This is fine, I tell myself as I trudge back inside. Every step is a bit sharper than the one before, a bit louder, a bit angrier.
She probably wasn’t planning on coming anyway. It was dumb of me to expect her to. Dumb dumb dumb!
Through the halls of the school I storm, up spiral staircases and winding corridors that serve no purpose other than to irritate me on the way to my sanctuary. The other girls will leave me alone, I’m sure of it. They have to.
The dorm room is filled with the subdued light of early twilight. Soft and muffled, it seeps into the space with a glow that might be comforting, were I not at the center of a hurricane of emotion.
Anger, betrayal, hurt, anger, betrayal, why would she do this? Why would Twilight skip my party, out of all of them? When we had a major historical mystery to work through? Why?
It makes no sense.
It would make sense if I was smarter, if I was quicker, if I wasn’t so slow and dumb, dumb, dumb!
A voice. Somepony says something. I whirl around, eyes erratically scanning the space for the source of the sound.
One of the girls is sitting up in bed. Which one? Which one? Now she’s frowning, standing up, moving towards me. Who is it? A hoof is reaching for me, grabbing for me, clawing at my coat as it reaches for the memories burning in my mind. It wants them, wants the spell and Meadowbrook’s secrets and the memory of the younger pony sister screaming in rage, her mane billowing like a cloud of shadows no no no you can’t have them. You can’t have them.
I’m alone. Alone? No matter. I shake my head and shrug. No matter no matter what matters is… is…
The Princess. I have to tell the others about the lost princess. The forgotten sister—why doesn’t anypony remember her—who looked so lovely, adorned with stars, and so tragic, consumed with nightmares.
I can feel the proverbial lightbulb bursting into life above my head, only it feels more like a small sun burning within my mind, because that’s it.
The younger pony sister wasn’t lost, after all. She was immortalized, preserved in the minds of the Equestrian citizenry through a nursery tale.
Aha! Aha aha aha! Who’s dumb now? WHO’S DUMB NOW?
I blink. I blink and a mare is staring at me from the top of the School’s grand staircase, her pale blue hoof hovering over the top step.
“Hello, Minuette,” I say curtly (curt but polite, in clipped tones that remind me of a princess of shadows). “I don’t mean to be rude, but the tapestry’s tired out and the legend has been waiting for ages, so I’m afraid I have to run. You understand, don’t—”
I frown. I frown and then shake my head, because Lemon Hearts is trotting alongside me down the sidewalk. The School grows smaller behind us with every step.
“Hello, Lemon Hearts,” I greet her.
She rather rudely ignores my greeting. “Moondancer, you can’t get so worked up about her. It’s not healthy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demand. “You can’t tell me what to get worked up about, and this is important!” This is a missing piece of history, dang it!
“I know it was important,” she says, and I have to struggle to parse her words; they waver and slide through the air like smoke. “It was important and you’re confused and hurt but she’s gone. She’s gone, and—”
“She’s not gone!” I counter indignantly, glaring at the shimmering spot that may or may not be Lemon’s head. “She’s out there somewhere, doing something—”
“Well, yeah,” the shimmer says. “That’s not what I mea—”
“I don’t know how it happened or where she went, but she’s not gone.” I bite my lip. Princess Celestia wouldn’t kill her own sister, would she? “No,” I say, mostly to myself. I straighten up and trot a bit faster. “No, the Princess wouldn’t kill her. The Princess couldn’t kill her. She’s out there, somewhere.”
“Kill—Kill her? Moondancer, what in Equestria are you talking about?” Lemon Hearts sputters. “Why in the name of Tartarus would Princess Celestia want to kill Twilight?”
“Twilight?” I ask, annoyed. “No, Twilight doesn’t know either. Twilight hasn’t seen her. Not like I have.”
Lemon Hearts says something that sounds rather distressed, but I blink and she is no longer beside me, so I dismiss the matter from my thoughts.
