• Published 29th Jul 2015
  • 15,287 Views, 2,840 Comments

Her Knight in Faded Armor - Doccular42



Princess Luna still feels alone, nineteen years after her return to Equestria. When she finds a friend in an online game, everything seems better. But not all is well in Equestria, and a sinister plot threatens everything that Luna holds dear...

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PUGs, Scones, and Talons

“Okay, I’m coming back for you all.” Luna twisted lithely, dodging several augmented Zebran guards who charged at her. Her draconequus form lifted into the air and hung there briefly as she prepared a spell. With a blinding flash of light, stinging green liquid fell from the sky and covered the forest floor.

Luna chuckled as she opened up a portal and stepped through it. She reappeared at the other end of the small clearing. Now that she was safely away from her deadly spell, she turned around to look at the carnage. The acid tore through her foes, ripping into their flesh and leaving only the cybernetic enhancements attached to bones. She raised a clawed hand, and the forest shimmered in a purple light. The zebras froze in place and screamed as the trees themselves turned into pink elephants and swatted at them with their enormous mallets.

She walked toward the glowing form of her three comrades. All three of them were transparent holographic representations of themselves, since their bodies were lying lifelessly on the ground. Their killers had just become rather occupied by Luna’s spells, all except for one.

The last guard who remained by the corpses snarled. He leapt toward Luna and raised his vicious zebran battle axe. Luna didn’t even flinch as she raised her shotgun and fired four rounds right into the beast. He fell to the ground with a bloody gurgle as he passed into the next life.

Luna reached down and picked up the three recovery boxes that lay beside the corpses. She knew that these boxes included an emergency personality dump as well as an immediate DNA sample. If she could get the boxes back to a regen station, her friends could rejoin her in battle… that is, if they lived long enough, of course.

A blip appeared on her HUD, and she read the words quickly.

>Fawkes: dang, that’s nice

Luna looked back to see the last tree return to its original position as her Chaos magic faded away from them. All of the Zebras lay dead or dying, either crushed to death or incinerated by her acid.

“That’s what happens when you focus your classes, Fawkes,” Luna said in reply. As the only one with a mic, as well as having all of the best gear and the most equipment, it had fallen to her to be the party leader. “I take a Chaos focused race, chose a buffing class as my main, and then take two Chaos classes as my minors. Then I trade my racial class for a Favored perk. Favored by Discord, of course. The end result is a control and buffing focused character that can handle herself in combat. By level three, I have enough perks to get one or two core abilities, and the build is nearly unstoppable until level eight, when the monsters reach third tier. And the Favored abilities help massively, of course. ”

>Jexxc: wow. arent the favored perks really hard to get?

“Yes, they are,” Luna said. She activated her stealth field and swiftly flew forward. She nimbly dodged two sets of mobs and deployed a Chaos rune as she passed. A moment later, she grunted in satisfaction when the rune exploded and several Chaos shadows spawned to attack the enemies behind her. “It took weeks of farming to get all three of the perks.”

>Fawkes: wait. You have all three?

“Indeed!” Luna chirped gleefully. She rounded a bend in the path and nodded to herself. There, crashed in another clearing, was a spaceship. She knew from running this quest countless times that she could find a regen station inside, if she could crack the control panel on the ship. “I can only use one per character, but I do have access to all three. My main is a Chosen by Celestia Hacker, and I’ll just let you know that the perks are completely worth the farm.”

She glided lazily over to the entrance of the crashed ship and reached out one pawed hand to type on the panel. Her visor displayed the parameters of the coded command console.

“C6 panel… Zebran type enemies… hmm… I may have to buff for this one.” Luna reached into her inventory backpack and pulled out a vial of blue liquid. “Ah! This Alchemist is quite useful sometimes!” She drank the contents of the vial and started typing on the panel.

>Fawkes: wait. your main. is that the memory build? hacker/celestia?

Luna smirked. “Actually, my main is the Memory build. I’m Memory Mirror.”

Fawkes’ avatar jumped up and down furiously and then stood still.

