• 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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41: The Shadow of Night's Past

The words echoed throughout the secret gallery hidden beneath the Royal Archives.

Twilight could feel the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. Her mouth worked wordlessly for a moment as her mind raced at blinding speed to make sense of what she’d just heard.

“This is where I come to remember the night before I took the light from her stars.”

Princess Celestia let out a mournful sigh. “I suppose I can’t fault you for being more than a bit confused.”

“That,” Twilight said gravely, “is the understatement of a lifetime.”

“I would imagine so. I hope you don’t mind if I give you a rather condensed version of our history before Luna’s Night Court rose and fell. We are, after all, here to help her, not to indulge me in another night reminiscing over my folly. Or how thoroughly I destroyed her.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout and cocked her head to one side. “You’ll have to forgive me if I find that hard to believe. I mean … you adore Luna!”

Princess Celestia gave a pained smile in reply, her ears drooped and pinned against her rainbow mane. “Oh, yes. I always have and always will. However …” She turned to let her gaze sweep slowly around the room, lingering on each of Luna’s magnificent works as if she were afraid they might turn to dust before her very eyes.

Or, Twilight thought, how much she misses the days when Luna produced such beautiful art and didn’t struggle to interact with her ponies.

With a shake of her head, the Day Princess gestured to the table. “Perhaps it would be best if we sat down. This is going to be a bit … difficult.”

The young mare frowned, flicking her tail. “Princess, if you’re worried about how I might take this because I’m dating Luna, there’s no need.”

“I appreciate your saying so, but I wasn’t talking about how you might take it, my dear student.” Princess Celestia heaved another sigh, then slowly made her way over to sit at the table, softly setting the books down in the center. Her entire posture slumped beneath an unseen weight. “I wasn’t talking about you at all.”

Twilight’s ears drooped. In all her years under Princess Celestia’s tutelage, she had never seen anything like this. The mare before her, this mare with her head bowed and eyes downcast, wasn’t the shining Princess of the Sun who bathed Equestria in the gentle glow of her splendorous radiance. Nor was she the mare who guided Equestria into a golden age of peace and prosperity in the wake of betrayal and pain of legendary proportions.

This wasn’t the Princess Celestia Twilight knew at all.

Princess Celestia was, perhaps for the first time in recorded history, just a pony.

Yet, at the same time, she wasn’t. What other pony could claim to know such pain? A thousand years of waiting.

A thousand years of sitting in the gallery wallowing in regret.

Slowly, the student approached her beloved teacher and took her seat directly across the table, her eyes never leaving her mentor, her friend.

Another sigh left those ancient lips. For a moment, Princess Celestia seemed to wilt and show every bit of grief in those last thousand years without Luna. “You’ve learned by now that my sister is—was long known as the Matron of the Arts, along with many other titles,” she said. “Guardian of Dreams was another. Mistress of the Night, too, if I recall.”

Twilight nodded once. “She told me the first and sort of hinted at the other two. She had an inclination toward the arts, if I recall. And the dream realm is her domain.”

“Ah, I’m afraid you’re only partially right. It’s not just the dream realm that falls under my darling sister’s domain, but all of Equestria the moment my sun has set.” Princess Celestia raised her eyes to meet Twilight’s. “And all art, whether it be music, literature, performance, painting, or craftwork is her arena. The truth of the matter as to why the Night Court drew Equestria’s greatest artistic minds for generations is, simply, that she is their muse. Or, at least, she was in those days. Yet another disservice on my part.”

Her mind raced faster and faster. Twilight glanced around the room, licking her dried lips. “Then if she was the muse who inspired artists with all she did …”

Princess Celestia gave a rueful chuckle that made Twilight’s belly twist. “What was I? And how do I explain the last thousand years of glorifying the day and the more romantic styles?” At Twilight’s nod, she continued, “The shift in style came about when I attempted to take the reins. A temporary fix, or so I hoped. However, when ponies noticed that I preferred things neat, orderly, and cast in light, they followed. When Cadence ascended and took her dominion over love, the oceans, foalbirth and ponies’ more … sensuous urges, I saw a little bit of Luna in her and passed the arts over in hopes that things would return to the old ways.” Her lips twitched. “While it did make things a bit more free spirited, I daresay Luna would likely have steered things away from the, ah, electronic genre.”

“Luna did note it’s merit, even though she didn’t particularly enjoy it.”

“I’m certain she did. However, such words in her Night Court would have had rippling effect in the height of its influence. With that said, there is one question I’m sure you’re waiting to ask.”

