's true, though. Her absence hurts. But it's all just a reminder of her, the things we shared, and learned together...” Celestia looked to Luna, eyes blazing through the tears. “I'm going to be Celestia, for her. For us. The Celestia she loved will live on, and love...and so Twilight Sparkle will never really be gone. Everything I do will be for her, in part...a testament to how I changed, with her walking beside me...”
Words just spilled out of her, in a rush; they were alive with hope and ambition and love. It was like a foal talking about what they wanted their cutie mark to be—Celestia seemed free, unrestrained, unburdened, gushing about what could be, what could grow out of the wonderful life she'd just lived with her friends in Ponyville. She was still crying, and her voice was occasionally thick and mangled, but still...
The story of Twilight Sparkle and Celestia—a long, generally happy story—was coming to an end. But instead of dreading seeing the last few pages coming, Celestia was eagerly looking forward to the next volume in the series, wondering with a foal-like enthusiasm about what was going to happen next.
“I was so afraid that she would never be more than a talented student to you, sister,” Luna said, approaching her. “I could sense, even in the worst times, how much you two needed each other. This, though...this is more than I could have ever hoped.”
Celestia just smiled, idly, and stared out into the sunset.
“She came to me,” Luna said, raising the scroll case up to eye level, as she took a place next to Celestia before the open window. “Many months ago, in the night. Just showed up on the balcony to the Great Hall, telling the Night Court that she had private business with me...”
Celestia chuckled, once, her grin growing a little wider. “She got a bit pushy, in the end, didn't she..?”
Luna raised an eyebrow. “Somepony was foolish enough to express relief that she wouldn't be around running ponies' lives for them anymore in my earshot, the other day,” she said, her smile a little predatory.
Celestia recoiled. “No,” she said, disbelieving.
“I'm afraid so...but I needed a new aide for the ambassador to the Zebra Nations, anyways, so it was somewhat convenient.” Luna frowned slightly. “Although the buffoon thought it was a reward for something. Maybe I was too subtle.”
“It's so hard to punish some ponies without being overt,” Celestia agreed, solemnly. “It makes you despair for Equestria, except that it's the same now as it always has been.”
Luna and Celestia grinned at each other, before returning their gaze to the sunset. Spike pulled his head back and joined them, golden-red light gleaming off his polished scales.
“So there we were,” Luna said, eventually, stirring. “I had the Court cleared, and we just...sat there, for awhile. She was troubled, of course—“
“She told you she was dying,” Celestia said, quietly. “How long ago was this?”
Luna thought about this. “About eight months or so.”
Celestia smiled, very slightly, at this, and Luna momentarily wondered why. “I knew she didn't tell me right away...”
“She was very worried about you, Celestia. Although to be honest, she was more...worried about herself. She was...being herself, fretting constantly about everything that could go wrong, although she was trying not to. And she said: 'I am old, Luna, and I want to do something...sentimental, because I...'” Luna swallowed. “'I don't want to have to leave her alone. But I must.'”
Celestia sniffed. “She got very...intense about the promise I made to her, in the end...that I would not let myself be alone, ever again.” She smiled. “But she needn't have worried...”
Luna nuzzled her sister, as much to comfort herself as Celestia. “Still, she was insistent that something be done; as much for her as for you, I think. So she and I thought up one last magic trick...to make an old dream come a bit more true. One last little show for her mentor.”
Before them, the air blurred and distorted in a strangely liquid way, which Celestia and Spike recognized as the magic of the dream world being forced into reality. It pulsed regularly, a thrumm that seemed to be heard with the entire body, not just the ears.
Luna lifted the scroll case up and into the weird vortex of power. As it entered, it seemed to vanish quickly, passing into the western sky with a strange, distorted speed; soon, it had vanished from view, lost in the fading light of the setting sun.
Luna made a gentle motion with her head, and—
“Oh,” Celestia said, face spreading into a tearful expression of wonder.
Luna chuckled. “I wondered if you remembered.”
“How could I possibly forget something like that?” Celestia whispered.
Word spread quickly throughout Equestria that Celestia had returned...though not by proclamation. Word merely spread, whispers and cries of joy spreading the news: the sun has risen again, as we have always hoped.
She had been found, one evening, wandering the streets of Canterlot, glowing gently in the fading light; she smiled and chatted peacefully with everypony who worked up the courage to speak to her, occasionally looking up at something in the sky and smiling gently. She even—this was what made it truly mythical—addressed many ponies by name, and asked after little events in their lives...and these were ponies whose grandsires had been foals when the Sleep had begun.
