Equestria from Dust

Celestia awakens to see an empty world, white sandstone stretching the horizon. She wanders the world as she builds it from her imagination, filling it with life, but as time passes, the world that she created begins to seem like little more than a lucid dream, conjured from the dust.

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16. Part 16: Guardian

Guardian

 

 

Equestria from Dust, by soundslikeponies

 

The copper-lit chamber grows deafeningly quiet. Celestia’s heart pounds in her ears so thunderously that it crowds out any thought. Her throat runs dry. Her knees feel weak. She shuts her eyes and wishes it would all just go away.

Discord lifts his claw, inspecting the sharpness of its talons. “Hmm, nothing to say?” he asks, arching an eyebrow at her.

What would you have me do?” Celestia snaps, gritting her teeth and bearing them at him. “You want me to bow? I’ll bow. You want me to tap dance for you? I’ll do that too.” She stops herself and takes a deep breath, allowing her to get some of her anger back under control. She starts again, “What do you want from me? What will it take for me to get those foals back unharmed?”

Slapping a paw over his mouth, Discord chortles quietly to himself, his grin peeking out from either side of his hand. “Sorry.” He doesn’t mean it. “It’s just so ridiculously amusing to watch you struggle with yourself. You’re hilarious, you know that?”

Celestia slowly breathes hot air out her nostrils, keeping a level-headed stare.

Discord lets out a sigh, smiling. “You know I don’t think I’ll ever let those two students go. This is just too much fun.”

Luna stomps the ground, her lips pulled back in a snarl. “Then we’ll have to force it out of you.”

Discord gives her a casual glance. “Yes, yes I suppose you would,” he says. “Only—” he snaps his fingers, an apple popping into existence above one claw “—I have magic here, and you don’t.”

Discord stretches his clawed hand wide open, setting the apple ablaze with a dark purple flame. As the air shimmers around it, the apple turns into a black and hard obsidian orb.

Luna shifts her stance, watching the flame warily. Celestia tenses as well as she glances between Discord and the spell in his hand, looking for a sign—a flinch, a twitch of the eye, a sharp flicker of flame—for when he might launch it.

“You can’t so much as light your own horn here, can you?” Discord says, summoning eight more fireballs into the air around him. “What does it feel like to be powerless? I’d imagine that’s a new one for you.”

“I fear no spell of yours,” Celestia says, her eyes narrowing. “For I know they come from the magic of a coward.”

Discord glares, briefly, before an unpleasant smile slips across his lips once more. Simultaneously, the nine balls of purple flame fizzle to nothing. “Fine,” Discord says, crossing his arms. “Let it be known that if nothing else, I hate to make things dull.”

“What is this?” Celestia asks, still tensing.

“I’ll use no magic here: a restriction to make things more interesting.” Discord glances at each of them. “No objections I trust?”

“How do we know you won’t just resort to magic if you start losing?” Luna asks.

“You don’t, but what does that matter?”

It doesn’t, Celestia supposes. All they can do is be on guard and take whatever advantage Discord is willing to give them. In the end it’s all a game to him.

Celestia glances at Luna, who nods at her. They both lower into a combative stance, legs slightly spread and knees bent. Celestia tries calling on her magic one more time, hoping to feel anything, but all she receives in response is a blank pulse and a pain in her horn.

Discord chuckles to himself. “A battle between gods, then,” he says, his fangs gleaming in the amber light. “Who would believe someone if they said it was fought tooth and nail?”

“I think someone would,” Celestia says, eyes narrowing. “If one of said gods were a madman with some kind of leverage over his opponents’ heads, it would seem quite fitting.”

“I suppose it would. Pity no one will hear of it.”

“That yet remains to be seen,” Celestia says. “Do you plan to make this a fair fight, or do you not?”

“I don’t know. That’s really all up to the two of you. How capable are you without your powers? How well do you cope with nothing but the strength of your four legs?”

“Better than you would think,” Celestia replied.

