Twilight, Good Night

by Carapace

First published

To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports. She never expected to find herself under the microscope in turn.

To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports almost religiously. However, she never expected to find the tables turned and be under the microscope herself, nor did she realize that a pony would go so far for one they called friend.

Pre-reading/editing by auramane, Habanc, Foals Errand, Meridian Prime, and Timaeus

Cover art commissioned by me and done by Silfoe and can be found here. Thanks a bunch!

1: Visits By Starlight

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"'Tis just a social visit. That is all." Why, then, am I still standing out here staring at a door? Few ponies could claim to make Princess Luna pause and consider the impression she wanted to give. By all rights, the roles should have been reversed.

She was used to ponies bowing as she walked past, either in reverence of her majesty or in fear of her power. She was used to being hailed as a goddess, in the same manner that ponies once looked upon her elder sister. Now, she was regarded mostly with fear or uncertainty, whereas Celestia was admired for her wisdom and kindness.

Perhaps that’s why she was so uneasy when she should usually be in her element. Her image, her reputation, it had all changed. Luna had heard the stories, how her deeds had cast her as the mistress of darkness.

Nighttime in Equestria was her domain, the time when her powers were at their peak—here in the light of the moon, the chill in the air. More than that, it gave her the reassurance she so desperately needed to achieve her objective.

Hoof raised to knock, Luna stared at the wooden door of the Golden Oaks Library and bit the inside of her cheek. Something wasn’t right.

Is it my appearance? She quickly conjured a mirror and floated it in front of her to double check. Her onyx tiara was properly polished and centered, her regalia was in pristine condition, her coat had been brushed to perfection, and her starry, flowing mane was in order. No.

Sending the mirror away, Luna raised her hoof to knock, but stopped short—again. The traitorous little voice returned, the same one responsible for planting the seeds of doubt during her practices. She shook her head to rid herself of its hold on her thoughts. No, not again. It will not win tonight.

She had had more than enough time to work everything out.

Each night she told herself that she would go through with it, only to think twice. Something always came up—there was always a reason to put it off for a bit longer. Each time, the voice had rambled on about Twilight Sparkle and her latest, amazing exploits and how such a unicorn wouldn't possibly have the time to accommodate her.

“Oh, Celestia has given her a project? She should concentrate on that, I can wait until she is done.”

“She stopped a rampaging Ursa Minor? Impressive. Truly remarkable. The damage to the town must be extensive, I will wait until her schedule is not so full.”


“Winter Wrap Up is a rather old tradition, a truly excellent way for her to immerse herself in Ponyville’s culture and develop her connection with her friends. I should not interfere.”

“The Grand Galloping Gala? No, I do not think I’m quite ready for such a grand, formal appearance yet, much less conversing with her publicly. Thank you though, sister, I do appreciate the invitation. I shall try some other time.”

There was always something—always an excuse to justify putting it off.

Just one more night. It can wait.

Luna flicked her tail. Am I not the all-powerful ruler of the night, the mare who could bring down the wrath of the heavens on a whim? And yet she couldn’t move past her near constant state of self-doubt.

Stars above, have I not written countless speeches, practiced each in front of a mirror, agonizing over every word? With each version, and the growing pile of failures, she struggled to find the right words to articulate her respect and admiration. That is, until a certain sister's curiosity over the great volume of paper had nixed the practice.

Would that I could make a proclamation, and declare "Twilight Sparkle, thou art a great pony, and I would have thee know of our admiration!" How much easier that would have been. She snorted and turned aside from the door.

The last time she’d spoken to somepony in private and admitted her respect had been… Stars, she couldn’t even recall. It must have been centuries before everything changed, before she had unknowingly set herself upon the path to her corruption.

Her thoughts returned to Twilight Sparkle, the one whose bravery and persistence had freed her from her thousand-year madness...

Even thinking of her, I am confounded and driving myself mad! For what?

Luna stomped a hoof and snorted. She glanced to the door again. For whom would be the better question. To think I would struggle with nerves at the prospect of meeting one of my own subjects. I am being silly.

“There is no need to fret!” she whispered.

All she wanted to do was visit and talk with her sister’s favored student, the very same pony who had correctly predicted her return, stopped her second attempt at world domination and freed her of the corruption that plagued her mind.

She bit her bottom lip and breathed deeply. To Tartarus with nerves and silly angsting. She had come at night, when she held dominion over the land.

But as she finally managed to bring her hoof forward to knock, Luna found herself wincing as the doorframe shook from the force. Her ears pinned back. The familiar, heavy-hooved habits still reared their ugly head at the most inappropriate times, despite Twilight’s help on Nightmare Night.

True, they had at least made some progress on her speech, but she still found herself stomping her hooves and calling down lightning for emphasis.

“Restraint, Luna, restraint,” she chastised herself as the sound of quick hoofsteps reached her ears whenever she wanted to emphasize a point.

The latch rattled as a spell took hold, and grated as it slid back. No turning back. The door yawned open to reveal a young unicorn of deep purple coat and her, violet mane and tail, with a single pink streak in vibrant contrast to her darker colors. Almost as if nature wanted to give some added indicator that this pony was special.

Special in appearance, talent, and heart. Twilight Sparkle truly was her sister’s greatest student.

“I’m sorry, but the library is closed for the evening.” Twilight stifled a yawn, then continued, “If you wouldn’t mind returning at another time, I’d be happy to help with whatever you may need.”

Twilight’s eyelids hung low, her purple mane was a tangled mess, with strands sticking out every which way, and her eyes seemed unfocused and bleary.

She is exhausted. Twilight almost seemed unaware of the world around her, and escaping would be easy. But Luna stood her ground. No! You are here, now. Speak!

Luna raised an eyebrow and held back a chuckle. “And what if I have come to speak with a pony whom I hope to call friend?”

Twilight’s ears twitched, her eyes widened and lost all traces of sleep as she matched the voice to the pony before her. Her head jerked up, Twilight blinked twice to clear her vision. “Princess Luna?”

“Indeed,” Luna answered with a smile. “I apologize for coming unannounced, but I wish to speak with you privately. Is this hour inconvenient?”

Twilight stared silently for a beat and shook her head. “No! Oh, not at all! I just, uh, well, I had been doing a bit of late night reading and haven’t had a chance to clean up, so… if you wouldn’t mind waiting, I can take care of the mess and have Spike prepare tea or…” She trailed off, glancing over her shoulder and quickly back at Luna. Twilight rubbed a hoof against her foreleg, her cheeks tinged pink. “Could you just give me a minute?”

Her concerns were waved off. “A few books out of place is of no bother. Though, after such a long flight, a cup of tea would be much appreciated. Might we take this inside?”

“Oh, yes, of course!” She all but leapt to the side, pulling the door open and bowing low as Luna passed. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean...”

“Please,” Luna spoke softly, giving what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “There is no need to stand on ceremony with me. If anything, it is I who should bow to you, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight’s ears perked up, she tilted her head and fixed Luna with a curious look. “Bow to me? No, no, no! I mean, not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, Princess, but that’s a bit much!”

“Why should I not show respect? You have earned it, along with my gratitude, Twilight Sparkle. Let that never be in doubt.” Luna shuffled her hooves into the wooden floor and inhaled deeply, her eyes flitting around in favor of finding something else to focus on. She found a verifiable tower of books, sitting on the small table in the center of the room—Twilight’s “mess”. Though her little speech was confident, her mind raced.

The urge to flee, to make some excuse to put this off once more hit. That treacherous voice spoke up, whispering to her. Twilight offered you an out: she was in the middle of some reading. You’ve interrupted her studies. Apologize and walk away. There’s always tomorrow.

Yes, that would be most welcome. Her ears pinned back and lay flat against her skull. She had been mistaken.

She wasn’t ready to face this. Whatever she had to say wouldn’t be enough to express the gratitude and respect Luna held for this mortal before her. Luna needed more time to prepare, more time to give Twilight Sparkle the official gratitude of a princess, just as she so rightfully deserved.

That’s right, little princess. Walk away. You aren’t ready. You only need one more night. Then, everything will be fine. Everything will be perfect.

If only Luna could trust herself to actually follow through. Months passed without proper thanks, save for those hastily muttered when she had been at her weakest. Though, Luna would hardly call hanging her head and meekly whispering an apology to the entire town proper thanks.

Before she knew it, Nightmare Night had come. A holiday made in honor of an old tale made to scare naughty foals. Yes, Luna had been able to offer her thanks face to face - albeit by nearly deafening the poor mare with the Royal Canterlot Voice - but it had been tainted by her social failures. If not for Twilight Sparkle’s aid, Luna would’ve tarnished her reputation once again, thanks to her bombastic demeanor. But, mercifully, she had taken pity on the Princess of the Night.

Luna had come close to her goal a couple of weeks ago; she made it all the way to the library door again, hoof raised to knock before she turned surrendered to her doubts and returned to Canterlot.

If not now, then I never will. Having beaten her traitorous voice, Luna looked over her shoulder at Twilight and gestured to the table with a wing. “May I?”

Twilight blinked once before shaking herself out of whatever distractions ailed her. “Oh! Yes! I’m sorry, I was just a million miles away! Just let me clean that off and…”

“If this is a mess by your definition, I think I should be able to suffer it,” Luna murmured. She let her eyes wander over the titles, humming in appreciation and mild surprise at Twilight’s current selection.

Twilight gasped, drawing Luna’s attention once again. Her eyes darted around the room, before settling on the kitchen. “Spike!” She called, a hoof shook as she waited for his answer.

Spike poked his head out and shot her a tired glare. “What is it, Twilight? Your book fort collapse again?”

“I haven’t made one of those in years!” Twilight sputtered, her muzzle flushing pink. “And no! I was going to ask that you make tea. We have a guest!”

Spike sighed and stepped around the corner. “I thought I heard somepony coming in. What do you take it with?” Only after his haphazard greeting did he take note of just who that visitor was. His eyes widened. “Princess Luna! I am so sorry! I didn’t realize—I mean, it must’ve just slipped my mind that you were planning to visit!”

“The fault is mine, young Spike,” Luna replied. “This visit was unannounced. I do hope this is not an inconvenience to you.”

“What? No! Not at all! I’ll just be, uh, right back!” He bolted back to the kitchen before either mare could blink.

They shared a look, Twilight winced at the clatter raised by Spike’s frantic racing about the kitchen. She turned to address Luna, a sheepish smile playing upon her face. “You’ll have to excuse him, he can get a bit excitable.”

Luna waved her off again. “As I said, the fault is mine. I should have anticipated that my coming unannounced would be counterproductive to my goals, but I wanted to speak with you as an equal.”

“Princess, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t quite understand. Why would I be considered an equal? I’m just a student who works in a library. And you’re, well, you.”

“I have my reasons, Twilight Sparkle. So, please, cease this cheapening of yourself. Prior to my banishment, it was considered most unbecoming to refuse the respect of a princess,” Luna raised an eyebrow in a manner her sister so loved to use whenever trying to tease a pony into taking a hint, “I do hope that is not your intent.”

“I-I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to—It’s just that I’m not—and you’re…” Her voice trailed off as she looked down and shuffled her hooves against the floor.

“Twilight Sparkle!” It came out far louder and harsher than she’d intended, and, as the younger mare’s head snapped up Luna saw what she had too often seen in the eyes of others: fear. She sighed heavily. “Cease this! Cease treating me as thy princess and... “ Think! Think of something! “Speak with me as thou wouldst with Applejack. Speak with me as thou—” She paused to correct herself, grumbling at her slip back into old Equish. “As you would if I were one of your friends!”

If she thought snapping would help, Luna was sorely disappointed. Twilight’s ears pinned back, she shuffled a hoof into the floor. “I… I suppose I could try, Princess—I mean—”

Luna sighed and glanced to the stack of books. She quickly skimmed through the titles, looking for something to change the subject to one that would alleviate Twilight’s anxiety.. A History of Chamber Music in Pre-Banishment Era Equestria? Twilight was studying texts on music? Of a time she was familiar with?

She found herself giving a mental nod of approval. “My apologies, Twilight,” Luna bowed her head, “I did not mean to lose my temper with you. Please, sit with me,” she said with a gesture to the space across from her.

Twilight looked up, rubbing a hoof against her shin before tentatively stepping forward and sitting on her cushion. She shifted awkwardly in place, with her left ear flicking towards the kitchen every now and again.

Into the silence, Luna nodded to the books stacked beside Twilight. “Studying the classical arts?”

“Y-Yes,” Twilight stammered. “I’ve taken a few art and music theory courses. The Enlightenment Era was always my favorite. It’s all quite interesting, really.”

“I see. You have good taste,” Luna smiled and closed her eyes, thinking back to the old days. She could hear the hum of strings and the booming timpani. Remnants of her own time instilled a sense of home, a sense of peace in her. “Tempo Rubato was a favorite of mine."

For the first time since she’d opened the door, Twilight’s lips turned upward into a genuine smile. Her eyes sparkled like the night sky. "The Tempo Rubato? The composer of Song of the Meadowlark? You knew him?"

"I was there at his first concert in the old palace. He was a peer of Beethooven.” Luna chuckled, looking off wistfully into space. “If you think the modern performances are done well, you should’ve seen both in their day. They could write songs that melted even the hardest of hearts, truly masters of the art.” She opened her eyes and returned to present time. “But, perhaps that is a discussion for another evening. If you are not averse to it after this one.”

“Why would I be?” It almost killed Luna to watch the pure excitement for learning slide off Twilight’s face as she tilted her head to the side. Purple felt ears perked up, Twilight’s mouth fell into a frown. “Is something wrong?”

Come on, work on delivery, Luna. You sound like you’re about to give bad news. “No, nothing wrong. I merely wished to deliver a message." Luna lifted a hoof quickly. "One of good tidings, I assure you.”

It was now or never. Luna inhaled deeply and focused on the serenity of her night, the majesty of the moon and stars. She found peace. “If you recall, on Nightmare Night, I addressed the role you played in freeing me from the corruption rooted in my being?”

“Yes, you were rather...” Twilight fiddled with her hooves, searching for the right wording. “You were rather vocal on the matter.”

“Indeed.” A smile played on Luna’s lips.. “But I have not properly thanked you for your deeds, nor for your aid in connecting with the townsfolk.”

Twilight raised a hoof. “Forgive me for correcting you, but you thanked me. Remember? You commented on my costume, too.”

“Yes, your costume was most accurate. But, I must disagree. I would hardly call bellowing and nearly deafening you proper gratitude, not by your modern standards.”

“Well, you’re hardly to blame for being a bit behind on the times considering that… Oh.”

“Save for the small matter of my banishment,” Luna supplied. “My lack of understanding is directly connected to my own failure. Again, one which you helped to rectify and afford me the opportunity to redeem myself.”

Twilight bit her lip and fidgeted in her cushion, trying to find comfort. “I had help…”

Luna hummed. True, but, once again, she plays off her role. “Yes, your friends. But without your research on the subject, no pony would have known of my imminent return. Equestria would very likely be plunged into eternal night if not for your persistence.”

A light blush and more fidgeting in place. Twilight’s eyes turned away, flitting toward the kitchen yet again. What was it about complimenting her that made Twilight so finicky?

In days of old, many a pony would puff out their chests and crow should they receive such praise from a princess. Certainly, a level of modesty was a virtue then as it was now, but not to this extent.

Luna made a quick mental note to ask Celestia upon her return to Canterlot. A bit of teasing about her reasons for visiting Twilight would be worth the information.

...Even if she had to endure that damnable smirk.

She refocused on the present. If anything, she would watch for other examples. Perhaps the embarrassment was brought about due to her own involvement in both incidents. That would certainly explain it, and she could sympathize with Twilight if that were the case.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

Luna placed her hooves on the table, crossing one on top of the other. “Having friends does not diminish the worth of your own actions. Nor does it account for those you took in aiding me on Nightmare Night. I distinctly recall Pinkie Pie deliberately scaring the foals and running in mock fear, purely for entertainment.”

“Well, yes, but she didn’t know,” Twilight stammered. She ducked her head and chewed on her bottom lip. “And Fluttershy helped you with volume control. So, not all me.”

“After she tried to flee from my presence, yes. But, once again, your persistence won out. With your reassurance, Fluttershy confronted her fear of me so that she might teach me to speak in a more appropriate manner.”

Another sideways glance towards the kitchen. “It wasn’t anything special. I just wanted to help.”

Luna bit her tongue, lest she respond too hastily. She breathed deep and focused on the night, listening to the whispered voices of a thousand ponies’ dreams. Peace. Tranquility.

Again, she made a mental note to address Twilight’s choice in words later. Preferably after her original piece had been said.

Losing my temper and lecturing her on decorum would only add to her unease. There was a bit of irony in this: after months of fretting over what to say and how to approach Twilight Sparkle, Luna found that she was not alone in such unease.

She had been so fearful of being turned away that she never gave thought to how Twilight might feel being confronted with this out of the blue. She would take that into consideration with Twilight's... humility? No, that wasn't quite it. Humility was an admirable virtue, to be sure, but this was a tad much. Either way, Luna would take note and address it appropriately.

"Your kind intentions are appreciated." There, nice and simple. Show the impact and segue into the rest of it. “In combination with your actions, they have helped me greatly. For that, you have my gratitude, though I do apologize for the delay in stating it.”

Twilight shook her head quickly. “You don’t have to apologize Princess, I…” she trailed off as she noticed Luna’s raised eyebrow. She cleared her throat and smiled. “You’re welcome, Pr - Luna. I was happy to help.”

Progress at last, Luna crowed. Now with that out of the way, she could move forward. With her gratitude stated, she could get to the important part.

Well, it was all important; Twilight Sparkle was involved.

Their ears perked up in unison at the sound of shuffling against the wooden floor. Spike walked into the room with a wooden tea tray in his grasp and a crooked, a forced grin pasted across his face. He came to a stop a short distance from the table and shrugged his shoulders slightly to lift the tray just into view. “Uh, the tea’s ready,” he offered with a slight chuckle.

He’d only assembled the basics of traditional tea time: the teapot itself, two cups, a bowl of sugarcubes, a cup of cream, and a few lemon wedges. Though, given that it had been dropped on him, quite literally out of nowhere, Luna didn’t expect anything extravagant.

Spike placed the tray onto the table, within easy reach of both mares. He made to leave, but Twilight quickly reached out to grab his shoulder and pulled him in for a nuzzle.

Luna smiled happily at the open display of affection and politely waited for its end. However, her attention was drawn to the tray itself.

Two cups. One for Twilight and one for me.

She glanced up to find that they had parted. Spike ducked his head and mumbled something about “Not doing that mushy stuff in front of Princess Luna” before turning to face her. He bowed low and took a step around Twilight, headed in the direction of the stairs leading to their loft.

Luna’s mind raced. The affectionate smile on Twilight’s face as she nuzzled him sparked something. She recognized that look, that familial adoration. As were the benefits of having one close at her side during times of discomfort.

It was an easy decision to make. “Did you not wish to sit with us?”

Spike froze in place. He slowly turned his head to meet her gaze. “I thought you just wanted to talk to Twilight,” he brought his claws together and tapping them.

“There is nothing I have to say that you cannot hear,” Luna replied. She directed a small smile in his direction for reassurance. “That is,” her gaze flitted back to Twilight. “Unless you object?”

Twilight sat upright with a quick jolt and shook her head rapidly. “No! Not at all!” Her tone betrayed her underlying relief.

If Spike’s poorly-hidden grin was any indication, he was all in favor of the idea. He was being invited to sit and talk with the big ponies, why shouldn’t he be excited?

“I’ll be right back!” If Luna hadn’t known better, she would have sworn that Spike left an outline as he bolted to the kitchen in search of his own cup. She didn’t bother hiding her amusement—he truly was like a foal in personality. She chanced a quick glance toward Twilight and caught her sighing and relaxing her shoulders.

Excellent. It would seem that her previous observation was on the spot. Twilight wanted something familiar to latch onto when confronted with something out of the ordinary. In this case, that something was her assistant, Spike.

Luna made another mental note, this time to check into the actual relationship the two shared. It certainly seemed beyond employer and employee.

She watched as Spike hurried back into the room and all but jumped onto the cushion at Twilight’s right side. Luna stifled a laugh as Twilight leveled a stern glare at him, clearly a silent reminder of the rules. Rules which, if Luna were to venture a guess, were repeatedly ignored during Spike’s more excitable moments.

The cheeky grin Spike sent back in return nearly made Luna snort. And Twilight’s long-suffering sigh and shake of her head, with a poorly hidden smile of her own completed the image. Luna was looking at an eerily familiar scene. One that had played out with two young alicorns sitting down for tea thousands of years ago.

Luna sat patiently as Twilight levitated the teapot and began to pour the tea. “How do you take your tea, Luna?”

“With cream and one sugar, please,” her request was fulfilled with a flash of telekinesis, a cup of hot tea floated was then presented to her.

She accepted it with a smile and nod. Luna took the cup in her telekinesis and brought it to her lips, savoring the warmth that flowed through her. She lowered the cup and swallowed, sighing deeply. “A fine brew, young Spike. Exactly what was needed after a nighttime flight.”

Spike sat up straight, puffing out his chest in what could only be described as the most adorable display of pride Luna had laid eyes on. Twilight seemed of similar mind, her eyes alight with amusement as she poured tea for Spike and herself.

Twilight seemed more relaxed, more at home with Spike present.

As said, there was nothing she had to say that he couldn’t hear. In fact, his presence would help drive home the importance of her message. The stage was set properly. Now, it was up to her to follow through and deliver.

2: Enjoy the Present Smiling Hour

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Luna chose her words carefully, trying to recall what sounded best during her months of drafting. So much time had gone into it, so many versions written that they ran together now that she was here, sitting at the table with Twilight Sparkle.

Her left wing twitched, and her jaw set. Damn the thunderheads! I will not turn back here because of a few forgotten lines in a speech!

She cleared her throat. “As said, I do hold you in high regard, Twilight Sparkle. But for far more than two incidents that directly involved me.”

Twilight raised her eyebrows and took a small sip. “Forgive me if I sound a bit obtuse, but I’m not sure I follow. What exactly have I done that’s worth notice?

“Save for your actions as an Element Bearer, especially those involving the Discord incident?” Luna paused a moment, her eyes flitted to Spike as she caught a small change in his attitude.

His smile had fallen. Not much, but enough to be noticed by her keen eyes. His claws drummed a beat on the table as he shot Twilight a sidelong look.

But he stayed silent, content to sip his tea for now.

“Uh, well, again,” Luna’s ruminations were broken as Twilight made to reply. “My friends were with me through - well, most of it. We all fell to his tricks. If not for Princess Celestia sending my friendship reports back, I might not have remembered everything that made them special to me…”

“True,” Luna conceded. “You were not alone, but the brunt of the blame does not fall upon you. Many a pony have fallen prey to Discord’s tricks, even my sister and I had difficulty in sealing him the first time. The fact that reminders of your friendship were able to break his influence should speak volumes of the bonds you all share.”

Based on her expression, Twilight couldn’t deny that claim. She had been backed into a corner. She would never downplay the value she placed on her friends, that much Luna knew.

Twilight bit her lip. “I - Well, yes,” she conceded. “My friends are near and dear to me, more than even I realize at times.”

“That much is clear,” Luna noted, pausing to take a sip of her tea. “The lengths you have gone to in helping them, and they to help you, speak volumes.” A beat passed, before she realized that context would help greatly here. “Your friendship reports, to be precise.”

“You’ve heard of them?” Twilight fiddled with her hooves, and her tail twitched.

Luna caught both cues. Oh, by the stars, not again. “My sister has shared them with me. I was curious as to what this ‘study of friendship’ could yield, as it is a field that I am quite unfamiliar with.”

“Oh. I see. Well, I, err, hope that you found them helpful.” There was something off about her tone, something nagging.

Uncertainty? Does she doubt that I find her work important? Or that I might find it foalish for the subject matter? “I found them quite insightful, in fact. Especially with regard to the smaller details of relationships. Such things are different now than they were in my day.”

“Aren’t you, like, pretty much immortal?” Spike chipped in with a rather cheeky smile. “So, it’s always ‘in your day’.”

“Spike,” Twilight groaned and brought a hoof up to cover her eyes. “No!

“What? It’s just an observation!”

Luna blinked, the mood suitably broken by his sudden input. “I… would suppose that is technically correct. But I believe you may be missing the point.”

Twilight cut off his reply with a stern glare. “Oh, he knows. He’s just trying to be witty.”

“Ah. I see,” she blinked again. Luna swished her tail. “Well, wit aside, relationships have changed drastically since my banishment. That being said, my sister felt that your example might help me in making that connection. I find your reports rather enlightening.”

“In what way?”

Luna lifted the cup to her lips again for another sip. “Do you recall when you helped Applejack with her harvest?” At Twilight’s nod, she continued. “You helped a friend, even when she rejected it.”

“But she was running herself ragged!” Twilight pointed out. “I couldn’t just stand by and leave her be!”

“My point exactly,” Luna did her best not to smile too broadly. Slowly making progress. Excellent. “Though it may have upset her initially, you gave her aid, along with the rest of your friends. The lesson was similar to one I was forced to learn in politics: sometimes, we hurt other ponies with our actions, even if we are trying to help.”

“I guess that makes sense. So, the similarities interest you?”

Luna shook her head. “Close, but not quite. I will explain in full later, there is still more that I wish to cover.”

“There’s more?” Twilight cocked her head to the side and perked up her ears.

“Yes, much more. But for the sake of brevity, I will pick out those that had the most profound impact on me. Does that seem fair?”

“Yes, I suppose. Though, I’m still a bit lost on how reading about my friends and I has helped so much.”

“All will be explained in due time, Twilight. I promise.” Luna’s muscles tensed. Months of uncertainty, months of struggling to find the motivation had lead her to this point. “But moving along, I found the tale concerning your interest in Pinkie Pie’s sensory ability a rather enjoyable read as well.”

Twilight rubbed her head, wincing in what seemed to be phantom pain. “Which part of it? That whole day was just me messing up and making judgements on Pinkie. Not a good example of friendship at all!”

“Ah, but afterward, you learned something, did you not? Your report mentioned that you had doubts in Pinkie’s ability to sense little disasters, but you were able to accept it in the end.”

“Yes, that’s true,” she admitted. “But I wasn’t a good friend up to that point. It was then that I realized that I needed to stop being so snippy and try having a more open mind.”

Luna paused to take a quick glance at Spike again. Specifically, she noted the expressions on his face as Twilight replied. He frowned at Twilight’s initial assessment of herself, but seemed to relax and give a small nod to himself as she finished up and made mention of how she went about improving.

Luna made note to find time to speak with Spike at a later date to investigate further. The way he reacted to Twilight’s observations seemed to suggest that he found it aggravating when she spoke lowly of her accomplishments, more so when she spoke similarly of her value as a friend.

Luna returned her focus to Twilight and smiled. True, Twilight still put herself down somewhat, but some progress was made. “Acknowledging prior shortcomings takes a great deal of strength, especially if one wishes to improve upon them.”

“It was difficult to come to terms with, but well worth it—I find it easier to understand and talk with them when I’m not being so snarky, though it does slip out from time to time.”

“Old habits die hard. Especially those we have held for most of our lives. I am just as guilty of that, as you witnessed months ago.” She smiled wryly, mentally giving herself a pat on the withers as the two across from her shared matching grins. “I find your ability to notice those flaws in your character quite admirable, a quality many ponies would do well to take note of and use as an example.”

Twilight hummed and flicked her ear. “Well, I can’t argue with that. Everypony could always improve on something. It’s a lot like learning magic, actually, you never really stop.”

“Very astute observation.” Luna praised, pausing to take a sip from her cup. “And in rather fitting terms, if I do say so myself.”

“Thank you. I've since tried to adopt that attitude. It’s helped quite a bit, especially in my study of the magic of friendship."

“Excellent, most excellent. What say you, Spike? You have been particularly quiet this eve,” She stifled a giggle at the way he stiffened up, nearly dropping his cup.

Spike sent a crooked smile in her direction and shifted in place. “Yeah, I see a difference.” Luna quirked an eyebrow at his haphazard reply, but motioned for him to continue. “Uh, no offense, Twilight, but you could be kinda mean with your comments. I could tell that you were joking because I’ve been around you for a while, but everypony else seemed a bit leery of it at first."

“It’s fine, Spike. I know.” Twilight sighed and closed her eyes. “I realized that not too long after. My attitude—well, I knew I had to make a change.”

Luna easily caught the shift in Twilight’s mood. Her ears were pinned back, her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. She was slipping back into those negative thoughts again.

Yet another thing to look into. For each of Luna’s silent questions she answered in this conversation, Twilight raised two more with her actions and tone.

Later. I shall address that later. She needed to steer the conversation back on track, back towards the more positive subjects that made Twilight see the good pony she was.

“Perhaps it is not my place to say, but I believe this change you speak of is something to look back at with a measure of happiness.” Twilight’s ears perked up, her posture straightened as she was drawn out of her self-examination once more. She took a sip of her tea as Luna continued. “You were able to recognize your shortcomings and took steps to improve your character. When I noted that yours is an example to be followed, I was not ‘blowing smoke’—I believe that is the saying. As I sit across from you this eve, I am honest in stating that your experiences, the lessons you’ve learned in your time spent here, they have a profound impact on how I wish to improve upon my faults.”

Twilight inhaled her tea. She coughed and gagged, wincing in pain as her sinuses burned. “What—hack—I do what now?”

“Simply put, you inspire me, Twilight Sparkle.” Butterflies took wing in Luna’s chest. “As you are more than aware, I do not have the most… positive relationship with my subjects. Not that I can truly blame them, as my actions a thousand years ago more than earned their distrust and fear.”

“But the ponies here were okay with you on Nightmare Night!” Spike pointed out. “Once they saw that you were trying to be nice and have fun with them, everything was fine! Pip even liked you, and he was terrified at first!”

Luna smiled, the butterflies in her chest gave way to warmth. “Yes they did. Though I have not visited in some time, so I am unsure if that is still the case. More to the point, while you are correct, Ponyville is but one small town—not to take anything away from the ponies here, but they are in the minority on the matter.”

Spike made to object further, but stopped short. He puffed smoke through his nostrils and folded his arms over his chest. “I guess that makes sense. Still isn’t right.”

“Calm down,” Twilight scolded, having managed to fight off her coughing fit. “Take a deep breath and stop puffing smoke.”

Fine. Still seems like a load of horseapples.” He grumbled. Spike huffed and slouched in his seat, but managed to withhold any further comments.

“In a fantasy world, one night of goodness in one town may have restored my reputation.” Luna chipped in. “But we do not live in such a world, young Spike. I have a great many things to answer for.”

“Repeated examples of change would help in that regard.” Twilight placed her elbows on the table and brought her hooves together, her eyes narrowed. Luna could see the wheels in that sharp mind whirring at full speed. “The question, though, is exactly what reputation you are trying to restore. That might help determine how you could go about fixing it.”

Her comment made Luna’s ears twitch. “I do appreciate the concern and support you both have shown, but that is my problem. Please do not burden yourself with cleaning up after my messes.”

“With respect, Princess, I can’t ignore this.” Luna blinked rapidly. Didn’t history suggest that Twilight was almost devotedly loyal and obedient to the Crown?

“So, how would we make that happen? Have Luna write ‘Princess Reports’ on what she does and hopes to do now that she’s back?” Spike drummed his claws on the tabletop.

“Not quite, though I do like the idea. Maybe something similar.”

Luna nearly choked on air. That wasn’t part of her plan at all! “Just a moment! I appreciate the gesture, but this is hardly something for the two of you to get involved in.”

“I understand, but I choose to do so. I can hardly sit by idly twiddling my hooves while a friend needs help.”

Any notion of refuting Twilight’s declaration died in Luna’s throat as she took note of the change in posture and attitude.

No more was Twilight slouching, shifting in place, twitching her tail or ears. Gone was the uncertainty in her eyes and no more did she avoid Luna’s gaze.

She sat up straight, ears perked up, and purple eyes locked with Luna’s.

The nervous, stammering mare who had greeted her at the door and offered her tea was gone. In her place was the pony who tamed an Ursa Minor, defied Discord, and stood up to Nightmare Moon.

Twilight’s eyes seemed alight with fire, just as they had on the night of Luna’s return from her thousand-year banishment. But this time, the reasons were different.

She calls me ‘friend’. Luna fought every urge to leap to her hooves and cheer. She had a friend. She had confirmation, straight from Twilight Sparkle’s mouth.

She quickly raised her cup and took a sip. The warmth and herbal essance flowed through her. Luna closed her eyes and breathed deep. Do not lose your composure. Dancing about like a foal would be most unsightly, especially in present company.

Still, no matter how much Luna tried to rein herself in, she couldn’t stop her hind legs from shaking or her ears from standing ramrod straight.

Luna breathed in deep, running a tongue over her dry upper lip. "You have no idea how much that means to me. For you to call me friend after the trouble I've caused this land, the trouble I've caused you..."

Twilight reached across the table and laid a hoof across Luna's. "Like you said, we all make mistakes. It's how we improve upon them that shows our character. You say that you want to reconnect with the ponies? Let us help you. Please."

"I-I suppose it would be prudent. After all, you know a great deal more than I when it comes to modern Equestria. And I think I speak for everypony when I say that I could use... all the help I can get." Luna did her best to keep her voice level, despite the uplifting swell in her chest.

"All you had to do was askwell, accept, at this point. Besides, you'll get my help," she paused to throw a hoof around Spike's shoulders, "along with the best number one assistant Equestria's ever seen."

Spike's cheeks flushed red, but he managed to brush it off long enough to raise his cup in salute to Luna. "Yeah. I'd be up for that!" Luna caught his tone: jubilation at the praise he received and excitement.

He was happy to be included. They both actually wanted to help her get through these problems.

Twilight blinked and covered her mouth before letting out a rather big yawn. Luna scrunched her nose and checked her internal clock. It was midnight, much later than she’d thought.

Luna stood and cleared her throat. “I should go. The hour is late and you likely have a full day of study and work, not to mention any plans you may have with your friends.”

“What? No, you don’t have to—” another yawn escaped before Twilight could stop it. “Oooh, I suppose it is late. And I do have work in the morning…”

“All the more reason that you should rest. I shall take my leave. Thank you for the tea and the company. It was quite enjoyable.” Luna bowed her head to Twilight and Spike in turn, before turning to walk to the door.

They followed in her wake, though Spike lagged behind a pace as he fought down a yawn of his own.

Luna gripped the door handle in her magic and pulled it open before stepping out and into the night air.

“You don’t have to go,” Twilight called as she followed behind. “You could always rest here for the night.”

“Your offer is much appreciated, but I must return to Canterlot. While the Night Court has been mostly empty since my return, I do have to be present in the unlikely event that a petitioner visits. I specifically set this time aside so that I could visit you. I did not think time would pass so quickly, though it was quite enjoyable.”

She was met with a tired smile. “It was nice, even if unexpected!” Twilight’s vibrant purple eyes lit up, her exhaustion briefly vanishing. “You can visit anytime you like, especially since we’re helping you.”

All self control nearly vanished. Luna’s front hoof twitched, she forced weight upon it lest she give into the urge to bounce in place. “I would like that very much, Twilight Sparkle. As long as it is no inconvenience to the two of you.”

“Oh, it isn’t! Right, Spike?” She turned slightly to her left to check, noting the smile and shake of his head. “We’d be happy to have you, Luna. I’m always happy to see my friends!”

There it was again. The word that made her want to cast off all of the courtly manner that had been drilled into her head over the years in favor of snatching the pair before her in a tight embrace and shouting her jubilation to the heavens.

With great effort, she managed to control herself. “You—” her tone would have betrayed her joy had Luna not quickly squashed it in favor of her typical manner. “You have no idea how much that means to me. I am happy that you include me in the company you already hold.”

Twilight blinked and cocked her head. “Actually… I’m glad you mentioned that, I nearly forgot to ask you why you said that you ‘hoped’ to call me friend.”

“Yes. I do recall saying that. Is there a problem?”

“It’s just that I thought we were already friends.”

Luna’s ears burned and her cheeks tinged red. “I hadn’t thought that we—that you already…” She stopped to close her eyes and take a deep breath. “Thank you,” she opened her eyes and beamed at Twilight. “Just thank you, Twilight Sparkle. And you, Spike. This is something I’ve not felt in more years than I care to count.”

She stepped forward, despite that traitorous little voice in her head screaming that what she had in mind was a terrible idea.

Right now, Luna didn’t care. She gave the voice a mental buck to the muzzle and committed to her next action…

She hugged Twilight Sparkle.

It wasn’t as tight as the hug that had nearly broken poor Fluttershy in half, it didn’t involve cuddles or nuzzles like some of the affectionate ponies she’d seen around Canterlot park. It was just a hug from one friend to another.

Twilight stiffened in her grasp, but didn’t object or try to pull away. To Luna’s relief, she relaxed and returned the gesture after a moment of hesitation.

She caught the scent of thick, metallic ink and dry, musty book pages—telling of just how much time Twilight had spent at work today.

And she had another full day ahead of her.

Luna pulled back and released Twilight from her embrace. “I believe I will take you up on your offer at a later date. Though, I will be sure to ask in advance rather than show up in the middle of the night again.”

“That would give us a chance to get ready.” Twilight giggled. “I’m sure Spike would appreciate the lack of heart attack!”

“You’re one to talk.” He teased back before turning back to Luna. “If you really want, you could probably get my firespell signature from Princess Celestia. That’d be easier and a lot faster than courier.”

“Perhaps I shall, if you’re certain it wouldn’t be an inconvenience…”

Spike shook his head. “It’s not. I mean, so long as you’re not planning to send a flood of scrolls through at once, I don’t see a problem with it.”

“I shall keep that in mind.” Luna stifled a giggle behind her hoof. “For now, I shall take my leave. I hope your sleep is restful and grants you the strength to meet my sister’s day. Farewell.”

With one last bow, she spread her wings and gave a mighty flap to launch herself into the air. Luna flew north towards Canterlot, glancing back at the library until it was but a small dot in her vision.

As soon as Luna was certain that she was out of view, that she would be just a dot against the night sky, she banked sharply to the right, weaving between the tree tops until she was able to find a clearing. Upon finding one she landed. With a quick look to check her surroundings for anypony, she found nothing but a few woodland creatures, which scattered and hid in their trees to avoid her gaze.

She was alone, no pony was there to see her. So no pony would judge her for dropping all pretenses. She pranced in place, doing a sort of jig as she let out a rather unprincess-like squee!

“Yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes!”

Twilight was her friend! Her first in over a thousand years!

Luna closed her eyes and tilted her head upward, basking in the light of the moon and the chill of night. Darkness, cool air, the soft light of the celestial bodies above, it filled her with that comfort from before. But it wasn’t just comfort anymore. She wasn’t just “okay”.

She was happy.

Luna opened her eyes to behold the moon above. It shone brighter than ever before, the night’s guiding light was more vibrant and magnificent than it had been in centuries.

“Twilight Sparkle,” she whispered. “You make me shine brighter than ever. You are my guiding light!”

3: Quickly, Rumor Flies

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Twilight hummed softly to herself, sipping idly at a cup of warm tea as she waited for Fluttershy to arrive. She skimmed through a thick textbook on Equestria history to pass the time. Her timid friend was running a few minutes late for breakfast.

Twilight paused in her reading and glanced at the clock for the third time in as many minutes. She shook her head, holding back an exasperated sigh. It's good that I planned for something like this. Still, the tardiness rankled—though not as harshly as it might have, once. Fluttershy often had to fight the clock to make their appointments because of all the animals she cared for.

It was just her way. Fluttershy cared for each and every one of her animals as if they were her own foals—no pony could honestly discount her love for them.

Twilight snuck a quick glance to the clock mounted on the wall inside. Seven thirty-three. Only a few minutes late, no need for any worry. For now, she could at least get some caffeine in her system.

Goodness knows I’ll need it today.

“Shall I bring you a fresh pot, Madame Twilight?” A stallion called, his voice holding a slight hint of a Prench accent.

She turned to find Savoir Faire, the Café’s head waiter, at her side. His deep blue mane was slicked back, his white collared shirt was pressed and his red bowtie was fastened around his neck without the slightest hint of creasing. He looked sharp as ever.

"Oh, yes, please! When you have a chance, Mister Faire." Twilight levitated her teapot, depositing it onto his serving tray before he could object.

He chuckled and jerked his head toward the sparsely populated dining room. "You're quite early today, so I don't have to fight the rush to keep your tea stocked, Madame Twilight. I'll have it out to you shortly." Savoir bowed his head and took a step toward the kitchen, but stopped short. He turned to glance over his shoulder. "Pardonez moi, but which of your friends will be dining with you this morning? I can have their drinks out with yours if you like."

"It'll just be Fluttershy and me today. And I'm sure she'd appreciate that! You remember she likes—"

"Chamomile with one sugar." He smiled coyly. "As if I wouldn't remember one of my favorite customers' orders. You wound this old stallion!"

Twilight stifled a laugh, nodding all the same as he swept away in a mock huff. Savoir always did love to have a bit of fun, but he was wonderful at his job. Remembering orders for half the town was no small feat, but, to him, it was just another way to make their visit special.

For a mare as easily flustered as Fluttershy, his little bits of kindness were small blessings. He would smile and wave off all apologies, insisting that she take a seat and enjoy her tea. Waiting on her was his job.

Besides, a bit of a wait gave Twilight some time to think on last night. Namely, the latter portion of her conversation with Luna.

She wants to reconnect, Twilight stared into the steaming tea. She inhaled, savoring the aroma and letting the herbal scent sooth her thoughts. But the legend of the Mare in the Moon said she had always been alone…

She stopped short and shook her head. No. Thinking like that wouldn’t help. The legend certainly had truth to it, Luna herself was living proof of that, but that didn’t give insight into the princesses’ pasts.

So little is known about their lives before Luna’s fall, though. So very little written on them during the Pre-Banishment Era.

Twilight snorted. Thus far, her efforts had yielded nothing. After a quick refresh of the lore itself, she thought that cross referencing with other texts in the history section would be a simple matter. All she would have to do was narrow her search by isolating a specific time period and begin from there.

Therein lay the problem: the only specific date mentioned with any frequency was the night Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon—the very night she was banished. But that was the end of it.

Everything else was focused on crops or talks with the Griffon nation. Nightmare Moon appeared almost entirely out of nowhere. No warning, no hint of change in how either of the princesses acted.

One day, all of Equestria awoke to darkness. A night that changed the fate of two sisters and the nation they ruled over.

That made no sense. There had to be something to give insight into their past. Something that would help her understand what it was that Princess Luna wanted so badly to regain.

If she was going to help Princess Luna, she needed to know what was meant by “reconnecting” with her fellow ponies. Is it as simple as getting them to accept her as something other than the Nightmare incarnate? Is there a title she wants to recover? Both? Neither?

She sighed. In depth research often proved to be such a double-edged sword. On one hoof, the subject could be utterly fascinating and any findings might be considered a breakthrough in the field. On another, having to dig back through historical records, especially on a matter that had faded to legend, could be tedious.

In the pursuit of knowledge, Twilight could suffer the drawbacks with little more than a few grumbles. But, for a friend, she could deal with a few inconveniences here and there.

It was just a matter of keeping her frustrations at bay should the answers prove elusive...

A yellow and pink blur shot through the door, nearly bowling over a pair of patrons on its way over to Twilight’s table. Fluttershy came to a screeching halt, babbling at a mile a minute. “Ohmygoodness! I’m so sorry, Twilight! Mister Squeakers wasn’t feeling well this morning, so I had to find some of his medicine and mix it up with his food—he’s always been a bit finicky when it came to taking pills, I usually just sneak them in with a treat and he’s none the wiser!” She paused to take a deep breath, pawing lightly at the wooden floor. “But, this morning, he was really bad so I had to give him an extra dose and—and—oh, I’m so sorry for making you wait!”

Twilight’s smile never dropped. Slipping a bookmark into place, she closed her book. It was pushed to the side and out of her mind in favor of the mare before her. “It’s okay, Fluttershy. I assumed as much and, really, if you had an emergency, I would’ve been fine with rescheduling.”

“I know! I mean, I know you’re busy, but you try to be patient with everypony’s schedules and—well, I just don’t like making you girls wait for me and then cancel.” Her wings drooped low as she looked down and away from Twilight.

Her chin was caught in a field of magic and gently raised to meet Twilight’s gaze. “I don’t mind, Fluttershy. I’m just happy you were able to come. Now, please,” she gestured to the spot across from her, “Sit with me and let’s enjoy breakfast. Savoir Faire just went to get your tea, I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you as well!”

“Overjoyed, in fact.” Fluttershy jumped and let out a squeak as the aforementioned waiter snuck up behind her. Savoir. “My apologies, Madame Fluttershy, I forgot myself. Please, do sit and let an old stallion serve a pretty mare.”

Twilight stifled a giggle as her friend’s muzzle flushed red at the compliment. “O-Oh, um, yes! I mean, I am rather hungry and, oh, you already brought my tea…”

“As always.” With a slight bow, he levitated two teapots and set them on the table in each mare’s spot. His smile broadened as Fluttershy stepped past him to take her seat, muttering a quick ‘thank you’ as she did. “Shall I assume that you will both have your usual, ladies?”

“That’ll do fine for me, Savoir.” Twilight nodded.

Fluttershy ducked her head and looked down at the teapot. “I’d like that… if you don’t mind, Mister Faire.”

“I’m certain that Creme Brulé will be delighted, as always. I’ll put that in immediately, ladies. Enjoy your tea.”

Twilight smiled and levitated her teapot to refill her cup, her gaze fixed on Fluttershy. With practiced ease, she managed to pour without splashing the hot liquid onto the table, despite her divided attention. “So, you mentioned that Mister Squeakers hasn’t been feeling well. Is it serious?”

“I don’t think so,” Fluttershy took her own teapot in her hooves and poured, taking extra care to keep steady so she didn’t slosh it over the sides. “It seems like a cold, but his fever hasn’t broken yet. I’ve tried a few of my usual remedies, but he’s still so weak and uncomfortable…”

“How long has he been sick?”

“This is four days now. I’m starting to wonder if it might be something else. Oh, I hope it’s not! Missus Whiskers just had babies, and they love their daddy so much.”

Twilight placed a hoof on her chin, her muzzle scrunched. “I may have something on common illnesses in mice in the library. If you’d like, we can head over and look together after we eat.”

The way Fluttershy’s eyes lit up at the idea gave Twilight all the assurance she needed. “Oh, that would be very helpful! I’d like that very much, and I’m sure Mister Squeakers would appreciate it, too!”

A contented sigh escaped her lips. Twilight took a sip of tea, revelling in the warmth both in the drink and her chest. At least there was something she could do to try to ease her friend’s worries. “Then, it’s settled. Spike is probably still sleeping, though, so we’ll have to be quiet when we go in. He—well, we both had a rather late night, actually. But, a dragon his age needs a lot of sleep.”

Fluttershy tilted her head and unpinned her ears. “Oh? Did Princess Celestia give you a project? I-If you’re too tired, we can reschedule—I mean, I know we’re here already and—”

“No, no, no, I’m fine.” Twilight quickly assured her. She reached across the table and patted Fluttershy’s hoof. “I’m used to late nights, believe me. As for the project, it’s one of my own. Something I’ve taken on to help a friend.”

“Oh? Is somepony having trouble? Is it Applejack? Is she having trouble on the farm with something? Or-or Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy wrung her hooves together.

Twilight grimaced, barely resisting the urge to facehoof. Of course Fluttershy would jump to the worst possible conclusion, she always worried about her friends’ well-being. Claiming that she was trying to help a friend and leaving it open ended as such was an oversight.

She caught sight of Fluttershy’s long, silky tail twitching. That wasn’t a good sign at all. “No, our friends are fine! Really, no pony is hurt! A friend just came to chat about some things and mentioned that she might need some advice.”

Fluttershy sighed, slowly unclasping her hooves and carefully took hold of her cup. “Oh, good.” She sipped at her tea, letting the herbs calm her fragile nerves. “I’m sorry! I don’t mean to always be a nervous Nelly, but… well, you know I just worry sometimes.”

“I know you do, there’s no need to apologize! It’s nice that you care. Just don’t get so wound up about it, you stress yourself out so terribly when you do.”

“Yes, but I just can’t help it! You girls are really important to me and—well…” She heaved a sigh and sunk in her seat. “You’re right, I guess. I’m so used to looking after my animals that—”

“You think you have to do the same for us.” Twilight finished for her. She gently rubbed a small circle on the back of Fluttershy’s hoof, something her mother always did for her whenever she was feeling stress. “And that’s wonderful, I honestly appreciate how much you care. Just calm down a bit and don’t jump to the worst conclusion, okay?”

Fluttershy’s cheeks flushed a bit. She ducked her head and shifted in her cushion, her wings twitched forward as though she might try to bury her muzzle in them. “Well, if you say so…”

“Just try. It helps a bit. Now, how are the rest of your animals, Fluttershy? Is Angel behaving himself?”

“Yes. Well, um,” Fluttershy’s ears drooped, “No. He did get into a bit of trouble when a couple of owls visited this morning. They were excited about a visitor to their meadow, but they woke him up. He, well, didn’t take kindly to that.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. She brought a hoof to her mouth to stifle a gasp. “Oh my! He didn’t get hurt, did he?”

“He was scratched pretty badly, it would’ve been… a lot worse if I hadn’t been there to stop them.” A whimper escaped her throat as she wrung her hooves together. “Oh, I just wish he wouldn’t pick fights like that!”

“That doesn’t sound good at all! I could help patch him up after we help Mister Squeakers, if you’d like.”

“Well, if it’s not much trouble, I suppose.” Fluttershy fiddled idly with her teacup. She stayed quiet while Twilight drank, but surveyed her closely. Her hesitation gave way to concern as she noted the dark circles beneath those purple eyes. “Um, Twilight? Have you been sleeping well?”

Twilight lowered her cup, cocking her head to one side. “I’ve been sleeping just fine. Why do you ask?”

“You just look a bit worn down, is all—if you don’t mind me saying. And you already mentioned that Spike was tired from last night, so I just wanted to make sure…”

“Oh! Oh, no, no, no! We’re fine, Fluttershy, trust me!” Again, she found herself reaching across to pat her friend’s hoof. “We usually make sure to schedule around our later nights. Last night ran a bit longer because, well… okay, so Princess Luna might have dropped by.”

“Really?” Fluttershy’s ear twitched. She put her cup down on the table and gave full attention to Twilight. “She visited you last night?”

“Yes, right out of the blue. She caught me totally off-guard. Poor Spike nearly had a heart attack when he walked in and saw her!”

“Oh, dear! It must’ve been quite a shock for both of you—though, I’m a little surprised that Spike would’ve reacted so strongly. He seems a bit more… um… relaxed, at times, than you.” She flinched, bringing her wings out up and ducking her head. “I’m sorry if that sounded rude! It’s just something I’ve noticed!”

Twilight waved her off. “That’s fine. I know I can be… rather insistent with organization. As for Spike, well,” She had to bring a hoof to her mouth to stifle a giggle, “he likes to stick to a schedule more than he lets on, believe me!”

Fluttershy tilted her head and raised a brow. “I suppose that makes sense. Though, I haven’t really seen it for myself.”

“It’s mostly for when we have company over, he likes to know how much food to prepare and how much time he has to get the library ready for everypony. Otherwise, he can get rather panicky.” A small chuckle escaped her lips.

“I’ll have to take your word for it, but it fits.” Her hooves turned the teacup around in their grasp, biting down on her bottom lip. Her ears lay flat against her head as she mulled over her words. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what did Princess Luna want so late at night?”

Twilight made to speak, but hesitated. Luna had, of course, mentioned that she wanted to meet with her so they could speak frankly. She stared into her cup, watching the steam trail off the surface. Speaking one on one with a princess wasn’t quite new, though the sudden arrival had been jarring, but the lack of ceremony or announcement was odd.

Could there be a layer of tacit request for confidentiality in Luna’s actions?

Luna had been gracious enough to allow Spike to sit in on their talk, but that was as far as it went.

“She wanted to thank me for having faith in her. And she...” Twilight thought about the proper way to word this. Luna probably wouldn’t appreciate her difficulties reacquanting herself being outed just yet, “...she wanted to know if I considered us friends.”

Fluttershy went ramrod straight, her eyes snapped open and locked on Twilight’s. Surprise mixed with anticipation and a hint of joy. “You said yes?”

Twilight noticed those wings tense up, as if ready to shoot out and unfurl to take flight. “Of course! I was more surprised that she had to ask, really. Though, I think some of it might be that she wanted me to say it outright.”

“Maybe. I’m sure she felt happy hearing it from you.” She beamed and took a sip of her tea. Fluttershy placed her cup down on the table and brought her hooves together. “Actually, now that I think about it, it all makes sense. Um, remember the owls I mentioned?”

“The ones who got into a fight with Angel? Yes, why?”

“Well, they said that she was their special visitor last night.”

“Really?” Twilight sat up straight and pricked up her ears. “When did that happen?”

Bringing a hoof to her cheek, Fluttershy tried to recall their excited report. “They said she landed in Whitetail Wood around midnight and that she seemed very happy.” She nodded to herself, turning her attention back to Twilight. Fluttershy gave a rare toothy grin. “Maybe she’s happy to have a friend.”

After a moment’s pause, and several quick blinks, Twilight nodded and raised her cup to her lips. A small smile played on her muzzle. “Well, I’m glad to have helped. Making new friends is always fun!”

“Yes… but it can be scary at first, not knowing if ponies will like you or not.”

“That’s true. Just meeting you girls was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and not just because of Nightmare Moon.” She closed her eyes and smiled as she reflected on her own anxiety a few short months ago. “But I’m glad I did. I’ve become a far better pony for it and—”

“Pardonez-moi, mesdames.” Savoir cut in, drawing their attention to both the stallion himself and the plates floating in his magic. He deftly deposited each in their respective place, before bowing to the girls. “Enjoy your meals! If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to ask!”

Twilight sniffed deeply, her nostrils flaring as the scent of daisy and dandelion pancakes wafted toward her. She licked her lips and poured a small cup of maple syrup over her plate.

A quick glance in Fluttershy’s direction showed that her friend was in similar state, beaming happily at a plate of sliced apples, celery, and sunflowers, with a cup of honey for dipping.

“Hungry?” Twilight giggled, hiding a knowing grin behind her hoof. Fluttershy smiled uneasily before giving a single nod. “We can finish talking later. Tuck in.”

4: Monuments More Lasting Than Bronze

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Luna trotted through the large wooden doors, nodding to her sister’s Day Guard as she passed. Tia had beaten her to the table, despite having raised the sun after the moon had been lowered. Yet again.

There was a joke to be made about how swiftly the elder alicorn moved when food was mentioned. However, Luna allowed her ever-faithful captain of the Night Guard, Erebos, to make that little quip.

She bit the inside of her cheek as she approached the empty seat across from her sister, doing her very best not to give any sign of amusement. Explaining her guard’s sense of humor was not on her list of things to do.

Though the look of abject shock on both ponies’ faces would certainly be worth it—especially if she could catch sight of a blush on her bat pony companion’s cheeks—their complaining would be most unpleasant.

Perhaps I shall save this for the next time he tries to sneak a glance at my poetry book.

She pushed those thoughts aside for later as she came to a stop by her seat. “Good morrow to you, sister.” Luna bowed her head to Celestia. She waited by her seat as Erebos dutifully pulled it out for her. Whispering her thanks, she took her seat before addressing her sister again. “I hope your rest was well.”

Celestia beamed as bright as the morning sun. “I slept very well, Luna, and enjoyed yet another of your beautiful nights before I retired. Thank you. I missed the way you painted the night sky, almost as much as I missed your company those thousand years.”

A flash of pain flared in her chest. Memories of darkness, despair, loneliness, and that helm flashed before her eyes. But Luna maintained her smile, both for her sake and her sister’s. “As I missed you, sister. And as we have said to one another every morning, noon, and night since my return.” She kept her tone light and cheerful throughout her reply.

“Yes,” Celestia sighed heavily, as had become habit whenever these talks came up, “but I can’t forget such a long time without you. No matter how tiresome it may seem.”

Luna nodded once, and her smile faltered. “We have all the time in the world, Tia. We never stopped being sisters, no matter how far apart we drifted.” She shook her head, dispelling those memories of years gone by. She paused for a moment, toying with her napkin absent-mindedly. Slowly, her smile began to return. “But, what’s done is done. We are together again, let us focus on what is most important: the future.”

“Indeed. To the future, then!” Celestia raised her glass, the radiance in her expression shining as bright as the sun.

Stifling a laugh, Luna returned the gesture. “Hear, hear! To the future! Tea, mead, and cake for all!”

Celestia quirked an eyebrow. “So chipper at this hour? I must’ve missed something interesting last night! Speaking of which,” her tone shifted from light teasing to casual business in an instant, “How was Night Court?”

Luna’s ear flicked at the change in demeanor, rather sudden for her taste, and for going from such a fun little exchange to this tired old thing. “Empty, as per usual. Though, I should be thankful. I was able to take care of a personal matter and managed to address an oversight. A productive evening, if I may say so.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow, though her expression betrayed no outward sign of emotion—just the mask she wore whenever they played chess together. That same calculating stare that always managed to pierce through her, peering into her soul. As a filly, Luna hated that stare; she couldn’t hide anything from it.

Finally, her sister broke her silence. “Miss Moondancer, made mention of your sudden trip.” Her façade broke, a smirk playing upon her lips. “I don’t recall any official appointments last night.”

Moondancer... Moondancer... Luna resisted tapping her chin as she tried to place the name with a face. My hoofmaiden! She glared at Celestia, then schooled her expression to calm again. Of course her sister would place one of her own students in among the staff. She snorted. It figures the mare would be a gossip, too.

Making a note to have words with Moondancer after breakfast, Luna pasted a smile on her face. Her tail twitched behind her as a servant levitated two plates of food over to the table. “That was an error on my part. One which has, unfortunately, plagued me since my return.”

“How does that apply to the lack of scheduling? Surely, a bit of notice wouldn’t have caused issue?”

“Yes and no. A set date would have been a welcome goal to strive for, a deadline, if you will. But I found myself unable to prepare sufficiently each time I tried to set one. I believe the senechal spoke to you on the matter.”

“Did she? I don’t recall any mention of a meeting, perhaps you are—oh!” Celestia brought a hoof to her mouth. “The paper you were using; it was for this meeting?”

Luna nodded once. “I struggled for quite some time to get my thoughts down on paper. When I finally managed to write something that I felt was adequate, I found myself unable to act on my desires to speak with the pony it was meant for. I believe the term ‘stage fright’ is still used in this modern age, yes?”

“Quite frequently, yes.” She raised a glass of orange juice to her lips, sipping lightly before continuing. “Might I ask who would make you so nervous as to delay for so long, and then take a trip in the middle of the night? That’s not the Lulu I remember.”

Another flash of memories. Lavish parties, art galleries, crowds of ponies in fancy dress smiling and laughing. Luna shook herself again to escape the pains of yesteryear. “That was long ago. Far too many years to count.” She grimaced, narrowing her sea blue eyes. She said it again. Perfect time for a distraction and quick subject change. “I thought I requested that you not call me ‘Lulu’ in public.”

“Oh, come now, Lulu.” Her grimace set into a steady frown. “Our guards don’t count as the public and you know it.” Celestia tittered to herself, pausing to take a bite of her pancake. Her eyes lit up at the taste. “Oooh! I really must speak with Pan Fry! He always manages to make these just right.”

Luna snorted. “You and your pancakes.” She paused to take a sip of her juice to disguise her smirk. “With such talk, one would think they are a major staple of your diet, sister.” One look at her sister’s cheeks puffing up and turning red nearly made her inhale her drink. Luna bit her lip, fighting in vain against a fit of giggles.

“Oh, hush, you!” Celestia shot a mock glare in her direction. “I’ll have you know this exact meal was a weekly tradition between Twilight and I while she lived here!”

That was enough to stop Luna’s amusement in its tracks. Her full attention caught at the mention of Twilight’s name. “Really? When did this start?”

“Years ago, when Twilight first arrived in the castle.” Celestia’s eyes looked off into nowhere. She closed her eyes and sighed to herself, lost in the memories of yesteryear.

Luna took a bite of her own pancake to disguise the smile that flitted across her face, humming to herself as she savored the taste. The sweet taste of daisies worked in odd compliment with the typical biting taste of dandelions. A peculiar, yet pleasant combination.

And judging by the nostalgia her sister was lost in, past breakfasts with Twilight Sparkle had certainly left their mark in her long life. They were memories that Celestia definitely cherished, even missed if Luna would be so bold as to assume.

“Pray tell, what started this tradition?” Luna inquired, waving her hoof in a circular motion.

Celestia flinched, jolting out of her haze. “Oh! Sorry. I lost myself for a moment!” She cleared her throat, adjusting herself in her cushion. “When I first began teaching her, Twilight alternated between staying here and returning to her family’s home—usually, she would stay the night on days when we had our later lessons. Understandably, she was rather homesick those nights.” A wistful smile crept across her face again. “So, I asked her mother if there was something I might do to make her feel welcome.”

“Only welcome?” Luna’s ear flicked at the choice in words. “Not ‘at home’ in the castle?”

“No.” Her sister shook her head. Luna caught a noticeable tinge in her voice, hinting at something behind her answer. “Not at home. I wanted her to feel welcome, not as though she was leaving her family. Twilight moved into her tower after she graduated from my school and chose to continue on in her studies.”

Luna wasn’t sure what to say. The tone she caught was not Celestia’s typical even-keeled lecturing manner. As her sister continued, her ears perked up to their full height.

Celestia either didn’t notice her change in posture or chose to pay it no mind. “When I spoke with Velvet, she mentioned that their family had a lot going on, what with Shining Armor enlisting in the Royal Guard Academy, Twilight’s schooling, and their own work. So, they made it a habit to have daisy and dandelion pancakes together once every week, no matter what they had going on.”

“Really?” She would’ve given her tiara for a quill and pad of paper at this moment. Free information was never easy to come by, she knew that for a fact. Any of the sort was always valuable. But insight on a friend’s habits was worth its weight in gold. “How does this translate to us eating them now?”

“Well, Velvet and I hatched a plan together,” Celestia leaned in, her muzzle breaking into a sly smirk, “while Twilight was still sleeping, I had her family brought over to join us for breakfast. Velvet went into the kitchen and showed the cook how to make her pancakes. So, when Twilight woke up and came out to eat, as shy as ever, she found me sitting at the table with them.” She chuckled to herself. “Oh, you should’ve seen her face! She sat right down on the floor and rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn’t sleeping. Then she asked what everypony was doing here!”

Luna was on the edge of her seat. “And then what?”

“Velvet looked at her, smiled and said ‘I’m eating breakfast with my family and a friend!’” She nickered at the tales of years gone by. “Oh, that was the start of her finally opening up and relaxing. Though,” her smile slipped from her face, falling into a deep frown, “I never could get her to stop walking on eggshells around me. Twilight still worries so much about impressing me… And still fears disappointing me.”

Silence reigned over the sisters. Luna watched as her sister picked at her food, a far cry from her usual self. She hadn’t dallied over a meal since they were foals.

Clearly, the topic was a sore spot for her sister. But why?

A connection with what Luna had witnessed last night, perhaps? Each of Twilight’s little ticks, every time she shied from the praise levied on her, flitted before Luna’s eyes. Curious, both Twilight’s ticks and Celestia’s apparent lamentation. The two ponies who most heavily influenced her life in this modern age weren’t happy. Both for their own reasons.

This is the perfect chance to talk with Tia. Luna adjusted her posture and sat up straight. “I am sure that Twilight only wishes to prove that the knowledge you instilled in her is being put to good use. Quite evident in the lessons she has learned with her friends.”

“Hmm, true.” Celestia nodded. Her ears perked up a bit as her frown evened out. She looked up at Luna and sighed. “And you seem to enjoy her friendship reports, don’t you?”

She couldn’t help but grin. Fortune smiles upon me this morn. “Indeed. In fact, this brings us back to your original question.”

An eyebrow was raised. “How so?”

“My evening meeting, the one I did not schedule as an official visit.” Luna raised her head, standing proud in the face of her sister’s questioning. “Twilight Sparkle was the pony I visited.”

Celestia stared, blinking her eyes several times. Her even keeled expression slowly morphed back into a small smirk—the very smirk Luna foresaw last night. “Really?”

And here we go…

Luna swished her tail. “Yes, yes, I took an evening flight in secret to visit your prized student. There was a matter that I wished to discuss with her.”

“Oh? Pray tell, what might that be?”

“Her friendship reports.” Her hoof fiddled with the edge of her cushion. “You know how they inspire me to… to better myself.”

A single nod in reply. “Yes,” Celestia paused to take a bite of pancake, “I believe that you may be the only pony more excited than I when one of her letters arrives. But why the sudden decision to visit again? You saw her on Nightmare Night, didn’t you?”

Luna hummed in assent. “Yes. But, I had still yet to properly thank her for everything. Freeing me from my corruption, her inspiring letters, and then her help that night. All I had done was nearly deafen her by shouting.” She grimaced. In spite of her conversation with Twilight, memories of ponies fleeing as she bellowed in the old Royal Canterlot Voice. “It took me so long to pluck up the courage to meet her one on one…”

A white hoof reached across and took hold of hers. Luna caught a flash of concern in her sister’s eyes. “I’m sure she didn’t hold it against you, Lulu.” Celestia’s tone carried a warmth and hint of fondness that had become typical of any conversation centered around her student. She retracted her hoof and sat up straight. Her cup floated up to hover near her lips. “Now, tell me about your visit! How did it go?”

“Very well!” She couldn’t hold back her excitement. Luna beamed, bouncing in place. She pointedly ignored Erebos’s suspicious coughing fit, too lost in her exuberance. “We spoke over tea, both with her and young Spike, and had a most satisfying discussion!”

“Well, out with it mare! Don’t keep your poor, aging sister in suspense!”

“You forgot ‘heavy-set’.” Luna shot back, ducking a light bolt of golden magic. “Really, now? Quite rude of you, sister! What would our ponies say if they saw that?”

Celestia scoffed and waved a hoof. “They would agree with me and demand to know how last evening went—no dodging the subject, little sister!” Her grin betrayed the stern tone she tried to pass off. “As my little ponies would say: spill it!”

“Oh, very well!” She huffed, holding her nose up like some of the prim and proper nobles she’d seen around Canterlot. The facade dropped almost instantly as she opened an eye and stuck out her tongue. “It was… nice! I spoke with her and thanked her for all that she’d done for me—both in how she influenced me directly and indirectly—and told her that I hoped that we might be friends.”

That certainly got Celestia’s full attention. She beamed and clapped her hooves. “Wonderful! I’m so proud of you, Lulu! She said yes, I presume?”

"Well, not at first... she seemed surprised. She stared at me a moment and then…” Luna trailed off, letting out a cute little squeal. “She said that she considered us friends already!"

"Splendid!" Celestia cheered. She let a tiny nicker escape her lips, her own hooves drumming lightly on the table. "I'm so glad to hear you've found somepony to share your companionship with!"

"Yes! She—oh, Tia, she even agreed that we might spend more time together! I haven't had a friend in so long, I... I forgot how wonderful it feels!"

Again, her sister patted her hoof. “I know, little sister. I sympathize with you. The ones we knew in those days are…” She looked off to the side, the slightest shimmer of tears welling up in her eyes. Celestia took a deep breath and resumed her kindly smile before turning back. “Gone. But, we can honor them in our memories and by doing our best to learn from the past while moving toward a better future.” Her smile turned teasing once again as her eyes took on a familiar twinkle. “In your case, it seems that means that you’re going to steal my student right out from under my nose!”

Luna flicked a droplet of juice at her giggling sister. “Away with your teasing, you wicked mare!” She levied a glare as Celestia only broke into full-blown laughter at her demand. “You know that is not my intent in the slightest!”

“I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist!” Celestia’s horn flared. In a flash, she was at Luna’s side, wrapping her in a tight hug. “I’m so happy for you both, Lulu! Truly, I am.” Luna giggled as she was pulled in and kissed soundly on her cheek.Celestia’s happy sigh ghosted against her face. “Two of the ponies closest to me finding friendship together. My happiness knows no bounds.”

She couldn’t resist snuggling into Celestia’s side, finding warmth in her sister. Luna had to withhold sigh as a wing was wrapped around her withers, bringing forth memories of foalhood days spent in the warm meadows gone by.

Luna leaned up and nuzzled under her cheek. “Thank you, sister. This means so much to me.”

The sisters held their embrace, savoring the little bit of free time they had to just be together before going back to their duties.

But something nagged at the back of Luna’s mind. A tiny voice, disrupting her happy state with it’s treacherous whisper.

Twilight Sparkle shied away from praise she rightfully deserves… Your friend is not well. Celestia knows something.

Luna rested her head against her sister’s shoulder. Thinking back, Celestia had given some hint of experience on the matter. Or, at least, her experience in teaching Twilight had given her insight into her student’s psyche.

I must know. Luna pulled back to look into her sister’s deep purple eyes. “Tia… There is something I must ask.”

“Oh?” Celestia drew back and blinked, confusion visible in her eyes. “Is something the matter? You seemed thrilled that Twilight accepted your offer just a moment ago.”

She jolted and spoke out, cutting her sister off. “I am!” Luna winced at her own volume. Again, she made note to break that habit as soon as possible. She fluffed her wings, looking down at her feathers. “I just… When speaking with her, I noticed something that troubled me about her demeanor. Twilight seemed a bit put off...”

“By your visit? Or do you mean she was hesitant when you asked to be her friend?”

“No, neither of those.” Luna shook her head firmly. “It was when I spoke with her about her achievements, and in how she aided me. Twilight Sparkle seemed…” She paused, waving her hoof in a circle as she tried to bring the word to mind. It clicked. “Troubled when I expressed my appreciation for all she has done, more so when I informed her that I held her in high regard. I… I am confused. And with what you mentioned, about how she always sought to impress you...”

“Ah.” Celestia let her hooves slacken. “I see.”

“Oh, thank the stars!” A happy laugh came forth from her lips. “I was worried that I was alone in noticing! Please,” she shifted closer to her sister, “explain to me. Help me understand what makes Twilight Sparkle turn away from the praise she has rightfully earned!”

If she was expecting an immediate answer, an easy fix to her question, Luna was sorely mistaken.

Celestia released her grip, her hooves fell to the floor with twin clacks against the floor. She inhaled deeply before sighing and shaking her head. “There are some lessons I may have taught her a bit too well…”

“Tia?”

“Oh, sorry, Luna. Just thinking aloud.” Luna blinked, her keen ears catching the sudden change from her pet name. Though she had been gone for a thousand years, she could tell when her sister was trying to hide something.

Celestia’s eyes looked to the side, breaking their gaze. She chewed on her bottom lip and shook her head. There it is. “Tia?” Again, she leaned in close, rubbing her cheek against her sister’s. “Talk to me, please. What is wrong? Was it something I said?”

“No!” The outburst made her ears lay flat. Celestia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “No, Luna. It wasn’t you. I just… Twilight has always been rather humble, but I may have had a hoof in pushing her more toward fearing her own pride.”

Luna’s tilted her head. “I’m not sure I understand. What could you have done to drive her to that?” Her sister wasn’t making any sense! “You have always spoken with pride whenever we have discussed Twilight Sparkle’s growth—in magic, in scholastics, and as a pony. Where, then, would this ‘push’ be found? Pray tell, for I cannot see it.”

“It wasn’t deliberate. I was… when she reached a certain age, I let her sit in on Day Court with me.” Celestia hung her head low. “It was just to show what it was like.”

“Would I be correct in assuming that the nobles acted in a manner ill-fitting to their station?”

She shook her head. “No. Not all of them. Fancy Pants visited often and was a gentlestallion, as always. Each time, he would make sure to greet us both before asking Twilight about her studies.” Celestia chuckled. “Oh, you would’ve loved how excited she got whenever he came around. She always jumped on any chance to talk about magic with the big ponies. And, well, you know how enthusiastic Fancy can get when somepony catches his eye.”

“Yes, he was most… exuberant, when you introduced us.” Luna’s ear flicked. Yes, exuberant in the sense that he talked my ear off and insisted that I must join him for dinner one night. “Quite the interesting fellow, if a bit too enthusiastic. But I hardly believe interaction with Fancy Pants would affect Twilight so.”

Celestia gave a humorless laugh and rested her head atop Luna’s. “You always were so perceptive, Lulu.” A soft kiss was planted between Luna’s sea blue eyes. “Of course, you recall some of our old dealings with the nobility. Not all of them bad, but those tend to be the ones we remember most.”

Luna frowned, drawing back to look meet her sister’s eyes. “Yes, I remember a few. But what do they—oh! Oh!” She brought a hoof to her mouth, understanding dawning on her. Luna leaned in and nuzzled Celestia’s cheek. “Oh, Tia. She was there for one, wasn’t she?”

The only response was a deep, mournful exhale and a single nod, rubbing Celestia’s cheek against Luna’s muzzle. “Twilight saw several. At the time, I… I never thought to take her aside and explain the difference between being proud and being arrogant.” She hung her head. “Almost like how I missed your loneliness until it was too late. Another failure—OUCH!”

Her sister’s ear gripped firmly in her teeth, Luna twisted her head to the side. She let go, her eyes narrowed and brow furrowed. “Nay!” Her hoof cracked heavily against the stone floor. The guards jumped at their post as thunder boomed in the distance. “If I am to move forward, then so shall you! If my healing begins through finding friends,” Luna gave a light lick to Celestia’s cheek, “then yours begins by accepting that you are not perfect.”

Celestia snorted and swished her tail. “I have missed your candor, Lulu.” She returned her sister’s gesture with a kiss to her muzzle. “Very well, I will stop being so self-critical. However,” she paused to lean in to whisper to Luna’s ear, “I expect to see my little sister happy with her new friends.”

“Happy with the first friends I’ve made in over a thousand years? How ever will I survive?” Luna winced as her sister’s teeth bit down on her ear. She squirmed free, rubbing at it with a free hoof. “You react as well to my humor as ever.”

Another nip made her jump in place. Celestia brought a hoof up and wagged it under her chin. “I’m serious. I want to see you happy, Luna. This is no laughing matter.”

She makes a point, Luna sighed as she rubbed her ear again. “I apologize for my sarcasm, I thought it would ease the mood.” She leaned into Celestia’s side and sighed. “Though, I would be far happier if… never mind.”

“I will mind. Speak up. What is it?” A wing was wrapped around her once again, cutting off any chance to slip away.

Curse my traitorous mouth. “I still find it troubling that Twilight diminishes herself, especially in how she helps others.” Luna’s wings twitched at her side. “I wish to help her see just how much an influence she has. I want… I want to help her see her worth.”

There was a moment of silence. Celestia unwrapped her wing, smiling as brilliantly as very the sun she moved. She stood, turning and making her way toward the door where her guards snapped to attention.

She stopped a few paces from the door. Turning her head to look over her shoulder, Celestia brought a hoof to her chin as if in thought. “I seem to recall a mare from many moons ago. At one time, she could walk into a room full of the highest dignitaries with her head high and a spring in her step, the room was hers as soon as she set hoof in it.” Her eyes flitted to meet Luna’s, a coy grin spreading across her face. “Perhaps she could help our Twilight.”

“That…” Luna swallowed. She shook herself to dispell the memories before they could engulf her. “Those days are gone, Tia. I don’t know if I can be that mare again.”

Celestia’s lips curved upward. “I think you just need a little push. But, no rush. I can wait patiently until that day comes.” With her piece said, she bowed her head to Luna and turned to trot out the door. “Oh, be sure to see Quick Quill about getting Spike’s spellfire signature. You’ll want that, I’m sure.”

Luna’s eyes went as wide as dinner plates. She sat in stunned silence as her sister vanished through the door, flanked by her Day Guards. How had she known I would… Oh, confound that mare.

She shook her head and turned her attention back to her plate. With a roll of her eyes, she levitated her fork and picked at the remains of her meal.

Sometimes, it was better just not to ask how her sister knew things.

As she paused to savor the taste of daisy and dandelion pancakes, Luna hummed a happy tune—a melody of a song written long ago.

Perhaps I can return your favor after all, Twilight Sparkle. We can help each other.

5: The First Strains of Music

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The warm blades of grass tickled Twilight’s belly as she sat in Ponyville Park. She hummed to herself, reading through a book as Owlowicioius slept on her back.

She giggled at his soft snoring. Her nighttime assistant needed to catch up on his sleep before the others arrived with their pets. Pet playdate always meant that he would lose a few hours during the day in favor of flying around in the sunlight with his fellow pets.

Early once again, Twilight had brought a book to pass the time as they waited. Her eyes skimmed the pages, taking in every word. Her tail swished behind her. Nothing was giving her any hint into Luna’s past. It was all just a summation of the Legend of the Mare in the Moon.

Historical texts, mythology, even astrology, any mention of Luna began with the opening lines from the old legend and ended in nothing but speculation or theory.

They ruled together, Princess Luna fell to her jealousy and darker urges and became Nightmare Moon. What else? Twilight growled at the text. No matter how she looked at it, Twilight just couldn’t find anything substantial.

The tale introduced Princess Celestia and Princess Luna as Equestria’s rulers, but then leapt straight into the latter growing jealous because ponies were fearful of her night. Certainly, that must have played a part—Princess Luna herself expressed her sincerest remorse, begging forgiveness the moment Princess Celestia had approached her and asked if they could be friends.

But there was something else. Princess Celestia acted as though she was just as sorry. What’s more, she kneeled before Princess Luna when asking for her friendship!

Classical mythology or not, the Royal Sisters were still ponies; they felt, thought, and acted as such. Thus, it was logical that there must be some reason, some act that sparked the younger sister’s fall to her darker emotions.

Every action brings about a reaction, Twilight hummed as she turned the page. Slowly, she took in every word, despite it being the same tale she’d heard since she was a filly. And Luna…

“In a fantasy world, one night of goodness in one town may have restored my reputation. But we do not live in such a world, young Spike. I have a great many things to answer for.”

She spoke of a reputation lost long ago. But what?

The texts mentioned her only as the Princess of the Night—the lonely mare who walked in the light of the moon, when other ponies were tucked in their beds. She was portrayed as a mare who had no pony. It was possible that this was accurate…

But it contradicted everything that the Princess of the Night herself had hinted at. Just what is it she wants to recover?

The question plagued her mind. It taunted her, leaving only speculation but no real answers with every word she read, every page she turned. Without specifics, Twilight couldn’t put the pieces together. Sisters! They might as well be from entirely different puzzles for the complete lack of insight they gave.


Twilight shifted in place, her lips curving into a small frown. “Why can’t you tell me what I want to know?” She glared at the pages, as if hoping to scare answers out of the dusty old text.

But it was the same as each time she reached that point: a complete and total dead end.

With a sigh, Twilight turned her attention skyward. At least the pegasi had done well to clear the clouds today—not a one blotted out the sun her teacher so lovingly raised and lowered as it shone bright in the deep blue sky.

I shouldn’t be acting like this, Twilight shook herself. I’m supposed to be happy about spending an afternoon with all of my friends, I should be happy to help Princess Luna—er, just Luna, find her place again. Oh, I’m turning this into another project, aren’t I?

She was falling into the same old trap again; trying to turn real life situations with her friends into a lesson of some sort so she could “make the grade” for the princesses.

It wasn’t a place she wanted to revisit. Twilight lowered her head, letting her muzzle thump against the pages of her book. Something between a whine and a groan escaped her lips. She should know better than to go that route again!

But I do know better! Twilight lifted her head, ears perking up. She refocused on the section before her, eyes narrowed and ears perked up. It was more than just some project—it was a literal part of a friend’s life!

Princess Luna was counting on her help! She had gone out of her way to visit, out of the blue, and levy praise for Twilight’s deeds. Even more so…

To ask if I would be her friend.

Twilight sighed and steeled herself to read through the same passage she’d already read in countless variations. “There has to be something.” Twilight shifted in place, the grass rubbing against her belly as she made herself comfortable again.

She winced as Owlowicious’s talons dug into her back for balance. A glance over her shoulder showed that her nocturnal friend’s eyes were still closed. He shifted in his sleep, giving a low “Hoo” as he settled in again.

“At least one of us is enjoying himself.” She whispered, covering her mouth to stifle a bout of giggles at the way her pet fluffed up his feathers. “Must be quite the dream you’re having!”

A researcher who doubles as an owl perch. Oh, Shiny would just laugh himself silly! Twilight shook her head and turned back to her book. She could already hear one of her brother’s teasing little quips. “It’d be something about me never moving and owls being confused as to why somepony would make a furry purple perch, I’d imagine.” She grinned, turning the page with a flick of her magic.

Shining Armor always did seem to have some little jab to send her way, one she could never ignore in favor of her studies. Always something to say to pull her mind out of her books and make her spend time with him.

So much like my friends. She’d have to find a way to introduce him to the girls one day. They’d love him. And Cadence, if she could find time to come down for a visit. Twilight would have to send each a letter after she was done in the park. It had been far too long since she’d seen them.

Of course, Twilight had to make it through her latest effort in research before she could do either. And as she scanned the discussion section of the chapter, reading through Critical Thought’s analysis of the lore, Twilight was ready to say that it was in vain. Yet again.

“While it there has been some discussion as to whether or not the sudden appearance of Nightmare Moon may be naught but a metaphor for a darker period in our Princess’s life, damage to the ancient Palace of the Royal Pony Sisters and the surrounding area suggest that a battle of some sort did indeed take place. However, the lack of supporting evidence for the existence of the entity known as Nightmare Moon, save for the legend itself, is significant. With this in mind, an alternative theory to the Nightmare’s origins could be the Everfree Forest itself—known for the dangerous creatures that inhabit it. In this case, it is possible that Princess Luna was a casualty of the creature, perhaps akin to a parasite taking over a host body…”

This research is out of date. Twilight snorted and flipped to the inside cover to check the publish date again. Twenty years out of date. Hardly his fault, information is rather scarce.

She closed the book with a snap, massaging her temples with her hooves. Golden Oaks Library just didn’t have the resources she needed. It was—admittedly—a small town, public library, not the full-fledged research based Royal Canterlot Library.

Twilight’s ears lay flat at the memory of her last visit. She buried her muzzle in her hooves to hide her heavy blush as a weight settled on her withers. It was quite fortunate that Princess Celestia had been more amused than peeved, though that didn’t mean Twilight was completely off the hook.

Each of her teasing little references flitted through Twilight’s memory. Never again. I will never hear the end of it!

A few deep breaths, slowly filling her lungs with the warm spring air. It was just a little teasing between student and teacher, nothing to worry about. Princess Celestia had assured her of that several times. It was all just a silly misunderstanding.

The weight lifted, and Twilight was able to lift her head just enough to prop her chin on her hooves. She closed her eyes, humming softly to herself.

Twilight gave herself a mental shake to jolt out of her little funk. Grumbling and whining won’t help me find the answers I need, and they certainly won’t help Princess Luna. I’m looking at this the wrong way.

She glanced at the book laying at her hooves. Maybe a bit of unwinding with her friends was needed to put her in the right mindset. A day with the sun on her back and spending a few hours with her closest friends would do her good.

Her eyes screwed up. My schedule for the rest of the day is rather open. And Spike said he could handle the library until closing in exchange for a few hours off tomorrow, so maybe I could stop early and step back. What was that Princess Celestia used to say? Too much studying and I’ll—

Twilight nearly jumped at a sudden, excited yip before she was bowled over by a small dog. Owlowicous was startled out of his nap and took to the air with an indignant hoot at the pair rolling about in the grass. His owner was supposed to be quietly reading, not playing yet!

She shrieked with laughter as she was tickled by soft fur and the warm tongue licking her face. “Winona! Down, you silly girl!”

Her assailant stopped, wagging her tail and barking before jumping on her again. Twilight managed to get her hooves up in time to catch the energetic little pup. “Yes, I’m happy to see you too.”

She ruffled Winona’s fur, making sure to tickle behind her ear. Winona darted forward to steal another lick to Twilight’s nose.

Wrinkling her muzzle, Twilight held the dog tight and gave a mock glare. “You’re not supposed to do that when I’m reading, missy!” Her comment earned her another yip and playful lick. “Oh! You goof! Where’s Applejack, hmm? I need to have a word with her!”

A snort and a familiar laugh sounded. “Who do you think sent her over?”

Twilight sat up, letting Winona nuzzle under her chin as she regarded Rainbow Dash and Applejack. She raised an eyebrow at the wide grins and mischievous twinkling in their eyes. “And just why would you do that?” She tried in vain to fight the smile spreading across her face.

“Hon, you were in one of your lil’ zones.” Applejack sidled up next to her and shooed Winona off. She sat down, nudging Twilight with a shoulder. “We called a couple times.”

“But you were off in lala land!” Rainbow finished with a cackle. She turned to face Tank, who was seated on her back, and bumped him with her nose. “Go on, ya lug! Go play!”

With a flick of a switch, the gyrocopter mounted on his shell turned on. Tank hovered around his owner, pausing to give a slow nuzzle to her cheek before flying over to his fellow pets. Winona yipped and chased him about, jumping to try and catch her friend.

Twilight turned to Owlowicious and jerked her head toward the others. “Go on. You too!” She ducked as he swooped low and lightly nipped at her ear before veering off to catch up with the others. “Cheeky bird!” She called after him.

Rainbow cantered over to sit beside her friends. “So, what’s got you all zoney today?” She picked up the book, looking over the title. “A Discussion of Equestrian Lore? Bleh! Sounds way too egg-heady for me!”

“What a surprise!” Applejack leaned up and tweaked her ear. “You think anythin’ not Darin’ Do is ‘too egg-heady’, Sugarcube!”

Rubbing her ear, Rainbow glared. “I do not! And if you’re gonna bite my ear, at least buy me dinner first!”

Applejack snorted. “I’m a farmer, not a idiot. Buyin’ you dinner would cost me a full day’s worth of sales!” She took the light jab to her side with a laugh, and then turned to Twilight again. Applejack nudged their shoulders together. “Playin’ aside, what was all the sighin’ and puttin’ your face in your hooves when we were walkin’ up? And ‘zoney’, as Dash said.”

Twilight blinked. They saw that? She shook her head, pasting a big grin on her face. “Nothing! Well—something—but nothing to worry about. Just a little project I’m having trouble with.”

“Uh huh. Pull the other one Twilight.” Rainbow scooted herself over so that she was on Twilight’s opposite side and threw a wing around her. Rainbow pulled her in close, in a rare show of affection. “C’mon, tell us what’s up. If it’s somepony botherin’ you, we just need a name and a couple hours to track his sorry behind down!”

Twilight couldn’t help but laugh and shake her head. “No, no pony is bothering me.” She snuggled against her friend, giving a quick nuzzle to assure her. “It’s just me thinking through a problem, is all. And it’s… not easy.”

Applejack put a hoof on her shoulder. “You can tell us anythin’, hon.” She raised the brim of her Stetson to give a clear shot of her vibrant green eyes. “What’s goin’ on? Get a bad grade on a report or somethin’?”

“No, nothing like that. Princess Celestia has been pleased with my work. I’ve been thinking on how to help Luna lately and… well, it’s proving rather difficult.”

“Fluttershy said somethin’ ‘bout her visitin’. What does need help with? No problems, right?”

Twilight shook her head. She bumped her nose against Applejack’s, giving a small smile. “Nothing too urgent. She’s just trying to find a way to reconnect, so I offered to help.”

“Heh, always up to help a friend, eh?” Rainbow nudged Twilight with an elbow. “So, what’s the big problem? You helped her on Nightmare Night and that went great! A few of the foals got a huge kick out of her pranks! She got me with a good one, for cryin’ out loud!”

“Yes, it went well. But this is just one town. Luna mentioned that she still had a long way to go to regain ponies’ trust. There’s something she said that’s been bugging me. Something about her past that I haven’t seen or heard anything about until now.” Her tail swished behind her. “And so far, I’m still not seeing anything that would help. A lot of it is… just what we already know. Just the old story.”

“Huh.” Applejack furrowed her brows, her mouth forming a thin line. “Really? Nothin’ else?”

“Just some speculation, some theories, and a lot of outdated information.” A sigh escaped her lips. Twilight dug a small divot into the dirt with her hoof. “Not that I can really blame them; there wasn’t much known about the Fall of Night to begin with.”

“Didn’t the story say something about jealousy?” Rainbow tilted her head.

“Yes. It says that Luna was jealous of how loved Princess Celestia was and how ponies loved the daytime, but hid away during her nights. Nothing before that, though. Just sudden jealousy and then the Nightmare appeared… almost out of nowhere.”

Applejack’s ears pricked forward. “That ain’t the problem, is it?”

“It’s part of the problem, but not the major part.” Twilight chewed on the inside of her cheek. Her thoughts flitting back to the midnight meeting with Luna.

A meeting which took place in the middle of the night, without escort or announcement. Everything pointed to a sense of awkwardness, and a desire for secrecy. A good friend would respect her wishes. But… Perhaps another perspective would do her some good. Sorry, Luna. Twilight dug her hoof deeper into the ground. But if I’m going to help, I have to be open to any avenue. She took a slow breath before beginning again. “Luna wants to restore the reputation she had before her banishment. Some connection she had.”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash exchanged looks of utter perplexion. “That’s… new.” Twilight caught the hesitance, the underlying uncertainty in Applejack. The farm mare scratched at her ear idly. “I can’t say I’ve heard much of her doing anythin’ other than movin’ the moon and rulin’ over nighttime.”

“I thought that was all she did, besides run part of the court.” Rainbow scrunched up her nose. “What else is there? Watching over some dangerous animals, or something?”

“That’s the problem.” Twilight let out a sigh, snuggling into her friends’ embrace for comfort. “There’s nothing in my library about her before that! It’s all just about her ruling the night until she became Nightmare Moon. There’s nothing else!”

There was a moment’s silence as Twilight ground a new divot into the dirt. Her friends held her in their embrace, letting her slowly work out her stress in her own way. The warmth they shared with her expanded into Twilight’s chest, the very same way it had when they had become element bearers on eve of the Summer Sun Celebration. Just as she was always there when they called, her friends were ready to offer support whenever she needed.

Applejack spoke first, giving a nuzzle to her cheek. “No offense, Twi, but I think you might be lookin’ at this whole thing the wrong way.” She held up a hoof to forestall any arguments. “But you’re goin’ about it for the right reasons.”

“I… don’t quite follow. How is research the wrong way?” Twilight gave Applejack her full attention, her ears standing at full height.

“Well, think about it, Sugarcube. Luna came to you, askin’ to be friends, right?” Twilight nodded once. “She trusts you—for darn good reason, when ya think about it. So, why not just try to get to know her a bit?”

“Yeah, totally!” Twilight winced at Rainbow Dash’s sudden outburst. She rubbed her ear, aiming a stern glare toward her louder friend. But Rainbow just grinned and bumped their shoulders together. “Aw, c’mon! You know we’re right! Besides, wasn’t that half the fun of making friends in the first place?”

She jolted up, her eyes wide. That’s right. The majority of her early friendship reports were about how she learned each of her friends’ quirks, habits, peeves, and the little things that made them smile. But what makes Luna smile? I’ve seen her angry, offended, and even embarrassed… but what makes her happy?

Her thoughts wandered back to their conversation, to a point just before Luna had levied praise on her. Twilight shuffled in place at the mere memory of the fabled Princess of the Night speaking so highly of her. She was just a student conducting research on the magic of friendship. Nothing of particular notable status, save for being the personal student of Princess Celestia.

Twilight shook her head. Focus! Luna! This is about Luna! She said something… something about the mess? A stack of books sat atop her table that night, remnants of a long day of studying music of the Pre-Banishment Era. Her ears perked up! That’s it!

Music. Luna had commented on her taste in music!

Something so little, so very inconsequential to anypony else had made Luna pause to approve of era of music she was studying! She had even mentioned Tempo Rubato and Beethooven, two of the most famed composers of the time!

Slowly, a grin worked its way across her face. “I think I may already know something she likes.” Applejack and Rainbow leaned around to look her in the eye, a light prod for more information. “She likes music. Enough so that she mentioned discussing it later.”

That was all she needed for an idea to take root in her head. When she wanted to spend time with them, she didn’t just sit around and wait for the rest of her friends to come by. Certainly, there were times that she was busy with her studies, but she tried to balance being proactive with being invited along by the girls.

Who was to say she couldn’t do the same with Luna? Why couldn’t she simply invite Luna to the library for a visit to discuss classical music? Maybe they could even compare it to how it had changed in modern times!

Twilight threw her hooves around the girls and hugged them tight, sparing each a nuzzle. “Thank you. You have no idea how much you’ve helped!”


A magenta aura engulfed the doorknob and twisted it. Twilight pushed the door open and stepped in, Owlowicious lept off her back and flew over to his perch.

Twilight brushed a bit of dirt off her foreleg. Trust Pinkie Pie to see three of her friends hugging and take it as cue to engulf them all in her patented “flying tackle hug of extra super hugginess”—Pinkie’s words, not hers—and start up an impromptu game. Rarity had been dragged into the mess as well, but Fluttershy… well, no pony thought to include her into such a rough game.

Until, of course, she simply tapped Pinkie on the back and softly wrapped her hooves around her withers, muttering “Um, caught you… if that’s okay with you” and was promptly declared the winner.

Only Rainbow and Pinkie could start up a game of “hug everypony” and have there be a winner, Twilight chuckled as she shook her head. At least they all had fun. Sure, it was different than their usual pet playdates, but a little change of pace could be nice.

Patches of dirt matted her coat, her fur was ruffled and stood on end from where she’d been hugged, ruffled, and snuggled every time she’d been caught.

Just another day in Ponyville.

With a flick of magic, her book was floated over to its place on the shelf and carefully slipped into the gap. A quick adjustment later and one could hardly tell that any book had been moved out of place.

Perfectly organized and arranged. Twilight hummed as she climbed the stairs, her ears perked up as she caught the sounds of light snoring from the little basket at the foot of her bed.

As she drew close, she had to bring a hoof to her mouth to forestall a little coo.

Spike lay on his back, his mouth hung open as he slept soundly. Twilight giggled at the sight of a trail of drool running down the left side of his face. She picked up a tissue in her magic and gently dabbed at his cheek. Little dragon wore himself out again. Twilight kissed his forehead, taking care to keep her hoofsteps light as she backed away from Spike’s bed. I’ll have to treat him for taking such good care of the library while I was out.

Perhaps a word to Rarity about possibly procuring a few gems and having them sent to Sugarcube Corner would be in order. Yes, he’d like that. Then, Pinkie can just happen to have the special ingredient for his favorite gemstone sprinkled cupcakes. A perfect plan, if she did say so herself.

Twilight trotted over to her desk and sat down on the soft, purple cushion. She levitated a sheet of parchment over and took a quill in her aura.

She had written plenty of letters to Princess Celestia during her years as a student, formality had been drilled into her from an early age.

But Twilight couldn’t default to such an official style when writing a friend. Coming off too formal or too cold might give the wrong message and make Luna feel as though I don’t really see her as a friend…

Her lessons in noble politics dictated that she treat a princess with respect… but those learned with her friends howled and demanded that she treat Luna with the same warmth and familiarity as she did those closest to her.

Just as she treated Cadence; her old foalsitter, her friend, and a princess of Equestria.

Twilight nodded, smiling as she dipped her quill into the inkwell. “Dear Luna…”

6: An Invitation

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Ethereal smoke wafted through the high arching window of the throne room, winding its way past the two Day Guards and over to Celestia’s throne. With a pop, it materialized into a scroll, bound in red ribbon and fixed with the emblem of her prized student’s cutie mark.

A smile played upon Celestia’s lips as she caught the scroll in her aura. Ah! Right on schedule, as usual. She couldn’t hide the excitement, the way her ears perked up at the mere prospect of reading about Twilight’s latest exploits.

Between Twilight’s decision to stay in Ponyville with her friends, Spike staying with her as the ever-faithful little assistant that he was, and Cadence moving into Shining Armor’s home in the military district, the castle almost seemed lonely to her.

She shook her head. I’m thinking about this all wrong. Cadence is but a short walk from the castle itself, one quick letter would see Twilight and Spike at my side. Not to mention that Shining Armor or any one of the guards would happily stay around after hours if I asked for some company. A warmth filled her chest, Celestia took a deep breath and sighed. And Luna has returned to me, at last.

Though her younger sister might call it annoying, Celestia had to rally every fiber of her self-control in order not to sweep Luna into her embrace and sing to the heavens.

Having successfully combated her momentary lapse, Celestia began to unfasten the ribbon, but stopped short. Twilight’s familiar wax seal was there, but something stuck out from within.

“What’s this?” Taking it in her magic, Celestia gave a little tug. A small tag, with a name scrawled on it, fell out, dangling from a string. Curious, as Twilight had never seen fit to fix such a thing to one of her letters, even as a filly. She only ever sent letters to her family or myself.

Bringing the scroll closer, Celestia peered at the tag, her eyes scanning the name written in Twilight’s neat script.

“To Princess Luna.”

Celestia blinked, shifting about in her throne. Twilight had sent a letter to Luna through her?

Far be it from Celestia to claim insult in such an action, though. Rather, her curiosity was roused. The memory of her sister’s jubilation as she told of Twilight’s declaration of friendship flashed through her mind. She hummed to herself, regarding the still sealed scroll with a calculating gaze. I could open it and read Twilight’s letter myself. Her guards would hardly go running off to tell Luna that their princess had read one of her letters. Stars, it wasn’t like she’d announced it!

But her instincts to be the ‘nosy big sister’ were trumped by something else. Trust. After a thousand years apart, she would loathe to betray the trust Luna had given her by accepting the offer of friendship and a chance to be sisters again.

At the same time, she couldn’t not know what was said…

Celestia stood abruptly, the Day Guards snapped to attention. “Gentlestallions,” she spoke softly, smiling at both in turn, “I think I may cut Court a bit short today. Something has come up that I must speak with my sister about. Would either of you mind informing Quick Quill?”

“At once, Your Highness!” The stallion on her left kneeled and bowed his head before trotting briskly out of the throne room to find her seneschal.

The remaining guard followed along as Celestia stepped down off the dais and strode toward the door, letter still floating in a shimmering, golden aura.

Celestia allowed herself a small giggle. Luna should still be sleeping, she wasn’t due for dinner for another hour or two.

She’ll wake up for this. Celestia turned left as she passed through the doorway, nodding to the guards posted outside. Her hoof steps echoed off the high walls and tiled floor. She’ll be cross for a moment at being awaken, but Luna will get over that. Another bout of giggles slipped through as she imagined the look on Luna’s face. I wonder just how wide those eyes will get… and how loud she’ll cheer this time.

As she walked down the corridor, Celestia approached the dividing line in the guard patrols. While the Day Guards were most frequently seen when their princess’s Day Court was in session and the sun hung in the sky, the Night Guard kept a fair number of its ponies stationed at all hours of the day.

The protectors of the Guardian of the Night, ever-vigilant, as always. Celestia stepped passed the first Night Guards, nodding to each as they saluted and greeted her. And respectful to a fault. The latter came as no surprise to her; after all, she had commanded of Luna’s vaunted Night Guard alongside her Day Guard for a thousand years.

A millennia of tradition was not so easily broken.

Celestia reached the end of the corridor and turned right down the hall, entering into her sister’s wing. The high arching, brightly colored stained glass windows seen in the Throne Room and Grand Hall were no more.

Images of the navy blue night sky, dotted with twinkling stars and depicting tales of an age long-forgotten were proudly displayed on each window. With each image she passed, Celestia found her mind wandering and memories coming forth; the Fall of the Crystal Empire, their battles with Discord, days when she stood beside her little sister and fought to protect her ponies.

The ceiling arched lower, bathing the corridor in shadows, even in the daytime. It was almost as if the sun was always setting down this wing, as if one was stepping into the twilight of her sunny day, or dawn as Luna’s night ended.

From one princess's domain to the next. Celestia beamed and continued on her way, another memory coming to mind.

Luna's smile, her eyes lighting up as she first took everything in, filled Celestia's chest with warmth. During the thousand years apart, she had so longed to see that smile again, and she dared to dream that a bit of architectural flair would be an adequate welcome home present.

She approached her sister's suite, stopping just before the door. Celestia turned to greet the last set of guards. "Good day, gentlestallions," she smiled kindly, "if you would be so kind as to let me pass, there is something I must discuss with my sister."

The guard on her left bowed before offering reply. "M'lady is still asleep, Your Highness. But, if you would be willing to wait a moment, I can fetch Lady Moondancer. Perhaps she could be of assistance?"

A shake of her head. "As much as I would be happy to see one of my old students again, this is a private matter, I'm afraid." She floated the scroll in front of the guards, making sure to show Luna's name scrawled on the side. "A letter from Twilight Sparkle came for her through Spike's dragon fire. With respect, I would rather deliver this myself."

"Forgive me, Your Highness!" He bowed, an act mirrored by his silent partner. In unison, they straightened up and stepped to the side. "I meant no offense. Please, allow me." His horn lit up, a sky blue aura engulfed the doorknob.

Celestia smiled brightly as he pushed the door open for her. She nodded to each in turn before facing her escort. "I may be a while, Corporal Lighthoof. No need to wait for me, I can still find my way around the castle!"

Hiding a snort of laughter, Corporal Lighthoof bowed his head. "As you wish, Your Highness." With a nod to his Night Guard counterparts, Lighthoof departed.

No doubt he'll see Vigilance about where he should be reassigned while I am with Luna. Celestia smiled and shook her head. He's as uptight as Shining Armor.

"Shiny's not uptight! He's dedicated!" She rolled her eyes as Cadence's familiar rebuke echoed in her mind. Somehow, it seemed that those closest to her family happened to be the two most "dedicated" ponies to their respective fields.

"If I'm not careful, Twilight will have Luna adhering to a schedule." Celestia brought her hoof to her mouth to stifle another bout of giggles. "Oh, horror of horrors!"


Vibrant arrays of colors, shifting forms, muffled voices all dominated Luna’s senses.

The realm of dreams was her domain, a little world she ruled alone. In days of old, it had been her one comfort as Luna wallowed in her loneliness, searching for somepony to share the majesty of her nights with. When she was awake, it was but a whisper in the back of her mind. Like a thought that wouldn’t leave; her ponies’ dreams were always carefully minded and guarded from whatever horrors their own imaginations concocted. But when the Guardian of Dreams slept…

Luna didn’t dream, not as mortal ponies might. Their dreams, the little worlds they saw as they slept, were hers.

