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Embracing the Night 5

By AutoPony
Created: 17th January 2021 11:30:03 AM
Modified: 7th April 2021 12:38:39 PM

  1. >You spend the better part of an hour cleaning yourself up after Luna leaves.
  2. >Okay, so it wasn't necessarily needed to clean yourself up physically - it was the emotional rollercoaster you took Luna on that left you feeling just... out of it, in a mental way.
  3. >But hot water and steam does wonders, and after a while, you feel somewhat back in sync with reality again.
  4. >After experiencing the chill in the air earlier, you throw on a pullover sweater rather than mess with a coat.
  5. >Twilight Sparkle always seems to prefer a cooler temperature in her library.
  6. >Knowing her, there's some sort of scientific logic behind it.
  7. >Nonetheless, you grab a small bag of granola out of your cupboard and munch on it while you make your way outside and off toward the heart of Ponyville.
  8. >You're sure to be mindful of your step, as it appears last night's storm was quite the soaker.
  9. >Standing water dots the lower-lying areas as well as the ditches, a testament to how hard the rain came down in only the hour or so that it lasted.
  10. >It has left the air feeling rather heavy - but the humidity no doubt makes it feel just a bit warmer than it actually is, as far as temperature is concerned.
  11. >Nonetheless, it is business as usual for the citizens of Ponyville, as you spy the market stalls you visited yesterday occupied by the usual suspects.
  12. >Ponies come and go through the streets, the daily rush uninhibited by the puddles and mud.
  13. >But your gaze remains focused on the giant tree ahead of you - the good old Golden Oaks Library.
  14. >Maybe Spike will be there today.
  15. >It's been a little while since you last saw him - you swear, for a baby dragon, he is always on the go.
  16. >Well, on the go for a quick errand, or trying for a go at his crush, Rarity.
  17. >Then again, what qualifies as a baby in dragon years?
  18. >Maybe that's something you'll have to ask at some point.
  19. >A few passing greetings later, you find yourself at the doorstep of the library - whose door is surprisingly marked by a 'Closed' sign.
  20. >What the heck?
  21. >Even though you know better, you instinctively turn and look up at the sky.
  22. >If the sun isn't quite yet at its zenith, it's damn close.
  23. >Still, you're here, may as well try to knock.
  24. >Hopefully everything is alright...
  25. >Reaching out and giving a quick rap to the solid wood door, it is a matter of moments before you hear movement on the other side.
  26. >The door opens inward with a groan, just wide enough for you to see who has answered.
  27. "Hey, Spike!" you greet the little dragon warmly as you squat down.
  28. >"Anonymous, I didn't expect to see you today," he cheers, reaching out to you with a fist.
  29. >You oblige him with a light fist bump before he swings the door open wide for you.
  30. >"Come on in," he beckons with a wave as you stand up straight again.
  31. "Sure, if you don't mind," you reply, cautiously pointing to the closed sign on the door.
  32. >"Oh, don't worry about that. It's just the library that's formally closed today - and if somepony needed something, Twilight would be more than happy to help," he explains with a dismissive wave.
  33. >Sated by his reassuring words, you step inside the library, the door swinging shut behind you before Spike scampers ahead.
  34. >"Hey Twilight, look what I found outside!" Spike shouts into the main room.
  35. > It's only now that your attention is drawn to the mess that lies ahead.
  36. >Books are strewn *everywhere.*
  37. >All the shelves along the walls have seemingly spewed their contents upon the floor and every other flat surface available.
  38. >All the while, a purple unicorn stands in the middle of the disaster area, juggling a few times within the magenta glow of her magic.
  39. >But Spike's call snaps Twilight from her inner musings as she looks over and spies you.
  40. >"Anonymous, hi," she chimes in, before taking stock of the predicament you have found her in.
  41. >"It isn't what it looks like," she laments.
  42. "What does it look like?" you ask with amusement, folding your arms with a smirk.
  43. >"A catastrophe," Spike mumbles quietly.
  44. >But not quiet enough, as Twilight shoots him a sharp glare.
  45. >Yet it softens quickly, as Twilight can't stifle a giggle despite her best attempts with a hoof up to her muzzle.
  46. >"I suppose this does look pretty bad - I didn't intend to get this carried away," Twilight admits.
  47. >"Twilight, when it comes to anything with reading or learning, I *always* assume you will get carried away," Spike replies, pointing one of his clawed digits at the lavender mare.
  48. "What the heck were you trying to accomplish, Twilight?"
  49. >"A whole shipment of new books came in yesterday afternoon," Twilight says as she motions with a hoof over to a stack of boxes off in the corner of the room. "I decided this morning, rather than just cramming the new books anywhere I could find space, it would be better to organize everything on the shelves in a more orderly fashion."
  50. "And the best idea was to pull everything off of the shelves at once?" you ask, not bothering to mask your skepticism.
  51. >"Don't judge me," Twilight retorts, raising up her nose indignantly with her eyes closed.
  52. >Before you can respond, Twilight abruptly shifts her gaze back to you.
  53. >Looking somewhat startled, she leans to either side, trying to evidently catch a glimpse of something behind you.
  54. "Is my shadow that interesting?" you asked, scratching your head as you turn to gander your surroundings.
  55. >"Where is Luna?"
  56. >"Luna? You mean Princess Luna? Princess Celestia's sister?" Spike interrupts, scratching his head as you look over at him.
  57. >"Spike, I told you about this two days ago during dinner after I met her," Twilight replies, almost scolding him.
  58. >"Sorry. I was pretty tired after a day of gem hunting with Rarity," Spike apologizes, before letting out a dreamy sigh. "She's amazing - sensing even the tiniest fragment of a gem under the ground."
  59. >Both you and Twilight can't help but roll your eyes at his wistful musings.
  60. >Even though the gesture is merely done in light-hearted jest, you can't help but feel a bit guilty.
  61. >The past few days with Luna...
  62. >You sort of understand how Spike gets carried away with his thoughts and feelings for Rarity.
  63. >Hell, you'd love nothing more than to be with Luna right now - it's a noticeable void without her here beside you.
  64. >"Anonymous."
  65. >Drawn back to reality, you sense Twilight's eyes studying you before you even look down at her.
  66. "Sorry, just had a stray thought catch me."
  67. >"First time that's ever happened, huh?"
  68. >The comment and the smirk that follows from Twilight Sparkle takes you by surprise.
  69. "Wow, that's mighty snarky of you, Twi," you joke, laughing as the bit finally processes in your mind.
  70. >"You only have yourself to blame - I learned it from you," she teases back.
  71. "Touche - that was a pretty good one," you agree, before returning to the beginning of the whole conversation. "Anyway, long story short, Luna went back to Canterlot to attend a function. She said she would probably be back tonight or tomorrow," you explain.
  72. >"Gotcha," Twilight says with a nod. "How have the lessons been going?"
  73. >You reach down and grab a few books, looking them over before turning your attention to Twilight.
  74. "If you want, I can help you clean up this place and organize while we talk," you suggest. "I actually came here for a book, but I don't think I'd be able to find it as is."
  75. >Twilight's eyes seem to light up with stars as a smile instantly manifests upon her face, the unicorn trotting in place with the excitement of your mere suggestion.
  76. >"Careful Anon, or you'll be stuck here all day," Spike comments.
  77. "Hey, it helps you out to have someone else here working, doesn't it?"
  78. >Realization dawns upon Spike as his eyes widen.
  79. >He quickly nods his head, a goofy grin plastered upon his face in an exaggerated fashion.
  80. >"Hey, the more the merrier! It will be fun!" he shouts.
  81. "Okay, you're laying it on a bit too thick, now," you jest with a coy smile.
  82. >Spike's face returns to normal as he shrugs.
  83. >"I know you won't leave me hanging."
  84. "Wouldnt dream of it - especially because it's been some time between since we last talked and now," you say, before turning back to Twilight, who has also simmered down.
  85. "So, how can I help?"
  86. >"Do you know the Dewey Decimal system?" she asks.
  87. "I... not offhand," you say, feeling somewhat vulnerable at being put on the spot without notice. "I know it's a whole number system that goes in order. But isn't that how you had this place organized before tearing it apart?"
  88. >"Well, yes," Twilight replies with an awkward pause as she looks over at the nearest heap.
  89. >She turns and faces the wall of shelves behind her as she begins motioning with her horn.
  90. >"It was in a spiral around the room before, descending down the shelves as the row would complete itself. But I want to go across one shelf, then down, across -"
  91. "Until you get to the bottom shelf, then you move onto the next row of shelves beside it, starting at the top," you finish for her.
  92. >Twilight turns and nods, beaming proudly.
  93. "But did you really have to take everything off the shelves at once?"
  94. >"That's what I tried telling her," Spike sighs.
  95. "You could have taken the books below the top shelf that begins the sequence, then taken from the shelves that are already in sequence and placed them down there," you explain, pointing to your directions as you explain them.
  96. >Twilight follows your motions with her eyes, before looking back down at the floor.
  97. >After a moment of inflection of your explanation, she lets out an exasperated groan.
  98. >"Wow, I feel stupid," she grumbles.
  99. "You're not stupid, Twilight - you're not even close to being stupid," you console her. "You just... you're impulsively dorky."
  100. >The comment draws Twilight's head upward instantly.
  101. >"Hey! You know that's not really a compliment!" she protests.
