Chapter Sixteen - The Moon - Part One
[Winter 48, 994 – Day 258]
We leave for the moon as soon as I wake up. Not that I really need the extra sleep to make the journey. I’m still pretty well rested.
Anyway, everypony but Twinkleshine will be sleeping through the journey. I told her I planned to study through the final leg, but she insisted on staying up with me anyway.
Still no sign of Luna, but I thought of something today! Luna doesn’t like Hearth’s Warming. Well, rather she gets moody around it; she likes it as much as any other holiday, if not more. I know we spent most of the last one together, but that was the exception, not the norm. Luna just needed some more space this year after hearing Celestia wanted to kill her. That’s definitely why she hasn’t come back yet.
I hope she doesn’t chew me out for slacking off with all that extra sleep instead of studying.
“The moon!” Twinkleshine shouted to our little bubble of air. “We’re on the moon! I’m on the moon! The moon! My hooves have moon dust on them! Twilight, can you turn off the gravity magic? Please?” Twinkleshine looked up at me with cute little puppy dog eyes, which really didn’t work since she was normally taller than me.
“No,” I said, “you’ll die.”
Well, she probably wouldn’t die right away – even the sun wasn’t big enough to kill a pony instantly with its gravity – but I could easily see her breaking a few bones within a second. Dash and maybe Fluttershy might be able to handle their own weight on the moon, but us two frail unicorns would snap like a twig.
The earth ponies in our group might be able to handle their weight, too, but it certainly wouldn’t be pleasant for them. Of course, that came with an asterisk; I was sure Pinkie Pie would be fine. She already casually cheated physics everyday with her usual insanity, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she shrugged off gravity several dozen times Equus’s.
To be fair, I suspected Pinkie Pie was a time mage, and the effects of living with non-linear causality had broken her mentally. I wasn’t sure if I found her more or less annoying after that revelation. On the one hoof, she wasn’t such a mystery anymore – probably – with the discovery. On the other hoof, I still had no idea how she did any of it.
Speaking of whom, Pinkie Pie jumped onto my back in a hug, and ignoring my protesting grunt, she said, “Don’t be a grumpy pants, Twilight. You promised all of us that you’ll have as much fun as you can today. Or is it tonight? I mean, we’re on the moon, so it’s night back home, but it’s pretty bright here. Does that make it always daytime on the moon? Maybe it’s always nighttime. Ooh, or maybe it’s always twilight since it’s not all that bright or dark.”
Okay, I drew the line at bad puns. Ducking down, I dropped Pinkie Pie back on her own hooves and crawled out from underneath her. To Spike’s delight, I picked him up and placed him on my back, thus preventing any further pouncing from Pinkie Pie.
“So anyway,” Cherry Berry began, “where are we headed first? Bare, cratered, pale gray rock is only entertaining for so long.” She glanced to the side where Berry Punch was trying to catch Berry Pinch and stop her from rolling around in the moon dust. “For some of us, at least.”
“I…um…” I looked to Twinkleshine, hoping she might know of a few interesting places to visit on the moon.
After a prolonged silence, Fluttershy whispered, “Are we lost?”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Dash shouted, facehoofing. “We’ve been here, what, five minutes?”
“We’re not lost,” I said as calmly as I could. “I know the general direction to head in to get to Luna’s palace, or close enough at least to find it. Just…not anywhere else. We were supposed to have a tour guide.”
After an awkward nudge from Fluttershy, Dash said, “I didn’t mean… Sorry, Twi.”
“It’s fine. I had to tell her something she really didn’t want to know. She just needs some space.” For half a season…
I had to fight back a sigh that threatened to turn into a sniffle. If only Luna would saddle me with her problems instead of running off to deal with them herself. She always helped me feel better whenever I was down; I’d love it if I could do the same for her.
“Anyway,” I began, “does anypony want to go see…um…a scenic crater?”
Dash facehoofed for me. Twinkleshine alone looked enthused, but I could probably show her a pebble and have it make her happy right now.
I sighed. “Maybe we should just go to the palace.”
“No objections there,” Cherry Berry said with barely suppressed enthusiasm. Much like Twinkleshine, she was overeager to meet the ‘moon ponies’, having talked about all of the priceless historical knowledge she could gain from them – and probably several book deals – for weeks on end. Really, Cherry Berry had looked so happy about the whole trip that I hadn’t had the heart to tell her that there had probably been a significant amount of cultural contamination. Equus and the moon weren’t completely without contact; Luna did talk to her subjects, after all. Then again, Luna had said they still spoke Old Equestrian, so maybe they weren’t too affected.
