67w, 6dCelestia & Luna
58w, 5dThe Sci-Fi Ponies
15w, 5dWriting Gold
55w, 3dDoubled Fun
60w, 6dEquestrian Historical Society
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45w, 4dEquestria's Past
55w, 1dProtect Celestia
53w, 2dPlan to Read
9w, 3dTwilight's Library
32w, 2dfimfiction's favorites
9w, 4dCelestia Is The Best Pony
37w, 5dAlternate Perspectives
16w, 4dStarlight's Fantasy
31w, 16hSt. Xavier Bronies
11w, 1dVallett's Private Library
Companionship is as vital to the spirit as food is to the body.
Celestia sat at the edge of the sleeping chamber and leaned against the sidewall of stone. Sun’s rays swept past the room, illuminating the paths deep into the mountain where the pegasi played. Her white coat only just touched the morning light, pale radiance subdued in the shadow. Looking over her shoulder, Celestia spied Luna still asleep, her midnight blue colors reflecting the glow of fireflies in a subtle sheen as her chest rose and fell, at peace.
She had no reason to wake her. Not even a reason to get up herself.
Before this, a mysterious, unsettled feeling had plagued Celestia, just slipping under her perception. A discomfort drove her when among the pegasi, beckoning her to rise, to act. She had not found her place with them as a pony, a niche where she felt secure, and there was a pursuit to find how she could fit in.
Last night’s revelations answered that for her. The place was no place, her niche was no niche. With the pegasi as a group so bent on their freedom of wing, and from each other, she discovered that there was nothing to fit in to. Every pegasus went about their aims with no mind to who she was, or where she stayed, slept, or ate.
Celestia lifted a hoof and rubbed the back of her other forelimb. As much as it sounded like freedom when put in words, in her heart it felt like absence. Absence of ponies who cared and would help her, of the mutual protection of herdmates. Most of all, of friends. She missed those things more than she craved any kind of freedom.
What was more, it left her with a lack of anything to do. Celestia had grown tired of searching for someone to teach Luna how to fly (and herself now, she remembered), because that meant dealing with more of the irksome pegasi and she was at her limit of tolerating their attitudes and games. Unlike her time with the unicorns, there were no lessons to attend, no duties to fulfill for the herd at large. Even in the Earth pony herd, every morning began with seeking out her friends to play games, explore, or be together. None of that to do now. Simply aimless, lonely time-wasting. No reason to wake Luna.
The understanding from the night before did breed her new eyes with which to view the pegasi. After she wandered over to glimpse what light she could from Sun’s rising orb, she stayed to watch the pegasi meander up and down the cave or play wherever they pleased. What she saw when she first arrived remained true, even as she half expected to find only a collection of rogue pegasus ponies bent on scams or escape from all others.
The pegasi stayed in groups. Not large groups by any stretch, not even coming close to what could be called a herd. Nonetheless, pegasus ponies preferred the company of one or two, but more often five others. The lone pegasus was an exception. Gangs, she began to call them in her head. Gangs of pegasi staying together in small, manageable groups.
Idly, she rested her head against the cool stone and wondered how the gangs remained together. Were they friends? How strong were those friendships between them? For that matter, why did the pegasi decide to stay crammed so tightly together in the cave when the whole sky was their field? The story of Quick Wit seemed to be only part of who they were, and their society was far more complicated than Luna’s simple deductions.
“Ick!” Celestia grimaced and stuck out her tongue, shaking her head side to side. Entirely too long in the past few days had she been up in her head. She felt as if her chest would burst if she spent one moment more inside herself and not sharing with another. “Or perhaps I’ll simply go mad,” she muttered, turned on her heels, and walked back into the sleeping chamber.
She approached Luna with soft hoofbeats, settling just off the cloud’s side, and watched over her sister’s sound sleep. Celestia smiled in the silence, horn glowing with channeled will. Gently, she ran her magic over Luna’s hair, undoing tangles, straightening some strands, curling others as Crescent Change had taught them so long ago—keeping Luna’s appearance graceful and appealing. As she groomed, Celestia hummed softly in a familiar Earth pony tune. Lightning had once told her it was a special song, old as the first pony, sung from mother to foal for so long that it became imprinted on all and never lost. Songs and dance were at the heart of being an Earth pony, just as stories.
A groan flowed from Luna, roused by the little tugs and tickles of her mane and beckoned to waking by the song. Still, the dosing pony rolled and flopped to her side, turning away from her elder sister’s noise.
“Come on up, sleepy-head.” Celestia kept her voice enticing with singsong, before continuing to hum. “It is well past daybreak and time to rise.”
In answer, Luna groaned again, flourishing it with the tone of a pout.
Celestia laughed, amused, and shifted her magic to fix her sister’s tail. “I will never understand why you insist on sleeping in so late.”
“I’ll never understand why you insist on getting up so early, big sister,” Luna shot back, voice muttering thickly with sleep. Yet, at this point—Celestia had to smile to herself—under all the grooming attention, Luna’s compulsion to laze steadily evaporated and she sat up, wide, blue eyes quickly becoming more alert. After a moment of collecting her thoughts, Luna looked to her sister. “So, what are we doing today?”
Celestia frowned at the question and concentrated on the last of Luna’s tail. “I don’t know.”
