• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 2,652 Views, 385 Comments

Nine Days Down - JoeShogun



Celestia's latest game of Save the Princess gets more serious than she'd have liked when she gets herself thrown into Tartarus. It would be bad enough if she were alone...but it seems she'd picked up a straggler as well.

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Questions.

Twilight burst out of the fogwall.

“Bait!?”

She whipped about, looking one way and another, searching desperately.

Agonizing moments passed as she realized she had no idea what to do. The fog was already receding, the Procession gone. And Bait was still in there! She chased after it, the wreck of her leg slowing her to a maddening crawl.

“Bait!”

She ran on anyway, mind churning feverishly to find some way to do something. She threw Insight at the fogwall, hoping maybe she and her new senses could reveal something.

The sword shot into the fog, but found nothing. It was just wet air. Wait, no, there! Some kind of border or liminal space between herself and the fog. Not a physical one. Conceptual. According to the sword, the whole world was different inside that other space, like it was wasn’t quite real. The rules in there were different, in the same way the rules in Tartarus were different from those in Equestria. It was its own little realm…

Fine, great, super-interesting, thought Twilight. But how do I get back in!?

Insight did the first thing that came to her rather one-track mind. She cut it.

To everypony's surprise, it worked. Thick mist poured from the little slit in reality. She hopped toward it, but it closed immediately. Twilight groaned, and Insight cut it again, darting inside this time and hooking a bit of the ‘border’ like a needle on thread and dragging it over Twilight.

After a brief bit of disorientation, Twilight found herself again swallowed in misty clouds. She stood at a road, and an endless trail of specters walked before her. Hah! She was in! She took an unsteady step forward and called to Bait again. She very nearly ran him over. His eyes darted up to meet hers as she tottered forward. They collided in a sort of happy terror, wrapping wings and legs and arms around each other.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re okay! I thought you, well, never mind! Are you okay, Bait?”

He didn’t say anything, just buried his head in her chest for a while.

“What’s this, now?”

Twilight looked up to see Dullahan watching her quizzically. She scowled at him. Luna was there too, looking first startled, then amused. She laughed.

“You’re going to have to try harder to keep this one out, Dullahan. Not that she—“

A searing sound interrupted, as of molten steel poured into seawater, followed by a racket of shorn metal and blasting light.

Celestia stormed into the Procession.

“Twilight!?”

Dullahan’s face, detached as it was from his body, grew ever more amazed as he watched.

Twilight waved, and Celestia ran to her, not even glancing at the now aghast Headless Horse. She threw herself over Twilight, covering the both her and Bait in a shroud of soft feathers.

“Thank goodness! I was so afraid you, well, it doesn’t matter. Are you two alright?”

Twilight said nothing, just buried her head in that big, warm chest and refused to move for a long time.

The parallels with her recent reunion with Bait were not lost on her.

~~~

“Now that, I have never seen,” said Dullahan. He marveled at the ponies and their wight even as they faded from his realm. “Three Princesses invading my realm, each in her own way. Truly a wonder…”

“Yes, we are really something, aren’t we?”

Dullahan turned to Luna so that he could see her. Still as lovely as ever.

“I can see why Tartarus so desires this Twilight Sparkle. Will she hate me, do you think? For what I tried to give her?”

Luna shrugged.

“For making the offer to the boy, perhaps. That was cruel, Dullahan. He is too young to have such a choice thrust upon him.”

“To live on may prove more cruel still, Luna. Tartarus would rather break its toys than see them free, and nothing escapes this place without cost. That said, seeing this alternative may have steeled his will. And hers.”

Luna frowned, but didn’t deny it.

“For what it is worth, I hope that they succeed and live happily, far away from here.”

Luna’s face slid easily into a wry smile. “I’ll be certain to send them your kind regards. Twilight is an open minded sort. She’ll come to understand what you do in time, I think. But you never had a chance with her, Dullahan.”

“Ahh. So it goes.”

“It does. And so must I. It was good to see you again, but let’s try to meet under better circumstances next time, yes? It’s awful of you to only appear at such bleak moments.” Luna stepped lightly forward, leaning past his chest to place a delicate kiss on Dullahan’s lips. She turned away without waiting for an answer.

The Headless Horse watched her go, staring into his mist-shrouded nothing for a long while.

“Fare thee well, my Princesses. And may you never have need of me.” He turned and walked on, as he ever had. As he ever would.

