The small cemetery hidden within the Canterlot sculpture garden was silent; even the late-night visitors like mice and frogs were subdued under the silvery light of the full moon. A pall a thousand years long hung over the silent markers and the stands of white roses that grew around the edges of the hallowed ground.
The hedge split and a tall figure in a black cloak walked in slowly, silver-shod hooves clicking metallically against the cobbles. Luna stepped from the path onto the soft grass, and the night was once again silent as she walked among the rows of markers.
Names... Names... So many names. Some were famous names, ponies of renown from bygone eras. Some had been remembered to her by her sister, names that Celestia had told to Luna over glasses of wine or sweet melomel. Most, however, were foreign to Luna, small memorials to ponies that had lived and died centuries ago and were mourned only by Celestia, monuments to transience and loneliness.
She continued walking, carefully picking her way among the markers, flowers and weeds until she reached a far corner of the little cemetery. Luna knelt down beside a marker that was set apart from the rest and encroached by thorny rose canes. While the other markers bore names, dates and perhaps a pithy statement, this simple stone marker bore only a single word.
Luna's horn glowed and the hood of her cloak was pushed back from her face. She curled up with her hooves underneath her and gingerly brushed the small coating of dust from the marker.
"Oh, our precious Rubedo. We served thee poorly."
Speakest not such things, dearest empress, spoke a voice from Luna's memory. 'twas never your place to serve.
"In our madness, we made thee a monster."
Nay, never was I but your loyal subject. I would have followed you into the bowels of Tartarus, if only to see your smile.
"We were wrong, dear Rubedo. Wrong to ask that of thee."
What is right but to serve you, empress? If you seek forgiveness, I have none, for there is nothing you need forgiven.
Luna lowered her horn to the cold stone, a tear slithering down her muzzle and into the grass. She had had conversations like this with him a hundred times and they had served only to harden Luna's heart, convince her that she was right in her anger and resentment, that her word was law even unto death.
If I have served you poorly, then I beg your forgiveness.
That was like him, too. Maybe if she had backed away at the last minute and let the moon descend... Maybe if she had just opened up to Celestia more... Maybe if she had shrugged off Najstariot's barbs instead of letting them cut so deeply... Maybe...
"We forgive thee," Luna mumbled into the ground. "The responsibility is ours alone."
Go, dear empress. Live. Be with your friends.
Luna mulled on this, then shook her head. No, that wasn't like him at all.
Princess, a difference voice said, one belonging to her sister's student instead of her own. We're your friends and we love you. You shouldn't beat yourself up!
Luna smiled. That felt right.
Rising slowly to her hooves, Luna turned back the way she came. Morning would come soon, and with it the ministers, the petitioners, the common ponies that just wanted their princesses to hear of their challenges and hardships. That would be a good change, she thought, to add an extra hour to open court and let the peers and ministers deal with two hours for their closed-door harangues instead of three. Her ultimate responsibility, after all, was to Equestria, not to the nobility. And then perhaps this evening I will write a letter to Twilight and my sister. She smiled at the thought.
Spreading her great wings, Luna vaulted into the air.
It was time to raise the sun.