• Published 25th Apr 2012
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Aurora - PonyholicsAnonymous

Celestia leaves on a trip, putting Luna and Twilight in charge. What could possibly go wrong?

  • ...

Chapter 2

The sun was going down by the time Cadence and Shining Armor left. Although their visit had taken Twilight's mind entirely off her worries, the sight of the moon beginning to peek over the horizon brought them all immediately crashing back. She rushed over to her saddlebags and pulled out all the books she had brought. After having a slight crisis over which book was more essential for her to read, she settled on one about some of the more obscure details of Equestrian tax law and proceeded to dive into it. After all, it was critical for her to have studied as much as she possibly could before Luna-

A knock on the door interrupted Twilight's reading. She looked up and realized that it was now fully dark, which meant that at least an hour had passed since she started. Princess Luna's here already? But I'm not ready! But I have to be ready! Given her mane a hurried brush, Twilight hurried over to the door and opened it.

“Princess Luna! It's an honor to – Oh.”

“Hi, Twi,” mumbled Spike, stumbling through the door. “Man, they make the best pie in the royal kitchens. I could eat it all day. I guess I did eat it all day.” He let out a groan. “How come they had to put your tower at the top of a bunch of stairs?”

“Spike, you know you're not supposed to eat so much. How come they let you eat so much, anyway?” said Twilight, following Spike as he made his way haphazardly towards his bed.

“New cook. Never seen a baby dragon before. I told him it was important for us to eat as much as possible, so we can grow.”

“Well, you can be sure this is the last time that little trick will work,” said Twilight. “We're at the castle now, Spike! We need to behave appropriately for a royal advisor. What would the Princess think?”

“Actually, this is nothing. You should see Celestia when she gets in the mood for cake,” said a voice right behind Twilight.

Twilight nearly jumped straight out of her skin. “WAAGH! Princess Luna! I didn't see you there! Uh, I mean, it's an honor to, um, see you-”

She was interrupted by a gout of bright green flame shooting just over her head, accompanied by the sound of a hiccup. “Sorry hic,” said Spike. “It was more hic your shout that start hic startled me than Princess Lu hic Luna.”

Twilight hastily surrounded the baby dragon with a magical bubble before he set the room on fire. Then she slowly turned back towards the Princess of the Night, bracing herself for the worst. Luna, however, was struggling – and failing – to stop herself from snickering. As Twilight looked up at her, she lost the battle and burst into laughter. “Perhaps it would be better if I knocked next time,” she said after she had managed to get herself under control, wiping her eyes with her hoof.

Twilight gave a nervous laugh, slightly relieved that she wasn't going to be banished to the moon, or wherever Luna banished ponies to. She took a deep breath to steady herself, then said, “My apologies for not being ready for you. As I was saying, it's an honor to see you again, Princess.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Twilight Sparkle. In truth, that lightened my evening considerably. And you know there's no need for you to be formal with me.”

“Of course, Prin – I mean – Luna,” said Twilight. “I just thought, since I'm supposed a royal advisor now, I should follow court customs more carefully. I read six books on it before coming to make sure I knew what to do.”

“That might be appropriate when we're in court, but not in private,” replied Luna.

“Speaking of court, won't it be time for the night court to start soon?” asked Twilight anxiously.

Luna's smile twisted into a frown. “I suppose it will. You would not be so eager if you knew what was in store for you, though.”

“I know I'm not as ready as I could be, but I did as much to prepare as I could,” said Twilight. “I read the entire current Equestrian code of laws, as well as reviewing every important legal ruling in the past two centuries. I also read all of Marecus Aurelius' meditations on ethics. I was going to read Whinny the Elder, but I ran out of time. Still, I hope I've learned enough to handle at least a couple of petitioners.”

For a moment, Luna simply stared at Twilight. “I see why my sister gave this position to you,” she said after a moment. “That is not what I meant when I said you would not be so eager, though. You will see soon enough.”

Spike had stopped hiccuping fireballs, so Twilight let him out of her magical bubble. “Why don't you get some sleep?” she said. “And no more pies tomorrow. Alright, I'm ready,” she said, turning to Luna. “Lead the way.”

