Firstly OMG it's finally done.
Seriously I've agonized over this chapter for months, fought to find time to work on it and basically struggled to get the energy 'to' work on it.
But I'm glad it's done and I'm proud of it and I am also so grateful for all the likes and comments you all have made. As well as just nice words you've all given me some good ideas and things to think about while writing this fanfiction.
And holy crap over 100 views! Never thought that would happen. I wanna thank you all once again for all that crazy mouse clicking :D
But enough of my rambling, seriously I could do it forever so I'm just gonna end it here.
Well not here, first gonna warn you that this is a MASSIVE chapter but honestly I couldn't break it up. I just had to keep going until it felt right to stop it. So sorry about that but I am very picky with my writing plan.
Lastly MLP and Bethesda skyrim do not belong to me. Gods imagine how rich I'd be if they did.
Tell me what you want?
"I am alive because that one is dead. I exist because I have the will to do so. And I shall remain as long as there are signs of my handwork, such as the blood dripping from this blade."
Skyrim, Boethiahs Proving
In the darkness of the night a lone stallion walked the lands of Equestria. His movements mechanical and unhurried, ignorant of his surroundings as he followed a simple path of dirt towards his destination.
His eyes gazing at nothing at particular. Rather his expression showed a mind focused inwards. Lost in its own turmoil.
A patch of wet mud made his hoof slip and the stallion quickly adjusted his step. He blinked rapidly and shook his head before gaining some measure of awareness, cursing as he brushed some mud of the thick black coat he wore.
He sighed, "Storm. What in Tartarus are you doing?"
The former captain had been second guessing his decision to see Nobles 'venture' ever since he had stumbled out of Canterlot, half drunk and scowling at everypony. And now that the night air was clearing his intoxication he wondered if he was making the right decision at all.
He wasn't afraid for his safety. He was a trained soldier after all. But agreeing to meet with Noble still sat ill with him. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was being carefully lead, even manipulated and that this venture would be a snare to trap him in one of the ministers schemes.
Of course it could be simply paranoia. After all he and the prince had always had a strained relationship. Stormcloud could readily admit that he didn't trust easily and those he found suspicious he damn well made sure they knew he didn't like them.
'Whatever his proposal I can just say no if I don't like it. And if he pushes the matter well… I'm game for a fight'
A shuffle of leaves to the right made his head snap to that direction and a bolt of electricity strike the bush. There was a squeak and a small critter dashed from the bush. Stormcloud watched it run before losing interest and continuing to walk.
His head throbbed and he rubbed his horn with a grumble. The sheer amount of ale he had consumed was playing havoc of his magic and made any spellwork an effort to cast. Still it had never stopped him before.
The darkness was near absolute but the stallion followed the path with unerring accuracy. He knew the lands around his city off the back of his hoof and, while the darkness would make many ponies quail in terror, it held no fear for Stormcloud.
He chuckled darkly. The timid nature of the average pony was something Noble had bang to rights at least.
Soon enough he spotted a faint glow in the distance and rolled his shoulders before picking up the pace. The invitation was for ten and it was an hour past that. Part of Storm hoped he hadn't missed anything. The other half prayed he had.
Soon enough he came to a halt over the edge of a vast quarry. Nearly a kilometer of earth scooped from the ground creating a sizable bowl in the landscape. Even in the dark faint flecks of white could be seen catching the moonlight. Marble still in the earth that long ago was used to build the city of Canterlot.
Stormcloud examined the sight and confirmed his suspicions. Last year Noble bought the land under the pretense of searching for further mineral deposits. Looking around Stormcloud couldn't see any evidence of further mining in the walls and trenches. The only building being a small warehouse smack in the center of the quarry.
Light glowed from within and Storm could see figures milling around the warehouse doors. Most likely guards but they seemed too relaxed and grouped together to be serious muscle. They looked more like bouncers sharing a smoke.
He sat down and considered what to do. On impulse his eyes flicked up to the moon shining overhead. As ever a cold tingle slithered down his spine as he glared at that glowing orb.
The removal of the mare in the moon was seen as a good omen by the majority of ponies. That frightening figure that had plastered the moon's surface for countless centuries was just something ponies lived with. Nopony gave it much thought other then it was creepy having that thing overhead. But now with Nightmare defeated and Luna with her sister in Canterlot many ponies rejoiced to see the moon as an object of beauty once again. They felt this was a sign of good fortune to come.
Stormcloud did not share those thoughts. When he saw the empty moon he thought of an enemy biding its time. Hiding from sight and planning something in the shadows. He had no proof, no hunches and no ideas but somehow he knew with certainty something was going to happen.
It was just too perfect to be true. The new moon was just a trick to lull ponies into a false sense of safety. And soon they would all be subjected to a fresh horror.
"I need a drink" he muttered to herself dismally. He didn't like this new turn his life had taken. He was a soldier who took pride in his duty. He felt clarity being a protector of the state. Now the only clarity was at the bottom of a bottle.
Oh well. A few more days of binge drinking couldn't hurt. He could check this place out, probably tell Noble where to shove his plans and be back in Canterlot by midnight. Then he could find the nearest club and keep drinking till he woke up somewhere.
So decided he focused his magic and vanished in a crackle of blue light.
Two earth stallions lounged around the main warehouse doors. Both wore thick black cloaks and masks that covered their whole face except for the eyes. Though the effect was intimidating, as desired, their body language spoke of intense boredom.
And just a bit of frustration. "Why'd we have to stand guard out here?" one asked sullenly.
"It's our turn tonight" the other replied dryly.
"But I made some bets!"
"Yes you told me" the other replied again. His tone telling that he'd heard that argument before and remained unimpressed.
"I could win a lot of bits!"
"So? You don't need to see the action to win your money"
"But it's not as much fun without being there in person" the first guard whined.
"Well… everyponys probably here now so I suppose you could go and catch the match"
"No. You bucking stay put and stop your whining"
The two lapsed into silence. Their eyes were drawn to a flash of light on the distant lip of the quarry, "What was tha-"
A teleportation burst deposited a large unicorn stallion before them. Both guards flinched at the sudden appearance, "What in Tartarus!?" the first yelled, rearing up in shock.
The other guard coughed lightly and stepped forward, "How can we help you sir?" he asked coolly.
The unicorn looked between them and the warehouse. He looked more than a little worse for wear. Probably been drinking too much and far too little sleep. Still despite his haggard appearance his eyes were sharp and made the more senior guard feel cautious about the stranger.
"What is this place?" he asked gruffly. The guards glanced at each other.
"None of your business"
The guard sighed, "Forgive my colleague he's new. This is a private club for members only"
"Bit in the middle of nowhere for a club"
"Our members like their privacy"
"I'll bet" The unicorn rubbed at his moustache thoughtfully, "What kind of club is it?"
"We don't do twenty questions mate. You got a reason to be here or what?" the brasher guard said.
"A bit roundabout but yes do you have an invitation for this club sir?"
The stallion smiled at them, "And if I don't?"
"Then afraid sir I'll have to ask you to leave. This is private property under the law"
"You'd call the guards here?" the unicorn scoffed.
"Our patron is an upstanding member of the community and everything here is within the limit of the law. We have as much right to civil protection as any other establishment. Now I'll ask for the last time do you have an invitation? Please think carefully"
The guard had spoken softly but his companion had subtly moved to the right of the unicorn and both ponies were watching him carefully. The stallion regarded them silently but the dangerous light in his eyes made them all the more nervous.
They both tensed when the unicorns horn glowed but relaxed slightly as he plucked a small piece of paper from his coat and passed it over to them.
They examined it. Though little more of a scrap of paper with a time and address it also had instructions from their employer and his signature.
"Wow. Invite from the boss himself"
"This is acceptable. Welcome to the Primal Heart sir. If you would like to head inside I'm sure Prince Nobleheart will be expecting you"
The stallion nodded and allowed himself to be waved forward. They opened the doors for him, gifting him a polite farewell and to enjoy his stay before closing and locking the entrance.
They took their positions either side of the door.
"That was the captain of the royal guard wasn't it? The one we were told to keep an eye out for right?"
"Yes he was"
"Why the buck is he here? He's not going to like what he sees"
"Maybe. Maybe not"
"What do you mean? He's Celestias right hoof stallion! He isn't going to allow what he sees"
"Did you see his eyes a moment ago?"
"I saw that he was looking for a fight" the other guard spat.
"Exactly. He wanted to fight us. I think he'll find some kindred spirits here, the guard smiled under his mask, maybe this place is exactly what he needs right now"
Stormcloud heard the warehouse door click behind him and considered whether he should be worried. His suspicious gaze swept the darkened room he found himself in, some kind of lobby by the looks of it, and soon settled on a mare sitting in an alcove beside the entrance.
Her face was hidden by a glittering domino mask but there was room for her lips to split into a welcoming smile when she clocked him. "Hello sir and welcome to the Primal Heart. May I take your coat?" she asked brightly.
He shook his head. The inside of the building was nicer than he expected. Stylish couches, ornate paintings and antique braziers littered the small room giving the image of sensual elegance. Much more class then should be out in the middle of nowhere.
"What is this place?"
Her smile remained in place though her eyes grew more mischievous, "This is a social club, nothing more nothing less. Where ponies may enjoy themselves and… be… themselves. We offer a variety of activities here that can't be found anywhere else in Equestria. Only here can ponies truly experience what it's like to be free"
'Ok. That didn't sound weird or cryptic at all' "What do you mean by being free?" he asked suspiciously.
"You'll have to see for yourself sir" she said with a light giggle.
"Right" he drawled.
She waved him closer before looking under the counter for something. Stormcloud reluctantly drew closer.
She placed several masks before him. He stared in befuddlement at the variety of masks available. What was this all about?
"Would you like to pick a mask sir before you go in? If you don't like these I have others out back"
Storm gave a mask shaped like butterfly wings a sickened look, "Why do I want a mask?" he asked her.
"Have you ever been to a masquerade ball? Many of our members like the air of mystique wearing masks provides. It's not required but it adds a little spice to our establishment"
The idea of concealing himself brought nothing but distaste to the former guard captain, "I'll pass" he said brusquely before stepped away from the counter. She nodded and smiled, unfazed by his refusal and told him to head straight down the corridor into the club proper.
The scene that greeting him was something he wasn't expecting. The interior of the warehouse had been hollowed out and converted into an elegant room. High chandeliers bathed the club with a golden glow, yet the distance between floor and ceiling made the light softer as it reached the ponies below. Deep pools of shadow rippled across the floor and gave the patrons resting in closed booths a dusky privacy.
Furnishings of the highest quality filled the room and everywhere Storm looked he saw a painting, a vase, a couch, a marble pillar. All items that must have cost a great deal of bits. His mildly impressed gaze fell on the patrons themselves, mares and stallions wearing high-class suits and dresses, the elite of Canterlot must assuredly. All wore hauntingly decorative masks yet seemed lively and happy to chat to friend and stranger alike, whether at the twin bars either side of the room or on the various tables and booths.
The strangest thing though was the freight elevator squatting in the center of the room. Though gilded in brass and gold it seemed out of place in this lap of luxury. He wondered what was below this place. What secret was Noble hiding?
His reflected on this a little longer before glancing sidelong at one of the bars and a wide selection of impressively labeled bottles behind it. He supposed he could be suspicious and have a few drinks while he was at it.
The ponies chatting, drinking and dancing glanced at him curiously as he passed them. Though their expressions were hidden for most of them he sensed wry amusement. He glared back at anypony who dared look at him too long but they merely slide their eyes away without worry.
"What would you like sir?" a unicorn stallion in a sharp suit and pure white mask asked casually as Stormcloud climbed onto a stool. The captain examined the display before pointing at one he liked, "Make it a double"
The bartender nodded and busied himself making the drink. Stormcloud leaned back and stared at a mirror in boredom.
He did a double take. Standing beside him was Noble. He whirled round and scowled at the prince who smirked at him.
"I figured if I hung around the bar long enough you'd eventually show up here" he chuckled.
"You're lucky I showed up at all" Storm replied. His drink was set down beside him with a clink and a bill, the stallion idly paying before throwing back the glass and gulping a generous measure.
Nobleheart raised an eyebrow as Stormcloud let out a satisfied sigh and smacked his lips, "Your whiskeys far too over-priced but damn is it good"
"Hopefully that will compel you to curb your drinking here perhaps?"
The former captain shook his head, "I never used to do this while I was a guard. I was dedicated to my training and my duty. So now I've got plenty of savings to indulge myself cause… what else am I going to do" he shrugged.
Noble watched him keenly, "I have something for you to do" he offered softly.
Now it was Storms turn to raise an eyebrow, "Oh yes. This venture of yours. Well don't keep me in suspense what is it then?"
"Better I show you" Noble stepped away and after rolling his eyes Stormcloud followed him.
They approached the elevator and between sips of his drink Storm noted a gradual throng of ponies gathering around them. They spoke excitedly to one another and he picked up some talk of bets and speculation about winners. Was there a casino or something underneath? Gambling, while not illegal, had never gained a great foothold on the relatively upstanding pony population, and large scale casinos were extremely rare. Most ponies only had small games between close friends or acquaintances.
The reason for the large size of the lift quickly became apparent as ponies piled in. Stormcloud grunted as he was shoved inside by the sudden rush and soon squashed against a press of bodies. He shoved back to clear room, locking eyes and snarling at anypony who looked ready to chastise him.
He spotted Noble through the press of bodies and saw he had been given a clear circle of room. A quick flare of teleport and he appeared beside the prince, relieved to be able to breathe. Noble smirked at him before reaching to press descend.
As they headed down Stormcloud heard what sounded like roars sounding below. He shot a quizzical look at Noble but faltered slightly as the other stallion watched him ardently, "Where in tartarus are you taking me?"
"Somewhere I think you'll enjoy"
The lift came to a juddering stop and the mesh gate was thrown open as ponies eagerly ran out leaving Noble and Stormcloud at the back. The younger prince motioned for Storm to take the lead and he reluctantly did so. What he saw made him stare in astonishment.
Beneath the warehouse a great cave had been dug out. Long ago it had been a staging point for deeper mining but now it had been changed to a much grander design. The walls had been smoothed out and filled with wide stands that ponies flocked to take seats in. Vendors and waiting staff rushed about serving the guests with refreshments as they laughed and pointed in excitement.
The reason for their passion was the huge arena that dominated the center of the cave. A raised slab of stone surrounded by a brass cage to protect the stands and keep combatants, inside it already contained two ponies savagely trading blows. Gathered around the ring other ponies yelled encouragement to their respective side.
As Stormcloud watched he saw one of the combatants, a sleek pegasus mare duck under the her earthen opponents guard and smashed a hoof across his jaw. The stallion recoiled and the pegasus rushed forward, beating her wings to gain extra force as she shoulder tackled him, launching him across the arena in a cloud of dust.
"W-what is this!?"
"A fighting arena. I would have thought that was obvious?"