  102. "I never claimed it was. It isn't really an insult either," you say with a grin. "Now, I got all day - why don't we see if the three of us can get this all tidied up?"
  103. >"Well... alright," Twilight replies, trying to sound as if she really has to debate with herself about this. "I think that pile over there is where the sequence starts - you don't need to walk back and forth to the shelf putting them up there - just sort them out and make sure they go together."
  104. >With a short salute, you carefully shuffle through the discord that surrounds you and over to the directed area.
  105. >Spike returns to an area he was evidently occupied with just before you interrupted, while Twilight's magic twists its way through another stack nearby.
  106. >"So, you've been giving Princess Luna lessons on... what, exactly?" Spike asks.
  107. "Well, I was originally tasked with teaching her how to make friends," you start, receiving a confused glance from Twilight out of the corner of your vision.
  108. >"You mean like Twilight's friendship lessons? Really?" Spike interjects.
  109. "Yeah, sort of," you say, finally spotting a book with a low numbered decimal tagged upon the binding. "Luna is - well, she *was* - sort of reluctant to be sociable other than during her formal duties. Things changed a lot between before her banishment and afterward."
  110. >"Oh yeah.."
  111. >You look up to see Spike scratching the back of his head, his face lined with unease and a touch of embarrassment.
  112. "Don't worry about it, Spike," you reassure him.
  113. >"What do you mean you 'originally' were teaching Luna friendship?" Twilight interrupts with her own question.
  114. "I still sort of am, but that really wasn't the problem," you answer, turning to find Twilight studying you with an air of skepticism. "You saw it the first day - after you got the awkward past cleared out between the two of you, I didn't have much input. You and Luna just hit it off."
  115. >"Right, but that was just the first day," Twilight reminds you.
  116. "Yep. And then yesterday, Luna hit it out of the park with not only Applejack, but Fluttershy as well last night. Heck, Luna got *me* to finally speak with Fluttershy, Twi," you press further. "I'm surprised you didn't at least hear about Luna helping out Applejack."
  117. >"I was in the basement most of the day," she replies, shuffling a hoof anxiously. "I found an old book with a whole set of manipulation spells I'd never seen before, and wanted to see if I could test them for myself."
  118. "I'm not shaming you, I was just curious. Ponyville's such a tight community - I should have known you got yourself lost in some sort of magic or science. But anyway, Luna's been doing great - which made me realize, it's never been that she doesn't know how to make friends - she's had a major confidence problem."
  119. >"You mean getting past her... well, her past, right?" Twilight inquires.
  120. "Sort of. I mean, that is a fair amount of it. Luna has been finding herself while she has been staying with me - separating herself from the title of Princess and understanding she can interact with others, and not just because of being royalty."
  121. >"Wait, Luna has been actually living with you this whole time?"
  122. >You glance back over at Twilight, who stares somewhat incredulously.
  123. "Yeah. Why go through all the trouble of traveling back and forth? I have plenty of room in my house," you reply.
  124. >"I guess I wouldn't think she-"
  125. >Twilight stops her response back before she gets very far.
  126. >You already sense where she was headed.
  127. "Luna has been enjoying all the little things life outside the glitz and glamour of Canterlot and the castle," you clarify. "I think the experience has really been helpful in being sociable and gaining confidence back. I'll be honest, I worried that my house lacked in the luxury department - and I'm not a world-class chef either. But Luna insisted that wasn't an issue. I love her  - I'm glad she chose to stay with me."
  128. >"You... want to run that by me again, Anon?"
  129. >This time, it's Spike who is peering at you over a mound of paper and leather.
  130. "What? I said, 'I love-'
  131. >'I love her.'
  132. >Whoops.
  133. "I love *having* her, as in staying with me. I'm glad she decided to do so," you quickly explain.
  134. >Despite the easy out, you still feel yourself growing hot.
  135. >"Relax, I'm just ribbing you," Spike says with a laugh.
  136. "I know, that was just kind of an awkward slip of the tongue on my end," you reply.
  137. >It might not be a really big deal to tell these two - after all, you trust both Twilight Sparkle and Spike as good friends.
  138. >But you also know how word tends to spread, whether it's meant to be spoken about or not.
  139. >One pony in particular comes to mind...
  140. >Rarity.
  141. >Bless her heart, she's done so much for you in terms of getting you comfortable and fitted with good clothes and proper weather gear.
  142. >Almost always for nothing.
  143. >'The experience of a whole new design is more than enough,' in her words.
  144. >Though you've always insisted on helping with odd jobs for her in her boutique.
  145. >Even with her generosity, you know she is quite the socialite - and a gossip.
  146. >She can keep a secret - as long as it isn't something too spicy.
  147. >A monkey man dating one of the princesses of Equestria?
  148. >That's about Carolina Reaper on the hot scale.
  149. >The problem isn't necessarily that you and Luna have confessed feelings for one another - it's the simple fact that she is supposed to be under your tutelage.
  150. >You feel like Celestia was at least somewhat privy to her little sister's feelings for you - but there's no way to be sure aside from bluntly asking her.
  151. >Luna had her own reservations the night both of you confessed your romantic interests to each other.
  152. >Finding out by gossip or a front-page blurb would probably not be a welcome notice for Celestia.
  153. >This is something you and Luna are going to have to figure out.
  154. >Even if that's a tightrope walk in and of itself.
  155. >After all, it's been what, two days?
  156. >Sure, you feel like you've known her forever, and you want to be with her.
  157. >Obviously, some of that might be the months you and she spent inside your dreams, even if you cannot consciously recall at this time.
  158. >But the connection between you two is still young - maybe too young at this point.
  159. >There's a lot to consider - and this isn't the time for it.
  160. >"How much longer do you think she will be in Ponyville, since she's apparently doing so well after just a couple of days?" Twilight asks as you hand over a stack of sorted books.
  161. >True to her word, Twilight seems to have at least pulled apart the library in an orderly fashion - once you found the start of the sequence, the rest were virtually in line.
  162. >Maybe this place isn't such a disaster after all.
  163. "Hard to say, Twi - but I was a little worried about that, too," you admit. "But, Luna insists she has no issue coming back to visit her friends here in Ponyville. That being said, there was never a time table set, nor a specific goal."
  164. >"Well that's good she wants to stay in touch with you - by the sounds of it, you mean quite a bit to her," Twilight replies cheerfully, satisfied with your answer.
  165. >Oh Twilight, you have no idea how true your musing rings.
  166. >"How the heck did you two even meet if you live here and she lives out - well, in Canterlot? Did I miss something big within the last few days?"
  167. >"As I explained to you before Spike - Luna managed to help Anon with a series of nightmares he was having," Twilight answers the little dragon, her tone almost offering almost motherly disapproval of his ignorance.
  168. >Spike's reaction is one of utter defeat, as he hangs his head unhappily at Twilight's lashing.
  169. >"I said I was sorry, Twi," he mutters.
  170. >You feel your heartstrings being tugged - while you thought Twilight was being a little harsh before, seeing Spike so morose just makes you want to grab her and make her apologize right now.
  171. >But the glum state of her assistant seems to be enough to snap Twilight from her pit of agitation, her features softening as she shakes her head.
  172. >"You're right, Spike - it's not fair of me to keep harping on you," she apologizes. "You were pretty tired that night - and come to think of it, I don't think I explained how everything came about. I'm letting my own frustration of a mess that I've made cloud my judgement and my actions. I'm sorry."
  173. >"Thanks, Twilight. I really didn't mean to ignore you or forget what you told me," Spike says, his energy returning as he raises his head.
  174. >"I know you didn't, but thank you," she says.
  175. >Both of them take the few steps needed to close the distance and give each other a quick hug.
  176. > Twilight can be a little intense sometimes, but she always comes around in the end and rights her wrongs.
  177. >She just really needs to quit being so damn high strung in the first place.
  178. >"Did you or Luna ever figure out why you didn't remember her being in your dreams," Twilight asks, returning to the interrupted topic.
  179. >Finding it best to play stupid rather than come up with a lie, you shrug.
  180. "Something different between the way dreams work in my mind, I guess," you state flatly. "It was always uncommon for me to remember my dreams, at least back where I came from."
  181. >You hand off yet another group of books to Twilight, who levitates them out of your arms and up onto the shelf.
  182. "And for what it's worth, you at least tore everything off the shelves in an orderly fashion. This isn't going to take as long as it seems."
  183. >"Thanks, Anon," Twilight replies, giving you a relaxed, heartfelt smile for the first time since arriving today.
  184.  
  185. * * * * *
  186.  
  187. >Sure enough, the task of sorting out the Golden Oaks Library was nowhere near as daunting as it seemed from a glance.
  188. >But it still took a fair chunk of the day to get it finished.
  189. >Twilight stopping to peruse a book that abruptly caught her eye halted the process on more than one occasion.
  190. >Aside from that, it was casual small talk amongst the three of you.
  191. >"You mentioned you came over here for a book today, didn't you?"
  192. >Finishing up one of the shortbread cookies Twilight provided as a thank you, you nod your head fervently.
  193. "I'm glad you remembered, I probably would have gotten home before realizing it slipped my mind," you reply. "What do you have for information on the Everfree Forest. Anything at all?"
  194. >You barely get to wrap up your inquiry before practically seeing the gears whirring in Twilight's head as she takes a bite from her own remaining cookies.
  195. >Her eyes narrow with suspicion as she stops chewing.