“All right. First teleport in three, two, one–”
With one last flash of teleportation, we arrived…approximately at our destination. We were within a couple dozen kilometers of the southern – if you could say any one direction was really south when there was no magnetic field – side of the Hornburg, the moon’s tallest mountain. Unless I’d messed up horribly, the palace should be somewhere around here, built into the cliff face.
The only problem was actually locating it.
“Any chance you can feel any spellwork around?” I asked Twinkleshine. I didn’t really expect her to reply positively, but a mare could hope.
“Huh?” Twinkleshine tore her eyes away from the mountain just long enough to look at me and to say, “Oh. No.”
“Does anypony happen to see a castle anywhere? Maybe some foliage on the ground?” I held out hope that I was blind or that Pinkie Pie could randomly tell us for just a little bit longer before giving in. “No? Great…” Hope was for the hopeless.
My first solution would be to teleport around until we stumbled into the castle, but I didn’t know what kind of defenses Luna had put up all those centuries ago. Even if there were no hostile wards, it could be very difficult – possibly impossible – to blindly stumble in.
For instance, we might be subtly teleported a bit out of the way when we would have successfully entered the palace, and it’d be incredibly hard to notice. Distances were insanely difficult to judge on the moon; earlier when we were approaching the Hornburg, I thought we’d get here twice as fast, but the mountain was secretly much taller than I’d thought. Well, not secretly. In my experience, mountains generally didn’t keep secrets. It’d be better to say it was deceptively taller.
Anyway, I already knew what I’d have to do with no Luna to guide me, so I should just get to it. I was going to have to dig through the background magic everywhere near the mountain to find the castle. This was going to be a long night…
“Alright, since nopony knows where the castle is, I guess I’m going to have to find it. I’ll be back every so often to make sure the spells are holding up.”
Just as I was starting my teleport, Pinkie Pie said, “That’s not true, silly.”
“What’s not?” I asked, bracing myself for a dose of Pinkie Logic. It usually made sense, if only in the insulting ‘moon logic’ sense, but it was rarely useful.
“There are plenty of ponies who know where the castle is.”
“Yeah,” Dash began, “inside the castle where we can’t find them to ask them where the castle is.”
“Well yeah, it’d be pretty silly if we asked them where the castle was, because they’d just tell us it’s right there,” Pinkie said, gesturing vaguely toward the mountain. “So we should just ask them to show us where the castle is so that we can all see it ourselves.”
“Same problem, Pinkie Pie,” I said. “They’re… Oh.”
“Oh what?” Cherry Berry and Dash asked at the same time.
“Weeeeell,” Pinkie Pie began, “if we can’t bring the party to them, why not have them bring the party to us?”
“Pinkie, that’s brilliant!” Dash shouted, bumping hooves with Pinkie Pie.
I wouldn’t really say brilliant, but it was a much better idea than brute force. Even if they weren’t expecting us, they’d certainly investigate a large, obvious, magical disturbance on the moon. The only question was whether or not they were actually able to leave the castle. Since the spells protecting the castle would’ve needed maintenance over the years, I would assume they had at least one unicorn with enough magical knowhow to come find us.
While the rest of the group engaged in conversation, I set about casting a gigantic illusion in the sky above us. It wasn’t anything fancy, just an enormous, colorful sign saying, “We’re lost,” with a large arrow pointing down to us and ending just a few hooves above the tallest of us, Berry Punch.
“Hooves crossed that nopony is looking at us with a telescope,” I mumbled to nopony. That would be a very dumb way to have my cover blown. I didn’t think the illusion was that big, but even non-professional telescopes would be able to notice the splotch of color on the moon if they just happened to be looking at the Hornburg from the right angle.
And now we just had to wait. I pulled my notes on alchemy out of my saddlebags and picked up where I’d left off earlier tonight. I was so behind on my lessons, and these infernally complex alchemy spells still weren’t clicking in my head. Luna would be so disappointed with me if she came back and I didn’t even have a basic grasp on the actual spellwork implementations.
Sigh. That wasn’t fair to me. I could use the odd alchemy spell well enough to fake understanding, but that was far below my standards for myself. Luna had shown me how to put the big pieces together to do simple tasks like performing a few chemical reactions, but I was far away from what would usually be referred to as the ‘useful’ stuff.
Although, what would be called useful would vary wildly from pony to pony. There’s actually thousands – if not millions – of uses for forcing specific chemical reactions to proceed. As interesting as that was – and it was fascinating – I was more interested in the creation of complex objects: cells, food, phonographs, unstable elements, even wings. There was so much potential in alchemy. A mare could get lost in her imagination for days at a time.
