Chapter Thirty Two - Perpendicular Perspectives - Between…


Luna didn’t stand still. She didn’t flinch. She didn’t even fall over. Somehow I’d managed to knock her sideways a few hooves, spinning in midair to land facing away from me. I had no idea how that hadn’t simply taken her jaw clean off, but apparently she was as sturdier than I’d thought as I was stronger.

My magic!” I screeched, just shy of the Royal Canterlot Voice. “Y-y-you c-crippled my m-magic?”

Luna mumbled something I couldn’t quite catch.

“What was that?” I hissed.

Luna sighed. “Nothing that would benefit either of us if I repeated.” Groaning, she rose back up to her hooves. “You know why I did, of course.”

“Argh!” Bucking curse everything that ever lived! I did know, and it made sense! Horrible, awful sense!

A ‘new’ filly Flare appears in Canterlot with all the magic of a grown Flare? Obviously not a normal filly to any outside observer. I’d understood the need to reduce my magic, and – and I’d known it’d happened, but crippling it? No, no. That was too much. Too too too much.

I instinctively gripped the ground to keep my hooves from rising again. That didn’t stop my horn from doing its job, though. At this close range, I barely had to aim, let alone try to form a proper spell.

And Luna just stood there waiting for it. And not moving. And just accepting it. And–

Oh, bucking horseapples! At the last instant, I yanked my head and horn to the left. The barely ordered burst of magic brushed past Luna’s shoulder at dizzying speeds and disappeared off into the distance. When it finally hit the ground, the resulting explosion would suitably be described as planet-sized.

In the split second I had to realize I was going to be caught up in the blast, I closed my eyes.

And then nothing.

I hesitantly opened one eye to find Luna smiling just a little bit in front of me. Around us was a blue and violet shield. Below us was…a tiny little chunk of ground floating in a vast void of nothing.

The stupid part of me wanted to know if I could do that in the real world.

“Luna” – my voice came out in a tiny squeak as I wobbled on my hooves – “I’m the Alicorn of Magic. W-what if I’m broken? What if my ascension thought I was normal, and I’m stuck as a crippled alicorn forever? H-how much of Mother’s magic did I even have?”

“I don’t know for sure–”

No, no, no! That was the kind of answer you put in front of bad news!

“–but the last time I saw you, perhaps half.”

“Half?” I echoed back. Luna’s magic nudged me back upright as I leaned dangerously to one side, but I still collapsed onto my knees. And from there, it was only a short fall to my side. I curled up into a little ball with my tail between my hooves.

Shortly after, my head was lifted up and deposited on Luna’s side. Her hoof found its way through my mane, but – b-but it wasn’t helping.

“For the first few years of your life, you used very little magic,” Luna said softly. “It allowed you to recover from the damage we – I inflicted on you. You had more magic than Sunset had at that age, and apparently that made you quite the troublemaker.”

Luna’s free forehoof just barely made contact with me and bopped me on the nose, I thought. I couldn’t even feel it.

“However, your frequent use of magic over the last decade took your recovery time from perhaps one decade to two or three. And, well, I won’t blame you if you kick and scream over this, but your constant use of magic aboard the Nebulous on the errand I’d forced upon you exacerbated the problem further.”

This was all wrong. I was having a nightmare. Luna couldn’t really have crippled me. And I couldn’t really have kept myself crippled. That would’ve hurt. I knew what broken bones felt like. They hurt. Broken magic must hurt, too.

I tried to say something, but it only came out as a wheeze and a sniffle. I tried to make Luna disappear, b-but she wasn’t part of my dream to control.

“Another thing you won’t want to hear. Sunset Shimmer was rather good at controlling her magic. If you were discovered and found to retain the same ability, there’d be no reason you couldn’t simply take her old position. Not willing to risk that, and since it didn’t matter for my plans if you were a half-trained Flare, I ordered some, but not nearly all, of your implicit memories relating to magical surge control destroyed.”

But…I could’ve grown up a fully trained Flare if Luna hadn’t done that. I – the reasoning made sense, but – but there were no words.

“This, at least, is easily reversible,” Luna added, “but we also removed the nerve endings which would tell you when you were hurting your magic. Your ascension most likely fixed that for you, but you should pay a visit to Quartz to be sure.

“Then I suppose you will want to know the process we used to cripple–”

“S-stop,” I finally managed. “Please. I – I don’t want to hear anymore.”

But Luna didn’t stop. She had a horrible question of her own. “Would you like me to tell you all the things wrong with you being more upset about this than anything else?”

No. Even now my mind was listing them for me.

It’d been necessary to keep the secret of my birth.

I would’ve blown up Canterlot if I’d had so much magic as a two-year-old, even if I’d retained the incredibly suspicious instinctive ability to control it completely. I’d destroyed a big chunk of Canterlot with far less magic when I was a decade older and wiser.

What had happened to Sunset was far worse, a-and in my heart, I knew I didn’t blame Luna for it.

I’d already had orders of magnitude more magic than other foals. I shouldn’t be greedy.

What had happened to Aurora was…not all that bad, but still more morally ambiguous.

I was a member of the very exclusive alicorn club. I probably had more magic now than every non-alicorn in Equestria put together.

I was somehow bonded to the Element of Friendship. With enough study and tinkering, the Elements of Harmony could probably fix me in what might be a literal deus ex machina.

And that was just barely scratching the surface.

I rolled over and buried my head in Luna’s barrel, weakly shaking it side to side. No, I didn’t need Luna to tell me anything. But – but at the same time, it – it was my magic. My m-magic! It was like…like…like a sister to me. I knew it so well, and I loved it, and it could do such wonderful things, and – and – and–

My muzzle raised up all on its own, and the rest of my body followed. Luna’s magic placed me on my haunches, and her hoof poked at the corners of my eyes.

“Twilight, you once asked me what I would do if you lost all your magic.”

I did? When did I ask that?

I cast my mind back. When could that have come up? Why would that have come… Oh. That – I’d been so mad at Celestia, and I’d asked Luna so many unreasonable questions. I’d asked her if she’d bring me back from the dead if I died. And then she’d given me her feather.

“You remember that?” I wouldn’t have ever held Luna to any answer she gave to it.

Luna’s face widened into a sad smile. “Of course I do. I meant every word I said. I promise if I’ve done any lasting damage to you, I will help you fix it.”

My unsteady hoof reached out to rest on Luna’s foreleg. “Y-y-you p-promise?”

“Yes, Twilight. You’ve had to endure far more than anypony your age should ever have to. I won’t let this be a scar for you in the future, too.”

Luna reached a foreleg around my neck and pulled me into a hug. I…I pulled back at first, but I caught a glimpse of her eyes. They were so sincere. She wasn’t lying.

I slumped over onto Luna, more collapsing than hugging. “T-thank you.” I sniffed. “I d-don’t want to be b-broken.”

“Don’t worry,” Luna said, her hoof running through my mane again. “I’ll clean up my own mess.”

I let myself relax into the long-missed feeling of Luna parting my mane in her own slow, steady rhythm. It had a slower beat than I remembered. But the last time Luna and I had met face-to-face, I must’ve been two or three hooves shorter. That probably made all the difference.

Still, it was such a peaceful feeling. I could just melt away like this without a care in the world.

“Twilight, might I ask a favor?”

“Hmm?”

“A little less tight, please. I think you’re about to snap my radius.”

Her radius? Wasn’t that a bone?

“Oh stars!” I flew off of Luna, taking the hoof that had still been resting on her leg with me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even know I was doing it, I swear.”

“It’s fine,” Luna said casually, stretching out her foreleg which somehow looked even darker than usual, as if I’d blocked all the blood flow. Which I probably had. Or – or maybe I’d caused internal damage and that was all blood.

