• 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 VIII

–––Chapter VIII–––

The sun safely risen, Twilight and her friends gathered in the throne room for their morning meeting. Though the topic of conversation was a bit different than on the previous mornings.

"I don't know, Twi. You sure this is a good idea?" asked Applejack.

"It does sound quite drastic," added Fluttershy.

"I dunno guys," said Rainbow Dash. "I'm with Twilight on this one. We don't want another storm like last night. And we really don't want a worse one. If there's a way to stop it happening, then I say go for it."

"If setting the sun tonight is going to risk ponies getting hurt again, then how can I do it? Besides, it's only going to be until the Princesses get back," Twilight pointed out.

"But ya don't know when that'll be," argued Applejack, and Twilight had to shake her head, no. "Twi, all I'm sayin' is that this whole thing started because we started messin' around with the moon. How d'y'all know that messin' with the sun ain't gonna cause somethin' worse?"

Rainbow Dash broke in again. "If something worse than a storm looks like it's gonna happen, then Twilight'll just have to set the sun and we'll roll with it."

"I guess..." Applejack still looked uncertain, scratching the back of her neck with a hoof. But she had no further argument to make.

Rarity turned to Twilight. "I believe you said there was another matter?"

"There is." Twilight took a deep breath. Moment of truth. "Guys...I want to thank you for everything you've done for me. Truly, I couldn't have done it without you. You've been more help than you'll ever know, but I think I can just about manage on my own now." She gave her friends a smile. "You're all going home."

Strangely, the looks of happiness on each of her friends' faces never appeared. Instead, five jaws dropped.

"Whoa there," said Dash. "Twilight, Applejack's right. We don't know what'll happen this evening when the sun doesn't go down. You might need our help tonight more than ever!"

"I'm sure the Guard can handle it." She looked sympathetically at her friends. "I can't ask you to stay. This isn't where you belong. Dash, you've got a new scooter-trick to watch. Rarity, Sweetie Belle needs your help practicing her magic. You've all got ponies who need you back home."

The five ponies before her exchanged a look. "Yes, Twilight, we do," started Rarity. "And much as we love them, they'll still be there when this crisis is over..."

"But in the meantime, we've got a pony here in Canterlot who needs us..." continued Dash.

"And we ain't leavin' till she's ready to come home too," finished Applejack.

Twilight smiled. When they'd showed her the letter the previous evening, she'd assumed it meant her friends all wanted to go home. And they did. But she'd missed the point they were making. Her friends wanted them all to go home. Together. That was–

"Hold on a second! Aren't you all forgetting something?" cried Pinkie. Five ponies and one dragon stared at her. "Mint cupcakes, everypony! There are Mint. Cupcakes waiting back in Ponyville!"

Dash facehoofed. Twilight smiled. Everyone else looked away, embarrassed.

"Um, Twilight?" Fluttershy spoke up. "I really don't want to leave, it's just that Angel and the other animals...well...they're probably getting a bit low on food and–"

"Big Mac'll take care of it," interrupted Applejack.

"Oh no, I couldn't possibly ask him–"

"You ain't askin' him, sugarcube, I am." She looked around. "Anypony got a pen? I got a letter to write."

There was a chorus of 'me too's', but when they looked round they found that Pinkie Pie had, from somewhere, already managed to produce a quill and a piece of paper and was laid on the ground, already writing-out-loud. "Please...send...one-thousand...mint...cupcak–"

"PINKIE!"

–––

"This...is a complication I did not expect," said Celestia gazing at the sky.

The flight up the mountain had, as predicted, taken hours, if not a full day. But as they had climbed, the light of the landscape below had encouragingly faded from daylight through the golden light of evening, to dusk and beyond. Now, in what was most definitely night, the two sisters stood at the summit of the mountain which was suddenly not a summit at all.

The top of the mountain and beyond instead presented them with a wide, rocky escarpment, stretching out either side in a horse-shoe shape and dropping sharply at first, then less steeply, into a shallow bowl of a valley. It was a completely impossible landscape to find at the top of a lone mountain, and it was all the more ridiculous because when the sisters looked back they could still see the ocean, city and cliffs behind them, hundreds of meters below the level of the valley-bottom in front of them. It was as though two entirely separate landscapes from two separate worlds had just been stuck together at this random point. Mountain slope on one side, sweeping valley on the other. To look at it for too long trying to figure out where the separation was, was to invite a headache.

