"A Meeting by Moonlight"
Jordan S. Bassior
Spike yawned and opened his eyes. Something had roused him. It was still before sunrise, but the night-light was still on in the library loft. He glanced at the bed: it was empty, and the door to the balcony was half-opened.
The small dragon stepped into the gap. As he expected, Twilight was standing on the balcony next to her telescope. A notebook and quill were on a small table beside her. The telescope seemed to be aimed at the Moon.
Spike was about to speak when the air shimmered beside his adopted sister. Without warning, a dark-blue alicorn, bearing the mark of the crescent moon, stood there, her mane shimmering with the night stars.
Spike nearly had an early molt when he jumped out of his skin.
I wish she wouldn’t do that, he thought to himself. Princess Luna had been officially one of the good guys again for almost three years now, but her penchant for dramatic entrances could be annoying. Spike wondered if she knew this and did it on purpose.
Twilight turned and did a little half-jump, gasping. “Oh!”
“Greetings and well-met, Lady Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, in a calm clear voice like liquid starlight.
“Greetings and well-met to you too, Princess Luna,” Twilight said, and deeply bowed.
“That is not necessary, Lady Twilight. We are all friends here.” The dark alicorn half-smiled, then gestured at the telescope. “I see that thou wert admiring my Moon.”
“Oh – um, yes, Princess Luna,” said Twilight. “It’s so fascinating through a good telescope – mountains, seas, craters – like a whole other world.”
“It is a whole other world,” said Luna softly. “The mountains are not sharp, as thou might expect, but worn smooth by eons of solar wind and cosmic rays. The seas are ancient lava plains, covered in a dust that puffs up softly to the hoof. The craters were made by meteors, mostly long before the first pony ever looked up to the sky with wonder. There is no air, no liquid water, and she bakes during its half-month long day and freezes in her equally-long night.” She sighed. “Nonetheless, it is beautiful.”
“Wow!” said Twilight, grabbing her quill and scribbling hasty notes. “Um, Princess – you don’t mind if I write this down, or even repeat it? You’ve just said things that no pony – I mean no normal pony, like me – has ever known before!”
Luna smiled. “No, Twilight Sparkle, I do not mind if thee, of all ponies, writest this down. And I wish people would talk more of the Moon’s beauty – not just as a source of light by night, but as a world in her own sake. I wish …”
She looked at Twilight with a strange intensity.
“You were wrong about one thing, though. Ponies have known all that I said, before. A long time before …”
Twilight’s ears bent forward attentively. “Which ponies?” she asked. “Clover the Clever? Starswirl the Bearded? How’d they find out?” She was almost squeaking with excitement.
“You have perhaps heard of an Age of Wonders, before Discord, before Equestria, before all history now known?” Luna asked.
“Oh, of course!” replied Twilight with the eagerness of a bright student giving the answer to a teacher. “Magic carriages that ran by themselves, giant metal birds that flew faster than any pegasus, fire spells that could blast holes through mountains, rockets to the …” She did a double-take. “Wait, are you saying that all that was real?”
“Yes,” said Luna. “And ponies once knew many of the mysteries of the Moon. A few even walked on her.”
“Were you there?” In her curiosity, Twilight had completely forgotten to display her usual deference.
Luna smiled sadly.
“Not exactly,” she said. “Princess Luna the Alicorn Pony,” she emphasized this precise phrasing, “was born long after the Fall, in the time of the Three Tribes, before there was an Equestria. But I … have ways of knowing things.”
Twilight was almost bouncing with excitement.
Luna looked up at the Moon. Her eyes seemed to be seeing things invisible both to Twilight and to the hidden watcher.
“Once upon a time, during the Age of Wonders” she said, “there were two twin sisters who were very smart … at least, that’s what everypony told them, and in time they came to believe it. Not smart enough …” her tone grew bitter, “… but still, they were quite clever at understanding and making things.
“One sister – the eldest by twenty-eight minutes -- Sundreamer, was a beautiful mare whom everypony, including her sister, dearly loved. She looked at the world with a sight that pierced superficialities and understood the deepest laws of the Universe. The younger, Moondreamer … she well loved her sister, and her sister loved her well in return.
“Moondreamer was less fascinated by the deep laws of the Universe and more by what could be made by those who understood them. She learned that the Moon and the other objects beyond the Earth were worlds as real as our own, and wanted ponies to travel to and know them, and someday to spread out and settle them. She hoped that in this wise ponies as a species might become immortal.
“Now, Sundreamer puzzled out the manner in which the Sun burns – have you ever wondered, Twilight Sparkle, why it has burned for eons and yet not run short of fuel, unlike even the greatest bonfire? – “
Twilight nodded, utterly enraptured by the story she was being told.
“So did Sundreamer,” continued Luna.
"By that time the ponies understood why in general – its burning is not chemical combustion, but another kind of fire, about which I suspect my sister will enlighten you in her own good time – but they did not know how to make that same fire on Earth, save for very short flashes which created truly-tremendous explosions.