Speaking of which, Fluttershy gave me a soft nudge with a hoof; I almost didn’t notice. Looking up, I saw everypony was staring off into the distance, and Twinkleshine was squealing in delight while bouncing on her hooves. Shifting my own gaze the same way, I noticed some small, colorful specks against the backdrop of the mountain.
Well, not that colorful, actually. I think they were dark grays and browns specks, plus one bright orange one that was hard to pick out against the backdrop of the moon. With a quick scry, I confirmed the colors. We had one orange unicorn headed our way with three lunar pegasi in tow, or rather towing him in a chariot which looked big enough for…most of us. How awkward. One had a nearly black coat, another had a dark gray coat, and the last one had a dark brown coat.
Anyway, there was no sense in making them fly all the way to us. I canceled my illusion and fired up a teleport. We weren’t too far away from them, so we could make the trip in roughly a dozen short jumps very quickly.
I didn’t know if I should make anything of it, but I was a little disappointed when none of our four guides started when we suddenly appeared in front of them, teleporting one last time straight to the ground after I said a quick hello. Maybe Dash and Pinkie Pie were rubbing off on me just a tiny bit with all of their prank wars.
Within seconds, the chariot above us turned and started its descent, gradually slowing down all the while.
“All right, everypony, before they land, I want to say something.” As I continued, I met Twinkleshine’s and Pinkie Pie’s eyes in particular. “Whatever you do later, I expect you to behave civilly for the moment. That means no flying tackle hugs, no treating them like a specimen, no anything along those lines. And preferably no staring.”
I was about to comment on Twinkleshine’s pout,when, from the center of our group, a voice said, “Greetings, Princess Twilight Sparkle, Harbinger of the Night and Mistress of Magic.”
What? I turned around until I found our guides with their hooves on the ground and bowing to me. It seemed Luna had been wrong; ponies were going to treat me like a princess with or without wings. I’d hoped that I could have put that off a few years longer, but apparently Luna had ruined any chance of that.
Still, it was just for one night, and nopony but myself would understand a word the locals would say.
Oh, stars. Except for the adventurer slash archaeologist who could read and write ancient languages and who could probably–
“Princess?” Cherry Berry echoed.
Immediately, I cast a quick spell to mute her, using another to whisper into her ear, “I’ll explain later. Please keep quiet.”
“So, what?” Dash began. “Is one of them a princess or something?”
Berry Punch asked, “Are we supposed to be bowing, too?”
“Everypony’s supposed to bow to princesses,” Berry Pinch unhelpfully added.
“No, I don’t think bowing is a cultural thing,” I replied. “Probably not, anyway. I’m…well…kind of a big deal as Princess Luna’s apprentice.” Afterward, I mumbled, “Apparently,” to myself.
Turning my attention back to the ponies who were still bowing, I cast my own ventriloquism spell to converse with them. Emulating all of Luna’s usual poise and sophistication, I straightened my back, held my head level, and hoped my accent wasn’t really as bad as Luna had told me it was.
“Please rise.” Instant compliance. I bit back my irritation at being obeyed, which was competing with my elation at not being bowed to. “I would much prefer it if you would treat me like…”
Huh. I was going to say treat me like a normal pony, but I was pretty sure how well that would go over. I’d spend half the night futilely trying to get past all the formalities until I’d get so tired and frustrated that I’d learn to accept my place or something, and then Pinkie Pie would sing some song about how good life is, and at that point, I’d have missed the festival completely.
Yeah, I’d just skip that.
“Please behave informally in the presence of my companions.” I added a wink for effect. Hopefully they’d take the hint that there was a reason they shouldn’t call me ‘princess’, and Cherry Berry wouldn’t.
The older, dark-gray lunar pegasus didn’t so much as blink, but the other three betrayed my meaning for a moment in their own time. That probably meant I was going to have to use the standard lame excuse: Shining was almost certainly going to marry Cadance and make me part of the extended royal family.
Sigh. While true, it was so technically incorrect of an excuse that it made me cringe.
The elder pegasus, the one who was either quick witted or didn’t understand subtext, spoke in time with the voice that was projected from behind me. He said, “As you wish, Lady Twilight. Please permit me to introduce myself. I am Crescent, and I am privileged to be the voice of the princess amongst those who call the moon their home.”
“I see.” Ignoring Twinkleshine nudging me, I began, “Has she…” I took a deep breath to calm myself, turning it into a fake yawn. I could ask about Luna later; I had few doubts that I was going to be disappointed by the answer. “I’m terribly sorry. I’m afraid the final leg of our journey to the moon has taken much out of me.”
“Shall we then repair to the city?” I nodded, and he continued, “Very well. How would you like to arrange our departure? I regret to say, the chariot we brought is not quite large enough for all of you.”
