• Published 23rd Oct 2012
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Princess Luna Picks Up Hitchhikers - horizon



And learns important life lessons, somewhere in between everything going wrong.

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Blade

"Please allow me to ascertain that I have correctly interpreted this statement," I say levelly. "Polar Star … You aver there does, in fact, exist a place we may go in Ponyville to find ponies who desire both my assistance and conversation."

His eyes flick around the room. He nods.

"Despite all that has occurred."

He nods.

"You are certain."

He winces, and finds some point on the wall to study in great depth, turning his gaze as far from mine as possible. He nods.

"He is certain?" I ask Twilight. Twilight nods.

"And" — I turn back to Polar Star — "you have known of this opportunity All. Along."

As the Royal Canterlot Voice thunders through the basement, he bolts. His figure returns to the room hinds first, encased in a purple glow, wings and hooves flailing for midair purchase. He drops to the floor in front of me. Twilight clears her throat and prods his side.

Polar Star whimpers and nods.

I press my hoof against my forehead, and take several deep breaths.

"It is a remarkable thing," I state. "I am encountering quite some difficulty in summoning within myself the outrage which this situation truly deserves."

"That's because the Elements of Harmony took away your spooky angry face!" Laughter says.

Polar Star pales. He leans over to Laughter, and whispers: "You mean that wasn't her angry face the second time you got into her bedroom?"

"Oh, no," Laughter says. "She was much scarier before we blasted her with rainbows."

Polar Star bolts again. Twilight drags him back in again.

I step forward and bring my muzzle to his, close enough to see the beads of sweat on his brow. "And," I say softly, "why, pray tell, didst thou omit knowledge which might have allowed us to bypass this entire ruinous debacle?"

His jaw works; no sound emerges. Twilight helpfully prods him in the side again.

"… I was scared," he says.

"Clearly."

"Of what you'd think of me."

I coolly hold his gaze for a moment, then break away and stomp across the room. "Unbelievable."

"Um," Kindness says. "Please, Princess, don't be too mad, that is, he meant well —"

"On the advice of our sister," I say, "we have tolerated the most outrageous laxities of discipline and decorum in the Night Guard. Clearly, it is not the elite and feared fighting force which we led a millennium ago. But this. This! It is too far. For a Royal Guardspony to so soil the honor of his position by placing base vanity above his duties —"

"Princess?" Twilight manages to work in edgewise.

"Be thou quiet, Magic," I say. The temperature in the room lowers a degree. "How dare thee, Polar Star. How dare thee. For a millennium prior to our exile, and a millennium after, the Royal Guard hath represented the best and brightest of Equestria, those who have been called to stand closest to divinity herself, sun and moon both. It is not us who thou insultest to-day, but a forty-generation legacy." I wheel and shout in his face: "Courage! Honor! Strength! Do the highest ideals of the Guard mean so little to you?"

"Princess," Generosity pleads.

"You. Hush," I snap to the other ponies in the room. Ice crystals again begin to form.

Polar Star, for his part, is sitting stunned, horror spreading across his quivering muzzle.

I lean in, wrench his jaw level with a brief hornburst, and hiss: "What hast thou to say for thyself?"

He squeezes his eyes shut rather than meet my gaze. "Mistress. I … I never wanted …" Tears escape down his cheek. "I'm so sorry. You deserve better. I'll … I'll resign."

"No," I thunder. "Thou wilt not. Resignation is too good for thee, Polar Star. In the morning, thou wilt deliver me unto this location of which thou speakest, and thou wilt face our judgment of thy vanity in full measure. Then, we shall return to Canterlot, and we shall search through the entire structure of the Equestrian Guard until we find the most base and abject post to which thou couldst be assigned. And there thou wilt languish until the end of thy nights."

Kindness bursts into tears and runs sobbing from the room.

"Princess!" Twilight cries.

"What."

She works her jaw silently as I turn my gaze upon her. "… Please," is all she can manage.

I stare, unamused, then turn my back. "Depart from our sight. All of you."

"But —"

"Now."

They retreat. I stare pointedly at the back wall, neck straight, wings out and quivering, hoof lifted.

"Don't fret none," I hear Honesty whisper to Polar Star behind me. "It'll be alright. She's overreactin', is all."

Polar Star sobs and trudges away, hoofsteps slow and heavy.

I hold my pose for several seconds after the door closes, then glance back to make certain that I have been left alone in the room. I wait for the sounds of hooves to finish retreating up the stairs.