Watching little Pipsqueak draw his cutlass to fight enemy pirates, marveling as Rarity weaved formless colors into beautiful dresses for Canterlot’s elite, Luna shared in their flights of fantasy. By the stars and moon above, she lived it with them! Viewing it as a play, produced by the wonderful little minds of her subjects.

But it came at a price: to see into the realm of dreams, Luna accepted the nightmares that came with them…

Nights spent saving little foals from the monsters under their beds, soothing Ponyville’s worries that the Ursa Major residing in the Everfree would wander into their tiny town, catching Rainbow Dash as her wings failed her and sent her plummeting to her death. Luna was there through them all, forced to watch every second.

A blessing cherished above all others, and a curse Luna would not wish upon her most hated enemy.

Something reached out and touched her. Luna blinked, searching frantically through the realm. None should be aware of her here unless she made it so. Control of the dream realm belonged to her, and her alone—even the rare lucid dreamer could not see the Princess of the Night unless she willed it so!

“Luna…”

Her ears perked up, Luna nearly froze in place. Who calls my name in this realm? The colors blurred as her search began in earnest, flitting through the different little worlds all at once.

“Luna…”

Cadenza? No, she habitually stays up late to wait for Captain Armor to return from duty and spends the night together, which rules him out as well. Luna paused, focusing in on another pony’s dreams. Or rather, one that wasn’t there. Twilight Sparkle is not in this realm either; she will be up later than my niece, studying the night away.

That was it. Of all ponies, those three alone might have the power to call out to her, but only just. The remaining five Element Bearers would require aid from Twilight to complete any spell of that nature, but they aren’t in this realm either. None call me from their dreams, yet somepony—

“Wake up, sister.” Celestia’s voice whispered in her ear. A hoof softly poked into her side. “It’s time to wake up, little Lulu!”

Oh! Oh, of course. Luna let out a breath, laughing to herself. Silly Luna. ’Tis but your sister waking you. With a wistful sigh and one last look at her private little world, Luna severed her ties with the dream realm and opened her eyes.

Luna’s eyes fluttered open. Sitting up and blinking rapidly until they focused and her vision cleared, Luna shook her head. “What is it, Tia? Am I late—wait.” Her face screwed up, a small frown adorning her muzzle. “No. It’s not yet time for dinner, I’ve another hour before that. Two hours before nightfall as well.”

“Yes, I woke you up a bit early.” Celestia nodded as she sat down on the edge of the bed, floating a scroll over and dropping it in front of Luna.

“Is something the matter?”

“Not that I know of. I just wanted to deliver something to you—you have mail, Lulu!”

Blinking owlishly, Luna looked down at the scroll. She stared, staying silent as she read her name, written in neat script, on the side. I have… mail? From who—

Then, the seal caught her eye; a six pointed star, set upon one of similar size and ringed with five smaller bursts. Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark?

Her eyes went wide, everything clicked into place as if she’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. “She wrote… Me?”

Laughter came in reply. “Yes. Fancy that!” Luna looked up into her sister’s eyes. They were alight with amusement and a bit of humor as Celestia spoke.

“You find my surprise funny?”

“Only a little. But I’m more interested in what Twilight might have sent you.” Celestia nudged the scroll closer. “Well, go on! Read it!”

Luna’s gaze fell to the scroll again, almost unsure whether to believe it real. But it would be a rather cruel prank, far too cruel for Tia. Her hoof brushed against the ribbon, trailing up to the fastening that bore Twilight’s mark. She is many things: compassionate at best, irritatingly suffocating at worst. But never cruel. Not then, and certainly not now.

Her tail twitched as she took the scroll in her magic. Luna deftly slid the ribbon off and levitated the scroll in front of her. Unrolling it, she ground her hoof into her midnight blue bedding. Relax. It’s only a letter from your friend. Nothing to fear.

Inhaling deeply through her nose, Luna began to read through the neat script.

“Dear Princess Luna,

How have you been? It’s been a few days since we last saw one another. You haven’t sent anything to me through Spike yet, so I can only assume that you haven’t asked Princess Celestia for the spell signature. Like we said, please feel free to do so! I’d be happy to hear how you’ve been doing! Also, it would be a bit easier than using her as a go-between.

Which reminds me, if she’s there with you, please let your sister know that I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

More to the point, I wanted to ask if you’d like to come over and visit sometime next week. Maybe we could talk about the kind of music you like, since you mentioned a couple of your favorite composers on your last visit. Whatever night works best for you is fine with me, though I would prefer that you come earlier in the evening—it would give us more time to discuss and get to know one another!

I hope to hear from you soon! And that you’re well!

Your faithful subject and friend,

Twilight Sparkle”

Everything stopped. Luna’s breath caught in her throat, her eyes scanned the page a second time. A third. A fourth!

The wording didn’t change, no hint of illusionary magic weaved over the page. Twilight Sparkle had indeed written the very letter floating just in front of her muzzle.

Luna’s hooves shook, her left leg began to bounce in place. “She wants…” The words were right there in front of her, as plain as the crescent moon cutie mark on her flank. A smile crept across her face, her breath came in short pants. “She really invited me over…”

“What was that?” Celestia shuffled closer, draping a wing across her withers. “Lulu, what did Twilight want?”

With a flick of her magic, Luna thrust the letter under Celestia’s muzzle. “She wants me to come over to visit!” She wrapped her sister in a tight embrace, snuggling against her alabaster coat. A squeal slipped through her lips as her hind hooves kicked against the mattress. “Twilight really invited me over! She truly thinks of me as a friend and—and—“

Celestia covered her mouth with a hoof, chuckling “Lulu, breathe! Goodness, gracious! I haven’t seen you this excited since we were but fillies!”

“Fie on thee!” Luna slipped briefly into her more classical speech before sticking her tongue out. “I am excited and none of your silly sensibilities shall dampen my mood!” She floated the letter into the air, as though she were raising a victory banner. “Twilight Sparkle has seen fit to invite me over to her house! She took the initiative, which means—“

“—That she values the time you spent together. Which, in turn, means that she does, in fact, see you as a friend. Just as you told me the other day.”

“Yes! She does! She truly does!” Slipping out from under her sister’s wing, Luna leapt to her hooves. She pranced and bounced on her bed, giggling with each bounce and step. “Yesyesyesyesyes—“

“Oh, sit down, you silly little filly!” Celestia rolled her eyes and tugged on Luna’s blue, sparkling tail, bringing her back down to sit on the mattress. “My word! I’d forgotten just how excitable you can be!” Dodging a swipe, the elder alicorn caught her sister and pulled her into another hug. Laughter slipped through. Celestia sighed and held Luna close. “You really are alike, you know—you and Twilight. She did a… similar dance when she earned her cutie mark.”

Luna’s ears perked up. “Did she now?” How interesting. She didn’t seem the type to jump about and sing—least of all in front of a princess! “That is most certainly a tale I would be interested in hearing. Perhaps I might ask Twilight to share it with me someday.”

“Why not just ask when you see her?”

“Excuse me?” She froze, her ears swiveled back to lay flat. “Tia! Is that not a personal thing to ask? A pony’s marking day is a special event, a time of discovery of oneself! Surely, you don’t mean to say that I should trot right up and ask her without so much as a by your leave!”

Celestia held her tight, heaving a sigh. “I think we’re missing one another, Lulu. You’re thinking of how things used to be again.”

“Then kindly clarify! You know full well that I still struggle to adapt to these modern norms!”

Breaking the hug, her sister held up her hooves and gave a lopsided smile. “I’m sorry! I let that slip my mind. Again.” Luna grumbled as Celestia fidgeted in place, a drastic change from her usual composure. A sigh escaped Celestia’s lips. “I truly do apologize. I will try to remember from now on, Lulu. I just… I get caught up running things. Just like—“

Luna cut her off, placing a hoof over her lips. “No. Just… Let us move on. Preferably, to happier things.”

“Lulu, I—“

“Please.” Her chest ached. A thousand years of loneliness, of nothingness, flickered through her mind. She had nothing, she was no pony. Luna—No, Nightmare Moon was naught but an old wives’ tale used to frighten naughty little foals into behaving.

Eat all your dandelions or Nightmare Moon will visit your dreams. Did you brush your teeth? Don’t lie! Nightmare Moon likes to eat foals who lie!

It was always some variant of the same thing: if a foal was bad, Nightmare Moon brought pain. Nightmare Moon brought nothing but pain, nothing but malicious intent in all her dealings.

And Nightmare Moon was Luna. Before the Elements of Harmony, before Twilight Sparkle, she was the Mare of Darkness. Every fiber of her being had been devoted to bringing harm upon her sister and any in her path.

I would have destroyed everything. Luna closed her eyes and tried to push the thought away. Nay. Cease this line of thought and move forward, one step at a time. I am not the Nightmare anymore.

A smile played upon her lips. Yes. That is the key. “You said once that I needed to move past my guilt for what I had done. That you wished me to smile again.” Luna reached to take Celestia’s hoof. “Would you not join me? How can I be your smiling little Lulu again if you will not be the happy Tia I loved?”

For once, Celestia didn’t simply brush it off and smile back. “The same one who failed to notice her Lulu’s smile fall?” There was a heavy pause as she snorted, muttering under her breath. After a moment, Celestia sighed and shook her head. “Very well. We’ll move forward. But,” she paused to level a stern gaze at Luna, “we will be open with one another from now on. No hiding these feelings, or any anxiety from here out. Understood?”

“Of course.” Once her sister set her mind, there was no arguing with her. It seems that some things will always stay the same. Luna rubbed Celestia’s hoof, just as she once had when Luna cowered from booming thunder as a young filly. “Now, tell me. Why is it not rude to inquire as to how somepony gained their cutie mark? If I recall, it was once considered quite rude. Vulgar, even!”

“At one time, yes, but that changed… oh dear, I think it was two or three centuries ago. I can’t recall exactly…” She brought an alabaster hoof to her chin, looking off into one of the darkened corners of Luna’s room. “There was some change in the culture, cutie marks became more of a badge of honor rather than something shared between family or lovers. But, perhaps that’s a tale for another day.” Celestia’s gaze returned to Luna again, the smile finding its way back onto her face. “You are going to answer her, yes?”

Luna’s eyes flitted to the letter again, her wings drooped. “I… It took me so long to prepare myself adequately for my last visit. I’m not sure if I can ready myself that quickly…“

“Then don’t prepare anything! Pick a night, any night next week, let her know that you’d like to visit, and just go!” A nudge to her side nearly sent Luna toppling off the bed. She aimed a glare at her elder sister, but melted at the sight of Celestia’s concerned frown. White ears swiveled back to lay against her sister’s scalp. “Lulu, please don’t do this. Don’t make this into some sort of duty.”

“I am not—“

“You are.” Luna winced at the tone. A mix of the stern older sister she was so familiar with and that of a mare looking at a broken friend. Celestia pulled her in close once more, resting her chin atop Luna’s. “And you’ll make it worse on yourself if you continue. I don’t want to watch you do that to yourself, I can’t.”

Luna let out a low whine. “I know. I know. I remember how… how I used to be. But, I am afraid of ruining things. Again.” Her ears drooped low and her gaze fell to the floor. “I planned everything out for our last meeting and still struggled through it. I forgot everything I meant to say…”

“Then don’t plan it this time.” Celestia bumped her nose against Luna’s cheek. “If organization failed you when you had months to prepare, it won’t serve you well here. Accept her invitation, pick a day, and just go. Don’t plan out your what topics you’ll cover, don’t rehearse your words, just go and have fun.”

“But… But… Oh, very well!” Flicking her tail, Luna glanced out of the corner of her eye, like a shy little filly. “You… You would not be averse to helping me write a reply, would you?”

Rather than reply immediately, Celestia simply smiled, her horn glowed a brilliant gold. A roll of parchment, quill, and inkwell floated over, wreathed in a matching aura, and, finally, came to a stop just in front of Luna’s muzzle. “I would like nothing more.”

No words were needed to convey her thanks. Luna snuggled into Celestia’s side as her own horn lit up with a shimmering blue glow, wrapping around them. For a brief moment, the sisters’ auras flashed together, flickering from gold to blue and back again as control was wrested from Celestia to Luna.

Luna was forced to compensate for the loss of support as Celestia ended her spell, the parchment dipped slightly before she managed to catch it and bring it back to eye level. Her nose scrunched up, Luna brought a hoof to her chin. How does one reply to a letter such as this? It had been some time since she’d last written anything but an official address—and even those were different nowadays. Well, I requested that Twilight speak to me as she would Applejack or one of her other friends, and she certainly wrote her invitation in a rather casual manner…

Dipping the quill into the inkwell, Luna began to write, speaking aloud for Celestia’s benefit. “Dear Twilight Sparkle,” Addressing her so familiarly seems… odd so soon after making friends, but quite satisfying, knowing that she considers me one. “I was overjoyed to receive your letter and have been doing quite well since we last spoke. You are correct, I have not yet asked Celestia for young Spike’s fire spell signature—“

“I’ll give it to you when you’ve finished.” Celestia cut in. “So you won’t forget to ask again.”

“Oh! Thank you! That would be most helpful! Now,” she grinned broadly, forgoing her usual restraint in the privacy of her room, “let me think. Ah! I have not yet asked Celestia for young Spike’s fire spell signature, but she has assured me that we shall take care of that soon. As to your invitation, I would be most pleased to accept! If you would like, I may be able to find some old records—if they survived the test of time. If they are not in working condition, then perhaps a more recent rendition would suffice. I do believe we spoke of Tempo Rubato, so perhaps you might be interested in discussing his works.”

Luna stopped short, once again bringing her hoof to her chin. What day would be most convenient for her? Perhaps something closer to the weekend again? “I believe, for our purposes, that Friday evening would be best—“

“Monday.”

“E-Excuse me?” Turning so quickly that her neck popped, Luna gaped at Celestia. “Monday?”

Celestia nodded once. “If your recent track record is anything to go by, you’ll spend your time worrying more and more if you have a longer wait. Go Monday, so you don’t have empty time to fill in fretting and trying to make everything perfect. Believe me,” a sheepish grin crossed her muzzle, “it’ll go much smoother if you let this happen naturally.”

“But,” Luna bit her lip, her gaze flitting from the letter to Celestia and back again. “Oh, very well! Monday it shall be!” A few quick strokes of her quill finalized it. Flipping the parchment around, Luna presented it to her sister with a flourish. “There! Are you now satisfied?”

“Very much so!” Her horn wreathed in gold again. A red ribbon wrapped its way around the scroll, binding it together. Celestia floated a silver clasp, adorned with Luna’s crescent moon cutie mark, over and fastened it on. “And I’m sure Twilight will be just as excited as you! Now, let me show you how to send Spike a letter. It’s quite simple, really…”

7: Youth Is Its Own Reward

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Twilight surveyed the main room, humming a tune as her eyes flitted from the freshly swept floor to the dusted bookshelves. Shelves straightened. Check. Papers put away or thrown out. Check. Twilight paused to glance at the table, lingering on the lone book resting in the center. And one book on classical Equestrian music ready to be skimmed. Check.

It wasn’t much, considering that she was about to play hostess for royalty, but Luna had been adamant that she act as though she were speaking to her friends during the last visit.

Still, I could never tell Rarity that Spike and I didn’t go all out for a visit from Princess Luna, Twilight snickered, an image of her fellow unicorn puffing up and launching into a lecture on high social life springing to the forefront of her mind. She’d be appalled that we only set up to have tea, not to mention that I didn’t consult her on proper décor.

But, frankly, such a thing was trivial. It was just a nice, relaxing discussion of music, after all, not the Gala.

Beaming, Twilight trotted to the kitchen, where Spike was waiting for the timer to oven timer to go off in his pink frilly apron.

Funny, she brought a hoof to her mouth, hiding a grin. He goes on and on about being a big, strong dragon, but still wears the cook’s apron mom bought for his fifth birthday. “Thanks for helping out, Spike.” She called. “I never thought I’d see the floor without so much dirt again!”

“Heh, you can thank Rainbow and Applejack for most of that! Those two never wipe their hooves!” He paused, tilting his head as a thought occurred. “Come to think of it, neither do Scoots and Applebloom.”

Twilight shuddered and tried to beat back the memory of her nice, clean floor spattered with mud and tree sap the last time the Cutie Mark Crusaders had come stumbling into the library. “Thanks for the reminder, I’d just gotten that one out of my head!”

“Anytime!”

“Oh, you little parasprite!” Catching him in her aura, Twilight pulled him into a tight hug and ruffled his headfins. Trapped in her grasp, Spike could only flail, batting at her hooves until Twilight saw fit to put him down. She giggled as he scrambled back over to the oven, covering his fin and mumbling. “Stop that mumbling, you can’t play angry with me, mister!”

Before Spike could reply, the timer rang out. Quickly glancing between the oven door and Twilight, Spike settled for sticking his forked tongue out and blowing a raspberry.

He pulled the oven door down and steam rushed out, bathing the pair in a wave of heat. Spike waved his hot pad to clear the air before reaching in and taking hold of the edge of a cooking tray. Deftly sliding it out, he beamed, surveying the neat rows of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. “Ah!” He sighed happily, wafting their smell into his nose. “Nothing better than cookies right out of the oven, not even mom’s pancakes!”

Twilight gasped theatrically. “Blasphemy!” She cried, pointing a hoof at him. “You take that back! There’s nothing better than mom’s cooking!”

Quickly sliding the tray onto the countertop, Spike waved his hot pad like a banner. “Never!” Though he tried his best to play the part, Twilight caught sight of his cheeks puffing out with barely restrained laughter. “I will not be silenced! Your tyrannical reign and worship of inferior pancakes will go on no more! The age of the cookie is at hand!”

The pair broke down into a fit of giggles, struggling to breathe through their amusement. “Tyrannical reign and worship of inferior pancakes?” Twilight parroted. “Somepony’s been reading through some of those dramatic speeches in fantasy worlds!”

“I blame you,” Spike replied, grinning as he pushed himself up to his knees. “You’re the one who used to push those things on me non-stop for years. ‘I want you to read something that’ll foster your imagination,’ you said. ‘You’ll love it,’ you told me. Well, I did and now I’m using it! So, nyeh!” He stuck his tongue out, yet again, to punctuate his remark.

“‘Nyeh’? Come now, I know you can do better than that, my widdle Spikey-wikey!”

Spike’s eyes narrowed dangerously at her tone, how she imitated his not-so-secret crush like that. “Oh, don’t even go there!” As Twilight returned his gesture by sticking out her tongue, he puffed smoke out his nose. “If Princess Luna wasn’t coming over, you would be so toast.”

“Well, lucky me, then!” Came the reply. Twilight stood and wrapped him in a one hooved hug, nuzzling the top of his head. “You’re sure you don’t want to stay? Luna seemed happy to talk with both of us last time.”

“Yeah, but, no offense, I think she was a bit more excited that you called her a friend. I mean, she hugged you, not me.”

Twilight’s ears pinned back. “Oh, don’t be like that, Spike!” She pulled him in closer as she spoke. “Luna didn’t—“

“I know she didn’t mean anything by it, but she seems closer to you. It’s fine. Really.” Spike ducked out from under her hoof so he could turn to face her fully. “It’s kinda like how I’m closer to Rarity than I am to Rainbow Dash, or you than Shining Armor. It’s not that I don’t like them, I’m just closer to other ponies. Same with Luna. It happens, right?”

“Well, yes, but…” Twilight trailed off, struggling to think of anything to counter his point. Very few of her lessons on friendship had much to do with one friend preferring another; they had all come together on the same night and only grown closer as the days went by. Of course, there were times they sought out advice from single members of their little circle.

And Spike has been a part of that. He’s been there for all of my friendship reports. But how to explain this… Wait. I know!

She placed a hoof on his shoulder, not pulling him into a hug, and looked him in the eye. Always treat him like a big pony when telling him something important, just like mom and dad. “I still think she’d be happy if you stayed, but I won’t make you. This time, at least.” Her lower jaw set, Twilight ducked her head low so she level with him. “But I don’t want you to feel like you have to leave every time she comes over to visit; this is your home too, and I hope you’ll see her as a friend.”

“I already—“ Spike waved his claws about, trying to grasp at something to say. He sighed after a moment and gave up. “Okay. I won’t leave all the time. It’s just a bit… you know.”

“Yeah.” Twilight pulled him in close once again, letting Spike bury his head in her chest. Memories of Shining and Cadence bringing friends by, of her suddenly having nothing to say in front of the older ponies and looking down at her hooves rather than meet their gaze.

“This is your sister? She’s so cute!”

“So you’re the famous Twily, huh? Nice to meet ya! I’m Poindexter! I hear you’re pretty smart!”

“Aww, Cady, where’ve you been hiding her? I could just pinch her little cheeks!”

I know exactly how that feels, she thought, giving Spike an extra little squeeze. My number one assistant. Pulling back a bit, Twilight booped their noses together. “We can cross that bridge when we come to it.” And we will come to it. “You’ll be at Rarity’s tonight, right?”

Spike beamed at the mere mention of his crush, bouncing in place. “Yeah! The Crusaders are coming over, too! They’re gonna let me come along on a couple of their games, said I could be a big help!”

Barely suppressing a wince at the mere prospect of Spike involved in the girls’ usual antics, Twilight managed to paste a grin on her face. At least he can have some friends around his age. “Well, try not to get into too much trouble,” she paused a moment as a thought occurred to her, “actually, if they mention anything to do with fashion designing or modeling, stay out of that. Rarity, ah, doesn’t particularly like it when they mess with her materials.”

“You aren’t kidding! Last time they tried it, I had to help her clean up. That was… well, she can be kinda scary.”

“That’s an understatement.” Twilight nodded, a rueful smile crossing her muzzle at memories of some of Rarity’s bouts of temper when her work was the subject. Almost as quickly as it came, her smile vanished. She gazed at Spike with a slight frown. “Are you going to stay around long enough to say hi, at least?”

Spike bit his bottom lip and fidgeted in place. “Well, I dunno,” he hemmed, shuffling from one foot to another, “you sure that won’t upset Princess Luna? Me leaving just as she walks in?”

“We can say that you made plans for tonight before mine with her, if you like. I doubt she’d mind too much.”

Sighing heavily, he nodded once before breaking the embrace. “Fair enough, I guess.” He stepped over to the counter and took hold of the tray of cookies, sliding them off onto a waiting plate. “Hopefully she likes my cooking…”

“She was happy with your tea last time, I’m sure she’ll love your cookies. Who knows,” Twilight let a smirk play upon her lips, “Luna just might try to steal you away from me if she enjoys them too much.”

Her comment earned a raised eyebrow. “You’re awful playful today.” Spike took the plate in his claws and carried it toward the door. He stopped short, looking up at the ceiling as if thinking. “Somepony’s excited! Just like a little filly on Hearth’s Warming Eve!” He sang before quickly darting out of the kitchen, with Twilight hot on his heels, laughing and calling threats of retribution for his teasing.


With a pair of midnight blue saddlebags slung across her back, Luna trotted alongside her sister to the courtyard, where her ornate, onyx chariot awaited. As per usual, two of her trusted Night Guards stood, harnessed in to pull it through the sky. Perhaps, Luna thought with a wry grin, it is a good thing that I decided to forgo my cloak this time. Though it may have to make an appearance next Nightmare Night.

But as she approached, Luna noticed something unusual. Two ponies she hadn’t expected stood by her chariot, smiling happily in her direction.

Captain Erebos and Moondancer bowed low in greeting. “Your Highness,” the bat pony spoke as he raised his head, regarding her through his catlike eyes, “we are ready to depart whenever you give the word.”

“Erebos, Moondancer,” she nodded to each in kind, “I am afraid I don’t quite understand; you speak as though you are coming to Ponyville as well.”

“Er, yes, Your Highness!” Moondancer stammered. She shuffled in place, flicking her tail as she tried to keep eye contact. “We, ah, well, that is to say, Captain Erebos and I, thought that you might, er…”

Erebos hid a snicker behind his hoof. “We thought you might like a bit of support, My Princess.” He grinned at Moondancer, drawing a startled squeak as she caught sight of his gleaming fangs. “Miss Moondancer was quite concerned when she heard how frazzled you were on your last visit.”

Captain! My Princess, he’s exaggerating! Well, a bit, but I just—“

Luna held up a hoof, forestalling any further protests from her seneschal. She turned her gaze from the bickering pair, leveling Celestia with a deadpan stare.

As expected, her elder sister smiled back at her, the perfect picture of innocence. Too perfect for Luna’s taste. “Sister?”

“Yes, Lulu?” Celestia hummed, beaming back at her without a care in the world.

Luna sighed. I guess we are playing this age-old game. Again. “Why do my seneschal and the Captain of my Night Guard seem to think that I need them along for moral support?”

Celestia frowned, bringing a hoof to her chin as if pausing to think. “Well, I don’t–oh, silly me!” She giggled. “I had lunch with Moondancer earlier this week, just a bit of time to catch up, student-to-teacher. She went to my school, you see.”

“Of course. You have mentioned this several times.” Usually, whenever you manage to somehow know exactly what troubles me.

“Well, we had lunch the other day, so it may have come up.” Celestia put her hoof down, smiling brightly. “Sorry, just a little slip up. It won’t happen again!”

I am quite certain that it will. “We will have words on this later,” Luna huffed before turning back to find Erebos smirking wickedly at Moondancer, whose muzzle had turned a rather impressive shade of red. She blinked, looking back and forth between the pair. When they didn’t immediately resume professionalism, she coughed. “If there is nothing else,” Luna glared at her sister out of the corner of her eye to forestall any additional commentary, “I believe I am ready, Captain.”

To his credit, Erebos snapped to attention as soon as he heard her voice, all traces of amusement sliding right off his muzzle. “Yes, My Princess! We’ll depart at once! Come along, Miss Moondancer, Our Princess awaits us.”

“O-Oh! Yes! Coming!” Moondancer sputtered, bowing low to Luna before scampering over to the chariot and taking her place.

Erebos shook his head, a broad grin on his muzzle again. “She’s too easy sometimes.” Luna glanced out of the corner of her eye, sharing a small smirk with her Captain. He bowed low and made a sweeping gesture with his hoof, directing her to the chariot. “After you, My Princess.”

Playful, yet professional. Luna nodded in kind as she stepped onto the carriage, with Moondancer on her left and Erebos taking his post on her right. Even with my sister’s help, this is a bit bold for Moondancer. And Erebos… well, he loves to make mischief, of course, but usually manages to realize when to stop playing. So, the questions is, which of them lead the charge? And what motivated them?

Celestia approached her chariot, looking up with a bright smile. “Teasing aside, I do hope you have a good time tonight, Lulu.” She leaned up to nuzzle Luna’s cheek. “I will expect to hear all about it when you get back, though,” a cheeky grin crossed her muzzle, “don’t make me drag it out of you, little sister of mine!”

“Oh, away with your teasing, ancient one!” Luna hid a grin at the way her sister sucked in her cheeks at her retort, and at the poorly disguised bout of snickers from Erebos, before continuing on. “You will be kept informed when I say so, and not a moment sooner. And don’t even think about pestering these two!”

Her sister’s grin broadened, Luna groaned inwardly as she realized what she’d just done. “I wasn’t going to, but thank you for the reminder! Moondancer, didn’t we have lunch scheduled for tomorrow?”

Curse my mouth. With a sigh and irritated swish of her tail, Luna looked skyward. “You have more than made your point, I yield to your superior teasing, oh sly sister of mine. We will discuss the evening upon my return.”

“I look forward to it!” Celestia beamed, completely disregarding her exasperation. She turned to the stallions harnessed to the chariot and nodded. “I wish you all a safe flight, and a pleasant meeting with my student to you, Luna.”

Nodding in kind as her sister stepped back to clear them for takeoff, Luna gave a soft smile. “Thank you, Tia, and a wonderful evening to you.” Turning to her guards, she spoke up. “If you are ready, let us depart.”

“Yes, My Princess!” Both called back in stereo. The pair took their first steps forward, grunting slightly when their harnesses pulled back with the first tug. They broke into a steady trot, then a full gallop as they closed in on the end of the stone runway. Just before stone gave way to the soft grass of the castle courtyard, the guards beat their leathery wings and took flight, pulling the chariot off the ground and into an arc across the night sky.

While Erebos let his eyes roam the sky for any sign of danger and Moondancer quivered by her side, desperately trying to look anywhere but over the edge of the chariot, Luna closed her eyes and sighed happily, letting the cool night breeze brush against her face. With the night beginning and Equestria becoming her domain once again, her power began to peak.

The whispers of her ponies’ dreams were already beginning to grow in volume as little foals were tucked into bed by their loving parents. But, looking down to the city below, she could see a number milling about, enjoying the parties, music, and shows that thrived in her night.

A thousand years later, and I have confirmation that ponies do love my night. She chuckled to herself. If only I could have seen how it came to be. Luna shook her head. No, I am not falling back into that line of thought again. Equestria has moved along and so will I!

She inhaled deeply, holding it in before slowly releasing. Luna repeated the process a couple of times, chasing the negativity from her mind. Nosy though she may be, Celestia’s niece was correct: that is rather soothing. A grimace marred her muzzle. If only I could find a more permanent way to banish those thoughts.

Erebos cleared his throat to draw her attention. “Is something the matter, My Princess?” Their eyes met, his filled with concern and the slightest hint of apprehension. “You seemed quite excited when we left, giddy even, if the byplay with Princess Celestia was any indication.”

“No, don’t mind me, Captain,” Luna replied, shaking her head, “just thinking over a few things. Nothing important.”

“Are you sure? Miss Moondancer and I haven’t put you off with our presence, have we?”

“I’ll admit that I was a bit taken aback, but it is nothing too concerning.” Just curious that you would do so without asking me first. Turning to face him fully, she pasted a smile on her muzzle. “Just an old mare having a bit too much time with her memories, my dear Captain.”

He snorted in reply, raising an eyebrow. “You? Old? I think ‘ageless’ would be a more appropriate word, My Princess. You hardly look a day over thirty,” Erebos paused to waggle his eyebrows at her. “I know some mares who would kill for your secret. So tell me, Princess to Captain… Is it your moisturizer?”

Luna threw back her head and laughed; the informality he so loved to slip in every now and again. “I assure you, no manner of manufactured creams or ointments has granted my sister and I longevity, Captain. As for my appearance,” she paused to playfully toss her mane, “it is, as you young ponies would say, ‘all natural’.”

“Hmmm, no. Forgive me, Princess, but I think you’re lying. I can see a splotch of cream right by your chin! Right there! Miss Moondancer, you see this, right?”

“N-N-No, I don’t see m-much of anything, C-Captain!” Both turned in unison, raising eyebrows at the stammering mare. Moondancer was seated on her haunches, with her ears pinned down and chin tucked into her chest, eyes cast toward the floor of the chariot.

What in Equestria is—oh. Oh, dear me. Luna tutted and shook her head. “You didn’t think about your fear of heights before coming, did you?” She sighed as Moondancer shook her head. Luna unfurled her wing and draped it across the smaller mare’s withers, pulling her into a comforting hug. “You should have stayed at the castle, you silly little mare.”

Frightened though she was, Moondancer shook her head. “I’m y-your seneschal, I’m supposed to escort you to meetings and other th-things! I c-can’t stay home for something s-silly like that!”

Before Luna could rebuke her, Erebos snorted. “You should’ve spoken up if it’s this bad for you, Miss Moondancer. Did you think, for instance, what might happen if we hit a bit of turbulence? I daresay you’d be in shock!”

“But I was just doing—“

“Your duty as seneschal, yes. That doesn’t change that you’ve got a responsibility to your own well-being!” His comments earned a whimper from Moondancer. Erebos’s eyes softened at the sight of her ducking lower and pressing into Luna’s side, gazing back at him through watery eyes. Coughing awkwardly, he tried to look elsewhere, only to be met with a stern glare from his princess. “But,” he gave an uneasy grin, “you’ve shown the same dedication I’d expect from one of my guards.”

Luna quirked an eyebrow, but nodded all the same. Perhaps a bit blunt, but true. Still, that was a bit too abrasive, especially for a mare as easily flustered as Moondancer.

Turning her head so that Moondancer wouldn’t be able to see, Luna mouthed to Erebos. “We will discuss this later.”

It would’ve been a boldfaced lie to say the visible shudder that ran down his spine didn’t bring a small hint of satisfaction. It seems that sometimes, even a fully trained stallion needs a reminder of how to talk to other ponies.

“Leaving Canterlot air space, Your Highness!” One of the guards called over his shoulder. “We’re about to bank south toward Ponyville! On your command!”

Luna settled herself in, making sure to tighten her wing around Moondancer for reassurance. “Ready when you are, gentlestallions!”

With matching nods, the guards angled their wings and leaned to the left, bringing the chariot around to fly toward their destination.

As they shot through the night sky, Luna hummed an idle tune. I wonder what we should listen to first. Perhaps, start with one of Tempo’s old works. A smile played upon her lips at the memory of Twilight’s look of utter amazement. Allowing herself a light giggle, she nodded. Yes, that will do just nicely. I shall start with a shared interest, then move onto a few of my favorites.

That sounded about right; from what Twilight’s letters had shown, common ground was a great place to start when introducing something new. Now, how to introduce it properly… “Captain?”

Erebos snapped to attention at Luna’s call. “Yes, My Princess?”

“You said that you wanted to help me tonight, yes?” At his nod, she continued. “If it is not to much to ask, might I try practicing something?”

“Er, of course, My Princess. But, what exactly would you need my help with?” He tilted his head to the side, ears perking up to full height. “Is this for your meeting with Twilight Sparkle?”

“Yes. I just wanted to see if I could… if I could practice making a friendly recommendation on classical composers.”

Erebos scratched at the back of his helmet, smiling wryly. “Well, I’ll admit that I’m not too up to snuff on the classics, just ‘cause I’ve always been into the rock scene, My Princess. But I can appreciate a good rendition of Tempo Rubato every now and again.”

Luna beamed and threw a hoof around his shoulders. “Splendid!” She cried. “I planned to share a couple of his records from my personal collection! Truly, this is a happy coincidence!” She glanced at the awkwardly grinning stallion she’d trapped against her side. Oops. “Er, if it is agreeable to you, Captain.”

“Of course it is! I’m just a bit surprised, is all! Pardon me saying, Princess, but I assumed that you’d be annoyed at us for coming!” Quickly adjusting himself, Erebos gave a sincere grin. “If it’s that important to you, though, I said we were here to help, so I’d be happy to do so!”

“Thank you, Captain. And you, Moondancer.” Luna paused to offer a light squeeze to her timid seneschal. “I… You truly have no idea how much I appreciate this.”


The chariot’s wheels touched the ground, bumping and rolling along the grass as the guards slowed down to a light trot.

Luna’s smile had been irrepressible since she saw the dense, leafy top of Golden Oaks Library, tinged orange by the candle light from inside, come into view as they were making their final approach. Her chest filled with warmth: she was back.

In the company of my friend yet again. Her left hoof tapped excitedly as the guards brought her carriage to a halt. She all but hopped out of the carriage like a young foal, landing nimbly on her hooves. “Thank you, gentlestallions,” Luna turned and bowed to the pair. “A very fine job by both of you, I found our flight quite enjoyable.”

The twins puffed out their chests, proud to have pleased their princess. “Thank you, Your Highness!” They replied in stereo. “We are pleased to serve in any way we can!”

Nodding to them, Luna back over her shoulder, her smile faltering slightly at the sight of her seneschal being lead shakily out of the chariot by a rather concerned Erebos.

“Easy does it, Miss Moondancer, that’s it.” He muttered softly, draping a leathery wing over her withers to steady her as she finally got all four hooves on the ground. “There we are! Solid ground! See? You’re fine.”

Moondancer whimpered in reply and kept close to him, almost pressing herself up against the Night Guard Captain. “Th-Thank you, Captain.”

“No trouble at all, just take your time.” Erebos looked over to Luna and snapped a salute. “My Princess, might we escort you to the library?”

Luna shook her head. “No, Captain, I think I can manage myself from here. Thank you, though.” she stepped closer and caught the pair in a hug. Offering them a quick nuzzle, she pulled back and smiled at each in turn. “Your company tonight was unexpected, and a bit invasive,” both winced at her summation, but Luna continued on, keeping her tone light and pleasant, “but helpful. Even if one of you was a bit preoccupied with her own worries.”

“I’m sorry!” Moondancer squeaked. “I only wanted to help, so I didn’t—“

“’Tis fine, Moondancer.” Luna cut her off with a wave of her hoof. “Standing by my side so that I would not falter was more than enough.” Despite her reassurances, her seneschal still stood with shoulders slumped and ears laying flat. Disappointed in yourself? Or still recovering from the flight? “Captain.”

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“Take Moondancer into town, see if a walk and something in her stomach might bring a little color back to her.”

Erebos blinked, glancing from Luna to Moondancer and back again. “Er, yes, of course. But shouldn’t we stand by and await the end of your evening?”

“No, Strider and Shooting Star will be here,” upon mention, the twin guards snapped to attention and saluted their captain. “They should be enough to stand watch outside of a public library, especially in such a small town. I will have one of them inform you when we are ready to depart. Just take care of her for now.”

“If that’s what you want, I’ll see to it, Your Highness.” Erebos bowed low before turning to lead Moondancer toward Ponyville proper. As they walked away, Luna noticed her captain lean in closer to speak. “Come along, Moondancer,” she managed to catch. “Take it slow and breathe, dear.”

Seeing the smaller mare nod and fall into step with the armored stallion, Luna’s smile returned in full. She seems to have taken well with my Night Guard. Her ears perked up, tail twitching behind her. A young mare, raised to fear Nightmare Moon and adore the daytime, accepted by my own and willing to face her own fears to help me battle my own problems.

Her thoughts turned to the meeting with Twilight, Luna glanced toward the front door to Golden Oaks Library—a sight which froze the blood in her veins and sent her fleeing to the safety of her tower just a few short weeks ago.

“Afraid to speak with a pony I admired,” she mused idly as she took the first step, “but not of spending an evening in the company of one I call friend.”

With her mind free of any inklings of that treacherous little voice, and her resolve stronger than ever before, Luna walked up to the red painted door and raised her hoof.

Thinking twice, Luna quickly conjured a mirror to check her appearance, humming idly to herself as she noted that her crown was polished to perfection and her starry mane flowed without a strand out of place. Perfect, she crowed, bringing her hoof up once again. Now, I am ready.

Without any hesitation, she knocked three times against the wood.

8: Now You Teach Us to Sing

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Luna’s smile broadened into a full, toothy grin as the latch clicked and the door opened inward to reveal Spike and Twilight, the very pair she’d been so eager to see again. “Good tidings to you on this eve, my friends!” She cheered. “I hope the days since our last meeting have been kind to you!”

“I’ve been well, Luna, thank you.” Twilight replied, a small smile of her own in place. “And you? You didn’t say very much about what you’d been up to in your letter.”

Shifting in place, Luna bit her bottom lip. “Ah, yes, my apologies, Twilight Sparkle. I was uncertain how to describe my, ah, activities without feeling as though I were being too—what phrase would Tia use? Ah! ‘Long-winded’!”

Spike snorted, crossing his arms over his scaled chest. “Ha! The day anything is too long for Twilight to handle is the day I dye my scales pink and sing soprano!” His smirk gave way to a yelp as Twilight reached over and lightly bopped him on the head. “Hey!”

“Smarty scales’ teasing aside,” she began, smiling as though she couldn’t hear the little dragon grumbling under his breath, “I don’t mind a long letter. As a matter of fact, I’m interested to hear about your days—err, nights, rather. Especially, the Night Court and commanding the Night—Oh!” Twilight stopped abruptly, covering her mouth with a hoof, cheeks tinged pink. “Oops. Sorry, that was a bit intrusive.”

Luna chuckled and shook her head. “Worry not, my friend, it seems that we are both guilty of assumption in this case. I would be delighted to tell you about my evenings. As for the Night Court, it has, sadly, been rather lonesome since my return. While there have been a few petitioners, there aren’t nearly as many as I had before my banishment. But,” she sighed, giving a small shrug, “that is something I shall endeavor to rectify moving forward.”

Twilight stepped through the doorway, meeting Luna on the library’s front porch. Then, without warning or prompt, she reared up and caught Luna in a tight hug. “Exactly.” She said, keeping her voice low. “And you’ll have us to help you along the way.”

Stunned by the sudden embrace, Luna could only nod as she tried to withhold a jubilant cheer. Her chest filled with warmth at the kind words, it was all she could do to keep her tail from wagging like an excited puppy. Oh, to have this young mare and her dragon at my side a thousand years ago! She sighed wistfully and wrapped a hoof around Twilight’s withers. But, then, I would not have them with me today. I cannot, as Tia says, have my cake and eat it too.

The hug ended all too soon, as Twilight pulled back, landing on her forehooves with a smile. “I seem to be making habit of forgetting to invite you in,” She laughed as she stepped to the side and gestured toward the door. “After you, Luna.”

Luna jolted out of her inner monologue, smiling brightly as she trotted past Twilight and into the library. Those thoughts have no bearing at this time. Spike and Twilight are with me, here and now, and I shall treasure the time I have with them. As she stepped past him, Luna leaned down and gave Spike nuzzle to his green headfin. She glanced around the library, humming to herself as she took in the scene.

The tea set from her previous visit was already in place, laid in the center of the table next to a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. To her mild amusement, there was only the one book resting on the table, while the rest were carefully and meticulously shelved. “No tower of books this time?” Luna hummed, a coy smile playing on her lips. “I thought we might construct the ‘book fort’ young Spike mentioned during my last visit.”

She stifled a laugh at the way Twilight blushed and ducked her head into her shoulders. “N-No, I haven’t done that since I was a filly.”

“What a pity,” she teased as she trotted to the table, taking the same cushion she sat in last time. “Oh well, another time. Tea, cookies, good company and music are always welcome, in my opinion. And I cannot think of a better way to share my evening than with the pair of you.”

“Ah, actually,” Spike said, raising a claw and smiling nervously, “I had plans to go over to Rarity’s and hang out with the Crusaders—err, I mean Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo. I kinda said that I’d go over before you sent your letter, Princess. Sorry.”

Luna blinked, her ears lay flat against her scalp. “I… I see.” She shifted in place, biting her bottom lip as she looked off to the side.

“Princess?” He called. Luna looked up just in time to see Spike beginning to shuffle his feet, his tail flicking behind him. “It’s okay if I go… right? You’re not upset?”

Oh, now look what you’ve done. She scolded herself. Smile, be happy that he is spending time with his own friends. Like Tia would. “Of course not, little one,” Luna replied, smiling brightly at him. “I am, admittedly, a bit disappointed that you will not be joining us, but far be it from me to keep you from your friends.”

Spike grinned and pumped his fist. “Thanks, Princess Luna!” He cried, bounding over and hugging her around her barrel.

“No trouble at all, young Spike,” Luna smiled, again nuzzling his headfin. She pulled back and regarded him with a raised brow. “As I have told Twilight, you may call me by name as well, little one. We are friends, yes?”

“Yeah, definitely! Thanks, Luna!” Giving her one last squeeze, Spike let go and scampered over to Twilight, throwing a quick hug around her neck. “See you later, Twilight!”

Twilight wrapped a leg around his back and held him close. “I’ll come by and pick you up later tonight. Be good for Rarity, okay?” She drew back, giving him a pointed stare. “If the Crusaders try roping you into some crazy scheme—“

“Say no and go find Rarity, or come straight home.” He said, rolling his eyes as though he’d been forced to repeat himself a hundred times. “I know Twilight. Really. I’m not gonna make a big mess! Can I go now?” Spike paused and let go of his hug, dropping down to the floor. He clasped his claws together and looked up at her, widening his big green eyes and sticking out his bottom lip. “Please!”

“Oh, put those away, you cheeky little dragon, I already said yes!” She cried, quickly averting her eyes. From where Luna sat, she could see the playful smile on Twilight’s face, poorly hidden as she played up her act. “Get out of here before I think twice about it, you little troublemaker.”

Spike needed no further prompting. He bolted out the door, hastily calling his thanks back over his shoulder as he bounded off into the night.

Twilight nudged the door closed and shook her head, a fond smile playing on her lips. Turning away, she walked toward the table, muttering under her breath. “Just like a little colt, bouncing around as soon as he gets to go play.”

Laughing to herself, Luna grinned as Twilight sat down across from her. “He is rather young, is he not?”

“He’s really still a hatchling in dragon years, but a bit older than most of the foals in the area.” She took her seat, shifting around a bit to find her comfortable spot. With a happy sigh, Twilight met Luna’s gaze and continued. “Neither of us had many friends back in Canterlot—mostly because I always had my nose deep in a book and he was following me around. So, I’m just glad he connected with them. He needs to make up for lost time.”

Before she could think twice, Luna reached over, taking Twilight’s hoof in hers. “It speaks volumes that you can look back and see your mistakes, my friend. But we cannot change what already is, we can only move forward to better ourselves, now and in the future.”

“That sounds like something Princess Celestia would say.”

“Indeed,” she nodded, eyes twinkling. “Though she has a talent for making me want to tear my mane out, my sister has always tried to make time to impart her wisdom on others. Even though some might be too lost to hear her words.” Luna grimaced inwardly, swishing her tail at the bitterness that had snuck into her voice. Now is not the time, nor the place.

Fortunately, Twilight either didn’t notice or chose to pay her sudden shift no mind, nodding along with Luna’s words. “Yes, I used to love sitting in on the Day Court; she always tried so hard to make ponies accept a solution that benefitted everypony, rather than just take one side. It led to some... interesting discussions.”

Luna snorted. “If there is one thing I can say with certainty, it is that my sister has not changed her style of ruling much. Well, not in the past millennium, I should say.” Shaking her head, she channeled her magic and levitated the saddlebags off her back, depositing them gently on the table. “Perhaps that is for another day. I believe you were interested in some of my preferred musicians, correct?”

“Oh, yes! Let me just get my gramophone, it should be in the storage closet.” She watched as Twilight leapt to her hooves and bounded over to the aforementioned closet, horn glowing magenta as she pulled it open. The telltale tinkling of telekinesis echoed through the room, Twilight began pulling items off the shelves, muttering under her breath. “No, that’s not it. No. No, that’s Spike’s ‘secret’ gem stash. And—aha! There you are!” Luna’s ears perked up at the triumphant cheer, her tail wagging excitedly as the familiar machine was levitated out of the closet and into view. “I knew it was in there! I’d put it back after Rarity and I listened to a couple of her Sapphire Shores albums—she’s a rather big fan, especially since they started working together to design Sapphire’s ensembles.”

“Oh? Was she a ‘fan’ of Miss Shores’ music prior to their partnership? Or is this a case of admiration coming after their joint venture?”

Twilight cocked her head to one side and brought a hoof to her chin. “I think so, Rarity certainly seemed excited when she got the news.” With a shrug, she trotted over, the gramophone hovering in her wake. “I’ll have to ask when I pick Spike up later on.”

“Well, please do not badger her on my account. ’Tis only the idle musings of an old mare, I fear.” A wry grin crossed her face, Luna hummed to herself. “I forget, as much as I love to tease Tia, that I am not so much younger than she.”

In spite of her respect for Luna, Twilight was forced to hide a smile of her own. “Well, they say you’re only as old as you feel, right?” She trotted over, deftly placing the gramophone on the table. “So, what’ll we listen to first?” Her eyes lit up, her felt purple ears standing erect.

“I thought we might start with Tempo Rubato, if that is acceptable,” Luna replied as she levitated a record out of her saddlebags. She floated it over to Twilight, flashing the label to the young mare. “Since you seem familiar with his works, I thought you might enjoy this; it’s an original recording, one from my private collection. I do not mean to sound too biased, as it may be nostalgia, but I find it to be a bit more… whole than some of the modern renditions. There is a bit of emotion in the original that they just have not been able to capture since.”

“Oh? Why do you say that? Is it a difference because of the change in style since the original was written? Or do you find musicians of today lacking?”

Luna held up a hoof to forestall any further questioning. “Neither, actually. I do believe it is more my own preference, rather than the talent of the musicians, that drives my inclination to the original. There was just an added emotion when it was first played, as if they put their very souls into it…” She trailed off, cheeks coloring as she smiled sheepishly. “Am I being too vague in my answer?”

“No, not at all!” Twilight beamed, quickly scribbling out a few notes on a pad that she’d produced seemingly out of thin air. When did she… “I’ve always wondered how past audiences might react to today’s entertainment fare, so really, this is all quite interesting! Princess Celestia always mentioned that her tastes were a bit more toward the classical genres as well, but she just couldn’t put her hoof on exactly why.”

“I would suspect her reasons are similar, though our preferences in style differed. I actually spoke with her on the matter recently,” Luna paused, bringing a hoof to her chin. Her eyes, however, wandered to Twilight’s notepad, watching carefully as the quill darted across the paper with every word she spoke. “We were discussing a performance done by the Royal Canterlot Orchestra—a fine ensemble, if I do say so myself. They are certainly very skilled and they put forth an incredible amount of effort to do justice to the original, but sometimes, I wonder if the emotion is there. Certainly, they put their hearts into showing respect to the composers and musicians before them, but… well, never mind,” her lips curved upward into a playful smirk, an idea coming to her.

A chance to see if she could be the mare from ages long gone. Let us see if you’ll write this bit down. “Perhaps my sister and I are just being a pair of old fuddy-duddies, longing for our younger years.”

She grinned as Twilight was forced to stop writing in favor of stifling a laugh. Huzzah! Success! Luna did a mental jig, putting up a point in her favor. Much better delivery than last time. With her little joke made, she carefully floated the age old record over to the gramophone, gently lowering it onto the turnstile. “I recall you mentioning Song of the Meadowlark during our previous conversation,” Luna began, “so I thought we might start there. This is a recording of one of the earliest playings of the piece—if I recall correctly, Tia and I were hosting the Premier of Stalliongrad and his wife at the time.”

“It must have really been something to leave that much of an impression.” Twilight’s horn lit up, a magenta aura engulfed the handle and began turning it, slowly winding it into gear. As the record began to turn, she lifted the pin and dropped it onto the track.

There was a light crackling as the pin began to read and play the track, a moment of static filled silence before the light hum of the violins echoed through the sitting room.

Two sets of ears perked up, matching smiles crossed their muzzles as the soft, soothing melody played. Twilight’s horn shone bright, the teapot and two cups levitating into view. “Care for a cup?” She offered, tilting the pot to pour the steaming hot liquid.

“Yes, of course. Thank you.” Luna replied, taking the cup in her aura. She brought it to her muzzle, inhaling deeply to savor the herbal scent before taking her first sip. A familiar warmth filled her chest, the smooth taste and soothing aroma bringing a sense of calm. Her eyes wandered to the plate of cookies laid out before her; it would be rude not to try them if Spike had gone through the effort of cooking.

Taking one of the cookies in her telekinetic grip, Luna floated it over to herself, nibbling curiously on the edge. Her eyes lit up. “Twilight.”

“Yes?” Came the reply as she picked one for herself, happily taking a bite.

“Spike made these cookies himself, correct?” At Twilight’s nod, she folded her hooves, giving a calculating stare. “I see. If that is the case, I am afraid that I may very well have to steal your young assistant. Between the tea and his cooking, I fear he may have ruined me.”

Twilight laughed, shaking her head as she brought her own cup to her lips. “I’d say that I would have to stop you, but you’re the one who would have to deal with a grumpy dragon.” Her eyes twinkled brightly, her smile broadened into a mischievous grin. “I wish you the best of luck in figuring out how to appease him.”

Luna wrinkled her nose, grimacing at the visions of a once beautiful royal kitchen was engulfed in green dragon fire flitted through her mind. Or, more to the point, how she would explain such a mess to her sister. “After careful consideration, I think I will retract my statement.”

“That’s probably for the best. You’ll just have to visit more often if you want to sample Spike’s cooking.”

She huffed good naturedly at the triumphant grin on her friend’s face, taking another sip of her tea as the music began to crescendo. As if the meadowlark had taken wing, gliding through the bright blue sky. Ah, here it comes. “What do you think so far?”

“It’s just as beautiful a sound as I remember,” seeing Twilight close her eyes and fully pricking up her ears to take in the music, a bright smile crossed her face. “But there is something else. I feel… Light. Like I’m flying.”

And now she begins to see, Luna crowed inwardly. “Listen carefully, it gets better.” She gave an excited flutter of her wings, her hoof tapping against the table in time to the music. “Tia used to love this part, it drove her to tears the first time she heard it.”

Before Twilight could pause to ask, it hit. At the top of the crescendo, starting off as nothing more than a low rumble, came the percussions. Light, brushlike strokes against the snare drum sounded out, like the cadence of tiny wings beating against the wind to keep the tiny bird in flight. The violins changed tempo, the long, even strokes of the bow quickening and becoming shorter and sharper.

Then came the flutes. Short, sweet and nimble, they joined in with the strings, played quickly as if chasing along, darting in and out between the strokes of the violins. Almost as if a tiny chick, fresh out of the nest, flying with its parents for the first time.

Luna closed her eyes, letting her mind wander back millennia to her foalhood days. Those days of summer spent playing in the fields with her sister, under the watchful eye of their mother and father. Celestia’s laughter echoed fresh in her memories, like the tinkling of bells. I was the little chick then. She furrowed her brows and corrected herself. Actually, I am still the little chick to her, always pulling me under wing whenever she feels I need protecting.

Oh? That traitorous little voice spoke up, whispering to her for the first time in days. But there was a time you would have killed for her to give you such attention, wasn’t there? One little hug, one night spent snuggled safely under her wing would have made it all better, wouldn’t it?

Be silent. I will not be swayed by the likes of you. Begone! Luna shoved the little voice into a mental closet and slammed the door shut. She took a deep breath, slowly letting it out as she tried to refocus on the music. The flutes have joined, next they will begin a staccato, furthering the contrast.

Just as she predicted, the recorded flutists abruptly changed their playing style, playing each note as short puffs of air, making them more pronounced, standing out against the music. The little bird was showing off now, excitedly bobbing up and down as it fluttered alongside its parent.

A troublesome little bird, just like she had been.

“It really is something else.” Twilight’s voice cut through Luna’s musings, jarring her out of the scenery her imagination crafted as the music played.

Blinking a few times, she took note that Twilight’s ears were still perked up, erect to hear as much as possible, and her eyes were shut tight. A smile crossed her face, Luna gave a little ruffle of her feathers. She is as lost in the music as I was. “You see what I mean, then?” She asked, voice tinged with excitement. “The feeling in the music seems more real, no?”

“It really does!” Twilight agreed, bouncing in place. Perhaps unknowingly, she managed to bounce in time with the music; the bright smile and exuberance in her tone fitting with the very image of a meadowlark flitting through the sky. “I mean, I grew up on the version done by the Royal Canterlot Symphony, lead by Treble Clef—which is hailed as one of the most talented pools of musicians in the past century. But this, it’s,” she trailed off, waving a hoof in a circular motion as she struggled to think of the proper word. Twilight stopped abruptly and smiled before finally speaking again. “It’s like nature made musical.”

“Quite so! Actually, I am glad you mentioned it. There is a bit of a story behind it.” Luna’s tail flicked excitedly. “You see, Tempo spent countless hours looking for a muse while writing that piece. He had gone through a rather melancholic period in his music, and produced several fine works with that particular tone. But, he grew a bit bored with it and decided to write something lighter, more cheerful. However,” she broke off, grimacing at the memory, “the creative muses does not work on command, especially for one such as Tempo Rubato. If he did not feel the joy or sadness in his piece, there simply was no point.”

“I’ve heard artists struggling with inspiration, something they say doesn’t just come on demand.” Pausing to take a bite out of a cookie, she screwed up her face, looking off in thought. “In fact, Rarity has said something similar. If her heart isn’t in the dress she’s making, she usually has to walk away until inspiration hits or start over.”

“Indeed, such is the nature of the muse; fleeting, but beautiful when it comes. Ah! A moment!” She held up a hoof. “The end is nearing, always a favorite.”

The pair fell silent, content to nibble on cookies and sip at their tea while they took in the last bit of the music. Finally arriving at the top of its crescendo, the flutes, horns, violins joined together in harmony—the little chick had joined its parent in flight, staying side by side, beating its little wings in time.

Falling into line at last. Again, Luna let her mind wander back, to the first time she had taken flight with Celestia. Bobbing and weaving, excitedly beating her wings to her own cadence as she darted to and fro, much to her sister’s amusement.

The tune trailed off, slowly, fading away as though the larks flew off into the sunset. Luna inhaled deeply, allowing herself a rare moment of utter relaxation. She took a deep breath, a broad, toothy grin working its way across her muzzle. “As beautiful as the first time…”

Twilight didn’t reply at first, instead letting the final note hang in the air before even so much as moving. After a moment of heavy silence, she wiped her hoof across her face, chasing away a stray tear. “That was… Amazing.” She met Luna’s gaze, smiling brightly. “Thank you for sharing this with me. It really was an experience. Beautiful really is the only way to describe it.”

“I am always happy to share music with a friend, especially that of such quality.”

“All the same, bringing a record from your private collection was nice, especially one that meant so much to you. Oh, wait a moment!” Her eyes lit up suddenly, her aura engulfed the quill and brought it back up again. “You mentioned a story behind Tempo Rubato’s inspiration!”

Luna face hoofed. “Oh, dear! I seem to have—what is the phrase? ‘Left you hanging’? Yes, I believe that is correct.” She nodded to herself and gave a mental pat on the back for remembering the turn of phrase. However, upon looking back at Twilight, she noticed something off about her smile. It had broadened considerably, almost to the point of being unnatural, strained even. “Is something the matter?”

“I just… never would’ve thought that you’d use that turn of phrase.” She replied, shuddering visibly. “Never mind. If you don’t mind too much, I’d love to hear the story.”

Why would the phrasing be an issue if it is correct? Shrugging, she opted to address the issue at a later date. Yet another question she would have to ask Celestia about modern norms. “Well, the way he told the tale, Tempo was so frustrated, he threw his notes into a fireplace and joined his young children out in the fields one day, watching them play so he could distract himself. The tune came to him while watching his youngest son galloping around his oldest, laughing and taunting his brother to try to catch him.” Luna broke off, smiling and shaking her head. “I met the pair at dinner later that night; little scamps, the both of them. Always playing little jokes on one another and feigning innocence whenever an adult looked their way.”

“They sound like they were quite the pair of troublemakers.”

“Oh, far from it, they liked to have fun, much like your friends, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. In fact,” she chuckled, “some of your letters to my sister show a great many similarities between they and Tempo’s foals. Tricksters, the lot of them! Though, neither Fortissimo nor Sforzando were prepared to face the consequences when they tried to slip a bit of extra pepper into my soup.”

Twilight’s magic gave out for an instant, nearly dropping her cup. “They did what?” She cried, hastily relighting her horn and engulfing the fragile glass in her aura, just before it hit the table.

“You heard correctly, my friend. They slipped a bit of pepper into my soup, at a formal dinner, no less! Cheeky little foals, they had no idea with whom they were dealing!” She lightly rapped her hoof against the tabletop to accentuate her proclamation.

“Oh, dear, what did you do to the poor foals?”

Luna widened her eyes, smiling as innocently as possible. “No, Tia, I had nothing to do with it,” she replied, repeating her exact words from that night. “I would never cast a palette swap spell on a pair of foals for something as trivial as a little giggle fit at their princess’s expense! Why, the very idea!” A groan and matching facehoof from Twilight broke her facade, sending Luna into peals of laughter. “That was my sister’s exact response! She gave me such a scolding for that one!” She sat upright, giving Twilight a mock glare and changing her voice to imitate Celestia’s low, stern tone. “I expected such behavior from the foals at the table, not my millennia-old little sister!”

Another groan from Twilight, accompanied by the young mare thumping her head against the table, only served to further Luna’s amusement. Snickering, she chose another cookie from the plate, happily munching on the tasty treat while her friend grumbled something unintelligible. ’Tis almost as if looking at a younger Tia.

Slowly, Twilight sat up, fixing her with a deadpan stare. “You are never allowed to be alone with Pinkie and Rainbow. The last thing Ponyville needs is those two with the backing of a princess to keep them out of trouble!”

“You seem to forget that my older sister hardly endorses my antics—well, in the past, at least. She seems to have adopted a bit of a mischievous side in my absence.” A wicked grin crossed her face, Luna steepled her hooves. “I do believe I may have the advantage here, Miss Sparkle.”

“Wonderful.” Twilight rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. “This poor town will be the site of a pranking battleground before long—oh, don’t you get any ideas!”

“I would never dream of it! But, we are getting off topic. What do you think? Does the music match the muse in this case?”

Bringing a hoof to her chin, Twilight’s nose scrunched up, her eyes again looking off. “Well, it was inspired by his sons playing in the field, so the light, cheerful tune definitely fits. But… I honestly expected you to tell me that his inspiration came from birdwatching.”

“Tia and I felt similarly, but then we met his foals.” Luna sighed wistfully and closed her eyes, picturing the pair of grinning colts. “We had Tempo and his family over several times, I daresay I watched them grow up before my eyes. They never lost their talent for mischief, even as they became professional musicians themselves.”

“Always the life of the party, huh?”

“Quite so, they were that and more.” Shaking her head, she brought herself back to reality. “But, I mustn’t dwell too much on the days of old. I will lose myself otherwise.”

“I don’t mind at all.” Twilight replied, hastily jotting down a few notes before directing a bright smile at her. “The story wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was still fascinating! I had no idea that you and Princess Celestia were so close with Tempo Rubato!”

“Well, Tia was close with a few. I used to frequent the art galleries and concert halls, you see. In fact, I might have spent more time there than at the palace.” Luna furrowed her brows, drumming her hooves on the tabletop. “Hmm, if I recall correctly, the community used to call me the Matron of the Arts, but I may be wrong. Memory is a funny thing…”

Twilight’s quill danced across the page, her ears stood up straight. “Really? That sounds interesting! Was that just because you were a constant presence or were you in some administrative capacity? Oh! Did you function as a sort of a judge of talent?”

“A bit of the first and third, the second, only because I am a princess—one of the authorities of the entire realm.” Luna bit her lip, struggling to come up with the proper means to describe her old position. “I suppose an informal judge would be the best way to explain it; I was often invited to opening performances, as a sort of tribute to the dual crown. Tia would join when she wasn’t so busy with the courts, but, more often than not, it fell to me. Not that I minded.” She paused, waiting for Twilight to finish jotting down her notes. “I am not giving too much too quickly am I?”

“Oh, no, not at all! I’m used to taking a lot of notes, really, it’s no bother!” She replied, waving off her concerns with a hoof. “Though, I was curious about how you might feel on some modern music.”

Humming to herself, Luna took a sip of her tea before replying. “Are there any particular genres you had in mind, or just in general?”

“Well, why don’t we stick with orchestral music? Since you shared an original Rubato recording, I’ll share something Cadence sent me.” Twilight’s horn lit up and floated a record out from within the same closet she’d pulled the gramophone. She brought it to a hover, flashing the title for Luna. “It’s called Jubilation, a piece by Allegreto. He’s one of Cadence’s favorite composers, if I remember correctly, he’s been praised for innovation in his music.”

Allegreto, Allegreto… Luna frowned, tapping a hoof against her chin. I do not recall Tia mentioning a musician by that name. “I am not as closely tied with musicians as I once was, though I do wish to change that. With that said, however, I have not heard much by Maestro Allegreto. In fact, I dare say I have yet to sample any of his work!”

“In that case, let’s not wait any longer.” Twilight’s aura enveloped Luna’s record and switched it with hers, before carefully floating it back into Luna’s saddlebags. “I, uh, should give you fair warning: Cadence’s tastes in music can be a bit eccentric. She tends to be a bit of a free spirit on these things.”

Shrugging, Luna settled in and nodded, raising her cup to her lips. ‘Eccentric’, she says. That hardly bodes well. Truth be told, she had not spent much time with her niece. Looking at Cadenza—Cadence, rather—and forcing a smile as they were introduced… It hadn’t been easy.

“She isn’t your replacement, Lulu! I would never dream of something like that!” Celestia had assured her. “I love Cadence like the daughter I never had, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are my sister!”

Luna shook her head, dispelling that thought. Give it, and your niece a chance, you think-headed mare! “If Cadenza—err, Cadence—recommends it, then I shall trust her judgement. Play on, Twilight Sparkle!”

Nodding, Twilight dropped the pin into the track. Again, there was a crackle of static as the gramophone began to read the recording.

Luna’s ears perked up as a familiar tune began to play, the rich sounds of the string section playing proudly. Beethooven’s Fifth Symphony? Hardly contemporary… “This is actually an old favorite of mine, Twilight, I fail to see how this qualifies as—” Without warning, the music changed. A steady beat against the snare drums and symbols joined in at a lively pace, joined by an electric keyboard. Her feathers ruffled, her ears lay flat against her scalp to block out the sound as best they could. “Twilight… what… in my mother’s name is this?”

Rounding on her friend, Luna narrowed her eyes as she noticed Twilight doing her best to bite her lip to hold back laughter, her purple coated cheeks puffing out. “Oooooh, you cheeky mare!” Luna huffed, folding her hooves. “You tricked me into listening to this—this—” She tailed off, wrinkling her nose and glaring at the gramophone. “Thing!”

“I’m sorry!” Twilight tittered. “I had a feeling you’d react that way, but I wanted to see what you thought of classical music with a modern twist. It gets better though, trust me.” She reached across and patted one of Luna’s hooves. “I actually reacted the same way the first time Cadence had me listen to it. It has a sort of… odd charm. I really can’t explain it. The additions make it a bit more lively.”

“T’was lively enough when Beethooven first wrote it! I hardly see the point in adding to such a piece!”

“Just give it a chance. Please?” Luna blinked as Twilight’s expression changed. Holding her hooves together, the little mare looked up at her with wide eyes, like a little foal asking a parent for seconds.

This mare does not play fair. “Fine. I will withhold judgement until the piece is complete. Just… stop looking at me like that.” She grumbled, a stark contrast to the bright smile Twilight directed at her in reply. Cheeky, just like Tia. But, then again, only fitting that she would have picked up on my sister’s tricks. Luna paused and shook her head. Well, she is not as overt as my sister, so perhaps it is merely through example that she learned it.

Slowly, Luna unpinned her ears, wincing slightly at the intermixing of the snare and keyboard with the sounds of Beethooven’s symphony. Granted, the tune was certainly upbeat and fitting, but… did Allegreto have to choose such a famed and beloved piece to alter?

“It is… well, I do not believe it is something that I would listen to on my own,” she admitted. “However, given that Beethooven was considered innovative in his time… he, most likely, would have been honored to have inspired somepony in such a manner. All the same, it just is not for me, I fear.”

Twilight sighed and shrugged. “It’s not for everypony, I know. It took me a while to get over the change, too—really, if it hadn’t been for Cadence begging me to sit and listen with her, I would’ve walked away as soon as I heard it change.” She broke off, shaking her head and chuckling to herself. “She always had a way of convincing me to try things I said I wouldn’t like. Those darn eyes of hers…”

“Oh?” Luna raised an eyebrow. So, not Tia? Interesting. Though, that does not mean that Cadence did not learn if from her.

“Yeah, she’d always give me those big, teary eyes when she wanted me to put away my books and spend time together. Especially when I moved into the palace.” She sat up and widened her eyes, sticking out her lip and pouting pathetically. “Twily! Won’t you spend just a few minutes with your favorite foalsitter? Pretty please with sugarcubes on top?”

A bout of laughter escaped Luna’s lips. “Really now? It seems that my niece has no issue with using such means to achieve her goals!” She grinned broadly, ears perking up as a thought came to her. “Cadence will be a useful ally, then, if I am to engage in my jokes with your friends!”

“No!” Twilight blurted, waving her hooves in the air. “Not allowed!”

“Twilight, my dear, forgetful friend! I am a princess! There is very little that I am not allowed to do!” On a whim, Luna cast off any semblance of propriety and gave into her own mischievous nature, sticking out her tongue and crossing her eyes, like a little foal might.

Twilight moaned piteously and thumped her head against the table for the second time in the evening. “I regret everything!” She grumbled into the wood.

Oh, Tia would loathe to hear she missed the chance to take part in this! “There, there.” Luna chuckled, reaching across and patting her head. “I’m sure you will live.”

“If you can call residing in a Ponyville where Rainbow and Pinkie have cart blanche living…”

“Oh, I am quite certain you will learn to appreciate the new age of silliness we usher in. Now, what shall we listen to next? Though, if we could avoid any more… of that sort of music, it would be very much appreciated.”

“All right. I do have some of my own Canterlot Symphony records, some show tunes, one Sapphire Shores record from Rarity and a couple of rock records. Rainbow insisted that I listen to something that I could ‘jam out’ to while studying. It’s different than what I usually prefer, but it does make for a nice change of pace every now and again.” Twilight paused, tapping her hooves on the tabletop. “Or we could switch back to one of yours and alternate. Whichever you’d like.”

Luna smiled and lit up her horn, pulling another record out of her saddlebags. “I believe that the alternating idea would be best. A chance for us to share a bit of each type. Now, this piece was written by Fil di Voce, a student of Fortissimo, actually. Ironic, given how her quiet nature contrasted his, now that I think about it. Anyway, she had several rather wonderful works, but this is my favorite above all others...”

Side Chapter: A Bat Pony and a Unicorn Walk Into a Bar

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As he escorted Moondancer down the dirt road of Ponyville, his leathery wing draped over her withers to steady her pace, Erebos, Captain of Princess Luna’s famed Night Guard, had to suppress a snort; his amber eyes darted around, catching several members of the villagers openly gaping, speaking in hushed whispers to one another.

Not even being discrete about it, he thought and chuckled to himself. Staring at us like they’ve never seen a guard escort a lady down the street.

Of course, it likely had a bit more to do with the rather odd pairing—a unicorn such as Moondancer, petite though she may be, was certainly a normal sight, but he was not.

The fact that a bat pony, a Night Guard no less, was openly walking around without escorting one of Their Royal Highnesses must’ve been quite the shock to the tiny little community.

If they were in Canterlot, it wouldn’t be as big a deal—his fellow guards were quite active in the night, regular faces in the community when they were off duty. Especially in the club scene.

Once they put on the armor, however, that was an entirely different story. The shadows were their allies, they could vanish from sight or appear from the darkest corners, acting swiftly, silently, and stealthily according to the Princesses’ will.

And that’s probably what they’re thinking of—well, that and the twins’ entrance with Princess Luna on Nightmare Night. Erebos could only smile and shake his head at the memory of Strider and Shooting Star’s toothy grins as they regaled him with the tale. A pair of guards, grinning like predators, and Her Highness’ bat cloak.

“If you must be seen on duty, leave an impression they’ll never forget.” The oldest axiom of the Night Guard, passed down from Princess Luna herself to the first Captain, Noir.

A little hiccup jarred him from his thoughts. Flicking a tufted ear toward Moondancer, he spoke softly, “Are you still feeling ill, Miss Moondancer? We could stop and rest for a bit, if you’d like.”

She shook her head, her two-toned red and purple mane seemed to bounce with the motion. “No, Captain,” she replied just above a whisper. “I-I’m all right.”

Quirking an eyebrow, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Her shaking had stopped for the most part, only an occasional shudder or falter in her step betrayed the anxiety brought on by the chariot ride. Such a silly mare, doing a thing like that. Silly but dutiful. Erebos wrapped his wing tighter around her and leaned down to bring himself level with her. “Not much further,” he whispered. “We’ll sit down, and get something on your stomach in just a bit.”

“T-Thank you, Captain. I appreciate it.”

He looked up, his eyes flitting from one building to the next. “There are a few places up ahead. I see a sweet shop of sorts, a café, and what looks to be a bar.” He broke off to spare a second glance, wrinkling his muzzle at the crowd within the vibrantly decorated sweet shop and the telltale darkened windows in the café, “Though, the café appears to be closed and I’d prefer not to make you stand in a line. Would you be okay with sitting in the bar?”

Moondancer gave another shake of her head, tickling his chin with the wispy edges of her mane. “I’d just… I’d just really like to sit down anywhere. The bar is fine, Captain.”

Nodding, Erebos lead her along, toward the wooden building with a sign reading “Berry’s Punch” in big, purple letters. Much like the rest of the town, the rooftop itself was made almost entirely of straw, the exterior walls were a bleached white, with the traditional, rectangular earth pony style windows. Really, the only exceptions to the shared architecture were the library, the sweet shop, the boutique just a few buildings down, and the Town Hall at the very center of town.

I wonder if that’s by design or unspoken tradition. Erebos shook himself, his helmet jostled and rattled about. Later, you forgetful stallion—Princess Luna commands that you watch over, and care for Miss Moondancer.

Truthfully, that had been more or less a standing order ever since the nervous little mare became Princess Luna’s seneschal—a move that still perplexed Erebos, no matter how he tried looking at it.

He banished those thoughts to the depths of his mind, reaching out to push open the wooden door. “After you, Miss Moondancer,” he nodded and waved her on with the same hoof.

Glancing around, Erebos found himself nodding appreciatively at the setting. It was small, far too small to host a bigger party like the ones he’d seen in Canterlot. Though, with the size of this town, that made perfect sense—less ponies around meant fewer patrons. It was more important to make it seem like a more cozy, tight-knit atmosphere.

In the little bar, the twenty or thirty ponies milling about, or sitting down to eat and drink with friends seemed more crowded.

Perfect. He gave an approving nod. Nothing said “inexperienced owner” like an oversized building in the middle of a small market.

“Hey, there!” a fuchsia coated mare called from behind the counter. “Haven’t seen you two around before! Oooh! Is that Night Guard armor? What brings you to town, handsome?”

Erebos snorted at the none too subtle wink she sent his way. Playful, that one. “Oh, just a little visit,” he replied, conveniently leaving out who was visiting. Nodding to Moondancer, he laid a gentle hoof on her back. “Unfortunately, my friend didn’t take the flight over too well, so we thought we’d stop in and see if a quick bite, or a drink might help settle her nerves.”

The mare at the counter winced, turning a sympathetic gaze to Moondancer. “Ouch, I know how that feels, hon. Not fun, I prefer all four hooves on the ground, myself. Well, go ahead and grab a table or a seat up here—" she waved a hoof toward a few empty booths up against the far wall “—I’ll be with you in just a sec!”

“Thank you, ma’am! Come along, Miss Moondancer.” He gave her a little nudge with his shoulder, steering her in the direction of the booths. “I presume you’d prefer something a little out of sight?” Erebos winked, a knowing grin played upon his lips, exposing his pointed fangs. “Trust a Night Guard to know the hiding spots, eh?”

She nodded shakily, returning his grin with a weak little smile and nod, her head still lowered as she trotted alongside him.

Still uncomfortable. He barely restrained the urge to sigh and shake his head. The silly mare should’ve told me back at the castle and I’d have made her stay home while I escorted Princess Luna. His gaze flitted in her direction, his broad, fanged grin fading into a fond smile. Then again, facing your fears is one of our axioms, too.

How difficult it must’ve been for her. Moondancer was a pony who bared her heart right next to her mauve crescent moon and triple star cutie mark—as plain as those in the clear night sky.

If she was nervous, she shivered and her voice broke into a stammer; if she was angry, she puffed out her cheeks, pinned back her ears and stamped her hoof against the floor; and if she was happy, a bright smile would split her pretty little face, lighting up the room like the moon itself.

The complete opposite of what the Night Guard were trained to be, what Princess Luna taught them to be.

And yet, other than the princess’ friendship with Twilight Sparkle, or her reunion with her sister, Moondancer had been a blessing in disguise; nothing hidden, no ulterior motive or worry of machination, she was just a young mare trying her best to help and figure things out herself.

Erebos sat down on his cushion, and removed his purple and silver helmet, setting it down on the table with a soft thud. He brushed a hoof against the headfin, the texture so similar to his leathery wings, as if shooing away a bit of imaginary dust.

But his eyes never left Moondancer’s.

As she took her seat, he gave a closed-lipped smile. “So,” he began, his tone casual, “what do you want to have?”

“I, er, don’t really know what they have.” She glanced around for a menu. “Do you see a—"

“I believe,” he said, flicking his ear toward the bar as the sounds of laughter and mock scolding reached him, “she’s bringing them over.”

Sure enough, the mare trotted over, giggling to herself as she balanced a pair of menus on her back. “You’re utterly terrible, Lyra!” she called over her shoulder. “Bonnie, give that silly mare a solid hoof upside the head from me!”

“Sure thing, Berry!” another mare, one with chestnut coat and two-toned blue and pink mane called back, much to her friend’s indignation.

Berry turned back to them, shaking her head as she placed a menu before each of them. “Sorry about that, we all know each other, so every night’s a bit of an adventure in Ponyville. Anyway, hi! I’m Berry Punch! What’ll you have? I’ve got cider, Stalliongrad imported vodka, rum, and just about any beer made this side of Manehattan.”

Erebos’ ears stood to attention. Cider? Ponyville cider? “That cider you mentioned,” he began, speaking slowly and doing his very best to hide his excitement, “it wouldn’t happen to be Sweet Apple Acres’ brand, would it?”

“Psh! You kidding me? If I stocked anything else, I’d get run out of town! Hayseeds, I don’t know a self-respecting Ponyvillian who doesn’t drink it!”

“Fantastic!” He beamed, his short, gray tail wagging behind him like a happy puppy. “One for each of us, then!”

Moondancer squawked. “Wait! But, I—"

Placing a hoof over her mouth, Erebos spoke over her, never once dropping his smile. “She’ll take one, Miss Berry. Thank you.”

Berry giggled and gave a quick nod before scuttling off to return to the bar, nimbly dancing out of reach of a playful swipe from Lyra.

“Sorry,” Erebos mumbled as he removed his hoof from Moondancer’s mouth. “But you’ll thank me after you’ve had a sip of the stuff—a few of my boys swear by it to the point they’ve begged me to make special orders to the farm when their apples go into season.” Smiling fondly, he shook his head and chuckled. “Sometimes, I wonder if I’m leading a highly trained unit, or a flock of foals.”

“With you as their example, I can only imagine,” Moondancer mumbled under her breath.

“I take that as a compliment, Miss!” He had to bite the inside of his cheek to hold back a bark of laughter at the look of horror that flashed across her muzzle. Far too easy. Smirking, he waggled his big, tufted ears meaningfully. “They’re not just for show, Miss.”

“I-I’m so sorry! I don’t know what came over me! I just… that is… I didn’t mean—"

Erebos held up a hoof. “Don’t apologize, Miss. I’m actually quite glad.”

Blinking, she tilted her head. “You are?”

“Very much so. I was starting to worry that you weren’t taking too well to my teasing—and Princess Luna’s, er, glare earlier this evening only seemed to cement that.” That talk isn’t going to be pleasant in the least bit. “I’m… I suppose I should say relieved that you finally said something back to me—I’m certain quite a few of my subordinates will agree.”

Moondancer pinned back her ears and ducked her head so that her chin was almost tucked into her chest. “I thought you were making fun of me,” she mumbled meekly. “All that time, I thought I’d done something to offend you…”

He reached across the table to take her hoof in his. “Miss Moondancer, if I, or any of my subordinates, didn’t like you, we wouldn’t even bother talking with you. It’s our way.” Erebos wrinkled his nose, struggling to come up with the right way to explain himself. “Er, we’ve always been a bit on the mischievous side—I believe we share that with Our Princess.”

Snorting, Moondancer nodded. “She is, um, a little bit on the playful side, I suppose.”

“Playful?” he repeated, his voice tinged with amusement. “Oh, Miss Moondancer, the stories passed down through the ages are far more telling of her mischief. But, that aside,” his smile dropped, he laid his ears flat against his scalp. Rubbing a hoof against his shin, he glanced off to the side. “I do apologize for making you feel unwelcome.”

“That’s okay—I’m just happy that you and the others don’t think I’m some sort of plaything you all use to get your giggles at.”

Oh, now that, I just can’t let go. “Actually,” he dropped his voice, speaking in a low growl as he bared his fangs to get that predictable little flinch out of her, “we think your little flinches are just so cute. Almost like a little snack for us to nibble on!”

Moondancer hid a laugh behind her hoof. “Oh, stop!” she scolded, giving him a light smack on the hoof. “You’re terrible, Captain!”

“I do my best! And, if it’s all the same, you can call me Erebos, Miss Moondancer.” Dropping his teasing tone and playful grin, he smiled—sincerely for once. “You’re not one of my guards and we’re not exactly in a formal setting—” he gestured to the other patrons with a wave of his hoof “—not to mention, I told the bartender that we were just here casually.”

“If you insist… Erebos,” she smiled, brighter and more beautifully than Erebos had ever seen before.

That irrepressible tugging at the corners of his mouth, pulling it into a broad, toothy grin to match hers.

“But,” Moondancer continued, a playful little gleam in her own eyes, “if I’m going to call you Erebos, you have to stop calling me Miss Moondancer—it makes me feel like I’m a little filly!”

Before Erebos could retort, a snort drew both of them to turn their heads. Berry Punch stood, balancing a tray and two mugs of foaming cider on her back, her muzzle split into a broad grin. “Oh, don’t stop on my account! Please—” she deftly grabbed the tray in her mouth and deposited it on the table —“just have a good one on me, you two! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t!” She winked, turning and walking away without another word.

The pair turned slowly, expressions flat.

“That was….”

“Don’t.” Erebos shook his head. “Just let it go.” He snatched the mug off the tray, sighing as he brought it to his lips. Whatever. At the very least, Miss Moondancer and I had our little chat. Perhaps things will smooth things over and make her a bit more relaxed around us.

And, of course, it would please Princess Luna. She wanted her subjects to love her and realize that there was nothing to fear, that she had returned to take her rightful place and earn back their trust.

That went doubly for those who served in the castle. Her personal detail of guards were mostly comprised of bat ponies, though she had taken Princess Celestia’s advice to open up to allow for other races, for a more diverse group and show of unity.

Moondancer had come along as a result of that conversation. If the Night Guard was to be open to other races, so too should Princess Luna’s personal servants and aids.

Surprisingly, Moondancer had volunteered herself. Not ordered, volunteered. Why?

He shook his head. Her reasons were her own; if she felt comfortable sharing them, she would do so when the time was right. Until then, there was one little detail that needed to be sorted out. Namely, the mugs of cider, and the fact that she’d not received a proper initiation into Her Majesty’s personal detail.

An oversight that he would tolerate no more.

Grinning wickedly, he peered over the top of his mug before throwing it back and taking a deep sip.

His eyes went wide. The scent, the sweet taste of fresh harvested apples in combination with the bite of alcohol. Sweet, but with that kick it’s so famous for. Erebos allowed himself a little smile, peering into the foam. Maybe my guards have a point to their request.

A sputtering cough made his ear flick up. Raising an eyebrow, he glanced to Moondancer, biting back a laugh as she blinked owlishly and set her mug down.

“St-Strong!” She gasped. “Very strong!”

“Heh, don’t let the locals see that—they might think me right in treating you like a little filly.” Through her coughing, she aimed a weak glare in his direction; her eyes narrowed as if she were trying to pierce his skull. Erebos simply waggled his eyebrows in the face of her ire. “On second thought, how about a deal, Miss Moondancer?” He drawled, making sure to place extra emphasis on the “Miss” as he spoke.

Moondancer fixed him with an exasperated stare, her brows knit together and lips turned into a small frown. “I thought we agreed that you’d drop the ‘miss’, Captain.”

“We did, but I think we could make this a bit more interesting. More in the spirit of Princess Luna, if you will.” He paused to let her hum in agreement before continuing on. “If you can finish two mugs of this cider—” he raised his mug meaningfully “—without coughing or spilling it, I’ll stop calling you ‘Miss’ unless we’re at some formal event.”

“And if I lose?”

He shrugged, leaning back in his cushion nonchalantly as he raised his mug to his lips again. “Nothing much, I just get to call you ‘Little Miss Moondancer’ in front of Princess Luna.”

A sharp inhale, the thud of her hooves hitting the table as she leaned forward to try to make herself more intimidating—it was cute, really. She thought she, a little school mare, could intimidate a Night Guard.

“You wouldn’t dare!” she hissed.

Oh, ye of little faith! “I would do it happily,” Erebos replied, his smile almost splitting his muzzle. “And if Our Princess likes it, I just might let it stick!”

She sucked in her lips, her ears pinned back to lay flat against her scalp. “Fine! But if I win, I get to make up some ridiculous name and make it stick for you!”

Game, set, match. If he had a cigar, he’d have it lit and be puffing merrily as he watched her try to down her cider. “Fair enough. Would you like a countdown, or—"

“Oh, hush!” Moondancer huffed and took hold of the cup in her fiery red magic. “Just you wait,” she grumbled as she tossed it back and began guzzling down the cider.

Blinking a few times, Erebos could only laugh in disbelief as he watched her slowly drain the mug, raising his own to her and taking a more restrained sip. At least he got her to loosen up and forget her worries for a bit. Though, at the rate she was going, there might be a little bit of a problem once the alcohol hit her system good and proper.

She’ll probably just conk right out and need to be carried back. He scoffed. Better to have her sleeping soundly than cowering on the floor. If Princess Luna wanted to scold him for that, he’d endure it. What’s the worst that can happen?


Erebos’ ears lay flat against his scalp, his mouth set in a thin line as he held a very drunk Moondancer up with a firm wing across her withers. He tried his very best to ignore how his muzzle burned as she leaned up against his side, her breath tinged with the thick scent of apple cider.

If I ever get the chance to use time travel magic, I’m going to go back just far enough so I can give myself a good, solid buck to the face.

At least she wasn’t trying to pull him into a dance anymore. Mercifully, that only lasted until she staggered, tripped over her own hooves, and, in a rather impressive display, managed to fall into their table at an angle that catapulted their empty mugs into the air.

The local crowd was still giggling and glancing in their direction every now and again over that one. Berry Punch just fell over, laughing and kicking her hooves into the air as he hastily stammered out apologies.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Captain,” she had purred, throwing in a little waggle of her eyebrows, “that’s pretty tame compared to what most of my regulars get up to after a couple ciders, especially when their lovers are with them!”

Protests fell on deaf ears; any attempt of explanation was met with more laughter, a few pats on the back, knowing winks, and Lyra and Bon Bon sighing wistfully as the reminisced over their first date together.

Not a date! Very much definitely not a date! No matter how it might look with Moondancer held under wing, how close she pressed against his side, or even how she had her cheek pressed against his like—

GAH!” Erebos yelped, nearly tripping as he tried to jerk himself away. “M-Miss Moondancer, please! We’re in public!”

Giggling, she pressed herself up against his side again, nuzzling into his ears, the heat in his muzzle burning like a raging bonfire. “Captaaaaaaaain!” she cooed, her breath tickling the fuzzy tip of his tufted ear. “You—hic—promised to call me ‘Moonie’!”

“I—you—I can’t call you that! Ponies will think—no! Any other name, not that one!”

A piteous whine, her pouting lip brushed against his ear, sending shivers down his spine. “Nuh-uh! You promised!” She pressed her muzzle in closer. “Say it,” she whispered, the husky tone tinged with a bit of a slur, “say ‘Moonie’, Captain!”

Not a chance. If I say it, there’ll be no end of it. He shook his head, shuddering as her muzzle tickled his ear. “N-no.”

“You—hic—promised!”

“I’m altering the deal. Pick another.”

“No!” She flung her hooves around his neck, nearly throwing him off balance as she staggered into his side, and toppled to her left. “I won! So you—hic—have to call me ‘Moonie’!”

Scrambling to hold her up, Erebos bit his lip and weighed his options. On one hoof, he had promised and she certainly surprised him by winning their little wager. But on the other, calling her by some cute little nickname that she came up with while drunk out of her mind was just begging for trouble.

Between her embarrassment, his fellow guards’ harassment, and Princess Luna’s inevitable demand for explanation before she laughed herself silly, he was in a no-win situation.

Still, she wasn’t letting it go. Her grip tightened, Moondancer laid her head atop his, and hummed a little tune as she pressed her muzzle into his scruffy black mane.

His cheeks lit up like Hearth’s Warming Eve. “All right! All right! Moonie, please let go and stop fooling about!”

Moondancer squealed and nuzzled the back of his neck, shifting her weight forward to press down on him as she drunkenly babbled.

Erebos grimaced, pinning down his ears to block out her excited chattering. Okay, we’re done. “I think it’s time for you and I to go home, Miss—"

Moonie!

Gritting his teeth, he pasted a smile on his muzzle and tried to ignore the raucous laughter. “Moonie. Let me pay, and I’ll take you back to the chariot. We can wait for Princess Luna and you can take a little nap.”

“Aw! But I want to stay—hic—here with you! We can—hic—have more cider, Captain!”

Nope. Erebos shifted his weight forward and gave her a little bump with his hips, sweeping her off her hind legs just enough so he could realign and catch her on his back. “Oof! The last thing you need is more cider! We’re leaving and that’s final!”

A low whine but no move to get off of his back. Instead, Moondancer wrapped her hooves tighter around his neck and buried her muzzle in his mane again. She breathed in deep and sighed. “You smell nice. Like rain and apples.”

“Thank you,” he ground out, taking an awkward step, and struggling to keep her weight level on his back. “Please don’t shift, Mi— Moonie.” This mare is going to be the death of me, I just know it. Erebos glanced around for his helmet, finding it on the floor near the overturned table, just a few paces away.

A few paces with a very drunk, very affectionate mare lounging on his back and being most uncooperative in staying still, so he could, for lack of better term, waddle over to pick it up!

Stupid bet. Stupid nickname. Stupid, stupid Erebos!

He stutter-stepped forward, gritting his teeth as he struggled not to drop Moondancer while not toppling over, himself. He flared out his wings, keeping them straight out for balance as he leaned down, and took the edge of his helmet in his teeth. Now, how do I get this thing on my head while she’s trying to figure out what brand of shampoo I use for my mane?

Somehow, Erebos had the distinct feeling that bonking her over the head with a helmet wouldn’t go over so well with Princess Luna.

The wooden door burst open! His ears flicked, Erebos turned, clumsily, to confront the newcomer who came rushing in such a manner—

Only to be met with the sea green eyes, and perplexed stare of his subordinate: Private Strider.

Strider blinked owlishly, tilting his head to the side. His lips twitched, curving upward ever-so-slightly, and exposing a hint of his elongated fangs. “Er, Captain?” he began, his voice thick with amusement. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the stallion usually—"

Erebos spat out his helmet and glared. “Finish that and I’ll break my hoof off in your hindquarters, Private! There is a completely rational explanation for this, but now isn’t the time or the place.”

“I’m sure there is!” Strider’s eyes shone with mirth, he gave his wings a merry little flap. “But it seems that you’ve gotten awful cozy with Miss Moondancer in the past couple hours!”

“Moonie!” she cried, nearly losing her balance as she waved a hoof. “He’s gotta—hic—call me Moonie now! I won the bet!”

“Oh, did you now? Good for you, Miss—oh, I’m sorry! I mean ‘Moonie’!”

Blast it! Pinning back his ears, Erebos bit his lip. His cheeks burned again. “Not another word, Private,” he growled, “not one.”

Strider snickered, but nodded all the same. “Of course, Captain. I guess I’ll go pay your tab since you’re a bit, er—” he waggled his eyebrows “—occupied.”

Flaring his nostrils, Erebos glared daggers at Strider’s back. Dead. He’s dead. I’m going to beat that smart-aleck over the head with his own helmet.

His hackles only raised further as he watched Strider plop a few bits on the counter and start up a hushed conversation with Berry Punch, sharing a giggle with the bar owner, and a meaningful glance in their direction.

Deader than dead. I will find a way. Perhaps the gauntlet, oh yes. The little punk could enjoy a nice little spar with the entire unit of Night Guards at their next training session. That’d teach him to open his mouth, not to mention it’d make sure he thought twice about relaying even the slightest hint of the story to anypony else!

Captain!” Moondancer whispered, the pout in her tone so strong he could almost see her bottom lip sticking out. “Why’re you so grumpy? We had f—hic—fun, didn’t we?”

“I didn’t— When—I never said we didn’t!” He fumbled over his words, glancing down at the floor. Relax, she’s drunk. This is the cider talking. “Yes, Moonie, I had fun tonight—” Erebos relented with a sigh “—and I’m glad you’re not so shaky now.”

“Good! And I’m—hic—I’m glad you brought me here! It really helped with a lot—hic—of things.” She sighed happily and settled herself in as she mumbled something into his mane.

Erebos raised an eyebrow. “What was that?” He flicked up an ear. “Didn’t quite catch that.”

“Said you’re really nice,” she mumbled, “funny-nice. You’re a—hic—tricky pony.”

His lips slowly curved into a broad smile; he had to fight the urge to flap his leathery wings and stomped a hoof against the ground.

At last, she’d figured it out. Even if it took a few drinks to get her loosened up.

In the end, he settled for a simple nod. “I try. Thank you, er, Moonie.” His eyes flitted to his helmet. Gingerly, he shifted his hoof forward, trying to flip it over so he could pick it back up in his mouth again.

“Hey, Captain.” Strider gave him a little shoulder bump as he stepped past and bent down to pick up his discarded helmet. “Lemme give you a hoof with that, seeing as you’re a little busy with—"

“Thin ice, Private. Very thin.”

Grinning wickedly, Strider roughly deposited the helmet onto Erebos’ head, pushing the edge of the helm down enough to cover his eyes. “We’re in a bar, therefore, all bets are off until we leave! I’ll see you back at the chariot, Captain! Have a good time with Moonie!”

He cackled madly and galloped off, fleeing through the open door and racing into the night.

I’ve changed my mind. Death is far too kind a mercy for that little rat, and the gauntlet just won’t suffice. The tips of his ears burned at the sound of other patrons laughing and smacking the countertop with their hooves. So much for the awe-inspiring image of the Captain of the Night Guard. Between the drunken mare on his back, and an insubordinate little punk, he might as well have just set fire to any credibility he might’ve had.

Snorting, he glanced over his shoulder at Moondancer, his gaze softened as she smiled back at him and laid her head against his shoulder.

Strider’s just desserts could wait; getting Moondancer back to the chariot took priority over chasing after him. And judging by how awkward moving a few steps had been…

This is gonna take a while.

9: The Matron

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Twilight’s aura shimmered, lifting the gramophone off the table to hover at her side. She stood, smiling as Luna did the same, her saddlebags grasped in her own magic. “Well, this was certainly fun!” She said, beaming brightly. “I’ve got to say, I feel a bit silly not noticing the difference in quality.”

“Heh, do not think too much on it, Twilight, very few ponies in this modern age are aware of the difference. However, a reminder:” she added, “‘tis not that I feel modern musicians lack talent, but rather a full understanding of the emotions that went into the original.” On a whim, Luna quickly reached over and booped Twilight’s nose. “Playing without feeling is the same as memorizing the text of a book without understanding: naught more than simple reputation. Though, again, these are just my opinions on the matter.”

There was a brief pause, Twilight’s eyes crossed to stare at the hoof still touching her muzzle.

Did I just… Luna bit the inside of her cheek. She forced herself to maintain a smile, but she couldn’t stop her wings from shifting forward as if to bury her muzzle in them. Her hoof, the very one she’d just booped Twilight with, trembled as she lowered it back to the floor. By the stars above, Luna, what in the name of mother’s wings possessed you to do something so foalish? We are friends, yes, but you are still a Princess!

Twilight just stood, blinking owlishly for a moment before grinning. “Oh gosh! Have you been reading some of the lessons about Pinkie or something?” She nickered, tail wagging happily behind her. “Or did you pay her a visit in the middle of the night, too?”

“N-No! I apologize if the gesture was offensive, but I had seen Tia do similar things when being playful with her seneschal or the guards, so I just—" she broke off, eying the smirk slowly making its way across Twilight’s muzzle. It clicked. “Oooh! You cheeky little parasprite! How dare you play such a trick on your princess!” Huffing, she turned her nose up and looked down at her friend, struggling to keep from grinning outright. “Humph! Just for that, I may very well make it official that Spike become my personal chef! His cooking will make up for your ill-timed joke!”

“Again, you’re more than welcome to do so! Just remember, you get to deal with the moody baby dragon who likes to take seven hour baths and breathes fire when angered.” Twilight’s smirk widened into a full-blown grin at the visible shudder that went down Luna’s spine. “Oh, yes, the stories I could tell,” she pressed on, staring directly into Luna’s eyes. “But don’t take my word for it, Luna! Just ask Princess Celestia about the time she had to replace her favorite bedspread, it’s a great one!”

Swishing her starry tail, Luna knew she’d been beaten. “I do believe I will retract that statement.” Though, the tale of Tia’s bedspreads does warrant some investigation. She always so loved her comfort. “However,” she began, her lips curved upward to matching Twilight’s grin, “if you truly wish to play this teasing game, you should be well aware of whom you trifle with, my young friend. My tricks were the bane of my dear, sweet sister’s existence in the days of old!”

“True, but I have Rainbow and Pinkie here, and I’m sure it would only take one letter to Princess Celestia for her to join my cause!”

The mares kept up their stares, neither willing to give an inch in their silent contest. Slowly, though, their facades broke. Confident smirks gave way as their cheeks puffed out and lips tugging. As one they burst into laughter and toppled over, kicking their hooves into the air.

How long has it been? Luna wondered as she wiped tears of mirth from her eyes. How long since I last let myself get lost in mirth?

She took a deep breath, releasing it in a breathy chuckle. “Oh, I needed this!” She sighed and rolled over onto her hooves. “Thank you for having me over, Twilight. As you say, it was most enjoyable.”

“I’m glad you could come!” Twilight replied, rolling over to her stomach and resting with her hooves crossed one over another. “Really! We should definitely do this more often. Maybe you could even spend some time with the girls, or come around during the day! I’m sure the foals would love to see their favorite Princess of the Night again.”

Luna raised a brow. “I am the sole Princess of the Night, Twilight Sparkle. Or does my sister’s favored student require remedial lessons?”

“I’m joking.” A deadpan stare and raised eyebrow accompanied the younger mare’s reply. Twilight shook herself and resumed her smile. “Really, though, they’d love to have you stop by. In fact, I’m pretty sure Pipsqueak is already planning his costume for next Nightmare Night.”

“Oho?” Pipsqueak? Ah! The pirate! “And what surprise does mine little rapscallion have in store for me this year?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s looking to scare you this time around.”

“Frighten me? Ha! The little colt is welcome to try, but he shall not best the Mistress of the Night!” Luna raised a hoof to stomp the ground and bring down thunder with her proclamation, but managed to stop herself just before it came into contact with the ground. She grimaced, pinning back her ears. “I have been working on not doing that…”

Twilight stood and trotted over, her hooves clopping in time against the wood floor. “Well,” she began, patting Luna’s hoof, “you stopped this time, so… call it progress?”

“I… wait… yes!” Her eyes lit up and ears stood straight. “Huzzah! Another old habit shaken!” Glancing out of the corner of her eye, Luna caught sight of Twilight quickly stifling a bit of laughter with a hoof. Ah! Another habit shaken and another joke successful! She only barely resisted the urge to do her little jig. As delighted as she was, the thought of humiliating herself in front of Twilight was a more than adequate deterrent.

...Both for the sake of her immediate embarrassment, and because she was quite certain that any such silliness done in front of Twilight would find its way back to Celestia faster than she could say “Oh, sweet maker, no!”.

Giving her sister extra ammunition was never a good idea, especially when it involved any behavior she might’ve exhibited as a filly.

Though, come to think of it, she still had a few pictures of Celestia muzzle deep in a rather large cake. T’would be such a shame if any of them were to wind up in certain hooves in the media! If not for the fact that Twilight was standing before her, Luna would’ve thrown her hooves into the air and cackled as she called down thunder to boom in the background.

The latter was simply for aesthetics; very important if one wanted to craft the image of being a comically over-the-top mad mare. She should know—she had practically invented the art.

Actually… I think I did invent that one. She recalled, shrugging her shoulders. Something about waking her up, if I recall… Luna frowned and swished her tail. Stop segueing! Pull thy foolish head out of the clouds, old mare!

She turned her gaze back to Twilight. “Well, perhaps I shall soon discard the habit entirely, yes?”

“If that’s what you want, then I’d say you’re on your way. However,” a mischievous grin crossed the younger mare’s muzzle, “I think it should still make an appearance once in a while.”

“Truly? Such as when?”

“Oh, it’s just that I don’t think Nightmare Night would be complete without a little thunder during your entrance. Or, at least, enough to make Rainbow Dash jump like a little filly again!”

Luna blinked at her, staying silent a moment. “I believe,” she began slowly, “that I have underestimated your talent for mischief. My sister implied that you did not have a malicious bone in your body.”

“I blame Rainbow and Pinkie. Entirely.”

“Somehow, I would not doubt that claim. Alas, I believe I should leave you now, or we will talk into the early hours of the morn yet again.” A smirk played upon her lips as she shook her head. “Last time was evidence enough of that, and we were not even discussing music!”

Another stifled laugh, another point in her favor. She was getting good at the whole ‘friendly banter’ thing!

Oh, just wait until Tia hears of this!

Twilight managed to bring herself back under control, though the corners of her mouth still tugged upward. “Yes, well, like I said, maybe next time you can come over earlier in the day. More time to talk, and more things to do!”

Humming to herself, Luna shifted from one hoof to the other. Again, she invites me to spend time with those closest to her, though she knows I am more familiar to her than the others. Perhaps… but would it not be too soon? I am, after all, only just affirming my status as—

And just what did we say about thoughts like that? Luna started as another voice, one eerily similar to Celestia’s, rang out through her head. Wasn’t it you who demanded that I move on as well? Practice what you preach, little sister!

Stifling a groan, she rubbed a hoof against her temple. Even within the sanctity of my own mind, I am not safe from your meddling! Still, the voice had a point: she was supposed to actually get out and make some sort of an effort to better herself. Sitting in her tower for months on end had done little to gain Twilight’s friendship. Rather, it only made her more anxious. It was unlikely it would prove any more fruitful in the future.

There was hardly any question of what she had to do.

“I would like that.” She replied, her bright smile mirroring the look of utter glee that graced Twilight’s face. “Maybe, if you could mention it to them, see what they think about the—"

“They’ll be thrilled.” Luna blinked, her smile faltering as she was cut off. Did she just… again? True to form, Twilight either remained oblivious to her stupor or simply ignored it. “I’ll let you know the next time we all get together and you can just join in! If you have time, that is.”

