• 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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20: Books Are the Sepulchers of Thought

Standing in the Royal Archives with the express permission of Princess Celestia herself was quite different from sneaking about in the middle of the night, even if the guard stationed had simply smiled and greeted her by name before getting the door for her.

Just as he had done when she’d visited today. The stallion barely even blinked, his smile was just as sincere as it had been that very night when he snapped a salute and opened the door for her, offering his assistance if she should have any need.

Of course, Twilight would hardly need his assistance in the Archives—the most extensive library in all Equestria bared for her. Books upon books lined the shelves, ancient tomes and treatises of the greatest experts of art, magic, science, history, math, anything a scholar could ever think to examine.

Sneaking a glance, she made double sure that she was alone before letting out the little squeal of joy and quick prance in place she’d been holding in.

If she so chose, she could canter over to the Star Swirl the Bearded section and peruse his greatest works, reading with rapt attention as she let her eyes wander over his many dissertations, how he’d unlocked the various secrets of magic and shaped the way ponies regarded its potential forever.

However, she had business in the Archives. Star Swirl’s works would have to wait, unless, of course, he could give insight into Luna’s past.

Specifically, the history of the Night Court.

Twilight let her eyes wander as she trotted down the main walkway, searching for any sign of Luna’s signature crescent moon engraved on the bookshelves or of the archivist, Page Turner, wandering the rows and making sure each and every book was in proper place.

A tiny frown marred her muzzle as a thought occurred to her. “I should’ve tried to find the mark of her matronage,” she muttered. Flicking her tail, she sighed. “What a silly mistake to make.”

She would have no choice but to call for help, and her research had yet to even begin. Hopefully Page Turner wasn’t busy with something overly important.

Turning left down the history section she trotted toward the back wall, bound for the soft glow of a single lit candle resting on a mahogany desk.

A lone mare of auburn mane, with small streaks of grey in the edges, and peach coat sat behind it, her cheeks creased with wrinkles, telling of her age and the days spent in the dusty bookshelves of the Royal Archives. A pair of half-crescent glasses rested on the end of her snout. Humming to herself, she lit her horn and took hold of a rather thick book in the soft pink glow of her magic, floating it over to the side. “Should be moved to the History section, under Conquests of Commander Hurricane in the Pre-Harmonious Era…”

Twilight came to a stop just a few paces from Page Turner’s desk and waited a moment, a smile slowly spread across her muzzle. She knew how this would play out.

As per usual, Page Turner didn’t even lift her gaze. She simply floated the next book from her stack over to rest before her, examining the spine with a low hum and scratch of her quill against parchment. “May need a bit of restoration, the spine looks quite worn.” Wrinkling her snout, she turned the book around and flipped through the pages. Her brows furrowed. “And somepony seems to have dogeared the pages.”

There was a pregnant pause. Twilight withheld both a wince in sympathy for her fellow librarian and a snicker at the look of consternation that crossed the elder mare’s face. Almost as though she were ready to beat the very pony who dared commit such an act over the head. Repeatedly.

Fortunately, Twilight managed to reign in her amusement. She gave a polite cough and bowed her head. “Good morning, Miss Turner,” she said.

Page Turner’s ears flicked, a ghost of a smile flitted across her face before she schooled her expression. “Twilight Sparkle,” she said in reply. Placing the book down on the desk, she lifted her gaze to meet Twilight’s. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen you in the Archives; though I have heard tell of a certain nighttime visit to the Star Swirl the Bearded section.” A single brow arched. “Quite an interesting tale indeed.”

Twilight ducked her head and gave a sheepish grin. “I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as you’ve been lead to believe, Miss Turner.”

“Perhaps.” The smile returned for the briefest of moments, but she wiped it from her face. “What brings you back to the Archives? Another project for Her Highness—er, Princess Celestia, I mean.”

“I understood who you were referring to, no need to explain.”