Stormcloud whirled on the prince, "This is illegal Noble!" he shouted.
Nobleheart scoffed, "How so?"
"Forcing ponies to fight for entertainment! Blood sports were banned millennia ago!"
The look Noble gave him almost made him repeal his words, "You really think I'd traffic in slavery Stormcloud?" he said in quiet disgust.
Storm furrowed his brow in confusion and Noble huffed in annoyance, "Those ponies that fight do so of their own free will. This arena is for mares and stallions to fight for its own sake. To improve themselves and maybe make some bits on the side. You'd be amazed how popular this had become so quickly"
"Oh" Storm looked at the fighting pair and cheering stands a little mollified now. That had sounded reasonable.
"Let's take a seat first before you start firing more questions shall we?"
The other unicorn nodded distractedly as he watched the fighting pair. The earth stallion had recovered from the pegasus' attack and was throwing heavy swipes that she darted away from with ease.
Noble lead the way and Stormcloud followed only half paying attention to the stallion. He saw the flow of muscles, the heavy thuds of stamping hooves, the slice of a wing through the air. Observing the heavy grey brute of an earth pony trading blows with the lightning fast pegasus was mesmerizing to watch.
He wasn't even aware of taking a seat and Noble politely calling for refreshments as he watched the stallion fall back with a shout of pain, blood streaming from his nostrils from a quick buck to the nose. He recovered sharply and dived forward, throwing his whole weight into a swift lunge that caught the pegasus by surprise.
She was in the process of rising into the air when the earth stallion caught her around the middle. Her wings beat frantically, for a moment defying gravity and the weight of the stallion, but a series of rapid punches to her sides ended her resistance and with a shout of dismay she crashed to the ground. Storm leaned forward for a closer look.
The stallion rose up from their tangled bodies first, for all intentions looking like a true behemoth as he towered over the frantically struggling pegasus. A single hoof holding her in place as he languidly raised the other over his head.
He brought it down with terrific force, the mare shrieking in pain as he struck her hard in the chest. Her struggles weakened and in desperation she started to bite and slap at the hoof holding her. The stallions eyes narrowed and he raised his hoof again, striking her two more thunderous blows that splayed her out in a senseless heap.
The crowd held its breath as the stallion hovered over the mare, hoof raised once again. With a bloodied cough the pegasus weakly stretched out a foreleg and tapped the ground three times.
The stallion stepped back and the arena filled with the roaring cheers of the crowd. Some tore up tickets in anger but the majority of the watching ponies were ecstatic for their champion.
"He's very good. Relatively new but quickly rising up the ranks. I give him good odds at winning the prize tonight"
Storm shot a questioning look at Noble and the prince pointed towards silent figures watching the stallion closely. They too had the strong physique of fighters and their eyes were appraising the victor carefully. Some snorting in derision while others held a measure of respect and even unease in their eyes.
"Tell me more"
Noblehearts eyes sparkled in triumph, "It was an experiment more than anything. A few years back I was part of a delegation to the griffon kingdoms and there we were invited to watch one of their blood tourneys. Fighters from across the kingdom battling one another for the viewers pleasure but also for renown and gold. It was violent, barbarous and yet fascinating at the same time"
Noble gazed into the distance smiling self-consciously, "I was intrigued. Watching the griffons fight was amazing to me. Not so much the violence but the discipline, the training, the drive to succeed. They weren't just brutes, not all at least, but true warriors showing honor to one another while at the same time pitting their own wits and strength against each other"
"My fellow delegates were disgusted. They couldn't understand how this was entertainment. They didn't see that the violence of the fight wasn't the point. It was about proving yourself better then your opponent. No tricks or guile just you and him, fighting till only one remained standing"
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "Strangely enough Celestia was ok with it. She was mostly silent but I could see in her eyes that she understood the primal joy the fighters must be feeling"
Stormcloud watched him reflect for a moment, "And then what happened?" he prompted Noble to continue.
"Well when I returned I wondered if anyone else felt as I did. I had enjoyed the spectacle of the fights but none of my fellow ponies had. For a while I wondered if I was alone in my feelings. Perhaps I had something wrong with me?"
He grinned widely, "So I built this arena and invited ponies to join and fight. It started with me offering bits to any pony who wanted to try. Oh those first battles were vicious. As time went by more of my associates came to watch the fights and some even started to bet on matches. After that the arena grew at an explosive pace. The fighters grew more experienced and soon many of them began to fight for the pleasure of it"
"And now, he swept his forelegs at the crowds surrounding them, my arena is the most popular entertainment of Equestria. Ponies come from Manehattan, Fillydelphia, Neighponia, everywhere really. To fight or bet or simply watch, this small plot of land is making me an absolute fortune"
Storm looked back to the arena as two new combatants entered the cage. Two unicorns, one a dark green the other a brilliant red bowed to one another before firing a blast of magic at the other. The resulting explosion of magic traced light and shadows across the cave but what impressed Storm was how both unicorns preemptively dodged to the side after firing and took aim again. He didn't often see such foresight.
"Do your combatants get injured?" he asked softly. Noble glanced at him intently.
"These fighters don't hold back. Injuries happen quite often"
"And do they die?" Storm added sharply.
Noble shook his head, "There are strict rules here. Killing is not allowed. The fighters are careful to stop their attacks if their opponent is defeated"
"But as I said they give their all and accidents happen. Some ponies have been hurt badly. To that end healers are always waiting on standby, the best I can afford and I can afford the very best. But every pony who walks in that ring is expressly told that they are taking a risk when they do"
"Then why the secrecy if nothing illegal happens here?" Storm demanded. He saw the ruby unicorn avoid a blast of magic from his adversary by teleporting. The green stallion looking around in confusion before yelling in surprise as the other fell on him from above. There was a brief struggle and the quick-witted attacker threw the other over his shoulder before following up with a magical shove that smashed the viridian pony against the cage walls. Stormcloud caught himself nodding with approval even as the crowd roared.
"You know exactly why this has to be kept secret captain" Noble said coldly.
He shook his head at Storms confused expression, "Right now this arena is invite only. It is hidden from the populous and the only ponies who come are those that have the correct mindset to enjoy this place. If I made this place public how long until weak-minded fools started calling for its closure? Blood sports they would scream, a blight on our land not fit for decent pony society. Those who came here would be stigmatized and shunned by their fellows. Perhaps even mistreated. I won't have my patrons lose their positions of work or be victimized by friends and family"
Noble pointed a hoof at Storm, "You know I'm right. Ponies are too weak. Cowardly and no longer the proud and mighty warriors we used to be. It wouldn't be long before somepony started screaming 'The horror, the horror!' and calling my arena a den of sin"
"So think on that before you decide to report me to Celestia"
Stormcloud winced, "I wasn't thinking that! I want nothing to do with Celestia remember"
Noble gave him a doubtful look, "I swear I won't be saying anything to her" Storm said vehemently. Noble grinned, "Good. I knew you'd keep this place a secret" he said liltingly before looking back to the fight. Stormcloud gaped at him before cursing under his breath. He'd been manipulated into promising his silence through his anger at Celestia.
"Don't get cocky. I could still report this to the guard" he grumbled.
Noble waved him away, "Oh hush. If you really didn't like what you were seeing you'd, pardon the pun, storm off and be done with us. Now our drinks should be here in a moment lets watch the entertainment shall we? I have some bits riding on young Burnside there"
Stormcloud reluctantly settled back into silence and sank into his chair. His conflicting thoughts were brushed aside as a flash of light drew his attention back to the battle.
The green unicorn was clearly struggling. Covered in bruises and panting heavily he had been unprepared for the red stallions, Burnside apparently, unique fighting style. Mixing hoof to hoof combat with his magic made him an unpredictable fighter.
Still he wasn't out of the game yet. The unicorn closed his eyes and started to draw a great deal of magic into his horn. Burnside leaned back into a fighting posture, ready to dodge or defend as he warily awaited his opponents action.
The unicorn shouted with effort and unleashed a flash of light that blinded everyone. When the spots cleared from his eyes Stormcloud was intrigued to see that now five green unicorns stood in the arena glaring at Burnside. An impressive illusion spell indeed. The stallions moved as one and all five spread out before charging their horns to attack.
"Here he goes" Noble whispered in glee. Storm followed his gaze to Burnside.
The red stallion charged for his opponents not even trying to throw up a shield or prepare to teleport. The unicorn copies stepped back in surprise and quickly adjusted their aim but the other was quicker and Burnsides horn blazed a bright red as he performed a quick teleportation hop bringing him right in front of the group.
Dark red flames burst from his horn and a quick jerk of his head created a wide arc of fire that spilled across the arena and swallowed up the five unicorns. Four of them blinked out of existence while the last threw up a hasty shield to protect himself.
The flames died away as quickly as they had appeared but the damage was done. Burnside charged through the cover of smoke, his adversarys desperate magical blast missing by inches, and smashed hornfirst into the barrier.
Sparks and arcs of magic danced around the point of contact for a second before the green unicorns shield shattered. He had a moment of panicked dismay before the other unicorn barreled into him and viciously pounded his face in. A few seconds of frenzied stomping and Burnside stepped back, his opponent a bleeding, senseless mess on the arena floor.
The crowd went wild and Stormcloud caught himself cheering along with them. He flushed at Nobles knowing look and sank back into his chair, "He's very talented" he muttering in defense.
"They all are. While most are here for the bits they all strive to be stronger. Is that not a worthy goal in itself?"
Stromcloud pondered this as a pretty unicorn mare appeared beside them. He jumped at her sudden teleportation but Noble didn't bat an eyelid, "Thank you my dear" he said politely as he handed over several bits and took her proffered drinks. She smiled at them both before vanishing in a flare of magic, only to reappear several benches away taking another groups orders.
Noble passed a glass filled with dark amber liquid, whiskey neat Storm noted in approval, and began to talk about the tourney that was happening right now and the ponies taking part. The former captain found himself listening with rapt attention.
A trumpet call drew their attention as two new warriors stepped into the arena. Noble motioned at one of them excitedly, "Now that lovely young lady is Golden Wing, a pegasus of unparallel skill and sure to give a good show. You'll see what I mean soon enough"
Stormcloud nodded and sipped his drink as he settled back in his chair. His eyes never once slipped away from the action about to unfold before him, and as a bell struck and the two ponies charged each other he found his own heart pounding in elation and pretty soon he was roaring just as passionately as the crowd.
Hours passed and Stormcloud loved every minute of it. The clash of ponies, the dance and whirl of fighting hooves, the magical expertise and devious cunning. It was awe-inspiring to watch.
He'd been surprised when some ponies had started carrying weapons into the battles. Nothing too deadly, mostly blunt staves and hoof gauntlets that nevertheless were still dangerous. He'd questioned Noble and the prince had explained that it was to create some fairness between unicorns and the other two tribes. While a metal hammer couldn't compare to a magical spell it was still more useful than using your bare hooves.
However one stallion had eschewed any such weapons and had enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks. The earth pony that had been battling when Storm first entered the arena had beaten down and overpowered every opponent he faced. Matching other stallions pound for pound, standing firm against the magic of unicorns or out-maneuvering the swiftest of pegasi.
"His name is Terra Song. I believe he is a musician in the outside world. He is relatively new to this arena but has had a great deal of success against the veterans here, I'm not surprised he's going all the way" Noble had remarked as they watched him fight another earth pony in the finals.
The other stallion was smaller than Song but wore heavy steel gauntlets and even some light armor. Again the use of armor was allowed as it encouraged ponies to adapt to fight it. This stallion had some fantastic martial arts and was a clear veteran at hoof-to-hoof fighting.
It mattered nothing. He met Songs charge head on, ducking under his first swipe, blocking the other and following up with a rapid flurry of strikes to the head and chest. The wet slap of armored hooves on bare flesh made the watching crowd gasp and cringe but Song weathered the attack stoically.
Like waves breaking against a rising mountain the larger stallion held firm against his opponent's fierce attack. The moment that his strikes faltered and he took a breath to continue Terra Song struck back. The crack of his hoof striking the other pony brought everypony to the edge of the seat and actually bowled the stallion head over heels.
He never even got the chance to get back up. Once on the ground Song brought his greater weight and ferocity to bear and pummeled the pony without cessation. In a matter of moments the stallion was broken and bleeding on the arena and Song was proclaimed the winner.
As the crowd went wild around him Stormcloud found himself panting heavily and gripping his chair tightly. His eyes fixated on the arena and lips almost pulled back in a snarl as medical unicorns carried the unconscious loser away.
He hadn't felt like this in a long time. He had always enjoyed training and practice bouts with his guards. The odd bandit raid had made him happy but the only time he felt this… exhilarated was when…
When Nightmare Moon attacked Canterlot. When they came face to face and felt his heart pound in his chest before he fought her. He'd never felt more alive than when he was facing death in the face as he did that day.
"It's very exciting isn't it?"
He tore his eyes away from the silent Song and looked into Nobles knowing eyes.
"You almost want to be there yourself don't you? Fighting for victory against a worthy foe" the prince said off-hoovedly.
Stormcloud didn't know how to reply. His heart resonated with Nobles words but he couldn't bring himself to speak.
He tried to calm himself when an announcer walked into the arena and called for silence. Reluctantly the crowd settled down to listen to him.
"Ladies and Gentlecolts we have a special event for you tonight! Our champion of the night is Terra Song here. And a worthy champion he is. But with his permission and the approval of our patron Prince Nobleblood we have a final challenger to battle our new champion for your entertainment!"
The crowd muttered among themselves in confusion. While they looked intrigued many held winning betting slips and looked concerned. The announcer noticed the crowds swaying mood and was quick to reassure them, "I let you know now that those who made bets on Terra Song becoming tonight's champion need not worry. You will receive your winnings without delay. This next fight is just an extra event for glory's sake alone"
Shouts of approval and questions rose from the watching ponies and the announcer waved his hooves for silence. He coughed for effect, "Would you welcome our newest challenger. A stallion of great renown. A stalwart defender of the realm. A pony who has fought and bleed for his country dozens of times!"
The arena held its breath and Stormcloud leaned forward curiously. He was unprepared for the sudden spotlight that shone on him, shouting in surprise as he covered his eyes.
He dimly heard Nobleheart chuckling but it was the announcers speech, "Welcome the Captain of the royal guard himself, Sir Storming Cloud!" that really caught his attention.
"What!?" he yelled in disbelief. The ponies around him whistled and cheered and he stared completely flummoxed at all the attention. He regained control a moment later and glared with deep accusation at Nobleheart.
"I told you I had something you might enjoy here" the prince said primly.
"I thought that was watching the fights!" Storm ranted.
"Perhaps. But after seeing how much you enjoyed the spectacle I wondered if perchance there was something else you wanted to do. Something more involved than merely spectate"
Stormcloud furrowed his brow in confusion. Noble sipped his drink and pointed to the watching Terra, "Fight him"
"Because sitting around drinking yourself into a stupor is a waste of your talents. You are a highly trained fighter. A paragon of the royal guard. I think you owe to yourself to use the skills you have earned in your career"
"Ok. That was some first class donkey shit. What's the real reason?"