>Fawkes: NO WAY

Luna typed in the last command to open the door. It slid open with the grinding moan of metal that had long since lost its proper shape. “Yep! That’s me.”

One of the other avatars suddenly stopped moving.

>Ville: afk

>Fawkes: I can’t believe it! YOu’ve maed some of the best builds on the game! MEmory, Recover, Blended, Niac!

Luna laughed at the misspelled words and falsely capitalized letters. “Well, maybe not the best, but I try. Thank you.”

She wafted into the ship and immediately dropped all three of the recovery boxes onto the floor. Fawkes’ and Jexxc’s shadowy avatars ran over to the recovery station and revived themselves.

Jexxc stood tall as a Minotaur Rager. He held a massive hammer made of glowing purple energy, marking him as a Spellsword affiliated with traditional magic. His armor glinted blue due to his cybernetic augments, and his eyes glowed silver. Luna figured he probably also had some training as a Cyber and a traditional Warrior. That made him the perfect tank, if he could only stop rushing right into the fight, tripping over traps, and falling off ledges. Luna had lost count of how many times she’d had to take him to a regen, but she didn’t care. He was a new player, and he seemed like a nice guy.

Fawkes was the team’s caster. He was a unicorn stallion, and he’d already told her that he was following a build off the forums. His white robes swirled around his legs, and small glowing robots flew all around him, scanning his body armor and shields for any anomalies. As a traditional unicorn mage, he had a double dose of old style magic that he supplemented with cybernetic augments and the training of an Architect. He specialized in heavy hitting medium range spells, but he was rather undergeared, which had led to two deaths when Jexxc hadn’t kept the aggro off them.

And then there was Ville. She was a meticulously designed Breezie Hacker. At least her cosmetics were very well chosen. Her build was atrocious, she could hardly fight, and she spent more time AFK than playing the game. But her character sure was beautiful, and Luna guessed that she had probably spent twenty-five real life bits just on her cosmetic items.

Fawkes ran over to her and jumped up and down.

>Fawkes: wait a sec…

He froze in place, and, a moment later, the scratching of a microphone being turned on filled Luna’s ears.

“Hello?” A cracking voice that Luna guessed belonged to a teenaged colt asked. “Is this on?”

“I can hear you, Fawkes,” Luna replied. “Hello!”

“Oh, wow. I can’t believe that you’re Memory! Why are you running a level three quest?”

Luna cautiously stepped out of the ship and checked her surroundings. She waved her taloned hand, and her companions followed her out of the ship. Luna had assumed the role of the scout since Ville was AFK and useless anyways, so she went first.

“Well, my partner is sleeping, so I figured I’d try out the new update.” Luna spotted an unalerted zebra guard several meters in front of her. She also noticed another on the edge of her vision. She smirked. “Wait, both of you. I want to show you something.”

She charged a portal. After opening one up as high in the air as possible, she cast a quick silence spell on the guard. Then she opened the second below the nearby guard’s hooves. The unassuming guard fell through the ground and tried to scream as he reappeared several hundred meters up in the air. No sound left him, however. Luna quickly drank a glowing green potion, and she felt her Chaos energy recharge.

Just before the guard hit the ground, Luna reopened a portal beneath him, and he once again appeared all the way up in the air. He fell in the same path, but much faster. Luna then used the last of her Chaos magic reserves to cast a new portal right above the second guard. When he fell through the portal, he reappeared above his comrade and crashed violently down upon him. Both died instantly, and Luna smiled.

>Jexxc: dude! thats so aewsome!

“Wow! Talk about thinking with portals!” Fawkes cheered. “But why didn’t we just snipe them?”

Luna flashed a spell up into the air. The sparkling light covered herself and her friends, and their views all became shimmering and distorted. Right in between the three of them and the first guard was a slightly glowing purple barrier. Luna deactivated the spell with a wave of her paw, and the light started to fade away. “Kinetic detection spell. If we’d fired any attack type spells between there and here, the entire group of enemies would have been on high alert. Killing them without weapon fire or sound makes it so that nopony else would come to investigate. And, finally, portals are fun.”

