The Game of Princesses
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(Previous fic: Idle Luna)
Twilight Sparkle was blindfolded, hooves tied to the chair she was sitting in. Without sight, her other senses were heightened, feeling the cold wood underneath her and the rope chafing her fetlocks. She smelled vellum and apples, and tasted the dry summer air coming in from outside. She could barely hear another pony’s breathing over her own, somewhere behind her.
The brief sound of wood sliding against hard rock caught Twilight’s attention, making her ear twitch. She reached out with her magic. The glow from her horn pierced the cloth she wore, making her vision under the blindfold go from black to a faint violet. She made only the most minute of movements with her magic, and was rewarded with that same sliding sound. She waited. A new sound, a more audible clack, reached her ears. She reached out with her magic again, creating that same sliding sound from before. This pattern of call-and-response repeated, Twilight’s reaction always immediate, but the calls coming further and further apart.
Slide. Clack. Slide. Clack. Clack. Slide. Slide. Slide-click-clack.
A frustrated snort echoed louder than the soft noises heard earlier. The clack that followed was also distinctly louder. Twilight smiled. Click-clack. Twilight heard something hit the ground hard in response, and the other pony in the room let out her breath. Slide. Slide. Twilight said a single word, breaking her silence, “Checkmate.”
A stunned silence followed Twilight’s proclamation. Twilight began to undo the knots on her ropes with her magic, and got up from the chair, sliding the blindfold up. She turned to face the other pony, and just smiled at her.
After a long silence, Applejack finally spoke, “Shoot, Twi’. When I said you could probably beat me blindfolded with all yer hooves tied behind yer back, I didn’t think you’d take that as an invitation. An’ I definitely didn’t think you’d tie yerself up like that.”
Twilight blushed, “Sorry, I got caught up in the moment. As soon as you said Granny Smith taught you how to play chess, I just had to play a game. The blindfold is actually a traditional handicap.” Her horn glowed again, and the wooden pieces began rearranging themselves on the marble board in the library. “I played a lot of chess back at school. Oooh! I should start a chess club here in Ponyville!” Twilight’s favorite clipboard and quill floated over, and Twilight began scribbling methodically, “Applejack, did you want to be the first member of the Ponyville Chess Club? Oh, I’m going to need a lot more chess sets.”
Applejack was rescued by the sound of the library door opening. Spike walked in, holding a scroll bearing the royal seal, “Hey Twilight, the Princess sent you a letter.” He launched into his narrator’s voice as he unrolled the scroll, “My faithful student, Twilight Spark- hey wait! This letter doesn’t start out that way at all! It just starts ‘Twilight Sparkle’!”
“Really? Let me see that, Spike.” The scroll floated over to Twilight, “Huh? It’s from Princess Luna.” She began reading the letter aloud.
Sister Celestia has been insistent that we get to know each other better, for obvious reasons. This letter was initially a simple attempt to placate her, but as I wrote it and each successive draft, I gained a greater understanding of my self and the new life you have given me. So allow this to be my report to you, on the heart you endured so much to save. The six of you returned me to my sister, and for that I am in your debt.
Canterlot gave me a warm and open welcome, and my new home is quite the marvel. Celestia said she would provide me a blank slate, and meant it. When she introduced me to my new bedroom, it was completely bare, with no furniture or even a carpet! I ended up just taking stuff from a nearby guest room and putting it in mine. It is just as well, I suppose, as I have been sleeping more in the gardens or clouds than inside. I missed grass, the way it feels under my hooves, the way it brushes against me when I lay in it. Grass is a silly thing to get sentimental over, but it’s a good kind of silly.
Because of everything that has happened, I have no pressing desire to return to my traditional position as princess of the moon. I have trotted that path before, and know where it leads. Sis has been insistent that I take up some slack, so we compromised. You will be the first pony to know that I raised the sun for eighteen of the past twenty-two dawns now. How she manages to do it without exploding into flame, she won’t tell me, but it has been good fun all around. She even slept in this morning, and for the first time in some ten thousand years got to be woken up by the sun instead of the other way around. It nearly sent her into a panic, it was so cute.
The Day of Remembrance is in a few weeks, and for my first year back we decided the location would be Whinnychester - you might know it better as the castle where my sister and I were reunited. I would like you and your friends to join us for an outing. We didn’t get to speak much at the celebration, so I’m eager to know the six of you better.
There was a long silence between the two ponies and the baby dragon.
Eventually Applejack blurted out, “The princess wants us to go to the Everfree Forest for a picnic!?”
Princess Luna was thoroughly enjoying herself in the center of the grounds at Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. And not just because the chair she was sitting in was fun to spin around in.
Surrounding her were six chessboards, a pony across from her at all but one, and a small crowd surrounded the five players. Every so often one of the players would stand up from a completed game, bow, and vacate the spot for another eager player to fill.
Luna spun around in the chair she was sitting in, getting a quick glance at each of the ponies at the boards. The young mare seemed more interested in seeing her new princess up close than actually playing the game, but Luna didn’t mind - she had prepared herself for all sorts of attention as an unfortunate side effect of this excursion. The young blue colt at her left wasn’t especially good either, but had the sense to not listen to his friend behind him and his truly terrible suggestions. In contrast, the group of three next to them were conferring between every move, playing well but without a cohesive plan.
The old professor Luna had played twice earlier today, both throwaway games in an effort to learn the Princess’s style. Now she was mounting a more serious attempt, and holding her own against the Princess in doing so. Lastly, the black filly had been so heartbroken at the prospect of having to give up her seat, Luna allowed her to stay for as many games as she wanted; Luna suspected it would end with the filly getting her cutie mark. The sixth seat was currently empty.
Suddenly every head in view dipped towards the ground. Luna spun two and a half rotations to face the source of the disruption, “Hey Sis.”
“Princess Luna,” Celestia played up her cordial public persona as a path opened up through the small crowd, and Celestia sat herself down at the open table, floating a piece forward. “It’s good to see you getting out of the castle once in a while. How are your games going?”
“It’s been interesting, for all the complaining I’ve subjected you to. It’s like learning the game all over, so I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting.”
A puff of green flame flew in between the two princesses and a scroll materialized out of it, bearing Twilight Sparkle’s personal seal, and a black ribbon tied next to it to indicate the intended recipient, as Spike could only send letters to Princess Celestia for now. Luna instantly unfurled the letter and started reading it.
Dear Princess Luna,
Thank you for the kind words and invitation. After discussing it with my friends, we are all in agreement that there are better places for a get-together than the depths of the Everfree Forest.
Like Ponyville! Maybe you could stop by on the way out there? Or the girls and I could find time to visit you in Canterlot? Applejack won’t be able to come this season because of her brother’s injury, but come winter there should be time. We’ll also be in Canterlot for the Grand Galloping Gala in the spring; maybe we’ll get to see you there. I am very interested in hearing about the magic that’s used to raise the sun and moon; Princess Celestia almost never spoke of it no matter how much I asked.
Your faithful subject,
“Oh.” Luna pouted, giving the scroll to Celestia, “I scared her off. I thought she accompanied you on your Remembrances?”
Celestia sighed, “Not after the first year she was my student. She spent the entire day with her nose in some spellbook I made the mistake of letting into her grasp. She still thinks it’s just another one of my boring old ‘royal duties’. Which I suppose it is, in a way. Ah, she still has so much to learn.”
There was a silence between the two as Luna returned her attentions to the other boards around her. Celestia spoke up, “You know, we don’t actually need a reason to visit Ponyville. We could make a casual visit, say, the day after tomorrow?”
