68w, 1dCelestia & Luna
59w, 23hThe Sci-Fi Ponies
16w, 1dWriting Gold
55w, 5dDoubled Fun
61w, 1dEquestrian Historical Society
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45w, 6dEquestria's Past
55w, 4dProtect Celestia
53w, 4dPlan to Read
9w, 5dTwilight's Library
32w, 5dfimfiction's favorites
9w, 6dCelestia Is The Best Pony
38w, 19hAlternate Perspectives
16w, 6dStarlight's Fantasy
31w, 3dSt. Xavier Bronies
11w, 3dVallett's Private Library
Earth ponies survived through unity. Unicorns through their hard work. But Pegasi? They lived by their wings.
Silence fell between Celestia and Rebel Bolt as she searched his eyes, her chest still heaving from the tirade against the pegasi before he made his offer. The cool wind of the mountain ridge ruffled Rebel’s short mane of patched brown and white. The change in his words and in his actions gave something for her to think about and she let the thoughts settle in fertile soil to grow.
Hooves scuffed over gravel as Luna darted close to Rebel at a canter. “Understand? Understand what?”
Astonished, Celestia’s brows shot up of their own accord. The midnight blue mare’s usual distant manner vanished. Her gait gaily bobbed up and down, her voice lost its reserved manner, and she watched Rebel eager and interested, right at his side.
Rebel Bolt shrugged and took to his wings. “You two have been running all over, making all sorts of noise, acting weird in front of everyone.” Whatever had been there a moment ago, the feelings stirred by naming Luna a friend, faded from him and Rebel spoke with an attitude Celestia had grown irritatingly familiar with among the pegasi: lazy disdain. “Any yearling could tell that you don’t know what’s going on.”
He made his way to the mouth of the cave, casually hovering above the ground. Astutely, Celestia noted that Rebel Bolt placed himself several long strides ahead of her, distancing himself as they travelled.
A gesture entirely missed by Luna. She stuck to his side like a feather on his wing, trotting below him and looking up without losing a shade of her sudden earnestness. “So you will take us to somepony who will help us see what we’re doing wrong?”
“That’s what I said.”
Celestia kept a slow pace, forcing one of Rebel as well and not allowing him to escape the inquisitive little sister. Having just climbed the mountain a second time in as many days, she felt no obligation to hasten her tired legs for any pegasus’ sake. Instead, she listened with half an ear, still sulking at the results of her bravery in rescuing the foal, and found her mind wandering.
Luna paused at Rebel’s last answer before adding sweetly, “Maybe you could help us understand, too?”
“Look.” Rebel lifted a hoof and rubbed the back of his mane, a note of apprehension in his voice. “I’ve got things to do. Aren’t I helping by taking you to her?”
“Oh, okay.” Luna briefly considered his answer. “But … you’re not doing anything right now.” She gave him a hopeful smile with innocence unfeigned. “Maybe you could help until we see this pony?”
The pegasus exhaled, more relaxing than exasperated. “Alright.”
Thinking back, Celestia found herself unsure if she heard Luna call Rebel Bolt a friend, or if that idea had been planted by the Shaman. Either way, stumbling on that revelation changed Rebel, and Celestia finally obtained what she wanted since arriving at the pegasi: a simple act of kind help.
Twice now, she had success where there had been none. The right truth at the right time opened a way, and done so elegantly, when straightforward and simple routes failed. The pegasi at least taught her this, even if only indirectly. Though they used tricks, lies, to get what they wanted, Celestia found equal power in careful honesty. Which suited her. Abandoning the unicorn’s the elements of harmony —the five ideals of their society— felt wrong when all the while she wished the pegasi acted in accord with those guiding principles; to be more compassionate, honest, loyal, generous, and share cheer. Purposeful truth influenced the colts and fillies into sharing their knowledge on flying. The right and honest word to Rebel finally opened the curtain to the pegasi.
It worked in reverse as well. The wrong truth at the wrong time caused the unicorns to doubt and imprison her and her sister. Whip Scar warned Celestia not to share the story of their birth with the unicorns the day he sent them to live there and learn magic. “One day, you will understand,” he said at the time. Today, she believed she did.
“How does this cave work?” Luna continued now that she had permission, diving straight into the questions she undoubtedly collected in her solitary exploration.
Rebel narrowed his eyes. “It sits there. With an open mouth. Like a cave.”
“Sorry, I meant more like …” Together, the pair entered the mist that concealed the entrance to the pegasi’s lair. Little whorls formed in the wake of Rebel’s wings as the vapor folded to envelop the ponies. Celestia followed behind and felt the moisture cling to her as she continued to drag her hooves. The potential of the large cloud resting above the mist left a tactile sensation along her feathers and skin. Though it appeared docile when she passed through before, now she felt its sleeping menace, heavy with rain and violent thunder. It left her unsettled just enough to hurry the last few steps out from under its shadow.