>Jexxc: lol

“I’m guessing you’ve run this quest before then?” Fawkes asked.

“Oh, yes,” Luna said. “I run it with every character for the first time experience bonus. It’s rather easy since I usually have a good dose of Chaos power, and Chaos is the best spell type for this quest.”

“Do you make all of your toons Chaos users?” Fawkes asked while Luna used her magic to finish destabilizing the kinetic detection spell.

“Almost all of them,” Luna replied. “Chaos magic is the hardest to use since it usually doesn’t just do damage. It changes the rules, kinda like Code based attacks. But Code changes how spells and mechanicals function, while Chaos changes the physical realm. It’s really open ended, and I like that.”

“Huh, I hadn't really thought of that…” Fawkes said slowly. “Well, what if—”

Luna stopped moving quickly, and a text message from her appeared on everypony’s HUD.

>Mimicry: AFK

~~~

“—incess Luna?” A voice called out to Luna. The sound of a soft knocking at her door pierced the silence of her room. Luna blinked several times as she looked away from her screen and toward the early morning’s rays that managed to sneak past the drawn curtains covering her windows.

“One moment!” Luna replied after quickly muting her mic. She typed a message to her party members and then ran toward the door.

She opened it a crack and peered through to see the pony on the other side. “Yes?”

A Royal Guard snapped to attention. “I apologise if I disturbed you, Your Highness. But your sister has requested that you join her in the private dining hall for breakfast. She says that she has something to discuss with you.”

Luna blinked some more and shook her head. Her mane, usually shimmering as beautifully as the night sky, was knotted, and her neck felt terribly sore. She cleared her throat before she spoke. “Oh, uh, of course I can join her. Will you please inform her that I shall be there shortly? I have a few… matters to take care of first.” Luna smiled at the guard.

“Of course, Your Majesty. I will go at once.” The guard trotted away, and Luna sighed in relief. It simply would not do for one of her sister’s soldiers to see her in such condition. Or one of her own soldiers, for that matter. In fact, Luna would prefer it if nopony were to see her like this.

Luna shut her door and trotted over to the computer. Quickly, she typed into her chat box.

>Mimicry: sorry everypony, but I have to go. something just came up. send me a friend request here, and maybe we can run together again later

She quit her game as soon as she sent the message. She didn’t even wait to see if they replied.

“Okay, okay.” Luna trotted over to her bathroom and grabbed her brush. Her eyes wandered over to the clock hanging next to the mirror.

“Seven-thirty…” She murmured. A quick calculation told her that she’d played for eight hours that night. Three hours with Fade, three hours after, and two before. All in all, a pretty average night, although it may have been on the short side.

“But now, a far more difficult quest to face…” Luna muttered as she turned her steely gaze to the mirror and slowly raised the brush to her hair. She stared at her reflection and cracked her neck.

“Bring it on, brushy!”

~~~

Luna cleared her throat and straightened her crown as she stood outside the doors to Celestia’s private dining hall. Luna allowed her eyes to wander over the simple doors that made such contrast to the beautifully sculpted walls around them. The faded white paint on the unadorned wood of the door had been chosen very carefully. Her sister always put thought into everything that she did, and the choice of paint had an unmistakable meaning.

Here, there was no Princess Celestia. There was no Princess Luna. No Prime Ministers, no servants, and no students. There was only Celestia, and those with her were not her subjects. They were her friends.

It was possibly the most terrifying room in the entire castle, if one was not accustomed to it.

Luna nodded to the guard. He opened the door and spoke into the room before her.

“Her Majesty, Princess Luna!”

Luna slowly strode into the chamber. Soft red sitting pillows lay on the floor, surrounding a low table that was piled up with small pastries, fresh fruit, and other foods that Luna judged to be far healthier than what she’d been eating in her room all night. The walls were simple stone decorated with paintings from all of Equestrian history. They ranged from a portrait of a pony in the Age of Chaos to a print of a modern digital rendition of the sun rising over the ocean.