But above them, hanging in the night-time sky, was the shining orb of the full moon. And adjacent to it, in a different sector of sky, was another one. And another next to that. Six moons in total had appeared in the heavens overhead.

One was very small and blue in colour. Another had three strange round-ish shadows upon its surface. A third was not quite full, but waxing.

But the remaining three all looked very similar indeed.

"I–I cannot tell them apart," said Luna, and had to crush a pang of frustrated despair. The moon was hers. She should know it like the back of her hoof. Every crater. Every valley. Every shadow and every mountain should be as familiar to her as anything she'd ever known.

But as she looked up at the three candidates above her, she just...didn't...know. They all looked similar-yet-different to the moon she knew.

"It's okay, Luna. Take all the time you need, and trust your instincts."

One of them had to be their moon, of that she was certain. And she was certain that they had to return with the right moon. A facsimile wouldn't do. The earth would know.

There was something about the lowest one, the one in the rightmost sector of sky, that was familiar. It still didn't look right somehow, but it looked ever so slightly more right than the other two. If that was even possible.

"I believe, that one." Luna extended a hoof.

Celestia nodded cautiously. "Are you sure?"

"No," Luna admitted.

Celestia sighed. "Then I suppose that is the best we are going to do. I admit, I cannot tell either."

Some realisation seemed to strike Luna. Celestia looked down at her sister as she frowned, and watched as she worked something through in her head.. "There is...a way to be sure." Celestia tilted her head, even as Luna continued. "If that is my moon...then everything I left behind will still be there."

"I don't suppose your eyes are good enough to see your hoofprints from here?"

"No," Luna smiled. "But..."

Luna's horn ignited in a flash of blue energy, more intense than her regular aura. She closed her eyes, clearly concentrating hard. In front of them, at the point the escarpment fell away to the valley, an ethereal, sparkling crystal-blue pathway began to appear, extending outwards and upwards, arcing gently into the sky. Further and further it lengthened, heading for the likely moon in the heavens until the far end was out of sight. A few moments later, Luna opened her eyes and her horn dimmed. She stepped forward and placed a hoof speculatively on the pathway. It connected solidly, sparkled more where she made contact, and made a sound as though striking firm pavement.

Celestia was stunned. "A Mobius Bridge?" she said in awe. "Luna, that is a very old trick."

"I've always liked the way they sparkle in the moonlight," said Luna. "It's a shame there is no use for them anymore."

The Mobius Bridge was an ancient magical experiment more than a true spell. A method of joining two separate points an infinite distance apart with a fixed-length magical structure. And it worked! Back in the day, the success of the Mobius Experiment had opened the door to all kinds of magical research, from which even modern-day summoning spells and the difficult teleportation spell could trace their origins. But the Bridge itself had limitations that had always prevented it from being of real practical use. Firstly, while the two anchor points could be any distance apart, they both had to be within direct sight of both each other and the spell-caster. Second, for reasons never fully understood, the length of the bridge was always thirteen-point-three-four miles, even if the two anchor points were in reality closer together. And thirdly, you could only traverse the bridge while you were in contact with it. Flying over it would get you nowhere. Added together and there were very few instances when a Mobius Bridge was both the most practical and fastest method of travel around Equestria – a train would get you most places you could see far quicker than you could walk thirteen miles – and as such it had become an historical footnote. The kind of spell an academic would be more interested in the theory behind, than the practical application of.

But it was one that Luna had clearly held onto, and for no other reason than she liked the way it sparkled. Celestia smiled. That is the sister I know and love, she thought, not for the first time.

Luna looked back at her. "You don't have to come. I'll go and check and then return."

Celestia put on an expression of mock hurt. "I see. My help is unwanted and, at this point unappreciated. Does that sound about right?"

"My words were 'unnecessary' and 'unwelcome', as it happens," harrumphed Luna. Then she met her gaze again. "And your help has been neither. But I understand if going to the moon makes you uncomfortable, what with your recent dreams."

"Luna, I said we would do this together. We need to find out for certain if that is your moon."