The archives are rather quiet. It would be pleasant—the way the dust motes hang lazily in the air, undisturbed by the currents of outside life—were it not for the shadow-wrought shapes whispering at me.
Well met, little scholar, they hiss.
“Good day to you,” I reply, eyes scanning the dull metal shelves. What am I looking for?
You’re playing with ancient knowledge, you know, one says, sliding up to brush against me. Her shadowy coat is transparent when I look directly at it, but in the corner of my eyes she appears as solid as the documents before me.
“I’m actually just trying to do some research,” I explain patiently.
Dangerous, dangerous knowledge, the shadow whispers into my ear, and the voice is none other than Princess Luna’s.
I whirl around, ready to scream, but the sound dies in my throat.
There’s nothing there. No shadows. No Darkangel. Nothing but lazy rays of sunlight tracing dust motes through the air.
I sag against the shelf in relief, slowly sliding to the worn carpet floor as my heartbeat returns to normal. A dusty set of files catches my attention. I pick up the first folder, which turns out to hold a canvas-bound journal filled to the brim with elegant, flowing script.
An Official Record of Requests Made by Her Highness, the Princess of Equestria
As maintained by Tacenda, Royal Aide
Year of the 497th Sun
“So they did keep track of the tiny details,” I murmur, stroking the cover. Slowly, hesitantly, I set the book upon the floor and open it.
1) There might be clues about Princess Luna
2) If there’re records of this time, surely there are records of previous years?
Who even cares There are answers in here, even if they’re to different questions than the ones I’m asking
I’ll figure it out. I will.
I have to.
I read what must be half the annex—accounts of the princess date back hundreds of years. The dust adorning each manuscript seems to be almost as old.
This is the last document I’ll read, I tell myself each time, picking up the next piece of tedium from the shelf. And every time, I remember the way Twinkleshine fidgeted as she told me Twilight wasn’t coming, and I grit my teeth and pick up another document.
Slowly, surely, as the hours melt into each other and all sense of time fades into dusk and shadow, the documents and manuscripts begin to tell a story:
Once upon a time, in the cold land of Equestria, there lived a princess. She was known in every village and town to be a merciful ruler—as her guards roamed near and far, assisting citizens who required help—but not a soul alive knew what she looked like, for she remained hidden in the tallest tower of the Great Castle in Canterlot.
The winters were long, but the princess never requested that firewood be brought to her tower, nor that she be delivered scarves or blankets of any sort. She never asked for books, or a jester, or any entertainment whatsoever. The castle tower remained dark for many years, bathed only in the pale light of the moon.
Dark, and silent.
Once upon a time, in the moonlight-bathed land of Equestria, a princess went to war. She requested armor for herself, and a single golden spear to be forged by the finest steelmage in the country. She summoned her five commanders and set off for the far North, rushing to the aid of a group of ponies that glittered and shone like icicles beneath the aurora.
When at last the princess and her commanders returned, the kitchens were instructed to prepare a modest meal, rather than the victory banquet they had anticipated. The high table held only the throne and three chairs.
It was a blistering winter.
Once upon a time, in the promise-filled land of Equestria, there lived a princess. She allowed visitors on occasion—the kitchens would receive orders for tea and snacks, and old storerooms were raided for even older silver and chinaware. A royal gardener was hired, and when the princess was not resting in her tower or having tea with petitioners, she would sit upon one of the many stone benches carved for her garden and watch as the groundspony tended to the flowers.
The winters were not quite so long, the nights not quite as dark. The citizens of Equestria saw that there were stars hiding in the velvet of the night, whereas previously the moon had outshone all else. The sun began to venture above the horizon, but the princess never requested a parasol or hat to shield her eyes.
Once upon a time, in the sun-filled land of Equestria, a princess asked her aides to prepare a marvelous celebration for the ponies of the land. The Crown would pay for it all, she assured them, and no expense was to be spared for the 500th Summer Sun Celebration.