  196. "I'm not thinking of going in there alone just because I have a vague idea of what awaits," you quickly add in an attempt to dispel Twilight's skepticism.
  197. >Shockingly, her accusatory stare relents with your interjection as she resumes her snack.
  198. >"What exactly are you trying to find, Anon?" Twilight asks, tilting her head as she finishes up her baked treat. " That's an odd and very broad subject to pop up out of nowhere."
  199. >Meanwhile, Spike hops out of his chair and patters over to a shelf on the other side of the room.
  200. >Evidently, he's already on the case.
  201. "The wildlife and plants - basically anything to do with the forest in terms of what inhabits the place. As for your concern - I did say I wasn't going *alone,* so that should help you connect the dots."
  202. >"You mean to tell me Princess Luna is interested in the Everfree?" Twilight instantly responds.
  203. "Well, that's where her old castle is, isn't it?"
  204. >"It's not a cozy vacation home, I can tell you that much," Spike says as he returns to the table and the conversation.
  205. >He plops down a worn, leather-bound book beside you, before hopping back up into his chair.
  206. "That was quick. You starting to pick up on Twilight's lunacy and memorizing the whole catalog?" you tease him
  207. >"I do not have everything memorized, Anon," Twilight sasses.
  208. "But you are close, aren't you? Don't lie," you poke back at her.
  209. >"Okay, I have a fair chunk of it memorized," she relents. "But I don't understand - Spike is right, the whole castle is in ruins. And I can't imagine being there brings back good memories."
  210. "That's the same thing I said, Twilight," you say, pausing a moment.
  211. >You reflect back upon last night and this morning.
  212. >There was a lot of pain there that you unleashed all at once.
  213. >But hell, Luna brought back some good times you had completely forgotten about.
  214. >Because you were afraid of everything else that lay behind that door.
  215. "Hiding from things that make us unhappy makes us miss out on the joyous little things. It's taken me a while to understand that, and it took Luna going through her own trials for me to see it. There are memories of pain that will probably resonate for her - but Luna's focus is upon the good times she had."
  216. >Twilight gives you a very queer expression as she tries to fully discern your message.
  217. >"I feel like I'm missing a big chunk of information here, Anon," she admits, leaning in just a bit as if interrogating you.
  218. "I know. I will have to explain everything later - but not today. I'm not ready."
  219. >Twilight's face softens up as she returns to an upright posture, though her eyes remain on you.
  220. >"Okay. After you spent your whole afternoon helping us out, I suppose the least I can do is leave your explanation at that."
  221. "Thanks, Twi. I won't leave you out of the loop forever, I swear on it. There's just some things better left private for now."
  222. >As the clock on the wall strikes the top of the hour, it begins its symbolic chiming, only ceasing after it gives off four distinct rings.
  223. >Damn, time flies when you're having fun.
  224. "I should probably get going - I doubt Luna will be back yet, but I don't want her to return to an empty house and wondering where the hell I ran off to, either."
  225. >Rising up to your feet and grabbing the last two cookies on your plate, you head for the door, Twilight alongside you on the left, while Spike trails behind.
  226. >"Thanks again for the help, Anon," Twilight says as her magic aura opens the door for you.
  227. "Hey, don't mention it. I would have been more helpful if I had arrived before you started tearing books out of the walls," you reply with a half chuckle.
  228. >As you step out into the sunlight again, and turn to say goodbye, you find Spike has followed you outside.
  229. >"I'll be inside in just a moment, Twi," he says to her. "Just want to ask Anon something. Private bro talk thing."
  230. >You can't help but grin in amusement at Spike using the term 'bro talk,' but otherwise keep it together.
  231. >After all, he heard it from you on more than one occasion when desiring to speak with him one-on-one.
  232. >It was just a fun camaraderie sort of thing since both of you are vastly outnumbered by mares.
  233. >But there have been a few instances where it's a true heart-to-heart, when one of you is feeling troubled.
  234. >Albeit caught unaware by the request, Twilight nods with her own visible amusement as she looks up and waves at you.
  235. >"Take care of yourself Anon, and say hi to Luna for me when she gets back."
  236. "Will do. See you later."
  237. >As the door gently shuts, you turn your full attention to Spike, crouching down to get closer to his eye level.
  238. "What's up, Spike? Nothing wrong, I hope?" you ask, feeling just a bit concerned at the abrupt request.
  239. >Thankfully, he shakes his head.
  240. >in the back of your mind, you harbored some concern that maybe Twilight Sparkle giving Spike a hard time today wasn't an isolated incident.
  241. >Sure, he's sort of her assistant - but sort of like family, too.
  242. >Sometimes, you consider if she just pushes him a bit too hard.
  243. >But he's never expressed any woes or concerns when alone.
  244. >"I'm good, Anon, but thanks for asking," he replies. "I was just wondering - is everything good with you?"
  245. "Yeah, I think so," you reply slowly scratching your head as you ponder what has him questioning you. "Did I say or do something out of the ordinary?"
  246. >"Eh, you usually give Twilight a bit more of a hard time than that. You know, wisecracks and stuff like that," Spike elaborates, shrugging his shoulders. "You did seem a little preoccupied every now and then, too."
  247. "Aw, it's nothing, Spike. Just a bit of adjustment after having been a mentor for two days. Have to be on my best behavior, you know?"
  248. >While Spike nods his head, he doesn't seem wholly convinced of your dismissal.
  249. >You don't really blame him - he's sharp enough to have caught on to you acting a bit different, a half-spun excuse won't be enough.
  250. >Maybe you owe him the truth - at least a smidge.
  251. >He is around Rarity a lot - but he also takes the time with you very seriously.
  252. >Especially keeping what is discussed purely between the two of you.
  253. >This is the ultimate test.
  254. "Spike, between you and me, I now understand why you act the way you do around your crush. I can't really rib so on that much anymore."
  255. >Spike's brow furrows as he deciphers your cryptic explanation.
  256. >Slowly, he thumbs back to the door to the treebrary behind him, uncertain of himself.
  257. "Nope."
  258. >The answer brings a spark to his mind as his eyes widen.
  259. >"Oh wow, you mean L-"
  260. "Yes," you reply curtly, stopping him short. "But you didn't hear anything."
  261. >"Hear what?" he replies, letting a coy smile crack his face.
  262. >He sticks his fist out to you, which you bump with your own.
  263. "Thanks, Spike. Knew I could count on you. Take care of yourself."
  264. >As you rise back up straight, Spike Waves as he takes the few steps back needed to reach his door.
  265. >"See ya Anon, and good luck."
  266. >And with that, you set off for home, eagerly awaiting the presence of Luna once again tonight.
  267.  
  268.  
  269.  
  270.  
  271. >Okay, there's a *lot* of plants that need to be avoided in the Everfree Forest.
  272. >As in 'holy shit, don't touch anything," sort of amounts.
  273. >Once you got home from the library, you decided to go ahead and begin flipping through the book on your own.
  274. >Its been quite the eye-opener.
  275. >You've got the standard fare even you know about - poison ivy, oak, and sumac.
  276. >Equestria has a fourth 'poison x,' that being poison joke.
  277. >While the effects are in essence harmless, they vary widely - this plant apparently possesses magic that can screw with anyone touching it - though the effects are temporary.
  278. >The vivid blue at least makes it memorable.
  279. >Just like Earth, you got the berries to avoid unless you're looking to ingest toxicity.
  280. >It lists many plants whose leaves or petals are harmful if ingested as well - helpful information for a true herbivore like a pony, not as much of an issue for you.
  281. >And then, there's the off-the-wall, Mother-Nature-is-pissed-at-everyone sort of flora.
  282. >You recall nightshade from your world, at least the name.
  283. >It is doubtful such a flower did anything near what nightshade does in Equestria.
  284. >One only needs to brush against its petals to inflict terrifying hallucinations.
  285. >Evidently, that's why it's also called the 'nightmare flower.'
  286. >How sweet.
  287. >You're almost expecting to find giant venus fly traps exist, large enough to eat ponies and other unfortunate souls whole.
  288. >But why skip around when there are so many other horrors to be had?
  289. >To think, you haven't gotten to the animal section yet - there could be more dangerous creatures that Luna had forgotten about or was not aw-
  290. >A knock at the door pulls you from your inner musings.
  291. >Glancing over at the clock on the wall, it is only beginning to creep past 6:30.
  292. >Could Luna be back already?
  293. >Then again, would she knock rather than just come in?
  294. >Well, probably.
  295. >But who else would it be?
  296. >You hardly ever get visitors.
  297. >Another series of knocks on the door tells you to stop thinking about it and just find out.
  298. >Sliding your chair away from the desk and climbing to your feet, you make quick strides to your door and open it.
  299. >Well, it is an alicorn.
  300. >Just not the one you would expect.
  301. "Princess Celestia?"
  302. >The solar diarch gives a warm smile at your befuddled greeting.
  303. >"Indeed I am," she says. "How are you this evening, Anonymous?"
  304. >Your eyes instinctively dart behind her, seeing if Luna is playing coy right behind her.
  305. >She's not.
  306. >Ypur palms start sweating as you ponder why Celestia - the princess that has been ruling Equestria solo while Luna has been under your guidance - would travel all this way to meet with you.
  307. >There's no way Luna caused any trouble - right?
  308. "Good, I suppose. Just - well, I'm surprised to see you here," you admit.
  309. >Celestia gives off a light chuckle as she tilts her head.
