by Chocolate Milk
Chapter I: Voicing Opposition
“I’m very sorry to trouble you today, Your Highness, but, well, I really don’t have anypony else to turn to.” The gray unicorn’s mane was long and bedraggled, and his forest-green eyes seemed glued to the astonishingly white marble floor that lay beneath his blackened hooves.
“I’ve tried to find work, Princess. I have applied for every open job I could find for the last six months. But the longer I’m unemployed, the less anypony wants to hire me. Your Majesty, I’ve never been one to ask for help. But I’m afraid, Princess,” he admitted, his voice beginning to crack. “I’m afraid.”
Celestia listened attentively, standing atop the staircase in her castle’s Grand Hall. Her luminescent mane glimmered in the light that shone through the bright stained glass behind her, and floated as it did like a billowing cloud caught in an unfelt, perpetual wind. The downtrodden pony lay low on his haunches at the foot of the staircase, forelegs outstretched, a prolonged and deep bow that was as much a show of his respect as a display of his desperation. On both sides of Equestria’s daytime ruler, with narrowed eyes and blinding gold-plated armor, two royal guard pegasi kept watch over the growing line of ponies waiting respectfully for a moment of Princess Celestia’s time.
She spoke: “It pains me to learn how much you’ve been struggling, my little pony. What is your name, dear?”
The poor unicorn tried hard to raise his head, but at the first glimpse of his princess’s ornate horseshoe he blinked hard and his eyes were once again tethered to the marble floor. “M- my name is Night Dancer. It is a true honor, Your Highness.”
“Well,” she began, “I’m very glad you’ve come to see me, Night Dancer. In fact, I wish you’d have come a great deal sooner. The castle has a few bits set aside specifically for helping the long-term unemployed get back on their hooves. We provide anypony in need with a place to live, food to eat, and job training built around the special skill their cutie mark denotes.” Her voice brightened. “All you have to do is fill out a few forms from your mayor's office.”
Celestia’s policies had rendered involuntary unemployment virtually nonexistent in Equestria, and thus most ponies spent their entire lives unaware of the safety net their princess had put in place centuries ago for those rare few who found themselves without a means of support. When ponies did go without jobs for extended periods of time, they invariably wound up joining the scores of others attempting to speak with Princess Celestia during Day Court Open Hour, which she set aside each morning in order to hear directly from her subjects about the challenges they were facing.
Celestia was always happy to explain the hardship fund, partly because she enjoyed the occasional break from the typical Open Hour petitioners: die-hard parents trying to get their children into one of her schools for gifted ponies, overeager stallions asking to join the Royal Guards on the spot, and armchair meteorologists complaining about the minutiae of pegasi weather policy. But mostly, she liked explaining the hardship fund because doing so endowed her with a rare honor: faced with Equestria’s most vulnerable, she had the distinct pleasure of personally vindicating the trust she asked of them as their ruler.
Night Dancer raised himself back onto his forelegs. From some unblocked wellspring within him, he found the courage to meet the day-bringer’s eyes. “Your Majesty, I...,” he stammered, struggling against welling tears. “I don’t know what to say!”
His face curled slowly into an uncontrollable grin. “I had no idea something like that existed. And to think, all this time! Th- Thank you, thank you my princess!”
My princess. She’d always liked that form of address.
Celestia gave the pony a slight smile: not too narrow as to seem impersonal, but not too wide as to appear unrestrained. Celestia always strove for the perfect balance of consistency, order and warmth. “I’m very happy I’ve been able to help you, Night Dancer.”
“Next petitioner!” the guard to her right intoned. The exuberant gray pony below gave one final bow and trotted out through the castle’s arched marble entrance with a new spring in his step.
The princess kept her smile and closed her eyes in contentment. This was among the most important—and most rewarding—parts of her day. To rule fairly and wisely, it was imperative that she never lose sight of the way her subjects lived. The Open Hour was her way of learning about the most pressing issues of the day from the very ponies most affected by them. Of course with the crime rate approaching zero, major international conflict relegated to the annals of history, and the food supply plentiful and diversified, the most pressing issues of the day tended towards the mundane. Except....
“Hello, Celestia. It’s me.”
