Sleep always felt strange to Luna. It was like willingly entering a void, shutting out the world and entering a place where only she existed. Other ponies dreamed when night came, but often Luna felt like the hours she spent awake were the dream and the time she spent asleep was the cold reality, crushing loneliness mixed with a pleasant sense of calm and ease. It was a sensation she had grown used to during her imprisonment, albeit not by choice.
She opened her eyes lazily and yawned, hoof reflexively covering her mouth to politely conceal the action. One by one her senses sharpened and her connection to the waking world returned. The stars had progressed of their own volition and she took a deep breath, tracing their paths to work out how far along they were. Her eyes widened at the realization that hours, not just one or two, had passed since she had begun her nap. She hopped off of the couch and ran to the window. The cold light of morning was already beginning to tinge the horizon and she cursed herself for wasting the entire night resting.
Luna looked around the room. The training equipment was stacked neatly in one corner, and in another Twilight lay in a crumpled heap, surrounded by books and pieces of parchment. The blue mare spread her wings and quietly glided over her, circling in front of the unicorn. Twilight was fast asleep, one hoof resting on a copy of Magical Theory: Spell Construction and Analysis. Luna smiled softly and closed her eyes.
There wasn't a hint of pain as she raised Twilight off the ground with her magic. Her horn felt good as new. The moment the mare was floating Luna flew up to where the beds were and guided Twilight's sleeping form under her blanket. She carefully tucked her in and watched her for a moment. Twilight looked so peaceful like that, perfectly at ease. Luna leaned forwards to kiss her cheek and hesitated at the last second, blushing. She gave Twilight a quick peck on the cheek and had to suppress an embarrassed giggle as she flew back down to the pile of notes.
As she skimmed and organized the pages Luna hummed to herself, joining the song of the night sky. The voices of the young stars echoed in her head, singing to her in a chorus of joyful tones that wove a melody from dissonant chaos. She smiled softly, preparing to put them to rest for the day. She stacked the last book, folding a fresh sheet of parchment to serve as a bookmark, and headed for the door to the balcony.
Celestia had likely already begun the task of raising the sun, but it wasn't far enough along yet for Luna to feel the sun's influence on the sky. She hovered, flying above the library and coming to a halt just above a thin metal rod. She rested a hoof on the end, balancing upon the copper pipe and reaching out her forelegs to the sky. She could feel the moon resist her, the force of Nightmare Moon's magic refusing to yield quietly. As the sun began to lazily rise the darkness melted away and Luna's horn glowed brighter, pushing the moon back onto its rightful path.
Little by little her magic waned, but as it did the moon began to move on its own once more, inching below the horizon and taking the stars with it. Luna smiled softly, a feeling of weight slowly moving into her limbs and body. The daylight didn't rob her of her power so much as take away the night that bolstered it, and the feeling of lightness that accompanied the evenings evaporated a little at a time. She hopped down to the balcony and flapped her wings once to steady herself, landing as gracefully as she could manage.
She walked back inside, half-expecting Twilight to rise with the sun. Luna glanced at the scholar and smirked, deciding to let her sleep. She walked downstairs and wondered if it would be rude to prepare breakfast. It had been a thousand years since she had last even attempted cooking, but it couldn't be that much different and the library was sure to have an abundance of recipe books. Luna smiled to herself. Twilight was sure to be impressed.
Luna scrapped the last of the black gunk from the ceiling and sighed. She set the cleaning rag down and scanned the basement for any remaining stains. It was increasingly apparent to her that the flame from a Bunsen burner was not intended for cooking, no matter how much magic one used to amplify or control the flame. She looked through the recipe book again and checked her calculations. Maintaining three-hundred-fifty degrees of radiant heat from all angles was proving tricky and she didn't have enough eggs left to make another quiche after the last one scorched and then exploded. She decided to cut her losses and called it quits, heading back upstairs.
