• Published 3rd May 2014
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Eclipse - 8686



A recurring nightmare convinces Luna that, since her return, she has never regained her sister's complete trust. And at the forthcoming Festival of the Eclipse, she decides to make amends with a bold gesture: she removes the moon from the sky.

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Chapter IX

–––Chapter IX–––

The sisters woke after a wonderful night's sleep, fully refreshed albeit hungry. Complaints of aching wings and stiff leg-muscles were things of the past, and they both possessed a new optimistic vigour that had eluded them for too long.

They breakfasted in the banquet hall upon their now-dwindling supply of rations and, once done and packed, they made to leave the castle and continue their mission.

On their way out, by necessity, they passed Celestia's prison-room once again. As they did so, Luna halted and looked at the doorway. She gave Celestia an 'I'll be right back' look before slipping inside the room. A moment later there was the sound of a blast of magic, followed by something very heavy falling to the floor and breaking. Then Luna re-emerged from the room.

"The statue is no more," she said. "I have a few ideas for the room itself, and in due course I'll get rid of all the other statues too. But we don't have the time now."

Celestia put on a puzzled look. "'In due course'?"

Luna looked a little abashed as she led her sister out of the main castle entrance and onto the lunar surface. "Well, I have been thinking. Once we return the moon to Equestria and set right all the wrong that I have caused...there will be no reason I cannot Bridge back to the moon in future. It seems a shame to let my castle go to waste." She stopped and glanced between Celestia and the castle now a few dozen meters behind them. "I am thinking of turning it into a private retreat of sorts. Just for us. The Fire-Falls are wonderful, sister, but wouldn't it be nice to have somewhere real where we could relax, totally private, and for more than a couple of hours at a time?"

Celestia nodded. She had to admit, that it was a nice idea. She wasn't sure how often they'd get to make use of it, given the travelling time to and from...but if it was only for rare occasions that would make it more special.

Luna was still, looking contemplatively back at the castle. "Midnight Castle..." she mused. "Of all the names I came up with, that is the one I think I like the most. It sounds...peaceful."

"It is certainly an improvement on 'Celestia's Ruin.'"

Luna looked back and gave a wry grin. Then she lit her horn and concentrated on forming a Bridge back to Tartarus below.

From their current perspective, the sky was once again cracked into irregular sectors, all of which contained a black midnight sky save for one. One sector only showed them the same mountain-top and escarpment scene from which they had originally departed, as though viewed from little more than two or three miles above, though in reality it could be nowhere near that close. Luna concentrated and the Bridge formed, providing them safe passage back to the infernal realm below.

They walked the Bridge, continuing to chat and talk. After a while, Luna spoke up. "Tia? Do you mind if I ask you about your room? About how you tried to get me back?"

"About why I made such a meal of it?" Celestia smiled. "Undoing what the Elements of Harmony did to seal you in the moon without actually being able to use the Elements was very problematic. At first I thought it was permanent. It was only later that I learned it might not be. Then there was always the issue of how to get you back and not Nightmare Moon." The gears in Celestia's head had involuntarily started turning by now and she couldn't stop them. "I couldn't risk bringing Nightmare Moon back to Equestria. She was too powerful and I would always be reluctant to fight her lest I risk hurting you. But I couldn't find a way to change you back without studying Nightmare Moon herself. Catch twenty-two."

"The Elements of Harmony?"

"They had abandoned me. They understood that what I did was necessary, but they were still unhappy at being used against one of their bearers. I searched for a long time for others that were worthy – ones that I could trust with your safety – and found none. After two hundred years I gave up on them and tried to find alternatives, even though all my research pointed back to the Elements. And so it ultimately proved. The rest you know."

Luna gave a low hum but was apparently satisfied with the explanation. Then she had another question. "Tia...what...what would you have done if I had become Nightmare Moon again? If I had left you there?"

"In truth, not very much," Celestia admitted. "Though I'm sure Twilight would have been along to rescue me eventually." She gave a wry look. "It wouldn't be the first time."

They walked on, discussing and debating until in seemingly no time at all they had reached the end of the Bridge and were once more back on the escarpment from where they had originally departed. They stepped off the Bridge and a moment later it dutifully vanished, leaving Luna and Celestia to stare up at the moon from which they had just come. Interestingly, all of the other moons had disappeared from their parts of the sky, leaving only the one true moon hanging over them.

"So, are you able to reverse your spell?" asked Celestia.

"No. The spell I used was one-way."

"Then how do you propose we remove the moon from Tartarus? I don't think it will fit through the gate, somehow."

"Oh, it will," said Luna with a twinkle in her eye. "Do you not know this trick either, sister?" Luna bowed her head slightly, aiming her horn at the full moon above them. She closed her eyes and her aura appeared. She frowned, concentrated and strained as her aura intensified, eventually glowing with a searing blue-white light. Luna grunted in exertion and her magic only grew stronger...but nothing seemed to be happening.

Then from somewhere overhead there was the briefest flash of light. It seemed to come from the moon but it was so fleeting that Celestia wasn't sure it had been there at all.

Luna's horn dimmed and went out. She was exhausted and panting hard, though she had a proud smile on her face.

Celestia had to put her confused expression on. She looked from Luna to the moon above them. Nothing seemed to have happened.

Then Luna stood beside her and as Celestia watched, Luna reached out with her forehooves towards the moon in the sky and...picked it up!

Slowly, carefully, Luna grasped the moon – now apparently no larger than a bowling ball, and approximately as heavy – with her hooves and brought it safely down from the sky.

