• Published 3rd Sep 2012
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Genealogy - (or the Mating Habits of Nocturnes Pegasi) - Georg



A trip to Ponyville turns into adventures in fashion, love, and romance that unfold like a kick to the head with the two most hapless Night Pegasi ever to work for Princess Luna.

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Chap. 3 - Repercussions, Concussions and Regret

Genealogy - (or The Mating Habits of Nocturnes Pegasi)
Repercussions, Concussions and Regret


“I’m sorry.” To Luna’s sight, Pumpernickel appeared as a miserable huddled mass of charcoal-grey in the darkness of the dimly lit boutique hallway, still curled up in a pile of broken plaster and wallpaper next to the hole he had made with his head. After he had smashed open the front door straight into her face, and leapt onto the ‘intruder’ to finish subduing her, Luna had—reacted badly. He was extremely lucky she had not put him straight through the wall and into the morgue; as it was, the enchantments on his Night Guard armor had soaked up most of the damage. Well, the physical damage at least. The mental damage she was still evaluating on both of their regards.

At least he was not crying. It was not proper for a Royal Guard to cry. Even this one. Luna’s heart fell as she spotted a tiny drop fall from the crumpled guard’s face onto the pristine boutique floor.

Oh horseapples!

He was not the only one seemingly suffering from mental damage: Her disguised Royal Guard, Redoubtable, was sitting in the middle of the floor, barely conscious, with an icepack on his head. Rarity had gone nearly catatonic with worry. Twilight Sparkle was almost frantic with… frantic and had magically materialized so many icepacks that even Rarity was holding one to her head. And Laminia was—inscrutable, in a pose where Luna could not tell if she was laughing or crying. Or maybe both.

The Princess of the Night, Diarch of Equestria, and Complete Goat of the Doorway held her own icepack to her swollen face gingerly. The silence between the ponies that gathered around her in the hallway in various states of health was nerve-wracking. As their Princess, she had to say something to them. They all were waiting on her. At least the flying door had caught her on the side of the face and not on the mouth. Trying to put ponies at ease while lisping from a fat lip would have been much harder.

“I’m sorry,” repeated Pumpernickel yet again. The guard had managed to turn away from Luna and was now facing his impact crater in the wall, as if he were unwilling to face the object of his shame.

“My loyal Night Guard,” she started quietly. “I must admit when I first came to see what my patronage had wrought, I was quite disappointed in you. For a minute, I even considered the possibility that you had abandoned your post. For that, I apologize.”

“I’m sorr—Huh?” The battered guard looked up from the floor only long enough to see the icepack Luna was holding, then turned away. His voice was very cold and distant, as if he were miles away. “I accept your apology, Princess Luna, although the affront I have done to you is far greater. I have struck my liege.” His head drooped to the floor. “There can be no forgiveness for my terrible crime.”

“Yes there is.” Luna waited deliberately until Pumpernickel looked up. “What hypocrisy wouldst thou accuse me of, when mine own sister did forgive me of a crime far greater than thine. Should I condemn you for this act, and accept forgiveness from her? Nay, t’would be perfidy most foul! Instead I have a fate far worse in store that you shall accept in its stead, or I shall be most wroth.”

The miserable Night Guard turned around and prostrated himself in front of Luna, still covered in plaster dust and splinters of wood as he lay before the hooves of his princess awaiting judgement. He twitched ever so slightly as she touched her horn to one armored shoulder, seemingly expecting the touch of that royal horn between his shoulder blades as an execution for his crime of lèse-majesté. With a touch of her horn upon his other shoulder, Luna stepped back and carefully attempted to control her voice to conceal the shame she felt.
“Royal Guard Pumpernickel, faithful servant of the Crown and sworn vassal to the Diarchy. Your diligence in defense of your charge has earned you a well-deserved promotion. You henceforth shall wear the name and title of Pumpernickel, Optio of the Royal Guard.”

“Optio?” Redoubtable shifted from his sprawled out position in the middle of the floor to roll over and look cross-eyed at Luna. “What rank is an Optio?”

Twilight Sparkle turned back from where she had been trying to fix the door by reassembling the shattered puzzle pieces the newly-promoted guard had converted it into. “Princess, are you sure that is a current rank in the Royal Guard? I’ve never heard of it either.”

“Why certes it is! I say so(*). ‘Tis a noble and respectable rank, and if it has fallen from favor, then it shall be reinstated. Hoofmaiden, attend me.”

Laminia glided over to stand beside Luna. “Tend to the wounds of thy and my guardians while I speak with the others. Twilight Sparkle and Rarity, please walk this way.” Luna glided regally out of the hallway and into Rarity’s creativity room, followed uncertainly by the two unicorns.

* * *

“Idiot.” Laminia pulled the icepack away from Pumpernickel’s face briefly before putting it back on a bit too forcefully. “You’re hardly even scratched. I thought you were going to be uglier than you were before.” She glanced contemptuously at the white pegasus who had quit trying to sit up and was just blinking rapidly instead. “How are you doing down there, blondie?”

“Ow. Just freaking wonderful. I think the top of my head got caved in by your coltfriend there.”

“He’s not my coltfriend!” Laminia chucked another icepack at the groaning stallion, who landed back on the floor with a thud.

“Redoubtable? Is that you? I thought you were—more orange.” Pumpernickel shifted his icepack to a more comfortable position and stared at the white pegasus on the floor.

“The glory of graduation day bleaching. Lumpy? Oh Celestia, it is Lumpy! Damnation, I’ll never live this one down.” The white pegasus heaped all the icepacks he could find on top of his head and groaned.

“Lumpy?” Laminia poked Pumpernickel in the ribs with one sharp hoof. “Lumpy? Your name is really Lumpy? Is that Traditional?”

“No,” mumbled Redoubtable from under his icepacks. “Lumpy is a nickname from his combat classes. Lumpy there holds the rather dubious record of being the only one in our whole graduating class to have a perfect record in sparring.”

“Really?” Laminia jabbed him with a hoof again. “And I thought you were a generalized screwup.”

