Celestia peered through her window into the gleaming city below. The ponies were partying late into the night, their revelry illuminated by the dim stars, and the strangely empty moon. It was not at all the sort of night that anypony had been expecting, not after the day that had proceeded it. It would have seemed, had anypony cared to guess, like its artisan had simply thrown it together at the last minute, and this was indeed the case. Tonight, there were much better things to do. Better things even than celebrating amongst her subjects; Celestia had slunk away from the festivities in Ponyville and returned to her grand palace quite early on, in fact. She had needed to escort someone very special to her new home.
Turning away from the window, Celestia walked to the center of the room, where a large pillow had been laid out. She lay down on it beside her beloved sister, who pressed her face firmly against Celestia's neck.
“...Missed you so much,” Luna whispered to her. Celestia smiled, and nuzzled her sister.
“I missed you too, Luna,” She said, “It's been too long...I almost forgot how cute my little sister was.” She nipped playfully at Luna's ear, who giggled.
“Stop it,” Luna said happily. Celestia's smile widened, and she nipped again.
“You aren't fooling anyone,” She teased, “You loved this when we were fillies, and you love it now, don't you?”
“Y-yes,” Luna giggled as Celestia played with her ticklish ears, “N-now stop it!” Celestia did as she was asked, and allowed Luna to push her face against Celestia's neck once more. They sat together for the longest time, not speaking at all, simply laying on the pillow and basking in the glow of the fireplace and each others company, for the first time in so many centuries. Luna began to slip from against her sister’s neck, her head nodding forward, then snapping back, only to repeat the cycle a few moments later. Celestia smiled warmly, and put a wing around the younger Alicorn.
“It's alright,” Celestia said, “Sleep. You've had a long day.”
“No,” Luna mumbled, shaking her head gently, “It's night. It's my job. I need to do it.”
“Hush,” Celestia purred, “I've been doing this for 1000 years now. You sleep, tonight. You're tired. I can handle this.” Luna mumbled something incoherent, and shook her head again.
“Oh, Celly,” She said, “I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.”
“No,” Celestia said, “Don't be sorry. It wasn't your fault. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't see it happening sooner. I'm sorry I had to do that to you. It was awful of me; I was an awful sister for doing it.” Celestia swallowed hard, fighting back the memories of the guilt that had plagued for decades after the incident. “I'm sorry that you had to-”
“That's not it,” Luna interrupted, “I'm sorry about what I did. But Celly...” She looked up at her sister with frightened eyes, and said, “Oh, Celly. I tried. I really did try, but...I couldn't leave him there. He came back with me, Celly, and now he's here...don't you hear it? Don't you hear him?”
“Him?” Celestia asked. Her eyes narrowed, and an all-to-familiar voice drifted into her ears.
“Oh, my Celestia,” It whispered, “I'm hurt. Truly, I am. After all I've done for you, all the time we spent together, and you've forgotten me already?” Both sisters looked to the window, Luna with fear and Celestia with irritation. A strange purple smoke drifted through the window, playing on some unseen current as if it were alive, dancing with some sort of perverse glee. It danced around the room before gathering in front of the sisters, blending and twisting into form. It took the shape of an Alicorn stallion, spectral and ghastly. Smoke trailed from the tips of his wings and horn, and from his front ankles. He had neither flank nor tail; its body ended past its wings and trailed into a tail of mist, ever twitching and moving. “Surely you must remember - “
“I remember you,” Celestia interrupted the Alicorn.
“Oh, good,” He cooed, drifting closer to the princesses, “I know you and I never really saw eye to eye, but I thought maybe we could start over.” He drifted in between the two sisters, Luna cringing away from him, and swirled around Celestia, rubbing his cheek against hers. “After all,” He whispered in her ear, “You're making up with Luna, like good sisters do. And after everything you did to her, too...”
“That wasn't her fault!” Luna cried, “She was just doing what she had too!”
“Ah, that's right, isn't it?” The Alicorn laughed, “Yes, it wasn't her fault. You were having another of your little fits, weren't you my dear? And Celestia, well, she just had to put her hoof down.”
“I...i-it wasn't a fit,” Luna insisted, “I was...you -”
“Oh, don't you worry,” He said, drifting over and stroking Luna's mane, “I don't blame you at all. Nopony does, I'm sure. After all, you were so young, and artists can be so temperamental. Nobody even looked at your beautiful sky...” He looked up and gasped happily, as if something had just occurred to him. He spun around to Celestia, and declared, “Your sister is an Artist! Oh, that's what she thought. She poured so much of herself into those skies, and they really were lovely. I'll bet you didn't know that, did you dear?”