As she filed the cookbooks away one by one she noticed the tome Twilight had been reading was still on the table. She put away the last book and walked over to it, carefully opening the weathered cover. What greeted her eyes was one of the most elaborate illuminations she had ever laid eyes on. The author had spent hours swirling inks onto the page with the greatest of care, blending them seamlessly and using them to create shades and tones. Woven among images of ancient Equestria and its legendary figures were letters, each a piece of art in and of itself. Luna's hoof hovered over each as she read the title.
"Parables of Princeps: Fables for Foals."
The pages crackled slightly as she turned them, examining the passages. It didn't require a century tending to Canterlot's library to know to be careful with the book, but it certainly helped that Luna had spent more hours helping preserve the forgotten wisdom of Equestria than any other mare. The book was old, but appeared to have been written during her imprisonment. Many of the stories had changed, evolved over the years, with new endings or completely new sections. Several had moral lessons crammed in with no warning or reasoning, while others were built around a single theme.
As she turned another page she saw her name in the illumination of one of the titles. Curious, she scanned the image for the rest of the words. The tale of "Luna and the Broken Moon" was not one she was familiar with, but a nagging feeling like she was forgetting something immediately took root in her mind. She started to read.
There was once a great and terrible serpent. So mighty was this beast that the sun and moon were like marbles that he rolled carelessly across the sky at his whim. So wily was this creature that those that stood against him were soon turned against each other. And so it was that the serpent ruled over the land, tormenting forever the ponies that inhabited it with neither rhyme nor reason to control him.
In time two sisters came across the serpent. Seeing the suffering of the ponies they devised a plan and snatched from him the sun and the moon. Celestia, bright and shining, took the sun and with its light burned away the dark clouds with which the serpent wove his treachery. Luna, dark and mysterious, used the moon and stars to weave the wisps of shadow into a cage to contain the serpent, binding him with his own lies. Content with their victory, they celebrated.
The moment the sisters believed the serpent defeated, he escaped. Seeing how they used the sun and moon against him, he transformed his tail into stone and threw it into the sky. The serpent's tail smashed the moon into seven pieces and broke his cage apart, leaving a single scarred fragment in the sky and discarding the rest to the earth, broken and useless. The serpent smiled upon the sisters, laughing his terrible laugh and convinced of his own superiority. And just as he had done to the sisters, so they did to him. For in the moment he believed himself invincible, the sisters took up the six pieces of the moon and turned the serpent's spell on the rest of his body, transforming him into a statue. Thus the two became the saviors of all Equestria.
Luna stared at the page. She could only barely make out Discord's face in her memories but she knew that he was the serpent. Something stirred inside her and she could feel Nightmare Moon trying to suppress it. The Elements of Harmony had been forged from the broken pieces, binding Discord forever, but it hadn't been the moon that had broken that day. It was-
A knock on the door made her jump. She gently closed the book and ran to the front door, opening it carefully.
"Good morning, Twilight. I just thought I'd-"
The Element of Generosity stared at the princess of the night, who returned the gesture. Luna was certain that Rarity wasn't a pegasus, let alone an alicorn, but that apparently didn't stop her from having grown a pair of butterfly wings.
"Twilight is asleep at the moment. After my arrival yesterday there was... a bit of commotion. I'm sure she'll be with you the moment she wakes."
Rarity smiled warily.
"Yes, of course. Well, I don't wish to impose on you. Good day, Princess Luna."
She bowed and turned to walk away. Luna bit her lip and reached out her hoof.
Rarity froze, looking over her shoulder at Luna. The princess hesitated. How many other chances would she get to talk with her alone?
"I wish to speak with you. About a great many things. Particularly about the gala."
Rarity's cheeks turned bright red and she bowed, almost groveling.
"I'm truly sorry about my behavior, Princess Luna. It was most unladylike of me to act like that at the gala, especially to a member of the royal family. I can hardly imagine the shame and humiliation I must have brought upon you and Princess Celestia with my outburst, and it pains me that my first impression upon the upper class of Canterlot was one of ignorance and unsophistication as I squandered the opportunity that your sister gave to me by... by acting like a petulant filly!"