On the morning of the festivities, the princess requested three things:
That the royal standards be brought up from the vault,
That her tiara be brought to her as well,
And that she be known by her name, rather than merely ‘The Princess.’
Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, Princess Celestia made preparations for an old section of the castle to be unsealed and thoroughly cleaned, though the restoration need not commence for a few years.
She ordered that the unused rooms be aired out and adorned with the finest paintings, tapestries, and rugs from her collection. Ancient jewelry was to be polished. New slippers should be purchased from a local boutique and placed in the tower bedroom. Books were to be dusted and organized upon shelves (by decade, and then by subject, and then by author last name)—but there was one book that should not be brought into the newly-aired section.
No collection of nursery tales containing the legend of Nightmare Moon was to be permitted within the walls of the old wing.
And all the preparations were to be completed by the dawn of the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration.
1) The old, sealed section of the castle is where I found the tapestry—where “Scholar” eventually led me
2) The tapestry was the first image of Princess Luna I’ve ever seen, excluding the royal standards
3) The sealed section of the castle must be Princess Luna’s quarters, and if Princess Celestia doesn’t want any mention of Nightmare Moon around her sister, then the evidence strongly suggests that…
4) Princess Luna is Nightmare Moon
These preparations are to be undertaken over time, but must be finished by the morning of the one-thousandth Summer Sun Celebration.
5) Princess Luna—Nightmare Moon—is returning.
I was right, I was right, I was right! sings my heart, as I gallop back to Princess Luna’s tower.
I was right and I’m going to prove it and save Equestria!
The details are still somewhat murky, but Nightmare Moon is returning tonight, and I don’t have the time to carefully iron out a solid, coherent plan. As I charge through the hedges toward the hidden entrance, the best I can formulate is some wild scheme wherein I seize the tapestry, burst into Princess Celestia’s throne room, and either declare that we’re all in grave danger or, alternatively, announce that I’ve solved the greatest mystery Equestria never knew it had.
Problem 1: The sun is about to set. Princess Celestia is likely not in the throne room.
Problem 2: Loudly broadcasting a warning of danger will likely cause mass panic or extreme embarrassment
What if I’m wrong
Problem 3: How will bringing the tapestry accomplish anything
Before I can reconsider the tapestry, though, I’m in the tower and clambering up the spiral staircase. The thumping of my hoofsteps fills the air, a drumbeat calling me to battle. I emerge from the stairwell, and am greeted by two embroidered alicorns and one very real, very surprised Sun Princess.
“Princess Celestia!” I gasp, dropping into a bow.
The alicorn before me shifted uneasily. “My little pony, whatever are you doing here?”
I just stutter at the floor. “I… Your Highness, I…”
I look up at her, then, and see the confusion, sorrow, excitement (and hope? Is that hope?) swirling in her brilliant lavender eyes. And just like that, it all comes swirling out.
Confessions of Historian, of treating ancient knowledge like a puzzle that, once solved, could be flaunted to draw Twilight’s respect, rush out of me. I tell the Princess about Scholar, and the music that haunted my every spell, and eventually stumbling upon the visions in the tapestry. Unable to meet her gaze, I stare at the carpet as I recount seeing the disgraced Princess Luna, demanding and proud and eventually wild and desperate.
It doesn’t escape my notice that I sound wild and desperate, myself. But still I talk, divulging every detail as though pouring the words upon the floor will empty the chaos from my mind. Was this how Luna felt?
Princess Celestia remains very still when I mention her younger sister. All the air seems to vanish from the room as I describe figuring out the origin of Nightmare Moon. I hesitate before divulging the final piece of the puzzle. Will she deny it?
“And based on the records in the annex, Princess…” I gulp. “I… I strongly suspect Nightmare Moon will be returning. Tonight, that is.”
