To Her Most Divine Augustness and Our Peerless Sun the Royal Princess Celestia,
By your ladyship’s request, I humbly recommend me to you in the hope that my upcoming correspondences may provide a charming and informative diversion when moments of boredom strike you. For other than to provide distraction when court assemblies grow overlong, I can think of few reasons your ladyship wishes to entrust me this task. An inquiry into the nature of friendship seems better suited for your court wiseponies and philosophers, rather than a poet newly settled in our small town of Horseton. Even so, I hope my paltry insight into the nature of amity can repay the boundless generosity you have shown my family these past weeks.
The five virtues of friendship your ladyship describes are demonstrably common among the population here, but I have yet to find a pony who ‘embodies’ these traits in the manner your ladyship illustrates. But should persistence be a virtue, I know a pony, Milkweed, who fulfills the criteria formidably. Even now I hear her knock at the door. I shall write of her in my next missive, but for now I must end my letter in haste. Until we meet again, may the skies before you flow clear and blessed. I am, and ever will be
Your humble servant,
* * *
Princess Celestia stood on the balcony of a high tower overlooking the city of Canterlot, a cool breeze whipping through her mane. The faint glow from her horn faded as she finished settling the sun in place behind the mountains, ready to be lifted for a new day. She opened her eyes to survey the city and its surrounding hills with tender love. A mellow half-light suffused the landscape, bathing the gold-thatched mansions of Canterlot in cerulean tones. Further out beyond the city, a scattering of pegasi were winging their way back to Cloudsdale – dew testers bringing their daily morning measurements back to the factories for evaluation. Down below the hills, she could just make out the sleeping houses of Ponyville, whose young residents had recently risen so admirably to the challenge of befriending her prized pupil.
It was the best night’s sleep she’d had in ages.
The beating of wings sounded from above, and the newly restored princess of the night landed with a resounding clatter on the balcony. Princess Luna threw back her hood, revealing a bedraggled, soaking mane and a gloomy expression. Celestia smiled and turned to an ornate table beside the balustrade, upon which was set a teapot and two cups. She began pouring a cup for Luna, who trotted up to the table and gave an appreciative tap of her hoof. The starry glow of magic washing through Luna’s mane flickered with fatigue, revealing glimpses of the baby blues of her natural hair color beneath.
“I thank thee, Sister,” said Luna, wearily.
“First night on the job again. How was it?” asked Celestia.
“I am quite exhausted. The latter part of the night I spent ending shameless acts of drunken carousing in Manehattan. A pegasus colt vandalizing the street floors was the last culprit. I pursued him half a league above the clouds before he did surrender. I had forgotten how quickly ice collects in the mane at such heights,” grumbled Luna, explaining her soaked appearance. She continued listing details as if she were reporting from a reconnaissance mission.
“A citizen reported a sighting of gabriel hounds outside Hoofington, but the town guards did not witness anything further. And the Gemini attempted to test my authority by shifting their positions in the sky. I made an example of them. No stars shall be attempting any tricks like that again soon.”
“Oh dear. I hope you weren’t too harsh on those ponies.”
“The stars need discipline if they are to know who commands their nightly paths. I know not how thou hast kept them in line these past centuries. They are lax in their duties.”
“Actually, I meant the drunken revelry you stopped in Manehattan. I think you’ll find the pony culture there has changed dramatically. It’s a normal occurrence on a Saturday night.”
“I see. That is… disturbing. Does that mean I…?”
“You can’t be faulted for your judgment, Luna, vandalism is a crime,” said the sun princess thoughtfully, “Even so, many Manehattan ponies enjoy seeing the graffiti decorating the street, within limits. I would caution you to learn as many sides of the story as you can before intervening in local disputes. I’ve learned from experience how easy it is to get your hooves dirty that way.
“We’ve…” Celestia paused, “I’ve become less involved in day-to-day affairs than I was a millennium ago. But I believe it isn’t a bad idea to let yourself be seen more often among our subjects. At least you’re meeting new ponies.”
Luna looked downcast. “Perhaps…t’would not be a good idea to scare them further… I shall refrain in the future…” She fiddled absently with her teacup, turning it around in circles.
“It’s your decision…” said Celestia, looking softly at her sister, “But, as for the stars, I’m afraid you’re quite right. I had enough on my plate handling the sun and moon, so I told them they could do as they pleased, as long as they kept things orderly. Polaris led the constellations in their rotation on most nights. They’ve come up with some ingenious dances, you know. You should ask Capricorn what they did last Hearth’s Warming Eve. It was quite the spectacle.”
“Sister,” sighed Luna, “Thou didst always trust ponies to make the best choice when left to their own devices.”
“Sometimes they need a little push in the right direction,” replied Celesta, smiling, “But yes, that’s my philosophy. I think if you cared to take a look in the history books at our illustrious past thousand years, you’ll find that it’s worked rather well for Equestria.”
