Inexcusable

by cleverpun

First published

Princess Nightmare Moon had tried to keep it secret. She had feigned ignorance, but the charade could not last. She nocked the arrow. Tirek was a large target; he would fall easily. Then the true challenge would come: explaining herself to Celestia.

Princess Nightmare Moon had tried to keep it secret. She had suppressed her power, feigned ignorance, played the outdated fool at every opportunity. She should have known that something like this would happen. A threat that would reveal her, whether she played dumb or not.

If she had to reveal herself, then at least she could protect Equestria in the process. She nocked the arrow. The bow felt so flimsy, but she could not risk him absorbing a spell. She laced magic across the arrow and the string and the air, enough to make it fly faster and aim smoother. She sighted him easily; Tirek was a large target. Now he only had to turn around. An arrow to the spine would kill him simply and instantly, no matter how much magic he had absorbed.

Once he was dead, the hard part would come: explaining herself to Celestia.


Prereading thanks; Meta Four, Blank!, Yami Vizzini, and especially Craine

Russian translation by Doof
Chinese Translation by Dreams Set Free

Comments contain spoilers.

1. Inexcusable

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Princess Nightmare Moon took a deep breath. The chilly air in Canterlot’s high towers always reminded her of the old Canterlot. Or was it new Canterlot, considering its age? The previous iteration of the city had never stopped being cold. No matter how hard she had tried, fires and magic could not replace the sun or its light.

Of course, no wind swept through previous Canterlot either. It felt strange every time she went up here. The cold reminded her of dead Canterlot, yet the wind assured her it still lived.

She shook her head. She had come up here to get a better view, not to reminisce. She needed to focus.

She raised the bow. It felt so flimsy in her magic. She had chosen the strongest one in the armory, made out of hickory and strengthened with runes and spells. Yet it still felt so fragile. Many things in Canterlot felt that way. Being very old and very powerful required a lot of self control. Perhaps Celestia had the same problem, to a lesser degree.

She nocked the arrow. There was nothing for it. She couldn’t risk Tirek absorbing any of her spells, so this mundane weapon would have to do.

She took another breath. Magic swirled across the arrow, ensuring it would fly faster. Another spell laced across the string and bow, ensuring it would not break and would shoot smoothly. A final spell wrapped around her eyes, letting her see the hundreds of kilometers into Baltimare. She sighted him easily; Tirek was a large target. Now he only had to turn around. An arrow to the spine would kill him simply and instantly, no matter how much magic he had absorbed.

She needed to do this. Celestia’s plan was terrible. Twilight’s body would shatter if it tried to hold all of her magics, let alone Celestia’s and Cadance’s. Even if it didn’t, Twilight possessed no experience with such massive amounts of energy, let alone combat. Tirek would find Twilight eventually, and he would inevitably best her. Then it would be her old life all over again, a dead world with nothing but statues and the moon to keep Tirek company.

They would discover her lies no matter what. Twilight would reveal how her magic worked, given the chance. She had been faking incompetence for so long now, but it could not last. If her facade had expired, then she could at least keep Equestria safe.

In the distance, Tirek sucked the magic out of another pony. He laughed. The sound didn’t carry that far, of course, but she could imagine it from the way he looked. Smug, confident, sadistic. He grabbed another pony, and another. He laughed again.

Finally, he turned around, exposed the base of his skull.

Princess Nightmare Moon released the arrow. The air in front of her warped and bent as the arrow shot forward. A sonic boom trembled through Canterlot. It mixed with the sound of the bow breaking in half.

Even with all the spells, it took the arrow almost a full second to hit him. The arrow pushed aside clouds and trees as it traveled, leaving a blue and white streak in its wake.

It struck his spine perfectly. His hair covered the entry, but she saw the blood spurt out the other side. She could imagine the wet thunk it must have made, imagine the way he gurgled up blood as he tried to scream.

Magic began to leak out of his body along with the blood. He collapsed, and Princess Nightmare Moon let the vision spell fade.