  310. >"My mere presence has already gotten you worked up a bit, hasn't it? That was not my intention," she says. "May I come in and perhaps explain myself?"
  311. "Of course," you quickly acquiesce, stepping aside while holding the door for her.
  312. >As she basically stands eye-to-eye with you, Celestia has to slightly bow her head to prevent her horn from striking the doorframe.
  313. >She halts in the middle of the room between your bed and your desk while you close the door, but not before taking a quick peek in all directions.
  314. >Nope, no gawkers.
  315. "You can sit or lay on the bed if you like," you offer her.
  316. >"That's very kind of you, but you don't need to fuss over me, Anon," she replies as you turn your desk chair around and take a seat.
  317. >Celeatia seems perfectly content to rest her haunches upon the floor, taking a brief gander at your home before her eyes center upon you.
  318. >"This is a cozy little home. You built it yourself, correct?"
  319. "Yeah. I had help of course - mostly with getting materials or when something required more than my pair of hands," you explain.
  320. >Celestia nods her head before clearing her throat.
  321. >"I suppose I should stop letting you stew over the reason I've come here," she says, looking down briefly as if scolding herself. "I had time this evening and Luna has told me much about her progress thus far via her letters - but I want to hear from you. How is my sister doing?"
  322. "Great, she's been - she's been doing really good," you manage to spit out, caught off balance by the sudden and unexpected question. "But, I thought you were busy with - Luna said that you two were expecting visitors from..."
  323. >"Saddle Arabia, yes," Celestia finishes for you, as her smile seems to grow even more. "Luna surprised me with how warm and engaging she was with our guests - and afterward, she suggested I take some time for myself, considering I had been doing the workload normally distributed between us. I took her up on the offer."
  324. >Well damn, you had hoped Luna would do well today - but by the sounds of it, she knocked it out of the park by Celestia's expectations.
  325. >Of course, that probably means...
  326. "Do you still want me to... am I supposed to be helping her still after today, or was that like her graduation exam."
  327. >Rather than an answer, Celestia merely gives you a coy smile for a moment.
  328. >"I have to know - how did you help my sister open up, Anon?" she asks.
  329. "Magicians aren't supposed to give away their secrets, Princess," you joke, being mindful to retain some form of formality despite her apparent playfulness.
  330. >"There's no need for titles, Anon. I'm here at my leisure," she replies with a wave of her hoof and a slight chuckle. "But in all seriousness, I had not expected Luna to take such a leap forward in her social skills."
  331. "Well, that's sort of the key thing - her social skills and ability to make acquaintances were fine. She just lacked self-esteem."
  332. >Celestia looks startled by your explanation, her smile dissipating in the blink of an eye.
  333. >"What do you mean?"
  334. >Feeling a bit embarrassed at basically just telling the princess she was wrong, you feel yourself growing warm while you push onward.
  335. "It doesn't really seem to be a secret what happened to Luna around here - I'm guessing it's just common knowledge?" you suggest in an attempt to lead her in the right direction.
  336. >Celestia does not look comfortable with the topic as she shuffles her folded wings.
  337. >"It is only very recently that Equestria has learned of what befell my sister - or that I ever had a sibling to begin with," Celestia replies quietly. "Of course, there were legends and tales scattered about history, but considering Luna and I are the only two who still live with knowledge of the night I banished her... I think you can understand why I was never particularly keen about discussing the matter before it faded into lore."
  338. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad Celestia, I just-"
  339. >"No, I'm quite alright, Anon. But I appreciate your concern," she interrupts, giving you a quick, heartfelt smile. "I assume you only brought it up because Luna had concerns about how ponies would approach her and react to her, based upon her past."
  340. "Yes. Oh, and also the whole being a princess thing. You know, being a bit reserved or afraid considering she is one of their rulers."
  341. >Celestia nods fervently in understanding, even as she emits a chuckle.
  342. >"Sort of like how my presence has had the same effect upon you, yes?"
  343. "Good point," you admit, letting a chuckle relieve the little tension you had left. "I really didn't think through that question and explanation."
  344. >"Well, just as you implied, it is common knowledge now - but it still is not easy to discuss," Celestia says. "But I'm glad that was her major hiccup in regards to wanting to connect with others. And I am glad that you brought up our past, because it indirectly answers your question."
  345. >...what.
  346. >Apparently your silence and absolutely deadpanned stare is enough for Celestia to continue.
  347. >"I never meant for my sister to be banished, Anon. I used the Elements of Harmony upon her without truly understanding what would happen - because I could think of no other alternative in the heat of the moment," she explains, her voice filled with contempt as she explains her motives. "I must admit, I still do not know what I could have done differently at that exact moment in time - but I do know that my actions resulted in my little sister missing out on a millennia of life."
  348. >While you try to discern the direction Celestia is steering you with this anecdote, you merely nod your head.
  349. >"I carry a lot of guilt about that, Anon. Who was right and who was wrong matters little - that was a thousand years' worth of moments and experiences that I was gifted with, but that of which Luna was left devoid. To be honest, I had not anticipated that Luna was lacking in self-confidence - but I also had not truly delved into helping my sister, I'm afraid."
  350. "To be fair, you *do* rule over all of Equestria. It's not like you have tons of free time, right?" you suggest trying to alleviate some of Celestia's reservations.
  351. >She remains relatively muted in her expression as she shakes her head.
  352. >"I sincerely appreciate your efforts, but that is not a valid excuse, Anon," she rebuffs. "I suppose my biggest qualm and reservation regarding helping my sister is -"
  353. >She pauses for a moment, finding the words to speak her mind, while you remain dead silent.
  354. >"How do you ask somepony what is wrong when you are the direct cause of the underlying issue?" Celestia finally finishes. "The bottom line is I still struggled to find a way to speak to Luna, because I am the reason she has struggled so mightily since her return."
  355. >Silence pervades your home as you both sit there, processing her words that hang in the air.
  356. >Clearly, Celestia has internally struggled with her own morality all this time - to the point she hasn't felt capable or worthy of trying to aid her sister's transition back into Equestria.
  357. >All the while, Luna was also feeling unworthy of her sister's attentions or discussions about what transpired, because of what *she* had done.
  358. >What a mess.
  359. >You're glad you were able to alleviate some of this tension, but it's obvious this is a deep wound that will take much more time to heal, even if it seems to have mended itself on the surface.
  360. "She's talked about you quite a bit."
  361. >Your comment from of the blue catches Celestia by surprise, causing her whole body to seemingly perk up.
  362. >"What do you mean?" she asks, her voice making it clear she still feels somewhat apprehensive.
  363. >You glance over at your countertop, where dishes from this morning still lay waiting to be washed.
  364. "She told me how you were her caretaker for a long time - before... everything. She said you were one heck of a cook," you explain, turning back to the solar princess.
  365. >Not expecting to hear something so personal, Celestia's cheeks turn a bright shade of red as she unfurls a wing, partly obscuring her face.
  366. >"Well, I'm no world-class chef, but I suppose I did alright for my time," she replies with a slight chuckle. "To tell you the truth, I had forgotten about some of that."
  367. "Luna didn't - she has fond memories. Even if she didn't inherit your culinary gifts."
  368. >"Oh, she didn't give it enough time, I'm afraid," Celestia replies, waving a hoof.
  369. "Nonetheless, anything she's shared with me as far as memories or relics from her past - it's all been positive, Celestia. She's not given me any inkling of bearing ill will or reservations about that night. Other than the first night I met her, which is what spurred her to talk to you."
  370. >"You're telling me I'm the one that isn't letting go of the past," Celestia states bluntly.
  371. >You nod your head.
  372. >Celestia lets out a sigh.
  373. >"It's complicated, Anon. I feel like just forgetting it all, moving past it - just talking about my woes with you completely undermines the struggles of my little sister. As if *I'm* the one that deserves pity."
  374. "I get it, but you shouldn't feel like that. Luna is ready to move on - and she's been enjoying what every day has to offer."
  375. >That comment at least brings a smile back to Celestia's face.
  376. >"And it's been a joy to read her letters. That is why I want her to continue being here with you for as long as she desires, aside from the occasional calls to Canterlot like today."
  377. >Your brain ceases to function or process coherent thoughts with the bombshell Celestia just dropped.
  378. >Celestia wanted you to help Luna find her way - and you managed it with flying colors, by all accounts.
  379. >But it's all up to Luna - not Celestia - as to when a full return to duty is in order.
  380. >"As I said, Luna missed out on a thousand years of life, and I can think of no better way for her to at least make up for some of that lost time by spending it at leisure."
  381. >Oddly, Celestia's magenta eyes dart back and forth across the span of your home, before returning to you, a wing cupping the side of her muzzle as if hiding her words from an unseen pony as she leans forward.
  382. >"And secretly, I believe Luna is smitten by you," she says.
  383. >Despite her impeccable poker face, the silly little charade preceding her statement makes one thing crystal clear.
  384. >Celestia has known all along there's a spark between you and Luna.
  385. >You suspected as much, but it still stuns you to hear it from her.
  386. >Nonetheless, you feel up for going along with the example the princess just provided.
  387. "That's... interesting, to say the least. But what if those feeling were mutually shared, Celestia?" you reply, leaning forward as you eye her intently.
  388. >Abruptly, Celestia sits up straight, her stoic face cracking into a bemused grin.
  389. >"Well, it would be quite the welcome surprise if that were to happen, Anon," she sings.
