The skies were overcast, the sun hot and muggy, and the breeze was blowing just the wrong way. Anypony with any sense would be inside with a bucket of ice trying to think cold thoughts.
Luna could not have been happier.
Sure, the weather could be better, but it was weather! Real weather! The moon had been barren. No wind, no clouds, and what little sun did reach the surface had no warmth to it.
She shook her head in disbelief. Less than a week ago, all she could think about was how sweet revenge would taste. How everypony would finally see her nights and give them the glory they deserved. Now she was strolling through the capital in the evening sunset without a care in the world. Life was certainly surprising sometimes.
A low whisper from one of her black-furred pegasus guards brought her back to reality. “Your Highness? If I may be so bold to ask, could you please keep your hooves on the ground? It is not befitting a Princess to be seen skipping.”
Luna paused, stopping herself mid-skip. “Oh, yes, of course.” Even though the castle walls were a short flight away, her retinue had insisted they accompany her. And now they were treating her little errand run like it was official royal business. ‘Tia was right, they were just a bunch of spoilsports.
They soon reached their first stop: the Central Seasonal Offices. Founded when a mix-up in weather orders had half the unicorns preparing winter and half preparing summer, the sky-blue dome stood proudly over the Canterlot skyline. Here, the seasons of the year were scheduled with the utmost care. Luna motioned for her guards to wait outside.
Inside, a tan pegasus stood idly at the front desk, flipping through a few magazines. Without looking up, he started, “May I help you....”
And then he noticed whom exactly he was addressing. His eyes went from half-shut to pinpricks in an instant. There was a light *thunk* as he hit his head on the floor from bowing too quickly. “My most humble and earnest and honest apologies Princess, I did not see it was you. H-how may I be of today service? Service today, a thousand pardons, I’m so sorry.”
Luna smiled demurely. “Don’t worry, it’s quite alright. I wanted to see your copies of the sunset projections for the rest of the year.”
He kept his face firmly planted on the floor. “Y-yyes of course. Right away, your Highness, no trouble at all, your Highness, just a few minutes, your Highness, please excuse me...” In an impressive display of flying prowess, he managed to fly three stories straight up, find a storeroom, search through several filing cabinets, and return with a bundle of scrolls without lifting his head or ceasing to apologize. “Here they are, your Highness.”
How he managed to hand them to her without looking was beyond her. “You don’t have to bow, I promise not to be offended.” He finally got his face off the floor, and tried to look relaxed. She nodded. “Much better. Flying’s much easier when you’re looking where you’re going, after all.”
She casually glanced through the scrolls. “These seem to be in order.”
She tucked the scrolls into her pack. “Lovely weather today?”
The poor pegasus had not budged an inch and was sweating far more than could possibly be healthy. She turned to look outside...no, her bodyguards weren’t glaring at him. “Is everything all right?”
He fidgeted with his front hooves. His mouth hung open, then closed. Open. Closed. Finally, he found his words and mumbled out, “T-t-there isn’t a problem, is there?”
Mental note: she would have to have a word with her sister. Celestia really needed to get out more if a visit from royalty could only mean bad news. “No, no, everything is fine. You’re doing a-”
“See, because it’s not our fault Summer’s been so late this year. We would be on time except the unicorns were slow with winter this year. N-not that we’re complaining, just wanted to be clear that we’re just catching up and it’s just been a lot of work. Not too much for us to handle though!” He laughed nervously, forcing out every chuckle.
Luna kept up the polite smile while she waited for him to stop “laughing”.
A few minutes later, it was fairly obvious that awkward pauses had not only survived the last thousand years, but were thriving beautifully. She mercifully cut him off. “I was going to say you’re doing a wonderful job. If there is anything else I need, I’ll let you know.”
She left the building, her guards falling in behind her. Back at the desk, the pegasus waited until they were out of sight before fainting straight away.
A few stops later, and Luna was heading back to the castle, leaving behind a trail of nervous and terrified receptionists. To their credit, some ponies at least tried to hide it. Seeing them cower at the sight of her, Luna couldn’t help but remember Ponyville, just a few days ago:
She shivered, even though it was the middle of summer. The royal carriage was the last place she wanted to be right now, but Celestia had insisted that they ride into town together. She just wanted to disappear again, and then maybe the ponies would forget all the horrible things she had done. Her sister put a reassuring wing around her, and motioned the carriage forward.
Luna blinked. Were those...streamers in the trees? And balloons? And...how was confetti falling alongside them this whole way? She didn’t have time to think this over, as soon they cleared the forest. A roar of voices and hoofbeats met their arrival. Everypony in the town must have been out to see them. Nopony was sad, or angry, or even scared. They were cheering their little throats out to see the Princess’s lost sister.
As the carriage rolled to a stop, two pegasi fillies placed a wreath of flowers around her head. Both were wearing the biggest grins she had ever seen. And there, standing fearlessly before them, were the six ponies who had stopped her. The six ponies she had tried and failed to...well, she didn’t want to think about that.
And then, they bowed their heads in respect, the morning light catching the Elements they wore around their necks. Celestia said something to the purple one, but Luna wasn’t listening. She was too busy trying to hold back the tears.
