A wisp of smoke, a swirl of green flame, and a scroll appeared before Princess Celestia. Her horn glowed slightly as she caught it in midair with her magic, evaporating the seal and unfurling the latest report from young Twilight Sparkle. She smiled at the innocent and simplistic descriptions of the young student’s adventures in her new home. It never ceased to amaze the princess how the six who possessed some of the most powerful magical forces in Equestria within their very selves led such humble, yet hectic lives.
It had been nearly a year since the six young mares had freed Luna from her twisted self-imprisonment. With Nightmare Moon vanquished, the younger celestial sister had reverted to nearly fillyhood, just as Celestia had remembered her so many years ago, before any hint of jealousy or resentment had sparked behind her eyes. Celestia let the scroll snap back into a tight roll and set it aside, her gaze falling on Luna. The young goddess lay with her forelegs tucked under her, studying a massive history text. Celestia had offered magically transfer her own memories of the millennium that had passed Luna by, but the mare had opted to learn on her own. She wanted to approach the new knowledge in her own way.
Luna looked up, suddenly aware of Celestia's gaze on her. She was lost somewhere in her memories, an empty, ageless look in her eyes. Celestia was combing through the past, searching for something in the massive vault of her personal history. A memory to relive. Luna gently closed the book in front of her, standing and moving closer to her sister. She settled on a cushion facing her sister, moving directly into her line of sight, but Celestia was far away.
“Celestia?” Luna said softly, leaning forward, concern crossing her face. “Sister?”
“Hmm?” Celestia blinked slowly, drawing in a deep breath. Her eyes focused as she brought herself back to the present. “Oh, Luna, I'm sorry. I was... thinking.” She smiled at her little sister. “How are your studies?”
“I've reached the Griffon Treaties,” Luna replied, glancing back at the book. “I can't believe how much I missed.”
“It's been a long thousand years,” Celestia said contemplatively, studying her sister for a moment. She got to her feet, leading the way out to a long balcony that offered views of both the eastern and western horizons. The Sun was settling down into the west, casting long, golden shadows through the city streets. A small crowd of nightly spectators gathered below the balcony to watch the ceremony. Largely tourists, the curious observers had steadily swelled in numbers as word spread that Luna had resumed control of the night. Celestia looked down at Luna with a small, mischievous smile. “Shall we give them a show, sister?”
Luna responded by leaping into the air, hovering a few yards over her sister's head for only a moment before Celestia rose up beside her. The two spiraled around each other in a slow climb, a glow building around them, leaving a trail in their wake. Gold following Celestia, glowing brighter as the Sun slowly sank below the horizon, bathing them in a fading red light. Pale blue following Luna, its intensity growing as the Moon climbed into the eastern sky.
The sisters glided back to their balcony, leaving their spiral of light fading in the sky, and stood at the rail to acknowledge the applause and cheers of adoration from their subjects. Laughter bubbled up from somewhere deep inside Luna, the warmth and acceptance she'd felt from the majority of Equestria's citizens, particularly those in Canterlot, still overwhelmed her at times. She leaned against Celestia and nuzzled her shoulder, an intimate gesture of affection that Celestia was proud to accept, and reciprocate, in front of the crowd. In truth, not everyone had been so thrilled by Luna's return, though she did her best to shield the princess from the harsher, and more suspicious words that had been whispered, and even printed about her. Any display the common pony could relate to was better off seen.
Luna turned back toward the doors with a happy sigh, trotting inside to head to her private quarters for a ritual she preferred to keep to herself. Celestia trailed behind, settling into a softly cushioned seat out of sight of the crowd below as Luna vanished through the massive study doors. Bringing out the stars was something Celestia had done in a vast, sweeping gesture of magic. Something she had never given much thought to. From the moment she returned, though, even before she felt ready to lift the Moon on her own, Luna asked to have that ritual to herself. Celestia agreed, though she requested to witness the rite at first. In truth, she herself was not quite ready to place immediate trust in her sister.
