• 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 II

–––Chapter II–––

"What have you done!?"

It took every ounce of strength Celestia could muster not to keep herself from...well, actually she wasn't sure if she was trying to keep herself from screaming in anger or crying in frustration.

"Is it not obvious? I have removed the moon from the sky."

Unable to stifle it, Celestia let out an exasperated cry.

As soon as the moon had vanished, Celestia had marched Luna back to the castle, to their private quarters. As she had done so she had noticed the looks of anxiety on all of the ponies they'd passed along the way. They were all apprehensive about this new development, but by and large were slowly deciding that once they'd got used to the idea of a moonless sky, it wouldn't be so bad. If only they knew...

"Yes, I can see you've done that! But what have you done with it? Luna, you...you have not destroyed it...have you?"

Luna snorted derisively. Destroy the moon? Impossible. It was two-thousand miles across with a mass of seventy billion-billion tonnes! There was no power in existence capable of destroying the moon, as Celestia should well know.

"Then where is it?"

"That is of no consequence. The moon was mine to do with as I wished, was it not?"

"No!" The exasperated scream came once more. "Luna the moon does not belong to you any more than the sun belongs to me! You are its guardian. Its warden. Its protector and its guide. It is not some toy for you to play with! I can't believe you could be so irresponsible!" Celestia dipped her head and turned away, a terrible wave of disappointment crashing over her. "Luna...this morning you asked if I trusted you. How am I supposed to trust you after this?"

Luna winced as the true extent to which her plan had backfired was levelled squarely at her. Her haughty demeanor vanished, replaced by a desperation of her own. "But...I did it to gain your trust!" She blinked back tears. "I don't...want to become Nightmare Moon again, Tia. And I don't want you to have to fear her return. And you won't! Now that the moon isn't there to tempt me. Please...tell me that you can trust me once again?"

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before Celestia spoke. When she did, it was so soft that Luna had to strain to hear. "I do not know, Luna." Celestia turned to face her sister once more, unable to shake off the look of disappointment. "But you must return the moon to the sky."

"But why?" Luna pleaded. "The moon is not important to the world. It is not like the sun: it does not spread warmth. It gives light only when it is not needed. It does not help plants grow or cause the wind to blow. All it does is cause you an anxiety I would rather you not suffer," she finished plaintively.

Celestia looked at Luna's pleading face. It was hard. Her sister had had good intentions but...somehow she had become completely misguided. She couldn't bring herself to stay angry, but the feeling of disappointment was even worse. She approached her sister to put a foreleg around her shoulders. "Sister, there is far more to the moon than that. It aids travellers by night. It inspires stories, lore, art and poetry. Ponies to this day use it as a measure of time. It brings solace to the lonely and comfort to young foals afraid of the terrors in the dark. It affects many more lives than just ours, and even if it did not..." she took a breath. "Since you returned and the shadow of Nightmare Moon vanished from its surface...I have always thought of it as a symbol of hope, even when things are at their bleakest. You say it is not important to the world – it is. And it is important to me. Please, Luna. Return the moon to the sky."

Tears in her eyes now, Luna gazed at the ground and fumbled her reply. "I–I cannot."

Celestia made to calmly beseech her sister again, but Luna interrupted her, meeting her gaze. "You don't understand. It is not that I won't. It is that I can't."

Celestia was puzzled. "But you removed it...you must be able replace it?"

Luna shook her head, searching for a way to phrase it. "If you throw a ball over a wall into a neighbour's garden, you cannot get it back unless you climb over and retrieve it yourself."

Celestia looked thoughtful. Use of levitation notwithstanding, she understood the analogy Luna was making. "And into whose garden have you thrown the moon, Luna?"

"Tartarus's."

–––

My dearest Twilight,

You will no doubt have been perplexed by the strange events at the conclusion of this evening's Festival of the Eclipse. Please rest assured that there is no immediate cause for alarm. That being said, I require your presence in Canterlot as soon as you are able, and I would very much like for you to bring your friends also.

Please, make haste.

Princess Celestia.

–––

The new day followed the first completely moonless night that Equestria had known for a very long time.