“I knew.” Celestia said sharply. The spectral pony nodded happily.
“Did you?” He asked flippantly, “I'm sorry. It really has been a long time, Celestia. Luna never told me before we were on the moon together...all those years, and she couldn't even make the nights to keep her busy. She was heartbroken, you know.” he drifted onto Luna's far side and leaned in against her, laying a wing over top of her. “She cried, and cried, and cried, for sooooo long. But you got over it, didn't you Luna?” Luna gave no reply, only whimpering into the pillow. The Alicorn chuckled under his breath, and continued, “Oh, yes. Eventually. After all, she had me there. I kept her company for all those lonely, lonely years. We learned so much about each other, didn't we, Luna?”
“...Go away,” Luna sniffed. The Alicorn drifted away, sailing under a scowling Celestia's chin, and flying around the opulent room.
“Oh, but listen to me go on,” He said, inspecting the room, “Tell me, Celestia, how have you been? You've done well for yourself, I think... Such a wonderful home, not at all like that dreary, boring old stone castle you used to live in.” He flew to the fireplace, running a hoof across the mantle. “Yeeeess,” He remarked, “It's absolutely lovely. How long did it take? How many slaves?” He spread his wings excitedly, filtering the light of the fire and casting a palor over the room.
“I didn't use slaves,” Celestia snapped at him, “I didn't even ask for this. The ponies built it for me...as thanks.”
“Ah, of course,” He mused, drifting closer to the princesses “They love you, don't they...that's always been so much more...you, hasn't it? Let them adulate you. That way, they won't see it coming, eh?” He peered meaningfully at Luna, and laughed. “Oh, I'm so proud of you, my Celestia.” He flew to the window, and looked out. “This whole kingdom...I'll bet it's grown even bigger, hasn't it? How far? The Griffins? The Zebras?” He drifted back to the princess, asking with a sinful sort of pleasure, “The world?”
“None of it,” Celestia told him, looking away from the hideously eager face, contorted by the furls of smoke that drifted up as he lost focus.
“None of it?”
“No. The Kingdom is the same as it ever was. It's enough for the ponies.”
“Oh, Celestia,” The Alicorn moaned, “Not at all? A thousand years, and you haven't budged an inch?”
“Oh, you really are just like her,” The Alicorn sighed, “Where was that ambition you had a thousand years ago?”
Celestia narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about,” She asked. The ghostly pony turned away, and grinned slyly to himself.
“Don't play the fool, dear,” He said, his voice smooth and calm, “It doesn't become you...I know you didn't have to send us away. You could have used that magic to do anything, couldn't you? But you sent us away.” He swirled around Luna, nuzzling against her sympathetically. “You remember, don't you Luna? Of course you do, poor little Luna, betrayed by her big. Mean. Sister...” He pouted at her mockingly, and a small sob escaped the little Alicorn filly.
“Stop it,” She begged. The specter laughed cruelly, and continued to goad Celestia, stroking her chin with his tail.
“The greatest magic in the world, and all you could think to do was make yourself more powerful.”
“That's not true,” Celestia said, her voice cracking slightly. The ghostly Alicorn smirked as she continued, “I was young. I didn't know how to use them. I didn't know any better...”
“Don't lie,” The Alicorn sneered, “You wanted me gone. You wanted us both gone...you wanted everything for yourself, and you got it, didn't you?” He trailed away, remarking flippantly, “I never wanted anything more than to rule with the two of you. But you wanted more, and you took it.” He turned back, inches away from Celestia's nose, and smiled. “I'm. Proud. Of. You.” He said, lingering on each syllable. Another sob escaped from Luna, and she looked up, her eyes red from crying.
“Oh, Luna,” Celestia said, wrapping a wing around her sister, “Don't listen to him. You know-”
“LEAVE US ALONE!” Luna screamed, lashing out at the spectral Alicorn in front of them. Her hooves sailed through him harmlessly, and as he reformed she squeezed her eyes shut and sobbed, “Just...just for one night. Can't you just leave me alone for once?” The Alicorn laughed.
