With Princess Luna's reclusive habits growing worse, Twilight Sparkle is called upon to once again help Luna come to grips with herself and her emotions.
Princess Celestia is growing increasingly concerned for her sister. Princess Luna's reclusive habits have been getting worse, and she refuses to let herself be helped. Not knowing which way to turn, Celestia enlists the one pony whom she feels can once again reach her sister through the power of friendship: Twilight Sparkle.
Unbeknownst to everyone, something sinister hangs within reach, seeking to cast a thick shadow over all of Equestria. Both Twilight and Luna must come to terms with their feelings of self-doubt and regret before it's too late, and maybe, if they can come to terms with some other feelings, they'll be able to find something even more than friendship along the way.
She had never been perfect. Contrary to what many of her subjects thought of her, she was far from it. Yes, she was the ruler of Equestria, but she was still a pony. Her title didn’t grant her infallibility out of principle. She wasn’t regally exempt from making any of the mistakes that her citizens made every single day, if anything, she was probably more at risk.
If she was perfect, she thought to herself, then she would know how to help her sister.
“Please, Luna. Will you not grant me this one request?” “I am sorry, my sister, truly, but nay, I cannot.” “I only have your best interests at heart. You know that I would not insist upon this if I didn’t know that it would help you.” “Yea, I trust thee in thine intentions, my sister, but it wouldst be far greater of a help for thee to trust me to help myself.”
Princess Celestia sighed, knowingly. It had not taken long since Luna’s return for that to become her least-favorite kind of sigh. Celestia lightly treaded the velvet carpet beneath her forehoof, visibly to find the right words to say.
“It isn’t that I distrust your judgement, Luna. It’s just that I worry for you, and I worry that for as much as you take solace in your solitude, persisting in it is only going to make you feel worse.”
Luna arched her back, indignantly, trying to stand eye-to-eye with her sister, disregarding how much shorter she was than Celestia. Dislodging her gaze from her sister, Luna’s head fell towards the ground. Celestia tried to take a step forward, but Luna’s head shot back up, and she put another foot of distance between them. “Celestia, I understandeth your concern, yea, for your fears are justifiable, but I plead of thee to let me handle this my own way, to show thee that I can handle this.” “I’m trying, Luna. I really am. The last thing I want to do is to impose my will over yours. That wouldn’t be fair, you are just as important to Equestria as I am, and more-to-the-point, you’re my sister. I have no right to control you, or force your hoof.” “But…?” “...But if it ends up that you can’t pull yourself out of this despair, and the hour draws too late, then would it not be my fault for not doing something while I had the chance? Please, Luna, consider my plea. If not for yourself, then for my own sake.”
It was Luna’s turn to sigh. Potential responses raced through her mind, but she didn’t have it in her to peruse them. She was tired of this argument; she was tired of finding herself in it every single time she let her guard down around her sister. She was tired of trying to justify, both to Celestia, and to herself, her apathy towards her own well-being.
She was tired.
This time, as Celestia once again stepped forward, Luna made no effort to elude her sister’s embrace. Celestia lowered her head to rest against Luna’s neck, and, despite Luna’s attempts to maintain even an iota of her composure, she felt herself resignedly pressing her side against Celestia’s, returning the embrace. Along with it, an unspoken vow that Luna found herself making all too often.
“I’ll try my best.”
Luna didn’t like dreaming.
The few times she had confided this sentiment in somepony, they usually did either one of two things: ask why, or laugh politely, realize that she wasn’t joking, awkwardly clear their throat, and then ask why. She supposed it wasn’t an unfair assumption that the princess with the power to control and manipulate dreams would find a natural safe haven among them, but as founded as this notion was, Luna couldn’t help but scoff at it. Before her banishment, she might have occasionally found slight reprieve through her nigh-omnipotence in the world of dreams, but her expatriation - not to mention the Tantabus - had well-since tainted any longing for such youthful discretion.
Even now, as the Tantabus had since been vanquished, Luna kept her slumber strictly banal. She hadn’t allowed herself to indulge in more than an anemic sliver of her vast nocturnal imperium, dominion of her subjects’ dreams notwithstanding. If queried, she wasn’t sure that she would know how to answer why she was so stringent with her power. Maybe it was to prevent a relapse of events from Nightmare Moon or the Tantabus, or maybe it was her ongoing struggle to rid herself of the compunction from either of the two aforementioned demons which had chained her down for so long. Maybe it was some subconscious yearning to replace those chains. Either way, she drew the same conclusion each time: she was to secure the peaceful slumber of her sister’s subjects, while her own dreams were kept under mandated scrutiny.