“Yeah,” said Redoubtable with a pained chuckle. “Ouch. Not one win. All ties, or losses. We called him Lumpy because of how long it took to get him knocked down for good. Stubborn ass wouldn’t stay down.” One blue eye looked out from under the ice. “How about a rematch sometime, in a week or twelve after my head quits hurting.”

“I’m not sure, I think I bruised a hoof on your hard head.”

Redoubtable chuckled and retrieved his brown slouch hat. The little burns all over the outside had quit smoldering, each scorch marking the placement of a burned-out protection rune on the steel cap beneath. It made a dull metallic sound when he struck it against the boutique floor, indicating fractures in the steel as well as the demise of the protective enchantments that had protected his skull from the same fate.

“Steel-lined and enchanted, although I’m going to want to get those replaced before any other idiots drop on my head. Being a Royal Courier makes a good cover for escorting the Princess when she doesn't want to gather attention, but I got too used to armor in the Academy. The vest is armored and enchanted a bit too. Keeps me from feeling naked. I didn’t realize the job was this difficult when I volunteered. Although if I were smart enough to look up when I’m on guard duty, it would have helped. I’m just glad I had enchanted steel in my hat, or you’d be trying to figure out what to do with my body.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Now stop that, you over-muscled idiot!” The white pegasus winced and put the ice pack back on top his head, balanced on his stubby mane. “Don’t make me yell, it hurts. You did exactly the right thing. The only thing you did wrong, from what I can tell, is you didn’t knock her the rest of the way out.”

“What?” Pumpernickel sat up. “I hit Her Highn— ”

“Yeah, but you didn’t hit her hard enough. Don’t you remember illusions from Cadet training? You should have known anypony powerful enough to be invisible could be good enough to change their appearance too.”

“I know far too much about illusion spells. Even a soft punch is able to break one.”

“Shut up, you two,” snapped Laminia, looking into Redoubtable’s eyes. “Come on, Lumpy. Let’s get your ugly friend over to Ponyville General. That hat of his wasn’t as hard as your head. His pupils are different sizes.”

---

It took a little under an hour to finish getting the Royal ‘Courier’ checked into the hospital. Various and sundry medical ponies were right on top of Redoubtable’s injuries as soon as they staggered in the door with one of his wings draped over each of them for support, but the paperwork lasted long after he had been properly treated and bedded down. The doctor’s diagnosis of “Normal Pegasus Impact Syndrome” would probably result in about three days in the hospital until the guard would be released, none the worse for wear.

“I still think we should have put ‘running into a door’ on the form,” groused Pumpernickel on the way back to the boutique.

“But ‘injury sustained during a fight’ is much more accurate. Besides, that nice police mare seemed to enjoy talking to you so much, and if you had written that down, she would have thought the two of you had some sort of lover’s spat. We wouldn’t want one of Princess Luna’s guards arrested for spousal abuse.” Laminia giggled. She seemed to enjoy the whole trip to the hospital far too much. Maybe she just likes seeing others in pain.

When they returned to the boutique, Twilight Sparkle was waiting for them, and redirected their path to the library with a solid stream of conversation. To Laminia’s apparent disappointment, the original purpose of the Royal Visit had already been accomplished: Rarity had shown the injured Royal Princess their incomplete sketches and outlines, as well as the fragmentary bits of clothing they had developed. And she had forcefully rejected them all before returning to Canterlot.

Before her departure, the Princess had ordered both Twilight and Rarity to go straight to bed and not speak of the event to anypony else. Pumpernickel thought that would be a horrible punishment for the hyperactive librarian, because he was willing to bet she even talked in her sleep. She certainly talked when she walked, not stopping for more than the occasional breath as they made their way back to the library.

“…and she made me Pinkie Promise not to tell her sister until she had a chance herself, and I don’t know when she’s going to do it so I can’t tell Princess Celestia, and Rarity was just so upset about the whole thing, even though Princess Luna kept telling her to calm down and finally ordered her to go to bed. I mean… You hit her!” The last few words were uttered in a tiny squeak, as if the unicorn was afraid of being overheard. Or just afraid.

“Let me get this straight,” said Lamina as they entered the library. “You’re upset that Lumpy there not only assaulted the Princess’s personal Royal Guard, but managed to clobber Princess Luna with the door and jumped on top of her like she was a shoplifter? And in return—she promotes him. No torture, no imprisonment, no ‘To-The-Moon’, not even making him into a horrible example of What-Not-To-Do. Not even a pike!”

“Disappointed?” asked Pumpernickel bitterly.

“No,” said Laminia tenderly. In retrospect, that should have clued Pumpernickel to the horrible fate which was about to fall upon him. The Nocturne mare laid a gentle kiss on the Royal Guard’s cheek. “That is for being so sweet and galloping to my rescue when you thought I was in trouble.”

“Well, I— ” Whatever Pumpernickel was about to say was interrupted as Lamina whirled around and lashed out with both back hooves, catching him in the helmet with a crashing noise much like a ringing bell and a spray of sparks from the activated protective enchantments.

“And that’s for hitting the Princess!” she shouted. She turned her back on the stunned Night Guard, smacking him with her tail as she trotted upstairs to the balcony. “I’m going out flying until moonset. I’m too stressed to work. As my assigned guard and protector, you are going to fly with me tonight, correct?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Pumpernickel said, staggering to his hooves and shaking his head to get rid of the persistent ringing in his ears. Twilight put a hoof on his shoulder as he passed.

“Is that sort of behavior Traditional for the Nocturne?”

The Night Guard blinked a couple of times and took a deep breath. “I hope not.”

---

The air high above the village felt clean and crisp, a far cry from flying over the busy city of Canterlot. Ahead of him, his charge flapped laboriously through the air in the general direction of the reservoir, giving Pumpernickel a chance to think. Unfortunately, since he had clocked the Princess in the face, the only thought that came to mind was about his inevitable horrible fate once his actions were made known. After all, Princess Luna had a sister, and his own sisters were a bunch of devious vengeful creatures that made him wish the Nocturne clans still kept mares locked up in the house at night instead of letting them run loose.