Luna smiled weakly. She glanced up at her sister, catching her eye.
It didn’t work for me.
Celestia looked away.
“I’m sorry, Luna. While I was watching over Equestria, you were... I can’t know what it was like…”
Luna lifted her hoof. “Nay, please, Sister. ‘Twas not thy fault. We have discussed the issue.”
Celestia closed her mouth. The two alicorns continued drinking their tea in silence. For the space of a minute, there was nothing to be heard but the wind whistling between the towers of Canterlot Castle.
“Have you made any new friends yet?” asked Celestia.
“In the castle? Hardly,” said Luna, with a stubborn expression. “They are all terrified of me. Everypony in Canterlot as well. I expect anypony who did not sleep through the Summer Sun Celebration is scared to death of me.”
“Now, dear. You just need to take the initiative and approach them. They know you aren’t Nightmare Moon, you are my sister. They’re only nervous because of your position. It’s not every day that a princess of Equestria drops out of the sky.”
“There are plenty of princesses,” Luna sulked. “The title does not mean what it used to.”
“You know what I’m saying. I…” Celestia hesitated. “I’ve found that the building of good friendships is essential to a pony’s health and happiness. You’ll be very lonely without them.”
“And thou hast many friends?”
“…Yes.” A faraway look appeared in the white alicorn’s eyes.
Luna paused, unsure of whether to press the subject.
“I suppose thou knowest everypony and their uncle in Canterlot.”
“No,” Celestia laughed, “I haven’t known every face in the city for eight hundred years. And the population is simply too large to try, nowadays.”
The sisters looked out over the stillness of the city. In the dusky light, it was easy to imagine that the metropolis was empty, the two of them the only witnesses above an abandoned pony Atlantis.
“Should not thou raise the dawn soon?”
“Why, yes, you’re right. Now is as good a time as any. 6:02 am. Make a note of the time for the royal astronomer, will you, please?” Celestia drained the last of her tea and stepped up to the balustrade. Even from the dizzying height where she stood among the castle spires, the chirping of birds eagerly awaiting the dawn could be heard drifting up on the wind.
The white alicorn slowly spread her wings as light magic gathered in her horn. She closed her eyes, focusing on the immense power that was welling up within her. A blinding radiance that surpassed all others; the calling she was born to fulfill.
“I’ll be in Appleloosa this afternoon if you need me,” said Celestia, her eyes beginning to blaze with white fire. “They’ve been asking for a little more sunlight for their crops, so I may have the sun linger there an extra hour. I’ll see you this evening.”
“Just like old times.”
Celestia beamed. “Just like old times,” she agreed.
Luna retreated back to the doorway of the tower as the solar magic intensified. She still felt a sharp pang of guilt every time she saw her sister raise the sun, the sister that the darkest part of her had so wanted to crush for a thousand long years of gnawing hatred. It was bad enough being trapped for an eternity, twisted by magically fueled malevolence. But the worst part had been knowing how much envy and rage she had shared with her dark alter ego.
Celestia began to flap her wings, rising off the ground. She tensed her muscles, preparing for the final wave of magic that would herald the rising of the sun. Then she paused, mid-flight, sensing unease in her sister who was crouched in the doorway behind her. She looked back.
“…I love you, Luna.”
The moon princess looked away. As ever, she could not blame her shining, perfect sister for anything that had happened. It was apparent to her who the true monster was.
“I love thee too, Tia.”
Celestia took a deep breath and with a beat of her wings, soared. A flood of magic roared forth from her horn, a clarion trumpeting as if for all living things to arise and praise the new day. All over Equestria, roosters began to crow.
The sun spilled over the horizon.
* * *
My Dearest Princess Celestia,
All of Cloudsdale surely learned an important lesson in friendship this month: Judge a book not by its cover. Though a pony may appear unusual or eccentric, the pages from the book of his or her life may well tell a story as honorable and exemplary as any. Seabreeze’s well-known distaste for conventional dress did not win him confidence during his audience at the weather conservatory. But when a storm of windigos became trapped in their snowflake ovens, it was Seabreeze’s bravery and experience that prevented a premature winter from carpeting Equestria’s skies. I believe even the Frescoltbaldi family has now taken an interest in sponsoring the young colt’s talents. On that note, I have attached his preliminary blueprints for a flying vehicle which may one day allow even earth ponies and unicorns to visit our fair city in the sky.
Your follower through fair and foul,
* * *
“And be sure to bring plenty more candy next year! Or we shall devour you all! And thy little dog as well! Hahaha!”
Nightmare Moon circled the shrieking children a last time before swooping low and away over the trees of the Everfree Forest. The gleeful screams of fillies faded quickly from her ears, replaced by the croaking of frogs and the whispering of the night wind. She descended below the treetops and landed softly on the grass beside her chariot and its two attendants, who were waiting patiently beside a wizened oak tree. A look of alertness crossed briefly over the guards’ faces as they saw her sinister form. Even to the battle-hardened night guards, it was unsettling to behold the likeness of their childhood bogeyman straight from a storybook, and on Nightmare Night, of all nights.
