• Published 26th Oct 2013
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Triptych - Daetrin

What does it mean to be a pony? A ruler? A god?

  • ...

Seven Views of Sunrise

The stars seemed to crowd the sky above the balcony of Twilight’s library home, as if to peer down on the two ponies nestled together in the crisp, clear air. The larger, darker one sang softly as she worked brush over canvas, drawing not the night sky but a city street; a recollection from long ago and far away. The smaller, lighter pony pricked one ear, then both, finally tearing her gaze away from an oversized tome and looking over at Luna.

“What song is that?” Twilight asked. “I don’t even recognize the language.”

Luna regarded her canvas. It was a half-finished memory, being recaptured stroke by stroke, summoned forth from the swirling mists of her ancient past. Perfect recall was not one of her gifts, so through story and song, art and sculpture, she’d been steadily forging links to her own lost history.

“It’s an old, old journeying hymn,” she replied after that moment of contemplation. “I heard it there first,” she nodded at the painting. “In Trotpoli.”

“Trotpoli?” Twilight arched her neck to look at the colorful canvas, where frescoed buildings paraded proudly along a cobblestone boulevard. The ponies themselves were nearly as proud, wearing amber and rose gold, looking as if they were about to trot out onto the balcony. “I’ve read about that city!” Her eyes sparkled as facts filed obediently through her mind and bowed, courtier-like, to her intellect. “It was at the center of Pelloponysos nearly two thousand years ago. There’s not much left now, but at the time it was the height of culture. They were the first ones to define the hornspiral theorem, not to mention the first principles of modern magical language.”

Twilight’s words slipped into the familiar cadence of lecture, donning the cloak of knowledge stitched by innumerable scholars over uncounted years. Luna lowered her brush, recognizing the change in tone, and a smile touched her muzzle as Twilight continued on. Such occasions were like dropping a stone into a pond, ripples of knowledge spreading outward from a single point, illuminating connections and events that raised her memories above a simple historical occurrence. Sometimes those ripples met others, touched, and built up into a new recollection. As Luna listened to Twilight, two different sparks of light connected and a memory surfaced.

“...and of course Tailes practically invented deductive reasoning!”

“Tailes of Maretus?” Luna blinked at Twilight. “I knew him.”

“You did?” Twilight gazed at Luna, suddenly and utterly rapt. “What was he like?” For Twilight, Luna’s reminiscence produced unexpected islands in her sea of knowledge, summits to climb and gain a new perspective. It made Luna a conspirator, a collaborator in the unicorn’s endless search for knowledge rather than a teacher.

In response, Luna lifted her brush again, bringing forth on the canvas a rather ordinary-looking earth pony, eschewing the finery of the others on the streets of Trotpoli. His brown eyes were lifted heavenward, past the bright buildings, looking at something only he could see. “He was...sharp. Sharp of mind, sharp of wit, and sharp of tongue.”

Her voice and accent shifted as she began to speak, the flavors of the distant past lending richness to her words. “Threescore nights on the palace steps, spent he, petitioning for an eclipse. And when finally granted an audience, Tailes of Maretus spent twelve of his fifteen minutes chastising mine beloved sister and I.”

She paused, offering an aside in a dry tone. “I think that was the first time anyone had complained to either of us that we weren’t being precise enough with our charges. He spent quite some time explaining, in his own acerbic style, how he couldn’t determine how large the sun or moon were because of it. You can just imagine the look on Tia’s face.”

Twilight giggled. “I’m a little bit of a lecturer myself, so I think I can guess what it was like.”

“I had noticed that about you.” Luna grinned at Twilight. “You are somewhat similar - intelligent, driven, not afraid to speak your mind - but I daresay I prefer your lectures to that particular dressing-down.”

“Thanks...I think.” Twilight raised one eyebrow skeptically at Luna, who responded by sticking out her tongue.

“Anyway, he only stayed around a few years,” Luna continued. “A hunger had he that could not be satisfied by city streets and columnéd temples, but only by traveling the broad back of the world. I read his dispatches for some time after, as they flowed sluggishly through the arteries of Pelloponysos.”

“You got to read the Traveling Letters as they were being written?” Twilight fairly vibrated with excitement, pressing in against Luna as if she could absorb the history by osmosis. “You have no idea how jealous I am right now.”

