• 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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15: Dancing Around Questions

The scent of steamed vegetables and rice wafted to Luna’s nose. It was nothing too complex, a mix of spices to add a little bit of flavor, and vegetables splashed with soy sauce, but appetizing. A traditional dish of the Far Eastern ponies, if memory served.

Yet another hint of her niece’s wide-ranging taste. Luna awarded a point in her favor, an open mind in terms of art and culture was truly a wonderful thing. Perhaps, she thought, I shall have to pay a bit more attention to Tia’s descriptions of her role as ambassador.

A tiny smile played upon her lips as she watched Shining Armor take a bottle of wine in his magic and pour three glasses—pausing only to steal a little kiss to Cadence’s cheek before setting them in place. Young love, such a happy couple in a seemingly plain home.

Her chest filled with warmth. Watching the pair interact, and the sincerity in their smiles and actions toward her, Luna could happily say that her worries were quite unfounded—just as her ever-insolent elder sister would take pleasure in reminding her.

“I told you!” Her muzzle creased into a scowl at that inner voice, that echo of her sister’s infinite wisdom and teasing. “She never was here to replace you, Lulu—Cadence admires you far too much to even think of such a thing!”

With a roll of her eyes, she gave the voice a shove into the back of her mind. Begone, you! I shall, no doubt, suffer enough of your actual teasing soon enough! Quickly, Luna wiped the scowl off her muzzle and smiled, just before Fidelius trotted over, a tray bearing three plates floated in his magic.

“Your Majesties,” he said with a bow, before turning to Shining Armor, “Captain. Dinner is served.” Fidelius neatly deposited the plates in front of each pony, and stepped to the side. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

“Oh, I think I’m all right,” Cadence said with a smile. “Everything looks almost as good as it smells!”

Shining Armor nodded. “Definitely! Keep this up and I’ll think you’re trying to spoil us!”

Fidelius raised an eyebrow, a tiny smile played on his lips. “With respect, Captain, you think anything other than one of those ‘MREs’—“ he wrinkled his snout derisively “—is spoiling you. However, I do appreciate the compliment.” Giving a moment’s pause to allow Shining a little chuckle at his own expense, he turned and bowed again to Luna. “And you, Princess?”

“Nay, good Fidelius.” Luna shook her head. “I daresay, it has been some time since I’ve sampled Far Eastern cuisine—forgive me, but I am a bit curious. You wouldn’t happen to have a bit of Eastern Unicorn blood in you?”

“No, Princess, but their culture is fascinating. I just went to culinary school when I was a young stallion working in the palace. Princess Celestia so loves to partake in foreign dishes, so I thought it might behoove me to learn a bit if I wanted to stay on.”

A hum and nod of approval. Self-driven to improve, quite impressive. “A wise move on your part. I can only imagine that my sister wept when you left her employ for young Cadence’s.” Smirking playfully, she cast a sidelong glance toward her niece and gave a little wink. “Perhaps a little thievery on your part, niece of mine? Did you sway this good stallion with your charms like Captain Armor?”

Cadence had the good grace to hold a hoof over her mouth to stifle a bout of laughter, her eyes shone with mirth. “No, I’m afraid dear Fidelius is quite resistant to my wiles! His heart belongs to my wicked Auntie Celestia! However—“ She wrapped her wing around Shining Armor and squeezed, nearly pulling him out of his seat. “—this one is very much mine!”

Shaking his head as the trio shared a laugh, Fidelius bowed and quickly turned to trot back to the kitchen.

Out of the corner of her eye, Luna caught the upward tugging of his lips, the fond smile spreading across his face. A routine, she mused as she took hold of her silverware in her magic. Much like Tia and myself, they drop all pretense in the comfort of their home.

Perhaps that was why they chose a small home in the military district. Luna speared a few green beans and scooped them into her mouth, her ears stood up straight at the taste. Even better than it smelled. She gave a merry swish of her starry tail, adding another point in favor of the household. And yet, much like young Spike, I suspect that any attempt to steal Fidelius away to the palace kitchens will be met with stiff resistance.

Her lips curved into a tiny smile as she continued eating, pausing in her efforts to take a sip of wine. A tad sweet for her tastes, though the floral scent did help to relax her at a more base level—a sign of a nice, safe patch of land to have a good meal.

“So, Princess—“ Shining began, a forkful of vegetables hovered before him “—not that I mean to question you, but I have to ask: why Twilight?”

Luna blinked, her magic flickered at the brief lapse. “Excuse me?”