“So it would seem,” she comments quietly. Moving to stare out into the darkened sky, she continues, “Impressively done, Moondancer. I wasn’t quite sure anypony would figure it out.”
I stare at her. “You… What? The journal, and the spell, and the visions—you wanted someone to find them?”
“I did have somepony specific in mind,” she murmurs.
I straighten up. My voice is oddly calm as I say, “Twilight. You wanted Twilight to figure it out. Twilight was supposed to learn you had a sister.”
Princess Celestia nods. “And in her own way, she did. Well—she learned that an ancient foe would soon be returning, at least. My plans are rarely as foolproof as I would like.”
“But…” I frown. “What was the point? Couldn’t you have just told Twilight about Princess Luna? Instead of hoping she would take an enchanted copy of an old book from the Librarian’s office, and figure out a bunch of riddles in the middle of exams?”
“From the Librarian’s office?,” Princess Celestia frowns. “No, Twilight took Historian from my office. The archives have the official copy, but Mage Meadowbrook sent me the original as a gift.”
Professor Sharp Wit’s voice rings through my ears. His apprentice scribed a backup in secret, shortly before Meadowbrook destroyed the original by force-feeding it to a dragon.
“So he didn’t destroy it, then,” I breathe. “He just sent it to you via dragonmail.” It’s not a particularly earth-shattering revelation, but I’ve always appreciated parsimony. More loudly, I add, “Then what was it for? Why did Meadowbrook give you a memory of your sister being demanding as a gift?”
I don’t really expect her to answer, but after a moment she does.
“It was a way for me to remember my sister’s voice,” Princess Celestia says simply. “A secret memory hidden away in a tapestry, locked up by magic that only I could access. For a time it was petty—I wanted to remember that I was right for banishing her, that I was doing my duty as a Princess of Equestria.” She sighs. “It was only towards the end of his life that I asked Meadowbrook for a spell that would allow another pony to view the memory.
“Scholar was meant for Twilight, or rather the pony whom Twilight has become. My student. The mare who would return my sister to me. It was to show her that Nightmare Moon was once a princess, that she was not always corrupted beyond redemption, and that there might be a chance for her yet.”
She looks outside to the darkened sky. Far to the east, the deep velvet of night seems to thin.
“I regret dismissing Twilight’s concerns over Nightmare Moon’s return, but I didn’t think it would do any good to reveal such a twisted and complicated truth, not when she has far more crucial matters requiring her attention. Besides—” The Princess steals a glance at the moon, seated firmly above the shadowed horizon. “Twilight is beyond my reach, now. It is up to her. I cannot do any more.”
Twilight came to Princess Celestia about Nightmare Moon?
She figured it out on her own, then. She figured it out and she didn’t tell me.
“Princess,” I begin, desperate to distract myself. “The visions were just Luna demanding stuff. If you really wanted her redeemed, how were those memories supposed to make your student care about her?”
“There was more,” Princess Celestia says softly. Clearing her throat, she adds, “I asked Meadowbrook to break up the memories. Clover the Clever suspected that Luna would return one day—as you’ve no doubt read in her second treatise—”
“Predictions and Prophecies,” I nod.
“And with her return would arise an opportunity for redemption. While we thought it would be important for my student to see how Luna behaved in those final weeks, my dear Meadowbrook maintained that some ponies cared about Luna because they cared about me.”
Her voice grows bitter, though whether at the ponies of old or herself, I don’t know. “He thought we could lower the risk of losing Princess Luna forever if he could show my student how much my sister meant to me.”
“How much she meant to you?” I sputter, suddenly enraged. “Princess, you wiped nearly all trace of her from the history books. Nopony knows she exists. You never talk about her. You abandoned your sister when you let her name slip from the history books. She’s been completely and utterly forgotten because you don’t care enough—”
“Enough, my little pony.” Her eyes smolder, and the sharpness of her tone kills the words in my throat. “You cannot say anything that I have not already told myself. I did what I had to do. I’ve always done what I had to do.”
