• Published 8th Feb 2014
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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 7

Manehattan

There had been an award ceremony. The gathered ponies had cheered for Lucky and his team, though not like they did for for Comet’s. He was sure he had talked to a reporter or two—the triathlon was always a subject of interest among the nyctan community—but he couldn’t remember what they had asked him.

Lily was polite and gracious enough while everypony else was watching, but had stormed off the moment the ceremonies were complete.

They had carefully avoided discussing Lucky’s failure in the race.

Lucky stared at the blank spot on his bedroom wall. He had replaced the poster with his new silver medal, but it made a poor substitute. The space was too empty now; it was an emptiness he also felt within himself. He closed his eyes and rolled over, turning his back to the medal.

Sleep had eluded him for several hours. It was winter break, and he had been given a temporary reprieve of some of his brother-sitting duties, but despite having been up all day sleep remained out of reach.

There was a gentle knock at the bedroom door, followed by a soft squeak as it slowly opened. “Lucky?” came the voice of his mother.

“Yeah?”

“Do you mind keeping an eye on Slip for a little bit? I need to fly to the store really quick.”

Lucky shrugged underneath his blanket. “Sure. I can’t get to sleep anyway.”

“Thanks, dear. I appreciate it. I’ll make you some hot cocoa when I get back.”

There was silence as Lucky contemplated the offer. He rolled over to look at his mother. “With peppermint?”

Evengale smiled. “With peppermint. And marshmallows. If you need any help, go to Miss Nova next door.”

The colt stuck a hoof out of his blanket to wave his mother away. “I know.”

“Oh, and they moved next week’s storm up to tonight. I put the new weather schedule up. Don’t forget to look at it.”

Lucky rolled his eyes at the wall he was facing. “Yeah, yeah. Got it.”

“Don’t roll your eyes, dear. They’ll fall out of your head. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The mare vanished from the door, but left it open. A sliver of light fell into the room.

Lucky burrowed into his bed. If he was lucky, Slip was playing by himself and wouldn’t bother him for a while. Maybe he could get a little bit of sleep…

“Hey, Lucky?”

The older colt groaned and resisted the urge to bury his face in the pillow. “Yeah?”

“Can I get a snack?”

“Sure, fine. Just go get it.”

“Um… I wanted an apple.”

Lucky rolled his eyes at the wall again. “So get an apple.”

“But Mom always cuts my apples into slices so I can dip it in peanut butter, and I’m not allowed to use a knife.”

“Just eat it normal. I’m tired and I’m not getting up just to slice an apple.”

“Oh, okay.”

Lucky listened to the quiet sound of hooves padding away and closed his eyes.

He had just managed to clear his head again when the small voice spoke up again.

“Lucky?”

“What?”

“I finished my apple.”

Lucky smacked a hoof into his face. “Yippee. Don’t tell me you want me to get you a drink now.”

The bed shifted as a weight climbed up onto it.

“No. I just wanted to ask you something.”

Lucky pulled the blanket tighter over his head. “One question. What?”

“Can I come hang out with you and your friends at the park? I wanna see what it looks like at night.”

“Ask Mom. I don’t go until after your bedtime, so probably not.”

“Oh, okay. Hey, Lucky?”

“Whatever it is, you can ask Mom when she gets back. Go read a book or something.”

The weight lifted off of his bed. It was replaced by the sound of books and papers being shuffled around. He rolled over to see Slip rooting through the mess on his floor. “Slip! What the hay are you doing?”

Slip paused, looking up to Lucky. “I was looking for a book about the Nycta. Our history book didn’t talk about them a lot, and I was wonder—”

“Stop wrecking my room!” Lucky threw his pillow at the younger colt. “You’ve wrecked my life enough!”

Slip ducked under the pillow, which harmlessly bounced off a bookshelf. He stared at his brother, blinking widely in disbelief. “What? I didn’t really wreck your life, did I?”

Lucky sat up, shaking off his sheets with a spread of his wings. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have to go to a stupid daypony school. If it wasn’t for you, I’d get to hang out with my friends.”

Slip took a step back, shrinking into himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Lucky’s eyes glittered in the thin beam of light from the bedroom door as he glowered at his brother. “If you weren’t such a wimp, I wouldn’t have had to protect you, and I wouldn’t have hurt my wing. Because of you, I lost the biggest and most important race of my life. So do me a favor, stop messing up my room, and get lost!”

The younger colt kept withdrawing. “B-but—”

Go!” shouted Lucky, pointing at the door.

Slipstream sniffed, then turned and ran into the hallway. “I’m sorry!”

The older colt fell sideways onto the bed. He stared into the empty room. “Oh, buck me.”

Blizz lifted his head from where he lay curled on the floor. “Woof?”

Lucky groaned and buried his face into the bed. “I know, Blizz. I’ll apologize later. Just go back to sleep.”

“Woof!”

“I will, I will.”

* * * * * * *

Lucky stared at his bedroom floor. He had massaged the mess into three separate piles. Toys, books, and comics. The fourth, homework, was shoved under the bed, safely out of mind.

He snagged a paddle ball from the toy pile with his wing. The rhythmic thumping of rubber and wood filled the room as Lucky lay down in front of the book and comic piles. He pulled out a comic and began to read.

A frantic voice called from downstairs. “Slipstream?! Lucky Break?!”

“Up here, Mom!” Lucky turned a page.

The pounding of hooves and a flurry of wing flaps carried Evengale to burst through the bedroom door, still soaked from the rain.

She tackled Lucky, hugging him tight. “Thank the Mother you’re okay! Where’s your brother?”

“Yuck!” Lucky pushed his comic book away from the dripping mare. “I dunno, probably in his room. What’s going on?”

Evengale vanished without a word into the hallway. Lucky could hear her calling Slip’s name, and got up to go to his bedroom door. “Mom. What’s going on?”

Gale stuck her head out of Slip’s bedroom. “I can’t find Slip. The front door was open when I got home and if someone…” Her voice trembled. “Help me check the house.”

Lucky’s ears fell back, and he shrunk down to the floor. “Um, Mom. I think I know what happened to him.”

The searching in the next room stopped, and Gale stuck her head out again. Her voice was quiet but firm. “Lucky. What happened?”

“Well, I sort of got mad at him, because he kept asking me for stupid stuff, and then he was making a mess in my room and—”

Evengale suddenly towered over the colt as she stepped into the hallway, and he shrank back.

