• Published 20th Dec 2012
  • 6,031 Views, 136 Comments

A Wake of Mist and Flame - heliopause

A day in the life of Princess Celestia, as seen through the eyes of one of her guards.

  • ...

Second Chances

The Palace’s southern gate never looked so inviting. Today’s excursion had been one of the longest he could recall—they were usually back much earlier—and it had been filled with errors from start to end. Celestia’s Fairy Tears bouquet still there, arranged in its decorative wall sconce, now gently mocking him with the first pinpricks of light leaking from the petals’ edges. They probably had under an hour of life left before they wilted and died, giving off a dazzling light show in the process. Celestia wrapped the flowers in a spell and carried them up the stairs to the royal chambers.

Why had she cut them this morning? It would be one more mystery he would never solve. Handing in his resignation was the best option, all things considered. Instead of firing him, Celestia had used today to show him his limitations and give him the opportunity to resign with dignity. And if he left the service, he wouldn’t have to explain himself to—

”P-Princess Luna,” he stammered. For here she was, standing before him in the Royal Suite: the one pony he had hoped to avoid. He froze, uncertain what to do as the midnight alicorn blinked back at him.

Before he could react, Celestia charged forward. “Dear sister! How are you this evening?”

Luna flashed a wan smile. At least she wasn’t in one of her moods. “I am well, Celestia. In fact I—”

“That’s wonderful,” Celestia said. “Do you know, I just got back from Grandgait, and there’s a new rumor there that you enjoy turning ponies into spiders!”

Darrilon tried to merge with the wall behind him.

Whatever good humor Luna had evaporated, and the chamber seemed to darken. “Celestia, why dost thou persist in spreading these scurrilous rumors? My reputation is but newly mended, and yet here you are tearing its cloth anew.”

“Me? I didn’t say anything. It was… it was the Solarian Captain!”

Luna glanced over at him, and he found himself paralyzed, although whether it was the start of some foul spell, or simple fear, he couldn’t tell. But just as quickly Luna dismissed him with a tiny snort, and returned her accusing gaze to meet her sister’s smirk. “Honestly, Celestia. You lack even the scintilla of maturity necessary to take responsibility for your own childish pranks.” She gathered her dignity and sauntered from the room in a cool and elegant four-beat gait, but couldn’t resist a parting comment. “That you are the elder sister is an accident of birth and nothing more.”

Once she was gone, Darrilon found he could once again speak. “Ma’am, I… I…”

“You’re welcome, Captain,” said Celestia.

She had saved him. That had been his last hope, that he could somehow patch things up with Luna. But when confronted with her face to face, he froze. He had been unable to even begin an apology, and Celestia had had to come in to rescue him.

His post outside her door stood waiting for him. To take up that post felt like an admission of defeat. “Ma’am, about today, I…”

She turned and looked at him, expectantly.

Unable to meet her gaze, Darrilon glanced out the window. But it was full dark out, and he only saw his own reflection, a white stallion floating in a sea of infinite black. The trials of the day had taken their toll on his coat and mane. His mark, his precious kite shield reflecting a quarter sun, seemed sullied by the dirt and grime.

“If I could just have one last chance. A chance to prove myself.”

Celestia’s expression softened a bit as she seemed to take pity on him. She floated the bouquet of Fairy’s Tears over to him, and he took them, puzzled at their ultimate meaning.

“These flowers are for somepony special, Captain. I need you to deliver them for me. Can you figure out who they’re meant for?”

Darrilon had no idea. But it didn’t matter. She was giving him another chance! A test, a puzzle for him to solve.

Celestia looked over at the official hourglass, measuring out his remaining shift in grains of sand. “If you take your post, Captain, and think it over, I’m sure it will come to you. In fact, I’m certain the Captain of the Solarian Patrol has all the clues he should need to solve that riddle before his shift ends.”

So, if he could figure out who the flowers were meant for before the hourglass ran out, he would keep his position. It was his very last chance. A thin lifeline indeed, but Darrilon would take it. “Very well, ma’am. Will that be all for tonight?”