“If we were to follow you by…” I mashed my lips together, searching my vocabulary. I really only had conversational level knowledge of Old Equestrian. Turning to Cherry Berry, I asked, “What’s the word for teleportation?”
“Huh?” Cherry Berry said, apparently taken by surprise. “I don’t think there is one, but there is a related word. It refers to when Princess Celestia – and I guess Princess Luna, too – would disappear and reappear elsewhere.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“‘Manifestus’.” At my odd look, Cherry Berry added, “It’s a loanword from another dead language. Don’t try conjugating it.” Switching over to Old Equestrian, Cherry Berry said, “However, it has a distinctly divine connotation that you may or may not want to use, Princess.”
As I sighed, Crescent said, “Excuse me, Lady Twilight, but if I may interject.”
I turned around to give him my attention.
“Any means by which you follow us would be acceptable. The magical defenses placed upon the city were dispelled centuries ago. As hard working as our few spell casters are, we have not been able to maintain more than the bare minimum of the original enchantments. The princess’s spellwork was too far beyond us, I’m afraid.”
Containing my squeal of delight at having a chance to examine some of Luna’s real world work, I said, “If you would like, I would be happy to meet the current generation of spell casters and perhaps give a few pointers.”
“If you wish,” Crescent replied with a knowing smirk. “Shall we depart, then?”
We didn’t have far to go, although we traveled at the speed of flight instead of at my usual teleportation pace. We only had to travel a little bit around the mountain before I could pick out Luna’s magic in the distance. Luna’s magic! Her real magic, not just her magic in a dream! It felt subtlety different, and dozens of other ponies’ magic were mixed in, but it was definitely hers at the core.
I certainly wasn’t alone in my eagerness. Twinkleshine and Pinkie Pie were still just as excitable as ever, each for their own reasons. Cherry Berry hid it well, but her bearing betrayed her. Dash was an open book for anypony to read, but surprisingly, even Fluttershy was restless in anticipation.
Well, it was probably in anticipation. She could be thinking about bolting, but I rather doubted it.
“Twilight,” Twinkleshine whined, “how much longer?”
“We’re almost there. Maybe another minute or two.”
“Ugh. Can’t you just teleport us all the way there right now?”
“No, Twinkleshine. It’d be rude to leave Crescent and the others behind after they were nice enough to come fetch us.”
“Oh, come on, Twilight. Pleeeeease? The wait is killing me.”
I cast another teleport to put us below our guides once more as they continued flying forward.
“Just be patient.”
“I don’t wanna!”
I wanted to tell Twinkleshine to stop acting like a foal, but I knew it wouldn’t do anything. She was, after all, literally living one of her dreams right now. Several of us were, actually, and I certainly didn’t want to be the one to put a damper on all the excitement.
“Hey,” I began, “why don’t you go ask Cherry Berry to teach you some key phrases?” Like I should have done. Hmm…
“I guess…” Twinkleshine said.
I turned to Cherry Berry with a hopeful look. She let out a silent laugh and smirked before responding.
“I suppose I could take her off your hooves for a little while. I might as well teach everypony while I’m at it. Come gather round.”
Tuning out the rest of the group, I simply enjoyed being in the presence of Luna’s magic again. It’d been so long since I’d seen her; I’d worried that I wouldn’t be able to recognize her magic anymore. Obviously, I’d been wrong, but that didn’t make the feeling any less satisfying.
“Hmm?” I said through my emotional haze. “Yes, Spike?”
“Is Auntie Luna here?”
Sighing and lifting Spike off my back, I said, “It’s complicated.”
“But we’re on the moon.”
“Yes. Yes, we are. It’s… It’s complicated, Spike. I’m sorry she hasn’t been around for so long after you just met her, but she’s been busy. Auntie Luna is a very important pony. She has to take care of all of Equestria at night.”
“All of it?” Spike asked, eyes wide. “But – but that’s like hundreds of ponies.”
I resisted the urge to correct Spike. Equestria’s population was more toward the hundred millions. Instead, I said, “Yep. Sometimes she gets so busy that she just doesn’t have time for us. Auntie Luna is here, but she won’t be able to spend any time with us tonight.” Lifting Spike’s sad face with a hoof, I added, “Just try not to have any bad dreams. You don’t want to make even more work for her, do you?”
“Good. Now, would you like to spend tonight with Berry Pinch?”
Spike stopped to consider the idea, no doubt stuck between wanting to follow me around and wanting to go play.
“You’ll probably get bored hanging out with me tonight. I think I’m going to be stuck with the old ponies tonight. It’ll just be a whole bunch of talking.”