Rather than be annoyed Noble merely laughed, "Ok then a mutual partnership. You get some much needed stress relief and I get a new star for my arena. I promise you won't regret it"
The former captain stared at him and the crowd watching him expectantly. To his surprise they seemed to be very interested in the conversation. Or maybe it was just respect for the prince.
"I don't need to fight" he muttered.
Noble downed his drink, "Now who's speaking donkey shit? You're a mess Storm. The great captain who used to keep me on my toes now wakes up in alleys with no idea how he got there. You need a new focus in your life and I'm providing it. You've always enjoyed sparring and battle. The few skirmishes Equestria has had in the last few years you've jumped at the chance to join. Now you're going to turn down a chance to fight? That's not like you"
"Listen I'm not going to fight for some crowd-"
"Could you beat him?" Noble cut in grimly.
Storm paused and reluctantly glanced at Song. The earth pony was cut and bruised but showed no sign of pain or exertion. He stood tall and strong, a mightier example of an earth pony impossible to find, and making eye contact Storm noted that the grey stallions' eyes were a bright gold. Resolutely intense and unflinching as they stared back at him.
"I don't-" Storm paused in shock. Had he been about to say 'I don't know?'
His breath quickened. A long lost and joyously reclaimed sense of pride welled up inside him. Of course he could beat him. He was Storming Cloud. The greatest unicorn warrior in generations. He'd fought manticores, diamond dogs, marauding griffons and even a rampaging dragon. He wouldn't lose to anypony!
He remembered when he first faced Nightmare Moon. He hadn't once doubted he'd lose. And against Luna he had given his all, confident in a victory.
Yes he had been beaten down both times but it wasn't until this moment he realized how much that had affected him. That and Celestias rejection. Before he would step up to any challenge, face any aggressor, confident of victory either through arrogance or passion he'd never been sure. After these three failures his spirit had been completely shattered under the weight of failure.
That was going to stop now. He'd never think he couldn't win a fight ever again. What the tartarus, one day he'd challenge Luna again, and again, until he won.
"Well played Noble" he said quietly.
Without another word he swallowed the last of his drink and headed down to the arena floor, the roaring cheers of the crowd urging him on.
'Ok this is a stupid idea. Why in tartarus am I doing this?'
Storm grit his teeth as he stepped up to the arena where his opponent waited for him. The crowd was going mad and already ponies were rushing to make bets on the fight. The rampant betting made his skin crawl but he tried to ignore it.
"Just win this fight and get out of here. Just win this fight and leave" he told himself heatedly. The initial rush of excitement had quickly faded and he cursed himself for being manipulated into this by Noble. Skies above it wasn't even manipulation he'd straight out folded under Nobles suggestion and here he was. About to battle some stallion for simple entertainment.
Well screw it. He'd deal with Song quickly and get out of here and never come back. He may be expelled from the guard but he still had the discipline, (mostly) and fighting for a baying crowd wasn't what he was about.
The announcer approached him and quickly went over the rules. Lethal force was not allowed. He could use powerful spells and dangerous fighting techniques but he himself had to measure his actions and hold back the killing blow. He was to fight until his opponent surrender or couldn't fight anymore but if he killed he'd be barred from the arena.
The rules seemed ridiculously lax and Storm said as much. The announcer merely shrugged, "Everypony who steps in here knows the worst could happen. We do screen ponies when they apply but mostly they check themselves when things get heated. That and they're all skilled enough to fight in dangerous conditions and not get hurt"
"Honestly I'm more worried about Song then you. We haven't had time to check you out at all" the stallion said sullenly.
"I know how to control myself. This will be over soon anyway"
The announcer laughed and walked away, "Yeah we'll see"
Stormcloud ignored him and took position across from Terra Song as the cage was locked around them. The huge earth pony nodded his head, "It's an honor to fight you" he said. Storm was surprised with how soft and cultured his voice was. He had expected something much gruffer.
"You too" he muttered.
"FIGHT!" the announcer yelled.
Song wasted no time and charged at Storm in a flat out sprint. The behemoths speed caught Storm off guard but he dodged aside smartly, rolling away and snapping to hooves battle ready as Song spun and rushed him again.
'He has no subtlety. He's just a massive brute. Still if he gets a hold of me it'll go badly. I have to end this quickly'
It felt like cheating but Noble had said anything went so he reached out with his magic to grab at Song. His specialty was elemental magic not telekinesis but he had enough raw power to contain a full grown stallion. Even one as large as Song.
His magic gripped the earth pony in a blue glow and for a moment he stalled. But then the most shocking thing happened. His magical field faltered and faded, slipping over the pony's body, struggling to find purchase.
Like oil over water Song shouldered through the magical field trying to grasp him. Storm increased the pressure and for a moment he found a grip but then an opposing force shoved back against his magic. The closest comparison he could think of was trying to grab hold of another unicorn. They could shove back with their own magic to break the hold.
But only unicorns could do this. Earth ponies had no magic?
With a grunt of exertion Song closed the gap and swung a hoof at Storm. The former captain was still trying to wrap his head around Songs strange resistance and so wasn't as alert as he should be, taking a sharp clout across the side of his face.
Training kicked in. He moved with the punch, twisting his head and absorbing the strike. Song was incredibly fast up close and a second hoof came at him from the left but Storm dodged that, retreated from Songs attempt to grapple him and responded with a blast of lightning from his horn.
Electricity forked through the air and struck Song at point-blank range. He roared in pain and was thrown back cradling his chest and shaking violently as the charge caused his muscles to spasm. Storm breathed a faint sigh of relief and charged up a second attack. He had trained his lightning intensely so as to maintain the needed voltage to shock a pony into submission but not enough to cause any lasting injuries.
Frankly he was surprised Song was still standing but another jolt would sort that.
Terra Song surged to his hooves with eyes blazing in fury. He charged and with a grudging respect Stormcloud blasted him again to put him down. But the earth stallion took the hit and this time plowed straight through. Stormcloud having a moment to gap in shock before the stallion, practically glowing as he still had electricity racing over him, caught him in a crushing bear grip.
Storm screamed. Blinding hot agony overcoming even his formidable pain resistance. The electricity that still coursed through Song now enveloped him and he could smell his fur burn as the larger stallion crushed him.
He tried to struggle but his body was completely helpless. His own weapon turned against him as his muscles spasmed, unable to function with the charge running through them. Trapped as he was he couldn't stop Song tighten his forelegs around his body and start crushing the life from him.
Air left his lungs in a painful shriek and he felt his heart flutter in panic as he couldn't breathe. Songs strength so powerful it prevented him drawing breath. He felt his spine start to bend and the muscles of his back tear as Song squeezed tighter and tighter.
His forelegs pushed and punched at Song as adrenaline kicked in at last but the pony wouldn't be moved. Stormcloud stared into Songs ferocious gold eyes with horror as he felt his strength start to fail and darkness overcoming his eyes.
He was going to lose. He was actually going to lose! Tartarus he might even die!
The agony was so great and the sickening sensation of being unable to breathe was making all rationality leave Storms mind. Right now he truly believed he was about to lose his life and perhaps this was even the case.
'I can't lose! I can't lose! Not again! Not like this!'
The image of Nightmare standing over him flashed through his oxygen starved brain. He remembered how helpless he had felt, broken and defeated at her hooves as she towered over him. Feverishly his mind had connected the two moments as Song snarled and clamped down tighter and something in his mind snapped.
Stormcloud twisted his neck and butted forward. Song assumed he was trying to stab him with his horn and ducked his head closer to the unicorn but that wasn't the case.
Storms teeth clamped down on Songs cheek and bit down hard. Song yelped in shock and jerked his head exposing his neck. Quick as his own lightning Stormcloud ducked under the stallions chin and tore at his neck trying to tear out his throat.
The earth pony roared and struggled but crushing Stormcloud was only making the stallion rip and tear at his throat more desperately. A strip of blooded fur and skin was torn away by Storms teeth and Song flung him away with a cry of pain.
Stormcloud hit the ground, rolling to his hooves before collapsing again. He sucked in shuddering breathes of air as his fought back unconsciousness. Across from him Terra Song grasped his bleeding neck and groaned in pain.
He drew his hoof away from his bleeding neck and closed his eyes. Storm assumed he was fighting back the pain and took the opportunity to get his legs back under him.
He blinked in surprise as he felt a spike of magical energy nearby. His eyes stared in shock as a faint glimmer of energy shimmered over Songs body. The torn flesh at his throat, admittedly more savage then Storm had meant to inflict, ceased to bleed and the flesh knitted itself together with startling speed.
'A healing spell!? But how? Earth ponies have no magic!"
Song saw Storms look of confusion, "There's more to an earth pony then anypony knows" he said darkly. With that he charged, bellowing like a minotaur as he moved to flatten Storm.
A sizable boulder smashed him in the face. He stepped back, slightly stunned and more than a little confused. His bloody nose began to heal even as he dodged another boulder.
Across from him Storm was sweating with exertion as he tore chunks out of the floor and threw them at Song. It looked that the earth pony had a great resistance to magical attacks but this indirect method seemed to be working.
Or was until Song turned and bucked a boulder aiming at him. The clump of rock burst in a shower of dust such was the force of the kick. He charged through the debris and Storm quickly had to think of a new plan.
'No planning, no subtlety, just stop him! Stop him!'
Sharp pain throbbed between his eyes as he hefted two more clumps of rock and earth. He smashed then together hoping to catch Song between them but the stallion flung himself back to avoid them.
Stormcloud wasted no time. A quick teleport and he appeared over the coughing Song just like he'd seen Burnside do. The dust cloud from the colliding boulders had covered his teleportation and Song was caught completely unawares.
The unicorn landed on Songs back and without hesitation smashed both hooves over his head. The stallion lurched but through sheer stubbornness remained standing, he moved to throw himself into a roll and crush Stormcloud under him but by then Storm had teleported away.
A lance of lightning struck Song and he screamed in pain. He wheeled to face the attack and another bolt struck him in the side. He spun and pranced madly as Stormcloud throw a spell and disappeared, keeping his opponent off balance.
A magical strike smashed into Songs face and snapped his neck back. For a moment he teetered before falling to his knees. Across from him Stormcloud also sagged, his horn glowing white hot and bleeding through overuse.
The former captain sucked in painful breathes as he fought back his own exhaustion. Through bloodshot eyes he witnessed Terra Song weakly trying to get to his hooves. Panic and a desperate fury overtook him as he lurched into a gallop.
Ignoring the pounding of his heart, ignoring the agony of his horn, he threw himself into a short teleportation hop to close the distance with Song. He materialized with his hoof raised, scything down to crack across Songs jaw.
The stallion fell back on his haunches and weakly tried to swat Stormcloud away. He was having none of it and threw himself at the earth pony bringing them both crashing to the ground. Rolling and struggling they came to rest with Storm sitting atop Song.
Storm hit him across the face, Song kept struggling. So he hit him again, and again, and again.
Pretty soon he was yelling at the top of his voice and pummeling away at the pony underneath him. Repressed rage he hadn't even acknowledged erupted inside him and right now he had found the most cathartic release anypony had ever experienced. Finding solace in beating something to a bloody pulp.
He realized that he hated what had happened to him. Hated that the ponies he had trained ran in terror the first time they faced Nightmare Moon. Hated that he lost to her and then was exiled from his whole world by the princess he had dedicated his life to.
Spending the last three months in a alcoholic coma, waking up with no purpose beyond the next drink. He had been wallowing in apathy for too long.
But for the first time in what felt like an eternity he felt powerful, alive, in control. Terra Song had gone limp but Stormcloud didn't care. All he felt was the roar of his blood in his ears and the sweet exhilaration of being the one still standing. Proving he mattered through the defeat of his foe.
His raised hoof, bloody and wet, was caught in a magical hold and held fast. Storm whirled around, snarling like a beast as he prepared to attack whoever had stopped him.
Noble looked back at him, a single eyebrow raised, "I think he's had enough" he said dryly.
Storm blinked and glanced down at the bleeding and choking pony he'd been beating. The bloodlust faded yet the expected guilt didn't surface. Almost bemusedly he stepped away from Song to allow medical unicorns to rush forward and tend to the defeated party.
As his heart calmed Stormcloud became aware of the yelling and cheering surrounding him. The background noise had always been there but he hadn't had time to notice it. Looking up the crowd he was amazed to see them hollering his name, jumping and stamping their hooves as they cheered for him.
He hadn't expected approval.
Noble sidled closer as the former captain examined his bloodied forehooves, "So… do you feel better now?" he asked with an intrigued expression.
Stormcloud swallowed thickly and shut his eyes tight. The guilt finally bloomed and it struck like a train, leaving him shook to his very core.
"Yes… yes I do" he whispered. The admittance and acknowledgement of his dark pride both shamed and excited him.
And the worse thing was how Noble simple smiled at him. Complete understanding in those royal eyes.
Dawn had long peaked over the town of Ponyville and its inhabitants greeted the new morning with their usual smiles and happy greetings to friends and strangers alike.
Ponyville was commonly a morning hours kind of town. Vendors set up their markets for the afternoon bustle and very few ponies worked late shifts so pretty much the whole town was awake by eight. If somepony wasn't it was usual for their friends to cheekily mock them for their laziness.
There was one pony however who had flown in the face of the norm so many times that ponies now accepted it as business of usual. The obnoxious snores of the young pegasus Rainbow Dash had been put up with for so long that nopony batted an eye anymore. Even if she was hovering only twelve feet above Ponyville Square.
For Rainbow Dash this cloud-nap was going fantastic. This cloud was one of the fluffiest and softest around, the morning sun was warm but not hot on her back, and she was having a wonderful dream.
"Snort! Of course you can have my autograph princess" she mumbled before rolling over and snoring.
Something poked at her side. Rainbow grumbled and rolled over again. The poke became more insistent and Rainbow growled and scooted away from it, "Mom, five more minutes!" she mumbled in her sleep.
Dimly she registered a surprised squeak but after nothing else happened her subconscious dismissed it and returned to her dream. Grinning widely and drooling only a little she bowed her head as the princesses and the entire court of Canterlot welcomed their wonderbolt captain into knighthood.
"No need to thank me princess… it was only three dragons after all"
"Well?" Twilight Sparkle barked as Fluttershy floated down to her and the rest of the gang.
"She won't wake up" Fluttershy answered meekly.
"Did you try poking her?"
Fluttershy bobbed her head, "Y-yes. She asked for five more minutes"
"She can't have five more minutes!"
"Twilight dear I think you need to calm down" Rarity tried to sound calming as she watched Twilight get more and more frustrated.
