• 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 9: Entr'acte

The bedroom door creaked further open. “Posie!” came the urgent whisper. “Are you still…”

Both Posie and Celestia looked up as Silver Lining poked his head around the door. When he saw them staring, he laid his ears back. “...oh,” he said.

Celestia looked down at Posie, confusion and hurt crossing her face.

Posie swallowed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just… we were worried about you, and…”

Celestia sighed heavily and put her head down. For a moment, all was still—and then, wordlessly, she nodded. Pose turned to Sill and jerked her head urgently toward Celestia; head bowed, he snuck inside, and walked up beside Posie.

“Where’s Corky?” she whispered.

Sill shrugged. “He left.”

Left?” she hissed.

Celestia stirred, and Sill elbowed Posie to be quiet. “Pardon, Your Highness,” he murmured.

No.” Celestia whipped her head around, a little too quickly. “No titles. Not tonight.” She swallowed. “Tonight… I just want to be Celestia.”

Sill swallowed, then bowed. “Celestia,” he repeated, the name strange on his tongue.

Celestia stared at him, then cocked her head. “You were there, at the…” She swallowed. “...t-this morning,” she finished, lamely.

He bowed. “I was. One of your chauffeurs, Your Highness.” At her title, Celestia flinched, and Posie elbowed him. “Celestia,” he corrected himself, still bowed.

Celestia swallowed, then murmured something dismissive. She stared at him for another moment, then spoke. “What’s your name?”

“Silver Lining, Celestia.” he looked up. “Most call me ‘Sill,’ though.”

“Sill,” she repeated. She swallowed. “...thank you for coming,” she said, after a pause.

“Thank you,” he said, not really sure what he was thanking her for.

There was a long silence. Posie glanced uncomfortably back and forth between Celestia and Sill, then cleared her throat. “You were just telling me,” she said to Celestia, with a significant glance at Sill, “about how you turned from a pegasus into an alicorn.” Sill’s eyes went wide, but Posie continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “What did you do, afterwards?”

“Afterwards?” she repeated. She laid her head down. “Afterwards…”

After a moment, she chuckled. “It’s been so long… and there was so much to do… It’s all, just…” she shrugged. “blended together.”

She thought for a moment. “First,” she said, “We needed to focus on surviving. There were only a few dozen of us, and no more than six or seven able-bodied workers, Luna and I included. With the sun moving again, the weather started to re-assert itself—but I was the only one who even had a hope of corralling it.” She swallowed. “It was… hard. Things got easier after the first harvest, but it was already too late for several of our little group.”

Celestia took a deep breath. “That winter,” she said, “When there was nothing for us to do, Luna and I started to figure out our new bodies. She taught me magic, and I taught her flight. And, though I couldn’t match her spellcasting…” she smiled wryly, “...still can’t, actually… Well, I beat her in every race we flew, so I suppose there’s that.”

She frowned. “It was that first winter when we saw the windigoes.” She sighed. “Equestria was a dangerous place back then—still is, truth be told. We’ve just gotten better at handling it… But windigoes were something different. Something was deeply wrong. We needed to bring everyone together, help unify them again—and then, maybe, things would be safer.” She sighed. “So, just after the spring thaw, we set out.”

She hesitated. “The Kingdom of Equestria had never been large,” she continued.”Just the mountain, a few surrounding peaks, and the valleys in between down to the river. But, Discord had been hard on everyone. Every town, every little village, was struggling on its own—a dozen little kingdoms where there used to be only one, each trying to squeeze a living from the dying earth.” She smiled a little. “Most of them fell to their knees as soon as they saw us. They’d heard the rumors, of course, but seeing literal divinity in your midst…” she sighed. “Or, at least, that’s what they wanted to see…” She swallowed. “Well, that was something else entirely. There were a few that held out, though—but, when they saw what we were able to accomplish together—better weather, more crops, that sort of thing—they came around.” She sighed. “And, so, within three or four years, we finally managed to re-unify Old Equestria.”

She paused, then shook her head. “Three or four years?” she repeated. “Back then, it seemed so much longer—like we’d spent half our lives at it.” She sagged a little. “And, back then, it was almost true…”

She laid back down on the bed and was silent. No one spoke for several minutes. Finally, Sill glanced at Posie, then cleared his throat. “Celestia?” he said.

She did not respond.