Celestia was stunned, her jaw hanging open and her eyes wide. "That...is...impossible!" she said, in spite of what she had just seen. "The moon is–"

"Two-thousand miles across with a mass of about seventy billion-billion tonnes," Luna broke in. "And it still is. It is just...condensed a bit. I have altered how we – you, I, Tartarus, the world – perceive it, for the time being."

Opening her saddlebags and using levitation to transfer all of her remaining items into one of the two, she carefully made to place the moon into the other...and stopped. Still with the moon in her hooves, she looked fixedly at it and then carefully rotated it clockwise one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees. Her frown increased. "Upside down," she said, annoyed. "Tartarus hung the moon upside down. That is why I didn't recognise it." She looked at the sky in exasperation. "I feel like such a foal." Opening the flap once more on her now-empty saddlebag, Luna carefully placed the moon inside and closed it again.

"You intend to carry it all the way back to Equestria? While maintaining that spell? Luna that will not be easy."

"I...may be glad of some help down the line," Luna admitted. "For now though, let us get out of this place. I do not wish to remain here longer than necessary."

Nodding, Celestia lit her own horn. A few moments later, out beyond the shallow valley before them, far far away in the distance, a beam of yellow-golden light shone upwards into the sky, projected by her rock-beacon.

Luna frowned once more. "Now that is impossible. That is not the direction from which we came," she said, turning to look behind her, to where escarpment became mountain-peak falling into ocean far below.

"Nevertheless, that is where the exit is," confirmed Celestia.

Luna gritted her teeth in frustration. "Tartarus is supposed to be infinite. Who knows how far away that is? We could be travelling for weeks!"

Celestia smiled a little, knowing smile. "I know exactly how far away that is."

Luna looked up at her. Tartarus had not played at all fair with perceived distances thus far, but her sister was somehow confident she could gauge it from here?

Celestia spoke again, her smile becoming a grin. "It is a little over thirteen miles."

–––

It was so satisfying.

Travelling over Tartarus' infinite, pointlessly mixed-up, arbitrarily elastic landscapes on a bridge that the universe had decided could only ever be thirteen-and-a-third miles long. It was like they were finally getting their own back on this cursed realm.

As they began to walk the Bridge, the landscape below seemed to fall further away with every step, until by halfway it seemed as far distant below them as the sky was above. From this height, the sisters could see that the patchwork topography – the whole ground – slowly, constantly shifted and distorted, melded and blurred in a similar manner to the sectors of sky above them, or the shadows of life and death they'd seen in the forest. The whole of Tartarus seemed to be in a state of permanent flux.

As they continued to look down in silent fascination, they saw all manner of un-worldly phenomena. Huge, terrible lizard-like monsters walking upon two legs and with disproportionately tiny arms; a giant lake of fire; a ruined futuristic city; a bog-of-eternal-stench. All obstacles which Tartarus would have intended they face, which they were now bypassing with great delight.

They passed what must have been the halfway point. The landscape below began to brighten into daylight, and the sectors of sky immediately above and in front of them showed signs of brightening up. The ground began to ascend again until, eventually, they stepped off the Bridge onto a small patch of sandy – not rocky as it had been before, oddly enough – desert placed before the great gate through which they had previously passed.

And immediately outside, right where he had been when they'd entered, a loyal Cerberus was still sat waiting, all three of his faces displaying looks of patient anxiety.

As soon as he saw the sisters emerge from the ominous glow beyond the great gate, and thus pass safely out of Tartarus, his expressions became unparalleled exemplars of joy and relief. He threatened to grace both sisters with another hearty lick, but they were ready for him this time and instead managed to fuss over him while remaining dry and slobber-free.

Free of Tartarus with the moon safely in tow, Celestia and Luna's spirits both soared considerably and they exchanged relieved and hearty grins. They had made it! They had the moon and were safely out. The hard part was surely over.

Celestia found the rock where she had written her earlier letter to Twilight, and quickly wrote another – albeit shorter – one.

Dearest Twilight,

Luna has recovered the moon and we have safely left Tartarus. Expect us home in a couple of days.

Celestia.

With a flash of magic the parchment burned and vanished, on its way to Spike, and Celestia stood up as Luna continued to give Cerberus some much-wanted attention.

"My old friend." Celestia smiled at Cerberus. "It has been so good to see you again, but as much as I want to, we cannot stay."

Cerberus whined and looked oh, so sad. She'd never have believed that such an inherently fearsome animal could effectively pull off the puppy-dog look, but he managed it. And when it was multiplied by three it couldn't help to melt her heart a little.

As difficult as it was though, Celestia was right, and Cerberus' place was at Tartarus' gate, loyally and ably protecting the world at large from the dangers within. With a final, heartfelt hug, Celestia and Luna bid Cerberus goodbye.

"Good boy, Cerberus. Good boy," whispered Celestia.

"You will be missed," added Luna.

Leaving him at the gate, the two sisters made their way away down the beach to the bank of the river where another wooden post struck the ground. From it hung a similar curved horn, though instead of white bone, this appeared fashioned from black onyx. Luna took up the horn and, bringing it to her lips, fluffed her first attempt at blowing as the horn made only a strangled squeak. Looking offendedly at the horn as though it were clearly broken, she nevertheless tried again and on the second occasion managed to produce a loud, bellowing rumble that echoed through the air and into the fog.

The two sisters stood on the bank, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Charon's ferry.

"Since we arrived I believe we have added quite a few tears to that river," thought Luna out loud.

"I think most were tears of happiness," said Celestia with a smile and a sidelong glance at her sister. "I do not mind crying those."

The ferry arrived, Charon patiently waiting while the two sisters boarded – no payment was required for the return trip it seemed – and sat. Then, with a soft scraping the small boat left the shore and headed out into the river.

The sisters left Tartarus behind, and were not sad to see it go.