"But Celly, you promised!"
"I promised I'd try my best, Luna. It simply isn't going to happen; it's out of my hooves."
"Bah, I should've known." The princess of the moon sulked, staring at her teacup. Across the table from her, her older sister sighed and sipped her tea before continuing. These mornings didn't give them a lot of time to bond, and she felt all the worse when they spent that time fighting. At least alone as they were in Celestia's study Luna could be convinced to speak candidly.
"It's not that I don't want to spend more time with you, you know that." Celestia said gently. Her little sister was having none of it, and she looked up from her tea with a glare.
"It's just that you've got more important things to get to than your own sister." her words were sharp, but Celestia didn't cringe.
"Now Luna, that isn't fair. I think you're overreacting."
"Oh yes, we wouldn't want that to happen." Luna replied, rolling her eyes.
Celestia kept her expression calm. On the inside however, she was marvelling at how the only thing worse than an effectively teenaged immortal throwing a fit and being given a time out was the sulk they would throw once they got back. Alicorn growth was a funny thing, a mix of age, power and mental maturity, and her younger sister wasn't quite there yet. Still, she knew what Luna was going through, at least a little. Everything had sped ahead of her when she was gone, even her own sister, and she wanted to catch up with everything at once. Celestia also saw that Luna, though she'd never admit it, still felt guilt for the entire incident and was probably taking Celestia's busy schedule as her fault for being indisposed.
"I have an idea then." Celestia told her sister, trying to salvage the situation. "I shall have another take my place on our outing tomorrow. It would do you good to know another pony besides myself in any matter."
"What?" Luna nearly jumped. "But Celly, I don't want anypony else, I want...." she huffed and looked away. It touched Celestia, it really did, how much Luna cared to rekindle their friendship.
"Not even Twilight Sparkle?" Celestia asked carefully, hiding the smirk she felt creeping on to her face. "After how often you've asked after her, I would've thought..." she saw her sister blush, and could tell the idea was winning her over.
"I'll ask it of her as a favor." Celestia continued, pushing while Luna was still susceptible to the idea "She's a very friendly young mare, I'm sure you'll get along. Do you know she has a degree in astronomy?"
"She does? Really?"
"Yes." Celestia said with a nod, not mentioning Twilight's other degrees in magical theory, ancient history, archaeology, agriculture, literature, chemistry, botany, applied mathematics, meteorology, or library science. Celestia had been grateful to ship her off to Ponyville, if only because she was running out of things to teach the insatiable student.
"We will still reschedule, I promise." Celestia wrapped up, "But for the time being, I'd rather you have some fun than spend another day cooped up in your room. The guards... have heard you muttering, Luna."
Luna looked away. "I wasn't... I'm not crazy."
"You were talking to it again, weren't you?"
"Abacus is a him, thank you very much." Luna quipped before catching herself. She looked away, and Celestia waited.
"Fine" Luna said reluctantly.
"You'll have a delightful time, I assure you." Celestia said. Luna nodded, but she clearly didn't believe her sister. Celestia decided she could work with that.
"I'll send her a letter, and you can go early tomorrow."
"Well, fine then. I'll set my alarm for three."
"...well, if I go straight to sleep I can manage noon I suppose."
Celestia sighed. "You know what schedules ponies keep."
"What?" Luna asked. "Celly, I can't get up earlier than noon!"
Celestia marvelled at her sister, slightly jealous she had retained her youth for an extra thousand years, whatever the price. "You know there are hours earlier than noon."
"I'm pretty sure there aren't." Luna retorted.
"I've never seen them. Scientifically, their existence is unconfirmed until I observe them."
"Luna, everypony else has seen them, or... experienced them."
"Yes, but you're not scientists. It's anecdotal evidence."
"Luna." Celestia wasn't sure whether to laugh or roll her eyes. Still, both responses were ones she didn't give often, and that was encouraging. She and her sister were playing - not like before, but it was still heart-warming.
"We'll call tomorrow an experiment then, in more ways than one." she decided to say. "Now, get some rest. You're going to need it for tomorrow." her sister nodded, and reluctantly left the table.
"I hate you."
"I know you don't mean it."
"I hate you and your stupid sun. Put it out."
"You'll feel better after some coffee."
Luna fumbled as Celestia guided a mug into her hooves. Her little sister had been dragged out of bed, washed up, and put into a carriage without once opening her eyes. All in all, Celestia had to admit it was quite a feat. The night-tinted alicorn brought the mug to her lips and sipped carefully. She stopped and wrinkled her nose.