The ponies of Canterlot must not be so quick to forgive, or maybe they just had longer memories. Maybe it wasn’t a royal visit that brought fear.
It was a visit from a Nightmare.
She shook her head, silencing her doubts. No. That part of her was dead and gone. Her nights may not get the recognition they deserve, but she had nearly lost everything trying to get it. She would learn to accept her place, and soon they would learn to accept her. All they needed was a little time, and they would see a Princess walking down the streets of Canterlot, not a monster.
After delivering her batch of scrolls (and a lovely sisters-only teatime), Luna retired to her room. She would have to be back soon to take over for the night. Apparently, Celestia managed to run the whole kingdom 24/7 while she was gone. Unbelievable. What must that pony have been drinking to stay awake and sane for that long?
But now, it was time for night.
Luna heaved a long sigh. She had missed her subjects. She had missed the sun. She had missed the grass. But her nights? Well, apart from her sister, the nights she had missed most of all.
She took a quick flight to her observatory. Attached to her own room, it was her private work area. The room was completely barren, save for a plush pillow and a small pedestal in the center. The ceiling was made of a single piece of glass, stronger than the rocks it sat on. Luna had built this study ages ago specially for raising the night. Here she could see (with a little help from the glass dome and some magic) the skies over all of Equestria. Here she could paint a night sky in peace.
She passed over her star charts. After a thousand years with little else to do but watch the skies, she doubted she would ever need to consult those old things again. She perched on her pillow, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. When they opened, she was no longer in her observatory.
Complete darkness. She could feel the empty expanse before her. Blank. Formless. With a thought, she turned it a deep, dark blue, ripples of color reverberating around and through her. A single light twinkled into existence in the distance, then another, and another. Soon their sheer numbers coalesced into a massive, brilliant orb, as big as the sun at noon.
Then the ball shrunk as dots of light of spiraled out from it. They lazily drifted through the void, stopping at designated spots. The constellations she had designed eons ago took form. Raising all the stars at once like this took a great deal of effort and concentration. But the flair it added was priceless.
Soon, only one star remained; Polaris, standing ever proudly in the North. With all the stars in place, the way was set for the grand centerpiece. Luna reached out, deep into the night sky, until she found her moon. Its pockmarked surface seemed as close to her as the ground beneath her hooves. Its soft glow enveloped her, warm as the afternoon sun. Its vast presence filled her mind. She rose, dragging the full moon with her. The two climbed higher and higher, moving as one, until, with one mighty push, she sent it along on its nightly journey as she drifted back down to reality.
The magic that had set her eyes aglow faded, bringing her back to her observatory. She looked up at her handiwork; a perfect night sky.
The ponies below could think what they wanted. There was one thing for sure; this was her night. And nothing they could think or do could take it from her. Not this time.
Luna just sat and admired the sky for a few more minutes. ‘Tia would understand.
Luna tried to stifle a yawn. What was she doing up this early again? Right, a meeting. Celestia was off for the Running of the Leaves, leaving her in charge for a few days. She would have to see about getting some of the stuff that kept Celestia going for those thousand years. These early afternoons were murder.
An earth pony walked into the room carrying a huge binder stuffed with papers. He glanced around the room as he bowed, “My apologies, Your Highness, but I believe I have the wrong room. I had a meeting with Celestia today, could you tell me where she is?”
“I’m sorry, but she had a personal matter to attend to, and I’m handling daytime affairs while she’s away.”
He nodded. “Ah yes, of course. It is no trouble at all.” He opened his binder and the bulging thing nearly exploded with documents. He quickly went to work setting up a series of complicated-looking charts and passing out a small mountain of reports, findings, and memos. Luna mentally braced herself. This would be a rough one. Unless...maybe it would actually turn out to be interesting topic?
“Now, as you may be well aware, the berry farmers to the east of Mareyland have been complaining about a steady rise in their irrigation costs. As you can see, we track a .2 percent increase...”
No. Such. Luck.
The meeting was, as expected, horribly dull. Kingdoms had to be run, and sometimes that meant somepony had to sit down for a few hours and figure out how the current schedule of rainfall affected the lower-plain berry-growers in the late spring. But at least the farmer ponies could rest easy knowing their crops would continue to get sufficient water, and that certainly made it worth her while.
After what felt like ages, they had outlined a plan for maintaining the current rain forecasts, albeit with a compressed schedule during the height of the growing season to make up for...long-term low-level soil dehydration, was it? Luna sat down heavily and resisted the urge to heave a sigh of relief.
The earth pony gathered his charts and papers (leaving behind copies in triplicate) and bowed respectfully. He had somehow managed to go through the entire meeting without once showing weakness or signs of tiring. “Thank you for your time and attention, Your Highness. If you could let me know when Celestia receives my reports, I would be most appreciative.”
Luna nodded, “As soon as she returns I’ll make sure to tell her all we’ve discussed. I’m sure she will approve of the changes we’ve made to the schedule.”
“Thank you, but may I also ask that you show her the papers I have left for her?” He motioned to one of the stacks. “I have sent ahead my schedule if she would like me to explain in greater detail.”