“I… That is to say…” Oh, confound it, you ninny! Spit it out! Her ears pinned back and she slumped, scuffing a hoof against the floor. “If you don’t think it would be too much of a bother to ask, I would be happy to take part in the, er, festivities…” she mumbled, slipping further back into a more formal form of speech as she trailed off.

But, once again, Twilight had the answer. “If it’ll make you feel more comfortable, I’ll send you a letter confirming that they’re okay with it before we set a date. How does that sound?”

Another hum as she flicked her ears back. “It would be most helpful, I think. Just to be certain that none of them are bothered by my appearance again…”

“What are—oh, right.” Twilight’s ears lay flat against her scalp, the very memory Luna was thinking no doubt flitting through her mind. “Well, I’ll make certain. There won’t be a repeat of Nightmare Night, especially now that they know a bit more about you.”

A wry grin made its way across Luna’s face. Persistent, this one. Even in the face of a slip up, she still pushes me to move out of her comfort zone. She gave a mental roll of her eyes. You’ve taught her too well. “I see there is no changing your mind; you are simply far too much like my sister. Very well, I will await your confirmation and join you all when summoned.”

“Great! I’ll get on it as soon as possible!”

“Of that, I have no doubt.” Shaking her head, she started toward the door, with Twilight following close behind. Just as she reached it, Luna paused, bringing a hoof to her chin. This next one will make the third time that I have visited Twilight—albeit, invited twice. Even so, she has graciously welcomed me into her home, and invites me to share in her friendships. What have I offered in turn? Her eyes lit up. Of course!

She turned, bringing herself face to face with the smaller mare. “My sister tells me that you resided at the castle for quite some time.” Small talk. Not necessarily her strong point, but, with a bit of practice and knowledge of the subject matter, it could make for a nice little segue.

Twilight tilted her head before speaking. “Uh, yes. I went back and forth between my parents’ house and the castle until I graduated from Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, then I moved into the high tower on the north side when I chose to continue my studies. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, my sister made mention in passing,” she replied smoothly. “Actually, that pleases me greatly. From what Tia tells me, there are some ponies who become a bit nervous when entering the castle grounds, let alone standing before one of us. Though,” she broke off, giggling into a hoof, “I daresay I do not have to worry about the latter with you!”

“Eheh. Maybe just a bit!” Twilight raised a hoof, her cheeks taking a light pinkish hue. “B-But yes, I’m quite familiar with the castle, and am comfortable being there.”

Luna gave a happy flap of her wings and stomped a hoof into the floor. “Splendid!” She cried. “Then my request will not be too jarring! Truly, that relieves me greatly! I had hoped to extend an invitation to join me at the castle, and worried that it might make you uncomfortable.”

“I don’t think it would be too bad. What did you have in mind? Going through to the library to look for some of the historical or theoretical texts on music?”

“I am certain we could find something to look at. Rather, I was thinking that you might like to see some more of my private collection of music and artwork.” She paused, chewing the inside of her cheek as she gauged Twilight’s expression. Confusion, a bit of shock, not much to hint at whether or not the little mare was in favor or opposed to the notion. Her resolve faltered. “I-I mean, if that is agreeable to you, of course. We can always—"

“I’d love to!” Twilight cried, practically prancing in place without restraint. “I—oh my gosh—I mean, bringing a couple of your favorites was amazing enough, but your entire collection?” She let out a little squeal and started bouncing like a filly. “Yes! So very, very much yes!”

The very sight of Twilight’s exuberance harkened Luna back to her own the first time she’d visited; her little jig in Whitetail Wood’s clearing mere moments after Twilight first proclaimed them friends.

What an interesting coincidence… She had to cover her mouth to stop a bout of giggles as her eyes followed Twilight up and down with each bounce. And how utterly adorable.

Luna quickly banished those thoughts, leaving them for now as a fond memory of successfully pleasing her young friend. “In that case, perhaps we should arrange for your visit after our next outing, that way we do not risk a conflict in scheduling.”

“Oh!” Twilight stopped bouncing and rubbed at the back of her head. “I’m sorry! I got a little swept up in the excitement! I mean, you just showed me original copies of some of the greatest musical works in recorded history! So, just thinking about—oops!” She broke off, covering her mouth with a hoof. “And there I go again!”

“T’is quite all right! I do believe you will find that I can be similarly excitable.” Luna’s horn flashed as her magic engulfed the doorknob, biting back a wry grin at her understatement. Pulling it open, she stepped through and out into the night. “I shall endeavor to meet your expectations, then. Though, I believe I have the advantage with my collection.” She caught Twilight giving a mock scoff out of the corner of her eye, the little mare following her along to her chariot.

At least they were making a connection in their humor.

They trotted side-by-side to the chariot, their hooves trampling over the lush green grass. Just over the edge, Luna spied the top of one of her Night Guard’s helms. Strider and Shooting Star were hitched up, ready to leave at her behest, but sporting noticeable grins.

Something about those grins. Oh no… “Strider, Shooting Star, out with it.” She ordered with a deep sigh. “What is it that has the pair of you so very amused?”

The twins shared a look, snickering shamelessly in front of their princess before turning back to face her, grins widening enough to expose their sharpened fangs. “Well, My Princess—" Strider began.

Shooting Star picked up where he left off “—We overheard that you were readying to leave—"

“—So, Star sent me off to get our dear ol’ Captain and Miss Moondancer—"

“—Because, honestly, Strides is a lot faster than me—"

“—Eh, only by a smidgen of a hair—"

“Where is this going?” she bit her lip, her ears burned. Misbehaving in public, in front of her friend, of all ponies… she would have words with the twins later. Take the hint. Just say it.

“Oops! Sorry! Strider gave a sheepish grin. “You see, Princess, there’s a funny story to all this—"

“—utterly hilarious when you have the context behind it! But, really, you’d know more about that, Strides.”

“Quite right! Well, I took a quick flight around town, looking for our wayward Captain and dear, Miss Moondancer—"

“Actually, it took you quite a while for such a small town…”

“I’ve never been here before, Star! What do you want from me?”

“Gentlestallions!” Luna snapped, her usual tolerance for their antics nowhere to be found. “Get. To. The. Point!”

They flinched in unison, Strider cleared his throat and answered. “Er, well, I found Captain Erebos with Miss Moondancer at a local pub—Berry’s Punch, I believe— and noticed that she seemed to stagger a bit. I asked what was wrong and… well, you’d best see for yourself, Princess.” He finished up, nodding to the chariot. “Really, it’s… it’s a treat!”

With a roll of her eyes, Luna stepped past her snickering guards and came to the back of the chariot. “I swear, those two!” She muttered to Twilight out of the corner of her mouth. “Always causing trouble, never knowing when to stop and take things seriously! I feel more like a mother sometimes than a—" she broke, gaping at the pair sitting in her chariot.

Captain Erebos sat, staring dead ahead with a rather awkward smile and a pinkish hue coloring his muzzle as Moondancer rubbed her cheek against his, cooing happily and whispering to him. His eyes met Luna’s, holding her gaze a moment before whispering. “Help me…”

“Is that…” Twilight gasped. “Is that Moondancer?”

“Yes. She is my seneschal now. Apparently, she is my very affectionately drunk seneschal. Captain Erebos! What in Equestria are you—" Luna stopped, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath before speaking. Do not yell. Do not yell… “What happened?”

“I just took her to get a drink, and they had that apple cider that’s grown locally, the one everypony goes nuts over. So, I figured that if she had a couple mugs, she’d loosen right up and relax for the flight home, but—"

“Mmm, Captain!” Moondancer cut in, turning to nuzzle her nose against his. “When we get back to Canterlot, we should go out! I hear there’s a really nice club on Saddle Avenue!”

Erebos’ eye twitched, his smile strained. “Th-that sounds wonderful, Miss Moondancer, but—"

“Hey!” She pulled back, whining and aiming her best pout at him. “You s-said you’d call me Moonie from now on, Captain!”

“Th-that was just part of the bet—stop laughing, Strider!

Luna fought down the urge to bring a hoof to her face as Twilight giggled at the pair. Turning to the younger mare, she gave a slight bow of her head. “As fun as this has been, I believe it would be best if I took my foals in gilded dress home before they do something that will require a grounding.”

“Oh my!” Twilight feigned a gasp. “Well, don’t be too hard on them, mother Luna! They are just foals, after all!”

“Funny,” Erebos hissed. “Very funny, Miss Sparkle. I’ll remember that if Princess Luna ever wants to hear about the times I had to help Captain Shining Armor find and carry a certain young mare out of the library, already sound asleep using a book for a pillow, on an almost nightly basis back when I was just a Private. We got to know each other quite well, actually,” he paused to grin at her, “I’m sure he’d just love to share some of those tales!”

Twilight’s face took on a deep red and she stammered. “N-No, that’s not necessary, Captain Erebos! Er, have a safe flight back to Canterlot, Luna! I’ll, uh, talk to the girls and see when we can have that… that thing!”

Filing the outburst away for later, Luna nodded. “Yes, please do. I shall await your letter most eagerly. Until then, I bid you good night and pleasant dreams.” She turned to depart, but found herself stopped short by a pair of hooves wrapping around her neck.

Her teal eyes went wide. Previously, it had been she who initiated the brief hug between Twilight and herself, an act spurred on by sheer whim. Nothing more than her casting aside a mask of distance and propriety, briefly returning to the passionate mare of old. The mare her sister so desperately wished to see again.

It took a moment for Luna to respond, slowly, awkwardly returning the embrace. “Thank you for coming by,” her ears went ramrod straight to catch Twilight’s whisper. “Tonight was fun and very informative. Truly.”

Warmth spread through her chest, filling her very being. Is this what I’ve missed for so long? Years of being alone, of doubting that any even found the slightest joy in my nights… Luna licked her dried lips before speaking. “I am glad you feel that way. Thank you for having me over, the favor will be returned soon enough.” They pulled back, sharing a smile as Luna stepped into her chariot, sitting beside Erebos and Moondancer. “Strider, Shooting Star,” she called, “we are ready to depart.”

“Yes, My Princess!” The twins barked. They nodded to Twilight and took off at a full gallop, their hooves thundered down the dirt road out of Ponyville.

Luna closed her eyes and let out a breath as they spread their leathery wings and took flight, shooting off into the night sky.


Twilight pushed the door shut with her magic, hearing the latch click into place. She trotted briskly over to the table and took her seat in front of her notepad. Carefully, she flipped through the pages, blowing lightly on the ink to make sure it dried.

Of course, by now it had, but there was no shame in being too careful. Especially given the wealth of information Luna had given her. So much insight into the art of that age. She squealed, bouncing in place and holding the pad close to her chest. Even more than Princess Celestia!

That alone would’ve sent her into vehement denial in the past; Princess Celestia possessed knowledge greater than any pony, living or dead, could ever hope to lay claim to. However, with Luna back, that throne was challenged for the first time. Certainly, the elder sister was wiser and had greater experience in governing and magic itself, but the arts were where she fell short.

Even Princess Celestia herself admitted as much. “I always found that structure was my forte, Twilight. But, art is not something that’s always subscribed to rigidity. Cadence, for example, has rather… eclectic taste. She loves the classical romantic movement just as much as she does the modernist one. In fact, her interest in the area is what spurred it to such heights…”

Based on that, Twilight had hypothesized that the princesses’ differences in taste helped drive the varying music styles, many years ago. But, testing such a thing would take as much time spent researching and comparing their influences as that of her tests on magic and sciences.

Her passion and love for the latter had forced her to abandon the former as nothing more than a flight of fancy, a passing interest.

But now, with her friend in need of her help, this passing interest was at the forefront of her mind. And though the history of the vaunted Princess of the Night was scarce, Twilight at least had one clue to go off of. After all, Luna had been kind enough to put it right in front of her, as plain as the moon hanging in the sky.

“Matron of the Arts,” she whispered as her eyes fell on the very words Luna had uttered just a few short hours ago, “let’s see just how far back this takes me.”

10: I Heard the Softest Songs of Night

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Books were strewn across the table, spread open and baring their inner writings to the mare pouring over their text. Her eyes danced across the pages, her brow creased in thought. With a snort, Twilight snapped a text on classical music shut and floated it atop the ever-growing stack of rejections beside her.

“Not enough information!” she said, flicking her tail. Glancing to those on the far side of the table, she floated another book over and skimmed through the writing.

… In those days, it was custom for our beloved Matron of the Arts to sit atop her throne on the high balcony, overlooking the entire Royal Theatre at the premier of any work of music or play. While the band or troupe awaited the cue of their conductors or directors, those in charge awaited her nod with baited breath. As the highest donor and sole authority in the art community, in combination with her near limitless knowledge on the subject, it was tradition that only by the Matron’s permission did the performance begin.

She would wait for the doors to close, for the last pony or visiting dignitary to be seated before rising from her seat and approaching the edge of the balcony. Silence reigned over the hall; the first time I saw it, I was but a foal. My parents had taken me to smaller shows, I’d seen Maestro Tempo Rubato himself bring audiences to tears with the majesty of his work, and the Griffin composer Werner of the North command mixed ensembles to bring their music to a crescendo like no other! The pair themselves were larger than near any being in the community. They did not scrape or bow for any noble, nor did they wait for any cue…

Save for her. Though my mane has grayed and my joints are wracked with pain, I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her, the first time I’d ever seen Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North sweat. Since my family was rather well off, I was afforded the opportunity to meet with both composers after the performance. I resolved to ask them why they seemed so shaken. I felt as though the very weight of her night, her power over the darkness, the moon, and stars above had settled over the concert hall. The Matron stood proud, her starry mane flowing in a display of immaculate beauty, and regarded the pair with a small smile. She nodded once and took her seat.

Afterward, I greeted them, expressing my sincerest compliments before asking what I thought was an innocent question:

“Why did you sweat before our Princess?”

They gaped at me, staring as though I’d grown a second horn atop my head. After a moment of silence—and Maestro Rubato trying to regain his vocal abilities—Maestro Werner addressed me. “Little one,” he said in his thickly accented voice, “there are some ponies and griffins who have earned respect that transcends our races and nations. Your Princess, the Matron of the Arts herself, is one such pony. For she is not a student of the art—she is the art.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow, staring critically at the last line. “She is the art, huh?” She put the book to the side and shook her head. But that goes against what Luna said the other night. She doesn’t want ponies to view her as some sort of end-all-be-all judge of quality—she was just a pony who appreciated arts, like them.

But, then again, such dissonance between her wants and how ponies perceived her was hardly unique. After all, Princess Celestia was still practically worshipped in modern times. The wording of the book suggested…

At some point, Luna had been looked at in the same light. She had been regarded as a figure standing above all others, as an extension of the very thing she governed over.

No, not an extension. To ponies before her fall, she was something more. Luna, in that age, was the art itself, just as Celestia was the day, the law, and, for a thousand years, the Crown itself.

But just what was she… More importantly, how did she go from having their reverence to being feared. Having Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North set her in the right time period, and Luna’s old monicker gave her something to cross-reference in historical texts.

The problem, though, was finding Luna elsewhere.

“Matron of the Arts” was easily spotted, present in nearly every musical text that covered the period before Luna’s fall to Nightmare Moon and her thousand year imprisonment. But, outside of art texts, there was little mention of that particular name.

“I need something with your name, Luna,” she whispered as she cracked open the next book. “I need something that connects the Matron to Luna, anything that bridges the gap!”

Lowering the book, Twilight brought her hooves to either side of her head and rubbed small circles in her temples. Deep breath in, hold, and deep breath out, Twilight. Relax. This is why it’s called research, not “the answers fall right into your hooves”.

The subject was interesting, of that there was no doubt. If anything, it would likely be a side project if not for the fact that it was for Luna.

Placing her hooves back on the table, she sighed. “Even with the name, I’m still trying to find a needle in a haystack!”

It just so happened that her “haystack” happened to be the whole of history from the days of Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North to the night of Luna’s banishment. No small task, to say the least.

“Maybe you should take a break, Twilight,” Spike called from the kitchen. He poked his head through the door and leveled her with a stern glare. “You’ve been sitting there forever, and if you keep stacking books up like that,” he broke off to point at her makeshift tower, “we’re gonna have a repeat of the Royal Canterlot Library Avalanche.”

“One time! One time, and no pony will let me forget that!” She cried, throwing her hooves into the air. “Just like that time I accidentally burnt your toast while you were sick—suddenly, everypony in town thinks I’m so bad a cook that I burn water!” Hearing him snicker, Twilight took a droplet of ink in her magic and flicked it in his direction.

“Hey!” he cried, pulling his head back through the doorway. The ink drop fell to the floor, staining the wood black. “I’m not cleaning that up, you know!”

“Oh, hush! You know it’ll take me a second to have it done!” Lighting up her horn again, Twilight wrapped her aura around the splattered ink and began drawing it out. Slowly, the wood bled out ink into a magenta aura. She floated it over and dropped it into the inkwell with a satisfied nod. “See? Like it never happened!”

“Uh huh. You say that because you can clean up little messes with a flick of your magic! If you’d left that longer, I would have to go through a bunch of stuff to get it out!”

“Yes, yes, I know. I’ll be more careful with what I flick at you next time,” she gave him a smile, wide-eyed and filled with foal-like innocence. “Happy?”

Spike shook his head and retreated further into the kitchen, muttering just loud enough for her to hear. “That sweet filly routine might work with Shining Armor, but I’ve seen the stuff you tried getting away with, Miss ‘Stays in the Royal Library three hours past closing’!”

Twilight bit her tongue, both to stem her laughter and to save a certain retort for later. Admittedly, he had a point—that wasn’t one of her finer moments, especially when she tried using the very same look on the Night Guards who came to collect her when she didn’t appear for dinner.

“Miss Sparkle, I’ve given birth to two foals, both far more troublesome and adept at that look than you,” one said, her slitted eyes twinkling with amusement behind her stern façade. “The library is closed as of three hours ago, and Princess Celestia is waiting. Come along.”

She smiled fondly and propped her chin up atop her hoof. What was that mare’s name again? Her smile faltered, the name just wouldn’t come to mind. It had been so long, and she wasn’t nearly as familiar with the Night Guard as she was the Day Guard.

Shrugging, she stood and stretched her legs. I can figure that out later. Right now, I need to figure out this mess.

It was far too early to throw up her hooves and give up, but it was nearing the point where she would have no choice but to slog through the texts in the Royal Canterlot Library. And if that proved fruitless…

The Royal Archives.

Her cheeks burned at the memory of Spike, Pinkie and herself, clad in tight-fitted black spandex and sneaking around the castle, only to be found and let in the front door by a decidedly bemused Royal Guard.

“He literally called me by name and offered to get the door!” she groaned as she brought a hoof to her forehead. “And then Princess Celestia greeted me like we were sitting down for breakfast!”

“Yeah! And then Spike got the mother of all tummy-aches because he ate all that ice cream!” Pinkie’s voice chirped from someplace behind her.

Twilight yelped and tripped over her cushion. “Holy horseapples!” Whirling around, she came muzzle-to-muzzle with the incomprehensible baker and gaped. “Pinkie!”

Giggling, Pinkie Pie hopped onto her cushion and sat down, shifting about to get comfortable. “Heya, Twilight! Oooh! Nice and warm and comfy! Just like always!”

“That’s because—Ugh!” Twilight closed her eyes and counted to ten. So much for research today. “Never mind. When did you get here, Pinkie?”

“Me? Oh, I’ve been here a while! See, my ears went floppy, my tail went flippy and my knees went wibbly-wobbly, which means somepony has a studying emergency! So! I thought to myself, ‘self, who would have a studying emergency big enough to trigger a Pinkie sense?’ And then I answered, ‘well, self, since you asked, it’s gotta be one of the foals in Cheerilee’s class!’ But—“

An alabaster hoof covered her mouth before she could go further. Rarity stepped out from behind Pinkie Pie, a small frown gracing her muzzle. “What our dear friend is trying to say—in her roundabout way—is that she felt that you had a problem and brought us all here.” She nodded over her shoulder toward the basement.

Twilight followed the gesture, her jaw dropped at the sight of three other mares peeking out of the doorway; Rainbow grinning expectantly, and Applejack and Fluttershy simply shrugging. “H-How did the five of you—“

“Don’t.” Applejack cut her off before stepping out and trotting over to the table. “None of us get it, and none of us are gonna try. One minute, she had us all rounded up in front of my stall, the next we were here. Far as I know, she’s hiding a horn under that mane o’ hers.”

“‘Fraid not!” Pinkie rubbed the top of her head. “My head is as fluffy and non-horny as can be!”

“Dunno about that last part,” Rainbow snickered.

“What’s that, Dashie? You wanna hear a song about horny and non-horny ponies?”

Before anypony could blink, a prismatic blur shot across the room and tackled Pinkie. “Not a chance in this lifetime!” Rainbow cried, pinning her giggling friend to the floor. “You start singing, and I’ll duct tape that mouth of yours shut!”

“Aww, but I had an entire routine planned out! I even have a fake horn!” Reaching into the confines of her mane, Pinkie pulled out what looked to be a funnel with string looped through it. “See? Perfect-o fake horn-o!”

“Um… Pinkie?” Fluttershy raised a hoof, wincing as everypony shifted their gaze to her. “I’m pretty sure Rainbow thought you meant the, um, other kind of horny.”

Ew! No!” Pinkie blanched and stuck out her tongue. “I meant unicorns and pegasi and earth ponies! Get your mind out of the gutter, Dashie!”

Twilight shook her head, a small smile played upon her lips as she watched Rainbow sputter and stammer out accusations while the rest of their friends giggled. Never a dull moment around this lot. “Okay, let’s settle down before Rainbow has a coronary. Pinkie, what do you mean ‘studying emergency’?”

Pinkie blinked once and slipped out from under Rainbow Dash, ignoring her friend’s yelp as she was suddenly dumped on the floor. She zipping over to Twilight, beaming and bouncing in place. “Well, whenever you get a really, really, really hard project or have a super-dee-duper tough question, you go into this ‘ultra-focused-super-studying-Twilight’ mode and stay in the library forever! So, my Pinkie Sense told me that you were about to start locking yourself away and I went ‘Oh, no!’ and rounded everypony up—“

“Literally, she grabbed us and dragged us over,” Applejack deadpanned. “If we were anywhere else, I’d be worried about my apples gettin’ stolen.”

“—Right-o! So, I rounded everypony up, then we came over, then I mentioned Spike’s tummy aches, you jumped and yelped, and now we’re here!” Bringing a hoof to her chin, she turned to face the other four. “I think that’s it, right?”

“Mercifully, yes,” Rarity replied with a roll of her eyes. She shook her head, muttering something incomprehensible as she took her seat to Twilight’s left. “Silliness aside,” she began as she others followed suit and sat around the table, “I must agree with Pinkie; the state of the library is quite messy, usually a good sign that you’re about to lock yourself away in your ivory tower, so to speak. So, out with it, dear. What is it this time?”

“Probably thinkin’ of how to help Princess Luna.” All eyes shifted over to stare at Applejack, who simply shrugged. “What? She had her muzzle deep in a book about Equestrian history at the last pet play date before Dash ’n I found her. Said somethin’ about helpin’ the Princess reconnect with everypony an’ regain her lost image.”

Rainbow nodded. “Oh, hey, that’s right! How’s that going, by the way? Unlocked all the secrets of Equestrian history yet?”

“No! Just the opposite!” Twilight groaned, letting her head thump against the table. Lifting it up just enough to speak, she sighed. “I finally got a name to cross-reference with what I knew about musicians she liked before her banishment, but it doesn’t correlate to anything to do with history outside of the arts community! There’s all sorts of information about how important a figure she was and how some of the culture centered around her. But, outside? Nothing!” She aimed a glare at one of the many books strewn across the table and picked one up. “Look at this! The Rise of Equestria, but it has nothing! It jumps from Discord’s Imprisonment to Nightmare Moon appearing!”

Rainbow held up her hooves in surrender. “Whoa there, Twilight! Simmer down! We didn’t write the darn thing!”

Rarity cut in before Twilight could comment. “I must agree with Rainbow—even though the manner in which she said it was a bit crass.” Reaching over, she took one of Twilight’s hooves in hers and patted it soothingly. “We understand that you’re stressed, dear, it happens to the best of us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to accept you hiding yourself away. Really, even I have to take breaks from making dresses when I have a deadline coming up or I start panicking and my work suffers.”

Totally!” Pinkie threw in, gesturing wildly with her hooves. “Mr. and Mrs. Cake always end up running around, trying to juggle the baking, the foals, running the register, taking special orders, the foals, icing the cakes, the foals, reminding me that it’s not okay to shoot off my party cannon when new customers come in, and, of course—“

“Lemme guess,” Applejack said, “the foals?”

Pinkie rounded on Applejack. “Wowie-zowie, Applejack! How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess. Anyway,” she turned back to Twilight and raised an eyebrow. “Ramblin’ or not, they both got a point. You’re gonna run yourself ragged if you keep on like this.”

“So consider this an intervention!” Rainbow Dash cried as she leapt to her hooves.

Twilight blinked, her eyes flitted to each of her friends, searching for any sign of joking. Other than Pinkie, they looked completely serious. Swishing her tail, she gave a rather crooked grin. “Now, girls, I know I’ve been busy, but…”

“Busy?” She blinked at the sudden interruption from Fluttershy, quailing under one of the soft-spoken mare’s gaze. Sighing, Fluttershy folded her hooves on the table and spoke, “Every time one of us has seen you, one of those books has been close at hoof. It’s starting to become a constant, almost an obsession.”

Inhaling sharply, Twilight opened her mouth to retort, but stopped short. Had she really? Certainly, she’d been a bit more dedicated in examining the subject, but was she really relapsing? “I don’t mean to…” She bit her lip and shifted about on her cushion. Her ears lay flat against her scalp. “I just want to help her be happy again.”

“So, treat her like a friend!” Applejack replied, giving a shrug. “Remember how slow things went when you thought you had to look at one of your guidebooks for everything?”

A flick of her ears towards Applejack. That… actually makes a lot of sense. Sighing, she covered her face and groaned. “Ugh! I’m reverting!”

A gentle hoof was placed on her shoulder. Applejack smiled, giving her an affectionate rub. “Just relax an’ think of somethin’ you’d do with us! Maybe just hangin’ out with her.”

“I did that. We listened to music and had tea together a couple nights ago.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she caught sight of Rarity’s eye twitching. “S-Sorry, Rarity! She wanted to keep it quiet, so Spike and I didn’t tell—“

“Twilight,” Rarity said, smiling sweetly at her, “surely, you don’t mean to tell me that both you and my dear, sweet little Spikey-wikey kept this a secret from me—us!” She hastily corrected as the others fixed her with flat stares. “I’m sorry, but we could’ve helped spruce the library up a little!”

Shaking her head, Twilight sighed. “I thought about it, but Luna specifically said that she wanted to meet me on common ground. She wants friendship, not ponies bowing as she walks past. The problem I’m finding is that they did that before she fell; at some point, she was worshipped like Celestia is today.”

“I remember you sayin’ that. How’d her visit go, by the way?” Applejack tilted her hat back and flicked an ear in her direction.

Twilight beamed, her mood did a quick one-eighty at the mention of her late night music marathon with Luna. “Really well, actually. She brought over a few first edition records—which were an absolute thrill to hear, by the way–and I shared a few of mine.”

“Aw, c’mon now. You can’t expect me to believe that’s all that went on, Twi. You’re a regular chatterbox when you get comfortable with a pony, especially when it involves learnin’.” A friendly push against her shoulder, and a playful smirk. “Out with it, sugarcube. What’d y’all talk about?”

As each of her friends giggled and nodded in turn, Twilight ducked her head and tried to fight down a blush. “W-Well, we talked a bit! She mentioned wanting to spend more time together—“ she broke off to hold up a hoof, forestalling any exclamations, “—And she mentioned that she’d like to, er, ‘return the favor’.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Meaning?”

“She mentioned inviting me over after the next time we got together—which actually reminds me…” She fidgeted in place, her eyes flitting from mare to mare. “Er, how would you girls feel if she joined us for our next night out?”

Her question was met with a round of blank stares and a beat of silence. She smiled awkwardly, flicking her tail as the girls seemed to shake themselves out of their momentary stupor.

“Twilight, dear,” Rarity began, fixing a rather strained smile upon her muzzle, “forgive me, I must be hearing things. Did you just suggest that a Princess join our girls’ night? The night that we all get together at Sugarcube Corner and simply… Er, Rainbow,” she broke off, glancing at Rainbow out of the corner of her eye, “how exactly would you put it?”

With a shrug, she answered, “Rock out? Hang? Goof off? Do things that you’d hate to be caught on camera in fear of Canterlot catching wind that you’re a—shock and awe—normal pony?”

“Yes, that. Thank you.” Rarity turned back to Twilight and raised a well trimmed brow. “Darling?”

“Exactly. Before you jump, hear me out: Luna wants to connect with ponies, Rarity. This could be our chance to make a new friend and help her learn how to interact with a wide variety of ponies. I mean, just think about how different we are within our group!” She waved a hoof around the table. “An athlete, a farmer, a fashion expert, a baker slash party planner, a veterinarian, and a student! Six ponies, six different attitudes, and six very different ideas on where they want to be in life. We’ve got a proverbial melting pot right under our snouts!”

“Well, I—“

“I’m down.” Rainbow shrugged and leaned back in her cushion. “Princess Luna was a pretty cool mare once she loosened up; if making friends means more of that and some of the jokes she brought, I’m definitely in. How about you, Pinks?”

“Ohmygosh! Yesyesyesyesyes!” Pinkie cheered. “This is so exciting! I mean, I know I made a tiiiiiiny bit of a mess at Nightmare Night, and I didn’t mean to make her feel sad, but it was so much fun playing games with her!”

“There, two in favor. AJ?”

“Heh, sure. Just don’t blame me if she zaps your bottom again!” A wicked grin crossed her muzzle. “I just might make it a special request!”

“Do it, and I’ll put itching powder in your hat. ‘Shy, how do you feel about it?”

The kindly mare ruffled her wings. “Well… she was nice once she stopped shouting everything… I wouldn’t mind if she’s, um, quieter.”

“She is,” Twilight said, returning the question with a bright smile. “When she first visited, she was a bit formal, but the talk about musicians helped us find common ground.” Turning to face Rarity fully, she waited for a final verdict, her ears standing up straight.

Rarity tapped her hoof against the table a few times, furrowing her brows in thought. “I’m of two minds: the more business side of me is thinking of the benefits of befriending a princess,” she paused to hold up a hoof before anypony could scold her, and continued, “which I know isn’t what I should be doing. A habit I’m still trying to kick, I’m afraid.”

“An’ how ‘bout the mare I trust with my sister durin’ sleepover weekends?” Applejack asked, raising her eyebrow.

“Oh, she’s about to beg and plead with Twilight that we at least serve her proper tea.” The words had scarcely left Rarity’s mouth before Twilight found herself under the full force of her most pathetic wide-eyed pleading face, complete with pouting lip and clasped hooves. “Pleeeeeeeeease!

With a roll of her eyes, she nodded once, a retort befitting her Canterlot heritage fresh on her lips, “I said we should treat her like a normal pony, I never said we couldn’t act civilized!”

Laughing, Twilight quickly ducked as a pair of paper balls sailed overhead, courtesy of Applejack and Rainbow Dash. Slowly, she peeked over the edge of her table, gathering a few sheets of scrap paper in her magic. “Rarity—” she began speaking in a faux posh accent “—I do believe we have a pair of ruffians among us!”

“Actually, a trio!” Pinkie noted, before tossing a wad of paper toward Rarity.

Rarity caught the paper in her shimmering blue magic, and added it to those she was already rolling up. “Why, I believe you’re right, Twilight! A trio of ruffians, right beneath our noses!” Turning to Fluttershy, she offered a smile. “Dear, you may want to take cover behind a cushion while we deal with these brutes. It’ll only be a moment!”

Nodding and doing her best to hide a smile, Fluttershy backed away and flipped over her seat cushion, a perfect barrier to ward off the oncoming storm.

11: A Bevy of Fairest Mares

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Luna allowed herself a smile as the rustic, straw rooftops of Ponyville came into view. From her seat in the carriage, with Erebos and Moondancer on either side of her for the duration of the flight, she gazed down upon the tiny village and smiled.

“Almost there,” she muttered, squeezing her wing around her seneschal a bit, almost like a mother pegasus comforting a foal. “We’ll have your hooves on the ground soon enough.”

When Twilight’s invitation arrived, giddy didn’t come close to describing the feeling that flooded her being; Luna had simply floated through her daily activities, to the point that even Erebos could only raise a brow toward her.

She brought a hoof to her lips, stifling a giggle as she glanced to her trusted Captain’s face. The memory of how his jaw dropped when she turned and directed a most improper raspberry toward him while he silently questioned her little dance of joy played in her thoughts. The look on his face was, as these modern ponies say, priceless!

“Still walking on cloud nine, Princess?” He asked, cutting through her reverie. “Or is there something else that amuses you now?”

A playful grin crossed her muzzle. “Just the memory of the silly look you had when Twilight’s letter came,” she replied, her grin widening at the way his mouth set into a thin line and his scruffy, black tail flicked irritably. “Oh, away with that look, Erebos! You love your teasing well enough, learn to accept the reciprocal like a big stallion!”

Erebos leveled her with a sidelong look. “I didn’t say anything, Princess.”

“If you say so. But what do you think, Moondancer?” Luna gave the little unicorn a nudge with her shoulder. “Does the good Captain not seem a bit rankled by the memory of his own folly?”

“Before you answer,” Erebos cut in, turning to fix Moondancer with a little smirk, “just remember, I have stories from that night in Berry’s Punch.” His eyes gleamed, he leaned on, almost moving across Luna’s chest to loom over his victim. “In fact, why don’t we make another stop there tonight? I’m sure we could have a lot of fun!”

Moondancer squeaked, her muzzle taking on a deep red hue. “N-No! I think I’ll pass on the cider tonight, C-Captain Erebos!” In a rare bout of courage—or, perhaps, her Night Guard’s taste for mischief had finally rubbed off on the little mare—she turned to Luna and gave a small smile of her own. “To answer your question, Princess, he does seem just a bit ruffled.”

Both Luna and Erebos stared a moment, before turning to look at one another. Almost as one, they threw back their heads and laughed.

“Splendid!” Luna cried, giving a merry stop of her hooves. “At last, she plays along!” Wrapping her wing tighter, she surprised the little mare with a nuzzle. “Erebos and I wondered when you might join us in our play, but it seems that I have lost our little wager!”

“W-What?”

With a roll of his eyes, Erebos gave a sharp whistle to the twins. “Land in front of Sugarcube Corner, not the library!”

“Yes, Captain!” They shouted back, adjusting their flight path accordingly.

Turning back to the girls, he nodded to Luna. “Princess Luna and I had a bit of a wager going on the side: I bet that I could get you to play along this time if I poked you a little. So, she owes us a little pocket money for a night on the town.”

“Us?” Moondancer blinked, tilting her head to the side.

“The pair of you and the twins, yes,” Luna nodded. “I can hardly ask Strider and Star to stand guard outside the Cakes’ place of business and turn ponies away, and I am loathe to make Twilight or her friends uncomfortable with their presence. No offense intended,” she said, smiling ruefully, “but I would rather they not get the sense that saying the wrong thing might land them in prison. Tia recounted a certain story about that mischievous phoenix of hers playing a rather nasty trick on fair Fluttershy.”

The ponies at her side winced, each sharing looks of sympathy.

“In that case, we’ll make ourselves scarce,” Erebos said slowly, “but within distance to come if needed. Given some of the things that have gone on in this town, I don’t feel quite so comfortable with the three of us being too far away, Princess.”

A fair point, one I can’t easily refute. “I understand entirely, Captain. While I doubt there will be much cause for alarm, I am sure the four of you can find a spot nearby. I believe there is a small café in the area.”

“There is,” he nodded, “we passed it on the way to Berry’s Punch during our last visit. If that’s where you want us to stay. It might be a bit more closer to Miss Moondancer’s tastes, anyway. Otherwise—” his grin returned in full force, the late afternoon sunlight gleaming off his pointed fangs “—she’d be at a pub with three soldiers. I guess we’ll save that for another day.”

Luna’s ear flicked toward Moondancer, hearing the little mare squeak and quail beneath that teasing grin. “You are a terrible, terrible pony, Captain Erebos,” she said in spite of the smile playing upon her lips. Her eyes went wide as they made their final approach to Ponyville, she drummed her hooves excitedly.

For once, she was not visiting in the dead of night, when other ponies were at home or sleeping in the little town. Night time was still hours away; her magic and senses had not yet reached their zenith.

In the light, Equestria was still her sister’s domain.

Still, there was no hesitation, no crippling sense of unease that she should wait until the land was blanketed in her night before approaching. These ponies, the very same who had fled in fear of her on Nightmare Night, had come to accept her.

I can only hope that the rest will follow their example.

The chariot bumped and jostled as its wheels touched down on Ponyville’s dirt road. Strider and Shooting Star slowed to a trot, stopping just in front of the walkway to Sugarcube Corner. A precise landing, placed exactly so she would only have a minimal walk to the door.

They coddle me so, these guards of mine. Her ears flicked, the sounds of ponies whispering excitedly reaching her. Glancing around to check the area, she found a crowd of ponies, curious as to the surprise arrival of their princess.

From the oldest stallion to the youngest foal able to recognize her figure, all stopped whatever they’d been doing to stare, whisper, and bow as her eyes swept over them.

Luna smiled, her tail flicking anxiously as she raised a hoof and offered a shy wave. At least they aren’t cowering in fear this time. “Good tidings upon you this eve, my ponies!” she greeted, allowing herself to slip back into the more formal greeting. “Be not alarmed, I am merely here upon the invitation of Twilight Sparkle! Please, do not interrupt your evening business on my account.”

Turning away from the crowd, she faced her trusted guards and seneschal. “Strider, Star,” she said, the pair snapping to attention as she addressed them, “thank you for the smooth flight. Your efforts are much appreciated.”

The twins bowed low and replied in unison. “Thank you, Princess! We are happy to escort you!”

Erebos took two steps forward and turned to face his subordinates. “Right, you two. Princess Luna has asked for privacy while she’s with her friends, so we’ll make ourselves scarce. The four of us,” he gestured to the group, “will head over to the café until she’s done. Miss Moondancer,” he faced her, giving a kind smile and bow as he waved her on, “after you.”

“Of course!” she squeaked, hastily bowing to Luna. “Have a good time, Princess!”

Luna inclined her head. “Thank you, dear. You four enjoy yourselves as well. And—” she smirked at the guards before stage whispering to Moondancer “—be sure to keep these three in line for me. I’d hate to find my foals in gilded dress causing trouble!”

The mares shared a giggle at the looks of indignation that crossed the trio’s muzzles. Moondancer gave a mock salute before marching away stifle, her poorly restrained laughter making her shoulders shake as she lead the trio of disgruntled Night Guards away.

Sometimes, I must play on the same side as my fellow mare. Turning away from the quartet, Luna trotted up the dirt path to the main entrance of the gingerbread house, a chuckle escaped her lips. What a fitting design. Though, I must wonder how many a little colt or filly have tried to take a bite out of the building before they realized it was just painted.

She pushed the door open, the store bell chimed out, a happy cry to the owners that a patron was visiting.

“Oh my gosh! She’s here! She’s here!” Luna scarcely had the chance to take a step onto the tile floor before she found herself muzzle-to-muzzle with the ever-excitable Pinkie Pie. The earth pony’s smile seemed to split her face, those bright blue eyes shone with unbridled joy.

Luna was swept into a hug, her midsection squeezed tightly by Pinkie’s surprisingly strong grip. “Miss—urk!—Miss Pie!” she wheezed, the breath rushing from her lungs. “Please loosen your grip!”

“Huh?” Pinkie pulled back, tilting her head to the side. “Is something wrong—eep!” She yelped as Twilight’s magic engulfed her and pulled her back, setting her down a couple paces from the startled princess.

Her breath hitched in her throat, Luna could only stare ahead, her heart racing furiously in her chest. She hugged me… out of nowhere.

“Honestly, Pinkie! At least give Luna a chance to get in the door before you start!” Luna’s smile returned, her breath came easier as Twilight stepped into view; her normally kind face creased into a stern frown and hard look to her longtime friend. “Remember what we talked about? Giving ponies a little bit of space and letting them get comfortable before badgering them?”

“But Twiliiiiiiight!” Pinkie whined. “We’ve been waiting days for Princess Luna to come and visit! That’s practically forever!”

Twilight’s brows furrowed, her tail swished behind her as she trotted forward to stand beside her friend. “Yes, and you were supposed to give her a chance to at least say hi first!” She turned to Luna and fixed a rather strained smile on her face. “Sorry, Luna,” she said, giving a small bow of her head, “you’ll have to excuse Pinkie. She gets rather excited to meet new ponies—especially when it comes to making those ponies her friend.”

Breathe. She commanded. Smile, accept the apology. Move on. You are among friends, you silly mare. Grinding a hoof against the tile, Luna forced her lips to curve upward, a weak, shaky smile pasted upon her muzzle. “I-It’s quite alright, Twilight. Miss Pie simply caught me off guard. No real harm done, I assure you.”

There was a beat of silence. Twilight’s brow arched high, disappearing under her mane. She stepped past Pinkie, closer to Luna herself. The magenta glow of her magic wreathed around her horn and pulled the door shut.

As the latch clicked into place, Twilight reared up and wrapped her hooves around Luna’s neck. “If you’re sure, then fine,” she whispered. “I’m glad you agreed to come. I was worried you’d get cold hooves.

The musty scent of books and biting iron of ink wafted into her nose. Any small remnants of nerves at the prospect of sitting with Twilight’s friends vanished, just the warmth and presence of the little mare could set her at ease. “I gave my word that I would join you,” Luna whispered her reply, “out of practice though I may be, I am not so easily frightened that I would go against a promise to a friend.”

“Well, then,” Twilight pulled back, setting her hooves on the floor with a smile and nodded toward the table, where the rest of her friends sat. “Care to join us? Rarity insisted on having tea and Pinkie and the Cakes might have gotten a bit excited for your visit…”

Luna arched an eyebrow. “Oh? And why, pray tell, would you say that?”

Sighing, the town librarian nodded to her friend, who gave a happy squeal and zipped off. The only sign of her former presence a mere puff of smoke in the shape of her outline. Her ears pricked up at the sound of a two way door flapping back and forth. Turning to glance to her left, Luna gave an amused snort at the kitchen door flipping back and forth.

“My, how quickly she moves!” she glanced to the girls and smiled. “Has your exuberant friend ever competed in the marathon? Or perhaps done guard reserve training?”

Five sets of eyes stared blankly at her. The group of friends slowly turned to one another, smiles slowly spread across their muzzles as their cheeks puffed out with poorly restrained laughter.

Something she’d said? Why would training with the reserves be amusing? Luna wondered, tilting her head to the side. ’Tis a great honor to serve with either branch of the Guard, even more so for those who consent to acting in support during times of need. “Have I misspoken? What is so funny about being trained?”

Applejack was the first to recover. She choked back her laughter, speaking in strained tones, “N-No, Princess, we aren’t laughin’ at trainin’ with the Royal Guard—I don’t think anypony would! It’s just… none of us can imagine Pinkie Pie in uniform. She’s a bit too bouncy for them.”

“A bit?” Rainbow drawled, leaning back in her cushion. “I’m pretty sure her picture’s right next to the word ‘bouncy’ in the dictionary! Twilight, can we get a confirmation on that?”

Shaking her head, Twilight just gestured for Luna to take a seat on a cushion between Fluttershy and an empty one.

Luna took the cue, giving a pleased hum as Twilight trotted over to occupy the empty one at her side. A glance to Fluttershy, turned that hum into a full-blown smile—the nervous little pegasus, the same one who’d cowered before her on Nightmare Night, didn’t flinch or shy away from her. Certainly, there was the slight hint of that nervousness in her eyes, but not fear.

Not this time. “Fair Fluttershy, I am quite pleased to see you again,” she greeted with a nod, “your lesson on proper, er, volume for polite conversations has proven most helpful in my reintegration!”

“O-Oh! I’m glad to hear that, er, Princess,” Fluttershy replied, barely above a whisper. She offered a small smile to the visiting princess and ducked her head. “It’s very nice to see you again. I hope you’ve been well.”

Luna beamed. “Verily! I find myself quite happy, of late! In large part, due to the efforts of our mutual friend,” she broke off, glancing out of the corner of her eye toward Twilight. Her grin faltered at the little blush and awkward shuffle her words brought forth.

Again? Is it the compilment or, rather, the attention it brought. Surveying the group as a whole, she noted the little smirks and knowing looks levied toward her friend. Almost as though they’d expected something to that effect. Later. I shall look into it later. Now is the time for fun and making merry with friends.

Or, rather, making merry with those she hoped to call friends.

Voices, muffled through the two way door, drew her attention. Her left ear flicked to the side, Luna turned, blinking and tilting her head as the voices grew louder. They were about to come out.

“—you were supposed to tell us when she was going to get here!” A mare’s voice hissed. “We don’t have anything ready!”

“But Princess Luna just walked right in like a normal pony! And then my Pinkie Sense went off, telling me that there was a princess coming in but she was gonna act like a run-of-the-mill pony instead of coming in with trumpets and escorts and shiny things and all that stuff!”

Luna had to bite her lip to withhold laughter. By the stars and moon, that mare!

If the matching groans from the kitchen were any indication, her sentiment wasn’t shared. Somepony else sighed, a stallion spoke up, his tone told of one long-weary of similar discussions. “Pinkie, we wanted to have everything set up first, remember? So she wouldn’t have to wait on anything…”

“Oh!” Pinkie chirped. “That’s no problem-o! She’s already talking with the girls and everything! Here, take a look!”

Quickly schooling her expression, Luna inclined her head and gave a kind smile as Pinkie pushed the proprietors of Sugarcube Corner were pushed through the kitchen door; a pleasantly plump mare, with blue coat and cotton candy pink mane, and her husband, a rather skinny stallion, especially for an earth pony, with tangerine coat and deep orange mane, approached, each carrying a tray of confections upon their back; their mouths curved upward into matching grins, the kind that seemed awkward and strained and didn’t meet their eyes. Pinkie trotted behind them, a bright grin splitting her face, and trotting as though she were carrying something as well.

What it was, Luna couldn’t quite see through her large, poofy mane and the married couple standing before her. Rather, her eyes were drawn to the nervous couple themselves.

They are nervous, frightened even. She ground a hoof into her cushion, the frustration set in. This fear, the way they look upon me like I were about to cast them into the dungeons—is it for me or the crown upon my head?

“Good evening to you, my ponies,” she spoke, casting aside her irritation in favor of politeness. She held up a hoof, stopping them before they could bow and spill their cargo. “Please, not on my account! I am a mere visitor this eve, a patron. Truly, I would that you treat me as such.”

Their unease didn’t abate, only exaggerated by the dumbfounded stares, rapid blinking, and anxious flicking of their tails. Uncertainty evident in their eyes, the pair forced smiles and gave little bows of their heads, despite her wishes. “Y-Your Highness, we couldn’t possibly—I mean, to just, um,” Mrs. Cake stammered, trailing off into a mumble. She edged closer to the table, her gaze dropping low as she deposited a tray of chocolate chip cookies onto the table and pushed it to the center.

“I think what my wife means to say,” Mr. Cake began as he shakily placed a second tray of cookies—peanut butter judging by the scent—onto the table, “is that we couldn’t possible just ignore that you’re a princess… er… Princess.”

Very well, pomp and circumstance it is, I suppose. “Very well,” she nodded, “if it bothers you so, I shan’t prod. I thank you for the fare, and for hosting me in your establishment.” Luna let her eyes wander over the main dining area. It’s exterior design was certainly vibrant and lively, matched by the interior itself. But, the materials used… to call them “humble” would be generous, given what she’d picked up in passing comments or reading through critiques.

For a small town, though, it was perfect. Made with simple materials, furnished practically, designed to catch the eye and run by ponies who understood their target market came for the product and good company.

Pragmatic, much like the earth ponies of old. Her eyes flitted toward Pinkie. Well, perhaps one could call it pragmatic with a flair for the eccentric.

She shook herself, breaking her brief reverie to focus on the pair again. She held up a hoof to forestall any assurances they might offer. “Please, none of that. If you must insist on treating me as royalty, then I must insist, in kind, that you accept my gratitude with grace,” with a meaningful glance to Twilight, Luna gave a small smile and continued, “as one of our number has recently learned.”

Twilight’s muzzle colored, her ears pinned back as she ducked her head and covered her muzzle with her hooves. “Luna!” she whined piteously.

“Hush, my friend, the point is valid.” Her ear flicked toward Rainbow Dash, the poorly-stifled snicker and subsequent scolding, courtesy of Rarity, made that tiny smile broaden. It would seem that the execution of my teasing continues to improve. Very good, very good indeed. Smiling, she turned her attention back to the pair before her. “Well, then, will you accept it?”

Biting their lips, the Cakes shared uneasy looks with one another before giving stiff nods.

“Please forgive us, Princess Luna,” Mr. Cake began, bowing low before the Princess of the Night, “we don’t mean to seem rude. We just wanted to put our best hoof forward for your visit—despite the limitations Twilight up on that front.”

Luna had to stifle a giggle, a job made harder by Twilight huffing at her side and muttering, “I just said to keep it casual!”

It would seem that somepony wanted to ensure that all of her friends would be comfortable rather than try to impress me. Very good. Twilight Sparkle was learning to treat her as a friend first and a princess second, one little step at a time.

“The accommodations are most welcoming, Mr. Cake,” she said. “Truly, I am pleased.”

Woohoo!” Pinkie cheered, bouncing—quite literally—around her employers to stand next to the table. “Now that all the silly-serious business is out of the way, I’ve got two veeeeeeeeeery special ponies you’ve just gotta meet!” Without waiting for any reply, she craned her neck and leaned to the side, beaming at something.

Or, as Luna was quick to notice, somepony. Two someponies, to be precise.

A pair of foals; one a cute little pegasus colt, the other an adorable unicorn filly. The little ones stared at Luna, their eyes wide with wonder.

“Princess Luna, meet Pound,” Pinkie said, nuzzling the little colt, “and Pumpkin Cake,” she paused to nuzzle the filly, who giggled and returned the gesture. “Pound, Pumpkin, this is Princess Luna—she’s in charge of the night and raising the moon and stuff! Say hi!”

The foals kept stared, blinking owlishly at her as if trying to piece together what was standing before them.

Luna, meanwhile, bit her lip, forcing a little coo of adoration down before she could do anything to embarrass herself in front of the group. They were just so tiny! Even more so than little Pipsqueak, the colt who named her his favorite princess on Nightmare Night!

Be still, my heart, they have found my weakness! Cute. Far too cute for words. Barely suppressing the urge to squeal, she gave a little wave and spoke softly, “Hello, Pound and Pumpkin!”

Their eyes went wider, their tiny jaws dropping into small ‘o’ shapes at the sound of her voice. Slowly, smiles creased their muzzles. Pound raised a hoof, pointing directly at Luna and proudly stating, “Luna’s big Pwincess pony! Big, big, big Pwincess pony!”

It took a moment for his words to register. Luna sucked in her lips and bit down. Do not laugh. Do not laugh or make any silly noises. “Y-Yes, little one,” she said, pointedly ignoring the round of snickers from the mares, or, in Pinkie’s case, raucous laughter. “I am, indeed, quite big.”

“Big Pwincess pony eats big cake!” Pumpkin said, turning to her brother with a solemn nod. “Lotsa, lotsa cake! Yum!”

Luna snorted, wrapping her hooves around her midsection to hold her aching sides. Oh, the things little foals say! “N-Nay, Pumpkin,” she replied, her voice straining to stay level. “’Tis not I who eat the bulk of the cake in my family! That would be my sister!”

The little filly blinked and cocked her head to the side. “No cake?” she scrunched up her nose, as if the mere thought were foreign to her.

“Big Pwincess pony not like cake?” Pound mirrored her expression, blinking rapidly. “Cake good!”

“I do like cake well enough, but my sister, Princess Celestia, favors it more than I,” Luna said placatingly. “’Tis not to say that I do not enjoy sweets, though.”

Twilight gave a little prod to her side. “Interrogated by a pair of foals, huh?”

“Hush, you!” She returned the prod with a little bump of her shoulder, smirking playfully at the smaller mare. “I seem to recall that somepony wished to avoid the wrath of my little tricks! Shall I invite your friends to share in the fun?”

“Don’t. You. Dare!”

With low chuckle, reminiscent of her act from Nightmare Night, she returned her gaze to the twins. She raised a brow as they seemed to go between staring at her, with a hoof in their respective mouths, to looking at one another; almost as though they were holding some sort of silent conversation.

“No cake. Big Pwincess pony Luna like sweets,” Pumpkin hummed to herself. She blinked, looking over to the table, her eyes locking on the cookie tray, and then turned back to Luna with a triumphant smile. “Cookie! Big Pwincess pony Luna eats cookie!”

The dam burst. Luna doubled over in laughter, her tail flicking behind her as she struggled to get her amusement under control. She jammed a hoof into her mouth, her cheeks puffed up and eyes clenched shut as she fought it down. And the innocent bluntness of foals hits home. “Y-Yes, Pumpkin Cake,” she forced out in between bouts. “I do find cookies quite enjoyable—specifically, chocolate chip.” she said, levitating a pair of chocolate chip cookies off the tray and over to the foals, who gleefully snatched them out of the air and took big bites.

His smile straining further, Mr. Cake deftly swiped the pair happy foals off of Pinkie’s back, much to the apprentice baker’s disappointment. “W-Well, Cup and I don’t want to take up too much of your evening, Princess! We promised to take the twins and meet up with Roseluck and Post Haste. You girls all have fun—Pinkie, please don’t make a mess of things!”

“Okie dokey loki!” she chirped and snapped a sharp salute. “Well,” she hummed, bringing a hoof to her chin and scrunching up her nose, “I can’t promise that if Princess Luna tells me to make a mess. Then it’s a royal order, and disobeying a royal order is a really, really, really bad thing! And—“

A cookie wrapped in soft blue magic soared through the air and was stuffed into her mouth. “We’ll keep an eye on her, Mr. Cake,” Rarity said, giving a small smile and a little shooing motion with her hooves. “You go have fun! And say hi to Rosie and Post from us!”

Nodding in turn, the pair stepped away from the table and bowed low—though Mr. Cake took care not to shift himself too far forward, lest he dump the foals onto the tile. “Pound, Pumpkin,” he began, speaking softly as he stood to full height, “say ‘goodbye, Princess’.”

Still nibbling on their cookies, the foals waved, mumbling incoherently through mouthfuls of their tasty treat as their parents trotted out the door.

Luna turned back to the group, her smile still in place. “Well,” she began, claiming a cookie as her own, “they certainly seemed amicable, if a bit skittish.”

“They like to make customers happy, it goes double for you, since you’re a princess,” Applejack said with a little shrug. “You shoulda seen ‘em when Princess Celestia came for a visit—trippin’ over their hooves like ducks on an iced pond!”

Rainbow Dash turned to fix her with a critical look. “Uh, what winter do you see every year? There’s not a duck in sight by the time the ponds freeze over!” She ducked a swipe of Applejack’s hoof and stuck out her tongue. “Swinging just means you’ve got nothing! I win!”

“Aw, shut your trap, you big-mouthed feather duster!” Applejack retorted, rolling her eyes. “Mouthin’ off like that, just you see if I save you any cider next season!”

“I take it back! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

The sight of Rainbow Dash, the brash little mare who spent Nightmare Night scaring ponies with a storm cloud and was ready to attack her at full power, throwing herself down at Applejack’s side and clasping her hooves together, a look of utter terror plastered upon her face drove Luna into another fit of laughter.

By the stars and moon, my poor sides! “The pair of you are far too much,” she snickered. “Is it true, though? Did the Cake family truly ‘fall over themselves’ that badly?”

“Well, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think it was all that unnecessary,” Rarity huffed. She lit up her horn, levitating the teapot over and pouring herself a cup before turning to offer some to Pinkie. “One sugar, dear—we don’t need a repeat of last time. As I was saying, the Cakes did a wonderful job decorating everything and preparing the best of their confections for Princess Celestia’s visit. It went well, er, for the most part,” she trailed off, glancing to Fluttershy and Twilight. “There was… a bit of an incident with her pet phoenix.”

“Oh, dear.” She grimaced, glancing to Twilight and speaking, “The burning day trick?”

“You know that one?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Confound that phoenix! She groaned internally. Bringing a hoof up to massage her forehead, Luna turned to face Fluttershy. “I do hope that my sister explained everything. Philomena might not intend it, but ’tis a very cruel prank.”

The shy little pegasus gave a strained smile, her feathers ruffled up at the memory. “Y-Yes. She told me that Philomena can be a bit, um, playful,” she broke off, rubbing a hoof against her shin and dropping her gaze to the table. “I was still afraid I’d hurt her, though…”

Perhaps it was sympathy for her fellow pony being fooled by her feathered nemesis. Or, maybe, Twilight Sparkle’s affection and dedication to helping her friends rubbed off on her. Either way, Luna wasn’t quite sure when she’d done it, but, on a whim, she wrapped her wing around Fluttershy’s smaller frame and gave a little squeeze.

Blinking, her gaze flitted to each mare at the table. All eyes were on her, some surprised, some amused. Twilight, though, seemed almost… a mix? Happily surprised, was it? Do not pull away. Pulling away might cheapen your words and make it seem as though you are of weak constitution. “If it might serve as any consolation, Tia did give Philomena a rather stern talking to upon their return that evening.”

“W-Well, I don’t want there to be too much trouble,” Fluttershy mumbled, “but she really shouldn’t be doing things like that… if you don’t mind me saying.”

“Be at ease, fair Fluttershy, your sentiments are shared by a great many ponies. I cannot begin to tell you how many a Captain of my sister’s Day Guard have frothed at the mouth, shouting curses at that insufferable bird for her pranks. She is, admittedly, a product of Tia’s little habit of doting on those she loves most.” A fleeting glance to Twilight, the memory of her sister’s tale of how she arranged to bring “pancake day” to the castle for a much younger Twilight’s benefit.

Indeed, that is one habit I doubt you will ever be able to shake, sister of mine.

After a moment, she released Fluttershy from her feathery embrace and folded her wing up against her side. “Now, then, with that taken care of, what does one do during one of these ‘mares’ nights’,” she made air quotes with her hooves, wrinkling her nose at the unfamiliar phrasing from Twilight’s most recent letter.

Rainbow gave a non-committed shrug. “It kinda depends. We each take turns deciding—sometimes we tell stories, sometimes Rarity insists that we let her give us makeovers, sometimes we listen to music—“

“Really?” Luna perked up, her tail swishing and a broad grin creasing her muzzle. “What sorts? Do you listen to classical Equestrian composition, or do you favor a more modernist style?”

“Uh…” Rainbow shifted in her seat, her muzzle creased into a frown. “We usually just bring random stuff. Like, I bring my rock records, AJ brings a few of those country folk songs, Fluttershy brings these really mellow new age things… Just whatever we feel like, really.”

“Yeah! And I bring my favorite party mix!” Pinkie cheered. “But, not tonight. Twilight gets to pick tonight, and she didn’t send out anything for us to bring records yesterday, and she definitely didn’t remind us whenever she saw us earlier today!”

“I’m not that bad!” Twilight whined, her ears pinning back as she raised her cup to her lips. At the round of stares and knowing smirks, she quailed under their gaze. “I’m not!” she insisted, pouting piteously.

Luna suppressed a grin, ruffling her wings as she gave the little mare a supportive pat on the back. “Verily, I am sure you are… every bit as insistent on organization as your friends say.”

Whipping her head around, Twilight gaped at Luna, her eyes wide with shock at the apparent betrayal. “Hey!” she cried, stomping a hoof into her cushion.

“Ha! She’s got you pegged, Twi!” Rainbow cackled and pumped a hoof into the air. “Princess, if there was ever any doubt that you were cool after Nightmare Night, it’s gone!”

What? Blinking twice, Luna pasted a smile on her face and nodded as though she understood. Somehow, I doubt she was referring to my bodily temperature… Confound it, I will have to speak with somepony about these modern phrases. They make no sense in the slightest!

Somehow, she had the notion that if she told Celestia, she’d be pushed to speak with Cadence. Again.

Shuddering, Luna resolved to find her own information on the matter. Preferably before she was pushed to have another awkward conversation with her surrogate niece. Erebos. By the stars, please, let Erebos or Moondancer have the time.

She shoved those thoughts from the forefront of her mind and faced Twilight. “Well, then, what shall we do this eve, my friend? If not music, what choice have you made?”

The pout and pinned ears were replaced, almost instantaneously, by a bright smile and happily swishing tail. “I thought we might do something a little different tonight,” Twilight began, her horn alight with magic as she levitated a box from under the table, “instead of music or a game, I thought we could all sit down and work on a puzzle together—like my family used to when I was little.”

“A puzzle, huh?” Applejack hummed. She took her cup in her hooves and raised it to her lips, tilting it back as though she were taking a shot of cider. Shrugging, she placed it down on the table. “I s’pose that’ll do fine. Haven’t done one in a while, though. Must’ve been way back when Mac ’n me were little ‘uns.”

“What’s the picture of?” Fluttershy leaned forward to inspect the box, but Twilight pulled it just out of view.

Smiling awkwardly, she fiddled with her hooves. “Er, if it’s all the same, we sort of didn’t look at the picture so we couldn’t cheat. Mom and dad liked to make Shiny and I really think through stuff like this…”

Uncomfortable again. Luna placed a hoof upon Twilight’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze, wincing herself at the tension in her friend’s posture. “Worry not, Twilight Sparkle. ’Tis but a puzzle, nothing too terribly difficult. Your family’s tradition will simply make our endeavor a bit more interesting.”

“Yeah, what Princess Luna said,” Rainbow threw in, leaning back in her cushion and propping her head up in her hooves. “So, we gotta do a little puzzle, big whoop! It’s small potatoes compared to saving Equestria—uh, no offense, Princess.”

“I hold no grudge, Rainbow Dash. Only my undying gratitude remains.”

Smile straining, the brash pegasus ruffled her feathers and glanced away. “Right… so… Twi! How many pieces is this thing? A couple hundred?”

“Uh… more like five thousand,” Twilight squeaked and raised the box as if to shield herself from her friends’ stares.

Silence reigned over the table, save for the sound of Pinkie Pie munching innocently on a cookie and humming her own little tune. Luna let her gaze wander to each mare in turn, eager to see how they might react to Twilight’s selection. Support or derision? Which will it be?

Rarity raised an eyebrow and sipped lightly at her tea, but nodded all the same. “Well, dear, it is your night to decide, so let’s have at it.”

The little mare peaked over the edge of the box. “Really?”

“Yes, silly-billy, really,” Pinkie chimed in. “Come on, come on! Hurry up so we can put it together and see the picture you won’t let us see just yet!”

“I don’t mind,” Fluttershy gave a small smile. “It’ll give us all some time to talk while we work on things.”

Rainbow, on the other hoof, grimaced and wrinkled her muzzle. But as she leaned in to whisper to Applejack and cupped a hoof to her mouth, Luna managed to catch the slightest hint of a playful gleam in her eyes.

“Hey, AJ,” she stage whispered, “got any cider? I’m gonna need something a lot stronger than tea if I’m gonna make it through one of egghead’s puzzles!”

Snorting, Applejack gave a half-hearted shove that sent her friend sprawling back onto her own cushion. “No, and, even if I did, you ain’t gettin’ sloshed here, Dash. We sat through about two hours of that pre-show for the Wonderbolts Derby last month before sittin’ through the entire thing,” she grumbled, furrowing her brows. “If Rarity can do that without goin’ on about how ‘uncouth’ you were durin’ those ponies babblin’, you can last through a lil’ ol’ puzzle!”

Luna let their good-natured teasing fade into background noise in favor of letting her eyes flit toward Twilight once again, happily noting that the younger mare had ceased hiding behind the puzzle box with her head ducked.

Perking up her ears and giving her tail a merry swish, Twilight sat up straight, the tension in her shoulders eased. “Well, if there’s no complaints,” she said, pulling the top off the box with her magic and placing it face down on the table, “let’s get started!”

Just before it touched the table, though, Luna’s keen eyes caught a flash of midnight blue background and a structure, windows alight with the soft, golden glow of candles from within.

Interesting. She raised a brow, her eyes resting on the overturned box top. I wonder what scenery she has picked.

Her attention shifted to the pieces floated out of the box to hover above the table, held aloft in the magenta glow of Twilight’s magic. She had to bite her lip, holding back a smile at the way Twilight’s eyes narrowed in concentration as she set about dividing the floating pile of puzzle pieces into separate parts.

Five thousand pieces, seven ways… She blinked and tilted her head. Not an even division. Somepony will be stuck with an extra, even if she were to count every pice out as she separates them. Making as though to raise a hoof and object, she stopped just short. Twilight wasn’t counting anything out.

Rather, her concentration was focused on maintaining each group of pieces as she doled them out and set them down before her friends, each of whom began flipping them over and organizing them into stacks.

None of the mares even bothered counting or asking about the number, though Rainbow did throw in a half-hearted glare and teasing “I’m so making you run a marathon next time” for her troubles. But, that aside, they didn’t ask.

Because the equality of their number is not the important part—they value that they do this together. Luna stared at her stack, idly flipping a couple pieces over with her hooves instead of magic. The midnight blue background had some sort of puffy, grayish ball of fluff in one corner and a small white dot peaking out from behind it. Just what was the image supposed to be?

Setting her jaw, Luna joined in the arduous task of organizing her portion of the puzzle. There is only one way to find out. Let us see what you have in store this eve, Twilight Sparkle.

12: I Shall Wear Midnight

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Luna narrowed her eyes, glaring at the two pieces held aloft in her magic. Blue background, blurred white dots as if a they were a light glowing in the distance; the pieces appeared to match.

But those pesky inlets and links in their sides said otherwise.

Flaring her nostrils, she gently placed a piece back on the table and spared a glance to her section. The top-left corner of the puzzle, by the orientation of the sides and those of her fellow mares. But not nearly as much as she’d hoped to get done—she’d spent more time drinking tea and listening to the girls regale her with stories, only absentmindedly musing over the image. What was the scene they were meant to depict?

Deep blue, white dots, and a lighted building. She scrunched up her muzzle, trying to picture the image she’d only just glimpsed on the face of the box before Twilight stowed it away. A fortress, perhaps? Tia said many a time that Twilight had a great interest in history—among other things. But which fortress?

Certainly none that she could recall, not since her banishment, at least. From a later time, then? Perhaps one built during her imprisonment, when Celestia was faced with the extra burden of her duties on top of those already levied upon her.

And not to mention, taking on Cadenza as a student so soon after—

Stop! Luna gave herself a mental kick, forcing her mind away from those inner grumblings and back toward the puzzle before her. A fortress, or a building. Blue background and little glowing spots in the sky.

A nighttime scene?

Her wings ruffled, her eyes darted to the side. She caught a glimpse of Twilight’s happy smile, the way her tongue poked out between her lips as she carefully arranged the pieces of her own section, giving the tiniest squeak whenever she managed to match them together.

Fun. That’s all it was about. I am here to have fun and enjoy the company of Twilight’s friends.

A wave of laughter made her ears flick toward the other end of the table. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie giggled with one another over one of their little jokes.

“—And then—oh, I couldn’t believe this—AJ just jumps, with me still conked out, lands on the dang thing and sends me flying into the air, straight into the library!” She thumped a hoof against the table, cackling presumably at the memory itself. “That’s the first time I’ve had an assisted crash landing!”

No, not a joke. Luna smiled, glancing up at the trio. Sharing stories with me—and teasing one another.

Applejack smiled ruefully and shook her head as she lifted her teacup to her lips. “The pair ‘o you are nothin’ but trouble,” she grumbled good naturedly in her country drawl. “An’ Dash, I’ll remember that one the next time I catch you nappin’ in my apple trees!”

“Aw! C’mon, AJ!” Rainbow grinned wickedly, she leaned over and draped herself across her friend’s back. Before Applejack could shrug her off, she quickly wrapped her hooves around the farm pony’s midsection, squeezing tight. “You know you love me!”

“About as much as I love a cramp in my hind legs…”

Another giggle fit, even fair Fluttershy couldn’t hide her smile behind her teacup. The words were biting, almost a shot across Rainbow Dash’s muzzle, but the playful little smirk, how it morphed into a comical pout as Applejack lightly nudged her away seemed like part of a routine. And held an edge of familiarity.

Like Tia and I. Luna allowed herself a little smile. I call her ancient, she pelts me with a pillow or smothers me in a hug and emphasizes how young I am.

Such a close bond between two very different mares, not even bound by family ties. Well, none that she knew of, at least.

Her eyes flitted to Rarity, an eyebrow raised. How did the socialite react to their play? Amusement toward her friends’ antics? Or muted horror that they would do so before royalty?

The corners of Rarity’s mouth twitched, she gave a soft chuckle and sipped at her tea. “Really, you two, would you like to just go outside and have one of your wrestling matches? I thought we agreed that you’d behave yourselves this time, hmm?”

“Aw, but I haven’t even brought out the flour bags yet!” Pinkie whined. “My flour run ins always steal the show!”

“And make us bathe twice,” Rainbow shuddered, wrapping her wings around herself protectively. “Do you have any idea how long it takes to get that stuff out of my feathers? I thought mud was bad!”

An unbidden image flashed before Luna’s eyes; two mares, covered from tail to muzzle in pure white flour, glaring daggers at a cackling Pinkie Pie. The tips of their ears slowly turning red as the rest of their friends failed to hide their own amusement.

Luna bit down on her bottom lip and sucked in her cheeks. Do not meet their eyes! You shan’t be able to hold it in if you do!

“Hey!” Rainbow cried, pointing a hoof at her in mock indignation. Her cerise eyes narrowed, she pinned back her ears and set her jaw. “You’re laughing at us!”

Her teal eyes flitted up, she caught a glimpse of Rainbow’s cyan coated cheeks puffing out. And promptly squeaked. Drat! “N-Nay, I am not,” she choked out, the tiniest of giggles slipping through. Luna brought a hoof to her mouth, trying in vain to hide the wide grin stretching across her muzzle. “I-I am merely—snrrk—considering the prospects of—“

“Flour ponies?” Twilight put in slyly.

She snorted, her magic dissappated and dropped the pieces to the floor as she clamped her hooves over her muzzle just a second too late. The tips of her ears burned at the giggles and light teasing sent around the table. Giving a weak chuckle, she ducked her head and shifted in place, sneaking a glance in Twilight’s direction.

Their eyes met; Twilight’s danced with mirth, a mirror to the bright smile and happy swishing of her tail against her cushion, a few strands even brushing against Luna’s flank—just below her cutie mark.

A shudder ran through her body, from the very spot the silky ends of Twilight’s tail trailed against her, up her spine, to the very tip of her ear. Close. Very close. She blinked her eyes, shaking herself to discard the sensation. Friends are close, Luna. See how Rainbow Dash sits so closely with Applejack, even daring to lay herself across her back.

Friends allow themselves to come close to one another and tease to have fun, the same as how she and Celestia were.

Fun. Not at her expense, but together. The shared laughter, the teasing, it was all just part of their daily routine; part of the experience of being friends.

Six mares, six different personalities. She sat up straight and let her ears prick up. “Ah, yes, Twilight,” Luna replied, finally able to find her voice. “I suppose it would be quite the sight. Why, just imagine it: they could shake their manes to sprinkle flour into ingredients to be mixed!”

Twilight shook her head and laughed. “Oh, dear, please don’t give Pinkie any ideas!”

“Too late!” Pinkie chirped, bouncing on her cushion and drumming her hooves on the tabletop. “I have allllllllllllll of the flour pony-related plans now!”

“Oh, sweet, merciful Celestia, no!” The others groaned.

Rarity brought up her hooves to massage her temples, grumbling under her breath, “Pinkie Pie, I swear, if you bring even a single microbe of flour into my boutique, I’ll find a way to have you put on a sugar-free diet!”

Recoiling, Pinkie hissed,“Never!

By the stars and moon, these mares are going to be the death of me! Luna shook her head as she picked up a pair of puzzle pieces in her magic—a matched pair, but not of the same portion of the sky as her corner.

Still, every little bit helped. “Huzzah!” She cheered and fitted them together. With a merry rustle of her wings, she floated them over to the center of the table for all to see. “Friends, behold! These pieces are matched, but they are of a different part. Pray tell, do any of you need them?”

The girls leaned in, each squinting at the little image: part of the sky, certainly, but with something else.

A golden tip, standing tall and proud in the night sky and reflecting a bit of moonlight—a part of the structure. Gold is far too grand for any mere fortress, Luna thought. That would rule out most modern cities, as well. Manehattan shines with light and signs, but none of the buildings are made of gold. None that I know of, at least.

A castle perhaps? That would be more likely, but which?

“Um, Princess Luna?”

Her ear flicked toward Fluttershy’s voice. “Hmm? Yes?”

“I’m pretty sure that goes with my part.” Turning to her right, Luna found her reaching pointing to part of her own section: the top of the structure, still missing the final portion of the roof. “I mean, unless you think there might be another rooftop that extends into your corner.”

“Ah. Forgive me, I was merely lost in thought—“ she floated her pieces over to Fluttershy and gave a wink “—I fear that my age may be taking its tole on my concentration.”

“Oh, well, I don’t mind, Princess. If you wanted to look a bit more, it isn’t much of a bother.”

Luna waved her hoof. “Nay, fair Fluttershy. I will wait until we are finished to gaze upon it. I merely wanted to see if I could determine what building is depicted in the scene—since our mutual friend deigns that our efforts be made just a tad more difficult.” She levied Twilight with a critical stare, her brow arched meaningfully.

Without missing a beat, Twilight picked up another pair of pieces to examine and hummed absentmindedly, “I just thought everypony might appreciate a bit of a challenge! Not to mention how much a surprise it’ll be when we do finish.”

“Twilight, dear, forgive me for saying, but your ‘challenges’ have a tendency to make me want to tear out my mane!” Rarity huffed and tossed her head. “Having no idea what it is we should be piecing together is a bit unfair, don’t you think?”

“It’s just something mom and dad used to have us do when I was a filly.” Twilight shifted awkwardly, her ears pinning back ever-so slightly under her friends’ scrutiny.

Uncomfortable. Luna cleared her throat, coming to Twilight’s aid with barely a second’s hesitation. “Worry not, Twilight Sparkle, I am quite up to the task. And I have full faith that the same mares who joined together to rid me of my affliction are capable of handling a little mystery puzzle—especially when done in mere fun.”

She smiled as Twilight’s ears slowly unpinned, her lips curving upward, returning Luna’s smile with a rather awkward one of her own.

But not quite all were so pleased with her. “Oh, dear,” Rarity groaned. “Now you’ve done it!”

“What?” She blinked, tilting her head and furrowing her brows. “What have I done?”

Rarity just shook her head and brought a hoof to her forehead, massaging between her eyes. “Just wait…”

“For what? I do not understand—have I misspoken? Is my verbiage incorrect?”

“Not so much incorrect as unfortunate.“ Twilight giggled, giving a little nudge to her side and gestured toward Rainbow Dash.

Raising a brow, Luna glanced across the table and was met with a harsh glare.

Rainbow had her hooves planted firmly on the table, on either side of the messy pile of puzzle pieces that she’d barely even touched. Narrowing her eyes, she snorted. “Did I hear that right? Coulda sworn that was a challenge, Princess!”

“I did not—“ she stopped short, the gears in her head whirring into action. Ah, yes. She thought, humming to herself. The ever competitive prospect to the Wonderbolts, I recall mention of her in several Friendship Reports. Not to mention her little pranks on Nightmare Night.

Just the opportunity she needed.

Grinning slyly, she steepled her hooves and leaned back into her cushion. “Why, yes, Miss Dash,” she purred, a fair imitation of some of the mares in her Night Guard, “it was, indeed. Unless, of course, you all think that you are not up to the task.”

A sharp intake of breath. Rainbow sat down roughly and directed her steely gaze to her pile. She glanced around the table, grimacing at each pile.

Noticed that you seem to be bringing up the rear, eh? Luna’s grin widened, almost sharklike in nature. Her age old talent, stirring up a little bit of fun with a few side remarks, a little bit of teasing to craft her own entertainment.

The very same kind that drove her dear, sweet sister to pull at her mane all those years ago.

Rainbow grumbled and, finally, set about organizing her pieces. “I’ll get this thing done. I’ll have it done faster than Pinkie can eat—“ she trailed off, slowly turning to glance at Pinkie.

“Yeeeessss?” Pinkie waggled her eyebrows, smiling so broadly it almost split her muzzle.

“Never mind. I’ll just do this thing and catch up.”

“Awwww! I was hoping for another bet! The last one was sooooo fun, Dashie!”

The mares, sans Luna, devolved into a round of giggles and teasing remarks as Rainbow Dash’s cheeks took on a deep reddish hue. She scowled and forced herself to look down and away from her friends’ grins. “Laugh it up!” She snapped. “Next time, I’m not ending up in that stupid chicken suit!”

Wait, what? “Forgive me,” Luna cut in, “would that, er, happen to be the same suit that Pinkie Pie wore on Nightmare Night?”

“Yepper-depper! You should’ve seen it, Princess! We had a rainbow chicken pecking and squawking around Ponyville!”

“Laugh it up. Just you wait, one of these days, Pinkie Pie. One of these days…”

Another wave of giggles, even Luna couldn’t resist a titter at the sight of Rainbow’s lip jutting out in a rather poor attempt at a pout, completely ruined by the tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Far too used to your friend’s antics, I think—you enjoy this little game just as much as the rest. Learning in the midst of an evening out, Celestia would certainly be pleased.

“I’ve got it!” Rainbow cried, thumping a hoof against the tabletop. “I can solve this quicker than Twilight can tame an Ursa!”

A little squeak from her left drew Luna’s attention. Twilight’s ears pinned back once again, her muzzle tinged a deep pink. She shifted in place, unwittingly brushing her shoulder against Luna’s wing. “I-It wasn’t that quick! And that took a lot more magic than you all realize…” Glancing toward Luna, she gave a very weak smile. “It was all just a combination of a few tricks, nothing that big…”

Still she finds herself uncomfortable? And “just a few tricks”? Luna hummed to herself as the others objected to Twilight’s assessment. Later. Save it for later.

Pressing Twilight in front of her friends would only lead to more awkwardness; Luna’s little investigation could wait. Unfurling her wings, she lightly ghosted her feathers over Twilight’s side, a small show of comfort and support. “Perhaps not to you, but to those who watched and read of your deeds, t’was quite an impressive feat.”

“Hear, hear!” Rarity said with a solemn nod, a sentiment echoed by the others.

Twilight’s blush deepened, she ducked her head and, perhaps unwittingly, pressed herself against Luna’s side.

Almost as though trying to hide beneath her wings…

Luna had to shake herself. Tia. She picked that up learning from Tia. Don’t draw attention to it, let her stay and be comfortable.

Smiling, she brushed her feathers against Twilight’s side again and let her eyes drift back to the puzzle itself. The teasing and giggling lost on her as she was drawn back to the incomplete scenery.

Specifically, she found herself drawn to the rooftop displayed on Fluttershy’s section. Something about it nagged at her, the little voice needling her to look closer, to find that detail that slipped right under her nose.

Artist’s eye, Luna. Where is it? Where’s the clue? Golden spires, a slight bell-shaping in the curve leading down to a marble tower. And was that—could it be…

Levitating another piece before her muzzle, Luna took a deep breath and pushed that thought away. The only way to actually see would be to finish. If her suspicions were wrong, oh well—it was still a lovely little thing. If they were right…

Putting the cart before the pony, aren’t we?

The puzzle. Just finish the puzzle and all would be clear. And have fun along the way.

But as she sifted through her pieces, carefully searching for one that might match with the star-spotted night sky, she felt it—like somepony nosing against her cheek, and, yet, not entirely there. Her teal eyes snapped open, Luna blinked owlishly. Had the time gone by that quickly?

“Lulu…” Her magic flickered, the puzzle pieces fell to the table with a dull thud. Luna’s ears pricked up, her muscles tensed as Celestia’s voice reached her ears, almost as if carried on the wind, unheard by the others. “It’s time, little sister. The day is done! Bring forth the night!”

“Yes,” she muttered, staring off into the distance. “I’m ready.”

“Er… ready for what?”

Luna jolted out of her reverie and turned, coming muzzle-to-muzzle with Twilight Sparkle. “Excuse me?”

“You said ‘I’m ready’. Ready for what, Luna?” she tilted her head to the side, her brows knit together in confusion. “Is there something you came here for beside this? An errand, perhaps?”

She glanced to each pony in turn, finding similar expressions shared in each young mare’s face. Did I… Oh, my mouth again. “Not so much an errand, persay.” She cringed, rubbing a hoof against her shin. Six ponies, all friendly and kind to her since the day they’d rid her of the nightmare that plagued her for a thousand years.

But to share something like this with them…

Heavens, when was the last time ponies actually watched me make the night sky?

The simple answer was, of course, “far too long”. Half a century before her banishment, in fact. The dusk, when she proudly raised the moon, a sight ponies once saw as beautiful and glorious as dawn Celestia brought. Those days had long since passed into obscurity—ancient history, as the foals might say.

To share her night again, to show ponies how she so lovingly set the moon in the night sky and then painstakingly arranged the stars; her greatest pride and joy, to paint on a canvas that no other could even dare to touch.

“Even in a thousand years, I could not even begin to craft the sky with the beauty and majesty you brought, Lulu.” Celestia admitted upon her return. “Your return, and the return of your art, bring me joy brighter than the sun itself. I missed you so…”

Luna forced herself to look toward Twilight, her smile straining. “I, er… I may have neglected to consider that the timing of our festivities—“ she waved a hoof over the table “—would coincide with my duties. T’will take but a few moments, I just need to, er, take care of something.”

Traitorous mouth! Obey, and speak properly!

“Duties? Like what?” Applejack quirked a brow. “Have you got some visit to the mayor you forgot to mention? I’m no political whiz—“

“That’s putting it lightly—Ow!” Rainbow yelped at the hoof Applejack jabbed into her side.

“Shut it, you! Anyway, if you gotta go to a meetin’ with the mayor, we could cut it short. Dunno how long she’ll keep you, really…”

“No!” Wincing at her own volume, Luna gave herself a mental kick. “Er, no, dear Applejack. I do not have a ‘meeting’ of any sort with the mayor.” Just say it, you silly mare. Out with it. “Rather, I must bring the night. ‘Tis sunset.”

Twilight gasped, she brought her hooves to her mouth and bounced in her cushion. “You mean like how Princess Celestia raises the sun every morning? Really?”

Luna chuckled awkwardly and rustled her wings. “Well, yes—“ she leaned back, her smile straining “—my, er, sister and I have a sort of connection with the land; when the time comes for the sun and moon to rise and set, we simply know. It is a sort of ceding of the land to one another, for lack of better word. In short—“

“You’re more comfortable at night! Oops!” Twilight covered her mouth. “Sorry! It just hit me, I didn’t mean to steal your thunder!”

“I do not understand. How have you stolen from me? I can still bring down the lightning and booming thunder!” She pounded a hoof on the table top for emphasis, a flash of light and rolling thunder sounded in the distance. Cringing at the way Fluttershy squeaked and flared out her wings, ready to fly away to safety, Luna brought her hoof back to her lap. Oops. “Er, was that wrong?”

Pinkie Pie giggled and brought her hooves together so they were almost touching. “Just a little bit off! But don’t worry! No pony’s gonna steal that talent from you, Princess!”

“No kidding! I need a thunder cloud to pull that off! Say, how’s about you, Pinkie, and I join up next Nightmare Night for a little—Ow! For the love of—Applejack! If you keep jabbing me, I’m gonna call abuse!”

Snorting, Applejack pushed her hat out of her face and smirked at Rainbow. “Uh-huh, the day you don’t settle a score pony to pony, I’ll eat my hat!” She turned to Luna, her expression shifting from a teasing smirk to a kind smile. “Well, we can wait for you to take care ‘o things. Don’t see any reason to be rude an’ go on without you.”

Nods from Rarity and Fluttershy made Luna sigh in relief. She folded her wings against her sides, bringing a hoof to her chest. “Thank you, ladies. Though, truly, I do apologize for the oversight—I should have arranged to have it done beforehoof.”

A tap on her shoulder, light and shy, drew her attention to Twilight once more.

Gazing up at her with stars in her eyes and her hooves clasped together, like a puppy begging for treats, Twilight squealed. “Can we watch?”

Luna reared back, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. What? “E-Excuse me?”

“You raising the moon and putting the stars in the sky—can we watch? Please?” She leaned forward, almost pressing herself up against Luna. Her brilliant purple eyes locked on Luna’s teal, all signs of her previous nerves and that excessive humility vanished without a trace. “I’ve seen Princess Celestia raise the sun hundreds of times, and even raise the moon, but she used to always say it was nothing compared to the original!”

Her breath clenched in her chest. “She said that? Truly?” Even to your own student, Tia? Not merely for my benefit?

Twilight nodded happily, oblivious to Luna’s confusion. “Yes! She used to just stare up at it and frown, like she thought it couldn’t measure up to somepony’s work—I can’t believe I didn’t realize she meant you back when we first met!”

Luna’s mind raced! It wasn’t that Celestia had been particularly subtle on how greatly she missed Luna, far from it, in fact; but to have it reaffirmed by Twilight herself, and so casually at that…

She had to bite her lip, her hoof bounced on her cushion. Excitement, jubilation, both at the affirmation of her sister’s love and affection and the prospect of displaying her pride and joy—the greatest work of art she had ever given this world.

Time to move past my old mistakes, Tia would say. This is my chance. Luna stood, her legs shaking. Anticipation? Fear? Excitement? All three? She couldn’t say for certain.

So many years had passed since the last Dusk Ceremony. So many faces of ponies, long since passed on, flitted before her, each of them gazing in wonder up at her sky.

“It has been quite some time—” She tried to keep her voice level, but to no avail. The utter glee at the prospect; her voice quivered, she swished her starry tail, unable to hide her joy. “—since the last time anypony wanted to see…”

Twilight waved a hoof toward the rest of the girls, each of whom made to stand. “I think you’ll find that there’s five ponies with a bit of a casual interest, and me with something a bit more than that!”

“And by that, she means she’ll fangirl harder than I do over the Wonderbolts!” Rainbow quipped as she hopped nimbly to her hooves. “C’mon! This I gotta see!”

“You, er, do not mind that I interrupted our puzzle endeavor?”

“Uh, I’m gonna go with a solid ‘no’ on that one—no offense, Twi.”

“None taken!” Twilight chirped, lightly bouncing on her hooves.

“Cool. But, seriously: puzzle—“ she turned to Luna and held up both hooves like a she was imitating a set of scales “–watching you raise the moon. I don’t think it’s much of a contest.”

Luna’s ear tips burned. She ducked her head shyly and mumbled, “And putting the stars in the sky—“ she pawed lightly at the ground “—I do that too.”

“Yeah, like I said: not much of a contest. So—“ Rainbow zipped around behind Luna and pushed her toward the door “—let’s go!”

What? She yelped, digging her hooves in to fight against Rainbow’s pushing her along. “W-Wait! Now, see here! I did not agree to a public display in the middle of Ponyville!”

“Um, Princess? We can’t really sneak you out and not expect ponies to be curious.” Fluttershy pointed out. “I mean, if you don’t mind me saying, they’re bound to be a bit antsy if they saw you arrive—especially if your guards brought you again.”

Cringing, Luna pinned back her ears. Oh, confound my theatrics! Three Night Guards and her seneschal were wandering around the town, awaiting her order to leave.

Arriving in her chariot, much like on Nightmare Night, was quickly becoming a detriment to her wants. The subtlety she instilled in her Night Guards upon their formation, she’d let it fall by the wayside, falling back into the habits Celestia so desperately wished to see:

“I seem to recall a mare from many moons ago. At one time, she could walk into a room full of the highest dignitaries with her head high and a spring in her step, the room was hers as soon as she set hoof in it.”

Luna chewed on the inside of her cheek, her eyes darting from Twilight to Rainbow to the window and back again. “Er, perhaps there might be an alternative exit? I do need clear view of the sky in order to place everything properly, and I would prefer not to disrupt the townsponies’ lives for something such as this.”

“Ooh! Ooh! I know! I know! Pick me, pick me!” Pinkie chanted, jumping and waving her hooves in the air like she was trying to get Luna’s attention through a crowd.

“Er, yes—“ she glanced toward Pinkie and raised a brow “—Pinkie Pie.”

Stopping in place, Pinkie pointed to the kitchen door. “Well, there’s a back door where all our supply deliveries come! So, you could just sneak out—“ she crouched low and pranced in place “—raise the moon, put all the stars in the sky, then sneak right back in before anypony else sees you! It’s foolproof!”

The was a beat of silence as Luna considered.

To be perfectly frank, no, it wasn’t entirely foolproof. Hardly one of her Night Guard’s more covert operations, but the best option she had presently. Well, other than simply glancing out the window and trying to guess at where she was putting things out of view.

She snorted at the mere notion. Never. Her nights were the greatest gift she had to give her ponies; anything less than her best effort was unacceptable.

“Very well. The back door it is. Lead the way, Pinkie Pie.”

Squealing with delight, Pinkie bounced—yes, bounced—toward the door. The girls followed in her wake casually, like this was just a part of their daily routine.

To be fair, Luna thought with a small frown, she did admit to playacting that she was afraid of me on Nightmare Night because being scared during the festivities is “fun”. I would not be so surprised.

She trotted alongside Twilight, butterflies fluttered in her stomach as the stepped through the door, past the pots and pans hanging on hooks above the counter, and toward a wooden door to the outside of the shop. They’d at least taken care of some possibility of drawing a large crowd, but still, the nerves just wouldn’t go away.

Still, afraid, Luna? Her ears perked up. The voice, that treacherous little voice, had returned to torment her again. You could always just run away again. Just like you do with all of your problems—call Captain Erebos, make an excuse, and race back to your ivory tower to hide.

For a split second, she faltered. Her hoof stopped in mid step as she considered the possibility. The easy way out, so very tempting. How many times had she taken it when she opted to put off her first visit to Twilight’s library?

Far too many.

I thought I rid myself of you. Snorting, she shook herself. It was just a voice, nothing real. You have no power over me! You are naught but a figment of my imagination, brought on by my own doubt! Begone!

I have as much power as you give me, Luna, dear. After all, I am you!

“Then take a hint and leave!” She shot back under her breath. Luna stepped forward, emphatically stomping as though the voice itself were manifested before her.

Twilight tapped her on the shoulder. “Luna? Who are you—“

She waved her off with a hoof. Blast my mouth! “Nothing, my friend, just talking to myself. I fear these incidents are more frequent with my age.”

Narrowing her eyes, Twilight regarded her silently for a moment, stopping just as they came to the kitchen door. She tilted her head to the side, her eyebrows knit together.

Luna tried to match her gaze, she pasted a grin on her muzzle and perked up her ears to their fullest height. Tia would have a field day if she were here. “W-We should not, er, dally, Twilight. Your friends await and I cannot delay the moonrise any longer.” Please, please, please do not press further!

Coward.

Twilight let out a breath, her nostrils flaring, but nodded. “All right, fair enough.“ She sighed and gestured to the door. “After you.”

A wince, a little rustle of her wings at the tone. Luna’s faux grin strained as she nodded and stepped past Twilight and outside. Her regalia clinked against the tightly-packed dirt walkway, run down to a hardened surface with the years of ponies running in and out with supplies—like a field of grass flattened by marching soldiers.

She trotted forward, her gaze flitting up to the sky itself, locking on the setting sun. Going slower tonight, sister? To wait for me or to give our ponies a glimpse of your own artistic flair?

A chuckle escaped her lips, she could almost hear Celestia’s reply: “Oh, no, Lulu! You and I both know that the arts were never truly my cup of tea—the entire Celestial Age is credence enough to that.”

One lesson she could never impart on her sister, that beauty was in the eye of the beholder; a battle that raged for millennia on end. Perhaps someday, she shall see that.

The sky was painted in fiery orange and yellow, backed by soft purple as the last edges of the sun’s light sank beneath the horizon. Those colors, so fleeting and gone so quickly, that she wished so fervently to stay a bit longer; painting the sky like the great artists of the Surrealist Age.

“And now,” she began, pausing to take a deep breath, “it’s time.”

Her horn lit up, wreathed in a soft blue aura. Luna let out a breath through her nose, focusing on the moon. Come out. Come out and light up the night sky.

Just as the last tip of the sun disappeared, the moon, shining pure white to give guidance to all who walked the night, peaked out from hiding. Slowly, Luna drew it from beyond the horizon, in perfect unison with the sunset. A counterbalance of celestial proportions, carefully practiced since their dawn.

Gasps. An exclamation of awe and wonder made her ear flick, but she forced herself to maintain concentration, just barely stopping herself from turning to see. Do not falter, there is still work to be done.

Twilight spoke, seemingly from a distance; incomprehensible as Luna pulled the moon across the sky, to its very zenith. The fiery orange faded, soft purple seemed to billow and bathe the sky itself in darkness, the shadow of night hanging thick over Equestria.

Her domain.

She could feel the chill of night air, her senses extending to reach over the land. Her sight was clearer, she could hear every heartbeat from the group of friends, her friends.

“Beautiful…” Her ears pricked up at the sound of Rarity’s voice, little more than a breathy whisper to most, but clear as the stars in the sky to her.

Or, rather, the stars she’d soon bring.

Come forth, little ones, she called, as if to her own foals. Time to awake and shine through the darkness.

Slowly, Luna raised a hoof, slipping back into old habits as she played up the weight of the act. As though she were lifting a star, readying herself to throw it into place, she jabbed out, pointing to the vast emptiness of the sky. Clover, there!

A burst of light, a star twinkled and shone just as brilliant as Clover had been in life, hanging in the night sky for all to behold. An everlasting homage to a pony wise beyond her years.

“Oh my goodness!”

“Dude. That’s awesome.”

She had to withhold a snort. One star was all it took? Ponies these days. Let us see how you like this. Platinum, you next. Another jab of her hoof, and a star as bright and beautiful as the Princess of ancient Unicornia burst forth to the right of its sister.

Without hesitation, Luna followed up, quickly dotting the sky with her beloved little stars. Hurricane, Pansy, Smart Cookie, and Puddinghead joined their fellow founders, arranged into a hexagon; six ponies, unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies, united despite their differences to bring their tribes together.

Her very favorite constellation; the first she’d arranged and the first she always painted the sky with.

Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled at the mares behind her. Their eyes were locked on the stars above, their jaws dropped as they beheld it. Six of them, so different, in personality and in spirit, united in friendship.

The founders’ legacy is strong in these lands. They would be proud to see a sight such as this.

Twilight dropped her gaze to stare at Luna, her mouth formed a small ‘o’ of wonder. “I… that…”

Luna smiled, ignoring the way her heart fluttered at the wordless praise. “Not yet finished,” she chided before turning her attention to the sky once more.

Tempo Rubato. Fortissimo and Sforzando, to your father’s side. Fil di Voce, with them please. Four stars, memories of her musician friends, stood side by side in the night sky, shining merrily down on the land below.

Two more jabs, two more stars appeared near the quartet. Beethooven and Werner, you two go there—Werner, stop goading Tempo to argue over time signatures! The two friends, true students of the art from such different races, who could bicker and banter like none other, flashed into existence above Tempo's star, eager to pull him into their never ending debate.

Luna frowned, glaring at the one on the right. Don’t be contrary, Werner. Shine brightly. She licked the front tip of her hoof and made a rubbing motion, like ridding metal of a smudge. There! She beamed as the star shone brightly, falling into line with its brother after a little push. Funny, how you all seem to retain their personalities.

With each jab of her hoof, another star dotted the sky, some with names of friends, lovers, and comrades long since passed—Captain Noir, Lieutenant Shade, and Sergeant Silent Night stood proudly in formation, the first three officers of her vaunted Night Guard—while others were yet unnamed, awaiting the day she would find ponies worthy of gracing her sky.

Erebos and Moondancer certainly will, many years from now, I hope. Luna swished her tail and turned to face the girls, her eyes flitting over each. From the exuberant Pinkie Pie to kind Fluttershy, to hardy Applejack to speedy Rainbow Dash, to splendorous Rarity and finally resting on dear Twilight Sparkle.

Her first friend since her return.

Those eyes, those brilliant purple eyes were locked with hers. Wide and hungry for knowledge, but with something else, a spark of something she knew familiar. Something she knew from nights spent reciting the practiced speech in front of a mirror:

Admiration.

13: Concerning Family

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Seated at the midnight blue painted desk in her study, with her hooves steepled, Luna frowned. Her last visit to Ponyville was pleasant, very much so, even though she’d unwittingly stolen the show with her little display.

Twilight’s puzzle, beautiful though the scenery had been and as much fun as they had constructing it, fell by the wayside in favor of the mares heaping praise on her, crowing over the splendor that graced the night sky with her careful arrangement of the stars.

Her feathers ruffled, her cheeks burned at the echoes of their voices. From Pinkie Pie’s over exaggerated gasp to Rarity fawning over her, even Rainbow noted that “if all art was as awesome as that, I’d be a lot more into it!”

There was certainly a point to be made that she felt all art was just as “awesome” in its own right, but Luna had been a bit too distracted by something else:

Twilight Sparkle, yet again. When she finally managed to overcome her awe and regain control of her mouth, she babbled excitedly, flinging questions faster than Luna could even begin to comprehend.

How had she done it? How did she bring the stars forth from the blackness of night? Was there a spell? Was it unique to her?

It was in that moment, Luna found herself, once again, in a rather odd position: Twilight Sparkle was examining her. The pony she so admired and respected expressed the same sentiments, the same interest in her.

But, despite her joy and how flattered she truly was, the question remained; her elder sister’s hints had done nothing to help her understand Twilight Sparkle’s habits.

Nothing. Between her observations during her most recent meeting and those from the original, all she could go on was the basic notion that Twilight was uncomfortable whenever praised for some odd reason.

For what? Nervous that she might not not live up to expectations? Afraid of disappointing or angering my sister? Her frown deepened, her tail flicking in agitation. How very nostalgic this feeling is. There is a word for this frustration, I believe. One that goes along quite nicely with the feeling of wanting to tear my mane out. ’Tis on the tip of my tongue.

She breathed in deep, eyes widening just slightly as it clicked. “Maddening. The word I wish to use is ‘maddening’.” Luna mused, her hooves folded over one another.

At her side, as always, Captain Erebos coughed awkwardly. He raised a brow and spoke in low tones.. “What’s maddening, Princess? Is there something Moondancer or I could do to help?” He nodded to the little unicorn standing off to the side.

With a glance toward both ponies, Luna allowed herself a small smile. My, how dedicated you are. “’Tis no real cause for concern, Erebos.” She waved him off with a hoof. “I am simply faced with a question that refuses to yield and bear its secrets to me. Also—” her smile turned predatory “—aren’t you supposed to call her Moonie?”

A beat of silence, another awkward cough from Erebos, a tiny squeak from Moondancer. Their activities were still the subject of much teasing, both from herself and the guards, no matter how Erebos tried to order them to stop.

Mischief begets mischief, Captain.

He mumbled something incomprehensible under his breath, an odd shift from his usual manner. Moondancer herself seemed a bit off as well, as though she were walking on eggshells—well, her nerves weren’t the best, but she had been getting better as long as they weren’t in the chariot.

Luna’s ears twitched. “If you have something to say, then speak, Erebos,” she turned, folding her hooves in her lap as she regarded the pair. “And you as well, Moondancer.”

The pair shared a look, Moondancer chewing on her bottom lip before turning back to face her princess. “Uh, well, it just seems like,” she paused to shuffle her hooves in the soft, midnight blue carpet of Luna’s chambers, struggling to bring the words forth.

Luna raised a brow, glancing at her seneschal’s pinned back ears and anxiously flicking tail. “Relax,” she said softly, giving a tiny smile. “I will hardly send you to the dungeons for speaking when I asked.”

“O-Of course, it’s just that it might be a little,” Moondancer glanced down and away, finding interest in the floor rather than meet Luna’s gaze, “forward of me to say. But, if you don’t mind me saying—"

“She really doesn’t, get to the point,” Erebos cut in.

“Sorry! Sorry! Uh, well, it just seems like something’s been bothering you ever since your visit with Twilight. You were happy at first, but since then, you’ve been sort of, um, brooding. Like something’s just nagging you,” she shifted in place and ducked her head. “Did something go wrong?”

Ah, worried about my friendship with Twilight. Interesting. With a smile, Luna shook her head. “No, my ever-faithful Moondancer, my meeting with Twilight Sparkle was quite pleasant, thank you. Though, I will not deny, she is the focal point of the very question I am faced with.”

Erebos stepped forward, his ears standing straight up. “Princess, perhaps if you told us what this question is we might be able to help rather than jumping to conclusions. I’ll admit, your state has been noticed by a number of the Night Guards; they wonder what it is that has their beloved Princess of the Night so reflective.” He pulled a face and gave his leathery wings a little ruffle. “They worry that you’re dissatisfied with their performance.”

Luna winced, pressing her hoof against her cushion and grinding it against the soft plush. They are far too worried about my approval. The memory of the twins’ antics flitted through her mind, the mischievous grins and jokes, the same that had been typical of her guard since its inception. Perhaps, a bit too much like the foals I never had. “You have assured them that I am quite pleased to have returned to such a well-trained unit, I hope?”

“I did,” he gave a single nod, “but, my word only means so much when I cannot give a specific answer. Some wonder if they’ve done something wrong, others itch to know what or whom has you so bothered and if there’s any way they can help take care of it.”

“Unnecessary!” She blurted out, louder than she intended. The trouble with having a guard branch comprised of a race that owes you a debt: undying loyalty. Her eyes flitted to her desk drawer—locked, with the key hidden in a place only she knew. The contents secure. Far too much. Too many of those memories.

Luna shook her head. “I appreciate their dedication, but no action will be necessary, Captain.”

“I’ll be sure to let them know that all is well. Once they hear Miss Sparkle’s name, that should set them at ease. However—” she could almost see the gears turning in his head as Erebos furrowed his brows “—the question you’ve mentioned, it wouldn’t happen to be about her nerves, would it?”

“Indeed. I do not mean to belabor a point, but I find her seeming lack of pride unsettling.” Luna flicked her tail, as if to ward off a pest. “Humility is an admirable quality, but the way she shies away from praise, and the scene my sister described with the Day Court trouble me. She is my friend, more than that, she is a mare of great magical skill and moral fiber; Twilight Sparkle should hold her head high when she walks through this city, not blush and shuffle her hooves in the dirt!”

