by Starry Tides
Numbness is a poison, but not of the usual kind. It is slow and creeping and entirely vindictive, moving with such grace and slithering slyness that one doesn’t even realise it has taken you until it’s too late. Emotions become watered down, merely shallow pools of their former glory. It is as if a layer of cloud bars the sky from view, letting in enough light to see by, but not enough for vibrant colour. There are so many shades of grey. Colour becomes a distant memory now, but I find myself not minding. I have lived long, and for much of that time the colours have been leaking away. The process is so slow and careful that even though I do notice it, to an extent, I have no will to stop it.
Desensitization is both boon and burden, I find. Everything becomes easier as I drift through life, present but not all there. Part of my mind is cast adrift on the winds of time, living in memories and shattered hopes, dreams fading away as the numbness creeps over me. Another part of me is screaming in terror as I let it happen, but that part is so small now. It was the first section of my mind to be turned to the grey, and now it feels much like a benign tumour. The shouting has become so easy to ignore. Where there used to be a roiling rainbow of colour there is now a calm, still, stagnant sea. Everything that touches me is a drop of water in this ocean. Every emotion is a grain of sand compared to that body of water, and even as the incidents drip into me they simply wash away.
Everything is soluble in that respect, and by this absorption everything becomes reasonable and easily coped with. Cold, unshakable logic is a great friend of mine. I ponder and calculate, mapping out cause and effect on an endless plain of possibilities. Emotion seems very much a barrier that must be put behind me, cloying and full of needless pain. Nothing has touched me for so many years now, and thus I have no reason to call upon the madness and chaos of feeling. Sometimes I wonder if I even have a reason to continue this existence. Some might call it a sham, but even though I should know better, part of myself agrees with this view. That part is getting louder now, as I drift from day to day. The numbness crawls over me like a warm blanket, drawing me into its embrace, neither warm nor cold. It is a shroud of void, empty of even the faintest pinprick of light. It is the farthest reaches of space.
For this I am glad. The voice that cries in the back of my mind is scared of my sister seeing what has happened to me; what I have let happen to me. A wave of shame laps at the shore of my consciousness, bringing with it strands of remorse. These strands wither and die from the filtered light, and so I can ignore them. It is yet another thing I pretend doesn’t exist, that isn’t wrong with me. As I gaze at my sister’s celestial creations, I feel a brief flash of guilt. Her stern visage stares down at me with frightening intensity, and I shudder.
As the years crawl by I find that nothing really changes. Ponies come and go, and the ones that replace them really aren’t that different from the ones who leave. They all seek my attention and approval over everypony else, and I find that it grates on my nerves more and more lately. They are all the same to me; how could I possibly single one out over the rest? How could they expect me to, when my subjects are all on equal ground in my eyes?
Instead I leave them to their games of pomp and glamour, acknowledging but never encouraging them. Perhaps one day they shall learn how ridiculous it all is, and how shallow and pointless others view them to be. I do wish they would learn sooner. History may be recorded to keep ponies from making the same mistakes all over again, but I do not believe their is anything about vapid and condescending attitudes in the books. Perhaps one day I would take the time to sit down and scrap the current system completely. I may not have Luna’s sense for politics and systems, but I could at least try.
What’s the point? a voice whispered in the back of my mind. It won’t go anywhere, and you know it.
I sighed and nodded my head, just once, before moving on from the idea entirely.
The day I met her was the day everything turned on its head. Twilight Sparkle, who destroyed the roof of the south-east tower at my school. Twilight Sparkle, who danced around the room, positively glowing with joy when, on a whim, I asked if she would be my personal student. Twilight Sparkle, the little unicorn filly that began to crack the shell I had so carefully constructed.
