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Arcanus paced silently, watching as the working class villagers of Everfree assembled within what remained of their town under royal knight escort. The confusion and horror played out very clearly across their faces, and the unfortunate extent of the sisters' bitter struggle for dominance became clear to the brooding colt. He frowned at the thought of the strain it would put on the princess's conscience to know that her actions, honorable and forced as they had been, had contributed to this.

In a mere hour, the village and everything in it had been reduced to smoking ruin. Books, treasures, memories, all of it - indiscriminately destroyed as collateral damage by a fight its denizens had nothing to do with. Younger foals looked on in naive confusion, while older colts and fillies alike merely stared blankly as the shock of their new reality began to sink in. In no time at all, hysteria had its disorienting grip upon the crowd. Some cried in despair, others angrily lashed out for an explanation. Why had they been forcefully removed from their village, only to return to find their homes and most cherished possessions demolished?

The knights and royal disciples zipped back and forth in a stressed frenzy, doing their best to contain the uproar with vague assurances of welfare and compensation. However, it was obviously a losing battle. One had noticed Arcanus's presence, and quietly approached him to implore: "Wouldst ye please ask her highness to speak? These villagers will not listen to reason."

Who could blame them? Arcanus sighed, recalling the princess's words. "Her highness hath informed me that she would make her appearance when she is ready," he spoke with straightforward neutrality, aided significantly by the fact he was heralding royal orders. "Until then, ye art commanded to defend and ensure the comfort of the village."

One of the younger soldiers, a yellow coated unicorn with a brown mane and barely older than Arcanus himself, scowled at him. "And what village would that be?" he drawled sarcastically, but the stress was all too evident in his eyes. "Besides, what hast thou been doing this past hour, while I have endured the restless questioning of these commoners after all but evicting them from their homes? What hast thou done to help? And thou hast the audacity to 'command' me?"

The fires of confidence burned out as Arcanus was thrown on the hindhoof by this blatant challenge. He looked away and slipped back to brooding. He pondered whether his tone was too firm, or his approach overly forward, or that he had given the impression the orders were his own-

"Hold thy tongue," the commanding knight - an indigo-coated earthpony - growled at his youthful subordinate, to Arcanus's surprise. "Hast thou forgotten thy place? What about thine honor? I would pray that, at the very least, thou hast not forgotten that Sir Arcanus here is the son of Lady Silvermane?"

The young soldier shrunk away immediately at his commander's iron-laced tone. "C-Captain Sir Irontail..."

"Tell me this, young Golden Ace. What dost thou know of Madam Silvermane?"

"Th... the Lady..." he stammered, fortunately recalling this name specifically. Many young soldiers hailed from the peerage or gentry, or had at least served them once, and were often privy to overhearing the gossip of the elite - where names like Silvermane were dropped on occasion. "Lady Silvermane... lady laird of the Silvermane Manor."

Irontail nodded, but it wasn't in approval. "So, Sir Arcanus here, being her eldest colt, would hold what status in her court?"

Golden Ace gulped, sweating profusely. Easy enough question though. "First heir..."

"Prithee, Captain Irontail..." Arcanus attempted to excuse his supposed assailant. The forthcoming lecture was on a matter he had specifically avoided over the years, and it wasn't worth letting someone be abused over it.

"Very good," the knight captain continued the condescending lecture, showing no notice of the intervention, "And, wouldst thou care to summarize thine heritage?"

"... My parents serve in the manor of Lord Inken Quill. At their request, I was enlisted in the Canterlot Military after coming of age, with the personal blessing-"

Irontail rose a hoof sharply, cutting him off. "That is all, Ace. I need only hear thy parentage. Now, think hard about this one..."

"Captain, with... with due respect..." Arcanus tried again, somehow even quieter than last time.

Irontail just smiled wickedly, as though enjoying hammering a subordinate into the ground like this. "If thou art the unknighted son of two servants while Sir Arcanus here is the first-in-line heir to a landowner, wouldst thou be able to... enlighten me on something thou hast forgotten?" He raised his forehooves alternately, as though weighing something. "A form of address, perhaps? Maybe befitting conduct? ... Or how about knowing thy bucking place?"