With that, their conversation falls silent. Discord, chatty as he is, has nothing more to say.

Luna charges at Discord, her head lowered and her horn poised to gore him. As she falls within reach he swipes at her with his lion paw. His limb moves with the strength of a bear, iron muscles lying beneath its grey coat.

Luna ducks beneath it, its claws grazing her mane, as she continues to run at him and aims for his wide open side.

Discord’s tail whips around from the follow through of his swing. She isn’t prepared. It’s moving too fast.

His tail crashes into her harder than she could have braced herself for, knocking the wind from her and sending her barreling across the floor of the chamber. She lies there on the stone, gasping.

Celestia bites her tongue, studying Discord’s movements. Her sister is strong enough and stubborn enough not to be enfeebled by such a blow, but she can tell that there is no hope of either of them beating him. Especially if he decides to use his magic. Her mind races to find a plan.

Discord turns away from Luna to face Celestia. “Are you really going to just stand there as your sister fights me?” he asks her. “You’re going to watch her struggle all on her own? Where’s your sibling compassion?

Luna manages to climb to her hooves, wincing. “Ignore him,” she says. She looks at Celestia. “Are you ready?”

Celestia nods, lowering her stance. They both sprint towards Discord, horns lowered. Celestia runs straight at him as Luna comes from his side.

Discord glances between the two of them, his lip pulled up in a snarl. Not waiting for them both to meet him, he faces Celestia and lowers onto his front claws, dashing up to her with two gaping steps. His avian arm lunges for her throat with talons sharper than spears.

Celestia rears back in surprise, but not quick enough as his talons wrap around her throat, lifting her off the ground as he stands upright.

Luna freezes in her tracks, staring in horror.

Turning to face her, Discord lightly drags a claw across Celestia’s throat. “Schlick!” he says, smiling sinisterly. “Match point. I win.” But then he frowns and lets out a heavy sigh. “Over barely after it began, now where’s the fun in that?”

He tosses Celestia over to Luna, his talons drawing deep gashes on her neck as he throws her.

Luna steps in the way of Celestia’s fall, spreading her wings. She catches her, but Celestia’s weight throws them both to the ground, separating them, and they grind to a painful halt a short distance apart.

Numb, biting pain races up and down Celestia’s side, her dust-made wings shattered. The hair around her neck is matted with blood running from the three gashes on either side of her neck.

Still, she tries to stand. It’s the most pain she’s ever been in, but as she bears it she supposes Discord was right about one thing at the very least: her will.

Drips trail down and fall from her chest. She raises her head, her neck stinging from the action, and looks Discord in the eye with her lips sealed in a narrow line.

Discord smirks, not the least bit affected by her glare. “I would have been disappointed if that was all it took. Good to see you living up to your title.”

“Go burn in Tartarus,” Celestia bites back, her teeth bared in a snarl.

“It was on my list of places to visit, but maybe later.”

Off to the side, Luna stands with a great deal of effort. She pants, the fresh bruises from Discord’s first attack showing her no kindness for catching Celestia. “This isn’t working.”

Celestia glances at her back. The dust made wings begin to regenerate. “Are you able to fly?”

“My wings seem to have avoided the worst of it, yes,” Luna says, spreading them.

“If we take to the air we at least have an advantage in speed.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” Discord says, chuckling. “Would you two prefer if I turn around while you strategize?”

Luna glares at him. For a moment, her eyes flicker with black dust. “Does it matter?” she snaps.

The smile on Discord’s face turns sour. “No, I suppose it really doesn’t.”

Neither of them say anything more to him. Once Celestia’s wings finish reforming, the two of them take flight. Celestia wavers, adjusting to the dust-made wings. They feel surprisingly agile, strong. A wingstroke takes practically no effort at all, and the feeling of power in her wings gives her a renewed confidence.

She and Luna hover just off the ground, taking a moment to evaluate Discord. In the air they are harder targets, but if they are hit, the resulting fall will be that much harder. They have to be fast, but careful. There is no telling if either of them could take another blow like the ones from before.