Page Turner shook her head. “No, I need to learn to address both princesses properly. The best way for an old mare to break a habit like that is repetition.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout, considering for a moment before nodding in turn. “I suppose that makes sense. As for your question, no, not a project from Princess Celestia. This one is a bit of research I have a—” she cast a glance down the aisle, searching for anypony who might’ve wandered in. There were none. “I have a personal interest in a particular subject.”

“Oh? Forgive me for being a bit intrusive, but I thought you lived in a library now, dear. Shouldn’t you have most of the resources at hoof?”

An honest question, deserving of an honest answer. “Yes, I do. But I’ve found the Golden Oak Library isn’t nearly as extensive in its coverage on certain subjects. I need to use the Archives to look a bit more in depth.”

“Understandable. Small town libraries don’t often have the same resources.” She stood, wincing as her knees popped. “Oooh! These old bones of mine! Never get old, Twilight. It’s the worst mistake a pony could ever make.”

Twilight laughed and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good mare. Now, what subject might you be looking into?”

“I was conducting a bit of research into past influences in the art community. Specifically, I wanted to look into the Night Court at the peak of it’s power.” She lit up her horn, levitating her notepad from within the confines of her saddlebag. “I believe Princess Celestia said the period lasted about two hundred years before Princess Luna’s fall.”

“I’m surprised you know of that period. Such few ponies are even aware of the Night Court these days. Then again, I suppose that’s partially because of the time elapsed.” Page Turner nodded and began walking down the aisle. “I’m somewhat familiar with the period surrounding the rise of the Night court. Though, I will admit, it’s been some time since I’ve read up on it. If I recall…” she trailed off, bringing a hoof to her chin. “It should either be in one of the secure rooms.”

Her ears flicked. “Why would it be in the secure rooms?”

“Oh, any number of reasons.” Page Turner swished her tail and lead Twilight toward the back of the Archives. “Some information might be considered sensitive to the state, others required a more dedicated place for the consolidation of information. I believe information on the Night Court’s influence would fit into the latter category. As far as its influence into the art community, anyway.”

Another flick of her ear. That’s certainly different. Twilight made a mental note to check up on that front later. Per Princess Celestia’s request, the Night Court’s artist influence would remain the initial focus of her research.

She spoke, keeping her voice casual, “I have it on good authority the Night Court was less an actual court like its daytime counterpart, more of a gathering of artists where Princess Luna served as de facto judge of sorts—the literal Matron of the Arts, if you will.”

“Yes, I’m familiar with the title. Such a shame that it’s been lost to time,” Page Turner said, sighing and shaking her head. “Princess Luna’s reputation suffered a great backlash in the immediate years following her banishment, one that persists to this day. It’s a small mercy that Nightmare Night and those horrid bedtime stories are all that remain.” A frown marred her muzzle, she tutted.

Twilight’s ears drooped. “I suppose I’ll need written permission from Princess Celestia for access, won’t I?”

Page Turner shook her head. “Normally, yes, but you’re permitted as her student to access nonclassified information for academic purposes.” She cast a sidelong glance, as if surveying Twilight a moment. “Research into art history would qualify yours.”

Before Twilight could give reply, Page Turner turned to trot back down the aisle, this time taking a left toward the darkened wall at the far end of the archives.

Squinting to help peer through the dimly lit room, Twilight was able to make out a trio of solid oak doors, each bearing a gold handle and horn hole; which would, no doubt, bey keyed to the magic of the current archivist or Princess Celestia herself.

Though, with Luna returned, she would be granted the right as well.

Page Turner approached the leftmost door, which bore a familiar crescent moon mark at the top-center of its woodwork, and hummed to herself. “I usually organize by information consolidated, sensitivity, or need for restoration. This room, specifically, houses all information on Her Royal Highness, Princess Luna; as mandated and organized by Her Royal Highness, Princess Celestia centuries ago in order to safeguard the information.”

Her ears flicked again, the choice of words brought a question to the tip of her tongue, but she stopped short. Research the influence first, then look deeper. Princess Celestia would know more on the matter, anyway. “Then the other two seperate the level of clearance and restoration?” Twilight asked, feigning innocent curiosity.