“They were all I had up there,” Luna had said quietly the first night they stepped out onto the small terrace that adjoined Luna's private quarters. There was a sad, distant look in the mare's eyes as she looked up at the moon. “I know each one of those stars by name, I know their histories, just as intimately as I know the moon itself. As intimately as you know the sun, and our Equestria. I want to greet them each individually as night settles into itself. Doesn't a close friend deserve at least that small respect?”
Celestia could say nothing in response, she just nodded and watched as Luna slipped into a deep meditation, her horn, and shortly after, her entire body, radiated with a deep violet glow. One by one the stars appeared, and one by one, Celestia saw the individuality in them. The variations in color, in intensity, in light. For all the ages she had performed the rite herself, she had never taken the time to see and feel just what she was doing. Watching Luna's work that first night moved her to tears. Every night since, she had made sure to watch as Luna worked her magic to bring forth the stars. She was learning their beauty in a way only Luna could teach.
As the first stars began to appear, Celestia allowed herself to slip into her own meditation. She fell back into the memories she'd recovered before their evening ritual, her mind slipping directly back into that night. Luna, still a filly, though tall and slender as Celestia had been, bent over a chart of the night sky, their tutor waiting patiently as she picked out and named the constellations. Celestia had long since moved on to charting their seasonal migrations, and studying the magic it took to pull them into sight of Equestria each night, and sat pouring over her own notes not far away.
“Where do they go?” Luna asked, looking up at their tutor. His name was long lost to Celestia, though she prided herself on the length and clarity of her memory, pieces often went missing.
“Why, they don't go anywhere,” the kind old stallion said with an amused smile. Celestia considered the question a little more carefully. Wondering why she herself hadn't ever thought to pose it.
“But we don't see them during the day,” Luna pointed out, touching the star chart gently with a hoof. “Surely they must go somewhere, or we'd see them all the time.”
“They hide from the Sun,” came the answer, a deep soothing voice from the doorway. Their father, Nebulous. A tall, handsome stallion with a deep night-blue coat that shone with tiny points of light like the stars themselves. The memory of him in his prime, radiating a power and mystery that she had never been fully comfortable with, made the princess tremble, but she didn't retreat, she held the memory of him, studying him as he was. Luna had been his favorite, Celestia knew, they shared a bond the elder sister would never touch. Their mother, Galaxia, shared the same bond with Celestia. He crossed the room to stand beside his younger daughter. “The Sun is a star too, a glorious star that none of them will ever outshine, and they know it. So they hide, and give the Sun center stage.”
“But-” Luna frowned down at the chart spread out before her. “There are so many, and only one Sun.”
“Yes there is,” Nebulous said, his voice high and knowing, telling some private joke beyond the girl's years. Their mother's light, tinkling laughter resounded through the room from the doorway. She was radiant, the colors of a clear dawn sky. She glowed like the Sun itself, and suddenly Celestia, as an adult, understood his father's implications. Her mother truly was the Sun. She crossed the room to Nebulous, her eyes closing gently as she nuzzled his cheek. Their simple, pure gesture of love wrenched the white mare out of her memory and back into the present. She looked up at the sky, now filled with stars, but it was too much like her vision of her father, and she looked down to find that her tears had stained the cushion she reclined on. Celestia hadn't even realized she was weeping.
“I was thinking about them too,” Luna said quietly. Her closeness startled Celestia, she hadn't heard the young mare return.
“Do you think of them often?” Celestia asked, recovering herself. She moved to the side, allowing space for Luna to join her.
“All the time,” her voice was softer than usual as she settled down on the cushion. Celestia was reminded of when her younger sister first returned. How timid and reluctant she had been at everything she did. She had been afraid to rejoin the world.
“You were their favorite you know,” Celestia said with a smile, bumping Luna's shoulder lightly.
“Dad's maybe,” Luna blushed.
“Mother's too, I think,” the elder sister said, nothing but honesty in her voice. “She and I were closer because she was grooming me to take her place, just as father groomed you. Mother had this way of looking at you, especially when you weren't paying attention. There was so much love and compassion in that look. She had so much love and compassion.”
