(direct sequel to "A Meeting by Moonlight")
© 2013 (*)
Jordan S. Bassior
After looking at the Moon long and lovingly, then lowering it for the night, Luna retired to the relatively small snack room that both of them preferred to any of the great formal dining halls of the Palace. and long sat there. The servants moved very quietly around her: it was plain to them that she was not in a mood to be disturbed. She was glad when they left.
Luna sat there, eating corn chowder with little crescent-shaped crackers, and sipping hot chocolate. She only peripherally-noticed the taste of her meal – her mind was very far away, in times when her life had been very different.
I’m sitting here in a palace, she thought to herself. I’m the Princess of the Night in a kingdom run by magic and technology which has just gone through its Industrial Revolution and will probably start building its first real computers in a few decades I just put away the Moon for the night, which I do every night, so why does it suddenly feel so strange? And before that I was a madmare living alone on the Moon, for a thousand years. And before that I was the Princess of the Night, in the same kingdom, only it was more like being a medieval queen, like something out of one of those swashbucklers we’d see at the drive-ins. And before that, my sister and I were wandering heroines in a world riven by chaos. And before that, we lived in a mystical house, older than known history, in a post-apocalpytic wasteland. And before that …
Before that had been the life she had relived for a moment, when she had been talking to Twilight Sparkle, when Luna had been Moondreamer and Twilight had been Dusk Skyshine and everything seemed so damned simple because the Universe all made sense and magic and demons were safely relegated to the pages of mythology and weird fiction. Simple, she thought wryly. I was the world’s top astronautical engineer, and the fate of all Ponykind depended on my designs. Most people in that age wouldn’t have considered her life “simple.”
And before that …?
Her mind reeled as it flitted across all her past lives, her other lives, all the people and things she had been, all connected through the matrix of her oversoul. Ponies. Humans. Far less describable beings. Some in appearance would have terrified the little ponies. Some would have terrified them in personality. Some terrified her, from the point of view of her current personality.
There were those insect things, that mated only once, to their true loves, and then immediately afterward ate them. She shuddered. Ugh. I don’t want to be one of those again. Yet she also remembered they had been noble, tolerant and kind; and had saved a galaxy from a race that looked like shining humanoid angels and practiced a philosophy of great generosity among their own species – and considered all other life vermin to be exterminated on sight.
The Universe was far stranger than the Ponies imagined. Stranger than Moondreamer had ever imagined. Except when she thought specifically about it, stranger than she imagined, in her incarnation as Princess Luna.
And her oversoul itself … the Cosmic Principle Luna … it had never been exactly evil, but it was enthusiastic about destruction, in ways which were alien to any lesser self she had been in a long time, save perhaps for Nightmare Moon. She remembered the thrill she had felt streaking across the skies of a doomed timeline, eradicating existence in the wake of her wings as innocent little ponies below ran and screamed and then were not, and had never been. I didn’t know what it was like to be a pony then, she told herself. I’ve changed. Even my oversoul may have changed.
But still she felt the sheer joy of being a nigh-omnipotent Cosmic Concept, a force of darkness that could swallow the day forever … she shoved it back. That was dangerous, she knew. The desire to duplicate that precise sensation in this more-limited, albeit immortal incarnation was why it had been so easy to become the Nightmare.
Did Moondreamer enjoy destruction? she asked herself. She remembered some of the things she’d designed – robot rockets that carried sunfire bombs in their noses – and had to admit that she had. Oh, those rockets had never been used – the doom had come to the Age of Wonders in another form entirely, and Moondreamer would have been utterly-horrified had even one of her rockets been launched in anger. But the abstract pleasure of knowing what the rockets could do – the clever controls and the steering engines, to make sure that they would fly straight across half a world to land within a few hundred feet of their aiming point – yes, she had enjoyed that.