The throne room looked much as it did during the day, with the exception that Luna's night guards were standing before the throne. Luna and Twilight entered through a side door, without fanfare. Sighing, Luna mounted the steps to the throne, with Twilight following anxiously behind. She seated herself to Luna's right, the traditional place of the trusted advisor. She was practically bubbling with nerves, so when Luna abruptly announced, “WE NOW DECLARE THIS SESSION OF COURT OPEN,” Twilight jumped even higher than she had a few minutes earlier. Twilight directed a ferocious glare at Luna, and another at the guards, who hadn't batted an eyelash.

The double doors at the far end of the room ponderously swung open, revealing another pair of guards, and absolutely no one else. Twilight leaned forward, trying to see where all the petitioners were waiting, but Luna sighed and settled despondently back into the throne. After perhaps a minute, Twilight ventured a cautious, “Where is everypony?”

“This is everypony,” said Luna sourly. “On a busy night, there will be three or four petitioners. Most nights, nopony comes at all.”

“But... But why?” stammered Twilight. “Don't they know they can come? It would probably be faster than waiting to see Celestia, too.”

“Because they shun the night, just like they always have. They shun me.”

Luna sounded so forlorn, Twilight felt the sudden, completely inappropriate urge to get up and hug the princess. Instead, she thought for a moment, and then said, “You know, Luna, in my two years in Ponyville, I've never gotten more than a dozen ponies coming to the library every month. That doesn't mean they don't appreciate me. It just means they don't share all my interests.”

“I hardly think it's the same,” objected Luna. “The night is my life's purpose. It is part of who I am. When they reject it, they reject me.”

“And books aren't a part of who I am?” asked Twilight. “You may have been the custodian of the night for slightly longer than I've been the custodian of the Ponyville library, but it seems pretty similar to me. Besides, I don't think ponies come to petition Celestia just to show how much they love her. They do it because they want her to do something for them.”

Luna gave Twilight an irritated look and opened her mouth to retort, but instead, she said nothing, and her face took on a thoughtful look. After a minute, she looked back at Twilight, smiling. “You always do seem to be able to help me see things in a new way, Twilight Sparkle. Perhaps they simply think my sister is easier to cajole than myself,” she said, taking on a slightly mischievous look.

Twilight laughed, mostly in reaction to Luna's improved mood. “Well, if petitioners are what you want, you'll probably get them tomorrow, since Princess Celestia won't be here anymore.”

“And now, thanks to you, the prospect of a night filled with ponies demanding things from me seems much less attractive than it did a moment ago,” said Luna with a false glare, and both ponies giggled. “Still,” said Luna, “It will be nice to feel needed again. Ponies take the sky moving for granted now. I don't begrudge them, but a little appreciation now and then would be welcome.”

“You know, you should have your own celebration, like Princess Celestia has the Summer Sun celebration. Aside from Nightmare Night, I mean. Something on the longest night of the year. Then ponies could see what you do for them firsthand.”

“There was a Winter Moon Celebration once, before I was banished. Celestia has most likely forgotten, with all the time that has passed.”

“Well, that settles it,” said Twilight. “When she gets back from her mission, we're going to talk to her and bring the Winter Moon Celebration back. I've got a couple of other ideas, too...”

* * *

Luna couldn't remember the last time she had actually enjoyed night court. In fact, the past night had been the most enjoyable since... Well, since the last time she had talked to Twilight, at the royal wedding three months ago. Even after Twilight had gone off to bed in the small hours of the morning, Luna's good mood had persisted. She had closed night court slightly early, since nopony would notice or care anyway, and gone off to the library to catch up on her reading. After all, if Twilight could read so much to prepare for being a mere advisor, what excuse did Luna have as princess?

Unsurprisingly, Luna didn't get through the entire law code, instead getting sidetracked into a few books on prominent artists of the last several centuries. How long has it been since I did anything with my sky? She thought to herself. Celestia said they make charts and maps of it, and I might disturb them if I made changes. It's my sky, though. If I want to make a new constellation or two, why shouldn't I?

Eventually, Luna sensed the moon beginning to sink beneath the horizon, which meant her sister would be waking. She replaced the books in their shelves and made her way once more towards Celestia's chambers.

Celestia was sprawled on her favorite cushion again; if she'd been a mortal pony, her mane would no doubt have been a complete mess. “Morning, sister,” she yawned as Luna entered.

“I just wanted to thank you for assigning Twilight Sparkle to be my advisor before you left,” said Luna. “I honestly didn't think it was possible that anypony could make night court bearable, but she managed.”