“Correct. Though, there are other rooms for higher security, of course. These two are on the lower end.” She smiled and offered a playful wink. “I’m afraid the most you’ll find here would be any trysts with various mares and stallions Princess Celestia might’ve had over the past few centuries. You won’t find anything about covert operations of the Night Guard, or secret notes confirming the tyranny of Princess Celestia, or whatever silly notion you young ponies might have.”

Snorting, Twilight raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’ve heard anything quite that ridiculous!”

“You’re probably too young to remember that craze. Ask your parents, or perhaps the princess herself. She was quite amused with the whole ordeal, if I recall correctly.” She gave a wistful sigh. “Ah, the sixties! I was just a student at the School for Gifted Unicorns back then!”

With a shake of her head, Page Turner stepped forward and bent her head low to insert her horn. She channeled magic through her horn and into the lock, then gave a twist. The latch clicked as the lock opened. Page Turner withdrew her horn and stepped back, gesturing toward the door with a hoof. “Any information we have in the Archives will be found in this room. Would you like assistance in finding the works you’re looking for?”

“No,” Twilight replied with a smile. “I should be able to manage on my own. Thank you for your help, Miss Turner.”

“Of course. It’s always a pleasure to help a curious mind find the knowledge she seeks. If you need anything, ring for me using the bell in the room, and I’ll be along shortly.” With a bow of her head, Page Turner swept away, returning to her work.

Twilight laid a hoof on the doorhandle, her tail swished in her excitement. This was it. A chance to find what it was her friend had lost so many years ago, what she so desperately wished to regain in present time.

And, perhaps, what lead to her fall to the darkness to the same jealousy that poisoned her soul for a thousand years.

With trembling hoof and no shortage of trepidation, she pushed the door open, and was greeted by the familiar musty scent of dried pages.

Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw the shelves lining the circular room, each filled to the brim with texts. Judging by the faded coloration of their spines, along with the telltale signs of creasing, they were all quite old. Ancient, even. A lone wooden table with a single chair rested at the center of the room.

She managed to suppress the squeal that arose from the back of her throat until after she’d kicked the door shut. Trotting to the center of the room, standing just before the table, she did a quick turnaround to survey the room.

Where to begin? Her eyes danced over the neatly labeled shelve; sections on her first days after accepting the Dual Crown, the Night Guard, Dawn and Dusk Ceremonies, even some on Luna’s personal relationships with famous figures of Equestrian lore seemed to leap out to greet her, tempting her with their siren song. A tiny gasp escaped her throat as another caught her eye. She all but bounded over to read it up close, blinking as if to clear spots from her sight before reading again.

The Art of the Night Sky: History’s Greatest Canvas, by Her Royal Highness, Princess Celestia.

Her horn lit with a magenta glow. With great reverence, she pulled the book off the shelf and brought it to hover just inches before her face. She opened it and turned to the inside title page.

“For my loving sister, Luna, the Princess of Night and Matron of the Arts. This is my tribute to the greatest work I have ever known and had the fortune to behold, one that I can happily admit incapable of matching. May your beautiful night skies dazzle our ponies for thousands upon thousands of years, little sister. Love, Celestia, Princess of the Day.”

She froze, her eyes quickly scanning the words again. “Princess Celestia wrote this?” she whispered, awe tinging her voice.

Sneaking a furtive glance around the room, as if worried that Princess Celestia might be waiting to leap out from some crack between shelves and catch her in the act of disobeying her, Twilight bit her lip. True, she’d promised to read up on the Night Court first, but this…

How many books had she read by Princess Celestia herself? Especially one dedicated to Luna.

“One little peek couldn’t hurt. As long as I take a few focused on Night Court as well.” Smiling and quite proud of her logic, Twilight floated the book over to the table, gently placing it down.

Twilight moved toward the Night Court section, fighting against temptation to disobey her teacher just a bit more and pull a few more books off that particular shelf.

Focus, she chided herself.

Guiding her hooves to trot toward her destination, Twilight fixed her eyes on the books lining the Night Court shelf, wandering over the titles on display. She reached up to touch the spines with her hoof, tracing along the names written in fancy, curling script.

