• Published 8th Feb 2014
  • 1,466 Views, 63 Comments

Brothers and Sisters - Alphacat



To find a missing Princess Luna, Private Lucky Break, batpony soldier of the Night Guard, must breach the gulf of a thousand years of guilt to repair an all-too familiar bond between siblings.

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Chapter 2

Canterlot

Luna had spared no expense in appointing her court, but she had passed on light and color in favor of dark mystique. The floor was polished black marble, faint specks of white minerals swirling through its depths like nebulae. It gobbled up the light from the hall’s hanging silver braziers, leaving just enough illumination for the meran guests to see by. Up above, the vaulted ceiling was blanketed by a layer of shadow even Lucky’s vision couldn’t pierce. Tall, arched windows flanked either side of the hall, the glass filled with constellations and other patterns framed by intricate iron work.

Luna’s silver throne sat on a raised dais, with her standard hung directly behind for the entire hall to see. An almost-black midnight blue carpet led from the entrance up to a small platform placed for petitioners to stand upon when addressing the diarch.

On either side of the entrance was a small gallery, already occupied by a smattering of nobles, staff, academics, and journalists. Glimpse was already present, a notepad and pencil at the ready.

Beyond the entrance was a lobby and reception area. Castle staffers were hard at work assessing the concerns and issues brought forth, and keeping the queue orderly. Lily would be on hand out there to address any issues that developed.

Princess Luna entered from a private office in the back, her silver regalia gleaming in the torchlight. Her demeanor had changed: she now radiated command in the same way Celestia transmitted serenity. Lucky found himself straightening his posture just a little bit more as he marched behind the diarch to her throne. Luna ascended to take her place while Lucky and Comet quickly took their stations at the base of the steps. They would be a buffer between the princess and any who would approach the throne.

Princess Luna stood at the top of the small dais, gazing out at her court. A small but attentive crowd waited before her. She watched the gathered court silently before giving a minute nod at some imperceptible signal.

Her voice thundered throughout the room. “Citizens of Equestria! Your Princess of the Night welcomes ye to the Lunar Court!”

Luna’s horn lit up with a brilliant glow, and in unison all of the torches grew brighter, blooming into blue flames to match her magic. The flickering shadows grew longer and longer, criss-crossing on the floor, deepening and growing bolder despite the flaring light. A quiet murmur rose from the audience as they watched the spectacle.

The shadows crept up the walls, their edges cast in impossibly crisp detail. Forms and shapes danced in and out of them as they swallowed up the outside light, ponies and gryphons and even a dragon flitting between the lengthening darkness until they too were swallowed whole, the wall a pulsing and writhing mass of darkness. Several audience members cast a glance to the entrance, but the shadows had overtaken it as well, and the murmuring intensified into a series of frantic whispers.

Then the lights went out.

What in Tartarus…

A mare’s rising screech was implausibly cut off by the curtain of darkness falling over the room. Lucky leaned forward, ears turned towards the stands as he tried to capture any sound from the gallery. He reached out cautiously with his hoof, and it fell into cool, damp grass.

Lucky yanked his hoof back, staring at the ground beneath him. There, in the silvery-blue grass, was the fuzzy image of his hoofprint. In it he could see the beads of dew rolling slowly down the blades, but his coat was perfectly dry and warm. Almost like… the memory of the grass, or something. He set his hoof down again and the coolness returned.

Lucky glanced around himself. The grass continued as far as he could see, broken by gentle hills and the occasional tree. In the distance, the metal towers of Manehattan gleamed in the moonlight, looming like unreachable mountains against the horizon.

Overhead, the stars burned with a strange intensity, and Lucky frowned as he scoured their patterns. Nothing was in its right place, and the few patterns he tried to grasp at slipped away from him quickly.

“We have been gone these many long years,” said Luna suddenly, walking up from behind Lucky.

The pegasus started forward and whirled around to face Luna, wings up and ready to attack. The diarch gazed up at the sky without moving, and as she continued Lucky lowered his guard.

“Much has changed, and little is as We remember. Generations are born, live, and pass on to the hereafter, nations grow and mature, and even the stars themselves are not as we left them.”

The stars in Luna’s mane burned with the same intensity as the too-bright night sky, and Lucky wondered—not for the first time—just how real they were.

Luna was regarding him with an imperious stare now, and Lucky found himself straightening under the scrutiny. “You come here tonight to receive Our judgement. What will We find when We gaze upon ye? Noble hearts fueled by conviction? Iron wills forged with purpose? Strong backs that carry the weight of the nation? Pray that it be so.”

“But before ye would approach, know this: We are not easily fooled. Though We be new to this time, We are possessed of experience spanning countless years. Come before Us in good faith, and ye will be given the same.”

Luna reared back and slammed her hooves into the ground. The earth shook beneath Lucky’s hooves, and he pitched forward before he could take flight.

His hoof clacked against the cold marble of the Night Court.

Lucky quickly glanced around. The court surrounded him once more, and he could see clearly, although the torches had not been restored to life. Across from him, Comet was scanning the room with a similarly alert expression. In the gallery, the ponies were warily regarding their surroundings while the diarch reclained on her throne. Glimpse was frantically scribbling notes.