“Celestia,” Luna looked up at her sister, her voice darkening. “You have no idea how much they loved you. They knew what I had in me, and what I was capable of. If they appeared to favor me it was only out of fear of what I would become. They wanted to prevent it.”
Celestia looked at her sister, unsure of how to respond. They held each other's gaze for a moment, a silent understanding passing between them. They sat together without speaking, lost in their own private recollections.
“You should get some rest,” Luna said, breaking their silence. She frequently had to remind Celestia to do so, it had been so long since the elder sister had allowed herself any sort of respite. Reluctantly, the sun princess rose to her hooves, stretching for a moment and looking up at the sky.
“Your night is far more beautiful than anything I am capable of, Luna,” Celestia smiled, closing her eyes for a moment and breathing the night air deeply. She opened her eyes and turned toward her sister, bending down to nuzzle her cheek. “It seems criminal to sleep through it at all.”
Luna blushed, but said nothing. Celestia looked down at her and smiled, feeling pure gratitude for having her sister ruling beside her once again. Exactly as it was meant to be. She stepped back inside, moving through the study, extinguishing lights as she went, so Luna could enjoy the darkness she so loved. As she closed the doors quietly behind her, she realized there was someone waiting for her at the end of the hallway.
“Temperance,” she said as she reached the parchment-colored unicorn. “It's a bit late for you to be working, don't you think?” He snorted dismissively in response.
“There's something you need to see, your highness,” he levitated a newspaper before the princess, she hadn't noticed it tucked at his side. An article was circled, an editorial, tucked away in a page reserved for gossip and near-slander. Which is what it was, gossip and slander with little regard for the truth. Celestia scanned it, her expression growing darker as she absorbed its content. The article questioned her title, it asked why should she choose to hold the title of Princess with the King and Queen, presumably the parents of both herself and Luna, so far lost as to even be unremembered by the general populous. “With no greater power in Equestria, why should she retain a secondary title?” The article was poorly researched, Celestia couldn't help but scoff at the bastardization of her parent's names. Galaga and Noctem? Their existence was well documented in the dustier, less frequented sections of the Canterlot libraries, whatever hack was behind this shoddy article clearly hadn't bothered to set hoof there. Every couple of centuries some upstart looked for holes in her facade, some hint at darkness behind the palace gate. Every one of them posed the same question; “What is Celestia hiding?” They were quickly quelled, however.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Temperance,” Celestia said, thinking of how to solve this particular niggling problem. “Order a retraction, of course. And a correction of my poor parents' names, please,” she thought out loud. “Why don't you pay a personal visit to the paper for this one, I'd like you to escort this reporter back here tomorrow. I wish to speak with them myself.” Temperance paused, casting a questioning look toward the princess. She stopped and turned to face him, her voice firm, commanding. “I want whatever pony wrote this to be brought to me tomorrow, after Luna has gone to rest for the day. Do you understand me, Temperance?”
“Yes, your majesty,” Temperance gave a small bow, magically folding the newspaper up and lowering it to his side.
“That will be all,” Celestia dismissed him, whirling away and striding to her own private quarters. She could feel a hint of fear in Temperance from where he stood behind her, watching her depart. A smile twitched on her lips after she passed her private guards, who closed the doors behind her.
Luna took her leave a bit earlier than usual the following morning. Yawning and bleary-eyed, she retreated to her quarters with a murmured excuse. Celestia arranged herself on her throne for the day’s visitors. Petitioners in the morning, largely courtiers presenting the troubles of their families and communities. Some small and simply solved, some that would take more thought and planning. There was never a petitioning pony who left the royal chambers without a smile on their face, though. Celestia made sure of that. After the last made his way out of the room, Temperance appeared in the doorway, a meaningful look on his face. Celestia nodded and he ducked back out.