Luna resumed her thought on the other side. “How did the pegasus ponies make this cave their home? I see that they’ve changed a lot to make it theirs.” A tilt of her head indicated behind her. “Like that cloud.”
“I dunno.” Rebel shrugged. He drifted slowly through the air on slow strokes of his feathers, leading them down the forks of the cave, ever deeper into the heart of the mountain. “I just flew here. I don’t think about what came before.”
“How many do what you did? Flew here from some other place.”
The colt laughed. “Everypony, of course. Pegasi fly here all the time, and they fly away all the time, too.”
Luna’s eyes shot open in surprise. “What? Every pony? Why? Why not stay?”
The custom struck Celestia just as strange as it did her sister, except that at this point, she expected the pegasi to be backwards. Earth ponies and unicorns rarely left herds. Stallions often did, that much was true, but only once to find a new herd and settle with a mate.
Rebel shrugged again. “They feel like it, I guess.”
“But why would they leave?”
“Because they can. Why else?”
Luna’s blue gaze fell to the ground in thought as she chewed over this new idea, working it over like fresh, but odd, grass. “Where do they all go? Are there other caves?”
“I’ve never heard of any other caves.” Rebel shook his head. “Best I know, this is the only one. I’ve been to the cloud banks before. Some others go to the ground-trotting ponies. Ground-trotters are supposed to make great places to sleep or eat a few nights, as long as you act right.”
“Cloud banks? Ground-trotters?”
A frustrated grunt left his lips and his hindquarters sagged in the air. He shoved his hooves against his temples. “Why are you so full of questions?”
Celestia burst into a chuckle, feeling a slight bit of petty satisfaction at watching the exchange. Luna’s hopping trot faltered and continued with a smooth walk, lowering her head in shame. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to annoy you.”
“It’s fine.” He released another sigh, gazing unfocused away. “I guess I said I’d help you understand. You just … really know so little.”
Luna’s head rose, a hopeful smile again on her lips. A touch hesitation remained in her voice. “You’re willing to answer more?”
“We’re almost there. Why not?”
“So." She licked her lips. “What is a cloud bank like? Pegasi that don’t live in this cave live there?”
“Yes, some.” Rebel Bolt perked up his hindquarters and flew level. “The cloud banks are big groups of clouds. Like, mountains and fields in the sky. It’s easy to hide or play there. They aren’t like the cave at all, big groups don’t stay in the sky. It’s too easy to find other clouds when some dumb pegasus tries to tell you what to do. But in this cave, there is like a million pegasi.”
“Why so many? What makes it different?”
“It’s the only cave? So, if you want to stay, you have to share. I guess sometimes we want to find other pegasus ponies instead of run away.”
A strange silence fell over Luna, broken by Rebel. “We’re here, and I think we made it in time.”
New light, bright and sky-blue, washed over the two lead ponies as they turned another corner in the deep branching paths within the mountain. Luna’s eyes dazzled as she peered at what lay beyond and her mouth shaped itself with silent awe. After the midnight-colored tail disappeared around the bend, Celestia stepped in to see herself.
A broad rainbow stretched itself across the upperparts of a chamber from cloud to cloud like the proud arch of a giant mare’s tail. The light emanating from it, borrowed from Sun, denied the darkness foothold and lit the entire room as clear as day.
The chamber opened up before Celestia like an Ursa Major’s belly, larger than any other room she had ever seen. The ceiling expanded in the shape of a dome, high enough for a sparrow to fly and live without ever longing for open air—a stone sky in miniature. The dome and the walls were in odd contrast to the rest of the cave. Instead of nooks and crannies shaped by nature, this place was smoothed of any feature save one: a massive stone circle raised at the center, placing what it held a step higher than all else. Twenty or so pegasi gathered there, and still more were arriving.
Rebel descended to touch his hooves on the pedestal and walked the last distance. Luna hopped over the step in time with him, remaining firmly attached to his side. Curiosity stoked by the promise of the pegasus who would help, Celestia picked up her pace to a quick trot and joined Rebel.
“Momma!” The colt approached an elder mare with a grayed mane and palomino coat, giving her a curiously restrained nod of greeting as he did so.
Both sisters’ ears perked in unison and Celestia opened her mouth to speak, but before she did, the old mare seemed to search her memory.
“Ahh … Rebel?” The mare gave the young pony a kind smile. “Rebel Bolt, yes, that was it. Good to see you again, young one, though it is unexpected. I had thought you meant to leave?”
“I mean to do lots of things,” he said dismissively, wearing a wide grin.
Celestia puzzled at this mare and Rebel Bolt, finding it more than strange that a mother should forget her foal’s name. As the mystery lay before her, two more pegasi landed and gave the palomino mare nods. “Momma,” They said in passing. Celestia blinked her eyes. Momma is her name?
