For the first time since returning from her thousand-year banishment, Princess Luna was beginning to wonder if soundproofing her chambers had been a wise idea. Of course, with all the noise made in Canterlot during the day it would be impossible for the alicorn to get any sleep otherwise. But it was rather alarming waking up for the night shift to discover that the entire city had been overrun with an invading force, and she had slept right through it. No guard was able to activate the alarm she had installed to warn her of such a thing due to the threat materializing seemingly out of nowhere.
Indeed, from what details the Princess of the Stars could gather, only Twilight Sparkle had seen through the Changeling Queen’s disguise. She had overheard some of the guards talking about Princess Cadence’s unusually short and cold attitude, but every one of them had dismissed it as pre-wedding stress. Now, those same guards were kicking themselves for not noticing what was clear in hindsight.
As the reception started up, Celestia took Luna aside and explained the situation to her. She listened intently to the story, never interrupting once. Finally, once she finished wrapping everything up, Luna spoke.
“Dear sister, I thought you put the Elements of Harmony behind a door only you could open. How did you expect Twilight Sparkle and her friends to get them without you?”
“They wouldn’t need to open the door,” the Princess of the Sun explained. “If they just got close enough, the Elements would have activated themselves and traveled to them.”
Luna nodded in understanding. “You know, before I flew down here, I went on my early evening patrol. I passed by the tower where Twilight Sparkle’s suite is located. I overheard them apologizing for not believing her, and she was quick to forgive them.”
Celestia put on a relieved expression. “At least that’s settled. We can still count on them to wield the Elements.”
“Indeed,” her younger sister agreed. “Now I must ask, I do not know Princess Cadence very well. She has been busy outside of Canterlot for most of the time I’ve been free.”
“Yes,” Celestia said slowly, wondering what point her sister was trying to make was.
“I was merely wondering, what about our niece’s behavior got Twilight Sparkle suspicious and not you?”
Celestia bowed her head, looking away from her sister. “I guess...I was distracted,” she sighed. “Luna, could you watch the reception for me? I have to...I’m just tired after today.”
The younger sister blinked. “Of course. I’d imagine you are weary after the day’s events. Take your leave and rest up.”
Celestia needed no second bidding. She flew off towards the castle.
Instantly Luna’s mind began racing. Something was bothering her sister. She contemplated following her, but realized the folly of that plan. As she was now, any attempts to try and talk with her would likely result in her resistance, which would likely mean that the conversation they needed to have would be unlikely to take place until long after it would be effective. She would wait an hour, maybe two, for her sister’s anger to subside, then she would attempt to speak with her. For now, it appeared to be her duty to oversee the Royal Wedding.
Two hours passed, with Vinyl Scratch having gone through half of her playlist. Currently the dance floor was filled with couples slow-dancing, Princess Cadence and Shining Armor right in the center. Seeing that everything was in order, Luna silently slipped away, heading to her sister’s bedchambers. As she neared the giant double doors, a pair of Celestia’s personal guards blocked her way.
“The Princess has requested to remain undisturbed, even from you.”
Luna’s horn glowed, and suddenly the guards found they could make an exception. They pushed the doors opened, allowing the dark alicorn to trot in.
Celestia lay on her bed, her head down and her eyes closed. Upon hearing her sister’s entrance, she looked up. Her usually beautiful eyes were puffy and bloodshot, her cheeks moist with tears.
As the doors closed, the Princess of the Sun spoke first. “How did you get in?”
Luna shook her head. “Please, dear sister, do you really have such little faith in my magic? If the Queen of the Changelings could brainwash the captain of the Royal Guard, surely I can plant a quick suggestion into somepony’s mind.” She walked over to her sister, lying at her side. “Now, tell me, what is troubling you?”
“Do you really have to ask?” the older sister asked sadly. “I let my kingdom down. I let a plot to harm my subjects be brewed right under my nose, and as a result two ponies who I care deeply about were hurt in the process.”
“You blame yourself for the changelings?”
“I blame myself for allowing their queen to fool me for so long,” she sighed, lowering her head back onto her pillow. “She did a poor job mimicking the real Cadence. She was so cold, so distant…nothing like my darling niece.”
“The guards are all talking about the same thing,” Luna tried to assure, “a bride is under much stress and…”
“No!” Celestia snapped. “Cadence is a princess, and unlike Blueblood, she does more than just lounge around the palace all day, drinking in the celebrity lifestyle. I’ve seen her take on any number of stressful duties, and never lose her warmth and kindness. I should have suspected something was wrong. If you would have seen the preparations made directly after we chased the changelings off, you would understand. We had only three hours to get everything ready, and she took it all with grace…as did Twilight.”
“Dear sister, she is a member of the Royal Family,” Luna calmed her. “Not blood-related, of course, none of your so-called nieces and nephews truly are, but it is understandable you would not wish to think ill of them.”
