Our Lot, Our Life

by KiroTalon

Losing Hope

Celestia continued. “With all of equestria finally working the way ponydom needed it to, the question of government finally demanded our attention. There was a small congress of powerful, wealthy, and charismatic ponies who helped debate and decide the fate of the government, but it was fairly obvious from the outset that we would be the defacto heads of state. Even so, being formally elected and granted the role did help lend a certain authority to our position.”

"Originally,” Luna said, “we were concerned that ruling such a large nation as Equestria would be beyond the ability of just two ponies to manage, but it turns out those concerns were unfounded. Ponies are generally clever and cooperative, and we found that most towns in Equestria are more than capable of running themselves quite smoothly, even though they don’t all use the same system. Where Ponyville has a mayor, other pony cities have had parliaments, dukes, and some have been largely anarchic, only bowing to our authority when they had to. In deference to our subjects’ free will, we tried not to bother them any more than necessary,” she added with a faint smile. “In the end, it turned out that for the most part, Equestria doesn’t need a lot of direct rulership. We visited the cities once or twice a year, just to insure everything was running smoothly, but we’ve only ever had to directly invade and depose a few radicals.”

Twilight nodded. “The rebellions of the 3rd and 5th era.”

“Exactly,” Luna said. “Please understand we never wanted to step in and upset anypony’s lifestyle, but there are some things we simply couldn’t tolerate.”

“You don’t have to explain yourselves to me,” Twilight said. “I read all about those rebellions, and I think you made the right decisions. They can’t have been easy decisions to make.”

“They weren’t,” Celestia said. “But we learned that very few important decisions are easy. We ended up building Canterlot on the side of Mount Sliepnir so we could be as close to Cosmos as possible, in case we ever had to visit him again. We even started looking for ponies we might want to have replace us when we inevitably passed on, but after one century passed, then a millennium, then another, we realized we would never have to be replaced, because we weren’t going to grow old and die. We started ruling with that in mind.”

“Well, Celestia did,” Luna interrupted, her face hardening slightly. “I, on the other hoof, was starting to feel the effects of Discord’s magic in terrible ways. I began to resent my sister. At first it was just small twinges for minor slights: the sun rising just a moment too soon or setting a moment too late, unimportant decisions made without consulting me, that sort of thing. Then it started to bleed over into things she had no control over, such as various dignitaries failing to include my name in the salutation of official correspondence, or the fact that I would no longer get invited to royal functions that occurred during the day because they knew I couldn’t come, or even just ponies specifically waiting for an audience with her instead of me when they arrived before sunrise. Over time, I even grew resentful of the most absurd of imagined insults, convincing myself that everypony loved the day and hated the night because they had the nerve to sleep when it was dark.”

Twilight nodded. “I remember the legend.”

“Then you know, of course, that one day I could resist Discord’s corruption no longer, and I refused to lower the moon.” Twilight nodded again, and Luna’s face darkened. “Under any other circumstances, my insubordination would have been trivial. Celestia is now and has always been the more powerful alicorn, and had I not been imbued with Discord’s additional magic, she would easily have overpowered me. Instead, his spell allowed me to transform into Nightmare Moon, the immensely powerful avatar of Discord’s corrupted influence over an already powerful alicorn. I easily subdued my sister and drove her from the castle along with all of her guards. I became consumed by an irrational rage against the ponies I believed had betrayed me, and spent the next few weeks destroying everything inside the palace, replacing it all with idols and banners with my likeness on them.” She looked at her hooves sadly. “A great deal of magnificent art and literature was lost in those few days. All of the histories of past deeds, all the fables and tales passed down for centuries, all the tapestries and sculptures and paintings lauding the accomplishments of generations of ponies was destroyed in mere days while my sister sought ways to defeat me.”

“Initially,” Celestia interrupted, cutting the navy blue alicorn off as her voice darkened and became bitter, “I was afraid I would be unable to. The only power I knew of that was great enough to oppose an alicorn like myself was a Deicorn, and the only Deicorn I could contact was inaccessible, his domain located on the summit of a mountain I was no longer welcome to. Instead, I looked for the next closest thing I could find that rivaled the Deicorn himself, the very artifacts he had personally bestowed upon ponydom to protect itself from beings too powerful to fight alone.”