“I believe I have an idea,” Luna said lightly. “The way you’re trying to absorb all the history that you seem to sense wafting from my coat.”

Twilight blushed, pulling away slightly. “Sorry -” she began, but Luna interrupted, the alicorn’s smile growing several shades more mischievous.

“No, let me help!” She stretched out her wings and leaned sideways, toppling them both over and sprawling out over Twilight on the balcony. The unicorn squealed and laughed, pushing at Luna as the larger pony pinned her. “Tremble before the weight of history!”

“Ack! Too much history!” Twilight squirmed underneath Luna, then stilled as the alicorn’s muzzle touched her own.

Their kiss was interrupted by sharp rapping on the door of the library below, and the two of them shared a wry look before Twilight opened up her other perceptions. The world expanded and fell away, matter writ strong and proud over the shifting, whispering sea of magic. Luna’s dark presence was wrapped close, cloaking her form in stellar glory, while the far-away point of Celestia’s brilliance cast invisible shadows, stretching out from Canterlot.

Below, at the door, was the shining spark of Rarity. In the single, cascading moment of revelation she allowed herself before closing her divine eyes again, Twilight found the others, brilliant souls linked by the threads of their friendship, all making their way toward the library. It was her own fault, of course. She’d asked them to be present for the dawn, and they had all agreed - even Rainbow Dash, if with a certain amount of grumbling.

“Lost track of time again,” Twilight sighed, and Luna gave her a quick nuzzle as they disentangled themselves.

“We both have that habit, I fear.” Luna resettled her wings against her sides. “But we’ll have precious little opportunity to indulge it in the coming week.”

“Or else we’ll have a lot of unhappy farming ponies,” Twilight agreed. Rarity rapped at the door again, her voice floating upward.

“Twilight? Princess Luna?”

Twilight asked a question with a tilt of her head, and Luna nodded. The unicorn’s horn flashed as she teleported them from the balcony down to the first floor of the library, but Spike was already opening the door in response to Rarity’s voice. “They’re just upstairs, Rarity,” he said, stifling a yawn. “Come on in.”

“Why, thank you, Spike.” Rarity gave him a brilliant smile before trotting in. “It does seem they’re down here now,” she noted, and Spike turned to blink at the two of them.

“Oh.” Spike pushed the door closed again behind Rarity. “Well that’s just cheating,” he muttered under his breath, trotting over to Rarity’s side.

“Oh dear, I’m the first one, aren’t I?” The white unicorn looked around the library. “Well, I suppose one can be fashionably early as well as fashionably late.”

“Everything you do is fashionable, Rarity,” Spike put in, and Twilight suppressed a snort.

“Yes, you’re the first, but the others are on their way,” she said. “Thank you so much for coming, I know it’s early...”

“Well, the beauty sleep is important, but not as important as friendship,” Rarity said brightly. “I’m honored to be here. And since I am up at this hour,” she turned to Luna. “I must say the night is marvelous to-” Rarity hesitated a brief moment, then continued gamely. “-night. Quite bracing and brilliant.”

“Thank you, Rarity.” Luna’s smile held amusement and pride in equal measure. She knew the fashionista’s compliments were genuine, but Rarity was ever the courtier. “I thought a unique dawn deserved a lovely night before it.”

“Yeah, the stars are like, natural fireworks!” Of the four of them, only Luna jumped at Pinkie Pie’s expectedly unexpected interjection. “Pow! Whoosh! Zoom!” She bounced over to join them. “Are you excited?” She drawled the last word, stretching it out and grinning at Twilight.

“Maybe a little,” Twilight admitted. “More nervous, I think.”

“Well of course you are! If I were you I’d be a super-nervousy nervous pants!” Pinkie agreed cheerfully, and Twilight winced.

“Pinkie, dear,” Rarity began, but another rap on the door stopped her. It was sharp and brusque, and it took no scrying to recognize Applejack’s hoof. Spike was firmly attached to Rarity’s side, so Twilight opened the door herself. The orange earth pony ducked inside, giving a brief bow to Luna.

“Fluttershy’s off getting RD,” she told them with a hint of impatience in her voice. “I swear that gal would sleep eighteen hours a day if we let her.”

“It’s all right, Applejack,” Twilight said soothingly. “I’m sure they’ll be on time.”