Luna looked up at the moon above them, and the shimmering blue bridge only thirteen scant miles long. "Then let's–"

"Though if you say 'let's be on with it' once more, I may reconsider," Celestia chided.

A stunned Luna looked back. Then she smirked and with deliberate silence, stepped onto the Bridge as Celestia followed.

–––

The journey along the bridge passed without incident. Celestia and Luna talked, and even found time for a little joking around such that the journey seemed quicker. Luna was still cautiously guilty, but now that they had found the moon – whichever one it was even if not this one – she had brightened up considerably since their talk on the mountain. She may not quite have a spring in her step and a song in her heart yet, but she was the happiest she'd been since entering Tartarus.

The end of the bridge came into sight, meeting the surface of the moon at a slight angle. Luna's steps became a little slower as they approached it, but she didn't stop. She stepped with slight hesitation from the bridge onto the lunar surface, followed by Celestia. Their travel completed, the Mobius Bridge vanished behind them.

Almost immediately Luna smiled, as though she were remembering an old friend. Then the smile fell into a look of melancholy. "This is it."

Celestia looked around. There were no hoofprints that she could see. No sign of disturbance of any kind. "Are you sure?"

"A thousand years," Luna's voice barely above a whisper. She dragged a hoof through the lunar dust, scooping some up and looking at it. "I would know it anywhere. This is my moon. My...prison." She let the dust fall.

"Luna?" asked Celestia, voice full of concern, a gentle hoof placed over her sister's withers.

Luna sniffed and looked up confidently. "This is it," she said with certainty.

"We've only just arrived," said Celestia carefully. "Don't you want to look around a bit...to satisfy yourself that you're sure?"

"I'm certain," said Luna. "But if it is satisfaction you seek, there will be proof over that way." Spreading her wings, she took to the air and flew low over the surface. Celestia followed her for a distance of perhaps a couple of miles until they alighted once more amidst a similar-looking landscape.

Except that now, in the dust beneath them there were hoofprints. Thousands. Tens of thousands. Perhaps even hundreds of thousands. Heading in every conceivable direction. All cast by only one pony.

Many of the tracks of prints led to and from one particular direction where, not far distant, what Celestia had first thought was a short but steep rocky mountain was in fact a structure built from the lunar rock. A tall building with spires, windows, battlements and a grand set of double doors.

Celestia looked in awe at it. "Is that...?"

"It is my castle," said Luna mournfully. Then she gave a rueful smile. "I had a great deal of time to work on it, though I could never find a name I liked. Nightmare Castle. Midnight Castle. The Castle of the Lonely Sister..." she trailed off, almost choking the last word and the ground holding her attention now.

Celestia stood looking at Luna for a moment, then set off at a slow walk towards the towering structure, to Luna's obvious surprise. "Tia, it's okay. We don't have to–"

"You bring me here to your magnificent castle and don't even invite me in? Where are your manners, sister?"

"It's Nightmare Moon's castle as much as mine, sister. It is not exactly...cosy inside."

"Are there crow-monsters in your castle?"

"No."

"Or gigantic sea-beasts? Or Cyclops'"

"Not...the last time I checked."

Celestia turned and spoke kindly. "Luna, you are tired. You haven't slept since the night you dreamt with me in the cave. I know how difficult being here must be for you, and I know you want to return the moon to Equestria urgently. But while we're here we are safe whereas in Tartarus we are not, and you need to rest. You won't be able to return the moon if you're asleep on your hooves. Come on," she said, turning. Then she put on a wry grin and called back over her shoulder. "I hope you had the foresight to build a guest bedroom."

"I...did not anticipate having many guests," Luna lamented, falling into step.

They reached the main castle entrance and stood in front of a great set of double-doors beneath an impressively grandiose keep. The doors were stiff from lack of use and Luna had to put a fair amount of effort into her magic in order to heave them open. Celestia meanwhile studied a hoof-carved stone plaque over the entrance which had clearly been re-worked several times. 'Celestia's Ruin.'

"'Celestia's Ruin'?" she asked.

"I was angry at you for a long time," said Luna, still struggling to get the door open without accidentally pulling it from its hinges too. Then she stopped working on the doors and looked at the scrawl above them. Her aura intensified and a moment later the entire plaque crumbled into dust. "I never liked that one either." Returning her attention to the doors she managed to loosen them at last and they swung open with a creak.