She eventually took up an impromptu court in one of the squares, beneath a marble fountain of the Elements of Harmony, sitting there into the early hours of the day, happily chatting with everypony she could, learning their names, asking them about things in general, and being as calm and soothing and loving as history said she was—and three times as beautiful.
Princess Luna, when pressed to remark on this, would say only: “Dawn is breaking,” and smile mysteriously.
The next day, she was nowhere to be found in Canterlot, although some pegasi reported that they had stopped and shared a small lunch with her on a cloud over the fields between Canterlot and Fillydelphia in the early afternoon.
Very few ponies knew what happened between then and Celestia's triumphant, celebrated return to the palace three days later. While it was a secret that those who were in the know steadfastly took to their graves, it was not a dark secret, just...precious, and something that belonged to them alone, and bound them together.
There was a small village on the outskirts of a forest, in distant view of the city of Fillydelphia. The ponies here were humble folk, woodcutters and stonemasons and farmers, part of the unromantic foundation of society that enables the glamour of the city to survive, day-to-day.
A family of unicorns there had a very unusual visitor, in the early evening, who asked after their youngest daughter, by name. The two sat, sharing weak tea in mismatched, cracked teacups, as Celestia asked pointed questions of the terrified little unicorn about a long afternoon she'd spent with an old pegasus in the woods, and what she'd shown that old mare—an amazing, precocious gift for teleportation.
“Was...that okay?” the unicorn whispered, expecting to be punished. Her mother had suggested that showing off for strangers wasn't what good little fillies did, but it was somewhat typical of this little unicorn to wonder if that really meant she should stop.
“You have a truly unique and natural talent,” Celestia said, beaming down at the filly, who gulped. “And I want to give you the chance to develop it into something great, in Canterlot.”
Her father stepped forward. “You mean—the Academy? I'm...flattered, princess, but we could never affor—“
“It would be my pleasure to arrange matters,” Celestia said, pleasantly. “I owe your daughter a great deal.”
Everypony looked confused at this.
With a look out the window at the setting sun, and a gentle word that this was to remain between them, Celestia told them of her new burden—that once every few generations or so, she would spend time as a mortal pony, walking in the world. As this very first, most difficult time had come to a close, and she had been deep in mourning for her lost friends, she had met a little filly in the woods, who was so open and brave and eager to share her enthusiastic love of the world, that it had helped move the heart of the Princess to come to grips with her sorrow, and learn the lesson she was meant to: the quiet strength of humility, to endure, and to love again.
“Courage, and compassion, deserve to be rewarded,” Celestia said, smiling down at the filly.
Radiant Dawn smiled back up at her, as bright as her namesake.
Celestia blinked, stirred from some thought, or memory, that now escaped her.
Her chambers were lit with the golden light of sunset, once again. She shook her head, smiling; maybe it was just her, but it seemed to have become an extremely significant time in her life. Nothing important ever happened at dawn, anymore, or noon...
“Princess!” came the insistent call, again. The Halls of Dawn and Dusk were close enough to her chambers that somepony yelling loud enough through its vaulted pillared galleries, open to the sky, could be heard.
Celestia grinned, and rolled her eyes. “I'll be there in a moment, Dawnie,” she called out the window, letting a little whisper of magic ensure that she'd be heard.
She considered her options carefully. She could arrive through the doors, like a pony with any sense of dignity whatsoever...or she could have a little revenge on Dawn, just to remind the little unicorn who was the princess around here, to be waited upon, not summoned by yelling out a window...
Celestia grinned. The guards hated this. They quietly disliked this part of the castle in general, she knew; all the tall, open areas were a security nightmare. But it was their job to worry about things like that, so she let them.
Carefully, she leapt out of a window and dove into the western sky, letting her wings catch the air silently, spiraling around the tower of her private apartments, and alighted into the Halls behind the unicorn through one of the open-air archways, to the sudden and intense alarm of the guards posted at the doors. She smiled at them apologetically, and they rolled their eyes.
Radiant Dawn, her cream coat and strawberry-red hair brilliant in the golden light of sunset, spun on her hooves in shock. “Hey! You said no teleporting in the castle!”
Celestia shook her wings, grinning.
“That's cheating,” Dawn said, huffing.
Celestia laughed brightly. “Did you get the things I asked you to, dear?”
“Yeah!” The little unicorn nodded, turning back to them, smiling enthusiastically.
A telescope. A stack of books and star charts.
And a unicorn filly, looking up at her adoringly.