"Captain Sir Irontail, it... it is quite alright," Arcanus declared as sternly as he could, bowing courteously before nodding assuringly toward the visibly shaken colt. "I do not wish to impose. Golden Ace hast..." he fumbled as the commander's hardened gaze fell upon him for a brief instant, "... hast made a fine point. Her highness Princess Celestia hath asked of thee to ward and escort these villagers to Canterlot, where they are to be provided... with..."

Arcanus trailed off as the crowd seemed to stop listening, their whispers and shuffling dying away in favour of kneeling in unison toward the broken castle's arched doorway. With a raised eyebrow he looked that way, to find Celestia herself had emerged. Her coat was somewhat dirtied and her lifelike eyes had an unsettling distance to them, but her presence still commanded the voice of serenity to even the most unruly crowds of angry peasants.

"Fair villagers," she began, voice low and reserved. She surveyed the ruined village with a keen eye, bowing and shaking her head as the bitter realization set in. As seemed to be the pattern for that night, this was her fault. Hindsight lent to her a simple epiphany: she could have easily lured her sister away from the castle, or into the air. "We are deeply sorry for what horror hath been wrought upon you tonight. For our indiscretion, ye shalt be consoled and compensated for your losses by the Kingdom of Canterlot." She suddenly fixed her eyes upon Arcanus, startling the poor colt almost out of his skin. "Young Arcanus, please tell these fillies and gentlecolts what hath befallen us tonight."

He blinked a few times in pure confusion, before stage fright set in. Relaying royal verdict was one thing, but she actually wanted him to deliver such traumatic news as the loss of a monarch? The princess had surreptitiously put him on the spot, too. Before the public eye, he was in no position to debate the issue, which saw him nervously face the crowd and clear his throat.

"Her... her highness, Princess Luna..." Now, how would be word this? There were many ways to articulate this - subtly obscure the whole truth, or come clean and risk being misunderstood? His eyes focused desperately on Celestia, who had already looked away to quietly make some unknown inquiries with Irontail and the other knights. Heh, he was on his own. "Her highness, Princess Luna, is... no longer with us."

One earthpony in the crowd narrowed his eyes at this wimpy looking herald, borderline threateningly. "And that means what, exactly?" Apparently their spontaneous restraint only lasted as long as the princess had her eyes on them, in spite of Irontail's rather harsh lecture.

"Princess Luna no longer holds royal capacity as an active ruler of Equestria. Must Sir Arcanus repeat himself?" a young, fiery voice cut through the tension on the colt's behalf. Arcanus looked at its owner in bewilderment, wondering why Golden Ace would come to his aid. Nonetheless, he smiled. The impromptu backup had seen the agitated earthpony back off.

Nodding in acknowledgement to the question, Arcanus cleared his throat again to stall while he found his wording. "Due to... extenuating circumstances," he said, stretching the truth a bit. "As deemed by her highness Princess Celestia, Princess Luna hath conducted herself in a manner that hath warranted her... temporary removal from power."

On one hoof, he sighed internally in immense relief at having conjured up such a formal delivery on the spot. On the other... he'd just hinted at Celestia having overthrown her sister. Even the shallowest imagination could, and would, find ways to twist that into sinister intent. His elevated spirits quickly tapered off as he looked over the crowd, who had already begun suspiciously muttering to each other. What few guards weren't being grilled by the princess did the same, while the assembly of royal disciples merely looked to their teacher reservedly. Even Golden Ace, his unexpected supporter, eyed him with baffled uncertainty.

With impeccable timing, Celestia ended her questioning and turned to face the crowd. Whether she heard the collective gasp and intended to pre-empt any commotion, or if it was simply coincidence, Arcanus wasn't sure. Her intervention was timely, regardless.