She was just so different from the grating nobility I normally dealt with. My student had boundless enthusiasm and a burning passion for knowledge that I couldn’t help but approve of. Though Twilight Sparkle could sometimes get a little too…involved…in her studies, she was nothing but joyful and genuine, which was a far cry from the Canterlot elite. Every achievement she made cracked my shell even further, filling me with a warm sense of pride. The filly was truly a joy to teach. When I was around her my smiles came so much more easily, and the compliments and constructive criticism I gave her were phrased in the best way to spark her drive to improve.
Time passed quickly when I was with Twilight, and each day the shell of numbness that had built around me flaked away. I smiled and laughed and cherished the time we spent together like nothing else. Even the mundane day-to-day tasks I had to oversee went by more quickly than they did previously. The colours started bleeding back into the world, and I made no move to stop the flow. The last time I had been close to a normal pony was hundreds of years ago, and he hadn’t even been a very dear friend. Twilight Sparkle was something more, something I couldn’t quite place, but I didn’t let the strange feeling concern me. I taught her much, and she delved headfirst into her studies more than ever before, and I merely sat back and observed as this feeling grew, before one day it struck me: It was love. Twilight Sparkle was like the daughter I could never have, and it was maternal affection that was breaking away this shell of mine.
This made me a lot more nervous than it should have, and part of me wanted the feeling gone. I hadn’t experienced an emotion of this intensity in so long that it was almost overwhelming, and that frightened me, bringing me down to earth from the lofty skies of ignorance that I had soared through. I had been in this situation before, and I couldn’t afford to let it happen again. Pony lives were so short and fleeting compared to my own, and if I let someone get too close it would only end in pain.
But Twilight needs someone.
She can’t be all alone in the world.
I won’t listen!
Face it, Celestia; you are just as lonely as she is.
You need someone. You don’t have Luna anymore.
Don’t you think I know that? I recall all too well just what happened to my dear sister, and I dread to think of what will happen soon enough, but Twilight is another matter. She is a normal pony, and will age and die in the blink of an eye, and I know that if I invest too much of my heart in her it will only be broken.
Part of me wanted to let it happen. I had been rejecting my emotions long enough, tucking them under a threadbare rug, that they were all equally strange now. It took much more effort than it should to tell them apart, and who’s to say that the same thing wouldn’t apply to pain as well? I had seen so many ponies come and go during my lifetime, and Twilight Sparkle would be just another of these, albeit one that I was a little closer to than average.
Some things just happen, Celestia. Let it be.
And so I did.
Slowly I became to accept my relationship with Twilight Sparkle. I don’t think she ever saw me as anything more than a mentor, but in the absence of her true parents being around, I did my best to fill that role in between my royal duties. She grew quickly both physically and in magical power, her proficiency over magic racing forward at a rate even I hadn’t expected. As her skills blossomed, nothing at all could keep her away from her books, and I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t appear to have any friends. Aside from myself and her assistant, Twilight barely talked to anyone else, and this worried me. Weren’t mares her age supposed to have a roaring social life?
I began to hint at her lack of outside contact, trying not to let Twilight see my concern, but she brushed off the questions by putting her studies above all else. I didn’t know what to do. By this point I had realised that she could very well embody the Element of Magic, but friendship was needed to create the spark of harmony that she would need to truly discover her potential. I couldn’t outright tell her that she needed to make some friends, could I? No, she would take offense, or panic and think that I meant something was wrong with her. I mulled over this situation for months, and the Summer Sun Celebration was creeping ever closer. Nightmare Moon would be released from her thousand year slumber, and without the aid of the Elements of Harmony, I knew that I didn’t have the power or the heart to stop her. If I destroyed Nightmare Moon, it would mean abandoning the only chance I had to return my sister to her senses, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Luna once and for all.
When Twilight came to me with what she had found out about the Mare in the Moon, it was a mere day before the Celebration, and I did the only thing I could, ordering her off to Ponyville to meet the ponies she had waited her whole life to meet, though she didn’t even know it. I could only pray that there was enough time for the fragile strands of a tentative friendship to form.