Luna felt pained. She felt pained because she knew that even as Celestia slept, she still grieved for her little sister. For millennia, she had resolved to not intrude upon Celestia’s dreams, but even so, she heard the faint whispers of Celestia’s heart. They called to her, unceasingly, and it took all of Luna’s self-restraint to not light her horn and paint Celestia a world as vibrant and beautiful as her sun, but she knew that Celestia didn’t want her younger sister doting upon her, she got enough of that from the servants. Upon reflection, despite Celestia’s steadfast assurance that it was her will to be subjected to these feelings, Luna still felt guilty for it. Why was it that Celestia was so insistent that Luna not bear her trials alone, yet resolved to unironically bottle up a decent margin of her own emotions? Luna reflected upon the words of her sister, only a mere couple of hours ago. How easily, now, they could be turned right back against her, had Luna the will to use them.
“If it ends up that you can’t pull yourself out of this despair, and the hour draws too late, then would it not be my fault for not doing something while I had the chance?” “O, my sister. My poor sister. Beholdest thou the mote in mine eye, but not the beam in thine?”
Still, Luna was, if nothing else, respectful. She was respectful of her sister’s will, almost to a fault, so she would just do what she usually did.
In the nethers of Celestia’s subconscious, a violet presence began to bubble and form upon the surface. Slowly, this tabula rasa sprouted a orchid horn, and a majestic pair of silky lavender wings, beginning to form a familiar silhouette.
Luna couldn’t put her hoof on what exactly in Twilight Sparkle’s presence calmed her sister’s nerves, but if Luna’s previous experiences with the prudent alicorn were anything to go by, she knew that she could rattle off plenty of reasons, so she didn’t spent much time dwelling on it.
All she knew was that if anything could put her sister at ease, it was Twilight Sparkle.
“My dearest Twilight,” Spike read, aloud, “you are cordially invited to an extended visit of Canterlot…”
Spike paused, ruminatively. He cleared his throat, and continued.
“in consideration of your continuous efforts to preserve peace and harmony in Ponyville and Equestria alike. I know this is sudden, and I also know how prone to panic attacks you are when presented with anything spontaneously, but I would sincerely appreciate if you would humor my invitation posthaste. We’re all eager to see you, especially my sister. I feel that she has been a bit troubled lately. and I'm certain that your presence will alleviate her concerns. Yours truly, Celestia.”
Spike turned to Twilight. He smiled, seeing that she was still conscious, and gave her a congratulatory clap on the back.
“Huh-hey,” Spike mused, “you’re not takin’ this nearly as poorly as I thought you would! Way to go, Twilight!”
Twilight said nothing for a moment, fixated upon the parchment lying atop her desk with a feeling of anxiety rapidly growing in the pit of her stomach, like she was staring down the throat of a hungry Ursa Major.
“Princess. Wants. Me. Canterlot. Now?!” Spike sighed, wistfully, dropping his arms to his sides. “I’ll start packing your stuff.”
With that, Spike went to fetch Twilight’s suitcase, as well as a paper bag to help squelch her quickening hyperventilation.
No, “nervous” was a nice word, but it was far too reserved for her purposes. It didn’t properly encapsulate the simultaneous waves of anxiety, curiosity, excitement, and trepidation that were currently rushing through what little coherence her frazzled mind could maintain.
As much as she cared for and respected Princess Celestia, this was, bar none, the last thing that she needed to hear. Granted, this letter didn’t seem to imply that the fate of Equestria hung in the balance, but, knowing her luck, she spared no possibilities. She was supposed to be dedicating her time to teaching Starlight Glimmer about friendship, and now all of a sudden she gets called to Canterlot? She trusted Princess Celestia’s judgement, and she knew that whatever Celestia’s ulterior motive was, it was probably important, but she couldn’t deny that the timing stung a little. Nor was it helping that with each breath she drew from the paper bag, all of the uncertainties and possibilities seemed to flow quicker through her mind.
