• Published 2nd Feb 2021
  • 1,351 Views, 58 Comments

The Long Eventide - SilverNotes

Following Luna's first Nightmare Night, a city-state with a millenium-long grudge against Equestria sends her their warmest regards.

  • ...


Spike paused to give a shake before entering the library, and twisted to look at his back to be extra sure there was nothing there. Rarity had been skeptical the first time that Spike had demonstrated that his scales were ideal for acting as a mobile pincushion, but once convinced sufficiently that he wasn't being harmed, and any mark on the scales themselves would be gone after his next molt, she'd been appreciative of the fact that she didn't have to keep track of the fabric one that had a tendency to misplace itself, usually thanks to Opalescence's penchant for stealing it for use as a toy. However, as much pride as Spike felt in helping her, he always felt the need to double-check that he was pin-free before coming home; while Rarity had never failed to retrieve them all before, stress over a difficult order could lead to forgetfulness, and a pin that dislodged on its own became a hazard to the non-scaled.

Once satisfied that he wouldn't inadvertently cause an unscheduled game of pin-the-tail-on-the-pony, without the tail, he pushed open the door, to find a sight that set someone who'd known the other occupant of the tree since hatching on immediate alert. Twilight was pacing the floor, a book hovering close by in her magenta magic while bubbles of the same colour reached up to occasionally pull others off the shelf. A parchment and quill also hovered nearby, the quill scrawling out words in the kind of messy hornwriting that always came with writing from telekinetic feel instead of actually looking that the words. She was muttering under her breath, Spike unable to catch the words, but her mane looked normal and she didn't seem to be excessively twitching, and so he was certain he'd gotten here in time to avert disaster.


The single, tentative word stopped the pacing, and Twilight turning and blinking at Spike in that owlish way told him that, from her perspective, he'd only recently left. "Yes, Spike?"

He again looked for signs of eyes twitching or the start of a fraying mane and, finding neither, glanced at the book she was holding so close to her side, its cover obscured by the haze of magenta, and asked, "What are you doing...?"

Which was when Twilight smiled, and Spike felt himself relaxing as her response was excited rather than frantic, in a single chirp of, "Research!" She then placed the book on the desk as she started gathering more off of the shelf again, which allowed him to clamber up onto the chair and get a good look at the cover, emblazoned with a sun symbol and title written in golden lettering.

"The Legend of Sunbeam Smiles?" The title was a familiar one to him; it was one of the stories that had been read aloud to him when he was barely hatched, though this volume looked a bit thicker than the version meant for foals. "But... this is--"

"An old pony tale?" Twilight hadn't looked back at him to respond, flipping through one of the other books in her grasp. She then trotted back to the desk, starting to pile her acquisitions alongside the Sunbeam volume, all of them having similar themes. Classic stories, anthologies of folklore, and accounts of dubiously-real historical figures formed a tower of pages that had Spike moving away just to be certain he wouldn't be buried should it topple. "That's the thing, Spike. So was Nightmare Moon. As far as anypony knew, the Mare in the Moon and the Elements of Harmony were just... stories." She turned back to the shelves again, leaving Spike to watch her retrieve several more books.

"I can't help but wonder, what other old pony tales are true?" she added as the next batch of acquisitions landed with a solid thump, and then Twilight's magic surrounded the original book again, flipping through it rapidly. "Sunbeam Smiles could harness solar energy to cast spells her natural magic wasn't enough for, and normally the only way around that limitation is for a unicorn to use an artefact--"

"Like the Elements of Harmony?" Spike asked, noting a complete lack of the Reference Guide among the book towers.

That made Twilight pause, missing a beat in her settling into lecture mode. "Well, I mean, yes and no? I was more thinking of a wand or amulet. The Elements are in a category all their own, really. I..." And then she stopped, the book in front of her hovering mid-page-turn, her next words half-mumbled to herself. "I wonder if the princess would let me borrow the Elements for a little while? I bet nopony's really studied them for their unique properties, since they were in that old ruined castle..."