“Ahh, the fickle youth.” She opened a wing. “Then, give me a hug to celebrate your staying.”
Rebel propelled himself into her without hesitation. Momma bore the brunt of all that weight and energy and enfolded the colt in her wing. Despite her age, her movements were deceptively spry.
“I’ve brought some ponies to see you.” Rebel disentangled himself from the mare and stepped to the side. A gesture of his wing opened the way for the sisters.
Celestia stepped forward, and found an uncertain hope. “I am sorry if I am wrong, but are you like a chief among the pegasi?”
“A chief?” Momma burst into a long laugh. With a feather, she wiped away a tear from beneath her eye. “Ahh, no. Nothing of the sort. I am a collector of stories, nothing more.”
“Oh,” Celestia muttered, feeling slight disappointment, then arched an eyebrow. “I was told that you’d help us understand the ways of the pegasi.”
Momma held her in a shrewd glance, eyes taking a full measure of the young mare that stood before her. “You must be Pink Plummet.”
All around her, pegasi burst into quiet snickers. Except one, somewhere, whose laughter bellowed.
Celestia lowered her chin, speaking through gritted teeth. “My name is Celestia.”
“Ahh …” Momma did not share that same sort of amusement the others had, her voice warm and inviting. “Named after the stars? How interesting. You were not given that name lightly.”
“Yes.” She exhaled and let the anger leave her with the breath. “How do you intend on helping us?”
“‘Us'?” The pegasus looked past Celestia and her gaze fell on the blue pony behind her. “Oh, you have a shadow.” She showed a smile. “What is your name, young shadow?”
“Luna.” The demeanor Celestia was accustomed to—that of the quiet, slight-bit shy sister with intelligent eyes—returned. Though, she sensed Luna was already opening up to Momma’s inviting tones.
“The moon? Sister of the stars! Which must mean you are sister to this star, Celestia.”
“That’s right, I am.” She nodded.
Momma turned back to the elder sibling. “I’m afraid I cannot offer much, but what I can offer might be enough.” She lowered her head and spread her wings in a gesture of humility. “I am but a story collector, they are my feathers and my flight. So, what I have to trade with you is this: a story. One that will help you understand what it is to be a pegasus.”
Celestia frowned. A core of unease collected in her stomach as she listened. Much about this situation was still incomprehensible. “Simply that, a story? Nothing else?”
“A story for a story,” Momma added. “You are not from the pegasi, that much is as clear as the horn on your head, so your stories will not be either. It is my hope to collect a new one from you.”
“Could I not simply ask you questions?”
“Not at length, I am afraid.” With a sweep of a wing, she gestured to the crowd arranged around her and settling in place. “About this time, I grow hungry, and I must trade with them as well. They have come to be entertained with my tales of adventure, laughter, or love. In exchange, they bring me food.” She smiled. “It is a good bargain, as my wings are old and do not carry me down the mountain and back as they once had. Yet, they will not sit idle for long if I indulge you in questions. They will, however, sit for a story.”
The elder sister’s frown deepened. The reasoning had the scent of another pegasus’ trick, though more sound and convincing than the others she encountered. Yet, this mare was older, and her experience probably made her far more capable at an elaborate ruse. So, Celestia asked the question that seemed the root to it all. “Why would Rebel Bolt take me to you, specifically?”
“Ahh.” A twinkle of mischief appeared in her eye. “That is my question too, though in reverse. What made Rebel Bolt willing to take you, and for that matter, stay? Unfortunately, I will not uncover that tale today because I doubt you could tell me. However, I can tell you yours. I do not make it my game to fool others, like most pegasi. I am of an age where I have grown tired of the traps and tricks, so I’ve adopted a different way. All ponies know that they may trust me without worry. Oh sure, some try to take advantage of this, but they forget that I’ve seen every deception and can’t be fooled.” A wink added flourish to her words.
Before Celestia could answer, Luna stepped next to her. “Is that why they call you ‘Momma'?”
The old mare inclined her head to the young pony in approval. “That is indeed much of it. There is only one other pony that most pegasi can think of who treats with them this way. It is certainly a reason the nickname stuck.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Celestia regarded Rebel Bolt. He had found a place among the crowd and settled to his haunches, watching Momma and the sisters speak from among the pegasi. If nothing else, she trusted Rebel’s honesty. He really took the pair to this pegasus to help them understand, and for that reason, Celestia nodded to Momma. “Okay. A story for a story.”
Momma’s mouth curved with satisfaction and she nodded to the center of the stone circle even as she stepped away. “Please, step forward and share it with all. When you are through, we shall hear mine.”
