• Published 13th Feb 2015
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Twilight, Good Night - Carapace

To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports. She never expected to find herself under the microscope in turn.

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10: I Heard the Softest Songs of Night

Books were strewn across the table, spread open and baring their inner writings to the mare pouring over their text. Her eyes danced across the pages, her brow creased in thought. With a snort, Twilight snapped a text on classical music shut and floated it atop the ever-growing stack of rejections beside her.

“Not enough information!” she said, flicking her tail. Glancing to those on the far side of the table, she floated another book over and skimmed through the writing.

… In those days, it was custom for our beloved Matron of the Arts to sit atop her throne on the high balcony, overlooking the entire Royal Theatre at the premier of any work of music or play. While the band or troupe awaited the cue of their conductors or directors, those in charge awaited her nod with baited breath. As the highest donor and sole authority in the art community, in combination with her near limitless knowledge on the subject, it was tradition that only by the Matron’s permission did the performance begin.

She would wait for the doors to close, for the last pony or visiting dignitary to be seated before rising from her seat and approaching the edge of the balcony. Silence reigned over the hall; the first time I saw it, I was but a foal. My parents had taken me to smaller shows, I’d seen Maestro Tempo Rubato himself bring audiences to tears with the majesty of his work, and the Griffin composer Werner of the North command mixed ensembles to bring their music to a crescendo like no other! The pair themselves were larger than near any being in the community. They did not scrape or bow for any noble, nor did they wait for any cue…

Save for her. Though my mane has grayed and my joints are wracked with pain, I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her, the first time I’d ever seen Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North sweat. Since my family was rather well off, I was afforded the opportunity to meet with both composers after the performance. I resolved to ask them why they seemed so shaken. I felt as though the very weight of her night, her power over the darkness, the moon, and stars above had settled over the concert hall. The Matron stood proud, her starry mane flowing in a display of immaculate beauty, and regarded the pair with a small smile. She nodded once and took her seat.

Afterward, I greeted them, expressing my sincerest compliments before asking what I thought was an innocent question:

“Why did you sweat before our Princess?”

They gaped at me, staring as though I’d grown a second horn atop my head. After a moment of silence—and Maestro Rubato trying to regain his vocal abilities—Maestro Werner addressed me. “Little one,” he said in his thickly accented voice, “there are some ponies and griffins who have earned respect that transcends our races and nations. Your Princess, the Matron of the Arts herself, is one such pony. For she is not a student of the art—she is the art.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, staring critically at the last line. “She is the art, huh?” She put the book to the side and shook her head. But that goes against what Luna said the other night. She doesn’t want ponies to view her as some sort of end-all-be-all judge of quality—she was just a pony who appreciated arts, like them.

But, then again, such dissonance between her wants and how ponies perceived her was hardly unique. After all, Princess Celestia was still practically worshipped in modern times. The wording of the book suggested…

At some point, Luna had been looked at in the same light. She had been regarded as a figure standing above all others, as an extension of the very thing she governed over.

No, not an extension. To ponies before her fall, she was something more. Luna, in that age, was the art itself, just as Celestia was the day, the law, and, for a thousand years, the Crown itself.

But just what was she… More importantly, how did she go from having their reverence to being feared. Having Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North set her in the right time period, and Luna’s old monicker gave her something to cross-reference in historical texts.

The problem, though, was finding Luna elsewhere.

“Matron of the Arts” was easily spotted, present in nearly every musical text that covered the period before Luna’s fall to Nightmare Moon and her thousand year imprisonment. But, outside of art texts, there was little mention of that particular name.

“I need something with your name, Luna,” she whispered as she cracked open the next book. “I need something that connects the Matron to Luna, anything that bridges the gap!”

Lowering the book, Twilight brought her hooves to either side of her head and rubbed small circles in her temples. Deep breath in, hold, and deep breath out, Twilight. Relax. This is why it’s called research, not “the answers fall right into your hooves”.

The subject was interesting, of that there was no doubt. If anything, it would likely be a side project if not for the fact that it was for Luna.

Placing her hooves back on the table, she sighed. “Even with the name, I’m still trying to find a needle in a haystack!”

It just so happened that her “haystack” happened to be the whole of history from the days of Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North to the night of Luna’s banishment. No small task, to say the least.