Celestia’s contented smile began its departure. Here we go again, she thought to herself. She noticed her guards’ faces grow visibly sour at the sight of the newest petitioner; she hoped her own reaction hadn’t been as blatant as theirs. She gave her head a little shake and allowed herself a light sigh. “Hello, Just Cause.”
At the foot of the stairs stood an earth pony the color of dark walnut. On her flank she bore a red and gray cutie mark in the shape of a torch. Her black mane licked along the frame of her scowling face like a wildfire, and stopped abruptly at her chin as though it were cut in one swift motion by something far sharper than a pair of scissors. She was a bit short for a full-grown mare, but one could be forgiven for failing to notice, especially at this moment.
Just Cause stood stock still at the center of the Grand Hall, all four of her hooves rooted defiantly to the brilliant marble. Her light gray eyes were locked into Celestia’s. “I am here to voice my opposition to Equestria’s totalitarian form of government. The tyrannical diarchy you share with your sister is an affront to the individual rights to liberty and self-determination possessed by all ponies, and your rule is devoid of legitimacy. Many of my fellow countryponies may bow to you and honor you as their princess. But know this, Celestia: you are not my princess.”
The brown mare had recited these exact words, with the same scowl on her face, at every one of both her and her sister’s Open Hours for the past nine months. Still, Celestia had been ruling over Equestria for more than 1,000 years. She felt neither offended nor threatened by this perseverant pony’s words. She was learned enough to understand what perspective Just Cause was trying to convey with her daily confrontations, and she was objective enough to see the validity of its underlying argument.
Yet there were no more capable and experienced leaders than her and Luna in all of Equestria. This was something of an established fact: not even Just Cause seemed to dispute it. Yes, the philosophy behind government is important. But not as important as a pony’s day-to-day life. Would elected leaders have set bits aside for the long-term unemployed? Of course not—those ponies would turn into pariahs, and the better-off ponies would call for their bits to be spent on something else. Something like tax cuts. Self-determination is not worth condemning a pony like Night Dancer to unending poverty.
The day-bringer cocked her head to one side, and gave an understanding nod. “Your concerns are noted, my little pony.”
The mare shook her head. “I thought I’d have made it clear by now that I am not ‘your little pony’, Celestia,” she said, her every word dripping with spite.
Behind her golden crown the princess’s ears perked up. Well, this is certainly a feisty little addition to our choreography, isn’t it? She composed herself, and measured her response.
“While I am truly sorry you feel that way, I understand your concerns. As I stated before, they have been noted. Thank you.”
The royal guard drew a breath. “Next peti—”
“Just a moment, Whitestone.” The guard fell silent. Something was nagging at the princess. Her daily visitor was a bit more... animated today, she thought, and she wanted to try and figure out why.
“Just Cause. I’m sure by now you recognize that I have already considered your position at length, and have reached the conclusion that the costs associated with democratizing clearly outweigh the benefits. I’ve expressed my judgment to you on multiple occasions.”
Celestia took a slow, deliberate breath. “I’m sure you also recognize that I have lived and ruled for over one millennium, and that it would be extremely unlikely for me to change my mind on any issue over the course of one day, to say nothing of an issue as important as this. My sister, too, has found your assertions interesting yet unpersuasive in the context of modern-day Equestria. Why, then, do you take precious time out of your day to attend each and every one of our Open Hours, solely to reiterate an accusation that has already been considered and rejected?”
The faintest of smiles began to play across Just Cause’s lips. She was unnervingly calm—unusual for her. Her eyes were still locked tight into Celestia’s. She drew a hard breath through her nostrils, and her softly-spoken, almost whispered reply echoed through the hall as if the chocolate mare had excavated some dark prophecy:
“I'm repeating my accusation, Celestia, because it is an unanswered truth.”
Just Cause turned and began a slow walk towards the castle’s entrance.
Odd, the princess thought, she’s usually in such a rush to get out of here. Why this protracted exit? Celestia stretched her expansive wings and watched as a beige earth pony colt walked to the center of the Grand Hall.
He did not bow.