But Moondreamer had enjoyed other things more intensely. Laughing with her sister as they ran together, foals racing through a quiet park. Building soapbox racers with Dusk Skyshine, when she was a filly and he a colt, and the world seemed big and wide and open and the good times destined to last forever. Standing side by side with her husband Dusk on a promontory, watching the moonlight drift down over a quiet little coastal town as the sea washed the shores, being happy with his warmth against her. Knowing his touch, his nuzzle, his caress, the feel of him within …
She shook her head. That, too, was dangerous, though not because it reminded her of Nightmare. Quite the opposite.
It reminded her of a bright dream now gone forever.
She had not been entirely alone the long millennia since. She was no wanton, but her heart was not made of stone, and there had been a few she had deemed worthy. And she had known love …
… but not as she had with Dusk. There was no way she could. No other stallion could ever rival Dusk: his mind, his cold courage in war, his warm heart in peace. None ever would.
In the past I’ve gone centuries without thinking of Dusk! Well, decades. Years. Months? Well, at least I didn’t think of him all the cursed time! Why, now, am I so overwhelmed by these memories, these emotions, that should have lain safely buried alongside all the other relics of a time forgotten by all save us immortals?
She knew the answer to that, of course.
Because he’s back. Because he’s right out there, just a short flight away in Ponyville. Because I was just talking to him. He’s so close I could touch him! I was touching him! I was holding him, right in my forelegs …
But that was not precisely correct. Which was the problem.
Her, she corrected herself. I was holding her. Not Dusk Skyshine. Twillight Sparkle.
She doesn’t remember who I was. But now she knows. I mean I pretty much told her, didn’t I? Maybe someone else might have missed my hints, but not him. Her. That mind, brilliant and beautiful like an ice moon shining in the light of a blue-white star, one of the few mortal minds to match mine incarnate. I could never fool Dusk for very long, she thought, smiling at the memories.
Plus, I think I slipped up on a few pronouns.
Why couldn’t I have been one of those bug queen things? Then I would have wooed and won my love, mated, killed and eaten him, and borne him a thousand larvae, and happily spent the rest of my life composing poetry to his cherished memory. Then, feeling like this would have been normal.
I didn’t even bear him one larva – um, foal.
Moondreamer and Sundreamer had both been sterile. That, Luna knew now, had been part of a pact she had made with Celestia before they had taken those forms. At the time – clever cold Cosmic Alicorn who still thought ponies were just one step above basal chordates – it seemed like a wise decision, a way to avoid emotional contamination while performing her experiment.
Now, she knew better, and she mourned the foals she’d never borne for him.
“Your soup’s getting cold,” someone pointed out to her.
In her present mood, she would have screamed at any servant who had dared to so interrupt her thoughts, but this was no servant.
It was her sister Celestia.
Which reminded her of the complication, of why she should not have let Dusk know who they had been to each other. Dusk was her long-lost husband, but Twilight was someone else’s special student.
And Luna knew that she might have just seriously interfered with Celestia’s lesson plan.
“Uhh …” Luna said brightly as she looked up at her magnificent white sister. “I’m … uhh … not very hungry.”
“Now that’s original,” Celestia commented, sitting down beside her. “I’m going to have an omelette and some little cakes. May I take the liberty of joining you?”
“Well … you have. I mean, yes, of course,” replied Luna, recovering her manners. Servants brought the food.
Luna watched as Celestia began her breakfast, somehow managing the impossible feat of eating heartily and daintily at one and the same time. Celestia was so calm, so graceful, so beautiful. Celestia outshone her in every way, both metaphorical and literal, a fact which had once greatly bothered Luna. These days she just accepted it as an immutable law of existence.
Celly would never be as confused as I am, thought Luna ruefully. Though I’ve seen her angry. And I may see her angry again. Really soon.
“So,” said Celestia, leaning forward a little. “You seem rather lost in thought this morning. Did anything … interesting … happen last night?”
“Um …” said Luna, shrinking slightly away, wings tightly folded around herself. “Yes. It did. I, uh …”
Celestia waited patiently.
“I visited Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said. She fell silent.
“And how is my faithful student doing?” Celestia asked. “Is she well?”