~~~

Luna pranced out of the rapidly scattering fogwall.

“Hah!” she declared. “I told you we had nothing to worry about. She cut the chalice in half, Celestia! Just dumped it on the ground! You should have seen the look on Dullahan’s face! Classic!”

Alas, the teacher and her student were too busy cuddling to pay attention. Luna’s brows just about flew off her face, her lips quirking into a delighted smile. Were they actually kissing!? She somehow managed to keep the half-million or so possible comments she had about this to herself. Somepony had been getting naughty with one of her students again. She was going to hound Celestia relentlessly for this once her sister was emotionally stable enough to take it. But for now, Luna turned away, trying not to be too obviously amused by her sister’s indiscretions.

The mist that held the Procession continued to clear, revealing the ponies of her retinue. She scrutinized them carefully, making sure all were still in attendance. She counted six, and she recognized each. Excellent.

Luna fluffed out her wings, drawing attention away from the snugglefest behind her.

“Well met, soldiers! I trust you all are well?”

Affirmatives sounded.

“Wonderful! Come along then.” She strode a ways down the road.

“What about, um,” asked one, his neck craning for a better look.

“This way, dear ponies!” Luna had to all but shove them onward.

~~~

Celestia didn’t hesitate this time. She met Twilight halfway, and they kissed for a long while. Twilight knew Bait was there, knew it was weird, and knew that other ponies might see them, but she was so desperate to reconnect with someone that she didn't care. They breathed into each other, and for just that moment, everything seemed like it might work out.

Alas, it had to end. Eventually. They took their time.

“Sorry!” said Twilight, nuzzling into Celestia’s mane. “I didn’t mean to scare you! Sorry I was acting so—”

“No, it’s alright! I’m sorry! I should have—“

“I-yeah. But I mean, I—“

“Ah, aheh…”

They looked at each other, awkward yet somehow perfectly familiar. So many words went unsaid, and that was fine. They didn’t need words so much at this point. Their eyes both turned to Bait at the same time. He blinked up at them.

“So, uh, how are you doing?” asked Twilight.

“M'’ok,” he mumbled, leaning up against Twilight. “S-sorry I, I didn’t mean to—“

“It’s okay. I know.”

Time passed.

“Hey. Um. New rule?” said Twilight.

“Hm?”

“No more being sorry.” She turned from Celestia to Bait, watching them both. “I can’t deal with it anymore. So, no more feeling bad about what happens here. If we mess up, we can just blame Tartarus or something. Sound good?”

Bait smiled, if only a little. Celestia did too, though her eyes watered just a little bit.

“Yes. That’s a good rule,” she said. “Shall we?”

Twilight nodded up at her.

“You really are something, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight blushed, even though it was ridiculous. She took a step.

That horrible pain shot up it at the first movement.

“Ow! Right. The leg. Darn it.”

“Here, let me.” Celestia shifted over to Twilight’s wounded side, putting a wing under her, taking some of the weight.

~~~

“I think it’s time you let somepony see to that, Twilight Sparkle,” said Luna, gesturing to Twilight’s leg as she and Celestia and Bait rejoined the rest. She had that little smirk ponies always got after they’d seen her making out with someone. Twilight didn’t know why everypony thought that was so funny.

“Yes,” put in Celestia, pointedly ignoring Luna’s amusement. “We should have addressed this earlier.”

“Sure,” said Twilight, with only a slight bit of resentment. It was fine. She’d rather be in love than depressed, even if it meant Luna got to be a jerk about it.

“Wonderful! Sidewinder?”

