Dusk

This story is a sequel to Dawn

Luna raises the Moon for the first time.

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1. Dusk

“She lies.”

“But she bears the mark of the Sun on her flank!”

“One pony, raising the Sun? Absurd.”

“Thou art absurd!” Luna glowered at the big, dumb wizard pony. “Thou art jealous because thou canst not do it on thine own!”

“That’s enough, Luna,” Celestia said, gently resting her hoof on the filly’s shoulder.

“But, sister—”

“That’s enough.”

“Yes, know thy place,” the stallion said, sneering at Luna before turning back to his companions.

“But they are wrong, sister. I saw you lift the Sun this morn with mine own eyes.”

“I know, Luna. But they do not.”

Luna sighed, looking back over her shoulder at the crowd of unicorns; the entire Circle seemed to be there, old and less old alike forming a ring two ponies deep around the sides of the great stone hall. She scowled; most of them seemed to be arguing amongst themselves, shifting in their robes, waving their hooves around and muttering to one another, but about one out of every four of them was staring at Celestia. A gray mare sneered as she made eye contact; Luna stuck out her tongue, drawing a humph from the other pony as she turned her head away.

“You need not remain at my side, Luna,” Celestia said quietly.

“I will not leave. I saw what happened.”

“As did Master Helianthus.” Celestia nodded towards the unicorn in question, the orange and yellow stallion conferring with Archmage Glister behind her podium. “If they do not believe him…”

“But he is one of them!”

Celestia shook her head. “But he is also my teacher. They may not believe.”

“What about—”

The rap of hoof on wood drew the heads of all those assembled to the Archmage, the elderly mare clearing her throat to quiet the murmurs of the assembled magi.

“As all of you know, the whole of the Circle has been summoned here today because of the rumor a single mare has raised the Sun on her own.”

The voices of the assembled unicorns rose, only to be silenced by another sharp crack.

“I have questioned Celestia, as well as her mentor, Master Helianthus, and I believe them to be sincere in their belief that she raised the Sun on her own. However, Master Pilleum, who was to act as the second witness of Celestia’s induction into the Circle, has taken ill; as he is unable to join us today, he is unable to act as a second witness not only to Celestia’s claim of having raised the Sun, but indeed of her ability to touch the heavens.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Luna asked; she could feel the glares of the ponies on her, but she forced herself to stand tall.

“His digestion troubled him.”

Luna snickered.

“Be that as it may, he is unable to attest to your deed this morn, so we are unable to accept your membership to the Circle.”

Celestia shook her head slightly. “I would be happy to raise the Sun again in a few days—”

“I am afraid we are past that now.” The Archmage glanced over at Master Helianthus, drawing a frown from the teacher.

“Yes,” Helianthus said, stepping forward. “I am afraid, for good or for ill, news of your deed has spread beyond the Circle.”

“It is the filly’s fault!” a dark gray stallion shouted, pointing his hoof at Luna.

“Master Eventide!” Helianthus turned his head sharply towards the bearded unicorn. “She alone is not responsible. Many in the Circle openly speculated on what it meant that they were not made to raise the Sun this morn.”

Eventide scowled. “It was not we who told the delegation from Cloudsdale that a single mare had raised the Sun on her own, usurping the power of the Circle!”

“Enough!”

Another loud crack from the Archmage’s hoof drew all eyes back to the elderly mare. “The filly is not at fault. None told her to keep what she had seen a secret, which is a matter which can be discussed later.” She gave Helianthus a significant look before straightening. “What matters is what has come to pass. I have received a message from Commander Stratus that he and a number of other pegasi wish to come and watch a single pony raise the Sun on her own.” The elderly mare’s gaze slowly swept across the assembled unicorns. “I am certain that everypony who hears will wish to observe as well.”

“I do not understand,” Celestia said, taking a step forward. “Why are they are so intent on watching me?”

Helianthus frowned. “The negotiations we concluded yesterday were… less than ideal for the pegasi. He feels that by bargaining with another pony, he may gain a more satisfactory deal.”

