“I'm sorry, sir,” the soldier guarding the gate replied stiffly. “I was told that the Night Court has been closed permanently, and that Princess Luna will only take audiences by appointment.”
Moonstone felt like he had just been stabbed, but tried not to show it as he thought of an alternative. “Well... Let one make an appointment then! Is she available tonight?”
“No, she is not. I'm sorry, sir, but you'll just have to come back in the morning,” the guard answered, returning to his station, immovable from the entrance.
The white unicorn sighed, mumbled, “Thank you for your time, sir,” before trudging away from the gate, not really looking where he was walking. After a moment, he realized that he was walking in a garden of some sorts, but he didn't really care. His heart was too heavy to feel lighter just by seeing a garden, no matter how beautiful.
He glanced to the side, and saw a stone bench overlooking a pond of some sorts, and decided that the spot would be good enough to spend the night, waiting for the dawn when he'd be able to make an appointment. He sat down heavily, his body sagging in defeat. His light azure steel tail hung from the bench, only moving in the wind, like his mane.
As he gazed at his reflection in the pond, he was reminded of why he was there to begin with, and everything he had been put through. “Stupid eyes... Stupid curse,” he snarled quietly, glaring at the cherry crimson eyes shining out of the pond.
His body shivered with a combination of anger and from the chill of the night. He drew his black cape a little closer, angling it to better ward off the wind. He looked back to the pond, but saw a reflection that caused his gaze to turn back upwards, a small, sad smile on his face as he stared at the moon. As he stared at the silver orb in the sky, he let his anger float away, calming himself as he gazed. After a moment, he closed his eyes for a moment, speaking softly, and with great reverence. “Luna, it's me again... I still don't know if it was just luck, or if you're really looking out for me, for whatever reason, but please... I need somepony, anypony that can help me... I don't know if you can hear me, but I need your help...”
“Wouldst her assistant suffice?” a pale blue unicorn inquired from behind him.
“GAH!” Moonstone jumped high in the air, before he stopped in mid-air, surrounded by a light blue glow. “Who are you?!” he gasped, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart.
The strange blue unicorn mare tiled her head to the side, looking up at him, as he was still floating in mid-air. “Thou must be fairly strong if thou canst levitate thyself like that. Is that perchance a shield spell? Thou must be a gifted mage, if thou has the ability to utilize both spells at once!”
“One will ask but once more: who are you?!” he growled in response, his adrenaline pumping.
“Oh? My apologies. My name is Moonlight Shimmer, personal assistant to her Highness, Princess Luna. And you would be?” the unicorn asked, tilting her head once more.
“O-oh,” Moonstone said simply, blinking stupidly. He released his spells, setting back down gently on the stone bench. After a moment, he replied slowly, “I'm Moonstone, a traveling minstrel. Wait a second... Did you say you're Luna's assistant? Wait, can you get me an appointment with Princess Luna?! I'll do whatever it takes!”
The mare took a step back, taken by surprise at the forcefulness. “U-uh, well, what do you need help with? I mean, doesn't Princess Celestia kinda specialize in helping ponies? Why do you want my mistress instead?”
“W-well,” Moonstone hesitated, before continuing, “it's because I uh... don't really trust Celestia... I mean, don't get me wrong, she's a good ruler from what I understand, but she just doesn't seem the type to know about what I want to request of her.”
“Uh-huh,” she replied, a little confused. “And the fact that Luna's been gone for a thousand years doesn't bother you? How could she know how to help you better than Celestia?” she asked sceptically.
Moonstone blinked, completely confused. What kind of assistant was she?! It was like she was trying to keep ponies away from her! “W-well, yeah, that's most of the reason why she'd be able to help me more than Celestia would. She'd be able to remember more about the ancient curses easily, wouldn't she? Don't charms and whatnot fall under her realm of knowledge?”
The pale blue unicorn seemed to hesitate for just a moment before nodding. “Yes, I suppose it does, though she would argue that she's still rusty from her uh...”
“Extended leave of absence?” Moonstone supplied helpfully, wincing slightly.