Then I throw myself to my bed and, likewise, burst into tears.

I attempt to console myself that it was a necessary harshness. That an example must be made, and a Royal Guardspony afraid to perform his duties is a line Equestria dare not cross.

But I keep seeing the tears streaming down Polar Star's face. Dear, faithful Polar Star. I keep hearing Kindness' sobs as she flees.

And my heart rips along with theirs.

* * *

I am interrupted once during the night. Polar Star enters, muzzle green, and sets a scroll down at the corner of the bed. I lift it far enough to note the solar seal and then fling it into the corner unopened. My guard slinks out without a word.

Breakfast is pancakes and silence.

Twilight Sparkle, Polar Star and I sit in mutual solitude, trisecting the arc of the oversized kitchen table. Twilight's companion tiptoes back and forth between us and the stove, as if sneaking past the slumbering muzzle of one of his largest ancestors. Polar Star stares at his plate. Twilight Sparkle stares at me. I stare into the empty space between them.

Twilight finishes her first serving, then very deliberately places a hoof on the table and pushes her plate away from her with the slow scrape of ceramic on wood.

I float a geometrically precise triangle of bread and syrup to my muzzle, chew, then dab the corner of my mouth with my napkin.

"Celestia told me two things," she says, shattering the silence. "One, that she has another letter for you to read once you've decided where you're reassigning Polar Star. And two —" her voice remains level with obvious struggle — "that I shouldn't talk to you about what you did until after you return from today's trip." She stands and stalks out of the room. "So I won't."

Et tú, Twilight?, a small voice in the back of my mind mutters.

Polar Star looks up for the first time as she departs. His eyes flick over in my direction. He freezes. I sigh and set down my utensils. He straightens to rigid attention, gaze snapping out into the middle distance.

My hunger evaporates. "Come," I say, leaving my last pancake unfinished. Polar Star scrambles into step behind me, and we walk to the front door.

I swing the door inward as Honesty raises her hoof to knock.

"Oh, hey, Twi, I — oh." She scrambles out of my way and dips her head. "Your Highness."

She's overreactin', is all. My stomach twists.

For a moment, my resolve wavers. "Applejack?" I say. "I … would ask thee a question."

"If ya gotta," she says.

Her tone gives me pause. Do none of them realize my obligations? How dare they judge me after all I have endured — all I have sacrificed. If even those who would call themselves friends cannot understand what Equestria requires of me, my second thoughts are fruitless.

Nevertheless, Honesty is awaiting my question. I glance around at the trail of devastation from the previous day's debacle, and the obvious escape presents itself: "What is the best manner in which to offer our assistance to the Ponyville reconstruction effort?"

"Oh!" The query appears to catch her off guard, and she glances back as if to remind herself that the town is, in fact, in ruins. "Honestly, Princess, somethin' like this happens 'round about every other week. They've got rebuildin' down to such a science that most times even me an' Mac just get in the way." She clears her throat. "I wouldn't worry about fixin' town."

"Very well," I say neutrally. In the ensuing silence, her muzzle sinks into a frown. I refrain from gritting my teeth, and lean forward. "Then I shall attend to my royal obligations."

Uncertainty crosses her muzzle, and at her hesitation, I look around for my chariot, seizing the opportunity to end this conversation. I espy it parked around the side, and glance back at Polar Star — only to see Honesty placing a comforting hoof on his withers, gazing earnestly at his face.

Polar Star is standing at full attention, eyes fixed into space. His jaw quivers at her touch, but he does not spare her a single glance. He anticipates my question, gives me a brief nod, and high-hoof trots over to the chariot, the very model of professionalism.

Honesty — left with a hoof hanging awkwardly in midair — frowns at me again and walks inside, slamming the door behind her.

I settle in to my chariot seat as Polar Star straps himself in. "Will Fireball be joining us?" I ask, looking at the empty second lead.

"Mistress, no," Polar Star says crisply. "Doctor-ordered medical leave."

"Oh."

Polar Star says nothing more, and I realize he is awaiting my order.

"That is good," I say, because it sounds like something I ought to.

He nods in silence.

"That he is getting rest," I clarify. "After his brave sacrifice in defeating the dragon."

After long moments, Polar Star says simply, "Yes, Mistress."

I find myself growing steadily more unnerved. It is like speaking to one of Celestia's walls of meat. "Stop that," I order.

He turns back to meet my gaze for the first time since my challenge the previous night. "Stop what?" he says. "… Mistress."