On the pillows sat three ponies. Luna recognized the first as Prime Minister Apollo Rector. The middle aged stallion had a friendly demeanor. His brown mane was simply styled, and his informal outfit complemented his white coat. Luna knew him quite well, and she could see the sparkle of laughter in his eyes as he turned to face her.

The second was First Secretary of State Blueblood. The stallion sat calmly upon his pillow and laughed at something that Apollo had just said. Luna grinned. The once haughty Blueblood had been humbled severely by twelve years of service in the Royal Navy. Celestia had seen to that. He was clothed rather formally, but he always dressed that way.

Finally, Luna looked at the third pony. Her sister, Princess Celestia, sat serenely upon her pillow and munched on a cherry scone. Her eyes widened as she saw Luna.

“Luna! Good morning to you,” Celestia said. She walked over to the other princess and drew her into a hug with her wing. Luna leaned into her sister and nuzzled her affectionately.

“Good morning, Tia.” She released the hug and turned to the two stallions. “Apollo. Blueblood.”

“Good morning, Luna,” Apollo said cheerfully. “Last night was beautiful, as always. I do enjoy seeing your handiwork as I fall asleep.”

Luna smiled back at him, wisely concealing how little time she spent on the sky when there were quests to be done. “Thank you, Apollo.”

“Greetings, Princess.” Blueblood nodded to her.

“Oh, Blue. You know the rules,” Celestia chided. “No titles in here. We’re all equal when we all have to eat.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that… Celestia.” Blueblood frowned as he said her name.

“Well, you better try your darndest,” Apollo said. “Or she might send you back to the Navy again!”

Luna giggled, as did Celestia. The two princesses walked back to the table and took their seats. Luna reached across the table and picked up a yellow and red apple.

“Well, that may not be the worst thing that ever happened to me. It did help quite a bit the first time.” Blueblood cracked a smile and took a bite of his own pastry.

“It certainly did,” Celestia replied. “There was a time that a comment like that would have been a mortal insult!”

Blueblood chuckled. “There was a time when none of you would have been able to bear my company. And neither would I, for that matter.”

Apollo sighed. “Well, I’m glad it helped you. Equestria gained a fine statesman.”

“And a fine nephew,” Celestia added.

Luna remained silent throughout the exchange. She watched as her sister laughed with the other two ponies. The way she moved, the tone of her voice. It all screamed “comfortable” at Luna. She was as adept at speaking to her subjects as she was at raising the sun… and Luna had neither of those skills. Luna hid a frown and turned her thoughts away from that subject.

“So, I suppose you are all wondering why I summoned you here this early,” Celestia said. She wiped her mouth daintily with a napkin.

“Actually, I thought it was because you like us,” Blueblood said dryly.

“Well, while I do enjoy all of your company, that is not the primary reason for calling you.” Celestia put her napkin down. “As you all know, the New Griffon’s Republic is sending their representatives to visit Canterlot in two weeks.”

“Mhmm,” Apollo agreed. He drank from his cup of juice, but his eyes never left Celestia.

“I have just received news of troop movement within their borders. The Republic has already conquered three neighboring nations. That is quite a feat, considering that they have only existed as a nation for as many months. And now, my scouts report that their troops are approaching our borders.”

Apollo set his cup down, Blueblood leaned forward across the table, and Luna gasped.

“We do not know their intentions, and they have so far appeared quite peaceful to us. They have been kind to all of the ponies within their territory, and have extended every courtesy to us. They seem to remember the peace we had with the previous regime. But the winners of their civil war have already shown themselves to be treacherous. If we consider how their new Communist ideology clashes with our own… The possibility of war is not one that we can dismiss lightly.” Celestia calmly adjusted the position of her plate and goblet.

“We already knew that war could potentially happen,” Blueblood said. “We’ve been quietly reinforcing the border between us since the start of their civil war. Most of our agents have retained their covers within the major cities, and we have dossiers prepared for all of the high ranking party members. I actually have them with me here.” Blueblood opened up his saddlebag and pulled out several folders stamped ‘Confidential.’

