One Week Earlier…
“Mommy, why doesn’t daddy come see me?”
The Princess of the Moon paused her fork in mid-air at the question. Stealing a glance at her sister across the table, she could see that Celestia had also not expected the four-year old to ask such a question at dinner this night.
Fortunately the Sun Princess was quick to handle her end of the awkwardness of the moment. Turning to the serving staff, she smiled. “Thank you, that will be all for now.” The staff bowed and dutifully left, leaving the royal family to their privacy and the unenviable task of answering a child’s simple question.
The charcoal-coated filly looked around as they left, worry suddenly etched in her features. “Am I in trouble? Did I ask something bad?”
Celestia opened her mouth to answer when Luna beat her to it. “No! No, little one,” she softened the urgent tone she had accidentally used to address the filly’s second question. “Auntie ‘Tia merely wanted me to answer you in private, that is all.” She smiled. “Remember what we said about privacy?”
The filly frowned, wanting her question answered, but knowing she would only get her answer if she answered her mother’s question first. “There are some things we keep private for the sake of our subjects?” she said in a questioning voice, hoping she got it right.
Luna smiled, but even the little unicorn could see there was something wrong with the smile, how strained it was, a hint of sadness about the subject at hand she regretted making her mother feel every time she asked such things about - him. “That’s right, my little one. Every family has - “ Luna hesitated, not wanting to say the word, ‘secrets’. Secrets were too tempting to tell other children and made the answer sound like something bad or to be ashamed of.
Which is exactly what it was. Something bad she was ashamed of. Did that not then make the product of that secret, her daughter Dawn, bad as well? She shook her head vehemently to banish such an absurd thought. She could not look at that adorable little face that carried her own soft teal eyes and ever think her -
“ - stories, Dawn.”
It was Celestia who had come to the rescue with the answer when Luna could not. The big sister who always knew what to saw when pain and memories overwhelmed the Moon Princess in such times of reminiscence.
“Stories,” Luna picked up from ‘Tia’s rescue. She cleared her throat. “Stories about our family that other children might find hard to understand.”
The filly processed this information, given to her in basically the same explanation as every other time she had asked the same question, only now she was starting to become old enough to understand there was something more she was not being told. And though she was unaware she was doing it, the alicorns knew Luna’s little one was testing them - searching for an answer that made more sense than the ones she always received about her father.
“Stories like about why my horn has a curve and not a spiral,” Dawn almost whispered.
Luna frowned. “Are they teasing you about that again?” she asked, her voice raising as before, but now for a completely different reason. “How dare they - “
“I will speak to your teacher about it in the morning, Dawn,” Celestia said smoothly. She glanced at Luna. “Perhaps it is time to start your private lessons instead of going to school - “
“You know how I feel about that, sister,” Luna interrupted. “Dawn needs the interaction of other children her age.”
“I like my friends,” Dawn mumbled. “They don’t tease me - much.”
The two sisters traded glances over the child’s head, Celestia sad, Luna fuming, knowing her daughter did not want to cause trouble. For a daughter of such parents as herself and her father, she was surprisingly, painfully shy.
Dawn winced as sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, the sun beginning its final overhead journey towards the west. Like her father, Dawn shunned like the sun, preferring the darkness, but for the innocent, unavoidable reasons of genetics and nothing else.
No, absolutely no other reason at all. None.
“Sister, it is getting close,” Celestia’s voice shook Luna’s wandering thoughts out of her head.
“Yes, of course.” The Moon Princess rose from the table, as did Celestia. Luna went over to Dawn and rubbed her head gently against her daughter’s side. “Why do you not accompany me tonight, little one? I will raise the moon and you can help me paint the sky with stars?”
The filly didn’t reply. That was something she had inherited from Luna’s side. Stubbornness.
“Then I will answer your question,” the alicorn relented.
Dawn immediately got up from the table then, ready to follow her mother and aunt to the balcony. Celestia and Luna traded amused glances. The child would grow up to be a natural negotiator one day - a talent that as a Princess she would find quite useful!
If they looked carefully that night, anypony gazing up at the sky who oft admired Princess Luna’s work would frown, seeing a clump of silver and red stars in the poorly configured shape of a unicorn. Luna knew who it was meant to be and while she helped tidy up her daughter’s ‘artwork’, she mostly left it as she had created it, adding one particularly bright red star in the eye of the rearing stallion. And though its chosen position was from an innocent child’s viewpoint of the majesty and power of her father, Luna turned away once her thoughts started to wander at how reminiscent it was of the way he had taken her that night, how seductively overpowering he had been, how clouded with lust they both were as he had left the seed in her womb that had resulted in the beautiful little filly that now stood by her side admiring the breathtaking works of her mother’s nighttime sky.
Luna sighed. It was and it was also time for a new grain of truth in the story she had been telling Dawn about her father ever since she had been old enough to ask.
Dawn’s bedroom was just off her mother’s own chambers, the little bed’s pale blue crescent design nearly identical in design to the Moon Princess’s. Curtains above and comforter and sheets below were splashed with stars and the framework of the bed rested on swirled, white clouds, giving it the appearance of a sleigh of sorts. Dawn loved her bed and loved it even more because it looked just like her mother’s.
The little charcoal filly let her mother tuck her in, but her sharp eyes were neither tired nor forgetful of the promise her mother had made earlier in the evening to answer her question. “So, little one, you asked me why your father does not come see you,” Luna began, gathering her thoughts. “Don’t you believe me when I tell you he is very, very far away?”