Giggling, I said, “I’ll ask Berry Punch to look after you.”
I looked up to locate a destination for our next teleport, when I noticed that our guides had disappeared. My eyes widened when I realized where we were: the edge of the illusion. With one more teleport, I relocated us inside the spellwork, and I lost my breath.
I’d expected a little chunk of Ponyville on the moon with a fancy castle nearby, but not this. This was like walking into a painting, with the hinterland spreading out before us, the village splayed across the base of the mountain, and the palace – it was definitely a palace, not a castle – looming over everything.
“Is – is that a river?” Cherry Berry asked.
I let our protection spells go, as we didn’t need them anymore.
“Oh my!” Fluttershy whispered.
I noticed a small flock of birds in the air of a species which I was fairly sure was extinct. Near those birds was a smaller flock of lunar pegasi engaged in some sky-based sporty thing.
“Hey, Twi, I’m not gonna die if I leave, am I?”
“Huh? No, you–”
“Great! See ya, everypony!” Dash shouted back to us as she flew off into the sky in her usual rainbow blur.
“What? Wait! Dash–”
I didn’t have time to say anything else before a pink blur speed past me on the ground. Already far away, Pinkie Pie was headed toward a curvy part of the river where dozens and dozens of lunar pegasi were dancing, and playing music, and eating, and in general, reveling and making merry. In Pinkie Pie terms, they were having a party.
Worse, Berry Pinch had somehow managed to latch onto Pinkie Pie’s tail and flailed wildly as she was carried away. It only took a moment before Berry Punch realized what was happening and ran off after her daughter.
Sighing, I forced my eyes away from the, quite frankly, very architecturally pleasing palace in the distance and the three fillies that had just bolted like… Well, the standard Hearth’s Warming present simile really didn’t apply here, since it was Hearth’s Warming. Sometimes I felt like a mother with too many foals to look after.
“Cherry Berry,” I began, “I don’t mean to rain on your own adventure, but could you look after them once in a while tonight? The ones on the ground, at least?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“Also, would you mind taking Spike with you until I’m free to wander about?”
“Sure thing.” Cherry Berry smirked again. “Try not to let all the royal affairs ruin your solstice.”
Ignoring her, I gave Spike a hug goodbye and teleported the two of them some ways ahead of Pinkie Pie. I doubted their lead would last long.
“At this point, you might as well go see what they have in the royal menagerie here,” I suggested to Fluttershy. I’d already lost control of the situation, so I might as well just roll with it and pretend it had been my idea all along.
“I…um…I think I’ll stay with you, if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine. I’ll make sure Dash gets back to you at some point tonight.”
Ignoring Fluttershy’s quiet thanks, I turned to Twinkleshine, only to find her already talking up a storm a little way behind us with Crescent and the other three – well actually, just the other two lunar pegasi. That much was expected. What I didn’t expect was all four of the locals – the unicorn included – seemed to be just as interested in Twinkleshine, although none of them could understand each other.
I wasn’t sure if this meant Twinkleshine was going to stick to me like glue or if she was going to get distracted and let me mope and hug a moon rock all night by myself.
Wow. Even I had to admit I sounded depressing.
As I took a step toward Twinkleshine and her new friends – written as specimens – the locals seemed to suddenly remember I was here. They all stood a little straighter and tried very hard to pretend like what I’d just seen hadn’t happened.
Addressing Crescent, I said, “You know, I did request you act informally around my friends. I will not think any less of anypony that is as excited about our visit as Twinkleshine here is, nor would I expect Luna to.”
The mare in question seemed unperturbed by the change in mood as she pulled out one of the pegasus’s wings to examine. I doubt she noticed his blush, either. At least he wasn’t upset or offended.
Crescent cleared his throat. “Well, yes. Anyway, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the lunar palace, Luminance, home to the last of the fengari.”
I was just going to assume that last word meant lunar pegasi, or moon ponies, or bat ponies, or whatever.
“Seeing as your group has dispersed–”
“My apologies,” I mumbled.
“Think nothing of it, Lady Twilight. You are our guests, and you are free to do as you wish while you are here. That said, would the three of you care for an escort anywhere?”
Ah, there it was. ‘You are free to do as you wish so long as we can hang out with you and get into the next goddess’s good graces.’
Sigh, maybe I was being too paranoid. Crescent wasn’t even a real politician like the kind Cadance complained about or like the ones loyal to Luna whom I’d briefly talked to on occasion back on Equus. Not everypony wanted something, and he had looked genuinely interested in us when he’d let his guard down. Besides, I had few doubts that Luna doted on her little ‘moon ponies’ as much as possible, so it wasn’t like any of them really needed anything from me.
