• Published 12th Sep 2013
  • 11,407 Views, 864 Comments

A Mark Of Appeal - Estee



Joyous Release has what she feels to be the worst talent and cutie mark in Equestria. She's approached Luna with a simple request: that the Princess rid her of both -- forever. A simple request which happens to be impossible...

  • ...
33
 864
 11,407

Making It A Threesome

"The destruction of a mark."

Celestia's voice was incredulous. It had every reason to be. After all, Luna had just spoken the purest of blasphemies.

She wanted to blame her younger sister's words on what was a very visible lack of sleep. Luna had admitted to only having rested for a few hours before waking herself to find Celestia as quickly as possible so that they could both begin working on what was promising to be a very strange problem -- if any problem existed which could somehow justify the five words Celestia had just echoed back to Luna in the desperate hopes that her sibling would realize exactly what had been said. But Luna was standing quietly in the Trottingham-themed section of the palace gardens, seeming to shiver slightly under the field-distorted Sun, weary face sincere. A face which was far too weary for even the minimal amount of rest which had been claimed. No, Luna hadn't slept at all, or if she had, then her sleep had been --

-- restless.

Luna sighed. "That is what I have been asked to do, yes." There was a deeper exhaustion in that. "She came to me because she felt the line would be less populated for my session -- perhaps even absent. And when she discovered she was wrong, she fled to the gardens and concealed herself until she judged things to be over, or nearly so -- then approached my Guards and quickly asked for a final, private meeting to close the night. A request which, in spite of their training and best judgment, they were unable to reject..."

Celestia frowned. "I'm going to need the full story now, Luna. You know the nature of the request you're passing along -- and you know the only thing I can do with that request. But I truly wish to hear why you would ever feel the need to repeat it at all. What she asked you for -- to think of anypony asking... I met you here, I had the Guards grant us privacy, and I raised the shield in case that wasn't enough." And oh, were there ever going to be lectures coming from the most paranoid of her own staff -- or at least silent (and quick, hoped-to-go-unnoticed) glares which would substitute for same. "Simply telling me that a pony asked you for the worst thing you've ever been asked and you needed to talk about it got me out here. And I'd have a hard time arguing that her request was anything other than that. But now I'd better get a why. The sheer level of that blasphemy..."

Another sigh, and Luna looked up at the yellow dome of her sister's shield, seemed to regard the changes to the sky made by the field's light. It was a cloudy day, but the puffballs were white and fluffy: no rain scheduled. Enough Sun streamed through the gaps to give the plants their normal tones -- or would have if not for the distorting shield, which also blocked most of the wind and kept the flowers from swaying in the breeze which lightly pressed against the borders. It made everything beneath it seem slightly off -- which included Celestia's sibling.

Luna slowly trotted over to one of the numerous benches in their current part of the garden, sank down onto it with her body draped full-length across the furnishing which was just barely long enough to accommodate the smaller Princess. Celestia didn't follow. She simply waited, and trusted the silence to do the work.

"Her name is Joyous Release," Luna finally began. "A pegasus, metallic blue, of about Fluttershy's age. She was born in Trottingham, but her family moved frequently and she never acquired the accent. I suspect that her mark and talent may be -- singular. I have yet to personally check the Canterlot Archives, but I know of no such manifestation in our own age and would think that stories of any such appearing during abeyance would have reached me, if only as crude jokes told by the less caring. My staff researched it while I -- rested -- and up until the time I approached you, they had discovered no matching icon or skill."

A unique mark? They still came along. Some were unique only within a current generation, as with Sizzler, the pony who operated the meat station in the Lunar kitchen and prepared dishes for visiting carnivores along with those omnivores who just wanted to show off. The rather disquieting steak on his liquid-red flanks was the only one currently known to exist in Equestria -- and it had been the same way for the previous holder of his station, and the one before that, all the way back to when Celestia had reluctantly acknowledged the need for such a part of the kitchen and began the search for somepony who could handle it. As holders had gone into the shadowlands, new cooks had emerged to take their place -- and never more than one at a time.

