• Published 17th Apr 2014
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The Luna Cypher - iisaw



Sequel to The Celestia Code. When the monsters created by the dark crystal engine escape their prison, it's up to Princess Twilight to deal with them. She gets help and advice from Princess Luna, but things don't go as planned.

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7 A Collision of Intellect and Passion

Chapter Seven
A Collision of Intellect and Passion

Breakfast was a little awkward.

I don't know what I was expecting. I guess I just assumed that, because I was so happy, my friends would be just as happy. Pinkie Pie certainly was. But her advice to us was extremely enthusiastic and just a bit more suggestive than I was comfortable with. Rarity was mainly concerned about what fabric would complement our colors so she could make matching outfits. She dropped into distracted professional mode and spent most of the meal holding color swatches up against Luna and me and making notes. Applejack didn't say much of anything and didn't eat much of her breakfast. I wanted to ask her what was the matter, but it really didn't seem like the time or place to do so.

The food perked me up a bit, but I was still dragging my tail and Luna was insistent that I get some sleep before the meeting with my captains. She shooed the girls and Spike out of the room and ordered me to bed—which sort of pushed thoughts of sleep out of my head.

"You will sleep, Twilight," Luna said firmly. "If I may?" She gave that little motion of the head that is the common gesture a unicorn makes to ask you if she can use her magic on you in a personal sort of way. I don't think Luna had ever used it much and it made her look even more adorable.

"Of course, but maybe we can stay up for just a little while longer?"

"One kiss, princess," Luna said, bending over me. "Then it's off to my realm for you!"

Even having been up the entire night and barely able to stand from exhaustion, there was no way it was possible that I would fall asleep while kissing her, so it must have been her magic at work.

= = =

I awoke from a deep, dreamless sleep with Luna's lips on mine. I reached up to pull her down but she broke off the kiss and stepped back.

"Your meeting is in ten minutes."

I rolled out of bed feeling wonderfully refreshed. Sweet Stars and Moon, could I have made good use of Luna's magic during finals week back in school! I grabbed a hairbrush and began working my mane and tail into some semblance of order.

Luna stood by looking at me with a thoughtful smile on her face.

"What are you thinking?" I asked as I set my brush aside.

"I am merely drinking in thy beauty, my beloved. I have no thoughts, for thy shining visage hath rendered me insensible."

I could feel myself blush. And the best part was that I knew she sort of meant it even though she'd said it in a teasing tone of voice. She really thought I was beautiful. That magnificent, stunning mare thought I was beautiful! I think my hooves barely touched the floor all the way to the council chamber.

When we got there, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Applejack were there, as well as the military ponies.

"Oh! Thanks for coming, but you girls don't really need to be here for this. It will probably be boring and—"

"Don't be silly, dear. We may or may not be able to contribute something to the planning, but we should keep ourselves informed so that we will know what to expect in the Badlands."

"What? No, wait! I'm not asking you to come along. It will be mostly a military expedition."

"Oh, no you don't, Twi," Applejack spoke up. "Y'all managed to ditch us the first time, but we're coming with you on this one."

"It's our duty," Rarity insisted. "Noblesse oblige, n'est-ce pas?"

"Besides, we got our rumps parked in these here fancy chairs," Applejack said, reaching back and rapping on her throne with a hoof. "We gotta live up to that!"

"I believe that's what I just said, darling," Rarity sniffed.

"Not in no kinda sensible talk, ya didn't!"

"Please, girls! It really isn't necessary...." I glanced at Luna for some kind of support, but she was grinning, obviously enjoying my plight.

The next interruption came from Pinkie Pie. It wasn't so much a counter-argument as a burst of snorting, giggling laughter. "You're so funny when you're serious, Twilight!"

I knew when I was beaten. "Fine, fine! Of course you're coming! I don't know what I was thinking." It wasn't like I was going to go unprepared this time. It wasn't like I was going into a fair fight. I was going to organize an overwhelming force to exterminate the dark creatures like the vermin they were. If things went as planned, my friends wouldn't have anything to do but watch from the airship while having drinks and snacks.