A knot of tension formed in the pit of her belly and Celestia swallowed a growing lump in her throat. She took her place, standing tall, even as her knees felt weak. All around her, wide and eager eyes from two-score pegasi focused on her at once, waiting to hear what fascinating tale she would bring. The position reminded Celestia of her appeal to the elders of the unicorns the day she made her escape, but only briefly. She had not been truly nervous then. Desperate, but not nervous. Here, put on the spot in front of ponies whose approval she very much desired, nerves struck with unexpected intensity.
Thinking of home, she steeled herself with being raised an Earth pony, of spending countless nights enthralled with a tale of history or legend, of being Lightning Kick’s daughter, the best storyteller she ever knew. Celestia cleared her throat, calling to mind the way her mother use to recount the old tales and prepared one in her mind.
The life of Virtue Blaze was a history very dear to Celestia’s heart, one she constantly asked to be retold over and over as she grew up. Adventure and danger started early for the young pony, and Virtue responded with a life of heroism and character, performing many great deeds as a filly, a young mare, and later a chief of the herd.
One such chapter in Virtue’s early life involved a dire situation where a vicious storm separated her and a number of young ponies from the herd. Once they realized they were without their parents, panic began to set in, threatening to overtake them and leave the fillies and colts at the whim of the wild. Virtue was not so helpless. She rallied the ponies together, uniting them to survive until they could be found. The tale culminated in Virtue breaking from the lost fillies to lead a bugbear astray; a desperate dash through the Everfree forest as she tried to signal the searching herd before being caught.
At first, Celestia’s delivery held their attention rapt. Hushed silence fell over the pegasi, and the air grew taut as if she wove a spell with her words describing the fury of the storm, the desperation of Virtue trying to survive the onslaught of water, lightning strikes, and deafening thunder. But as she went on, the spell over the pegasi unraveled. Eyes that had been wide as they hung on every word began to blink and hold unspoken questions. Little colts or fillies who laid at the front with their chins propped on their hooves, smiling with giddy anticipation, sat up and tilted their heads. The air relaxed, and though the silence never broke, Celestia knew she lost the enchantment she meant to keep—despite her best efforts at drama—as the tale came to an end.
The audience held their peace for a few heartbeats, the story sinking in, until a filly announced, “It must be terrible to be an Earth pony!”
“What.” Celestia held her in a sharp gaze, tone flat and unamused. A few chuckles echoed in the still chamber.
A colt next to the filly, oblivious to Celestia’s glare, added, “Yeah, it sounds awful. Had a bugbear been chasing me, I’d just fly away.”
“Or a whole gang of bugbears!” The filly said.
He laughed. “Or if I got lost, I could just fly to a cloud.”
A smattering of amused agreement or other quiet chatter followed as Celestia pressed a hoof to her forehead and rubbed hard, muttering darkly. She lifted the hoof and spoke over the crowd. “Don’t you fear any predator?”
“Griffins!” Someone shouted, then added as if she were an idiot. “Of course!”
Luna’s hooves clacked on the stone circle as she joined her sister, ears set high and curious. “Nothing else?”
“Nothing else can catch me!” The filly announced with a puffed chest, and many of the adult pegasi subtly nodded their agreement.
“Couldn’t an eagle catch you?”
Momma cleared her throat. “Eagles avoid places with pegasus ponies. They learn quickly that if there are foals about, a mother would as soon buck one from the clouds as look at it.”
“Manticore?” Luna turned her head to Momma with a raised brow.
“Quite sluggish in the air, next to us. They need not be feared.”
“Mmm …” Luna knitted her brow. “Dragon?”
That gave the old mare pause. She weighed the idea carefully. “Perhaps the greater dragons could match us in flight, but dragons care not but for diamonds and gems.” She shrugged, wings open. “Pegasus ponies are hardly known for such things. It is easy enough to stay out of a dragon’s path.” Momma rose and walked to the center, shifting the focus to her as effortlessly as a leaf takes to a breeze. “A wonderful story, Celestia. I do so adore the charm which Earth ponies weave their legends.”
Sensing the cue that her part was over, Celestia made room for the old mare, drifting off to the side.
“It has been a long time since I’ve seen one told in their manner.” Momma continued. “I am very pleased to add yours to my collection. Now to repay you, one for one, I think? A story to help you understand, and entertain my friends.” She eyed the crowd with a shrewd and playful glance. “How does the tale of Quick Wit sound?”
A colt gasped. Several of the younger ponies at the front leapt into the air with cheers, wings aflutter, making their bounces appear weightless.
“Then settle, my dears.” Momma made a motion for them to calm and spoke in what sounded to be a preamble often repeated. “Settle, settle, and be still as we listen to the adventures of Quick Wit …”
Celestia turned the soil in her mind over on what she just experienced, on how the pegasi reacted to her tale and all the little trades of conversation that followed. At the same time, she gave Momma her attention, listening to the legend unfold. While the elements of storytelling were the same, Celestia noticed a style distinct to the old mare. Little tilts of her head or mischievous smiles, sentences that ended in a subtle wink and a low whisper, the mare shared stories like she was letting her listeners in on a joke and that they would all laugh together.