She dropped the pieces of the bow and turned to the stairs. Now came the hard part; explaining herself to her sister.

2. Incongruous

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The dungeon remained empty most of the time. Incarcerating a pony rarely happened anymore; Canterlot Castle only had a dungeon as a relic of past times. The custodial staff maintained everything, of course. No cobwebs or dust adorned the corners, no spiders or rats prowled the walls. Yet the air still smelt stale, the cold still clawed at Celestia’s coat. Even a sun goddess couldn’t keep away such a permeating chill.

She stepped through a few doors. No guards stood watch or accompanied her. Cadance had offered to come along, but Celestia had declined. Finally she arrived at the cell farthest from the entrance.

“Hello, sister,” she said simply.

“Hello, Celestia,” Luna replied. She did not turn from the wall. “I assume you know what I did, by now.”

“They are still cleaning up the remains, but yes, I am aware.” Celestia glanced around the cell Luna had chosen. It looked as empty as all the others. “We could be having this conversation in a more comfortable room, you know. You don’t need to embellish your explanations with theatrics.”

“I wanted to remind myself of something, of how it feels with no wind and no sun.”

Celestia sat down. The cold clawed at her again. Even with the power of the sun radiating from her, the stone tiles felt like ice. The architect had probably enchanted them to do that. “Why did you do it?”

“I was scared. Scared of what might happen if he won.”

“We were all scared, Luna! That didn’t give you the right to take his life!”

Luna finally turned away from the wall. “Hiding would not have worked. He would have found Twilight eventually. And she would not have been able to control our magic, not even a little.”

Celestia watched Luna carefully. Something about her body language seemed off. “There is something you aren’t telling me, Luna. Simple fear doesn’t explain such a heinous action.”

“I’ve had to live in a dead world, Celestia. The thought of it scares me more than you could imagine.”

Celestia opened her mouth, but paused. “I…I did not think that your time on the moon had affected you so strongly.” She tried to hide the guilt from her voice, but it leaked out regardless.

“No, that is not what I meant. I…” Luna sighed, turned back to the wall. “There is something I have needed to tell you, Celestia, ever since I came back from the moon.”

She rose, and turned her body to face Celestia. Her gaze still lingered on dungeon walls. “What…what would you say if I wasn’t the Luna you knew?”

Celestia bit her lip. “Luna, I know that your time on the moon changed you. More than I thought, given this—”

“No, it is more complicated than that.” Luna sighed. “A long time ago, very long, I…” Luna tore her gaze from the dungeon wall, made eye contact with Celestia. “Perhaps I could show you, that would be simpler.”

“Show me wh—”

Before Celestia could finish, light began to leak off Luna’s body. Her horn didn’t ignite, so no spell was being cast. Lines of blue magic spiderwebbed across her coat, and they grew thicker and brighter as more appeared. Luna closed her eyes, took a deep breath. Her coat began to flake off, like paint peeling off an old building. Bigger chunks began to peel away, and black hair poked out of the holes. The fallen bits hit the floor and evaporated.

Luna took another breath, and blue light flooded the room.

Celestia uncovered her eyes. She tried to say something, but she found no words.

Luna stood in front her, but it wasn’t Luna. She looked like Nightmare Moon, tall and sleek. Yet her armor was absent, her fangs were missing, her eyes and pupils retained their normal color and shape.

“Luna, this…this is not funny.”

Luna sat down. Her eyes were now level with Celestia’s. “This is my true form, Celestia. I would never joke about something like this.”

“I do not understand,” Celestia said. It had been a long time since she had last said that, but the situation warranted it.

Luna took another breath and smiled. “It feels so nice, not having to wear that. I didn’t realize how cramped it had become,” she said. Celestia caught a glimpse of her canines, worn flat instead of pointed and ridged.

The smile faded. “It all happened such a long time ago,” Luna said. “Nightmare Moon whispered so many sweet lies to me, told me how poisonous and destructive you were.”

Celestia said nothing. Luna had never spoken about this so openly before. The sudden candidness unsettled her as much as the words themselves.