“But how did you even get them?” Twilight asked. “Aren’t the elements stored in Canterlot Tower?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, not at that time. Canterlot Tower was built after Nightmare Moon was banished. The Elements were originally left in the care of their spiritual representatives, and only relocated when they passed away. We would hold funerals for those who had represented the elements in Canterlot, and would give the newly orphaned element to whomever we deemed most worthy of it. Sometimes we were wrong, but fortunately, as I mentioned, the elements are not to be trifled with or deceived, and the moment they were given to someone who didn’t deserve them, they would become unbearable to wear or even hold. Then we would know the pony we had chosen was unworthy, and would seek a new candidate.”

“This worked well until Nightmare Moon was summoned, because with Luna’s knowledge of the elements, she now knew exactly where to find the only powers that stood a chance of defeating her. It was a race against the clock to beat her to each element, but eventually I had collected all but the element of Loyalty to my side. With no alternative, I found a pony I believed would be capable of wielding it and returned to Canterlot Castle where Luna had kept her necklace. The confrontation that resulted when Nightmare Moon returned to the Palace was horrific, but in the end the elements won out.” Celestia hesitated, her brow furrowing in remembered anxiety. “At the time, I did not realize Luna was not responsible for her actions. I believed, with great sorrow, that Luna’s anger was genuine, that she had honestly turned her back on me and our subjects, and I was heartbroken.”

“The original plan, therefore, was to try to reason with her. I hoped, perhaps foolishly, that if Luna could be convinced to see truth, that I could save her from herself. She was, after all, my sister, and my best friend.” She glanced down at her hooves. “But if that failed--as it was destined to--then we would attempt to...to kill her.” The princess’ voice cracked over the last phrase, and she looked away, her eyes glistening with unshed tears betraying the ache she still felt at a memory centuries old. “Of course, you cannot kill an alicorn, so we merely wasted our energy and our...resources.” She hesitated again. The reflection, however distant, was still visibly painful for her to recall. Twilight waited patiently for her to muster the will to continue. Eventually, she sighed and said, “In the end, we chose the only option left to us, and banished her from this world. Of course, banishment spells are not easy, and they are very inexact, even when cast flawlessly. I never intended to send her to the moon, nor to do so for any specific length of time, and it required some magical divination to discern where she had gone, and when--if--the spell would weaken enough for her to return. That was where the legend of Nightmare Moon came from.” She finally smiled, very faintly. “A legend you know well, I think.”

Twilight returned the smile with slightly more confidence. “Yeah, well...it brought me to Ponyville, and to my friends. It would be a difficult to forget anything about that day.”

“As well it should be,” Celestia said. “In any event, when I discovered that we not banished Nightmare Moon forever, but only for a thousand years, I knew I would eventually have to face her again, something I knew I would never be prepared for. Instead, I again sought the counsel of Cosmos, who revealed to me that he had foreseen all I was explaining to him, and that I had never been intended to permanently defeat Nightmare Moon. He told me that the elements of harmony are very sensitive to the will of the user, and their effect can be altered by even the slightest subconscious thought. To that end, he explained, my element, the most powerful element, entered the battle crippled. My emotional attachment to Luna, my shame at failing to see the signs, my hesitance to do what was necessary--all of these things severely hindered the strength of the element of magic, rendering it unable to properly activate, and weakening the efforts of my companions. In the end, it was a miracle that we even managed to successfully cast the banishment spell, let alone summon the magic we needed to defeat her completely.”

Twilight was enthralled. “What magic did you need?”

“Friendship,” Luna said, smiling gently. “The rarest and most elusive of magic. Love can be magically emulated and easily faked, and acquaintance is commonplace, but true friendship, that deep, devastating affection that can only exist between two truly connected ponies, is impossible to feign, impossible to deny, and infinite in its power. And only the magic of friendship could undo the damage wrought by Discord’s cruel spell.”