Naturally, Celestia thought while trying as hard as she could to keep the eye-roll to herself. Not even their history can be taken seriously.
She spared a glance at Luna. Her little sister fixed Momma with an intent, studying gaze, ears poised to hear every word. If this story contained clues to understanding the pegasus ponies, Luna appeared absolutely determined to puzzle them out.
Many years ago, no pegasus roamed the sky and the unicorns were still a young breed. Earth ponies, being the oldest of all ponies, were all most knew. With no wings to fly or escape, they walked the ground, living under the trees or in the fields. This did not mean they couldn’t play or travel. Quick Wit was one of these Earth ponies, venturing far and wide across the Everfree Forest, seeing and speaking to all the legends that lived during the old times, dodging those who wished to eat him with his cleverness.
One day, while he travelled with others of his own kind, a griffin named Grenjar swooped down and scattered them into the forest. Quick Wit had been in a valley when this happened and Grenjar cut off his only escape, meaning to devour him in sickly lumps. Now, Quick was scared at first. He had nowhere to run and the griffin caught him by surprise. But Quick Wit was named fairly. He smiled and he laughed and he walked up to the griffin, giving him a friendly hello.
Grenjar was stunned by this. “Aren’t you afraid?” he said with an ugly voice. “Do you not realize that I mean to eat you?”
“Of course you do.” Quick said to him. “But you can’t.”
“Why not?” Grenjar laughed an ugly laugh. “You are trapped and cannot run from me. You have no claws or beaks to fight me. Why can’t I eat you?”
“Because,” Quick said to him. “Nothing can eat me. All have tried. I’ve been blessed and that blessing protects me from harm. I do not have to be afraid of griffins, so I greet them with a hello.” Quick Wit trotted gaily to the griffin as if he meant to pass by. “Why, do you not believe me? Take me to Moon and I will prove as clear as day that I have no reason to be afraid of you.”
Now, Grenjar found this very hard to believe. But when he looked at Quick and saw he was not scared even though he was trapped, Grenjar began to doubt. What if he was wrong? What if the Moon became angry? There seemed to be an easy answer. “I will take you to her.” Grenjar said. “If you speak the truth, she will make it clear. If you are speaking lies, then I will eat you in pieces.”
To that, Quick Wit bowed his head respectfully to the griffin, grinning all the while. “Soon you will see, griffin, that I do not lie.” So he was picked up, and Grenjar carried him on high into the air.
As they travelled, Quick Wit pointed to the sky. “You must take me to Sun first.”
Grenjar became frustrated. “No, I will take you to the Moon alone.”
Quick feigned shock and made a loud gasp. “You want to visit Moon without visiting Sun first! Why, that would be a great insult, you see, Sun can get quite jealous. I would not want to be you if Sun were angry at me!”
Grenjar could not see the harm so he relented and visited Sun first.
They met her beyond the sky, at the place where Sun sits on her burning orb. Sun thought the pair most curious and beckoned them forward for audience. “Who comes to see me?” she said to them when they approached.
“It is I, Quick Wit,” he said back. “I’ve come to tell you that Moon has blessed me with protection from harm. She means to use me to spread word of her glory and turn all to gaze away from you.”
Sun found this hard to believe. Yet, when she looked down from her throne on the sun, she saw that Quick had a griffin that held him and did not slay him, and she began to doubt. “I will not let Moon use you to steal what belongs to me!” She said in a fit of jealousy. “Instead you will bring me glory.” With a little touch of Sun’s great magic, wings sprung forth from Quick Wit’s sides. “With these wings, you will have speed unmatched, your colors will streak across the sky, and all who see you will turn their gaze to me.”
Quick bowed his head in respect to Sun, grinning all the while. “Ponies will speak of your actions this day for generations to come.” And the two left. As they flew to visit Moon, Quick spoke to Grenjar. “See, do I not speak truth? Sun is very vain and it was wise to see her first.”
Grenjar had to agree. “But we must still see Moon. What you tell me is very strange and I must hear her piece.”
“Certainly!” Quick Wit said to him. “Your arms must be tired from my weight and your wings too. With this gift from Sun, I can fly myself and we will see Moon together.”
Grenjar’s arms were indeed tired, and his wings, too. Since Quick was right about Sun, the griffin let go so that Quick could fly and they approached Moon, sitting high above the world on her glowing orb.
Now, Moon had never seen such a thing before, a pony with wings and a griffin for a companion. “Come forth,” she said. “You may have my ear.”
“Fair Moon,” Quick Wit said to her. “As you can see, Sun saw fit to grant me a gift, these marvelous wings. Yet, Sun acted in haste and did not think this gift through. I have wings, yes, but what will I do with them? My home is on the ground, not in the sky as a bird. As her peer, I’ve come to appeal to you, for you are as wise as beautiful.”