“Oh, heh, yes. She looked … um … healthy. She was watching the Moon through a telescope, and I joined her and we … talked a while.” There. That had been easy enough to say. “About the Moon, and other things.”
“Well, that’s nice,” said Celestia cheerfully. “You should spend more time with Twilight Sparkle. She’s a very special pony.”
“Yes …” said Luna. “I know. Very special.”
“And …?” asked Celestia, peering intently at Luna. “Oh, Lulu. We’ve known each other thousands of years in this incarnation, not to mention millions of times longer in others. I know something about your meeting bothered you. You can never keep up a mask before me. You can tell me. I won’t bite your head off. Or any of your other extremities,” she said, smiling. “What happened?”
“Ah, well …” replied Luna. “I … it’s a bit embarrassing.”
“Did you two leap together in an explosion of insensate lust?” asked Celestia, utterly deadpan.
“What! No! I’d never – I’m not that forward, and besides he’s a she, and – it wasn’t like that! And, um, I don’t think Dus – I mean, Twilight, would. Not suddenly, like that.”
“I didn’t think so,” said Celestia. “I know Twilight. And Dusk was a shy pony too. If I remember correctly, it was Moondreamer who first kissed him. At Sundreamer’s urging.” She grinned at the memory. “You were both so sweet and clueless. Not much more than foals.”
“Sister!” protested Luna. “We were twins then!”
“I was twenty-eight minutes older,” said Celestia. “Don’t you forget that.”
“Sundreamer never let me forget that.”
“No,” agreed Celestia with a broad smile. “She never did … Do you know one of my favorite things about you, Lulu?”
“I don’t show it much when I get muddy?” asked Luna.
“You’re really easy to tease,” Celestia corrected her. “So what terribly scandalous thing happened?”
“Um, after we talked … I was telling her about Moondreamer and the Age of Wonders … I got a little emotional … well I was sobbing, if you must know … and Twilight nuzzled me a little, to comfort me. So I hugged her,” Luna admitted.
“Oh dear,” said Celestia. “We’d better hope that Sunny Day doesn’t find out about this. It’ll be through all the gossip rags!”
Luna glared at Celestia. “Don’t you dare.”
“I wouldn’t,” said Celestia. “Not really. Though I might let it leak that you had been clandestinely wed to the ex-husband of the half-sister of Chrysalis, if I thought it would keep the bubble-brains in Canterlot from speculating too deeply about our real secrets. But, really, sister … this doesn’t sound very secret. Or terrible. Or even mildly scandalous, really. I’ve hugged Twilight more than once myself. She’s rather warm and fluffy. And really sweet. Hugging Twilight Sparkle is pretty tame stuff on the scale of Vile Deeds.”
“You know my feelings about Dusk,” said Luna, a slight huff in her voice. “It wasn’t just a hug. To me.”
“Oh, Lulu,” said Celestia. “You’ve always been so serious.” Then her smile grew kinder. “Yes. I understand. I always did. Sister, I’m actually glad that you went out of your way to spend some time with her, without some excuse of saving the world or a holiday or some other public event. She really likes you. She’s thought of you as a kindred spirit ever since that Nightmare Night, you know.”
“Really?” asked Luna. “She never said …”
“Of course she didn’t,” pointed out Celestia. “She’s Twilight Sparkle. You know. Deadly calm, when facing down a dragon or alien invasion. Utterly lost, when it comes to normal social situations. She’s shy, just as he was.”
“I’m shy,” pointed out Luna.
“By some standards,” allowed Celestia. “Most ponies don’t even notice you’re shy because you utterly overwhelm them. But you are not as shy as is Twilight Sparkle. Why do you think I’ve had her spend almost three years now studying the magic of friendship? She’s going to need to become less shy, when she Ascends and assumes her rightful place in this kingdom.”
“Will that be soon?” asked Luna.