"This isn't tea."
"No dear. It's coffee, like I said."
"It'll wake you right up, I promise."
"...The coffee, Lulu, the coffee."
"...Drink your tea dear." Celestia replied. Luna nodded and sipped her mug again. She drank for a minute as the carriage took flight and lifted them beyond Canterlot. Luna lowered the mug and turned to Celestia, eyes still scrunched close.
"This tea tastes-"
"I know dear."
Luckily, by the time Ponyville was on the horizon Luna had opened her eyes, though she still rubbed one occasionally and was blinking often. She watched the scenery for some time, saying nothing as the land sped by below. Finally, still looking away from her sister, Luna spoke.
"I hate mornings."
Luna paused out front of the Ponyville library. She gave a glance back to her older sister, who gave a small nod, her gaze as serene and knowing as ever. Luna hid her scowl this time, unsure of when her sister had become so motherly. Well, she knew it was probably during the last thousand years or so, but still. It hurt to realize how far ahead everything had moved in the last thousand years. Everything she had looked forward to coming home to was either dust or in a museum. Even her sister was gone, or might as well have been given how much she had changed. And when Luna got over all this being her fault, and had worked up the courage to go out and discover this new world that had replaced hers, her sister had responded with "we'll see" and now here they stood. It was infuriating, yet she didn't dare speak out too much.
Still, she knew Celestia had to leave soon, so she put aside her troubles and approached the library. She knew she didn't have anything to fear, really, but that wasn't going to stop her from doing so anyway. She took a breath and knocked rapidly on the door. Both princesses waited for a moment before the door cracked open. They heard a surprised squeak, but no pony emerged to greet them. Luna turned to her sister, who for once didn't seem to know what was going on. The door moved again, prompting Luna to turn back towards it.
"Oh, um, hello Princesses." a timid yellow pegasus bowed before them. Celestia stepped forward, her confusion showing for only a split second before that all-knowing gaze returned.
"Good day Fluttershy. May we speak to Twilight?"
"Oh, um, I'm sorry." Fluttershy stepped backwards into the library. It was probably an act of shyness, but Celestia took it as an invite into the building.
"She, there was an emergency this morning." Fluttershy explained, looking to the floor. "She and Rainbow Dash went off to Cloudsdale to help fix the weather factories."
"Twilight Sparkle?" Luna spoke up. "Why would a unicorn from Ponyville be enlisted to fix a cloud factory?"
"Her friend Rainbow Dash is in charge of the weather for this sector." Celestia explained before Fluttershy could. "The factories do use some unicorn magic for support, so she probably came to Twilight when she heard the problem. Twilight's more than strong enough to make Cloudsdale hospitable for herself."
Luna nodded, but the situation hit her. "Ahh... What rotten luck."
"You are watching her home for her then?" Celestia continued. Luna frowned, wondering why her sister was even bothering to ask.
"Oh, yes, and Spike. Um, my friend Rarity is coming by to help too."
"That's very kind of you both." Celestia said with a nod. Fluttershy smiled, but still looked slightly afraid of them. At least she looked afraid of both of them equally, Luna thought. A selfish thing to be glad about, she knew, but she couldn't help herself. She gave a loud sigh.
"Is it wrong for a goddess to believe in fate? What shall go wrong next, I wonder? Perhaps next Manehattan will catch fire just to draw you away." she lamented to Celestia. Her sister actually frowned.
"Oh, um, I'm sorry. Did you need Twilight? Can, can I help?" Fluttershy asked, crouching in such a way that made it ambiguous if she was bowing or simply afraid they'd bite.
"It was noth-" Luna began before her sister cut in.
"Twilight was going to help Luna find her way about Canterlot today. She wanted to see what's become of our little town since she came back."
Luna shot Celestia a glare, thoroughly embarrassed about how Celestia was talking about her to this stranger.
"Oh that sounds lovely." Fluttershy smiled. "Rarity and I both love to spend a day in town, in, in Ponyville that is. Rarity's so much fun to shop with." she looked to finally be losing some of her fear of the goddess sisters.
"Really now?" Celestia smiled, turning to Luna. Luna stumbled verbally as she realized it was up to her to keep the conversation up. She had no idea what to say.