“I am here to voice my opposition to Equestria’s totalitarian form of government. The tyrannical diarchy you share with your sister is an affront to the individual rights to liberty and self-determination possessed by all ponies, and your rule is devoid of legitimacy. Many of my fellow countryponies may bow to you and honor you as their princess. But know this, Celestia: you are not my princess.” Without waiting for a response, the colt turned around and began his exit.
Celestia felt a quick kick from inside her chest. She looked at her guards. They were professionals, trained not to react to anything that was not a direct threat to a pony’s safety. Still, it was clear to the princess that they were on edge. She saw Whitestone clench his jaw.
This is obviously not coincidence. But it’s not that big of a deal that Just Cause managed to bring a friend. She gave her wings a quick flap and folded them back against her body.
“Next petitioner!” Whitestone called, disguising his nervousness with volume.
In strode a light green pegasus mare. She stood up straight and looked Celestia in the eye. “I am here to voice my opposition to Equestria’s totalitarian form of government. The tyrannical diarchy you share with your sister is an affront to the indiv—”
Whitestone forced a rumbling snort through his nostrils. “You and your friends will respect the princess!”
The day-bringer brought her front hoof down hard against the marble floor, producing a loud, crisp sound that reverberated throughout the Great Hall. Not a single pony spoke; a few near the back of the line bowed instinctively. The guard stared straight ahead, struggling to hold himself upright amid the onslaught of adrenaline coursing through his veins.
My little agitators here are one thing. But the Royal Guards need to be better than that.
For what were perhaps five of the longest seconds in Whitestone's life, Celestia coolly looked the poor guard over. Then, in a voice so sweet and motherly that the whole room heaved a sigh of relief before she'd uttered no more than a syllable, the princess corrected her charge.
"Now, Whitestone. The petitioners may say whatever they like, even if we disagree with them. Isn't that right?"
“Yes,” the shaken guard replied, before quickly adding: “Y-Yes, Princess.”
Celestia chuckled quietly. “Don't worry. We all make mistakes. What's important is how we learn from them.”
The princess turned to face the petitioner. “Now then, please contin—”
Standing at the center of the hall was a blue unicorn. The pegasus mare was making a silent, flighted exit through the marble arch.
“I am here to voice my opposition to Equestria’s totalitarian form of government.”
On the rounded balcony of Canterlot Castle’s tallest spire, Celestia stared out at the waning sun as its light refracted across the distant sea. She was very fond of the twilight hours and came here every day to savor the last remnants of her daily labor, before Luna took to the Moon Platform and wrought the nighttime sky overhead.
Celestia furrowed her brow, deep in thought. After a few minutes, a circular flash of magic opened barely one foot from her nose at the other end of the balcony, and from out of it stepped Equestria’s midnight ruler.
The princesses met on this circular balcony nearly every day to share these beautiful and scarce minutes of ambiguity in the sky. On most days, it was the only time they shared together. Luna was not yet wearing her spiked black tiara, and her light blue mane still fell in its natural way, flat along the sides of her face; even having just woken up, though, her poise was unmistakable.
The elder sister smiled. “Good evening, Luna. Did you sleep well?”
"Yes, thank you for asking. Much better than yesterday."
"I'm very glad to hear that, Luna," Celestia said, taking a step forward and nuzzling her sister affectionately.
One could be forgiven for assuming this exchange to be little more than a courtesy. But Celestia knew how difficult it could be for her sister to sleep soundly. Ever since the Elements of Harmony brought her out from the mental cage Nightmare Moon had trapped her in, her dreams were filled with memories of profound loss and helplessness. Most ponies in Equestria did not quite understand how much suffering their younger princess endured.
It wasn’t that Celestia had excused her sister’s actions, nor would Luna ever try to avoid blame for what she had done: the dark mare understood that it was her responsibility to curb her own worst impulses. It was she alone who had let her anger and jealousy overtake her, 1,000 years ago. But once she transformed into Nightmare Moon, she was no longer in control of her own body. Luna described the experience to her sister as a "lucid trance": she was fully aware of everything she was doing, but completely powerless to stop. The day-bringer had long since stopped trying to comprehend true powerlessness.
The two sisters turned to look beyond the balcony as the last slice of sun held its ground above the horizon. What does Luna feel when she sees the sunset? Me and the rest of Equestria see in the falling sun the end of our grind, and the beginnings of our daily respite. She shifted her eyes towards the dark mare. It’s the worker’s whistle for you, isn’t it Luna? It tells you when you’ve got to go to work. All by yourself.