The Archmage shook her head. “There is no purpose to disguising his words.” She slowly swept her gaze across the assembled ponies. “He said that we were a sham, that if a unicorn only barely a mare could raise the Sun on her own, that we, the Circle, had been deceiving the other ponies for centuries.” She leaned forward over the pedestal. “He accused us of overstating the burden of our task, of claiming a third share for a pittance of work.”

The Archmage sighed. “The pegasi and earth ponies have long been jealous of us. Things are better than they once were, before the Harmonic Accords, but I know many ponies feel as if unicorns are allowed far less work for equal standing, time to pursue our trades and crafts while they labor to bring forth food and rain. If any one of us can do what all of us accomplish, there is little point in dealing with the Circle.”

“That is absurd!” shouted a familiar voice, drawing a twitch from Luna. “A unicorn who raised the sun would be as a pegasus who cleared the skies, or an earth pony who tended an orchard; the burden is far too much for any one pony to bear. The very idea is ridiculous.”

“Indeed,” the Archmage said, nodding gravely. “But they have no knowledge of the burden of unicorn magic. To them, the glow of the horn may lift a cup and the Sun just as easily, and none would know the difference if they knew not the magic.”

“As most unicorns do not, at your own urging,” Helianthus said, returning to his position by the pedestal. Several unicorns in the audience began to grumble before another crack came from the podium.

“Master Helianthus, I would appreciate you not airing private disagreements in public.”

“We all know his position,” another robed unicorn said, waving her hoof. “He hardly keeps it secret.”

“Is that why there is a crowd outside?” another unicorn asked.

“In part. Most possess the sense that it is not easy; if it were, then the Sun would skate across the sky at all hours, and there would be chaos.” The Archmage shook her head. “Nay, what they fear is change. If one pony possesses the might of the Circle, then they may replace us in all things.”

Luna laughed. “I think you mean, they wish she would.”

“All are jealous of those with power,” the Archmage said, her eyes narrowing, “and wish it upon another, with whom their jealousy does not yet rest. But mark my words: they will grow jealous in time once more, and seek yet another to take it upon them once they are grown restless.”

“So that is your fear? That I will usurp the Circle I seek to join?” Celestia’s voice did not shake as she stood tall, her white coat shining in the dim light of the hall.

“We wish to ask you to renounce this foolishness. If you truly could move Heaven and Earth on your own, then you would be capable of magics of which not even Star Swirl the Bearded could dream. Given that you have shown no such talent, it seems unlikely that you have achieved this task. Somepony—or most likely, many ponies—were likely attempting to move the Sun and Moon in secret whilst you labored, perhaps to play some sort of trick or prank on you and Helianthus.” She smiled. “It is through no fault of your own that you were deceived; it is your inexperience and the treachery of others which is to blame.”

“I felt none others touching the Sun or Moon while I did, save for Master Helianthus and Master Pilleum. I would have recognized it.”

The Archmage’s smile faded. “We feel that showing the good judgment to admit your error freely and openly and renounce any claim to the ability to raise the Sun on your own, combined with Master Helianthus’s and surely Master Pilleum’s attestation of your ability once he recovers, would be sufficient grounds to admit you into the Circle.”

“We?” Celestia glanced back over her shoulder at the assembled unicorns. “Forgive me, Archmage, but I was unaware that there had been a meeting of the Circle prior to this one since this morning.”

“There has not. But I do not believe there would be any objections.” The Archmage’s gaze swept slowly across the room; there were some coughs and the shifting of hooves. “Does anypony care to raise an objection?”

“And you, Master Helianthus? Do you not believe me when I say I felt no others touch the Sun?” Celestia asked, turning to face her teacher.

“I believe you. You would not deceive me.”

The assembled ponies began to mutter amongst themselves before Helianthus cleared his throat.

“I am not finished. As I said, I trust your word, and I do not believe that you would lie so foolishly. But…” his expression grew grim, “If you believe that you may have made an error, that you could have made a mistake, then I urge you to reconsider your claims.”

Luna stomped her hoof. “You don’t believe her!”

Helianthus sighed, his frown fading into a tired expression. “I believe her, Luna.” His eyes flicked up to the larger unicorn. “But if she refuses to renounce her claims, then surely, Commander Stratus will demand that she demonstrate her ability for all to see.”

