• Member Since 4th May, 2013
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Estee


On the Sliding Scale Of Idealism Vs. Cynicism, I like to think of myself as being idyllically cynical. (Patreon page.)

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This story is a sequel to Blessing


All Rainbow wanted to do was give her friends what she saw as the ultimate gift: the placement of their marks within the night sky. But the offer was a lie. And after Twilight finds out what happened with Rainbow's trial run, she heads off to confront the con artists and get Rainbow's bits back. After all, nopony can just go and create an official constellation just because they feel like it.

But recovering the money isn't that simple.

And neither are constellations.

(Part of the Triptych Continuum, which has its own TVTropes page and FIMFiction group: new members and trope edits are welcome. However, this story can be read as a stand-alone, with no knowledge of the others required -- and while it's technically a sequel, it's not necessary to have read the previous story first.)

Now with author Patreon page.

Chapters (5)
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Comments ( 84 )

This makes me want to get my 'Craters on Jupiter" business going. I suppose that makes me a terrible person.

Welp, I've been eagerly anticipating this since, um, since the blog post where you talked about it. So, a handful of days. Still, it was very strong anticipation. I have a good feeling about this one...

You got my attention, I will read this after blessing.

Ah, the dreaded Exact Words. A con's first ressource. Curious to see what Twilight does with that. Of course, I'm going to read it now.

Well, damn it, sort of saw it coming, but still painful. Some things just can't be taken away from people...

It's probably been mentioned before, but quite a few stars are actually long gone. We're only just seeing their light after it traveled light years to reach us. Which I guess adds a whole new layer of awful to the whole business. People are being conned into buying something that not only isn't for sale, but hasn't existed for ages.

This wasn't what I was expecting. That is by no means a bad thing. The end result is something beautiful and tragic on a number of levels. Luna as princess of what is not makes the best kind of sense, and the Moon-raising was incredible. As always, thank you for this.

Well, that was heartbreaking. As expected.

I must admit I was really hoping it wasn't going to have the, to describe it somewhat flippantly, 'that's life for you; nothing to be done' ending. The people who say that tend to be proven wrong in the end. There are generally things to be done. If nothing else, in real life they have to keep coming up with new cons because people get wise to the old ones or because legislation really does weaken their efficiency and increase the risk.

(ETA: I do remember that this is a real-world scam that still exists. Which is tragic. Still, many do not.)

I'm reminded of this quote I read a few years back:

Suffering and evil are nature’s admonitions; they cannot be got rid of; and the impatient efforts of benevolence to banish them from the world by legislation, before benevolence has learned their object and their end, have always been more productive of evil than good.

That was The Economist magazine in 1848, criticizing proposals for making a sewer system in London.

Ideological issues aside... Great story, and I'm glad to have contributed to the idea process :twilightsmile:

Um, the opening chapter seems to have been unpublished again, which might prove very confusing to incoming readers. Perhaps you took it down for sudden rewrites, but in case not I just felt someone should let you know.

I came looking for your regular type of political satire sprinkled with eye-opening realisations, dipped in comedy and slathered in excellent world-building. Instead I had my heart crushed. Who gave you the right to crush my heart? Who has bestowed to you this power, and when shall the goverment stop your sinful hand?

Also, favorited and liked. But that's nearly automatic with your work.

PS: Just realised, all this stuff you've written about this particular Equestria, with all the world-building and so on that you've done, would make a pretty cool handbook. Or something similar anyway. Just saying.

Damn, that moon raising was awesome. And I love the discussion about faith in the garden.

Really great story all around. I love the way this resolved, too, with RD and Twi still ending up picking out stars...

That moment with Luna and the Commander was pretty fantastic as well.

I bet Twilight's plan isn't gonna work... 'Cause sentimentality... I think I know where this is going, but however it goes, I've enjoyed what I've read...

This is a good Sad story.

That conversation was as I expected, and it was good. :pinkiesad2:

6204268
Technically true, but most of the stars you can actually see without a telescope are a bit closer. Not that that absolves the con of any of its other sins....

The delightful thing about your stories my dear fellow, is that I never know what to expect from you. Sometimes it's a single innuendo dragged across multiple chapters, or searing political satire, or the most sliced up slices of life I've ever read. A heartbreaking con-artistry story is a fine addition to your bibliography. Quite... astronomical.