Since Luna’s return, Celestia had repeatedly found herself stumbling upon new ways to understand her sister’s isolation. Each one sent a pang of guilt deep into the white mare’s stomach. She well understood that she had acted in the best interests of Equestria and its subjects. Still, her sister’s banishment hadn’t been easy on either of them. Would it ever be?
They watched as the last sliver of sun slipped into the sea. Celestia took a long, slow breath, and kept her eyes transfixed to the spot where the sun had taken its final bow. “An interesting thing happened in Day Court Open Hour.”
Fifteen. It had been fifteen ponies. After five in a row had “voiced their opposition to Equestria’s totalitarian form of government”, those further back in line began to boo the protesting ponies as each launched into their polemical mantra. Celestia had put a hoof up to her lips, and her subjects’ boos respectfully subsided. Then, she’d accepted each member of the group graciously and courteously, and thanked each of them for their visit to her castle. Love and tolerance, Celestia, she had thought to herself at the time. I’ve got to lead by example. All in all, hearing out the repetitive group had taken only 10 minutes, and in response the princess had extended the Open Hour accordingly.
But something still didn’t sit right with her. That pony is stubborn, but she isn’t dumb. She knew full well that today’s little display wouldn’t change anything.
“I'm repeating my accusation, Celestia, because it is an unanswered truth.”
I can recognize a taunt when I hear one. She was so much more smug today than she usually is. All that cockiness, just for wasting a few minutes of my day?
Her eyes grew hard. No. This isn’t over.
Luna turned to face her sister. “What happened, Celestia?”
The white mare held her eyes closed for just a bit longer than a blink. She had to be careful here. “Just Cause,” she breathed.
“Is she getting to you?”
Celestia glanced at her sister. Luna’s face was full of worry, though she was making a valiant effort to hide it. She fixed her gaze once again towards the distant sea. “No, dear. She pulled something of a stunt today.”
Luna bit the inside of her mouth. “Nothing serious though?”
“No,” she said. “Not too serious.”
“What happened, sis?” said the midnight mare.
“She brought some other ponies with her. That’s all.”
Celestia saw her sister take a hard swallow. The elder sister had developed a thick skin against criticism in her time, and while nothing like Just Cause’s show today had happened before in Day Court Open Hour, she was able to take it in stride.
Luna was a different story. She had never truly felt sure that her subjects respected her; out of this suspicion, Nightmare Moon was born. But even after her return to the throne, she’d still hadn't fully dismissed the lingering doubt in her heart. Sure, she had fun participating in scare games with the Ponyvillians last Nightmare Night, and some of those ponies genuinely seemed to like her: Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, that adorable little foal Pip. But Equestria was more than just Ponyville. Deep down, Luna understood that Equestrians only accepted her as their princess because of the trust they placed in Celestia’s own judgment. She owed everything to her big sister. Everything.
Luna shifted her hooves to rebalance her weight. “How many ponies did she bring? What did they say?”
“It was about 10.” She rounded down: this was a delicate situation. “They all said pretty much the same thing, the type of thing Just Cause says every day.”
Five seconds of silence.
“That’s completely unprecedented, isn’t it Celestia? You’ve never told me about anything like that—are you OK? Were you able to handle it?”
The last rays of light were fading fast. She didn’t have much time. Turning to face her sister, Celestia lowered the tone of her voice. “I didn’t bring this up for my own benefit, Luna. It’s very likely that Just Cause will try something like this at midnight, during your Night Court Open Hour. You should probably prepare the Night Guards beforehand, to ensure that they’re well-behaved.”
The younger sister took a step back, and dropped her head slightly. “OK, I understand. Thanks for the advice.”
“Also, Luna.” She had tried to speak these words cleanly and with little weight, as if she were about to impart a gentle aside. But instead, she hesitated: “A—also, Luna?” The dark mare couldn’t recall the last time she’d heard her sister succumb to hesitation in her speech, and her eyes widened almost imperceptibly.
