• Published 22nd Nov 2011
  • 8,627 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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03 - Geas

Luna woke from a trembling nightmare, but it wasn’t like the stories. She didn’t sit bolt upright, screaming in abject terror, nor did she look around in frenzied panic. One moment she dreamed, the next she became aware that she had fallen asleep on an open book. Luna couldn’t repress a shudder, however, as she saw that her makeshift pillow had been Sand’s book of prophecy. She disliked the implications of that, but there was little she could do about it.

Stretching, Luna craned her neck as she tried to see how long she had been asleep. Dawn had broken hours ago, and Luna had made no further progress on their course of action. At least it had felt that way as she measured one decision against another, trying to gauge what the worst outcome of either would be. Sighing, Luna decided to consider it over breakfast as she headed downstairs.

Passing an open archway, her heart skipped a beat when she saw the limp body of a unicorn lying against a stone parapet. Closer inspection revealed the mare to only be sound asleep, her ivory coat rising and falling with steady breaths. Curious, Luna nudged Sand with a hoof, earning a flicked tail and a mutter for her efforts, but not much else. Luna drew close to the prone form, hoping that her voice would be loud enough to rouse, but not to startle.

“Sand Shaper?”

Sand opened an eye to see a massive, blue-purple head obscuring her vision. She tried to jump back, but found herself pushing against an unyielding surface instead. After a moment’s realization, Sand rubbed at her eyes. “Your sister isn’t the only one who likes doing that, I see.”

Luna looked puzzled for a moment before drawing back in embarrassment. “Ah! My apologies, I had hoped to avoid scaring you. It was only...” she looked around. “...this does not look to be an ideal location to sleep.” Luna looked down at her companion. “How did you end up here, of all places?”

Sand kept rubbing her eyes, hoping the awkward gesture would cover her sluggishness. Her brain was too slow to react, but her heart was in the right place. “I couldn’t sleep, so I came out here to look at the stars. I must have fallen asleep without realizing it.”

Luna smiled, looking flattered and it took Sand a moment to realize why. Luna asked, “Are you an astronomer then, or just a romantic?”

“I’ve always enjoyed the night, but I am no astronomer. Twilight has offered her expertise on the matter, however.”

“Ah,” Luna said. “So, a romantic then?”

Sand snorted. She wasn’t lucid enough for this without food. “Have you eaten yet?” she asked, looking at the sun’s position before adding, “I suppose it’s somewhat late for that.”

Luna shook her head. “I was just headed out myself. Care to join me? I am certain that we can find something in the kitchen if the cooks are not present.”

They descended a number of back stairwells, happy to avoid who they could. Luna hated the bowing and scraping that she would get, wishing that they would only treat her like one of them, but was unable or unwilling to step off the pedestal they had placed her on. Sand was just plain antisocial so soon after waking.

Sneaking their way to the larder, they had managed to collect a small pile of foodstuffs when the first servant found them. It took a good deal of convincing, but Luna managed to talk him out of rousing every cook he could find to tend to their needs. As he departed, Sand gave her companion a curious look.

“That happen often?”

“More than I would like,” Luna replied.

Sand gave a noncommittal grunt and started for the kitchen, carrying what she could as Luna floated the rest behind them.

Breakfast was rudimentary, but satisfying enough. Both ponies had their own thoughts to consider, but they were happy to have some company, quiet as it might be.

Feeling immeasurably better with some food her stomach, Sand’s mind began to pick up speed. You should introduce yourself to my sister, in truth this time, Celestia had insisted, and Sand agreed. She studied Luna discreetly, wondering how to approach the subject with any sort of grace.

“I’ve had word from Fillydelpha,” Luna said, quashing the opportune moment. “We cannot completely remove their need for coal, but we can bring it down to levels manageable with resources within our borders.” Oats crunched as she paused in her report. “We will still need to explore other options for energy, most notably river, wind, and sun, but I feel it would be a good start.” Luna looked at Sand. “Nothing has been set in stone yet, and we would still need to alleviate potential hostilities with our zebra trade partners. We would not want to prevent the resource war alluded to in your book only to spark a conflict of a different kind.”

Sand had considered that before and her conclusion had not changed. “Switch to a luxury good of some sort. Your gems for their silks, mead, or precious metals. Keep the trade flowing, but avoid any resources that form the backbone of either nation.”