"That."

He looks at me with increasing unease, then nods and turns back into his lead in silence.

I very nearly confront him on the false respect of his formality, but pragmatism wins out: No discipline I might administer could hold any worse threat than that which I have already promised. I shift the topic instead. "To what location shall we depart?"

He begins to trot stiffly. "Not far from where I lived, Mist—" He catches himself. "… Where I lived four years ago."

I digest this. "You lived in this town?"

"Yes, Mih." I can see his shoulder muscles work as he swallows. "… Yes." He turns on the main road and brings the chariot up to speed. "For a time."

"And yet you recognized none of its streets nor landmarks when we were assisting Leafy Greens?" I attempt to make it sound curious rather than accusatory.

"Not on this side of the tracks."

"Surely Ponyville cannot be that large in size, that any resident may remain ignorant of its geography for long."

"When we cross the tracks, Mistress," he says, "you'll understand."

He trots east in silence, through Town Square and past Generosity's boutique, then along an arterial road through an increasingly residential neighborhood. As we near the edge of town, he turns south on a poorly marked but wide street. The houses shrink in size as we travel, and begin to accumulate signs of aging and disrepair: peeling paint, overgrown yards, half-disassembled carts propped up on cement blocks.

The chariot lifts over a slight rise, wheels rumbling over iron rails, and the sights grow even more shocking.

A thin line of squalor clings to the edge of Ponyville like a scar across a flank, some two blocks deep and a dozen wide, squeezed together by the railroad track on one side and rocky, uncultivated hills on the other. Dropped haphazardly within the blight are squat grey stone buildings with barred windows; abandoned weed-choked lots; a large gutted shell of what once must have been an apartment building; and flimsy lean-tos of corrugated metal which one might charitably label dwellings.

From around corners and behind curtains, a dozen eyes stare at me with a suspicion that at first feels all too familiar — but this is a suspicion that precedes my watchers' shock of recognition. In truth, there is no shock at all. These ponies stare at me until my eyes meet theirs, and then — instead of pretending their attention was elsewhere — coolly hold my gaze for some moments. Finally, they turn away, slowly, deliberately.

A strange thrill runs up my spine … along with a few nibbles of fear. I am by no means unfamiliar with poverty, but this makes no sense. At the scrutiny of a princess, the proud poor flinch in shame, or comport themselves as befitting the richness of their spirit; the ambitious poor seek profit; the humble poor seek alms; the dishonest poor scatter like insects from an overturned rock. Not once since the Alicorn Ascendance have I been treated with disinterest.

What madness, this modern world?

Do they not recognize me? … How could they not recognize me, here in Ponyville of all places, whence my regrettable reign of terror began? Do they recognize me … and yet not care?

"Welcome to Lostside," Polar Star says quietly, as if that answers the question.

The first intersection at which we arrive appears to be the neighborhood's hub of commerce. The largest and most fortified of the buildings has a small sign advertising it as a pawnbroker's. On the opposite corner is a building painted faded orange, with a prominent sign stating "MARKET", even though the establishment seems of insufficient size to hold any significant stock of goods. From an even smaller, unmarked door directly adjacent, the scent of fry-grease wafts out. Just beyond it is a liquor store, a fortress almost rivaling the pawnbroker's in size and defense. The intersection's third corner stands open-doored into some variety of bar, with a muscular earth pony sitting discreetly inside the doorway. The fourth corner is another drinking establishment, but the advertisement over its closed door reads simply "SALT."

Polar Star smoothly turns left, taking us past a second, smaller liquor store; a featureless storefront bearing the ominous placard of "SPELLS CAST CHEAP"; a squat bunkerlike building that appears to be a gambling establishment; two more bars; a shop advertising paraphernalia of salt consumption; and a small studio with artwork displayed in the windows. The last is incongruous, and I examine it a moment before blinking in recognition.

"Ah! This is the first skin-inking establishment I have observed since my return," I say conversationally. "It is a pity they have fallen so out of fashion."

"Yes, Mistress."

It soon becomes clear no more is forthcoming. I press forward regardless. "In the 600s, there was quite the obsession with the alchemy of the Zebra. No small number of self-proclaimed indigenous practitioners promised to teach pony students their sacred mysteries through a complex and costly program of initiations, each of which was commemorated by the skin-inking of a black stripe. Equestria's skin-inkers trebled overnight, and even so, it was not uncommon to find renowned artists booked a year in advance. For a generation, walking into the soirees of the High Everfree Court felt as though visiting a foreign capital."