No. No, Luna was just stretching. If I’d hurt her more, she’d just have willed her body back to normal. She was fine. I was fine. Everything was fine.

Once Luna finished her exercises and her leg was on the ground once more, she added, “Earth pony magic is a little difficult to get used to controlling consciously. Take this as a lesson, though, or perhaps as a warning. I really don’t want you sobbing in my hooves after breaking Twinkleshine’s neck or tearing her in half.”

Oh. Oh, yes. That was pretty good advice. Really good advice even.

But it wouldn’t help me now if, say, Spike crawled into my bed and curled up next to me, which he would totally do if he thought he’d almost lost me, all embarrassment of doing fillyish things put aside, and – and I might squeeze him like a stuffed animal!

Ponyfeathers! “Luna, is there anyway you can wake me up right now?”

“Not while banished, I’m afraid. Did you go to sleep sharing your bed?”

I shook my head furiously. “Spike is going to join me, though, and maybe Twinkleshine, too. I just know it! I didn’t lose anypony to Celestia, and now the universe feels cheated and wants to take somepony from me. I don’t want to wake up without a son!”

And now I felt like I was missing something very important, even as I felt panic’s talons claw deeper into me.

“Oh, double ponyfeathers! Luna, I need you go see if anypony else is asleep and have somepony warn Dash. I really might sleep for a day straight myself if nopony wakes me up. Please! You have to save my cr – my friends.”

I really hoped Dash hadn’t already discovered the problem for herself. I’d asked Chamomile to tell her not to use magic, but she wouldn’t know how to keep her earth pony magic in check. I’d at least had training in the basic concepts, but she hadn’t had anything at all, and none of our earth ponies were exactly good teachers.

Oh, this was bad. This was really, really bad. Dash was pretty rough with ponies in general, and Fluttershy was pretty fragile. And Spike might be a dragon, but he was still so small. And – and Berry Pinch was a twig in comparison. Oh stars! I really, really didn’t want to lose a pony on this trip, and especially not to something so stupid.

“I’ll see who’s available,” Luna said far more calmly than I felt, “but before I leave–”

Luna’s magic swept over me and dulled the jitters in my muscles. I felt my heart slow, or maybe it just disappeared. And then Luna said, “You are panicking.”

I was? Yes, I was. I already knew that.

“You’re going to give yourself a nightmare at this rate. Deep breaths, Twilight. In. And out.”

‘Why aren’t you leaving?’ I wanted to scream, but there was just enough sense left in me to let Luna guide me through the usual breathing exercises. Her reasoning was terrible – nightmares were trivial compared to the stakes! – but I’d practically had the phrase ‘calm minds prevail’ hardwired into my brain while learning from Luna.

And as I breathed, a little sense of clarity returned to me. Everypony was still in potentially life-threatening danger, but…maybe I was getting worked up over nothing. What were the odds that these last thirty seconds were the deciding factor between somepony’s life and death?

Pretty much zero. Disaster had either already struck or the warning would get out in time. And if somepony had gotten hurt, surely at least Chamomile would’ve woken me up. Fluttershy was our…well, more nurse than doctor, but I was no slouch with medical spells after years of injuring myself with flares.

Yes, I wasn’t awake, so nopony needed my magic, so nopony had been seriously harmed. I didn’t see any obvious holes in that logic, unless somehow everypony was hurt, but that would just be silly.

“Better?” Luna asked.

I nodded weakly. “Thanks.”

“Good. I expect there is a changeling contact of some sort I might avail myself of by now, and I confess I’m quite eager to find out if a certain changeling queen is bawling her eyes out. I suspect long range teleports disrupt the hive mind for some time before it ‘snaps back’, so to speak. Anyway, sweet dreams until my return.”

Wow, this was completely irrelevant, but the thought popped into my head, and it had a simple yes or no answer that I really wanted before I lost it to regular dreaming.

“Luna, wait. Am I going to develop a hive mind?”

Luna stopped working her dream magic to give me a strange look, one followed promptly by some rather rude laughter.

“It’s a serious concern,” I huffed. I was certain alicorns didn’t have to eat love, but our magic was still part changeling.

“Yes. Yes, of course it is.” Luna cleared her throat, trying very poorly to hide the tail end of her giggles. “You and I might each be in a hive mind of one. If you ever decide to lay a few eggs, do let me know if your nymphs’ thoughts are always buzzing in your mind.”

And with that, Luna disappeared, not at all hiding that she was laughing at me again.


“Ow,” I mumbled, my horn stinging a little from the gentle flick it’d received. Sniffling, I looked up at my companion and asked, “What was that for, Princess?”

“Sunset, it is unbefitting of a lady to be seen eating so gluttonously.”

I eyed the remaining pile of a dozen butterscotch cookies undeterred. Etiquette class was stupid, and the fancy parties I used it for were boring. And the delicious snacks set before me were irresistible.

“Ow.” My horn got another flick, and I reflexively dropped the cookie my magic held. “Why are they there if I can’t eat them?”

Princess Celestia gave me her usual look when I was doing something wrong.

“Correct me if my memory has failed me, but I believe you have eaten them.”

“Only half!” I protested.

“Indoor voice please, Sunset.”

I mumbled an apology, but Princess Celestia gave me the look again. “Sorry,” I repeated myself, louder and clearly this time.

“Apology accepted. But back to the matter at hoof. Your parents would be distressed to know I already let you eat more than a dozen.” Princess Celestia took what could only be described as a demure sip of tea.

“You know, back in the old days, it was inappropriate not to be seen partaking of ale and a too large portion of food, much of it encrusted on your muzzle.”

“Ah,” Princess Celestia began, setting down her cup, “how nice of you to join us Miss Nightmare.”

Something about that struck me as odd, but I couldn’t put my hoof on what exactly.

“But on the topic,” Princess Celestia continued, either oblivious or paying no mind to the glare she was receiving, “I personally am quite glad we moved on as a culture. Still, if you enjoy that barbarism, it remains a part of griffin culture. You merely have to overlook the roast beast they serve with it and the spit in the center of the dinning hall.”

“Oh, don’t give me that holier-than-thou nonsense,” Miss Nightmare all but growled. “I’ve seen you drool at the mere smell of sautéed fish.”

“You eat meat, Princess?” I exclaimed.

“Indoor voice, Sunset.”

Stupid etiquette class. “Sorry. But you eat meat? You both do?”

“I do not,” Princess Celestia said.

At the same time, Miss Nightmare answered, “On occasion. Refusing a meal as a guest in the old days was incredibly rude, and many sapient species are omnivores or carnivores. Meats play an important part in their diets.”

“To which they always have an alternative,” Princess Celestia retorted.

Miss Nightmare scowled. “Enough of this nonsense.” Then turning to me, she continued, “Twilight, you should strongly consider ridding yourself of Sunset Shimmer’s memories once more. Unless you’re just playing along with this dream for some reason?”

“Wha?”

The name – no, my name echoed through my mind endlessly. I groaned a little and rubbed my head as the world – er, as my dream came into proper clarity, and I realized just where I was and what was going on.

“Ah… Luna… Sorry about this.”

I focused for a few seconds to banish the tea party and Celestia from my dream. Although I did leave behind the pile of cookies to munch on. After that, I turned my attention to myself, changing my appearance from Mother’s back to my own.

“It’s fine. I understand.” Luna placed a forehoof on my shoulder, and unblinking, she held my eyes fast with her own. “Twilight, your dreams shouldn’t be that resilient to allowing you to become conscious. Holding all of those new memories, especially so many taken in so quickly, might be damaging you.”

“I know,” I whispered. It was an obvious enough concern. “But I can’t! I can’t do that to Sunset. I can’t forget her. Not unless I absolutely have to. It’s – holding her memories is the only thing I can do for her. It’s not much, but it’s something.”