Luna paused. She thought she understood what he was saying, but part of her still hoped she was mistaken. “Very well, I will make sure she sees them.” She added, “And rest assured, I can explain all we have gone over today.”
He bowed, ever the courteous one. “Thank you, Your Highness, I assure you that your input here has been most helpful indeed, and your suggestions will no doubt be of great service.”
No, she was not mistaken. Her teeth were gritted every so slightly as she smiled back. As soon as the door closed behind him, she stuffed the papers unceremoniously in a sack and handed them off to a nearby courtier to deliver to Celestia’s room. She was far too busy storming back to her own chambers to do it herself.
Suggestions?! She had sat there and listened to that stuck-up busybody of a pony ramble for hours about his precious findings and oh-so-important theories. She had sat there attentively and made sure she understood every last footnote of his tiresome research in perfect detail. She had given up her sleep to ensure this pony got the meeting he was promised, and for what? Only “suggestions” that he would no doubt bring up as his own brilliant ideas when he finally got his precious audience with Celestia.
She remembered his expression when he first bowed to her, and knew what she had seen in his face:
He came in expecting to speak to the ruler of Equestria, and instead got the little sister. Who did that pony think he was talking to?
Certainly not a Princess
She hurried back to her chambers, not bothering to tell the voice to go away. It was too early to be awake, too early to be arguing with herself, and too early to deal with uptight ponies with the wrong ideas of how things were run here.
She reached her room just as the sun was going down. Perfect. Now she didn’t even have the time to catch up on a little sleep first. At least it would be night soon. She paced the floor a while, taking several deep breaths to calm herself down. With each breath, she felt a little tension leave her system and soon she was calm. Well, calm enough to manage the night anyway. As she stepped onto the pillow, she finally let herself smile. Much better now. Nopony else owned the night. This was hers.
Luna let the magic rise in her, let it take her to her blank sky. She colored it navy blue and summoned the initial star cluster. All of a sudden, the sneering face of the ungrateful earth pony flew through her mind. The dots of light scattered in all directions before fading away. She tried again, but this time could only manage a handful of stars before losing control. No matter what she tried, she could only focus long enough to get a single star to appear at a time.
After a few minutes, it was clear she would have to make the stars appear in their proper positions, one by one. She groaned. That would easily double her usual time, if not triple it. Though...this would mean she could take her time and enjoy this, and she really needed something to enjoy right now. One-by-one it was then.
She used her horn as a pointer, flashing every time a star was added. They winked into place as she slowly made her way across the sky. She settled into a regular pattern, even humming a little ditty as she worked.
She was nearly done with Taurus when a little nagging thought stopped her. Something about the Bull just wasn’t right. She brushed it aside, and kept working. But after placing a few more stars, her doubts refused to leave her alone. She sighed and inspected the last constellation.
Impossible. She had been making this same night sky for as long as there was a night sky. There was no way she could simply forget a star. And yet, there it was. There was definitely a star missing and she could not remember where it went. As hard as she tried, Luna could not muster the focus to see where it belonged.
Maybe you should get your star charts.
“This is my night, I know how it goes.’ She was no longer thinking to herself, her voice the only sound in the empty void. “I can manage without.” Count again. Go back through the motions. Count again. Use one of her mnemonics. Count again. Go back through the motions. Trace it out by hoof. Count again. Count again. Count again.
A star chart would fix this. Just a simple suggestion...
“Be quiet!” she yelled to nopony. She was back at her observatory in a flash. The expanse faded away, leaving the few stars she had placed shining overhead. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself down. There was no need to get upset; it was just a single group, after all. She could always come back to it later. After a few more minutes, she summoned her magic again and picked up where she left off. Hydrus...or was it Hydra? She frowned. No, it was certainly Hydrus. She had started working on his tail right before she had noticed the missing star. Except Hydra’s tail looked awfully similar.
This was no time for hesitation, she had to pull herself together! She picked one and started again. Right, after Hydra comes another field of stars, then we start on...
Two stars too many.
She gnawed her lip. ...then start on Ursa Major. Finish his head, then...
His teeth are too short.
Drops of sweat collected on her brow. ...then a long expanse before...
Tail is too long
Three too many.
Too far apart.
After an hour of wrestling with the stars, she stopped, although collapsed would be more accurate.
From her pillow, she turned up one eye to look at the night. Her ruined night. She doubted half of the constellations were right, and she must have been missing at least a hundred stars. Maybe more.
She could still fix this. Just had to swallow her pride and grab the star charts...that she had ordered back to the palace library a month ago. She facehooved. As if this train wreck couldn’t get any worse, now she had to go all the way to the other side of the palace and pick up the charts personally. Embarrassment on top of disaster. Must be her lucky night.
She flew out of her chambers, heading straight for the library as fast as she could. She was so focused on getting this over with that she didn’t notice a commotion behind her until she was nearly there.
“Your Highness! Wait!”