Moon found this hard to believe as she sat tall on her throne, the moon. Yet, she could see that Sun’s magic was indeed at work on his wings, so she began to doubt. “Sun is a fool,” Moon said in anger. “She acts without thought and blinds those whose admiration she desires. Take my blessing.” she said as she worked her magic. “The clouds will become your playthings, rainbows and lightning will be your tools. With these, your wings have use. Sun meant you to be a sign of her glory, instead you will remind the Earth of her folly.”
Quick Wit bowed his head in respect to Moon, grinning all the while. “Ponies will speak of your actions for generations.” He turned and left Moon’s presence on her pale mountain.
The griffin became confused and confronted Quick Wit. “Stop, pony!” Grenjar was very angry. “You said that you had been blessed, that you were protected from harm! That I could not eat you! You said that if I take you to Moon, that I would see! I do not see! I think you are a liar!”
Quick Wit took great offense. “I’ve spoken nothing but the truth! I told you I was blessed, and I am. I am blessed with cleverness, and that protects me from harm. I told you I greet griffins with a friendly hello, and I did! You, just then. I told you that if you took me to Moon, you’d see that can’t eat me. Now look!” Quick Wit then used his wings to soar away. “You can’t!”
Grenjar tried to give chase, but it was hopeless. Quick’s new wings were far too fast. He swore he’d have revenge his on Quick, somehow, someway, for being made a fool. Yet, the silly griffin, how could he make revenge against lunch? From that day on, Quick went wherever he wanted to go, did whatever he wanted to do, and escaped all who wanted to stop him, by wing or by wit. He was the first pegasus.
The listeners grinned, and some of the younger ponies bounced all over again with glee as the tale ended happily. The pegasi reacted to the tale exactly as intended, laughing together at the comedy, racked with suspense as the danger grew, or with smiles as Quick Wit’s plan became clearer and clearer. The youngest were easily the most animated, showing fear for their hero, laughing the loudest at his tricks, or gasping and cheering at the turns of the story. While the adults appeared more reminiscent, the tale one they heard before yet still enjoyed.
Celestia scanned the group, then lowered her head with a sigh, approaching Momma. “Thank you for the story, but this is all things I already knew. So the pegasi enjoy playing tricks on each other, I’ve seen plenty of that myself.”
“Ahh, so you have.” Momma dipped her head in resignation, closing her eyes in a long blink before she regarded Celestia with a shrewd glance. “You know these things, yet you still do not understand the pegasi. Perhaps you need to ask yourself the right question.”
“The right question?” Luna followed Celestia and sat down next to her big sister, tilting her head curiously at Momma. “What is the right question?”
“You say you know the what of pegasus ponies, my dear, but can you answer the why? In my experience, why follows what.”
Luna pursed her lips. “Does your story explain why as well as what?”
Momma smiled to the midnight pony. “Stories always hold many, many more messages than their surface suggests. Why or what is merely the beginning. It is one of the reasons why I do so love a good tale.” She frowned. “But perhaps it is too much to ask of you to understand a breed with just one. See me tomorrow, and I’ll offer the same trade, if you feel I’ve been fair.”
Celestia sighed again and sat on her haunches, gaze drifting while seeing nothing. Luna lifted a hoof to her chin and tapped, eyes darting left and right in rapid succession as she sorted through a myriad of information in her mind.
“You’ve been the most helpful pegasus I’ve met, Momma.” Celestia offered her a smile that was nonetheless forlorn. “I do thank you, and Rebel for bringing me here, wherever he’s gone off to.”
“It was a pleasure. I do look forward to collecting all of your stories.” She took the measure of Celestia once more, from head to hoof, a smirk at the corner of her lips. “You have a look about you that tells me you have many.”
“Was it the pink mane, the horn, or wings that told you?” Celestia said, wearing a wry smile.
From the crowd that gathered around Momma, a pegesus nosed a large bowl across the ground. “Mm,” the old mare said. “That would be my food in exchange for telling my story.”
The bowl nearly overflowed with delicious food, a mismatched collection of fresh or dried grass, edible leaves, cabbage, dates, carrots, and more. Celestia nearly whined pathetically at the sight as a pang of hunger went through her, the scent of fresh fruit sending her mouth to water like a spring. Luna fixed the collection with a desirous, hungry glance before ultimately ignoring it to quest through her mind once more.
The bowl scratched across the floor with a loud, tinny noise, and Celestia felt a sudden inkling of curiosity. She approached the bowl of food and tilted it back with a hoof. It was shaped like the top and back of a hollowed out skull, crafted out of metal—which explained the noise as it ground on stone. Unicorns were the only creature she knew of capable of crafting this mineral with such purity, though, never in such large quantities. Metal often sat far beneath the surface, difficult to extract and not of great use for their way of life.
