• Published 3rd May 2014
  • 3,674 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.

  • ...
4
 174
 3,674

Chapter IV

–––Chapter IV–––

The mountain that had been their refuge turned out to be part of a larger range, beyond which the terrain abandoned all pretense of greenery and life, and instead degenerated into a flat expanse of bleached, rocky desert, dotted only with the occasional pillar of red rock forcing its way free of the earth.

They soared over the desert beneath the baking sun, but around mid-afternoon fatigue began to set in. After two days of constant flying, their wings had finally started to tire and ache, and before they could cramp the sisters descended and alighted on the hard packed earth, and began to walk until they could recover.

While progress was slower than flying, there was a hidden benefit to being on the ground. Celestia, walking close beside Luna, unfurled her wings in order to stretch and flex them, and in doing so extended one out and over her sister, casting her into shade. She held her wing there, sheltering Luna from the intense sun as it beat down, and as soon as Luna picked up on what her sister was doing, she realised she could return the favour. It wasn't quite as easy for her – she was shorter and her wings were not as large – but she was able to provide at least some relief, and they shared a grateful smile.

They walked on together, each shading the other beneath a wing, trading light and cheerful dialogue and enjoying the simple company.

The arid, stale air was suddenly broken by the faintest of breezes, and an ominous shadow flitted overtop of them, cast by something on high.

Something large.

Suddenly wary, Celestia furled her wings and slowed to a stop, consciously trying to make herself as innocuous as possible while at the same time scanning the sky above.

Dragons. Three of them, flying at high altitude. The flat and featureless desert provided no hiding places for the two ponies now stranded on the ground. Watching their course intently, Celestia held her breath and simply hoped the dragons were too high and too pre-occupied to notice them.

Almost no sooner had she spotted them than did one wheel away from the others and begin to descend rapidly towards the desert floor. The large, sleek beast arrowed straight towards them, its ruby-red scales glittering like sequins in the harsh sunlight. In a matter of seconds it was swooping over them, throwing up a great plume of hot, dry dust that forced the sisters to shut their eyes and cough. Then the huge creature landed heavily in front of them, the impact sending a small vibration through the earth beneath their hooves.

The dragon stared at them with sinister eyes for a moment before spreading its wings and unleashing a powerful roar from a wide, toothy maw; a lick of orange flame clearly visible in its throat. The implication was clear: if they moved, it intended to incinerate them.

Glowering back at the beast, Luna bent her forelegs slightly and lowered into a subtle crouch. She readied her magic, preparing to cast a searing flare that should blind the dragon long enough for the two of them to dodge its speculative counter-attack and flee.

They would not be able to escape on hoof though, and the dull ache in her wings reminded her that they were not yet ready for intense use. If the lumbering brute did not take the hint and decided to give chase, certain more offensive, more...regrettable measures would be necessary.

But they would be necessary. She would do what it took to protect not just herself, but her sister.

She glanced over at Celestia, wondering what her own plan was. There had been a time once when they had been able to predict each other's actions and movements as surely as if they could read each other's minds. In a situation like this they would have been on the same page in an instant, but now all she knew of Celestia was what she saw – that she was perfectly composed as always, and gave no cue that she was preparing to escape or retaliate.

Her concentration was interrupted by two more heavy impacts behind her. Glancing around quickly she saw the other two dragons – one with scales of royal blue, the other shorter and wider with an emerald green hide – had landed and surrounded them, though stood further back. Now outnumbered, and calculating that her flare was unlikely to effectively blind all three dragons at once, she chastised herself for hesitating too long and desperately tried to modify her plan before the inevitable attack.

"What are you doing, Valkyrie?" That had come from the shorter, emerald dragon behind her.

The scarlet dragon before them raised its head to look at his colleagues with an annoyed expression. He swept a forearm over the two ponies. "Do you not see them? Invaders..." he smiled, his voice low.

"Valkyrie...ponies," replied the green in a bored, patient tone.

"Yes. Ponies. Ponies that we can ransom!"

"Valkyrie..." the green dragon sighed and Luna swore she could hear his eyes roll. "We are not allowed to ransom ponies."

"Wrong," replied Valkyrie with an air of smugness. "We are not allowed to raid for ponies. We have crossed no borders. These...have come to us!"

"A technicality. You still won't be allowed, I'll wager."