“I'd hoped as much,” said Celestia, smiling. “She does seem to have that effect on ponies. I told you you two would manage fine without me.” She yawned again. “Send me a letter about it tonight or tomorrow, won't you? There's about five things that I'm not doing right now that I really should be.”

“Of course, sister,” said Luna, chuckling to herself. “I'll see you when you return.”

“Love you, Luna,” said Celestia.

“You too, 'Tia,” replied Luna, making her way to the balcony.

Luna spread her wings and soared up into the air. Looking beneath the surface of reality with her sixth sense, she saw the flare of crimson energy below the horizon as the sun reentered the world. Luna followed one of the deep currents back to her lunar palace in time to see Equestria sink behind the mountains at the edge of the world.

She waited a few minutes to make sure the moon had sunk completely beneath the horizon, and then reached out once again with her sixth sense, a sense somewhere between vision and touch. She felt and saw the place where there was a slight gap in reality, grasped it, and twisted. In the blink of an eye, the gap rushed over everything, turning it inside out. The walls of the world vanished below her, and back in Equestria, the moon and the stars winked out of existence.

No matter how many times Luna performed the task, the power and intricacy of the heavenly apparatus never ceased to amaze her. Even after two and a half thousand years of life, Luna and her sister had never understood more than a fraction of its complexity. Harmony, whoever he or she had been, must have been a truly exceptional creature.

Looking around her night sky, absent of everything but the stars, a feeling of loneliness swept over Luna. As she walked into her bleak palace, she almost wished she had stayed in Canterlot. Her bedroom seemed especially empty, although it was by far the most decorated room in the palace; her sister had insisted on that. But as she laid down in her bed and closed her eyes, it was not the white alicorn she found herself missing, but rather a small lavender unicorn.

Luna awoke the next evening feeling excited for the night to come, which was something that almost never happened. After giving her face a brief wash and pulling on her various royal ornaments, she decided to leave before it was time to raise the moon, another thing that almost never happened. The sky was still empty of anything but stars, but the path back to Equestria was easily visible to her senses, and barely ten minutes after waking, she was gliding down towards Canterlot castle.

However, after landing in the courtyard, a blanket of anxiousness was abruptly draped over her good mood. She had automatically started towards her sister's rooms, before remembering that Celestia wasn't there. With that realization, the full weight of her position came crashing down on her. She was fully and completely in charge, not just of the castle, but of all of Equestria. I suppose my sister was right, she thought nervously. I never really thought about how much of the ruling she does until she wasn't here to do it.

Determined not to let her anxiety get the better of her, she started off for Twilight's room instead. If Luna was going to rule, she wanted to do it properly, and she'd need to rely on Twilight's knowledge to do that. And, she admitted to herself, talking to Twilight does always seem to make me feel better.

When she reached Twilight's tower, Luna briefly entertained the idea of sneaking in through a window in the hope of a repeat performance of the previous night, but quickly discarded the idea. It wouldn't do to start treating Twilight the same way she treated her sister. Instead, she rapped loudly on the door and waited for a muffled, “Come in!” from the other side.

Even with her knocking, she still managed to surprise Twilight. “Princess! I mean, Luna! I wasn't expecting you yet. The moon isn't even up,” said Twilight, hastily organizing a rather large pile of books which had accumulated on her floor.

“I thought it would be good to come early, to prepare for a true session of court,” said Luna. “I have not had to deal with the laws since my return, and I understand they have grown considerably more complicated in the past thousand years.”

“Oh, they have,” replied Twilight. “The code of laws has doubled in length just in the past century. Princess Celestia believes a comprehensive set of laws will make Equestria fairer, although you can still overrule it if you feel it's necessary. Most cases never even come before the royal court, though.”

“I see,” said Luna. “In my day, we would judge each case ourselves. I can see how that would be impractical now. Why do ponies come before the royal court now?”

“Sometimes they think they've been treated unfairly by the lower bureaucrats, or sometimes they want a special favor. The bureaucrats themselves come by fairly regularly, too. I've read that they tend to compete for favor with each other.”

Luna asked several more questions before glancing out the window and realizing that the sun was setting. “Please excuse me for a moment,” she said, walking over to the other window. She could sense the moon through the walls, of course, but being able to actually see the horizon always seemed to help her when she wasn't on the moon itself. Her horn glowed briefly as she reached out and brought the moon back into existence, setting it on its course around the sky. “Where were we again?” she said, walking back to Twilight.