Her guards were sprinting to catch up. They took a few seconds to recover their breath, although the captain managed to stay upright. “Your *huff* Highness...what’s wrong? *puff*”
The Princess they were supposed to be guarding had just torn out of her chambers without a word. That...probably didn’t look good. She forced back her irritation and struggled to keep her voice level. “I’m fine. Just business I have to take care of. You may head back to my chambers. I’ll only be a moment.” Her guards were skeptical, but didn’t refuse a direct order. They filed back towards her room.
She continued to the library at a slightly less frantic pace and barged in the main entrance. The unicorn librarian nearly jumped out of her seat, launching the book she had been reading across the room. She quickly composed herself and gave a polite bow. “Your Highness! What can I do for you?”
“I need the star charts.”
“All of them.”
“All of-” The unicorn caught herself. “Yes, of course. Just a few minutes.”
As she fetched the charts, Luna thought she saw her sneaking a few peeks up at the sky. No doubt taking note of her mistake-riddled sky. At least she kept it to herself, and had soon returned with a small pile of scrolls.
Luna grabbed them and marched out without a word. She had to move fast if she was to fix this before too many more ponies noticed.
Back at her study, she dumped out the pile of scrolls. Her guards were relieved to see she was still alright, but it took a bit of convincing before they agreed to leave her to her work. She opened the first chart and was about to start correcting her mistakes when something hit her:
Nothing was happening.
Luna had just crafted the worst night she could remember (and that covered a long time) and there was no panic. Nopony had asked her what went wrong. The librarian hadn’t been noticing mistakes; she was wondering why she even needed the charts. Even her own guards didn’t realize it, even when they knew something was wrong. If Celestia had brought the sun up in the wrong place, it would have been a grade-one disaster. So why was nothing happening now?
The scroll dropped from her grip as the truth dawned on her.
Nopony is worried because nopony noticed. Nopony noticed because nopony cares. About the night or about you.
Luna was unsure of how long she stood there. When her senses returned, all she could feel was anger.
How dare they. Those ungrateful ponies. Ponies that she endured boring meetings for. Ponies she lovingly crafted a night for. Ponies who gave her nothing but disrespect. Ponies who treated her like a monster. Ponies who...
She was about to kick over the scrolls in her rage, when a memory flashed in her head:
A young Alicorn with a deep purple coat opened her eyes as her magic dimmed. She surveyed the heavens and gave a warm smile. This night was perfect. Every star was shining just so, and the moon was full and bright. No doubt about it; this was the best night she had ever made.
She flew over Equestria, taking in the sights. She would have to return to the palace, but on a night like tonight? ‘Tia could manage a few hours more, couldn’t she? Besides, she just had to see her subject’s faces when they saw this wonderful night.
She looked down, expecting to see stargazers eager at their telescopes. Ponies marveling at her work. But all she saw were empty fields. Quiet streets. Ponies in bed. As she flew farther and farther, her hopes fell lower and lower. Her smile turned into a frown. Why were all the ponies asleep? She made her nights for all her ponies, why didn’t they want to see her gift to them? They always saw ‘Tia’s days, why didn’t they want to see her nights? Her frown turned into a grimace.
Nopony was watching because nopony cared.
She halted her flight and stomped a hoof angrily, decimating a small cloud. How dare they. Those ungrateful ponies. Ponies that she endured so much for. Ponies she lovingly crafted a night for. Ponies who ignored her. Ponies who...
Her eyes went wide. She mouthed “No.” She reeled back from the pedastel. “No...no...no...”
It was all happening again. Nothing had changed. Despite a thousand years, not a single thing had changed. Celestia was still the older sister. The ponies would still ignore Luna. And she would grow more jealous and bitter by the day until...
“Banishment...” she whispered fearfully.
No, she couldn’t go back again! Not for another thousand years, not another millennium away from home. There had to be something she could do; something she could change this time around. Luna paced the observatory, her movements growing frantic as she thought. Nothing! All this time and she could think of nothing! Every idea she could think of was a variation of the same one she had a thousand years ago; force the ponies to pay attention to her.
Every idea except one.
The librarian had just settled back into Silver Lining and the Pirates of Ponyzance when Princess Luna re-entered the library. This Princess was a different Alicorn entirely. She was shuffling her hooves as she walked, her eyes were obviously watering and puffy, and she looked...defeated?
No time to wonder about that. She discreetly shoved her reading in a nearby drawer. Luna didn’t seem to notice. She returned the charts, and quietly mumbled, “I’m sorry for my attitude earlier. It was no fault of yours.”
The librarian took the charts back and smiled her usual cheerful smile. “Happy to be of service, Your Highness. And a lovely night as usual, I might add.”
The Princess turned away to leave. Her voice wavered as she quietly thanked her, then she left the library without another word. Huh. That Luna always seemed so emotional. Normal one second, then sad the next. She shrugged. Royal business had always been too complicated for her. She picked up her story again, reading by the light of a night with too few stars.
All through the night, Luna waited. Waited for the pony to come and tell her she missed a few stars.Tell her that they had noticed. Tell her she was wrong.
That pony never came.
She returned to her chambers for a quick nap. In a few hours, she had another meeting to attend to. As she laid down, she realized the little nagging voice in her head was silent. Her plan had worked. Now she didn’t have a night to make her jealous. Respect would come in time, but at least it would be through hard work, and not tyranny. This time, things would be different.