Luna listened, nodding as the idea took shape. “I can have my advisors see to the details, but your suggestion is sound.”

“You are resolved to this path then?” Sand asked.

Luna nodded and said, "I believe that this will be a stable enough course for us to undertake. Unfortunately, it is only one half of a whole--there is still the matter of their superstitions about me." She paused. "Or, rather, about Nightmare Moon. I've sent word for a meeting with the zebra ambassador. With any luck, we can stamp out any undue worries they might have about my state of mind and put their fears to rest for good."

Luna wore a small, but hopeful smile, prompting Sand to wonder if now was the moment.

“So there you are!”

Of course, thought Sand.

Twilight stepped into the kitchen, greeting her friends. “I went to come find you when it was time for breakfast, but Princess Celestia said you two had been up late stargazing.”

Feeling Luna's gaze upon her, Sand tried to focus on Twilight instead. “My apologies, Twilight. I hope I haven’t put you off the lessons you offered before?”

“Oh, of course not. Princess Celestia taught me a great deal of what I know, I’m sure she was better at it than I was.”

“She’s had some time to study up on it, I would imagine,” Sand said.

Luna shifted in her seat. “She...never seemed that interested.” Luna added, “Before, I mean.”

“Huh. When I studied under her, it always seemed to be a great interest of hers.” Twilight gave them a thoughtful look. ”I guess she must have picked it up during the intervening years.”

“She watched the moon every night.” Sand flinched as she realized her brain hadn’t quite gotten up to full speed. The other two ponies looked at her. “I...hm.” I am terrible at keeping secrets, apparently. Luna watched her with an expression that quickly approached Celestia’s the previous evening, but Twilight seemed oblivious.

“Well that makes sense. I suppose when you’re immortal, you get around to everything sooner or later. Speaking of which, Princess Celestia is holding her morning court, but Rarity and Fluttershy were hoping to sightsee in Canterlot and I offered to show them around. Would you two care to join us?”

Sand scratched at her short mane. She hadn’t had time to look around when she had arrived previously, but her curiosity had no such restraints now. “I would love to join you.” Luna simply nodded, and so Twilight led them out.

As they navigated the hallways, Twilight did her best to draw her quiet companions into conversation. “You know, Princess, I’m sure if I had more information, I could offer some better advice,” Twilight said. “If you’re not using it, could I read the book that Sand brought?” Twilight was looking at Luna as she asked, so she missed Sand stumble. She also didn’t catch the look of abject terror that flashed across Sand’s face.

Luna saw, however, and with a polite dip of her head said, “Thank you Twilight, but I have reached a decision already. I will be consulting my advisors later on the finer details, but I suspect that this will be the best course of action, so long as we are diligent without being overzealous.” Sand admired her sangfroid.

“Oh, well I’m glad to hear that you’ve figured out what you want to do,” Twilight said, causing Sand to sigh in relief. “Do you mind if I read the book anyway? I’m kind of curious.” Sand froze, only able to move when she realized Twilight had turned her way. Twilight finally caught a look that passed between the two and stopped walking. “What is it?”

Sand stared at Luna. She would probably lie if she felt forced to, but Sand couldn’t ask that of her. Turning to Twilight, Sand asked, “Have you ever heard the expression ‘you can’t unring a bell’?”

“I’ve heard it said other ways, but I understand. Is it really so bad?” As Twilight asked, Luna heard an echo of Celestia in the question.

Sand fidgeted under Twilight’s gaze. “Yes.” She opened her mouth to say more, wanting to say more, the untold volumes of why her friend should never read that book lying just out of reach. Instead, she only said, “It is.”

“Really though? Princess Luna read it, and she seems fine.” Twilight looked at the princess, trying to gauge her reaction to all this.

“‘Fine’ would be, perhaps, too kind a word to use, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna said as gaze grew distant. Sand could imagine what thoughts drew her away. “I will do what I must. I can shoulder the burden only because I know my sister and my friends will be there for me when I need you. Not if.”

Puzzlement crept into Twilight’s polite smile. “Of course we’re here for you, Princess, as you all would be for me. I know it’s not going to be like reading a science textbook or even a fairy tale, but if it starts to bother me, I’ll make sure to talk with you both about it. Please?” Twilight’s expression was earnest, but Sand felt heartsick.

