Many generations ago, the Goddess of Love realized that she had forgotten love. She loved all the little ponies, and, the land, and its gifts, but secretly she longed to know love of the kind that the little ones felt for each other. She had never been a nursing foal, weak and utterly dependent upon the care of another. Her body had never coursed with the lusty, foolish energy of youth. And, of course, she would never die in the arms of a lifelong mate.
One day, she discovered a way that the Elements of Harmony could give her all of these things. She would be able to feel love again, as if for the first time, but it would cost her dearly...
“Sorceress! Blasphemer! Murderess!” The words were my own, but the rage in them belonged to a being whom I wished never to see again. Before me stood a being of living fire. Was Luna in the room as well? I could not remember. I could see only Ardor, foolish Ardor, cruel Ardor, with her insane scheme and her selfish desires. Six stones, alight with magic, lay in a circle at her feet. She faced away from me, giving no indication that my words had reached her.
I heard myself lash out again: “Turn and face me, coward! Are you so callous that you would depart this world without bidding your sisters farewell?” The rage I felt was not my own, but I recognized it. Those were the thoughts of a Celestia from before Twilight Sparkle and the rest of the Six—the powerful and benevolent Celestia who had offered Nightmare Moon an ultimatum instead of a compromise.
Ardor turned her head to look me in the eye with a heartbreakingly warm smile, and I had no defense against her sorrow. With a simple glance, she somehow showed me everything. The Celestia who would turn the power of the Elements against her own sister lost her grip on my mind and my tongue, because I had been here already; I had lost Ardor already. I had been angry, hurt, confused. I had lashed out at her. I wanted to take it all back. Maybe... maybe it wasn’t too late.
I charged, but not to stop her. I wanted only to embrace her and nuzzle her one last time—Ardor, beautiful Ardor, my beloved sister Ardor. I ran to her, but no matter how hard I galloped, I made no progress in closing the distance between us, because the ground would not hold my hooves to let them push me forward. I screamed her name, but my voice was drowned out when the Elements came to life. I begged Ardor with all my heart to wait for me so that I could feel her warmth one last time, but the Elements swallowed her in a burst of magic, and she was gone forever.
I opened my eyes in the middle of the night. This was not by any means a common occurrence. She who raises the sun must also rise with the sun, after all.
Tell me the story, Celestia. The one you promised you would, so long ago.
Less common still were the tears clouding my vision. I blinked them away, but they rose anew. My chambers were silent, but the air buzzed with destiny. I had been dreaming, of that much I was certain, and dreams never came to me without reason.
I heard the distinctive pop of a scroll being teleported onto my desk, and it came with with a flash of moonlight that would have been a serious threat to a mortal pony's long-term eyesight. Luna had meant to wake me up with that flash of magic; the news would be important. I wiped my eyes as I rose and magically reached across the room to fetch the letter.
You don't understand! You can't understand! I was not meant to be a timeless sentinel like the sun or the moon!
The scroll was secured with a simple red ribbon—no wax and no seal. The original document, then: the very scroll that some citizen had written and handed over to the local guardpost... whereupon, evidently, the lieutenant there had seen fit to teleport it to Princess Luna at once.
The letter had been written hastily, and the script was barely legible in some places, but the words were frank enough. I let the scroll fall to the floor as I quickly attended to my appearance, fetching my crown and ornamental anklets. With any luck, Captain Cornerstone would be arriving in hot pursuit of the letter.
A loud knock sounded just as I reached across the room with my magic and opened the door. Captain Cornerstone's hoof jabbed awkwardly at where his knocking surface had been. “Princess,” he reported, standing at attention.
“Excellent timing, Captain,” I replied, approaching him. He lowered his head immediately. “Have preparations been made?”
I love you, Sister, and that is why you deserve to know my intention...
Captain Cornerstone saluted so firmly that I heard his armor clink. “Yes, Princess. I was notified that an urgent letter had been delivered, so I sent the order at once.” “The Night Chariot will be ready to leave in five minutes, should you require the driver team’s services.”