Celestia's smile grew strained, just for a moment.
Dawn misinterpreted her look. “I didn't teleport into the library again, if that's what you—“
“No, no,” Celestia said, quickly, shaking her head. She would have known already if Dawn had done this—the librarian and unquestioned mistress of the palace archives, an earth pony who was uniformly addressed as Ms. First Edition, held views on the issue of unicorns suddenly appearing in the stacks, the sudden burst of magic and air displacement turning her neatly-arranged shelves into, well...a problem.
Dawn held her gaze warily, for a second, but then smiled as she satisfied herself that she wasn't in trouble. It was, after all, somewhat rare for this to be the case. “I've been looking through these old ones, that Ms. First Edition gave me,” she said, a bit dismissively. Dawn held grudges like a cat; they amounted to low-level suspicion and distrust right up until she needed something from the pony in question. “They're all really old, and boring...”
Celestia reflected that Dawn was still in that stage of youth where anything old and worn lacks the appeal of things that were new and fresh. She summoned one of them to herself; it was—
“Oh, my, Dawnie...” Celestia said, clicking her tongue. “A Practical Guide to Stellar Bodies is hardly old..!” she said.
Old was not the word for this book, she said in the privacy of her mind. Nor worn. Well-loved...
“Ugh, but it's got soooo many boring words in it,” Dawn said. “About, you know, math stuff.”
Celestia chuckled. “Nevertheless, it—”
“I like this one much better,” Dawn said, holding up in her hooves a blue book decorated with a simple picture of the silhouettes of two ponies looking up at the sky through a telescope, one pointing upwards. “I have one of my own at home, but I forgot it, so I took—” She froze.
Celestia's eyebrow raised in mock anger. “The copy...from my study.”
Dawn grinned up at her nervously. “Um...yes.”
“Which you could only have gotten into by, yes, teleporting from that ledge you found on the second-floor window of the laboratory...which you could also have only gotten to by teleporting, since you're not allowed in there unsupervised anymore,” Celestia continued, idly, in the tones of somepony who knows they have a fish on the hook but are in no particular hurry to reel it in.
But privately, she gloried in Radiant Dawn's rapidly developing skill and ingenuity, however troublesome.
Radiant Dawn chuckled. “Sorry..?” she said, weakly.
With a sudden grin, Celestia snatched the book from Dawn's hooves with telekinesis and began flapping it at her, swatting at the little filly's backside. Dawn leapt to her hooves and began running back and forth along the length of the Hall, laughing and squealing as the book chased her, occasionally making gentle contact.
The guards rolled their eyes again, which Celestia politely failed to notice.
“Honestly, I can't leave you two be for half a second without half the palace falling down...” said a cool voice from a convenient shadow.
Dawn came to a skidding halt before the proud figure of Princess Luna, once again tall in the fullness of the moon.
Like many foals born during the Sleep, Dawn was fascinated and intimidated by the mysterious princess. When Celestia had first presented Dawn, formally, to her sister, the little unicorn had actually gone stock-stiff and tried to hide behind Celestia a little—completely out of character for the chatty, inquisitive little unicorn, who had boldly demanded favors from guards the first time she came to the palace and asked questions relentlessly if something caught her attention.
Luna smiled down at her, honest amusement lit on her noble features.
Celestia grinned wickedly and took the opportunity to swat at Dawn's flanks once again, gently making contact with the little golden image of a rising sunburst emblazoned there. The filly squeaked in surprise and shot her teacher a dirty look.
“And with such a precious book, too,” Luna said in a tone of exaggerated hurt, as she took it from Celestia's control and made a show of inspecting it for damage she knew very well would not be there.
Dawn's little face scrunched up. “What? There's tons of that book, it's not rare,” she said, curiously; then she remembered how nervous she was and gave Luna a shy look.
Luna flipped the book open, turning a few pages. “Ah, here we are...Radiant Dawn, I feel confident in saying that this is a unique item of great value...as you'll see here.” She presented the page to Dawnie to read.
It was the title page:
COMPLETE WITH STAR CHARTS AND ILLUSTRATIONS
TWILIGHT SPARKLE, ARCH-MAGE, D.MS, D.Thau, PhD
And underneath, in small, careful quillwriting:
To my dear Princess Celestia,
One more signed first edition for a very lucky princess, when you're yourself again.
In memory of a cold, winter night, when you woke a grumpy little filly and taught her to love the heavens...
With love from your Faithful Student,
P.S. Given in hopes that this will not be left on a shelf in your study...I know part of you will want it to.
