“And we just reverse the polarity here….add a dash of extra sparkle there…and…DONE!”
Twilight’s quill made its final stroke just as Pinkie stopped humming a conga tune and woke back to reality. That is, reality according to Pinkie Pie. “Whoa, was that cool! Can we do it again?”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Let’s not. I’ve already almost had my entire consciousness swallowed by an ethereal monstrosity today, and I’d rather not toy with spells like that anymore. Just knowing I used the same magic as Kuchen…” She shuddered at the thought. “It just creeps me out.”
Pinkie’s face fell. “Oh.” And then lit back up. “Okay!” She trotted up to her friend, still all smiles and eager to help. “So, how’s the cure coming?”
Twilight’s face stayed firmly in her “serious business” mode as she reviewed the finished counterspell. The arcane words scrawled upon the parchment certainly seemed impressive enough to work. “Everything in it seems to flow naturally. The information Kuchen gave me helped fill in a few of the steps between the ones we already had, which should make it possible to remove all the spells in just the right order that we don’t set off any more traps. We should be able to get this done without turning into fillies again.”
Pinkie just bobbed her head along. “Uh huh.”
Twilight sighed. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“NNNNope!” Pinkie said in her usual giddy manner..
Twilight telekinetically rolled up the scroll, stuffed it into a nearby saddlebag, and hoisted the apparatus onto her back. “In any case, we have to get this spell to Princess Luna before things get worse. With Princess Celestia’s mind being what it is now, I’d hate to think what would happen if we keep this going any longer.”
The unicorn had only taken a few steps when Pinkie called out from behind. “Um…Twilight? About Kuchen…”
Oh boy, here we go. “Can we please not talk about him?” Twilight sighed. “I wasn’t comfortable with him when he was just riding around in your brain, and I’m still not sure where I stand with it.”
“Oh, it’s not about that,” Pinkie said. “It’s just…well…did you really want to, you know…kill him?”
Twilight slowly spun around, groaning at her friend’s question. Her eyes took on a far more menacing appearance, much like when she had stared down Discord during their final battle. “Do you really have to ask that? It’s his fault we’re in this situation to begin with. He made the spell that turned Celestia into a filly. He murdered Celestia-knows-how-many ponies. And if what I’m gathering is right, he’s made your life a nightmare too. How could you possibly forgive a pony like that?”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. She had never seen such intensity from Twilight before, and especially not aimed in her direction. The whole situation made her feel more than a little flummoxed. “B-But he looked so sad.”
“And he SHOULD feel that way!” Twilight snapped. “He was nothing but a horrible monster, and I will never, EVER forgive him for what he put you and Celestia through!”
Pinkie’s ears dropped as her body sagged. The sight of her friend falling apart took Twilight aback. “I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just…I don’t think I can ever completely forgive anypony who would do something like that. One of the first things Princess Celestia ever taught me was to never use my magic to hurt anypony. How can I possibly think that somepony like Kuchen would be apologetic for that? And do you know what the best part is?”
Pinkie’s entire body squashed into itself, as if trying to morph the pony into a little pink ball. Given Pinkie’s prior track record, that was certainly in the realm of possibility. “I…I…”
Twilight leaned as close as she could. Pinkie could feel her breath through her nostrils as she spoke. “I’m glad you were there to stop me.”
Pinkie raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Huh?”
“While you were still in your dream land, I started thinking over all the things that occurred back there.” Twilight took a seat on her haunches, looking more than a little ashamed at what she had almost done. “All I knew about Kuchen was what you and Celestia had told me. I knew he was sadistic, cruel, and more than a little insane, but I figured that if I wore down his will to exist, you’d all be free. The thought of trying to redeem a pony like that never crossed my mind, and putting him back in your brain afterwards was out of the question. But when I actually considered what I almost did, it felt…wrong.”
Twilight nervously kicked her forehooves against the floor. “I love Celestia. She’s like a second mother to me. And I used that same emotion to try and torture a pony to death. I’m still not sure he deserved to be friends, but…at least you gave him the chance.”
“Kuchen’s not a bad pony anymore, thanks to you,” Pinkie said softly. “You made him give up hating everypony and start enjoying things again. And you gave me a new friend. I think that’s a far nicer thing than just letting him rot away because you don’t like some of the things he did.”
Twilight smiled. “I’m not really angry with you. It’s just…things have been getting worse and worse around here. It was your call to make, and whatever happens, I will still be your friend. But know we have a cure, and with that, everything is going to be all…”
The door to the study suddenly flung open, revealing a pair of mares, one green and one blue. “Excuse us, but have you seen Princess Celestia?”
Something within Twilight’s general guts area turned upside-down at the question. She and the recovering Pinkie slowly turned to face the two, their eyes wracked with new concerns. “No, why?”
“She’s gone missing!” shouted the hysterical blue mare. “She and Princess Luna had a terrible fight, and the next thing we knew she ran off!”
That little dash of dread in Twilight’s soon exploded into a mushroom cloud of unadulterated terror and horror. “Where’s Princess Luna?”
“I-In her office,” said the green mare. “She went there once the fight stopped and hasn’t come out since!”
“Then that’s where we’re going!” Twilight turned to Pinkie. “Come on! We’re too far in to stop now!”
By the time the two ponies had reached Celestia’s office, a large crowd of worried ponies from all corners of the castle’s staff had already surrounded the entrance. Some were pleading for answers, while others just begged the princess to leave and tell them what was going on. It took all of Twilight’s pull with the guards (plus a few pulls from her magic) just for the two Ponyvillians to reach the door.
Twilight hushed the crowd, and they begrudgingly obliged. Taking a deep breath, Twilight knocked on the door. “Um...Hello? Princess Luna?”
A soft, regal voice answered back. “Twilight Sparkle?”
“W-We have a cure for the princess,” Twilight said. The declaration elicited another rush of chatter from the onlookers, albeit a lot more hopeful this time around. The unicorn hushed the crowd yet again before continuing. “C-Can we come inside?”
There was nothing from the other side for a while. Then, finally, a small voice answered back. “Very well. But just you and Miss Pie. Everypony else, please return to the search.”
The staff quickly followed their princess’ orders, filing away from the door and retreating to other parts of the palace. Once they were gone, Twilight and Pinkie opened the door and walked inside. Luna was still in the office all right, her quill furiously signing away on all manner of legislation. Were it not for her red eyes and shaky posture, it would have seemed like nothing was wrong. “Hello Twilight Sparkle, Miss Pie. I am sorry I cannot speak with you more right now, but there is so much to do still. I lost a lot of time today, and I…”
Pinkie didn’t even wait for her to finish. “We heard you and your sister had one heck of a fight.”
Luna sighed, her quill still working away. “Yes, we had a quarrel less than an hour ago. She left the room quite upset, as you can imagine. I decided to give her some space at the moment.”
“I…take it she told you she didn’t want to be princess anymore?”
The quill stopped so suddenly it snapped in two. Luna’s head jerked up in a furiously fast motion, sending the two mortal ponies back a few steps. “S-She what?”
Twilight facehoofed at her own foolishness. Way to go, Twilight. You just made things worse yet again.
“Sh-She does not want to be a princess anymore?” Luna’s lower lip trembled as she rose from her seat.
After a few moment, Twilight managed to regain enough of her composure to continue. “What exactly happened? I’ve never heard of you two fighting like that.”
All traces of her royal pride seemed to vanish in an instant. Luna’s face screamed self-loathing and deep-seated guilt over whatever had transpired. “Celestia ran away from the castle sometime early this morning. When we found her, she was at that carnival. We forced her back to the palace, I confronted her in her chambers, and…and…”
Pinkie looked almost desperate for answers. “And what?”
“I…I slapped her.”
Those blasted nerves in Twilight’s brain began to pump out those usual electrical pulses The muscles around her hooves tightened as she anchored herself to the ground, if only so she wouldn’t take a flying leap and start going after Luna’s neck. Unfortunately, they did little to silence her mouth. “You slapped Princess Celestia!”
Luna’s voice showed no signs of surprise at Twilight’s startled response, only regret. “I never wanted to hurt her. B-But she called me Nightmare Moon. She said I was a monster, that I was the worst big sister ever, and that I had turned all this into a chance to take over Equestria.” She sniffed. “And the worst part is, she’s right. I’m really not a good sister.”
“Y-You….I mean, you slapped…what?!” Twilight’s sentences devolved into something resembling ancient cavepony speak, or at least as it was presented in some of the pop fiction she had read in her time. She couldn’t quite pin what emotion she was feeling at the moment, but it was somewhere between “Very Angry” and “Twilight Smash.”
“Um…gals?” Pinke chirped. “Shouldn’t we be looking for the princess right now? I mean, we found one, but the other one could still be hurt!”
“I already know where she is,” Luna sniffled.
Twilight and Pinkie barely resisted the urge to faint like goats at this. The shock was so great that it managed to reboot Twilight’s higher brain functions. “If you know where she is, THEN WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING TO HER?”
“Because I…I…” Luna’s expressions hardened, becoming far more serious and businesslike. All traces of her former vulnerability were washed away. “Follow me. I’ll show you her favorite hiding place.”
Luna’s silent procession through the castle was met with surprise and anxiety from every pony the group encountered. Guards, maids, cooks, and gardeners alike were turning over every nook and cranny of the palace, just in case Celestia had managed to compact herself to one inch in height and scuttled underneath a cushion. The moon princess could only sigh mournfully at all the trouble she had caused.
Twilight’s eyes never left Luna, even as they passed into the Royal Kitchens. The walk had calmed her slightly, but she still could feel nothing but a cold loathing for what Luna had done. The princess had not failed to notice this, but said nothing. There was really nothing any of them could say at this point. Pinkie, meanwhile, was too busy snagging the cake from this morning to notice, balancing the pastry on her head just to see if she could.
The procession stopped in front of a rather plain wooden doorway. Compared to the rest of the castle’s trappings, it stood out like a sore thumb. “So, what is this?” asked Twilight.
“The original Royal Pantry,” Luna said. “When Canterlot was rebuilt following Discord’s first defeat, this was where we stored what little food stores we had. It was already in disuse a thousand years ago, but we had ordered that it be maintained at all times.”
“But…why keep up an empty room?” Twilight asked.
“It wasn’t the pantry that was important,” Luna said as she opened the door. “It was what was behind the pantry.”