The interior of the castle was like something out of a horror novel. It was almost a dark, alternate version of Canterlot Castle. Creepy gargoyles were carved into walls. Cruel-looking weapons adorned racks in corridors. And there were a great many statues and effigies of Nightmare Moon, all in some evil or powerful pose.

They passed a throne room, dusty and empty, a sharp-angled black throne sitting atop a wide, stepped dais, looked down upon by eight very tall stained-glass windows set in a high-ceilinged octagonal tower. The windows featured Nightmare Moon in what appeared to be her eight-step-plan, from being incarcerated, to escape, to world domination. At least two of the windows showed her in combat with – and defeating – a representation of Celestia.

Celestia had to stop and admire them. They were intricate, elaborate and rather well-done. They were clearly a labour of...well, love would be the wrong word she supposed, but great care had been taken over them and they were nothing if not striking.

They continued to walk through the castle, Luna shyly and guiltily answering Celestia's touristy questions, pointing out various state-rooms, the banquet hall, the kitchen, and so on. For every Nightmare Moon statue they passed she looked more and more abashed. And there was an embarrassing surplus of them.

But Celestia wasn't really interested in the grand, impressive statues in their victorious poses. Because when she looked a little closer, beyond the dark, brooding and pompous decor, in just a few places here and there, there were a few subtle flashes of warmth and colour – flashes that were most assuredly Luna, and not Nightmare Moon. A delicate vase on a stone pedestal, forever empty because there were no flowers on the moon; a private study, devoid of books but built for no other reason than because Luna would've wanted to have somewhere to read; a beautiful tile-mosaic laid into one wall as though a tapestry, seeming to show a peaceful night-time scene, rather than the pervasive theme of conquest.

Rounding a corner, not far from the base of a spiral staircase they came upon the largest set of interior double-doors they had yet found. Carved meticulously into the grey stone frame above it were several symbols. On the left side, a sun; on the right a crescent moon; and in the centre at the highest point a carved relief of the moon in front of the sun – an eclipse.

Luna's eyes widened in horror when she saw it and she audibly drew a shocked breath at Celestia's side. Celestia approached the doors and, though they were no different to any of the others they'd passed – save for being a little wider and taller – there was a definite sense of foreboding about them.

She reached the door and put her hoof on the right-hand one, ready to push it open. Then Luna placed one of her hooves on top and looked at her with pleading eyes.

Celestia looked down at her, confused. "What's wrong?"

"Tia...I...this room, it's..." but she didn't seem to have the words. She searched hopelessly for several moments before staring up with a defeated expression. "We have no secrets from each other?"

"Surprise parties do not count," said Celestia with a smile, but Luna's reaction told her immediately it was not the time for jokes.

Pushing the door open herself, Luna entered the room first. She held the door open for Celestia to follow, but when she looked back she wore an expression of utmost guilt.

Celestia entered the room, and quickly saw why.

It was octagonal in structure, similar to the throne room, though the roof was only about fifteen metres from the ground. It was near twenty metres side to side, and on every wall was a vivid representation of Nightmare Moon fighting and defeating Celestia in a variety of different contexts, all designed to make it appear as though the white princess was suffering greatly at the dark monster's hooves.

In the centre of the room stood a wide, five-foot high stone plinth, on top of which stood a large, meticulously worked, over-size marble-esque statue of Nightmare Moon. It posed her standing on three legs, with her right foreleg raised at the knee and an evil, triumphant grin on her downward-looking stone face. The statue was not placed centrally on the plinth but offset to one side, allowing space on the other half for the focus of the statue's ecstatic grimace.

Carved shallowly but in sharp relief into the remaining half of the plinth was a very accurate Celestia-shaped indentation. Around the perimeter of the recess were anchored several strategically-placed shackles of thick black metal, currently standing open but apparently designed to either fall or spring closed. One for her neck, two for her midsection and wings, and one each for her four hooves. The whole tableau was arranged in such a way that once Celestia was lying in the recess she would be on her side, submissively beneath the raised foreleg of Nightmare Moon, forced to look up constantly at either Nightmare Moon's victorious face, one of the many scenes of her own defeat on the walls or, through a circular hole in the ceiling above the statue, a view of the earth itself.

