Part 3: Smoke and Paper
The Next Night…
“Sister, what are you doing?!” Celestia gasped when she arrived at the Midnight Circle again. Well, arrived is perhaps the wrong word. Limped to would be closer. She was still stiff from the previous night, and no amount of hot baths had aided her. But, that’s not what she was upset about. Princess Luna was lying on a small litter on the lip of the training grounds overlooking the abyssal canyon. Splayed out on her back and void of any of her royal trappings, she was showing the moon and anypony else that looked all her Faust-given feminine… beauty. “At least cross your legs!” the white alicorn rushed over as fast as her sore body would let her, extending a wing over her sister’s pelvis and undercarriage.
Luna turned her head with a sultry smile. “Who, pray tell, is here to look upon me, save you?” she said with a soft keening sound. Celestia looked around quickly for Aegis Shield and Stalwart Hide, Luna’s two attendants. They were nowhere to be seen. “Besides, moonbathing can be good for you. Join me.” She tilted her head all the way back, closing her eyes and smiling in a content way. Her sister stared at her.
“Is this some kind of test?” Celestia asked, peering around. “Your two Lunar Stallions aren’t going to jump on me if I lay down, are they?”
Luna looked over at her with a scowl. “The body can only take so much exercise before it just becomes torture, Celestia. Even I know that. Your body,” she nodded at the barely hidden bruises on her side and flank. “Needs a rest. Tonight we will relax and talk together.” Celestia looked around, still suspicious, and then sat on her haunches next to her sister. She heaved a great sigh, sagging a little to relax. There was still no sign of the two stallions. Finally, she settled onto her belly and relaxed.
“Must you splay yourself out like a spring time mare?” Celestia quipped, looking briefly over at Luna.
The Princess of the Night chuckled, a touch of pink on her cheeks. Turning, she lay on her side instead. “Why, we’re sisters Celestia, does it make you that uncomfortable?” she said a little sulkily. “Ponies haven’t had any concept of nudity since the dark ages and the great wars, millennium ago.”
“Well ponies don’t often lay out on display these days, either.” Celestia said, frowning crankily.
“I said we were alone, did I not? If a stallion tries fancy mathematics in the forest and no mares are around to hear him be wrong, is he still wrong?” Luna snickered. Her sister groaned at the philosophical jargon.
“What is tonight really about?” she asked, folding her wings and keeping her eyes on her sister’s face now. Luna smiled, turning and rooting around in her little litter nest. She produced a wok. That is, a shallow bowl meant for stir frying. Also, a piece of tinder and a little bottle of white powder. Working with magic and laying out on her back again, she set the wok between them, poured the powder in, and set the tinder in the center of the powder pile. With a flick of magic, she ignited the tinder and the whole thing began to smoke. Celestia quickly covered her muzzle, afraid it might be a hallucinogen or something. “You’re not going to make me breathe that, are you? Celestia asked suspiciously. “We both know such things don’t actually send you on spirit journeys or anything of the sort. We discussed this when Zafrica became civilized.”
Luna snickered, shaking her head. “You wound me sister. It’s just scented salts. I think they smell nice.” She thought for a moment and then spoke again. “I think the modern equivalent is candles, is it not?” Celestia relaxed a little. She had plenty of scented candles, sure. She watched Luna lay down again, soaking in the moon rays with a content smile and closed eyes. “We’ve tortured you with exercise for quite a few nights. Tonight we rest and talk.” She reviewed, scooting over to make room for Celestia. The white alicorn checked just one more time to make sure there were no Lunar Stallions around, then laid on her back. Her bannered mane mixed with Luna’s, and her sister smiled at her. “There now, was that so hard?” she said softly.
Celestia said nothing, only tilted her had back to mimick the relaxation pose. The scent of vanilla and oaken wood drifted slowly up from the wok. The line of smoke was like a slow, erotic white snake that drifted back and forth in a little wiggly line. It teased Celestia’s nose and she sank into the blankets with a heavy sigh. They lay there for a long time. “Mhh, this is nice.” The white alicorn admitted, smiling at last. “Your starry nights have always been so beautiful, Luna.” She looked up at the moon with a tired, happy expression. “My stars were nothing compared to yours. I had to hire entire teams to show me where to put the groupings for ages. Even then, they were not as beautiful.”
“The stars are my domain sister, you merely control the most important one.” Luna said dreamily, gesturing. “Why, even moonlight is only reflected sunlight. Did you know that?” Celestia nodded gently, unsure if she’d been insulted or not. Probably so.
“How long do you think I’ll be training like this before I’m back to my old self again, Luna?” the white alicorn had finally worked up the courage to ask.
“That depends on which era of your ‘old self’ you’re talking about sister. The farther back you go, the harder it would become.” Luna said in earnest. Celestia looked at her with questions in her eyes. “Well, remember the dark ages? Before electricity and most modern architecture?” she said with a smirk. “The Celestia back then hosted harvest festivals. She reminded ponies everyday that she was the law. She had unicorns that wanted to be her guards host jousting tournaments. She also had a harem of handsome stallions waiting at her beck and call.”
