What begins as a simple experiment in spellcasting quickly spirals into obsession as a student of magic discovers an ancient legend hidden within Mage Meadowbrook's greatest enchantment.
Two weeks before the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration, Moondancer discovers a forgotten spell scrawled across the pages of an ancient book. Casting it threatens to turns her world upside down: faced with glimpses of an Equestria contradicted by historians, she must use all of her intellect to piece together the mystery surrounding Mage Meadowbrook, Princess Celestia, and the mare with the mane of stars—before the project destroys everything she's worked for.
It's a good thing she can rely on Twilight Sparkle for help.
Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns boasts over twenty lecture halls, fourteen courtyards, and no less than fifty-seven independent study rooms, yet I am once again greeted with the sight of Twilight Sparkle sliding into the chair directly beside my own. Grudgingly, I use a copy of Advanced Magical Theorems to haphazardly shove my notes to one side of the table I've claimed. Twilight thanks me with a grunt.
"Your ability to consistently find me in Canterlot's second-largest castle leaves me astounded," I greet her.
"Everywhere else is full," she replies flatly, dropping a stack of books upon the newly-cleared surface with a dull smack.
A quick look around the room reveals she's not lying. The place is downright packed—not a single chair remains empty. It's a bit of a surprise that I managed to keep my table to myself as long as I did. Or maybe not, I think, as Twilight stands up to relocate the notebooks still occupying her seat. The pile of notes she sets them atop teeters dangerously, so I reinforce the stack with a few expertly-positioned pencils.
When she settles back down, I allow myself a glance at her current reading material.
"Is that one of Clover the Clever's?" I ask.
"Mhhm," she replies, opening it to a notecard-marked page. "Clover's Third."
"Clover's Third Treatise?" My tattered edition of Alchemical Practices for the Tenth Century suddenly holds as much allure as a foal's nursery rhyme. I lean over. "As in, Caprices and Cognizance?"
She flips to the title page and angles it toward me. "A Rumination on the Nature of the Equine Mind," she confirms proudly. "The Princess mentioned it during our last meeting."
Of course she did. "But how'd you get your hooves on it? The Royal Canterlot Library doesn't exactly hand out keys to the Starswirl Wing." I frown. "Was this even in the Starswirl Wing?"
"It was actually in the librarian's personal collection." She turns back to the page with her notecard, a smug smile tugging at her mouth.
"Tell," I demand.
Twilight shrugs, gesturing to the students around us. "Exams," she says. "The library's a popular place to be right now." We both shudder.
"The lines—" I moan.
"The mess," she groans.
"The noise!" I bemoan.
"But mostly the mess," she grumbles. "The lines aren't that bad, but have you seen the complete and utter lack of respect for Dewdrop Decimal System? Come on! How does somepony look at almanac of the San Palomino Desert and think 'oh, this looks like it belongs right here with these trigonometry scrolls'—I mean, are they even trying?"
"They aren't." I narrow my eyes. "But those lines 'aren't that bad'? Seriously? Madame Indent lets you check your own books out, doesn't she?"
"She'd probably let you, too, if you asked her." She snorts lightly. "It's not like you’re a stranger."
The Royal Canterlot Library is currently tied with Professor Sharp Wit's office for the title of Location Most Frequented by Moondancer.
I watch as Twilight pulls out a quill and notepad, then casually ask, "Pick up anything else worth reading?"
"Mhmm," she replies, bending over Caprices and Cognizance. I don't need to have my copy of Pony 101: Nonverbal Communication and Cues on hoof to recognize that the conversation is over.
I turn back to Alchemical Practices and continue reading about the evolution of cauldrons throughout the centuries. For some reason, the struggle to develop a kettle with optimum boiling thickness doesn't quite capture my attention. After half an hour of rereading the same three passages, I concede defeat.
I sneak a peek at Twilight, thoroughly engrossed in Clover's Treatise. I shouldn't disturb her. Being interrupted is so aggravating. I'm not going to disturb her. Even if I know exactly what to ask to impress her. I’m going to leave her alone. I really am.
"Did you pick up anything by Meadowbrook?" I blurt out.
There's a short delay, and then her head snaps up so fast I barely see it move. "Meadowbrook?" Oh, she totally did. I raise an expectant eyebrow. Twilight frowns, fidgeting slightly. "Moondancer, we aren't supposed to study Meadowbrook outside of class. His work is really advanced; even Professor Sharp Wit admitted she doesn’t really know what his spells do, exactly."
I roll my eyes. "If you want to enchant something, then yeah, it's stupid to try anything without supervision. But the theory itself isn't that dangerous."
"I never said it was dangerous," Twilight huffs. "Just complex. The only spells more convoluted than Meadowbrook's are Starswirl's."
"Well, hay." I heave an exaggerated sigh. "I just thought you of all ponies would've been eager for the challenge. I guess I'll swing by the library later and—"
Twilight cuts me off by slamming a battered, leather-bound tome on the table, flattening Alchemical Practices in the process. The book's filigreed title is nearly illegible.
"Historian," she says simply.
I grin at her.
The evening finds me cloistered away in a wardrobe, reading by the light of my horn. I haven't allowed myself to do anything more than peek at Historian's table of contents all day; I may be well-off in my classes, but it'd be academic suicide to completely ignore the fact that final exams are in progress. While I don't allow myself to judge books by their covers, I judge them shamelessly by their authors, and Meadowbrook is somepony whose work I've been anticipating since I first saw his picture in my Magic is Fun! arcane primer.
Well, since Twilight saw his picture in our arcane primers, anyway. But regardless of who admired him first, the fact remains that I’ve spent years dreaming about the opportunity to study Meadowbrook’s spells.
I yawn. A quick time charm informs me that it's nearing the point of no return for sleep, and an even quicker cost/benefit analysis concludes that while beginning to read Historian ranks close to infinity on the benefit scale, the possibility of falling asleep during my Intermediate Alchemy exam weighs in around negative infinity on the eternal mortification front. I know myself well enough to realize there is no way I'll want to put down Meadowbrook's work to go to bed.
But a quick peek couldn't hurt, could it?
It takes a bit of finagling to levitate the tome in the cramped space of the armoire, but eventually I have Meadowbrook's book three inches before my face and Alchemical Practices wedged somewhere behind my left shoulder. I feel a bit bad about breathing all over the former, but Historian's undoubtedly a reproduction; there's no way the original manuscript would be sitting in an office, gathering dust. I open it to the introduction—only to find that there is no introduction; a detailed drawing of a horseshoe-shaped mirror greets my eyes, surrounded by hundreds of equations.
I frown. Meadowbrook's eight enchanted artifacts aren't anything new, but considering that Starswirl the Bearded was a major influence over the Mage’s later works, I had figured that Historian would focus on time magic—something that Starswirl researched heavily. Even the title of the book lends credence to that theory.
Meadowbrook is still Meadowbrook, though, and I flip eagerly through the pages, finding illustrations, complex mathematics, and scarcely a scrap of proper magical theory. A hoofwritten paragraph litters the margin here and there, but I don't see any commentary or explanation for anything; the small sections accompanying the artifacts are complete nonsense. I wasn't mistaken when I called Meadowbrook a challenge, that's for sure. This is going to take ages. Another yawn reminds me that I don't have ages at the moment.
Only a few more days, I reassure myself, pushing the wardrobe door open and half-falling onto the floor. And then it's nothing but me and independent research.
I stretch out my legs, gather my books, and carefully straighten the clothes hung in the wardrobe before slowly easing the door shut. Then it's just a few tiptoes across the slumbering room, a rustle of sheets, and I'm in bed.
I dream of mirrors and thin-bottomed cauldrons.
I blow my bangs out of my eyes for the seventh time in thirty minutes, surveying my options. Five potential answers wait patiently on the exam sheet, awaiting my decision. It's not that difficult of a question, but the wording is a bit odd: depending on where you put the inflection, it could either be asking about the importance of adding dragonroot to a pre-prepared cold-remedy mixture, or the importance of adding it before the other ingredients. It doesn't help that it's been nearly three months since we brewed this in our lab session.
Beside me, Twilight rolls up her scroll and begins putting away her quills, ink, and scratch paper.
The offending question is the last on the exam, so I bite my tongue, circle a respectable answer, and hastily stow my supplies in my saddlebag. Levitating my answer scroll onto the professor's desk, I rush after Twilight, catching up to her a few paces down the hallway.
"So," I prompt, matching my stride to hers. "Question sixty-four?"
"Trivial," she drones.
I quickly bury my reservations about questions seventy-five and ninety. "Definitely," I agree. We reach the East Stairwell and begin the descent. Halfway down, our ears are assaulted by shrieks of "Moondancer!" and "Twilight Sparkle!"
My three roommates, plus Twilight's lab partner, Lemon Hearts, wave at us eagerly from the second-floor lobby. I give a hesitant wave in return, and am about to continue down to the main floor when they beckon us over. I turn around and climb back up the few steps to say hello, Twilight right behind me.
"We were just talking about you," Minuette giggles once we're in earshot. "We've hardly seen either of you all week."
"Well, aside from the light in Moondancer's armoire," Twinkleshine snorts. The tentative smile on my face freezes—is she laughing at me?— and Lyra must notice, because she grins and gives me a friendly nudge.
"Oh you, lighten up. We know you stay up late doing smart pony things."
"I'm just glad we aren't roommates with Trixie," Twinkleshine grimaces. "She's up until the crack of dawn playing with pyrotechnics. At least reading is quiet."
"I'm also pretty sure Trixie demands eternal servitude in return for tutoring," I state. They all laugh—Twilight even smirks, a bit—and the resulting flutter in my stomach isn't from nerves.
"Oh!" Minuette exclaims, clapping her hooves. "Like I was saying, Lemon Hearts here was just talking about how we should all get together and do something soon! We could go on a picnic, or a nature hike—Lyra's in environmental studies this semester and she's got a book about the local flora that you two might like—"
"Mhmm," Lyra affirms.
"—but we could also go to the opera or something. It'll be fun!"
Twilight scuffs at the floor with a hoof. "I'm sure that'd be nice," she says uneasily. "But... you know... Exams."
The group of mares bursts out into laughter a second time.
"Oh good heavens," Twinkleshine says, wiping tears from her eyes. "Not this week—sweet Celestia no." Twilight lets out a sigh of relief.
Minuette giggles again. I would chalk her giddiness up to exam stress, but I know better. "We were thinking sometime later this month," she says. "It'll give everypony a chance to wind down after finals, but it won't be too close to the Summer Sun Celebration." Her eyes widen and she squeals. "But we should totally go to the Celebration together, too!"
Lemon Hearts rolls her eyes. "We also thought that we could hang out on your birthday, Moondancer. After class, your sister mentioned that it's a few days before the Celebration."
"You have class with Moondancer’s sister?" Twilight frowns, turning to me. "I thought your sister was my brother's age."
"Stargazer's a year older than Shining," I correct. Her frown doesn't budge, so I offer, "Professor Stargazer? She teaches Astronomy."
"Oh, that's right! Sorry, I think you've mentioned that before." She grins sheepishly. I'm fairly positive I've told her six times already, but I'm not certain, so I shrug.
"So whad'ya say?" Four eager faces are looking at me.
They want to celebrate my birthday. The very idea of such a thing is foreign, terrifying, and maybe the tiniest bit thrilling.
Minuette cheers, Lyra and Lemon Hearts beam, and Twinkleshine grins. While I can't help but wonder if this is the setup to some practical joke, I find myself smiling back at them; their enthusiasm is infectious.
I scarf down dinner that evening, spending a grand total of fifteen minutes in the dining hall (eleven of which were sacrificed in line) before rushing off to the dormitories. As expected, my roommates are still eating, and I open the door to find a peacefully empty room awaiting me.
Closing the door, I gallop over to my bunk, hastily straightening the mussed blankets into something resembling tidiness, then dump the contents of my saddlebags onto my coverlet. I clear myself a space to sit—pushing aside my newly-acquired copy of Carneighgy's How to Win Friends and Influence Ponies— and then prop Historian up against my pillow. Turning to the page with the mirror, I begin reading.
I don't last five minutes before I have to dig out Advanced Magical Theorems and flip to the chapter on mathematical approaches. Biting my tongue, I go at it again.
It's tedious. I am reading Meadowbrook, arguably the most influential spellcaster in Equestrian history—excluding Starswirl himself—and it is tedious. I can feel my fillyhood dreams crumbling around me—visions of having my name printed beside Meadowbrook's in textbooks pass before my eyes, because how am I supposed to carry on his work in enchantment if I can't understand the spells he's already completed?
The truly great wizards leave half-finished incantations when they pass on into the great ether. It's the hallmark of a genius; their work is so monumental that it transcends their very life, and they can do nothing but throw themselves at their studies with a vengeance, trying to accomplish as much as they can before Time takes the notes from their hooves and the breath from their lungs. Famous names with unfinished masterpieces litter the margins of history: there's an entire wing of Celestia's School dedicated to spell restoration and completion. Other than Starswirl, every unicorn listed in Equestrian Magicians Throughout the Ages has an incomplete spell. Morari the Maneless had one. Clover the Clever had a few, too. But Meadowbrook?
Meadowbrook left hundreds.
Granted, most of them are petty charms, or ideas he never got around to mapping out, but the stallion is a gold mine of potential breakthroughs—perfect for fledgling magicians with an ambitious streak. Being able to finish just one of his smaller projects would be enough to establish my name in the academic community. Even Twilight would be impressed.
With a growl, I skip past the mirror. Then a detailed drawing of a tapestry. And then a tiara, and a paintbrush, and a sketch so messy it can only be Meadowbrook's unknown artifact. I recognize the other three objects —the Neverending Candle, the Cloak of Eventide, and Revelation, the legendary sword of dragonfire— and I'm about to concede that it's going to be years before I understand any of this when a single sentence catches my eye.
Scholar: (For use w/Historian; yet uncast)
Meadowbrook has a spell that's never been cast? It's scribbled on the unknown artifact's page like an afterthought, beneath an equation so convoluted that I doubt even Twilight would be able to make anything of it.
In the hallway, hoofsteps grow louder, accompanied by the high-pitched, unintelligible babble of my neighbors. They slam the door as they enter their room.
I reread the title of the spell, then look down for the accompanying equations. There are none dedicated to Scholar, just a small stretch of empty space surrounded by the math for the unknown artifact. Turning the page reveals a sea of cramped, slanted hornwriting that I missed the first time I scanned the book. The words are utter nonsense; I suspect it's a log of sorts, but the subject jumps from discussing arcanoconductors to ruminating on the composition of tapioca to ancient cosmic symbolism, all in the same sentence. I rub my head. Apparently Meadowbrook had something against punctuation.
A "Search and Find" charm comes up empty; "Scholar" isn't mentioned once in the single page of notes. "Student," "uncast," and even "Historian" are just as unsuccessful.
"Hist," though, sends the pages flipping as the charm directs me to the small section that talks about the tapestry. Within the span of three sentences, Meadowbrook manages to carry on a philosophical debate on the nature of cutie marks in between recording his findings on the enchantability of wool versus cotton embroidery thread. At first, I don't see "Hist" anywhere—the soft yellow glow of the searching charm pulses half-buried in the margin, easily overlooked. But then it catches my eye, and I frown.
Turning the book to the side, I squint at the highlighted section. There isn't any visible text within the glow. I take my glasses off, buff them, and look again. The charm continues to point to unmarked paper. It's unlikely that I screwed up such a simple spell, but I cast it again, just to be absolutely certain.
The only thing that comes of the recast is absolutely certainty that there is nothing there, but "Search and Find" is the magical equivalent of a sundial—if it doesn't work, you're looking at it wrong.
Or it's cloudy.
I chew my lip. Magical interference with the charm is a possibility—while the journal doesn't seem enchanted, any object that spends significant amounts of time near a powerful spellcaster is bound to acquire a layer of arcane residue. It's not unheard of for such items to react strangely to direct enchantment, especially a book that might have been present during magical experimentation. But this is only a concern if the book before me is Meadowbrook's original journal, and I just don't see something that valuable being stored outside the Royal Vaults.
Another possibility is that there is text, and it's been hidden through the use of invisible ink, or an anti-detection rune, or some camouflaging charm of that nature. Why somepony would go to the trouble of hiding something and then neglect to enchant it against basic examination spells, I have no idea.
Then again, I could have just screwed up something I learned when I was in magic kindergarten.
No. I'm positive I cast "Search and Find" correctly. Which means that I need to know for certain whether Historian is an original or a copy— I'm leaning towards the latter, but surety is a necessity when dealing with old tomes. If I try to cast something as rigorous as a revealing jinx on the original version, it's likely to blow up in my face.
A smile stretches across my face as I realize that I need to know the history of the book. I check the time; the archives are undoubtedly closed (like I'm going to jaunt in there and start asking questions about a book that probably isn't authorized for check-out), but there's a slight possibility that the Professor will still be in her office. And I have an excuse to drop by.
Scrambling off the bed, I throw Historian under my pillow and gallop out the door.
Five minutes later, I'm rapping a hoof against Professor Sharp Wit's mahogany office door.
"Come in," is the muffled response, so I push the door open and enter the cramped space. The familiar scent of parchment and pine greets me.
The room is cramped only because every inch of wall space has a bookshelf pressed against it—novels and scrolls and trinkets from Sharp Wit's various travels clutter floor-to-ceiling shelves. A desk and chair is crammed against the far wall, where the tip of a pale orange horn peeks out from behind a behemoth parchment pile.
"It's Moondancer," I announce. The horn glows, and then the pile of scrolls rises up in one massive wave and parts to reveal my former Arcane History professor. She smiles wanly at me. Her silver mane looks as though she tied it up a week ago and forgot about it.
"Moondancer!" Her voice possesses a liveliness betrayed only by the bags underneath her eyes. "Haven't seen you in a while! You'll have to forgive me for canceling lunch this week, it's been, well..." She gestures at the scrolls.
"Exams," I supply, earning a dry chuckle. It's not hard to recognize the scrolls as the fruits of her final essay prompt. "Oh, you don't have to do that," I say hastily, as she moves to clear the stool on the other side of her desk. "I just had a quick question."
She leans back in her chair. "Fire away."
"I was just wondering about book enchantments," I begin, trying to sound appropriately nonchalant. "Like, I know Tribald the Tricky was infamous for writing his journals in code, but what about Mage Meadowbrook?"
"Meadowbrook?" Sharp Wit frowns.