"In preparation for our march to Canterlot, ye art to be granted a period with which to search your homes for intact possessions and anything else ye wouldst wish to preserve." She casually looked at the formation of knights, who saluted following whatever instruction they had discussed. "All soldiers present are to assist at your request. Saddles and carrybags, as well as fresh food and water, will be provided from the castle's surviving stores."

The sea of ponies dissipated without incident and began to eagerly sift through the broken rubble of their homes, seemingly forgetting the matter of Luna's 'abdication' for the time being. Arcanus settled beneath a scorched tree and watched in silence, faced with the tragic sight of poor families weeping over the loss of what little they had. Even the bolder, more outspoken farmers of earlier were reduced to quivering victims when faced with the fact that their home was nothing more than a pile of rubble.

He sighed heavily as he caught sight of a crying foal trying to push a broken rafter off what appeared to be the frayed remains of a doll, sobbing harder with every passing moment as she failed to get her parents' attention. An uncomfortable brew of anger and remorse, despite his own lack of fault, bubbled up in Arcanus's stomach as he extended a gentle dash of magic, lifting the splintered wood just long enough for the little pegasus girl to rescue the toy.

"This tragedy... 'Twas not necessary. It could have been avoided," Celestia spoke softly as she sat beside the colt, who had not noticed her approach, and gazed upon the scene. "Luna's fall, the loss of my little ponies' livelihood... all of it. I could have prevented it, had I focused on what is truly important. My dear sister is suffering an undeserved fate trapped beneath that mask she hath constructed, and banishment may only worsen her torment."

"Princess, please... do not bemoan what hath happened." His heart skipped a beat as he looked away, feeling the urge to throttle himself for saying that. Celestia's introspective gaze lightened as she focused on the uncomfortable colt beside her. "What... what I meant was..."

"Arcanus," she interjected gently, "If thou wouldst not mind, I now have a question for thee. Dost thou believe I did the right thing?"

He seized up and, on instinct, sighed to relax his nerves before responding in a slow, formal monotone. What was he supposed to say to that? "Your highness, in your wisdom, I would assert that ye resolved this occurrence by the best means."

Celestia nodded, but simpered rather clearly as she went over his generic response in her mind. "... I wish to know what thou dost believe, in thine own words." Did this colt genuinely fear her? Would everypony else fear her when they learned she technically usurped her sister's throne? Sure, most of her subjects held her in overly high regard, to the point where personally connecting with some of them was all but impossible, but to be truly feared as a despot... the very thought made her sick.

Arcanus sighed, but muffled it as much as he could. He didn't think his textbook answer would make it through, but he'd hoped it would all the same. My lowly opinion of her highness's thinking..? "Ye..." he responded without thinking it through, leading him to stare at the burnt grass while trying to compose himself. "Ye... ye tried to reason with her highness, Princess Luna. It was her..." he looked up at the huge alicorn overshadowing him, met her eyes, and swallowed audibly, "... stubborn disposition and rigidity that led you to respond as ye did. For what it may be worth, with circumstances considered..." He cringed, realising too late that improvisation probably wasn't necessary, "I believe ye did indeed do the right thing."

Celestia puckered her lips and nodded, slowly standing. "Well, I must thank thee for thy confidence, Arcanus. It means more to me than thou wouldst think. May I ask of thee to see if thou canst further assist the villagers? I must tend to some personal matters within the castle, lest we leave anything valuable behind."

"Of course, your highness." He bowed to her retreating form, but suddenly called out: "One more question, if I may?"

Celestia turned and merely nodded.

"We are to simply leave the castle?"

She nodded again. "After what hath transpired on this night, the memories contained herein are rather painful. I do not need to live out the years until my sister's return with a constant reminder of what I was forced to do. In fact..." She turned to face him once more, and her face took on a rigid regal formality. "Thou art not to tell anypony of the Elements of Harmony. It is for the best that they stay here, sealed in stone, until the day... the time comes when which they are needed once more."

Arcanus lowered his head submissively, speaking without hesitation. "Consider it done."

