Night had fallen by the time Applejack and Pinkie Pie made their way into the trillium-filled clearing. Fluttershy had found them wandering far away from Ponyville, and had led them back to the glade where Rarity was now waiting. It was a beautiful place; moonlight filtered through ancient tree branches, patterning the tens of thousands of flowers with spots of luminescence.
Pinkie Pie had regained consciousness before Fluttershy had found them, and after insisting that she was alright, made most of the walk herself. She had been oddly silent on their way to the glade. Applejack hadn’t pressed her about it.
Rarity was already in the clearing, as expected. What Applejack had not expected, however, was the alicorn princess who sat beside her. Luna appeared serene and immaculate sitting under the moonlight. Rarity, by contrast, was teary eyed and covered in dirt. The unicorn ran to Applejack almost immediately.
Applejack knew why. “Mac’s got her,” she said before Rarity could get a word in.
Rarity’s reaction was to bury her head in Applejack’s mane and sob. “I just didn’t know what to do! There was nopony at Sweet Apple Acres and I thought what if... what if...”
Applejack nuzzled the unicorn. “She’s fine, Rarity. Mac’ll take her out to Appleoosa and they’ll hide with the Buffalo until everything is alright. Ah’m sure she’ll miss ya, but she’ll have her friends with her too.”
“But-” Rarity sniffed. “What if she thinks I left her? I should go-”
“-Ah know you want to go find ‘em,” Applejack cut her off. “But Sweetie Belle is a smart filly. She’ll understand.”
Rarity pulled away and contemplated this for a moment before giving her a hug. “Oh thank you, Applejack!” she cried out, her voice returning to its usual silvery lilt. “You have no idea how much I’ve been worrying! I insisted on returning to Sweet Apple Acres, but you can just imagine my reaction when there was nopony there! I assumed she was okay, but, I just had to be sure. I haven’t been able to think of anything else since we got here! I haven’t even bathed!”
The unicorn looked down at herself as she spoke. “Augh! I haven’t even bathed!” She began brushing dirt off of herself with her hooves. “I’m dirty! filthy!” She ran past Applejack, no doubt heading for a stream they had crossed on their way to the clearing.
Applejack sighed and trotted over to Pinkie Pie, who was sitting by herself in the grass, absent-mindedly picking apart a flower. The pony had spoken much less than usual on their day-long journey to the glade. Applejack had initially just assumed that she was exhausted- she had been strangled half to death when Applejack had found her- but now Pinkie was sitting apart from everypony else, which was unusual behaviour for Pinkie Pie. She noticed Pinkie’s hair was losing some of its typical poof, a bad sign.
“All right, sugarcube,” said Applejack, sitting beside the Pink pony, “what’s the matter?”
“Rainbow Dash,” Pinkie Pie said simply. Spoken without her usual energy, her high voice lost its cheerful squeak and sounded melancholy.
Applejack laid what she hoped was a comforting hoof on Pinkie Pie’s back. “That’s it?” she said. “Don’t worry about her, Pinkie. Dash can fly faster than any other pegasus in Equestria. Fluttershy could escape alright, Ah’m sure Dash is fine. She just doesn’t know where to find us, is all.”
“No, AJ, she isn’t ‘fine’. She tried to kill me,” Pinkie Pie said simply, pulling a petal off of the flower she held.
Applejack was dumbfounded. “What?”
Pinkie Pie looked up her, “You didn’t see her when you rescued me? She gave me this,” the pink pony gesture to the puffy bruise that had formed around her neck. Rarity and Pinkie had both gotten them from being strangled. Applejack hadn’t, but she supposed that she simply hadn’t been choked for as long as they. Pinkie Pie had actually lost consciousness.
“Yer confused, Pinkie. I knocked the pony that had you on the head. She was definitely a pegasus, and about Dash’s size, but that pony was black, just like all the others. Grey mane, too. About as not-Rainbow Dash lookin’ as a pony can be, in fact.”
“You what!?” Pinkie Pie suddenly grabbed Applejack and shook her. “Tell me you didn’t kill her!”
Applejack moved to push Pinkie away, but saw real fear in the pony’s eyes. She realized that Pinkie Pie truly believed that the pony who had tried to kill her was Rainbow Dash. Come to think of it, the pony did have Rainbow’s perpetually wind-ruffled mane and sleek form...
“Calm down, Pinkie! Ah just bopped her on the head and knocked her out is all. She should be fine. What makes you think it was Rainbow Dash anyway?”
“She was Rainbow Dash. She’s confused, or sick, and she doesn’t know what she’s doing.” Pinkie Pie’s voice no longer sounded melancholy as she began talking fast. “She told me to run and then she told all the others not to hurt me but then she hit me and I asked her what was wrong but she told them all to attack me and I stopped them but she jumped on my back and I couldn’t-get-her-off-and-I-thought-I-was-going-to-die!” The pink pony was now breathing heavily.
Applejack sat, stunned. “You sure it was Rainbow Dash?” She asked at length.
Pinkie nodded, “She didn’t want to use her own name, like, it hurt her when I said it. And she was herself for a little while, but then she just... lost it. And I tried to cheer her up because cheering ponies up is something I’m good at but it was like Rainbow Dash wasn’t even there anymore and-I-thought-that-maybe-if-I-just-kept-smiling-” Pinkie Pie stopped to take a deep breath, “-She’d let me throw her a party and everything would be okay.”
Applejack leaned in and nuzzled Pinkie Pie’s neck. “Look,” she began. “You remember when Discord made us all strange?”
“He messed with our heads. Made us do things we’d never do. Ah’m willing to bet this is just like that. Dash is probably under some spell.”
Pinkie Pie gave Applejack a flat look. “I figured that much out.”
“Well do you remember how it worked out for Discord?” Applejack waited.
The answer seemed to have an effect. The edges of her mane gained a little more volume and her eyes brightened. Applejack continued:
“Twilight made us remember how much our friendship is really worth, and wiped away his magic just like that. Ah reckon she can do the same thing again. She’s the most magical pony in all of Equestria. An’ Rainbow Dash is the strongest mare Ah know, and the Element of Loyalty to boot.”
“Speaking of which, Ah’m the element of honesty. And Ah’m telling you now, that I truly believe we are gunna find Twilight, and then we’re gunna find Rainbow Dash. Then we’ll find out whoever is behind all this mess and teach them a lesson!”
Pinkie Pie leapt to her feet. “And then I am going to throw the biggest party ever known to ponydom!” She began to bounce in circles, singing a song that she was likely making up on the spot.
Applejack smiled, realizing that she did believe what she had said. She let out a yawn, realized that she was exhausted, and looked forward to getting some sleep.
Sleep, however, would have to wait. Fluttershy was hovering in the air beside one of the many ancient trees that stood sentinel over the glade of small white flowers. As Applejack approached, the pegasus shushed her softly, gesturing to an owl sitting amongst the tree branches, back facing them.
Fluttershy said something so quietly Applejack couldn’t hear her. The owl didn’t hear, either.
She mumbled something again, this time barely audible. Applejack considered asking her to speak up, but remembered that she had been shushed.
“Um... excuse me, sir,” Applejack could barely hear the words. The owl turned suddenly, then flew away, startled.
Fluttershy didn’t even bother landing properly. She simply folded her wings and let herself fall to the ground in a heap. She began to cry.
“Fluttershy? Whats wrong?” The pegasus buried her head in her hooves and didn’t answer. Applejack moved to stand beside her and lowered herself to the ground. “Hey,” she said in the best soothing voice she could manage. “Talk to me.”
Fluttershy spoke between sobs, shaking. “H-h-how m-many of the d-dark ponies did you-” she swallowed. “G-g-get rid of?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” she asked.
Fluttershy wiped her eyes. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ll just leave you alone now...”
“Wait a minute!” Applejack did a quick mental recap of the morning events. “Uh, twelve or thirteen, depending on how ya look at it. Why?”
Fluttershy looked at her, clearly shocked. “I got one,” she said in her unusually soft voice. “And it was by accident, using the stare. And I almost let it kill Rarity first. And afterward I ran because Rarity told me to. She could’ve gotten hurt and I wouldn’t have been there to help.”
“Sounds to me like you saved Rarity’s life.”
“But any of you would have done it faster. She wouldn’t have gotten a big bruise around her neck.” Fluttershy sighed again. Applejack still didn’t understand why she was so upset.
