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Dreams Coming True All Over The Place + Melancholia + Your Humble Servant and Loyal Subject, Twilight Sparkle + Memories of Waning + Perfunctory + A Dragon in the Library + Twilight Ambushed + Rarity, by Accident + Conversations In Dreams + Silly Filly
A candle burned on the writing table, filling the room with a gentle amber glow. It had been much, much taller when its wick had first been lit by a gentle whisper of magic, and around its simple wooden candlestick lay several worn-out quills and several rolls of parchment sealed neatly in vivid purple wax.
There was one last open parchment, though. Nothing was written on it—yet, of course. This was the most important letter of all, a summary—no, a research note—no…
Twilight Sparkle stared at the virginal scroll, quill suspended in midair above it as it had been for the last twenty minutes.
This was still hard. There was so much to write about, and yet nothing of consequence—just volumes upon volumes of gossip, goings-on, and…just stuff. As she ran over recent events in her mind, they struck her as mundane and, more importantly, less pressing or fulfilling than these missives had been in the past.
She sighed and wandered over to the window, looking down on what had once been the small town of Ponyville. Now, of course, it was a bustling city, and still growing. The rail hub to Canterlot had brought more ponies of all the tribes to Ponyville from the outlying regions of Equestria, and those ponies had found in Ponyville a warm and welcoming embrace. Now Ponyville was spoken of in the same sense as Fillydelphia and even, in certain contexts, Manehattan.
More faces meant more energy meant more going on; yet for some reason, in the middle of everything, there were Twilight Sparkle and her friends. This meant, inevitably, that things were less and less about Twilight and her friends and more about each of them, individually, and the ponies they were dealing with at the time. This, too, was worthy study, and interestingly had only bound Twilight and her friends together more tightly as they were increasingly thrust into the center of events by ponies coming to Ponyville…ponies full of dreams. Dreams which seemed to come true here more often than anywhere else in the magical land of Equestria.
Twilight cast a melancholy gaze at the dress in the corner, and thought: Dreams are coming true all over the place.
There were a great many things of dire importance to say, weren’t there…
A rush of words suddenly spilled into her mind, and she even felt a nonsensical urge to stifle herself from blurting them out. Not, of course, that anyone was around to hear them; Spike had long ago left for Rarity’s and would not return anytime soon. Fitting a dragon was tricky business, and Rarity’s enthusiasm for the challenge was exceeded only by Spike’s unending patience for being fussed over by the unicorn for hours on end. The thought brought a quiet, strained smile to Twilight’s face.
Still, though, no need to be…childish. To gush. To whine. Dignity was a privilege of those who chose to be dignified; it was a choice of how to react to things, not something that you just had, inherently. And Twilight Sparkle, Arch-Mage of Equestria, had dignity in droves. Especially in communication with—
My most noble Princess,
Princess Celestia gave a small sigh at the show of formality.
My most noble Princess,
As I have previously related, the happy event of Fluttershy’s marriage will be taking place in three days, and as her friend, I have been pleased to be heavily involved with the planning. In her own words—
“Who better to plan,” Celestia sang along to the familiar tune with a weary smile, “than the All-Team Organizer.”
‘Who better to plan than the All-Team Organizer?” Although of course I have left that responsibility in the capable hoofs of Zecora’s brother for several years now, which has significantly smoothed the introduction of our zebra population into Ponyville traditions. But Fluttershy is always pleased to remember old times…
Celestia scanned the remainder of the letter with a growing sense of unease and (ah! A pang of guilt stabbed her heart!) disinterest. While she swelled with pride at Twilight’s accomplishments and was, of course, pleased at the role she and her friends had taken in Ponyville, Celestia had quietly charted how this had drawn her protégé’s attention more and more away from the personal relationships and more and more into the intricacies of politics—which, in essence, were personal relationships writ large.
Not that Twilight had disappointed in this area of study by any stretch of the imagination. Celestia had been thrilled to find Twilight’s essays and commentaries circulating the Canterlot court, voraciously consumed, commented upon, and argued over by prominent statesponies, completely independently of any meddling on Celestia’s part. They were works of great insight and clarity, founded in Twilight’s studies of friendship and from there expanded upon elegantly into visions of a society where everypony is welcome and everypony can pursue their uniqueness in peace.
Celestia let her gaze fall on the small presentation stand of first editions of Twilight’s commentaries on civic policy; for all that they tended towards the dry, they were nevertheless driven by a desire for social harmony, understanding, and acceptance. The Pursuit of Harmony was a personal favorite, a thin red book between the thick covers of Twilight’s more technical works. It had struck Celestia as very personal, almost like a wish wrapped as loosely as possible in Twilight’s typically dry and verbose prose.
Celestia was deeply, deeply proud of her little pony.
And yet, at the same time…she had been glad to hear that Twilight had been called upon to be involved in her friend’s wedding.
The Magic of Friendship was not, of course, magic the way unicorn telekinesis or Twilight’s more spectacular gifts were, except insofar as it empowered magic through, for example, the Elements of Harmony. Understanding the interaction of emotional states and magic was a very important part of anypony’s magical education, and emotional instability was always a volatile combination with a powerfully magical pony. Friendship—love—was more magical than magic, more real than reality. It both anchored a pony to reality and set them free; it both made you a part of society and put you in touch with yourself. It was fundamental to all thinking beings; even animals loved, in their way. Robbed of that love and understanding, ponies’ souls wasted into meanness and selfishness in a vain pursuit of creating for themselves the happiness and peace that only others could give them through real friendship. Celestia knew this as well as anypony did, bowing only—perhaps—to Twilight Sparkle, her most faithful stu—
Not…student. Not anymore. Associate. Colleague?
In any case…
The Magic of Friendship had freed Luna. The Magic of Friendship had ended Discord. The Magic of Friendship incarnate in Twilight and her friends had made Ponyville in particular but—and Celestia wondered how much Twilight realized this—Equestria in general as harmonious and wonderful a place as it had ever been.
Celestia realized she had let her eyes drift over whole paragraphs without actually reading their contents, feeling another little stab of guilt. Once upon a time—
Well, first of all, and it had to be said, once upon a time Twilight had been in the habit of writing shorter notes, more often, that were less about the business of Ponyville or her magical research and more about herself.
But more importantly, once upon a time Twilight’s letters had engrossed her; she recalled fondly the many occasions when Spike’s little burst of green, sweet-smelling fire had appeared in front of her, often to the surprise and consternation of one of Celestia’s other guests, and she had pored over the dragon’s chickenscratch handwriting eagerly, savoring her student’s emergence into adulthood and real joy with her friends. Even the letters drowned in fear or sorrow had been, in their way, a joy in the alicorn’s heart; a small burst of vicarious freedom into a life unburdened by the responsibilities of royalty.
And she had been able to write back, knowing that she was still, even if from a distance, part of Twilight’s life. She could advise, and console, and even now and then catch wind of a scandalous rumor or have some quiet pleasure in realizing that Twilight was trying to keep a secret from her.