“Sundreamer discovered, in theory, how such a fire might be laid and stoked and kept in a kind of hearth by ponies, to produce enormous amounts of energy. This could be used to power whole cities for millions of years, but what interested Moondreamer was that, in other forms, such fire could drive ships to the Moon, the planets; perhaps even the stars beyond.
“So the sisters worked together to build the sunfire engines which might make their dreams come real. Sundreamer labored to build the power plants, and Moondreamer to build chemical rockets by which the ponies might practice and master the arts of traveling in space, even before the sunfire would be ready.
“Now there were three things in the world which Moondreamer loved best. The first was her sister, and the second her dreams of space. The third was a pony, her husband: Dusk Skyshine.” Luna spoke the name softly, reverently, as if it were divine, and her eyes misted as she gazed into Twilight’s own.
.”Dusk was handsome beyond all stallions who ever lived, and in his mind the match of Moondreamer. He was adorably shy,” Luna smiled to herself, “but very brave, and though most times warm to other ponies, in time of danger he grew cold as ice, and his cunning cut through all foes to bring victory.
“Moondreamer met Dusk when they were foals, and they became fast friends, and in time their friendship blossomed into love, and they were wed. There was war, and Dusk went off to fight for his ponies. Moondreamer feared very much for him, but Dusk fought well and did great deeds, and though he was sore wounded …” a wince passed quickly across Luna’s face “… he came home alive to his true love, and in time was healed of his hurts.
“Dusk shared Moondreamer’s hopes for space,” Luna continued, “the more so because he was an airplane pilot – he steered the metal birds in which the ponies of those time flew, and he dreamed of one day flying them beyond the skies. It took a keen eye and a quick hoof and a cool mind to be a good pilot, and Dusk had all these in more than most mortal measure. When he came back from the war he studied the arts of aircraft design, and when he had mastered these arts he labored with the sisters in designing the ships of space.
“It took many years, but in the end they managed to build such a ship. And once again Sundreamer and Moondreamer remained home safely – though Moondreamer much wanted to go. But Dusk captained and piloted the ship.” She looked back at the Moon, and was for a while silent.
Twilight trembled. Spike knew his sister well enough to realize just how greatly she was suppressing the urge to interrupt and ask for the conclusion of the story.
“And he landed on the Moon,” Luna continued, smiling with obvious pride. “Ponies for the first time ever walked on the surface of an alien world, the way to which they had won with their own hooves and cleverness and courage. Ponies – our little, mortal ponies, without even wings or horns – proved on that day that their minds made them greater than the whole vast inanimate Universe!” Her voice shook with passion. “Dost thou ken?”
“Yes,” said Twilight softly, her own eyes misting as she looked upon the Princess of the Night. “I think I do.”
“And then …” Luna said, and hung her head. “And then …” Her voice trailed off.
Twilight’s eyes grew huge. “Did he … die?” she asked.
Luna looked up sadly.
“It would have made a better saga, I suppose, had Dusk died then and there, at the moment of his greatest triumph. A martyr to all Ponykind, a hero who paid the ultimate price to steal fire from the Gods themselves, and in his death bring salvation.
“But no. He lived, and came home from his greatest deed for his ponies, for all ponies, everywhere. And there were a few more flights to the Moon. And then …” Her eyes narrowed, mouth tightened, head hung. There was a long silence.
After a minute, Twilight’s self-control gave and she cried out: “And then what?!!” A moment later she realized what she had done and cried out: “Oops! Sorry! Your Highness! I beg your pardon ...”
Then Twilight jumped back, because Luna’s eyes were glowing with fury, her ears laid back, her mane standing on edge. Twilight could see the inner fires that had at the worst moment of Luna’s life made her the Nightmare. She tensed, preparing for her own destruction.
But Luna’s rage was not at Twilight.
“Then they gave up!” Luna shouted, in a voice that must have woken half the population of Ponyville. “They gave up! They had actually walked another world, they had her sunfire, they had my spaceships, they had put their hooves on the sill of the door leading out to Infinity, and they just gave up! They stopped building ships, stopped sending ponies out, all they did was launch piddly little rockets crewed by machines and they took pictures and told themselves that the whole rest of the Universe was of purely scholarly interest! They gave up!” Tears streamed from Luna’s beautiful blue eyes, her face was twisted in pain. “They gave up …”
Twilight made a slow motion toward Luna, one hoof gently raised.