P.P.S. And while De Celestia Mobile may be a seminal work and extremely flattering to you, librarians should probably give this to fillies and colts in the future, if I may be so bold.
P.P.P.S. I'm serious, Celestia, don't let this sit on the shelf!
Dawn read it, carefully. Celestia watched her, face blank.
The little unicorn turned. “Ha! See? You're not supposed to keep it on a shelf!” she declared.
Luna and Celestia's eyes met, briefly, and Celestia gave Dawn a small look of playfully exaggerated remorse. “Oh, dear, Dawnie...you're right. You've caught me being bad again...”
“That's twice this week,” Dawn said, firmly. “You took that melon from the kitchen, yesterday--”
Celestia frowned in honest irritation. “I shared with you, didn't I?”
Dawn shrugged. “Still, though.” Her face was unyielding justice, personified in miniature.
Luna laughed, brightly. “I cannot believe I've let it go this long before meeting you personally, little one...” Dawn's eyes went wide—Princess Luna was showing her a lot of personal attention!
Celestia stepped up beside Dawn, who looked up to her nervously. “Dawn, I asked you to come here tonight for a very special lesson...your first, with my sister.”
“What? Really?” Dawn gasped, looking to Luna, who nodded, smiling broadly.
“I'm going to teach you about the stars, Dawn...Celestia says you've shown some interest in them,” Luna said, momentarily meeting Celestia's gaze. This—stargazing—had been the one demand Luna had made, when Celestia proposed that her sister take a larger role in the unicorn's special education; unspoken, but heavy in her voice, was an entirely different filly altogether, long, long ago...a chance Luna never had.
Celestia had agreed, without hesitation.
Dawn's eyes found some way to grow even wider with stunned excitement. “Uh, yeah! I've been reading lots of stories, and I wanted to learn about the cons...constell...um...”
“Constellations, dear,” Luna finished for her, automatically. “Stories?” She asked Celestia, raising an eyebrow in interest.
“Legends, and histories,” Celestia said, smiling as Dawn nodded excitedly. She loved stories and tales of bygone days, finding endless fascination in things being different than they were now, and reading the stories of heroes and monsters and great deeds.
Celestia smiled. Someday, it would really, ha, dawn on the unicorn exactly who she was talking to every day, and...well, it would be a very long day. Week. Month. Luna would like it, though; she had endless time for ponies willing to listen to her speak of old times; she found doing so comforting, and interest in such things flattered her.
“Um, I...I had a question, though,” Dawn said, quietly.
“Well, go on, ask,” Celestia said, tapping her companionably towards Luna.
“Err...” the little pony said, looking up at Luna, who smiled pleasantly at her as she waited. Dawn pointed westwards. “I was wondering...what that star is.”
Luna raised her eyebrows and looked out into the sky. She turned back with a very small, sly grin which would, in time, become extremely familiar to Radiant Dawn. “That's the sun, my dear. You should ask my sister about it, sometime...”
Dawn frowned. “Not that. That.” she said. She trotted up to an open archway and pointed carefully with a hoof.
Celestia and Luna stepped forward and followed her hoof up, as if they needed to.
There, right on the edge of day and night...was a bright, pink point of light, gleaming proudly above the sun as it sunk into the horizon.
“It's not in any of my books, not even Miss Sparkle's...” Dawn, in the strange instinctive way some foals have, sensed that something was amiss, and trailed off, looking a little scared, worried she'd done something wrong.
The princess' eyes locked. “Oh, that...well...” Luna said, giving Celestia a look which said: It's your choice.
“That star...would not be in Twili—Miss Sparkle's book,” Celestia said, laying down so that she was more or less at eye level with Dawn. “Because it didn't exist when she wrote it.”
“Oh,” Dawn said, nervously.
Celestia smiled, a little faintly. “It's a very special star, you know,” she said, as if conveying a great secret. “Especially for me.”
Dawn looked curious. “Really?”
“Yes, Dawn,” Luna said, lying down on the other side of the little unicorn. “Every day, it watches over the sun as it sets. It...loves the sun very much, and doesn't want it to be alone.”
“That's...that's...huh,” the unicorn said. A thought struck her. “Does it, um...does it have a name? I read—”
“You read that all stars have true names, is that right?” Luna replied. “That was very clever of you.”
“Dawnie,” Celestia said, quietly, “would you lie by me, please?”
The unicorn lay down, happily basking in Celestia's warmth. Luna watched Celestia carefully; she was staring up at the little star, clearly a little strained.