Strands of darkness melted from Luna’s body as she lifted her glamour, returning her to her normal pony appearance. She stepped onto the chariot.
“To the castle!” she declared.
“Yes, your highness,” the bat-winged guards intoned in unison.
With a clink of chains, the chariot took off into the woods, weaving deftly between tree branches. Luna wore a look of troubled concentration. One of the guards turned back, thinking to make conversation, and decided better of it upon seeing her expression.
Devour? Yes, we’ll devour their souls. They will all flee before us!
Silence. We were having fun.
Yes, we haven’t had fun like that in a thousand years.
They enjoy being scared. They do not truly fear us.
Don’t they? Didn’t you see the look on their faces when we arrived? Don’t try to deceive us. You can lie to yourself, but you can never lie to me.
We will get to know our subjects better. They will learn there is nothing to fear. They will come to adore us for our finer qualities. The Pipsqueak colt likes us already.
We will be a freak show. A freak show paraded in the streets every Nightmare Night. Those contemptible ponies never understood us. Now we’re nothing but cheap thrills to them.
Twilight Sparkle understood me. And she understood thy weakness full well.
Twilight Sparkle got lucky. She’s a fool.
Do not dare insult her. Thou dost not even exist. Thou art nothing but echoes.
The voice in her head evaporated. Luna sighed. Looking around, she noticed that the carriage had stopped moving. While she was lost in thought, they had arrived at the ancient castle in Everfree. She stepped onto the stone floor and thanked her two attendants, who bowed low. As she crossed the grand archway of the castle entrance, a flaming pony’s head with dagger-sized teeth suddenly leapt out from the shadows.
Luna screamed and somersaulted six feet backwards into the air. The first ruler of Equestria lowered her demon’s mask and laughed uproariously, clopping the ground with her hoof.
“You should have seen your face! Lord of nightmares, my hoof! Hahaha!”
“Please, Sister,” said Luna, picking herself off the ground, “thy conduct is unbecoming a pony of royal stature.”
“Lighten up, your highness. We’re all friends here,” said Celestia, turning to the two guards and winking, “Aren’t we?”
Luna’s night guard grinned. The dark princess rolled her eyes.
“Thou said thou wert attending the masked ball in Canterlot.”
“Oh, I was. But after I saw everypony’s costumes, it became very dull. Nopony wanted to talk about anything besides how harvest profits declined this season. I wanted to try my new scary mask and I thought of you, dear sister. So here I am.”
“I am touched,” said Luna drily. “Wilt thou not be missed at the ball?”
“I gave my costume to Puzzlemint, cast a voice spell, and nopony could tell the difference. Everypony thinks I’m still there, chatting on about expected marginal returns on plowing equipment… We really must hold more masked balls.”
“Puzzlemint would not like that.”
“Hmm, no, she wouldn’t, would she... Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Do as thou wish. I was planning to read over Merriweather’s reports tonight.”
“Luuuna~” groaned Celestia, floating her demon mask up to her face again, “The devil must be invited in, before she can enter the home~”
Luna rolled her eyes again. “Please, enter, Sister.”
“Thank you,” replied Celestia, with a curtsy of wings.
The two alicorns trotted into the castle. The interior had been magically cleaned and renovated. Gaps in the walls had been seamlessly filled with sparkling rock and intricate tapestries of red and gold. Glowing moonstones of various colors lined the walls, filling the hall with a softly pulsating light. But dwarfing their glow was the brilliant moonlight that shone over all from above. There was no roof; the castle still opened out onto the starry sky.
“I hear you found some new friends in Ponyville, thanks to Star Swirl the Bearded.”
“I… How didst thou…?” Luna stammered.
“A little dragon told me,” replied Celestia, eyes twinkling.
“Thou art all-knowing, Sister,” Luna said, sarcastically. “Yes, I met Twilight Sparkle in Ponyville. She was a great help to me in becoming acquainted with the citizenry.”
“She’s a wonderful young filly, isn’t she?”
They entered a private chamber through a door from the main hall, one apparently devoted to stargazing. A device resembling a telescope was set up at one end of the room, but a telescope which ended in a myriad of protruding lenses bent into outlandish shapes and sizes. Gyrating instruments of silver wire bobbed and whirled silently on wooden tables lining the room, counting out some obscure measurement of astral progress. Luna sat down behind a short desk, telekinetically flicking on a small lamp and retrieving a stack of paper from its drawers. Celestia set her mask down and continued walking around the room, examining the silver instruments with curiosity.
“I love what you’ve done with the place.”
Luna did not reply.
“By the way, you didn’t frighten the townsponies with your Royal Canterlot Voice, I hope?”
Luna stopped reading and looked up at her sister.
“Or that archaic language you’re used to using. You know nopony speaks like that anymore.”