Several of the nobleponies suddenly rushed out, followed by their attendants, but many more stayed, sharing heated whispers that Lucky was sure weren’t positive. One of those nobles suddenly looked up and gasped, and others quickly followed suit.

Lucky looked upwards, eyes widening at the sight awaiting him. Contained within the vaulted ceiling of the hall was a perfect recreation of the night sky. Each individual star was crisp and bright, but this time Lucky was able to quickly trace all of the familiar patterns. That’s Orion, Canis Minor and Major… and the rest of the winter constellations there. Amazing. Even the clearest night sky never looked that bright.

Lucky dared a glance back over his shoulder at the princess. She wore the ghost of a self-satisfied smile. Lucky would have called it smug, if it hadn’t been on a princess.

Luna looked down at the guard and the smile vanished behind her regal mask once more. Lucky quickly faced forward and resumed his watch.

“Send in the first petitioner!” called the princess.

The herald by the door cleared his throat and lifted up his clipboard. His voice was no match for the princess’ in volume, but it still rang clearly through the hall. “Presenting His Highness Blueblood, Prince of Canterlot! Appearing about a matter of diplomatic relations!”

Next to the herald stood a unicorn stallion with a carefully-manicured white coat, a prime example of the white-coated unicorn noble. He wore his authority comfortably, standing tall and unbowed as he waited for Luna to recognize him. Lucky didn’t know much about him save for rumors and gossip, which ranged from being a paragon of the Canterlot elite to being a symbol of its self-importance.

Luna gave a stately nod. “You may approach.”

Blueblood trotted forward and bowed deeply to Luna. When Blueblood rose again, he was wearing a carefully arranged smile, meticulously constructed to inform its recipient that the wearer was nothing less than thrilled to be present.

“Your Majesty, it’s so good to see you. Why, I’ve scarcely had the pleasure of making your acquaintance since your return to us. I do hope you are acclimating well enough to the new millenium?”

Luna peered down her muzzle at Blueblood like she was studying an ant. “Our time is unlimited, Blueblood, not Our patience.”

The smile fell away from Blueblood’s face. “Very well, then. If you wish to dispense with the pleasantries, we shall do so. Why have you blocked my export negotiations with the confederacy ambassador?”

Luna leaned back into her throne, watching Blueblood disinterestedly. “Simply put, we find the enterprise without merit.”

“With all due respect,” said Blueblood in a tone that offered no respect at all, “I believe that is a short-sighted evaluation. A renewed trade agreement with the Canine Confederacy is beneficial for all parties involved, including Equestria. If you would review—”

Luna brushed Blueblood’s words aside with a hoof. “We did do so, and still we are not convinced. There have been confirmed reports of roving canine packs causing disruptions within our borders, have there not? The agreement as it standeth now would do little to address this issue.”

“It could, Your Highness, if you would simply permit—”

“Yet it does not.”

Blueblood chuffed softly, then took a slow breath. “Ambassador Baxter is not an unintelligent creature, Princess. He has assured me that the chieftains are all too aware of the harm caused by the black market goods produced by the rogue packs, and are eager to address the issue.”

“Then why is it—”

Because these are systemic issues, Princess. It will take a multi-faceted approach, as well as mutual cooperation and time. The canine chieftains value our relationship too much to endanger it.”

Luna flipped through a report. “And yet, Blueblood, they do trade freely with the gryphic empire.”

“It must be noted, Princess, that we are on friendly terms with the gryphons.” Blueblood paused a moment and then added, “Despite your remarks on the subject.”

Luna arched a single eyebrow as she watched the prince. “Thou had best mind thy tongue.”

“Of course, Your Majesty, but it would be foolish to jeopardize our relationship with the Canine Confederacy for the sake of a centuries-dead grudge.”

“Silence!” snapped Luna. “Mayhaps thou hast forgotten the many atrocities those warmongers did level upon our people, but We remember them all too well.”

“I am not ignorant of the history between our two countries, Princess, but if you cannot bring it upon yourself to open your eyes—”

“Our eyes were open when the long gaze of King Gnaeus fell upon our lands, seeing a nation broken and divided. Our eyes were open when the first ships arrived, bearing a full legion of soldiers, and naught else but a message of surrender.” Luna rose to her full height, towering over every other head in the hall. “Our eyes were open as their soldiers did spill the blood of many a good pony. Blood we did pay to secure our independence and freedoms. I will not see their sacrifices betrayed!”

“Princess,” said Blueblood in a suddenly soft and soothing tone, “I appreciate the sacrifices our ancestors made, but it seems to me they made those sacrifices so that Equestria could grow and thrive, which it has. We stand on our own four hooves now, and the country no longer needs an avenging alicorn to protect it.”

Luna fell silent, and after a moment Lucky dared a glance back. All he saw was Luna sinking into her throne, staring silently at the floor.

Finally, she gestured weakly to the door. “Thou art dismissed. Our decision is final.”

Blueblood bowed deeply. “I hope the rest of the night finds you well.” He backed away and then took his seat.