Luna alighted with excitement, wings unfurling. “Can we explore the cave? I found so much last time I went.”
“Maybe.” Celestia raised a hoof to wave the idea aside as she became lost in thought. “Maybe, later. For now, I want to get out of this cave and into the open air.” She rose from her seat and walked with a determined beat toward the door. A soft trot of hooves on the packed earth told Celestia that Luna was quick to follow. Together, they left the sleeping chamber.
The path out was straightforward, following the light up the gentle slope of the cavern without incident. At once when Celestia stepped out from the concealing cloud at the mouth sunlight washed over her, relaxed her with warmth, and chased away the lingering shadow of the cave. She took in a deep breath of the cool mountain air and let it out with satisfaction. Luna emerged from the mist a heartbeat later, using her bangs to shield her eyes from the harsh glare of light. But once she adjusted, Celestia saw that she too found vitality in the familiarity of open sky and touch of Sun’s light.
“C’mon.” Celestia gestured and led her sister some distance away from the pegasi, finding a relatively secluded spot along the side of the mountain. Luna wordlessly obeyed, patient and watching with observant eyes while Celestia drew a small cloud over with a glow of telekinesis. Using the soft, puffy thing as a seat, Celestia patted the side opposite for her sister. Luna hopped up and took the indicated spot, facing her sister and waiting.
“So …” Planting her forehooves, Celestia dragged herself closer to Luna, wearing a smile at once giddy and hopeful. “What did you get up to yesterday?” Her tone had a conspiratorial hint, something girl-to-girl.
“Oh, umm …” Luna lifted a hoof to her chin. A grin stretched on her muzzle, slowly becoming wider and wider as she spoke until her teeth gleamed. “I started to go deep into the cave and I found all sorts of strange things. Places where the walls run smooth, and these … these turtle shells! I don’t know how else to describe it, but big turtle shells littered all over in some of the chambers. They were in all sorts of strange shapes, it’s best if I show you instead!”
“Really? That does sound odd.” Celestia mused over what her sister shared; the words, but almost more on the behavior. The strange objects held less relevance for her than they did for Luna herself. “Perhaps you’ll get the chance to show me soon. Was there anything else you found yourself up to? I was gone most of the day, and I’m curious.”
“That only took an hour or so. Most of the day, I watched the pegasi play Griffins and Ponies.”
Celestia blinked, frozen still in disbelief, her reply bewildered. “You … were so determined to leave yesterday … so you could … watch ponies play filly games? ”
Luna’s mouth parted, stung, before she closed it with a petulantly outthrust lip. “You wanted me to learn how to fly, so I tried to see how pegasus ponies flew.”
Momentary guilt flashed through Celestia at her reaction. “Ahh, I see. Sorry … did you learn anything?”
Luna shrugged her shoulders, her wings ruffling at her side. “I’m not sure. I have not tried it yet. Did you?”
“Some, I think. You already know most of what happened to me. I suppose the only thing I haven’t mentioned is that I talked to some fillies and colts that were outside the cave.”
Midnight blue eyes held her with subtle interest as Celestia continued.
“I don’t know exactly why they were there, other than that their mothers were out for the day, maybe gathering food, so the young ponies took the chance to play outside, which I suppose is a little dangerous. I spoke to them for a while, gathering what I could about flying before that one colt fell off the side.”
“Ahh.” Luna nodded.
Celestia shook her head. “But enough about that. I’m up to my ears in dealing with these ponies and all that flying foolery. I’m minded to speak of other things.”
“I never got to really explain what happened, the day we left the unicorns. About Silver Spear.”
Luna held her breath, hesitating. “What about him?”
Staring at the space in the cloud between them, Celestia touched a hoof to her chin, deep in thought. “I had to fight my way passed him. I … lost. Handedly. It’s been at the back of my mind ever since we left, how it all happened.”
“How did it happen? Why would he attack you?”
“Actually, I attacked him.” The glow of channeled magic enveloped her horn and Celestia concentrated, weaving ideas with will to bring about a new spell. “Let me show you …”
Pink, ephemeral figures formed between them. Two ponies, one a small stallion and the other a young mare, stood across from each other, the stallion barring the way of the mare. Trees sprung up into being around the ponies, Celestia crafting a construct in miniature of her memory with pink light, giving it life and motion. The mare slung a fireball at the stallion, who cut it effortlessly with a whip of water. The stallion then charged through the gap. Startled, the mare tried to brush him aside with magical force, only for the stallion to slip underneath, using a spell to reshape the ground. Each time the mare backpedalled and hurtled power, he countered effortlessly and returned with a smaller offense, nevertheless far more effective. Finally, he drew up to her and struck the mare down, surprising her by using his bare hooves.
Luna narrowed her eyes in focused concentration and they darted from detail to detail. Silence stretched out between the sisters as she continued to study even after the memory concluded. “Silver Spear …” she began slowly, checking the answer even as she spoke it, “seemed to use a spell’s nature to his advantage… Go back over what happened.”
Celestia reset the figures and let the memory play out again.