The librarian spun and fixed her rather incensed stare on her friends, they stepped back a little nervously, "I can't calm down! Princess Celestias message said she'd be here soon! She wanted to see all of us!"
"Getting all worked up won't help Twilight. Ah think you need to cool your jets a little" Applejack interjected soothingly.
Beside her Spike shook his head as he watched the paranoia overwhelming his big sister. It'd take a bit more than some comforting words to calm her.
"I can't calm down! You all read the letter you know this is serious!"
'Yep that's the outburst I was expecting' Spike thought, he opened his mouth to speak but Rarity beat him too it.
"Worrying and panicking will not help this situation. Yes we are all concerned but making a scene in the middle of Ponyville is not the answer"
"Also you need to be cool cause this is your chance to work things out with her Twilight!" Pinkie said with a bounce.
"Ah agree girl"
"You'll see it'll all be fine Twilight"
"It'll be ok"
The purple mare smiled thankfully at her friends, "You're right. There's still time. The princess will probably wait until after breakfast at least to arrive. I'm sure we can wait a little longer for Rainbow Dash"
"See Twilight it's all good. Maybe now we can actually have a meal together rather than running around panicking?" Spike suggested.
She smiled at him bashfully "That's a good idea Spike"
"Great cause I'm starved" the young dragon gripped his stomach and pretended to swoon in weakness. He smiled happily as his antics brought chuckles from his friends and big sister. Man that never got old.
He blinked as he felt a pressure growing in the back of his throat, hot flames flickering to life over his tongue.
He belched a gust of green fire and a scroll appeared in the air. Six pairs of eyes locked on to it with mounting alarm as Spike caught it by reflex and unraveled it. He was acutely aware of Twilights unblinking stare.
"Spiiike?" Twilight asked through clenched teeth.
"Now don't panic" he said quickly.
"That doesn't help!"
"But Celestia says she'll be here in about five minutes. She's going to teleport in and she doesn't want you to be shocked"
They all watched Twilight actually stop breathing and freeze in place, her pupils contracted to pinpricks and as she drew in a deep breath they could almost hear her brain snap.
"RAINBOW WAKE UP!" she screamed at the cloud.
"Twilight calm down!"
Raritys plea went ignored as Twilight drew on her magic and focused it skyward. Rainbow shrieked in surprise as she was yanked from her cloud and shocked awake. The pegasus kicking and flailing at the magical field holding her before she recognized it as Twilights magic.
"Twilight what the hay are you doing!?" she yelled as she hovered upside down. Twilight didn't reply just thrust a piece of parchment in front of her.
Rainbow blinked at her before frowning, "Twilight I've had four hours sleep because of that storm last night, I'm hoping this is some weird dream, and I'm upside down. I'm not reading anything right now"
Twilight huffed and gently placed her friend down. The sour look Rainbow gave her mollified her though and she quickly apologized, "I'm just freaking out a little Rainbow" she said beseechingly.
The pegasus rolled her eyes, "That's not new, she yawned loudly, now what's the problem?"
Quickly Twilight began to recite the letter she received about half an hour ago from Celestia;
"My dearest Twilight.
Firstly I wish to apologize for contacting you at such an early hour but believe me the situation warrants it.
Yesterday my sister made her first public appearance in my sunlight court. I confess it did not go well, there were miscommunications on both sides to which I would rather explain in person yet, as ever, I stand by my sister.
Despite the heated situation that occurred Luna wants only to make amends and has decided to make a public address to the citizens of Canterlot in person today. I fear for her. And tried to talk her out of it but my sister is very headstrong and set on her path. Indeed my attempt to discourage her is simply fear on my part. I do not want my beloved sister to be harassed by an angry mob. I love my little ponies, all of you, but the memory of Nightmare Moon is still strong in everyponies minds and I fear that they will not be forgiving.
This explains my urgency in contacting you and your friends. You bear the elements of harmony, you have been recognized as heroes of Equestria. If you would stand and support Luna and it would help ease the concerns of a great many ponies.
I know that I ask a great deal of you. I imagine you still feel anger and distrust towards my sister after what happened to young Spike, but I am asking, no, I am begging you to please try and look past it even for one day. Believe me when I say that Luna lives with tremendous guilt and if she only had the courage to speak to you she would apologize in an instant. Truly she wants nothing more than forgiveness not just for her actions against you and your kin but all ponies.
If you cannot attend this conference I understand. I will never pressure or force you to do something you are uncomfortable with.
I think I have gone on long enough. Please could you reply as soon as you are able.
"Yours sincerely Princess Celestia" Twilight finished with a heavy sniff. The others were silent; they had read the letter too but to hear it aloud struck that much deeper. Rainbow Dash simply stared with her jaw wide open.
"You did reply right!?"
Twilight glanced down at the parchment she held. It was dry now but she could perfectly recall the curious dampness to the paper as she read further into the letter. The kind of wetness that could have been made by falling tears perhaps.
"Yes I replied straight away. Celestia will be here in a few minutes" she said through a dry throat. Spike laid a comforting claw on her side.
"We've all decided to help Luna" Fluttershy offered.
"The poor dear needs some support right now. And perhaps some friends too" Rarity offered.
Twilight continued to stare at the letter mournfully, "I should have contacted her sooner"
The others watched with sympathy as Twilight held back a sob, "She's actually begging me to help. Begging me! She was crying when she wrote this-"
Fluttershy crossed the gap between her and Twilight and gently gathered the distraught unicorn into a hug "There, there, it's ok"
"I'm so stupid!"
"No you're not" Fluttershy cooed.
The others gathered around to support their friend as she quietly cried.
A sizable crowd of ponies that had been going about their business began to gather and watch from a distance as the rather famous group of friends indulged in a group hug with their unofficial leader quietly sobbing.
To say they were confused was an understatement. The growing crowd of ponies was beginning to get increasingly concerned and justly so. Though still relatively new to the adventures of the six elements they knew that strange stuff happened around them and that, if something was affecting them, you better believe it would soon be affecting you.
"Go ask them what's wrong" A cream coated earth mare with a two-toned purple mane poked another mare standing beside her. The other mare, a teal coated unicorn blinked in surprise, "What?"
"Ask them what's wrong. Quick"
"You ask them"
"I asked you first"
"What are we at school?"
The earth pony rolled her eyes, "Come on it sounds serious"
"So instead of checking it out yourself you just poke some random pony and ask them to do it?" the teal unicorn asked a little incredulous.
"… You're right"
"What's your name?"
"I'm Bon-Bon" the cream mare answered with a bright smile.
Lyra was for a moment struck dumb, "Kay"
"Now that we know each other we're not strangers. So go over there and ask them what's wrong" Bon-Bon said with a satisfied grin.
Lyra stared for a moment longer, Bon-Bons grin shrinking to a teasing smile as she arched an eyebrow imperiously. Lyra shook her head but took a step towards the still-hugging group of friends, "You were gonna ask anyway Lyra" she muttered to herself.
She was deciding what to say when she felt a tingle across her body. A faint magical echo that made her pull up short. She recognized it as the trace of teleportation magic and her eyes were drawn above, almost without thought, as a golden glow gently drew into existence. The light flaring for a moment before compressing into the regal form of Princess Celestia.
Lyra bowed and backed away. A part of her was impressed that such a long-range teleport, (she assumed the princess had come from Canterlot) hadn't caused a massive bow-wave of force across Ponyville. Celestia was truly a master of magic not for her show of strength but for her ability to restrain the laws of physics.
But idling aside she was most overcome with the thought, 'Princess Celestia is here!?' and retreated to stand beside Bon-Bon. The two mares shared a marveling expression as their monarch gently touched down on the earth and approached the elements.
To all those watching Princess Celestia she was the epitome of grace and composure. Her poise so perfect, her expression benevolent. Her very image drawing sighs of awe and wonder from everypony watching.
Twilight knew different though. She had spent years watching and idolizing her mentor and had learned, to her amazement, that the princess was racked with the same fears and nervousness as any mortal. She was just an expert at masking it.
So when she greeted Twilight and her friends in that melodious voice of hers Twilight could tell through the slight caste to her eyes, the tightness of a smile and the barely noticeable shuffling of her hooves that Celestia was nervous.
No. Not nervous. Twilight looked harder and with reluctance only visible to her student the princess locked eyes with her. Twilight nearly gasped aloud. Celestia was actually scared. In dread of something.
She had to fix this, "Princess as ever we are at your service. Myself and my friends" she said solemnly and bowed in a courtly manner. Celestia seemed taken aback by this approach but a meaningful glance at the crowd from Twilight clued her in.
"I'm grateful my dear student. For there is a great service I wish to ask of you"
"Would you like to come to the Library and have some tea while we converse princess?"
Celestia gave a thankful nod and fell into step with Twilight. The others were quiet, uncertain of what to say themselves. Celestia took the lead by asking idle questions to which they answered happily while the crowd looked on curiously.
They soon reached the treehouse and filed inside, Celestia glad-hooved with the crowd a bit before following suit. The crowd pressed closer eagerly before being pushed back by a faintly shimmering shield of purple magic that enveloped the treehouse. Ponyvillians staring in frank confusion.
"Oh that can't be good" Bon-Bon quipped. Lyra nodded her head in agreement.
"Twilight I'm glad you responded to my-"
Celestia and Twilight looked upon the other, Celestias eyes wide with surprise and Twilight shaking with nerves.
"I never should have been so mean to you and Luna! I let my anger get the best of me, I-I was being selfish! And angry! I already said angry? Twilight sniffed and mewled, I never meant to make you cry!"
Celestia moved to embrace Twilight and the young mare clung to her and bawled desperately. Months of tension and fear revealing themselves in her heartfelt sobs.
"It's ok. It's ok. I'm sorry too" Celestia whispered.
"You, 'sniff' you don't have to-"
"But I do Twilight. I asked so much of you. And you delivered on every account. You went above and beyond to help me, my sister and this nation. You stood by my side from the start"
"And when that, Celestia hesitated, incident occurred, you were well within your rights to be angry. You had trusted me, and my promises about Luna. You justifiably felt betrayed and scared when Spike was hurt"
The dragon in question shuffled his feet nervously. He wanted to say everything was ok, he had plenty of times already, but he couldn't bring himself to interrupt this moment. The others kept silent too though watched with just as teary eyes.
"I should have been more prepared. I should have been there at Lunas side when she awoke. It's my fault she panicked and this whole mess happened in the first place"
Twilight shook her head as Celestia petted her mane, "It's still no excuse for me acting so childish"
"Then how about we start afresh Twilight?"
The young mare let out a breath of relief, "I'd like that. I've missed talking to you"
"And I you. I admit I have been clinging rather fiercely to your reports lately. It being the only contact we have had for some time"
He two of them exchanged small smiles as they parted from their hug. Twilight wiping at her eyes and composing herself. Celestia also taking a small breath to settle herself.
"Why don't you explain more about what's going on princess?" Twilight suggested hoping to focus on duty first. The alicorn laying a wing over her shoulders tenderly before preparing to speak. The others crowded closer curiously as Celestia, a little sadly, told them what happened when Luna first tried to get involved in the sun court.
"He did what!?"
Celestia blinked in surprise at Raritys outburst. The others looked at her ruefully.
"So not quite tha 'stallion of your dreams' huh girl?"
"H-how could he be so callous! So cruel! To say such things to a princess?" Rarity yelped.
"I'm afraid my young nephew does have a habit of speaking without properly thinking first" Celestia admitted.
Rainbow snorted "He's lucky he didn't get thrown out of a window the jerk"
"What? He shouldn't have said that to Luna!"
"Rainbow Dash is quite right" Rarity said primly. All eyes turned to her, "No true gentlestallion would ever say such horrid things to a weary mare. For shame indeed!"
"Why don't you continue princess?" Twilight urged her mentor on. Celestia nodded and explained how Luna made her decision to speak to the populace and make a formal apology.
"The speech is tonight. At dusk. Luna is… still reluctant to be out in the night but organizing this event and gathering the populace at such short time has forced the timetable as far back as I dare. Luna will host the event at Canterlot Square. There, with me by her side, she shall official reveal herself as a sovereign of Equestria and Co-ruler. She will then be open for questions by all ponies and try her best to assuage their fears"
The six friends pondered this for a moment, sharing weary glances as they thought it over, "How can we help Princess?" Fluttershy asked with surprising firmness. The others looked to their monarch with determination.
Celestia bowed her head, "Thank you all. What I have to ask… it may be uncomfortable for you to do. I do not doubt there will be some amount of… stigma leveled at you all"
"We're not scared" Pinkie said.
"What I ask is a simple task but may have wider implications for you all. As you have no doubt heard many ponies still fear my sister. They have a great deal of anger and distrust towards her that, honestly, the last three months of absence by my sister has bred a whole viper's nest of rumors and slander about her. That she is biding her time to strike again. That she is really still the Nightmare and locked away for the time being. Or that she is completely insane and kept prisoner by myself" the last comment was spoken with a harsh sneer of contempt by Celestia.
"I ask you all to stand with my sister. To support her and provide a unified front to whatever hysteria is thrown at her. Know that many upstanding and influential ponies are still calling for Lunas banishment even now. Anypony that sides with my sister will be most likely treated with a great deal of scorn. That is the impression that I have gathered from the public. I will support you all as best as I am able, and I am probably overreacting quite a bit, but this will not be easy for you all… I just…"
Celestia lapsed into nervous silence. Honestly she wasn't sure what to expect at this summit. The statespony in her knew that at worse it would probably be a rather stony crowd listening to Luna try and apologize to them and throw some snarky comments back at her.
Though heaven help anypony who dared try and undermine her sister.
And that was the cinch. The sister in her, an aspect of herself that had been buried for over a millennia and now had roared back into life was imagining an angry mob storming the podium, hurling rocks and foul abuse at her horrified sister. She imagined Luna falling into a well of depression after trying and failing to make amends and the thought was almost enough to make even her fly into a panic.
And likewise she imagined her dearest Twilight, who she had missed so much, and her precious friends being blacklisted and ridiculed by every Canterlot snob for daring to try and help Luna.
Over the last thousand years Celestia had been a shining beacon of strength and nobility for Equestria. And now in the mere three months since her sisters return she'd been drawing closer and closer to becoming a wreck. Fears and anxieties plaguing her at every turn and it was becoming harder for her to focus on the day to day as she worried constantly about Luna.
"We don't care"
"We'll always help you princess"
"Just point me at those fro-fro bullies and ah'll sort them out"
Celestia couldn't prevent a warm prideful smile as the six mares stepped forward and pledged their support. Truly Equestria had been blessed when these young ponies took stewardship of the elements of harmony.
Still pride had to wait, there was much to do.
"We must make haste back to Canterlot. While the majority of the conference is being prepared as we speak I will need to debrief you all in greater detail and introduce you once again to Luna. I'm afraid I have been 'winging it' so to speak and haven't had time to explain my plans to her yet"
"I can't wait to hand her her invite!" Pinkie squealed in excitement. The others laughed at her energetic behavior.