  390. >While you internally breathe a sigh of relief at that point of contention being resolved mere hours after considering it, Celestia stands.
  391. >"I have truly enjoyed speaking with you today, Anonymous - and you have given me much to consider," she states. "But I should be heading back home, as I did tell Luna I would only be taking a *short* break."
  392. >"Hey, it was a pleasant surprise to talk to you tonight," you reply, rising to your own feet to head for the door.
  393. >But with an outstretched wing, Celestia stops you in your tracks.
  394. "What?"
  395. >"A normal goodbye won't do," she says, unfurling her other wing as she reaches for your form.
  396. >You have to sort of chuckle at seeing Celestia so candid and yearning for a hug, but you're more than happy to oblige.
  397. >Her feathered appendages envelop you as you put your arms around her neck.
  398. >"There is always a place for you in the castle should you and Luna decide to stay for a visit - or longer," she says quietly. "It's the very least I can do."
  399. "I'm sure at some point, I'll be taking you up on that offer."
  400. >Celestia releases you from her embrace and heads for the door, while you open and hold it for her once again.
  401. "So, does Luna know that you came all the way out here?" you ask out of sheer curiosity.
  402. >Once out of the house, Celestia turns to face you.
  403. >"No, but I believe I will inform her of it and some of our discussion. But I will leave it up to your discretion to explain that there is no expected return date for her. I am always happy to have her by my side again, but I also want her to be able to experience what she has missed for so long."
  404. "Alright then. Just... don't be hard on yourself anymore. Talk to your sister, don't hold onto the past too tight."
  405. >While Celestia turns away with a smile, you can't help but notice for one fleeting second, her eyes have become a bit misty.
  406. >"I will, Anonymous. Thank you," she says, before her wings thrust her up into the air.
  407. >A thought materializes in your head as you watch, strong enough that you trek back inside before Celestia dissipates into the wild blue yonder.
  408. >Sitting down at your desk, you pick up the navy blue feather Luna gave you this morning.
  409. >It seems somewhat awkward to write without actually seeing what you're putting down, but you have faith it somehow will manifest itself legible for Luna.
  410. >Okay, you *hope* it manifests legibly.
  411. >Only one way to find out...
  412.  
  413.  
  414. =====
  415.  
  416. Luna,
  417.  
  418. I hope I'm not bothering you while you're preoccupied with something important. I apologize if I did. I have a weird request - next time you see your sister, could you give her a hug? Call me crazy, and I can't explain it, but I have a hunch she needs it. By the way, I was able to get over to Twilight Sparkle's place and got a book on the Everfree. She sends her regards and hopes you're doing well. Can't wait to see you again, whenever that may be.
  419.  
  420. Love,
  421. Anon
  422.  
  423. =====
  424.  
  425.  
  426.  
  427. >*Thunk!*
  428. "Dammit. This isn't getting any easier."
  429. >Frustrated, you plant one of your feet onto the log your hatchet is now buried within and tug.
  430. >It takes a few moments, but you manage to extract the head without stumbling backward too harshly.
  431. >After the discussion with Celestia and all the revelations that had been revealed, you had a surge of second wind that left you wired with energy.
  432. >Splitting wood has always been a good outlet - but it can be a pain in the ass, too.
  433. >Of course, you already had taken care of the softer and more malleable pieces you had, which left the really hard stuff.
  434. >You don't know your wood types at a glance, but with as evil as this particular batch had been, you'd guess elm.
  435. >There was some hope letting it sit for a while would make it a bit easier on you.
  436. >No such luck there.
  437. >Propping up the stubborn log on the stump you had left specifically for this chore, you eye up your mark, lift the hatchet over your head, and heave downward with a grunt.
  438. >*Thwack!*
  439. >This time, your ears are greeted by a sharp crack as you cleave through your target, errant shrapnel flying off as both halves are projected off of the stump and onto the ground.
  440. > It's a pain, but this stuff burns warmer and lasts longer.
  441. >A rather positive tradeoff.
  442. >"I see you're still a hazard to everypony around you when you wield that thing," calls a familiar voice from above.
  443. >Craning your eyes to the orange-tinted sky, you have to spin all the way around before spotting your mystery heckler.
  444. >A cyan blue pony with a wild rainbow-hued mane lazily hovers a few feet above you, her forehooves behind her head as if reclining.
  445. "And a belated hello to you too, Rainbow Dash," you sass back as she smirks. "Perhaps you can show me how to do this a better way?"
  446. >You slide the handle of the axe in your gloved hand down until you're holding onto the steel head, lifting it up and offering it to the pegasus.
  447. >She gives you a look positively dripping with skepticism.
  448. >"I've already done my work for the day," she jokes, leaning backward as she closes her eyes.
  449. "I figured you would have some sort of lame excuse," you tease.
  450. >Rainbow Dash is one of the few ponies with a similar tact of light-hearted, playful jabs like you possess.
  451. >It makes every meeting with her quite the affair.
  452. >But admittedly, she can get on your nerves sometimes as well - and you know you aren't alone in that sense.
  453. >It's a balancing act - but it's one you would rather have than be without.
  454. "So what possessed you to come out and see my neck of the woods, Rainbow?"
  455. >You set your axe down on the stump, taking off your gloves and tossing them next to it.
  456. >"Meh, I figured it had been a while since I bothered you," Dash replies with a shrug, orienting herself upright for the first time since she arrived.
  457. "Yeah, it has been a while. What the heck has kept you so busy?" you ask.
  458. >"Work in Cloudsdale. We've been running behind with weather, if you couldn't tell by the recent lack of rain," she replies with a huff.
  459. "A lack of rain until last night's storm, you mean" you quickly remind her. "They trying to make up the quota in one go?"
  460. >The correction strikes a chord with Rainbow Dash, whose face quickly shifts from smug to anxious as she runs a hoof through her mane.
  461. >"Oh yeah, that," she says with a forced chuckle, completing the ensemble with a sheepish grin.
  462. >Now, you expected that there was a story behind the downpour last night, but Rainbow is usually nonchalant about the idiocy behind the mistakes.
  463. "Oh, it wasn't rookies this time?" you propose with a shit-eating grin.
  464. >"I may or may not have tried to take some shortcuts getting those clouds ready and into place, and it may or may not have spiraled out of control from there," she groans, putting a hoof to her forehead.
  465. "Well, it wasn't *that* bad of a storm - at least the worst thing Ponyville got was a ton of rain," you console her. "Did you catch any flak for it, or just bruise your ego?"
  466. >"Nah, the boss just reprimanded me for trying to cut corners - he knows I'm the best when it comes to cloud duty."
  467. >Indeed, her ego is intact.
  468. "So, you're really good at kissing ass, too."
  469. >Rainbow leers at you, but doesn't have any comment.
  470. "Why the rush to get done, anyway? Aside from being done with work - that's sort of normal."
  471. >"Training, of course," Rainbow replies, puffing out her chest. "I can't get myself out of shape if I ever want to join..."
  472. >She points a hoof at you, waiting for the completion of her sentence.
  473. >You know what the answer is, but it's much more fun to let her stew as you give off stupid replies.
  474. >And yet she keeps going on with this charade every time she mentions-
  475. "The Blue Angels!" you shout triumphantly.
  476. >"No..." Rainbow answers as she eyes you with suspicion.
  477. "Red Arrows?"
  478. >Dash crosses her forelegs, her disapproval quite clear as she just stares.
  479. >You snap your fingers as if struck by an epiphany.
  480. "Monty Python's Flying Circus!"
  481. >"The Wonderbolts!" Rainbow Dash shouts out of sheer frustration, her hooves holding the side of her head. "You do this every time!"
  482. "And yet you still give me the opportunity every time," you reply, not bothering to hide your amusement.
  483. >Rainbow flutters closer to you, socking you on the upper arm with a quick jab of her hoof.
  484. "Ow. You know those hooves can really hurt," you say, holding your arm as you feign an injury.
  485. >"Oh, quit your crying," Dash retorts.
  486. "Well, now you hurt my feelings."
  487. >"You done with the dramatics?"
  488. "Well, you're no fun," you say with indignation, crossing your arms. "Why did you even come over if you had no interest in my shenanigans?"
  489. >"To find out what you did to be put under house arrest."
  490. >You're forced to drop the charade as the absurdity of Dash's comment draws your interest.
  491. "House arrest? What the hell are you talking about?"
  492. >"I heard you were having every move watched by the princesses, and you've hardly been out and about. Twilight told me a few nights ago you were summoned to the castle. I'm surprised you're back so soon."
  493. "If I really did something bad, would it not have been easier to just lock me in the dungeon?" you retort.
  494. >Rainbow pauses, bringing a hoof to her chin as she mulls your response.
  495. "Dash, that wasn't a suggestion. I'm telling you that you're out of your mind," you add.
  496. >"There's something going on, considering the news I heard was you have one of the freaking princesses following you around," Dash presses on.
  497. "Yes, and if I was in trouble, would it not make more sense to have a guard following me around instead?"
  498. >Rainbow only leers at you as you continue to crush her conspiracy theories.
  499. >"What is going on?" she finally responds, giving up her stubborn facade.
  500. "I am helping Princess Luna, as dictated by her older sister, Princess Celestia," you eloquently explain. "She was having some issues readjusting to life, and that was my task."
  501. >"You?"
  502. "Uh-huh."