"Why not?" Valkyrie's smug grin widened. "These are clearly spies. Or assassins perhaps? We can't let two assassin spies roam our lands. We have to take them. And once we have them we'll have to do something with them. We can't keep them. Ransoming them will be the only sensible solution."

"We are no such thing!" cried Luna, unable to stifle her angry outburst. No sooner had she done so than she felt something very sharp press against the nape of her neck. Not daring to move her head, but glancing behind her she saw the dark blue dragon at her rear had bent down and was lightly holding a deadly-looking claw against her skin.

Bending low, Valkyrie fixed her gaze. "I would keep your own counsel for now," he said quietly. "You are whatever I say you are. Your true reasons for being here are largely irrelevant, and your opinions are not invited."

You are inviting a most unpleasant experience upon yourself... thought Luna as the claw was withdrawn, though she kept silent.

Grinning, Valkyrie once more looked back at the green dragon. "I know value when I see it, and these two are valuable. Equestria will pay a lot for their safe return. Our hordes will grow ten times! Of course, if you do not want a share..."

Green appeared contemplative. "'Invaders', hmm?" He scratched his chin with a single, oversized claw, thinking. Finally he looked back at Valkyrie. "Fine. We'll take them to Ragnarok. But you're asking for permission."

Celestia's ears perked very slightly at that, though she betrayed no other emotion. Her calm, stoic confidence as impenetrable as ever.

Valkyrie nodded, and all three dragons began to close in. It didn't matter though. Luna had had time to work out her new plan. She just hoped Celestia was ready to follow suit, otherwise–

"We surrender. We will come willingly," said Celestia from beside her. Stunned, Luna gaped open-mouthed at her sister. Celestia met her gaze. "If we do not resist, we will not be harmed." She turned to look back at Valkyrie. "Isn't that correct?"

Valkyrie paused for a moment, obviously somewhat surprised. Then he dipped his head in a subtle nod. "You will not be harmed."

Celestia turned back to Luna. Her expression seemed to convey that, clearly, there was nothing to fear. Luna couldn't quite rid herself of the shocked expression she wore. Was there something she'd missed? Was there a certain etiquette to being kidnapped that she didn't know about? Celestia couldn't seriously be suggesting they trust this creature. He'd already shown himself to be deceptive!

She tried to use her eyes to plead with her sister. Hopelessly she tried to convey the details of her escape plan, what she needed from Celestia for it to work, and her confidence in its success. But she couldn't do all of that with a mere look.

And Celestia looked back with an expression of her own. A calm, placid countenance with just a hint of a confident smile.

Trust me.

Luna hung her head. She didn't like this. Not one bit. They should be fighting their way out of this situation! But...she wouldn't leave her sister behind.

"We...will come with you." She said it through gritted teeth.

"Very wise," said Valkyrie. It was only as he spoke that Luna realised he and the other dragons had stopped advancing, as though patiently waiting for her decision before continuing. Then, Valkyrie addressed his two colleagues. "Restrain them!" Celestia shot him a piercing look, causing him to add, "Carefully."

From behind them, the green and blue dragons produced sets of very heavy-looking, very uncomfortable-looking metal chains and shackles, and approached the two sisters.

Already on edge, Luna was fast re-considering her agreement to this plan. How could Celestia not see the peril here? There was no guarantee this dragon, Valkyrie, would keep his word not to harm them. Even if they reached this 'Ragnarok' place, and even if Valkyrie was allowed to ransom them, and even if that ransom was paid, and even if the dragons kept their word and released them: they would be taken back to Equestria and back to square one! There was no outcome here that was positive for them!

Subconsciously entering her ready-crouch again, Luna prepared to take matters into her own hooves. She would defeat these dragons, free her sister and they would continue their quest together. Even though it would mean employing the same...'regrettable' measures she had been loathe to consider earlier.

But Celestia met her gaze again, even as a sturdy metal collar was secured around her neck. She implored Luna with her eyes. If her expression earlier had read 'trust me,' then this was clearly, 'please trust me.'

And oddly, as heavy iron manacles linked with chains were locked around Celestia's hooves, that smile...that damned irrationally confident smile...only seemed to grow larger.

It wavered slightly as Luna, remaining very still, felt her own metal collar locked into place with a most secure-sounding click. It was as heavy as it looked and, if possible, more uncomfortable. Not to mention filthy. Then shackles and chains found their way onto her own hooves and were themselves clamped shut and locked. When she looked back up at Celestia, her confidant expression was now tinged with sympathy.