"Historically speaking," I add hurriedly.
She relaxes into a thoughtful expression. "Historically speaking, we know about as much of Meadowbrook as we do pre-Princess Equestria—very little. His journal is intact, and we have most of his artifacts, naturally, but historically?" She shrugs. "He obsessed over Starswirl, he loved the Princess, and he was completely insane."
She's dodging my question. My heart sinks a little bit. "Nopony's analyzed his journal or anything?"
Sharp Wit raises an eyebrow. "Is somepony thinking about applying for research permissions this summer? You're being awfully specific."
"I... I might." I scuff a hoof against the worn carpet. "I mean, if the Royal Archives is willing to grant access to his journal."
"We actually only have a copy of his journal," the professor corrects. Just as I suspected. "His apprentice scribed a backup in secret, shortly before Meadowbrook destroyed the original by force-feeding it to a dragon." She chuckles. "It's quite the tale, you can find it in Dusty Page's Royal Magicians." She tears off a piece of parchment and scribbles the title down before magicking it over to me, smiling. "If you'd like me to write a letter of recommendation for your research proposal, I'd be more than happy to send something over to the Archive Director. Just swing by my office after exams and remind me." She winks.
I beam at her. "I'll be sure to. Thanks, Professor!"
"Anytime," she smiles.
I turn to leave, then hesitate.
"Is there something else?" she asks, reaching for a scroll.
"Well," I push my glasses up nervously. "It's not really a question, but— ah— you teach summer courses here, right?"
"Well, my birthday's right before the Summer Sun Celebration, and if you'd like to—well, that's if you aren't too busy—" I can feel my cheeks reddening to match my mane, but I'm past the point of no return, so I forge on through. "I might be having a birthday party, and you're, uh, more than welcome to swing by and have some cake. Or just say hi."
She's staring at me now, and I'm beginning to regret opening my mouth when she grins. "A birthday party, huh?"
"Yeah." I nod vigorously. "I mean, it's not exactly official, but my roommates seemed pretty serious about throwing one, and I think Twilight Sparkle will be there, too." I wrack my memory frantically, trying to remember if Twilight actually said she would come, but all I remember is her expressing concern over exam schedules, so I shelve the worry for later.
"Your roommates? Twinkleshine, Minuette, and—who was the other filly?"
"Lyra," I prompt.
"That's right." She levitates another scroll onto her desk. "Well, good for you! I'll do my best to stop by... Have you mentioned this to Stargazer yet?"
I shake my head. Sharp Wit tsks at me.
"If I see her in the coffee room tomorrow, I'll be sure to let her in on it," she promises. "I know you're just as busy as I am, though, so I'll let you get back to studying."
I recognize my exit cue. "Thanks again!"
"Anytime," the professor says again, eyeballing the mountain of parchment behind her. "Excluding the next three days, preferably."
Though the visit to Sharp Wit's office didn't yield any information about the specific probability of Meadowbrook enchanting his journal, it wasn't a total bust. After all:
1) I learned that I needn't worry about the mage's secret journaling habits—if his apprentice made the copy, it's likely that the text wasn't originally hidden; "Word-Paste" doesn't replicate camouflaging charms when it creates the duplicate.
2) If the text was hidden after transcription, then it means that the information it contains is probably sensitive, potentially dangerous, and undoubtedly mind-blowing.
3) It might contain clues to Meadowbrook's unknown artifact, or it could be a spell so revolutionary, the Princess ordered it hidden from researchers, lest it destroy the fabric of reality!
4) I received reassurance that the Professor cancelled lunch this week due to her busy schedule and not a lack of interest in chatting with me.
There's a spring to my step as I return to my room. Rounding the final corner, I note with relief that my roommates still haven't returned. I enter the room, and am instantly assaulted by a neon-blue sticky note.
"AUGH!" I shriek as it batters me about the head, encased in a sparkling golden glow. I swat at it, but it evades my hoof and attaches itself to my horn, obnoxiously fluttering like a banner. With a growl, I magically seize it and yank it off. The note falls to the ground, its enchantment spent.
Summer Storm invited us to a last-minute group study session in the West Wing of the Library. We'll be there until maybe an hour past sundown if you wanna come!
-Minuette + Roomies
I toss the paper aside, glancing out the window. The sun is just now brushing against the horizon, leaving me a bit more than an hour to figure out what to do with Historian.
My first inclination is to go to Twilight. She's Princess Celestia's personal student; not a soul in Equestria is more likely to be capable of detecting a glamour charm than she is. I mull the thought over, then decide against it. Twilight has a tendency to get bent out of shape over exams, so she won't appreciate being distracted with side projects—and I won't deny there's a certain allure to the idea of uncovering the hidden text myself, which is my second option.
I collapse onto my book-strewn bed, wiggling a bit so Advanced Magical Theorems isn't poking into my side so much, then levitate Meadowbrook's journal out from under my pillow. I let it hover directly above my head, watching my pale pink magic shimmer across the leather cover.
It doesn't feel like there's any magical residue lurking upon the tome; my aura meets no resistance as it spins the book about lazily. Still, hesitation holds me back. Scientific procedure demands I perform all experiments in a controlled environment. School policy requires me to have appropriate supervision for said experiments.
I bury my face in my hooves, rubbing my eyelids. All of the laboratories are bound to be locked up, to deter students from tampering with the testing environment before their exams. The teachers are all busy, too. Nervously, I check the time again. There's plenty.
Do I dare? Am I bold enough to tamper with Library property? Am I ready to deal with the information I might learn? What if the hidden text is something dangerous, or involves a matter of national security? Will the knowledge be worth it?
Twilight would do it.
The thought sends me lurching out of bed. With a magical heave, I lift up each and every item covering the room's single desk, and levitate it over to a cleared section of floor. Historian looks fittingly imposing when I place it upon the bare surface.
I slide into the chair, gulping. The desk is pressed up against the window, and I almost close the blinds before deciding that the sunset is too pretty to shut out. Its golden rays highlight the dust-motes swirling through the air, giving the scene a faded, fairy-tale appearance. My horn-glow nudges some of the specks aside as I summon the energy for Poppy the Paranoid's revealing hex. In the quiet of the room, the magical current running along the fluting of my horn hums softly, barely audible.
Focusing, I envelop Meadowbrook's journal with the spell. I can feel the drain of magic as the hex moves over the book, a white glimmer marking its progress as it blasts away any glamours lingering in the pages. Ten seconds later, it's finished.
Hesitant to touch Historian magically so soon after such a rigorous spell, I manually turn to the page with the tapestry, then frown.
It remains a page about a tapestry. No hidden text has appeared, no secret code has been revealed, but a sloppily-cast "Search and Find" insists that there are words I am not seeing.
I try Poppy's hex again. Then I try Tribald the Tricky's enchantment reversal. Then Clover's ink color-changing charm—which doesn't work at all. And then I cast an inverse version of the oversimplified invisibility charm Twilight and I played with in kindergarten, all the while keeping a detailed log of my success:
2) Still nope.
4) More nope.
5) I hate magic.
The loud music that my neighbors have decided to turn on gives me an excuse to scowl at something, so I pause my frustrated genius act for a minute to tell the wall exactly what I think of their rambunctious thoughtlessness.
Satisfied that the universe has been made aware of my distaste for Sapphire Shores, I decide to throw Morari the Maneless' magical detection charm at Historian in a last-ditch effort to see if there's even anything within the book to be affected by my spells. Arcane residue is surface magic, like the ripples resulting from skipping a stone across a lake— it reveals nothing about the currents lurking in the deep.
I probably should have done this to begin with, I groan to myself, as my horn glows once more.
Morari's spell isn't complicated, but the time it takes to cast varies with the result: items bearing small enchantments can be analyzed and reported on within seconds, whereas an object attached to a large spell might take a minute or two to have its arcane potential gaged. It's like dropping a stone in a well, Twilight had explained to me. The deeper it is, the longer it takes.
Patience is key, I reassure myself. The fact that the charm doesn't bounce back immediately after I cast it is reassuring, and confirms my suspicions that the book has been magically tampered with.
It takes seven minutes of solid spellcasting before Morari's charm finishes sorting through the enchantment upon Historian.
When the journal's stored magic is finally revealed to me, I am half-thrown across the room with the immensity of it; raw power seizes hold of my arcane lifeline and physically repels me. I catch a glimpse of the book's enchantments before the connection is severed, though, and my mind is as equally stunned as my body as I reel across the room.
Historian is the single most magical item I have ever encountered. Its stores of arcane potential are huge—vast pools of simmering energy that seem to be eternally deep, all contained between two leather covers. I can feel my eye twitching. Slightly more worrisome is the grin creeping across my face, and the accompanying excitement racing through my veins.
I pull myself to my feet, noting in the back of my mind that my neighbors have turned their obnoxious music off. It takes five steps to move back to where Historian lies innocently upon the moonlit desk, silver ink shimmering like so many stars embedded within the page.
Silver? I cannot move fast enough; the seconds stretch out impossibly long as I slide back into my chair to examine the glowing paper.
Tiny glittering sentences crisscross the section about the tapestry, forming delicate loops and whorls across both pages of Meadowbrook's cramped writing. The minuscule letters practically sing with magic, pleading for attention, begging my eyes to read them. Sure enough, a tiny silver “for Hist” is inscribed near the spine, followed by some gibberish about ‘the final weeks.’ Across the page, one word shines brighter than the others.
Leaning closer to the literary lacework, I manage to make out the first part of a sentence:
With arcane endeavor
The lettering shines as I read it, and my glasses magnify the glare, obscuring the rest of my vision. I tear off the black frames, tossing them to the edge of the desk. Leaning in closer to compensate, I continue reading.
With arcane endeavor Through centuries gone Yon time-laden treasure To consciousness drawn
Through centuries gone The shades doth appear To consciousness drawn With intent to cohere
The letters swim upon the blurry page, but the words are as clear as if I had spoken them aloud. I cannot stop reading; even as my stomach begins to twist with the realization that this is an incantation, the spell drags my eyes along the burning silver lines.
The shades doth appear Upon wavering tides With intent to cohere And reveal that which hides
Upon wavering tides Doth arcane endeavor Reveal that which hides Within time-laden treasure
The final word sears itself into my eyes, and I fall back with a startled cry. Light explodes around me, and I cannot see. There is nothing but a sterile white emptiness, barren and unyielding. Distantly, I feel myself strike the floor, but my vision remains useless.
Abruptly as it left, my sight is restored all at once: I feel myself blink, and then I am staring at the cracked plaster ceiling of my dorm room, buried in a small pile of office supplies and notes. In the silence, I hear that my neighbors have started up a new song; its measured, heavy beat thuds rhythmically from the other side of the wall.
I lie there for a minute, sticky and covered in a thin sheen of sweat, as I try to determine whether it is euphoria or terror creeping through my heart. The uncertainty is nothing compared to the realization that I just performed Meadowbrook's uncast spell.
I stagger to my feet and lurch for the desk. Slamming shut Historian's now-dull pages, I shove the journal into my saddlebag, relocate the clutter from the floor back onto the desk, and collapse into bed.
I should record my results while they're still fresh, I realize as I pull my coverlet over my head. I should get examined, I should take the book to Sharp Wit, or Headmistress Smarty Pants, or—or Princess Celestia, and confess everything and make sure I haven't hexed myself—
But the spell was called Scholar. That doesn't sound like a hex.
The warmth of my bed soothes my aching nerves remarkably quickly. Lulled by the steady beat from the other room, my thoughts begin to slow. I lazily wonder what Twilight would do in this situation, but I am not Twilight, and I don't know. Sleep laps at the edges of my consciousness, and I succumb willingly to the sudden exhaustion weighing me down, slipping away into the awaiting dreamscapes without another thought.
My dreams flitter between crystalline laughter and a broken ceiling.
The next morning's gradual return to consciousness is catalyzed by a soft humming that can only mean Minuette is tidying her bed. Burritoed as I am, with my muscles completely relaxed, the gravity holding me in bed greatly outweighs any need to get up. Though it feels as though my muzzle is plastered to the fifth edition of Magics and Meditations, I am content to simply lie there, allowing my roommate's gentle tune to lull me into a dreamlike trance.
Minuette finishes her business quickly and leaves, easing the door shut behind her. In the absence of her humming, the only noise left in the room is the soft sound of Twinkleshine's snoring. I suspect Lyra's out taking her environmental studies exam.
What time is it, anyway? I don't bother opening my eyes to cast my time charm.
I do, however, open them when I launch myself out of bed, scrambling for my saddlebag and glasses because I have an exam in fifteen minutes. My neighbors are playing their stupid song again; the beat thrums against the wall and does nothing to soften the vertigo that sends my head swimming. Squinting, I frantically shuffle through the notes on the desk, desperately searching for my glasses. In my frenzied rush, all I really manage to do is knock two textbooks, an inkwell, and a commemorative statue of the 999th Summer Sun Celebration to the floor. I just barely zap the items with a cushioning charm in time; their momentum is arrested by a pale pink cloud, and they fall the final inches to the floor in slow motion.
After catching the items and placing them on the desk, I glance at Twinkleshine. She's clutching her pillow tightly, clinging to sleep with all the resigned desperation of a lover facing an inevitable separation. Satisfied that her snoring is still evenly paced, I take a moment gather my bearings.
I inhale deeply, noting with satisfaction that my heartbeat easily slows down to match the cadence of the song next door.
1) Find glasses
2) Get testing supplies
3) Yell at neighbors (optional but recommended)
5) Backup testing supplies
6) QUIT MAKING LISTS AND GET TO CLASS YOU IDIOT
Fully oriented, I spring into action. Casting a magical search field, I locate my glasses and send them flying onto my face, simultaneously tossing quills, inkpots, and scratch parchment into my purple saddlebag. The sight makes me hesitate.
I don't really need to bring a saddlebag. I could get by with that self-inking quill that Stargazer gave me for Hearth's Warming—the exam won't need me to write down anything more complex than a few minor equations. It's Advanced Magical Practices after all; a theorems exam would be another story. If I remember the syllabus correctly,
-Twenty five multiple choice (4 points each) -Six short answer (10 points each) -Two practical demonstrations (20 points each)
Maybe it's dangerous, maybe it's sleep deprivation, maybe it's some unknown side effect of "Scholar," but there's an unidentifiable emotion weighing on the edge of my mind, whispering that maybe I don't need to bring so many supplies. Maybe it's not a desire for preparedness that says I need four extra quills and two pots of ink—maybe it's insecurity.
The thought is so out of place it gives me pause. Almost without any effort, I levitate the self-inking quill out of my bag. I stare at it.
Maybe it's insecurity, a fear that I don't know as much as I think I do.
It's like I've never properly looked at this quill. It seems so... ordinary, but at the same time I can almost see the magic within it.
And maybe surrounding myself with instruments of learning bolsters my confidence... subconsciously convinces me that the extra supplies will lend me the answers I seek. That being prepared makes me smart.
My neighbors are listening to a classical piece. I make a mental note to ask Lyra about the tune later—I can't quite hear the violins through the wall.
With deliberate slowness, I tuck the self-inking quill behind my ear, readjust my glasses, and walk out the door. The unknown emotion finally identifies itself.
I feel absurdly free as I trot to my classroom. No saddlebag, no extra books, no unnecessary distractions to fiddle with. I giggle as I think about the look on Twilight's face when she sees how... how dangerously underprepared I'm being—I didn't even bring a quill knife to sharpen the nib. She wouldn't dream of coming to an exam with anything less than every note she's ever taken.
Hmm. Maybe she's figured out a spell that lets her soak up knowledge via conduction, and her notecards just transmit the information directly to her brain as she takes the test. I think Tribald the Tricky might have had a spell similar to that. It would explain a lot, but I soon dismiss the thought—Twilight Sparkle is many things, but a cheater isn’t one of them.
Tardy is not a word that can be used to describe her, either. She raises her eyebrows as I slip into the exam room mere seconds before Professor Top Mark slams the door shut. Her eyebrows rise even higher when I lay my solitary quill atop the desk and lean back.
"Are you crazy?" she hisses. I just grin at her. The smile lingers on my face as I turn to the scroll that's been levitated in front of me.
Twilight Sparkle would never show up to an exam with only a quill. But then again, I am not Twilight Sparkle.
She hasn't performed Meadowbrook's hidden spell.
The exam is trivial.
Three days pass before any traces of Scholar’s effects come to my attention.
I'm sitting on a picnic blanket in the West Courtyard, peeking over Minuette's shoulder as she pages through a cake catalogue from one of Canterlot's many bakeries.
Lyra points a hoof at a modest, single-tiered chocolate cake. "This one is cute! Wouldn't it look nice with the sweetberry frosting?"
"Oooh, it would," I agree.
Minuette shakes her head. "Nonono, you gals are thinking too small. This is whatcha want, Moondancer." She jabs her hoof at a triple-tiered sponge cake with lemon frosting. "Doesn't it look just amazing?"
Everything looks amazing. I tell her so.
"See?" Minuette beams at me, then spots Twinkleshine walking with Twilight and Lemon Hearts across the courtyard. "HEY GIRLS!" she shrieks. "C'MERE AND PICK OUT FOOD WITH US."
Twinkleshine and Twilight visibly flinch at the noise—Minuette's lungs are powerful enough to draw the attention of half the courtyard—but they wind through the throngs of ponies and sit down upon our picnic quilt willingly. Lemon Hearts stretches out, basking in the warmth of the sun.
"Finally... done..." she sighs.
"I finished this morning," I tell her.
"Same," Minuette adds, before shoving the catalogue in Twinkleshine's face. "I need you to tell me your opinion about everything on this page, okay? Lyra's leaning towards the sweetberry and chocolate one, but the lemon frosting kind of looks like Moondancer's coat, so whadya think?"
Twinkleshine frowns, examining the page. After a moment of deliberation, she tosses it aside. "I think Moondancer needs a pie."
I catch the catalogue and levitate it over, examining it further. Across the courtyard, a group of music students begin playing, sending a gentle melody drifting through the sunlit space.
I chew my lip. "I'm not sure," I concede at last. "I don't think I could pick just one."
"That's fine!" Minuette quips. "We can pick one out for you!"
"And then it'll be a surprise. That's something birthday-ish," Lemon Hearts murmurs sleepily, tossing a foreleg over her eyes. "Surprises."
A snippet from How to Win Friends pops into my head. Show sincere appreciation. I gulp.