“Maybe you should take a break, Twilight,” Spike called from the kitchen. He poked his head through the door and leveled her with a stern glare. “You’ve been sitting there forever, and if you keep stacking books up like that,” he broke off to point at her makeshift tower, “we’re gonna have a repeat of the Royal Canterlot Library Avalanche.”

“One time! One time, and no pony will let me forget that!” She cried, throwing her hooves into the air. “Just like that time I accidentally burnt your toast while you were sick—suddenly, everypony in town thinks I’m so bad a cook that I burn water!” Hearing him snicker, Twilight took a droplet of ink in her magic and flicked it in his direction.

“Hey!” he cried, pulling his head back through the doorway. The ink drop fell to the floor, staining the wood black. “I’m not cleaning that up, you know!”

“Oh, hush! You know it’ll take me a second to have it done!” Lighting up her horn again, Twilight wrapped her aura around the splattered ink and began drawing it out. Slowly, the wood bled out ink into a magenta aura. She floated it over and dropped it into the inkwell with a satisfied nod. “See? Like it never happened!”

“Uh huh. You say that because you can clean up little messes with a flick of your magic! If you’d left that longer, I would have to go through a bunch of stuff to get it out!”

“Yes, yes, I know. I’ll be more careful with what I flick at you next time,” she gave him a smile, wide-eyed and filled with foal-like innocence. “Happy?”

Spike shook his head and retreated further into the kitchen, muttering just loud enough for her to hear. “That sweet filly routine might work with Shining Armor, but I’ve seen the stuff you tried getting away with, Miss ‘Stays in the Royal Library three hours past closing’!”

Twilight bit her tongue, both to stem her laughter and to save a certain retort for later. Admittedly, he had a point—that wasn’t one of her finer moments, especially when she tried using the very same look on the Night Guards who came to collect her when she didn’t appear for dinner.

“Miss Sparkle, I’ve given birth to two foals, both far more troublesome and adept at that look than you,” one said, her slitted eyes twinkling with amusement behind her stern façade. “The library is closed as of three hours ago, and Princess Celestia is waiting. Come along.”

She smiled fondly and propped her chin up atop her hoof. What was that mare’s name again? Her smile faltered, the name just wouldn’t come to mind. It had been so long, and she wasn’t nearly as familiar with the Night Guard as she was the Day Guard.

Shrugging, she stood and stretched her legs. I can figure that out later. Right now, I need to figure out this mess.

It was far too early to throw up her hooves and give up, but it was nearing the point where she would have no choice but to slog through the texts in the Royal Canterlot Library. And if that proved fruitless…

The Royal Archives.

Her cheeks burned at the memory of Spike, Pinkie and herself, clad in tight-fitted black spandex and sneaking around the castle, only to be found and let in the front door by a decidedly bemused Royal Guard.

“He literally called me by name and offered to get the door!” she groaned as she brought a hoof to her forehead. “And then Princess Celestia greeted me like we were sitting down for breakfast!”

“Yeah! And then Spike got the mother of all tummy-aches because he ate all that ice cream!” Pinkie’s voice chirped from someplace behind her.

Twilight yelped and tripped over her cushion. “Holy horseapples!” Whirling around, she came muzzle-to-muzzle with the incomprehensible baker and gaped. “Pinkie!”

Giggling, Pinkie Pie hopped onto her cushion and sat down, shifting about to get comfortable. “Heya, Twilight! Oooh! Nice and warm and comfy! Just like always!”

“That’s because—Ugh!” Twilight closed her eyes and counted to ten. So much for research today. “Never mind. When did you get here, Pinkie?”

“Me? Oh, I’ve been here a while! See, my ears went floppy, my tail went flippy and my knees went wibbly-wobbly, which means somepony has a studying emergency! So! I thought to myself, ‘self, who would have a studying emergency big enough to trigger a Pinkie sense?’ And then I answered, ‘well, self, since you asked, it’s gotta be one of the foals in Cheerilee’s class!’ But—“

An alabaster hoof covered her mouth before she could go further. Rarity stepped out from behind Pinkie Pie, a small frown gracing her muzzle. “What our dear friend is trying to say—in her roundabout way—is that she felt that you had a problem and brought us all here.” She nodded over her shoulder toward the basement.