Erebos quirked an eyebrow. “I see. Taking Princess Celestia’s story into account, do you think the trip to Court might have been the cause?”

“I cannot say for certain, but I mean to find out. Unfortunately, Tia seems unwilling to be forthright with the entire story,” she snorted harshly. “Ironic, that I was the trickster in days gone by, but now she returns the favor. I would venture to say this is her way of returning the favor, but she is not so cold.”

“Um, Princess,” Moondancer put in, raising her hoof. “I went through Princess Celestia’s school, there was a bit of a similar method for teaching when we got to the more advanced lessons.”

Raising her eyebrow, Luna turned a hoof through the air to prompt the mare.

Another shuffle, a quick glance away before she continued on. “Our teachers used to give us problems—thaumotology equations, potions laboratory projects, stuff like that. We had to work them out on our own time and balance the rest of our coursework.”

“And, how, pray tell, does this apply?” Her muzzle creased into a small frown. “Are you likening this to a school project?”

“No—yes—sort of—“ Moondancer stammered, glancing to Erebos for support.

The Captain of the Night Guard sighed and shook his head, smiling all the same. “Princess, if I may. I believe Miss Moondancer is comparing your question to her school projects in terms of the design in their directions, not in the weight they carry. After all, Princess Celestia did give some indication of what she feels may be the root of the problem.”

Luna hummed to herself. “True,” she admitted. “My sister and I are hardly omnipotent, despite what some ponies might think. She would only know what she had seen, unless, of course—” she raised an eyebrow at Erebos “—the Night Guard were watching her most prized student.”

“Not in that sense,” he replied smoothly. “The most we did was tail her when she walked home at night, just to be certain she made it safe and sound.”

“In the middle of Canterlot? My, aren’t we paranoid.”

“I prefer to have something in place and find it unnecessary than to need it and not have it ready,” Erebos said with a little shrug. “But, that aside, we didn’t utilize our old methods. Her privacy was respected, as ordered by Princess Celestia and in accordance with your protocols for Equestrian citizens.”

Nodding, Luna turned herself back to place her hooves on the desk. “Very good. I am quite pleased to see that much remained the same.” She flicked her tail and sighed. One question answered, but the prevailing issue still hung over her head, like a dark cloud.

Twilight flinching, pinning back her ears and ducking her head when praised, a deep blush coloring her cheeks; even when her friends made casual mention of her deeds.

She should be proud of herself! Her head should be held high as she strides through the hallways of Equestria’s finest academic institutions. Students should be lined up to hear her lectures on thaumatological theory. Her brows furrowed, Luna flicked her tail. Though, perhaps that is not what she wants. Perhaps she prefers the library, so to stay closer to her friends. But, based on what Tia told me of the “guest lectors”, she could easily make sporadic appearances.

“I wish I could understand her,” Luna muttered. “How a mare so intelligent and so gifted could be so embarrassed by her own ability escapes me.”

Frowning to herself, she tried to make heads or tails of it. There was some similarity between Twilight and Celestia—especially during the earliest days of Equestria.

Tia was kind, studious, protective of her ponies, and fretted over every decision she had to make. I loved to play jokes, paint, listen to music, and chat with friends. Another flick of her tail. Luna sniffed and shook her head. For a time, that is…

Twilight; She was focusing on Twilight’s problems, not lamenting the days gone by, faces long since decayed to dust by the slow turn of time, or the mistakes that plagued her darkened past. There was nothing to be done to change those events, no matter how she might wish.

Focus on today, as Tia might say. Luna took a deep breath in through her nose, slowly letting it out through her mouth. If there is one thing that Cadenza is to be thanked for, ’tis her calm breathing technique. What wonders that would have done in days of old.

“Moondancer,” she spoke again, “from what you recall of your school days, how would you describe Twilight Sparkle?”

Moondancer hummed, shifting from her weight from one side to the other. “She wasn’t quite like she is now. Honestly, I couldn’t even call us friends, just study buddies—or acquaintances would be a better word.”

“Did you not get on well with her?”

“Oh, no! We could talk with one another just fine, Princess. But—“she huffed and shook her head, her voice taking on a rather bitter tone “—she wasn’t really one to socialize. Everything was just study, study, study with that mare! Twinkleshine, Colgate, and I used to try—oh, how we tried!—to get her to go out with us, just for a night on the town or a nice little party. Every time, she had her studies…”

Luna’s right ear flicked, the sudden shift in tone clear as the stars in the sky. “T’would seem that such anti-social behavior offends you, my dear Moondancer. I wonder, what must that make you think of me?”

A squeak of surprise!

Turning, she found Moondancer, recoiled, with her ears laying flat against her scalp. “Am I wrong?”

“I-I didn’t mean it like—stop laughing, Captain!” Moondancer’s cheeks puffed out, she stamped a hoof against the soft carpeting. A rare show of frustration and gumption before Luna. “I meant it just as observation! Yes, I’ll admit, I was a bit upset when she turned us down. It… I won’t lie, it hurt. Especially the last time.” She hung her head and sniffled. “She made an excuse to miss my party, then found such good friends somewhere else…”

Luna rustled her wings, quickly averting her gaze. To a point, she could pity Moondancer; being rejected—even unintentionally—time and time again, only to watch as that pony went and found different friends was certainly hurtful.

Especially to a young mare who admired and tried so very hard to reach out a hoof, as she had.

“I am uncertain what to say on that front.” She shifted in her cushion, idly rubbing at her shin. “Were it not for her relocation to Ponyville, I would not have had the pleasure of meeting Twilight upon my… er, return.”

“Oh, I’m not upset—well, not quite as upset as I was when it happened. I’m really happy for both of you, just…” Another sigh, her head hung lower. Her tail shifted between her legs, even the pretty blue bow she wore seemed to droop. “I really wish she’d have given us a chance.”

Erebos strode forth and threw a wing over Moondancer’s withers. “If it’s of any consolation, Miss—er, Moonie— I don’t think she did so deliberately. She’s… well, she wasn’t exactly the most observant pony when it came to friendship back then. As I recall, Princess Celestia had to send her away for that to happen.” He smiled awkwardly as he corrected himself, reaching up to tip his helmet down just slightly as if to hide from Luna’s gaze.

Futile, but Luna bit back the easy quip. If he wanted to be helpful, by all means, Erebos had her blessing. Especially if it gave Moondancer that last little nudge to get her so she was comfortable around the Night Guard.

Almost as though he could hear her innermost thoughts, Erebos reached out with a hoof and took hold of Moondancer’s chin, gently raising it and forcing her to look him in his amber eyes. “Come now, Moonie, you know too well how wrapped up she was in her work those days.”

“Yeah,” she mumbled. “But it’s still a bit upsetting.” With a shake of her head, Moondancer shifted away from his hoof and pasted a smile on her muzzle. “Oh well. She has her friends, I have mine. Maybe we can talk next time we meet—“ fixing Erebos with a half-lidded stare, an odd gleam shone in her eyes “—if the good Captain doesn’t get me drunk on cider again!”

Lowering his hoof, Erebos snorted. “Last time I try doing something nice for you. Cheeky little mare…”

Oh my, Luna hid a laugh behind her hoof. T’would seem that our antics have rubbed off on dear Moondancer! At long last, victory is mine. She cleared her throat and lightly—by her standards—rapped her hoof against the desktop. “Happy though I am that you two seem to be having a bit of fun, I would like that we please return to the topic at hoof.”

The pair shared a wince. Moondancer coughed, her alabaster cheeks colored pink with a deep blush. “Er, my apologies, Princess! Please, how might I help?”

“Originally, I was hoping that you might be able to provide some insight into Twilight’s apparent aversion to praise, but it would seem that you are not nearly as familiar with her ways as I had hoped.”

“Ah, no, Princess. Not as well as I’d have liked either, I’m afraid. Sorry to disappoint.”

“’Tis no fault of yours.” Luna dismissed the apology with a casual wave of her hoof. “It means that I will simply have to find an alternative source to investigate the matter. The question I am now faced with, is whom shall I visit?”

Erebos tapped a hoof against his chin, humming in thought. After a moment, his ears perked up, he gave his wings a merry flap and spoke. “Princess, if I may, Miss Sparkle’s family does reside in the city; you could pay them a visit, if you really want an idea of their habits. As I recall, she was closest to her brother and Princess Cadence—”

Her muzzle twisted into a scowl. Of course. The one pony she went out of her way to avoid, a remnant of Celestia’s days of loneliness and need to find a pony to share the burden of ruling. In the form of a mare as sugary sweet and affectionate as the day was long.

“Lulu, I promise you, Cadence was never meant to be a replacement for you! I was… lonely. She needed guidance as she came into her own, and Equestria needed another princess. Please, don’t take your frustrations out on her—give her a chance. For me?”

Easier said than done, at times. Cadence—Luna’s niece, by both Celestia’s and the younger alicorn’s insistence—seemed to take Luna’s awkwardness and mild aversion to her presence as cue to be a bigger fixture of her life.

If it wasn’t occasionally joining her traditional dinner with Celestia, it was an invitation to an evening with Cadence and Shining Armor. While she had nothing against Captain Armor—after all, Erebos spoke very highly of him—it was just… awkward, the few times she grudgingly accepted.

The fact that Celestia had been standing just behind Cadence, with that expectant smile and her brow arched had utterly nothing to do with it.

“Give her a chance, Lulu.” The voice echoed in her ears.

Luna sighed and rubbed her temples. Her little joke about allying herself with Cadence to make mischief in Ponyville had been just that: a joke. Nothing more than something to make Twilight smile. Perhaps. But there is another option. “What of her parents? Night Light and Twilight Velvet, if I am not mistaken? Would they not have the same information I require?”

A single nod. “Yes, Princess. Though they might be a bit alarmed that you are so interested in their daughter; especially asking questions about her nerves. They may very well assume that Twilight’s done something to offend you.”

Wrinkling her muzzle, she steepled her hooves. That would be undue drama, she thought, a scowl marring her muzzle once again. And she would likely hear about it and begin to worry, which would only make things worse.

“Cadence and Captain Shining Armor it is.” She rolled her eyes. “I can only wonder just how many invitations I will have to deny this time.”

Both Erebos and Moondancer drew in sharp breaths, sharing a look with one another; a silent conversation. As if neither particularly wanted to be the one to speak out on the matter.

With a huff, Luna folded her hooves. Even in the presence of her own guard and seneschal, those she trusted most, the legacy of her temper played strong upon their minds. Foal steps, Luna. T’will take time. “If you wish to speak, then speak. I will not punish your council on matters that I have requested aid.”

Erebos tapped a hoof against the ground and flicked his tufted ears. “Forgive me, Princess, but you asked us for help with matters regarding Twilight Sparkle, not your relationship with Princess Cadence. However—“ he rustled his leathery wings, breaking eye contact in a rare show of submission “—I think it might be a bit counterproductive to ask for Princess Cadence’s help and then treat her so cooly, if you would permit me to say. It may very well offend her, and she’s been rather gracious since your return.”

Silence hung over the trio. Luna grumbled a curse in old Equish, both at herself and Erebos. How I forget that behind his mischief and teasing is a sharp mind befitting his status as Captain of my Night Guard. She snorted, her tail snapped through the air. Such a pity that he just had to remind me of that when I would much prefer to avoid the subject.

Still, his point was one not easily refuted; Cadence had been patient with her, calmly smiling and offering help in any way, shape, or form the very moment she returned, even though Luna received her in such lukewarm fashion.

“Loathe though I am to admit it,” she forced herself to say, “you are correct, Captain. T’would seem that my old habit of holding a grudge is not quite as shaken as my sister would like.” She stood, wincing as her muscles protested the sudden change in position. Confounded muscle stiffness. “Very well, I shall consult Cadence and Shining Armor this eve. Hopefully, they will be more forthright with the answers I seek. Erebos, kindly inform the guards that I will be leaving the castle grounds. Kindly have my chariot readied. ”

“Yes, My Princess! Strider and Shooting Star should be on shift soon—I’ll let them know to make ready.” Erebos bowed low, before turning on his hooves and leaving the room without another word.

“Moondancer?”

Moondancer stood tall, a bright smile played upon her muzzle. “Yes, Princess?”

“And inform my sister that I will not be present at dinner this eve—you may tell her that I mean to visit our niece.”

“I’ll see to it, Princess.” Bowing, Moondancer backed away a few paces, a bit more formal gesture than Erebos’, and turned to head out the door.

As the door closed shut with an audible click, Luna glanced down at her hooves; the silver of her shoes in stark contrast to the her coat. As stark a contrast as Twilight’s demeanor when she wished to help and that of whenever somepony lauded her.

Patience. She reminded herself, drawing in a deep breath. Wait and see what Cadence and Shining Armor have to say, their input on the matter could be invaluable.


The carriage ride through Canterlot seemed to drag on. The rattling of wheels on cobblestone was a drastic change from the rush of wind through her mane; rather than a nice evening flight, with the stars shining down and the light of the moon upon her back, a sight in clear view through the open chariot, she found herself boxed in the Royal Carriage.

While certainly accommodating with its lavish plush interior, Luna longed for the intimate connection with her night.

At least she could glance out the window every now and again, if only to give herself a glimpse of the moon hanging over the city, its visage flickering into view between the rooftops of the military district.

Luna sniffed as she gazed on the houses; each of them two stories high and designed with the same blue exterior and brown rooftop.

Hardly a place fit for a princess, at least not in her age. But, times had changed, as Celestia reminded herself so many times. Perhaps, in this age, it is not so out of the ordinary for one of high status to choose a more humble dwelling. It would certainly explain why Twilight lived in a library, of all things. But she, at least, was a student—she had a reason to want to be closer to her books.

Cadence, on the other hoof, was a fully-fledged princess, the alicorn of love; she embodied the passion, the emotional connection that two ponies felt upon realizing their love for one another. By right, she should have her own wing in the castle, and a throne alongside Celestia’s and Luna’s—regardless of the latter’s aversion toward her.

Should a princess not have her stallion living with her in the castle? Or does she place more value on the good Captain’s desire to remain closer to his troops and stay true to his roots? Perhaps a conversation for a later day.

As the carriage rolled to a halt outside her destination, Luna pushed those thoughts from her mind. Twilight. She reminded herself. I am here to inquire about Twilight.

From outside, Private Shooting Star pulled open the door and stood to the side. “Princess,” he greeted with a deep bow, “we’ve arrived.”

Rising to her hooves, she nodded. Luna stepped through the carriage door, ducking her head to avoid bumping her horn against the roof and trotting down the tiny staircase and onto the cobblestone road. “Very good. Thank you, Shooting Star, and you, Strider.”

The twins proudly puffed out their chests, ever eager to please her and have praise levied upon them. “Our pleasure, Princess!”

Proud to serve, eager to please, and all-too-willing to accept my praise, she thought wryly. If only I could trust them to be left alone with Twilight Sparkle for a few hours and not turn it into a game of teasing the nervous mare… or flirting with her, for that matter. The one thing which hadn’t changed in her absence: her guards’ being notorious flirts.

She snorted. Of all the things Twilight needed, a pair of mischievous twins teasing her until her face resembled a ripe red gala might be a brief source of amusement, but not what was needed in the long run.

I want her to be confident and proud of herself, not blushing before every stallion—or mare, for that matter—in my employ. The lot of them would drive her mad.

Turning to face Captain Armor’s home, Luna quirked a brow at the two Day Guards posted on either side of the door—the single distinguishing feature on the exterior. Though, upon closer inspection, these guards lacked the visage of Celestia’s cutie mark, the shining sun, upon their breastplates.

In its place, a crystalline heart, wreathed in gold; the mark of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, or “Cadence” as she so insisted on being referred to.

Not my business, Luna chided herself as she approached the duo standing watch. As long as she does not poke her muzzle into my dominion, she is free to deal with her affairs as she pleases. “Good evening to you, gentlestallions.” She inclined her head to the pair.

The guards bowed deeply, before standing to full height. The stallion on the left, a stocky earth pony, responded in kind, “Good evening to you as well, Princess Luna. Your night sky is as beautiful as ever, just as Princess Celestia spoke of.”

A happy swish of her tail, she sucked in her lips, fighting against the smile growing across her cheeks. Do not show teeth in public. “Your flattery is much appreciated… Colonel, is it not?”

“Colonel Rock Steady, Princess. And this—“ he nodded to the pegasus by his side “—is Private Rolling Thunder.”

On cue, Rolling Thunder snapped a quick salute, very nearly whacking himself in the face with the shaft of his spear.

New blood. He will learn. Luna chuckled. “I shall do my best to remember your names. To business, though. I would have words with Princess Cadence, and her lover, if possible. I presume they are in?”

“They are, Princess. Captain Armor returned just an hour ago.”

“Ah, very good! Then they are available?”

Rock Steady furrowed his brows in thought, his free hoof leapt to his chin. “I don’t recall that they had anypony scheduled to visit, tonight. It should just be the pair of them and their hoofservant, Fidelius.”

Her ears perked up, waggling a bit at the news. “I see. Then, if they have not requested privacy, I would like to speak with them.”

“Of course. A moment, please.” He turned to knock on the door with the end of his spear. “Fidelius! Princess Luna is here for Princess Cadence and Captain Armor!”

There was a beat of silence as they waited. Hoof steps, muffled by the thick wooden door, sounded out. A slow cadence of hooves against carpet, with slight hesitation between the steps.

The steps of an elderly pony, whose knees were wracked with stiffness. Arthritis, they called it.

Luna’s ears flicked at the click of the latch. The door opened, the hinges squeaked in protest, to reveal an alabaster coated stallion, with salt and pepper mane and well-trimmed, gray goatee.

Down the hallway, she could hear a pair of voices, a mare and a stallion—Cadence and Shining Armor. Something she couldn’t quite make out, save for the difference in tone; Cadence’s voice, normally sweet and welcoming, held almost a teasing, predatory edge. Whereas Shining Armor, the typically confident and proud Captain of the Day Guard, replied with a hint of a stammer and nervous laughter. Odd…

Fidelius bowed low, the tip of his horn nearly touched the floor. “Your Highness. I am honored to be in your presence this evening. Please, do come in. Princess Cadence and Captain Armor were just settling down for their evening tea—”

A yelp and a thud. Cadence giggling and crowing while her stallion pled for mercy before falling to his own laughter.

What in heaven’s name are those two doing?

“—For a given meaning of settling down.” Fidelius finished, his expression never betraying the slightest hint of amusement or exasperation. “As I was saying, please, come right in. I’m sure they’ll be quite happy to greet you.”

Her eyebrow raised, Luna waved for Shooting Star and Strider to remain outside, then followed in Fidelius’ wake. The sound of laughter echoed through the hall as his pale gray magic pushed door closed behind her.

14: A House Where All's Accustomed

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Though uniform on the exterior, the abode of Princess Cadence and Captain Shining Armor was anything but humble, or even uniform, for that matter.

The walls were painted a soft peach, and decorated with lavishly framed pictures, each containing images of the couple’s younger days. Lovely picnics on the rolling green hills at the base of Canterlot Mountain; Shining Armor himself sporting a rather put out look and glaring at Cadence while she laughed at the dollop of whipped cream she smeared on his muzzle; the pair, along with a much younger Twilight Sparkle, goofily crossing their eyes and puffing out their cheeks at the camera.

A trio of such happy ponies, the love shared evident in each image she passed. From the times shown with Shining Armor, to those with stallions and mares of bygone days, those long since passed and turned to dust.

What was it that Celestia referred to Cadence as? “Quite possibly the most curious of our number? Young but old, wise but blissfully naive. She rises with the love shared with those around her, and falls with each loss.”

Of course, that did little to ease the pain in Luna’s heart whenever she looked upon Cadence; the young princess who had been chosen to rule by Celestia’s side after banishing her own sister.

With a shake of her head, she returned to the pictures, unable to fight the traces of a smile crossing her face at their shared joy.

Alongside those happy days, Shining Armor’s proudest stood on display. Receiving his first post, the first time in his armor, Celestia herself awarding him a medal for his services on some assignment, even his parents trying in vain to get him to crack a smile while posted outside the palace gate, only for him to completely break protocol to sweep little Twilight up into a hug.

So much love, so many happy days shared between these two.

Luna hummed. Odd that I see no sign of awards or pictures of both shaking hooves with the upper crust—both have certainly interacted with them in my presence, and no doubt before my return. Perhaps, that is not where they place value.

More like Twilight, then. Fitting, given that they were such important figures in her life—Shining for more obvious reasons, but Cadence had been her foalsitter, according to Celestia’s stories.

Of all things she could say about Celestia, telling tall tales about her students was not among them.

Raucous laughter, Shining Armor crying out, his voice almost shrill in contrast to his usual soft spoken tone or barking shouts, brought her back. Let it pass, she is precious to Tia and Twilight. The mare may be a bit… intrusive and needing of a lesson in boundaries, but she means well. And she is certainly more a noble pony than some in our midst.

Not to mention, Cadence was a major factor in Twilight’s growth and development. Something she was very curious about, namely the effects on her demeanor.

“Cady! Please! Mercy!” Luna wrinkled her nose at the plea. What in the name of the stars and moon are those two doing in there?

A low taunt, Cadence crowing to her victim. Another bout of laughter, snorting and the thumping of hooves against the floor.

Fidelius stopped just before the opened doorway to their sitting room, his expression flat, betraying no sign of annoyance or amusement at whatever antics the couple engaged in when they turned in for the evening. As if the sound of two grown ponies playing like foals was business as usual.

At least, until she caught just the slightest twitch of his grayed eyebrow and a merry twinkle in his eyes. Withholding laughter. This is routine.

“After you, Princess Luna,” he bowed and swept a hoof to the room, the source of all the noise.

Nodding in kind, she trotted briskly passed him. The narrow hallway gave way to a more open sitting room; the light blue carpeting served as a contrast to the soft peach painted walls and the plush red loveseat and matching couch, complete with pink heart-shaped pillows. More pictures of the happy couple and their loved ones decorated the walls, including one rather interesting image of a preteen Twilight wearing Shining Armor’s helmet—the edge of which had comically fallen over her eyes.

Luna’s appreciation for the décor, however, was short lived. Her attention was drawn to the couple currently laying on the floor.

Or, more accurately, Shining Armor was writhing on the floor, tears of mirth streamed down his face as he kicked his hooves into the air and tried to throw Princess Cadence off of him, her pink and purple tinged feathers tickled mercilessly along his sides.

“OhsweetCelestia!” He cried, wriggling to his left to escape a rather adventurous primary teasing under his ribs, only to grant his tormentor free access to the space between his side and foreleg. “Cady, please! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! No more!”

Cadence’s eyes danced with mirth. She swiped her feathers across his barrel and leaned in, her muzzle just a hair’s length from his. “Oh, you haven’t even begun to pay, Shining Armor! This’ll teach you to eat the last of my ice cream!”

Raising an eyebrow, Luna watched in muted fascination as her niece drew back and took a deep breath.

From his spot on the floor, Shining gasped and tried to fend her off, giving one last futile plea through his giggles, “No! Not that! Cady, no!”

With her cheeks puffed out, Cadence darted forward, pressing her muzzle into his belly and blowing as hard as she could.

Luna swiveled her ears back and winced at the offensive sound of the vicious raspberry her niece employed against Shining Armor. The pinned stallion shrieked and writhed, reduced to uncontrollable laughter and incomprehensible pleas of mercy under her assault.

Perhaps announcing my intent would have been wise. Her muzzle flushed red. Walking in on a moment of intimacy... certainly not something she’d expected of the pair in their sitting room. A place so out in the open for any visitor to see.

Beyond her comfort. She averted her gaze, awkwardly rustling her wings and whispering to Fidelius out of the corner of her mouth, “Could you…”

A single nod. Fidelius coughed lightly, earning a flick of Cadence’s ear in his direction. “Princess, Captain, you have a visitor.” He stepped to the side and bowed low. “May I present Princess Luna, Mistress of the Night and Princess of the Moon.”

Cadence turned sharply, hear ears perking up and tail swishing happily. A broad grin creased her muzzle as she folded her wings and casually hopped off of Shining Armor, leaving him panting for breath, his chest still shaking with the occasional giggle.

“Princess Luna!” She squealed, like a foal on Hearth’s Warming Day. She bounded over, coming to a stop just within hoof’s reach and made as though to rear back, ready to catch Luna in a tight hug.

Her left hoof froze in mid air, hanging awkwardly a moment before she thought better and lowered it back to the ground. The smile never left her muzzle, though Luna’s keen eyes managed to catch the slight twitch of the corners of her mouth. The signs were there.

Straining. Hiding her disappointment from me. A curse, a flick of her tail. Luna wouldn’t dare call her niece a fool. For all her faults, Celestia would not choose a simpleton as her pupil, let alone receive the blessings of ascension. A gift few ponies even knew could be given.

Luna sniffed, her brilliant teal eyes locked on Cadence’s purple; the way they danced with joy at the sight of her ancient aunt, and seemed to hold the slightest spark of hope easily read.

I may not yet have forgiven myself for my own failures, but that does not mean I cannot forgive my sister’s loneliness. Her eyes softened, she took a deep breath as she readied herself to make a move. Nor does it mean that I cannot return kindness and patience with an olive branch of my own.

Exhaling through her nose and giving what she hoped was a welcoming smile, Luna stepped forward and wrapped a foreleg around Cadence’s neck in a gentle embrace—holding her close, but not so tight that the poor mare couldn’t breathe.

Cadence’s sudden gasp, the way her shoulders tensed up and her wings unfurled just slightly, as though readying herself to take flight, betrayed her surprise. “P-Princess?” she stammered, a hint of hope, the little filly wanting so much to gain the approval of her senior.

Blasted idolizing. I must remember to smack Tia for not nipping that in the bud. “You refer to my sister as ‘Aunt’,” she began, keeping her tone gentle, “if it would please you, I would not be averse to being referred to likewise.”

She bit back a curse. Far too formal, as if she were granting the privilege to some commoner in the old days rather than family—albeit, one who was adopted into the fold. By right, Cadence should feel comfortable referring to her as such. In reality…

Straining to maintain her smile, she bit the inside of her cheek. Another shortcoming of mine. My grudges push those who would help away—save for those more stubborn than me. A glance back to her niece. Cadence’s expression seemed to shift from elation to uncertainty and back again.

Pink coated hooves quivered against the wooden floor, as if Cadence were forcing herself to keep all four firmly on the ground lest she leap into the air. Her tricolored tail wagged like that of a happy puppy as she finally managed to speak, “R-Really?”

Luna inclined her head just slightly and let her hoof rest on Cadence’s shoulder. “Truly, I do.” Hesitating just a moment, she flicked her tail before quirking her brow and fixing a smirk upon her muzzle, just as she had when teasing Twilight. “Well? Embrace me, niece. Or shall I inform your ever-meddlesome ‘Auntie Celestia’ that you require medical attention to pull you out of—Oof!

Quick as a cat, Cadence darted forward and swept her up in a bone-crushing hug. “Yes!” she squealed as she pressed her cheek against Luna’s.

The air rushed from Luna’s lungs, her ears splayed back as Cadence babbled at a mile a minute, something about “Waiting so long” and “Auntie Luna” over and over again.

“Niece!” She wheezed, her own strength failing against that of her younger, more excitable niece. “Alicorn longevity does not reduce the pain of—ack!—broken ribs!”

Almost immediately, she was released, falling roughly on her hooves. She inhaled deeply through her mouth, her ribs ached, quite the testament to young Cadence’s strength. To make one as old as myself wince…

“Sorry! I’m so sorry, Auntie Luna! I-I was just so excited, I couldn’t help myself!”

A snort from Shining Armor, who had managed to control his laughter enough to roll over onto his belly and watch the scene before him, made their ears flick in his direction. “I always told you to be careful about how excited you get, honey.” Amusement tinged his voice as he stood, his blue eyes gleamed with mischief. “Maybe I should blow the whistle on your little weakness, so Princess Luna can avenge your little assault.”

In a whirl of pink and purple feathers, Cadence was across the room and upon him. She quickly clamped her hooves on top and bottom of his muzzle, looking over her shoulder at Luna with a plastic smile. “Eheheh, he’s just such a joker, my Shining! R-Really! No embarrassing weaknesses like being utterly helpless to resist a giggle fit when somepony just strokes a feather across his ribs!”

He simply beamed, mumbling something indecipherable that brought a rather heated blush to Cadence’s muzzle and made her ears lay flat against her scalp.

Cheeky colt, Luna noted, a smile playing upon her lips. Though, I suppose being able to take and receive such teasing is a prerequisite for dealing with Cadence, if Celestia’s tales are true. “Good evening to you as well, Captain,” she nodded. “I must admit, I hardly expected to find the vaunted Captain of my sister’s Day Guard so thoroughly subdued upon my visit. Perhaps a return to the guard training program is in order.”

Snorting, Shining Armor brushed her hooves aside. “With respect, Your Highness, I think you’ll find that the ponies who run the school might be a tad unwilling to bark orders at me—I trained quite a few of them!”

“In that case, I shall simply task Captain Erebos to oversee your secondary evaluation. There will be no leniency or glad-hoofing in the guard.”

A slight quirk of his eyebrow. “That’s perfectly fine, Your Highness. Captain Erebos can oversee remedial lessons. Only if I can return the favor after I’m finished recovering.”

“I may very well take you up on that, Captain. As much as I appreciate him, it would seem that the good stallion doth forget that there are consequences for practical jokes against his princess.” And, perhaps, my foals in gilded dress will learn not to aid a certain stallion in hiding my coffee. “Idle chitchat aside, there is a matter I wished to consult the pair of you on. If you are not too—“ she raised an eyebrow, her smirk turned almost predatory “—occupied.”

To her credit, Cadence didn’t even blink at the accusation so much as she returned the smirk in kind and wrapped a wing around Shining’s barrel. “Oh, not at all, Auntie! For you, I think I can put off disciplining this one until later!” She punctuated her remark with a quick nip of his ear, and a whispered comment that brought dopey smile and a deep blush to his muzzle. With a little titter, Cadence bumped her flank against his, nudging him toward the couch. “Please, sit! Fidelius, would you mind fetching us some drinks?”

“Right away, Your Highness,” he replied smoothly, bowing low. “What would you like this evening?”

“Tea, please. If that’s acceptable to you, Auntie.”

Luna chuckled as she took her place in the loveseat across from the pair. “T’would seem that tea will soon become a major staple of my diet should I continue spending time with you and yours, niece. Tea will be fine for me as well. Thank you, Sir Fidelius.”

He bowed lower, both a show of respect and to hide the smile threatening to break his façade. “You flatter me, Princess. I am but a mere hoofservant to—“ He broke of to wince as a shimmering blue aura twisted the tip of his ear.

“Take the compliment, you naughty stallion!” Cadence called, slipping onto the couch next to Shining, her wing still wrapped tightly around him. “Unless, of course, you mean to refuse her?”

Only a slight raising of his brows. A shared joke, more of their practiced routine. “Of course not, Your Highness. I will return momentarily. Princesses. Captain.” Fidelius turned sharply and trotted out of the room.

Shifting in place to find a more comfortable spot, Luna frowned at the overly soft cushion. Far too soft for her taste. Yet another difference between us: Cadence prefers overly soft and brightly colored furniture, I prefer mine more firm and the colors more reminiscent of my nights. She raised a critical brow at one of the pillows to Cadence’s left, one the same shade of pink as her niece’s coat. T’would seem that we both have the tendency to find comfort in things that match our greatest talents and duties.

Predictable to a fault, then. How very fitting, given just why Celestia had gone looking for another alicorn in the first place.

Stop there. Luna smiled in spite of her wandering thoughts, she deliberately glanced around the room for distraction, her eyes lingered on the pictures. “You two have made quite the home for yourselves,” she began, “so many happy memories on display throughout.”

“Oh, yes!” Cadence beamed and nodded. “We just had so many pictures we loved and couldn’t decide which to put up and which to put into an album, so Shiny and I just started playing around with places to put them.”

“We ended up with a bit of a clutter the first couple times we put everything up. I think we had more pictures than free wall at one point.” Shining rubbed at the back of his mane, chuckling to himself at the memory. “I think that was more my fault, actually—or was that all the furniture being strewn about?”

“It was both, you great, big goof!”

“Really? I was sure I only messed up one of them.” He brought a hoof to his chin and furrowed his brows. “Wait a minute, you were the one who had all those pictures of me parading in my old armor! I only put up a few pictures of us, a few of my family, and some of Twily!”

Arching her brow, Cadence hummed, her smile never dropping as she leaned over to whisper something into his ear. In a rather impressive show, Shining went through a wide ranging change of expression in the span of a few seconds: first, his eyes went wide, his jaw dropped, and his ears stood ramrod straight.

“I-I mean, yes! That was definitely me!” He corrected himself, the rosy red blush coloring his cheeks once more.

Luna had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes. Young ponies these days. Not a bit of shame between them. She coughed lightly. “Quite. Though, I must admit myself a bit taken aback that the pair of you decided to live in the military district rather than the castle. Would you not find more comfort in one of the suites?”

The pair shared a look. Shining gave a halfhearted smile and shrug of his shoulders. “Er, with respect, Your Highness, I always feel like I’m at work in the castle”

“Oh, you should’ve seen it, Auntie! He was so uptight, I could’ve stuck a—“

This time, it was Shining’s turn to quickly cover her mouth with a hoof, a look of indignation crossing his face. “Cadence! Not in front of Princess Luna!”

Muffled giggles, a little brush of the tips of her feathers earned a yelp and a little jump, more than enough for Cadence to slip from his grasp. “I’ve said it in front of Auntie Celestia, with you right next to me, no less! Don’t be so stingy just because it’s Auntie Luna tonight!”

Sitting up straight, Luna caught the way Shining’s eyes flitted to her. Nervousness, unease shone, he wasn’t yet comfortable in her presence. At least, not yet in such a personal—or familial, if Cadence should have her say on the matter—fashion.

So professional, and so uncertain how to handle me as anything more than a princess. How very much like your younger sister. Though, to be perfectly fair, he at least dealt with the surprised just a bit better. He wasn’t bowing low or slipping into his on-duty persona. Whether or not that had more to do with his maturity or the fact that his lover so happened to be a princess in her own right, one with her wing wrapped quite snuggly across his back, she had the grace to leave well alone.

Still, best to nip it in the bud. Especially if she wanted to make any headway into asking her question. “If it would please you, Cap—er, Shining, rather—” she broke off to chuckle at the way he blinked owlishly and perked up his ears “—you are off duty and ’tis I who came unannounced to your home. Please, be at ease and, given your relationship, I believe it might be more appropriate for you to accustom yourself to calling me by name, rather than title.”

Both ponies’ ears seemed to perk up higher. Shining blinked and worked his jaw, struggling to think of an apt reply while Cadence simply grinned and held him tighter, happy with the tacit blessing.

Good. A happy niece was good, and progress in their relationship would please Celestia. Not to mention, serve her more immediate purposes more readily than if she’d walked in acting coldly. As had been the case of most of their interactions. Yet another thing she’d have to work on.

Shining shifted in his place, his lips curved upward into a half-smile. “Er, well, what can we do for you this evening, Luna? You mentioned that you had some business you wanted to speak with us about?”

Luna allowed herself a smile. Quick to adapt and adjust, a carryover from the guard training. And certainly quicker to accept it than Twilight had been. “Yes, a matter regarding a few recent visits I have had with your sister, Twilight Sparkle. There are certain habits of hers that I find quite perplexing.”

“Oh?” The smile slipped from his face, his muscles tensed. “Captain Erebos mentioned that you were visiting with Twilight while we were at the pub. Said something about you two sharing music and chatting the night away, if I recall.”

“It would seem that I need to remind the good captain that he owes fealty to me, not the stallion buying him drinks.” Putting him through training a second time is suddenly all the more tempting. I may even oversee it myself. “But, that aside, he is correct. I should also note that I have visited her thrice now: once to convey my appreciation for past deeds, a second time to discuss music, as Captain Erebos mentioned, and, most recently, I accepted invitation to spend time with her friends.”

“Really, now?” Cadence arched a brow and leaned forward, crossing her hooves on the couch. Something about the tone, the way she drawled and how she gazed at Luna with that faux serene smile harkened back to another mare who so loved to push her buttons and slowly pull stories out of her.

A little thing she likely learned from Celestia over the years, but without the measure of teasing that typically came as part of the deal.

Either Cadence had adapted her own to place more emphasis on the interest than on the fun of coaxing stories out of other ponies, or she did it without intent. Judging by the ease with which she went from playful banter with Shining Armor to a bit of idle chat, Luna would place her bet on the former.

“Yes. In fact, she was quite insistent that I was welcome. Though, Twilight did make mention that Miss Rarity was a bit displeased that I requested a more casual affair, and the Cake family was a bit uneasy on the whole thing…”

“If I recall, Twilight mentioned that she had a friend who was big into the Canterlot fashion scene—or trying to break into it, at least. That might be where she picked it up.”

Luna hummed in affirmation. “T’would make sense, I suppose. And Tia made mention that the Cakes all but fawned over her during that visit when Philomena played her trick. That aside—“ she coughed lightly into her hoof “—during my visits, I have noticed little bits of Twilight’s behavior that have raised a few concerns of mine.”

“Nothing too serious, I hope.” Shining furrowed his brows. “She’s not one to be overly casual around important figures, especially Princess Celestia. I’d think that she’d put you in the same category.”

“Indeed, yes. She was quite respectful, if a bit overly so, as you say. But I could not help but notice that she tends to hold a bit of an aversion to praise.”

The pair inhaled sharply, almost in unison. Shining set his mouth into a thin line, rubbing a small circle into the cushion he shared with Cadence. “I see.” He mumbled something under his breath and shook his head before addressing her again. “If you don’t mind my asking, why’s that a problem?”

Cadence spoke up first. “Shiny, remember what I had to teach you about accepting compliments when we first met?”

A little blush, the way he ducked his head and mumbled again, repeating the very thing Luna had told Twilight during her first visit as if it were practiced routine. “It’s rude to refuse a compliment from royalty.”

“That’s right.” She cooed, playfully patting him on the head like a young foal. She turned to Luna and shot a wink. “Oh, if you could’ve just seen Shiny back in those days, Auntie! All I had to do was tell him just how impressive his shield spells were and how handsome he looked whenever he got that serious look in his eyes, the one he always used to have when playing one of those little strategy games or during magic practice, and he’d just melt!”

“I wasn’t that bad!”

“Honey, trust me when I say that you really don’t want me to have Fidelius fetch the old pictures. Anyway—oh, there you are, Fidelius!” As she spoke, Fidelius trotted in, floating a tray of three cups and a pot of tea. “Just set it down on the coffee table, please. I can handle it.”

“Princess, really, it’s no trouble—“

“I said I could handle it, Fidelius! By the rolling tides, it’s almost like you think I’m a little filly all over again!”

An odd smile graced his lips, his eyes seemed to twinkle, like a parent letting fond memories play through his mind. “Of course, Princess. If you need anything else, I am but a ring of the bell away.” He nodded toward the tiny bell resting on the table.

With one last bow, he left the trio to their business, his soft hoof steps echoed down the hallway.

Shaking her head, Cadence set about adding milk and sugar to the cups, her magic working to prepare all three at once. “I swear, that stallion would see to it that we were carried around the moment we tried to step hoof out the door! He mothers us worse than Twilight Velvet!”

“Don’t remind me. I still remember when they met to go over how many sweets I was allowed to have.” Shining took hold of his cup in his pink aura, giving her a nuzzle and tiny peck as thanks before turning back to Luna. “So, all jokes aside, pinning down just where Twily started to turn inward when praised is a bit difficult. I’m not even certain if there’s just one event that I could point out and say ‘that’s the cause’.”

Of course. No easy fix, that would just be too convenient. Luna hid a frown behind her teacup and took a sip, starting just slightly as a familiar taste registered. The same as Spike’s brew… interesting. That, however, could wait until later.

“If you wouldn’t mind elaborating, please?”

Shrugging, he took a sip of his tea, though he didn’t pause to savor the taste quite like she and Cadence. “Well, for that, I have to go a bit roundabout. If I have to be entirely honest, Cadence is right to a point; I wasn’t particularly good about handling praise either. I got awkward, I’d scuff my hooves against the dirt and I’d try to find an excuse to get out of the center of attention.” He rubbed a hoof against his shin, his smile sheepish. “Really, my family didn’t do a lot of big showy things when we got good grades—that stuff was always reserved for home, when we were all together. A lot of stuff for us was just small little affairs, even birthdays.”

“I finally pulled him out of that, for the most part. You still struggle with big parties sometimes—though, it’s really just that you want a bit of time between the two of us where we can unwind after.” Cadence put in. “But, Twilight had it a bit more… shall we say difficult? She didn’t have, well, me to push her forward to do things in class or to even the drive to join something like a debate team or even the chess club. She wanted to study, so that’s what she did. Just buried her muzzle in books and researched nearly anything she could.”

Luna set her cup on the saucer and let it hang in the air. “Interesting. Pray tell, how does that combine with familial habits—“ she broke off to nod to Shining “—play into her aversion? Why, when I attempted to laud her for her part in my return, she shrank inward and attempted to play it off as naught but civic duty! The mare faced me in a form seething with ancient fury and dark magic, and calls it—in the modern vernacular—‘no big deal’!”

“We’re getting there, I did say it would be roundabout.” Shining let out a deep sigh. “It’s a mix of things. Our parents being private, but encouraging, most of my friends always doted on her and sort of acted like she was the group mascot. Really, she used to get so embarrassed whenever I would tell them about the spells she’d picked up.”

“And mine were worse, I’m afraid.” Cadence shook her head. “She really was the little foal among the big fillies. But, that’s still just a part. Did Auntie Celestia tell you about the day in Court? Where she got a bit stern with a few of the petitioners?”

“Indeed, she was a bit remorseful over the matter. Though she did not go into much detail, if her manner of dealing with such antics has remained constant over the past millennium, I can surmise just how she dealt with it.”

Nodding, Cadence continued. “I’d say your guess is probably right—Auntie doesn’t typically suffer arrogance and, if I had to hazard a guess, that was something Twilight picked up on quickly.”

“Now, there, I must point out that my sister is, at very least, fair in her dealings.” Luna set the cup and saucer down on the coffee table, steepling her hooves. “There is a distinct difference between taking pride in one’s accomplishments and simply being arrogant. Your cousin, Blueblood, for example—“

“Auntie, let’s not even go there.” The smile on Cadence’s muzzle grew strained. Shining did his best to bite down on his lip in order to hold back his laughter, earning a little elbow to his ribs. “Yes, you’re right that there is a difference, but think of it from a little filly’s point of view: somepony tried to be proud in front of Princess Celestia. How might that look? How might that feel to her?”

Luna set her jaw and closed her eyes. Flashes of years past, lectures and arguments from millennia ago. Her elder sister gazing down on her, with a look about her more akin to a disappointed mother than an angry sister. The manner with which she spoke, how calm and collected she made herself; never yelling, just talking in that same tone.

Even when facing down Nightmare Moon, Celestia had only spoken sternly and given warnings…

“I know it all too well, I’m afraid.” Far too well. “So, family, older ponies crooning over her like some sort of trophy—“ the pair across from her shared a wince at her choice of wording “—and my sister being stern. Truth be told, I would have expected something a bit more drastic. Though, depending on just how young Twilight was and whether or not the message was repeated.”

Shining coughed, raising a hoof. “Yes, but that’s not even mentioning school foals. Being Princess Celestia’s personal protégé put her in another light; she was basically seen as either the pony to be friends with or the biggest teacher’s pet in school. And, well, Twily wasn’t exactly big on socializing, so…” He trailed off and rolled a hoof through the air, the words unnecessary.

It harkened back to her earliest friendship reports; trying to find it in herself to be able to step out of what she knew in order to understand and relate to her newfound friends, something she couldn’t approach like a school project.

Just as her problem with nerves and praise wasn’t something Luna could approach through direct confrontation. Quite the little conundrum you are, my friend, she mused. If I press, I wager you would retreat inward and distance yourself, or simply try to divert me to something else. However, I cannot let this continue, therefore remaining silent is not an option.

How might Celestia approach such a problem? Little hints, nudging Twilight toward her friends in Ponyville, subtlety.

Subtlety was an art. Choices of color or the notes of a song could evoke a wide range of emotions, from jubilation to gripping fear to sadness and everything in between. Even the way her Night Guards moved through the darkness, their hooves silent and forms night invisible, was rooted in the old way the sisters taught lessons.

Luna just had to find the right direction to nudge Twilight along. And, of those she knew, one was playing coy and using the chance to teach her a lesson, two would worry that their daughter was in some sort of trouble, one was Twilight’s favored assistant, and then there were the two across from her.

“What would you suggest?” She asked, keeping her tone level.

“For what?” Cadence raised a brow.

“If one were to try to pull her out of her proverbial shell, how would you suggest it be done?”

That brow arched higher, a smile played upon Cadence’s lips. “Ah. Interesting.” She held up a hoof. “I shouldn’t have said interesting that you would want to help. No, just that I’m surprised that’s what you’re so focused on. The last I’d heard, you were rather taken with her—“ she rolled the hoof through the air, in similar fashion as Shining had “—way of helping others.”

“I am!” Luna blurted. She snorted and stomped a hoof into the couch, grimacing at the growing smile on her niece’s muzzle and the look of amusement in Shining Armor’s eyes. “I should say, I do find her way quite endearing. But I would see that she learns to hold herself in higher regard. Recoiling in the face of compliments is something I find rather worrisome. What if, for example, she were to present research before a hall? Would she fold under the pressure? Perhaps she might stammer and look away while mumbling her findings to the hall, ultimately making herself out to be weak in their eyes.”

“That, I doubt would be a problem as long as the focus is on the subject. Once it shifts to questions on how she thought do conduct the research and once ponies start really looking at her…” Shining winced visibly. “All right, I can see your point, that’s a problem. And for her, a big one, considering that she wants to look into just about everything under the sun.”

He tapped a hoof against the cushion, his gaze fell to the floor as he grumbled something under his breath. Cadence took his hoof in hers, leaning in to hold a hushed conversation.

Luna brought the cup back to her lips, slowly draining the remnants of her tea while the couple whispered to one another. Rude, perhaps, but if it meant a way to help Twilight, she could suffer a momentary lapse.

Slowly, Shining fixed his gaze upon her again, silently observing her a moment before speaking up. “She’s most comfortable around those she’s known longest—reverence of Princess Celestia aside. I’d imagine she doesn’t get quite as shifty around them.”

“Forgive me, but I must point out that she was quite uneasy when Rainbow Dash praised her during my most recent visit.”

“To be brutally honest, that doesn’t surprise me; you’re a new friend. She’s still sort of feeling you out, so to speak.” He gave a bit of a half smile. “She probably shrank back and checked to see how you reacted, right?”

Her brows furrowed, Luna hummed in the affirmative. “Quite.”

“I figured as much, that’s about the same as how she acted when I brought the guys over for game night, or when a few of Cady’s friends stopped by the house.”

Cadence nodded once, but stayed silent, seemingly content to tap her hoof against the couch and weigh her own thoughts. Her tail flicked, she inhaled through her nose and held a moment before releasing slowly through her mouth. “She’s always been a bit finicky on that front, I think. Getting her to open up took some time, but being her foal sitter helped. For me, anyway. I suspect you might already have a similar in route.”

A derisive snort, a flick of her ethereal, starry tail. “Niece, while your aid is appreciated, if you are about to suggest that I volunteer to foal sit a fully grown mare, I would recommend a visit to the nearest mental doctor.”

“That isn’t—oh, stop laughing, Shining!” She gave a swipe of her wing across his back, eliciting a strangled squeak from the snickering stallion. Snorting, she turned to face Luna again, her eyes flitting back to Shining just briefly. A flash of that mischievous intent, the same way they gleamed when she had him at her mercy, there and gone in an instant. “ Auntie, that’s not what I meant! You’re taking it too literally!”

“Kindly clarify, then.”

Cadence chuckled and shook her head, a rueful grin crossed her muzzle. “My fault for the wording. Let me put it this way, I took a long route to becoming her friend: I started as her foal sitter, just another pony to watch over her, and slowly built my own relationship with her. You, on the other hoof, got help from her and then made it very clear that you wanted friendship.”

“It, ah, was not quite as quick as your summary might suggest…” Luna pointed out weakly, raising her hoof in a manner akin to a nervous foal confronted by a teacher. “I dallied for several months.”

“Yes, yes, I know! But the point stands!” She waved a hoof dismissively. “You made the first move and she accepted your friendship. You’re ahead of the curve!”

“So you say. But how? What advantage do I possess in this situation that you lacked?”

Shining cut in, his smile retuned to his muzzle once again as he caught onto where Cadence had taken things. “Simply put? Your relationship is built on mutual admiration—you don’t necessarily have the hurdle Celestia, Cadence, or I faced as more authoritarian figures. You can just be Luna and Twilight!”

She blinked, tilting her head to the left. That was it? That was the brilliant insight into her newfound friend’s life?

Wrinkling her nose, she brought a hoof to her chin. As Tia might say in similar situations, any advice, even if it might be something she didn’t quite expect or want, could be used to better herself. Or, more applicably, to help her better another.

Twilight Sparkle had offered—rather forcibly—to aid her in her quest to resume her old relationship with the ponies that had come to fear her so. A task, in Luna’s opinion, that would take more than simple words or little jokes with the foals to achieve. Far too much darkness clouded her past, events long since buried by the sands of time and painstaking efforts of her sister.

But helping Twilight, returning the favor to a friend, that was worth something.

To help by simply being there for a friend. Luna wracked her brain, something was familiar about that. One of Twilight’s lessons, if I recall. Or one from another friend.

To stand by a friend, much like her Night Guard, Moondancer, and sister stood by her as she struggled to adapt. That was the key.

“You have given me much to think about,” she began, sliding off the couch and standing. Before the pair across could mimic her action, she held up a hoof. “Please, do not stand on my account. I will not detain you any further.”

Cadence started. “Oh we’re happy to help!” She broke off, chewing on her bottom lip, her ears pinned back. “You could stay for dinner, if you like,” she mumbled timidly. “I’m sure Fidelius can make a bit extra.”

Her first instinct, to make up a flimsy excuse, flashed before her. The refusal died before it even reached her throat, quelled by the hope shining in those brilliant purple eyes.

Move on. Give her a chance.

“I suppose, if good Fidelius would not be too troubled.”

This time, she was ready for Cadence to leap off the couch and sweep her into another hug. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She drew back, only to give a quick nuzzle before releasing her grasp. “I’ll go tell Fidelius straight away! You’ll just love his butternut squash casserole!”

She was gone in a swirl of feathers, leaving Luna alone with a decidedly amused Shining Armor.

After a moment, he spoke, his voice tinged with barely restrained laughter. “You realize that you just made her entire week, right? I won’t get a wink of sleep with how she’ll be babbling tonight.”

Luna simply rolled her eyes. “I am quite certain that you will live, Captain. If being deprived one night of sleep is enough to render you unfit for duty, then perhaps I should make good on my earlier threat.”

“Like I said, I’ll do it if he does.” Shining scoffed as he laid his head on the cushion, a lazy smile playing upon his lips.

Such a cheeky stallion, just as Cadence said. Well, he would learn with whom he was dealing soon enough.

Her muzzle creased into a coy smile, her eyes flitted back to Shining Armor. “I do seem to recall an old law from ages ago—still on the books, I believe. Stealing a princess’ ice cream was a crime most terrible, even in my day. Punishable by tickling day and night by those offended by the crime.”

The look of utter horror, the way his jaw dropped, hanging wide open as he tried to find his voice was a sight she would hold quite dear.

Never trifle with the Princess of the Night, she crowed inwardly. For her talent for mischief is unmatched and her time endless!

15: Dancing Around Questions

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The scent of steamed vegetables and rice wafted to Luna’s nose. It was nothing too complex, a mix of spices to add a little bit of flavor, and vegetables splashed with soy sauce, but appetizing. A traditional dish of the Far Eastern ponies, if memory served.

Yet another hint of her niece’s wide-ranging taste. Luna awarded a point in her favor, an open mind in terms of art and culture was truly a wonderful thing. Perhaps, she thought, I shall have to pay a bit more attention to Tia’s descriptions of her role as ambassador.

A tiny smile played upon her lips as she watched Shining Armor take a bottle of wine in his magic and pour three glasses—pausing only to steal a little kiss to Cadence’s cheek before setting them in place. Young love, such a happy couple in a seemingly plain home.

Her chest filled with warmth. Watching the pair interact, and the sincerity in their smiles and actions toward her, Luna could happily say that her worries were quite unfounded—just as her ever-insolent elder sister would take pleasure in reminding her.

“I told you!” Her muzzle creased into a scowl at that inner voice, that echo of her sister’s infinite wisdom and teasing. “She never was here to replace you, Lulu—Cadence admires you far too much to even think of such a thing!”

With a roll of her eyes, she gave the voice a shove into the back of her mind. Begone, you! I shall, no doubt, suffer enough of your actual teasing soon enough! Quickly, Luna wiped the scowl off her muzzle and smiled, just before Fidelius trotted over, a tray bearing three plates floated in his magic.

“Your Majesties,” he said with a bow, before turning to Shining Armor, “Captain. Dinner is served.” Fidelius neatly deposited the plates in front of each pony, and stepped to the side. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

“Oh, I think I’m all right,” Cadence said with a smile. “Everything looks almost as good as it smells!”

Shining Armor nodded. “Definitely! Keep this up and I’ll think you’re trying to spoil us!”

Fidelius raised an eyebrow, a tiny smile played on his lips. “With respect, Captain, you think anything other than one of those ‘MREs’—“ he wrinkled his snout derisively “—is spoiling you. However, I do appreciate the compliment.” Giving a moment’s pause to allow Shining a little chuckle at his own expense, he turned and bowed again to Luna. “And you, Princess?”

“Nay, good Fidelius.” Luna shook her head. “I daresay, it has been some time since I’ve sampled Far Eastern cuisine—forgive me, but I am a bit curious. You wouldn’t happen to have a bit of Eastern Unicorn blood in you?”

“No, Princess, but their culture is fascinating. I just went to culinary school when I was a young stallion working in the palace. Princess Celestia so loves to partake in foreign dishes, so I thought it might behoove me to learn a bit if I wanted to stay on.”

A hum and nod of approval. Self-driven to improve, quite impressive. “A wise move on your part. I can only imagine that my sister wept when you left her employ for young Cadence’s.” Smirking playfully, she cast a sidelong glance toward her niece and gave a little wink. “Perhaps a little thievery on your part, niece of mine? Did you sway this good stallion with your charms like Captain Armor?”

Cadence had the good grace to hold a hoof over her mouth to stifle a bout of laughter, her eyes shone with mirth. “No, I’m afraid dear Fidelius is quite resistant to my wiles! His heart belongs to my wicked Auntie Celestia! However—“ She wrapped her wing around Shining Armor and squeezed, nearly pulling him out of his seat. “—this one is very much mine!”

Shaking his head as the trio shared a laugh, Fidelius bowed and quickly turned to trot back to the kitchen.

Out of the corner of her eye, Luna caught the upward tugging of his lips, the fond smile spreading across his face. A routine, she mused as she took hold of her silverware in her magic. Much like Tia and myself, they drop all pretense in the comfort of their home.

Perhaps that was why they chose a small home in the military district. Luna speared a few green beans and scooped them into her mouth, her ears stood up straight at the taste. Even better than it smelled. She gave a merry swish of her starry tail, adding another point in favor of the household. And yet, much like young Spike, I suspect that any attempt to steal Fidelius away to the palace kitchens will be met with stiff resistance.

Her lips curved into a tiny smile as she continued eating, pausing in her efforts to take a sip of wine. A tad sweet for her tastes, though the floral scent did help to relax her at a more base level—a sign of a nice, safe patch of land to have a good meal.

“So, Princess—“ Shining began, a forkful of vegetables hovered before him “—not that I mean to question you, but I have to ask: why Twilight?”

Luna blinked, her magic flickered at the brief lapse. “Excuse me?”

“Why Twilight? Don’t get me wrong, I love her more than any brother ever could love his sister, but I’m curious why she draws the most attention. From the reports I’ve read, she’s surrounded by a pretty impressive group of friends—one of them is part of a rather old family, I believe, and the Wonderbolts have their eye on another—”

“Shiny,” Cadence cut in, “if you’re going that route, you have to account for Twilight’s connection to Auntie Celestia and I, as well as your rank.”

“—Fair enough.” He shrugged and nodded. “Still, what exactly is it that makes her special to you?”

Luna sucked in her cheeks, slowly lowering her glass to the table. “I would ask that you kindly explain your questioning of my choices, Captain,” she said, her tone frosty. “I call each of the six bearers my friends. Why exactly is it worth questioning whom I find closest companionship with?”

He blinked at the sudden shift. “I don’t mean to be rude! I’m just a bit curious—there’s no pony in Equestria that thinks Twily’s special any more than me! But… well, I’m curious how she stood out to you.”

She opened her mouth to retort, but stopped at a sideways glance to Cadence—the strained smile, the way her shoulders shrugged up as if she were ready to duck down to hide while her lover and aunt argued.

A misunderstanding, she scolded herself. I am being defensive. Come, old mare. Cast down the walls and let others in.

Closing her eyes, Luna took a deep breath in through her nose, holding it a moment before releasing out her mouth. “I believe I may be misinterpreting,” she said slowly. “Would I be correct in presuming that you mean to ask my reason out of idle curiosity?”

Another blink of confusion at her sudden shift, but Shining Armor regrouped. “Well, not so idle, she’s still my little sister, but yes. Forgive me, but you’ve been a little dist—ow, Cady!” he yelped, a hoof clasped his left side.

That’s rude, Shiny!” she hissed. Cadence turned back to Luna and fixed a smile on her muzzle, her eyes filled with those same nerves and hope for acceptance as before. “I’m so sorry, Auntie! I’m sure he didn’t—“

Luna cut her off with a wave of her hoof. “No, niece. The good Captain is correct, but a bit free with his mouth.” She quirked an eyebrow in his direction. “Though, I did ask that we stand on common ground as family—and he does seem to have your devotion—“ she hid a smile at the blush that colored his cheeks, and the bout of giggles and quick nuzzle Cadence stole “—so, perhaps, I shall simply endeavor to become more familiar with him as I shall with you. But to your point, Shining Armor, yes, I have been a bit distant with most. You will understand that I am not the easiest pony to converse with given my reputation. Most ponies still harbor a bit of the old fear.”

Shining nodded, sneaking a quick glance to check for danger of another jab before replying. “I can. With regard to Twilight—she doesn’t fall into that category?”

“No. Happily, she has seen through me,” she said, a smile made its way across her muzzle. “Twilight reminds me very much of my friends long passed—intelligent, insightful, and able to see beyond my history.”

There was a beat of silence. Shining drummed his hooves on the table top a moment, before giving a hum of approval. “All right. Thanks for answering. So, familiarity breeds new friendships?”

“To a point, yes. Though I would add that ours is of a decidedly different sort.”

“How so?”

Luna smiled. “I find her nature, her way… warming.” There. It was out. Nothing tangible, just the honest feeling. “I genuinely wish to share what makes me happy, and share in new things with her.”

“Oh?” Cadence leaned forward in her seat. “Don’t play coy, Auntie! We already have one princess who likes to hide behind teasing smiles and half-statements—share!”

How eager. “Very well, if you insist. We have discussed a mutual interest in classical arts, particularly music, and shared a few records. I have extended an invitation to show her a bit more of my private collection in the near future.”

A raised eyebrow, a slight tugging at her lips. “Well, that’s quite a big step—wait a moment. More?” She lowered her fork to rest on her plate.

“Indeed,” Luna replied, her brows furrowed. Very eager. “She favors the works of Tempo Rubato, who was a friend of mine many centuries ago. I have an original record of his Song of the Meadowlark that she expressed interest in hearing firsthoof.” Her lips curved into a grin. “I do believe I more than made my point about the passion held in the older performers.”

“I’ve heard your point on that one,” Shining said. “I still say you should see the Royal Canterlot Orchestra in concert again. They’ve got a rather good crop of players coming over from the Symphony, especially their cellist.”

With her usual retort fresh on her lips, Luna bit her tongue, a thought from the nights spent in Ponyville flashed through her mind. In my own words, it is not that they lack talent, but the emotion in their work.

She sat back in her seat, regarding him with a critical gaze for a moment. “Perhaps,” she said slowly, “my bias does tend to favor those artists of bygone days. I would not be averse to it, though. I have simply not felt—“ she looked away, and gave a little rustle of her wing “—inclined to attend as I once had. Not without my sister by my side, at least.”

The lovers nodded in unison. “Your bias?” Cadence asked.

“And nervousness, yes. I am a bit wary that my sudden return to the arts might not be so welcome.”

Shining Armor made as though to comment, but stopped, thinking better of it. He hummed to himself, and steepled his hooves. “If I may, Princess—“ he began “—I’m not as entrenched in the art community as Cady was for a time, but I don’t recall much in the way of ill will when you were—ahem—purified by the Elements.”

“None shown overtly, Captain,” she replied. “But fear is not so easily abated, and regaining trust is a slow process.” At his nod, she continued on. “Fortunately, Twilight has seen past that and given me a reminder of what these bonds feel like—the joy of sharing that which I love with one I admire.”

Along with my greatest gift. She closed her eyes, the memory of Twilight’s awestruck face still fresh on her mind. The way her jaw dropped, her eyes widened almost impossibly and how her ears stood tall—as though she were trying to force herself to take in every detail through her senses. I can repay her good deeds with my friendship and sharing the art I love.

A hum drew her out of her reverie. She opened her eyes to find Cadence leaning forward—her hooves folded one atop the other and that smile on her face.

Far too reminiscent of Celestia’s.

“I think—“ she began, raising her wine glass to Luna “—if this is how happy she makes you, and knowing how she is, that your relationship is for the best.”

Shining raised his own glass and chimed in, “You’ve got my endorsement as well, Princess. Glad to see Twily can make such good friends so quickly!”

With a little quirk of her eyebrow, Luna raised her own glass to them, the faintest trace of apprehension in the gesture.

Cadence’s smile didn’t leave her muzzle for the rest of the evening.


That blasted mare is far too much like my sister, Luna decided, nodding to the twins as she exited her carriage and made her way up to the castle’s main entrance.

Flicking her starry tail, she tried to banish the rousing suspicion. “She’s just happy and being calculative,” she told herself. “Far too much like Tia for her own good—and for my sanity.” As she reached the top step, Luna stopped and gave a low hum. “I suppose I could exploit that admiration of hers…”

She stomped a hoof and shook her head. “No. I will not fall to such tactics—she is my niece, not a pawn to move about on the board as I please.”

What a pity. In days gone by, she would have been a valuable asset, quite the useful talent she has, that voice whispered, almost conspiratorially. Politically, she could be a great ally, but in terms of military, her magic could be put to use. We—

“Silence!” Not at all in the mood to argue with treacherous voices, Luna cast her tormenter deep within the recesses of her mind. She took a deep breath through her nose and tried to think of something else, anything to distract her.

Twilight Sparkle’s face came forth. Wide-eyed and awestruck at the sight of Luna in her element, just before she bounded over and rattled off questions faster than any Wonderbolt could fly.

She let out her breath, opened her eyes and looked up at the castle, the windows alight with candlelight in the night sky almost like a painting. I would wager this scene has been done the world over, she thought ruefully as she resumed her trot. And I was not present to enjoy the first days of this castle.

Pity. Though, there were always the art galleries.

As she reached the high archway of the main doorway, Luna was met by her Night Guards—an earth pony and a unicorn, who saluted her with a stomp of their hooves and a nod of their heads—and, strangely, Captain Erebos himself.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” he greeted. “I hope your visit with Princess Cadence and Captain Armor was fruitful.”

Blinking, she nodded. “Indeed. The pair were quite willing to provide input to my little—“ her gaze flitted to the guards posted “—issue. Forgive me, but I was not expecting you to meet me here, you are not a part of the normal exterior guard.”

“True, Princess. But something came up, a little amendment to the usual patrol.” He shifted in his armor and glanced over his shoulder. “We had a surprise visitor.”

Luna raised a brow. “Oh? Was this visitor not on my sister’s guest list?”

“No, on the guest list; permanent status, granted by Princess Celestia herself.”

“I thought only a select few had such status,” she brought a hoof to her chin. “Cadence, of course, and Captain Armor as the head of her Day Guard. Other than that… Blueblood? Oh, heavens, please no.” Her expression fell. “Please, Erebos, do not tell me I have to suffer that—“ she stopped short, her ears flicked toward her snickering guards. Luna ruffled her feathers and lowered her voice. “Is it him?”

He gave a visible shudder. “Er, no, Princess. Fortunately for all of us, frankly.” Shaking his head, Erebos fixed a smile on his muzzle. “It’s Twilight Sparkle, Princess. She took the train up this afternoon, spur of the moment thing. She’s eating dinner with Princess Celestia right now.”

“... I beg your pardon?”

16: She Who Searches, Finds

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The single platform of Ponyville’s train station was packed to capacity; dozens of ponies jostled and bumped together as they tried to navigate the tiny loading area, unicorns carefully levitated their luggage overhead to avoid seeing it flipped over or stepped on.

Off to the side, Twilight stood with her saddlebags slung over her back, shifting from hoof to hoof as she relayed a few last minute instructions to Spike. “Now, you’re sure you don’t want to come with me? I could just teleport back to the library, hang a note on the door explaining that I went on a research trip to Canterlot, and you could just… have a day off or so.”

His brows flatlined, Spike crossed his tiny arms. “Twilight, for the love of Celestia—“

“Who would very much love to see you again, I’m sure! Remember how she used to watch over you when you were little and I was off at my lessons?”

“Twilight.”

She kept going, speaking over him in her absentminded ramble. “And Luna was a bit put out that you made those plans with the Crusaders. She wasn’t mad, so to speak, but she was hoping that you’d join us…”

“Twilight.”

“Oh, and maybe we could visit Cadence and Shining Armor while we’re up there—“

Twilight!” He snapped, his spaded tail flicking in agitation. “I’ve got this! You’ve left me in charge when you went on other adventures, I can handle watching over the library for a day!”

Her eyes flitted to the train and back to Spike. “I know, but you’ve been good about helping out, and cleaning up while I’ve been… er… researching.”

“You mean tearing through the classical arts section, and then pulling off each and every book in the history section to look for any mention of a ‘Dusk Ceremony’. How many did you find, by the way?”

Shifting around to show off the bag on her left, Twilight sighed. “Only two, with a vague mention in a third book, but that one mainly focused on Princess Celestia’s Dawn Ceremony. I’m hoping that there’ll be a few more in the archives. Or—“ she scuffed a hoof against the floor again “—maybe Princess Celestia could lend a hoof on the matter. But she has a tendency to be a little…”

“Mysterious?”

“Let’s go with that, that’ll do just nicely.” An awkward laugh, another rub at her shin. Twilight chewed on her lip, ducking her head low. “You don’t think she’ll be mad that I’m poking around into Luna’s past, do you?”

Spike hesitated a moment, giving a rather plastic smile. “Well… she’s never said anything about not looking into things, right? The most she’ll do if she doesn’t want you poking around would be just telling you to stop. Probably.” He twiddled his claws a bit, his smile strained. “Even so! You’re her favorite student! She’ll be nice about it!”

She ducked lower, her ears laid flat against her scalp. “I should’ve sent a letter first. At least then, I could know what I might be in for.” Heaving a sigh, she stood up tall and looked to the train.

The conductor stepped off the train and onto the platform, and cupped a hoof to his mouth. “Last call for passengers to Canterlot! Last call!”

“You’d better get moving,” Spike said. “The next one to Canterlot isn’t until the weekend. And Carrot Top’s birthday is this Saturday, and—”

“I promised Pinkie Pie that I’d take a break from studying, no ifs, ands, or buts,” Twilight recited, her lips curving into a small smile. “She’d come all the way up to Canterlot just to drag me back for the party.” With a shake of her head, she leaned down to nuzzle Spike’s headfins. “All right, you’ve made your point. But you’d better not cause any trouble while I’m gone, buster!”

Rolling his eyes, Spike crossed his arms again and fixed her with a deadpan stare. “Yeah, I’m gonna hold a great big party while you’re gone. Me, Big Mac, Caramel, Lucky, and Doc are all gonna have a super secret ‘guys only, no girls allowed’ party with cider and lots of messy food. Right in our sitting room.”

Twilight scowled, and made to retort, but the conductor’s call cut her off. Narrowing her eyes, she brought herself down to eye level with Spike and snorted. “If I find so much as a crumb on my bookshelves, Spike…”

“Oh, take a joke! I’m not gonna do anything! Most I’ll do is visit Rarity or spend a little time with the Crusaders, or maybe hang out with the girls when they stop by a bajillion times to check on me, like I know you’ve asked!”

That was all it took for Twilight to abruptly turn and suck in her lips. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about! See you in a couple days, Spike!” Without waiting for his retort, she trotted off, hiding the streak of pink across her muzzle as she looked down and away while floating her ticket to the conductor.

The stallion hummed, the edges of his lips twitched. “Cutting it close, Miss Sparkle. Not like you to dally!”

Her ears burned. “I was dealing with a rather mouthy baby dragon.”

A hearty chuckle and nod. “Of course. Well, everything’s in order, as per usual!” He stepped to the side and bowed, giving a sweeping gesture of his hoof. “Please, go aboard, Miss Sparkle. We’ll depart as soon as you’ve found your seat.”


The bumping, jostling, and clicking of the train wheels against the age-old tracks did nothing to distract Twilight from her work. Back at the library, she’d only just skimmed through texts, looking for the slightest hint of anything regarding ceremonies of day or night, the sacred works of the Eternal Sisters.

What she found was far more precious than she could’ve imagined.

It was all there! Just as her research into Luna’s history as the Matron of the Arts yielded such lavish praise, and such vivid description of how musicians paid Luna tribute before performing, the two texts she’d found described the Dusk Ceremony with something more akin to worship than a recounting.

Reverence. Awe. The very same way Twilight herself watched Princess Celestia raise the sun each and every Summer Sun Celebration since she was but a little filly. Luna’s nights, the way she raised the moon and so lovingly dotted the sky with twinkling stars, were beloved by all who watched, the envy and inspiration of artists far and wide.

Even Princess Celestia, Equestria’s guiding light for countless centuries, was said to gaze up in awe of her sister’s craft, basking in the majesty of the stars above.

“… Of all the works in this life, there are none as impressive or majestic as those created by our benevolent princesses, the Mistresses of Day and Night.

“With Her Majesty, Princess Celestia’s bright, shining sun brings warmth and comfort. Her Dawn Ceremonies are as neat and orderly as the mare herself; her horn is wreathed in a golden aura, matching the great body she moves across the sky. Her wings unfurl, and with one mighty flap she ascends into the air, raising the sun with her and chasing away the darkness of night, bringing the clear blue sky we all know and love and play in.

“But when it comes time for Her Grace, Princess Luna, to step forward and bid the land goodnight with her Dusk Ceremony, even her sister’s unflappable serenity is broken. There is no word in any language to describe it. One truly has to witness it to behold the true splendor of the night.”

Twilight flicked her tail, and looked up from the book, her gaze flitted to the mid-afternoon sky, still bright and blue with the sun hanging high in the air. A picture perfect day, soon to become a picture perfect night.

Truly, she wasn’t sure if she could try to describe the process—no, the artwork—that went into Luna bringing the night sky to Equestria. Raising the moon was a spectacular feat in and of itself; one only matched by a team of ancient unicorns in Unicornia and the princesses themselves. But to see her put the stars in place…

Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Enchanting. They were words, wonderful words that ponies threw around each and every day.

Watching Luna that night… those words were utterly useless. They were bland, emotionless, and simply didn’t come close to measuring the sheer majesty of the sight, or the privilege Luna had granted Twilight and her band of friends when she agreed to let them watch.

The first Dusk Ceremony that Luna had taken part in since her banishment. Or further? How long ago had it fallen out of practice?

And, more importantly, why hadn’t the princesses revived the practice?

Princess Celestia had been all too thrilled that the Elements of Harmony had purified Luna of her darker influences, ridding Equestria of Nightmare Moon once and for all. Knowing her as well as Twilight did—or, as well as Twilight thought she did—that would’ve been one of the first things expected to return.

Especially given how enthralled Luna was as she set about dotting the night sky with each and every twinkling star.

“Like Rarity while she designs her dresses,” Twilight muttered to herself. “Or Rainbow Dash while she practices one of her crazy tricks.”

So focused, so in tune with everything, almost as though she were the night itself. Like the night sky was the greatest gift she could give to the ponies she so loved.

A frown marred Twilight’s muzzle. “Princess Celestia would definitely push her to start the Dusk Ceremonies again. Like how she pushed me to visit Ponyville to make friends, convincing Luna to return to her duties, especially one she loved so much, would’ve been high on her priorities. Unless…” she brought a hoof to her chin, her eyes narrowed in thought.

Luna’s fidgeting, the hesitation in her eyes just before she agreed to let them watch, like she was afraid to expose herself in such a manner to them.

Afraid of letting somepony else in that close. Twilight flicked her tail again, her ears pinned back to lay flat against her scalp. It’s something precious to her, that much is obvious. Something she used to be so happy to share, but shies away from now. Is she scared of being rejected? Of no pony wanting to come out and see?

She shook her head, and banished those thoughts. “Don’t make assumptions, that’s the first rule of research. Be open to all possibilities, consult credible sources, and interview any who might be able to give insight into the subject. Princess Celestia taught me that.”

At that, Twilight smiled and shook her head. How funny things worked, that she’d turn around and find that Princess Celestia, the very mare who taught her basic research methodology, would be the only credible interviewee on the matter, other than Luna herself.

And given Luna’s reception to the idea that Twilight would help her reintegrate, how she tried to object right up until Twilight made her final push, she wouldn’t be so forthright with the information needed.

Hopefully, Princess Celestia isn’t in one of her playful moods. That would be… quite troublesome.

With a sigh, she shut her book and stuffed it into her bag. Too many distracting thoughts, from Luna’s reasons to Princess Celestia’s habit of prodding Twilight to find the answers herself.

She’d be better served to just close her eyes, sit back in her seat, and rest until the train made it to Canterlot.

If only her wandering thoughts would cooperate and let her get a bit of rest; a battle she’d been losing since witnessing the first Dusk Ceremony in over a thousand years.

“Damn it, Luna,” she muttered, the smile on her muzzle a contrast to her words. “You just had to show me—us. How in Equestria am I supposed to ignore that?”

Laying her head against the back of her chair, Twilight closed her eyes, the answer as clear as the sun hanging in the sky.

You aren’t, a voice, eerily similar to Luna’s teasing tone, echoed in her mind. Silly mare, the best sort of art is that which stays with you.

A snort of amusement. Twilight shook her head, her smile growing into a full-blown grin. “Even in my head, you’re so much like Princess Celestia, it’s almost scary.”

Twin grins, purple and teal eyes shining with mirth and mischief, backed by ancient knowledge, flashed before her. The voice was silent as she drifted off to sleep.


Twilight was jolted awake by the sudden lurch of the train. She shook herself, blinking owlishly as she checked her surroundings.

Canterlot Train Station’s cobblestone platform was a familiar sight from her fillyhood days. Ponies hustling and bustling to get from one platform to the next, station hooves dressed in their red and gold trim uniforms with caps set neatly upon their heads pushed patrons’ luggage carts, and the ever-familiar Night Guard, in their perfectly polished obsidian armor, standing at rapt attention brought her back.

Once, this was her home. Equestria’s greatest and oldest city, shining atop Mount Canterhorn like a glimmering beacon, would always hold a special place in her heart, no matter how much a Ponyville mare she’d become.

She stood, lighting up her horn and floating her saddlebags onto her back. A groan escaped her lips, her muscles, stiff from the journey and her little cat nap, protested her every move.

Short line trains aren’t really designed for comfort, Twilight told herself as she shook her legs to work out her muscles. Next time, stay awake as planned and don’t nap in such an uncomfortable position.

“All passengers,” the conductor boomed from the front of the car, “we have arrived in our destination: Canterlot, the capitol of Equestria. Please exit via the doors at the front of the car, and remember to take any carry on luggage you brought along. If you checked any with us, it will be unloaded at the dock once we have gathered it! Thank you for traveling with us today!”

Twilight made to take a step forward, but had to withdraw her hoof as a mare leapt out of her seat, her bags floating beside her in her bright fuchsia aura, and bolted for the doors, nearly bowling over an earth pony couple and their tiny foal in her haste.

Snorting, Twilight shook her head and made her way up the aisle. “Seems that there’s a shortage of good manners these days,” she muttered. Once she came within earshot of the family, she stopped, and offered a kind smile. “Is this your first time in the city?”

The parents gave matching smiles. “Yes,” the stallion replied, “we wanted to come up on vacation and show our son around. Came all the way up and stopped with a couple friends in Ponyville!”

“Yep! Canterlot is always a lot of fun!” his wife added, though her smile dropped as her gaze flitted to the door. “But, sometimes the manners of these city ponies can be a bit…”

“Lacking?” Twilight supplied sheepishly, giving a nervous chuckle at their nods. “Well, not all of us are like that—just a few who forget themselves. I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit! Oh, be sure to check out the Royal Museum and catch the Royal Guards during their daily routines, they’re both a real treat!”

She bade them farewell, and continued on her way toward the door. With a nod and a bright smile to the conductor, Twilight trotted through the open doorway, down the tiny steps, and onto the platform.

Without anything but her saddlebags, she had the good fortune to forgo the usual mad scramble to the loading dock. A shudder went down her spine at the memory of a few of those—her tiny hooves straining to maintain their hold around Shining Armor’s neck as the family galloped through the station.

Not fun. Especially when we had to keep an eye on Spike. She turned left, making her way toward the exit, her saddlebags thumped against her sides.

A pair of Day Guards stood in her path, just a short distance from her. “Miss Sparkle,” they greeted in unison, each snapped a quick salute.

Twilight stopped short, with one hoof in mid stride. Her ears flicked toward the crowd, burning at the hushed whispers and gossip—the Royal Guards didn’t break from their post unless there was trouble, or somepony important was visiting.

As Princess Celestia’s student, she certainly qualified as the latter. But these guards were ready to meet her upon arrival. Not to mention the fact that, by right, they should be off duty if the Night Guard was deployed to watch over the platform.

“Gentlestallions,” she replied, bowing her head. “How may I help you?”

The guard on the left smiled. “Her Majesty, Princess Celestia, received word that you’d taken the train with intent to visit her, and asked that we meet you here. One of the palace carriages is waiting outside to take you to her.”

Twilight blinked, her ears stood up straight. How did she… “I never sent a letter.”

“No, Miss Sparkle, but your assistant did. Princess Celestia had quite the giggle, if I may say so.”

His partner nodded, speaking for the first time, “She was quite happy to hear that you’d be visiting, Miss. Though, she did mention that we should heavily imply that, should you have sent word sooner, she would’ve been happy to greet you herself. But, she had one or two straggling petitioners left to take care of.”

“I understand,” she replied. Flicking her tail, Twilight made note to find out just what Spike had put in that letter to make Princess Celestia so amused. Cheeky little dragon. “Well, then, shall we?”

The pair stepped to the side, and motioned her on, ready to take up positions on either side of her. “After you, Miss Sparkle,” they said in stereo.

Twilight nodded and trotted forward, her escorts fell into step beside her. While Spike’s intervention was a bit unexpected, at very least, she could speak with Princess Celestia without feeling awkward about the subject material.

With a spring in her step, she passed through the turnstile doors at the main entrance.

A shiver ran down her spine as the cool night air tickled her coat. Smiling, she glanced up at the moon hanging in the sky—marveling at how brightly it shone down upon the city, the stars twinkling around it like little foals crowding their mother.

Like they were crowding Luna herself… Her smile became a grin that threatened to split her muzzle, she gave a little swish of her tail as she trotted toward the ornate carriage waiting at the curbside. How very fitting.


Her hoofsteps echoed off the castle’s high arching walls, a sound so familiar from the days when she walked the halls with her saddlebags laden with books, and one floating in front of her face.

Twilight winced. Her time in Ponyville, living in a hollowed out tree that dulled such sounds only served to exaggerate the echo. She pinned her ears back to block it out, her tail gave a tiny flick. How did I ever manage to focus on reading in the middle of the hallway?

Familiarity. That was it. She’d been so engrossed in her books back then, so used to casually navigating her surroundings without looking up, hardly giving fellow ponies a nod as she passed them by.

These days, she couldn’t go through Ponyville’s marketplace without losing at least an hour of her schedule to chatting with her friends or other towns ponies—something that would’ve driven her mad only just a few short months prior.

Funny how time and friendships change things.

Twilight trotted toward the Throne Room, flanked on either by her guard escorts. Up ahead, a pair of Night Guards stood stationed on either side of the opened doorway snapped to attention.

“Good evening, Miss Sparkle,” they greeted in unison and gave a salute with their spears.

She ducked her head to hide a little blush. Such formality! Had they always greeted her in this fashion? “Good evening, gentlestallions. The Princess isn’t, er, busy with anypony, is she?”

The guard on the left—a sergeant, if she read the rank logo on his shoulder correctly—shook his head. “No, ma’am. Upon receiving the letter from Spike, Her Majesty asked that Day Court be cut short so she could make ready for your arrival, the last appointment just finished up a short while ago.” He gave a nod and added, “If you’ll permit me to say, she’s rather eager to see you again.”

Her ears perked up. “She is?” A merry swish of her tail, the corners of her mouth tugged upward.

“Very much so, Miss.” In a rare break from protocol, he returned her smile with a fanged grin. “I do believe I heard something about a want to catch up with you—dinner, if my ears didn’t deceive me.” He wiggled his ears at her. “Haven’t lied to me yet, though.”

She sucked in her lips, hiding a grin that threatened to split her muzzle in two. Always making time to see me or talk to me, no matter what troubles I had. Some things just didn’t change.

Sparing both a nod, she trotted passed them and into the Throne Room. Her eyes lit up at the familiar splendor—the tall stained glass windows depicting tales of valor and heroism throughout Equestria’s history, the soft purple walls, the banners bearing the insignias of the Sisters of Day and Night hanging from the ceiling on either side of the throne.

And her teacher, seated on that very throne with a serene smile on her muzzle—two members of the Day Guard posted on each side of the dais, her personal guard. One that grew into a bright grin the moment she walked into the room.

Twilight stopped where she stood and bowed low. “Princess Celestia. Thank you so much for taking the time to see me.”

“My faithful student,” Princess Celestia greeted warmly. She stood, her rainbow mane and tail flowing in a nonexistent wind much like Luna’s, and gracefully made her way down the steps and onto the red carpet. Despite her larger frame, her steps were light, only making the faintest sound against the soft carpet as she approached.

Her head still bowed, Twilight glanced up as two pristinely-polished golden horseshoes came into view. She waited, a tiny smile played upon her lips.

A snort of laughter. Her ear flicked at the amused sigh, she snuck a peek to Princess Celestia’s face, catching sight of a little smile.

Clearing her throat, Princess Celestia spoke with an air of mock formality, adopting a more classical manner of speech, “As Princess of the Sun and Mistress of the Day, We command thee rise, Twilight Sparkle, and give Us a hug, thou silly filly.”

Twilight’s head snapped so quick her neck muscles strained. One look how Princess Celestia sat back on her haunches and held out her hooves, and gave a little waggle of her hooves in a sort of “come here” motion were all it took for the game to end.

With a happy squeal, she threw herself into the embrace and wrapped her hooves around her barrel.

The force of her sudden movement made Princess Celestia rock back, and very nearly sent her toppling onto her back. “My, my! You’re nearly as happy to see me as I am you, my dear!” she said with a chuckle, returning the hug and giving a little squeeze Twilight. Drawing back, she held Twilight at hoof’s length as if inspecting her. “Hmm, you’ve lost quite a bit of weight—a result of all the running around with your friends, or do I need to have a word with Spike about making sure you’re properly fed?”

Wrinkling her snout, Twilight huffed. “I’ll have you know that I’m well within the acceptable weight range for a unicorn mare of my size and stature!”

“Oh, phooey to those silly modern health pamphlets! They change on an almost bi-monthly basis!” Her hooves pulled Twilight in tight, a playful grin crossed her muzzle. Tutting, Princess Celestia reached up and patted Twilight’s head. “Clearly, there’s only one answer—I’m afraid you’ll just have to stay here with me until you’re fed to my liking.”

A gasp. She pulled back, trying to escape those powerful hooves. “You wouldn’t!” she cried in mock horror. “You couldn’t be so cruel!”

Princess Celestia’s belly shook with poorly suppressed laughter. “No, I don’t suppose I could. No matter how much I miss having my ever-faithful student and her little dragon brother at my side,” she admitted, laying her head atop Twilight’s and giving a wistful sigh. “Although—” her tone shifted from sincere to playful again “—if that ever-faithful student would remember that she can visit whenever she likes and send letters for more than her assigned Friendship Reports, then perhaps I might not be so tempted to make good on that threat.”

Her ears pinned back, Twilight gave a sheepish smile. Oops. “I’m sorry, Princess. I just get running around with my friends sometimes, and I know how busy you can get.”

“Indeed.” She replied, raising a brow. “But I’ll wager if I were to ask your parents, or perhaps your brother and my lovely niece, I would find a weekly contact exchange without hint of assignment.” She reached forward and booped Twilight’s snout, smirking at the way her captive student wrinkled her muzzle. “Do I need to make informal exchange between us an assignment, my dear?”

“No, Princess.” Twilight glanced downward. “I’ll remember to write more often.”

Beaming, Princess Celestia released her grip and stood. “Thank you. Now—“ she gestured for Twilight to walk with her toward the Throne, where a third guard so happened to have floated in a smaller cushion for her use “—Spike’s letter mentioned that you had a bit of a research project that you wanted some help with. Forgive me, but I don’t recall assigning anything. Though, that may be my memory playing tricks on me again.”

A shake of her head. “No, Princess, it’s not an assignment. It’s a personal project—well—“ she chewed her bottom lip, thinking of a better word for it “—it’s more a project to help somepony special in the long run.”

“I see.”

They reached the dais. Princess Celestia swept gracefully into her Throne and Twilight hopped onto her cushion—seated on the right side of her teacher, like her fillyhood days.

Just the right feel, too, she thought as she made herself more comfortable. Like she custom orders them for me.

No, that was silly. Even taking the Royal Family’s wealth, it would be a frivolous use of bits—Princess Celestia imparted that lesson on her years ago.

“So—” Princess Celestia’s voice brought her out of her thoughts “—tell me about this project of yours. All I got from Spike was that it involved certain parts of Equestria’s history that were rather vague. Any area in particular?”

“Yes, well, it’s not so much an area or period in particular,” Twilight began. “It’s about Luna.”

A brow raised. “Oh? Pray tell, what part of my sister’s history managed to catch your eye?”

“Er, that’s just it, Princess. I’ve come up empty in my search.” Sighing, she pulled her books from her saddlebags and held them aloft. “After talking with her about music, I managed to find a few connections there to find a time period to start—“

“A wise decision,” Celestia praised. “I suppose you meant to cross-reference her presence in the art community?” At Twilight’s nod, she smiled. “Very good, I’m pleased to see you took my lessons to heart. So, where are you ‘coming up empty’, as you say?”

“For a time, I was having a lot of trouble matching up her capacity as ‘Matron of the Arts’ with other duties. Certainly, I was able to find a few books on her influence in the art community, but they didn’t really do much to help match her up elsewhere. Well, until she showed me something else…”

“Something other than her records? My, my, and here I thought that she was willing to share those with you was indicative of just how much she values your friendship!” She gave a merry swish of her tail and prodded Twilight lightly on the shoulder. “Well, what did she show you? Did she sneak a couple paintings out of her room while I wasn’t looking?

Twilight shook her head. “Not quite. While she was with us the other night, Luna let us watch her raise the moon and put the stars in the sky—it was really amazing!”

A beat of silence. Princess Celestia stared a moment, blinking owlishly. “Did she?” she asked, her voice missing her usual serenity and poise. Instead it held a hint of something else. Excitement? Jubilation?

Either way, her smile seemed to broaden, spurring Twilight on. “Yes! Oh, it was wonderful!” she babbled excitedly. “I mean, I always suspected that it was rather similar to the way you raised the sun every morning, but I never imagined it could be so… so…” she trailed off, rolling a hoof through the air.

Princess Celestia chuckled. “Indescribable? Incomparable?”

“Er, yes. Those fit nicely.” Her cheeks burned, her ears swiveled back to lay against her scalp. “Excuse me, I just couldn’t find the words.”

“Very few can, my dear. Even having seen Luna craft the night sky as many times as I have, she still manages to take my breath away whenever I see it. One of many things I missed while she was banished…” she gave a wistful sigh, stealing a glance toward the stained glass windows. Another happy sigh, she turned to face Twilight again. “Well, what do you think of my sister’s night? Far better than my attempts, is it not?”

Twilight nodded once, rubbing a hoof agains her shin. “No offense, but yes.”

“None taken. After all, it was I who told you that the original artist far exceeded my abilities in the first place.” She hummed to herself, fixing Twilight with a sidelong glance, as if considering her a moment. “If Luna let you and your friends watch, she must hold you in rather high regard.”

The heat in her cheeks returned in full force. She ducked her head, mumbling, “I just try to be the best friend I can.”

“I’m certain you do, and I appreciate your efforts—that my sister finds companionship with you sets my mind at ease. While I cannot pick Luna’s relationships for her without playing ‘overbearing big sister’, I will admit that there is no shortage of bias in whom I’d try to push her toward if I felt so inclined.” A shrug of her shoulders, she gave a small smile. “We all have our faults, mine is being nosy, I’m afraid. That said, I must ask—would I be correct in believing that you mean to ask me for help in your ‘research project’?”

Twilight gave a sheepish nod, shifting in place under her teacher’s gaze. She felt small—like she was a filly again, looking up to Princess Celestia with baited breath, silently praying for approval. “I managed to find these books on the old Dusk Ceremonies, but not much else. Like I said, Golden Oak Library wasn’t really stocked with such intensive research in mind. It’s more for the foals, or more base-level research.”

To her relief, her nod was returned. “Consulting a primary source. Very good, Twilight, full marks. I’d be happy to help in your project—but—“ she held up a hoof to forestall any cheering “—this information comes at a price. Rather hefty, I’m afraid…”

Her shoulders slumped, Twilight felt her heart sink. Of course it would. She was asking Princess Celestia to help dig up her own sister’s past—not a happy tale for either of them.

“What price?” she asked weakly.

Princess Celestia grinned slyly and steepled her hooves. “Since I don’t get to see you quite as often—and since I have to explicitly ask for letters…” she raised a brow, almost daring Twilight to counter.

She didn’t.

“My price,” she continued, “is that your foray into the archives—yes, Spike told me that you wished to visit—will wait until tomorrow morning. Tonight, you’ll dine with me. We’ll talk about whatever you wish, but your search waits until the morning. Then, you’ll sleep in your old tower and be up in time to meet me on the Observatory as per our usual routine.”

There was a beat of silence between the pair. Twilight raised a brow, but smiled all the same. “That doesn’t seem like much of a punishment, Princess.”

Well, if that’s the way you feel, I have no choice but to insist that you have dessert as well—and there will be no polite refusals, young mare!” Princess Celestia wagged a hoof at her. “No student of mine will be skin and bones if I have anything to say about it!”

Unable to hold it back any longer, Twilight laughed and shook her head. She hopped off her cushion, landing nimbly on her hooves, and floated her books into her saddlebags. “Shall we, then? The main dining room?”

“If you like, yes. But on nights like these—“ she stole another glance to the window “—I prefer to sit on the balcony with Cadence and Luna, if they’re available. Since we haven’t quite had that chance, I thought we might take our meal there.”

Princess Celestia stood, pausing briefly to shake out a bit of stiffness in her hind legs, before she trotted down the dais with Twilight in tow.

The shifting of metal and heavy cadence of hoofsteps, made Twilight’s ear flick back. A peek over her shoulder revealed that the Night Guards were following, as per their duty.

A smile and nod to the pair. Erebos has them drilled well. The pair made their way out of the Throne Room, nodding to the Night Guards as they passed, and trotted down the hallway. As they rounded the corner to the grand staircase, Twilight caught sight of a familiar face.

Coming toward them with a clipboard held aloft in her mulberry magic glow, was Moondancer. Her eyes were focused on her list, she mumbled softly under her breath as she raised a pencil to check off various things she’d completed or make note of anything important she encountered.

“Moondancer!” Twilight called happily.

White ears flicked. Moondancer looked up from her clipboard, confusion written plainly across her muzzle. She cocked her head to the side. “Twilight Sparkle?” Her eyes shifted to the clipboard again, searching for something. With a hum, she looked back, frowning at her former classmate. “I didn’t realize you’d scheduled a visit—Princess Luna certainly didn’t say anything.”

Before Twilight could reply, Princess Celestia all but leapt in, that playful smile on her muzzle again. “You’re quite correct, Moondancer!” she tittered. “It would seem that my dear student felt a surprise visit was in order tonight. Otherwise, I would’ve insisted that Luna stay for dinner rather than run off on her—ahem—errand.”

Moondancer and Twilight shared a look, each hid matching smile behind a hoof.

Typical.

Quickly schooling her expression a smaller, more professional smile, Moondancer spoke, “I see. Will you be staying long, Twilight? Princess Luna would be thrilled at the chance to spend time with you again.”

“I’ve got a bit of research that I plan on doing in the archives, but—“ Twilight glanced to Princess Celestia, and received a smile of faux innocence in reply “—I will be staying the night in my old tower. I’d be happy to see Luna again once she gets back.”

“Good! I’ll have Captain Erebos greet her at the main entrance once she returns!” She scratched a quick note on her clipboard, then brought it to hover at her side and bowed low. “Thank you, Princess, and you, Twilight. Princess Luna will be so excited that you came!” With a bright smile on her muzzle, she trotted briskly down the hallway, turning down the same corridor they’d just come from.

A soft chuckle made Twilight flick an ear toward Princess Celestia.

“She’s come quite a ways,” she said, more to herself than Twilight. Shaking her head, she waved a wing toward the stairs, gesturing for Twilight to join her in climbing the stairs. “Come. If we dally any further, I’ll have Quick Quill breathing down my neck about my schedule again.”

“Still?”

“As constant as the rolling tides, my dear. But I wouldn’t trade her for any other. Now before we get to business, I’m curious; how are the pancakes in Ponyville?”

17: Time Takes Away Everything

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Few ponies could claim the honor of invitation to a private dinner with Princess Celestia, let alone sitting with her on one of the castle’s splendorous balconies.

Should Twilight ever wish to venture into the higher circles of the upper crust, she would, of course, garner plenty of attention the very instant she mentioned her place among those on that short list. Attention which would only double or triple in scrutiny should she identify herself as the Twilight Sparkle, personal student of Princess Celestia.

The privilege itself was not lost on her as she chewed on a bit of steamed broccoli. I wonder how things would have been if I’d strayed from Princess Celestia’s side during some of those events, she thought, flashing back to several charity galas and award ceremonies for the school. Each time, she’d kept herself close by Princess Celestia, smiling dutifully and nodding to each guest who stepped forward to greet the princess.

How things changed when she moved to Ponyville. Certainly, her status earned her awed stares and excited whispers at first, but the ponies living on the edge of the Everfree were more interested in what she did than the title she wore.

There’s something Applejack would say to that. Actions speak loudest, I’m sure. A smile played upon her lips as she speared a carrot with her fork and brought it to her mouth.

Even when she wasn’t there, her friend’s more down-to-earth manner of thinking proved to be grounding for her.

Though Canterlot was where her family had lived for generations, Ponyville was home, and nothing would change that. The warm smiles, friendly greetings as ponies passed in the marketplace, and the tight-knit community called to her so.

But so too did her family and mentor.

“Your friendship with my sister has been good for her,” Celestia began. “I hear tell from her faithful Night Guard that she could walk on water each time she returns from her visits. She made mention of a certain pair of foals, I recall—the Cakes’, I believe.”

Twilight nodded, lowering her fork down to the plate. “Yes, that’s right! Pound and Pumpkin Cake!”

“Yes, she was quite taken by them it seems.” A smile played upon her lips Celestia raised a glass of wine to hover before her muzzle. “I do believe they’re the first to refer to Luna as ‘big pony princess’, though.”

Snorting, Twilight quickly covered her mouth with a hoof. “I don’t doubt it! I’ve never seen her laugh so hard in the time I’ve known her!”

“You would have loved to see her antics before her banishment! Loathe though I was to admit it at the time, her pranks were the life of the party.” Celestia turned to look toward the moon, sighing wistfully. “The stories I could tell you, my dear. From casting color swap spells on Tempo Rubato’s mischievous colts, to scaring poor Private Pansy in the old Hall of Pony Hooves...”

“Hall of what?” Twilight blanched. “Pony hooves?”

“Oh, not real ones. Dear heavens, no!” she said through a bout of giggles. “Luna designed a hallway with a few rather frightening displays, to help her play tricks on our visitors. A pipe organ that played and echoed throughout the castle, stone hooves that seemed to reach out of the walls, and the like.”

Cringing, Twilight bit into a carrot. The familiar taste brought a bit of solace, though the haunting vision of stone hooves reaching out of the walls to grab made shivers run down her spine. “Awful macabre, isn’t it? I’d hardly imagine Luna today enjoying something like that!”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Macabre? To a point, yes, I suppose it is. But you’ve seen my sister’s sense of style, haven’t you? Her chariot, her Night Guards’ armor, her cloak, all very much different in design than mine. Speaking of, if I recall correctly she left the castle to celebrate Nightmare Night in Ponyville with her old cloak in hoof.” She leaned forward, resting her chin on the back of her hoof and propping her elbow on the table in a manner that would’ve had any etiquette instructors tearing their manes out.

Not that any would dare do so in her presence.

“Did she let it dissolve into a flurry of bats?” she asked, her eyes half-lidded. “That was one of her favorite parlor tricks back then, you know. Oh, how the foals used to squeal—she would chase them around the room with her conjures, and then scoop them up and proclaim them as her ‘Children of the Night!’” Another wistful sigh escaped, before she shook her head and brought her fork to her lips. “Forgive me. Since her return, I seem to find myself lost in memories more and more with each passing day.”

Twilight offered a small in turn. “I would say I understand, but that would be rather facetious. I can’t imagine what it was like.”

“You should never have to,” came the retort. Celestia’s smile fell, a tiny frown marring her features—but it was gone in an instant, as if she’d wiped the slate clean. “That aside, this is a nice point to transition to your research, I think. So, tell me, what have you found out about my little sister since that surprise visit?”

Lowering her fork to rest on the plate, Twilight weaved tendrils of magic to rifle through her bag and take hold of her notepad. She brought it forward, placing it by the right side of her plate. “Let me see.” She flipped it open, squinting at the notes she’d so hastily jotted down. “Well, we discussed her tastes in music and compared them to my own.”

“So I heard. She took a few records with her that night, if I recall.” She hummed and swished her prismatic tail. “From her first edition collection, too. Tempo Rubato was among them, I presume?”

“As a matter of fact, yes!” Twilight squealed, bouncing in her seat. “Song of the Meadowlark, first edition from the original concert! I didn’t even know copies from that far back were still around!”

“Frightfully few are, I’m afraid. Time takes its toll on everything.” Another sigh, another wistful look toward the moon hanging in the sky.

It seemed brighter tonight, for some reason. As if joyful.

But that’s silly, Twilight thought, furrowing her brow. The moon and sun are inanimate, celestial bodies, incapable of feeling… well, anything.

Then again, until a short while ago, The Tale of the Mare in the Moon was thought to be nothing more than an old wive’s tale. Nightmare Moon was nothing more than a poltergeist used to scare naughty little foals into behaving properly.

If it were possible, only they would know.

Celestia’s voice pulled Twilight out of her thoughts. “Luna collected the greatest pieces of art in that age. From Tempo Rubato and Werner, to Fortissimo, Sforzando, and Fil di Voce, she went to all their performances and made certain to acquire the first recordings.”

Twilight’s ear flicked. If other recordings had been lost or rendered unusable, how had she listened to Luna’s? “Princess?”

“Yes?”

“You said something about most of the other copies being lost to time. How could Luna’s still be in such good condition, then? They were pristine!”

“Indeed.” The corners of her mouth tugged upward. Twilight could’ve sworn there was a hint of playfulness in those ageless purple eyes. “A trick I’ll teach you. Someday,” she said, holding up a hoof to forestall any argument, “But not tonight. Let’s not beat around the bush any further than we already have. I assume that you used the composers’ names to link back to a certain time period in history?”

“Yes,” Twilight replied, glancing down at her notes again. “Luna mentioned an old name she went by in the artist community. Rather surprising, really, I never imagined Luna having a name like—"

“The Matron of the Arts,” Celestia cut her off, speaking in a hushed tone. “That is a name I haven’t heard her go by in a long time. A very long time.”

Blinking, Twilight looked up from her notepad, a pang of concern deep in her chest. A question formed on her lips, but it died with one look into Celestia’s eyes.

The playfulness in her eyes was gone, the smile ran away from her face. Pain, years of regret and loneliness shone in her eyes—a thousand years spent as Equestria’s sole ruler, a tale told by the lines of melancholy that ran down her muzzle, the slow pinning back of her ears to lay against her scalp.

“Princess?” Twilight’s voice seemed small. She thought to stand and go to her teacher’s side and offer comfort, but her legs wouldn’t obey.

“Over a thousand years,” Celestia muttered. “Forgive me, Twilight. I forgot myself.” She shook her head, averting her eyes and biting down on her lip. When she looked back, a smile graced her beautiful muzzle once more, though not nearly as bright as Twilight was accustomed. “Though the memories of those years without her are painful, I’m quite happy to hear that name spoken by another pony. It does my heart well. ” With a choked laugh, the back of her hoof across her eyes.

Unable to speak, Twilight allowed her a moment’s pause to collect herself.

Celestia’s eyes, typically warm and inviting like an open campfire or candlelight, brimming with joyful tears—more raw emotion than Twilight had ever seen.

Except for the night Luna returned, she thought, recalling the warm hug the pair shared when Celestia met her sister out of her nightmarish form for the first time in a thousand years. Twilight stayed silent out of respect, waiting for Celestia to compose herself. If it were Cadence or Shining, I would, too.