He had to admit, Laminia was getting better at her flying since she no longer put so much effort into a wild flailing of the wings like feathered pegasi. Night Pegasi wings were more dragon-like than bat; long slow strokes and gliding on thermals were the rule. Without the ability to soar through the night, his charge would never be able to properly attract a mate. He shook his head at the mental image and returned to flying.

* * *

“Do you think we’re too early?”

Pumpernickel looked across the sleeping city at the moonlit clock tower and shook his head. “No, Pinkie Pie said our party was at 2:00, and it’s just a few minutes until. I’m just glad she decided to have it during our regular waking hours. Can you imagine having to stay up until the afternoon for a party? We’d probably both be sound asleep before the cake was cut.” The two Night Pegasi descended in a spiral down through the night air to the very dark Sugarcube Corner, and stopped at the front door.

“It seems awfully quiet,” said Laminia. “I thought you said we wanted a regular party. I just hate it when ponies try to jump out of the dark at you. Try not to bop any of them on the nose, okay?”

Pumpernickel frowned at her giggling and tried the door, which opened silently at his touch. “Hello?” he whispered. “You can all jump out now.” The inside of the bakery seemed well-lit to their Night Pegasus eyes even though regular ponies would be blundering around in the dark. As much as they looked around, there were no ponies hiding anywhere.

“You don’t think she’s having the party in her room?” It took checking a few doors before they found the perky pink party pony, sound asleep in her bed and snoring like a saw.

“Oh,” said Pumpernickel as realization finally crashed in. “She did mean 2:00 in the afternoon.”

“Whaaa? Imma wakie, wakie.” Pinkie Pie sat bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open, and yawned. “Oh goods, yere here. I’ll jush get the balloons aired up and wer good.” She picked up her blanket and began breathing heavily into it.

Laminia paused and tapped the sleepwalking pink pony on the shoulder. “Pinkie Pie, I’m sorry but we… I mean my idiot bodyguard thought the party was at night. We can come back this afternoon.”

“nonononooo. Im all reddy, lemmie stat the musik and get cooookie.” The pink pony began fumbling with objects on her nightstand, finally turning an empty plate over and laying a pencil on it. “There, moose sticks. Awful quiet, I’ll fixit.”

Pumpernickel sighed. “Pinkie Pie, why don’t you just lie down. It’s a game. You lie down under your covers and count to… a hundred thousand. When you’re done, you can come out and find us. How does that sound?”

“Oh wunnerful, imma best hidnseeker. One… two… two… four… Zzzz” The two Night Pegasi gently tiphooved out of the room, remaining quiet as mice with fuzzy slippers until they both were back into the sky above the town.

“You get to explain that one to her when she wakes up tomorrow,” said Pumpernickel blearily. “Right now though I just want to land somewhere. I’m bushed.”

“How about we go see the library at Twilight,” suggested Laminia with a yawn. “No, I take it back. Luna told her to go to bed. I mean the Twilight at the library. That tree.” She shook her head to stay awake and took a deep breath. “I’ll make coffee.”

“The tree with the light shining out from behind the shades?” The two Night Pegasi landed quietly on the balcony and tiphooved down the stairs. Neither of them were surprised to find the nervous purple unicorn buried in a pile of research books, trying to flip through several of them at the same time.

“Boo!” said Laminia from behind Twilight Sparkle.

Pumpernickel promptly clopped his charge gently upside the head and scolded, “Hey, be nice! Didn’t you learn anything from my… Oh never mind,” He rolled his eyes and scoffed, “Go ahead, scare Princess Celestia’s star pupil, the most powerful unicorn in the country. Boo Twilight, we’re scary Night Pegasi and you’re not in bed like Luna—Princess Luna said, so you’re supposed to be scared and jump up or something. We’re so scary. Whoo-hoo. Yeah.” He finished with an enormous yawn and a polite cough.

“Can you two wait just a minute?” said Twilight Sparkle as she lifted another book and flipped through it. “I’m almost done.” Several minutes passed as she flipped through more books, making an uneven pile. Finally she put them to one side with a shudder.

“That was just—wrong. What was it you wanted to tell me?”

“Nothing,” grumbled Laminia with a yawn. “You sucked all the fun out of it. Find anything interesting?”

“Oh, nothing really.” The purple aura of her horn enveloped the books as they flew back to their slots in the bookshelves. Pumpernickel barely caught a glimpse of one named “Heinous Criminals of Ancient Equestria and their Executions”, which only brought up the nauseating memory of how Luna’s face looked when he smashed the door into it and jumped on top of—

“I need to use the bathroom!” Pumpernickel darted from the room.

Laminia snickered and called out after him, “Clean up when you’re done!”

Twilight Sparkle watched as he dashed away, waiting until the Night Guard had slammed the door to the bathroom and was busy being sick before she turned to Laminia with a frown. “Just what are you doing with that poor stallion?”

“What? Me?” Laminia laid a hoof innocently across her chest. “I’m just a fashion designer, he’s just my guardian. That’s all.”

“I can’t help but notice you have been—” Twilight stopped and groped for a word.

“Horrid? Awful? Rude?” She kicked viciously at a bookcase and scowled. “It’s worse when I’m short on sleep. I can’t help my own special talent.”

“You mean you won’t help it.” Twilight Sparkle stared down the Nocturne mare. “Rarity told me about the story you told on the train. I don’t think it is even possible for somepony’s cutie mark to be as hurtful and nasty as you made it sound. Cuties marks are positive and special gifts we have that make us better, not turn us into bad ponies.” Laminia’s lips drew back into a thin line as the unicorn continued, “Yours is fairly unique, and I’ve done some reading. Although I’ve never heard of you before a few days ago— ”

“Don’t you lie to me! You know all about me already!” shouted Laminia abruptly, reddening with anger. “You’re Princess Celestia’s private little pet. She’s already told you all about me, how I almost drove her sister crazy by hiding in the room under her bedroom and whispering things to her when she was sleeping. Terrible, hurtful things.