“There.” Luna stretched out a hoof and tapped the cloud between them, marking the moments while still half in thought. “Water to counter fire, and steam to open it … Earth as a barrier … That’s curious.” She tapped the cloud again, twice in succession to punctuate a new thought. “He also uses his surroundings. The smoke from the fire spell, he used that to distract you. And he guided the broken bridges rather than summon a new one.” She gestured with a sweep of her forelimb. “This way, he spares his strength. Rather than creating things from raw will, he just had to manipulate what was around him.”
“That much I was able to gather myself.” Celestia sighed and let the spell go. The figures vanished in a wisp. “That’s not what has been bothering me.”
Luna raised a single brow. “Then what is?”
With the spell still fresh in her, Celestia summoned the figures again. “We never learned magic like—” She thrust a hoof at the scene, wings ruffling with agitation. “—like this! Silver taught us plenty, yes, how to use fireballs, lightning, windstorms, magic force, which predators fear what spells, but all this …” She circled her hoof over the display of her memories. “This is a step beyond anything we were taught. Our magic lessons were never complete.”
Luna’s mouth etched into a discerning line and her gaze narrowed at the figures. “But this is combat between two unicorns. Two ponies.” With a flick of her neck to throw back her blue locks, her large, blue eyes met Celestia’s with concern. “With our wings, we have proof of our stories. What reason would we have to fight another pony?”
The question gave Celestia pause. For a long moment, their eyes were joined, neither looking away as Celestia felt a disconcerted frown creep over her features. Finally, she answered, breaking the gaze. “Ponies are not the only creatures that can wield magic. We may have use of these skills one day.”
“So, what then? Are we to go back to the unicorns?”
“Stars and Moon, no.” Celestia shook her head violently from side to side, her pink mane thrown about and banishing the thought from her mind. “But we have much to learn, things we’ll have to learn on our own.” She nodded toward the pink shapes. The stallion and the mare still locked in combat at the moment her concentration slipped. “Some of it, from this.”
Her sister nodded, falling into a quiet introspection. “There is one more thing I noticed.” Luna broke her reprieve, pointing down at Silver Spear. “All his spells, skilled as they are, were distractions. Silver used them to occupy you while moving to his real goal, the surprise of using his hooves.”
“Huh.” Celestia let the memory continue, watching it again until the moment the stallion bucked the mare and the mare went down. “Well, what do ya’know … Something the unicorns have in common with the pegasi. A trick.”
A small motion caught Celestia’s eye and she looked up to see Luna frowning off into space, longing writ on her features.
“What is it?”
She groaned, the noise filled with both misery and apology. “I’m hungry.”
At the word, Celestia’s stomach rebelled and a pang of hunger spasmed her belly. “I agree … I’m hungry.” She closed her eyes. One thing she had never lacked for in her life was food. The fields and plains of Everfree always overflowed with grass to graze, and the unicorns had long perfected cultivating the forest for their own ends. Even during their escape, her Earth pony sense had guided them to plenty of edible leaves, fruits, or water. Here on the mountaintop? Dead rock, prickling pine, and the new sensation of hapless starving. “Momma’s story time is still hours off. We can’t trade for her food yet.”
Luna looked positively dejected at that reality.
“I know.” Celestia’s shoulders slumped and she lowered her head. “I know. But the mountain is barren, and Momma is our only source up here.”
“That wasn’t even much food,” her sister replied with a hint of bitterness.
“It was small, wasn’t it?” Her lips curved in a sympathetic, weary smile. “A meal for one, divided in half, twice. We can’t go on like that for long, we’d still starve. We need to get down the mountain for food and we can’t do that by walking … which would mean …” She stopped. “Flying.” She threw herself down on the cloud, rolling to her back with a pathetic groan. Here they were, right back where they began. They needed to learn how to fly.
Abandoning any semblance of maturity, Celestia whined like a filly. “But I don’t wanna talk to the pegasi any mooooooreeeeee …”
The lack of reaction from her sister caused Celestia to peer up at her.
“Maybe we don’t have to.” Luna tapped her chin, in the middle of unfolding more thoughts. Celestia held her peace and listened. “I can nearly fly up and down the mountain myself, right now. Perhaps we don’t need to learn to fly well just … well enough.”
Rolling to her hooves, Celestia stood up. A smile pulled back Luna’s cheeks and she grinned to her sister. “We don’t need to go to the pegasus ponies, just a bit more practice and we can do it ourselves.”
“That … that might work.” Celestia lifted a hoof between them, punctuating her words, then she shifted her weight to peer past the cave. “I think I know what we’re going to do today.”
As the sisters approached the crevice around the bend of the mountain, the ruckus of a dozen young voices confirmed for Celestia that the colts and fillies were once again at play. With her coat gleaming in the sunlight and her pink hair caught in the wind, only a breath passed before they spotted her. Shrill cries, approximating words but not quite intelligible, went up among some fillies who reared to point before they ducked back down to run and play with renewed vigor. “Unicorn!” some shouted in awe, others with giddiness. “Unicorn! Unicorn!” But for the most part, their games went uninterrupted by her presence, if more fervent.
Except for one.
“Pinky!” A young colt dashed out of the gang, his wings buzzing like a hummingbird’s. He darted for Celestia, wings going one way, hooves another, and tried to keep his balance in an awkward gallop. “Pink Plummet!”