Twilight paused a moment, thinking hard. If Luna was the night, the Guardian of Dreams, and Matron of the Arts, and Cadence was love, the oceans, foalbirth, and sexuality …

Princess of Day and She Who Raised the Sun were obvious enough. But what else was there?

It clicked. Her taste in art. “Your domain,” Twilight began, “it’s something to do with keeping everything in order, isn’t it? Governance?”

“Close, my dear. Very close. Motherhood, for one.” Princess Celestia offered a wan smile. “I have loved foals since I was young, and teaching brings me joy the likes of which no pony has ever known. But along with that, I am, in a word, the Protector of Law. I was the one in the wake of Discord’s terror who brought things back to order while Luna taught ponies that it was okay to look at things just a bit differently. In addition to that—” here, she stopped short and closed her eyes again, as if the memory brought her great pain.

The way her shoulders tightened as a shudder ran through her body made Twilight’s ears stand up straight.

Princess Celestia lit her horn and took up Werner’s journal, idly flipping through a few pages. Her eyes opened just enough to skim through. “Ah, yes,” she muttered. “Werner always had such a lovely way of describing me. Though, not entirely without merit.”

Curious, Twilight leaned forward in silent prompting.

Her teacher straightened up and read. “I remember the day I visited perfectly,” she read aloud in a faux, mockingly lofty tone. “Maestro Bolero led me through the Castle of the Two Sisters, deep in the heart of the Everfree Forest. Ponies stopped and stared as I passed them by. I saw no shortage of Royal Guards tightening their grips on spear shafts, their eyes glinting like steel beneath their gleaming gold helmets. A shudder ran to the tip of my tail. There were many stories of what those little ponies could do on the battlefield. Many a war veteran spoke of the gilded protectors of Equestria with the utmost respect, whispering tales of battle as if they have expected it might summon them. Or their great herald.”

Their herald?

Twilight made as if to interrupt, but Princess Celestia held up a hoof. Questions would be held at the end of her reading.

”She’s been excited to meet you,” my Maestro told me. “I think I even made her favored Child, Tempo, jealous when I showed her a few of your old drafts. Oh, her eyes lit up like the very stars she graces us with!”

I found myself returning his eager grin with a nervous smile. My feathers twitched and knees knocked as we were admitted to the Throne Room. I felt them watching me, following me with suspicious glares and hooves gripping spears so tightly the shafts creaked. A reminder that, even after the wars between our countries had ended, those old feelings still lingered.

Conversation within the Throne Room stopped, just as in my nightmare. I felt a cold tingle run to the very tips of my plumage as the sea of ponies turned to stare at me. Some out of confusion, others curiosity, and more than a few with distrust written upon their faces as plain as the words on this page. But then I dared to face forward to focus on the mare I’d come to see and my heart promptly leaped into my throat. Both thrones were occupied. It was not merely the doting Matron of the Arts who awaited me on the dais--so, too, did her sister, the mare who stood at the head of Equestria’s army and brought down the wrath of the very sun she raised and set against those who dared visit harm upon her ponies.

It was at that point Princess Celestia stopped reading for a moment. Her shoulders hunched, her eyes were clenched shut as though in terrible pain.

It hit Twilight in that instant. Her teacher was in pain. The mere memory brought it to the surface, but in that day …


Princess Celestia let out a shuddering breath and gave her head a shake. “Apologies,” she muttered. “I’m not proud of how distant I was in those days. Nor of what I did, even in the name of protecting our ponies. How could anypony be proud to say they sent her own off to battle? Even when she went with them.” Her eyes clenched shut once more. “And how much it pained me to feel so distant from my ponies, while Luna seemed to laugh and play … and then the guilt that followed.”

Twilight flinched. Her ears pinned back against her mane. “Everypony feels a little jealous at times,” she said softly.

“Oh, yes. But that doesn’t change how much I wished I could have hidden it better. Maybe then, Luna wouldn’t have taken it upon herself …” The Princess of Day shook her head, then resumed her reading, “Their eyes fell upon me. Ancient purple and teal pierced me to the very core. Princess Celestia had risen from her seat, flanked by a pair of guards, and paused in bidding her sister goodnight to survey me a moment. ‘Ah,’ she mused aloud, her brows raised. ‘T’would seem your favored Child has brought an odd guest into Our Court, sister.’ Princess Luna smiled so bright it was like dancing stars in the night sky. ‘From odd guests come wonderful creations, sister mine. And need We remind thee that thy sun has long set. This is Our Night Court now. All who come in good faith are welcome.’”