Written in her book was a story, a lengthy epic taking place in a nightmarish time beyond the far horizon. Thinking of it as no more than another grim adventure tale when she first recorded it, Sand had come to understand the links between her friends and what their roles would be in bringing about that dark future. Under no compulsion could Sand have imagined sharing that knowledge with them, yet she wavered under her friend’s pleading gaze. Knowledge was water to Twilight, no--it was more than that: it was life. Sand remembered her own words by the sunlit fields, and she could tell that Twilight did as well.

Heart pounding, Sand opened her mouth and said, “All right.” Luna met Sand’s eyes with a startled look, but Twilight had brightened immediately. “On two conditions.” Twilight sat on her haunches, an eager look in her eyes as she nodded. “The first is that you do not read it without me beside you. The second is that you talk to me about what you read. There are...things written in it that will disturb you, and my worst fear is that you will be poisoned by them. I know you are strong, both in heart and mind, but you will not bear this alone, are we agreed?” Sand brought her force of will behind those last words, wanting to impress upon her friend their importance.

Twilight had never seen Sand like this--it was so unlike the aloof, yet friendly unicorn she had gotten to know over the past few nights that Twilight wondered if she had made a mistake in pursuing the subject. Still, she nodded her agreement.

“Do you swear it?” Sand asked, her gaze boring into her friend.

Twilight felt a twinge of fear, but nodded again. “Yes, I promise.”

She had no time to consider the implications of her words before the stones began humming. Only then did Twilight notice a warm glow emanating from Sand’s horn as a large tome snapped into existence, hovering between then. As curious as she was about this new arrival, she couldn’t wrench her eyes away as Sand spoke. “By hoof, and tongue, and eye, I bind thee. With thy words, I constrain thee. From my heart, I compel thee. Before the waxing moon, we make this compact whole.”

Brilliant light flashed as tendrils of radiant power snaked out of nowhere, flowing around Twilight as they began constricting. Momentary panic seized the unicorn, but before she could think or act, they had settled into her skin, vanishing as they did. She had expected them to burn white-hot, but a calm, detached part of her mind observed that they only felt like a warm touch.

Sand collapsed, breathing heavily as the tome fell beside her with a heavy thud.

Twilight staggered as the magic that had kept her in place faded. Finally, she asked, “What was that? I thought you said your magic was gone!” Her tone bordered on accusatory.

Unable to speak, Luna did so for her. “A geas. Old magic. Very old. The kind whose knowledge I thought was lost, nevermind the actual practice.” Luna narrowed her eyes as she looked at the tome lying on the floor, then to the panting unicorn beside it.

“What...what did you do to me?” Twilight asked. Her fear had vanished, and in truth, she was more curious than hurt, but she would have preferred some kind of warning before Sand did...whatever that was.

“A spell that holds you to your promise. I...” Sand hesitated. “...fear I may have overstepped the bounds of our friendship. I only now realize that it must seem as though I do not believe in you.” Sand felt grief well up in her heart as the weight of what she had done settled on her.

Seeing her friend’s stricken expression, Twilight walked over and laid down beside her. “It’s all right. I trust you. You did what you thought you needed to, but I wish you could have had a little more faith in me.” Twilight gave her friend a gentle nuzzle, hoping to take the sting out of her words, but Sand felt wretched. Feeling a nudge at her side, Sand turned her head as Twilight said, “Come on, our friends are waiting for us. We can talk more about this later.”

Struggling to her feet, Sand regarded her book with a sigh. Exhausted before her day had even really begun, she did not look forward to pushing herself further. Still, it wouldn’t do to just leave it lying around. Shutting her eyes in concentration, she touched her horn to the book, sending it back to Luna’s study where it would be safe.

Having exhausted her scant power, Sand would have collapsed again had she not been propped up by two warm bodies supporting her weight between them. Deeply appreciative at not simply being levitated like a rag doll, she said, “Thank you. Both of you.”

“Think nothing of it,” said Luna.

“We’re your friends,” Twilight added, as if it explained everything. Thinking for a moment, Sand supposed that perhaps it did just that.

***

They garnered more than a few looks as they walked around Canterlot, but Sand chalked that up to Luna’s presence more than anything. Luna felt as out of place as she always did, but her friends did their best to make her feel included. They wended their way through town, stopping at shops that happened to catch anypony’s fancy, including an ancient bookseller, several jewellers’ shops and, inexplicably, a store that appeared to sell only sofas and quills (‘New location!’ a sign advertised). After lunch, Fluttershy excused herself from their outing, promising to find them again when she could. Pressed for answers, she explained her desire to visit an animal hospice, wanting to see if there was any help she could offer.

