Dear Princes Celestia, and Princes Luna too,
After the marriage of my brother, Shining Armor, to Princess Cadence, a question that I have long wanted to ask you has come to the front of my mind again. There never seemed to be a right time or place to ask this, and forgive me if I seem forward.....
* * *
Princess Luna frowned at the letter that her graceful white sister levitated before her where she reclined, eyes scanning the lines of characters - still she marveled at how much they had changed in so little time - written by her sister’s current student. She glanced from the letter to Celestia, then back again at the words when she saw the expression in her sister’s eyes. Moments passed, and she looked back again. There were the slightest hints of tears in the almond violet eyes, she saw, though they were quickly blinked away.
Celestia floated the letter down, letting it roll up into itself, and looked at Luna. “How do I tell her, sister?”
Luna blinked. “You are seriously considering telling her the truth? Have you ever told anypony the truth, since -” she bit off the last words, still unable to say it.
Celestia shook her regal head, ears drooping, eyes closing, and the shining aurora of her mane seeming to dim. Luna knew how to read her sister, and doubted anypony else left on Equestria would be able to see the despair that welled up in her through just those few signs.
“You haven’t, have you?” The shock was physical, and Luna felt the wispy billow of her tail twitch against her legs where it lay across them. She had come back to a world radically changed from that which she had left. Had found herself an object of terror and legend, even if it was in the twisted form they remembered her as. She had assumed that part of that legend included what she had done.
Celestia shook her head, mane diming further. “It was enough, I thought, what they remembered on their own. Even that I tried to make fade to legend and myth.” There were tears again in her eyes, dewy on the long, dark lashes. “Bad enough that I brought those few foals into the world in those thousand years, from which the royal lines descend. To see that pain played out again and again was bad enough. But to have them know-” Celestia lay her head upon her folded hooves, eyes closed.
“Twilight is the first to ever ask, isn’t she?” Luna couldn’t help the question. All it garnered was a slight nod from her sister. “She truly is exceptional. Are you sure she is not from Star Swirl’s line?”
“I know she is not, Luna.” A violet eye opened, looking up at Luna. “She’s from my line.” The admission made Luna start slightly, ears twitching forward, wings slightly fluffing. Celestia continued: “Her mother is a long descendant from one of my colts, eight generations removed from me, Luna. One of the very few foals I bore since -” she too still could not say the words, Luna saw. And that Twilight and Shining Armor were out of one of the cadet lines explained so very much.
Luna hung her head, considering. Her sister had spared all of Equestria the truth of what had happened in her time as Nightmare Moon, and the real reason for her banishment. For no reason that Luna could see but out of care for her; a sister who had fallen further into darkness than any alicorn - no any pony at all - should have ever fallen. And yet she had been redeemed by the actions of her sister’s student, and in truth the actions of her sister. She bowed her head low, folding it neatly into her neck’s arch.
“Tia, I will tell her.”
Celestia started, head jerking up from her crossed legs, eyes wide in shock. “Luna! No, you do not have to, I will-”
“No.” Luna pulled herself to her hooves, and looked down into her sister’s wide, violet eyes. “I will not let you hurt yourself again to spare me. I did what I did as Nightmare Moon, and it is my duty to answer Twilight. She is family, more even so now that her brother has married back into the line.” She stamped her front hoof with a metallic ring, and once again she could remember the feel of the battle armor the decorative facing on her cannons was designed to echo. “I will go now, and I will tell her all of it.”
“But Luna, what if -” Tia’s sentence hung in the air, unfinished, and Luna could not help but look hard at her sister.
“What she does with the truth is up to her, Tia. You trust her. And I owe my life to her, in more ways than one. She has saved us from our own folly more than once, Tia. She deserves the truth.”
Celestia only nodded, then turned her head down and away, eyes closing and horn dipping low. “If you must, Luna, but I worry at what pain this may cause my student to hear.”
“No more pain than a lie by omission, Tia. She deserves to know.”
Without another moment of hesitation, Luna took wing, gliding out the closest window into the cool night air.
* * *
Twilight started at the sudden hoot of alarm from Owlowiscious, looking up from the book she had been reading and around into the gloom of the library. A soft clatter of hooves on the upstairs balcony, and Owlowiscious’ softer hoot, gave her direction to the reason of the little owl’s alarm. Who is visiting so late , she wondered. No one else was usually awake at this hour, and she, if she was honest, shouldn’t be awake either.
She clambered up the steps to the balcony, careful to tread quietly on the stairs so as not to wake Spike, and equally careful as she opened the latch of the balcony door with a quiet twist of her magic. So intent on closing the door quietly behind her was she, that she didn’t notice who sat, wings and hind legs primly folded with her noble head held high, on the balcony. When she did turn, Twilight all but fell over herself onto her rump with a startled cry.