“I never had a harem! That was your idea, Luna!” Celestia protested.
“And you went right along with it.” Luna quipped, laughing and holding her forehead with a hoof. She put on a vaguely Celestia-like voice. “’Sister, that would be a marvelous plan! T’would keep away thy pesky suitors and further assert our dominance over the masses!’”
“I never said that!”
“You did.” Luna clucked, laughing.
“But… I…!” Celestia was flustered.
“The Celestia back then was large and in charge.” Luna turned on her side. “Perhaps I lied sister. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned tonight while we relax.”
“I am not getting a harem, Luna. I don’t care what your training says about it.” said Celestia with a growl.
Luna threw her head back and laughed wildly, shoving her sister’s shoulder. “No! No!” she shook her head, and it took her some time to come down from her laughter. Celestia lay there and seethed at her, very much annoyed. “Pffft…. Pfft… hehe… sorry, sorry.” She cleared her throat a little, turning on her side to see Celestia more clearly. “I’m saying that back then, you were more… forward, with your powers. You wanted something, you got it. Why? Because you could. Even a handsome stallion to warm your bed, if you wanted.”
“What do you mean?” Celestia frowned.
“Suppose you decided to drop the SUN on Canterlot tomorrow.” Luna said as an example. “You just got fed up with all those beaurocrats, nobles, and so on.” She lifted her hoof to make a sun-smooshes-Canterlot motion. “Do you think anypony could stop you?”
“Luna that’s terrible!” Celestia was horrified.
“Do you?” Luna pressed, scowling at her.
Celestia lay there, calculating carefully for a moment. She bit her lower lip, then whispered, “No.” she looked to one side, as though ashamed of the very thought. “They would not be able to stop me.”
“That’s the power you once possessed.” Luna said, flopping back onto her back. “You had the power, knew you had it, and used it often.”
“Equestria has become much more civilized than it was back then.” Celestia said with a distressed sigh. “My little ponies don’t make me so angry anymore. They don’t need to be constantly shepherded by an overpowering mother figure.”
“Your little ponies have tamed you.” Luna said a little nastily.
“You say that like it’s a terrible thing.” Celestia looked over at her.
“You’re an alicorn, sister. Unto a god in their eyes. You move the sun with your mind, something they can’t even comprehend doing.” She prodded her sister’s chest sharply. “Suppose you suddenly wanted something, anything, is there even one pony out there that would stand up to an alicorn and say no, you can’t have that?” Luna’s words were becoming more and more draconic. Celestia shifted uncomfortably.
“No, I suppose not.”
“That’s power, Celestia. Not just political power.” Luna stared up at the moon.
“Just because I’m an alicorn doesn’t mean I have the right to anything I want.” Celestia said.
“Old Celestia would not have said that.” Luna smiled suddenly, nastily. “She knew what she wanted, and by Faust’s teats, she got it when she wanted it.”
“Don’t swear on our mother’s breasts, Luna!” Celestia moaned, face-hoofing. There was a smile hidden there, but she supressed it after a moment. Luna grinned. “Besides, I don’t want to be a grabby, my-way-or-the-highway ruler. That’s not who I am.”
“I know, sister.” Luna leaned and kissed her cheek. “But as tame as you’ve become, it may not hurt to step up on your aggression now and then.”
“They see you as a white, virginal goddess without a qualm or a care in the world.” Luna said softly, looking at her in a meaningful way. Celestia frowned. “When was the last time you really, truly yelled at someone?”
“I haven’t used the Royal Canterlot Voice since before you left.”
“Not even the Royal Canterlot Voice.” Luna shook her head. “Just the chance to show anger, when was the last time you even made an angry face at one of your subjects?”
There was a long silence between the sisters. Celestia thought. Surely she’d made a mean face recently. At somepony. Somewhere…? She couldn’t come up with one, and frowned at her sister. “I’m not going to turn into the medieval version of myself, Luna. The world no longer needs such strong leadership. Every town has a mayor, they can take care of themselves for the most part.”
“I just think you need to be a little more selfish, sister. We’re alicorns after all.” Luna lay on her back.
“That doesn’t make us entitled.”
“Yes, yes it does.” Luna smirked. “We move the heavens above for them. In a way it entitles us to pretty much whatever we want, if you think about it.”
Celestia sat up angrily. “Listen-!” she started.
“There’s the angry face!” Luna grinned at her, sitting up too.
“I came out here for combat training! To learn to be stronger so I don’t get struck down in front of my subjects and humiliated again!” Celestia had actually raised her voice a little, and that only made Luna grin a bit wider. “It’s true I could crush Canterlot under the sun if I wanted to, but I have enough self-restraint to fix problems in a non-draconic way! I’m above using my powers for selfish gain!”