“Then Dusk died anyway,” Luna said. “That stupid, stubborn, magnificent stallion kept flying the few ships they launched into orbit. We hadn’t given up hope yet, not completely: if it cost too much to launch ships from the Earth, we had a plan to build bases in orbit, from which more sunfire ships might once again be sent out. There were spaceplanes – winged chemical rockets, that could take off and land under their own power, but lacked the supplies to reach the Moon. He was flying one of them – and it exploded. Just blew up, eighteen minutes after launch. The silliest thing. Someone forgot to fix a broken washer on one of the fuel lines, and it killed the stallion who’d survived a year of air war, who’d tested experimental spacecraft, who’d walked on the Moon. He was just gone, as if he’d never been.” The tears still flowed. “He was too old, why didn’t he see that, why couldn’t he make way for younger ponies …? Why did he have to leave … muh …” She broke down into incoherent sobbing.
Twilight tentatively nuzzled against Luna’s chest, offering what comfort she could. Luna curled a foreleg around Twilight, over her back, stroking her fur. Luna closed her eyes, her face relaxing into silent happiness, as her tears stopped flowing, dried. Her rapid breathing slowed.
They remained like that a long while.
Spike wondered why Luna seemed so upset, why Twilight seemed to understand her, and how Twilight’s affection was proving so helpful. Must be something to do with the Magic of Friendship, he thought. I’m glad that Twi’s starting to realize that Luna actually likes her. He might have said something, but he didn’t want to spoil the scene.
Finally Luna sighed, released Twilight. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I don’t tell this story often, and now you know why. It makes me – emotional.” Her voice returned to its normal calm.
“Is that the end of the story?” Twilight asked.
“Yes, for the most part,” Luna said. “The failure of the spaceplanes caused the ponies to turn away from space flight. They built no more ships of space, and Moondreamer no longer had the heart to follow her own dreams. Then, the magic came back, and the ponies chased a new dream … one that in the end caused the Fall of the Age of Wonders. But that is another story, and I have other things to do this night.”
“Thank you very much for telling me,” Twilight said, her own voice choking slightly. “I really appreciate your trust, and your friendship, Princess.”
“And I thine, Lady Twilight,” said Luna. “You should know that … I have … a very great respect for thee. It was thee, more than any of the other Element Bearers, who had the courage to face me in my madness, and the wits and skill to do what was needful, to bring me out of darkness. I … I might have killed thee … but thou never didst flinch. Thou disdst save me, Twilight Sparkle, and thou hast my eternal gratitude for that. Thou … thou didst come ba…”
“Achoo!” Spike sneezed violently.
The two mares turned in surprise to the young dragon.
“Sorry,” Spike said. “It’s a cold night. Um, I heard voices.”
Technically not a lie.
Luna sighed. “Well, as I said, it’s almost sunrise. Twilight, I thank thee again for that. Thou art a fit heiress to the ponies of the past.”
“We’ll do it again,” Twilight said.
Luna started in surprise.
“We – I mean the ponies of today, and of the future. I’ve studied a lot of history. We know more now than we did a generation ago, and our children will know even more.” Twilight gazed up at the Moon. “Someday we’ll re-discover how to make our own sunfire, or something as good, and build our own ships of space, and we’ll go back to the Moon. And beyond. Your – Moondreamer’s – dream. It won’t die. We won’t let it.”
Luna sniffled, and groomed her face with one hoof. “It is a cold night,” she observed to Spike. Then, to Twilight: “Yes, I believe thee. As long as there art ponies like unto thee, the dream need not remain dead.”
“And now,” Luna continued, “I must be gone. A new day dawns and,” she looked at Twilight with a strange expression, “we are no longer exactly who we were. Fare thee well, my old friend!”
“And fare well too,” replied Twilight.
Luna shimmered, and was gone.
Twilight looked in the direction of Canterlot, then turned back to the door. She yawned.
“Come on, Spike. Let’s get out of this cold.”
“Wow, wasn’t that strange?”.
“What was strange?” asked Twilight as they stepped inside. Her horn glowed for a moment, and the balcony door closed.
“Princess Luna,” elaborated Spike. “The way she was at the end. She talked about those times as if she’d seen them. Lived them.”
“Yes,” said Twilight, rather quickly. “She’s a really good story-teller.”
“She’s also really old,” said Spike.
“But not as old as the Age of Wonders,” pointed out Twilight. “The legends mostly agree that she was born long after the Fall, as she said at the beginning.”
“Well, I …” started Spike.
“… was listening the whole time,” said Twilight. “I know your habits. Not that I mind,” she hastened to add. “What better would I want from a good Number One Assistant than his quiet attentiveness.”
“Yes,” agreed Spike. “I’m very quiet. But still –“
“She got really emotional at one point. When she talked about how Moondreamer’s husband died, how the ancient ponies stopped building those ships.”
“Well,” said Twilight Sparkle, turning back the covers and climbing into bed, “I suppose that Princess Luna has hidden depths. Many ponies do, really. You’d be surprised.”
“You’re pretty straightforward,” commented Spike.
“You’d be surprised. Night, Spike.”
Spike watched for a moment as Twilight rolled over, face to the wall, and her breathing slowed to the shallowness of sleep. He decided to go down to make some breakfast.
He did not see that her eyes were open.
Open wide, and thoughtful.