Lucky hiccupped and struggled to take a deep enough breath to continue. “I yelled at him. I’m sorry, Mom, I didn’t mean it, but I was just mad and, and he ran away, but I didn’t think—”

The mare wrapped her son up in wing and hoof. “We’ll sort this out later. Stay here. I’m going to check with the neighbors.”

A bright light flashed outside the window as they raced into the living room. “But Mom, it’s a thunderstorm! I should—”

“I need you to stay here and watch out for Slip if he comes home.”

Evengale left. Lucky rested his chin on the window sill and watched the sky churn. “I really messed things up…”

“Woof.”

Lucky turned his head to see Blizz scratching at the door. “Not now, Blizz. We have to stay here, and it’s raining outside anyway.”

“Woof!” Blizz leapt up and pawed at the door some more, punctuating it with another bark.

The colt smacked his face. “It’s storming outside.” Lucky got up and opened the door, pointing. “See? I’m not taking you out.”

Blizz ran between his owner’s legs and onto the porch, stopping on the top step. “Woof!”

“Get back here!” Lucky dove for the dog, who scrambled out of reach.

Blizz stopped at the bottom step and looked back to the colt again. “Woof!”

“You crazy dog! What the hay are you doing?”

The dog’s only response was to wag his tail.

“Fine! Have it your way! But I’m blaming you if Mom gets mad.” Lucky retrieved a poncho, pulling it on and putting the hood up as he ran out the door. “Okay. Where are we going?”

Blizz took off at a run, and Lucky followed, taking to the air. Angry gray clouds covered the sky, blotting out the almost-setting sun and casting the city in gloom. There were scant few Nycta out at this hour, but they were all darting between cover.

As they hurried along, several landmarks stuck out, and Lucky looked ahead down the street. “Wait, this is the way to the park.”

“Woof!” came the dog’s reply.

“Is that where we’re headed?”

“Woof!”

Lucky smacked his head. “Right! Blizz, you’re getting a big treat when this is over. Go find Mom and get her. I got this.”

“Woof.” Blizz skidded to a halt on the wet pavement and reversed course.

The colt set his wings into motion, the buildings and streets streaking and blurring beneath him. The winds pushed his hood back, and he left it down; he was traveling too fast to keep the rain out of his face anyway.

Lucky squinted through the rain. I should have gotten my goggles.

The park emerged from behind the cityscape, the normally vibrant trees and grass dulled by the storm’s cloud cover.

Against the dark grass a pale blue form struggled to gain altitude. Its flight was erratic, buffeted and knocked around by the winds.

“Slip!” Lucky tried to shout over the winds, but his voice was carried away. He pressed harder, closing the gap.

A blinding spear of light struck from the sky, and he covered his eyes. When it passed, he stared through the spots, looking for his brother.

Slipstream was plummeting.

Lucky dove.

The wind tore and pulled at Lucky, but he beat his wings harder, keeping his eyes locked on his falling brother. The back of his neck crawled and he rolled to the side. A bolt of lightning burned a line across his stomach. Rain struck the raw skin and he hissed through gritted teeth.

Another bolt struck. Lucky swerved around it, the electricity spearing a hole through his poncho. Heat flashed against his side, the fleeting stench of burnt fabric hitting his nose. Rain and wind put out the fire as Lucky righted his course.

He was almost there. Slip was only a few body lengths away.

All the hairs on his muzzle stood up at once, and the sharp metallic tang of copper flooded his mouth. Lucky surged forward. A volley of lightning bolts struck the air behind him. One lit his tail aflame. A quick flick put it out.

Lucky snatched his brother out of the air and clutched him tight to his chest. “Slip! Slippy! C’mon!” He dove to the ground, taking shelter underneath an awning.

He cradled Slip’s head with a hoof. Slipstream lay still, and Lucky tried to gently rouse him. “C’mon, c’mon. You gotta be okay.”

Slip remained motionless. A patchwork spiderweb of burnt fur radiated from his eye. A single line ran down his neck and onto his chest.

Lucky gently shook the smaller colt again. “Please wake up. This isn’t right.” He clutched Slip closer and whispered, “It shouldn’t be you.”

Thunder echoed in the distance. Lucky’s ears twitched softly. It was faint and almost inaudible: a sharp, ragged gasp.

“Thank the Mother. Slip, you gotta hang on. I’ll get you some help.”

Lucky spread his wings and took off into the stormy sky.

* * * * * * *

Lucky watched the doctors and nurses crowd around his brother. He had burst into the emergency room, soaked from head to hoof and clutching the foal to his chest.

The words ‘hit by lightning’ had barely left his mouth before Slip was pried from his grasp and put on a gurney. He had followed the procession along the labyrinthine hallways before being pulled aside by a nurse adamant about having his own injury looked at.

With his stomach bandaged, and a now-damp towel around his shoulders, Lucky sat and watched the doctors working through a window. He wanted to move, he wanted to fly, wanted to curse at the sky.

All he could do was wait. Wait and curse himself.

Evengale wrapped a wing around Lucky and pulled him tightly to her side. She had caught up to Lucky not long after his rescue of Slip, but had trailed the colt in getting to the hospital.

Lucky shook himself free of his mother’s embrace and pressed up closer to the glass. “You told me to protect him. You asked me to watch him.” His voice cracked. “I’m so sorry-”

“Ssh,” said Evengale soothingly as she softly ran a hoof through the colt’s mane. “No more of that. You caught him. He’s still alive because of you.”

Lucky shook his head. “If it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t have been outside in the storm.”

“Honey, Slip knew just as much as you do that he shouldn’t have left the house, even if he was upset. You’re both safe now, and that’s what I want to focus on.”

They sat in silence, watching the hospital staff work.

Eventually the doctors and nurses slowly filed out of the room. One nurse approached them. “Ma’am, your son is stable. He’s not awake yet, but you can come in if you wish.”

“Thank you, Nurse.” Gale stood. “Come on, Lucky.”

Lucky remained seated. “I’m not going in.”

“Don’t you want to see your brother?”

The colt shook his head. “He got hurt twice because of me. It’s better if I stay away from him.”

Gale drew her son into a tight embrace. “This is not your fault. You have to believe that.”

Lucky hugged his mother briefly and then pulled away. “Go be with Slip. I’m gonna go home.”

“Are you going to be all right? I can stay out here with you if you’d like.”