“A casual visit? Princess Celestia, if there’s one thing being out here has taught me, it’s that there’s nothing casual about a visit from royalty. And this is your own school! Ponyville will grind to a complete halt for one of your whims.”
Celestia beamed, “Of course they will. They’re just trying to make the most of their time with me, just like you do.” Celestia snickered, “‘Mount Olympus’, indeed. Other ponies are no different.”
If there was one thing Princess Celestia enjoyed more than bringing the dawn of the sun to Equestria, it was bringing the dawn of comprehension to her sister’s face. Celestia leaned over the table and whispered, “Checkmate.”
Luna looked down at the board, and realized that she was completely and hopelessly lost. She looked back up with a smile.
Luna half-trotted, half-flew down the hallway, wings flapping with every other step. The guards she passed magically sprouted flowers in their manes. Grass grew into the solid stone under her hooves. A few night sparrows flew behind her, accompanying Luna’s song:
Going to Ponyville, going to meet some new friends!
Going to Ponyville, where the fun never ends!
Rounding the corner, a trio of servants chatting amiably came into view. Luna hugged each of them in turn, leaving them with streaks of pink in their manes and tails.
Twilight Sparkle, my sister’s pupil,
Reading books by the windowsill
Luna meandered into the kitchen, where a plate of muffins grew legs and started dancing.
Going to have a party, me and the six,
What’s Pinkie Pie got in her bag of tricks?
Luna sailed out of a nearby window. Paintbrush in mouth, she painted a rainbow trail across the castle’s outer walls.
Rainbow Dash, a wild dreamer,
Only the Wonderbolts will do for her
The golden apple tree came into view. Luna plucked an apple off of it and bit into it, revealing its solid gold core.
The Apples I remember from way back,
Bringing pride to the family is reliable Applejack
Out in the royal gardens, the birds and animals sang and played. Luna blessed them all with tiny red ribbons.
Making her way back inside, Luna spotted the two statues standing guard outside her room. Pulling a curtain off a nearby window, she wrapped the two gargoyles in it, transforming it into a scarf and saddle for one, and a dress for the other.
A lady of the finest taste,
Rarity designs with gemstones and lace
Luna’s burst into the throne room in an explosion of grass, flowers, sparrows, doves, and ravens. Celestia sat in one of the identical twin thrones and arched an eyebrow at her sister’s grand entrance. Luna twirled her way towards the thrones.
Going to Ponyville, with the grandest sister anyone could ask for
Going to Ponyville, let’s go, let’s go, out the door!
“Ah.. about that...” Celestia looked incredibly embarrassed by Luna’s theatrics, even though the only other ponies in the room were guards with flowers for manes. “It seems that an emergency has come up in Fillydelphia, and I’m needed there, before their food supplies are entirely eaten.”
The music stopped. Luna stopped, balanced on one hind leg. The grass Luna tracked into the room immediately died and turned brown. The guards’ flowery manes all wilted, petals falling to the floor. The birds all landed, then quietly filed out of the room on foot. Elsewhere in the castle, a plate of muffins could be seen falling from a high tower. A golden worm poked its head out of a discarded golden apple. Two gargoyles ripped the clothes from their bodies and threw them down in disgust.
A guard entered the room. He saluted Princess Celestia and said something Luna didn’t hear. Celestia nodded and stood, first walking over to Luna. Luna heard her sister’s voice and felt her embrace, but didn’t hear what she said. She did hear the main door shut, Celestia’s presence gone. Luna held her pose for a few extra minutes, out of some stubborn obligation, before going back to standing like a normal pony.
“Well!” she huffed, “I guess I’m heading to Ponyville by myself!” She stalked out of the room, muttering darkly. No guards dared accompany her.
The first thing Luna noticed as she glided towards Ponyville were the clouds of dust and smoke rising above the town. From a distance it looked like normal cloud cover, but as she flew in closer it became apparent that something had gone wrong. Luna landed on the ground to avoid the smell, and walked into town at a fast trot. The buildings had all been damaged, random chunks of them removed. Discarded party materials were strewn throughout the streets.
Luna spotted the ponies she was looking for, five sitting on the ground in shock at the edge of the town square and the sixth playing a mournful tune on her trombone. Luna cantered up to them, calling out, “Twilight Sparkle! What happened here?”
Twilight spun around to face Luna and stammered, “P-Princess Luna! You.. But I thought...” She made wild gestures with her hooves as she sought for the words, “You... I.. Princess Celestia... Ididntdoit!” In a flash of magic, she was gone, leaving her friends bowed and bewildered.
Luna was equally confused, “What...?”
Applejack heaved a sigh, “Don’t pay her no mind, Princess. She’d been strung up tighter ‘n a guitar string about this visit when this happened.” She sunk back onto her haunches, “My barn...” She sniffed.
“So, uh...” Rainbow Dash rustled her wings nervously, “We kinda had a little problem...”
“A big problem!” Pinkie Pie interjected.
“Well, it was more like a lot of little problems...”
“I’ll say! Little problems with mouths and wings and RRRRR om nom nom nom!” Pinkie Pie snapped her teeth at the air.
“And they were so gross!” Rarity came in to add to the story, “Absolutely no sense of decorum at all! Opalescence is going to give me nightmares every time she has a hairball, now.”
“I thought they were cute...” Fluttershy earned the glares of the other four ponies, “I mean.. for a bunch of critters that ate nearly the entire town...”
“So, uh, yeah, that’s pretty much what happened.” Rainbow Dash said. “What did you say they were called again, Pinkie?”
“Parasprites! Like drinks with parachutes! Except instead of drinking, it’s eating, and they’re the ones doing it! They were eating all the food in town, which is normally my job so you can imagine how glad I was when I finally paraded them out of Ponyville!”
Luna faltered trying to follow the conversation, “Um, maybe you could start at the beginning?”
Fluttershy fully recounted the story of how she found a single parasprite yesterday while out gathering flowers. On the way to show her friends, one became three, and Twilight adopted one for her own, eventually providing Rarity and Rainbow Dash with their own. Overnight, each of the four ponies awoke to a home filled with the creatures and their ravenous appetites.
Luna was given numerous descriptions of the swarm of creatures that descended upon Ponyville earlier today, ranging from Fluttershy’s “tiny purring kittens with wings” to Rainbow Dash’s “fuzzy little bottomless pits with eyes”. Rarity described the parasprites’ means of reproduction as a thousand times worse than Spike’s means of delivering letters.
The five friends were hesitant to explain that their first attempt to herd the creatures back into the woods was undone by Fluttershy’s weakness for the cute creatures. They only mentioned it in fairness to the absent Twilight’s mistake of casting a spell to stop the parasprites from eating food, which only caused them to start eating things that weren’t food.
Applejack sighed as she explained what that meant to her, “They ate my entire barn, shingles and all. ‘Least it means we get to have a good ol’ fashioned barn raising, instead of a completely ruined crop of apples.”
Rarity sighed, “Poor Twilight blames herself for that, even though she was just doing what she could. Only Pinkie even recognized what they were, and none of us listened to her.”
Pinkie piped up, “Yup! It took me a while but I did it! Pinkie Pie Piper style! Except I didn’t have a pipe so I had to make do with an accordion, cymbals, a tuba, and a harmonica.”
“Um, Pinkie?” Rarity interjected, “I’m pretty sure that flute you took from my store is a kind of piped instrument.”
“Oh, this thing?” Pinkie produced the flute from somewhere, put it to her lips, and blew. The screeching sound it emitted caused all ponies present to cover their ears. Pinkie then put away the instrument from where it came, “I haven’t the foggiest clue how to play it!” She paused, “I guess I should have thought of that before I-, huh?”