I think somepony just learned about the concept "victimless crime."

Poor Twilight. She has that desperate faith that Fajr and other poor ponies mentioned have; but her faith is put in Rules.

That's been obvious throughout this story. Twilight believes that there are Rules, which Must Be Obeyed. And when she's reminded that there are no Rules, only rules... she seems to take it poorly.

6204268
There's an extremely solid argument that those stars haven't died, for us, until we see their final flare, as until that moment we're not causally connected. :twistnerd:

And two had whispered to her from different shadowed alleys, one offering field booster drugs, and the other tulips.

Heh. Ban's still in place, Celly?

You know, I vaguely remember that blog post. And you did such a beautiful job of the conversion to a story, as the best ones are those that make us try to decide which way the story should break and get caught in the middle. So glad Luna didn't wind up playing the hammer in this. Far superior than any treatment I could have done to the concept. +1

A sad tale. Trouble is that in any "realistic" setting, this will eventually make it into the papers, which will not be so concerned about people's reactions. And of course, like with the real-world con, many will ignore what the papers reveal or just not read them: but some ponies will probably end up killing themselves.

Cons are rarely victimless, regardless of legality.

(Was RD suspecting that there is some sort of cover-up going on about their activities?)

Powerful stuff. I wonder if the other Bearers from the set that included Luna and Celestia number among the Ancients?

6204173

As the ECMCR is based on the ISR, their defense was always going to be the same as the original.

Well, damn it, sort of saw it coming, but still painful. Some things just can't be taken away from people...

Parts of both Luna's reasoning and response to the situation were meant as a callback to A Mark Of Appeal: "So -- why do you believe I could ever hate you so much as to take away a dream?"

And yes, the one-line paragraph immediately above that one just turned into a time bomb.

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6204391

With the Moon-raising... tropewise, this officially solidifies Luna's local hold on The Sacred Darkness, which may eventually wind up on a page. It's also the first real Badass Creed to appear -- and in the modern day, it's one of four: there's also a creed for Moon-lowering, and Celestia has two of her own. (A pair of Moon-related ones, created when Celestia was maintaining both parts of the cycle, are no longer used.)

There were several points during the writing where I was desperately wishing for more fonts.

(ETA: For CDA readers, it was also a hint as to why Bree was chosen as an agent.)

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(ETA: I do remember that this is a real-world scam that still exists. Which is tragic. Still, many do not.)

There is a sucker born every minute
Each time the second hand sweeps to the top
Like dandelions up they pop,
Their ears so big, their eyes so wide.
And though I feed ‘em bonafide baloney
With no truth in it
Why you can bet I’ll find some rube to buy my corn.
‘Cause there’s a sure-as-shooting sucker born a minute,
And I’m referrin’ to the minute you were born.

Each blessed hour brings sixty of ‘em
Each time the wooden cuckoo shows his face
Another sucker takes his place,
And plunks his quarter on the line
To buy my brand of genuine malarkey.
God bless and love ‘em!
But don’t feel sad or hoppin’ mad, or cause a scene
‘Cause there’s a sure-as-shooting sucker born a minute,
But Ma’am, you mighta been the minute in between.

If I allow that right here in my hands
The smallest living human man
The sight of that is surely worth a dime
If I present an educated pooch
Who’s trained to dance the hoochie-cooch
What better way to waste a bit of time?
If I import at monumental cost
A lady, fair, whose head was lost
While crossing railroad tracks to pick some zinnias
Who eats farina through a hose
And wears pink tights instead of clothes
If that ain’t worth a buck, my name ain’t Phineas!

Aw, you say that’s hog wash, well, who cares?
You’ll buy my hog wash long as...

There’s a sucker born every minute
Each time the second hand sweeps to the top
Like dandelions up they pop,
Their ears so big, their eyes so wide.
And though my tale is bonafide baloney,
Just let me spin it,
And ain’t no man who can resist me, wait and see
‘Cause there’s a sure-as-shooting sucker born a minute,
And friends, the biggest one, excluding none, is me!

6204388

PS: Just realised, all this stuff you've written about this particular Equestria, with all the world-building and so on that you've done, would make a pretty cool handbook. Or something similar anyway. Just saying.