Lucky shook his head and headed for the door. “Go be with Slip. I’ll be fine.”

* * * * * * *

Lucky lay in a heap of soggy fur, staring at the empty living room fireplace, a slowly growing puddle of water staining the carpet beneath him. He sneezed violently and then lay still.

Blizz stood beside his owner. He nuzzled worriedly at Lucky’s mane and ears, letting out a keen whine.

Knock knock knock.

“Lucky!” called Glimpse’s voice from the other side of the living room door. “Are you there?”

“Woof!”

“Blizz? Is Lucky there?” asked Glimpse.

“Woof!” Blizz ran to the door and scratched at it frantically.

Pound pound pound.

“Lucky!” shouted Lily. “Get your butt over here and open the damn door!”

A key rattled in the door’s lock, and Blizz leapt out of the way as the howling wind threw the door open . The sound of crashing waves of water followed behind Glimpse and Lily as they stepped through, shaking the water off their slickers.

Lily shut the door, yanking off her coat and dumping it on the floor. Glimpse levitated his coat onto a hook and then flicked the light on with his magic. Both ponies caught sight of the pegasus lying in a heap.

“Lucky! What in the world happened to you?” Glimpse rushed to his friend’s side, holding a hoof to his forehead. “Why are you soaking wet?”

Lily hung back, watching Lucky with a guarded expression.

“Couldn’t find my poncho,” muttered Lucky. He sneezed again, and a violent tremble ran through his body. “Flew home without it. Had a hole anyway.”

“Moon and stars, Lucky. You’re a mess.” Glimpse sighed, brushing the pegasus’ mane out of his eyes. He stood up and stepped over to the fireplace. Several logs floated into the fireplace, igniting from a spark of his horn. “Lily, get the towels from the hall closet.”

Lily snorted and kicked at the carpet. “You’re being bossy tonight.”

Glimpse stared intently at the nascent flames. “Just do it. We have to get him warm and dry before he gets sick.” He shifted the logs around with a poker.

“Fine, fine…” Lily stalked off into the hallway and returned, a stack of towels balanced carefully on her head. She dumped them in a pile by Lucky’s side and retreated to the fireplace, grabbing the poker from mid-air. “I got this.”

“Thanks.” Glimpse wrapped his magic around several of the towels and applied them to Lucky’s coat, bundling his friend up. “Up with you, now.”

Lucky closed his eyes and remained still, save for a few faint shakes and tremors. “Don’t bother. Just lemme alone. I’m a horrible pony.”

Glimpse’s horn shone brighter, and he strained to wrench the pegasus upright. “You are Lucky Break, stalwart friend, ace flier, and—”

The pegasus shook the towels off, whirling around to his friend. “And I’m a horrible pony who almost got his little brother killed! Do you understand that?! The one thing I had to do, and I screwed it up. Heck, the first thing we learn is that we’re supposed to protect our own!”

Lucky stomped a hoof on the carpet. He wobbled, leaning heavily before righting himself. “And now I’ve screwed that up. Twice. What happens if I try a third time, huh? What if I really kill him next time?!”

The unicorn quietly listened to his friend as he laid a towel over the damp spot in the carpet.

“And… and…” Lucky became heavy and light all at once. The world shifted sharply, and he found himself looking at the ceiling.

Glimpse loomed over him, glasses glinting in the firelight. It took him a moment he realized his friend was holding him.

“Glimpse?”

“Yes?”

“When did you get here?”

“A few minutes ago. Your mother sent a messenger from the hospital.” Glimpse slowly lifted the pegasus back into an upright position.

Lucky drew back, staring at the floor. “I’m a horrible pony, Glimpse.”

Glimpse levitated a towel and vigorously dried off the pegasus’ mane. “No, you’re not.”

The pegasus shook his head slowly. “I am. I let you guys down, I let my brother down, I let my mom down… I don’t even know what Dad will think.”

The crackling of the fire filled the momentary silence as Glimpse watched his friend. Lucky slowly lowered himself down, laying his head against the floor. Lily ignored them from the fireplace, rubbing Blizz’s belly.

“Lucky,” asked Glimpse quietly, “do you remember the first time we met?”

“That camping trip? What about it?”

“You and Lily… You both stepped in to protect me, even before you knew my name.”

“I just wanted to kick some tail,” commented Lily.

Glimpse rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes. But even so. Lucky, you in particular told those bullies off, and then you got Lily to come with you into the woods to get me. You were… gallant.”

“I wasn’t trying to be gallant,” mumbled Lucky into the carpet.

“But that’s just it!” exclaimed Glimpse with a slow but eager smile. “You don’t have to try. It just comes so naturally to you. You hate when others are being treated unfairly, and you always know exactly what you want to do, and you don’t hesitate, and that’s why I, um…”

Lucky’s eyes were closed, but Lily was watching the unicorn with an uncharacteristically thoughtful expression.

Glimpse bit his lip and dropped his gaze to the carpet, his voice growing softer. “That’s why I know you’re a good pony. You just… You made some bad decisions, and you’ll have to live with that, but it doesn’t make you a bad pony. That’s what I think, anyway.” He pawed at the carpet for a moment and suddenly turned towards the kitchen. “Lily, I’m going to go make a pot of oatmeal. Make sure Lucky dries off, okay?”

Lily snorted as Glimpse vanished out the doorway. She stood and trotted over to Lucky’s side, giving him a firm prod. “Hey. Grab a towel.”

Lucky mumbled into the carpet but didn’t move.

“Fine. We’ll do this the hard way.” Lily raised her hoof, and carefully studied Lucky’s body. With a quick motion, she jammed it into a nerve in Lucky’s neck.

A spike of pain stabbed deep into Lucky’s muscles. “Ow!” Lucky started forward and spun around to glare at the filly. “Geeze, Lily. Did you really have to do that?”

Lily gave Lucky a smug smirk. “Nope.”

Lucky planted his haunches on the floor again, picking up a towel and half-heartedly dabbing at his fur. Finally, after he was mostly dry, he let it drop and poked at the threads in the carpet with a sullen expression. “I’m sorry I messed up the triathlon. I know you’re still mad about it.”

“Eh…” Lily blew at a loose lock of hair that had fallen into her eyes. “Yeah. Kinda.”

“Sorry I messed things up with you and Comet.”

“Don’t be. He’s kind of a jerk anyway.” Lily kicked at the carpet. “Actually, I’m kind of madder at him now for bragging about it so much. Put him in his place again and we’ll be square.”

