• Published 25th Apr 2016
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For the Good of Equestria - brokenimage321

In the wake of a great tragedy, Celestia tells, for the first time, just how much she's had to sacrifice for the good of Equestria.

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Chapter 16: Et in Arcadia

The next morning, Celestia woke refreshed and early. Her room had no mirror, so, using a small one from her bag, she carefully brushed her mane and tail, then applied her makeup. She pulled her crown, shoes and collar from her bag and carefully polished them, then, one by one, put them on. She spread her wings, looked for loose feathers, then looked again in the mirror, double-checking everything. She made a little adjustment to her crown and collar, then slipped the mirror back into her bags. She slung her saddlebags over her shoulders again, then stepped to the door and put her hoof on the knob.

And suddenly, it all came crashing down.

Celestia began to tremble. She took one, two, three unsteady steps backwards, then sat, heavily on the bed, her chest heaving. Little drops of sweat began to drip down the back of her neck as she stared around her room, eyes wide.

What was she doing? Had she really traveled the hundreds of miles to the Crystal Empire on her own? Into the heart of enemy territory? Could she have been that stupid? And all for what? All because Luna hadn’t answered her mail right away?

And what if she was wrong? What if she had wasted her time—everyone’s time? What if she had come all this way for nothing? What if—she swallowed—what if she really was being paranoid?

Celestia realized very suddenly that all she wanted to do was to go home. Not to Canterlot, or the to Summer Palace, but home—back where she could be a little filly again, with Mom and Dad and Cinder, back where her biggest responsibility was keeping the sky clear, where the biggest risk was a passing rainstorm. Let someone else take the responsibility. Let someone else save the day...

She grimaced. She was being stupid again. She was a Princess—she couldn't act this way anymore. She was that scared little filly too—and oh, what she wouldn’t give to have Cinder’s arms around her, comforting her, right now—but this was one problem she couldn’t run away from. Ponies needed her. Luna needed her. And she was not going to let them down.

She took several deep breaths, slowly forcing her fears back into their dark holes. She knew, somewhere in the back of her mind, that this wasn’t a good idea—that, sometime, she would have to face those fears of hers—but, right now, there wasn’t time. Right now, she couldn’t be nervous, or afraid, or unsure of herself. Right now, she couldn’t be scared little Cece, no matter how badly she wanted to. For her own good, for the good of Luna, for the good of Equestria—right now, she had to be Princess Celestia.

Gradually, her breathing slowed. Celestia listened to herself breathe quietly for several seconds. She swallowed, then gave a little shake of her head—and, suddenly, all was well. Once again, she was the Princess.

She sat on the bed for a few more moments, then stood. She turned and straightened up the bed with a quick flick of her horn, then opened the door and left the room. She descended the stairs to the main floor with practiced grace, then walked to the innkeeper, carefully ignoring the stares of the patrons.

“Thank you,” she said to the innkeeper, placing her key—along with a healthy pile of carats—on the counter. “I had a pleasant stay—and I appreciate your discretion.”

The innkeeper looked up at her, back down at the carats, then back up to her. “No, I-I couldn’t—” she said, moving to push them back.

Celestia put her hoof down first. “I insist,” she said simply. “You have done me a service, and you deserve to be paid.”

The innkeeper glanced nervously at the carats again, swallowed, then nodded. “You’re welcome,” she replied quietly.

Celestia smiled warmly, then turned and walked for the door. She paused on the doorstep and took a deep breath. She’d fooled the innkeeper, at least; perhaps she was better at being a Princess than she’d thought. She froze, then shook her head again. Come on, Celestia. Can’t think like that. Not today.

After a moment, she looked up, smile intact once more. She glanced around the street, then stepped out into traffic.

As she walked, she marveled. Say what you would about King Sombra, but his city was brilliant. Rather than the dark, cramped, twisted streets of Canterlot, his city was laid out in tight, geometric lines, with the major roads leading like spokes to the center of the city. As soon as she found one of these streets, she turned and began to walk down it, towards the hub. Towards the Spire. Towards Luna and her treaty and King Sombra. Towards whatever else awaited her there.