Spike imagined Twilight experimenting on the Elements of Harmony, and the resulting rainbow-filled explosion in his mind's eye had him scrambling to change the subject. "Why don't you ask Princess Celestia about Sunbeam? She knew about Nightmare Moon. And she raises the sun, so she'd know if somepony could use it that way, right?"

Twilight blinked, looking back at the Sunbeam book hovering next to her, and shook her head. "She knew about Nightmare Moon because Nightmare Moon is her sister." Another thoughtful pause followed that, and more mumbling. "Well, kind of. Sort of. You know, I've never asked exactly what the Nightmare was. Emotion can affect magic, obviously, but jealousy and bitterness shouldn't be enough to cause that level of--" And before Spike's imaginary explosion could shift from rainbow-coloured to dark and starry, she shook her head, resuming the topic at hoof herself. "But the point is, Sunbeam Smiles was from Old Unicornia, before Equestria was even founded. Princess Celestia wouldn't even have been born yet."

There was silence then, from both of them. The kind of silence that tended to settle in when someone casually acknowledged the fact that the being who had been controlling the very movements of the heavens for a thousand years could be predated. For Spike, it was a bit like when he'd first been presented with the fact that his adoptive parents hadn't always existed and, indeed, had been foals once. The look on Twilight's face told him that, with her, it might be more than that.

"So!" Twilight's voice was slightly higher-pitched than it had been she broke the lingering silence. "Yes, um, I'll bring it up with her if I find something that looks promising, but I don't want to bother her with theories like this unless I have something to back it up." Nervous laughter escaped her. "It's thaumaturgy studies, after all. Not something like, you know, another thousand-year-old evil coming back to menace Equestria." Another bout of laughter escaped, and Spike restarted his careful watch of the state of her mane. "I really, really hope there aren't many more of those to worry about..." Her pitch jumped a few more notes. "But if there is, I will definitely tell Princess Celestia if I find it!"

Which is when Spike, practice honed from years as an assistant, launched the words that would hopefully pull his older sister away from the mental path of being overrun with ancient evils. "Twilight, did you eat at all since I left to help Rarity?"

The blinking started up again, followed by a slow, "Um..." Then her stomach decided to answer the question for her, with the low growl of long-ignored hunger.

Spike smiled, turning to head for the kitchen. "One daisy sandwich, coming right up."

"Thanks, Spike."

To truly understand Sunbeam Smiles, you must understand the differences of the time.

This was not an age where marks came in during childhood, a sign of the shift from young foal to adolescent. Such a thing could happen, but was exceedingly rare. In this age, marks could come late into a pony's life, and some may even live their life without gaining one at all. For Sunbeam, the fact that she'd reached adulthood and was still blank of flank was not a thing to be bothered about, or even all that notable. It didn't change her eligibility to join the other unicorns in raising and lowering the sun and moon, as she'd come well into her magical power by then. Not many spells to her name, but plenty of strength to offer the group effort of managing the heavens.

Old Unicornia needed that strength. The effort of raising the sun and moon was a monumental one, something that would leave the unicorns who'd contributed unable to even light their horns enough to pick up a quill for weeks on end. Even given time to recover, pushing themselves to complete the task too many times would damage their internal channeling paths and eventually burn them out with greater permanency. This, paradoxically, resulted in the true magical savants not being handed the task at all, for fear of depriving the nation of their greatest defense and leave them vulnerable to attack from monsters, or opportunistic strikes from the other pony tribes, with whom there was never lasting peace until the Windigo Winter a few generations later would force their hooves.

Sunbeam Smiles was the perfect middle ground, at the time, with raw energy but no marked talent for magic that would see her placed in a wizard's tower and sheltered from the unicorns' duties.

They would only know how perfect she really was the first time she touched the sun.