"Er, yes. I had hoped to take her to Canterlot, I believe she's familiar with the area, and I can't very well go wandering aimlessly."
Fluttershy nodded. "Rarity always talks about spending a day there. It must be... beautiful."
"Well... so you can imagine my curiosity." Luna replied.
"Luna just didn't want to go off on her own." Celestia offered, infuriating her little sister with her motherly tone. She tried to glare at Celestia, but of course it had no impact.
"So you were going to..." Fluttershy realized the situation with wide eyes. "Oh, and now Twilight's busy."
"Yes, you see the conundrum. And she was so looking forward to it as well. She's usually quite cooped up you know."
Fluttershy nodded. Luna stamped her hoof.
"I'm right here you-"
"And she barely knows anypony at that!" Celestia continued, ignoring Luna. Fluttershy nodded again. "There are so few ponies she can go to for a simple day out. Imagine if Rarity had to cancel plans with you."
"Oh yes, I'd be..." Fluttershy looked down at her hooves "Disappointed."
"You're not-" Luna hissed to Celestia.
"Oh, if only there was some way to salvage the day." Celesia said with a sad shake of her head. "But I'm not sure who else we could turn to."
"Well...is, is there nopony else?"
"Who? She only barely knows the six of you, and I don't think she could impose on anypony else."
"But..." Fluttershy drew back, hiding behind her mane. "I mean, I'm sure you could ask."
"Oh no, we could never put anypony through such trouble."
"I, I don't think it'd be trouble. I know I'd love to..." she stopped and bit her lip. Celestia smiled. Luna just stared on, amazed at her sister's control of the situation. It was like watching a cat bat around a mouse, only slightly more benevolent.
"Fluttershy, you said Rarity would be coming by to help watch everything, did you not? I don't suppose you're saying you'd like to explore Canterlot with Luna today?"
"Oh, well, I couldn't..."
"Oh? Pity, I just thought you said..."
"I mean, I, I'd love to..." Fluttershy stammered. "But I don't really know the city..."
"And neither does Luna! What luck, you'll both have an adventure now."
"But-" Luna and Fluttershy said in unison.
"I'm so glad she won't have her day wasted after all. Good luck sister, I must be off. I'm sure Rarity will understand, send her my regards." Celestia turned around, and left before anypony could react, leaving two slightly-stunned ponies sitting in the library. Luna turned to Fluttershy.
"Hello." Fluttershy squeaked, falling back into a sitting position. There was silence for a moment after that as Luna looked around, collecting her thoughts. Fluttershy was peeking up at her through her mane like a turtle out of its shell.
"You don't have to. Celestia's always been a bit pushy." Luna finally said.
"Hmm? Oh, but... I mean, if you'll have me...."
Luna nodded. "Truthfully, I just didn't want to go out alone, guide or no. Most ponies don't know me, but I fear what they do know wouldn't be... positive. A friendly face would be appreciated."
"It's, they just don't know it wasn't you." Fluttershy offered.
"Right." Luna agreed. "So, shall we head to Canterlot?"
"I, I suppose. Let me go wake up Spike and tell him. I mean, if that's okay."
"Go right ahead." Luna told her with a nod. The pegasus hurried towards the stairs. Luna looked around the library. She was a little disappointed with it, if she was going to be honest with herself. It wasn't even as grand as her personal collection and half the books looked rather hurriedly shelved. How a scholar like Twilight made do was anypony's guess. She'd have to wait for another time to find out, Luna figured, though she was thankful that at least somepony had time for her. Still, Luna barely knew who Fluttershy was; in truth she was glad Celestia had referred to the pegasus by name. Her anxiety, if anything, had only increased with the prospect of dealing with Canterlot and this stranger at once.
Fluttershy returned quickly, a sweet smile on her face. "Spike was oh-so nice. He says he has no problem with being alone with Rarity. He wanted us to leave right away, isn't that nice?"
"Hmm... yes, sounds rather selfless of him. What kind of pony is named Spike though?" Strange thoughts entered Luna's head about Twilight living with another pony, but her sister had never given mention of anything.
Fluttershy giggled, but caught herself and looked embarrassed, a little afraid of Luna. "He's, he's a dragon actually."
"Oh. Oh!" Luna's eyes widened. "Yes, yes, of course, he's... Celestia did tell me Twilight had a dragon assistant, I forgot that was... yes. I should've...well, never mind. Shall we then?" she was just about ready to die from embarrassment. Luckily, the other pony didn't even giggle at her, just nodded simply.
