“I cannot believe this,” said Celestia, nibbling anxiously at her toast. She opened up another letter and read it over with a great heaving sigh. “Simply cannot believe this.”
Sighing again, she took another letter from the pile and another piece of toast from her plate and continued the routine. By the second bite of parchment and third paragraph of burnt crust, she couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the stress was getting to her. Just the teensiest bit.
“It’s madness!” she grumbled aloud, crumpling the half-eaten letter and stuffing the toast in her mouth. She chased it down with a glass of orange juice and took a deep breath to steady herself. Calm, Celestia reminded herself. She had to keep calm. She’d been through this before, year after year. Some years, even, without suffering a minor breakdown. She only had to keep her head.
From the other end of the Royal Dining Table came the smallest ahem, shaking Celestia out of her thoughts and reminding her that—oh yes—she was sharing breakfast with Luna this morning. She’d almost forgotten.
“What madness do you speak of, Dearest Sister?” Luna asked, giving her a rather too-wide smile. “Is it that you have finally deigned to spend some part of your busy morning with me? Or is it that you have brought your correspondence to our meal together?” She took a sip of tea and her smile stretched just a little wider. “Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “That would be madness indeed.”
Celestia buried her head in her hooves. Of course, Luna would have been looking forward to this. And, of course, the Sisters’ Special Breakfast Together had been scheduled for the worst possible time. Was it Luna or her who’d made that particular mistake? She couldn’t imagine ever agreeing to anything right at the start of spring, but—oh, what did it matter? She only had so much time to spend with her little sister, and here she was, squandering it.
“I’m so sorry, Luna,” she said. “It’s just... you know.” She motioned to the huge stack of letters sitting beside her at the table. It was a small mountain of parchment and ink, some of which was already spilling over onto the table, encroaching on the toasted oats. “Springtime.”
Luna took another sip of her tea, looking somewhat mollified. “I grant you my forgiveness, then, Sister,” she said. “But, pray tell, what is so special about the time of spring that you’ve received such plentiful... numerous...” Luna paused as the pile of letters shifted, finally burying the toasted oats. “I have honestly never seen so much mail,” she finished.
“Oh, yes, right,” said Celestia. “I’d forgotten. It started a little after your time. Mmm... eight hundred years ago, I want to say?” Her horn glowed bright white for a moment as she levitated a dozen or so letters over to Luna’s end of the table. “Perhaps you ought to see for yourself?”
Using her own magic, Luna organized the letters into a neat stack and held them up. Celestia sat back, helped herself to a plate of hash browns, and awaited the inevitable.
“To Your Royal Highness, Princess Celestia...” Luna read. “We understand that your schedule is demanding and... but it would be our greatest pleasure... if you could visit our wonderful city of Baltimare.”
She raised an eyebrow and gave Celestia a patronizing glance, but continued on to the next letter without a word. “We anxiously await your arrival in Ponyville...” She flipped through a few more. “If you would consider appearing in Las Pegasus for the grand reopening of... The town of Appleloosa hopes... I’m throwing a wild house party while my parents are out this weekend and if you wouldn’t mind coming over too much...”
She set the letters down, took another sip of tea, and politely wiped her mouth with a napkin. She took a deep breath.
“These are all invitations?” she shouted. “All of them?”
“All of them,” said Celestia, polishing off the last of the hash browns. “And those are just the ones from last night. We’re expecting another dozen or so by noon.”
“By the stars above!” Luna gasped. “How do you manage?”
“I don’t,” said Celestia simply. She levitated a plate of gooey yellow eggs over to Luna’s end of the table, hoping to change the subject. “Eggs Benedict, Luna? There’s still some left.”
Luna shook her head, pushing the plate away. “No eggs, Benedict or otherwise, Sister. I would much rather hear more of your predicament.”
“There’s not much else to tell,” said Celestia, taking the plate back. “It’s become custom for the Princess...es to make appearances at every town once winter ends.” She picked sullenly at the eggs, toying with the idea of finishing them. “To usher in the new season, you see. It’s just that there are quite a few more towns these days than there used to be...”
“A burdensome commitment, it sounds,” said Luna. She drained her tea and tapped the cup to signal the servants for a refill. “Quite the onerous obligation to put on a princess.”
“It’s just how things are,” said Celestia, giving her food a light jab with her fork and nibbling at what came up, “and have been for a long time. You’ll get used to it, I suppose. Someday.”
“Perhaps I might, once I rejoin the public,” said Luna. She chuckled. “But it seems to me that you are not quite used to it yourself, Sister, even with eight hundred years’ experience.”
“Not that I ever said I was.”
“Ah, well... true,” Luna admitted, her chuckle fading. She stopped for a moment, deep in thought. “Surely, though, you cannot accept every invitation?” She gestured toward the massive pile of letters sitting by Celestia. “I mean, there cannot possibly be enough time for all of them.”