  503. >"How? Why?" Rainbow Dash sputters, unable to comprehend the idea.
  504. "Because I'm special and very important," you say with a cheeky grin.
  505. >Rainbow bristles with slight irritation at your remark, as she settles down to the ground on her hooves.
  506. >"You aren't going to give me a straight answer, are you?"
  507. "Do you want one? It's not very interesting, in case you were expecting some sort of good story out of it," you say.
  508. >Surprisingly, Dash seems to ease up on her attentive stare with your short warning.
  509. >"Alright, I can probably come up with something more exciting in my head, anyway," she replies, brushing aside her interest from the backstory and onto something else.
  510. >"Is she weird?"
  511. >The blunt question rankles your casual and playful mood for a moment, feeling a bit offended.
  512. "What's that supposed to mean?" you ask, trying to not sound as defensive as you feel internally.
  513. >"Hello? She was gone for a really long time, and then we had to blast her back to normal when she finally did return." Dash states with all the finesse of a drunken fool.
  514. "We?" you reply, your interest in Dash's rough explanation suddenly springing upward.
  515. >"Twilight, me and the rest of our friends."
  516. "You are an Element of Harmony?"
  517. >"Yeah?" Dash responds with more than an air of confusion as she raises an eyebrow. "Why does that surprise you?"
  518. >Genuinely blindsided by the revelation, you don't waste time with a witty remark.
  519. "I just didn't expect to hear that, Dash," you explain. "It's kind of a happy coincidence you're curious about what she's like - Luna wants to meet you."
  520. >Usually so impulsive, the fact that Rainbow Dash is hesitant to reply says a lot about how she feels about the idea.
  521. >But whether it's anxiety, embarrassment, or something else is unclear.
  522. "So far she's met Twilight, AJ, and Fluttershy, so you aren't the first one," you add in an effort to sell the idea. "More than anything, she just wants to apologize for what she did and thank you for, in your words, 'blasting her' with the Elements."
  523. >"Wait, she met Fluttershy? How did that go?" Dash perks up with intrigue.
  524. >You can't help but let out a half chuckle before replying.
  525. "It started out as you would expect with Fluttershy. But it was straightened out pretty quick, believe it or not. I'm genuinely surprised that you aren't aware of any of this."
  526. >"It's not like we're all attached at the hip, Anon," Rainbow says, rolling her eyes.
  527. "I can't imagine what a nightmare that would be to move around, if that were the case," you comment.
  528. >That gets a smirk from the pegasus as well as a light sock to your leg with a hoof.
  529. >"Alright, smartass. Anyway, where is she now?"
  530. "Canterlot, meeting with some dignitaries today," you reply. " It was just an afternoon thing - she left this morning, and she expected to be back yet tonight."
  531. >"But you don't know for sure?"
  532. >Just by her voice and the question, you can tell Dash is not willing to wait around for long.
  533. >You can't hold it against her, especially if she has indeed been kept away from visiting you due to work.
  534. >It really is hard to tell with her sometimes.
  535. "I won't force you to stick around, Rainbow," you concede. " More or less, I just wanted to mention that Luna does want to meet you, as well as the other Elements..."
  536. >Trailing off, you realize you aren't sure how many there are in existence, or who they are, for that matter.
  537. >That would have been a good question for Twilight Sparkle earlier today.
  538. >But Dash more than likely knows, as well.
  539. "Who all is a bearer of the Element thingies, anyway?"
  540. >"Well, obviously me, the Element of Loyalty," Dash quickly replies, puffing her chest out with zealous pride. "You said you met Twilight, who is Magic, Applejack is Honestly, Fluttershy is Kindness - That just leaves Pinkie Pie, who is the Element of Laughter-"
  541. >Shit.
  542. >"-and Rarity, the Element of Generosity."
  543. >Oh *shi-
  544. >Wait, maybe that isn't such a big deal anymore, since Celestia clearly knows about you and Luna.
  545. >But, being plastered all over the news doesn't sound ideal, either.
  546. >Evidently having made some sort of movement or face, Rainbow eyes you with some trepidation.
  547. "Something on your mind?" you ask, playing innocent.
  548. >"I was going to ask you the same thing," Dash retorts. "I know you're not exactly fond of Pinkie, but I thought you were good with Rarity?"
  549. "I am, it's nothing like that," you quickly respond as you hastily come up with some sort of excuse. "It's... well, you know, this time the year tends to be very busy for her what with the cold weather. I'd hate to pull her away from her work."
  550. >The looks she was giving you eases up - apparently, you came off somewhat believable.
  551. >"Yeah, I guess, but I'm sure it wouldn't be that big of a deal. As for Pinkie Pie - she's not that bad, Anon."
  552. "I know, Dash," you sigh. "I don't hate her, she just - I swear she's always on a sugar high."
  553. >"She does work at Sugarcube Corner," Rainbow reminds you with a bit of laughter. "But I get it, she can be a bit over the top."
  554. >Dash glances up at the orange-hued dusk sky for a brief moment, before stretching out her wings.
  555. >"I don't mean to be a jerk, but I really can't wait around too long, especially since you don't know *when* Princess Luna will be back," Dash announces.
  556. >You wave your hand dismissively at the slight concern she holds.
  557. "I just wanted to let you know ahead of time, Rainbow," you reply as you stand up. "Honestly, I'm not absolutely sure she will be back tonight, but she planned on giving it her best shot to ret-"
  558. >A loud crack echoes across the landscape, followed by a thunderous, rumbling boom.
  559. >As a result of your discussion earlier, your eyes are kept glued to Dash, even as she goes wide-eyed and looks up again.
  560. >"Don't even think about pinning this on me," she grumbles, pointing a hoof skyward as she hovers up to your eye level.
  561. >Glancing off to her directed attention, the sky is an odd miasma of color, the dying embers of the sunset rapidly being blotted out by a deep, murky blue that seems to spread outward in all directions.
  562. "You sure that isn't one of your rogue clouds?"
  563. >You can practically feel Dash's magenta eyes burrowing into your very soul as you keep your eyes glued to the curiosity.
  564. >Whatever it is, it slowly begins to fade out in wisps, even as...
  565. >Is that a freaking meteor?
  566. "Dash, what is that?"
  567. >"*That* was a sonic boom," Rainbow replies, the frustration in her voice clear as her rainbow-hued tail flicks in irritation. "And it's a matter of *who* it is. I thought I was the only one that could do that."
  568. "You're telling me ponies can fly at the speed of sound?" you reply, making the skepticism in your voice perfectly clear for your friend as the absurdity of her claim breaks you from the aerial display.
  569. >Rainbow turns her gaze away from the sight as well to focus on you, her face quite cross.
  570. >"I told you I can do that, a sonic rainboom!" she cries, flailing her forelegs in exasperation. "It looks just like that, except - well, rainbowy!"
  571. "Calm down, I thought you were just embellishing things," you reply sheepishly.
  572. >But if it's true that sonic booms apparently end up causing a spectacle like that, you can only think of one mare that could paint the sky in such a serene hue.
  573. >You look back up, only to find your suspect hovering just a foot away from you at eye level.
  574. >"Good evening, dear Anonymous," Luna calmly greets you.
  575. >Just the sound of her sweet voice makes your heart skip a beat as you look into those lustrous turquoise eyes.
  576. >If you didn't have an audience right now, you'd snatch Luna out of mid-air and pepper her snoot with kisses.
  577. >But for now, you have to show restraint.
  578. "Glad to see you could make it back tonight, Luna," you reply drawing your eyes up to the sky to spy the final remnants of her hasty trip wisp away. "I'd say you were in quite the hurry."
  579. >"I... did not know I was capable of such a fear, to be truthful with you," she says, taking a quick glance up before turning her focus onto your other guest. "But by then stars, I had not expected to arrive in time to meet the acquaintance of the Element of Loyalty."
  580. >Startled by her knowledge, both you and Dash exchange glances, even as both she and Luna touch down upon the grassy earth.
  581. >"You know who I am?" Rainbow asks, just before she begins to bow.
  582. >"While I am afraid I do not know your name, I do remember attempting to woo you from your friends upon the night of my return and eventual defeat. Aside from Twilight Sparkle, you are the only pony with whom I directly interacted - and your name is quite unique, as well," Luna explains, taking a step toward Rainbow Dash.
  583. >"I'm Rainbow Dash... should I - am I still supposed to bow?" Rainbow asks, nervous and unsure of the unique situation.
  584. >Luna shakes her head.
  585. >"It is not necessary - I would in fact prefer to set aside the formalities. Hence my lack of regalia. But I do wish to express my sincerest apologies for the unfortunate circumstances upon which we first met, Rainbow Dash - and I thank you for your contributions that allowed me to be freed from the darkness that held my heart for so many years."
  586. >"Aw, it was nothing," Dash replies bashfully, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof.
  587. "Just a moment ago, you were frustrated with Luna because she showed you up by making a sonic boom," you savagely remind her.
  588. >If looks could kill, the sudden leer that Rainbow Dash unleashes upon you would have been instant death.
  589. >"I - that was certainly an unexpected occurrence on my part," Luna says, stretching out her right wing and inspecting the plumage.
  590. >"It's - I wasn't angry," Dash uneasily clarifies. "I just thought I was the only one that could do that. Sort of a pride thing, y'know?"
  591. >The explanation garners a warm and understanding smile from Luna, even as she takes a quick glance at you.