Lucky let out a tense sigh and faced forward again, surveying the rest of the room. A nervous silence filled the hall, undercut by tense whispering amongst the spectators. When the crowd finally settled again, Luna gestured to her aid, who then nodded to the herald. Court lurched to a start again, though the subsequent visitors were overly deferential, and Luna had lost her vigor.

* * * * * * *

Escort duty was usually fairly easy. Stand still, stay alert, and don’t speak.

It also tended to be dull. Lucky clenched his jaw shut as he inhaled deeply through his nose, doing his best not to cause too much noise. The stream of ponies coming and going had blurred after a while.

"Presenting The Honorable Fancy Pants, Lord of Canterlot!" called the herald.

Fancy Pants, a stallion with a moustache and a monocle, strode forward. A young fellow, still gangly from the growth of adolescence, followed behind him, levitating a large, flat package wrapped in brown paper. Fancy Pants bowed deeply, the colt awkwardly following suit a moment later.

"Your Highness, so wonderful to finally meet you." Fancy Pants smiled broadly as he rose. "I realize you have many demands on your time, so let me come to the point. It gives me great pleasure to present you with this gift." Fancy Pants stepped to the side, inviting the younger stallion up with a gentle motion of his hoof.

The younger pony stepped up, lifting the package upright. While Fancy Pants talked, he carefully unravelled the brown paper, revealing a portrait of Luna, standing triumphantly on the crest of a hill.

"A while ago, we were examining an old collection stored in my family's vaults. Our progress in researching the history of this piece was rather slow, but thanks to the new information made available with Your Majesty's return, we were able to discern some of its history."

It was a younger Luna who stared defiantly from the frame. She was still possessed of two wings and a horn, but her mane was a silvery blue that gleamed in the moonlight, without its ethereal haze or her stars. Her stature was closer to a mortal pony's, but still proud and regal, her chest thrust forward in defiance. Shining steel armor covered her body from head to hoof, with two thin guards on her outstretched wings, all of it sparkling from the painted moon rising behind her. In the center of her breastplate sat a single blue jewel, carved into the shape of a crescent moon. The gem glowed with an inner light that matched the glow of Luna's eyes.

The current princess' eyes widened as they fell upon the painting, and she leapt to her hooves. "How come this to pass?"

"There were some in my family who considered themselves archivists, Your Highness. It seems that after…" Fancy left the implication unspoken. "After, when a great deal of works were being destroyed or condemned, they took it upon themselves to preserve what they could. They secreted them away, hoping obscurity would protect them until such time as they could be appreciated once more."

Luna rushed down the steps. The young stallion flinched away from the charging alicorn, putting the painting between them like a shield. Luna pulled the painting close with her magic, her hoof trembling faintly as she ran it around the edge of the frame.

"We remember this. A painting commissioned to celebrate a glorious victory. 'Twas an age ago…" She sighed wistfully, her voice softening. "How could I forget thee…"

"I beg your pardon, Princess?" asked Fancy Pants.

"This is Our Tidebreaker. We forged her from silver and steel and fired her in the light of Our moon itself. Into this moonstone We poured both a fraction of Our power and a small piece of power granted by the oceans themselves. She was a faithful and unwavering ally, blessed with the magic of My moon and inexorable as the oceans that granted their strength."

"You speak as if this… Tidebreaker were alive."

"It be not unusual for such a powerful creation to posses’th a will all its own."

"I'm afraid I must defer to your expertise on the matter."

Luna shook her head and finally looked away from the painting. "Enough of remembrances. Lord Fancy Pants, pray tell. Surely this painting, with its advanced age and years of neglect should not be so vibrant."

Fancy Pants chuckled softly and nodded to the stallion cowering beside him. "For that, Your Highness, I must give the credit to young Split Splat. He did the restoration of this painting himself."

Luna looked down her muzzle at the stallion trying to shrink back behind Fancy Pants. "Truly? One so young was entrusted with a task of such import?"

"Your Highness, he may be young still, but he has earned my full confidence." Fancy Pants stepped aside and gave Split Splat an encouraging smile. "Go on, my boy. Tell her your talent."

Split Splat cleared his throat and tried to stand upright, but wilted again under Luna's intense stare. "I, um, that is, I get these sort of visions. I can see a piece of art and how it should look—h-how it did look once—and I sort of understand how they need to be restored from that. O-of all the pieces in Mr. Fancy Pant's family's vaults, this one stood out the most clearly. It was so vivid and bright. I…" He ducked his head and forced the next words out in a rush. "I hope it's to your liking."

Luna turned a critical eye to the finer details of the painting. "It is most pleasing to Our eye, and thy skill is of a master artisan. Split Splat, thou hast Our gratitude. Lord Fancy Pants, thou hast earned Our gratitude as well. We would discuss thy family's collection further."

Fancy Pants smiled and bowed again. "But of course, Your Majesty. I would be glad to accommodate you at any time." He lifted his head to look Luna in the eye. "Day or night, of course."

"As for you," said Luna, turning to address the younger stallion. "We await the fruits of your next labours."

"O-of course." Split Splat hastily bowed. "I'm so glad you're pleased, Princess."

"By your leave, Your Highness?"

"We grant thee leave."