"Do, do we go by carriage, or, um...?"
Luna shook her head and began to grin. "Celestia says the chariot gives ponies warning where she goes, but we don't need that. Hold still."
Fluttershy's eyes widened, lip quivering as she fought to hold back some question. Luna ignored it and focused. The world around them began to dim, as if the shades had been drawn. Fluttershy squeaked and looked around as everything except the two ponies faded into blackness; first the edges of the room faded from view, then what was around them, then even the floor beneath their hooves. Yet as dark as it got, Fluttershy could make out Luna clearly, as if by the light of day. They spent an instant in pitch darkness, and then Fluttershy's ear twitched as sounds came to her. The bustle of walking and talking ponies, the click of hooves on stone, the creak of wagons and carriages. The darkness began to let up and revealed an entirely different scene than before. Fluttershy looked down to find cobblestone beneath her, ponies began to pass them by, and in another moment they were sitting in the middle of the road somewhere in Canterlot. Fluttershy stared at Luna, mouth agape. Luna looked up and surveyed their surroundings.
"Haha! Great success! Um, are you okay?"
"Oh, um, I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting so much, um... darkness." the pegasus shuddered. Luna frowned.
"Sorry. I do that." Luna looked around. "I wanted to know what ponies are interested in these days, so we should be somewhere near the commercial center of Canterlot."
"Oh! Oh, I should have gotten my bits..." Fluttershy lamented quietly. Luna blinked.
"Oh, well, Celestia keeps saying we share the kingdom again. I can dip into the royal treasury if need be. I doubt we'll need it, we're here to observe."
"I think we are being observed..." Fluttershy responded, lowering her head as she looked around. She was right, Luna realized. They weren't creating any huge stir, but everypony was rubbernecking as they passed, no doubt wondering at the sudden appearance of a princess. Luna sighed.
"Well... at least you're noticed." Fluttershy offered. Luna glanced back to her and tried to smile.
"I hadn't thought of it like that. Though Celestia can't go anywhere without fanfare..."
"Oh." Fluttershy didn't seem to know what to say. "Um...shall we?" she gestured to a wide road with only pedestrian traffic, a multitude of signs hanging from both sides of the building fronts. Luna nodded.
"For maximum efficiency, we'll keep to the right with the majority of hoof traffic, we do each route back and forth once and-"
"Bunnies!" Fluttershy trotted off down the road, too distracted to hear Luna. Luna groaned and chased after her. The pegasus had her nose pressed lightly against the glass pane of a pet shop where a half dozen small white rabbits hopped about a small enclosure. One of them looked out the window and twitched its nose at the two ponies.
"Aren't they precious?" Fluttershy cooed. "I hope they get enough room to play in. Do you think that's fresh hay?"
"Cute." Luna said coolly, keeping herself detached, observant. "But we really should..." out of the corner of her eye she caught something else looking at them. In its own enclosure was a kitten, black as a starless sky. It had big green eyes and was tiny enough it could have fit in a tea cup.
"Why...why is it staring at me?" Luna whispered. The cat's eyes widened, full as the moon.
"It's...what's it doing?" Luna asked, stepping in closer. The cat's eyes widened even more, giant shimmering pupils, and its mouth moved with a mew that Luna couldn't hear. It flashed a tiny pink mouth.
"I want it." Luna said, pressing her nose against the glass. The kitten raised a paw as if to reach out to her. The alicorn's lip quivered.
"Um, Princess Luna?" Fluttershy asked. Luna was pushing against the glass, eyes wide and focused on the kitten. "Princess Luna, do, do you like cats?" she got no response, and so timidly reached out to the other pony. That contact set Luna off.
"His name is Nova and he is the best kitty and he'll have a little silver collar with a bell on it and he'll come to my tea parties and he'll have tons of toys but we'll play with bits of colored string and I'll get him a little blue pillow so he can sleep on my bed and I'll never ever be alone again." she gasped for breath, and finally leaned back away from the glass. She turned to Fluttershy, slightly dazed.
"What just happened?"
Fluttershy giggled. "Would you like to go inside?"
Luna hesitated, knowing she was deviating from her plan, but then made the mistake of looking back to the window. The kitten was cleaning itself, rubbing a tiny paw with a tiny pink pad over a tiny ear. She didn't even have a chance, and entered the store with Fluttershy in tow.