Something about the determination in her jaw reminds me of Twilight. But then it’s gone: she lowers her head, all anger spent.
“You’re a clever mare, Moondancer. Surely you can figure out why I would let my bitter, war-bent sister fade into legend.”
1) Luna didn’t feel respected at court, so
2) She likely had courtiers and citizens who didn’t value her authority/feared her/possibly despised her, and
3) They would have been delighted when she was banished, which means
4) They were satisfied with her being gone, but
5) If they knew Luna would be returning one day, then
6) They would be resentful and have years and years to hold a grudge, and
7) Other villains and unsavory types would have ample time to plot and scheme, and
8) The entire country would know for centuries in advance that the disgraced princess would be returning soon, so
9) By keeping her eventual return a secret, Luna was able to disappear from living memory, which means that
10) If she is redeemed, there won’t be anypony whose family harbors an old grudge, and
“You’re giving her a fresh start,” I realize.
Princess Celestia nods. “Should Twilight be able to save her, Luna will only have to deal with the consequences of her recent actions as Nightmare Moon. I hoped that erasing a millennium's worth of political dealings would make her transition easier.”
“So you do care.”
She bows her majestic head, allowing her mane to cascade over her face. “Sometimes I feel as though love is a difficult treasure to bear. I love my sister dearly, as I do my country. She is my best friend, and Equestria my greatest responsibility. She was testing me, in those final weeks, and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened, had I chosen her instead. Remember that, Moondancer,” she adds, brushing aside her mane to stare me straight in the eye.
“Remember that we may not know how much we truly mean to other ponies. Remember that sometimes, our actions do not reflect the love we bear for each other.” She nods knowingly, even as tears well in my eyes and my throat tightens. “But time will tell. Time will reveal the truth of even the most ambiguous dynamics.”
“No need to wait,” I choke. “Things are pretty clear already. I know how important I am to Twilight.”
Or how unimportant, really.
I take a deep breath to steady myself.
“All that I ask is that you give her time,” Princess Celestia says.
“I’ll have plenty of that,” I mutter, scuffing a hoof at the tower floor. “Considering I missed my deadline, alienated my favorite professor, and haven’t registered for any classes or laboratory positions or—or—”
The Princess silences me with a raised hoof. “No need to fret.” Going over to the small table opposite the tapestry, she opens a drawer and levitates a tarnished, old-fashioned key over to me. “Across town, there’s a house that used to belong to a beloved citizen of mine. He was a musician, but before his death he became very close to Mage Meadowbrook.”
I accept the key, befuddled. “But what does this have to do with anything?”
“The final memory is there, along with many books that haven’t seen the light of day in quite some time.” A faintly embarrassed blush tinges her cheeks. “I must confess, I’m not entirely sure what all is in the house.”
“It needs organizing, then?” I mutter. It’s all too obvious that this is meant to be a distraction.
“It needs a historian,” she states.
The house needs a cleaning. I clean it, at first. I keep it trim and tidy, and as I paint the peeling shutters, I pretend like I’m just another pony going about my business.
Wake up. Go to the markets. Don’t forget firewood. Drop by the library for a reference book. Come home. Dust. Read. Bed.
Wake up. Go to the markets. Drop by the library. Come home. Read. Bed.
Wake up. Maybe markets. Library. Home. Read.
Sleep. Library. Home. Read.
Sleep. Library. Home. Always reading. The sweater means I don’t have to get firewood. Cold oatmeal suits me fine. There are so many books in the house that sometimes I think I could stay inside forever, were it not for the fact that some of them contain technical jargon that needs to be specially researched.
I don’t leave the house for Twilight’s coronation. I don’t have to. The parade thunders right by my window.
I hate how happy she sounds, but I know that I shouldn’t care. I don’t care. I don’t.