She closed her eyes, tears staining the pillow.
It’s better this way...right?
Though normally a busy place by any standard, there was no place in Equestria busier than the capital before the Summer Sun Celebration. Everypony was working themselves to the bone making sure the castle was pristine. They shuddered to think that Celestia should return from her big day and find so much as a pillow out of place.
Luna had thrown herself into the preparations, overseeing the cleaning teams, organizing the post-raising feast, and a thousand and one other little tasks. After all, it was her sister’s big day. Celestia loved the Summer Sun Celebration more than anything. She always had. Whether it was the thought of making the longest day of the year or all the festivities devoted to her, she hadn’t been seen without a smile for the past month.
Luna’s smile, on the other hand, hadn’t been seen for weeks. She cantered through the main entryway with an earth pony courtier close behind. He briefed her on the latest developments in his sphere of influence. “Now, the flower arrangements are all set. We had the front hall bouquets changed to morning glory like you asked. What did you think of the rehearsal for the music?”
She checked another item off of her never-shrinking list. “It was fine, fine. And what about the carpets? I haven’t seen a cleaning pony all day and they’re rife with stains and scuff marks.”
“We have the statues and new chandeliers coming in an hour. Cleaning up now just to drag a 300 pound statue over them later would be a waste of time.” He sped up to keep pace with the hurried Princess. “I’ve got them ready to get to work as soon as the heavy moving is done.”
She had completely forgotten about the statue delivery. She gave her lists another check. If the cleaning teams were delayed another hour, that took an hour out of the evening preparations, and the halls still had to be clear for moving the statues. She sighed in frustration, then handed her assistant a new set of orders. “Good thinking, but this will put us behind schedule quite a bit. Give these to the gardeners, and tell Twinstrike I need to see him immediately.”
As he ran off, she ran through the schedule for the rest of the evening. These last few hours would be a frantic mess, but the end was in sight. This would be a Celebration to remember. Festivities starting as early as the night before at the castle, and then a ball the next day that would rival the Grand Galloping Gala. Celestia would be floored.
Luna yawned loudly, then caught herself and forced her mouth shut. She’d be floored too if she didn’t keep up her energy. A minor scuffle drew her attention down the hallway. The pony she had summoned had nearly bowled over a group of servants in his haste. She made a mental note as he neared; once things were set here, it was time for a little pick-me-up.
In the kitchen, Luna heaped some grounds into a pot of boiling water. Sweet, glorious coffee. Celestia had finally told her where she kept her personal stash, and she would have died at least a thousand times these past few weeks if it hadn’t been for the marvelous beverage.
She poked the sagging bag of beans with a hoof. It was almost empty. She must have been at the stuff harder than she thought. To be fair, she hadn’t gotten a full day’s sleep in nearly a month now. It might not have been the healthiest choice, but there was just so much to do.
A pity she wouldn’t do the same for you.
She massaged her temples. On top of everything, that little voice had managed to catch up, despite the work she had thrown herself into.
“And? I do it because it’s my sister. She’d do the same for me if I needed it.”
So why hasn’t she?
Luna fussed over her boiling water. She had been fine this whole month. And ponies were noticing her enthusiasm for the Celebration. After tonight, they’d know how much she really cared for her sister, and all her problems would be over. It was probably just the lack of sleep talking.
Once her drink was done, she poured herself a mug and sat at the table. Even though the Summer Sun Celebration was tomorrow, Celestia still insisted they have their weekly teatime. Luna was a bit early, but it was a welcome respite. Besides, she was certain her assistants could handle things for a little while without her. She took a long sip, savoring the bitter taste. A few minutes more, and Celestia still was missing. It looked like she might be waiting for a while, so she did what she usually did when she had a few minutes to herself.
She took out a pencil and started to sketch on her napkin.
Nothing terribly fancy, just a few star pattern ideas that had been bouncing around her head. Today, she was trying to reproduce a portrait of Celestia’s head she had seen on a cake earlier. She’d have to adjust the design a little to compensate for only having single-thickness lines. But if she stuck to the main features, it should turn out nicely. Soon, the picture started to take shape. This would be a good one. She’d have to save it, maybe someday she could use it in the night.
You know full well that “someday’s” just another word for “never”.
Her hoof slipped and her pencil tore a hole straight through the thin napkin. She crumpled it up in exasperation and threw it away. Now what was she going to doodle on? The chef never put out extra place settings, and she didn’t want to ruin Celestia’s napkin with her drawings. And this idea was nagging at her. Once her sister arrived, there would be no telling when she’d have a few minutes to herself again, and she might forget by then. As she scanned the kitchen, her eye fell on her clipboard. The back of her checklists were blank, and there was one in the middle where the ink hadn’t bled through all that much...
She was still in the middle of her final touches when Celestia dashed into the room and shut the door tight behind her. “So sorry Luna! I nearly made it when I was ambushed by the Ponyconian ambassador. Honestly, I think he doesn’t know the meaning of “I’m busy, we’ll chat later”. He hasn’t given me a moment’s peace all week.”