  592. >For your part, you do your best to put on an innocent face.
  593. >It probably doesn't fool her in the slightest, but dammit, you're going to have a little fun with this.
  594. >"Well, I must also admit I have an unfair advantage in the sense of being an alicorn," Luna says. "It allows me to do things that of which are impossible for most others - including augmenting my physical attributes with magic that would allow me to attain ever-faster velocities."
  595. >"You mean... like, you charged your wings to go faster?"
  596. >Luna nods.
  597. >"As I said, I was in a rush to return to An- to Ponyville," she stumbles. "I wanted to be sure I would return to Ponyville before nightfall."
  598. "You could have just delayed raising the moon, too," you tease her.
  599. >The comment gets a bemused glance from Luna.
  600. >"Perhaps. But that would also mean less time that Equestria would enjoy under my wondrous night sky," she gushes.
  601. >Rainbow Dash gazes at both of you with a queer, quizzical expression upon her face, before shaking her head.
  602. >"I wanna see how fast you really are one day, Luna," Dash challenges, fluttering her cyan blue wings.
  603. >"I'm afraid if you are capable of breaking the speed of sound without magic, you have me beaten, Rainbow Dash," Luna dismisses with closed eyes. "Nor would I be quite as agile as you, considering my size compared to you."
  604. >Dash is about to respond, before Luna abruptly flicks open her wings in a wide display.
  605. >"But I would be remiss to turn down a challenge - if only to see how I truly compare," Luna announces, brimming with a quiet confidence and a spark of determination in her eye.
  606. >"Aw yeah, you got it!" Dash cheers, pumping a hoof in the air momentarily.
  607. >"I am afraid it will not be tonight though - there are other matters to which I must attend and discuss," Luna says, glancing back at you again.
  608. >Those words make you wonder if aside from what Celestia may have mentioned of her visit with you, something else between the two of them was discussed.
  609. >Of course, you doubt Luna would be anywhere near this relaxed and playful if it were something serious.
  610. >Still, it nags you a bit - you can't help it.
  611. >"Yeah, I need to get home and get some grub, it's been a long day," Dash acknowledges, thrusting herself into the air with gusto. "You gonna be around Ponyville for a while?"
  612. >"I believe so, yes," Luna confirms with a nod. "It was good fortune that allowed me to meet your acquaintance tonight; it was a pleasure."
  613. >"Yeah, you got here just in the nick of time," Dash says, sticking out a hoof, which Luna eagerly shakes with her own. "I'll be around when you're up for a race."
  614. >Rainbow hovers up to you, her nose mere inches from you as she feigns a stern leer.
  615. >"And I'll get you back later," she says with a telling smirk.
  616. "And I look forward to whatever you throw at me. Goodnight, Dash."
  617. >With those final words, Dash scoots off in a flash, her rainbow hues blurring off into the sky.
  618. >Luna lets out an amused hum, before her horn flares with a familiar blue glow.
  619. >The dying embers of the evening sun extinguish rapidly as Luna's namesake takes its place above the horizon, not wasting a moment to cast its silvery light onto the landscape.
  620. "So, was that really the truth? You use your magic to get you here faster?" you ask, somewhat suspicious and curious of her explanation.
  621. >Luna turns to you, rearing up on her hind legs while her forelegs rest upon your shoulders.
  622. >She leans closer to you, not bothering to hide the mischievous grin that has appeared on her face.
  623. >"I was telling the truth when I said I had never traveled that fast before," she slyly replies.
  624. >You take the opportunity to plant a kiss on the tip of her snout, which elicits a giggle from Luna.
  625. "That didn't really answer my question, though."
  626. >"And what would be the fun in that?" she replies before kissing you back. "But I am glad to be back tonight."
  627. "Glad to have you back. Did you get my message?" you inquire as Luna drops back down to all fours.
  628. >"Indeed I did, and my sister was most gracious for the warm welcome - though I am still left in the dark as to what transpired to request such an action of me," she admits.
  629. "I'm assuming she at the very least told you she paid me a visit?"
  630. >Luna nods, her expression tensing up just a bit as you and her match strides in the short walk to your front door.
  631. >"Yes - but again, she did not spare many details. Celestia implied you would give an explanation in due time," she replies, biting her lip.
  632. "Here I was thinking you had something to discuss with me, from the comment you made to Dash. Had me a bit worried," you admit.
  633. >"I have nothing but positive tales of today's events with which to share - I do hope what news you have is good, as well?"
  634. >As you open the door and usher her inside, you cannot help but crack a grin.
  635. "I think so."
  636.  
  637.  
  638.  
  639.  
  640. "How about now?"
  641. >"...perhaps one more taste?"
  642. "You're just trying to get started with dinner without me, aren't you?"
  643. >As you feign disapproval by placing your hands on your hips, Luna merely giggles at the accusation as she takes another ladle of the soup that simmers on the stove.
  644. >With another sip, she smacks her lips, pausing for a moment to ponder what her palate recommends.
  645. >"Perhaps just a bit more pepper?" she suggests.
  646. "Sounds good to me."
  647. >It wasn't clear whether it was the reassurance that all was good on your end regarding what news you had to divulge, or the mere entry back into the familiar surroundings of your home, but Luna had quickly reverted back to a much more relaxed state once inside.
  648. >In her haste to return, she had skipped out on dinner in Canterlot - and with everything that had taken place today, you hadn't had a proper meal, either.
  649. >So, you and Luna worked together to whip up a batch of vegetable soup as she shared the details of her experience in Canterlot.
  650. >By the sounds of it, the Saddle Arabian dignitaries were rather surprised to see her make an appearance - no doubt because, by Luna's own words, she had never participated in these rituals.
  651. >Nonetheless, as Luna explained various cultural differences and new pieces of information she had learned just from today, it was a positive change for both parties.
  652. >Whether all of that information was new to Celestia as well - that was likely debatable.
  653. >But that mattered little, as it was clear just listening to Luna and hearing the excitement in her voice as she continued that she had let go of any reservations about herself early on.
  654. >Though you still can't wrap your head around the idea of a nationality with "saddle" as part of their name... or the fact that they actually *wear* them, in addition to bridles.
  655. >You don't intend to share the difference between this world and your former world.
  656. >As dinner is finally ready and you ladle out two bowls of food, the topic shifts.
  657. >"I did not intend to drone on as long as I did - how did your day progress?" Luna asks as you both take a seat at your cleared-off desk.
  658. "I think it went pretty well - as I mentioned, I got a book on the Everfree," you reply, pointing to the book still on the edge of the desk. "I started going through it a bit - holy crap are there a lot of plants to avoid."
  659. >"I suppose I should not be surprised, considering the wildlife has become much more feral as time has passed. While I had not planned upon picking any flowers or other foliage to bring home with us, it only reaffirms that it will take the utmost care and attention to steer clear of trouble," Luna muses, blowing away some of the steam from her soup. "But what about wildlife - were there any creatures I failed to take into account?"
  660. >You can only shrug as you tepidly take a spoonful of your own bowl and attempt to start eating - before thinking better of likely burning yourself, just by feeling the steam coming off of it.
  661. "I didn't get past the plant section - that was sort of my main focus, since you admitted you were hazy on that," you explain.
  662. >"Understandable - but I am afraid this was left upon the stove too long," Luna chuckles.
  663. "Yeah, a little bit. I don't know what I was thinking leaving it on the heat while we were deciding on seasoning," you admit, taking a moment to blow at your own bowl of soup.
  664. >"Well, since we must wait a bit to actually eat dinner, perhaps you can go into detail regarding what my sister had to say?" she suggests, a pleading smile growing on her face with every spoken word.
  665. "I'm surprised you've been this patient, Luna, you reply back. "I can't say I could have done the same."
  666. >"Considering you have been quite relaxed all evening, I feel it is safe to assume there are no overly negative topics behind the meeting."
  667. >You shake your head.
  668. "No, but it had me nerved up when Celestia knocked on my door, to say the least. I didn't know what to think," you admit, running your hand through your hair. "But she was absolutely delighted with how you handled today. I told her it seemed you didn't have much of an issue with meeting others, it was how you perceived yourself, and a lack of confidence in that respect. Which she agreed - somewhat surprised by it, but nonetheless agreed."
  669. >You lean forward as you consider how to explain Celestia's own inner torment.
  670. "Luna... wow, this is so weird, I feel like I'm a therapist for the both of you," you say, chuckling uneasily. "Luna, your sister still feels awful about what happened."
  671. >Luna's ears flatten as the change in tone hits her.
  672. >"I understand that, but it certainly was not like I gave her any choice in the matter," Luna retorts quietly. "Why didn't she tell me that it still bothers her?"
  673. "Fear of undermining what you went through, to be honest. That's why I told you to give her a hug. Just like you had some deep-rooted confidence problems, she has deep-rooted guilt over how long you were sealed away."
  674. >Luna looks a bit troubled by the idea, but remains mum.
  675. "You okay, Luna?" you prod.
  676. >"I am," she says, sounding rather uncertain of herself as she pauses for a moment, staring down at your desk. "I find it ironic with what took place in terms of my own reluctance to speak with her about my feelings that she would now do the same."
  677. "I get why she hasn't said anything, even if I don't think it's right, either. I can't really speak on the matter as I don't completely know how everything went down, but even if Celestia was left with only one option to stop you - it still wouldn't feel that great to hear she's troubled by it when you were the one that paid the price, would it?"