Not even the Princess of Friendship could be friends with me
Well. She has loads of distractions from her research—whatever it is. She probably doesn’t get to do much annotating or theorizing, not now that she has to deal with royal duties and being polite and friends.
Nopony distracts me anymore.
“It’s us! Your old friends!”
Go away I don’t need you I’ve never needed you I have important business given to me by Princess Celestia herself and wow isn’t that a familiar sentence how odd that it’s coming from my mouth instead of yours but please just leave me to it.
Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, doesn’t leave me to it. I don’t know what’s gotten into her, or how a pair of wings could suddenly make her forget that she never really considered me a friend, only a classmate, but she follows me.
And in the end, I wind up crying my eyes out at my own birthday party. In a sudden, raw, terrifying moment, I have friends again.
Research has excited me before. It’s made me frustrated, confused, and hopelessly lost in my own head. But it’s never made me feel as alive, as tender and raw and wonderfully, wonderfully vulnerable as I do in this moment, surrounded by the warm embrace of the mares whose friendship I suspect I will come to treasure.
That evening, alone in my house, I take the key Princess Celestia gave me all those months ago and climb the rickety staircase to the upper floor. When I reach the landing, I take a deep breath and turn to the one door that I’ve never opened.
The key fits in the lock easily, and the hinges make no protest as I enter.
The only piece of furniture in the room is a desk pressed up against the opposite wall. Upon it, buried in a thick layer of dust, sits an ancient violin. I don’t need to cast a magical detection charm to recognize it as enchanted with the memory spell. With Historian.
Sunlight trickles past the jagged edges of the hole in the Throne Room's lofty ceiling, casting pale dawn-light upon the debris scattered throughout the hall. Shattered windows—scraps of glass bravely clinging to their frames—contribute lavender and magenta-tinted fragments to the chunks of rock littering the floor. Dust lingers in the air, and the townsponies that have managed to force the massive double-doors open find themselves hacking and coughing as they step into the ruined room.
Their eyes widen at the destruction, and the massive, multi-armed stone contraption in the middle of the hall leaves their jaws hanging, but they are utterly at a loss when their gazes find the Princess of the Sun slumped amidst the wreckage.
She is crying. A stream of tears drips from her downturned face, plinking gently upon the golden tiara in her hooves. Six gemstones lie discarded around her, as dull and lusterless as her unmoving mane. She trembles beneath the weight of her anguish, and a townspony, without thinking, steps forward a places a cerulean hoof against her royal shoulder.
She freezes, choking back a sob, and then slowly—so slowly—turns her face to him.
The cerulean stallion looks her in the eye and fancies he can feel his heart breaking in his chest, because she tries to smile at him. Teeth clenched, lips pursed tightly, and eyes welling with tears, she does her best to don a brave expression, offering up a reassuring smile that crumbles even as she puts it on. She holds the tears in for nearly a minute, quivering and shaking as the stallion wonders if he's overstepped his boundaries, but then she gasps—a tiny sound, far too delicate to come from a creature of sunfire—and her composure comes crashing down all at once.
The Champion of Harmony weeps. She wails as though her heart has been wrenched out and trodden into the muck. Great, heaving sobs wrack her frame, and when a mare with a coat the color of honey-wine steps forward to pat her gently on the back, she just cries all the harder.
"I don't want it," she sputters. "This wasn't meant to happen, she—she asked me—I don't want it," she wails, shoving the tiara away.
One by one, the ponies that have built their lives around the Castle of the Two Sisters move to join the circle of comfort. They stroke her mane, rub her back, stretch their forelegs and contribute their love and warmth to the multi-pony embrace surrounding her—soothing her in any way they can, because the silhouette upon the moon has made it clear they have but one Princess now.
"This wasn't meant to happen," she whispers.
They hold her tightly, and she sobs until her tears are nothing but salty shadows upon her face.