The dragons finished applying the restraints, and it was only after their bindings were supposedly complete that a certain measure of confidence began to return. Whatever these chains had been intended to restrain, it clearly wasn't something quite as small as a pony. While the manacles on her hooves were tight enough to keep her from getting them off, the chains between them were long enough that she was able to walk with an almost normal gait. There were no bindings at all to secure their wings, although the weight of all the metal would make any flight a short-lived affair. But best of all, there was absolutely nothing impeding her ability to use magic. Luna smiled inwardly. Escape was not only possible, it was practically invited! The dragons were clearly trying to make the best of a bad job here and while their chains certainly looked the part, the quality of the actual restraint they provided was lacking.

Looking back up at Valkyrie, Luna adopted an arrogant tone. "So then. Let's be on with it. How far away is this...Ragnarok place?"

"Place?" Valkyrie snorted, taking up the two long metal chains attached to their collars and beginning to lead them away. "Ragnarok is not a place. Ragnarok is our king. A belligerent tyrant whose greed surpasses all."

Walking beside her, Celestia brought her muzzle to Luna's ear and spoke very quietly. "And he has quite the singing voice..."

When she withdrew, that confident smile had returned in full force.

–––

Reclining in a gigantic throne roughly hewn from cooled magma, Ragnarok was master and lord of all he surveyed.

Even if all he surveyed at the moment was the inside of his own eyelids.

His lair was an enormous cavern within a hollowed-out volcano. His throne sat with its back to a huge lake of molten rock – his private pool – and his mountainous horde of gold, gems and jewels sat a few dozen meters to the left of his seat of power. The spoils of a lifetime spent raiding and collecting went for now unregarded as he snored loudly and without shame.

Ragnarok was old now, but his wits were still sharp and his eyes still keen. He was large, even by dragon standards, and he was missing one of the two horns atop his square-jawed head. His aged and cracked bronze scales had seen better days, his hide wore the scars of many battles past, and he was no longer the picture of athleticism he imagined he had been in his long-forgotten youth...and he simply didn't care.

Some kings had responsibilities. Some rulers had duties. Neither were for him. He could please others or he could please himself. Only one of those options was usually worth considering.

"Lord Ragnarok!"

Ugh. But that didn't stop dragons from coming to him with things. Things they wanted. Things they needed. Where did they get the impression that he was of an inclination to indulge them?

Leaving slumber behind, he cracked one eye and fixed it upon the white-scaled dragon bowed before his throne. When he spoke, his voice was a low rumble. "Consider why you have awoken me, Aesir. If I am not pleased with the reason, you will find the rest of your day most unpleasant."

"My Lord. Valkyrie has taken two prisoners in the desert. They’re...well...he says they are invaders from a foreign land. He seeks your leave to ransom them."

Opening both eyes and sitting up, Ragnarok cracked a grin. Invaders, eh? Trespassers more likely, but...this could be interesting. As king he approved every ransom and was entitled to a share. And profit was profit, even if he did have to put up with Valkyrie today. "Tell him to bring them forward."

The message did not need to be relayed. As Aesir ducked back and out of sight, he saw Valkyrie was already advancing with a slight swagger and that damned cock-sure grin he loathed. He held a pair of long chains in one claw, each extending loosely behind him to metal collars fastened around the necks of...

"What is the meaning of this!?" Ragnarok bellowed, sudden rage unleashed without restraint.

Valkyrie, wonderfully getting the wrong end of the stick and believing his anger to be directed at the prisoners, coolly began to offer some kind of half-baked explanation involving spying and a prelude to invasion. But his was a grave misinterpretation indeed.

Standing from his throne, Ragnarok advanced purposefully on Valkyrie, fixing him with an enraged glare. "Why have you taken ponies as captives? Have my instructions on this been somehow unclear?" he growled.

A little taken aback, Valkyrie nevertheless began his reply with a measure of self-assurance. "You decreed we are not to raid into their lands. We did not. These two spies have–"

"I do not care! Ponies are not to be touched!" boomed Ragnarok. "Do I have to remind you why?"

"Because...it is said that..." Valkyrie trailed off uncertainly, as if losing confidence in the sentence before it was out.

"Because their ruler controls the sun! And I do not wish to antagonise the pony who controls the sun! Does that not sound wise to you?!"

"But my Lord, it is a ridiculous belief," retorted Valkyrie with a know-it-all confidence that Ragnarok had long learned to hate. "It is ancient myth. Superstition."