Pinkie stopped, and took her tail into her hooves, where it vibrated rapidly. The other four friends all let out a gasp of recognition. Pinkie’s voice took on a slightly panicked tone when she spoke again.
“My tail’s twitching!”
Five pairs of eyes shot skyward. Only Luna’s were focused on Pinkie’s rapidly vibrating tail, “What-”
“LOOK OUT!” In a flash of blue, Rainbow Dash tackled Luna as a large weathervane from a nearby building toppled over and fell through the air where Luna’s head was. Both ponies tumbled away unharmed, and the others stepped away from the building, out towards the center of the square.
Luna stood up and dusted herself off, “Thank you, Rainbow Dash, but please don’t throw yourself into harm’s way for my sake. Celestia always said I had a thick skull.”
Applejack pulled her hat tight onto her head, “Was that it, Pinkie? Are we in the clear now?”
Pinkie reported, “No, the skies are pretty cloudy today. And my tail is still twitching!”
The other ponies started looking around for shelter from the inevitable, but the only thing in immediate view was a half-eaten gazebo that seemed more likely to be the cause of Pinkie’s twitching than protection from it.
Luna trotted over to the rest of the group, “So what is this nonsense about twitching tails?”
“It’s my Pinkie Sense! Twitchy tail means stuff is gonna fall from the sky!” The other ponies all concurred with Pinkie.
“Oh, is that all?” Luna deliberately walked into the wobbling gazebo, then turned to face the other ponies, “So if Pinkie Pie’s tail is twitching, it means something is going to happen, like this?” She kicked out a rear leg, shattering one of the wooden support beams straining to hold up the roof. The other beams broke almost in unison, and the roof fell straight down onto Luna.
“Princess!” the ponies cried out.
There was a brief moment as the friends glanced at each other nervously. Just as they started to head over to help, a soft blue glow enveloped the fallen roof. It began to rise straight up into the air. In place of the wooden beams, rising out of the ground to support the roof were fluted stone pillars, and somehow the roof had repaired itself during its ascent. Luna flared her wings underneath the newly-rebuilt gazebo, clearly pleased with herself.
Pinkie Pie was the first amongst the awestruck ponies to speak, “Oh wow Princess, way to show that Pinkie Sense who’s boss! Ha! Hoo! Whoa!” Pinkie punched and kicked the air, but overbalanced and fell on her back.
Rainbow Dash fidgeted nervously, still scanning the sky, “Was that it, Pinkie?”
“Yupperoonie! No more twitching!” Pinkie flailed her legs in the air, oblivious to the fact that she was upside down.
The others let out a sigh of relief.
“Oooh! I know!” Pinkie flopped around on her back, looking for all the world like a salmon out of water, “I should take you on a tour of Ponyville! And if I get any more twitchy twitches you can use your moon tiara magic and take ‘em out!”
There was a moment of silence as a bird flew over everypony’s head. Applejack spoke up, “That’s... actually not a bad idea, Pinkie. If them critters had a taste for load-bearing walls we might be in for a heap o’ trouble before things get better.”
“Oh my.” Fluttershy took to the air and started looking around, “I never thought of that - I should check on all the birdhouses and other little animal homes in town to see how they’re doing.” She landed back on the ground and fidgeted, unsure of how to extract herself from the Princess’s presence.
Rarity immediately picked up on Fluttershy’s dilemma, “Indeed! I’ve certainly had enough excitement for one day, and I must be back to my boutique to assess the damage. Hopefully I just need to start cycling in my Spring line a few weeks ahead of schedule. Girls.” Rarity nodded at her friends before turning, “Princess Luna,” Rarity bowed gracefully, “It was an honor meeting you.”
Luna bowed deeply in response, “Thank you.”
The other ponies took their leave, one by one, to tend to their own personal disasters, and Pinkie Pie bounced off, Princess Luna following behind her.
Pinkie bounced and Luna walked down the streets of Ponyville. Pinkie was wearing her umbrella hat and Luna had transformed her crown into a dark blue hard hat with a shining jewel in its center. The two passed the occasional passerby - most bowed, some stared, but Pinkie Pie always made it a point to grab them and introduce them to Princess Luna, and Luna to them. Pinkie knew every pony in Ponyville, which meant that each conversation took a different and random direction, shepherded along by Pinkie.
A short distance away, a pair of stout earth ponies were instructing a mixed group on how to lay bricks and repair walls and chimneys. The words “twitchy tail” had quickly spread throughout Ponyville, and everypony was following the princess’s fashion statement as a result: Hard hats were in today.
Off to the side of the road was a... thing... made of fused brick and mortar. Bricks stuck out of it at odd angles, and it was set into a dried puddle of mortar on the ground. Three young fillies were looking at it with disappointed expressions.
“Well,” said the orange pegasus, “I guess we aren’t getting any cutie marks for bricklaying.”
“Ah reckon.” said the yellow earth pony.
The white unicorn shot her friend a disapproving stare, “Apple Bloom, you’ve been saying that all day! What’s a reckon anyway!”
“But Sweetie Belle, my uncle Honey Crisp says it all the time, so it’s got to mean somethin’ important!” Apple Bloom paused for a minute before adding, “Ah reckon.”
“I’ll tell you what a reckon is. It’s this thing. It’s a wreck on the ground.” The pegasus buzzed her wings in annoyance.
“Ya got that right, Scootaloo. Ah mean, ah reckon.”
Pinkie Pie bounced up to the trio, “Hiya Crusaders! What’s crusadering today?”
“Oh, hi Pinkie.” said Sweetie Belle. “Um, this was supposed to be a new doghouse for Daisy’s dog Duke. Before that we were trying for our bug-catching cutie marks.”
“Bugs ate the net.” Scootaloo lamented.
“And before that was golf.”
“Bugs ate our clubs. And the balls. And the hole.”
“And before that...” Sweetie Belle looked thoughtful, “...we were trying to make pasta. At least, I think it was pasta.”
“Bugs wouldn’t eat it.” Scootaloo sat on the ground, looking dejected.
There was only one thing Apple Bloom could add to that, “Ah reckon.”
“And Apple Bloom’s been saying that all day. So is your day going better than ours?” Sweetie Belle looked up with something resembling hope in her eyes.
Pinkie Pie bounced as she spoke, “Oh, you know, the usual: Having my biggest party since last Tuesday eaten by bugs. Being a one-pony marching band. Escorting a princess around town. Oh! Speaking of royalty,” for the first time the fillies noticed the midnight blue pony that had followed Pinkie into the conversation, “This is Princess Luna! Princess Luna, these are the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle.”
The three fillies crowded around the princess, eyes wide. They had no concept of personal space or respect for royalty, and Pinkie Pie wasn’t likely to correct them anytime soon. Luna was torn between backing away slowly or gathering them up in a hug.
Normally, awed onlookers stared at her magnificent horn, long feathered wings, or alternated between both. Luna was used to that. Luna suddenly noticed that the three fillies were staring at her flank, and she was distinctly uncomfortable with that.
Before Luna could formulate any kind of coherent objection, Scootaloo asked, “So is it just the moon that’s your cutie mark or is it the entire stuff around it, too?”
Oh, okay. That’s a little less creepy. “Yes, it’s the night sky.”
The three fillies let out a harmonized “Oooooh.”
Scootaloo turned to her two friends, “You thinking what I’m thinking, Crusaders?”
“Ah reckon.” Apple Bloom paused, “But how are we gonna get our own moon cutie marks when it’s day out?”