Having given all the answers she wished to at the moment, Luna slowly proceeded down the rickety wooden steps. Twilight and Pinkie were still more than a little confused by this, sharing the same cocked eyebrows and throbbing veins, but followed behind her nonetheless.
The pantry itself was little more than a glorified hole in the ground, complete with a dirt floor and moldy ceiling. Wooden beams held the walls up as best they could, while a few antiquated urns and jugs sat unused and broken in the far corner. In fact, the only things that were of any interest were a few tiny hoofprints on the ground leading up to the wall, and a few shelves filled with empty soup cans.
Luna eyed the piece of wall the trail stopped at. Like the rest of the pantry, it was made of antiquated stone. Unlike the rest of the pantry, however, there was almost no dirt or dust on one of the bricks. The princess glanced back and forth, and once she was satisfied nopony was hiding anywhere else, pushed a hoof against the outstanding brick.
The entire room became consumed by the dull sound of ticking gears as the entire wall slid back and to the left, revealing an ancient cavern twisting deep into the mountain Canterlot rested upon. Twilight gasped as she eyed the light-red, glowing moss growing along the walls. “Wh-What is this?”
“Did you ever wonder why Canterlot was built here?” Luna asked. “This is where my sister and I used to live, before we moved to the Everfree Forest for a time. When the Unicorn Kingdom built the original city, they purposely placed it here, thinking that we would like them more if they were closer to us. Unfortunately, all they did was lock us out of our home. When Canterlot was rebuilt millennia later, my sister and I ordered that a secret passageway be built into the pantry leading into the original cave.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Because it sounded sentimental at the time,” Luna sighed. “It is one of our most guarded secrets. None of the servants or guards are allowed inside, and only a select few know this place exists. We decided long ago that everyday Equestrians did not need to know our origin, nor did we wish to make it common knowledge.”
She motioned towards the darkness. “Well, if you have the cure ready, you might as well go fetch my sister. She will be at the very end of the passage. The Fire Moss should provide enough light, but watch your step. I will be in her study if you need me. I need to…finish some work before Celestia reassumes power.”
The princess had taken only a few steps up the stairs when she heard Twilight call out from behind. “You’re going back to work?! B-But you need to apologize…”
“What I am doing is for the best of Equestria,” Luna sighed. “Things have been building up, and I need to get something finished. I trust you two will be able to handle things from here. Speak to me when you are done.” And with that, Princess Luna trotted up the steps and vanished.
Twilight’s eyes glanced back and forth between the open passageway and the stairs. Okay, here’s my situation. Princess Luna slapped Celestia across the face, and she doesn’t want to be princess anymore. That means before I turn her back to normal, I have to convince her that she isn’t a bad ruler. But Princess Luna is obviously guilty about what happened. It feels like she’s trying to avoid the issue rather than confront her sister. If I want there to be any kind of peace between these two, I have to get them to speak to each other again. Oh, what do I do?
“Hey Twilight! Ever notice how weird these cans are? ‘Shy gypsy, slyly, spryly…?’ Sheesh, talk about too much time on your hooves!”
Twilight snapped back to reality at the sound of Pinkie’s voice. The pony was reading over the soup cans, seemingly paying no attention to everything going on around her. The unicorn facehoofed, her forehead aching from all the poundings it had taken the last few days. “Pinkie, what are you doing? We have a serious problem here!”
Pinkie turned away from the shelves and back towards her friend, the cake still perfectly perched upon her head. “Oh, I know that! And I know just what to do! You go talk to Princess Luna, and I’ll go get Princess Celestia! They say they’re sorry, we all have a group hug, and we have Princess Celestia back to normal by nightfall!”
Twilight groaned. “That’s not going to work! The two are so upset at each other right now, there’s no way we can get them to make up!” She raised a curious eye. “And besides, why would you talk to Princess Celestia? I’m her student. Shouldn’t it be me that helps her?”
Pinkie raised a paw to her mouth, loudly cleared her throat, and lowered her leg before continuing. “That’s because you are a biased party in this situation. As Princess Celestia’s personal student, you have more of an inclination to support her and her decisions, even if they are made in the heat of a moment. I, on the other hoof, am a completely neutral party in this case, and can thus provide a far fairer analysis of the events, thereby leading to a proper resolution. As for Princess Luna, both you and she have some things in common which can make it easier for the two of you to build a trust between each other.”
Twilight just stood there, her mouth agape at Pinkie’s long-winded explanation. Seeing her friend’s confusion, Pinkie pointed to the plate sitting atop her. “Oh, and I have a cake on my head. That helps, too.”
“Um…sure. Let’s…go with that,” Twilight mumbled.
Having triumphed over the egghead, Pinkie excitedly hopped down the corridor, vanishing into the darkness beyond. Twilight, meanwhile, slowly stumbled back up the stairs, her mind still reeling from what she had just heard. I wonder how much salt I’ll have to lick to get this experience out of my head?
From the very moment Luna had entered Celestia’s study, she had busied herself with reviewing one piece of legislation after another. Trade agreements with the Republic of Asino, military alliances with the outlying pony lands, and even a few everyday laws and regulations were piled on the table, along with all of Twilight Sparkle’s and Pinkie Pie’s notes on the cure. Fortunately, there was still room for the princess to work.
She had so much to finish before the inevitable occurred. She had to leave some mark on Equestria as a whole, if only so they would have something to remember her by besides Nightmare Moon. Perhaps she could even drum up some support among the populace in her last few hours. After all, she had once enjoyed some popularity…
Luna was having the most amazing day.
The cheerful filly hopped from cloud to cloud, many of them her own creation, as she watched the ponies scurry about underneath. A scant fifty years ago, one of the herds had discovered how to control fire, something her big sister had said would be the beginning of civilization itself, and the nomads were certainly making the most of their new toy. From her vantage point, Luna had picked up their language, their customs, and even some information about the rest of the world. Her big sister had actually travelled outside their valley from time to time, but never allowed Luna to go.
Luna watched as ponies beat together berries and grain into a mush, pitched small shelters for the coming night, and even sharpened a few spears in case any predators decided to come by and think this was a feast. A few were even burning some excess grain on a rocky slab nearby; Luna could never understand why they would waste food like that. Satisfied that she had watched over the ponies properly for the day, the filly skipped back home, her little wings fluttering happily as she hummed an old tune she had heard the mother ponies sing below.
Celestia herself did not appear until an hour after Luna had made it home. She flew in as usual, her gangly, developing body hiding the fantastic power she held within. She and Luna spoke at length in their ancient, long-forgotten tongue. The elder sister spoke of her encounters with the ravenous dragon hordes and the greedy Diamond Dogs, while Luna prattled on about every wondrous new thing occurring in the village. It wasn’t until they heard a hoof scrape across the rocky floor that they realized they were not alone up here.
The two turned about to see a terrified mare kneeling before them, a spear resting next to her forelegs. Luna recognized her as being of some importance to the nearby tribe. Using what knowledge she had gained from her sister’s observations, Celestia stepped forward to acknowledge her, sending the mare shrinking back even more in fear. “You from tribe. Tell us why you come,” she said in that cumbersome, infantile language the ponies below spoke.
The mare stammered out a response. “Me Briar Patch. Daughter of chief. Me come asking for help from mighty sun god.”
Celestia and Luna shared a curious glance before continuing. “Sun god? Me?”
“We watch you many times. You control sun and moon. You sun god. You bring us food. You help us live.” The mare took a few steps out of the cave and stood along the edge of the cliff, the two Alicorns following alongside. She pointed her spear towards the village. “Me have two sisters and three brothers left. They burn offerings every night. They pray you keep tribe safe.”
Celestia watched the scene in stunned amazement. She knew her position was roughly around the same level as a god, but to be worshiped so quickly? “Me…honored.”
“And me honored too!” Luna piped in.
Having made her point, Briar Patch continued. “Tomorrow, season change. Tribe must move to new field. Winged ones want new home. Winged ones tell tribe they destroy tribe if tribe goes to new field.”
Luna’s eyes and mouth opened in joy as she heard mention of the winged ponies. She had seen a few of them in the valley, all dressed in shiny metal and looking very mean. And yet she could never figure out why they didn’t just go down and visit the other tribes. It was weird how they acted all secretive. “And how we help?”
Briar Patch nodded towards Celestia. “Winged ones worship sun god. They will listen if sun god speak. Tribe wishes for war. War cost many lives. Winged ones too powerful. Tribe will die. Sun god make peace, save tribe.”
Luna looked up to Celestia expectedly. This was the first time either one had been asked to intervene in any sort of mortal matter, save for keeping the planet’s ecosystem going. Celestia looked hesitant at first, as if afraid she would make a mess of things, but one look into her sister’s eyes changed all that. “Me talk to winged ones. Me make peace.”
Briar Patch bowed in reverence. “We double offering in thanks. You honor tribe with your grace.” And with that, she turned tail and galloped down the treacherous mountain path.
Once their guest was long gone, Luna turned back to her sister, reassuming their ancient tongue. “Please tell me they will learn to talk good one day.”
Celestia chuckled. “Of course they will, little sister. But ponies are still young. Things like this take a long time. Now go wash up for dinner. I gathered some new plants to try.”
Luna growled a little at the prospect of being a taste tester again, but obeyed her sister’s commands and ran inside the cave. She washed her hooves in the water-filled clay dish her sister had created a few years prior before drying herself on some cloths made from discarded manticore hair. The beast had attacked another tribe a few months back, only to meet its end at the tips of several sharp rocks on sticks. Celestia had seen fit to take some pieces of it back for their convenience; her sister was too good a pony to kill something with no reason.
Yes, life was grand in the cave…
For the first time since she had slapped Celestia, Luna allowed herself to smile at the nostalgia. Oh, those were the days. No real Equestria to manage, no Discord to fight, no laws and rules you had to follow. Just living in a cold cave for thousands of years while everypony around you practically worships the earth we trotted on.
Her mood soured as the rest of the past slipped in. And then I became the Night Goddess, and everypony immediately thought I was a devourer of souls and destroyers of ponies. Nopony cared how I felt except Celestia. And now…
She shook her head vigorously, stopping only when she was sure the offending thoughts were long gone. “I-I have to finish,” she whispered to herself. “It is only a matter of time before Celestia returns and…”
The door creaked open behind her, followed by the sound of hoofsteps against the hard floor. “Princess Luna, can we talk?”