“Oh, you brought those with you? I thought you said that we were meeting because Celestia liked us so much,” Apollo said. He grinned at his second in command.

“Please, sir. I never go into battle with only one plan of attack,” Blueblood retorted.

“Touché,” Apollo said. “I also brought the agenda that we planned for the diplomatic talks, just in case.” He removed several files from his own saddlebag.

“Excellent.” Celestia beamed at the stallions. “Let’s take a look then.”

Blueblood opened up his first packet. “This is Dmitri Kvorof.” The picture enclosed showed a glowering brown and gold griffon. Luna judged him to be approaching middle age. He had a scar on his right eye, and his beak was chipped.

“He’s the head of the Party, and Chief of State of the New Griffon’s Republic. Goes by the title of Father. He killed the king in single combat at the start of the civil war. Perfectly legal in Griffonia, mind you. His revolution was supposedly due to deplorable conditions among the lower class. However, my spies report that he was trying to take power ever since he became a General in their army. Our analysts believe that he merely latched onto the public unrest and used his charisma to sway the nation to his side. He isn’t the best versed in his own political system, but that’s what his Vice Chief is for.” Blueblood opened the second folder.

“Father Dmitri… Did you know that thousands have already died because of that name?” Apollo murmured.

“Yes, and many more may be yet to come.” Celestia nodded sadly. “Please, continue.”

Blueblood pointed to the second picture. “This is Yvonne Talla. She is a political theorist, was the personal student of Starlight Glimmer, and is a follower of Cutie Mark’s ideology. If any of you are unfamiliar with Cutie Mark, he was once known as Knotted Pine. He was a farmer who lived in the late Discordian Era and predicted that the suppressed masses would one day band together to rise above the rule of so-called ‘greater beings.’ He assumed the name of Cutie Mark to symbolize something or other. I think Discord ended up turning him into a frog.”

“He did,” Celestia added. “He wasn’t the most pleasant of fellows and was slightly touched in the head. But he did inspire ponies to resist Discord, and his actions paved the way for Equestria as it is today.”

“Mhmm,” Blueblood hummed in agreement. “But Yvonne takes it far further than Mark ever did.” He slid her photo into the center of the table. She was a beautiful griffon. Her light grey feathers were complemented by the bright red uniform that she wore. She clutched a flag pole in her talon. The banner on it was red with the image of a single black tower as its only adornment. Luna recognized it as the flag of the New Griffon’s republic.

“How so?” Luna asked.

“Well, she is adamantly against all forms of ranking and nobility. I heard that she even tried to abolish military titles and wanted Father Dimitri to call himself only by his first name. Nonsense, of course. She also believes in complete subservience to the state. The subjects exist, and I quote, ‘Only to further the will of the father state.’ She’s been known to punish even the smallest incidents of disobedience with death.”

Apollo grunted. “Disgusting.”

“But despite all of that, she is a brilliant propagandist and her skill at building a new government from the ground up is nothing less than remarkable.” Blueblood turned the page. “Incidentally, she is also wanted for murder in Saddle Arabia. Needless to say, she’s not the nicest griffon around.”

Luna shuddered. The griffon’s predatory gaze was unnerving, even in a photograph.

“Finally, we come to the last member of interest, especially in this context.” Blueblood opened his final folder. “This is Jacques Chaput.” The griffon in this photograph, a male that Luna judged to be in his mid thirties, was dressed in a formal suit that went well with his black and white feathers. His eyes were a shimmering blue, and he carried a small smile in the picture. He sat on a comfortable armchair and was reading a book by the light of a fireplace.

“Interesting…” Celestia said. “I knew the others, but not him. Who is he?”

Apollo cleared his throat. “If I may? I have actually met the fellow, once.”

Blueblood nodded and handed the Prime Minister the folder.