Luna’s frown doubled in size, and the furrows in her brow only grew deeper. Her eyes searched my own for who knew what as we stared at each other. I tried to stand a little straighter and look determined in return, but being under such intense scrutiny sent a shiver through my legs.

Finally, Luna broke away from me. “Very well, Twilight, if that is what you wish. But remember, magically erasing memories en masse can severely damage your mind. It’s possible – nay, probable – that magically adding memories en masse can do the same.”

Yes, I knew that. That… Well, it was actually a good point, a very good point, a very, very good point. I’d tried to ignore it, but that was something I could not disregard at all. But at the same time, if I abandoned my memories of Mother, I’d never ever forgive myself. But on the other hoof…it hardly benefited either of us if I drove myself insane.

“I… Please keep an eye on me, Luna.”

“Always,” Luna interjected in the utmost seriousness.

“If I start acting too off, let me know. I’ll…do what needs to be done.”

It’d be like killing Mother all over again, except this time I’d be the one snuffing her out. A shiver ran through me at the thought.

“But – but I have to try keeping them first.” I locked eyes with Luna. “I have to.”

After a moment for the mood to pass, Luna sighed as she relaxed her stance. Her frown disappeared, replaced by something that might charitably be called a smile.

“In other news,” Luna said, “you might like to know that Rainbow Dash did no long-lasting damage to anypony, and Spike has been removed from your bed without injury.”

Huh? What was Luna talking ab – oh. My eyes widened as I remembered what we’d been talking about earlier. But then a mildly stern look from Luna shut down the resurfacing panic. She had just told me everything was fine. It’d be pretty silly to freak out again.

Oh…except now I remembered the other thing we’d talked about. There was nothing quite like sending me into a panic to distract me from bucking crippling my magic.

Ugh. Stop infecting my vocabulary, Mother.

My head went through the strangest sensation of rolling imaginary eyes at myself. My own vision went all…squiggly, for lack of a better word, for a moment. One of my hooves shot out to catch myself before I tripped over myself and fell onto my head.

Only after I felt balanced again, my hoof came up to my forehead and rubbed it. That…had been weird.

But anyway, as I’d said, it was so easy to distract me by sending me into a panic. Did Luna do that on purpose? Even when I was… No, I was still unhappy, but my blood wasn’t boiling anymore. Still, did Luna even actually visit anypony while she was gone? That kind of seemed like the sort of thing she’d have taken care of between when I’d first fallen asleep and when she’d returned again.

Then again, maybe I was just being incredibly paranoid. I’d remembered being putty in Luna’s hooves just before my freak out started. There’d been no need to ruin that moment.

Although at the same time, it wouldn’t hurt to check if Luna was still being honest with me. It was always so much easier with a level head.

“Alright,” I began. “Thanks for passing that warning along for me, Luna. Now we were in the middle of a discussion I want to finish.”

“As you wish, Twilight. I no longer have anything to hide from you.”

I watched Luna carefully as she spoke. She had no consistent tells when bluffing or lying, but infrequently, I would catch something: a flick of an ear, a rustle of her tail, a slight hitch in her breath.

This time, at least, I didn’t see any signs she’d lied. Still, I could prod her again for a second sample.

“But you’re not volunteering information?”

I caught just the slightest grin on Luna’s face, the kind which said, ‘I taught you that. I know what you’re doing.’

“Twilight, if you had it your way, you would go around demanding every piece of information a pony possessed from every pony you met.”

A blush erupted on me before I’d even realized it. There was a little truth to that, but it wasn’t like I’d ever do so forcibly or anything. That was the kind of cartoon villainy that got ponies sentenced to Tartarus. No, it’d be a purely voluntary concession.

But I was off topic.

“That was a distraction if I’ve ever heard one.”

Luna shrugged. “If you miss anything I think is important, I’ll attempt to steer the conversation in the right direction. But for the moment, I think we can both agree it would be best for you to control the topic.”

“I suppose that’s good enough,” I mumbled. None of what Luna had said or how she’d moved suggested she wouldn’t be true to her word. Luna always kept her promises to me; I didn’t see why that would change now. I was just being paranoid.

And in a little corner of my mind, Mother reminded me that Sunbutt always kept her promises, too, or at least the serious ones.

I shooed the thought away. At Luna’s and Celestia’s age, your word needed to maintain a basic level of trustworthiness. If you were statistically unlikely to keep your word with that large of a sample size, nopony would ever trust you. You’d quite simply never get anything done.

Besides, it held no bearing on the current matters at hoof.

“First question,” I began with a little hoof stomp to punctuation it. “I love my special talent, and I wouldn’t give it up for any other, but I have to ask. Did I have any chance to get anything but magic as my special talent? I’m curious because my cutie mark is different than Mother’s.”

And because I was a little uncomfortable with not having had alternative options, even if I never ever would’ve pursued them. I…I understood that I was made to be Luna’s tool and became her friend, so the answer was probably no.

But then maybe Luna would’ve given me the chance to be whatever I wanted. It wouldn’t have been all that much of a gamble. I couldn’t imagine ever getting anything else, so I couldn’t imagine a reboot – or a predecessor – of me getting something else either.

“That depends,” Luna said.

“On what?” I asked impatiently. How could the answer possibly depend on anything Luna didn’t already know?

“On which answer will get me punched in the face again.”

Luna!” I admonished. Everything that needed to be said was in that one word and my glare. I just barely restrained myself from granting life to her fear.

“Fine, fine.” Luna sighed before continuing. “No, you had no chance for anything else. Nothing we did to you fundamentally altered your magic or returned it to a youthful state, so your special talent remained the same as Sunset Shimmer’s.”

“But my cutie mark–”

“The change is the result of the damage done,” Luna interrupted. “Like a broken bone that was not set properly, your magic couldn’t quite return to the shape it once had. Although magical injuries, and especially ones as severe as we inflicted on you” – Luna at least had the decency to look apologetic – “are themselves very rare, it’s a well-documented effect. I believe you know enough about cutie marks to fill in the remaining blanks.”

I nodded. Cutie marks appeared in a sort of miniature flare of magic when practicing your special talent. My own magic apparently hadn’t been up to the task of putting a cutie mark back on my haunch after Sunset’s had been taken away, but my first flare obviously had fixed that.

But…I – I supposed all this was a moot point. I wouldn’t have wanted anything but magic as my special talent anyway, so it didn’t matter. Not too much. Kind of. Mostly. It was just a little sour note that I had to do what I loved to do, like turning a hobby into a job.

“Wait.” It’d taken long enough, but I finally connected what Luna had told me with…an important event. “What about when I ended up in the hospital after…on Hearth Warming Eve? The doctors did a full medical checkup on me, and they didn’t say anything about me being a magical cripple.”

I know.” Just a little bit of anger crept into Luna’s voice. I didn’t think it was directed at me, but I was ashamed to admit I flinched anyway. And Luna saw it, and her tone softened.

“Twilight, you have no idea how terrified I was that afternoon. Even now, the mere memory manages to trouble my thoughts, and my mind runs in circles trying to find something I missed. I was mildly upset with you for not thinking ahead that day, true, but I was primarily distressed and worried that you’d managed to land yourself in Canterlot Castle’s own hospital.

“However, the circumstances and your use of dark magic concealed the truth. At the time, I honestly couldn’t have believed my luck. I’d thought for sure everything was going to come down on my head that day. I don’t mean to upset you, but I’d created enough noise in your medical data that nopony questioned the stranger aspects.”

Well, the circumstances probably would have left the doctors grasping at straws all on their own. I was a Flare, which was already odd enough, but I’d also allegedly had my magic sealed for years – who knew what that would do to it – and I’d just channeled an enormous surge of magic.