“So...when my friends and I faced you in the Ancient Castle...”

“It was not the elements themselves that defeated me, no. It was the magic that the elements channel. They magnify and focus the magic of friendship, which you and your friends wielded in tremendous amounts that night.”

“And this, dearest Twilight,” Celestia said, her voice suddenly heavy with consequence, “is the part of the story where you become important.”

“I...become important?” Twilight raised an eyebrow, puzzled. Then revelation dawned, and her eyes lit up. “Oh! Right. I...I had actually forgotten that this whole story was...about me.” She blushed. Ever the student, Twilight had become so engrossed in the history lesson that she had completely lost sight of the original purpose of the story.

Celestia laughed softly. “Yes, Twilight. In fact, you are nearly as important as anything else that has happened in this story so far. Cosmos explained to me that as long as I harbored any emotional attachment to Nightmare Moon, I would be unable to properly unleash the full power of the elements of harmony, and our second confrontation would end very much like the first, if not worse. His solution, then, was for me to find somepony to replace me as the element of magic, someone unconnected to my sister and our history, who would have no qualms about facing Nightmare Moon, and no hesitation to do what was necessary...no matter what that may be.”

“I must admit,” Celestia continued, looking down at her hooves, “I was not entirely satisfied with his answer. I had hoped, perhaps naively, that he would tell me how to return my beloved sister to me, or at worst, how to banish her permanently, so I would never have to see her like...that...ever again. Of course, he knew perfectly well that the former was not an option as long as I possessed the element of magic, and he knew the latter would have devastated me. His option, however unpleasant it may have seemed at the time, was the best.”

“So I began my search. I started the school for gifted unicorns in Canterlot to attract all the greatest magical talent Equestria could muster. Anypony who was sufficiently gifted would be taught free of charge, provided they could pass the entrance exam. From this pool, I began to select the most skilled and enthusiastic young ponies to teach personally in hopes of finding somepony who I trusted enough to bestow the element upon.”

“So I wasn’t your first protege, then?” Twilight asked, a hint of disappointment seeping into the words.

“No, Twilight, you weren’t.” Celestia smiled warmly. “But I haven’t finished yet. You see, as the centuries passed, I met many extremely talented, extremely enthusiastic young mages, and many of them went on to be the greatest spellcasters that Equestria has ever seen. Starshine the Gazer, Sunsoar the Determined, Nightsky the Black, and many more famous names I’m sure you’ve read in your studies all passed through my school and found their way into my private tutelage, but none of them quite managed to meet my exacting standards. As hundreds of years slipped by, I began to fear I would never find anypony I would be comfortable bestowing the element of magic on. With only a couple decades remaining before Nightmare Moon’s return, my fear evolved into panic, and then into a terrible, gnawing depression as I realized that I was out of time. I stopped taking new students under my wing as I convinced myself that nopony would be capable of wearing my element.”

“Then you came along.” The alicorn’s smile broadened, her eyes lighting up as she looked at Twilight. The lilac unicorn smiled back, blushing faintly. “I remember the first time I saw you, Twilight Sparkle. A tiny little unicorn struggling through the crowd to watch me raise the sun. It was as though this one moment was the most important thing in the world to you. I remember the wonder in your eyes, the excitement on your face. It made raising the sun more than just a task I was bound to perform; it was a privilege again.” Her eyes glistened slightly. “I had been tracking the sun and the moon across the sky for so long that it had lost all meaning for me. The sun no longer resisted, and even the moon’s path was hewn ruthlessly through the stars. I pulled the celestial bodies through the sky because it was simply what I do, and had done for hundreds upon hundreds of years. There was no magic left in it for me.”

“But to you...Twilight, I don’t know how much of that day you remember. We spoke only long enough to share our names with one another, but even then I could sense there was something marvelous about you. I could feel tremendous magic potential teeming in your eager frame, and I felt something I hadn’t felt for years.” The smile became a grin, tears clinging to her eyelashes. “I had hope again.”