“Why Twilight? Don’t get me wrong, I love her more than any brother ever could love his sister, but I’m curious why she draws the most attention. From the reports I’ve read, she’s surrounded by a pretty impressive group of friends—one of them is part of a rather old family, I believe, and the Wonderbolts have their eye on another—”

“Shiny,” Cadence cut in, “if you’re going that route, you have to account for Twilight’s connection to Auntie Celestia and I, as well as your rank.”

“—Fair enough.” He shrugged and nodded. “Still, what exactly is it that makes her special to you?”

Luna sucked in her cheeks, slowly lowering her glass to the table. “I would ask that you kindly explain your questioning of my choices, Captain,” she said, her tone frosty. “I call each of the six bearers my friends. Why exactly is it worth questioning whom I find closest companionship with?”

He blinked at the sudden shift. “I don’t mean to be rude! I’m just a bit curious—there’s no pony in Equestria that thinks Twily’s special any more than me! But… well, I’m curious how she stood out to you.”

She opened her mouth to retort, but stopped at a sideways glance to Cadence—the strained smile, the way her shoulders shrugged up as if she were ready to duck down to hide while her lover and aunt argued.

A misunderstanding, she scolded herself. I am being defensive. Come, old mare. Cast down the walls and let others in.

Closing her eyes, Luna took a deep breath in through her nose, holding it a moment before releasing out her mouth. “I believe I may be misinterpreting,” she said slowly. “Would I be correct in presuming that you mean to ask my reason out of idle curiosity?”

Another blink of confusion at her sudden shift, but Shining Armor regrouped. “Well, not so idle, she’s still my little sister, but yes. Forgive me, but you’ve been a little dist—ow, Cady!” he yelped, a hoof clasped his left side.

That’s rude, Shiny!” she hissed. Cadence turned back to Luna and fixed a smile on her muzzle, her eyes filled with those same nerves and hope for acceptance as before. “I’m so sorry, Auntie! I’m sure he didn’t—“

Luna cut her off with a wave of her hoof. “No, niece. The good Captain is correct, but a bit free with his mouth.” She quirked an eyebrow in his direction. “Though, I did ask that we stand on common ground as family—and he does seem to have your devotion—“ she hid a smile at the blush that colored his cheeks, and the bout of giggles and quick nuzzle Cadence stole “—so, perhaps, I shall simply endeavor to become more familiar with him as I shall with you. But to your point, Shining Armor, yes, I have been a bit distant with most. You will understand that I am not the easiest pony to converse with given my reputation. Most ponies still harbor a bit of the old fear.”

Shining nodded, sneaking a quick glance to check for danger of another jab before replying. “I can. With regard to Twilight—she doesn’t fall into that category?”

“No. Happily, she has seen through me,” she said, a smile made its way across her muzzle. “Twilight reminds me very much of my friends long passed—intelligent, insightful, and able to see beyond my history.”

There was a beat of silence. Shining drummed his hooves on the table top a moment, before giving a hum of approval. “All right. Thanks for answering. So, familiarity breeds new friendships?”

“To a point, yes. Though I would add that ours is of a decidedly different sort.”

“How so?”

Luna smiled. “I find her nature, her way… warming.” There. It was out. Nothing tangible, just the honest feeling. “I genuinely wish to share what makes me happy, and share in new things with her.”

“Oh?” Cadence leaned forward in her seat. “Don’t play coy, Auntie! We already have one princess who likes to hide behind teasing smiles and half-statements—share!”

How eager. “Very well, if you insist. We have discussed a mutual interest in classical arts, particularly music, and shared a few records. I have extended an invitation to show her a bit more of my private collection in the near future.”

A raised eyebrow, a slight tugging at her lips. “Well, that’s quite a big step—wait a moment. More?” She lowered her fork to rest on her plate.

“Indeed,” Luna replied, her brows furrowed. Very eager. “She favors the works of Tempo Rubato, who was a friend of mine many centuries ago. I have an original record of his Song of the Meadowlark that she expressed interest in hearing firsthoof.” Her lips curved into a grin. “I do believe I more than made my point about the passion held in the older performers.”

“I’ve heard your point on that one,” Shining said. “I still say you should see the Royal Canterlot Orchestra in concert again. They’ve got a rather good crop of players coming over from the Symphony, especially their cellist.”

With her usual retort fresh on her lips, Luna bit her tongue, a thought from the nights spent in Ponyville flashed through her mind. In my own words, it is not that they lack talent, but the emotion in their work.

She sat back in her seat, regarding him with a critical gaze for a moment. “Perhaps,” she said slowly, “my bias does tend to favor those artists of bygone days. I would not be averse to it, though. I have simply not felt—“ she looked away, and gave a little rustle of her wing “—inclined to attend as I once had. Not without my sister by my side, at least.”

