• Published 27th Mar 2018
  • 3,296 Views, 141 Comments

Lunangrad - Cynewulf

Luna, newly returned from her exile, takes Twilight along on a pilgrimage into her own past.

  • ...

X. AntiEssence, or a Song For the Weak

Twilight woke in a dimly lit stone room, covered in sweat and buried alive in covers.

She took a deep breath, and then another. Something told her that this was important, that this moment perhaps or this action was important. Something told her.

The phrase something told her/me/them/etc was perhaps one of the most dishonest and misleading phrases Twilight Sparkle had ever encountered. She hated finding it in fiction. It was a lazy phrase, a meaningless phrase in-universe, a signal that the one writing the phrase had no idea how to connect point A to point B in a logically consistent manner, and had instead chosen to wave his or her hooves and make strange noises to distract the reader while kicking the story into the next bit with their hindleg.

She wasn’t sure why that would occur to her, but it did. It mostly did because she was frankly rather miserable and sweaty, she had no idea why she was ensconced in a veritable avalanche of supposed comfort, and on top of that she could not for the life of her remember the events that had brought her to this bed.

Twilight sat up and licked her dry lips, and tried not to gag over her own cottonmouth. Sickness, perhaps? A fever that had stolen a few hours from her in delirium? What was the last thing she remembered?

Arriving in the city, which had been rather strange and stand-offish. The crowd had had such an odd energy… and then what? Dinner? She had vague recollections about food. She hadn’t had anything to drink--no headache, after all. But certainly a feeling of weakness, for as she tried to step down onto the floor her legs betrayed her and she had to keep hold of the bed to avoid a painful and humiliating fall.

Twilight, still leaning on the bed, sighed. Hadn’t she already done this bit? The whole waking up and not knowing exactly where she was or what had happened to her and feeling as if she’d gone eight rounds with a family of Ursae?

This time, there was no one conveniently barging into check on her, and so when she felt more steady, Twilight left her lodgings and stepped out into the halls of the Kniaz’s palace to find coffee and if she were lucky, food and answers.

The royal visit to Lunangrad was a week long, and by all accounts it was a good week. Apparently, she’d missed the initial welcoming feast due to some minor illness and perhaps a bit of dehydration, but after breakfast and a surprisingly nice chat with the city’s master, Twilight recovered swiftly. She chalked her strange fainting spell up to mundane concerns, and noted to the Kniaz over blinis that changing her sleeping schedule to keep up with Luna had left her far more tired than she cared to admit.

The Kniaz, knowing that Twilight would not have anything official to occupy her time during the day--and wanting no doubt wanting to show his beloved Princess that he was a good host--arranged for Twilight to be shown the old palace archives and left to wander. All in all, Twilight had been beyond delighted with the antiquities within, and had even managed to convince the archivists to let her take a few of their books back to Canterlot to be copied for broader study.

When the sun faded, Luna roamed the halls. Twilight had tea and listened to the Kniaz’s patronized musicians with Luna as she ate her own breakfast, and they occupied the time with chess. Official visits to various sites in the city were arranged, and Twilight found that through all of them Luna seemed far more happy than she had been in Stalliongrad.

To what did she attribute this? Twilight speculated, but after the third day’s close, she found that it wasn’t that important. Why question the happiness of someone she wanted to be happy? The past had bothered Luna before, and perhaps now it also brought solace to see familiar sites and know that sometimes, things didn’t change when you weren’t looking.

On their last night before setting out, they ate once more in the grand hall of the palace, and the old families of the city were in attendance. Luna sat at the head of a great table, and on either side of her sat Twilight and the Kniaz.

“It’s funny,” Twilight said between courses, using her magic to slowly tilt the dark wine in her cup back and forth. “The trip here was full of such… strangeness. It was unsettling, I remember that. Difficult, certainly. But for the life of me, the details are fuzzy. They don’t seem to matter. And now here we are, in Lunangrad, and I find it’s actually rather normal.”

“Normal?” Luna prompted.

“Well, more or less. Sure, culturally its very different. It’s weird hearing a language other than the common tongue in an Equestrian city. Er, I mean as the dominant language. You know what I mean. The city is so different than what I’m used to thinking as Equestria, and it’s broadened my horizons considerably! But these half-remembered feelings made the relative calm of our visit seem so anticlimactic.”

The Kniaz chuckled and then looked at her across the table and put on a mock-hurt expression.

“My lady, I am wounded! My city is strange and anticlimactic!”

Twilight huffed and buried her face in her cup before answering. “I’m no good with words.”