One last brush of her hoof against her cheeks, and Celestia fixed her gaze on Twilight again. “So, then,” she resumed as if there had been no lapse, “you connected Luna to her old moniker and tried to find a link to other periods throughout history?”

“Hmm? I-I mean, yes!” Again, she flipped through her notes and came upon a section marked IMPORTANT. “I found a few mentions of her as the Matron, most notable is that the author described her in a rather reverent manner, recalling a tale in which Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North both stood on stage, sweating nervously as they waited for her permission to begin a concert.” Her eyes flitted up to meet Celestia’s again. “I have… so many questions about that I’m not even sure I can get to them all.”

“Then perhaps it would be best if we covered the most pertinent of the bunch,” Celestia replied. “That might lead us to answer those other questions cluttering things up.”

A fair point. Answering the bigger questions would at least help them get the conversation going, logically. Twilight took a quick drink of wine to wet her throat, parched as it. She was getting closer. A primary source, her own mentor, was right here in front of her.

The first and most obvious came from another source. Applejack and Rainbow. “The way they revered her in that age,” Twilight began, “it’s almost like…” her voice faltered and trailed off. Twilight chewed on her lip, and gave a little flick of her tail.

A well-trimmed eyebrow raised. “Yes?” Celestia prompted her, rolling a hoof through the air. Her eyes locked onto Twilight’s, as if trying to look into her to coax the words forth.

Shifting in place, Twilight glanced down at her notepad to escape. “It’s like how ponies today look at you,” she finished. “Like she could make mountains move and oceans calm—speaking figuratively of the community, I mean. The idea that Tempo Rubato and Werner of the North were awestruck in her presence, given how they were known for bickering and debating over their pieces, and stood at the pinnacle of the music world, is just so foreign to me!”

“Ah.” Celestia raised her fork and brought a carrot to her lips. She chewed slowly, the gears turning behind those purple eyes almost visible to Twilight. As she swallowed, soft golden glow wreathed her napkin and raised it to her lips to dab away a crumb. “That is an astute observation, one which requires me to go into a bit of backstory of my own in order to help you along.” Wrapping her magic around her wine glass, Celestia brought it to hover before her. “I trust you brought something to write with?”

“Of course.” Twilight floated a pencil from her bag.

“Very good. Now, as you’re well aware, perceptions of history change with the time. Since her fall from grace, Luna has been the subject of quite a bit of apprehension from the public, despite my endorsement.” Her brow twitched as she gave a little wince. “And her retreat into what she found familiar—Night Court and the companionship of her faithful Night Guard—hasn’t helped. I firmly believe she’ll earn the love and admiration of our subjects back someday, but I worry that her newfound awkwardness amongst ponies may prolong the issue.”

Twilight’s pencil danced across the page in a blur, noting implications and questions that came to mind. “Luna mentioned that, actually. The night she first visited me in the library.” She pointed to a note at the top of the page. “She told me how much she wanted to earn back everypony’s trust and return to her old duties.”

“I don’t doubt it, though she’s been hesitant to jump straight into it. To be perfectly honest, her efforts have been focused more on Night Court and her not-so-secret project.” Celestia grinned. “I would say the latter has proven successful, given your relationship with her.”

Smiling nervously, Twilight rubbed her shoulder. “I’m certainly happy it did! She’s quite a wonderful friend once you get her to open up!”

Celestia’s eyes seemed to twinkle, dancing with merriment. “You have no idea just how right you are. Ponies those days loved her quite dearly; Night Court used to draw crowds of petitioners rivaling Day Court.” She waved her hoof, sweeping it over the castle grounds. “Ponies as far as the eye could see would come visit. Similar to Day Court, some sought council or brought forth legal matters. But, admittedly, I dealt with the majority of the latter—maintaining law and order was my domain. It still is, in a way, though I would not be averse to her input.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I digress. Naturally, the artists were her main visitors. They came from far and wide to see their dear Matron when she wasn’t attending one of their lovely plays or concerts, or presiding as the guest of honor at an art gallery.”

The pencil moved in a blur across the page, Twilight couldn’t help but bounce in place as Luna’s past was laid bare to her. “So, that was her primary function? Other than raising and lowering the moon, and placing the stars in the night sky, I mean.”

“Primary?” Chuckling, Celestia shook her head again. “Oh, my dear Twilight, we both had many duties. But her connection with the arts was a part of her, so much like her wonderful nights.”

Her pencil stopped abruptly. “How do you mean? Can she control the different styles of art similar in manner to—"

“Oh, heavens no!” She laughed, waving a hoof. “You’re thinking a bit too literally. Yes, Luna does move the moon and place the stars in the sky, but that’s not her only connection to the night. Unfortunately, if you want an elaboration on that, you’ll have to consult Luna herself. Her description will do it far more justice than mine—er, you may want to make note of that.”

“O-Oh?” Twilight asked, though she obeyed and made a quick note of it. “Why would she tell me?”

Celestia simply raised an eyebrow. “There are seven ponies alive today who have witnessed one of Luna’s Dusk Ceremonies—you, your friends, and me. If there were ever a pony she would explain this to, it’s you. Now, back to the subject at hoof, the arts community.” Her flowing tail swished as she took a sip of wine. “When I say she had a connection to the arts, I mean she could feel the music, and appreciate the colors and abstracts of a painting in ways I simply couldn’t. It took her ages to teach me, centuries even!”

Words spilled onto the page. Twilight’s hoof jittered, her tail wagging like a happy puppy. A thousand years of mystery surrounding Luna, Princess of the Night and Matron of the Arts, pulled back before her eyes! For any researcher, it would be their claim to fame, the stepping stone to the top of the academic world. To Twilight, it was a step closer to understanding Luna, and finding a way to help.

The knowledge itself could be her own, private feather in her cap.

“She was a constant face in the community back then,” Celestia continued. “The artists, musicians, and sculptors would grow old and pass on, leaving behind their apprentices, who would follow along the same. But Luna and I remained. More importantly to them, Luna was always there to welcome the apprentices and behold the first work they brought before her. A rite of passage, if you will.”

“Really? So she would judge their prospects? And tell them if they were on the right track?”

“In a way, yes, but more critiquing their work. Appreciation of the arts isn’t necessarily objective, it’s all a matter of how the individual perceives it. Luna would always let them come forward and stand by the Throne as she looked over their work. She would make note of what she found pleasant, what she wasn’t as enamored with, and how they could improve.” Another sip of her wine, Celestia hummed in appreciation and gave a little smack of her lips. She tilted her head, bringing a hoof to her chin in thought. “Of course, there were a few apprentices who took her word a bit too harshly and scrapped their work. Not unlike a few students of mine, come to think of it.”

Twilight bit her lip and glanced down at her plate. Her cheeks burned, her ears laid flat against her scalp. “I could imagine that they felt rather intimidated in her presence,” she replied, keeping her tone level and choice of words diplomatic. “And based on what I’ve read about their perception of her, it’s almost like she was seen as the central authority figure, really.”

Celestia hummed, nodding as she brought a fork full of string beans to her lips. “Indeed. She used to throw such a fit in private. Especially if one of them decided to scrap one of their creations, and never let it see the light of day.” Screwing up her muzzle, she spoke in a lighter tone, but with a bit of a dramatic flair to it. “Confound these ponies! Do they not understand my want for them to improve and develop their skills? Every artist must start somewhere, original works are to be cherished as the first step toward mastery!”

Her ears twitched. Luna said something similar:

“I suppose an informal judge would be the best way to explain it; I was often invited to opening performances, as a sort of tribute to the dual crown.”


It is… well, I do not believe it is something that I would listen to on my own. However, given that Beethooven was considered innovative in his time… he, most likely, would have been honored to have inspired somepony in such a manner. All the same, it just is not for me, I fear.”

Everything Luna said that night hinted at it; her appreciation was her own opinion on the imagery and music was offered as critique, not absolute. Her authority was derived more in her constant presence, like a mother watching over her foals as they played and grew into their craft.

So much like Celestia today—watching over Twilight as she grew and learned magic, then discovered friendship and came into her own.

The sisters were so alike in that regard, yet so very different. Much like the day and night they heralded, they taught lessons and offered aid in little ways, then stepped back and allowed their ponies to make of their advice what they could.

“How long ago was that?” Twilight asked, finally. “The height of the Night Court’s influence, it’s something I’d not considered looking into.”

Celestia’s smile was as bright as the morning sun. “I was hoping you’d ask, the answer will help you find more information on her Dusk Ceremonies as well. The Night Court’s influence was at its peak fifteen-hundred years ago, and waned three centuries before Luna’s fall.”

Perplexed, Twilight scribbled down the dates. But she had to ask, “Three hundred years prior? Forgive me if I sound a bit ignorant of the matter—”

“Hardly your fault, most books on the subject are either lost or in the archives.”

“True. But if three hundred years passed before Luna fell… what did she do during that time between?”

The smile fell from Celestia’s face. She looked down at the table, her eyes showing hurt and something else. Something Twilight had never seen before and couldn’t quite identify.

All the same, the look in Celestia’s eyes didn’t belong.

“I let her take on burdens I should’ve kept for myself,” she admitted, her voice weak. Sighing, she slumped in her seat. “And I did nothing as I watched her connections break, one by one, until she was distant from our ponies. By the time I decided to act, it was too late. My sister lost her bright, cheery smile and way of finding kinship, our ponies rejected her nights and trembled in fear of her presence, and, in the end, Equestria lost a wonderful mare for a thousand years.”

A heavy silence fell over the pair. Rather than take note, Twilight laid her pencil down. There was too much raw emotion in those eyes, and in her mentor’s voice, for her taste.

The information given was more than enough, as it was. Out of respect, she flipped her notebook shut and cancelled her spell, patiently waiting for Celestia to look up again.

When she did so, Celestia had a smile pasted on her muzzle once more. Though not nearly as bright as before. “The specifics are something I must insist you wait to read until after you’ve investigated the Night Court.”

“I suppose it would make sense to focus on that first, since it was part of my original plan,” Twilight began slowly. “If you don’t mind my asking, though, why?”

If it were possible, the pain in her eyes seemed to grow. “Because it’s important to understand Luna’s nature in order to see just how far she fell,” she replied, her voice straining with raw emotion. “And how foolish I was in allowing my sister to destroy herself.”

The words hit Twilight like a ton of bricks. Respect for her mentor’s pain stopped her from taking up her pencil once more to hastily write everything down again. Every book, every story made it sound like Luna stamped her hoof and became Nightmare Moon in one night, she thought. The Legend of the Mare in the Moon only mentioned that Luna was jealous of Princess Celestia because the ponies loved the daytime and looked to her as a guiding light, while shying away from the night.

Though her inner researcher screamed for clarification, Twilight smiled and bowed her head. “Yes, Princess,” she replied dutifully. “If you think that’s the best course to take, I’ll follow your guidance.”

Celestia game a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Twilight. You have no idea how much that means to me. Nor how much it will mean to Luna down the line.” Her eyes flitted to Twilight’s plate, then met her gaze again. With a playful glare, she cleared her throat. “I believe, young lady, we agreed that you would eat up in exchange for this information! Why, you’ve hardly even touched your steamed vegetables!”

Chagrined, Twilight gave a sheepish chuckle. “I’m sorry. I was just so distracted by—” Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed her fork was wreathed in a golden glow, hovering near her muzzle with a carrot speared on it.

“Clearly,” Celestia said, amused. “Perhaps I need to feed you like a little filly, then, since you’re so easily distracted by our talk.”

“Er, no, Princess.” She lit her horn, wrapping her magic around the fork and doing her best to ignore the oppressive feeling of Princess Celestia’s magic upon her own, like a veritable ocean crashing down upon her shoulders. “I’ll just feed myself.”

The golden glow flickered and dissolved. “Good girl. Now, onto happier things, I think. Tell me, what sort of fun have you been up to with those friends of yours?”


Twilight let out a contented sigh, and sat back in her chair. She folded her hooves over her stomach, laughing with Celestia. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten so much! No, wait!” She giggled, bringing a hoof to her forehead. “Twice! This past Hearth’s Warming and at the Apple family’s reunion right before the Summer Sun Celebration!”

“Well, I’m glad it was to your enjoyment,” Celestia said, nodding happily. “I didn’t even have to fight you to eat your cake. I’m impressed. Though I wonder if you might need a bit more, dear. You still look so peckish!”

Giggling, she let out a mock groan and pushed her plate away. “Oh, please no more! If I take another bite, I might explode!”

Celestia wrinkled her nose. “Hmm, that would be a bit of a bad note to end such a lovely evening. And I shudder to think of the poor castle staff’s faces when I asked them to clean bits and pieces of my faithful student off the nice, white walls…”

“Oh, yes, those poor staff ponies! Not your poor student, who you so cruelly stuffed full of food and cake!”

“I don’t recall hearing you complain, Twilight.” Her brow arched. “Though I’m sure we could always give you a bit more if you still feel so free with your mouth.”

The pair devolved into snickers, Twilight had to hold her sides in pain both from the food she’d eaten and her amusement. “Your jokes are just as wicked as ever!” she teased. “All the same, that was delicious! Please send my regards to Chef Al Dente—his cooking is still some of the best I’ve ever had!”

Some of the best?” Celestia parroted. “I’ll have you know I pay him good money to be the best, Twilight Sparkle! If you’ve found some diamond in the rough down in Ponyville and have been hiding a culinary genius of a pony from me, I shall be most disappointed!”

“You already know Applejack and Pinkie can cook circles around most ponies, but I was talking about my mom!” Snickering, she stuck her tongue out at Celestia. “You should know! She had to teach Al how to make her secret pancake recipe! She’s been right under your nose the whole time!”

With a derisive snort, Celestia folded her hooves over her chest. “Well, then! I suppose you have me there.” Pausing a moment to allow Twilight to get her laughter under control, she dropped the act, smiling fondly. “Ah, this has been a wonderful night. All teasing aside, you know you may visit whenever you please, Twilight. I’d be happy to do this more often.”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll be sure to do so, Princess. Thank you. I’ll be sure to bring Spike along next time.”

“Please do. It would be a delight to have the two of you here again. Perhaps we can all dine together—the pair of you, Luna, Cadence, Shining Armor and I, like old times.” She stopped a moment, chuckling. “Well, old times plus Luna, that is.”

Her eyes lit up and tail swished merrily. “That would be wonderful! I’d definitely be open to that!”

“Then we’ll all have to arrange something. For now, however—hmm?” Celestia’s left ear flicked toward the balcony doorway. She turned, smiling brightly. “Ah! Luna and Captain Erebos! You came back just in time, little sister! Twilight and I only just finished dinner.”

Twilight’s ears perked up. She turned so quickly her neck muscles strained, a small, easily ignorable pain as she was greeted by the sight of Captain Erebos and a very perplexed Luna, whose eyes seemed locked with hers. “Hello, Luna,” she greeted with a small bow of her head, then turning to offer the same to the captain. “And you too, Captain Erebos.”

Captain Erebos saluted Princess Celestia first, then nodded to Twilight. “Good evening, Princess, Miss Sparkle.” He turned to Luna and bowed low. “With your permission, My Princess, I shall take my leave and return to my duties.”

“Yes, of course, Captain. Thank you,” Luna replied, her teal eyes never leaving Twilight’s as he trotted off. “Sister,” she began, her tone even, “I did not realize that you made plans to receive and dine with our mutual friend this evening. I would have happily stayed in and joined—”

“Oh, no, Lulu!” Twilight noticed a little wince and embarrassed smile, a slight drooping of Luna’s ears at the use of her apparent nickname. “You misunderstand! You had already readied to visit our niece when Spike sent word that Twilight was on her way—I had no intent of keeping you out, but I didn’t want to ruin your plans for the evening!”

Before Luna could object further, Celestia stood, prompting Twilight to jolt and make to stand as well. But a raised hoof stopped her. “Oh, don’t stand on my account, dear. I’ve kept you to myself quite a bit tonight, and I already have plans to do so again at dawn. Although…” she smiled, glancing between Luna and Twilight. “I would not be averse to sharing company with the two of you. How does that sound? The three of us, up early for dawn, and breakfast?”

Twilight met Luna’s gaze again, and smiled. “I’d be happy to. If it’s okay with you, Luna.”

A moment’s hesitation. Luna glanced between Celestia and Twilight, almost as though she were nervous. “I… suppose it would be agreeable,” she said. “Perhaps we might partake in the pancake tradition, as established by Twilight Velvet?”

“My thoughts exactly.” Celestia trotted around the table to catch Twilight in a tight embrace. “I shall see you in the morning, dear. Try not to stay up too late, or I shall think my sister has stolen you away!”

Shaking her head, Twilight returned the hug. “I won’t. Goodnight, Princess. Sleep well.”

“With my sister and my favorite student under the same roof, I’ll sleep better than I have in a thousand years.” She then trotted over to Luna and hugged her as well, whispering something to the younger princess.

At first, Luna merely chuckled and returned the hug. But then, Celestia made another comment, earning a startled gasp and shove toward the door. “Away with you, thou ancient, cheeky mare!” Luna commanded. “Or thou shalt wake to find spiders in thine covers and bats in thy bathing room!”

With one final giggle and a kiss to the top of Luna’s head, Celestia swept from the balcony and off to bed.

18: Even Short Times are Sweet

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Standing before the Princess of the Night, after hearing the old story of Nightmare Moon so many times before, felt so surreal. At least, it had until she became friends with Luna, the pony, and came to know her as such.

Still, the way Luna stood before her, blinking and working her mouth, struggling to find words, was disconcerting to say the least. Deep blue wings rustled, her ethereal, starry tail flicked. But no matter where Twilight tried to look, she found herself drawn back to Luna’s eyes.

Those teal eyes bored into her, confusion clear in their gaze.

I really should’ve sent word ahead, Twilight scolded herself. I didn’t even think of how Luna might react to me just appearing out of the blue. Or how she might take finding that I’ve been investigating her past.

Twilight made the first move. Stepping around the table, she approached Luna with a bright smile. “Good evening, Luna,” she greeted again, bowing her head just slightly. Not quite a full bow, but enough to show respect.

The little wince that crossed Luna’s muzzle nearly made her giggle. “Good evening, my friend,” Luna replied, arching a brow. “I thought I insisted that we not stand on ceremony.”

“Just checking to see if you were paying attention!” Twilight replied, her voice full of false innocence.

“I see.” Her eyes narrowed. “You mean to tease me then?”

Twilight simply grinned, happily swishing her tail. She did her very best to hold back a bout of laughter at the way Luna scrunched up her muzzle.

Snorting, Luna stomped her hoof and brought down a crack of lightning in a mock show of power. “You shall rue this night, Twilight Sparkle!” she cried, fighting against the upward tugging of her lips. “You shall know the power of the Princess of the Night, and witness the full brunt of her wrath! Ponyville shall fall under an age of pranks and mischief the likes of which none have seen!”

Silence fell over the pair as Luna’s proclamation hung in the air, along with the scent of ozone.

Her teeth bit into her lip. Twilight strained to fight against the laughter that threatened to bubble forth, the dramatic pose and flair of Luna’s wings did nothing to help the matter.

“I think,” she began, her voice straining, “I’m going to have to concede this battle of silliness and playful banter. You’ve got far more experience in both regards.”

“Silliness?” Luna parroted, bringing a hoof to her chest. “I am wounded, Twilight Sparkle! Dramatic, one might say! Flamboyant, maybe! Perhaps even a might eccentric—”

“You call yourself eccentric?” Twilight cut in, a wry grin crossing her muzzle.

“Tia claims that ponies our age are allowed our eccentricities, do not distract me from my rebuttal!” She fixed Twilight with a scowl that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Luna made to speak again, but hesitated, furrowing her brow. “Oh, confound it! I have lost my place!” Her hoof came down upon the stone floor with a sharp clop.

“You were scolding me for calling your antics ‘silliness’.”

“Ah, yes, thank you.” Clearing her throat, Luna took up her pose again. “Silly? Such a word is an insult to my deeds!” With her piece said, she gave a rather crooked smile and set her hoof on the floor. “I, er, appreciate your indulging me. There was a bit of… awkwardness, I think.”

Cringing, Twilight let her ears droop. “I’m more to blame for that. I didn’t exactly leave Ponyville in the most organized fashion when I came up to discuss a project with Princess Celestia, let alone make mention to you.”

Luna ground her hoof into the floor, mumbling something under her breath. She made to speak up, but stopped short and shook her head. Still hesitating.

Reach out, change the subject. Chewing on her lip, Twilight racked her brain. Something she’ll like, something to show you didn’t forget her on—oh! Her tail swished, a bright smile split her muzzle as she turned her gaze skyward, playing that she was surveying the sky.

“You’ve made a beautiful sky again,” she said, her eyes fixated on the hexagonal constellation—the Founders Six. “I think you’ve ruined each of us for loving daytime.”

“I-I’m sorry?” Luna blinked, cocking her head in confusion. “It was not my intent to render my sister’s daytime sky inadequate—t’is a fine work, the sky always such a splendrous shade of blue, like an ocean one can just get lost in as they stare—”

Twilight hid a giggle behind a hoof. “It’s a figure of speech, Luna! I mean we all liked it a lot! Each of us has a new appreciation for it.”

Wings ruffled, Luna’s midnight blue feathers fluffed. “Truly?”

“Luna, you got Pinkie stop to bouncing for a whole five minutes.” She stepped closer, within hoof’s reach of her stunned friend. “The experience was surreal. Like watching a master painter start with a blank canvas and work until the entire space was covered by the most perfect scenery…”

She had to stop a moment to stifle another bout of giggles at the line of pink tinging Luna’s cheeks. The ancient princess shifted her weight, almost hopping from one set of hooves to the other. It was cute, in a way. Like how Fluttershy wasn’t quite comfortable in the face of a crowd of photographers.

But, at the same time, quite curious.

Twilight had a pair of books in her saddlebags that showed a love and deep respect for how Luna crafted the night sky. Centuries before her banishment, Luna’s “canvas” could put artists to shame, even rendering them to weep in frustration as they struggled to do it justice.

So what caused such a reaction? Had a thousand years of isolation and being the subject of fear made her forget those days? Or was there something else?

“The Night Court’s influence was at its peak fifteen-hundred years ago, and waned three centuries before Luna’s fall.”

Could that be it? Twilight brought a hoof to her chin. Losing influence, slowly feeling as though ponies had lost their love for her night? Three centuries of that would, logically, give that feeling to an immortal, but add in a thousand years of those thoughts festering…

She shuddered to think just how far Luna could have taken the notion. Far enough to become Nightmare Moon, and far enough to stay in that state of mind until her return.

Shaking herself out of her lapse, Twilight gave a coy smile. “Rarity’s almost shut herself inside her boutique since that night. Something about ‘sudden inspiration’—” she reared back on her hind hooves, throwing a foreleg across her forehead “—for one of her dresses.”

A strangled squeak sounded from Luna’s throat. “R-Really?” Her eyes were alight with joy, her wings flared out, ready to take flight through the ocean of stars she so lovingly dotted the sky with. “Fair Rarity wishes to make a dress inspired by my…” she trailed off, licking her lips. Almost as quick as the raw emotion came, it was gone, hidden behind a mask of propriety and a small smile. “I am quite honored,” she said, her tone seemed forced, as though she were holding back a jubilant cry. “Perhaps I shall inquire as to whether she might allow me to see her creation before she presents it to the community.”

“I think you’ll find that Rarity would be ecstatic. But I’ll mention it to her, just to be safe.” Happy to see Luna’s shift in mood, Twilight waved a hoof toward the table. “Would you like to sit and talk? Or would you rather talk elsewhere?”

Luna blinked. “I believe I would prefer to talk and walk, as it were. I am, admittedly, late for Night Court.” She snorted, her eyes flitted to the side. “Not that I shall be waited on,” she muttered.

Twilight winced, her thoughts again harkened back to Princess Celestia’s claim that the Night Court’s influence waned long ago. All Luna had were the memories.

Change it again. Or offer something. Her ears perked up. “I could stay with you, if you’d like,” she said. “We could discuss… well, anything you’d like, really.”

Rather than give a quick, happy affirmative, Luna hummed, tapping her hoof on the floor. “I would like to say yes. However, should I keep you to myself the entirety of the evening, I have no doubt you will be quite exhausted come morning.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “And if you are anything less than bright eye and bushy tailed for my sister’s dawn, the both of us shall have to endure her piteous wailing of how I am trying to steal away her favored student.”

“Oh, come on. She wouldn’t be that bad!” Twilight retorted, her amused smile a contrast to her words.

“You are correct,” Luna deadpanned, her brows flatlined, “she would be worse.”

This time Twilight couldn’t bring her hoof up in time to stifle the laughter that bubbled forth. The mere notion of Princess Celestia pouting and lamenting her “betrayal” of the day in favor of Luna’s nights more than enough to send her into peals of mirth.

The way she’d pulled Twilight into her embrace and made mock proclamation that she’d have to hold her in Canterlot just a few hours prior only accentuated it.

“I suppose—” she managed to say before succumbing to another fit of laughter “—Princess Celestia is given to a bit of drama now and again.”

“Now and again?” Luna repeated, scoffing. “I truly wonder if my sister chose to adopt some of my mannerism to fill a void left in my absence—I now find myself in the odd place of dealing with one who uses my own humor to poke and prod.” Though her words were biting, a fond smile made its way across her muzzle. She shook her head. “And how ironic that it is now I who complain to my friend that I am burdened with such a mischievous sister.”

With a small chuckle of her own, Luna turned toward the door, glancing at Twilight out of the corner of her eye. “Perhaps, that is my punishment for being such a naughty little princess at those meetings ages ago—when the Founders Six first asked us to take the Dual Throne.” Another shake of her head sent her starry mane trailing from side to side. “But that is for another night. You, my studious friend, should away to bed and ready for an early rise. If it is acceptable, I would walk you to your room.”

Filing the aside mention of the Founders for later, Twilight nodded and totted to her side. “I’d like that quite a lot.”

“Splendid! Lead the way, Twilight Sparkle.” Cerulean magic engulfed the door handle and pulled it open, ushering her out into the candlelit hall.

The pair trotted out together, passed the Night Guard sentries along the way—all of whom snapped to attention and saluted with their spears as Princess Luna trotted by.

Twilight’s gaze flitted to a pair of dark-coated unicorns, their hard gazes seemed a bit softer upon her, more appraising than the usual stony stares. And yet, not as mischievous as the three from Ponyville or as cordial with her as the Day Guard.

Curious, she thought, recalling her younger days when the Night Guards would pick her up, carry her out of the library, plop her down in front of a bemused Princess Celestia, and tattle on her with fanged grins and gleaming eyes. Like they found catching her staying out too late a game—and they were running up the score.

These guards, on the other hoof, seemed to look at her in a manner akin to Princess Celestia on her most recent birthday.

Surely it hadn’t been that long since they’d seen her. She hadn’t grown much since her fifteenth birthday, unless she actually had lost some weight.

Shrugging, she turned to address Luna again. “So, Princess Celestia mentioned you had other plans tonight?”

Luna’s ear flicked toward her. “Verily.” She nodded, a small smile playing upon her lips. “I chose to venture out and attempt to… extend an olive branch, if you will.”

Ignoring her slight hesitation, Twilight tilted her head. “Oh? You’ve been arguing with somepony?”

“No, not so much arguing as I have been a bit cold toward her, looking down my nose as if she were beneath me. And her lover, by extension.” The smile turned a bit sheepish, she ducked her head low. “Fortunately, my niece is either very forgiving, or far too kind for her own good.”

Twilight gasped, a hoof leapt to her mouth. “Cadence?” she breathed. “You haven’t been—I’m sorry, but what did Cadence do to upset you enough to warrant that?”

The smile fled from Luna’s face. “Nothing.” Her tone was bitter, her eyes downcast. “Yet another example of my jealousy getting the best of me, I fear.” Sighing, she stopped in place and flicked her tail. “It took a rather long time for me to come to terms with why I was angry, even longer to find reason to go speak with her.”

Brows knit together in concern, Twilight turned and stepped closer, placing a hoof upon her shoulder. “I’m not exactly privy to whatever you were feeling toward her, and I wouldn’t dream of making you talk about it in the middle of the hall—” her eyes flitted to the guards again.

“My guards will not betray a word of our conversation,” Luna replied with an amused snort. “They may be my naughty foals in gilded dress, but they are loyal to a fault, perhaps overly so.” Giving another sigh, she raised her head and brought a hoof up to touch Twilight’s. “T’was silly of me, and unfair to Cadence. But, for a time, I felt… replaced.”

It took a moment for Twilight to connect the dots. Her ears swiveled back to lay against her scalp, her kind smile fell. “I’m… not quite certain I understand how that might feel.”

“Nor should you ever find yourself in that place. T’is not a pleasant thing, jealousy. Especially when it sours a relationship with family.” Slowly, she stood, letting Twilight’s hoof slide down her leg and fall to the floor. Luna forced a smile. “Bah! Do not worry over my failings, Twilight. I have established some semblance of a relationship with Cadence, and had the chance to speak in a less formal setting with your brother—I would say that is good progress, would you agree?”

She made to reply, concern for her newfound friend and favorite former foalsitter at the forefront of her mind. But the smile on Luna’s muzzle made her stop short.

It wasn’t a happy smile. It was as fake as the smile Twilight gave her friends when she tried to convince them she wasn’t panicking over an assignment, or Rarity’s when she was up against the wall on a deadline and had only just started working on a dress. Or Shining, that time he thought he’d offended Cadence so much that she’d break up with him, but tried his best to be excited for Twilight’s science fair award.

Misdirection.

Not as subtle as Rarity or Shining, but the intent was there. Just as it was each time the less pleasant aspects of Luna’s past seemed to come up in conversation.

All the more reason to keep the actual subject of her research under wraps until she found something of substance.

Twilight returned Luna’s strained smile with a genuine one of her own. “I’m happy you’ve made an effort with Cadence, then. Even more so that you get along with Shining and her now.” She reared up and caught Luna in a gentle hug around her neck, then drew back to meet her eyes. “Maybe we could spend time with them someday. The four of us, like when you came to visit my friends.”

Snorting, Luna nodded and wrapped a hoof around Twilight. “I would not be averse to it. They are a lovely couple, and were quite amicable as we chatted over dinner. Although,” she said, a wry grin crossed her muzzle, “we seem to be falling into habit that you invite me places, while I have yet to invite you to stay in my home—this surprise visit does not count.”

All but shrinking away, Twilight gave an awkward chuckle. “Er, perhaps we can talk over the next couple of days and plan something out?”

“I would like that very much. Now, no more delays. Let us get you to bed before my dear sister decides to come carry you away so I cannot cajole you into becoming my acolyte, or whatever silly notion she has. The dark side, perhaps.”

“The dark side?” she parroted, raising her brow as they resumed their walk. “Perhaps, but I’d have to weigh the benefits in order to assess my options.”

Luna simply smiled. “My sister has cake, but I have cookies.”

The pair stayed on more pleasant topics for the remainder of their walk. Both giggling as Twilight told a story of Spike finding himself clad in the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ latest attempt at fashion designing, his cheeks flushed red as Rarity coaxed the four into a picture. Luna seemed particularly interested in how each of the girls went about their respective days, while still finding time to talk and spend time together.

Almost as though she were taking mental notes on the subject. What a thought! Twilight could only laugh to herself as they turned down the corridor, seeing the duality of the castle’s décor—on one side night, on the other day, and then hallways branching to the north and south for Cadence and herself, respectively.

For the first time, Twilight noticed how curious it was that the smaller hallway her room was located in was almost exactly in the middle of those that housed the Royal Sisters. Whether by coincidence or design, she wasn’t entirely certain.

Still, quite convenient for when she did stay in the castle.

As they came to the end of the hall, they stopped outside a door that bore Twilight’s starburst cutie mark.

“Ah, so this is where you stayed,” Luna said. “I’d not come down this way before.”

Twilight gave a nod. “Before I was old enough to live on my own, I’d stay here on nights my lessons ended a bit later.” She reached out and touched the wooden door, fondly tracing over the imprint of her cutie mark. “I guess Princess Celestia kept it as it was and had it repurposed for my visits since I made the move to Ponyville.”

“That does make sense. Well, thank you for allowing me to accompany you. The talk was quite enjoyable.”

“It was nice catching up again! Have a good night in court, Luna.” Again, Twilight caught her in a hug, holding her a bit tighter and longer than before.

After a second’s hesitation, Luna returned the hug, though with a hint of trepidation in her touch. She drew back, her gaze locked at some point on the floor. “I believe I shall have a much better night than previously thought,” she muttered, then shook her head and met Twilight’s eyes. With a smile, she released her hold and began trotting back down the hallway. “We will meet again on the morrow, Twilight Sparkle. Enjoy your dreams.”

Twilight tilted her head. “Er, Luna? I think you mean to wish me ‘sweet dreams—to ward away nightmares, right?”

Luna simply chuckled, and called back over her shoulder. “No, Twilight Sparkle. I said exactly what I meant.” Without another word, she turned the corner and made her way toward the Throne Room, leaving Twilight to her thoughts.

Confused, Twilight stepped into her room and went through her nightly routine—brushing her teeth, drinking a glass of water, and setting her bags on the nightstand before she slipped into bed. All the while, Luna’s choice in wording nagged at her, poking from the back of her mind until she succumbed to sleep.

The next morning, she would awaken from the sweetest dream she’d ever experienced.

19: Love Steals In, Disguised As Friendship

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The chime of bells on her old alarm clock jolted Twilight from her sleep. She stirred and opened a bleary eye, using a hoof to push against the mattress and bring herself into a seated position.

A contented smile played upon Twilight’s lips. She craned and rolled her neck, and let out a happy hum.

What a wonderful sleep.

Her dream had been sweet; a sunny spring day at the park with her family and friends, Shining rearing back and posing with Spike mounted on his back, wielding a wooden sword as though he were a brave knight, standing against Cadence—no. Twilight had to stifle a giggle at the image her mind had conjured—the ‘evil sorceress’ Allettare, who crowed over her prisoner, the ‘princess’ Rarity.

So it fell upon the noble dragon knight and his band—Applejack the Gallant, Fluttershy the Hermit, and Mageknight Shining Armor—to combat the wicked seductress and her acolytes—Pinkie Pie the Mischievous and Rainbow Dash the Swift.

Twilight the Studious, as everypony had agreed upon calling her, had rather wisely, chosen to remain neutral due to her close ties with both sides. Though, she was not above providing helpful little hints to guide the young knight on his quest, much to his nemeses’ ire.

Naturally, the day had been won by the heroes. The ever-grateful princess hugged a rather adorably blushing Spike and kissed his cheek, everypony—even Allettare and her defeated acolytes—took turns cooing and teasing him, earning a rather stern glare and a huff from Rarity as she simply snuggled him tighter.

It would’ve been perfect if the princesses had joined us, she thought as she slipped out of bed and stretched her legs. She stopped, her smile broadening. “Even more so if it weren’t just a dream.”

Perhaps she could make it reality when spring came again. Cadence and Princess Celestia were hardly shy, and more than willing to spend time when they could arrange it, and Luna seemed quite open to socializing with her friends now that she’d had another chance.

Twilight made herself a mental note to float the idea to her friends when the seasons changed. It would be nice to have everypony together in one place. They hadn’t organized such a big gathering before, at least not with her family and friends together.

She trotted over to the bathroom and stepped through the doorway. With a flick of her magic, she shut it behind her and twisted the faucet to start a nice, warm bath, but thought better of it.

“Dawn with Princess Celestia and Luna,” she reminded herself. “I don’t have time for a bath.”

Another burst of magic shut off the water. Twilight turned to the shower, instead, turning the faucets to send water cascading down.

While the water warmed up, she began to brush her teeth, letting her thoughts wander as she scrubbed away the bland taste of post-sleep mouth.

If I show up late after spending time with Luna, neither of us will hear the end of it. Twilight snorted and shook her head. Luna will go right along with it, and claim that she’s stolen my allegiance away to the Night at long last.

Clearly, the only solution was to inform both princesses that she’d prefer to remain neutral in their apparent game. After all, she could be both student and friend, couldn’t she?

Spitting out the foamy toothpaste, a thought occurred to her. Hopefully, Luna wouldn’t take the chance to demonstrate her prowess for mischief as punishment. A shudder ran from the back of her neck to the very ends of her tail. “Maybe it’s best that I just be on time and not run the risk of being caught up in whatever games they like to play.”

Whatever mischief the ageless princesses could concoct when they put their minds to it, Twilight wanted no part of. Luna’s grin when she described her antics with Tempo Rubato’s foals was enough.

With another shudder, she stepped into the shower stream. Hot water poured over her body, bringing forth a happy sigh.

Slowly, her smile returned. Their teasing aside, spending time with the princesses would make for a nice start to the day.

Breakfast with her teacher and a friend would be a nice prelude to a day full of research.

Twilight swished her tail, sending rivets of water splashing against the tiled walls. She was about to delve deeper into Equestria’s history than anypony alive today.

It took every ounce of her self-control not to do a little dance of joy.


Twilight trotted through the halls with a bounce in her step and a merry swishing in her tail. By the clock in her room, she was on time. In fact, she might even be a bit early.

Good. Now I won’t have to worry about missing anything. She thought about it for a moment, then snorted. And I won’t have to worry about Princess Celestia teasing Luna and me.

She turned the corner and strode out to the balcony, nodding to the quartet of guards—two in gleaming Day Guard gold, two in pure Night Guard obsidian. As per usual, the Day Guards gave small smiles and nods before resuming their stony stares.

The Night Guards, on the other hoof, grinned despite the tired circles beneath their eyes, just like they had the night before.

Giving a mental shrug, she returned their smiles. They’d probably heard from Captain Erebos about her friendship with Luna. Or those twins who pulled her chariot, perhaps.

What were their names again? Star and Strider? Something like that.

Twilight ducked through the curtain obscuring the balcony, her smile grew into a full grin as she came upon the Royal Sisters, standing close together in the dark, chill of dusk, and chatting casually.

Her eyes flitted to the immaculate white wing wrapped around Luna’s withers, holding her smaller frame against Princess Celestia’s side. She fought down the urge to coo at the scene before her.

“… How lovely. Good to hear those nightmares aren’t plaguing her anymore. And how was Night Court, sister dear?” Princess Celestia asked, her voice low.

Luna shrugged. “Empty, as per usual, save for a little incident at the base of the mountain which required my attention. Blasted diamond dogs.”

Blinking, Twilight tilted her head. That doesn’t make any sense. How would Luna know about somepony’s nightmares if Night Court was empty?

“However,” Luna continued, jolting her back to reality, “t’was better than most.”

“Oh?” Princess Celestia turned, presumably to fix Luna with a coy smile. “How so?”

Her tone made Twilight’s ear flick. It was one she’d recognized all too well from days watching her politick with delegates.

Luna, however, paid it no mind. When she turned to meet Princess Celestia’s eyes, Twilight caught sight of a warm smile, brighter than all the stars in her night sky. “I found myself content with the quiet. It gave me ample time to reflect.”

There was a moment’s pause. Princess Celestia let out a sigh and cuffed Luna with a wing. “Don’t play coy with me, little sister! Tell Tia what you have to share, or I’ll have no choice but to start interrogating Moondancer!”

Twilight stifled a giggle. It was almost a shame to interrupt them during such a lovely moment. However, she had an appointment to keep, and, if memory served, Princess Celestia could be quite creative in how she dealt with tardiness.

With no shortage of reluctance, she bowed her head and spoke, “Good morning, Princesses.”

They turned in unison, both giving bright smiles in their own way; Celestia’s that of a proud teacher and second mother, Luna’s akin to an old friend.

“Well, well! It would seem that my sister made good on her promise!” Princess Celestia unwrapped her wing and stood, sparing Luna a playful wink as she trotted and swept Twilight into a warm embrace. “Good morning, my faithful student,” she said, softly nuzzling Twilight’s mane. “I trust you slept well?”

Twilight nodded, deftly maneuvering herself to nose into her teacher’s neck. “Just like I did when I spent all those nights here; even better, I think.”

Snow-white ears perked up. “Better?” she repeated, amused. “Don’t tell me you’ve been sleeping on old bedsprings all this time, and didn’t have the good sense to send for a new mattress!”

“What? No!” Twilight laughed, shaking her head. “I meant it was…” she trailed off, rolling a hoof through the air. “Restful, I suppose. I dreamed, but I feel like I could work on Sweet Apple Acres, or conduct a full day’s worth of research!” There was no hiding joy held in her voice, nor the swishing of her tail.

From her spot by the balcony railing, Luna threw her head back and laughed. “Truly, Twilight is your student through and through, sister mine! Her love of books and study is so very reminiscent of the sister I knew so long ago!” She stood, her starry tail and mane trailed behind her as she moved to join the pair. Her mischievous smile was mirrored by her teal eyes, which danced and shone with mirth. “Why, if I did not know better, I would say I was looking at your miniature!”

“Oh, away, cheeky little sister of mine!” Contrary to her words, Celestia’s hoof lashed out to catch Luna around her neck and pull her into the hug, ignoring the squawk and rustle of midnight blue wings. “Keep up your antics, and I shall have no choice but to relay some of your less-than-stellar foalhood tales to our mutual friend. Perhaps the one about the time one of your pranks drew Clover’s ire…”

Huffing, Luna tossed her mane. “Ha! Go on, then! Tell the tale, and I shall share one about the young mare who liked to admire Commander Hurricane’s wings from afar. What was it you used to say? Ah, yes!” She wrapped a hoof around Twilight’s shoulders, pulling her in to stage whisper, “‘My, I could lay in that stallion’s embrace all night long if he’d just wrap those wings around me’, if I recall!”

Twilight joined in her, giggling at the way Princess Celestia’s cheeks flushed red and her feathers bristled. A show of her true self, the mare behind the serene smile, wise words, and regalia.

The mare who took her golden crown with solemnity and dignity, her eternal mission to guide and love and protect her subjects.

A golden-shoed hoof left Luna’s shoulders and was laid atop Twilight’s head, covering her ears like a parent might. Though actually doing nothing to block out her playful retort. “Hush, Lulu! You’ll ruin this sweet mare with your tall tales!”

“Perhaps that is my plan,” Luna replied, smiling coyly as she reached up to nuzzle beneath Princess Celestia’s chin, her own hoof still held Twilight’s shoulders tight. “One more step to stealing your student away to the Night Court, sister dear. You understand, of course. Politics are your favorite game!”

Princess Celestia’s stern façade maintained only a split-second longer before she fell to her own laughter. “Yes, they are, I suppose.” She reached over and gently stroked Luna’s starry mane. “I’m certain we could play this game all morning, Lulu, but we do have certain duties…”

Twilight caught her glance toward the moon, hanging bright in the sky alongside twinkling stars.

Beside her, Luna gave a sigh. “Yes, I suppose it is that time,” she said, stealing one last look to the scene she’d crafted when the last edges of the sun sank below the horizon and gave way to the cool embrace of night.

“It was a beautiful night,” Princess Celestia said softly.

“You have my thanks. I shall endeavor to recreate it when the time comes.”

Twilight disentangled herself from the hug, standing on all four hooves. “I don’t suppose I could watch again. Er, if you don’t mind.”

Both princesses turned to regard her; Celestia with a raised brow and tiny smile playing upon her lips, Luna with a spark of joy and…

Something. She couldn’t quite put her hoof on it, but there was something extra in those eyes.

“I would welcome it quite heartily,” Luna replied. “If it does not interfere with your own project, of course.”

A bright grin crossed her muzzle. Twilight bobbed her head. “I’d be glad to! Just, um,” she trailed off, glancing down at her hooves, ears burning as Celestia giggled, “if you wouldn’t mind sending somepony to remind me in case I get a little wrapped up…”

“I’ll be sure to send for you if you’re running late,” Princess Celestia said, rising to her hooves. “Now, sister, loathe as I am to ask it, I must.” She turned, looking to the sky and gesturing toward the stars and moon with a wave of her hoof. “It’s time for your lovely night to end.”

Luna nodded and made her way to the balcony railing, with Princess Celestia and Twilight trailing after her.

Every step made her heart leap. The memory of Luna bringing forth the night at Sugarcube Corner was still fresh in her mind; she could only wonder what it was like for her to shoo the stars away and bring the moon to rest.

She stopped a short distance behind the sisters and stayed silent, watching as though sitting alongside her mentor in the Royal Concert Hall to take in a performance by the greatest artists of her generation.

These artists, however, were timeless. Although, one might object to being referred to as such.

The other, though, was another matter entirely.

With great solemnity, Luna raised her hoof. “Time to sleep again, my friends,” she said, barely above a whisper. “Rest well, Pansy.” Rather than jab her hoof out as she had before, Luna reached forward and pulled back quickly, as if plucking it out of the sky.

A star from the upper left corner of the hexagonal constellation blinked out of existence, like a candle flame snuffed out.

Twilight started, blinking her eyes a few times. Again and again, she watched Luna repeat the gesture, each time whispering to the star as if shooing a little foal to bed before she plucked it from the sky.

She can bring a beautiful night sky, and take it away just as easy, she realized. A hoof leapt to her lips. Her relationship with them is so different from Princess Celestia’s—she treats them the same as Princess Celestia does the sun.

When the last star was plucked from the sky and Luna wished her friends long-passed a peaceful rest, she lit up her horn in a teal glow of pure moonlight.

At her side, Princess Celestia smiled, her horn wreathed in magnificent gold, as though rays of sunlight wrapped came forth from the princess herself.

“After you, sister,” she said.

Luna nodded and slowly closed her eyes. She bowed her head, as if yielding to her elder sister, ceding the cool night sky she so lovingly crafted. “The night ends, its Princess passes dominion to the Princess of Day.”

“The day begins,” Celestia replied. “Its Princess extends her gratitude to the Princess of Night for watching over the land they share, as they vowed ages ago.”

Raising her head, Luna opened her eyes and took a deep breath in unison with Princess Celestia. Slowly, the moon began to sink in the sky, as though Big Macintosh and Applejack were easing a great burden down to rest.

At the same time, Princess Celestia unfurled her snow-white wings and raised her head as if stretching early in the morning. The magic wreathing her horn flared, forcing Twilight to avert her eyes for a moment lest she be blinded—as though she were staring the very majesty of the sun itself.

The golden glow of the morning sun peaked over the horizon. It raised from beyond the farthest reaches of Twilight’s sight.

It was familiar, but different. A new way of looking at such a magnificent dawn.

From twinkling stars and the deep, endless blue of the night to a fiery blend of oranges and yellows—the change came over the sky like a fusion of two polar opposites come together.

For a brief time, night and day were one.

They were in unity, as their princesses stood side-by-side a thousand years after they’d come into conflict.

Warmth rushed over her as the sun reached its zenith and the moon retreated behind the horizon, taking the gentle cool of night with it until Luna called again.

With their work done, the sisters turned and embraced one another. Twilight felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight.

Just like when Luna first returned.

“Good morning, Tia.”

Her ears perked up at Luna’s murmur, Twilight had to bite her lip to withhold a happy sigh as she watched her friend lean up to nuzzle Princess Celestia’s chin, drawing a tiny smile, full of fondness and the same warmth as the sun in the sky.

Princess Celestia drew back and, with a glance to Twilight, smiled. “Yes,” she said, turning back to Luna, “I do believe it will be. Come. Breakfast awaits—and, yes, Twilight, you may have pancakes.”

Both sisters shared a laugh at the happy squeal that escaped her lips.


They ate on the same balcony as the night before—Princess Celestia insisted that they spend a bit more time in a less formal, more intimate setting. And why not?

Canterlot’s weather team had created a wonderful, cloudless sky to enjoy; blue jays and finches flitted from branch to branch in the garden below, trilling and singing a song only they could understand; and, of course, the company was wonderful.

Twilight sat to Princess Celestia’s right, Luna’s left. There had been some playful complaining from her teacher when she’d unconsciously scooted a bit closer to Luna, which was then followed with Twilight wrapped in a midnight blue wing and pulled closer to a mischievously grinning Princess of the Night, who crowed, “Yes! I have achieved my ultimate victory and stolen away your student!”

Princess Celestia simply rolled her eyes and took hold of the tea pot in her magic. “If that is so, I suppose I shall settle for relieving you of this, little sister,” she said sweetly, waggling the pot in the air.

The horrified gasp that tore from Luna’s throat and sudden release of her embrace made Twilight start. Glancing between Luna and the pot, she squinted, noticing the tiniest image of a crescent moon and splash of darkness.

Luna’s cutie mark.

“Sorry! I let her go, please let me have it back!” Luna cried, her horn flickering to life.

Teal flashed around the edges of the golden glow, but fizzled out.

Princess Celestia’s smile broadened. “Yes, you may have your friendship with my dear student, but remember that I know how to make you squirm as well.”

With a brief raise of her eyebrows, she lowered the pot to rest before Luna, who quickly snatched it up in her magic and poured herself a cup.

“Hmph! I was only jesting! I would not sink so low as to steal away your favored student to be some acolyte!” She flicked her tail and glanced sideways at Twilight. Smirking, she leaned over to say, “You see? Ponies of old may have called me the trickster, but your beloved teacher has not wasted her chance to practice all these years.”

Twilight suppressed a giggle, instead keeping her focus on the pot of syrup she was levitating over the stack of pancakes on her plate. Four pancakes. A rather sizable part of her held a suspicion that Princess Celestia had alerted the kitchen staff that she was losing weight, and one of their number saw fit to verify her claim.

Naturally, whoever it was reported back, and the staff saw fit to aid their princess in her mission.

However, she was not one to complain about extra pancakes, even if it meant a few extra calories on top of her dietary allotment. Twilight was all too happy to slather rich maple syrup over her delicious pancakes, half listening while the princesses bantered back and forth.

“… Even so, my dear Twilight would never leave my side.” Princess Celestia gave a firm nod. “We share a very special bond as teacher and student, one that won’t be so easily broken by your little tricks and offers of first edition records!”

Luna threw back her head and laughed. “Is that so?” she mused, her mug of steaming tea floated to hover before her lips, doing nothing to hide the smirk she wore. “True, I will admit that if I wanted to steal her away, t’wouldn’t be an easy task. However, there is one thing I should warn you of.”

“Oh?” Snow-white ears perked up. “Do tell.”

Twilight found herself the focus of a sly glance and a rather toothy grin, one that gave Luna an almost sharklike appearance.

Teal eyes met purple, dancing with amusement. “Nothing too distressing, merely an observation.” She took a sip of her tea and gave a contented sigh. “Only, I feel it necessary to inform you that your dear student—my friend—” the added stressing on the word ‘friend’ made Twilight’s ears twitch. How interesting it was that teasing from two of the wisest ponies alive would resemble such a thing as politics. “—Has been showing me a new side of herself. One I find quite endearing.”

Now, it was Princess Celestia’s turn to stop in place, blinking and letting her eyes flit between her sister and student. “Pray tell, what side might that be?”

“Just that you claim to see her as a mother sees her own daughter, while I enjoy a more relaxed, intimate relationship with Twilight Sparkle.”

A silence fell over the table. The mug in Twilight’s grip dipped in the air before she managed to catch it, just before it hit the table. Her muscles in her neck tensed, the tips of her ears burned.

If Cadence were here—oh, heavens, how fortunate she wasn’t—she would have the biggest grin on her face, the only warning sign Twilight would get before she was whisked away for interrogation.

That wasn’t what she meant, she told herself. Luna is referring to our closeness as friends, the closest she’s had since her return.

Still, unfortunate word choice or not, it was a thought she found quite pleasing; if Luna felt their friendship had grown so close in such a short time, who was she to complain?

The silence persisted a moment longer, Luna’s mischievous grin only seemed to broaden. Her feathers fluffed, as though she were preening in quiet victory at having rendered her sister speechless.

Twilight, on the other hoof, knew better.

She licked her lips and dared to glance at her teacher, curiosity and trepidation mixing within her heart. Never before had she actually watched the sisters tease and banter with one another.

Nor had she experienced one claiming intimacy.

The corners of Princess Celestia’s mouth tugged into a tiny smile of her own—the very same Twilight knew all too well, from days of little teases and games played with arrogant nobles.

“Quite the claim you make. I must admit, you do bring up a rather fair point,” she said, bringing her cup full of hot tea to her lips and taking a long sip. “Of course, this could also be of my own design. Perhaps it is my intent that my darling sister find friendship with my ever-faithful student, so I may hold them both as close to my chest as I can in the warm glow of the sun.”

As Luna stared, blinking and trying to form words to reply, Twilight allowed herself a smile. The idea itself—herself, standing together with her friends, family, and Princess Celestia—was certainly nice.

Who was she kidding? It was one she’d entertained with fond smiles and wistful sighs for quite some time. Perhaps even since the first day she’d officially become “friends” with the girls in Ponyville.

Taking her knife and fork in the magenta glow of her magic, she made to cut into her pancakes, but stopped short at a snort from Luna.

“I am still not certain I like this ‘mischievous Tia’,” she mused. “T’was much easier to tease you before you acquired this playful streak of your own.”

Princess Celestia’s lips twitched. “I suppose you’ll simply have to step up your game, my dear. Worry not, I have faith that you’ll have me bemoaning my misfortune and ready to tear my mane out soon enough.”

Snorting, Luna selected a fresh-baked blueberry muffin from the tray in the middle of the table and brought it close for inspection. It met her approval, as she smiled, nodded, and took a bite.

“Delicious,” she praised. “As per usual. You will give my compliments to the kitchen staff, of course.”

“I’d be happy to,” Princess Celestia replied. “Chef Al Dente loves to hear that his staff has sent one of his princesses off to her duties or rest with a wonderful meal.”

Luna chuckled and shook her head. “That stallion treats his cooking like Tempo did his music. Though, perhaps not as much throwing his failures into the fire.”

Twilight giggled. “Oh, I don’t know about that!” Upon seeing Luna’s gaze flit to her, she grinned and took a bite of pancake. “The first time my mom taught him her secret recipe, he threw out the results because they didn’t taste like hers.”

A slender eyebrow raised, Luna waggled her ears. “Is that so?”

“He did the same with several batches.” Princess Celestia shook her head, pausing to nibble on a muffin. “Unfortunately, my dear Al Dente is quite the perfectionist. Much like another I know.”

Deep purple eyes locked with Twilight’s, she felt a prickle at the back of her neck, as though somepony else’s gaze was boring into her as well.

Twilight flicked her ear, catching a little titter from Luna.

Caught between both sisters. Oh dear.

A nervous smile tugged at her lips, she gave a tiny chuckle and tried to hide behind a forkful of pancake.

And then another.

And another.

Princess Celestia’s eyebrow arched. “Enjoying your pancakes?”

“Yes. Very much so.” Twilight took her time chewing, trying to stall as long as she could before she’d be forced to answer.

The smile on her teacher’s muzzle was far too knowing for her taste. It seemed to say “I have all the time in the world” in ways that no pony else could.

She swallowed. “So, what’s everypony got planned for today?”

Arching her brow higher, Princess Celestia replied, “As you very well know, I am due to sit in Court in about an hour or so. If memory serves, I have a rather lengthy meeting with the mayors of Manehattan and Fillydelphia.”

“Are those two still arguing about the choice of venue for the next Summer Sun Celebration?” Luna asked tiredly. “Why do you not simply tell them that it is you who decides where to perform the ceremony?”

“I’m trying to handle the situation with a sense of delicacy, Luna.” She sighed, bringing a hoof to massage her temple.

A lasting argument it seemed. Another remnant of Luna’s more antiquated views.

With a snort, Luna shook her head. “Were it not for you deciding on your own we would not—” she stopped, her gaze flitted to Twilight and then back to her sister. “I believe I have said enough on the matter. The Summer Sun Celebration is your day, of course. How you plan it is entirely up to you. Please forgive my complaints.”

“No apology is necessary,” Princess Celestia replied with a wave of her hoof. “Your input is more than welcome.”

“I appreciate your patience in that regard.” Luna gave a nod, then turned her attention to Twilight. “To answer your question, my friend, I will be resting until late afternoon. Watching over Night Court requires a different sleep schedule, I fear.”

Watching over a Night Court that hasn’t seen many visitors. Twilight held her tongue, maintaining her smile as best she could despite her want to discuss further. Wait until after I finish researching the loss of the Night Court’s influence, then address it. “Then, I suppose it’s my turn to wish you a good rest and sweet dreams.”

Luna smiled, her eyes gleaming with a strange light. “Yes, I believe that would be fitting.”

There it was again. That same smile, just like the one she gave the night before when she said “enjoy your dreams”.

She paused in mid bite, tilting her head in curiosity. It was familiar. Much like the way Princess Celestia smiled at her when playing word games or chess.

Her gaze flitted to her teacher. Twilight nearly started at the sight that greeted her.

Surprise.

Princess Celestia’s eyebrows had risen, nearly touching the edge of her mane of flowing rainbow. Those deep purple eyes narrowed, boring into the side of Luna’s head as a tiny frown marred her muzzle.

Just as quickly as it came, it was gone.

Her typical smile was back in place. “Wishing my student ‘sweet dreams’, Luna? My, perhaps I shouldn’t have left you two alone. You’re clearly maneuvering to take her from me after all!”

“Oh, hush, ancient one!” Luna flicked her tail. “The time for jokes has passed, as you would say in our younger days. My interest lays less in our game and more in our mutual friend’s mysterious ‘project’.” Her teal eyes met Twilight’s, she folded her hooves atop the table and gave a smile. “Pray tell, what subject has caught your eye that leads your search here?”

She started, a bit of fluffy pancake nearly went down the wrong way. A hoof flew up and pounded against her chest, Twilight coughed and sputtered. “Sorry, just took that in wrong.”

“Quite alright. Here.” Luna floated a cup and a jug of water over to her side, pouring a generous amount into the cup. “Drink.”

Twilight took a generous sip to wash down the offending morsel.

“Better?” Luna asked.

She nodded in thanks. “Yes, much better.”

“You are welcome. Now, my question?”

Her tail flicked. Really should’ve come up with a cover. Twilight wracked her brain for something to appease Luna’s curiosity; something that wouldn’t give away her goal, but wouldn’t give everything away.

“Art history,” she said, settling on a half-truth.

Luna’s ears perked up and waggled. “Oh?” Her voice was tinged with excitement, though she tried in vain to make herself appear casual. “Is there any, er, particular age that piqued your interest? I would be happy to assist with—” She trailed off, bringing a hoof to her mouth to stifle a yawn. “Forgive me. As I was saying—”

“Perhaps,” Princess Celestia cut in, “it would be better if you were to rest before offering your assistance, Luna.”

“I am perfectly capable of staying up a bit longer!”

“You know full well you need your rest as much as anypony,” came the reply, coupled with a look rather similar to one Cadence and Shining used on Twilight when she argued about her bedtime.

The patented “stern older sibling” look; though, in Princess Celestia’s case, it was reminiscent of the “stern teacher” look she was known for.

Midnight blue ears drooped. Luna looked down at her plate. “I cannot argue that I may feel a bit drowsy.”

“A bit?”

“Very well, I am indeed exhausted. Although, I maintain that I can be of help if needed.” She turned her gaze to Twilight again.

Glancing back and forth between the two, Twilight offered a crooked smile. “It might be best if you rest. I can always bring any questions I have to you at dinner, or I can spend some time in Night Court if you’re not busy.”

Luna beamed, her ears stood back up. “I would be quite happy to oblige.”

“Then it’s settled,” Princess Celestia said, quite happy that the brief debate had ended. “Just try not to keep her up too late, Lulu.”

“Fie on thee!” Luna shot back. “If you can ask that she rise early to view your dawn, then she may stay awake as long as our talk takes!”

As the sisters fell to their banter once again, Twilight withheld her laughter and happily nibbled on her pancakes. Not quite the image of the princesses sharing a breakfast that she’d always imagined, far from it in fact.

It was better.

20: Books Are the Sepulchers of Thought

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Standing in the Royal Archives with the express permission of Princess Celestia herself was quite different from sneaking about in the middle of the night, even if the guard stationed had simply smiled and greeted her by name before getting the door for her.

Just as he had done when she’d visited today. The stallion barely even blinked, his smile was just as sincere as it had been that very night when he snapped a salute and opened the door for her, offering his assistance if she should have any need.

Of course, Twilight would hardly need his assistance in the Archives—the most extensive library in all Equestria bared for her. Books upon books lined the shelves, ancient tomes and treatises of the greatest experts of art, magic, science, history, math, anything a scholar could ever think to examine.

Sneaking a glance, she made double sure that she was alone before letting out the little squeal of joy and quick prance in place she’d been holding in.

If she so chose, she could canter over to the Star Swirl the Bearded section and peruse his greatest works, reading with rapt attention as she let her eyes wander over his many dissertations, how he’d unlocked the various secrets of magic and shaped the way ponies regarded its potential forever.

However, she had business in the Archives. Star Swirl’s works would have to wait, unless, of course, he could give insight into Luna’s past.

Specifically, the history of the Night Court.

Twilight let her eyes wander as she trotted down the main walkway, searching for any sign of Luna’s signature crescent moon engraved on the bookshelves or of the archivist, Page Turner, wandering the rows and making sure each and every book was in proper place.

A tiny frown marred her muzzle as a thought occurred to her. “I should’ve tried to find the mark of her matronage,” she muttered. Flicking her tail, she sighed. “What a silly mistake to make.”

She would have no choice but to call for help, and her research had yet to even begin. Hopefully Page Turner wasn’t busy with something overly important.

Turning left down the history section she trotted toward the back wall, bound for the soft glow of a single lit candle resting on a mahogany desk.

A lone mare of auburn mane, with small streaks of grey in the edges, and peach coat sat behind it, her cheeks creased with wrinkles, telling of her age and the days spent in the dusty bookshelves of the Royal Archives. A pair of half-crescent glasses rested on the end of her snout. Humming to herself, she lit her horn and took hold of a rather thick book in the soft pink glow of her magic, floating it over to the side. “Should be moved to the History section, under Conquests of Commander Hurricane in the Pre-Harmonious Era…”

Twilight came to a stop just a few paces from Page Turner’s desk and waited a moment, a smile slowly spread across her muzzle. She knew how this would play out.

As per usual, Page Turner didn’t even lift her gaze. She simply floated the next book from her stack over to rest before her, examining the spine with a low hum and scratch of her quill against parchment. “May need a bit of restoration, the spine looks quite worn.” Wrinkling her snout, she turned the book around and flipped through the pages. Her brows furrowed. “And somepony seems to have dogeared the pages.”

There was a pregnant pause. Twilight withheld both a wince in sympathy for her fellow librarian and a snicker at the look of consternation that crossed the elder mare’s face. Almost as though she were ready to beat the very pony who dared commit such an act over the head. Repeatedly.

Fortunately, Twilight managed to reign in her amusement. She gave a polite cough and bowed her head. “Good morning, Miss Turner,” she said.

Page Turner’s ears flicked, a ghost of a smile flitted across her face before she schooled her expression. “Twilight Sparkle,” she said in reply. Placing the book down on the desk, she lifted her gaze to meet Twilight’s. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen you in the Archives; though I have heard tell of a certain nighttime visit to the Star Swirl the Bearded section.” A single brow arched. “Quite an interesting tale indeed.”

Twilight ducked her head and gave a sheepish grin. “I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as you’ve been lead to believe, Miss Turner.”

“Perhaps.” The smile returned for the briefest of moments, but she wiped it from her face. “What brings you back to the Archives? Another project for Her Highness—er, Princess Celestia, I mean.”

“I understood who you were referring to, no need to explain.”

Page Turner shook her head. “No, I need to learn to address both princesses properly. The best way for an old mare to break a habit like that is repetition.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout, considering for a moment before nodding in turn. “I suppose that makes sense. As for your question, no, not a project from Princess Celestia. This one is a bit of research I have a—” she cast a glance down the aisle, searching for anypony who might’ve wandered in. There were none. “I have a personal interest in a particular subject.”

“Oh? Forgive me for being a bit intrusive, but I thought you lived in a library now, dear. Shouldn’t you have most of the resources at hoof?”

An honest question, deserving of an honest answer. “Yes, I do. But I’ve found the Golden Oak Library isn’t nearly as extensive in its coverage on certain subjects. I need to use the Archives to look a bit more in depth.”

“Understandable. Small town libraries don’t often have the same resources.” She stood, wincing as her knees popped. “Oooh! These old bones of mine! Never get old, Twilight. It’s the worst mistake a pony could ever make.”

Twilight laughed and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good mare. Now, what subject might you be looking into?”

“I was conducting a bit of research into past influences in the art community. Specifically, I wanted to look into the Night Court at the peak of it’s power.” She lit up her horn, levitating her notepad from within the confines of her saddlebag. “I believe Princess Celestia said the period lasted about two hundred years before Princess Luna’s fall.”

“I’m surprised you know of that period. Such few ponies are even aware of the Night Court these days. Then again, I suppose that’s partially because of the time elapsed.” Page Turner nodded and began walking down the aisle. “I’m somewhat familiar with the period surrounding the rise of the Night court. Though, I will admit, it’s been some time since I’ve read up on it. If I recall…” she trailed off, bringing a hoof to her chin. “It should either be in one of the secure rooms.”

Her ears flicked. “Why would it be in the secure rooms?”

“Oh, any number of reasons.” Page Turner swished her tail and lead Twilight toward the back of the Archives. “Some information might be considered sensitive to the state, others required a more dedicated place for the consolidation of information. I believe information on the Night Court’s influence would fit into the latter category. As far as its influence into the art community, anyway.”

Another flick of her ear. That’s certainly different. Twilight made a mental note to check up on that front later. Per Princess Celestia’s request, the Night Court’s artist influence would remain the initial focus of her research.

She spoke, keeping her voice casual, “I have it on good authority the Night Court was less an actual court like its daytime counterpart, more of a gathering of artists where Princess Luna served as de facto judge of sorts—the literal Matron of the Arts, if you will.”

“Yes, I’m familiar with the title. Such a shame that it’s been lost to time,” Page Turner said, sighing and shaking her head. “Princess Luna’s reputation suffered a great backlash in the immediate years following her banishment, one that persists to this day. It’s a small mercy that Nightmare Night and those horrid bedtime stories are all that remain.” A frown marred her muzzle, she tutted.

Twilight’s ears drooped. “I suppose I’ll need written permission from Princess Celestia for access, won’t I?”

Page Turner shook her head. “Normally, yes, but you’re permitted as her student to access nonclassified information for academic purposes.” She cast a sidelong glance, as if surveying Twilight a moment. “Research into art history would qualify yours.”

Before Twilight could give reply, Page Turner turned to trot back down the aisle, this time taking a left toward the darkened wall at the far end of the archives.

Squinting to help peer through the dimly lit room, Twilight was able to make out a trio of solid oak doors, each bearing a gold handle and horn hole; which would, no doubt, bey keyed to the magic of the current archivist or Princess Celestia herself.

Though, with Luna returned, she would be granted the right as well.

Page Turner approached the leftmost door, which bore a familiar crescent moon mark at the top-center of its woodwork, and hummed to herself. “I usually organize by information consolidated, sensitivity, or need for restoration. This room, specifically, houses all information on Her Royal Highness, Princess Luna; as mandated and organized by Her Royal Highness, Princess Celestia centuries ago in order to safeguard the information.”

Her ears flicked again, the choice of words brought a question to the tip of her tongue, but she stopped short. Research the influence first, then look deeper. Princess Celestia would know more on the matter, anyway. “Then the other two seperate the level of clearance and restoration?” Twilight asked, feigning innocent curiosity.

“Correct. Though, there are other rooms for higher security, of course. These two are on the lower end.” She smiled and offered a playful wink. “I’m afraid the most you’ll find here would be any trysts with various mares and stallions Princess Celestia might’ve had over the past few centuries. You won’t find anything about covert operations of the Night Guard, or secret notes confirming the tyranny of Princess Celestia, or whatever silly notion you young ponies might have.”

Snorting, Twilight raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’ve heard anything quite that ridiculous!”

“You’re probably too young to remember that craze. Ask your parents, or perhaps the princess herself. She was quite amused with the whole ordeal, if I recall correctly.” She gave a wistful sigh. “Ah, the sixties! I was just a student at the School for Gifted Unicorns back then!”

With a shake of her head, Page Turner stepped forward and bent her head low to insert her horn. She channeled magic through her horn and into the lock, then gave a twist. The latch clicked as the lock opened. Page Turner withdrew her horn and stepped back, gesturing toward the door with a hoof. “Any information we have in the Archives will be found in this room. Would you like assistance in finding the works you’re looking for?”

“No,” Twilight replied with a smile. “I should be able to manage on my own. Thank you for your help, Miss Turner.”

“Of course. It’s always a pleasure to help a curious mind find the knowledge she seeks. If you need anything, ring for me using the bell in the room, and I’ll be along shortly.” With a bow of her head, Page Turner swept away, returning to her work.

Twilight laid a hoof on the doorhandle, her tail swished in her excitement. This was it. A chance to find what it was her friend had lost so many years ago, what she so desperately wished to regain in present time.

And, perhaps, what lead to her fall to the darkness to the same jealousy that poisoned her soul for a thousand years.

With trembling hoof and no shortage of trepidation, she pushed the door open, and was greeted by the familiar musty scent of dried pages.

Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw the shelves lining the circular room, each filled to the brim with texts. Judging by the faded coloration of their spines, along with the telltale signs of creasing, they were all quite old. Ancient, even. A lone wooden table with a single chair rested at the center of the room.

She managed to suppress the squeal that arose from the back of her throat until after she’d kicked the door shut. Trotting to the center of the room, standing just before the table, she did a quick turnaround to survey the room.

Where to begin? Her eyes danced over the neatly labeled shelve; sections on her first days after accepting the Dual Crown, the Night Guard, Dawn and Dusk Ceremonies, even some on Luna’s personal relationships with famous figures of Equestrian lore seemed to leap out to greet her, tempting her with their siren song. A tiny gasp escaped her throat as another caught her eye. She all but bounded over to read it up close, blinking as if to clear spots from her sight before reading again.

The Art of the Night Sky: History’s Greatest Canvas, by Her Royal Highness, Princess Celestia.

Her horn lit with a magenta glow. With great reverence, she pulled the book off the shelf and brought it to hover just inches before her face. She opened it and turned to the inside title page.

“For my loving sister, Luna, the Princess of Night and Matron of the Arts. This is my tribute to the greatest work I have ever known and had the fortune to behold, one that I can happily admit incapable of matching. May your beautiful night skies dazzle our ponies for thousands upon thousands of years, little sister. Love, Celestia, Princess of the Day.”

She froze, her eyes quickly scanning the words again. “Princess Celestia wrote this?” she whispered, awe tinging her voice.

Sneaking a furtive glance around the room, as if worried that Princess Celestia might be waiting to leap out from some crack between shelves and catch her in the act of disobeying her, Twilight bit her lip. True, she’d promised to read up on the Night Court first, but this…

How many books had she read by Princess Celestia herself? Especially one dedicated to Luna.

“One little peek couldn’t hurt. As long as I take a few focused on Night Court as well.” Smiling and quite proud of her logic, Twilight floated the book over to the table, gently placing it down.

Twilight moved toward the Night Court section, fighting against temptation to disobey her teacher just a bit more and pull a few more books off that particular shelf.

Focus, she chided herself.

Guiding her hooves to trot toward her destination, Twilight fixed her eyes on the books lining the Night Court shelf, wandering over the titles on display. She reached up to touch the spines with her hoof, tracing along the names written in fancy, curling script.

Blessings of the Night seemed to jump out and beg for attention with its beautiful silvery script and dark blue backing. Twilight pulled it off the shelf and sent it to rest on the table with her previous selection, then turned back to find a few more of its brethren to bring along.

After all, what was a party without a few friends?

The Matron’s Favor, A Pauper in the Matron’s Court, and Guiding Light of the Moon soon floated off the shelf and over to the table to rest atop their companion. There were just so many to choose from, so many different choices on the Night Court’s influence.

From tales of Luna’s blessing to young artists, to stern rebuking for those who dared copy another’s work and try to pass it off as their own to garner her favor, the Archives had it all and more.

Twilight found herself all too familiar with how the Crusaders felt when Pinkie Pie set down a jumbo-sized banana split with hot fudge, offered each a spoon and a merry “Dig in, girls!” when they’d come in, down in the dumps, after a rough day at school dealing with a pair of bullies.

The only question was where to start.

With a bounce in her step, she trotted over to peer at her selections. Her horn flashed, each book levitated off the table and hovered in a neat lineup before her eyes, like she was organizing her troops for battle.

So many choices, so little time.

Guiding Light of the Moon caught her eye again, the light glinted off its title like a tiny foal in the back of the class, desperately waving its hoof to give an answer to the teacher’s question.

“Alright then,” she said, placing the rest in a neat pile on her left side while floating her selection down to a rest in the center of the table. “We’ll start with you.”

Twilight bit her lip to hide an excited smile. It was like Hearth’s Warming morning for her; the knowledge of a long-forgotten age laid bare before her very eyes. With great reverence, she opened to the first chapter, inhaling sharply as she first looked upon the elegant script, written in fading ink.

I remember it like it was yesterday. My mentor, Maestro Bolero, came to me the week before and asked if I had finished my most recent score, one I had labored at for the better part of a year until I found it near satisfactory.

Confused, I told him that, yes, I had indeed finished it. “However,” I noted, “I wish to work on it more.”

“More?” he asked, eyes wide and jaw agape. “My dear, Werner, that piece has consumed you for eight months at least, and shown me each draft! The most recent was brilliant!”

“Many thanks, Maestro,” I replied. “But I must confess a lack of satisfaction with the second movement, which I will henceforth address.”

Maestro Bolero scoffed and flicked his tail. “Nonsense! Your dedication is admirable, my dear Werner, but your perfectionism will drive you mad one of these days!”

Naturally, I raised my claw to object, but he waved a hoof and pressed on. “Leave the score as it is, do not dispose of it yet. You and I will journey to the Night Court in one week’s time.”

“The Night Court!” I cried, my feathers bristling. “Me? A Griffon? To stand before Her Highness, Princess Luna? Surely you jest!”

“I make no jest, Werner. It has already been arranged. You will go with me and you will stand before her.” He stepped forward, seeming to loom over me despite his smaller frame—quite the feat for a pony other than the Royal Sisters. “And you will bring your finished score.”

I recoiled. My beak dropped in shock and utter horror, ready to give a thousand reasons why not, but each died in my throat at the sight of his set jaw and stern gaze.

There was but one answer. “Yes, Maestro.”

“Very good.” He nodded, turning to leave my quarters. “Come, dine with me and take time away from your work. You will need all your rest if you wish to make a good impression when our Princess receives you. She will be delighted to meet such a prodigy of the arts, and one who puts his very being into his work!”

Still, my anxiety persisted. “But, Maestro, surely she would not waste time on a—”

“On a griffon? And a student, at that? Ha!” He glanced over his shoulder and flicked his tail across my beak. That devilish smirk made its way across his muzzle. “The art does not discriminate age, race, or culture, Werner. You know that well.”

“So you have told me. But Princess Luna—”

“Princess Luna is the art, my dear Werner. She will look upon your efforts with a smile and tell you what she thinks of your work, like a loving mother to a foal—or a chick, in your case. After all,” he said, pausing for effect.

“We artists are her children of the night.”

21: The Apprentice's Nightmare

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It wasn’t Hearth’s Warming, nor was it Hearts and Hooves day. It certainly wasn’t Twilight’s birthday.

Twilight knew all this for fact, of course. The logical side of her brain was trying so very hard to scold the excited filly within her as it bounced around, squealing with glee at the knowledge laid bare before her. After all, she was in the Royal Archives, the very heart of all Equestrian history and home to first edition books penned by the greatest minds the world had ever seen!

The excited filly within her was happy to tell her overly disciplined, fuddy-duddy of an academic side to go get bucked in the face.

Maestro Werner’s rise to prominence in ancient times heralded a new appreciation for arts of cultures far and wide—griffons, yaks, the dragons’ tales of the times before ponies, Equestria opened her doors and established itself as something of a hub of all. And, on a more specific point, signified that the Griffon-Equine Alliance had become more than just words on paper signed by respective rulers; a union that stood to present times.

Not to mention, it began his professional rivalry, and longstanding friendship, with Tempo Rubato.

Though if Luna’s stories were anything to go by, their relationship involved both a great deal of respect and a constant bickering over music theory.

Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll find something here that touches on their relationship. Twilight did her best not to bounce in place as she turned the page, though she couldn’t contain a tiny giggle at the next passage. “Who would’ve ever believed it,” she muttered. “To think you were so nervous to meet Luna, of all ponies.”

That gave her pause. To say Luna of all ponies now was very different from Luna then was clear; her role, her image, even Luna herself had changed. From Matron of the Arts to Nightmare Moon to the lonely princess begging forgiveness from those around her, the perception wasn’t even remotely the same.

She read on, her eyes quickly scanned through the words, taking in everything with eager and hungry mind. Page after page, she followed along as Werner readied himself for his visit to the Night Court. Despite Bolero’s insisting that he relax and maintain his composure, Werner’s tale told of sleepless nights and meals left uneaten as his stomach churned. The pressure was getting to him in the worst way, and it continued to build until he finally collapsed in his bed a mere two days before his appointment.

Twilight looked to the next page and gasped at the chapter title:

“The Princess of the Night and Guardian of Dreams”.

A hoof leapt to her mouth, her ears perked up straight as if listening to one of Princess Celestia’s lectures.

Dreams are a funny thing, I must admit. While we sleep, they feel real, but when we wake, they vanish like smoke on the wind. We remember so few details, only that we were elated or frightened.

And yet, I remember this one with such clarity, I often wonder if it truly was a dream. It was too vivid, too real to be anything but reality.

My memory begins with Maestro Bolero and I standing in the middle of the Night Court, surrounded by our peers in the art community. The ponies all smile at one another and exchange greetings, clasping hooves and embracing each other and asking how their muses have treated them as if they were old friends. Or, perhaps more in line with what Maestro Bolero would say, like they were all family.

When I tried, however, the welcoming smiles vanished, the familiar laughter and jesting ceased as though I had just walked in and declared my intent to devour their young. Untrusting stares, a few scowls, several drew back and wrinkled their snouts as though they could smell rancid meat on my breath. Even Maestro Bolero’s smile became strained as he began to side-step away from me, his eyes locked on something else.

I followed his gaze and found that he was not looking at a something, but a somepony.

She was there, seated on an obsidian throne with a silver crescent moon emblazoned proudly above her head. Her horseshoes and gorget matching the deep blackness of a cold winter night, matched by the very crown that sat atop her head. The starry mane he’d seen in paintings—none of which did the sheer brilliance and majesty of how it swayed, sending constellations rolling through the air about her with each motion, even the slightest bit of justice.

Stunning is the word. Her magnificence was more than I could even comprehend, more than I could ever even dream of putting into my music.

Then I took note of her eyes—those beautiful, moonlit teal eyes, narrowed and boring into my own as if piercing into my soul, with disdain shining like the stars in the sky. Or perhaps, more fitting, like those of a mother watching over her foals at play, jealously guarding over them from any predators or unwanted visitors.

In her eyes, I was the unwanted chick who wandered into her rolling green pastures.

I hastened to bow before her and recited the greeting Maestro Bolero had taught me. “Your Majesty,” I began, “I am h-humbled to be in your presence. Truly, it is a great honor to be received by your Night Court this evening, and—”

“Silence!” she snapped, rising to her hooves. Her eyes hardened, her hawkish gaze turned to Maestro Bolero, fixing him in place as he tried to edge away. “We are not amused by thy attempt at jesting, Bolero! To think one of Our most favored children would even think to sully Our Night Court with the presence of this griffon!” She spat the word as though it were the bitter of drinks.

Maestro Bolero squeaked. “I-I only meant to bring him here to help him further his career, Your Highness. I meant no offense!”

Her wings flared wide, those brilliant teal eyes flashed with indignation. “Offense? You dare allow a griffon to set claw into my Night Court, frighten my ponies, and you claim to mean no offense?”

With a single flap of her mighty wings, she took to the air and flew over to me. In abject terror of the fury brimming in those eyes, I scrambled backward, falling head over hooves in my haste to escape. When I looked up again, she was standing over me, her lips curved into a snarl revealing pristine white teeth.

And four gleaming, pointed fangs.

The Royal Princess had fangs.

It was at that instant several things flashed through my mind: for listening to Maestro Bolero, I was a very foolish griff; by comparison to Her Highness, the Royal Princess of the Night, I was very small; and for stepping in the midst of her ponies, I was a very dead griff.

In the interest of being true to the narrative, I will confess that the mere thought of the image still brings the tiniest of whimpers from the back of my throat. Imagine, if you will, that you have made one of the Eternal Sisters of Day and Night angry with you—angry enough to stand from her Throne. A most sobering thought for most, I should think.

Now, imagine that one of the Sisters perceives you as a threat to her ponies. Like any mother guarding over her flock—or herd, rather—there are only two logical conclusion for her to follow: flee home or remove the threat.

There is little shame in admitting that one is afraid of death when it stares you in the eye and bares its gleaming fangs at you. I will admit, with utmost honesty, that the sight of Princess Luna’s rage made me long to flee for the safety of my mother’s embrace.

As she reared back, readying to lunge at me, I felt, to my surprise, the soft touch of downy feathers upon my back, tickling against my fur. I turned to my left, and found myself muzzle-to-beak with a second Princess Luna.

“Truly?” she asked, a hint of amusement in her tone. “Is what thou believe will occur when you visit Us, young griff? Only the most abject terror could create such a nightmare.”

Twilight drew back and raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Two Lunas? And one aware that she was in a dream?

What in Equestria was going on in this story?

“Truly?” she asked, a hint of amusement in her tone. “Is what thou believe will occur when you visit Us, young griff? Only the most abject terror could create such a nightmare.”

The other Princess Luna hissed and lunged for my neck, the one at my side, however, merely smiled and waved her hoof. “Begone, apparition!” she commanded, her horn flashing a brilliant teal. Her magic engulfed the other Princess, who shrieked and writhed in pain as she began to evaporate and dissolve into nothing.

From my spot on the floor, I could only gape at the empty space before me. “What? How?” I babbled, my eyes looked from one pony to the next, and found that their terror at my appearance had vanished. Instead, there was something else.

Curiosity.

“We find this a more apt representation of Our Night Court,” Princess Luna said in a low tone, like a mother soothing a newborn. A hoof touched my shoulder and rubbed a small circle in my fur, I felt the tension leave me with each motion. “We must admit, thine fears of Us are quite alarming, young Werner.”

I started, turning my head to meet her gaze, she smiled back at me, awaiting my reply.

“Y-You know of me?” The words came out in a stammer, despite her amicable nature.

She nodded once. “We have. Our friend, Bolero, has spoken quite highly of your work. T’is amusing, really.” Princess Luna brought up her free hoof to stifle a giggle. “He was near ecstatic when We were able to grant his request! Though, how could We not? His praise for thy work and dedication have piqued Our interest, young Werner.”

I had? “I have?”

“Yes, indeed. But, that a matter We will discuss when We meet you in the physical world. For now, rest. Fear not,” she said, holding up a hoof to cut off my protests. “Thy nightmare will no longer plague thee.” She drew in close, I could feel her breath washing over my face. “We will grant thee a sweet dream to make up for the terror suffered in Our night.”

Her lips pressed against my forehead, and my eyes began to droop. With a tired moan, I slumped against her shoulder and drifted off as she rubbed my back.

When I awoke from my sleep, I remembered my terrible nightmare and the dream of myself flying high in the clear blue sky that followed, but nothing was more prevalent than the mare who appeared to banish my fears.

The very same princess I was destined to meet in just a few short days.

I leapt from my bed and scrambled over to my workbench, flinging my compositions out of the way as I snatched a fresh page to write on. Maestro Bolero had strictly forbade me from revising my piece, that much was true. But that still left me plenty of room to compose something else.

It left me plenty of room to compose the score that would change my life forever.

Twilight gaped at the page, her mouth seemed dry. That sort of magic, the ability to manifest one’s presence in another’s dream was unheard of. Certainly, there were spells that could enable a pony to watch and experience them, but those were spells of the highest level, the likes of which Star Swirl the Bearded spent years developing. Off the top of her head, she could only think of a hoof-full of ponies who could, in theory, cast it.

Needless to say, the three princesses would certainly be capable. That went without question.

But this was impossible. To reach out and touch a pony while they were in the dream realm was something even the highest scholarly minds could only theorize about. What would it be like, they always began, to interact with a pony as they galloped through endless fields of green with all of their friends? Or to reach out and offer a hoof to a pegasus in the midst of a nightmare in which they’d lost their wings in mid flight?

No matter what they tried, every single one had failed to even scratch the surface of what such a spell would require.

Could Luna have succeeded where countless others had failed? Then kept the secret to herself?

“Princess Celestia is fond of keeping secrets,” Twilight muttered, memories of certain lessons ending with a tight-lipped smile or a pat on the head and a simple “Perhaps when you’re ready, my dear” flashed through her mind in a blur.

It certainly was possible. Further study would be required. If Werner was so willing to put his tale in a book, there was sure to be more.

Still, there was something else. Something nagging at the back of her mind.

“Enjoy your dream.”

Her eyes went wide. Luna hadn’t wished her sweet dreams, she said it in a manner that a waitress might after presenting her with a meal.

“And she said she meant exactly that.” Twilight frowned. “How very curious. Given that and Werner’s story, I’d almost—no. No, she couldn’t have …”

Could she?

If Luna possessed that sort of magic, what was to say she couldn’t create dreams as well as walk through them? Nothing, as far as Twilight knew.

“But why would she do that?” she thought aloud. “Why would she help Werner, first of all? He wasn’t important at the time, and she’d only heard of him through Bolero.”

And why would she create a dream just for me?

She shook her head and turned the page, filing it away for later. Her frown faded away as she read the title of the next chapter.

“The Night Court.”

As she readied to begin, two heavy knocks against the door sounded out. She flicked her ear, looking up from her book. “Come in,” she called.

There was a sound link tinkling bells as a pink glow enveloped the doorhandle. The door opened with a cracking of its hinges, revealing her brother’s familiar smiling face, albeit a bit strained as he glanced at the hinges. “Okay, that was unpleasant. When the hay was the last time these were oiled?”

“Shiny!” Twilight all but leapt out of her seat and raced, leaping at the last step to catch him with a flying hug just like she had as a filly.

Shining grinned and reared up to catch her, staggering back a step. “Oof! Geez, you’ve gotten big!” he said, drawing back to look her up and down. He frowned and narrowed his eyes at her, raising a brow. “I thought we agreed that you weren’t allowed to get bigger or older.”

Twilight gave a huff and roll of her eyes. “Oh, please! We both know you just want me to be your baby sister forever and ever so you don’t have to worry about somepony stealing me away! I never agreed to any of that, anyway!”

“True enough. Wait a minute, have you lost weight? Have you lost weight and managed to survive Princess Celestia—”

“She’ll want you to call her ‘Aunty” soon, if what I hear is true,” Twilight teased.

“Funny. And it is. But don’t change the subject—have you lost weight and managed to survive Princess Celestia and Al Dente?” He grinned. “You sure you don’t wanna enlist? Or, hay, go for a commission, since you graduated already. We could probably use a pony with your skill set.”

With a little chuckle, Twilight shook her head. “No thanks! You can keep your regiments and armor and marching about! I’ll stick with my books and magic!”

“Fair enough. Can’t blame a guy for asking.” He cast a glance toward the stack of books on the table, smirking. “No book fort? I’m disappointed.”

Twilight gasped, swatting him in the shoulder. “You and Spike both, I swear!” she cried, her cheeks burned as he nickered in amusement. “I didn’t do it that often!”

“Mom has plenty of pictures that say otherwise, as does Princess Celestia, I believe. Oh, that’s right,” he said, his ears stood up straight as though he’d just remembered something. “Speaking of Princess Celestia, she sent me to collect you for dinner with her, Princess Luna, and Cady.”

“Cadence is joining?” Twilight beamed.

Shining nodded, a smile played upon his lips. “I dare anypony try keeping her away when her favorite little filly is in town, Discord himself would be nothing but a smear on the wall.”

Shuddering, Twilight shook her head. “Don’t joke about him. I don’t think any of us even want to think about something like him ever breaking free again.”

“Sorry. Just trying a little bit of humor.” Shining gave a sheepish grin. “Well, that aside, she’s excited to see you again, so get ready for plenty of hugs and such.”

“Well, then, what are we waiting for?” she replied. Her tail swishing merrily, Twilight reared up and pushed against his shoulder to get him going, though it barely moved his more muscular frame. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

Laughing, he stepped to the side and let her hooves thump against the tiled floor. “Alright, alright, we’re going!” He flicked his tail against her flank, eliciting a little squeak as she jumped forward. “You wanna leave all those books out like that?”

Twilight glanced back, frowning in thought. “I’m still reading them, but I don’t know if I can take them out just yet.” Her ears perked up, she bounded over the the table and lit her horn, taking a piece of paper and quill in her magic. “Oh, I’ll just write her a quick note not to put any back so I don’t lose my place!”

“There ya go. I’ll wait for you outside the archives, Twily. We can walk up together,” he said, turning and walking out toward the main room.

“Be there in just a minute!” she called back, penning a quick note for Page Turner.

Miss Turner

I apologize for the mess, but I was called to have dinner with Princesses Celestia, Luna, and Cadence, and my brother. I’m not finished with the books yet, so please do not put them back on the shelves. I’ll return tomorrow to finish my studies. If possible, I’d like to know if I could take a few back to Ponyville with me to read over the weekend. I’ll have them back by next week.

Sincerely,

Twilight Sparkle

Nodding in satisfaction, Twilight placed her note at the center of the desk, then made her way out of the archives. As promised, Shining Armor was waiting for her just outside the door, exchanging pleasantries with a Night Guard patrol.

“Erebos really said that, eh?”

The Night Guard didn’t bother hiding a smirk. “I’m not at liberty to say that he did, but I’m also not saying he didn’t, Captain Armor.”

Shining returned his smirk. “Well, I’ll be sure to be creative in letting him know of my reply. Perhaps he’d like to be neon pink for a few days. Er, don’t warn him.”

“I seem to be suffering from temporary deafness,” the Night Guard replied, a playful gleam shone in his eyes. “I can only hope that whatever you’re trying to tell me turns out to be amusing.”

“Excellent. Thanks, Starburst. I appreciate that.”

Starburst saluted with his spear. “No trouble at all, Captain. Have a pleasant evening.” He turned to Twilight, the gleam in his eyes vanished in favor of something else, and bowed his head. “And you as well, Miss Sparkle.”

Curious. Saluting Shining was required since he was an officer and both the Day and Night Guards were in the same outfit of the EUP combat alliance, albeit a part of two separate branches, but bowing was supposed to be reserved for an audience with one of the princesses.

Twilight was decidedly not one of the princesses.

Another thing to consider later. For now, Twilight smiled and returned the gesture, and bade him a goodnight as well before falling into step with Shining. “So,” she began, “you’re still playing those silly games with Erebos?”

Shining fixed her with a wry glance. “You think I’d ever let that fluffy-eared punk get one over on me and not get one in return? It’s like you don’t know me, Twily.” He shook his head, chuckling as he swished his tail. “We like to have a little bit of fun to go along with the more serious aspects. Sure, it keeps the old ‘Day versus Night Guard rivalry’ thing alive, but I’d rather our ponies use that as more of an intramural pranking or sporting thing than open antagonism. Gotta work together, even if our armor isn’t the same color.”

“Huh. Interesting.” Twilight cocked her head, letting one ear lay flat while the other stayed straight. “I don’t know if I’d engage in that while on a shift, but I can’t argue the results—given Pinkie and Rainbow’s relationship blossoming with their love of pranks.”

“Yeah, same sort of dynamic. Though, we did have to draw the line at itching powder in the armor. Especially for the bat ponies and pegasi.” Shining’s eyes looked off into the distance, a visible shudder ran through his body. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many feathers floating about outside of molting time.” With a shake of his head, he cast aside those memories and grinned at her. “That aside, Cady and I hosted Princess Luna last night.”

“Oh?” Twilight asked. “How did that go?”

“Quite well, actually. Between that and hearing about your visit, I’m surprised we haven’t heard reports of a pink alicorn bouncing around Canterlot.” He sidled over and bumped his flank against hers, nearly sending her sprawling. “You didn’t mention getting friendly with her in your letters.”

Twilight stuck her tongue out in reply. “You haven’t told me when you plan to propose to Cadence in any of yours. So we’re even!”

“True, but I’ve made you aware of my intent. You, on the other hoof, haven’t even written to your big brother best friend forever about this at all—I had to find out from Erebos while we were out drinking!” Though his tone was scolding, the teasing smile on his muzzle ruined the effect. “So, I think it’s only fair that I get a little briefing on how this all started.”

Laughing, Twilight ducked her head. “Still keeping watch over me like when I was a filly?”

He shook his head. “No, not quite like that.” A sigh escaped his lips, Shining smiled and looked down the hall. “I’m just a nosy big brother who wants to hear all he can about his little sister and her friends, since we don’t see each other as much nowadays.”

Turning to face her again, he took a couple steps closer. His smile lost its playful edge, replaced by the warm one she’d known all her life. “So, we’ve got a decent trot ahead of us. Care to share?”

Twilight returned his smile. “I’d be happy to,” she replied, pressing up against his side as she had in her younger days, sparing a moment to nose against his cheek. “It all started on Nightmare Night…”

22: A Family of Immortals

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In her many years, Luna had seen things the likes of which most ponies could not even begin to fathom. She had stood shoulder to shoulder with her sister in the face of Discord’s reign, she stood watch over the dream realm and beat back her subjects’ worst nightmares, and had seen horrors the likes of which she dared not speak again.

However, nothing could prepare her for the way her niece squealed with joy as Twilight walked out onto the balcony with Shining Armor in tow, nor was she ready for the pair to bound toward each other and stop short of hugging in favor of prancing in place.

Then the singing started.

“Sunshine, sunshine! Ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”

Luna stared a moment, her mouth dropped open as she watched Cadence and Twilight shake their rumps at one another, then embrace, giggling as they caught up with one another. A quick look to Shining Armor all but confirmed this as the norm, he hardly even batted an eye as he joined their hug, his calm smile a contrast to their excited grins.

A snort of laughter made her ear flick to the left. Frowning, she turned to regard Celestia with a piercing stare. She furrowed her brows and hissed out of the side of her mouth, “You planned for this.”

“What ever do you mean by that, Lulu?”

Blast that name. “You know very well what I mean, sister.” She leaned forward, trying to loom over her sister, which only served to bring forth another laugh. “You were waiting to see my reaction.”

Celestia hummed, giving that annoying, all-knowing smile. “Only a little,” she said, turning to watch the scene playing out before them. After a beat, she added, “It may have been one of the things I was looking forward to upon your return, especially when you took such a shine to Twilight.”

Wrinkling her muzzle, Luna turned away. “I suppose I cannot fault you for that. T’is a rather silly thing to be irritated at you over.”

“I’m glad you agree! Consider it a thousand years’ interest for—”

“All of my mischief in days long passed, yes, I know.” Luna rolled her eyes. “You have been using that excuse since my return, and it has not gotten any more amusing with the passing days.” After a beat, she added, “And stop calling me ‘Lulu’ in front of company.”

Celestia threw back her head and laughed, wrapping a hoof around Luna’s withers and pulling her into a tight hug. “Oh, Lulu,” she said, her smile took on a rather sly edge. “It’s been a very long time for both of us. If you think I’m not going to take every chance to play my big sister card, I’m afraid you just don’t know me well enough.”

Luna grumbled, letting her head lay against Celestia’s shoulder. “I miss stuffy Tia. You were far easier to tease back then.”

“Too bad. I’ve learned to unwind.” Celestia released her hold on Luna, then stepped forward, her eyes fixed on her next target. “I believe,” she began, her playful tone drew a shiver down Luna’s spine, “that somepony promised us she wouldn’t need to be fetched for dinner.”

To Luna’s amusement, Twilight blushed and tried to hide behind her brother’s broad shoulders as Cadence giggled.

“Oh, really, Twily?” Cadence asked, a playful tone to her voice. “Do we need to revisit the importance of good nutrition again? I can get the diagrams…”

Shining snickered, nodding along with her. “Might have to bar her from the library a couple days. Or maybe just a limit on the number of books she can take out. What do you think, Twily?”

Twilight shook her head. “No thanks!” she said, squirming her way out of the hug and backing away before either pony could pull her back in. “I just lost track of time while I was reading a bit of, er…” she trailed off, her eyes flitted to meet Luna’s.

For the briefest of seconds, uncertainty flashed in her eyes. Those same purple eyes that bored into Luna’s when she was still tainted with darkness, shining with determination as Twilight dashed forward to face her, and again when she vowed to help Luna find her place in Equestria again—the uncertainty seemed foreign to her. Wrong, even.

There had been awkwardness and unease before, but they had since moved passed that and become fast friends.

Or so Luna thought.

Twilight blinked and broke her gaze, looking to Cadence again. “I just lost track of time reading through some art history texts.”

Luna’s ears perked up. More art history study? It would seem that her interest has been piqued again. “Which period were you examining this time? If I might be so bold to ask.”

“I was looking into Werner of the North, actually.” Slowly, Twilight’s ears began to unpin, her shoulders relaxed. “I found what seems to be a journal of his, or at least a recounting of his days before he rose to prominence.”

Giving her tail a merry swish, Luna stepped forward and made to press for details, but a golden-shoed hoof laid upon her shoulder.

Celestia lips were curved into that serene smile again. “Perhaps this conversation might be best suited during dinner. Or, better still, perhaps it would be best kept for Twilight’s visit to the Night Court this evening.” She raised her eyebrows, awaiting Luna’s confirmation.

One Luna was happy to give. After all, Twilight would likely be the only attendee.

It would make the night between them far more interesting, not to mention all the more special with a shared interest.

“I would be delighted,” she said, bowing her head. With a flick of her starry tail, Luna moved to take her seat at the table, just as she heard the telltale sound of a dining cart being pushed along by one of the castle staff. Sniffing at the air, she tilted her head. “I believe I smell eggplant parmesan. Feeling a bit Roaman this evening, sister?”

“As a matter of fact, I was hoping for Neighpon, but somepony—” she shot a look to Cadence, who fluffed her feathers and gave a rather cat-like grin “–decided to have a little word with Chef Al Dente and convinced him to cook an old favorite of hers. No doubt, foul play was involved.”

Luna flicked her tail, narrowing her eyes at Cadence. “Foul play? Surely, you didn’t use magic on our own staff, niece,” she said, a tinge of warning creeped into her tone.

Laughing, Cadence shook her head. “Oh, heavens no, Auntie Luna! I’d never use magic on somepony to get my way like that. After all, I have other ways!” She tossed her mane and fluttered her eyelashes. “A few kisses to his cheek, a wistful sigh on how I missed my old homeland, and a comment about how I always loved his speciality were all it took!”

“Hey!” Shining protested, furrowing his brows. “I thought you said you were gonna stop flirting around!”

Cadence pouted. “I’m sorry, Shiny,” she whispered, looping a hoof around his neck and pulling him in close to nuzzle against his nose. “Forgive me?” Before he could reply, she darted forward and caught him in a deep kiss, he flinched back at first, but quickly melted into her embrace. With a happy purr, she wrapped her free hoof around to cradle his head and let her eyes flutter shut.

Wrinkling her snout, Luna looked away in search of something, anything, to distract her from the lovers’ play. She had her fair share in her day, but such a display was just unsightly—and at the dinner table no less.

Her eyes met with Twilight’s. Purple and teal locked, each shone with a hint of awkwardness, punctuated by the rosy blush coloring Twilight’s cheeks.

For a moment, she couldn’t tear her gaze away. Luna felt her breath hitch in her throat, her heartbeat pounded in her ears. Something about that look, the raw emotion, the way Twilight started to fidget in place beside her oblivious brother and former foalsitter and ducked her head was just so… so… picturesque.

If she could capture the moment in a single frame, Luna would do so in a heartbeat. She would be perfect for an oil painting right now. All I would need is the right lighting, a single lantern to make it work properly.

Luna coughed, she glanced toward the couple, her lips curved into a stern frown. “Cadenza—er, niece,” she amended. “I do not mean to seem prudish, but methinks the dinner table is not the place to engage in such activities. Certainly not among family.”

The two started, Shining broke the kiss and scooted into his own chair as though he’d been hit in the tail by a stray lightning bolt. “Yes, Princess,” he said. “Sorry, Princess.”

Cadence, on the other hoof, sucked in a breath through her teeth, but gave a smile all the same. “I’m sorry, Auntie. I’m just so used to having Shiny all to myself when his shift ends, and I just can’t help it sometimes.” She leaned over and nosed against his cheek, stealing a little kiss just below his ear that brought a bright blush to his cheeks.

“Cadence,” Celestia said, a hint of scolding in her tone. “We’ve talked about this.” She stole a sidelong glance to Luna, lingering a moment, then fixing Cadence with a stern look. “You agreed to tone it down so we wouldn’t make certain others uncomfortable…”

Bowing her head, Cadence replied, “Sorry, Auntie. It slipped my mind.”

Perplexed, Luna looked between the two. She made to interject, but Celestia turned toward the doorway and called out, “Al Dente! I see you decided to deliver the meal yourself this evening! Please, come forth.”

With a tinkling of magic and a tiny squeak of wheels, Al Dente stepped onto the balcony, pausing to sweep his chef’s hat off his head and bow to the princesses. “Good evening, Your Highnesses,” he greeted, his voice tinged with a hint of a Roaman accent. “Likewise, Captain Armor and Miss Sparkle. Forgive me if it seems a bit impetuous, but when I learned that I was preparing a meal for all three of Their Highnesses and favored guests, I simply had to deliver it myself.”

Celestia chuckled. “I can hardly fault that reasoning,” she said, giving a playful wink. “Though, now I know who to blame if the meal is anything less than perfect.”

He brought a hoof to his chest. “You wound me, Princess. I believe you’ll find that eggplant parmesan is my signature dish—after all, mama’s recipe has never failed to impress.” Deep forest green magic wreathed around his horn, then engulfed five covered plates, floating them over to rest before each pony at the table. With a flourish and a bow, Al Dente lifted the metal covers to reveal their meal. “Your Highnesses, esteemed guests, enjoy.” He backed away, bringing the cart with him, then he turned and strode from the balcony, leaving them to their meal.