“…Thou…thou knewest!” Luna accused.
“Thou knewest I would follow the tradition! And thou said nothing? Thou…thou fiend!”
The dark princess gave a groan of frustration.
“But Luna, surely you knew the proper protocol!” cried Celestia, smirking. “I know you’re more comfortable speaking that way, but Fancy Free was supposed to give you instructions on appropriate etiquette for modern ponies.”
Luna laid her reports aside and buried her head in her hoofs. “Fancy Free retired early to prepare her costume after a last-minute invitation to the masked ball.”
“Did she? I thought that sea-pony costume looked familiar.” Celestia snickered and affectionately poked a hoof at her sister’s downcast head. “There now, it wasn’t that bad was it? How did the night go?”
“I believe the citizens of Ponyville… enjoyed my visit. They derived pleasure from my macabre appearance when I pretended to scare them.”
“Well, then your loud voice helped with the effect.”
“Mmm,” Luna made a noncommittal sound, “’Tis a strange feeling, being beloved for one’s reputation for evil. Apparently, I eat young foals.”
“Oh, that,” said Celestia, uncomfortably, “I wanted to tell you earlier… Nightmare Night wasn’t really my idea.”
“That is rather surprising to hear, seeing as thou commandest so much worship and obedience on every other holiday of the year. One might almost suspect a hidden agenda, Sister?”
“Luna,” said Celestia with a pained expression, “It’s not like that. You should have seen what Nightmare Night was originally like, after you left. You know how the land was devastated during the long night. For heaven’s sake, they were burning your image in effigy. There was… so much anger. I couldn’t explain it to them. Nopony wanted to listen.”
The moon goddess was silent, her eyes glowing with ancient resentments.
“The ponies wanted to hold a memorial each year. The date coincided with the harvest festival. So… I suggested they combine the two. And every year, I tried to turn their minds a little farther from…from what happened. I focused on the harvest celebrations. And, I admit, I encouraged them to turn you into an old mare’s tale. I wanted them to remember you at least a little differently.
“After generations, nopony remembered the true story behind what happened. And by then, it would’ve raised more questions if I tried to get rid of the holiday. I…I didn’t think of how you would feel about it when you returned,” Celestia finished lamely.
“Thou didst not think of a great many issues concerning my return to Equestrian society,” said Luna, bitterly.
“Nay. These woes I brought upon myself, as ever I have.”
“Luna… it’s ancient history. Nobody blames you. We said we’d start anew. And we have. But… I should still be doing more for you. I didn’t realize how hard it would be for you to reintegrate, especially with the court politics in Canterlot…”
“Have we started anew?!” blurted Luna suddenly, “Have we really, Sister? The ponies still love thee, thou art untouchable. And I? They still despise me! Thy loyalists see me as one who would usurp your throne, and to the common ponies, I am a monster. They look at me, and all they see is Nightmare Moon!” The alicorn’s mane warped to starless midnight as self-loathing contorted her features.
“Luna,” whispered Celestia. She trotted to her sister’s side and placed her hooves softly around the pain-wracked shoulders. “Luna, Luna, Luna…”
The moon goddess raised her tear-streaked face to her sister’s.
Celestia poked her sister’s nose softly.
“You’re projecting again.”
Luna laughed through her tears.
“Thou art right… what I speak are my own feelings, not truth…”
“No, but,” said Celestia, smiling sadly, “you have a point. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some of the respect I’m given. But that’s part of playing the princess, I need to inspire both fear and admiration in my little ponies.” She placed a hoof under Luna’s chin. “But you’re not me. You shouldn’t want to be me. Don’t you see? You don’t have that same pressure. You can be whoever you want. Tonight is just a silly tradition! Ponies today are staying up later than they ever have, and they love your night. Just turn your eyes earthward more often. They want to meet you.”
“But… even earth ponies use electrical magic in their homes… they do not need my moon anymore…”
“Nonsense. More ponies are awake at night, thanks to electric lighting, but that’s exactly how they’ve come to appreciate your work. They’ve gotten used to playing when it’s dark out, so nighttime activities are no longer seen as strange or dangerous. Your moon guides them to stargazing picnics and late night parties. That was rare in the old days.”
“I suppose thy words may be true...”
“Of course they are, I’m the princess,” scoffed Celestia, with mock arrogance.
Luna wiped her eyes, calming down.
“Sister. Thou shouldst know that… I still hear her sometimes… Nightmare Moon…”
“What?” said Celestia, her voice tightening in alarm, “Is it happening again?”
“No, ’tis not that. ’Tis simply… I know the darkness within, far too well. Nightmare Moon was the better part of me for a thousand odd years. I know her more closely than anypony. And she knew me, more closely than anypony. It is all too easy to imagine how she would react to every situation, every detail. I suppress them, but at times, I have… unpleasant thoughts.”