Scootaloo sighed, “No, you dummy! The princess is taking a tour of Ponyville, right? And she’s gonna need an escort!”
Luna tried to interject, “Excuse me, I do not-”
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER ROYAL GUARDS, YAY!”
Twilight appeared in a flash in the center of the library. Shaking herself out of her daze she ran over to the front door and latched it shut. She spotted her assistant walking down the stairs, books in claw, “Spike! You gotta hide me!”
Spike immediately dropped the books he was carrying, “Oh no! Is it those bugs? Are they back?” He gasped, “Did.. Did they turn carnivorous?”
“Worse than that, Spike! The Princess is here! I mean, the other Princess! Princess Luna!” Twilight began to pace around the room.
“Oh no! Did Princess Luna turn carnivorous?”
“No, but she’s going to have my head when she finds out Ponyville’s in ruins because of me! Augh, I should have known what those parasprites were! I should have listened to Pinkie when she knew! And I can’t believe I botched the spell, causing them to start eating the town itself!” Twilight grabbed Spike by the shoulders, “I can’t face Princess Luna right now! I need to hide!”
Spike snapped his head from side to side, looking for someplace to hide Twilight. After remarkably little discussion Twilight settled on her traditional hiding spot under her own bed, Spike next to her under his own upturned basket.
The Princess and her entourage continued their tour of Ponyville. By this time late afternoon the streets had been cleaned of smaller piles of debris, and now only large ones remained. Luna admired the citizens’ dedication to quickly fixing up the town, even though Princess Celestia had cancelled her visit.
The three Cutie Mark Crusader Royal Guards stuck close to Luna’s sides and front, making Luna feel like she was being herded along like a cow. They glared at anyone they passed, and were completely unsuccessful in keeping the peasants away from Luna, due to Pinkie’s continued meddling.
“Hey you!” Apple Bloom pointed a hoof at Pinkie Pie for the fourth time today, “Bow to your princess!”
“Yes ma’am!” Pinkie immediately dropped to the ground with a giggle. Luna’s other two guards giggled themselves at Apple Bloom’s mild power trip. Luna only rolled her eyes.
Apple Bloom snorted, a sound that reminded Pinkie of the time Gummy swallowed a noisemaker, “Oh, so you think that’s funny?”
“Yes! You look so cute when you’re trying to be serious!” Pinkie put on her own serious face, which lasted all of two-tenths of a second before breaking down into giggles again.
Luna intervened before Apple Bloom could get any angrier, “I think it’s time for your first lesson as Royal Guards.” The three fillies immediately lined up in front of her, “Now, what is the most important thing about being a Royal Guard?”
“Having a shiny hat and armor!” said Sweetie Belle.
“Being cool like Rainbow Dash!” said Scootaloo.
“Protecting the princess from danger!” said Apple Bloom.
“Oooh! Oooh! I know!” chorused Pinkie Pie, “Traveling the world, meeting interesting people, and befriending them!”
Luna shook her head, “No. The single most important thing about being a Royal Guard is discipline. Eyes forward, guards!” The three fillies snapped to something vaguely resembling attention: Pinkie squinted her eyes trying to see it. “Now,” Luna began, “Do not move an inch from your posts, no matter what happens!”
Five seconds later Scootaloo brought up an accusatory hoof and pointed it at Apple Bloom, “Ha, you blinked!”
“No ah didn’t!”
“Yes you did!”
Sweetie Belle sighed and looked back: Sure enough, no Royal Guard cutie marks.
Luna left the arguing fillies behind, Pinkie Pie bouncing along behind her
Pinkie Pie stopped in the middle of the street and spun around in circles, trying to get a look at her tail, “Oooh, there’s one! I’m an itchy twitch witch today!” Pinkie stopped her spinning and pointed straight ahead at a seemingly-random house, in no less a state of disrepair than the others, “There! That’s Lyra’s place! Let’s go check it out!”
Luna stopped at the front door and knocked. A musical, if slightly strained, voice called out from inside, “Who is it?”
“Building inspectors.” Luna responded. Pinkie giggled into her hoof. “We’re here to make sure everypony is all right after today’s, ah, incident.”
“Just a minute!” The door opened, revealing a sea green unicorn wearing an apron and carrying a broom and dustpan with her magic. She spotted Luna, who was grinning, and turned her gaze to Pinkie, who was mirroring the princess’s grin. Lyra sighed, “Is this one of your pranks, Pinkie? I’m not in the mood.”
Pinkie maneuvered behind Lyra and started pushing her out the door, “Noooo, this isn’t a prank at all! But we’re in a twitchy situation here so I need you out here while Princess Luna goes in and scouts for traps!” At the word ‘twitchy’ Lyra allowed herself to be pushed underneath a beach umbrella Pinkie had set up outside, complete with beach towels and a cooler with sarsaparilla in it. Princess Luna had vanished inside her house.
Moments later, there was a spectacular sound of shattering glass. Lyra recognized it as her chandelier falling to the floor, and the fact that she was able to recognize it depressed her more than the fact that she had lost it again. Luna’s voice rang out afterwards, “Found it!”
Lyra looked, Pinkie’s tail was swishing rapidly on the beach towel. “Not yet! Keep looking!” Pinkie called back. The only answer she received were more crashing sounds.
Resigning her house to its fate, Lyra laid back onto her own towel and covered her eyes with a forehoof. She heard the sound of wood splintering; she didn’t even bother looking. Only the familiar shout of “Look out below!” caused Lyra to look up, just in time to see a blue blur vanish into her house’s thatched roof. That seemed to be the last straw, as Lyra watched her house promptly collapse in on itself.
Luna’s head emerged from the rubble, “Aha! I knew we’d find it eventually! Thank you, Rainbow Dash, for your assistance.”
Dash pulled herself out from under a pile of straw that had once been a roof, “Huh? I mean, yeah, no problem! With, uh, whatever it is you girls were doing!” She thumped her chest with a hoof.
Pinkie bounced over into the middle of the debris, kicking up dust everywhere, “Yupyup! This house is now officially, one hundred percent, Pinkie Pie Approved, certified safe for habitation!” She hung a small plaque on a section of wall that had somehow survived the collapse, but it promptly fell over as soon as Pinkie turned her back on it. “C’mon girls! There are more houses needing inspecting!”
The princess and the pegasus let out a cheer, and the three moved out onto the road. Lyra could only watch as Pinkie, Dash, and Luna trotted down the street. Only once they were out of sight did she let out an anguished wail. She turned to inspect the remains of her house...
… But her house, beyond all expectations, stood proud and undamaged, looking as new as it was the day it was built. There was a note stuck to the door:
Sorry about that, but it was the only way to make sure.
...Well, it wasn’t, technically, but it was definitely the most fun.
- Princess Luna.
Lyra sat down, at her own rebuilt doorstep. She dared not look inside. After some deliberation, she got up and walked away, wondering what Bonbon was up to.
The Princess and her entourage stopped at the library’s door. Rainbow Dash made to open the door, but it was locked. “Huh. Hey Twilight! You in there?” She knocked against the door impatiently, but no answer came.
Pinkie Pie called from above, “Hey, even her balcony door is locked! I didn’t know this door even had a lock.” After hanging around Pinkie Pie for the better part of the afternoon, Luna simply accepted that the earth pony had devised a method of getting onto the balcony two stories above her and left it at that.
Princess Luna looked into one of the ground floor windows and an idea came to her. “Ah, I think I know how to get her to let us inside, but it may take a while. You two needn’t be around while I do this. You should go and find other ponies in need.” She settled herself onto the ground, a short distance away from the library’s door, and the glow from her horn was barely noticable. Pinkie and Dash shrugged at each other and wandered off.