Celestia winced at the name and her reaction elicited a chuckle from Luna. The brown colt stopped just short of Celestia and reared up on his back hooves in boundless energy, a smile beaming all the while. “You’re here! You’re here!”
“Yes, I am.” Despite herself, she laughed. The raw joy of the colt, infectious. “How are you?”
The colt went on as if the question hadn’t been uttered. “My momma told me not to play with you, that any pony who jumps off a cliff without wings is a crazy pony, and momma doesn’t like me around crazy ponies, but she’s not here to tell me to not play with you, so I can, and I don’t think you’re a crazy pony, you’re a very nice pony, you helped me when I was falling down.” The colt bounced and hopped, skipping his way in a circle around Celestia. “Pinky’s here! Pinky’s here!”
Luna tried to muffle her laughter with a hoof, but her eyes held mischievous glee as they watched her sister weather the pony while maintaining good grace.
“Pinky is not my name.” She reached out and placed a hoof on the colt’s shoulder on his next pass, halting him. He stared at her with a smile that Celestia found herself mirroring. “My name is Celestia. What’s yours?”
“Windfall!” he shouted and hopped, wings fluttering.
A laugh exploded from Celestia, and she took a moment to recover. “Windfall? How appropriate. I’d like you to meet my sister.” She turned the colt to face Luna. “She’s another, uhhh, unicorn.”
“Well met.” Luna gave a short bob to her head in greeting.
The colt eyed her with speculation before he turned back to Celestia. “Is she nice?”
“At least as nice as me.”
“Hi!” He shouted to Luna and left Celestia’s grasp to bounce around the elder pony once more. “Celly! Celly!”
“So, Windfall.” Celestia raised her voice just enough to catch his attention. “Have you been staying away from the edge of the cliff?”
The colt stopped, backpedalling his forehooves underneath him. “Oh, no! No, I don’t want to go to the cliff again, that was too scary!”
“Good.” Celestia gave a nod of satisfaction. “I hope you remember that lesson—that sometimes you need to be careful, no matter what the other ponies say.” She stepped up alongside him. “Would you like to play with me and my sister? There is … a game I’d like us all to do together.”
“Yeah!” Windfall lept up to his hooves and led them back to the gang of young ponies, his gait high-stepped and happy.
At returning to the rest, Celestia found reactions to be mixed. Some of their mothers had apparently urged caution around “Pink Plummet,” and many of the little ponies stayed back while Celestia and Luna organized the game.
Windfall’s carefree presence changed that. As they watched him excitedly bounce around, eager to play—and perhaps remembering Celestia from the day before—they did away with their hesitance and gathered to see what the “unicorn” brought next.
“A flying competition!” Celestia shouted. The fillies and colts cheered and bounced, even if they didn’t know why. “With magic!” Her horn flashed and a spark leapt from the tip. They stilled and an undercurrent of awe swept over the group. Celestia nodded to Luna. “With help from my sister, we will see what you have learned, and we’ll have lots of games, all with unicorn magic!”
The plan was quite simple in conception. All of these fillies and colts had learned something from their parents teaching the basics of flight. Celestia knew that much from yesterday. Having them put those skills into practice, then, gave the sisters a chance to observe; what techniques worked and didn’t work.
Each time a game began, five or so ponies lined up. Celestia went to them one at a time, asking what they knew. Luna prepared a spell, and Celestia started them off. Hovering competitions to reach a glowing blue cloud, gliding games to catch a magically constructed dragonfly, and many more contests that stressed the skills Celestia and Luna needed to fly down the mountain and back.
Celestia smiled, watching the next group try to glide over a sloping path set by Luna that sent them in a gentle curve for distance. The fillies and colts each did their best in turn, but laughed or giggled when they careened off course and Celestia caught them in a gentle, telekinetic glow. Though inspired by the pegasi’s use of clever tricks, Celestia scarcely even thought of it as a ruse in the end. The game did nothing to violate her sense of honesty—truly, it was a game, and all she said it would be. The little fillies sharpened their flying skills, and did so safely as she guarded them in absence of their mothers. All the while, Luna and Celestia watched and learned the flying they would need to gather food.
Best of all, it was fun. Whether a filly failed widely only to be caught by Celestia’s spell, a colt showed pride at the victory of success, or the sisters being a part of it all, everypony had fun.
“My momma’s back!” a filly yelped in surprise and scurried off at full gallop. Celestia chuckled at the guilty look she wore as she ran for the cave.
In the lapse that followed, Luna walked to her elder sister. “Do we have enough, today?”
“I think so.” Celestia nodded and watched the fleeing filly disappear behind the cloud. “We’ve picked up much to practice.” She turned to the crowd of young ponies and raised her voice above their chatter. “We have to go now!”
A chorus of disappointed Awws pleaded with her.
“I’m sorry, I had a great time. Maybe I’ll see you all again soon? For now, I have to go. Goodbye!”
A few responded in their own farewells, Windfall loudest among them. Many went back to playing without the mares, their cacophony growing.
“C’mon.” Celestia gestured to her sister with a tilt of her head. Hearing Luna’s hoofbeats fall into place behind her, Celestia turned to her next thought, the problem of practicing, and chewed her lip as she walked. “Umm, to the ledge.” She adjusted her course, coming to stop where the mountain fell away. The Everfree Forest stretched out before her from her view atop the mountain, vast and endless in all directions. “We need to gather every cloud we can.” She indicated several lazy puffs with her nose. “For our training.”