“Okay,” She thought to herself, “Let’s think this through rationally. First, I’ll need to bring Starlight Glimmer up to speed. Wait, before that, I should have Spike write up a list of precautions and duties to uphold while I’m away. Oh, but what if all this overwhelms her? She’s never had to take charge of the castle like this. Maybe I should give her some time to process the news first. But what time do I have to spare? Celestia wants me in Canterlot as soon as possible, and I’m sitting here arguing with myself in my own head!”
First and foremost, she needed a list. No, scratch that, she needed a list about what to include in her list. Oh, but how she know what to prioritize in her second list? She needed the list for that, too!
“Spiiiiiiiiiike! Where’s my list list-writing checklist?!”
Like clockwork, the small dragon jogged into Twilight’s room, brandishing a weathered scroll. Twilight’s horn alit, untying the ribbon from the parchment, causing the paper to unravel a good fifteen-odd feet.
“Phew, thanks, Spike.”
Spike nodded, understandingly, before trotting back to the door, careful not to step on the list. Twilight turned to face him, sheepishly.
“Hey, Spike? I’m sorry, but… can you help me run through this checklist? Just once, I promise.” Spike smirked, pulled out a quill from seemingly nowhere, and ran the tip against one of the sharper scales on his back. He plodded over to Twilight, patting her reassuringly on the back. “C’mon, Twilight. We both know that you’re not gonna put that list down until you’ve read it about five times.” Twilight pursed her lips, trying not to smile. “Well, I know that you’re tired, so let’s just try for three.”
Before the small dragon could nod his head, however, a familiar pastel-lavender unicorn came trotting into the room.
“Sorry I couldn’t get here quicker, Twilight. I swear, I’m never gonna learn my way around this stupid castle. I mean, but enough about that, I heard you yelling, is something wrong?” The alicorn's head shifted from left to right, trying to find the right way to word that answer. “Uh, well, maybe, I guess. I don’t know! But Princess Celestia just summoned me like right now and she says that it’s not urgent but I just don’t know what’s happening but it can’t be good-”
Before Twilight could relapse into a nervous breakdown, she felt a tender hoof press against her lips.
“Twilight, I get it.” Starlight Glimmer said, smiling. “Tell me what I can do to help.”
Spike bit back another toothy grin, knowing that there was no way Twilight would settle for three times.
The violet dragon set his quill down beside him, and collapsed against the stone wall. He cupped his small hands together, turned them inwards, and gave both of his wrists a satisfactory crack. With a gleam of Twilight’s horn, the several scrolls ravelled themselves back up, and ribbons found themselves elegantly binding paper once more. With a similar cyan glimmer, Starlight’s horn glowed brighter as she scrutinized the suitcase. It was packed fairly-beyond normal capacity, but, as evidenced with a loud clicking of the lock, nothing a little magic couldn’t handle.
“Sorry, you guys,” Twilight began, shifting from hoof to hoof. “I guess I went a little overboard with packing.” Spike gave her a weary smile. “Nah, it wasn’t that bad. Trust me, I’ve hauled around Rarity’s luggage before, I know when somepony’s overdoing it.” Starlight nodded, concordantly, brushing away a wayward strand of hair from her slightly-frazzle mane. “It was nothing, Twilight. Besides, we both know adept I am at organizing.”
Twilight returned her student’s smile, and, for the first time that night, felt an iota of confidence brewing within her.
“You’re right. Both of you. I should stop worrying so much. Whatever the Princess needs, it’s nothing that we can’t solve - together.”
Spike fist-pumped, appropriately. Starlight more-reservedly nodded in agreement. Within moments, the alicorn was pulling the both of them into a comfortable hug, only letting go when she felt like she was making a scene.