An agitated scratch of a hoof caught Celestia’s attention and she looked up to see a stallion with wings flared fixed her in his gaze, scratching the stone again in warning. Celestia blew air through her lips, unconcerned. “I’m not going to steal the food right out in front of everyone, you dolt.” She felt some of her past frustration bubbling up and venting out before she could give it thought. “What do you think I’d do? Grab a mouthful and run, as if I could escape dozens of pegasi all at once? How stupid do you think I am?”
“That’s it!” Luna shouted in eureka. The burst sent her rearing back as she leapt up, wings spread broad and fluttering, forehooves kicking out in the air before she landed again to hop and bounce. “That’s it! That’s it!”
Every head turned to the prancing pony, from Celestia, to the stallion, to Momma, as her words echoed in the chamber.
“What’s ‘it'?” Celestia turned away from the bowl and slowly approached her hysterical sister.
She stopped and held Celestia with eyes wide from elation. “The pegasi,” she began, her words running together, sentences stuttering and coming out half formed as her mouth tried giving voice to all her ideas at once. “The flying and th—travel—Earth ponies—by wit or by wing, gr—griffins—pranks.”
“Luna,” Celestia held her sister’s shoulders with her forelimbs. “Luna! Slow down. What are you talking about?”
Luna swallowed deeply, gazing off to the side as some of the frantic wildness became restrained again by Luna’s cool intelligence. “I think I understand why we don’t fit in.”
Celestia let her go and stepped back. “I’m willing to hear.”
Puzzling over her thoughts, they began spilling forth rapidly, but with coherence. “There is just so much mystery here with the cave and the pegasus ponies and flying, that my mind has been everywhere, but I’ve been trying to put it all together, everything I’ve heard or seen or asked, exploring and watching and listening, even when I’d flew around myself, like I did from the unicorns. I could see what pegasus do pretty well but I didn’t know why or thought about why only it all comes together when I do.”
“Luna.” Celestia lifted a hoof to stall her sister. “Luna slow down. I’m still not following.”
The midnight blue pony glanced back and forth to all those staring, huffing with frustration. “Can I ask a few questions?”
Momma inclined her head. “Go ahead, let those who wish to answer.”
She chewed her lower lip before speaking. “If you are being chased by a hungry bugbear, what do you do?”
“Fly away!” the fillies and colts announced in a chaotic cacophony.
“If it was a tiger?”
“Fly away!” they shouted in unison this time, finding a rhythm to give the refrain.
Changing to a new line of questions, Luna stuttered an instant. “What if an Earth pony became angry at you, what would you do then?”
Again, the young pegasus ponies shouted together as if it was a game. “Fly away!”
A sharp grin appeared on Luna. “What if it was another pegasus?”
“Fly …” Silence followed as the fillies and colts realized the problem with their answer. A few laughed and playfully punched the shoulder of a pony who started to answer without realizing it.
“Or a griffin?”
Again, silence. One of the colts, a small one with a meek voice, lifted his head to answer. “Trick them?”
Luna turned her gaze to Celestia, saying nothing.
Realization washed over Celestia like a flood, thoughts and connections previously unmade coming over her in a torrent.
Her little sister grinned and put to words to Celestia’s thoughts. “When we’re in danger, we run, or do whatever we can to hide. But what if we could run faster than anything? What would we do, who would we be afraid of? Pegasus ponies are faster. They’re able to escape from anyone or anything. Except for griffins.” Luna grinned wider. “And each other. Another pegasus is as much an enemy to what they want to do as they are a friend.”
Celestia looked out over the crowd of pegasi, and finished Luna’s thought. “But there is still a way to escape a griffin or pegasus that is faster than you are. You can outsmart them. Trick them.”
Luna nearly laughed out loud as she continued to speak, the exchange rapidly spilling forth between them. “By wing or by wit! So, they wouldn’t be devoted to a herd like we’re used to with Earth ponies and unicorns, they don’t need to be or want to be! They’d just as likely to be against each other as soon as one becomes a bother or a bully! Which is why they have no chief! Who would listen to her commands?”
“Argh!” Celestia shouted, turning a nervous circle while slapping a hoof to her forehead. “And I’ve been spending all this time trying to ask them help like they were an Earth pony! Not a little help, but a lot when I asked to be taught flying! I’d seem both annoying, imposing, and stupid as well! I’ve been chasing away anyone who’d be willing at all to talk as soon as I ask!”
“What they respect is completely different. Cleverness and capability!”
Imagination treated Celestia to a brilliant image of her dive off the cliff to rescue the young colt. She did not see herself as before, a mare filled with brave self-sacrifice to risk herself with a perilous jump. No, she saw Pink Plummet, a ditzy, wall-eyed unicorn with a lolling tongue, shouting, “I’ll save you!” as she tripped over her own feet to tumble off the bluff, too dumb to realize she couldn’t fly.