Several tense seconds pass. Then, Celestia and Luna begin circling Discord, gaining more and more speed.

Discord’s gaze shifts back and forth between them as he crouches, flexing his talons and claws. The way he’s coiled reminds Celestia of a snake being circled by an eagle high above, and she decides to strike, turning inwards, straight for Discord. Opposite of her, Luna does the same.

Discord spins around, trying to face both ways, but only succeeding in facing neither.

As Celestia swoops down towards his face, she slows herself and climbs over an errant swipe, before launching a kick to the side of his head. It misses. But as it does, Luna bucks and lands a kick squarely to his back.

Discord staggers from the blow. He swings his claws furiously, but both of them have already backed away, and begun circling him again. “Clever,” he spits.

Giving him no reprieve, they dive in once more, Luna leading first this time.

Discord turns to her, his claws outstretched. He raises both his arms, protecting his face, and swipes at her with his lion’s paw.

Luna flaps her wings forward, backpedaling away from his attacks and dancing around just out of his reach. But from behind, Celestia weaves under a swipe from his tail. Two bone shattering kicks land on Discord’s back with a satisfying crunch.

Letting out a shrill roar, he falls to the floor, writhing and twitching. He slithers away, into the darkness away from the mural, beyond where it’s safe for them to follow. A loud snap of bone popping back into place comes from the dark, followed by a cry of pain.

Celestia watches the border where the light reaches, panting. A few tense moments pass with nothing but silence coming from the dark. Celestia folds her wings, glancing at Luna. Luna does little more than shrug.

Silent, with no warning, a purple glow surrounds Luna and lifts her off the ground. In the next instant, it throws her faster than anything is meant to fly, flinging her at the mural. Her body crumples against the painted wall, cracks snaking outward from her impact. There’s no scream. No reaction. Her eyes close.

Celestia’s breath leaves her. Her bottom lip quivers, and she begins to feel the familiar sting of tears in her eyes. “Luna!” she cries, the words coming ripped out of her throat. Her tears trail down her cheeks, mingling with the blood on her coat around her neck. The salt in them stings, but it’s nothing like the pain of seeing her sister’s limp form.

Discord steps out into the light. She turns to him, shaking with fury. “Why her?!” she yells, choking on her tears. “It should have been me!

Discord merely smiles in the face of her rage and pain.“You’re the one I want to play with.”

Celestia rushes over to Luna’s side and leans down. Her body is badly crushed, her legs bent in ways they were never designed to bend. She leans down and places a hoof beside Luna’s neck. There’s no pulse. Not a weak one, clinging to life. None.

Celestia tilts Luna’s head, staring at her closed eyes. “Luna...” She cradles Luna’s limp form, burying her muzzle against her neck. “I couldn’t give you the world...”

Discord watches, unsympathetically, from the side. But to Celestia, there is no Discord. There is neither mural nor chamber. There is only her: Luna. The one for which she did everything.

Slowly, she lets out a deep breath. The shaking stops. A gentle beckoning calls to her. She closes her eyes, a wave of calm washing over her. With her calm, the beckoning lifts her spirit away from her.

 

 

Drip... Drip... Drip...

Warmth surrounds Celestia. It comforts her with an invisible blanket, numbing the pain in her body and mind.

Protect.

Celestia slowly opens her eyes, feeling as though she’s coming back after a very long sleep. The ground is soft. Four black hooves stand in a pool of shallow water nested in a cloud in the sky. Craning her neck up, she sees the dark apparition of her dreams, and what appear to be tears falling from the apparition’s muzzle.

Drip.

Celestia’s vision grows blurry. She reaches up and touches the apparition’s cheek. “You... you look so much like her.”

Gone is the anger, the fear, the sorrow that for so long has marred the apparition’s face. It has returned to the gentle look, the one she saw centuries ago. It cranes its neck down and rests its muzzle against Celestia’s neck. Tears continue to stream silently down its face. It’s crying for her.