:applejackconfused: I already have enough things I'm not getting paid for.

It probably is about time for a new thread in the Group, though.

6204467

I wanted to mostly keep this on the low-key oppressive side of Sad, especially during that discussion. If the whole thing came off as melancholy, then I did my job. If it came across as Melon Collie, then I did my usual job.

6205395

She thought she had that supplier closed down!

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And some of the local papers really don't care who gets hurt. The best protection there may be how widespread this is -- victims generally don't like admitting it, and if any among the Loyal Opposition was fooled... well, there are books. Lots of them. And they all record the names.

(Was RD suspecting that there is some sort of cover-up going on about their activities?)

I've said that Celestia at least tried to keep the media off their tails for the first two years, but that fell apart after the wedding. This is more of a call-forward to when Rainbow starts writing it down herself, along with noting the running joke that most of S1-3 Equestria seems to respond to the presence of the Bearers with "...who?"

6206446

I wonder if the other Bearers from the set that included Luna and Celestia number among the Ancients?

:twilightsmile:

6208154
I'm a hopeless idealist, but at least I'm self-conscious about it :facehoof:

This was a great story, it went from funny to sad to rather poignant.
One thing that stood out to me is: Is the ECMCR actually a terrible group of con artists? It seems like they promise some pony a constellation based on their cutie mark, which just seems to be a fancy way of saying "We will give you a map with a pattern you can find on your own in the sky if you look for it." They make it semi-official by publishing an obscure book, so only the pony who buys a constellation and their friends and family will actually know about the constellation.
I guess the con is that the original, more widely recognized union of astronomers doesn't learn about the new pattern the ECMCR created, and it isn't actually taught to ponies on planetarium field trips, although it sounds like the planetarium actually gets a fair amount of its traffic from sad ponies picking out the constellations from their loved ones and drawing comfort from that.

I suppose ponies wouldn't pay 55 bits if they realized other ponies will get to claim the same pattern if they have the same cutie mark (although that 145 extra Rainbow paid was for the fancy frame which she got), but this doesn't really feel like a terrible crime to me, any more than selling someone a fancy coffin for their deceased family member. So I guess my question is, where is the harm done?

6208579

So I guess my question is, where is the harm done?

Lets just say that one day another pony walks into the planetarium, looking for their constellation. Fajr is there. They have their little heart to heart. They find out that their two separate constellations share some of the same stars. Letters to ECMCR go unanswered. The physical office is hard to find, and has powerful spells to conceal. As a former teacher, he tracks down the books.

He discovers that the tribute to his wife and daughter is filed as "Fiction."

This pony actually attempted suicide after the loss of his wife and daughter. Their memorial is a lie. What is that going to do to him? At that point the money exchanged in the con is irreverent. The heartache is real and may just kill him.

There are no victimless crimes. It's just that society thinks the victim is worthless.

¡Damn conartists! ¡Approaching grieving dams and sires who lost foals and offering to name constellations after them! ¡These fraudsters cannot name constellations! ¡The Princesses should throw them all in prison and throw away the keys!

¡These conartists are as scummy as homeopaths!

Miss Twilight Sparkle is too rational to believe without evidence. After thousands of years, I suspect that the Princesses would know better to believe without evidence; for, after all, ponies believe that the Princesses have abilities, such as the Blessing, the Princesses do not possess.

¡You give those cheats at the International Star Registry and all of the other phony registries, Lunar Realtors, et cetara the what-for!

6204268

Almost every star visible to the ape-eye is still alive. The shortest lived stars live millions of years, and all stars close enough to see are, at most, a few thousand light-years away. It is safe-to-say that over 99.9% of naked-eye stars are alive:

1 visible star which probably is dead is Eta Carina. It is visible in the tropics and southern hemisphere. It is very unstable. It keeps on almost exploding. It probably did explode by now, but the light has not reached us yet.

One cannot get stars named after deceased loved ones, but one might me able of homestead on other worlds. Somepony on Tellus (Earth) cannot point at an astronomical object and claim ownership without physically living on it:

6211587 So I've been told.

Still, I doubt the CMCR or its real life equivalent care enough to confirm whether said stars still exist or not before selling them.

6211814

The fraudsters could not confirm whether a star has died before the light reaches Equus anyway.

"Get your money back."
And maybe a little more than that.