"Princess is anypony else helping you and Luna? You mentioned preparations are being made?"
Celestia nodded, "Indeed there are my student. To my pleased surprise minister Nobleheart has taken it upon himself to organize and prepare Canterlot square for the event as well as notify the populous. I am in his debt for the efforts he has made to rally the nobles together and prevent any mishaps from occurring"
Rainbow looked at Twilight in suspicion, "I thought you said he wanted Luna gone?"
"He did. He was strongly advocating for her banishment when she was asleep"
"I can only surmise that time and seeing Luna for himself has softened his stance. To all intentions that seems to be the case" Celestia said thoughtfully.
"How are we getting to Canterlot Princess?"
"If you are ready I will teleport you all to Canterlot palace myself. It will be a little nauseas but I promise there will be no harm done to any of you"
The friends exchanged looks, whispers were exchanged.
"Ah have to check thangs at the farm first princess. Ah won't be long"
"Work can wait but I do have some orders I have to send away. It won't take more than ten minutes"
"Angel needs feeding but then I'll be right back princess I-I promise!"
With quick apologies the group filed out to attend to last minute business leaving only Twilight, Spike, Celestia and Rainbow Dash alone in the library. The pegasus yawned and padded over to a comfy spot before promptly falling asleep again, "Wake me when they're back" she mumbled before curling into a ball.
Twilight grinned nervously but Celestia only chuckled, "Would you like some tea while we wait for them?" the unicorn asked quietly.
Celestia gave her a warm look, "That… would be fantastic my dear Twilight"
Twilight beamed happily and trotted to the kitchen to make a brew for them. Celestia sighed happily before taking a seat at a table. She called out to Twilight, asking idle questions and inquiring on how she was doing. The young unicorn excitedly calling back, talking about the events of the last few weeks and asking about Celestias time as well.
Keeping as quiet as he could Spike took a seat next to Celestia and rested his head in his arms. He saw Celestia glance at him, a moment of guilt crossing her eyes as she realized she hadn't acknowledged him but the young dragon smiled and motioned for her to continue. With a grateful smile she resumed her chat with Twilight.
Spike sighed and closed his eyes blissfully. He listened to his big sister and Celestia talk, the underlying joy in their words clear to him as they welcomed each other back into their lives.
It felt good to listen to them talk like friends again.
Many miles away in the city of Canterlot a certain mare was also experiencing a moment of quiet reflection, though her thoughts were much more melancholy.
Princess Luna sat alone in Celestias private room as she stared at herself in one of her sisters tall dress mirrors. It had clearly been made for a being of Celestias size, the mirror stretching higher than Lunas own height. It made her reflection look very small in comparison.
Luna held little expression as she considered her own appearance. She had avoided mirrors as much as possible, after seeing her wretched body once when she first returned she had refused to look again, but today was special and she had worked up the nerve to approach the plane of glass. What looked back wasn't as bad as it was before but still made her heart ache sadly.
She was recovering that was true, her body no longer malnourished to the point of death, and her coat and mane had regained some luster and even her wings almost possessed a full covering of feathers. It was just her face, and the eyes that stared back at her blankly.
There was so much pain… so much emptiness. It was disconcerting to be able to acknowledge how lifeless her own expression was. The eyes just stared back at her distantly, the pony in the mirror not even recognized as her own body, just a mare that had had far too much happen to her.
"It's a shame you know"
Luna blinked, "What?"
"How dead inside you are. You try and be strong, you're trying now to muster the will to care about something but just look at yourself. You can barely be bothered by this"
"So why try? What's the point of this?"
"I made a promise"
"Promises can be broken"
Luna shook her head fiercely, "No. Not this promise"
The mare in the mirror sighed, "Yeah I guess you're right. Still it is a shame"
"I'll get better" Luna said resolutely. Her reflection shook her head, "No not that. Don't you remember? You used to be so pretty once"
"So as I said. Such a shame what's happened to you now"
Luna frowned and looked herself over, "Celly still thinks I'm pretty" she said uncertainly.
The other Luna gave her a sympathetic look, "She has to say that, she's your sister, and probably she means it. But there's a big difference between pretty and being beautiful. Being the goddess you used to be"
"I never cared about that" Luna spat. Her reflection gave her a nasty smile, "Now that's a lie. Remember how many suitors would approach Celestia? It made you jealous didn't it? How many young stallions wanted to marry her and nopony wanted you"
Luna's glare was deadly cold, "Is there a point to this? Yes it hurt that everypony loved Celly and not me. But I never wanted that. A snobbish noble asking for marriage simply for prestige and not love? Celly didn't want it either and she envied me for not being endlessly proposed by self-entitled nobles"
Her reflection held up her hooves, "Sorry, I shouldn't have brought up Celestia. I know she's still a touchy subject. Still my point is that you're going out there soon, in front of hundreds of ponies I might add, and you want them to be impressed. You want them to think, 'wow, look at that magnificent and sexy mare!'"
Luna actually blushed, "I-I'll make it work. I don't care what I look like. Besides Celly will be beside me to help"
"Yes but wouldn't you rather have the little ponies look at you Luna?" the other Luna whispered with a sly grin.
Luna eyed her counterpart, she didn't like her expression, "What are you getting at?"
"You were beautiful once-"
"We've already been over this"
"-feared and respected by all who saw you-"
"-Everypony knew who you were and that you were not be disrespected"
Her reflection licked her lips and bared her fangs in a rectus grin, Luna stared back uneasily, "What are you saying?"
The mare in the mirrors grin grew wider until rows of serrated teeth flashed. She blinked and the deep blue orbs she shared with Luna were replaced by draconian slits. Luna fell back in shock as the other mare grew taller until she towered over the recumbent alicorn.
"Remember how beautiful you once were. How powerful you could be again!"
Luna screamed in fright, "I won't go back to being a slave!"
The Nightmare in the mirror shook her head, "No Luna. Not a slave. A powerful force that all shall bow to"
"For all the horrors that Nightmare Moon did you still remember how powerful you were back then. It felt good didn't it? Battling Celestia and her armies? Proving your strength through might. You could still be that princess"
"I don't understand… Nightmare is gone so who are you?" Luna whispered.
"I'm not her" the dark Luna tapped her horn, "But the power she wielded rests right here Luna. In you. You never needed a demon inside to make you strong. That power existed within you all along. All you have to do is embrace it! Accept it! Use your power not hide from it!"
"No… No that's not what I want…"
"And yet here I am so a part of you must have been taking some of Nightmares teachings to heart" the mirror mare laughed maliciously, "Maybe now that you've realized nopony is going to imprison you again you're starting to understand that maybe you can start pushing your own weight around for a change?"
Luna winced and clutched at her head. She looked to the others for help but her friends had retreated to the shadows and merely watched her, silent and unhelpful.
She jumped as Desire brushed against her side, soft as silk and dangerously quiet. The mare didn't say a word but looked at the smirking nightmare before fixing her gaze on Luna with a haunting intensity. Luna licked her dry lips as the Nightmare and her Desire stared her down.
"Would it really be so bad to be the boss of your own fate for once?"
Luna didn't answer. She wasn't sure how to answer.
A gentle knock sounded behind her, Luna jumping and scrabbling back from the gilded white door as voices spoke outside.
"Luna?" Celestia called to her.
"Think about it Luna" Desire whispered in her ear. Luna flinched and looked back but the mares had gone. Only her rattled and scared reflection looked back at her.
"Luna are you ok?"
The concern in her sisters voice drew Luna out of her stupor. "I'm ok! I'm ok! One second!" she trotted to the door and unlocked it, unnecessary true as Celestia could easily teleport in but it was for politeness's sake. On the other side her radiant sister looked down at her with worry, "We heard you shout. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine" Luna tilted her head, "We?"
Celestia smiled sheepishly and stepped aside. Behind her six mares waited nervously but each wore a friendly smile as Luna looked at them.
'Bang!' "SURPRISE!" a pink mare with a wide grin hopped excitedly as confetti rained down upon them. The others shot panicked looks at her and the strange cannon she held as Lunas ears dropped back in fright and she slowly edged away.
"Luna it's alright" Celestia quickly stepped closer and gently brushed Lunas side. The other alicorn closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "Sorry" she looked to her sibling, "I was surprised that's all"
Somepony snorted behind her, "Yeah. Surprised. That's one thing to say"
"Anger shut up"
Luna curiously studied the elements themselves. The six mares shuffled nervously, even Pinkie Pies smile drooped as she realized Luna had been ready to bolt, "We didn't mean to scare you Princess" the yellow pegasus said comfortingly.
'Hold your head high' "It is quite… alright. I am easily startled it seems and I apologize if it offended you in any way"
Her polite manner of speech seemed to surprise everypony but they regarded her with greater interest as she forced herself to look them in the eye. That is until she looked upon Twilight Sparkle. She faltered, and only a tremendous force of will stopped her from falling to her haunches and begging forgiveness.
Celestia noted her sisters unease, "I do not think you've been probably introduced to these ladies yet have you Luna?"
Luna hesitated, "No?"
Rainbow Dash stepped forward without invite, never one to wait for opportunity, "I'm Rainbow Dash! You may not have heard of me yet but this pegasus is the future wonderbolt captain! But glory and fame aside if you're ever in a jam I'm always ready to help"
"Modest as always right RD?" Applejack drawled. She shot a look of reproach at her before giving Luna a kindly smile, "Names Applejack your highness. It's a pleasure ta meet you"
"I am Rarity your majesty. Charmed to make your acquaintance" the white unicorn performed a stately bow that drew an eyeroll from Applejack and Rainbow Dash, "mock away but at least I show proper decorum" Rarity huffed.
Another burst of confetti drew their attention to a hyper pink earth pony, "I'm Pinkie Pie! Equestrias number one party animal! Oh I'm so happy to meet you at last! Oh the parties I've got planned, you've got a thousand years of catching up to do! Do you like cake? Chocolate gateau or maybe vanilla icing? Ever playing pin the tail on the pony? What games would you like to play? Finding out what ponies did so long ago is really-"
Rainbow jammed her hoof in Pinkies snout cutting her off, "She has a habit of forgetting when to stop" Pinkie nodded sagely, Rainbow grinning at her in response.
Applejack pointed towards Fluttershy "And this is-"
"I'm Fluttershy your highness. I'm glad to see you're doing better"
The others watched in surprise as Fluttershy stepped forward to better examine Luna. They'd never expected their friend to be this outspoken. Luna shuffled her hooves a little as Fluttershy looked up at her but couldn't retreat from those kind eyes. There wasn't any kind of hostility in this little pegasus.
"You're looking much healthy then the last time we saw you. You've been very strong to come all this way"
"T-thank you… Miss Fluttershy"
Fluttershy giggled, covering her mouth cutely, "Please Luna there's no need for 'Miss'. My friends just call me Fluttershy"
Luna wasn't sure what to say, she settled for nodding, anything else might make her sniffle and reveal how pleased she was at what Fluttershy said to her.
Her eyes fell on Twilight. Stars above what should she do now?
'I promised I would make amends' she reminded herself.
Head slightly lowered she nervously approached Twilight and bowed, "Twilight Sparkle. It pleases us to see you here"
Twilights smile was equally nervous, "I'm happy to be here princess"
"Oh heavens the little dragons looking at us. What do we say?" Filly squeaked. The others shared looks of fear, Luna gulped, 'this is what I do'
"Young dragon, Twilight Sparkle, I wish to apologize to you both. To all of you in fact"
"T-there's no need-" Twilight stammered.
Luna shook her head, "But there is. We did terrible things in the past and even when freed from our captor we continued to hurt ponies in our delirium. We hurt you and those dear to you as well as many other ponies. For that we must apologize"
The alicorn looked up meeting everyponies gaze with a determined expression, "I do not expect your forgiveness but I give my promise that I will work tirelessly to prove myself to all of you. That one day I shall be worthy of being a princess of Equestria"
Luna stepped back and glanced at Celestia, she felt a little exposed after such a speech but felt better at seeing the proud look her sister gave her.
She almost squeaked in fright as somepony hugged her. She looked down in surprise at Twilight Sparkle, even as Celestia chuckled, "Miss Sparkle?"
"I'm sorry too Luna. I should have tried harder to be your friend. I've been a terrible pony"
"You have been anything but terrible Twilight Sparkle"
"We all saw how much pain you were in. It's my fault you didn't have more help" Twilight said wretchedly. Luna carefully untangled herself from Twilights hug and pushed her back. The look of uncertainty the unicorn gave her broke her heart but having somepony touching her, even one of her saviors, was still too much for her. Though she'd started making headway with Celestia.
She gave Twilight a reassuring smile, "Twilight Sparkle. I feel that we could both spend hours apologizing to each other. We both feel tremendous guilt and… though I feel undeserving of your apologies I will not do you the disservice of not accepting them. Perhaps we should both accept the others feelings and move on?"
Twilight wiped at her eyes and laughed, "Celestia said the same thing to me too"
"Indeed? Then that pleases me"
Celestia stepped forward, "We all are here to help you Luna. These six mares want to be at your side when you present yourself to the populous tonight"
Luna was surprised, "You are here to help me?" she asked of the six elements.
"We've got your back princess"
They each gave a passionate outburst in answer to Lunas question. The alicorn was frankly astonished. She never imagined anypony would actually be so willing to help her.
"Thank you… thank you all… I…" Luna sniffed and hastily looked away, "I don't deserve such support"
"That is not true" Celestia said kindly. She brushed her wing across Lunas side and her sister smiled at her bashfully.
The two sisters looked down curiously at Pinkie Pie. The party pony beamed at them before she retrieved a slip of paper from her mane and held it out to Luna. The dark princess hesitantly took the proffered item and read it quickly.
"I am invited to a… welcome back to Equestria party?"
"That's right!" Pinkies smile could have lit a room.
"I have attended galas and such before… is this some kind of private function?"
"No silly! Pinkie giggled, this is just a party to celebrate you! Just you and all your friends having a good time together!"
"I… I have never attended such an event. The only gatherings I attended were stately events with strangers" Luna felt intrigued.
Rainbow Dash padded over and nudged Pinkie playfully, "You're in for a treat princess. Pinkie throws the best parties ever! We're all going to have a great time together"
"And you're invited" Twilight added nodding at the invite Luna held. The alicorn almost shaking as she struggled to control the rush of euphoria she felt as these six mares and her beloved sister smiled at her.
'I… I don't know what to do'
"I feel all peaceful… it's weird" Anger muttered.
"I'm wide awake. What's wrong with me?" Apathy quipped.
Filly squealed loudly drawing winces from the others, "WE'RE SO HAPPY!"
"Thank you all. I don't… I don't…" Luna sniffed loudly and turned away, "Damnation" she hissed as she felt hot tears spill down her cheeks.
Celestia drew close, "Sister?" she gently touched Lunas shoulder but the smaller alicorn shrugged her off and stepped away, "Just give us a moment" she hissed.