I await laughter, or a sharp-witted pun, or an off-color joke. As the silence begins to stretch out, Polar Star says only: "Fascinating, Mistress."

"Apparently so," I say — upset anew at him, and upset with myself for it. I change the subject. "Where are we going, Polar Star?"

"Hitchhiker's Corner."

The cart rolls past the vomit-stained walls of a medical clinic and a small complex of state buildings — most notably a beaten-down Guard outpost and a wellmare benefits office.

"Who is Hitchhiker?"

He turns his head back to look at me, apparently attempting to gauge whether I have asked the question in jest. "Not a who, Mistress. A what. Not many ponies here are the sort you'd want to meet, but that's where to find those you do."

"What is a hitchhiker, then?"

"It's. Um." He gropes for words as the cart passes a block-long fenced-in lot that appears to be a salvage-yard; several ponies inside are arguing over a pile of warped and aged building supplies, and pay us no mind.

"A pony who hikes hitches?" I guess. "A day-laborer, hired to fill empty leads for cart-pulling?"

"No, more than that. Supposedly that's where the term came from, but the word kinda … grew. It's about keeping on the go. Not wanting to be where you are. Sometimes that means doing day-labor and moving on from where they drop you off. Sometimes it just means catching a ride and seeing the sights. There's this whole culture to it that I don't think I can explain."

"Ah," I say, the puzzle assembling itself in my mind. "And you feared to reveal this to me because you were a hitchhiker, once."

"No, Mistress."

"Pardon?"

He trots in uncomfortable silence.

"Polar Star," I say in warning.

"Some hitchhikers helped me get here from Fillydelphia," he says quietly. "But I wasn't trying to keep moving. I just wanted to get away."

"Then I understand your fear even less."

"It wasn't the hitchhikers I was afraid to tell you about." He sighs, risks a look over his shoulder into my eyes, and summons his courage. "It was —"

"Hey!" a gravelly voice shouts from the sidewalk behind us.

Polar Star, who is already facing that direction, reacts to this interruption before I do. His eyes flick over to the voice's source, then go wide. He stops midsentence, whipping his head back around toward our direction of travel, and subtly picks up his pace.

"Stop the chariot!" I order, our conversation momentarily forgotten. Polar Star makes an odd little strangled sound in the back of his throat, but complies, staring forward at rigid attention.

I turn to the pony who hailed me, my most Celestial smile on my muzzle. Having gone to these lengths, I would be mad to deny anypony the opportunity to speak with me — hostile or no. Besides, it is not as though a princess and her retinue have anything to fear from a lone mortal.

That mortal is a sorrel-colored earth stallion whose facial features have been chiseled by age into a granite caricature of his younger self; the material thus eroded appears to have settled into the rolling hills of his torso. Said barrel is lumpy and gentle in a manner wholly at odds with his Cutie Mark — a pair of crossed mouthblades that would not look amiss as an insignia for an Equestrian Guard regiment.

"Salutations, my little pony," I say with regal gentleness. "How is it that I … might …"

He marches past me as if I have not even spoken, plants himself in front of my guard, and squints into Polar Star's face from mere inches away. Then his face lights up, and he lets out a short bark of incredulous laughter.

"Alicorn apples!" he says. "It really is you! What the rut are you doing back in Lostside, Polar Star?" He lunges forward, forehooves clamping around my guard in a bear hug.

"Aheh heh hrk!" Polar Star's chuckle is cut off for lack of air. He wheezes for a moment until the strange stallion eases off, and scrambles back to rigid attention. "Blade! Great to see you, it's been a while, we'll catch up later because I'm on duty."

"Duty?" Blade grabs Polar Star's head, and twists it in both directions, squinting at the light gleaming off of his helmet. "Rut me up the out hole, that's Royal Guard gear!" He turns to me, seeming to notice me for the first time.

I smile uncertainly; I might as well seize this opportunity. "Salutations, my little pony. Might I offer you a —"

His face cracks into a broad smile, one tooth prominently missing. "A job, Princess? Of course! It would be a drippin' honor to serve the crown again." Blade chucks a hoof at Polar Star's shoulder, clanging off his armor.

"That is not —" I begin, until I realize that I am about to make our first interaction a rejection of his cherished hopes. "Ah. Well."

But how can I not? Even though the Night Guard has changed in the last millennium in ways I despair of understanding, if this stallion is fit for the prestige of a royal post, I shall eat my sollerets.