“So, now that I’m packed, I guess I’ll be on my way. I wanted to sit here with you two and review the list of chores to maintain whilst I’m away, but I’ve filly-dallied enough as-is. Spike, I’ve been over the rules with you a million times before, I trust that there won’t be any mishaps.” Twilight said, more a weary request than a statement, trying to ignore all of the previous times she’d left her number-one assistant to hold down the fort. “Please. Twilight,” Spike said, playfully rolling his eyes. I’m a big dragon now, I’m sure I can protect Starlight Glimmer if worst comes to worst. I’ve got everything under control!” He replied, flexing a scrawny purple arm, unironically. The unicorn merely rolled her own eyes, before fixing them back upon Twilight. “Well, I guess this is goodbye, for now.” Stepping up slowly to Twilight, she pulled her mentor into a quick hug, with only the request of “Be safe" escaping from the unicorn's lips. The alicorn smiled at her, sadly. "I will. I'm really sorry that we didn't get to have more friendship lessons. As soon as I get back, we'll start right back where we left off, I promise." Starlight Glimmer just smiled earnestly in return. "I'll be holding you to that." With that, the unicorn trotted out of the room. Spike was soon to follow, but not before clinging to Twilight’s leg and pulling her into an embrace of their own.
“Promise me you’ll keep each-other safe, too?” She whispered. “I promise, but you have to promise me the same thing. Not just for me, but the others.” "Oh my gosh, the others! I completely forgot to tell them! Spike, we need to-" "Don't worry, I'll tell them first thing in the morning. You should probably get that head start while you still can, before Pinkie Pie finds out." A grateful smile slowly crawled up Twilight's face. "Thanks, Spike."
With that, they soon parted, and Twilight was quickly on her way to the train station. With newfound invigoration glistening in her eyes, she was determined to solve whatever was ailing Princess Celestia.
Celestia stared out of her window, silently; too lost in thought to hear the cautious trotting of her sister walking up behind her.
“My sister,” Luna began, “I hath seen thy servants readying a guest room for accommodation. Hast thou invited thy pupil?” Celestia offered only a tired chuckle, before turning to face her sister. “Luna, I never could pull anything past you.” Luna’s stance remained unfettered. “Truly, sister, thou wouldst go behind my back like this?” She said, more disappointed than accusingly. “She’s just as much your friend as she is mine, Luna. I wasn’t dishonest with her, I am looking forward to seeing her, but more importantly, if anypony is capable of helping you overcome your self-doubt, it’s her. Luna sighed. “I shall not object to her presence, nor shall I unreasonably distance myself from her, but I believe that she should only suffer what she finds expedient. Allow her, therefore, to follow in her own way, I beseech.”
Celestia just smiled, and turned back to the window.
Not that she had any idea why. By all accounts, Canterlot should’ve felt more natural to her than her own two wings. She had lived with Celestia for a wide margin of her short life, she’d devoted unending hours of her fillyhood to studying Canterlot geography and culture, and she’d come to accrue an intimate, unparalleled knowledge of the bowels of Celestia’s castle, of which even the castle guards sometimes found themselves secretly jealous.
That’s not to say that visiting Canterlot didn’t feel nostalgic, certainly, it did, it just… didn’t feel like home, anymore. Ponyville long-since filled that niche in her life. In fact, if she were honest with herself, she’d started to draw weary of visiting Canterlot ever since moving to Ponyville. Whether it be a hostile Changeling takeover, ancient power-sapping centaurs, or Discord being, well, Discord, something always seemed to go both horrifically and formulaically wrong whenever she visited.
“Then again,”, she thought, “things tend to go horribly awry even when I don’t leave Ponyville, so that might be kind of a moot point.”
Twilight couldn’t help but begin to reflect upon how quickly Ponyville had grown on her. Of course, she routinely found herself stunned by Canterlot’s chic, elegance, and panache, but Ponyville had such a quaint, picturesque atmosphere that she found invariably enticing. It certainly wasn’t just her own appreciation for rustic lifestyle, as even devout city ponies like Rarity found themselves drawn to its scenic charm. It had this way of making you feel at home, no matter how far from home away you may’ve been.
She looked at the clock. She still had a while to go before she reached her destination. She was anxious to finally arrive in Canterlot, despite the fact that she had no idea what she would do once she got there.
“Hopefully, sleep.” She thought, biting back a bitter chuckle, and glaring metaphorical daggers upward as she wasted the alluring serenity of the night sky.
In truth, she thought, sleeping would probably be the farthest thing from her mind upon arriving, but she knew that Celestia would certainly be courteous enough to extend the offer anyway. In general, this whole situation left her with an unnerving loss for approaches. She wasn’t used to dealing with the business of immortals. Sure, Princess Celestia had enlisted her and her friends’ help many times before in dealing with just such beings, but Twilight found that doing something for someone is a lot easier than doing something for someone.
