• Published 26th Oct 2013
  • 12,696 Views, 378 Comments

Triptych - Daetrin

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

  • ...

And Unto Every Answer A Question

“I’m not mad, Twily,” Twilight Velvet said as they all settled in around the table, which looked far less oversized with twelve of them around it. “I just thought it would be Shiny’s engagement that we’d hear about thirdhoof.”

“Of course we figured that was only a matter of time.” Night Light put in. “Shiny was almost as moonstruck as I was the first time I saw your mother. Er.” He cast a glance at Luna, his expression a mixture of belated realization and mischievous anticipation, making him look for a moment even more youthful than his son.

Luna laughed. It wasn’t just the coltish look or the term he used, but also the elder Twilight’s reaction, the same flattered blush that she’d seen so often on her Twilight. “That is one of my more entertaining roles, yes.” She offered the two of them a smile. “Believe me, it’s gratifying to hear such a fine old phrase.”

Night Light grinned back. “We’ve always been partial to the night ourselves. I remember one particular colt asking Twily if she loved the night so much, why didn’t she marry it. Well...”

“Dad!” Twilight protested, objecting less to the words than to the particular tone of voice.

“Hah, now you have to suffer his terrible sense of humor.” Shining Armor gave Twilight a wicked smile, only to be interrupted by Cadence elbowing him gently in the side.

“You shouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Cadence chided him, though with a twinkle in her eye.

“Hey now, my sense of humor isn’t that bad.”

“It is, dear,” Twilight Velvet said mildly.

“Aw, I like it!” Pinkie called from further down the table, and Night Light raised a hoof in triumph.


“Well don’t encourage him!” Twilight laughed, and her father stuck out his tongue.

“Well, now.” Twilight Velvet’s mouth quirked into an impish smile. “If the Element of Laughter thinks our Night Light is funny, who are we to complain?”

“Exactly!” Night Light and Pinkie spoke at once, looked at each other, and dissolved into laughter.

Over the centuries Luna had met the friends and families of lovers in many, many different settings, but this time was different. She had never kept the same distance that Celestia held, but the knowledge that she was immortal and they were not had always flavored her relationships. Twilight was different and therefore so too was her family, but there still seemed something unique about them.

Twilight Velvet and Night Light were mundane in most ways, but between them was the soft, warming glow of harmony, bonds stronger than any magic. Love wrapped them like a heavy cloak, spilling over to all those nearby. It was a small, simple, ordinary sort of power, nothing like the titanic forces gods wielded, but there was something in it that made her feel humbled.

“So how did all this happen, Twily?” The elder Twilight asked. “We heard you went to Draconia, but nothing else.”

“You mean Luna? Or the...god thing?”

“Yes,” Night Light said dryly, and Twilight ducked her head.

“Well, um. Luna and I were sort of stranded together...”

“And she died.” Luna broke into the conversation. Special though they might be, what was really being asked was not unique at all, though rarely stated aloud. What have you done to our daughter?

What?” The exclamation came from half the table, and Luna shot Twilight an apologetic glance. It might have been more blunt than Twilight had planned, but Luna felt the onus was hers. Whatever judgement they passed would be of her, not of Twilight.

“The two things you ask are..connected. Our relationship is partly a god thing.” She paused as the food arrived, masterful culinary delicacies that would probably go unappreciated for the talk. Plates clinked down in a waitful silence, and Luna dismissed the servers with a murmured thanks.

“What happened. We were thrown together because Celestia had no choice. I needed her because I had no choice. But she did choose.” Luna drew a long breath. “Twilight tried to protect me, and yes, she was killed for it. That was a choice. And when I offered her a way back, she chose to take it.”

“It’s true,” Twilight said quietly. “It’s...impossible to describe. But she was there, and...I couldn’t leave her.” She looked around the table, but her gaze was set on something much further away. “I suppose we did it wrong, because it wasn’t love at the time, even if it was a commitment. But now...”

“No,” Cadence put in, speaking with serious authority. “There is no right way to fall into love.” She shared a tender look with Shining Armor, one full of memory and shared experience. “As long as it’s true, there is nothing wrong about it.”

Luna let out a slow breath. Her experience with romance was extensive, but with love it was nearly nonexistent. Her relationship with Twilight had begun in a manner that was not entirely fair or even usual, and Celestia’s truth had only driven her worries deeper. But Cadence’s sideways approval was at least a little encouraging.