Luna moved to stand beside her sister, obeying wordlessly. Her horn flashed blue and several clouds changed course, drifting toward the mountain. Celestia followed suit, her magic snaring several more.
They entered the cave in a procession. A host of fluffy clouds followed behind the sisters like ducklings, glowing either blue or pink in turn, towed by magic. Though many pegasus ponies kept their own hours, by now in the middle of the day, most soared about in the cave, and none on the main path could miss the colorful parade.
Whispers echoed as they passed, some in a sudden burst of a pegasus startled, others in the hushed tones of a secret. Yet others were punctuated with quiet snickers. Celestia heard the name “Pink Plummet” repeated more than a few times as she passed. She did her best to pin her ears back, to keep them from swiveling and betraying the fact she heard. Though she kept her ears still, her head lowered as she walked, insides swirling and churning with anguish.
A longing, and a hurt resentment penetrated deep inside. For once in her life, she hated her unique colors. None could mistake the long mane of pink or coat of pure, snow white that always marked her as different; special, unlike any who had come before her. Before, she had always loved the remarkableness and beauty. A signal of great things to come, or her talent, or the otherworldliness that awed any who saw. Here, her coat and mane tied her to a reputation she desperately wanted to shake. By sight, all the pegasi knew Pink Plummet. The lucky fool. The mad pony. Had she been brown, or black, or off-white, or mottled, Celestia could have blended in. But, no … She was pink and white and different. Celestia, the pegasus outcast.
One loud stallion announced her nickname with a shout and boisterous laughter. Luna turned her head, staring with a raised eyebrow, but Celestia gave him no reaction. Last thing she wanted was to repeat the day she collected a swarm of the pests.
For a moment, Celestia let her gaze rest on her sister and felt a flash of concern. Hopefully, none of the reputation rubbed off on Luna by the association with Pink Plummet. She had done nothing herself to earn ridicule like Celestia had. Then again, she did not seem too adept at earning their love. Save some mysterious connection to Rebel Bolt, Luna was at least alone. If not an outcast, then neither was she important.
“Let’s find an empty room, a big one.” Celestia turned to look over her shoulder at the loud stallion and felt a growl of irritation low in her throat. “I’d rather not be interrupted by some goat-headed prankster.”
Luna nodded, eyes distant and unreadable.
They were deep in the mountain before Celestia turned a corner and found a large chamber, dark and empty. “Here, Luna. Over here.” Together, they walked inside, each horn shining a light. Cloud after cloud trailed in after and, once they all entered, Celestia turned around and called a spell forth to her mind. A translucent, pink wall sealed the entrance; a magical construct, clear like a thin layer of water yet solid as Celestia’s will. Curious onlookers peaked through the barrier, crowding at the entrance now that their path was barred.
Whether or not they had any benign or mischievous intentions, Celestia didn’t know, and at the moment, didn’t care. She sent a faux-fairylamp to hang on the ceiling, as she had done countless times with the unicorns. The pale light lifted the darkness that veiled the chamber’s deep reaches and revealed the room to be oddly smoothed on the floor and walls, with a high ceiling; a little sister of the chamber Momma chose to recount her stories.
Luna’s eyes sparkled with life. “Oh, look!” A bouncing trot carried her forward and she tossed her clouds aside. “It’s like what I wanted to show you.”
“Show me what?” Celestia added more will to the lamp and increased the illumination until the room’s edges became clear.
In front of Luna, something sparkled in the fairylight. “Ahh, here it is! A turtle shell!”
With quiet curiosity, Celestia slowly approached the object that had so engrossed her sister. The shell, as Luna called it, shined like silver in the ambient light. Celestia saw herself reflected on its surface, clearer than the stillest pond at midday, though misproportioned with a large nose and giant eyes that made Celestia laugh. Sticking out her tongue, she made a face and watched the reflection stretch and distort. “I don’t think this ever belonged to a turtle …” Celestia said while circling it. Though the shell had three holes in the front, the tail end was missing. No, not missing, it had never been there, only meant to cover half a creature. Perhaps to slip on and off.
“Of course not.” Luna’s chipper voice belied the interested smile. “I said it was only like a turtle shell. I didn’t know how else to explain it.” Without hesitation, Luna dove inside the open end. Her hooves made a cacophony of tinny clangs as she crawled in. “I think something use to wear these.”
Celestia’s gaze travelled up and down her sister, head poking out one end, hindquarters sticking gleefully out the back. Luna stretched her forelimbs to the other holes, and blue hooves—the wrist down—poked out each end of a tortoise leg. A pony-tortoise. Celestia arched an eyebrow and failed at hiding a smile. “You look ridiculous.”
“Still, though …” Luna sat up, shrugging out of the shell. “Aren’t these things interesting? I found them other places, too. And Momma had her food brought in a bowl made from the same substance, remember?”
“Yes, that bowl did look similar. There is no denying these things are strange.” Celestia tapped its surface. The shell clanged noisily, hard and unyielding. In the touch, Celestia felt the faintest whisper of enchantment, weak and distant. “I wonder what left them here. Buuutt … wondering certainly won’t fill our bellies. C’mon, time for flying practice.”