Luna recognized the voice almost immediately. Nonetheless, her attention remained on her work. “I take it everything went well?”
Luna finally spun her head around, and immediately realized where this topic was going. Twilight stood in the room alone, the door slowly closing behind her. There was no sign of either Celestia or Pinkie Pie. “I thought I had told you to come back only when my sister was cured, Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight gulped loudly before continuing. “Pinkie and I have been talking, and…it doesn’t feel right to turn Princess Celestia back while you two are still fighting.”
Luna scoffed, her attention never moving from the table. “The fight is over. Celestia has her cure, so why are we delaying?”
Twilight’s left ear twitched slightly in frustration. “What I mean is, I want the both of you to reconcile before we put Celestia back into power. Otherwise, who knows how bad things can get?”
“If you are worried about another power struggle, I can assure you that will not be happening,” Luna said. ‘Now if you will excuse me, I have something very important to do.”
Twilight’s eyes slowly drifted to the pile of papers sitting before the princess. They were no doubt the things she was trying to hide behind. If she was going to even get Luna to listen, she would have to do something drastic. “Why yes, you do.”
The unicorn trotted up to the table and, with the casualness of a thousand Rainbow Dashes, swung one foreleg across the whole surface. Everything Luna had so carefully constructed went flying across the room, landing in scattered heaps or embedding itself between books and scrolls.
Luna sprung from her seat and stomped up to Twilight’s face, her eyes locking with the unicorn’s in an attempt to scare the very soul out of her. Her right foreleg pointed straight for the pony’s chest, bobbing back and forth like she was scolding a small child. “How dare you interrupt royal business! You have no right-“
Twilight swatted the offending hoof away, startling Luna. “Let’s talk about rights, shall we? First off, what gives you the right to smack your sister across the face and then refuse to apologize?”
Luna reared back defensively. She had never quite seen such intensity in Twilight before. “I-I do not have to answer to you! What my sister said and did was inexcusable!”
“That doesn’t excuse you either!” Twilight snapped back. Her own hoof was now prodding Luna’s chest, alarming the traditionalist royal to no end. “Your sister was absolutely miserable this morning not because she wasn’t allowed to go to some rinky-dink carnival, but because she didn’t feel appreciated!”
Now it was Luna’s turn to smack Twilight’s hoof away. “I was despised and hated for over a thousand years! If Celestia cannot endure a few lines of bad press, then she never had any hope as a real princess!”
“Oh, I think it’s worse than some newspaper,” Twilight snapped. “These last few days, you have been horrible to her!”
“I was being responsible! I was trying to preserve what remained of my sister’s true self! All you wanted was to let her run around and get into trouble!” The princess leaned in closer. “In fact, I would say what has happened here is your fault! If you had not given her such foalish notions, she would not be trying to run away from everything!”
Twilight leaned in herself, the horns of the two ponies almost striking like swords. “But that’s what she wanted! She wanted to enjoy herself! She wanted to experience an actual foalhood for once! And let’s not forget that her ‘true self’ wouldn’t have been in danger to begin with if you HADN’T TURNED HER INTO A FILLY!”
“And what would you have me do now?”
“I want you to apologize to your sister! You two both need to grow up and accept responsibility for your actions!”
“None of that will matter once she sends me back in the moon!’
The sudden declaration sent Twilight sprawling back a few steps. Luna’s eyes were frantic, as was her breathing. “Wh-What do you mean?”
“Do you really expect Celestia to forgive me for what I have done?” Luna gasped. “She hates me. She told me herself. The moment she is back to her rightful age, she will no doubt have you and the other Bearers banish me to the moon yet again. And this time, she will never release me.”
Twilight’s ears flattened. “Th-That doesn’t sound like the Celestia I know. She went through so much trouble to bring you back and defeat Nightmare Moon. She wouldn’t just banish you again over something like this.”
Luna’s gaze softened, but not because she believed what Twilight had said. “It is…more than that. I…I cannot allow myself to remain if I am a danger to Equestria.”
“Y-You’re not a ‘danger to Equestria,’” Twilight said.
Luna lowered her gaze to the floor, feeling quite ashamed of herself. “Twilight…have you ever seen my sister injured? Physically, I mean.”
Twilight paused for a moment. “Well, there was that incident with your dresser, but that’s all I can think of.”
“I can think of two times. The last time was a thousand years ago, when I became Nightmare Moon. When Celestia came to confront me for not lowering the moon, I…Nightmare Moon tried to kill her. The battle was ferocious; it spread from one end of Equestria to another. But Celestia refused to fight back. She did not want to believe I could do something so vile, so she tried to use only defensive spells. Nightmare….I overpowered her, slammed her into mountainsides, cleaved her through valleys, and hurled her into the upper echelons of Equestria’s atmosphere. By the time she had reached the Elements of Harmony, she was battered, broken, and twisted.”
Twilight fell back on her haunches in shock. No wonder Luna is taking this so badly. “B-But you said there were two times. What was the first one?”
“The first time was when Discord conquered Equestria. He had driven the ponies mad, left the entire government in tatters, and then decided to celebrate by forcing everypony to eat animal flesh. Celestia and I had been away at the time, settling things in the Everfree Forest. But when she saw what he was doing…”
The draconequus lifted his head from his plate, his lips stained with a mixture of blood and chocolate milk. The other ponies kept eating away, a few crying as their attempts to fight the mad god’s influence failed. The sun goddess’ eyes burned with the intensity of a thousand suns. “Discord, what have you done?”
“Oh please, Celestia, can’t this wait?” the dragon moaned. “Business really shouldn’t be discussed over the dinner table.”
“You-You force our own ponies to eat meat?!” Luna shouted.
“Wait…you think these are YOUR ponies?” Discord laughed. With a snap of his paw, a small scroll materialized in front of Celestia, unfurled, and then slammed itself right into her muzzle. “You see, I had a nice little chat with the High Council, and they were oh so eager to just hand the land over. The military objected, but they’re too busy digging up worms and laying eggs now to talk about anything. As for the Unicorn Kingdom, they were perfectly happy to abdicate once they saw just how wonderfully awe-inspiring I am.”
Luna hopped up and down beside her sister, desperate to get a better view of the scroll. “Sister…is this true?”
The only sound to come from Celestia was the grinding of teeth. A golden aura surrounded the scroll briefly before blasting it with the heat of a raging inferno, burning it to ash. “You forget I am not a member of Equestria’s government. I do not have to bow to a monster like you. And neither does any species on this planet!”
Discord flew from his throne, hovering around the two princesses in his usual mocking way. “Well, I do suppose they don’t have to bow. They could perhaps curtsy, kiss my hand, do a little dance, whatever. All that matters is, they serve me now. I could always use some extra help sowing some chaos, perhaps even preparing for the next slaughter.
He stopped in front of Celestia, his claw poking her right between the eyes. “Oh, don’t tell me they never said you weren’t the first kids those deadbeats dumped on this rock. Every couple hundred thousand years, a few more get dropped off. They make their own civilization, create some things to live there, maybe bulldoze their homes with giant lizards, and then what happens? I wake up from my latest nap, spread chaos and destruction around, and get to watch everything they tried to build get burned to the ground. And in exchange, I don’t do anything else to the rest of the universe. Oh, it’s the little things that make life worthwhile.”
Celestia’s eyes widened as Discord’s words seeped in. Her parents abandoned the two on a lifeless world thousands of years ago. Discord seemingly appeared from nowhere whenever civilization got off to any kind of a start, just so he could knock everypony right back down. And now, he was effortlessly taking over the new homeland of her favorite children. The same land she had tirelessly served to protect from harm was now in the hands of an insane, virtually incomprehensible monster.
Luna prodded at her sister’s side, breaking the elder from her stupor. “Celestia, is he telling the truth?”
The sun goddess looked down at her younger sister. Luna’s eyes were wide opened, almost pleading the older one to say that it wasn’t true. But the goddess could say nothing. It was impossible for her to intone just what she was feeling. Discord was a liar and a schemer, always twisting everything so he could get his way. He could worm his way into anypony’s mind with just a few whispers, destroying whatever it was that made them unique before bending them to his whim. She had witnessed it countless time, albeit never on this scale.
This time should be no different.
But it all made too much sense.
Their abandonment, Discord’s arrival, and the sheer level of chaos spread within such a short amount of time was just too much of a coincidence to ignore. The monster was really telling the truth this time. And it cut worse than even the most heinous falsehood anypony could dream of.
Celestia turned away from her sister, instead locking in on the still-hovering Discord before her. “I do not care why or how we got here, but this is our home. This land was ours before the ponies migrated here, and I will not allow a maniac like yourself to despoil it for your own sick purposes!”
Discord scratched at his chin, smirking at the young one’s defiance. “You certainly have some fire in you. Must come from carting that sun around all day. But you really should lighten up. It’s not too late to join the party. We have some fine Pony Stickers!”
Celestia’s teeth ground against each other as lowered herself into a battle stance. “Discord, it is long past time somepony put you down.”
The draconequus facepawed himself and groaned, lowering himself down to the ground out of sheer frustration. “Look, you’re still kind of new at this, so I’ll give you some pointers. I am the embodiment of chaos itself. I exist because life itself exists, and unless you plan to obliterate every single living thing in the universe, you won’t get so much as a scratch on me. You, on the other hand, are tied to a big ball of gas floating around the planet. And suns can be extinguished. Believe me, I’ve snuffed a few out back in my day.”
“Sister, please!” Luna begged. “There’s no way you can win!”
“Be silent, Luna!” Celestia snapped. “When I require the advice of a child, I will ask for it!”
Luna took a few surprised steps back. She had never heard such raw anger in her sister’s voice before. A small part of Celestia softened as she saw the panic in her younger sibling’s eyes, but her mind was set. Today, Discord would fall.
The alicorn reared herself onto her hind legs and let out a whinny that echoed across the land. The force of her forehooves crashing down was enough to shake nearly all of Equestria. Discord just yawned at the spectacle, his mind constantly wandering back to the glass of milk he had been forced to abandon for all this Even his very voice lacked any of the usual smug superiority, instead replacing it with outright annoyance and menace. “All right, Celestia. We all knew this was gonna happen someday. Might as well get it over with”
With a final cry, Celestia charged ahead. Her horn was already aglow with a golden light as she prepared the myriad of spells it would take to destroy this monster once and for all. Discord simply stood in place, his arms crossed impatiently. And from the background, Luna watched and silently cheered as her sister entered the fray.