“Luna, listen to me,” said Celestia, gazing steadily into her sister’s eyes, “You are not Nightmare Moon. She was never the better part of you. She was the weakest, most scared corner of your mind, given free rein. You’re far more than that, and far better.”
Luna nodded, but shadows of doubt lingered in her eyes.
“The ponies in Ponyville,” Celestia stated matter-of-factly, “Do they think you’re a monster?”
“They were frightened at first…” said Luna, slowly, “But no… no, I believe they do not.”
“And Twilight Sparkle? How did she treat you?” Despite her confident tone, there was a tense glimmer of hope in the maternal alicorn’s eye.
“Twilight Sparkle,” replied Luna, smiling for the first time since she had arrived at the castle, “She treated me from the first, as a friend. As a good friend.”
“There, you see?” Celestia beamed with pride and relief for her student. The precocious young unicorn had pulled through once more. “Our friends don’t judge us by our covers. Twilight knew who you were inside. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to know more about who you are inside too.”
“You said Nightmare Moon knew you more closely than anypony. As your sister, I can’t take a challenge like that lying down!”
“I do not believe thou wouldst desire to hear about…”
“Please, Luna. Not just as your sister. As your friend, I want to help. Tell me more.”
Luna sighed, and began her story.
The two oldest ponies in Equestria talked long into the night.
* * *
Dear Princess Celestia,
Great news, your majesty! Arclight has finally succeeded in capturing lightning in a bottle! By this time next year, we’ll have an electrical matrix ready to be installed in every home in Equestria. It goes to show that if you believe in the talents of yourself and your friends, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Just imagine! With this new technology, there’ll be no more endless gathering of fireflies. Ponies will be able to work and play in a night as bright as day. The potential gains are stupendous! All this wouldn’t be possible if your majesty hadn’t helped us bring the brightest (literally!) minds in Equestria together under one roof. We’re looking forward to your next visit to Manelo Park. I’m eager to show you not only our new lightning bottles, but also a new spell I’ve developed with Picture Perfect to record moving images. We’ve had great fun scaring the neighbors’ dogs with it!
* * *
The strains of a violin being tuned drifted down from one of the countless towers of Canterlot Castle, as they had nearly every Friday before sunset for the past one hundred and forty three years. The notes of the violin were followed in turn by the tuning of a second violin, then a viola, and finally a cello. After a brief pause, a clear C note sang from all four instruments into the evening air. A few ponies passing by on the castle walkways turned their heads to listen, but to most, this was a weekly routine that had long since become background noise to the more important affairs of paperwork and pencil-pushing that dominated castle life. To the royal guards, however, with little to do but stand in place, this was one of the highlights of the week. Although their sovereign had never given an explicit reason for the recital, there was an unspoken belief among many that this was her way of thanking them for their labors at the end of each working week. In addition to the sheer enjoyment of the musical interlude, it was also a game among the guards to predict the nature of that evening’s sunset based on the mood of the piece being played, and vice-versa. Tonight the sun was sinking in a muted burn behind a cloudy quilt of soft golds and purples. Most bets were on something slow and mellow, perhaps a nocturne by Clopin or Saddlie.
Up above, on top of the moonreading tower, Celestia raised four bows to their respective instruments with her horn. She organized each part’s opening measures in her mind, lining up the beats. Then she began to play, a soothing quartet for solo version of a violin concerto she had heard two centuries ago in a Canterlot opera house. The alicorn princess quickly lost herself in the notes, the intricate dynamics of handling four instruments with their individual expressiveness occupying all her concentration.
Luna trotted softly onto the terrace behind her. She stood a while, watching her sister play, reveling in the aural sunshine that rose from the floating strings. She closed her eyes.
The music transported her to distant lands, with memories and places she had never experienced. She imagined a golden sunset shining through the windows of dim, smoky bars, as old friends bid each other farewell for the day; the smell of chestnuts roasting from vendors on cobblestone streets…
“Good evening, Luna.”
The song had ended. Celestia was carefully levitating the instruments into their velour-lined cases.
“Evening, Tia.” Luna shook her head. “If I had not beheld thee with my own eyes, I would not believe it was thou alone playing each instrument.” She lifted the first violin with her horn’s magic, inspecting its strings.
“You learn a few tricks to pass the time,” said Celestia, smiling, “and I learned from the very best. It’s important not to get bored, with eternity ahead of you.” Noticing her sister’s interest, she picked the viola out of its case again. “Did you like tonight’s piece?”
“It was delightful. From the Romantic period?”
“Yes, it was,” said Celestia, pleasantly surprised. “I see you’ve picked up some music history from Octavia.”
“Music history is one of many subjects I have been catching up on,” replied Luna. “Only yesterday, Dr. Gigglebean told me that diseases are caused by miniscule animals living in the body. I could not tell if it was another of his jokes.”