There was an icy silence while the sisters stared at each other. “And you wonder why those beaurocrats walk all over you.” Luna whispered. “Unable to bring down a heavy hoof. Maybe not drop the sun onto a city, but… you’re impotent.” Celestia gasped at her, scowled, and then rose to her hooves. She stalked away, genuinely angry with her sister. “Try it, Celestia! Try it just once!” Luna called at her back. “Put just one of them in his place! You’ll feel better for it! More powerful!” Celestia spread her aching wings and, with a crack of parted air, teleported back to the palace. Luna sighed softly, shaking her head. There was more work to be done off of the battlefield, it seemed.
As though on cue Luna’s two Lunar Stallions melted out of shadow. They bowed deeply and she inclined her head, turning over to lay on her belly. Aegis Shield approached and nuzzled her cheek gently, gurgle-growling. She purred. Such a handsome stallion. “Is there anything we can do, your majesty?” he asked in his deep, bronze bell voice.
“Not right now, Aegis Shield.” Luna shook her head. “The ball is on my sister’s side of the court right now, I have no need except to wait and see what she does next.” She stretched lazily, then turned over and lay on her back again. The moon’s rays felt so good on her bare fur. She kind of liked the two stallions stealthily oogling her, too. It made her feel beautiful, and powerful.
The next day, Celestia was sitting in the throne room during the Noonday Court, staring vacantly at an official who was lecturing her about an odd across-the-board tax law. Equestria’s universal rate had always been between 7%-9% of annual income to the palace coffers, with the rich paying proportionately more to compensate. With that roads could be maintained, schools funded, festivals thrown, buildings and communities built, and everything else that the government paid for. While it was precarious and one had to be careful with spending, there had been a constant push from the upper classes lately for slightly lower tax rates for the upper class.
“And since our hooves move the most money around, offering jobs and other such things to various communities, leaving more bits to us would make the most sense.” said the official, showing Celestia a chart with a jagged line going steadily upward. “With a lower tax rate we could offer 13% more jobs to certain regions, slow growth only slightly, and be able t—“
“Be able to hang onto more of your money, thusly stockpiling for your own gain while the lower classes continue to pay the same prices for everything. A monetary choke hold.” Celestia suddenly heard herself interrupt. The official was stunned into silence. “There are no laws that require you to create jobs, and I cannot take your word for it merely spoken that you would do all of these things. And even then if you did it does not mean every wealthy business owner would.” The alicorn lifted her papers of information to her nose. Sure enough, it said nothing about blanketing job creation laws or exactly what would be done if the tax rate of the upper class were lowered by 1.63% like he wanted. “Frankly, I am insulted.” She heard herself say. Was her tone… annoyed? The guards posted around the room snapped out of their mild dozes, and more than a few servants were listening carefully while they worked now.
“B-b-but your majesty!” The official said, flushed at being called out so easily.
“I of all ponies understand the different between the lower middle and upper classes.” Celestia said slowly, hiding behind the bemused smile of the benevolent ruler. “When I was a filly eons ago, I lived in a forest and ate berries for centuries. At the dawn of civilization I lived in a cave like everypony else.” She stood from her throne slowly, regally. “I lived in a house when somepony invented houses, and now of course the palace.” She walked slowly down the stairs of the dais until her very real shadow cast itself over his shocked visage. “I have been on both ends of wealth and power, I assure you.”
“I was only trying to help--”
“The upper class. I understand, my little pony.” The Princess of the sun smiled serenely, her mane flowing with a breeze that wasn’t there. But even through the smile, through the happy eyes and graceful motions, something was radiating from her. Something huge and a bit intimidating. “The upper class likes to keep itself rich and, when it can, drive a greater void between itself and the lower classes.”
Celestia daintily took his charts and stack of papers with him, turning about and walking back up to her throne. She looked them over for a moment, then set them aside. “I must decline your request, sir.” She said pleasantly. “And please, let your circle of friends know that my sister and I will be on the lookout for similar proposals. If one pops up that reminds us of this one, that pony will spend the evening in the Solar Barracks scullery. And since the Solar Guard of the palace alone numbers in the hundreds… well, that would be quite a few pots to scrub.” Celestia’s filly-like chuckle was melodic, and she lifted a hoof to her muzzle. More than a few eyebrows around the throne room went up. Whoa! That was quite possibly the most aggressive thing they’d ever heard their Princess say! Not only had she turned down the proposal, but threatened him!
“Er… I… I…” the official pulled at his collar a little, sweat beading down his face. “Y-yes, your Majesty!” He bowed deeply, flushed and embarrassed. With that, he turned tail and walked shakily from the throne room. Celestia smiled for a brief moment, satisfaction playing across her features. She startled a little, then wiped the expression away to her normal bemused and serene expression. She didn’t know what had come over her! Perhaps she was just cranky from all the training and exercise…
Luna watched from shadow, a rising smile on her face. “What can they do? Not a thing.” She whispered bemusedly. “That’s true power, sister. Good to see you remembering it again.” She melted away into darkness and back to her own chambers. She smiled at herself in her vanity, proud of the progress she was making. “Good to see her put even one imbecile in his place.” Luna giggled, taking off her crown before retiring to bed.
End of Part 3