“Wait,” Night Light said. “Where does Celestia fit into all of this?”

“She was grooming ponies for this - for godhood, to be my companion - for some time.” Luna’s muzzle twisted briefly. “I needed somepony. Mortals die, and gods do not really have families. We have no parents, and cannot have children.”

At the last statement both Night Light and Twilight Velvet looked immediately to Cadence, who blushed but murmured a reply. “I’m not a god. I turned it down.”

“What?” Shining Armor stared at Cadence, and she leaned over to nuzzle him.

“There were...some options. I am a princess, after all.” Cadence smiled fondly. “But I love you, Shining Armor. I would never do anything which would change that love.”

“I...” Shining Armor’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, and finally smiled. “I love you too, Mi Amore Cadenza.”

“Oh, my,” Rarity cooed. “Aren’t they just adorable?”

Luna smiled, hiding a brief pang of envy. The two of them had such a solid, unshakeable connection that it only made her more aware of the fragility in her relationship with Twilight. She wished there were no questions, no doubts, and no worries between them, and as she turned to look at Twilight she saw that same longing in her eyes.

“Anyway,” Twilight said after a moment. “It was a bit sudden, yes. But I should have written to you and explained...things. Though I’m not sure how much I understand it all myself!” She gave her parents a resigned smile. “There aren’t as many books on it as you might think.”

“Well, you can write the book on godhood, then.” Twilight Velvet leaned over to give her daughter a reassuring hug.

“I think I should,” the younger Twilight agreed, momentarily distracted. “I’d have to invent entirely new branches of investigation...”

After we get through this next week,” Luna said, recognizing the signs of brewing obsession. “I barely made it through today. I’m going to need your help to run Equestria at all, let alone well.”

“I think you did fine, sugarc- Luna.” Applejack put down her fork to look earnestly at the alicorn. “I may not be a fancy noble but everything you said today made sense to me.”

“Sadly, talking sense in public court is only a small part of running Equestria.” Luna grimaced. “I may not have been on the throne for a while but I remember that much. There’s paperwork. Endless paperwork.”

“You’re making being a princess sound way boring,” Rainbow Dash put in, having somehow already cleaned her plate. “Don’t you get to go cruise with the Wonderbolts or tour the secret Equestrian base underneath Canterlot or something?”

“What secret base?” Fluttershy looked alarmed, and Rainbow Dash grinned.

“There’s gotta be something buried down there.” She waved at the floor. “I mean, Princess Celestia has to do something with all those bits.”

“I don’t know of any sort of...base,” Luna said thoughtfully. “Canterlot was after my time. But that does sound like something ‘Tia would do.”

“There’s nothing under Canterlot but the old mines,” Twilight Sparkle said firmly. “I’ve got some experience there.”

“And believe me, if there were anything interesting down there we would have found out,” Cadence said dryly. “All that’s there are gems.”

“Gems?” Rarity and Spike spoke up at the same moment, their eyes holding similar avaricious glints.

“It’s an old mine,” Twilight said repressively. “And it’s not entirely safe. But,” she conceded, yielding to the inevitable. “If you want to go I suppose someone can arrange a tour.”

“I’ll get Skyshine to take care of that,” Luna said. “After dinner. Or whenever there’s the chance.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it darling,” Rarity laughed. “I think being here for you is rather more important.” Her eyes glittered. “And if that means mixing with the Canterlot elite, well, that’s a burden I’m willing to bear.”

“Aw.” Spike looked downcast for a moment, then summoned a look of determination. “Well I have to be herald anyway, right? I bet we’ll be all busy.”

“Court isn’t the whole day,” Luna murmured.

“Thank you, Spike,” Twilight said. “I’m sure you’ll have some time to enjoy yourself though.”


“So are we done?” Spike asked, shifting from foot to foot, obviously eager to be away.

“...yes.” Luna sighed, looking at the empty hall, and pieced together a smile for Spike. “Go enjoy yourself.”

