"Good evening." Luna greeted Twilight as the young unicorn stepped onto the same balcony as the princess. It had been just beyond their rooms, facing slightly off of south, giving a few of the city below. Canterlot had not fallen asleep yet; carts traveled to their final destinations of the day, couples went about for dinner, shopkeeps began to close up for home. Twilight bowed her head in greetings as she stepped out.
"Celly dotes on me so, it's a little embarrassing." Luna looked past Twilight to the two guards nearby. Twilight gave a nervous smile. She wondered - was this Celestia trying to protect her younger sister, or protect others from her little sister?
"How are you feeling?" she asked to shift the conversation. So far, Luna, while soft-spoken, didn't seem so poorly. Her opinion shifted slightly when Luna hung her head and let out a long sigh.
"So tired. And the night hasn't even begun. Once upon a time I relished this time of day, if only because I knew at least for a few moments, ponies would see my stars, notice the dark of my skies..."
"I...I thought you just controlled the moon." Twilight admitted, looking out over the balcony. She only now realized how little she knew of the other princess. Luna gave a sad smile.
"I can understand why you'd think that. Celly focuses on her sun, though she does have some lovely shades of blue to give the sky. But we control the day and night, darkness and light. Remember the legend?" Twilight thought back. The mare in the moon, darkness in her heart, elements of harmony, banished to the moon; the stars would aid her escape. That was it.
"I...you're right." Twilight nodded. "I'm sorry princess."
"Hmm?" Luna had been looking sideways, watching the settings sun. She turned to Twilight with a curious look.
"I never thought to learn...you must put so much work into these nights."
"Thank you for saying so, Twilight Sparkle. I will never let...I will never let her take over my heart again, but....the loneliness remains."
"Nightmare Moon." Luna whispered the name. "Ahh, it looks like it's time to start. I'm sorry, but it's always easier to see what I'm doing." Luna got up and turned away from the balcony. Twilight followed by her side. She noticed that she couldn't see the guards anymore. She was also much more aware of Luna's weakened state. The dark mare's steps faltered, Twilight's shorter legs easily keeping up. Luna's eyes were half-lidded.
"Celly swears that one day she'll teach me to wear a watch. How unnatural! A little ticking device to tell me the time! Whoever would have come up with that." she had a sleepy smile, almost looking unaware of herself.
"Aheh. I suppose a lot of things must seem odd, after so long." Twilight said. "How do you tell the time then? Most ponies by go the sun and moon?"
"Oh, to us the skies are different. There are paths my moon has traveled for centuries, at as steady a pace as you can wish. So long as I keep my spells the same, the day's length will never change. Apparently...she added two hours to the day, halting the moon. Celly never bothered to catch them up"
"You, ah, you talk about Nightmare Moon..."
"As if she wasn't me?" Luna asked, her expression listless. "Maybe I just wish I could say that that hadn't been me. That I hadn't truly lost myself to such cruelty. I know it is just the wishes of a silly foal who won't admit her mistakes, yet....I cannot help but feel that she isn't me. That everything there was just, well, a nightmare."
"I understand, Princess." Twilight said diligently.
"You do?" Luna perked up, sincere in her surprise. "From how sister speaks of you, I couldn't believe there was any darkness in your heart."
"Ahh..." Twilight realized the hole she had dug into. "I mean to say, I..." she stopped as the princess giggled. It was a surprising sound, making her halt if only to better listen to it.
"Don't worry. You're a sympathetic soul, Twilight."
The halls they walked seemed all the emptier with the descending darkness. Twilight, during her time here, would normally be holed up in the library or her own room, and was surprised to find that the castle took on an entirely different air. The high ceilings and open halls allowed the shadows to gather early and gather deeply. At times entire walls disappeared from view, giving the impression that the darkness stretched on for who knows how long. Twilight didn't feel any fear, but the entire castle seemed lonely, and the sadness bore down on her.
They reached a part where the castle let out eastwards. There was little view this way due to the mountain the castle clung to, but enough of the sky was clear from here. Luna sat down on the balcony and closed her eyes. Twilight sat down next to her, shifting slightly as Luna's wings unfurled.
Luna let out a deep breath that seemed to go on well beyond her lung capacity. Her horn began to glow. Twilight had never seen any unicorn's horn behave as Princess Luna's did. The glow wasn't bright as much as it was a shimmering of something ethereal, a starlit darkness that stood out clearly against the air. And it grew more real as the magic increased.
Luna raised her wings high, and with a single sweep drifted into the air several feet. Twilight had expected it to look like Princess Celestia raised the sun, regal and proud. Luna was entirely different, however. She hung her head, her horn pointing to the horizon. She seemed to just hang in the air, blending in to the descending darkness. Her horn's glow sparkled and an overlay of blue-black void surrounded it.