“What’s this really about, Fluttershy?”
“I know I’m not good at flying, or fighting, or farming, and I can’t do magic, but that was okay because I always had my special place in the world. But now...” Fluttershy looked at Applejack, and she looked more terrified than the earthpony had ever seen her before- and Applejack was no stranger when it came to seeing Fluttershy afraid.
“I can’t talk to them anymore, Applejack!” There were fresh tears in her eyes. “The animals act like I’m some kind of monster from the Everfree forest! They screech and growl and run away and all I want to do is help them. I want to tell them everything will be alright, but what if everything won’t be alright? Rainbow Dash is missing, and Twilight-” the pegasus paused.
Applejack considered telling her about Rainbow Dash, but decided it could wait until the morning. She would focus on the more immediate issue for now.
She continued after a moment, “We still haven’t heard from Twilight.”
AJ sat up and gingerly put a hoof around Fluttershy’s neck, bringing her close. “You remember when we came out of the club the other night and everything seemed all strange for a second?” The pegasus nodded. “Well Ah reckon the animals are just still spooked from whatever that was. An’ maybe Ah’m wrong, and something else is bothering them. Maybe they won’t act normal again until we fix all this.”
“But we will fix all this, and they’ll come back to you either way. But until then you’ll just have to cope.” Fluttershy looked taken aback at the harshness of AJ’s last statement. “Cope with being one of the kindest, most empathetic, graceful ponies Equestria has ever known. Cope with being somepony who faces their greatest fears to help their friends, and somepony who Ah have personally seen face down a dragon. Somepony who flew three times as far as Ah walked today just to make sure her friends were safe.”
Fluttershy gave a small smile.
“Yer special, Fluttershy, whether some owl realizes it or not. Ah realize it, and so do all yer other friends. It does you no good to mope about it when yer likely exhausted. Get some rest.”
Fluttershy nodded, then curled up and closed her eyes. Applejack gave yet another sigh, then turned to find her own place to settle down for the night, noting that Pinkie Pie was now sprawled out on the forest floor, snoring softly.
She noticed Luna, however. The princess hadn’t moved since Applejack entered the trillium glade. She sat on her haunches, looking up at the night sky, completely unmoving. There was a certain timelessness to her bearing, as though she could, and had, simply stare at the sky all night. If the princess had heard any of their conversations, she gave no indication.
Applejack continued to examine the princess. She was simply beautiful. Her coat was a deep and luxurious blue, darkened to a near black under the night sky. Not a single strand of its hair was out of place. But where her coat seemed to reject the light of the moon and stars, her mane caught and reflected it, causing individual threads to shine with brilliance, framing her face with an ethereal glow. The shining half moon was a small semicircle reflected in each of her pupils, and the image seemed so right to Applejack, as though her eyes should look that way all the time. As though they were meant to.
Luna was a being infused with magic and presence. She was a god. It was all so alien to the mundane earthpony.
“Come, sit,” the princess said suddenly, never looking away from the night sky. Her voice was not loud, but it was still strong, clear, and fluid. The sound made Applejack shiver. Nopony was above or below a little Apple family hospitality, though, and Applejack took a seat beside the princess, and looked at the sky.
It didn’t seem any different than usual, although the lack of the lights this far from Canterlot made some of the stars more visible.
Applejack figured she ought to say something. “Twilight likes to stargaze.” It was the first thing to come to her mind.
“Does she?” Luna replied in her powerful voice.
“Yep.” Applejack said. Luna’s short response made her wonder if the princess cared at all, but she continued anyway. “She reads all sorts of books on the subject and has this fancy thing called a telescope that lets you see them closer up. Took us out to see a comet with it once.” Luna smiled, still looking at the sky. “Though Ah suppose you already know what a telescope is, seeing as the sky is sort of, well, yours,” Applejack added, feeling a little embarrassed.
“On the contrary, I only learned about them recently. The modern telescope was invented by Gallopileo Gallopilei four hundred years ago. I was in the moon.” The princess didn’t seem bothered by the fact.
“Can I ask a question about, well...”
“Go ahead. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Wasn’t it awful, well, boring, being up there fer a thousand years? Ah would’ve gone crazy myself.”
The princess finally looked down at her, and laughed. It was a quiet laugh that chimed softly through the trillium glade. “I wasn’t actually conscious for the whole ordeal, or I would have gone insane. I was a little aware that time was passing, but at the end it felt like we were waking up from a dream.”
We, Applejack thought. She’s talking about Nightmare Moon. Applejack needed to change the subject.
Luna saw her face and evidently thought the same thing. “Tell me more about Twilight Sparkle. Thou didst mention earlier to Pinkie Pie that she cast a memory spell to help thee in defeating Discord?”
Applejack almost jumped at the opportunity to talk about something else. “That was Twilight, alright. Discord had us all acting like the opposite of our Elements, and Twilight showed us that friendship was worth fighting for. Ah couldn’t tell the truth to save my life, but her spell brought me back. It showed us our friendship, and all the times we had had together. It was-” Applejack stopped.
“Thou misseth her.” the princess observed.
“Twilight is always in charge. In control. She’s what we rally around. She’s strong, you know? We could really use her right now. Ah’m not sure what to do without her...” Applejack admitted.
“I understand exactly how thee feel, Applejack. I think thou art doing an excellent job in her stead, however. Thou didst admirably ease the troubles of thine other friends. They shall rest well tonight, I think, thanks to thine efforts. Thou ought consider resting as well.” The princess gave Applejack a meaningful look
“Ah can stay up and work off of no sleep, if I really need to.” She thought back to the time Mac had an injury and she’d tried to tackle apple bucking season by herself. “Fer a little while, at least.”
Luna regarded her strangely. “The mark of a powerful earthpony. I can do it, too. My sister could stay awake for a week in a row without succumbing to exhaustion.”
“Ah’ve... Ah’ve never heard of that before.” Applejack admitted.
“It is difficult attribute to measure. All earthpony magic is. I think taking on thirteen puppets is the least of what thou art capable of.”
“Puppets?” Applejack asked. Is that what they are?
Luna frowned. “I shalt speak more of this in the morning, when everypony else is present.” She stood and stretched. “For now, I shalt find Rarity. Does it usually taketh her this long to bathe?”
“Princess, You have no idea.”
“I see.” The princess spread her wings. “Thank you, Applejack.”
Applejack was confused. “Fer what?”
“I eavesdropped tonight on all of your conversations. The things thou didst say... didst give me hope. I think I see now that ye did not simply defeat Nightmare Moon or Discord through luck. Ye will all make powerful soldiers, I think.” The princess did not elaborate on her last statement as she took flight.
It was a short while later that Applejack found a soft patch of mossy earth to lay down on. Her thoughts were not nearly as troubled as they had been before, and sleep came to her easily. One thought nagged at her, however. Soldiers, Luna had said. What if she didn’t want to be a soldier?
It was a depressing morning.
First, Rarity had had to sleep on the ground. No matter how much time she had put into inspecting and clearing the small patch of earth she used as a bed, she had always found more little twigs to poke at her uncomfortably. As a result, she had not gotten nearly enough sleep, and it took her almost an hour staring at her reflection in the nearby stream to get her mane to look like anything other than a train wreck. Even then, she had absolutely no cosmetics, and her coiffure lacked its usual sheen.
Fixing her mane and bathing helped her to forget about other things, however. Like the Twilight look-alike who had also happened to be the strongest unicorn Rarity had ever seen. Or the pile of splinters that had been her home and livelihood. Or Sweetie Belle, forced to live apart in a strange land simply because Rarity bore an Element of Harmony. Or the fourteen irregularly cut diamonds that she had tessellated into a masterwork weapon.
She could only spend so much time at the stream, however, and these thoughts filled her head once again as she made her way back to their impromptu camp. Princess Luna had told Rarity the previous night that she was working on a plan, but not said anything more. Luna had been gone when they woke up in the morning. Whatever her plan was, Rarity hoped it involved suitable accommodations. She was not an outdoors pony.
When Rarity returned however, Luna was back, conversing with Applejack in the centre of the glade. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were also awake, picking flowers a short distance away. As Rarity approached, Luna looked up at her.
“Thou hast returned.” the princess stated in her strangely resonant voice. “That makes everypony, so we shall begin. All of you, gather round, and listen.”