“Gonna be hard to top winning the triathlon, but I’ll think of something.” Lucky rubbed at his foreleg awkwardly. “Thanks for coming. I probably shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“Yeah, well… Glimpse showed up at my place, and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Lily rolled her head against her shoulders, then glanced sidelong at Lucky. “Not that it took a lot of convincing, anyway.”

Lucky shuffled closer to the fire and threw himself on his side, pulling an affectionate Blizz to his chest. The now-roaring fireplace radiated a toasty heat, but he was too tired to move again. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Lily. I’m just… Everything feels like it’s out of control.”

“Is Slip okay?”

“I don’t know. I hope so. They got him stabilized, but…” Lucky’s voice fell, becoming small and shaky. “I left. I had to. I couldn’t bear to face him, just in case I screwed up again.”

Lily stood and stretched, slowly working out the muscles in each leg. “Running away’s not like you.”

“Yeah, well… This isn’t a stupid fight or some new trick I’m trying.”

“Your mom still at the hospital?”

“Yeah. I told her to stay with Slip.” Lucky gave Blizz a squeeze, and the puppy licked at his face. “He needs her more than I do right now.”

Lily repositioned herself to soak up some of the fireplace’s heat and laid down. “Guess that means Glimpse and me will have to stick around, then.”

“Glimpse and I,” said the unicorn reflexively as he reentered the living room, three bowls floating beside him.

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

Glimpse lowered a bowl for each of his friends before settling in near the fireplace. “Nevermind. It’s not important.”

Lucky let Blizz go. The puppy scampered around to Lucky’s other side and curled up, taking shelter from the blazing heat. The pegasus rolled upright onto his stomach and poked tiredly at his meal. “Hey, guys?”

“Yes, Lucky?” asked Glimpse.

“Thanks for being here.”

“Of course. What are friends for?”

Lily gave a vague grunt of assent, and the three friends continued eating in silence.


Canterlot

Lucky slowly crept back into his bedroom, smiling as he noticed both the lit lamp and a still form laying on the bed. In the corner a phonograph spun, letting a moody sax slowly unspool into the room.

“Hey there,” he whispered. “You didn’t have to wait up for me.”

Rose stirred, stretching out languorously on the bed. She was wearing a black dressing gown, which she pulled shut as she sat up with a yawn. “No, but I wanted to.”

Lucky leaned in and gave her a soft kiss. “That’s sweet of you, but I hope you weren’t too bored waiting for me.”

“Actually, I found something interesting to read.” Rose held up a pamphlet. “I didn’t know you were an EMT.”

“Heh, well, I’m not. Yet. It’s just… something I’ve been thinking about, that’s all. It’s a training course the Guard offers.” Lucky slipped his saddlebags off, stretching out his back.

“Oh, really?” Rose laid down again, resting her chin on her hooves as she watched her boyfriend. “You’re going to skip right past basic first aid to becoming an EMT?”

“Well, not exactly.” Lucky rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’ve had a first responder certification for years now.”

Rose tried to catch Lucky’s eye. “You never mentioned this before.”

Lucky dragged a hoof through the carpet. “Yeah, well, I didn’t want to make a deal about it. I didn’t think it was that important.”

“You know you have nothing to feel ashamed of, right?” Rose reached out to rest a hoof on Lucky’s shoulder. “This is about the accident, right? You don’t have to hide things like that from me.”

“Yeah, I know.” Lucky slumped against the side of the bed, craning his head up to rub noses with Rose. “Sorry, I’ve just had a lot on my mind today. I’ll tell you about it later.”

Rose pecked the tip of Lucky’s muzzle. “Later, as in after you get back?”

Lucky had the good grace to look sheepish. “How’d you figure I was planning on leaving?”

“You mean besides the fact that you haven’t climbed into bed with me to snuggle up under the covers yet?”

“Okay, I guess you got me.” Lucky stood up, leaning down to rub his cheek against Rose’s. “Sorry, but I found out where Luna is, and… I gotta go try and talk to her.”

Rose closed her eyes, sighing softly as she leaned in against Lucky. “And where, praytell, is she?”

Lucky straightened, moving to his closet and rummaging through its contents. “Oh, she’s just outside of town, so I’m going to hop over and see if I can talk to her. Don’t wait up.”

“Lucky,” said Rose, speaking slowly and deliberately as a wariness filled her voice. “Where is she?”

“She’s…” Lucky sighed and hung his head. “She’s at the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. In the Everfree Forest.”

Rose bolted upright. “The Castle of the… Wasn’t that the place where Nightmare Moon was defeated?”

“It’s also Luna’s home.” Lucky wrenched a black flight suit free from his closet and began inspecting it.

“Dear, are you sure this is a good idea?” Rose stepped down off the bed and pulled Lucky around to face her. “You said yourself she’s been out of sorts. And to go back there, of all places… Lucky, I love you, and I think I know what this means to you, but do you really have to do this?”

Lucky slid his forehooves and wings around Rose, pulling her close so that the heat of their bodies mingled together. “How do I explain… Look, do you remember the first time we met in class all those years ago?”

“How could I forget? The way you took to that obstacle course, like there was nothing but you and the sky, and you were completely free…” Rose rested her head against Lucky’s chest, and Lucky nosed softly at her ears. “I was a little jealous of how free you looked right then, to be honest.”

“You saw something in me, something nopony else at that school would have seen, and you came over and tried to become my friend.” Lucky kissed each of Rose’s eartips, which wiggled under the loving attention. “What would have happened, if instead of that, your first impression of me was the angry kid who yelled at his little brother and sent him crying out into a storm?”

Rose fell silent, and Lucky gently rubbed at her sides as she thought. Finally, she slowly shook her head. “I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t have been very impressed. But there’s more to you than just that angry colt.”

“And there’s more to Luna than Nightmare Moon or even a bratty princess. When she held court last night, she did this trick where she summoned her night sky into the hall… It was so clear and bright, much brighter than seeing it like normal. Everyone was impressed, and for a moment, when I looked at Luna, she was smiling. She was happy—proud, even, that she could do something that impressed so many ponies like that.”

Lucky released Rose and turned to pick up his flight suit, starting to pull it on. “And that’s why I have to go. I think there’s a pony in there worth reaching out to.”