When Twilight left, I felt as if a piece of my heart had left with her. I could barely focus on my work, and was filled with remorse about the way I had heavy-hoofedly manipulated the poor child. She might have been a grown mare by some standards, but her innocence and naivete were that of a much younger pony. She had been sheltered all her life, alone in the castle save for a baby dragon and an immortal princess, even if it was her own choice to isolate herself. I paced my chambers that evening, unable to sleep and thanking the heavens that rest wasn’t essential to my functioning. The hours were molasses, thick and slow, and it took an eternity until the time came to leave. Taking to the air, I did my best to not seem to impatient to reach Ponyville, even though my heart was racing, and the blood pumping in my ears, drowning out the sounds of flight. As I raced through the night, the wind chilling my bones, I did my best to empty my mind, but to no avail. As I touched down behind the town hall, making my way for the side entry to stand behind the curtain, I didn’t even notice as tendrils of sparkling blue mist crawled out from the shadows. As they took hold of me, the world vanished.
Everything was burning, pain filling my senses as I screamed. I could feel everything and nothing, sensations flowing into me with excruciating rapidity. My mane whipped around my face, blinding me with white-hot pastels, and my whole body shuddered as it struggled to adjust. The sun was part of me, but it was fighting my presence off as if I were an infection in its heart. As I let out a silent, breathless howl, my world exploded into painful clarity.
I was the sun, and the sun was me. We were a single being, as it had originally been, and finally we were whole. A comforting warmth flowed around my unconscious body, returning the charred and blackened skin to smooth and perfect white. Threads of light from the heart of the sun broke off, burrowing into my body to form my coat, mane and tail, the opaque light flowing gently in the solar wind. It had been so long since I had returned to my home, and the sensation of being disconnected from my body was alien to me. For a moment I panicked, the great star flaring unintentionally.
There was a barrier holding me in place, not allowing the golden light of the sun access to Equestria. My magic reached out, carefully probing the wall and shuddering at the ring of nothingness that surrounded me. It was as if there was simply a split in the fabric of the universe, forming a perfect sphere that sucked in light and heat with no end to its capacity. I could not move from my beautiful sun until whoever trapped me here decided to release me, and I knew with depressing certainty that it would never happen.
Was this what it was like for Luna? Had I trapped my sister for a thousand years in a sphere of emptiness, alone and fully conscious, with her only company being an enraged and psychotic facet of her personality? There would have been none of the warmth my prison gave me, merely cold and unrelenting rock. Nightmare Moon had sealed away the light of the sun, and I could not see the green and blue surface of my wonderful world from here, but I had not given Luna that simple courtesy. She had been bitter and twisted, yes, and that part of her had taken over, but I should have found another way to deal with things. I had a duty to protect my little sister, and I had failed.
Guilt and shame washed over me, borne on the tides of sorrow, and for the first time in one thousand years, I wept.
Colour flooded back into the world as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Panic threatened to overcome me, but I squashed it into the back of my mind, tucking the rough edges of my emotions away so that I could present the calm and composed mask I wore. I was back in Equestria, that much was certain, and it looked to be merely a few hours since Luna-
No, Celestia, you can’t think of her like that.
-since Nightmare Moon had returned. There were only two possible explanations for my release: That the Elements of Harmony had triumphed, or that Nightmare’s cruelty and hatred had urged her to bring me back to torture me. As the panic surged up my throat once again, I swallowed, reaching out to feel the sun hidden in the sky, but with no force imprisoning it there. Reaching out to the shining orb, a tingling warmth flowed through me as I asked it to return to its star-studded home. It complied happily, rising quickly heavenwards to flood the land with warmth and brightness. I was almost tempted to smile, but there were far more serious matters at hand. With a flash of light, everything came crashing together as I spiralled into eternity.