“Oh, it’s quite true, though ponies have debated whether to call them animals. I’m afraid since you were on the moon, I tried to turn science away from looking upward, and as a result, they’ve looked inward. Pony medicine has progressed by leaps and bounds. Of course, overcoming the taboo of pony dissection was a turning point, but… oh, what am I going on about? That was ages ago. You’ve learned all about it, of course.”
“Not from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Thou must tell me some time how thou experienced it.”
“Of course. On occasion, it’s nice to remember the early days…”
Celestia drew her bow over the viola and began to eke out a slow folk tune.
Luna blinked in recognition. Long-buried memories of a simpler time floated up. Memories of an age of innocence, before the enmities and intrigues of their royal responsibilities had overtaken them…
’Twas down by the sally gardens, my love and I did meet…
As she played, Celestia’s horn glowed lightly. The sun answered with a radiant pulse and gathered speed in its descent to meet the horizon.
“Show-off,” Luna chuckled. She raised the violin and responded with a melodic counterpoint. The two sisters watched the blazing sunset as they performed their duet.
She passed the sally gardens, with little snow white feet…
“Incidentally, have you talked to your therapist about the evil voices in your head?” Celestia asked casually, as they played.
Luna shot a look at her sister, unsure whether she was joking.
“I have no therapist, Tia. I am not mad.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I say your therapist? I meant your friend who has a degree in psychiatry and a cutie mark for talking through other ponies’ problems.”
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree…
“Nay, I have not… dost thou believe I should?”
“Up to you. Spring Song doesn’t talk to mad ponies though, just ponies with troubles on their mind. I’ve confided in her myself, once.”
“Yes, sometimes I worry ponies only love me because my wings are so pretty. Don’t you think?”
Luna laughed, missing a beat on the violin.
“Yea, thou hast discovered the secret, Tia. I have always envied thee thy wings.”
But I, being young and foalish, with her did not agree...
’Twas down past the banks of the river, my love and I did move…
“Your speech at parliament yesterday made quite an impression,” Celestia murmured. “Shining Armor wasn’t pleased with the holes you pointed out in our defense line.”
“That was the point, Tia. We cannot be too prepared. Canterlot could not stand infiltration by a determined foe.”
“A foe such as?”
And on my leaning shoulder she placed her snow white hoof…
“There are many. I myself was Equestria’s enemy for a thousand years.”
“That’s why I’m worried you could be projecting again.”
“Thou dost not agree.”
“On the contrary, I agree with your policy changes. But Duke Fleetfoot’s going to fight them hoof and nail. Do you have enough backing in the court to weather this storm?”
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs…
“I’ve talked to the appropriate ponies. Merriweather and the Cloudsdale faction are on our side. We have planned these changes for some time.”
“My little sister,” laughed Celestia, “all grown up.”
“No thanks to thee,” said Luna, grinning.
But I was young and foalish, and now am full of tears.
The sun sank below the horizon, leaving Canterlot in a dark twilight. The two alicorns set their instruments down.
“Settling into castle life then?”
“’Tis certainly not what it was. But yes, I make new friends every day.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I must thank thee for introducing me to thy friends in the court.”
“It’s nothing. They like you, and you would have met eventually.”
A clock chimed in the distance.
“Hark, it is time.” Luna cantered a few steps and leapt into the air.
Spreading her wings, she soared in a slow circle over the moonreading tower. The light that shone from her horn was not dazzling like her sister’s, but rather soft and lustrous. Waves of sparking silver radiated outward from it, slowly, imperceptibly strengthening, until the air around her was charged with ethereal light. Wherever the light shone, the flagstones of the tower seemed to acquire a dreamlike quality, as if they could at any moment turn over and begin to whisper of unearthly secrets. The darkness gave way to an ocean of silver.
Celestia turned her fond gaze from her sister towards the distant hills, in time to see a pale red orb spin out above the horizon. Even as her eyes caught hold of it, the red shifted quickly to orange to yellow, and finally to the white of the waxing gibbous moon she had watched growing for the past few nights.
Luna landed back on the balcony.
“If thou hast need of me, I shall be visiting a friend in Manehattan. She wishes the moon to be especially luminous for an open-air concert tonight. Otherwise, we meet at dawn.”
“Just like old times.”
Luna glowed. “Just like old times.”
The two sisters embraced.
“I am grateful for thy support, Tia. Thou hast always believed in me.”
“Oh, hush. I’ve only given you… little pushes in the right direction.”
“As is thy wont.”
The sisters separated and smiled at each other.
Luna turned and broke into a canter, taking off with a leap over the end of the balcony and soaring into the twilit sky.
“May the skies before you flow clear and blessed,” whispered Celestia.
* * *
Dear Princess Celestia,
I’ve learned that one of the joys of friendship is sharing your blessings. But when there’s not enough blessings to go around, having more than your friends can make you feel pretty awful. So, though I appreciate the invitation, I will be returning both tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala. If my friends can’t all go, I don’t want to go either.
Your faithful student,
* * *
The war escalated quickly.
