• Published 3rd May 2014
  • 3,666 Views, 174 Comments

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 III

–––Chapter III–––

By midmorning on the second day the flight of the two sisters had carried them beyond the boundary of what could properly be called Equestria. Heading perpetually south, they crossed foreign rolling plains and low hills, open countryside and a massive expanse of thick, green forest where a cool flowing river provided refreshment and filled their canteens. Following that, their pace became a little slower than the previous day due to some tricky headwinds and a heavy downpour early in the evening that caught them by surprise.

Spying a low mountain nearby, they descended and took shelter in a large, deep cave, the opening facing back north in the direction of home. Deciding that the rain was not going to die before sunset – and that they had made sufficient progress for the day – they crafted their campsite quickly, drying and warming themselves by a pit of magically heat-blasted rocks.

The sun set as normal in the western sky, having followed a most bizarre course throughout the day. It had reached the zenith of its path at midday, then done a small loop before retracing its steps back from where it had come. It set now below the horizon in a more ordered fashion than the previous evening and, under thick storm clouds, the sky faded to a lightless black void.

As with the previous evening an immense wind broke out as the night took hold, though it did not abate nearly as quickly. Instead it persisted, howling like a furious banshee across the cave entrance. Then at the point the wind was at its most intense there arose a tremor in the very rock itself. The mountain quaked softly but perceptibly for several minutes, dislodging dust and small rocks high in the cave ceiling. At the same time, the storm seemed to become far more intense: the rain now cacophonously cascading against the mountain beyond the cave, and several streaks of lightning clearly visible beyond, striking down to earth.

After an hour or so, it subsided. The wind died to a more normal level and the storm seemed to wither. The rain kept falling, but no longer with the same intensity, and speech was at least now audible over the background noise.

"I have never seen the like," remarked Luna under her breath. Celestia appeared contemplative, but remained silent.

They shared rations over the glow of the red-hot rocks that substituted for their fire until it was time to retire to bed, to the now soft patter of the rain upon the mountain slope.

–––

A familiar dream. An ancient castle. An horrific transformation. A blinding explosion. The moon rose, striking toward the sun, colliding with it and shattering it into a thousand slivers of white gold, raining down around Celestia.

"I have only one royal duty now. To destroy you!"

Nightmare Moon unleashed bolt of magic forcing Celestia to flee to the air, twisting and turning through the ruined castle ceiling. Nightmare Moon pursued her, lashing out with powerful attacks which vapourised every wall and column they struck. Celestia swooped and dodged, but each time she evaded, Nightmare Moon closed the distance. She couldn't stay ahead of her unless she fought back...but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She couldn't attack her own sister. She couldn't hurt Luna.

Nightmare Moon had no such qualms, attacking and closing. Harrying and pursuing, and eventually the inevitable happened. A lance of powerful magic, too close to dodge, struck Celestia square in the chest as she tried to barrel roll away. She screamed in pain and felt herself falling. A second later she struck the floor of the great hall heavily, every fibre of her body crying in agony.

But alive. She shouldn't be, yet she was.

Had Luna held back? Was there some shred of her sister still within that monster? If there was even a chance...she realised she could never bring herself to risk hurting her.

But she couldn't do nothing. She couldn't allow Nightmare Moon to rule Equestria with cruelty and menace. Struggling to her hooves, her legs shaky, her body still in pain, she stood and with a terrible resolve, made the only decision she could.

"Oh my sister. I am sorry, but you have given me no choice but to use these."

Celestia lit her own horn and behind her, from a large stone trapdoor in the floor an ornate white-stone plinth emerged. A central column supporting five outstretched arms and atop each, a different coloured gemstone floating softly. Seizing them in her magic she guided them to her. They surrounded her and began to glow and spin.

Flexing her aching wings and taking to the air, she confronted the menacing creature still searching for her among the ruins of the castle far below. They squared up to each other, Nightmare Moon letting loose a terrible blast of magic while simultaneously Celestia, tears streaming, arranged the Elements in formation, called upon the power of harmony and sent forth a wave of her own. They collided, but the power of light was too strong for Nightmare Moon. Harmony overwhelmed her dark magic, reaching her and enveloping her, propelling her toward the moon, imprisoning her permanently.

Incarcerated forever...but alive and unhurt.

Luna...

Her wings tired and still in pain, Celestia landed heavily in the ruins of the home she had happily shared with her little sister. The Elements of Harmony slipped from her grasp, falling to the floor. As they did so they dimmed and lost their sparkle, becoming nothing more than inert pieces of rock. For all intents and purposes, dead. Then, the Element of Magic – the six-point star – simply vanished. Fading from existence as though it were never there.