Luna smiled and put down her clipboard. “You should really think about getting a hat, your crown makes you stand out too much.”
Celestia laughed as she poured herself some tea. She was about to offer Luna some when she spotted her steaming mug. “One of these days you’re going to find “The Egghead’s Guide to Coffee Addiction” where the bag used to be, and I won’t make the mistake of telling you where it is this time.”
Luna picked up her teacup and put the mug aside. “It’s not addiction, it’s necessity. There’s a difference. Or would you rather I direct the Celebration in my sleep?”
“I’d rather you get decent rest and not have to over-indulge. Still, I appreciate all you’ve done to help out with the preparations. The whole palace does.” She added a few lumps of sugar and sipped her tea. “How are the preparations coming along?”
Luna passed her the clipboard. “See for yourself. It’ll be tight, but I think everything will be ready in time.”
Celestia started scanning the checklists and schedules. As she flipped through the papers, something on one of the pages caught her eye. “What’s this?” She plucked the paper out and turned it around, revealing the crude sketch. She examined it closely, and raised an eyebrow. “Come now Luna, am I really that fat?”
Oops. She had meant to pocket the sketch and finish it later. She fidgeted with her coffee mug. “Well, it’s not quite done-”
She cut her off with a light chuckle. “I’m kidding! Kidding! I love it. Are you going to put it in the sky tonight?”
Luna nearly choked on her coffee. Could it be that...Celestia hadn’t even noticed? No, that would be inconceivable. Her sister had made the night for a thousand years, surely she would remember what it was supposed to look like. No, there was something else wrong here. She chose her words carefully; “W-well, I haven’t changed the constellations in so long...the stargazers might get upset?” She didn’t try to hide the implausibility of the excuse.
Celestia took the bait, shaking her head knowingly. “Really? Then I expect they’ve been upset for quite a while now, seeing what you’ve been doing with the night in the past few months. I’ve been meaning to tell you how nice it is to see you be so creative with your stars.”
And now the truth comes out.
Her relief was replaced by disbelief. Luna’s dropped her mug, unable to muster the clarity of thought for a simple levitation spell. A sound between a moan and a stutter escaped her throat. Celestia’s smile vanished. “Luna? What’s wrong?”
After spending a few moments contorting her throat, she only could grate out, “C-c-creative?”
Her sister dropped the clipboard and knelt by her side. She put a wing to her forehead. “Are you feeling alright? What’s the matter?”
Luna struck her sister’s wing away. “Creative?! All this time you thought that was on purpose?!”
“What else would it be?”
“What else would it be?! You mean...” No. That was just too preposterous to even consider. “...you mean you think I’m alright? That nothing’s the matter?”
Celestia said nothing at first, but for Luna, that little moment of hesitation told the story.
She doesn’t care. She never did.
Confusion and weariness turned to rage as she stood and faced her sister. “You didn’t notice, did you? I’ve been miserable these past nine months and you didn’t notice a thing?”
Celestia backed away slowly. “Miserable? Luna, why didn’t you tell me anything? You know you can-”
The long hours and restless afternoons had worn Luna’s patience thin. Her sister was not getting off so easy. “I thought I wouldn’t have to! I can’t believe you didn’t realize something might have been wrong with me! Nopony respects me as much as you, nopony even cares when I ruin the nights, and you thought I was fine?!”
Celestia might have said something. Luna wasn’t sure. She had been bottling this up for months, and now that the lid was cracked, it was all coming out. “When I came back, I thought things could finally go back to normal. I could rule alongside you and make the nights I love. But all anypony ever gave me was fear and disrespect. I thought I could handle it. At least I still had my nights. But when I can just mess them up any time I want, and nopony even cares...what’s the point?! I couldn't help but be jealous and bitter, just like a thousand years ago. So I thought maybe if I stop hoof-crafting them, then maybe I can stop being jealous. Maybe I can be the good sister this time. And you want to know something?”
She found herself right in Celestia’s face. “I’ve hated every minute of it! I’ve been dragging myself through each day, clinging to the hope that maybe someday I’ll be able to come back. Somehow, I’ll be able to get my nights back. But I know that’s never going to happen! And it’s been a nightmare!” She prodded Celestia’s chest with a hoof, punctuating each word. “And You. Noticed. NOTHING!”
Her sister was at a loss for words. “I just thought-”
“You thought wrong, sis.” She marched resolutely for the door, but when she turned to face her sister, her eyes were swollen with tears. “You’re still as blind as you were a thousand years ago.”
There were few things in Equestria that could withstand the might of an Alicorn who truly wanted to be alone. The crack in the wall where she'd slammed the outer door to her chambers was a testament to that.
Struggling to keep up with the Princess, one of the black-furred pegasus guards landed at his post at the door to her bedchamber.
The guard was obviously surprised to be talked to; Luna usually treated him like furniture. "Your Highness, I'm under orders to..."
Luna felt a familiar glow in her eyes as she glared at him. She didn't repeat herself; she didn't have to. Both guards were already racing for the outer doors.
At least she could still command fear. It was what she was best at, after all.