Twilight gave her a confused look. “Weren't you going to raise the moon?” she asked.

“I just did,” said Luna.

“But... But Celestia has to do so much more than that during the Summer Sun Celebration. The moon isn't even over the horizon!” protested Twilight.

“Well, it wouldn't make for a very impressive show without all that, would it?” pointed out Luna. “Moving the sun and moon is actually quite a bit easier than most ponies think it is, although it's probably even more complicated. It's not a matter of physically lifting the moon. That would be impossible, even for my sister or I. It's simply a matter of correctly setting it in motion.”

“But – I thought – Don't you – Celestia always -” Twilight stammered. She took a couple of deep breaths, and then said, “You do realize you just overturned about a thousand years of theories on how your powers work, don't you?”

Luna frowned. “I'm surprised Celestia never spoke of it. Even if other ponies knew, they wouldn't be able to perform it. Back in the beginning, we tried to teach other ponies to control the heavens, but none ever could.”

“I thought unicorns used to do it by themselves,” said Twilight. “That's what it says in the Hearth's Warming Eve story.”

Luna shrugged. “As far as I know, that's just an old pony's tale. It was already old when we started our rule. Most likely a relic of Discord's time.”

“Well, could you try teaching me?” asked Twilight, nearly bouncing. “Even if it's impossible for me to learn, it would still be absolutely fascinating.”

“I don't see why not,” said Luna. “Later, though. Night court will start soon.”

“Of course,” said Twilight, deflating slightly. “Anyway, where were we...”

After another half hour or so, Luna and Twilight made their way back to the throne room. When Luna opened the doors, the largest crowd she had ever drawn was waiting for her, although it was still considerably smaller than the ones Celestia drew. Still, definitely an improvement... she hoped.

The first ponies up were two farmers from just outside Canterlot who had both laid claim to the same field. Since Luna was unable to determine who had actually laid claim to the field first, and neither had bothered filling out documents, she eventually instructed that the first pony divide the fields and the second have first pick, an old favorite of hers.

The second issue was from one of the bureaucrats Twilight had spoken of, a gray unicorn stallion named Paperstack. He gave a rambling, jumbled speech lasting the better part of twenty minutes on why some obscure point of Equestrian law should be changed. Unfortunately for him, Luna hadn't lived for more than 2000 years without getting a sense of when a pony was trying to pull a fast one on her, and Twilight had studied the law enough to figure out that the result of his request would be to allow him to skim several hundred bits off the royal treasury every month. Luna sent him on his way with a stern reprimand delivered in the Royal Canterlot Voice, and doubted he'd be back anytime soon.

One by one, the petitioners kept coming. Although Luna was genuinely glad to be doing her share again, as the night dragged on, she began to wish a few less ponies had shown up. Twilight apparently shared the sentiment; somewhere around the second hour, she leaned over between petitioners and whispered, “I wish some of these were a little bit more exciting.”

As if on cue, there was a commotion out in hallway. The crowd of petitioners parted in the middle, and two of Luna's night guard entered with a filly between them. Looking closer, Luna saw that they appeared to be supporting the filly in the middle, a blue earth pony, who seemed to be in some amount of distress. “Be careful what you wish for,” she muttered to Twilight, then raised her voice. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked the guards.

“There's been some sort of incident, Princess,” said one of the guards. “Best to hear it from her, if she's up to telling it.” They both leaned in close to the pony they had been escorting and seemed to be trying to reassure her; Luna saw that she was trembling and weeping.

After a moment, Luna rose from the throne and walked down to the filly herself, with Twilight following. She got down on her knees so as not to loom over her, and said, “It's alright. You're safe now. Can you tell me what your name is?”

Seeing the Princess seemed to snap the filly back to reality. “Blue-Blue Blossom,” she stammered. “My name is Blue Blossom, ah, your highness.”

“Can you tell me what's happened, Blue Blossom?” asked Luna gently.

“I-I don't want to talk about it,” she mumbled.

“Please. I need to know what's happened,” said Luna.

“I found...” She shuddered again, but seemed to gather her courage. “I found a-a body! Somepony's been killed!”

* * *

The room had grown entirely silent while Blue Blossom talked, but at her words, whispers broke out all over the hall. Killed? As in, murdered? Thought Twilight. But, that doesn't happen here! I don't think I can remember ever hearing one pony killing another in Canterlot.

Luna was questioning Blue Blossom further. “What did you see?” she asked.