“Thank you. Chaput is very different from the other three. He’s not actually native to Griffonia. He was born and raised in Prance and moved to Griffonia after graduating from the university. He has a doctorate in philosophy. After immigrating for reasons unknown, he enlisted in the Griffon Army. He received countless medals for valorous actions in the war against Yakyakistan. He quickly ascended the ranks and received an officer’s commission. After a nearly disastrous battle with the Yaks, he took command of the surviving Griffon forces by shouting the loudest in battle. Of course, he then saved them all by using superior tactics and a few maneuvers that we now teach our own officers when we train them.”

“A legend in his own time,” Blueblood muttered.

“Precisely,” Apollo agreed. “He was the only officer to survive the battle, so he took command of the survivors. But, instead of retreating as most expected, he actually used his surviving force to infiltrate the city that his force had been attacking. He managed to capture all of the enemy leaders and hold them hostage until the rest of the army arrived. By the time they got there, he had already negotiated a cease fire. His general arrived to find him eating dinner with the leader of the Yaks, with no weapons in sight.”

“Oh, I remember him now!” Celestia said. “We sent him a gift for his peaceful resolution of the conflict, did we not?”

“Indeed we did,” Apollo replied. “That’s when I met him. He was very cold, but polite.”

“So, what does he do in the Republic now?” Celestia asked.

“I’m getting there.” Apollo flipped a page in the dossier. “After the war with the Yaks, he received a promotion and returned to the capital to be knighted. It seems that this is when Dimitri picked him as a candidate to join the rebellion. Chaput appears to have agreed, because he stayed out of the fighting during the civil war three years later. When the rebellion appeared to be losing, he publicly declared himself for the new regime and encouraged others to do so as well. His status as a hero brought the opinion of the rebellion up in the eyes of the upper middle classes who were already discontent because of heavy taxation. Their support gave the rebellion the push that it needed, and his defection signaled the beginning of the end for the Monarchy.”

“So, he avoided most of the heavy fighting until he felt that he could wait no longer, and then he completely turned the tide of the rebellion, all on his own,” Blueblood said. “He’s canny.”

Apollo nodded. “He now works as one of the two High Generals of the Army. He travels around the country gathering support for the party. He’s also the head of their diplomatic branch.”

“And this is why he is the one who will be leading the diplomatic party to Equestria in two weeks.” Blueblood pulled a final folder from his saddlebag. “Here, this is the list of the delegates who will be attending.” He handed the paper to Celestia.

“Interesting…” Celestia read the list over and passed it to Luna.

Luna glanced down and skimmed over the names. The only one she recognized was Chaput. All of the other twenty names were meaningless to her.

“What of Chaput personally? Is he like the other leaders?” Celestia asked.

“He is a very private griffon. We actually know very little about his personal life, aside from the fact that he has a taste for fine wines, old literature, and classical music. He always acts politely to those he meets in public and does the same to our spies among the servants at the capital.” Blueblood took a sip of water. “I think he’ll be the most reasonable of the lot. I’m glad he’s leading the diplomats. We’ll have the best chance to negotiate peace with him.”

Celestia nodded in agreement and said something as a reply, but Luna wasn’t listening. The Princess of the Night looked down at her hooves and clicked them together. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. Fatigue pulled at the back of her mind as she thought about her bed.

She looked up a moment later, just in time to see Celestia gazing at her. Her sister frowned and turned to face the stallions. “This is all excellent. I would like to convene the rest of our group later today to discuss the details of the talks. For now, would you both excuse us for a moment? I have several things that I need to discuss with my sister.”

“Of course. Should I convene the meeting at the normal time?” Apollo asked.

“Please do.” Celestia nodded to the stallions who bowed and exited the room.

“Luna…” Celestia began as soon as the door shut. She stopped immediately and sighed. “Are you aware that this is the first time we’ve spoken in a week?”

Luna blinked in surprise. “Has it really been that long?”

“Yes. It has.” Celestia paced back and forth in the room. “I don’t know if you realize this, but I lowered the moon this morning.”