She paused a moment to frown and let out a breath through her nose. Then she turned to peer at the next page. “I won’t bore you with the recount of my initial distrust of young Werner, but, admittedly, I was rather cool, even by my nature in those days. Things were still rather tense between our nations, and I was concerned with allowing one to come so near my little sister and her favored Children of the Night. More often than not, to the detriment of my self-image.”

“But to protect her,” Twilight added hastily. Her tail twitched nervously.

Princess Celestia’s smile turned decidedly wooden. “I think it would be best if you read for yourself just how beloved she was.” She laid the book down upon the table and slid it over for Twilight to peruse.

Curiosity and a want to help her teacher pulled Twilight in opposite directions. She bit the inside of her cheek, her eyes flitting between the words on the page to Princess Celestia and back again.

They came down to the gallery to help Luna. Not Princess Celestia.

Still, she couldn’t help but feel … wrong thinking that. But how could she help?

“When this is all over,” she said slowly, “you and Luna need to talk about this. We all do, I think.”

Another shake of Princess Celestia’s head came in reply. “We have, many times. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.”

With that final push, curiosity won. Twilight furrowed her brows and turned her attention to the Werner’s journal, and began to read.

Once Princess Celestia left the Night Court, with her gleaming guards and their suspicious stares, there was a heavy silence. I daresay if I tried to fly, I would have found myself grounded by the sheer weight of it all. The looks, the silence, the not-so-subtle shifting of eyes between myself, Maestro Bolero, and the ponies around them. I could see the question running through their minds.

“Why did Maestro Bolero bring a griffon here?”

“Is this some sort of sick joke?”

“Do griffons even have music? This one looks more like he’d sooner screech himself hoarse!”

Perhaps not quite accurate, but the sentiments were present. I, a griffon, had wandered into the very center of the Children of the Night. I dared stand before their loving Matron, and they wished to know what sort of gall it took for me to do so.

Naturally, Maestro Bolero let it roll off him like water off a duck’s back. He bade me to follow him toward the dais, his steps light and head held high. That bright smile was spread across his face as if we were about to go play on the veranda rather than meet Princess Luna herself.

We came to a stop within easy reach of the dais. Maestro Bolero beckoned for me to bow low with him, and I did so, nearly touching my beak to the floor in my haste to show proper respect and avert my eyes from the splendorous pony before us—I cannot recall which drove me more: her beauty and dazzling smile, or my fear of retribution for any perceived slight.

A musical laugh floated through the air and tickled my ears like a harmony of flutes. “Bolero, my Child, rise. Goodness, thou must have filled this young griffon’s head with such tales of US for him to bow so low!”

Maestro Bolero rose and returned her comment with a smile. “I can hardly be faulted, Princess. You’ve done so much for all of us I felt it imperative to share it with him. As for his bowing—” he cast a wink in my direction “—I believe that is just my young student doing his best to make a good impression.”

“Truly? Well, then.”

My head still bowed, I heard her rise from her Throne. The steady clip-clop of pony hooves on the cobblestone floor made my heart hammer in my ears. I confess, I entertained the notion of turning tail and flying from her presence as I saw silvery horseshoes and powerful midnight blue hooves stop within my vision. Then I felt her breath upon my ear.

“There is no apparition or nightmare for Us to banish, young griffon,” she whispered. “We pray thee rise and look upon Us, Werner. We have awaited your visit with bated breath so We might meet Our newest Child of the Night.”

My shoulders tensed, I did my best to keep my wings folded tight against my sides. I raised my head slowly, shakily and met her eyes as commanded.

There were no fangs, no slitted pupils, no baleful look that promised punishment for daring to tread into her Night Court. Instead, there were dazzling teal eyes that glittered like the stars, a beautiful obsidian tiara upon her head, a soft, velvety midnight coat that contrasted the lovely smile upon her face.

I felt as though the moon itself—no—the Night itself was gazing upon me. Approvingly, at that.

And perhaps she was.

Princess Luna waggled her ears. “Much better,” she teased, then reached out and gently bopped my beak. “We are pleased to admit you into Our Night Court at long last, young Werner.”

I licked my beak nervously. “Th-Thank you, Your Highness. To be in your presence is truly a—”

Again, she bopped my beak. “I pray thee not be so formal. This is as much thy Night Court as Ours.”

“It is?”