Celestia was about five feet away from Discord when he struck. Before she could fire off a single spell, the monster had teleported aside, grabbed Celestia by the midsection, and body slammed her into the ground. All the magic she had so diligently prepared beforehoof vanished as her head struck earth, the impact utterly destroying her concentration. Luna gasped as Discord stood over her, his body pinning her to the checkerboard earth.
“I really don’t care much for the direct approach, you know that?” Discord leered. “It’s just not as much fun when you have to bludgeon things over the head to get them to work with you. But sometimes, you run into someone – or somepony – that just doesn’t get it. It’s over, dear Celestia! You put up a good fight, but I WON!”
Celestia struggled against her captor’s weight. “This is not over, Discord!”
Discord ignored his opponent’s threats and curses. Instead, his eyes glanced down to Celestia’s outstretched wings. “My, those are such lovely wings you have. Perfectly aerodynamic, with such amazing plumage? Oh my, how genetics have spoiled you, little filly. Here, let me just make a few…er….modifications, if you will?”
With a maniacal glee, Discord plunged both of his clawed arms into Celestia’s wings, yanking out feather after feather. Luna screamed out her sister’s name, but it was inaudible over the sound of her sister’s cries of pain. It took what seemed like an eternity for Celestia to regain enough composure to teleport away, but by then the damage had been done. Her once majestic wings were now shredded sticks stuck to the sides of her body.
The disgraced goddess took in deep, labored breaths as Discord teleported alongside her again. “Oh, I’m sorry. Seems I took a little too much off. I don’t think those are going…to…”
The draconequus’ attention turned skyward as a very bright, very hot light appeared in the sky. All three godlike beings could recognize what it was in an instant: a solar flare. Normally such a thing would be catastrophic, but in Celestia’s hooves it could be fine-tuned until it was more like an extremely powerful laser. Luna felt like laughing as the beam speeded towards Equestria. There was no way Discord could survive that.
Discord, on the other hoof, did laugh it off. “Oh please, Celestia. Do you ever think these things through? Haven’t you thought of what that big old fireball is going to do to your sister?”
Celestia’s eyes widened in alarm. “What?”
The entire ground began to shake, as if the planet itself was being suddenly rotated. The beam’s position moved along with it, until it was over a new target: Luna. The alicorn filly, unaware of what was happening, was still cheering on her sister in this most epic of battles.
With a scream, Celestia broke away from Discord and galloped towards her sister, her horn desperately trying to put up a shield or lower the flare’s intensity. She managed to push her out of the way just as the blast hit. A searing column of flame engulfed her, its roaring flames beating out whatever noises the white alicorn made while she burned. Were it not for the shield she had thrown over the stunned Luna, her sister would have shared her fate.
The flare dissipated a few seconds later, but its damage had been done. Celestia was still alive, but her entire body was badly burnt, and her few coughs were rasped and dry. Luna instinctively ran towards her, but was shoved aside by the charging Discord.
“Oh Celestia, you don’t look so good.” He tsk-tsked at Celestia’s mangled body. “Tell you what, let me give you a hand...”
Luna was still only half-up when she heard her sister’s anguished screams, along with the ripping of flesh from muscle. The horrified filly closed her eyes as the sounds only grew worse. Bones cracked, hairs were pulled, and claws tore through flesh.
Then, the noises stopped. Everything was still, save for something warm trickling down Luna’s cheek.
“Pardon me, Luna, but is this yours?”
Luna froze midsentence. Twilight noticed the change almost immediately. “Princess…?”
“I…I can hardly fathom her condition even now,” Luna muttered. She traced a hoof across her cheek, the same one that had felt the trickling so many thousands of years before. “What Discord did to Celestia was nothing short of monstrous. Her body was twisted and wretched to the point I could hardly recognize her. It was a miracle she had not died right there. Fortunately for us both, even a being of pure chaos could not resist acquiring a new toy to play with…”
Discord dropped Celestia’s body to the ground, still flashing that demonic smirk of his. Luna’s entire body shook with terror as she glanced back and forth between her sister’s dying form and her soon-to-be-killer. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. We all knew this was coming. You see, dear Luna, her order really has no place in my kingdom. Your sister gave her life to save this bunch of worthless horses, but you don’t have to make the same mistake. If you want, you can join with the rest of us. Ponies will actually love you for once; heck, I can make them love you however much you want. You won’t have to worry about dear mommy and daddy or your dead sister again.”
Luna’s mind reeled at her dying sister’s mangled mess of a body. Every single thought vanished save for pure survival instinct. She leaped onto Celestia’s body, powered up her horn, and threw out the most powerful teleportation spell she could think of. Before Discord’s astonished eyes, the two vanished…
For the second time is as many days, Twilight could feel her stomach churning in horror at a princess’ story. Luna fell deftly quiet as her tale concluded. “So…what happened?”
Luna sighed. “I teleported what remained of my sister to our palace in the Everfree Forest. As amazing as this may sound to your generation, it was the safest place in Equestria from Discord’s mad reign. That small patch of land is the only place in the nation that cannot be controlled by outside magic. Why do you think we built our new home there?”
She turned away from Twilight. Her voice began to crack slightly as she spoke. “My sister was barely alive. It took every ounce of my power to keep her alive long enough to heal her wounds. It took hundreds of years for her to recover completely, and even then, she never healed completely. Her vision is no longer as sharp as it once was. She can no longer gallop across Equestria in less than a half-day’s time. And even though she can still fly, she can no longer move at the same speeds. She is, in many ways, still crippled.”
A few small drops ran down Luna’s muzzle. “By the time she was well enough for us to pursue the Elements of Harmony, Discord’s insanity had spread out beyond Equestria and began swallowing up the neighboring lands. Not a trace of the land we had tried to defend was left. A-And it was my fault.”
Twilight took a few steps towards the princess. “No, it wasn’t. You did the best you could. I’ve faced Discord, and I know how much of a monster he is.”
Luna shook her head. “I could have helped her during the fight. I could have pulled her back before things had begun. But no, I just sat there like a good little filly and let my sister get torn to shreds. I promised myself that whatever I did, I would never see her hurt like that again. And then two thousand years later, what happens? I become Nightmare Moon and try to kill her myself. And after I’m purified, I slap her across the face while she is in a highly weakened state.”
The princess sighed. “She will never forgive me. And even if she did, I could never forgive myself.”
Celestia barely moved in the darkness. What little light the Fire Moss was giving off was barely enough to let the filly see her own hoof in front of her face, much less navigate her way back through the winding passageways to the castle proper. In her haste to reach her usual hiding spot, she had forgotten just how deep the ancient passageways ran underneath Canterlot. As much as the filly hated to admit it, she was lost.
Not that it matters anymore.
The small chamber she now sat in was the only part of the caves to show any signs of life. Upon the rock sat faded paints and pictures. It was upon this canvas that the two sisters had first practiced their art, etching out the designs that would later be the stars and creatures of their world. Once they had been things of beauty; now, less than a dozen remained visible, and even those would vanish within a half-century or less.
Just another reminder of how old I am…
For over a thousand years, all Celestia could do was watch the sky. There was no sun, no moon, no anything to mark that any time had passed. She had grown barely an inch in all that time, and once the pleasures of a physical body had worn out their welcome, she was left with the grim realization that she was now trapped as this for an eternity. Or until she starved to death, whatever came first.
All that time, she had barely ventured out of the same cavern her parents had abandoned her in. They had said the place was blessed, that nothing could harm her as long as she stayed within its walls, but that did little to offset that peculiar feeling in her body’s gut. The only way to get the rumbling to stop was to eat, but almost nothing grew on this wasteland of a planet. The only things she could find were a few straggling plants and some cave moss, and judging from her very thin proportions, it was obviously not enough to survive on.
She dared not poke her head outside. Her first attempts at creating macroscopic life had ended in disaster, unleashing massive beasts that snorted fire upon the world. The rest of the developing lifeforms were not much better, and even under the accelerated growth her parents had placed upon the planet, they were still little more than frogs and small rodent or two. Even worse, they had the audacity to ignore her demands that they just start evolving already and give her a playmate.
Then, during one featureless day, Celestia awoke to a sound she had never heard before. It was a sharp wail, much higher pitched than her own, that rumbled its way around the cave’s interior. The filly rolled off the cold floor and onto her hooves, being careful to balance her posture this time so she didn’t fall face-first into a pile of rocks again.
Her eyes lit up as she saw what awaited her at the cave’s entrance. It was her parents, standing tall and powerful, their ethereal forms twisted into facsimiles of her own. With a squeal of glee, Celestia galloped towards the two, only to be stopped when an energy field enveloped her mere hoofsteps from her mother.
“Celestia,” her father said in his booming voice. “We have decided that you cannot perform your duties alone.”
“What duties?” Celestia whined. “You never told me anything!”
“You will know when the time comes,” her mother said in a much smoother, sweeter voice. “In the meanwhile, we have brought you someone to share this planet with.”
The two stepped aside, and a creature Celestia had never seen before stumbled into the cavern. It looked a little like her, but its body was a dark blue, with a much lighter shade for the hair and tail. It was very short and very pudgy, looking more like a parody of a mortal than anything else. Celestia recoiled in terror as the giggling monstrosity walked towards her. “Wh-What is it?”
“This is a baby,” said the father. “Your sister, in fact. We have given her the name ‘Luna.’ Just as you will one day forge a mighty sun to light this world, she shall bring forth the moon to begin the night.”
“Wh-What is a night?” Celestia cried. “And what am I supposed to do with her?” Luna only sat on her rear and giggled at her newfound sister’s frustrated attitude.
“Take care of her, and you will both find your true destiny,” said the mother.
And with that, the two figures melted away from sight. The energy field broke upon their disappearance, but it was too late for Celestia to do any more than gallop out of the cave and look up at that empty sky.
“Mom! Dad! Come back! D-Did I do something wrong? Is that why you left me? I’m sorry! J-Just please do not leave me again! MOMMY! DADDY! PLEAAAAAASE!”