Yes, I could certainly see normal doctors having trouble identifying long-term damage from recent, short-term damage. And then throw in dark magic, and even Celestia…

My thoughts ground to a halt. “Luna, did you teach me dark magic just for that reason? So that if I did end up in a hospital, it’d make it harder to see what you’d done to me?”

“It was among my motives, but not nearly the primary one. Just as I had you survey non-unicorn types of magic, pegasus magic in particular, we could not afford to leave you unaware of the field of dark magic.” Luna’s head tilted to the side. “Besides, I thought you agreed with me that there’s nothing wrong with dark magic. Have your thoughts on that changed?”

I shook my head. There wasn’t any reason to keep mentally stable ponies from dark magic; I knew all the anatomy that explained why. Which now that I thought about it, I might not strictly speaking qualify as mentally stable at the moment…

Yeah, you know you’re teetering on the brink.”

Talking to myself as my Mother wasn’t exactly boosting my confidence here. And it really didn’t help that she was making coo coo sounds in the background now.

Okay, that decided it. I should just stay away from dark magic for a while. I couldn’t afford to exacerbate the damage taking in Mother’s memories had probably done to me. I really was going to go insane if I kept deliberately making things worse for myself.

“Alright.”

My voice hitched as I turned my attention to the next – and third to last – big question I had. I took a deep breath to calm myself, silently promising myself that I wouldn’t cry or scream until after Luna said something that upset me.

“I have three – three more questions, Luna. B-but before them, I just wanted to clarify something I vaguely remember saying when we first reunited.”

“Would this be about that deal you mentioned?”

“Yes,” I said hesitantly.

I hadn’t taken the time yet to calculate if I’d actually gotten a good deal or if I’d gotten horribly screwed. Although at the same time, not being permanently detained or killed was a pretty all-around good trade for any information, all the way up to where I planned to go to and all the way down to when I stopped wetting the bed.

Which…I didn’t think I ever had, now that I knew about my origins. That’d always been Aurora. I must’ve kept my Mother’s bowel control…

Well, um, moving on, I wasn’t going to do that calculation now either. I was just going to give Luna a little clarification to think about on her own.

“Celestia was waiting for me when I left the Æthereal Realm. We…talked.”

That didn’t need any elaboration on, no matter how many eyebrows Luna rose. It wouldn’t be a pleasant or useful experience for either of us. And I couldn’t remember the conversation as well as I really should. I’d been way too tired.

But also in the absurd case where Celestia actually believed her paper-thin excuse, Luna didn’t need to hear that the sister she’d finally given up on hadn’t thought of her as a sister in over a thousand years.

“Celestia promised to leave me and mine alone until after the Summer Sun Celebration in exchange for some…rather compromising information. I mean, Cadance already knew the answers to a lot of the questions she had, but it’s something to think about, I guess.”

“Do you have the questions memorized?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. There were too many, and I’d been too tired at the time. “I haven’t answered any of them myself yet, though, at least not to Celestia directly.”

But I would. I didn’t want to be the one alicorn that wouldn’t keep her promises. And there was nothing on the list Celestia had given me that was life-threatening to reveal. I could afford to answer everything.

Well, it might be bad to let Celestia know I used to be Sunset, but I’d already ruined that twice over. It wasn’t much of a stretch to assume she’d kill me to get Mother back, given her track record.

Hesitantly, Mother whispered, “Do you really think she wants me back?

No, no, no. I was not going to start a conversation with myself, especially not one that had suicidal subtexts for me. If Mother came back through some deus ex machina, I died.

Luna finally emerged from her own thoughts. “Well, that’s not so terrible,” she said. “It’s a far better outcome than I’d always assumed would occur should she catch you just after your ascension. I suppose that’s something to be grateful for.”

“That’s…not all.”

Luna sighed, probably in disappointment. “I can’t say I’m surprised. What else did you promise?”

I cringed before I could help it. I… Honestly, I didn’t think Luna had meant that to come off as a rebuke, but that was what it’d sounded like to me.

“Celestia wanted to talk to you before the solstice.”

Luna awkwardly fumbled with her mouth, trying to form words. After everything we’d already discussed tonight, I understood just how unintentionally cruel that promise was.

The thought that this was fair karma for what she’d put me through intentionally flash through my mind. I knew I was going to forgive Luna completely, but it still stung right now. It was only fair if I got to hurt Luna a little, too.

I dashed those thoughts to pieces immediately. Nopony deserved this. I didn’t want to hurt Luna, and even if I did, she’d been hurt more than could ever be fair already.

And I did understand why Luna had done what she had to me. It all made sense. Except for why I needed to be hidden in plain sight, but that question could wait a moment or two.

“Celestia did agree to tell me her future plans after we held up our end of the bargain,” I said. Maybe that would lift Luna’s mood somewhat. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Silence fell once more.

Eventually, Luna weakly said, “I don’t understand. Dream magic isn’t something a pony can learn; dreams are my domain. This… It can’t be a trap. What purpose could she possibly have to make that request?”

Well, if Celestia knew Luna would react like this…

“Maybe it’s a distraction?” I guessed. “It cost Celestia essentially nothing to ask, and she’ll waste a lot of our time with us overthinking it.”

“It’s possible…” With a final shake of her head, Luna brought herself out of thought and directed her full attention back onto me. “We can think about it later. What was your next question?”

I held Luna’s gaze for a second. I wished there were some magical words I could say to make all this go away. And not just Luna’s problems, but mine, too. But no such words existed. All we could do was try to work past this the hard way. And that meant more questions.

So…which one? I knew which question I had to put last, but the other two were equally unpleasant to pose. ‘Why do I have a family?’ ‘Why did you assassinate Sunset?’ The former was a mystery. The latter…well, I was pretty sure I knew the answer to the latter, but I needed to hear Luna tell me her reasoning herself. All of it.

Which one? Which one? Both could be horrifyingly painful to hear the answers to. But at the same time, they both had the potential to be equally cathartic.

I looked up at Luna for a moment to find her waiting patiently, a small frown and sympathetic eyes staring back at me.

Stars, just start talking, Twilight.

“Why does my family have Mother?”

A moment passed.

Horseapples! Plan failed! Plan failed! Try again!

“Why do I have a family?” I asked even faster than my previous incoherent question, although with the same squeaky voice. My eyes scrunched up even as I spoke, and I could feel my everything practically shrinking into myself.

Luna sighed. That was the first thing that happened. It was the kind of sigh I’d imagine a pony condemned to the gallows a thousand years ago made.

“There is no simple answer to that question, Twilight, and I fear the only honest answer I could give you is I don’t know.”

A second passed.

What? Had I heard that right? Did Luna just say she didn’t know? How? How could she not know?

“That doesn’t make any sense! You can’t expect me to believe I just – just – I don’t even know! Replaced somepony through some unexplained fluke of the universe? That sounds ridiculous just trying to put into words!”

“No, that isn’t what I meant. Twilight, I certainly planned and saw to the execution of your placement with Night Light and Twilight Velvet, but I don’t know why I did it. I’ve never managed to pin down my exact reasoning for more than a week or two.”

“What…what do you mean?” That didn’t sound good at all. That didn’t sound like Luna at all.

“‘I can find somepony else to aid me. It was enough to remove Sunset Shimmer from the board,’” Luna began, settling into an easy cadence.

“‘I never want to see this filly ever again. This is the only way to get rid of her safely short of killing her.’

“‘There won’t be enough time to teach this filly to wield the elements. She’ll attract attention, she’ll be rejected, and it will hurt her. Hurt ponies tend to be clingy and loyal.’

“‘My pawn needs to be grounded in reality. She needs to believe she chose me herself.’

“‘If I try to push this filly too hard too young, she’ll either turn on me, be mind-numbingly boring, or fail in her role.’

