• Published 22nd Nov 2011
  • 8,631 Views, 136 Comments

Lacuna - Drakmire



Visions of a dark future prompt one pony to seek help, but she cannot act alone.

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00 - Prologue

The sun wasn't hers.

Celestia basked in the day’s final light, cherishing the warmth that spread over her body from nose to hoof to wingtip. But the sun was never hers, just as the moon was never Luna's. Popular belief was to the contrary, but so far, Luna had not questioned her sister's decision to keep the matter a secret.

With a sigh, Celestia decided her court had waited long enough. Returning to her throne, she felt pleased to find her sister in attendance. Luna often shadowed her sibling to absorb the nuances of Celestia's statecraft, but even years after her release, she had yet to hold a court of her own. She watched Celestia give a polite nod as she finished with one of her few remaining supplicants, dismissing him with a grace and elegance that Luna hoped she could one day emulate.

The royal guards brought in the next petitioner, an ivory-coated unicorn with a dark chocolate mane, cut just short enough that the hairs stood on end in loose clumps. In contrast, her tail fell in a gentle cascade, not quite touching the floor as she walked forward. A pair of sturdy saddlebags hung at her sides, the cushioning blankets underneath obscuring her cutie mark. As her whole face came into view, Luna was surprised to see that the mare’s eyes didn’t quite match--one was a pale blue-gray, the other a sage green.

“Please, rise. You have waited long, and we thank you for your patience. What can we do for you today?” Celestia spoke with warmth and caring, but Luna could read the small signs of her sister's fatigue—the creases around her eyes, the tightness of her smile, the barely-perceptible droop of her wings. If this wasn't the last hearing of the day, it was very close to it.

The mare knelt for a moment longer than necessary, then rose to address the resplendent goddesses. “Your Highnesses, I am a...scholar by trade, someone deeply interested in the 'how' of things that have come to be, the numerous forces that needed to align for any great event. As such, I count myself fortunate to be living in these auspicious times.” She nodded towards Luna, holding her gaze steady for half a heartbeat before looking back to Celestia. “I come before you to beg a boon, small in asking, but rich in value for my kin and myself.”

Celestia cocked her head just the barest fraction, but still, Luna caught the gesture. Something's off. It would be easy to ascribe it to fatigue, or to the way this pony spoke, but favors requested within flowery words and long days should be nothing new. Luna could sense a sudden tension in Celestia's posture.

“I hold a special place in my heart for those who seek knowledge,” Celestia said. “What is your name, child?”

“Your Highness, I am named Sand Shaper.” She paused a moment, hesitating under the intense scrutiny of both royal sisters.

“I am Eclipsed.”

Sand had knelt again, practically prostrating herself before them at the last word, such that she spoke it more to the ground than the princesses. Luna gave her sister a bemused look, but Celestia's attention never left Sand. Several long moments passed before Celestia spoke, but when she did, she pitched her voice to reach every ear in the chamber.

“Thank you, everypony, but I believe that this concludes our court for the day. I'm afraid I must ask you to return another time while I attend to my other royal duties this evening.” Celestia stood, forcing the gathered crowd, such as it was, to rise as one. Quiet murmuring permeated the room as the guards shepherded everyone out. Sand stayed prone, either believing that the mandate did not apply to her, or else simply too afraid to move without a direct command.

“Tia, what is this about?” Luna whispered, hoping the gentle susurrus in the chamber would cover her voice. A flicked ear gave Luna the only indication that her sister had heard, but Celestia neither moved nor spoke until the throne room had cleared. Luna fidgeted, wanting to be on her hooves but afraid she'd take to pacing while the scene played itself out.

As the last ponies exited, the royal guards took up positions beyond the doors, sealing the chamber behind them against prying eyes and ears. Only Celestia’s honor guard remained, eyes fixed straight ahead.