Celestia simply sat very still. Numb. Breathing hard and still in pain.

Alone.

Her home was destroyed. The Elements of Harmony had abandoned her. Her sister was...

Her sister was...

Gone.

She looked up at the new shadow cast upon the lunar surface and wept.

"Please, Luna. Come back..." she whispered quietly to herself.

In time she would leave. She would replace the remaining Elements on their pedestal and forever abandon this castle. It could be repaired but...no. It was the Castle of the Two Sisters. She would always remember it as such. She couldn't remain here alone.

But for now, she simply grieved.

"I'm here." A soft whisper at her back. She felt a hoof on her shoulder and turned to see her sister stood close.

Realisation dawned. She was having the dream again. And Luna was dreaming with her.

She felt a brief but powerful surge of happiness. Her sister was alright! She managed to stop the tears and regain her usual composure with some effort. Luna simply looked at her with nothing but kindness. Then she smiled a sympathetic smile and tried to lighten the mood.

"This dream causes you such woe, Tia. I can't fathom why you spend so much time here. Come. I would rather we relived a happier memory."

Luna extended a hoof and helped Celestia to hers. With the realisation of the dream came rejuvenation. Celestia's body no longer ached or faltered from fatigue and she felt as fresh as she did at the dawn of a new day. Luna led Celestia into the sky, and toward one of those happy memories.

Such is the manner of dreams that they traveled without moving, arrived without leaving, and completed a nonexistent journey of thousands of leagues in but a moment.

Luna guided her sister toward a high plateau upon the tallest mountain imaginable, to the site of one of their favourite dreams.

The Fire-Falls existed nowhere in the real world; only within the minds of two close sisters who had discovered them long ago while exploring their dreamscapes together. And they had not been here in a very long time.

Upon the wide mountain plateau, nestled against the base of a high cliff was a deep plunge-pool of liquid gold, shimmering beneath a perfectly clear velvet sky into which were set thousands of tiny ice-white stars and a stunning silver moon. The golden pool steamed softly and along the far edge where it met the cliff-face it boiled and frothed. From the foam rose a great, thick cascade of orange-yellow fire, the flames climbing the apparently-flammable vertical rock of the mountain cliff as though a waterfall in reverse, before disappearing over a craggy shelf high above. Elsewhere on the mountain flames of different colours ignited from other pools of precious metals, but it was the golden fire that the sisters enjoyed most.

"Oh, Luna. It has been too long," said Celestia in awe as she approached the pool. She reached the edge and turned to face her sister with a smile. "I have missed this."

Luna joined her at her side and they entered the pool together. What should have been the searing heat of liquid gold was no more uncomfortable than a hot-spring. They settled themselves at the edge, the pool having the effect of making them utterly relaxed and content. With no urgencies or cares, they basked beneath the perfectly still night sky and the silver disc of the moon. The fears and worries of the earlier dream were simply forgotten. Everything was peaceful, and while they were here, together, always would be. This was something that they shared. That only they two could ever share.

Luna was content to watch her sister at her ease. Celestia dunked her head beneath the surface and the liquid gold ran off it like water when she re-emerged. She showered in the golden cascade of fire – the warm, soft flames licking her coat and offering a wonderful, rejuvinating sensation. And she returned to the edge of the pool to be near to her sister, resting next to her in quiet tranquility. Even for Luna, to see Celestia completely let her guard down was a rare thing. She wore her air of calm composure almost non-stop, rarely betraying emotion or frailty. Even at the Festival she had remained slightly reserved in spite of the informal atmosphere. Here and now though, in the most private place in the universe where no other eyes could ever see, it was wonderful to see that beneath it she still had wants, hopes, fears and failings like anypony else.

"So lonely," Luna said, causing Celestia to take notice. She looked over at Luna, then her face fell into a guilty countenance. But Luna, knowing where Celestia had leaped to spoke again. "I meant you." She looked at her in sympathy.

Dream-sharing allowed the second party to feel emotions the dreamer felt, and during the earlier dream, after Nightmare Moon had been banished, there was one feeling resonating from Celestia that surmounted all others: she had been lonely.

But the feeling had not abated. It had echoed through time and consciousness to the present. A feeling of remorseful solitude propagating for a thousand years to even here and now.

"You still feel alone? Why?"

Celestia made eye-contact with Luna, knowing it was impossible to be anything other than honest without being discovered. Not that she had any inclination to be deceptive, but she still felt discomfort in talking about it.

"After you were gone, I ruled alone for a thousand years. Certain things were expected, a professional detachment among them. It is a habit I have found hard to break."