Other marks would appear and seem to be unique up until the moment a flood of similar icons followed. There had been no marks indicating any talents suited for creating, operating, and maintaining Equestria's railroad system -- not until the day Travel Track had come into an open Solar session to show her a set of plans laboriously developed over the course of eight years: construction details, requirements in metal and wood, economic impact, the opening of the continent to the possibility of travel on ground level which could move at about two-thirds the speed of a pegasus -- best-case over a total straightaway for short periods -- and carry heavier loads than any team could manage. Celestia had seen the possibilities immediately and thrown the strength of the government behind his vision, achieving the first rail network within four crazed years -- and it would have been a mere thirty-two moons if they both hadn't been so insistent on going around most of the natural features of the landscape instead of through. But once that dream had been manifested into reality, young ponies had looked at the trains and found the deepest part of themselves resonating at the sight. Track's once-unique mark of trestle ties had appeared on others, followed by steamstacks, engines, boilers... It was railroading time, and railroad operators had appeared to suit.

But some marks truly were unique. Not all of them came with previously-unseen talents: there were times when a pony's internal magic would latch onto an idea in such a way as to not quite duplicate any other icon while still showing skills which others possessed. But on the rarest of occasions, the combination would be new. A talent nopony had ever seen and a mark which nopony could work out until they saw that talent in action. With the right talent, such ponies could be Equestria's most precious resource, innovators in a country where, despite Celestia's best efforts, ponies too often clung to the familiar and shied away from the new.

Ponies with unique marks were often troubled: most understood their talent and purpose, but they often had trouble making others believe in either one. They had a feel of what their place was meant to be, but typically had to struggle in order to create it: Track had suffered through a long journey filled with outside laughter before reaching her. Those ponies could be worried, stressed, fighting to make their -- well, mark -- on a world that so often had trouble with the unfamiliar.

Celestia had met many such ponies over the centuries. Some had openly wished for fate to have tapped a different flank. Others had grumbled, or muttered to themselves in words best left to low volume. A few indulged in dark moments and long thoughts of paths closed during the deepest of hours under Moon. But ultimately, for virtually all those she had met, they wound up accepting themselves. It was getting everypony else to do the same which was most of the problem.

It was possible that this latest pony was simply struggling so much for her place as to wish for the battle to not be happening at all. Celestia could understand that, and a few carefully-chosen words could work wonders, as might official palace endorsement of this newest talent. But she had to hear what the issue was before deciding how to approach it -- and Luna was simply sitting on the bench, looking as if her second-fondest wish would be to never speak of that pony again.

Whatever the primary was, it had Luna's wings twitching in an oddly-familiar way. Something Celestia hadn't seen for a very long time and thus couldn't quite currently identify. There was a missing component...

Celestia decided on the slow approach. "Describe the mark to me, Luna," she said, smiling. "It might be something I remember."

Luna took a far too deep breath. "It is -- the hindquarters of a pony. Focusing on the rump."

There was privacy. There was a complete lack of eavesdroppers. There was absolutely no need for royal reserve. Celestia giggled.

Luna glared at her. "Sister!"

That tone and not 'Celestia', much less 'Tia'. She is upset. "I'm sorry, Luna," Celestia apologized, just barely managing to repress the next loaded titter in her internal laughter arsenal. "It's just the image... a rump on one's flank... no, I can't say I've ever seen that before, except for when a certain dance craze thirty years ago got a little out of control and -- all right, all right... it may not be unique, but I can't say I've personally seen it. Go on."

Another inhale which seemed determined to overflow Luna's lung capacity. "Like her coat, it is also metallic, but red so as not to vanish against the main hue. The tail is white and has a considerable spread to it -- again, much like Fluttershy. The hindquarters themselves are --"

Her sister's corona flared. The lightest possible coating of ice appeared around Luna's hooves.