“‘I want somepony who is more than just a tool, if for no other reason than to avoid having to foalsit her all the time. She needs to grow independently for a little while. Maybe I can even kind of enjoy her company that way.’

“‘I’ve never forgotten my terrifying foalhood. This filly deserves a safe, loving family who expects nothing of her but love in return. Every filly deserves that.’

“‘No good can come from my interfering in this filly’s life so early. I’m sure I’ll ruin everything.’

“‘This filly needs to be able to function without me. She needs to learn how to act independently and make her own choices, but at the same time, she’ll still need parents to hold her hoof. Unfortunately, the ponies I can actually trust to raise her aren’t exactly the nurturing type.’

“‘I’m not looking for a daughter. I’m not at a point in my life where I can expect to be a good parent.’

“‘If I hope to ever enjoy this filly’s company a few thousand years down the line, I need her to actually like me for me. I can’t let her latch onto me by virtue of being the only pony she knows.’

“‘For all that I hate what she is, Sunset Shimmer has my sympathy. She deserves something. She deserves to have some part of her remain in the world free from alicorn games for as long as possible. A daughter, perhaps.’”

Luna gave me a warm smile at the last entry of her list, but I didn’t much feel like returning it. She’d given a dozen reasons for me to have a family and to grow up separate from her, but not one was what I wanted to hear. None of them had the ring of truth that I needed. None of them were giving me either peace of mind or a sense of closure.

And worse, none of them were entirely consistent with each other. Several of the reasons Luna had listed off were working toward cross purposes. They had mutually exclusive goals. She couldn’t get rid of me and use me. She couldn’t set me up to be hurt and keep me protected. She couldn’t give me no choice and leave decisions in my hooves.

It just didn’t make any sense! This wasn’t the Luna I knew! What was wrong with her?

“Luna, I…I really don’t know how to express how unsatisfying that is. Please give me…”

I fruitlessly searched for exactly what it was that I wanted from Luna, but the right words just wouldn’t take shape.

“I don’t know. Something,” I continued, practically begging. “Please give me something to scream about, or something to – to – to hold in my thoughts when I think about Mom and Dad. Please! Anything is fine!” I really couldn’t care less what Luna said anymore so long as it was concrete. Luna did not do this indecisive nonsense.

Luna shook her head, and I felt what little hope I’d had left shatter.

“Nothing I might tell you would be the truth, Twilight. Although I can, perhaps, offer you some small comfort in a reason I did not hold in the act.”

Too focused on fighting back tears, all I could do was nod slightly.

“I never truly intended for you to be hurt as badly as you were, although perhaps not for the reasons you’d like to hear. It would’ve – and did – invited trouble. I’d meant to quietly teach you, but events conspired against me. You somehow drew attention to yourself quicker than I’d thought possible. If I'd known that would happen ahead of time, I would've placed you with a less optimal family further from Canterlot.”

Luna fell backward onto her haunches, and her forehooves rubbed at her forehead. “Then of all possible things, your brother and my niece hit it off and started dating.”

Awkwardly sniffling, I commented, “Well, I wouldn’t want Cadance out of my life. And things worked – are working out.”

Luna grumbled, “I suppose. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the universe had it out for me personally.”

After an exasperated sigh, Luna continued normally, “At any rate, after your first flare, I continued to observe you for a few weeks. There were other, safer ponies who I could guide toward ascension if necessary. One or two might have already been ready to try.”

The part of me that didn’t think right wanted to scream and shout about how Luna made abandoning me sound so easy. She hadn’t explicitly said she’d ever seriously considered it, but the subtext was there loud and clear.

But then the part of me that had any sense, the part of me which recognized that Luna had still associated me with Mother and Celestia then, kept my mouth closed. No, not quite closed, but that part of me which could always think clearly under any amount stress kept me from interrupting just yet.

“That said, except for a few foolish moments when I thought to forget about you, I did intend to pick you. You were a vastly preferable choice for many reasons. Once I was sure I could trust you with my existence, I introduced myself. And from there, you know the rest.”

I grit my teeth to keep from biting Luna’s head off. Almost growling, I asked, “So what if Sunbutt abandoned me and you couldn’t teach me? Were you going to abandon me, too? Were you just going to leave me a mess of a pony?”

Would Luna really have done that? She’d been so nice to Aurora even though it hadn’t been to her advantage at all. Why was I always the exception? Why did I always get the short end of the stick. Apparently it didn’t matter if I was Sunset or Twilight, I always–

“No,” Luna said, bringing my unruly thoughts to a screeching halt. “I had nopony whose life I could gamble in teaching you, but there were…other options which would have made themselves known to you.”

“Like petrification?” I cried. That was the same horror Celestia wanted to push off on me.

“No, Twilight, there were many solutions to your old problem, although none are exactly pleasant to contemplate. Petrification and sealing your magic are but two. Another option would be to let you grow up without magic and then revert you to a filly, an option which you are at least implicitly aware of.”

That…was a reasonable solution. Not that I ever would’ve thought of it before I’d learned about age spells. But surely Luna and I weren’t the only ponies who could’ve come up with the idea.

“Then why didn’t Celestia suggest that?” I asked. “Cadance would’ve gone along with it, wouldn’t she? And my parents would’ve…kind of been okay with it, I guess.”

Unless Celestia had been deliberately antagonizing me all the way back then, but I couldn’t see any point to that. It was a solution somepony could think of in five seconds off the top of their head, after all; there really wasn’t any excuse beyond pointless cruelty if so. Or unless…

My stomach wrenched. Or unless Cadance had objected to a real solution. But surely she–

“I said it was another option,” Luna began, interrupting my thoughts again, “not a good option. Imagine a pony mentally eight years old with all the magic of a fully grown Flare and all the magical knowledge of an adult mare who’d had nothing better to do growing up than study.”

“Oh.” Right. I’d made a similar argument earlier myself. I’d been walking disaster at age eight with only a few dozen spells and just a little bit of magic in comparison to how much I’d had just prior to my ascension. Magnify the problem a hundred times or more, and my parents wouldn’t have been the only ponies to suffer.

“‘Oh,’ indeed,” Luna continued. “There were dozens of other potential solutions to your flares, although admittedly less to somepony who believed you had zero experience controlling your magic.”

Wait, what?

“Still, sealing your magic was… What’s the right way to put it? Lazy and uncreative?”

Luna had told me Quartz hadn’t removed all of the effects of Mother’s practice at controlling her magic. And now she’d just told me that was actually important to deciding how to solve my flaring problem without ascension or actually being taught. That…

“Luna? What would’ve happened to me if I’d lost all of Mother’s developed instinctive ability to control my surges?”

A frown fell onto Luna’s face. Then quite frankly, she said, “You would’ve been useless or dead.”

My jaw hung open.

“If I’d tried to teach you from banishment with your mind as a true blank slate, you would’ve self-destructed within a season, probably taking most of Canterlot with you. Unless, of course, we only practiced spellcasting in your dreams, but then you wouldn’t have been able to make the journey to recover the elements.”

What? Had – had Celestia had a point when she’d put a suppressor–

But,” Luna interrupted my thoughts, “even then, sealing your magic was lazy and uncreative. Had it proved necessary, the solution I would’ve proposed – with or without knowing you had a head start on learning control – would’ve been to re-cripple you every four ye–”

What?” My shriek drowned out whatever else it was Luna had said.

Luna just barely flinched at my shout, and I saw her hoof lift an almost imperceptible amount. It was a second later that I realized my own hoof had come up with it, already halfway toward Luna’s face again.

Forcing my voice down to a just a shout, I asked, “And how long would it have been until you broke my magic permanently? How long would it have taken before it wouldn’t come back at all? Would I have lost half – half! – every time?”