“Of course, m’lady.” The nyxie hopped to work, taking Twilight’s leg in a gentle hoof and covering it carefully and liberally with the cool green cream known as ‘panacea.’ Twilight had heard of the stuff, but never experienced it. It was famed for its healing properties: It soothed pain, disinfected, sealed wounds while somehow still letting them breathe, re-grew hair in its full and luscious glory, improved test scores, etc, etc. In short, it supposedly did just about everything a pony could want a topical cream to do. It smelled nice, too. Like jasmine, with a bit of mint. Its unfeasible utility was matched only, the rumors said, by its improbable cost, which was why only a pony in dire straits ever got to see the stuff. Twilight wondered at the bit value of her current treatment, but she couldn’t deny the effect. Her pain started to ebb immediately. Sidewinder wrapped the limb in gauze, holding both ends while her assistant, Brevity, pinned the cloth tight.

“We shall see to it from here,” said Luna, brushing the medic aside.

Once the leg was coated and swathed, Celestia and Luna lit their horns, casting a tandem spell that gently enveloped Twilight’s limb in a rigid-yet-somehow-soft-and-flexible cast of silver magic. This was the first time Twilight had ever seen the sisters work such an enchantment together. It was beautiful.

By the time the procedure was over, the pain in Twilight’s leg had fallen from ‘raging agony’ to a mere ‘ragged throb.’ She sighed in relief, suddenly reminded that things hadn’t always been this bad.

“There!” stated Luna. “That should make things more—”

An ear-splitting shriek of shattering metal or stone or who-knew-what interrupted her. All heads turned to the sound. It was far off, much too far for them to have so immediately known the source. But they did. The mountain. The one they’d been able to see since they’d left it, no matter where they were. Etna, Twilight had heard it called.

A great avalanche rolled down one side of the mountain-prison.

Had Polyphemus been on that side, or the other?

A low, moaning roar shook the earth beneath them.

A silence followed.

“I think,” said Celestia. “That it is time we moved on.”