Celestia shrugged, hoping Luna could see it from her end of the table. “Well I can’t be everywhere at once, obviously.” She stared down at her plate, into the mutilated remains of her once-proud Eggs Benedict. “And this spring is looking busier than ever. I probably will end up refusing some of these.” She sighed and pushed her plate away, allowing a servant to pick it up and scurry off. “Hopefully not too many,” she said. “I never enjoy saying no to my—our subjects.”
“Well,” said Luna teasingly, “you might consider my assistance in handling these matters. I have been working on my demeanor when speaking with our subjects, and I believe I could easily become quite popular amongst them.”
The servant stallion refilling Luna’s tea coughed.
Luna coughed louder.
“In all seriousness,” she said, glaring at the servant as he slipped away, “I do not have a solution. It seems a conundrum wrapped in a quandary.” She paused for a moment, then added, “Ensconced in a pickle, of course.”
“No, it’s not an ideal situation,” Celestia agreed glumly. “Not at all.”
The two of them sat in silence for a while after that, sipping tea and exchanging meaningful glances. A few remarks about the weather—perfect, as usual—were made, but for the most part, the mood had been permanently dampened. Most of what was there to say had already been said, so the rest of it amounted to simple brooding.
There had been worse endings to a Sisters’ Special Breakfast Together, Celestia supposed.
Eventually the silence was broken by the entrance of a gold-armored guard. Celestia held her breath and braced herself as he advanced toward her end of the table. She knew exactly what he was going to say, and she knew that she wasn’t ready to hear it. Slowly, almost menacingly, he leaned toward her until his muzzle was only a few inches away. She could feel his breath, warm and moist, on her neck...
“The time now is almost eight o’clock, Princess,” he whispered. “Your chariot to Baltimare awaits.”
“Ah... yes... thank you, Holt,” said Celestia, holding back a groan. She made a few mechanical dabs at her mouth with her napkin and stood up from her seat. “I’m... sorry, Luna,” she said, “but I’m afraid I must be off.”
“No, it is of no trouble to me,” said Luna. She nodded and gave Celestia an encouraging smile—perhaps the most genuine she’d worn all morning. “I only hope you will forgive my prior frustration, Sister. If I had only known...”
“Oh, it wouldn’t have made what I’d done any less rude,” said Celestia, returning the smile and adding a wink, “but apology accepted. You can make it up to me later.”
And with that final parting shot, she turned to Holt, her smile hardening into something altogether more stonelike and solemn. “Lead me to the chariot now, Holt,” she ordered. “Every second counts.”
“As you command, Your Highness,” said Holt with a salute. He rushed to open the doors for her and bowed. “Right this way.”
“Fare thee well, Sister,” called Luna, waving goodbye as Celestia followed Holt into the halls, “and best of luck to you.”
Celestia gave a half-hearted wave back as the double-doors to the Royal Dining Hall closed behind her. She sighed one last time before composing herself. A cohort of guards formed up around her in the corridors, as escort to her chariot, and she followed them quietly, with customary grace and bearing.
Breakfast with Luna was all well and good, but it was time now for her to fulfill her duties as Princess. To follow what had been tradition for eight hundred years, give or take. To go out and share the joy of welcoming spring with every one of her manifold subjects...
Or at least, Celestia thought, as a rather sickening pit began to form in her stomach, with as many of them as can fit in the schedule.
It was midnight when Celestia finally returned to the castle—or thereabouts. She wasn’t entirely sure. Time had taken on a strange and blurry quality since she’d left to meet her subjects. Seconds bleeding into minutes into hours. If she’d left at eight, and spent eternity in Baltimare, the time now was anypony’s guess. In fact... it had been midnight for quite a while, hadn’t it?
Well, who could say?
She staggered and swayed as she stepped down from the chariot, trying her best to keep standing in a room that had gone on full tilt. She focused on Luna, standing near the corner, and started tottering toward her. It wasn’t too hard to work out a path from there. Just a quick detour to the left, a stumble to the right, and an adorable little gasp from Luna to punctuate every uneasy step. She’d even almost made it by the time her knees buckled and her legs gave out entirely.
“Sister!” cried Luna, running up to stabilize her. “Are you all right?”
Celestia hiccuped. “Am I?” she asked dreamily. “I suppose I might be. It’s hard to tell when you’ve had a taste of that old Baltimare brew. Takes the edge right off of reason.” She laughed. “No, no, I’m fine... It’s fine. Just give me a second to get my bearings.”
“More than a second, I should think,” said Luna, helping her back on her hooves. “Shall I escort you to your chambers, Sister?”
“Ooh, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?” She steadied herself on Luna’s outstretched wing, still a little woozy, and hiccuped again. “I do think you shall.”
