• Published 14th Jan 2015
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Machinations in the Dark - BaryonBrony

There is a secret held in the dungeons below Canterlot, deeper than the crystal caverns into the roots of the mountain. This secret is a creature imprisoned by the Princesses. It is a source of great knowledge, but may ultimately be a great enemy.

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Chapter 9 - The Grace of the Heart

There was a knock at the door, shattering the silence of the small office. Seated at her desk, Celestia didn't move. She'd been staring at the bare surface of the desk for some time. Even after the loud knock she did not budge or flinch. Her eyes remained on the smooth surface. There had been papers before her some time ago, but they were gone now. She couldn't recall when they had been removed. The whole day had been a haze, as had the one before. Now she simply sat and stared, the stress and worry had finally worn her down enough that her fatigue was too strong to ignore.

The knock came again, and Celestia sluggishly turned her head in the direction of the door. Her horn glowed as she pulled the door open with her magic. She did not wait to see who had come, expecting a guard or attendant with a new report. She had begun to dread them as bearers of bad news. Levitating a pen before her, Celestia awaited a piece of paper to sign. Instead she felt something on her shoulder. She looked up to see a gentle smile on Luna's face.

Luna spoke first, her voice calm and warm. "I have spent the past days in anger. I felt as if I had been led astray. Because of the hurt I felt, I was blinded to the effect of my actions. Cadence came and spoke to me before she left, and for it I am glad. I now feel I would have been lost without her wisdom." Luna took a step forward and hugged Celestia. Her older sister was shocked for a split moment, but quickly accepted the embrace and returning it.

"What did she say?" Celestia whispered, weariness saturating her words.

"That I have walked this dangerous path before," Luna whispered back. "I did not forgive you in the times long ago, and many suffered for it. Should I not forgive you now, my resentment may build once again. I know you have kept secrets. I know you have hidden the past." Luna felt sadness welling again in her sister's heart, and she hugged her tighter. "For so long has loneliness been your only companion. I thought in my own darkness that I was the more cursed of us both. I was banished to solitude, my essence trapped far away. But, I had the stars as my companions, I listened to the songs of the cosmos and they comforted me. Left behind, you were tasked with repairing a kingdom, governing on your own. Of us both, you were the one truly alone. What companion had you but yourself? Of us, you were the most burdened. How should I be the one to place judgment upon you if you had only yourself to turn to?" Leaning back to look at Celestia's face, Luna smiled at her. "I sincerely ask for your forgiveness, dear sister."

Celestia's countenance broke, tears streaming down her face a she laughed weakly. Hugging Luna again, she had to fight to get the words out, "Of course--of course, Luna. I will always forgive you." Pulling away to wipe her tears, Celestia nodded quickly in gratitude. She felt a burst of life and energy that had been utterly foreign to her only minutes before. Now, she felt lighter than air. A thought popped into her mind, making her laugh again, "How long have you been practicing that speech?"

Feigning surprise at Celestia's question, Luna gave a reserved chuckle before composing herself. "I had at first thought to simply wash my hooves of this entire matter. But what an ugly feeling it left in my soul. So, I then considered my words carefully." She tapped a hoof against her chin thoughtfully. "For the speech? Only the majority of the past day--or so." The sisters looked at one another, and started laughing together. "Do not spoil my moment! I was so nervous that it would be for naught!"

"Never, Luna. Not a word was for naught." Wiping her face, Celestia kept smiling. She looked exhausted, but relief was washing over her so much that she hardly felt it. "I was so scared that I had taken a turn down an already traveled path."

"I will not so easily be drawn to the path of darkness as before. You should have more faith in me." A worried expression banished the smile from Luna's face. "I admit, I did not react well to the revelations of the past several days. That is a conversation for another time, though."

Celestia shook her head in return. "No, sister. I think now is the best time to be forthcoming. Secrets have served me well before, but now they will only do greater harm. I have spent too many years relying on unreasoning habit. Centuries I have spent, as you stated, alone. I think it best that those habits be put to rest."