“Rise.” Celestia's eyes held an unnerving intensity. Looking for anything that would explain her sister’s sudden change in mood, Luna shifted her gaze to Sand as she got to her hooves. Her prostration had shifted the saddlebags enough to bring her cutie mark into view: an unevenly balanced pair of golden scales holding nothing, and revealing just as much.

“Would you care for some tea and dinner?” Celestia asked, wearing a benevolent smile that threw Sand off-balance.

“Your Highness I…” Celestia raised a single eyebrow. “…would be delighted to share in your company, and break bread with you,” Sand finished.

“Good! It’s been a long day for all of us, and I’m certainly famished. Guard-Captain?” The princess looked to one pony, indistinguishable from the other pegasi. “See our guest to the private dining room. We will be along shortly.”

Soft hoofsteps followed the pair out, and soon only the alicorn sisters and their honor guard remained. Celestia looked pensive, but said nothing. Luna waited the span of a hundred heartbeats. “Tia?” The small name spoke volumes.

Celestia sighed, walking over to nuzzle her sister. “I’m sorry, Luna. Today has been so long and to end it with this...Well, it is a mixed blessing.” Celestia paused again, caught up in thought. “I know you have questions,” she said, “but I have no answers that won’t come up over our dinner together, though I can explain more afterward if you find yourself wanting.” Luna pawed at the ground, puzzled to see her sister like this, but she held her curiosity in check. If Luna had learned one thing in her time away, it was patience.

As the two moved together towards the same exit the guard-captain had taken, Celestia paused mid-stride. “Luna? I think it would be best if you handled most of the discussion with our…guest.” A smile curled the edges of Celestia's mouth.

Mockery? Luna regarded her sister. No, amused, certainly, but not at my expense. What then? Luna shot her sister a puzzled frown. “Truly? You honor me, to be graced with such a task.” Celestia couldn’t help but laugh, causing Luna to shoot her a wary look. “You do not do this to set me up for failure? I have become keen to your pranks as of late, and it would not bring me happiness to think my own sister had grown malicious in her pursuits.”

“No, no. Honestly, Luna, you think too little of me sometimes," Celestia said, but seeing the steady, half-lidded look on Luna's face, she conceded, “Okay, occasionally with reason. But I do think you’ll be better able to handle this than me. I’ve had…dealings with our guest’s kind in the past, and my judgment will be colored as a result.”

“What manner of...” Luna began to ask, but Celestia had already turned a corner and pulled out of sight. Luna stomped a hoof in indignation. Fine. Be that way. She would simply do things in her own manner. Luna felt that even if she was not quite the regal socialite her sister was, dinner would certainly go well enough—Celestia had never failed to save Luna from herself before it became a problem. Except for a thousand years of banishment. Luna grimaced and trotted to catch up.

***

Hidden behind thick walls and shielded from public scrutiny, the small, almost cozy dining room hosted more informal dinners, ones where pretense and courtly demeanor could be dropped. Neither sister needed to eat, not really, but the royal kitchen produced such delights that only the harshest of circumstances could stay what, to them, had become an enjoyable habit.

Outward appearances to the contrary, Celestia did not make for an elegant dining companion. Tearing through a steaming loaf of rye, she finished swallowing one bite only to stuff another hoof-full into her mouth, setting hunks of bread in her soup to soak. As it was, Celestia would never be able to hold a civil conversation without showering them all with unpleasantries. Eyes going wide at the mere thought, Luna took a sip of tea to steady herself before starting in with their guest.

“My apologies, Sand Shaper, for my sister’s atrocious behavior,” Luna said, glaring at Celestia. The elder alicorn only rolled her eyes, any sense of decorum having vanished behind a mounting fortress of bread baskets, soup tureens, and empty vegetable platters. If Sand took offense, she hid it well. Luna continued, “Though my sister has hinted at her familiarity with you, I pray that you will indulge me in my curiosity. My dear sister has been less than forthcoming with her information.” She flashed Celestia a brief glower. Looking back at her guest, she found Sand’s mismatched eyes watching her.