TO WAR! May our enemies die a death of a thousand stinging paper cuts dipped in acid!

"Hey girl...wanna buy some tulips?"

-
The thought of that made me giggle

Poor Luna
I wonder who the Commander was
I can guess, but I'm not completely sure

6208579

So, the thing about these sorts of scams is that there's a pretty big disconnect between the marketing and the actual product. The presentation to the customer is one that'll toss in words like "genuine" and "official" along with more flowery terms like "eternal" or "romantic" and generally make an incredible effort to gently lead a person to a particular conclusion that doesn't accurately reflect the nature of the product while conveniently drawing you away from the less glamorous fine print. You know that's their intent, because the second you start leaning on them, they'll fall back to a much more rigidly crafted, well-rehearsed narrative wherein they accept no liability, this is all for entertainment purposes, our terms were clearly stated on page 63 of a well-hidden document on our website, etc. That's marketing, and that's generally a mundane, if annoying, evil. In the vast majority of cases, the people who buy into this sort of thing are in a position like Dashie was in this story - and Luna's position is totally correct in those cases; they're legal, caveat emptor.

The harm from selling a lie - or something legally distinct from, but very much resembling, a lie - comes when you encounter cases like Fajr's. People who've recently lost a loved one are often some of the most vulnerable in the world. In a lot of cases these people will do anything to reclaim *something* of what they've lost. Often, that ultimately takes the form of a belief that their loved ones continue to exist in some form, and are happy and content, and lack of evidence be damned. When they come to that conclusion on their own without coaching, fine, to each their own - but when your business is focused on exploiting that vulnerability, and using it as a vector of attack to extract some cash from them? That's utterly, utterly abhorrent. Hell, you could even argue that in such a state people aren't even competent to enter into any sort of contract - desperation can definitely impair rationality even worse than drugs or alcohol given the right person. Not only that, put yourself in the position of a friend of someone like Fajr who was forced to stand there and watch him get conned. What if you wanted to tell him that maybe there's a better way to honour the memory of his wife and child than tossing bits at some con artists trying to sell him a pretty lie? Could you do it? When a lie seems to be lifting someone out of despair, do you take that away and maybe throw him in deeper? And silence from people you *trust* on this topic must be equivalent to them vouching for the authenticity of this salesperson's story, right?

Thing is, in addition to claiming someone's bits with shaky consent, it totally strips agency from people who care about the target and *want* to advise against this sort of thing - it certainly took the wind out of Twilight's sails here. It totally robs power from the target *and* damages the ability of the people who want what's best for them to restore it - that's straight up predatory, is what it is.

For something like a star registry, that's probably only a chunk of their business plan. Sure, they're gonna push the recently bereaved to pay for the Premium Ultra Platinum Frame and the Brazilian Gilded Registry Book package - but that's only a little more terrible than when they sell their base package to the guy who wants something to bring up at parties, and a few hundred bucks in a situation like this might not be the most harmful thing in the world to most people (not that it would matter one way or the other to the seller) - but why stop there? Maybe pretend to be a "psychic medium" and extract a few thousand bits by role-playing as their loved ones. Hell, start a new "religion" and fleece them for everything they've got. Tolerating this sort of behaviour from the wrong people accepts that letting others have the power to potentially ruin lives is okay. I realize we're talking about a far less extreme case in this instance, but the same *legal* defenses exist across that entire spectrum, and so do the same arguments for why it's morally *wrong* to allow them to feed on vulnerable people.

That said, I agree with Luna's decision here. She was very much wearing her Princess hat, and in that case her ultimate concern should be with what's just - and she was - but fortunately or unfortunately, just doesn't necessarily mean right and I rather disagree with her moralistic defense of her position. Best to pull the rug out from under the charlatans right away and maybe do some harm to a few people than let the problem fester and do potentially less harm to more people for a longer time.

6211325
Did you really just compare homeopathy to the E.C.M.C.R.? :twilightangry2: Homeopathy is invaluable,¹ providing what mainstream medicine refuses to,² and offers efficacy mainstream medicine can only dream about.³ To compare the two is defamatory in the extreme, and frankly I’m sickened that you would stoop so low. :pinkiesick:


¹ No, really, it cannot be valued.
² i.e., placebos.
³ Well, nightmares are a type of dream…
The E.C.M.C.R. provides a good that has, at the very least, value as a novelty, whereas homeopathy only offers a false sense of security that can get you killed.
No, really, how could you besmirch the E.C.M.C.R. like that?