“Five minutes is excellent time. You've trained the crew well.” I nodded approvingly.
“Thank you, Princess,” Cornerstone said, bowing again. “Will my Princess be requiring any further arrangements for the journey, and what may I tell the Royal Driving Team as regards the destination?
“Tell them that the trip will be very short. That is all they need to know.”
Captain Cornerstone bowed lower, then turned tail and galloped down the hall. I allowed myself a smile. The Guard hadn’t operated this efficiently in many years, and tonight every minute was valuable.
This isn't goodbye, sister. This isn't goodbye...
I left my office soon after the Captain, sealing the door behind me. The denizens of East Hayshire would likely be falling all over themselves in confusion--another good reason for my sister and I to make all due haste.
My mane, billowing out behind me in the open air, was an iridescent scar on the sky. There were several more hours until the right time for sunrise, and the sky was still sprinkled with stars. It was refreshing, really--I do not often feel the chill of night, and tonight's happy occasion made it all the more pleasant.
Once the team had taken the chariot to cruising altitude, I turned to Luna, who paused for a moment before nodding solemnly. Neither of us enjoyed using the spell I was suggesting, because we had agreed some time ago to make an attempt to rule as Queens instead of Goddesses. The chariot's very existence was a kind of misdirection, making it appear as if we were not capable of appearing instantaneously on any street corner in Equestria at any time. At the very least, East Hayshire would be glad to see us descending from the skies instead of barging in with only a flash of light to announce our arrival.
The drivers didn't know if they were travelling in the right direction; they didn't need to. In perfect unison, my sister and I lit our horns, and the combined singing of our magic grew to a note that resonated with the sky.
I reached out into the places beyond the world and felt my sister's presence there. Our bodies remained standing in place, but our spirits rose in lockstep into an invisible dance of magic, coaxing our power outward until it pierced the fabric of the sky and flew into the infinite. Together, my sister and I sang a duet of power, and reality listened.
Authors and magical theorists have described it as “folding space.” This is a crass description. Luna and I did not lift or bend the world; we painted over it with a power more ancient than the tallest mountains. We created Hayshire around us, and as our song of magic came to a close, Hayshire came to us willingly.
Below, a neighborhood of a few dozen houses plus a scattering of larger structures arranged around a town square was rolling in from the horizon. The unpaved roads were empty, and the entire town was dark except where curious onlookers gathered with lit lanterns around the window of one house.
It was a clear night over East Hayshire, and as the drivers brought us into a slow descent, I could see a few ponies staring up at our approach. Some of them took off at a gallop after a few moments of gawking, probably to spread the news that not one but both Princesses were paying a visit to their little town.
A middle-aged stallion met the chariot as it landed, huffing from the effort of galloping the entire way to where we had landed. He carried a lantern in his teeth, and his olive-brown mane was tangled from what must have been a stressful night. He came to a stop, put his lantern down, and knelt just as Luna and I stepped down from the chariot.
“Good evening,” I said, nodding to him. “We apologize for our unexpected arrival.”
“Do not make special arrangements for us,” Luna added before he could reply. “Take us to the place of this child's birth. Quickly!”
I thought of adding a few words of my own to blunt the force of Luna’s command, but the earth pony being subjected to Luna's authority actually looked relieved to be ordered.
“Yes, of course, your Highness! Highnesses! Follow me!” he sputtered, before pivoting and taking off down the street so quickly that he left his lantern behind. I picked it up with magic and levitated it along with us on our way.
The Elements of Harmony, together for the first time in centuries. It had taken nearly a hundred years of research, divination, and exploration, but Ardor was finally ready to put her plan into action. When my sister and I entered the room, she was standing with her back to the entrance. Her glowing mane colored the dark underground chamber with flickering orange firelight.