"Thank you, girls," I begin hesitantly. "For the party, that is. I'm really looking forward to it. It... it means a lot that you're going to all this trouble."
A chorus of "You're welcome" and "No problem" and "Our pleasure!" rings back at me. The warm feeling in my stomach is dampened only by the fact that Twilight is buried in Caprices and Cognizance, but I don't really blame her. Clover's Treatises really are remarkable commentaries—even if Predictions and Prophecies does more storytelling than analyzing.
I suddenly recognize the song playing across the courtyard as the same one the neighbors are so fond of.
"Hey Lyra," I say. "Do you know what song this is? I've been hearing it everywhere."
She frowns. "Summer Sunshine?"
Sure enough, somepony a few feet away is whistling the foal's nursery tune as they trot into the building. I shake my head.
"No, the other one. With the violins."
Lyra flicks an ear, still frowning. She listens for a minute, then shakes her head. "I don't hear it. Are you—"
"Yes I'm sure!" I double check to ensure that I am, in fact, hearing it. The noise definitely has an origin point. "It's coming from the north end of the courtyard, the one nearest to Canterlot... Castle," I say, faltering as a scan of the ponies at that end reveals that there is no one even holding an instrument, let alone playing the discordant violin piece teasing at the edge of my hearing. Minus Twilight, the other girls strain to listen, too, before frowning and shaking their heads.
Lyra shrugs. "That's odd. Maybe you just have good ears."
"I think the exam stress is getting to you, hon," Twinkleshine snorts.
"Maybe," I say distantly. I look back down to the cake catalogue, but the music refuses to relinquish my attention; I may as well be staring at the moss on the courtyard walls. They can't hear it. Why can't they hear it?
1) The music is coming from Canterlot Castle, and I do have good hearing.
2) There is no music, and I am insane
3) There is music, but I am the only pony that can hear it for magical reasons, rather than physical
My first option doesn't hold up well to scrutinization. I've never shown any indication of possessing superb hearing during any of my yearly checkups, and after getting stuck in the back half of a lecture hall for two class periods, I'm fairly positive my hearing is about middle-range, if not lower. Additionally, the odds of none of the other girls being able to hear the song are extraordinarily slim. Granted, Twilight hasn't been asked, but I'm willing to ignore that gaping hole in my sample size because it's Twilight—if it isn't in a book, she's not noticing it.
I don't like the second explanation very much.
But the third...
There's a plethora of reasons why I might be the only one capable of hearing something. We've all exposed ourselves to different combinations of enchantments, researched different subjects in our spare times, possess unicorn magic operating on slightly different frequencies...
I'm not even going to try to deny it to myself. Not even for the sake of scientific analysis—there's no need to explore every possibility when one of them is glaringly, painfully obvious. I will bet all the money I spent at the bookstore last weekend that the song I am hearing is related in some way, form, or fashion to Meadowbrook's uncast spell. Though I suppose referring to it as the 'uncast spell' is no longer correct.
I blink. The girls are staring at me. All of them—Twilight tears her eyes from her book long enough to furrow her brows in my general direction before turning a page with her horn.
“Uh, yeah?” I ask.
Lemon Hearts clears her throat. “Minuette was asking if you wanted to have the party indoors or not. It might get pretty hot outside, and if you want ice cream, well…”
“Temperature maintenance charm,” I supply absently, staring back across the courtyard. The music grows quieter and quieter, until I can’t hear it at all. “Outside would be nice.”
The music follows me. It’s lurking in the corners when I walk to the library, levitating my textbooks behind me. There isn’t a soul in sight, and the most effective silencing charm I know isn’t enough to quiet the tune. Not that I expect it to—not when it’s Mage Meadowbrook’s spell that is serenading me so.
It echoes through the baths when I wash off the toils of the week—the mournful singing of the violins reverberates off of tiled walls and polished floors, skipping across the water in a ghostly lamentation. None of the other students splashing around seem to hear it. I levitate my washcloth out of the way, take a deep breath, and sink beneath the warm water. The song is quieter in the deep, and by the time I surface again, gasping for air, it has quieted once more.
It’s there when I read—book opened and quill poised over a blank piece of parchment, ready to jot down any interesting segments. I hear it before I fall asleep and it’s the first sound to greet me in the mornings. I can’t even finish casting my morning time charm before it fills my ears. In the evenings, Historian seems to look at me knowingly, but I suspect my attempts to untangle its scribbled equations would be fruitless even without the melody dancing through my head, and it keeps its secrets locked in well-scribbled pages.
Sometimes the notes are soft, and it plays for hours before I truly notice it. Then there are the times when it positively roars in my ears, cutting me off from the surrounding world in a tidal wave of sound. These are the moments that nearly convince me to find a teacher and fess up: when my classmates laugh and chatter around me while Twilight buries herself in a book and I pretend to do the same, staring blankly at pages to hide the fact that I’m drowning in plain sight.
But in the end, the song always quiets. In the end, the determination to figure out its purpose grows stronger.
Since the summer lull has left us with no classes and an abundant supply of free time, it was inevitable that my roommates and I would eventually get around to cleaning out our bags. There’s simply so much stuff that one accumulates throughout the semester. The clean-up begins innocently enough—Twinkleshine’s already got everything in her quarter of the room tidied and fresh, and the rest of us have so much to sort through that the first hour is filled with nothing but the steady rustling of paper and clapping of book on book. I spend the time sorting my used scrolls from my new ones by hoof.
Then, there’s a sharp pat as a ball of parchment hits me in the face . My glasses go flying off my nose and into the nearest pile of scrolls, knocking them all out of order. I levitate the black frames back onto my face and turn around.
Lyra is giggling behind a hoof, but Minuette seems to be carefully avoiding any sort of eye contact, making her the clear perpetrator. I pick up one of my old essays (a long one—the introduction alone was nearly three pieces of parchment) and send it flying towards her head. It hits her horn with a satisfying fwap, a sound that is quickly followed by an indignant shriek as she recoils violently. Lyra just laughs all the harder.
“Hey, what gives?” Minuette yelps, rubbing her horn.
I look from her indignant expression to where Lyra is rolling on the floor, caught in uproarious laughter, then begin backpedaling, because the odds of Minuette having initiated the conflict just dropped down to a measly 17%.
“Sorry, sorry! I just...” I squeak, before a familiar note catches at my ears from somewhere outside the window. It fades after a moment—an all-too-common occurrence. Turning back to my roommates, I open my mouth to ask Minuette to repeat herself.
Minuette seizes the opportunity to stuff a week’s worth of used scrolls into my mouth.
Gagging, I tug at the paper with both hoof and horn, the familiar tingling of magic buzzing across my tongue. The parchment comes out soggy. Sputtering, I turn my glare to Lyra.
“Hehee—uh oh.” Her poorly-stifled sniggers quickly turn into a tiny scream as I empty my exam-overloaded saddlebags onto her. Her cream-and-mint mane is promptly buried by half the library’s magical theory section.
I freeze, still levitating my emptied saddlebag above Lyra’s head. The music winds around me confidently, slipping into my ears and brushing up against the most intimate parts of my mind, where it whispers tantalizing tales of love and sacrifice.
The smack of a laboratory notebook against my flank makes me leap; for a split second, my hold on the bag slackens. It dips a few inches towards the ground before I reassert my hold.
A second or two later, the music softens, only to return to full strength immediately. The accompanying realization stares me in the face, as blatantly obvious as the third section of Clover’s Magics and Mediations(magic is energy, and energy is everywhere [Clever, 237]).
The music is tied to my spellcasting.
It’s obvious. It’s so obvious that it makes me giddy, and I’m grinning wildly as I add book after book to my magical grasp. Into my saddlebag goes Aristrotle, then Carneighgie, and then Clover and Morari and every bit of paper I can get my aura on. With each addition, the music grows stronger. Deeper. More intoxicating.
Sound rushes through the air, filling my ears and sweeping across me in a dizzying wave of sensation. It tugs at me, pulls at my mane and my tail and the fluting of my horn. I’m beginning to see things, even. Shadows dance before my eyes, morphing and scattering like so many leaves caught in a storm-borne wind. If I squint, I can almost make out a group of ponies standing—
Something smacks me on the back, snapping my attention out of the vision and back into the dorm room. I whirl around.
The overloaded saddlebag whirls around with me, locked in the grip of my levitation spell. I’m opening my mouth, about to protest angrily, but Minuette’s face is there, right there, and the saddlebag’s hurling straight for her. Time seems to slow, the notes in my ear stretching and distorting as I pour every ounce of magical ability into pulling the bag back.
I barely stop it in time. One of the corners—stretched hard and pointy around a hardcover book within—comes within millimeters of hitting Minuette in the eye. The canvas brushes against her brow instead (softly, like the eddies of music swirling around my horn) before being yanked back. The change in direction proves to be too much for the tired old seams to handle, though, and the strap pulls clean off.
It’s enough to kill the satchel’s momentum; it falls to the floor, spilling books everywhere.
Minuette and Lyra stare at me with wide eyes. My stomach twists, and the sour taste in my mouth isn’t because the music has died back down to a whisper. The girls are looking at me as though they’ve never seen me before.
It’s Minuette who speaks first, letting out a low whistle and an uneasy, “Dang, girl. You were, uh, holding out on us.”
Lyra laughs nervously. “Remind me to never disagree with you. Like, ever again.”
“Tactical display of force,” I offer weakly. Something in their eyes tells me they don’t quite believe it. As I look down at the books and crumpled scrolls scattered across the floor, I don’t quite blame them.
I need to find the source, I think to myself in the courtyard later that week, burying my head in my hooves to try and rub away the headache. Today was supposed to be a planning day with the girls—though the balmy weather turned it into a bit of a free-for-all in terms of organized activity.
Lyra and Twinkleshine are buried in Daring Do and Berry Trotter novels, respectively; Minuette is arguing with Lemon Hearts over cake batter; Twilight is a no-show, and I’m trying to mend the broken strap on my saddlebag. My stitching has a faint musical accompaniment—the strap is simply too thick for me to use anything but magic to force the needle through the fabric. The additional noise is doing nothing to relieve my headache.
I grit my teeth. The song is enticing. I want to know what I saw, who those ponies were, why I’m seeing echoes of them after casting Meadowbrook’s ancient spell. Was it even Meadowbrook’s spell, or one that his apprentice left when copying the journal? Regardless of the author, what was “Scholar” intended to accomplish? Music-induced insanity?
I need to track down where this song is coming from and record my observations. Maybe that’ll clear it up.
I tie off the needle and thread. This is getting ridiculous. If I can’t figure it out soon, I’ll have to get help from an academic supervisor. And that could lead to a hearing, and, and who knows what sort of magical usage violations they could find me guilty of—let alone the consequences!
A quick mental rundown of the Code of Conduct at the School for Gifted Unicorns turns up the following potential outcomes:
2) Dishonor via expulsion
3) Dishonor via losing Twilight’s trust (maybe? She did loan me Historian to begin with)
4) Dishonor via imprisonment in some dark laboratory in the School for magical experimentation and observation purposes…
Okay, maybe the last one is a bit much. Take a deep breath. The probability of any combination of those consequences occurring is statistically insignificant. I can do this. This is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Reassured, I glance at the mares around me, engrossed in their own activities. I'll just excuse myself, see if I can follow the music, figure out how it's connected to “Scholar,” throw something resembling a journal article together, and bam. Eternal academic glory is mine.
And then it'll be Twilight starting the conversations.
This plan reeks of evasion and irresponsible magic use. It also promises knowledge, adventure, and an unparalleled understanding of one of the greatest enchanters in history—beginning with this mystery spell. My mind's already made up. I’ve already cast Scholar, haven't I? There’s nowhere to go but up. I have the perfect alibi, too.
"I'm going to go stop by Professor Sharp Wit's office," I announce abruptly, rising to my hooves. More confidently, I add, "I'll see you girls later!"
They murmur assent, and I set off across the courtyard, strategically levitating my half-mended saddlebag at my side.
It's not difficult to follow the music; the elusive tune seems to tug at my horn the closer I get, though the volume remains at the edge of my hearing, likely due to the meagre effort required to carry my bag.
The sound seems to have a direction, though, and it leads me back past the Main Hall, through marbled hallways and down secluded stairwells. Turn after turn, door after door, step after step—each brings me closer to what is beginning to feel like a ripple in the arcane fabric of the universe. I don't immediately realize when I’ve left the School again—the music takes me out of the building through a creaky door half-hidden in the hedges, and I merely think I've looped around to one of the courtyards.
But then I look up at the towering white walls looming over my head, and the thought is dashed upon the battlements staring down at me. Canterlot Castle is magnificent from every part of the city, but it's easy to forget how imposing it is up close. I'm briefly worried about getting inside—I'm not Princess Celestia's personal student, after all—but a glance around me reveals no guards in sight. The entryway in front of me doesn't even look like it should be an entrance to the castle; the chipped, wooden door set within the castle's pearlescent walls shows as much signs of traffic as the library's inventory records. Even Twilight won't touch those books.
Nopony stops me as I pull the door open and slip into a deserted corridor. The hallway is dark, unlit by lamps or candles, and the cool air kisses away the sun-warmth lingering upon my coat as I move forward. My hoofsteps are muffled by thick navy carpeting—the soft shushing is the only sound in a wing that seems to have been left forgotten.
Dust is everywhere, adorning framed artwork and empty sconces with lusterless trophies of neglect. It lingers in the air and itches at my nose; I barely restrain a sneeze as the stuffy air envelops me.
It's like walking through a tomb, I think, as the music pulls me onward. I round a corner, and then the music is all I can think about; the shadow of a tune has swelled into a proper melody, wafting down a spiral stairwell at the end of the corridor. I climb the steps in a daze, stumbling a bit as I reach the top and a solid wall of energy barrels into me. I force myself to look up
A furnace of magical power thrums before my face, raw and dangerous and overwhelming in its magnitude. I just barely manage to catch a glimpse of a glittering sea of blues and violets before the world flashes white.
The last thing I feel is the unmistakeable pinching of magic upon my consciousness.
The crystalline tinkling of laughter drifts through the torchlit spaces of the Throne Room, borne aloft by the soft currents of conversation that slide between murmured breaths. Inquiries and pleasantries drip from every tongue—some genuine, others as halfhearted as a summer sunshower—but despite the mingling, the focus of the Court never wanders far from the tiered dais at the head of the hall, nor the young princess seated upon its rightmost throne.
She is smiling. Her mane, flushed with the rosy hues of dawn, ripples through the air behind her in the gentle eddies of some distant cosmic wind. The flecks of morning dew interspersed within her tresses glimmer with but a fraction of the energy that dances behind her eyes, but oh, how those eyes glow. Her lips part in a small O of delight as the cerulean stallion before her gesticulates wildly, fending off an imaginary foe with an equally-intangible weapon.
Not all of the petitioners bring grievances to lay before the Morning Star. A notable tale, a loaf of bread, a carefully-selected daffodil—tokens of gratitude hide scattered amongst the crowd, each carried on its bearer's pilgrimage with the hopes of tempting a smile from the Jewel of the Everfree's refined features. Upon her throne, the princess claps her golden-shod hooves together as the stallion finishes his tale with a grandiose flourish. Her peals of laughter ring through the air, high and clear. The stallion bows deeply before taking his leave, and the next petitioner—a winged mare with a coat the color of honey-wine—eagerly steps forward.
Before the mare can present her case, the doors to the Hall are thrown open, allowing the faintest whisper of autumn to breeze into the chamber on the haunches of a shrouded figure. The draft's chilled edge slices mercilessly through the idle chatter, and the remnants of the petitioners' conversations are quelled with each sharp tap of silver-shod hooves upon the wooden floor.
The princess's attention is the last to be captured. But finally the Morning Star looks up, a puzzled frown crossing her brow at the change in atmosphere. Her confusion quickly melts away, replaced with an expression of polite interest, and then delighted recognition as the approaching figure lowers her hood.
Waves of rich indigo shadows spill free, rushing down in a sinuous mess of cosmic ether to writhe behind a young alicorn. The Dreamwalker's zircon-blue eyes are unwavering in their serenity; a disquieting stillness lurks in the depths of her gaze, hinting at the immensity of the dreamscapes she has traversed. No longer burdened with the mundane fabric of the cloak, the second princess approaches the throne with the elusive grace of an errant daydream. She halts exactly four paces from the platform.
The pegasus petitioner might as well have vanished, so absolutely does the Princess shift her attention to the newcomer.
"Sister," she greets, and her smile is daybreak after a long winter's eve. "To what circumstances might I owe such a pleasant surprise?"
The Dreamwalker speaks with icy clarity. "We would ask of you a boon."
The Morning Star's smile does not waver for a second. "Name it, and should it be within my power, it shall be thine," she swears. The room collectively holds its breath.
"Our subjects hath gifted you with a mark of your authority," the younger sister says, gesturing to the Morning Star's golden tiara. "But upon Our brow, We wear naught but a circlet of Our own creation."
The Sun Sister looks at the Dreamwalker's twinkling crown of stars with an expression close to bafflement. "I am not certain that anyone in the realm could craft for thee a more fitting diadem, Sister. Thou dost possess a finesse unmatched by the finest of metalworkers."
"Is Our request not within your power?" The Dreamwalker's even-toned question appears to grate at the Morning Star; a faint blush tinges her pale cheeks, and she rises to her hooves rather abruptly.
"Let it not be said that a Princess of Equestria was denied within Her own hall," she announces grandly. "Should it be a tiara She desireth, it shall be a tiara She receiveth."
Ignoring the excited tittering that sweeps through the room at her proclamation, the Morning Star lifts her chin, illuminating her horn with the soft golden glow of first light. Outside, the sun seems to lessen in intensity; shadows begin to stretch across the floor, creeping steadily toward the dais and the alicorn's pale horn.
Titters turn to sharp inhalations and shocked whispers as the shadows deepen suddenly, stretching and twisting as they are pulled free of the surfaces upon which they were confined. Droplets of liquid darkness—blacker than a night without stars and twice as forbidding—hurl through the air, coalescing into a single pool of shadow suspended before the princess. Her brow creases in concentration.
The pony-sized orb seems to suck the luster from the glittering aura holding it; the Sun Sister's horn burns with all the brightness of a dying star, but only reluctantly does the shadow-drop begin to turn. Slowly, at first, but it rotates with increasing speed as the Princess grits her teeth. Her aura blazes impossibly bright, forcing the courtiers to squint against the sunfire bearing down upon the molten shadowstuff, shaping and molding it into a smaller, denser ball.