“Um,” Dawn asked quietly. “Did I do something wrong..? Why are you crying?”
Celestia looked down at her, smiling. There were, indeed, trails of tears falling from her eyes. “No, Dawnie, no. I just want you near me when I talk to you about this.” The little unicorn cuddled her, gently, instinctively offering comfort, just as she had for that sad mare in the forest, years ago.
Luna gave Celestia a look: It's okay, I can tell her if that would be easier...
Celestia shook her head, and Luna nodded, sighing. This was something Celestia had to do herself.
“Dawnie,” Celestia began, quietly, “that star is very special to you, too.”
“Yes. It has two names, you know—most ponies just call it the twilight star, since that's when they see it...” Celestia trailed off, smiling wistfully. While this was a little hard, she found...she really was very happy here, with Luna, and little Dawn. So she nuzzled the little filly affectionately while she let the little moment of tightness in her chest pass. “But its real name is...the Faithful Student.”
There...she'd said it.
Dawn looked up. “Student? It's like the Sun's...student?” she asked, tentatively. “Like...like me!”
Luna reached a hoof out and put it on the filly's shoulder, gently, touching her for the very first time. “That's right. And it loves the ponies the sun keeps near her heart...so if you're ever feeling lonely, remember that it's always there, watching over you as well.”
The unicorn stood, to get a better view of the star, looking up at it in wonder. “It's...beautiful,” she said, unthinking.
“Yes,” Celestia said, quietly. “Yes it is. When you're a little older, we'll talk about it some more. But for now...” She tapped Dawn with a hoof. “Since you can see it, that means it's almost nighttime! It is the twilight star, after all...”
“And I've been looking forward to spending time with you all day,” Luna said quickly, to Dawn's surprise and, it seemed, nervous excitement. “I have quite a bit I can tell you about any constellation you want. After all,” she added, giving Dawn a smug grin, "I named quite a lot of them myself."
Dawn looked from her to Celestia in awe, grinning.
“Off you go, little one. I want you two to be friends, so be good for once, will you?” Celestia added, calling after the little unicorn as she all but galloped over to the telescope and began adjusting it eagerly, even though she had no idea what she was doing.
Luna rose, and put her head down by Celestia's ear. “This will be hard for you, I think,” the dusky princess said, carefully. “If you want to...retire...”
“Then it will be hard,” Celestia said, looking up at her sister, with a calm, pleasant smile. “But I will remain, nevertheless.”
Luna smiled. “As you wish, sister.” She turned, summoning A Beginner's Guide to Stargazing to herself, flipping through the star charts a look of professional dispassion; she had, after all, written parts of it herself. “Alright, Radiant Dawn...first of all, when it's just us, please just call me Luna, okay? Forget about all that princess stuff for a while...”
As night fell over Equestria, Princess Celestia stared out into the western sky, listening to Luna and Dawn get to know each other. It was tentative, at first; Dawn was nervous, and Luna was, to Celestia's experienced ear, eager beyond words to get along with her, which always made her a little stiff and awkward. But Dawn's natural curiosity quickly got the better of her fear, and Luna's persistent, gentle entreaties were rewarded with a sudden flood of enthusiastic questions about everything the princess said, or showed her. From that initial meeting they quickly found a natural rhythm to their conversation, and together, they discussed the secrets of the heavens.
It was apparent to Celestia that the two would be lifelong friends—two intelligent, passionate ponies who shared a love of learning, laughing, and making sly little jokes at each others' expense. She idly wondered if Luna would be the one with a loyal, dedicated student this time around...it promised to be interesting. Radiant Dawn was almost totally unlike Twilight Sparkle; bold and sociable, bursting with an easy confidence. She was also a born troublemaker, her talent for teleportation having already caused a lot of...excitement, at the Academy and in the palace, but her heart was honest and courageous, and compassion and fierce loyalty came to her as easily as breathing.
In her, Celestia suspected, she had not found a new Arch-Mage...but she had found a brave and adventurous new friend.
Celestia couldn't wait to find out what would happen, in the coming days...
But for now, the sun was setting. Tomorrow, it would rise again, to shine over another day in Equestria, looking down, with love, on everypony, great or humble; all the adventures, the business, the joys and sorrows, the friendships and enmities, the triumphs and tragedies, that made up a day in her beloved little country. And then it would set again, to rest...
Celestia looked up, over the setting sun, at the pink star...and smiled. The sun would never be alone again—accompanied eternally, in her heart and in the fading light of twilight, every day...by her Faithful Student.