Rose immediately leapt on him, bowling over and pinning Lucky down while seeking his lips for a kiss. “You may go, but you have to promise you’ll get out of there at the first sign of danger.” She punctuated her statement with a firm poke to his chest.

“Rose, there is nothing in Equestria, including Nightmare Moon or Celestia herself, that could keep me from coming back to you.” Lucky gently cupped her chin and kissed her lips. “You saw things in me that I didn’t think anyone else ever could, and I am a much better pony for having you in my life.”

Rose drew back, color rushing to her cheeks as she composed herself, straightening her mane and drawing her gown closed. “How is it you manage to get so romantic right when I’m worried about you the most?”

Lucky laughed and pulled on the flight suit, shaking his mane and tail free as he stood up. The suit had a few scuff marks, but it had survived all of Basic; it would survive the night. “Well? How do I look?”

“Wild and carefree. Your best look.” Rose stepped up and bit the zipper, tugging it into place. “You know, just when I thought I had you figured out, you went and surprised me.”

“Gotta keep things interesting, don’t I?” Lucky slipped on his saddlebags and fastened them down. “You should get to sleep. I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I will be back.”

“I know how you are about promises, dear. Do you want me to put breakfast on for you?”

“I’m not sure. Better not.” Lucky leaned in and kissed his marefriend again. “Rose Lark, have I told you lately I love you?”

Rose leaned into the kiss, smiling as they broke apart. “I know.”

Lucky grinned and made for the door. “Sweet dreams.”

“Good luck.”

* * * * * * *

Lucky had heard all of the stories about the Everfree Forest. There had even been a briefing or two following the events of the Summer Sun Celebration. Animals and plants that took care of themselves, weather that changed without the intervention of ponies, dangerous creatures and beasts.

Nopony had mentioned how much creepier the gnarled and twisted forest would be at night. There were more than a few strange howls he would be glad to never know the source of.

Fortunately, he didn’t need to go into the forest to find the ruins of Castle Everfree. He cruised comfortably high over the canopy, letting a field of leaves breeze past below him. A deep gorge broke the monotony of the forest and he glanced ahead, spotting a broken formation of overgrown stones placed in a straight line. Past the broken wall were several structures, all dark and empty, pile after pile of rubble greeting him as he swept through the ruins.

Castle Everfree, better known as the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, was the former seat of the Equestrian throne before it relocated to Canterlot. And a thousand years ago—yet also six months—it had been Princess Luna's home.

In a distant room a glimmer of light flared, and Lucky turned towards it. A skeletal tower reached shakily into the heavens, the night sky shining through the missing stones.

Lucky circled the tower until he saw the glimmer again, drifting in through a shattered wall. “Princess?”

Hornlight provided the only illumination in the room, but the tall silhouette of Princess Luna was unmistakable. Her back was to him as she pushed aside rubble with her magic, head frantically searching back and forth.

Lucky tested his weight on the rickety floor before touching down. He worked his wings slowly, the throbbing ache of long exertion quickly settling in. Louder this time, he called, “Princess Luna?”

“Gone, gone, gone!” muttered Luna to herself as she sifted through the rubble. “’Tis naught but dust and memories!” With a strangled yell she slammed a hoof down, a broken stone exploding into a cloud of fine powder.

The tower creaked, and Lucky cast an alarmed glance to the ceiling above. “Princess, perhaps you should take it easy.”

Luna froze, and slowly turned, the light of her horn spilling over Lucky and the rest of the room. Surprise reached her eyes, followed quickly by wrathful indignation. “You.” The word came out as a snarl. “How is it thou hast followed Us to this place?”

“Your sister told me where you were.”

“Feh.” Luna spat on the ground. “That wretched layabout is no sister of mine! Begone! We wish not to participate in her nonsense or to tolerate thy presence.”

Lucky shook his head. “She didn’t send me. Coming here was my idea. And I’m not leaving.”

“Thou would’st disobey Us here, in Our own domain?” Luna drew herself up to her full height, spreading her wings wide.

“Your domain? This isn’t—” Lucky’s voice caught in his throat as his heart tightened.

Luna’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “This is not what?”

“Please don’t make me say it, Princess.”

“Oh? Hath the mouse lost his spine?”

Lucky looked away. “This isn’t your home anymore, Princess.”

Luna recoiled, her next question a hiss. “What?”

Lucky met the alicorn’s furious stare. “This isn’t your home anymore.”

Silence fell over the room. The two ponies stared at one other, neither moving as the moments ticked past. Lucky’s face was mournful but defiant, while Luna’s slowly twisted up.

“Rampallion… Thou darest insult Us?” Luna’s horn shone brighter and brighter as her magic crept onto the piles of rubble. “Thou art a stain, a blight upon this good earth, and thy presence hath been tolerated for far too long.”

Lucky’s heart quickened in his chest. He slipped back half a step, tensing his muscles. “Princess, please. Think about what you’re doing.”

“We have thought overmuch on what We must do.” Luna slowly stalked forward, the stones now rising to swirl around her. “We… I must make amends. After tonight, the world will no longer know thy ilk.” With a flicker of her horn, she flung the rocks forward.

Lucky grit his teeth, already in motion. He threw himself back and let himself fall from the tower. Above, the rubble flew harmlessly overhead.

He rose back up to the room again, cautiously peering through the wall. Luna was frantically searching through the rubble again, snatching up the odd piece of junk to examine it, but discarding it just as quickly.

“Princess, what are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”

“It concerns thee not!” A single chunk of stone threw itself at Lucky. The pegasus casually leaned aside to let the projectile pass.

Luna snorted and promptly vanished in a flash of blue light.

“Dammit, not again.” Lucky turned and dove through the wall once more. He swept quickly through the ruins, frustration starting to pound at his temples. Hi, Celestia. Guess what? I lost your sister again. Whoops!

Half of a marble pillar came flying through a window. Lucky stopped and watched it sail through the air, tumbling end over end and snapping a stone bench in half.

Lucky lowered himself to the window, peering through cautiously. It was a large hall, with a raised dais at one end. Luna was methodically sweeping through the room. Her horn flickered rapidly, each flagstone briefly lighting up before her magic moved to the next.

Lucky perched carefully on the window frame, taking in more of the room. Tall, arched windows flanked either side of the hall, with dirty pieces of stained glass clinging desperately to their frames. Thick vines intruded through the windows, blanketing the walls and floor. On the dais, a mass of vines were still wrapped around a large object.

