• Published 27th Mar 2018
  • 3,261 Views, 141 Comments

Lunangrad - Cynewulf

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

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IV. Remember Me as a Time of Day

It is easy to forget in a time of harmony that the smoothly running machine of Equestrian society was ever anything but a beautiful and almost seamless union. But there was a time when one herd strong and united was split and internecine conflict had been the order of the day. Even when they avoided open war, and they often did, the three tribes of Equestria-to-be had so very rarely sought to understand each other until the malign winter drove them south.

Since the day that Celestia, eating fish just as well as you please, had opened her eyes to what sort of differences she might find not so far from her doorstep, Twilight had sought to learn more and more of other ponies. Even as she shut herself away in her all but literal ivory tower, she had studied their ways and customs from the ancient past until the present. The irony had, unfortunately, been lost on her until she’d moved to Ponyville.

But one which she remembered reading quite a bit about was the symposia, a primarily pegasus tradition still preserved from the very beginning of written history. When the pegasi had been given to banditry, before the unification of their kind into roving armies of discipline and iron will, they would celebrate successful raids and battles by partaking generously of the ill-gotten gain. A feast, if you could call it such. At least one ancient writer had rather snidely referred to it as an orgy, which Twilight could not help but remember and flush furiously about as she waited.

A symposium begins, in true pegasus style, with a raid. In the modern day, where wanton raiding was both illegal and not terribly sustainable, raiding looked more like procuring supplies as a boisterous and not-altogether sober band of revelers.

Despite the appearance of chaos, she had read, a symposium was in fact a very ordered affair. The truest order was that sort which curbed the excess of chaos, after all, and the drinking parties of the pegasi did just that. No mere benders, symposia bonded pegasi to a strict adherence to raucous ceremony on their honor.

First, of course, came the wine. Preferably in copious amounts, and if one were a bit too traditional, stolen from some unfortunate shopkeeper with a note and a few bits.

Celestia and Luna reclined lazily on great palettes devised of pillows and blankets, looking for all the world like something out of an ancient painting. Luna had brought out cups of solid gold from her private stores, and Twilight had forgotten what they were doing entirely as she stared in awe. It was not every day one touched an actual artifact of pre-Unification history.

The wine came from the royal cellars. It had not been called for, but Celestia and Luna had dragged Twilight into a side corridor and felt to giggling amongst themselves before informing her that she mustn’t tell a soul what she saw.

And like that, Twilight watched them both change. Their bodies shone with light from within and the light shrank to her own height, and when she could see properly again two strangers stood before her with foalish grins.

One was a pink pegasus which reminded her a bit of her old babysitter, Cadance. The other was a handsome young colt of darkest blue. They had winked at her in unison and then shoved her into the kitchens to make small talk with the only ponies left there cleaning whilst they made off with stars-alone knew how many casks.

Twilight looked down at her cup and then at the two sisters.

“Tell me, what ever happened with those ponies over the Eastern sea?” Luna asked, pouring a new round.

“Ah, the colonists,” Celestia said. She chuckled. “Luna, it was absolutely hilarious. The first batch quit after only few years. They spent so much time looking for gold that they forgot to plant.”

“Of course, lured by the promise of easily-gained luchre. Ah, Twilight, I was about to fill you overmuch. Come now, keep up the pace!” Luna all but roared and then laughed.

“I, um… Alright,” Twilight said, a but bewildered.

“Oh, don’t push the dear,” Celestia said. “Nopony but I could hope to match you, fool.”

“Ha! As if you could! But not tonight, I think. I’d like to retain a bit of my wits. Your pardon I cry a third and hopefully final time, sweetest Twilight.”

“No harm,” Twilight said with a smile and sipped. It was good, to be fair. She wondered if Celestia had picked with her in mind, something mild and sweet.

“What has my sister told you of our mission, Twilight? Of mercy, as it were! To me at least, it is not.”

“Mission? Oh! Your visit!” Twilight smiled. “I know we’re going to Lunangrad, and that it is an important place to you. I’m afraid I don’t know much about it, but I’m sure I’ll learn a lot!”

A shadow passed over Luna’s face, but she brightened.