The unicorn seemed to relax slightly as she nodded, continuing, “Yes, that. However, before you take up her highness' time, perhaps you could tell me what it is you wish her to do for you? It is likely that one of the professors at Princess Celestia's school could help you, an-”
Moonstone shook his head firmly, his eyes seeming to bore into hers as he said simply, “They cannot. I've traveled across many lands, and nopony has been able to help me... I've been through Germaney, Prance, Mexicolt, Italhay... Nopony has been able to help me. Princess Luna is my last hope. If she doesn't know anything about my curse, or how to lift it, I-”
He was stopped when Shimmer put her hoof to his mouth, stopping his rapidly increasing in speed rant as she tried to calm him. “Okay, okay! Just calm down! I-I'll see what I can do. If you'll just let me go and talk to her Highness, I'll see when her next available appointm-EEK!”
The poor unicorn mare was scared out of her wits as a small, black, furry critter fell on her back, and started to swiftly climb up her back towards her mane. She screamed, her horn glowing as she tried to levitate the creature, but she couldn't seem to grasp it. “What is it?!” she shrieked, shaking her head back and forth rapidly, hoping to fling the abomination from her mane.
While he was laughing at Shimmer, Moonstone started to concentrate, and levitated her to prevent her from flailing around. “Hey, relax! She's not going to hurt you! Lex, stop scaring our host half to death! I promise, she's not going to hurt you, okay? She just likes to explore a lot.”
Shimmer watched in shock as a lithe, black, serpentine animal leaped from her head to Moonstone's, burying itself some in his mane. “W-what is that?!”
“She,” Moonstone replied cheerily, his grin stretching across his face, “is my familiar, Galexia! Galexia, apologize to the poor mare!”
The black creature chittered a moment, before biting Moonstone on the ear somewhat fiercely. Moonstone winced only slightly, growling a couple of curses too softly for Shimmer to make out. The black creature chittered back for just a second, but slowly made its way back to Shimmer on the ground, standing on its hind legs as it crossed its arms at her.
Shimmer blinked at the creature, before examining her carefully, curious. It wasn't an animal she was familiar with, but she knew it wasn't as rare a creature as a phoenix. It had a black coat, with streaks of silver in its fur, giving it a haunting beauty, though only because it seemed to shine in the night-time light. It had a small band of silver around its left ear, though without using magic, she couldn't tell what material of which it was composed. After bracing herself, Shimmer lowered herself to the ground, so that she was at head level to the creature. It had the brightest amethyst eyes she had seen in awhile, and while she stared, she asked, “What is she, exactly? I don't know many animals as I should, and I'm not familiar with one so... serpentine.”
Moonstone smiled, laying down next to the creature, allowing her to scamper back up to his mane, where it started making small, happy noises that almost sounded like purrs or actual talking. “She's a ferret, though one will admit that she doesn't entirely act like one at times! I can't count the times she's gotten me into trouble, but I also can't count the times she's saved me either! But then again, that's what familiars do, so I'm not complaining! If it wasn't for her, my life would have been pretty boring!”
Shimmer's expression became guarded as she tried to sort her thoughts. “A familiar, huh? Those are uh, pretty rare... When did you get her?”
“Hmm?” he looked up, questioning. “Oh, you mean Galexia? Well, I got Lex the same time everypony else who has gotten a familiar has: when I got my cutie mark!”
“Oh, that's um, interesting. Was she a present from your parents or something?” Shimmer inquired, eyes narrowing slightly.
When Moonstone's eyes seemed to flinch ever so slightly as he looked away, she knew she had asked a bad question, but she couldn't take it back now. “N-no, she wasn't. She literally appeared on my flank when I got my cutie mark.”
Shimmer pawed at the ground, keeping her head down as she stammered, “S-sorry, I didn't mean to-”
“It's fine,” Moonstone said quietly, walking over to nudge her gently. “I never knew my parents, so it's not like I can miss what I never had, right?”
Shimmer hesitated for a moment, clearly able to hear how often he had practiced saying that line, but didn't pursue it, settling on a simple nod with a weak smile. “Y-yeah, I... I know how that is... C-come on, we shouldn't keep her Highness waiting,” she stammered, turning around abruptly.
“Huh? But one thought that you had to check with Luna before an appointment could be made?” the confused stallion commented, falling in behind the silvery mare.
“Y-yeah, well... I uhh,” she replied quietly, hanging her head a little. “I kinda lied. It's not like there's a lot of ponies wanting Luna's help, so when somepony comes along asking, it's my job to see if they really need help, if they're just trying to get her to say yes to something that Celestia said no to, or to see if they're sane or not.”
They walked in silence for a moment before Moonstone spoke. “I suppose that makes sense... Um, if you don't mind a personal question,” he continued as he followed her through the garden. “How did you get to be Princess Luna's assistant?”