"You wanted to see us, Princess? Uh...Princesses?"

But with the new day came hope. And that hope grew much, much stronger as a relieved Celestia welcomed six ponies and one dragon into the throne room of Canterlot Castle.

"Princess Twilight. Thank you for coming so quickly."

Standing in front of the throne and flanked by Princess Luna, Princess Celestia greeted her former pupil and confidant warmly, as well as her friends.

Twilight was itching. Celestia could see it. She was absolutely desperate to get to her questions. She needed answers like an addict needed salt, but she would dutifully wait for the appropriate time to ask them, even if it killed her.

Taking a breath and addressing all before her, Celestia began an explanation of the unusual events of the previous day that she believed would cover the most pressing of Twilight’s immediate queries without her needing to ask them.

There was no blame apportioned. The vanishing of the moon was presented as an accident. A symptom of the unusual conflux of heavenly bodies and magic causing a most unexpected effect. Twilight would no doubt figure out the exact cause eventually, but she hoped she would never believe it had been a deliberate act, even a well-intentioned one.

Once Celestia revealed the moon's current location deep within Tartarus, and the reason for summoning Twilight seemed to become more and more clear, her friend Rainbow Dash leaped ahead of her.

"So you want us to go to Tartarus, kick the flank of whoever's got the moon, and bring it back to Equestria, right? Hah. No problem!"

Celestia smiled. She made it sound so simple! There were many logical and physical impossibilities with that plan, yet none of them seemed to faze Rainbow Dash in the slightest. Loyal to a fault. Celestia shook her head slightly. "No."

She made eye-contact with Twilight, her face suddenly serious. "Luna and I will travel to Tartarus and rescue the moon. After we are gone, you will be named as ruler of Equestria."

The colour immediately drained from Twilight's face and she looked very ill indeed. "Y–you want me to rule Equestria? By myself?"

"Yes...and no," said Celestia, waiting for the appropriate look of confusion. Then she took a couple of steps closer to her former student and spoke in kind, reassuring tones. "Yes, you will take charge as Princess Twilight Sparkle. And no," she smiled, "I do not expect you to do it alone. That is why I have asked you to bring your friends.

"They will be here to help and support you. Use their knowledge, their wisdom, their expertise and guidance in whatever way you see fit. Let them aid you as I know they will want to, and trust their judgement as I know you do."

Twilight's features pulled a quick one-eighty, fear vanishing in a flash and a look of unbridled confidence manifesting in its place. When she was with her friends there was nothing they couldn't do, and armed with the knowledge that Celestia was expecting and encouraging her to make use of her friendships, she was suddenly certain that there was no challenge ruling an empire could pose that they couldn't solve together.

She looked around at them now, seeing that same look of confidence – in varying styles admittedly – on each of their faces, then turned back to face Celestia and Luna. "Don't worry, Princesses, we'll take good care of Equestria."

"I know you will," Celestia smiled, that same confidence building in her now too. This had been her biggest concern of all, leaving Equestria behind. But now, just like that, it was no concern at all. She saw the resolve in Twilight's eyes, matched by each of her friends behind her, and knew the kingdom would be safe. "I have absolute faith in you," she said honestly. "You are ready for this."

–––

"You do not have to accompany me. If you wish to give Twilight Sparkle a lesson in leadership, then why not stay and mentor her, rather than this...trial by fire? I will travel to Tartarus and return with the moon within the week."

Back in her quarters, Luna finished packing the final few supplies into her saddlebags, not looking at her sister.

"Luna, this is not open for discussion. I am coming with you and that is all there is to say."

"Your assistance is unnecessary and, I have to say, at this point unwelcome. This is my responsibility and I have promised to rectify my mistake. You insist on coming with me only because you do not trust me to do so."

"I insist on coming with you because I don't want you to get hurt!" Celestia scolded. She took a deep breath, chasing the anger away. "Luna, have you ever been into Tartarus? It is a place even I would not dare enter alone."

Luna harrumphed. "It is a place filled with decrepit creatures vanquished long ago, none of which we are likely to even see." She rounded on her sister. "Twilight Sparkle has her own list of mis-steps, Celestia. Yet you trust her to rule a country while you do not trust me to retrieve a lost ball! Why is she so worthy of your faith when I am not?!"