With a subtle nod, Celestia waved and left the colt to his thoughts once again. He returned his attention to the ruined castle - a certain window in particular - and realised that he actually knew very little about the Elements. For someone who took pride in studying and learning as much as he could, the enigmatic artifacts represented a gap in his wisdom.

Though after witnessing such a frightening display of their power, he now understood why.

*******

"A pleasant journey, Sir?" the unicorn butler asked in a professional drone as the candle hung by his magic illuminated the visitor's face - that of his young master. Sweeping his turquoise mane aside, he bowed and genuflected before unlatching the deadbolt and opening the door fully.

"My thanks, Night Watch. Indeed it was. A rather serene evening for travel," Arcanus replied, managing a polite smile despite breathing raggedly. He slipped inside and took a much-needed deep breath, taking in the inviting fragrance of the well-kept manor. The wide, dimly lit hallway was a hospitable sight to his fatigued eyes, and the fluffy carpet cradled his worn hooves gently. The one place in Equestria he could truly relax - the family estate.

'No place like home.'

The immortal words indeed rang true, and brought a fond smile to his face. Prior to tonight's... ordeal, he hadn't been scheduled to return home for months, which only made this unexpected luxury all the sweeter. Sure, the Royal Everfree Library was remarkably hospitable and incredibly conducive to hours of relentless, fervent study, but sometimes he needed to unwind and a refreshing change of locale was just the answer.

After all, he could study just as relentlessly, just as fervently, in his own private library at home.

Night Watch hummed concordantly, leaning out the door to sniff at the cool dusk - what should have been early morning - air, before shutting it and refitting the locks. "Albeit a lengthy one, it would appear..." he mused thoughtfully of the curiously 'late' sunrise as he removed the colt's torn cloak. Aided by the flickering candle, he caught a glimpse of the youth's faded injury. "Forgive me Sir, but are ye alright?"

The sleepy colt looked over his body for a moment, before mentally facehoofing as he 'remembered' the burn on his leg. "Oh... 'tis fine, Night Watch. I am in no pain, I assure thee." His reddened hoof, grazed and sore from repeated encounters with stray twigs and sharp grass, throbbed persistently to the contrary. His stomach, never one to disappoint, got in on the act by rumbling softly at the same time. They shared a sheepish smile as he rubbed the back of his clingy, sweat-ridden mane. "... On, eh, second thought, I wouldst ask of thee for some water."

He opened his saddlebag and presented the servant with a small hoof-ful of bits for services rendered, before adding, "Oh, and one question. Has my mother woken?" Her routine was to rise at the crack of dawn, but he couldn't depend on that when the dawn itself was behind schedule.

Night Watch nodded, accepting the payment and bowing graciously. "Indeed, Sir. Her ladyship rose within the hour. I believe ye wouldst find her in the great hall."

Arcanus nodded. "Very well. Please inform the maids that I will be joining her shortly, and to... to..." his composure and articulation fell by the wayside in favour of a mighty yawn, "... prepare... breakfast and... bedchamber. My bedchamber."

"Certainly. Goodnight, Sir," Night Watch concluded, suppressing a smile as he trotted gingerly down one of the many branching hallways and leaving the lighter unicorn to his thoughts.

Making his way down the main hallway at a moderate limp, Arcanus weighed the night's events in his mind. He'd passed the exam and 'exceeded the kingdom's greatest hopes.' That a was a plus! Then he watched the royal sisters go at each other's throats, which left one of them stuck on the moon. That... really wasn't. Also, there was the matter of the little request the princess had hit him with at the end. Academic curiosity and antisocial disinterest fought for their perspective on that, leaving nothing but uncertainty.

Worse was the fact he apparently had the choice, which he interpreted as more like having to choose, as opposed to the princess simply giving an order and expecting him to adhere - which in a way, would have been simpler. Stopping abruptly, he shook his head to shake off the thoughts like frayed webs in his mind. He could think seriously about that later. For now, the task at hoof was immediate - find his mother, tell her he was home and why the sun stopped working, have something to eat and get to bed.