I stall. "There are procedures, of course, and training …"

Wait.

"… Did you say 'again'?"

Blade waves a hoof loosely forward in a gesture that might charitably be agreed to resemble a salute. "Shoveled my road apples in the Third Royal Cavalry on the Mongrel Line in eighty-eight. You'll never catch me carrying a point again, but by Tartarus I'll give you your bits' worth for a fair day's work."

Now I am simply confused. "Then we shall see if we might assist in securing you employment," I say. "What skills do you possess?"

Blade looks confused himself for a moment, then barks out a laugh. "Ha! You sure found a joker, P.S." He draws himself up in an exaggerated swagger and harrumphs. "My cerviculum vitae, you ask? I am currently employed as royal ambassador to the squirrel kingdoms — but don't ask the pigeons for references, they're filthy liars. As to the matter of my qualifications! Well! They knighted me High Lord of Lostside last winter, after I saved the Seapony Barony using nothing but dental floss, a large chunk of granite, and a knocked-up sardine. I know ninety-seven foreign languages, including dinner party, and —"

"Blade," I interrupt, an edge creeping into my voice, "art thou mocking me?"

The question slams him to a halt. He glances at Polar Star, then back to me. "What?"

"Thou ask— you asked me for employment, and this is how you see fit to respond to mine inquiries?"

His mouth opens and closes. He points down at the chariot yokes. "Whoah there, High and Mighty, don't get grit up the slit. You're in Lostside with an empty lead. We both know what you're here for."

I feel my face flush as his colorful image passes through my mind. "I … but …" I recompose myself. "There appears to be a misunderstanding. The purpose of my visit is to better acquaint myself with the concerns of the common pony. I seek to offer my citizens the kind gesture of transportation to their destination, and meanwhile to engage them in conversation."

"Well, I'm common as road apples, and I'm concerned about a few bits in the bag. You'll want a full lead to pick up your passengers. And if you wanna gab while we trot … Tartarus, lady, whatever caulks your cart." He begins to fumble with the lead-straps.

My heart quickens. He wishes to speak to me!

No, a calmer and wiser voice cautions. He is willing to speak with me as part of what he mistakenly assumes to be an employment relationship.

But he wishes to speak to me! I cannot keep a smile from my muzzle.

The wiser part of me recognizes how desperate and delusional that must seem. I console myself that it is not as though I need to bribe respect and companionship from the common pony; this is merely a confidence-builder during my recovery from the missteps of the past several …

No. I cannot finish.

It is no use deceiving myself. I have so terrorized Ponyville that I cannot obtain simple conversation without travelling to the dregs of the city in order to purchase it from a road-mouthed friend of my guard's. My sense of victory wilts before it has even taken root.

And yet … here I am. I might as well make the most of this sordid situation.

I conceal a small sigh. "I shall make arrangements to remunerate you for your time."

"No problem! I'm easy!" he says, threading the chariot-yoke through the cinch. "But you are going to pay me, right?"

"… Yes, Blade. I am."

"You won't regret it!"

"Naturally."

Regrets mount, naturally.

I glance at Polar Star — still frozen at rigid attention, in the manner of a lone prey animal surrounded by timberwolves. He knew — feared — what I would find here. He went to great lengths to keep me from it. A sick clarity overtakes me. He feared what I would think of him … were he to propose I stoop this low. And I, in my arrogance and naïvete, punished him for his wisdom.

Polar Star happens to glance back as I am examining him, and our eyes meet. His lips curl into a grimace, poorly disguised as a smile. He turns his head back away.

"Polar Star," I say quietly, "might I speak with you privately for a moment?"

His ears twitch. "Yes, Mistress."

Admissions and apologies race through my mind as we step away from the chariot. You sought to warn me. I ought to have placed faith in your judgment. I was so obsessed with the perceived failure of your fears that I never considered their validity. I did not listen. You were right, and I did not listen.

I clear my throat uncomfortably. This time, it is I who cannot meet his gaze.

"It occurs to me that I failed to request your appraisal of our circumstances," is what comes out. It is a start. I look up, baring my teeth in a forced smile.

His ears are flat. His eyes are wide. His jaw hangs open. It is a look of terror no longer, but of horror — as if staring into the face of a monster. A monster! My breath catches. What did I say?

"Circumstances," he echoes.

We hold each other's stare. My heart pounds in my chest. My smile begins to itch on my cheeks.