“I know it's too late for me to change your mind.” My voice echoed against the carved stone walls, but Ardor did not turn to face me. The Elements, arranged in a circle around her feet, hummed with magic. “I only wanted to talk to you about your decision.”
“We've talked about my decision many times already, sister.” Ardor’s warm, almost sultry voice sounded a hundred times sweeter now that I was hearing it for what would likely be the last time. “I should thank you.”
I felt angry. I felt sick. I felt scared and full of sorrow.
“No, you should not,” Luna spat. “Celestia and I spent several days discussing ways to foil your plans regardless of your wishes. I would have enacted two of them myself, plus a third one of my own, if Celestia had not—”
“And Celestia would have foiled all three plans, plus a fourth that you had not thought of,” Ardor said, laughing darkly. “Isn't that right, sister?”
I didn't answer immediately. I wanted to scream at Ardor that she was arrogant, impulsive, and callous. I wanted to throw myself at her hooves and beg her to reconsider. I wanted to rush forward and embrace her and never let go until the wind eroded the mountains down to dust.
“Perhaps you are wrong about that, Ardor,” I said with muzzle lowered and eyes narrowed. “Perhaps I would have left an opening that Luna could exploit if she were truly willing to go to great lengths to stop you.”
She did not raise her eyes. “This isn't goodbye.”
Ardor refused to meet my gaze, but she must have known that there was no way for her to hide the pain in those words from me. Silence fell.
Luna was not content to merely try to stare Ardor down. She spat words full of heart-rending fear and betrayal. “It is goodbye, because we will lose you! Ardor, what you propose is worse than murder—you are a Goddess committing suicide!”
“What say you, Celestia? Will you level such accusations against me?”
I thought of charging her down. I envisioned knocking her away from the Elements and then scattering them to the ends of the earth so that it would take Ardor, or anypony else for that matter, a thousand years to gather them again.
“Luna loves you, sister. Surely you understand that.” I chose my words carefully, but not carefully enough to hide my thoughts.
“I know you both considered stopping me by force,” Ardor said softly, hanging her head. “Violence is beneath you, sisters.”
“Even if Celestia shows restraint, I still might make such an attempt!” Luna stamped her hoof and braced herself as if to charge, but all three of us knew that she would do no such thing.
I said what Luna could not: “I should ask one last time if you are sure of your decision, but I fear I already know the answer.”
Ardor simply nodded. The Elements at her feet glowed a soft pink. They lifted off the ground and started to whirl around her in a blurred ring of stone.
“I love you, Ardor!” Luna sobbed at the top of her lungs, her words nearly drowned out by the whistling of stones and magic. “I love you, my sister, I love you, I will love you forever!”
“And I will always love you,” Ardor replied, turning at last toward us.
Words would not come to my lips. I could only nod my final goodbye.
Her mane burned like a dying bonfire, mingling with the cool pink glow of the Elements. Her tears glittered like jewels suspended in the air as they caught the flaring pink-orange light. She was beauty itself, impossibly happy and gloriously sad. She closed her eyes as the light enveloped her--then, suddenly, it flared so brightly that even I, who have touched the sun, had to shield my eyes.
Before I lowered my hoof, the light was gone, and it had taken my sister with it. The Elements fell to the floor with a loud clatter. Without a wielder, they were nothing but dead stone.
In the cold darkness, I heard a single strangled sob.
“Come, Luna,” I monotoned, turning to leave. “The time for sunrise draws near.” I wished I could offer my sister some kind of comfort, but there was no ritual to perform, no parable to tell that could make sense of the departure of an immortal.
As we ran through the streets of East Hayshire, the stallion guiding us breathlessly explained that his name was Golden Fields and that he was the mother's uncle. He also managed to mention at least twice how honored he was by our visit, along with how incredibly unexpected the birth had been. Luna missed it, but I recognized the tiny tinge of fear in those words. It was almost as if his niece had done something wrong, and he was trying to explain that it had been out of their control.
He finally stopped at the door of a modest single-story home and blurted out one last apology: “I'm sorry about the state of the house. We sent the letter only minutes ago, and... we didn't realize you would...”