The smile that had so briefly graced his features at the thought of sleep degenerated to a scowl as an obnoxious giggle wafted from the nearby, slightly ajar door. He darted his eyes left and right warily, before nervously edging closer and pressing his ear to it. He easily made out a pair of voices, identifying the deeper of the two with a contemptuous sigh.

Brother, he thought of the spoiled colt, what art thou up to?

He went back over the internal inquiry and scrapped it as superfluous. He knew the answer. Prism. The elder of his siblings: a handsome - he begrudgingly admitted - unicorn, blessed with a flashy silver coat complimented by an unruly gold mane, and rounded out nicely by a pair of enticingly green eyes that masked the spoiled twit within.

Assuming his looks were still intact, so to was his hobby. The past year, he had taken an insatiable enjoyment to the company of fillies, tricking his way into their inebriated hearts by playing the disingenuous charm card. To make matters worse, he would often return with his drunkenly giggling 'escorts' at an immodest hour, without a care in the world, before lazily sleeping into the mid- to late hours of the following afternoon.

Arcanus merely shook his head, feeling a weighty mass of shame bubble from his very being at having any relation at all to that wasteful foal. Nonetheless, his eavesdropping continued unabated, leading him to hear a delightful exchange.

"J-just move!" the filly instructed in an obvious slur, her elevated tone nonetheless surprising Arcanus in its... clarity. Relative clarity, of course - considering she was clearly drunk and engaged in... well, what he presumed she was engaged in. "D-do it f-faster! Don't... keep me waiting..."

A deep, somewhat exasperated breath was her reply, followed by the notably deeper - and more sober - voice of Prism. "Don't... rush me. Just... just lemme..." he lazily mashed the words together, proving he wasn't above the influence either, "lemme get in position."

On and on the context-less exchange went, leading Arcanus to ponder a rather deep philosophical question. How can they find the ti-, he paused his internal monologue as an ecstatic "take it!" rang quite unwantedly in his ears. How can they find the time to talk so much?

Yet between gags of disgust, which his efforts to mute almost sent the colt off balance more than once, he felt a spontaneous burst of clarity - enough to think about things from another angle. A possibility he hadn't considered. The rising waves of nausea were stilled in a heartbeat as the simple brilliance and hilarity of this sudden realisation practically bucked him in the face.

Of course, he groaned at his 'literary blindness.' 'Twill merely be a matter of the mundane!

The situation practically screamed poetic irony to the curious colt, who found himself unable to resist the urge to confirm his suspicions. He looked back and forth once again to make sure his efforts to spy weren't being spied on, and stealthily poked his head through the door.

He quickly spotted, just as he had figured, a game board with its pieces arranged inconsistently - abandoned mid-game, obviously. Next to the board sat two empty wine glasses, but the players in question were curiously absent. The voyeuristic colt investigated further, leaning around to get a look at where he recalled the bed to be...

... And withdrew immediately with an audible gag, regretting the whole ordeal. By Celestia, did he regret it. Heh, so much for drunken chess. He shook his head violently, as to deny the faint flush suddenly rising in his cheeks, until the erratic blood flow rendered him dizzy and weak at the knees. He slapped his forehead, repeatedly, to force the images of his brother and a mare - a married mare, he later recalled - in the throes of passion into the deep abyss where they belonged.

He hurried on without care for his aching hoof, eager to put as much distance between that room and his sanity as possible.  At a brisk canter, the remainder of the trip to the great hall was uneventful, save for the occasional early rising groom to whom he nodded halfheartedly. Weaving his way through the vacant trestle tables, his attention instead reserved for the high table, at which a rather illustrious mare was dining in solitude.

Approaching silently, Arcanus grinned affectionately as his mother remained blissfully unaware, intentionally treading heavier with each step to get her attention.