"-- exceptionally shapely... do not giggle!"

Celestia got herself under control. "Luna... I know this is something we don't usually talk about -- but do you like this pony?" Because the ice had sealed it: a trick her little sister had often used in the early part of their mutual after when blood was starting to run hot and Luna felt focusing on something other than -- well, 'other than' sufficed -- was more important than what was within the quotes. Some ponies took cold showers or dove into freezing lakes: Luna subtly iced herself to whatever degree she found necessary. Celestia hadn't seen it in --

-- far too long.

And if that was the case, a whole new set of issues was about to arise. For an alicorn to be attracted to any other pony... Cadance had gone through with it despite all warnings, all pleas to the contrary, both siblings ignored...

More slowly, "Luna, if that's the case, we need to --"

"-- yes, I am attracted to her," Luna sighed. "So is everypony else. Possibly everypony on the continent. Her talent is for sex appeal, sister."

And Celestia went silent.

"To be in her presence --" Luna forced herself to continue "-- is to desire her. There may be no exceptions. And to feel that desire is to, after enough time spent near her, attempt to act on it. I came within two body lengths of trying to seduce her. I was not thinking. I did not wish to think. As a species, we moved beyond the point of being in heat a long time before our own generation, but... I imagine that is what it must have been like. All I had -- all I was -- turned into a single want. I would have said or done anything to have her within my bed. I nearly did. I had to fully ice both my wings simply to remain coherent around her, stayed as far away as the Lunar throne room would permit and even then..."

The words stopped. Luna took another deep breath -- too deep -- but did not speak.

"Luna --" carefully, carefully "-- is it possible you're -- exaggerating this a little? I don't keep that close an eye on you --" lie "-- but as far as I know, you haven't -- been with anypony since you --"

Sharp, angry, words meant to stab. "And thank you for the oh-so-careful watch on my sex life, sister. Because it is certain that nothing else under Sun and Moon would ever rank higher on a priority list for attending to than the status of whether I have another pony within my bed or not!"

And Celestia had gone too far. She knew it. There was no taking the words back, no way to erase anything which had happened, ever. All Celestia could do was silently sink onto her haunches and dip her head, feeling the flow of her mane slow down as she gazed at the carefully-trimmed grass and nothing else. Waiting for permission to look at Luna again.

One minute passed. Two. Three --

"-- enough," Luna said, and sighed more deeply than ever. "No, I have not. At first, there was too much for adjusting to upon my return, far too much... any attempt to reach out would not have been for attraction or connection, but latching onto a buoy to keep from drowning. Once that had begun to fade -- as much as it has, at least -- we were simply too busy, and your own lessons -- those which we tried to remind Cadance of -- echoed too strongly. There were times I felt the desire to at least seek, yes. Others when I found my eyes going over forms while thinking of traits I used to love in other ponies. But... I am still too involved in trying to find my own place in this new age to ever make anypony else go through the pains of watching my efforts or dealing with the failures when they inevitably come. Once I truly know where I fit once again -- then, perhaps, I can think about who I might fit with. But... with this pony... Tia, please look at me..."

Celestia brought her head up. Waited.

"I was never much for mares, you know that," Luna went on, briefly closing her eyes. "I thought about it, of course: so many at least briefly entertain the thought when the times of first attraction begin. Fantasies about one... and you should not have to ask which. The memory of that one... I believe it kept me from considering any others for a long time. As if I would do her a dishonor through merely looking. But that... is part of it. I am seldom attracted to mares. When I was in her presence, Joyous made me feel as if I could never find appeal in anything else. In any mare but her. And then there was Cluster..."

"Cluster." It seemed safe to say.

"You hired him, did you not? One of my Guards?"

The face swam in front of Celestia's inner vision. "Oh, yes... I remember. A very stalwart pony, I thought." Focused. A little sarcastic at times, but not in a highly offensive way. Creative and quick-witted while being fairly organized: a rare combination. Married, two daughters...