A spell scattered the clouds all over the floor, covering every hard rock or shell on the ground and Celestia climbed atop the new canopy. Spying Luna poke her head above the undulating white lumps, Celestia gave her a smile. “Time to put into practice what we learned.”
Celestia closed her eyes, broad wings holding her aloft. Immediately, she felt disoriented in the darkness and opened her eyes again, gathering her bearings before she lost control. Though she tried to hold the ideas she learned that day in mind, putting them into practice proved difficult. She couldn’t escape the feeling of nothing beneath her hooves, and that sensation made her uneasy.
Her sister darted by, hooves outstretched before her for speed, face filled with determination.
Tongue poking out the side of her mouth, Luna rotated slightly and banked in a hard turn. The motion sent her swinging unstably, each limb moving for balance, even her tail. Her wings faltered in their flapping, spreading wide with quick jerks for sudden corrections.
“Luna!” While her little sister never lost control, the turn appeared clumsy, graceless. Celestia craned her neck to keep her in sight, and she felt herself drift forward unintentionally. Out of habit, she threw out her hooves to brace against the motion.
They found nothing but air.
Her heart jolted inside her chest and her limbs began to wheel. Farther and farther off balance, she drifted until she fell. The cloud huffed with the soft sound of her tumble, the impact scattering small puffs in the air. Celestia scrambled in the airy substance before finally poking her head back above the surface. “LUNA! ”
The shout struck her sister’s awareness. She circled back and descended. “What?” Her question filled with innocence.
Celestia narrowed her eyes, anger commingling with disapproval. “Stop racing about the cavern.” Finding purchase with her forelimbs, she hauled herself out of the cloud. “You’re supposed to be practicing a hover.”
Luna exhaled a hiss through her teeth, looking away. “I know how to hover.”
The anger washed through Celestia, leaving as quickly as it came. In its place, she let concern show through her voice. “Luna, the clouds are not placed to protect you racing about. If you make a mistake, you’ll crash into stone, head first.”
Luna said nothing, avoiding her elder sister’s eyes. Idly, she kicked at a tuft of cloud with a hoof.
Celestia sighed. “Here …” She called forth a spell of telekinesis, rearranging the clouds to partially cover one side of the chamber. “If you’re going to practice wild stunts, at least aim for that.”
The sulking tension melted from Luna’s shoulders and she nodded, appeased. Taking a few steps, she spread her wings and launched herself into the air again. Celestia rolled her eyes, out of sight. At least, she’ll have no problems going down the mountainside, if she can stay in one piece until then.
Stilling her mind with the intention of flight, Celestia spread her wings and began to cautiously flap, trying to hover again.
A short time later, Luna grew bored of the barrier Celestia provided. The small bank of clouds proved too limiting for the little sister’s experimentation. After a few passes, repeating that banking turn over and over, Luna lost interest and occupied herself instead with the clouds themselves.
“How do pegasus ponies get rainbows from these things?” she announced, poking and prodding a particularly round one that looked full-to-bursting. Luna turned it over, dug at it, sniffed it for scent. When Luna reared back and bucked, the cloud disintegrated beneath her hooves without resistance, and it sent Luna shuffling for balance before falling flat on her stomach.
A chuckle ripped from Celestia’s throat as Luna sat up, the blue pony utterly lacking in chagrin at her fall. A moment later, Luna opened a hole in the rolling white canopy and vanished underneath.
Celestia let her gaze pass over the entrance, idly vigilant. The magical barrier stood secure and translucent as it had been when summoned, passing pegasi crowding close to peek in. The multitude of faces held only harmless curiosity, perhaps over the commotion, the bizarre mare “Pink Plummet,” or the barrier itself. Either way, Luna would be safe for the moment, exploring on her own.
Celestia’s thoughts turned back again to her flight. Her broad wings cut large swaths through the air with idle efficiency, holding her aloft several ponylengths above the ground. Still, looking down renewed her discomfort, having nothing firmly beneath her hooves. Yet, the more time she spent in the air, the more confident she grew in her wings. She felt secure now, in her hovering, and subtly changed the angle of her wings so she floated forward or backward in slow, deliberate action.
A detonation slapped her chest, a tremendous thump! assailed her ears, reverberating again and again along with a startled scream in the enclosed chamber.
Her concentration obliterated. Her wings snapped to her side and she fell like a stone. Again, the clouds caught her in a gentle embrace, yet her heart sped with uncontrollable panic. “Luna!” she shouted and tore at the cloud with both hooves. “Luna?! Luna, are you all right?!” The cloud ripped open and Celestia slipped through, horn already glowing with wild, raw will.
Luna stared blankly into space, wings flared, and chest heaving for breath. Her mane and the blue coat of her face were streaked with black, and the air stank of singed hair. The lock of her mane that spiraled daintily away from her face had a tip alight with a small flame. Gradually, her blue eyes came into focus, centering on Celestia, and her parted mouth turned into an elated grin. “Did you see that?!”
Celestia grimaced and concentrated her will into a fine point, dousing the still burning lock of mane with a strand of water. “What on Earth happened?”
“I was practicing new magic!” Luna shouted, the unabashed grin flashing white teeth.