“We only would’ve had to do it two or three times, Twilight. I believe you would’ve been strong enough to withstand it.”

Barely coherent, I screamed, “But you don’t know!”

“No, Twilight, I do not know. But I am allowed to make educated guesses.”

This time I really did hit Luna again, but it came off as little more than a slap to the cheek. It didn’t even put Luna off balance. My hoof slid weakly off her muzzle as both it and I collapsed to the ground in a heap.

“Then when everything was over,” Luna continued as if I hadn’t done a thing, “I would’ve taught you myself. Flares are simply too useful and too dangerous to ignore. Further, you would’ve been able to learn magic normally growing up the first time, too, so you would’ve been immediately useful to me at the time I would most need aid to reestablish my crown.”

T-that was true. I would’ve still been useful. Luna would have taught me, even if she hated my ancestry. Everything would’ve worked out for me.

“And I know one thing for sure.” Luna stopped to lift my muzzle up to stare into her eyes. “I would’ve grown as close to you then as I am now, as close as I hope we still are now. Without a doubt, I would’ve offered you ascension, no strings attached.”

I heard a short, sudden intake of breath, but it was some time before my need to keep breathing let me know it was mine.

“D-do you mean it?” The question was faint, but it did its job.

“Of course.” Everything about Luna’s voice screamed sincerity, and her eyes were like a honey trap, irresistible in their pull and endless in their depth. “Our friendship would’ve had a very different shape, yet it would’ve been just as strong. You’re a wonderful mare, Twilight, and I’m sure that’s not because of my presence in your life.”

Oh, how tempting it was to just forget everything else and ask my last question.

But no. No, I couldn’t do that. The answer to that final question would be meaningless without first asking the penultimate one. I wouldn’t be able to focus at all; the guilt would eat me alive.

But – but the urge to fall into Luna’s hooves was so powerful. She was right there, all her attention focused on me and completely mine for the taking.

No. No, stop. Bad Twilight. I pulled my hoof back from where it’d wandered without my consent. That was the easy way. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t stand to leave anything unsaid between us.

Now I just had to actually ask the question. That was the easy part…right?

“Alright. I – um – my – my next question. I already know – I mean, it’s not… I want – no, I absolutely must hear the answer from your own mouth.”

A second or two passed as I recomposed myself, evening out my breathing as best I could. I looked up at Luna for some support. She was always my rock. B-but even she looked uneasy now, even if it barely showed past the twitch in her wings.

“Why?”

No. No, that wasn’t enough. Luna probably knew what I was asking, but I had to put the question into words. I couldn’t let myself be too cowardly to not do so. I was better than that.

“Why?”

I gulped, hesitating again. This question wasn’t very long. I just had to force it out.

My eyes squeezed shut as I shouted, “Why did you kill Mother? Why did you make me?”

Silence. I peeked out an eye. Luna was frowning, and she’d frozen a half step closer to me.

No, not frozen. Her hoof fell back to the ground.

“I’m sure you’ve guessed why,” Luna began solemnly, “so I won’t belabor the point.”

Another moment passed between us in silence as I waited for Luna to continue.

“I was never certain, but I was reasonably confident the elements had abandoned their bearers a thousand years ago. I drew that conclusion from my own experiences that night, from the later discoveries of those loyal to me, and especially because they were not used again since.”

Another question jumped to my mouth, but it wasn’t quite time to ask it yet.

“I didn’t expect the elements to become inert stones. I dearly wished I had, but I did know they were unusable in some fashion.”

Luna’s gaze drifted, and I could all but hear her teeth clenching.

“But Sunset Shimmer’s purpose I could see all too clearly. The Element of Magic will only respond to ponies with the strength of magic and force of will capable of channeling the full power of the elements.”

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I made note of that fact. It was probably why Celestia and Luna referred to the Element of Friendship as the Element of Magic. I also made a note to ask Luna how she knew that. She probably had fragmented pre-Discordian histories about the elements somewhere.

“Sunset Shimmer was clearly the weapon carefully raised by my enemy to stand against me. I had already proven myself the superior warrior; the safest option to defeat me was to use the elements once more.”

Now was the right time to ask my question. “So you lied to me? You said you didn’t know what Celestia wanted Trixie to do for her just before Hearth’s Warming.” Luna had said Trixie was Sunset’s replacement, after all.

“Technically, no. I was only reasonably confident what purpose Trixie Lulamoon served.”

If my frown and glare weren’t getting across the message of how much of a stretch that was, then Luna would’ve had to be blind.

“Although personally,” Luna continued sheepishly, “I consider it another lie concerning Sunset Shimmer. It is a simple implication that if I knew what purpose Trixie Lulamoon had, then I should have known what purpose Sunset Shimmer had. And you would never have believed I had lost track of Sunset Shimmer if I’d known.”

“I…suppose that’s true,” I begrudgingly admitted.

Luna would’ve had to invent a lot of untestable explanations for Mother’s disappearance then. And I probably would’ve wanted to meet Sunset, too. I never would’ve let a chance to meet another Flare go without a really, really good reason. I would’ve begged Luna to tell me where Mother was forever.

Or worse, I would’ve asked Chrysalis to find her for me.

Well, I supposed that was a bit of a moot point. Chrysalis had seen the importance of Sunset’s disappearance long before I had. Still…

“Twilight, I’ve told you many times how dangerous lies are, especially important ones. And now you know exactly what they lead to. They infect even casual conversations of little import, and as you’ve indirectly pointed out, they often make it impossible to communicate vital information. Unless you want to end up trapped and eventually with somepony hitting you in the face like me, you should stick to truths and half-truths.”

And naturally, Luna made an example of herself out of this mess as a lesson for me. That… I was actually pretty touched she cared enough about me to do that even while I was screaming, angry, and occasionally violent, rather than just trying to pacify me.

“But back to your original question.” Luna fought to keep the snarl out of her voice, but she didn’t quite succeed. “I would not allow myself to be banished again. I may not have been isolated here, no doubt as had been intended, but I admit I’ve long since gone stir crazy.”

Mother was kind enough to inform me that ‘stir crazy’ meant something more literal five decades ago, which was probably the meaning Luna knew and had intended.

“Sunset Shimmer, the weapon prepared to renew my suffering, had had to be removed. If but one or two mortal lives stood in the way of my freedom, removing them was a price I was willing to pay.”

Oh no. Did that mean…

“And yet,” Luna said, the venom draining out of her voice, “as I said before, Sunset Shimmer had my sympathy.”

“Wait.” With her having been recently on my mind, I needed to know if she was okay. “Luna, is – is Trixie…”

“Alive?” Luna finished for me.

I gulped, uttering a terse, “Yeah.”

“Yes.”

No, Luna couldn’t stop there. Everything about her face said she was holding back important information.

“But what?” I asked. “What did you – we do?”

“Very little. I made the request to have Trixie Lulamoon abducted if anything went wrong, and if necessary, killed. Our resident changeling queen was quick to agree with the necessity of it, although she refused to have her hive be the one to perform the task. Reportedly, Trixie Lulamoon was detained from Rainbow Dash’s ascension until shortly after your own.”

Well… Well when Luna knew she was in a kill or be killed situation, I couldn’t fault her for going to such extreme measures. And she’d taken the risk to not simply outright assassinate Trixie. That counted for a lot.

“But we were speaking of Sunset Shimmer, and I imagine you care more about that.”

“I, well, yes. But Trixie is fine, right? I mean, she…she knew what she was being trained for.” My voice sunk to an unsteady whisper. “You didn’t” – I gulped again – “do anything, did you?”

Please, please, please say no.

“Somewhat, I suppose.”

Oh, ponyfeathers.

You know you weren’t actually expecting a no. She killed me over less.

That wasn’t true, Mother, and you knew it. She… And now I was talking to myself again. Great.