Twenty-five minutes later, Luna heard the door unlatch and swing open. Princess Luna accepted the invitation and stepped inside to see a very fatigued Twilight Sparkle, sitting at a chessboard in a completely unwinnable situation, with a thick tome open to the side. Her expression was blank, staring off into the space between the spaces on the board. She did not move, rise, or bow in response to the Princess’s entrance.
“Are you feeling better?” Luna’s question was met with the tiniest of smiles and a small nod. “The others told me what happened.” Twilight’s face shifted to fear and penance, but Luna raised a hoof to silence her, “Before you say anything, know that you and Celestia gave your friendship to me freely, and I wish to return it in kind.” Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. She simply returned to staring a hole through the chess board.
Luna sat to Twilight’s side and lifted the tome on the table to read off the title, “Modern Chess Openings.” Luna suppressed a giggle, “Ah, no wonder you struggled with my opening - there’s certainly nothing modern about the way I play chess.” Luna edged herself a little closer to Twilight, so she could speak a little more quietly, “You know, I recommend the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, myself. Get one of the earliest editions you can get your hooves on, from two thousand years ago, and you’ll know how I play.”
Luna answered the question written all over Twilight’s face, “Because I wrote it, of course!”
That did it. Twilight jumped to her hooves and nearly shrieked, “You wrote the first edition of the ECO?!? That book is legendary! The first methodical study of chess ever written! It changed the way ponies think about chess forever!” There was a muffled shout as a book came flying down the stairs, and a baby purple dragon tumbled down after it. A copy of the twenty-seventh edition of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings presented itself to Princess Luna as Twilight hesitantly spoke, “Can.. Can I have your autograph?”
Luna laughed. It was a high, lilting laugh reminiscent of birds on a Spring morning. “Of course, my little savior!” Luna did not take the offered quill, instead opting to take the inkwell and pour it directly onto the inside front cover. Twilight gasped once, then again when Luna showed her the results: The page had turned a uniform black, except for a white crescent moon in the bottom right and six sparkling stars in the upper left - the exact images of Twilight and Luna’s cutie marks.
Twilight stared at the image for a few seconds, then fainted, slumping onto the ground. Luna smirked, and tucked the tome between the unconscious pony’s forelegs before walking out of the library. As she closed the door behind her, she could hear Spike’s panicked voice calling, “Twilight? Twilight!”
Meanwhile, in Fillydelphia...
A single giant parasprite rolled over in its sleep, crushing an entire city block in the process. It took every ounce of power Princess Celestia had just to keep from being reduced to a fit of giggles at the sight. At her side was the mayor of Fillydelphia, Calm Sea. The mayor looked thoroughly flustered, as though the only thing worse than angering the Princess was amusing her. The Royal Guard had been sent throughout the city on a special mission; all that was left to do was wait. A crowd of ponies was watching from much further away than Celestia and the mayor.
Celestia reached out a hoof and stroked the giant fuzzy hairy ball of fur. Soft. “So explain to me just how we went from a swarm of tiny fuzzy creatures to one very large, very fuzzy creature.” The Princess rubbed her cheek against it. Very soft.
Mayor Calm Sea blushed, “Yes, Princess, well, it turns out having multiple unicorns in the city improvising spells to affect the entire swarm is an extraordinarily bad idea. At first everypony was just trying to get them to stop eating, with, um, rather limited success. Eventually someone had the bright, if somewhat gruesome idea of having them eat each other, and this was the result.”
Celestia took off, flying above the sleeping giant and attempting to land on it. Her hooves found no purchase and she disappeared into the fuzz. “Oooh!” her voice floated out, “It’s soft and warm!” The Princess’s head poked out from the top, “I might make him my pet, or maybe my bed. Or both.”
If Mayor Sea had anything to say in response, it was lost as the sound of music approached. Far down the street the Royal Guard were marching in lockstep with a hastily-assembled marching band, a motley crew of woodwinds, brass, and drums. The music was simple and, as the band got ever-closer, loud.
The parasprite stirred, and then awoke. It rolled to its feet and began fluttering its wings. Celestia shouted from atop the beast, “Quickly, my little ponies! Grab its legs so it won’t fly away!” The Royal Guard broke into a gallop, each taking a thin, wiry leg into their teeth. The giant parasprite began to rise, but no further than its landlocked legs would allow it to. The parasprite smiled and swayed to the beat of the band.
The impromptu parade winded its way down the widest streets, out of the city and into the forest. Celestia stayed on top of the floating parasprite, waving at bewildered ponies as she passed.
The event would become an annual tradition in Fillydelphia, with giant shaped balloons in place of the parasprite. Officially it was called Mayor Calm Sea’s Parade for the Sun, in honor of the princess who rescued the city from the giant beast. However, it was too much of a mouthful for most ponies, who knew and spoke of it by its abbreviated name:
MaySea’s Day Parade.
Both princesses bid farewell to their towns and made their way back to Canterlot as dusk settled on Equestria. Celestia parted ways with her chariot and flew to meet her sister at the same place they met almost every dawn and dusk since Luna’s return: The eastern balcony of the castle in Canterlot.
Princess Luna’s horn was already glowing when Princess Celestia touched the ground. A single tiny flame sparked atop Luna’s head as her magic reached out to the sun, and just as quickly went out, signalling the end of the day.
In that short space between day and night, Celestia spoke, “So I received a letter from Twilight, asking for a certain book from the archives. I’m glad to see you and her getting along.”
“Yeah, but Spike made me promise not to play chess by mail. Or at least, if I did, to do it via a method other than his throat.” Luna chuckled, then turned her attention to the soon-to-be night sky. Once the moon’s waning crescent form appeared on the horizon, she turned back to her sister, “Did she tell you her first reaction to seeing me was to hide under her bed?”
“Yes, that sounds like something she’d do.” Celestia let out a knowing sigh, “She gets so skittish when she’s nervous. She walked out of her first written exam utterly convinced she had failed, and came into class the next day looking like she was expecting expulsion. She had the highest test score out of everypony, of course.” Celestia recalled the critters that were paraded out of Ponyville, “How bad was the damage? I only caught glimpses of it from the chariot.”
“Bad. They’ve got food left but at the expense of quite a bit of property damage, thanks to Twilight. I helped with some of the cleanup, rebuilding a few houses from scratch,” Luna left out the fact that she helped fully demolish those buildings in the first place, “I’m sure Mayor Mare will provide you a full report. Twilight does know you actually read those, right?”
“I think it’s better not to tell her.” Celestia smiled, “but I will have to quietly send along a thank-you to Pinkie Pie for inspiring my solution to the similar problem they had in Fillydelphia.”
“Oh yes, they were telling me they plan to make a movie out of it: ‘Attack of the 50-foot parasprite!’” Celestia reared in a mock-threatening stance.
Luna’s mind boggled at the thought of a parasprite with fifty legs. Where would they all fit on that tiny body? Shaking her head, she decided to change topics, “I also learned that Sugarcube Corner isn’t actually made of gingerbread. Or if it is, it’s so stale it just tastes like wood.” The younger princess stuck out her tongue at the memory of Pinkie’s dare, “Which explains why it didn’t get eaten when everything else was on the menu.”
As Luna recounted the day’s adventures, her sister smiled and listened. Good new memories always made good old memories seem less distant, and they would be revisiting those old memories soon enough.
It was a setting right out of the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ ghost stories: A graveyard in the middle of the Everfree Forest. By all accounts from every pony that had never been there, it should be the scariest place on Earth. Undoubtedly it would be haunted, crawling with the dead, the undead, and the ponies who loved them.