The white mare softly cleared her throat: “Luna. Please prepare yourself, too. I know how hard dealing with Just Cause can be for you, especially given how empty Night Court usually is. It will be harder than you can yet imagine to deal with a group of ponies who are blinded by the unreasonable hate they feel towards you and me. But keep in mind that they are a small, vocal minority. They do not speak for all of Equestria, nor do they speak for a majority of Equestrians. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but keep your poise, composure and grace intact tonight. This could be a great opportunity to lead by example, like we’ve spoken about.”
A long silence. “Yes, Celestia.”
“You know you can wake me up at any time if you want my help.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I love you, Luna.”
“I know.” Silence. “I love you too, Celestia.”
One circular flash of magic later and the moon began to stir. It crept up from behind the elder sister standing motionless and alone, staring out over the pitch-black expanse of nighttime Equestria.
A small spark of magic from the tip of Celestia’s horn neatly rolled her covers off of her and into a tight cylinder at the foot of her large bed. She squeezed her eyes closed and let out a tiny, high-pitched yawn as she extended her front hooves above and behind her head to wake herself up.
The elegant mare slid herself off of the side of her bed. Her hooves noiselessly slipped onto the purple-carpeted floor.
“Good morning,” the princess said aloud to herself, as a white glow enveloped her horn. Immediately her various morning-prep accoutrements began to glow as well before gliding through the air towards the ceiling, waiting patiently to be called upon. The princess walked over to her bedroom window as the curtains parted for her, and looked through it. A gorgeous crescent moon shone back and weakly illuminated her room with its peculiar light.
Each and every night, Celestia marveled at her sister’s work. Hers was a unique appreciation, having been forced into Luna’s role by circumstance until recently. The princess’s first attempts at crafting the night sky were disastrous. Raising the moon was relatively easy, but correctly placing each star along the vast night sky was impossible for her to do alone. In those first few weeks, several navigators and explorers had become hopelessly lost—some went months before being found by Celestia’s commissioned rescue teams. Before long, she convened a council of 10 astronomers and 10 architects to help her in her duties, yet even with her well-studied team she was only able to properly place the most important stars, like Polaris and Sirius; as well as a few constellations like Orion. Most of the stars were left out of the sky altogether.
From the jumble of items she kept floating near the ceiling, Celestia brought a mirror and hairbrush down to her level. She took the hairbrush to her mane, which floated low along the contours of her back. After three quick passes with the brush, it caught the magical gusts that surrounded the mare and fell naturally into its perpetual wind.
The first sky that Luna crafted after reaccepting her crown had drawn ponies from Cloudsdale to Fillydelphia out of their homes, where they stood with their heads upturned in awe of its magnificence. Hidden in Luna’s mind were charts, graphs, and grand plans nopony else in Equestria would be able to comprehend. Her work was very different from that of her sister: to bring morning, Celestia drew upon her magic in full and hauled the sun up from its resting place by sheer force in an explosive 30-second display of power. Luna had a similar (though far easier) start to the night in raising the moon, but her real work was setting the stars in the sky, slowly and meticulously, with painstaking care given to how she changed their positions from night to night, and the relative intensities of light she gave to each one.
What her task lacked in physical exertion was easily made up for in time spent. It took her nearly five hours at the start of each night to perfect the layout of the stars on her celestial canvas, and she rarely left the Moon Platform any earlier than mere minutes before midnight. Just as Celestia was a truly inspiring administrator and leader, always seeking to optimize Equestrians’ quality of life; so too was Luna an unparalleled mathematician and artist, relentlessly aching for the respect of her subjects.
The daylight princess’s royal carcanet settled against her chest and clasped itself behind her withers, as the crown set itself upon her head. She extended her wings and gave three slow flaps, maintaining a low altitude while her golden horseshoes snapped one-by-one onto her hooves, each with a satisfying click.
She touched back down on her bedroom floor, as the last of her morning jumble—the daily newspaper—flew down alongside her and unfolded itself.
Celestia’s eyes grew wide. Her horn took on a faint yellow glow, and her curtains slowly drew themselves back together.
120 ANTI-LUNA PROTESTERS DETAINED AT NIGHT COURT
Princess Luna: Night Guards acted on my orders
Special thanks: KitsuneRisu | Eakin
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