It took her several minutes to realize she was not alone. She glanced behind her and saw a small crowd walking after her, some pretending to look elsewhere, some staring openly at her. She smiled, then turned back to face the Spire. She felt the little filly in her heart begin to tremblebut another part of her smiled. Maybe it was wrong of her to appreciate the attention—but still, it felt like a good sign that the citizens weren’t completely terrified of her.

The Crystal Spire stood as a single, enormous tower, straddling a large, open square on three grand legs. Gathered underneath was a troop of soldiers, wearing steel armor to match King Sombra’s crown. Though some of them stood warily at attention, many others had gathered in small groups, chatting, keeping only half an eye on the passing crowd. But all of them straightened up as Celestia approached.

She smiled, then bowed. “I am Princess Celestia of Equestria,” she said, loud and firm. “Please announce me to His Brilliance and Her Highness.”

Two or three of the soldiers saluted, and one scuttled off towards one of the doors at the base of the Spire’s legs. But the rest simply stared. Celestia smiled wryly. Seemed this whole Princess act was working.

After several minutes, the guard returned. “Your Highness,” he said deferentially, then stepped aside—revealing four more guards, wearing ceremonial palace armor. Celestia stepped forward, nodded her thanks to the first guard, and committed herself to the belly of the beast.

The guards led her to a massive, crystalline foyer, with a six-pointed snowflake etched in the floor and two grand staircases that spiralled higher into the Spire. The guards moved to flank the staircases, but were otherwise silent; Celestia watched them for a moment, then walked over to one of the tall, narrow windows. The view was pleasant from up here, with the crystal roofs of the city twinkling in the false sunlight of the dome.

She tried to ignore the small crowd formed around the base of the Spire, staring up at her window. Attention was nice, sometimes—but too much started to smother. Besides—


Celestia whirled around—then broke into a wide smile. “Lu!” she cried.

At the top of one of the grand staircases stood Luna, smiling brightly and almost glowing with happiness. She practically glided down the stairs, then galloped into Celestia’s waiting arms. “You made it,” she said, kissing her on the cheek. “How was the trip? Did you have to come through the storm?”

“Hi, Lu,” she murmured. “Long—but don’t worry. I made it.”

“I know,” Luna replied, smiling. “And I’m glad. So glad.” She pulled Celestia a little tighter. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” she said, patting her on the back. “But I’m here now. I’m here.”

Luna squeezed her tighter, then finally released her. She wiped a tear from her eye, then gestured. “Come on,” she said. “I was just about to have breakfast.”

Celestia felt her stomach rumble and realized just how hungry she was. “That sounds amazing,” she said.

Luna led Celestia through the Spire, navigating the halls with the practiced ease of experience. She kept up a steady commentary for most of the journey, pointing out beautiful views, interesting tapestries or statues, or just chatting about her time there. Celestia chipped in a little, but mostly just listened. After so long apart, it felt so good to be together again. She had enjoyed her time as sole ruler, but it would be good to share the burden again—perhaps, she could even convince Luna to let her go on an extended diplomatic “vacation” herself...

As they walked, Celestia began to notice little differences in Luna. There were the obvious, of course: for one, she had started doing her mane in the Empire style—a complicated up-do, with small cuts of crystal and golden ornaments woven in—and, with the little stars already in her mane, the effect was stunning. She wore her makeup a little differently as well, making her look younger, almost more innocent. But most striking were the little details—the tiniest spring in her gait, the little smile lurking in the corner of her mouth, the slightest twinkle in her eye. She was obviously happy about something… it could be the fact that Celestia had finally made it, but… this felt different. Bigger.

Celestia mentally shrugged. If it was that important, she’d find out soon enough. For now, best to just enjoy the moment.