Twilight glanced over, and saw the moon coming over the horizon. It was a gibbous, mostly full. Twilight could feel the magic radiating from Luna. She had expected to feel like levitation, or perhaps some kind of transport magic. But that was not it, no not at all. No pony could literally lift the moon. The magic had a feel of control to it all the same, but it also had a flow, direction to it. It was unusual to assign such things to magic, which had little or no concept of space, but there was a definite flow to her magic. Twilight tried to follow it. Magic having no concept of space, she instantly found her mind far away. She could feel....she realized it was the night sky. She could feel the night sky itself.
The sensation lasted for the barest handful of seconds. Twilight found herself back in her own head as the magic faded. She blinked rapidly, trying to focus on her surroundings. She realized the moon had risen, now fully above the horizon, if not by much. That 'barest handful of seconds' in her mind had somehow lasted nearly a hour!
"Ahhh..." Luna was drifting slowly down to the ground. Her body hung from her wings like a rag doll. Twilight kept her eyes on the princess, who carefully put weight back on her hooves and opened her eyes.
"I felt your presence." she said. Twilight's eyes widened.
"Ahh, I'm so sorry Princess!" she turned to Luna and prostrated herself. "I was curious, and, and I forgot my place, I'm so sorry."
"What? No, no. Please. It's quite..." Luna's body dipped to one side. She righted herself and blinked at Twilight.
"I was surprised, that is all. It's actually...quite..." she dipped forward this time. With a start, Twilight got up just in time to brace the princess. Luna's eyes were shut and she was mumbling to herself. Twilight waited, praying to the stars above (perhaps futilely, she realized) no one saw the two of them like this.
"Princess? Princess?" could she shake the moon goddess? Was that considered rude? What was one to do when royalty fell asleep on you?
"Princess Luna? Are you okay?"
"Mhmm...twenty-seven minutes..." Luna responded from a dream. Twilight sighed and looked back into the castle. Where were those guards now? Wasn't this the exact kind of thing for them to deal with? Then again, while the guards had always shown such professionalism, Twilight had never known them to have a gentle touch. So, weighing her options and seeing few to work with, she slowly shifted around while keeping the Princess propped up. Her back now to Luna, she used her magic to lift the Princess on to her back. Luna was not nearly the same size as Celestia, for which Twilight was infinitely grateful, but the taller pony's legs still brushed the ground. Levitating the princess was out of the option, as it not only was quite undignified but Twilight couldn't trust herself to be careful enough. Twilight gave a huff as Luna's weight settled on her. Thank goodness that she had helped Applejack during applebucking season, or she never could have attempted to carry such a weight. Not that the princess was heavy or anything, Twilight admonished herself.
Thankfully, Princess Luna hadn't chosen to go far from her room, perhaps guessing but underestimating her weakened state after raising the moon. It was still no easy task, but Twilight was sure she could manage. She wondered at Princess Celestia's words. She did not want to bring this up with Luna, of course not. The way Luna spoke of Nightmare Moon, however, was quite telling. Perhaps she and Princess Luna could speak more about something similar when she awoke. Hopefully. That would be sooner rather than later.
Princess Luna did awake some time later. A couple hours had passed, Twilight had gotten her into bed, and the moon was higher in the sky, not yet at its apex. Twilight had decided to keep her eyes open by studying. She sat beside the princess's bed, levitating a thick tome detailing the political treatises past and present between Equestria and other lands. Once upon a time, she had learned, Princess Celestia had held conference with dragons, who were more organized back then.
"Twilight?" Luna alerted Twilight she was awake.
"Ahh! Princess! How are you feeling? Do you need anything?"
Luna groaned and pressed a hoof against her head, just aside of her horn.
"A glass of water if it's not too much trouble." she asked. Almost instantly such a glass appeared in front of her eyes, held aloft with Twilight's magic.
"I thought you might need one."
"Oh. Yes, thank you." she took the glass from Twilight telekinetically. After a long drink, she looked around.
"I passed out, didn't I?" she asked, her voice as timid as a filly. Twilight nodded.
"Oh, dear." Luna sighed. "You have my sincerest apologies, I was afraid that may happen but I thought I would overcome it."
"It's alright. That's why I'm here." Twilight told her. The Princess nodded, but her eyes were still downcast. She began to slide out of bed by Twilight.
"Well, I still have most of the night, at least. I can't waste any more time."
"Are you sure-" Twilight stopped as Princess Luna let out a heavy, loud sigh.
"I am sorry Twilight." Luna said, suddenly sounding all her thousand years. "I understand Celly's worry. And I know you mean your best. But please, I am no young filly. I know my limits. Ah, er, most of the time." she ended on a rather sheepish note, no doubt remembering just how she had wound up in her bed. Twilight kicked at the ground.
"I apologize. I should not overstepped my place." Twilight bowed. Luna shook her head.
"I don't mean - oh, nevermind. In any case, I am simply going up to the grand library."
"The library?" Twilight perked up. Luna nodded.
"I understand the bureaucracy has grown in part because Celly simply cannot be everywhere at once. I'm sure I could aid sister in overseeing the realm - once I catch up on the last thousand years, of course." she gave a weak smile. Twilight nodded.
"That's an admirable goal. Princess Celestia must be so glad to have you back."