“I tried to ignore her, at first. I wanted to be loyal to my sister. But it didn’t last. Seeing all those ponies enjoying the day so much and sleeping through the night, it made Nightmare Moon’s claims so hard to write off.”

“Luna…”

“She made me so many promises, Celestia.” Luna closed her eyes, and the edges started to glisten. “She kept telling me how much better things could be, how much respect and adoration I could get, if I only did one thing.”

Luna opened her eyes, slowly. She bit her lip, and tears ran down her cheeks. “So one day, I gave in. I was weak and I gave in. And…” Luna moved her head, tried to look at Celestia and failed. “And I killed you.”

“I don’t think you did, sister.”

“No, no that’s not all.” Luna looked up at Celestia. “Once you were dead, I got rid of the sun. I made everypony build me a new castle, I kept listening to Nightmare Moon, all the whispered promises and lies.

“And eventually, everypony was dead. They couldn’t live without the sun, after all.”

“You’ve made your point, Luna,” Celestia whispered.

“And eventually, Nightmare Moon stopped whispering to me. I was all alone in a dead world for a millennium.” Luna smiled again, and it looked even more forced than the last one. “I would have done anything to escape that, even ask Discord for help.”

“And what did Discord do?” Celestia asked.

“He told me that history was immutable, and I told him, made him send me back anyway.” Luna turned away again. Her tears had stopped, but her voice lowered. “He threw me backwards in time, to this time. And when I got here, Luna was waiting for me. Your Luna.”

My Luna?”

“She was hysterical. Nightmare Moon had already gotten to her, poisoned her. I tried to reason with her, I— I tried so hard to reason with her, but she wouldn’t listen. She attacked me, and…”

Silence saturated the room. It matched the chill. The silence stretched on, and the cold mingled with and reinforced it.

Celestia stood up, teeth clenched, and the cold retreated slightly. “And what?”

“And I killed her. I put on this disguise, and then I went to confront you in the throne room. I had to act it out properly. We fought and I had to make sure it looked convincing—” Luna’s eyes widened as pressure hit her throat. Luna’s back slammed onto the ground, her mane rippled and her wings flared.

“You mean to tell me that you killed my sister?” Celestia hissed.

“I am your sister too, Celestia.” Luna coughed. “A different one, but I am. I had to kill her, she would’ve destroyed the entire world.”

Celestia leaned down. She held her hoof to Luna’s throat, tried not to push too hard, tempting as it was. “And it’s just that simple? You travel back in time and fix your mistake and everything simply works out?”

“I had to fix my mistake, somehow. I had to…had to try something.”

Celestia grit her teeth. “If you traveled back in time and killed yourself, then why are you still here?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Perhaps there is nothing left of Luna in you.”

“T-that’s not true…”

“You never questioned the mechanics of your journey before now? You were content to kill Luna, but you couldn’t be bothered to question why that didn’t kill you too?”

“Of course I questioned it!” Luna pressed her face into the floor. “I had no other choice! I had to end all that suffering, prevent it somehow!”

Celestia stood up, released her grip. “I understand your response to Tirek, now. All those years alone, corrupted by Nightmare Moon, they turned you into a sociopath, a pony who uses murder for all her problems.”

Luna rolled onto her side. “I tried so many things, Celestia. I tore apart the libraries looking for a solution. I tried every time travel spell I could find, tried to convince my past self to change her course. But every time it would fail. I would return to the present with nothing but a new memory. Another delusion among my collection. I had to end it somehow, I had to.”

Celestia turned to the door. “It sounds like your memories are not the most reliable source of information.”

“I had to protect Equestria, sister! If killing myself was the cost to pay, then I would gladly pay it again.”

“If you killed yourself, why are you still here?” Celestia asked quietly.

Luna said nothing. Celestia left.

3. Irrational

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“So, let me get this straight…” Cadance leaned forward, rubbed her chin. “Aunt Luna is some sort of doppelganger from the future?”

“I think multiversal imposter would be a more accurate term,” Twilight said. “I mean, if she killed herself, then it may have split the timeline somehow.”