“It will be naught but my pleasure,” said Luna. She opened the door to the corridors with her magic and helped Celestia forward. “We will call it the recompense I owe you from this morning... Or perhaps,” she said, with a teasing twinkle in her eye, “you shall now be in my debt.”
“Of course, Luna.” Celestia chuckled. “But you’ll have to remind me about it in the morning.”
“Believe me, I shall.”
Celestia would have had a witty reply to that one, had she not been interrupted by a particularly loud and guttural throat-clearing. “Erm... Princess?” asked one of the guards still holstered to the chariot. He gave a meaningful glance toward the harness mounted squarely on his armored shoulders. “Not to be rude, crude, or in any way disrespectful to your conversation, but if you could, uh, please—”
“Oh, dismissed, the lot of you!” shouted Luna, shooing them off. “Get thee gone, wastrels, and darken our discussion no more!”
“Volume, Luna,” Celestia whispered. “We’ve talked about this.”
“And you,” hissed Luna, “require rest.” She pushed Celestia past the herd of scurrying guards and shut the door firmly behind her. “Come now, let us find you your mattress.”
As had been tradition since time immemorial, Celestia’s royal chambers were kept in the highest tower of Canterlot Castle. Always. Symbolically, it was important, to establish the position of Princess as highest amongst all those in the land.
Practically, it meant that going to bed required a long and grueling climb along a series of winding staircases.
Tonight, though, she didn’t quite mind. Every step extra meant just a little more time with her sister, and if that required some huffing and puffing and leaning on Luna’s back... Well, she could bear it. And hopefully Luna could too. Quality time between sisters was currently at a premium, what with her busy schedule, and Luna’s own, not-quite-so-busy schedule. Still, Celestia intended to grab as much of it as she could, before it was all eaten up by travel, tradition, and town visits.
Celestia’s heart sank at the very thought. Time had become a rare commodity lately, hadn’t it?
“You know, I saw so many wonderful ponies today,” Celestia mused, as she trudged up the stairs beside Luna. “But I couldn’t help but think of all those I didn’t see.”
“I am most sorry to hear that,” said Luna, with a note of strained sympathy. Perhaps it was from helping her bigger, heavier sister up a few hundred steps and then some. Or maybe it was because she was sick of hearing about how popular Celestia was when she had the opposite problem. Either way it sounded very much like a subtle clue to shut up.
But the old Baltimare Brew had a way with restraint, in that there was never much left after drinking it, and so Celestia kept talking. “‘All those poor, poor ponies in Appleloosa,’ I said to myself,” she continued, the words almost spilling out of her mouth. “‘What are they going to think when they’re told their Princess is too busy to see them?’”
“Perhaps you should consider giving thought to the positives?” Luna suggested politely as she pushed Celestia up another step. “Oh, do watch the floor there—cracked, I believe... But yes, perhaps you would prefer to think on that which has been accomplished, instead of that which has been left undone?”
“I just don’t know about that, Luna,” she said sadly. “You saw the letters this morning, right? I’ve gotten so little done today, and there’s so much more left to do...”
“Well, for all that it is worth,” said Luna, “it might please you to know that your subjects appreciate your attentions. Baltimare, Cloudsdale, and Manehattan have already sent in their thanks for your visit.” She coughed and gave Celestia a hasty shove. “Not that I have been reading your correspondence, of course.”
“Of course,” Celestia chuckled, plodding up another few steps in response. “And I’ll bet you’ve never been through my diary ei—” she stopped as her brain processed all of what Luna had just said. “I didn’t go to Cloudsdale today. Baltimare and Manehattan, yes, but Cloudsdale was scheduled for tomorrow.”
The news gave Luna pause too. “Odd,” she said. “They seemed quite apologetic about the incident at the—I mean, surely they would not have sent thanks for your visit if you had not already visited?”
“I’ll sort it out before going to bed,” said Celestia, yawning. “Or maybe after. I don’t know. Just keep me moving, or I might fall asleep here.”
Eventually, the two princesses reached the top of the tower, where the golden door to Celestia’s room stood before them. “I should be fine from here, Luna,” said Celestia, finally managing to stand on her own four hooves. “Thank you for sticking with me this far, though.”
“’Twas no trouble to me, Sister,” said Luna, gasping from the effort. “My pleasure, in fact, to accompany you to your chambers. Though, before I tell you good night, I should say that I think—”
But she did not manage to say what she was thinking, because at that very moment the door to Celestia’s chambers flew right open.
And standing in the doorway was none other than Princess Celestia herself.
“Oh, good, you’re finally here,” said the Celestia at the door. “I’ve been waiting for hours.”
Celestia’s eyes widened in shock. Well, that was unexpected. Not the strangest thing she had ever seen greet her at her bedroom door, but it was certainly up there. Slightly above the three-hundred pound vat of green slime and somewhere below the four-hundred pounder.
