Disclaimers: Everything belongs to Hasbro/Lauren Faust.
Notes: This took a little longer than I'd hoped, but at least it's longer than the last chapter. And for those wondering where the Weather Patrol is, well, they've not been invented yet. At this point, maintaining the weather is one of Celestia and Luna's resposibilities, along with the sun and moon yadda yadda. Obviously this changed later. Also, why can't I use asterisks to break up chapters any more? Why FFN? WHY?
Spoilers: None. Rolling in personal fanon/stuff I just handwaved now. ROLLING I SAY.
Part 3 – Growth
"You're not my sister," Celestia hissed, her eyes narrowed and blazing with fury. Far below them, tidal waves beat at the coasts of Equestria, even at this altitude Luna could hear the faint screams drifting up from the city below.
"Celestia, please..." The younger alicorn's voice was pleading; all she wanted was for this madness to end. But Celestia didn't even seem to hear her.
"I'll kill you for this, demon!" Rearing in midair, Celestia's golden-shod hooves lashed out towards Luna's face...
...and the young alicorn woke with a start, still shivering with fear at the memory of the dream-Celestia's hate-filled expression. The pale golden light of dawn was streaming through the open windows; as the keeper of the night, Luna never shut it out with curtains. Rising from her bed, Luna moved across the room and stepped out onto the balcony. The sun was slowly rising into the sky, and she could see Celestia's graceful form silhouetted against it. She shuddered slightly as the image of her sister's rage-twisted face flashed in front of her eyes once more, but pushed it away. It had been a nightmare, nothing more.
Or was it a warning of things to come?
Hearing sounds of movement from the castle gate below, Luna leaned her front hooves on the edge of the balcony, and looked over. There were a long line of ponies waiting to get in, some pulling carts of food, others carrying rolls of fabric, folded tablecloths and banners. It was time for the Gala already? Luna supposed that she should have remembered, everypony was making such a fuss over it being the bicentennial of Discord's defeat, a whole two hundred years. It didn't seem that long to Luna, not nearly. She'd barely grown any taller, still small next to Celestia...
...and not nearly as regal...
...yet in that time she'd watched as the ponies who served them in the castle grew old, died, were replaced by younger ponies who in turn had grown old and died... it still unsettled her a little. Celestia had told her that it was different for alicorns, that their parents had ruled for thousands of years, that they'd only stopped ruling because... She frowned. Luna still wasn't entirely sure what had happened, Celestia had always been vague about it. All she could remember herself was her crying sister telling her that their parents had left, had it been to fight something? To stop something? Luna had always meant to ask Celestia about it, yet whenever they were alone together; it just seemed to slip her mind.
In the darkness of Luna's shadow, something laughed softly. "Better you don't know, little princess," it murmured to itself. "It might put you on your guard."
Of course, Celestia might not tell her anyway, that would be just like her. She would say that Luna wasn't old enough to understand, that it wasn't the right time, that it was time for her to go check on the sun or something, or she'd just order Luna to go back to her studies. Like Celestia was the one ruling, and Luna was just a subordinate like everypony else... She frowned again at the thought, for a moment, she had seemed to remember Celestia commanding her to go to the library and study, yet she was sure that had never actually happened.
It cursed, reminding itself that this needed a delicate touch. The princess might have been young, but she wasn't stupid. Too much too quickly would just make her suspicious. Or worse, would make her go to her sister. It was enough that the little alicorn had come to accept its voice as her own thoughts, not even perceiving them as a separate voice any more. The rest would come in time.
...she must have just dreamed that. Though it probably was something Celestia would do, since she was so busy these days. Holding court, visiting settlements, listening to the reports from the Forest Guard who patrolled the Everfree Forest, the only time she even seemed to pay attention to Luna was when she came to ask her how her studies were going, like that was all she cared about. Well, that and making sure she was raising the moon and the stars. All Celestia had to worry about was the stupid sun.