“Yes, Captain. There is one last thing I need to take care of, but I won’t require your assistance for that. Good night. And… good luck.”

Celestia closed her door, leaving Darrilon effectively alone at his post. The light inside her chambers switched on, leaking out from under the door and puddling over his rear hooves.

Darrilon resisted the urge to pace. He had about thirty minutes before his shift ended. Thirty minutes to figure out who the flowers were meant for; thirty minutes to come up with an answer and save his job.

He started by reviewing every member of the palace staff. He had, in the practice of his normal duties, committed to memory a list of every pony who worked at the castle, both day and night shift. Most of them he was able to dismiss because he couldn’t imagine any plausible interest they could have for a bouquet of flowers, no matter how exquisite. Of the ones remaining, not many would have the knowledge to recognize the Fairy’s Tears as something out of the ordinary. Groats, the palace gardener, knew, of course. But he had been there and had seen the Princess cut those blossoms. It was a minor inconvenience for him, at most. Darrilon couldn’t see how Groats could be the answer. If Celestia wanted to annoy her gardener she could choose a dozen more effective ways.

He made it through the entire roster without finding a clear suspect, so he started to go through to the ponies on the admissions list, the ones who were scheduled to visit today. Could it be that some pilgrim needed an inspiring gift that would spark them to become a great artist, perhaps?

It didn’t make sense. Celestia had said, “it will come to you,” and implied that he already had enough information to figure it out, if he could only put it all together. Think!

Only a few minutes remained before his shift ended—and his career with it. Perhaps he really was getting too slow for this job. His skull felt like it was filled with leftover pudding. He must have missed somepony while working from memory; he needed to take notes. Rummaging through his saddlebags, he pulled out the Trottington light show invitation. Now if he could just find a quill—

The bouquet of Fairy’s Tears burst into a euphonic chord of light. His time was up.

Ember Snap, coming to relieve him for the night shift, appeared at the top of the stairs. Her eyes were wide, dazzled by the magic flowers he was holding, and her usually sarcastic mien now showed a puzzled smile as she came up to him for their ritual changing of the guard.

It will come to you. Oh, Celestia. He held out the flowers to Ember, who looked surprised—and impressed. “These are for you,” he told her.

And then he figured it out. Celestia had planned it all down to the last detail. He thought he knew her, knew her tricks, her little manipulations—but she was still, always, one step ahead of him. What did he have? He had a day off, a bouquet of flowers, and tickets to a show. All day long, he had been worried that Celestia was going to fire him, when what she was really doing was setting him up on a date.

“Captain Darrilon,” she said, “I had no idea you were such a romantic.”

Darrilon coughed. “Neither did I.”

She made a show of signing the duty roster. “You know, with our schedules the way they are, we never have a chance to hang out and talk.”

He scuffed his hooves on the floor and looked down at the semicircle of light he was standing in. Celestia had laid her traps and snared him perfectly, but now it was his moment. He thought about Whitewater and the decision she had to make. Was Celestia somehow watching him, even now? She had delivered him, here, to this one perfect moment.

He could still say no, and walk away.

He took a breath. “Actually, Ember, my schedule’s changed. I have next Tuesday off.”

Her face brightened. “Really? I’ve heard Trottington has this amazing new light show. But the tickets are impossible to get.”

Darrilon laughed. Ember peered at him oddly, but he couldn’t help it. “As it happens, I have two tickets to Tuesday’s show. Opening night. Would you care to join me?”

Ember twirled the Fairy’s Tears bouquet around, casually creating a spectacular interplay of shadows on the walls and ceiling. “I’ll be looking forward to it all week.”

After he had signed out on the duty roster and before he collapsed into bed, Darrilon had one last task. He had to inform Thistlefell she’ll be covering for him on the best job in Equestria. Darrilon tried to remember the last vacation he’d taken, but it must have been before he made Captain. Thistlefell would be overjoyed when he broke the news, of course. That poor mare. She had no idea what she was getting herself into.