Luna, behind her, was visibly paling at the sight of not one, but two older sisters. She whispered something Celestia couldn’t quite hear, but it sounded very much like a word that had been unspeakably foul a few centuries ago.
“You’ll be wanting this,” said the Celestia at the door, holding an ancient yellow scroll out to the Celestia on the stairwell. “Do be a dear and remember to give this to yourself later.”
She accepted it wordlessly, trying to keep an open mind about the mysterious present she had just received. At least it didn’t seem to be green slime. That, in itself, was fairly promising.
“That’ll be it then,” said the Celestia at the door, giving her a cheerful wave. “Happy trails.” And in a flash of light, she disappeared.
“Well,” said Celestia.
“Well indeed,” agreed Luna.
They took just a moment more to stare at each other, then leapt into the room and shut the door behind them as quickly as they could manage.
“Open it, open it, open it!” Luna shrieked.
“I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying!” said Celestia, fiddling with the knot that kept it rolled together. When she’d finally managed to loosen it, she trotted over to her writing desk and spread the scroll out. She leaned in close and read out loud, “His Eminence, Star Swirl The Bearded Presents: A Spelle For Travel Thru Time.”
Luna’s eyes widened. “A spell...” she began.
“For travel through time...” finished Celestia. “I’m a genius!” She could almost feel all her prior fatigue melting away at the thought of it, replaced instead with a kind of manic energy. “Luna! Do you realize what this could mean?”
“Sister...” said Luna, sounding somewhat less excited, “Perhaps you should put that scroll away and rest first, so as to avoid the perils of a hasty decision. I fear that your wits may yet have been dulled by exhaustion and copious quantities of the olden Brew of Baltimare.”
But neither exhaustion nor the ol’ Baltimare Brew nor Luna’s concerns were much on Celestia’s mind at the moment. “Why, if I did that! Just imagine!” She giggled to herself, practically giddy with excitement. “It’s what I’ve needed all along!”
“Sister!” cried Luna. “Reconsider, I beseech you! Do you not remember the perils of time spells? Did we not forbid Star Swirl himself from the practice of such magic?”
That brought Celestia back to her senses. Back from the point of hysteric giggling, at least. “You might be right, Luna,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Time magic can indeed be dangerous. But just imagine, if I used this spell, I’d have enough time to do everything!”
“My advice to you is to forget of this,” said Luna, placing a hoof on Celestia's shoulder. “Dispose of the scroll, and do not let such matters darken your thoughts again. You have borne this burden before without the use of dangerous spells and I have faith you shall do so again. Please, Sister. Let the past remain as the past, and the future remain as the future.”
Celestia sighed. "I... Yes, you might be right, Luna." She sat down for a moment, deep in thought. So close! For a moment—that one fleeting moment!—it had seemed like she’d found the solution to all her problems. What better way, after all, to get more time than to steal some from time’s gnarled clutches?
Yet, Luna did have a point. Time travel was risky business and always had been. Starswirl had proven that much when he’d managed to blow up half the Canterlot library. Twice. Perhaps the matter did bear a little more thought. She did, after all, have plenty of time to think it ov—
Wait. No, she didn’t. Even now, she was well behind schedule. She still had to get her allotted four hours of sleep, plan the next day’s visits, answer letters... Every minute Celestia spent dithering was a minute she’d never have back. A minute that could have been spent being a better princess for her subjects, lost forever—unless she went back and took it.
Then it hit her. The answer. She turned to Luna with a grin on her face, well aware that it was a bit wider than healthy. “Luna,” she said slowly. “I have a question for you.”
Luna gulped, looking remarkably like a mouse caught in the sights of an eagle. “Yes... Sister?”
“You said that Cloudsdale sent me a letter of thanks for my visit?”
“A letter of thanks arrived, yes, though as you said, you never—” Luna’s eyes widened as she realized the trap. “But I beg you once more—!”
“Well then!” said Celestia, barely bothering to conceal her glee. “It seems that the decision has already been made for me!” She laughed, relieved. She felt so much lighter, with the weight of responsibility off her shoulders, and with a little alcohol in her system. "Don't worry, Luna. I'll be back before you know it."
And before Luna could raise any further objections, she cast the spell. The air hummed with magic and blinding white light flooded the room. Celestia couldn’t see a thing in the midst of it all, but she could feel herself losing substance. Becoming less and less there as her body faded into thin air. She was on her way.
But as she slipped into the timestream, a faint and faraway voice seemed to ring in her insubstantial ears. Perhaps it was just an errant memory making its way into the stream, an echo from the past as she departed the present, but she could almost swore she had heard Luna, telling her...
“Fare thee well, Sister, and best of luck to you.”