None of the four friends needed to be told twice; Rarity imagined all of them had questions that Luna could hopefully answer. They formed a semicircle in front of the princess and waited.
Luna seemed to a think for a moment. “I am... not sure where to begin,” she said finally. “The beginning,” she said, looking up at the sky. “Or you.” She looked back at the four ponies. “For now, I think, the beginning will have to wait, as we address the more immediately important details.”
“Those black ponies that attacked Ponyville are called puppets. They are constructs created by a special kind of magic to carry out their master’s will. They are hardly sentient, and don’t possess any free will.”
Luna looked at the group expectantly. “In other words, destroying them is a fairly guiltless act. I would liken it to breaking one of another pony’s possessions. A sensible action, if said possession is trying to kill you.”
Applejack relaxed visibly. Fluttershy let out a very audible sigh of relief. Rarity tried to seem as though the news meant anything to her. In truth, she hadn’t cared much whether or not the six she had killed were alive in the first place. They had tried to kill her, destroyed her home, and could have hurt Sweetie Belle. Her actions had been justified.
“These puppets are the servants of King Titan, a very old and very powerful alicorn. It is his belief that all energy, matter, and life are his to control. He believes that there is a ‘natural order’ to his world that ponykind violates. Titan has come to return his world to the ‘natural order’. Should he succeed, all creatures, big and small, shall worship him as their god and be forced to do his will. Everything will suffer.”
Luna’s words were met with total silence. The princess continued:
“Beneath Titan is his wife, Queen Terra. Terra’s purpose and magic are of creation. It is she who maketh the puppets who attacked ponyville. Terra’s purpose is to create, and Titan’s is to rule.”
“We have to use the elements on two alicorns?” Applejack asked. The earthpony looked uneasy.
“Thou bore them against Nightmare Moon,” Luna countered. “And there are more than two.”
“Somehow, Titan and Terra have taken Celestia’s power and given it to their newly created son, Prince Empyrean. Empyrean is not a infant alicorn, but rather a fully grown one with all of the power Celestia had. He hast been raising and lowering the sun.”
It was Rarity’s turn to interrupt. “Couldn’t you just refuse to lower the moon again?”
“And what would that do other than terrify the population even more?” Luna turned to her. Rarity flushed.
Luna continued. “An alicorn is born with considerable power. That power then grows linearly with their age. Empyrean is equal in strength to Celestia, who is a little stronger than Terra. Titan is stronger than both of them put together. And because I have not aged for the past thousand years, I am much, much weaker than all of them.”
“Also, they intend to wed me to Prince Empyrean, and have the two of us rule ponykind while they restore the natural order. While a rebellion doesn’t exactly threaten them, it would still hinder their plans somewhat. Which brings us to Nihilus Nix Naught.” The last name was spoken with unmasked hatred. “She is the pony beneath Empyrean, and she is in control of the puppets who attacked Ponyville. I spent most of last night and this morning gathering information- from the four of you, from intercepted letters, and listening in on conversations. I can safely tell you Nihilus is thine friend and leader, Twilight Sparkle, corrupted by something called the Sliver of Darkness. Rainbow Dash is somehow under her influence as well.”
Everypony began to speak at once.
“That monster looked nothing like Twilight-”
“How’r we supposed to use the elements if Twilight-”
“They can be fixed, right?!”
“But we need them-”
Luna silenced them all with a raised hoof. The gesture wasn’t sharp or aggressive, but still managed to draw all their attention and command silence.
“I shalt tell you a story that I hope will explain things,” the princess said. “But first, ye will all need to do some explaining thine-selves.” She looked at each of them in turn. “Beggining with thou, Rarity. Cast your blade.” Rarity felt her blood run cold. She knew this had been coming.
The others looked at her with confused expressions. Rarity gave a dramatic sigh and moved over to where her fourteen diamonds were spread out and hidden under the long grass. She cast her blade, and the diamonds zipped through the air, their razor sharp edges causing them to trail bits of grass as they collided in the air and formed a straight edge in front of her. Each diamond had its own specific position in the whole.
Fluttershy stared on in awe. Applejack frowned. Pinkie Pie clapped her front hooves together.
Luna spoke, “The spell that summons a blade is perhaps the most complex spell that a unicorn whose talent is not magic can learn.” Rarity felt like she was back in school, holding something up for show and tell.
“Not only is learning it a grueling exercise in focus and ability, but most blades also require material components. A unicorn does not manipulate a blade with unicorn telekinesis, but rather a far more graceful and complex form of magic that conveys a set of benefits unique to the caster.”
“The spell that casts a blade is one of the deepest expressions of unicorn magic known to ponykind. As such, it requires something deeper than concentration, study, and ability. A unicorn has to believe in what they fight for. A unicorn cannot cast a blade without the conviction to wield it. Doubt thyself for even a moment, and thy blade will be lost to you. Thou must fight for something, even if that something is merely the fight itself.”
Luna walked toward Rarity, stopping so that she didn’t block anypony’s view of her. Rarity shifted uncomfortably.
“I am not surprised,” Luna said to her, “That you have the talent and focus to cast a blade. Nor that thou possess the conviction to wield it when those you love are in danger. But why dost thou know the spell in the first place? To what purpose didst thou learn to weaponize thine special talent?”
The ponies in the glade all waited expectantly. Rarity considered lying. It would be fairly easy, coming up with a believable answer. A lie might be even more believable than the truth, she reasoned. She could say something to make her interest in the weapon seem superficial, and they would probably buy it. Even the princess.
They were her friends, though, and her ruling monarch. She was a lady. Lies were unbecoming of her. She could, however, leave out the unnecessary details.
“Honestly, Princess Luna, you sound so grave,” she answered, twirling the diamond edge through the air and around her person. “This really isn’t such a big deal. My father was part of the twelfth Equestrian. I was a military brat, and father wanted me to grow up to be just like him. When mother died, he wasn’t fit to take care of us anymore. He wasn’t really fit to raise children in the first place, if you ask me. He wanted a warrior, not a daughter.”
She brought the blade to float in front of her and separated the diamonds, breaking it into its components. “He taught me the basics of combat and bladecasting before Sweetie and I were moved out here to ponyville. It only makes sense that when I found my cutie mark I finally created the weapon I had romanticized about all throughout my early fillyhood. My father was an extremely competent bladecaster- it was his special talent, you see- and I figured it would be useful thing to have if he ever came for Sweetie Belle.”
She spun it through the air some more, letting the diamonds catch the sunlight. “And doesn’t it look fabulous! Who knew that something with such a function could have such form!”
Rarity watched as the expressions on her friends’ faces turned from shock to sympathy. Princess Luna’s expression, however, was unreadable.
Fluttershy began to speak. “I never knew, Rarity, I’m so-”
Rarity cut Fluttershy off mid-sentence. “Please don’t heap sympathy upon me like I’m some helpless orphan. The past is the past, and I’m now an accomplished fashionista. In any case, don’t you think we should all be focused on the present?”
Rarity released her blade and the diamonds fell back to the forest floor. She would need to get something to carry them around in, eventually. In any case, Rarity thought, if you want to feel sorry for me you should focus on the fact that I am now completely ruined and homeless.
“That explanation will suffice for now,” Luna said. “Let’s stay focused. Applejack, how didst thou defeat thirteen puppets?”
The orange mare scratched the back of her neck with a hoof. “Well, Ah sort of had help from my older brother Big Macintosh.”
“And how many didst Big Macintosh destroy?”
“One or two,” the earthpony answered meekly. “But Ah woulda been a goner if he hadn’t of come and saved me for sure.”
“How didst thou fight them, though?” Luna seemed confused. “Did you have a weapon? Special training, like Rarity?”
“Nope,” Applejack shook her head. “Ah just sorta... kicked em, and they went poof.”
Luna tilted her head. “Destroying a puppet is no different from killing a regular pony. Thou hast to deal them a mortal wound. Thou art saying you can kick a pony so hard that they die?”
“Of course she can!” Pinkie Pie had been unusually silent up to that point in the conversation. “She can kick an apple tree so hard all the apples all off!”
“Indeed,” the princess said, regarding Applejack with the same unreadable expression. “Earthpony magic is what makes alicorns so difficult to kill, and so quick to heal. I pulled half a lamp post out of my chest yesterday and am fine today. I have the power of a world-class earthpony, just like I have the power of a world-class pegasi and unicorn.”