“I apologize for any inconvenience my presence has caused either of you.” Sand looked down at the table. “In spite of the speeches that I have rehearsed and the lessons that I have been taught, I find myself at a loss for how to begin. I had not expected such a personal meeting.” Celestia twitched an ear, but continued chewing. Sand drew in a steadying breath, holding it for two slow heartbeats, then three, only to exhale with a small shake of her head. Luna decided to throw her a rope.

“Out in the audience chamber, you called yourself 'Eclipsed.' I have run across that term in my studies--a new name for an old occurrence--but you wield it in a manner unfamiliar to me.”

Sand nodded, happy to at last have a place to begin. “Occultation of your moon is infrequent, but certainly not unheard of. The same cannot be said for the sun.” Celestia crammed foodstuffs into her mouth with wild abandon, making it difficult for Sand to maintain her composure as she spoke. “After you two had your...final disagreement, the moon began to trace its path unharnessed by your magic, eventually matching the sun's position in the sky.”

“I was exhausted,” Celestia explained around a mouthful of what might have been mashed parsnips. “Your moon is...” she swallowed, giving her a moment to think. “Cold. It took some time to understand, and longer still to actually gain control and restore order.” With a delicate grace that belied the action, she stuffed three full-sized cupcakes into her mouth, one after the other, wrappers and all.

“This land is not normal," Sand said, "for whatever that means to you, but it is of great importance.” Sand eyed Celestia, curiosity and reverence vying for domination before she continued. “My people came into being where the view of the sun was wholly blocked by the moon. A small valley, but there nonetheless.”

Luna considered what had been laid before her. Even her sister did not know where they had come from--as far back as she could remember, they had always simply been. Luna shook her head, suppressing her curiosity for the moment. “Forgive me, Sand Shaper, but though your origins are of great interest to me, and I would dearly love to have the chance to discuss them with you more, that does not explain my sister’s unusual reaction to your announcement this evening.”

“They exist at the edge of dreams and reason.” Celestia said, having managed to polish off everything that had been laid out. For once, her speech was mercifully unimpeded by half-chewed food. “Whenever they’ve made themselves known, it has been to, supposedly, avert some catastrophe or another.” Celestia rolled her eyes again. “After ages of this, I’m beginning to think your elders just have a bad taste in humor and an exceptional amount of patience.” Sand’s face took on a pained expression, but Celestia waved it off with a hoof. “I know you genuinely believe the things you do, but you have to admit, the foundation for your actions is somewhat…suspect, is it not?”

Silence descended on the table. Well, almost silence. Celestia’s wet chewing noises had returned, though Luna had to wonder where the plate of cookies had even come from—no one had been in or out to disturb them in hours. Torn between wanting to comment on her sister’s behavior and knowing more, Luna’s curiosity won out. “Sand Shaper? Could you explain what my big sister is so unwilling to share and should not while her mouth is full of baked goods?” Luna shot her sibling a glare when she opened her mouth to talk. Celestia closed her mouth and swallowed, nodding to Sand as she did so.

“Show her.”

As Sand Shaper's horn glowed, a small hum reverberated from the stone walls. With a faint pop, a thick tome appeared, resting on the table between them. Luna studied it with open curiosity. It appeared to be elegant, and well-maintained: straight-cut pages covered in purple velvet, backed by thin strips of wood. A metal clasp, not unlike a diary's, locked away the book’s secrets. Embroidered in silver thread, three markings rescued the cover from anonymity: a simple hammer crossed with some sort of thin-necked chisel, a bird posed in song, and something Luna couldn't quite make out, some sort of ring or bracelet with a large, flat setting.


Luna wore a thoughtful expression, waiting for some creeping realization that would never arrive. Sand started to take a careful measure of her next words, but Luna beat her to the punch.

“Your pardon, Sand Shaper, but could you explain what this is meant to show me?”

Sand looked from one princess to the other before responding.

“How fares your kingdom's relations with the zebras?”

***

(Special thanks to Chris for taking time to take a much closer look at the workings of my story and helping me out with any problems!)

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