“No one is, I find,” Luna said quietly, but then turned to Twilight. “Feelings of dismay? Unusual. Perhaps that is also a part of your illness a few days ago.”

Twilight sighed and shrugged. “I mean, it could be. I won’t rule that out. I don’t know. Ignore me, your Highness. I’m just thinking aloud.”

Luna nodded, and then offered her a smile. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m glad that our visit has been to your liking. Though, there was a point that sticks, one I must inquire after. You said that you remembered little of our journey?”

Twilight grimaced. “Honestly? I mostly remember talking in your train car… I remember the train breaking down and me hitting my head. Events-wise, that’s all I remember.” She blinked, and then cocked her head to the side as she gazed out at the party around them. “You know… now that I think about it? I feel like I forgot someone. Your captain! I haven’t seen him since we got here.”

She chuckled, concluded he was no doubt very busy, and dropped it.

Luna hummed, and the conversation moved along. Or it would have, except that Luna asked one more thing.

“Twilight, what do you think it means when you don’t remember something? What is it to not remember?”

Twilight shrugged. “To not recall? I’m sensing you don’t want a dictionary’s answer.”

Luna chuckled. “No, I do not. Pay me no mind as well! Just a bit of morbid thought--if we can’t remember what we do, does it ‘count’, as ponies these days might say? Does anything, even if you remember it? Does it matter?” She laughed again, and gestured for more wine. “My sister and I used to pose such ridiculous things to each other, years ago. But for now… My good prince, I’ve heard that your city still crafts certain delicacies that I have long yearned for…”

Luna shifted in her seat and waited for Celestia to make her move.

She was beyond tired. She suspected that they both felt that way, that they had felt that way for a long time, that they would continue to feel that way in the future.

Celestia hummed. Luna had, until Twilight mentioned it briefly on the way back to Canterlot, thought of it as a very Celestia thing to do. She supposed it was a very Alicorn thing to do. Music had a way of worming itself into the heart and mind, breeding and replicating far past the time when the words are meaningless. The lyrics always faded first. They faded fast.

Celestia moved.

“Twilight said some curious things to me,” Celestia said softly, carelessly, as if she was discussing the weather or the embroidery on a particularly mundane assemblage.

“Did she? She is a curious sort. Did you time this for the beginning of my turn?”

“You are as old as I, Lulu. Surely by now you’ve learned the art of multitasking.”

“Yet, curiously, for all my advanced age I am not nor shall ever be as duplicitous as thou art,” Luna said and stared at her pieces. She moved--a bold move, one that demanded an answer.

The most tired thing in the world was the chess metaphor, and Luna knew it. She had outgrown it before she was exiled, and a thousand years of time off from the evolving conversation that was time had not really breathed new life into the old figurative bones. It was well and fine to say that the way one played chess, or did most things, reflected their character and mood. But in practice? Did moving one’s pawn truly say anything of note? For that matter, she questioned the tenuous connection between cause and act in general. Did playing chess with her mean anything, did it signify anything about Celestia besides the obvious, like an enjoyment of chess or a wish to not be bored?

“I am hardly duplicitous. That implies a degree of malice that I’m afraid I lack,” Celestia said.

“Come now. Plans within plans, playing chess whilst you edge around some penetrating question. This is the way a duplicitous character acts.”

Celestia sniffed. “Alright, fine. Twilight couldn’t remember much of her journey at all. I already know that you took her memories.”

“Then we have no need to palaver over it,” Luna replied.

“I still want to talk about it.”

Luna sighed and massaged her temples. “You always do. Push push push. Fine, sister dearest. Proceed. Campaign away.”

“Why did you do it?”

Luna rolled her eyes and caught her older sibling in a glare. She felt, at least at the moment, as if Celestia were being deliberately obtuse. Was she looking for a timeline, or was this a question of motive? Not that it mattered, because her motives were obvious and Celestia knew enough about Lunangrad to have already guessed the only reason that Luna would wipe her student’s mind blank of it all.

“Twilight dived into the well,” Luna said. “As I had feared she might, but I brought her along anyway. I’m sorry, for what its worth. And am incensed about the whole affair, for it was beyond pointless. Going was meaningless, bringing Twilight was meaningless.”

Celestia had been smiling, smirking, simple in her obvious enjoyment of the little back and forth. But at the last, she pulled back with the first signs of genuine confusion. “Pardon?”

“Meaningless, sun-adled old mare. To be without meaning. To be empty and void of purpose. My going was meaningless, my bringing Twilight was meaningless. I am incensed about these things. It is not a difficult concept.”