Were that all, then the room would have been creepy certainly, but little more than that. But there was something about the room that was worse, that was somehow intangible. She could sense that the room had been the focus of an immense quantity of rage and vengefulness over the course of hundreds and hundreds of years. Nightmare Moon had dedicated all of her loathing, bitterness and resentment to building this room and it retained those feelings now. As though it had stored them in the walls and now radiated them again. Celestia could feel Nightmare Moon's hatred of her emanating from every brick and flagstone. It made for an uncomfortable experience.

"It is your prison," said Luna from behind her as Celestia approached the statue, appraising it. There was something odd about the stone it was carved from. It seemed to have a faint purple fleck that shimmered and dimmed very softly. She touched the plinth and felt suddenly cold, and somehow empty. She frowned in confusion. "It's enchanted," Luna explained, walking up to the statue beside her, placing her own hoof on the plinth. "Contact with the stone inhibits the use of magic. You wouldn't believe how hard that is to do." She grimaced. "I'm surprised it hasn't faded, but I did spend years getting it just right." Luna's tone was a mixture of pride and disgust. She looked at Celestia. "I would have defeated you and brought you here, locked you into those shackles, and simply abandoned you for all eternity. Just as you abandoned me."

Celestia looked up in a little flash of surprise. "Abandoned you? Luna, I didn't–"

"A thousand years Celestia..." Luna's face seemed to darken even as her tone grew into a subtle anger. Perhaps the rage permeating the room was feeding into her too.

"Luna," Celestia started calmly, "You know it wasn't like tha–"

"Don't give me that, dear sister! You were more intelligent and knew more about magic than anypony who's ever lived. If you really loved me you'd have found a way to bring me back, but no! You forgot me for a thousand years!"

"Luna please, stop this." Celestia tried hard to maintain her composure, but Luna's words cut deeply.

But Luna was furious now, and spitting sarcastic venom. "And you had the gall to feel lonely! 'Lonely' Celestia with her distant, tragic composure. 'Lonely' Celestia, baring her soul to an arrogant dragon. 'Lonely' Celestia, surrounded by subjects who love and adore her. You have no idea what it was like to be alone all that time!"

"If I could've brought you home I–"

Luna was screaming. "You deserve to be left here! You deserve to be lonely! Why don't I just leave you here on the moon and forget about you?!"

Celestia's facade shattered and she recoiled, visibly hurt. Luna hated her. Luna wanted to hurt her. And then the voice from her dream returned hauntingly.

It will make the look of surprise on your face so much better...

No! Even as a tear came to her eye, Celestia refused to believe it. Her dream was a dream and that's all it was. She would not give in to paranoia. In front of her, angry beyond all reasoning, was Princess Luna. The little sister she knew and loved, and that she knew loved her. They had crossed forests, mountains and deserts. They had faced dragons, been chased by harpies and battled Scylla. Now they were here, on the moon high above Tartarus. They had come so far together, achieved so much to arrive at this point.

And why? When had it all started? It wasn't when Luna had banished the moon, she realised. It wasn't even at the Festival of the Eclipse. It was before all that. At a cosy breakfast table, when Luna had asked her one simple question...

Sister...do you really trust me?

She looked Luna in the eye now – most definitely Luna and not Nightmare Moon – and realised that she did. She trusted the pony before her as completely and without question as it was possible to trust anypony.

And she would show her just how much that was.

"If that is what you want, Luna," she said quietly, hanging her head. Then, with a single flap of her wings she was on top of the plinth and carefully lying down on her side into the shallow recess carved especially for her, even as Luna took a couple of surprised steps backwards.

"Tia...?" Luna's anger gave way to surprise. "What are you doing?"

The thick shackles closed over Celestia's neck, body and around all four hooves with a series of snaps. There were no locks as such, only spring-loaded catches prevented them from coming undone, but it didn't matter: with her magic denied to her she was unable to reach any of the mechanisms. She lay pinned against the stone beneath the iron bands. Trapped. For a moment a brief surge of panic took her that she hadn't thought this all the way through. But from where she was she could see a still-surprised Luna – most definitely Luna and not Nightmare Moon – and her confidence returned.