Their trip took on a more somber tone after that. Twilight wished Pinkie Pie had been with them to lighten the mood, but she still tried her best. Offering to show them around the school where she had boarded as a filly, Twilight gave her friends a thankful smile when they acquiesced.

As expected, even an informal visit by royalty caused a great stir. Suddenly, students were sitting up straighter while teachers spoke a little too loudly, emphasizing that they were teaching quality. Luna sighed. She could certainly will herself into another form, something more discreet, but she felt masquerades were best left to parties and holidays. It wasn’t until they met Twilight’s former astronomy professor that she found the first pony not doing his best to impress her. It might have been something to do with his age--it appeared that even his wrinkles had wrinkles, and Luna briefly wondered if she had known him before her banishment.

Despite the weight of ages, however, his mind was still wound like a steel trap. “Twilight Sparkle, my dear, so good to see you again. Come to use the observatory for more studies on gravitational lensing, perhaps?” Wearing a genial smile, he regarded the group of ponies from behind a pair of enormous spectacles.

Twilight beamed, but said, “Sorry Professor, maybe some other time--you know how limited my own equipment is. I’m here showing my friends around today, and I wanted to introduce them to my favorite teacher.” She hesitated a moment, a sea of soft colors flashing through her mind. “I mean...”

The ancient pegasus waved her hesitation away. "We all know you love Celestia best, you don’t need to be so coy. So tell me, who do I have the honor of meeting today?”

Sand had been studying the professor with interest since they arrived, noting that he was one of very few pegasi they had seen on the school grounds. And no wonder--it was the School for Gifted Unicorns after all, but she supposed astronomy was within the reach of anypony with a sharp mind and a keen eye.

“Professor Star Fall, I’d like you to meet my friends. This is Rarity, she runs a fashion boutique in Ponyville.” Rarity gave a smooth curtsy and a dainty smile, amused as the professor’s eyes widened, however slightly. “This is Sand Shaper, a friend I’ve only just met who came to visit the Princesses.” Sand managed a bad facsimile of Rarity’s elegance, but she supposed it would do while she figured out why his name sounded familiar. “And I would hope you know Princess Luna.” The princess inclined her head in a brief nod and was unexpectedly pleased to see Twilight’s aged teacher simply offered her a warm smile in return.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’ve made some friends at last.” The professor chuckled as he continued, “Not too many night owls like you and me around, though I suppose at least this one’s got the feathers.” He pointed a hoof at Luna.

Twilight held her breath, afraid that the comment would be taken amiss, but Luna only smiled back at him, fluffing her wings as she spoke. “I have a soft spot in my heart for anypony who studies the night sky. Perhaps when next I return, it should be at a time that would draw less attention.”

“Well, you’re certainly welcome here any time, of course, though I’d recommend coming when the sun isn’t out.” He grinned and Luna felt herself flush.

Rarity smiled, wondering if she might be fashioning some elegant dinner wear for Luna soon. As the two traded pleasantries and gentle jibes, Rarity began to measure out proportions in her mind, wishing they were at her shop, but a rough idea would have to do for now. Her concentration skipped a beat, however, when Sand muttered, “Merryweather.” Rarity gave her friend an inquisitive glance, but Sand returned a wholly unconvincing look of innocence as she elaborated, “It’s...ah, very merry weather for star gazing, yes?”

Honestly, she’s as bad as Applejack. Rarity gave a little smile, much to Sand’s relief, but her mind was already elsewhere. Thoughts of her rustic friend had led her back to Ponyville, wondering if Applejack had found Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie before they started to worry. On top of the ever-pressing issue of next season’s catalogue (which she had yet to develop sufficiently), Sweetie Belle was due to arrive within the next few days, and she had promised her sister that they would spend as much time together as possible. Unless the princesses had dire need of her, she would be returning home soon. This evening, perhaps.

Giving a little sigh, she realized that Twilight had mentioned her name more than once now.

“...I thought it looked good with the constellations, but we should have trusted Rarity’s instincts when it came to fashion,” Twilight finished. She turned as Rarity seamlessly picked up the thread of conversation.