The Morning Star does not wince when her magic begins to cling to the orb, tearing itself from her arcane lifeline as it is drawn to the center of the mass. She does not shy away from the flares of superheated energy that erupt from her aura as it rebels, unwilling to hold the darkness. She does not even avert her gaze, but stares, unflinching, into the heart of the star-forge.
The petitioners display no such fortitude. They cling to each other in the face of the billowing currents that tear through the throne room, lest they be drawn into the core of the inferno themselves. Eyes clenched shut, ears deafened by the cacophony of creation, they do not immediately notice when the commotion abruptly ceases.
For a brief moment, silence reigns in the Court of the Two Sisters. The townsponies open their eyes.
The first thing they take note of is the Morning Star collapsing back onto her haunches, breathing heavily as her horn sputters with the effort of holding a triple-pointed, asymmetrically-peaked tiara above the scorched floor. It is a tiny thing, much too small to contain the amount of shadow-steel pressed into it.
The tiara is wrong. The petitioners glance at it with morbid curiosity, shudder slightly, and avert their gazes before repeating the process. It is Silence, distilled from the emptiness of space and the momentary death between heartbeats. Describing it as black would be a disservice to the color; the tiara is a lusterless void—the dark hue of wet ink possesses more vividness than the diadem hovering in the middle of the room.
With a tiny gasp, the Sun Sister's slender horn fizzles out, unable to hold the thing aloft. It falls through the air with a grave inevitability, dropping like a stone through water. The Dreamwalker catches it a mere hair's distance from the burnt steps of the dais.
Every eye in the room is upon the younger sister as she lifts the tiara, the dusk-blue of her magic burning bright sliver against its unnatural surface. She levitates it to eye-level almost casually, turning it about to inspect every angle of the terrible thing.
It is so dark, it seems as though it should stain anything it brushes up against, permanently marking it with the taint of the tiara's wrongness. It is an atrocity. It should not exist.
The Dreamwalker places it atop her head.
Nopony moves. As the Diadem of Shadows is nestled into place, the Crown of Stars peters out, fading into a fine, shimmering dust that lingers in the air. The Princess of the Night lifts her head, and not a soul in the hall is able to meet her gaze for more than a second. Faced with a situation unaddressed by the rules of etiquette that so define their every move, the Court does as it always does when intimidated: it bows.
Ponies fall to their knees, some laying themselves prostrate in their haste to prove their fealty. The Morning Star offers her sister a weak smile.
"Thou dost approve?" she asks softly.
The Princess of the Night remains emotionless. "Aye," she says simply.
"Then I am pleased, as well," her sister replies. She gestures to the empty throne at her side. "Wilt thou be joining us for Court? 'Tis but a few hours to sundown."
"Nay," the Dreamwalker says. Her eyes briefly dart across the room of downturned heads. "We have acquired that which We came in search of."
She leaves the hall with the dread tiara upon her head and an uneasy silence in her wake.
My horn is throbbing. My horn is throbbing and so is my head and my tongue is thick and dry and tastes awful when I close my mouth. Despite the fact that my left foreleg is completely numb from where I've been lying on it, my mind swirls with but a single thought and all its accompanying ramifications:
Princess Celestia had a sister.
The fact hangs in my head as I stagger back through the silent halls of Canterlot Castle. It lurks in the shadows of the emptying streets, and clings to the forms of the few strangers that move past me.
I must look like a drunkard—the world before me blurs and stretches in a wobbly myriad of distorted colors, and the accompanying headache pulls and stretches my thoughts right along with it. It’s all I can do to put one hoof in front of the other; every time I get some momentum going, I blink, and suddenly I’m standing in the throne room with the Princess’ sister scowling at me.
I don’t know how long it takes me to return to the School. I don’t know how far gone the evening is, or whether I even make it back to my room at all. A sickening heat itches beneath my coat, lighting my nerve endings aflame and turning the cool night into an unbearable desert.
I think I throw up. I’m not sure. Something rushes up all at once and then my mouth tastes vile.
A fleeting moment of clarity reveals a familiar marble courtyard, washed in the light of the mare in the moon. But then the ground rushes up to meet me, and my thoughts retreat once more.
The gentle sweeping of a crisp morning breeze against my face gradually pushes back the tides of unconsciousness. For a single, blissful moment, all is well. Languidly, I stretch out, basking in the rays of the Princess’s sun.
Princess Celestia had a sister.
My eyes spring open. I’m scrambling to my hooves in an instant, splashing around furiously as I try to gain my footing.
With a massive amount of effort, I still my flailing legs and take stock of the situation. My analysis reveals:
1) The sun appears to have risen approximately twenty-four minutes ago
2) I am in the East Garden Courtyard of Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns
3) Princess Celestia had a sister?
4) There is nopony else in the courtyard
5) I am half-lying in the Starswirl memorial fountain
6) My glasses are over there
7) My saddlebag is nowhere in sight
I levitate my glasses onto my face and then freeze again. There is no music. No melodies accompany the glowing of my horn. The courtyard is silent, except for the gentle splashing of the fountain around me.
I’m not sure if this development is good or bad. On one hoof, it suggests that whatever “Scholar” did to me has worn off, but it also means that retracing my steps back to the tower will be difficult, since I let the music lead me the first time and I can no longer hear it.
I bite my lip. I need to retrace my steps, if only to retrieve my saddlebag. But I’m also hungry, and my desire to visit the library is matched only by my eagerness to re-examine Historian.
Okay, okay. This is doable.
Course of action:
1) Acquire Historian
2) Acquire food
3) Re-locate source of music
4) Examine area
5) Retrieve saddlebag
7) Make next course of action
Confident in my plan, I straighten up and clamber out of the fountain. After levitating all of the water droplets off of my coat (a clever trick Twilight and I came up with a few summers ago), I trot briskly into the awakening halls of Princess Celestia’s School.
Did Celestia’s sister have a school?
In these dawn-bound moments, with most of the students either visiting home or still asleep, it’s easy to picture the empty halls as belonging to some other school, lost somewhere in the depths of Equestrian history with its forgotten Princess. Did she have students? Were her classrooms thickly carpeted, or tiled and covered with rushes? Where was it? Could it still be standing today?
Could I find it?
As I slip into the cafeteria and grab an apple and breakfast bar, I can’t help but entertain thoughts of uncovering such a magnificent piece of Equestrian history. An entire school—by Morari’s mane, even the ruins of one—would be momentous. And the accompanying article I would pen, weaving my use of “Scholar” and Historian into one glorious argument proving the existence of the Royal Pony Sisters—I can practically see the works cited page already!
And oh, the look on Twilight’s face would be a real treat. It would almost be too good; while she’s off learning magical theorems that nopony without royal tutoring could hope to understand, I’m uncovering things about her mentor that she never even dreamed of!
At the very least, it would give me a few talking points when the weekly “Princess Celestia is so _____” conversation comes up (the blank is usually filled with some variation of the word ‘wonderful’).
Is this what Scholar does?
Not only is it an interesting thought, it actually makes for a fairly satisfying explanation. If Mage Meadowbrook wanted to preserve a piece of Equestrian history that he suspected might be lost, “Scholar” could be the means by which he intended to accomplish it. Rather than maintain a written record of the beginning of Princess Celestia’s reign, Meadowbrook could simply remember it and preserve that memory it in a spell.
The spell could be placed upon an object, and if the magical seal holding the memory in said object begins to leak… The interference could be detected as music?
Hmm. There’s a missing piece—multifunction spells are extremely, extremely rare. There are more professors at the School that believe in curses than there are those that believe in the feasibility of designing an incantation that could perform more than one function. Housing a memory in an object is one thing, and accessing said memory is literally the opposite of that one thing. Besides, “Scholar” was labeled as uncast, so it can’t have been used to store—
I blink, and look up from the drawer I’m rummaging through. Why am I rummaging through a drawer? Historian’s under my pillow.
Before I can turn to my bed, Twinkleshine’s face is blocking my view, brows furrowed over her pale blue eyes. They’re almost the same color as the younger princess’ in the vision, though Twinkleshine’s gaze admittedly lacks the unsettling silence that the princess possessed. No, there are no deep reserves on ancient fury in my roommate’s eyes, only bristling irritation and—
“Moondancer? Are you okay?”
Minuette’s unusually reserved voice breaks through my thoughts, clearing my mind and slamming me firmly into the present.
I smile sheepishly. “Heh, sorry everypony! Had, uh, the craziest night researching…” I trail off, mentally scrambling for a feasible research topic.
Luckily, I don’t need one. Minuette’s smile springs back to life, and she and Lyra nod eagerly.
“Oh, of course! We figured you were at the library when you didn’t show up last night. We didn’t see Twilight all day, were you with her? Oh, I bet the two of you spent the entire night in the stacks, didn’t you?”
While Minuette chatters on, I notice that Twinkleshine is eyeing me warily. The set of her brow suggests she isn’t quite convinced by my excuse, but she turns back to the book on her pillow and I relax a bit.
“So, are you excited for your birthday?”
I force a smile across my face and nod to Minuette. “I… yeah! It’ll be great—uh, thanks again, for the, the party and… stuff…” Turning back to my bed, I grab my spare saddlebag and stuff Historian into it, followed by plenty of paper and my breakfast. Behind me, Minuette continues the conversation at full speed. She never has needed two ponies to have a full discussion.
“Can you believe it’s less than a week away? I mean, the Summer Sun Celebration always seems to sneak up on us, but somehow it feels like it’s even sooner than normal this year!” she giggles. “Maybe time flies when you’re around people you like, yeah? Heh, Mom always told me friendship was magical.”
Courtesy dictates that I contribute something to the conversation. I hum at my bag, reshuffling the papers into a neater stack. “You… should look into that. Somepony—might have been Clover?—always lamented the lack of study dedicated—dedicated to the magic of friendship…”
“Hmm.” Minuette mulls it over. Before she can speak again, I magic my bag onto my back, tighten the strap, and bolt for the door.
“Lots of research to do, gotta run, seeyoulater,” I blurt. Twinkleshine starts to say something, but her voice fades as the door closes behind me, and I’m down the hall and around the corner before she has the chance to open it.
I scarf down my apple and breakfast bar as I trot back through the School, heading for the courtyard from yesterday. Even without the music to serve as a magical navigation system, it’s my best bet to relocate the source of the memory.
As it turns out, I needn’t have bothered. The moment I set hoof in the courtyard, a feeling of familiarity sweeps over my mind. My steps seem to have acquired a vague sense of gravity, of inevitability. I don’t need to worry about trying to retrace my steps; I just know where I’m going. It’s as though a path has been laid out before me, and my journey from courtyard to hallway to cramped passageways and secret doors is no less inevitable than the courses of the stars.
The abandoned section of Canterlot Castle is exactly as I remember it—a forgotten memory, suspended amidst dust and stale air as time rolled on past. It makes me feel young; the hallway I tiphoof through exudes an atmosphere of stately patience—it has stood in the shadow of Canterlot for decades before my birth, and it will continue to do so long after I no longer exist.
Making a mental note to more closely examine the paintings and trinkets lining the hallway before I leave, I hurry to the spiral staircase awaiting me. My horseshoes clink softly against the stone steps, but I can scarcely hear the sound over my pounding heart. My eyes scrunch shut. This is it.
I step out of the stairwell.
Nothing. No song, no magical flashback, nothing. The swirling vat of magical energy that devoured my consciousness is not there; my horn detects only the slightest dusting of magic upon the wall facing me. Carefully, I open my eyes and peek at it.
Hanging over the rough stone surface is the single most magnificent tapestry I have ever seen. It is enormous—easily as twice as long as I am tall, and three times as wide. The sheer size of it is dazzling, but the design...
Two embroidered alicorns adorn the tapestry, standing tail to tail with wings flared and horns lifted. One white, one blue—it's easy to recognize them as the same Royal Pony Sisters that every Equestrian standard is emblazoned with. Some ponies believe that the sisters were the country's first princesses, while others hold that they weren't sisters at all, but rival conquerors vying for control of a newborn country.
Whatever the story, one thing everypony agrees on is that the Royal Pony Sisters are ancient history. If they lived at all, they would have been born hundreds and hundreds of years ago. They are legends—there's only been one ruling Princess of Equestria for centuries.
So why is it that a vision (magical transcription? memory?) of the Royal Sisters contains an unmistakably younger Princess Celestia?
And what happened to the Dreamwalker?
Something in the younger sister’s eye seems to glint at me, almost invitingly. Before I can stop myself, I’ve extended a hoof and pressed it to the ethereal fabric of the tapestry.
The tapestry is as soft as the dawn—nay, as soft as the deepest velvet of the night sky. Its very color seems to have a texture. Deep and alive, the navy lurking behind the younger Sister bleeds and blooms as it stretches across my field of view. It engulfs my sight, and all I can do is marvel at how soft it looks.
The surge of magic that overwhelms my mind carries with it the bitter taste of regret.
The steady murmur of conversation winds through the bustle of the afternoon court. Merchants, dignitaries, and petitioners alike all chatter amicably, sneaking the occasional glance at the raised dais dominating the room. The leftmost seat remains empty, the blue marble glinting dully in the radiance of the other throne's Princess.
She is nodding. A pensive expression rests upon her face as a petitioner outlines his request in a halting, timid stutter. His speech grows more confident the longer he speaks, gaining strength from the Dawnbringer's regal serenity much in the same way that nightmare-frayed nerves are soothed by the sun's reassuring light.
Before the stallion reaches his conclusion, however, a pompous fanfare trills through the air, silencing the crowd. The petitioner trails off as the Dawnbringer casts her gaze across the hall, where a guardspony steps forward, striking his spear against the polished floor. In a deep tone that resonates with the echoes of the Royal Canterlot Voice, he bellows,
“Announcing Her Royal Highness, the Keeper of Dreams; Guardian of the Continicium; Watcher of Stars; Royal Sister to Her Majesty, The Princess Celestia; Bearer of the Moon; and Keeper of the Throne of Equestria, Princess Luna."
The doors swing open, and the Princess of the Night glides into the throne room, garbed in full regalia. The shadow-wrought tiara adorns her upheld head, but it is hardly the most breathtaking of her decorations.
Diamonds glisten amidst her proudly-flared wings, nestled between dusky-blue feathers like the stars interspersed within her billowing mane. A mixture of pearls, diamonds, and sapphires is scattered across the flared hem of her gown, which dances between blues and violets in an iridescent mimicry of the nighttime sky. It trails upon the ground behind her, shushing gently with each movement she makes. The fluting on her horn—filed so finely as to appear scalloped—bears a thin trail of glitter from temple to tip in the same stardust that shimmers upon her eyelids.
The disquieting stillness in her eyes has not changed, though, and the petitioners do not bow their heads entirely out of respect. The Dreamwalker pays them no attention; her gaze is locked upon the Dawnbringer's stiff form.
"Hail, Celestia of the Rising Sun!" The Night-Princess' sweeping curtsey is liquid moonlight—dreamlike in its frosty elegance. "How fare you in the twilight?"
The Sun Sister glances at the afternoon sun, still far above the horizon, before cautiously replying, "I am well. To what occasion do I owe the pleasure of thy company, Sister?"
The Dreamwalker straightens, loftily asking, "Need We an excuse to seek your audience, Highness? Or merely a petition?" She trots to the front of the hall, curtsies again, then retreats to stand in the line of townsponies waiting to speak with the Princess. They stare at her unabashedly.
"Thou knowest I will never make thee wait, Luna," the Dawnbringer says uncertainly. "Come; take thy seat and speak thy mind. What troubles hast thou?"
"No troubles, Highness," she replies, stepping once more to the dais. Her voice lilts with the easy frivolity of a daydream, but a frozen wasteland lurks in her eyes. "We would merely ask a boon of your most generous self."
A small smile tugs at the lips of the Sun Princess. "Then merely ask it, sister mine, and should it be within my power to grant, it shall be thine."
The Dreamwalker doesn’t miss a beat. "I implore nightfall, Princess. Lower the sun."
If she didn't have the attention of every soul in the throne room before her request, she certainly has it now. The Sun Sister sits frozen upon her throne, speechless, so the younger continues, "Your sun is too harsh upon the winter landscape; the pegasi struggle merely to keep the snow frozen beneath its rays." She gestures to the gelid slush caked upon the threshold. "Winter is a time for rest, for slumber—and that is Our domain. Lower the sun, Princess, and gift Equestria with the respite it needs."
The smile has fled the Dawnbringer's face. For a small eternity, the only movement in the throne room is the gentle rippling of the two princesses' cosmic manes.
"A longer night?" the older alicorn asks, at last.
"Aye," the younger confirms.
"Spring is almost upon us, when the sun shall be needed once more. Be this solely for the duration of winter?" The Sun Sister's gaze possesses the penetrative power of a spear made of magefire.
Undaunted, the Princess of the Night draws herself to her full height and nods regally.
Hesitantly, the Dawnbringer rises. "Thy request is not unreasonable. Thou thinkest as a Princess, Sister. I commend thy foresight." She lifts her head to the vaulted ceiling, then hastily adds, "Let it not be said that a Princess of Equestria was denied within Her own hall."
The slender ivory horn bursts into flame.
Never once taking her eyes from the Princess of the Night, the Dawnbringer slowly begins lowering her charge. The petitioners stare as the shadows stretch and distort against the tiled floor, prematurely roused by the accelerated sunset. The throne room darkens, until the only light in the chamber dances from the Sun Princess' flickering horn. It casts her face in heavenly light—rays of soft gold shimmer through her mane, electric with power.
The Dreamwalker's magical aura is so subtle, the townsponies do not immediately notice the silver-blue haze caressing her tapered horn. The moon slinks in with the nighttime sky, cresting the horizon with naught but a translucent arcane shimmer to herald its rising. The Night-Princess halts it at the apex of its climb, her horn-glow fading into the moonlight just as her older sister’s magic dissipates.
With mechanical precision, two guards dip wooden staves into the braziers flanking the door and begin to light the torches. The townsponies seize the distraction with a fervor, eyes desperately latching on to the stallions' methodical movements in a feeble attempt to ignore the uneasy stillness that lingers in the air.
The silence is strained, fragile, and it cracks under the weight of the star-shine seeping through the window-glass.
"Wilt thou be joining us?" The Dawnbringer asks, gesturing to the throne at her side, before faltering. "Or should it be thy permission I seek? 'Tis hardly my court to preside over, now." She chuckles hesitantly.