A groan ripped itself from Celestia and she turned another circle, slapping her forehead even harder. “It was never about if I saved the colt or not, it’s about how I threw myself into danger I obviously couldn’t handle and survived by sheer luck!"
A clapping of hooves interrupted them, and both sisters turned to see Momma applauding with a smile on her face. “Very good! Very good indeed! It sounds like you’ve arrived at your understanding. I must admit that I am a little disappointed, you’ve done this much sooner than I expected. I was hoping to trade another story yet.”
Celestia narrowed her eyes, glancing sidelong at the old mare. “Is that what stopped you from simply explaining this to us? You wanted our stories?”
“Ah,” she laughed. “No, child, it is not the only reason. What I told you before was the truth. I am but a simple storyteller. I did not know you at a glance, and I could not say what would help you understand. Stories teach far better than I can, they would fill in for you the knowledge you lacked.” She leaned in, speaking softly, gaze sharp and hard. “Another reason, as well, Celestia. The rumors that follow the unicorn with the pink mane to not paint her in a flattering light. Had you been unable to learn from what I shared, I would have suggested that this cave is not the place for you.” Her voice softened. “But you and your sister are far brighter than the rumors suggest. I think you may make it among the pegasi, yet.” Having the bowl of food at her feet, Momma bent low and took a great bite of the contents.
Her stomach let loose a loud, embarrassing growl. She glanced away, only to find Luna staring at the carrot with a watery gaze, lips quivering uncontrollably.
“Momma?” Celestia said.
“Yes?” The old mare wore a sly, amused smirk.
“If I give you another story, would you be willing to part with half that bowl?”
“I believe I might.” She pushed the bowl forward.
* * *
Celestia tested the cloud with a hoof. It pushed back against her with a touch as soft as snow. Confirming that she would not fall through again, she threw herself into its embrace and nuzzled the soft mounds with wordless murmur. This time, I do get to sleep on a cloud.
Though the food Momma shared did not quite fill her belly, split in half again with Luna, it would sustain her another day. She’d sleep soundly tonight, after all she’d been through.
Her sister’s weight fluffed the cloud as she climbed on, laying herself far more demurely. Celestia had spared some magic to lower the bed they now shared, almost to ground level. After one fall, she did not wished to repeat the experience.
Luna rolled to her back, finding a comfortable divot, and stared up at the ceiling, marked with ribbons and bunches of glowing green bugs. “I want to see her again.”
A pink glow shown on Celestia’s horn, unraveling one of the old bandages she received from the Shaman. “Hmm?” Without revealing it to Luna, she checked the bite. It appeared to be healing clean.
“Momma, the pegasus mare. When she is there tomorrow, I want to go again.”
Celestia spared enough attention from her spell to glance at her young sister. Momma promised that her stories were a regular ritual, after Celestia concluded the second tale. At a whim, Celestia had chosen another chapter from the life of Virtue Blaze. This time, instead of focusing on Virtue’s bravery in the face of danger, she spun the tale depicting Virtue’s skill as she outwitted a minotaur who refused to let the Earth pony herd drink from a freshwater spring. At first, the pegasi appeared skeptical to hear from her again. As she played up the verbal banter, borrowing Luna to voice the bull-headed monster, she could see the fillies and colts become more and more invested in her tale, followed by the rest. It appeared that from no matter what source cleverness came, a cunning pony was still a cunning pony in the eyes of a pegasus.
She altered the spell that illuminated her pink horn, smoothing her white coat over the teeth marks on her leg to keep them hidden. “I think we have no choice, if I am honest. Why do you ask?”
With her hooves free, Luna gestured in the air as she spoke. “This cave is strange, don’t you think?”
“All the pegasi are strange.”
A short chuckle burst from Luna. “Yes, yes, but the cave too. Odd things are all over. I want to ask Momma about them.” She turned to hold Celestia in her gaze. “Do you think she’ll know?”
Celestia held the old bandage in front of her in a glow of magic, slowly turning it over. Then, with an effort of will, she tossed it over the side of the cloud. “Maybe she remembers a story about it.”
“I hope so.” Luna settled once more, mouth parting in a great yawn. “I want to see Rebel Bolt again, as well, if he goes back. I liked talking to him.”
“He did help us out.”
“And maybe we’ll learn to fly soon, too.”
The cloud ruffled beneath Celestia as she laid on her side. Soon, the other two bandages landed on the dirt next to the first. “I hope so.”
[Tired of waiting for new Paradise Updates? Check out this recommended reading:
Gaia, by Squeaks-anon. After a strange and adorable creature is discovered by Fluttershy, a mysterious force repelled by life begins to make plans around Ponyville. Whatever those plans are, even the princesses are concerned, but is it all too late? You may like it because it's charming and has a similar tone to Paradise, melding adorable with deadly serious.]