“You are too kind, Twilight. I thought the Gala dresses turned out splendidly, however, if not the Gala itself.” Too ladylike to stick her tongue out at the thought of a certain prince, Rarity settled for pursing her lips in disapproval.

Sand caught somepony watching them from the doorway, but when she turned to look, they had disappeared. Pretending to be occupied with her friends, Sand noticed two more heads appear, whispering to each other in volumes far too faint to make out. Somewhere outside, a cloud shifted just enough to let a wall of orange light to cascade in from the setting sun. The classroom filled with a warm radiance as Sand realized who they must be.

“You’ll have caught my students then,” the Professor said, noticing Sand’s distraction, “too afraid for their own good. Get in here you!” He raised a hoof in mock anger, prompting several fillies and colts to file in, heads either hung low or staring in open awe at Luna.

Doing her best to avoid spooking them, Luna greeted them in a quiet voice and with a gentle smile on her lips, a distinct counterpoint to the curmudgeon that the professor played at.

“Well, we shouldn’t disrupt your class since it’s getting to be about that time, but it was so good to see you again, Professor Fall!” Twilight said. Before he could stop her, she rushed forward to embrace the old pegasus as if she were still just a filly.

“Of course, my dear, of course. Come back whenever you’d like--I always enjoy spending time with my star pupil.” He looked at Twilight’s friends in general, but at Luna in particular. “And that goes for your friends too.” They shared a smile before the four headed out the door.

“Do you suppose Fluttershy is still assisting at the hospice?” Rarity asked as they made their way off the campus grounds.

“No, they had so many kind ponies there tending to everyone that I was just in the way.” The pegasus had been following them for some time now, quietly hovering behind as they walked. Nopony had seemed to notice her, so she had kept to herself. “I should probably head back home tonight though. Angel Bunny can manage on his own for a while, but, well...” She hid behind her hair, not wanting to imply anything demeaning. “He’s just one bunny.”

Rarity nodded her head. “I should probably go as well. Sweetie Belle is due to arrive in the next few days, and I need to ensure my work is prepared for her distractions.” Where once she might have grimaced at the thought, Rarity only felt a warmth blossom in her chest as she thought of her little sister, so destructive yet so well-meaning.

Luna spoke before Twilight could think of something to say. “Of course. I appreciate your time in coming to weigh in on such delicate matters, and I thank you on behalf of Celestia and myself for your compassion and advice. I will not hesitate to find you should the need arise, and perhaps I will visit when the tumult dies down. You are, of course, more than welcome to stay for dinner, but if you need to leave soon, I can arrange a chariot at your earliest convenience.”

Rarity and Fluttershy both opted to stay, though they shared a glance and the hope that the dinner conversation would be a bit less dramatic this time around.

“Do you mind if I stay around a little longer, Princess? There are still a few things I’d like to do.” Twilight resisted the urge to look at Sand, but Luna understood, regardless. “I can write Spike a note to let him know--he should be able to watch over the library without me there.”

“Yes, that should be fine. We have much to discuss.” Looking at Sand a moment before turning to lead them off, Luna set an easy pace, not eager to hasten their departure.

“So what do you still have keeping you busy, Twilight?” Rarity asked as they approached the palace.

“Oh, this and that. There are some books I’d like to study that I don’t have back in Ponyville.” Or that exist anywhere else in the world, I'm guessing, Twilight thought.

“Always so studious!” Rarity’s mock-chiding brought a smile to Twilight’s face. “Well, I’m certainly pleased that you took some time to show us around. We see so little of you that I often wonder whether you’ve been buried in an avalanche of your books.”

Twilight groaned. “I get this from Spike already, but okay, I agree, maybe I do spend a bit too much time away from my friends. When I get back to Ponyville, I’ll try to do better about that, all right?” Touched as she was, Twilight couldn’t help but be somewhat annoyed. She didn’t ask her friends to stop what they loved doing at the drop of a hat. She paused in that thought, looking around at where they were and who they were with. Okay, maybe she was being a bit dishonest there.

Rarity gave her a casual bump with her head. “My dear, I’m not criticising, I just know we all enjoy seeing each other but that we see you the least of all.” More to herself than Twilight, she added, “And it always seems like when we do, it’s usually because of some adventure or another.”