“I would be happy to demonstrate once I have recovered.”

“Any delay,” the Archmage said, cutting in, “would be seen as us attempting to hide your ability, or devise some manner of deceit. In any case, he wishes to return to Cloudsdale as soon as possible, and does not wish for us to keep him.”

“That is absurd!” a familiar voice shouted. Luna grimaced; that pony enjoyed that word far too much. “If he truly believes that anypony can raise the Sun, he could ask any unicorn on the street!”

“I fear that I understand,” Celestia said, shaking her head slightly. “Somepony who can only raise the Sun on her own but once a fortnight would not break the back of the Circle, but somepony who can raise the Sun in the morning and the Moon at night every day…”

The Archmage’s lips were pressed into a thin line. “Indeed.”

“I see your dilemma.” Celestia bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.

“Then will you recant your words?”

“I would happily recant mine own words—”

“No sister, don’t!”

Another sharp crack came from the Archmage’s pedestal. “We have been most tolerant of thine behavior, Luna, but thou wilt be silent!”

Luna clung to Celestia’s leg, looking up at her, but when Celestia looked down, Luna was surprised to see the calm in her eyes. “Fear not, Luna,” she said quietly, smiling, before she lifted her head. “As I said, I would happily recant mine own words, but for my sister who spoke of what happened this morn. I cannot in good conscience make a liar of her.”

The Archmage blinked, then looked down at the filly. “Wilt thou not change thine words, so as to ease the way for thine sister?”

“I won’t lie! I saw her!”

Celestia bowed her head. “Then I am afraid I must decline as well. I have said no words to the effect that I may raise the Sun on mine own in public, but I cannot say that my sister lies when I know her words are true.”

“You fool!”

“They’re trying to help you!”

“Reconsider!”

Another loud crack silenced the assembled unicorns. The Archmage’s stern expression wavered as she leaned over the pedestal, her graying mane falling over one eye. “Do you understand what it is that will be required of you, should you take this path?”

“I do.”

The Archmage sighed, falling back on her haunches and looking ten years older. “Then I have no choice. Commander Stratus will demand that you demonstrate for him, and will not accept no for an answer. Therefore, I must ask that you lower the Sun and raise the Moon on your own this evening.”

“That’s not fair!” Luna shouted. “She’s tired!”

Celestia grimaced. “I understand.”

“But—”

“Luna!” Celestia said sharply, jerking her head before looking back up at the Archmage. “I will do my best, Archmage Glister.”

The Archmage sighed. “See that you do.” She banged her hoof once more on the pedestal, the sound softer, weaker than it had been before. “I request that all in the Circle join us this evening for the lowering of the Moon. You will be required when Celestia fails in her task.”

The unicorns of the Circle began to talk amongst themselves as the Archmage’s horn lit, the elderly mare vanishing from the room.

“It is not fair, sister! She does not want you to succeed!”

“I know, Luna.” She reached down to pat her sister’s head with her hoof.

“You know, it would have been easier for you had you agreed.” Helianthus stepped away from the pedestal, frowning as he approached the two sisters.

“I know.”

“Well, it is good to see that you do not make expedient lies.” Helianthus’s expression softened slightly. “Still, this will be hard. I hope that you succeed; we will both look most foolish if you do not. There are very high expectations for you, now.”

“She won’t be kicked out of the Circle if she fails, will she?”

“No,” Celestia said, shaking her head. “Should I fail, they will still admit me. But they will demand that I not claim to be able to raise the Sun on mine own, as to claim otherwise would be to cast aspersions on the rest of the Circle.” She glanced at Helianthus. “Am I correct?”

Helianthus chuckled grimly. “It is good to see you took heed of my warnings about politics in the Circle. Many are most wroth with you.”

“I was not aware that Archmage Glister was many ponies.”

He sighed. “In truth, she is frightened. She would have demanded that you renounce your claim had I not reminded her of the fact that if your claim were true, showing such hostility may well have brought about her doom.”

Celestia recoiled. “I would never do such a thing!”