"Perhaps," Luna said as she let a grin pull at the side of her lips. "But before we commence such a sober conversation, we should have the whole of our company present. Before you have dealt with these concerns alone, but no longer. Our numbers of sovereignty have quadrupled. All need be present, only then can we approach the dangers of this escaped creature with every confidence."

This statement brought Celestia to a thoughtful, though downcast gaze. "Cadence made all haste back to the north. It would be unkind to demand of her to return so soon."

"This is no time for our kindness. This is a matter of greatest attention and importance." Luna let a soft sigh from her nose before she also shook her head. "But I believe it best to also extend our apologies as we ask this of her."

Turning towards the window, Celestia spoke absentmindedly, "I agree."

"I am more interested in the fact that my indomitable sister has been afraid for my integrity. I dare say I have not had the most outstanding record, but let us leave what has passed as only a painful lesson." Closing her eyes, Luna lifted her head and appeared deep in thought. "I have learned from the mistakes I have made."

"Then I envy you. I feel that all of what has happened over the past several days is all my fault," Celestia said in a somber voice. "Everything that's going to happen--those will the stories I am known for." She took a sharp, deep breath. The strength to battle her emotions was waning, but she had just enough to continue. "Luna--I'm terrified. I've done so much for Equestria. Tried so hard, never considering that I could be sealing its fate."

Drawing her sister's head down against her shoulder, Luna embraced Celestia warmly. The show of such emotion and compassion had been uncharacteristic of her before, now her sister was truly surprised. When Luna spoke, it was with a voice much softer and kinder than her usual, "Celestia, be at peace. No one shall argue the good you have done for Equestria. Without you, all would have been lost. So many times have you placed yourself between innocence and the path of destruction. For one thousand years, you were the stalwart defender of righteousness. We could debate methods, but I do not question your intentions. You did what you thought right."

Again Celestia had to resort to a whisper as she buried herself against Luna. "But I have broken promises, destroyed trust, betrayed those to whom I gave my word. That creature-"

"Sister," Luna interrupted. "We must take heed of the wisdom of our fellow Princess. His name is Tobias."

"T-Tobias. It--he--he," she stuttered. "He predicted that the powers of the Elements of Harmony would leave me. My connection to them would wither, and it would be my fault. Disloyalty, dishonesty, unhappiness, unkindness, all these things I am guilty of. Without them, my magical powers have diminished, and his prediction came true."

"Do you truly believe these are facts of your character? Disloyalty, dishonesty, unkindness? These traits do not describe your heart."

Celestia sniffed, trying to regain her bearings, "Yet despite all that I've done, the Elements have still passed on."

"Perhaps this only means that the time had come for new bearers to take possession of them. We do not know," Luna comforted.

"But it--he did! Nothing he's predicted has ever been false!" Celestia pulled away suddenly, marching to the window and peering out as if searching the lands for a sign of the creature she ranted about. "Now he is unleashed upon our homes, our subjects! They are innocent and I have allowed such a monstrosity to walk free!"

"Sister!" Luna's shout drew Celestia's wide-eyed gaze back inside. "This obsession is unbecoming. We are princesses, you and I. We must set an example." She slammed a hoof on the wooden floor, the metal guard on her leg leaving a scuff on the wood. "We must be of stalwart visage. Our appearance must be hearten and encourage our people in the face of darkness. So long as you obsess and recoil you can only bring fear to those who would seek you for strength."

"I don't know what else to do," Celestia muttered.

Luna snorted in response, but her expression was more of passion than anger. Her voice rose, emboldened. "We shall take upon ourselves the path to victory just as we have before! We have overcome such darkness, such despair, and all times we have gained back the light and hope that our subjects adore. The powers of harmony are wondrous tools. The strength of love has made safe all of Equestria on two separate occasions in as many years. Are these not things from which you may draw courage?"