Twilight followed the gesture, her jaw dropped at the sight of three other mares peeking out of the doorway; Rainbow grinning expectantly, and Applejack and Fluttershy simply shrugging. “H-How did the five of you—“

“Don’t.” Applejack cut her off before stepping out and trotting over to the table. “None of us get it, and none of us are gonna try. One minute, she had us all rounded up in front of my stall, the next we were here. Far as I know, she’s hiding a horn under that mane o’ hers.”

“‘Fraid not!” Pinkie rubbed the top of her head. “My head is as fluffy and non-horny as can be!”

“Dunno about that last part,” Rainbow snickered.

“What’s that, Dashie? You wanna hear a song about horny and non-horny ponies?”

Before anypony could blink, a prismatic blur shot across the room and tackled Pinkie. “Not a chance in this lifetime!” Rainbow cried, pinning her giggling friend to the floor. “You start singing, and I’ll duct tape that mouth of yours shut!”

“Aww, but I had an entire routine planned out! I even have a fake horn!” Reaching into the confines of her mane, Pinkie pulled out what looked to be a funnel with string looped through it. “See? Perfect-o fake horn-o!”

“Um… Pinkie?” Fluttershy raised a hoof, wincing as everypony shifted their gaze to her. “I’m pretty sure Rainbow thought you meant the, um, other kind of horny.”

Ew! No!” Pinkie blanched and stuck out her tongue. “I meant unicorns and pegasi and earth ponies! Get your mind out of the gutter, Dashie!”

Twilight shook her head, a small smile played upon her lips as she watched Rainbow sputter and stammer out accusations while the rest of their friends giggled. Never a dull moment around this lot. “Okay, let’s settle down before Rainbow has a coronary. Pinkie, what do you mean ‘studying emergency’?”

Pinkie blinked once and slipped out from under Rainbow Dash, ignoring her friend’s yelp as she was suddenly dumped on the floor. She zipping over to Twilight, beaming and bouncing in place. “Well, whenever you get a really, really, really hard project or have a super-dee-duper tough question, you go into this ‘ultra-focused-super-studying-Twilight’ mode and stay in the library forever! So, my Pinkie Sense told me that you were about to start locking yourself away and I went ‘Oh, no!’ and rounded everypony up—“

“Literally, she grabbed us and dragged us over,” Applejack deadpanned. “If we were anywhere else, I’d be worried about my apples gettin’ stolen.”

“—Right-o! So, I rounded everypony up, then we came over, then I mentioned Spike’s tummy aches, you jumped and yelped, and now we’re here!” Bringing a hoof to her chin, she turned to face the other four. “I think that’s it, right?”

“Mercifully, yes,” Rarity replied with a roll of her eyes. She shook her head, muttering something incomprehensible as she took her seat to Twilight’s left. “Silliness aside,” she began as she others followed suit and sat around the table, “I must agree with Pinkie; the state of the library is quite messy, usually a good sign that you’re about to lock yourself away in your ivory tower, so to speak. So, out with it, dear. What is it this time?”

“Probably thinkin’ of how to help Princess Luna.” All eyes shifted over to stare at Applejack, who simply shrugged. “What? She had her muzzle deep in a book about Equestrian history at the last pet play date before Dash ’n I found her. Said somethin’ about helpin’ the Princess reconnect with everypony an’ regain her lost image.”

Rainbow nodded. “Oh, hey, that’s right! How’s that going, by the way? Unlocked all the secrets of Equestrian history yet?”

“No! Just the opposite!” Twilight groaned, letting her head thump against the table. Lifting it up just enough to speak, she sighed. “I finally got a name to cross-reference with what I knew about musicians she liked before her banishment, but it doesn’t correlate to anything to do with history outside of the arts community! There’s all sorts of information about how important a figure she was and how some of the culture centered around her. But, outside? Nothing!” She aimed a glare at one of the many books strewn across the table and picked one up. “Look at this! The Rise of Equestria, but it has nothing! It jumps from Discord’s Imprisonment to Nightmare Moon appearing!”

Rainbow held up her hooves in surrender. “Whoa there, Twilight! Simmer down! We didn’t write the darn thing!”