It came as a bit of a surprise that Rarity had a good head for logistics. She made several excellent suggestions for organizing supplies for the expedition. "Packing well is a specialty of mine," she explained. "Oh yes! That reminds me."

Her horn lit and she grunted softly as a large wooden crate floated into the room. "Goodness, that's heavy! I don't know how you can bear it, Twilight." She opened the lid to reveal the armor Luna had lent me. "There you are! Your secretary said you'd want it today. Luna and I chatted while you were napping, and she showed me how to clean and polish it all. But I have to say, so much silver doesn't show well on you, dear. You should consider some gold-plating or maybe a caparison. Gold brocade might suit."

I was confused for a moment and then I remembered my plan for accustoming myself to the weight of armor. Something I mentioned to Periwinkle at the party.

"Oh... right. I think I'm going to be too busy to—"

But Luna was already lifting the pieces out of the chest and floating them over to me. It's really weird, but as I put on the armor, my captains got... more attentive. It was hard to put a hoof on, but their attitude definitely changed.

Rarity fussed around me, making little umns and ahhs and tsks, examining all the pieces, straps, and padding as Luna put them on me.

Spike was making distorted faces at himself the shiny curve of my peytral when he suddenly gasped, turned to one side, and hurked up a scroll on a blast of green fire. I reflexively caught it and broke the seal. Then I paused and exchanged glances with Luna.

I set the scroll aside. "Let's finish up here, shall we?"

It only took us a short while to finalize the plans and send the captains off with their instructions. Captain Lightning Lance paused in the doorway and said, "I just want you to know that it is a pleasure to serve you, Your Highness. If there is anything I can ever do for you beyond the scope of my ordinary duties, you have only to command me."

I thanked him, smiling as if I knew what the hay he was talking about.

Applejack was the last to leave and she also paused for a parting comment. "Maybe we don't always see eye-to-eye, Twilight. But I can see y'all are pretty happy, and I reckon that's a good thing."

"Uhmn... thank you," I said, and stepped out of the council chamber with her for a short ways, until we were alone. "Look, Applejack, I can see you're upset about something. Would you like to share it with me? Can I help somehow?"

She frowned and looked aside. "Naw, it's nothin', Twi."

"You're a terrible liar, AJ."

"I s'pose I'll get used to..." She broke off and made a vague gesture back toward the council chamber with her hoof. “But it's just downright weird, an’ I got my doubts.”

I gave her a puzzled frown as an unpleasant thought crept into my mind. "Is it because we're both mares?"

Applejack snorted. "Well… yeah, sorta. Maybe I ain’t all sophisticated like Rarity or whatever, but I ain't got nothin' against two mares fallin' in love. If that is what's goin' on."

"I... I'm not sure I understand the problem, then," I said, not sure whether to feel relieved or not.

"Well..." Applejack rubbed her chin with a hoof. "Lemme put it this way. Was anypony in town surprised when Lyra and Bon Bon got together?"

I snorted. "Hardly!'

Applejack nodded. "An' that's because Lyra always did have an eye for a soft and curvy rump, and when Bon Bon kept showin' up to hear her play durn near every night, sittin' in the front row and makin' googly eyes at her... well most o' the town figured out what was gonna happen afore them two did."

I grinned. "And they're ridiculously happy with each other as far as I know. So what's that got to do with Luna and me?"

Applejack frowned and scuffed a hoof across the floor. "I wouldn’t say nothin’ ordinarily, ‘cause it ain’t my business.”

“‘Ordinarily,’” I prompted.

Applejack kept her gaze on the floor for a minute, gathering her thoughts. “It’s all of it, really,” she said, raising her head to look me in the eyes. “You ain’t never had an eye for mares, Twilight. I seen you givin’ some stallions the once-over a couple o’ times, but you never looked at a mare that way. Leastwise, not that I know of. When did that change?”

Luna’s special, AJ,” I protested. “She's hardly a typical mare, and I still don’t feel like looking at other mares 'that way.'”