“That sounds rather complicated,” Cadance said. “Doesn’t time magic always stabilize or something?”

“All pony-made spells do.” Twilight rubbed her chin, and for a moment the two ponies synced up perfectly. “There’s no telling how Discord’s magic works, though. I doubt it follows the same rules.”

“You two are missing the point.” Celestia barely whispered it, but the other two stopped talking and chin-rubbing immediately. She didn’t look up from the table, but her face reflected clearly in the marble. “She claimed she was some sort of…amalgamation of Luna and Nightmare Moon. That she caused the entire planet to go extinct, and that she came to the conclusion that killing herself was the best way to undo it all.”

Celestia looked up. “Doesn’t that disturb either of you?”

Twilight glanced to the side, blushed slightly. “Honestly, I’m not sure it does.”

Celestia’s glare still made Twilight uncomfortable whenever it came out. Celestia silently reprimanded herself, sheathed her unpleasant stare. She occasionally forgot that Twilight was her equal now.

Twilight coughed into her hoof. “I mean, yes, obviously she lied about it, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. When we confronted her in Ponyville, all that time ago, I never really felt like I was in danger. She never felt like a threat, even though I knew she was dangerous.”

Cadance nodded. “And she does love all of us. I can sense it every time I’m near her. Obviously we don’t know her as well as you, auntie, but—”

Celestia’s hooves slammed onto the table. The sharp clack echoed through the room. “Do you mean to tell me, that both of you are perfectly alright with a murderer going unnoticed in our midst for so long? With betraying all of our trust? The trust of all our subjects?”

Her mane rippled, she leaned forward. “What if she were to decide somepony else was a threat to Equestria? What if she murdered them too? Would she be dangerous then?”

“She didn’t interrupt my wedding, even when it had been infiltrated by destructive insects,” Cadance said. “I’m not condoning what she did, but it’s not the same. Tirek… Tirek came very close to winning…”

Celestia turned to Twilight. “And what about you, Twilight? Do you agree with Cadance that Luna’s actions were reasonable? That taking a life was a justifiable response?”

“I…I don’t know.”

Celestia leaned over the table, and it creaked under weight. “You two are so forgiving, despite the scale of her treason. Perhaps you two are colluding with her? Perhaps you are amalgamations from another time as well?”

“Aunt Celestia!” Cadance stood up, and slammed her own hooves on the table. The marble shuddered, nearly broke, but stayed resolute despite the two alicorns pressing onto it. “I know you are upset, but think about what you just said!”

Celestia glanced down at the table. Her reflection stared back at her: hairs askew in her mane, her teeth clenched.

“I…I’m sorry, you’re right. It’s just, I don’t…” Celestia slumped back into her chair, cradled her head with one hoof. Her mane rippled and spilt across the table. “I don’t know how to react to this, how to handle it, what to say.” She shifted her head, rested it on her other hoof as well. “It’s like that changeling attack all over again. The unknown has paralyzed me, crippled me, except now it involves my sister.”

Celestia saw Twilight and Cadance share a look. Even without years of reading body language, the pity felt like a kick to the stomach.

“We understand, auntie.”

“Yes, it’s certainly a difficult situation.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Celestia snapped. “You don’t understand, you can’t understand.” She wrenched her head out of her hooves, forced herself to look at the other two. “When you are immortal, there are precious few constants. Luna and I have spent eons together, and now, suddenly, she isn’t who she was. All that trust and all those memories have been shattered in an instant. If she’s a lie then…then everything else might be.”

Silence soaked the room. Twilight and Cadance glanced at each other again. Celestia saw pity mingle with confusion and sadness in their faces.

Twilight tried to say something, but her sentence came out as a stutter. She swallowed and tried again, her still voice cracking. “What about us? Are we inconstant lies, too?”