“Aye! So you will! Oh, I would love to show you… Ha. I was going to say that I would, but I shall! You will see the great Library of the Moon, and stand atop the tower of Selene Victor. Step by step we shalll ascend together the hundred steps of the Waning and Waxing Moon and in the old Square feel that solemn chill.” She grinned, a savage grin and Twilight marked it. “We shall have a time, you and I.”

“They have built more since last you saw it,” Celstia said. “You know, there is a building there built in your honor.”

Luna scoffed. She emptied her goblet, and poured more. “Of course. Most things there are,” she said with a smirk and a little tilt of her head.

Celestia’s voice was strangely flat. “A sort of temple, in fact.”

Luna froze.

It was not merely that she paused to process this. Twilight had seen ponies take a moment to come to terms with or understand something mid-conversation. It was not a pause. She froze like a mare in the grips of rigor mortis, like a pony who had seen the ghost of an eternal foe, like one shot through the heart with a bodkin of iron.

She shuddered.

“What… what kind,” she said hoarsely. The goblet was put away.

“That is for you to decide,” Celestia said.

“Stars above,” Luna whispered.

Twilight again looked from princess to princess in confused dismay. She was missing something. No, she was missing a lot of somethings. Again she felt the disconnect of the now and the then, between her ignorant present and a past of potentially horrible knowledge.

And again, she felt a great gulf open up, as if the ground had split in half and divided her from them entirely, and again sister from sister. She could not cross. To cross was not just impossibility but in fact it was death--not the possibility of death, not the potential for injury that might wound even eternity but the absolute certainty of it.

Twilight was paralyzed. Paralysis had become her near-constant state since arriving in the palace and she was not accustomed to it. Twilight was a mare of action as much as Rainbow Dash and Applejack. They charged in a bit more than she did, but Twilight was never paralyzed. She planned, she researched, she sought out. Even when she stood still, her mind never paused.

Her whole life, Twilight had been on the move. Her whole life, there had never been an unwinnable scenario or impassable obstacle. Time and space itself had unfolded before her like a flower.

But this was not time and space but Time and Space. This was not the brief flashes of history which one could digest and analyze but all of history and what came before all at once, and there was no way Twilight could hope to comprehend it.

Twilight had walked the long road from the palace down to the Central Station many times in her life, but never quite like this.

It was more accurate to say that she had walked it, but never been carried along it on a palanquin decked with silver moons and ringing with bells.

It was early morning, eight of the clock exactly, and a very grumpy Luna and a very anxious Twilight were on their way to Stalliongrad.

The palanquin itself was carried by a team of brawny batpony stallions in perfect lockstep with the veritable squadron flanking it on either side. They marched with spears and pennants, for all the world as if it were a Unification Day parade, but with solemn faces. She had seen some of the banners before--there was Equestria’s, and there was in fact her own. But others she had never seen before in her life. A White Moon, waning on an inky black field and stars around it in chaotic array. A roaring Hippogriff reared up. A sickle like the Minotaurs carried, red with what she assumed was blood and carried aloft by a ;clawed fist. Twin crossed hammers and another crescent moon emblazoned between them.

She wanted to ask Luna about the banners. She wanted to ask Luna a lot of things, but every time she formed a new question, she felt again the dizzying heights of uncertainty and the gulf of time as she had at the symposium, and she said nothing.

Luna was groggy, at best. Grumpy, half-awake, and bored of her own pomp and circumstance. Whatever had been on her mind as she drifted into somber brooding deep in her cups the night before, mere tiredness had washed it away. Perhaps that was good, Twilight thought. Perhaps that signalled that whatever energy she had felt might not fill the air again on this trip. She thought more of how to avoid feeling that way then she did about discovering what had caused that moment to happen. The how and the why seemed not only irrelevant but unknowable, and even if it were knowable, for once in her life Twilight did not in fact want to know.

As they approached the lower city and the train station, Twilight tried to fill her mind with other things. The arrangements had all been made quickly, and its particulars would be looked after by Luna’s small and determined staff--some of which, Twilight was baffled to find, she had not known existed--but that did not mean that a mare of Twilight Sparkle’s caliber wouldn’t be sure to have it all memorized to a T.