One night, Luna had even moved the stars to see if Celestia would notice. Unfortunately, she had, and had lectured Luna about responsibility for days afterwards. Luna hadn't seen what the big deal was, since it showed that she was definitely studying, all the constellations had been perfectly correct... just reversed. Apparently, it was a big thing to the unicorn astronomers though; complaints had come in for weeks afterwards. A brightly-coloured oriole had even brought a scroll signed with an oddly pointed hoofmark, which Luna couldn't understand, but Celestia had told her that it was an angry letter from the zebras far across the sea. However, rather than make Luna deal with all the angry ponies, Celestia had handled it herself, which Luna had been grateful for at the time.
Why? She probably told them all that it was her stupid little sister's fault. The only reason she dealt with them is because she thinks you're an idiot and you'd just make things worse.
"That's not true," Luna muttered to herself. "It's not like I'm not allowed to attend court or anything, sometimes she even asks me to go!"
Because she wants you to sit there all nice like a doll so everypony still thinks you're ruling together. Especially you. Don't forget that she's the one holding court. You're just there to watch.
Luna said nothing this time, tired of arguing with herself. Sometimes the resentment she often felt towards her sister made her feel terribly guilty. Sometimes it just made her feel vindicated. Sometimes it went away entirely, usually during the increasingly rare moments she got to share with Celestia, when it was just the two of them, just like it had been when they were little. Even in the chaos of Discord's reign, it had still seemed like Celestia had more time for her, but that had changed once they'd defeated him.
No, it changed when you found those damn Elements...
That much was true at least. When they'd discovered the hidden chamber deep beneath their old castle, and the Elements hidden within, Celestia had changed. All her worry about what Discord would do if he caught them working against him had vanished, replaced with a steely resolve that Luna had never seen in her sister before.
"I'll kill you for this, demon!" Celestia screamed, her beautiful face twisted with rage and hatred
The sound of hoofsteps behind her made Luna jump, then relax as a white wing settled over her shoulders.
"You're up early this morning." Celestia's voice was warm, not at all like Luna's dream. "Don't tell me it's because you're excited about the Gala..."
"Well, maybe it will be less terrible this year?" Luna replied with a slight giggle, leaning against her older sister even though something inside her recoiled at the contact. "As long as we don't have to spend all night greeting everypony again..."
"Unfortunately, that's not optional," her sister sighed. "It's expected of us, the Gala is in our honour after all, it's us that they've come to see."
"Yeah, but it would be better if we only had to talk to the interesting ones." Luna muttered. "Like the Forest Guard, they always have good stories..."
"I know, but it wouldn't be fair." Celestia reminded her. "We have to make time for everypony. Even the boring ones." Seeing the rebellious look on her sister's face, Celestia relented. "Well, I guess I could do the greeting if you want, then you can enjoy the Gala."
"Really? You don't mind? I don't have to wait with you?" Luna was delighted at the prospect, leaping up onto her back hooves excitedly as Celestia nodded. "Thanks 'Tia, this'll be so much better than last year's."
Celestia watched her sister prance, smiling at her enthusiasm. "I'm glad you're so excited. Just remember we need a nice bright night for the fireworks, I'll come help you clear the clouds after nightfall." Glancing down over the edge of the balcony, Celestia spread her wings. "I'd better go check on the preparations, I'll see you later Luna." Leaping over the balustrade, Celestia glided gracefully down to the ground.
It was as if the day had grown a little darker. Luna slowly came to a standstill as troubling thoughts slowly filtered back into her mind.
Well of course she can do without you beside her. She'll be greeting everypony herself, so they'll all know who really rules Equestria. And if they even notice you're not there, nopony will care enough to ask where you are. You'll just be Celestia's sad little shadow, drifting around the ballroom.
With that thought, Luna leapt up onto the balustrade, about to follow her sister to tell her she'd changed her mind. But as she teetered on the edge of the marble, she reconsidered. It would be nice to see the Gala without being stuck greeting the attendees for most of the night, she could go to the garden to watch the nightflowers bloom, or she could talk to the Forest Guard, or just enjoy the music. Luna knew that Celestia wasn't trying to push her away; releasing her from her receiving duties was a favour, not a slight. She was sure of it.