“I was ashamed of the way Luna was after being shorn of the power of Nightmare Moon, ashamed how weak and powerless she looked. So what if I tried to make her change back, to grasp the power she once held? I knew in my heart she could control it this time, she could be the powerful Queen of our legends once again. I knew it, and I never once even considered it was tearing her apart. All because I loved her, and wanted her to be the imaginary creature that never existed except in my dreams and that damnable Book of Tradition!”

The Night Pegasus viciously kicked a library table across the room. Her voice dropped and she sat down abruptly. “I hurt everybody I love. And even after what I did to Princess Luna, even after Princess Celestia and every single Night Guard in the castle caught me red-hoofed in the room under her bedroom whispering. Even then, Princess Celestia forgave me, and healed my wing that had been crippled since birth. She gave me to her sister Luna so that I might serve restitution. HA! Like what I did could ever be forgiven no matter what punishment I’m given.”

“I-I didn’t know,” said Twilight Sparkle. “Princess Celestia never told me what happened. Luna just dropped by the town a few weeks ago in a disguise, spent the day here, and left. We all thought it was a little strange and that something was bothering her, but she didn’t seem to want us to know it was her, and we didn’t pry. Much. We’re kind of used to strange things happening around town. It wasn’t until after the visit that we heard how depressed she had gotten, and by then she was feeling so much better. I’ve never heard anypony say anything about you or anypony trying to—do that to her.”

“You didn’t know about me?” Laminia blinked away tears.

“I didn’t either.” Pumpernickel stood in the bathroom doorway holding a towel. “Not until now.”

Laminia’s lip curled up and the tears vanished. “Oh, a likely—”

Pumpernickel interrupted angrily. “I was the one up in Princess Luna’s bedroom wearing an illusion spell to draw off any watchers while the rest of the Night Guard were with Princess Celestia talking to you, it seems.” His voice took on an acidic tone. “None of them would tell me what was going on then or even afterwards. Not even my own family! None of the Night Guard trusts me since I talked them into making that damned fool offer to Princess Luna.”

“What offer?” asked Twilight innocently.

“I talked the rest of the Night Guard into offering to betray our oaths to Princess Celestia and to swear exclusive loyalty to Princess Luna.” Pumpernickel stopped cold, blinking at the astonished looks the two mares were giving him. “But you already knew that. Right?”

“That’s treason,” gasped Twilight Sparkle.

“That’s outright stupidity,” snapped Laminia. “You would have to be crazy to even think of it.”

“Well if you hadn’t driven Princess Luna half-crazy in the first place, we wouldn’t have been so desperate to do something to help her. Being around Princess Celestia was driving her crazier every night! She was constantly being compared to her sister by everypony in the castle, including herself. No matter what she did, she was looking in this perfect mirror all the time and all she could see was her own flaws.”

Laminia snarled, “I know what she was going through! I was a cripple myself, and every day I saw Celestia in the castle, all perfect and radiant, it made me feel like some horrid insect that should be crushed beneath her hoof!”

“You didn’t have to stay! Why didn’t you just leave!”

“It was my job! My family lives there! I couldn’t leave!”

“Well Luna could! If the Night Guard had sworn to her, we could have gotten her to leave the castle and go somewhere. Anywhere! As long as it was far away so she could recover without having that perfect sister rubbed in her face every day.”

“Oh, brilliant! You thought the best way to get Luna to recover from her stress was to attempt to recreate the Exodus? That’s the first step of Nightmare Moon!”

“I wasn’t thinking! We were all worried! We only wanted what was good for her!”

“Well so did I.”

A sleepy young draconic voice rasped from the other room, “Could you two pipe down? This is supposed to be a library.”

While the two dark figures glared at each other, Twilight Sparkle stayed quietly out of the way with only the tiny scratching noises of a pen showing she was even there.

“You disgust me,” whispered Laminia. “I will be writing to Princess Luna to have you taken from my security detail and replaced by a proper Night Guard.”

“Fine,” whispered Pumpernickel. “Redoubtable should be out of the hospital in three nights. Will he be acceptable? He was an admirable cadet during our training, and Princess Luna obviously trusts him with her own protection. He is a very loyal and brave Night Guard.”

“And just as brainless as the rest of them,” she quietly snarled. The silent clock on the back wall of the library slowly counted out the seconds as their anger cooled. “Fine.”

“Fine.” Pumpernickel looked away with a glower that turned into a subdued yawn. “At least he’s getting some sleep in the hospital.”

“What, you can’t sleep either?” After a worried glance at the back of the library where the baby dragon was sleeping, Laminia lowered her voice and acidly remarked, “Rarity hums while she works.”

“The hotel maids keep knocking on my door.”

“Pervert. So that’s what has been keeping you up. At least they aren’t running a sewing machine at all hours of the day.”

Pumpernickel scoffed quietly. “You want something really noisy? Whatever unicorn designed the vacuum cleaner should be tied to one of them every day for the rest of his life.”

“Oh don’t get me started,” muttered Laminia. “She’s such a hyperactive neat nut. Sweeping, vacuuming, snipping, unrolling rolls of cloth, all day! And she breaks out in song while working! Can you believe that?”

“You wouldn't be able to sleep in the hotel either then. Afternoon is check-in time: foals screaming down the hallways, maids knocking on doors, and luggage carts rumbling by until moonrise. But no singing.” Pumpernickel paused with a curious look. “Does she really break out into song?”

“Oh, everypony does,” said Twilight Sparkle absently as she scribbled away, stopping only when she became aware of the two pegasi looking at her quizzically. “Why don’t you just wear earplugs?”

“Sensitive ears.”

“Ooooh.” Twilight thought for a moment while chewing on the back of her quill. “I could cast a silence spell on your bedrooms. Would that help?”

There was a very long pause as both Night Pegasi recognized the answer to their problem had been staring them in the face, but neither of them wanted to admit the oversight, shuffling their hooves and looking in every direction except the librarian much like small foals caught raiding the cookie jar. Finally, Pumpernickel muttered, “You first.”