“Thank you for your service this morning,” Celestia said to the aids in the room. “You are free to take the rest of the day off. I will see you all tomorrow.” With a happy and surprised thanks, the half-dozen aids bounded out of the room. Moments later Temperance entered again, this time with a young, slender, cream colored unicorn following behind him. The young mare had an elegant haughtiness about her that Celestia instantly despised. She was unimpressed with the royal chamber, her heavy lidded eyes carrying a look if disinterest from behind the long, red mane that hung fashionably over one side of her face.
“Your highness, I present Babbles,” Temperance bowed, gesturing to the pony he'd brought in with him. “Columnist for Pony Quarterly magazine, and editorialist for the Canterlot Evening Post under the pen name of Axiom.” The mare made no gesture of humility before the princess, simply stood, looking around her, taking in the room, the guards, the princess herself, with a hint of defiance. She was looking for whatever it was she had attempted to accuse the princess of in that poorly thrown together article.
“Thank you, Temperance,” Celestia stood and descended the steps from her throne. “You are dismissed.” Temperance hesitated for a moment before retreating. Celestia stood before the mare and frowned. “Have you no respect? Manners? One should bow before their ruler.” Babbles' mouth twitched with the barest hint of a smirk, and she dipped her head slightly, briefly, before squaring her shoulders and tilting her head to regard the princess.
“I didn't think my article would get such a personal response,” Babbles said. “The Post is printing a retraction in tonight's edition. I lost my job.”
“As you should have,” Celestia said simply. She walked in a slow, wide circle around the mare. A predator sizing up her prey. “That was lazy, poorly researched, and haphazardly thrown together. You failed to even get my parents' names correct. They are, for the record, Queen Galaxia and King Nebulous. If you had bothered to open any number of books on the subject you would have learned plenty about them. They created this world we call home, the very universe it resides in. They were the perfect compliment to each other. My mother was the light of the sun itself, and my father as dark as a moonless night.” Babbles had no response to offer, just a casual, flippant toss of her mane. Celestia reached out with her mind, casting an invisible magic towards the offending mare and searching her. In a matter of seconds she had taken inventory of every corner of Babbles’ mind. The poor thing didn’t stand a chance. Celestia stopped pacing and turned to face her. “What is it you accuse me of, exactly, child.”
“You're hiding something,” Babbles said simply.
“I have lived for thousands of years,” Celestia said, her voice low. “If I were to share all that I have seen and heard and done, the horror and evil that has passed before my eyes, the purity and good that has come and gone, it would bring you to your knees in terror.” Babbles swallowed, growing steadily more unsure of herself. Celestia smiled.
“Why did you bring me here,” Babbles asked, her voice quavered.
“You are in need of a reeducation, Babbles,” Celestia pointed out. “Your knowledge of the world is small, and it is small knowledge that leads us to bad ends. I believe in the greater good. I have always been a mare concerned with the larger picture. My sister cares for the details, she fusses over them, she always has, and look at the path it led her down. You need a sense of the larger picture, child. The greater good.” Celestia turned toward her throne, but veered her course to the right of the stair, past her immobile and impassive guards to a blank expanse of marbled wall. Celestia's horn glowed briefly, and the outline of a door appeared, swinging open for the princess to enter. Babbles instinctively followed.
The pair passed into a long, cool corridor. There were no windows, no lanterns, Celestia lit the way with the glow of her horn. The pale golden light in the black hall gave a foreboding, otherworldly air to the place. Babbles shivered.
A thick wooden door swung open at the end of the hall, a dim light pouring toward them as it opened into the room beyond. A low, constant beep and the whrr of some strange machine filled Babbles with a sense of dread. Whatever they were coming to, she didn't want to see. Her breathing grew shallow as they neared that doorway, and her mind screamed at her to turn and run, but she was propelled forward, perhaps by Celestia herself.
“You wish to know why I retain the title of Princess of Equestria,” Celestia said as they entered the room.