Luna stood in awe for several seconds, mouth hanging open as Rarity's eyes began to tear up.
"Yes, well... That is to say... Please, come inside."
Luna smiled softly, eyes darting back and forth between Rarity, the library door and the empty street.
"It's rather unladylike to have ones weaker moments become public affairs, is it not?"
Rarity rose up and wiped her eyes, nodding and brushing herself off.
"Yes. Yes, of course, forgive me."
Luna closed the door behind Rarity as she stepped inside and walked over to a table, taking a seat. The unicorn sat across from her looking like she was ready to be scolded. Luna thought for a moment about what she wanted to say and took a breath.
"You're... sorry? Oh, please don't tell me that you're here to tell us what our punishments are for the gala. I simply couldn't take it."
Luna's hoof raised off the table slightly but she didn't raise it to command silence. Instead she reached out to Rarity, resting her hoof over the white mare's.
"I'm sorry because the events that transpired at the gala were my doing, caused by my mistakes and stemming from my misguided attempts to make it, as you called it, 'the best night ever' for you and your companions. Each disaster was an accident and I was the source of each."
Rarity smiled softly.
"It's nice of you to try to make me feel better, Princess Luna, but it was Prince Blueblood's actions that led to my poorly contained anger, and it was only because of his attempt to use me as a shield that I let my temper get the better of me."
Luna chuckled a little.
"While I'm not sure of the specifics of that particular event, not that my sister hasn't already held it over my head, I can assure you that none of it was your doing. I was convinced that I knew what I was doing, so when I heard you were looking for your prince charming I immediately took my limited knowledge of this era and sought out Blueblood. It was only because of my instructions that he acted the way he did. I was... more than a little mistaken about what your expectations were regarding royalty, and which time period you were hoping to emulate. My assumptions proved false and you rejected the facade he had put on."
Rarity's eyes didn't look like they could widen any further, and neither did her mouth. To say that she looked shocked would be an understatement that Luna doubted even the most ignorant of ponies would make the mistake of referring to her expression as such. The princess was certain an entirely new word would have to be devised for it.
"So all that time... Every arrogant and petty... All those presumptions..."
Luna nodded, bowing her head low.
"It is with the humblest of apologies that I have come to Ponyville. I hope that you can forgive me. I was doing what I thought was best at the time and ruined your evening and, from what my sister has told me, your reputation."
After a moment of composing herself Rarity sighed.
"It's perfectly alright."
She smiled at the princess.
"I'm certain that once the misunderstandings are cleared up everything will go back to the way it was."
"If there is anything, anything at all, that I can do to make up for my mistakes... It would be a simple enough task to arrange for a meeting with the high society of Canterlot, or at the very least the heads of the fashion industry there."
Rarity shook her head.
"I couldn't ask for such a thing. Those kind of opportunities have to be earned, and I wouldn't want to use favors to make my dreams come true when the true measure of success is to make it on talent alone. It just wouldn't be proper of me. I can think of one thing though."
Luna perked up a bit and Rarity's smiled broadened slightly.
"If it would be possible, even for just a night, to see Prince Blueblood again and... perhaps have a chance to start over again? I know he probably thinks very poorly of me at the moment, and quite frankly I don't blame him after what happened, but I want to know if my fairytale, whirlwind romance has to remain just a story in my head or not."
The princess raised her hoof.
"I, Princess Luna of Equestria, solemnly vow that it shall be done."
They both laughed softly and Luna rested her hooves on the table.
"Given a few days to sort the details out it would be easy to convince him to meet with you again. If you are, as I suspect, a lady through and through then he certainly must have seen your better nature as you endured his poor behavior. And it goes without saying that should he choose to court you, you would have my blessing. I can think of no finer mare, no pony better suited to join the aristocracy, than the Element of Generosity herself."
Rarity bowed, wiping her eyes once more.
"You flatter me, Princess Luna. I'll simply have to make sure I don't disappoint you in the meantime."
Luna chuckled softly.