But to the two ponies currently paying their respects here, serenity prevailed. Daylight streamed in from above. Birds sang fearlessly, knowing well that they had to take care of themselves and their families. A short distance away stood a familiar, ruined castle, where the two ponies had been reunited after unbearable separation. The two approached one of the many headstones filling the clearing.
“Bluebelle.” Princess Celestia bent down over the ancient, weathered stone and touched it with her horn, repairing cracks and renewing the surface. She moved aside, and Princess Luna stepped up to the stone.
“Bluebelle. Brewer of the best cup of coffee in Whinnychester, and reader of atrocious romance novels.” Luna touched her own horn to the stone, sealing it in a protective magic. “Thank you.” The two moved on to the next grave.
The Day of Remembrance was a yearly holiday in Equestria, late in the summer. For most ponies it was simply a day off, for light activity and socializing. In Canterlot it was known as the one day of the year Princess Celestia completely vanished from the city, telling noone where she went and causing a panic amongst the freshmen of the Royal Guard. This year was no different, except that the newly-returned Princess Luna had vanished with her.
“Sir Gallopad. I miss your smug grin and that dumb sword you insisted on carrying around.” The two princesses heard a hissing sound coming from the bushes outside the graveyard. Celestia ignored it, giving her own blessing to the gravestone, but Luna let out a tiny squeak and dove headfirst into the brush. A short tussle later, Luna emerged clutching her prize: A lizard with the head of a chicken.
The creature was frantically squirming around between Luna’s forehooves, trying to turn to face his captor. Luna rubbed her cheek against him, “It’s so cute! I wanna take it home to the castle and keep it as a pet! Can I, Sis? Can I can I can I?” She held it up for her sister’s inspection.
Celestia stared into the eyes of the cockatrice dispassionately. Some tiny gear in the back of the lizard-bird’s brain slowly turned, realizing that the pony in front of him wasn’t turning to stone like she should. He redoubled his efforts to escape. Celestia spoke around it, “No, Luna.”
“Aww, but I’ll feed him and pet him and train all the guards in blind-fighting so they can take care of him when I’m away and-”
Luna whined, “But whyyyy?”
“Because, that chessboard you built a whole room around? With life-sized statues of me, Twilight, and her friends faced off against Nightmare Moon?” Celestia broke her calm facade for a moment to grit her teeth, “Really creepy. And having a cockatrice around will only make things worse.” Celestia took a deep breath and her calm demeanor returned, “Now let it go.”
Luna sighed and relented. The cockatrice squawked and scampered off into the woods.
Celestia wrapped a wing around the pouting younger princess, “Now now, don’t be like that. We have friends to remember today, friends to return to tomorrow, and friends to meet in the days to come.”
Luna sighed, and hugged her sister as the two remembered all the good times they and their friends had over the millennia.
(Leave comments at Fimfiction)
The two royal sisters sat on the eastern balcony. The setting sun was hidden from view behind the rest of the palace, with the only hint of its presence in the red glow of the surrounding landscape. Celestia's horn shone softly as the land grew darker and less distinct. The stars slowly faded into view. The elder sister gave a warm smile to the younger and spoke softly, "Whenever you feel ready." The light faded from Celestia's horn; the sun had set, and the sky was awaiting the rise of the moon with its eternal patience.
Luna nodded and took a deep breath. After a moment, she let out her breath and rose to her hooves. Closing her eyes, Luna began to weave the ancient magics that she had been away from for so long and yet were still so intimately familiar to her. She could feel the moon, feel the craters and valleys that spanned its surface. The maria and mountains filled Luna's mind, not only those visible to the Earth, but spanning its entire surface. She knew it all.
Luna’s thoughts returned to her former prison. The magic Luna wove began to take on a life of its own, and she saw the moon as it was when she was the Mare in the Moon.
Luna’s vision lingered on the blackened, charred crater that signalled her arrival, and the melted rock tracing her wandering path out of it. Luna distinctly remembered the blind rage that had defined her first years on the moon. A tall mountain that once stood proudly on the lunar horizon had been reduced to dust with magic unseen in Equestria. A towering monument erected in its place had inscribed upon it, “1001 Plans for Revenge Against She Who I Hate Ever So Much, 3rd ed.”. The actual number of carefully honed plans covering its surface rose well above that.
A number of cellars were dug into the moon’s surface, away from the prying eyes of the sun, the Earth, and the stars. Most had collapsed or were otherwise rendered indistinguishable from an ordinary crater. One, however, remained and still contained some reminder of what had happened in these bunkers; inside was a golden statue of an alicorn, its head broken off and laying to the side. Luna's memories of the moon had become Nightmare's.
The spell withdrew from Luna, and she collapsed to the ground, sobbing. Celestia lay down by her side, taking the weeping princess under her wing in consolation. Only the faintest sliver of the moon was visible on the horizon, as if turned away from its princess.
"I'm sorry, big sister... It seems I'm not yet ready to.." Luna's words trailed off into a quiet whimpering, echoing into the night.
A month had passed since Luna's return at the Summer Sun Celebration. Celestia continued to raise the moon at night, as she had for the past thousand years, and resolved to do so for another thousand if it meant her sister could stay by her side. A small burden, compared to how it weighed on Luna’s shoulders.
Luna for her part was still reintegrating herself into society - as much as a princess can, anyway - meeting and getting to know the varied guards and servants throughout the castle. Her normally nocturnal sleep schedule became erratic as Luna scoured for time to spend with her sister.
This particular day Luna was asleep in Celestia’s room. She heard the door open and rolled over, slowly blinking her eyes open. Realizing the door wasn’t in that direction, she rolled over again to see her sister trotting over to the bookshelf in the room. Luna mumbled, “Good morning, sis.”
“Good afternoon, Luna.” Celestia paused, still examining the bookshelf. One of the books on the shelf slid itself out, opening itself to Celestia briefly before returning to the shelf. “You know, the bed in your own room is perfectly serviceable, and I wouldn’t be interrupting you there.” Luna nestled deeper into the bed in protest.
Celestia walked over to the side of the bed and nuzzled her sister, “You know, rather than lounging about the castle day and night, you could help out with my royal duties. We are meant to rule together, remember?” Luna’s ear twitched at the reminder; her sister had not brought up the subject since the night Luna had tried to raise the moon.
“Ugh, I don’t know why you work so hard.” Luna rolled out of the bed and yawned, “I mean, I know you don’t care for all this... this... STUFF. Servants and maids and a whole class of suck-ups looking for royal handouts. You know what I think?” Luna wrapped one of her front legs around Celestia’s, “I think we should run away together. Just you and me. Find a nice tall mountain, with really steep cliffs, where just the two of us could be together. The gods living on Mount Olymp- what are you laughing at?!” Luna jumped away from her sister, who simply could not contain her laughter.
After a while, Celestia was composed enough to speak again, “Oh, Luna. I tried that already, after...” I banished you, “...you left. And now, Canterlot is the capital city.” She brought a hoof up to wipe away a tear before resuming her giggling.
Luna digested this information. Arriving at its logical conclusion, she contorted her face and stomped her front hooves, “What pony was stupid enough to build a castle into the cliff side of a mountain!?”
Celestia rested her chin on her little sister’s head, simultaneously calming and annoying Luna, “A stubborn earth pony who insisted his princess have a roof over her head. Everypony called him Rock, but I knew him as Press Lee. They may be silly ponies sometimes, but they’re our silly ponies.” Lifting her head off of Luna’s, Celestia started heading for the doorway, “I’m meeting some petitioners for the rest of the afternoon. Would you care to join me?”