"But, loneliness? Your friends, surely they give you comfort?"

"I have known many ponies in my time. Advisors, dignitaries, colleagues, subjects, students. I do not believe any would call me a 'friend.'" She looked at the heavens, at the thousands of tiny, twinkling stars overhead and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "There is a reason I sent Twilight Sparkle to study and learn about friendship in Ponyville. It certainly wasn't because I knew it all already."

"And Twilight herself?" Luna quirked an eyebrow. "Probably the pony you have your closest relationship with? Even she is not a friend?"

Celestia smiled sadly and gazed into the middle distance. "Twilight Sparkle was a wonderful, faithful student. Now she is a Princess and a leader in her own right. We have always had an excellent relationship. But friendship beyond that? Of the kind she enjoys with her true friends?" She looked down at the golden pool, her own face reflected within it. "I do not believe so."

Luna furrowed her brow at her sister. "I believe Twilight would disagree. In fact if you opened your eyes a little wider, sister, you would probably find a half-dozen other friends you didn't know you had."

Luna waited for a reply, but Celestia seemed to have none to make. Instead she simply continued gazing contemplatively into the warm and relaxing golden liquid softly swirling around her neck. Still looking kindly at Celestia, she added softly, "And you will always have me. Never be lonely again, Tia. Please?"

Celestia raised her head at that, looking back into Luna's eyes and smiling, happy tears at the corner of her eyes.

Then all of a sudden the sky, the mountain, everything seemed to become a shade paler and more washed-out. Celestia felt the familiar feeling of the dream slipping away as consciousness began to re-assert itself. In a few seconds everything faded to white and she felt no more.

–––

For the first time in a week, Celestia awoke completely refreshed after a wonderful night's sleep. Light filtered in through the mouth of the cave, signifying that they had missed the sunrise this morn. She glanced over at Luna who was herself stirring awake and gave her a smile and a grateful nod. Luna smiled back.

Gathering their saddlebags they stood at the entrance to the cave, looking back in the direction they had come; back towards home in the early light of a clear new day.

Luna saw it first. An impossibly tiny black speck in the distance. "What is that?" she whispered, more to herself than in any hope of an answer.

Scanning the sky, it took Celestia a few moments longer to see it, and as she watched she noticed it was getting bigger.

No, strike that. It was getting closer. A small wisp of dark smoke speeding towards them. Closer and closer until eventually, in a matter of seconds it was upon them. The plume of smoke darted to Celestia, coiled, and ignited into a flash of sparkling green fire. Materialising from the flame, a parchment scroll with a very familiar red band and gold horse-shoe seal. Caught by surprise and acting solely on instinct and muscle-memory, Celestia seized the paper in her magic and unsealed it.

With an involuntary smile, she realised she already knew what the first three words were going to be before her eyes had even reached them.

Dear Princess Celestia;

I am writing to keep you and Princess Luna informed of the current state of affairs in Canterlot. You may both rest assured that everything is fine here. Aside from some rougher than normal weather that the pegasi assure me they will have under control soon, and a few wrinkles to iron out as regards the whole 'sun' thing (sorry!), the city and country are in good order and we are all doing our part to make sure it stays that way until your return.

Applejack has been helping me mediate disputes in the royal court. She has a knack for spotting duplicity and always seems to come up with a fair resolution for all involved.

Rainbow Dash has volunteered to manage the duties of the Royal Guard, organising training exercises and drills for them using her unique coaching and motivational skills.

Pinkie Pie has put herself in charge of morale for the whole city. I know that sounds like a tall order but...well, you've never seen so many streamers...

Fluttershy is taking care of the myriad animals in the Royal Garden, as well as Philomena and Tiberius who both send their love.

Rarity has been invaluable in helping me with matters of etiquette and protocol. Meeting with the various important ponies from around the city this past day has shown me what a minefield it can be!

Spike is, as always, everywhere I need him and everything I need him to be. I don't know what I'd do without him.

I don't know what I'd do without any of them.

Please write back and let us know you're both okay. We all miss you.

Your faithful steward,

Twilight Sparkle.

Celestia automatically stopped reading at that point, and had to catch herself. Twilight's signature was where every other letter always ended. But not this one. In this letter, beneath Twilight's familiar scrawl, were several others:

Applejack
Rainbow Dash
Pinkie Pie!
Fluttershy
Rarity
Spike

Luna smiled. "It has been just short of two days, and these seven have put pen to paper to tell you how much you are missed. Are these not your friends, Tia?"

Celestia couldn't keep from smiling. An invigorating invitation to the fire-falls, a fresh and clear new day and now a letter from home had put her in a wonderful, happy mood.