Three months before Hearth's Warming Eve, the newly-relocated townsponies decide a gift for the Princess is in order. Canterlot is a fine city, they agree, but it simply doesn't feel like home. And while the Princess has proper courtiers in her new palace, she might yet appreciate a memento of her time in the Castle of the Two Sisters—to lend her heart strength in a still-unfamiliar environment.
The gift needs to be spectacular, the ponies muse, in order for it to stand out against the sophisticated elegance of the City on the Mount. It should reflect in equal measures their love and appreciation for the Princess, so she may remember how they adore her, when they are gone and no longer able to tell her so.
A mare with wild maroon hair points out that since the Princess will know their children and their children's children, it's hardly likely that she will ever want for adoring subjects, but the townsponies quickly shout her down. This gift will be from them. It will be special. It will be a masterpiece that future generations will behold with awe.
With that settled, the former inhabitants of the Castle of the Two Sisters turn to the trivial task of picking a gift. It is immediately decided that it should be a piece of art. However, it soon becomes apparent that everypony possesses a different opinion regarding the definition of the term "art."
The glassblower snorts as the poet proposes a sonnet. The stonemason rolls her eyes as a landscape of Equestria is deemed appropriate by the painter—who, in turn, screeches when the candlemaker begins defending the noble beauty of fire.
The bickering continues until everypony is quite convinced of their own misunderstood genius, at which time they all happily agree that the Princess would be thrilled to have a variety of smaller tributes. With that settled, they set off to create their individual masterpieces.
A young musician whose name will be lost to history hurries home and shutters himself into his room. The Princess might like glass trinkets and paintings and statues, he reasons to himself as reaches for his instrument, but she doesn't deserve something so breakable... so mundane. She deserves more, and he will give her exactly that.
He will give her a song.
At the next meeting, the musician discovers that he is not the only pony to think of such a thing. Other ponies share snippets of the songs they are composing—grandiose, sweeping scores, lively dances, and even a ballad fill the back room of the tavern they gather in, lifting their spirits and reaffirming their faiths in their cause.
The musician nods along to the music, twiddling his hooves. The lilting tune echoing through his mind will no longer suffice, he realizes. It is too cheerful, as are all the songs. The ponies' compositions mimic the dawn with their gaiety and optimism, but the musician cannot help but think that while such cheer may have befitted the Morning Star, the innocent melodies are ill-suited for a mare who has cast aside all her titles save the one of Princess.
On the walk home, the musician cannot shake the memory of a weeping Princess Celestia flinging away her crown. Her tear-stained face will not leave him be; it plagues him all throughout the simple affair of dinner. After clearing away the remnants of his meal, he enters his room and begins composing with a vengeance.
The song is slower in tempo—as much a dirge as a canticle. The melody still bears resemblance to his original piece, though it wavers through high-pitched notes like a feather drifting from on high, rather than a leaf caught in a midsummer's breeze. The song is a lamentation—a mournful tribute to an era of crystalline laughter and morning starlight.
It is a memorial—a commemoration of all the titles borne by Celestia of the Rising Sun as she matured from youthful dawn-princess to regal sun-goddess, shedding her innocence along the way.
It is a story—a tale of a morning that never failed to come, even as its bringer's smile rose later and later, eventually choosing to slumber forever beneath a solemn countenance.
It is a requiem for the sun.
The ponies' last gathering before Hearth's Warming and the presentation of their gifts is charged with unbridled anticipation. Some of the artists have brought their tributes to display before the others; in the typical fashion of creators, they boast of their craftsmanship in one breath and express concern over the Princess' reaction in the next. The musician does not join the activity—he has not even brought his instrument. His song is for the Princess alone, and she shall be the first to hear it.
The other musicians have no such trepidations. Four of them rise to share their songs, which have blossomed from playful tunes to heartfelt melodies. One by one, they play their creations, and slowly but surely, Requiem for the Sun is rendered utterly obsolete.