The pain in Twilight’s voice sounded genuine enough. Celestia lowered her head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean, I don’t…” She stood up. “I’m sorry, telling the both of you this was a mistake. I should have composed my own feelings better before burdening you with this. I need to be alone.” She rushed out the explanation, then rushed out the door, slammed it behind her. She leaned against the wall, and she could hear Cadance and Twilight whispering in the room. She tried to imagine what they were saying, but nothing came to her. Just a memory of the pain in Twilight’s voice.

4. Iniquity

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Celestia did not lose track of the time. When an entire society kept time based on the sun, its ward did not have the luxury of dissociation. She had been staring at the moon for exactly one-hundred-and-forty-three minutes. She could pick out any of them and recall what position the sun or moon should be at in that sixty seconds.

The door opened. “You summoned me si—Celestia?”

“I did.” Celestia continued staring out the window. The moon was full as usual, the window too clear to reflect anything. “I see you put your mask back on.” Luna’s hoofsteps had sounded too light, her voice too high.

“I did not want to startle the guards.”

“Of course not.”

Silence filled the room. Luna took a step forward, and the sound overtook the room despite its quiet volume. Luna coughed.

“I was not entirely honest with you, earlier.”

Celestia finally turned from the window. “You mean the story of how you killed my sister and lied to me was not the entirety of it?”

Luna coughed again. “Well, in a sense. I told you that I wanted to save the planet, that I wanted to fix my mistake and make everything right again.” Luna sat down, shifted her gaze to the floor. “That wasn’t true, though. I…I spent so much time alone, Celestia. After all life went extinct I just sat in Canterlot, alone with books and statues.”

Luna looked up. “I didn’t think of Equestria, or ponies, or dragons, or anything like that. I only thought of you. All that effort to fix my mistake, and it was not some noble endeavor. I only wanted to revert everything so I could see you again.”

Celestia turned back to the window, silent.

“And after Discord sent me back and the Elements locked me on the moon, I was alone again. But I did not mind. I had seen you, knew that my plan had worked. The thought of you kept me going that entire time.”

“Do you remember the warning they gave us, all those years ago?” Celestia asked. “They said that living so long is dangerous, because the mind seeks constants. You were my constant for so long. I waited so long for that spell to release you from the moon, to give you back to me.” Celestia turned from the window. The edges of her eyes glistened. “And then you came back and revealed you were a liar and a murderer.”

Luna flinched. “Celestia…”

“How can I trust you after the things you’ve told me? How can I just accept that everything is different, that you are so dangerous and unstable?”

“I’m your sister!”

“My sister would never have done the things you have.”

“Wouldn’t I?” Luna glanced around the room. Celestia’s chambers were laden with knickknacks and artifacts of every possible description. She scanned shelf after shelf, and finally her eyes rested on a particular item. A piece of melted metal, the remnants of a helmet.

“Do you remember the time that the dragons sent those warriors to bully us?”

“Of course I do, they torched a large swath of forest on their way to our castle.”

“And do you remember how we scared them off?”

“Laser spells.”

“There is nothing we wouldn’t have done to protect our little ponies.” Luna pointed at the piece of metal. “When those dragons injured one of our guards, we both stopped firing warning shots.” Luna lowered her hoof. “I…I know it may not seem like it, but I did what was necessary. Asking Discord for help, killing myself, killing Tirek, it had to be done. I would do anything to protect Equestria…to protect you.”

“Luna, my Luna, once told me that the hardest part about policing the dreams of ponies was when she had to dispel, to kill something that looked like a pony,” Celestia said softly. “All the dream versions of pony’s enemies and rivals felt so real. She once told me that killing one felt like killing a real pony. Eventually, she had to adjust, to tell herself that they weren’t real. It needed to be done, no matter how uncomfortable it felt.”

Celestia turned from the window. Her tears had stopped, but the edges of her eyes still looked wet. “Is that how it felt when you killed her? A duty that needed to be done?”

“Yes.” Luna opened her mouth to continue, but stopped. She tried again, but nothing came out. She turned her gaze back to the shelf, the piece of melted armor. “I still remember it, you know, Even with all the whispers and ramblings, I still remember killing you.” Luna closed her eyes, ruffled her wings. “You didn’t fight back. I used a cutting spell, sliced off one of your wings. You screamed so loudly, it echoed through the throne room and I heard it a dozen times before it faded.”