"You've really got to remember to have lunch when you're studying."

The tone in Spike's voice got Twilight to take another bite of her sandwich and other sip of her lemonade, and she didn't look him in the eye, not wanting to see the disapproving frown that no doubt lurked there for the fact that she still had The Legend of Sunbeam Smiles on her desk and was reading during lunch. She wasn't sure exactly when Spike had started looking after her rather than the other way around, but the reminders that he was the main reason she didn't pass out more regularly tended to leave her both grateful and guilty.

"I know, I know..." She jotted another note on her parchment, then went for another bite and sip. "There's just been a lot on my mind. And..." She trailed off, ears twitching as she considered her next words. "The solar-powered magic concept just feels like it has a chance to work?" Her eyes flicked to her mark, frowning at it. Trying to demand the collection of stars on her flank give her more than vague intuition was too much to ask, it seemed. "Lots of natural phenomena give off a form of magic, and the sun's one of them. It's just finding a way for a pony to tap into it that's--"

She froze when she saw the look on Spike's face. It was an expression she knew well, and with the wisdom gained from years of experience growing up with a dragon had her scooping up everything, food, books, and all, from the desk as a familiar fwoosh of green fire filled the space between her and her brother.

The fire was harmless, of course. The worst it might do was send her lunch to Princess Celestia by mistake. But Twilight both wanted to keep her daisy sandwich and not have the piece of correspondence land on top of it.

Once she'd set everything down again, her magic curled around the scroll, already feeling anxiety starting to tie her organs in knots. It had the royal seal--no surprise, as she knew of no creature who could use this method of contact outside of the palace--and already everything from invasions of ancient enemies to sudden pop quizzes were dancing around in her mind as possibilities. While she wrote the princess on a regular basis, for her to write Twilight...

Breathe. It wasn't always emergencies. Sometimes Princess Celestia sent well-wishes. Or gifts.

Memories of a set of golden tickets were not good for calming her nerves.

Twilight broke the seal and scanned the words. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Spike coming over to her side of the desk and peering at the parchment, though she knew he'd never gotten very good at reading through the glow of her magic--there was evidence that a unicorn's eyes were specially tuned to filter out the glow to some degree, and the fact that other ponies seemed to find it much more vibrant than she did, unless she was specifically using a light spell, lent credence to it--and as she scanned the words, she heard him ask, "What does it say? Does the princess need something?"

And Twilight, who was already turning the scroll around because, despite all evidence to the contrary, there had to be more to the message than just that, gave the correction of, "Princesses. This is from both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna." The scroll pirouetted in the air, both sides checked twice and then quickly scanned for any disappearing ink spells. "The girls and I are needed in Cantlerlot for..." She looked over the words again. "A diplomatic mission?"

Spike, who she had no doubt was already picturing some far off locale, peered more at the unreadable-to-him scroll. "Does it say to where?"

"No, but..." And there's when the hyperventilating started. "Spike, I'm not a diplomat! I'm a librarian and a student of magic! And of friendship!" She set the scroll down and hopped off of her seat, her hooves already making trotting in place motions. "And the girls aren't trained for this either!" Trotting in place turned into pacing. "Why would they want us?"

She saw Spike climb onto her seat and pick up the letter, reading it for himself, and saw as he, too, turned it over in his claws looking for more, before innocently suggesting, "Maybe it's a mission to a place that needs blasting with the Elements?"

Twilight opened her mouth to protest this, closed it, and conceded a, "Maybe," as her pacing intensified. "But, but, that's even more worrying! And why even call it diplomacy at that point? That'd be more of a... I don't know!" The words an act of war ran through her head and she was only dimly aware of her mane starting to fray as she whirled toward the library door. "Oh, I have to go get the girls and--"

Green and purple scales suddenly took up her vision as Spike raced into her path with impressive speed. A claw gently poked her in the snout. "Finish your lunch, Twi."