“I suppose so.” She gave a brief toss of her head, dismissing it, and trotted over to join the rest of them. “But I’m running a tad late myself. You know how it is.”

“How can you be late when it’s not dawn yet, silly?” Pinkie shook her head at Applejack. “Nobody can be late if Celestia isn’t here yet!”

“You have an astounding capacity for timing, Pinkamena,” Luna murmured, tilting her head in the direction of Canterlot.

“I do?” Pinkie asked innocently. The question was answered with the flash of Celestia’s light, her presence briefly illuminating the room. Three of the ponies bowed reflexively, but Luna and Twilight stepped over to greet the sun princess more personally.

“Luna, my beloved sister,” Celestia said, embracing Luna tightly, the two of them laying their heads on each other’s withers and closing their eyes in a moment of quiet closeness. Then she smiled at Twilight and exchanged the same gesture, though with a shade less intimacy. “And Twilight, my faithful student. Though not just my student anymore, I think.” Celestia’s gentle smile and soft voice robbed the statement of any barb that might have been found in it.

“No, I suppose not,” Twilight admitted, sharing a long, half-guilty glance with Luna, and Celestia shook her head slightly.

“No teacher can teach you all you need to know,” she said quietly, speaking to Twilight’s thoughts rather than her words. “Not even me.” Then her smile turned faintly teasing, a sudden sparkle in her eyes. “Especially not me. More than a millennium of court life leaves one with a rather peculiar view of the world.”

“Well, you’ll have some time away from it now.” Twilight offered. “So long as I can do this, that is.”

“You have no problem with the stars,” Luna reassured her. “I have no doubt that you will be up to the task.”

The soft noise of wings outside announced the arrival of the last two ponies. Rainbow Dash pushed open the door without bothering to knock, flitting into the room while Fluttershy peered hesitantly around the jamb. “Oh dear,” Fluttershy ventured. “We’re not late, are we?”

“I don’t see how,” Rainbow Dash yawned. “The sun isn’t up yet.” She blinked blearily around the room, her eyes widening as she belatedly noticed the presence of both the rulers of Equestria. “Oh. Um. Princess. Princesses.” She dropped down and essayed a hasty bow, and Celestia smiled fondly.

“Welcome Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash. You are certainly in time. But I am not in charge of the sun this morning.” She inclined her head to the purple unicorn standing in front of her. “This is Twilight’s dawn.”

“Right.” Rainbow Dash looked over at Twilight, who shifted nervously under the combined gaze of seven other ponies.

“Well, it’s not supposed to be dawn for another...” Twilight glanced at the clock, the second hand sweeping slowly around the face. “Seventeen minutes and thirty four seconds. But I suppose we can go to the balcony now!” The last sentence came out with an air of forced cheer, as she realized she had failed to account for the full reality of playing host between her friends’ arrival and the performance of her new duty.

She waved them toward the stairs to the balcony, and her friends fell in behind the two alicorns. “Is this something that will involve the Elements of Harmony?” Rarity asked delicately. “I know Princess Celestia raises the sun and Princess Luna the moon, but celestial mechanics are not precisely my métier.”

“Ah...no.” Twilight shot a quick glance at Celestia, but the princess seemed content to let Twilight explain. “I simply need you here as friends. Not that there’s anything simple about that!” She hastened to add. “It’s just - you know what I mean.”

“Of course we do!” Pinkie laughed, bouncing over Applejack and nearly colliding with Rainbow Dash as she tackled Twilight with a vicious hug that bowled the unicorn over. “You want your bestest buds to be there while you bring the big ball up to the sky!”

“Well...yes.” Twilight giggled, her horn shimmering faintly as she shifted Pinkie enough for her to regain her hooves.

“Don’t worry, Twilight. We’re here for you.” Fluttershy’s voice was even quieter than usual in the presence of combined royalty, to the point where mortal ears would have to strain to hear her. But even with her godhead leashed and controlled, her power and senses shuttered down to mundanity, Twilight was no longer quite mortal.

“Thank you.” The warmth in her voice surprised even Twilight, sounding for a moment more like Celestia than herself, and her mind scattered off on a dozen different pathways speculating why. Her mental checklist was rife with possibilities: it was an inevitable effect of godhood, she was unconsciously trying to emulate Celestia, she was simply more nervous than she had realized. She had no real answers though, and finally filed it away as they crowded out onto the balcony.