Once alone, she wasn't sure what to do next. Right now, crying it all out alone in her room felt alright, if a little juvenile. She had been trying the logical approach for the last nine months, one night of emotional outbursts wouldn’t hurt anypony.
*tap tap tap*
Luna lifted her head to look out the window. Her sister was tapping at the glass with a hoof and motioning towards the lock. So much for being alone. She buried her head in a pillow and tried to ignore her.
*tap tap tap FLASH*
Luna didn’t even bother looking up. One of the many disadvantages of an alicorn family; privacy was never guaranteed. She tried ignoring her, hoping that she could take a hint and leave now. Luck was not on her side.
“Luna, I know you don’t want to talk to me, but I ask that you at least give me a chance to explain myself.”
She snorted. “You’re already here, it’s not as if I have a choice.”
Celestia sat next to her. She twitched as she considered putting a comforting wing over her, but then decided against it. “I owe you an apology, sister,” she frowned, “although I know it does little good now.” Luna remained silent. She continued, “But it is owed regardless. I’m sorry, Luna. I should have noticed something was bothering you all this time.”
“But you didn’t. You never do. It’s always sunshine and rainbows to you provided nopony tells you otherwise.” she groused, still face-down in a pillow, still not looking at her.
Celestia didn’t rise to the challenge in her voice. She simply nodded, and replied with a tinge of sadness, “Yes, I suppose I have always been lacking in that regard. In a kingdom where so much can go wrong, it is much easier to assume all is well unless otherwise reported.” She prodded the carpet with a hoof absentmindedly. “I keep finding that the same can’t be said when dealing with other ponies.”
A few minutes passed without either of them saying a word. Luna, waiting for her sister to finish talking, and Celestia, waiting to see if her sister wanted to take a few more shots at her.
Finally, Celestia whispered, “But I do think you give your sister too little credit. I have something for you. Rather, something to tell you.”
That finally got Luna to raise her head and pay attention. Though it shouldn’t have surprised her; Celestia had always been fond of her little games.
“Did you notice anything odd about the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration?”
“Well, the festivities certainly start early this year. From what I remember, the Celebration usually started in the morning, once the sun was raised. But this year, it looks like we’re starting-”
“-in the evening, yes. And have you planned anything for tomorrow? Anything you remember from Celebrations past?”
Luna thought hard. Although it was a long time ago, she did remember a few of the traditional events...which were mysteriously absent this year.
Celestia must have seen the wheels turning in her head. A knowing smile played on her lips. “Many things have changed over the years. The Summer Sun Celebration is no different. Centuries ago, somepony started a peculiar tradition:” She leaned in close, as if whispering a secret. “Celebrating the longest day of summer by staying up all night.”
Luna could only sit in stunned silence.
She continued, “But traditions have an interesting way of spreading. Once everypony saw what a rousing success the nighttime Summer Sun Celebration was, holding parties at night became quite the thing to do. When the first Grand Galloping Gala was held, it went without saying that it should be an evening affair. And once the nobles were holding their soirees at night, soon everypony seemed to want to do the same. Sleepovers, dance clubs, concerts, all at night.”
She put a hoof to her chin in mock thought. “It’s funny when you think about it; whoever started that tradition ensured the Princess of the Night would find a loyal and ready audience when she arrived back home. That was very considerate of them.”
Luna didn’t know what to think, or even say. She turned to look at her sister, still wearing her knowing smile. She looked out the window, the ponies all below getting ready for a celebration that was now hers. And then she looked to her pillow, her little doodle on the clipboard resting on its side.
“Is that it? Is that all you’ve managed to do in a thousand years?” she said in a low voice.
Celestia’s smile vanished from her face. “What do you mean Luna? Don’t you see? I had to ensure that you’d have an audience when you returned, and it’s worked out so well!”
Something about her tone re-ignited her spent anger. “Is that what this is to you? A game? I’m not some noble you’re trying to impress, or some annoying courtier you’re trying to outmaneuver, I’m your sister! And this wasn’t some little misunderstanding or harmless prank either; I was on the moon for a millennium! Alone! And for what?! So you could spin your little webs and get the ponies to stay up late partying of all things! Who’s going to even bother looking at the sky when they’re partying? And that’s another thing, if you’re really so clever and had this all planned out, why didn’t you tell me sooner?! Your little sister is broken hearted and miserable, but it’s okay! Really! It’s all part of the plan! That little moment where the pieces all come together and everypony’s happy will make it all better! Well what happens when they don’t come together, hmm? What happens now?”
For the first time in her life, Luna saw Celestia speechless. She stammered, actually stammered! “I-I thought you wanted an audience...”
“You thought wrong Celestia. Again. All these years, and I feel like you don’t even know me. You didn’t understand then, and you don’t understand now. And if you’re done with your little show, I’ve got a night to throw together.”
She went for the door. Putting a night together in her state sounded like terrible work, but at least she could be without sisters or subjects to bother her. She almost missed the faint whisper from behind her. “Luna...please don’t go...”
She ignored it. Her sister had her chance, and she blew it. Scratch that, she had her second chance, and she blew that one too. If her own sister didn’t consider her worth understanding and knowing, then what more needed to be said?