“Prin-Princess Luna!” Twilight tried to pop up from her half backwards stumble into a bow, tangling her legs in the process, and tripping forwards. “Forgive me, I wasn’t expecting you! I wasn’t expecting anyone, actually, and honestly I shouldn’t even be awake still. But would you like to come inside and have some tea? I’ve got some great daisy tea, and I can wake Spike up to make us a pot of it, fresh and hot, and you can have a seat on the couch once I clean all the books off of it and-”
“Twilight.” Luna interrupted the avalanche of words from her sister’s student. “I think it is best if we talked here, rather than inside. It is more private.” A dark blue twist of the alicorn’s magic locked the balcony doors, and slid over the panes of glass, making them dark.
“Oh, yes, of course.” Twilight suddenly seemed hesitant, even shy. She sat back onto her haunches; a sudden uncomfortable realization dawning across her purple features. “This is about my letter, isn’t it? The one where I asked about why there are so few Alicorns, and what would happen to my brother’s children, or even if he and Cadence could have any.”
Luna nodded. “Yes, Twilight. I felt I could best answer it, and answer it in full. My sister has done much to protect the ponies of Equestria, and in doing so she has let some details slide into history’s oblivion. But you deserve the full truth, Twilight. And I deserve to be the one to tell you.”
Twilight blinked at the last, startled.
With a gathering of breath, let ought in a sigh, Luna began to explain. “Once, long ago, long before I became Nightmare Moon, but not quite so long ago as before the first unicorn, pegasus, and earth ponies came to Equestria, there was a tribe of alicorns. When the first settlers came to Equestria, in fact, they found the tribe, who lived in the mountains nearby. And they were amazed by the ability of these ponies, which seemed to be all three of their races combined, to control the world around them with magic. And, because the alicorns could make the sun shine on a regular schedule, and make the breezes blow warm and fair when the crops needed it, and make the sky shine at night with stars, the ponies welcomed the tribe into their new kingdom, and gave them a special place within it.”
Luna paused, looking down at her hooves. “I had not been born yet, but my mother - and Tia’s mother - remembered those days, and told us of them. Even then an alicorn mare lived forever, and all the alicorns in the tribe were mares, and had lived so long they did not even known how long they had been alive when the pony tribes found them. And they happily accepted into their lives and lands these creatures who looked like them, but seemed to wink out in the blink of an eye, like a shooting star, and made the lands prosper and grow green for them, for they had never known others like them before.”
“It was only a matter of time before, of course, that like the three races of ponies, the alicorns mixed their blood with the others. They took lovers, and were mothers for the first time in their lives. But with the joy of these new foals, they discovered something horrible. Fillies born to the alicorns were always alicorns, no matter the father. And they, like their mothers, once grown seemed never to age. But colts were born as the race of the father, and like their fathers, grew old as fast as anypony else, and died like anypony else.”
Twilight opened her eyes wide, her jaw hanging open, raising a hoof half into the air. “Wait, please, Twilight. I must,” and Luna found her voice catching, and swallowed hard to find it again. “I must finish. Please.” Twilight lowered her hoof and closed her jaw.
Luna continued, “It broke the hearts of many alicorns. For the first time, they knew old age and death, and had to watch those they loved, husbands, children, brothers, die in what to them felt like the blink of an eye. It was especially hard on the Second Generation, as we called ourselves. Those like Tia and I, who were born to the First Alicorns. Our mothers did not understand what death was, but we were born into a world of it. And so we did the only thing we knew how to do. Tia lead us, and the rest of us - yes, Twilight, there were more than just us - followed her in her plan. We became the rulers of these ponies we loved, and sought to make their brief lives as idyllic and peaceful as we could. But nothing we could do would stave off death indefinitely for them.”
Luna paused, looking at Twilight, and guessed the question she would want to ask. “Yes, Twilight. We tried. We tried to make our little ponies immortal like ourselves. But we could not. You died, no matter what we did. And it slowly broke the hearts of the Firsts. They withdrew from the civilization we built in Equestria, into the castles and keeps and libraries. And as they did, no matter what we Seconds could do, it seemed our little ponies grew to resent us more and more.”
A longer pause, now she must choose her words carefully. “I had been in love, Twilight, and married a stallion, and born three colts to him. And I watched as first he, then they, aged and died. And when my last son died, I lapsed into darkness. I put myself entirely into my work, Twilight, of creating the night so beautiful it rivaled my sister’s day.”
“And that’s when the ponies rejected your night, wasn’t it? And you became-”
Luna quickly cut Twilight off. “Yes. That is when the darkness that was Nightmare Moon consumed my soul and body.” Here, now, it had to be now , she thought. The truth has to come out now . “And that was when I killed them all, Twilight. I killed every last alicorn that I could lay my hooves on. I killed every colt, filly, and mate of any of the Firsts and Seconds I could find. It was when I turned to kill Tia that she banished me to the moon.”