“Again.” Celestia let chiding creep into her voice. “What on Earth happened?”
“Oh, uhh, do you remember the elements of harmony?”
“Yes,” Celestia said tentatively, and with worry. The ideals of the unicorns who try to create harmony. She exhaled. “Oh no …” And the safe emotions for altering spells.
Luna pressed on, undeterred. “Arcane Pride taught us one, that element of loyalty, but he never taught us the others! That was the day you told the unicorns we were Earth ponies. I remembered that you said we’d have to learn some magic on our own, so I thought I’d try to play with the elements, and that spell was amazing!”
Raising a hoof to her temple, Celestia rubbed away the growing dread while keeping her gaze sharp on Luna. “What did you do?”
“I was playing with the element of generosity, trying to find out what it could do. I wasn’t getting very far, so I tried to use a spell with generosity on different things. I summoned a little fire, then I struck it with a wind spell that I had imbued with generosity. And … it wasn’t a little fire anymore.” Luna’s mouth pursed into a contemplative frown, and she sat, a hoof rising to her chin. “I think the generosity in the spell let the wind give to the fire.”
Celestia’s rear legs buckled and she sat. “You scared me half to death.” She took a deep breath and exhaled some of the lingering fear. “I suppose asking you to be careful is pointless after this.”
“Oh? Yes.” Luna brushed off the comment with the most sparing of attention while wrapped up in some other idea. Aloud, she mused, “I wonder if other emotions can be used …”
Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “You mean, emotions other than those on the elements of harmony?”
Luna’s hoof dropped and she regarded Celestia more fully. “Yes, I wonder what they do.”
“No …” Celestia stood up. The gravity of Arcane Pride’s voice still sounded clear in her mind, such an odd change on so boring a teacher. “Oh no. No, no, no.” She shook her head, turning half away.
Celestia craned her neck and met Luna’s eyes over her shoulder. “Don’t.” She turned with a clack of hooves and faced Luna. “Don’t you remember what Arcane said? Never use an element that is not an element of harmony.”
“Ahh.” Disappointment entered Luna’s voice. “I remember …” A moment later, she shrugged off the thought.
They spent what little time they had left resting from the day’s labors before Momma was set to arrive and tell her stories. Celestia cast a spell, unweaving the barrier from the entrance just before they prepared to go. The clouds were left behind to be used again another day, providing not too many disappeared overnight, lifted for some other pony’s use. Only a few pegasi remained watching the sisters, recent lollygaggers who stopped to view the strange barrier. As the spell unmade the magical construct, they dispersed, going about their day on some other whim.
With two bellies writhing in anticipation, Celestia and Luna arrived early in the grand chamber that hosted the storyteller, determined not to miss their chance at a meal by getting lost or making a mistake. Soon, other pegasi arrived, singly, then in larger groups as time went on. The gangs, as Celestia named them.
Each second passed in slow, stewing agony. Celestia rolled her lip fiercely between her teeth. This cusp of waiting for that potential meal proved the most excruciating point of the day, where time seemed to stand still and Celestia was left alone with a belly groaning too incessantly to ignore. Luna fared better, the promise of food being enough to sustain her, and she sat quietly with her mind in some far off place. Mild, fleeting envy burbled in Celestia.
A familiar mote of color, brown and splotched white, gave Celestia distraction from her hunger. Rebel Bolt glided into the room on outstretched wings, low to the ground and retaining a speed more than leisurely. She opened her mouth to voice a greeting, but what she saw stilled her raising hoof. His sky-blue eyes stared sullenly into space, perceiving nothing and preoccupied with some deep seated pain. His mouth drew a line of lament on his features, even as he landed, and he seemed to shrink in on himself, occupying the least space possible amidst in the crowd.
Luna, however, noticed none of these things. “Rebel Bolt!” She closed the distance between them with unmistakable spring in her trot and smiled when she found him. “I was hoping you’d come back today.”
Rebel’s eyes snapped up in shock, freezing for an instant while he beheld the two sisters. “Oh,” he hesitated. “Why?”
Luna arched an eyebrow, confused at the question. “To talk, of course.”
“Uhh, okay.” The heaviness that invisibly weighed Rebel down lifted in that moment. His whole body seemed to rise, ears perked up, tail arching a hair. Whatever had been on his mind, Luna’s actions seemed to have driven it away, back to some recess that lightened his mood.
Seeing this, Celestia felt the corners of her mouth upturn in a small smile and she approached young pony as well. “Good to see you again, Rebel. I haven’t forgotten the help you gave us.”
Rebel shrugged his shoulders noncommittally, his voice growing very small. “It was nothing.”
“Still …” Celestia felt herself pressing. She stepped closer, keeping her expression warm. “It’s appreciated. You should see us more often.”
“Yes, you should.” Luna nodded.
The pegasus said nothing right away, and Celestia sensed his hesitation.
“I’ve got something to show you,” she added quickly and grinned to hide her nervousness. Rebel was one of the few relatively older pegasi who made any sort of connection with either herself or Luna, and he was her best chance to cultivate a relationship they desperately needed. “Tomorrow, if you come by.”
The statement stretched her sense of honesty to its absolute limit. She had nothing to show him, exactly, but her word could still prove true if, by tomorrow, she conceived of something to show.