6211190 Yeah, I'd say these charts don't belong in the fiction section, more of an art section since it seems to be a book of artistic maps of cutie marks overlaid over the night sky. Yes, Fajr could dig in and demand his book be moved from "fiction" to "mythology" (or as I like to call it, fiction emeritus), where presumably the "official" constellations are kept. I think part of the question raised here is, how much of a scam were the first constellations compared to the ones around now? What if the first astronomer pony had told everyone around him he would show them where the star that represents Commander Hurricane is for 50 bits? Is it just a grandfather that the astronomers who happened to be around at the time ponies started writing down constellations get exclusive rights to interpret the night sky forever?

6215047 That's a good point, the group here is able to charge a large profit premium on the assumption that their work is eternal. It kind of is, in the sense that A) In this version of Equestria at least, the stars don't seem to move, so that pattern of stars will stay up there until at least one of them goes out, practically forever by mortal measure. and B)Those books with the pattern will set in the archives forever, at least until they disintegrate, though I doubt anyone will ever read them.

We've kind of focused on selling to the families of the departed, so let me ask you about this as a comparison: Many religious and non-profit organizations will let you make a donation in the departed person's name that gets you a little plaque with their name and in memoriam put up somewhere on their building. They use the same kind of marketing that the ECMCR uses, implying eternity and such, but no one actually bothers to read that plaque except the family of the person who paid for it, and that building will end up torn down in a few decades and rebuilt, as so many are. Is that the same con?

If a good friend of mine lost a family member, and they spend $200 getting a fancy star chart named after said family member, I would feel they were less "conned" than if they spent $2,000 on fancy flowers and a tombstone, since both things have the same effect.

6215861

I was intentionally sidestepping issues about the major religions in my first post to avoid causing unnecessary arguments, but I will say that they certainly have the capacity and machinery to pull off this sort of scam, yes. And some churches definitely do so. I'm sure it's not all of them, and there are plenty of religious folks who honestly believe what they say and that sharing those beliefs help the bereaved. I might not believe that myself, but I can separate a claim (true or not) made in good faith from one in bad. It becomes a scam when they knowingly sell an implication of something they have no right to, but deliver a lesser product that they do have a right to. It's a bait and switch which works best on people who aren't thinking straight, or can't be bothered to read the fine print, with the intent to take something from them for the con artist's own benefit. If a church is heavily leaning on someone to donate to them in exchange for a plaque? Not cool with me, at least. If that becomes a mainstay of your church staying afloat? Well, at that point you're Scientology, which we can probably all agree is a net harm to society.

Yes, the charts are official - but it's not the office we led you to believe. Yes, the stars are (in equestia, probably approximately) eternal - but the association with your loved one is not.

It's funny you should mention that these should be considered an artwork rather than a copyright on a natural phenomenon. I was expecting this story to end with the company being shut down for producing unlicensed derivative works of another artist - that is, Luna. And that's the thing, they aren't original works of art. The legal defense is that they're delivering what they promised - a pretty (if low quality) framed sketch and a line in a book that no one will ever care to read. If they did otherwise, in Equestria at least, that opens a whole new legal can of worms to defend against. If they believed their sales pitch and weren't aiming for a profit that would be a nonissue. It's not, so they care about their legal standing very much.

As for tombstones and flowers? Personally, that fantastic bit of world building about pegasus culture is totally on the mark - cremate me. And don't waste bits on a memorial, just remember why you cared about that person in the first place. Go revisit that mountain you climbed that one time. Certainly don't try to paint names in the stars. Even if the constellation is, by some miracle, remembered, ain't no one gonna remember much about them, or even how they got up there in the first place.

6216033 Yeah, but what is "official?" Official meaning like 100 astronomers are going to know about it and no one else will ever read about it, as opposed to "unofficial?" That some board of obscure star-gazers gives a particular pattern the nod or not? That really doesn't seem that much more official than what the ECMCR does. And of course they care about profit, you can't do anything unless you stay in business. And anyone who wants to stay in business has to be very careful about their legal standing, especially in this Equestria, where we've seen a lot of rather frivolous lawsuits filed.