At first it had been mismatched tableware, a mix up that may well have been innocent of any ill intention. But this was responded to with a deliberate substitution of the royal dessert with an extra serving of alfalfa, and at that point the die had been cast. Hot sauce led to invisible ink, which led to whoopee cushions and buckets of water accidentally thrown from windows. Only last week, Celestia had showed up for a special seminar on advanced teleportation at her school for gifted unicorns, only to find her lecture notes replaced with a manual on furniture assembly.
Her retaliatory strike had yet to arrive. Luna was beginning to become paranoid, checking each doorway for tripwires or hovering chalkboard erasers before entering. She was beginning to consider pre-emptive action simply to end the suspense. After all, aggression was justified in the name of self-defense, was it not?
She got up from her bed, where she had been tossing and turning over the subject, and trotted to the window. She pulled up the curtains, letting in the bright morning light, and looked out. From her bedroom in the moonreading tower, she could see a caravan of merchants parked at the palace gates, their wares being delivered into Canterlot Castle. Most of them supplied mundane goods necessary for the castle’s daily functioning: vegetables, firewood, paper, quills, flowers… flowers? Luna blinked, noticing the fancy flower sign painted over one of the wagons, indicating a professional florist. It wasn’t planting season for the royal gardens, and there were no upcoming banquets to warrant such expensive meal garnishes. This looked suspicious. She put on her royal mantle, tucking into it the small water pistol from under her pillow that she had taken to sleeping with.
Luna climbed onto the window ledge and leapt out, a gesture suicidal among most ponies, but commonplace among those with wings. She soared quickly past the spires of the castle, the guards patrolling the walkways below standing to attention as she passed. She came to a rest before the palace gates. Two lines of muscle-bound ponies were carrying large crates to and fro from the caravans. Between the two lines, Luna spotted a bespectacled white unicorn with a flowing aquamarine mane, holding a clipboard. The white mare wore a sharp, business-like expression as she telekinetically checked off items on her checklist with a quill. On her flank was a cutie mark of a jigsaw puzzle piece. Luna approached her.
“Puzzlemint, just the mare we sought!”
The slender mare looked up from her checklist and smiled.
“Luna, you’re up late this morning. Did you order something to be delivered?”
“Nay, it is about our... ahem, my sister.”
“Oh,” said Puzzlemint, assuming a long-suffering expression, “Did she pull another one of her pranks? My mane was nearly singed off in that exploding cake incident.”
“Nay, nay, I simply wondered if she had ordered anything particular this month.”
“Well, yes, in fact,” said the unicorn, looking down at her list, “One hundred flower bouquets, of various species.”
“Intriguing. Where might my sister be found at this hour?”
“She took the flowers to the northeast end of the gardens. But she said she didn’t want anypony to disturb her while she was there, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh yes…” said Luna, eyes narrowing, “I believe I know what you mean. My sister shall be in for quite a surprise. Thank you, Puzzlemint, you have been most helpful.”
“Luna, with all due respect, I don’t think you know what I mean. The northeast garden is…” Puzzlemint looked up, but Luna had already taken off, flying towards the royal gardens.
“Princesses…” she muttered, and returned to her inventory.
Luna could hear her sister’s voice faintly behind the next tall hedge of the sculpture garden. She tiptoed towards the corner, pulling out her water pistol and levitating it for easy usage. She had remained earthbound once she reached the entrance to the gardens, and was rewarded now for her patience with the element of surprise. Whatever practical joke her sister was planning to pull with those flowers, she should have known that even the best-laid plans of pikas and ponies often…go…
Luna stopped, the grin on her face fading. The corner opened out onto a small field dotted with trees and enclosed on each side by hedges; a small archway over the entrance read, in gilt lettering, “Canterlot Memorial Cemetery.” Filling the grassy field were rows upon rows of headstones, each different, each beautifully carved, running the gamut from ancient to gaudily modern. At least one flower lay over every grave. On several there was a full bouquet, or an arrangement of flowers in a pattern.
Celestia sat before a grave at the far end of the field, talking quietly to an invisible partner. Her crown was off and she was smiling softly. Not the confident, maternal smile of the protector of Equestria, but the intimate smile of one relating a story of great personal meaning to a confidante. Philomeena was perched a few tombstones away, preening her feathers in the sunlight.
She is surrounded by friends, Luna realized, with a shiver.
Luna carefully trotted past the aisles of gravestones, gazing at the small sculptures of ponies and cutie marks that adorned them. Fire flowers, forget-me-nots, petunias, snowbells, even a sealed garland of poison joke… it was clear that Celestia had put time and care into the choice of flowers laid over each grave.