The two stallions departed, and Luna returned to her throne, sitting heavily. The portrait waited beside her as she signaled for the next petitioner. A unicorn stallion with a dark blue coat named Night Light trotted up to the stand. He shuffled nervously through a stack of papers before clearing his throat and bowing. “Greetings, Your Majesty.”

Luna kept examining the painting, but inclined her head in Night Light’s direction. “Speak.”

“Ah, yes. I’m with the Canterlot Astronomical Society. We operate the Royal Canterlot Observatory, and we wish to upgrade the observatory with a number of more modern facilities and equipment. We’d also like to extend an invitation to show you some of the exciting work we’ve been doing in the field of astronomy.”

Night Light stood and waited expectantly, but Luna offered no response. “Your Majesty? Shall I just move onto outlining—”

Luna suddenly stood. "We will adjourn for an hour. You all are dismissed." She quickly vanished into her office, carrying the painting along and slamming the office door shut behind her.

The hall filled confused chatter as Night Light stood, watching the empty throne in bewilderment until a staff member gently led him away.

Lucky and Comet turned to follow the princess, but a sharp, distinct whistle cut through the furor of voices and drew their attention. They both turned to see Lily rushing towards them at a brisk but not-quite-galloping pace.

“I hate schedule changes,” she declared as she came close enough to speak at a quiet volume.

“What’s up, Sarge?” asked Lucky.

“You two, go get lunch. Starshine and Darkhorse will cover the princess. Be back in forty-five.”

“Got it.”

The two pegasi slipped out of a side door, progressing through a back corridor and emerging into one of the castle’s cafeterias.

The castle never slept, and neither did the its staff. The rows of tables and chairs emphasized functionality over fashion; this was for the staff alone. A counter spanned one wall, behind which the cooks could be heard calling out to each other. The staff matched the commotion with sedate but still spirited chatter.

Lucky snagged a tray and slid into line, checking out the evening’s menu. He peered into a pot and addressed the mare behind the counter. “Miss? What’s the soup tonight?”

An earth pony mare with a soft pink coat stood behind the counter. She was locked up, staring at Lucky with a wide-eyed expression. The faintest of whimpers escaped her throat.

“Miss?” Lucky frowned as he studied the mare, until recognition hit. “Oh, you’re the mare from last night. Did you get to your quarters safely?”

The mare nodded mutely.

Lucky gave her his most disarming smile, thankful for the lack of fangs to ruin the effect. “Great! So, what’s the soup tonight?”

“Oh!” The mare jolted into motion like a wound-up spring. “It’s a white bean and hominy chili, with chipotle.” She grabbed the serving ladle in her mouth and dipped it into the pot. “Would you like some?” Without waiting for an answer she began scooping the chili into a waiting bowl.

“Well, since you’ve decided to start dishing it out already, I guess I might as well,” said Lucky with a wry grin.

The mare frozen and looked down at the half-filled bowl. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to presume.” She started to furiously ladle the chili back into the pot.


“Miss— miss— please, stop.” Lucky held up a hoof, gesturing for the other pony to stop. “I really would like to try it. I was just poking a little fun.”

“Oh, I see. Of course.” The mare hastily started shoveling the chili back into the bowl.

“Miss, just hold on—” Lucky rapped lightly at the sneeze guard. The mare continued to frantically fill the bowl, chili splattering onto the counter. Lucky rolled his eyes and pushed himself into the air, reaching over and tapping the serving girl’s shoulder. “Hey, just calm down a sec.”

The mare let go of the ladle with a startled squeak and bolted upright. Her eyes quickly traveled up to the guard hovering over her and she took a step back.


Lucky landed on his side of the counter and looked the other pony in the eye. “Take a deep breath. C’mon. In…” He took in a long, deliberate breath, and patiently held it until the mare slowly mimicked him. He let the breath out just as slowly, watching the other pony the whole while. “… and out.”

He lead her through several breaths, and slowly the mare relaxed, her stance loosening up. Lucky offered her another smile. “Feeling better?”

The mare nodded numbly. “Ah am. Sorry ‘bout that.” She cleared her throat and spoke more delicately. “My apologies.”

“New in town?”

She nodded again, her cheeks turning red under her coat. “Is it that obvious?”

“Working in the castle can be kinda overwhelming at first. I’m Lucky Break, by the way. Call me Lucky.”

“Pinkblush.” Pinkblush offered the pegasus a tentative smile.

“Hey.” Comet punctuated the word with a flick of his wingtip to Lucky’s side. “We don’t have all night, you know.”

Lucky gave Comet a playful shove and then gave Pinkblush an apologetic smile. “Sorry, duty calls. Remember to breathe. It’ll help.”

“Thank you, I will. Have a lovely night.”

They stood there in silence. Lucky watched Pinkblush expectantly.

The mare shuffled her hooves nervously. “I’m sorry. Was there something else?”

Lucky nodded towards the dish. “Just the chili.”

“Oh! Of course. Here you go.” Pinkblush placed the bowl on the counter, and Lucky took it with a smile.

Lucky and Comet made their way to Glimpse, who was eagerly waving them over from his table. “Guys! Did you see what the princess did?”