“Twinkleshine?” I said, drawing her attention away from her…mingling. “Fluttershy? Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to visit?”
Shortly before I finished asking, Twinkleshine replied, “The castle! And each and everypony inside it! And I want to look out over the moon from the highest turret! And eat whatever local foods they have! And – and everything!”
Giggling, I turned to Fluttershy and asked, “How about you? Any preferences on what part of everything we visit first?”
“Oh, anything would be fine. I’m sure whatever you want to do would be wonderful.”
“Alright, then.” Turning back to Crescent, I asked, “Would you care to show us to the–”
I shuddered as I felt a faint, mildly familiar magic fill the air, but if anypony noticed – the magic or my reaction – they didn’t comment on it. I’d known it was coming, but I’d managed to lose track of the time while we were traveling.
Midnight had arrived, and with it had come Celestia’s magic.
“–palace?” I finished lamely.
“It would be my pleasure.”
The chariot ride to the palace was nice, even if we managed to draw every local’s attention when we got anywhere near them despite the rest of the crew already having occupied their attention. Lunar pegasi, as it turned out, could fly a lot smoother and quieter than regular pegasi, but not quietly enough for my tastes.
I’d asked the unicorn hitching a ride with us – his name was Astral – about the differences between the subspecies almost immediately after I’d noticed the first one, but it quickly became obvious he had no idea. In hindsight, that should have been obvious. The only way to get a regular pegasus here would be from the unicorns and earth ponies reproducing and getting a pegasus child, and even then, they’d come out with mixed traits like Fluttershy, although probably far more pronounced. Based on what little I knew about genetics and the fact that the moon wasn’t littered with regular pegasi, I’d guess that there were some mating guidelines in effect.
Well, even outside of the need to have a few unicorns and earth ponies hanging around, there would probably need to be mating guidelines anyway with such a small current population, disregarding whatever they started out with. The griffin royals – and the pony nobles, unfortunately – have historically had fertility issues due to all the inbreeding, and such problems would be amplified here.
Anyway, I’d only caught a glimpse of one or two foals on the trip, so while I probably should assume the worst until informed otherwise, Luna had said their population was stable. Consequently, I was going to be optimistic and assume that there was instead some grand scheme in effect which involved long gaps between generations.
Lost in thought as I idly translated for Twinkleshine and Astral, I started when we touched back down on the ground in the palace courtyard. That wasn’t to say the landing wasn’t smooth, or gentle, or any other positive quality of landings. I was just too busy letting my thoughts wander aimlessly, which in hindsight, was sort of a contradiction in terms.
Ugh. Anyway, I hopped off the chariot and took stock of my new surroundings. Up close, as so many things did, the palace lost much of its stunning beauty. It looked nice – not that I had the best eye for these kind of things – but it wasn’t anything to write home about. And just looking at it, something felt…off, somehow.
I couldn’t put my hoof quite on what was wrong, though; this place wasn’t all that different in spirit from Canterlot Castle. Obsidian stone walls, check. Miscellaneous flora and the odd fauna, check – although I only recognized one or two of the trees. A fountain, check. The wingful of statues, check. Enchantments which probably only I noticed, check. Scattered guards, not check – probably not necessary.
Hmm, what else was there? There were nice, paved walkways through the courtyard, and the plants were blooming. The latter was a bit odd considering it was winter, but the seasons could be whatever the residents wanted on the moon. Really, we could make the seasons whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted on Equus, too, with or without Luna’s or Celestia’s help, but we kept them around. Presumably there were valid reasons for doing so.
Maybe I was approaching this wrong. What was missing? There were the previously mentioned guards, but I didn’t think that was it. There weren’t any flags or tapestries. That was odd, but I didn’t really see the point of them here, especially when the locals had more limited resources at their–
That was it! Well, not exactly, but it was the same spirit. There were no festivities here at all, not even a plate of muffins or mug of hot chocolate. Actually, they might not have chocolate here; I wasn’t sure when chocolate had been invented, but it was probably after Luna had been banished. Stranger still, the entire palace didn’t have the usual wear and tear I’d expect to see in a castle. Obsidian showed imperfections like no other rock, and while Luna could have enchanted it to be effectively indestructible, everything that Luna wouldn’t have had a chance to enchant looked pristine as well.
Was the palace simply not used? With space being a very valuable resource, I couldn’t think of any reason why they wouldn’t.
“Crescent,” I began, turning around, “is there any reason the palace isn’t used?”
All of Crescent’s surprise at my question showed on his face for a few seconds before he mastered his expression.
“Well, the three caretakers live up here, so it is not completely vacant, but everypony else finds the flight up here too inconvenient for regular use.”