The smooth scent of parmesan cheese and tangy bite of marinara hit Luna with full force, her nostrils flared. Only the age-old lessons on ettiquite helped her refrain from licking her lips, though she did swish her tail as she took her silverware in her teal aura.

“Thank you, Chef Al Dente,” she said, nodding to him. “I do believe I will enjoy this, immensely.” A glance to Twilight, who seemed torn between waiting for them and diving right in as though she were with her friends. “T’would seem there is another who agrees with my sentiments.”

Twilight ducked her head and gave a wobbly smile. “I haven’t had Al Dente’s Roaman cooking in a while. There really isn’t anything that compares to it outside of the Apple family cooking their own fares.”

Humming to herself, Luna gave a nod. “I shall have to take your word on Apple family fare until I sample it myself, until then, however—” she directed a raised eyebrow at Cadence “—I shall be judging my niece’s choices in our Royal Chef’s cooking quite harshly.”

Cadence simply smiled and folded her hooves in her lap. “I’ll await your approval, then.”

Without further ado, the five dug into their meal. Luna brought a forkful of eggplant to her mouth, surveying it with a critical eye before taking a bite.

Her ears perked up straight, her eyes went wide. She quickly schooled her expression, hoping to avoid the knowing smiles that were no doubt already spreading across her sister and niece’s muzzles.

Instead, she met Twilight’s gaze. Her friend’s eyes were alight as she chewed, savoring the taste. Luna watched with no shortage of bemusement as fuzzy purple ears waggled. Somehow, she had a feeling that if she were sitting in Cadence or Shining Armor’s place by Twilight’s side, she would have confirmation that a neatly and meticulously groomed tail would be swishing from side to side like a happy puppy.

Luna allowed herself a private chuckle, then resumed her meal. For the first time in centuries, she could sit at a dinner with family and friends without worry.


Dinner had been wonderful, just as Cadence promised. With that in mind, Luna was willing to allow the stolen nuzzles and sweet nothings whispered into a beet red Shining Armor’s ear go on without mention as she chatted with Celestia and Twilight.

It was a bit strange to have everypony together—in a good way, though.

The similarities between Cadence and Celestia were quite prevalent, as both so loved to tease and slip in little sideways quips that would leave their target struggling not to blush or duck shyly, and both seemed to love to share stories.

One particular story about Twilight and Shining being caught playing princess and guard had garnered quite the reaction. The moment they realized what was coming, Shining’s horn flashed pink and Cadence found her head engulfed in a shield that trapped sound within, then Twilight added a spell to make sure she couldn’t just break it with the counter.

As she regarded the trio, Luna found herself curious. Cadence’s smug smirk, the heated glare on Shining’s face, and the way Twilight tried to hide the wide-eyed horror that flashed upon her face, all of it drew her to prod for details.

However, the chance for mischief was not lost on her. With a sly smile, she asked, “So, which of you was the princess, then?”

Shining turned, his mouth dropped open, working wordlessly a moment. His magic flickered and sputtered, the bubble shield around Cadence fell for only a second.

It was all the opening her niece needed.

With rather impressive speed, Cadence caught both unicorns in a hug, her horn lit up with cerulean light as she cast her magic to block theirs out. Twilight gasped as her horn was engulfed in Cadence’s magic, tiny sparks sputtered from her own as she tried to fight it off.

“Well, it’s a very interesting tale!” Cadence crooned, nickering when Shining tried to duck out from under her hug. She pulled him in close and wrapped a wing around him, then used her hoof to turn his head toward her. “My sweet Shining Armor was all dressed up in his play armor—”

His horn flashed pink, but sputtered out. “Cady, no!” he protested. Struggling against her grasp, he tried to free a hoof to cover her mouth. “Princess Luna, she’s lying!”

“Actually,” Celestia put in, “I can confirm it. Cadence has shown me some pictures; I must say, I’ve never seen such an adorable Royal Guard! And Twilight looked lovely in her dress!”

“P-Princess!” Shining and Twilight cried in unison.

“Hush, Shining,” she said. “My niece is in the middle of embarrassing you in front of your future in-laws.”

“But—” he was silenced by a quick peck on the lips, then a nip to his nose.

Cadence leaned up to whisper in his ear. Again, Luna watched in fascination as red began to creep into his cheeks, and his ears stood on end.

If this keeps up, the poor stallion might faint.

“I’ll be good,” he mumbled, a goofy smile crossing his muzzle.

Twilight blanched at the loss of her ally. She struggled, pushing her hooves against Cadence’s side to try and slip out of her grasp. But her efforts were in vain.

Cadence wrapped her other wing around Twilight and held her tight, then leaned in to nuzzle her mane. “Now, now, Twily, this is story time with Auntie Luna!” she chided. “Don’t be rude!”

“This is not a story for sharing! It was a moment between Shiny and I that you walked in on!” Twilight protested.

“And it was so cute!” Dotting a kiss on top of Twilight’s head, then stealing another to Shining’s lips, Cadence gave a wistful sigh. “I remember it like it was just yesterday: there I was, being lead into the house for the first time, having to pry instructions from your parents because they thought it odd to have a princess foalsit, let alone tell her when she was to put their filly to bed and what she was allowed to make for dinner, curious to see who I might be sitting for.”

“Please, no.”

“As luck would have it, the first thing I see when I walk into the living room is a cute little filly dressed up like a princess, and a handsome colt in play armor kissing her hoof after protecting her from a mighty dragon!”

Luna snorted. “I take it young Spike was the fearsome beast in question?”

“Oh, yes! And so fearsome!” Cadence struggled to withhold her giggles. “His mighty roar certainly left an impression on me!”

“He yawned,” Twilight deadpanned.

“And what a fearsome yawn it was! Why, I was shaking in my horseshoes!”

Bringing a hoof to her mouth, Luna smothered her laughter as best she could. Her shoulders shook with silent mirth. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to Celestia, her smile faltered as she took note of her sister’s serene smile as she raised her wine glass to her lips.

As per usual, her sister was the very picture of elegance and royal status, at least to those who didn’t recognize the mirthful twinkle in her eyes.

Celestia’s eyes flitted to meet her own, casting a wink before she turned to the younger trio. “What a lovely tale, indeed,” she said, the corners of her lips tugging upward. “I must admit, I admire your valor in the face of such a great foe, Shining Armor. We would have lost a wonderful mare had our formerly wicked young friend taken our dear Twilight Sparkle.”

The siblings dropped their gazes to their respective plates, pinning their ears back to block out Cadence’s giggling. Their movements were almost in perfect stereo, so cute that, for once, Luna couldn’t take fault with Cadence for dotting another kiss on the end of Shining’s snout.

A flurry of movement over Twilight’s shoulders drew Luna’s attention to the door. Captain Erebos stood before her and gave a slight incline of his eyebrows, then tapped a hoof against his shin as if motioning to a watch.

It was time.

With a rueful sigh, Luna raised her glass and drained the remainder of her wine. She stood, looking to each pony in turn, then spoke, “Enjoyable though this evening has been—and I do say that with utmost sincerity—I’m afraid I must leave you.”

“Ah.” Celestia’s ears drooped a little. “Time for Night Court already? I thought we had more time together.”

Luna shook her head. “I am afraid not. We shall have to do this again sometime.” She directed her gaze to Cadence and Shining Armor, nodding at both. “Even our erstwhile couple.”

While Cadence nodded in agreement, Twilight finally managed to duck out of her grasp and scoot out of her chair. “I’m going too,” she said, earning a look from her brother. “Er, I promised that I’d spend time with Luna while she held Night Court. I thought it might be a good chance for us to talk.”

“Oh, that was nice of you.” Shining stood, wrapping her in a tight hug. “It’s good to see you again, Twily. Try not to take so long to come visit again, okay?”

She laughed and returned the hug. “I could say the same for you. Ponyville is nice this time of year. You’d both love it, and I know the girls would love to meet you.”

He gave a little waggle of his ears. “We might have to take you up on that.” With a sidelong glance to Cadence, he added, “I’ve been itching to see if I can’t finagle a piece of that apple pie you keep raving about. And maybe hit that bakery.”

“Sugarcube Corner,” Luna said. “I am quite familiar with the fare. T’is very tasty, especially the cookies.”

Celestia snorted. “The cakes are better—they’re the owners’ speciality, and Pinkie Pie’s as well.”

“Ah, better in taste, maybe, but not for your form, oh ravenous sister of mine!” Luna was quick with a flick of her magic to fend off a tendril of gold that tried to tweak her ear. She flashed a mischievous grin, then made her way to the door, waving her wing at Twilight. “Come, my friend. Let us adjourn to the Night Court before my sister decides to avenge a rare loss in her favorite game.”

With a poorly disguised giggle, Twilight bowed to Celestia. “Have a good night, Princess. Sleep well!”

It took all her self-control not to scoff and fix Twilight with a sidelong stare. She will, of course. I would be a terrible sister if I allowed anything other than the sweetest of dreams to touch her sleep. Not that Twilight would know.

Twilight then gave Cadence a tight hug and a nuzzle to her cheek. The pair shared a quiet whisper, bringing forth another bout of giggles from both before they parted and Twilight moved to join Luna.

As her friend fell into step at her side, Luna addressed Captain Erebos. “Lead on, Captain. I trust Miss Moondancer is awaiting us in the Throne Room?”

Captain Erebos bowed low, then trotted alongside her. “Yes, Your Highness. When I noticed your meal running a little late, I had her tend to her other duties rather than disturb you.” He gave a subtle flick of his wing, the signal for Nightingale and Cygnus to follow in their wake. “Forgive me if it might seem out of place,” he continued, “but I felt we could spare a little extra time since you were with family.”

“No apology is necessary, Captain.” Luna gave a bright smile. “You have my thanks, as does Miss Moondancer.”

His lips curved into a small smile, and were then schooled into a more neutral expression as they rounded the corner and made their way down the hallway to the Throne Room.

Turning her attention to Twilight, Luna gave a sly smile and raised a brow at her. “Studying Werner’s texts, my friend? Did our conversation pique your interest that much?”

Twilight nodded. “It did, actually. Along with your mention of that old monicker. He spoke rather highly of you and said some rather…” she trailed off, her brows furrowed together in thought. “Honestly, I’m not sure how to take it. The way he spoke of you was almost as though he were torn between elation and horror at meeting you.”

“Ah, Werner.” Luna sighed wistfully, closing her eyes as the image of the old griffon composer came to the forefront of her mind. “Such a silly griff, in that regard. Worry not, my friend, there is plenty of time to answer any questions you may have. The Night Court these days is ever-empty, and I do not foresee that changing this evening.”

“That’s… rather sad.”

She shrugged. “It can be lonely. However, it works to our advantage tonight—we will not be forced to limit ourselves to bits and pieces of conversation in between petitioners. Now, tell me, which of Werner’s books did you find in the Archives? It has been some time since I last read his work.”

23: The One She Holds Most Precious

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Luna didn’t even mind that their talk about Werner’s younger days had been interrupted. Why should she be? She had the perfect chance to see Twilight stare, slack-jawed in awe of the brilliance of her Night Court.

Well, not quite slack-jawed, but that was certainly how she would have to tell the tale when she next spoke with Celestia. “Just imagine it, sister,” she would say, the same coy smile that used to make her sister sigh and hastily reach for another cup of tea. “Your own student, standing at my side, her jaw hanging low as she beheld the splendor of the night on proud display in our Throne Room. Why, the mare is already gravitating toward the Night Court’s embrace, and I have scarcely lifted a hoof to guide her!”

Not entirely truthful, but Celestia didn’t need to know that. Not until after she started whining.

Returning to the scene before her, Luna was forced to utilize all those years of practice maintaining a serene smile in the face of great amusement as she watched Twilight try to take in the difference between Day and Night Court all at once.

Torches lined the pillars along carpeted walkway leading to an obsidian throne which bore her crescent moon emblem and a small cushion beside it—for Twilight, she surmised. The gold and purple banners of her beloved sister were gone, changed out in favor of her own midnight blue and sterling silver. In place of the Day Guards, in their gleaming gold and stoney stares with spears at the ready, were her beloved Night Guards, clad in obsidian and purple armor, with nothing but the hidden blades in their grieves and challenging, fanged grins upon their muzzles.

Though it may be empty, it’s good to be in my Court again.

Her Night Guards snapped to attention as she passed. They grinned predatorily, their fangs gleaming in the torchlight, to create a visage that would surely haunt any who came to the castle with ill intent.

I wonder, sometimes, if they might welcome a chance to remind the world just how fearsome they can be.

Thoughts for another night, perhaps. One when she didn’t have such wonderful company.

With an amused snort, Luna laid her wing across Twilight’s back. “Come now, surely ’tis not all that different from my sister’s court,” she teased.

Twilight shook herself, fixing her with a sidelong look. “It’s not nearly as bright. And I’ve never seen the décor change so drastically. Usually, Princess Celestia has the guard change and the staff switches out the banners, and she goes for a couple hours after dinner, then that’s it.”

“I am not surprised, nor am I terribly perturbed by that information.” Smiling, she led Twilight toward the dais. “My sister is impressive, both in wisdom and longevity, however, she is a pony. And all ponies, no matter how ageless or powerful they may seem, require their rest.”

Even if it meant leaving our precious night to wane in influence?

Luna drew in a breath through her nose. I see you have returned to torment me once more. How very irritating. I had hoped to be rid of you once and for all.

No pony can run from the past, Luna. Not even you, it shot back. No matter how much you might wish it so.

Truthfully? I would prefer to speak with my corrupted self. You, I would see dead and buried a thousand times over.

“That does make sense.” Twilight said, jolting her back to reality. She offered a small smile, bringing a hoof to her chin in thought. “Though, I wonder if other factors might’ve played into her less …” she rolled a hoof through the air in search of the word. “Demonstrative, that’s it. Demonstrative change in décor.”

Luna’s ears perked up. “Oh?” she asked as she gestured for Twilight to take her seat. Then, she turned in place to sit gracefully upon her throne. “Pray tell, what factors do you think might have played into my sister’s decision, my friend?”

“Theoretically speaking,” Twilight said, “the way she spoke of your nights suggests that she found her attempts to imitate it inadequate. Thus, one can infer that she didn’t want to try to do so with the Night Court because it was—well, it is a much more tangible thing to the common pony’s eye. Whereas a pony who hasn’t seen you craft the night sky might not appreciate the stars as a pony who has.”

Blinking, Luna leaned back to fix her with a quizzical look. She stared a moment, then hummed in consideration. Already speaking as though we were discussing artwork. She held back a smirk as best she could, adding a point in her favor. I shall have to inform Tia that I am beginning to influence you in that regard, if only to hear her whine again.

“Indeed,” she said, nodding her approval. “That is certainly one way to look at it, though I will counter by stating that my sister’s control over my domain, while not as artful as I would have liked, was far more than any could have asked of her, given that I was interned for some time and our niece is …” Pausing, she brought a hoof to her mouth, frowning as she tried to think of the appropriate phrase. “Ill-suited to the role. No offense intended to Cadence, of course.”

Twilight gave a single nod. “Of course. But, like I said, it’s just a theory. A weak one, at that, since it’s based entirely on Princess Celestia’s commentary on your crafting the sky by comparison to hers. Source bias, one might say.”

Her ears waggled. “You share very much with my sister during her younger days, to an almost astonishing degree!” Chuckling, she shook her head, waving Twilight on. “Well, then, you claimed to have another theory. I am quite eager to hear it.”

“Oh, well, the second is quite simple, really.” Twilight shifted in place to get comfortable, then added, “She missed you and couldn’t cope with the reminder of what she didn’t have nearby. It’s a common issue with loss, and, as you said, she’s still a pony.”

Luna inhaled sharply through her nose, wincing at the pang in her chest. She looked away a moment, her eyes fell upon her Night Guards standing at their posts as she swallowed her guilt.

It hit far too close to home.

She turned to fix Twilight with a piercing stare. “Have you ever been told that the ability to read ponies is an invaluable skill, Twilight?”

“Princess Celestia has mentioned such before. Why?”

“Because you have it in spades.” Closing her eyes, she gave a deep sigh. “Captain Erebos,” she called.

There was a clacking of metal as he snapped to attention. “Yes, Princess?”

“We are ready to begin Night Court. Call in the—oh.” She gave another sigh. “Open the doors to admit any potential petitioners. I do not suspect there will be any need for a waiting line.”

“Yes, Princess.” With a rustle of leathery wings, he turned and trotted out the door, barking orders to his fellow Night Guards as he left them to resume his post in the hallway.

At the sound of soft hoofsteps on the carpet, Luna flicked an ear and looked up. “Ah, Moondancer,” she greeted with a nod. “I was wondering if you had gotten lost.”

Moondancer’s muzzle flushed red. “Of course not, Princess,” she muttered, bowing her head. “I just had to fetch a few documents that I you wanted me to look through to double check for legalese.”

“Yes.” Luna grimaced. “I would appreciate that greatly. My last run in with such wording was most unpleasant. My sister only just managed to undo that ridiculous noise limitation on the dance clubs.” She snorted and flicked her tail. “Disruptive my starry mane! They are more than enough distance from the housing areas and apartments!”

“I’ll make sure we don’t have a repeat performance, then.” With another bow, Moondancer turned to face Twilight. Her smile broadened a tad, barely noticeable save for Luna’s keen eyes. “Good evening, Twilight.”

Twilight beamed back at her and waved. “Good evening, Moondancer. How’ve you been?”

“I’ve been well,” she replied happily. “Other than aiding My Princess in her ongoing battle against legalese, everything’s been running rather smoothly in the castle.”

“Good to hear!” Then, much to Luna’s amusement, Twilight’s smile took on a rather mischievous edge as she gave a meaningful look from Moondancer to the door. “And how are you doing with Captain Erebos?”

Luna watched, raising a brow at Moondancer when she looked from Twilight to her with a panic written plain upon her face, before she tried to school her expression.

“I—um, well! Captain Erebos and I work well together—professionally!—and, oh dear! Look at the time!” Moondancer yelped. “I’d better start, um, reading through these documents! Have a good evening, Twilight!” With one last, hasty bow, she scampered off to her desk, trailing a few stray papers in her wake.

Eying Twilight, Luna allowed herself a playful smile. “Would I be correct in guessing that she has not seen this playful side of you?”

Twilight let her ears droop a little. “No, she never did. My fault, really.” After a moment, she shook herself. “I’m sorry, I got distracted and then we got off topic. We were talking about Werner.”

“No apology is necessary,” Luna replied with a wave of her hoof. “I was quite entertained by your appraisal of my Night Court.” Seeing Twilight duck and rub her shoulder, she gave a nicker. “That aside, let us continue. I believe you mentioned that you’d found his memoir, yes?”

“That’s right. I found it in one of the Royal Archive’s secure rooms.” Her ears perked up, those soulful purple eyes seemed to shine with excitement. “I’ve only read a couple chapters, but it really gives a lot of insight into what he was like during his younger days. The way he tells it, he seemed rather—”

“Anxious,” Luna cut in. “Indeed. He was wrought with worry that he would not be able to impress me.”

Twilight bobbed her head. “Yes! And Maestro Bolero always scolded him for being too much of a perfectionist with his work!”

Ah, Bolero. Chuckling, Luna shook her head. “Bolero was a free spirit at heart, almost the polar opposite of young Werner.” She settled back against her throne and laid her head against the plush cushion. A contented smile made its way across her muzzle. “So, what else have you found about my late friend? Or, rather, what can you infer about our history from the time he lived in and how he felt about it? That might interest you a bit more.”

With a swish of her tail, Twilight clapped her hooves together. “Well, given what I know about our history, I know that the Griffon Kingdom and Equestria had just entered into an official alignment shortly before Bolero took him as an apprentice. That, along with how he fretted over meeting you leads me to believe that he feared a bit of, er …” She fidgeted in place, her eyes flitted to the side.

“Say it,” Luna said. “T’is a part of our history.”

“Discrimination.” Twilight wrinkled her snout and gave a shudder. “I’m sorry. I just think of how things might have been back then, especially since I’ve had Spike for so long, and it gives me the heebie jeebies.”

Luna’s smile fell. She hadn’t quite thought of it in that way. “My apologies, that was rather insensitive of me. I did not mean to heebie your jeebies.”

A purple-coated hoof leapt to Twilight’s lips, a vain attempt to hide a smile. After a moment, she replied, “You’re forgiven. My—” she snorted “—jeebies weren’t that heebied.” Taking a deep breath, she placed her hoof down on the cushion and readied to continue. “Anyway, I came across something rather interesting in his tale. Something I’m not quite sure how to rationalize.”

“Oh? And what might that be?”

There was a moment’s pause. Twilight took another deep breath and stole a sidelong look to Luna before directing her gaze to the floor.

A curious reaction, if Luna did say so herself.

“Werner’s story mentioned a rather strange dream,” she said finally, hesitation tinging her tone. “Bolero led him into your Night Court, and everypony stopped what they were doing to stare. Like Bolero had just brought a pile of garbage into their midst. And then he saw you, and tried to introduce himself.”

Luna inhaled sharply. Ah. That dream. “And then?” she asked, closing her eyes as she waited for what was to come.

“You—or, rather, his vision of you yelled at Bolero for bringing him there and stood to defend the ponies. Then he said you transformed into something terrifying.”

There was a heavy pause. Luna flicked an ear toward Twilight, wrinkling her snout at her friend’s hesitation. Silly mare. “Did it remind you of something?” she asked. “His description of me, that is.” Hearing Twilight gasp, she opened her eyes, turning to face her with a smile. “I know the tale quite well, and I am well aware of the … apparent foreshadowing. You may say the name without fear of offense on my part, dear Twilight.”

A bit of courage flooded her chest. Luna reached out to lay a comforting hoof on Twilight’s shoulder as she added, “I promise, I am ready to hear ponies say it. You most of all.”

Twilight looked up, meeting her gaze with eyes wide in surprise. She blinked, her ears drooped as a wobbly smile made its way across her muzzle.

Luna narrowed her eyes at the slight darkening of her purple coated cheeks. Blushing at the sentiment?

Were it any other, Luna might have been tempted to tease and crow in victory. Twilight, on the other hoof, brought forth an entirely different feeling in her chest.

Warmth the likes of which she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Shaking herself, she pushed it aside in favor of prodding Twilight once more. “Speak the name,” she ordered softly.

“Nightmare Moon,” Twilight said, barely above a whisper. “He described you as a terrifying creature, with fangs, cold eyes, and ready to tear him apart.”

Luna hid a wince, but gave an approving nod as she removed her hoof from Twilight’s shoulder. The reminder of her old friend’s fears still pained her at times, more so that they resurfaced for Twilight to see. No matter how I try to hide it, the past is always a step behind me, waiting to be found. She closed her eyes and heaved a sigh, her wings drooped at her sides. And by her, no less.

Still, there was a tiny sliver of hope. Werner’s tale had a happy ending, and Twilight was not one to cower and run from past deeds.

Not those she knows of, the voice added. If she knew of the others …

She never will. Those years will stay locked away safely in my desk. I have heard quite enough out of you. Begone! Luna forced herself to meet Twilight’s gaze again. “Is that what you see when you look at me?” she asked. Her heart raced. She had to know the answer, straight from Twilight’s mouth. “You know me as he never could, so I ask you: does the specter of my folly still hang over my head, Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight didn’t hesitate this time. She shook her head fervently, her mane whipped back and forth. “Not at all, Luna,” she said. “I haven’t seen you like that since I got to know you on Nightmare Night. As for Werner’s dream … It’s nothing.” She took Luna’s hoof in her own, offering a comforting smile. “It’s an odd coincidence. Nothing more. I know you well enough to understand that Nightmare Moon is a small part of who you once were, not the wonderful pony I’ve come to know.”

The warmth in her chest returned in full force, then spread throughout her body. Her feathers fluffed, Luna had to suck in her lips to hide a wobbly smile.

After a moment, she took a deep breath and allowed the smile to spread across her muzzle. “The artist in me would chastise you for ignoring the principles of foreshadowing,” she said, her voice strained as she tried to keep her relief to a minimum. She failed. “But I can only express my sincerest gratitude. It …” Luna stopped short, her throat tightened. “To hear you say such means more than you know.”

“I mean it,” Twilight said. She gave Luna’s hoof a gentle squeeze. “Really, you’re a good mare, Luna. And someday soon, everypony in Equestria is going to see you in the same light.”

Again, warmth flooded her being. Her cheeks flushed red, burning in ways they hadn’t in over a thousand years. “Hopefully sooner than later,” Luna replied in a quivering tone. She gave an awkward cough then schooled her expression. Hesitation gripped her like an ice-cold claw touching her chest.

If Werner had written about the dream, she knew what came next. It was only logical.

Luna took a moment to ready herself, carefully choosing her words. “Was there anything else about Werner’s dream that stood out to you? Or was the manifestation of his fear what drew your attention most?”

Twilight shook her head. “Surprisingly, no. There was a bit that came after that didn’t make much sense to me.” She paused, withdrawing her hoof ever so slightly as her gaze fell. “At least, it didn’t until I thought a bit on something else.”

There it was, just as she predicted. Her breath hitched in her throat. “Oh?” she asked, feigning ignorance. “Enlighten me, what was it that confused you? And what was it that came to mind when you read it?”

“When Werner’s apparition of you confronted him, a pony appeared and banished her before turning to comfort him. A pony well-aware that she was in a dream.” Twilight turned her gaze upon Luna again, her brows knitted together. “You were there. Not just the nightmare vision his fears conjured, but you were there and aware that it was a dream! It didn’t make sense, at first, but then I started thinking about the night before.”

“Which part?”

“The part where you told me to enjoy my dream,” Twilight replied. “I didn’t understand what you meant—I don’t understand any of it! Everything I know about magic says it should be impossible, but Werner’s story suggests that you can appear and influence dreams. Taking that into account with how you acted toward me only gives credence to his tale.” She took a deep breath, bringing her hoof to rest over her heart. “I don’t want to accuse you of anything, but I feel like I have to ask.” There was a beat of silence. “May I?”

Luna offered a smile, then leaned forward to nuzzle into her mane. The scent of dusty pages and the biting iron of ink filled her nose. “You may.”

Twilight let her ears swivel back as she slowly relaxed her posture. She breathed a sigh and smiled. “Thank you. I really don’t mean to prod, but … can you perform dream magic?”

“There is a long, overly detailed answer to your question,” Luna began, “but I feel it would be best to ‘keep it simple’ for now.” She took a deep breath, then nodded. “Yes, Twilight Sparkle. I can.”

Another heavy silence fell over the pair. Luna flicked an ear at the sound of rustling papers, her smile faltered a tad. She’d forgotten about Moondancer.

“Moondancer,” she called. “Would you mind terribly if I asked that you leave us for the evening? Just this once.”

There was a squeak of wood moving against tile floor, then her seneschal replied, “Yes, Princess.” With a flash of magic, she trotted out, leaving Twilight and Luna alone.

Perfect. Hopefully, this will make things a bit easier. Luna arose, waving Twilight off with a flick of her wing when she made to follow, and moved to join the mare on her cushion. She sat beside Twilight, close enough that her starry tail flicked against Twilight’s as she made herself comfortable. “Does the idea of me walking in dreams frighten you?” she asked.

Twilight chewed on her lip before giving a slow nod. “A little,” she admitted. “Not so much that you can do it, but that any pony could conceivably. The implications are—”

“Of a nature most grave, yes.” Luna nodded. “The ability does not come free of burden or limitation, though the latter comes about from something of a promise I made to myself. As for your point on ‘any pony’ having the capability, I am quite certain it is moot.” A ghost of a smile played upon her lips. “You will find that no spell can imitate my relationship with the dreamscape, for it is my domain. No other may lay claim to it.”

Snorting in amusement, Twilight leaned against her side. “A bit possessive, are we?”

Luna fixed her with a stern glare. “How offended might you be if I were to go into your library, remove all the books from their shelves, and throw them about willy-nilly for my own amusement, then claimed it all for myself?” Seeing Twilight wince and pin her ears back, she smirked. “Exactly,” she said, booping her nose. “The library has been under your care for a number of months, the dreamscape has been mine for millennia, my dear. Imagine how perturbed you might feel after caring for something for so long, giving your heart and soul, only to find another has come and thrown it into disarray.”

A pathetic whine sounded from the back of Twilight’s throat. She ducked her head low and gave a visible shudder. “I can’t imagine. I already know how furious I’d be if somepony did that to my library.”

With a laugh, Luna unfurled her wing and let her primaries touch Twilight’s shoulder. “Of this, I have no doubt.” Her amusement abated, she let her wing wrap around Twilight, pulling her tight against her side. “You have another question,” she said. “Ask it.”

“You won’t be offended?”

“I already know it. Your correlative method has made it as plain as the stars and moon lighting the night sky.” Again, she nosed into Twilight’s mane. “Ask it, I say. I will be truthful if you desire to know.”

“O-Okay, then.” Twilight took in a shuddering breath and ran her tongue over her lips. She made to speak, then hesitated, turning her gaze toward the ceiling for an instant before meeting Luna’s eye again. “When you told me to enjoy my dream, you said you meant it exactly as that.”

Luna nodded. “Verily.”

“Okay.” She coughed, rubbing a hoof against her shoulder. “So, did you? Influence my dream, I mean.”

“Yes,” Luna said simply. “I ensured that you would enjoy a restful sleep. What better way than giving you a scene that would bring no stress, no cause for worry?”

Twilight opened her mouth, but closed it just as quick. She looked away, her ears laid flat against her scalp.

Several minutes passed, barely a blink of an eye for one as old as Luna.

Yet, she found herself holding her breath. Her lip quivered as she waited, silently pleading for Twilight to speak.

Anything.

Outrage. Horror. Joy. Confusion.

Anything but silence.

Twilight took in a breath, Luna’s ears twitched.

“Is that something you do for everypony?” Twilight asked, still looking away. “Or just me?”

“Only you,” Luna replied without hesitation. “I try not to make a habit of meddling unless somepony’s nightmares seems to do harm to their psyche. You are a … special case.”

Twilight turned and met her gaze, her brows knitted together in confusion. “Why?”

Luna opened her mouth, but hesitated, slowly closing it as she tried to think of how to put it to words.

The answer was easy enough. To her, at least.

Why not?

Twilight Sparkle was her first friend in over a thousand years, first and foremost. She came to Luna’s aid when others shrieked and fled in terror.

She was so many things: kind, thoughtful, intelligent, eager to learn and make new friends, and so much more.

Adorable when flustered or focused, especially when her cheeks darkened as she blushed beneath her coat.

Luna’s breath hitched in her throat, the scent of dusty pages and iron wafted to her nose, drawing her closer. “Because you are …” She struggled for the word, her wing tightened around Twilight as if it had a mind of its own.

No pony, save for her own sister, had made Luna feel so alive, not in a thousand years.

“To me, you are very …”

She licked her lips. When had they become so dry?

Her heart raced, their snouts touched. All the knowledge she’d gained over the ages failed her. The word just refused to come to mind.

Twilight was more valuable to her than any coin or gem. So different, in that she was a living, breathing mare who offered such wonderful companionship. Yet, so similar. Coins, gemstones, gold, it was all given value because it gleamed and shone, because somepony eons ago declared them—

Yes. That is the word.

“Precious,” she whispered, tilting her head to the side and closing the distance.

Twilight’s lips were very soft and very warm.

And so very sweet.

Luna’s eyes fluttered shut, she wrapped her hooves and free wing around the mare, holding her close as she reveled in their first kiss.

Her first in over a thousand years.

And worth every second of the wait.

24: Immortal Counseling

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Luna hurried down the hall, her hoofsteps echoed off the high arching castle walls along with those of Erebos and Moondancer as they scrambled to keep up with her longer strides.

She flicked an ear absentmindedly, catching a note of concern in Erebos’ voice as he called out to her. Likely asking her to slow down or wait for them, or perhaps to explain why she was in such a hurry in the first place.

Why did things have to go so wrong? She cursed herself as she turned the corner and continued her trot. Her goal was set, there was only one way to solve her problem.

Talking to Celestia.

Typically, she would have scowled and flicked her tail in irritation. The mere notion of having to go running to her sister’s side for aid like a little filly was just so … so …

Luna sighed and shook her head. No. It wouldn’t do to think like that. Not when she’d managed to make such a spectacular mess of everything.

“I am a fool,” she muttered balefully as she approached the door leading out to the balcony. With any luck, Celestia would still be there, prattling on with Cadence and Shining Armor about whatever-it-was they liked.

Why, oh why did I ever think to do such a silly thing?

The guards saluted her, the Night Guard of the pair opened the door to admit her, bowing as she passed. Luna spared them a nod of thanks, never breaking her stride.

“Tia!” she called before she’d crossed the threshold, a note of panic tinged her voice.

Much to her relief, the trio were still there. Each turned to look in her direction with confusion written plain upon their faces.

She didn’t give them a chance to speak. “Sister, I require your counsel! Immediately, if possible!”

Celestia tilted her head. “What’s the matter, Luna? You should be in Night Court with—” her brows knitted together, her gaze flitted to look over Luna’s shoulder in search of somepony else.

Neither Erebos nor Moondancer were the somepony she was searching for.

“Luna, why isn’t Twilight with you?” Celestia asked. She stood and began to trot around the table toward Luna, confusion gave way to concern. “Is she well?”

“Yes—no—physically, yes.” Luna bit her lip and lowered her gaze, shifting her weight from one hoof to the other. “I believe that I have erred. Rather spectacularly, at that, and have managed to make myself the cause of some distress.” She dared to meet her sister’s eye again, her ears swiveled back to lay against her scalp. “I fear I let my emotions get the better of me and—”

A gentle hoof covered her mouth. “Luna,” Celestia began patiently, “take a deep breath.”

She did so, closing her eyes and taking in air through her nose, holding it a moment, then releasing it slowly.

“Good. Now, I’m going to ask you a question, then remove my hoof. All I want is an answer to this question: is Twilight well?” She removed her hoof as promised.

Luna nodded shyly. “She is distressed, but well.”

“Excellent.” Celestia bid her to join them at the table, guiding her to an open seat at Celestia’s side with a wing. She sat down, folding her hooves in her lap. “Now, what happened? You’ve only been in Court for an hour at most.”

“Not even that,” Shining put in with a note of worry in his voice. Cringing, he hastily added, “Your Highness. Sorry. When it comes to Twily, I get a bit—”

Celestia held up a hoof. “Understandable, Shining, but let’s get our story straight before we go looking for her.”

Laying his ears flat, Shining bowed his head. “Yes, Princess.”

Cadence laid a hoof upon his shoulder and offered a comforting smile before she turned to face Luna, her ears perked up straight, ready to listen.

Luna shifted in her seat. Three sets of eyes fell upon her, all belonging to ponies who held Twilight dear to their hearts.

Her mouth ran dry. “I, er, well, we were discussing Werner. Yes, that is what we started doing, and we were doing that quite a bit, and things were going just find. Splendid, even.” She paused, a low whine escaped her lips as she thought back to how well their conversation had been going. Her hooves leapt to either side of her head, pulling at her mane. “Oh, would that I could go back and prevent it! Sister, thou share blood with a fool! A fool, I say!”

“Luna,” Celestia chided. “Calm down. Breath.”

She obeyed, screwing her eyes shut as she sucked in another breath. Then another.

With each breath, the tension seemed to leave her, the weight on her shoulders slackened.

“Better?”

She opened her eyes. “Somewhat.”

“Excellent.” A gold-shoed hoof touched hers, caressing gently. “Now, tell us. What happened?”

Luna bit her lip. Her eyes flitted from Celestia to Cadence to Shining Armor and back again.

Her wings began to unfurl as if to hide her face. With each time she made to speak, her gaze went to the young couple again.

Cadence sat up a bit straighter, then gave a nod. “If you don’t feel comfortable with us here, we can leave,” she offered, holding up a hoof to forestall any objections Shining might have. “We understand, don’t we, Shining?”

The lone stallion at the table flinched from her pointed stare. “O-Of course,” Shining said. “I mean, we could always go check up on Twily and make sure she’s okay after … the whatever it was that happened in Night Court.”

Luna stayed silent a moment, the memory of the kiss she’d shared with Twilight flashed before her eyes. She needed help setting things right, and Celestia was the one pony she could trust more than her friend. But matters of the heart were not her domain.

Only one mare could lay claim to that.

“Cadenza—Niece—Confound it! Cadence!” Luna gritted her teeth. Frustration burned within her chest. She pointed a hoof at the startled princess and asked, “Your primary domain is love, yes? Matters of the heart, courtships, and the like?”

Blinking, Cadence gave another nod. “Love, sexuality, and romance, yes. My primary domain covers all three. What does that have to do with why … wait a minute!” Slowly, a broad, toothy grin spread across her muzzle. With an excited gasp, she leapt up and placed her forehooves on the table. She unfurled her wings, nearly cuffing Shining over the head as she fluffed and fluttered her feathers. “Tell me everything!”

Luna leaned back, eyeing her niece’s near manic grin with no shortage of apprehension. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to Celestia in search of support.

Instead, her sister cast a meaningful look between Luna and Cadence, then raised her hooves and shook her head as if to say “don’t look at me.”

She had just stepped in Cadence’s domain, without her sister as a lifeline.

A small part of her thought to flee to the safety of her tower, but the more pragmatic side reminded her that she needed help if she was to set things right between Twilight and herself.

With a sigh, Luna settled into her seat and began recounting the night’s events.


When Celestia and Luna were fillies, their mother told them time and time again that the sweetest treats were the ones they had to wait for the longest. Waiting always made the anticipation build to its peak, almost torturous in how long it seemed until they could savor the delicious treats she made for them.

As Luna had come to learn, waiting also gave the chef a chance to perfect their dish. Or, in her case, the artist to craft the most beautiful piece their mind could conjure.

A thousand years of solitude on the moon as punishment for her actions as Nightmare Moon left her wanting for many things: warmth, companionship, friends, the love of her subjects, love itself. Every second she spent alone would make those all the more meaningful when she returned.

The kiss with Twilight confirmed it.

Time seemed to slow, Luna didn’t even dare to breath as she kept her lips pressed against Twilight’s. Warmth, the scent of dusty books and biting iron, Twilight’s sleek coat brushing against her forelegs.

Everything about her.

So precious. So sweet.

Her mother had been right all those years ago.

Luna let her hooves wander to cup the back of Twilight’s head, her wings trailed soft feathers up the mare’s sides, tracing a path to her shoulders and back down to her ribs.

She tilted her head a bit more and parted her lips to draw succulently on Twilight’s.

Her ears flicked as Twilight gasped into the kiss and let out a tiny hum. Luna froze, hesitating as she tried to gauge her next move.

Luna felt her heart race, she could feel Twilight’s beating against her chest.

Seconds passed between them until a pair of trembling hooves wrap around her, coming to a rest just beneath her wing joints.

Twilight’s breath washed over her face. She felt the mare tilt her head and part her lips, mimicking her moves like an inexperienced lover.

She likely was. But she was young, only recently an adult. There was plenty of time for her to learn about love.

No need to rush into things.

They parted all too soon for her taste, a pang of pain went through her chest. A thousand years of waiting hadn’t prepared her after all.

Luna held Twilight close, her breaths came in short gasps. Her heart raced as though she’d just flown through Ghastly Gourge, but as she looked at Twilight, she felt so very alive.

She moved her hooves to cup Twilight’s cheeks, smiling as she held her close enough to nuzzle. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach; she had let her emotions guide her, the old muse that used to drive her to paint and craft the night sky or give blessings to the artists of old had returned to her at long last.

Twilight had brought her back again.

Slowly, Twilight’s eyelids began to open. She released a shuddering breath, blinking as she tried to uncross her eyes. “I-I …” she stammered.

Luna seized her chance. “You,” she began, drawing close to kiss the end of her snout before continuing, “are more precious to me than you could possibly know. So much more than I could ever put to words, my—”

Friend?

She wasn’t quite certain. As the foals might say, the ball was in Twilight’s court now. All she could do was wait.

Twilight’s eyes went wide, her breathing quickened. She laid her ears flat against her scalp and drew back, slipping from Luna’s grip. “I—you—me—kiss—your?!” Her chest heaved as she gave way to panic. She looked to the door, Luna, and back again. Then, she began to fidget, squirming as though to escape a confined space.

Luna released her embrace. A pang of regret pierced through her heart. “Twilight?” She made to reach out for her, but stopped herself short, withdrawing it instead. “You are trembling,” she noted. “Have I upset you?”

“Upset me?” Twilight repeated, almost incredulous in her tone. “You kissed me!”

Wincing, Luna nodded. “I did, yes.” She folded her wings tight against her sides, a hoof wandered to rub at her shin. “I have upset you, then.”

She watched as Twilight goggled at her, jaw hanging low and working wordlessly.

Stunned. Luna had startled Twilight to the point where words failed her.

Luna let her shoulders slump. She hung her head low a moment, silently cursing herself before glancing up at her friend’s face. She had to right the wrong she’d done.

“If you wish to leave, I will not take offense,” Luna said.

Twilight blinked and shook her head. “What?”

“I have acted without thinking,” she continued. “In doing so, I failed to take your feelings into account. If you would like to leave my Court and take time to yourself, I understand entirely.”

“It’s not—I mean, yes, this is all so—you—” Twilight caught herself. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, bringing her hoof to her chest as she inhaled. After a moment, she released it, pushing out with her hoof as she opened her eyes. “Yes. Yes, I think I would like to take some time to wrap my head around … everything.”

Luna nodded again, then stood and turned away to hide her face. “Go, then. Have a pleasant evening, and enjoy—” she bit back the words. “Goodnight, Twilight Sparkle.”

Silence hung thick over the pair. Then, the clip-clop of hooves against the floor, trotting away from her. Luna pinned her ears back to muffle the sound, her heart sank with each step.

Then, the steps stopped. Softly, barely above a whisper, she heard Twilight call back to her.

“Goodnight, Luna.”


“… And then I came to you,” Luna said, slumping in her seat. “T’is not my intent to be a bother, even less to ruin your evening, but—”

“It’s fine, Auntie,” Cadence cut in. She smiled and clapped her hooves together. “I’m actually quite happy you figured it out! I thought I would have to start scheming ways to get you to understand how you felt!”

Shining Armor’s ears twitched, he turned to fix her with an incredulous stare. “Wait. You knew she was—but she only talked to us about being Twily’s friend!”

Cadenced heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Shiny, Shiny, Shiny,” she said, shaking her head. She reached up and tussled his mane, earning a heated glare. “How many times do I need to remind you that I’ve been watching ponies fall in and out of love since long before you were born, dearest?”

He wrinkled his snout. “I mean, when you put it like that …”

“I think we may be getting a bit off track,” Celestia said, a smile playing upon her lips. She rubbed her hoof softly over Luna’s, comforting her just like she had when they were fillies. “Are you worried I’ll be upset?” she asked.

Luna turned away and let her ears droop. Her throat tightened, betraying her as she tried to force herself to speak.

“I see.” Celestia hummed to herself. “And you’re afraid that you’ve upset Twilight to the point she won’t want to spend time with you anymore?”

Biting her lip, Luna screwed her eyes shut and nodded.

The sound of chair legs scraping against marble floor made her flick an ear. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find Shining Armor rising from his seat.

“I’ll go check on Twily,” he said. His eyes flitted to Luna, then softened. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about losing her as a friend, Prin—Luna. But if I know Twily, she’s gonna be wrestling with a lot of what ifs and all the worst-case scenarios her mind can conjure up right now.” He paused as if to think a moment, adding, “If it’s all the same, I wouldn’t be upset if you two did get together. But I do have to look out for her.”

“I … yes, I understand,” Luna replied. She let out a deep sigh and shook her head. “Go to her, ensure that she is well.”

Shining bowed his head and turned to leave, stopping to offer a deeper bow to Celestia—his princess by duty—and a kiss to Cadence’s cheek.

Instead, Cadence rose to stand with him. “I’ll go too. She’ll need a couple ponies she knows.”

“Thank you both,” Celestia said. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.” As the pair left, she turned to Luna once more. “Now about your concerns toward me.”

Luna offered a sheepish smile. “Twilight is your student, no matter how much I might playact that I design to steal her away from you.”

“I would almost like to see you try.” Celestia snorted in amusement. “Yes, I’m more than aware you’ve only been teasing. I’ve not grown so old that I could ever forget how my little sister loved to play her tricks on me. I would venture to say that I’ve learned to play your game quite well over the course of the past thousand years.”

“Too well,” she muttered.

“Perhaps. But, we’re getting off topic. Your worries are … unfounded, Lulu.”

Her head snapped up, Luna regarded Celestia with a look of utmost confusion, earning a frown in return.

“Were you expecting me to be surprised?” Celestia asked, a teasing note in her tone. “I may not have Cadence’s eye for romantic attraction, but if I were to place bets on the pony you might try to get together with so soon after your return, Twilight would be the first name to come to mind.” Her lips tugged into a smile. “You’ve become rather transparent in that regard. Or perhaps that’s just me having looked back on all those years and picked up on certain things I’d missed before.”

Tutting to herself, Celestia shook her head. “That’s for later, though. You worry that I’m going to forbid you from seeing Twilight again, yes?”

Luna flinched. “I am. Quite a bit, actually. She is … yours.”

Celestia stayed silent a moment, her smile fell from her face. “In the past, I might have taken offense at you flirting with one of my favored ponies. However—” she sniffed. “—I’ve outgrown my more prideful days. If this is what you want, I won’t stop you.”

“T-Truly?” Luna stammered, fighting back a smile.

“You have my word.” Before Luna could thank her, Celestia held up a hoof. “On one condition, though.”

“Of course. Name it.”

A hoof cupped her cheek and slowly turned it until her eyes met Celestia’s. Soulful purple bored into her very being.

“I want you to be careful,” Celestia said. “For both of your sakes. Your feelings matter as much as hers, and both of you are precious to me. I don’t want her hurt and—” she bit her lip, her eyes flitted away.

But not before Luna saw the pain in them.

Celestia took in a breath through her nose. “I can’t lose you again, Lulu. And I can’t lose her either. You are my sister and she is …”

Luna brought her hoof up to touch Celestia’s, pulling it down until she could hold it against her chest.

The sisters sat together in silence under the soft light of the moon and the twinkling stars. No words were needed for family so old and close.

You won’t lose either of us. And I will take care.

25: Cadence of the Heart

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Organization was good. It kept things all nice and orderly so little details didn’t go missed, and ensured that ponies could attack problems with a clear mind and as little stress as possible. Without organization, there was disorder and chaos, which only led to stress and panic and things slipping through the cracks.

Twilight sat at her desk in the comfort of her old room, and did her very best not to start hyperventilating. She inhaled and brought her hoof to her chest, held her breath a moment, then let it out and pushed her hoof out. Cadence’s breathing exercise would help her. It always did.

It had to.

If she was to sit down and properly digest the fact that Luna could manipulate dreams to be more pleasant and, for all intents and purposes, just came out and said “I have romantic feelings for you, Twilight,” she needed to calm down and think things through. Not to mention just how soft those lips felt …

Her shoulders tensed. Why wasn’t it helping?

She tried again, this time holding her breath a bit longer as she tried to push it from her mind. The feeling of soft lips upon hers, warm breath washing over her face, and the scent of Luna’s perfume—dear Celestia that scent!

So familiar, yet she couldn’t quite place it. Like a word on the tip of her tongue.

Twilight clenched her eyes shut. No! No! No! She hook her head, and her mane whipped back and forth. “Focus!” she scolded herself. “I need to think through this problem thoroughly and rationally. No distractions. No thinking of how soft her lips were or how much it tingled when her feathers ran across my coat—Oooooh!

With a cry of dismay, she buried her face in her hooves and laid upon her desk. Her chest heaved as she drew in several deep breaths. It still didn’t help.

Nothing could make her forget how Luna’s eyes shone with raw emotion the instant before she darted forth and pressed her lips against Twilight’s, or how butterflies fluttered in her chest and warmth spread from her lips all throughout her body as if Luna was all she was missing in the world to make her whole.

“It’s all just chemistry,” she said. “Adrenaline was already running through my veins when Luna confessed her ability to dream walk and manipulate dreams, and it grew when she began to explain why she chose to craft one especially for me.”

The dream flashed through her mind again—that beautiful day in Canterlot park with all her friends, Spike, Cadence, and Shining Armor there to enjoy a picnic. It had all seemed so very real, so lifelike. As if it were crafted from her sincerest want to see the ponies (and dragon) she loved come together for an afternoon of fun.

And it had been crafted for her. By a pony Twilight held close as a dear friend, no less.

She took another deep breath in through her nose and held it as she reflected on everything leading up to the kiss. How Luna acted the very first night she came to Golden Oak Library to talk with Twilight, bringing original copies of her favorite records to their nighttime music talk, sitting so closely to her when they worked on a puzzle with the girls, and then the stars.

Twilight brought her hooves away from her face and sat upright. Her eyes went wide.

The stars.

She released her breath.

There hadn’t been such a display for sunset and moonrise in over a thousand years. Princess Celestia said so herself, and even made sure to emphasize just how close Luna held her to do show her something so beautiful, so very …

Intimate.

Had Luna meant it when she said she saw another side of Twilight? One shown to her friends, but not Princess Celestia?

Certainly, they had their heart to heart moment about Luna’s want to reconnect, and they got along very well together or in large groups, but what was it that made her hold Twilight in such a light? What made her so … so …

“Precious,” Twilight whispered. Unbidden, she ran her tongue along her lips, her heart skipped a beat at the lingering taste of Luna’s. She reached up to touch them with a trembling hoof, as if she were testing the feel. “I’m precious to Luna.”

A shiver ran down her spine as she considered the meaning of the word. If Luna held her in such regard, far above that of a friend, she would be the center of media attention—just like Shining had been when it came out that he was dating Cadence! Perhaps even more so since Twilight had somehow attracted the attention of one of the Royal Sisters.

Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat. “Oh no!” she whimpered, bringing her hooves up to cover her face. “They’re going to come poking around all of Ponyville trying to find everything they can about me! And then they’ll pester my friends! Then the whole town! Then everypony will get angry that they’re being hounded by reporters! Then they’ll want me to leave because I’m the reason the reporters are there! Then I’ll fall out of touch with all my friends and we won’t be able to use the Elements of Harmony again! And then—”

She clapped her hooves over her mouth and closed her eyes. After a moment of silence, she brought her hooves down and took a deep, shaky breath.

Relax. Don’t jump to worst case scenarios just yet. It was just a kiss. Just one kiss that happened to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and made me want to hold her tight after she told me how much I meant to her. Twilight sighed and shook her head. “Yeah, just a kiss. No big deal, right?” She reached up to rub her shoulder, giving an anxious flick of her tail. “It’s not like I’m Luna’s first friend in over a thousand years, and Princess Celestia definitely didn’t imply that my opinion of Luna carried a lot of weight, right?”

Of course not. And Luna hadn’t just called her “precious” in Night Court.

It was all just a dream. She’d wake up any moment now, and find herself sleeping on a book in the library. It wouldn’t be the first time, nor would it be the last.

If only that were so.

Twilight heaved a sigh, letting her shoulders slump as she brought her hooves up to massage her temples. “What am I doing?” she muttered. “I need to think through this thoroughly, logically, and objectively.”

Easier said than done. Aside from a few conversations with Cadence—which basically involved her old foalsitter carrying Twilight in her magic and sitting her down in a room for a lecture on the intricacies and importance of romance—and various forays into reading romance, she didn’t have any experience with such a relationship. Let alone how to make the transition from friendship to romance.

The sound of a hoof knocking against her bedroom door jolted Twilight out of her thoughts, her ears stood up straight. “Who is it?”

“Twily?” Cadence’s called, her voice muffled by the door. “It’s Cadence and Shining Armor. Can we come in?”

Oh, thank Celestia! Twilight took a moment to gather herself before replying, “Yes! It’s open!”

A soft cerulean glow engulfed the handle as Cadence pushed the door open and trotted in, with Shining Armor following close behind. She smiled brightly and made to speak, but stopped short upon seeing Twilight. “Twilight?” she began. “Are you alright?”

“Yes—no—ugh!” Twilight wrung her hooves. “I don’t know how I am right now! Elated, distraught, excited, and horrified all at the same time.” She scrunched up her snout then added, “And confused. Definitely confused. Very much so, in fact, let’s go with that, thank you.”

Her smile fell. “Oh dear, not taking Auntie Luna’s little revelation well, are you?”

Twilight’s ears drooped. “You know about that?”

“She came to talk to Princess Celestia, so … yeah, we know about it” Shining replied. He walked over to her side and wrapped her in a tight hug. “Want to talk about it? Like we used to when you still lived here?”

Biting her lip, Twilight returned the hug. She laid her chin in the crook of his neck and nodded. “I really don’t know what to do, Shiny. Luna’s my friend and I care about her feelings, but I don’t know what do to about them!”

Shining patted her back. “Relationships are a funny thing, Twily. Especially when a friend starts showing signs of wanting something a bit more.” He drew back to look her in the eye and gave a crooked smile, then motioned to Cadence. “Just look at Cady and me; I became best friends with the ageless embodiment of love, and now I’m dating her! That was a heck of a transition!”

“Oh?” Twilight perked her ears up to give him her full attention. “I don’t think you ever told me how you asked her out.”

To her surprise, Shining flinched. His smile seemed to grow rather forced. “W-Well, there’s a, um, funny story about that, actually,” he said. His ears drooped low, his cheeks took on a light pinkish hue. “You see, it was around the time I had started in Cadet School, and—”

“If I recall,” Cadence cut in, her eyes shone with mischief as she stepped close to join the hug, “I was the one who asked you out, Shining Armor.” She gave a coy smile and brought a hoof to her chin. “Hmm, how did you react again, dearest?”

Twilight watched with no shortage of amusement as her brother’s bleach white coat turn an astonishing shade of red, like a ripe red gala waiting to be bucked out of an Apple family tree.

“N-Now, Cady,” he stammered. “We’re trying to help Twily here, this is hardly the time or place to embarrass me, don’t you think?”

With a shark like grin, Cadence swooped down upon Shining and wrapped a hoof around the back of his head then darted forth to capture his lips in a kiss. “Hush, my love,” she whispered as they parted, her tone husky. “Or I’ll tell her how I stole your first kiss as well.”

Shining’s eyes went wide in horror, his horn flashed pink as he readied a spell. His magic flickered around Cadence’s mouth, ready to silence her.

But Cadence was quicker.

She reached up and flicked his horn, eliciting a wince and a grunt of pain as his magic faltered. Then her horn flashed as a cerulean glow engulfed his. “Naughty boy,” she scolded, stealing another kiss as she slipped her hoof around his neck again and pulled him tight against her, then wrapped a wing around him for good measure. “Just for that, I’m blocking out your magic and I’m going to tell her the full story!”

“Cady, no!”

Tutting, Cadence pressed her free hoof against Shining’s lips. “I believe I told you to hush, lover.” Her eyes flitted to Twilight. “Twily, would you like to hear about Shining’s first kiss?”

Twilight glanced between the pair, lingering on her brother’s eyes as he tried to communicate some silent plea for mercy before turning to Cadence’s brilliant purple which shone with mirth. “Would it in any way help me figure out my situation with Luna?” she asked.

There was a moment’s pause as Cadence and Shining shared a look, then nodded—albeit with a resigned sigh from the latter.

“Teasing aside, it will,” Cadence said. She removed her hoof from Shining’s mouth and pecked his lips. “I have to ask one thing first, though, Twily: did Auntie Celestia tell you anything about my nature in your history lessons?”

Twilight nodded slowly. “She told me that you were her first student after Luna’s banishment and that you’re … um …” She ducked her head, biting her lip as she tried to find the words.

Fortunately, Cadence supplied them for her. “A lot older than I look?” she suggested, amusement tinging her voice.

“Yes. That.” Twilight gave a sheepish chuckle, fidgeting as she felt Cadence’s free wing unfurl and wrap around her in comfort. “Princess Celestia told me that your connection to love gave you a rather unique condition to go along with your longevity.” She licked her dried lips, her eyes flitted to Shining again. “She said you’ve had quite a few, um, lovers in your time.”

Shining smiled. “You don’t have to try and sugarcoat it in front of me, I’ve known about it for quite some time.” He turned to nose against Cadence’s cheek. “Cady was up front with me about it the day she convinced me to give us a chance.”

Her ears twitched. Give “us” a chance? Not give “her” a chance? Or“romance” ? Twilight furrowed her brows, curious as to why her brother would go with that word choice. She kept her questions to herself and let them continue.

“It’s true, I’ve had many husbands and wives in my time,” Cadence said with a nod. “Occasionally I had the pleasure of having multiple wonderful ponies to share my love with. These days …” She smiled fondly as she took Shining’s hoof in hers. “I don’t know if I could give it to any other than my Shining Armor.”

“Aw, c’mon!” Shining ducked his head in a vain attempt to hide a sheepish grin, his blush returned in full force. “You know you only stay monogamous because I said I wasn’t comfortable with polyamory. You’ve got more love to give than anypony else.”

Beaming, she nuzzled his nose. “You’re worth it, my love.” Dotting him with another kiss, Cadence turned her attention to Twilight again. “Sorry, no more distractions. The reason I ask is that I wanted to make sure you knew some of it at least. As for the ‘condition’ Auntie refers to, it’s connected rather directly to love itself.”

Cadence paused to take a deep breath, the smile on her muzzle faltered a little. “The bulk of my power is connected to love itself, just like Auntie Celestia and Auntie Luna’s are connected to the sun and moon—or rather, day and night. They’re at the height of their power when Equestria is under one of their respective domains.” She leaned against Shining Armor, laying her head on his shoulder. “I’m at my most powerful when I fall in love and a pony shares my affections. Losing them causes me to … well, think of how Luna appeared when the Elements purified her. And that hurts. A lot.”

Twilight caught a little shift in Cadence’s posture as she hugged Shining tighter, as though afraid he might slip away from her. True to form, Shining sensed her distress.

He nosed into Cadence’s mane and whispered a few sweet nothings in her ear, then he dotted her on the head with a kiss before he spoke. “That sort of played into why I was so against moving toward dating Cady,” Shining said. “She lost her previous husband—I … wanna say that was Nor’easter?”

“Yes.” Cadence nodded into his shoulder. “I lost Eastie just a month before our thirteenth anniversary,” she said, her ears drooping a bit.

Shining grimaced. “Right, about ten years before she first foalsat you for mom and dad.” He tightened his grip on Cadence. “Cady was always the one who pushed me to be more of an extrovert throughout our friendship. If not that, she’d always make sure I knew when I’d done something to impress her, and I often found myself a little bit flustered whenever she did so.”

“A little?” Twilight and Cadence parroted in near perfect unison, each turning to raise an eyebrow at one another and then him.

His ears drooped, their tips tinged a bright pink to match his cheeks. “Okay, so I would get really flustered and stammer and I’d prefer we just stick to the story!”

Twilight held her gaze a moment longer, biting her tongue to hold back the laughter threatening to bubble forth. Her cheeks puffed up, she sucked in her lips and looked down at the ends of her own tail. Oh, my, I have a couple split ends. I should probably do something about that instead of thinking about how Shiny used to choke on his milkshakes if Cady—no! Keep it together! Tears stung the corners of her eyes. She wrapped her hooves around her barrel and sucked in a breath through her nose, then slowly released it.

But then, Cadence’s façade fell. She gave a loud snort and broke down into a fit of giggles, burying her face in Shining’s shoulder.

Twilight lost control. She fell into peals of laughter, leaning against Cadence’s side for support.

“Oh, shut up!” Shining grumped. “It’s bad enough I have to tell you about how Cady cornered me, do I really have to sit through this too?”

“I’m s-sorry!” Twilight said between giggles. She waved a hoof at him. “Go—pffft!—go on!”

He sighed. “Anyway, I always thought Cady was really pretty—hay, who didn’t?—and she’s a great pony, and I had a really big crush on her for a really long time.”

“How long is ‘a long time?’” Cadence cut in, still fighting down her laughter. “You never did give me a straight answer.”

“None of your business,” Shining replied as he cheekily poked her nose. “I figured I had no shot because a lot of colts and fillies had their eye on Cady, and they all came from more important families or looked really nice, while I felt plain and awkward.” He fidgeted in place and glanced down at his hooves, mumbling, “Didn’t help that I had braces and everypony teased me for it.”

Cooing, Cadence shifted closer to him and took his face in her hooves. “I always thought you looked cute with your braces.” She nuzzled his nose and stole a quick peck. “They gave me an excuse to hold you just like this and pester you to give me a smile.” Cadence paused to lick his cheek, grinning as he ducked his head to hide a wobbly smile of his own.

“You’re still so cute,” she whispered, before glancing at Twilight again. “Shiny’s braces came off just in time for him to start Cadet School, so I decided to make my move. I knew the Cadets had to go on routine assignments after their first semester, in which they’d either get stationed with a senior officer or they’d join an escort patrol. However—” her grin turned decidedly smug “—I also happen to know quite a few of the school’s officers, including the pony who made the shadowing schedules for Shiny’s class.”

Twilight gasped, broad grin tugged at the corners of her mouth. “You didn’t!” she cried.

Shining raised his head to fix her with a flat stare. “Of course she did.”

“I did!” Cadence cackled as she rocked herself, and Shining, back and forth. “Shiny got stationed as my personal escort, so I had plenty of time to talk with him and try dropping a few subtle hints—”

“Some about as subtle as a rampaging timberwolf,” he grumbled.

She drew back, frowning as she glared at him. “Subtle hints,” she repeated, almost daring him to contradict her.

Shining scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Oh, please!” He looked to Twilight, pointing a hoof toward Cadence. “Okay, let me paint a picture for you here! I’m supposed to escort her like a real guard—so, maintain a distance of three paces out of respect, but also stay within easy reach if something goes wrong.”

Giggling, Twilight laid down on her belly and perked up her ears. “I’m going to guess that’s not what Cadence had in mind for you,” she said, earning a shrug and a casual toss of her mane from Cadence.

“Far from it. Whenever we were walking somewhere, she’d sidle up all close, throw a wing across my withers, and chatted with me just like she would if I were off-duty.” He snorted. “Pretty much every other cadet hated me for that, they thought it was unfair that I could get away with cozying up to Cady.”

“It would’ve been so much easier on me if only you had!” Cadence cut in with a shameless grin and fluff of her feathers.

Shining quieted her with a light elbow to the side. “Yes, well, the other thing she liked to have me do was stand at post while she worked in her study. So it’d just be Cady and I alone in her office for hours, and I had to stand right by her desk the entire time.”

“Mmm, those were the days! I could have you at my beck and call, and you would just squirm in your armor whenever I got close or complimented you.” She closed her eyes and hummed. “I think we might have to revisit that one.”

“You wish! I’m the Captain of the Day Guard now, you can’t have me reassigned willy-nilly!”

Cadence cracked open an eye and smirked. “I’ll have to pester Auntie a bit, but I think she’ll see it my way.”

Twilight cleared her throat, drawing their attention before they could get back to their teasing. Raising her eyebrows, she rolled her hoof through the air.

“Er, right.” Shining coughed, rubbing the back of his head. “Well, since I had to stay with Cady, she had free rein to pester me to talk, and she could actually order me to reply instead of standing their stony-faced like I started out. She gradually started floating the idea of us going out for dinners or shows, y’know, like the old days. Didn’t see a problem the first couple times she asked, so I went.”

“I took him to a really nice Istallion restaurant the first time,” Cadence added. “We had private seating on the balcony, it was quite a romantic set up, though a bit light compared to past endeavors.” She gave an innocent shrug that didn’t seem to match the grin on her muzzle. “I didn’t want to scare him off with something too extravagant but I also wanted it to be clear that I was interested in him.”

Ducking his head, Shining nodded. “I was sort of in a self-imposed ‘just the best friend of the beautiful filly’ mindset, so I thought I was reading too much into it that time. But for our second night, she got us really good seats at Hinny in the Hills and held my hoof the whole time, and laid her head on my shoulder during the big finale.” His cheeks turned bright pink as he added, “What really clued me in was when she kissed me on the cheek when the show was over, and then again when she had her carriage drop me off at home.”

Wrinkling her nose, Twilight thought back. She furrowed her brows. “I don’t think I remember that.”

“It was awful late, so you were probably asleep at the time. Anyway, after Cady left, I started to panic—kinda like you’ve been tonight.”

“Oh?” Twilight perked her ears up a little straighter.

“Yeah, I just about went into a full blown panic. Dad had to calm me down and talk me through the whole thing.” His tail swished across the floor. “We talked about my crush on Cadence and how I worried that acting on it would mess up our friendship. Basically, he helped me organize my thoughts until I decided that I wasn’t going to act on my feelings.”

Cadence snorted and flicked her tail. “Your father is lucky I helped him pick out that anniversary gift for your mother after you told me that!”

Twilight stifled a laugh, then reached over to pat her shoulder. “I’m sure dad was just trying to help Shining, he wouldn’t scuttle your plans deliberately.”

Sticking her tongue out in reply, Cadence laid her head on Shining’s shoulder and took up the story. “The next time Shiny came by for his post, I asked him out again. He turned me down flat and told me that he valued our friendship too much to risk it on his silly crush and he was going to start acting like a proper cadet while he was on duty.”

She smirked and nuzzled into his neck, speaking in a husky tone, “I’m many things. Persistent is one of them, attentive to Freudian slips is another. So I called Shiny out on his little crush. Oh, how he blushed! Then the silly colt tried to go into that silly ‘keep his bearing’ routine where he gets all stony faced.” She paused and stared ahead, setting her jaw into a stern scowl for a moment before breaking down into another fit of giggles. “Unfortunately, he forgot that I’ve got centuries of experience flirting, and he’d been the sole object of my affection since I’d met him.”

“You make it sound like we were on a battlefield,” Shining quipped.

Twilight jumped at the chance to join in. “Love is a battlefield, Shiny!” she cooed in a high falsetto, earning a mock glare from Cadence.

“I don’t sound like that when I say it!” she huffed and turned up her nose at the siblings. “And it is so a battlefield!”

In practiced unison, the pair sighed and rolled their eyes. “We know, Cady!” they chanted.

“Then hush!” Cadence scolded. “As I was saying, Shiny went into his military bearing and refused to say anything but ‘Yes, Princess’ and ‘No, Princess’ for the rest of the day. Knowing how easily flustered he was and having verbal confirmation of his crush on me, I wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easy.” She cupped Shining’s chin and turned his head until their snouts touched. “I stood up and decided to tease him a little. I nuzzled his ears, kissed his cheek, and told him how much he meant to me. All the while, he had his eyes shut tight while he blushed and tried not to smile. But then, I moved a little further and stole Shining Armor’s very first kiss.”

Shining’s ears pinned back. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt my breath leave me like that before or since,” he said. “Everything just sort of stopped for me and I couldn’t figure out whether to pull away or act on my feelings. Before I knew it, I fell back on my haunches, wrapped my hooves around her, and started kissing back!”

Twilight felt her heart leap into her throat. Her kiss with Luna flashed before her eyes. How her coat seemed to prickle as soft feathers brushed against it, her own hooves wrapped around Luna’s barrel and she pulled closer to deepen the kiss. “But you said you didn’t want to risk your relationship!”

“Love doesn’t work in a neat, orderly way, Twilight,” Cadence said with a shake of her head. “It can be obvious, like how I knew I wanted to court Shining; it can be a crush, like Shining’s feelings for me; or other feelings can build to drive friendships toward romance.”

It harkened back to the light in Luna’s eyes as she drew in for the kiss, the feeling of her breath washing over Twilight’s face before their lips touched. Raw, unbounded passion.

Emotions driving us to act contrary to what we might say aloud.

But was there reason to say no?

Twilight hadn’t been able to come up with one based on her own feelings. Luna was a close friend and a wonderful mare with her own interests and desires. For the most part, all the negative aspects of such a venture were how fickle public opinion could be, Princess Celestia’s reaction, and what it might do to their friendship if it should fail.

I have to know. “What happened then?”

Cadence beamed. “I told him I meant everything I said and that he was dismissed if he wanted to take some time to think.” She paused to wink at Twilight, then added, “Not quite what he wanted, though.”

“As I recall,” Shining continued, “in my slightly addled state, I asked if I would get more kisses if I changed my decision.” He waggled his eyebrows. “The answer to that one is yes, in case you didn’t figure it out.”

“I had, thanks.” Twilight rolled her eyes and shook her head. So they made the transition after Cadence confronted Shining about his feelings. That was one way, but not applicable for her current situation. “What about your worry about risking your friendship?”

“It was … strange,” he admitted. “At first, I mean. For the most part, we kept talking about the things we always had, the only difference being that we’d do more couples stuff, like going to fancy restaurants, buying gifts on Hearts and Hooves Day, and kissing.”

“Among other things,” Cadence added, smirking as she planted a kiss just under Shining’s jawline that drew a sharp intake of breath.

Twilight watched them flirt and tease with a smile as she thought. If they’d been able to make the transition with little change, maybe there was nothing to worry about after all.

There was something else they’d mentioned in their story that nagged at the back of her mind. Cadence had lost all her lovers; they all died, while she remained.

As an alicorn, Luna would suffer the same loss.

How does Cadence cope? She looked down at her hooves, crossing them over one another. And how does Shiny deal with knowing he’s eventually going to leave her?

They were happy together, and had been for as long as Twilight could remember.

How did they get over that hurdle?

If she was going to make a decision, she needed all the data she could get her hooves on. Luna’s feelings were at stake.

Twilight cleared her throat, bringing their play to a halt long enough for her to ask, “How do you deal with … knowing she’ll outlive you?”

Their smiles faltered. Cadence’s ears pinned back against her scalp, her eyes downcast. “I try to focus on the years I’ll have him with me. They’re worth knowing that some day he’ll … pass on,” she whispered.

Shining hugged her tight and stayed quiet a moment, simply content to hold her and nuzzle into her mane. He glanced at Twilight, then closed his eyes. “I think it’s time we showed Twily the gallery.”

“Agreed.” Cadence nodded once, then stood with Shining, keeping her wing around his withers. “My private gallery has something that’ll help you understand just how I cope with it. If you want to, that is.”

Twilight stood slowly, raising an eyebrow at the pair. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. What exactly is in this gallery of yours that’s going to help me?”

Cadence led Shining over to the door and beckoned Twilight to join with a flick of her free wing.

Her tone made Twilight’s heart skip a beat.

“You’ll see.”

26: La Galleria di Amanti Perduti

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There were few parts of the castle Twilight hadn’t been to in her years as Celestia’s student.

Cadence and Celestia usually brought her to those she didn’t go to as part of her studies, inviting her to the various dining halls, their personal wings of the castle, and even their private studies. There had been many a time when Cadence would invite Twilight into her room to gossip and play with her “favorite little filly” while foalsitting her, accompanied “coincidentally” by their mutual favorite Day Guard.

This, however, was one of the few rooms Twilight had never seen in Cadence’s wing.

The door leading inside seemed innocent enough, designed in the same style as the rest in the castle save for the familiar crystal heart and gold wreaths emblazoned at eye level to delineate just who the room belonged to. A glint of light off a silver label tag, however, drew Twilight’s eye. She blinked at the name, looking from Cadence to Shining Armor, and then back to the name on the tag.

She brought a hoof up to trace long the edge. “La Galleria di Amanti,” she read aloud.

“I had to compromise on the name,” Cadence said as though talking about the weather. “Auntie thought my name for it was too depressing, so she asked me to change it for when we hosted dignitaries. Something about leaving a happy impression.”

Twilight drew back from the name tag. “Oh?” she repeated, looking from the tag to Cadence again. “What did you call it before?”

Cadence gave a small smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I think you’ll be able to guess once you see.” She lit her horn and opened the door, waving Twilight inside. “Go on. There’s a lot for you to see before we send you to bed, young filly.”

Sucking in her lips, Twilight huffed. “I’m not a filly anymore.”

“You’re a young filly until I say so, Twily.” With a cheeky grin, Cadence bent her head and pushed against Twilight’s rump to get her moving.

Twilight squeaked and leapt forward. “Okay, I get it!” Her ear flicked at the sound of Shining chuckling, drawing a glare. “Can’t you control your girlfriend?”

He shook his head. “I’ve tried. She’s got centuries of experience knowing how to push ponies’ buttons, though.” Letting out a gasp as Cadence nipped at his ear, he fixed Twilight with a flat stare. “See?”

Shaking her head, Twilight walked to the center of the darkened room. Her eyes flitted to the walls as she made out the shapes of large frames.

Paintings. But of what?

What was so special about Cadence’s gallery that they felt she had to see?

More to the point, how is it supposed to help my situation with Luna?

“Oh, sorry,” Cadence said, lighting her horn again. “Let me light the candles. Hardly worth coming to an art gallery if you can’t see.”

Tiny flashes of cerulean lit the candles lining the wall. The glow of flickering flames bathed the room in a soft, golden light.

Twilight could only gape in awe at the sheer number of paintings lining the walls, each of them done with the beauty and skill only the greatest masters of the craft could have put into their work. The ponies in each painting were so expressive, so lifelike, she could almost swear that they were ready to step out from their portraits to great her.

The softness and curves in each mares’ body, the strong jaws and broad shoulders in each stallion, all of it had such magnificent detail.

“They’re amazing,” she said breathily. Twilight stepped closer to a painting of a pair of embracing pegasi—a mare of sea green coat and a stallion of vibrant orange. The stallion had his head laid atop the mare’s, their eyes seemed shone with emotion and seemed to be gazing straight into hers.

The small smiles each wore were simply breathtaking, as was the light pink tinging the mare’s cheeks.

Twilight felt her heart skip a beat when she made the connection. Slowly, she turned to look over her shoulder at Cadence, who was staring past her at the very couple she had been looking at a few short seconds ago. Raw emotion shone in her eyes, the very same as that in the couple in the painting.

Love.

“Who were they?” she asked.

Cadence didn’t answer at first. She blinked a few times, a glimmer of light caught unshed tears gathering in her eyes as she stepped passed Twilight. Stopping just short of the painting, she sat back on her haunches and brought a hoof to her chest. Right over her heart.

“Her name was Atlanta,” she replied, bowing her head. “And his was West Wind. I lost them both over three hundred years ago. He caught feather flu in his seventies and died in a hospital bed. She passed on in her sleep one night, just a few weeks before she turned eighty.” Closing her eyes, she took in a shuddering breath. A sad smile crossed her muzzle. “I remember how she used to complain that West and I would spend so many bits on her birthday parties, especially the one year we took her to Roam.”

“Wasn’t that where you and West proposed to her?” Shining asked. “If I recall, you two were already married, then you both noticed Atlanta afterward.”

She shook her head. “Not quite. West and I were engaged at the time, we held off on marrying because we started courting Atlanta. But yes, that’s when we proposed to her.” She gave a wistful sigh. “Oh, I still remember how happy she was. She just hugged us both tight and cried, she could barely even speak!”

Twilight felt a lump form in her throat. She watched as Cadence sat before Atlanta and West Wind’s portrait a moment longer, touching their cheeks with her hooves as if to cup them one more time as a stray tear rolled down her cheek.

Cadence stood, leaning in to the portrait to whisper a few words, then moved to the one to her immediate right. She let out a shuddering breath as she gazed into the eyes of an earth pony stallion, who held a stetson over his chest and wore a nervous smile. By his build and the autumn red coat and brown mane, he almost looked like a distant relative of Applejack’s.

“Cornucopia was my next husband,” she said. A devilish smile flitted across her muzzle. “Oh, he was so shy! Even worse than Shiny when I first got ahold of him!”

“Hey!” Shining protested. “I wasn’t that bad!”

Turning to look over her shoulder, Cadence fixed him with a tearful gaze and a smirk. “My love, you really don’t want me to prove you wrong in front of Twily.”

He ducked his head, his white face turned as red as Big Mac’s coat. “Carry on.”

“I thought so.” She looked to Cornucopia again and touched his cheek just as she had with Atlanta and West Wind, then moved on to the next portrait, one with a beaming pegasus mare with a coat and mane almost as pink as Pinkie Pie, and a pair of unicorn stallions. The mare’s feathers were fluffed, she laid on a plush couch and posed to show her heart flurry cutie mark, a coquettish smirk graced her muzzle as she nuzzled one stallion’s cheek and flicked her tail across the other’s snout. “And this is Love Line, Stargazer, and Cygnus.”

“Her partner in matchmaking crime,” Shining whispered to Twilight. “Seriously, you should hear the things those two got up to.” He turned to Cadence and asked, “What was that story you love telling at parties? The one about the time nicknamed her Lovey Dovey because she would always squeal and squirm whenever she helped a couple get together?”

“Yes. She actually did her little matchmaking thing to set us up on our date with Star and Cygnus.” She chuckled and shook her head. “She could see the red threads better than anypony other than me, and she was overjoyed when she discovered where our ‘extra threads’ led. Especially when she found how much teasing we could get away with before they melted.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. “I’m starting to notice a pattern here,” she drawled. “You love stallions you can tease until you’ve got them hooked.”

Despite the tears brimming in her eyes, Cadence laughed and stuck her tongue out in reply. “So what if I do? And it’s not just the stallions.” She leaned forward and touched each pony’s cheek with her hoof. “I could make Lovey writhe when I kissed her jawline, she used to whine and beg for me to stop playing and just—”

Shining cleared his throat. “Cady,” he said, a note of scolding in his voice. “I don’t mind your stories, but there are some you probably shouldn’t share in present company.”

Blinking, Cadence glanced at Twilight. She gave a little cough. “Oh, right. Sorry.”

Again, Twilight found herself looking between the pair, lingering on Shining as she tried to figure out why he’d so abruptly shut Cadence down mid story.

He met her gaze, then shook his head and gestured toward Cadence again.

She followed his look to see Cadence standing before another picture. A stallion with a coat as gray as storm clouds and dark blue mane stood with his wings folded at his sides, a forest green uniform with light armor, and a matching helmet in his grasp.

The patch on his chest caught her eye—the image of a yellow pegasus diving with its hooves outstretched, set upon a red shield with blue trim. The stallion was one of Equestria’s Rescue Rangers.

“This is Nor’easter,” Cadence said, her voice cracking as she spoke his name. “My last husband before Shining.” She sucked in her lips, bowing her head as she brought a trembling hoof up to touch his cheek. With a choked sob, she turned her head away. “He was only forty.”

Twilight gasped, a hoof leapt to her mouth. “What happened?”

Cadence stayed silent. Tears rolled freely down her cheeks as she caressed her late husband’s cheek.

Shining wrapped a hoof around Twilight’s shoulders and leaned in to whisper. “He had heart problems. They didn’t find out until he was in his late thirties. All those rescue jumps took their toll on him.” He bowed his head in a show of respect. “That daft stallion just didn’t know when to slow down.”

A pang shot through her heart. Never before had Twilight seen Cadence, or Shining Armor for that matter, in such a state. Whenever she talked about love—whether it was gossiping with Twilight over a new couple she’d seen on her walk through the park with Shining, or telling her time and time again how wonderful it was to find a special somepony—it always seemed so positive, so very happy.

The mare before her was hurt. Outliving all of her lovers, and knowing that she would inevitably see the day Shining Armor breathed his last, must have weighed heavy on her shoulders.

Luna would go through the same thing, Twilight thought. She probably has already.

How many times had she gone through it before? How many lovers had those deep teal eyes watched lowered into the ground while Luna fought to hold back her tears before a crowd of mourners?

How lonely must it have made her feel each time?

Flinching, Twilight thought back to the old story of the Mare in the Moon. Luna had not denied the basic reasons for her turn; she had been lonely and jealous of how loved Princess Celestia was, so she tried to cast her sister down from the Day Throne to rule over Equestria as its sole sovereign.

Nightmare Moon’s mad laughter echoed in her ears. “The night will last forever!”

Twilight closed her eyes and gave her head a quick shake, trying to banish the memory. But those cold, reptilian eyes and gleaming fangs were not so easily forgotten.

A fact that Luna was dealing with herself.

Unbidden, scenarios of a relationship with her flashed through Twilight’s mind. Some failed within a few weeks, others ended in tears after an argument over Twilight being too distant because of her studies, or Luna being too clingy and possessive.

She shuddered. Twilight was happy to have a friend like Luna and spending time with her was a real treat, but she also quite liked her study time. Learning the magic of friendship and conducting scientific experiments made her want to get up and go in the morning, along with spending time with her friends of course.

Luna, though …

It wasn’t that Luna was anything but a wonderful mare. Far from it, in fact. Luna was special, and not just because she raised the moon, put the stars in the sky, guarded ponies’ dreams, and did who knows what else with the immense power she wielded as Princess of the Night.

She was kind, thoughtful, and willing to impart her knowledge to any who truly wanted to learn.

Their friendship was precious to Twilight, as much so as that she shared with those in Ponyville. Transitioning from friend to girlfriend was a big change, it’d be like …

Well, she didn’t have an equivalent save for her move from Canterlot to Ponyville, which had worked out just dandy once she’d opened up and given her new home a chance. But that was an entirely different thing! She wasn’t trying to date the town, or her friends, for that matter!

Although, come to think of it, based on what she was hearing, Cadence would be all too happy to encourage her ending up with some sort of pile of ponies in her bed every night.

Clenching her eyes shut, Twilight shook her head. No thank you, I’m having enough trouble knowing that one pony wants to have something like that with me.

Still, how was this supposed to help her? If anything, it only confirmed her fears.

A relationship with Luna could only end in heartbreak. Yes, there was the possibility that it might be nice and full of tender, sweet moments like those Cadence was talking about, but in the end, Twilight would die.

Not that she wanted to be cynical about her mortality, but, objectively, it was the truth. She would die and leave Luna alone, either as an ex girlfriend or—dare she think it?—a widow.

She licked her lips as though to taste Luna’s kiss again. How soft and warm it had been, the way she pulled Twilight in and held her close throughout, until they parted and gazed into each others’ eyes had been so …

Magical.

The emotion in Luna’s eyes was as strong and raw as that in Cadence’s when she looked at Shining Armor or the paintings of her past lovers.

Her heart skipped a beat. Unbidden, the corners of her mouth tugged into a small smile.

Would it really be so bad to share in a relationship like that, though? Something that made her feel so warm and sent butterflies fluttering in her stomach couldn’t be that bad, right?

Not for her, perhaps. She wasn’t the one who had to live after losing Luna to the slow decay of time.

Her eyes flitted to Shining Armor. He was the only pony she knew of with experience dating an alicorn—the only presently doing so, unless Princess Celestia had a secret lover sequestered away from the public’s watchful eye.

Then again, there were those gossip columns about how close she seems to be with Quick Quill … Twilight shook her head again, refocusing on the subject at hoof.

“What is this place really called?” she asked. “If not La Galleria di Amanti, then what?”

The pair stayed quiet a moment. Shining coughed, turning to look at Cadence. “Er, do you—”

“The original name was ‘La Galleria di Amanti Perduti.’” Cadence cut in.

Twilight wracked her brain. She was a bit rusty on her Roaman, but she was relatively sure she could translate it if she put her mind to it.

It clicked. Her jaw dropped. “Oh. Oh, Cadence …”

“Auntie asked me to change it so it didn’t seem so morbid,” Cadence continued. “So now, this place is for all those I loved then and love now.”

Twilight let her ears droop. A weight fell firmly upon her shoulders, like the stone Rarity once thought a diamond.

She thought over her next question, biting her lip as she readied herself. “Shining?”

Shining started, then turned to face her. “Yeah?”

“How do you deal with knowing—” Twilight let her ears droop, and looked away. “How do you cope with knowing that she’s loved other ponies before you? And that she’ll love others after you’ve passed on?”

He blinked a few times, then opened his mouth to speak before closing it and sucking in his lips. “That’s not an easy question to answer,” he replied after a moment. “When she showed me this place for the first time, I’ll admit, I was a bit jealous for a while when I saw how much love she held for all of them.”

“Oh, really?” Cadence called.

Ears twitching at the huskiness in her tone, Twilight turned her attention to Cadence. Despite the tear tracks lining her beautiful cheeks, Cadence managed to make Shining freeze in place with a smoldering, hooded stare and smirk on her muzzle.

Shining yelped as he found himself caught in her magic and pulled over to her. Before he could even try to move, Cadence wrapped him in a tight, feathery embrace, cupping the back of his head with one hoof while tilting his chin up with the other.

“Jealous of them, my love?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes.

“N-Now, wait a minute, Cady! I wasn’t done!” he said, a nervous smile crossed his muzzle. “I was making a point to help her, I swear!”

Cadence leaned in close and licked his nose, then nuzzled him. “Talk quickly, then, dearest, or I’ll have to remind you just how loved my big, strong Shining Armor is!” Casting a look at Twilight, she winked, then added, “Or perhaps I need to show you just how affectionate and loving I can be, hmm?”

Twilight could only stare in muted fascination as she watched Shining’s eyes go as wide as dinner plates, he tried to lean back, but Cadence was far stronger than she looked.

“So, um, anyway!” he said, his smile straining. “Yes, for a time I would get a bit testy and feel like I couldn’t possibly measure up to all those other ponies in her heart. It took a lot of thought on my part when she’d tell me some of the stories she had, but I found something a bit more, um, meaningful—okay, can you please let me go now?” he practically whined. “I can’t be profound when you’re making eyes at me!”

Giving one last nuzzle, Cadence released him and scooted back just enough to allow him a little room. “Go on then,” she said, waving a hoof at Twilight. Her eyes seemed to dance with mirth. “ Pontificate. But remember, I’m quite willing to chase all that pesky jealousy away if I’m not satisfied with the message.”

He licked his lips, his eyes darted from Cadence to Twilight. “Er, right. So, anyway, the mortality issue was a big thing for me too.” Shining looked down at the floor. “It was one of the reasons I tried to keep my feelings to myself, really. I mean, my life is barely a flash in the pain when you compare it to Cady’s, and to think how much she’d been hurt losing the others—hay, just how much losing Nor’easter hurt her!” Taking a deep breath, he shook his head. “I wasn’t too different from how you are now, Twily. Every rational part of me said that I should step back and tell her no.”

A snort cut him off. Cadence narrowed her eyes at him, a frown marred her muzzle. “Rational?” she asked. Leaning in, she readied herself to refute his point, but in a flash of pink, Shining’s magic covered her mouth and encased her horn.

“I’m still making a point,” he said, a hint of smugness creeping into his tone. With a satisfied nod, he continued, “What really helped me understand was that I started paying attention to how Cady acted, both toward me and whenever she came in here.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout. She looked between Shining and Nor’easter’s portrait, tilting her head. “How is that supposed to help?” She jabbed a hoof at the paintings. “I don’t mean to be rude, but this is just reaffirming the point! All of these ponies loved her and died, and Cadence—I’m sorry—but you’re still broken up about it!”

“Broken up?” Shining repeated, giving a snort of laughter. He made to continue, but with one look at Twilight, he broke down in a fit of chuckles, shaking his head and mouthing the phrase to himself.

Sucking in a sharp breath through her nose, Twilight fixed him with a glare. “I don’t see what’s so funny, Shiny!”

He shook his head, the pink glow surrounding his horn and Cadence’s mouth and horn dissipated, freeing her from his grip.

Rather than join Twilight, though, Cadence brought her hooves to her mouth to cover a bout of choked laughter.

“Twilight,” she said after she’d gotten herself under control. Their eyes met, a broad smile crossed Cadence’s muzzle. “When I come here to see them, I am the complete opposite of ‘broken up.’”

She stood, dotting Shining’s forehead with a kiss before moving to stand by Nor’easter’s portrait again. “I miss them all dearly,” she said, leaning in to kiss her late lover’s snout. “And if I could bring all of them back for one day, just so I could have all the ponies I loved in one room for one day, I would in a heartbeat. But like a grown pony misses family they lost years ago, I’ve come to terms with their deaths. My time with each of them was special in their own unique way: whether it was squealing like a little filly with Lovey after we matched up a pair of lovers, or watching Cornucopia till the fields from sun up to sun down, I treasure each moment I shared with them.”

Cadence paused to take a deep breath. She whispered a few words to Nor’easter’s portrait, then moved to the next in line. “I treasure all of them,” she continued, “and Shining is no different. I flirt with him and tease him every chance I have for that very reason.” Stopping a moment, she glanced over her shoulder at him. “And because he’s just adorable when he’s flustered. That too.”

Shining ducked his head, his ears laid flat. “I saw that coming,” he muttered just loud enough for Twilight to hear. Sighing, he brought a hoof to his face. “The point is that I saw how much she still feels for them and how she feels for me presently, and I got to thinking about it and realized that, yes, one day I’m going to die and leave Cadence behind.”

A sharp intake of breath made Twilight flick her ear toward Cadence. Her former foalsitter looked away, her eyes locked on the final portrait.

Twilight furrowed her brow and leaned back to get a better line of sight. Her heart leapt into her throat.

There, painted with the same care and detail as all the others, was Shining Armor wearing his pristinely polished purple and gold trim armor, with his helmet resting atop his head. His chest was puffed out proudly, his eyes seemed to shine with the same life as the very stallion himself, even his smile—that little crooked smile he gave his friends and family—was done to perfection.

Slowly, she brought her hoof to her mouth. Her eyes flitted from the portrait to Cadence, then to Shining Armor himself.

He smiled, matching his portrait’s expression. “I may leave her behind when my time comes,” he said. “But the one thing I’ll always have, even when I’m long gone, is her love. It’s not something many ponies understand, but that’s how I see it.” Pausing a moment, he took a deep breath and sighed.

His eyes bored into hers, almost piercing through her very being.

Shining quirked a brow. “Care to guess how I know all that?”

“I—I mean, all of this is—I don’t know!” Twilight held her hooves out wide. “How, Shiny?”

“Not even gonna try?” He chuckled, shaking his head. “Come on now, it’s right here in this room.” Nodding to the portraits, he said, “What do you see? Or, more to the point, what don’t you see?”

Twilight blinked, leaning back and squinting her eyes at him.

Rather than clarify, he simply smiled and nodded toward the wall of portraits.

With a huff and a flick of her tail, she obeyed, staring at the lively faces of Atlanta and West Wing with wide eyes and a mock smile. “Hmm, well, I see two very happy ponies!” She turned to Cornucopia. “And there’s a happy but shy stallion!” Then she turned to Love Line, Stargazer, and Cygnus. “There’s a coyly smiling mare and a pair of unicorns!”

Twilight held her hooves out wide again. “They’re all happy ponies who Cadence loved. The only thing missing from any of the portraits is Cadence herself.”

Again, he chuckled. “True, and the reason for that is somewhat related, but not what I was getting at.” Stealing a glance toward Cadence, Shining stood and gestured for Twilight to join him.

He led her over to Nor’easter’s portrait. “Take a closer look,” he said, nodding toward the late pegasus. “What’s missing that you’d normally see at an art gallery?”

Raising an eyebrow, Twilight searched the portrait. It was wonderfully done, that much was certain. Everything about Nor’easter just seemed to lifelike. He looked as though he were about to put on his helmet and throw a quick salute before taking wing to join his Rescue Ranger team for a jump.

A small part of her wanted to reach out and touch him, just as Cadence had. Out of respect, Twilight quashed the notion almost as quickly as it had arisen. Touching the portrait was Cadence’s right and, maybe, Shinig’s. Not hers.

Twilight was a pony Cadence held dear, but she was not one of Cadence’s lovers.

The talent for painting was there, as was some texturing technique Twilight couldn’t recall for the life of her. If Cadence ever wanted to allow the public to view these works, any art gallery across Equestria would pay a princess’ ransom for the privilege.

What else might she see at an art gallery besides lifelike artwork? The artists? The curator? The title of the painting, perhaps?

It clicked.

Her eyes darted around the frame, searching for the gleaming placard bearing the painting’s title. No doubt something in Roaman, if Cadence commissioned it. The name Nor’easter, even. If only for sentimental value.

There was no placard.

Nor’easter’s portrait bore no name.

“Figure it out yet?” Shining’s voice brought her back to reality.

Twilight licked her lips. Slowly, she turned to look her brother in the eye. “Why don’t they have placards or titles?” she asked.

He nodded. “There you go. No placards on any of them.”

“But that doesn’t make sense! Why isn’t there even something to give their name? If this is supposed to be a place to preserve their memory, then why not include proper taggings?”

From her place before Shining’s portrait, Cadence scoffed, drawing both siblings’ attention.

She fixed Twilight with a stern gaze and began walking toward them. With a derisive sniff, she replied, “As if I would ever need something so trivial to remember those I love!” She stopped a short distance away, looking down her nose at Twilight with an air of regality that seemed almost foreign on her face. “I have forgotten many things in my life, Twilight. Spells, debates, battles, the taste of wines that fell out of practice, even the memory of my old home in Roam is a bit fuzzy, no matter how I’ve tried to recreate it for myself.”

Another step closer. Twilight backed away, tripping over her own hooves and falling back on her haunches, her ears pinned against her scalp.

Cadence flicked her tail. “I remember each of them as vividly as the day I fell for them. Every kiss, every embrace, every date, every night spent together in the heat of passion, or those spent cuddled in bed or on the couch reading a book. I remember it all. From our first moments together, to …” she trailed off, her eyes filled with tears once more. Drawing in a deep breath, she finished in a wavering voice, “To the days I stood by their side when they breathed their last. Trust me when I say that my love for all of them, from my first husband, Galant, to Shining Armor, is everlasting. No matter how much it hurts to lose them, physically and emotionally.”

Shining moved to stand at her side. “Honey,” he said barely above a whisper as he laid a hoof on her shoulder. “Not so aggressive. We brought her here to show her, remember?”

Blinking, Cadence’s ears twitched. The air of regality surrounding her faded, melting away to the warm, loving pony Twilight had known since she was a filly.

A hoof leapt to Cadence’s mouth. “I–I’m so sorry, Twily! I just—they’re—oh, by the tides!” She covered her eyes and took a deep breath. “I know you didn’t mean it like that, I just get defensive about them.”

Twilight let out a deep breath and gave a stiff nod, pasting a rather forced grin on her muzzle. “No, no! I understand!” she said with a little squeak in her voice. “I just let my curiosity get the better of me again. Silly, Twily, right?”

“No, not silly Twily.” Cadence shook her head. “I—well, us alicorns in general get a bit defensive over what we consider ours, and I’m—” she looked down at her hooves, her ears drooped. “—not nearly as good as Auntie Celestia is at controlling myself.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. There was something familiar about the way she said it. Or, rather, not quite the way, but how she admitted it.

“The library has been under your care for a number of months, the dreamscape has been mine for millennia, my dear. Imagine how perturbed you might feel after caring for something for so long, giving your heart and soul, only to find another has come and thrown it into disarray.”

Luna.

Just as the dream realm belonged to Luna, Cadence’s lovers were hers alone. To suggest that she might forget them was akin to taking Luna’s connection to her ponies’ dreams away.

There it is again. That possessiveness over what they claim as their domain.

How very interesting. But if Celestia shared such habits, why hadn’t Twilight seen signs of it?

So many questions.

Twilight pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. They would have to be addressed later. Presently, she had her own issues to wrap up.

Specifically, what to do about Luna and the kiss.

She rubbed a hoof against her shoulder, thinking a moment before she spoke. “I’m a bit leery on assuming that we can apply your memory of your lovers to Luna,” she began. “But if I might hazard a guess, I would say that you want me to put aside my worry over what might happen after I leave her.”

Shining bobbed his head from side to side. “Yes and no,” he replied. “I’m not saying that she’ll take it any better or worse than Cadence will when—”

“Could we please not?” Cadence interrupted, closing her eyes and laying her ears flat as if to block out his voice.

“Right. Sorry.” He gave a crooked smile, then leaned over to nuzzle her cheek, earning himself a quick kiss in turn. “Anyway, the point isn’t so much that we have cart blanche to love them. It’s that your lifespan shouldn’t be the reason you decide not to try things out.” Shining removed his hoof from Cadence’s shoulder—much to her dismay—and stepped closer to Twilight. He leaned down to nuzzle her mane. “You’re a brilliant mare, Twily. You’re smart, dedicated to your friends, and you genuinely care about others’ feelings. The last two tend to override the first and lead you to make some rather funny decisions from what I’ve heard from Spike.”

Twilight snorted. “Little traitor,” she grumbled.

“Hey, I’ve gotta go somewhere to get dirt on you.” A hoof cupped her chin and tilted her head until she met his gaze. He offered her a bright, cheery smile, the one that always made her feel safe after he chased away the monsters under the bed. “Do yourself and Luna a favor: take lifespan out of the equation and take some time to think about what you feel for her. Friendship? Love? Whatever it is, be honest with yourself, be forward and honest with her, and everything will work itself out.” Pausing a moment, Shining shot a meaningful look toward Cadence. “Take it from me, the princesses have ways of knowing when those closest to them are trying to hide how they feel.”

With a playful roll of her eyes, Cadence stuck out her tongue, but didn’t offer any retort. Instead, she moved to join them, stealing a kiss to Shining’s cheek and then one to Twilight’s mane.

“Hopefully that helps,” she said. Giving a toss of her mane, she leaned against Shining Armor. “I won’t lie, there is a not-so-small part of me that would be happy to see you and Auntie Luna dating one another—”

“You mean the part that led you and Lovey to trick Star and Cygnus into a date with one another to dispel the awkwardness between them?” Shining quipped.

Cadence didn’t even miss a beat. “And the same one that had me kissing my favorite guard recruit all over his face and neck when he tried so hard to keep his bearing.” Pausing a moment to allow herself a little smirk and the chance to flick her tail against his rump, she gave a happy little flutter of her wings, then continued, “I’d love to see you and Auntie together because I think you two are a good match for one another. Ultimately, it’s your call. I might have centuries of experience, but love isn’t an exact science.” She shrugged. “The heart wants what the heart wants. Do whatever you feel is right.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout. Everything fell squarely on her shoulders again. True, it helped to hear that she had some level of control over how things progressed.

Which meant Luna’s feelings were entirely subject to her decision.

She groaned and rubbed her tired eyes. When had it gotten so late?

“I think it might be best if I take some time to organize everything,” Twilight said.

Cadence and Shining Armor smiled.

“That’s probably for the best,” Cadence replied. “There’s no deadline for these things, Twilight. Take all the time you need.” She glanced out the window, then back. A playful gleam shone in her eye. “I think it might be time for a certain young mare to get to bed, eh?”

Pursing her lips, Twilight stood. “You can’t send me to bed! I don’t have a curfew!”

Shining snickered. “You say that while standing before a princess in her castle. She can.”

“I can even have Shining Armor tuck you in like he did when you were a filly,” Cadence added helpfully.

Twilight sucked in her lips, trying her best to fight back a smile.

She failed quite horribly.

Ducking her head, she stepped forward and gave each a hug. “Thanks for showing me this,” she said. “I don’t quite know what I’m going to do, but it helped to see this. I think. I’m not sure yet.” Twilight pulled back, letting her ears droop. “Are you sure there’s not a ‘how to’ guide I can read for this?”

Cadence threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, there’s plenty of books and magazine articles, Twily!” She patted Twilight’s head. “But take it from a mare who’s loved and lost many times over her nine hundred-plus years: they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Twilight couldn’t help but snicker and nod along with her before releasing her embrace. She turned, and began to walk out of the room with them.

She stopped short just as they reached the door, glancing over her shoulder at the line of portraits. Her smile faded away as she furrowed her brows.

Something hit her. Something she hadn’t noticed until she stepped back and could look at them all from a distance.

They were all done in the same style.

The exact same each time.

As if the same painter had done each one over the course of nine hundred-plus years.

“Twily, come on.” Shining bumped his hip against hers. “We can bring you back another time.”

Blinking, she shook her head. It had to be her imagination. That just wasn’t possible.

Then again …

Where was Cadence in all of the portraits?

“Curiosity killed the cat,” her mother’s voice sounded in her head.

To which, a much younger Shining would always give the same cheeky reply, “But satisfaction brought it back!”

Twilight had a feeling she knew the answer.

But she just had to know.

“Cadence?”

“Hmm?”

“Who painted all of these?” She motioned toward the portraits. “They all look like they’re done in the same artists’ style.”

Cadence stayed quiet. Slowly, a smile made its way across her face. Tossing her long, flowing mane, she turned away and began to hum a rather familiar song. Old Roaman, a song her mother used to sing when she was a filly, or so she said.

It was the very same song Cadence so loved to hum whenever she wanted to play her “I know something you don’t” game.

“Cadence,” Twilight said, taking a step closer. “Answer the question.”

“I think we’ve talked enough for tonight!” Cadence practically sang, dancing just out of reach and beginning a brisk trot down the hall. “Time for young mares to find their way to bed.”

Twilight drew in a sharp breath and gave chase, her brother’s laughter followed her as she ran after Cadence. “Get back here and give me a straight answer, darn you!”

27: Simplify the Equation

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The morning sun beat down upon Equestria’s capital city, the gold rooftops shone with light, like hundreds of giant candles had been lit on the side of Mount Canterhorn.

Twilight’s saddlebags bumped against her side as she trotted along, weaving through the crowd with ease only a native of the bustling city could possess. She quickly moved to the side as a trio of young colts ran and played in on the sidewalk, kicking a small bean sack back and forth while they darted between ponies’ legs.

She sighed. The night before weighed heavily on her mind. From Shining and Cadence telling her about their relationship’s inner workings, to seeing a literal art gallery of Cadence’s late lovers, and, above all else …

Unbidden, her tongue ran along her top lip. She could still feel the soft touch of Luna’s kiss, her ears still tickled with the sound of her friend (slash prospective girlfriend?) whispering her confession.

“You are more precious to me than you could possibly know. So much more than I could ever put to words …”

Her cheeks burned. How in the name of Equestria had she earned such a high standing in Luna’s eyes—no, she knew the answer to that. That was an old question that Luna had given response to the night that started it all.

She stopped in mid step, blinking a few times as a thought occurred to her.

It had begun long before their late night talk. Luna impressed that much upon her as she rattled off each of Twilight’s friendship lessons she found particularly educational.

Twilight took a deep breath, bringing a hoof to her chest. She exhaled and shook her head. “Not right now,” she told herself. “I need to study Werner’s journal, and then think about all this with all of my mental facilities functioning in full. No half-asleep, still-in-shock babbles or leaps to the fact that breaking Luna’s heart could possibly lead to the inevitable destruction of our society because of an immortal’s fit of—” she stomped her hoof against the ground. “No, no, no!”

“I just asked if you were gonna come inside or stand out here and stare off into space all day! Geez!” a young colt’s voice reached her ear.

Blinking, Twilight stood up straight and turned to her left, then looked down. Before her stood a colt of sage green coat and two-toned brown mane, glaring up at her through rimmed glasses and ruffling his feathers in a show of rather obvious irritation as he held the door open with his hind leg.