Trust.

"If this is what you want; if it's what I deserve, then leave me here alone forever."

"Celestia, you are being ridicul–"

"I love you, Luna," said Celestia. "I really am so, so sorry." Then she was quiet.

Luna's face slowly fell into a look of horror at what she was seeing. At what she'd said. At what she'd wanted. To abandon her sister like this. Chained to a rock for all eternity. Alone. No, no, no, no, "No, no, no, no, no!" She realised she was shaking her head even as she automatically raced for the plinth. Scrabbling with her hooves at the catches on the shackles, she fiddled with them in a blind panic and could release none of them. Panicking more now she took a step away from the statue, no longer touching it, and lit her horn.

The shackles around her sister didn't just pop open, they were torn from the anchor points in the rock and cast aside as nothing more than scrap. Luna raced forward to her sister again, desperately pulling her out of the recess as though it might swallow her whole. She pulled Celestia upright such that she was sat on the edge of the plinth and threw her forelegs around her in a strong, tearful hug.

Celestia hugged back. "You don't want to abandon me? You don't want to leave me here on the moon for all eternity?"

Luna looked up at her sister, tears streaming from her eyes. "I want you to be happy!"

Celestia placed her forelegs around Luna and gladly returned her sister's hug. "You make me happy, Luna. So, so happy," she said quietly into her ear.

Still sobbing quietly, Luna couldn't quite comprehend what had just happened. "Why did you do that?"

Celestia looked back into her eyes. "Because I trust you, Luna. You've always thought that I've been somewhat wary of you; that I've always been worried that Nightmare Moon might return. And...to a degree, that is true," she admitted. "Up until now."

"But what if I...I mean she–?"

Celestia shook her head gently. "If Nightmare Moon didn't make a reappearance in Nightmare Moon's castle surrounded by Nightmare Moon's hatred with everything Nightmare Moon ever wanted served up on a plate in front of her...then she is not coming back. Ever." She put a hoof under her sister's chin. "You're not Nightmare Moon. You are Princess Luna, my little sister, and I love and trust you completely."

Luna sobbed a couple more times into her sister's coat. Then, with a deep breath, a shaky voice, and an expression of completely false anger, she said, "If you ever do anything so foolish again, sister..."

"I'm sure I will be in very big trouble," said Celestia with a happy smile, her own tears running.

–––

They took a few minutes to collect themselves and then, feeling tired. made their weary way up the stairs of the tall tower to the sleeping quarters.

Luna had scruples about sleeping in the room that had once been Nightmare Moon's, but Celestia persuaded her that it was nonsense to continue to worry about such things. Especially when Nightmare Moon had the only real bed in the entire castle.

She'd then tried to give the bed up to Celestia to sleep on, wanting to serve at least some penance. But Celestia defeated her with logic. She had slept on the mountainside while Luna hadn't slept for days. If anyone was in need of the bed for a good night's rest, it was her.

Then Celestia saw the bed and looked at Luna jealously, for it was huge. It was larger by half than any bed Celestia had ever owned, for no reason other than one-upmanship. Celestia couldn't quite take her eyes off it even as she shed her saddlebags – looking a little the worse for wear after their trip thus far.

Luna approached the enormous bed and, using her magic made a fold in the top-sheet such that a temporary crease ran lengthways from head to foot. Then she spoke in a stern, lecturing tone. "I will take the side nearest the window, and you will take the other. You will be sure to keep your hooves to your own side of the bed and you will not snore. Any deviation from these rules will be met with banishment to the pantry."

With a little smile, Luna began making her preparations for bed, as did Celestia though she seemed somewhat distracted. Eventually, Celestia looked up. "Luna...did you mean it? You feel I abandoned you?"

Luna looked up awkwardly, then away. Not wanting to lie, but at the same time, not wanting to hurt her sister.

"It's okay, Luna. I won't be upset. The truth. Please?"

"I did," said Luna, her voice full of regret. "For a long, long time I did." She made eye-contact with her sister. "But–"

Celestia cut her off. "It's okay." Then she approached her. "Dream with me tonight. There is something I want to show you." She smiled kindly, and Luna nodded in reply.

–––

Celestia found herself in surroundings with which she was well acquainted. A modern castle she now proudly called home.