The wailing noise emerged from the cave. Celestia turned around to see that her new sister was crying up a storm, flailing her tiny little stubs like clubs in a bid for attention. Sighing, Celestia bent over and wrapped up the crying baby in her front legs. Luna’s cries lessened as she took in the warmth of her sister’s body, causing her to fall asleep.
“Do not worry, Luna. I am sure they will be back some day…”
The princess moaned at the memories. Her parents never bothered to come back again, leaving the two alone for all of eternity. Fortunately, alicorn foals were especially tough, and Celestia managed to keep Luna alive despite her relative youth and inexperience. By the time she was a yearling, the accelerated evolution of the planet had run its course, and the world had begun to resemble its present self more. And from there, it just got worse.
The early strife between the Pony Tribes. Discord’s appearance and conquest of Equestria. Nightmare Moon. They had all taken their toll on Celestia’s own good will, slowly burning their way through what little grace she still had. The old me wouldn’t have tried to poison some ponies she didn’t like, or make her sister’s life a living hell for her own amusement. I…I…”
The fur on Celestia’s back stood rigid as she spun around. Standing behind her was Pinkie Pie placing a cake (plus platter) on the ground. “Has anypony told you this is the coolest secret passage ever? I mean, those ones in the sewer are alright, but boy, are they stinky! Not this, though! It’s all super-secrety and cool!”
Celestia sniffed away a tear, trying to put up as brave a front as possible. “So, what do you want?”
“Oh, the usual,” Pinkie said. “Happiness for all, parties for everpony, perhaps an orbital party fortress so I can rain love and joy all over the world. But right now, I was just seeing if you were all right. I heard you and your sister had a little fight.”
Celestia pointed at the red mark across her face. “You call this a little fight?”
Pinkie winced. She could still remember things like that from her own foalhood. Of course, those tended to be from her parents, and usually after she did something like carve the entire harvest into smiley faces, or that time her epic kazoo recital had caused a boulder to crash through the house. Her sisters never lashed out at her like that. “I’m sorry, your royalness. I didn’t know…”
“No, you don’t,” Celestia growled. “And you will never know.”
“I have two sisters and a cousin,” Pinkie said without as much as a drop of snark. “And by you, I could tell you stories! Why, I remember this one time, we went to Octy’s first recital, and I decided to be nice and tune her cello while she was in the bathroom. She…wasn’t too happy when I broke every string she had. And then broke her bow trying to fix them. And then set the cello on fire. She was so angry that she called me a stupid good-for-nothing that ruined everything around her. I said she was a grumpy pony that can’t appreciate anypony else trying to do anything nice for her. It seemed like the end of our friendship as cousins, but after a few days, she wrote that she was sorry and that I was allowed back any time she had a performance.”
Celestia sighed. “That’s…nice. But it’s not the same as what happened between my sister and I. All she cares about is making herself look good by making me look bad.”
Pinkie scoffed. “Now that’s just a nasty ol’ lie! Your sister loves you! You should have seen how heartbroken she was when she showed me this place.”
Celestia was silent for a while, her mind reeling with images of a sobbing, remorseful Luna. They just made the filly feel even more guilty. “It’s just another mistake. I’ve made oh-so-many over the millennia.”
“Well, I mean, everypony makes mistakes!” said Pinkie. “I mean, I trusted talking balloons once! A pony as old as you must have messed up a few times!”
“And the entire reason you have a voice in your head is because of one of my mistakes,” Celestia sighed. “In fact, us becoming princesses to begin with was a mistake!”
Celestia and Luna stared down at Discord’s stoned remains. Around them, Equestria gradually returned to its former state, as all traces of Discord’s mismanaged rule vanished once the source of their existence had been removed. The ponies that had been accompanying their chaotic master to his demise finally saw the world with untwisted minds for the first time in their lives. After generations of suffering, the war was finally over.
Celestia smiled as she took in fresh air for the first time in centuries. She then turned to the stunned ponies, who were still staring at their master in utter bafflement. “My little ponies, you are free. Discord’s anarchy has come to an end.”
One of the ponies took a confused step forward. “i-I heard him mention you before! You are Celestia and Luna!”
“Impossible!” said another. “Those two died eons ago! These must be imposters, or perhaps their descendents!”
Luna smiled. “We are one and the same. It took us this long to recover from the last battle, but we have returned.”
“And now what?” asked a third. “What are we supposed to do now?”
Celestia composed herself, looking far more powerful than she had been in a long while. “I want you to spread the word. Travel from village to village, proclaiming the good news of Discord’s destruction. Then, I want you to find a representative from each community, and bring them back to this spot. We must discuss the rebuilding of Equestria.”
The ponies were apprehensive at first, but eventually bowed and darted off in all different directions. Once they were all safely out of earshot, Luna turned to Celestia. “They were right, though. We never had a plan for after we defeated Discord.”
Celestia’s response was to hover upwards look silently over all of Equestria. Even with Discord’s corruption gone, there were still many things missing. Entire settlements were wiped from existence, and even Canterlot was no more than some small patches of rubble. The population had declined dramatically, and it would take many generations of ponies working together before the land could be a viable nation again. And the ruling families were long gone, their destruction being one of the first things Discord did to solidify his reign. There was no pony capable of leading Equestria in this dark time.
“We will have to rule Equestria.”
Luna’s jaw dropped. “Wh-What? But we are not royalty!”
“We are the only ponies that can remember what royalty is,” Celestia said. She tapped a hoof on Luna’s shoulder and smiled at her warmly, calming the young one’s nerves. “We might have to re-educate all of Equestria, dear sister. So much has been lost, and we are the only ones that can bring it together again. Until a time where the nation’s subjects can take care of themselves again, we must do everything we can to make survive.”
Luna was very quiet for quite a while. She had not really planned on something like this, even when she used to “borrow” Princess Platinum’s crown and cape and strut around like a unicorn princess. And yet her sister’s words were true. They were the last bastions of pony civilization. “W-Well, do we have to follow all those stupid traditions?”
“I suppose so,” Celestia said with a wink. “We did teach them to the unicorns, after all. Not that we cannot change a few.”
“So we are going to have to talk in plural, yell at our subjects, start using ‘thou,’ and have ponies kissing our hooves all day?”
“I believe so,” said Celestia.
Luna sighed. “Well…if it is only for a while.”
Pinkie shook her head in disbelief, even as she continued chewing on her slice of cake. Celestia’s piece sat undisturbed in front of her. “So…you weren’t gonna be princesses forever?”
“That was not the plan at the time,” said Celestia. “It took a while to get going again, but after the first thousand years had passed, Equestria was well on its way back to its hooves. So, we decided it was time to re-introduce Democracy again. The Parliament would run most of Equestria, while Luna and I shifted over to ceremonial duties over anything else. It would have been perfect….had the election gone right.”
Pinkie swallowed her piece. “So, what happened?”
“They voted us back in unanimously,” Celestia sighed. “None of the candidates even tried to run a serious campaign. They all just wanted to make sure Luna and I stayed locked up in this castle forever.”
“So, why not just quit?” Pinkie asked between bites.
“Because we had inadvertently centered Equestria’s entire government on ourselves and our decisions. There were still local governments and mayors and the like, but almost every top-level decision had to be run through us. Before long, we had actually made the entire country dependent on whatever we did. We-We couldn’t just leave. I had thought about just giving more power to the aristocracy, but...then Nightmare Moon happened. I had to put everything on hold just so the country wouldn’t fall apart.”
Pinkie didn’t say anything. She stopped chewing on her third piece, while Celestia just continued to eye her first. The princess laid herself upon the rocky floor, eyes sad and detached from the world around her. “They cheered, you know? They congratulated me on slaying that terrible monster and saving Equestria from her soul-devouring tyranny. They even made that day into a holiday, Nightmare Night. And no matter what I said or did, they refused to accept that Luna and Nightmare Moon are not the same pony.”
The pink pony set her food aside and walked up next to the princess. She nuzzled her gently, eliciting a small smile from Celestia. “It’s okay. Your sister’s back now, so what’s wrong?”
Celestia sighed. “Luna doesn’t need me anymore. She’s doing a wonderful job with Equestria. The fact is, nopony really needs a sour old pony like myself to boss them around. So, why stay?”
“Um…because you want to?” Pinkie stammered half-heartedly.
“I do suppose I enjoy the position sometimes,” she said. “I love speaking my subjects, and would do anything to make sure they’re happy. And I cannot deny, there is some pleasure in pulling a diplomatic victory over some unsuspecting ambassador.”
Her frown returned, deeper than ever. “But that doesn’t excuse my behavior. Instead of talking to my subjects when something was wrong, I shunned them. Instead of taking time out of my day to at least show that I care a little, I brushed my youngest and weakest ponies off without so much as giving a reason why. And instead of talking things over with my sister, I turned her into my personal punching bag until she broke. I should have stopped Discord before he could escape. I should have found a way to save my sister before I banished her. And that’s just the beginning.”
The filly looked at Pinkie sheepishly. “I…I can’t go back. Equestria would be better off without a Princess Celestia. Besides, I’m a lot happier this way. I have a friend in Lofty, a real mother in Twilight, and no more royal duties I can make a mess of. If I go back to Luna, though, she’ll force me back on the throne. I’m sorry, but I can’t allow that. I never want to go back to that again.”
Twilight leaned over the fireplace, her horn releasing a spark that ignited a roaring flame. “I admit, what your sister said was terrible, but why are you so certain she’d not want to apologize either? The Princess Celestia I know would be asking for forgiveness almost immediately.”
“I-It’s more complicated than that,” Luna said. “Even if we did atone for our actions, she still does not wish to be a princess any longer. I would have to convince the entirety of Equestria that I am a qualified candidate to take her place.”
“And that shouldn’t be too hard,” Twilight said. “The news certainly seems to be on your side. And besides, I’m sure Celestia’s filled you in on all the changes that have come to Equestria since you’ve been gone.”
Luna’s attention turned to the burning fire. “Actually, I had to fill many of the gaps in myself. Our schedules have made things keeping a sisterly relationship rather complex. The last time we spoke directly was over a year ago, when we were first returning to Canterlot…
Luna stared out at the passing Equestria, her eyes savoring every sight. The majestic green hills of Equestria rolled and pitched at every step, while the fertile farmlands of the numerous Earth pony communities looked more vibrant than anything she had seen in her time. In the skies above, scores of pegasi flew from cloud to cloud, making formations that would shame the finest Pegasus Force units. And in the distance, she could see mighty Canterlot, still standing after all these centuries, as if it had waited for its missing master all this time.