Luna still looked puzzled. “I am not sure if I could kick a tree that hard, to be honest.”
“Moving on.” The princess continued, ignoring Applejack’s dumbfounded look. “What is ‘the stare’?” She turned to Fluttershy.
The pegasus didn’t meet the princess’ eyes. “I can, um, sort of...” she mumbled the last bit.
Fluttershy looked like she had been caught committing a crime. The pegasus made herself as small as possible, then took a large breath. “I-can-sort-of-control-anythings-free -will-if-I-look-into-its-eyes,” she said quickly. She looked up the the princess, squeaked, and cringed.
“Also, I sort of, got rid of one of the, um, puppets, with it.”
The look on Luna’s face was one of absolute horror. “Thou canst what?”
“I don’t ever use it on ponies!” Fluttershy pleaded. “Just on the critters sometimes when they get... obstinate.”
“Thou meanest to say that thee canst look a pony in the eye and compel them to do whatever you wish?”
Fluttershy hung her head. “Yes,” she said quietly.
Luna looked troubled. “This explains quite a bit. Mind magic is completely illegal. Nopony is allowed to influence another pony’s will with magic, under any circumstances. But nopony can perform mind magic on a pony without their express permission. They have to allow it. I have never heard of anything like this ‘stare’ of yours. But if it affects free will, then it makes sense that it would work strangely on the puppets, considering they have none. It would probably affect mind spells as well, because mind magic does not mix with itself.”
The princess continued. “I was interested to learn that Twilight was able to use a memory spell to help ye defeat Discord. Not only is such a spell illegal, but she shouldn’t have had access to any books detailing the spell itself. Somehow she invented a spell she didn’t know existed, and she didn’t need your consent to use it on you.”
“You aren’t in any trouble, Fluttershy,” Luna said, “you haven’t done anything wrong. I was just shocked to hear about something I thought was impossible.” The pegasus looked relieved.
“Now that that’s done,” Luna carried on.
“Hey! You skipped me!” Pinkie Pie shot the princess an accusatory glare as she bounced up and down in place.
“Didst thou destroy any puppets?” Luna asked with a smile.
“Hast thou any secret knowledge of the art of war you’d like to share?”
“Any inexplicable special powers?”
“Noperoo!” Bounce. Pinkie Pie gave a sly wink.
“Then we shall get to you later.” Pinkie Pie slumped. The princess continued. “Right now, I need ye all to tell me about Twilight. What hast ye seen her do? What spells can she cast? How does she learn new spells so quickly?” Luna looked at them all expectantly.
“She can teleport,” Applejack offered.
“Once she levitated a water tower and restrained an Ursa Major at the same time!” Fluttershy’s exclamation was soft.
“Twilight has a spell for everything! I bet she has a spell to help her keep track of her spells!” Pinkie Pie was still bouncing.
“Perhaps all of you should let me handle this question.” Rarity fluffed her mane. “Your education is lacking when it comes to some the, er, finer points of unicorn magic. Understandable, considering none of you are unicorns.” She batted her eyes.
Then Rarity turned to Princess Luna. “From what I’ve been able to tell, Twilight’s education avoids actually teaching her any spells altogether. She spends all her time learning about almost everything but. Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics. She spends so much time with her nose in books, and almost none of them are practical magic. Only theory.”
“Twilight does learn spells through the formulaic method, like when she needed a very complicated flight spell or when I taught her a gem-finding spell.”
Rarity had actually been a little peeved at how quickly Twilight had learned the gem-finding spell. It was her specialty, and Twilight had spent barely an hour mastering it. Rarity had gotten over her envy, however, when the other unicorn used it to rescue her.
“Instead, she uses her knowledge of theory to invent spells as she needs them. She’s very talented. I suppose that’s just what magically talented unicorns are supposed to do.”
Luna looked unnerved. “Unicorns who create spells do spend a long time gaining a rigorous understanding of physical laws, but it can still take them months to properly balance the forces they work with to create a spell. How long does it normally take Twilight?”
Seconds. “Much less time, I would say. She once came up with a spell to manipulate the behaviour of some parasprites, although that was technically a failure. She spent an afternoon working on a spell that turns an apple into a carriage, and mice into horses.” Rarity ran through her mind looking for more examples. “She also managed to counteract Discord’s magic, undoing some of his chaos and shielding us from him while we confronted him.”
Luna looked both troubled and confused. “What dost thou mean, undoing some of his chaos?”
Pinkie Pie chimed in, “She made a giant bubble and everything inside it returned to normal!”
“Interesting,” Luna said. “It seems that Twilight is able to intuitively cast a spell that only Titan himself could perform. Celestia told me she was talented, and I suppose she is the bearer of the Element of Magic. But this behaviour is still quite astonishing. No wonder the parasite could defeat me.”
“The parasite?” Applejack asked.
Luna nodded, “I think it’s time I told ye all the story. Ye all remember Twilight’s memory spell?”
The princess looked around at them. Everypony nodded.
“This shall feel a little like that. You’re all going to need to willingly let me in, however. Unlike your friend Twilight, I must still obey the laws of mind magic.”
“Also, these memories are very old, and of a rather personal nature. Do not share them with others. And try not to interrupt; it is a long story, and this spell will take focus.”
Rarity piqued up at this last bit. Just what exactly was Princess Luna going to show them?
Luna’s horn began to emit a soft glow, and Rarity immediately felt her spell’s presence pressing against her thoughts. She let it in-
And was immediately floating in nothingness, surrounded by a million brilliant stars. She floated, only able to observe, in the vast expanse of nothingness.
But she was also still sitting in the trillium glade, surrounded by her friends and the ancient trees. Somehow, Luna’s spell made her aware of both realities at once. Judging by the wide-eyed way the other three were looking around, they were experiencing it too.
The memory continued to rotate in place at the centre of the void, bringing more stars into view.
“We shall begin, naturally, at the beginning. I will admit that as I had not been born at the time, I cannot give you a full recollection of these events. Titan and Terra never spoke of the past. But I know this:”
The edges of her memory vision blurred, and suddenly she found herself staring up at a pair of alicorns. One was as big as Celestia, colored midnight black with a blazing white mane. The other was slightly smaller, and had a grass-green coat and a mane of sunshine yellow.
“Queen Terra filled this world with life, and king Titan did name and order all of her creations. Eventually, they created a race in their own image. A race without equals. It was the race of pony. Each pony was granted a drop of their immortal blood, a spark of divinity. This gifted them with one of three attributes.”
The image of the alicorns dissolved, and a pegasus zoomed past overhead. The memory followed the pegasus as it landed beside two other ponies- a unicorn and an earthpony.
“Unexpectedly, it also bestowed upon them the gift of purpose.”
Each pony’s flank flashed, and the three looked down to find that they had cutie marks. The unicorn had a four-pointed star, the pegasus a whirlwind, and the earthpony a tree.
“But while Terra created the ponies, she did not nurture them. And while Titan ruled them, he did not love them. The race of pony rebelled. Titan, furious with them, turned to Terra and spoke the words that all of his possessions fear most. ‘Strike them down,’ he said. And she obeyed.”
The three ponies caught fire and disintegrated. The alicorn Rarity now knew to be Terra landed where they had been a moment before.
“It became evident that ponykind couldst not rule themselves, lest they rebel again. Too busy with their own works, the king and queen created beings to rule ponykind for them. Beings they could trust not to rebel. Their daughters, Celestia and Luna.”
“Waitwaitwait!” Pinkie Pie shouted, “they’re your parents?”
Luna hung her head in shame. “Yes,” she said simply.
“But don’t that make this prince feller yer brother?”
Unexpectedly, Luna’s response was to laugh. “I am as disturbed as thou art by the idea of marrying him, Applejack. But Titan and Terra predate incest. Alicorns don’t reproduce via mammalian means. In fact, they may actually be siblings.”
“Ewww.” Pinkie Pie stuck out her tongue. The other ponies all gave similar reactions.
“In any case, back to our story. It is going to shift to a more... personal nature.”
Rarity focused again on the memory spell that was giving her a second set of senses. The memory shifted again from the image of Terra, and she found herself struggling through the air as a filly smaller than Sweetie Belle. With a start, she realized that she was now living one of Luna’s actual memories. Rarity relaxed, and let the spell take hold.