“Ah…” What a horribly mundane explanation. And here I thought Luna might have a whole palace full of interesting things she didn’t want ponies putting their hooves all over. Oh well. “Would you mind terribly if the three of us simply wandered by ourselves for a while?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Crescent replied, “Of course not, Princess. Whatever you wish. I trust you will be able to make it to the festival on your own, should you desire.”
I nodded and then turned to Twinkleshine and Fluttershy. “Alright, you two. We have free reign of the palace alone, so let’s go explore it to our hearts’ content.”
“What! Twilight,” Twinkleshine whined, “what about the moon ponies!”
“We might run into one inside,” I said, although honestly I’d rather just be by myself while I did this. I’d been given a chance to look into Luna’s past firsthoof, and I wanted it to be a private affair. “You’re free to do what you want, of course, if you’d rather do something else. Especially you, Fluttershy.”
“M-me? I – I don’t…”
Sighing, I said, “Fluttershy, your eyes dart toward some rustle in a bush made by an animal every other second. Just go enjoy yourself.”
“I…um…” Fluttershy pawed the ground with her eyes looking straight at the floor. “Okay. Thank you.”
I didn’t stay to watch Fluttershy wander off; like me, she loved her privacy. I wandered off through what I presumed were the front gates of the palace, Twinkleshine following just behind me. My first real look at the inside of the palace left me secretly wishing I were Luna’s art student. And naturally, this beautiful moment was interrupted by Twinkleshine running right into me. At least we didn’t fall over…
“Sorry,” Twinkleshine said automatically, her eyes not even looking toward me for a moment.
I turned my attention back to the walls of the hall myself. Just from our arrival, I knew that Luna obviously had an artistic gift in landscaping and architecture, but her painting was somehow even better. The entire hallway was one big canvas, and if what I had seen and could see of the rest of the palace were any indication, Luna had probably painted everything. And it wasn’t just one big picture either; the subject matter clearly changed as it went along, but it was so seamlessly done, I couldn’t point to any spot and say, ‘This is new material.’
And then I actually noticed the windows. They were stained glass windows, and Luna had managed to incorporate them into the canvas, too. They weren’t distracting holes in the wall; they were accents, and the soft moonlight they radiated was gorgeous.
Twinkleshine gasped and galloped a little ways down the hall, not even bothering to look where she was going as she watched the walls go by. In no rush myself, I followed at a slow canter. I’d never imagined I’d actually find myself captivated by art, but well…here I was. It helped my pride a little bit that it was Luna’s art.
As I approached Twinkleshine, I idly said, “This is amazing. How long do you think this took?”
“Centuries!” Twinkleshine half-shouted, her voice echoing through the palace. “Don’t you see what this is?”
I shook my head and looked back at the halls. Nothing in particular jumped out at me, but I could easily imagine it would take centuries to paint an entire palace while ruling a country.
“Twilight, this is the history of – of the world! Well, at least the princesses’ histories. I think it starts back there with Discord and just sort of…sprawls out from there.”
Twinkleshine grabbed one of my hooves and pulled me back the way we came. We went a short ways down one of the hallways we’d skipped, and she spun me to look at the wall.
“It’s not just one story either. The main hallway was showing us the founding of Equestria, but this one shoots off on a…a…a side story. All of the hallways did! I think this one is a love story between Princess Celestia and this pegasus stallion! And that one over there.”
I noticed Twinkleshine’s intentions early this time and cantered along with her instead of being pulled along, but not before taking one last look at the wall. Celestia looked…young…in these paintings. She was shorter, and her pure pink hair was a huge image change, but there was no doubt it was her.
“This is Princess Luna’s love story!”
With a lunar pegasus, of course. No surprise there; I did more or less understand the attraction after I’d seen some myself. The far more interesting thing was Luna’s appearance. I hadn’t recognized her at first, but the similarities were obvious when I knew what I was looking at. Where Luna now was stunning and beautiful, this Luna was adorable and cute. And it wasn’t like that one time when I’d turned her into a filly. She’d just looked ridiculous then. I had to admit, the lack of stars in her light blue mane left a lot to be desired, but she was still pretty. Her dark blue coat might actually go better with the stars, but I’d have to see her in pony with it to know for sure.
More importantly, if this was Luna as a filly – well, in a somewhat filly-like body; she was probably pretty old already – I wondered what she looked like fully grown. If this was a history of Equestria like Twinkleshine said, then I should be able to find out if I…
“What happens when the hallway splits?” I asked, half to myself and half to Twinkleshine. “More subplots? What about when it rejoins other, larger hallways? Are there no loops in here?”