“No, you’re the big bad Night Guard. You tell her.”

“Well, you’re the… never mind.” Pumpernickel smoothed his tangled mane and cleared his throat. “Yes. Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. Thank you from both of us. I’m sorry we did not ask you sooner.”

“Well… Okay then. I’ll just need a nice quiet area to link half of the spell to, like my storeroom upstairs. Then I’ll link the other half of the spell to your sleeping area. Oh, I don’t think the hotel will let me do that, but Rarity’s boutique should not be a problem.”

Lamina shook her head until her mane flew around. “That is unacceptable. My guard needs his rest too, so he does not bop any more princesses on the nose.”

Pumpernickel cringed and seemingly sank in on himself. “I could sleep outside your door, if Miss Twilight can expand the spell enough to cover me. It’s only for three nights.”

It was Twilight Sparkle’s turn to shake her head. “You didn’t talk to Rarity. She was absolutely terrified of you after your—Princess incident. I don’t think she will want you inside her boutique anymore. Would you be able to sleep in my basement?”

Pumpernickel shuddered. “Underground?”

“Twilight,” said Laminia quietly. “That storeroom you have. How large is it?”

---

Emptied of a few boxes of books, the windowless storeroom was just barely large enough to turn around in. With the addition of a few cushions, the two Nocturne declared it to be a perfect bedroom for Pumpernickel to sleep away the day: Dark, quiet, windowless, quiet, well-aired, quiet, secluded away from lonely mares, and above all, quiet.

“I’ll go get my things from the hotel in the evening and finish moving in if this works out today. Thank you again, Twilight Sparkle. I promise to be a very quiet nocturnal houseguest. Not as useful as Owlowiscious, but quiet.” Pumpernickel looked at the tiny room and sighed. “It almost makes me feel like home.”

Twilight laughed quietly and asked, “What, was your bedroom this small at home too?”

“Oh, stars no. My whole family sleeps in one room. Aunts, uncles, cousins, foals. It’s about thirty of us, packed in hoof to flank, very Traditional. How about you, Laminia?”

The Night Pegasus mare replied coldly, “The Pins provide me with my own quarters.” Her face softened slightly and she continued, “But my old family used to sleep in one big heap too. It was the only time when I was accepted for what I was. Warm.”

“Yes, I know what you mean.” Pumpernickel patted her on the shoulder. “When I was away from my family at the Academy, I had a very difficult time sleeping. I was the only Night Pegasus in my class, but a heap of one is just not a heap. That first night back home after graduation I slept like a boulder. I miss that.”

Laminia stood for a long time in the small room with Pumpernickel before blurting out, “Do you need any company?”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Twilight Sparkle. “I thought you d—” She coughed gently. “Didn’t like him?”

“I believe I used the word… Well, that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean I can’t sleep with him.” Both Nocturne were looking at her with such matter-of-fact faces that Twilight just had to keep digging.

“But… I thought only stallions and mares slept alone in the same bed if they were—” Twilight’s voice dropped to a whisper “—intimate.”

Laminia and Pumpernickel looked at each other with matching ‘No, You Tell Her’ expressions. “Twilight,” began Pumpernickel patiently. “It’s just for sleeping. Nocturne mate in the clouds among the stars.”

“That’s why my family was so upset that I had a crippled wing,” continued Laminia. “With no honorable mating prospects, I was about as welcome in the family as a caterpillar in a salad. I would have been a drain on their resources until the day I died, unless I went out and got a—” Laminia shuddered dramatically “—job. Oh woe is it that one of our poor, defenseless mares would wish to work outside the home, how un-Traditional. Oh, the shame unto our clan!”

“Oh.” Twilight looked uncomfortable. “I was just wondering. You know there is a baby dragon in the library and—well, I didn’t want to get any difficult questions about nighttime noises.”

* * *

Princess Celestia worried slightly as she nibbled a piece of toast, stalling for time while waiting for her sister to make her traditional appearance at the private breakfast that they had begun to share again over the last few weeks. Luna always had been a bit loose on punctuality for most informal things, but breakfast was normally another matter entirely. Finally she heard the door behind her open and close to the familiar sounds of her sister’s shoes on the tile floor. Smiling inside as well as out, she spooned out a bit of delightful fruit salad and called over her shoulder. “Oh sister, I was beginning to worry. Have you completed those books on cross-pollination you borr—Oh, good heavens!”

The dark indigo alicorn fairly drooped from tail to face, and sported a black eye that even managed to shine through her dark coat in lumpy bruises from the base of her horn down to the top of her jaw. Futile attempts to cover the injury with various shades of makeup lay scattered about the facial battlefield, their abandoned assaults upon the radiant bruising heaped to the side and tangled in her delicate coat like dried paint. Celestia cleared her throat and tried to think of something caring and sisterly to say, but the only thing that came out was, “Luna, you look terrible. What happened?”

“Nothing.” She buttered a piece of toast with fierce intensity.

“I heard from the Night Steward that you left to visit your designer in Ponyville last night, and he said you returned without your guard. Were you attacked? Why did you not tell me?!”

“I said nothing happened.” Luna bit down fiercely on her toast with a sharp crunch.

“Luna!” Princess Celestia sharply addressed her sister with a frown. “Tell me what happened to your face. As your sister I deserve to know.”

“I ran into a door.”

---

Dear Princess Celestia,

The Nocturne that your sister has sent to town constantly talk about something called a “Book of Tradition.” I’ve searched the library here and sent inquiries to the Canterlot Archives with no success. Would you happen to know where a copy is so I can borrow it?

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

----

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

The Nocturne “Book of Tradition” is a collection of family history, genealogy, stories, deeds and such that is kept by each of the individual Night Pegasus families in various towns across Equestria. From what I understand, on the rare occasion when an individual decides to strike out and create their own family group, he or she manually copies their families entire book, so they may have a copy for their own family. Their families tend to be clannish types, with multiple relatives all living under the same roof in a large extended family, so I would presume each family book is quite large and unique.