“No need to apologize, Golden Fields.” I smiled at him with the warmth of daylight. Beyond that aging wooden door was a treasure, a long-awaited gift to all of Equestria. “May we enter?”
“Of course! Please, come in!”
The room was lit only by a fading gas lantern, so I filled the house with muted sunlight as I entered. A bed containing a semi-conscious earth pony mare had been dragged into the middle of the room. The mother's moss-green mane was matted with exertion and neglect. She had been smiling tearfully at a tiny bundle in her arms, but when I arrived, bringing a golden pool of light with me, her head snapped towards the door with something like shock. A sobering thought struck me as I tried to read her sleep-deprived face: perhaps she was afraid that I would whisk the child away to the castle to be raised without her.
The nurse, an aging grey-on-white unicorn, stepped aside as I approached. From this close, I could smell the realities of live birth. The mother's eyes were wide and, to my relief, trusting. She was young indeed—beautiful and strong. The dark green of her sweat-soaked mane made a sharp contrast against her light autumn coat.
“What is your name, madam?” Luna asked. Even she knew to lower her voice.
“Amber,” the mother rasped. She managed a smile. “My name's Amber.” It was a good name—a graceful name. It was the name of a brave mare who glowed with fierce beauty even after her life had been dragged through wild chaos.
“Who is the father?” Luna asked. “Why is he not present?”
Amber bit her lower lip. That fierce spirit of hers wilted slightly. “The father... it's not that simple.”
“Such things are not important for now.” I glanced over to Luna, who nodded her agreement. "All that matters is that you love her."
Amber nodded tearfully. The blanketed infant cradled to her chest stirred. I felt a precious, all too familiar warmth in my chest as I looked down at the newborn, then back to Amber. “Have you named her?”
“I...” Amber sniffed, and hastily wiped her tears away. “I didn't know if it would be right... I thought that maybe...” She swallowed her words, and her eyes flowed freely with emotion.
“What name has your heart given her?”
“Revel.” Amber sniffed. Her face turned into a sobbingly joyful smile and her forelegs trembled around her little newborn. “I named her... her name is Revel.”
“A beautiful name,” Luna said, nodding. “Revel is blessed to have you as a mother.”
“May I see her?” I asked, making my voice as soft and as humble as could be expected of the one who raises the sun.
Amber nodded, and I lifted her foal towards me with the softest touch of magic, rotating the little one so that I could see her face. The pink alicorn filly's eyes opened. Even though she had been shrieking the desperate cries of a newborn mere hours ago, baby Revel made no sound as she stared back at me. Did some secret part of her somehow recognize me? There was no way to know.
“Welcome back to Equestria, little one. We have missed you dearly.” I cradled her against my body and kissed her on the forehead, just at the base of her tiny horn. In truth, the affection I felt for my newborn niece was demeaning in some ways; the filly I held was ancient in her own right. But even as I reminded myself of this truth, I could not help but nuzzle my dear newborn kindred when she stared up at me with wide, innocent eyes. Ancient she may have been, but she was also a child, and children are sustained by love as much as by milk.
Luna, too, kissed the little one and whispered a blessing: “May the darkness hold no fear for you.” Then she turned to the mother and stole her attention for just a little while, to discuss a few matters of standard procedure. If Amber chose, a villa near the castle would be prepared for her. If she preferred to stay in East Hayshire, other arrangements could be made. Luna and I would always offer guidance to Amber and to Revel herself, but only when consulted; Revel was Amber’s child alone. When the time was right, Luna and I would teach Revel about her peculiar nature, but she would not learn everything until much later. Revel would grow and live unburdened by the complete truth of her existence.
Revel's cutie mark was already emblazoned in full color over her pristine fur. She had earned it many lifetimes ago, after all: a crystalline blue heart framed by twisting vines of gold.