Now, though…Celestia’s eyes flickered wearily to her own sets of quills and scrolls. Nowadays her—Celestia’s—letters in return read, when she thought about it, like requests, or policy decisions. Letters from a monarch to a talented, intelligent statespony. Which, of course, Twilight was, but…
The very idea filled her heart with a deep melancholy.
Of course, she had invited Twilight’s other friends to write to her as well—although at the time, it was just to give the poor unicorn some room in her head to get the idea that this was a long-term field research project—observations and reflections on her real life—rather than a daily assignment like it had been when Celestia was personally training Twilight’s emerging magical potential. No more, ‘practice until you can control three objects in the air at once, for tomorrow morning,’ more ‘be self-aware, be outgoing, and above all, be thoughtful’. Eventually the young unicorn had gotten the idea.
It had been nice to have personal correspondence with Twilight’s friends. Celestia had nurtured relationships with them independent of Twilight, but took pains never to be quite as involved with them. They were Twilight’s friends, and Celestia’s acquaintances. That was best.
Celestia sighed, letting the long parchment slide down out of her immediate vision. Twilight had gotten older, and things…
It had started with that dragon, hadn’t it...?
Yes, in a way, it had. Although Twilight had learned a valuable lesson about understanding that some ponies had hidden strengths, Celestia had taken the opportunity to make Twilight her agent. As her personal student, Twilight was easily the most capable nearby pony to handle the problem.
…and, yes, it had been a bit of a challenge for her. That was good. But Celestia should not have gotten in the habit of using Twilight as a cat’s paw.
That was the downside of Twilight’s skill; she was spectacularly useful—and if Twilight couldn’t deal with a situation, then surely at least one of her friends was in a position to. But useful tools get—
Tools? Celestia chided herself for even making the metaphorical comparison.
—useful tools get worn down faster than those left on the workbench.
Celestia grimaced through yet another stab of guilt and raised the end of the parchment to read her protégé’s conclusion. The princess smiled gently as she noticed the quillwriting getting looser and decidedly more irregular, and had a vision of Twilight yawning and dozing off as the quill scratched across the paper, surrounded by a flickering pink light.
…which of course has been an immense hassle since Rainbow Dash and Applejack have not yet returned with the specifics of what will be necessary to repair it. Although knowing them, they will probably come back with things either completely repaired, or things will be much worse, their return heralded by squabbling all the way. Whatever happens, rest assured that I will take care of it with all haste.
‘Rest assured’ was another familiar phrase. Twilight assured her princess quite often that things were in capable hooves, as if Celestia had any doubt.
With that concluded, I present you my sincerest greetings and hope that you and your sister are well.
Your humble servant and loyal subject,
And then, Twilight’s increasingly illegible signature.
Humble servant and loyal subject.
Celestia pursed her lips and looked around her private chambers guiltily. True it may be that Twilight was by no stretch of the imagination her student anymore, but…every time she read "humble servant", it was like a knife in her heart.
“Dear Princess Celestia, Today, I learned a very important lesson about friendship…Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.”
The words rose, unbidden, to Celestia’s mind, and she slowly shut her eyes, waiting until her throat didn’t feel so tight.
Are we well. What a…what a silly thing to say, honestly…
Celestia felt a need which, over the last thousand years, had come more and more rarely: the need to consult somepony else. Even more unusually, she knew who she wanted to talk to immediately, but could not clearly express why.
Rising from her bier elegantly, Celestia quickly donned her royal attire and trotted, perhaps a little faster than she meant to, through the bright corridors of the palace, acknowledging the polite nods of castle folk gracefully and enduring the exaggerated expressions of attentiveness from the guards with her usual patient smile.
Eventually she reached a conveniently flaring archway and spread, with serene grace, her pearl-white wings, soaring up into the dark stone tower that was her sister’s. She landed with the slightest click on an inlaid stone moon on a balcony and paused for a moment, looking up at the early evening sky.
The moon was…waning. That…might make this harder. Or at least, more unpleasant than it had to be.
“Luna?” Celestia trilled. “May I speak with you?”
The balcony was isolated from Luna’s rooms by an elegant midnight-blue curtains inlaid, magically, with silver stars and sapphires enchanted such that it appeared as a hazy, midnight-colored smoke. From beyond this (somewhat showy, in Celestia’s opinion) portal came her sister’s voice.
“Oh? Celestia...? Of course, please…come in,” Luna purred.
Celestia gently parted the curtain and entered Luna’s chambers. They were on the waning cycle of their monthly change, just as their mistress was, and like her, they were growing darker. Shadows deepened in the corners of the room and the blues and whites which, in fuller times, were bright and merry were now fading, becoming muted and sullen. But that all meant the gems that encrusted the ceilings were shining all the brighter—
Celestia’s mind reeled back, reflexively and completely against her will, to that thunderous night when those gems had whirled around her raging sister in a furious storm, beautiful and terrible—
—like the very stars in the sky. But unlike that night, their light was bright and cold, like they were on country nights in winter, not low and menacing as they had been…harbingers of the coming storm.
“You always pause, when it’s waning time,” Luna said from one of the shadowy corners, half-hidden in the darkness. Her voice was…strange. Inscrutable, as it always was when the shadows loomed.
“I…” Celestia said, momentarily startled. “I don’t mean to,” she said, firmly.
Luna emerged, looking melancholy but, nevertheless, smiling gently. “I know you don’t, sister,” she said quietly. “But you pause, nevertheless.”
Celestia smiled, faintly. She had been afraid of this; the waning time was always hard on Luna, and she was inclined to be harsh. It was something she had forgotten in her sister’s absence and had been a stumbling block in renewing their relationship when she returned.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have remade this room,” Luna continued, prowling through the dark, airy chamber. “But ponies always seem impressed by it; and even you, sister, must admit that it is…quite beautiful.”
“It is,” Celestia conceded.
Luna shook her head—small, now, like her; she was little bigger than any mare, unlike her regal size at full moon—and made a soft tsk. “It grieves me, then, that we have such painful memories of it.” She paused a moment, looking up at the glittering ceiling, and smiled. “Forgive me, I know I’m letting waning time get the best of me,” she said, the darkness dispelled from her voice with the slightest hint of effort. “Today is the worst day, in its way.”
“It’s quite alright, Luna,” Celestia said. “I understand.”
There was, for the tiniest moment, a flicker of amused doubt in Luna’s eyes; but then it was gone, replaced by genuine interest and pleasure at her sister’s presence. “May I ask what you wish to talk about?”
“It’s…” Celestia paused, considering how to phrase her worries.
“Twilight,” Luna said.
Celestia was suddenly roused from her contemplation. “Hmm? What?”
“Twilight,” Luna repeated, nodding towards the door, under which a rich amber glow was barely visible through the mystic haze. “I was going to ask if it was about moonrise, but…” Luna grinned, her face alight with amusement, “I suspect this is about Twilight Sparkle, is it not? Please,” she continued, suddenly all charm, “Do sit down.”