“Verily,” she replied, loud enough that her voice carried throughout the Throne Room. “All who give their love to the arts have a place here—pony, diamond dog, and, yes …” She drew away to shoot a look at the crowd, her smile melted away for just an instant, a stern frown in its place. “Even griffons.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw no small number of ponies look down at the cobblestones or off to the side, their ears drooping in shame.

I confess, I took a measure of satisfaction in the way she so cowed them. After Maestro Bolero and I had left, of course.

My focus at that time, however, stayed on her as she turned her attention to me once more and offered another glimpse of that dazzling smile. “Let us move on to happier subjects. We have heard of thine affinity for musical composition.”

“The best I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching,” Maestro Bolero put in.

Her lips twitched. “So We have heard,” she replied with humor tingeing her tone. Princess Luna arched a single, slender brow. “May We see thy latest work, Werner? We are curious to see what it is that has Our jubilant friend prancing through the streets these days.”

While Maestro Bolero attempted to sputter that he most certainly did not prance, I retrieved my score from within the confines of my bag and presented it to her with shaking talons. “I-I hope you’ll find it enjoyable, Your Highness,” I stammered, cursing my traitorous tongue. “This has been an effort that has taken me the better part of the year to … polish.”

A teal glow engulfed her horn, then my score. “Be at ease. Bolero has impressed upon Us the love that went into thine efforts,” she said softly as she plucked the pages from my talons and floated them over so she might read them through. Her teal eyes went wide as if to take in every detail, every note, rest, and shift in time.

All was silent throughout the Night Court. I could hear ponies drifting closer, ears perked and necks craned to take in her reaction. They wished to know how she would receive me. How a griffon’s work would reach the Matron of the Arts herself.

I, on the other claw, was trying not to melt into a whimpering mess.

After several moments of shuffling through pages, reading through the music, and humming the tune to herself—and she did hum it exactly as I dreamed it would sound—Princess Luna looked up at me once again and beamed. My legs promptly turned to jelly.

“Marvelous,” she praised. “We look forward to the day thy music graces Our concert halls. Pray tell, what is this piece called?”

So dumbstruck was I by her praise that I didn’t dare speak until Maestro Bolero nudged me with his shoulder. I shook myself and parroted, “Called?”

A wave of laughter swept through the crowd. I felt my cheeks burn as she waited expectantly.

Truth be told, I had yet to think of a name. All I my efforts over the course of the year leading to this point, when I would have the chance to stand in her presence, had been about the music.

Then I heard a clipped cadence of hooves striking the cobblestone. From our left came a young stallion of chestnut brown coat and slate gray mane combed over one side, with a black tuxedo and white shirt worn underneath. My beak fell open. I recognized him immediately.

It was Tempo Rubato. The youngest Maestro in the land, the favored Child of the Night.

He approached us without speaking, pausing to nod in respect to Maestro Bolero before turning to bow to Princess Luna. “Princess,” he began, his voice soft, yet it carried across the hall, “may I?”

Her eyes flitted toward me. “If the young griffon approves.”

Stormy gray eyes turned upon me. I nodded dumbly, my voice caught in my throat.

His horn lit a shimmering silvery gray. Tempo Rubato accepted my score from the Princess’s grasp, then began to look over it himself. After a few seconds, his brows raised and nearly disappeared beneath his bangs. “Admirable work, though I confess, I would likely have avoided so many changes in time signature,” he mused before floating the pages over for me to take in my talon. The young Maestro gave me a respectful nod, then bowed to Princess Luna once more before turning to trot away.

A few steps later, he stopped as though in thought. “Anno del Grifon,” he called over his shoulder, glancing back at me.

I furrowed my brows. “I’m … sorry?”

“I would not presume to name another composer’s piece in his stead,” he replied smoothly, “but given the opportunity, that is the name I would choose for yours. It comes from my homeland, Istallia.”

“I see. And what does it mean?”

Tempo Rubato’s lips tugged into the smallest of smirks. “Year of the Griffon.”

Once she finished reading, Twilight took some time to mull over the differences in Werner’s account. Namely, those in how each princess was received. Luna was the doting, motherlike figure, while Princess Celestia …

It was almost an exact reversal of modern times.

Princess Celestia gave a wan smile. “You see how I meant it.”

“I do.” Twilight closed the book and set it aside. Her tail twitched. “It … doesn’t seem like you meant to be cold, given what you said, but the way he looked at her was so similar to how they look at you today.”