Wait, how did I get roped into this?
Luna examined the walls of the room for what must have been the fiftieth time. Renovations of the throne room to accommodate both princesses had begun, and so business was conducted in an open meeting hall away from the construction work. Portraits and landscapes lined the walls, the domed roof above painted with blue sky and white clouds.
Two guards stood at the sides of the room, while a herald and attendant stood at the back of the room, near the main entrance. The guards seemed trained explicitly to have all the personality drained out of them while on duty. It brought to mind tales of gargoyles, otherwise decorative statues that awoke to protect their charge. Luna briefly envisioned replacing much of the royal guard with statues, and imagined very little would change as a result.
The parade of ponies was endless, and continued on even after Celestia had set the sun and raised the moon. Open court meant that just about anypony could trot in and have the princesses' ears, no matter how stupid or petty their problems were. Some simply sought Celestia's sympathetic ear and advice. Luna for her part partook little in these conversations, save for a few prodding questions or meager observations. A few brave parents brought their foals with them, a delight to both princesses each time it happened, in spite of the parents’ concerns over their children’s behavior.
“So what’s the moon like, Princess Luna?”
Luna stopped suddenly, and looked at the young colt she had been playing with. He had inquisitive eyes that seemed to drink up every detail, a bright spark of hope and curiosity within. Luna’s mind boggled at the question; the moon had been the source of all her hopes, dreams, and eventually Nightmares. How do you summarize Equestria’s millennia, the history of the moon?
His eyes look into hers, and seeing some fraction of her sadness, the colt suddenly looked away. He started to apologize, and she saw that spark seem to fade away. No, wait...
The word escaped Luna’s mouth so quickly she wasn’t sure it was hers. In fact, she was quite sure it wasn’t hers, even though that’s where the sound came from. She snuck a look at her sister. The colt looked up, confused.
Luna straightened herself, and repeated the lie, “The moon is made of cheese, like a giant cheese wheel.”
“Really?” The colt still held that spark, faintly, behind the doubt in his eyes. It gave Luna hope, but it would need fanning if it was to grow back.
“Really. Most of it’s provolone, but if you take a piece and hold it up to the light of the sun,” Luna raised a hoof up to the light of the candelabra above, “It turns into cheddar. To get Swiss, you take a straw and you blow bubbles into it.”
“That ain’t true... Mozzie said cheese is made of milk!”
“Oh yes, and there are entire seas of milk on the moon. If you wanted you could swim in it, or lay on the beaches of grated parmesan and bask in the sun. You can also watch the beautiful Earth in the night sky.”
“I.. I dunno..”
“Why, what do you think I ate while I was up there?” Something clicked in the colt’s head, and all doubt vanished from his eyes.
Once he and his parents left, Luna resumed giving her sister a look, “I’ll get you for that.”
Celestia snickered, “If you didn’t like my answer, you should think of a better one for the next foal who asks.”
The next morning, two guards stood as impassively as ever, outside Celestia’s chambers. Luna had tested their emotionless masks at this late/early hour by parading a variety of materials in and out of the sun princess’s room, including (but not limited to): A star-tipped wand, a jar of liquid rainbow, a bag of clover leaves, Philomena, an unmarked record, and a cup of baking soda. Luna disappeared into the room one last time, closing the door behind her.
“WAKE UP, SLEEPYHEAD!” Luna’s shrill voice echoed out into the halls.
The sounds coming from Celestia’s room following Luna’s wakeup call were no less strange: A wooden thunk, a tortured squawk, a loud, low humming noise, quickly rising in pitch culminating in the castle rumbling slightly. The two guards stood shock still. One of the double doors opened slightly, and Luna poked her head out the opening. Looking from one guard to another, she spoke quietly, conspiratorially.
“I can smell your fear, you know.”
Luna’s head vanished from view, the door closing loudly.
An hour of silence later, the two princesses emerged, laughing merrily. Celestia had bits of clover in her mane and tail, while Luna was sopping wet. Luna waited until she was out in the hall to shake herself dry, causing another round of giggling. Just as the two were about to round a corner down the hall, Luna snuck one look back at the guards. One had allowed himself to crack a small smile, while the other seemed to be shaking trying to contain himself. Victorious, Luna trotted alongside her sister with intense pride.
This did not go unnoticed by Celestia, “Luna, you seem quite pleased with yourself this morning. Did setting off an alchemical experiment in my room humor you so much?”
“I finally understand.” There was a gleam in Luna’s eye that her sister didn’t recognize, “You like a challenge.”
Celestia stopped when the two came into view of the door to Luna’s chambers. She saw two statues that had not been there before. Their forms were equine but not quite pony. Thick, exaggerated muscles seemed to cover their grey bodies, with particular emphasis on their flanks and shoulders. One batlike wing from each of the statues was unfurled, blocking the doorway, the other at rest. As Celestia approached, the two gargoyles lowered their wings.
Luna trotted over, beaming with pride, “You like them? I carved them last night. The castle needs more laughter and smiling faces.” One statue was baring a fanged grin, the other sticking his tongue out. Neither had mane nor tail.
Celestia regarded the statues; a certain pink earth pony would have found them hilarious, but that wasn’t a good standard to use. They were, however, very well made. “I never knew you had a talent for sculpture.”
Luna rubbed a hoof on the back of her head, “I, uh, had a lot of practice. Minions don’t just make themselves, you know.”
Celestia said nothing. She peered into the one statue’s open mouth, noting even the back of its throat was well-detailed. She felt a pit in her own stomach start to develop, admiring the gargoyle’s fine details, “Speaking of minions, I seem to recall there were two guards posted here?”
“Well, you won’t be needing them anymore.” Luna stated matter-of-factly.
Celestia stopped and stared at Luna, who was quite confused by her older sister’s reaction. After a moment, realization hit the younger sister, and she backpedalled, “Oh, I’m so sorry, that came out wrong. What I mean to say is, I told them they wouldn’t need to guard my room anymore. They were kind of creeping me out, actually.”
Celestia exhaled. “Luna, dear sister, I love you so, but I worry about you sometimes.” Luna mumbled an apology, and the two sisters trotted off to raise the sun and get some breakfast.
When Luna failed to meet her sister at lunch, Celestia was not worried. Her younger sister did still sleep during the day sometimes, so lunch was typically missed in favor of breakfast and dinner, which were nearer the dawn and dusk.
When Luna did not arrive at dinner, Celestia was curious but said nothing. Dinner at the royal palace was more often than not a stately affair with whatever very important ponies happened to have business with the Princess that day. Luna frequently expressed her disdain for these events, so her absence was no surprise.
When Luna was not present at the eastern balcony, now ten minutes from the scheduled moonrise, Celestia very nearly panicked, but the only concern she allowed to be visible was a polite inquiry to the nearest guard, who vanished off into the castle as though his very existence depended on it. Nine minutes later, he returned to report that Luna would not be joining her this evening.
“What is she doing?” that could possibly be so important to keep her from joining me for the moonrise?
“Playing chess in the library, Your Highness.”
“I see.” Celestia returned her attention to the sky only enough to raise the moon, then immediately set out to find her.
As promised, Luna was found in some disused corner of the library, sitting on a cushion at a low table, brows furrowed in concentration. Across the chess board was a grey pegasus mare, clothed in a purple and black flight suit with a winged skull insignia. The pegasus was the first to spot Celestia’s approach, and immediately vanished in a puff of smoke, as if embarrassed to be seen. It wasn’t until the smoke rejoined with Luna at her hooves that the younger princess startled out of her reverie.