“I know, and am glad for it. Still, to not even consider such a thing was foolish. I am glad that you chose to tell the truth, no matter how difficult.” Helianthus reached up with his hoof to pat Celestia on the shoulder. “You are a better mare than we. I am sorry for the difficulty this has put you in. We should have had opportunity to celebrate your ability, not try and disparage it. But the foolishness of ponies oft ruins such things.”

Luna’s ears drooped. “I am sorry, sister. I did not mean to cause you trouble.”

Helianthus shook his head slightly. “It was not your foolishness of which you speak, Luna, but mine own.” He leaned down towards the filly. “In truth, you are not the one to blame for Commander Stratus learning of Celestia’s prowess.”

“I’m not?” Luna tilted her head.

“No. I am afraid that was me.” He straightened. “Somepony pointed out to me that I had been terribly impolite, and I sought to make amends with the first ponies who came to mind. I may have mentioned something about there perhaps being something of a change.”

Celestia stared. “You told him? Why?”

“Because it would be better if you lead the Circle than old ponies such as Glister or myself. You possess wisdom and humility beyond your years.”

Luna shook her head. “But if she can raise the Sun and the Moon, what use is the Circle, then?”

“No use at all,” Helianthus said, smiling. “I suppose I shall have more time left to tend to my sunflowers and to my students. I have heard there is another filly who may soon have need of my lessons.”

“Who?”

Helianthus laughed, reaching forward to give Luna a pat on the head before he slowly walked away.

 

 

“It is time.”

Luna looked out at the crowd; it seemed almost every pony in Unicornia had gathered around the hill to watch. Commander Stratus and the other pegasi hovered nearby, effortlessly hanging in the air as they watched the small group of ponies on the hill.

“You will not change your mind?” the Archmage asked, looking into Celestia’s eyes. “It is not yet too late.”

Celestia shook her head. “I know what it is I do.”

“Very well then.”

Celestia looked down at Luna. “You should stand with the Circle.”

“But I want to stay here with you!”

Celestia smiled. “I would like that, but I doubt that Commander Stratus would approve.”

“Hey, Commander!” Luna shouted up at the pegasus. “May I remain with my sister?”

The white-maned pegasus swooped down, landing lightly on the hill while a pair of ponies in polished steel armor hovered overhead. “Is this some kind of trick? A grown pony disguised as a foal?”

Helianthus shook his head. “No. She is Celestia’s sister. Luna, this is Commander Stratus.”

“I see. And why is it that thou wish to remain here with thy sister?” The pegasus held his chin high, his eyes alone looking down at the filly.

“She was with me when I raised the Sun this morn.”

Commander Stratus glanced over at Celestia. “And how much power does this filly have? Can you unicorns channel your magic through a foal?”

The Archmage shook her head. “If a filly could aid in the raising of the Sun and Moon, there would be no need for the Circle at all. Few have the power to touch the skies; fewer still have the gift.”

“Her sister does. It may run in the family.”

“The glow of a pony’s horn cannot be hidden,” Helianthus said, dipping his head slightly. “Not without a hat or something similar. If her horn does not glow, then she is using no magic.”

The Commander’s gaze flicked between the four unicorns before he whirled suddenly, flying out over the crowd and pointing his hoof. “You there!”

The unicorns in the crowd looked at each other, a middle-aged mare with a needle on her flank looking back and forth before looking up at the pegasus. “Me?” she asked, pointing a hoof at herself.

“Can unicorns hide their magic?”

She blinked. “I don’t know of any way how. Why?” She tilted her head, but the armored pegasus was already back on top of the hill.

“You may stay. But do not cast any magic.” He smiled at her for a moment before his gaze hardened, turning on the older unicorns. “I expect no magic from the Circle as well, once she has begun. My mares will be watching.” He nodded towards his guards, the pegasi all saluting before they flew out over the crowd.

“I will tell them,” the Archmage said, nodding her head as she stepped forward, her horn glowing as she raised her voice.

“Ponies of Equestria! I see many non-unicorns here today. For those of you who know not my face, I am Glistering Star, Archmage of the Circle. It is the Circle’s responsibility to cast great spells; the one with which you are all likely most familiar is the one which allows us to raise the Sun in the morning and the Moon at night, so that they do not grow fixed in their place in the heavens.”