"It's ok to be a little overwhelmed Luna" Celestia whispered.
"Not for us! We must always be in control. We are tired of crying" Luna snapped.
Luna swiped at her eyes angry at her show of emotion. She was happy. She really was. But the tears just reminded her too much of the others times she'd cried. Those first horrible years on the moon.
She promised herself she'd never cry again.
"We understand Luna. Do you want some time alone?" Fluttershy asked softly.
"No! No... We do not wish to be alone"
The midnight alicorn took a deep breath and tried smiling. It looked more like a grimace but the others could see the tearful joy in her eyes, "You have done nothing wrong to us. We owe you so much. We want more than anything to be your friend"
The others said the same that they wanted to be friends too, and soon they were all chatting away to cheer her up. They said it was ok to cry, (Rainbow humming and erring a little) that they understood and that everything would be ok.
For the first time since she'd returned to Equestria she actually started to believe that.
Celestia called for attention, "I am sorry everypony but much as I wish we could all retire to dinner together and talk some more we must get the preparations underway" Celestia looked at Luna and her eyes were unusually serous, "Are you ready for tonight Luna?"
Luna didn't hesitate, "I am" she stated.
"Good. Then girls I have to ask you to follow me. I have tasks that need your help and Luna needs time to prepare herself"
Luna almost grimaced. She'd been supposed to write some kind of speech but had spent the time talking to herself in a mirror instead.
"If I may princess but have you had time to style your mane yet? Are you waiting for a manedresser to arrive?" Rarity asked worriedly. Luna blinked and patted her mane a few times. Was something wrong with it?
"Rarity now is not the time to point things out" Twilight hissed. Her fellow unicorn glowered at her, "I am not doing this to be mean Twilight. I ask out of a desire to help. Luna is going on stage to the whole city. A city of high-class ponies who practically worship fashion! Luna needs to look her best if she wants to win them over"
"She looks fine to me" Applejack said weakly. Rarity shot her a look and the farm pony gnawed her lip. The fashion mare raised an eyebrow and Applejack groaned and hung her head, "Ok she could look better" she mumbled. Lying wasn't her strongpoint.
"Girls could you be any meaner to the poor mare!?" Twilight hissed angrily. The others shared guilty looks but Rarity took the lead as she looked pointedly at Luna. Twilight followed her gaze and clearly struggled to find words to retort. The alicorn stared back in confusion.
To be fair Luna wasn't unattractive. Far from it. The first time they'd seen her she had been a starved and wretched shadow of a mare. Now she had regained a slender yet sensual figure and her bright eyes and pleasant features were clear to see. There was a beauty just aching to be set free.
The problem was that her mane was so tangled and long it practically covered her face and pooled across the floor. Her tail was similarly knotted and her hooves were in desperate need of a hoof treatment. Though she was clean and healthy she clearly hadn't had anypony tidy her up as it were.
She was a disaster. And the snobby nobles of Canterlot would be quick to comment on a princess in such a state.
Rarity steeled herself, "Luna. Would you allow me to tidy up your mane? I know it's very forward of me but I believe it could really help you"
Luna blinked and lifted some of her mane, looking at it as if seeing it for the first time. A cough from Celestia drew her attention, "Rarity is more than qualified to be your stylist sister. I think she could help" she said persuasively.
"I suppose… my mane has become rather overgrown…"
"Say no more! I will have you looking radiant princess! By the time we're done everypony will be dazzled by you" Rarity squee'd in delight. The others hid their grins behind their hooves, they could easily imagine Rarity shrieking 'Makeover!' in her head.
Rarity excitedly urged Luna to return to the room and take a seat, the princess bemused but strangely not upset by the attention. The unicorn was so excited at the prospect of styling a member of royalty that she didn't even realize she was in Celestias personal quarters.
Twilight did however. She held back a shrill cry of reproach; ponies didn't just walk into a monarch's bedroom! "I apologize Princess I'm sure she didn't mean to! I can get her back!"
"For whatever reason my dear?"
Twilight gestured lamely, "She's in your bedroom?"
Celestia laughed, "Twilight I've spent hundreds of years having my bedroom tended by curious maids and an open door policy that ponies have been happy to take advantage of. I have no secrets to hide in that room"
"Oh… that's good"
"All the real secrets are in my hidden lair" Celestia said with a wink.
"Twilight you are so easy to tease" Celestia giggled as the young unicorns mouth open and closed as she struggled for words. The others shared Celestias amusement and good-naturedly laughed amongst themselves.
"Everypony please!" Rarity appeared at the bedroom doorway, "This is a delicate procedure and I need you all to go about your business. Luna is shy enough as it is without all of you hanging around and presumably watching over my shoulders"
Rarity bowed quickly to Celestia, "No offence intended princess"
Luna coughed for attention, "I'm ok with them being around"
The fires of a true zealot of fashion burned in Raritys eyes, "My dear this is a transformation that I am undertaking. It should be a mystery to our friends and your sister so that when I reveal you to them they will all be amazed and bedazzled by the beauty before them. It must be a surprise!"
"Very well miss Rarity we shall defer to your experience"
"As will I" Celestia said cheerfully. She motioned for the others to follow her, "Come my little ponies. There is much work to be done still"
She hesitated and poked her head back into the bedroom, "I'll see you soon sister" she said softly.
Luna smiled and waved her away, "Go. I am having a… beauty treatment? Huzzah!"
The elder alicorn chuckled and said goodbye. Luna heard her talking to the rest of the elements before the door was closed by Rarity.
"Not so sure about this" Apathy remarked as Luna and her friends noted Raritys almost manic grin.
"Now do not worry dear, Rarity hefted a sleek pair of scissors and examined it critically, I'm a professional"
'I wasn't expecting this'
Celestia was very rarely surprised. After all over a thousand years of life she'd seen pretty much everything. Been there, done that, got a postcard. So when she was surprised it was often something very monumental.
And this was monumental. In the weathered Canterlot square, admittedly the repairs should have been finished over a month ago but she had been rather preoccupied, a form of carnival air had overtaken the city. Brightly colored stalls ringed the plaza and various musicians, performers and acrobats plied their skills to entertain the massive crowd that had gathered here.
Fillies and colts laughed and ran from attraction to attraction while adults gathered with friends and family enjoying the good atmosphere. As Celestia watched a unicorn with a bright red coat and flaming cutie mark called forth a corona of fire that weaved and danced in the air. The stallion making motions, that looked a great deal like some fighting style to Celestia, and the fire followed his hooves with grand sweeping gestures. The crowd watched with excitement.
Beside her Twilight was also staring in astonishment, "Princess this… this is amazing!" The other shared agreement, "Should've brought ma cart" Applejack grumbled.
"Indeed it is Twilight" Celestia coincided. To be honest as shocked as she was it was a clear relief to her. She'd expected to see a crowd of angry, sullen and possibly fearful ponies awaiting Luna's speech. She was preparing herself to try and assuage her subjects' fears as best she could until Luna was ready to meet them.
What she hadn't expected was for Luna's first public appearance to be turned into a public holiday with attractions to match. It was working a treat as instead of fear her ponies were laughing and enjoying themselves.
There was still no guarantee things would stay that way once Luna began her speech but this idea was genius. Pure genius.
A delicate cough drew her gaze to none other than minister Nobleheart, the young prince himself. He bowed to her, "Your highness" he said even as his smile quirked a little. She could see in his glittering eyes that he knew he had caught her by surprise and was quietly reviling in it.
His small grin faded to confusion as Celestia bowed to him "Thank you Nobleheart"
"I merely did as you asked princess"
The alicorn shook her head, "No minister, you went above and beyond. All these ponies here have laughter in their hearts thanks to your efforts"
The stallion looked away, the very picture of refined embarrassment, "Thank you princess"
"This must have cost an enormous amount of bits to create in such a short time. I am happy to reimburse you?"
Nobleheart shook his head firmly, "Unnecessary princess. This is my gift to you and your sister"
His eyes flicked to the mares beside Celestia, lingering on Twilight for a moment, "As your protégé can attest I… was not the most supportive stallion I could have been. This is my way of making amends"
"Lot of that going around" Rainbow quipped with a teasing smile at Twilight. The unicorn flushed but bobbed her head in agreement, "Minister Nobleheart this is a fantastic fair you've made"
"I'm glad you think so. I was worried I'd receive another shout of disapproval from you"
Twilight blushed but the minster was smiling lightly so she knew he only spoke in jest, still, "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to offend you"
He waved her away, "Nonsense young lady. You spoke passionately for what you believed. Nopony can censor you for that"
"Young lady? Isn't he like a few years older than us?"
Celestia stepped forward and looked favorably on the royal stallion, "Well said Minister. And in that case I also must apologize. I too have spoken to you in rather heated passion recently, (behind her Rainbow fought the urge to snigger while Applejack glared at her reproachfully), but I fear passion can still lead us to say things we regret. I apologize for any difficulties I've put you and your fellows through over the last few months"
Nobleheart bowed once again, "Think nothing more of it princess" he said softly.
For a moment the princess and her minister merely looked at each other, both seemingly reevaluating their impressions of the other. A burst of fire and a cheer from the crowd broke the trance and Noble stepped back, smiling self-consciously and motioning for the others to follow him. "I understand we still have some time before the speech. Perhaps I could show you ladies some of the performers who wonderfully made the time and work to be here today. And then I will show you the podium where the speech will be held"
"Lead on Nobleheart" Celestia answered with a smile.
A little while later Celestia was making her way back to her quarters to collect her sister. Tucked under her wing was an innocuous oak box that she had collected from the palace vaults. She was almost giddy with anticipation of Lunas reaction when she presented it to her.
While the greater part of her mind was focused on Luna her thoughts kept returning to Nobleheart. She was truly surprised and immensely grateful for the work he'd put in today. He'd handled the affair like a military venture and planned it to the smallest detail.
The various performers he introduced Celestia and the girls to were local talent eager to earn bits and work on short notice. Most major companies and firms had been approached and told that today would be an emergency holiday and that their staff would be allowed to take the day off if they asked. Naturally most of them argued the point but Noble paid generous sums to placate and reimburse them.
He spoke with Celestia about his ideas for how the elements could help. Celestia had found herself agreeing to most of them. He'd gathered together other pegasus flyers and invited Rainbow Dash to perform some tricks with them for the crowd. Naturally she had agreed. Applejack was asked to support the marketers ply their trade. To her amazement her brother was already there selling apples, a written invitation from Nobleheart himself in his hoof.
Lastly Twilight and Fluttershy were on crowd control. This was Celestias own plan for Twilight to handle the logistics of the event and the young unicorn had jumped at the chance. Last she had seen her she'd been firing off orders to a dozen baffled ponies who nonetheless obeyed. Fluttershy stayed by her side, encouraging everyone to work together for Luna.
'Seems she comes out of her shell when it's for another. It's always the quiet ones who have hidden depths' Celestia thought fondly.
She reached her room and rapped on the door twice. She heard muffled voices before the door flew open and Rarity looked up at her with a satisfied smile. The dressmaker cleared her throat and swept a foreleg behind her, "Princess Celestia. May I present… princess Luna"
Celestia held her breath as her sister stepped into view. Luna's grace and elegance ever apparent as she approached her elder and looked up at her nervously. "Luna… I…" Celestia struggled for words. All she could do was stare in awe.
The skittish and scared filly she knew had vanished and in her place was a truly beautiful young mare. As her eyes swept over her sister she struggled to say something. But everytime she formulated words her eyes were distracted by the sight before her.
Lunas mane had been trimmed and styled, light blue bangs curling around her face and accenting her features. A thick curl of hair swept over her right eye, a clear imitation of Celestias own manestyle, and making her visible eye even more striking. Likewise her tail had been perfectly tended to and flowed in a graceful arc behind her while her coat practically shimmered like stardust.
What amazed the elder alicorn were the simple touches Rarity had applied to her sister. The unicorn certainly approved of the idea that less is more. A small dab of blusher to her cheeks, a touch of mascara over her eyelashes and a trace of rouge to her lips. She looked more like a young mare going to a ball then an immortal alicorn.
Her period of silence was making Luna anxious, "Sister? Do you not like how we look?" she asked nervously.
Celestia shook off her trance, "Not all at. Luna you look… you look beautiful. Truly radiant. I can scarcely believe the change"
The monarch looked favorably on Rarity, "You are a credit to her Rarity. Thank you"
Rarity flushed with embarrassment, "You're welcome princess"
Celestia returned her attention to Luna, watching with amusement as her younger sister twirled and took a few experimental steps. "I do feel lighter without so much overgrown hair. I hadn't even noticed the difference until now" she remarked.
Celestia smiled mischeviously, "Then perhaps this will resettle things for you?" she presented the box she carried to Luna.
Her sister noted Celestias excited expression and gingerly took the proffered item, "If this is some kind of dress sister-", her words ended in a quick gasp as she opened the lid and saw what was inside. With shaking hooves she reached in and lifted out an item she hadn't seen for untold centuries.
Celestia watched as tears shimmered in her sisters eyes, "Your crown" she said tenderly.
Luna swallowed as she carefully turned the black crown over in her hooves. The ancient headpiece still sparkled, its obsidian material catching sheens of light while the tiny diamonds inside it twinkled like stars in a night sky.
She still remembered when she had first been bestowed it. Gifted to her by Celestia herself when Luna turned sixteen.
When she had become official recognized as the second ruler of Equestria…
"Take it back!"
Celestia drew back as Luna thrust the crown at her, her sisters eyes wide and pleading, "Luna what's wrong?"
"I don't deserve it, take it away from me!"
The white alicorn placed her hooves over Lunas to still her shaking, "That is nonsense sister"
"I haven't gained forgiveness yet. I shouldn't be allowed to wear it"
Celestia wing reached round to tenderly raise Lunas chin. She felt elation that her sister didn't shrug her off, "You are a princess of Equestria. You are my equal. You have the right to wear this crown"
Luna sniffed uncertainly, Celestia pressed on, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize this would be such a shock. I didn't mean to upset you Lulu"
"Luna… this crown isn't something to earn. It's what you are. It represents an important part of yourself. It's a reminder of your duty and obligations"
Celestia feathers rubbed at Lunas cheek comfortingly, the younger alicorn leaning into the touch, "I don't know… that crown was worn by somepony else a long time ago" she whispered.
"She's right here. Right in front of me. She hasn't gone anywhere"
Luna felt buoyed by the conviction in her sisters words. "I know this will sound like more pressure, and it undoubtedly is and for that I'm sorry, but to meet your subjects today… wearing this crown will further cement your role as princess. Another proof that the true steward of the night has returned and that she is here to stay"
"Plus, Celestia smiled teasingly, I bet you'll look even more beautiful with it on"
Luna laughed and swiped at her eyes. She warily looked at the crown in her hooves before taking a deep breath and raising it above her. Celestia looked at her encouragingly while she noticed Rarity blowing daintily into a small napkin to hide her emotions. Luna hesitated as the crown hovered over her mane.
