• Published 25th Jul 2013
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A Total Eclipse Of The Fun - Estee



The second anniversary of the Return is approaching, and all Luna wants for the celebration is one thing -- something Equestria hasn't seen in more than a thousand years. This could be a problem.

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First Contact

It was called brinner, or perhaps dinfast. It depended on which half of the palace staff you asked.

Celestia had carefully dealt with the issues which had arisen from Luna's return, and most of them had been tackled with at least initial joy. Parts of the castle had required redivision or assignment back to their proper owner, while much newer portions, added during the abeyance, needed to be gifted over. Some of the oldest sections wound up being reactivated, rooms nearly buried under a millennium of dust finding their purpose at last. Most of that part had been easy, at least once the sneezing fits finally stopped echoing across Canterlot.

Hiring... that had been considerably harder. Celestia had searched the entire continent in order to find those ponies who could form the new core of the Lunar Guards and staff, ponies who would -- and this had been essential -- be loyal to Luna first. Those intelligent enough to see if anything was wrong with the junior Princess and report to Celestia if they were truly concerned -- but also ponies who would not fall sway to paranoia or internally-sounded false alarms. And that included Celestia's own: she had easily guessed that she herself might be all too prone to take things in the worst possible light for any event with the slightest resemblance to those which had come just before -- it happened. Luna's staff needed the ability to question their leader and determine if all was truly well -- but also to tell Celestia that in their frank opinion, the older sister was being a jittery fool and needed to back off now. Such ponies had been almost impossible to find and Celestia had nearly reached the point where she would have been thankful for a single dedicated companion possessing extraordinary empathy, not to mention reaction time -- but eventually, they had come. They loved their younger Princess -- and loved her more than they did the older one. Luna was surrounded by those who truly cared about her and wanted nothing but the best for that member of the Diarchy. Fifteen moons of interviews to assemble the full staff, and Celestia had collapsed into a single-pony pile of exhausted triumph the night after signing the last employment papers.

But there were smaller problems, and many of those were ongoing. The simple fact that a thousand years had been more than enough time for her to forget what had happened to Luna's internal clock at the moment when before turned into after: that was almost a daily struggle. One sister nocturnal, the other locked into day. Oh, there was overlap to their schedules -- but too much time under Sun made Luna jittery, extra hours beneath Moon put Celestia's teeth on edge. (There had been several factors involved in coordinating the final battle against Discord, and trying to make it happen at a point when they were both fully awake, alert, and could operate near their peaks had not been the least of them.) Only a little time existed when they could truly talk in comfort during each day: beyond that, one had to miss sleep, and that in itself could put a certain tension in their meetings.

Trust. The struggle for Celestia to make herself remember that ultimately, the Nightmare had not been Luna. That she not only loved her sister, forever and always, but could have faith in her. That internal battle was day to day. Sometimes it was minute to minute.

Turning over the Night Court to Luna's charge. It had been a worry. Then a relief, because at least she was rid of the poseurs. Frantic pacing set in when she found out what Luna's distinct lack of public relations skills was doing to the sessions. Occasionally laughter. Mostly pacing.

And at the absolute bottom of a list which, written down, would stretch to Trottingham, one her most devoted student would have far too much fun (as in 'any at all') examining, making more efficient, and aiming for a complete, final, and hopefully not impossible assembly of check marks, was brinner. Or perhaps dinfast.

The sisters had their respective hours naturally intersect for two of their meals. A shared lunch required far too much in the way of lost sleep -- but the first meal for one could easily be the last for the other, and so they spent many of those times sharing a table. However -- Luna's staff insisted on cooking for their own Princess, while Celestia's angrily argued that the Lunar chefs were lacking in experience and would get their hooves and fields nowhere near the Royal China: after all, the sheer presence of so many rookies might be enough to crack it. And since the sisters shared a dining room and neither crew was willing to trek halfway across the castle with food cooling all the way, they used the same kitchen. For those members of their staffs, 'sharing' didn't apply.

The two staffs generally cooperated -- most of the time, at least for those outside the kitchens. But they didn't always particularly like each other. Devotion to one Princess was not loathing of the other -- but their respective loyalties occasionally went to war, and when that battlefield moved across stoves and the typically-short tempers of professional cooks got involved... Well, it was a rare meal when the sisters didn't hear crockery being kicked or pots field-tossed at opposing non-soldiers. The Solar and Lunar chefs didn't share the kitchen: they simply conducted long-term sieges to see who would dominate. Sometimes the Solar forces would advance a few body lengths and get the sauce station back. The next meal would see the Lunar army take command of the garnishes. Trenches hadn't been dug, but it was only a matter of time.

Both Princesses had spoken to their respective staffs about the problem. They had both been ignored. After all, nopony outranked a head chef.