Lucky shrugged to himself and glided down into the room, touching down quietly beside the strange object. This close, he could see the tarnished silver peeking through the vines. Four, short legs and one tall, flat back marked it as a chair, toppled on its side. It was alicorn-sized, and Lucky’s eyes grew wide as looked to its top. He bit down on a thick vine wrapped around it and gave a fierce tug. It refused to budge, but Lucky pulled harder, adding wingpower to his efforts. The vine continued to resist, but Lucky slowly pried it away, catching a glimpse of the secret it hid.

The engraving of a single crescent moon, nearly lost to a thousand years of tarnish and dust.

Lucky let go of the vine, which immediately nestled back amongst its brethren. He turned to look at the rest of the hall.

Luna’s court… He hopped down to the bottom of the dais steps and stood at the corner, giving the room another look. I wonder if any of my ancestors stood in this spot a thousand years ago… From his vantage point the layout of the room came together: a place for the petitioner to stand there, and the entrance there, spectators over there, and Luna’s office…

Lucky craned his head back. Where the office should have been there was nothing but a dense collection of foliage. He flapped over and prodded at the mat of vines. Several pulled free and snaked out, reaching for his legs. He yanked his hooves clear and leapt back, watching as the entire wall began to squirm. Through their undulations he could see a wooden door.

What I wouldn’t give for a machete or a book of matches right about now.

“Princess, I think—”

“Move.”

The order was flat and neutral. Lucky turned to find Luna looking past him at the wall of writhing vines. He quickly stepped aside.

Luna moved forward and lowered her horn, pointing it at the wriggling mass. Magic swirled and gathered, forming into a steadily growing sphere. A fine mist fell from the spell and pooled around Luna’s hooves.

Lucky prodded at the mist as it spread across the floor; even through the flight suit the cold gnawed at his body’s warmth.

The spell exploded with a cold rush of wind. A thick layer of frost swept over the wall, trapping the vines in place. Luna flicked her head to the side, shattering a single vine that had found her horn. With another pulse of magic the entire wall fractured and cracked, shards of vegetable matter raining down in heaps. A simple but intricately carved wooden door revealed itself, and Luna stepped through.

Lucky kicked at a chunk of frozen plant and quickly followed.

The office was small and bare. The only object of note was a tall, slender mirror that Luna was already examining. She lowered her horn to touch the mirror’s surface, and the glass rippled like water. Luna withdrew her horn, producing a wet sucking noise as it pulled free from the mirror’s surface, which quickly stilled once more.

“Thousand years is a long time for an enchantment to last.”

Luna scoffed. “As if thou couldst doubt the potency of my spellcraft.” Her frown softened as she continued. “Yet ‘tis well the wild magik of the Everfree hath sullied not its enchantments.”

Lucky looked around Luna to examine the mirror. “So, some sort of portal spell? Where’s it go?”

“It leads…” Luna stared at the mirror, gazing at what lay beyond, though only her reflection stared back. “… to my workshop, though what lays beyond, I know not. Dangers may lie within.”

“You don’t remember what was in your own lab?”

“The memories are… unclear.” Luna gave her head a small shake. “I am besieged by phantoms and half-remembrances. It may well be perilous.”

“No time like the present.”

Luna arched an eyebrow towards Lucky.

Lucky shrugged. “Figure of speech. Sorry.”

“Be that as it may, I must ask of thee to stay thy hoof. The horrors that may lay within are mine alone to face.”

Lucky nodded solemnly. “Of course, Princess.”

Luna scrutinized the pegasus silently. “I was not born yesterday, as I believe the saying goeth. Thou intendest fully to follow me.”

Lucky broke into a small grin. “Of course, Princess.”

“Fool.” Lona snorted and turned away, but Lucky was sure he saw a wisp of a smile in Luna’s reflection.

“I never claimed to be smart.” Lucky stepped up to the mirror, examining his own reflection.

Luna lowered her horn to the mirror again but paused. “Wherefore dost thou persist so?”

Lucky tilted his head. “Beg your pardon?”

“Wherefore… Why dost thou persist?”

“Too stupid to know better, I guess.”

“I do not believe it only folly which drives thee.”

“A long time ago I almost killed my brother.”

Luna’s head jerked upright, a pair of suspicious eyes turned on Lucky.

“No, not like that, but… I was angry and young, and stupid, and I lashed out at him for something that wasn’t his fault. He was just a little kid. How was he supposed to handle that?

“He ran outside, right into a storm, and got hit by lightning. I went after him and caught him, but…

Lucky tapped the side of his head. “It hit his eye. The doctors tried, but they couldn’t completely fix it. Every time I look at him, I’m reminded of how I damaged him. I did that. He paid the price for my mistake.

“And the most damning thing of all was that he apologized to me, even though I know in my heart of hearts that the fault was mine and mine alone.”

Luna quickly looked away, hiding her face behind her mane. Lucky nodded to himself. Thought so.

“I know it’s not exactly the same, but…” Lucky rubbed at the back of his neck. “I know what it’s like to feel like an irredeemable monster. It’s like… It’s like being over this giant pit, this one colossal failure that’s going to swallow up everything you’ve ever done. And you’re barely hanging on, but little by little you’re slipping, and it’s only a matter of time before you just get sucked in.

“But if you’re lucky you have some important ponies who will reach out and hold on tight, who won’t ever let go, and little by little they’ll pull you away from the pit until you can make it on your own.” He smiled up at Luna’s reflection in the mirror. “And if I can do that for someone else, well… how could I refuse?”

“My sins are a burden most heavy,” whispered Luna. “They may yet be too much for even two ponies to bear.”

“Then I’ll just have to pull really hard.”

“Were that I was possessed of thy moral certitude, a happier pony I would be.”

Lucky shook his head. “I still have doubts, Princess. But as long as I can keep taking steps forward, I’ll get by.”

“Onward, then.” The word was weary and haggard. With a touch of magic the mirror’s surface rippled again, and Luna stepped through.

Lucky pressed a hoof against the liquid glass. It resisted briefly, then let him through. He took a deep breath and plunged through. A tingling heat washed over his coat before he emerged into a humid chamber.

Thick, dangling roots intruded from the ceiling like an upside-down forest, littering the floor with dislodged stones. The air was thick and warm, and moisture crept underneath the edges of Lucky’s flight suit.

Lucky pulled back its hood and shook out his mane. “How deep are we?”

