• Published 16th Dec 2020
  • 1,190 Views, 36 Comments

Pale Nights - Ice Star

Princess Celestia tries to raise the moon on three nights across eras.

  • ...

Night One: Death of the Artist

Wind whipped past Princess Celestia as she forced herself upward. Her wings beat hard enough to make her sides ache, and her lungs screamed for air with each heaving inhale. She could only breathe in desperate, sucking gasps as she pushed herself along her flight. The sky was so cold up here, but she needed to be close. If she wasn’t close, her power would not reach the moon. Princess Celestia lacked the built-up connection and natural draw that she had with the moon before it even knew her. To soar above where a pony could survive and gain proximity would have to do. On this night, and every night until the resistance lessened.

Her heart was afire, and her blood was running hot enough for the cramped pains of exertion to wrack her body mid-flight. Nevertheless, the princess forced herself onward. This was only her third year managing the moon, and the struggle had barely faded. Sweat that had been flecking her coat in a greasy sheen was starting to freeze against her back and withers. Those pinpricks of pain brought by the frost and the absence of her regalia gave Princess Celestia the feeling of insulting nakedness.

It was fitting that the sensation of horrible, messy bareness would afflict the princess when she had to face her of all creatures. To have to make a feral show of celestial mechanics when she normally chatted and simply flicked the sun above the horizon as the bedecked ruler her ponies adored wounded one’s mood.

The magic aura swirling on Princess Celestia’s horn had yet to be enough. Even after three years, she still fudged up the magic considerably — and that was to put things quite kindly.

The night wasn’t hers, it was never hers, and every time she reached out at it with her power, it reacted like trying to catch a waterfall’s flow with a single sheet of paper. She was the paper, of course, and the world’s ambient energies never stopped thrumming with trying to convey the fundamental wrongness of Princess Celestia and the night.

The moon — and the mare within it — never stopped rebelling. Sealing a goddess within it only gave it more way to force itself against her every attempt. All such an alteration had done was change how she existed, not if so or if not. A steady pulse of being that needed neither rest nor food was a force in direct opposition to a mare who must activate her magic and could be depleted of will and wellness. The magic of the princess could be shaped freely, into as much as or as little as she wished — and still, what was on par with a constant ripple overthrew her.

The moon struggled to ascend higher into the sky. It barely bore even the slightest yellow tinge to show that it was the power of Princess Celestia who held it instead of its true owner.

Three years of a gauntlet come evening and dawn had pared her excess weight away. At last, Princess Celestia had become a gaunt creature for once in her life. Layers of makeup and fine gowns tailored just so hid the worst of her figure into something she could pass off as chic without coming across as totally sickly. She adjusted to catching the eye of different types of stallions, those who preferred slim mares over her more constant chubbiness. She lured no less attention, and there was no faster way to reduce worry than through normalization.

The thought of speed made Princess Celestia’s stomach feel like it was flying six lengths ahead of her. Such was how terribly it ached from her exhaustion and vertigo. The ruckus of her wings was the only anthem she had to urge her onward on these flights. Too often, the pain ripping through what little defined muscle she had made the part of her used to posh-living want to take over. It was the one that rang out like a bell in her head, drowning out all of her other thoughts with the desire to retreat to the pretty side of princesshood once again.

She would have called it cowardice, and without her here, Princess Celestia’s subjects could call her a hero instead. She let the thoughts of her cheering, adoring ponies urge her body’s struggle to be louder than the hiss of cowardice in her head.

Her sun merely required steering — and that was in all its aspects. The positioning of her most fiery possession was a single, unfoiled centerpiece. Its lighting of the sky was automatic, no tides came with it. All daytime weather efforts were managed by her pegasus subjects. To raise the sun was little more than to push the heavens’ brightest ball downhill and to beam at the spectators who cheered her on.

Managing the night required getting the post-sunset sky colors picked out. She hadn’t even realized that Luna had done that. Princess Celestia found herself with the same dispassionate indigo-ish attempt every night. She had somehow managed to make the vast, frightening night sky look flat in a way that made all the stars appear too dim. None of her constellations were visible under Princess Celestia’s nights. It made her realize how much more dazzling the stars had looked before, how much variance in colors there had been — and dazzling was not a word Princess Celestia ever thought she would even consider for the night sky.

Cold wind buffeted Princess Celestia’s chest sharply, and the force of it made her have to squint her watery eyes. The tightness of the migraine welling up under her horn was just another sharp ache to drive her forward. Even once the moon was in the sky, she wasn’t sure how if she would have any energy needed to wrangle the weather. Her domain over storms was non-existent.