***

Bereft of apocalyptic revelations, dinner passed in relative peace, though a thin veneer of tension ran through the conversation that went mercifully unnoticed by Rarity and Fluttershy. After thanking their hosts, they made their goodbyes and left to start their journey home. As Rarity and Fluttershy’s chariot vanished in the distance, an awkward silence descended upon the four ponies left behind.

“Well...” Twilight ventured, looking at Sand.

Sand waited, but when nothing more was forthcoming, she turned to see the alicorn sisters watching them as well. Putting on her best innocent expression, Sand asked, “What?” Seeing Twilight give her a half-lidded stare, she relented. “Okay, I suppose I might have some explaining to do.” Sand looked over the small crowd that had turned its attention on her, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. “Lady...” she began, but Celestia hushed her with a smile and a waved hoof.

“Luna, why don’t we give them some time to discuss matters with each other. I’d actually like to talk to you about something myself.” Sand gave Celestia a relieved smile as the alicorns headed off together, Luna wearing a puzzled expression as she began asking questions in a voice too low to make out.

Sand and Twilight looked at one another. Not really thinking it through first, Sand asked, “I don’t know the palace grounds very well and the moon looks lovely tonight--do you know where we might be able to watch it outdoors? From a quiet hill, perhaps?”

Twilight looked a bit taken aback. “Sand, I’m really not sure what you’re planning here...” she trailed off as her friend’s eyes began to widen.

“Oh. Oh! No, no, sorry, that request sounded much different than how I intended it. I just thought it would do for some poetic justice, but we don’t have to, if it would make you nervous.”

Twilight gave her friend an enigmatic smile, doing nothing to diminish Sand’s sudden confusion. Finally, she suggested a location that would be out of the way, but still maintained a clear view of the night sky.

Finding the spot with little trouble, they sat next to each other as they turned their gazes skywards, thankful for the warmth as much as the sense of companionship. Neither pony spoke for some time, and Twilight began to suspect her friend of ulterior motives when Sand finally broke the silence.

“She loves you. You know that, right?” Sand didn’t need to look at Twilight to see the startled look shoot across her face. Sand smiled. She did so enjoy doing that.

“Wha--? Who?” The cogs began to spin in Twilight’s mind, trying to piece together the puzzle from only these few fragments.

“Celestia. She loves everypony, of course, but with the exception of her sister, you are closer to her heart than anypony alive,” Sand said. Still recovering, Twilight missed the sad expression that momentarily tugged at her friend's eyes.

“I...I’m happy to hear that. She’s always been like a mother to me.” Twilight blushed as she said, “More than my actual mom, really. I feel like Celestia raised me more than my parents did.”

Sand nodded before continuing. “She is a caring, kind soul, and I think it would be very difficult not to love her in return, no matter who you are.” She swished her tail back and forth, a nervous gesture that Twilight had never observed in her friend before tonight.

“How long do you suppose alicorns live, truly?” Sand asked.

Twilight hesitated. “Forever, I suppose? Nopony really knows. The history books only go back so far, after all.”

“You’re probably right, or close enough to it. They might be immortal, or long-lived to the point where we couldn’t really tell the difference." Sand cocked her head. "I wonder how you or I would be, if we had lived to be even Celestia’s age now.”

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t know. When I've thought about it in the past, immortality never seemed like it would be all that bad. Not at first, anyway. All the time in the world to read every book ever written, right?” At Sand's nod, Twilight continued. "But then I considered my friends. Things might have been different before Nightmare Moon and Ponyville, back when I was more of a loner than I am now. But these days, when I think of immortality, my friends come to mind first and foremost. I think of how they'd grow old and die even as I'd keep going." Twilight wore a sad smile. "Princess Celestia must have known so many ponies in her lifetime. To watch all of them simply fade away, unable to do anything more than keep their memories alive--I think if I were in her shoes, it would eat away at me, bit by bit. I can only imagine how much Luna truly means to her, being one of the few who will remain."

Sand nodded and said, "Those we love take a piece of our hearts with them wherever they go, but for Celestia, Luna took almost the whole thing when she was banished. To ease her pain, or perhaps to aggravate it and keep it fresh, Celestia tried to keep her sister company. She found a lonely hilltop--this one, perhaps--and watched the moon sail through the sky every night.

