It was a rare thing for Shining Armor to receive a personal summons from the Princess; rarer, still, to receive one so early in the day. True, it was past noon, but the reigning monarch of Equestria was, by preference, nocturnal, typically going to bed almost immediately after setting the moon and raising the sun, and sleeping straight through the midday. As it stood, Her Majesty couldn’t have been awake for much more than an hour at this point.
Not that Shining Armor meeting with the Princess was a rare thing; he did so every day, in fact, as part of the general cabinet meeting of her personal staff, reporting on the defensive readiness of Canterlot, both the palace and the capital city as a whole, an exercise that had once been largely a formality, but which the return of Corona had turned into a decidedly more serious endeavor. Things had been tense in Canterlot for the past few months, as nopony knew when Corona planned to strike next, or how, and so all that the Royal Guard could do was hope that they were prepared for whatever came.
Still, as Shining Armor approached the core of Canterlot Castle, he was trying to remember the last time the Princess had held a personal audience with him. The only one he could recall was when she had appointed him Captain of the Royal Guard, and that had been more of an interview than anything.
Shining Armor was nearing his destination, now, the personal offices of Her Majesty the Princess. He was passing an increasing number of the castle’s staff – maids and servants, of course, but also members of the Royal Guard, dressed in armor and armed with weapons that were considerably more ornate than the standard issue, but which were no less functional. He recognized each and every one, of course: they were the personal guard of the Princess, and he had personally hoof-picked each and every one for their skill, loyalty, and adherence to duty.
This last quality was demonstrated as he approached the doors to the Princess’ office. Despite recognizing who Shining Armor was, despite his technically being their commanding officer, the pegasus and earth pony who stood guard at the door both assumed a defensive posture as he approached, crossing their halberds in front of the door in challenge. He could have easily, after all, been an assassin wearing an illusion or having shape-shifted into his current form.
Paranoid? Yes. But it was the job of the Royal Guard to be paranoid, and especially these two. If they hadn’t reacted as they had, then each of them would have soon found themselves off of guard duty and on to latrine duty.
Shining Armor stopped a respectful distance from the two. “I’m here to see Her Majesty,” he stated. “I was summoned.”
The two guards looked to each other, before the pegasus turned and opened the door, announcing Shining Armor’s arrival, while the earth pony’s eyes remained fixed on the unicorn captain of the guard. After a moment, the pegasus looked back to his companion and nodded, and the two guards stepped aside, allowing Shining Armor entrance into the Princess’ office.
In stark contrast to most of Canterlot, the private office of Princess Luna Equestris was constructed from, or at least made to look like, wooden paneling, rather than the granite that most of Canterlot was made from. Further contrasting with the blue-and-silver decorations strung up throughout the castle, Luna’s office was decorated primarily in shades of warm, inviting reds, complimenting the large fireplace that warmed it in the winter. It otherwise looked surprisingly mundane for the royal office – there were comfortable but hardly lavish cushions sitting on either side of a normal-looking mahogany desk, a book case filled with volumes of both legal code and political philosophy, a map of Equestria and its neighbors on one wall, and various other trinkets scattered about, both useful ones like the abacus sitting at the Princess' desk, and mere curiosities, such as a buffalo peace pipe hanging from one wall. Without changing a single thing about it, one could have transported the room to a normal, albeit wealthy, barrister’s or bookkeeper’s office in Manehattan or Stalliongrad, and not have been able to detect anything out of place.
Despite all that, it wasn’t the simplicity of the office that made Shining Armor pause as he entered, as he had been in here before and knew what to expect. He had even anticipated seeing Princess Luna sitting on the other side of the her desk, horn glowing as she looked over her schedule for the day and reports of what had occurred while she slept. It wasn’t even surprising to see that she was not wearing her black crown, nor the rest of the royal regalia, though those sat nearby on a special stand prepared for them.
No, the thing that caught him off guard was that Princess Luna Equestris was wearing glasses.
Thin, red-rimmed glasses, that somehow managed to make the Shepherd of the Moon, the Caretaker of the Sun, the impossibly ancient yet eternally youthful alicorn princess of Equestria, look almost cute –
No, no, not going there, not even thinking about going there, Shining Armor declared sternly to himself as he approached the desk, and offered a deep bow. “Your Majesty,” he said. “You sent for me?”