With the long day behind him, and his day off to look forward to, Darrilon felt a lightness of spirit he hadn’t known he’d been missing. This whole day had been one misstep after another: jumping to conclusions, making hasty decisions, worrying over nothing. It wasn’t like him at all. He should have been able to see what Celestia was up to, except that he’d been off-stride ever since this morning, when he found that grey hair—

Darrilon froze as a terrible thought occurred to him. Could she be responsible for that? He wouldn’t put it past her, and the curiosity burned at him. He turned back to look at Canterlot Castle, counted the windows up the tower to find Celestia’s room, and saw her light was still on.

“Did you do that to me?” he wondered aloud. “Did you plant that grey hair on my hair brush, just to rattle me?”

The light in Celestia’s window winked out.

Comments ( 94 )

Here is the final chapter. It's been a long day for this poor guard pony.

One small request. There's a puzzle posed in this chapter. When you get to that point, stop a bit and see if you can figure it out before continuing on for the answer.

And no spoilers in the comments, please!

:rainbowlaugh: Oh Celestia, you wonderful chessmaster.

Had no clue on the puzzle.

Hey this was very nice. :twilightsmile: Liked its simplicity, it must have been complicated to put it together. Great OC and Loved your impression of Celestia.:trollestia:

That was great. Celestia always has everything planned out. And in the end, she always has her subject's best interests in mind. Bravo on an excellent story. :pinkiehappy:


I really dont know how other people do it but i read the chapter and then the comments, especially since comments that are actual reviews contains spoilers , and you never know when a story will have one of those even if they are rare. :rainbowwild:

Though the first chapter seemed to repeat how the Princess couldn't be explained by straight forward questions and how she weaved such intricate plans almost too much, by the end it all made sense why that had been so stressed. I loved this story. Darrilon was interesting to me, and such a view of the Princess was...awesome. The humor was excellent, too. I look forward to more from you.


The EqD pre-reader agreed with you, so I'm working on a re-write that cuts a lot out of the first chapter.


It's sad how few views this little gem has. Fantastic work.

Very nice work. The review that I had pledged for you in The Training Grounds, I have now posted here, on my blog.

Welcome, Equestria Daily!

This is my third fanfic on EQD. All comments are welcome, of course, and if you'd like to make notes on specific parts of the story you can do so in the Google Docs version here. If you're reading this while the story is on the EQD front page, the Google Doc might be locked with the traffic.

I love this portrait of Celestia. She's wonderfully strange and beautiful at the same time, and you've done a masterful job of painting her in subtle complexity.

That was a quite enjoyable story and setup.

One slightly unrelated question, do you have an unpublished chapter? When I added this to my bookmarks the site claims I have something unread.


There is a deleted chapter—the story used to be six chapters, and in this version I cut it down to five. Maybe there's some bug in how FimFiction handles deleted chapters?

Absolutely brilliant work. The dialogues between and Darrilon and Celestia were magnificent, and the Princess' setup was a masterpiece of a mindwork, the one that only a very, very skilled politician can perform. It made me laugh, worry and ponder what else she has up her sleeve at the same time.
There was only one other work of fiction in which I have seen such a great duo of a guradian and ruler, and which gave me so much pleasure to read - that was Lord Vetinari and Captain VImes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels (though the nature of their relationship was different... though not that much). It was a great, great fun to read.

Wow. I still remember when Easy Come, Caprese Go got published on EqD. It was wonderful getting to read something by you again, and it feels like you've improved so much since last time!

I'm always jealous of people who can craft these kinds of closed stories -- a term I just made up for a narrative without accidents or loose ends. Revealing that Celestia does indeed pray to others, or how she goes about expanding the empire... never mind what she sets up for Darillon in the end. As much fun as it is to leave things unsaid for the reader to decide upon, watching all the tiny seeds you sowed in the opening chapters bear fruit was incredibly satisfying to read. It's amazing how well this story works in a world where Shining Armor exists, almost as if I was reading something from my early days in the fandom when we had a lot more questions to answer about Equestria.