Celestia had to pause a moment to register shock. Then came the increasingly-familiar feeling of disappointment in her sister. "Luna, that was uncalled for."

Luna's head sank. Yes, it was. In truth she bore no ill will to Twilight. "I'm sorry, Tia. I'm just...upset that we're fighting."

For what seemed like the tenth time since yesterday, Celestia approached her and put a consoling foreleg around her withers. "You are right, Luna: this is your responsibility. But I do have faith in you, and I truly have no doubt you will succeed in returning the moon. I am not coming with you to second-guess you and look over your shoulder. I am coming with you because I want to help you and keep you safe." She smiled down at Luna. "You're still my little sister, after all."

Luna looked back up into her eyes. She saw nothing but love and honesty in them.

Tartarus was several days worth of travel away, through foreign and hostile lands. Did she really mean to go alone just to prove a point? Was spiting her sister what she really wanted? Or would she rather travel with the pony she knew best and cared for most in the world? Wasn't this a chance to start rebuilding that lost trust?

"I...have changed my mind. I think perhaps I would like your company after all." She looked back at Celestia. "Thank you...big sister."

–––

There was no formal ceremony. No pompous fanfare signalling the departure of the Royal Sisters by gold-plated carriage. Rather, in the late afternoon, eight ponies and one dragon gathered on a large castle balcony overlooking Equestria below and simply said goodbye and good luck. And once everything had been said that needed saying, the two sisters, both laden with full saddlebags, spread their wings and took flight into the peaceful, clear blue sky.

Through the heavens they soared, good fortune favouring them in the form of gentle winds and warm thermals upon which they glided effortlessly. It had been a while since either had really flown for any period and both enjoyed the sensation of freedom they had largely forgotten. Even at the Festival yesterday, they had not been truly free like this.

For five hours they flew until the imminent arrival of dusk would soon make it too dark to see by. A few minutes before sunset they alighted upon the earth once more on the bank of a small and peaceful brook, dutifully meandering its way toward some far off ocean. The small, tranquil glade was dotted with leafy trees near the water but gave way to an expansive view across the plain to the west, to where grey mountains rose in the far distance to greet the sky.

Shedding her saddlebags, Celestia hopped over the brook and stood at the edge of the glade, looking out at the sun now just about to reach the mountains. For the first time, she prepared to simply watch the sun go down.

Luna joined her at her side, casting her own gaze upon the imminent sunset. "Are you sure she will be able to do it?"

Celestia smiled. "I am certain she is capable." She had to stifle a chuckle. "I am more concerned that she will forget."

"And if she does?"

Celestia's smile widened. "One of her friends will remind her. There will be a brief panic, and the sun will set a little later than usual."

As though it were prophecy, the sun chose that moment to meet the horizon and, having reached the end of its assigned course for the day, stopped moving.

It remained that way for about ten minutes, but Celestia remained stoic. She would not intervene, she would wait. Twilight would realise her error and learn from it. That was what it was all about. Eventually – and more quickly than usual – the sun began to move again, pushed frantically below the horizon, leaving only the warm afterglow of the evening.

It should have been a relief. Twilight Sparkle had successfully set the sun. Instead, Celestia felt very...empty.

The sun. Her charge. Her companion. The constant presence in her life...was no longer hers. It belonged to another now. Just like that. Relinquishing the sun had left a void within her that would never be filled by anything else.

"I know how you feel," Luna said quietly from beside her. "I felt it last night...when, on instinct, I tried to raise a moon that wasn't there. It is a hollow, sickening feeling. I truly did not realise how big a mistake I had made until I felt its absence."

The two sisters stood in melancholic silence, watching the warm glow fade from the evening sky. As the point at which the moon should have risen arrived, there arose a sudden strong wind causing the branches of the trees in the glade to sway vigorously and the leaves to rustle so loudly that one would've needed to shout to make themselves heard. It lasted for a few minutes, but just as Luna was about to suggest finding shelter it died as quickly as it had risen and all was calm once more.