Luna opened her eyes, and tears started to run down her cheeks. “We—I broke one of your legs next, pressed my hoof against it and pushed. You screamed again, quieter. You stared at me, mouthed some words I couldn’t understand. But you still didn’t fight back. I leaned in, pressed my hoof against your neck, whispered some insult or justification. And then I sliced open your…your chest, ripped out your heart. You didn’t scream, but the smell of blood filled the room.”

Luna looked back to Celestia, blinked slowly and forced her eyes open.“I would kill myself a thousand times, if I could avoid that moment. If I could prevent that from ever happening again, from seeing that look on your face, I would murder Tirek or Discord or Chrysalis or anypony else a hundred times over.”

Celestia turned back to the window. “That is what scares me,” she whispered.

5. Implications

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Celestia scanned the shelf again. Her office walls were crammed and packed with so many different treasures and mementos, yet she could clearly recall a story for every single one. A tax bill sat on her desk, but she had given up on it a while ago. For hours she had just been scanning her collection, sticking on every one that involved Luna.

Should she even call her “Luna” any more? She seemed to have so much of Nightmare Moon in her, and yet Celestia hadn’t noticed a thing. She swung her chair around. Nightmare Moon’s helmet sat on one of the lower shelves, in a corner, behind her chair. Luna had insisted that most of the pieces be destroyed, but Celestia had kept the helmet. “A reminder”, she had called it. Now it seemed like so much more than that. An insulting taunt, rather than a simple memory.

“Shouldn’t you be working? These taxes aren’t going to reform themselves, you know.”

Celestia swung her chair back. She preferred to keep Discord in direct line of sight, however tempting ignoring him was. “What do you want?”

Discord leaned forward. His office chair matched Celestia’s, but it squeaked loudly as he shifted his weight. “Quite a lot of rumors going around the place. I thought you might need a sympathetic ear.” He planted an elbow on Celestia’s desk and smiled. “You know old Discord is always here if you want to chat.”

“And why would I want to talk to you?” Celestia asked. She leaned forward onto her desk as well. Discord needed strong body language to keep in check, and she wasn’t feeling lenient today. “Especially after you abandoned us.”

“Why Celestia, you make it sound so personal.” Discord leaned back, his chair squeaking again. “I didn’t want Tirek eating any of my magic, is all. I was thinking of the safety of Equestria.”

“A likely story. I take it you aren’t here to apologize, then.”

“Apologize? For thinking of Equestria? How unfair, princess!” Discord swooned, his chair vanishing as he floated backward.

“Some would see it as cowardice, as betrayal.” Celestia tented her hooves. “I hear Fluttershy still isn’t speaking to you.”

That cut off his theatrics. His body snapped back into place, his swoon faltered and evaporated as he crossed his arms. “Hmph, you might have heard correctly,” he muttered.

Celestia relaxed. A show of dominance always made Discord more agreeable. She didn’t like using Fluttershy as a bargaining chip, but few things affected Discord. Once he had been deflated, he could often be helpful, even friendly. “Why did you come here, then?”

“To counsel you, of course! Or is it console? Probably not as a consul.”

“And what could you possibly counsel me about?”

“Well, Princess Twilight and Princess Cadance mentioned you might need some emotional support.” Discord smiled. It showed much more teeth than his previous one. “And I figured it might have something to do with Princess Nightmare Moon.”

Celestia’s brow furrowed. “You knew? Did she tell you?” she blurted out.

“Oh, I suspected. Something that old and violent has quite a unique sort of entropy about it, you know.” Discord stroked his beard, leaned on the arm of his recliner. “I was just guessing at the name though. Your reaction was a very nice confirmation.”