Luna had looked up from whatever she was doing as Shining Armor had bowed, and nodded as he spoke and rose from his bow. “Yes, captain,” she said as she stood, walking out from behind her desk to join him. “There is a…is something the matter?”
Shining Armor blinked a few times, and suddenly realized that he must have been staring. “Uh – no, Majesty. I just – I didn’t know you needed glasses.”
Luna paused a moment, then chuckled slightly as her horn glowed, and she levitated the glasses off of her face and set them down on her desk. “I don’t, but I find they help me concentrate on work, especially so soon after waking up, when work is the furthest thing from my mind.”
“Yes, Majesty,” Shining Armor said. “What is on your mind?”
“Several things,” Luna responded, pressing her lips tightly together for a moment after doing so. “Several things…breakfast, for one, but I’ve put that off for the moment.” She motioned with one hoof towards the cushions at her desk, as she herself walked over to the office’s window, ruffling her wings slightly in agitation. “Please have a seat, Shining Armor.”
In truth, he would have preferred to remain standing, but when the Princess of the Night offered one a seat, one took it. He settled down on the large cushions on his side of the desk, watching Luna closely. “Does this concern the Cavallian envoy that will be arriving in a few weeks, Majesty?” Shining Armor asked. With Corona returned from her exile into the heart of the sun, Luna had been reaching out to the various nations surrounding Equestria, looking for support and aid in finding her. First and foremost, of course, was a planned meeting with Cavallia, Equestria’s oldest ally despite also technically being a breakaway state.
Luna shook her head as she turned to regard Shining Armor. “No. Your plans to safeguard Princess Mi Amore Cadenza during her stay are exemplary. This matter doesn’t concern Equestria as a whole…it concerns the Starlight family.”
Shining Armor blinked at the mention of his own family, one of the oldest and most respected – and influential – families of the Night Court. His father, Nightlight, was Viceroy of Latigo, one of Equestria’s largest provinces in the northeast that bordered the Griffin Kingdoms, the independent nation of Gryphos, and the protected city-states of Hippopotamia. “Has something happened to my father?” Shining Armor asked.
Luna shook her head. “No. Your father is just fine, as is your mother. For that matter, to my knowledge your sister, is alive and…unharmed…as well, but this matter concerns her – ”
“Twilie?” Shining Armor asked, standing suddenly and forgetting decorum and proper etiquette at the mention of his sister. “What’s happened to her?”
Luna raised a hoof, trying to calm Shining Armor down. “Please, captain. Sit down.”
Shining Armor obeyed, but only after a moment as his gaze remained locked on Luna’s. The Princess of the Night’s lips were pressed tightly together as she waited for Shining Armor to at least look like he had calmed down. “Last night,” Luna began, “Twilight Sparkle arrived in Ponyville, where she met with my student, Trixie Lulamoon. Do you know her?”
Shining Armor tried to stop his grimace, but failed. “Yes,” he said after a moment. “I met her several times when she lived in the castle, though we never spoke directly. She has a…memorable…personality.”
“That is a charitable way of phrasing it, yes,” Luna confirmed. Shining Armor knew that Luna was rarely so kind with her adjectives. “In any event, your sister met with Trixie. Their meeting did not go well. According to my student, Twilight accused Trixie of being a two-bit hedge mage and a waste of magical talent.” She held up a hoof before Shining Armor could respond to that. “I believe my student, captain, but given the severity of what followed, I am arranging to have the matter thoroughly investigated, and I will of course allow the Starlights to arrange for their own investigation.”
“Severity of what followed?” Shining Armor echoed.
Luna winced slightly. “Trixie, displaying far less control than I would like, goaded your sister into making herself seem like a unicorn-supremacist in front of all of Ponyville. Now, if the matter had progressed no further than this, I would not be talking to you, Shining Armor. Harsh words between two young mares are not worth the attentions of the Night Court, nor the Royal Guard.”
They’re worth my attentions, Shining Armor thought. Not that he would, in any way, abuse his position as captain of the guard to come down on Trixie like a ton of bricks like he wanted to - but that didn't mean that he wouldn't abuse it a little to get back at Trixie for doing that to his sister. Perhaps just a very thorough security check next time she came to Canterlot. Something inconvenient and drawn out. It was amazing what one could do when one was part of the group that strung up the red tape.
Of course, then what Luna had specified sank in. “What happened?” he asked.