The dragon grinned, oblivious to Luna’s distress. “All right. Catch up with you later, Twi, Luna.” He capered off and away into the halls of Canterlot Castle, and Twilight shifted over to put a hoof on Luna’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Princess,” Skyshine said before Twilight could open her mouth. “I thought I had everypony scheduled and waiting but - “

“It’s not your fault,” Luna said tiredly. “I have never been quite as...agreeable as Celestia. After yesterday I expect they all decided they’d rather not deal with me.”

Twilight winced. She had some idea of how much the scarce turnout wounded Luna, but she was at a loss for an immediate reply. Luna was probably right. She was only vaguely conversant with the Canterlot elite, and mostly through Rarity, but she knew that anything that disrupted their usual schedules and fetes was to be shunned. She squeezed her eyes shut, thinking hard, trying to get emotion to yield to logic.

“Luna,” she said, and the alicorn twitched as if stung.

“Yes, Twilight?” Luna’s voice was flat, dulled.

“Did I ever tell you about what happened at the Grand Galloping Gala?”

“No...” Luna turned to look at her and Twilight pulled her closer.

“My friends and I were so excited to go. None of us ever had before. We all had plans and hopes and things we wanted to do.” Twilight smiled at Luna’s confused expression. “It was a disaster. Everything was ruined. None of us had any fun.”

“This is sounding depressingly familiar.” Luna managed a dry smile, surveying the empty audience chamber.

“Yes, well.” Twilight chuckled. “We all ended up at Pony Joe’s. And...” She hesitated a moment before continuing. “Celestia met us there. And told us that she was hoping we would upset them. Give them a shock.”

Luna had gone stiff against her, and now her voice had a bitter, rasping edge. “This sounds familiar too.”

“The point is that they spurned us, all of us, but it wasn’t because we were bad ponies. You know all of us. The problem was with them. Their expectations and habits.”

“So this is just a larger version of the Gala? That was a test run for this?” Twilight could taste the bitterness in Luna’s voice.

“No,” Twilight said firmly. “There was something I didn’t ask at the time, or even later. Why didn’t Celestia do it herself?”

Luna started to snap a reply, then closed her mouth on it. Twilight continued, encouraged. “Celestia is your sister, you know her. And I grew up with her. She played...little games like that. But it seemed she could never do more than that.”

“This isn’t making me feel any better,” Luna muttered.

“Luna, we both know that so many of the ponies here are selfish and power-hungry. For whatever reason, Celestia couldn’t change that. But you can.”

“And become a tyrant?” Luna hunched into herself. “This isn’t my kingdom. It’s theirs. Hers. They’ve run it without me for a thousand years. Does it matter what you or I think about them?”

“I think it does,” Skyshine ventured, and they both jumped, having forgotten she was there. “Not everypony here is like them. They might be important but that doesn’t mean they’re right.”

“And you are the Princess. It is your duty to decide what is right and what is wrong, and what Equestria will be like.” Twilight gave Skyshine a thankful nod.

“My judgement of late has not been...exemplary,” Luna muttered, rustling her wings uncomfortably. “Why would anypony listen to me to begin with?”

Twilight took a deep breath, looking up at the moonlight silvering the glass of the audience hall. “Skyshine, I believe we will be retiring for the night.”

“Of course.” The pegasus bowed and withdrew, going to file what decisions had been made in the unproductive evening and start the uncounted scribes and functionaries working on them. Twilight and Luna followed after, mounting the steps to the royal suite in the high towers of Canterlot Castle.

The light of star and moon fell softly on the silver-gilt furnishings, splashing over polished wood and puddling on the floor in still pools of night. Luna sank down into deep cushions, shadows drawing themselves over her, and Twilight followed, putting her hooves around the alicorn’s neck and nuzzling in to plant a soft kiss against Luna’s muzzle. Luna, in turn, leaned back against Twilight, tilting her head to bask in the light of the moon. “I don’t know that I can do this,” she sighed. “I told you, a long time ago, that they never loved me. That does not seem to have changed.”

I love you,” Twilight said defensively, pressing more kisses down Luna’s neck. Seeing that wasn’t helping she stopped and pressed her lips together firmly, searching for words that would reach both Luna’s mind and heart. “Luna,” she said after a moment. “Let me tell you what I saw yesterday. And today.” Luna stirred, shifting enough to look at Twilight as she spoke.