“Luna, the last time I thought that way, it was with you. I noticed your jealousy and assumed it was nothing, that it would pass in due time. It cost me and you for a millennium. One thousand painful years separated from you. Apparently that wasn’t punishment enough, because I made the same foalish mistake, only this time it would have cost me every one of my subjects. And even though we won, Cadence was trapped for days in those horrible caves, and Twilight got her heart broken, all due to my neglect.”
“Dear sister, you must remember that Nightmare Moon is my sin, my burden to bear, you should not concern yourself with it. As for today, Twilight Sparkle acknowledges she acted foalishly as well. She harbors no ill will to the other Bearers, and I’m sure she bears none to you.”
“She should,” Celestia answered weakly. “Honestly, I’ve always referred to Twilight as my most faithful student, but when she needed my faith the most, I didn’t give it to her.”
“You had faith in her that she could free me from the taint of Nightmare Moon and bring me home. You had faith she could face Discord and resist his sadistic games…”
“Yes, I have faith in Twilight to be my loyal little attack dog,” the alicorn answered in a bitter tone. “To put her life on the line for my kingdom and my subjects. To face Discord without the benefits of the Elements to heal her afterward.” She sighed, regretting that those wielding the Elements of Harmony couldn’t share in their touch, the one that made every other pony who felt it to suddenly remember Discord’s cruel actions as nothing more than a nightmare, something they could easily forget. It still burdened Twilight and her friends, a burden they carried without complaint or ill will to their princess, and which nearly had disastrous consequences on the sanity of her beloved student.
“I trust Twilight to do as I say. But I proved today that I have no faith in her intelligence and compassion.”
“Enough of this!” Luna ordered sternly, slipping close to her Royal Canterlot Voice. “I know that to be a fallacy. If you had no faith in her compassion, you would not have sent her after the Elements of Harmony to begin with, and had you no faith in her intelligence, you would not have trusted her to overcome Discord’s tricks. You have plenty faith in her.”
“I didn’t today,” Celestia silently whispered.
“That is merely because she sounded like a foal while making the accusation. You had good reason to believe she was being selfish.”
“Would you have believed her?”
Luna was silenced. She was hoping that question would not be brought up.
“…Perhaps,” the Princess of the Stars admitted. “She was the one who never feared me on Nightmare Night, so willing to approach me and give me a second chance. Several of the ponies did respect her enough to listen. She did not strike me as the type to judge somepony.”
Celestia merely sighed. “Another example of her worth that I had forgot today.”
“I may be biased,” Luna tried to assure. “Twilight Sparkle is the first friend I have made in a thousand years…”
“And that’s because she’s so wonderful,” Celestia said. “You know, I’ve always envied Twilight’s parents. Because no matter how much Twilight might love me, adore me, and strive for my approval, they will always hold the place in her heart that I want.”
“You love her that much?”
“Like a daughter,” she admitted. However, at this her head dropped down again. “But I had forgotten that today, apparently.”
“No mother expects her child to be perfect...”
“Luna, quit trying to justify my actions!” Celestia yelled. Luna stopped. Even angry, Celestia rarely raised her voice. “I’m a princess! I’m supposed to care for my subjects! To keep them safe and free of harm! I was supposed to be on my guard! I noticed the signs. Cadence’s magic was off, I sensed it. I noticed her cold and distant attitude toward everypony except Shining Armor. And honestly, I taught Twilight personally! I should have known she’d know the difference between a brainwashing spell and one to cure headaches! Even as hysterical as she was, I should have at least checked. But no, I tore her heart out and left her alone, then went off planning a wedding and left her once again with the burden of keeping my kingdom safe.”
She sighed once more. “I’m unworthy of my crown, or the love of my subjects.”
Luna shook her head. “Dear sister, you are making the same mistake that many of our subjects make.”
“And what’s that?” Celestia challenged.
“Forgetting that we are not gods,” Luna answered simply. “We are powerful, yes, but not omnipotent. We have our failings, our shortcomings, though ponies tend to forget. A mistake makes you no more unworthy than any other pony.”
“But...all those signs I missed...”
“Seem obvious now,” Luna said simply. “Everything appears obvious after it has happened. You are forgetting that.”
Celestia looked into her sister’s eyes for a moment, her expression unreadable. Then, she looked away with a mournful look. “Everything you say has logic to it...but it does little to soothe me.”
Luna gave a small smile. “The burden that comes with love, I suppose. Perhaps I should summon Twilight Sparkle here. You two could...”
“No!” Celestia said. It wasn’t angry, it was pleading. “Please, I don’t think I could face Twilight right now. I don’t think I have the right.”
Luna looked surprised, but bowed her head with sad resignation. “If that is your decision,” she said, rising to her hooves, “I will do what is best. I’m sorry to leave you like this, dear sister, but the night is my domain to guard. I must return to my duty. Please, try and sleep. I will see you come the morn.”