“Ugh, even in my own head, I’m not making sense.” She muttered, vocally punctuating her irritation with a thick, weighted sigh.
She was thinking too much. She needed to stop obsessing over whatever was upsetting Luna, or she knew that her entire visit would soon begin to hinge upon it. Maybe, in her downtime, she could catch up on a few books she wanted to re-read. She’d finally gotten around to starting Mane Austen’s definitive classic, Pride and Prejudice, a while ago, but had put it down at around half-way because of its unflattering, if uncomfortably realistic, portrayal of mares at the time. Still, she knew that she should at least finish the book before drawing conclusions. Or, maybe she could turn this into a case study! After how many times she and her friends had saved the world's collective flank, she was positive that Luna wouldn't mind humoring Twilight’s harmless whim.
Try as she might, her thoughts once again drifted to the Princess of the Night, and what could be ailing her. Frankly, Twilight had no idea what to expect. She had always known Luna as a powerful, strong-willed pony, even before coming face-to-face with Nightmare Moon. If something really had been wrong with Luna, then Twilight hadn't noticed. If anything, she thought that Luna was doing better than ever. The Tantabus had been vanquished, she was regularly appearing at royal events again, and, as far as Twilight knew, Luna’s “Royal Canterlot Voice" had been laid to rest, alongside its archaic lexicon. Frankly, even if something was upsetting Princess Luna, Twilight didn't think she would even know what to do. How do you go about comforting an immortal? Are their emotions as easily quelled as a normal pony's? She'd witnessed Princess Celestia's melancholy apropos of her sister's banishment, but that was just about it. She was nearly as jubilant as the very sun she commanded. Was that true of Luna, though? Twilight didn't feel like she knew Luna well enough to say, and, if she was honest, that bothered her a little.
Not that she felt entitled to know of each facet and nuance of Princess Luna’s life, or anything creepy like that. Maybe she had just been spoiled by the years of mutual, unwavering, unreserved trust that she and Celestia had. Celestia had always been unrepentantly motherly to her and, loathe as Twilight was to admit it, Twilight drew no scarcity of pride from that fact. It wasn’t a truth that she was proud of, and no-one, not even Spike, knew it, but it had served as an invaluable pick-me-up for a long time, and it was one that she didn’t think she could afford to discard yet. Then again, why should she? There was nothing inherently censurable about it as long as she didn’t flaunt it, was there?
Once more, she rebuked herself for thinking too much.
Luna wasn’t sure what to think.
She felt no ire against the Princess of Friendship, nor the… eccentric company she kept. Far from it, she felt forever indebted to Twilight Sparkle, and her fellow former bearers of the Elements of Harmony. Had they not banded together when they did, Luna knew not what would have become of both herself and her sister, and she didn’t want to think about it. That wasn’t even going into detail about personal favors, such as the Nightmare Night fiasco and the Tantabus incident. No, Luna could never bring herself to revile the Princess of Friendship. It wasn’t her fault that she was being summoned here, she was just being a faithful pupil.
If anypony, Luna knew that Celestia was the one to blame.
But what blame was her sister culpable of? Luna chided herself. Being a doting older sister? Caring for the mental welfare of her only family? Celestia, however obtuse her methods, her intentions had always shone with crystalline purity, how then could Luna feasibly reproach her?
The answer was, she wouldn’t.
No, she would brood for a brief while, and find a way to get over it, just as she always did when they quarreled. It just wasn’t worth it, not when Luna knew how justified Celestia’s trepidation was. Were Luna to ever slip into old habits, where would the Elements of Harmony be to stop her? Not that her sister would ever admit to harboring such fears, but Luna could tell. It wasn’t unreasonable, and, if Luna were being honest, she could admit to holding similar fears as well. It was only a natural disquiet. It would be imprudence of immeasurable caliber to not consider both herself and her past discourses worthy of perusal.
“Enough of my maudlin,” She thought. “I can indulge in fruitless lugubriosity later. Forthwith, I must be prepared to indulge our guest. Tis my fault the poor mare is dragged out to this cesspool of sanctimony, so shall I accommodate her. Yea verily, I cannot succumb to reclusion at this time.”
With newfound resolve, or, as much as she could manage to feign, she began wearily attending to the other matters at hand.