Luna was flying for the first time.
It was more than just flapping your wings, she had realized. Her wings weren’t nearly big enough to lift something even as small as she was. Instead, she had to tap some kind of force inside of herself, lifting herself off of the ground just by thinking about it while flapping her wings. She didn’t understand it, but she was still flying.
She struck a wall. The princess tumbled backward, landing on her head, then shot back into the air with enthusiasm. She hadn’t learned how to steer yet, and her movements basically consisted of frantically beating her wings upward and leaning so as to fall in the direction she wished to go. Right now, she wished to go to the courtyard.
“Celly!” she called as she entered the well-kept yard enclosed within her father’s half of the palace. “Celly, I can fly!” She faltered in midair and plummeted down into one of the many flower bushes. She sprung up a moment later, “Look Celly! Celly!” She landed roughly in front of her sister on her side, then threw herself back to her feet. She was a durable filly.
Princess Celestia was sitting in the center of the courtyard, where she spent most of her time. Luna didn’t understand why, but Celestia spent almost all of her days outdoors basking in the sunlight. At the moment, she was magically pulling petals of a flower. Celestia had finally discovered how to use her unicorn magic two days earlier, and had not stopped moving things around with it since.
Luna had been so jealous she had called her sister a big stupid horse and locked herself away in her room, crying. Now, however, the feud was completely forgotten by both sisters.
Celestia dropped the flower and gave her sister a hug. “That’s wonderful news, Luna! Now we both have magic! Father will be so pleased when you tell him. Show me again?”
Celestia pulled away and watched as Luna lifted herself a mere three feet into the air and then fell back to the ground in a heap. She gasped in awe, clearly impressed.
“I’m still working on the landing bit,” Luna said, shaking dirt out of her mane.
“That was amazing! I can’t wait until I learn how to use pegasus magic!”
“You already know unicorn magic though, right?”
“Yeah, look.” Celestia screwed up her eyes and the flower lifted slowly into the air. She screwed up her eyes, and it burst into flame, ashes falling gently to the grass.
Luna oohed and awed appropriately.
Celestia stood. “When I’m as big as father, I’m going to be the most magical pony in all of Equestria!”
“And I’m going to be fastest flyer there ever was!” Luna made a zooming sound as she ran in a circle.
Luna, fastest flyer in the world, was seven years old.
Luna watched her mother closely, every muscle in her body ready to move. She was charged with her unicorn magic, and her wings were flared.
Queen Terra dipped her horn, and it began to emit a wispy black smoke. The smoke condensed into a earthpony puppet, which looked up to Terra for instruction. Terra nodded, and the earthpony charged her.
“Earthpony,” her mother’s voice resonated through the training hall.
Luna evaded the charge by rolling to the side, then telekinetically grabbed a bronze shard off of a table nearby.
“Keep them at a distance and attack with magic,” she answered, launching herself out of her roll and into the air. She threw the bronze shard through the earthpony’s neck, and it fell to the ground, gurgling blood.
“Destroy the head to ensure that you break through their earthpony resilience.” She landed beside the earthpony as it struggled on the ground and grabbed it’s head with her forelegs. With a surge of her own earthpony magic, she tore the construct’s head from its shoulders. It dissipated.
If her mother was pleased or impressed, she showed no sign of either. “Pegasus,” she said simply, conjuring another puppet.
“Superior agility renders basic magic useless.” Luna threw herself into the air, toward the oncoming puppet.
They collided in midair, and Luna easily overpowered the larger creature. She bent its front legs back so that they pinned its own wings and then twisted to ensure that her enemy hit the ground first.
The pegasus struggled beneath her. “Close with them quickly and overcome with earthpony strength.” She grunted as she headbutted the pegasus, and the front of its face exploded under the sheer force of her own. Thankfully, the gore dissipated almost instantaneously. Luna rolled to her feet, excited for what came next.
The unicorn puppet had a mane of fine, bright red hair. While in reality unicorns had no inherent advantage over the other two races, Terra infused her unicorn puppets much more power.
Luna grabbed several of the bronze shards and flung them at the puppet from different directions. She charged.
The puppet threw out a sloppily cast wave of telekinetic force, deflecting each of the shards, then it turned toward her.
The puppet turned too late, however. Luna collided with it and pinned it to the ground, throwing a hoof at its face in a hasty punch.
The unicorn moved its head to avoid the punch, then made to slap her with a wave of force. Luna had anticipated this move, however, and thrown her set of bronze shards at the puppet. It had to redirect its spell to deflect them, then cast another to disengage her. Luna ducked in close as the unicorn cast the first spell, gripping on to the puppet’s horn with her teeth.
The second spell threw her backward, and the length of bone snapped free in her jaw. She tasted the puppet’s blood as she telekinetically threw the horn point first through the staggering puppet’s eye.
“Divide its attention before you go for the kill.”
Her mother nodded, then began to summon more. “All of them?” She asked.
Luna leapt into the air as the three puppets came at her. She threw her shards of bronze at the unicorn and moved to tackle the pegasus. She didn’t have time to bring it to the ground, and the earthpony could attack her there in any case, so she simply impaled it through the ribs with her horn.
The pegasus dissipated in time to reveal her bronze shards coming back at her, thrown by the enemy unicorn. She deflected the one that would have hit her head and felt the other two bury themselves in her abdomen. She fell from the air, and the earthpony jumped her as the unicorn sent more shards her way.
She grabbed the earthpony with her unicorn magic, holding it so that it was in the way of the the oncoming shards. Then, she tore the shards lodged in her own body free, throwing them at the earthpony to guarantee a kill. Four bronze shards bit into the earthpony’s flesh from two different directions, and it dissipated, leaving the shards hovering in the air between her and the unicorn.
She threw herself and the shards at the unicorn, and it threw both back with a powerful ripple of telekinesis. Then, it threw a spike of magical force at her. This time, however, she kept hold of the shards, and ordered them all to converge on the unicorn as she deflected most of its own assault with a slanted barrier. The unicorn deflected three of her shards, but the fourth ripped through both its hind legs.
Luna approached, no longer needing to be fast. She had one opponent, and it was immobilized. Cautiously, she approached the puppet as it threw more shards and force spikes her way. She was magically exhausted, and relied on her speed and wings to evade them.
“Divide and conquer,” she said. “Defeat enemy pegasi first for air dominance and a potential escape route. Place enemies between you and the unicorns. Sustaining harm is worth it only if it gains you a victory.” While the wounds in her chest would heal in a couple of days, tearing the shards out of them had been excruciatingly painful.
At last she reached the unicorn. It tried to kick itself away from her, but with only two legs it was a pitiful sight. Puppets had no self-preservation instincts, but putting more distance between itself and Luna would give it more time to attack her. She stepped on its neck, and leaned forward, crushing its windpipe. It vanished.
Luna, studious pupil, was eleven years old.
Her mother regarded the wounded young alicorn for a moment. “Alicorn?” she asked quietly.
Luna was confused. “When would I ever need to fight an alic-”
Faster than Luna could have possibly imagined, her mother had her pinned to the ground. She telekinetically drove a metal shard back into one Luna’s wounds and spun it around. Luna shrieked.
“Wrong answer,” Terra hissed. In an instant, her mother was standing back where she had been before.
“We will ask you again tomorrow. Do not answer us with a question. Thou dost not ask us questions.”
Luna pulled the shard out and struggled to her feet.
“Get those wounds dressed and switch with your sister.”
It was Luna who interrupted this time. “Something wrong, Rarity?”
Rarity blinked back tears. “Was it like that every day?”
“Every day. And she wasn’t nearly as bad as Titan.”
“I’m sorry. Please, continue.”
Her mother’s behaviour had not been uncommon. Luna gingerly exited the training hall and bandaged up her wounds, then went to go find her father.
She found Celestia travelling in the opposite direction as she passed through her father’s courtyard. The left side of her sister’s face was swollen and bruised, and a thin cut ran along her neck, from the base of her ear to her collarbone. They regarded each other's ragged and beaten state, then smiled in unison.
“Got a question about monarchical ethics wrong,” Celestia explained. “Thou?”
“She asked me how to fight an alicorn, and I hesitated.”
Celestia frowned, “there are none other than us, though.”