“Not deep enough, I fear.” Luna strode briskly to the other side of the chamber, approaching a plain wooden door. A ripple of blue magic washed over its surface as Luna examined it.

Lucky drew his hoof from a stray puddle of water and hastily scraped a clump of algae off on the stone floor. “Is this it?”

Luna gave a small nod. “Verily, ‘tis so.” With the gentle push the door swung open.

The workshop fared no better than the chamber before it. One table had broken in half under a fallen ceiling stone. Others were overturned, spilling vials and rusted instruments onto the ground. The tables that still stood were covered in a moldy growth Lucky couldn’t identify.

Luna drew in a sharp breath. “My notes…” She galloped to a table and carefully extracted a piece of parchment from a moldy mass. She quickly put it down and sifted through the rest of her laboratory, muttering to herself in increasingly frantic mumbles.

Lucky sat by the door and silently watched Luna work. Eventually, Luna slumped to the ground with a weary sigh, closing her eyes and hanging her head. Lucky stood and carefully made his way over to her.

“Any luck?” he asked quietly.

Luna shook her head. “All is lost. These notes were the last vanguard of ancient and terrible knowledge ripped from my mind when I was released of my darkness. In freeing me, the elements have denied me my redemption.”

“If it was so terrible, how would it redeem you?”

Luna picked up a pair of rusted tongs and turned it around in her magic. “The knowledge I seek is that of how I made my soldiers.”

“Your soldiers? You don’t mean…”

Luna bobbed her head. “Thou hast the truth of it.”

“So you really are the—”

The screech of crumbling metal cut him off. Luna flung the twisted lump into a wall and turned a baleful glare on Lucky.

“You are aberrations,” she said in a scathing voice. “Ponies I twisted into weapons to fight my misguided war.”

Lucky watched Luna with a curious stare. “Is that all you see?”

“I see a mistake!” snapped Luna. “A mistake that turned pony against fellow pony, a mistake that cast a nation into disarray, a mistake that exiled innocent ponies to the Frozen North!”

“We persevered. We became strong and resilient.”

“You became deluded! You worship a lie!” Luna spat on the ground. “This so-called Mother Moon is a fabrication. A fantasy told by foals to protect themselves from the truth.”

“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”

“’A bit harsh’?” mocked Luna with a sneer. “I have studied your legends. ‘A kind and lovely maiden with a star-filled mane, who created her children to protect her beautiful night sky.’”

“Why couldn’t that be you?”

Luna slammed a hoof down, a shower of dust and dirt raining from the ceiling. “I AM NOT KIND!” Luna’s furious bellow echoed and rattled off the walls. “The blood of innocents hath stained my hooves, my sister recovers still from the burden of raising my night, and I killed—” She bit the word off and turned away. “No matter.”

Lucky’s ears perked up. “Who?”

“Nopony of import.”

“He was important to you.”

Luna deflated, her body sagging as her gaze slipped away to long ago. “He was… a stallion most insightful. Untrained when first I discovered him, but possessed of a keen intellect and an unmatched thirst for discovery and understanding.”

She shook herself from her brief reverie. “I struggled to keep the taint of my madness from him, but ultimately it destroyed him as it did so many others.”

“What would he tell you if he was here? Would he want you to dwell on your past?”

“Nay, he would not. He would see me happy…” Luna shook her head. “But no longer do I know what is my purpose. Equestria is prosperous and safe. It needs not a foolish old mare.”

Luna rose and slowly shuffled from the room. Lucky followed, and they made their way to the surface. Luna collapsed on the stones with a heavy air of finality, beneath her wide-open night sky.

Lucky carefully sat next to Luna, slipping his saddlebags off to stretch. “What’s next, Princess?”

“There exists no ‘next,’ Private.” Luna closed her eyes. “My workshop entombs a pony beyond redemption.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“It matters little what I believe; ‘tis the truth of it. If I cannot repair even this…”

“There’s more than one path to redemption, Princess.”

Luna snorted but said nothing else.

Lucky reached into his saddlebags and pulled out two thermoses, setting them by Luna’s head.

Tiredly opening a single eye, Luna gave the thermos a suspicious stare. “What is this?”

“Soup. I don’t think you’ve eaten since yesterday.”

“I do not require sustenance in the traditional sense.”

Lucky resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I may not know much about alicorn physiology, but I do know that a warm bowl of soup on a cold night has a way of… helping put things in perspective.”

Luna didn’t respond again, closing her eye and laying still. Lucky shrugged and took a long sip from his thermos. It was still warm—almost hot, even—and the hearty flavor lingered on his tongue as the heat raced down his throat, spreading into his chest.

They sat in silence as Lucky worked on his thermos, and finally Luna dragged herself up to her hooves and lifted her thermos to her lips, slowly sipping from it. The ruins were still and silent, save the occasional rustling of leaves from the forest periphery or a stray animal call.

“Acceptable,” said Luna finally as she put her empty thermos down.

“I’ll take acceptable,” replied Lucky with a small smile. “Feeling any better?”

“Nay,” said Luna flatly. A moment later, in a much softer voice, she added, “But thine effort is appreciated.”

“You’re welcome, Princess.”

Luna stood and walked into the middle of the clearing, sweeping her gaze around. “This was my home. Ponies did live and work here under the watchful eye of my sister and myself. ‘Twas our sacred charge, to shepherd our little ponies and safeguard them from all that would do them harm.” Luna hung her head. “A duty I ignored in my madness.”

She let out a bitter, hollow laugh. “‘Madness.’ Even now I find comfort in… what wouldst thou call it? A white lie? The shameful truth is that I was not driven mad. Driven by anger, by jealousy, by pettiness… But not madness. The darkness within my heart offered only a means to an end.

“‘Twas I that destroyed our home, this bastion of safety what once stood tall as a monument to our greatest victory. ‘Twas I that betrayed my sacred duty. ‘Twas I that sentenced generations to ignominy.

“These things I might yet bear…” Luna returned to her seat and sank heavily to her knees. “But she is so close, and yet so distant.”

“Princess Celestia.”

Luna shook her head. “That… That pony is not the mare I knew. She bows in submission when she should stand resolute. She is soft, and quiet, and…” Luna’s nose crinkled. “Matronly. ‘Tis the cruelest cut, that whilst she hath her sister returned to her, I am denied mine.”

“She’s still your sister. She just had to grow up a little bit.”

Luna sniffed disdainfully. “She hath become like unto our mother. I wish not to become such.”