I swallow and wingpoint at Blade. "I promised him employment without so much as requesting the insight of your prior experience. An error I desire to rectify."

Polar Star's face hardens. "Of course, Mistress," he says. "Because you've got to follow through on your promise, right?"

I blink. "Polar Star?"

"With all due respect, Princess," he snarls, straightening up to stand at attention, his eyes straying out into the distance, "stuff it."

I take an involuntary step back. "What —"

"You know something?" he barrels onward. "I really let myself believe that you were overreacting. I thought you cared about ponies. I respected you. But rubbing my nose in this? It's true what they say — Nightmare Moon just can't give up her grudges."

My brain seizes. Something in my gut plummets and crashes to the ground. The sound of it escapes my muzzle as a tiny, incoherent squeak.

"So bring it on," he continues, tone growing fiercer. "You're going to break me — I've got no illusions about that — but my time in the Royal Guard was the proudest of my miserable life, and I can at least face the end of that with the courage of the forty generations that kept Equestria safe from threats like you."

I stare at him, mute. My vision blurs. I try to blink it away, and I feel wetness spread down my cheek-fur.

"And I." I can see the blurry outline of his face finally turn to look at me. "Uh."

I quell my shaking, squeezing my eyes shut to recover my vision. When I open them again, he is staring at me, uncertain. Terrified.

Good.

"If it be the spirit of vengeance thou desirest as an employer," I whisper, "thou shalt have her."

"I," he stammers. "Hold on. Meeting him was intentional, right? It can't just be —"

"Stuff it," I hiss. I whirl and walk away, struggling to breathe without bursting into sobs. "Blade!"

"Almost … ready!" he calls back, teeth still clenched around the yoke-strap. "This thing's tighter'n a unicorn rut-ring on an earth pole."

"Cease thy blithering," I order. "We have immediate need of thy knowledge. Tell us of the most base, sordid, intolerable post to which thou ever wert assigned."

He looks up from the strap, then spits it out. "Tartarus, lady, you sure must be fun at parties. My year on the Mongrel Line's what I drink to forget."

I frown. "That war is fifteen years concluded. There must be some foreign posting as miserable in the modern Guard."

His eyebrows lift, then furrow. "Road apples. As bad as the Line? Well … I did hear some of the vets say at least we weren't fighting in Saddle Arabia. Too drippin' close to the sunrise. Land of the two-minute suntan. Too hot to think till noon."

"Yes!" I say. "Good." Equestria maintains an embassy there, and where there is an embassy, there are guard stations.

"Or the jungles of Brayzil. If the fever don't get you, the snapfish will." His eyes light up. "The Everfree! Oh, now that's gotta be a dam-rutter. I remember a pegasus who volunteered for the Line to get out of Everfree overflights."

"Excellent," I say, raising my voice in cold satisfaction. "There is a transfer I must arrange at once."

"'Course, even the Everfree," he says, "still would beat bein' a Moonie."

An argument from the distant salvage-yard drifts in to fill the sudden silence.

"What," I say.

He leans in conspiratorially. "The Night Guard. The out-hole of the force. They put 'em through these weird rituals and make 'em flesh-eating monsters. It turns 'em loose in the caboose." He twirls a hoof alongside his head. "Not that transferring's an option. The whole branch is so drippin' up-rutted that, no matter the applesauce you get yourself into, your CO can't ship you there without a hoofprint straight from Herself."

I glance back at Polar Star. He is staring at the ground, ears flat, face an ill shade of pale.

"Got some great jokes about 'em, though," Blade says. "How many Moonies does it take to screw in a magelight?"

I can bear no more. I whirl and flee.

* * *

My mind is aroil as I gallop. My beloved Night Guard — once Equestria's most stalwart and legendary defenders — now the mocked and pitied dregs of the armed forces. But how could it be otherwise? They are mine, and as with everything else I have ever touched, they lie in pathetic ruin.

Just as with Polar Star. Polar Star! How could he have said such things? The tears burst forth, and soon I am galloping blind. I respected you, his voice echoes in my mind. Nightmare Moon just can't give up her grudges. I respected you.

I cannot understand. What did I say? How could it have been worse than … than … promising to make the rest of his existence as miserable as possible, in a worthless effort to defend the nonexistent integrity of the Night Guard. Sweet stars, no wonder they think me so horrible.