I apologize for being somewhat imprecise on the details of the book. I’ve never actually seen a copy from any of the families. I will ask Luna to have one of the families send you a copy on brief loan as soon as possible.

By the way, during her last visit to your town, my sister appeared to have run into a bit of trouble. Would you know what happened?

Sincerely,
Princess Celestia

----

Dear Princess Celestia,

Please don’t be angry. I can’t tell you what happened, I promised.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

-----

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

I have instructed my Nocturne to send you copies of their Book of Tradition. I have never actually seen one myself, so I would appreciate it if you could make me a copy of my own that I may peruse at leisure.

Thank you for keeping the events of my trip to your town in confidence.

Sincerely,
Princess Luna, Diarch of Equestria, Princess of the Moon and Night, Keeper of the Stars and Planets, Matriarch of Dreams and Ruler of Shadows

-----

Flying was an excellent way to burn off Cloud Cakes, but Princess Celestia could not concentrate on the healthy exercise or the beauty of the countryside as she soared regally above the ground in the mid-morning sun, skimming a few wayward clouds. A wedge of strongly-flapping Royal Guard pegasi spread out behind her, their wings barely able to keep up with their princess despite the distraction that slowed her wingbeats. Trailing far behind them were several sky chariots, each with a burly unicorn or earth pony Royal Guard that Celestia was only peripherally aware of as she flew, her concerns for Luna taking up most of her conscious thought.

Better to err on the side of caution. Whatever in Equestria had hurt Luna might still be in Ponyville, and an overwhelming display of force… would scare the everloving bejeebers out of her ordinary ponies in the little town.

She frowned and slowed her flight to allow Commander Swift Wings to catch up. “Commander. Spread one squad around the area. I want your two best at my side when I talk to my faithful student. The rest of you are to stay above the overcast and hold position as a reserve. If you see Pumpernickel or Redoubtable, they are to be detained without injury.”

“What if they resist?” The panting armored pegasus was too far back to see Celestia’s face, but he could easily recognize the anger in her next words.

“Then you will detain them without injury.”

---

To say Twilight Sparkle was a late sleeper who reacted badly to sudden morning events would be like saying Soarin’ liked pie, or Cloud Kicker liked… ahem. In any event, the sudden unannounced arrival of the Princess of the Sun at the Golden Oaks Library front door propelled the suddenly awakened purple unicorn into such a state of frenzy that Spike decided to cling to the second better part of valor: Concealment.

Books flung themselves around the library bound in purple auras, hunting for random empty spots on the shelves. Tables scooted across the floor, notes bundled themselves up and threw themselves into desk drawers. A broom and mop darted out of the closet and made a trip around the library with such speed that the Wonderbolts would have hired them on the spot. In the kitchenette, the coffee percolator perked, the toaster toasted, the frying pan fried, and after a few minutes, the front door to the library popped open.

“HelloPrincesswelcometothelibrarywhatareyoudoinginPonyvilledoesthishaveanythingtodowithyoursisternoIcan’tsayanythingaboutthatyetwouldyoulikeapieceoftoast?” Twilight Sparkle stood nervously grinning in the kitchenette doorway. Behind her a faint curl of burnt toast smoke began to drift upwards, indicating a toaster which had just turned into a burner.

The two emotionless Royal Guard pegasi who preceded Princess Celestia into the room spread out to either side of Her Highness, taking up their stoic guard positions as if nothing were wrong. It would take a very astute observer to notice their sharp gaze darting about the room, or the razor-edged tension they carried. It would take a powerful unicorn to notice the faint shimmers at the edges of their sweaty wings where enchanted wingblades were placed, making them fully ready for lethal combat at a moment’s notice.

Twilight Sparkle was both astute and powerful.

Princess Celestia strode forward into the library, a stern and unforgiving expression on her face. It was not a face the cringing Twilight had often seen. “Twilight Sparkle. What happened to my sister on her visit to your town?”

* * *

Pumpernickel squinted across the long expanse of overcast clouds that stretched nearly across the Ponyville valley. Nearly, because somewhere around town there was some sort of gathering of the Royal Guard, which was an enormous inconvenience to the local weather team’s plan for a long afternoon shower.

“I don’t have any idea what’s going on over there,” said Pumpernickel with a wince from his headache. Night Pegasi had very good night vision, but the bright sunlight reflecting from the white fluffy clouds made them almost as blind as regular ponies were in the dark. “Maybe they’ll go away by the time we have to be back for the party.”

Laminia yawned. “I hope Pinkie Pie doesn’t make too big a deal out of the party. I’m about dead on my hooves. I normally don’t stay up this late.”

The group of pegasi from the weather team who had taken a break from putting together an afternoon storm remained clustered together on the nearby cloud layer for company. Despite having introduced themselves and shared their own guesses about the purpose of the gathering of Royal Guard parked above Ponyville, they still seemed to share a little skepticism about the pair of dark bat-winged ponies parked on ‘their’ work.

“So. Laminia, right?” The powder-blue pegasus with the rainbow mane had been in constant motion since the becalmed weather team had decided to take a break next to the Night Pegasi. Rainbow Dash seemed less worried about what the Royal Guard was doing over her town, than about the delay this was going to cause in the rain schedule. She had even gone so far as to mention the unmentionable word: Overtime.

“Yes, Rainbow Dash?” Laminia was being unusually quiet and respectful this morning despite, or perhaps because of the interruption in her training schedule. Pumpernickel was torn between wishing the sun was making her eyes hurt as bad as his were, or the forlorn hope that perhaps she was going to be somewhat civil for his remaining three nights.

“Why don’t ‘cha send your buddy there over and see if he can get any more info from his fellow Royal Guards? They didn’t want to talk to us at all, just kicked our flanks out of our airspace and won’t say when they’re leaving or nothing.”

“No,” said Pumpernickel before his charge could even open her mouth. “I’m not leaving her unguarded. And no,” he continued, “I’m not going to take her over there with me and ask. If there is something dangerous happening, I would be negligent in my duties to take her into harm’s way.” Pumpernickel shifted a bit nervously. Every one of the colorful pegasi in the weather team were female, and every time he opened his leathery wings, he felt three pairs of eyes on them. Four if you counted Laminia.