“Well?” he demanded.

Her eyes flitted up to the logo displayed on the door’s window. The image of a coffee mug sitting on a saucer was proudly displayed, with the words Café au Lait written from the steam floating from the mug.

Twilight’s ears stood up. Coffee. Yes, that’s what she needed. A nice, warm cup, a place to sit, and a chance to read through Werner’s journal and take notes until she could calm herself enough to think.

With a sigh, she smiled. “Yes. Sorry, I was just lost in thought,” she said, walking toward the shop.

The colt rolled his eyes and mumbled something under his breath as he pressed himself against the door to allow her through.

Flicking her ear, she was just able to make out “Stupid adults always letting their minds wander, then complain about foals doing the same thing.”

Her smile fell. Clearly somepony had woken up on the wrong side of the bed.

Oh well. It was none of her business. She had other things to worry about, and a moody colt wasn’t on the list. As long as she got her coffee and a chance to sit and think, he could be as grumpy as he wanted.

The colt led her past another mare, who gave him a smile and a nod, before returning to whatever notes she was scribbling onto a pad with the quill held aloft in the soft pink glow of her magic. Almost dutifully, he muttered something to her as he passed, earning a laugh and a flick of her shimmering gold and pink striped tail.

He stopped and gave a dismissive wave toward the table a few feet from the other mare’s. “You can sit here, or whatever. Coffee or tea?”

“Coffee, please.” Just because he was being grumpy and rude didn’t mean she couldn’t try to make his day a little easier.

“Fine. How do you take it?”

“Cream and two sugars, please.”

“‘Kay.” With a flick of his tail, the colt walked off toward the counter, not even bothering to give his name or offer any further assistance.

Twilight shook her head and sighed as she retrieved Werner’s journal, a notepad, and a quill from within her saddlebags. Just let it go. You have other things to worry about. Studying Luna’s past and contemplating the information Cadence and Shining had imparted her with took priority.

The former would have to come first, though.

She flipped through the pages until she reached the next chapter. The title made her heart leap into her throat.

The Maiden’s Court

I don’t know what drove me to finish the new piece in such a mad dash before Maestro Bolero took me to visit Her Royal Highness, Princess Luna. None of my pieces before or since have ever managed to grab me so, the music itself seemed to flow forth from my quill as if it had a life all its own. Like it had been trapped within me for so long and took the first chance it could to escape.

I remember my nerves returning again. Though, this time, not out of fear of Her Highness’ fury at my presence.

Out of fear that the fruits of my labor over the course of those late nights writing music about her—all about her—would fail to meet her expectations.

Admittedly, I worried that sleep would bring the horrid nightmare back to haunt me. But each night, I found myself in a place I felt very comfortable.

A concert hall. Surrounded by ponies, griffons, and even minotaurs, while I readied to conduct my first show.

Most prevalent of all, no matter how how my dream conjured the hall for me, she was there in her balcony, seated in an obsidian throne with her crescent moon displayed above her head.

She would always smile and nod before speaking in a voice that carried across the hall, “We are ready, Werner. The Night Court awaits its newest child.”

I confess I did not understand at the time. How could I even begin to comprehend the workings of a mare as ancient and wise as the Princess of the Night?

It would be simpler to count the stars in her beautiful night sky, or describe the peace that filled every pony, griffon, or otherwise as we breathed in the cool night air, satisfied that we were as safe in her realm as we were in her sister’s magnificent days.

Twilight chuckled and scratched a quick note. Yet another example of ponies—and griffons—loving Luna’s night just as much as they loved the daytime.

A frown marred her muzzle. With yet another example came even more questions. The want to know, the itch that nagged at her each time Luna’s fall came up these days. Just how had holding the love and admiration of ponies the world over turned to loneliness, misery, and, ultimately, the burning jealousy that would eat at her soul until she decided that she alone should rule Equestria.

That daytime would forever be cast aside in favor of the night.

Her ears flicked at the sound of hoofsteps approaching her table. She looked up to meet the young colt’s eyes. “Here’s your coffee,” he said, almost bored in both tone and demeanor as he placed a cup and saucer in front of her, then turned away and began to carry his tray toward the other mare’s table. “Yell out if you need anything else, or whatever.”

Twilight blinked. What was with this colt? “Oh, um, thank you … wait, I don’t think you told me your name.”

He paused to glance over his shoulder at her, flicking his tail as he continued walking.

The other mare looked up. “Rossby! Don’t be so rude!” she chided. “She’s just trying to be nice!”

“You’re not supposed to tell your name to strangers, and I don’t know her,” he grumbled as he set a cup and saucer before her.

“You’re a waiter, so it’s part of the courtesy! And thank you for the tea.”

Rossby rustled his wings and looked away. “Yours was getting low, and I know you like tea when you do your stupid note thing,” he mumbled.

She beamed. “You’re such a sweetie even though you try to hide it!”

“Shut up, Dream!” He flicked a wing at her before walking off toward the counter again. “Just write your stupid notes and drink your dang tea already!”

Giggling, Dream took her tea in her magic and took a sip, then cast a glance at Twilight. She winked. “Don’t mind him. He likes to act like he’s a grumpy old stallion, but he’s really a sweetheart. Once you figure out how to dig through the gruffness, that is.”

Twilight forced a smile. “Right. I’ll, um, be sure to dig, then,” she said with a weak chuckle. Ducking her head, she took a sip of her coffee, then turned her attention back to Werner’s journal.

It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the tip.

But Rossby’s attitude or “sweetheart” status really wasn’t her business.

Werner’s insight into Luna’s past, on the other hoof, was most certainly her business. As was her curiosity on how one so loved and admired could fall so far.

Only respect and deference to Princess Celestia’s wishes kept her curiosity at bay. Oh, it still nagged at her, but she pushed it back.

Her mind wandered back to Luna again. The shine in her eyes as she told Twilight how precious she was, how warm her breath felt as it washed over Twilight’s face just before that kiss.

Twilight brought a hoof up to touch her lips. Who would have ever thought that another pony’s lips could make her feel like that? So warm and soft, so very full of emotion as they pressed against her own …

Cadence always told her that her first kiss would be special, something that couldn’t even be described. But she’d always just sighed and rolled her eyes as she dutifully intoned “Yes, Cady. Whatever you say, Cady.”

How silly she was.

It was everything Cadence promised and more.

So much more.

But a relationship with Luna would mean changing the one they already had. Could they survive such a change?

With a defeated sigh, she marked her spot in Werner’s journal and flipped it closed, then turned to a clean sheet of paper on her notepad and began to write along the top:

“A Romantic Relationship with Luna: Pros and Cons”

Her quill seemed to dance across the page—or, at least, the “Cons” section of the page. It was easy enough, almost a joke to think of all the little reasons she could possibly conjure as to why even thinking to attempt a romantic relationship with Luna would end poorly.

Possibly clingy? Certainly. Luna herself admitted that she was more than a bit possessive of what she considered “hers.” Cadence had even confirmed it as a trait all three princesses shared. On the list it went.

Jealous? Twilight couldn’t help but cringe and pin her ears back at the mere thought. It almost seemed unfair to label Luna such these days, but … if she wanted to think through this objectively, she had to face facts. Luna had more than just a history of fits of jealousy.

It was a centric part of her being and mythos thanks to the old story. Her name had been synonymous with the very notion that ponies’ could fall to their vices and become monsters—though, perhaps not in such a literal sense.

Though it pained her to do so, Twilight wrote it down.

And then the floodgates just seemed to open.

The way Luna and Celestia both seemed to hide details of her past. Dream walking and alteration. Her penchant for mischief—though, if she were honest, that one wouldn’t bother her so much. After all, she was friends with Rainbow Dash and Pinkie, and even Applejack had her moments of smugness or snark.

Thus, “mischief/playfulness” was moved over to the “pro” side. The first so far.

Something told her that Cadence and Shining would happily be in favor of a little more mischief to pull her away from her studies now and again. And Celestia, too.

Her ears stood up. Mischief would surely distract from studying the magic of friendship, but it could also make her get out and enjoy herself—as Pinkie and Rainbow were so wont to do whenever she sequestered herself away. Did that make it a con or a pro?

Shrugging, Twilight opted to move it to the middle. She was allowed to do that.

It was her list, after all.

More followed, with the notion that Luna could just as easily conjure nightmares as she could dreams joining the others in the con section of the list.

Then came her immortality …

Twilight stopped, her quill hovered over the page. Where did that fall on the list?

She brought her hooves up to massage her temples. “Dang it, Cadence! And you too, Shiny!” she grumbled. “The things you said didn’t make this any easier at all! All they did was put everything on me to decide!”

Logically, the idea that one of them might die before the other would be prevalent even if Luna were mortal, like her. The whole “alicorn immortality/agelessness/longevity” deal just meant that there would be no question which of them would pass on first.

A bit of a morbid thought, but something to acknowledge. It didn’t quite answer where all that fell, though.

So she went ahead and put it down in the middle.

Still, though, there were a few pros.

Luna was kind, thoughtful, and willing to teach those who wished to learn. A smile made its way across Twilight’s muzzle as she thought of the wondrous display Luna gifted her friends that night she first showed them how she put the stars in the sky.

And then there was her want to belong. How she laughed and played with the foals of Ponyville once the town warmed up to her.

More and more pros joined the cons. Everything was starting to balance out.

It all came down to what she felt weighed more heavily: what a wonderful mare Luna was, or what aspects of her might cause the most trouble.

Twilight sighed and let the quill fall to rest on her notepad. “Princess Celestia would laugh and call me silly for even thinking such a thing,” she muttered to herself. “I can already hear her telling me that half of the cons I’ve put down could easily apply to my friends—though the immortality thing would be more about her and Cadence.”

Letting out a groan, she held her head in her hooves. “Why can’t this just be an easy question?”

“I don’t know. Do you want something to eat or is coffee all you’re having?” Rossby’s voice nearly made her jump out of her seat.

She looked up, flinching at the way the grumpy colt’s eyes seemed to bore into her. “Um …” Twilight let her ears droop. “No. I’m just … I’m sorry, no. I’m just here to waste time and think about things.”

Rossby rolled his eyes. “Of course. Leave it to adults to tell foals we can’t waste time or anything, but they get to do it whenever they want.” Glancing at her paper for a second, he scoffed. “You know that’s just a way to procrastinate more, right?”

Twilight recoiled as if struck. “Excuse me?”

“That list.” He tapped her notebook. “You’re just pushing whatever it is you’re thinking of back as much as you can with a list like that.”

Furrowing her brows, Twilight leaned forward. “What do you know about dating, young colt? You don’t look to be any older than—”

“I’m fourteen,” he said before she could finish. “And I’m …” Rossby coughed and looked away, a blush tinged his cheeks. “Whatever. Not interested in that sort of thing.”

“Oho, yes you are!” Dream spoke up, smirking at him. “Who always asks me about love stories?”

His wings flared out wide, his ears laid flat against his scalp. “I just like the stories! Good books are hard to come by! Shut up!”

She nodded sagely. “Of course, of course. And how is your boyfriend?”

“He’s just in my book club! We just read together! A lot!”

“Oh, really? I’m sure I could just ask Pirouette about that when she gets here—”

“Shut. Up!” Rossby huffed and turned his attention back to Twilight, flicking his tail almost dismissively. “Anyway, my point is don’t be like that dummy—” he gestured toward Dream, earning a rather stern glare at the back of his head “—and sit around all day freaking out over stupid things and waiting for everything to be perfect. Either do it, or don’t. But if you decide you’re going to be stupid like her—”

Dream pouted. “Hey!”

“—Then at least don’t do it here while I’m at work,” he finished without missing a beat. “I get enough lovey-dovey-smoochey-cutsie stuff when that stupid boyfriend of hers is with her, and I got enough ‘woe is me’ from her when he was still being dense.”

“Why, you—listen here!”

“Oh, shut it. You know I’m right.” He trotted past her table, rather deliberately clipping her over the head with his wing, and earning a pink bolt of magic that tweaked his ear and made him yelp, then beat a quick retreat behind the counter.

Twilight allowed herself to consider Rossby’s point. True, he was a grumpy little colt, with all the subtlety and grace of a rampaging manticore in the castle china closet—which brought on a rather comical image of Chef Al Dente having a hissy fit at seeing the carnage—there was a point buried underneath the bluntness.

Buried quite deep, just as Dream promised.

Twilight glanced at her list again. Truth be told, everything on it would come into play regardless of whether or not she allowed their friendship to transition into a more romantic relationship. She would deal with all the intricacies of Luna’s personality, as Luna would hers, and, ultimately, she would die.

Luna would have to find a new friend. Or lover. Either way, Twilight would not be there for her forever.

Her mind wandered back to Cadence’s beautiful gallery—all the faces of the ponies her longtime foalsitter loved, each of them smiling back at her, flashed before her eyes.

Slowly, her lips tugged into a small smile. I might not remain, she thought. But Luna will always have the memory of the times we shared together.

Who cared about mortality, really? Cadence didn’t seem to be bothered by allowing herself to become close to ponies, even after centuries of loss. Princess Celestia even less so!

She could only imagine how many the sisters had watched live and die after growing close to them.

Grim as it might sound, she would be another name no matter what she chose.

So why let that affect her choice?

“There’s no reason for it to,” she said, her ears stood up as comprehension dawned on her. She liked Luna quite a bit, and she was sweet in her own way. Not to mention, the kiss was just …

Wow.

The taste, the smell, the way it just felt to have Luna wrap four limbs around her and pull her in tight for such a soft kiss. And so much passion behind it all.

A shiver ran down her spine. She found her eyes fluttering shut as her smile widened. Twilight let out a little hum to herself.

Goodness, did it feel so right. Up until she panicked, Twilight could’ve just stayed there and savored every second of her first kiss.

So why force herself to ignore her own feelings?

Everything Cadence and Shining had told her the night before finally clicked into place. Worrying about the inevitable was silly.

If it felt right, go for it.

Twilight looked up to find Rossby, but he’d disappeared to the back. Perhaps to stock, or simply because he’d just grown bored.

“He does that,” Dream said, drawing Twilight’s attention to her again. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. “My little cousin likes to pretend he’s a grumpy, crotchety old stallion who sees things better than most adults, but deep down, he’s a sweetie who loves a good romance story. And he hates sad stories.” She paused, allowing a little smirk to cross her muzzle as her eyes flashed with a mischievous light. “He’ll never trust my recommendations again!”

Bringing a hoof to her mouth, Twilight stifled a laugh. Something told her that Rarity would get on just famously with this mare. Or infamously, if they got to gossiping.

Rossby’s advice was perhaps a decent kick in the rear to get her going. But that still didn’t mean he wasn’t a rude little punk with the way he acted, both toward Dream and Twilight herself.

She hummed as an idea occurred to her. So he doesn’t like tragic love stories, huh? There were more than a few that came to mind, she’d read most of the classics. It was all just a matter of guessing which he hadn’t read.

Taking her cup in her magic, Twilight drank the remainder of her coffee. It’d be a good enough reason to coax Rossby over for his comeuppance. With a bit of an assist to Dream.

Thinking of the other mare a moment, her ears twitched. Twilight slowly brought a hoof to her forehead. “I’m sorry,” she said, earning a confused look from Dream. “You must think I’m so rude. I didn’t even give you my name.”

Dream laughed and shook her head. “Not really. Neither of us introduced ourselves. Rossby and I just sniped at each other like we always do.” She turned in her seat to face Twilight fully and beamed. “I’m Dreamweaver. Mister personality—” she pointed toward the back room “—is my cousin, Rossby Waves.”

Almost on cue, the pegasus poked his head out from the back room. “You’re not supposed to give my name to strangers!”

“She won’t be a stranger if you wait three seconds for her to introduce herself!” Dream shot back.

Goodness, they were just ridiculous! Twilight did her best to swallow down her laughter, instead favoring to smile and nod in kind. “I’m Twilight Sparkle. It’s nice to meet you Dream.” Giving a little cough, she called to Rossby, “And you as well.”

Rossby mumbled something under his breath before disappearing into the back room again.

Again, Dream laughed, waving a hoof dismissively. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll perk right up once my friend gets here with—oh!” She looked through the shop window, her smile widened into a full grin. Her horn flashed pink, she leaned back as her coffee cup floated up to her muzzle. “I take it back,” she whispered. “The show’s about to start right now!”

Perplexed, Twilight followed her gaze until she caught sight of a mare of pink coat and mauve mane trotting alongside a—bouncing? Skipping?—rather excited young colt with a coat and mane the same color as red velvet and cream icing cupcakes.

Both walked (or skipped, in the colt’s case) with their eyes half closed and had knowing, almost mischievous smiles gracing their muzzles.

They were up to something.

The shop door opened, the pair entered with little fanfare aside from the other mare sidling over to Dream and taking her seat, propping her elbow up on the table as if this were practiced routine.

The colt, on the other hoof, moved to press himself against the wall by the counter, his violet eyes danced at the sound of Rossby huffing and grumbling in the back before he made his way out.

“Welcome to Café au Lait,” he intoned, boredom thick in his voice. “How can I—oh, it’s you, Pirouette. Hi.” Upon noticing everypony staring at him—or rather just over his shoulder where the other colt was starting to creep up behind him—he tilted his head. “Is there something on my face?”

“No,” Dream and Pirouette sang in unison, the latter adding, “But there’s about to be something on your lips!”

His brows knitted together. “What in Equestria are you talking about, you crazy—”

Before Rossby could finish, the other colt grabbed him by the shoulder and darted around, his other hoof came up to cup Rossby’s cheek. “Hi, sweets!” he chirped. Then, when Rossby leaned back and opened his mouth to reply, the colt darted forward and captured his lips.

Rossby stiffened a moment. Slowly, his posture began to relax as he seemed to just melt in the other colt’s embrace. His feathers fluffed as he tilted his head to the side, knocking his glasses askew as the colts wrapped their hooves around one another and enjoyed a long, deep kiss.

The sound of sniggering made Twilight’s ear flick. “Told you he wouldn’t bother waiting ‘till Rossby was off the clock!” Pirouette said.

Dream gave a playful huff. “Yes, yes, coffee is on me. You put him up to that, didn’t you?”

“Would I really do that?”

“Yes. Yes you would.”

“Fair point. But no, not this time. This one’s all Roux.” She glanced over at the pair and raised an eyebrow. “Hey! At least come up for air! You see each other all the time!”

The colt—Roux something, apparently—pulled away from Rossby just long enough to stick out his tongue, cross his eyes, and waggle his ears at Pirouette, before turning right back to the stunned pegasus in his hooves and catching him in another kiss.

Laughing, Pirouette shrugged. “Well, I tried!” She plopped herself down in the seat next to Dream and snatched her notepad. “Oh, is this your thinly veiled story about you and Sleepy?”

“It’s not about us!” Dream yanked it right back, her cheeks flushed as pink as her magic, much to Twilight’s growing amusement.

As the pair fell to their own banter (and the colts kept acting like as much a lovestruck pair as Shining and Cadence), Twilight shook her head. Maybe she would just let Rossby enjoy his—ahem—moment with his boyfriend. They were a cute little pair, after all.

Besides, there were more productive things she could be doing. It was a darn good thing the coffee was good. She’d need every bit of her wits to help her solve this puzzle.

With a flick of her magic, she opened her notepad to a fresh page and jotted down a new title.

“How to Reply to an Immortal’s Courtship Request.”

28: Of Dreams and Stolen Kisses ...

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Deep breath in, hold it … and deep breath out.

Again.

Twilight ran through Cadence’s stress relief breathing exercises for what must’ve been the hundredth time since her epiphany in the coffee shop—okay, really, it was only about the twentieth, but it was starting to feel like the hundredth.

Truth be told, it wasn’t so bad as before. Talking with that foal—Rossby, if she remembered correctly—had been both helpful in cutting through her self-imposed haze and … interesting to say the least. Blunt, borderline rude, and a bit jarring to hear such attitude from a colt that age talking to a customer, but helpful in the sense of unwittingly slamming her in the face with how ridiculous she was acting with that list.

It was a nice wakeup call. Well, maybe not nice but it served to get her thinking enough to reflect on what Cadence and Shining had been trying to tell her.

She shook her head, smiling despite herself. “They must’ve gone home laughing themselves silly.”

Her hoofsteps echoed off the high-arching walls as she walked through Luna’s wing of the castle. She swallowed a lump in her throat, the feeling of the ever-vigilant Night Guards’ eyes on her back made her hair stand on end.

There was no sign if irritation or suspicion in them, though. Rather, whenever she managed to meet their gaze, she found a hint of something else.

Interest.

They were content to let her pass with little more than a bow of their heads, a slight raising of their spears, and a smile, if only so they could watch and see what she was up to in their Night Princess’ wing of the castle.

Somehow, she felt like she’d just wandered into Carousel Boutique with a new manestyle—only there were about two dozen Rarity’s watching her through slitted eyes, silently waiting for her to reveal her purpose rather than pulling her over for a full blown interrogation.

At this point, she wasn’t quite sure the interrogation wouldn’t be favorable to having so many eyes on her.

Twilight took another deep breath. She couldn’t let a silly thing like that get in her way. She had a mission, a reply to deliver after a long day of thought and reflection on some of the most intriguing and, simultaneously, confusing advice she’d ever gotten.

Her smile faltered a bit. I wish I had a better answer.

A pang of doubt shot through her chest. Twilight faltered in mid step. Come to think of it, how would Luna take her answer?

No. Twilight shook her head. It was her decision, just like Cadence and Shining told her. Luna had gone ahead and made the first move, and it was up to her to decide whether or not the relationship was to change or stay the same.

If Luna didn’t like it … well, hopefully she would respect Twilight’s reasoning.

Up ahead, she saw a door bearing the familiar image of Luna’s crescent moon emblazoned in the dark woodwork. A pair of Night Guards stood at attention on either side.

“Gentlestallions,” she greeted with a bow of her head.

“Miss Sparkle,” they replied in unison. The one on the left bowed his head in kind. “Corporal Midnight Rider, ma’am. May we assist you with something?”

Twilight swallowed a lump in her throat. Breathe. Just breathe and relax. You’re just asking to see your friend … who kissed you full on the mouth. Let’s get back to breathing. Breathing is much more preferable to not breathing. Licking her dried lips, she ducked her head. “I was hoping to have a word with L—Princess Luna.” Smooth, Sparkle.

Midnight Rider’s ears twitched, but he didn’t give any other sign of noticing. His brows furrowed in thought. “Typically, Princess Luna is awake by now and enjoying a bit of personal reading time. If you don’t mind waiting, I can check to see if she’s available.”

Her ears drooped. Of course. Unlike the rest of her friends, she couldn’t really just drop in on Luna. There was a whole layer of separation she still had to go through.

With a small smile, Midnight Rider gave another bow, then turned to enter Luna’s room.

Twilight did her best not to seem too eager for his return. She let her eyes wander aimlessly, making sure not to linger too long on the guards while she waited. She chewed on her bottom lip, unable to resist the urge as the thought of just how awkward it would be to come all the way down to Luna’s wing would be only to have herself turned away at the door.

Forcing a smile, she rubbed at her shoulder. At least I would have a funny story to tell Shiny and the girls, right?

On the plus side, though, it would give her a little extra time to reword her answer in a way that would reduce the likelihood of Luna being upset exponentially.

It might even give her enough time to come up with several options so to avoid such an outcome.

The sound of the door latch clicking brought her out of her thoughts. Twilight turned her attention forward, blinking as she was met with a rather frazzled Midnight Rider.

His ears were pinned back against his scalp as he bowed his head. “My sincerest apologies, Miss!” he said hurriedly. “Er, Princess Luna would be happy to have audience with you right now! I’ve been, um—” though it came muffled through the woodwork, Twilight recognized Luna’s voice speaking sternly to the stallion, cutting him off in mid sentence. His face paled. “Please excuse my wording, Miss Sparkle! I didn’t mean to imply in any way that the Princess might be putting a friend on a lower priority!”

Poor stallion, Twilight thought with a wince. Even if she knew for fact that some duties would have to come before her visits, it was nice to know Luna didn’t want her to think so.

Bowing her head, she stepped through the door, pausing to smile at Midnight Rider. “Thank you, Corporal. And don’t worry—” She glanced into Luna’s room, taking note of the distinct midnight blue walls and more darkened décor “—I’m not at all offended. The princesses have many duties that require their attention, Princess Luna is no exception to that.”

A huff and grumble, followed by a stallion’s laugh made her flick her ear. No doubt Luna heard that she’d been addressed by title, and Erebos had no intent of hiding his amusement.

Midnight Rider bade her to follow, his ears still drooped low as he turned to lead.

As Twilight followed Midnight Rider into the room, she couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over the paintings hanging on the walls. There were so many styles, so many works of Equestria’s most famous artists, she just couldn’t stop herself from staring.

She’d have to ask how and where Luna had gotten them. There was little reason to believe they weren’t originals, but there had to be a story behind them, just like with the music they shared in Golden Oak Library.

Twilight turned her attention to the room itself. It was different from Cadence’s—both in her wing and in the house she shared with Shining—in more ways than she could count. While Cadence preferred things bright and chipper, with pinks and purples lighting up the room like her smile, Luna seemed to enjoy her surroundings to reflect the same awe inspiring darkness of the night, but with a hint of the beauty of its works as shown through the paintings of scenery and ponies dancing with fireflies.

Or laughing and squealing as they were chased by dozens of dark shapes that looked suspiciously like bats, much to the delight of a much younger Luna as she stood with, presumably, their parents.

But at the center of it all was Luna herself. Sitting at her desk in a cushioned swivel chair, she was turned to face Twilight, an small smile graced her muzzle.

Twilight met her eyes and felt all the feelings from the night before flood into her chest. The warmth, the way Luna’s breath ran over her face, how soft those lips felt …

At her side, Midnight Rider saluted. “My Princess,” he said, “announcing Miss Twilight Sparkle.”

Luna broke eye contact with Twilight to shoot him a look. “Yes,” she replied, a note of lingering sternness tinged her voice. “Thank you for admitting my friend to see me, Corporal. That she took time out of her evening to come and visit fills me with great pleasure, and I should be most displeased if I hear one of my Night Guard ever implying otherwise again.”

He sucked in a breath. “Yes, My Princess. It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t. You’re dismissed.”

Midnight Rider was gone from Twilight’s side before she could blink. The corners of her mouth tugged into a grin. “You didn’t have to be so hard on him,” she said.

“I heard your comment as you entered,” Luna replied with a smirk. “I was attempting to engage in my old manner of rebuffing through addressing two ponies while only speaking directly to one. A hobby of Tia’s these days, or so I hear.”

Twilight felt her cheeks heat up. “I suppose that means I’ll be hearing it for how I addressed you, then?”

Luna’s smirk faded into a small scowl. “You would, if not for Erebos—” she paused to gesture to a darkened corner of the room, where the mischievous captain stepped from the shadows and nodded his head “—informing me that other ponies might be taken aback by such familiarity.” The scowl slipped from her muzzle. Slowly, Luna seemed to try and make herself smaller, ducking her head and furling her wings against her sides. “I, er, hope that was the case, at least, not that my actions last night have led you to reevaluate our, um, standing as it had been prior to my … um … yes.”

The kiss flashed before Twilight’s eyes again. The burn in her cheeks spread throughout her face, to the very tips of her ears.

Oh dear. “No! I didn’t mean that at all!” She waved a hoof back and forth as if to shoo the mere notion away. “It was just the familiarity thing! Like Erebos said!”

Silence hung over the pair, broken only by a Twilight giving a little cough and the squeak of Luna’s chair as she shifted in place.

Fortunately, Erebos seemed to take their silence as a cue. Clearing his throat, he drew luna’s attention. “My Princess, perhaps you might prefer that I be dismissed and take post outside of your suite while you discuss this matter with Miss Twilight?”

Luna sat up straight and glanced between Twilight and Erebos. “That may be for the best.” Her gaze lingered on Twilight, those teal eyes seemed to light up. “Would that be agreeable to you, or would you rather not be—”

“I’d like that,” Twilight said in a rush. She gave a big, forced smile. “I, um, think it would help us sort things out.”

Erebos returned her smile. “In that case, I will take my leave.” He bowed to each in turn, then trotted briskly from the room.

The door shut behind him with a click. Then the oppressive silence returned in full.

Twilight’s smile faltered. She closed her eyes and took yet another deep breath, trying to will herself to talk. Her lips simply wouldn’t cooperate.

Just relax. We’re going to get through this, and then everything will be just dandy. Licking her lips to wet them, she made to speak, but Luna caught her eye.

Fear shone in those brilliant teal eyes as easily seen as the obsidian tiara on Luna’s head. “How have you been?”

The words died on the tip of her tongue. “H-Huh?”

“Since we—well, I, really, but it happened.” Luna’s wings rustled as her gaze fell to the floor. “I did not intend to cause you distress with my confession last night, nor with the kiss.” Her ears drooped, she heaved a heavy sigh. “It was not the time or the place for such a thing. You were already quite vexed with the knowledge you had acquired from Werner’s journal.”

“I wouldn’t call it vexed, just …” Twilight trailed off, shifting in place as she searched for the word. “Surprised. And a bit concerned.”

Luna raised a brow. “Concerned that I might use the contents of somepony’s dreams as ‘blackmail,’ as it is called?”

With a wince, Twilight nodded. “Yes. Among other things.”

“A rather logical concern, I will admit.” Sighing, Luna let her shoulders slump. “You ponies these days are very protective of your privacy. In the age before my banishment, the notion of a guardian mare keeping watch over the realm of dreams was a source of comfort, not fear. But, given that I was the only to wield such power and with respect to my later monicker of choice, I cannot say that I blame you.” She shook her head and looked up to meet Twilight’s eyes. “Nonetheless, we are here in present times, and I must respect that. You have my sincerest apologies for manipulating your dreams, Twilight Sparkle. If it would please you, I will renew an old vow in front of you this very eve.”

An oath?

Twilight blinked. “What sort of oath would that be?”

“When I first began exploring the dream world, I made a promise that I would never betray the privacy of my ponies by revealing what transpired in their dreams.” Luna gave a small smile and offered a hoof. “Would it ease your mind if I were to renew it?”

Eying Luna’s hoof for a moment, Twilight stepped forward until she was close enough reach out and accept the gesture. Then she pushed Luna’s hoof away. “I’m not as afraid that you can dream walk,” she said. “What caught me off guard was that you admitted to manipulating my dream specifically. Not just watching it or checking in on me, but crafting something you knew I’d love.”

Luna drew back, regret written plain upon her face. She hung her head and let her ears lay flat. “I realize that now. I did not think that you would learn of it so soon, nor did I anticipate such an averse reaction afterward, but that is no excuse.” Again she offered Twilight her hoof. “Would you prefer it if I stayed out, then? I will not manipulate your dreams without your express consent again. Nor will I—” she looked away, grimacing as though in pain. “If it will put your concerns at ease, I shan’t look in on your dreams again either. To ensure that your privacy is maintained.”

Twilight breathed in through her nose, a rebuttal was fresh on the tip of her tongue.

But she stopped herself.

The pain on Luna’s face gave her pause. The dream realm was important to Luna, sacred even. Offering to cut a connection to a pony she cared for because of a want for privacy would, logically, have meaning behind it.

In simple terms, she wanted Twilight to know how much she valued her opinion and feelings on the matter.

“That … might tie in with what I wanted to talk about.” She took a shaky breath. Time to see where this takes us. “I’ve taken time today to really think on last night.”

Luna looked up so fast her tiara fell to the floor with a clatter. “You have?” she asked, a note of hope in her voice. Her ears stood up straight before she managed to school her expression into a small, reserved smile. “I, er, I mean, that is wonderful.” She brought her hooves together, tapping them nervously. “I don’t suppose you’ve come to some sort of decision on the, er, ramifications of my actions?”

Ramifications? “I’m sorry. What do you mean ramifications?”

“I caused you distress,” Luna said slowly. “Are you not here to inform me that my actions have consequences that I, as both an adult and a friend, am required to take responsibility for what I have done?”

It took a moment for the words to register.

Slowly, Twilight closed her eyes and smiled. Consequences? Oh, heavens, we’re both just terrible at this.

She took a deep breath. She was ready.

Pausing a moment, a thought came to her. The smile on her muzzle grew into a smirk Cadence would’ve been proud of.

Then again, “consequences” is such a lovely way to put it.

“After careful evaluation of the severity of your actions and hours of reflection, I’ve determined that there’s only one course of action to appropriately address the issue at hoof and ensure that you face the consequences you so rightfully deserve.”

I’ve made my decision. Twilight opened her eyes and leaned in before Luna could react.

Their lips pressed together in a warm, tender kiss. Their second in as many nights.

I came to terms with it in the middle of that coffee shop.

29: The Cool Touch of Night and the Warm Glow of Day

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Kissing had many variations.

It could be short, little more than a peck on the lips, like what her parents or Cady and Shiny liked to do in front of her to make her gag and complain as a filly. It could be those long, drawn out kisses that looked like the ponies were trying to suck each others’ faces off—which she’d had the misfortune of witnessing more than a few times on walks through the parks in Ponyville and Canterlot, and once when she’d walked into Shining’s room without knocking.

That was one particular event that, looking back, Twilight wished she didn’t have the context she was missing back then. There was just something about realizing that her big brother on top of and kissing the Princess of Love in that manner while they both laid on his bed was a prelude to something else entirely that made her consider self-wiping her memory.

But, on a more pressing—and not just because her lips were pressed against Luna’s—and important note, there was another sort of kiss that Twilight found she quite liked.

It was a sort of combination of the two, really. She felt Luna’s lips moving, drawing against hers as if she were pulling a lollipop out of her mouth. Oddly pleasant. Quite so, actually.

Enough to make her eyes flutter shut and the tingling sensation run throughout her body again as she relaxed and tilted her head to the side just enough that she could reciprocate.

Butterflies fluttered in her chest. She felt Luna’s hooves wrapped around her, pulling her in close for a tight hug.

Twilight gasped into the kiss as she felt Luna lift her straight off the ground with ease and into the chair, encircling her with powerful wings.

The warmth from the night before came back in full force. It was strange, but right. In the back of her mind, Twilight couldn’t help but run through all the ways those old romance novels tried to describe how it felt, each more flowery than the last.

And they all fall woefully short of the mark. She smiled into the kiss, bringing her hooves up to rest on Luna’s shoulders.

It almost pained her to pull back, her lips felt cold the moment they left Luna’s, as if she just had to go back for another. A bit of temptation that Twilight had to fight back with all she could.

The way Luna kept hers parted for a moment before opening her eyes and blinking owlishly suggested that she might be feeling the same. “You … um …” She licked her lips, a smile as bright as the stars in her night sky spread across her muzzle. “You wish to move forward in a more romantic—”

Twilight placed a hoof over her mouth, giving a smile of her own. “Yes,” she said. “But with a bit of an asterisk in that regard. Well, not so much an asterisk, more of a request for how things go from here.” Removing her hoof, she reclined, still held in Luna’s grasp—both feathered and non. “Is that okay, or is that going to be a problem?”

Luna’s smile didn’t falter a bit. “I am not so naive that I thought there would not be some boundaries,” she replied. “This request is in addition to my agreement not to meddle in your dreams without permission, yes?”

“Yes. Though, it’s not quite in that spirit.” Fidgeting in place, Twilight ducked her head. “It’s more of a pacing thing.”

“Pacing?”

“For this—us.” She rubbed her hooves together. “I’ve never done something like this before, and I’m not sure how it all works. Cadence doesn’t like to give straight answers when I ask, Shiny likes to pretend that I’m a filly, and Rarity will just swoon and give me things I could’ve read out of a storybook from my library.”

With a snort of laughter, Luna shook her head. “Love stories can be silly in that regard. They act as though love, affection, and attraction are things one can define in neat little categories.”

Twilight giggled. “That sounds like something Cady would say.”

“Then my opinion of my niece continues to rise, my dear,” Luna said. “She would know as well as I that love works in mysterious ways. Perhaps even greater, given her connection and nature, but all three of us—Celestia included—have loved and lost many times in our lives.”

“Really?” Her curiosity piqued, she perked up her ears. “Then you remember them?”

Pain flashed in those teal eyes. “Remember them?” she repeated. “My loves come out to shine their light on Equestria each time I bring the night sky, Twilight Sparkle—yes, I remember them all well. Friends, allies, artists, lovers, I remember their names and faces, and their stories too. I will never allow myself to forget.”

Wincing, Twilight let her ears droop a little. The memory of Cadence’s ire leapt to the forefront of her mind.

So, too, did Shining’s explanation. He accepted Cadence for who she was, and for the future she would have without him.

“Perhaps you could tell me about them someday?” she asked, offering a smile.

Luna stared at her a moment. “I would like that, I think. But perhaps not quite yet.”

“Not comfortable telling me about them?”

“There are some things that I must still come to terms with before I can share them. Someday soon, I should like to tell you, though.” Luna took in a deep breath and sighed. “But I think it best that we stay on topic. What is your request?”

Twilight started. “Oh, um, right.” With a little cough, she looked off to the side, glancing at a painting of a much younger Luna playing in the field with Celestia, each wearing bright smiles as they ran together. It was soothing, strangely enough, to see them both portrayed as young and innocent as she had been.

Perhaps Luna would understand her quite well, then, if she still looked upon her younger days so fondly.

“Twilight?”Luna’s voice jolted her from her thoughts.

“Er, right,” Twilight said, giving a crooked smile. “I was thinking … would you be okay if we maybe took this slow?”

Luna blinked and tilted her head. “Have we not taken this slow? I am aware things have changed in the past millennium, but I did not realize that kissing one another after the time we spent previously was going too fast.”

Twilight couldn’t help herself. She brought a hoof to her forehead and laughed at herself. “No! I didn’t mean it like—” she stopped short at the slight tugging at the corners of Luna’s mouth. “Oooh! You’re having me on, aren’t you?”

The grin that made its way across Luna’s muzzle told her everything she needed to know, but Luna was hardly one to be content with that. “You are quite fun to tease, and quite cute in the way you scrunch your nose,” she replied, pausing to kiss Twilight’s nose. Her grin widened, she laughed and nuzzled Twilight. “Yes, just like that. But I truly am curious as to what you mean by ‘take things slow.’ I’m afraid the only modern relationship I have witnessed for myself is that of your brother and Cadence, and I believe they are quite farther along in theirs than we are presently.”

Despite the burn in her cheeks at Luna’s teasing, Twilight pressed onward. “F-Fine! What I meant was that we do things like going to dinner, or the park, or to plays, or things like other couples do before the … um …” The burn spread throughout her face. Twilight pinned her ears flat against her scalp. “The other parts.”

For a moment, Luna stared, furrowing her brows in thought.

Then her ears twitched. She sat up straight as comprehension dawned on her. “Oh!” she cried, releasing Twilight from her hooves so she could clap them together. “I do know what you mean, then!”

Twilight felt a weight lift off her shoulders. “Really?”

“Yes!” Luna beamed. “I have much experience in such relationships, actually! You wish for us to let things progress through courtship and dinners, yes?”

Blinking a few times, Twilight nodded.

“Then I do understand!” Again, Twilight found herself wrapped in a hug and squeezed against Luna’s breast. “Oh, huzzah! I—wait a moment.” Luna loosened her grip enough to pull back and tilt her head. “Pray tell, does this mean that you would prefer that we—what is the term?—‘hold off’ on kissing until a later date?”

“No. Um, I wouldn’t be opposed to kissing.” Twilight raised a hoof. “I’ve found that I’ve grown quite fond of kissing the last couple days—more so than the first time.”

There was a beat of silence.

“May I kiss you again?” Luna asked.

Twilight leaned in, wrapping her hooves around Luna’s neck. “I would like that. Very much, in fact.”

Luna smiled and nuzzled her snout before closing the distance. Their lips came together once more, filling her entire being with warmth.

It was even better than their last … and well worth it.

With a happy sigh, Twilight let her eyes close slowly and pressed herself up against Luna, tilting her head to the side so she could draw against those sweet, succulent lips.

A thought came to her. Twilight broke the kiss, gasping for breath. “Princess Celestia is going to say you stole me,” she teased.

Luna gave a wicked grin. “So I have, my dear.” Her hoof cupped Twilight’s chin. “For you have stepped out of the warm light of day, and into the cool embrace of the night to shine with the stars in my night sky.”

She drew in for another kiss. Twilight felt her face burn as soft, blue lips touched hers. A shudder ran down her spine.

“And I plan to make you see how precious you are,” Luna whispered, her lips brushed against Twilight’s. “Each and every day and night, you will know that you are the most precious star of all in my dark and jeweled sky.”

Twilight made to reply, her bottom lip quivered against her will, as if already giving up on words and just surrendering in favor of coaxing Luna to kiss her again.

With a chuckle, Luna fixed her with a hooded stare. “The most precious of all,” she repeated, before capturing her lips again.

This time, Twilight simply melted into it, her hoof trailed up to cup Luna’s cheek.

An unnamed star, closer to the moon than all of its brothers and sisters, shone brighter than ever before.


The plan was to get up early, then say goodbye to Princess Celestia and inform her what they’d come to agreement the night before. The early part of that was more so she could do so after taking the time to watch her raise the sun as a bit of appeasement, to hopefully stem the playful, melodramatic accusations that Luna had stolen her student.

Oh, it happened, of course. Princess Celestia was many things, habitual being one of them. Far be it from her to pass up the chance to tease both her little sister and her favorite student at the same time.

But it didn’t stop at snatching Twilight into a near rib-breaking hug, faux wailing that her student had been seduced by the dark side, and vowing to bring her back to the light—though that did lead to Luna suffering what could best be described as a uncontrollable coughing while trying to hide a far-too-obvious grin behind a hoof.

Once the “you stole my student!” joke ended, Princess Celestia’s smile turned a bit … calculating. Twilight felt her blood run cold in her veins as her mentor held her close and regarded her as if judging her worth.

Far too much like those admissions test moderators all those years ago.

“So,” she began, using a tone normally reserved for her days in court. “You know I have to ask—”

Luna groaned. “Oh, stars! Not this again!”

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight noticed her new girlfriend burying her face in her hooves. “Huh?”

Princess Celestia paid her no mind, instead turning to Luna with a mock frown. “Now, Lulu,” she chided. “I’m your big sister, you know how this works!”

“You have done this literally every time I have begun courting or somepony has courted me,” Luna deadpanned. “Please. Just this once, could you not?

Twilight looked between the pair, scrunching her snout. “Could she not what? What’s going on?”

“Glad you asked!” Princess Celestia beamed, then schooled her expression into a stern frown. “What are your intentions toward my sister, Twilight Sparkle?”

“I am over two thousand years old!” Luna snapped, a deep red blush colored her cheeks. “Would you stop treating me as though I were but a filly?”

There was a flash of gold as a small spark of Princess Celestia’s magic pinched Luna’s cheek. “You’re so adorable when you’re trying to be a big mare!” She cooed. Her grip around Twilight’s shoulders tightened. “I seem to recall a rather presumptuous little filly demanding that each and every suitor I had be brought home for her approval.” Bringing a hoof to her chin, she frowned. “Now, who was that filly? I could’ve sworn I knew her name …”

The blush spread throughout Luna’s face until her midnight blue coat turned purple. “Th-That was when we first took the Dual Throne and ponies sought to influence our decisions! A completely different time! These are entirely different circumstances!” She jabbed a hoof at Princess Celestia. “And you are already quite familiar with Twilight Sparkle!”

“Ah, but as her mentor.” Princess Celestia waggled her hoof at Luna. “Not as elder sister judging her little Lulu’s newest suitor.” Glancing at Twilight, she gave a wicked smirk. Her brilliant purple eyes danced with mirth. “We have much to talk about in that regard.”

Twilight squeaked and made to pull away, but found herself held fast.

This is the one variable I neglected to account for. She swallowed a lump in her throat and forced a smile despite the cold feeling of dread creeping into her chest. “I w-wouldn’t mind.”

She hadn’t thought it possible for the smirk on her teacher’s muzzle to grow any more wicked.

She was wrong.

To their left, Luna worked her jaw wordlessly and fell back on her haunches. Her face paled, taking on an almost chalk-like blue complexion.

“Excellent!” Princess Celestia cheered. She nosed into Twilight’s mane. “Perhaps we could go out for tea together, hmm? Just you and I, like when you were a little filly and we would give Donut Joe a scare when I just walked in with my guards! What do you say?”

“Um, well—”

“Splendid!”

Twilight ducked her head, letting out something between a laugh and a timid squeak. The temptation to cast a quick teleportation spell on herself and Luna reared its head.

But as though she could read Twilight’s thoughts, Princess Celestia patted her head. Right near her horn.

“I think I’ll just have to borrow my student for the day, Lulu,” she said. Her horn lit up in a vibrant golden glow. “I’ll return her to you in a couple hours.”

Luna leapt to her hooves. “I will not allow it!” she cried, stomping her hoof. Cracks spiderwebbed out from where she hit, breaking several innocent tiles. “You will not play your games this time, ancient sister of mine!”

For a moment, time stood still. Twilight turned slowly, fear gripped her chest as she caught the way Princess Celestia sucked in her lips and grimaced at the slight.

“Ancient, am I?” she asked in a sickly sweet voice. “Well, then! I suppose you’ll just have to guess where we go, Lulu!”

Twilight felt her coat stand on end as the warm gold glow wrapped around her. The telltale prickle of somepony else’s teleport spell brought a shudder through her body.

“Catch us if you can, Lulu!”

Luna’s horn wreathed in a teal glow, tendrils of magic shot toward the pair, ready to snatch them up and hold them in place.

Too late.

In a flash of brilliant gold, they were gone.


Twilight blinked her eyes a few times to chase away lingering spots of gold. Slowly, she brought a hoof up to massage her forehead. “Ugh! I forgot how much being a passenger could hurt!”

“I think that would be my fault,” Princess Celestia said, unwrapping her hooves and wings. “I went a bit faster on that one so Luna couldn’t catch us.” She stood and gave her wings a little rustle. Then she cast a wink at Twilight. “Besides, this gives us a chance to have that talk I mentioned.”

Letting her ears droop, Twilight ducked her head. “So,” she began, tapping her hooves together. “You were serious about that?”

Princess Celestia let out a laugh and shook her head. “Twilight, I’ve known you since the day you got your cutie mark. Why in Equestria would I need to grill you about dating Luna?” Humming to herself, she gestured to the room she’d teleported them to.

Bleach white walls, deep purple curtains and white satin to accent the high windows that let warm sunlight pour into the room. Bookshelves lining the walls, a large oak desk in the middle of the room facing toward the door. The desk itself was stocked with papers, quills, and with several books stacked on the left side. A red cushioned swivel chair rested behind it, with two smaller chairs before it for visitors to sit.

Against the wall, there was a fully stocked cabinet and a stove, with a rather ornate white and gold trim teapot and matching cups resting on a tray.

They were in her study.

“I just wanted a bit of privacy to talk with you about Luna.” Her magic wreathed her horn again as she trotted over to the stove and began floating cups, saucers, a bowl of sugar cubes, cream, onto a tea tray while she filled the kettle with water. She waved a hoof toward the chairs before her desk. “Please, sit. I’ll have everything ready in a moment.”

Twilight thought to speak up and offer to make tea herself, but stopped short. If Princess Celestia wanted to make tea for them, she would damn well make tea.

Many a castle newly hired staff pony had panicked the first time she’d scoffed and waved them away while she set things up herself.

It was a losing battle.

With a defeated sigh, Twilight flicked her tail and moved to take her seat. As always, they were so soft and plushy that she seemed to sink into them.

Almost like my hooves when walking through the streets of Cloudsdale with the girls.

“So, dating my little sister, Twilight Sparkle?” Princess Celestia’s voice made her ear flick. She turned to find her teacher fixing her with a sidelong glance.

Twilight sunk into her chair. “Are you upset?”

“Upset? Heavens, no!” With a laugh, she swished her prismatic tail. “A bit surprised, and yet, contrarily unsurprised? Certainly.”

Huh? “Why would it come as a surprise?”

Princess Celestia set the water to boil, then stepped away from the stove. “I won’t lie, I had expected you both to wait a bit longer to enter relationships. That you two should enter one together is surprising, but not overly so.” She floated her crown off her head to rest on the counter. “I thought you would wait a few more years to date, honestly. Not that you shouldn’t, mind you. But that you didn’t seem to show much of an inclination.”

Licking her lips, Twilight shifted in place. “I didn’t think there was a point to making friends before the Summer Sun Celebration, either.”

“A very fair point.” Princess Celestia nodded. “But, as Cadence would be happy to tell you for the umpteenth time, those are rather different things.”

She brought a gold shoed hoof up to touch her chest, letting out a sigh. “On Luna’s side, I admit that I may have spent quite a bit of time worrying how long it would take to let another pony into her heart again.” Her eyes met Twilight’s, brimmed with tears. She took a deep breath and wiped the back of her hoof across her face. “I don’t know how to describe the joy I felt when she came home after Nightmare Night in Ponyville, or when she told me that you called her friend the night she snuck out to visit you.”

Twilight stayed silent a moment, biting her bottom lip. That explained the surprised bit.

But how in Equestria did that work alongside being unsurprised?

Her curiosity simply demanded to know. “Then how can you be unsurprised if you’re surprised that either of us would enter a relationship so soon, discounting that we’d end up in one together?”

“Ah, but that’s the answer!” Princess Celestia smiled and waggled her hoof. “With respect to Luna, at least. If I were to sit down with Cadence and consider what pony might catch Luna’s eye in this lifetime, I would likely come up with a very minute list. Your name would be the first and, if I can be frank, the most likely.” She gave a chuckle. “That, my dear, was without the benefit of current events being known.

Twilight couldn’t help but tilt her head. “I’m not entirely sure I understand. How—”

The whistling of boiling water shooting out through the kettle spout cut her off. Princess Celestia’s ears perked up. “Ah, just a moment!” she said, hurrying to float the kettle off the stove. As she set about pouring the steaming water into the pot, she swiveled an ear toward Twilight. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

“I was going to ask how you would put my name on the list,” Twilight replied. “If you didn’t expect me to enter into something like—”

“I think you missed the operative phrase, dear.” With a flick of her magic, Princess Celestia levitated the tray and carried it over to her desk. “I said that you would be at the top of the list for ponies to catch her eye in this lifetime—as in, your lifetime.” She pointed a hoof at Twilight as she poured three cups. “Cream and one sugar?”

“Yes, please.”

With a nod from the Sun Princess, a single cube of sugar floated from the bowl and into one of the cups, followed by a small splash of cream. Her golden aura wreathed around the saucer and brought it to hover before Twilight.

Twilight readily took it in her magic. “Thank you,” she said, taking a small sip.

Perfect, as always. The right blend of warm, bitter tea with the sweetness of cream and sugar added to soothe her soul and chase her troubles away.

She watched as Princess Celestia sat back in her chair and raised her own cup to take a sip, sighing in content.

Then her eyes flitted to the third. “Are we expecting somepony to join us?”

Princess Celestia smirked. “I do hope so. She should catch on soon enough, and I know she’ll need a little something to help take the edge off the little trick I played on her.” She paused, shrugging to herself. “Or she’ll just turn my tea into vinegar or something equally foalish. Either way, yes.”

Twilight blinked. “Luna?”

“Who else?” Chuckling, she took another sip. “No doubt she’s gone to check any coffee shop, tea parlor, and restaurant I mentioned the two of us visiting in my tales in a blind panic because she’s afraid I’ll do something silly like show you her foal pictures.”

“… I’m almost afraid to ask because of the implication,” Twilight began.

“Go ahead.”

“Did you even have foal pictures back then?”

Princess Celestia’s smirk grew into a full, toothy grin. “No. She’s more afraid that I’ll tell you all her stories.” Pausing a beat, she added, “Would you care to hear them?”

Sipping at her tea, Twilight considered the prospects. “Will Luna be upset?”

“With me? Yes.” Her grin turned wicked. “She’ll also be so adorably embarrassed when she finds out the ones I told you.”

“Will she be upset if she hears that you told me this and I said yes?”

“Only if I tell her. And it’s more that she’d seek retribution by asking for your embarrassing moments.”

Twilight kept her face neutral as she stared at Princess Celestia for a moment. “Would you tell her?”

“Naturally.”

Of course. “I think it best that I not, then.”

Princess Celestia heaved a sigh. “Pity. I had several dozen I could’ve picked from.” She tutted and shook her head, taking another sip of tea. “You were asking about why I would place you on the list of likely suitors, I believe.”

Twilight started. “Yes. I still don’t quite understand why me, even if we’re discussing Luna’s prospective relationships in my lifetime.”

A familiar gleam shone in Princess Celestia’s eyes, her lips curved into that maddening, knowing smile. “I may have made one or two assumptions on the matter,” she admitted. “Namely, with how highly she spoke of you, I gleaned that she held you in higher regard than the few ponies she’d interacted with since her return. Even her own guards.”

“That’s … an awful big assumption to make.”

“True. So perhaps we’ll call it ‘an old biddy thinking she knows things.’”

Twilight’s lips tugged into a smile. “Luna would probably call you ancient.”

“Yes,” Princess Celestia said, eyes shining with mirth. “And then I would have to tell her most embarrassing stories as punishment.”

The pair shared a laugh together. The visage of Luna sucking in her lips, her feathers fluffing up as her cheeks burned a deep red, mixing with her coat to paint her face a shade of purple that looked utterly adorable on her.

Unable to restrain herself, Twilight let out a laugh. “I doubt she’d appreciate that too much.”

“She’d get over it. Eventually.”

Perhaps. But as fun as this was, Twilight had to steer things back to the point. “So, if not to interrogate me or embarrass Luna …” Something from those old romance books floated to the forefront of her mind. Whenever the suitor caught the lovely mare’s attention and began to court her, the first hurdle they had to pass was being accepted by the family.

It clicked.

She swallowed a lump. “I-Is this the part where I’m supposed to ask for permission and try to convince you that I’m worth Luna’s time?”

Princess Celestia let out a snort of amusement, wrinkling her snout. “If you’d like to be overly formal, I suppose you could ask. As for your worth—” her smile faded away into a small frown “—I have known you long enough to recognize the good pony you are, Twilight. Please don’t insult the memories I cherish of that smiling, excited little filly I watched grow into a wonderful, beautiful young mare.”

Twilight let her head hang. “I’m sorry, Princess. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know, dear. I didn’t mean to get so snippy in my reply. Call it a personal weakness of mine.” Heaving a sigh, Princess Celestia set her teacup down. “In any case, no. The reason I brought you here was to ask you a favor with regards to your dating Luna.”

Confused, Twilight raised her head and pricked her ears forward. “What is it?”

The Sun Princess stayed quiet a moment, looking down at her teacup. She took a deep breath, then met Twilight’s gaze again.

The teasing smirk and playful gleam in her eyes were gone. The full weight of Princess Celestia’s attention fell solely on Twilight Sparkle.

“I would ask that you take care of her heart,” Princess Celestia said. “And yours. If you’ll promise me that, I have no issue with any of this.” She gave a smile. “I am happy, but cautious.”

Blinking, Twilight set her cup down on the saucer. “If I might, are you asking this because of Luna’s … history with emotional outbursts, or—”

“Not in the slightest,” Princess Celestia cut her off. “You are both far too precious to me, and watching the pair of you get hurt so deeply is something I can only dread to think of.” She looked down at her cup again. “I find myself in the perplexingly paradoxical position in which I am both mentor and elder sister to the ponies involved, and I want both of you to be happy. If that means you two enter a relationship and it progresses to something permanent, fine. If not, then I would prefer immensely that you both be honest with yourselves and respect each other enough to end things amicably so you can remain friends.”

Heaving another sigh, she let her wings sag. “I’m aware this might all sound disjointed, but those are my feelings on the matter. With that said, I’ll ask it formally.” Her eyes locked on Twilight. “Can you promise me to take care of two of the ponies I hold most dear?”

If the full force of her attention had fell upon Twilight’s shoulders like a weight, her words felt as though she’d pushed down with the full might of her magic. And then some.

All the uncertainty from before came creeping back. There were so many variables in a relationship. All the time they’d have to make for one another, the sacrifices, the emotional bonding, and there was no guarantee it would be lasting. Or that it might end amicably.

Twilight closed her eyes in thought. Cadence and Shining Armor’s faces came into view, along with that blunt colt, Rossby.

All of them said the same thing in different ways.

If it felt right to her, then she should go for it.

She took a deep breath. Here’s to the start of our relationship, Luna. “I don’t know what the future might bring for Luna and I,” she began, opening her eyes to look at her longtime mentor. “But I can promise that I’ll be honest with her about my feelings, and that I’ll always remain her friend and loyal subject, no matter what might come of all this.”

Slowly, Princess Celestia’s lips tugged into a smile. “That’s all I can ask, then. You, of all ponies, more than have my blessing.” Turning her attention toward her cup, she levitated the teapot to refill it. “I believe that my darling little sister should have caught on, and will be joining us right about …”

There was a loud crack and a flash of cerulean. Luna popped into existence between Twilight and Princess Celestia, jabbing a hoof in the elder princess’ direction. “I say thee nay, foul sister! Thou shalt not besmirch my image by telling fair Twilight Sparkle of my younger days!”

“Oh, but I shall! Just not today.” Princess Celestia waved a hoof at Twilight. “I offered, but your new suitor felt it best that she not hear my stories just yet.”

Luna turned quickly, fixing Twilight with a wide-eyed stare. “Truly?” At Twilight’s nod, she beamed, returning her gaze to Princess Celestia. “T’would seem that your game has failed then, sister.”

Princess Celestia simply smiled. “For now, yes.” She levitated the remaining cup for Luna. “Sit down and drink your tea, you silly young mare. I took the time to make it for you.”

“You have my thanks.” Luna accepted the cup and took her seat in the chair nearest to Twilight. She took a sip, then glanced between teacher and student. “If I might ask, what did you converse about while I was … occupied?”

“Things,” Princess Celestia replied cheekily, drawing a snort of laughter from Twilight.

Luna narrowed her eyes, turning her gaze to Twilight. “What sort of things?”

Twilight gave her most innocent smile. “Just things.”

With a huff, Luna raised her cup to her lip. “Fine then. I shall find out later.”

“Perhaps.” Humming to herself, Princess Celestia took a sip of her tea. “Though, perhaps you should focus more on planning your first outing together instead of pondering how to wheedle information out of Twilight.”

Twilight’s smile broadened as she watched Luna’s ears twitch and her teal eyes widen a bit.

“I … yes, I should.” Luna glanced at Twilight, the half-lidded stare returned in full force. “I may have a few ideas.”

“I’ll look forward to it then,” Twilight said in reply. She raised her cup to her lips, stopping just short as a thought came to her.

There was a party in Ponyville tomorrow. And Luna hadn’t spent time with the town for quite some time.

Her ears perked up. Luna would probably love it, Golden Harvest would no doubt enjoy a visit from royalty on her birthday, and the foals would get to meet with their favorite scary princess again. It was her turn to take initiative on something.

“Hey, Luna,” she began. “How do you feel about birthday parties?”

30: Where I Found Friendship and Acceptance Again

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Wind whipped through her starry mane, Luna closed her eyes and smiled. If there was any time she felt so at peace other than her beautiful nights, it was the way Celestia slowly lowered the sun in the late afternoon to begin the evening and let the land cool as the twilight neared.

Like the passing of the proverbial mantle from one sister to the next, for all the land to see.

Luna cracked open an eye to peer at Twilight beside her, the smile on her muzzle broadened. She unfurled her wing to trace her feathers along the smaller mare’s back.

Warmth flooded her chest, her heart raced as though she were a young filly fleeing from Celestia in the rolling green fields of their ancient home, long before ponies even knew their names.

When was the last time she had felt like this for another pony? Or, rather, when was the last time she allowed herself to act upon them?

There had been many over her long life. Artists, musicians, writers, noble ponies, farmers—those always caused such a lovely little scandal when they came out—and a few guards as well. Both Day and Night.

Her ears twitched. The last had been one of her Night Guards. It wasn’t so much love, either, as it was two ponies in desperate need of companionship coming together to support each other. Those first years had been hard on all of them, none so much as Luna herself.

Luna squeezed her eyes shut and gave her head a shake to banish the images that leapt to the forefront of her mind. The faces of her old allies and foes long since departed from the land flitted before her very eye.

Silent Night, with the dark coat on his leg and the obsidian hoof guard that hid his blade both splattered with blood as he tried to stay stoic, betrayed by the tightening of his jaw and the quiver in his voice when he delivered his report. Captain Noir as she held her blade to a diamond dog’s throat, her eyes brimmed with tears before she closed them and flicked her wrist to send him on his journey to the next life.

So many of her Children of the Night had lost themselves and become specters hiding in the shadows.

Because of her.

“Luna?”

She started. Twilight’s voice cut through the haze of events long passed and brought her to present again. Luna glanced around, her breath quickened as she checked her surroundings.

They were flying, no. Riding in her chariot toward Ponyville so they could attend Golden Harvest’s party, with Strider and Shooting Star dutifully pulling and Captain Erebos and Moondancer close by her side, as always.

Luna let out a breath. “Forgive me, Twilight, I was lost in memory. I am afraid I find myself wandering off every now and again.” Not entirely untrue, but not entirely true either. “What were you saying?”

Twilight regarded her with a raised eyebrow, wrinkling her snout. “I was asking if you were excited,” she said, her voice tinged with amusement. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you? It’s just a birthday party.”

“I was thinking about something else.” With a roll of her eyes, she reached out and booped Twilight’s nose. “And I would be lying if I said no. You know that full well saying it is ‘just a birthday party’ does not help when I have yet to take part in any but my own or Tia’s since my return.”

Twilight sucked in her lips. “Ah. Well, this’ll be a bit different, but not that out of the ordinary.”

Scoffing, Luna fixed her with a flat look. “Will there be ponies in fancy dress, nobles milling about, and my insufferable nephew latched onto my sister’s side like a leach while he simpers about some proposed law forbidding foals from smiling in his presence, or whatever imbecilic thought enters his empty head?”

A snort of amusement escaped Twilight’s lips, she clapped a hoof over her mouth to try and stave off her laughter.

Luna allowed herself a smirk. “Perhaps next he will try to pass legislation on the proper way to greet friends.” She wiped any trace of emotion from her muzzle and fixed the blank stare of a Day Guard in place. “No emotion, rigid adherence to all the rules of propriety, and the stiffest of upper lips.”

Another snort, Twilights shoulders shook. Her muffled laughter tickled Luna’s ears, bringing the smile back to her muzzle.

Letting her midnight blue feathers trail along Twilight’s back, Luna wrapped her in a gentle wing hug. “I take it by your reaction, you have not had favorable interaction with him?”

“Not me,” Twilight forced out between bouts of laughter. “Rarity thought he’d be her Prince Charming when we went to the Grant Galloping Gala!”

“Oh my!” Luna cringed. “I can imagine her opinion soured since.”

“You might say that.” Twilight’s eyes shone with mirth. “Never say his name around her or you’re in for a rant like no other.”

Luna drew in a sharp breath. What a lovely endorsement, and something she would have to do her very best to avoid.

She fixed a smile in place, fluffing her feathers. “Well, let us focus on the party this eve, then. What am I to expect? Similar fare to when I visited on Nightmare Night?”

As Twilight made to reply, Luna caught sight of Strider and Shooting Star angling to bank left for their final approach. Thinking quickly, she threw a hoof around Twilight’s shoulders and held her tight, drawing a surprised squeak as she leaned into the turn. To her left, she noticed Erebos doing the same for Moondancer.

“Call out turns, if you please,” Luna chided her guards. “We have ground bound passengers who are unaccustomed to travel by flying chariot.”

“Yes, Princess!” They called back in unison, both at least had the decency to shoot sheepish smiles toward Twilight and Moondancer.

Erebos snorted and shook his head. “Foals,” he muttered, shifting his wing a little to hide Moondancer’s head in its leathery embrace.

“An honest mistake, Captain,” Luna said. “No harm done but a little scare.” She stole a glance to Twilight and loosened her grip a little. “My apologies. You were saying?”

Twilight gave a weak smile, rubbing her shoulder against Luna’s side in silent thanks. “I was going to say that this will probably be a bit smaller, more subdued. There probably won’t be as many games or events, but you’ll have a chance to talk with some ponies and there’ll be plenty of food.” She waggled her ears, then added, “And you’ll get to see the foals again.”

A wicked grin crossed Luna’s muzzle. “Will I?” she mused. “Had I known, I would have brought my cloak and let it dissolve into bats.”

“Princess Celestia said that used to be your favorite party trick.”

“She speaks truth. It remains my favorite to this day.” Bringing a hoof to her chin, she thought a moment. “Though, perhaps it is for the best that I went ‘casual’ as it were. This is another mare’s birthday, not Nightmare Night. The focus should hardly be on me.”

Twilight frowned. “Fair point. Perhaps it’s best that we just use this as a chance to let you mingle in a more casual setting.” Her eyes lit up. She clapped her hooves together and gave a happy squeal. “This is actually perfect for that sort of thing! You can talk to the girls again, meet everypony out of costume, and—oh. Oh dear.”

Confused, Luna looked down and furrowed her brows. She watched as Twilight’s ears drooped, her cheeks colored a deep pinkish hue. “Is something the matter?”

Shifting in place, Twilight ducked her head low and muttered something under her breath. She looked nervous, like she was expecting some sort of surprise test.

Celestia’s smiling face floated to the forefront of her mind, those deep purple eyes shone with mirth and poorly hidden mischief.

Oh, of course. Tia’s teaching methods. Luna wrinkled her snout. Tia wouldn’t do such a thing—well, not during a party, at least. And not while I am present and expecting to spend time with her.

She waited a moment longer until her impatience finally got the better of her. Luna leaned down to nuzzle Twilight. “Twilight,” she said softly, brushing her lips against the mare’s cheek. “Tell me what vexes you.”

Twilight replied with a laugh so forced, Luna couldn’t help but draw back.

That wasn’t mirth. Not even close.

Out of touch though she might have been, Luna was not dense. Something had caused her special somepony stress and she intended to find out what.

Twilight ducked lower as if to hide herself in Luna’s downy embrace. “I-I may have just remembered that my friends have no idea that you and I are … um, well, dating. Or courting. Either.” She glanced up at Luna, giving a nervous smile. “I’m not sure if I should expect teasing or an inquisition.” After a beat, she added, “Any advice?”

Slowly, Luna returned her smile with a wicked grin. It was all she could do not to throw back her head and cackle madly at the way Twilight’s adorable purple ears drooped.

She pressed a hoof against Twilight’s snout. “My dear, I am afraid that in this regard, you are—as my niece might say—quite thoroughly screwed.” Leaning forward, she kissed Twilight’s forehead. “Besides, I would be remiss to interject into your friendships and deny them the chance to hear—or you the chance to tell them.”

A low whine sounded from the back of Twilight’s throat. “I’m doomed!” she wailed.

Luna chuckled. “You will survive. Of that, I am quite certain.” Stealing another kiss to her forehead, Luna steadied herself as the twins began their descent.

Then a thought occurred to her.

Oh yes.

“You know this Golden Harvest well, yes?”

She felt Twilight turn to look up at her. “Relatively. Why do you ask?”

Slowly, Luna turned to give her most mischievous smirk. “I have just had a wonderful idea for a gift, but first I must ask your opinion on it.”

“Of course. What is it?”

“Do you think she would enjoy being a princess for one night?”

Luna wasn’t entirely sure whose reaction she found more entertaining: Moondancer balking, Erebos throwing back his head and howling with laughter, or Twilight gaping at her with eyes as wide as dinner plates and her jaw hanging low.

Clearly, her gift would be perfect.


Fortunately, the twins’ landing was quite a bit more smooth than their banking, though Luna had a sneaking suspicion that they took extra care to make it as comfortable as possible for their passengers.

The way they kept glancing between Erebos—who fixed them with a stern glare before he made to help Moondancer out of the chariot and onto solid ground once more—and herself was a might indicative, as was the way Strider scuffed his hoof and bowed his head low in silent apology to Twilight.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Twilight smile as she returned his bow with a nod of her own. “It’s fine, Strider,” she said. “I’ve been flying before, I just wasn’t paying attention this time.”

He bowed lower, a gesture his twin was quick to imitate. “Still our fault for not calling, all the same.”

“Won’t happen again, miss,” Shooting Star added.

“Well, I appreciate that, but I’m not going to lodge a complaint or anything.” Twilight glanced over her shoulder at Luna and cast a wink before turning to face them again. “Even if I know your boss pretty well!”

Standing just behind Twilight, Luna inclined her head to get their attention. When twin sets of amber eyes flitted to her, she smiled and nodded once.

A silent message that any offense on her part was forgiven.

They both relaxed and stood up straight. Their matching smiles were back in place as if they’d never been missed.

Such a pair of foals, those two.

Luna stepped forward, laying her wing upon Twilight’s back once again. “Shall we?” she asked, gesturing around Ponyville’s empty square before settling on Sugarcube Corner, the lone building with lights and a big, yellow banner that read “Happy Birthday, Goldie!” in orange and green lettering. “I do believe I can guess where tonight’s festivities shall take place.”

Twilight smiled back at her. “I’d say it’s a safe bet.” She took a step closer, pressing herself up against Luna so their sides touched. “After you, then.”

Nodding, Luna guided her toward the sweet shop with a bounce in her step and a none-too-subtle swish in her tail. No doubt Erebos would have a comment or two for her later, but she could happily ignore him for now.

Although …

Luna stole a glance out of the corner of her eye just in time to catch Erebos nose against Moondancer’s cheek. She fought to withhold a deep chuckle, instead turning toward the door.

If Erebos had anything to say on her relationship with Twilight, then she would simply have to take a page out of Tia’s book.

Not that she would ever admit it, of course. Heavens no.

Luna hummed to herself and lit up her horn, wrapping her magic around the doorhandle to tug it open. The familiar sounds of ponies talking and laughing while music played in the background floated to her ears, she managed to spy balloons of all sorts of colors and sizes floating up to touch the ceiling. Some were even twisted into shapes that vaguely resembled animals, or tangled with streamers of goldenrod, green, and orange.

Somepony had gone to great lengths to make the party quite the spectacle, and Luna had a faint idea who.

The very instant she stepped inside, a pink pony with bright blue eyes and a far-too-wide grin appeared before her as if out of thin air.

She smiled. “Good evening, Miss Pie.”

Pinkie Pie gasped and let out a big squeal. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” She darted toward Twilight and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing Princess Luna? We could’ve made this party even bigger and better!

Twilight ducked. “I was thinking we could just keep it like a normal party as planned, since it was for Golden Harvest and all.”

“Oh!” Pinkie thought for a moment, then gasped and grabbed Twilight’s face, her hooves smushed those purple-coated cheeks. “Well, that does make sense in terms of the party, but still! I could’ve made those cookies she liked!”

Unable to reply, Twilight could only struggle and flail her hooves about as she tried to escape. Her eyes met Luna’s for the briefest of seconds, a silent plea for help easily read.

Dutifully, Luna cleared her throat. “I think,” she began as she placed a gentle hoof on Pinkie Pie’s shoulders and gave her a light push away from Twilight, “that Twilight wished to ensure that tonight’s festivities remain focused on the mare of the day.”

She shifted her gaze away from Pinkie in favor of searching the room as if she knew which mare was Golden Harvest, a trick she’d learned through years of showmareship and tutelage under Celestia. Her eyes flitted from mare to stallion, from filly to colt, all in search of one pony.

Luna caught sight of a small colt with white and brown splotched coat. She gave a merry swish of her tail.

My young admirer, she thought. I will have to greet him after I have spoken with Golden Harvest.

She resumed her search a moment longer before she found her target.

Off to the side of the dining space, standing by the sales counter—which had a bowl of chips and several different types of dip instead of the register—with a sky blue unicorn mare and a pegasus with a pink and green mane, was a mare of goldenrod coat and orange mane, with a pair of ripened carrots emblazoned on her flank.

As Luna’s gaze lingered upon her, the mare seemed to freeze up, almost torn between hiding behind the pair she’d been chatting with or bowing.

Luna smiled. I do believe I have my mare. “Come, Twilight,” she called so all could hear. “I wish to meet Golden Harvest myself so I may extend my wishes to her before we are all busied with celebrating!”

Nodding, Twilight guided her toward the gaping mare, happily rolling her shoulder as if to tug on Luna’s wing like a foal tugging her mother’s leg.

No, not a foal and her mother. Luna laughed to herself. An excited lover guiding her special somepony.

The mother side could be left to Tia.

Twilight stopped in front of Golden Harvest and gestured to her with a hoof. “Luna, this is Golden Harvest, our local carrot farmer and a rather good hoof when it comes to construction. Goldie, well …” She chuckled. “You know Princess Luna, of course.”

Her introduction jolted Golden Harvest out of her stupor. The mare bowed low enough that her forehead almost touched the wooden floor. “O-Of course!” she stammered. “I—oh gosh! I’m so sorry, Your Highness! It’s truly an honor to have you—”

Luna held up a hoof. “Please. The honor is mine, Miss Harvest. As for the surprise, well, the fault is my own.” Her wing’s grip around Twilight tightened. “When our mutual friend mentioned your party and extended an invitation to join her, I allowed myself to get a bit caught up in the excitement and did not stop to consider possible consequences.” Her ear flicked at the sound of a low hum of chatter sweeping through the crowd. She gave a slight bow of her head. “I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive this old mare for her folly.”

Golden Harvest balked. “Wha—I mean, it’s not a problem! I didn’t mean anything of the sort, Your Highness!”

“I appreciate you saying so.” Luna made a show of looking down at her free wing before meeting Golden Harvest’s eye again. “Unfortunately, I do not have a gift selected personally for you, Miss Harvest.”

“Princess, that’s not necessary, really! I don’t expect—”

“However!” Luna spoke over her, smiling slyly at Twilight, who did her best to stifle a fit of giggles behind her hoof. “I do have something in mind as a gift for this night only.”

Before anypony could question her, Luna floated the polished obsidian from her head and laid it atop Golden Harvest’s. Then she stepped back, removing her wing from Twilight’s back, and smiled. “Consider this a token of my gratitude for allowing me to remain though I was not on the guest list.”

The mare before her trembled, her face turned a deep red as she worked her jaw wordlessly.

Luna turned to meet Twilight’s gaze, giving a tiny smirk and a little raise of her eyebrows before tilting her head toward Golden Harvest.

Twilight’s ears perked up. She returned Luna’s smile and nodded once.

Very good.

Twilight stepped back to stand at Luna’s side. Then, in near perfect unison, both bowed low.

Pricking up her ears, Luna heard Golden Harvest gave a startled squeak while the pair beside her giggled.

Then there was a startled gasp. “No, don’t!” Golden Harvest cried. “Minnie! Blossom! Don’t you dare!”

Luna glanced out of the corner of her eye to find a set of four cream white hooves beside hers. She smirked, looking up to find the pegasus mare struggling to hold back laughter as she bowed her head.

“Princess Harvest!” Blossom chirped.

“Bringing of Plentiful Harvests and Matron of Carrots!” Minnie added through her mirth.

Like they’d flipped a switch, the pair’s antics drew a wave of laughter from the crowd. The guests each shot Golden Harvest a cheeky grin before bowing and hailing her as “Princess Harvest” and tacked on whatever flowery titles they could conjure.

At the sound of Pip chiming in with “Princess Golden Harvest, Maiden of the Rolling Green Fields,” Luna’s ears twitched.

“Twilight,” she said out of the side of her mouth, standing to her full height. “Do you mind if I take care of a bit of … personal business?”

Twilight stood up straight, tilting her head. “I guess. What sort of business?”

Luna put on her best imitation of the stoic face Celestia put on in court. “Business of a very important nature.” She subtly gestured in the direction of Pip’s voice. “There is a young colt who claimed that I am his favorite princess, and he is in dire need of being scared out of his wits. If you have no objection, that is?”

With a roll of her eyes, Twilight smiled and nodded. “Go ahead.”

Beaming, Luna lit her horn, then dissolved into a cloud of stars and swept through the crowd, drawing squeaks and startled gasps as she darted between their hooves like a snake until she reached her goal.

The cloud of stars wrapped around Pip like a miniature tornado, pulling the squirming colt into the air as she materialized again and caught him in her hooves.

Luna fixed a wicked grin on her muzzle. “Hello, little one,” she greeted.

Pip stopped squirming and gave a little smile in return. “‘Lo, Princess! How’ve you been?”

“Quite well, thank you.” She unfurled her wings and trailed her feathers down his sides, drawing a fit of giggles and another bout of squirming from the poor colt. Nickering, she cast a wink. “Am I still thy favored princess?”

“Ye—pfft! Stoppit!—yes!”

She waggled her ears. Her thoughts flitted to the night she spent with Cadence and Shining Armor, an idea came to her. “Excellent! And no. No I shan’t stop, for I am quite famished and I feel the need to gobble up some poor little colt!” Taking a page from Cadence’s book, she sucked in a deep breath, then darted forward and pressed her lips against his tiny belly and blew hard.

Pip’s shrieks of laughter filled the room, he flailed his hooves. “Help! Help!” he cried. “I’m being gobbled! Somepony save me!”

Luna paused her torture to fix all his little friends with a raised eyebrow. Slowly, she smirked and tossed her mane. “If you dare.”

Though she was a mare of many regrets in her long life, Luna held none for this. Not when the foals looked to one another, then their parents, then back at her, with excited grins spreading across their little faces. Not when a young charcoal coated pegasus colt called “Charge!” and took to the air with a flying leap, heralding an onslaught of tiny ponies. Not even when she found herself buried under a laughing, teasing pile of foals while Pipsqueak tried to take vengeance by prodding her with a tiny hoof as he searched for her tickle spots.

None at all.

31: The Gift That Waited One Thousand Years

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Much like Equestria as a whole, parties had certainly changed in the past thousand years.

Perhaps a bit of the blame could be placed on Luna herself, though. Her parties in the centuries her beautiful Night Court’s influence was at its peak were lavish affairs that could rival that of the Grand Galloping Gala itself. Artists of all disciplines would come from far and wide, bringing family and friend alike to join in the celebrations.

Ponyville was …

Not at all like that.

Having Twilight Sparkle close by her side—as close as she could be without having a wing draped across her back and held tight—through it was a small blessing. Small talk had changed quite a bit since she’d been vanished, and that was without accounting for the difference in trade.

Still, there was something quite fascinating to see in the small town’s fare. Just as they’d been holding their own, quieter, foal friendly affair for Nightmare Night, Golden Harvest’s party was quite tame by comparison to those she’d heard of in Canterlot.

Had any noble or governor received the chance to wear her crown, even for but a second, Luna was certain a line would have formed to shower them with praise and worship. Some might have even begun trying to cozy up to her in order to gain a bit of favor to Luna herself.

Instead, the ponies in Ponyville opted to playfully tease the birthday mare, before resuming the party. Although, with a twist: it had become a game to make sure Golden Harvest not try to sneak off and “lose” her crown.

The first time had almost seemed innocent. Golden Harvest sat down across from Luna and begun to talk about her patch of farmland. When she stood to leave, the crown was on the table.

Luna, dutifully, reminded her of her gift and floated the crown back to its place atop Golden Harvest’s head, which drew a visible blush that several around them saw.

And then everypony turned it into a game.

At her side, Twilight Sparkle tittered into a hoof as she watched Golden try to sneak away without her temporary crown, leaving it resting beside a mare of rosy mane while she chatted with fair Fluttershy. But before she could, Fluttershy raised a hoof.

“Um, Golden? Golden Harvest?” she called just above the dull roar of conversation.

Golden Harvest flinched, everypony stopped what they were doing to watch her turn and fake a smile. “Y-Yes, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy reached over to the countertop and took the obsidian crown in her hoof. She squirmed, rolling it over between her hooves as if she weren’t sure she wanted to give it back. “I, um, I think you forgot this.” With a tiny squeak, she held it out for Golden.

The mare’s shoulders slumped, laughter swept through the crowd.

Different, Luna thought. Very different.

“Luna,” Twilight called, holding a cup of some strange, pinkish drink up to her. “Try this.”

Luna tilted her head and leaned forward to sniff at the strange drink. She wrinkled her snout. Too sweet. “What in the name of the stars and moon is that?”

“It’s punch.”

“It smells like somepony just dumped sugar in a perfectly good glass of water, then colored it with some strange potion.”

Twilight let out an amused snort. “Just try it,” she said. The cup floated closer to Luna, having just beneath her nose. “If you don’t like it, I’m sure we can find tea or something else.”

Giving a noncommittal hum, Luna let her magic engulf the cup. “Very well.” She brought the cup to her lips, but stopped just short. Her brows flatlined. “Pinkie Pie made this, didn’t she?”

The wide grin she received in reply told her all she needed to know. “It’s supposed to be cherry. Don’t tell Applejack, though. She’ll label Pinkie a traitor to Sweet Apple Acres.”

Luna took another sniff and fought the urge to gag. It smelled as though there was more sugar in the drink than water itself. Something her sister would delight in drinking again and again, despite the effect it would have on her flanks.

“Not putting on weight” my starry tail. Luna eyed the drink one last time, before giving a shrug. “If you insist. I believe the common phrase is ‘bottoms up.’”

She took a sip. Her eyes went wide as the taste of sugar—far too much to be healthy for any pony’s diet—hit her. There was a strange flavoring, nothing like the cherry she was promised. More like overly sweet medicine.

Luna screwed up her face, she tried to force herself to swallow what little she had taken in, but her throat tightened.

Thinking quickly, she brought the cup closer to her mouth and spat out the offending drink. Luna gagged, she summoned a napkin off one of the tables and tried to wipe the taste away.

The sound of poorly hidden giggling made her ears flick. She turned slowly to fix Twilight with a glare. “You knew.”

“I didn’t think you’d react like that!” Twilight replied, her voice cracking with poorly restrained laughter. “It’s just a party drink!”

“I was promised a cherry flavored drink. This—” Luna glared at the offending beverage. It began to bubble and hiss as the arcane glow of her magic flared once, then collapsed in on itself. The cup of punch vanished into nothingness, banished from her presence. “—Is not cherry flavored anything. It is colored water with more sugar than should be consumed by any pony in a week, let alone one drink.”

What little control Twilight had remaining broke. She threw a hoof over her mouth to muffle her laughter, her cheeks turned bright red as she gave into her mirth.

Luna set her jaw. Laugh at me, will you, dear? The corners of her mouth tugged into a wicked smirk, one remnant of the one her corrupted self once wore, or the one she used when playing her games with uppity visitors to her Court.

If Twilight wished to play games, then let them begin. She was playing with one who had centuries of courtship experience.

Newcomers to romance always did squirm in such a lovely manner. Luna would just have to wait for the opportune moment.

Her eyes flitted to Twilight’s lips. They looked soft, inviting even. Like they were calling out to her, begging for her to just swoop down on Twilight and kiss her until those beautiful purple eyes crossed and a deep blush colored her cheeks.

Later, Luna told herself. She allowed a small smile to play upon her lips. Good things come to those who wait.

What was a few hours to a mare who had waited a thousand years to come home?

Twilight turned and gestured toward the doorway to the kitchen. “I’ll go see about making some tea. Why don’t you stick around here for a little bit, maybe talk to somepony else?”

Luna sucked in a breath through her nose. Other ponies? As in, ponies that weren’t Twilight? “Um. Yes, of course. That would be, uh, most agreeable, “she replied with a decidedly forced smile. Though she couldn’t help but add, “Do hurry.”

“You can’t rush good tea,” Twilight said, shaking her head as she began to trot toward the kitchen. She turned over her shoulder to fix Luna with a playful smirk. “You know, this would be a good chance to practice that reconnecting thing you mentioned. It’d go great with how you played with the foals earlier.”

Luna bit her lip. She looked around the room, seeking anypony familiar to strike up a conversation.

Who, though?

No doubt if she simply trotted over to converse with one of Twilight’s friends, her girlfriend would claim it counterproductive to stay within her own circle of friends for so long without at least trying to make some of her own.

Still, where to start? Fluttershy and Rarity were talking to a trio of mares with flower cutie marks, Rainbow Dash and Applejack were locked in a heated contest of strength—a hoof wrestling contest, as Erebos called it when she happened upon a few off-duty guards taking part themselves.

Speaking of which, Erebos stood beside the table with Moondancer still under wing. A small smile played upon his lips as he sent quips indiscriminately, taunting both mares the instant either showed hint of faltering.

Rainbow’s hoof began to fall, the mare struggled to right it, she gritted her teeth and slowly forced it up until it was back at the starting point.

Erebos’ amber eyes flashed, his face split into a fanged grin as he leaned toward her and began muttering a few words that made Applejack, Moondancer, and several others around them—including Pinkie Pie, who had donned an odd white-and-black striped shirt for some reason or other—burst into laughter.

Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, pinned her ears back and let out a growl. “Just you wait!” she ground out, throwing as much of her strength into pushing Applejack’s hoof down as she could. “When I’m done with farmer-mare here, you’re next! And I’m gonna rip that leg out of its socket!”

Erebos just threw his head back and laughed. “Have to actually win before you can do that! And shouldn’t you be focused on that right now instead of jawing back at me?” He heaved a mock sigh and turned his attention to Moondancer, nuzzling into her neck. “I swear, I’d have to make her fly laps around Canterlot if she were to try enlisting in my Night Guard, honey!”

“I’m not trying to be one of your dang guards! I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt!” Rainbow snapped back. She turned to glare at him, her body shifted. And with it went her leverage.

It was all Luna could do not to bring a hoof to her forehead. “Oh, Rainbow, you brash, young fool,” she muttered. “That was exactly what he wanted.”

There was a loud thud as Rainbow’s hoof hit the table. Applejack let out a whoop and whipped her hat off her head, throwing her hooves into the air while the crowd of ponies around them cheered.

Rainbow could only stare in muted horror. She held her head in her hooves, much to Erebos’ delight.

“Gonna be a Wonderbolt, huh?” he teased. He patted her shoulder and turned to lead Moondancer away from the table. “Gotta learn to tune out the crowd, rookie. Spitfire doesn’t care for ponies botching moves because they’re distractible.”

The glare Rainbow shot him could’ve curdled milk.

Luna shook her head and smiled. “Oh, t’would appear that one of my foals in gilded dress has made himself a new friend,” she mused, chuckling as she watched Rainbow shoot up out of her chair and land in his path to demand a hoof wrestling match with him.

She turned away. Erebos could have his fun without her watching over like a nosy mother, no matter how much he felt close enough to be her foal.

He wasn’t. None of her Night Guards truly were, but they were close enough.

They were all a part of her little family. The last remnants of her Children of the Night.

Another shake of her head. Tia would tell me not to dwell on bygone days. Luna searched the crowd, humming to herself while she tried to find somepony who seemed open to conversation.

Or those who might seem worth our attention.

Luna let her shoulders slump. “You again. I thought you’d have left me by now.”

The voice in her head gave a snort. You know full well that you’ll never be rid of yourself. That aberration you were for a thousand years may have been removed, and years of your own folly in dabbling with darker magics undone, but you can’t hide from the truth. Even if you keep it locked away in your desk drawer.

Hide from it? No, I suppose I cannot. Luna’s eyes found a pair of mares standing by the snack table, one a cream-white unicorn with a mane similar to Shining Armor’s, but far more wild and unkempt, while the other a charcoal gray earth pony with long, flowing chestnut mane and tail.

Curiously, the unicorn wore purple lensed glasses indoors, while her companion wore a collar and pink bowtie as if she were ready to go to a formal event.

Well. They were certainly interesting enough.

The earth pony is quite muscled from whatever burden she bears. She would make a fine asset to the Night Guard should she join.

I am not here to recruit, I am here to enjoy the party. With a smile, Luna began to walk over to them. Besides, she thought. Who said I was hiding from you? I simply would delight in finding the deepest, darkest pit in Tartarus to throw you in.

Another snort. What a foalish thing to say. Have you truly forgotten all those years you spent protecting Equestria with the Night Guard?

Her hooves stopped moving. Luna closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She let it out. I remember a young fool of a princess who saw that her older sister had grown weary and tired of seeing death, so she decided to do something about it. That fool became you, the vision that haunted the monsters who dared threaten our ponies, and then, the same that would haunt those she loved for a thousand years.

Luna took in another deep breath, forcing herself to look ahead at the two mares a short distance away from her.

They hadn’t noticed her. The way they interacted, how happy they were together, the earth pony chattering away while the unicorn just smiled and nodded, was …

Soothing.

She smiled again. I have learned from my follies. I shall move forward and leave the mare I once was behind, buried in the sands of time. With an almost vindictive pleasure, Luna took another step forward and delivered the killing blow.

Exactly where she belongs.

It took all her self-control not to crow at the silence that came in reply.

Truly, a great victory for her.

She stopped within hoof’s reach of the mares. They flicked their ears toward her and turned, the earth pony gave a surprised gasp and hastily bowed. “Your Highness!” she greeted in a Trottingham accent, her voice cracking as she spoke.

The unicorn just smiled before bowing as well.

Two different looks, two different personalities. Two very different ways of greeting their Princess.

Luna smiled and offered a hoof. “Please. We need not stand on ceremony, friends. Besides—” she arched a brow, stealing a glance over her shoulder to where Golden Harvest stood, her cheeks flushed as the foals who’d piled themselves upon Luna bowed before her and tried their best to cajole the temporarily crowned Princess of Harvest for her freshest fares “—I believe your princess for the evening is holding court over there.”

The unicorn mare snorted and stood up straight. She nudged her earth pony friend with an elbow before making a series of rather strange gestures with her hoof: she tapped her shoulder, then her wrist, then crossed her hoof over her chest and finished by tapping twice on the hardwood floor.

“My friend says you have an amazing sense of humor, Your Highness,” her companion said with a smile. She straightened up and met Luna’s gaze. “And I must agree.”

What in Equestria? “I see.” Luna looked between the mares. “And does your friend not wish to speak for herself in my presence, Miss …?”

“Octavia Melody, Your Highness.” Octavia bowed again. “As for my friend, Vinyl, I’m afraid she can’t speak. She was born a mute.”

Luna wrinkled her nose. “Mute?” she repeated. The term was unfamiliar in this context. A pony who couldn’t speak wasn’t called a mute in her day. It almost sound like Octavia meant to call her …

Vinyl nudged Octavia again. She tapped three times on the floor, pointed to Luna, then touched the side of her head.

“Oh! Of course.” Octavia coughed. “Vinyl believes that you might have said she were ‘dumb’ in your day, Your Highness. It became mute because dumb means … well, stupid, now.”

A grimace tugged at her lips. “I see. Well, thank you for informing me of this change in vernacular. That would’ve been quite embarrassing.”

Grinning, Vinyl shrugged and brushed her shoulder twice.

“Don’t worry about it,” Octavia supplied. She relaxed a bit, her ears stood up to full height though. Luna had her attention. “How may we help you, Your Highness?”

Luna flicked an ear. “Help me? I require no aid, Miss Octavia, I simply wished to talk. Though I admit that I would like you not be so formal with me. Even simply calling me Princess Luna would do.”

Vinyl tapped four times on the floor, shook her hoof in mid air, then touched her nose.

“I am not saying ‘what’s up, home skillet’ to one of our princesses!” Octavia snapped, aghast at the mere notion. Her face contorted into an angry scowl as Vinyl fixed her with a smug smirk. “Oh, shut up! That doesn’t count!”

Her companion simply lit her horn and pulled her glasses down to the bridge of her snout so her cerise eyes showed. Vinyl waggled her eyebrows, then pushed her glasses back up.

Octavia huffed. “Jerk.”

Confused, Luna looked between the pair. So many questions came to mind, but one made it to the tip of her tongue faster than all the others.

“I do not understand. What is a ‘home skillet?’”

A groan escaped Octavia’s lips. She brought a hoof to her forehead and made a point of ignoring Vinyl as she furiously tapped out a new phrase, even making a show of pinning her ears flat to block out the rhythm.

“Please don’t make me explain it!” Octavia whined. “She’ll never let me hear the end of it if you make me the one to explain modern vernacular and how nonsensical phrases have been added to our language!”

Luna’s eyes flitted to Vinyl, who wore a grin so wicked she could have passed for Erebos’ sister. Or perhaps a very, very distant relative.

“Very well. Another question, then.” She glanced between the mares—or, more specifically, their cutie marks.

A black eighth note pair and a violet treble clef. Symbols of music.

Her heart skipped a beat. Had she happened upon a pair of music lovers by chance?

That she didn’t sing praise to whatever had blessed her with such fortune was a testament to her restraint. Instead, she managed to keep herself to naught but a small smile as she nodded to each of them in turn. “I could not help but notice your cutie marks, and your name, Miss Octavia,” she said. “Perchance, do you both hold talent in some area of music?”

In almost perfect unison, Vinyl’s smirking and Octavia’s grimacing ceased. Their ears perked up straight.

A demure smile spread slowly across Octavia’s muzzle. She gave a little cough. “Yes, indeed,” she said, holding a hoof up to her chest. “As a matter of fact, I’m the first chair in the Royal Canterlot Symphony’s cello quartet and a graduate of Canterlot University’s School of Fine Arts and Music.”

Luna perked up. “Oh?” There was a school for musicians? Why had no pony thought to inform her? What had Celestia not told her the instant she returned? “Forgive me if I may sound presumptive, but I detect a note of pride in your voice. I take it the University is quite prestigious?”

Octavia bobbed her head. “Very much so! And very selective!”

At her side, Vinyl began furiously making a rhythm of four quick taps and a single stomp, then repeating it again and again until Octavia gave her a flat look, then added, “Yes, Vinyl, I was just getting to that.”

“What does she say?” Luna chuckled.

“She says, and I quote, ‘Me, too! Me, too! Me, too!’” Octavia raised a hoof. “To the Canterlot University portion. She does not play the cello, nor is she in the Symphony with me.” A frown marred her muzzle. “Though, if she would apply her talents toward a more classical genre …”

Rather than reply with her tapping, Vinyl simply favored to stick out her tongue and waggle her ears.

“She plays electronic synthesized music,” Octavia said after a moment, taking an extra second to glare at her friend. “Her stage name is—and yes, this is really it—DJ Pon-3.”

Vinyl tapped five times on the floor, then jumped and made a quick beat with all four hooves, and finished by brushing her right hoof against the side of her nose thrice.

Octavia let out another groan and brought her hoof to her forehead once again. “She says ‘top DJ in the house, homeslice’—oh, Celestia, did you have to say it like that?”

It was all Luna could do not to snicker. She felt light! Giddy, even!

A pair of musicians of high regard, right before her in such a small town!

Memories of her former Night Court flashed before her very eyes. Werner and Tempo’s faces made their way to the forefront—the closest of friends, yet the fiercest of rivals who would spend days bickering over time signatures and music theory.

Octavia and Vinyl were almost similar. One from the classical school, one from the more modern school Cadence might favor.

How very interesting.

“I have yet to have the opportunity to take in a performance by the Symphony. Or any of your genre, Miss Vinyl,” Luna said, choosing her words carefully.

The mares regarded her with confusion. Vinyl touched her shoulders, then tapped her chest, then she shrugged.

“No worries,” Octavia translated, then added, “Princess, you’ve been gone quite some time. It’s no small wonder you haven’t had the chance to take in a concert yet. It’s best you go at your own pace, I would think.”

Luna gave a rueful smile. “Too true it is. Though, I must confess, I have delayed quite a bit on getting myself back into the public eye, as it were. For—” she looked away, searching the crowd for any sign of Twilight’s tricolored mane. “Various reasons.”

There she was, stopped just a few paces from the kitchen door to chat with Pinkie. A bright smile graced her muzzle, those brilliant purple eyes were lit up, full of so much life and happiness.

Yes. Various reasons centered around the wonderful mare on the other side of the room.

She returned her attention to the pair of musicians. “Yes, various reasons. But I would like to resume my old practices. The art community was always an interest of mine, and I enjoyed being a regular fixture at the old concert halls.” Pausing a beat, she bit her lip. I wonder. “Tell me, do the modern halls still hold to the old traditions?”

Octavia’s eyes lit up. “There are many traditions we still hold dear, Princess,” she replied in a rush. “There’s the introduction of the conductor, who then proceeds to introduce the lead chairs and tell a bit about the pieces we’ll be performing.”

Luna hummed and gave an approving nod. A rather nice spin on how conductors—then composers—would take time to introduce their pieces by title and even tell a little bit about how they came to write it. Whether their discussion came before or after it was played was entirely up to the pony—or griffon—behind the stand.

But Octavia had yet to finish.

“Though, I would have to say the most important I can think of is that, if Princess Celestia or Princess Cadence are present, the conductor will wait for them to give their permission to begin.” Octavia beamed. “I’ve been privileged enough to play for Princess Cadence on many occasions, Princess Celestia doesn’t appear as much as she once did, or so I’m told.”

Midnight blue feathers fluffed. Luna felt her breath hitch in her throat.

“And the balcony?” She asked hastily, a grin spread across her muzzle. “They have the balcony, yes?”

“Of course.”

Her heart raced. Calm. Calm down. It will not be the same. She took a deep breath, schooling her expression to a more reserved smile. “I suppose the balconies are decorated with purple satin and adorned with my sister’s sun then, yes? Or perhaps my niece’s crystal heart, since she has been more present in recent years?”

Vinyl snorted and shook her head. She waved her hoof from side to side. Then she went into a rather complicated pattern of touching a hoof to either ear, then quickly touching her ear then her nose before drawing a circle in the air. To finish up, she sat back on her haunches and placed her hooves together, leaning her head on them as though she were laying down to sleep.

As had been the routine, Octavia was ready to translate. “No. Vinyl has been with me to many concerts in many different cities. She says—and I can confirm—that each is decorated with blue satin and bears a crescent moon above the throne.”

They kept it.

A hoof leapt to her mouth. Her vision blurred as her eyes brimmed with tears.

Even after all this time.

But did they know why?

“Would I be pressing too far in asking whether or not you might know why the crescent moon remains on display?”

Vinyl bobbed her head and signed a few things for Octavia as fast as she could.

“She says—oh, would you slow down! I can’t translate that fast!” Octavia scolded her. Sighing, she took her work back up. “She says that there was a time nearly a thousand years ago when the newer concert halls were being built when the architects weren’t certain if it was acceptable to continue decorating the Royal Balcony with the image of a crescent moon, so they went to ask Princess Celestia and, her understudy at the time, Princess Cadence …”

The rest of her explanation fell upon deaf ears. Luna blinked a few times. She brought up a hoof to chase away a few stray tears.

My niece.

My sister.

All those years spent hating Celestia, all the time spent looking down her nose at Cadence … Why did hindsight hurt her so?

How can I ever repay them for keeping some small part of me alive for a thousand years, even though I betrayed my ponies? How can I ever tell Tia how much it means to me?

They still loved her.

“I’m back!”

Twilight’s voice nearly made Luna jump out of her coat. She turned, flaring her wings out wide to steady herself. “By the stars, mare!” Luna held a hoof to her chest to soothe her racing heart. “Do you mean to make mine heart burst from my chest?”

Purple eyes danced with mirth. “Coming from the mare who delighted in scaring the foals on Nightmare Night and just made it a point to pull her dissolve into stars trick to surprise Pipsqueak?” Twilight retorted. “I don’t think you have much room to talk, Luna.”

Any other night, Luna would have been all to happy to turn things around. Instead, she pushed her thoughts of Celestia and Cadence aside and pointed at Octavia and Vinyl and said, “These lovely ladies were just telling me about the balconies in the concert halls. And the traditions from my day still remain!”

“Oh?” Twilight floated a cup of steaming tea over. “Which ones?”

Luna accepted the cup, her giddiness made her magic flare around it, the tea bubbled and sizzled in her grasp. Her wings fluttered, she had to fight every urge to prance in place as she did the night after her first visit. “They still wait for the princesses to begin the show! The balconies still bear my mark!”

Twilight’s ears perked up, the teasing smile wiped from her face, replaced by a more warm, genuine grin.

“Your mark, Princess?” Octavia asked before Twilight could give a reply.

They both turned to face her, Luna sucked in her lips at the way Octavia furrowed her brows as if unsure to believe her.

Several taps on the floor cut through the air as Vinyl began saying something to her friend.

Octavia turned toward her and frowned. “What are you laughing at me for? It’s a legitimate question!”

Vinyl grinned. She sat back on her haunches so she could sign freely, her hooves moved so fast Luna could barely track them.

“I did not fall asleep in art history class! Just because you took one of the most obscure subjects doesn’t mean I was a bad student! And claiming something should’ve been obvious isn’t explaining!”

More signing. Vinyl waggled her ears and stuck out her tongue.

“And just which of us showed up drunk to an exam, hmm? I was a model student, you were the party animal!” Octavia huffed. “Explain, or I’ll take a bloody hatchet to that detestable turntable of yours! And you’ll be on the couch!”

Luna brought a hoof to her mouth as she watched Vinyl shrug, her grin never faltering as she did just as Octavia demanded. She cast a sidelong look at Twilight and raised a brow.

Twilight giggled. “They always banter like this. It caught me by surprise the first time too—I thought Octavia was talking to herself.”

“Had they not explained Miss Vinyl being a ‘mute’, I would wonder the same,” Luna replied, her eyes flitted back to Octavia, watching closely for the mare’s reaction when Vinyl finished by pointing very emphatically at her. Several times.

It didn’t disappoint.

Violet eyes wide and jaw hanging low, Octavia took a step back from Vinyl as though she had been struck. She turned to Luna, then Vinyl, and back again several times.

“I—oh, goodness—I never even …” Octavia brought her hooves up to her mouth. “I didn’t even think to put it together with your return.”

Luna gave a wan smile. “I would think it justifiable, Miss Octavia. I have not been as active in the community as I was once.” Pausing to take a sip of her tea, she let her ears droop. “I shan’t pretend it does not pain me to be so widely forgotten, but it is nice to find that my happier influences on the land still linger. Even if they do seem obscure.” She looked between Vinyl and Twilight. “Though, a few seem to have sifted through the sands of time to find me before I became Nightmare Moon.”

Twilight blushed. “I’m a very curious pony.”

“To my benefit, it seems.”

Vinyl signed a few things out, then shrugged.

“She was bored in senior year,” Octavia translated with a heavy sigh. “But she remembered upon seeing you on Nightmare Night and put two and two together, as it were.”

“I see.” Luna frowned. “Then why did you not approach me?”

With another shrug, Vinyl signed out another reply.