Luna grimaced again. “There is no easy way to phrase this,” she stated, “So I will simply say it. Twilight Sparkle responded by going into the Everfree Forest and using fantastically illegal enchantment magic to take control of an Ursa Minor. She then proceeded to bring the Ursa Minor into the center of Ponyville. I do not know her intentions, because at that point, she lost control of the Ursa Minor, and it proceeded to go on a rampage through the town square, causing thousands of bits in property damage.”
Shining Armor stared, wide-eyed. “N…no,” he stated. “Twilie…Twilie wouldn’t do that.”
“There are dozens of eyewitnesses, Shining Armor. The evidence is irrefutable. Now, there were no casualties, and there are also dozens of eyewitnesses that confirm that, while Trixie distracted the Ursa Minor, your sister was able to teleport it away, back into the Everfree. But she then teleported away herself. Nopony has seen nor heard from her since, but then it has only been a few hours. And that does not change the fact that she used illegal magic in the first place, illegal magic she could have learned only by breaking and entering into secure vaults in one of the great libraries of Equestria.” Luna’s grimace worsened. “I am sorry, Shining Armor, but under the circumstances I have no choice but to issue an arrest warrant for your sister…and as you are aware, she is a sorceress of considerable power, so in addition to the Guard I must also involve the Shadowbolts in this matter.”
Shining Armor blinked at that. Popular myth liked to paint the Shadowbolts as Luna’s personal team of ponies devoted to black operations, both within Equestria and outside of it, responsible for blackmail, extortion, and assassination. Shining Armor, having worked with them in the past, knew that in actuality, for the most part, being a Shadowbolt meant long hours of investigation, surveillance, and paperwork, and that it could actually be a fairly boring job most of the time, and was further fully constrained by all the normal laws of Equestria.
But one did not become a Shadowbolt by being a desk jockey and paper-pusher. They were called in only to deal with threats that the Guard could not, by itself, handle. “Is…is that really necessary?” Shining Armor asked.
Luna nodded morosely. “It is, I’m afraid. Nothing can change that. I summoned you here to personally inform you, rather than risk letting you find out by overhearing gossip or learning by reading in tomorrow’s paper.”
Shining Armor looked up at that. “Tomorrow’s?”
“The…the incident…happened too late at night for the news to reach the Canterlot printers. I also pulled some strings at the press. I cannot – I will not – stop the story from running. But I believe I have managed to convince most of the major newspapers to bury the story on page seventeen, or where they like, rather than the front page, for now. That will not last, but it should give your family time to decide how to respond.”
Shining Armor nodded. “Thank-you, Majesty.”
“There is no need, Shining Armor. I owe your family much, and you in particular as well.” Luna eyed Shining Armor. “But this also comes with an expectation. If your sister contacts you, you must inform the Shadowbolts. I want your word as captain of my Royal Guard, and as a scion of the Starlight family.”
Shining Armor nodded slightly. “I will,” he promised. “What…what will you do with Twilight?”
Luna grimaced again. “That depends heavily on the circumstances surrounding her arrest. At the moment, I am willing to take her emotional state into account, and her contribution of banishing the Ursa Minor back to the Everfree. But there will be some form of punitive action, captain, likely several years in prison, or at the very least under house arrest, either in Canterlot or Latigo.”
The unicorn captain of the guard nodded again, still trying to wrap his mind around the idea of his sister, of little Twilie, causing so much trouble. They had used to be so close, but ever since she had set out on her journey through Equestria to learn as much about magic as possible, they had begun to grow distant, letters from her coming less and less frequently, and of course Shining Armor – and indeed, his father and mother as well – had a difficult time ever contacting her due to her constantly being on the move in that caravan of hers…
“You must have some leave time coming up,” Luna said, interrupting Shining Armor’s ruminations. “In fact, it doesn’t matter if you do. Take the next week off, captain. Go and see your family.”
Shining Armor started to object, but the look in Luna’s eyes brooked no argument. Instead, he nodded. “Yes, Majesty. I’ll do that.”
“Very good,” Luna said. “I’m…I’m sorry, captain. I know how this feels, to have a sibling act in a way you didn’t think possible. But Twilight has done nothing unforgiveable. If you speak to her at all, please, make sure she knows that.”
Shining Armor nodded, as Luna gave him leave to depart. He did so stiffly, without even acknowledging the guards on the other side of the door as he did, letting his hooves fall almost mechanically to the floor as he made his way from the Princess’ office.
Twilie…Shining Armor thought. What have you done?