"Arcanus?" she asked uncertainly, looking up at this youth who had boldly caught her by surprise at the crack of what was supposed to be dawn. Pulling away from her manchet for a moment, she cleared her throat and flicked at her monocle, smiling broadly as though that slight adjustment had suddenly made his identity clear. "Oh, dutiful Arcanus, my dear! What hast-" she coughed lightly, "-what hast brought thee to us at this hour?"

He bowed respectfully, trying to remain formally indifferent despite the massive grin plastered to his face. He'd been longing to return home more than he'd realised, and his mother's warm reception threatened to reduce him to an embarrassingly giddy foal. She was exactly as he remembered. Her coat was a slightly darker shade of gray than his own, her long silver mane done up in two buns, with the remainder flowing loosely down just past her neck, while her elderly eyes were as deep blue pools indicative of both wisdom and flair.

Unfortunately, on this occasion she was blessed by candlelight rather than the gentle sunrise, which helped to expose her aged features and wrinkles, but Arcanus forced that unflattering observation down and answered: "'Tis a rather involved story, Madam. Her highness, Princess Celestia, is here also."

The elderly mare's refined, aristocratic disposition flipped over to wide-eyed shock, triggering another hacking cough. "P-Princess Celestia..." she repeated shallowly. She was expected to entertain the princess now? The urgent tasks suddenly at hoof popped into her mind, one by one as though declaring their individual importance, and underlining what she already knew. This called for drastic measures, and panic. "We... we must prepare the great chamber, notify all hands--"

Arcanus facehoofed at his indiscretion. "Nay, madam..."

"-stall her at the door-"

"... Madam?"

"-doth her highness indulge herself in our finest tea-"

Arcanus shook his head, closing the distance between them in a heartbeat to lay a reassuring hoof across his restless mother's back. She was barely out of bed, and already he'd worked her into a frenzy. Not to mention he did not like that unhealthy cough, especially since he was making it worse. "Madam, I merely mean she hath returned to Canterlot, not... here, here."

She stopped her frantic stride long enough to process the false alarm and sighed with relief, retaking her seat at the table. "Oh. Thou shouldst have told me that sooner, dear..." she whispered, returning the smile as her heightened breathing slowed. "So... for what reason art thou home? Thy tutelage under her highness shan't conclude until..."

"A hair's breadth shy of two months," Arcanus finished for her, taking his place at his mother's right as he spied the band of maids approaching with a shiny plate packed with food and water suspended between them. He eyed the assortment of his personal delicacies and smiled, knowing beyond doubt they hadn't forgotten his tastes. "On a positive note, the penultimate exam was tonight."

"'Tis good to hear of that, my dear," she praised him casually without making eye contact, as though the news came as no surprise to her.

"Many thanks-" he began, but stopped just as quickly with a raised eyebrow. Had he missed something? "... uh, are ye not going to ask after the result?"

She hummed around a mouthful of bread, eying him questioningly. Quickly swallowing, she clarified, "I wouldst have assumed that, as a prodigy of her highness, thy success was all but assured." She smiled with smug parental pride, opening one eye after a few moments of silence to find her son staring at her thoughtlessly. "Oh, I mean, by all means, my dear. What of thy result?"

The modest colt let slip a rare dose of pride, evidenced by his self-satisfied smile. "Complete success." Now, did he go a step further? Ah, what the hay. His mother's pride in him was a source of happiness amidst her ailing health, so some light bragging to her benefit would be a noble act of good faith. "... 'Surpassed her greatest hopes,' actually. At least, her highness implied as such."

Silvermane gasped very lightly, but covered it with a cough and threw on a stoic facade. Her son was a disciplined genius, so why should she expect anything less? With a wink, she repeated, "... 'Tis good to hear of that, my dear. Now, without adieu, dost thou wish to tell thine old mother why thou hast returned home?"

Arcanus grew serious in an instant, shutting his eyes and rolling his shoulder. His mind swam back over the pertinent memories, before he decided the best starting point. "... Following the exam, her highness called me to her bedchamber." His mind's eye widened the moment he actually heard his own words aloud.