Hot breath flicked past her ear "No going back. You sure you want this?" Desire whispered.
Luna placed the crown atop her head and almost sagged as the cold material rested on her mane. The crown felt both alien and hauntingly familiar as she absorbed its weight and the feel of it.
A part of her wanted to throw it across the room but the rest felt a deep sense of completion having it there. Like a vital part of her had returned at last.
"You look amazing princess" Rarity offered. Luna smiled at her shyly before something made her face scrounge up.
She sneezed and her eyes glanced up in confusion. Small motes of dust were falling from the crown and tickling her nose. Celestia quickly noticed and looked horrified, "I'm sorry Luna I- In my haste I forgot to properly dust it off. I swear it has been maintained I haven't forgotten it all these years"
Luna watched another dust mote float past, "It's ok"
"Rarity do you have a spare neckerchief?"
"Um yes. Yes! Right here"
Luna stepped forward and pulled her sister into a hug. Celestia froze in shock as Luna nuzzled her chest.
"Thank you sister. It's perfect"
The hug tightened and Celestia blushed. Full-body hugs from somepony nearly her own size was something she was unused to, "Y-you're welcome Luna" she stammered.
Luna drew back and carefully adjusted her crown. She smiled brightly as her hooves came away a little dusty. This was perfect.
"It's been just as alone as we were. Sad and lonely until now" Filly whispered. The other mares stared reverently at the crown as Luna giggled to herself.
She didn't feel so bad now. Her crown wasn't something to be scared of. It had missed her just as much as she had missed everything else. It hadn't been complete until it was perched back on her brow.
It felt nice to know that something in this world hadn't been able to move on without her.
She spun to face Rarity and her sister. They looked at her in amusement as Luna gave them a delighted smile, "I'm ready!"
"No princess Luna can't pay you back!"
The stallion Twilight was arguing with glowered at her, he was just one more in the long line of stupid claims Twilight had been dealing with for over an hour, "She owes me bits!"
"Not for you losing a contact lens!" Twilight shouted.
"You said you'd pay that old guy for his walking stick!"
"That was because it was family heirloom and he was an old stallion. You on the other hoof can easily replace your contact lens. You wouldn't try and charge princess Celestia if she bumped into you and made you lose something"
The stallion shrugged, "Yeah but that's princess Celestia" he said bluntly.
Twilights amethyst eyes narrowed, "Go away"
"But what about-"
He backpedaled when Twilight stamped a hoof and her horn flared dangerously, "BEAT IT!" she shrieked. The civilian hurried to escape while Twilight fought to control her anger. She glared at the line of ponies all demanding bits and they slunk away fearfully.
"Twilight you shouldn't let them get to you" Fluttershy said beside her. The pegasus's gentle eyes calming her a little.
"I'm just disgusted Fluttershy. Everyone of those stupid ponies is like, 'give me these bits, fix this quick, I want this, I want that!' They could be a little more understanding to Luna"
"But they can't Twilight. They don't know Luna like we do. They don't see her as anything else but a danger"
Fluttershys sobering words made Twilight sigh in defeat, "I know. Hopefully that will change soon"
"Oh I think it will" Fluttershy said. Her inflection drew Twilights attention and the pegasus motioned ahead. Twilight followed her gaze and gasped.
"Booths closed come back tomorrow!" she said in a rush and ran for it, Fluttershy chasing after her. The few ponies brave or stupid enough to still be hanging around yelled at her back but Twilight ignored them. In the podium set up in the centre of the square princess Celestia had just appeared.
In all the excitement and entertainment nopony had noticed the golden flare of their monarchs teleportation but it didn't take long for them to realize she was here. Just her presence was enough that through whispers and nudges the crowd grew steadily quiet and focused on Celestia.
The alicorns smile was as gentle and matronly as ever and it never failed to draw in her subjects, though they noticed the apprehension she held and it worried them. Her expression grew more relieved as the elements gathered before her. Rarity began to explain to her friends what wonders she had performed before she realized she was holding Celestia back and drawing silent with a sheepish laugh.
Celestia glanced above at her beloved sun. She had already commanded it to set and the sky was on fire with the hues of dusk. The moon was beginning to peek over the horizon, the perfect time to introduce her sister to the world.
"My little ponies hear me now! I have important news to share with you all!"
Silence reigned as everypony gave her their full attention.
Celestia licked her lips and sighed deeply, "How easy this seemed when I planned this speech. But I suppose everything appears easy in your mind. Actually confronting the problem or admitting a mistake is much harder in real life it seems"
Her ponies shared looks of concern at their monarchs somber words. Celestia noticed this and smiled in a mixture of sadness and pride.
"I see you all looking at me, concern on your faces. It's always been that way, something I took for granted in my early years but now I see it as the treasure it is. Yet it can still amaze me how forgiving you can be for an old mare who can make terrible mistakes"
The crowd was quiet for a moment then one pony nervously raised a hoof, "What mistake princess?"
Celestia eyes bore a millennia old sadness, "A mistake I made a long time ago. A mistake I made once to somepony special to me. Somepony I loved. And again I made another mistake in promising to all my subjects that they would never again know the pain of conflict and war, and failing to keep that promise"
"This summit that I have asked you attend… its purpose is to reveal mistakes. Its message is to accept them, to face them, and to work to have them forgiven. And before I can ask you to forgive somepony else I must first ask you to forgive me. For this whole matter starts and ends with me most of all"
"We'd always forgive you princess!" a mare shouted from the crowd. The others yelled in affirmation.
Celestia bowed her head in appreciation, "It pleases me to hear that but I ask you all to be impartial now. This.., crime I shall reveal is beyond grave and I will not accept a free pass as it were. We all must stand up to our mistakes and without judgment we learn nothing"
She looked up as the last of suns rays turned the world a bright red. High above the void of space was beginning to appear, starlight burning and the moon slowly rising above them all. The sight brought a bittersweet smile to Celestias face.
"The stars are beautiful are they not?"
The ponies shared looks of confusion at their princesses offhoof remark. Some glanced up and seemed taken aback for a moment, as if seeing the moon and stars for the first time.
"A long time ago… so long in fact it would have faded completely from history without immortals like myself to remember, two sisters ruled together. The elder controlled the sun and day while the younger guarded the moon and night. For awhile things were perfect. The land knew peace and all ponies lived in harmony"
"But the ponies loved only the day and slept during the night. Though this was the natural order it made the younger sister jealous of the love the ponies had for her older sister. Over time this jealously ripened into bitterness and anger, and eventually the younger sister refused to make way for the day and forced endless night on the land. All would love her night eternal and nothing her sister or their subjects could say would sway her"
Celestias speech faltered for a moment, she drew in a shaky breathe "And so with no alternative left to her… the elder banished her sister to the moon to save the land from her madness, and in doing so brought peace back to Equestria… at the cost of her beloved sister"
The hundreds of ponies gathered together were speechless as they watched Celestia wipe away tears. Many had heard this story. The tale of the mare in the moon had been told to them as foals and many believed it to be nothing more than a fantasy. The events of the last few months had taught them otherwise.
The elements gathered around their princess, Twilight hesitantly touching her hoof to Celestias. The monarch smiled wetly and whispered a thank you before collecting herself.
Her eyes burned as she grimly looked out at the sea of ponies, "That story is, at best, omitting certain truths. At worst it is nothing more than a sham that I have been foolishly ignoring these last few hundred years. It was too painful for me to alter the tale and reveal the truth. I was a coward. But now I bare everything"
"I was not the beloved princess of your nation. Back then I was cruel and entitled and though I was not as horrifying as Discord or other great tyrants of the past I will freely admit I was well on my way to becoming one. I saw the ponies of Equestria as nothing more than tools or pets. Things to play and discard on a whim. I reveled in my power and mastery of the sun and mortals were of no interest in me. The awe and love they held for me amused me but if not for the work of my sister it would have turned to something much darker"
She thrust a hoof at the moon, "My sister, she was the one who saw the mortals as something special. As deserving of being equals. She was the one who chided my spoiled nature and reprimanded me whenever I let my capricious whims harm those around me. Over time I scorned her, mistreated her, and began to sideline her in the rule of our country"
"Luna. She was driven to depression and loneliness because of me. Because I told her over and over that her only purpose was to serve me. It didn't matter that she was also a goddess she was the younger and as the stronger elder I eventually saw her as a tool just like all you ponies"
Celestia shuddered and her white wings moved to hug her body. She snarled in anger at herself and the ponies close to her drew back fearfully. They'd never seen her look so stressed or enraged.
"In her moment of weakness a terrible monster took advantage of her. The beast you call Nightmare Moon was nothing more than a parasite that took over her body and forced her to commit atrocities. During those years of war I learnt to care for the ponies under my command, Celestia chuckled and the bitterness she felt was almost a physical thing, ironic that waging war against my stolen sister would teach me to care for mortals"
Her subjects exchanged lost expressions and even a touch of horror. This was unprecedented. Many found it hard to reconcile their beloved princess with this past version she explained to them.
Even Twilight and her friends, already somewhat aware of Celestias less then glorious past felt unnerved as she bared all to them.
"I think I'll leave my past there for you all. After I banished Luna I worked tirelessly to repair Equestria and become worthy of being your ruler instead of being entitled to it. But I hope this gives you all some perspective"
She looked out at the gaping ponies; by the sun it actually hurt to see them all look so confused. She could see some of them wanted to question what she said, some even looked angry at her, perhaps at having the image of their infallible princess ruined.
What hurt most was the ones shaking their heads in denial. The ones who couldn't accept what Celestia was telling them. A thousand years ago Celestia would have inwardly sneered at their lost expression but now she felt nothing but guilt and sadness.
Twilight tenderly touched hooves with her, "Keep going princess"
Celestia nodded and stood tall again, "I tell you this now because I want you all to think about how a pony can change, or even an alicorn for that matter. That our initial impressions about somepony can be completely wrong. And that those we think are saints could have been devils. And those that we see as monsters are actually victims"
Bowing her head to her subjects Celestia steeled herself and made space on the podium. She motioned at the six mares with her and they too stepped to the side. Now was the moment of truth.
"And so with that in mind, it is my greatest pride to reintroduce to you and the world my sister, co-ruler of Equestria, steward of the night, princess Luna!"
On cue the sun finished its descent below the horizon and as its last rays faded ribbons of dark matter began to swirl and coil in the center of the podium. Before the crowd could panic however the energy coalesced into a bright ball of violet light that burst in a vibrant shower of purple hues. Foals cooed at the lightshow and even a few adults whistled in appreciation as their newest princess stepped forward from the light.
Utter silence filled the square and Celestia and the elements exchanged nervous looks. Luna remained aloof and unconcerned as her sharp eyes scanned the ponies before her. She noticed one young stallion close to the podium had his jaw slack and raised an eyebrow quizzically at his expression.
He finally shut his mouth, "Wow…" he mumbled.
Relief flooded Lunas supporters as the crowd mumbled amongst themselves clearly impressed by the princess's appearance. For her part Luna smiled beatifically and nodded in appreciation towards Rarity. She approached the edge of the podium but paused as she drew alongside her sister.
Luna smiled at her sister and bowed her head slightly. To Celestias astonishment she leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss upon her sisters cheek.
"Thank you Celly… for those words you said…" she whispered softly.
Celestia didn't know what to say, momentarily frozen dumb. She nodded and looked away as Luna gazed lovingly at her before returning her attention to the crowd. She smiled brightly at all the attentive ponies.
"Urg do we have to do this?"
"Stop your whining! This is important. We've got your back Luna!"
Her friends encouragement was unneeded. Luna had never felt more alive than she did right now.
She thought once she was confronted with her subjects she'd freeze up, panic or run away. But actually all she felt was excitement.
She was here. She was really here. It wasn't all in her head.
"What are you going to say to them?" Desire asked whisper-soft beside her.
Luna grinned. She cleared her throat and raised a hoof in greeting to her subjects.
"PONIES OF EQUESTRIA YOUR PRINCESS HAS RETURNED!"
Her subjects in the front rows drew back in shock at the decibels assaulting them. Those at the back perked up attentively. The royal canterlot voice always had a powerful effect.
Luna heard Celestia facehoof behind her, "I forgot she could do that" she said sheepishly to the elements.
"They look nervous" Apathy remarked.
"Perhaps adjust your voice a tiny little bit Luna?" Filly suggested meekly.
Luna coughed, "My apologies everypony. I forget to temper my voice. But melodrama aside it is a pleasure to see you all. I… I want to say…" Luna struggled for words and glanced back at sister and friends.
"Wing it!" Rainbow Dash stage whispered.
Rarity rolled her eyes, "She means just speak whatever comes to mind princess"
"Speak from your heart Luna" Fluttershy said encouragingly.
Luna nodded and took a deep breath, "My subjects, she paused and shook her head, no… I have no right to call you that. Though I am a princess that alone is not enough to give me the right of rule. I was raised to believe that it was but I never held such teachings to heart and it makes me proud that my morals have been taken up by my dear sister"
"I have been away for so long, so long in fact that history can barely recall me. And when I returned… I brought fear and violence to your world. I made you fear the night like never before and for a short time quail under the rule of a tyrant"
Luna met the eyes of the crowd without fear, "I am sorry. I am sorry to you and your ancestors that I was too weak to stop the Nightmare from overcoming me. I am sorry for the destruction I caused in those dark times and in more recent months"
"And I am sorry… that when I was freed that I struck out around me in my madness. The damage I caused is unforgivable"
Luna shivered and glanced behind her again, Celestia motioning for her to continue. So far the crowd had remained silent and had allowed Luna to speak without incident and while Celestia and the six mares were nervous about how long that would last the crowd didn't seem too incensed or afraid.
She stepped closer to the edge of the podium, leaning right out over the crowd of ponies and to her joy they didn't shrink back from her. She licked her lips and chuckled in amusement.
"I was actually supposed to write a speech… but I completely forgot so a friend of mine told me to just 'wing it' as it were" she admitted. A few of the crowd flashed a smile.
"The point I wanted to make is that I have wronged you. All of you. And I'm not here to ask forgiveness but rather to ask what I can do to earn your trust. What is there that I as your… princess in waiting we'll say for now, do for you all to make amends for my hasty actions here in this beautiful city"
"I want to know if there's any way to make amends for my mistakes"
"Oohh never ask the help to back talk to management Luna" Apathy drawled behind her. A flick of an ear was Lunas only reaction though Filly and Anger pony-piled onto the mare.
"This won't go well" Desire hissed as the crowd started to murmur among themselves.
"Do you think you could fix the square up a bit?" a pony called from the crowd. Ponies immediately looked around the still rough-around-the-edges plaza ruefully.
Luna blinked before a shy smile touched her lips, "Yes"
A middle-aged mare raised a hoof, "Um princess? There was this old statue… kinda where you're standing now. It was pretty and all the foals liked to play around it. Could we have it back?"