So Celestia's staff, on the occasions when she shared the dining room with Luna, called that first/last meal of the day 'brinner'. Luna's referred to that last/first serving as 'dinfast'. And then everypony ducked.

Celestia tried not to look at the kitchen doors as her ears twitched at the latest crash. Heavy thud. Echo. Lid following. Lots of wong-wong-wong... okay, let's say that was the big pasta boiler. No, having them pay for their own replacements clearly isn't doing a thing...

Luna wasn't quite as devoted to feigning disinterest. "I would say mine are making a push for the pastries."

That got Celestia's attention. "They'd better not..."

Teasing, just a little, "And why not? Follow the clues of your ears, sister -- given the amount of flour used at both, the pasta and pastry stations are sensibly placed rather close together, near the access for that part of the pantry. Take one, and it is but a simple surge to seize the other. I'm certain my crew is capable of following one bold move with another. Unless, of course, you would like to take a personal interest...?"

It was pastries: therefore, it was tempting. But Celestia had somewhat less authority in her own kitchen than she did in the Griffon Republic: the title was largely a courtesy in both, but the cooks were much more likely to laugh in her face, especially given their awareness of her own skills. No amount of time had served to bring Celestia's cooking over the level of the most basic trail food: get a little further down the road, get to another town and most importantly, find somepony to cook for the group who wasn't her. "One supposedly-accidental batch of dough to the face per moon is enough, thank you."

"But they did apologize," Luna pointed out.

"Eventually... once the laughing stopped..." They both listened to an even larger crash, debated for half a minute on what the source had been before finally settling on stand mixer. "Luna -- the second anniversary is coming up in a few weeks."

"I am aware," her younger sister told her. The Summer Sun Celebration was certainly easy enough to track on the calendar -- although it was not the day on which The Return was celebrated. Celestia had decided to create a separate holiday, one Luna could have all to herself -- and so despite the actual timing of the events, the national festivals were held three days after the older scheduled rejoicing. Nopony had exactly complained and Luna had dryly noted that the citizens were generally willing to celebrate anything if they got time off work out of it, openly wondering how long Discord Day would require to find its own greeting cards. "My own staff has been trying to find ways in which ponies might do something other than simply visit parks and have picnics while perhaps one in five hundred at most casually mentions my name in relation to their fun. I have rather frankly advised them to give up. The Ponyville festival will have some sincerity to it and I am certain Canterlot will kiss up to the best of its collective ability, but the rest of the continent will be more concerned with using the time to visit post-Celebration clearance sales."

Celestia sighed. "Luna -- I know it's hard, but we both understood it wouldn't all come back in even two years..."

"We make progress," Luna quietly replied. "At this time last year, for even Ponyville to be somewhat sincere... in all truth, sister, we are farther along than I had believed we would be, at least for that aspect." There was a small smile, and it seemed to be a real one. "I am doing my best not to rush."

Celestia smiled back. "Still, I wanted to ask you... do you have any ideas for this year's celebrations? I know your staff suggested you put in some daylight hours here and there as we got closer to it, get a town or two used to having you around as something more than a distant name or invocation during their vows... but is there anything you personally wanted to do?"

Luna went silent for several seconds, some of which Celestia used for tracking The Siege Of Custard Deep on audio.

Finally, "There is -- something." Luna poked at her sugared hay twists with her right front hoof, not quite making eye contact with Celestia. "Something I have not seen for a very long time... yes, I am aware that is a vast category. But -- something I wish I could see again, even though enjoying it at all in the first place might have been perceived by some as wrong..."

It was hard, watching her sister reminisce about something. It was even more difficult when the words were coming out like that.

Trust. I have to try and trust.

"And -- what's that?" Had the hesitation been too long? Unnatural-feeling? Was there any perceptible hint of worry in it?

Luna looked up from the hay twists, and this smile was a little smaller. "I will show you -- after we eat. Let us not give them extra battlecries based in whose consumer sent away more leftovers..."

They ate. Celestia did her best not to worry. The Lunar kitchen platoon nearly discovered the full range of horrible things which could be done with a mandolin before rallying back onto the offensive with their crème brûlée torches.

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Once the plates were taken away and the wounded tended to, Celestia followed Luna through the palace until they wound up in --

"-- the Lunar Courtyard?" Celestia tried not to frown and did about as well with that as her efforts not to worry. "Why here?"

"It is the best place to show you."