Celestia frowned ever-so-slightly at being caught out by her sister’s little game, but lay on the lounging sofa Luna had indicated. “I am concerned about her, yes.”
“Concerned about your prize Arch-Mage? Whatever for?” Luna asked, in a slightly more sly tone of voice than Celestia was entirely pleased with.
“Her letters, recently…” Celestia began, suddenly very keenly aware that there had only been three in the last few months. “Have been…less…more…”
Luna’s sly expression dropped in the face of Celestia’s uncertainty, replaced instead by wariness and concern.
“They have been…perfunctory,” Celestia declared, finally.
“Perfunctory!?” Luna gasped.
“My goodness,” Luna replied.
“Indeed,” Celestia said, nodding knowingly. “And upon reflection, I am worried that I may have…”
“…entirely inadvertently, obviously…”
Celestia frowned. “I may have…exacerbated the situation.”
Luna paced for a moment, looking thoughtful. “How so?”
“I am terribly proud of everything she’s achieved,” Celestia said hastily. “Academically, of course, and…personally. She is a truly special mare.”
Luna nodded. “You have every right to be a proud mentor and confidant,” she agreed solemnly.
“But I fear I may have allowed my professional relationship with her to take precedence over our personal relationship.”
“I’m afraid so,” Celestia said, sadly, and sighed. “When she writes, it is always a long list of, well, goings-on. News, current events. Which is fine in its way, but it’s never about…her, it’s always about what’s going on. I’d like her to feel that she can talk to me about how she is dealing with things. Some of what she and her friends do is, after all, very dangerous and stressful work for anypony.”
Luna tossed her head gently from side to side. “Ah, well...maybe she’s just too used to writing those incredibly boring books,” she said.
Celestia gave her a harsh look, but let it fade immediately.
“I’m just having a go at you, sister, fret not,” Luna said, chuckling. She wandered over to a tall cart upon which a tall, silver carafe and some tumblers sat. “Would you care for a drink, sister...? Nothing strong, I assure you. Lemonade and tea.”
“Thank you,” Celestia said. She waited for Luna to return with the sweet, cool drink and sipped it elegantly. “I came to you because...” She paused.
Why did she come to Luna? Granted, she was a good friend of Twilight Sparkle’s—that relationship had been a bit of a, ha, nightmare for awhile, but was straightened out in good time…they had collaborated on research, of course…and Luna was, after all, especially beloved in Ponyville and visited there often.
Still, though. Now that she was here, talking to Luna about it, Celestia felt a little silly. Worrying over nothing that probably just pass, in time, like as not.
“Because I’m your sister, whom you trust and love above all other confidants?” Luna prompted, with an exaggerated tone of hurt and a comically pathetic expression.
“Of course you are, Luna. But—"
“Perhaps because Twilight and I have spent soooo much time together? Long hours over a hot runestone, piercing the greater mysteries of magic?” Luna continued, teasing this time.
“Well, yes, but—"
“…Because I’ve been to Ponyville in the last three months for a reason other than state business...?”
And that was Luna on the wane. She said it casually, as if it was nothing of consequence, but the unspoken accusation was apparent in every syllable, all the more cutting for not being said.
“Luna!” Celestia snapped, but immediately her tone softened. “I’m sorry,” she continued.
“No, you’re not,” Luna said, taking a step forward towards her reclining sister. “And neither am I. I meant it, and I’ll stand by it. Who else is going to tell you…” Despite her defiant pose, Luna suddenly looked awkward, as if she didn’t know what to say next.
“Tell me what, sister?” Celestia said calmly, taking a sip, but keeping eye contact over the tumbler’s rim.
Luna looked at her warily for a second, then said, “Tell you what you know, in your heart. You’ve been neglecting your student—“
“She’s not my student anymore, Luna.”
“She’s always going to be your student, I think,” Luna said, somewhat sadly.
Celestia didn’t really understand what Luna meant by this, so she addressed the rhetorical point. “Twilight was the one who brought up the question of whether she was really a student to me anymore. She was proud—I was proud to declare her studies more than complete. And the Academy named her an Arch-Mage in recognition of her many, many achievements. Calling her a student at this point would belittle her and everything she’s done.”
Luna shrugged, as if this were a matter open to discussion. “If she’s not your student, what is she, then?”
“She is still my protégé,” Celestia replied coolly, “And my dear friend.”
Luna smiled enigmatically. “And yet, both you and she stumble over how to address each other.”
Celestia narrowed her eyes, but said, pleasantly, “So it is your opinion that I have been…less attentive of Twilight, personally, that I ought’ve?”
“That’s your opinion. It’s my observation, sister,” Luna said, stepping back and lowering herself onto her bier. “I know it hurts to hear," she said sympathetically, seeing a pained expression leap across Celestia's features. "I appreciate that both you and Twilight Sparkle are very busy ponies, but who can make time for one another if not two of the most powerful mages in Equestria? One of whom,” she said reproachfully, tapping a hoof in front of her to emphasize her point, “Is that land’s ruler, by day?”
Celestia looked towards the door. Twilight was fading from gold to deep red, and soon it would pass from purple into Luna’s shimmering night. The poetry of the situation was not lost on her, but in her poor humor she found it irritating rather than something to reflect upon.
Luna smiled, gently. “And let’s be honest, if there’s somepony—anypony—who goes out of their way to find ways to be busy, it’s you two, sister,” she said.
Silence reigned over the princesses for a moment while Celestia considered matters.
“Has Twilight spoken to you of this?” she asked, eventually.
“Of course not.”
“What do you mean, ‘Of course not’?”
Luna actually giggled. “Twilight Sparkle? Say a word against you?”
There was a pause as Luna’s mirth died in the face of her sister’s bowed head.
“I had hoped,” Celestia said solemnly, “That if she did have a problem, she would feel comfortable speaking to me about it.”
The silence, this time, was awkward, and lasted much, much longer.
“…you should go to her,” Luna said, quietly. “I think…she wants you to.”
Celestia compared the mental list of things ponies were expecting of her to Luna’s earlier comment about timekeeping. Luna was cutting deeper than she knew; immediately Celestia’s mind was filled with so many memories of boring, pointless audiences that could just have easily been afternoon tea with her brilliant, precious stu—with Twilight.
Who was her own mare now, not the little filly who trailed in Celestia’s wake so cheerfully, all those years ago.
“I suppose I could stop by in the next few days—“
“That is not what I meant,” Luna stated firmly. Again, she clicked her hoof irritably in front of her. “This is a good time. Dear Fluttershy is marrying that stallion, Macintosh, very soon now. There is a standing invitation for us to attend.”
“Oh, I couldn’t impose.”
“I am sure that they would think of it as anything but an imposition,” Luna said calmly. “Indeed, I suspect that they would be pleased for you to be there. I intend to go myself.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Celestia replied. “I meant on Twilight. She is apparently planning everything…”
“Of course she is,” Luna purred.
Celestia smiled. “So I would hate to distract her with some personal issues in this stressful time.”