“Celestia,” he repeated, “would you mind going on? I…” he swallowed. “I think it’s good for you. Finally letting all this out.” She turned to look at him, and he, with a little shiver, bowed. “Pardon me for being so forward,” He said nervously.

She stared at him for a moment, then sighed again. “You’re right,” she said. “It’s hard… harder than I would have thought… but…” she swallowed. “It’s good to finally tell someone. To show them the real me.” She hesitated. “Maybe now, they’ll know…”

Sill, his head still bowed, turned and glanced at Posie, eyes wide. She glanced back at him. Was she saying…?

Before they could continue the thought, Celestia spoke again. “With Old Equestria unified, it was time to start rebuilding. I re-established the weather corps, and, with their help, our crops really started to prosper. Soon, we had more ponies than we knew what to do with—lots of foals, and many more immigrants—ponies from elsewhere who had heard tell of our ‘magical land,’ where the weather was always good, where there was enough for everyone to eat, and where two goddesses ruled with a gentle hoof.” She shook her head gently. “We needed to figure out what to do with all those idle hooves, especially before the little ones started to grow. We still had problems with dragons, back in those days… they were after the crystals in the mines under the old palace, I think… so, we took the biggest, strongest stallions and mares, and we established a group of monster hunters.” Celestia turned to look out the window. “The monsters that we couldn’t drive off, we killed. And those we couldn’t kill, we captured. At first, we threw them in the caverns and blocked them up… not much use for crystals anymore, not when we were just coming off the brink of starvation… and that worked well, at least until we built Tartarus.”

She sighed. “But still, that wasn’t enough. More workers, wanting jobs, wanting pay, with more coming all the time, and those foals starting to get older and older. So, we started to rebuild the palace.” She closed her eyes. “White stone, gold leaf, stained glass… we tried to find something for everyone to do. And, though some say it’s a little garish—that we should have gone for something simpler, a little more utilitarian—it’s treated us well.” She shook her head slowly. “With all the work to do, many of the workers just pitched a tent here, on top of the mountain, and never left. And, of course, we needed blacksmiths, bakers, and tailors to support them all—and an army of merchants and traders to support them.” She chuckled. “Soon, we had a bona fide capital up on that mountain. The old palace was called ‘Illium,’ but we decided to call the new city ‘Canterlot’—after another old castle from legend, a place of peace and harmony. Luna thought it would set the right tone…” She sighed heavily. “Though, thirteen hundred years has taken the polish off a bit…”

She was silent for just a moment. “While the palace was under construction,” she continued suddenly, “we were still busy. There were more ponies out there, more ponies to help—and more and more windigoes spotted in the winter snows.” She hesitated. “But we had never tried to expand outside Old Equestria before, and we knew we needed something to bind us together, something more than just old borders. So, we drafted the Accords.” She paused, then opened her eyes, raised her head, and turned to Posie and Sill. “Did you learn about those in school? The Equestrian Accords?”

Sill and Posie slowly shook their heads. Celestia widened her eyes in surprise, then, slowly, her face fell. She laid her head back down. “The Accords…” she murmured. “Well, they were important. A bill of rights that guaranteed fair and equal treatment for all.” She shook her head. “Some said it was all pie-in-the-sky thinking, to try and make ponies get along, but I didn’t think so… they were just the sort of things that Harmony would have wanted. The sort of stuff that they should have been doing anyways.”

Celestia hesitated, then nodded out the window. “You see that flag?” she asked.

Posie and Sill both turned. Just outside the window, barely visible against the budding stars, a flagpole stood on the top of one of the towers. And, hanging limply from the pole in the cool night air was a dark-blue pennant. On it, the Sigil of the Two Sisters—the two alicorns, framing the sun and moon, chasing each other—barely visible in the dark.

“It was around then,” Celestia said, “that they started using that design. We’d been using the old three-part flag for a while now—one section for each tribe—but then, there was us.” She smirked. “We didn’t exactly fit the model anymore. Someone suggested that design, and it became popular—so much so, that I don’t think there are many who realize that it’s not the original Equestrian flag.” She glanced out the window again, then back down. “I wasn’t a huge fan, myself,” she said. “I never really liked the attention, and Luna thought it was kinda corny. But the people liked it, and that’s what mattered.” She took a deep breath. “So, with our palace half-finished, with the ink hardly dry on the Accords, and bearing a new flag, we set out to save the world.”