“Oh. Uh...” she stammered, her mind blanking for a moment. “Well, you know, you hear about a position opening up, so I applied for the job! Nothing special at all! Nope! Just your average Equestrian civilian!”
Moonstone stared at her, watching her eyes shift around, looking at the flowers around them. After staring at the smile that seemed plastered to her face, he commented slowly, “Uh-huh... Wait, why are we going this way, and not through the front gates?”
Shimmer stared at the wall for a moment, before pushing a brick inwards, another part of the wall popping out. “That's because... Luna doesn't like a lot of pomp when guests arrive, you know? Celestia's guards tend to make a big deal out of everything, so Luna made some alternate entrances to the castle. She put in sensors that will let her know that somepony is on the way, and since only her attendants and guests know of these routes, she'll be expecting us.”
“Oh, that's rather um, cunning of her,” he replied, somewhat surprised. 'I guess the rumors of her quirks weren't exaggerated then...' he thought to himself.
He kept walking in silence as the unicorn mare led the through empty tunnels and hallways, eventually reaching a bare, white wall. Moonstone watched as the mare pushed against the left side of the wall, his eyes widening as it opened, spinning around the middle, showing an empty kitchen pantry. “Woah... A pantry? Awesome! Would anypony mind if I grabbed a snack?”
“Sure, go right ahead,” she replied absently, looking around. Moonstone took a small apple, setting it inside his saddlebags as he followed her outside to the massive hallway. He gaped, letting his eyes roam the many paintings and stained glass murals that lined the walls, each picture depicting a separate story or significant event in Equestria's history.
Moonstone wandered slowly from picture to window, scrutinizing them all closely. In several of the windows he saw what appeared to be six mares facing down various enemies. ~This must be a mural of how Nightmare Moon was defeated several years ago... Huh, I wonder what that strange creature is,~ he mused, tilting his head to the side slightly as he looked at tall, gangly monster. It was mostly brown in the body, with different animal parts for limbs and horns.
Moonstone wasn't sure how long he stood there, trying to figure out the story behind the window, when he heard hooves clopping on the floor behind him. Without looking, he commented, “So Shimmer, mind explaining the story behind this window?”
“What?! But... How didst thou... When did... But I...”
Moonstone turned around to see why she was stuttering so badly, when he got a shock himself. It was not Moonlight Shimmer standing there, but Princess Luna! At least, who he assumed was Princess Luna. He blinked a couple of times, trying to decide if he should bow first or apologize, when she continued to speak. “How didst thou know I was Moonlight Shimmer? Mine illusion spell was without fault!”
Moonstone blinked, his jaw dropping slightly, before catching himself swiftly, his posture relaxing instantly. “Well, your illusion spell, yes, but you forgot, first of all, to change your voice, and second, you forgot to walk differently, as everypony has a relatively unique trotting pattern that is made more apparent on floors such as these.”
He demonstrated briefly by walking in a circle, the steady 'clop-clop-clop' of his hooves on the marble echoing in the hall, before he stopped in front of her, bowing deeply. “It is a very great honor to finally meet you, Your Highness.”
“Err,” Luna hesitated, trying to keep from backing up, conflicted. On one hoof, it was rather gratifying to finally meet somepony who was treating her like they treated her sister Celestia, with love and respect, but on the other hoof, it also made her a bit uncomfortable. “It's Our pleasure?” she replied, hesitating in her reply. “Please get up, Moonstone. We... You're making me nervous, okay? I said I didn't like pomp, remember?”
Moonstone stood straight up swiftly, almost jerking back in his haste, afraid that he had offended her greatly. “O-one's apologies! I didn't... I mean I...”
Luna blushed slightly as he stammered how sorry he was, avoiding her gaze as he kept his head averted to the side, staring at the ground. “Thou art... We mean...” Growling to herself slightly, irritated that she kept slipping, she took her time as she said slowly, “Just relax, alright? What happened to the calm, collected stallion I was talking to not ten minutes ago?”
Opening his mouth in surprise, the white unicorn paused, before starting to chuckle, blushing as he stammered, “W-well... I didn't know then! R-right, calm, one can do that,” he repeated to himself, trying to refocus, but failing miserably. “One means, one is only talking to the ruler of the night! It isn't like this isn't a once in a life-time opportunity!”
“Moonstone!” Luna exclaimed, stomping her hoof on the ground.