"You don't want to faint in the middle of the palace. Again."

The image of entering the throne room to meet with the princesses and then falling flat on her face flashed through her mind, and had her reluctantly turning to retrieve her sandwich and lemonade. "Fine, but..." She looked back at Spike over her shoulder. "Can you go round up the girls for me while I eat?"

A smile and salute answered her. "I'm on it!"

It took some effort to settle back down with her lunch, her legs twitching with the urge to get up and pace again, or charge out the door even with Spike already acting as proxy friend-herder. A mouthful of daisies and returning her eyes to the open page in front of her helped calm her some, doomsday scenarios pushed aside for the moment in favour of the comfort of a book.

Sunbeam had stepped into place with the other unicorns well-informed of the aftereffects, trusting her brothers and sisters to help her when she needed it, and having spent the week before relearning to manipulate objects with her mouth instead of her horn so that she could handle the smaller tasks herself. She hadn't feared it, and instead welcomed her chance to do her part.

Lowering the moon was as she'd expected. She'd nearly had her legs give out from under her, never having tried to move an object so heavy in her life, and ended up leaning on one of the other unicorns for stability as she gave it her all to send the moon sinking below the horizon.

Touching the sun, however, had had the opposite effect. From the moment her magic met it, she felt energized. Every bit of power she poured into the sunrise, the sun seemed to send even more flowing back. The other unicorns were shocked, losing their own grips on the sun one by one as Sunbeam kept going, until she was the only one sending it into the sky where it belonged, doing the work of at least a dozen unicorns all on her own.

Only after completing this feat, feeling better than she ever had in her life, did she notice the sun-shaped mark now adorning her flank.

Twin thrones sat occupied.

There had been a lot of logistical issues in having a second throne commissioned, not the least of which was the fact that the vast majority of ponies hadn't know why Celestia would want a second throne made at all.

After the destruction of the castle at Everfree and her relocation to Canterlot, the palace had been designed with a throne room built around a single throne. The red and gold seat, emblazoned with the symbol of the sun--only the sun, because even though she had taken up her sister's duty in her long absence, she would never claim dominion over the night--towered over all who entered, not only for its height, but for the raised platform it sat upon. She'd silently accepted the grandiosity as an unfortunate necessity of the station while silently considering it overkill when she was already the tallest pony in Equestria.

The platform it sat upon had been made wide enough for a second throne to join the first, even if Celestia had never told those designing and building it about her reason for wanting it that way. The problem was, as the days, years, centuries had counted down to when she would have her sister back, she'd realized that getting something built before the day would have been ideal... but in the interest of neither causing panic nor rampant conspiracy theorizing--the rumours about secret trysts and resulting children that had started by adopting Cadence had finally died down--having the changes made to the palace, including the new throne, after the Summer Sun Celebration had proven the most practical choice.

The fact that this left her sister sitting on the platform floor during the early days of her return had resulted in many profuse apologies, but the new, silver, moon-emblazoned throne had at least made for a good surprise for after the Ponyville Nightmare Night celebration.

Right now, Luna was seated in that throne, by Celestia's side as she should be. As she always should have been, all these years. Unfortunately, due to current circumstances, she was spending the entire time glaring daggers at Celestia.

"Thou didst not tell me that it was still there, sister."

Luna's hiss was for no ears but their own, guards dismissed for privacy, and Celestia sighed, her wings fluffing out with nerves she allowed few ponies to ever see. She didn't correct the language slip-up, knowing that Luna was angry enough without nitpicking her pronoun usage.

"You had enough to worry about," she started, already knowing it was an excuse. "There were so many things to bring you up to speed on. Linguistic changes, magical and technological advancements, amendments to our laws, the--" She winced, remembering the all-too-recent Nightmare Night. "--Cultural shift. I didn't want to trouble you with--"

"Trouble me with what? Her legacy? My legacy?" Luna's wings weren't fluffed. They were open in challenge, and paired with narrowed eyes. "If the letter had not come, when would you have told me of it all, sister? In another year? Two? Ten?" With a brazenness no other pony would dare, she prodded Celestia in the side with a hoof to punctuate her words. "You have said that they rarely come calling. How long would you sweep them under the rug if permitted?"