A shadow casts itself over Celestia, blocking the sun at her back. She turns to face it. A wing, white as snow and whiter than her own, rests the tips of its feathers across her shoulders, the white spirit standing solemnly at its end.

Celestia casts her eyes downward, a sickness rising in her throat. “I couldn’t protect any of them,” she says, quietly. The spirit gently retracts its wing. “Luna, Storm Gale, Rose Flame. There wasn’t a single one of them I could keep safe.”

The spirit stares at her. Celestia averts her gaze, the shame of her. The spirit’s eyes soften. Then, folding its wing back to its side, it steps past her and begins walking along the pool’s surface. Not a single ripple echoes out along the surface, the air still as death. Pausing out in the center of the pool, the spirit stops and glances back at her.

The next breath freezes in Celestia’s throat. A whispering voice in the back of her head urges her forward, urges her to join the spirit. So she stands, taking a few tentative steps forward. She walks across the pool, the surface like glass beneath her hooves. She joins the white spirit in the center.

Drip... Drip...

The apparition, too, walks across the surface, stopping behind Celestia. Waves ripple outwards from its tears.

Celestia stares down at her reflection, the waves making it shiver and shake. In the eyes of her reflection there’s a pony she barely recognizes. Its eyes seem so alone, so sad. She closes her eyes, unable to look at it any longer.

Remember.

The surface gives out, plunging her into the water. And rather than floating, she plummets, deeper and deeper until the water is black. She continues to sink, stuck in limbo as pressure builds around her. Memories cloud her mind in a haze of disjointed sounds and sights. A single thought breaks through and silences the chatter.

Why am I here?

She floats, weightlessly, tumbling ever downward in the bottomless pool.

Protect.

She shakes her head. No, there’s more to it than that.

Her mane drifts in front of her eyes, a reef of blue, green, and pink. She can feel the words on the tip of her tongue, slipping ever further out of her grasp. The deeper she falls, the more her past slips away, memories drifting out into the dark void surrounding her.

After everything I’ve been through, is it coming to an end?

Celestia smiles and closes her eyes, letting her out her breath. She watches the bubbles float up towards the surface and a serene feeling of peace washes over her.

I’ll see you soon, Luna.

As her life slips away, she recalls the first time she laid eyes on her, atop that mountain so long ago. Her sister. Her child. Her equal. Her better. She can still recall perfectly the way Luna’s eyes lit up with wonder at the world surrounding her and the immense gratification Celestia felt upon seeing her open her eyes.

Wait!

Celestia’s eyes snap open. Hundreds of memories, spread over thousands of years, flash before her. As she scans them, she feels the answer back on the tip of her tongue, just one link from everything being tied together. Her heart pounds in her chest. There isn’t much time. Then, a small word, representing a much bigger idea, pops into her head.

Love.

With it, her memories clear, her thoughts clarify. She looks back on her memories, realizing how much she cared for each and every single one of them, and how little she showed it.

I’ve never shared my love. Not with anyone but her.

A picture of Luna’s broken form presses to the forefront of her mind. Her jaw tightens. Were it not for the water, tears would be falling from her eyes.

Even then, I never shared my love with her as much as I should have.

A warmth begins to build in her chest, casting a faint glow in the water. The golden magic in her wings spreads to the rest of her body and covers it in a veil of light. With it, her wings grow. With it, she feels as though she can fly.

Soaring out of the depths, she rushes toward the surface. The water begins to take on color, light filtering down from above, and soon the bright blue sheen of the surface appears in the distance. She glides toward it with her wings spread wide, flying through the water as if it were air.

She bursts through the surface, standing atop it once more. She heaves, her mane and coat dripping wet and sending ripples along the pool of water.

Across from her, the apparition and spirit stand. Clouds of dust, much like Celestia’s own, surround them. Where they meet and cross, a golden dust forms.