“You killed them all?” Twilight’s voice wasn’t accusing at all, but rather filled with remorse and sadness.
“Not perhaps them all. But all I could find.” Luna shook her head, ears folding slightly, “Our mother, Tia thinks, escaped into the night which I had made so beautiful, and became something far beyond ponykind’s knowledge. Perhaps some of the others did as well. I do not know. But every colt and filly, every husband I could find. They died. I ended the alicorns as a race, Twilight, and had it not been for Tia’s survival, I would have done so permanently.”
“Why?” The word slipped out of Twilight, and even she looked surprised she had spoken.
“Because in my grief and anger, Twilight, I wanted to end their suffering, to end my own suffering in watching them slowly die, day by day. Why should these brief creatures live, and we alicorns be forced to watch those we loved grow old and die? Why should they suffer, and we along with them? And so I put them out of what I saw only as a lifetime of suffering.”
“I’m sorry, Luna.” Twilight said her voice husky with sadness. “I shouldn’t have written that letter.”
“No, you deserved the truth, Twilight - especially since your brother married Cadence, Twilight, but for another reason as well.” Luna turned, looking up at the full moon. “Tia swore to herself after I had been exiled that she would do her best to avoid ever loving another of her subjects, Twilight. So she lived a life alone, without even her sister to stand beside her. But she is a pony, Twilight, just like you, just like me, no matter being an alicorn. She loves, she fears, and she cries. And she fell in love with a few - a very few - in those thousand years I was gone.”
Luna turned to look back at Twilight. “By one of the earliest stalions, she had the colt that would sire the line that would lead to your mother, Twilight. By another she had the filly alicorn who would give birth to Blueblood, and by another daughter who would lead to Cadence’s birth a few years before yours. I am not sure, in truth, how many there were. But they were very, very few.”
“Why did the Princess never tell me?” The question seemed to slip out of Twilight before she thought the words through. She blushed horribly, and covered her muzzle with a hoof.
“I can tell you that. She never told you for the same reason she never told anypony else. Every alicorn born since my exile, Twilight, has within a hundred years either died by her own magic, or done as Tia thinks our mother did, and vanish into the heavens. They succumb to heartbreak, Twilight, when at last they can no longer watch those they love die. Only Tia endured. And she does so out of her love for all of her little ponies, Twilight, a love that outweighs all the grief in her heart.”
Twilight sat, open mouthed and stunned, for what felt like an eternity, even to Luna. Finally, she closed her mouth, and asked, in a voice barely a whisper: “Why are you telling me all of this, Princess?”
Luna swallowed the lump that had crept into her throat, and breathed out hard. “Because, Twilight, you, of all ponies, deserve the truth. You have saved Equestria thrice now, and you saved my life and soul, Twilight, a life that my sister spared at the expense of her own loneliness and grief. She could have killed me, but she did not. And by doing so she showed me - now that the darkness that was that monster is gone from me - that she was right, and I was wrong. And that we can be strong enough to live through any grief, no matter how great, and that we must be, for all of those who depend on us.”
Luna stood, opening her wings and turning to launch herself from the balcony. “Do what you will this information, Twilight. Tell everyone. Or tell no one. It is yours to do with as you will.” And without a glance back, she again launched herself into the night on indigo wings.
Twilight sat for a moment, still trying to process all that she had heard from Princess Luna. Genocide - a word ponykind barely knew - and the eternal, lonely grief of Princess Celestia. That there had once been possibly hundreds of alicorns - that thought alone was stunning - and that they had discovered mortality and love in embracing ponykind, and paid for it in a grief so great it had cost them nearly everything. And the grief of a race had become the grief of a single mare, a mare forced to exile her own sister while the blood of their kind was on those dark hooves. And it was now a grief and a burden that somehow had given birth to Twilight’s own family, and had somehow come full circle to now rest heavily on Twilight’s own mind.
She shook her mane, and then stood to walk back to her desk in the library. She knew now what she had to do.
* * *
Dear Princess Celestia,
Or perhaps, I should call you Great Granddame?
Today I learned perhaps the most important lesson about friendship possible: that friendship is about sharing, not just our possessions and our good times, but also about sharing our grief and our darkness. That with friendship we are never alone in carrying a burden, so long as we realize our friends are there for us.
Thank Princess Luna for sharing with me the truth. It was a hard thing to hear, and it could not have been easy for her to tell me, but I understand more now than I ever thought I would about what happened concerning Nightmare Moon and her exile. And I understand now, more than ever, why you feel you must protect all of your little ponies.
And thank you, Princess Celestia. For all you have done for us, that we have not known or understood. For every day you raise the sun, and every day that you watch over us, I am thankful in a way now I never felt before. And I hope, though I am only your student now, one day you might see me also as a friend who can help you and Princess Luna carry these burdens.
Your faithful student, and I hope friend,