I also thought it would end the way you described, that Luna actually moves the stars around and therefore has exclusive rights to claim constellations. (That would actually be a very interesting thought experiment. If you create a famous painting, and I create a plastic overlay of dots that purports to show a cool pattern in your painting, have I infringed on your copyright if I sell my plastic overlay?)

I agree though, that tombstones and flowers, like a star registry, are pretty useless to the actual deceased.

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Exactly, that's the trick! And what Twilight got wrong, too. If Twilight Sparkle can't find the correct procedure for naming new constellations, well. Thing is, there *are* no rules for what's "official" - and imposing artificial ones destroys the reason we care about the constellations in the first place. They came about over a very, very long period of time being passed through generations of historians and scientists. No one person has either capability or right to dictate what's relevant to culture. Even Luna herself couldn't sell you a personalized constellation - she could probably give you one that looks much better, but it wouldn't carry the weight of history with it, which is the product people are trying to buy. Once you throw a cultural concept to the machinery of commerce you wind up with something that's very, very different than it originally was, if only because you suddenly have a massive surplus of it. The trick is they're selling the feeling of the former - something that takes forever to build up and cannot be done artificially - and delivering the latter - a mass-produced imitation that has no history. That literally didn't exist before today. To people who don't understand that, or are desperate enough to push the thought of it aside. Companies *want* to turn a profit (unlike a registered non-profit, such as an idealized church), but that doesn't imply the manner they're going about it is acceptable. They're probably in good legal standing in this case - like I said, Luna was being just - but that doesn't mean I won't be happy if the idea that they're a scam becomes ubiquitous to everyone in society. I also wouldn't be opposed to Equestria instituting some truth in advertising laws.

As for the plastic dots thought - I'm thinking probably not, unless you used a print of the original art piece as advertisement. In the case of stars, if they literally just gave you a chart with no attempt to duplicate the original image of the sky, they'd probably be violating Luna's hypothetical trademark, rather than copyright.

6216122 This might be the core of the issue:

Once you throw a cultural concept to the machinery of commerce you wind up with something that's very, very different than it originally was, if only because you suddenly have a massive surplus of it. The trick is they're selling the feeling of the former - something that takes forever to build up and cannot be done artificially - and delivering the latter - a mass-produced imitation that has no history.

I agree with you that this is exactly what they are selling, but I think where we disagree is that in an intangible asset like this, the feeling is the product being sold. I don't see that as a scam, any more than buying digital hats on Steam games is a scam, or getting people to pay more for "luxury goods" is a scam, even if those luxury goods are objectively similar in quality to a more utilitarian product and just have a better marketing campaign that justifies their higher price. That's what marketing is, selling feelings to get you to pay more, it's a vital part of the economy. As for those who buy into the idea that culture has inherent and exclusive value, and want to pay more to exclude others and do so as a status marker, if it's inside their own heads they get what they pay for.

Truth in advertising laws that would prevent this will probably have to have mandatory language like "buying this ethos brand product does not make you a better person, nor does buying name-brand clothing make you a cooler person."

I feel bad I didn't read this sooner.

This is really good.

I'm really glad you pointed out that all constellations were fake, and I love that the original constellations were apparently made by Luna and Celestia themselves to remember dead loved ones.

I reviewed this story!

My review can be found here.

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FYI, this doesn't require you to have read Blessing to understand it. I haven't read that yet, and I grokked it just fine.

6204307
The thing is, as Luna (correctly) notes, constellations don't actually exist. They're not real. They're imaginary lines WE draw in the sky. Indeed, the ending of that chapter, with the moon-raising, makes it pretty explicit that Luna herself came up with "The Commander".

What is actually even darker is the implication that Luna knows there is no afterlife, but is either pretending there is because she finds it too painful to bear the idea that dead ponies are gone forever, or is trying to pretend for Twilight's sake. And Twilight, being the smart pony that she is, now knows that there probably isn't an afterlife, given Luna's response.

That being said, I don't think knowing that is actually all that dark. I think it upsets people to some extent, but I don't think it is an especially helpful thing to believe in. Not that many people truly believe in it anyway. There's a reason people are sad at funerals, and they don't just act like someone went away for a while, but forever.

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