The castle was a mess, the ancient stone walls a tangled, crumbling mess of vines and weeds. It had been centuries since I had last set hoof in this place, and the aura of chaos emanating from the forest washed over me like a tidal wave, dunking me under a sea of disharmony that made me shiver with repulsion. The urge to turn tail and run away was overpowering, but I had to stand fast, for the sake of my sister, my student and her friends. As I regained my vision, narrowing my eyes against the shadows in the throne room, I could see seven bodies lying on the cold stone floor. My heart pounded fiercely, and I panicked for a moment. Had the Elements of Harmony drained them completely? I tried pressing my concern to the back of my mind, but it wouldn’t budge. All I could do was wait.
Slowly, they began to regain consciousness, and I waited with bated breath for them to rise before vanishing as silently as I could, reappearing in the window. My heart was in my throat as I scanned the new angle for my faithful student, a smile creeping onto my face when we locked eyes. I never thought that I could feel this much warmth for anypony outside my family, and even more shockingly I was slowly realising that I didn’t mind. Everything was coming together once more, and the floodgates were opened to my emotions. Sensations danced through me like leaves caught in the wind - joy, concern, pride for my student and her friends, and no small amount of anxiety - but everything was perfect.
“Princess Celestia!” Twilight’s joyful cry startled me out of my introspection, and I smiled, leaning down to nuzzle her. I could feel the dirt in her mane, and her exhaustion was obvious, but she beamed up at me with the widest smile I had ever seen on the young mare’s face.
“Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student,” I said warmly. “I knew you could do it.” She frowned at me, clearly skeptical at my admission.
“But you told me it was all an old ponytale,” she said, and I sighed inwardly. This would require some explaining, and a sudden wave of nervousness rushed over me. What if Twilight thought I was manipulating her to my own ends? What if she didn’t forgive me for not simply telling her outright about Nightmare Moon’s return? My throat closed up, and for a moment I couldn’t find my voice. Then, throwing caution to the wind, I decided truth would be more valuable than anything else.
“I told you that you needed to make some friends, nothing more,” I said, smiling at my student and dearly hoping that she wouldn’t see, as I did, that I had been manipulative and cunning, pulling strings from the shadows and playing her like a puppet. Tendrils of shame crept into my heart, and I sucked in a nervous breath before continuing. “I saw the signs of Nightmare Moon’s return, and I knew it was you who had the magic inside to defeat her, but you could not unleash it until you let true friendship into your heart.” I paused, watching fearfully for any signs of anger or revulsion from my beloved student, but there was nothing. Twilight smiled at me before turning to her new friends, who beamed happily back. I expelled a breath I hadn’t even been aware I was holding. It was time. “Now if only another will as well.”
All this time I had been trying to ignore the figure in the corner, tendrils of smoke and magic curling off the frail body, but I could not stick my head in the sand for eternity. Drawing in another deep breath and fighting back the nerves that plagued me, I turned to face my sister for the first time in a millennium. “Princess Luna,” I said, carefully walking over to meet her. “It has been a thousand years since I have seen you like this. It’s time to put our differences behind us. We were meant to rule together, little sister.” I took a shallow, shuddering breath and stood, knowing that everything I had hoped for rested on this single moment. “Will you accept my friendship?”
She stared at me for a moment, green eyes narrowed and welling with tears, and I couldn’t move. Every limb had turned to lead, rooting me to the ground, and I flinched internally. If she decided that she never wanted to see me again, I would accept it as the punishment I so richly deserved. My eyes slid shut before snapping open a moment later in surprise. Somepony barrelled into me, and I felt a wetness against my chest that I knew came from tears.
“I’m so sorry!” Luna exclaimed, nuzzling me close. “I’ve missed you so much big sister.” My vision blurred as tears blinded me, and I hugged her tight. In that moment I felt like I could float away, and a bubbling joy filled my body. I wanted to laugh and cry and scream, and I couldn’t decide what to do except hold my wonderful sister as close as I could and never let go of her again.
“I’ve missed you too.”