“Well … okay, then.” Rebel betrayed a look of suspicion at Celestia, to which she held her grin.
Momma’s entrance stilled the conversation. A wave of excitement passed through all those gathered with the speed and force of a tide, and for a moment, Celestia forgot herself.
The old mare was immediately swamped with good-natured greetings of all kinds from the pegasi happy to see her. She handled it with amazing deftness, spending time with the pegasus ponies that approached, exchanging personal words and an occasional embrace. Momma was a name well earned, she treated each pegasus with a familial affection.
“What is it?” Luna cocked her head curiously to her elder sister.
“Momma.” Celestia tipped her nose toward the pegasus mare. The filly she talked to held unreserved adoration in her eyes. “It’s different between the pegasi and her. Something about Momma, they just respond to it.”
“She is nice.”
“We’re nice too, or were nice at first.” Celestia shook her head. “It’s something more, something she was able to tap into.”
After navigating the pegasi as long as the whole of them had patience, Momma took the center to begin her story. With near magical charm, she wove an episodic tale of another old hero, an unlikely pegasus who fell in love with a beautiful unicorn. While their romance was innocent and moving, it caused dark things to stir unbeknownst to the lovers, and the tale ended without conclusion. Instead, it promised more on another night, suggesting a coming tragedy.
The three ponies waited until the end before Celestia approached her with Luna and Rebel in tow, after the other pegasi collected the food for their exchange. “Well met, story collector.”
“Celestia. Luna.” Her laugh-lines creased to see them. “How have you fared, with your new understanding?”
“Better, in some respects.” She dipped her head in a short bow, a reflection of respect nearly automatic to Celestia, when addressing a chief. “I’m surprised you remember our names. My … nickname seems to be all I hear anymore.”
“Oh, nonsense.” Momma brushed off the idea with a gesture of her wing. “I could never forget a pair of ponies such as you and your sister. You have a mark on you, one that tells me you have great stories to tell and yet experience.”
Luna stepped up next to Celestia. “May we share in some food again, today?” she blurted without preamble.
Celestia gave a nervous laugh, awkwardly covering her embarrassment. “We are quite hungry, truth be told. I can offer some of those stories to trade, if you want.”
“Certainly.” Momma’s chuckle felt genuine, having taken no offense at Luna. She pushed the silvery bowl forward, filled with a mix of all things green and delicious.
Restraining herself from tearing into the entire bowl was one of the harder things Celestia ever had to do.
Rebel Bolt exchanged his own greeting with Momma, falling into an embrace with her. After that, Celestia and Luna were too preoccupied with their halves of the food to listen. The meager meal disappeared all too soon down their jaws, slurped up with wild abandon. Still, there was satisfaction to be found and Celestia felt relieved of the main force of her hunger.
“Good, I trust?” Momma interrupted their reprieve and knelt to the bowl, taking a large bite.
“Yes. Yes, and thank you.”
“You should probably find more soon.” Momma looked up from the bowl, her eyes wise and canny. “You will be unable to live on these small bites forever.”
“I know.” Celestia sighed and sat. “I’ve been working on it.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Luna interjected.
“Of course, my dear.” She sat up from her meal.
“I have so many!” She gestured to the open expanse with both forelimbs. “This room, why is it here? And the cave, I keep finding strange things left behind. Why are they here? Does this all have a story?”
“Everything has a story, but not all stories are known.” One of her wings spread and swept slowly over the chamber. “This place I know. In fragments.” She touched the raised pedestal at the center with the tip of a feather. “It once held something beautiful. What that was, I do not know, other than that it shined like stars and held all the colors of the rainbow. Long ago, it was stolen. It’s splendor captured the greed of fierce creatures, and the pegasi made no move to confront them. The creatures made off with what the room contained, leaving not a trace of it behind, save these.” She tapped the bowl. It rocked noisily over the stone floor. “As for why this room housed such a thing, or the cave exists … that I cannot say. Those stories are old, far older than even this wrinkled mare you see before you.” She laughed. “They have been lost long ago in the passing of time.”
Luna leaned in with the last of a fledgling hope fleeting from her. “Have pegasi always been here?”
Momma considered the question before she answered. “The oldest tales say so. The pegasi have been here a long, long time.”
Luna fell into an introspective quiet, musing on the story she heard. Seeing this, Momma stepped closer and dusted a cheek of the young mare’s face with a feathered-wing. “The cave holds its secrets greedily. It is one of those mysteries we encounter but may never hope to solve. Perhaps, it is best that way, left to our imagination.” Her eyes searched Luna’s face, puzzled. “Now, for the story you owe, tell me. How did you burn your mane like that?”
The unexpected question sent laughter through Celestia’s frame that she tried her best to curtail. Luna laughed too, and her cheeks flushed lightly as she began to explain. An aspect of Momma’s words rang true, but Celestia doubted Luna would end her investigations for this obstacle alone. If anything, the partial tale would only draw more curiosity.
Idly, Celestia let her eyes wander over Luna’s wings.
Soon, they’d have to fly.
While I have your attention, I'll drop another recommended reading. The fact that this fic, All Aboard, had only 27 likes is a crime against all that is pony. If you like something in the vein of Miyazaki films (Howls Moving Castle, Spirited Away), then this should be on your reading list.]