“Well there’s gotta be something going on,” grumbled a glossy yellow pegasus with an attractive blue-green mane. “My cousin Redoubtable is in Ponyville General with his head all bandaged up. I hadn’t seen him since he went off to Basic Training, and I didn’t think my first view of him since he became a Royal Guard would have been in a hospital bed. He sounds pissed too, but he wouldn’t talk about what happened no matter how much I threatened him.”

“Ooo Raindrops, is that your hot, orange-flavored cousin? I’d bang him in a minute. Maybe I should drop by the hospital later, offer a little bit of compassion, if you know what I mean.”

“Cloud Kicker! Raindrops!” blurted out Rainbow Dash. “Cut that out!” She smiled at Laminia and gave an insecure chuckle. “Sorry about that ma’am. They’re a bit high-strung without some work to keep ‘em busy. So what’cha doing up here anyway. Kind of bright out for ba—” She bit off the word with a sudden glance at an apparently fascinating cloud some distance away.

“Bats,” said Laminia tonelessly. Pumpernickel braced himself for another outburst, but the Night Pegasus mare simply waved one hoof as if dispersing some small fluffy cloud. “We are used to the word. We have heard worse.” She took a theatrical deep breath and looked away. “My guard is attempting to train me in the proper use of my wings. I was born with a crippled wing—” All three pegasi mares gasped in horror; losing a wing was an almost unthinkable infirmity among the sky-dwelling ponies “—and only recently had it healed. See?” She extended both wings out as far as they could reach, gathering an appreciative “Ooo” from her audience and one whistle from Cloud Kicker.

Rainbow Dash popped up into the air and hovered. “Well then, we’d be happy to help out! We’re not doing anything until the Royal Guard clears out anyway. Come on girls! It’ll be just like Flight Camp!”

---

The two tired Night Pegasi spiraled down to the ground outside Ponyville accompanied by the weather team, making a gentle landing on the other side of the bridge outside of the Royal Guard no-fly zone over the city. It had been a very nice impromptu flying lesson for Laminia from her fellow female fliers, and Pumpernickel gave serious thought to seeing about adding some early-rising pegasi to assist with her training. Although none of them had paid a bit of attention to his request to wait on coming into town until the Royal Guard had left, Laminia had actually listened to their flying advice and followed it instead of constantly sniping at them and trying to make them angry. He had to admit, Laminia was very unlike herself this afternoon. She had been calm. Well-spoken. Polite. Until they met the Royal Guards on the bridge into town.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Your guard is being detained.” The grey unicorn Royal Guard officer gestured at where Pumpernickel was flanked by two other stern earth pony guards.

“No!” Laminia stomped one hoof into the dust of the road and glared at the obstructive officer. “I will not stand for this. He’s MINE, and you can’t take him away.” Her yellow eyes narrowed as she stalked towards the suddenly hesitant unicorn. “He was assigned to me by Luna herself. Your Princess! You don’t have the authority to remove him.”

The unicorn guard had backed up to the edge of the bridge; one more step and his flank would wind up in the river. It was strangely cathartic to see her unload her anger on a different stallion, but after a few moments, Pumpernickel took mercy on his fellow Royal Guard and cleared his throat.

“Actually, he does.”

“What?” Laminia turned on her fellow Night Pegasus with a murderous look in her eyes.

“From the manual, Section 5, subsection C, paragraph 4. ‘The elements of a protective detail are subject to removal upon the determination of an officer of higher rank, to be replaced with units of similar rank and function at the discretion of the protective detail’s assignee.’ Um… That’s you.”

“Fine!” She fairly crackled with rage as she turned back on the hapless officer. “Find me a replacement of similar rank for—” Laminia’s lips turned back in a snarl “—Optio Pumpernickel.”

---

“They’re here! They’re here!” Pinkie Pie bounced around the ground floor of Sugarcube Corner like an overinflated pink ball, making one last check of the punch bowl, the streamers, the confetti, and best of all, the cake! She peeked carefully under the serving tray, taking a gentle swat at a white hoof that tried to sneak a piece of cake while she was peeking. “Nope! No cake until the party guests arrive, that’s Rule #58!”

Princess Celestia gently rubbed her hoof. “Not even just one little piece?”

“Nope! Not even for Gummy. Those are the Rules!” Pinkie bounced to the entrance and welcomed the two charcoal-grey pegasi, escorted into the bakery by a quartet of Royal Guards. They both looked tired and drawn from being up this late in the day, but Princess Celestia got a twinge of anxiety when she saw the stressed look on her sister’s Hoofmaiden.

“Good afternoon, Laminia and Pumpernickel,” the Princess said. “Welcome to your party.”

Princess Celestia had many normal lifetimes to recognize the emotions that mortals tried to hide. In even her worst days, she easily could have fleeced the sharpest poker players and con artists in Equestria, but thankfully for the gaming industry, she restricted herself to confounding diplomats and courtiers for much higher stakes. As Laminia walked up and bowed respectfully to her, the surface emotions of the charcoal-grey pony appeared to be calm and collected. The rage that radiated through her skin, however, made Celestia quite glad to have so many of her guards about.

Strangely enough, the anger she harbored appeared to be generalized, with no one individual present who seemed to be the focus for all that ire. Only Celestia was spared her anger. Whenever Laminia looked at her, a cloud of sorrow and regret seemed to swallow the anger up, leaving nothing but ashes.

On the other hoof, Pumpernickel was acting much more formally than any time Celestia had seen him before, except that one time he had gotten his tail stuck in Luna’s door. From his expression, he had retreated into his Royal Guard ‘face’ with the intensity of a cadet on a parade ground. He certainly seemed to have what Luna would call ‘a stick up his rear’ and quite deeply indeed today. It saddened her to see that all of the blunt honesty and compassion she had grown to appreciate in the young Nocturne guard was now buried so deeply.