“What?” Luna asked. “How did—”

“I suppose that you forgot. Again.” Celestia turned to face her sister. Her face lost the serene expression that she always carried around other ponies. Instead of showing that mask, Luna saw Celestia as she felt in the moment. Disappointed. Saddened. Angry? Maybe.

“I… I…” Luna fumbled. “I’m sorry, Tia.”

Celestia sighed again. “Luna… what happened?”

“What do you mean?” Luna asked.

“What happened to my sister?” Celestia closed her eyes. “Before the Nightmare, you were always here. We fought Discord. Brought forth a new and brighter Equestria. Made a place of harmony and acceptance in a cruel world. Together.” She opened her eyes, and Luna could see a tear forming in her left eye. “You were my best friend, and I was yours.”

“Tia…” Luna began.

“No, please. Let me finish.” Celestia stood up. “Then the Nightmare came. I lost you. For a thousand years, I was alone. My best friend, my confidant. The moon to the sun. The only other light in the sky. You were my mirror, and you kept me in check. Then you were gone.”

Luna stood rigidly as Celestia started to pace.

“I had to send you away. It was the hardest decision of my life, Luna. You know this. I’ve told you before.”

“Yes,” Luna croaked. “I know.”

“But then you returned,” Celestia continued. “And I was happier than I’d ever been in my life. I’ve never felt such joy before. Time passed, and I watched my sister become a wise ruler. You learned to speak in the same manner as the rest of the ponies. You embraced the new customs. You had made friends… for a time.” Celestia looked Luna right in the eyes. “And then I lost you again.”

Silence hung in the air after Celestia spoke. Luna didn’t move a muscle, and it was if the whole world had stopped moving.

“You started by facilitating the merger of the Day and Night courts and appointing elected judges to lead them. I agreed. Our ponies need more say in their own rule. But then you passed off command of your Night Watch to General Shadow Streak. He is, of course, more than adequate for the job, but leading the Watch had been your greatest joy so log ago.”

Celestia resumed her pacing. “One by one, you delegated away all of your responsibilities. I found myself remembering those days when I ruled alone more and more. Then, a few months ago, you disappeared from the public’s eye. The papers have respected what they interpret as a desire for privacy, but most of the ponies are worried. They love you, sister.” Celestia walked right up to Luna. “And I love you. So I’ll ask again. What happened? What made you turn away from us?”

Luna couldn’t speak. The lump in her throat was too big. She closed her eyes and counted to thirty. But when she opened her eyes, she saw Celestia crying.

“Was it me?” Celestia whispered.

Luna broke down. She grabbed her sister and pulled her into a fierce hug. Sobs wracked her body. “Oh, Tia. No, no, no! It’s not you…”

“Then what is it?” Celestia clung to the smaller princess.

“I… I… I just…” Luna pulled away from Celestia. Tears streamed down her face. “I can’t explain…”

“Yes you can,” Celestia said gently. “Do you remember when I came to you when my dog died, all those years ago when we were just little fillies?”

Wiping away a tear, Luna nodded.

“I couldn’t tell you at first, but you told me something I’ll never forget. ‘I’m your sister. I know you better than you do, and I love you more than you do. Tell me.’” Celestia smiled softly. “So, Luna. I’m your sister. I know you better than you do, and I love you more than you do. You can tell me anything.”

Luna sniffed. “It’s just… it’s nopony’s fault. Not yours, not my friends, nopony. It’s me. I just can’t any more, Tia.”

Her sister stepped closer. “Why not?”

“I don’t know! I don’t even know!” Luna hid her face. “Tia, I wake up and I just want to stay in bed. I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to go outside, and I don’t want to see anypony. I don’t want to be a princess. I just…”

Celestia hugged her again. “Oh, Luna. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Luna asked. “It’s all in my head, not yours.”

“But I’m your sister, and you locked yourself away rather than talk to me. No, it’s not your fault.” Celestia held her.

“But—”

“Luna.” Celestia interrupted her. “Do you think you’re the only one who ever felt this way? It happened to me, when I was about as old as you are now. You slept for a thousand years, and I stayed awake. One morning, I realized that everything was so different from when we were with Mother and Father… and I had no family left.”

