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    Princess Cadance had long ago made peace with the fact that she’d never have foals of her own.

    Long, long ago, this might have bothered her. It might have hurt her deeply, just as losing Shining Armor had. But long ago was long ago, and things had very much changed since then.

    Princess Cadance knew she’d never give birth to a filly or colt of her own flesh and blood, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have children.

    She had many children.

    Or, well, in this case, adopted changeling nieces and nephews. Hundreds she’d known and looked over for a thousand years with as much love as she looked over ponies.

    It was a late afternoon when a gaggle of changeling hatchlings spilled into Canterlot Castle’s throne room, each and every single one ignoring the orders of Princess Cadance’s handmaiden.

    “I said to come in an ‘orderly fashion’!” Aster boomed, scowling at the hatchlings pushing their way to get the best seat of the night. “Orderly! Orderly!”

    “Every time, Ast,” Rift Shield said, strolling inside the throne room, several other guards following behind. Her glare barely deterred his smirk. “Every time they do this. When will you learn?”

    “Can it, Rift,” she snapped before turning towards the hatchlings. “Sit! All of you! Or else I’ll remind Princess Cadance she has paperwork to do!”

    The hatchlings gasped, and after a symphony of ‘no’ and ‘sorry’s, quietly settled down in front of the throne. Rift and the guards similarly sat down to the side of the room, taking off their helmets and relaxing in front of a large arched window from which sunlight poured in.

    “Come ooooon,” Rift said. He fluttered his eyelashes. “We’re all behaved now, Miss Aster.”

    “Sure you are…”

    After a great harrumph, Aster opened a door leading to a small balcony and stepped out to find Cadance looking out at her kingdom, her brows creased into a frown.

    “Your Highness?”

    Cadance turned to her, and the frown vanished. “Oh! Aster. Is everypony ready?”

    Aster nodded. “Yes, Princess. But… May I speak freely?”

    Cadance smiled warmly and gestured with a hoof. “Of course.”

    “Is everything all right? You seem preoccupied. Are you worried about Princess Twilight and her friends?”

    Immediately, Cadance’s frown returned. “I am, yes,” she confessed, looking back towards the horizon. “It’s been several days since I’ve heard from them, and yesterday was that foal’s birthday, and…” Her shoulders slumped. “I’m frightened, Aster. What if it didn’t work? I… I tried not to get my hopes up, but…”

    Aster softened. “Princess Twilight and Rarity know what they’re doing. Have faith, your highness.”

    “I’m trying to.”

    Aster fell silent a moment and then spoke up. “Princess? If it would ease your mind, I can have one of the pegasus guards fly there tomorrow and bring back news. Would that help at all?”

    Cadance nodded. “Yes, that would help, I think. Thank you, Aster.” After one last glance towards the horizon, she stood up and made her way towards Aster. “All right. Let’s go.”

    As she did every Saturday night for centuries, and after having wiped away the fear and replaced it with joy, Princess Cadance stepped into her throne room to hold the most important event of the week: storytime with the hatchlings visiting from Heart’s Haven.

    “Hello, everybug,” she greeted, striding towards her throne with grace and poise. “Are you all ready for tonight’s story?

    A chorus of assents rang out, the hatchlings sitting up straight and inching forward ever so slightly. Most of them had been there before, but those that hadn’t couldn’t help but gasp at the sunlight shining through the princess.

    When she reached her throne, she cleared her throat. “Now, let me just take a seat…” she said, and promptly did as much, allowing herself a pleased smile that vanished when muffled giggling filled the room.

    She blinked at the hatchlings, their eyes sparkling with as much delight as the eyes of the guards, the bunch of them also giggling from the back. Even Aster seemed amused.

    She frowned, truly confused. Truly! “What? Why are you laughing at me? Is there something on my face?” When the giggling intensified, she looked all around and what a grand gasp she let out when she realized she was sitting inside the throne. “Oh my! Again?! I do this every time! You’d think I’d learn!”

    She shook her head, got out of the throne, and sat down on the floor in front of it.

    “Ahem! Since you’ll watch me raise the moon and bring the night when this is done,” she began, “I’ve decided that our story for today will be…”

    A crackle of magic, and suddenly every single hatchling wore a pirate’s hat. This was quickly followed by a picture book floating before her, the cover depicting a pirate captain flying an airship towards the night sky.