  678. >"No, I don't suppose it would. You make a fair point, Anon," she replies quietly. "Nonetheless, these are matters she and I must be open about from now on - and that is a matter on which I will not budge."
  679. >You reach over and pat her on the withers reassuringly.
  680. "I basically told her the same thing, Luna," you agree, which gets her to relax again.
  681. >"So, with the lessons - the friendship lessons, I mean - where do we stand in regards to progress? Did Celestia have any input?" Luna asks, pushing onward with her burning curiosity.
  682. "I guess as far as she is concerned - you graduated," you say, shrugging a bit. "But it's up to you and me when you want to return to Canterlot full-time."
  683. >Luna freezes.
  684. >You expected it would be a shock - but as the seconds tick by and she doesn't tackle you in pure excitement and happiness, you grow concerned.
  685. >Did she not understand what you said?
  686. >Is she disappointed the lessons are over?
  687. "You... don't seem overly enthused?" you ask quizzically as Luna's gaze drops back to her bowl of soup.
  688. >"I am not sure how to feel about such news," she mumbles with a notable lack of energy.
  689. "I thought you would be excited. You know, being here, with me, enjoying life..." you say, trailing off as you wave your arms around to emphasize your cozy home.
  690. >"It is not that prospect that I find conflicting, Anon," she replies slowly, before her eyes abruptly shift up to meet you. "I would like that - but I also want to co-rule with my sister."
  691. >Even despite her anxiousness to return to Canterlot earlier today, you were beginning to believe ruling over Equestria was a fading interest for Luna.
  692. >After all, the amount of happiness and excitement over the most mundane things out here in Ponyville is miles away from how she was just a few days ago.
  693. >But it appears not everything is as it seems underneath it all.
  694. >Or maybe you were just seeing what *you* desired.
  695. >Unsure how to respond back to her statement, you instead test your own bowl of food, finding it just barely below scalding hot.
  696. >"I am sorry, dear Anon," Luna says, breaking the silence.
  697. "No, it's - you don't have anything to be sorry about, Luna," you quickly backtrack. "I guess I just sort of got caught up in my own head."
  698. >"To be fair, I never really shared that desire with you, either," Luna clarifies. "I have to say that yes, my goal has always been to resume my duties - but the prospect in and of itself, to actually follow through to see that goal, that has been severely lacking."
  699. >She finally samples her own soup after leaving you with that thought, while you begin to eat as well.
  700. >Luna did a pretty damn good job of hitting a balanced flavor - perhaps a bit more peppery than you'd like, but not much.
  701. "You just didn't have the confidence in yourself to do it, or...?" you trail off, desiring to sate your curiosity while you sate your appetite.
  702. >"I suppose to a certain extent, I have had my reservations about how others would perceive me," she explains. "With what happened, it is hard to consider the implications of your every word and how others may interpret it after having fallen so far into the abyss."
  703. "Right, you still were worried about your reputation," you affirm.
  704. >Instead, Luna shakes her head.
  705. >"It goes beyond that, I am afraid. It is hard for you to fully understand because you did not witness it, but as Nightmare Moon - it was as if I were a completely different pony, no longer held back by moderation but instead fueled by repressed anger, jealousy, and retribution. My mere actions governed only by that negativity, without consideration for others," Luna says, her voice not bothering to hide the pure disgust. "Now, I am no longer bound by that fury, nor do I take that form. But consider those who witnessed that side of me, to now be in a place where I am to rule, to offer judgment, to keep them safe... My fear was those memories would play a strong part in how others would interpret everything I say or do - not in a sense of being visibly afraid, but having reservations about my true intentions and feelings about individual situations."
  706. >Throughout the cascade of thoughts pouring out from Luna, her whole body has seemed to tense up in time with her convictions.
  707. >Pausing for a moment, she suddenly becomes aware her wings are spread out wide on either side.
  708. >Perhaps you were making a face and didn't realize it, but Luna abruptly relaxes, blushing just a bit.
  709. >"I suppose I've become a bit carried away this evening," she admits, folding in her wings.
  710. "Don't stop on my account," you reassure her, leaning over to pat her on the withers. "By the sounds of it, you're not just laying it out for me - you're doing it for yourself."
  711. >"I've come to understand through these last few days - nay, months, from when I first encountered you in your dreams - that I have been going about mending my lingering problems the wrong way. I had assumed with them being my problems, it would be something I would have to sort out alone."
  712. >Luna takes a deep breath, her beautiful eyes locking solely on you before she continues onward.
  713. >"It has taken me a very long time to fully understand my own inhibitions. While it has not been overwhelming, I have not been able to make sense of everything within my mind. But these past few days have helped me to fully compartmentalize and sort out my thoughts and emotions into something coherent. I had assumed these were issues I would need to discern for myself - but I've found with every experience and every discussion we have had removes some of that fog and rearranges the pieces. So I suppose the revelation for you has been only recently a revelation for me."
  714. >One of her wings unfurls, a wingtip reaching out and brushing your chin as she smiles.
  715. >"I refuse to allow your mind to stray where I fear it may - you are not selfish for what you believed, and perhaps deeper down, what you had hoped. It is perfectly reasonable, so please, do not hold it against yourself."
  716. "But I never said anything," you protest.
  717. >"I am keenly aware of what we discussed this morning, and the ordeal I put you through as a result of that intimate discussion," she says, her smile fading just a bit. "Wounds like that take time to heal, and falling back into that same hole - I would rather take the preventive approach. Not to mention, you did apologize for it already."
  718. >You merely nod your head in agreement, unsure of how to follow up.
  719. >For a short spell, the two of you sit in content silence, ravenously devouring your meal now that apparently you and her both realize how hungry you've become.
  720. "So, we are still on for visiting your old castle, right?" you ask, still curious as to her plans going forward.
  721. >Luna nods her head as she polishes off the last of her bowl.
  722. >"Of course - I would not dream of skipping out on that plan," she replies. "That will take a bit more of preparation, and I still wish to meet the rest of the Elements of Harmony before I return to Canterlot in a more permanent fashion."
  723. "Well, there's still two remaining - I did make sure to ask Dash about that," you add.
  724. >"Yes, I was already aware there were still two more, but perhaps you know of them? Or have names?"
  725. "Yeah, I know em both."
  726. >Luna pauses a moment in contemplation as she studies you.
  727. "What?"
  728. >"You seem a bit troubled."
  729. "Er - one of em, I'm not particularly fond of. I don't hate her, mind you, she's just odd."
  730. >"Okay, and what of the other?" Luna presses further.
  731. "I was concerned about her, but... your sis knows about us.
  732. >"About us?"
  733. >No sooner has she spoken the question, the realization of what you mean dawns upon her.
  734. >"Oh stars, how did this come about?" Luna quickly follows up, her voice carrying more than a hint of worry as her eyes widen.
  735. "She brought it up - it's not a big deal Luna," you reply in consolation. "I sort of figured she might have an inkling - but apparently, she's known the whole time. Something about the way you act or discussing me tipped her off well before the meeting today."
  736. >"So..." Luna trails off, clearly not understanding your explanation - or more specifically, where Celestia stands on this "issue."
  737. "I think she would have been more disappointed if we *hadn't* explored this avenue during our time together," you say with a chuckle.
  738. >"Then perhaps since she is receptive to the idea, then you would be able to accompany me to the castle as well," Luna says, her eyes lighting up for a moment. "That is to say if you desire - I still want to spend time here, as well."
  739. "Your sister covered that base," you reply, smirking as you reach over and boop her on the nose. "She said I'm more than welcome."
  740. >"Then there is no reason to fret of my return to Canterlot," Luna says sympathetically, harkening back to how this conversation began.
  741. >She takes a moment to reach over, lightly returning the boop to your own nose with her hoof.
  742. "Hey, that's my thing," you tease, leaning over and snatching her out of her chair.
  743. >"No, I can do it too!" Luna squeals as you wrap your arms around her and pull her onto your lap, facing you.
  744. >Sort of - she does have to look down to meet your gaze as she sits upon her haunches on your lap.
  745. "You can't do it if I have you in a hug lock."
  746. >"You act as if I could not just teleport from your grasp," she replies, flashing you a coy smile.
  747. "And yet you haven't..." you trail off.
  748. >"Because why would I want to escape this?" she proposes with a chuckle, closing what distance remains between you.
  749. >The warmth of her breath teases you for a moment, before you give into temptation and lock your own lips with hers.
  750. >All those previous thoughts of concern - no, *any* other thoughts than this mare in front of you vanish as Luna leans deeper into your kiss.
  751. >At some point, you both break it off, though you're more than content to sit here like this the rest of the night.
  752. >Luna seems content as well, snuggling in close to you.
  753. "Canterlot might be a fun place to stay. Didn't mean to get a bit bent out of shape on that little detail of your desires."
  754. >Rather than words, Luna initially replies to your comment with a giggle.
  755. >"I think you will find it enjoyable - but I want to make staying here a regular occurrence as well," Luna says. "With my sister's help, and considering she is receptive to the idea of a relationship between us - we may be able to come up with something quicker and easier than flying back and forth."
  756. "Oh?" you reply, intrigued and confused by her cryptic and vague explanation.
  757. >"That will be something to discuss and brainstorm further into the future" she responds carefully. "But for now, I would love nothing more to enjoy the present."
  758. "That sounds like an idea I can get behind."
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