Really?” I could see she wasn’t convinced, but she didn’t pursue that part of the subject. Instead she took a different tack. “So when, exac’ly, did you start gettin’ feelin’s for Luna? Maybe I shouldn’t ask, but I seen plenty mares get all love-struck over somepony, and it don’t usually happen overnight.”

I was starting to feel a little defensive. “Oh? Like Rarity and Trenderhoof? Or Blueblood?”

She gave me a sharp look before she answered. “Yup. Those deep an’ abidin’ romances. An’ excuse me if'n I point out that you ain’t nothin’ like Rarity in that department.”

My ears angled back in annoyance. “All right, it’s sudden and unexpected, but I know what I feel, AJ!”

She frowned and looked away. “I’m sorry I brought it up, Twi. Like I said before, it ain’t none of my business. I just… I don’t want to see you jumpin’ into somethin’ and gettin’ hurt, is all.”

Thank you for being worried for me,” I said, relaxing a little. “But I’m going to be fine… better than fine! I just know it!”

Well, I sure hope so,” she replied, forcing a smile. “I’m still a mite doubtful, but that’s somethin’ I cain’t help. Nothin's gonna change the fact that we are PFFs, an' I'll be there for you no matter how things work out. An' that'll have to do."

I paused for a moment and then said, "Right back at you, AJ. Every word." I held out my hoof.

She gave me a nearly normal smile and a bump. My leg armor rattled.

When I walked back into the council chamber, Luna looked the question at me. Later, I mouthed.

"Spike, could you file these reports and take these specification sheets to Evenstar's ground crew?" I asked, levitating the stack of papers into his arms.

"Sure thing, Twilight! But don't you want to read the letter from Celestia first? You might want to send back a reply right away."

"Oh. Right." I lifted the scroll and unrolled it so that Luna and I could read it at the same time.

Twilight,

I would like to speak with you and Luna at your earliest convenience.

Celestia

Luna and I looked at each other. "Well," I said, trying to sound cheerful and not quite succeeding, "Things are in good hooves here. We might as well go now."

"Yes," Luna nodded. "'Twill be good to settle matters."

"So." I adjusted my chamfron and tightened its chinstrap. "Shall we fly?"

"Yes. It will be the quickest way."

"I agree."

"Indeed."

"And it will give me some exercise," I added, raising my wings to make sure the armor was well seated and secure.

"That is true." Another nod.

"Yes."

There was a long pause and then Spike asked, "So, are you guys going or not?"

= = =

We landed in the forecourt of the great hall at Canterlot Castle. The guards were a bit perturbed by my armor but escorted us to the throne room with quick efficiency. Evidently, we were expected.

Celestia watched with calm neutrality as we approached her throne. Luna and I came forward to the correct distance. I bowed and Luna gave a slight nod of her head. We waited for Celestia to speak first. Normally, formal protocol was something we three never bothered with when we were alone, but I had a feeling this was going to be a situation where being excruciatingly polite and correct might be very helpful.

Celestia finally broke the silence. "Armor, Twilight? I am not so angry as that."

A joke. That was a good sign. But she also made it clear that she was angry. Not so good.

"I'm getting used to the weight," I explained.

"Is it a burden that the Princess of Friendship should be accustomed to?"

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. "With the sort of 'friendship' problems I keep running into?" Too late, I grimaced and bit my lip. Snarking at Celestia? I never did that! "Sorry! Sorry, but it probably did save my life."

Celestia knew exactly how to fine-tune the duration of a pause to deliver a rebuke and she did just that. She lifted a scroll before her and glanced down at it. I recognized it as the letter I had sent her that morning. She looked up from the page without lifting her head and gazed at Luna.

"Twilight tells me that you have confessed your misdeeds. Have you done so in detail?"

"No, but I will tell her whatever she wishes to know." Luna's emphasis went unnoticed by exactly none of us.

Celestia released the top of the scroll and it rolled shut with a crisp little pop. "I think that a relationship based on deception is doomed to failure."

I saw Luna's jaw muscles tighten and the stars in her mane flare slightly brighter.