The other musicians play, and their instruments sing of the Princess' beauty, of her strength. They celebrate her noble sacrifices and the battles she has won; all of her titles are represented and honored within their notes. There is even a lamentation, slow and thudding against a drum, and the musician finds it a fitting piece to dash his hopes and dreams upon, because his work—lovely in its own right—is nothing more than a reiteration of the themes mastered in the others' compositions.
It is dark by the time the musician makes for home, shuffling through empty streets with as much energy as the lifeless ambition within his heart. It is of no use, he sighs to himself. His song will be lost amongst the others; there is no longer anything special about it. There is no doubt in his mind that the Princess will cherish the effort—she is a caring monarch, after all, and he suspects she is incapable of doing anything less than returning tenfold the love bestowed upon her.. But confound it! The musician doesn't want to give her a musical love letter. He wants to show her his love by giving her what she desires, what she needs.
Frustrated, the musician looks to the palace, as though it might reveal the secrets for which he yearns. Its stone walls do not speak, but the balcony of the tallest tower holds an unmoving figure up to the heavens' embrace. Bathed in moonlight, Princess Celestia stares into the night with a desperate intensity that the musician recognizes instantly. It is the look of a pony searching for a purpose between the shattered fragments of a broken dream.
The Princess gazes at the sky as though it might reveal the meaning of prophecies and predictions made by madmares, bringing sense to her universe once more. Or perhaps she merely searches the cosmos, looking across the sea of stars for a sign of the Darkangel's return. She stands guard over the night—undeniable in her might—but she looks lonely.
With an exhilarating rush of comprehension, the musician understands his mistake. There is not much time to correct his error, but there is enough. As he scrambles to get back to his house, a single conviction fills his mind:
He has been composing for the wrong princess.
On Hearth's Warming Day, the musician is the last to present his offering. The Princess wears a smile already; each of the gifts laid at the base of her throne has been met with genuine appreciation and delight. Books, jewelry, statuary, a tapestry, paintings, a two-story stained glass window—the tributes dominate the throne room in an overwhelming display of artistic talent and deep-seated devotion. Even the courtiers of Canterlot seem impressed; they watch with interest as the final gift-giver steps forward, accompanied by two other ponies.
The musician bows to the Princess, nods to the ponies behind him—a mare with a mallet and jeweled lithophone, and an old stallion with an even older fiddle—and then readies his violin. With only a moment's hesitation, he begins to play.
Requiem for a Dream winds through the air, edgy and strident at first, but gradually solidifying into a slow, brooding tune, violins keening with the poignant melancholia dripping from their strings.
The melody puts the courtiers on edge with one note and sweeps away their emotions with the next, and while expressions range from reserved to openly awestruck, not a soul in the room can deny that the song is terribly, terribly beautiful.
The musician does not look at the nobleponies as he plays. He does not meet even the Princess' gaze, for while the song is a gift for her, it is not the sun for whom he plays.
He plays for the Eclipsed Princess, the Silenced Lark, and the hall is filled with a lamentation for histories forsaken and futures lost. The requiem sings of sisterhood, of love, of whispered fantasies shared in centuries past. It tells of what might have been: a starry night shining upon an appreciative countryside, a crown of stars twinkling above a wreath of hoof-picked moonflowers, a star-kissed mare with a pretty mane and a prettier smile.
The song grieves for a nation with two sisters upon its standard but only one upon its throne, and—more than anything—it remembers a dreamer lost amidst a roiling nightmare.
Only when he finishes, and the final forlorn note fades into solemn silence, does the musician at last dare to meet the Princess' eyes. His heart quails as he sees the evidence of freshly-shed tears upon her face, but then his gaze rises further, and he is floored by the raw emotion in her eyes.
Grief, wonder, anguish, gratitude—all of these and more blaze behind rosy irises. A dazzling smile breaks out over her face, and it is every bit as radiant as the midsummer star she bears.
"Play it again."
The musician thinks he would gladly play it for the next thousand years if she wished.