“Is it because he doesn’t love me?” Dawn asked point-blank, tracing a star on her comforter with her little hoof.
That about broke Luna’s heart right then and there, along with her resolve to get through this without tears. Eyes sparkling, she cleared her throat, masking a tumult of already hard to process emotions waging war in her head. “No,” her voice cracked anyway. Dammit. “No,” she began again. “Not at all, Dawn. He hasn’t come to see you because he does not know I gave birth to you.”
Dawn’s look of shock almost broke her mother's heart a second time. “But - “ The teal blue eyes filled with little tears of their own.
Luna quickly put a hoof to her daughter’s lips. “Your birthday is in one week, Dawn. You will be five and while it is still a bit young for you to understand, I want to tell you the truth - the whole truth of why he does not know you exist.”
The Moon Princess climbed into bed with her daughter, levitating the covers away and snuggling under them with her. She cradled the confused and hurt child in her forearms, kissing her forehead, stroking the dark blue mane tenderly. “I loved your father once very, very much,” Luna confessed heavily. “He was kind and gentle and the king of a great Empire.”
“The Crystal Empire,” Dawn murmured into the safety of her mother’s chest fur.
“That’s right,” Luna paused, levitating a handkerchief over. All hope of getting through this story without crying was already a lost cause, she knew.
For both of them.
Dabbing away first her daughter’s tears then her own, she set the cloth aside and continued her story. “Remember I told you we could not be together because of my duties to our ponies in Canterlot?” the Moon Princess went on. A nod. “This is my home and the Crystal Empire was his and he had ponies he was responsible for there, too.” She looked up, outside Dawn’s windows, to the sky full of her stars and the stallion of glimmering light created from a child’s simple wish.
Brushing away tears, Luna continued. “He was mortal and I am immortal and we only realized after we had fallen in love that it would not work if we stayed together.” She choked, clearing her throat once again. “Love is very, very powerful, Dawn. As powerful as the love I have for you. It doesn’t stop just because you realize you can’t stay with somepony. And it can hurt very, very badly when you must leave them.”
For some reason at that moment the image of Sombra the last time she gazed upon him came to Luna - his handsomeness twisted by the wickedness in his heart to such an extent that only then had she realized too late he was beyond her help.
She knew her daughter could grasp the concept of how much it hurt to be apart from the times she missed Luna when away from her, but somehow the Moon Princess was still not prepared for the child’s leap of logic when she asked, “Did the pain make him evil?”
“Yes,” the alicorn told her slowly. “But there is more to his story, little one and I believe now, at last, you are old enough to understand.” Luna braced herself emotionally. Or tried to. She knew this would be the hardest part of the story to tell her daughter. “He loved me so much he was desperate to find a way we could be together - at any cost. So Sombra - daddy,” she corrected. “Struck a deal with powers who could give him what he wanted - immortality.”
“So he could be with you forever?” she asked, looking up at her mother.
“Yes, sweetheart. Forever,” Luna replied. “At first I was overjoyed.” She looked again out the window, letting the silent, stallion-shaped star cluster remind her of happier times. “He was so handsome! Immortal at last, his love for me so radiant! With wings of darkness he enfolded me and took me to his bed. He planted the seed within me that months later resulted in you.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead, then drew back to look into her eyes.
“Then what happened,” the filly asked, her voice muffled by the covers and her mother’s warm, comforting body.
“He paid a price for immortality, Dawn. Every pact with evil has a terrible price for the power sought.” She sighed. “Sombra thought he was strong enough to resist it, that our love would overcome any price, any burden he needed to bear. But all it did was create strife and anger, jealousy and hatred. I blamed Aunt ‘Tia for his desperation to do what he did, she blamed him for succumbing. The truth is, he could not bear the thought of us being apart and it broke his mind as well as his heart.”
The two were silent for a moment, the only sound the crickets in the royal gardens below. Almost reluctantly, Dawn asked the next, inevitable question, “Then what happened?”
Luna almost missed the question, lost in a fevered memory of anger, pain, loss, the sounds of war, blades clashing and their final battle against Sombra in her head. She shook herself gently to refocus back to the present and her daughter’s needs. “You know the rest, Dawn. Aunt ‘Tia and I fought him and his armies when he would not listen to me and relinquish his power.”
“So you and Aunt ‘Tia sent him away,” came the sad reply, a strange lack of emotion, almost acceptance in her voice.
“The Elements of Harmony banished him, little one. We used them to stop him hurting his ponies. The Elements felt it best to put him in a deep sleep in the Frozen North. Hopefully when he awakens again, he will be well, he will listen to me, he will put aside this evil and come home,” she finished in a haunted whisper.
When Luna could begin again, she took a steadying breath. “Remember I said he left a seed inside me that resulted in you?”
“That seed takes months to grow, Dawn. By the time I realized I was carrying you, he was long gone to his sleep.” Luna felt tears overwhelm her, cascade down her face. “It was too late to tell him. He never knew you were going to be born.”
More silence followed until Dawn’s small amount of magic levitated a handkerchief to her mother’s face. Luna looked up, startled she had let her pain show so clearly in the tide of tears she was utterly unable to stem. She accepted the compassionate gesture of their daughter gratefully.
“I’m sorry, mommy,” the little filly said simply.
Luna hugged her daughter tightly. “So am I, Dawn. So am I!”