"Okay, so maybe it started out that way," I blurted, trying to defuse the tension, "but I'm okay with that. It's just part of the game, right?"

Celestia turned her disbelieving gaze on me and I cringed. The armor didn't help at all. Good going, Sparkle. From snarky to foolish in one giant misstep. And it had sounded so cool when Jigsaw had said it.

Celestia's ears angled back ever so slightly and she said, "For an evening's entertainment, perhaps such a foolish game is appropriate, Twilight. But a castle built on sand will not stand for long."

I hung my head. I suppose I deserved a bit of ridicule for taking romantic advice from somepony who heedlessly jumped head-first into everything. "But… If I forgive Luna, we can start again, can't we?" I asked quietly.

Celestia showed mercy and looked away after a moment. "You should know what it is you are forgiving, Twilight Sparkle."

And suddenly I was angry, too. "All right, then." I turned to Luna. "Tell me. Right now. What is the worst thing you did? Think of the one thing you'd rather I never know and tell me about it."

The was a moment of shock and then, unbelievably, fear on her face.

"Yes!" I pounced on the instant. "That one! The one you just thought of. Tell me."

She hesitated and I turned back to Celestia. "If Luna tells me the worst of what she did, and I forgive her, will that satisfy you? Will you believe that I'm serious about this?"

Celestia turned her attention to Luna. "That seems reasonable," she said

Luna grimaced and then squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. "I will do better than that, Twilight. I will show you exactly what I have done." When she opened her eyes again, they were a pure blazing white, and the hall fell into darkness.

I don't think it was a dream, exactly. I was pretty sure I was awake; I could still feel the carpet of the throne room beneath my hooves. But Luna controlled everything we saw and heard.

"Do you know who it is that you presume to treat with such familiarity?" Luna's voice rumbled out of the pure blackness. "Do you know who it is you dare make eyes at?"

Suddenly I saw myself charging through a ruined castle. I had no wings and it took me a moment to realize I was seeing the night that I had fought Nightmare Moon in the Castle of the Two Sisters. The scene changed and I hovered in the air, possessed by the power of the Elements, sending their magic down to tear the Nightmare away from Luna, my eyes blazing with magic and righteous ferocity.

Then it was daylight, and I was in the plaza before Canterlot Tower, surrounded by changelings, my horn throwing bright bolts of energy into the swarming mass of the enemy.

Then I was in the Everfree, unleashing titanic blasts of magic at the towering, evil Tirek.

Then I was above the ruins in the desert, proclaiming my sovereignty over the entire changeling race, my eyes and body blazing with appalling streams of dark magic. I swept away a third of the city with a careless gesture of one wing and burned another third to slag with a furious glance.

Then there was cool, silent darkness again. After a moment, a gigantic Luna strode out of the dark, looming huge above us. She peered down, her narrowed eyes full of disdain. "That is who she is, you foolish pony!" Luna leaned down, her face growing huge in my vision and her voice rumbled like thunder as she spoke her final words. "You are not worthy of her, Flash Sentry!"

The illusion faded away and light filled the throne room once again. Luna stood with her head low and her eyes cast down. She looked... smaller.

Celestia remained silent. She looked down on her sister from her high place on the Great Throne of Equestria, her cheeks wet with tears.

And I? I was too shocked to cry. Not right then.

I suppose somepony had to speak first, and it turned out it was Celestia.

"Twilight might have been happy with him—"

"NO!" Luna flung up her head, and though she was shedding tears of her own, her voice was a roar of pure fury. "I forced the truth upon him, but truth it was! As a filly, Twilight was the most powerful unicorn in an age! As an alicorn, she has wielded more power than you or I ever have! Any stallion you can name is beneath her! None are worthy! She deserves an equal for her companion in life!"

I can't imagine anypony standing up to that imperious anger, but Celestia didn't even flinch. When she spoke, her voice was so soft that I had to step forward to understand her.