Celestia stares at them, her eyes widening. Their magic is the same as hers. It has the same presence, the same touch. “You’re me,” she says, in disbelief. She shakes her head. “You’ve been in my dreams this whole time because you are me.”

They glance at each other, then turn back to her and nod slowly.

As Celestia’s coat stops dripping, she sees her reflection, but instead of it being her, it’s the apparition and spirit staring back at her. Their hooves are attached to where hers are on the water’s surface. The way their stance shifts mimics hers.

“I... I don’t understand.” Celestia grits her teeth, her shoulders shaking. “Why? Why attack me in the mountains? Why poison me in my dreams? Does this mean I did those things to myself?” The spirits both nod. Celestia stares down at her own hooves and the golden magic flowing around them.

“Then he was right. I am ultimately the one who created him, and because of that...” Celestia’s words die off. What she has to do becomes clear, and she raises her head.

Meeting the spirit’s gazes, she says, “If you two are me, then lend me your magic. Lend me the will that once shaped the world, lend me the heart that created life, and let me protect that which I created, but is not mine.” A drive—a conviction builds in Celestia as she speaks. “Allow me to protect them.”

A moment passes in silence, the spirits merely meeting her gaze. Then, they both begin to smile, genuinely. A look of what Celestia can only describe as peace washes over them as they close their eyes. Their bodies glow and then begin to dissolve to clouds of dust, mixing to form a golden cloud that shines under the sun of the dream world.

As the cloud expands to a great sandstorm around her, Celestia bows her head and closes her eyes. “Thank you.”

But before she leaves, she hears six words.

Laughter.

Generosity.

Kindness.

Loyalty.

Honesty.

Love.

 

 

Celestia returns to the scene exactly where she left it, with Luna’s crumpled form in her arms and with Discord sneering down at her. She lets go of Luna. As she stands, her wings, and the golden dust that makes them, grow and spread, her wingspan becoming many times her own body length.

From each wing’s span form three golden orbs, translucent like gems and more pure than any amber. They drip from the growing body of dust like teardrops. Circling her, they glow with energy.

Discord steps back, his eyes narrowing. “Oh? Now where’s this coming from? And here I thought your claws were clipped.” He summons six dark purple fireballs, each the size of his fist, to his side. “I guess we’ll be having a real fight after all. Come. Kill me, Celestia.”

“No,” Celestia replies. Her voice carries no anger, no loathing. She speaks calm and gentle, “As much as I loathe you for all that you’ve done, you were born of me, and are still a part of me.”

“What a useless sentiment. Naive to the bitter end, I suppose.”

No. Celestia takes a stance. Not any longer. The orbs circling her begin to glow brighter, the magic in them causing the air itself to vibrate.

Faster than Discord can flee, a golden beam, thick as a road and bright as sunlight, strikes him. His eyes widen as he stands there, paralyzed, while his feet begin to turn to stone.

What?” His mouth drops open, aghast, once he realizes what’s happening. “No, no, no! What are you doing?! Kill me!” he shrieks. The stone is up to his knees now. “Kill me! Kill me! Kill me! Strike through my heart! I don’t want to be caged again!

Celestia has to pity the beast. How can she not when he knows so little? How can she not when he is so lost, so alone in the world, as she once was? “There will come a time when you are free again. Not for a thousand years, but there will come a time. And when that time comes, I hope to make you understand exactly what you sought to destroy.” The stone is up to his chest now. “Sleep, Discord. Let your tantrum settle and awake calm to the morning sun.”

Discord growls, even as his arms and shoulders turn to stone. “When that time comes, I will wreak havoc on everything you worked so hard to create.”

“Then you shall return to stone, ad infinitum, until you right your way.”

“Why do this?” His voice strains as stone crawls up his neck. “Why not kill me?”

“Consider it a mother’s love,” Celestia answers.

Discord’s eyes widen. He makes a croaking noise as the stone travels his jaw, but manages no more as the rest of his face petrifies in a last look of shock.