Luna stood still and listened.

“Luna, what you’re going through is normal. But you can’t do it alone. You can’t hide in a fantasy world and wish your problems away. I tried to hide from mine so long ago, and it doesn’t work. You need help. You need friends.”

“Okay…” Luna nodded.

“Luna, we need you. This is possibly the greatest threat we’ve faced from another nation in hundreds of years. They’re strong, Luna. We can beat them, but the cost in lives would be far too high. We cannot have war. It must be peace. We need this meeting to go well, and we’ll need you at your best. We cannot show weakness, and we must be united.” She nuzzled her sister’s neck affectionately. “I know it is hard, Sister. But you are strong. You are stronger than this.”

The Princess of the Night hugged her sister tightly. “Thank you, Tia. I will. I’ll be ready.”

“Luna, can you promise me something?”

Luna nodded, and Celestia continued.

“I want you to make new friends. I know you had some long ago, but now you need to keep pressing forward. Do you think there is at least one pony you could befriend?”

After thinking for a moment, Luna replied. “Well, I do have one friend… online…”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And have the two of you ever met?”

“No… But we do talk to each other whenever we are playing. We do lots of things together…”

Celestia stood still for a moment and then nodded. “Okay then. Can you meet them? Maybe for a drink or something?”

Luna cleared her throat. “Actually, he doesn’t live in Canterlot, so I don’t know if that would work.”

“Well, perhaps you find a way,” Celestia replied. “Or, you could always meet ponies here in Canterlot.”

“I suppose.”

Celestia smiled. “Thank you for talking to me, Luna. I’m always here for you. You know that, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” Celestia hugged her one more time. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some planning to do for my meeting. Do you think you could join me for breakfast again tomorrow morning?”

Luna forced a grin. “Yes, I believe that would be possible.”

“Perfect.” Celestia opened the door to the hallway. “Get some rest, sister. You look exhausted.” With that, Celestia strode from the room.

Luna sat on the floor unmoving. Her mind reeled from the conversation, and her emotions pounded at the back of her mind.

“Gah!” With a strangled sob, Luna teleported herself back into her chambers. She leapt onto her bed. Her tears fell once more.

~~~

Far away from the glittering spires of Canterlot, distantly removed from the peaceful air of Equestria, the stood a city surrounding a dark castle. The city was tired. Its denizens were sluggish and worked to the bone. A feeling of desperation hung over the city like a cloud. But if one listened closely, they might hear something.

A song on the wind. While they worked, while they slept, or even just while they stood in the street, the citizens heard it. They never quite recognized what it was, although it seemed so familiar. The singing of the stringed instruments would cut through the shadows of the day, and it told a story they never could. A song of oppression, but a story of hope in the dark.

Far above the ground, up in the castle, there sat a single griffon. His perch was a comfortable chair situated next to a window. Beside him was a small table that held his record player and a chessboard that seemed to be in the middle of a game. He held a glass of a dark red liquid. After swirling a talon in it, he took a small sip. His beak formed a smile as the music rose to a greater dynamic height. He closed his eyes and nodded back in forth in time with the instruments. The blend of the new music and the old instruments spoke to him, and he almost forgot about the dark city below him.

He opened his eyes just in time to see a small bird perch upon his window, a note tied to its leg. Gently, the griffon reached for the little animal. It did not fly away, as it knew that it had nothing to fear from him.

He placed the bird on the arm of his chair, running a talon along its head. The creature chirped and rubbed against him, and as it did so, he untied the note from the bird’s leg and read.

All is prepared. The pieces are in place. They will never know what hit them.

Comrade General Chaput smiled as he walked over to his fireplace. He carefully tossed the note into the fire and watched as it slowly turned to ash. He then went back to his seat. He looked at the small table beside him and picked up one of the chess pieces on the board.

He eyed the immaculately sculpted pony shaped piece and smiled as he set it back down.

He closed his eyes once more and allowed the music to wash over him. His smile returned, and he sighed.

“Soon.”

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