“So we have Rainbow Dash and Applejack,” Twilight said. “Rainbow Dash can be rather… protective of Fluttershy, so we might want to leave her for later, depending on if she knows what went on between you and her.”
Twilight gave Luna a pointed look.
“I’ll tell thee about it after I meet thy friends. It is going to be hard enough without thy anger at me during our outing.”
“Frankly, I’m kinda getting mad at you now.”
“I frightened her. Badly. On purpose. The reasons we can discuss, but the result is she forgave me, and we might be friends.”
“I’m not sure I can explain it. I’m not even sure I really know why. It was a cruel, spiteful thing to do. However, it won’t happen again, and I will protect Fluttershy with my life if need be.”
Twilight gave Luna a very hard stare.
“Thou art displeased with me justly. I can’t easily rectify my mistake, but I will do so somehow.”
“I can’t believe you did that, Luna,” Twilight said crossly.
“Obviously I am an evil, uncaring pony,” Luna snapped back. “Thy attempts to ingratiate me with thy friends has only highlighted this.”
“Luna, I didn’t mean-”
“No,” Luna interrupted, “but I did. I am tired, Twilight. Perhaps now is not the time to be meeting thy friends.”
“Please,” Twilight said, “at least let’s see Applejack. She’s pretty grounded and practical. I’m sure she’ll give you a fair shot. I need to talk to Pinkie for a moment, so if we could stop by Sugarcube Corner real quick…”
“Uh, thou goest on ahead. I shall wait outside.”
Twilight shot Luna a concerned look before shrugging and entering the bakery.
Luna sighed in relief, and turned.
A rainbow-maned blue pegasus blocked her path.
Luna jumped in surprise.
“Ah. You would be Rainbow Dash, I assume.”
The pegasus glared at Luna.
“I take that to mean you have spoken with Fluttershy.”
The glare hardened. Her eyes blazed with rage.
“Yes. I see. As I said to both Twilight and my sister, it was a cruel thing to do. It was wrong of me, and there is little I can do to make recompense. I can only assure you it won’t happen again.”
The glare continued unwavering. Luna shrank back from the laser-like gaze.
“Fluttershy forgave me freely. I did not ask or coerce. I won’t expect the same from you. I am undeserving of your forgiveness.”
Luna signed, breaking eye contact as her head drooped. She shuffled her forelegs nervously.
“I only ask that you speak with Twilight to forestall her attempts to make peace between us, for Twilight’s sake if nothing else.”
The pegasus held her gaze for a moment or two more.
“I see it.” Rainbow Dash said. “I don’t like it, but I see it. Twilight was right.”
“A phrase I have heard more than once,” Luna replied. “What was she right about now?”
“Do you know what Twilight told me she saw when she looked at you?” Rainbow Dash asked.
Luna shook her head.
“She saw herself when she came to Ponyville. Somepony lonely. Somepony who needed friends, but not even knowing it, or what to do. Fluttershy said pretty much the same thing. I see it. I don’t like what you did to Fluttershy, but she said it’s okay, so I guess it is. I’m giving you a chance. Don’t buck it up.”
With that, Rainbow Dash launched herself into the air and flew away.
Luna sagged, and trembled with relief. Luna had faced Discord, and she had faced her sister in battle, but she had never seen anything like the white-hot fury emanating from that pegasus.
“All set,” Twilight chirped, exiting the bakery. “Ready to meet Applejack?”
“Mine is not to reason why,” Luna said. “Mine is not to make reply.”
Twilight looked at her, eyes clouded with confusion.
“Applejack, you remember Luna.”
“Princess Luna, nice to see ya again.”
“Just ‘Luna,’ please,” Luna insisted.
“Aintcha a Princess?”
“What makes me a Princess?” Luna asked.
“Welp, yer an Alicorn, and there’s that whole ‘raisin’ the Moon’ thing,” Applejack replied.
“An accident of my birth, nothing more. What have I done to deserve to be called Princess?”
“Ya mean aside from raisin’ the Moon?”
“Which my sister did in my absence. An absence caused by my going to war with her and all of Equestria, and attempting to plunge the world into eternal darkness. Oh, yes. Equestria is certainly lucky to have a princess like me,” Luna said bitterly. “Until I am worthy of the title, nopony should be required to call me ‘Princess.’ Those I would call ‘friend’ need never call me ‘Princess.’ It is a wall between us that they don’t deserve. So, Honesty, I ask that you call me Luna.”
Applejack’s face relaxed, her eyes far away as she listened to Luna speak. She sat that way for a few moments after Luna had finished.
Then she came back to the present, apparently satisfied by what she’d heard.