Heedless to Mother’s unfair aside, Luna continued, “I didn’t go out of my way to request her abduction be gentle. I’d imagine she’s still sleeping off a unicorn bane attack in a hotel somewhere. Most likely she’ll knock herself out at least once more after waking up and trying to use magic. I’m sure you–”

Luna instantly cut herself off, and her features softened again. “Unicorn bane is not exactly gentle, but it’s necessary to safely hold unicorn spellcasters prisoner. It wouldn’t have bothered you with the damage we did to your nervous system–”

Well I supposed that answered the question of if I could feel pain when I was hurting my magic now. It had hurt when Celestia had poisoned me, and I’d stopped trying to use unicorn magic immediately after recognizing the sensation.

“–but do you…” Luna’s voice became almost inaudible. “Do you remember?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “I remember the last thing Mother remembered. I’m familiar with the feeling of my magic burning away, if not – if not dying.”

Luna’s muzzle awkwardly hung open, and her eyes drifted to her hooves.

“I’m sorry you experienced that. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d just told you of your relation to Sunset Shimmer years ago.”

No, I would’ve watched that memory even if I’d known what it was. And Celestia had poisoned me, too.

But this was all kinds of unpleasant for the both of us. Trixie might have a little bit of emotional trauma, but nothing too bad. We could move on now.

“So you were saying?”

“Ah… Yes…” Luna gracelessly began. “Well as I said, whatever else I thought of her, Sunset Shimmer had my sympathy. I saw much of myself in what I’d heard of her situation. I let her live as long as I dared, but no amount of pity was worth the extraordinary risk of letting her remain alive, not even drugged and detained underground. The thought of being banished for another thousand years was maddening.

“Or worse, I could be petrified and left in the royal garden to be mocked and taunted forever. Petrification lasts until reversed, unlike banishment.”

I pulled my jaw up from where it hung. I hadn’t thought of that at all. Discord had been petrified for well over a thousand years and hadn’t escaped. Luna had explicitly told me both that and that she wanted him to stay that way forever. What hope would Luna have had? How long would Luna have had to wait to be free? Ten-thousand years? A hundred-thousand? A million? More?

A chill swept through me. That was awful. Not – not as bad as being killed, but it was so close. Or maybe it really was worse. I didn’t – no, couldn’t know. If that was why Luna had had Mother assassinated, I couldn’t blame her at all. That – that was terrifying.

Mother had been innocent of any ill intent herself – at the time, at least – but just…stars! I didn’t like this, but I understood it. Celestia had forced Luna to action, and sometimes we had to do things we didn’t like to survive, or even just to stay sane and free.

Luna had had a good reason, and…and now I was feeling bad for Discord. Buck.

Ugh. No. I could think about that some other time. Maybe when we had enough alicorns and the elements working, we could try to do something about him.

But not now. Not anytime soon. I had other things to do now.

“And…the other question? Why do I exist?”

I obviously wasn’t just a tool to Luna. I’d meant that when I’d said it to Cadance. I was at first, sure, but all friendships started like that in some sense, even if it was as simple as using somepony for a mutually enjoyable conversation.

But that wasn’t really what I was concerned about, not at all. I was worried that Luna hadn’t had a real reason to make me; that every reason I’d come up with or Luna had implied so far was mere rationalization; that when all the pretenses were swept away, I’d just been a good way to hurt Celestia at the cost of another’s life. The cruel irony of my and Sunset’s circumstances was certainly not lost on me.

And the worst part, the absolute worst part, was some small part of me could appreciate that irony and loved it. Some small part of me whispered how wonderful it would be to watch how Celestia reacted to that knowledge. I hadn’t had the courage to watch her reaction earlier when I’d messed up on the Nebulous, but…

No. That was so wrong. It was so – so bad. Mother’s death wasn’t something I could enjoy. It couldn’t be personal. It had to be just self-defense. Otherwise…otherwise it’d – it’d be murder.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all. We were… Mother’s death was sad, but we hadn’t had a choice.

“Why?” I squeaked, repeating myself. “Why do I exist?”

“There’s no meaning behind your life beyond the obvious,” Luna began none too quickly, not bothering to look at me. “I needed the elements to be drained, and it would be easiest to do that while they remained far from Equus, away from watchful eyes. I needed somepony who could ascend. I needed a team of ponies who could reach the elements.”

I ticked off one correct guess I’d made earlier. Luna had known the elements were in space before I found out. She’d probably known ever since Celestia first put them there. Honestly, now that I thought about it, I really should’ve been more surprised to hear the opposite.

“A Flare with a special talent in magic could do all three mostly by herself,” Luna continued. “Simple and easy, regardless of the independent implementation details. It would vastly decrease the number of ponies who needed to be aware of my plans, which is always a strong feature of any scheme. A loyal Sunset Shimmer would’ve been the best choice, but I’m sure we both know how that would’ve turned out.”

Yes. I did.

“So I had Quartz make you under my guidance. And as I told you before, we gave you as much of a helping hoof toward ascension as we could by keeping Sunset Shimmer’s implicit memory intact, not that it lessens the value of your own work in any way. If we didn’t make any mistakes, you were a sure thing. I knew I could get you here if you worked hard. Knowing your predecessor's work ethic, I considered that a non-issue.”

Luna’s sigh was deep and long before she continued. “Of course, as you know, there were complications. Anyway, as I mentioned before, I couldn’t risk letting Sunset Shimmer live, so regardless of my final decision, she would’ve met her end. Yet I also felt she deserved to have some part of herself continue on, if possible. That desire played no significant part in the decision making process, but I am glad I could do a little something for her in exchange for the ultimate price.”

Luna stopped, turned to me, and gave me a long, thorough inspection. Her magic swept through my mane, briefly holding it aloft as her gaze fell onto it. Only once my mane had settled did she speak again.

“Your color choices could use some work, but the gesture is commendable. That you’ve taken to referring to Sunset Shimmer as your mother eases some of the troubles that plague my heart. It was a surprise and rather worrying at first, but I have no complaints. Although you have given me some all new worries in these past few hours.”

“I…um…” What even was I supposed to say to that? “You’re welcome and sorry?”

Luna shrugged. “Worrying about somepony isn’t all bad. It’s the privilege and burden of friendship.”

Under other circumstances, I’d probably roll my eyes at that, but I didn’t need the distraction right now. It felt like Luna was holding back on me. I couldn’t put my hoof exactly on what gave me that impression, but even if I felt she was being completely honest, I’d need to press further anyway. I couldn’t be anything less than thorough, not about this.

“Are those really the only reasons I exist? The real reasons? Please be honest, Luna. I – I won’t ever abandon you. You know that. You can tell me anything.”

“No,” Luna said, barely above a whisper. “No, there’s no other influential reasons. None beyond the fine details of how I picked which pony to ascend: loyalty to me, of course, being one of those fine details.”

“Yes, that’s obvious.” I knew a deflection when I heard one, and this one needed to be shunted aside. “There’s no sense in making your number of enemies grow. But you don’t sound like you meant what you said.”

When Luna still hesitated, I reached out with a wing and rested it on her foreleg.

“Please, Luna, talk to me. I just want to know, to understand, to help if you need it.”

“Twilight,” Luna growled, softly yet sharply, but she was quick to check her tone, “understand that I would never base my actions on this. I would never trade efficaciousness for this. But I knew exactly how loved Sunset Shimmer was.”

That made two of us…

Mother muttered, “And only two.”

“I take no pride in it, but I would give nearly anything to see the reaction on her face when your heritage came to light. I’ve been dreaming of it for decades.

Luna’s voice trembled with her wrath, or perhaps her…ecstasy. That was not a good sign.