“There's... There's this old shop. Closed. Me and a couple of my friends thought we'd sneak into it. Just for fun, you know? Up at the top, there's an attic. Locked, but my friend Willowisp is a unicorn. She managed to get it open. Inside, there was a room...” The terrified filly curled up on the floor, shuddering. “No! I don't want to think about it anymore! Don't make me think about it anymore!”

Luna sighed and raised herself. One of the guards approached her. “I think I know the store she's talking about, Princess. It's just a block or two from where we found her. Poor thing was screaming her head off. That's the most sense I've heard from her until we brought her here.”

Luna nodded. “Find a room for her, and get one of the servants to look after her. We'll find her family in the morning.” She raised her voice. “I apologize, but night court will be ending prematurely tonight. I hope you understand. Please, if you have further concerns, bring them to my attention tomorrow night.” Turning back to the other guard, she said, “Gather a full squad of the guard and meet me by the gate. Also, tell the commander that shifts are doubled until this matter has been resolved. That goes for the day guard, too.”

“Yes, Princess,” said the guard, running out of the hall.

Luna turned to Twilight. “You'd better come,” she said. “Do you think we need to wake your brother?”

Twilight shook her head. “He's been overworking himself lately,” she said. “Tomorrow should be soon enough. This will be hard enough on him as it is.”

“As you say,” said Luna. “We'd better go, then.”

The two ponies made their way out of the throne room and down to the lower gate. Twilight had to fight the urge to just teleport straight there, but she knew they had to give the guard enough time to assemble a squad. Still, by the time they arrived, she was nearly jumping out of her skin with impatience, and the fear didn't do anything to help. Could there be some kind of new monster attacking the city? She thought, and shivered when she realized that she'd prefer that to the idea of a pony killing another pony.

A full twelve guards armed with spears were waiting for them outside the castle, including the one who had originally come to the throne room. “Follow me, princess,” he said, and the squad moved out. They formed into protective ranks around Luna and Twilight, and although they made her feel somewhat safer, she doubted Luna really needed them.

“Has anything like this ever happened before?” asked Twilight as they walked.

“It happens from time to time, although rarely, thank Harmony,” replied Luna. “I remember there was one just after I returned. Something involving two stallions getting in a fight over a filly. Accidental, if I recall correctly, but I didn't really get involved.”

Twilight shivered. “I never heard about it,” she said.

“Celestia wanted to keep it quiet. She did her best to keep it out of the gossip mill. Everypony involved felt terrible afterwards. They didn't need to be singled out for it, as well.”

Twilight nodded. “I wonder if that's what happened here, too.”

Luna didn't respond, and a few minutes later, they arrived outside a ramshackle old shop with boarded up windows. “Please let us go first, princess,” said the guard commander. Luna nodded, and two unicorn guards pushed through the door, which was unlocked. Their horns lit up, and a soft glow lit the interior. “Looks clear,” one of them said after a moment.

“Right. You four, wait outside and cover the exits. The rest of you, with me,” said the commander. He entered the building, with Luna and Twilight following. The inside was just as run down as the outside had suggested, with nothing but a few dusty tables. However, Twilight noted that the floor was mostly clear of dust. “Over here,” came a voice from around the corner. “There are stairs up.”

The group carefully made its way up to the second floor, which was just as empty as the first. The guards spread out and searched it. “Found the attic,” said one after a moment. After a nod from the commander, he ascended the stairs and pushed open the door. “Right. Let's see what we've- Holy buck! Sir... Dear Celestia. You'd better come take a look at this, sir.”

The commander mounted the stairs, and there was a hiss of indrawn air. “Who would do something like this?” he muttered.

Luna made her way up the stairs, and Twilight apprehensively followed. “I'm not sure you want to look at this, Princess,” said the commander, but after a glare from Luna, he gulped and swiftly moved out of the way. Luna reached the top of the staircase and said nothing, staring grimly. A moment later, Twilight was beside her, and she saw.

The room had been painted entirely black. Shelves were stacked against the walls, holding musty tomes, rows of black candles, and arrays of curved daggers. In the center of the room, an intricate diagram had been carefully burned into the floor, filled with jagged lines and spiky runes. In the middle of the symbol, a brown stallion lay spread eagle. A spear had been driven clean through his chest and into the floor beneath.

“I think,” said Twilight after a horrified moment, “We'd better go wake Shining Armor.”