Luna gave her older sister a rather more patronizing look that Celestia was used to. “Is that not the root of the issue, dear sister?”
“I suppose it is,” Celestia responded ruefully.
“Let us drop the pretense that you are here for any reason than to be told to do what you already want to,” Luna said, slyness slipping back into her voice. “As you have pointed out to me before, this is the real reason ponies seek out advice.”
“I suppose you’re right, my dear sister,” Celestia said, smiling.
“If it makes you feel any better, think about how vital it is for the good of Equestria for the Sun Princess and the Arch-Mage to remain such…close associates,” Luna continued, with exaggerated pomposity, waving a hoof in the air with supreme arrogance.
Celestia sipped the sweet tea, taking the opportunity to reflect on her behavior. “I never intended to…” She trailed off, finding herself unwilling to actually admit that she had been negligent of her favorite…student. Associate.
“The thought never crossed my mind,” Luna replied airily. “She owns some of the fault, if you want to know my heart on this matter. She takes such pride in being…” Celestia raised an eyebrow, causing Luna to smile slyly. “Diligent. She likes being seen to be working hard for those she cares about. And she rarely comes right out with things, these days.”
The shadows around Luna seemed to deepen for a moment. “No, sister, she does not. You should bear that in mind, when you speak with her.”
Celestia looked away from her sister, sadly. “I am truly sorry to hear that.”
Luna leaned forward, the shadows slinking away. “Oh, Celestia…” she said, shaking her head. “I’m sure that Twilight is just…she just needs your personal touch. A lot of responsibility on a young head. We both know all too well how that goes.”
Celestia smiled faintly. “I suppose we do.”
Luna got up and slowly walked up to her sister. “Fear not, sister. I am certain all will be resolved, in time,” she said, and nuzzled Celestia in the gentle way they they had grown to share together again, since her return. Celestia nuzzled back, reflexively, but her thoughts lingered on her heavy heart.
Celestia heard her voice ringing out through the library—Twilight’s library—and let her ears follow the hollow echo down the stairs. The twinkling residue of magic winked out around her.
“Hmm…” she murmured, stepping in off the balcony. The library was dimly lit, the windows not taking in the early afternoon sunlight through the tree’s broad boughs—and my, weren’t they broad. Once, Celestia had been able to descend straight down onto the balcony, but no longer, it seemed.
The landing opened onto Twilight’s study, full as it ever was with stacks of books, several telescopes, a truly impressive array of chemistry equipment—some of which, Celestia now had time to notice, was jerry-rigged from cookware—along with several more arcane devices for Twilight’s magical experimentation. It was immediately apparent that, despite her many other responsibilities, Twilight had never given up on stargazing, and Celestia idly wondered how much of Luna’s fondness for Twilight was explained right there.
Stacks of scrolls and books surrounded the writing desk, as well. Celestia saw the distinctive red leather binding of Pageturner’s History of Equestria and the proud, golden script of Goldenhorn’s Equestrian Colonies and Diplomacy. The scrolls were equally interesting, sealed with brightly colored wax and marks of dignitaries, scholars and statesponies from across Equestria and beyond. Celestia was impressed—even she didn’t hear from some of these ponies.
“Twilight?” Celestia called out again.
“Just a minute!” came a reply from behind the door to the main room of Twilight’s home. Celestia waited patiently, until she heard the stairs being climbed. For the look of the thing, she backed onto the landing again.
The door handle swiveled—without the distinctive red hue of Twilight’s magic.
“Hello, Spike,” Celestia said, warmly.
“Oh, hi, Princess,” Spike said happily, then the bit dropped and his eyes went wild. “P-p-p-Princess!? Princess Celestia!” He dropped down into a low and impressive bow. He was slightly taller than a grown pony now, long-limbed and decidedly spikier, especially in the crests near his ears.
“Ah, Spike,” Celestia said warmly, “I can always count on you for suitably dignified greeting.”
“Uh, thanks,” Spike replied, rising awkwardly. He raised what, for the sake of simplicity, could be called his eyebrow. “Does Twilight know you’re here? She didn’t say anything to me,” he asked irritably. “She never tells me anything.”
Despite the lance of anxiety she felt at hearing this, Celestia maintained her composure. Spike was always a grumbler. “I’m sure her busy schedule just gets away from her, Spike,” she said. “I have to chase mine all across Equestria some days.”
“Like today, I guess,” Spike said knowingly. “So what needs doing?”
“Doing? Why…nothing, Spike.”
“So…” he trailed off, looking around awkwardly. “So, then what…brings you to Ponyville...?” he asked, confused.
Celestia raised her eyebrows in shock. Spike assumes she’s here to hand out assignments! As if she needs a reason to see her dear friends!
He completely misinterpreted her look, however. Whether that was good or bad, Celestia found herself unable to tell. “Oh! Of course!” he said, slapping his forehead. “The wedding! You would be invited, of course…duh…”
“That’s right,” Celestia lied. “I was hoping you and Twilight could spare me some room until the happy event.”
“Oh, well, shouldn’t be a problem,” the dragon said. “C’mon, let’s find Twilight! I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to see you!” He ambled out, tail dragging behind him. Celestia followed him, giving her protégé’s study one last, affectionate look, taking in all the detail she could so that she could recall later the sense of pride she felt seeing it.
The Library’s main room, once a spartan living area that also served as a de facto meeting place, was much more impressive than it had been when Twilight moved to Ponyville. The interior had undergone beautification, with the shelves cleaned and polished, the books properly sorted and the spaces in the shelves filled by Twilight’s discerning hoof. The furnishings were immaculate rosewood pieces upholstered in rich purple, special gifts to Twilight after one of her adventures in…Phillydelphia, wasn’t it? And a beautiful silver lecture podium that Celestia had given her as a gift several Hearth’s Warming Eves ago.
Not for the first time, Celestia felt a pang of regret as the memory of a homey, cheerful little town library flashed across her mind’s eye; but she above everyone else was in a position to know that things change. After all, she remembered when this was just a tree.
But still, a hint of loss nagged at her. It was all for show. If this house had belonged, for example, to Rarity, Celestia wouldn’t have given the rich furnishings a second thought. Everypony made their immediate environment reflect their inner personality, and Rarity’s love of creating beautiful things had always extended to her home and boutique—always spectacular and elegant.
But Twilight’s study put paid to the lie that was the library. Her study was as rough and cluttered as it had always been. The chair was a creaky old one Twilight had sheepishly explained was once her grandmother’s, and she had always loved as a filly; the table was stained and marred with the side effects of a hundred experiments. Above all, the books, her favorite books, were not shelved neatly, nor shiny and well-kept—they lay about her bed, battered from wear.
This room was a little lie—the lie of prestige, the lie of dignity. Just a little lie, but…a lie, about who she was, for the benefit of other ponies.
A lie that Celestia was far too familiar with. She sighed.
“Is something wrong, Princess?” Spike asked cautiously, from the door.