She pushed open the door, only to have it slam shut in her face. A magical force was holding it closed. She rolled her eyes. “Celestia, stop. Don’t make this worse than it already is. I just want to-”
“How would you like to raise the sun tomorrow?”
All thoughts of anger, disappointment, and sadness were swept away in an instant. In their place stood staggering disbelief. Had...had she heard that correctly? Celestia might as well have offered her...well...no, there wasn’t anything that matched that in the slightest. Tomorrow was her day. Not just any day, her day.
She rubbed her ears to make sure they were still working properly. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“Would you like to raise the sun tomorrow?”
It’s just a bargaining chip; she’s biding time.
But if that were the case, then what was she waiting for? She had just brought out the best thing she could offer. Well, the best thing she could reasonably offer. What could she possibly be trying to win by losing so much?
“You want me to raise the sun tomorrow?”
She nodded. “Consider it my way of apologizing with more than just words.”
More apologies. How many more of those are you going to take?
But how could she turn that down?
You don’t need handouts.
What was she waiting for? What did she need?
Luna moaned as the fatigue of the last month, combined with the war in her head, brought her down. She sat on her haunches, cradling her head as she tried to make sense of the thoughts sprinting through her mind. Finally, she said, “You’d...let me do that?”
In response, Celestia lay down next to her and warmly wing-hugged her. “Yes. I’d let you raise a thousand Celebrations if it meant I could get you to understand how much I loved you.” She held her tightly. “That’s why I tried to change how things were run in your absence; so I would never lose you again.”
The little voice told her to shove her sister away. Another voice told her to hug her tighter. Luna couldn’t tell which voice was hers, and which one was right. “I...don’t know.” She extracted herself from the hug. “I mean, I know how much tomorrow means to you. I really do. It’s just...nine months ‘Tia. I’m not sure if I can forgive you that easily.”
Celestia wasn’t able to hide her disappointment. She looked as though she was about to say more, but all she said was, “I understand”. As Luna left, she added, “The carriage will be outside the front gate an hour before dawn.”
The next morning, a crowd of excited, but tired ponies gathered in the town center of Fillydelphia. The stage was set, the Royal Honor Guard was in their places, and sunrise was minutes away. A cheer erupted as Princess Celestia walked gracefully onto the stage, giving the crowd a polite wave. She stepped up to her appointed spot, beneath a statue of a rising sun.
And stood aside to let Princess Luna take her place.
The crowd murmured excitedly as she stepped to the statue. They didn’t sound disappointed at all, just surprised. She bit her lip and looked to her sister. Celestia gave an almost imperceptible nod and bade the ceremony continue.
Celestia had done all she could to teach her how to raise the sun properly in the time they had. In reality, it wasn’t all that different from raising the moon. She kept telling herself that. It’s just the moon. It’s just the moon. It’s just a bigger moon that will burn Equestria to a crisp if you’re not careful... She gulped nervously, and took off.
As she cleared the horizon line, she reached out with her magic, trying to grasp the unfamiliar orb. She felt it immediately, so full of warmth and light. And heavy. Celestia hadn’t mentioned the heavy part. She strained with all her might, flapping her wings for all they worth as she poured all her magic into getting that ball of fire into the sky.
Her eyes were shut tight with concentration, but she could hear the oohs and ahhs from the crowd as the sun slowly peeked over the city’s skyline. She gave one last, mighty push, and she could feel the sun’s rays on her back. Down below her, she could hear Celestia clapping her hooves on the stage. Soon the entire crowd was cheering, the drumming of their hooves on the ground sounding all the world like a mighty earthquake.
She floated back down to earth and beheld her work. The sun was up, in the right position, and nothing was on fire. Not bad for a first try. Celestia was beside her in an instant, hugging her tight. “You did amazing, Luna! I’m so proud of you!”
Luna blushed under the barrage of praise. Not just from her sister; it seemed everypony who could get within earshot wanted to compliment her work.
The two sisters were trotting back to the carriage, when something fell out of Luna’s bags. It was her clipboard, with the star doodle still on the front page. She picked it up, and stared at it wistfully. Celestia noticed her hesitation and told the pegasi drivers to wait just a few more minutes.
“Are you going to put it in the sky tonight?”
“I...I don’t know if I can. If I can really keep it up with nopony watching. I’m not sure if I ever will.”
“Respect comes with time. Who’s to say appreciation won’t as well?”
“I suppose, it’s just...you realize this doesn’t change anything, right? In a month, in a week even, I may not have respect. I may still be jealous. I may not even have my nights.” She lowered her head. “Nothing’s changed.”
She felt a gentle hoof prop her chin up until she was looking at her sister, framed in the morning sun. Her morning sun. “You’ll have me this time.”
She clutched the clipboard tightly.
“I think I can work with that.”
Special thanks to the bronies of the Giant in the Playground pony thread(s). From prereading to encouraging words to just making me laugh, you guys helped out more than you realize with this story.
Additional thanks to darthbobcat and Raz_Fox. If you two hadn’t wrote the Forever series and Misted Stage respectively, I would still be looking down on fanfiction as a lower form of writing. Thanks for setting me straight.