Celestia watched the small pony’s ecstatic face with no small amount of joy. She had ordered her guards to take the scenic route back home, both to allow Luna to take in some of Equestria’s newest wonders, and because it gave her more time to spend alone with her long-lost sister.
Yet again, the older sister leaned over and nuzzled the prodigal pony’s cheek. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Luna giggled. Her sister’s coat was just as ticklish as ever. “I know. You have said that every five minutes.”
Celestia’s laugh sounded like warm music to the smaller alicorn’s ears. She could only suppress another laugh as the older sister nuzzled the back of her head. “Well, it’s true. Canterlot has been so lonely without you, and I could never make the nights as beautiful as you could. You should see the complaints I get from the Astronomy Guild.”
Luna smiled. She could remember the one time she had allowed Celestia to make a constellation. It had ended with the Ursas invading Equestria, and required more than five years to clean up. “Yes, I figured.”
Luna turned her attention away from the passing countryside to her precious older sister. “Celestia, I noticed something back in the village.”
Luna shook her head in confusion. “When you were speaking to the citizens, your mannerisms were all wrong.”
Celestia raised an eye at this. “What do you mean? I was just behaving like usual.”
“But you did not use the Royal Canterlot Voice!” Lune exclaimed. Celestia was taken aback by the look of sheer worry in her face. “And there was no ‘Royal We’ anywhere in your speech! And did you truly use ‘you’ when speaking to your subjects?! Such a word should only be used when speaking between the two of us!”
Princess Celestia took a few steps back, looking behind herself to make sure she didn’t hop out of the carriage by mistake. “Luna, it’s been a thousand years. Things have changed since then. The way you and I both must speak and behave is far less rigid and authoritative than in the past. We can’t just scream at everypony and expect them to like it anymore.”
Even as the words left Celestia’s mouth, Luna’s desperation grew. The reality of her long exile was beginning to finally hit home. “And our palace! Our old home was in ruins! An-And those buildings! When did ponies stop using thatched roofs? How far spread is Equestria now? Why are there towns and villages where there were none? How many ponies are there?”
The older princess could feel her gut turning. All the joy and victorious glee she had been feeling only moments before evaporated as she realized the full scope of the situation. She had hoped that, even as Nightmare Moon, her sister had been able to see at least some of the changes that had occurred over the millennium. At least that would have spared her some of the more complex changes that had occurred. Now her sister was on the verge of tears again.
Celestia reacted the only way she could. She reached out her forelegs and pulled Luna in tightly, hugging her like a foal would a stuffed toy. Luna’s body briefly went rigid at the touch, before relaxing into a slouch. “Luna…I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I should never have banished you.”
“No,” Luna muttered from Celestia’s chest. “You had to think of our ponies, our country, and our world. I would have destroyed it all because of a moment of weakness. I…I understand why.”
“It’s in the past,” Celestia sighed. “And don’t worry. Most of the world has changed for the better. I’m sure when we get back to Canterlot, you will see that things will change for the better.”
“She was right for a little while,” Luna finished. “When we first arrived, everypony was so eager to know who I was, where I came from, and why Celestia never mentioned she had a sister. But then things started to fall apart. My sister gave me a nightly court I could rule over, and many of the ponies that attended were quite respectful and reasonable, but we almost never saw each other after that. Even worse, it was our job to ensure that whatever it was that Celestia proposed wouldn’t end up destroying Equestria. And she had proposed some strange things.”
“Such as?” Twilight asked.
Luna opened her mouth to give an example, most likely the one that would require everpony to wear clothes at all times, but then decided it was not in her best interest to speak about that at this time. “It does not matter. The point is, I had to work just as hard as my sister, but who got the praise when things went well? She did. It was like everypony thought she ran the entire country by herself. And whenever I tried to confront her about it, she would just give me the same hollow reassurance that ponies would someday come to appreciate me. That’s all I wanted. Just to be as liked and respected as Celestia.”
The princess slouched onto her haunches in defeat. “But I don’t deserve it. She really is better than me at everything. All I can do is shout at everything and beat fillies when they call me names. And the saddest thing is, nopony will ever care that she can be a horrible pony sometimes.” She glanced back to Twilight. “Even you would take her side with this.”
Twilight took a few steps towards the princess. “Actually, I’m with you on this one.”
Luna’s head spun around so fast her neck almost snapped. “What? B-But you’re her prized student!”
“But I know what it’s like to have somepony you care about run away,” Twilight said. “A while ago, Spike got jealous of my pet Owloysius.”
Luna cocked her head. “Owlo-what?”
“I know, it’s a long name,” Twilight sighed. “Spike thought that I was trying to replace him, and after I yelled at him over an accident, he tried to frame Owloysius for killing a mouse. I caught him just as he was pouring ketchup onto a cat toy, and…I said some things I probably shouldn’t have. When I came back to the library a few hours later, Spike was gone. He had run away because he thought I didn’t love him anymore.”
Luna wiped a foreleg across her eyes. “I…I don’t see what this has to do with Celestia and I.”
Twilight walked up next to the princess. Their two eyes met in a moment of understanding. “After I found he had gone missing, I was so angry with Spike for running like that. I couldn’t stand the thought of him out there alone, scared and hungry. He is just a baby dragon, after all. But when we found him, I realized I was really upset with myself. Unintentionally or not, I had implied that I was abandoning him for somepony better. In a way, it was both our faults that it happened.”
Luna rolled her eyes away. “See? You really do blame me for what happened.”
Twilight shook her head. “Yes and no. Both you and Celestia have to share the blame for what happened. You may have turned her into a filly, but that was because she was being mean to you to begin with. She snuck out of the castle, but it was because you didn’t allow her any freedom. The two of you have been getting on each other’s nerves the entire time. It just happened to spill over this time. That doesn’t mean it’ll be the end of your time as sisters. And before you can get anywhere, the two of you have to talk to each other.”
With a heavy moan, Luna stepped away from Twilight. Her eyes instead locked onto a small rack of scrolls buried in the far side of the study. As her mind digested Twilight’s lecture, one thing became clear: she is absolutely right.
“I will…need some time to prepare,” Luna said. “It’s time we settled things between us once and for all.”
“Whatever you need, I’ll try to help,” Twilight said.
“Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. You truly deserve to be my sister’s prized pupil.” Luna levitated over some old parchments, being ever-so-careful not to damage them. “And Twilight? May I ask you one more question?”
Twilight smiled as she walked over. “Of course.”
“I-If worst comes to worst, and my sister does decide to remove me, please…make sure she stays well.”
Twilight was silent for a few seconds. Luna sounded utterly defeated, as if Celestia would never agree to any other course of action. Nonetheless, she had no choice but to nod in agreement. “I promise.”
Luna flashed her replacement the quickest of smiles before returning to her work…
Pinkie moved to open her mouth, but paused in mid-gape as something clicked in the back of her mind. She’s convinced being a filly is better than being a grown-up. The poor little girl hasn’t figured out not everything about being a kid is sunshine and lollipops. Man, we need some sunshine and lollipops down here, stat.
She gulped. Her thoughts took on a far more menacing tone, sounding like they were voiced by an entirely different Pinkie and not matching the actual speed at which she was thinking. I have to unleash the most forbidden of lectures, the same ones taught to me by my Sensei Daddy Pie so many years ago! It is an ancient art, passed down from Pie to Pie in a desperate attempt to ward off our ancestor’s corrupting influence. I had sworn to myself to never use it, but I have no choice. I have to break Celestia out of this vicious cycle of pain. I must use…THE ANTI-SMILE EQUATION!
Pinkie took a few steps back. Her lips trembled nervously as she prepared the words she would have to say. Celestia took no notice of this, instead content to continue pouting and hoping the problem would resolve itself. “You know what? You’re right. Who needs to be a stinky old adult anyway?”
Celestia’s head sprang up. “Huh?”
“Oh sure, your sister is gonna miss having a big sister, but what good has she done for you, huh?” Pinkie blew a raspberry. “Not a thing, that’s what!”
Celestia turned around, her mouth hanging open in shock. “Pinkie Pie, what are you saying?”
Pinkie gave another dismissive wave of her hoof. “I’m sure she can run Equestria much better than you can. After all, she was only gone for a thousand years. I’m sure the politics of Equestria haven’t changed that much since then. Maybe we can all go back to living in mud huts and scavenging for wild turnips!”
The princess walked forward a few steps, eyeing Pinkie with increased wariness. “Miss Pie, is something wrong? I’m sure Luna’s not going to set us that far back.”
“And let’s not forget your new friends!” Pinkie continued. Her confidence grew as Celestia’s own expression began to fall apart. “That little foal you’ve been hanging out with is probably a great kid! I’m sure you’ll have all sorts of epic adventures together. And Twilight will be a great mother to you. She can teach you all about magic and books and…magic books, and who knows? You might even get to be friends with their kids!”
Celestia could feel a few drops falling from her eyes. “Pinkie…stop…”
Pinkie could see the child breaking down, and every part of her wished to stop and comfort Celestia. But the process couldn’t be halted. She had to finish the Equation. “Because you’ll live a lot longer than them, you know? They’ll be old and grey and you’ll still be a little filly! And then you’ll have to find somepony else to live with, but I’m sure you can figure that out. And meanwhile, everypony is going to forget who you are and that you ever ruled Equestria, and Princess Luna will get all the praise, and you’ll be able to live as a cute little foal somewhere deep within Equestria!”
Celestia reared up and punched her forehooves against Pinkie’s chest repeatedly. “PLEASE STOP!”
Pinkie looked down at the filly, her blows barely managing so much as a tickle. “Aw, what’s wrong? I was just telling you how awesome your life’s gonna be from now on!”
“Well, you’re wrong!” Celestia whined. She stopped pounding on pony in front of her, instead, choosing to bash her hooves against the cave floor. “I’m gonna have a chance to live like a normal pony for once!”
“But you’re not a normal pony, silly,” Pinkie said. “Normal ponies don’t have both wings and a horn. Normal ponies don’t live for thousands of years. Normal ponies can’t raise the sun and moon by themselves. Oh, you’re not a normal pony at all. You’re a very special pony, and nothing you ever, ever, ever do is going to change that.”