Are you? How long before she starts releasing you of other duties?
"She would never..." Luna murmured, though a chill ran through her all the same. She shook it off defiantly. "Tonight's going to be the best Gala ever."
Later, Luna would always remember that it was.
She had raised the moon at precisely the right time, and it was perfectly full, a polished silver coin hanging high in the sky. The stars took a little more encouragement, as always the brightest ones were easiest but soon they were all springing into the sky like diamonds as they formed the familiar autumn constellations. Once, long ago it seemed, Celestia had told her that every star was a sun in its own right, just unimaginably far away. Luna had been much younger then, and Celestia had been helping her to call them out. The young alicorn had always found the moon much easier, even though she could feel it tugging at the tides as it rose and set.
And all Celestia does is make things nice and bright...
It was a thought she'd had more than once, but this time Luna ignored it. Moments later, Celestia joined her in the sky, and the two sisters set about clearing the clouds away, bathing the castle in bright moonlight. The white walls reflected it back into the sky, shining in the darkness just like Celestia.
I'm sure everypony can see her up here. Not you though. You just blend in.
And looking at her sister, Luna knew that was right. Celestia was already taller than her, more graceful and elegant, but she told herself it was because Celestia was older, she'd be like that too one day. Nevertheless, she would never have Celestia's shining snowy coat, which made her sister look like white gold in the sunlight and bright silver in the moonlight. Luna's own gray-purple colouring made her an inky shadow during the day, and almost invisible from dusk until dawn. But that wasn't Celestia's fault either. It wasn't.
The two sisters landed on Celestia's balcony as the first fireworks were launched, lighting the night sky with rainbow sprays of colour. In the courtyard below the first guests were already arriving, though most had paused on the mountain road to watch the fireworks.
"Your Majesties?" Both alicorns turned around to see their steward, Castellan, standing a respectful distance away. The pale blue unicorn was carrying a pair of polished wooden boxes on his back, which didn't even wobble as he bowed. "My apologies for interrupting, but these were brought for you earlier." With a gesture of his horn, Castellan set the boxes down in front of the sisters, one marked with a sun, the other with a crescent moon. "They are from the artisans of Canterlot, gifts to mark this most auspicious celebration."
"We'll need to thank them later," Celestia said as she unfastened the latch on her box with a flick of her horn. Inside, nestled on a bed of red velvet, there lay a delicate golden tiara and a collar engraved with sunbursts and curling patterns. "Oh, how lovely..."
Yours will be silver you know. Pretty, but not nearly as valuable. Figures.
However, when Luna opened her box, what was inside wasn't silver at all. The tiara and collar matched Celestia's, but instead of gold, they were dark glass, the same inky blue as the midnight sky. And glittering just below the surface were hundreds of tiny diamond chips, sparkling like the winter stars.
Castellan cleared his throat as Luna lifted the collar from its box with her magic, turning it this way and that in delighted fascination. "Princess Luna, the pony who gave me the boxes did assure me that the glass they use to make your gifts is magically treated when it is forged, they look delicate, but they will not break. She thought that might concern you."
Luna had already slipped the collar over her head, the glass cool against her coat as it settled at the base of her neck, fitting perfectly. The tiara likewise fit snugly between her ears, just behind her horn, even when she moved her head up and down it stayed in place. "I need a mirror!" Galloping into Celestia's chambers, Luna stopped in front of the full-length mirror by the dresser and examined her reflection.
The colour of the glass matched her cutie mark, she realised that immediately. The diamond chips sparkled as she moved, and when the light caught the edges of the glass just right they glowed deep cobalt blue. For once, her bitterness was silent, even as she saw Celestia reflected in the mirror as the older alicorn came to stand beside her, bright gold shimmering at her neck and brow.
"You look lovely, Luna." Celestia told her, nosing a few stray strands of her sister's mane back into place. "Let's go down together, once we open the Gala you can do what you like."
"Okay," Luna agreed, and the two of them left the room together, followed by Castellan.
"Together," it sneered to itself, unheard by either sister as it rode in the shadows behind them. "For now maybe. Enjoy it while you can."