Tidal activity as a result of a connection to the moon was nothing she had paid mind to until three years ago. Princess Celestia thought the night was easy, that it was like hanging up a lantern and pulling back a curtain to show the stars before she could bow out. Three years of increased hurricanes in the southern hemisphere and the lack of any new Equestrian coastal settlements said otherwise. Being able to only burn away local storms had left so many of her subjects without navigational help across land and sea — at the least. There was far too much more than mere showiness to innate, mass storm control.

To bring forth the night was like decorating a vaulted-ceiling ballroom without flight — and while only being able to hop from stepping stool to ladders. Meanwhile, an armada of chandeliers constantly needed stabilizing and proper lighting. On top of that, the walls were caving in, the garlands were falling down every other minute, the floor was lava, and there was no help.

(...or appreciation.)

The only reason that Princess Celestia received any adoration for her new tasks came from who she wasn’t — not all that she tried.

That last bit made the princess bite the inside of her cheek sharp enough that it stung like frost. She pawed at the air, kicking and flapping farther upward. Her new mountain city was a pinprick below her, and her body was dizzy with adrenaline from both the sight and her efforts. Since the Longest Night, her ponies had taken to basking in her presence even more. They applauded her as the hero-goddess of all heroes before — and now she had managed to become even more. Since the Longest Night — as her subjects had declared the day — her ponies had insisted on sun-glorifying festivals and an ever-happy princess. Upon her never-ending stream of epithets, one more had been added recently: She Who Makes the Night Pale and Powerless.

The double-meaning to it was more apparent than sliding a sword between her ribs — and hurt just as much — but she was expected to love it. And for her ponies, she would do anything — even that.

Panting, the princess let her magic lash out in full at last. Her first shot of magic towards the moon missed. She watched as the beam of gold failed to connect anywhere, and her heart fell as the stray shot did. Flipping her mane aside, the princess threw back her head and charged her horn again. The howling of wind and pumping of her wings flooded her ears. She mentally counted every second as her magic gathered again.

Eventually, she had to clench her jaw like a mare in labor to endure the build-up. The worst part about the moon floating so far and pale above her, taunting the princess with its scars, was not the hurricanes or latent rebel sealed within.

It was the magic. Everything in the universe was saturated with the stuff — every plant, rock, animal, and so forth. To be without magic was impossible; one would have an easier time being arrested for breaking the laws of physics as though they were actual laws. But the moon was not some mirror-light or low magic force. Instead, it was a hefty beacon of unruly magical force and amplifier for the world. Princess Celestia had never, ever could have realized all the folklore that only made it to her ears in trickles were right.

The moon influenced the world’s magic in the ways her sun never did — with or without a goddess inside. Months were also known as moons for a reason. Moonlight was preferred in enchantments for very good reasons. Wild places were strengthened by the night. Monsters were not also known as mooncalves because they favored the sunlight that had no strong effect upon them. Herbs and potions were not best tended to on sun-shiny days. Wishing magic’s potency was complimented by the night and specifics of the stars.

No matter how much her ponies were happy to deny these things, this is what they had lost. Even if they had known what the consequences of giving Princess Celestia the night would entail, she could not blame them for wanting the bliss of ignorance. Only when she pored over dusty old books and rummage through her things for any help did the princess realize the depth of what had been done.

At last, Princess Celestia unleashed the overload of divine energy. The beam was a hot, dangerous shot of light half her size fired constantly from her horn. Each second was another ton of weariness winding up in her. Connecting the moon really was a draining ordeal. But then—

—her power lanced it at last. The moon was encircled with the slightest tint of pale yellow to show her power security. The draining, constant magic wobbled as Princess Celestia struggled with the moon — all its weight, power, and rebellion could be felt through her magic and faintly where they impressed within her head. Magic lent many such ghost sensations, and taking the moon made getting whacked in the skull with a wooden beam feel merciful.

Princess Celestia stretched her hooves outward, forcing herself upward with the moon. Every night required this, not as a display, but as an outlet for her struggle. Bringing the night was what she wrestled with. To all her ponies, it may look like a show — and let them think it. She would never want them to know her grueling struggle.

Unfortunately, Princess Celestia felt herself at her limit once she pulled her magic from the moon. Her mind rattled with vertigo and each open-mouthed, ragged gasping breath she had to take. Thank goodness nopony could see her. Thank goodness nopony knew she would not have the stars set off right.

The part about managing what her ponies so openly had deemed ’lesser light’ for centuries was that nopony noticed when no effort was put into the job. Things could be done halfway, and in a few generations, nopony would remember nights that had not been robbed and pale.

It made her wonder why her sister had bothered with throwing her full effort into crafting each night when nopony noticed the effort. How was it different from painting pictures only the artist deemed beautiful? Why waste such energy on what could be labor alone?

Shaking her head — in an attempt to clear aches and disappointment alive, the princess changed direction. She lacked the frame and wing-type needed to plummet, but tried to add what she could of a dive in her descent.