“I know,” Luna said, worry creeping into her voice. “Dost thou thinkest that they will have us train against each other?”
“I hope not. You would win. See you tonight, sister.”
Luna laughed. Celestia did come back from their mother’s lessons with far more bruises and cuts than she.
She proceeded to their father’s study. He was teaching them how to rule a kingdom. “One day,” he had said to them, “We will take your mother to complete our other works. Thou wilt ensure ponykind stays in its place.”
The memory shifted again, and Rarity felt a surge of pity for her princess. She understood the look that Luna had given her earlier. Their childhoods had not been so different. Rarity had never had a sister to confide in before Sweetie Belle, but Luna had never had a mother, really.
Luna stood beside her sister, facing what seemed like every pony in the kingdom. Her mother and father sat behind her, watching over them. They looked up, unblinking, at the sky.
Specifically, Luna looked at the moon.
It was daylight out, and nopony could tell where it was except her. She tracked it as it moved across the sky, drifting towards a point directly above them. Celestia was moving the sun to the same point. The two astral bodies converged.
The world was bathed in glorious darkness as the moon blocked out the sun’s light. The black shadow of her moon was surrounded by the sun’s pure white corona, and beyond that the stars.
She was finally using alicorn magic. Unlike unicorn magic, it wasn’t a pool of power to be spent at her leisure. It was deep, limitless, and totally beyond her understanding or control. It could defy all the regular rules. And with it she would live forever, ruling ponykind with her sister.
They weren’t going to do it the way their father wanted them to, however. Yes, ponykind would fit into the natural order. Yes, they would worship the alicorns and do their bidding. But it would be out of both fear and love. They were going to show all of ponydom that they could be compassionate where Titan was not.
The ponies cheered. Titan placed a tiara on each of their heads, fixed them with a jeweled necklace, and shod their feet with gleaming shoes. Today marked their first day as the royal pony sisters, responsible for all ponykind.
“We are proud of you,” Terra said.
Luna, princess of Equestria, was thirteen years old. She and her sister had gotten their cutie marks the previous day.
The memory shifted, and in the trillium glade, Luna spoke. “Titan and Terra returned to their works, but Titan commanded Terra to stop creating new life. He said that the ecosystem was complete, that he could begin moving each creature into its natural place. He explained that order was his purpose, and that he ruled all creatures, including Terra. He was above her, and so she must obey him.”
“Naturally, Terra disagreed. The war was devastating.”
“Captain!” Luna bellowed. “Where are the rest of my guards?!”
The castle shook, not for the first time that night. Dust was shaken from her court’s smooth stone walls. Dead ponies, armored in the gold-colored bronze of princess Celestia, surrounded them. The soldiers had really been in service to King Titan. Every soldier in the palace technically answered to either the king or the queen. Celestia would never have sent soldiers to apprehend her.
Outside, the elements battled furiously. Wind tore banners off their posts, and lightning arced across the sky. The ground shook every couple moments, and dark storm clouds obscured Luna’s moon. Rain battered against the citadel in sheets. The elemental cacophony was Terra’s doing.
Her captain looked at her with fear in his eyes. Luna wondered if he was afraid of the enemy soldiers, or of her. “They were sent to capture your sister.”
It only made sense that Terra had sent a group for Celestia. Titan had, after all, sent one to apprehend Luna. The effort was futile, however. Luna was an alicorn trained by her parents to kill. The corpses of the soldiers riddled the floor around them.
Luna dove through one of the windows in her court and tried to orient herself in the raging storm. She was a strong flyer for her age, and managed to do so quickly. She set off towards Celestia’s tower. It was night, so her sister would likely not be out and about the palace.
She was just over halfway there when a group of gold-armored pegasi came for her. The first collided with her, but she overpowered him, snapping his neck and letting him fall to the castle below. The second cast a javelin at her, and she telekinetically pushed it back along its course, impaling him.
The third and final pegasi was a mare who hesitated upon seeing Luna’s brutality. The princess used her magic to wrench the javelin into her hoof, causing the falling pegasus’ body to twist violently in the air. She threw it at the mare.
The mare managed to roll out of the way of the javelin- a difficult maneuver in the storm. She looked at Luna, and her eyes were filled with fear. She didn’t see the javelin reverse its course.
The mare fell, javelin through her neck.
The last look of desperation haunted Luna as she approached Celestia’s tower. Why had she killed the mare? All of the pegasi had been her people, and the mare hadn’t even attacked her. She landed in Celestia’s chambers, and was greeted with a gruesome sight.
The burned and broken corpses of her personal guard were strewn about her sister’s opulent bedchamber. The smell of seared pony flesh was overwhelmingly nauseating, and the floors were coated in a thin layer of ash. Luna was almost sick.
There was a flash, and the room with filled with incandescence for a fraction of a second as a bolt of lightning arced through an open window and into the centre of the room, pulverizing the smooth stone floors. When it vanished, Terra stood where it had struck, her form back-lit by the raging storm outside. She was different; her mane seemed to blaze brighter, and her eyes burned with a searing orange glow. Her pupils had narrowed into slits, and her wings split into energy at their tips, feathers melting away into wavering bands of light. She looked like she was two thousand years older. She looked like Titan.
“Luna,” she said. Her voice was quiet, but hard. “It is good that thou art here. Titan has withdrawn from the city.”
Luna forgot entirely the fact that she was speaking to the queen. “What is going on, mother!? Where is Celestia?”
Terra turned, to face out of the open window and into the raging storm. “Titan has ruled for far to long, child. We have had enough of his rules and deliberations. We are going to crush him, and then it is We who will rule this world. We who will be worshipped as the supreme being, the divine authority!” She turned her head slightly so that she could see Luna. “And thou, my dearest daughter, are going to help us do it. Whether you like it or not.”
Rarity was confused. “Why are you showing us this?” She asked.
Luna looked sad. “It helps to explain the monster I became. The monsters we made our people become.”
“You see, that last pegasus I killed had been a good friend of Celestia’s. Celestia had known all of her guards, and when they came for me, I had slaughtered them, to a pony. I only felt guilty about the last one, however- she hadn’t attacked me. I found out that she had been the only parent of an infant daughter, whom I took under my wing. She was not the only ward I took in. But I was no better to them than my own parents were to me.”
“Under the tutelage of our parents and subject to the horrors of war, Celestia and I became horrible, cruel monsters. Somehow, Terra had made herself as powerful as Titan. They did not fight each other, each too afraid that they would die. Instead they sought control over Equestria and all of ponydom. Terra had me, and Titan had Celestia. We were their generals, and we hated each other with a loathing that takes decades to build.”
The memory began again.
Luna’s elite tore through Celestia’s forces.
Blooper cut through her enemies with amazing speed. He was a blue flurry of death, his jagged mane trailing behind him as the earthpony cut down her enemies with the retractable blades attached to his forelegs. Arcbolt was the greatest flying ace in the kingdom, faster even than Luna herself. She owned the skies above them.
Luna moved amidst the conflict, pressing ever deeper into Celestia’s army. An enemy earthpony came at her, evidently with a death wish, and she cleaved him in two with her blade. A unicorn attempted to stick her with a set of iron spikes, and she deflected them as Blooper slid a blade into the offender’s neck. An enemy pegasus fell from the sky above, wings broken, and Luna put him down where he lay.
Luna brought herself into a group of Celestia’s soldiers with two powerful flaps of her wings, and spun her sword around in great, sweeping arcs. Those who weren’t cut down immediately were either killed by the iron spikes she now gripped telekinetically or cut down by Blooper as he flipped and rolled to her position.
She heard a high pitched whistling, and instinctively ducked. She wasn’t fast enough, however, as a round, bladed disc cut into her back and continued to fly through the air. Blooper back-flipped over the disc with his usual acrobatic panache, smiling as he narrowly avoided death. The disc came around for another swipe, quickly, and Luna was impressed. Not every unicorn could manage that level of telekinetic manipulation.
Another disc shot through the air toward her, low this time, and Luna prepared to launch herself to the side. Before she could, however, her legs lost their grip on the ground beneath her, sending her sliding onto her belly as the whirling discs closed in.
“Wheeee!” Blooper slid past her and out of harm’s way, flipping back up to his feet as he exited the friction spell’s radius.