Around me, the blurry shapes of carts and buildings crowd in, and I take to the skies. It is not fair! Do good intentions count for naught? Even as my mission has crumbled to dust around me, every last action I have attempted has been to demonstrate my reform and improve my reputation. Is there nothing I can do to prove myself worthy of returning to Celestia's side?

… Celestia.

I am halfway to the library before my mind fully processes the change of course. My sister believes in me. She is proud of my efforts. She will know how to repair this ruination. I can send her a scroll via Polar … no. Via Fire … no. Via Twilight's companion? Not likely; fresh guilt seeps into my heart as I remember the stares at breakfast.

Wait. Twilight mentioned a second letter!

I tuck my wings in for a steep dive and hurtle through the library's open window, hooves slamming into the floor with a thunderclap, the shockwave of my entrance provoking a squawking owl from his perch amid a cloud of dun feathers. Twilight, too, leaps up from her writing-desk and spins to face me, yelping. "Dash! I told you —" She blinks. "Oh. Um —"

"The letter," I demand.

Twilight freezes. Her eyes flick backward guiltily to an open scroll on the desk, her dropped quill bleeding ink onto its half-filled surface.

"Celestia's letter," I clarify. "Where is it?"

"It. I." Recognition sparks in her eyes, and a scroll bearing a solar seal lifts from atop a pile on one side of her desk. "This?"

I snatch it from her hornglow, breaking the seal and unrolling it in a single urgent motion. "Hold on, Princess," she protests weakly, but I am already reading:

My beloved sister,

This was the hardest lesson I ever had to learn from our conflict: Sometimes, love requires letting those you care about make their own mistakes.

By now you've discovered the hard way what last night's letter would have revealed within moments. I'm truly sorry it had to be so, but what could I have done? To force you to listen would have been to return to my days of well-intentioned arrogance which so deeply wounded you. Never again, Luna. Never again.

I am not blameless in today's errors, and I will assist as I can in their repair. However, there is one thing which I cannot do, and which I strongly suggest be undertaken before this misunderstanding escalates any further: mend the heart of a guardspony whose regard for you, even now, is without peer in the modern age.

Celestia

I stare at the scroll numbly.

"Princess?"

I reread the final sentence, feeling the corners of my vision once again blur.

"… Luna?"

I glance up into the face of the living embodiment of the Element of Friendship. The corners of her muzzle are tugged into a frown, which drifts into open-mouthed concern as our eyes lock together in the manner of paired lodestones.

She swallows. "I," she says. "We should. Um. Maybe talk about, uh, what you …"

Twilight trails off as I sink to my cannons, choking back a sob. The scroll falls from my horngrasp and rolls away. I lunge forward, clasping my hooves around her foreknees. Another sob bursts free, taking my breath with it.

She stands above me, frozen awkwardly. "Um. Princess, I …" She pauses, and when she speaks again, it is in a quiet and hesitant tone. "Luna? What's wrong?"

I cannot fix this. This is all my fault, and I cannot fix this.

"Twilight," I whisper. "Help me."

Author's Note:

IT'S ALIIIIIIIIIIIVE

Sorry about the cliffhanger. I promise it won't take me seven months to update this time.

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Comments ( 38 )
xoid #1 · Jul 22nd, 2013 · · ·

I promise it won't take me seven months to update this time.

You’re going to take longer?! :flutterrage: :trollestia:

Well, I'm still following this. And it's always engaging to see Luna grappling with modernity.

Oh, Luna *shakes head in disappointment*

Holy hell. That...

THAT took a turn.

I'm impressed.

~Skeeter The Lurker

2915063
At this point I should cop to drawing the world's most irregularly updated webcomic, which (as of last time I posted one, in 2009) had a Mean Time Between Updates of 484 days. That reminds me, I need to post the next one sometime.

2915278
Right now, I think several ponies need a hug. :fluttershysad:

2915510
Hence the warning. Glad it worked, though!

I never had any intention to follow this story until this chapter. Now, I must see it through to the end.

Always happy to run into a good story featuring the royal guards. Double bonus if it's the night guards. Poor Polar Star.

I didn't know about this story till I saw it in the featured box about 2 hours ago. I'm now typing this comment at 5 in the morning completely caught up. It was a pleasant read.

This is amazing. Please send moar.

._. Luna needs help. And hugs and Reassurances. But mostly help.

Always a pleasure to have another one of these! I gotta say, this is my favorite fic for portraying just how achingly hard poor Luna is trying at this business.

You promised Luna was going to get her comeuppance, and certainly delivered.