Celestia stopped breathing. Her heartbeat slowed to a painful crawl as her brain almost froze over in horror. Everything Twilight’s friend had said was true, and it terrified her to admit it. She managed to belt out one final scream.
Then she collapsed into Pinkie, now reduced to a sobbing wreck of a pony.
Pinkie wrapped her forelegs around the crying filly, pulling her in as tightly as she could. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you cry. I’m supposed to make ponies smile, not frown. But it’s the truth.”
“I know!” Celestia muttered between hics and sobs. “I knew the whole time this thing wouldn’t work out but I went ahead with it anyway and now I’ve lost the only friend I’ve got in the whole wide world and I’m going to grow up alone and everypony hates me and I-“
“Um…I think you should start over,” said Pinkie. She spun her head around and reached behind her body, pulling a handkerchief out of nowhere. “Here, you can use this.”
Celestia shakily took the hanky in her hooves. “Th-Thank you.” She took a big gulp of air and blew into the fabric, her nose trumpeting an echo that rocked the whole cavern. When she handed the handkerchief back to Pinkie, it was so covered in holy tears and snot that it practically dripped. Pinkie smiled nervously before throwing the thing back into the mysterious place she had pulled it from.
“Um…glad to have…helped?” Pinkie said nervously.
“I can’t believe myself!” Celestia sobbed. “This stupid body has cost me everything! I-I’m not a filly! I never will be a filly again! I’m an adult, and it’s time I started acting like one!”
“A-Actually, you don’t have to be super-serious all the time,” Pinkie said. She nervously rubbed her crest with one hoof. “I mean…you could take a real vacation from time to time It’s not like Princess Luna can’t keep things running while you’re gone.”
Celestia’s heart froze. Luna…oh no….
She turned up to the pony. “Pinkie, I would like you to escort me to my sister. I…I have to speak to her.”
Pinkie fired off a salute, and with a fiery “Okie-Dokie-Loki!” threw the princess on her back and started down the cavern. Well, after pausing to pick up the rest of the cake. No point letting a perfectly good dessert go to waste.
Rarity was halfway through with yet another dress when she heard a small knock on the door. “Cooo~ming!”
The unicorn trotted up to the entrance and willed the door open with her telekinesis, revealing the small, waiting form of Sweetie Belle. “Hi Rarity! How was Canterlot?”
Rarity sighed. “It certainly wasn’t all I was expecting. But still, we got to visit with Twilight and the princesses.”
Sweetie Belle cocked an eyebrow as she entered the workroom. “Princesses? I thought there was only one right now.”
Rarity gulped as she realized her slip of the tongue. “Well...Oops, silly me! I guess I’ve been working too hard!” The pony cleared her throat and returned to her sewing machine, feeding the fabric through while working the components with her own magical talents. “Still, things are going quite nicely over there. I really should think about some gowns for Princess Luna. Matching her coat color will be difficult, but I do love a challenge.”
“Sounds great!” Sweetie said, her voice cracking on the last word. “And how about the tax extension?”
The fabric twisted about ninety degrees to the left. “T-Tax extension?”
Sweetie shrugged. “You know, the reason you went?”
The fashionista made some small gurgling noises as she realized her tremendous oversight. “C-Call Applejack! Rainbow Dash! Fluttershy! EVERYPONY! We have to go back now! The financial future of our lives depends on it!”
The two alicorns stared at each other in near silence. Only the sound of their breathing broke the tense atmosphere filling the chamber. Twilight and Pinkie, seeing a potential disaster this could be, started to backpedal out of the room. “Well, I guess we’ll leave you two princesses alone then. I’m sure you two can work things out.”
“And I’d better see hugging when I get back!” Pinkie warned jokingly.
The two non-royal ponies slowly closed the doors behind them. That left two ponies sitting alone in a study, with the crackling from the fireplace as the only sound either could hear. That, and their own pounding hearts. Neither dared to make a move for quite a while, or even to look each other in the eye.
Finally, Luna rubbed her front fetlocks together, batting an eye at nothing in particular. “So…this is wonderful weather we are having.”
Celestia bobbed her head along. Her own anxiety was more than a match for her sister’s. “Oh yes. It is a tad chilly, though.”
“I noticed that as well. I think we are allowing too much of a breeze to sweep in from the Northlands. We might want to confer with the Pegasus Counsel on that.”
“Still, it is a lovely day. Maybe once things are not so busy, we could take a hike in Whitetail Wood. I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”
“That’s right near Ponyville, correct? I have been meaning to make another trip there. I mean, besides my promised one next Nightmare Night.”
“Oh, you really should. There’s this little sweet shop called Sugar Cube Corner, just off the main street? The cupcakes there are like heavenly bliss melted into dough!”
The two let out a nervous, forced laugh before returning to sighing and looking away from each other. Celestia’s hooves and wings twitched a little as she looked up at the seemingly terrified pony before her, while Luna’s mane lost much of its sparkle as she glanced at her filly of a sister. Neither one dared move; even the very act of blinking felt several times more difficult than it truly was.
The silence was only shattered when Luna cleared her throat. Her voice was labored, while her choice of words was far more careful than before. “Twilight Sparkle has informed me about your earlier conversation with her, and that you do not wish to return to the throne.”
Celestia gulped. She knew where this was going to be headed, and she feared for her other cheek. “Y-Yes, I did say that. However…”
“Hold,” Luna said sternly. She levitated over a small pile of ancient documents, no doubt dating back to when the sisters had overthrown Discord. “I have been looking over the legality of your wishes, and there is nothing to bar you from abdicating the throne. You will have to forfeit your title of ‘Princess,’ and under the law will lose all the rights granted to a member of the royal household. All such powers and responsibilities will be granted to me as the next in line.”
Celestia sighed. “Luna…”
“However, the law is so ancient that it can hardly be applicable to this modern age.”
The filly alicorn’s eyes popped open. That was hardly what she had expected her sister to say, at this moment or in any situation ever. “Huh?”
The old documents floated aside, landing softly in a neat stack on the nearby desk. In their place came another pile of parchments, this time looking like something she had pulled from the Royal Stationary Cabinet an hour ago. “I have prepared some amendments to the current laws regarding these matters. While your title and royal duties will be forfeit, you will not have to give up all rights as a member of this family.”
“Wh-What do you mean?” Celestia asked.
“Because the cure is now available, how we proceed is at your discretion.” Luna flipped through a few of the pages, stopping at a small list of options now applicable to this situation. She cleared her throat, adopting a far more business-oriented tone. “If you wish to return to your adult form, I have the full power to grant you with an allowance, land, housing, or anything else you will require. If you wish to return to more limited duties, I can also grant you any title you wish, and you shall be given the same respect and responsibilities owed to your position. I would only ask that you continue to control the sun’s orbit. The continued rotation of our celestial bodies predates our royal offices by thousands of years, and thus does not fall under the duties expected as outlined in Equestria’s Constitution.”
The moon princess then flipped to the next page, detailing an alternative proposal. “If you do not wish to be cured, we can instead ensure you have an excellent environment to grow up in. I will not throw you into an orphanage, nor will I force you to leave the castle if you do not wish to. You can choose who you wish to have as a parent, where you would like to be educated, or even what matter of employment you would like to attempt upon adulthood. Again, however, we would ask that you resume controlling the sun once your ability to use magic returns.”
Luna floated the paperwork aside, and for the first time since the incident managed to look Celestia straight in the eyes. “It is your decision to make, sister.”
Celestia stared up at Luna in astonishment. “You cannot expect me to believe that you want me to leave, can you?”
There was no anger in Luna’s head shake, only a resigned grief. “I do not. Ruling these last few days has been more draining than I had thought possible. But that is my punishment for what I did to you. I will shoulder whatever burden is needed to keep Equestria safe. What you do with your life is up to you.”
The princess shied away from her sister. “I…I have treated you terribly these last few days. I was so worked up over what might go wrong or how you had hurt me that I forgot how much I really do care for you. We may have had our disagreements over the millennia, but you were never truly malicious, or cruel, or terrible in what you did. You are one of the bravest, wisest ponies I know, and I do not wish to lose that. But if I have really been such a terrible sister, then it is what I deserve.”
Celestia took a step forward. “Luna…”
“And if you wish to banish me again, then it is what I deserve as well.”
Now Celestia was confused. “Wh-WHAT?!”
“A thousand years ago, I tried to kill you and destroy Equestria. Thanks to your actions and the Elements of Harmony, our country was safe. But…if I really am uncontrollable, if I really will pose a danger to our subjects, then there’s no choice. All I ask is that you at least reassume your adulthood. That way, our ponies will not have to suffer because of my foalishness.”
Having said her piece, Luna laid herself upon the ground, her face leveling with Celestia’s. She closed her eyes, readying herself for whatever terrible fate her vengeful sister would have in store for her.
Celestia was dumbstruck by what she had just heard. The possibilities her sister had laid out were tempting to say the least. Being able to experience the modern world as a non-princess was something she had dreamed of for so long, ever since she had first trapped herself inside this gilded cage of a job. Just being outside for a few hours was enough to awaken her to the vast opportunities laying out there, just waiting for the princess to seize them between her hooves.
“I…I don’t want to banish you.”
Luna’s eyes slowly opened, as if she was having trouble deciding whether or not this was just some strange dream she was having. “Y-You sounded so sure before…”
“Did you really believe I would ever do such a thing again?” Celestia said. She let out a mournful sigh and walked past her sister, stopping at the table where Luna had set down her own plans for the two. One quick hop later, she was seated in the comfy chair, her back turned to her sister. “I never meant to banish you, nor did I wish it. Those thousand years you were gone were the most horrible years of my existence. And it wasn’t because I had to manage both day and night by myself. It only took a decade or two before I had everything under control. No, it was because you weren’t there.”
Celestia buried her face in her hooves. “You were the only pony I could confide in, the only one that actually saw me as I really was. Once you were gone, I lost a piece of myself. I became more isolated, more cold, and perhaps even a little tyrannical for a while. The only thing I cared about was finding a way to bring you back. And look where that got us.”
Luna quietly took a seat next to her sister, stretching out one leg until their hooves touched. “It is all right. I do not blame you for what happened. It may have hurt, but…you had to make sure our country survived.”