"Ridiculous? Superstition?!" Ragnarok cried, still glaring at Valkyrie. Then without warning, and with a speed that belied his advanced years, he reached out with a forearm and seized Valkyrie's neck with a single, giant claw. He forced his head down to look at the white, chained pony beneath him. Or, more specifically, to look at the symbol adorning her flank. "Whom do you suppose that is?!" he practically screamed, the entire cave reverberating at the sound of his thunderous voice.

As the symbol of the sun filled his vision, and the wheels slowly started to turn in his thick skull, Valkyrie finally began to look afraid. "My lord...we did not intend to harm them...I will see they are returned–" he stammered.

"Get out!"

"But...I have responsibility for them. They are my prisoners."

Ragnarok glared at Valkyrie with a very dangerous expression. "If you really believe that, then you are even more foolish than you look. Now get out, get out, GET OUT!"

Dropping the chains he held with a heavy, metallic clatter, Valkyrie bowed his head and backed away quickly in as submissive a posture as he was able. Reaching the entrance to the grand chamber, he ducked sheepishly out of sight.

Waiting until he was gone, Ragnarok's anger dispelled and he allowed himself a little grin. He spun and returned to his throne, sitting heavily and reclining into it once more with a subtle chuckle. He had enjoyed that. Then he glanced down at the two bound ponies before him. They appeared unharmed, and that was all to the good.

"Those chains do not suit you, Celestia. Please, feel free to remove them." He smiled toothily. "You are fooling no-one."

In front of him, both ponies' horns illuminated with unique magical auras. Immediately, the chains on the slightly shorter, blue pony exploded forcefully into a small shower of shrapnel. Celestia's bonds on the other hand glowed white-hot and softened; collar, manacles and chains melting safely away from her coat and coalescing into a molten pool on the floor. As he watched, the liquid metal puddle began to flow and morph. It gently resolved itself into the shape of a small pony rearing on its hind legs, and the metal cooled as quickly as it had melted. Then, guided by Celestia's magic, it floated over to him and he took it in his massive, open claw.

"A gift. From your friends in Equestria," said Celestia with a warm smile.

Ragnarok eyed the metal statuette critically. A rearing pony with wings and a horn. It looked a bit like a smaller version of Celestia herself, though the proportions were different, and the style of the mane and tail were straighter and altogether more sensible. It was quite a pretty, shiny thing, actually and he considered keeping it. But there was posturing to be done, and it was ultimately valueless scrap metal. He supposed if he were a lesser creature it would have some kind of 'sentimental' worth but he was a dragon, and to a dragon there was no such thing.

Not ever.

He tossed the trinket over his shoulder, casting it into the lake of molten rock and wearing an expression of careful nonchalance all the while. Celestia gave no obvious reaction. That blue pony beside her though...she looked annoyed. He was starting to like her already.

He turned back to Celestia and addressed her. "It is, unfortunately, possible that Valkyrie will replace me as king one day. If that happens, you will have endless trouble. I am most displeased with the way he felt it appropriate to treat you and your...handmaiden?"

The blue pony snorted and put on an expression of pure indignation, but it was Celestia who spoke up. "Lord Ragnarok, please allow me to introduce my sister, Princess Luna."

A flash of surprise took him, and suddenly several things clicked into place. "Ah...Princess Luna," he said with a note of genuine awe. He made eye contact with her and bowed respectfully. "Accept my apologies. After the shadow vanished from the moon, I assumed it meant you and your alter-ego had been destroyed forever. It seems I was wrong. But what other conclusion could I reach when I was not informed of your return...?" He turned to Celestia with an annoyed glare. Then his face softened just a little and his tone became sincere. "Still...congratulations. You finally brought her home, as you always hoped." He looked back at Luna and grinned. "I have just the thing." Turning, he walked on all fours to his huge hoard of gold and jewels, piled high enough to tower over even him. But like all dragons, he knew exactly where every item of treasure was and, finding what he was looking for, he returned to his two guests.

"A gift. To welcome you back to the world, against all odds." Holding out his claw, he offered Princess Luna a stunning silver necklace into which was tastefully set a pristine ice-sapphire. It complimented her coat and her eyes beautifully and though he despised giving away treasure, this was one occasion where he would admit it was well merited. He gave a sharp-toothed grin as Luna took it in her magic.