“Hmm?” Celestia was stirred from her thoughts, and blinked. “Oh…no, Spike. I was just thinking about how things change.”
“Oh, don’t get me started!” Spike said, shutting the door again. “Change, change, change. Maybe it’s the wedding, but…” the dragon descended into unhappy grumbling as he tossed himself in a chair in the corner, which was slightly more worn than the others. Little snatches of green smoke leaked out of his mouth.
“What do you mean, Spike?” Celestia asked, trying to keep her worry out of her voice.
“Well, I mean,” Spike started, huffing irritably, “Everything’s all different now. Ponyville’s huge, and everypony’s famous or important or rich or something…I can’t even remember the last time everypony was here together…”
Celestia walked over to him and gave him a warm smile. “I’m sorry to hear that, Spike. But everyone will be together for the wedding, won’t they?”
“Hopefully…AJ and Dash are still off.” Spike crossed his arms and sunk into the chair and looked away. “And Twilight! Twilight…”
“Yes?” Celestia asked, carefully. “What about Twilight?”
Spike looked up at Celestia, eyes weary. “Oh, just…busy. You know. And since some dragon around here is her assistant, I’m busy, too…all hours of the night, sometimes.”
“I see,” Celestia said.
Spike sighed. “The wedding is making me crazy,” he said. “Twilight’s got me running back and forth all day and night…”
“She is lucky to have such a loyal assistant, then,” Celestia replied fondly. “Maybe now that I’m here, I can help out and take some of the load off of your shoulders.”
“Really? Feel free!” Spike said, sitting back up. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to complain right away after you’ve gotten here, but this has been too much for me. Between working for Twilight and helping at Rarity’s, I’m…” The dragon’s cheeks flushed crimson into Celestia’s knowing smile. “Okay, so maybe I bring it on myself a little,” he admitted. “But I’m still glad you’re here.”
Spike stood up and ambled back over to the door. “Come on, Princess…I’m sure Twilight is at Sweet Apple Acres, making sure all the napkins are the same length or something.”
“Spike…” Celestia murmured. He turned and gave her a questioning gaze, and she spread her wings.
“Oh,” he said, embarassed. “Right.”
The descent onto Sweet Apple Acres, especially in the early summer, was always a pleasure for the Princess. It was, in a quiet way, a masterpiece of the earth pony tribe, showing the subtle, unsung strength of their natural tenaciousness and attachment to the land. Rolling fields of blossoming apple trees greeted the princess, and through her connection to the sun, she felt their grateful embrace of its life-giving warmth. She inhaled deeply and enjoyed a quiet moment of serenity.
Spike tapped her shoulder and pointed towards the south lawn of the yard, but he didn’t need to. There was an amazing bustle and commotion going on as the entirety of the Apple family prepared the south lawn for the wedding. Tables were being laid out and carefully clothed, in the sure knowledge that tomorrow would be a beautiful day—although next Wednesday would be a good day to stay inside.
“Do you see Twilight?” Celestia asked Spike.
“No,” he replied, shouting over the wind of their movement. “I think she’s inside the barn, that’s where they’re setting up the, er,” he stammered for a moment. “The hoe-down.”
Celestia smiled broadly and, with careful grace, alighted down near the barn.
Such was the intensity of the set-up that only a very few ponies noticed her arrival. They greeted her with stunned politeness, and she, in return, gave them beatific smiles and urged them not to let her interfere with the goings-on.
Inside the barn was a cluster of ponies, all with intense expressions, nodding furiously in a big huddle in the center, but only one voice. Celestia smiled to hear her beloved protégé Twilight Sparkle in full organization mode, being obeyed without question by Apple family stallions twice her size.
“Red Delicious, have you and Red Gala been down to Sugar Cube Corner and gotten the trifles? Yes? Good. In the icebox? Great, thanks—now why don’t you go out and help with the tables...right. Golden Delicious, Apple Fritter, you two set up some crates and set up the cider station. Here, see, right here. Granny Smith told me to use the crates from the rear of the barn, but—right, try to keep the nice side pointed out…” And so on, for a good ten minutes, as clusters of ponies—tending towards yellow and red—marched off in every direction as if Twilight was still behind them barking orders.
“She’s really something,” Spike remarked. Celestia gave him an odd smile—it was if he was advocating for her, for some reason.
“She always has been, Spike,” Celestia replied, hoping that her tone of voice conveyed her utter confidence in Twilight, and stepped forward.
Only Apple Bloom remained with Twilight, who was sitting on her haunches poring over a long scroll and sounding off commands rapid-fire. Celestia cleared her throat, and Apple Bloom looked up in astonishment. Twilight continued chattering as Celestia smiled at Apple Bloom, who began frantically tapping Twilight’s shoulder.
“—and after that, we can get the musicians in for tuning—yes, yes—what?” Twilight snapped, then followed Apple Bloom’s pointing hoof into the cheerful smile of Princess Celestia.
“Prnsiz!” The gears in Twilight’s mind hopped a cog, and the expression of shock came out like a stifled sneeze. Apple Bloom, bowing hastily, made herself scarce, stammering explanations.
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle. I hope I’m not intruding...?”
“No, no, of course not!” Twilight said, standing up. Delight was etched on every inch of her features—
Etched. Yes…that was the right word. The smile was perfect—practiced, reflexive. Twilight’s eyes were wary and nervous, dancing about the building, looking everywhere but at Celestia. “Well, I mean, I didn’t expect you, of course, but—“
Celestia lowered her head in a gentle invitation for a familiar nuzzle. “I’m sorry, my dear, I so rarely drop in unannounced these days, don’t I…”
“Uh, yeah,” Twilight replied, chuckling nervously. She carefully approached the princess and accepted the gesture of close friendship. “I…is there something you need from me? Only I’m a little tied up at the moment.”
Again, Celestia’s heart suffered a sharp stab of sorrow as somepony she cared about expected her to be here handing out work. Although perhaps pang was not quite the word; pangs don’t drain your reserves of emotional control quite that quickly. “Not at all, Twilight,” she said, a little more subdued. “In fact, is there anything I can do to help...?”
“Umm,” Twilight looked around urgently. “No? I think the Apple family have everything in order.”
“I must confess myself deeply impressed by your organizational skills, Twilight,” Celestia said, surveying the bustle of the preparations. “Once again,” she added, pointedly.
“Oh, well, the Apple family has a strong tradition of celebrations, really,” Twilight said, nervously. “I’m just keeping everything in order and taking care of some preparations they don’t usually have to make—for the pegasus ponies and so on…”
Celestia gave her protégé a beaming smile. “I am pleasantly unsuprised to find you excelling once again, my faith—“ she caught herself just in time. “I’m sorry,” she said. “My dear Twilight Sparkle.”
“Were…were you expecting a report on friendship from this...?” Twilight asked, nervously. Her smile was somewhat glassy, now. “I could, if…if you wanted, I mean, there’s…this is a big deal! I mean, when you wrote that you were pleased that I had agreed to do this, I—well, I thought you might mean that, but I wasn’t sure—“
Celestia, with an effort, managed to prevent her face from falling. Ah, the knife—and it twists, too!