Luna led the two of them to a small solarium on the east side of the Spire, facing disk of the rising sun. Servants were already waiting there for them, with a simple breakfast of boiled oats, candied fruits, and cream, served in discreetly Alicorn-sized crystal dishes. Luna barely took a bite, chattering excitedly about this and that; Celestia spoke only to answer her questions, working her way through first one, then a two, portions of oats. As Luna chatted, Celestia smiled; she’d forgotten how fond she was of simply spending time with Luna. It was almost like old times—just the two of them, exploring a new world together, politics and responsibility far from their minds.


Luna seemed to notice the sudden change in Celestia’s expression, and she stuttered to a halt. “Rverything alright?” she asked, timidly.

Celestia sighed. “Yes,” she said, pushing away her bowl. “It’s… it’s just that I realized how much I wished this was a simple pleasure trip…”

Luna watched her for another moment, then glanced at her own, barely-touched breakfast. She thought for a moment, then nodded to the servants. In a whirl of cloth and crystal, breakfast disappeared. “And some privacy, please,” she called after the servants, the door still swinging shut behind them. She stared at the door for another few moments, until she was satisfied they had gone, then turned back to her sister with a wry grin. “Politics?”

Politics,” Celestia muttered gloomily.

“Well,” Luna replied brightly, “I think I can take one burden off your mind, at least…” She stood, walked to the door, and poked her head out; after a few moments, she returned with a flat wooden box, beautifully lacquered and decorated with cut crystal. She sat again, and opened the box, revealing a stack of tightly-rolled scrolls. “It was hard work,” she said, rummaging through them, “but I finally managed to convince King Sombra to sign the Accords—with a few small changes...” she unrolled her scroll, revealing their standard copy of the Accords—filled with innumerable angry red marks. “...but basically the same,” she finished.

Celestia’s mouth suddenly felt very dry.

Luna took a moment to straighten the parchment, then began to read the old, familiar words:

“Accord the First: All residents of the territory represented by the undersigned shall receive fair, equal, and just wages for their work, regardless of age, gender, race, or occupation. Exemption,” Luna added, “The Crystal Empire reserves the right to require its citizens, at times or in situations of need, to labor for the good of the City, in recompense for the benefits afforded her citizens.”

Celestia sucked in a sharp breath. D-did she say—?

“Accord the Second,” Luna continued, without looking up, “All residents of the undersigned territory shall have the right of free, unfettered travel throughout all other Accorded territories. Exemption: The Crystal Empire reserves the right to keep its citizens within its borders for their protection, and to exclude outside travelers for its own safety.”

She continued to read, with nearly every item having an exemption, if not two or three. Each exemption declawed, if not distorted or outright perverted their Accords: the Empire would not send delegates to the Equestrian Parliament, but instead exercise veto power on all its decrees within its own borders. The Empire would not fly the Equestrian banner alongside its own, but instead make signet rings and other trinkets bearing the seal. The Empire would not pay the minimal taxes needed to keep the Alliance running, nor would it send troops to aid its small monster-hunting force, but would, instead, be paid 20% of all taxes collected and have the monster hunters at its own beck and call.

As Luna read, Celestia’s eyes slowly got bigger and bigger. Luna read slowly but confidently, her voice never changing in tone except where she stumbled over her notes. Did she really not know? Had she lost her head in the flowery language—King Sombra’s own writing, no doubt? Or had she simply gone mad?

Luna finished reading, ending the last exemption, then rolled the scroll up with a smile. “I must say,” she said, “It took a lot of hard work—but Sombra finally saw the light, in the—” She looked up at Celestia and frowned. “Cece?” she asked. “Is everything alright…?”

Celestia was silent for several seconds, her brain frantically trying to marshal her thoughts into words. Finally, she leaned forward, took Luna by the hoof, and opened her mouth—

—and, at that moment, the door clicked open. Celestia looked up to see His Brilliance, King Sombra, striding confidently in. She stared at him for a second before her brain finally kicked into gear. “Your Brilliance,” she said levelly, “You honor us with your presence. However, this is a meeting of strict confidence between—”

“No,” Luna said, pulling her hoof from Celestia’s grasp, “It’s alright.” She gave Sombra a silly little half-smile, took him by the hoof, then turned back to Celestia. “There’s… one more thing,” she said, beaming. “To seal our treaty—I am offering Sombra my hoof in marriage.”