“Oh, Luna, you know better than that,” He cooed, “I won't ever leave you. I just can't. You need me. You're just a scared little filly, who needs someone to hold her hoof. You can't count on big sis Celly after what she did to you anymore, can you? But don't you worry, I'll be here for you...” He drifted in circles around the young filly, slowly coming closer and closer until he was wrapped around her neck, pressing his face against hers, and slowly whispering, over and over,“I'll be here for you,” as she broke down into sobbing. He laughed gleefully, stroking her with his wing. “Don't you worry,” He said, “Everything will be alright. Just like it always was.”
“That's enough!” Celestia declared, standing up and shaking a wing through the Alicorn Stallion's body. He dispersed, and reformed in front of the white mare. “Leave.” She demanded, “Now.”
“Ah, so regal,” the specter taunted, “But I really have been gone for too long. You've forgotten everything I tried to teach you. Come now, Celestia, what's the magic word?”
“Please leave us alone.” Celestia seethed at him.
“Oooh... so close. One more try, now, I know you can do it.” Celestia glared at him, looking away and shutting her eyes tight. Slowly, she said,
“Please leave us alone...Father.”
“Look me in the eyes and say it.”
Celestia's eyes snapped open and she stared daggers at the ghostly form before her.
“Please leave us alone Father.” She said, hate and acid seeping through with every letter. The Alicorn before her grinned victoriously, and flew away.
“That wasn't so hard, was it?” He drifted to the window, laughing all the way. “Just remember, I'll always be here...I'm a part of you, after all. Every bit as much as you are a part of each other.” He clapped his hooves together, and said, “Oh, I'm so happy. We can finally be a family again.”
With that, he was gone, leaving only Celestia and the still-sobbing Luna. Celestia lay down beside her, nuzzling Luna's neck and laying a comforting wing over her. “It's alright,” She whispered, “He's gone now.” Luna sniffled and pressed her face into Celestia's neck, but she had stopped crying. “It will be different this time,” Celestia promised, “I won't let him hurt us. Not again.”
I had once mounted an expedition to discover the true nature of Celestia's coat. I had gathered all the supplies I would need - plenty of food, mountain climbing equipment, and map of her castle, meticulously charted from the few screenshots from the show. I had been prepared to go on my own, knowing full well I would likely never even find Equestria, but before I left I was approached by a young man. He was a student of quantum physics, looking to make a name for himself with the conclusive proof of multiple worlds that our adventure would bring. I was hesitant to bring him along, young as he was, but he convinced me that I would never succeed without him, and he was right.
He had built a machine that he told me would take us to the land of Equestria, and his words proved true. All I can remember is that we were in a dirty basement laboratory one minute, then there was a blinding flash, and we found ourselves on the tip of a pastel mountain, looking down on an alabaster city, gleaming white against the dark sky. The descent to the castle was easy; the mountain was so steep on the sides that we merely needed to rappel from a secure point near the top, and even amongst the beauty of Canterlot the palace was striking. We encountered little resistance in the streets, most of the ponies having long gone for their nightly rest, but as we neared the castle we encountered a few troops of guards, all a pristine white beneath their golden armour. Let me tell you now, a world filtered through a television set does no justice to itself at all. I'd never seen anything quite so beautiful, the way their fur meshed so perfectly with their feathers, the perfect end of a perfect blend of evolution and magic. It was all we could do not to reach out to touch them, but we knew our quest would never find it's end if we were to be caught.
The mountain climbing gear proved it had another purpose, to scale the castle wall and enter through a high window. For someone who spent most of his days in a lab, pouring over notes and experiments, my assistant proved himself quite capable physically. To our surprise, the castle was mostly empty. We saw only a few guards, and even then their vigil was relaxed; it was the middle of the night, after all. My map was accurate, and we quickly found the throne room. It was completely empty, to my assistant's surprise and my relief. I had expected at least one of the princesses might be there, watching over the rhythm of the moon and sun, and that they would call out for guards the instant they saw us. We had no idea where to find the princesses' bedchambers, but I had the notion that they must be close by. It was my assistant that found it first. We had searched the throne room high and low for secret chambers, and he had sat on Celestia's seat of power for a rest. It was not a throne made for humans, and it was never expected that someone would lean back on it, like he did. The back came open, swinging silently on well-oiled hinges, into her bedchamber.
We saw her, then. She was beautiful...no, beautiful doesn't do her justice. The guards were beautiful. She was divine. I almost had what I had come for. All it would take is for me to get close, just a whiff, and we could leave. The boy would have his proof, and all the world would know.