Lucky rolled his eyes as he slid into a seat. “Yeah. It was pretty hard to miss.”

Glimpse cocked one eyebrow at Lucky. “Jaded doesn’t suit you, Lucky.”

“Well, a couple of ponies fled the room in what I’m pretty sure was terror, and I just inadvertently gave someone a panic attack because of our ‘beloved’ princess, so yeah. Not impressed.”

“Man, I’ve never seen a sunkisser so grumpy before,” chimed Comet.

Glimpse nodded. “I think your natural pessimism is starting to rub off on him.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny guys,” said Lucky. “Look, if you liked that whole… whatever it was, good for you.”

“Oh, the terror-inducing part was excessive and unnecessary.” Glimpse lifted his notepad towards Lukcy, showing off a page filled with notes and diagrams. “It’s her stellar display that I’m excited about.”

“It’s a pretty cool illusion,” said Comet.

Glimpse shook his head. “It’s not an illusion. It’s the actual night sky.”

Comet and Lucky shared a skeptical glance. “Glimpse, buddy,” said Lucky, “I don’t see how that’s possible, even for a princess.”

Glimpse grinned and flipped to the next page, pointing to a section of the small, tightly-packed scribbles that were as incomprehensible to Lucky as the rest. “I know what illusions are like, and that is no illusion. I’m not sure what it was, but in some way it’s the real night sky up there. Well…” Glimpse tapped his pencil contemplatively against his notepad. “I suppose it could be a dimensional window, or a reproduction made of stellar matter…”

Lucky shook his head. “Sounds like she’s trying way too hard to impress everybody.”

“Perhaps,” said Glimpse absently as he drew some figures in his notebook. Comet was already tucking into his meal, but Lucky just frowned as he stared into his bowl of chili.

The thought had come easily enough, but now it wouldn’t leave him. He couldn’t keep from turning it over in his head, as some instinct tickling at the back of his mind told him it was important yet incomplete.

She’s trying too hard to impress everyone. Yelling, showing off, being forceful. It’s almost like…

A sharp knock on his helmet drew him out of his contemplation.

“Hey, what gives?”

Comet pointed at Lucky’s tray. “Eat. I’m not pissing off Lily by getting back late.”

Lucky shook his head and the half-formed thought was gone. “Yeah, right. Don’t wanna piss off the princess, either.” He started in on his food, the half-formed thought buried beneath the concerns of the immediate future.


Manehattan

Lucky coasted through the warm summer skies of Manehattan, scanning the sprawling cityscape spread out before him. The new metal towers gleamed in the silvery moonlight, but it was the city’s muted colors in the darkness that he loved the most. The daylight didn’t do it justice: it made the city too bright and garish. Even better, Manehattan’s socialites had long retired from their gatherings and parties, so there was nopony around to give him a distasteful look or a thinly-veiled complaint. Manehattan at night belonged to the Nycta.

Lucky descended into the darkened streets. The Nycta had carved out their own portion of the city, with shops and restaurants that catered to the truly nocturnal crowd. He made a quick stop at an all-night bakery, then took back to the skies once more.

He sped towards the night district’s sole park, rolling hills of silvery blue grass quickly unfolding before him as he broke free of the city streets. He sped through the park, tossing out quick waves and greetings until he spotted his friends, staked out on top of a hill in the middle of the park.

The pegasus grinned and snagged a cloud, dragging it down to the ground and throwing himself on it like a giant pillow. “’Sup, guys?”

Lily rolled her eyes and gestured to the unicorn. “Glimpse is trying to memorize a poem. Please tell me you have something more interesting to talk about than homework on our summer vacation.”

Glimpse just shook his head, closing the book levitating in front of him. “You just don’t have any appreciation for the classics. Penitent Verse is one of the most influential poet-writers of Nycta culture. His works influenced an entire generation that was struggling to find an identity for itself.”

“Don’t worry, Lily,” said Lucky as he tossed a still-warm bag of sticky buns on the ground between the trio. “I’ve got something way more exciting than homework to talk about.” He speared a bun with a wingtip and took a large bite. “Guess who is officially the second-best flier in all of Manehattan?”

“Classics schmasics. I care about what’s happening now.” Lily fished two buns out of the bag, biting into one and continuing to talk with her mouth full. “Congrats, Lucky. You get your results back?”

Glimpse slowly shook his head and levitated a single bun to himself, taking small bites. “Second place is commendable, particularly given your competition.”

“Comet got second.”

Lily and Glimpse stopped to look at Lucky.

“Then how did you do?” asked Glimpse.

Lucky grinned and threw a letter down on the ground, which Glimpse quickly picked up. “Lucky, congratulations!”

“Lemme see!” Lily snatched the letter out of the unicorn’s magical grip and skimmed over it. “Blah blah blah… First place? Holy smokes. You beat out every other pegasus?”

“Well, just in Manehattan, but still.” Lucky settled in more comfortably on the cloud. “I’m pretty stoked.”

“With marks like that,” said Glimpse, “you’ll get into the Academy for sure. Even with your grades.”

“Hey, I’m working on them. That’s what I have you for, isn’t it?”