Celestia stares at the newly formed statue, making sure her magic holds. She waits. She waits. And then, she releases the breath she’s holding. It’s over. The weight of reality takes hold of her once more and she glances over her shoulder. It almost looks as though Luna’s sleeping. At least, that is how Celestia prefers to see it.

Eventually she peels her eyes away, looking instead to the mural. From further away, she can see that it does indeed have borders, unlike what she first thought. It’s difficult to make out the smaller animals at this distance, though it gives her a greater appreciation for the sheer scale of the wall. There are two thick lines that meet the near the mural’s edge, ones she never noticed before, and so her eyes trace them upwards. They aren’t lines, but part of an image, she realizes, one that encapsulates the entire mural. The image is a pony, its outline the color of white sandstone; her.

If only I’d stepped back, I would have noticed. In the image her eyes are closed, all the world wrapped in her embrace. It’s a tapestry of her life, of everything she’s ever done. And at the heart of it, she and Luna dance around the earth.

Something faint lingers in the chamber, something magic. Celestia glances back at Discord, but no, his magic is there and different and all contained in stone. This lingering magic is familiar, but too small a size to say why. Then she realizes. Her breath turns to clay in her throat and she looks past her shoulder at Luna’s resting form, her legs beginning to tremble.

“Luna!” she shouts, using her magic to turn to dust and reappear at her sister’s side. She reaches down and feels for a pulse. There’s none. Yet, there’s still a magical presence in her body; life has not yet left it.

A bit of hope returns, but Celestia dares not waste a moment. At any moment the fading light may go out. She touches the tip of her horn to Luna’s chest, over her heart, and calls upon her magic to heal her, the gold dust obeying. Magic surges into Luna—as much as Celestia can summon. The six golden orbs aid her, focusing, refining, and powering her spell. In almost no time at all, Luna’s body is healed, but that’s not the real concern. The real concern is in bringing her back. Celestia sends her magic to kindle Luna’s dying light. The longer Luna’s heart doesn’t beat, the harder it becomes, like a winter’s night growing ever colder around a small flame.

“Come back, please, come back,” Celestia pleads, growing desperate. The orbs grow exhausted and begin to lose their glow, turning to stone. They drop to the ground, dead, and shortly after the rest of Celestia’s magic disappears as well, leaving her with nothing more than a weak, broken pair of golden wings.

Celestia’s shoulders shake. She continues to point her horn at Luna’s heart, desperately trying to pull something forth once more, but after some time where nothing comes, she gives up and collapses on top of Luna’s still body, burying her tears in Luna’s chest and cursing herself for regaining hope. Though by this time she believes her tears are all but gone, some still manage to drip onto Luna’s coat.

Then, a raspy, dried-throat voice calls to her. “Tia?” it says, sounding weak and like death.

Celestia’s ears twitch then freeze. She stays perfectly still, wondering whether she is being wishful in hearing her voice. But when Luna’s chest shifts beneath her, she raises her head and looks, meeting Luna’s eyes. Celestia can’t help the laugh of relief and following smile that escape her, as she sniffles and wipes her muzzle against her shoulder.

Luna smiles back at her, but confusion replaces it once she looks around. “Where are we?” she asks, her voice sounding in desperate need of water. Her eyes widen and she sits upright. “Where’s Discord? Did we—Oh.” She cuts off, spotting the statue. “I must’ve not been much help.”

Celestia laughs and smiles at that, no part of her joy in seeing her sister well withheld. “You were more crucial than you’d ever let yourself believe,” she says. She then glances back at Discord’s statue. “Are you hurting anywhere?”

“My throat feels coarse as sand,” Luna answers, stretching her limbs. “But otherwise, no.”

A sound like dozens of small chimes dancing on strings fills the chamber, coming from above. At the utmost top of the mural, higher even than clouds would be, the walls of the chamber are turning to dust. The effect begins to spread, racing down the wall.

Celestia stands. “What’s happening?”