A smug smile waxes across the Night-Princess' face. "Do stay, Highness. Many moons have shone upon a hall bereft of your wisdom." Mounting the steps and settling upon her throne, she calls out to the petitioners, "Hear ye, hear ye! Let the Court of Stars commence!"
Under the Dawnbringer's quiet gaze, the uncertain townsponies shuffle to the shadowed dais with their petitions. The Dreamwalker hears their grievances, addresses them curtly but fairly, and sends them on their way. The petitioners escape to their homes, unable to shake the nagging impression that they have been cheated.
When all have been heard, the throne room is as empty and cold as the wasteland in the Dreamwalker’s eyes.
The scene slides from my vision easily, slipping away into the shadows until I see nothing but a mare seated on a throne of black-cut stone. Then I blink, and that’s gone, too. The ice in her eyes is not so easily forgotten, however, and as reality fully reasserts its hold upon my mind, I find that I cannot look at the Night-Princess upon the tapestry. Instead, my gaze wanders over to the white alicorn.
There's so much to process, so many theories, so many reasons for me to trade this forgotten place for the well-preserved ranks of the library, and yet I cannot stop staring at the oldest Pony Sister. It is a testament to the tapestry-weaver's skill how utterly enthralled her delicate features hold me—the spitting image of Princess Celestia (though with significantly less hair), wearing youthful gaiety upon her brow rather than the gentle, regal composure she bears in this age.
I reluctantly tear my eyes away from the Princess, spare one final glance for the mare of mystery beside her, and force my tingling hooves to carry me toward the staircase. With wobbly, unsteady steps, I make my way to the most reliable bastion of information available to me, sorting out my research as I go.
1) Who is the mare with the mane of stars? Princess Luna?
2) Is she really the sister of Princess Celestia?
3) How old is Princess Celestia?
4) Why aren't fillies and colts taught that Princess Celestia is one of the Royal Pony Sisters?
5) Has Princess Celestia even mentioned having a sister?
6) Why did the Royal Pony Sisters have so many blasted titles?
7) Why was a vision (two visions??) of the two Sisters locked up in a tapestry?
8) How many visions are in there, anyway?
9) How does Mage Meadowbrook fit into all this?
And perhaps most importantly,
10) What happened to the younger Sister?
The sign at the entrance of the library informs me that closing time is at eight this evening, rather than the usual two in the morning. It’s still early in the afternoon, though, and I have plenty of time to find—to find—well…
Where do I even begin?
The immense shelves of the Royal Canterlot Library stare down at me, ominous and so full of resources that I scarcely know what to do with myself. After a moment of internal debate, I decide that the easiest course of action would be to research Princess Celestia’s reign. I’m pretty confident that I can find some old texts about her rule, so if I just find one of those and work backwards in time… eventually I should get to the time of the Royal Pony Sisters, right? Off to the biographical section I trot.
Source 1: A Brief Retelling of the 800th Century, by J. Trotmire
Oldest-looking book on this shelf
Despite its title, is neither brief nor confined to the 800th century
This was a great century for Equestrian fashion
Not so great for apples
Or plants in general
Rainfall basically nonexistent
Princess Celestia eventually enlisted the help of a band of townsponies, who ventured into the Everfree Forest and chased away the creature hoarding all the rain clouds
“While this is not the first instance of our ruler turning to her subjects for assistance, rather than her guard or the E.U.P., it marks a turning point in the Princess’ approach to national crises. Whereas Her Highness would previously accompany her civilian warriors on their journey, the Water Wisp Drought of 784 saw her remain in her seat of power in Canterlot, from which she continued to direct the activity of the Pegasus Cloud-Hunting forces—”
Okay, so Princess Celestia used to be more adventurous? She’s probably mellowed out with age.Twilight would kill me for the thought, but there it is. I wonder if we have any records of any older adventurers.
Source 2: Heroes and Hairpieces: an examination of the correlation between Equestrian manestyles and matters of national importance, by Sir Macaroni III.
Thank goodness that manestyle went extinct four hundred years ago
Only mention of Princess Celestia is in connection to the sixth century
Two heroes are mentioned prior to the year 500
No indication as to what any of these heroes accomplished
Source 3: The Ballad of Sir Cuirass, by Trusty Page
Hero lived in the mid 400’s
Went on adventure with the Princess of the time
Was adored by his squire, the author of the book
Like, ridiculously adored
Nothing else of even remote importance
So was the Princess he adventured with Celestia or Luna? Maybe Luna ruled for a time and then Celestia took control from her?
That would certainly explain why nopony learned about Princess Luna in school. It also fits with the story of the Royal Pony Sisters vying for control of Equestria. I just need a description of the Princess of Sir Cuirass’s time. I glance across the reading room at the nearest window. Dust motes swirl around, caught in a shaft of afternoon sun. I still have time.
Of course, I could just try to secure an audience with Princess Celestia and ask her about the other Princess, but the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration means that the only way I’d see her before next month would be if Twilight helped arrange something. I shake my head. Not only does asking Twilight for help negate half the point of the research, I’m not so sure that confronting my seemingly-immortal ruler with questions about her long-forgotten kin (competition?) is in my best interests. Gritting my teeth, I turn back to the stacks.
This shouldn’t take too long.
Source 23: My Crown and Sun, by somepony whose name changes from Polar Frost to Daybreak to Sunkissed Flower at various points in the narrative
Dated ~500 years ago
Mentions Princess Celestia by name, as well as by "Dearest Princess,” "Love of My Life,” and "Most Holy, Most Sacred, Most Beautiful One”
No mention of Princess Luna
No mention of literally anyone but Princess Celestia
Actually a crumbling stack of love letters
I don’t remember taking this off of a bookshelf
This isn’t in the time frame I want, either
With a sigh, I bury my face in my hooves. Historians aren’t being kind to me.
Historian! Holy hay, I’m dull sometimes.
I glance surreptitiously around the library. The nearest pony is a middle-aged stallion on the other end of the room, bent over his own stack of books. Satisfied that I’m relatively safe from prying eyes, I pull Meadowbrook’s masterpiece out of my saddlebag and flip it open.
The bulk of the equations remain nonsense, that’s for sure. But when I come across the page that held the incantation for “Scholar,” I’m torn between smiling and cursing, because answers are staring me right in the face.
"Scholar" was transcribed over one of the artifacts. I remember it clearly now, and while I manage to suppress the delighted snicker that threatens to break the quiet of the library, I am powerless to stop a slow smile from stretching across my face, because the artifact in question happens to be an elaborately-designed tapestry that I recognize instantly.
My eyes snap to the tapestry’s text section, where a daunting block of arcane equations awaits me. I take a deep breath. I can do this. I’m best friends with Twilight Sparkle. This’ll just be like debating theory with her, only I can stop and look back over the parts I don’t totally understand.I levitate over the nearest copy of Advanced Magical Theory and set my shoulders. Pulling out some scrap parchment, I throw myself into detangling the spellwork with a vengeance.
The afternoon sun sinks into the treeline.
Earth magic-based structural spell? Or is it an arcane—arcanoconducting charm? Why would anypony… Whatever. Skip. Come back later. Okay, this one looks simpler.
The stallion at the other end of the room packs up his pen and notepad and stacks his books onto the resorting cart.
Fiber enhancement spells. One for strength. A color refinement charm. Not sure what that one is, but it looks like a fire resistance charm that’s been spliced onto some sort of magical channeling framework.
My parchment grows more and more inkstained as I scribble down my findings, until the thick paper is etched with quill strokes and filled with my cramped, hasty writing. I’m still not even close to being halfway finished.
What the actual what is this? Okay… that tiny section kinda resembles Morari’s holding charm, though the accessory enchantment is too complicated for most of the things a holding charm would contain…
Another stack of paper. The rustling of the pages is almost loud in the deep silence of the library.
There’s a hole in the fabric of this enchantment. No… Wait. There’s a third-order stability matrix right beside it. So, not a hole. An entry point. For another spell? Definitely another spell. “Scholar?” Maybe. I’m missing something.
My hornlight gives the pages of Historian an almost otherworldly feeling. My place in the century seems to slip; the stillness of this night could belong to any age, any era, and the mysteries surrounding me are old. I flip back to the page where I first heard mention of “Scholar.”
The unknown artifact stares up at me ominously, clad in its armor of equations. I don’t know whether it’s the lateness of the hour, or some side effect of “Scholar,” but a flash of intuition sparks through my mind, alighting my synapses with understanding. The mess of calculations scrawled across the page is suddenly as familiar as my dog-eared copy of Clover’s Magic and Meditations.
Oh. This is a memory preservation spell.
I suspected it could be, of course, but it’s one thing to suspect, and another thing to see the evidence. A thought extraction here, a mental stabilizing charm there, a chronological formalizing matrix—it all fits. I don’t know what the unknown artifact is (the picture remains, in essence, a giant scribble), but I know what it does. Even better, I know it’s tied to the tapestry and “Scholar.”
Grinning, I turn to my master list and begin to form conclusions.
1) The tapestry itself is enhanced with a number of strengthening and longevity spells, but no preservation spells
2) The strengthening spells seem to be designed to withstand the strength of extremely high-energy magic, likely alicorn magic
3) The holding charm upon it is meant to contain something far more volatile than a vision: a memory
4) Meadowbrook’s unknown artifact contains a memory-encoding spell of some sort (Maybe the unknown artifact is the memory-encoding spell? Do spells qualify as artifacts?)
5) Scholar must be an accessibility spell that allows the memory to be viewe—
“Somepony’s up early.”
I all but jump out of my seat, upsetting my notes and sending parchment flying across the library table. A soft orange glow envelops the mass of paper and sets it back down, concealing Historian beneath the stack. I look up, blinking, into the bemused face of Professor Sharp Wit.
“Good eve—morning,” I croak.
“Good morning to you,” she responds, smiling. I return it hesitantly, trying to gauge whether suspicion lurks behind the crinkling of her eyes. “I take it you’re getting a head start on that research project of yours?”
The safest thing to do is nod, so I tilt my chin and bob my head up and down enthusiastically. My throat possesses the hallmark stickiness of an all-nighter; I wonder if I can clear it quietly. It’s not that I’m worried about getting in trouble, per se—this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been caught staying overnight in the library—I just…
Huh. Why do I feel guilty? Am I just being defensive of the research in case somepony tries to plagiarize? Or is it just because I got Meadowbrook’s journal from Twilight instead of applying to examine it?
That must be it. I’m needlessly stressing over something that’s beyond my control. It’s not like anyone’s going to reprimand Twilight Sparkle, personal student of Princess Celestia, for using her special library privileges to check out a book and loan it to her frie—to her classmate. For all the librarian knows, the Princess could have specifically recommended the book to us. I’ve got nothing to worry about.
Professor Sharp Wit’s gentle interruption of “Moondancer?” draws me out of my fret-fest with an excellent reminder that I still have a life outside of Historian that needs to be worried about.
“Sorry! So sawwww—” a rogue yawn hijacks my apology. The Professor shakes her head, still smiling.
“Get out of here and get to bed, you foal. You’re supposed to be taking a break.” She swats me playfully with the scroll she’s carrying.
I try to grin. It probably comes off as a grimace. Suppressing another yawn, I reply, “I am taking a break, Professor. This is just recreational. Really!”
She doesn’t buy it. Heaving a sigh, she shakes her head.
“You’re killing me, Moondancer. You know you can’t technically start on your independent research project until you get approval. And I know—” she overrides my protestations with a stern look I recognize from class. “Decisions for approval don’t come out until next week. They’re called research permissions for a reason.”
I scratch my head, doing my best to look sheepish. “Just… Doing some preliminary stuff. Getting a feel for Equestria during that time period.” I proffer up Ancient Equestrian Etiquette(Source 18; Princess of the time was distant and prone to bouts of seclusion) as evidence. “Can you believe that in the 200s, fillies and gentlecolts of the high court would spend a fifth of their yearly salary solely on outfits for the Summer Sun Celebration?”
“I can indeed. The festivities could last for weeks, back then.” She taps the scroll against the table. “Say, why don’t I go drop off this letter of recommendation to the head of the independent study program while you wrap it up here, then we go out for lunch and catch up?” She flashes me a smile.
I freeze. I want to have lunch with her (brunch? Or is it actually lunchtime already?) but…
“Letter of recommendation?” I tentatively prod.
She winks at me. “Yep! I’ll just have Dr. Deduction’s secretary slip it in with your research request. Though I could have her just place it directly on his desk. Corsiva and I go way back.”
My stomach drops with the realization that I didn’t submit a request.
I need to get out of here.
Oh no ohno I didn’t apply for research permissions I completely forgot about the deadline and Dr. Deduction is a stickler for due dates oh nono.
Professor Sharp Wit is still here, still smiling at me like everything’s alright, like I didn’t completely blow my chance to study this legitimately. I need to do something. Think think thinkthink.
“Sure!” I blurt. “That sounds great! I’ll just—” I gesture wildly to the mess of scholarly material spread out before me. “Yeah.”
“Sounds like a plan, then! Be right back.”
Oh no oh no okay think. I’m so close to understanding this. Think. I need more time. I need more time to finish cracking this.
I swallow the nausea that threatens to bring back my last meal (when was that? Yesterday?) and take a deep breath.
1) Get Historianand my notes packed up safely
2) Avoid confrontation with Professor Sharp Wit; her professorship means she’ll be unable to resist the urge to enforce academic integrity and will probably confiscate Historian plus my notes and then they’ll find out about “Scholar” and I need more time
3) Escape the library?
4) Flee to a distant jungle where I can work on my studies in peace?No, that won’t work; library won’t mail books to me
5) Just get out of here
Standing up, I stuff my notes into my bag by hoof, tossing the rest of the library books into a stack at the end of the table. I throw my saddlebag over my back and edge towards the nearest aisle. With a quick check to ensure the Professor isn’t storming toward me with an academic honesty council on her hoofs, I dart into the walkway and half-walk, half-trot throught the shelves.
When I burst out of the stacks, it takes all of my will to reduce my pace. With painfully slow steps, I walk across the carpeted lobby, nodding jerkily at the librarian when she waves at me. Ten paces away from the door, seven, four, and out!
The air outside is hot and bright; it’s a far cry from the dimness of my self-imposed academic isolation. Cursing my glasses and their stupid reflectivity, I’m forced to squint as I briskly trot toward the School. I don’t even make it halfway to the sidewalk before I skid to a halt.
No, not the school. The Professor knows my room number. I need somewhere I can lay low and study this in peace.
My head turns to the none-too-distant spires of Canterlot Castle.
The abandoned wing of Canterlot Castle greets me like an old friend. The grim-faced courtiers seem to straighten in their paintings as I pass. The brass furnishings strike me as less tarnished than they were previously, though I’m not sure if they seem newer or I feel older. Even the air smells less stuffy; it caresses me gently as I mount the stairs.
Fresh air aside, the wing is still heavy with untold stories. I can feel the secrets in the air, ripe for the picking. My mouth stretches into a grin, and a surge of magic rushes, unbidden, to the fluting of my horn. At the top of the stairs, a similar nexus of arcane energy sings back, drawing me up the remaining steps like a sailor being serenaded to sea.
I feel no trepidation, no worry. The concerns of the last hour are trivial—trivial!—here in this time-forgotten shrine. For a moment, I wonder why (why is the tapestry here, why hasn’t anypony been allowed to study it, who put it here, does Princess Celestia know, what am I doing, why didn’t I go to lunch with Professor Sharp Wit, what am I doing, what am I doing), but the thought is easily dismissed.
It isn’t important, I reaffirm as I step out of the stairwell. It doesn’t matter. I’m not important.
Meadowbrook’s tapestry is waiting for me.
The urgent muttering of dull panic buzzes through the densely-packed length of the Throne Room. Worries and speculations are traded by fearful-eyed refugees, the only currency in a verbal economy yearning for news. Foals huddle against the sides of their parents; an occasional wail rings through the air and is clumsily shushed by a mother half-mad with anxiety.
Some of the townsponies attempt to make light of their plight. Others ignore their shrill laughter, instead staring dully at a threadbare tapestry, a chipped section of moulding, a stranger's disheveled mane—anything but the pair of empty thrones at the head of the room.
With a resounding crack, the double doors to the hall burst open. Ponies scramble out of the way as a small, thoroughly battered regiment of soldiers marches in. They part the crowd with ease; the civilians willingly press up against each other to make room for the Honor Guard—as the insignias engraved upon their scorched breastplates mark them. Every eye is upon the entrance as the elder Champion of Harmony blazes into the room.
She is frowning. Any sign of displeasure, however, is immediately cast aside in favor of a reassuring, confident, triumphant grin. Righteous sunfire burns within her eyes, backing her declaration of victory with royal fury.
"REJOICE IN THIS DAY," she bellows. "FOR IT WAS THE LAST YE SHALT SEE OF THE PRINCE OF CHAOS!"
For the span of a single heartbeat, her words echo through the weary minds of the refugees.
Only for a second, and then the room erupts into rampant celebration. Haggard faces shed the dismay etched into their features; fillies and colts giggle and squeal as their parents whoop and holler and dance around in a manner most unfitting of grown adults. Strangers share kisses and tears, and not a single townspony takes notice of the Moon-Rouser as she skids to a halt a few paces behind her sister.
Nopony observes the speed with which the Dawnbringer's smile slips away, leaving her with the only somber face in a sea of joy. The confrontational tone in the Night Princess' voice falls upon deafened ears; there are no witnesses to the impromptu procession led by the elder Champion of Harmony as she turns her back on her sister and marches to the dais.
"Celestia, thou wilt not deny my—"
The Dawnangel does not climb the steps; she flares her mighty wingspan and clears the stairs with a single flap. Holding her wings aloft, she turns to the dusk-kissed alicorn standing before her.
Anticipating an inspirational address, or perhaps a battle-tale, the ponies nearest the thrones begin to shush each other.
"Princess Luna," the Dawnbringer thunders with the full force of the Royal Canterlot Voice. "You have insisted upon formality after formality, so let it be formality you receive. State your business."
The Moon-Rouser recoils from the Dawnangel's use of the more formal "you" as though slapped. Recovering quickly, she hisses, "Sister, thou knowest what I ask."
The hall has grown very quiet.
"Aye, but Our subjects have yet to hear your request. Speak it, and should it be within Our power to grant, it shall be yours."