Rarity cut in before Twilight could comment. “I must agree with Rainbow—even though the manner in which she said it was a bit crass.” Reaching over, she took one of Twilight’s hooves in hers and patted it soothingly. “We understand that you’re stressed, dear, it happens to the best of us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to accept you hiding yourself away. Really, even I have to take breaks from making dresses when I have a deadline coming up or I start panicking and my work suffers.”

Totally!” Pinkie threw in, gesturing wildly with her hooves. “Mr. and Mrs. Cake always end up running around, trying to juggle the baking, the foals, running the register, taking special orders, the foals, icing the cakes, the foals, reminding me that it’s not okay to shoot off my party cannon when new customers come in, and, of course—“

“Lemme guess,” Applejack said, “the foals?”

Pinkie rounded on Applejack. “Wowie-zowie, Applejack! How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess. Anyway,” she turned back to Twilight and raised an eyebrow. “Ramblin’ or not, they both got a point. You’re gonna run yourself ragged if you keep on like this.”

“So consider this an intervention!” Rainbow Dash cried as she leapt to her hooves.

Twilight blinked, her eyes flitted to each of her friends, searching for any sign of joking. Other than Pinkie, they looked completely serious. Swishing her tail, she gave a rather crooked grin. “Now, girls, I know I’ve been busy, but…”

“Busy?” She blinked at the sudden interruption from Fluttershy, quailing under one of the soft-spoken mare’s gaze. Sighing, Fluttershy folded her hooves on the table and spoke, “Every time one of us has seen you, one of those books has been close at hoof. It’s starting to become a constant, almost an obsession.”

Inhaling sharply, Twilight opened her mouth to retort, but stopped short. Had she really? Certainly, she’d been a bit more dedicated in examining the subject, but was she really relapsing? “I don’t mean to…” She bit her lip and shifted about on her cushion. Her ears lay flat against her scalp. “I just want to help her be happy again.”

“So, treat her like a friend!” Applejack replied, giving a shrug. “Remember how slow things went when you thought you had to look at one of your guidebooks for everything?”

A flick of her ears towards Applejack. That… actually makes a lot of sense. Sighing, she covered her face and groaned. “Ugh! I’m reverting!”

A gentle hoof was placed on her shoulder. Applejack smiled, giving her an affectionate rub. “Just relax an’ think of somethin’ you’d do with us! Maybe just hangin’ out with her.”

“I did that. We listened to music and had tea together a couple nights ago.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she caught sight of Rarity’s eye twitching. “S-Sorry, Rarity! She wanted to keep it quiet, so Spike and I didn’t tell—“

“Twilight,” Rarity said, smiling sweetly at her, “surely, you don’t mean to tell me that both you and my dear, sweet little Spikey-wikey kept this a secret from me—us!” She hastily corrected as the others fixed her with flat stares. “I’m sorry, but we could’ve helped spruce the library up a little!”

Shaking her head, Twilight sighed. “I thought about it, but Luna specifically said that she wanted to meet me on common ground. She wants friendship, not ponies bowing as she walks past. The problem I’m finding is that they did that before she fell; at some point, she was worshipped like Celestia is today.”

“I remember you sayin’ that. How’d her visit go, by the way?” Applejack tilted her hat back and flicked an ear in her direction.

Twilight beamed, her mood did a quick one-eighty at the mention of her late night music marathon with Luna. “Really well, actually. She brought over a few first edition records—which were an absolute thrill to hear, by the way–and I shared a few of mine.”

“Aw, c’mon now. You can’t expect me to believe that’s all that went on, Twi. You’re a regular chatterbox when you get comfortable with a pony, especially when it involves learnin’.” A friendly push against her shoulder, and a playful smirk. “Out with it, sugarcube. What’d y’all talk about?”

As each of her friends giggled and nodded in turn, Twilight ducked her head and tried to fight down a blush. “W-Well, we talked a bit! She mentioned wanting to spend more time together—“ she broke off to hold up a hoof, forestalling any exclamations, “—And she mentioned that she’d like to, er, ‘return the favor’.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Meaning?”

“She mentioned inviting me over after the next time we got together—which actually reminds me…” She fidgeted in place, her eyes flitting from mare to mare. “Er, how would you girls feel if she joined us for our next night out?”