Even Luna seemed disturbed, for once. She only nodded, and off they went.

~~~

Insight flew up and sliced a leaf off one of the ever-present trees. She cut it five more times.

You’re so fast!

Insight swelled with pride.

Twilight smiled at that. She was feeling better now. Not that it meant much, given how she’d felt before. She knew the high might be temporary. There was no cure-all for the kind of trauma she’d been through, but that was okay. She could handle it this time. She had to. Bait needed her. She still worried a bit that they’d never make it out of here, but it wasn’t crushing anymore. She would give it everything she had, and that would have to do.

Insight minced the slivers of leaf even more, slicing up each one another three times.

Twilight floated along on a shimmering disk made of pure magic. The Princesses had made it for her on account of her leg, despite her insistence that she could walk. Sidewinder had concurred with them that this was necessary, as had her assistant, Brevity. Twilight had finally admitted that they were probably right and allowed them to carry her, but only if Bait and Ben could ride too. They had declared that was fair, but now she had nothing to do as they went, so…

She pulled Insight back and had her trim a tiny piece of the platform away from the rest of the spell. A little arc of magic slipped away from the disc, vaporizing into nothing, as undirected magic did.

How do you do that?

Insight had no answer for that one. It was just a thing she could do.

She’d cut magic, she’d sliced a hole between worlds, she’d pierced a godling that had supposedly been invincible…Can you cut ideas, too? Thoughts, maybe? What about how worried I am that things have been so suspiciously quiet since that big racket on the mountain?

The sword hovered, tilting to one side as if confused.

Nope. Not ideas then. But what else might Insight be able to do?

Twilight brought her close and tried to cut a strand of her own mane. Insight brushed right past it, and not a hair fell to the ground. Intrigued, Twilight poked her own leg, the good one, with the blade. It didn’t cut. It didn’t even hurt. Insight’s point felt like a dull pencil on her skin, completely harmless. She tried again, harder, and got the distinct feeling that Insight wasn’t at all comfortable with this.

“Keep playing with that and you’ll go blind.”

Celestia snorted back a laugh.

“Don’t be crude, Luna.”

“Huh?” Twilight looked from one to the other, honestly unsure what was crude about that. Or what Luna had even meant.

“Ha. Nothing, Twilight,” said Luna. “A joke from before your time. Sister?”

“Hm?”

“You haven’t taken even a moment to thank your brave soldiers for coming here to help you. Perhaps now would be a good time?”

Then Luna and Celestia did that thing where they talked without words. They shared a glance, and Celestia was clearly leery, but Luna cajoled, and Celestia countered, and Luna insisted, and in the end Celestia conceded. It was maddening when they did things like that.

“Ah, I…suppose I should.”

And so off she went, leaving Twilight and the Moon Princess alone at the head of the troop.

“My dear sister excels at so many things, but she is an idiot when it comes to just letting a pony be.”

“I, uh—”

“Especially herself.”

“…Okay?”

“It will be good for her to spend some time with normal ponies. But how are you, Twilight?”

Twilight hesitated for a long moment, maybe at the idea that she wasn’t ‘normal’ anymore. Then she shrugged. Why fight the obvious, at this point?

“I’ve been better.”

“Hah! I imagine so. How long have you been in Tartarus now, if I may ask?”

“I don’t even know. A few days, I guess?”

“Ahh. Well, We have to say, you’re handling all this very well.”

“Why do people keep telling me that? It’s been horrible! I’ve been beat up and terrified and I nearly killed a centaur and now I’ve got a broken leg! I didn’t even notice when you got here because I was too busy staring at Phix’s dead body and then Headless Horse just asked me to kill myself and I almost, I-I don’t, I just…Sorry. I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Luna grinned. Apparently, she found something funny about this.

“Oh, We suspect you do. And don’t be sorry on my account. Let it out, Twilight, you needn’t be polite with Us. Scream. Cut down a tree, blow up a rock or two. Whatever will help.”

“I…”

Twilight gathered up as magic as she could hold at once and blasted it into one of the apparently infinite friggin’ trees that lined the road. It burst into a satisfying explosion, splinters and sap flying everywhere as the hulk crashed to ground. Insight stabbed it a few times for good measure. The soldiers jumped into readiness, but they were easily ignored next to Celestia’s rather incendiary reaction. Luna waved them all down, smiling as the bits bounced off her shield.

“Oh. Wow.” Twilight hadn’t even known she could hit that hard. It had felt good. Really, really good.

“See? Things are not so dire. You live still, and have grown stronger than even you knew. When I arrived here, I expected to find Celestia long gone, and would have counted myself fortunate to find you alive at all. I expected you to be curled up in a ball, singing soft lullabies to yourself. ‘Tis a common reaction to being lost in this place. Yet here you are, alive and well, with my sister and these two,” she gestured at Bait and Ben. Ben waved back, “in tow. And Insight, of course. So again We say unto to you, you really are doing quite well.”