“Yes,” said Celestia, smiling happily. “She’s come along even faster than I’d hoped. Discord … Chrysalis … Sombra … they didn’t mean to, but they’ve actually done me favors by testing her so very close to destruction, much closer than I ever would have dared to take her myself. She’s just like Dusk, when things get tough. Ice-cold, fearless, mind like chromium steel. Her magic is incredibly strong – she could give you a run for your money, sister. And all this is before she Ascends.” Celestia’s eye misted slightly.. “This is her best incarnation yet. Better even than Clover the Clever. I think she has the potential, in time, to surpass her teacher.”
Luna smiled back. Then her smile faded, as she remembered her real sin
“I … I may have said something to interfere with your training program,” she confessed.
Celestia blinked, then tensed. Slowly, calmly, she spoke.
“What did you say?” she asked. A stranger would have assumed that Celestia was calm.
Luna shrank from her.
“Well, I might have let slip … let her know … that ….”
Her voice faded almost into inaudibility.
“Let her know what?” The stress was barely discernible. Through the window, the light flickered, as if the Sun had been briefly obscured by a cloud. It hadn’t.
Celestia looked up with annoyance, concentrated a moment, and the flickering stopped. “Kludged astrophysical model,” she muttered to herself. “Should never have –“ Then back to Luna.
“Well, I think she knows now that I used to be Moondreamer and she was Dusk,” Luna admitted.
Celestia sighed. “Oh, that. Tartarus, Luna, I thought you’d told her about unstable time loops, or the true nature of our Cousins, or the Shadows Outside, or something similarly sanity-blasting. Which you shouldn’t, sister, because she hasn’t yet begun her really advanced studies, and I don’t want her path of development to be disturbed. But she already knew about reincarnation, at least as theory.”
“You’re not mad?” asked Luna, in waxing hope.
“Of course not!” said Celestia. “Sweet sister, I knew you were going to tell her eventually. Yes, it’s bound to confuse her emotions a bit, but I imagine that’s something you both can work out for yourselves. Whether you want to be friends, or lovers, or avoid one another – it’s up to you and Twilight. I’m Princess of the Sun, not Princess of Running Everyone Else’s Lives For Them.”
“Thank you,” said Luna. “I was worried – you’re protective towards her …”
“Well of course I am,” said Celestia. “I love Twilight Sparkle as if she was my own daughter. She’s one of the finest beings I’ve ever known, in any life. I’d be very cross with anyone who meant to hurt her – not that very many ponies could hurt her now, as far as she’s come now in her development. But I know you wouldn’t hurt her.”
“Oh, no!” said Luna. “Not on purpose! I’d tear myself to pieces first!”
“Well, I trust then that there shall be no self-dismemberment in the offing, my dear and overly-dramatic sister.” Celestia smiled.
After a brief expression of annoyance at the mockery, Luna smiled back. Then her face sobered.
“Before you came in … I was thinking …” Luna trailed off.
“I’m not going to tell you that’s a dangerous pastime,” replied Celestia.
“I was thinking about my past lives,” Luna said. “About all that I’ve been … so many forms, so many personas, so many times and places. And I was wondering if I really am still Moondreamer, or if she was someone completely different with whom I just happen to share an oversoul.”
“That’s an unresolved philosophical question among us even at the Cosmic level,” observed Celestia. “I’d say that you and Moondreamer are a lot alike, more so than you are to the you that time you were a blobby asexual thing that formed temporary organs at will, and ate everything not its own kind – what was that called – shoggoth? You and Moondreamer are both female, both ponies, both smart and sarcastic and sweet and a little bit shy. You’re both capable of all kinds of love.”
“But …” said Luna. “I always feel kind of lost, an alien, whoever I am. Wherever. Whenever. It’s been worse this incarnation, though. First, when we were wandering together, and everywhere we could see the ruins of the Age of Wonder – I would feel Moondreamer within me all the time, sad at what had become of her hopes. Then I adjusted to it – we were needed, especially after we founded Equestria. I kept busy. From Moondreamer’s point of view, it was as if I was the heroine of one of those old fantasy novels. It was fun back then, being Princess of the Night. Especially in our old castle.
“Until I went insane. Which I suppose means I wasn’t having as much fun as I imagined.