Moonstone was cowed into silence, sinking down to the ground, his head between his forelegs with his stomach pressed to the stone tile beneath him. After a moment of silence, Luna continued, a little quieter, but her tone was harder. “Now, please tell me why you're really here.”
Moonstone opened his eyes, blinking a couple of times in confusion, before looking back up. “I beg your pardon? One already told you why one came to req-”
“Don't lie to me, Moonstone,” Luna snapped, her voice tinged with sadness, though her anger drowned it out. “I can detect no curses upon you, so tell me what it is you really came for.”
“B-but...” Moonstone gaped for several seconds, his mouth slowly opening and closing, before he stood up, backing up little by little, his head shaking slowly. “N-no, th-that's not... Y-you're lying! T-there has to be a curse! There has to be!”
Luna remained silent for a moment, before shaking her head, repeating herself, “What reason have I to lie? I searched you thoroughly, and there is no curse placed upon you.”
“No...” Moonstone replied after a moment in shock, slowly shaking his head, gaining speed as he started to talk faster. “I refuse to believe that; it's not possible!”
Luna blinked, trying to puzzle out why he was pushing this facade when she clearly saw right through him. “Do not push your luck, Moonstone!” Luna ordered, becoming much more stern. “Any more from you and We will-”
“I did not go through 14 years of hell for nothing!” Moonstone snapped, his eyes going wild as he slammed his hoof on the ground. “I did not get thrown out of dozens of villages, fought off hundreds of bandits, and been discriminated against everywhere I go for nothing! Hundreds have told me that I'm cursed, and that if I stay near them they'd get cursed too!”
Moonstone started hyperventilating as he noticed that she hadn't moved, nor had her expression changed. “I didn't travel the world looking for a cure that doesn't exist! I.... I didn't put up with...”
Moonstone was cut off as Luna walked up to him, looking down at him with an unreadable expression. After blinking back some tears that threatened to fall, he whispered hoarsely, “T-there's really no curse at all? Are you sure it isn't just so powerful that-”
“No, there is not,” Luna replied quietly, analyzing his reaction. “And I am sure, I cast different spells half a dozen times while we were walking earlier. There are no malevolent curses placed upon thee.”
Luna immediately started to prepare some defensive spells as Moonstone surged to his hooves, his gaze hardening, filled with hate. His horn starting to fill with magic, before his chest heaved, collapsing to the ground as he started weeping like a foal, curled up as he tried to make himself as small as possible.
Luna balked, backing up a step as she watched a full-grown stallion crying right in front of her. While she was immortal, and had great general knowledge, knowing how to deal with a sobbing stallion was not within that realm of experience. She nearly screamed as the black ferret-like animal scurried from behind her, weaving between her hooves, coming to a stop in front of Moonstone.
Galexia had been exploring the halls, exploring as she always did whenever her master entered a new area or building, when she saw his magic starting to glow. When it cut out suddenly, she rushed to his aid, making sure he was alright before turning on the only possible perpetrator: Luna. The little familiar rushed up the the alicorn a couple dozen times larger than her fearlessly, before chittering away rapidly.
While Galexia was ranting and commanding Luna how to fix the situation, said alicorn was blinking, trying to understand what the little creature was saying, before giving up, walking around her towards Moonstone. She paused before the white unicorn, debating with herself internally for a moment, before clearing her throat, saying haltingly, “I... it appears I was mistaken when I called you a liar, Moonstone, and I, uh...” Looking around, she tried to apologize, before giving up, asking, “Err, are you going to be alight?”
Moonstone, whose cries had become much softer after the initial outburst, shook his head slowly, before rasping, “Just kill me.”
“W-what?! Art thou insane?! Why fore wouldst one...” snarling silently to herself, she shook her head, correcting herself, “why would you want me to kill you?!”
“Because if I'm not cursed,” he explained quietly, his voice filled with despair, “then it means that my life can't possibly get any better... I haven't been cursed by magic after all, but by fate... I can't... I can't take it anymore,” he finished, completely devoid of all emotion, barely audible. “My entire life, my pathetic, miserable, tormenting excuse of a life, has been spent traveling the world for a cure to the curse that doesn't exist. Do you even know what that's like? No matter where you go, no matter what you do, everypony is staring at you like you've killed their family, like you're Hell-spawn... I just... I just can't do it anymore... Please... Just have mercy on me and kill me.”