“The dream’s resolving,” Luna says, managing to climb to her hooves. “Every dream has a beginning, when the dream is formed. From there it resides within us, day and night. Most dreams are never realized, but when they are, the dream resolves and comes to a close.”

Celestia gazes with amazement as the world dissolves around them. It quickly grows close. “What shall happen to us?”

“We will awaken.”

The world breaks down ever more, the chamber they stand in now a storm of swirling dust with them in the eye of it. It overtakes them, the world turning black.

 

 

Celestia awakes someplace warm, lying beneath a thin silken sheet. She takes a deep breath and is greeted by the familiar scent of linens and lilies, of her own bed. As the fog of sleep lifts, she begins to remember where she is and the dream she just came from.

There’s a patter of hooves in the hall. Shortly after, the door opens and a gasp comes from beneath its arch.

Celestia sits up, opening her eyes. It’s Storm Gale by the door, her smile bubbling over with excitement.

“Princess!” Storm shouts, galloping across the room and leaping onto her bed. She hugs Celestia’s midsection, squeezing it tightly.

Celestia returns the hug, stroking her student’s mane. “Storm, thank goodness you’re safe.” She holds the embrace a while longer, but then sets Storm at a leg’s length away, looking her over. “Are you hurt anywhere?”

Storm chuckles at seeing the Princess fret over her. “I’m fine, Princess. I keep telling you I’m tougher than you think.”

Celestia sighs with relief. “How did you get out?”

“When the dream resolved, every living thing in it was sent back to the real world,” Luna answers, from the doorway. Rose Flame stands by her side. “It would seem that includes Storm and Rose, since he was keeping them there. You first began to stir last night, but I let you sleep until morning, figuring you to still be tired from that ordeal.”

“I suppose I was, thank you,” Celestia says. “What of Discord? Was he sent back as well?”

“He’s in the garden, blending in with the other statues there.” At this, Luna smirks. “I’d imagine pigeons will soon be decorating him.”

Celestia climbs out of bed, shaking her head and trying not to smile. “You’re awful.”

Moving on, Luna’s smile fades. “There was one other thing. There were also six stones that came back with us. When I awoke I found them lying in a circle around you. They were heavily saturated with magic.”

The words from the dream echo in her head. Laughter, generosity, kindness, loyalty, honesty, love. “Are they someplace safe?” she asks.

Luna nods. “I placed them in a chest in the treasury. We may go see them if you wish.”

Celestia sits still for a moment, looking from Luna to Rose and from Rose to Storm. She walks over to her bedroom’s balcony, stepping outside and breathing the fresh air. Everfree lies below, carriages and ponies in its streets, the weekend market bustling in the town square. The houses and walls stand, and the farms beyond them. Everyone’s safe, Celestia realizes. She takes another breath of the fresh air and smiles.

“Er... Are you feeling well, sister?” Luna asks.

“Quite so, Luna,” Celestia answers. The sun is unseasonably warm for so early in spring, though its heat is cooled by a soft breeze, carrying the scent of flowers beginning to bloom. “It’s a beautiful day out, wouldn’t you agree?”

“It is,” Luna agrees.

“Then perhaps let’s hold off on the meetings and lessons for one more day and spend today in the courtyard.” Luna joins her as she walks past them. She pauses and nods at the two young mares by Luna’s side. “Rose, Storm, you’re more than welcome to join us if you so wish.”

Storm and Rose glance at each other, both easily making up their minds and following the two of them. Guards and servants both seem surprised to see Celestia out of bed, and many of them walk up to them to congratulate her on her recovery. Celestia stops Luna to ask just how long she was out. “A little over a fortnight,” Luna answers, causing Celestia to second guess her decision to take the day off.

Eventually, however, she convinces herself that the captain will be fine, and that today she owes her attention to those closest to her. Today she lives for them, tomorrow she lives for the kingdom.

As she sees the smiling faces of the ponies surrounding her, she is sure then and there that she will protect this world she no longer owns, so long as she lives.

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