“No, Twilight. I’m sorry, I seem to have…given you the wrong impression,” the Princess said, cringing internally. “I am pleased to accept Fluttershy’s invitation, as is my sister. I had just hoped you and I could spend—“
“Luna is coming, too? Princess Luna!?” Twilight said, shocked.
“She told us she was coming last week, Twilight,” Spike said. “Remember?” he added, sourly, remembering the indigestion. Luna was not quite as good at dragon messages as Celestia, and for some reason Twilight didn’t remember things she experienced in dreams—Luna’s preferred method of magical communication.
“Oh, right,” Twilight said, calming down. “Right. We have the—right.” She rubbed a foreleg across her forehead. “I’m terribly sorry, Princess—you’re really not seeing me at my best…preparations, and—“
“I may be to blame for that,” Celestia said with a chuckle that she didn’t feel. “I’m afraid I’ve ambushed you. Tell me, do you think you have some room to spare for me overnight? Otherwise, I may have to go to Cloudsd—“
“Of…of course I have room! For you! Room for you, the princess!” Twilight stammered. “Please, take the bed, I’ll pull out the spare—much too small for you, don’t worry about it,” Twilight said as Celestia opened her mouth to protest. “And, and…yeah! I’m probably going to be here late in any case, so, uh, don’t wait up!”
“I had hoped we could talk, Twilight—“
A hunted look appeared in Twilight’s eye. “Why? Have I…have I done something wrong?”
“No, not at all,” Celestia said. “I just want to talk.” This did not seem to alleviate Twilight’s worries. Celestia knew her protégé quite well, and could only imagine the nightmares she was inflicting on herself. “Chat. Over tea, maybe? I brought some of that herbal tea you like…”
“Oh,” Twilight replied, sounding only very slightly relieved. “Yes, that would be…nice. But, um, perhaps after the wedding? If you can stay—“
“Of course I can stay. I came here as much to see you as to be at the wedding.” To put it diplomatically.
Twilight gave a feeble smile. “Good! Good, that’s…that’s…good,” she said. She seemed to slump, physically.
“I’m sorry, Twilight,” Celestia said earnestly. “I didn’t mean to put extra pressure on you.”
“Don’t worry about it. Please,” Twilight replied. “I can take anything you give me, Princess, believe me,” she added, proudly.
Celestia favored her with an affectionate smile. “That is no excuse for me to give you everything I can, my dear,” she said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll get out of your mane and be trouble for somepony else for a little while.” With that, she spread her wings wide and, with a mighty thrust, leapt into the sky.
Spike scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “But we don’t have a spare—“
Twilight rounded on him, fiercely. “Would you just...!” she started, then relaxed. “Just…make sure that the thing we set up for Princess Luna seats two, would you? And run home and make the bed up for the princess. The good linen.”
“Sure thing, but—“
“Just do it, okay!?”
A beat of wings, the sound of air rushing past…
Celestia soared above Ponyville, indulging—for once—the sheer joy of flying. It sometimes amazed her how much flapping her wings a little could still make her happy as anything; after more than a thousand years, you’d think the fascination would wear off. But no; it was like…love, perhaps. The initial rush was empassioned and furious—it had found an incarnation in pony form in the pegasus Rainbow Dash. But then it matured into the soft, ever-present, and boundless love, a quiet joy that is always there but rarely dominates you the way the passion does. It is a part of you; you are not consumed by it.
Instead she was consumed with thoughts of Twilight Sparkle, anxiety drifting on a sea of relaxation, letting it remain isolated from the rest of her mind while she picked it apart.
Well, she seemed…normal. For Twilight, anyways, as an important day approached. And she had been…honest and straightforward enough; perhaps out of surprise more than anything, but Luna’s mysterious warning about Twilight becoming reticent seemed to be…
Celestia smiled. Perhaps Luna underestimated Celestia’s bond with Twilight. Perhaps Celestia underestimated Celestia’s bond with her beloved…protégé.
That pause, there, the pause that wanted to be filled with the word "student", still nagged at Celestia’s mind. But that was why she was here, wasn’t it? Everything would be better once the two of them had some time to talk—in fact, little dialogues were already appearing in the back of her mind: some where she was apologetic and sought Twilight’s understanding, others where Twilight was the one seeking guidance and Celestia talked it out with her. The little scenes comforted her, reinforcing her confidence that, in the end, everything would work out.
It would all be fine.
But the memories of Twilight’s glassy smile, and the terror in her eyes when Celestia asked to talk, gnawed at Celestia ravenously.
To take her mind off things, Celestia spent the remainder of the day paying visits to certain prominent Ponyville locales, as well as stopping by a few of her favorite old spots around town. She was an old hand at knowing where to go and what to do, even just by walking around a town idly, to influence things the way she desired—go to this shop rather than that, speak to this pony first, mention idly that the Appleoosa settlement is coming along so well, and in need of sturdy ponyfolk within earshot of some bored-looking young stallions…
And for all that they were…perfunctory, Twilight’s letters were the most thorough information Celestia could have asked for.
She felt uneasy every time she realized she was using the troubling letters in exactly the way they were intended—Twilight, the loyal, dutiful agent, serving up the town of Ponyville to her grateful Princess. Lucky for Ponyville, then, that Princess Celestia had no intention of doing anything but let things be as they were going to be—always a wise decision, amongst rulers.
Gentle touches, here and there, just to keep things on track, she thought, and—
“Princess Celestia! Oh, my stars!” shrieked Rarity.
Celestia was startled to find herself in the doorway of Carousel Boutique.
“Oh, Rarity, I—“ she said, summoning her attention back with a blink. “Hello.”
“My lady,” Rarity said, bowing deeply.
Celestia takes the opportunity to look around the immaculate boutique. Somehow, she had expected it to be a riot of activity, but instead…
“My word, Rarity, you certainly do keep a clean workspace! You must be swamped with work at a time like this…”
Rarity chuckled haughtily, then remembered who she was speaking with and stifled herself. “Ahem. No, ah, my lady, actually, business has died down a little in the last few days—“
“I’m sorry,” Celestia said. “I had assumed you would be doing dressmaking for the wedding.”
“Oh, I did, yes.” Seeing Celestia’s blank expression, Rarity smiled nervously. “Have you…been involved in many weddings...?”
“I have had the pleasure of attending a great many,” Celestia replied, “But I have never been involved in the arrangements, no.”
“Well…” Rarity said, slowly, picking her words carefully. “The wedding is tomorrow, so…well, if I was still working on those commissions now…” Her eyes widened in horror. “What a nightmare! It would represent a real failure as a purveyor of fine garments! Ah, the shame!” The white unicorn paused, mid-swoon, and chuckled nervously. Celestia smiled beatifically.