“You truly think that bringing Twilight along--”

Luna stopped pretending to play chess and simply slumped. “What is the point of bringing a young mortal along to witness ancient sins and listen to your confusing stories? All I did was burden her, bother her, and in my absoulte foolishness perhaps corrupt her. You felt me on her, didn’t you?”

“I did. I had wondered, but wanted to ask.”

“I a out of practice containing myself,” Luna said with a snort. “Not that I was ever good at it. Her dive into the false well only solidified my decision.”

“You might find me more amenable to that solution than you’d think,” Celestia said, and she too stopped pretending to play chess. She took a sip of her omnipresent tea. I treasure anything that delays the inevitable, so Luna remembered her saying. “Am I pleased that Twilight’s mind has been violated? No. But would I rather have had her returned home in madness? Also no.”

“No faith that she would have endured her visions?” Luna asked a bit too quickly.

“The pony I have the most faith in didn’t,” Celestia replied just as quickly.

Luna wished they could go back to sparring through chess metaphors. No matter how cliche or dubious they were, she preferred them now.

“I… fair,” Luna managed. “Forgive me.”

Celestia just nodded. She had been rather serious about her commitment to stop apologizing over and over since Luna’s return.

“What was your original motive for asking for Twilight to accompany you?” she asked instead.

“I… I wasn’t thinking clearly. I felt so lonely. I just wanted someone who wasn’t me to look at that place and…” Luna squirmed in her seat. Was it hot in this room? Why hadn’t she asked to meet her sister on one of their balconies where escape was easy? “If you’re looking for a good reason, there isn’t one.”

“I think there is.”

“Then please, enlighten me.”

Celestia looked back at the board. “You wanted someone to confess to. Some pony you could confide in, and not worry about history. You wanted a friend, sister. That is far from meaningless.”

“And she knows, what, nothing? I erased it all.”

“You didn’t erase the experience for yourself, I assume.”

Luna blinked. “Well, no.”

“Then you remember that Twilight Sparkle is a good mare who has come a long way from her days in my tutelage. You know that she can bear your burden and call you friend. I’d say you learned more than you let on.”

Celestia yawned. “As for the rest… well. I won’t tell you that your suffering has or does not have meaning, Lulu. You’re the one who insisted on meaning inside every stone, not me.”

“Our oldest contention,” Luna griped.

“And the one that shall never die. Does your past in that city have meaning? Well, do you want it to? Because if you do, then I think you already know what it means. And if you don’t, then it doesn’t mean a thing just as you suspected, and you shall be free.”

“As noncommittal as ever,” Luna grunted.

But Celestia shook her head. “No. I am very committed. I simply care more about ponies themselves than about the ideas that bite at their ankles. I care more about my little sister, Luna, then I do about the questions others might ask about her. And with that… It’s about time that I retired, Lulu. Will you be alright?”

Luna smirked. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

Celestia laughed and hummed. “I’d like that.” And she took the pieces and put them back in her rosewood box even as Luna rose and dusted herself off out of habit. They embraced, and Celestia kissed both her cheeks as they did long before Equestria, when Luna had still felt young indeed. They said their goodbyes, and Luna returned to her quiet solitary apartments. She listened to the echoes of tiny palace noises magnified in her resounding chambers tenfold times, and drew out the cosmic alignments for the month in glowing thaumic residue upon the floor, scribing runes that burned in place on the very air. She had work to do, she had work to do. She had secrets to burrow into and dreams to shepherd.

It was about this time that she noticed the letter waiting for her on her desk. Her seneschal had scribbled an apologizing explanation that it was personal mail, not court business, and inside she found another letter from her friend, Twilight Sparkle.

You went first last time, so it’s my turn to go first. I’ll be up most of the night, so… e4.

Luna blinked. She laughed. She laughed scattered her glowing projections and reworked them into a board, moving Twilight’s pawn upon it. Meaningful or not, she would gladly still play the game.

Comments ( 25 )

A curious finale, but an understandable one. Old regrets are just that, old regrets. Seeking closure is one thing, but there's no need to drag them shambling back to relevance, especially not if it involves an unsuspecting mare soaked in radiated alicorn essence and the effluvium of a corrupted world-well. Extra-especially not when that mare can be a friend in the here and now.

Thank you for this story. I'm not sure what I expected, but what I got was a gripping, dreamlike, and overall enjoyable journey.

The violation of memory took this somewhere rather disturbing, and the reaction to it.