“It’s so nice to know how much you value our friendship.” Glimpse gave Lucky an exaggerated eyeroll.

“Hey, you know I love ya, buddy. Besides, I got you a little something.” Lucky reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a flat bundle, dropping it in front of the unicorn.

Glimpse slowly unfolded the bundle, revealing a detailed topographical map. “Lucky… These are the weather department’s maps! I’ve wanted to see these for ages! How did you get these?”

“How do you think?”

“I know your mom works for the DoW, but they don’t just hand these out.”

“Well, technically they still don’t. I’m just borrowing these so I can show you. But I think Mom underestimated just how quickly you could make replicas of all of these.”

“So these maps are gonna help us win the triathlon?” asked Lily.

“They won’t guarantee us the win, but I think they’ll give us an edge,” said Glimpse. “This is just incredible. I’ll get started on these this morning.”

“But isn’t using super special maps cheating?”

“Well, technically anypony can get access to these maps, it just takes a while,” said Lucky. “I’m just… shortcutting some of the hoops, that’s all.”

“Nepotism at its finest,” added Glimpse.

“You’re too excited to be accusing me of nepotism.”

Glimpse just hummed happily as he flipped through the maps.

A voice passed over them. “Hey, losers!”

“Don’t let him see those! And don’t rip them.” Lucky leapt up into the air, hovering over the map and looking up towards the voice. Below, Lily and Glimpse quickly put the maps away.

A nyctan pegasus streaked towards him, his red mane and tail streaming in the wind. Lucky crossed his forelegs over his chest and waited, slowly flapping his wings to stay in place. The two pegasi stared each other in the eye as the newcomer charged closer, both hooves outstretched.

Lucky resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

The newcomer surged forward, opening his wings wide to brake. The distance between them closed rapidly, but Lucky held his position, and his heartbeat stayed calm.

The other pegasus snapped to a stop inches from Lucky’s face. The wind chasing him swept past them both, blowing back their manes and coats . They waited, Lucky staring at the smirking face of his rival.

“Hello, Comet.”

“Hmph. Not bad, not bad.” Comet pushed himself back a stride’s length.

“Yeah, yeah. What do you want? We’re in the middle of something here.”

“Like what? Doing summer book reports for school? Having a tea party?”

Beneath him, Lily nickered softly, and Lucky shrugged. “Actually, we’re having a poetry reading. Wanna join us?”

“Pfft. Pass. But I do see something I wanna get an eyeful of.” Comet descended and landed next to Lily, puffing his chest out. “Hey, Lily.”

Lily fetched another sweet roll and bit into it, pointedly not looking at the new arrival. “Hey.”

“So, I got an extra ticket for the Maretallica concert next week. Wanna go?”

Lucky threw himself back on his cloud. He watched a small smile creep onto Lily’s face before she pushed it down.

“Maybe,” said Lily. “Go five minutes with me on the mat and I’ll think about it.”

Comet scoffed. “Come on. I only lasted two minutes with you the last time.”

“Maybe you'll do better.”

“Yeah, right. I like all my limbs to bend in the right direction.”

Lily shrugged and bit down on another roll. “Suit yourself.”

“Did you come just to score a date, or was there something else?” asked Lucky.

“Oh! Right!” Comet fetched a letter out of his saddlebags. He grinned and his voice took on a self-satisfied tone. “Got my results back from the Academy testing. Just thought you’d like to know I came in—”

Both pegasi finished at once. “—second place.”

Comet stared agape at Lucky. “What?! How could you possibly know that?”

Lucky smirked. “Because I got first.”

“No way.”

“I’ve got the letter if you want to see it. Show him, Glimpse.”

Glimpse held up the letter with his magic, and Comet snatched it up in his hooves. Lucky waited for Comet to finish skimming through it.

“Dammit, Lucky. How’s that possible? I got better scores on the time trials.”

“I made up those points on the technical sections. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I am King of the Skies, after all.”

Comet scowled and threw the letter to the ground. “I’ve taken the title back before.”

“Couldn’t hang onto it though.”

“Fine then. You and me, one last challenge before we leave next year.”

Lucky waved a hoof dismissively. “Nah, not interested. Too busy with the triathlon this year.”

“The triathlon, then! Your team versus mine. I want everypony to see when I humiliate you.”

Lucky sat up, ears perked. “Interesting… Lily? Glimpse? What do you guys think?”

Lily slammed a hoof excitedly on the ground. “Yeah! Let’s do it!”

Glimpse merely shrugged. “The triathlon is supposed to be a test of skill and ingenuity, but I’ll support you either way.”

“You’re on!” Lucky jumped down from his cloud and put out a hoof to shake.

Comet grabbed the hoof and held it. “And just to make it interesting, let’s put something down on the outcome.”

“Alright. My Wonderbolts poster.” Comet started to object, but Lucky cut him off. “Signed by all of the active Wonderbolts, all of the still-living retired ones, and by Quickfeather.”

“Quickfeather isn’t a Wonderbolt!”

Lucky smirked. “He’s honorary. He did a show with them. My dad got his autograph the last time he went to Canterlot.”