"There is no flattery, only truth. You are a brilliant designer, a true friend and a lady in an era where crass behavior is frowned upon but accepted. Even if the evening wasn't my fault I would still make the same offer to you and your friends. You have all earned your second chances already, and I hope to earn mine."
It was Rarity's turn to reach out to the princess and they both smiled.
"Don't worry about a thing, Princess, I'm sure that the others will be just as understanding. Except perhaps for Rainbow Dash, but she'll cool down quickly enough. Her temper is quick to flare and just as quick to change."
Luna nodded slightly and Rarity straightened up.
"This certainly changes things. And here I was preparing to exile myself, or resign myself to tending the skies for the rest of my life. With my fashion career in jeopardy and Rainbow Dash recovering from an injury I've been using my newfound free time to beautify Ponyville a little bit."
The blue mare blinked.
"The cloud roses are your doing? They're absolutely wonderful."
Rarity waved her hoof dismissively.
"The weather team doesn't seem to appreciate my work. All the stray bits of cloud left over from my carvings tend to bunch up and throw off the weather systems, but a little extra rain here and there is a small price to pay for some of the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets this town has seen in a long time."
Luna nodded, thinking back to her trip into Ponyville. One of the first things she had noticed were the clouds. It certainly gave the place a very different look.
"In any case, now I'll have to work on a new gown for when I see him again. A lady has to look her best, after all."
Rarity was practically beaming, smiling brightly. Luna chuckled a little, then mulled the idea over.
"Rarity, I take it you are well versed in... shall we say, the arena of romance."
The unicorn adjusted her mane slightly.
"Well, I like to think so. I've had my fair share of experience with such matters, to put it politely. A lady doesn't kiss and tell, after all."
Luna smiled, blushing softly.
"Would you be... willing to help me with my own romantic interest? I've had my eye on somepony but I barely know where to begin with courting them in this day and age."
Rarity stood up, hooves on the table and leaning forwards. She was almost grinning.
"Oh, of course I'll help you, my dear. No need to worry, I know precisely how to draw the eye of any stallion in a hundred miles."
Rarity slid forwards a little further.
"And if you feel like you need somepony to confide your secrets in, you can trust in me. I absolutely love collecting juicy gossip, and I can keep a secret under pressure."
Luna stared at her for a moment, inching back slightly.
"Well... I... It's not a stallion that I have my eye on."
"It's... not? Then who, Princess?"
"What I want to know is who is being so loud this early in the morning..."
Twilight groaned a little as she descended the stairs, eyes half-lidded. She glanced at the table and blinked, smiling softly.
"Oh, good morning, Rarity. Are you here about the spell?"
Luna and Rarity glanced back and forth between each other and Twilight, and Rarity's eyebrow raised slightly. Luna's cheeks turned dark red and the white mare blinked before smiled knowingly while Luna looked down at the table.
"Yes, I just came by to make sure how long these wings were going to last for before I try flying on them again."
Rarity walked over to Twilight and flapped her wings a few times. Twilight's horn glowed softly for a moment and she yawned.
"You've got another day or so left if you don't overdo it. You'll be fine, just come by tomorrow morning so I can cast the spell again. I'll try not to sleep in again."
With a nod Rarity smiled.
"Thank you, Twilight."
She turned to face Luna.
"And thank you, Princess Luna, for a most informative conversation."
She headed for the door, calling over her shoulder to the princess.
"And don't worry, I've got just the thing to help you with your troubles. We'll discuss it over lunch if you and Twilight aren't too busy later on."
She gave Luna a wink that went unnoticed by Twilight and opened the door, taking flight. Luna stared at the doorway for several seconds before closing the door with her magic and looking over at Twilight. The unicorn's mane was all over the place and looked as disheveled as the pile of papers Luna had first found her among.
"Good morning, Luna. Sorry about not waking you up on time, I got a bit too absorbed in my work again."
Luna stood up and smiled, trying to fight back the blush on her cheeks and calm down.
"Think nothing of it. It would appear I needed the rest. As did you, it seems."