“I first met her like that. She was polite, as you would expect, but also as distant as the stars. She made no objections when I sat beside her, however. As I returned the next night, and the night after that and so on, she began opening up to me, just a bit at a time. Celestia told me of her sister--the one she adored, not the one who had gone mad with grief and rage. She told me about the happy times and the deep and abiding love they shared for one another. She told me about how it hadn't been enough." Sand swallowed, looking down at the ground.

"You speak as though you're as old as she is," Twilight said in a gentle tone, doing her best to not sound accusatory.

Sand smiled. “Not exactly. I may have been the first, but Celestia learned that if she let others into her heart, our love could help her carry on, one day at a time. Over the years, she took on pupils like yourself. Ponies who she could share herself with--her true self, her vulnerable self, the one the public could never be allowed to see. She loved us, and we wholeheartedly loved her in return. So much so that while other ponies might eventually pass from this life into the next, our spirits hear her love call out to us. Even from death, we have always found our way back to her side, though we have no say in the matter."

Struck speechless, Twilight could only gape for a time. Gathering her wits, she said, "That...is a lot to take in. Do you know why she's never mentioned this to the public before? Or just to me, even? I can only imagine how relieved everypony would feel knowing that their loved ones might never truly be gone."

Sand shook her head. "I don't know her exact reasons, though if you broached the topic with her, I'm sure she would give you an honest answer. I can make an educated guess if you'd like, however." Twilight gestured for her to continue. "Keep in mind that Celestia might have more political reasons for keeping the matter a secret. As far as we know, however, only her students are spun back into life's web, and they are always Eclipsed. The ties we have to Luna's insanity would not sit well with anypony who thought long on the matter. Even Merryweather--your Professor Star Fall--was once one of my people, yet he has lived his entire life as the instructor you grew up with. I suspect that he fears similar fallout, should the truth become known."

“Professor Fall? Really?” Twilight gave her companion an incredulous look, receiving a nod in return.

“I did not know him, in this lifetime or the last, but from what I remember, he brought information that helped Celestia manage Nightmare Moon’s return. Although she had been the one both to banish her sister and also set in motion her release, Celestia had apparently overlooked some details that would have proven disastrous. Her absence during your struggles against Nightmare Moon wasn’t just her testing your resolve. Had Celestia been with you, despite the mitigating influence of the eclipse and Luna’s unconscious will, Nightmare Moon would have become enraged at the sight of her jailer and things would have gone very differently indeed.”

A thoughtful silence descended upon them as Sand gave Twilight as much time as she needed to digest the information. Turning her gaze skyward again, Sand caught sight of a light streaking across the field of stars. “Make a wish,” she said, deciding to disturb her friend just a little.

“Huh?” Twilight hadn’t been paying attention.

“A shooting star,” Sand explained. “Make a wish.”

Twilight sighed. “I wish all of this would start making sense.”

Sand grinned. “It is a lot to take in all at once. It’s simply not a subject that would do well in pieces, but I think we can leave it at what we’ve talked about tonight.”

Twilight nodded absently before a thought struck her. “Princess Celestia...what about Luna?”

Sand looked unsure. “She will probably have the same influence, given enough time. However, before her banishment, Luna loved her sister first, last, and only, and I think you’ll understand that while she was imprisoned, she was in no condition to love anyone. I know that Celestia has explained to her what I’ve told you this night, though I suspect there will be other complications now."

Piecing two and two together, Twilight asked, “You called him ‘Merryweather.’ So then what was your name?”

Sand looked up, meeting Twilight's gaze. “Dawn Star. For my tendency to keep my parents awake into the early morning, apparently,” she said with a smile.

Twilight smirked. “I like it. Can I just call you Dawn then? When we’re together, I mean.”

“It...would be fitting, in a way. Truth be told, I prefer that name...” Sand trailed off, considering. “I suppose you could, if you wanted, though I ask that you do so only when we’re alone or in the company of the alicorn sisters. I’d really prefer not to have to explain this all again to someone new.”

Twilight smiled, surprising her friend with an affectionate nuzzle. “Thank you, Dawn. For trusting me, I mean.” A memory of lunch beneath an oak tree flashed through Sand’s mind.

“We’re friends,” Sand said, as if it explained everything. Thinking about it, Twilight supposed it did just that.

***

(Special thanks to Chris for helping me streamline things so that this chapter didn't just end with an even more massive clump of nebulous info dumping)

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