“Fine. I’ll put up my new, state-of-the-art racing goggles.”

Lucky shook hooves with Comet. “Deal. I can’t wait to try them on.”

“And I can’t wait to hang your poster on my wall.” Comet shook and let go. “Later, losers!”

The trio watched Comet take off into the sky.

Glimpse sighed wearily and slowly erased a line from his notebook. “Lily, do you really need to string him along like that?”

Lily’s tail swished back and forth contentedly. “Relax, Glimpse. I know what I’m doing.”

“C’mon, guys.” Lucky bucked his cloud, dispersing it. “We’ve got plans to make.”

* * * * * * *

It was almost moonset, and the faint orange glow of morning was peeking out from behind the horizon. Lucky was looking forward to a good day’s sleep.

He swooped down to street level, coasting along at a brisk pace as rows of houses passing on either side of him. They were all two or three stories, packed together like Diamond Dogs standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Lucky landed on the porch of a two-story building and quietly opened the front door. His father and Slippy would still be asleep for a while yet. Evengale sat on the living room couch, quietly reviewing some papers.

The younger pegasus smiled and trotted over to give the mare a hug. “Hey, Mom. I can’t wait for the triathlon this year. I think my friends and I’ve got a real shot at winning it.”

Gale smiled tiredly and hugged her son tight, giving his spiky mane a soft stroke. “I’m glad, dear. Go put your bags away and come back down. We need to have a talk.”

Lucky frowned and pulled away from the hug. “What you really mean is ‘I have to tell you something you’re not going to like.’”

“Just put your stuff away, dear. And don’t wake your brother.”

The colt dashed up the stairs to his room. He found an empty spot on the floor amidst the comic books and other clutter and dumped his saddlebags. A small white puppy scampered up to him, jumping up on him and licking at his cheek.

Blizz was young, yet already had the pointed muzzle of his wolf ancestry. His lineage stretched back to the Frozen North, where his ancestors were prized for their cunning and intelligence, not to mention their nocturnal adaptability.

"Hey, Blizz. I gotta go talk to Mom. I'll fill your food dish when I get back. Lucky gave the dog an affection nuzzle and a hug, then pushed him away with a playful shove before heading back downstairs.

Jetstream was seated on the couch when he returned downstairs. Despite the early hour, he didn't seem freshly awoken—his feathers were too neat for just waking up, but exhaustion still tugged at his eyelids. “Have a seat, son,” he said, giving the couch a pat.

Lucky threw himself into a chair instead. “Okay. What’s the bad news?”

Gale and Jetstream shared a parental look, and the stallion nodded to his wife.

“Lucky,” started the mare. “Your father’s unit is being deployed.”

“Okay. Stay safe, Dad. Is that it?”

The mare shook her head. “We’re still trying to work out the details, but we may need you to step up and help take care of your brother. He’s starting school this year, and I might not be able to switch to the day shift.”

Lucky leaned his cheek against a hoof. “What do you expect me to do? I sleep during the day too, you know.”

Both adults shared another parental look, two sets of wings twitching.

“Well,” started Evengale. “We were thinking of enrolling you in Slip’s school, so you could look after him.”

Lucky stared at both adults. “Wait, what? What about my friends? And my classes? We’re entering the triathlon this year!” He sat up, wings unfurling unconsciously as his voice grew more strident. “I can’t miss out on that!”

“Son, we’re not saying you have to miss out on any of that,” said Jetstream. “And we’re still looking for other solutions. This would just be a temporary situation. I know it’ll be tough, but we all—”

“We all have to pitch in and do our part,” finished Lucky. He crossed his forelegs over his chest. “Easy for you to say. You’re not being saddled with a dweeb of a younger brother and being shipped to a school full of stupid roundeyes.”

A small voice asked, “What’s a roundeyes?”

At the bottom of the stairs stood Slipstream, his tousled mane still flattened on one side. He trotted slowly into the living room, rubbing an eye as he looked at the rest of his family.

Gale swiftly stood and picked up the foal, cradling him to her chest. “Sweetie, what are you doing up so early?”

Slip yawned wide. “I heard you talking, and I got curious what was going on. What’s that roundeyes thing Lucky said?”

“Well, why don’t I let your brother explain that?” Her voice took on a deadly sweetness. “Lucky Break?”

The older colt stared at the ceiling, “Well, you see…”

“Look at your brother when you address him.”

Lucky sighed and lowered his gaze to meet the inquisitive gaze of his younger brother. “A roundeye is a word we have for dayponies, like you. Because your eyes are different from ours.”

“And?” prompted Gale.

The older colt groaned. “It’s not a nice word, and I shouldn’t have used it. I’m really sorry.”

“Oh,” said Slipstream. He looked up to his mother. “So it’s kind of like snakeeye?”

“Where did you hear that?” asked Gale.

“I heard it from some of the other kids. Is it a bad word too?”

Gale softly stroked Slip’s mane. “Yes, dear, it is. Please don’t use it.”

“Okay,” said Slip with a nod.

“Alright, kiddo. Let’s go get your day started.” Jetstream lifted Slip onto his back and headed back upstairs.