Two beds, harsh metal rails and thin mattresses. Heavy restraints attached to them. Wires and monitors. Those were what Babbles registered first. She then took in the forms that lay there. A sickly pale mare, ancient, but still with an air of regality. Her horn severed inches above the base, her wings bound tightly to her side. A blue-black stallion, peppered with grey splotches, his horn also missing, though it seemed broken, as opposed to the clean, clinical cut of the mare's. One of his wings was missing, the other bound to his side just as the mare's wings were bound to hers. He lifted his head, dragging a series of tubes, the largest roughly pushed down his throat, his muzzle tied around it, and looked at Babbles and Celestia weakly.
“Nebulous,” Babbles breathed.
“King Nebulous,” Celestia corrected. “And Queen Galaxia. I can hardly call myself queen with her laying here still breathing, can I. Your article did get one thing right, though. There is no greater power in Equestria than myself.”
“You did this,” Babbles could scarcely hear her own voice. It barely registered above the machines that filled the room. Strange contraptions that Babbles couldn't quite comprehend, but she somehow knew they were what kept the two gods in this state. They looked old, withered, like ruins aged hundreds of thousands of years. There was still a hint of their former glory, the sad, fading light of a dying lantern burned within Galaxia, as though she were slowly being extinguished. The grey flecks covering Nebulous' coat flickered and winked out completely at times. Babbles backed away in horror.
“Yes, Babbles,” Celestia said, leaning over the creature that had once been her mother. “I could see the larger picture. I could see what was coming. They couldn't see that their youngest daughter would threaten the well being of the world they had birthed. They had grown so far out of touch with their mortal subjects that they had no sense of the devastation that would befall the ponies of Equestria with Nightmare Moon's rise. I had to take power, to save us all, and I took it by force. But for all my power and magic, I cannot end the lives of greater gods than myself, only keep them subdued.”
Tears streamed from Babbles face, her young mind struggling to grasp the gravity of what was taking place. She felt the pain the two defeated gods radiated, felt their immense lifespan spread out before her like a bottomless canyon. She felt herself tipping into it, being drawn forward by a silent, invisible plea for help, a seed being planted in her mind through the gaze of the dark stallion who continued to stare at her.
“Temperance,” Celestia said quietly. The unicorn stepped out from the shadows, a black and grey stallion stepped out beside him, barely visible in the dim light of the room, only his obsidian horn caught Celestia's eye as it reflected the light from one of the machines. “I think you and Fugue should take our dear friend Babbles for a walk. You know what needs to be done.” The pair bowed to the princess and stepped forward, pressing in on both sides of the frozen, horrorstruck mare. They led her from the room, slack jawed and vacant eyed. Celestia watched them go, closing the door behind them before turning back to her father.
“I understand now,” she said, leaning over him. He laid his head back down, the beeping of the monitor beside him increasing as his heart rate spiked. “You didn't favor Luna, you feared me. Both of you. You didn't know what she would become, you knew what I would do to you. You saw the true darkness in me, didn't you, Father, and it terrified you. And you fear me still.” A soft whinny escaped from Galaxia at the signs of her mate's distress. Celestia whirled on the ancient mare, her voice low and sinister. “You surrendered willingly. Don't you ever forget that. Where he fought you laid down without a murmur of dissent. And one day I will learn the magic that will erase you from this plane, and I will be queen.”
Celestia extinguished the lights in the room and left it, slamming the door behind her. She strode back to the throne room with purpose, satisfied with herself. She wouldn't hear another word out of Babbles. The young mare would be lucky if she remembered how to levitate a pen in the air after Fugue worked his magic on her mind.
With a quick spell she concealed the door once again and left the chamber, making her way through the palace to her study. As she expected, a scroll lay on her reading stand, another quaint and charming lesson of friendship, and the perfect way to cleanse her mind before Luna woke. Celestia settled herself before the stand and opened the scroll, smiling to herself at the words of her beloved student.
Thank you to whoever drew this
Also, Babbles is a character of mine, role played at Canterlot Forums, but this story has nothing to do with her actual history. I just needed a snobby reporter, and Babbles fits the bill.