    “Captain Hookshot and the Search for the Stars!”

    To the cheers of the hatchlings, she opened the book to the first page and skimmed it through. She wanted to try out a new narrative voice she’d been practicing for a few days now and was sure to impress the kids.

    “Let’s see…”

    She cleared her throat, and the light in the room dimmed almost completely. This made for a wonderful story-telling ambiance, but it was also highly annoying as she couldn’t really read in the dark.

    “What happened to the light?” She looked up from the book and immediately noticed night had fallen. “Oh, it’s night!” She turned back to her book. “Aster, could you get the lights, please? Thank you!”

    But the lights never turned on. Aster didn’t move a single inch, which was fine for moments after she’d spoken, Princess Cadance no longer cared about the lights either.

    Night had fallen, brought to Equestria by someone other than herself.

    The book fell to the floor with a thud, and Cadance looked up again, her heart hammering in her chest. The hatchlings in front of her blinked at her, excitedly waiting for their story, not a single one noticing the guards and handmaiden gaping at the window.

    “P-Princess!” Rift blurted out, slamming his forehooves against the window. “The moon! The moon is out!”

    She felt faint, at first. No. Not faint. She felt numb, staring at the window with what could only be described as dread. Not a dread born out of fear, or horror at what was going on, but dread of having her hopes crushed again.

    A force alien to her pushed her onwards until her tentative steps became a hurried trot as she made for the balcony, flung the door open, and rushed outside. Aster, Rift, the guards, and even the hatchlings pooled in behind her, each and every single one looking up at the moon floating in a sea of night.

    She could feel it. This moon she’d raised for centuries upon centuries, that she now knew like the back of her hoof… It was different. She felt the knot in her throat, and the tears almost but not quite stinging at her eyes.

    Not quite, not yet.

    “Princess!” Aster exclaimed, as bewildered as the rest of the older changelings. “Princess Luna! It must be her!”

    Cadance didn’t stammer.

    “No.”

    Rift balked. “No? But—! Your highness!”

    “It could be Twilight,” she said, and her voice almost trembled but not quite. “Auntie Celestia could have taught her. I don’t know. It could be Twilight.”

    “But, your high—”

    He fell silent when the princess raised a hoof towards him. He and the others watched as she lowered her hoof and stepped forward to the railing, her eyes scanning the sky.

    This night was familiar. It was the same sky she saw every night when she raised the moon, and the same sky she’d seen for a thousand years since Princess Luna vanished. A sky with a moon and only a couple dozen speckled lights.

    This night was not Auntie Luna’s because Cadance remembered Auntie Luna’s night. One that was not defined by the moon–by this object any alicorn could control–but by what surrounded it, the hundreds of dancing lights that were Auntie Luna’s and Auntie Luna’s alone, that obeyed no pony but her.

    “Please,” she whispered. “Please.”

    She waited, and waited, her heart in her throat until it happened.

    The stars came back to Equestria, flickering to life one by one, waking after a thousand-year sleep.

    And only then did the princess allow herself to cry, her eyes filling with tears as sparkling as the stars, her heart beating as loud as the gasps of her changelings.

    A sentence she feared she’d never speak rolled off her tongue with painful ease, like it’d been waiting in the wings all along:

    “Welcome home, Auntie Luna.”

    Cadance had always loved Princess Luna’s night, much like Twilight did, and now all of Equestria would.

    Celestia, too, loved her sister’s night.

    She thought about it often, sitting in her cave, still in the same position she’d always been. She had a game, you see. A form of meditation. Her Inner Castle, she called it, which she visited and stayed in whenever she closed her eyes. It was in this castle of her mind that she spent most of her time, her sanity kept safe in this world of imagination.

    Whenever she decided night should fall upon her Inner Castle, she always made sure it was her sister’s night. So many centuries had passed, she couldn’t perfectly remember it, but she remembered the stars. The stars and their intricate patterns that she clumsily recreated by memory.

    In truth, whenever she was in her Inner Castle, her inner self avoided staring at the night sky for too long. If she did, it made her sad. She’d stared at it once for nearly a week, and she felt like she’d wept for an entire year after.