Silvermane's expression remained neutral and composed save for an arched eyebrow, apparently mature enough not to prod or make a joke at her son's questionable wording. Instead, she had but one question: "Princess Celestia personally entertained you... in one of the royal chambers?" Then again, it was by no means unusual for the more prestigious households to maintain public, showy chambers to entertain guests or showcase rare artwork.

Presumably, the old mare figured, the princess had hosted many guests and her son happened to be one of them. However, Arcanus merely shook his head at her assertion. A tiny spark of magic emitted from his flickering horn toward his plate, breaking apart a warm, chunky loaf of bread. "Not a bedchamber, madam. Her private bedchamber."

"... Why? For what purpose?" she inquired simply, seeing no reason to mince words. Two exclusive yet possible reasons for why her son had earned a private audience with a princess stood out clearly in her mind, together with the consequences of both. He was either honored, or in trouble.

"My lady, ye need not stress," he replied with a jovial laugh, waving a hoof to dismiss her overreaction. "Her highness sought of me a private audience to ask after our family, and to deliver to me a royal assignment."

Her ears perked, but she nonetheless relaxed at the confirmation her son wasn't in trouble. Then again, had she really expected any different? The obedient colt spoke highly of Princess Celestia almost obsessively, and the thought of him consciously displeasing her seemed increasingly ridiculous the more she reflected on it. Still, it was nice to know the princess thought of them enough to inquire to their benefit... and this 'task' she had set for her son aroused her interest. "And what of this royal assignment?"

"She did not elaborate immediately. We were... well, interrupted." Now for the fun part! Arcanus rolled his mind's eye, as his actual eyes followed suit. The smallest piece of bread on his plate glowed with the black aura of his will, slowly rising to float in front of his snout. He took a deep, appreciative breath of the inviting scent of freshness, putting off continuing the story as long as possible.

Indeed, the next part of the story stirred darkly in the colt's mind, as though a truth that should never be revealed. Alas, he was going to reveal it, and it didn't help that he still wasn't content with the fact it happened at all. Still, it was going to come out eventually - and no amount of procrastination would avert that. Frowning, he dropped his tone to a low, almost secretive mumble and admitted, "... Her highness, Princess Luna, attempted to overthrow the sun court over a personal matter."

The air came out of his mother's lungs and her jaw dropped from the shock, before she caught the break in her demeanor and jammed it shut... with her hoof. "She what?"

The solemn colt sighed and nodded, refusing to voice that dark truth a second time. "Ye art wondering why the night persists," he stated, knowing full well the answer he'd receive were it a question. He coughed and elaborated, convincingly playing the role of royal announcer:  "... Princess Luna's grief with the kingdom. She refused to lower the moon, for her desire was to bring a night that never ends. For her misconduct, she was..." He let that hang, bleakly noticing the sun still hadn't risen. The whole ordeal must have left the princess exhausted. "... Let us say she is no longer princess of the night court."

"So, her highness, Princess Celestia is now our sole ruler..." Silvermane whispered as more of a voiced thought than an inquiry, as the loose ends of this newly created power vacuum slowly became clear to her. "Dost that mean her highness will preside over both courts from Canterlot?"

Arcanus nodded casually. He had been taught that Canterlot Castle was mostly ornamental, nonetheless kept fully furnished at all times, and was in fact where most of the royal treasury and artifacts were secured, including the famous Canterlot Tower and Sculpture Gardens. What he'd not been taught, but always assumed, was that its original purpose was the sun princess's own seat.

Presumably, the two sisters had eventually agreed - for whatever reason - to share their 'diurnal' rulership from a single location: Everfree.

Silvermane hummed thoughtfully, but regardless, the regret she spied in her son's eyes took precedence at this time. He'd been a witness to this historic, yet traumatic overturn, and his loyalty to the sun princess was deep and personal. She quickly moved past that iota of the discussion; she had her explanation anyway. "So, what did her highness wish to ask of thee?"