The refugees can't help but notice that several of the Dawnbringer's primary feathers are missing. Smudges of ash sully her otherwise-pristine coat, and her violently-rippling mane doesn't quite conceal a jagged scratch running down the side of her neck.
"Fly away with me," the younger sister says.
The Night-Princess' coat glistens in more places than one. Her mane is unnaturally still, frozen in the depths of space, but her eyes are completely and utterly wild. A storm of nightmares thrashes unchecked behind the sapphire-blue of her irises, dreamscapes building themselves up and tearing themselves apart in the span of seconds. It is a feral gaze—mad, and carrying more than a hint of danger.
"Fly away? We have just returned from a lengthy journey," the elder Champion of Harmony says, feigning confusion. "Why would We depart when the feast celebrating Our return has yet to reach the table?"
"Because I ask it of thee." The Moon-Rouser's voice wobbles as it fills the silent spaces of the throne room, but the set of her shoulders speaks of confrontation rather than desperation. "I am thy sister, Celestia, and I would have thee—"
"You would have Us leave Our subjects, aye?" There is no fire in the elder’s words, only icy accusation. "You would have Us desert Equestria when it needs Us most? Abandon the throne, and vanish into the annals of history?"
The Night-Princess is resolute. "Aye."
The Dawn-Angel shakes her glorious head. "We cannot grant you this request," she says.
"Be it not within thy power?" the Moon-Rouser demands hotly. "Thou gavest thy word."
The Golden Princess stamps a hoof upon her throne, sending a concussive bang reverberating through the hall. "Nay," she thunders. "It is not within the power of Our mind to even consider betraying Our subjects thusly. We have been entrusted with the sacred privilege of guarding this land; We shall not forsake it."
"We are sisters, Celly! I ask this as a sister!" The younger Champion of Harmony is losing the remnants of her already-cracked composure; her breath comes irregularly, and her eyes dart to either side of the dais, where silent faces stare back at her with undisguised contempt.
"We are Princesses, Luna," is the simple reply.
"I was thy sister before I wore this crown," the mare snaps, spreading her shadow-dipped wings. "Thou didst play at my side beneath crystal shade-trees for centuries before Equestria claimed thee. And now thou wouldst deny me in mine own hall?"
"Do not ask this of me," the Morning Star warns.
"I already have, Celestia. Takest thy pick: the gold upon thy brow, or the blood in thy veins?"
Duty or family? her eyes demand.
Equestria or me?
Celestia of the Rising Sun does not speak. Seconds become minutes, but she does not move, she does not speak, and she does not look away from her sister's challenging gaze.
The minutes accumulate.
"Answer!" the younger snarls. "Answer, curse thee!"
For a moment, the Morning Star gives no acknowledgment of her sister's demand, but then—slowly, so slowly—she closes her eyes.
"Celly?" Uncertainty lingers in the plea, followed quickly by desperation as the Dreamwalker grasps at straws, sputtering, "Celly, I cannot hold back the—please—we… We can begin anew, the two of us—we shan't need to concern ourselves with, with nightmares, nor subjects, nor—nor—"
"'Tis my destiny, Luna," the Dawnbringer whispers.
Though the delivery be gentle, the sentence falls upon the Dreamwalker's head with the full force of a condemnation. Sensing the moment of judgment has passed, mutters spark and spread like wildfire through the hall as the refugees turn to each other.
The Dreamwalker has tried to steal their Princess. She never did like them, but now she is trying to take away the crown jewel of their country, the light of their lives.
Disbelief, confusion, anger—a myriad of emotion swirls through the room, lacing the townsponies' insults with venom.
"Dawn-thief," they hiss.
Their target spins about, eyes darting across the crowd in an attempt to pinpoint the accusers, but the effort is futile—they are all hostile. "No," she breathes.
The mare upon the golden throne is silent.
The crowd has abandoned any pretense of restraint.
With a scream that could be either anguish or fury, the Princess of the Night tosses her head and takes off down the hall. Her horn glows as white as the barren craters of the moon, the air around her shimmering. As her hoof strikes the ground, every scrap of shadow in the room rushes to meet her silver shoe, blacking out the hall for the span of a blink.
Merely a blink, and then the Darkangel is gone.
I heard there was a mournful tune The sun would whisper to the moon But you don't really care for legends, do you?
Lend me your ear, I'll sing it here A lowered head, a sparkling tear The sorrowed sister searching for her Luna
For her Luna Dearest Luna For her Luna Princess Luna
The sun’s harmony, encased in stone A duet can’t be—
1) I am in a tower
2) It is not the tower
3) Twilight Sparkle is staring at me groggily from her bed
4) I am in her tower?
5) It’s dark outside
6) She’s waiting for me to respond
“Hi,” I squeak.
Twilight rubs her eyes. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine, we’re just—I…” I take a deep breath and try to piece my memories together. They’re nothing but a jumbled mess of princesses and page numbers—I have no recollection whatsoever of making my way from the castle to Twilight’s tower.
I can’t keep this to myself any longer. I think, looking down at my hooves. Even in the near-darkness, I can tell they’re covered in dust and grime. “I guess I’m here to tell you something.”
She frowns, glancing at the baby dragon slumbering peacefully in his bassinet. “It’s kind of late, are you sure it can’t wait until—”
“It’s about Meadowbrook,” I say, and that’s all it takes to get her rolling out of bed. She touches down on the floor with a light tap, then leads me over to her study area.
After alighting her lamps and filling the room with a soft golden glow, she turns to me. “Did you find something in Historian?”
I open my mouth to tell her about the spell, then falter. You can still solve it yourself, something inside me whispers. You just need her help sorting out the pieces.
Instead, I begin, “I… I found a hidden story… About the Royal Pony Sisters, a really long time ago…”
“Really?” Twilight whispers eagerly, Meadowbrook completely forgotten. “About how they came to Equestria? How they took control of the sun and the moon? Or maybe where they disappeared to? That part’s always been pretty vague,” she mutters, half to herself.
“Not exactly,” I reply, fidgeting. “Look, the sisters are there, and the older one—the one that controlled the sun—”
“Her Highness, the Sol Aeterna,” Twilight supplies primly.
I try to keep from screaming. Instead, I take the deepest breath of my entire life and let it out slowly.
“I think something terrible happened to the younger sister. No—I think she did something terrible,” I clarify. “She kept coming to her sister’s court and asking for all these things and her sister kept giving them to her but she kept acting weirder and weirder and eventually all of their subjects turned on her and I just—” I pause to take a gasp of air. “I just think she wound up doing something terrible. And I can’t find anything in any of the archives about when the Sisters left the thrones, or why we only have one Princess now, or anything.”
Silence falls between us as Twilight mulls over the information. Her horn briefly lights up, to no visible effect, so I presume it’s a time charm.
At last, she speaks, “Well, I haven’t really read much about the Royal Pony Sisters—except for our nursery tales in magic kindergarten, of course—but I can try to find the storybook.”
She pauses to eye the bookshelves around us—each of them overflowing with tomes of all sorts. “Er, I should probably take a look at Historian, too, but it might take a while to find that collection of nursery tales, and it’s pretty late…”
She looks over her shoulder, likely back at her bed. I take the hint and nod vigorously.
“Okay, well, we can meet first thing in the morning. I need to go get my notes in order anyway.” After I find them, that is. “So, how about we meet in the morning in the gardens? You can bring the nursery book and I’ll bring Historian and I can show you the… The story. Thing.”
She yawns as she nods, and in no time at all I am staring at the outside of her closed tower door.
I wander around aimlessly for a bit, cross-crossing through empty moonlit courtyards and abandoned hedges. My thoughts weave in and out of lucidity, blurring and fading into the landscapes I drift through.
At last, I realize that I haven’t moved in some time—the shadows around me remain oddly stationary. With a shake of my head, the blurry shapes solidify into a familiar wall hanging. A shaft of moonlight illuminates the younger sister’s head like a halo.
I sink back into the carpet, and for the remainder of the night, I am unable to tear my gaze from the Darkangel’s solemn head.
The sun’s harmony, encased in stone A duet can’t be sung alone The morning has left me here, without you And as the stars pull you away, The melody in your shadow stays I’ll serenade the silence Left by Luna
Left by Luna Forlorn Luna Left by Luna Princess Luna
I come to awareness quite easily: one moment I am drifting along in the currents of some indiscernible dreamscape, and the next I am sitting upright, calmly writing in my notebook.
no decisive text identifying Princess Celestia as being one of the famed Royal Pony Sisters, there exists no evidence to the contrary. Indeed, when one begins to attempt to pinpoint the moment Her Highness’ reign began, the documents invariably begin clouding the idea that she ever took the throne at all—there are no records of a coronation in the past eight hundred years, perhaps longer. Though skepticism abounds as to the actual existence of the Royal Pony Sisters themselves (Sharp Quill, 945), new information gleaned from a copy of the journal of Mage Meadowbrook points to the contrary: the Royal Pony Sisters lived as surely as you or I..
Locked away in a third-order memory holding spell (the likes of which will be further analyzed and discussed at a later date), a dream-like vision holds the key to finally understanding one of the most enigmatic periods of Equestrian history: the elder Royal Pony Sister is none other than Princess Celestia herself.
I blink, then shuffle back through the pages of my notebook. Page after page of perfect penmanship meets my gaze, the tightly-packed words cramped but still evenly spaced and completely legible. I can feel the rest of the essay hanging in my mind, the next word patiently waiting to be scribed into being, but the sky outside is clearly bright now, the last of the night swept back at last. I’m due to meet Twilight within the hour.
Pulling my thoroughly-soiled saddlebag over, I slide in my notes and Historian. I glance at the tapestry before I leave, even brush a hoof over it tentatively, but it remains deceptively mundane—a mere wall decoration, at last.
Shrugging, I trot back down the spiral staircase, and then freeze. At the end of the corridor, just beyond the door leading back outside, a mare in a cloth apron stands with a feather duster in her mouth. Back and forth she moves, dusting the neglect from the pictures and shelves without a second glance for the antiquities she reveals.
The hall almost seems to breathe in her wake. History comes alive behind her—no longer are the paintings and candelabras mere artifacts of some distant, untouchable past. They are real, as real as they were the day they came into the Princess’ possession.
I shrink back reflexively as the mare works her way closer to the stairwell. My eyes dart between her and the door leading outside, but there are no hiding spots to break up the hurried dash to escape, and there’s no way she wouldn’t spot me if I tried to make a break for it.
And then there would be guards and questions and they might… they might steal my research.
Suppressing a hiss, I carefully creep back up the stairs. The embroidered Royal Pony Sisters watch, uninterested, as I whirl about, searching for any possible exit. At the far end of the corridor, an ajar window catches my eye—likely one of the reasons the air isn’t quite so stuffy anymore. I trot over to it quickly.
Luckily, the window is just large enough for me to squeeze through, and the ledge below it is wide enough that a smallish mare could tiphoof along, provided she was desperate enough.
I am desperate enough.
1) Escape via window
The window’s hinges creak softly as I push the pane all the way open. After a tug on my saddlebag to ensure it’s snug against my barrel, I heft myself up and carefully reach a hoof down to graze against the ledge.
One hoof, then another, then another, and soon enough all four are resting (somewhat) securely upon the narrow stone lip.
2) Get down before being spotted
I warily glance around, checking for any suspicious eyes, but the window seems to be overlooking some sort of garden, because all I can see is a forest of greenery stretching out before me. To either side, the walls stretch out—presumably circling around the garden—but the space before me possesses a serene sort of quiet beauty.
Spotting a hoofhold that looks like it could reliably bear my weight, I begin shuffling over to the connecting wall. I don’t make it very far.
My tail snags against the window—whether on the hinge, the latch, or some errant crevice in the sill, I don’t know. What I do know is that the sudden jerk backwards catches me completely off guard, and instead of compensating I wind up recoiling violently, accidentally throwing myself off the ledge and into the empty space beside me.
3) Get up
Groaning, I pull myself out of the bush that saved my life, brushing a stray caterpillar out of my mane. Some gardener is going to have a fit when he sees the crushed remains of his prized hydrangeas, but I tell myself that the sacrifice will be worth it. I just have to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
4) What happened to the younger Pony Sister
4) Get out of the garden
It only takes a few minutes of tromping about aimlessly before I find a flagstone path. I follow it, winding through the shadowed, perfectly-manicured space with increasing urgency. Despite being in a hurry, though, (and despite the fact that I am undoubtedly trespassing) I can’t help but gape in awe at the landscaping around me.
This garden doesn’t feel like the Royal Gardens. The greens are too deep, the wildlife too subdued, the path too erratic and winding. The few flowers I manage to spot are pale and ghostly, peeking out from the shadows with glowing faces. The entire place is odd, almost otherworldly. Something inside of me is repulsed.
But something else is utterly at peace here. Perhaps it has something to do with being haunted by the enchanted song. The eerie silence is a balm to my frayed nerves, and I almost don’t notice when my steps falter, slowing my escape and allowing me to linger in this dreamlike place.
And then I see it.
Rounding yet another twisted corner, I stumble upon a life-sized statue so exquisitely carved that I initially mistake it to be a real pony.
A real princess.
She stands taller than me—maybe even as tall as Princess Celestia, with a mane that seems to flow even when stone-still. Her eyes are closed—carved lashes resting against stone cheeks—but her delicate face is upturned, as though she were bathing her face in the moonlight.
A trickle of sunshine slips in through the trees, but something in me instinctively knows that this isn’t a mare of the day. Could it be the younger Pony Sister? The tiara upon her brow is certainly angular enough; its jagged asymmetrical peaks are somewhat sinister. It could be the Diadem of Shadows that Princess Celestia made for her sister.
Suddenly, I feel like an intruder. The sorrow etched into the statue’s face is real, too real, and the entire garden is a scene I have no right to witness. There’s no reasonable explanation for why I suddenly know Princess Celestia made this garden for her sister, but I do, and I also know I shouldn’t be here.
I turn on my hooves then and there and flee, leaving the sanctuary of dreams behind me.
I walk a bit faster. I’m supposed to be meeting Twilight in the public gardens any minute now.
I grit my teeth. What do they want?
Minuette appears in front of me without warning and I charge into her, bowling the both of us over.
“Gosh, girl,” she says with half a giggle. “Somepony’s got blinders on. Where’re you headed?”
I brush myself off, but don’t bother with trying to dust the saddlebag clean. It’s a lost cause at this point.
“I’m heading to see Twilight,” I mutter, peeking inside to make sure my notes and Historian are safe and sound.
“Ooh, no need!” Minuette chirps. “We’re planning on picking her up next. We just needed to get you first, since you still have a lot to do.”
I stare at her. “What are you talking about?”
She grabs the strap of my bag and begins tugging me away from the public gardens, back towards the School.
“Where are we going?” I demand, frowning.
Minuette laughs. “You’re going to get a bath, silly. You can’t show up smelling like— like—” She wrinkles her nose. “Like a dead potato.”
Nothing she’s saying makes any sense. “A what?”
“Like, you stink, but in an earthy, old kind of way. Is that a twig in your hair?”
I pull it out angrily and throw it to the side. “Look, Minuette, I don’t want to be rude but I’m in the middle of something extremely important—”
“Like getting ready for your birthday party?” she asks, grinning. “Come on, research can wait until tomorrow. You don’t want to let all that hard planning we did go to waste, do you?” She bats her eyelashes at me, wagging her brows playfully.
My birthday party
I frantically try to tally up the days within my head, to piece together sunrises and sunsets into some sort of chronological account of how many days I’ve spent lost in the tapestry. I try, but to no avail. The consequence of my temporal unhinging stares me in the face, unforgiving and remorseless:
I have to attend my birthday party.
Twilight will be there, goes my recitation, as I begrudgingly prepare for what has the potential to be an outstanding waste of time—time that I could otherwise dedicate to researching the fate of the younger Royal Pony Sister.
1) Rites of Ascension: the story of how Princess Celestia took the throne should mention her sister, right?
2) Statuary: somepony had to have carved that statue in the secret garden
3) Sweet Treats Bakery on Azalea Street: I’m kind of hungry
4) Royal expense records: How many of those do we have? Maybe the Princess is keeping her sister in a distant land and occasionally sends bits to her?
The last idea captivates me almost immediately—I nearly jump out of the bathtub then and there to gallop down to the archives, but in my excitement I accidentally get some shampoo in my eyes. The resulting stinging sensation is enough to convince me that staying put is a better idea.
Besides, Twilight will be at the party. She’ll be sure to know something. She’ll have something figured out.
The stab of white-hot jealousy in my stomach confirms it. How could Twilight not figure it out?
She still won’t have cast Meadowbrook’s spell, my pride hisses enticingly.
Oh. That’s another thing to do. I let out a groan as I towel myself off. Meadowbrook. Meadowbrook and the story he left within a forgotten spell.
Stories upon legends upon histories.
Once upon a time, there were two sisters who ruled from thrones in a torchlit room.
I throw on the cleanest-smelling sweater I can find and begin to pull a wide-toothed comb through my mane.
One day, the younger sought proof that she was a princess. So at her request, the elder fashioned a tiara made of shadows and silence—the closest things to light and song that she could touch. And the younger was satisfied, and she went on her way.
I decide to brush my teeth. Don’t want to scare away historical progress with bad breath.
Once upon a time, there were two princesses who ruled from different seats in the same hall.
After scrutinizing myself in the mirror, I stuff my saddlebags beneath my mattress and head into the hallway. If I get to the party early, maybe Twilight and I can discuss what she found in the nursery book—we might even be able to squeeze in a quick trip to the library before the cake is cut!
One day, the night-princess sought proof that she was powerful. So at her request, the elder lowered her sun, so that the moon might outshine it for a few months out of the year. And the younger was satisfied, and she went on her way.
My hoofsteps ring in impatient harmony as I trot towards the gardens, where my party awaits. Where future academic glory awaits. Where the answers to this mystery are sure to be.
Where Twilight is.
Once upon a time, there were two ponies who risked peril and madness to preserve the sanity of their country.
The air in the garden is fresh and invigorating. It lends a spring to my step, a tilt to my chin, a hopefulness to my eyes as I follow the trail of balloons leading toward the party. My party.
Just ahead, Minuette and Lemon Hearts appear, with Twinkleshine and Lyra hot on their hooves. All of them wear smiles and party hats. I quickly scan the rest of the setup—there’s the cakes they were talking about, and a Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Princess poster, and loads of presents—but I don’t see Twilight anywhere.
“Is Twilight going to be a bit late or something?” I ask hopefully.