“But now … after being mad for a thousand years … I know it’s only been a single millennium I was gone, but things have changed so much. And … I can see that they’re changing back, back to something that is so similar in some ways to the world that was. I see factories and steam trains, clockwork and airships, happy healthy well-fed ponies who are starting to be comfortable again, and I see that the Long Night is lifting from this world,” Luna explained.
“You’re welcome,” said Celestia. “I’ve been working very hard this last thousand years to achieve exactly that outcome. Don’t worry, I’ll bring Equestria back all the way, and even beyond what the Age of Wonders achieved. I could do it faster, but I have to let the little ponies discover most things for themselves, or they’ll never grow into the great race they have the promise to become.”
“I know,” said Luna. “You’ve done a wonderful job. But … when I see these things … I can feel Moondreamer stirring in my memories. And she sees so much that is familiar in this … so much that makes her happy and proud … proud of the little ponies, proud of her big sister.
“But she also sees a lot that is different. Alien. Not bad – the ponies of Equestria seem nicer, happier, somehow more innocent than those of the Age of Wonders …”
“They are,” affirmed Celestia. “Also my doing, in part.” She frowned. “Though I may have to start toughening them up again – the dimensional barriers we put in place seem to be weakening now, and when I figure out how to shift our microcosm back to relativistic physics again, they’ll be open to the whole rest of the Universe.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Luna. “I love them. Especially some of the young colts and fillies. There’s this one sweet little pinto colt, fearless little fellow … he’ll make such a fine stallion someday. And this fireball of a pegasus filly – tiny little wings, uses them like an outboard motor on her skateboard …”
“…Oh, I know her,” Celestia interrupted, smiling to herself. “And her friends.”
“But their culture – it’s not the same as it was before the Fall. Maybe better, yes I think it’s better, but it’s different. Subtly wrong. And I feel all the time as a stranger to them. The more so because it’s a world now of mechanized power and industry and transportation, just like it was when I was Moondreamer. But it’s not Moondreamer’s world. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said Celestia. “I sometimes feel what you feel. It’s just,” she explained, “that for me it happened gradually, and I had a hand in making it. But yes, it’s changing. Faster and faster, each century. Which is what I’ve always wanted to see, but … it can be hard for me too, sometimes.”
“What do you about it?” asked Luna.
“Live each day. Raise the Sun. Make decisions. Fight monsters. Make friends. Fall in love, now and then. Mourn my loved ones when they perish.” She looked bleak. “Which they always do in the end, and far too soon.” She smiled. “Though you won’t, at least not until you’re ready to leave this world. And maybe some others won’t, now. You’ve met Cadence – and Twilight’s close to Ascending. And there are others who show promise … maybe, soon, we’ll have many friends who won’t be leaving any time soon.”
“There is the Cosmic level …”
“I don’t really like the Cosmic level,” said Celestia. “Not any more. They’re cold, inequine – we’re cold and inequine in that form. They don’t know love and friendship the way we do down here. They can’t easily change.
“But sister,” said Luna, “it’s what we really are …”
“And what we will be again, inevitably,” said Celestia, “because this world, this species, it’s all an eyeblink on the scale of Cosmic time. I know. But … I also know that what I do and feel here and now changes me – I think for the better – and that some of that change will be copied into my oversoul when I finally end this incarnation. It changed me, being Star Catcher, and Sundreamer and now Princess Celestia. It changed you, being Moondreamer. And then Princess Luna. And for the better. You’ve become a really good being, dear sister. Have I told you that often enough?”
Luna felt too choked to say anything.
“I know how you feel,” said Celestia. “You look at yourself and your surroundings, and you wonder Why am I here? Why am I me, instead of all the other beings I could be, me in this particular place and time? And sometimes you feel alone, and you despair. And you wish you could be some awesome inequine Cosmic creature that never doubted itself, that never knew normal fear, that never knew normal love, never knew regret, or sadness. (Though I think we lie to ourselves about that, even when we are in our fully Cosmic forms).
“But you are who you are, here and now, and that’s whom you have to be – for as long as you think you can still do some good in this world.