    On a particularly hard day, which she had once about every other year, she wished she could die. And if she were to die, she thought, she wished the last thing she saw was her sister’s night.

    Ha! Wasn’t that a thought. It made her smile, just thinking of how Luna would feel about that.

    Sometimes, she wished she could die.

    But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t. And this was fine.

    Celestia would sit in that cave for many, many more moons, probably more than the one’s she’d already spent sitting in it already, casting the same spell, and this?

    This was fine, too.

    In any case, it happened when she’d least expected it. She’d been painstakingly repainting the castle in her mind–imagined every tile, every line, every drop of paint—when she heard a poof of magic, followed by the softest sound of something dropping onto the ground.

    She opened her eyes, black as the night, and through tears saw a single rolled-up parchment resting at her hooves. A parchment quite similar to the ones she’d received in the past months, which lay opened but unanswered at her hooves.

    It was rude of her, but it was what it was. So long as Twilight Sparkle thought she was safe and well, and thus could focus on other matters, a little rudeness was allowed.

    It was obvious she should open the letter, but she was frightened. The low thrum of the spell she’d been casting almost uninterrupted for a thousand years filled the cave, and though she knew she had magic–she was casting the spell, after all—she knew such an act had damaged her horn.

    Perhaps irreversibly.

    How silly. How ridiculous. The idea that opening a letter might damage her horn even more. If she still had a full horn at all. She tried not to think of that. It’s why she stayed in her Inner Castle, where she could mediate and think and forget and—

    The letter.

    A letter had arrived.

    Silly Celestia, off she’d gone to dreamland again and forgotten all about it. Silly, silly, silly! She really had to stop doing that. She decided she’d make a chart in her Inner Castle, and write down important things to remember in it. Maybe she’d put it in her study or—

    The letter, Celestia.

    She stared at it, and despite her reservations, made a choice. The thrum of magic intensified, and with delicate precision, the parchment floated up and unfurled before her. She didn’t hear a piece of her horn fall to the ground, either, which was relieving.

    Under the dim light of her spell, she began to read. She read, and read, these words her student had sent, and the more she read, the more she cried.

    The parchment fell to the floor when she was done.

    Though she’d long ago suppressed any and all physical sensations, she remembered what it was like to feel your chest compress. To feel your heart squeeze and contract, to have it pound against your ribcage.

    If she could still feel, she imagined she’d be feeling all these things and more.

    She looked towards the distance and stared at her cave’s exit, the horizon distorted by the rushing waterfall hiding it away. She stared and stared, and when she’d stared enough, she made another choice.

    She stood up.

    She felt elderly at first. In fact, she was, but goodness, she felt it when she stood up, her legs wobbly and unsure after centuries of unuse. It was aggravating, in truth, but necessary. She couldn’t risk anything going wrong.

    Once she’d steadied herself, she took a step.

    And another.

    And another.

    “And where do you think you’re going?”

    She stopped, lightly turning her head back. She debated replying. In the castle of her mind, she wrote down a list of reasons why she should and why she should not. She decided this was a special occasion.

    “Out.”

    Her voice was hoarse when she spoke. Scratchy, and irritating, like sandpaper against her throat. But it was there.

    “Ah.”

    “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon enough.”

    She waited for a reply, and when none came, she turned back towards the exit and walked forward. Step by step, right up until she was at the edge of the cave, and the thundering waterfall forced her ears to press against her skull.

    It was here that Celestia looked up at the sky for the first time in so long.

    It was here that she saw her sister’s night sky. A watercolor painting of a blurred moon and blurred stars, distorted and faded.

    For the first time in so, so long–so long, she’d feared she’d forgotten how to do so–Princess Celestia smiled.

    “Ah,” she said, the tears in her cheeks for once tears of joy, “what a beautiful night.”


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    2 Comments

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    1. A Deer
      Aug 23, 2022, 5:07 am

      Wanted to add that the art was great too.

    2. A deer
      Aug 23, 2022, 5:05 am

      I really enjoyed this story. The buildup of tension was great and so was the humor, romance and dialog. The scene of Rarity letting Twilight know what she went through and was feeling when they were in the dream library stuck with me. Then there was Luna seeing Pinkie's memories that was also well done. I liked the payoffs of the arcs, they felt rewarding.