Celestia blinked. "I met his mate." Who had been waiting outside for the interview to conclude, who had been so happy to hear it had all worked out.

"As have I," Luna said. "Josdien is a rather memorably handsome stallion, is he not? And remembering that, I asked Cluster to escort Joyous to the temporary quarters I granted her -- the ones as far from mine as possible without crossing into your part of the palace. He came back to me fifteen minutes later, close to tears. It took mere minutes for a stallion who had never had any relationship thoughts regarding mares beyond 'this is my friend' or 'this is my family' to fall into 'this is the one who has changed my mind'. It took me most of the sunrise to convince him that he had not cheated -- and he had not done a single thing beyond the verbal. But the thoughts were there and I am convinced that given more time in her presence, he would have tried to act on them. Something in her talent -- crosses all the barriers. She may be a universal key for every lock."

Or a universal lock for every key, given that so many ponies want to -- and Celestia cut off the thought. What humor there had been in it was growing too dark. "Go on, Luna," Celestia cautiously encouraged her sibling. "Tell me about her."

Another inhale which seemed as if it should have cracked ribs. "Her family works as weather surveyors. You are familiar with the profession." Celestia nodded: pegasi who went into wild zones which were on the verge of becoming settlements, tried to work out the natural weather patterns and how they could best be tamed to pony needs. It was a high-risk occupation, mostly due to the frequent wild zone exposure. Those who lasted in it tended to make it a job for a lifetime. Those who didn't occasionally got to say the same, although such made for a poor set of last words. "As such, she moved frequently. It is difficult for a filly who is always changing settled zones to keep friends and after a time, it can be just as difficult to make them: reaching out to somepony whom you are aware will be close to you for only a short while..."

An issue Celestia had been fighting on a different front ever since her after had truly begun to stretch endlessly forward. Centuries of internal agony were expressed as a single nod.

"She admitted that there were times when she considered that a more -- shallow connection -- might be better for her, at least in that it would be easier to let go of," Luna continued. "But to her credit, she did struggle to make friends, or so she claimed. Still... the new filly in every classroom, always trying to connect into a puzzle which had been largely assembled before her arrival... As a young metallic, she found that many ponies were fascinated by her, and that interest became stronger as she entered puberty. She freely confessed that she began actively using their interest to draw them closer. Then her mark manifested..."

Celestia winced. "While she was still in school." Too many images going through her head, and none of them were welcome to be there.

"It was not as bad as you may be imagining," Luna told her. "At first, her talent only worked with those of her own age group, and not strongly. They were interested in her first and pouted if any rejection occurred, with some jealousy towards those who found her favor -- the same as it might be with any truly attractive mare. But as she aged, the talent strengthened. The range of those she attracted became wider. With some, she felt as if their approaches changed: from the subtle or even the annoyance of a pick-up line which has not changed in over a millennium to the extremely direct and beyond. She did not say as much to me, but I can now guess that stallions who had no interest in anything but other stallions, mares who felt those stallions should stop taking buckets from their private pool -- even those began to turn their heads towards her. It was a slow process -- years. But it became worse and worse, Tia. She finally became convinced that if she continued to stay around other ponies, there would be at least one who would abandon all civilization in order to possess her. From the way she trembled as she related that part of her story... I do not believe any succeeded, but I feel somepony at least seemed as if they were about to try, or perhaps made the first step in their attempt..."

The wince became a shudder. "She ran away." A statement: it was the obvious next step in the story. The next scream in the nightmare where no amount of sound called back the real.

Her sibling nodded. "She was extremely familiar with the wild zones due to her family's occupation -- but because of that knowledge, she did not wish to try surviving there full-time. She retreated to the fringe outside San Dineighgo and if it was truly necessary, made brief visits into the city just before all the merchants closed, rationing out the few bits she possessed while scavenging what she could during the emptiest parts of the night. And all the time, her talent continued to strengthen. She realized it had reached the point where not even retreat was enough when ponies began to search the fringe for that mysterious stranger who had passed them under Moon. Shortly after that, she flew to Canterlot, made her way through every shadow she could find and hid until the open session presented itself. And... I asked you out here, Tia, because she told me not only that she had hidden in the gardens, but exactly where within them, and..."