The last light faded, and with no moon overhead the night was as dark as pitch. The two sisters worked using the light of their horns to set a makeshift camp, laying and lighting a fire and unpacking their bedrolls close to it. Then, they settled down for the night.

"Tia?"

"Yes?"

The night was Luna's domain. There was no terror in it she could not match. No nocturnal monster she could not vanquish. And yet at the same time, here and now, at the beginning of such an important and perilous journey..."Thank you."

She wouldn't want to be here alone.

–––

The dream was familiar.

Celestia found herself in surroundings with which she was well acquainted. An ancient castle she had once proudly called home.

“Not another step!”

From the far end of the Great Hall, her younger sister emerged from behind the twin thrones and stepped forward onto a low balcony. She appeared angry. Vengeful even. But why?

“Luna? What’s going on?”

Luna frowned and glared at her with undisguised fury and loathing. She knew they had not been getting on recently, but why such resentment?

“Did you really expect me to stand idly by while they all basked in your precious light?!”

“Luna...what’s wrong? Please, talk to me.”

“No, sister! The time for talking is passed. It is time now for action!”

A thunderous explosion erupted through the hall, causing the far wall to collapse into a pile of rubble and dust. As it did so Luna took wing, hovering six feet in the air. From beyond the destroyed wall the moon rose from the horizon, hunting down the unsuspecting sun. It reached it and as it did so it began to expand to cover the entire face of it, blocking out all light but continuing to grow. The moon swelled until it covered half the sky, casting an almost blinding light upon Celestia. Luna rose to place herself silhouetted against the centre of the huge white disc and as she did so a strange transformation seemed to take her.

Her coat darkened. Her wings changed shape to become angular and sweeping. Her teeth elongated into fangs, and when she spoke her voice had deepened to a sarcastic mockery of her sister’s usual kind timbre.

“Luna is gone, my sister. I...am Nightmare Moon!”

Celestia took a step back, not believing what she was seeing, And yet...that shape, that voice, that name...it all seemed familiar somehow. Had something like this happened before? It was difficult to remember. If it had, then wasn’t there a way to beat this creature and get her sister back? What was it? Why couldn’t she remember? Luna was in trouble. She had to think!

Before she could respond, Nightmare Moon levelled her horn at her and unleashed a scorching blast of magic. It was all Celestia could do to leap clear, but the blast found the flagstones near her and the resulting explosion knocked her to the floor, to the sound of cackling from the hateful beast.

With more difficulty than should have been the case, Celestia regained her hooves. Lowering her head she glowered at the monster before her. “Luna! I don’t know what has happened to you, but you are my sister and I love you. Please...I do not want to fight you!”

Nightmare Moon laughed deeply. “Equestria will be mine, dear sister. After, I've destroyed you!”

No! She couldn’t let this monster win. At least not while it still had her sister. She had to free her, she had to!

But she couldn't think of anything. And now it was too late, as Nightmare Moon lowered her head and prepared to attack.

As one, both let out angry, raging battle cries and galloped towards the other. Magical attacks were exchanged and deflected until the two combatants met, each adopting a fighting stance and preparing to strike. Nightmare Moon's foreleg raised, Celestia with outstretched hooves. As they made contact a blinding white light obscured all vision for a moment. Celestia felt a sudden intense pain in her right side, but her momentum carried her forward into the body of the monster and she wrapped her forelegs around it in a tender hug.

"Please, Luna, come back," she whispered as she searched for some sign – any sign – of the wonderful filly she used to know trapped deep within the creature before her. But she felt no such presence, and with a sickening realisation accompanying the intense pain in her side, she knew she had failed.

Nightmare Moon had taken her sister and all of Equestria, and she hadn’t been able to stop her. She was certain there had been a way to defeat her. To save her sister. Why couldn’t she remember it?

She felt herself getting weaker and the dream faded to emptiness.