The lovers nodded in unison. “Your bias?” Cadence asked.

“And nervousness, yes. I am a bit wary that my sudden return to the arts might not be so welcome.”

Shining Armor made as though to comment, but stopped, thinking better of it. He hummed to himself, and steepled his hooves. “If I may, Princess—“ he began “—I’m not as entrenched in the art community as Cady was for a time, but I don’t recall much in the way of ill will when you were—ahem—purified by the Elements.”

“None shown overtly, Captain,” she replied. “But fear is not so easily abated, and regaining trust is a slow process.” At his nod, she continued on. “Fortunately, Twilight has seen past that and given me a reminder of what these bonds feel like—the joy of sharing that which I love with one I admire.”

Along with my greatest gift. She closed her eyes, the memory of Twilight’s awestruck face still fresh on her mind. The way her jaw dropped, her eyes widened almost impossibly and how her ears stood tall—as though she were trying to force herself to take in every detail through her senses. I can repay her good deeds with my friendship and sharing the art I love.

A hum drew her out of her reverie. She opened her eyes to find Cadence leaning forward—her hooves folded one atop the other and that smile on her face.

Far too reminiscent of Celestia’s.

“I think—“ she began, raising her wine glass to Luna “—if this is how happy she makes you, and knowing how she is, that your relationship is for the best.”

Shining raised his own glass and chimed in, “You’ve got my endorsement as well, Princess. Glad to see Twily can make such good friends so quickly!”

With a little quirk of her eyebrow, Luna raised her own glass to them, the faintest trace of apprehension in the gesture.

Cadence’s smile didn’t leave her muzzle for the rest of the evening.

That blasted mare is far too much like my sister, Luna decided, nodding to the twins as she exited her carriage and made her way up to the castle’s main entrance.

Flicking her starry tail, she tried to banish the rousing suspicion. “She’s just happy and being calculative,” she told herself. “Far too much like Tia for her own good—and for my sanity.” As she reached the top step, Luna stopped and gave a low hum. “I suppose I could exploit that admiration of hers…”

She stomped a hoof and shook her head. “No. I will not fall to such tactics—she is my niece, not a pawn to move about on the board as I please.”

What a pity. In days gone by, she would have been a valuable asset, quite the useful talent she has, that voice whispered, almost conspiratorially. Politically, she could be a great ally, but in terms of military, her magic could be put to use. We—

“Silence!” Not at all in the mood to argue with treacherous voices, Luna cast her tormenter deep within the recesses of her mind. She took a deep breath through her nose and tried to think of something else, anything to distract her.

Twilight Sparkle’s face came forth. Wide-eyed and awestruck at the sight of Luna in her element, just before she bounded over and rattled off questions faster than any Wonderbolt could fly.

She let out her breath, opened her eyes and looked up at the castle, the windows alight with candlelight in the night sky almost like a painting. I would wager this scene has been done the world over, she thought ruefully as she resumed her trot. And I was not present to enjoy the first days of this castle.

Pity. Though, there were always the art galleries.

As she reached the high archway of the main doorway, Luna was met by her Night Guards—an earth pony and a unicorn, who saluted her with a stomp of their hooves and a nod of their heads—and, strangely, Captain Erebos himself.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” he greeted. “I hope your visit with Princess Cadence and Captain Armor was fruitful.”

Blinking, she nodded. “Indeed. The pair were quite willing to provide input to my little—“ her gaze flitted to the guards posted “—issue. Forgive me, but I was not expecting you to meet me here, you are not a part of the normal exterior guard.”

“True, Princess. But something came up, a little amendment to the usual patrol.” He shifted in his armor and glanced over his shoulder. “We had a surprise visitor.”

Luna raised a brow. “Oh? Was this visitor not on my sister’s guest list?”

“No, on the guest list; permanent status, granted by Princess Celestia herself.”

“I thought only a select few had such status,” she brought a hoof to her chin. “Cadence, of course, and Captain Armor as the head of her Day Guard. Other than that… Blueblood? Oh, heavens, please no.” Her expression fell. “Please, Erebos, do not tell me I have to suffer that—“ she stopped short, her ears flicked toward her snickering guards. Luna ruffled her feathers and lowered her voice. “Is it him?”

He gave a visible shudder. “Er, no, Princess. Fortunately for all of us, frankly.” Shaking his head, Erebos fixed a smile on his muzzle. “It’s Twilight Sparkle, Princess. She took the train up this afternoon, spur of the moment thing. She’s eating dinner with Princess Celestia right now.”

“... I beg your pardon?”

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