A little twinge ran through Twilight as she remembered the first time she’d woken up here. Still, she managed to be at least a little glib in response.

“I was curled into a ball when you got here.”

“Bah. You were taking a well-deserved rest. Nothing worth worrying over. And you weren’t singing to yourself.” She prodded Twilight lightly with a wing. “You are so much stronger than you know, Twilight Sparkle. Take pride in that.”

Twilight forced out a small chuckle, and found that it took surprisingly little effort. Luna’s confidence was infectious.

“We apologize, by the by. For Phix. We should not have done that in front of you.”

There was genuine pain in her voice, and Twilight didn’t think it was for her. She longed to ask about it, about Phix and what she had been and what she and Luna had been to each other. Instead, she deflected.

“It’s okay. Celestia did it too.” Twilight hadn’t meant to talk about this. The words had just snuck out. And once free, once the doors were open, they started spilling out, uncontrolled. “She killed them, a whole pack of them, right in front of me. They were, they were like diamond dogs, but…and I mean, it wasn’t her fault! They attacked me! I walked right into it, and then she killed them all and it was, I just, I freaked out! I tried to tell her it wasn’t her fault and I only ran away because I just freaked out and-really-it-was-their-fault-for-attacking-me-but-I-don’t-think—”

“Ahh, yes,” cut in Luna, calm and cool. “The gorehounds. She told me of that, briefly. Be at peace, Twilight. They got both what they deserved and what they desired.”

Twilight looked up at her, pulled from her own spiraling thoughts by that last bit. Goddess, what was wrong with her? One second she felt fine, the next she was rambling like a crazy pony.

Luna grinned. “Confusing, yes? They are quite content in Tartarus, if you can believe such a thing. ‘Tis the most fervent dream of the gorehound warrior to die in glorious battle to a grand and mighty foe. A strange ethos, perhaps, but a fulfilling one. And what more grand and mighty a foe could one find to die to than the fabled Celestia? They were happy to throw themselves at her, Twilight, even knowing they would fall. Take solace in that.”

“That’s…insane.”

“Quite so. But then, We’ve always had sympathy for the insane. They don’t call them lunatics for naught.” Luna’s eyes went distant, melancholy. Then, without even an attempt at explaining herself, Luna pepped back up and tilted her head at Bait. “But we needn’t dwell on such things just now. Who is this fine fellow?”

“How do you do that?” Again, the words just jumped out on their own. “You killed Phix without batting an eye and laughed it off, then you looked like you were about to cry just now, and here you are again, changing the subject and acting like nothing’s wrong! I just…How do you do it?”

Twilight hadn’t meant to be so blunt. If Luna took any offense, she hid it well.

“Ahh, now that is an excellent question. Change has always been a talent of Ours. We suspect it has to do with being the Moon, who changes her face by the day. By your expression We suppose that is not an especially useful answer. May We tell you a story?”

Twilight nodded, somewhat taken aback, but intrigued to see where this was going.

“Many centuries ago, We fell in love with a philosopher.” Luna smiled, reminiscing. “One night, having shared of cups and ideas and each other, he told Us of a suspicion he had, an idea about how ponies are. Do you know what it was?”

Obviously the answer was no, but Twilight played along and shook her head anyway.

“He told Us that when a pony meets another, she presents only a part of herself. A mask, if you will.” Luna pulled a simple, smiling theatre mask from somewhere in the folds of her robe and donned it. “She attempts to show what is best about herself, or what is important at the time. When she meets a different pony,” Luna tossed the mask off with a tilt of her head and brought forth another, this one frowning. “She presents another mask. And,” she tossed that one aside as well, “if she were to meet both of those ponies at once…” She pulled another mask, this one smirking. “She would bring forth a third, one that was appropriate to this new situation. Understand?”

Twilight thought about that, and about where those masks kept coming from. “But, if everypony is just putting up these masks for everypony else, then—”

“Then where is the true pony? The pony beneath? Yes, that is the question, isn’t it? This was what he told Us,” said Luna, dropping the last of her masks. She leaned in close and whispered. “There is no pony beneath. He believed that even the face we present to ourselves...” A second Luna stepped out from behind the first, and each one pulled out and placed upon her face a different mask. “Is, in truth, only another facade.” They spoke in perfect tandem. “ ‘Tis all masks, all the way down.” The mirror Luna vanished with a little puff of blue smoke.

Twilight gawked. He she really copied herself so easily? Or was it all illusion? Even if the clone hadn't been real, that was top level spell casting, and Luna had done with no visible effort at all. She really needed to get to know this mare better.