A sad smile spread over Celestia's face as she walked back towards her sister. "I have no lack of courage, Luna. I would charge headlong into the most vicious evil, even if I had no hope of survival. No, I'm scared for our people. I'm scared that he will punish them for what I've done"

"It is a possibility," Luna said apologetically. "Which is why we must gather Princess Cadence and Princess Twilight Sparkle. With them, we must bring to light all knowledge of Tobias we have available. Even I am much in the dark about his true nature."

Upon hearing this, Celestia was visibly affected. Her eyes flinched, shutting tightly as she took in a sharp breath. She held up a hoof before Luna could rush to her side. "Forgive me. A thought," she paused as if searching for the right word. "Overwhelmed me. I fear I am the one who has kept you in the dark on such matters."

"You? It is no fault of yours," Luna assured "I decided long ago to wash my hooves of this whole matter. I even promised to distance myself, and have kept it all this time."

"To whom did you make this promise?" Celestia asked pointedly. "Do you remember?"

"I--well," stuttered Luna as she trailed off. She thought deeply, but the pensive expression was slowly turning to a frown. "I do not recall, not entirely. Mother, perhaps. I made her a promise--but I do not remember what it concerned."

With a far-off look on her face, Celestia nodded. She did not seem encouraged as she spoke, "I feared as much, but I had held out a hope. Perhaps--this won't be as easy as I'd first thought. It doesn't matter. The truth must be known, and it's my responsibility to reveal it. I am the one who has kept it hidden for so long."

"Why?" Luna asked. "For what great reason did you fight to keep this hidden even from me? Was it your own promise to mother?"

"No--I mean--not entirely. I did make a promise to mother that I have not honored, and for that I will be held responsible. But I have also confided in others before, and it has never ended happily."

"Then let this time be different. Twilight Sparkle and Cadence are so young, and they have eyes not clouded by the darkness of the past. I have great trust in them both, Celestia."

"As do I," Celestia agreed.

"Then confide in them, and in me. You no longer need face this alone, so do not believe that you must."

Celestia grinned again, genuine happiness breaking through her mask of fatigue and weariness. "Luna, how did I keep everything together for so long without you?"

"Wisdom, wits, and a great deal of luck perhaps? If not, I am not adverse to aiding in the cleaning of your messes. We are not perfect."

"Well," Celestia said jovially. The sisters laughed, but they could not hide the anxious tone they still carried in their hearts. "You are wise, Luna. If I had listened to you before, so much evil could have been averted. Now-"

Luna again interrupted her sister, "Now you will cease this self-blame. You may hide it well, but I am not so easily fooled. Guilt and blame serves none. We shall seek resolution together."

"Yes, of course," agreed Celestia. Her mood was already improved greatly, and now she felt a spark of motivation rising in her. "I have letters to send. There is a lot to discuss."

Luna nodded in response as she said, "Yes, there is."

"I have to warn you, Luna. I have never found a solution," Celestia spoke gravely.

"You did not have Twilight Sparkle. I doubt there is a pony in Equestria more capable than she. Have faith, and have trust, sister. We will prevail."

Celestia still appeared unconvinced. She may have been laughing only moments before, but doubt was already taking hold of her again. "I simply do not know how the past can provide answers. It has only sadness and darkness."

"But it has the truth, my dear sister. The truth may offer the greatest tool of all for victory. It may offer clarity." Nodding her head in confidence, Luna turned back to the door. "I will take my leave. I have great faith in you, Celestia. We shall overcome this together." They shared a hug, and Luna left the office. The clack of her hooves growing softer as she moved away.

Sitting back at her desk, Celestia sighed. Tears were welling in her eyes, but she still smiled. Her sister had given her strength she didn't even think she had available to her. She'd given her hope, and that was a more powerful gift than she could have imagined. Using her magic, she took out two spare pieces of paper and a quill. It took her only a moment to think of the words, and she began to write to her fellow princesses.

Soon, she had sent the letters on their way. Standing alone in her office, Celestia watched the horizon as she once again sighed. No smile accompanied it this time. "Oh Luna," she lamented. "I only hope you can still forgive me once you know the truth."