Celestia took a deep breath. Discord knew many ways to needle a pony. She couldn’t react so strongly to him, that was exactly what he wanted. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Oh come now, Celestia. I know you like to play dumb for everypony, but you know better.” A calendar popped into Discord’s hand. “I felt it as soon as I met her. Her aura is quite old.” He licked one of his claws, slowly dragged his finger across the page and flipped it over. “You must have felt it too. And I wasn’t even around for that whole Nightmare Moon thing. You knew more than I did.” Discord threw the calendar over his shoulder, and it puffed into flames. “The real question is, why are you sitting in here moping about it? It must have been quite a little discussion.”

Celestia sighed. She explained the situation, as best one could.

Discord moved surprisingly little, said nothing during the entire story. Celestia could not remember or picture a time he had been so silently attentive. She finished her explanation, and took a deep breath.

For a moment Discord did nothing. Then he laughed. He chortled. He chuckled and guffawed. “Oh my! That is quite a twister, isn’t it! Deliciously chaotic!” He slumped back, his recliner unfolding and his tail flicking around. “I wish I could’ve been there when she told you. That hint of chaos about her, I should’ve known it would lead to something delectable.”

“It doesn’t surprise you? Doesn’t bother you? Knowing she isn’t what you thought?”

Discord didn’t move for a moment. He brought a paw up to rub his chin. “You know, sometimes I forget how attached you ponies get to things.” He leaned forward, crossed his arms on Celestia’s desk. “Why would it bother or surprise me? Things seem quite mercurial, after you’ve been around long enough. One day a city is here, the next it’s over there. I figured you would feel the same way.”

“Things change, but not everything does. Luna…she was always there, always the same.”

“Ah, so that’s it. You aren’t afraid of change, you’re afraid of her changing. It’s really quite saccharine, I must admit. Brings a tear to the eye. Not my eye, but someone’s eye, probably.”

“Don’t condescend to me, Discord.” Celestia leaned forward, pushed aside some of the papers on her desk. “You can pretend otherwise, but you’d feel the same way in my position. How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and Fluttershy was somepony else? If she had been corrupted or changed or altered?”

“One day, I’ll wake up and she will be.” Discord leaned forward again. “And really, there were plenty of days that you woke up and little Luna wasn’t there either.” His face nearly touched Celestia’s. “And really, you and I will move on. There will be other ponies, other changes. Even the two of us aren’t the same as we used to be.”

Discord’s smile widened. “That’s what really bothers you, doesn’t it? The fact that you got used to change and she didn’t. She went to so much effort to keep things the same, did so many excessive things. But you and I, we can just sit back and accept change.” He leaned forward again, and his nose did touch Celestia’s. “And that scares you, doesn’t it? That you and I are more alike than you and her? That she is willing to kill to prevent transition instead of accepting it? Am I getting warmer yet?

“Or, maybe it’s because she needs you more than you need her.”

“That’s enough.” Celestia sat back in her chair, swiveled it around to look at the wall. “Thank you for your insight, Discord.” She waved a hoof. “You are dismissed.”

Discord took a bow. “Any time, your highness. You know I’m always willing to console my friends.” He vanished in a puff of smoke, and Celestia went back to staring at her collection.

6. Intent

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Princess Nightmare Moon ran a hoof along her desk. The carpenters she had hired had done a very good job on it. It looked so much like her old one, every corner and cutout and bevel in precisely the right place. It felt like she had never destroyed it, like it had sat waiting for her the entire time she had been gone. They had even put some light enchantment on it to make it feel and look older than it was. The maple felt smooth with age, even if she knew it was a lie. Her collections of mementos and trinkets didn’t match Celestia’s yet, but the desk mattered the most.

Somepony knocked on the door.

“Come in.” Nightmare looked up from her desk, crossed her forelegs stoically. Would not do for anyone to see her so wistful. They might get the correct impression.

The door swung open, and Celestia walked in.

“Si—Celestia!” Nightmare Moon stood up. “Please, come in.”

“Hello.” Celestia glanced around the room, but did not say anything else.

The silence continued. Nightmare Moon did not break it. She had said everything she could. Rushing Celestia now would only make things worse.

“I’m sorry, for attacking you earlier,” Celestia said. “I was…rather shocked…but that is no excuse.”