The reminder of the letter had her giving another wince. It, and the letter that the two of them had sent to Ponyville in turn, had her resisting the urge to get up from her throne and pace. She was good at suppressing it by now, though the observant would be able to catch the way that one of her hooves would tap rhythmically instead, as if to an unheard song. "You're right, Luna. I'm sorry. I just--"

That's when the doors swung open, and in an instant, the two alicorns fell into a practiced false calm, Celestia wearing the welcoming smile she did every time one of her little ponies came to speak to her. The sight of Twilight racing in, toward the throne, calmed her anxious heart some, especially when the five other ponies that she owed an incredible debt to filed in behind her.

"Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!" Twilight skidded to a stop in front of the thrones, panting for breath. "We came as soon... as soon as we could!"

Celestia descended from the platform, then bent her knees and her neck, arranging herself so that she could lay her head across Twilight's withers. "It's good to see you, my faithful student." She felt Twilight nuzzle in, not unlike a foal greeting a parent, and felt some more of her nerves unwind, despite the somewhat uncomfortable position she was in. "I'm sorry for calling you and your friends here on such short notice."

As she lifted her head and straightened her legs again, she saw Luna come forward. While not so familiar as to greet Twilight in the same way, her sister lifted a hoof and offered it, which Twilight smiled brightly at before lifting her own to gently bump it. "I am happy to see you as well, Twilight Sparkle." Her voice was soft. It'd been so much softer when greeting their subjects lately that Celestia still could scarcely believe the change. "I wish that our first time speaking since the Nightmare Night celebration were not official business."

Twilight's smile faded to a worried frown, and Celestia followed her gaze as she glanced back at her gathered friends, clustered a short distance back. "That's what I wanted to ask about." She looked up at Celestia. "Princess..." She glanced at Luna again, correcting, "Princesses... what's going on that you'd send us to be diplomats?" The next words came a bit too hastily. "Not that I'm questioning your judgement! But um, Equestria has its own ambassadors, and your letter didn't even say where we're supposed to go."

"There..." The word was tiny, softer than even Luna's new voice, and Celestia followed it easily to Fluttershy, the petite pegasus seeming to be trying to hide behind her own mane as one wide turquoise eye looked up at her and her sister. "There isn't another prophecy coming true, is.. is there?"

Luna spoke up before Celestia could. "I assure you that it is nothing so dire."

Celestia nodded. "And I know this is an unusual request of you, but this is a unique situation." She took a breath, a deep one. A barrel the size of hers, with the lungs to match, could take truly monumental inhales. "The Chancellor of the Umbral Society of Eventide asked for the six of you directly, to attend a celebration of my sister's return."

It was second nature to scan the reactions. Twilight had the look on her face that she always got when processing new information that she wasn't sure what to do with yet. Fluttershy hadn't changed expression at all. Pinkie Pie looked excited, which, going by her faithful student's letters, was likely due to her use of the word celebration. Applejack looked thoughtful. Rainbow Dash looked completely baffled.

Rarity, meanwhile looked like she was going to explode with sheer force of giddiness. Instead she let out a high-pitched squeal that reminded Celestia of a teakettle, turning all of her friends' eyes onto her even as all ears flattened against the noise.

"Eventide? We're going to be in Eventide?" The room was filled with the clicking sound of four hooves rapidly tapping against marble as Rarity trotted in place. "Oh this is so exciting! The ponies from that city are so glamourous, so mysterious." She squealed again, a mercifully shorter one, and wiggled in a way that reminded Celestia of a puppy. "And being asked for directly! It's a good thing I brought my sketchbook. Oh the designs I could make..."