But this dream was different.

She sat on the throne as her sister approached her along the red carpet. Luna looked around in obvious disillusionment. "I see. You invite me into your dream to show me...our home. How spectacular." She raised an eyebrow at Celestia. "I could be vanquishing Bogey-Ponies right now," she finished.

Celestia stood with a laugh. "I believe we're here only because this is where many of my recent dreams have been set." She looked at Luna. "Though, somehow...I don't think I'll be having those dreams any more." She smiled. "Still, it's as well we are here."

Motioning for Luna to follow her, she guided them to her representation of her private chambers and stood with her before a bookcase near to the fireplace. She turned to Luna. "In the real world this is just a bookcase and a wall. What I'm about to show you exists only in my mind. But I hope you won't feel it is any less real for it."

Celestia lit her horn and at once the bookcase swung outward as though a door. Beyond, it revealed a narrow, short passageway that curved ninety-degrees to the left before bringing them to a new, circular room. On one side there was an exit onto a wide balcony, stark white with purple and yellow accents were the decor, and the room was furnished with a large chalkboard, reading lecterns, bookcases and writing desks aplenty.

Luna could already feel something different about this place. Most dream structures and landscapes had a flimsy quality to them that stemmed from their inherently temporary nature. It allowed dreams to be changed and manipulated, but this...this room had a degree of permanence. As though it were cemented within Celestia's subconscious as surely as if it were a real place.

And it was a mess. Upon the chalkboard, frantic scribbles and half-formed equations were writ, leaving not even an inch of free space. Loose sheets of paper were strewn everywhere upon all of the writing desks and even covered the floor. Each of the five lecterns housed far more open books than that they were ever designed to carry. Outside on the balcony, a telescope peered up towards a night sky, facing a full moon upon which the shadow of Nightmare Moon was clear as day.

Luna still wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. On instinct she bent and scooped up a piece of paper. She became surprised to discover it contained words. Words that she could read. Words that made sense, and that she could understand. And that didn't change when she re-read them again. That was all unusual for a dream. Celestia had cemented the words on this piece of paper so deep into her subconscious memory that she knew it by heart and it would not alter.

And then...Luna looked around again.

Everything. Everything in this room: every word in every book, every equation on the chalkboard, every scribbled diagram on a piece of paper was a permanent fixture within Celestia's unconscious mind.

"I came here every night," Celestia said quietly, looking out of the window up towards the moon. "Every night for a thousand years. Every single one."

Luna watched as very faint ghostly outlines, apparitions of Celestia's past, began to fill the room. They concentrated on books, wrote furiously on the chalkboard, scribbled line after line on parchment, peered through the telescope. They screamed in frustration. They flung papers angrily across the room. They kicked the chalkboard when an equation didn't give them the answer they wanted. And they cried. And they cried. And they cried.

Celestia had used her subconscious mind to pool everything she knew about magic, the Elements, the moon, Nightmare Moon...everything. Every scrap of knowledge she possessed, everything new she'd learned, every theory ever advanced she had put into this room and worked it to death every time she'd slept for one thousand years, with one goal in mind.

Written at the top of the chalkboard, circled, underlined, where she would always see it...

Don't give up on her.

"I never forgot you, Luna. Not for a second."

New tears in her eyes – dream tears but no less real for that – Luna joined her at the window. "I should never have said those things."

"You had a right to be angry." Celestia smiled. "I'm sorry it took so long."

"If there is an apology to be made, sister, I am the one to make it," said Luna, nuzzling into her sister's neck. And Celestia nuzzled back.

They stood together staring up at the old moon, silent forgiveness given and received, and as close and comfortable in each other's company as anypony had ever been.

But they could not stay as such forever, and eventually they had to move on from it. Every second they spent dreaming together was precious to both of them and, after a few cozy minutes, Luna spoke up again. "Not that I am in any way critiquing your dreamscape, Tia. But books, paperwork, maths...all of this is a little mundane." She looked at Celestia with a kind smile and a twinkle in her eye. "Shall we go somewhere with more...what are the words...'fun' and 'imagination'? We haven't visited the Rainbow Maze or the Gingerbread House in years."

Celestia smiled back. "I'd like that very much."