“I would’ve wanted it to be revealed after I’d already won, so I could properly torment my foe, but there’s no helping it. I’d imagine one of those questions you promised to answer is about Sunset Shimmer’s fate.”

“Y-yeah, it is – I mean, yes, there are such questions.”

Stars, curse me. Being scared of Luna wouldn’t be good for her at all. I had no excuse, not even if she had a faint echo of that madness she’d had all those years ago in her voice.

“Cadance already knows, too,” I added, my voice perfectly level this time.

Luna nodded curtly. “But no, that is not why you exist. I promise you that. It was a perk and a guilty pleasure I’d intended to enjoy alone. Are you satisfied?”

I unconsciously took a step back, rather intimidated by Luna’s glare, before silently berating myself again. Help started with understanding, and Luna obviously needed help with this. This particular act of vengeance had been preying on her mind for far too long. Luna needed somepony to talk to. She needed to be able to let this go. It wasn’t healthy for her.

Hopefully Luna would be willing to talk with me. There weren’t really any alternative ponies to go to, except maybe Quartz or Chamomile. The latter was the only pony not involved in this whole mess, though. It’d probably be easiest for Luna to talk to Chamomile, but even then, I wanted to be the pony she leaned on.

Stepping forward, wings extended, I wrapped Luna in a hug as best I could. I’d grown much since I last saw her, yet she still towered over me, and my wings weren’t quite big enough.

I felt Luna tense, and I tightened my hug in response as much as possible.

“No, I’m not satisfied. I – I can appreciate the feeling, Luna. I really, truly can. But I think you need to talk this out. Please let it go.”

After a painful silence, I finally heard a long, steady sigh just behind me. At the same time, Luna’s head and neck came to rest across my back.

“Some other time, Twilight. There is much I likely should speak of to somepony, but not this morning.” Luna’s forehoof worked its way up to my withers and gently pushed me off her. It stayed there as she continued, “This morning is for your benefit, not mine.”

“O…okay.” At least Luna was open to the idea. That was the big, important, first step.

“Which reminds me to ask, how are you feeling now?” Luna gave me a wan smile. “Better? Worse?”

That was a good question. Just from my general mood, not thinking deeply about the question, I thought I was feeling better. Most of what Luna had said to me hadn’t been surprising. It’d helped me a lot to hear that my guesses had been mostly right, to know I knew Luna well enough to know why she’d done what she’d done.

And even more than that, it’d helped just to hear Luna herself give voice to those words. That all by itself meant so much.

I wasn’t at all happy about what had happened to my magic. But…Luna had promised to help me if anything was still wrong with me. That wasn’t so bad.

Luna’s feelings toward Mother were…unsettling. I could understand and sympathize, but they were still disturbing. On the bright side, she’d agreed to talk through them later. I’d absolutely make sure that she actually did, too, even if it wasn’t with me.

Tilting my head back, I took a deep breath. I focused my eyes on the ill-defined nothing above me: a small little mental exercise to help clear my mind.

Yes. Yes, I was feeling better. All the uncertainty of the past day had disappeared, or at least most of it had. I wasn’t exactly in the best condition of my life, but I was in a better place than where I’d been mere hours ago.

“I think I’ll be alright now, Luna. Or rather I think I’m in the right position to be alright later. I probably need some time for everything to settle, but right now, I just need to relax.”

“Ah,” Luna said, some cheer returning to her voice. “That’s great to hear. I’m glad you’re taking everything that’s happened to you this past day so well. At your age, I likely would’ve been an emotional wreck for weeks with less than half of what you must’ve gone through.”

I felt a slight blush grace my face, although my coat likely concealed it completely.

“But didn’t you mention you had one more question?” Luna added.

This time, I knew my blush was showing through my coat, as my cheeks were almost burning: a sign of a good answer to come.

I stopped myself from biting on my lip and looked Luna in the eyes, holding her gaze in place. I didn’t know if this was the best time or the worst time to pose this question, but it had to be answered.

“I-I just have one more question. I’ve been waiting to ask it for seven years, and I need to know the answer is still the same as I always thought it would be.”

Standing on nothing more than my hindhooves, wrapping my forelegs around Luna’s neck to balance me, I rose up to the prerequisite height necessary to pose my question.

Luna’s eyes widened. “Wait, Twilight, do you – mmph!”

Silenced by my own muzzle pressing into hers, Luna took a half step backward. In the process, she pulled me forward. I clung to her even tighter than before as I scrambled to regain my balance, yet I didn’t lose our connection. I didn’t give her a chance to breathe or speak.

I’d always imagined it’d be hard to avoid Luna’s teeth poking my tongue as it intertwined with hers, but it turned out not to be the case; we didn’t even need to avoid it. Every time my tongue scraped along the points, a wave of pleasure shot through me. It was almost as if they’d been designed specifically to find new ways to tease and caress.

For just a moment, I brought myself out of the blissful haze I’d descended into to reorder a few things in my dream. Breathing simply wasn’t acceptable anymore, and I needed something soft.

An insistent step forward by me, followed shortly by a step back from Luna.

Then another.

And another.

And then Luna tripped over my trap, sending the two of us tumbling onto a cloud, Luna on her back and me on top of her.

Sadly, this tore our muzzles apart, yet I’d already gotten half of what I wanted. My question had been for both of us, and I had my answer.

Sex was about trust and friendship. If I was close enough to Luna and trusted her enough, I’d enjoy sleeping with her. Just that kiss alone had been pure, distilled bliss, so I knew I’d love spending the night with Luna. Thankfully, the contrapositive couldn’t tell me my thoughts for me, but that in itself was strong evidence. Whatever squabbles I had with her right now, I still loved Luna. I still trusted her enough to let her be this close to my heart.

But Luna, she’d been hesitant at first to return my kiss. I’d seen it in her eyes. I’d felt it with my tongue.

“Should we continue?” I whispered, giving voice to the last question I had to have answered. Our muzzles were removed from each other by less distance that anypony could measure.

“Forgive me, Twilight.”

I felt my heart stop, the only defense it had against shattering.

“I… It’s been some time since I last lay with a pony. You mean so much to me. Please don’t take anything the wrong way.”

“I-I-I see. It’s – it’s – it’s okay. I – I should’ve given you s-some more space.”

Luna’s wings pulled me the rest of the way down onto her and into a second, shorter kiss, one not so much of passion as caring.

“You silly pony. Space won’t help either of us.”

“Eep!”

Luna’s hindleg had bent to rub against me just below my tail. A-and it wasn’t s-stopping! Her hooves reached up to pull me back down again, down far enough to nibble on my ear.

All the tension in my body melted away at the electrifying jolts of pleasure spreading through me. A little moan escaped, and my entire face felt like it was on fire.

H-how did Luna k-know that – that my ears were my w-w-weak spot!

Luna stopped to whisper directly into the ear she’d captured, leaving me in a daze.

“I just need you to promise me one thing, Twilight.”

“Mmm, wha–”

Oooooh Stars! I didn’t even know that spot existed on wings!

Luna eased up on me, but just enough to let my mind emerge from the haze that’d settled over it.

I managed a weak, “What?”

“I’m a centuries old goddess of the night.” Luna lowered her voice even more as she boasted, “And of all things that happen in it.”

I didn’t know if my face could be burning any more if it really were on fire.

“Passion is a well-known sister. Desire is a loving friend. Lust is a welcome companion.”

Luna rolled us over, placing herself on top of me. A dozen tiny little spells picked up where her limbs had left off, leaving me a squirming mess of putty.

“I know of magics that even you might shy away from.”

O-oh my. That sounded like a ch-chaaaaallenge.

“Promise me that when we’re done, you’ll be able to do something other than beg for more.”

Half mad with desire, I wrapped my hooves around Luna’s neck and pulled her down into another kiss in answer.


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