The books and art supplies strewn over the wood and propped up against the railings took up most of the space, and Twilight hastily relocated her contribution to the mess, the books flickering away and appearing on the library floor. Luna’s canvas and palette faded into blackness, wedge and knife and brush simply melting away into the shadows as she followed Twilight’s example in her own particular way.

“So!” Twilight said brightly, looking around at the ponies gathered at her request.

“You can begin now if you wish, Twilight Sparkle. I do not think anypony will mind a few minutes of difference just this once.” Celestia looked to the east, where the canvas of night was beginning to shade toward purple.

Luna and Twilight shared another glance, but this time they grinned at each other in recognition of the irony in that sentiment given Luna’s earlier story. “All right. Wish me luck, everypony!” Twilight faced the east, backed by a chorus of well-wishes and good intent, and slipped loose the fetters of her mind.

Again the world expanded, her perceptions stretching out to grasp the firmament upon which all things were fixed. Luna’s dark presence and Celestia’s bright one flanked her, coiling about each other and leading off in opposite directions, linked to the celestial bodies they safeguarded and in some ways were. Between the two the world stretched out in all its strange glory, with reclusive mountains and bright defiles, points and peoples of power both dark and light, peaceful and hostile, familiar and alien in an astounding tapestry.

It was something she longed to explore, but both princesses had cautioned her. Given her experience with the few other gods she’d encountered it was advice she took to heart, but she still looked upon the astounding blanket of creation with barely restrained avarice. She gave herself several long moments of contemplation before ascending along Celestia’s beacon toward the empyrean blaze.

It invited and threatened in equal measure, both the sun that nourished life and the sun that scorched the deserts. The power was nearly unimaginable in its intensity but incredibly limited in its breadth, utterly unlike a unicorn’s magic or even her own burgeoning divinity, and holding within it a piece of Celestia’s soul. She could feel the sun goddess with even the faintest brush against the fire, the mass of millennia of memories lending its own unique essence to the overwhelming presence.

Twilight embraced the sun, accepting the flames as her own and holding the great sphere in the grasp of her power. To simply move it was well within her power, but movement was not enough. As she had learned with the stars, the goddess sustained the paradox of truths, so that the night sky was both Luna’s canvas and the objective universe, billions of stars lighting a void uncountable miles away. Celestia’s sun had a profoundly different, and in some ways more subtle, truth.

The world was a sphere, or rather, an oblate spheroid, for Twilight saw no need for precision to yield to mysticism, and yet the sun was definitely raised in the morning and set in its track along the sky. It rose on Equestria, it set on Equestria, and yet it nourished the rest of the world as well. This was not a simple matter of interpretation, for if the sun did not rise for Equestria, as had been the case on the day Nightmare Moon had returned, it rose for nobody, and the entire world was swathed in darkness.

The paradox was part of Celestia’s fundamental nature, but Twilight had to grasp it, understand it, and make it her own. It was a test where the only answer was the one she found for herself, one that was part of her nature. The puzzle was not one of power, but of understanding, and Twilight was nothing if not a student. She looked to the sun, and learned.

The watching ponies drew in a collective breath as color suddenly washed the lightening sky to the east, though they were not quite the usual pinks and yellows of Celestia’s craft. Instead they were tinted with the deeper purples of Twilight’s mane, giving it an appearance somewhere between dusk and dawn. The sky grew brighter, but the colors stayed in the liminal realm between night and day, uncertainly chasing the stars overhead. Then, finally, rays of light lanced forth from beyond the far mountains, haloing the clouds in a lambent golden radiance.

The sun came up.

Seven pairs of eyes drank in the sight of the dawn. Spike clung to Twilight’s leg, while her friends crowded in around her as she beamed proudly, regarding her handiwork. Only the princesses were not looking at the newly-risen sun. Celestia stood, neck arched, head bowed, eyes closed, her expression utterly unreadable as for the first time in her long life she yielded her duty to another. Luna, of them all, had eyes only for Twilight, watching her unicorn take her first steps among the gods.

Author's Note:

Welcome to Triptych! Unlike my other two stories here, this isn't an Adventure story, but I hope you'll be entertained anyhow.

For those familiar with Apotheosis, there will be a continuity issue: I'm retconning Apotheosis to take place after the opening of S3.