Luna launched herself into the air with her wings fast enough to avoid the flying discs. She was a powerful flyer, and one flap of her voluminous alicorn wings brought her high into the air.
“Arcbolt!” she shouted, searching around for the pegasus. She found the pegasus above her, falling through the air, wings bound by magical blue threads.
Luna undid the spell controlling the bonds with her mind and deflected another oncoming disc with a force field. She used her blade to shear through the second disc as it came for her. She jerked her head downward, and Arcbolt dove, her spiky blue and red mane trailing behind her. Luna followed.
Approaching the ground, she expected to see a team of unicorns directing the magic that had been used against them. There was only one.
She was a deep blue mare with a long, straight white mane sporting a single streak of black. An iridescent length of blue floated before her, a blade. As Luna expected, her cutie mark was a four pointed star. Magic was her talent, then. Magically talented unicorns were a terror on the battlefield.
The unicorn was surrounded by Luna’s fallen soldiers. Another set of discs spun around her as she brought her blade to a combat position. Her skin shimmered, and Luna knew she had used a spell to make it tougher, resistant to all but the sharpest blades.
Luna waited for the unicorn to throw her blade-discs at Arcbolt, then landed and charged her. Their blades met.
While Luna was a talented flyer and a strong pony, her skill with magic was lacking, and the shaft of moonlight before her flickered and vibrated against the more powerful blade.
Blooper cartwheeled up them and took a swing at the unicorn with one of his retractable foreleg blades. The unicorn split her weapon into two pieces, one deflecting Blooper’s lightning fast series of blows, the other matching Luna’s slower, more powerful swings as she stepped and rolled into and out of different fighting stances. Even half of her sword was enough to keep Luna at bay.
A blur of white, blue, and red streaked through the air, colliding with the unicorn. The unicorn’s concentration broke, and her swords vanished. Arcbolt rolled, keeping the unicorn in a headlock. Their enemy looked up at Luna. She was young, barely a mare.
“Please,” she begged. “I’m the last of my line.”
Luna looked dispassionately at the unicorn. A magical talent was a rare resource. One that would benefit her own army greatly. “Then thou shouldst not have come to war,” she said coldly. She nodded to Arcbolt. “Kill her.”
“Like any of us has a choice,” was the mare’s only response. She hung her head.
Arcbolt looked at Luna, then shared a glance with Blooper. “Princess... she’s just a girl.”
“She can’t be any older than you two. Do as I say.”
Arcbolt’s face grew firm, and she released the mare. “I refuse,” she said quietly. Both Arcbolt and Blooper turned away.
Luna screamed and thrust her blade at the mare, intending to kill her herself. Her blade, however, was blocked by another, this one also stronger than hers.
It was made of sunlight.
“No!” Celestia shrieked, desperation in her voice. “Thou shalt not take her!”
Luna sneered. “Why? Is this one special?”
“More like useful,” Celestia shot back. They began to circle each other. “You know we’re all just tools. Us, and them.”
Luna never knew why Celestia fought for Titan. But she knew why she fought for Terra. To kill her sister.
Luna, warrior princess, was thirty-seven.
“It would take a long, long time for us to reconcile our differences. As a result, the war lasted for decades.”
Luna picked through the ambush site aimlessly. They had been greatly outnumbered, and all of her forces had perished. She had killed the remainder of their ambushers herself, fighting furiously until she was only living creature within miles. The ground below them was barren except for the bodies of her subjects.
She came to the corpse of a tiny earthpony, and was appalled to find that the small form lying in the dirt didn’t have a cutie mark.
Luna looked away from the colt, up toward the moon. It hung brightly in the sky, indifferent to Luna or the dead that surrounded her. Was this tiny colt one of Celestia’s forces. Had Luna killed him herself in the fray? Or was he one of Luna’s soldiers, sent by her to die in an alicorn’s war? She couldn’t tell, he hadn’t gone into combat wearing any armor.
For the first time in her life, Luna got tired of looking at the moon. She checked its distance in the sky, measuring the stars on the horizon. It would be seven hours before morning.
Luna wanted to see the sun. She was forty-one years old.
In the glade, Luna looked exhausted. “Little did I know that my sister was undergoing the same transformation. It is a difficult thing, confronting yourself after you have become such a pitiful creature.”
She emerged from her battle line unarmed. Less than a hundred feet away, Celestia’s tiny force had formed its own line. Her sister stood in front of them, pink mane billowing. Celestia had a much smaller force, and Luna could easily crush it if she so chose. She didn’t give the order to attack.
Instead, she strode out to meet Celestia.
Her sister eyed her as she approached. She looked tired. “Where is thy blade?”
Luna’s voice was quiet so only they could hear. “I haven’t been able to cast it for six months.”
Celestia didn’t smile, or attack. Instead, she let out her breath. “Neither have I.”
“We don’t have to do this, sister.”
“As Celestia would say, we were no longer pieces, but players. Our endgame was what we had aspired to do so many years ago: to rule ponykind with compassion and love. To do this, however, we needed to get rid of the two most powerful ponies in the world. We each tricked them into thinking the other was weak, goading them into one final confrontation.”
Luna watched her mother as she was defeated.
Titan’s spell had caused her to plummet to the ground so hard that her impact kicked up dirt. She coughed up blood, and her wounds didn’t fully heal. She struggled to stand, but her legs went limp. Titan pressed his solid black blade against her throat. She was an alicorn with no power left, too weak to stand, barely able to talk. Titan could have killed her if he wanted. Luna stood to his left, Celestia to his right. Their obedience gave him what they needed him to have: a feeling of control.
“Relinquish the Sliver, Terra.”
It was the first time Rarity had ever heard his voice, and she shivered. It was like he was speaking to her through the memory. His voice was smooth and resonant, and echoed unnaturally. Something about it seemed so wrong.
Slowly, a tiny black sliver of crystal slid its way out of Terra’s chest, right above her heart. As it did, the alicorn seemed to age backwards, losing whatever power she had gained to make her Titan’s equal. Titan spoke.
“Interesting. Thou hast our power, yes, but not our skill. You cannot defeat us with power alone, dear wife, for we are power. Had thou not forgotten this we could have avoided this unnecessary conflict.”
“Luna,” Terra hissed, her voice filled with hatred.
“You are wondering, of course, why our daughter betrayed you. We too were surprised to see her displayeth such wisdom. It seems she wanted to be on the winning side.”
Luna attacked first, swinging her newly casted weapon at his neck.
But Titan was old, and alicorns gained power through age. Despite being near-exhausted from his fight with Terra, he moved impossibly fast, and was barely able to dodge the attack by leaping back from Luna with a beat of his wings.
His leap impaled him on Celestia’s sword.
It was the first and only time Luna ever saw him look surprised. At full strength, Titan would have been more than a match for both of them, but weak as he was, Celestia’s blow gave them the opening they needed. They descended upon him, his daughters, hacking until they were sure he had spent every last vestige of his power to keep himself alive. It was grisly work.
“Impossible,” Titan said weakly from the ground after they were finished. “I gave you everything,” he continued, dropping the use of the majestic plural.
The sisters insulted him in the worst way they knew how: they ignored him. Their horns began to glow, and they tapped their alicorn magic, most mysterious of all the powers they had available to them. It showed them what to do.
“You betray the very nature of existence by defying me. I am order. I am control. Without me, chaos will consume you all.”
They began to construct a prison.
“With Titan and Terra locked deep beneath the earth, slumbering eternally, Celestia and I began creating the perfect world for all of Terra’s races. We sought to serve ponykind, and for the first time ever, ponies were given the ability to govern themselves. But with our father gone, we inherited his ancient enemy.”
“Discord was a creature unlike anything we had ever seen before, and without Titan to fight him off, there was nothing to stop him from taking our world from us. We were powerless against him.”
“These were some of the darkest days ponykind had ever faced, and they are not necessary to our story. So I will skip over the finding of the Elements of Harmony and the defeat of Discord. But I will say that had a young pegasus named Arcbolt and an even younger earthpony named Blooper not refused to kill a mare named Astor Coruscare when I gave the order, we would all still be doomed.”
In the Glade, Luna sat, eyes downcast.
“This brings us the last thing we must address today. My greatest shame.”
Luna stood out on the balcony of her chambers, overlooking her kingdom. It was cold, but she was an alicorn, and the cold did not bother her. Below her, the city was silent.