We never expected her chambers to be guarded. Why would a goddess, sealed away in a secret chamber need guards so close, was what we had thought. Especially one who was so beloved? A world filtered through a television set does itself no justice at all. Even when her guards moved, we could still hardly see them. They were the most perfect blue, blending seamlessly into the shadows of the night. We panicked. We ran. We ran through the castle blindly, heedless of the guards that we alerted. We finally found window low enough to escape through, into the city streets. We left the city behind us, fleeing for the mountain where we had come from. My assistant had assured me the same machine that had sent us here would have kept a portal open where it deposited us, and we would just need to turn off the machine. We scaled the mountain as fast as we could, but even muscles driven by fear and adrenaline will never be strong enough to out-climb wings. We were halfway up the mountain when they came for us. I think, looking back, they could have at any time, but they were never so kind.
They caught us almost instantly. Our muscles burnt, screaming with every inch. The guards began to berate us, sweeping past and disturbing the rope, and striking at us with their hooves. My assistant called to me from below. His arms were tired. His grip was slipping. He couldn't hold on anymore, he told me. I stretched out my hand to him, told him to take it. I told him I would get him out of there. I told him we would make it back, and he would be famous. I told him I would protect him. I lied to him.
I heard him scream the whole way down. The mountain was sheer, with no ledges to slow his fall until he reached the city far below. The guards never moved to help him. They let him die. I never even saw his body. I think the left it where it fell. I was not so fortunate.
They must have known that I was the leader, because they took me back. They were careful not to hurt me. They didn't need to bother. I wouldn't have fought back. The brought me before their princess. She stood and waited while I wept over my assistant. When I finally looked up, there was this look in her eye...it was so old, I can't even begin to describe it. If there were words for what I felt when I looked in those eyes, I don't know them, but it was astounding. It was like looking at my mother for the first time after being born. I was so confused, so afraid, and she seemed so warm. But gods...the heat of the sun can grow the most beautiful flowers, but can it scorch the earth beneath it.
I wasn't the first to come through, she told me. There had been others, who stumbled across her kingdom, but I was the first to do so on purpose. She asked me what I came for, and I told her without a second thought. She walked to me - gods, when she walked. I've never seen anything like it. The most magnificent creature I've ever seen. I wanted to touch her, so badly. Never lustfully, never anything so crass, I just wanted to feel her. Feel if something so incredible could really be real. She knew, I think. She mocked me. I didn't care. Even her cruel words had this element about them, like cream to a starving man, like the most beautiful music I had ever forgotten, and longed to hear again. I remember her words perfectly. She said to me,
"Is that all you came for? You stand before a goddess, who could grant you anything, give you the world if you asked, and all you want to know is how I smell? Silly human. Your kind has always been so paltry. It would almost be funny, if it weren't so sad. Fine, I'll let you have your desire. Then I'll send you home. Not at first, though. I think I'd like to see you wait for more blessings, first. That should be enough punishment, knowing you'll never find something like it again."
She smiled at me. That smile...there wasn't an ounce of humour in it. It was the smile of a schoolyard bully, only a thousand times more terrible. She brushed up against me, and I smelt her, then. Her guards took me away, and I begged for more of her. one more whiff, one more smell, but she payed me no heed. She laughed at me, as they dragged me down to the dungeons.
I spent two weeks, down there, praying she would come back, and I could smell her. She came back only once. She never spoke, she never came close enough for me to smell, she just watched. That was then they took me back to the portal. Just before they sent me through, she cast a spell on me. She took away my assistant’s name. I don't know why. I couldn't even begin to fathom what her ancient mind thought. They shoved me through the portal, and as I found my bearings in that dirty little lab, a bolt of light came through, destroying the machine that held it open.
Yes, she smelt like waffles. Not just any waffles, that would be too plain for something like her. It smelt like the first batch of waffles my mother ever baked for me, when I learned how to ride my bike. There were other smells, too. The richest syrup you'll ever taste, and strawberries so fresh they might have come from the Garden of Eden itself. It was magnificent. I weep, now, unabashedly, when I eat waffles. They'll never be as good as they might be, they taste like ash by comparison. I eat them every day , hoping that one day they will be as good...but they never will, and I know that. I eat them because of him. I eat them so I can remember that poor, nameless student, who died in a world not his own, with no one to mourn him but me. And I can't even give him a grave, because I don't know who he was.
A world filtered through a television set does no justice to itself at all.