"Her life? Her life of a dozen decades or less? She is not your equal in one very important way, Luna. Twilight Sparkle is mortal. What will happen when she grows old? If your attachment is not true love but merely prideful infatuation with the young, powerful mare that she is now, then not so many years from now, it will be the script for a tragedy. It is cruelty deferred, Luna. You must see that."

I felt like I had suddenly been slapped out of nowhere. The loud clank that they both ignored was my armored butt hitting the floor.

Luna's voice got low and dangerous. "I know my own mind, sister." The room went cold. Her breath came out as clouds of frozen moisture and I could see frost forming where her hooves touched the floor. "I spent too long trying to deny it to doubt the truth of my love. I will love her beyond her life, beyond her death. Until the moon falls from the sky, she will live in my heart."

"Then, what will that love do to you when Twilight departs as she must surely do? Her love will only last her lifetime and then you will be alone. What of that?"

"Say you, that because her love is not eternal, 'tis not of value? Tell that to every colt and filly who loves a puppy or kitten! Cast them aside! Forgo love because it will be brief, because thou wilt be hurt, regardless that thy beloved will pass on after a happy life of companionship and joy." Luna's muzzle wrinkled in a snarl of disdain. "Fie! Thet ys base cowardice! Doest thou, oh mightie, virginal goddess, feare such an wound? Or haste thou ne'er tired of thy aloofe solitude?"

Celestia stood.

She took one step forward and the carpet smoldered beneath her shoe.

"Stop. Please, stop!" I cried out.

They held each other's gazes with an intensity beyond belief, but they stopped.

"I only want what's good for you both," Celestia said, not taking her eyes off her sister.

"You want what is safe! I want exaltation!" Luna shouted.

"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" I screamed.

They finally looked away from each other. Unfortunately, that meant they were looking at me.

"Celestia, I love and respect you for so many reasons that I couldn't come close to counting them all. I couldn't repay you for everything you've done for me, not in a dozen lifetimes. But I can't let that debt be a set of hobbles. I can't let you make personal decisions for me and still be my own mare." I wished I felt anywhere near as certain and confident as I was trying to sound.

I turned to Luna and swallowed. Even in that moment, I wanted to go to her and throw my wings around her, right there in the middle of the throne room. "Luna, what you did was horrible. Flash Sentry is a good, decent pony."

She said nothing in reply, but the tortured expression on her face twisted at my heart. I took a deep breath and then said, "I forgive you. I forgive you, and you are going to explain to me in detail every little dirty trick you've pulled on me this last year, and I am going to forgive you for each one of those, too. No, don't talk to me right now! I think you should go. We'll talk later, when I've calmed down. Please. Go."

Luna looked at me in stunned silence for a moment, then said, "I will await you in the Tower of the Moon." She turned to her sister and gave an exaggerated, courtly bow. "I leave you to the mercy of your protégé, dear sister." Her teleport ripped a big chunk out of the red carpet in front of the throne. Despite her attempt to sound calm, she must still have been pretty upset to make a mistake like that. If it was a mistake.

Celestia hardly waited for the crackle of magic to dissipate before speaking. "I am so sorry, Twilight. I never meant to upset you or Luna this way. You are both dear to me, and I want you to be happy. I apologize for letting things get so far out of hoof."

I tried to respond, but my throat and chest tightened up like they were being squeezed in a dragon's talons. I bit down on my lower lip and nodded in acknowledgement.

Celestia leaned toward me, her voice softening. "I also apologize for what must seem like meddling in your private life, but please try to understand why I am so concerned." She hesitated for a moment, her mouth tightening. Finally, she drew in a shaky breath and continued. "A mare disappointed in love may do many foolish things. In her grief, she can harm herself, harm others. Both you and Luna are so powerful that the harm you might do could be disastrous. Were you any other ponies, your lives would be your own, but you are something greater. You are a part of Equestria and have a responsibility to the kingdom that sometimes carries with it the need for personal sacrifice. Any monarch without dedication to the tasks of leadership quickly becomes a tyrant."

Is that what you really think of me? That I would abandon my responsibilities for love? Or that I would throw a violent tantrum if I lost Luna's love?" I suppose the hurt in my voice was clear because Celestia rushed to deny it.