The night was beautiful. Moonlight bathed their palace, giving it a surreal glow. Above them, stars moved too slowly to be visible to the naked eye. A meteor streaked through the sky, leaving behind it a trail of light. During the day, the sun blanketed the world in its light, but at night, Equestria was open, almost vulnerable, to the vastness beyond. Yes, Luna decided, the night was beautiful.
It was also ignored.
All throughout Equestria, ponies slept. Luna could hardly blame them- after all, it had always been this way. Work during the day, sleep at night. That had been part of Titan’s original order.
But there was no reason things should remain that way. Titan was gone, and with him his miserable laws. Luna made the rules now. Luna... and Celestia.
Celestia had become everything the people needed. She was now wise and benevolent, social and compassionate. While each of them worked tirelessly to ensure that ponykind prospered- and there was a lot of work to do- Celestia seemed to get all the credit. It made sense, really. Celestia had a stronger connection to ponykind just because they were awake when she ruled. The people actually got to see her in action, raising the sun and holding court.
They respected Luna as their ruler, and even their saviour. But they loved Celestia.
Luna looked at the moon, high above where it was supposed to be in the night sky.
They would love her too, eventually.
Celestia entered her chambers several hours later. “Luna!” She called out as soon as she was through the doorway. Her pink mane flared out behind her as she skidded to a halt. “Luna, art thou in distress?”
Luna did not turn around. “I’m fine, sister.”
Celestia sounded confused. “Then why-”
“-I have decided that the night will last for another twenty-four hours. We can make it a holiday.” Luna realized that what she was doing was crazy.
Celestia’s answer was quiet. “Thou speaketh madness.”
Luna turned around to face her sister sharply. “Perhaps thou hast forgotten that I am a princess of Equestria. I know they have.” She jerked her head in the direction of the city outside, filled with sleeping occupants. “This is necessary. To remind them, and thou.”
“No.” Celestia shook her head. “I know thou hast been discontent lately, but this goes too far. This is not the way things were meant to be.”
“The way things were meant to be, Celestia? That sounds familiar.”
Her sister’s eyes narrowed. “Thou darest to compare me to him? I’m nothing like him.”
“Is that so? Because it seems to me as though thou makest the rules now. Thou decidest what is right and wrong, and ponykind worships thee for it. I give them so much, and I am ignored. They can ignore me, but they will not ignore my work.”
“I know how thou feelest, sister. I know that this is hard, that thou hast had trouble adjusting. Please, lower the moon and we can talk about this. Thou dost not have to be alone.”
Luna’s voice was soft and pleading. “Let me have this, sister. I need this. Thou canst not understand what it is like, being so alone, every day. I feel like a janitor, just keeping things clean until thou wakest up each morn. I want to be their princess. I want to rule.”
“If thou dost not lower the moon, then I will.”
It was a dangerous threat. While theoretically they could move the other’s astral body, they never had. Luna was the moon and stars, Celestia was the sun. It had always been that way. Luna was never going to let Celestia take that from her. Even if it came down to a fight.
Luna turned once again to the balcony. Siting on the stone railing in front of her was a tiny sliver of black crystal. She lifted it with her magic, and it shimmered in the moonlight.
“Thou wisheth to fight me for control?”
“If I have to.”
Luna plunged the sliver through her chest and into her heart. Instantly she felt its immense power coursing through her. “So be it,” she said.
In the middle of the clearing, the princess turned away from them. “I don’t think I will be able to finish the story. The memories are... draining. From here, I wilt tell it the traditional way.”
Rarity felt the memory spell dissolve, and was grateful for it. Luna’s memories had been disturbing, to say the least. She didn’t think she agreed with most of Luna’s decisions. How had the princess become so terrible in the space of two decades? Was Terra’s influence really so strong?
The princess began again. “We called it the Sliver of Darkness. It was what had given Terra the power to oppose Titan in their war. Hers is the only magic known to us that can actually create something from nothing. It was her strongest and most mysterious creation, and neither of us knew how it worked. I used it anyway.”
“But where it had given Terra strength, it took mine. The Sliver imprisoned me within a new consciousness, one created to mirror my own in many ways. Where I wanted my people to love me, albeit in a twisted sort of sense, she only wanted to be feared. Where I was soft and subtle, she was harsh and brash. And she was powerful. Stronger than Celestia is now.”
“Nightmare Moon,” Rarity whispered.
Luna nodded. “I was forced to watch through mine own eyes as she terrorized the kingdom I was supposed to protect. You cannot imagine my sorrow, my regret. It’s the story of my life really, harming the ponies I’m supposed to protect. It came as a relief when Celestia confronted her with the Elements of Harmony.”
“Celestia was only one half of the Elements of Harmony. I was the other. In those final moments, Celestia forgave me. She knew that I was not Nightmare Moon. She said she wanted her sister back. She was, and always has been, my only friend.”
“It was then that I discovered that despite being trapped within Nightmare Moon, I could still use the Elements. I helped Celestia banish us to the moon.”
Fluttershy spoke softly. “You used the elements to banish yourself? That’s so awful!”
“Actually,” Luna replied, “I was trying to destroy myself. Celestia was the one who made it a banishment spell. I had no idea that when I returned the new element bearers would be so powerful they could destroy the Sliver and Nightmare Moon, but leave me intact.” She looked around at them.
Applejack frowned. “About us... In your story there were a couple ponies...”
“The resemblance occurred to me last night when I was preparing the spell. I have no idea if there is any connection between ye and they, though I suppose it’s possible you’re related somehow.”
She paused, “I do know for a fact, however, that Twilight Sparkle is a descendant of Astor Coruscare, Celestia’s most trusted Lieutenant. Any other questions?”
“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie was on her feet again. “What happened to Twilight?!”
Luna frowned. “Isn’t it obvious? Twilight has been corrupted by a new Sliver of Darkness. The Sliver hath created a creature named Nihilus, who is absolutely insane. Thankfully, it did not grant her the strength that it granted me. I imagine this is why Titan chose Twilight for corruption. Had he corrupted Celestia, she would have had power to rival his own. What’s more, Nihilus has the Elements of Harmony with her, and Rainbow Dash.”
“Can we save them?” Fluttershy was biting her lip.
“If we can capture Rainbow Dash, I will be able to undo whatever spell is affecting her mind. After that, ye will need to confront Nihilus and use the Elements of Harmony with Twilight. Once we have all the element bearers back, we can work from there.”
“You mean we have to go back to Ponyville?” Applejack asked
“Actually, communications I have intercepted lead me to believe Nihilus will be moving to Cloudsdale in a week. I’m not sure why. It is then we shalt strike, if the opportunity presents itself.”
“Hold on now,” Applejack said. “You expect us just to sit around for a week when Twilight is trapped inside some crazy pony? And Dash is with her? We need to move now!”
“For once,” Rarity said, “I agree with Applejack. We can’t afford to let them suffer any longer.”
Luna did not look pleased. “We can and we will. This is not a discussion.” She stood and turned away.
Applejack got up to follow her. “You think yer in charge just because you’re an alicorn? We follow orders from one pony, and that’s Twilight.”
Luna spun around sharply. “And Twilight would send you into battle against a foe that has already claimed two of you, unprepared, just to save your friends a little discomfort?”
“Then Twilight is an idiot.” Luna looked around at all of them. Rarity was speechless. Why was Luna so angry all of the sudden? Was it from her memories?
“I am too weak to fight my father, or my mother, or my brother. Ye six are the only hope this kingdom has for survival. I will not risk thine lives in a reckless attack. I will not fail Equestria again. Ye think I’m in charge because I am an alicorn? I am in charge because I am over a hundred years old, with decades of experience fighting against the greatest general ponykind has ever known. And I know our enemies better than any of ye.”
“Thou art a soldier now, whether thou likest it or not, and thou shalt do as I tell you. And right now I am telling ye to wait. If we attack Nihilus now, she will destroy us. The only way we are going to stand a chance against her is if I come at her with all my power, and the four of you take Rainbow Dash in a coordinated rescue mission. Right now, I can barely fly. That memory spell took the last of my unicorn magic. I haven’t slept in two days. I need time to regain my strength, and teach you four what you need to know. Any questions?”
The four ponies did not object.
“I know it is going to be a long week, but we do not have to like each other. We just have to win.”