“But of course we have Twilight Sparkle to thank for keeping everything on track,” Rarity contined, graciously. “She really has outdone herself. Everything is going over sooo smoothly, and of course I would never have been able to personally work on the dresses without her suggestion that I take on apprentices…ha! Me, apprentices! It’s…oh, Princess,” she gasped, favoring Celestia with a thankful expression of truly stunning sincerity, “Sending Twilight here was the best possible thing—“
Celestia let Rarity gush, smiling placidly and feeling, once again, the unsettling feeling that she had come to precisely the right pony without intending to. Her intuition was drawing her to ponies for some reason, stewing in the back of her mind, and she was bound to find out what it was eventually if she followed it.
“Rarity,” she said, quietly, as the unicorn spilled over herself expounding on the myriad ways that Twilight had arranged a most spectacular wedding and made it all happen without a hitch. “Is Twilight well, in herself?”
Rarity paused, and looked taken aback. “I’m not sure…I know what you mean, Princess,” she said cautiously.
Rarity struck many people as a gossip, and they were quite right. You couldn’t get anywhere in fashion without having a very sensitive ear to the ground. Celestia had been around enough ponies to know that gossips tended to be either thoughtless boors (and a thousand years as ruler of the court at Canterlot presented a fair share of those to choose from) taking pleasure in spreading malicious rumors, or very clever ponies who watch carefully and spread information around as it needs to be known without being said too loudly.
The hesitance to speak about her friend spoke to Rarity’s discretion—and made Celestia feel safe confiding in her. “I will tell you frankly, Rarity, that I have grown worried about Twilight Sparkle recently.”
“Oh, my—I…well, there’s been the wedding, of course…she really threw herself into that,” Rarity said, blushing scarlet as she feared she had been praising the very thing worrying the Princess.
Celestia smiled. “If she wasn’t working as hard as she could, I’d be really worried.”
“I suppose that’s true, that’s true…but…” Rarity gave the doors and windows a quick, cursory glance, “She’s really thrown herself into it. Far more so than usual, even when she is getting a...workaholic mood, shall we say. And her other work, too—her correspondence with, well, with you, I assume…”
Celestia’s heart panged a bit as the pathetic stack of recent letters sprung to mind. “Among many other ponies,” she managed to say.
“I wish I could say more, Princess, but it’s been a terribly busy time for all of us here. We haven’t…spent much time together. Strange, that…” she trailed off, distantly. “But…I’m glad you’re here to see her,” Rarity added, with glassy brightness.
“I…see,” said the princess, and smiled. “Thank you, Rarity. I know I can trust you to keep this between us.” The two ponies held eye contact for a heartbeat, and a lot of information was modulated on that gaze, hidden in shadows in their eyes and the tiniest of gestures. It boiled down to:
Something’s really wrong this time, Princess.
I know. I’m here, my little pony. Don’t worry.
There was a knock on the door, which made Rarity jump, squeaking in surprise. She immediately blushed and raised a hoof to her face, demurely. “Oh, forgive me, princess…I’ll just go see who it is.” Celestia chuckled in a friendly way, making Rarity smile in return.
It was Spike. “Oh, Princess, good—Cheerilee told me she saw you come in here just a minute ago…” he said, sauntering in. “I’ve been looking for you—I wanted to tell you that I’ve prepared the bed for you. At the library.”
“Thank you, Spike,” Celestia replied warmly. “I appreciate your hospitality.”
“Ah, well, anything for you, Princess,” he said earnestly. “And, uh, Twilight sent a message, as well—er… ‘Dear Princess, please forgive my distressed state earlier. I did not intend to convey anything but the deepest pleasure at your arrival, and regret any inadvertent misunderstanding my emotional state might have caused. I am happy to extend hospitality to you, as ever, and look forward speaking with you further when an opportunity arises. Your loyal servant, Twilight Sparkle.’ There,” Spike read from a card, tripping over "inadvertent misunderstanding". “Man, she really can write a mouthful these days...”
Your loyal servant. Celestia closed her eyes and tried to relax.
Rarity cleared her throat genteelly and caught Celestia’s eye. The princess nodded.
“What?” Spike asked, looking from Rarity to the princess, confused.
“Spike, would you be a dear and bring up those reams of fabric that arrived last week up from the basement? Thank you,” Rarity cooed. Celestia raised a hoof to stifle her laughter as Spike visibly melted at this show of affection and, with a hasty salute, wandered off towards the basement.
Once the cellar door shut, Rarity met Celestia’s eyes. “I’ll swear he spends as much time here as with her. Not that I mind, of course. I've tried to ask him if something was bothering Twilight many times, but…” She shrugged.
“Don’t worry,” Celestia said, with a sigh. “Please tell Spike I’ll see him at the Library. It’s been a long day, and I need my rest for tomorrow.”
Celestia slept…and dreamed.
A vast, green field rolled underneath her, tall to her knees, blown by a cool wind that rushed through the grass with a gentle whisper. The sky above was a shimmering haze of black and midnight blue, wavering and flowing like ink in water. The moon—a slim, razor crescent—hung high in a sky filled with sparkling stars, a thousand thousand points of radiant light. Celestia watched the sky, until—
“Ah,” Celestia said. “I’m glad you’re here, sister.”
Luna stepped next to her. In dreams, she stood as tall as Celestia, her mane and tail blending in with the night sky, billowing in the gentle wind. “Forgive my intrusion, sister,” Luna said, her voice unearthly and beautiful, but with the clear tone of somepony who is eager to ask questions.
“Not at all.”
“May I ask if you find Ponyville to your liking?” Luna asked, politely.
“I always do…although...” Celestia paused, her eyes pained. Changes, changes…
“You, too, remember it as it was,” Luna said, finishing her sister’s unspoken sorrow.
Celestia frowned. “I know you are powerful here, but we agreed that you wouldn’t watch my thoughts—“
“I do not need magic to know how you feel, sister,” Luna interrupted, reproachfully. “I feel it too. It is the sorrow of the long-lived to see something they love submit inevitably to change…”
“But it is their joy to watch it grow,” Celestia finished.
“A wise saying,” Luna said, “from a wise pony.” The sisters smiled—Celestia had said this to Luna many centuries ago…about…what? Somepony—it had been a pony.
“The dream world is a bad place for memory,” Luna said, softly, seeing her sister’s expression of mental distress. “They are both powerful and vulnerable to being lost or changed, here.”
Celestia sighed. “So it is.” She took a few steps forward, for something to do while she thought.
“At least Sugar Cube Corner stands eternal, and unchanged,” Luna said. As the sisters shared a moment of laughter, Luna allowed the dark aura of power around her to melt away and she emerged from it, small as life, a gentle smile on her face.
“You fear for Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, matter-of factly.
“What? Yes, I do, but…”
Luna threw her head upwards. A faint image, its colors faded, of Twilight Sparkle stammering to her mentor, was suspended in the sky above her. As Celestia looked, the image of Twilight turned away, eyes watching over her shoulder warily. There were no secrets in dreams, especially in the presence of their mistress.