Celestia nodded, resting her head back on the pillow. She closed her eyes, praying her exhaustion won out over her guilt.
Twilight and her friends laughed at Spike’s antics as Princess Cadence and Shining Armor’s carriage became a mere dot on the horizon. After such a harrowing day, a fairy tale ending seemed quite the appropriate reward for the loving pair.
“Well, now that that’s over,” Twilight began, “I think I’ll head back to my suite.”
“You’re turning in this early?” Rainbow Dash said in disbelief.
“I nearly lost all my friends, got trapped in some forgotten caves, fought off a bunch of changelings, and put together a wedding all in one day. I’m exhausted. I’m surprised you guys are still going.”
“Oh come on, this is a wedding, the ultimate party!” Pinkie exclaimed.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Twilight yawned. “I need some rest.”
“Well, if you’re sure...” Applejack said.
“I’m positive. Nothing is going to stop me from just...”
At that point, something did stop her, namely, Princess Luna flying in and landing directly in her path.
“Twilight Sparkle, I have something I must discuss with you.”
Celestia had managed to drift off into sleep, but it was uneasy, and wrought with nightmares. Terrifying images filled her mind. First, of her sister, once again transformed into the terrifying figure of Nightmare Moon, sneering at her older sibling, telling her that her incompetence had hurt the kingdom once too often, and that she was taking over, no longer wanting the embarrassment of having to share her rule.
Then a cocoon of slime, similar to the one she had been trapped in hours before. It split open, and out emerged Cadence, though she was a twisted parody of her former self, holes in her legs, sharp fangs and insect like wings, a black and twisted horn, and a dirty and matted coat and mane. She looked at her aunt, tears in her eyes, and begged her to give her the reason why she had failed to stop this, why she had let this happen, all while the Changeling Queen stood behind her, laughing that Cadence was now her princess.
Then Discord appeared, giving his malicious smirk. At his side was Twilight, her coat now a darker shade of purple, her eyes wide and wild, and her mouth twisted into an insane grin. The draconequus laughed, thanking her for sending her beloved student through so many horrors, which twisted her mind so effectively. She was his now, his own little Queen of Chaos.
The five figures advanced on her, with angry ridicule, desperate pleading, and insane laughter filling the air as Celestia shrunk down, desperately trying to drown out the sounds of her failures.
The Princess awoke with a start, her nightmare shaking her to her core. She was sure she wasn’t crying only because her tear ducts had long since been run dry.
“Princess?” a voice said in the darkness.
Celestia lifted her head up in surprise. Out of the shadows of her room, Twilight emerged, looking in concern at her princess.
“Twilight? How did you get in here?”
“Princess Luna got me in,” she said calmly, walking over to the centuries old mare.
“What? But, she promised not to tell you...”
Twilight shook her head. “She promised to do what was best,” she reminded. She was now in front of the bed.
“I suppose you’re here to try and convince me that I wasn’t at fault, right?”
Twilight sighed. “I don’t think that’s possible. I can tell my friends still feel guilty about what happened today, no matter how much I tried to calm them down.”
“Then...why have you come in here?”
“To be here for you.”
The answer was so simple, so blunt, that for a moment Celestia wasn’t sure she had heard it. After a moment, she spoke. “Could you stay with me tonight?” she asked softly.
Twilight smiled. “I was expecting you to ask,” she said.
Minutes later, Twilight was curled at Celestia’s side. It reminded them both of when Twilight was a filly, after completing some particularly exhausting magic exercises, she would fall asleep at her side, clutching her Smarty Pants doll. She became a soothing presence while the Princess went over paperwork and did any number of small, boring things to keep the kingdom running. It was a nostalgic feeling, one both of them were grateful to feel again.
“I’m sorry, Twilight,” the alicorn whispered softly. “I promise, I won’t doubt you again.”
“Please don’t feel guilty,” Twilight pleaded, “I already told my friends, I understand why you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I still should have been more understanding,” Celestia sighed. “But I suppose it’s as Luna said, it seems obvious now. I’ve accepted that what has happened cannot be changed, I had to when I was forced to banish Nightmare Moon.” She lowered her head back onto her pillow, though it was less out of depression. “Let’s not worry about right now. Just get some sleep.”
The unicorn obeyed, setting her head on her own pillow and closing her eyes.
“You know,” Twilight said softly, not even opening her eyes, “the night before I came to live in the castle, my parents joked that they were worried you’d like me so much, you’d snatch me up and keep me all to yourself.” She smiled. “Guess they were right to be worried.”
Celestia did something she could not remember doing in centuries: she blushed. But she smiled just the same.
“I love you very much, my most faithful student.” And that was the last thing either of them said before they drifted off to sleep.