One day, the younger sister sought proof that she was loved. But no matter how she begged, the elder refused to run away with her to the land of dreams.
Twinkleshine fidgets, regret and discomfort written plain on her face. “She’s not coming. Says she’s too busy.”
A hundred questions leap to my mind. Thousands of interjections and expressions of disbelief fight for purchase upon my lips. There are a million things I want to say, need to say, but all I manage is a very soft, “Oh.”
And so the younger sister, rejected at last, gave in to despair and was lost forever.
This is fine, I tell myself as I trudge back inside. Every step is a bit sharper than the one before, a bit louder, a bit angrier.
She probably wasn’t planning on coming anyway. It was dumb of me to expect her to. Dumb dumb dumb!
Through the halls of the school I storm, up spiral staircases and winding corridors that serve no purpose other than to irritate me on the way to my sanctuary. The other girls will leave me alone, I’m sure of it. They have to.
The dorm room is filled with the subdued light of early twilight. Soft and muffled, it seeps into the space with a glow that might be comforting, were I not at the center of a hurricane of emotion.
Anger, betrayal, hurt, anger, betrayal, why would she do this? Why would Twilight skip my party, out of all of them? When we had a major historical mystery to work through? Why?
It makes no sense.
It would make sense if I was smarter, if I was quicker, if I wasn’t so slow and dumb, dumb, dumb!
A voice. Somepony says something. I whirl around, eyes erratically scanning the space for the source of the sound.
One of the girls is sitting up in bed. Which one? Which one? Now she’s frowning, standing up, moving towards me. Who is it? A hoof is reaching for me, grabbing for me, clawing at my coat as it reaches for the memories burning in my mind. It wants them, wants the spell and Meadowbrook’s secrets and the memory of the younger pony sister screaming in rage, her mane billowing like a cloud of shadows no no no you can’t have them. You can’t have them.
I’m alone. Alone? No matter. I shake my head and shrug. No matter no matter what matters is… is…
The Princess. I have to tell the others about the lost princess. The forgotten sister—why doesn’t anypony remember her—who looked so lovely, adorned with stars, and so tragic, consumed with nightmares.
I can feel the proverbial lightbulb bursting into life above my head, only it feels more like a small sun burning within my mind, because that’s it.
The younger pony sister wasn’t lost, after all. She was immortalized, preserved in the minds of the Equestrian citizenry through a nursery tale.
Aha! Aha aha aha! Who’s dumb now? WHO’S DUMB NOW?
I blink. I blink and a mare is staring at me from the top of the School’s grand staircase, her pale blue hoof hovering over the top step.
“Hello, Minuette,” I say curtly (curt but polite, in clipped tones that remind me of a princess of shadows). “I don’t mean to be rude, but the tapestry’s tired out and the legend has been waiting for ages, so I’m afraid I have to run. You understand, don’t—”
I frown. I frown and then shake my head, because Lemon Hearts is trotting alongside me down the sidewalk. The School grows smaller behind us with every step.
“Hello, Lemon Hearts,” I greet her.
She rather rudely ignores my greeting. “Moondancer, you can’t get so worked up about her. It’s not healthy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demand. “You can’t tell me what to get worked up about, and this is important!” This is a missing piece of history, dang it!
“I know it was important,” she says, and I have to struggle to parse her words; they waver and slide through the air like smoke. “It was important and you’re confused and hurt but she’s gone. She’s gone, and—”
“She’s not gone!” I counter indignantly, glaring at the shimmering spot that may or may not be Lemon’s head. “She’s out there somewhere, doing something—”
“Well, yeah,” the shimmer says. “That’s not what I mea—”
“I don’t know how it happened or where she went, but she’s not gone.” I bite my lip. Princess Celestia wouldn’t kill her own sister, would she? “No,” I say, mostly to myself. I straighten up and trot a bit faster. “No, the Princess wouldn’t kill her. The Princess couldn’t kill her. She’s out there, somewhere.”
“Kill—Kill her? Moondancer, what in Equestria are you talking about?” Lemon Hearts sputters. “Why in the name of Tartarus would Princess Celestia want to kill Twilight?”
“Twilight?” I ask, annoyed. “No, Twilight doesn’t know either. Twilight hasn’t seen her. Not like I have.”
Lemon Hearts says something that sounds rather distressed, but I blink and she is no longer beside me, so I dismiss the matter from my thoughts.
The archives are rather quiet. It would be pleasant—the way the dust motes hang lazily in the air, undisturbed by the currents of outside life—were it not for the shadow-wrought shapes whispering at me.
Well met, little scholar, they hiss.
“Good day to you,” I reply, eyes scanning the dull metal shelves. What am I looking for?
You’re playing with ancient knowledge, you know, one says, sliding up to brush against me. Her shadowy coat is transparent when I look directly at it, but in the corner of my eyes she appears as solid as the documents before me.
“I’m actually just trying to do some research,” I explain patiently.
Dangerous, dangerous knowledge, the shadow whispers into my ear, and the voice is none other than Princess Luna’s.
I whirl around, ready to scream, but the sound dies in my throat.
There’s nothing there. No shadows. No Darkangel. Nothing but lazy rays of sunlight tracing dust motes through the air.
I sag against the shelf in relief, slowly sliding to the worn carpet floor as my heartbeat returns to normal. A dusty set of files catches my attention. I pick up the first folder, which turns out to hold a canvas-bound journal filled to the brim with elegant, flowing script.
An Official Record of Requests Made by Her Highness, the Princess of Equestria
As maintained by Tacenda, Royal Aide
Year of the 497th Sun
“So they did keep track of the tiny details,” I murmur, stroking the cover. Slowly, hesitantly, I set the book upon the floor and open it.
1) There might be clues about Princess Luna
2) If there’re records of this time, surely there are records of previous years?
3) Who even cares There are answers in here, even if they’re to different questions than the ones I’m asking
I’ll figure it out. I will.
I have to.
I read what must be half the annex—accounts of the princess date back hundreds of years. The dust adorning each manuscript seems to be almost as old.
This is the last document I’ll read, I tell myself each time, picking up the next piece of tedium from the shelf. And every time, I remember the way Twinkleshine fidgeted as she told me Twilight wasn’t coming, and I grit my teeth and pick up another document.
Slowly, surely, as the hours melt into each other and all sense of time fades into dusk and shadow, the documents and manuscripts begin to tell a story:
Once upon a time, in the cold land of Equestria, there lived a princess. She was known in every village and town to be a merciful ruler—as her guards roamed near and far, assisting citizens who required help—but not a soul alive knew what she looked like, for she remained hidden in the tallest tower of the Great Castle in Canterlot.
The winters were long, but the princess never requested that firewood be brought to her tower, nor that she be delivered scarves or blankets of any sort. She never asked for books, or a jester, or any entertainment whatsoever. The castle tower remained dark for many years, bathed only in the pale light of the moon.
Dark, and silent.
Once upon a time, in the moonlight-bathed land of Equestria, a princess went to war. She requested armor for herself, and a single golden spear to be forged by the finest steelmage in the country. She summoned her five commanders and set off for the far North, rushing to the aid of a group of ponies that glittered and shone like icicles beneath the aurora.
When at last the princess and her commanders returned, the kitchens were instructed to prepare a modest meal, rather than the victory banquet they had anticipated. The high table held only the throne and three chairs.
It was a blistering winter.
Once upon a time, in the promise-filled land of Equestria, there lived a princess. She allowed visitors on occasion—the kitchens would receive orders for tea and snacks, and old storerooms were raided for even older silver and chinaware. A royal gardener was hired, and when the princess was not resting in her tower or having tea with petitioners, she would sit upon one of the many stone benches carved for her garden and watch as the groundspony tended to the flowers.
The winters were not quite so long, the nights not quite as dark. The citizens of Equestria saw that there were stars hiding in the velvet of the night, whereas previously the moon had outshone all else. The sun began to venture above the horizon, but the princess never requested a parasol or hat to shield her eyes.
Once upon a time, in the sun-filled land of Equestria, a princess asked her aides to prepare a marvelous celebration for the ponies of the land. The Crown would pay for it all, she assured them, and no expense was to be spared for the 500th Summer Sun Celebration.
On the morning of the festivities, the princess requested three things:
That the royal standards be brought up from the vault,
That her tiara be brought to her as well,
And that she be known by her name, rather than merely ‘The Princess.’
Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, Princess Celestia made preparations for an old section of the castle to be unsealed and thoroughly cleaned, though the restoration need not commence for a few years.
She ordered that the unused rooms be aired out and adorned with the finest paintings, tapestries, and rugs from her collection. Ancient jewelry was to be polished. New slippers should be purchased from a local boutique and placed in the tower bedroom. Books were to be dusted and organized upon shelves (by decade, and then by subject, and then by author last name)—but there was one book that should not be brought into the newly-aired section.
No collection of nursery tales containing the legend of Nightmare Moon was to be permitted within the walls of the old wing.
And all the preparations were to be completed by the dawn of the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration.
1) The old, sealed section of the castle is where I found the tapestry—where “Scholar” eventually led me
2) The tapestry was the first image of Princess Luna I’ve ever seen, excluding the royal standards
3) The sealed section of the castle must be Princess Luna’s quarters, and if Princess Celestia doesn’t want any mention of Nightmare Moon around her sister, then the evidence strongly suggests that…
4) Princess Luna is Nightmare Moon
These preparations are to be undertaken over time, but must be finished by the morning of the one-thousandth Summer Sun Celebration.
5) Princess Luna—Nightmare Moon—is returning.
I was right, I was right, I was right! sings my heart, as I gallop back to Princess Luna’s tower.
I was right and I’m going to prove it and save Equestria!
The details are still somewhat murky, but Nightmare Moon is returning tonight, and I don’t have the time to carefully iron out a solid, coherent plan. As I charge through the hedges toward the hidden entrance, the best I can formulate is some wild scheme wherein I seize the tapestry, burst into Princess Celestia’s throne room, and either declare that we’re all in grave danger or, alternatively, announce that I’ve solved the greatest mystery Equestria never knew it had.
Problem 1: The sun is about to set. Princess Celestia is likely not in the throne room.
Problem 2: Loudly broadcasting a warning of danger will likely cause mass panic or extreme embarrassment
Problem 3: What if I’m wrong
Problem 3: How will bringing the tapestry accomplish anything
Before I can reconsider the tapestry, though, I’m in the tower and clambering up the spiral staircase. The thumping of my hoofsteps fills the air, a drumbeat calling me to battle. I emerge from the stairwell, and am greeted by two embroidered alicorns and one very real, very surprised Sun Princess.
“Princess Celestia!” I gasp, dropping into a bow.
The alicorn before me shifted uneasily. “My little pony, whatever are you doing here?”
I just stutter at the floor. “I… Your Highness, I…”
I look up at her, then, and see the confusion, sorrow, excitement (and hope? Is that hope?) swirling in her brilliant lavender eyes. And just like that, it all comes swirling out.
Confessions of Historian, of treating ancient knowledge like a puzzle that, once solved, could be flaunted to draw Twilight’s respect, rush out of me. I tell the Princess about Scholar, and the music that haunted my every spell, and eventually stumbling upon the visions in the tapestry. Unable to meet her gaze, I stare at the carpet as I recount seeing the disgraced Princess Luna, demanding and proud and eventually wild and desperate.
It doesn’t escape my notice that I sound wild and desperate, myself. But still I talk, divulging every detail as though pouring the words upon the floor will empty the chaos from my mind. Was this how Luna felt?
Princess Celestia remains very still when I mention her younger sister. All the air seems to vanish from the room as I describe figuring out the origin of Nightmare Moon. I hesitate before divulging the final piece of the puzzle. Will she deny it?
“And based on the records in the annex, Princess…” I gulp. “I… I strongly suspect Nightmare Moon will be returning. Tonight, that is.”
“So it would seem,” she comments quietly. Moving to stare out into the darkened sky, she continues, “Impressively done, Moondancer. I wasn’t quite sure anypony would figure it out.”
I stare at her. “You… What? The journal, and the spell, and the visions—you wanted someone to find them?”
“I did have somepony specific in mind,” she murmurs.
I straighten up. My voice is oddly calm as I say, “Twilight. You wanted Twilight to figure it out. Twilight was supposed to learn you had a sister.”
Princess Celestia nods. “And in her own way, she did. Well—she learned that an ancient foe would soon be returning, at least. My plans are rarely as foolproof as I would like.”
“But…” I frown. “What was the point? Couldn’t you have just told Twilight about Princess Luna? Instead of hoping she would take an enchanted copy of an old book from the Librarian’s office, and figure out a bunch of riddles in the middle of exams?”
“From the Librarian’s office?,” Princess Celestia frowns. “No, Twilight took Historian from my office. The archives have the official copy, but Mage Meadowbrook sent me the original as a gift.”
Professor Sharp Wit’s voice rings through my ears. His apprentice scribed a backup in secret, shortly before Meadowbrook destroyed the original by force-feeding it to a dragon.
“So he didn’t destroy it, then,” I breathe. “He just sent it to you via dragonmail.” It’s not a particularly earth-shattering revelation, but I’ve always appreciated parsimony. More loudly, I add, “Then what was it for? Why did Meadowbrook give you a memory of your sister being demanding as a gift?”
I don’t really expect her to answer, but after a moment she does.
“It was a way for me to remember my sister’s voice,” Princess Celestia says simply. “A secret memory hidden away in a tapestry, locked up by magic that only I could access. For a time it was petty—I wanted to remember that I was right for banishing her, that I was doing my duty as a Princess of Equestria.” She sighs. “It was only towards the end of his life that I asked Meadowbrook for a spell that would allow another pony to view the memory.
“Scholar was meant for Twilight, or rather the pony whom Twilight has become. My student. The mare who would return my sister to me. It was to show her that Nightmare Moon was once a princess, that she was not always corrupted beyond redemption, and that there might be a chance for her yet.”
She looks outside to the darkened sky. Far to the east, the deep velvet of night seems to thin.
“I regret dismissing Twilight’s concerns over Nightmare Moon’s return, but I didn’t think it would do any good to reveal such a twisted and complicated truth, not when she has far more crucial matters requiring her attention. Besides—” The Princess steals a glance at the moon, seated firmly above the shadowed horizon. “Twilight is beyond my reach, now. It is up to her. I cannot do any more.”
Twilight came to Princess Celestia about Nightmare Moon?
She figured it out on her own, then. She figured it out and she didn’t tell me.
“Princess,” I begin, desperate to distract myself. “The visions were just Luna demanding stuff. If you really wanted her redeemed, how were those memories supposed to make your student care about her?”
“There was more,” Princess Celestia says softly. Clearing her throat, she adds, “I asked Meadowbrook to break up the memories. Clover the Clever suspected that Luna would return one day—as you’ve no doubt read in her second treatise—”
“Predictions and Prophecies,” I nod.
“And with her return would arise an opportunity for redemption. While we thought it would be important for my student to see how Luna behaved in those final weeks, my dear Meadowbrook maintained that some ponies cared about Luna because they cared about me.”
Her voice grows bitter, though whether at the ponies of old or herself, I don’t know. “He thought we could lower the risk of losing Princess Luna forever if he could show my student how much my sister meant to me.”
“How much she meant to you?” I sputter, suddenly enraged. “Princess, you wiped nearly all trace of her from the history books. Nopony knows she exists. You never talk about her. You abandoned your sister when you let her name slip from the history books. She’s been completely and utterly forgotten because you don’t care enough—”
“Enough, my little pony.” Her eyes smolder, and the sharpness of her tone kills the words in my throat. “You cannot say anything that I have not already told myself. I did what I had to do. I’ve always done what I had to do.”
Something about the determination in her jaw reminds me of Twilight. But then it’s gone: she lowers her head, all anger spent.
“You’re a clever mare, Moondancer. Surely you can figure out why I would let my bitter, war-bent sister fade into legend.”
1) Luna didn’t feel respected at court, so
2) She likely had courtiers and citizens who didn’t value her authority/feared her/possibly despised her, and
3) They would have been delighted when she was banished, which means
4) They were satisfied with her being gone, but
5) If they knew Luna would be returning one day, then
6) They would be resentful and have years and years to hold a grudge, and
7) Other villains and unsavory types would have ample time to plot and scheme, and
8) The entire country would know for centuries in advance that the disgraced princess would be returning soon, so
9) By keeping her eventual return a secret, Luna was able to disappear from living memory, which means that
10) If she is redeemed, there won’t be anypony whose family harbors an old grudge, and
“You’re giving her a fresh start,” I realize.
Princess Celestia nods. “Should Twilight be able to save her, Luna will only have to deal with the consequences of her recent actions as Nightmare Moon. I hoped that erasing a millennium's worth of political dealings would make her transition easier.”
“So you do care.”
She bows her majestic head, allowing her mane to cascade over her face. “Sometimes I feel as though love is a difficult treasure to bear. I love my sister dearly, as I do my country. She is my best friend, and Equestria my greatest responsibility. She was testing me, in those final weeks, and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened, had I chosen her instead. Remember that, Moondancer,” she adds, brushing aside her mane to stare me straight in the eye.
“Remember that we may not know how much we truly mean to other ponies. Remember that sometimes, our actions do not reflect the love we bear for each other.” She nods knowingly, even as tears well in my eyes and my throat tightens. “But time will tell. Time will reveal the truth of even the most ambiguous dynamics.”
“No need to wait,” I choke. “Things are pretty clear already. I know how important I am to Twilight.”
Or how unimportant, really.
I take a deep breath to steady myself.
“All that I ask is that you give her time,” Princess Celestia says.
“I’ll have plenty of that,” I mutter, scuffing a hoof at the tower floor. “Considering I missed my deadline, alienated my favorite professor, and haven’t registered for any classes or laboratory positions or—or—”
The Princess silences me with a raised hoof. “No need to fret.” Going over to the small table opposite the tapestry, she opens a drawer and levitates a tarnished, old-fashioned key over to me. “Across town, there’s a house that used to belong to a beloved citizen of mine. He was a musician, but before his death he became very close to Mage Meadowbrook.”
I accept the key, befuddled. “But what does this have to do with anything?”
“The final memory is there, along with many books that haven’t seen the light of day in quite some time.” A faintly embarrassed blush tinges her cheeks. “I must confess, I’m not entirely sure what all is in the house.”
“It needs organizing, then?” I mutter. It’s all too obvious that this is meant to be a distraction.
“It needs a historian,” she states.