“Fair enough, Luna. How’s about a tour of the farm?”
“Did you mean what you said about being called Luna?” Twilight asked as they trotted through the fields.
“Of course. The Element of Kindness may have rejected me, but Honesty welcomed me readily.”
“When Celestia and I wielded the Elements against Disco- a… a foe of great power, we each wielded three. The Elements chose us as much as we chose them. Kindness did not take to me. It’s obvious why in hindsight, of course. Honesty, though, suited me well.”
“I thought in the spa you said your talent was in illusions and lies.”
“An unflattering version of the truth, but not wholly inaccurate. Though my powers lend themselves to illusion, I personally have always valued honesty. I’ve often tried to use illusion as a means to reveal the truth.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Twilight admitted. “How would illusions reveal the truth?”
“When a pony is confused or feels threatened, they often return to the thing that means most to them. By trapping them in illusion, you can cause them to reveal what they consider most important, even if they don’t realize or admit it. Forcing that kind of truth from somepony isn’t particularly kind or tactful, though. As a princess of Equestria, it has worked against me more often than not. Also, politics and honesty rarely go hoof-in-hoof.”
“What about Princess Celestia?” Applejack asked.
Luna hesitated briefly.
“My sister has the uncanny and rather... disturbing ability to mislead by speaking only truth. Everything she says is a true statement, but may lead you to an incorrect assumption. It is frightening to watch.”
Twilight’s brow furrowed.
“Really? I don’t remember ever seeing anything like that.”
“Think, Twilight,” Luna said. “Think about what she told thee regarding my release from the Moon. She told thee to step away from thy books and make friends. Thou tookest this to mean she was not concerned about the return of Nightmare Moon, yet she had already given thee the tools thou neededest, and set the wheels in motion.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide while a mortified look crawled its way across her face.
“She manipulated me!”
“Thou shouldst not judge her too harshly,” Luna hastened to add. “She really does value thee. I can see it in her eyes when she speaks of thee. But she has been the crown for too long. She’s become the mask. It is part protection, and part politics. Both have been ingrained more deeply than thou canst possibly understand.”
“I-is that why she insists on being called Princess?” Twilight asked.
“It is. It also creates distance between the two of you. In this way she is protecting her heart from breaking after seeing so many friends pass. But make no mistake, she cares for thee. She cares for thee so much, she would give thee what she values most in all Equestria.”
Luna hoped her dark coat was concealing her blush as she felt her face heat.
“I have said too much already. I would prefer we speak of this another time.”
“But,” Twilight protested.
“Please, Twilight. It is a personal matter between my sister and I. I overstepped myself by speaking about it. Let it be for now.”
Twilight frowned, but nodded.
“That’s enough farm for one day,” Applejack interrupted their thoughts. “Why don’t we go back to the house and cook us up some grub?”
The growl from Luna’s stomach was all the agreement they needed.
Luna clutched the knife tightly in her hoof, apple held loosely in the other. Wordlessly she cut into the apple, rotating it in her hoof. The strip of peel grew longer and longer.
Peeling the apple in one strip had originally been a challenge. Then it turned into an amusing pastime. Now it was simply part of the rhythm.
Cooking and baking with apples mean a lot of peeling, coring and slicing apples. The smell of apples permeated every corner of the kitchen. Luna just kept peeling. She originally considered magic, either to grip the knife, or to simply strip the peel from the apple without wasting the flesh, but the rhythm she found herself in was soothing.
The peel dropped from another apple. Luna placed it on the table and picked up another. The knife cut into the flesh with a quietly crisp sound.
“Ah think we’ll only need one or two more, Luna,” Applejack told her. “Y’know, yer pretty good at that.”
Luna looked up at Applejack.
“It all comes down to time, pressure, and patience. I have a… a unique perspective on such things.”
Applejack let out a chuckle.
“You are the darnedest princess Ah ever did meet. I don’t know what Ah expected when Twilight said she was introducin’ you around, but you ain't it. Ah think it’s fair to say I’m impressed. Y’all got sense, and it’s obvious you care for Twilight. If’n we ain't friends right now, Ah’d say it’s just a matter of time.”
Luna offered a smile in return.
“From the Element of Honesty that is high praise indeed. I eagerly await the day I can truly call you friend.”
A chime from the oven drew their attention.
“First batch is done. Give ‘em a couple minutes to cool, and we’ll dig in.”
Luna closed her eyes, and breathed in the essence of the kitchen. The smell of the raw apples, the baked goods fresh from the oven, the pot bubbling on the stove, apples, apples, and more apples, all vied for attention. They wove together, creating an apple tapestry which tickled and tantalized Luna’s nose. Luna’s mouth watered.