“I know you often feel adrift. But you’re not adrift.” She moved beside Luna, put a wing over her, held her to her side. Luna closed her eyes and enjoyed the loving warmth.
“You have me, your sister. And you have Twilight, if you want her: I know that she wants to be at the very least your loyal friend. And you have a whole nation out there who will in time come to love their Princess of the Night as they do their Princess of the Day. And if they don’t, then it’s their problem, not yours.
“You’ll feel adrift again sometimes. We all do. But if you remember that you are well loved, well-needed by all of us, you’ll never want to leave this world. Never fall into Nightmare again.
“You have a wonderful future here again,” said Celestia. “And you are Moondreamer’s future – you should remember that. You’re not exactly her, but you’re not exactly alien to her either, and I think she’d be happy to know what she became. And Dusk would be proud of you too.”
“You think so?” asked Luna.
“I know so. Because Twilight is what Dusk became, and Twilight greatly respects you.”
“That phrase – ‘greatly respects’ – it’s what I told Twilight,” Luna mused. “How I said I felt toward her.”
“That’s because it’s true,” said Celestia. “You greatly respect one another. That’s how it always works between friends.”
“But I feel more than just friendship,” Luna said. “I can’t forget who she was – who we both were. It feels so strange – and I fear to let her know, because when she does she may fear me, despise me, see me as some sort of perverted, monstrous immortal molester, seeking to corrupt the innocent.”
“You know,” pointed out Celestia, “you’re thinking too much like Moondreamer now. No, not in the sense that you’re attracted to Twilight because she was Dusk – in that you are assuming that Twilght would see your attraction as perverted. One of the ways that Equestria is a nicer place than was the World of Wonders is that it accepts that real love need not be only between mare and stallion. I’m sure you’ve noticed that, walking through dreams.”
“Yes, I have …” said Luna “Wait, you think that …?”
“Well – I think that Twilight is attracted to stallions,” Celestia said. “Most mares are. Otherwise ponies wouldn’t continue the species. Though, really, I don’t know how much she’s thought about the matter. I’m fairly sure that she’s never had a lover – if nothing else, I’d read about it in one of her friendship reports – and she’s something of a prude, like you …”
An indignant snort from Luna.
“… so I doubt that she gives herself to random strangers. Or are you saying that you do?” Celestia asked sweetly.
Luna glared. It seemed as though she should be able to logically reverse the jibe upon her sister, but somehow she could never think of the right thing to say when Celly teased her on such matters. She can make me dance like a puppet when she wants, Luna thought ruefully, and for far from the first time.”
“Of course,” said Celestia, “I happen to know that you are mostly attracted to stallions. In fact, I don’t think I can recall you, in either of your pony incarnations, wanting mares. So, really, you’re in uncharted waters as regards Twilight, as well.”
“I know,” groaned Luna. “I don’t even know what I want. What can I do?”
“Just be her friend,” Celestia said. “It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic pageant. Just stop avoiding her, seek her out some more, and talk to her. I think she’ll warm to you. She must have warmed to you – she let you hug her, after all. She wouldn’t have done that if she thought you were some kind of perverted immortal monster, now would she?”
“I see,” said Luna. “What if – no. I’ll try.”
“Good,” said Celestia. “And then hopefully you’ll feel a bit less lost, when you have more friends. Especially old friends.” She got up. “Well, I have duties. Boring petitions to read, confusing court cases to hear, maybe a monster to save from a victim, who knows, maybe the day will surprise me!”
“And I need sleep,” admitted Luna.
“Then fare well for now, dear sister,” said Celestia.
There was no one else in the room now, but Luna no longer felt as alone. She ate the cold soup and toast – she’d eaten far less tasty things on time-lost battlefields back in the day – and smiled to herself. She had a loving sister, and maybe she had made a loving friend.
She was no longer adrift.
(*) Hasbro owns copyright to Celestia, Luna, Twilight Sparkle, and in general the characters and settings in this story. Sundreamer and Moondreamer are my OC's.