The Archmage slowly looked over the crowd. “For the entire course of recorded history, unicorns have been entrusted with the movements of the heavens. While we cannot move the stars, as some ponies claim, we do possess great power—not as one pony, but as a community. The Circle has long been composed of the most gifted of all unicorns. Those who have earned a place amongst us carry the grave responsiblity of maintaining the spells which keep the world in motion. It is only by the Circle’s efforts that we are not condemned to bake under the Sun’s light or freeze in the darkness of the night for all eternity.”

She licked her lips. “Today, a pony has come before us claiming that she and she alone raised the Sun this morn. All swear that she received no help, but many do not believe. You are right to do so, for to touch the heavens on one’s own would require a power matched only by all of the greatest mages ponydom has to offer. For those of you who are not unicorns, know this: to move the Sun or the Moon would be to clear every cloud in a storm, or to plow a hundred fields in a day. It would be a feat unmatched by all the greatest unicorns of history.”

The Archmage bowed her head. “We in the Circle believe that Celestia was tricked. She is young and inexperienced, but very talented, and is the youngest ever to stand to join the Circle. Some ponies have raised their voices against Celestia; to them, one so young seeking to join us was an affront, a blow to their own ego. It is for this reason I have urged her to reconsider, for if they seek to embarrass her, such a public failure is precisely what they would want.” She stomped her hoof, raising her head high. “But let it not be said that the Circle is scared of a challenge, nor of the truth. Celestia has sworn she can repeat the feat, and that she felt no other pony’s hold on the heavens while she raised the Sun. And while I do not believe her, it is her right to try.”

Commander Stratus nodded approvingly, while Celestia set her mouth in a thin line.

“Celestia, are you ready to make your attempt?”

Celestia stepped forward, her head held high. “Though I remain tired from my labors this morn, I am ready, Archmage.”

“Very well.” The Archmage turned to Helianthus. “We should give her space for her labors.”

Helianthus bobbed his head. “I agree.” He turned to Celestia, stepping forward to pat her with his hoof, opening his mouth to say something before closing it. “Good luck,” he said after a moment, stepping away and trotting down the hillside after the Archmage.

“Stand back, Luna.”

Luna nodded her head, stepping away as Celestia turned to face in the direction of the setting Sun. “Lift the Moon, sister!”

“I shall.” Celestia bowed her head and closed her eyes. The crowd fell silent as her horn lit, burning with the color of the Sun, gilding the hilltop gold.

“She’s doing it!” an earth pony shouted, lifting their hoof and pointing towards the sky as the Sun sank towards the horizon.

Commander Stratus’s eyes flickered rapidly from the Sun to Celestia, before glancing to the crowd; the other pegasi nodded their heads.

“I don’t see any other horns glowing!”

“I think she is doing it!”

Luna grinned, watching the Archmage as the old mare bit her lip, several of the robed unicorns beginning to talk amongst themselves. The sound of the crowd increased, a few of the ponies in the front row stamping their hooves on the ground. Puffing out her chest, Luna’s cheer died on her lips when Celestia sagged suddenly, the light from her horn fading as she fell to the ground.

“As I thought.” The Archmage shook her head, but Luna could see relief in her eyes as the old mare looked at the other members of the Circle. “Come,” she said, raising her voice, “we must assist in putting the Sun to bed.”

“No,” Luna said, running in between Celestia and the advancing unicorns.

The Archmage stopped. “No?” She sighed. “Child, you may someday do great things, but today thou art a foal. Know thy place, and step out of the way.”

“Thou art cheating!” Luna shouted, stamping her hoof. “My sister is tired.”

“A likely excuse,” one of the robed unicorns said, several others nodding their head.

“No excuse,” Celestia said, slowly regaining her hooves, straightening herself up on trembling legs. “Simple truth. But as you do not believe me…”

Celestia grimaced, her hooves sliding across the grass as she braced herself, pointing her horn straight out towards the horizon, wreathing herself in heavenly fire once more. “I shall show you.”