"Glamourous and mysterious?" Twilight repeated, confusion written over her features. "I don't know about that. There was a student from Eventide at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, and she was mostly just kind of strange."

The trotting stopped. Rarity blinked rapidly and stared at Twilight. "Strange?" came the questioning of a mare who had had one too many fantasies break lately and didn't look keen to add another to the pile. "Strange how?"

Twilight went silent. Celestia watched the twitching of her ears and dove into her own memories. Contrary to popular belief, she didn't have every unicorn who had ever graced her school memorized, especially not the ones who hadn't been granted her own extra tutoring. However, students from that corner of the land were rare enough that they stood out, as she could count the number since the school's founding on only her hooves and wings.

Twilight's awkward, "Uh... well... um..." came at the moment that Celestia mentally located the filly in question.

This was immediately followed by a memory of Twilight coming in for her Advanced Transfiguration lesson with a fire-orange coat, still smelling of fur dye, and hooves painted with glossy polish, asking if there was a spell that she could learn that would allow her to teleport another pony to the other end of the school.

That was followed by the memory of Twilight relaying to her, via letter, how she and Rarity had met. Including her hasty flight from the Boutique, wearing a gem-covered saddle, while wishing for a similar spell once more, that would displace the overly-friendly fashionista to the other side of Ponyville.

She was about to speak up and save her student from her floundering, when somepony else beat her to it, in the form of Applejack. "I've got some kin out that way. Don't see 'em much, though. Be nice to go an' visit, iff'n we have the time."

That immediately turned Rarity's full attention on her, and Celestia saw Twilight give a small sigh of relief. "Applejack! You have family in Eventide and never told us?"

Applejack rolled her eyes. "I've got family everywhere, Rares." She shrugged. "Ponies there love their apples just like anypony else." With a wistful sort of smile, she added, "My cousin Goldspur an' his husband have an orchard outside the city. They don't come to the reunions near as much as they ought to, but they love to talk 'bout it when they do. Never had the chance to see it for myself."

That was when the conversation was interrupted, in the form of a long, frustrated groan. "Look, not that this isn't fascinating and all--" Rainbow looked at if the word were as far from how she wanted to describe the current situation as possible. "--But can somepony fill in the rest of us? What's the Umbral Society?"

Twilight opened her mouth, and Celestia saw some measure of her own lecturing expression fall over her student's features. "Well, it's..." And then the expression was gone as soon as it had come. "I... don't actually know." Her confused stare landed in Celestia's direction. "What is the Umbral Society? I thought that Eventide had a marquess, not a chancellor."

Celestia inhaled deeply again, steeling herself. She'd already had this conversation earlier, with Luna, and yet repeating it felt so daunting. They represented so many things. But if she was going to send Twilight and her friends into their domain, they would have to know.

She opened her mouth. Another voice, once again, beat her to it.

"Oh! Oh oh oh!" Pinkie was up on her hind legs, grinning widely, waving her forelegs around with a speed and vigour that had her friends ducking to avoid being knocked over. "I know that! Pick me!"

"...You do?" It took Celestia a moment to realize that the words were Twilight's and not her own.

"Pfff, of course!" She gestured wildly with just the one leg that time, until she finally lowered from her reared position. "Don't you know your history, Twilight? Eventide was founded by earth ponies! The first marquess was one!" She bounced in place upon sharing that information, and her cheery tone didn't change even as she continued; Celestia had been informed via letters that Pinkie Pie could form voice tones other than delighted, but she was still skeptical.

"But then one day a bunch of them got really mad at Princess Celestia--" She found the pink pony pronking toward her for emphasis. "--And decided that they'd have a chancellor and secretaries instead, like before Equestria." Then, rearing up again, Pinkie delivered the words in what was likely meant to be a dramatic fashion. "And now, instead, they have a marquess, but the Umbral Society is like the super-not-really-secret rulers who really run Eventide!"