Lucky chuckled quietly.

Luna glanced to the pegasus, arching her eyebrow. “Do I amuse thee?”

“Not at all, Princess,” said Lucky quickly. “I was just thinking that sometimes we grow up in unexpected ways.”

“I am glad that my plight humors thee, Private. At least it will serve some use.”

“It’s not like that at all, Princess. It’s just… If you had asked a younger me what I wanted to do for a living, ‘guard’ wouldn’t have been anywhere on the list. It took… a lot of time to figure out what kind of pony I wanted to be. I’m still working on it.”

Luna made a noncommittal noise and raised her head to watch the night sky. Overhead, a cluster of stars briefly shimmered.

“I desired…”

Lucky looked over to Luna, but remained silent.

Luna took a deep breath. “I did desire to give my sister a gift. It is… the custom now, is it not?”

“Yeah.”

“The one gift I sought to present is now forever denied me.” Luna dropped her head, letting her mane sweep forward to hide her face. “‘Tis fitting, I suppose. What place have I, one who hath caused such disharmony, on this night?”

“You know, a very wise pony I know told me once that the Hearth’s Warming tale wasn’t just about friendship, but about forgiveness, too.”

Something wet sniffed from behind Luna’s mane.

“And I’ve always thought it was a story about new beginnings, too.”

Luna took a deep breath and released it, two plumes of frosty air escaping from her nostrils. When she spoke again, her voice was short and terse.

“Private.”

Lucky saluted. “Ma’am.”

“We would see our sister. Thou wilt escort Us.”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Lucky slipped his saddlebags on, and then hung his badge around his neck. “Ready to depart, ma’am!”

“And Private, do not believe that Our candor entitles thee to any special privileges.”

“With all due respect, Ma’am, we both know that’s not why I came out here.”

“Quite.”

Luna’s horn surged with magic, and a bright flash of light consumed the two ponies, leaving nothing behind but stones and silence.

* * * * * * *

The world twisted around Lucky, and he fought the urge to drop to his knees.

He desperately tried not to think about the fact that his knees had stopped existing for several seconds.

After Luna’s spell had fired, all of his senses had contracted to a point. There had been a vague sensation of an aerial view of Canterlot, far higher than he could possibly hope to fly. Then Canterlot had crashed upwards at him, and an instant later the world expanded and he found himself standing in Luna’s empty court.

Lucky tapped a hoof on the ground, followed by the three others in rapid succession. Solid ground. Ground is good. I like ground.

Luna watched the guard dispassionately. “We offer Our most humble apologies if the process was unsettling.”

Lucky straightened up again. “Not a problem, Ma’am. Permission to ask a question?”

Luna inclined her head slightly.

“Were we just part of the moon?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

Lucky blinked. “Huh.”

Luna turned for the door, and Lucky hastily fell in behind her. He stepped forward as Luna waited for him to open the door, and then they proceeded into the castle.

Secrets were hard to keep inside the castle—at least when the secret was ‘a princess is missing.’ Particularly when, despite efforts to counter it, a tidy amount of bits could be collected for keeping certain wealthy ponies in the know.

Lucky was not surprised that Luna’s sudden reappearance had drawn stares and hushed whispers. Several servants and staff seemed to hover around them as they proceeded through the castle. A few almost approached, but caught sight of Lucky’s badge hanging around his neck and backed off.

The fact that some of those ponies were also pointing and talking about him was a bit alarming, though. The only thing that could spread faster in the castle than a secret was gossip, but Lucky had hoped—vainly, it seemed—that he would go unnoticed. Of course, showing up in the company of a missing princess and out of uniform didn’t help much with staying invisible.

Then again, it’s not like I’m really anybody important. Hopefully too much won’t come out of it.

Soon, they were standing in front of the doors to Celestia’s apartment. Two night guards had taken over the watch, and they both snapped to attention after shooting a brief glance at Lucky.

“Princess Luna, Ma’am. What may we do for you?”

“I wish to visit with my sister.”

One of the guards turned and raised a hoof to knock on the door. The door swung open on its own, revealing Celestia, her face calm and neutral. “Luna.”

Luna hung her head. “Sister, I—”

Celestia stepped forward, bowing her head and resting her neck against Luna’s. “I know, Luna, I know. Me too.”

The younger alicorn stiffened, then slowly leaned back against the elder, closing her eyes.

Lucky allowed himself a small smile as the siblings embraced.

“Come on in, dear. I’ll send for some coffee.” Celestia moved aside to let Luna pass.

“Many thanks. Prithee, wouldst thou also fetch my steward?” Luna looked to Lucky and gave him a small nod. “Thou art dismissed.”

Lucky saluted. “Yes, Ma’am.”

Luna stepped inside, and Celestia turned to Lucky. “You have my thanks, Lucky Break.”

“Just doing my job, Ma’am. Happy Hearth’s Warming,” said Lucky with a deep bow.

Celestia smiled warmly and genuinely. “To you as well.”

Lucky turned and trotted away, humming a quiet tune to himself. Lily stepped out from behind a corner, watching him with an amused look.

“Hey, Sarge.”

“Hey, Lucky.” Lily looked Lucky up and down. “You look like hell.”

Lucky glanced down at himself and shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I look pretty good, all things considered.”

“And what things are those?”

“Oh, you know. Flew to the Everfree Forest, went poking around in the ruins.” Lucky stepped around the other pony and kept trotting down the hall.

Lily did a double-take and broke into a brisk trot to catch up. “You flew to the Everfree Forest and back?”

“Nah, just the one way. Luna teleported us back.”

“You’re crazy, you know that?” Lily punched Lucky’s shoulder.

“Hey,” said Lucky with a lopsided grin. “Got the princess back, didn’t I?”

Lily shook her head. “I can’t wait to read that report.”

Lucky stopped and covered a gaping yawn with a hoof. “With all due respect, I’m dead tired. I barely slept all day, and I flew all the way to the Everfree forest a few hours ago. Can I get you that report in two days?”

“You’re off-duty, remember? Get it to me when you get back. But seriously, Lucky. You’re a piece of work, you know that?”

They reached an intersection and Lucky turned off, heading to the front of the castle. “Yeah, well… What can I say? Helping ponies is what I do, even if they’re a little lost. Night.”

“Night, Lucky. Get some sleep.”

“Trust me,” Lucky called over his shoulder. “I will.”