The open-air Courtyard was one of those portions of the palace which had been reactivated after the Return. Celestia had never used it during the abeyance and, as with the other areas which had truly belonged to her sister, done everything she could to avoid entering the lost realm. The Solar Courtyard... it had started as a gathering place for festivals, back when Canterlot was so very much smaller and she could get the entire population into the thing without having to worry about any flank bumping against another. These days, it was her press conference area: the gathered corps sat in the perpetual dawnlight and carefully ignored half her words while distorting the rest as Celestia forced herself to only imagine what it would look like if a number of them were to spontaneously catch fire. Luna used her own restored Courtyard for the same function, although she was still getting used to the press. Not as quickly as she insisted they get used to her and Celestia tried to have at least one member of her own staff present at the infrequent gatherings just in case it seemed as if Luna was about to insist somepony go through a very sudden change of address...

It looked strange under Sun. The silver inlays seemed to reflect oddly, and the marble felt too cool beneath her hooves.

Celestia looked up. Yes, there was the Sun in its natural position for the hour. And -- lingering magic, uninvoked for a thousand years and more, traces somehow holding -- producing the faintest poor-quality afterimage of a daylight Moon, nearly lost in the blue of the sky. The former celestial body was real, the latter illusion. Also embarrassing, and Celestia tried to push a number of memories back.

Unfortunately, Luna wouldn't let her. "I have already seen it," her younger sister told her, smiling a little again. "I came into the Courtyard one morning shortly after I was freed. I was curious as what you had done with the place -- it is one of the oldest portions of the castle, and one of the few I had memories for. I had been expecting you to use it for some level of storage. It was pleasant to find it empty and waiting -- but then I saw that." She nodded towards the illusionary moon, no more than a silvery-grey haze in the sky. "I believe the term Rainbow Dash would be all-too eager to use if not in your presence would be 'lame'?"

Celestia decided she was more than entitled to a groan. "The Courtyard needed some way it could be active under Sun, and... while you were --" she always found herself hesitating before adding the word "-- away... I tried out a few things. Some of them were just from boredom. Every forty years or so, I would try out a daylight Moon. Put it in the sky shortly after raising the Sun and see how it turned out. Most ponies never even noticed -- and when I say most, I mean all but a very few. The vast majority of those who even bothered looking up kept thinking it was pegasi playing tricks with clouds. It never looked good and I kept trying it every forty years or so anyway, because that was how much time it took to forget how lame --" the word was accurate "-- the last one was and convince myself that if I tried it again, this attempt would turn out better. I think the residual workings in the Courtyard just picked up on the resonance and planted the illusion by themselves. I came in here when I was getting everything ready again and found it like this." And she couldn't get rid of it. With Luna returned, her always-tenuous attunement to this Courtyard had vanished. "This can't be what you're referring to -- right?" Oh, she hoped not...

Luna shook her head: the stars in her mane twinkled. "Hardly. I remember daylight Moon, Tia. I remember Discord putting both Sun and Moon in the sky at the same time during those years when everypony would look up -- not just to see the state of those two, but in fear of what might fall. He amused himself with destroying any pattern we might have anticipated or hoped for, even the most basic ones which could be used to anchor oneself to sanity. I remember all of that -- but I also remember something else."

Celestia braced herself, hoped it didn't show physically, wished she hadn't done it at all. "And what's that?"

Softly, with more than a trace of shame, "How beautiful some of it was."

Celestia tried to find words.

There was no horror within her at having heard that sentence -- tension still, always that worry she could never completely dismiss, but somehow, the horror had stayed home. And she knew why. It was because the shame which had been in her sister's voice was also in Celestia's heart.

Discord's rule of the land... the only thing it could have been: chaos. Warping. Terror. Endless nightmare. A call to war, a battle for the sanity of everypony there was or ever would be. Something they would have given their lives to stop. More than a few had, and the two of them had emerged in a state of after which could never be taken back.

But there were times...

Random bursts of color across the sky, and hadn't Celestia herself labored to invent and thus bring back fireworks? Waterfalls which flowed uphill. Clouds that chased them without malice, vapor playing tag: touch and then scoot away, all of them laughing as they temporarily gave up the stress of endless battle for a few precious seconds of joy, the pursuit on. Plants which whispered secrets to each other: listen and who knew what might be heard? Sounds coming from no source, but sounds which turned into music -- and some of that music still haunted her own nightscape, even in this age. Symphonies half-caught and never completed, imaginary orchestras playing compositions which she would have given much to hear in a finished state, even just once.

...there were times when the chaos had included in its infinite variety more than a touch of purest beauty.

And all she could do with her sister -- was be honest. Tell the truth about something she could never have admitted to any other pony. "There were moments," she gently said, "when I would just stop and stare at what he had made. I hated living in his world, we all gave so much to take it back for ponies and all the other races he tormented, including the ones he created. But days and nights when I understood that the source of truest creativity and invention might have always been chaos -- the randomness of ideas, elements of thought coming together with no prior connections... I can't say I miss him, Luna --" or at least, she would not "-- especially after what happened some moons ago -- but yes... there were times..."

