On a windswept grassy hill in a biting wind, two ponies lay close. Neither of them shuddered or shivered despite the bitter cold winter night. The elder of the two lay an indigo wing across the younger as they stared into the infinity of a starlit and cloudless sky.
After many long minutes the larger mare broke the pleasant silence. “Have I done well this night, Twilight Sparkle?”
“It - it’s incredible! I never realized that the night sky could look so.. alive. A new moon, an uncloudy day,” blissfully sighed the lavender unicorn, “it’s all so perfect. Thank you, Luna.” She gently rubbed her muzzle against her partner’s mane, which reflected twinkling stars above with unerring clarity. A mischievous grin crossed her face. “Or, since you called me Twilight Sparkle again, maybe I should have said, Thank you, Princess Luna.”
The alicorn looked down and raised an eyebrow. ” As you wish. Perhaps then I should revert to the Royal Canterlot Voice as well?” They shared a smile as Luna continued. “Your point is well taken, Twilight. Such names and titles can change relationships and color perceptions, for good or ill.”
Twilight paused for a moment before looking back up at the glittering dome of the sky. “I was reading a book a few days ago - Proceedings of the Royal Court: Ancient Times to Preclassical Era by Mareodotus. I kept running into passages which I was sure referred to you, but I didn’t recognize the titles.”
“Indeed, in times long past I was given many names. As was my sister, though I like to think my own devotees were more prolific in that regard. Which of these forgotten epithets puzzled you?”
“Well… I remember a group of petitioners asked the court’s permission to… er, assassinate someone, I think. They addressed their request to ‘Imperatrix de Umbri’. Was that a title of yours, Luna?”
The Princess closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in deeply. “That was a name I heard only briefly, before my,” and she exhaled a long and steaming breath, “well, before my rightful exile. What does such a name mean to you, Twilight?”
Twilight looked nonplussed to have been asked a question at all, as though she’d expected only answers from her Princess. “If I remember, the translation is something like ‘Empress of the Shadows’. Did that mean they believed you actually controlled the shadows?”
“Some did, yes. They believed I could manipulate all forms of darkness - bending shadows to my will, forming shadow-servants out of gloom and dimness, appearing as in visions where ever light was extinguished.” She managed a chuckle which warmed her sister’s favorite pupil even further against the whipping wind. “I could do no such thing, of course, though I admit I did little to discourage the belief. Does that particular title speak to you of other meanings?”
The young mare looked down, lost in thought. “It could also mean that you were the Shadow Ruler - that is, maybe they thought you ruled from behind the throne. That you were really…”
“The true power in Equestria, allowing Celestia to claim the glory while I held the reins, as it were?” Twilight nodded weakly. “Correct again, Twilight. Celestia’s faith in your brilliance was not misplaced. Yes, that was indeed another meaning behind the same title. Again, I did not dissuade ponies from holding such a belief. Just before the start of Nightmare’s reign, it may actually have been true. To some extent, at least. After my return I suspected that my sister quietly relinquished some of her power and duties to me in a last attempt to placate me, to make me feel important, even needed. Alas, ‘twas too late by then.”
The great alicorn of the night hung her head and a sense of quiet shame overtook her. Twilight began to speak again but held back and seemed to shrink a little under Luna’s gentle wing.
“I know what you are thinking, my Twilight. That you read further and saw the same title used yet again, this time by my detractors.” The smaller pony remained silent, her eyes searching the ground, and huddled closer under her great feathered blanket. “Do not fear to offend or sadden me, Twilight. Such times are long past, and I have come to learn - thanks in no small part to your lessons - that burying the past does not always alleviate it. Yes, Celestia’s supporters also called me by that name. I was still ‘Imperatrix de Umbri’ to them, but as the Shadowed Empress, not Empress of the Shadows. The twist in meaning was a calculated insult. They saw me as a ruler, but one always to be overshadowed by the Sun Princess. ” Luna’s gaze became steely for a moment, then melted away just as quickly. “Always in the shadow of the Elder Empress, second in stature, second in power. Little did they know that by assigning me such a title, they did not break my spirit or ‘put me in my place’ - no, instead they only hastened Nightmare’s entry into the world. Ironic in hindsight, yes?”
The look on Twilight’s face was that of a student who’d just seen far more than what her teacher meant to show, and displayed unease rather than the smug comfort she usually found in greater knowledge. She shivered a little, and not from the cold.
She quietly fought back a sob and spoke barely above a whisper. “Luna, I - I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought any of that up. I never meant to dredge up painful memories. I’ve probably ruined the whole night.”
A hoof, immense in power yet feather-gentle, lifted her chin, and she felt a tender kiss on her forehead. She looked up to see two great onyx-and-azure eyes smiling kindly down at her.
“Twilight, what passed long ages ago is not what I now live for, and it has no power over me. No question you can ask me about such matters of history will change what we have.” She leaned down and affectionately nuzzled the violet-and-pink-maned pony. “I have had more titles and names than there are stars in my sky. Each of them has a hundred meanings of its own, and I would be delighted to discuss each of them with you. Yet the only two titles that matter to me, the only ones I hold dear, are the ones you gave me. In all of history you were the only one to give them to me, and until the stars themselves all go dark, they will be the only names I cherish.”
“Names I gave you? I don’t…”
Stars sparkled in Luna’s eyes. “The first name you gave me was Friend. The second was Beloved.”
Norse Pony’s comments: Just a second, I’m still d’awwwing.
OK, now I can proceed. I very much enjoyed this look at Luna’s manifold past. I love worldbuilding, and you’ve got a deft touch for it. Also, TwiLuna is often very sweet, and you’ve got a deft touch there, too. The scene-setting was beautiful, and that final line made my heart melt. I don’t have much to say here, because nothing stood out to me; it was all good.