“And so, my dear little Princess," continued Luna, clearly enjoying Twilight's reaction. "The way that We do this is simple. When faced with a loss We are not prepared to handle, We don’t. ‘Tis not that We don’t feel, Twilight, not that We don’t know or care. ‘Tis merely a matter of becoming what will best serve the situation. What Our ponies need most. Sometimes a pony needs to laugh, in even the most horrid of circumstances. Sometimes they must cry, though they think themselves happy. Sometimes, We simply don’t have time to fall apart, and so put those dark thoughts aside. We choose to become, for a time, somepony who cannot be broken. Do you understand?”

“Nightmare Moon,” Twilight whispered. “That’s who she is? The Luna that can’t be broken?”

Luna's smile faltered.

“Aye,” she breathed. “Among other things. Despite being our youngest, it sometimes feels as though you see right through us all. But aye. A weapon, she was. She was Our blade in the Night, blacker than the blackest of hearts. And then one day, she decided to wield herself.” Luna walked in silence for a moment as Twilight stared on. “But look at Us,” she quipped, once again chipper as all get-out. “Babbling about this maudlin nonsense. If even half of what my sister says of you is true, you must be full of questions about this place, or yourself, or any other trivial little thing that might enter your mind. Is there anything you’d like to ask while Celestia isn’t here to stop Us from being ‘crude’ as she puts it.”

Twilight didn’t say anything at first. She had to work at it, had to try to wrap her mind around the things Luna had said about masks and weapons and there being no true ponies. She didn’t really buy it. But she could pretend, right? Just for a little while? She put some effort into it and got a decent smile going.

“Okay. Sure. What’s with the Royal We? You’ve gotten all plural again.”

Luna laughed. “We should think that would be obvious, Sparkle. Are you not two beings now, at least?” She gestured at Insight with a toss of her head. “We have tried to remember to call Ourselves singular, so as not to confuse modern ponies, but We see no reason to so limit Ourselves with you.”

“Oh. Right. I guess that does make sense.” The answer had been rather simpler than she’d expected. And far more complicated as well.

“Alright then. What were those ponies with Dullahan? I thought ghosts weren’t real."

Luna nodded. “Quite true, except when it isn't." She grinned at Twilight's objection, and spoke over it. "Dullahan is one of the few beings We’ve ever met who has found a way to truly cheat death. And even then, only in others.”

“He makes them? What is he, then? A god? Immortal? Why does he do…whatever he does?”

Luna shrugged. “All of that, more or less. He is ageless, just as We. As to why, ‘tis his way, is all. His nature. He feels there is value in it, in keeping those souls and their stories in the world.”

“Do you?”

Luna hesitated for a long time.

“Aye. The ghosts of the Procession hold such stories, Twilight! The cost to those he keeps, though, is great.”

“Yeah…Is that why you banished him?”

“He was not banished. We, Celestia and I, could not have banished him if we’d wanted to, any more than we could banish death itself. Dullahan appears to those whom he believes need him. He walks between worlds as he will, and has no concern for such petty things as physical causality or simple fucking decency. Ah, apologies for my language, Twilight, but the stallion can be absolutely maddening at times. Actually,” said Luna, eyeing the smaller pony. “Do you know that word?”

“Yeah, Celestia told me about it.”

“Hah! That must have been some conversation! You’ll have to tell me of it someday. Regardless, unable to stop Dullahan, we instead worked to build a world where he would not be necessary.”

“You did,” stated Twilight. It was a simple, undeniable fact.

“Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. That is deeply gratifying to hear it.”

“So, um. I saw some of them, the ghosts, stop and talk to you. Did you, um, were they…” Twilight wasn't sure what or how to ask, or if she even should. Luna’s face indicated that perhaps she shouldn’t have, but the Princess answered anyway.

“Did We know them? Yes. Were they all suicides? No. Dullahan gives his little offer of unlife to any who happen to die near where he is at the time, and there have been many. They were…” Luna sighed. “Friends, mostly. The most recent of them died here, by their own will or another’s. But let Us not dwell on things we cannot help.”

“Right! Okay. So, do you ever get bored?” It just came out on its own, before Twilight had time to consider whether she even wanted an answer. “Living forever?”

Luna laughed, her voice ringing pleasantly through the woods. “Been reading the novels about us, have you? Oh! The ennui of eternity!” She raised one hoof to her head, faux-swooning with great drama. “If only I were mortal and could have died before I lost my one true love! If only I could feel real feelings again!” She laughed further, falling behind as she shook with it. “That was an actual line in one! What nonsense! No, We do not get bored.” Luna looked away, still smiling despite the words that followed. “We immortals have our regrets, and they build upon themselves, as anypony’s would. They can be crushing, at times, but to us, every day is a new wonder. Everyone we meet on our endless journey truly is a beautiful and unique snowflake, and we love them for it. Even if they turn out to be monsters in the end. So no, Twilight, if you should find yourself living forever with us, you will not regret your decision. Has Celestia had this talk with you?”