The baffled looks were universal now, rather than just on Rainbow. Twilight sputtered and laughed a little. "That... that can't be right. It sounds ridiculous. Why would ponies ever decide they want to--"

"Actually, Twilight..." This time, Celestia got her chance to cut in. She wished she hadn't. "That's very accurate to what happened."

"It... is?"

And that was when Luna stepped forward; through her own attempts to gather herself to tell the tale, she'd failed to notice that her sister was doing the same. "The only thing that the story, as told, leaves out is how the feud began." Luna's wings drooped, and neck bent, carrying the weight of a guilt spanning centuries. "And the fault for that lies at my hooves."

Celestia shook her head, mouth forming words she'd said many times, in many different variants. "Nightmare Moon caused that rift, sister, not you."

"Regardless." Luna didn't look at her, simply continuing to speak to the marble beneath her shoes. "When Nightmare Moon--" The words were pushed out, sounding as if doing so were physically painful. "--Enacted her plan, she chose Eventide as the seat of her new reign, and overthrew the marquess."

That's all you need to tell them, sister.

"The Umbral Society was formed in the aftermath, to keep the city stable without a marquess," Celestia cut in, and pretended not to notice the way Luna looked at her. "But even after a new one was found, the Society never disbanded. They've been a political stone in Equestria's hoof ever since."

She sighed deeply, shutting her eyes, and behind them, she saw a parade of ponies. Some she had only known through reputation, others through a few letters, very few in the flesh, but she'd made sure to always know who they were, and what they looked like, just in case. "They're protected under the law. As long as Eventide stays, nominally, part of Equestria, and the ponies of the city support their existence, I can't disband them any more than I can keep Ponyville from having a mayor."

The mental line-up held many earth ponies, some unicorns, one of few remaining crystals of the time, and most recently, ended in a pegasus. A pegasus who had quietly taken the role, and had not uttered a peep to the Crown until the letter with the green eclipse seal. "This is the first olive branch they've extended in a very long time."

"It's a trap. Calling it." Rainbow met the stares of everypony around her with an incredulous look in return. "What? Come on! They're obviously in love with Nightmare Moon and are gonna try to do something weird and evil. They're like, writing it in clouds here!"

"Still..." Rarity ventured. "Trotting into a diplomatic mission with open suspicion is something of a faux pas, no?" Her gaze moved from Rainbow to Celestia. "Especially if the offer is genuine."

Celestia nodded. "Exactly. We can't afford to ignore this." Her horn lit, and she felt around behind her throne until her magic seized a familiar object. "The relationship between Eventide and the rest of Equestria has been strained for a thousand years, and now might finally be the opportunity to reconcile it."

The bejewel case floated through the air to rest upon the throne room floor, its lid flipping open before she withdrew her touch entirely. "Fortunately, we don't intend to send you in unprepared." Five necklaces and one crown lay sparkling, and Celestia let the pride of her smile hide the stab of longing.

Kindness. Generosity. Magic.

It was so good to see them as more than cold, grey stone, even if they no longer sparked for her.

She watched each little pony snatch up their respective element, and saw the shift in their body language. More confident, steady, focused, the sparkling representations of their virtues seeming to set in their minds that this was a mission, pushing away distractions and doubts. Celestia noted for not the first time that Twilight's crown looked a bit big on her, something she would need to grow into, but she still wore it with pride.

Luna nodded her approval. "And I will be accompanying you." Her wings opened and the tip of her horn sparked, her voice not quite becoming the Voice and yet still reminding Celestia of younger days. "If the Umbral Society does intend something 'weird and evil,' they will find that I am not the Nightmare any longer, and will oppose them with all of the magic that I can bring to bear."

Six ponies looked at each other, and shared a nod. Then, looking from one sister to another, Twilight uttered the words Celestia knew she would.

"You can count on us."