She gave a little mental sigh, allowing the party to continue until the cake was being served before gesturing Laminia over. “We need to talk. Privately.”

Sugarcube Corner’s back room provided a momentary respite from the noise of the party, as Princess Celestia guided the two Night Pegasi back to their quick private meeting. Commander Swift Wings was already in the room and took his proper place inside the room, guarding the door while his liege spoke privately and firmly to her subjects.

“Laminia. Tell me what happened to my sister last night. I know she was injured, and for some reason she has convinced Twilight Sparkle and Rarity to keep secret just what happened.” The chocolate cake hovering at Celestia’s side had a fork embedded in it, but no bites, showing just how upset she was. “Please. I am very concerned.”

The Night Pegasus mare looked down at the ground, apparently deep in thought. “Your Highness. I am truly sorry. No.”

“No?” Celestia took a step forward and looked at the Night Guard, standing in perfect parade attention at the side of Laminia as if he were about to be inspected. “Pumpernickel, at least you—”

“No!” Laminia snapped a look at her guard. “Say nothing.”

A faint haze of ozone seemed to gather in the room as Celestia glared down upon her sister’s Hoofmaiden. “You dare to command my Royal Guard?”

“Only when he was about to say something stupid!” Laminia met her gaze solidly, without blinking. “Something that would hurt both of the princesses we care about.”

Princess Celestia took a step back and nodded sternly, even as her emotions churned. “Explain yourself.”

The Night Pegasus mare bowed flat before Celestia and closed both eyes. “Please, Your Highness. Do not be angry with us. When Luna and—yourself clashed back before the time of Nightmare Moon, your disagreements did not just start overnight, correct?”

“Yes,” Celestia nodded hesitantly. “They began very small, and grew.”

“Small lies of omission such as your sister not telling you how she was wounded in our town, and you going to investigate without telling her. Correct?”

“Corre—” Princess Celestia blinked. “Wait. That’s not quite how it started.”

“But that’s how it is starting now,” said the Nocturne mare quietly. “If someone other than your own sister tells you what happened last night, a seed of distrust and doubt will be planted in both of you. It may take many years, but if it takes root and grows…”

“The Nightmare could return?” completed Princess Celestia skeptically. “But this is a fairly minor matter.”

“Yet you brought the Royal Guard.”

“Only as a precaution. She is my little sister, she needs protected from whatever danger is here.”

“So you weakened the Royal Guard protecting her in Canterlot, so they could protect you here?”

“That’s not…” Princess Celestia trailed off with an angry look. “I thought there may be a threat here.”

“There is.” Laminia looked up at Princess Celestia’s, her golden eyes reminding the Princess eerily of the sorrowful look Nightmare Moon gave her in the moment before the Elements of Harmony sent her to the moon. “The two of you are a family. Before Nightmare Moon tore you apart, there was nothing that separated you. There was only the Royal Pony Sisters of Day and Night, the Elements of Harmony in word and deed. You had an absolute bond of trust and love that nothing could break. The spirit of chaos who took the name ‘Discord’ was unable to break that bond, because he attacked it directly. Nightmare Moon did with subtlety what Discord could not do with force. She tore your family apart bit by bit until there was nothing left. One. Little. Lie. At. A time.”

Laminia dropped her head and looked at the floor, thankfully breaking eye contact before Celestia had to blink away a tear. “I know all about lies. The little ones are easy. They can destroy far faster than anything can heal. I urge you, return to your sister. Talk to her. Tell her what you have done, and do not let this come between you. Neither of us want to lose her again.”

“My Princess!” Commander Swift Wing scowled at the two Night Pegasi. “This is just silly! Your sister was injured in this town, and it is our responsibility to—”

“Prepare my guards to leave.” Celestia fixed him with a firm gaze. “We will return to Canterlot at once. And you will not speak of this. Go.” Once the pegasus Commander had left the room, Princess Celestia looked down on Laminia with a warm sigh. “Child, get up. This was supposed to be your party.”

The charcoal-grey Night Pegasus got up onto her hooves, but held her head down until the Princess lifted it up with one wingtip and gazed into her yellow eyes. “There is something I must confess to you. I was a bit hesitant about having you assigned to my sister as her Hoofmaiden, due to your—history. Perhaps it is wise to have one who has seen the darkness, and knows what is within, to guide you in dangerous times. It is good to see my trust in both of you was apparently warranted.”

Laminia lifted her head proudly with a dangerous glint in her eyes. “I serve the Princesses.”

“Good.” Princess Celestia tapped her gently on the chest with one hoof. “Do not lose yourself while you strive to serve others. It is far too easy to do.” She nodded at the Night Guard to her side. “Keep up the good work, Pumpernickel. You’re doing a fine job.”

After a long period of unresponsive silence, Laminia said, “Your Highness? I think you broke him.” The Night Guard continued to stared at the far wall, unblinking, with only his breathing indicating he was alive.

Celestia chuckled, “Oh, it happens to the guards once in a while. They just need to be reset. Luna has a very low sense of humor, but since he’s one of yours, I’ll tell you how she does it.” She whispered in Laminia’s ear.

“Oh that’s just… How in the world…” Laminia lowered her voice. “Does she really do that?”

“Oh, yes. She says it ‘takes the stick out’. Just wait until we’re out of the building; I don’t want to alarm my own guard.

The Princess of the Sun trotted out of the room, leaving her untouched piece of cake sitting forgotten on the table. Laminia waited until the noises from the other room had died out, and the sound of wings ascending into the afternoon sky had begun to fade, before carrying out Princess Celestia’s suggestion. She leaned over to the Night Guard, bent one of his ears down, and after a moment of consideration as where to apply her tongue for best results, gave it a good wet lick.

“YYYYEEEEEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!”

High in the sky above Ponyville, Princess Celestia granted herself a brief moment to smile before returning to the serious business of flying back to the castle to speak with her sister. Behind her, the untouched piece of cake sat unnoticed among the party decorations. Briefly.

“Hey, leftover cake!”


(*) Quia ego sic dico, the basis for the Alicorn Princess’ Right of Rule for many centuries.