Celestia, unthinking, reached out and touched the image, which was at once suspended in the sky and right next to her. It distorted weirdly around her hoof. “She seemed…frightened of me,” Celestia said. “As she has not been since she left my tutelage. And she seems to be avoiding me—as politely as she can. Of course, she is very busy…” She moved her hoof in a motion that, on the real Twilight, would have been an affectionate brush of her cheek.
Luna smiled enigmatically. “And her friends...?”
“Also worried, of course. They could hardly fail to notice her barricading herself in work.”
“You spoke to...?”
“Rarity. And Spike.”
“Ah,” Luna said, knowingly.
“It’s not like she hasn’t done this before,” Celestia murmured. “I sent her to Ponyville when she was in a similar mood—“
“Worked up over a mare of our mutual acquaintance, as I recall,” Luna’s voice cooed from behind her. Celestia looked around hurriedly, seeing nothing. Luna’s appeared next to her, close to her ear. “Do you suppose she’s found another dire threat to Equestria...?” the younger alicorn whispered slyly.
“Luna!” Celestia said sternly.
“Maybe…she’s hiding a lover from everypony,” Luna continued, snickering. “Some proud stallion, or,” and here she raised an eyebrow suggestively, “A lovely mare. Very open-minded, our Twilight.”
“I very much doubt she would get involved with anypony she’d want to hide from her friends,” Celestia said, with forced calm. “Or from me.” For some reason she felt put on the spot, although in the haze of dreams, she couldn’t put her hoof on why. “At least, I should hope not,” she continued, defensively.
The Moon Princess, her features dark and mysterious, tittered laughter. It hung in the air even after she stopped, like the long echo of bright, brassy bells. “Forgive me, sister,” she said, grinning darkly. “Only teasing.”
However catty Luna could be in the real world, from time to time, that was just…emotions. Here in dreams, she was both mistress, powerful and knowing, and a reflection of the dream-world’s subjectivity. Celestia closed her eyes and tried to remember that Luna was probably not being this hostile, just teasing—but the realm of dreams made Celestia’s anxiety reflect on her perception of Luna, making her seem sinister and enigmatic.
Celestia opened her eyes. Luna, her appearance no longer tainted by whispers of malice, stood in front of her, looking amused but unthreatening. “This is serious. It’s worse this time.”
“Yes. Yes it is.” Luna said, walking past Celestia up out of the grass and into the sky, her mane blending into the sky seamlessly. She reclined in mid-air, looking calm.
Celestia frowned. “Is that all you have to say about this?”
Luna pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. “Well, there is one thing…”
“Have you wondered…if you’re overreacting...?” Luna said, the barest hint of teasing in her voice.
“I hope I’m overreacting,” Celestia said, firmly. “I hope all this is just a product of overwork.”
Luna’s expression softened. “That’s not what I meant,” she said gently. “As you point out yourself, Twilight has done this before.” She stood, and began pacing around the sky restlessly.
“It’s worse than that. You said so yourself.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean you can’t still overreact to it. A broken bottle is worse than a spilled one, but you are still overreacting if you weep over it.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean by that?”
“I am merely touched by your devotion to Twilight Sparkle, sister,” Luna replied. The elder pony didn’t rise to this, merely watching Luna prance across the sky, smiling a little smugly.
“Do you think I’m overreacting?” Celestia asked, eventually. “It was your idea I come here—“
“Ha! It most certainly was not!” Luna said, laughing merrily. “I thought we understood that you came to me to be told to do what you wanted to do in the first place.”
“Fair,” Celestia conceded. “Still—do you think I’m overreacting to all this?”
“No, sister, I don’t. In fact, I think you’re underreacting,” Luna said.
“I just wanted you to think about how you were taking all this. Think about how you feel,” Luna said, irritably, as if Celestia wasn’t getting the joke and she was growing tired of explaining it.
“About all of this,” Luna said, waving a hoof. “About Ponyville. About the wedding. About all the ponies bustling about. Above all, about Twilight Sparkle.” She tapped in front of her, making a gentle bell sound. “There is quite a bit unresolved between you. More than I think you realize.”
Celestia was going to retort, but shut her mouth again.
“Think about…how you act. How you treat ponies,” Luna continued, insistently.
“Luna, I…” Celestia frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Isn’t this fun?” Luna said, delighted. “I get to be the mysterious, wise sister for once!” She trotted in place, excitedly.
Celestia smiled gently. “I suppose you’re owed a turn.”
Luna smiled enigmatically. “I’ll see you tomorrow, sister,” she said, and leapt towards the moon, which was her cutie mark, which was—
Celestia woke up.
It was still deep in the night, and the slim crescent of the moon shone the barest light on Celestia in the bed. Slowly, she raised her head and blinked away the haze of sleep.
Afterwards, speaking in dreams always felt like an experience rather than a conversation, as if it had been inflicted on her, rather than having been participating. She waved her head irritably. The chat with her sister had not calmed her in the least; but she put part of the blame for that on Luna—
No, that was being unfair. Luna was just…being Luna. Showing off a little for her big sister. Celestia quietly hoped she’d grow out of it soon—what’s a few decades between alicorns, in the long view...?
A little sound made her look down, and in the dullness of sleep she thought of baby Spike, who had slept at the foot of Twilight’s bed for so long. But no, he had given the princess his evening salutations and wandered off to sleep in his own room.
On the floor at the foot of the bed, covered by a thin blanket, lay Twilight Sparkle, mouth open, tongue hanging out.
Celestia didn’t know whether to cry or bark out laughter. She looked so ridiculous..! And at the same time…
“Oh, Twilight…” Celestia murmured.
She could read the story without the words, so to speak; her mind alighted with a vision of an exhausted Twilight, running on autopilot, arriving to find Celestia occupying her bed. The princess heard the unicorn’s muttered grumbling and felt the magic as Twilight summoned the blanket and pillow to herself and plopped onto the ground, huffing.
Sleep laid heavily on her head, but Celestia gently summoned her magic and lifted Twilight up into the bed, sliding over just a little bit to make room. Twilight, feeling the familiar sensation of the bed underneath her, curled into a habitual sleeping pose.
There. Silly filly…
She lowered her head again and let sleep wash over her.
Celestia awoke, again. Something was jostling her—
She had put her foreleg over Twilight, just as she had done with Luna as fillies and—indeed—had done with Twilight, a few times. Twilight was shrugging at it and whimpering.
Celestia tried not to take it personally. Twilight was just having a bad dream—that was all.
She lifted her leg off of Twilight and curled it under herself, watching the unicorn squirm and fret in her sleep. The alicorn gently nuzzled her student and, to her pleasure, saw Twilight calm down a little. It was nothing on Luna’s dream magic, but a little physical contact never hurt.
When it became apparent that Twilight wasn’t going to wake up or, better yet, reveal any dramatic secrets in her sleep, Celestia smiled down on her protégé and went back to sleep.
When she woke for the third time, in daily rhythm with the rising of the sun, Twilight was long gone.