Sombra smiled, then reached up and kissed Luna on the cheek. “And I couldn’t be happier,” he said. A little glow from his horn, and Luna’s scroll floated across the table towards Celestia. “All that is needed is your signature, and this will all be law.”

Celestia stared wordlessly at the two of them. Then something exploded inside her, and she abruptly stood. “Your Brilliance,” she said, her voice trembling. “Your Highness. I appreciate your efforts, but you must already know—I can’t—I won’t—approve this treaty. It is a—a mockery of what we set out to do, and I cannot—”

“Cece?” Luna squeaked. Celestia turned to glare at her, then felt her heart turn to ice: Luna looked back up at her with wide eyes, just beginning to fill with tears. “Celestia,” she repeated, her voice trembling, “Are you—?”

Sombra leaned over and kissed her again. “I’ll take care of this,” he whispered. “I’ll meet you in the library for lunch?” Luna glanced at him, nodded numbly, then stood, and slowly walked from the room, casting a silent look at the two of them. As soon as the door clicked closed behind her, Sombra turned to Celestia, his eyes filled, not with fear, not with resignation, or not even with determination—but with triumph.

“Well, Your Highness,” he rumbled, a slight note of smugness in his voice, “I believe we are at an impasse. Your sister worked hard to craft a document that would be acceptable to each of us, which you so rudely have declined to sign. But now that you’re here—” he smirked. “Perhaps we can craft something a little more to your liking as well.”

Celestia swallowed. “What are you planning, Sombra?” she asked.

He raised an eyebrow. “No ‘Your Brilliance?’ Such impropriety.” He leaned forward. “I should ask the same question, Celestia. Walking here without an escort through the storm? Spending a day and night spying on my city incognito?" He chuckled. "Wandering around, thinking no one would notice you stand head-and-shoulders above literally everyone else... It’s almost enough to make one doubt your intentions.”

Celestia suddenly had the impression of a noose tightening around her neck—a noose she could neither see nor stop. “I did what I had to,” she said. “Luna needed me, and I got here as quickly as I could.”

Sombra shrugged. “If that’s what you have to tell yourself to you can sleep at night, then, of course. But let me ask: why, then, did you not come to the Spire as soon as you arrived?”

Celestia opened her mouth. “I—”

“And what did you plan to do when you got here, anyway?” he continued. “Her Highness is happy here, Celestia. And what were you going to do? Spirit her away? Convince her of her unhappiness?” He clicked his tongue. “For shame, to hurt your own sister like that…”

“I’m not in the mood for games, Sombra,” Celestia said.

“Good,” he replied, “because I’m not playing.” He put his hooves on the table. “Let me be plain: given your behavior, I can no longer trust you. I cannot allow you to roam the city without supervision. And, as a good host, I cannot, in good conscience, let you leave until the storm clears, which will not be for another month at the very least. As such,” he said, “you will be confined to your quarters until further notice. You will have all the parchment you need to conduct affairs at home, and any equipment you might need to write and send letters, but you will remain a guest of the Crystal Empire until we have come to an agreement.” He leaned forward. “And please don’t test me,” he hissed. “You may be ageless, but there’s precious little evidence you’re actually immortal.” He leaned back. “Is that clear?”

“You’re mad,” she whispered.

“That is a distinct possibility,” he admitted. “But that has little bearing on the present discussion.” He knocked smartly on the table, and the door opened. The breath caught in Celestia’s throat: the hallway outside was filled with row upon row of armed and armored guards.

“I asked,” Sombra repeated testily, “Is this clear?”

Celestia looked back at him, and realized that he was staring directly at her. “...yes,” she said finally, her voice brimming with anger. “Clear as crystal.”

His lips twitched in a little smile. “Now you’re getting it,” he said.