The house needs a cleaning. I clean it, at first. I keep it trim and tidy, and as I paint the peeling shutters, I pretend like I’m just another pony going about my business.
Wake up. Go to the markets. Don’t forget firewood. Drop by the library for a reference book. Come home. Dust. Read. Bed.
Wake up. Go to the markets. Drop by the library. Come home. Read. Bed.
Wake up. Maybe markets. Library. Home. Read.
Sleep. Library. Home. Read.
Sleep. Library. Home. Always reading. The sweater means I don’t have to get firewood. Cold oatmeal suits me fine. There are so many books in the house that sometimes I think I could stay inside forever, were it not for the fact that some of them contain technical jargon that needs to be specially researched.
I don’t leave the house for Twilight’s coronation. I don’t have to. The parade thunders right by my window.
I hate how happy she sounds, but I know that I shouldn’t care. I don’t care. I don’t.
Not even the Princess of Friendship could be friends with me
Well. She has loads of distractions from her research—whatever it is. She probably doesn’t get to do much annotating or theorizing, not now that she has to deal with royal duties and being polite and friends.
Nopony distracts me anymore.
“It’s us! Your old friends!”
Go away I don’t need you I’ve never needed you I have important business given to me by Princess Celestia herself and wow isn’t that a familiar sentence how odd that it’s coming from my mouth instead of yours but please just leave me to it.
Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, doesn’t leave me to it. I don’t know what’s gotten into her, or how a pair of wings could suddenly make her forget that she never really considered me a friend, only a classmate, but she follows me.
And in the end, I wind up crying my eyes out at my own birthday party. In a sudden, raw, terrifying moment, I have friends again.
Research has excited me before. It’s made me frustrated, confused, and hopelessly lost in my own head. But it’s never made me feel as alive, as tender and raw and wonderfully, wonderfully vulnerable as I do in this moment, surrounded by the warm embrace of the mares whose friendship I suspect I will come to treasure.
That evening, alone in my house, I take the key Princess Celestia gave me all those months ago and climb the rickety staircase to the upper floor. When I reach the landing, I take a deep breath and turn to the one door that I’ve never opened.
The key fits in the lock easily, and the hinges make no protest as I enter.
The only piece of furniture in the room is a desk pressed up against the opposite wall. Upon it, buried in a thick layer of dust, sits an ancient violin. I don’t need to cast a magical detection charm to recognize it as enchanted with the memory spell. With Historian.
Sunlight trickles past the jagged edges of the hole in the Throne Room's lofty ceiling, casting pale dawn-light upon the debris scattered throughout the hall. Shattered windows—scraps of glass bravely clinging to their frames—contribute lavender and magenta-tinted fragments to the chunks of rock littering the floor. Dust lingers in the air, and the townsponies that have managed to force the massive double-doors open find themselves hacking and coughing as they step into the ruined room.
Their eyes widen at the destruction, and the massive, multi-armed stone contraption in the middle of the hall leaves their jaws hanging, but they are utterly at a loss when their gazes find the Princess of the Sun slumped amidst the wreckage.
She is crying. A stream of tears drips from her downturned face, plinking gently upon the golden tiara in her hooves. Six gemstones lie discarded around her, as dull and lusterless as her unmoving mane. She trembles beneath the weight of her anguish, and a townspony, without thinking, steps forward a places a cerulean hoof against her royal shoulder.
She freezes, choking back a sob, and then slowly—so slowly—turns her face to him.
The cerulean stallion looks her in the eye and fancies he can feel his heart breaking in his chest, because she tries to smile at him. Teeth clenched, lips pursed tightly, and eyes welling with tears, she does her best to don a brave expression, offering up a reassuring smile that crumbles even as she puts it on. She holds the tears in for nearly a minute, quivering and shaking as the stallion wonders if he's overstepped his boundaries, but then she gasps—a tiny sound, far too delicate to come from a creature of sunfire—and her composure comes crashing down all at once.
The Champion of Harmony weeps. She wails as though her heart has been wrenched out and trodden into the muck. Great, heaving sobs wrack her frame, and when a mare with a coat the color of honey-wine steps forward to pat her gently on the back, she just cries all the harder.
"I don't want it," she sputters. "This wasn't meant to happen, she—she asked me—I don't want it," she wails, shoving the tiara away.
One by one, the ponies that have built their lives around the Castle of the Two Sisters move to join the circle of comfort. They stroke her mane, rub her back, stretch their forelegs and contribute their love and warmth to the multi-pony embrace surrounding her—soothing her in any way they can, because the silhouette upon the moon has made it clear they have but one Princess now.
"This wasn't meant to happen," she whispers.
They hold her tightly, and she sobs until her tears are nothing but salty shadows upon her face.
Three months before Hearth's Warming Eve, the newly-relocated townsponies decide a gift for the Princess is in order. Canterlot is a fine city, they agree, but it simply doesn't feel like home. And while the Princess has proper courtiers in her new palace, she might yet appreciate a memento of her time in the Castle of the Two Sisters—to lend her heart strength in a still-unfamiliar environment.
The gift needs to be spectacular, the ponies muse, in order for it to stand out against the sophisticated elegance of the City on the Mount. It should reflect in equal measures their love and appreciation for the Princess, so she may remember how they adore her, when they are gone and no longer able to tell her so.
A mare with wild maroon hair points out that since the Princess will know their children and their children's children, it's hardly likely that she will ever want for adoring subjects, but the townsponies quickly shout her down. This gift will be from them. It will be special. It will be a masterpiece that future generations will behold with awe.
With that settled, the former inhabitants of the Castle of the Two Sisters turn to the trivial task of picking a gift. It is immediately decided that it should be a piece of art. However, it soon becomes apparent that everypony possesses a different opinion regarding the definition of the term "art."
The glassblower snorts as the poet proposes a sonnet. The stonemason rolls her eyes as a landscape of Equestria is deemed appropriate by the painter—who, in turn, screeches when the candlemaker begins defending the noble beauty of fire.
The bickering continues until everypony is quite convinced of their own misunderstood genius, at which time they all happily agree that the Princess would be thrilled to have a variety of smaller tributes. With that settled, they set off to create their individual masterpieces.
A young musician whose name will be lost to history hurries home and shutters himself into his room. The Princess might like glass trinkets and paintings and statues, he reasons to himself as reaches for his instrument, but she doesn't deserve something so breakable... so mundane. She deserves more, and he will give her exactly that.
He will give her a song.
At the next meeting, the musician discovers that he is not the only pony to think of such a thing. Other ponies share snippets of the songs they are composing—grandiose, sweeping scores, lively dances, and even a ballad fill the back room of the tavern they gather in, lifting their spirits and reaffirming their faiths in their cause.
The musician nods along to the music, twiddling his hooves. The lilting tune echoing through his mind will no longer suffice, he realizes. It is too cheerful, as are all the songs. The ponies' compositions mimic the dawn with their gaiety and optimism, but the musician cannot help but think that while such cheer may have befitted the Morning Star, the innocent melodies are ill-suited for a mare who has cast aside all her titles save the one of Princess.
On the walk home, the musician cannot shake the memory of a weeping Princess Celestia flinging away her crown. Her tear-stained face will not leave him be; it plagues him all throughout the simple affair of dinner. After clearing away the remnants of his meal, he enters his room and begins composing with a vengeance.
The song is slower in tempo—as much a dirge as a canticle. The melody still bears resemblance to his original piece, though it wavers through high-pitched notes like a feather drifting from on high, rather than a leaf caught in a midsummer's breeze. The song is a lamentation—a mournful tribute to an era of crystalline laughter and morning starlight.
It is a memorial—a commemoration of all the titles borne by Celestia of the Rising Sun as she matured from youthful dawn-princess to regal sun-goddess, shedding her innocence along the way.
It is a story—a tale of a morning that never failed to come, even as its bringer's smile rose later and later, eventually choosing to slumber forever beneath a solemn countenance.
It is a requiem for the sun.
The ponies' last gathering before Hearth's Warming and the presentation of their gifts is charged with unbridled anticipation. Some of the artists have brought their tributes to display before the others; in the typical fashion of creators, they boast of their craftsmanship in one breath and express concern over the Princess' reaction in the next. The musician does not join the activity—he has not even brought his instrument. His song is for the Princess alone, and she shall be the first to hear it.
The other musicians have no such trepidations. Four of them rise to share their songs, which have blossomed from playful tunes to heartfelt melodies. One by one, they play their creations, and slowly but surely, Requiem for the Sun is rendered utterly obsolete.
The other musicians play, and their instruments sing of the Princess' beauty, of her strength. They celebrate her noble sacrifices and the battles she has won; all of her titles are represented and honored within their notes. There is even a lamentation, slow and thudding against a drum, and the musician finds it a fitting piece to dash his hopes and dreams upon, because his work—lovely in its own right—is nothing more than a reiteration of the themes mastered in the others' compositions.
It is dark by the time the musician makes for home, shuffling through empty streets with as much energy as the lifeless ambition within his heart. It is of no use, he sighs to himself. His song will be lost amongst the others; there is no longer anything special about it. There is no doubt in his mind that the Princess will cherish the effort—she is a caring monarch, after all, and he suspects she is incapable of doing anything less than returning tenfold the love bestowed upon her.. But confound it! The musician doesn't want to give her a musical love letter. He wants to show her his love by giving her what she desires, what she needs.
Frustrated, the musician looks to the palace, as though it might reveal the secrets for which he yearns. Its stone walls do not speak, but the balcony of the tallest tower holds an unmoving figure up to the heavens' embrace. Bathed in moonlight, Princess Celestia stares into the night with a desperate intensity that the musician recognizes instantly. It is the look of a pony searching for a purpose between the shattered fragments of a broken dream.
The Princess gazes at the sky as though it might reveal the meaning of prophecies and predictions made by madmares, bringing sense to her universe once more. Or perhaps she merely searches the cosmos, looking across the sea of stars for a sign of the Darkangel's return. She stands guard over the night—undeniable in her might—but she looks lonely.
With an exhilarating rush of comprehension, the musician understands his mistake. There is not much time to correct his error, but there is enough. As he scrambles to get back to his house, a single conviction fills his mind:
He has been composing for the wrong princess.
On Hearth's Warming Day, the musician is the last to present his offering. The Princess wears a smile already; each of the gifts laid at the base of her throne has been met with genuine appreciation and delight. Books, jewelry, statuary, a tapestry, paintings, a two-story stained glass window—the tributes dominate the throne room in an overwhelming display of artistic talent and deep-seated devotion. Even the courtiers of Canterlot seem impressed; they watch with interest as the final gift-giver steps forward, accompanied by two other ponies.
The musician bows to the Princess, nods to the ponies behind him—a mare with a mallet and jeweled lithophone, and an old stallion with an even older fiddle—and then readies his violin. With only a moment's hesitation, he begins to play.
Requiem for a Dream winds through the air, edgy and strident at first, but gradually solidifying into a slow, brooding tune, violins keening with the poignant melancholia dripping from their strings.
The melody puts the courtiers on edge with one note and sweeps away their emotions with the next, and while expressions range from reserved to openly awestruck, not a soul in the room can deny that the song is terribly, terribly beautiful.
The musician does not look at the nobleponies as he plays. He does not meet even the Princess' gaze, for while the song is a gift for her, it is not the sun for whom he plays.
He plays for the Eclipsed Princess, the Silenced Lark, and the hall is filled with a lamentation for histories forsaken and futures lost. The requiem sings of sisterhood, of love, of whispered fantasies shared in centuries past. It tells of what might have been: a starry night shining upon an appreciative countryside, a crown of stars twinkling above a wreath of hoof-picked moonflowers, a star-kissed mare with a pretty mane and a prettier smile.
The song grieves for a nation with two sisters upon its standard but only one upon its throne, and—more than anything—it remembers a dreamer lost amidst a roiling nightmare.
Only when he finishes, and the final forlorn note fades into solemn silence, does the musician at last dare to meet the Princess' eyes. His heart quails as he sees the evidence of freshly-shed tears upon her face, but then his gaze rises further, and he is floored by the raw emotion in her eyes.
Grief, wonder, anguish, gratitude—all of these and more blaze behind rosy irises. A dazzling smile breaks out over her face, and it is every bit as radiant as the midsummer star she bears.
"Play it again."
The musician thinks he would gladly play it for the next thousand years if she wished.
“Sometimes,” a voice begins, the silvery sound only solid thing in the crumbling dreamscapes around me. “Sometimes we will never know what we mean to each other.”
The dust-filled room settles into focus around me. Though the gentle chorus of night has replaced the stallion’s haunting composition, I can almost feel the song lingering in the air around us.
“Your sister said as much,” I say into the air. I turn around, and the Princess of the Night comes into view, her shadow-wrought tiara perched harmlessly above her brow. It doesn’t look so formidable, even in the gloom of the unlit room. “She said Twilight would come around one day. Or at least, that’s what I think she was trying to say.”
“Celestia has always been the wiser,” Princess Luna sighs. “Though I still think she enjoys being right far more than she should.”
“I’m glad she was,” I murmur softly, thinking about the new photo hanging upon the wall downstairs.
As though she can read my thoughts, Princess Luna hums in approval. “She was indeed. And here we both are.”
The Princess clears her throat. “Well, enough pleasantries I suppose. When might the Royal Historical Journal of Canterlot expect your paper on Meadowbrook’s unknown artifact? He called it Historian, I believe? You’ve had ample time for revisions.”
I look down, abashed. “I haven’t… actually touched the paper since you returned. I didn’t really see the point. I mean, I completely missed the window of opportunity, didn’t I? My biggest finding was that you—” I gesture at her helplessly. “Were Princess Celestia’s long-lost sister, and that’s old news. What would be the point? I couldn’t bring myself to even look at it again. Not when—”
“Not when my sister gave you such a lovely distraction?” The princess tuts disapprovingly. “‘What would be the point of it,’ hmm? That doesn’t sound like the ravenous scholar we both know you are, Miss Moondancer.”
I fidget with a thread in my sweater. “Well, the motive’s changed, too. Part of the reason I was so eager to explore Meadowbrook’s stuff was because I wanted to impress Twilight.”
“Oh?” Princess Luna prods gently.
A harsh laugh bubbles from my throat. “Well, who wouldn’t? You can’t look at Twilight Sparkle without seeing her, seeing how clever and bright and remarkable she is. Even when she was just Princess Celestia’s personal student, she was brilliant. I thought that if I untangled the magic of Historian, then maybe… Maybe she’d see the same thing when she looked at me.”
There. Let it not be said that I don’t divulge information when my immortal rulers request it.
“For what it’s worth, I think your research will still impress her, even now,” Princess Luna says, her voice unbearably gentle. Seeing the protest forming on my face, she hastily adds, “I know, I know, it isn’t the same. You expected that upending a millennium's worth of historical accounts would be the only way to earn Twilight’s respect, and now you find that you have neither the need nor materials to do so. But that does not make it any less worth doing.”
“Well, when you say it like that.” I sigh, straightening my glasses and casting an appraising glance at the ancient violin sitting upon the desk. For some reason, it amuses me. “It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? Mage Meadowbrook expected his artifact to bring comfort to Princess Celestia, and she expected it to save you, but in the end… All it really did was mess up my expected graduation date.”
Princess Luna laughs. It really is a remarkable sound: deep and warm where Celestia’s is high and clear. “My sister is better about knowing to pursue dreams rather than expectations, I think, but yes—I sincerely doubt Meadowbrook foresaw his spell meeting its end in academic havok.”
She chuckles again, then grows solemn. For a moment, I see the Darkangel in her eyes, but it is quickly snuffed out by a more pensive expression. “But then, we all expect things, don’t we. We expect the paths to our goals to be straight and true. We expect to be able to see where we are headed. We expect ponies to love us in the same ways we love them.” She shakes her head. “Once, I expected that my sister would throw away both crown and title at my request, because I would do the same for her.”
A thousand year-old image of two battle-stained alicorns flashes across my mind. In the quiet of this time-forgotten room, I feel like an intruder in my own memory.
As if she can sense the cause of my uneasiness, Princess Luna flashes me a sheepish smile, and the feeling fades. She turns to leave the room, calling over her shoulder. “As we both know, such a thing was not in Celestia’s nature. My sister would give me her throne in an instant if I asked, but would not—could not--leave it abandoned.”
“You’ve forgiven her for not running away with you,” I observe, following her down to my less dusty (if more cluttered) sitting room.
“I should never have asked her to,” she states. “And you are free to quote me on that in your upcoming treatise.”
I watch as she steps across the space, levitating a familiar journal onto my desk. “I still think Twilight is better suited for the task.”
“Then co-author with her,” the Princess replies easily. “Twilight is certainly a formidable scholar, but better suited for researching Historian? I don’t think so. You do yourself a disservice by entertaining the notion.”
Her dust-glittered aura flips the journal open to the unknown artifact’s page.
“This is a task that will require somepony fascinated with the mysteries of the past, somepony dedicated enough to put her life on standby and abandon the present in pursuit of them. Do you know such a mare?”
On the page before us, Meadowbrook’s previously-illegible writing seems to shine, as sensible and intuitive as the spells one learns in magic kindergarten. Though her voice remains measured, Princess Luna’s words thunder around me.
“Do you know somepony with the intelligence to untangle the brilliant, brilliant madness left behind by the geniuses of yesteryear? With the desire to understand it?”
I step closer. I’ve seen the unknown artifact in its entirety, witnessed the arcane memory matrix at work. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Equestria knows the truth of the Royal Pony Sisters. Maybe their story is still worth telling.
“Your greatest wish in magic kindergarten was to become an acclaimed magical scholar, no? Or does that dream deserve to die, simply because the road leading to it has changed beneath your hooves?”
I turn to her then, sinking into a proper bow. “No, Highness. It doesn’t.”
When I rise, I find the Princess staring at me, her regal composure untarnished by the spiral notebook that flies past her head and lands upon my desk with a firm smack. She presents me with an dusk-blue quill.
"Now?" I blurt incredulously. "You want me to start right now?"
Princess Luna raises a brow.
“It's generally accepted that one must fall asleep to reach their dreams, is it not, Miss Moondancer?"
I half-nod in acknowledgement, accepting the quill from her grasp. It slips into my magical grasp as smoothly as if it were made to be there. The Darkangel places her hoof on my shoulder and turns me about to face the desk, leaning close to my ear and whispering,
"So how, pray tell, do you expect to reach that goal if you refuse to chase it?”