There was a lot of ceremony involved with this undertaking of Luna’s, going back farther into Equestria’s history than Twilight had before ventured. Sure, she had read extensively about the first century or so of Equestria, but the records before Celestia were so unhelpful. Much had been lost or corrupted by Discord’s decades of misrule, and the task of piecing together the contradictory and the often very literally arcane had continued into her own lifetime.

But this? The protocols she fished from the pack by her side to read for the fifth time that morning filled her with a kind of giddy energy. Luna had provided personal documents from her own vaults. Where those Vaults were, how large they were, and other details had not been forthcoming. Celestia had even refused her quiet inquiries about them with a knowing smile, that doubly infuriating and final smile Twilight knew all too well.

This look into the past, she thought wryly, at least did not fill her with dread.

The palanquin stopped. They disembarked with slow pace borne more of Luna’s grouchy weariness more than any sense of ceremony. Twilight followed at her princess’ heels, holding the papers before her.

The car which had been prepared for them was Celestia’s own private car, which could only be entered in by magical means. She watched with interest as the conductor was summoned and he and the captain of Luna’s honor guard pressed their hooves to the door. It glowed, and then parted to reveal an ostentatious room not unlike one of Celestia’s many receiving rooms.

The conductor bowed to the Princess before he left, and spoke somewhat quickly.

“Your Highness,” he said first, and she nodded stiffly at him. He swallowed and continued. “Princess Celestia had us furnish her private car for your trip. The train is mostly empty besides your party, and the car itself is very private. No one should have access but yourself, Miss Sparkle, your captain, and me.”

Luna nodded again. “Thank you. We are pleased with your accomodations on short notice. Please let it be known that we will be asleep during the daylight hours.”

With that, she turned and entered, and the conductor left in a hurry.

Twilight hesitated, looking after the stallion running the train.

“I couldn’t tell if he was nervous because she was a princess, or…” she said softly, and then shook her head. “Either way.”

“Most ponies don’t know what to expect,” said a voice beside her ear.

Twilight startled, and whirled to find Luna’s captain grinning.

He was a strange pony, for sure.Not because he was a batpony--rudeness of such a sentiment aside, she wasn’t sure a pony could be raised in Canterlot and not have seen one--but because he was so very different from the guardsponies she had seen with her brother.

Shining and his fellow cadets had been large, strong ponies. They had been giants, or if not towering than at least built of what seemed more iron than flesh. They ate a lot, talked loudly, and took up a lot of presence in a room. Not that that was an inherently bad thing, and not as if Shining hadn’t been a bit different from them. But this captain was only a bit taller than she was and more sleek than anything else. His face was scarred, but not hideously, and his fangs made his amused smile seem always a bit threatening.

“Forgot I was here?” he asked.

“Yes,” she admitted hastily. “I’m sorry, Captain Moonflower. I’m… just a bit off-balance, I suppose. No morning coffee.”

He raised an eyebrow, but shrugged. “I’ll have some made for you and brought to your car. Would you also like to be undisturbed in daylight hours?”

Twilight blinked. “Pardon?”

The Captain chuckled. “You’ll be adjusting to a new schedule, Miss. You’re a daypony.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “A daypony?”

Moonflower just smiled again and turned. He called to the guards standing at attention on the platform to load up, and then turned back to her.

“If I could show you to your car, I can explain on the way.”

Twilight smiled back at last and when he offered her a hoof as if to more formally escort her she broke out into titters. “Thank you, captain, but I’m fine,” she said, shaking her head.

“As you will,” he replied and they walked towards the front of the train. He hummed for a while, and then began to speak.

“Our ancestors were subterranean,” he said firstly. “Some of us still are to this day. We are not nocturnal by nature so much as we are unaccustomed, at first, to the brighter sorts of lights.” He gestured and she mounted the stairs up into the passenger car.

It was a nice one, certainly. One of the better kinds, the ones you paid extra on the ticket for, not that she ever had. Behind them, attendants brought her luggage as the captain led her through towards the dining car.

“Ah, so a daypony is somepony more familiar with, say, sunlight,” Twilight said. “Stands to reason.”