"Well..." Arcanus began, pausing awkwardly as he fumbled for the right wording to convey the mundanity of the matter. Deep down, he knew there was little point dancing around the subject, so being upfront with it was probably a prudent approach. "... Her highness asked of me to study... love."

Silvermane deadpanned, as though that one key word didn't register at first. Then the gears clicked together in her mind, causing her relaxed lips to curve into a rapidly widening smile. That was all there was to it? The grand task, given unto her eldest colt on behalf of the kingdom itself, was for him to find a... "Fillyfriend?" she declared, though with an obvious air of disbelief. This had to be a joke! "Thou surely jest! Her highness asked of thee to... find thyself a fillyfriend?"

Arcanus looked away, fighting a losing battle with the light blush suddenly burning across his grey cheeks. It only worsened when his mother began to giggle at his slow nod and nervous refusal to make eye contact. He'd been able to ignore the matter until now, but something about discussing it with his mother of all ponies had a way of dismantling his mental barriers of indifference and disinterest. "I-in a manner of speaking, my lady..."

He quickly summarized, in a nervous and shaky voice, the princess's little lecture regarding why he needed to undertake this task, glaring in embarrassed frustration as his mother's laughter grew slightly at his expense. Nonetheless, she calmed enough to provide a sincere reply.

"Well... I do believe that wouldst be a good thing for thee, my dear. There are certainly unhealthier endeavours in life than seeking the company of a mare."

"So... ye agree with her highness," he whispered dejectedly, still unsure himself of the idea's worth. Then again, what would he have done if his mother had agreed with his assessment anyway? Tell the princess 'no'?

"Most certainly. Thy brother, Prism, entertains his companions frequently..."

Arcanus looked her in the eye, overcome by momentary annoyance as his recent 'discovery' returned in all its unwelcome glory. "'Tis not the same, mother. He doth care little for them, really," he admonished spitefully, failing to remember in time the fact that his mother didn't like to take sides when he badmouthed his brothers.

Silvermane sighed weakly yet briefly, but it was enough for Arcanus to drive a proverbial hoof into his mouth up to the hock. Still, she didn't seem to dwell on it as she continued her point. "I would imagine her highness wants for thee to enjoy the pleasures of life, and to learn the joys of companionship without the distraction of academia. Am I right?" The ensuing silence all but answered for her. "I never had such a bond with thy father, but thou shouldst not inflict that loneliness to thyself. 'Twould break this old mare's heart, my dear."

Arcanus found himself in a rather awkward position with that. His refusal to go along with this whole thing apparently threatened to hurt his mother, and that wasn't going to happen. Still, he grasped at another aspect of the conversation to avoid having to admit that directly: "The... the princess did also mention her own personal curiosity regarding the subject..."

Silvermane nodded slowly and precisely, a simple yet powerful symbol of her own considerable wisdom. "Her highness, as thou didst say, cannot experience the... magic of love as we, as thou, shalt. Yet she remains faithful in it, as though she considers it a gift meant for mortality to enjoy. A gift she, like myself, would not want to see left to waste." She paused and gave a refined, yet somehow meaningful chuckle as she fixed her insightful eyes upon those of her son. "Make of this whatever thou wishest, Arcanus, but your old mother thinks she can see what her highness intends for thee."

"B-but how can I possibly... entertain a mare, madam?" he asked, desperately clinging to any straw that might let him avoid directly acknowledging his mother's impending victory in their 'debate.' Still, his question was a sound one. He would need to carefully meld charm, looks, humour, wit, intelligence, confidence... a whole host of things, and then deliver them tactfully to woo the affections of a lady.

At least, in his modest knowledge of such things - garnered from books, naturally - that was the case.

His mother whistled and smirked playfully. "Well, thou dost have thy father's looks. Ye all do," she added in reference to the brothers as a whole. "We need only introduce thee more formally to the aristocracy, and many a mare thine age would no doubt line up for thy favour. In fact..." she narrowed her eyes, gauging her eldest colt's discomfort and exploiting it, "I might have even found myself in that line, were I a younger lady. And, y'know, not thy mother."