The room smelled of dead flowers and fresh laundry. Golden sunlight lay in a hard stripe across the opulent bed that was cradling the kingdom's youngest Princess in her final hours. All around us were accumulated mementos and tokens from her too-short lifetime of a hundred years.
When my niece spoke, I could tell that it was with some effort. “I don't know if... if we'll see each other again.” She tried to smile as she said it, but her facial muscles lacked the strength. Even if she had managed such a token gesture, she would not have been able to hide the fear in her voice.
“I know, dear one.” I brushed the side of my face against hers, and she let out a soft croon.
Luna, too, came closer to the bedside. “You have earned your rest,” she said, placing a hoof on our niece's shoulder. “Even a Princess must sleep.”
“Tell me the story,” the old alicorn whispered, her voice barely more than a hum. “Celestia... tell me the tale you promised me you would, so long ago. The one about love and death.”
I nodded. She stared at the ceiling with age-creased eyes as I recited.
“Many generations ago, the Goddess of Love realized that she had forgotten love. She loved all the little ponies, and the land, and its gifts, but secretly she longed to know love of the kind that the little ones felt for each other. She had never been a nursing foal, weak and utterly dependent upon the care of another. Her body had never coursed with the lusty, foolish energy of youth. And, of course, she would never die in the arms of a lifelong mate.
“One day, she discovered a way that the Elements of Harmony could give her all of these things. She would be able to feel love again, as if for the first time, but it would cost her dearly. When the Goddess's sisters learned of what she intended to do, they begged her to reconsider, but eventually they saw that she could not be persuaded.
"The Goddess brought the Elements together, and ignited them with the magic of Harmony. Her alicorn sisters kissed her goodbye before watching her step into a realm of pure magic, never to be seen again.
“Generations later, an alicorn filly with an already fully formed cutie mark was born to an ordinary mother named Silvergrass, in an ordinary town. The little one's name was Morning Dew, and she was as graceful as she was strong. The life she led was not easy, but for a reason she could not explain, even sorrow made her happy. Before Morning Dew died, her alicorn sisters came to her side to tell her the story of how the Goddess of Love gave up eternity so that she could live a mortal's life, a life full of pain, fear, danger, and impossible hope.
“Many years after Morning Dew's death, an alicorn filly was born to a very wealthy unicorn named First Prize, in the great city of Canterlot. The little one's name was Victoria, and she was both gentle and kind. She married a stallion named Cornucopia, and together they raised a beautiful family. Victoria passed away surrounded by loved ones.
“Many years after Victoria's death, an alicorn filly was born to a swift-winged pegasus named Blinding Flash. The little one's name was Fatespinner, and she was pure-hearted and carefree. She was a wild, free spirit, never bound to a single place or a single lover. Fatespinner died in an accident, and the many, many friends who loved her cried at her passing.”
The story went on that way for some time. Luna and I had long since committed most of it to memory, except for the last part, a new verse that had never been part of the story before now.
“Many years after Heartwood's death, an alicorn filly was born to a highborn unicorn named Shimmering Sea.”
I thought that my niece had been lulled to sleep by the story's repetitive nature, but I should have known better--a tear ran down her cheek as I began the final verse.
“The little one's name was Mi Amore Cadenza, and she had a warm and gentle soul. As Cadenza grew, she watched a little unicorn named Twilight Sparkle grow as well. Cadenza fell in love with Twilight's older brother, Shining Armor, and the power of their love was enough to shape the very world around them.”
I kissed her on the forehead, just at the base of her horn, and concluded the story. “Before Cadenza died, her alicorn sisters came to her side to tell her the story of how the Goddess of Love gave up eternity so that she could live a mortal's life, a life full of pain, fear, danger, and impossible hope.”
I rested my head against Princess Cadenza's chest, and my tears soaked into her faded pink fur. I could hear and feel her heart coming to the last few bars of a long diminuendo. Her heartbeat was the rhythm of love itself, and someday soon it would begin anew, with a new melody, a new key, and a new cadence.