Neither of us quite knew how to act around the other, and the nervousness and awkwardness was almost overwhelming. One thousand years is a long time, even in the lifespan of an immortal being. I wanted to apologise so badly, my self-loathing and anger creeping to dangerous levels, but it seemed like there was never a spare moment. My duties kept me away from my sister, and I vowed that I would overhaul the entire system to spend even a day with her. I needed to tell her how much I regretted the things I had done and the way I had treated her. I should have been a better sister, and I should have taken her concerns and feelings seriously. Even though I knew she was hurting, I had allowed my pride and disregard injure her more than anything else ever would. After what seemed like an eternity, I cleared my schedule for an afternoon and set out to find Luna. It was time to heal us both.
“Luna?” I called hesitantly, not wanting to enter her chambers without permission. There was a rusting of bedsheets from within the room, and then the door creaked open with a dark blue glow.
“Tia?” my sister groaned as I entered, pushing her mane out of her eyes. “Do you have any idea what time of day it is?”
I paused for a moment, internally berating myself. How could I have forgotten that my sister was nocturnal? “I’m sorry, dear sister, but I’m afraid I need to talk to you. I’ve been meaning to have this conversation for a long while, but my duties have kept me far too busy. I have only freed the afternoon. My apologies.”
Luna smiled sleepily. “It is alright, big sister. What is it you wish you speak about?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her bleary eyes.
“I need to apologise,” I said simply, not waiting to see her reaction before launching into my speech. “I came to realise just how badly I had treated you while Nightmare Moon had imprisoned me in the sun, and I can’t bear that I have done the same to you for such a long period of time! Sister, could you ever forgive me?”
I turned to face her, tears filling my eyes as I thought of all the injustices I had made her suffer, my shoulders quivering. She wouldn’t forgive me, I just knew it, and she would never want to see me again. I would exile myself as I rightly deserved and give her all the space she could ever need. Equestria would be in good hooves. Luna had always been a better ruler than me. All that I had suffered had been a drop in the ocean of what my sister had struggled through, and I was only now coming to realise it. How had I been so blind? Was I that self-absorbed? I had barely spared a thought for Luna through all the centuries that passed. All I had worried about was what would happen when Nightmare Moon escaped, not what had happened to Luna. It never crossed my mind to wonder if she was safe or sane, or even whether she had regained control and was sitting up there, waiting for me.
“Tia,” she said, expression grim. “My anger burned out long ago, and while there may be things I resent a little, I love you all the same.”
“Luna-” I began, but she glared at me and I hushed, silent tears rolling down my cheeks.
“I know that these problems will not solve themselves, but we have each other. We can heal, but we need each other to do so. I’ve missed you so much, Tia, even after all that has happened.” Her voice wavered for a moment, and I could see her blinking back tears. “Please, let us help each other. I need your friendship, big sister, and you need mine.”
It was all I could do to nod frantically, my words escaping me as I blubbered as gracefully as I could. Luna curled up next to me, and from her warmth came comfort. A piece of myself that had been missing for what seemed like eternity slotted into place once again, shining and perfect. I had so many wrongs to put right, and though I knew it would be a struggle, it would be worth it. Luna had needed a loving and caring sister all those years ago, not one that brushed her troubles off with a laugh. Equestria needs a ruler that can run things with care and attention to detail, not one that barely looks at what is going on around her. I had become a sour and stagnant pool without my sister, and it was time for the river to flow.
Numbness is a poison, creeping and vindictive, always attempting to ensnare you in a shell of dispassionate disregard for the whole world, even those things closest to you. Sometimes I still find it sneaking up on me, but with the help of my beloved sister, we keep each other happy and content. My subjects come and go, but I do my best each and every day to give them the warmth, love and compassion that they so richly deserve, and as the tide pulls back meaning into my existence, I feel content.
With my sister at my side and the sun in the sky, for the first time in over one thousand years I feel whole.