“Yeah. Kind of.”

Luna nodded.

“Should you choose mortality…well, that will be your decision. We who carry on will cherish the memory of you, forever. I’m sure you will be blessed with wonderful children, just as dear Cadenza has been.”

Twilight opened her mouth, but what was she supposed to say to that? Luna sounded so sad…

“So, you’re in favor of the forever, um, option?”

“Ah. Well. Celestia tells Us We shouldn’t seek to influence our young Princesses one way or another, and We suppose that is fair. But We would be…ecstatic to have another to share eternity with. But it is, of course, your decision to make.”

Twilight watched Luna closely. The Moon Princess watched the road, a soft smile playing at her lips. Hopeful.

“Alright. Thank you. For being honest, I guess. It’s all a bit much for me, really.”

Luna turned to her, grinning again.

“We imagine so. Anything else to ask? Celestia surely champs at the bit to be back by your side.”

“So, about Nightmare Moon…”

Luna gave her a wry grin.

“You have a way with difficult questions, Twilight.”

“No, it’s okay! This one’s quick.”

Luna nodded for her to continue.

“I’ve seen some of what Celestia can do when she fights. She’s so powerful! And that was before the whole sword thing happened. I asked her why she didn’t just handle all the villains and stuff on her own, instead of sending me, and she explained all that, but it got me thinking about you. So, um, my question is, when me and the girls first met you, did you lose on purpose?”

Something happened in Luna’s eyes that sent a chill through Twilight. It faded as fast as it came, so quickly that she wasn’t sure she’d actually seen it. When Luna spoke, her words were light, but Twilight was suddenly very worried that she’d crossed some unseen line.

“Why do you ask this?”

“Well, it’s just, like I said..." Twilight licked her lips, and the words came quick, each one forcing out the next. “You’re both so strong! And I just started thinking that if you’d really wanted to stop us, it wouldn’t even have been a fight. We had no idea what we were doing! You could have taken us all back then without even trying! Right? But you didn't!”

Luna’s eyes narrowed at first. Was she insulted? But they softened as Twilight rambled on, then grew slowly wider, as if in some revelation.

“So I figured you had to have wanted to lose! Because maybe just needed help and knew it, or you thought it would be better that way?”

Luna opened her mouth to speak, shut it again. Several silent steps later, a little smile slowly grew across her lips.

“Aye.” Luna nodded to no one in particular. She seemed to walk a bit taller after that, as if some long-pondered realization had been made, some small weight finally lifted away. “Yes. ‘Twas our decision, to fail. Thank you, Twilight.”

“You’re welcome?” Twilight wasn’t entirely sure what she was being thanked for. She was just happy it had worked out. Apparently.

“I am. Anything else?”

There was one thing she could think of.

“So, um, about the whole Goddess thing. Princess, er...” Twilight realized for the first time that she had, at some point, started thinking of her Princess not by title but by name. “Celestia mentioned that immortals don’t have kids. But do they, um, like, do Goddesses…”

Luna quirked an eyebrow, leaning in, grin growing by the word.

“Do they..?”

“Do they um, date? Like, have girlfriends?”

Luna’s uproarious laughter was interrupted by a bellowing call from above.

“Incoming! Six, no, more! Maybe a dozen! Some kind of bug! More coming! All around!”

The Moon Princess’s eyes lit up even further, somehow.

“Pardon Us, dear, We must see to this. But in answer to your question…” Luna flexed her wings, and Shard followed eagerly. “Absolutely!” With that, Luna leapt into the air to meet her guard.

Well. Good. That was a big relief to hear. Bigger than maybe it should have been, given that they were under attack, or something? From the orders being barked about, Twilight assumed they were.

“Stay here, Bait,” she told the wight, rising up and stepping off the little platform. “It’ll be okay.” She still had to hobble, but she could walk well enough on her injured leg now that it was shielded and mostly numb. She could do this. She could handle it.

Bait slunk down off the magical conveyance and was at her side in an instant. She looked at him, slightly irked, but he just shook his head and looked away. Ben hopped onto her back.

“Yeah, fair enough,” she said. “I guess you two have saved me more times than I’ve saved you, huh?”

Ben chirped. Bait gave her a small, scared smile. She gave one back. She reached within herself for the mask of someone who knew what she was doing. It helped, a little. “It'll be okay,” she repeated.

The pegasus and nyxie troops were forming up over them them. Luna called out commands. Celestia had made her way to Twilight’s side. She saw Twilight and Bait and Ben on the ground, and she only nodded. This was just how things were in Tartarus.

Twilight’s ear twitched towards a rustling in the distance. A sort of pattering thut-thut-thut that rang from everywhere at once.

No more time to talk. They were coming.

Whatever they were.

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