Lunas smile had transformed into a full-blown grin, "Yes! I will build it myself!" she declared.
"What else can you do?"
The slightly cheeky demand from the back made Luna pause. She racked her brains… um?
"Night court. Tell them about the night court!" Filly hissed.
"As you know my dear sister has her sun court to allow all ponies to see their ruler and air any grievances or make requests they deem necessary. Unfortunately due to the demands of state and the sheer number of ponies requesting an audience only a fraction of you get to have your voices heard"
Luna stamped a hoof decisively, "That is why I will be reopening the night court for those with pressing matters that are unable to gain an audience with my sister. I will hear you troubles, I will listen to your concerns and I will answer your questions. And as co-ruler of Equestria I will invoke my authority to see that your needs are addressed as quickly as possibly!"
The crowds mood was reaching new heights of approval. They were fearful and apprehensive of her when she first arrived, but as she looked out at the massive crowd she could see smiles and excited expressions. They were beginning to see the benefits of a second princess. And judging by the way they looked at her they were truly starting to warm to her.
"It's working. It's really working" she whispered to herself.
Her eyes caught the gaze of a young filly sitting on her mother back. The child noticed Luna looking her way and waved cheerfully. Luna blinked back tears as she hesitantly raised her hoof and waved back.
Something struck the side of her head and pain seared across her cheek. She cried out, more in shock then distress, cradling her cheek and she staggered aside, teetering on the edge of the podium before regaining her balance.
The crowd was yelling and clamoring for answers. Lunas gaze swept the sea of confused ponies, her eyes hurt and betrayed as she felt hot dampness of her cheek, but the riot she imagined wasn't happening. The crowd was turning on itself as ponies hunted the one who had attacked her from within their midst.
Twilight was by her side, "Luna are you ok!?" she cried as the others gathered around her. Asking her if she was alright, to move her cheek and see the damage, to get back to safety. Luna ignored them. Her eyes searching for the one who had thrown the rock.
White wings swept past her. The crowd gasping in shock as Celestia took to the air and hovered over them. Her eyes hard as diamond and just as cold as her murderous expression locked onto somepony.
Luna followed her gaze and saw an earth stallion holding a rock in his hoof. He was in the action of throwing but hesitated after Celestia spotted him. Luna expected him to flee but he stood his ground and shot a venomous glare at the two sisters.
She was surprised and confused by the anger he expressed but that feeling was quickly being devoured by the rage building inside. She was talking to them. She was getting through! How DARE this worm strike her!?
"Punish him Luna… make him suffer" Desire whispered into her ear.
Celestia landed, the crowd fighting itself to clear space for her, and approached the stallion but Luna got to him first, grasping him in magic and bodily yanking him onto the podium. The mares around her gasping in surprise and drawing back in fear.
"How dare you…"
"Luna it's ok-" Twilight tried to say.
"HOW DARE YOU!" Luna screamed.
Spittle flew from her mouth as Luna bared her fangs. The stallion picked himself up and stood his ground. He didn't answer just glared at her coldly.
He was the largest stallion Luna had ever seen. His fur an unimpressive flat grey but the musculature that bulged underneath was mighty indeed. Bruises and cuts covered his body, especially round his face, and Luna recognized some of the wounds as being the aftereffects of rapid healing magic. He must have been badly injured recently if he still held such superficial wounds.
But it was his eyes that caught her attention. A deep molten gold they were as cold and unflinching as she had ever seen. Under the iron control of those eyes she could sense a powerful anger burning inside.
It made her hesitate. Why was he so angry?
"Don't wonder just kill him! No mortal should be allowed to strike us!"
Luna looked back at Desire. The mares teeth were bared in a savage snarl and her slitted eyes made even Luna want to retreat. She shook her head, fighting back the primal urge to fight even as Desire screamed and spat in outrage.
Celestia landed beside her, "Luna stay calm. Let me handle this" she said forcefully. Luna looked to her and saw how tense her sister was.
Clearly Celestia was expecting another furious outburst like with Blueblood and to be honest there nearly was one. The fact that Celestia was so on guard filled Luna with shame. She didn't want her sister to have to take such precautions around her.
"Shut up" she snapped at Desire. The mare fell silent but continued to stare at her angrily.
"I want to talk to him"
Celestia looked uncertain. Luna gave her a reassuring smile, "It's ok. I'm in control"
She approached the stallion as everypony went silent. Even the crowd held its breath in suspense.
Luna sat back on her hunches and regarded the stallion silently. He stared back but as the quiet dragged on the anger in his eyes dimmed and indifference took root.
"What is your name sir?"
The stallion seemed to have an internal discussion with himself before huffing, "Terra Song" he said bluntly.
Luna nodded in thanks, "Why did you attack me?"
Again he thought this over before shrugging, "I was angry"
Luna raised an eyebrow, "That's not much of a reason" she said wryly.
His cool expression cracked as the rage burned bright, "It is every reason for me"
Luna tapped a hoof, "Would you tell me why you are angry?"
He simply looked at her and Luna stifled her frustration, "Please… please would you tell me?"
"You say you want forgiveness 'princess', he spat the word, but some things can't be forgiven. Of those ponies watching us many of them probably have good reason to despise you but are too cowardly to stand against you"
"Tell me your reason"
He motioned at the plaza, "My sister was here when you teleported in. She was right next to you and got showered in shrapnel. She's in hospital right now in a coma"
Luna was absolutely horrified. The anger she had felt early was cut out as a knife of pure ice went straight through her heart. Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she stared speechless into Terras eyes.
"I-I… I'm so sorry"
"I never meant-"
The crowd gasped as Terra shouted. Celestia stepped forward to admonish the stallion but Luna quickly held her back, a pleading expression on her face. Reluctantly the other alicorn drew back.
Luna swallowed thickly and edged closer to Terra. He watched her warily.
"You are a victim of mine"
He didn't answer, though the question was more rhetorical, "I have wronged you and hurt somepony close to you. An apology isn't going to cut it"
She looked around and spotted the rock he had thrown at her. It still glistened with a few spots of blood. She picked it up and tossed it to him, Terra caught it out of reflex.
Luna spread her forelegs wide, "Throw it at me"
"What!?" Celestias shout made Luna flinch but she held firm, "An eye for an eye. Blood for blood. If it makes you feel better throw it again. As many as times as you want you won't be punished"
Celestia was at her side in an instant, "Tartarus he won't! Luna I'm not going to let you get pummeled by rocks"
"I'll heal. Besides I've had worse"
"That's not the point!"
Terra cut in, "I'm not going to throw it at you"
Luna pointed at her bloodied cheek "You didn't mind before"
Terra closed his eyes, "I let my anger cloud my judgment. Seeing you there, within reach, I just lost it" He snorted in frustration, "I'm not going to apologize. Certainly after what you did but I'm not going to throw rocks at you while you stand there asking for it"
"Because it's not the same when catching her by surprise?" Celestia snarled at him. He was taken aback by her harsh words and bowed his head for a moment, "It was wrong. But still… my sister still sleeps and I have no idea if she will ever awaken. I think I have some excuse to let my emotions get the better of me"
Celestia lapsed into silence though she still hovered next to Luna protectively. Her wing outstretched over the smaller alicorn and her eyes watching Terra Song for any hint of aggression. For Luna it was fascinating and heartwarming to see Celly acting so defensive of her even it was misplaced.
"Perhaps I could see your sister and try to help?" she offered. Terra shook his head, "Healers have already tried. There's only so much magic can do. I just have to wait and see"
"Am I under arrest princess?" he asked suddenly, his question directed at Celestia. The monarch frowned in confliction but surrendered to Lunas pleading expression, "No. I will let it slide. This one time"
She took a heavy step towards Terra and for all his size he stepped back at the darkness in the normally peaceful alicorns eyes, "If you ever strike at her again though… you will not have very long to regret your action before my fury descends upon you. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now go away"
"Wait!" both Terra and Celestia looked at Luna. The dark alicorn chewed her lip before she bowed to the earth pony, "I promise you I'll work tirelessly to fix my mistakes. And if you need anything for… for your sister… I will do anything I can to help"
Terras face adopted a stony expression and without a word he turned and left the podium. Ponies clearing space for him to pass and all staring with mixed emotions as he walked out of the plaza and disappeared into the city streets.
Celestia sighed and briefly hid her face behind her hoof; "This has become a PR nightmare" she groaned.
A gentle clop and Luna briefly touched her side with a tattered wing, "Lets see shall we?"
Celestia was surprised at the optimism in her sisters eyes but smiled none-the-less. Her sisters growing bravery was greatly inspiring to her.
Luna returned her attention to the crowd. They looked rattled and a many seemed upset especially the foals. Her wince of discomfort at the sight pulled at her still sore cheek and she touched it gingerly.
"Are you alright princess?" a cream colored mare asked from the front row. The sincere question made Lunas heart leap in her chest.
She smiled thankfully, "I'm fine. Thank you for your concern"
"It seems this reveal has had its fair share of drama. But I expected it to go much worse. Your compassion humbles me and you have no idea how happy it makes me to see the concern in your eyes"
The crowd called out affirmatives and rushed sympathy, the action drawing a grin from Luna.
"They like you Luna" Filly whispered beside her. Luna glanced at her friends to see them nodding at her and smiling happily. All but Desire though the dark mare refused to make eye contact.
Luna swept out her wings, fighting the pain of the action and standing as tall and regal as she could.
"Everypony here is a shining example of ponykind. Compassion, sincerity, kindness. These elements and many others saturate our great nation. A wondrous example can be found in the six mares standing beside me who embody the greatest elements of our world"
She smiled proudly at Twilight and her friends, the six mares blushing and preening, (and in Fluttershys case hiding) as the crowd cheered for them.
"For the longest time I knew nothing but darkness. Even before the Nightmare took my life I lived in despair and isolation. I knew naught about friendship and love. Only in my childhood did I have such feelings"
Luna paused and quickly crossed to her sister and nuzzled her cheek. Celestia blinked and nuzzled back, the tears on her cheeks no longer so heavy.
"But now! Now I know that there is more than the darkness! That the light of the sun and my stars is not something to fear or covert. That all the subjects of Equestria are treasures of the land greater than any gem or metal. I realize that now, at last, my life has finally reached those dizzying heights that I only dared dream"
Luna closed her eyes and focused the magic in her horn. For a moment nothing happened then a rising silver light began to bath the darkened square. Ponies looked up in awe as the moon and stars glowed far brighter in the night sky then they had ever seen before.
It was vain perhaps and the effort brought a migraine to Lunas skull but the looks of wonder on everyponys face was worth it.
She finished the spell and drew in a deep breath, "Ponies of Canterlot and all of Equestria! I make this promise to you. Not only will I work tirelessly to repay you all for your kindness but I believe that today marks the beginning of a new era for Equestria. That with the sun and moon finally in harmony, and my sister and I committed to working together for the benefit of all ponykind, I swear that our future will only be brighter from now on. Both in the beautiful night and the glorious day!"
The roar of a thousand cheering voices filled the plaza and Lunas smile could have been a bright star in its own right. She sucking in shaky breathes and fought back tears as her wonderful subjects showered her in their joy and adulation.
She didn't even realize Celestia and the elements had drawn closer until a white wing pulled her tight against her sisters body. Luna ducking her head and swiping at her tears as Twilight and the others beamed at her.
"Thank you. All of you"
"You are welcome princess Luna" Rarity said tenderly. The others nodding in agreement.
Luna sought out her sisters eyes and smiled wetly at her, "Thank you Celly. Thank you"
Celestia didn't reply but did tighten her grip for a moment in her loving hug. She looked out at the ecstatic crowd her thoughts filled with pride and optimism about Lunas speech.
She knew her sister was right. This was the start of a new era.
And with their little ponies at their side there was nothing they couldn't accomplish.
Many districts away Terra Song listened to the cheering of the crowd back at the plaza and scowled. Those stupid fools were so willing to let bygones be bygones. It made him sick to think about it.
For a moment he stared at nothing before he smashed a hoof into the ground sending spidercracks through the marble pavement. No. His anger was directed at himself more than anything.
The princess was right there. He was face to face with her and he didn't strike. He couldn't strike.
Celestia was right… it was different when she was just standing there waiting to be punished.
His acidic thoughts were derailed when he sensed somepony approach. He whirled around to threaten or strike but fell into sullen silence.
Prince Nobleheart smiled at him. That little quirk of a lip that hinted at amusement though Terra had no idea what amused the minister. He always had a strange and sometimes sick sense of humor.
Song hadn't heard him teleport or sensed his presence until just now. How he did it he didn't know but Terra had learned a long time ago that the prince was more dangerous then he looked.
"So. That was quite the show you put on just now" Noble said lightly.
Terra just scowled and Noble tilted his head in mock confusion, "I am curious why you held back so much? I expected a much more… primal display from you"
"I did what you asked"
Noble nodded thoughtfully, "That is true. Though still I thought you'd take my offer to gain revenge as well as payment?"
Song didn't answer. Honestly he still wasn't sure why he didn't strike at Luna. The anger that burned under his skin hadn't faded but it was being poisoned by uncertainty.
He decided to cut to the chase, "I provoked her like you asked. You got what you wanted" he snarled.
"Well we know that's not true. You're unharmed and Luna hasn't been shown for the psychotic mess she is. I hardly think I got what I wanted"
"You wanted me dead then?"
Noble shrugged, "Not really. Your wellbeing is no concern of mine Terra Song. Just like your wellbeing is no concern for yourself. I told what I wanted and what I'd pay for it. I'm sure you were ready to die today"
The prince chuckled and it wasn't a pleasant one, "Though I will admit if you had died that would have worked out perfectly for me so yes, in a way I wanted you dead"
Terra growled and pawed the ground in agitation. Every instinct was screaming at him to wipe that smirk off Nobles face.
The prince knew it too. And judging by his widening smile he was curious to see what Terra would do.
'Focus on what's important' Terra reminded himself. With great effort he calmed down.
"I held my end of the bargain. My sisters treatments?"
Noble waved a hoof distractedly, "As promised her medical care will be tended to. As I told you a coma is a coma. There's nothing I can do to wake her. But her general care and housing in Canterlot general will be paid by myself for however long she will be staying there"
"Thank you" Terra growled.
Without another word he turned and made to walk away. This whole day had left him in a dark place and needed to think somewhere quiet.
The earth stallion flinched and with clear suspicion turned to look back at Noble. The prince smiled brightly at him.
"New tournament next week. Something special I've put together. I can count on you attending?"
Terra was silent for a moment before he whispered, "…yes…"
With that he hurried away, very nearly galloping, knowing Nobles diamond sharp eyes were watching him flee.
Whooo boy that's that! Just proof reading this took me ages but I'm glad you made it this far and thanks a million :D
So hope you enjoyed it and while the next chapter may take time I promise I haven't given this up!