“Every pony that left that hall was changed. No, not all of them were happy, but every one of them was given something. Something more, something different, a dream or a hope or a vision of the future. Because of you. I could see them all, and they were all...dulled. Faded. What they were was nearly snuffed out by the lives they were leading. And you kindled that fire again.”

“Then why didn’t they come back?” Luna looked up at her, turquoise eyes masked with pain both old and new. “If I’ve given them such a wondrous gift, why do they abandon me?”

“The court has been the same for...well, a thousand years. Nopony has ever experienced what you did before. I grew up here, and while I wasn’t exactly social I know that the entire wheel revolved around getting the smallest scrap of concession out of Celestia. Something so profound frightens them.” Her mouth twisted as she reluctantly added another, less profound reason. “And, you’re messing up all their little games, so they’re trying to take their toys and go home.”

“Ah.” Luna’s lips curved into a humorless smile. “That’s familiar enough, at least.”

“And those ponies that go to court aren’t Equestria. If you just let them do what they wanted, that would be tyranny.” Twilight hugged Luna against her. “Luna, you know better than anyone the dangers of succumbing to fear and selfishness. That is a strength, not a weakness.”

“Granting this is true, that the problem is them and not me,” Luna said after a thoughtful moment, color seeping back into her voice. “How do I solve it? I can hardly drag ponies into my presence and berate them into better behavior.”

You don’t solve it,” Twilight said firmly. “We do. You have friends, Luna. This isn’t something you need to do alone.”

“That seems like cheating, somehow,” Luna said thoughtfully. “But you’re right. This needs some finesse, and that has never been a virtue of mine.”

“I’m sure everyone will be glad to help.” Twilight felt as if a weight had been suddenly lifted, now that she had a concrete problem to engage her mind. Not that she intended to try her hoof at social manipulation; Rarity could lead that particular charm offensive. But behind every faction and player at the royal court was history, economy, and lineage. It would take an enormous amount of study to absorb and understand that wealth of knowledge, but Twilight was more than equal to the task.

“However,” Luna interrupted her thoughts with an iron voice, “I cannot change the way I rule. I...tried...” Her voice faltered momentarily, but she took a breath and continued. “As you say, giving ponies dreams is what I am. I can’t give anything less, or more.”

“Then...how did your joint rule with Celestia work?”

“We...discussed,” Luna replied meditatively. “I may not think like she does but I understand her perspective. Sometimes we went with her solution, sometimes with mine. Sometimes both at once, when they didn’t conflict. But we also had our own realms of expertise, of authority. You could think if it, perhaps, that I was responsible for the growth of Equestria and her ponies, and she was responsible for their safety, their security.”

Twilight nodded thoughtfully. It was true the past thousand years of Equestrian history had been exceedingly stable, but they had been only that. There were artists aplenty, of course, and some of them exceedingly talented. Rarity was proof enough of that. But there had been no real renaissance of ideas, no coherency of purpose. “Current issues aside,” she said, “I don’t see why anyone would have been upset with you, given all that.”

“Not all dreams come true,” Luna said softly. “And when dreams lift you very high up, you can fall so very far.”

“Oh.” Twilight shivered, once, from the echoing implications of Luna’s words.

“I am not safe, Twilight. The future is never certain, and passion has an edge. It cuts. Wonder is close to danger, and not every pony can handle that. Not even most.” She smiled up at Twilight, her expression holding a trace of sadness. “You’ve found out yourself how dangerous it can become, and how wondrous the result can be.”

Twilight blinked, startled. “But you didn’t have anything to do with that! I mean, you didn’t set it up or anything.”

“It’s not what I do, Twilight. It’s who I am.”

“Luna,” Twilight said firmly. “You can’t take the credit - or blame - for everything that happens around you. Nopony is responsible for everything, not even a goddess or a princess.” Twilight did her best to ignore the faint, creeping suspicion that Luna might be right. Equestria had been far more dangerous, and more wondrous, since Luna’s return.

“Mmm.” Luna made a noise that was either disagreement or lack of conviction.

“I understand that today was rough, but I won’t have you moping over some destiny thing that may or may not even exist.” Twilight frowned at her. “We have a plan, sort of, and a goal. I just need to make up a checklist.”

Luna snorted softly. “Your checklists,” she said fondly. “Very well. Summon your paper and quills. The Princess of Equestria is, as ever, at your command.”