Took a quick dive into my email archive, and I knew you were familiar! Easy Come got the pass from two pre-readers, and I was lucky enough to have been one of them. Thank you for writing this story.

I love how your portrayal of Celestia is so mysterious and fun-loving but also completely and ultimately harmonious with the world and everypony in it.

This was absolutely brilliant. Thank you for writing.

Question, who considers this to be a trollestia story?

I had wondered what you replaced the Cart Incident with. This way is much better!


Thanks! If you read closely through the story you should pick up on a couple other places where I was able to incorporate your suggestions.

While I'm here, I'd like to thank everyone else who helped by reading earlier drafts and giving feedback: AlicornPriest, Spycam1243, Prereader XF, and Demetrius. Also thanks to CaramelBrulee for the art.

A great story. After thousands of years of rule, she has wisdom enough to know when she needs to interfere and when it is not necessary. Most times, she consider it best to let her Little Ponies figure it out for themselves for that way it will be all the more valuable to them.

This was a WONDERFUL tale. :twilightsmile:
I'm glad that I found this tale! It's... such a simple tale and yet that's part of its charm. I also love how Celestia set him up on a date. :twilightsheepish:

Again a wonderful tale. ^.^

Double Celestia, of course. :trollestia:

Well played. I love stories with Chessmaster Celestia.

hahah I love the simplicity of this story, because at its core the plot is just Celestia being a wingmare to Dar. Everything else is there to toy with us and I consider that the icing on this great characterization cake.

Hahaha! Perfict repesentation of Celestia :trollestia: lol


I enjoyed this story very much!

However, fimfiction keeps telling me there's an update on this story when there really isn't. Do you have an unpublished chapter, heliopause?


No, there's no unpublished chapters, and I haven't changed anything since it went up on EqD. But you're the second person to say that. I'll ask the FimFiction mods if they can see anything.


I'll add my voice to the mix. I just recently favorited the story, and it's showing up as having an unread chapter in my favorites list, despite all available chapters being marked as read.

"To whom does the Goddess pray? She prays to the children."

This story is a beautiful sentiment. Thank you.

2306598 2307367 Same thing happens with me. It actually happened with another story as well. I guess, it's a bug.

By the way, great story, I enjoyed it a lot.


Sorry about the phantom notifications. I really don't know what could be causing it. I sent a PM to knighty but haven't heard back.

This story reminds me a bit of the CelestAI from the Friendship is optimal series. But this variation of Celestia is the 'friendlier' version of that sort of Xanatos Gambit ( http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/XanatosGambit )

Really good read here. Refreshing and fun, with just enough heart to make it real. Darrion's character and thoughts felt natural throughout, which is difficult to do when both the reader and character know there's a puzzle to be solved. Great job pulling that off!

It has elements of a trollestia story, but without the cruelty that shows up in so many of those. This is actually how I usually like to imagine Celestia, actually.

couldn't agree more this is easily my favorite interpretation of celestia.

That was brilliant!:raritystarry:

I can't believe how well you pulled that off. I thought I'd guessed the end, but I was at best, one quarter right.

I can't shake the feeling there is a secret, invisible chapter I haven't been able to find. :twilightblush:

Celestia, you troll.
Beautifully composed. Celestia's written well: aloof, amused, holy, manipulative, and at the end I'm laughing at how all the disparate elements come together to something unexpected. Loved this!

You stole my headcanon Celestia... but well.

This is story telling at its best. There is no other way to describe it. You played fair, wrote a wonderful story, and made both Celestia and Darrilon loveable characters.


Still not fixed. I tried to favorite your story, but my update notifications lit up with a phantom notification, and the only way I could remove it was to unfavorite the story. Bummer. :(

EDIT: Wait a minute! I can just hit Mark All Read.


Ok, I'm glad there's a workaround at least.

Okay, because you deserve it - that was amazing. Amazing, amazing hands down. I don't usually spaz, but this deserves it. This is an amazing story and you should feel good.

I just :O irl for the last 5 minutes... because ... speechless. Amazing. Utterly speechless. I... dont know what to say

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