"Ah, she always had such patience. I really must be a burden." Luna told her. "I'm merely working to make myself less of one."
Twilight bit her tongue, not wanting to start an argument but feeling that the moon princess could not be more wrong. Princess Celestia was lucky to have a sister like Luna, surely she had to see that. Anyone would be lucky to know her, came an unbidden thought.
"I know you've been up so long already." Luna said to her. "You needn't worry about watching over me."
"I, if you would allow me princess, I would be honored to join you. This would be hardly the first time I was in the library at such an hour." Twilight asked, anxiously but truthfully.
Judging by her eyebrows, Luna hadn't been expecting that. She looked appreciative, which Twilight couldn't understand. The moon princess nodded.
"I would be grateful." she told Twilight. Luna led the way out of her room. She seemed uplifted, gently smiling as her gaze drifted all about the halls.
"It's not so dissimilar from our hold home." Luna said suddenly, drawing Twilight's attention. "I think Celly didn't want to leave, in the end. She brought as much of it with her as she could."
"You mean your old castle?" Twilight asked. Luna nodded. "Why did she leave then?"
"I have wondered that myself. Have you ever studied the Everfree forest?"
"No, I can't say I have. Ponyville borders it, but it's not somewhere most ponies go. With good reason."
"I have heard so many tales." Luna told her. "I wish I could remember more clearly, but everything from back then is so....foggy. I believe something about the magics released there, all those years ago, something caused the forest to be as it is today."
"You think it has something to do with Nightmare Moon?" Twilight asked. Luna seemed conflicted, and briefly chewed on her lip.
"I cannot help but wonder if there is a reason the elements of harmony resided there. If there was a connection."
"The elements of harmony? But the Everfree forest is so..."
"Dark?" Luna asked, almost daring Twilight to say it.
"Wild." Twilight responded. She made the princess laugh.
"I can understand your doubts. But trust me in this. All power, left unchecked, can cause wild results. And the elements were never complete - the sixth hidden away from even my sister. Such an imbalance...who knows what it could bring. I would love to study the elements one day."
"That sounds like a brilliant plan." Twilight agreed. "I've given a lot of thought into just what it means to be the bearer of the element of magic."
"I'd expect no less of Celestia's favorite student. She loves to read me your letters. I know you've already learned much of all the elements."
Twilight blushed, bashful at the idea of her letters being shared. "I still have so much to learn though." she said, keeping her gaze down.
"So do we all." by now they had reached the library, and Luna pushed the door open. The library held shelves two stories high, going on so far that even in the light of day it was hard to see one end of the library from another. They had climbed two floors to get here, and were high enough that the grand windows along the far wall of the library gave a spectacular view of the city of Canterlot. Much later than before, now only a few street lamps and house lights twinkled up from below. Luna and Twilight walked in through the wide doors side by side, both took in a deep breath, and let out the exact same sigh of content at the exact same time. They turned to each other in surprise and looked away bashfully. Luna cleared her throat and trotted into the library. Twilight followed behind her.
The princess retreated to a corner of the library near the windows. Where one of the library's many tables stood half-filled with books. Three were open right now, and as Luna approached the table Twilight could see how they were all arranged so she could reference any one at any time.
"I'm afraid it'll be quite dull." Luna said, looking over her shoulder at Twilight. "Economics have gotten quite complicated over the past thousand years. I appreciate moving away from the barter system of course. It will simply take some study before I can be sure I understand what is going on. It helps to cross-reference some old trade ledgers. I just wish our records were more complete. I can find nothing on international tax law!"
"Oh, you probably want Sterling and Sterling's historical tax law compendium." Twilight responded instantly. Luna raised an eyebrow.
"The library cycles less popular books off the shelves sometimes. It's probably in the back, over here." Twilight started off. Curious, Luna trotted up to her.
"You are familiar with this tome?"
"Oh yes, it's a great read!" Twilight said with a proud smile. Her pride waned after a moment and she glanced at her hooves. "I, uh, didn't get out much before moving to Ponyville."
"And I suppose I'm lucky you didn't." Luna replied. Twilight led her up a floor (still within the library) to the balcony level, which rimmed the library. She lit the way with her horn, not even moonlight reaching in this far, and entered into a small room with more normally sized shelves. Glancing through them, it took her only seconds to pull out a giant faded blue tome.
"There we are, right where I left it. Okay, so I guess it's not that exciting a read after all."
"I'm sure it will suit my purposes admirably." Luna told her, taking telekinetic hold of the book. They headed back down to the table in silence, and Luna found a place to squeeze the book in so that she could prop it up while open. She flipped through the first few pages quickly.
"Ah, this is just what I was after!" she said excitedly. She scanned down a table of contents and flipped the book about halfway in.
"Now, to see if I understand the calculations at play..." a few papers shifted as Luna lifted a device from the other side of the table. Twilight's jaw nearly dropped. She couldn't be serious.
"Oh not you too." Luna said tiredly. "Look, there's nothing wrong with an abacus."