Her question was met with a round of blank stares and a beat of silence. She smiled awkwardly, flicking her tail as the girls seemed to shake themselves out of their momentary stupor.

“Twilight, dear,” Rarity began, fixing a rather strained smile upon her muzzle, “forgive me, I must be hearing things. Did you just suggest that a Princess join our girls’ night? The night that we all get together at Sugarcube Corner and simply… Er, Rainbow,” she broke off, glancing at Rainbow out of the corner of her eye, “how exactly would you put it?”

With a shrug, she answered, “Rock out? Hang? Goof off? Do things that you’d hate to be caught on camera in fear of Canterlot catching wind that you’re a—shock and awe—normal pony?”

“Yes, that. Thank you.” Rarity turned back to Twilight and raised a well trimmed brow. “Darling?”

“Exactly. Before you jump, hear me out: Luna wants to connect with ponies, Rarity. This could be our chance to make a new friend and help her learn how to interact with a wide variety of ponies. I mean, just think about how different we are within our group!” She waved a hoof around the table. “An athlete, a farmer, a fashion expert, a baker slash party planner, a veterinarian, and a student! Six ponies, six different attitudes, and six very different ideas on where they want to be in life. We’ve got a proverbial melting pot right under our snouts!”

“Well, I—“

“I’m down.” Rainbow shrugged and leaned back in her cushion. “Princess Luna was a pretty cool mare once she loosened up; if making friends means more of that and some of the jokes she brought, I’m definitely in. How about you, Pinks?”

“Ohmygosh! Yesyesyesyesyes!” Pinkie cheered. “This is so exciting! I mean, I know I made a tiiiiiiny bit of a mess at Nightmare Night, and I didn’t mean to make her feel sad, but it was so much fun playing games with her!”

“There, two in favor. AJ?”

“Heh, sure. Just don’t blame me if she zaps your bottom again!” A wicked grin crossed her muzzle. “I just might make it a special request!”

“Do it, and I’ll put itching powder in your hat. ‘Shy, how do you feel about it?”

The kindly mare ruffled her wings. “Well… she was nice once she stopped shouting everything… I wouldn’t mind if she’s, um, quieter.”

“She is,” Twilight said, returning the question with a bright smile. “When she first visited, she was a bit formal, but the talk about musicians helped us find common ground.” Turning to face Rarity fully, she waited for a final verdict, her ears standing up straight.

Rarity tapped her hoof against the table a few times, furrowing her brows in thought. “I’m of two minds: the more business side of me is thinking of the benefits of befriending a princess,” she paused to hold up a hoof before anypony could scold her, and continued, “which I know isn’t what I should be doing. A habit I’m still trying to kick, I’m afraid.”

“An’ how ‘bout the mare I trust with my sister durin’ sleepover weekends?” Applejack asked, raising her eyebrow.

“Oh, she’s about to beg and plead with Twilight that we at least serve her proper tea.” The words had scarcely left Rarity’s mouth before Twilight found herself under the full force of her most pathetic wide-eyed pleading face, complete with pouting lip and clasped hooves. “Pleeeeeeeeease!

With a roll of her eyes, she nodded once, a retort befitting her Canterlot heritage fresh on her lips, “I said we should treat her like a normal pony, I never said we couldn’t act civilized!”

Laughing, Twilight quickly ducked as a pair of paper balls sailed overhead, courtesy of Applejack and Rainbow Dash. Slowly, she peeked over the edge of her table, gathering a few sheets of scrap paper in her magic. “Rarity—” she began speaking in a faux posh accent “—I do believe we have a pair of ruffians among us!”

“Actually, a trio!” Pinkie noted, before tossing a wad of paper toward Rarity.

Rarity caught the paper in her shimmering blue magic, and added it to those she was already rolling up. “Why, I believe you’re right, Twilight! A trio of ruffians, right beneath our noses!” Turning to Fluttershy, she offered a smile. “Dear, you may want to take cover behind a cushion while we deal with these brutes. It’ll only be a moment!”

Nodding and doing her best to hide a smile, Fluttershy backed away and flipped over her seat cushion, a perfect barrier to ward off the oncoming storm.

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