“She says, and I do quote, ‘for the same reasons I don’t waltz up to Princess Celestia or Princess Cadence and ask them to join me for a beer when I see them backstage at Tavi’s shows—you’re a Princess. I’m not meant to act casual unless you say.’”

Luna flicked her tail. Her Children of the Night had never shied away from talking to her about the arts before, even when they sat in her Night Court. If anything, they flocked to her like, well, her own foals.

While the pair before her grew up without her acting as their Matron, Luna was not one to take a perception that she desired distance.

Stealing another look at Twilight, she gave her reply, “I have desired to return to my former station, but I know that will take time. I do miss the concert halls, and my sister has said that she would like me to take in a performance or two.”

Octavia’s face lit up. “The Royal Symphony has a performance coming up at the end of the month!” she replied, a quiver of giddiness tinging her tone. “It would be an honor if you’d join us!”

At her side, Vinyl smirked and added her own quip.

“Oh, shut up! I can advertise and be helpful!”

Luna gave an amused snort. Truly, they are quite the pair. Her eyes darted toward Twilight again. An idea came to mind. “I think I just might.”

A grin bright enough to light up the deepest, darkest night spread across Octavia’s muzzle. She bowed low and hurriedly babbled out her thanks and promises that the Symphony would not disappoint her.

Much to Vinyl’s amusement, of course.

Fortunately for Octavia, Twilight chose that moment to steer the conversation away from the concert before Vinyl could tease her further. Instead, she stepped closer to her fellow unicorn and began prodding for details on what class she’d taken to hear about Luna, what she found, and all sorts of other things.

Humming to herself, Luna sipped at her tea. Her mind centered less on her own history, more on the mare she fell for.

I did promise to take things slow.

A smiled played upon her lips. The concert would make for a lovely little night together.

Still, that would take a bit of time to figure out how to deliver her invitation. Courting had changed since her last relationship, no doubt. Perhaps she would have to consult Cadence on the matter.

Speaking of whom …

Luna closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

I must have words with my sister and niece.

32: The Stars Smile Upon Us

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Luna sat on the cool grass just a short trot away from Sugarcube Corner’s back door, the obsidian tiara rested atop her head once more. She spared herself an amused snort. Golden Harvest had been all too happy to dart over and return her gift once the party ended—her cheeks still tinged a rosy pink as she bowed and stammered her thanks.

And then, it came time to clean everything up. Naturally, Luna had offered her aid, as well as that of her compatriots, but it was refused quite vehemently. No matter how she tried, one of the Cakes or the other adults was there to “relieve” her of her burden so she might relax.

The final straw came when she offered to simply levitate all the food off the table and bring it into the kitchen. Pinkie had promptly pointed her outside to sit down, relax, and, most importantly, bring forth her night.

Truthfully, she had delayed a bit, but Celestia surely would not begrudge her an extra hour of fun. Call it back pay for the eclipse she cast during her attempted insurrection.

In any case, Luna could only sit and chuckle to herself. Despite being cast out so she would not do something so … what was it? Tedious? Menial? It certainly was not too difficult, if she were to be honest. Compared to raising the moon, lifting a table took about as much effort as rolling out of bed.

Menial, then. Perhaps they felt it beneath her.

What silly ponies they were.

Still, she had fun. That was all that really mattered.

This was a most prosperous endeavor. She hummed an old tune as she gazed up at her night sky. Tonight was a Werner night, she decided. He would love to know that she hummed Flug der Greife to herself while putting her lovely stars in place.

Almost on cue, Werner’s star gave a merry twinkle while Tempo’s flickered dimly, like a foal turning its back on its mother.

Frowning, Luna fixed Tempo’s star with a stern glare. “Don’t you start,” she scolded. “I shared your music with Twilight first and you know full well that you hold a place in my heart. Don’t be a brat, or I shan’t play another of your songs for her.”

Tempo’s star blinked at her.

“I am well aware that you have lovely music suitable for a romantic evening, but your attitude is worse than Sforzando when he did not get sweets.” Luna paused a moment as she watched Werner’s give a cheeky little shimmer. “None of your cheek, Werner! Do not antagonize!”

The pair had the decency to give a remorseful blink, then returned to shining brightly in her night sky. Luna could only shake her head. They were both still just as troublesome as they were in life.

“Foals,” she muttered.

“What was that, My Princess?” Erebos asked.

Flicking her ear toward him, Luna turned to her left to face her guards. A smirk played upon her lips when she noticed that Erebos sat with his wing was still wrapped tight around Moondancer.

She returned her attention to the stars above. “Werner and Tempo are being difficult, as usual,” Luna replied.

Erebos snorted. “Any particular reason why this time? Or just the normal?”

“I chose to hum one of Werner’s songs. Tempo objects and Werner preens.”

“Ah, I see.” He paused to allow the twins a chance to snigger quietly. “Well, I suppose you’ll have to hum in alternating melodies to appease them both.”

Luna rolled her eyes and shook her head. Cheeky ponies in life and cheeky ponies and griffons teasing her from beyond the veil of death through her own stars.

Her lips tugged into a smile. How else would her Children of the Night be, but exactly as she raised them?

Or, in her mischievous guards’ cases, how they had been raised in her stead.

Truly, Celestia had gone out of her way to ensure that her legacy survived in some fashion. Little hints, hidden in plain sight for those who looked close enough.

The crescent moon engraved above the balcony.

Her Night Guard maintaining the spirit of the bat ponies who originally filled her ranks, even though pegasi, unicorns, and even a few earth ponies had trickled in over the centuries to wander the halls of Canterlot Castle and protect those within whenever night fell.

Celestia herself in how she played tricks and enjoyed her own manner of doublespeak to tease those around her. Cadence with her passion for romance and the arts. Twilight in her appreciation for any little thing that sparked her interest, regardless of whether it were basked in the sun’s glow or bathed in the darkness of night.

Her attention turned to the star closest to the moon. It had been shining quite brightly since she’d placed it up, curious since it lacked a name.

Or, rather, it lacked one that she knew of. Her stars could be fickle like that. She had named most of them, but there were a few which picked their own names before she had the chance, and seemed to delight in teasing her until she figured it out.

Luna frowned at the star. It was shining almost as bright as her moon, like it wanted everypony to see its splendor.

Werner and Tempo were starting to get jealous.

“Will you tell me your name?” she asked softly. “I have not seen you shine so bright in all our years together, little one.”

The star flickered and danced, like a naughty foal laughing as it darted behind a bush to hide from her.

Snorting, Luna let her shoulders relax. “I thought not. You wish to make me guess, do you not?”

It twinkled, quite impudently at that.

“Cheeky thing. Why can you not cooperate? Surely you must be somepony close to me, and happy if you shine so bright.”

Again, the star defied her. It gave a noncommittal blink, then returned to its boastful shining.

She sighed. One of these days, she would write a book. Something about how maddening an alicorn’s domain could be, even to the one who held it in hoof. Her sister had the nebulous gray areas of law and philosophy, her niece the strange, tumultuous dominion of love and sexuality, and she had the arts and her night sky.

The sound of grass rustling and hooves thudding against the ground made her ears stand up. Luna looked over her shoulder, smiling as she found Twilight headed toward them. She nodded once. “I take it cleaning is finished and I may return?”

Twilight laughed and shook her head. “Not quite. I’ve been banished from the kitchen because I dared try to organize Mrs. Cake’s cabinets. Apparently, that breaks all of the most sacred and noble laws of the kitchen, or so I’m told.” She sat down on Luna’s right, leaning against her. “So, it looks like we’ve both been forbidden to help with the cleanup process.”

“Truly, we are criminals of the worst sort.”

“Oh, yes!” Twilight met her gaze, those beautiful purple eyes danced with mirth. “I can only imagine what Princess Celestia hears about it! Do you think we’ll get names?”

“Names?” Luna parroted, wrinkling her snout. “Why should we have names? We already have names. Quite lovely ones, at that.”

For reasons unknown to Luna, Twilight brought a hoof to her mouth in a rather poor attempt to stifle her giggles. “Never mind,” she said after a moment, her voice strained. Clearing her throat, Twilight turned her attention to Luna’s sky and smiled. “It’s just as beautiful as the first time I saw you bring it.”

Luna felt her heart do a backflip, her cheeks burned. “Thank you. I am glad to hear you say so.”

Giving a big smile, Twilight leaned up to rub her cheek against Luna’s. “I heard you talking to them,” she whispered.

“My loved ones are always with me. Even when their lives come to an end.”

She felt Twilight turn to nose against her cheek. “Do they ever talk back?”

Luna chuckled. “Always.” She dotted Twilight’s nose with a kiss. “Tempo was just complaining that I favored Werner’s music while I was putting their brethren up in the sky, while my griffon friend chose to tease him for it in kind.” Turning, she fixed her gaze on the star beside her moon. It shone more brilliantly than before.

How very curious.

Twilight hummed, drawing her attention once again. Luna blinked at the sight of a playful smirk gracing the younger mare’s features.

What ever could she be thinking?

“Are you sure you’re not just playing to pass the time?” Twilight asked with an almost saccharine tone in her voice, betraying her false innocence. “Princess Celestia likes to pass off her fascination with cakes as her little eccentricity that came with age, so I guess it’s not completely out of the ordinary …”

Luna pursed her lips. Cheeky little mare!

There would be retribution for the slight. Whenever the opportune moment presented itself, Twilight would rue the moment she thought to tease the Mistress of the Night.

Outwardly, Luna simply forced a smile. “Perhaps I am. More’s the pity for the mare who attracts my attention, then.” She drew in close, cupping Twilight’s chin with her hoof. “I do so hope she can appreciate a good courting, though. T’would be most distressing if the old ways had fallen so out of fashion that my efforts to ensure she knew she held a place among the very ponies for whom my stars were named.”

Twilight’s blush returned in full force. The lovely purple coat covering her face darkened, she gaped wide-eyed and jaw slackened, her mouth worked wordlessly as the brilliant mind behind those beautiful eyes went into overdrive trying to think of a suitable reply.

Oh, my dear, you are far too easy! Luna nuzzled her nose, then tilted her head to the side to steal a quick kiss.

It would be far too fun to see how Twilight reacted to just a few of her plans. While Cadence was certainly the Princess of Love, Romance, and Sexuality, Luna was quite certain she could give her a good run for her money. Especially when it came to courtship.

Oh, yes.

The kiss ended all too soon. But Luna smiled all the same.

She had promised to take things nice and slow. It would hardly do for her to pounce upon Twilight and smother her with kisses. Or simply guide her to lay back on the grass so she could kiss her with all the passion and love Luna held for her, the same with which she crafted her night sky.

I promised.

Luna stood, offering a hoof to help Twilight up. A gesture the mare was happy to accept, the rosy hue spread across her face made its way to the very tips of her ears.

Stealing another quick kiss, Luna draped a wing across Twilight’s withers and led her inside. It was getting late. Soon enough, it would be time for all her little ponies to go to bed and enjoy her beautiful dream realm.

And loathe though she was to let Twilight go, Luna could hardly rob her of yet another night of rest.

With her entourage following close behind, they entered through the kitchen. Luna paused to give praise to the Cakes as they juggled—in Pinkie’s case, quite literally—putting away their utensils with peeking over to make sure their foals were occupied by their toys.

She bade them good night, of course. She even made sure to take a few seconds to nuzzle Pound and Pumpkin, whispering a promise of sweet dreams to each, even though they couldn’t understand the meaning.

All they knew was that their big pony princess was leaving, and that simply did not sit well.

So, it was only mildly surprising when Luna found herself with a pair of rather clingy weights wrapped around her legs, babbling pleas that she not leave.

Were it not for Pound having chosen her right forehoof, she would have brought it to her chest to steady her beating heart. Adorable. Her one weakness, really, aside from good music and painting.

Along with the mare wrapped snuggly beneath her wing, giggling shamelessly at her plight.

There would be retribution. And it would be glorious, truly worthy of the Mistress of the Night, Matron of the Arts, Defender of the Dream Realm, and Trickster Princess.

Luna frowned. Maybe it was time to shed a couple of those old titles. She had yet to hear Celestia or Cadence refer to themselves with such things. Had that, too, been a casualty of the change in culture she missed during her exile?

Food for thought.

With a bit of coaxing, and some assurance that she would visit again soon, Luna managed to free herself from her tiny captors so she could make her way out to the main dining area, where the last remnants of the party were still being cleaned up.

Luna trotted straight over to Golden Harvest and offered her hoof so she might bid the mare a happy birthday one last time before leaving for the night, which had the rather unintended effect of drawing a small crowd, headed by Golden herself, as she made for her chariot.

Doing her best to hide a grimace, Luna forced her smile to remain in place as she nodded and said goodnight to the towns ponies while Strider and Shooting Star hitched themselves up, under Erebos’ watchful eye. Though, she did allow herself a more genuine grin when she exchanged a polite hoofshake with Rarity and Octavia, then what she came to know as a “hoof bump” from Vinyl Scratch, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie.

She sniggered at how Rarity gaped, aghast that anypony would dare do such a thing, while Octavia sucked in her lips and closed her eyes while she drew in a sharp breath before marching up to Vinyl and launching into a rather heated exchange—if the rapid fire signing the pair were doing was any indication at all.

Her wing tightened around Twilight’s barrel. “T’would seem that I have made myself quite the spectacle this eve,” Luna noted. “I do hope Golden Harvest does not feel upstaged.”

Twilight made a point of turning to look at Golden Harvest. The carrot farmer seemed to alternate between prancing in place or trying to feign some semblance of propriety in Luna’s presence.

“I would say she’s still walking on sunshine right about now,” Twilight said happily. “Or perhaps it’s moonlight. Hmm.”

“Oh, good. That is quite a relief.” Luna gave one final nod to Golden Harvest and said, “Many thanks for allowing me the pleasure of sharing this night with you, Golden Harvest. T’was a privilege to celebrate with you.” She looked out to the crowd, beaming at the towns ponies. “All of you.”

They bowed in reply. Luna flicked her ears up as she heard a series of thumps against the ground, then noticed Vinyl brushing the side of her snout and touching either shoulder.

She looked to Octavia for translation. The mare smiled. “Vinyl says it was nice to have a chance to talk with you, and she hopes to see you again soon.”

Vinyl went through a few more signs.

Octavia groaned. “I’m not saying that.”

More signing. Vinyl waggled her ears and jumped a few times.

“I don’t care if you think she’ll find it funny, I am not saying it!”

Luna raised an eyebrow. She just had to know. “What is she saying?”

A low whine escaped Octavia’s lips. “Do I really have to translate?”

“It would please me, yes.”

“Very well. She also says—everypony, please forgive me in advance—” with a heavy sigh, brought a hoof to her forehead. “Peace out, catch you on the flippity-flip.”

A wave of laughter and groaning swept through the crowd. Luna only barely withheld a snort of amusement as she noticed Rarity swaying as though she were about to faint.

One last bit of entertainment before she went home and took care of business with her sister and niece. Not to mention a little insight into how some of these ponies spoke and acted.

Returning her attention to Twilight, Luna went to hug her, but stopped short. Thinking a moment, she considered her options. She had a nice, big audience, eager to see her off, and she had personalized her farewells a bit. And she did owe Twilight for that little crack about her eccentricities.

A smile spread across her muzzle.

Luna turned Twilight’s head with a gentle hoof, her eyes lidded. Oh, yes. She knew exactly how to even the score. All she had to do was make sure she kept it clean.

Her promise had been to take it slow.

Never once did Luna say she would not lavish Twilight with her affections in public.

There was no doubt in her mind that Ponyville’s denizens would be talking about the eve they witnessed a crown princess swoop down and kiss their bookish librarian for years.

Loopholes, like her night sky, were a beautiful thing.

Though nowhere near as beautiful as the way Twilight froze up, blushing bright red and gaping in muted horror while Luna bid the crowd of shocked ponies one final farewell and stepped into her chariot.

It took all her self-control not to burst into maniacal laughter as she turned to Erebos and gave the command.

“Take me home, Captain,” she said. Her thoughts turned away from her stunned suitor and the gaping crowd, focusing in on two ponies she owed so much.

One she had been unfair to upon her return.

And the other who never stopped loving her, even in her darkest hour.

Luna closed her eyes and fought against the familiar sting of tears as she heard Erebos call out for Strider and Shooting Star to take flight. She was so lost in thought that she barely even noticed their hooves thundering against the ground, the wind whipping through her mane, or the chariot lurching back as they took off.

Her thoughts were with her sister and niece.

33: A Dialogue Between Immortals (Plus One Mortal Brother)

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Celestia had gotten used to having Luna home.

As she sat on the balcony beneath yet another of her sister’s beautifully crafted night skies, she smiled and sipped at her tea. Truly, Luna possessed a talent for art like no other. Any pony, given the power and knowledge of how to use it, could raise the moon and set the stars in place with a wave of their hooves.

But no pony held the same connection with them as Luna. No pony knew that Tempo and Werner liked to be close together, even though they bickered and bantered over musical theory to this day. Or that the founders six stood together, just south of the moon itself.

To everypony else, they were just stars.

To Celestia herself, they were all reminders of the days Luna’s smile could bring life to a room and ponies would come from far and wide to garner her favor.

“You know,” Cadence’s voice cut through her thoughts. “I think they’re shining a bit brighter than usual tonight.”

“It’s a product of their connection with Luna,” Celestia noted absentmindedly, stealing a glance across the table at her niece. “Even in death, they watch over their Princess of the Night. When she is happy, they are happy and light up bright for all of Equestria to see.”

Cadence hummed. “Interesting. I have to ask, is it just me, or is the star nearest to the moon’s right shining brighter than all of them?”

Furrowing her brow, Celestia looked to the star in question. Her eyes went wide. Cadence was absolutely right!

The star was practically dancing, begging for all of Equestria to pay attention and take note of its splendor. Celestia felt her breath hitch in her throat. There were only a few reasons for Luna’s stars to behave in such a manner, and for one to shine like this …

A smile tugged at her lips. “I believe that star has just been named,” she said, taking another sip of her tea. “How lovely.”

For a moment, neither said a word. Then, Cadence huffed. “I don’t suppose you know who it is?”

“I’m quite sure we both do,” Celestia replied. “The real question, my dear niece, is whether or not Luna realizes it yet.”

“That’s just maddeningly unhelpful!” Cadence whined, slumping in her seat and pouting like a foal.

How long had it been since she had last been a filly? It must have been nearly twenty years, now. Yes, twenty.

She met Shining and Twilight after her last change.

Celestia smiled and shrugged. “Perhaps that’s why I was never able to have the same relationship with the night as Luna—I prefer things to all be neat and orderly, with very little deviation from my routines. You and Luna are rather similar in your affinity for those, especially with romance being so close to the arts.”

“I know!” Cadence let her chin fall to the table. She glared at the tea pot resting at the center. “But how am I supposed to help things along if I don’t know where exactly they are in their relationship?”

Celestia made to retort, but to her right, Shining Armor coughed. “Pardon me for interrupting, but you make it sound as though the stars are as fickle with Luna as love lines can be with Cadence.”

Too easy. “I don’t mean to imply anything, Shining.” Celestia’s smile broadened into a full toothy grin. Shining was at ‘work’ in the most technical sense of the word. All he had to do was stand nearby and wear his armor, he could talk or drink if he so chose unless she or Cadence said otherwise.

Since the matter at hoof involved their own siblings, Celestia was quite happy to allow him the chance to speak freely.

Still, that didn’t mean he’d get his answers anymore straightforward than his sister might. They were both rather adorable in how huffy they got over such things.

Something that dawned on him after only a few seconds of pause. He fixed her with a flat look. “Princess,” he said with a sigh. “Would you please clarify for those of us who don’t fully understand how alicorns’ domains work?”

“I was hoping you’d ask!” Celestia beamed. “You see, Luna and I have always been rather differing in how our temperaments matched our domains: while we both like order, I prefer things to be as routine as the rise and fall of the sun. Granted, I don’t mind little changes to spice things up, but I think you both know I rarely deviate from my habits.”

“You never miss morning tea,” Cadence quipped. “Not even if you’ve got the Yakistan ambassador screaming at you over something not being to his preferences.”

Celestia shook her head. “Yes. Such a lovely fellow, indeed. Anyway, Luna bears quite a bit of similarity to Cadence as far as temperament, and her connection with the arts and the night sky is very similar to Cadence’s with love.” A wry smile played upon her lips. “I do believe you know more than anypony how my niece can be passionate in every meaning of the word.”

She couldn’t help but chuckle at the visible shudder he gave in reply, and the sidelong smirk Cadence sent his way.

“Though she is quite lovely, Cadence can be just like love itself—sweet, sensuous, and beautiful, but painful, tricky, and, when her temper is roused, wicked.”

Cadence raised a hoof. “In my defense,” she began, “those bandits tried to ransom Cornucopia for gemstones. So, forgive me if I’m still not exactly remorseful.”

Snorting, Celestia raised an eyebrow. “The diamond dogs still live most of their lives underground, Cadence. I think you were just a tad excessive.”

“My husband, my love, my domain.” Cadence’s eyes hardened. “I don’t step into matters of law when I disagree with you.”

Celestia held up her hooves in surrender. “I don’t mean to imply a want to intrude, just making an observation.”

With a frown marring her muzzle, Cadence sat up straight and huffed. “Sorry. You know how I can get.”

“I do, and I sympathize.” Sighing, Celestia took a sip of her tea. The urge to kick herself was almost too great to bear. She should have known better than to prod at Cadence’s defense of one of her lovers—she did know better.

Shining shifted in place, his armor clattered with his movement. “Er, Princess?” he half-mumbled. “I really don’t mean to be rude, but about my question …”

Oops. Celestia felt her cheeks burn. “My apologies. It seems my habit of letting my mind wander while I explain is still very real. I believe I was covering the similarities between Cadence and Luna with respect to their domains.” Pausing a moment to her throat, she continued, “Much like Cadence, Luna has always been one of multiple fronts. When we were younger, she was always the more mysterious of us, preferring to do her good deeds in the shadows, sing lullabies to frightened foals, and whisper encouragement to lost travelers, while I preferred to be rather showy.”

“So, literally like night and day,” Shining supplied.

“Indeed. But as we grew older, Luna began to come out of the shadows, at my behest, to share a bit of her hobbies with our ponies.” She chuckled to herself. “You should have seen how they fell in love with her old paintings. She showed them a way of looking at our land that none had ever dreamed.”

Her throat tightened, Celestia took a deep breath through her nose. “I’d never seen her so happy. The stars shined so bright, I had to beg her to calm down so our ponies could get to sleep that night! As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that’s where the phrase ‘think of the foals’ came from.” She snickered to herself, then schooled her expression, forcing her lips to form a stern scowl. “Luna, though I am as pleased as thee, sister mine, to see that our ponies love thy works, I implore thee, think of the foals and curb thine excitement!”

Cadence beamed. “I love that story! I remember you telling it when I was a filly!”

“Which time?” Shining quipped.

Slowly, Cadence turned to fix him with a hooded stare. “An age joke, dearest?” she purred. “You’ll pay once we get home.”

His cheeks took on a rosy hue. Shining pointedly avoided her gaze, looking toward the moon instead. “I mean, what a nice story, Princess!” he praised as though he hadn’t heard the grinning Princess of Love. “Always a treat to hear one of yours!”

Humming, Celestia took another sip of her tea. She hid a bemused smile behind her cup as she watched her niece cross one hoof over the other and slowly raise her brows as she ran her tongue over her lips.

Celestia could almost see steam rising from within poor Shining’s armor. She chuckled and shook her head as she set her tea cup down on the saucer. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. Luna’s joy that night was unlike any I’d ever seen. Although …” Her eyes wandered skyward, scanning the countless twinkling stars that decorated her sister’s lovely night sky.

They’re all dancing. She traced the constellations, noting the name of each star with practiced ease. What has you all so excited tonight?

With a shrug, she returned her gaze to Shining Armor. “Let’s just say that sometimes, Luna’s stars like to play games with her, too. Just as she did them when they lived, or still do with those alive.”

Shining wrinkled his snout. “It almost sounds like she doesn’t have total control over them.”

“She does, and she doesn’t.” Celestia fluffed her feathers. “Luna has all the control over her stars as a mother does her foals—she can tell them where to go and chide them for misbehaving, but they can be stubborn and needy. Heavens knows they refused to shine for me like they do her!” Huffing, she cast a glare at Werner and Tempo. “Those two, in particular, were pains in my backside from the first night I had to put them in place, to the very last. They were overjoyed when she returned, the cheeky little things!”

“I’ll … have to take your word for it.” Shining shifted again, his ear flicked. “Sorry. I don’t mean to sound like an idiot, but a lot of this goes right over my head.”

Cadence laughed and stood, then trotted over to nuzzle his cheek. “It went over my head for a while as well,” she said, sharing a wink with Celestia. “You wouldn’t believe how maddening it was for me when I tried to understand why I could see ponies’ love lines in ways they couldn’t, but didn’t know how to get them to the point they’d be happiest! Love is a wonderful thing, but it can be a pest to hold dominion over!”

“To say nothing of living with the starstruck filly while she was learning to govern it properly,” Celestia teased. “How many times did you try to set me up with—”

“We aren’t talking about that!” Cadence cut her off with a glare. “I maintain Whimsy Mimsy would have been perfect for you back then!”

An well-trimmed white brow raised. “I was grieving the loss of my sister.”

“You played that card for a thousand years, Auntie, it doesn’t count! And you loved Whimsy!”

“She was a friend. A very close friend.” There was a beat of silence, then she added, “Whimsy was also married.”

Cadence pinned her ears back and shot her a glare that could’ve curdled milk. “You know that only means something if they don’t want to be courted.”

Shrugging, Celestia opted to let the argument die. Eight hundred and eighty-seven years later, and I’m still hearing about this. Let it never be said the Princess of Love doesn’t know how to hold a grudge.

A return to the original topic would be for the best.

And not just because she knew full well that Cadence was right.

Certainly not.

Celestia averted her gaze, instead looking to the dancing star nearest the moon. “I wonder if this one is being up front with her.” She hid a laugh behind a hoof. “Or if it’s being as tricky as some of the others!”

“Hopefully so.” Cadence’s ears perked up, her tail whipped from side to side. “If it’s who I think it is, I’ll finally get to help Auntie Luna!”

“Help her?” Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Whatever with?”

“Courting Twilight of course!”

What? Celestia tilted her head, blinking a few times. “I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure I understand. Do you think my sister needs help because it’s Twilight, or is it because you think she doesn’t know how to romance another pony? If it’s the latter …” she trailed off, her voice broke as a laugh threatened to bubble forth.

Cadence furrowed her brows. “I’m not trying to be funny! I’m just saying, she’s been gone a long time, and she’s shown a bit of skittishness with regard to making friends! So, it’s only logical that—would you stop that sniggering! I’m trying to help!

Fluffing her feathers, Celestia shook her head and covered her mouth with a gold-shoed hoof. “I’m sorry!” she said, still tittering at the thought. “It’s just—oh, goodness, dear, did I never tell you? Did I really never tell you how Luna’s courtships usually went back in our day?”

“Not that I recall.” Her brows raised, Cadence pouted. “I thought you told me all her stories—why wouldn’t you tell me about her romances? Of all ponies, me!

“An oversight, I’m sure.” Celestia gave an awkward cough. “Well, I won’t go into too much detail—unless you’d like a hint as to what your sister may be in for, Shining?”

Shining started. His deep blue eyes flitted between both princesses, he flinched away when Cadence fixed him with an expectant stare. “Er … is it too late to say that I shouldn’t be involved in the personal business of the Royal Family?”

Oooh. Celestia hid a wince. Wrong answer, Shining Armor.

A spark flashed in Cadence’s eyes. She moved in close enough that their noses touched, her lips brushed against his as she spoke, “If I have my way, you’ll be in the Royal Family soon enough, lover. Answer the question.”

“I … really think it’s safer if I don’t and just pretend I’m not here instead.”

Oh for two.

Though the temptation to sit back and watch her evening’s entertainment was quite real, Celestia sent a tendril of magic to tweak Cadence’s soft, pink ear tips. “Now, now, dear, don’t bully him just because you want gossip,” she chided, winking at Shining. “There will be plenty of time to tease later.”

Shining blanched and made to back away, but Cadence looped a hoof around his shoulders and held him tight. A hooded stare and coy grin brought the roses back to his cheeks.

He was in more than just a little hot water.

Celestia opted to take a small measure of pity on her poor Captain of the Guard. She coughed, then spoke, “I won’t deny you the right to help, Cadence. That’s your right, both as Princess of Love and as family. I would happily do the same. But not unless Luna asks.” She held up a hoof to forestall any argument. “Trust me, Cadence. When it comes to courtship, Luna is fully capable of handling herself. The mare could make the dragon lords of old blush beneath their scales with her honeyed tongue.”

For a moment, Cadence seemed to wrestle with something. Sadness, agitation, and curiosity flashed across her face in rapid succession. She wanted to be involved in Luna’s life, and had waited to long for Twilight to show any interested in love, it was almost an affront to her domain.

Standing, Celestia trotted over to lay a hoof on her niece’s shoulder. “I know I ask much of you,” she said. “But please? For me?”

Cadence looked down at her hooves, frowning. “Fine,” she muttered bitterly. “I won’t pry unless she asks for help.” She raised her head to meet Celestia’s gaze. “On one condition.”

Of course. I trespassed into Love, so I must pay a toll. Celestia smiled. “I’m listening.”

Her smile faltered as Cadence fixed her with a wicked grin. Brilliant purple eyes danced with unrepressed glee, like a cat who’d caught a canary. “You, my dear Auntie Celestia, have to let me help you find the one who’s meant to be your special somepony—and there will be no silly arguments or distractions this time!”

A heavy silence hung over them. Celestia sucked in her lips and gave her tail a flick.

Then Shining snorted, his cheeks puffed out and he sucked in his lips. He turned away, shoulders shaking with poorly suppressed laughter.

Celestia sighed and did her best to ignore him. Damn. “Very well,” she said, nodding to Cadence. “But that doesn’t give you carte blanche to start lining ponies up against a wall to date me, or something silly.”

“Of course not. I have more respect for you than that.”

“How very magnanimous of you. Now, with that—” Out of the corner of her eye, Celestia noticed a familiar figure standing in the doorway, flanked by Erebos, Strider, Shooting Star, and Moondancer.

Luna stared back at her with an unreadable expression, her mouth set in a thin line, her brows furrowed, and her eyes brimming with tears.

Crying.

Her little sister was crying.

Celestia felt her heart race, her mind went into full overdrive. “Luna? What’s wrong?”

It was as though a spell had been lifted. Luna strode forward, her shoulders shook. Her watery gaze fixed on Celestia.

She stopped just within hoof’s reach. “Sister,” Luna managed to choke out.

“Luna, please, what’s wrong?” Celestia laid a hoof on her shoulder. “Why are you crying? Did something happen at the party?”

Before she could blink, Celestia found herself wrapped in a tight hug.

Luna buried her face in Celestia’s chest, tears spilled freely down her cheeks. Her horn flashed teal. Cadence let out a startled squeak as she was pulled over and snatched up in the hug.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you for keeping me alive all these years.”

Confused, Celestia wrapped a hoof around Luna’s back, more out of instinct than anything. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Cadence. Her niece shook her head, likewise returning the hug if only to appease the weeping Night Princess.

What in the name of the sun and moon brought all this on?

“Why?”

Celestia blinked and drew back, her brows furrowed. “Why what?”

Luna raised her head, her watery teal eyes bored into Celestia’s. “After all the things I said that night, after I turned away from you and tried—” she hiccuped, choking on the words. “Why did you go to such lengths to keep my legacy alive? How could you not want all memory of me removed?”

The sun’s flames burned within her chest. Celestia drew in a sharp breath, closing her eyes. “Why ever would I do such a thing?” she asked like a mother speaking to her foal. “Why ever would you think I would want to?”

A whimper made her ear twitch. She could feel Luna stiffen as though afraid to reply. “I always thought you must’ve hated me,” she whispered.

The flames dimmed just a moment, leaving her with a cold pit at her very core.

But only for an instant before they returned in full force. Was that truly what Luna thought happened?

Celestia sucked in her lips. She would not rage, she would not scold. Nor would she break down in tears. Not this time.

Luna needed to know the truth, so she would be strong.

Slowly, Celestia drew in a breath through her nose. She opened her eyes and took Luna’s chin in her hoof. “Never,” she whispered in reply. “Not for a second, Luna. From the moment I lost you, up until the moment you returned to me, I spent a thousand years wishing to see you.”

Luna pressed her face into Celestia’s chest again, her grip tightened. “I tried to kill you,” she whimpered. “I don’t deserve—”

“You deserve every bit of my love and affection, you silly mare.” Celestia kissed the top of her mane. “I forgave you the moment I knew what punishment the Elements had chosen, and longed for the day my little sister would find her way home.”

A weak, muffled laugh tickled her coat. “If not for Twilight, I wouldn’t have.”

“I don’t care. You’re home and you were forgiven many centuries ago.” Gently, Celestia pushed Luna back so she could look into her eyes. She smiled and unfurled a wing to wipe away the tears marring her lovely sister’s face.

She missed this so. Every moment for a thousand years felt incomplete.

What was the sun without the moon? Or the day without night?

Who was Celestia without Luna?

A shade.

“The only pony left to forgive you is here.” Celestia placed a hoof over Luna’s heart. “It’s time, little sister. Stop hiding in the shadows, stop trying to hide what you did to protect those you loved—to protect me! Please!” Hot tears stung her eyes.

She would not cry.

Not again.

She pulled Luna in close, wrapping her in a tight hug as she did when they were fillies. She cursed herself, as she had done countless times since the Night Court’s fall from grace, for letting Luna give that happy part of herself up.

Just for tonight, the trio of alicorns weren’t princesses.

They were just two mares comforting one who needed to know she was loved, by none more than her family.

The stars above shone down upon them, twinkling in merriment for their beloved Matron.

None brighter than the one nearest to her moon.

34: The Night's Favored Mare

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Luna’s silver horseshoes glinted in the soft light as she drummed her hooves on her wooden desk. Before her laid a book she had one of her most trusted guards sneak from the library on her behalf. Truth be told, she was no stranger to courtship by any means. Why, it was only fifteen hundred years ago that she had a strapping young stallion named Mountain Shaker tucked snug beneath her wing, and a beautiful mare by the name of Will o’ Wisp the century before that!

However, as her family had been so wont to beat into her head, times had changed. Courtship, too, would have changed somewhat. So, it fell upon her, the pursuer, to study and discern how best to go about courting the lovely young mare with whom she’d been so smitten.

But she couldn’t shake the feeling that this particular … book her ever-faithful Night Guard has supplied her was simply lacking in substance. It was just so very …

Unsatisfying? Was that the word she was looking for? Whatever it was, it wasn’t what the book was trying to peddle.

Looking to land the mare of your dreams? Trying to get that special somepony you’ve been pining over to notice how you feel?

Well, friend, you’re not alone!

Believe it or not, hundreds of thousands of mares and stallions alike go through the exact same thing. Feeling a little uneasy about asking somepony out, or unsure about how to go about setting up a first date is completely normal. There’s no need to go way out of your comfort zone—or, more importantly, theirs—to have a good time. A first date is supposed to be more of a feeling out period these days, rather than the extravagant shows of love of old. So, relax. Don’t be afraid to just let your mane down and be yourself.

Let’s start with the basics …

Luna tried to keep from scowling. She closed the book with a sharp snap and pushed it away, wrinkling her snout as though she smelled something foul.

What ever happened to proper courting? When had this less demonstrative way come into practice? Perhaps something she could take up with Tia. Or would that be something to pester Cadence about? Either way, this wouldn’t do at all.

She sighed and brought her hooves up to rub at her temples. How was she to figure out how to court Twilight in a way that made her comfortable if modern courtship practices were so very different?

An amused snort made her swivel an ear. Frowning, Luna turned to fix Erebos with a flat stare. “Is there something you wish to share, Erebos?”

He shook his head. “No, Your Highness,” he replied, his eyes dancing with mirth. “I just couldn’t help but notice how you were glaring at that book. Like you were hoping to make it burst into flames without magic.”

Despite her mood, Luna felt the corners of her mouth twitch. He always knew how to make her smile, no matter how angry she might be. “I have been known to make enemies freeze in place, though burning would be a new one, I think.”

“Duly noted, Your Highness. Is there any particular reason why the book deserves your ire, then?” Erebos grinned and waggled his ears. “I could fetch Sleepless if he failed to meet your expectations.”

Luna shook her head. “I think it less our dear Sleepless Night’s failure and more the subject itself,” she said, tapping a hoof against the cover. “This is a book for beginners. I asked for something more along the lines of a guide for modern courtship.”

Erebos sucked in a breath through his teeth. “I see. Would you like me to speak with him about properly obeying orders?”

“No, I do not believe he did so deliberately.” Smiling, Luna heaved a sigh. “He has been one of my most faithful Night Guards since my return, and your prior reports indicate similar dedication to his work. I would loathe to tarnish his record over a misunderstanding.” She gave a playful grin. “I believe he mistook my request and assumed I wished to read something he perused to meet that girlfriend of his.”

“Ah, yes. Miss Dreamweaver.” Chuckling, Erebos shook his head. “Lucky stallion managed to catch himself a beauty, really. If Princess Cadence knew of them, I’d wager she would make them her little pet project.”

Oh, if only. Luna rubbed her chin. “That would be a rather good way of keeping her out of my mane …”

Another snort. “With respect, Your Highness, I don’t think you have a chance of that happening.” His fangs glinted in the flickering candlelight. “She’s as close to Miss Twilight as Princess Celestia, though not quite in the pseudo-motherly way.”

“I am more than aware, yes.” She frowned. “This still leaves me at a disadvantage, though. I was hoping to figure out something to indicate what manner of courtship Twilight might be comfortable with. Not a beginner’s guide.”

Erebos hummed to himself. “Maybe you could just do without the books,” he offered.

Her ears perked up. “Elaborate, please.”

“Well, if I might be so bold, you’ve already sort of done the ‘first date’ routine, if you want to count your friendly get-togethers. The idea of learning a bit about one another for dating isn’t all the much different from learning about a new friend. Just with the prospect of, well, romancing one another on the table.” He shifted in place and gave a crooked grimace. “So, you can really skip that portion of it.”

Luna beamed. “Oh, excellent! Then I can move on to something a bit more affectionate?” She brought a hoof to her chin, furrowing her brows in thought. Her wings fluttered excitedly. “Erebos, I just may have an idea.”

“Oh? I’m glad to hear.” He smiled back at her. “What did you have in mind?”

Turning to face her desk again, Luna levitated a sheet of parchment to sit before her, then dipped her quill in ink. She gave her starry tail a swish and began to concentrate, she closed her eyes and let her thoughts wander until Twilight’s face floated into view. Millennia’s worth of knowledge and artistic brilliance focused on the mare she held most dear.

“How do you think she would like poetry?”


Twilight tried her best to ignore the stares and whispers that followed her as she trotted through Ponyville’s marketplace. Her ears splayed back against her scalp, she hunched her shoulders and tried to get lost within a crowd that just wasn’t there.

No matter which stall she approached, the customers and stall owners would just gape at her in slack-jawed awe. As though she’d grown two heads overnight.

Perhaps that would be preferable. At least then they’d have something to talk about that didn’t involve what had simply come to be known as “the kiss.”

“Can you believe it? Princess Luna and Twilight!

“I still can’t! I mean, right in front of all of us!” Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight noticed Daisy beckoning Roseluck and Lily closer. “How long do you think they’ve been … you know?”

Lily glanced between them. “Who would know? I mean, that’s the first I’ve seen of them acting like a couple! Do you think they’ve been sneaking about? Princess Luna is the Princess of the Night, after all. And those Night Guards of hers are supposed to be masters of stealth from what Lyra and Lemon Hearts say.”

“Could they?”

“If she asked, why not? She’s their mistress, isn’t she? All it takes is an order and who knows how fast they can have Twilight whisked away to some secret get away for two? Or one of Canterlot’s finest restaurants, reserved for a royal guest plus one?”

The trio burst into excited squeals. Twilight felt fire burn within her cheeks. She shook her head and hurried past their stall as quickly as she could. Anything to get away from them before they caught sight of her and started trying to prod her for all the juicy details.

All she had to do was pick up a few things, avoid any odd questions, and get out. Simple. Easy. As long as she could avoid her friends.

A shudder ran down her spine. Only her quick thinking and a teleport spell saved her after Golden Harvest’s party. She saw how their eyes lit up as bright grins nearly split their muzzles, Rarity and Pinkie both stepped forward, eager to drag her off for questioning before she popped out of existence and shut herself in her library.

Unfortunately, she had neglected to plan ahead for Luna’s little trick, or she would’ve made sure to stock up on all the necessities for a possible extended stay locked away in the safety of Golden Oaks’ warm, comfortable tree.

And if she sent Spike, she was just asking for him to come back with his tiny arms laden with more sweets than he’d been sent out for.

Again.

Twilight brought a hoof to the bridge of her snout to stem the oncoming headache. “Just relax, Twilight,” she muttered. “You just need a few groceries. Just keep everything casual, no pony will bat an eye. It’ll all die down soon enough, and everything will go back to normal.”

“Back to normal? Why would you ever wanna go back to plain, boring, normal when you’ve got a girlfriend?” Pinkie cried out from just behind her.

Yelping, Twilgiht stumbled a few steps to her left and bumped straight into the dairy stand. “Pinkie!” she gasped, clutching her breast.

Pinkie beamed. “Twilight! Are we playing the surprised name shouting game? I like that game!” She turned to the mare behind the dairy stand, gave a big, fake gasp. “Milky Way!”

Her heart raced, Twilight glanced left and right, searching for an escape route while Pinkie was distracted with the milk mare. All she had to do was just back away quietly and let her friend babble her silly pink head off, she could always stop by and get milk later.

Why, oh why did Spike have to pick this morning to go off to help the Crusaders with their silly games? Sure, it was summer and they were out of school, but couldn’t it have waited until afternoon?

Well, no. Logically, a young colt—er, dragon, in his case—needed to get out and spend time with foals his age. If only there were a few dragons for him to play around with …

Food for thought. Right now, though, was time to make her escape.

She caught Milky Way’s eye and gave a big, smile as she mouthed “sorry.” For a moment, the mare glanced between her and Pinkie, her brows knitted in confusion. As Twilight took her first step back, her eyes went wide in horror.

Twilight froze for just a second, just long enough for Pinkie to turn and fix her with a wide grin and say,” So, anyway, are we done playing? Because somepony owes another somepony an explanation about their secret-but-no-longer-a-secret relationship with a certain someprincess!” She paused a moment, then added, “I mean you telling me about how you’re dating Princess Luna. That is what I meant.”

“I figured as much.” Sighing in defeat, Twilight brought a hoof up to cover her eyes. “What do you want to talk about?”

Only as the words left her mouth and Pinkie’s grin grow wide enough to nearly split her muzzle did Twilight realize her mistake. No sooner did the proverbial lightning bolt hit was she caught in a rib cracking hug and dragged down the dirt street by her hyperactive friend. As Ponyvill blurred around her, she tried to figure out just where Pinkie was taking her.

Her heart sank as she saw the familiar pink rooftops and soft lavender walls of Rarity’s prized Carousel Boutique. The door was already open for them, with Rarity standing just to the side with a smirk gracing her muzzle and her sapphire eyes shining with a great hunger for gossip.

“Twilight, dear,” Rarity simpered as though she weren’t the mastermind behind her sudden abduction. “So good of you and Pinkie to drop by. Please, come right in, the three of us have so much to talk about!”

Oh, sweet, merciful Celestia, what have I gotten myself into?


Twilight couldn’t help but feel a bit like a naughty foal sitting before the school principal. Under Rarity’s piercing gaze, she squirmed in her seat, her ears splayed back to lay against her scalp. Her eyes flitted left and right in search of an escape route, each seemed more and more unlikely as she took note of how Pinkie grinned and bounced in place to her left.

“No need to be so shifty, dear,” Rarity chided. A blue glow wreathed her horn as she set about pouring tea for each of them. “There’s no harm in a little gossip between friends, right?”

“R-Right.” Twilight forced a smile as she picked up her teacup and brought it to her lips. “What were you hoping to talk about? I mean, there’s the weather, which has been just wonderful, hasn’t it? We should really thank Rainbow and the weather team for—”

Pinkie burst into a fit of giggles. “No, silly! We wanted you to tell us alllllllll about how you’re dating Princess Luna now! I didn’t even see it coming! My Pinkie Sense failed me!” She paused a moment to think. “Though, there was that thing a few nights ago where my tail went twitchy-twitch-a-twitch, my chest felt fuzzy, and my knees felt wobbly, which is how it felt when Sweetie Belle was showing Scootaloo her new ribbon …”

Rarity glanced at Pinkie out of the corner of her eye. “I want details,” she said. “But later.” Her gaze fell upon Twilight once more. “Back to you, Twilight. I simply must know how this came about. When did you start seeing each other? Or, perhaps more prudent …” She folded her hooves neatly and laid them on the table. “When did you first realize you had feelings for her?”

Twilight made to reply, but stopped to think. Really, she hadn’t thought it through before Luna’s kiss and the day that followed. On the whole, she’d just been operating under the assumption that Luna was a close friend up until then.

She looked down at the steaming tea in search of an answer. None came.

“I … didn’t,” she confessed. “Not until Luna kissed me while I was in Night Court. Well, not even then, really.” Fiddling with her hooves, she gave an awkward flick of her tail. “It took me a bit of thinking, but I decided it might be worth a try.”

Blinking, Rarity set her teacup down on the table. “Forgive me, but that doesn’t at all match what we saw at the party. The two of you had such wonderful chemistry together all night, and that kiss was positively stunning!” She leaned forward, her eyes wide and full of silent plea. “Surely there’s something you can tell me! You can’t just up and get a girlfriend—a princess, no less!—and keep details from me!”

Twilight raised a hoof to object, but Rarity cut her off.

“Within reason, of course,” she relented. “I’m not going to ask what happens—hang on, you haven’t, have you?”

Cheeks burning, Twilight shook her head so fast her mane whipped back and forth. “No! Celestia, no! We’re taking this slow!”

To her left, Pinkie burst into a fit of giggles. “Golly, Rarity! If I’d known we were playing the make Twilight blush really red game, I’d’ve had Spike send for her foal pictures!” Her eyes shone with mischievous glee. “Can we?”

“No, Pinkie, we’re not embarrassing Twilight with her photo album.” The corners of Rarity’s mouth twitched. “Not today, at least.”

“Aw, nuts!” Pinkie folded her hooves over her chest. “You’re no fun!”

Rolling her eyes, Rarity returned her attention to Twilight. “Well, I must say I’m a bit at a loss then. And here I was, thinking you two had a lovely little confession shared in private.”

The burn in her cheeks grew into a raging inferno. Twilight ducked her head. Oh, there was a confession, alright. Private, though? She thought back, her ears pinned at the memory of all those guards she saw when Luna led her into Night Court. Not at all.

She bit her lip. “Luna told me first,” she mumbled. “After she, um …” Her eyes went wide.

Oh, dear. How would Rarity and Pinkie react to news that her first kiss came as a complete surprise before Luna made her feelings known?

“After she what, darling?” Rarity pressed, her eyes glinting. “Don’t just dangle the juicy bits in front of me like that and just leave me waiting. It’s rather rude.”

“And even less fun than Rarity’s being by not letting me get your foal pictures,” Pinkie added.

Twilight fought the urge to groan and smack herself. Walked right into that. She heaved a sigh, then said, “Luna kissed me. And then she told me that I was precious to her.”

Twin gasps made the rosy hue in her cheeks spread to the tips of her ears. Twilight laid her head down on the table and covered herself with her hooves.

Rarity, though, was having none of it. She prodded Twilight’s head, squealing like an excited school filly. “Tell me more! I have to know what she said!”

She lost the battle, a groan escaped her lips. Twilight mumbled into her hooves, then, after another prod, she sat up and fixed Rarity with an exasperated glare. “She told me that I was precious, more precious than all the stars in the sky, and it was nice, even though I was completely caught off guard and panicking, and I was hoping to keep that private!”

It came as some relief when the grin on Rarity’s muzzle faltered slightly, a pang of guilt flashed across her features.

“I do apologize,” Rarity began, “I had no idea that you wished to keep things private. I was just excited for you, dear—dating a princess is big news! The whole nation will know your name before long!”

Another groan. Twilight buried her face in her hooves. “I knooowwwww!” she whined. “And I’m trying not to think of that so I can just think of it as Luna and I dating like normal ponies—as normal as we can be!” she hastily added before Rarity could counter.

Pouting, Rarity sipped at her tea. “I suppose that’s fair enough. I, personally, would love the attention, but we are rather different in that respect.” She paused a beat, her eyes softened. “I truly am happy for you, Twilight. You’ve got yourself a girlfriend, and a lovely mare at that. I’m sure you and Luna will make a lovely couple.”

A smile spread across Twilight’s muzzle. “Thank you. I hope so, too.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, Pinkie raised a hoof. “Soooooo … am I not allowed to plan a ‘Twilight is Making Smoochy Faces with Princess Luna’ party? Because I was really hoping to do that.”

Twilight glanced at Rarity, who simply smiled and held up a hoof as if to say “not my decision.”

Traitor.

“Fine,” she said with a rueful sigh. “We can have a small party.”

With a happy squeal, Pinkie wrapped Twilight in a tight embrace, babbling a mile a minute about how she had everything planned out already. From midnight blue and soft purple streamers intertwined together, to a cake with matching icing, and everything and anything she could think of in that sugar hyped mind.

The sound of hooves and claws scampering against the floor made the trio of mares flick an ear. Twilight turned toward the door to find Spike leaned against the banister, panting for breath, with the Crusaders by his side. But Twilight’s attention was on the scroll she saw clutched in his claws.

“Letter for you … Twi …” He panted for breath. “It’s got … Luna’s cutie mark on it.”

In a flash of magenta, Twilight teleported out of her seat and appeared before him. She wrapped her magic around the scroll and plucked it from his grasp, pausing a moment to tussle his headfin. “Thank you, Spike,” she muttered low enough that only he would hear. Stealing a quick glance at the Crusaders and her friends, she flicked her tail. “Did you already read it?”

He ducked his head, his gaze fell to the floor. “Uh, kinda.” A rather strange smile played upon his lips, his shoulders seemed to shake as he added in a straining tone, “Just to see if it was important.”

Something about how earnestly he avoided her gaze gave Twilight pause. She fixed the scroll with a critical stare. What in the wide, wide world of Equestria had Luna put into her letter that made him so fidgety?

Twilight raised an eyebrow and unfastened the seal. She unrolled the scroll, her eyes skimmed over Luna’s elegant, flowing cursive. It was written rather beautifully, like the Night Princess was trying to use letters to paint a picture rather than simply write her.

Her absentminded note faded, though, as she realized what the words actually formed. Twilight sucked in her lips, her eyes went as wide as dinner plates. She felt the burn in her cheeks return in full force as she read through it again. Then again.

And once more just to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating.

Nope. Not hallucinating at all. The words staring back at her, Luna’s own writing, were very real. Luna had put all that together with great deliberation and care, as a little reminder of how much she mattered.

A part of her wanted to let out a happy squeal and prance in place—the way Luna wrote about her was like something out of one of the stories Cadence used to read to her, straight from those old tales of brave knights rescuing frightened ponies from wicked dragons or greedy diamond dogs. But the more awkward side, that nagging little voice in the back of her head, whispered a reminder that she was standing in front of two of her best friends, their little sisters, and her de facto little brother.

“Well?” Rarity prompted, her eyes alight with curiosity. “What does it say?”

“She’s getting awfully blushy again!” Pinkie pointed out.

Twilight let her tail tuck between her legs. She pressed the letter against her chest and clasped her hoof over it. “Oh, um, well, it was a very nice letter,” she stammered. The world around her seemed to spin, darkness tinged the edges of her vision.

Spike glanced up, the smile ran away from his face. “Uh, Twilight? Are you okay? You’re looking … really red. Not in a funny way, either.”

She blinked. Twilight thought a moment and made to reassure him, but her mouth felt dry. The words wouldn’t come forth. Her hoof trembled as her thoughts began to race faster than she could keep up with.

Hoof steps from the showroom sounded as though they came from a mile away. Twilight looked up, almost absentmindedly, to find Rainbow Dash and Applejack entering, with Fluttershy close behind.

“See?” Rainbow said, nudging Applejack with her elbow. “I told you we’d find her if we followed Spike with how he ran off with that scroll.”

“Yeah, yeah, shut up, ya mouthy feather duster.” Applejack rolled her eyes, then fixed her gaze upon Twilight. She frowned. “Uh, Twi? You alright, sugarcube? You look like you’re fixin’ to—Rainbow, catch her!

Twilight lilted to her right, then toppled over. Her world faded to black, the end line of Luna’s letter the last thought that flitted through her mind.

Are you free for dinner this Friday? I hope to see you again soon, my dear.

With all my love,

Luna.

35: Blessed is She

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Twilight stirred. She let out a groggy moan and brought a hoof to her forehead. Her head ached like the full percussion section of the Royal Canterlot Symphony was playing at fortissimo within, all focused right between her eyes.

Were her sinuses acting up? It wasn’t spring, so it couldn’t possibly be the pollen aggravating her hay fever.

“She’s wakin’ up! Give ‘er some space!” a familiar southern drawl sounded from somewhere to her right. “Pinkie, bring me a glass of water!”

Applejack? She tried to speak, instead letting out another pained moan that tapered off into a tiny whine. The drums reached a crescendo and her skull felt as though it was ready to split open under the constant torment and throbbing. Twilight cracked open her eyes, wincing at the light. “What happened?” she choked out.

Applejack’s face came into view, her muzzle creased in a concerned frown. “Ya fainted, sugarcube,” she replied. “Nearly hit yer head on the floor, but Rainbow caught ya just in the nick o’ time.”

Twilight blinked a few times. Had she really? She forced herself into a seated position, letting out another groan at the feeling of stiff muscles tugging against her move. Her eyes flitted down to the familiar red cushion.

So they’d laid her out on Rarity’s couch until she woke. Well, that was thoughtful. Better a bit of stiffness from sleeping on the couch than that of sleeping on the floor.

Then her eyes found Rainbow Dash, lounging on one of Rarity’s chairs with a copy of Daring Do and the Marked Thief of Marapore in hoof and an unrolled scroll resting on her left. An unrolled scroll that so happened to bear Luna’s crescent moon cutie mark.

Twilight sat bolt upright as though she’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. The room spun, the edges of her vision tinged black and blurred.

“Yeah, you might wanna take it slow there, Egghead,” Rainbow said. Closing the book with a sharp snap, she placed it on the table and looked up at Twilight. “Oh, good, you got a little bit of color back. Gave AJ and Rarity a bit of a scare when you tried to get a close up with the floor.”

Applejack snorted. “Quit posturin’. You had yer feathers all ruffled ‘till I shoved that book in yer hooves and made ya sit down for a spell.”

Rainbow’s nostrils flared but she didn’t try to deny it. Instead, she stood and pasted a wicked smirk upon her muzzle. “Maybe so, but there’s something important we’ve got to take care of, wouldn’t you agree, Rares?”

A light cough from just behind the couch made Twilight flick an ear. Rarity stepped around the couch with a purple ice bag held aloft in the soft, sapphire glow of her magic. Clicking her tongue, she fixed Rainbow with a stern look. “Give the poor dear a moment to recoup,” she scolded as she gently placed the ice bag atop Twilight’s head. “The gossip will keep long enough. Perhaps only just.” Her lips twitched. “Twilight, dear, you shouldn’t push yourself after taking a tumble like that. Why don’t you lay back down?”

Something about her tone and the almost predatory gleam in Rarity’s eyes sent a chill down Twilight’s spine. An alabaster hoof pressed gently against her chest, she raised a brow and allowed herself to slowly lay down, resting her back against the cushioned leg rest.

There was something missing. Twilight swiveled her ears about, listening for the sounds of three excitable fillies bouncing around at the chance to play doctor or something silly. Or Spike’s clawed toes scratching against the floor in his haste to rush to her side and coddle her until he was certain she’d recover. But there was silence save for a rhythmic humming in time with four hooves bouncing lightly against the wooden floor.

“Here ya go, Twilight!” Pinkie chimed as she leaned over the back of the couch and held out a glass of water. She gave a wide, toothy grin. Too wide, even for her. “Drink up!”

A lump formed in Twilight’s throat. She accepted the glass almost dumbly, lighting her horn to hold it in her magic’s arcane grip only by practice. She felt four sets of eyes upon her while she brought it to her lips and took a sip.

Wait, four?

Twilight swallowed, then asked, “Where did Fluttershy and the fillies get to?” After a beat, she added, “And Spike?”

“I had Fluttershy take them over to Sugarcube Corner,” Rarity replied with a hint of smugness in her tone. “They were a bit … well, I suppose amused and concerned by your fainting spell, but I felt you wouldn’t particularly enjoy being crowded when you came ‘round.”

Rainbow snorted and gave her feathers a little fluff. “Spike looked like he was about to have a heart attack when you toppled over. Never seen him go from grinning like a loon to ‘world on fire’ so quick. Kept babbling about not meaning to laugh at the letter.” Her smirk returned in full, she raised a hoof and reached over to pat the scroll. “Gotta say, it’s sweet in that ultra mushy way Rarity loves. Speaking of which, Rares, have you read this yet?”

“I was a bit preoccupied closing up shop. And you’ve made a point to monopolize it since you started cackling over it the first time, so no.” Turning slowly, Rarity fixed Twilight with an almost shark like grin. “But I am quite interested in what garnered such a reaction in the middle of our talk.”

Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no! A thousand times, no! Twilight took the glass in her hooves and sent a tendril of magic out to snatch Luna’s letter away from Rainbow. Her eyes crossed, a magenta glow flickered and sputtered around the letter as she struggled to cast properly in her addled state.

She took too long. Just long enough for Rainbow to slap a hoof down on the letter and pin it to the leg rest. Twilight whined and kicked her hind hooves. “Rainbooooooooooooooooow! Give me my letter!”

“Nuh uh! You’ve been hiding out in the library since Luna gave you a big smooch at Golden Harvest’s party, and that has made it a regular pain in the rump to invoke the sacred best friends’ right to tease you for your first girlfriend—”

“Yer callin’ dibs on that title?” Applejack arched a brow. “I think we’ve all got claim.”

Rainbow waved her off. “I never said it was just me! I meant plural possessive—all of us have it, Flutters too, even though she’ll never use it.”

“Fair ‘nuff.”

“Hey!” Twilight aimed a pout at Applejack.

A halfhearted shrug was her only reply. “Sorry, sugarcube. Dash has a point, we’ve all kinda been waitin’ fer ya to come out of hidin’ so we could give ya a lil’ ribbin’. Frankly, ya brought this on yerself.” Applejack trotted over and hopped onto the opposite leg rest. “Let Dash have her fun.”

Twilight let out a sound somewhere between a whine and a groan. She knew full well giving Rainbow Dash an inch meant she’d take a mile, but fighting the inevitable would only make things worse.

The wicked grin that spread across Rainbow’s face was testament enough to the fact. With a sigh, Twilight hung her head and gave a defeated nod. There was no escaping her fate now.

Rainbow let out a whoop and hopped back into Rarity’s plush chair. There was a rustle of paper, then a sharp snap—as if she were straightening out a newspaper for reading. She faked a cough and cleared her throat, muttering something under her breath as her voice took on a decidedly less cocky note in favor of something more stately. More Luna, even.

“My Dearest Twilight Sparkle,” Rainbow read aloud in a rather impressive imitation of Luna’s voice, pausing a second to allow Pinkie a moment to get her snickers under control.

“Why me?” Twilight whined, turning her eyes up toward the ceiling. “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Remember all that snark and sarcasm you threw our way when you first came here? The chickens have come home to roost, Egghead!” Rainbow quipped, before continuing her reading, still in a fair imitation of Luna’s voice:

Blessed is she, they said of old
Who knows the cause of things,
And who can with subtle, true aim
Pick from the heap of life some beginning.
I’ve believed it, but now again I find that
My old assurance is vindicated:
Happy she who knows where and how love begins.
And perhaps I am happy, and perhaps
That is why.
Attend, and among
The arrayed hosts of night’s favor soon shall be seen
A bright pattern. Bold, radiant,
Filled to burst, new wine in old skins, filled even so
With life and fascination.
How shall I capture the life of love’s cause
Even with the greatest of all my treasures?
What stars could paint her smile growing with delight,
Hot on the heels of some lost shred of truth?
How shall even I capture the light in those eyes,
For the shooting star holds her fire but it leaves,
And she remains, burning as it does on and on,
Always moving, always searching.
I could slow the night’s turn in the sky, lighten it,
And perhaps hope to match the hue of her coat
In pale imitation of day’s ending. She
Is for a good reason where Night begins, after all.
Legs fair and strong, and a head held high to meet
The challenger, the age old day, with its light high in the sky.
Beautiful, yes, but to the mare who values the
Causes of things, the secrets that night hides and the glories
That the night provides, this Twilight has a greater store of treasures
Of the kinds of which one does not find in Everfree ruins,
Or in dragon hoards, or even the gold halls of Canterlot:
A warm heart, that enjoys the present smiling hour,
And can look beyond it too, to see what lies beyond.
That has made all the difference.
Happy she is who knows the cause of things--
And is not Twilight the herald of the Night’s returning?

With every word, Twilight felt her cheeks burn as a rosy hue tinged her coat a deep purple. She set her glass down on the floor and buried her face in her hooves, a wobbly smile crossing her muzzle in spite of herself. Every word that poured from Rainbow’s mouth had been written with nothing short of pure adoration, affection straight from the quill of the ageless Night Princess in her ivory tower in Canterlot.

“… Are you free for dinner this Friday evening? I hope to see you again soon, my dear. With all my love, Luna.” Snorting, Rainbow gave a low whistle. “Dang, girl! I’m not even a fan of all this old-timey, mushy stuff, but for a poem like this, I’d probably dabble in dating a mare, too!”

“I’m not dabbling!” Twilight yelped, glaring through the crack between her hooves, then quickly clapped them over her face again. Maybe if she just hid and stayed quiet, like Fluttershy, they would lose interest and move on to something else. It worked for certain types of bears, right? Why not mischievous friends with a penchant for teasing and gossip?

“I know you’re not, I meant me. Like, okay, fine, I’m not saying it right. Point is, I’d probably give Luna a shot if she sent me a letter like this.” She paused a beat, then added, “Say, you two wouldn’t happen to be open to a hot, sporty young pegasus mare getting in on the—Ow! Ow! Ow! It was a joke! Let go of my ear!”

Rainbow dropped the letter, squirming and writhing as she tried to escape the cerulean glow twisting her ear. Rarity trotted over, a cross scowl creasing her muzzle. “That isn’t funny, and you should know better! I have half a mind to tell a certain somepony you’ve been mooning over all about your little crush on him the next time I run into him!”

“Wha—No! I take it back! I’ll be good!”

“See that you do!” Giving Rainbow’s ear one last twist, Rarity released her. She turned away with a huff and faced Twilight. “Now, Twilight, dear,” she said, her smile returning, “put your hooves down. We’re not going to tease you too much.”

“Yet,” Applejack, Pinkie, and Rainbow chimed in near-perfect unison.

Rarity allowed herself a snort of laughter. “Quite. Oh, for heaven’s sake, Twilight! Come on, now!”

Darn. Hiding wasn’t working. Ponies weren’t so much like bears after all. She gave another whine, but acquiesced to Rarity’s demands. “Fine! Are you happy now?”

“You have no idea, darling,” Rarity drawled. “That aside, you are going to accept, aren’t you?”

Twilight bit her lip. “Well, I think I’m available. And it would be nice to have our first, um …” She poked her hooves together, the heat rose in her cheeks again. “Date. So, I should probably send a letter. Whenever Spike gets back,” she finished sheepishly.

“Excellent. Once you send off your reply and the two of you figure out where you’ll be dining, I’ll be happy to help you prepare if you like.”

“Really?” Twilight perked up her ears.

“Of course, dear! I wouldn’t just let you go off on your first date looking anything less than perfect, now would I? And don’t worry, I won’t get out of hoof with it.” Rarity paused for a beat. “Too out of hoof with it.”

A bright smile made its way across Twilight’s muzzle. “Thanks,” she said softly. “I’d really appreciate it.”

Rarity nodded, leaning over to give her a gentle hug. “No trouble at all. I do live for this sort of thing.”

The pair sat together for a moment, Twilight content to close her eyes and lean into the embrace while the pounding in her head slowly subsided.

Then Rainbow coughed. “So … we can tease her ‘till she’s a squirming, blushing mess now, right?”

To Twilight’s dismay, Rarity nodded. “Yes. Yes, you may.”

Why me?


“Niece, would you be willing to aid me in something regarding Twilight?”

Perhaps it was a moment of weakness. Perhaps centuries of fighting in shadows with her Night Guard, then a thousand year imprisonment within her beloved moon drove Luna to say the words before the physical embodiment of everything to do with love, romance, sexuality, and a whole host of saccharine things that made her feel her teeth rot.

The way Cadence sat rigid in her seat, her lips slowly tugged into a wide, almost manic grin made Luna consider cutting her losses and fleeing for the farthest reaches of snowy Yakyakistan. Maybe she could drag Twilight along for the ride—surely she would enjoy a chance to experience a foreign culture firsthoof.

Anything to escape the oncoming storm of peppiness that she unwittingly wrought upon herself in the confines of Cadence’s former suite—now a fully functioning office in the castle. An office furnished with cushions of pinks and vibrant reds, soft carpet, powder pink walls that matched her coat, a high, arching window, and a wooden desk that bore countless heart-shaped picture frames and knick-knacks.

Clearly, Shining Armor had convinced her to show some level of restraint when they decided the décor for their humble abode—one of his very few victories. Or maybe Cadence simply granted it to him as a means of making him feel more comfortable, less like he’d entered a love-spider’s web.

Then again, he seemed to know that all too well …

Luna noticed Erebos subtly sidestepping away out of the corner of her eye, a look of amused shock spread across his face.

Then she turned her gaze upon Cadence again, and nearly leapt out of her horseshoes when she came nose to nose with her beaming niece.

“I would be delighted!” Cadence squealed. “Oh, Auntie, you have no idea how much I’d hoped you’d let me help! I have so many ideas for—”

“Cadence, please,” Luna cut her off with a pained grimace. Already she felt the beginnings of a headache pounding at the center of her forehead. And if Erebos didn’t stop snickering under his breath, he’d earn himself a cold bath in the castle fountain. “I need only ask one or two questions. I do not require a full lecture.”

Cadence had the grace to look sheepish. “Sorry. I tend to get a little excitable about this sort of thing, and, well, both of you are rather close to home.”

“I understand entirely.”

“I’ll do my best to keep my excitement under wraps.” With a rueful sigh, Cadence schooled her expression to something a bit more professional and stood up straight. “How may I help you, Auntie?”

A trace of disappointment in her tone made Luna flick an ear. A frown tugged at her lips. Confound this mare’s eagerness, and confound my want to connect. Another set of snickers made her glance at Erebos out of the corner of her eye. The wheels in her head began to turn. Funny, is it? She turned her attention to Cadence again. “I recognize that I am asking much of you by requesting that you limit your involvement, despite love being your domain and your want to help those you hold dearest.” Stepping closer, Luna brushed her shoulder against her niece’s. “And there is no pony who knows that making requests of an alicorn in her own domain does not come without offering something in return.”

Cadence’s brilliant purple eyes flashed. “I’m listening.”

“What might you say if I offered you the chance to help a young couple I hold dear? A pair I find myself quite … invested in seeing happy.”

Erebos stood up straight, his armor rattled. “Princess …” he said slowly, a hint of dread crept into his tone.

“Would that suffice?” Luna asked without paying him any heed.

Cadence gave a firm nod. “It would. But let’s take care of you first, Auntie. What is it you need my help with?”

“Rather simple things, I’m afraid. Just a couple things I need to know should she choose to accept my proposition.”

“Oh? What did you ask her?” The gleam in her eyes returned in full force. “Did you, by chance, ask her out on a date?”

Luna wrinkled her snout. “Why would I ask her out on a type of nut? That makes no sense.” A snort to her left drew a frown, she turned to glare at Erebos, who failed to hide his amusement. “Pray tell, what is so funny? Are you addled, or is this one of those modern colloquies?”

“The latter!” Cadence replied through a fit of giggles. “I mean, did you ask her out for courting, Auntie. Like, for dinner or for a show.”

“Ah. I see.” Why in Equestria would it be called a date, though? Food for later thought, perhaps. Luna nodded once. “Yes. I dispatched a letter earlier conveying both my affection and my desire to dine with her this Friday night. I thought it might be a nice way to start us off.” With a little rustle of her wings, she continued, “I was wondering if you might know what sort of flower she preferred. Or is that yet another casualty of the changing times?”

“As a matter of fact,” said Cadence, a bright smile spread across her muzzle, “no. Ponies still give flowers to their loved ones, and I know for fact that Twilight loves tiger lilies.”

Luna’s ears twitched. “Tiger lilies?” Intrigued, she tilted her head. “I would have thought she would cast her favor on sunflowers, like Tia.”

“No, but she does love sunflowers, too. Tiger lilies have always been her favorite, though. It’s the coloration, really. She used to tell me when Auntie Celestia let the sun set, the sky turned the same color of tiger lilies.” With a chuckle, Cadence added, “Every night at twilight, Twilight would get to see her favorite color bloom across the sky as night fell.”

“How very poetic,” Luna noted with a hum. And fitting. Though, I wonder why Twilight neglected to mention this during the Dusk Ceremonies she was present for. Perhaps I shall have to ask. “I will take that under consideration should she accept my invitation, then.”

“She will.”

“Excuse me?”

Cadence grinned. “Trust me, she will. Was there anything else you needed?”

Luna opened her mouth as though to speak, but closed it with an audible click. No. The flowers were enough, she did promise Twilight that she would take things slow in their courtship. No need to lavish her with gifts.

Yet.

Her choice of dining venue would likely make the young mare bluster a little, but it was high time she got over such things. If they were to court, Twilight would find herself in the public eye regardless of whether she continued on as Celestia’s student or if she decided to retire to her tiny library in Ponyville.

“Auntie?” Cadence’s grin faded into a concerned frown. “Are you still with me?”

Blinking a few times, Luna nodded. “Apologies, niece,” she said, a hint of rosy hue tinging her cheeks. “I was lost in thought.”

“So I could see. Thinking of your little date?”

That term is so ridiculous. “Yes, in a sense.”

A knowing smile spread across Cadence’s muzzle. “I understand entirely. Now, with that said …” Her purple eyes flashed again, eager to fulfill her duties as Princess of Love. “I believe you owe me something.”

Ah, yes. A small fee for her patronage.

Luna turned away from Cadence and strode toward the door. Her ear flicked at the sound of Erebos’ armor rattling as he moved to follow. “Erebos,” she called without looking back, “remain.”

He started. “Er, Princess?”

With a wicked grin, she turned to meet his eyes—those mischievous, slitted eyes that slowly widened in a mix of dawning comprehension and horror. He knew what she was planning.

Excellent.

“Niece, my faithful Captain Erebos seems to have taken a bit of a shine to my fair seneschal. Normally, I would offer my assistance, but as I have been told …” She turned her attention to Cadence, whose eyes danced with unhidden glee. “This is your domain, my dear.”

Her piece said, Luna resumed her escape from Cadence’s pseudo temple of love, pulling the door closed behind her, though, not before she heard a squeal and a yelp just as the latch clicked shut.

Sniggering to herself, she tossed her starry mane and began to trot down the hallway, sparing a nod to her sister’s Day Guards as she passed them by.

A flash of green fire burst mere inches from her nose. Luna stopped in mid step, a bright smile tugged at her lips as her eyes flitted to the familiar starburst cutie mark gracing the scroll binding. She opened it quickly, like a foal on Hearth’s Warming morn, and read it. Her smile growing into a grin that nearly spread from ear to ear.

Dear Luna,

I would be happy to join you for dinner this Friday night. What time should I meet you? And where?

Sincerely,

Twilight Sparkle.

P.S. That was a very lovely poem … I don’t think I’ve ever heard anypony say such nice things about me. Thank you.

Meet? Luna gave a derisive snort and shook her head. “My dear, sweet, winter mare,” she whispered, chuckling to herself.

She trotted briskly back to her room, nodding to her door guards as she passed them by. Then she made for her study. Luna sat in her desk and hummed a light, happy tune as she wrote her reply in elegant, flowing cursive:

My Dearest Twilight Sparkle,

You will not have to meet me anywhere. I will meet you at your home just before sunset, we will travel by carriage once more. If it pleases you, I know of a fine Istallion restaurant called Don Cavalcanters in Little Roam. It has outdoor seating on a patio that overlooks a garden my sister tells me is second only to our castle’s.

With all my love,

Luna

36: Butterflies

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Moonlight washed over her velvety smooth coat and her starry mane flowed elegantly despite the rushing wind. Her sister had ceded the day to her night a tad early, allowing her to wrap the land in its cool embrace and craft the perfect sky for her date.

Luna hummed one of Tempo Rubato’s melodies under her breath, beaming as his star twinkled back like a jubilant colt whose mother praised his first drawing. Yes, old friend, I do so love your works to this day. You know that well enough. Her gaze flitted down to the small bouquet of tiger lilies tucked beneath her wing.

A tiny hint of doubt crept into her breast, bringing with it the feeling of the bite of cold water splashing against her coat. Would the flowers be too much for a first date? She had asked for only a hooffull, and the salespony had said that they would be enough to fit in a modest vase any commonpony might have in their home—after she’d stopped that infernal stammering and bowing, of course.

Truly, a question worth pondering. On one hoof, Luna fully intended to do away with Twilight’s pesky habit of shying away, but on the other, she didn’t want to overwhelm her. Just lavish some affection upon her and show a little love.

“Ten minutes out from Ponyville,” Erabos said, cutting through her brief lapse.

Luna jolted back into the present. “What? Oh!” She coughed into her hoof, rustling her free wing nervously. “Very good. Thank you, Captain.”

“My pleasure, Your Highness.” He shot her a sidelong smirk. “Perhaps,” he began with a hint of indignation in his tone, “it would have been better if you had stuck around for Princess Cadence’s three hour lecture on how to woo a mare rather than me.”

“Three hours?” Luna stifled a laugh. She would have to do something nice for Cadence. “Oh, my! I do hope you took notes.”

His brows flatlined. “She insisted that I did. She also was quite happy to nitpick every little story I had in which I spent time with Moondancer for ‘hints’ of attraction.” Erebos shifted in place, a pinkish tinge blooming across his muzzle. “Apparently, in her expert opinion, I am smitten. Ludicrous!”

Luna shot a mischievous smirk in his direction. “Ludicrous,” she drawled, “yet, I cannot help but notice how close you hold her when her nerves act up, or how she is focus the bulk of your teasing as so many foals—bat pony or otherwise—are wont to with the objects of their affection.”

Predictably, Erebos recoiled and sputtered as the streak of pink spread across his face. He stammered and averted his gaze, hiding from her knowing eyes like a colt from his mother.

She threw back her head and laughed gaily, tears of mirth gathering at the corners of her eyes, chilled by the night air as they descended and touched down in Ponyville proper. Strider and Shooting Star cantered forward, pulling Luna’s chariot along until they reached the well-trodden dirt path leading to Golden Oaks Library.

Luna disembarked from her chariot almost the instant the twins came to a halt. She gave a nod of thanks, then turned her attention upon the living library Twilgiht resided in.

The butterflies from so many moons ago fluttered in her stomach. All the anxiety and doubt rose in her chest like a snake, ready to strike. That voice—that accursed, treacherous voice—whispered in her ears, Your first date in over a thousand years. How can you be certain you’ve planned it right? Would it not have been better if you consulted Cadence rather than brush her aside? Or worse, it purred, what if dear, sweet Twilight simply doesn’t enjoy the evening you planned?

Questions, questions, questions! Always such nagging questions! Luna flicked her tail and banished the voice once more. “One of these days,” she muttered to herself as she began the trot up to Twilight’s front door, “I will be put my past mistakes behind me. And then, I will have peace.”

You know full well you don’t deserve peace.

Growling, Luna ground her hoof into the dirt. “Begone, remnant of Nightmare Moon! I am no longer what I once was!”

For a moment, she had it. A smile spread across her face as she stopped on the dirt porch. In a flash of blue magic, a mirror appeared before her. She turned her head this way and that to check over her appearance. Her coat had been brushed to perfection so the moonlight seemed to caress her every curve, not a single strand of starry mane or tail was out of place, and her crown and regalia were polished so they shone like her beautiful night sky.

Perfect. She was ready.

Luna took a deep breath as she raised her hoof and knocked thrice upon the door.

But just as her hoof hit the third time, the voice gave a familiar laugh—her own—and returned with a parting parting shot:

I, it crowed, am not Nightmare Moon. And you are exactly who you once were. That I am still here is all the proof you should need.

The voice was gone after that. For several moments, there was silence, peace for Luna’s troubled mind.

It did nothing to stop the chill running down her spine. Luna squeezed her eyes shut and took a shuddering breath. She knew the truth.

All she could do now was pray that the sands of time had buried those past mistakes well enough that no pony would find them. Least of all, Twilight Sparkle.


“Maybe I can have Spike send her a quick letter and reschedule!” Twilight said, her right eye twitching. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, her knees quaking as she let her gaze wander over her coat, checking for any sign of imperfection.

Rarity sighed, drawing a flick of her ear. She turned to find her friend closing up her makeup kit and her lips forming a thin line. “Darling, I know I’m usually the one for dramatics and fretting over appearance, but for heaven’s sake, mare! Take a deep breath and relax!”

Around the room, four mares and one baby dragon chorused in agreement. Each had come over to offer support in the face of her nerves, their affection and knowledge of just how her mind worked drove them to stage a little intervention before her nerves could get the better of her. Naturally, their hunch was right, no matter how she might like to pretend otherwise.

“Relax! How can I relax? I’m supposed to go out on a date with Luna—a Crown Princess of Equestria, might I remind you—and I’ve never even been on a date!”

“You’ve read a few books haven’t you?” Rainbow asked, eying the stack of precariously balanced texts resting on Twilight’s favorite reading table. “Well, more than a few. Point stands, though. Looks to me like you’ve been cramming worse than Scoots before a math test.”

“And Apple Bloom, too,” Applejack mused. “Probably ‘bout as much as both combined, really.” With a shrug, she smiled at Twilight. “Dash and Rarity have a point, though, Sugarcube. Ya really oughta loosen up. Why, I’ll bet a barrel of cider Luna’s just as worried ‘bout this date as you.”

Pinkie and Rainbow perked up their ears. “Was that for real?” Rainbow drawled. “Cuz, I can fly toward Canterlot and see if I come across a certain Princess of the Night fretting over how she plans to woo our egghead—yeeowch! I’m joking!” She held her hooves up over her head in defense to prevent another swipe from Applejack.

“Knock it off, she don’t need that. And you—” Applejack pointed straight at Pinkie Pie “—don’t you start up, or I’ll come ‘round this table and give you a good boxin’ too.”

Though her smile never faltered, Pinkie nodded once, then mimed zipping her lips and turning the proverbial key before sitting in her chair and humming a bouncy tune.

Twilight bit her lip. She let a strangled whine sound from the back of her throat and flicked her tail as she turned to look at her reflection again. “I just don’t know what to actually do!” Stomping her hooves, she shot a glare at the tower of books looming over her friends. “So many of them say so many different things! Half of them conflict with one another and end up muddying the waters!”

Neither her books nor her friends had any immediate response. Rainbow had the grace to offer an uneasy, supportive smile despite herself while glancing furtively at Rarity, silently electing her to give more viable support. The mare seemed to struggle with the task as a bead of sweat rolled down her brow.

With a low growl, Twilight lashed out with a tendril of magic and banished the tower of books back to their shelves, nearly taking Spike out with a copy of So You Want to Dazzle Your Princess. She took a small measure of satisfaction in the series of thuds as each book hit the back of their respective bookshelves.

Or so she thought.

Spike eyed one of the shelves for a moment, then turned to ask, “Is there a particular reason A Thousand and One Ways to Court and Be Courted is now in the foals’ section, or did it just annoy you?”

Twilight deadpanned, “It failed to adequately explain how to be courted by a nigh-immortal Princess of the Night and Matron of the Arts in a way that gave me any idea of what I should expect or how I should respond.”

“Ah. Fair enough. Into the foals’ section it goes then. And I suppose Love Poetry 101 will be taking up new residence in the gardening section?”

“Right next to fertilizer, yes.”

“Noted.” Spike clicked his tongue and hopped out of his chair, padding over to survey the rest of the shelves. With a sigh, he muttered something under his breath that sounded like “I’m not reorganizing this mess, or Celestia help me.”

A small part of Twilight demanded she turn around and demand, in a tone that would have made her mother proud, just what he wished to finish that threat with. But she beat it back in favor of focusing on the task at hoof. She would just have to make a note about chastising him for such behavior later.

Instead, she stared at her reflection again, letting her gaze travel over her coat for the hundredth time. One last check would be sufficient to reveal any signs of imperfection. There was none. Rarity had outdone herself, as per usual. Her coat was as smooth as silk, and warm candle light traced her body and highlighted every curve from her thighs and hindquarters to the slight pudge in her belly. Twilight winced. Maybe I need to start a working out a tad more. Hopefully, it wasn’t too noticeable.

Her mane had been brushed to perfection. Not even a strand fell out of place. She ran a hoof through, marveling at how soft it felt with the new conditioner Rarity insisted—more demanded, really—she use at least for tonight. Curious, she drew her hoof under her nose and sniffed a bit. The scent of strawberry still lingered, just as fresh as when she stepped out of the bath.

“Twilight?” Fluttershy’s soft voice made her flick her ears. She turned to face her friend, who ducked her head and rustled her wings nervously. Her eyes flitted down to the table for a second or two as she seemed to steel her resolve. When she raised her gaze to meet Twilight’s, a rare glimmer of confidence and supportive strength shone in her eyes. She took a deep breath and said, “I don’t mean to be pushy, but do you really think Luna would put high expectations on you for a first date?”

“I … well …” Twilight squirmed beneath her gaze. Since when did a look from Fluttershy make her feel like the times her mother caught her trying to liberate an extra cookie from the jar? “No,” she admitted, “I don’t think she would, I just don’t want to mess things up.”

“How would you even do that?” Pinkie blurted out. She winced, then turned to Fluttershy. “Sorry, Flutters.”

“Oh, no, I agree entirely.” Fluttershy gave a tiny shrug.

“Oh, good!” Beaming, Pinkie turned her attention to Twilight again. “But really! How would you even ruin a first date?”

Rarity raised a hoof. “Er, Pinkie, dear,” she began slowly, “I can think of a few ways. Most of which involve belching, or shouting, or chewing loudly. Or talking with your mouth full.”

“So, all the fun stuff,” Rainbow teased. Before Rarity could scold her, she held up her hooves in surrender. “Joking! I’ve been on a couple dates, Rarity, I know how this stuff works!”

“Then why don’t you take a moment to stop teasing Twilight and start helping her?”

Wincing, Rainbow ran a hoof through her mane. “Fair point. My bad.” She cleared her throat and looked to Twilight. “Honestly? The worst thing to do on a date is exactly what you’re doing now: stressing and trying to follow rules. Sure, mind your manners, don’t talk politics, and yada yada, but, really, be who you are—a complete and utter egghead who gets excited about learning things, and is pretty darn twitterpated for one Princess of the Night.”

“Twitterpated?” Applejack raised an eyebrow.

“What? It works.”

“Not sayin’ it doesn’t. Just surprised to hear ya talkin’ like Granny.”

“Hey, the mare is old, but she’s got her moments of coolness. I give allowances for age. Anyway, my point stands!” Rainbow gestured wildly with a hoof, a cocky smirk spread across her face. Upon looking at Twilight again, though, her smirk faded into a small smile. “Just be you, Twi! You’re awesome as you are, and, if that poem was any hint, Luna’s noticed. And if she hasn’t, she’ll figure it out.”

A fuzzy feeling tickled Twilight’s chest. She ducked her head between her shoulders and laid her ears flat. Her cheeks burned. “You really think so?”

“Do we need to revisit that poem? Spike? You can find where she hid it, right?”

“Spike! Don’t you dare!”

“Top drawer of her nightstand,” Spike said as he reclined in his seat, “carefully folded and disguised as a bookmark for her copy of Mystics and Mages Throughout the Ages.”

Whining, Twilight stomped a hoof. “You,” she said, fighting as best she could against the smile that threatened to spread across her face, “are so grounded, young drake.”

He shrugged. “Worth it. And Rainbow’s right. Luna likes you as you are, so just be you.”

Just be herself? Normally, the mere thought would make Twilight’s coat stand on end. She was a basket of nerves at best, a neurotic mess at worse, and that didn’t even get into her lack of social experience. For the sake of her own dignity, she tried not to think of her lack thereof in dating.

Still, Luna liked—or, dare she think, loved?—her for who she was. Precious, Twilight thought. She said I was precious, more than I could ever know or she could ever put to words. Warmth spread through her chest, up to her cheeks and ignited a blush that painted her face a deep purple. A wobbly smile spread across her face, she took a deep breath and let her shoulders relax. “Thanks, everypony,” she said softly. “You girls are the best.” After a beat, she added, “You’re also the best, Spike.”

“You know it, Twilight.”

Three knocks against the door made her ears perk up. Butterflies flew in her chest, whipped into a frenzy. Every muscle in her body went rigid, like somepony had hit her with a bolt of lightning.

Gentle hooves gripped her shoulders. “Twilight, breathe!” Rarity commanded. “Deep breaths, in and out. This is nothing to be afraid of.”

She obeyed. Slowly, she took a deep breath, until her lungs were almost fit to burst. She held it a moment, then let it out. “I-I’m not afraid,” she said, licking her lips. “Just nervous.”

“That’s natural, darling. Everypony gets nervous on their first date. I’m sure you and Luna will have a wonderful evening.” With a smile, Rarity gave her a gentle push toward the door. “Now go have fun.”

“And don’t forget to dazzle her,” Rainbow teased. “See if we can’t get another poem or two out of tonight—ha!” She ducked a swipe of Applejack’s hoof and stuck out her tongue. “Missed!”

Rolling her eyes, Rarity waved Twilight over to the door, then set about herding the rest of their friends into the kitchen. “Come on,” she said as she levitated Spike out of his chair and onto her back, a change he did not look the least bit upset about. “Let’s leave them alone, they don’t need us tossing quips. Yes, Rainbow, you too.”

Each of her friends followed as asked, though not without offering at least one more word of support or wish of a fun evening, but they came as though through a heavy fog. Twilight swallowed a lump in her throat and approached the door with trembling knees. A thousand scenarios in which their date went wrong flashed through her mind.

But with them came several where it went right—wonderfully so. The butterflies in her stomach tickled her chest, she gripped the door handle with a tendril of magic and pulled it open.

The Princess of the Night and Matron of the Arts met her with eyes that twinkled like her stars and a smile as bright as her moon’s light, and a bouquet of—her heart leapt—beautiful tiger lilies tucked beneath her wing. Her horn flashed, wrapping her offering in the soft blue glow of her magic and holding them out to Twilight. “Good evening, Twilight,” she greeted. “I have come calling as promised.”

Twilight felt her cheeks burn as she accepted the bouquet, she took a moment to bury her snout in it and drink in the wondrous scent of her favorite flower. All the tension in her body seemed to wash away.

“Hello, Luna.”

37: Courtship

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For a moment, neither mare moved. The butterflies flew within Twilight’s stomach, whipped into a frenzy at the mere sight of Luna.

The Princess of the Night and Matron of the Arts stood before her as the very picture of her domain’s beauty. Those gorgeous teal eyes seemed to shine like the stars in her night sky and her smile made the tingly feeling of fluttering butterflies migrate up to Twilight’s chest.

Luna stepped forward and brushed their snouts together. “You look radiant this evening, my dear,” she whispered, then pecked Twilight’s lips. The tiger lilies floated forth, held aloft in the teal glow of her magic. “For you.”

Twilight tried her best to ignore the heat spreading throughout her face as she wrapped a tendril of magic around the flowers and brought them in close. She drew in a deep breath and sighed in content. Their scent soothed her nerves and sent a feeling of calmness through her body. “I love tiger lilies,” she murmured.

“Cadence told me so,” Luna replied softly. “I hope you do not find it too intrusive that I asked, but I wished to offer you a token of my affection. Something you would enjoy, but without going too far.” Pausing a beat, she shifted from hoof to hoof. “I believe she said they remind you of the setting sun, yes?”

“My favorite color,” Twilight confirmed. Her tail swished merrily. She felt her heart skip a beat and her entire body felt as if electricity coursed through her veins. By Celestia’s grace, I take back every time I rolled my eyes at Cadence’s lectures on love. “Um …” Her eyes darted around in search of a vase. There were none nearby. The only one she had was tucked away in the storage closet. With a sheepish grin, she turned to Luna. “Do you mind waiting while I get a vase for these?”

“Not at all. We have more than enough time for that.”

“Thank you. Oh! Come inside!” Twilight pinned her ears. “Sorry for being rude!”

Luna chuckled and leaned in to steal another kiss. “You need not apologize, my dear. I am gratified to see my gift has pleased you. A moment or two in my night’s chill is hardly trouble.” Her teal eyes shone with affection and a hint of teasing. “Especially when I have the chance to savor the color in your cheeks.”

Twilight squeaked and teleported over to the storage closet in a flash of magenta. She threw the door open and hid her face behind it while she searched the shelves for any sign of her vase. All the while pointedly ignoring the snickers sounding from within the kitchen.

Leave them to it her left hind hoof! The next time she saw Rainbow Dash, that mare would find herself dyed neon pink and her voice changed to sound posh! Just like Octavia!

That would teach her.

She returned to her search. There, resting on the second shelf beside a few rolls of paper towels and her supply of window cleaner, was her vase. It was a simple slender glass vase painted blue with white floral print, something her mother had sent over as a housewarming gift when she moved to Ponyville. With Luna’s gift in one tendril, Twilight wrapped a second around the vase and gently lifted it off the shelf. She stepped back and nudged the door shut, then trotted into the kitchen to fill it with water.

The second she stepped through the doorjamb, Twilight found five mares and one baby dragon huddled against the wall to her immediate right, each with ears perked and teasing grins nearly splitting their faces—well, except for Fluttershy, who simply smiled and tried to hide behind her hooves, her eyes shining with naked glee.

“Oh, shut up,” she mumbled out of the side of her mouth so only they could hear.

Rainbow’s cheeks puffed. She snorted and clapped her hooves over her mouth, her shoulders shaking with barely restrained mirth.

Rolling her eyes, Twilight stepped over to the sink and turned the knob. Water flowed forth from the faucet with a hiss and spilled into the vase. She waited until the bottom third had filled, then turned the water off. That should be enough to last for the night and most of the next day.

She unwrapped the flowers and tossed the paper into the waste bin before gently sliding the flowers into the vase. There! Perfect! With a satisfied smile, Twilight stepped away from the sink and trotted back to Luna, though not without shooting a sidelong glare at Spike as he waggled his brows and made kissy faces at her.

It seems a certain baby dragon has forgotten that he lives in a glass house. He’d get his later.

As Twilight made her way back into the sitting-room-slash-main-library, she found Luna idly perusing the arts section. Her immortal girlfriend tilted her head and furrowed her brows at one of the titles. Her lips wrapped around the beginning of a silent question as though she wished to ask the book itself.

Twilight smiled and set the vase down at the center of her reading table, then asked, “Is there something I can help you with?”

Luna flicked an ear toward her, then turned. “I am trying to understand what sort of relevance this Age of Disco Fever has to music. Are you certain it has not been placed in the wrong section?”

Twilight had to suck in her lips. “No, that’s where it belongs. Disco is a genre of music. One I’m not quite sure you’d find all that enjoyable.”

“Are you certain? I noticed a few other texts out of order.” A teal glow wrapped around her horn, and a familiar book bearing the title Poetry 101 floated up to hover beside her. “I found this poor poetry book lost in the gardening section, right next to a text on fertilizer. Is there some mischievous foal pulling pranks in town?” Her eyes flashed. “I could discipline them as I did Fortissimo and Sforzando, if you like.”

“No! No! That won’t be necessary!” Thinking quickly, she came up with a little fib to get out of the mess she’d unwittingly made. “It must’ve been Spike. He likes to do little things to let me know I’ve annoyed him or he thinks I’ve given him too many chores.”

The sounds of scuffling made her ears twitch. Twilight tried to keep her smile, but a loud thud drew a wince and a nervous laugh.

Fortunately, Luna accepted her excuse. “Ah, well, far be it from me to intrude in traditional sibling shenanigans, then. But if you should ever wish for ideas to avenge some of his antics … Well, I am not saying that I would help, but I am also not saying I would not.”

Twilight made sure to keep that in mind the next time Spike actually did try to rebel against her carefully crafted chores lists. In the meantime, she had a date with an immortal princess.

If her heart could stop racing, she would be most gratified.

Luna placed the poetry book back in its new home by a few texts on fertilizers and stepped away from the bookshelf. She trotted towards Twilight, her feathers fluffed and rustled eagerly. When she reached Twilight’s side, she laid a wing across the smaller mare’s back and kissed her cheek. “Are you ready to go, dear?”

Twilight ducked her head and nodded shyly. Her heart disobeyed her wishes and simply raced faster. This was, after all, her first real date. “I think so.”

“Excellent. Then let us depart. Our table is reserved, and I am eager to begin our first ‘date’ with you.”

“Likewise, Luna.” Twilight dared to lean up and steal a kiss for herself before Luna turned and led her out toward the obsidian chariot awaiting at the end of the path. She took a moment to pull the door shut, but didn’t lock it behind her. Spike and the girls would take care of that themselves.

Erebos greeted her with a polite smile and bow of his head. He stepped to the side of the chariot and gestured for them to step up onto the platform. Twilight returned the gesture with a nod of her own, then mounted the chariot and took her place at Luna’s right side.

Once they were seated, Erebos hopped on and gave the twins the order to depart. With quick salutes and affirmative calls in reply, they galloped down the path leading out of Ponyville and toward the Everfree Forest and began to flap their powerful, leathery wings. They lifted off and rose high into the air, then banked to turn away from the forest and alter course toward Canterlot.

The cool night air whipped through Twilight’s mane. It teased her coat and bit her nose, drawing a shiver from the young mare.

Luna wrapped her wing tighter, pressing Twilight against her side for warmth, with her feathery embrace shielding her from the cold onslaught. A gesture most appreciated.

With an thankful hum that was lost to the wind, Twilight laid her head against Luna’s shoulder. Content and secure at her side.


Twilight had only been to Don Cavalcanter’s twice before. The first time had been a celebration for her admission to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, a rather lavish affair put on by Princess Celestia herself despite her parents’ insistence she was doing far too much and they couldn’t possibly accept. Princess Celestia replied, as she was so wont to do, by offering her sweetest smile and asking if they would prefer to dine with her in the main castle Dining Hall, surrounded by all of her faithful staff.

The second time had been one of the many incidents in which Cadence forcibly dragged her out of the library to join herself and Shining Armor for dinner while Princess Celestia was busy entertaining some dignitaries from one of the griffon kingdoms.

A quick glance around the foyer showed that it was much the same as the last time she visited—the walls were painted a creamy yellow and fashioned to look like the old mason work of Roam, complete with faux grape vines creeping down the walls as if to reach down and catch an unwary foal. It was touch Cadence loved so very much, and made her stare for several moments before finally turning away to lean against Shining.

Only now did Twilight realize she was likely remembering her first love, one of the few things of her lost homeland she still remembered.

Luna led her to the host’s stand, where a middle-aged stallion in a lavender button down shirt, bleach white coat, and graying mane met her with a bow. “Princess Luna,” he greeted, “it’s a pleasure to meet your face to face.”

“The pleasure is mine, sir.” Luna nodded in kind. She offered her hoof. “Might I ask your name?”

He accepted the hoof and kissed it gently, the very picture of courtly manners that would’ve had Rarity swooning and brought just a hint of unease to Twilight’s chest. “Risotto, Your Highness. You honor my humble restaurant with your presence.”

One of Luna’s eyebrows twitched as though to arch at his statement, but she schooled her expression. “My sister recommends your establishment quite adamantly, Risotto. I trust her judgement and look forward to the experience.”

Twilight could have sworn she saw Risotto’s eyes go as wide as dinner plates for a fraction of a second before he managed to remember whose presence he was in. His ears, however, stood erect and the swish of his tail betrayed his glee. Who wouldn’t be happy to hear such praise from the Royal Family?

Then his attention turned to her, and the familiar claw of anxiety grabbed onto her unease like a lifeline and made its way into her chest. “Miss Sparkle, it has been some time,” he greeted warmly. “You keep exceptional company. Or are you studying with Princess Luna these days?”

Twilight fought the urge to duck and try to hide behind her girlfriend’s larger frame. Only Luna’s powerful wing still laid across her shoulders prevented such. She was effectively trapped.

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight noticed the corner of Luna’s mouth tugging upward into a coy smile. This was no coincidence. It was quite deliberate. There was no escape, she had to stand there and either tell Risotto she was being courted, or let Luna do it herself.

She hesitated long enough to consider making a pro and con list for her answers. As it turned out, even that was too long.

Luna’s eyes danced with wicked glee. “Twilight and I are here on a ‘date,’ Risotto,” she replied in Twilight’s stead. “To my immense delight, this beautiful, wonderful mare has afforded me the opportunity to court her as she deserves.”

Idly, Twilight wondered if it were possible for a pony’s coat to spontaneously combust if they blushed too hard. Her face, neck, and ear tips all seemed as though they were competing to see which could burn hottest. She met Risotto’s gaze again and gave a nervous nod and smile. “Mhmm,” she squeaked.

Risotto’s eyebrows disappeared beneath his graying bangs. “Well, then,” he said, “I’ll inform my wait and kitchen staff to ensure your courtship starts off on the right hoof.” He beckoned them to follow him. “Your table is ready on the balcony, Your Highness. Your bits, I’m afraid, won’t be accepted, though.” Before Luna or Twilight could object, he raised a hoof. “The honor of hosting your first public date is enough. Truly.”

“Very well.” Luna pursed her lips. Twilight could almost see the gears turning in her head as she tried to think of a way around his refusal. Her midnight blue ears twitched. She had an idea. The tiny smile, one Twilight learned to be her tell for one of her tricks, betrayed it. Her feathers fluffed, she pulled Twilight closer and rubbed their shoulders together. “Lead on, Risotto.”


Luna wished with all her heart she had one of those modern picture taking devices her guards called a ‘camera.’

Her beloved Twilight sat across from her at the two-seater table, the bright blush coloring her cheeks a deep purple visible despite her fruitless attempts to hide behind the candle resting at the center of the table.

She was far too easy. “You seem uncomfortable,” Luna mused. “Do you not wish to drink some wine with me?”

“I wasn’t expecting you to lay our courtship out there so soon,” Twilight said with a hint of embarrassment in her voice. She added in a hushed whisper, “Or that you’d call me beautiful or wonderful!”

Luna tutted. What a silly mare. Had her lesson on accepting a princess’s compliments not sunken in yet? “Do you recall our discussion on how I wished you to accept my compliments, Twilight?” By the way Twilight squirmed in her seat, she did. “Consider this the next lesson.” She stood and leaned across the table, and planted a chaste kiss on Twilight’s lips. “We agreed to take things slowly,” she whispered, her lips brushing against Twilight’s. “We made no agreement that I would not compliment you, lavish my affections upon you, or hide our relationship from the public eye. Henceforth, my dear, you will simply have to get used to being at my side and at the center of attention.”

Twilight squirmed, a smile tugging at her lips despite the whine that sounded from the back of her throat. “You could’ve warned me, though.”

“I suppose. But I did not, so you will have to accept it.” Luna returned to her seat, then added, “You are beautiful and wonderful, Twilight. Not just tonight.”

“Thank you.” Twilight ducked her head and glanced up at Luna, biting her lip.

One of her nervous tells. “Is something the matter?” Luna asked.

“I should’ve said it earlier,” Twilight mumbled.

“Said what?”

The mare rubbed her shoulder. “The moment I opened the door tonight, I thought you were the most gorgeous thing I’d seen since you let me watch you paint the night sky. You were—you are stunning.”

Luna fluffed her feathers. For all her blustering, Twilight somehow stumbled her way into a wonderful compliment. “Thank you, my dear. You flatter me so.” With their pleasantries exchanged and her lesson imparted, Luna turned her attention to the thick brown booklet which bore the restaurant’s name. Curious, she flipped it open. A frown tugged at her lips, she glanced up at Twilight. “You may have to help me understand what certain dishes are.”

Twilight smiled in return, her unease finally washed away. “I’d be more than happy to.”


Menus were quite new to Luna. In the castle, either she or Celestia simply told the staff what they wished to have for their evening meal, and the kitchen staff provided it without fail. Unless, of course, something prevented them from acquiring the ingredients.

Having a set list presented quite the interesting dilemma: she wanted to sample all of it. Everything sounded interesting when Twilight so kindly took the time to tell her what she knew of certain dishes. Of course, there were others she’d never tried, so she could only offer ingredient information if she even had it.

If not for the way Twilight tittered behind a hoof like a gossiping filly, Luna very well might have told their server to bring the lot so she could sample all the fare she could. “Alicorns,” she explained, hoping to end Twilight’s amusement with a switch to informative lecture, “possess higher metabolism than the average pony because of our greater depth for magic. We must eat and process more food in order to grow into and maintain our power and connection with our domains.”

It worked like a charm. Twilight rattled off a few dozen questions at blinding speed, only stopping when their waitress showed up to take their order, then resuming again until their meals came out.

Dinner was every bit as lovely as Celestia promised. They started with a bruschetta appetizer, then worked their way to the entrées. Twilight was happy to tuck into a bowl of linguini and fried zucchini while Luna opted to try a spaghetti dish with tomatoes, capers, and olives they called the Mediterraneighn Pasta. The name, Twilight explained, came from the fact that all the ingredients were found in the Mediterraneighn area and used as parts of most traditional dishes.

Thinking back, Luna realized she spent very little time in Roam—or Istallia, as it was called in the modern age—while she led her Night Guard. She had been too busy focusing on objectives to protect ponies near the dark forests and boarders with the Griffon Kingdom a