There was a brief flash and a loud tinkle. The sapphire necklace flew overhead, mimicking perfectly the arc through which he had earlier tossed the metal statuette. Then it landed in the magma-lake with a tiny splash and a burble. He looked back to see Princess Luna's annoyed visage coloured with a tiny, satisfied smile.

Oh, he was really starting to like her.

"I see you and my sister are acquainted?" said Luna, coolly.

"Indeed." Ragnarok grinned another razor-sharp grin. "Has she not told you about me? I suppose it has been a while." He glanced reproachfully at Celestia. "Eight hundred years ago, your sister and I enjoyed a brief war. Forgotten now, but known for decades here as the Six Hour War.

"I had risen to power, arrogant and greedy. I wanted to expand my new empire in all directions. A quick, decisive victory over the weakling, namby-pamby ponies of Equestria was just the confidence-builder my army needed." Ragnarok smiled wistfully. "Then, in one night, my forces went from ready to attack to a state of total disarray, completely undone by the most decisive and calculated pre-emptive strike I have ever seen. I woke to find Celestia herself stood over me, proverbial dagger at my throat, ready to end my life.

"But instead, she began...urgh...talking to me." Ragnarok rolled his eyes. "And to my eternal shame, I began talking back. And we found we could not stop. We talked of everything. We argued, we agreed, we – blech – 'shared' and found 'common ground' all through the night. And the night only ended when she decided it did. When she raised the sun. That...was impressive," he finished begrudgingly. "Suffice it to say, I saw the folly of a war with a resourceful empire that effortlessly controls the day, weather, and magic. And ever since then we have been..." he narrowed his eyes at Celestia and grinned a wide, wicked grin. "...enemies."

"I have told you many times, Ragnarok," Celestia smiled kindly, "I am not your enemy."

"Nonsense," he waved a claw dismissively. "Of course you are. You are my most respected, most worthy enemy, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Now, consider this your interrogation." He lowered his tone and made eye-contact with Celestia. "I have not heard from you for some time, and even now you come to me more by circumstance than by choice. You must keep me more informed, Celestia. I hear rumours that your city was invaded? A shadow-king and his lost empire simply reappear? An eclipse steals light from the sky? And about these things I know nothing?! Instead you leave me to sit here, guessing and floundering as to whether these are dangers upon which I must act. Now the rulers of Equestria enter my realm for reasons unknown and do not even think to inform me?! You leave me for a fool, Celestia!" he finished with an angry shout. Then he lowered his voice, but still spoke with seething anger. "In time, I expect you to tell me of all these things. But right now, I will settle for you telling me why you are not raising the moon..." he finished with a growl. Then he turned and fixed his glare upon Luna. "Or perhaps I should be asking you."

Celestia opened her mouth to begin, but Luna cut her off matter-of-factly. "I removed the moon from the sky, and sent it to Tartarus."

Ragnarok stared at Luna, momentarily stunned into silence. Then rage surged forward. "By what right?!"

"She made a mistake," Celestia interrupted, "She knows that. She and I are on our way to Tartarus to reclaim it and return it to the sky. That's why we were making our way through your lands." She looked up apologetically at him. "You're right, I should have told you, but we are in haste and I did not anticipate being within your borders for more than a few hours. We didn't mean to cause you any offense."

Ragnarok looked furiously at the two ponies before him. Not for the first time in his life, he bemoaned what kind of fate would place something so important as the moon and sun into the care of creatures so...fickle! Meeting Luna's arrogant stare, he brought his head right down, almost resting his chin on the ground, bringing his muzzle as close to her head as he could and spoke in a very quiet, very direct voice. "The world grows restless again. Tremors and storms are just the beginning. Your sister realised her error before it became worse than that. But if you do not retrieve the moon...if my subjects suffer for your mistake...then you will become my enemy too." He gave his wicked, toothy grin again. "That would displease me. Especially as we are getting along so well."

Luna, completely unfazed, glowered back. "I will retrieve the moon. I have promised as much. But I do not respond well to being threatened...Lord Ragnarok," she finished with a dangerous tone of her own.

Almost in spite of himself, Ragnarok's grin widened. "Good. Good." He really was starting to like her.

He drew himself back up, looking at Celestia again with a derisive snort. "And what of the sun? It has been behaving most unusually of late."

"The sun is...no longer in my care," Celestia admitted. She glanced at the ground and for the first time since she'd entered, he saw a crack in her composure.