“You need to watch what you say. You know your brother can pick up on a lot.” The mare sat by Lucky’s chair and wrapped a wing around his shoulders.

“Sorry, Mom,” mumbled Lucky.

“I expect you to take good care of him when school starts.”

“But he’s not even that great of a flier. He just reads his books all day. What kind of pegasus doesn’t even like flying? And how’s he going to keep up with me?”

“We all grow at our own rates, dear. Maybe you could offer to teach him a thing or two?”

Lucky rolled his eyes and sank deeper into his chair. “I’ll think about it.”

The mare squeezed her son gently. “And maybe you could learn to open up a book a little more often. Your grades will thank you for it.”

“Moooom,” groaned the colt.

Gale smiled softly. “Just something to think about, dear.”

“It’s still summer break. I don’t have to think yet.”

They sat in silence for a moment. The sun’s rays were beginning to sneak into the living room.

“I know this will be hard for you, honey. It’ll be hard on all of us. But it’s important for us to look after our family and clanmates. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, yeah…”

Gale kissed her son’s forehead. “We’ll talk more tonight, okay? Just promise me you’ll keep an open mind.”

“Fine. I’ll try.”

“Thank you. Wash up and get to bed.”

Lucky got up and kissed his mother on the cheek. He mumbled a good night and ascended the stairs to his bedroom, ignoring his father and brother’s conversation.

The colt threw himself onto his bed, burrowing his head under his pillow. Blizz barked and scrambled up onto the bed, curling up against his owner’s side. Lucky sighed and reached out to give his pet’s ears a soft rub.

“At least you’re still on my side, buddy.”

* * * * * * *

“This blows!” said Lily.

Glimpse nodded. “It’s pretty unfortunate.”

The three friends were gathered in the park again, early in the evening. The sky was overcast, but the moon still provided enough soft illumination to see by.

Lucky sprawled on a cloud, while Blizz sniffed around at the grass underneath him. “Yeah, guys. I know. You guys will need to find another flier.”

“Forget about the triathlon.” Lily waved the issue aside with a hoof. “They’re really sending you to a roundeye school?”

“Yeah, except I can’t say roundeye or Mom’ll get on my case again. Slip already heard me say it and I think she was pretty mad about it.”

“I can’t believe they’re doing that. If they make any trouble for you there, let us know and we’ll buck their hides off for you.”

Lucky gave a mirthless laugh. “Thanks, Lily. I’ll remember that.”

“I know it’s tough, Lucky,” said Glimpse. “But duty is never easy.”

The pegasus rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Mom gave me the duty and clan speech already too.”

“Did it help?”

“Not really.”

“Oh.” Glimpse reached out to tentatively pat Lucky on the shoulder. “It’s only a temporary setback.”

“Well, this bites,” said Lily, kicking at a rock. The rock careened through the air and embedded itself in the trunk of a nearby tree. “And now I have to fix that. Great.” She trotted away to fetch the rock.

“I can’t wait a whole year for the next triathlon.” Lucky rolled onto his back, staring up at the sky. “I’m not even going to be here next year.”

Glimpse adjusted his spectacles and made a notation in his notebook. “Your family comes first. We can enter next year.”

The pegasus covered his face with his hooves. “Agh. That bet. If I don’t race this year, Comet will claim victory by default, and I’ll have to give up my poster. Or he’ll tell everyone I went back on our deal.”

“We could try explaining things to him…”

“Yeah. And tell him I’m going to a daypony school. I really don’t want that getting around any faster than it has to.”

“The other ponies will find out eventually when you don’t show up for classes.”

Lucky sat up, kneading the cloud between his forehooves. “I can’t believe this is happening. My best year ever is over before it even got started.”

“Not necessarily. What shift does your mother work?”

“Uh… I’m not sure. Regular third shift, I think. Why?”

Glimpse turned his notebook around, and offered it to Lucky. On it were listed the hours of the day, with the names Lucky, Slip, and Evengale displayed across the top.

“Glimpse, what am I looking at?”

“I propose a staggered schedule. Slip keeps to his normal schedule, so as to not disrupt his natural development. You'll sleep when you get back from school, and watch the house in the morning while your mother's at work. She'll sleep during the day and watch him in the afternoon and evening."

“So, what? I get to be up in the morning with nopony else in the house to talk to?”

“Incorrect.” Glimpse sketched out a fourth column. “You’ll have Lily and myself. We can come over after our school day to study with you and, time permitting, train.”

“Wait, so… We still get to hang out and do stuff?”

“We’ll have to be quiet. Your brother will be sleeping, after all.”

“Quiet’s nothing. Anything’s worth it as long as I have my best friends around. You’re a genius!” Lucky leapt off his cloud and threw his forelegs around Glimpse, squeezing him tight.

Glimpse stammered quietly, turning his head away. “Oh, I was just looking at the problem from a different direction, that’s all. Besides, I'd miss having you around too.”

Lily trotted up. “Hey, guys. What’d I miss?”

Lucky grinned. “Get your stuff, Lily. I’m staying in the race, and we’re gonna crush Comet’s team. Glimpse just figured out how we can keep training.”

Lily gave Glimpse a playful slap on the back. “Rock on!”