Celestia settled into the recently vacated spot across form her sister, “Rather than play against your own shadow, you should take the opportunity to seek others out.” Luna frowned, but said nothing as she reset the board in a swirl of magic, herself as black and Celestia as white.
Celestia moved her king’s pawn forward two spaces.
“What.” Luna stared at the insolent pawn for several minutes. She glanced up at her sister, who was smiling. She always smiled, and Luna had forgotten most of the minute deviations that differentiated her various smiles, but the twinkle in Celestia’s eyes told Luna a prank was in mid-swing. Undeterred, she slid her king’s knight’s pawn forward one space, as they should move.
A second pawn joined Celestia’s first in the center of the board. Knights and bishops soon followed. Despite losing position to Celestia’s audacious pawns, Luna was preparing an attack on the white king, whom Celestia had left underprotected.
Celestia picked up two pieces at once, sliding her king over two spaces and her rook took a spot on the other side of the king.
Luna’s jaw hit the floor. A minute later, her face twisted into a sneer of such caliber Nightmare Moon could only dream of. Several long minutes later, she settled into a more neutral expression, admiring the nice little castle Celestia had put her king in, protected by pawns in the front and the rook to the side. It turned into a frown when she saw her own pieces, now badly out of position to either threaten the king or make gains against the rest of the white army. She finally let out a long sigh.
“Excuse me a minute, would you sister?” Luna didn’t wait for a response as she got up and walked down through the aisles of books. Celestia saw one book slide itself off a shelf to Luna’s side as she trotted out of sight. Several minutes later, Luna returned, her mane slightly more frazzled than before, and the sneer had not quite left her face. She sat back down with a snort, and slid her own knight to take a pawn, but instead of simply picking up the captured piece, the knight turned around and bucked the pawn, sending it flying in a high arc to the side of the table with the other captured pieces. Only then did a grim smile return to Luna’s face.
Minutes later, several white spaces on the board had been charred black, Celestia’s queen was wearing a leather saddle with several notches on her belt, the captured pieces had all been executed in increasingly elaborate ways, and Luna was idly chewing on a white knight like it was a piece of bubblegum. It screamed in agony as she did so, and was only silenced when she blew a bubble, which Celestia promptly popped with a summoned needle, putting the knight out of its misery. Both princesses giggled.
A royal guard approached the two sisters, and to his credit he was only slightly unnerved by the sight of Princess Celestia constructing a tiny magical guillotine, humming a funeral march. “Princesses, a report from the royal observatory, there’s an odd spectacle visible on the moon’s surface.”
“I know.” Luna’s response was immediate. Celestia raised an eyebrow as Luna continued, “A thousand years of chess theory, gone up in smoke, because pawns can move two spaces forward now.” Her bishop glowed, and a white pawn helpfully burst into flame to illustrate. Apparently satisfied with that answer, the guard bowed and backed away quickly. The bishop slid to displace the pile of ashes that had once been a pawn.
Luna watched the guard retreat, then sighed, “You know, it was probably the sanest thing I did up there. Playing my own shadow. Or maybe I was the shadow, playing my real self? I’m not sure anymore.” She reached out a hoof and deliberately tipped her own king, conceding the game. “My opening book was about as long as my list of plans for revenge. Now they’re both equally useless.”
“Now, now, I wouldn’t say that.” Celestia smiled, attempting to lighten her sister’s mood, “There’s always time for a good revenge plan. I was particularly impressed with the way you minced my rook.” She indicated a small pile of white cubes that had been swept off to the side of the board. “Didn’t know it had happened until you knocked the knight into him.”
Luna’s tone grew solemn, ignoring Celestia’s efforts, “No, after coming back to my senses it became obvious just how poorly thought-out those stupid plans were. You saw my Plan A: Take you out of the picture, then gloat, secure in my victory. Plans B through whatever were all either variations of that, or contingency plans in case it failed. A real revenge plan would have done it your way, and taken over the sun, too.” Celestia frowned but said nothing. Luna vanished all the pieces, remains, scars, and torture devices from the board. A hole of inky black darkness appeared on the board, and out of it climbed a diminutive figure.
“Nightmare Moon, ha.” The black pony strutted around the board as Luna spoke, “What an arrogant title I gave myself, thinking that I and the moon were one and the same. I even wrapped myself in the night sky to bring it with me wherever I went.” The black pony’s starry mane and tail billowed in some unseen breeze. “It’s so strange. Everything that’s happened was because I was obsessed with the moon and the night sky. Now that I don’t have them anymore... I’m not sure I want them back.” Nightmare Moon discarded her armor, shrinking in size as she did so. The tiny figure of Princess Luna flared her wings and took off into the stacks of books, leaving the chessboard behind.
A long time passed before Celestia spoke, “I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. But then, what do you want to do?”
Luna said nothing, staring off into the distance. It was a poor habit that her solitude on the moon had only exaggerated. Celestia tried not to tease her too much about it, but that blank stare always made the Celestia want to start drawing on her sister’s face.
Celestia was just about to get a painter’s palette and brush when the focus returned to Luna’s eyes. She spotted Celestia’s expectant look, then Luna shook her head, as though to clear her mind. When her thousand-yard stare returned, Celestia inquired, “False alarm?”
“It’s such a silly thing to ask, when I can’t even do my own job right. But...” Luna looked down at the floor, then up at her sister, “I would like to try raising the sun in the morning.”
Celestia just smiled.
The two sisters met again on the eastern balcony. The morning twilight gave the sky a reddish tint, but the sun was not yet coaxed from below the horizon. The moon’s presence in the west could only just barely be felt by the younger princess, as the elder put it to rest. When the moon had completed its night’s journey, Celestia asked, “Is there anything else? I can scarcely recall the last time we had done something like this.”
“Um. Sis? What’s with the bucket?” Luna indicated a large basin, nearly the size of a small bathtub, that had been put out on the balcony, filled with water.
“Nothing you need to worry about.” Celestia had her eyes closed, still basking in the nostalgia of previous millennia as she spoke.
“Okay, well, here I go.” Luna began to cast. She let the magic wash over her; it was warm and nostalgic, like an old friend. She felt a lick of heat on her face, playful and inquisitive.
“I know, it’s not who you were expecting,” Luna found herself saying, “But I wanted to apologize, and this seemed the best way to do it.” The warmth responded to her words, dancing across her body, tickling her, “Haha, oh, stop! Stop! Hahaha!” The heat receded, allowing the princess to speak once again, “That warmth and beauty... I was so jealous. But now I think I can appreciate you for what you are.” Luna opened her eyes, and looked up. The sun had crested the horizon, shining down on Princess Luna. She turned to Celestia, who was positively beaming.
Luna ran over to hug her sister, but her snout met Celestia’s forehoof before she could proceed, “Before you do, I should tell you,” Celestia began, “That you’re on fire.”
Luna cast her eyes up. She could see wisps of flames dancing across the front of her mane. She looked back. Her tail was a fiery inferno streaming out behind her, the feathers on her wings each held a tiny flame at their tips. Her hooves glowed, igniting her fetlocks as she walked, leaving tiny flames on the ground wherever she went.
“Oh, like that matters.” Luna launched herself at Celestia, and neither sister paid the flames any mind as they embraced.
Celestia spoke when they separated, “You know, there’s one more you should apologize to.”
Luna jumped into the tub, dousing herself, “I know. And I will, because I want to fill the moon with the happiest of memories, for being there for me when I was at my worst.” A pause. “I also need to apologize for blowing up the chessboard that was there.”
Celestia nuzzled her sister, and the two stared off into the sunrise.
Next Fic: The Game of Princesses