Yes, she decided, she liked apples quite a lot.
Luna stared at the Moon. It was peaceful after a long day, and with her sleep schedule out of whack, it was nearly as good as sleep.
Luna sighed into the darkness.
It had been a fun and lively day, visiting Twilight’s friends, but that seemed only to accentuate the quiet of her nights. The ponies were all in their homes, and here Luna sat alone in the quiet. Even her sister was now asleep, dreaming blissfully. At the end of the day, both literally and figuratively, Luna always ended up alone.
It was originally startling to realize she minded. After so many centuries on the Moon, Luna thought she’d never get used to the noise and bustle of other ponies again. Even now, there were times when the noise, the boundless energy, the constant motion, all pressed on her, and she needed to escape to solitude. She didn’t think she’d ever get acclimated to crowds again, but despite it all, she found she quite enjoyed spending time with a few ponies in a quiet setting. Once she got comfortable with the ponies in question, she found she could relax and talk without feeling judged. She could share stories, share laughter, and share thoughts without fear.
And then the ponies left. Or she did. Either way, Luna was alone at the end.
It was a quiet, gentle sort of melancholy which settled over Luna, as she stared at the Moon hanging in the night sky.
Luna took a deep breath, and watched the vapor dissipate as she exhaled. She shivered in the cool night air. Her skin was so much more sensitive since her day at the spa. She felt the cold so much more acutely. Still, she resisted the urge to vacate her spot. At times like this, it felt so much more hers than anything else in Equestria.
Nopony came up here without reason, and the reason was usually that they were looking for Luna. No, this spot was Luna’s, and Luna’s alone.
Luna stared at the Moon.
Luna flew through the night sky. It had been far too long since Luna simply flew. The feeling of freedom and elation welled in her, despite the fact that even now she wasn’t simply flying for pleasure. No, something else drew her through the air. An undercurrent of magic pulsed and throbbed, forming eddies and undertows in the aether. It stretched out in all directions, disturbing the normal flow of magic, and disrupting the serenity of the night. It didn’t feel dangerous, just unkempt, as though somepony just threw a rock into a tranquil pond.
And so Luna flew through the air, enjoying the feel of the wind in her wings as she homed in on the source of the disturbance.
It was with mild surprise, and some trepidation that she landed on the top of the Ponyville Golden Oaks Library, home to one Twilight Sparkle.
Luna jumped at the sound of something erupting in a fireball. Before she could react further, the window below her opened and smoke billowed out.
*Cough* *Cough* *Cough*
“Well… that didn’t go as expected,” a familiar voice rasped.
“I should hope not,” Luna said. “Asphyxiating thyself is hardly a noble endeavor.”
“Ack!” Twilight shouted, startled. “L-luna? What are you doing here?”
“Looking for thee, it seems. I was searching for the source of this disturbance. Thou art being very noisy.”
“Noisy? Explosion notwithstanding, I’ve barely made a sound.”
“Magically noisy, Twilight. I felt the disturbance in the aether, and followed it here. I take it thy experiment did not go well?”
“It… could have been better,” Twilight admitted. “Would you like to come in for some tea? I think I’m done for the night, and I could use something to settle my nerves while the library airs out.”
“I would love some tea, and to sit with thee awhile. We’ve had precious little time for just the two of us lately.”
“Tea it is!”
Twilight hurried to fill the kettle, but was oddly quiet as she watched the water slowly heat.
Luna watched silently, a small frown on her lips. Her mind worked as she tried to fathom what might be preying on Twilight's mind.
Before long, the tea was ready.
Twilight and Luna lounged with their mugs of tea steaming before them. Luna breathed in the herbal scent, relishing the simple comfort it offered. Twilight, however, stared at her mug, brow furrowed, and eyes far away.
“Twilight,” called Luna, “what ails thee? Surely thy experiment does not trouble thee that much?”
Twilight did not raise her eyes from her tea.
“Luna, d-did you mean what you told me about Celestia?” Twilight asked. “Does she really care about me?”
“She does,” Luna assured. “What causes thy distress?”
“Well, since getting to know you, you always speak to me with such warmth in your voice. When you speak to me, I know it comes from the heart. I’ve been Cel- Princess Celestia’s ‘faithful student’ for years, but speaking with you, I realize that she sounds, I don’t know... distant.”
Luna took a sip of her tea, breathing in the steam for comfort before setting it down and rising. She walked to stand before Twilight, and placed a hoof on her shoulder.