"Oh?" Ragnarok quirked an eyebrow.

Celestia looked back up again, meeting his gaze, her calm air reforming quickly. "It is now under the guidance of Princess Twilight Sparkle. She has simply been having some...teething problems."

Ragnarok put on an incredulous voice. "And now I learn that you have appointed your pupil as a new princess? And given her the sun no less!" He shook his head solemnly. "What am I going to do with you?"

The question was rhetorical, but Celestia didn't hesitate in replying. "Please, give us your permission and safe passage through your kingdom. Help us to reach Tartarus."

"Passage?" Ragnarok asked. Then his wicked smile returned. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps...for one of you." His mouth turned cruel and his greedy eyes narrowed at Celestia. "Perhaps I will hold you here until your sister returns with the moon. Then, perhaps I will ransom you both to Princess Twilight Sparkle. The price will be the sun, and when I have both the sun and the moon, then I will have power over the heavens!"

If Celestia's composure had faltered before, it slipped entirely now, her face a picture of shock. "Ragnarok, you can't...we...we're not enemies!"

Beside her, Luna spoke up. "I will not leave without my sister! You are not keeping her here, you brute!"

Ragnarok gave a low, evil cackle. Which then developed into a slightly-less-evil chuckle. Which then became a not-evil-at-all belly-laugh. This persisted entirely too long, until eventually he found himself able to speak once again. "Oh, Celestia," he wiped a tear away from his eye. "You really haven't changed. Still quite unable to take a joke. It is a trait that seems to run in the family, I'm sad to see." He looked down to see his guests were not mollified. "Please, what would I even do with the sun? Or the moon? Do you know what I want more than anything else in this world, Celestia?"

Celestia looked up at him and raised a suspicious eyebrow.

"To go back to sleep!" He raised his head and barked at the entrance to the chamber. "Valkyrie! I know you are out there listening! Get back in here at once!"

Valkyrie, still looking somewhat sheepish, appeared at the entrance to the grand chamber. He approached cautiously and stopped before Ragnarok, head bowed.

"Valkyrie, you are about to get a lesson in trust," Ragnarok declared. He looked the red dragon in the eyes. "By now you are aware of the importance I place on the two guests you have brought to me. And how displeased I am with the manner in which you brought them to me. But whether I reward or punish you is going to be up to them.

"In a moment, I am going to ask Princess Celestia and Princess Luna if they were badly treated by you. If either of them tells me they were – and I don't care if it is true! – then you will suffer more than you ever thought possible. If they say they were treated well, you will instead be rewarded for bringing them here safely." He grinned. "You are right to look nervous. I would be, had I been the one to apply those chains. But if you'd left them alone in the first place, you would not be in this situation. Now..." he turned towards the two ponies to whom he had just granted complete control over Valkyrie's future. "If either of you were hurt or mistreated, tell me."

He looked first at Celestia, but from the corner of his eye noted Valkyrie's head hung low, very obviously resigned to his fate.

"I was well treated," said Celestia.

"I was unharmed," said Luna, slightly more begrudgingly.

Valkyrie looked up in obvious surprise.

"Excellent!" Ragnarok proclaimed. He looked back at Valkyrie. "You see? You are building trust already. As a reward, I will trust you with a most important responsibility. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are travelling to Tartarus. You will escort them safely across our land and leave them on the banks of the Styx. And Valkyrie?" He fixed him with a hard stare. "If any harm comes to them, it will be revisited upon you ten times over. Now get out. All of you."

Valkyrie and Luna turned and made for the exit at the far end of the chamber, but Celestia remained for a moment. She opened her mouth to speak but Ragnarok cut her off.

"I will not hear any apology from you, Celestia. But in future..." don't leave me to worry about you for so long, "...I may not be so forgiving."

Celestia nodded, and gave a respectful bow and a gentle smile. Ragnarok gave her a curt nod in reply before waving her away. Then she too headed for the far end of the chamber.

Ragnarok settled back into his throne, watching Celestia leave. A rare verbal joust with his sworn enemy had ended too soon. And what was this? He was sad to see his enemy go? Ugh! What was it about ponies that made him feel so...feely?

Kings did not have friends. Dragons certainly did not. An enemy was the best he could ever hope for. And Celestia was the best enemy he could have hoped for. He just wished they'd had longer to talk.

Pah! Enough of this nonsense. He closed his eyes and tried to find sleep once again.