“Yes. I had many years to work to repair my image. Luna, on the other hoof …” She shook her head. “Luna sacrificed everything for me. She took notice that I felt distant and was growing wearing of having to constantly leave to battle our enemies alone. To that end, she came to me with a proposal. She offered me a way to rekindle my relationship with our ponies.”

Something about her tone sent shivers down Twilight’s spine. Her eyes flitted to the book resting beside Princess Celestia’s hoof, and the answer came to her in an instant.

“The Night Guard,” Twilight whispered. “That was it. She offered you a chance to take a step away from the battlefield, and then created the Night Guard to fill the void.”

Princess Celestia cocked her head to one side. “Close, my dear. Very close. You are correct, she did create the Night Guard to help alleviate some of the stress, but she had no intent of joining the field of battle on the frontline. Her solution did allow me a reprieve, though. But at a terrible price. In multiple meanings of the phrase.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout. Again, she glanced at the book, then her teacher.

The Night Guard weren’t quite like the Day Guard today. But if they were so different in the past, if their place didn’t lay on the frontline—or at least, not primarily so …

They were sneaky. Mischievous. They acted in the dark and felt more at home in the shadows than daylight.

It clicked.

Her ears drooped. “But … how would she … Luna was so happy. She would never …”

The Princess of Day hung her head. “I wish it were as you say, but just as there was, and is, no length to which I wouldn’t go to protect those I love, there was no depth she would not sink to protect those she held dearest.” With a heavy sigh, she lit her horn and slid the second book over for Twilight to see. “Luna was never one to match me in terms of power,” she said softly, “but her tricks made her quite suited to create a group to fight the darkness by becoming it themselves. And what better race to help her than one scorned for their appearance and reputation as thieves and assassins in that age?”

Thieves and assassins.

Twilight’s heart fell into the pit of her stomach as she looked down at the title of the book.

Secrets of the Night: A Comprehensive History of the Night Guard. Beneath it, the name Silent Night met her gaze in silvery script.

Silent Night sounded oddly familiar. Twilight had to wrinkle her snout. “I know the name from somewhere. Sleepless Night, I think?”

“Sleepless is one of Luna’s best Guards,” Princess Celestia replied. “He’s been seeing a rather charming mare, from what I’ve heard. Dreamweaver, if I recall.”

Her ears twitched. “I do know her! I met her at the coffee shop the night after Luna and I—” she stopped short, a blush arose in her cheeks. “Uh … anyway. Sleepless comes from a line of Night Guards?”

“He does,” came the reply, tinged with amusement despite the oppressive mood. Another heavy sigh followed. “He’s a good stallion, though he does live up to his name. Or, at least, his reputation among the monsters from far off lands has led them to many a sleepless night.”

Another cold shiver ran through her at the implication. That was it, then. Luna’s remorse, that haunted look in her eyes whenever she thought of how she lost the love of her ponies, all out of an action she knew would cause herself untold pain.

All for the love of her sister and the ponies they watched over.

Doubt crept into her chest. Did she really want to know how far Luna had to fall from her lofty perch? Oh, she knew the ending, of course. She had lived part of it.

But did she really wish to see that loving smile Werner spoke of fade away, or the dazzling lights in her eyes to die and become the cold, cruel eyes of the mare whose name would frighten foals for a thousand years?

To help her, Twilight reminded herself, yes.

With a tug of magic, she opened the book to the first chapter and began to read.


Until this point, all accounts of our race’s history have been passed down in story, from parent to foal. For years, that was the tradition of the bat ponies, so to better keep their origins, their beginnings, safe. So to was it meant to keep the nature of their service to the Princess of the Night a secret to Equestria’s enemies.

The times, however, are changing. The bat ponies have come out of the shadows enough to converse with their cousins. Earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns have joined our ranks. My parents were a result of such a union—Lance Corporal Nightshade, bat pony mare with years of service, and Tempest Wing, a weather pony for the Castle of the Pony Sisters. I believe I hold the distinction of being the first Night Guard who wasn’t a pure bat pony. An honor I have tried to live up to.

At Princess Luna’s request, and with the blessings of the Elders, I write this to provide our kin, our future comrades, and our fellow Equestrians with a recounting of how we went from thieves and rogues to protectors. What follows is a tale of a race who thought their days were numbered, that they would meet their end freezing in the loam, scorned by their own brethren.

Until the day she came and forgave our crimes. For a simple price:

Your protection.

Author's Note:

Thank you for sticking with the story for the past couple of years. I appreciate you all for sticking with it, even though my update speeds haven't always been great.

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