Twilight nodded slightly, eyelids drooping. Suddenly her eyes opened wide and she gasped.
The princess tilted her head and raised an eyebrow.
Twilight smiled, jumping up and down.
"I had almost forgotten about that spell! It's difficult to perform so I don't like using it, but it's just what we need!"
Luna shrugged slightly.
"You still haven't told me about this brilliant plan of yours, Twilight."
The unicorn chuckled a little.
"It's all pretty simple. Right now Nightmare Moon is weakened because of the sunlight, and because Fluttershy is actively resisting her using her Element. If I use that spell on myself then I'll be able to fly, and hopefully keep up with you both. If we can trap Fluttershy's body so Nightmare Moon can't run away again I can use the new failsafe spell I've been working on to get rid of the portion of Nightmare Moon inside her. And if it works then I might be able to find a way to use it on you and save you. For real this time."
The alicorn stared at her for a moment.
"Do you really think it's possible to do so?"
"I'm sure of it. We'll find a way, with or without the Elements."
She laughed softly.
"Looks like I get to be a hero like in my books and save a princess."
Luna chuckled slightly.
"Oh, brave and noble Twilight Sparkle, I am forever in your debt."
Twilight assumed a dramatic pose before bowing in a low, sweeping gesture.
"Tis nothing, fair Princess Luna. As an Element of Harmony it is my job, nay, my duty to defend the weak and the innocent from all manner of darkness."
Luna walked over to Twilight, resting a hoof on her shoulder.
"Arise, Twilight Sparkle. Arise a hero and receive your reward."
Twilight stood up and they both smirked, looking into each other's eyes. A moment passed, and then another, but to Luna time might as well have been standing still. She leaned a bit closer.
Twilight was slowly turning bright red, and Luna couldn't help but notice the note of hesitancy and confusion in the mare's voice. She eased back, attempting to hold on to her own composure.
"I... Well, that is..."
They both looked away in embarrassment.
"Perhaps it would be best if we abstained from acting out scenes from romance novels."
Twilight nodded slightly.
"Y-Yeah... let's hold off on that sort of thing for now."
She turned to face Twilight.
"What do you mean?"
Twilight kicked at the ground gently.
"I mean that... I don't know what I mean. Everything is just happening too fast and I barely know you that well but I feel like I want to, and what you said last night isn't making it any easier to keep my thoughts straight."
Luna stared at her.
"You mean when I said that you distract me?"
Twilight shook her head.
"The other thing. When you said that you like me a lot, right before you left to raise the moon. It... It made me feel... content. It felt nice to know how much you cared, it was like all my life I had been trying to get you to notice me and I didn't even know it. That innate connection between us that you said you felt, that kind of thing."
Twilight sighed softly.
"I'm a mare of science and rationality. I've never had time for romance or anything, I don't even know how it feels to have a crush on somepony. The way you make me feel, the thoughts I get in my head around you... I need time to sort them out. You confuse me on a level I didn't know even existed, a level that I don't think my scientific method can help me on."
She turned to face Luna, bowing slightly.
"I know you care about me a lot and want to act on those feelings, but... I'm just not ready yet. I need time to process things. Then I can give you an answer. I'm sorry."
Luna's chest tensed slightly, a weight forming in her heart.
She sighed softly and did her best to smile.
"I have waited a thousand years locked inside the moon with no company save for my own shadow. Waiting days or weeks for you to determine the path your heart wishes to follow is nothing by comparison, though for you I would gladly wait out the rest of eternity even if I would never stand a chance."
She rested her hoof on Twilight's shoulder.
"If time is what you need then have it. I will wait for you."
Twilight smiled softly and stood up.
Luna nodded and smiled.
"Now then, let's go and save your friend."
The unicorn's expression became one of determination.
"You got it, Luna. But first we've got a little side trip to make. We're going to need some help, and I know just the pony for the job."
Twilight headed for the door and Luna followed closely behind her. Well, she mused, at least now she'd have something to gossip with Rarity about when she saw her later.