I knew Luna was a good story teller, but would she really be able to weave together potentially thousands of little stories into each other at arbitrary points? That was unbelievable. I had to see it for myself.
Twinkleshine and I took our first step forward at the same time. The easiest way to answer my questions would be to just wander the palace. I might even get answers to hundreds of other historical questions I’d always wanted to ask Luna but never had the time to. A small hop came into my step just thinking about it, and I barely paid attention to the little love story going on around me. I was kind of regretting sending Crescent away; he could have given us the guided tour.
Then again, he mentioned that there were some caretakers that lived here. Maybe they were still around, considering that everypony here apparently knew we were going to come visiting.
“Hey, Twinkleshine, why don’t we split up? Crescent said” – I turned my head to look at Twinkleshine, but she didn’t turn to me and was biting her lip – “there were some ponies who lived here. We could maybe find them for a guide, and…” I bit my own lip for a moment and then asked, “What’s wrong?”
“That is the most obvious lie I’ve heard that didn’t come out of Dash’s or Cadance’s mouth.”
I stopped walking, but Twinkleshine didn’t bother to stop with me.
“Twinkleshine, please tell me what’s wrong.”
Finally, Twinkleshine stopped. “I said it’s nothing! Just – go follow the main hall, and I’ll check the side passages, okay?”
Okay or not, Twinkleshine didn’t wait for an answer and started off on her own. As responsible as it would’ve been to have followed her, I turned around and went back the way we’d come. I had to admit, when I said I wanted my look into Luna’s past to be a private affair, that I wanted to be alone, I had meant it. And now I had the chance. All it cost me was not cheering up my friend after…whatever it was that upset her.
I…guess I needed to apologize – probably definitely. Eventually.
Walking through the main hall wasn’t as exciting as I’d have liked it to be. Anypony who could get her hooves on a changeling history of Equestria wouldn’t find it particularly enlightening. It was just all the major events of Equestrian history: wars, treaties, important ponies, new nations, et cetera. There were no shortage of hallways I was tempted to go down, including a particularly interesting looking account of Sombra, but for now, I resisted their call.
I climbed a set of stairs and found myself at the entrance to the throne room. I suspected a small part of me was expecting to see two thrones, but there was only one at the far end. Luna had said she’d never told Celestia about this place, but they did used to be on good terms. I could see Luna building an extra throne just in case.
Anyway, it looked like the main story continued on through the throne room and out the doorways in the back, so I made my way across. If I had to guess, I’d say I was a few centuries off from Luna’s banishment. I was pretty sure the ceiling was depicting the battle of Horseshoe Bay, but it could have been one of the battles at the future site of Manehattan.
By this point, Luna was probably as fully grown as she was going to get; she hadn’t changed in a century or two in the paintings. She looked so… If I’d met this version of her first, I’d probably think the current one was weird, but since it was the other way around, she looked so…so…unbalanced? No, that wasn’t the right word. She was still gorgeous. She was surprisingly much shorter, but that wasn’t what was bothering me.
Ugh, I didn’t know how to put it. It was like if somepony came into my room and moved everything a few centimeters in a random direction. It wasn’t all that different, but the minor changes would trip me up over and over again for no good reason.
I did really like her navy blue coat, though. Maybe not more than her black coat, but it was a great look for her.
Continuing out the back of the throne room, I pursued the main history. Just after I passed what I was certain was the signing of the Equestrian–Draconian peace treaty, I noticed an odd door. There was nothing strange about it as far as doors went, but it was the first and the only door that I’d seen in the palace so far. Everywhere else just sort of went without doors or even doorframes. Then again, I hadn’t followed any of the side passages very far. Individual rooms probably had doors.
Frowning, I made a mental note to come back here after I’d reached the end of the main history. I was only about a century off from the end of what Luna could have painted, after all. I could be patient.
Not that there was much to be patient for. I followed the main hallway to the end of the painting, where it abruptly stopped. It wasn’t even a clean break. The parts that looked done would poke out of an imaginary line that marked the end of the canvas – or else there was just a lot of background not painted yet – but there were plenty of half-finished ponies and buildings.
This was it. This was the end. I wasn’t sure what to make of it that Luna hadn’t put any of her own personal feelings into the main history. At least she hadn’t so far as I could tell. The academic in me was delighted by her impartiality; the historian in me was divided, given that Luna was a rather important figure in history and that her thoughts and opinions had a direct effect on the course of history; and the student in me was worried about how much her teacher was bottling up, even in her own home.
Then again, perhaps that was what all the side passages were really for. They did detail her life, and maybe that was where she let the raw emotion out at. I had so much to see here, and I had only one night to do it.
And I had a door to start with.