Fifteen seconds. Thirty. Forty.

"...I had hoped this section would still -- retain her scent..."

The silence closed in. Celestia forced it back with an act of will. She had to say something... "No, Luna, I don't remember her talent ever manifesting before -- and I'm surprised I haven't heard of it until now: I'd think it would be the sort of thing hundreds of ponies would have shown before her. There's a chance this could have escaped me while still being logged in the Archives, but -- this could be unique. And for her to be progressively losing control of it, having it become stronger than she can handle..."

Luna nodded. "And thus her desire. Blasphemy, yes. But it is a blasphemy she sees as her final resort. She told me that she has tried to -- rid herself of the mark. Physically."

And they both shuddered.

"The one part of a pony which always heals perfectly," Celestia softly said. "No matter how many parents who hate their child's mark beyond all reason decide they have a way of starting over..." Words which made her sick. Memories of trials that haunted her dreams. Sentences which couldn't have been any harsher and somehow still weren't enough. "It doesn't work, Luna, you know that. It never does. The talent goes on while the skin repairs itself and the coat grows back."

"But she did not know," Luna replied. "Or at least did not wish to believe it. After that -- she tried to research magics, but they were spells she could never cast and access to the materials she most needed meant being around too many other ponies for any true attempts to reach them. So she came to me... and now I am coming to you. She needs help, sister. Ponies who cannot remain clear-headed in her presence -- ones who perhaps cannot stay themselves. I already know that she strips others of their nature with her presence, at least in overriding that which they would normally be attracted to. What else does she do?" The words were coming faster now. "Do ponies express their attraction only according to their personality, or does even that vanish with continued exposure? Had I been locked in a room with her for hours without any means of shocking myself back to some level of sanity, would I have settled for simply attempting to seduce her?" And faster. "Tried to order her into my bed? Would any pony who spent too much time near her while receiving only rejection attempt assault? Would I have --"

Of all the little problems associated with the energy which suffused their manes and tails, one stood above all: the results were not quite solid. Attempts to press tearful eyes into the flow would find the salty drops going through. And so as Celestia closed in, dropped to all four knees before going lower still, she shut her eyes, reached deep into the magic of their mutual after, gritted her teeth as she marshaled her strength towards the horrendous effort required for any temporary degree of negation...

...and then Luna was crying into her mane. Her true mane.

She held the position, let her hair and coat absorb the flow.

"That's not you," she whispered to Luna. "It never was, it never could be. Even when the Nightmare -- submerged -- " buried "-- you, it never tried to do anything like that..." The Nightmare which had not been Luna in any way, had simply taken her sister's basic personality and used it as the starting point for the warping, the distortion it pretended was the deepest thoughts and desires of the real...

"I do not know," Luna just barely whispered back. "I want to believe it, I do -- but when I was with her, it was so hard to do anything which wasn't wanting, or feeling as my entire life meant acting on that want... Tia, she is one of the loneliest ponies I have ever seen, and all the worse because she knows how isolated she is. She has reached the point -- where it seems as if blasphemy is her last recourse. If her talent continues to strengthen, if she cannot find control -- and she has been trying to find it for years... Can you understand why she would think such a thing? Even begin to dream of it, no matter how wrong it might be? If blasphemy is the only safe haven left, the only chance for a life..."

Celestia's wings stretched out, covered her sister as best she could. Luna's forelegs reached towards her.

They stayed that way for some time.

Finally, when the tears had stopped, Luna withdrew slightly, regarded her sister's mane, and smiled. "Now there is a reason to be glad for the invention of cameras -- even if one seems to be lacking in presence now. Fortunately, I am certain there is a suitable model in my bedroom. Hold that position: I will be back in a moment..."