A morbid curiosity took hold of Luna. How old was this cemetery? Had she known anyone buried here? She had long since come to terms during her imprisonment that the ponies she had once known would be gone, if she ever returned. But she had held back from investigating the outcomes of their individual lives, for fear of opening old wounds. Perhaps it was time she found out…
Luna came to a halt a respectful distance from her sister. It was a picturesque scene, the morning light playing through the trees, the grass dancing lightly amidst the headstones. Even surrounded by death, the sun shone cheerily. Philomeena paused from her grooming to flutter her wings lightly. Celestia turned her head.
“Ah, Lulu,” she said, looking amusedly at the space beside Luna’s head, “isn’t it past your bedtime? Well, you’ve caught me with my guard down, fair and square this time.”
Luna raised an eyebrow and followed her gaze. With a yelp of embarrassment, she noticed that she was still levitating her water gun.
“No, Tia, this is – thou hadst – I –”
Celestia laughed lightly and stood, gesturing with a wing for her sister to come closer.
For a moment, Luna had the wild thought that perhaps this was her sister’s way of getting back at her for the latest prank. But no, it was impossible that her sister could have predicted this, and the shortest glance at the solemn look in the white alicorn’s eye banished the idea. She had never seen the centuries of care etched so deeply into that face as she did now.
“Let me show you something,” said Celestia.
The two alicorns trotted to the end of the cemetery, where there stood a small hillock overshadowed by an old willow tree. There in its shade was a circle of six unadorned tombstones, chipped and weathered with age. Celestia gestured toward one of the graves. The faded inscription read:
Beloved son, husband, and father
“Loyalty beyond measure.”
“Paradise…” Luna read, wrinkling her brow in thought, “…Surely not the starry-eyed young colt? What became of his poetry?”
“Read in schools across Equestria,” murmured Celestia, “He’s still considered one of the masters.”
“I would like to read it, as well.”
“We have his original scrolls in the library.”
Luna brushed a hoof absently over the tombstone. A sprig of apple blossoms lay at the foot of the grave.
“Who is buried here, Tia? I had not heard of this cemetery before.”
“A few friends, enemies, unidentified bodies. Really, only ponies with no place better to be buried, or who didn’t want to be found. It was started a few years after you left.”
“Dost thou come here alone often?”
“Alone? I came here with Philomeena.”
Luna looked pointedly at her sister.
“On occasion, when there’s something on my mind,” said Celestia, smiling ruefully. “You don’t have to worry about me, Luna, I’m still living in the present. I don’t like to bring pony friends here, because it feels as if… as if I’m inviting them to die.”
“I understand.” Luna leaned against her sister, their flowing manes intertwining. She could hear the steady beating of her heart. With her sister alone, she knew that drum would go on rolling for eternity. But for all other ponies, the organ’s sound was a ticking clock winding down the seconds until it stopped forever. How many heartbeats left? A thousand million, a thousand thousand, a thousand left…
“I’m so sorry, Tia. I wish I could have been there for thee.”
“Don’t be. I knew it was coming, every time. All things die. But I don’t regret the friendships I shared with anyone here. I’m only worried whether you’ll be able to say the same about your friends.”
Celestia gazed down at her sister with tender sadness. Luna returned the look with an anxious smile.
“Tia, does it get easier? I mean, thy friends... With time...”
“No. You get used to it, but it doesn’t get easier. I’ve learned to live with it. It’s just that…” Celestia looked away. Her voice was still steady, but Luna could feel her legs starting to tremble. “I’ve lost so many ponies, so many…
“There are days when I can’t remember them all. There are days when I can’t remember a dearest friend, who asked with her last breath to be kept alive in my memory. I can’t remember her face. She trusted me to remember…” Celestia broke off.
“’Tis okay, Tia.” Luna wrapped her hooves around the princess’s shoulder. “’Tis alright.”
Celestia buried her face in her sister’s flowing mane. They stood that way for a long time.
Finally, Philomeena flew over the two and squawked softly. Luna looked up.
“Philomeena, inform Puzzlemint my sister will be indisposed this afternoon.”
The phoenix gave a mid-air salute with one wing and flew off toward the castle gates.
Luna put a doubtful hoof to her chin.
“I had forgotten, Philomeena cannot speak. Dost thou think she can convey the message?”
“She’s grown smarter than most ponies, over the years,” murmured Celestia, “She’ll think of something.” The sun princess drew back and looked at her sister curiously. “But what do you mean ‘this afternoon?’ It’s not even noon yet.”
“Nay,” said Luna, “But thou art going to tell me of this friend of yours, who so bears remembering. ’Tis not healthy to keep thy troubles to thyself, as thou hast told me often enough.”
“Thou hast no important engagements in thy schedule today, I checked.”
“You checked,” Celestia repeated.
“Yes, I have been breaking into thy study, Tia. How else dost thou think I replaced thy lecture notes last week?”
Celestia rubbed her sister’s head affectionately.
“You wily prankster.”
“I learned from the best, Tia.”
“Oh ho, no, I learned from the best. Let me tell you about a friend I once had…”
The sisters giggled as they had not done since they were young fillies.
The two oldest ponies in Equestria talked until sundown.