–––

Celestia startled awake, her breathing a little heavier than usual but otherwise none the worse for wear. The night was as dark as ever but the still-glowing embers in the fire cast a warm orange light upon the makeshift camp. Strangely, the pain in her right side that she had felt in her dream continued its presence into the waking world. As she craned her neck to examine herself it became apparent that she had rolled off her bedroll in the night and onto a particularly sharp, pokey twig. She brushed it aside with a wing, sat up and glanced over at Luna, sound asleep.

She wondered if Luna had been watching her again, but she had no way of knowing. Dreamwalking – or scrying, as Celestia affectionately called it – was a talent in which Luna was unmatched.

A pony's mind could be likened to a gigantic lake. Their consciousness was everything that was above the water's surface; the trees, the mountains, the grass – everything you could interact with. Their subconscious, was everything below the waterline that you could never see while you yourself were above it.

Luna had the unique ability slip below the water without making so much as a ripple, and once there she could see and share in your dreams, and even interact with them if she desired.

Luna had tried to teach the technique to her, but no matter how Celestia tried she didn't have her sister's skill. Whenever she tried to enter the water, she splashed and made waves that would often destroy or corrupt fragile dreams. Luna had a way of entering with such subtlety that even Celestia had never been able to tell if she was there or not, unless she made herself known.

It was a powerful skill, and had the potential to be horribly abused. But Luna took her responsibility seriously. She used it because she genuinely cared, and only wanted to help. Celestia smiled. That was the sister she knew and loved.

As Celestia watched, Luna stirred from sleep. Rousing slowly, she noticed her sister already awake. "What time is it?"

"A little before sunrise, I think," replied Celestia, looking down at her sister with a small, kind smile. "Where were you?"

"With a young colt somewhere in Hollow Shades," said Luna sitting herself up and casting aside the last cobwebs of slumber. "He was terrified that something called the 'Bogey-Pony' was going to come and get him in the night." Luna smiled wistfully. "I took him hunting for it in the dark, scary woods near his home. When we found the creature it turned out not to be a pony at all, but a lonely, lost griffon who needed a friend."

"A griffon?"

"Something approachable yet exotic," she explained. "Children enjoy seeing new things in their dreams."

"I am just surprised you did not simply create a Bogey-Pony for him to vanquish."

Luna shook her head. "He would believe he was only able to defeat it with my help, and it would return later to prey on that insecurity. Rather, the creature has now been transformed permanently from an icon of horror into one of happiness. He will no longer have any fear of the Bogey-Pony he now knows never existed, and he has instead made a friend."

Celestia's smile remained. Luna took her responsibilities seriously. That was the sister she knew and loved. But before that thought left her head again, Luna spoke up.

"Where were you?"

The question caught her off guard. She didn't have time to deflect it without hesitating, and by then it was too late.

"You had the nightmare again." It wasn't a question.

"Yes," Celestia admitted.

Getting up from her bedroll, Luna rounded the fire and sat next to her sister. She hugged her with a foreleg and looked up into her eyes. "Tell me."

"Luna, I don't think–"

"Tell me."

It wasn't a question.

Giving in, Celestia explained the latest variation on the familiar themes while Luna listened intently at her side, hugging her as though she were a filly hearing a ghost story. As Celestia recounted the final moments of her dream – begging Luna to come back while at the same time knowing she was gone forever – she found herself involuntarily starting to well up, and had to choke back a tear. She hoped that her usual composure had not faltered enough for her sister to notice.

As she finished the tale, Luna whispered, "I'm sorry I wasn't with you."

A pair of mutinous tears escaped and Celestia blinked them away quickly. "Do not be silly, Luna. You have far more important places to be, and you mustn't worry about me. Now, we should get ready to move on. The sun is about to come up." Celestia deliberately directed her gaze to the distance where the imminent arrival of the day was evidenced by the growing light over the mountaintops.

The two sisters stood and looked out over the plain toward the mountains, to the growing golden light in the sky. It was strange though, there was something odd about it. What was it?

As the first sliver of sun peeked over the distant mountaintops, the realisation struck them at about the same time. Celestia brought a hoof to her head while Luna voiced the now-obvious in an expert deadpan tone.

"The sun is rising in the west."

Celestia buried her face in her hoof and tried unsuccessfully not to laugh. "Oh, Twilight..."