All Luna’s reassurances accomplished was making Celestia feel worse. “A-And then, I snatched up a colt just so I could pull off some stupid scheme. I twisted his mind, broken his spirit, and then let him run rampant over Equestria! And when I finally got off my lazy flank to deal with him, what did I do?” She sobbed a few times. “I killed him! I snapped his neck like a celery stalk!”
Luna reached over her other forehoof. “Once again, you should not blame yourself. You made mistakes with Kuchen, but his actions were his alone. Remember, we may be more powerful than the average princess, but we are not all-knowing. We cannot possibly fix every single problem that will ever pop up in Equestria. We just have to do the best we can and hope that everything works out sometimes.”
Celestia looked up towards her sister. “Since when did you become so good at lecturing?”
Luna smiled. “Well, I have been living with the best teacher since before even the first dragons existed. I may have picked up a tidbit or two during that time.”
Celestia smiled, but the aura of sadness did not fade away. “Thank you, but I have to face reality. I have been shouldering the burdens of this country for far too long. I just don’t think I have the strength to keep it up anymore.” She turned towards the roaring fire, her eyes just barely catching that poor forlorn orange book cover smoldering in the flames. “To be honest, there were days I really just wanted to walk away from it all, maybe give that democracy thing a try again, and head off to wander the world again. I have so wished to see the savannahs and volcanoes we helped forge again, but then it turns out a princess setting foot on another nation’s land is cause for an ‘International Incident.’”
Luna rose from her seat and walked between her sister and the fireplace, both to make herself seem more intimidating by the firelight, and also to stop Celestia in case she decided to take a headlong dive into the inferno. “Do you hate being a princess this much?”
Celestia took pause briefly before letting out a mournful sigh. “It’s not that I hate being princess. I love watching our ponies grow in safety and comfort. I have dedicated much of my life to ensuring the continued prosperity of our fair land. But if I really am such a terrible ruler like the papers say, then I do not deserve to remain in power.”
Luna took a seat next to the filly. “Celestia…do you remember the Zebra-Griffon Peace Treaty?” Celestia nodded. “Who was it that spent twenty years travelling back and forth between the two nations, trying to stop a centuries-old cold war, and all because it was the right thing to do? And best of all, who actually ended the hostilities and saved both nations from a blood, pointless war?”
Celestia’s frown deepened. “Th-That has nothing to do with...”
“And who was it that single-hoofedly marched into a dragon’s cave and rescued over a dozen ponies before they could be turned into dinner?”
“B-But that doesn’t…”
“And how about this?” Luna floated over a large, rolled-up parchment and unfurled it upon the table, revealing a large map of modern Equestria and its closest neighbors. Luna circled her hoof over a small patch of land constituting Canterlot and some of the surrounding regions. “When we first became princesses, our land was this small. We had almost no viable farmland left, many of the pegasi had vanished from Equestria altogether, and few ponies trusted us enough for anything to be done. We were an easy target for the rest of the region, all of whom blamed us for Discord.”
She then circled a slightly larger area, adding in Cloudsdale, Ponyville, and parts of Trottingham. “A thousand years ago, our country was this large. We were somewhat better off, and had a better chance at growing food, but we were still struggling. Even with the two of us working together, it was nearly impossible to manage Equestria.”
Celestia sniffed. “Oh yes, I remember those days.”
“And now?” Luna motioned a hoof across the entire map. “Our little land has increased exponentially since then. We have more than enough to feed our subjects, there are no more wars, and we have confined most of the monsters to the Everfree Forest where they cannot harm another pony.”
Celestia sighed. “If you’re trying to convince me I’m not a bad princess, you’ll have to do better than that.”
Luna willed her magic to roll the map back up and set it in place. “And how about the Equestrian Public Education System? School is no longer the privilege of the wealthy or lucky, but everypony. There have been only six wars of note in a thousand years, and all of them were won quickly and decisively. Our population has grown in size at a rate neither of us could have dreamed of. Ponies are living longer, happier lives because of things you set into motion. Not me, but you. And just because you made a few mistakes does not mean you have to give up everything.”
Celestia rubbed her eyes as she looked towards her sister. “B-But so many ponies are upset.”
“Then you have to do what I am still doing,” Luna said. “You will have to prove yourself to them, win back their trust. For the first time in our lives, you have an actual challenge. Not from an evil god or a monster, but from your own actions and your own subjects. And if I can win some accolades, I am certain you can do the same. Your ponies love you, sister. Never forget that.”
The storm of emotions building inside Celestia began to calm as Luna’s words sank in. She could recognize them almost immediately; after all, they were the same things she had said to cheer Luna up when ponies began to disregard her work. In fact, Luna seemed quite different as well. Gone was the raging monster that had locked her away and struck her. Instead, she was now sitting before what felt like a grown mare not unlike herself, wise and powerful. She couldn’t help but feel how Luna must have felt for all those millennia, standing before somepony that seemed to know everything.
The filly could take no more. She leaped onto Luna so hard both ponies went tumbling backwards in a big pile. “I’m so sorry! It’s all my fault! I was being so selfish that I couldn’t think about how much I was hurting you! And…And I’m sorry I called you Nightmare Moon! You’re not a monster, Luna!””
Luna was dumbstruck at first, unable to comprehend her filly sister sitting on her barrel and sobbing. When her actual sense of consciousness returned, she wrapped her forelegs around the filly, curling her wings so they formed an additional barrier. “No, it is I who should be apologizing. I should have tried speaking to you before doing something like this. And I am sorry I slapped you. I promise, I will never do something like that again.”
Celestia looked up from her sister’s chest. “You know what? We both messed up. But that’s going to change from now on.”
“A-Are you still going to abdicate?” Luna asked hesitantly.
The filly shook her head. “No. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m going to be an even better ruler from this day forth. And with you by my side, I know we can make Equestria an even greater place for all our…ponies…”
Celestia’s face fell into a deep depression. Luna recognized it almost immediately. “What’s wrong?”
“Lofty,” Celestia muttered. “I…I have to talk to her. She deserves to know I’m not going to be like this anymore. W-We can’t turn me back yet. Not until morning, at least.”
Luna sighed and rolled over, causing Celestia to hop off to avoid being crushed. “Very well. Miss Dream returns to work tomorrow. We shall speak to her then.” She rose to her hooves and stretched. “Still, this nightmare is almost at an end. I cannot wait for the day I call you a big sister again.”
“Yeah,” Celestia sighed.
Luna noticed her hesitation. She leaned in worriedly. “What’s wrong?”
“Well…there was just so much I wanted to do,” Celestia said. She kicked at the floor with one leg. “I never got to have a sleepover, or have a real birthday party, or even get a coltfriend…”
Luna raised a hoof in protest. “I would not allow it in any case. You are five thousand years too young for one of those right now.”
Celestia barely suppressed a laugh. “Aw yes, of course. But the thing I really wanted to do…was spend some time with you.”
Luna face fell. “I beg your pardon?”
“I…I never really got to play with you ever,” Celestia sighed. “Things were too dangerous when you were young, and by the time you could take care of yourself other circumstances came about. I just thought it would be fun to do something together, while we still could.”
Luna was very quiet while her mind worked through her schedule. The entire thing was full, down to her oncoming night court. Then it hit her. “You know, we were not planning to do much tonight. The nobles can look over the upcoming tax tables by themselves an extra night. That should leave the night free.”
Celestia’s pupils widened with joy. “You mean…”
Luna leaned in closer and nuzzled her sister on the cheek. “Yes. We are going to celebrate your last night as a filly. Come, we have so much to do.”
The two quickly trotted up to the door, pushing it open right into the muzzles of the eavesdropping Twilight and Pinkie. Neither even seemed to notice until Twilight tapped Celestia, the unicorn’s nose still throbbing with pain. “Well? How’d it go?”
“I believe things will be calming down between us,” Luna said. Twilight was shocked to see the night princess smiling, and not the wry grin she often carried, but rather a full-toothed smile as wide as a mile.
“Luna has agreed to one more night like this,” Celestia said. “The cure can wait until tomorrow.”
Twilight and Pinkie looked at each other, victory written all over their faces. They then turned back to the waiting princesses. “Well, you guys have fun!” said Pinkie. “I’m gonna turn in early. I gotta coordinate with my party committee on what kind of party to throw you tomorrow. Have a good night!” And with that, Pinkie dashed off into the night.
Luna and Celestia looked at the vanishing dust cloud in confusion. “D-Did she say she had a committee?” Luna asked.
Twilight shrugged. “It’s a long story. But I should probably get some sleep, too.”
“Actually, Twilight?” said Celestia. “There’s something you might want to consider doing.”
Twilight raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Really?”
“This will probably be your last night in Canterlot for a while,” Celestia said. “I think there are two ponies that you really should consider visiting. It has been quite a while since they saw head or tail of you.”
The unicorn was quiet at first, not quite realizing what Celestia had just said. When it dawned on her, however, she felt more than a little guilty that she had not thought of it first. “Y-You’re right. I really should give them a visit.”
“You’re very lucky to have them,” Celestia said. She turned to the waiting Luna. “Well, shall we?”
“Yes!” Luna’s outburst shook the entire hall, rattling portraits and cracking windows. Embarrassed, the princess covered her mouth for a few moments before continuing. “I mean, yes. The fun will not wait for us, after all!”
The two took off galloping down the halls, startling more than a few other ponies in the process. Both seemed so happy, so full of love for each other, that it would have hardly seemed they had been fighting at all. And if anything positive could have come out of this nightmare, this was it.
For the first time in over a thousand years, Celestia and Luna were more than sisters.
They were friends.
It took all of Twilight’s confidence to knock on the door. It took even more to avoid running away when the home's occupant, a white unicorn with a striped purple-and-white mane, answered. “Hello? Can I help- TWILIGHT?”
The house’s other occupant, a purple stallion, came galloping to the entryway at the name. “Honey, is that you?”
Twilight waved nervously at the couple. “H-Hello, mom. Hello, dad. C-Can I come in?”
Blueblood eyed the pictures with renewed confidence in his scheme. When his spies had snuck the photos in with the afternoon mail, he had expected the worst. But not only were they not found by the guards locking him inside his own home, but they were the proof he needed to bring down not only Celestia, but Luna as well.
Tomorrow morning, victory would be his.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Chapter 14 Chapter 16 (Coming Soon)