“It is fine.”

“I have been…processing it all. It was not easy to get my head around.”

“I know.”

Celestia took a step forward. “I came here to say that, in spite of everything, I forgive you.”

Nightmare Moon inhaled sharply. “Really?”

“I would not joke about something like that.”

“Oh, sister!” Nightmare Moon stepped away from her desk, flung herself into Celestia, wrapped her hooves around her sister. “You don’t know what that means to me!”

Princess Nightmare Moon felt it. It barely happened. It came then passed in an instant. Celestia had flinched, recoiled when Nightmare Moon touched her.

No. She must have imagined it. Everything would be fine. She pushed her face into Celestia’s body, felt her tears dampen her sister’s coat and mane. Celestia felt so warm and soft and real. Princess Nightmare felt her disguise fray slightly, but she forced more magic onto it, pressed it back into place. She wanted to hold onto the moment as long as possible, and her real form would only ruin it again.

“I know what I put you through. It will never happen again, I swear,” Nightmare Moon whispered. “I couldn’t imagine what I would do without you. What it would be like if you exiled me again.”

“I know.”

Celestia’s foreleg inched upward, returned Nightmare Moon’s embrace. She probably needed the other to keep her balance.

“I love you, sister.”

“And I love you, sister.”

7. Insincerity

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Celestia took another sip of wine. She had far too much magic to ever be affected by alcohol; her natural defenses would never let such toxins impede her. The complexity of wine distracted her. Tasting and investigating the layers of a fine wine helped to take her mind off things.

Somepony knocked on her door. She had ordered the guards not to let anyone disturb her, so it had to be someone with authority.

“Come in,” she called.

Cadance walked in. “Good evening, auntie.”

“Hello, Cadance. Wine?”

“No, thank you.”

Celestia waved a hoof at the chair across from her desk. “Please, have a seat. I’m guessing something is on your mind, to show up this late.”

Cadance sat down. “I heard you forgave aunt Luna.”

“I did.” Celestia took another sip of wine. No point in asking how Cadance had heard it. “Is there something that concerned you?”

“After our…discussion, it seemed like an odd thing for you to do.”

“I thought you would be happy about it,” Celestia said. “You were defending her, during that discussion.”

“I would be happy, if you were being sincere.”

Celestia’s glass paused in front of her mouth. She set it on her desk. “Is that why you’re here so late? To lecture me?”

“No. I’m here to ask why.”

Celestia took a deep breath. No point in lying to Cadance. Or rather, Cadance saw through lies too easily for it to matter. “I thought it was for the best. She said a lot of things to me. Troubling things. I hoped that… I thought that, perhaps if we reconciled, she would not feel the need to resort to any more violence.”

“What sort of things did she say?” Cadance asked.

“She said that she needed me. That in all her time alone, I was the only thing she thought of.”

“And that scared you?” Cadance furrowed her brow. “I recall you said something very similar about her.”

“That was…is different. She’s not the same.”

“Neither are you,” Cadance said. “Nopony can be, after a thousand years apart.”

“The differences are not comparable. I did not go insane from isolation and dark magic.”

Cadance leaned forward. “And that justifies lying to your sister?”

“What would you have me do?” Celestia slammed a hoof on her desk, and the wine glass rattled. “Admit that she disgusts me?” She froze, retracted her hoof. “It is better this way. Safer. For everyone.”

Cadance had not reacted to the outburst. She sat there stoically, her eyes still fixed on Celestia. “You can’t fake love, auntie.”

Celestia leaned back in her chair. She folded her forelegs and then took a deep breath. “No, that is true. But sometimes, living a lie turns it into truth.”

“I see.” Cadance stood up. “I think I understand why you did it now.” She turned to leave. “I’ll leave you to your wine.”

“Cadance,” Celestia whispered. “Please don’t tell her.”

Cadance paused at the door. “I won’t. But I would think, after all this, that you would know how much secrets can fester.”

Cadance left. Celestia reached for her glass. She needed the distraction.