"Luna, don't you dare --"

Luna giggled -- but the sound seemed forced. "What, I am suddenly the only pony in Equestria who cannot collect thousands of mostly-counterfeit bits in Murdocks' payment for a truly embarrassing image? But I wished to see what base metal had somehow snuck into his coffers on this occasion. We have seen too little of nickel of late..." The partially-false mirth faded: Luna's eyes went downcast. "Tia, somepony must help her -- and I do not know how. And so she truly needs both of us. Will you assist me -- and save her --" too long a hesitation "-- if we can?"

"Yes," Celestia immediately replied. "But the mark -- Luna..."

"I know," Luna sighed. "I know it is impossible. So we will try everything else before we consider attempting that. Where do you wish to begin?"

"With speaking to her," Celestia immediately decided, straightening up. "I want to hear the story in her own words: she may give me a detail which she accidentally left out of what you heard -- simple exhaustion from staying up all night to reach you." A talent out of control... "And I should meet her, period. It's possible that -- and please don't take this personally, Luna -- some ponies are simply more susceptible than others. I am older than you, and I have more -- experience in dealing with -- urges." Centuries' worth. "So there's a chance I can also deal with her presence better than you. That's no slight against you, just --"

Luna's head had come all the way up again, and her eyes were fully open. "-- Tia, that is a bad idea."

"Meeting her? I have to speak with her if we're going to work on this."

"You should not meet her alone," Luna insisted. "A universal key -- and no matter what you might insist or how well and long you have controlled your so-called urges, we both know you still have a lock. And unlike me, you have no ready way of cooling down. I suppose you could try to overheat instead, but I am guessing that temporarily coating my wings in ice is rather more harmless than any attempt you might make to set yourself on fire."

Celestia was beginning to feel somewhat insulted. "I can handle this."

"I do not wish for you to find yourself in a position where that is tested," Luna shot back. "Supervision is required --"

"-- which you didn't call for once you knew what was happening!"

"It only would have been another to potentially lose control!"

"And I could say --" Celestia bit the last words before they could escape, listened as they ran squealing back to their pen. "-- and we're fighting over her without any presence whatsoever... All right -- let's try it this way. Where is she right now?"

"Still in the palace," Luna offered, "but hidden. After what happened with Cluster, I did not want anypony knowing exactly where she was. So I teleported into her room, told her I was bringing her to temporary safety --" Luna blushed "-- which she did not take well -- and moved her elsewhere. And then sealed that. I kept my exposure brief, I sent food in, notes saying I would speak to you... and I am certain she is still terrified and thinking only that I am holding her for my own purposes... which..." The blush became deeper. "...she has every right to think..."

Celestia sighed. "But you didn't go to her instead of sleeping."

Dryly, "What sleep? Every scene I conjured inside my own nightscape shared the same theme, and I believe you can guess what that was."

"Then you've kept yourself under control," Celestia told her. "Maybe it's just a matter of knowing what she can do and being braced for it... So take me to her. You wait just outside the room and listen to everything I say. If you feel things are going beyond what they should, you teleport in and get me out. Agreed?"

Luna went directly for the heart of it. "And if you fight me?"

Immediately, "Anything but -- that one spot."

Which produced a small smirk. "Then agreed. Is there anything you wish to do in order to prepare?"

"No," Celestia frowned. "I know what I'm up against and I'm braced for it -- okay, I know that look: what were you thinking I should do?"

The smirk got wider. "Oh, perhaps a little -- time alone -- time spent in, shall we say, cleansing certain impulses through early satisfa --"

"-- stand up already." Her sister, still smirking, did so. "Okay -- you're escorting me into the between, and I know we're not going far. Shall we?"

"Yes."

Luna moved into close contact -- and twin flashes of light took them away as the shield collapsed.