He nodded. “But also somepony who is bound by a 24-hour clock. We were not, at first. All time was just time. Our arrangements did not follow sun or moon.”

She hummed. “It’s interesting to think about, certainly.”

They arrived at the dining car, and Twilight took a look around. It was nice, with booths along the windowed walls and a small bar. She spotted a blinking, surprised attendant behind the bar.

“Coffee, would you?” asked the captain. The mare behind the counter nodded and scurried back to her open kitchen while Twilight and the captain took a booth.

“Thanks,” Twilight said. She sighed and leaned on the table. “So I should consider turning in, soon, then?”

“If you wish. I certainly would before noon,” Moonflower said with a shrug and leaned back. “I’ve a feeling that there is more to your earlier hesitation than mere lack of caffeine. For one, I saw you down the two mugs that the maids brought you this morning.”

Twilight flushed. “Ah. I forgot.”

He chuckled. “So, if I might inquire... “

“Fortune favors the bold,” Twilight shot back with a smirk and then shrugged. “I was excited about this trip at first, Captain.”

“You can call me Moonflower, you know, as I am off duty.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Since when?”

“Since now.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Yes, well. I was excited about this trip. Seeing a new place, learning something about a frankly understudied part of Equestria? On top of that, being at Luna’s side and getting to know her better while learning from her about her own experience?” She flailed a bit. “Isn’t that exciting? I thought it was. But ever since I arrived in Canterlot, I’ve had a bad feeling about this whole thing.”

Her companion nodded and hummed to himself as two steaming mugs of coffee were brought. Twilight poured some sugar into hers from the small silver container on the table.

“Do you know what the source of your trouble is?”

“Princess Luna. The City. The combination of Luna, the City, and the past. Argh.” She laid her head on the table. “Lots of things. There is something about Lunangrad that causes Princess Luna to be so tense, so upset yet unwilling to speak. It’s unbearable.”

“It’s like the first day of winter,” came the response between sips of steaming coffee. “Like that first morning, when the chill hits you with the breeze and you know that there’s a long, bitter winter ahead. Just that moment.”

Twilight blinked and then nodded hesitantly. “Actually, that’s not such a bad description.”

“Aye. So you’ve felt it, then. I had an inkling that you had. It is a bit difficult at first.”


“The Presence,” he said, and his voice lowered to just a notch above a hissed whisper. “So we call it. Her Mantle. The Burden of the Goddess. The Burning Moonlight.”

“I’m not sure I, ah, follow.”

“The Nightmother was always different from her sister. Even before her long exile, before her Fall, they were very different. I am told, though I have not quite experienced these feelings, that the presence of Celestia is… invigorating. Soothing. Those are contradictory, and yet both are true. She is warmth.”

Twilight nodded slowly.

“But the Nightmother is not. Do not misunderstand. I do not mean that she is cruel, or cold in that sense at all. I mean something else. You’ve felt a bit of it. Celestia’s weight is… light. Her yoke.”

He had leaned in closer.

Twilight felt the air change. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw the waiter back away. Not noticeably, not overtly. If you had not been paying attention, you would have missed it, and perhaps she was unaware of her own motivations.

The world seemed to be expanding, just out of the corner of her eyes. Just for a moment, just… just so.

“My Lady’s yoke is heavy, yet also light. It condenses the world into a point, and pushes every single thing away.” You’re feeling it, aren’t you?”

Twilight nodded numbly.

He straightened, and at once the world shifted back into its right position. Twilight sat back, blinking as if she had come into the sun after a long tunnel.

“Forgive me,” Captain Moonflower said. “You’ve been touched by the Moon, as I thought. This may explain much of your discomfort.”

“I…” Twilight licked her lips. “I’m not sure what to make of this, Captain.”

“And I am not sure knowing would help,” replied Moonflower. “Be that as it may, you will be safe.”

He stood and bowed. “I would suggest you settle into your bed for the day, Miss Sparkle. I’ll make sure you are woken with ample time to spare to prepare for our arrival in Stalliongrad.”

Twilight nodded numbly and then looked ahead mutely as he walked away.