Blessings of the Night seemed to jump out and beg for attention with its beautiful silvery script and dark blue backing. Twilight pulled it off the shelf and sent it to rest on the table with her previous selection, then turned back to find a few more of its brethren to bring along.

After all, what was a party without a few friends?

The Matron’s Favor, A Pauper in the Matron’s Court, and Guiding Light of the Moon soon floated off the shelf and over to the table to rest atop their companion. There were just so many to choose from, so many different choices on the Night Court’s influence.

From tales of Luna’s blessing to young artists, to stern rebuking for those who dared copy another’s work and try to pass it off as their own to garner her favor, the Archives had it all and more.

Twilight found herself all too familiar with how the Crusaders felt when Pinkie Pie set down a jumbo-sized banana split with hot fudge, offered each a spoon and a merry “Dig in, girls!” when they’d come in, down in the dumps, after a rough day at school dealing with a pair of bullies.

The only question was where to start.

With a bounce in her step, she trotted over to peer at her selections. Her horn flashed, each book levitated off the table and hovered in a neat lineup before her eyes, like she was organizing her troops for battle.

So many choices, so little time.

Guiding Light of the Moon caught her eye again, the light glinted off its title like a tiny foal in the back of the class, desperately waving its hoof to give an answer to the teacher’s question.

“Alright then,” she said, placing the rest in a neat pile on her left side while floating her selection down to a rest in the center of the table. “We’ll start with you.”

Twilight bit her lip to hide an excited smile. It was like Hearth’s Warming morning for her; the knowledge of a long-forgotten age laid bare before her very eyes. With great reverence, she opened to the first chapter, inhaling sharply as she first looked upon the elegant script, written in fading ink.

I remember it like it was yesterday. My mentor, Maestro Bolero, came to me the week before and asked if I had finished my most recent score, one I had labored at for the better part of a year until I found it near satisfactory.

Confused, I told him that, yes, I had indeed finished it. “However,” I noted, “I wish to work on it more.”

“More?” he asked, eyes wide and jaw agape. “My dear, Werner, that piece has consumed you for eight months at least, and shown me each draft! The most recent was brilliant!”

“Many thanks, Maestro,” I replied. “But I must confess a lack of satisfaction with the second movement, which I will henceforth address.”

Maestro Bolero scoffed and flicked his tail. “Nonsense! Your dedication is admirable, my dear Werner, but your perfectionism will drive you mad one of these days!”

Naturally, I raised my claw to object, but he waved a hoof and pressed on. “Leave the score as it is, do not dispose of it yet. You and I will journey to the Night Court in one week’s time.”

“The Night Court!” I cried, my feathers bristling. “Me? A Griffon? To stand before Her Highness, Princess Luna? Surely you jest!”

“I make no jest, Werner. It has already been arranged. You will go with me and you will stand before her.” He stepped forward, seeming to loom over me despite his smaller frame—quite the feat for a pony other than the Royal Sisters. “And you will bring your finished score.”

I recoiled. My beak dropped in shock and utter horror, ready to give a thousand reasons why not, but each died in my throat at the sight of his set jaw and stern gaze.

There was but one answer. “Yes, Maestro.”

“Very good.” He nodded, turning to leave my quarters. “Come, dine with me and take time away from your work. You will need all your rest if you wish to make a good impression when our Princess receives you. She will be delighted to meet such a prodigy of the arts, and one who puts his very being into his work!”

Still, my anxiety persisted. “But, Maestro, surely she would not waste time on a—”

“On a griffon? And a student, at that? Ha!” He glanced over his shoulder and flicked his tail across my beak. That devilish smirk made its way across his muzzle. “The art does not discriminate age, race, or culture, Werner. You know that well.”

“So you have told me. But Princess Luna—”

“Princess Luna is the art, my dear Werner. She will look upon your efforts with a smile and tell you what she thinks of your work, like a loving mother to a foal—or a chick, in your case. After all,” he said, pausing for effect.

“We artists are her children of the night.”

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