I'm not sure how I feel about this ending, because it has an incomplete and eerie feeling. I'm not sure it fits, and it feels like it belongs to a different story.

Pretty much everything Luna did since chapter 2 onward was morally sketchy as hell when it came to Twilight's informed consent. If this story has a sequel that might need to be called out.

Morally gray (depending on what said gray is) isn't something I usually mind, especially with a character like Luna who can embody that in ways others can't.

But an outright violation treated like a blessing when all is said and done?

It doesn't sit all that well...

There are some things that mortals shouldn't see or experience. This was one of them. Even Luna couldn't handle it... it's what precipitated her fall to the Nightmare. Removing the memory of seeing a "Cthulhu" and hearing it sing and experiencing the madness of its visions was a kindness and not morally ambiguous at all. It was implied Twilight would have come back to Celestia insane if her memories hadn't been erased. The choice was between two bad things and erasing the memory was the lesser of two bad choices. The best choice would have been to not take Twilight along at all, but Luna needed a friend desperately to go along with her. Luna will be a lot closer to Twilight from now on, even if Twilight doesn't understand why. I think Twilight will be closer to Luna as well because she was invited to an adventure, even though she "got sick." e5

I'm not sure if I actually liked this fic. I definitely appreciate it, but the actual liking might not be forthcoming. Still, you don't need to like a piece of writing to enjoy its beauty and purpose.

The phrase something told her/me/them/etc was perhaps one of the most dishonest and misleading phrases Twilight Sparkle had ever encountered. She hated finding it in fiction. It was a lazy phrase, a meaningless phrase in-universe, a signal that the one writing the phrase had no idea how to connect point A to point B in a logically consistent manner, and had instead chosen to wave his or her hooves and make strange noises to distract the reader while kicking the story into the next bit with their hindleg.

That was next-level satire.


It's not really that part, so much as it was done without her consent and she has not been informed since of something even along the lines of 'oh you were in an accident' or anything of the sort. She's had her memory wiped as easily as a digital device is given a factory reset, and that's the very end of the story. There's no time to explore or come to terms with this, just a magical illusion-of-friendship band aid slapped on things. It feels awkward, and rather creepy in places.

Had this been fleshed out and given more of a chance, then there'd be more stable ground for a debate, or just for the story to settle some.

...Well, all’s well that ends well, I guess.

I think this fic might be above me XD

I can't imagine Twilight was terribly easy to subdue.

This story captured the eons old Celestia and Luna that I love to see. Love it :)

Not all that fleets glitters is gold and not everything ages well.

The ending was remarkably disappointing.

Hmmm. I liked this.

I feel like I would have liked a version where Twilight actually grapples with everything, but of course that would be more of a Nightmare Twilight story and not a story about Luna. This, being a story about Luna, was quite good! I especially enjoyed the eternal-philosophical-debate aspect of her relationship with Celestia, too few stories touch on the sisters actually having real different worldviews, and yet they almost certainly must in some way.

I enjoyed reading this story in "Tales of the Moon." I loved the chess scenes.

Beautiful and somewhat haunting stories. One of the few stories I know will come back in mind from time to time, with no reason.

I love your world-building, you make it believable, almost real, that battle scene with Luna and celestia was awesome.

I love your story, I read it in tales of the moon. Surely the best book in my mlp related fiction section.

Congrats. Have a like and a favorite.

The sacrifices were a little cliche but I like the overall intent of the story

Been going through your stories and it’s really made me appreciate your lovely style at bringing description both emotional and physical. (Also I am a big King fan so I appreciate those references too hah!)

This story has such an incredible way of bringing the weight across and the glimpses of backstories and histories. To that final descent into such a whirlwind of emotion.

I do have some observations!

When Twilight visits and the sisters do their little wine stealing prank, Luna disguises into a colt.

And in the flashback of the battle when Celestia and Luna are going to their loved ones, Celestia has husbands but Luna’s list of priors are Lily, Marigold, High Garden, Ruby.

Do I dare read any particular romantic sweetness between Luna and Twilight in this story? (Why yes, Twiluna is one of my favorite ships).

A final question also comes of what happened to Moonflower. Twilight mentioned off handedly hoofedly that the captain is missing at the end and Luna’s response is a vague chuckle. I started to wonder if he was a figment or perhaps Luna in disguise? But we saw him interact with others and in the same room with Luna. I wasn’t sure what his deal was at the end. Or why he was missing? Was he sacrificed? I wouldn’t have even remembered him myself except for Twilight’s line pointing out his missing presence. But I am not sure what is being suggested.