“See!” Luna shouted, pointing insistently towards the horizon with her hoof. “Watch the Sun sink!” The disc of the Sun began to slowly sink beyond the distant hills, the sky turning red, then purple as it vanished, fraction by fraction.

Celestia gasped, sinking to her knees once more.

“You see,” one of the robed mages shouted, “she cannot do it!”

The Archmage stepped forward, only for Luna to scamper in front of her. Shaking her head, the old mare spoke loud enough for all to hear. “You have done enough, child. You have proven that you can move the Sun far more than any mare. But you cannot do so alone, not so far. Somepony must have helped you.”

The crowd murmured, ponies shifting on their hooves and speaking to those nearby. The voices grew louder as Celestia’s magic flickered, sweat pouring down her face as the sky faded to black. Her magic dimmed further with the arrival of the stars, her legs shaking uncontrollably as she struggled to stand.

“I think we have seen enough,” the Archmage said gently.

“Yes,” another robed unicorn said, “this is absurd at this point. Thou canst not keep us from our heavenly duties.”

Luna’s heart sank in her chest as she looked out onto the crowd, the assembled ponies beginning to nod. Commander Stratus looked disappointed, and began to descend back towards the hill.

“Where is the Moon?” someone in the crowd called.

“The Moon is gone!”

“Give up—thou canst not do it on thine own!”

Tearing her eyes away from the crowd, Luna looked up at the sky. “Please, Moon, show yourself.” Her eyes flickered towards the east, but no light greeted her there; the stars twinkled almost tauntingly over the horizon, but of the Moon, there was no sign. “Please!”

“It is all right,” Helianthus said, setting his hoof on Luna’s shoulder as the residual light faded from the hilltop.

“No, it is not!” Luna scowled, ducking away from his hoof as she whirled around to face him. “She could do it were she not tired.”

“I know. I saw her this morn with mine own eyes.”

“Then why do you not help her?”

Helianthus sighed. “She must do this on her own; were I to aid her, it would only prove the Archmage right, that she required mine aid.” He shook his head.

“But it is not fair!”

“No, it is not. But even if I could aid, I would do little; I can not move the Moon on mine own any more than you.”

“No. This is wrong.” Luna’s chest heaved. “Her mark says it is her destiny to move the Sun and Moon!”

“If marks could tell the future, then why would they only appear after we have discovered our talent?” Helianthus took another step towards Luna, only for the filly to retreat once more, shaking her head.

“No, I refuse to believe it.” Luna looked back over her shoulder towards her sister; Celestia lay on the grass, her horn’s glow fading in and out, no longer illuminating the hillside with its light.

“Luna…”

The filly whirled back towards Helianthus. “She said it is not so hard, right?”

Helianthus regarded Luna sadly. “It takes much practice, and even more magic.”

“I listened when she described how she moved the Moon this morn.” Luna glanced back over her shoulder at Celestia. “She just needs a little help. Please.”

“I told you, I cannot.”

“Then I shall!” Luna stamped her hoof, looking up at the sky. “Please, Moon. Show your face.” Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, drawing upon all of the magic she possessed as her horn began to glow. “Reach out… but not… above… just a little help…”

Laughter came from the crowd. “And now a foal tries?”

“It seems madness runs in the family.”

“Sad.”

“It is too bad that her sister is beyond help.”

“Is this your way?” Commander Stratus shouted. “Embarrassing fillies young enough to be your granddaughter in front of half of Equestria?”

Luna shook her head, shuddering. She could feel it, the power flowing through her, wrapping around something far away, and yet close, somewhere outside of herself, but not beyond. It wanted to move… it wanted to come… she knew Celestia had to be calling it… it just needed a nudge…

“Stop before thou bringest thyself harm, child. Thou canst not—”

The Archmage’s words were drowned in a sea of gasps. Luna permitted herself a smile as she swayed on her hooves, a strong pair of legs wrapping themselves around her middle as her knees gave out.

“Thank you, sister,” Celestia whispered into her ear.

“Did we do it?”

“No. I had already given up before you began your spell.”

Luna slowly opened her eyes to the sight of Celestia’s smile, her alabaster coat glowing in the moonlight.

“You did it on your own.”

 

 

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