No, I cannot truly believe that you would. But you are not the only pony involved." Celestia trailed off and looked away from me and toward the tall window that depicted the defeat of Nightmare Moon. "Mere disregard and fear once drove her to near madness, Twilight. She tortured herself in guilt after she returned, with near disastrous results! If she... oh, my heart tears at me to say it, but when she loses you, what might she do then?"

I had no answer for that, of course.

"I can't help what I feel," I said. "I can argue myself into or out of the conclusion that this whole thing is a horribly unwise idea, but I can't change what's in here." I clanked a hoof against my armored chest. "Am I really supposed to ignore that? Is she?"

Celestia sighed and walked slowly down from the high dais. "No, I suppose not." She looked up at the window that memorialized my ascension for a long moment and then she turned her gaze back on me, studying the armor I wore. Luna's armor. "Forgive me, Twilight. I did and said what I thought was needed, but I can see now, that I will not prevail." She lowered her eyes and sighed again. "You must follow your own path."

Her sudden surrender caught me off guard. "It feels so strange to be at odds with you," I said, quietly. "I will admit that it's possible that some time in the future, I'll need a shoulder to cry on and a friend who won't say 'I told you so.' But I have to trust my feelings in this."

"Then it shall be so. If you will not accept my advice, you will at least have my support. You and Luna both. I will hope for your happiness together."

I hesitated, but with a motion of her head, Celestia let me know that she would welcome a hug. I rushed forward and embraced her. My armor clattered against her peytral and made the hug very much less pleasant than usual, but I didn't care. "Please don't worry. I will do my best for Equestria, no matter what. I promise you that!"

"Pinkie promise?"

Hearing that phrase from Celestia was so unexpected that I barked out a laugh. "Yes, Pinkie promise."

We stood there for a while and then fell away from one another.

"Will you at least consult with Cadance about this, Twilight? Perhaps an aloof old mare like myself has no wisdom worth hearing on the subject, but surely the Alicorn of Love can offer good counsel."

"Yes, of course I will," I told her. "Just as soon as it's convenient. There are some other things going on that are a teensy bit more urgent."

"Oh yes," Celestia nodded. "The small matter of a horde of monsters threatening the kingdom."

The return of her dry wit cheered me up immensely. "Yeah. That little thing."

"This time you shall not go without proper support. I have already assigned troops and am making ready an airship."

"Good! Sunbeam should be able to carry—"

"Oh no, Twilight! Sunbeam is a pleasure craft. My flagship, Solar Flare, is being taken out of ground-dock and refitted. Two score of the most experienced unicorns will serve as the main battery, and twice that number of my best pegasi will provide air cover. The strike group will be the Wonderbolts Alpha Squad."

Wow. Lots of ponies think of Celestia as a subtle, guiding hoof on the affairs of the kingdom, but when she decides to get something done, she does not stop at half measures!

= = =

About a half-hour later, I climbed up to Luna's chambers in the Tower of the Moon. I found her pacing back and forth over a ragged chunk of red carpet. Her head shot up at my appearance and her ears flickered nervously.

"Art thou terribly vexed, Twilight?" I didn't think I would ever get used to seeing Luna unsure of herself.

"I don't have time to be vexed. I don't have time to be angry that you bullied a good and honest pony or that you compared me to a kitten. But, I will make time very soon, so don't think you're off the hook. In the meantime..." I grabbed her head and hauled it down to my level. I jammed my mouth against hers and kissed her hard.[1] When I got my breath back, I continued. "Right now, I need the following things: a good jeweler who works fast, the oldest, cheapest airship that can make it to the badlands, and the address of the best alchemist's supplier you know of."
----------
[1] So... angry kisses are a thing. They're not half bad, either.
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I rechecked my mental to-do list. "Oh, and a good florist. No gourmet stuff, though. Rainbow Dash likes her flowers simple and filling."

= = =

=

Author's Note:

Thanks to AcademicPony and statoose for the editing help on this chapter!

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