After a minute, several worried Guards ventured into that part of the gardens to find a bench which was colder than it should have been and a few last shards of ice.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Luna waited. Pressed her left ear more tightly against the door, rotated it slightly until she was convinced it was forming a seal even more perfect than the one she'd had a few seconds ago. Waited some more.

Celestia's words were surprisingly even. Those of Joyous still held fear as a permanent non-guest which had been refusing to move out for moons, but it was currently residing in the basement of the residence and had no interest in poking its snout upstairs. They had been talking for some time. Luna was familiar with most of it.

The first room Luna had chosen for Joyous was one of those saved for visiting dignitaries: diplomats, ambassadors, the rulers of the other countries, those who could not stand the thought of a night spent in anything less than total opulence and might just start a war over any pillow which wasn't fully fluffed. She had picked it because it was comfortable, because the locks worked from the inside, and -- well, and because the bed within was so --

-- but with Cluster suddenly showing interest in exploring a whole new aspect of life, Luna had decided that wasn't good enough. And so the second room had come into play.

'Room' felt like a fair term. 'Dungeon' was somewhat too unkind.

The majority of the ponies who worked in the palace were unaware of the cells beneath it: the entrance was too well-concealed, the ventilation equally so -- and from what Celestia had said, that area hadn't been used in generations. But in the past, there had been times when Equestria had gone to war, and some of those battles had ended in the capture of opposing generals, princesses and princes, and rulers of all titles. And even in those times of strife, there had generally been a silent agreement in place between the warring nations: maybe we're sending our citizens out to potentially die over these issues, but that doesn't mean we personally can't be civilized. And so there were cells -- but a few of them were richly furnished and came with their own little libraries, although all the furniture within now overqualified for 'antique' and the bookshelves were desperately in need of updating to include something written within the last few centuries. The area was secure, comfortable, and almost impossible for anypony to reach. Only a very few had teleport arrival sites for the halls outside it and of those, only she and Celestia knew Joyous was even within. It had felt safe. And in no way like she was trying to save the pegasus for herself, at least up until the moment she'd brought Celestia into the rough area and had to explain that part.

In retrospect, Luna was more than a little embarrassed -- again. But it still felt as if it had been a good idea.

The door was largely airtight. It helped, or at least she kept telling herself it did. She was trying to concentrate on hearing the words. Focusing on sound more than scent. A scent she so badly wanted to immerse herself within.

Hoofsteps were approaching -- and then there was a knocking at the door. Four, then two.

Luna opened it. Celestia stepped out. Behind her, Joyous was trembling slightly, as she had throughout her talk with Luna -- but the expression was the same as it had been towards the end, only now even stronger. A desperate hope which had only been boosted by the knowledge that there were now two Princesses at work on the problem.

Luna inhaled. Immediately wished she hadn't. Closed her eyes against the intrusion of fantasy and shut the door. Opened them again to look at her sister, who was standing still in the dungeon hallway three body lengths away.

Actually... very still. Even the once-again flowing energy of her mane was nearly stable.

And on closer inspection, Celestia was barely breathing. She was not-moving as if anything other than not-movement would result in lots-of-movement, and for a stranger to ask what kind might be ruled as a very exotic means of suicide.

"Tia?"

"I -- have to go."

"Oh, really," Luna observed. "And if I may ask -- and I feel that I must, in the event that something should happen where I need to seek you out -- just where are you going, exactly?"

Celestia was facing away from her. Turning back would have meant movement. "Trotter's Falls."

"Trotter's Falls..." Luna mused. "Now what is there that you would be in such a hurry to reach it? Is there a specialist in magic and the manifestation of marks and talents whom you need to consult?"

No response.

"Perhaps an ancient artifact perfectly suited for just such a situation which you have had no need to retrieve until today?"

Still silence.

"For some ineffable reason, you require a visit to that rather pleasant fountain they put up commemorating the Return?"

An absolute lack of words answered her in every way.

"Or is it simply -- what you told me was the single coldest lake in all of Equestria?"

"...oh, shut up."

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!