Her sister pressed against her and they stood together, staring at the half-illusion sky.

"We shall never repeat this to him, correct?" Luna softly asked.

Celestia softly laughed. "I generally don't hold conversations with statuary. And if we're lucky, he's not listening... All right, Luna, I confess: I brought back fireworks myself and -- I learned musical notation just so I could try to capture some of what the Singing Shores had to say. You want to revisit something of his for your anniversary, and you can show it to me here. I'm not upset." And it was a truth. "But honestly -- I don't know which part of his chaos you mean. There was so much..."

Luna smiled, inclined her horn towards the very real Sun. "Watch."

Celestia looked up, stared directly at the Sun, something she'd been able to do since the moment her own after began.

And so at first, she did not see it, because she was looking at the wrong thing --

-- initially.

The Sun lost a bit of itself at the edge.

Celestia jumped, nearly a half of her body length straight back. Luna, laughing, truly laughing, jumped backwards with her. And more of the Sun went away...

There was a shadow pressing in from the side.

Celestia wrenched her gaze in that direction and found -- the Moon. Illusion still, but made so much more real-seeming by her sister's magic, no longer looking like nothing so much as severely-misplaced fog, but true to the eyes: craters, hue, reflection, mass, no detail overlooked. She had to tell herself it wasn't real. She had to keep telling herself that Sun was not in the middle of being eaten, that it was an illusion moving in front of the real and changing as it did so, creating the mirage of shadow, of blockage. And that illusion was spreading throughout the Courtyard as well, the quality of the light shifting, becoming dimmer, enhancing the shadows...

I -- I remember...

The Moon (imagination manifested through Luna's field, she had to keep telling herself that -- and then stopped) kept moving in front of the Sun. The missing edge slice of solar disc grew larger, became majority as the light continued to march towards a strange variety of dusk. The corona of her beloved Sun was becoming visible, an aspect she only knew from science, the most formerly distant of memories, all rushing forward and gathering speed, and her own feel for the orb. She knew the corona was there the same way she knew her own horn and wings -- but --

-- I haven't seen it, not since before...

More and more blocked out. The corona blazing bright and beautiful as Celestia stared at the emerging aura and felt the tears come from her eyes as she finally greeted a friend she hadn't even known she'd been missing. And then -- occultation.

Syzygy.

Totality.

"Oh, Luna," she whispered, not caring about the tears, drops of liquid celebration at a beauty recovered, something she never would have realized she was missing until this miraculous moment. Nearly two years after recovering her sister, the one she had bled for across an ocean of time, and her sibling had given her back something far less precious than presence -- but something that never would have been possible at all without Luna. One more gift found within the worries and concerns and tensions and endless joy which had been the Return. "I had forgotten..."

"This is what I wish for the anniversary," Luna whispered back. "Something neither of us has truly seen since before the war ended, a beauty we lost -- but for it to be real. A celestial representation of the restored Diarchy. For Equestria to look up and see the two of us in the sky together, united, Tia -- brought together as one and merged into a single new creation. And perhaps your very few of ages past will have their descendants look up and understand that -- I have no real hopes for more than a small number -- but the rest will enjoy a moment no pony in a thousand years and more ever had the chance to appreciate. For the second marking of my return, I ask only for this. Will you give it to me?"

And Celestia remembered.

Remembered trotting alongside the others, moving across seemingly endless terrain (and some of that chaos terrain, more dangerous than any wild zone). A shout towards the back, a hoof pointed towards the sky. Bells momentarily jingling as one lost focus at the sight, one of the few things that could do it to him at all. And if it was at all possible, they would stop. They would watch. Somehow, Discord never figured that out, never took advantage.

It had not always happened in relative peace: it had turned up during battles, and the darkening had sometimes helped them. It had occurred while they had rested. During meals. In those moments when they had somehow been led to joy by the one who did it best, those desperate seconds when they'd needed beauty more than anything. Together, they had been through an easy dozen just during the war, far more before they had come together.

But on the day Discord had been defeated, in the earliest part of after -- it had stopped.

She remembered the before, when she had been watching with her friends...

...and for a single priceless moment, then became now.

She heard their voices. She saw them gathered around her. There was generosity and honesty, laughter and kindness and magic. Loyalty, always. And love.

A single moment, no more, where she had them all back again...

...gone.

Then left her. The true now returned, the one which held but two survivors, and the older felt the renewed pain in her heart override the ache which had never truly faded. But it was a welcome pain. The moment had been worth that hurt, and so much more.

Celestia stared at the eclipse, and said the only thing she could have.

"Yes."