Anyway thank you for writing. I put this on many of my favs and assorted bookshelves. I do love stories that give the sisters the kind of majesty where they lean more to the ageless and divine and the consequences of such stature and long lives. So far it seems to be a theme in your stories that I am happy to get more of.

Luna’s nature is spilling over—her Glory burns too bright in her distress as they get closer to Lunangrad. The Captain is real. He’s also Luna. He is “real” in that he is an emanation of Luna. Twilight is hallucinating a *lot* but as an emanation of her Glory the Captain also has some degree of agency and presence. I’m not sure how to describe him except as a kind of hallucination that’s physical. He is gone because Luna has pulled back, stopped her nature from seeping into Twilight. She mentions she has “corrupted” Twilight and that Celestia could “feel her” on Twilight. When the Sisters in this incarnation let their careful guards slip they kind of… it’s like they sort of melt people. Their agency is overridden, in the end, but before that point their subjective experience is as if the entire world just… suddenly revolves around the aspect of the Alicorn. A pony “infected” with Luna’s Glory lives in a dreamlike world, a dark world, full of secrets and chaos and nightmares waiting quietly around the corner. They inevitably turn to fearful occultic obsession and/or Fearful Lunarbworship. A pony burdened by Solar Glory would find their lives seemingly arranged as if by fate. The world simply makes sense. Every day is bright we’ll ordered beautiful and perfectly the way it was meant to be.The way of things becomes clearer and clearer until they find themselves more a cheerful, worshipping automaton.

For no other reason that taste I almost always portray Luna as queer, either as bisexual or as a lesbian. I am sure there’s tons of reasons why, but I’m not sure which is the main one. I actually usually do the same with Twilight. That’s probably because I liked her the most and saw myself in her, and seeing her reflecting my own queer experience back at me made me happy. There is absolutely something between them.

Lunangrad absolutely fell apart, but I wanted to expand earlier concepts of the Sister’s depictions and their emanating Glory from stories I had done before to explore the absolutely terrifying implications of a being like that. What if the gods lived among us and if their masks slip them the world goes mad and we don’t even notice? What does it mean to be friends with a being so absolutely alien that mere contact can melt the boundaries of your Ego?

Whatever happened, I’m still pleasantly surprised folks liked this one.

Thank you for such a detailed reply! (I admit to feeling a little silly being so late in commenting on a 2018 story. I’m glad I wasn’t being a bother.)

And especially thankful for the clarifications. So I see my impulses around Moonflower were both right in a sense. A figment and Luna-in-guise. I hadn’t considered the unreliable narrator part when it came to Twilight’s experiences on the train, ( you’d think her getting her head knocked about would have clued me in some.)

Like I said before, I find the deity-on-earth aspect of the alicorns to be so very fascinating. It’s something underserved sadly as the show went on . Your conception of the glory for them is fantastic. I wonder how might you describe Cadance’s glory? Or a future Twilight’s?

And as for orientation I read it once that Twilight is out and proud with her Bisexual flag colored mane :twilightblush: I am glad for the attraction and romance. There’s just something so sweet about the idea that Twilight is Luna’s first friend (and potentially first lover of the new era she finds herself in)

I wouldn’t say the story fell apart, I think, yes the concept could have gone (longer and perhaps the final chapter was a little on the nose with the lampshaded meta ) but there are also a place for short, punchy stories to give us a taste of concepts and ideas and to dip our toe hooves in it. I’d ask one more question! Which of your stories should I go from here since it sounds like you handled this conception before.

As always thank you again for being a dear and interacting!

Cadance's Glory... that's an interesting question. As an alicorn in another story I wrote says, there are Alicorns and alicorns. Cadance's Glory would probably manifest in a way similar to her "Court" in Ageless, Or Celestia Plays Dice With the Universe as a kind of ever expanding lavish, lush, rosiness. I'd actually say that as nice as that sounds it would probably be just as bad for the subject to be overexposed as any other overwriting would be--a subjectivity whose understanding of self/realtiy that is now overriden with rose-tinted glasses would be a subjectivity more trouble than it was worth!

I am okay with canon Celestia, in that I enjoy her as a somewhat more goofy character. I rarely write her quite like that, and it is far more fun to explore a strange and eldritch sort of character. No worries. It has been a long time since I wrote a comment reply, or had a comment worth replying to.

In the olde sense: full of awe. Some stories one simply reads. Stories like this one are an experience, visceral and intimate.

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