She stayed quiet for a moment. “It was… harder than we thought,” she said slowly. “It had been a few years… long enough for things to start to stabilize. Long enough for ponies to find their own identities. So, instead of the isolated villages of Old Equestria, we found little city-states. Petty kingdoms of one or two hundred ponies. They’d heard of us, of course—but reputation alone wasn’t enough this time.” She hesitated. “It was... nice... to not have everyone try and worship us, but now we needed to actually work to bring them into the fold.” She sighed. “That first year, just as the snows started to fall, we came back to Canterlot with three new members of the fledgling Equestrian Alliance.”

She chuckled again. “The palace wasn’t finished, of course—but we were pleased to see that the ruling council we left in place was doing a good job. So good, in fact, that, over time, we started to expand their powers. Keep them around, even when we were at home.”

She smiled. “Pretty soon, we had a system going: Luna would sweet-talk and negotiate, and I would draft the treaties. She was so good at what she did…” she smiled. “You should have seen the miracles she worked—a week or two of her, and she could have even the hardest-hearted old bureaucrat wrapped around her hoof. Of course, I like to think I wasn’t too bad at it, either… but neither of us could have done it entirely alone. And, when winter came, and travel was hard, we always came back to Canterlot.”

She thought for a moment. “During one of our visits home, as the palace was almost complete, Luna requested that the architects draw up plans for an opera house.” She smiled. “She’d always loved music… We must have had half the travelling bards in the world visit at one time or another. I thought it was silly, but she wanted it, and we did need another project, so…” she shrugged. “She must have dragged me to hundreds of shows over the years. I would have just preferred a book—maybe even a few extra hours’ sleep…” She smiled again. “But she wanted it, and it made her so happy every time we went, I didn’t mind too much.” She sighed. “I can still sing some of the songs,” she said. “It’s been a thousand years, but I still know them by heart…”

She was quiet for a moment, then chuckled. “And, of course, it happened again—operas brought actors and musicians—and they brought seamstresses, costumers, artists, composers… And soon, Canterlot was the cultural capital of the Alliance, not just the political one. Ponies flocked to us, especially during the winter theater season. The whims of those few became a guiding star for half the globe…” She smirked. “Which, of course, didn’t hurt negotiations any.”

Sill snorted, and Posie shot him a dirty look.

Celestia smiled a little, then looked away. “If I can say it… life almost became routine. Leave with the spring thaw… travel wherever there were holes in the map, bring more and more nations into the Alliance, return home with the first snows, spend the winter with parades, operas, and paperwork.” She shrugged. “When the palace was finished, we started having politicians come to us, but even that didn’t change things all that much. We eventually commissioned a second palace—a summer palace, in the middle of a beautiful forest. It was a little more centrally-located, and cooler in the summertime.” She hesitated. “Of course, the fact that we built it directly over the cave of the Tree of Harmony wasn’t coincidence; we wanted to protect it, keep it safe from prying eyes. We actually had the cave blocked before we started construction.” She shook her head. “But, we made the palace with all sorts of secret nooks and crannies. Luna said it was to make it more defensible, but I think she just wanted to have a little fun; either way, I made sure one of those passages led down to the cave. Just in case.” She sighed. “We had commissioned it, so they called it ‘The Castle of the Two Sisters.’” She shrugged. “A little dour for me, but it was appropriate, I guess.”

“We didn’t use it for long, though. Soon, the outlying territories were so far away that it wasn’t practical for them to come to our palace—even the new one—nor for both of us to go. So, we started trading off: Luna would go visit someone for a month or so, do what she could, then return home. Once she got back, we’d spend a few days together, catching up and all that, and then I’d go. Things started to move more slowly, then, but we didn’t mind—fewer successes, but bigger, more important ones. By this time, we were bringing whole kingdoms of thousands, tens of thousands, into the Alliance, and each new victory was cause for celebration.”

“And so,” she said slowly, “we kept things going like that—winter at home, summer split between travelling and ruling, for over a century. It was... hard, not really seeing Luna for months at a time, but we made it work. And, I hate to say it, I almost got comfortable with that life.”

Celestia paused—and her eyes went wide. “And then,” she said, her voice hollow, “Two hundred years after Discord…”

She tried to hide it, but both Posie and Sill saw the shiver that ran down her spine.