However, I don't like being left in suspense.
How many Moonies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

(Also, I love the term "Moonies." Teehee.)

Breakfast is pancakes and silence.

That is the most evocative five word sentence I have read in pony fiction in... probably ever.

The previous chapter earned you a thumb. Those five words earned you a favorite. If I were not already watching you, they would have earned that as well.

That was a glorious scene.

2933314
It took me a while to actually get the blog post written, but you'll be happy to know that your question will soon be answered. :twilightsmile:

2915063 Third of the way there, so far.

3305449
… and coming up on the six-month mark.

If I post the next chapter eight months later, technically I didn't take seven months to do it, right? :derpytongue2:

3806984
Yeah, I was wondering about that. You kept pushing things in the direction of "she doesn't respect/appreciate her own guards" and made it seem like that might be something she suddenly realizes, and the end of that last chapter confirms it...

3794550 Don't you logic your way out of this!

That awkward moment when you read a new story, and see it hasn't updated in nearly a year. :raritydespair:

Comment posted by horizon deleted May 25th, 2014

4440402
My next big project after Hard Reset 2 is to return and push this forward some. I love this story. I'm just struggling to meet HR2's deadlines. :ajsleepy:

4443224
Better to keep focus on one project at a time, that is certainly true. I should probably read Hard Reset 2, but the original's premise didn't really grab me, so I haven't read it. :fluttershyouch:

Just curious if this story is gonna be continued at any point? I'd really like to see that as Luna is best pony and this has the potential to be a truly beautiful story.

Just decided to read down the comments a bit and found my question answered. A bit torn though as I love both this story and Hard Reset 2.

Author's Note:

IT'S ALIIIIIIIIIIIVE

Sorry about the cliffhanger. I promise it won't take me seven months to update this time.

It's DEEEEEEEAAAAD

Yes, it's not seven months. It's approaching seventeen now.

5232426
Hence the story having been labeled "On Hiatus" for approximately a year now. :applejackunsure:

Sorry. I still hold a fond place in my heart for it, and may again push it forward someday, but it's very low priority right now. You can keep an eye on the "Upcoming Stories" section of my userpage to get a sense of what else is occupying my attention and where Hitchhikers rates in the grand scheme of things.

5233291
Yep. It doesn't rate.

A broken promise.

5234577
Congratulations! You have discovered that I am an imperfect being, and am unable to live up to all of my best intentions. There's a bucket of umbrage by the door. Take as much as you'd like, it's free.

I'm really not the snarky sort, but I'm already getting a pretty significant guilt trip over Hard Reset 2 this week from an audience five times the size (in fact, I just came up for air from an HR2 writing session to find fun new and unrelated sources of guilt waiting in my FIMFic notifications); I just tried being nice, only for you to double down on the recriminations; and oh hey let's not forget that this is all free and done as a labor of love, in the off hours from a stressful day job and home life.

I understand your disappointment — other authors have plenty of old abandoned stories on this site I'd love to see updated, myself — but this conversation is only going to push Hitchhikers' chances of updating in one direction, and it's not up.

I really liked this story. Luna's perspective is really well written, and I could not help but empathize. It is a pity that it could not be continued, but understandable. Life happens.

A good read, I hope you'll come back to it at some point. Even if it's just to slap a coda on it.

Though I think this was just getting to the good part.

6227480
Yeah, I know exactly where it's going next and I want to write it … there's just so many other things in front of it on the priority list. :fluttercry:

6386111
Oh, ha ha!
I get it now.
:pinkiecrazy:

Why do all my favorite stories get put on indefinite hiatus 😢

8320431
Sorry! :raritydespair:

I love this one too, it's just lower on the priority list than some other stories really needing updates/posting.

8320516
Yeah, I understand that. I look forward to more of your stories! I just stumbled across your profile the other day, and I've really enjoyed what I've read so far.
May I simply say, the way you write Luna is amazing. Incredible. :rainbowdetermined2: AWESOME! I haven't looked at all of your stories yet, but I hope there's more Luna in there somewhere!

8320865
Oh boy, are you in luck then! :pinkiehappy: I see you've already commented on No Regrets, but Luna's the star of the show in two of my most acclaimed stories: Thou Goddess, and Quiet Boy and Moon Horse. (Luna also plays an important role in the one in the featurebox right now, Administrative Angel, which focuses on Equestria Girls' Celestia.)

Happy reading! (And let me know what other good Luna stories you find. This is, as they say, Relevant To My Interests.)

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