A half-hour later, she landed in a fledgling courtyard. The last few skeletons of scaffolds had yet to be removed from the nearly completed spites surrounding her. They looked so intimidating in the dark, that the princess was glad to look away from them. Newly planted flowers were soft and inviting around her — but what beat even their gentle looks was the stallion waiting for her.

His gold armor glinted in the dark, and his eyes shone with worshipful ardor. He trotted up to her eagerly, nuzzling her wither — it was all he could reach — even though flecks of foam and buckets of sweat were drenching her coat.

All the protests she yearned to speak died on her tongue, and she wearily returned the gesture. In the dark, he couldn’t see the full scope of her unseemliness and she couldn’t see her lover’s colors or features.

“Oh, Valiant Charge, We… I am ready to collapse. Dost thou know if any others are about the grounds? We cannot suffer any of Our subjects to see Us so…” Princess Celestia paused, and drew in a few rapid pants. “The night is so…”

...pale. Our ponies are truly right to call Our night weak. Even the mooniest of artists slathers their paints upon plaster better when drunk — such is the diminished state of Our nights.

As soon as she thought that, the princess had to stifle a cringe that would startle Valiant. ’Moony’ had always been something she had used so casually, as had everypony to describe the fools who masqueraded as artists and the insane. Only now did she realize just how damning its origins were — and all the times she must have said it before. How was it any different than the new slur-word of ’nightmare’ that the Longest Night had spawned?

“My love, ‘tis magnificent!” He looked past her in blind awe to the sky, looking for all the world like he was ready to clap his forehooves. “Hast no night ere been better than this? All your hard work has done naught but rid the wickedest times of monster-fueling darkness, and so created something of the mildest beauty. None can exceed you!”

“We…” The princess drowned her words by nuzzling his mane. “Thank thee,” she said instead of the flock of worries better left unspoken.

Valiant would have been a mere colt of fourteen winters four years ago when the Longest Night happened. His parents would have made him fat on the attitude against young Equestria’s shadowy ’moon-beast’, or however they told it now. He would have been shut-up in his village right after sundown all his life, in order to protect him. Few ponies in the rural, outermost settlements that Valiant was from even knew that Equestria had a second princess. His concept of good nights would fade faster than colthood nostalgia over comely neighbor fillies.

As always, she captured his muzzle in a kiss first, letting the young stallion melt into the gesture. When she pulled away, she could see that even the dark could not hide the total love he looked up at her with. There was also a question shining in his eyes.

“Oh my bright-heart, prithee may I speak on impulse?”

A fuzzy little swoon bubbled in Princess Celestia’s chest as she swayed on her forehooves. Exhaustion and pet names were easy to wear at her decorum. “This, We grant. Dost something trouble thee?”

“When you landed, I heard you speaking ere you saw me. You were muttering of a ‘she’ whom you accused of something quite heretical — to be better at your heavenly mechanics! Who is it that hath dared upset you? What beast would dare speaketh of something so brazen that could cast you in a less honorable light?”

“Val, nopony hath insulted my divinity, We assure thee,” the princess said tiredly, though not unkindly.

“Well, who else could you be speaking of but a vile insulter?”

Her eyes were close to fluttering shut, and her mane’s sway was as scattered as her thoughts. Tiredness was enough to pluck a mare’s sense from her thoughts, and so the princess spoke without thinking. “What dost thou mean, sweetest?”

“Nopony can move your beauteous sun or the little moon, save you, my brightest heart! Yet, you spoke of a 'she' that could not be. Why is that so?”

She could only blink tiredly and rapidly, realizing what she had done — and who Valiant must have heard her muttering about. “We spoke of nopony, Val. Nopony but Ourselves tomorrow — you see, Our night will be better then.”

Valiant flashed her a broad, innocent smile — one full of so much love — and even in the dark, she could count each freckle under his helmet. Even his eyes were flooded with so much of that obvious, romantic awe. It made it hard to believe that it was she who was the one who was dizzy on her hooves.

“Now there is the light my queen hath. Each night you manage everything splendidly. I find it silly that anypony would see you as aught but the heavens’ great shepherd.”

All that she could do was give him a tired, pleasant smile and nod along happily with his words. Oh, how his belief in her was so rich, thick, and true — it was like she could drink of all that love. How could he even see anything else through it?

For Princess Celestia, love never stopped being best blind.

Author's Note:

This story is pre-written. Expect updates once per week each Tuesday Monday until completion. Originally this wasn't going to be released for a while longer, but I figured it would make a nice early Christmas present to my followers.

Yes, you'll be able to purchase a dead tree form eventually too.

[Edit on 12/21/2020: I apparently forgot the day I intended updates to be published]