“Twilight, what thou seest is the different experiences we’ve had over the last millennium. I had no need to guard my feelings on the Moon. There was nopony there to hide them from. As such I wear my heart openly. When I am angry, I rage. When I am happy I smile. When I am annoyed, I lash out. It is as a foal does, before it learns to control its emotions, and it is not right. My sister does not have the luxury of being foalish. She’s been among her subjects all that time, playing politics and making decisions. She’s made decisions which could get ponies hurt. She’s watched as friends and loved ones pass from this life to whatever lies beyond. She’s learned to guard her emotions from scrutiny, and her heart from hurt, because we do hurt, Twilight. My sister and I are ponies. We love, we get angry, we make mistakes, and we hurt.”
Twilight looked up into Luna’s eyes, looking, it seemed, for the truth in Luna’s words to be reflected there.
“I know she cares for thee, Twilight. She might act aloof with thee, but she can’t pretend with me. I’ve heard the warmth in her voice as she speaks of thee, and, as I told you before, she’s trusted thee with what is most precious to her.”
“You said that before,” Twilight said, “but I don’t know what you mean. What did she trust me with?”
Luna leaned down and nuzzled Twilight’s forehead.
“Me, Twilight. She has trusted thee with my welfare, as she has shared thy affections with me, and mine with thee.”
Luna stepped back. Twilight looked up at her, eyes glassy with tears and emotions barely held beneath the surface.
“That wasn’t exactly hard, Luna,” Twilight said.
“Was it not a hardship for thee? When I callously watched thee shiver in the cold? When I would flee at a moment’s notice back to my perch, rejecting thy companionship? Thou art patient beyond measure to have withstood my foul temperament.”
“Oh, you weren’t that bad, Luna,” Twilight assured her with a smile. “Besides, I could tell there was diamond under that regolith, even if it took a bit of time to dig it out.”
“And that is why my sister loves thee. And for that matter, so do I.”
Luna kissed Twilight on the forehead.
Twilight stared up at Luna,, her eyes wide.
“Did I overstep myself, Twilight?”
“Huh? NO! No… it was just… unexpected.”
“Apologies. Decorum still eludes me.”
“Pfft,” Twilight puffed. “You’re the most elegant and graceful pony I know.”
“Thou art forgetting my sister. Compared to her, I am a foal taking my first steps on wobbly legs. Courtiers, wishing for entertainment, wait patiently for me to appear in court so they might watch my antics. Thy friend Rarity belongs in the court more than I do.”
“Oh, it can’t be that bad,” Twilight assured her. A look from Luna squelched any further protests.
“Well… ignore those shallow ponies. They don’t matter if they treat you that way.”
“True,” Luna sighed, “but it is disruptive for my sister, and damaging to my own authority as well as hers. I’ve learned to stay away from the day court.”
Twilight looked down at her tea, eyes troubled. When she looked back at Luna, they were wide and worried. Her mouth turned down in a small frown.
“You can’t just let it go,” she said. “You’re a princess of Equestria, and more that that, you’re a good pony, and you have a lot to offer.”
Luna looked away.
“Thou art kind to say so. I wish I could be as certain,” she whispered. “But enough of this,” she said coming back to full voice. “I came not to talk of maudlin things, but because of magic. What was thine experiment, and what went awry?”
“Well,” Twilight began, “I was curious about oscillation and resonance between magical sources, and their effect on the physical plane, so I borrowed a couple of gems from Rarity, and-”
“Oh, Twilight. Thou didst not think to set up dampeners, did thee? No wonder it was so noisy. I’ll bet thou didst not use anything as a moderating medium either.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize I needed them. Nothing in my books mentioned anything like that.”
“I’ll pull some texts for thee. Thy books either assumed thy knowledge, or discussed theory without practical concerns.”
“Huh. I guess that makes sense. Well, what I did was…”
Luna happily chatted with Twilight on theory and experimentation. It was nice to have an intellectual conversation on magic after so long. Luna and Celestia lived and breathed magic, but Celestia never felt the need to discuss it. Magic was a part of her nature. It was woven into her very essence. It didn’t need to be discussed, it simply was. Luna, on the other hoof, didn’t want to feel the magic, she wanted to know it. She wanted to tear it apart and put it back together again, hopefully without any parts left over at the end.
Much had been learned during the time she’d spent on the Moon, but much had been forgotten too. Luna was surprised how many gaps a learned pony like Twilight had in her education. Certain things Luna had considered critical were apparently now thought trivial to the understanding of magic, not that Luna considered herself particularly scholarly. Studying magic was difficult for Luna, and especially hard for Celestia. So much of what they did was instinctual. Studying it was like a fish studying swimming. Regardless, Luna vowed to tour this school of magic Twilight spoke of, and get her own feel for the state of magical education in Equestria.
For now, though, it was enough to simply sit and talk, and Luna did just that.