A sullen, depressed pegasus walked through the hallways of Canterlot castle. The deep, dark blues of her coat and mane contrasted sharply with the bright, white walls and floors. Her head was held low and she moved at a slow pace.
Moonbeam made her way through passages she had memorized long ago. Her employment within the castle had provided her with a near-flawless mental map of the building.
She rounded a corner and came upon a door that was flanked by two guards. They both regarded her as she approached.
"Shining Sword, Navy Shield," she greeted them in a sorrowful tone.
"Hello Moonbeam," the guard on the left, Shining Sword, replied in a comforting voice, "How are you?"
She didn't answer and simply gazed downwards. "The Princess wanted to see me?"
Shining Sword nodded and turned to enter the door. "Just a minute," he said as he left to inform Celestia of her presence.
Moonbeam was left alone with Navy Shield. "Did…she say what she wanted?" she asked.
Navy Shield did not respond. He simply stood before the door, performing his duty as vigilant guard of the rooms beyond.
There was an awkward silence until Shining Sword finally reappeared. "Okay, go ahead," he said to her as he resumed his post.
Moonbeam nodded. "Thank you very much."
"Are you going to be okay? You don't look well."
Moonbeam again stared at the floor. "I'm not. I haven't been sleeping and I've been feeling awful."
Shining Sword frowned. "We sure miss you here at the castle. I'm sorry to hear that things haven't been going well."
Moonbeam sniffled. "I just…I don't know wh-"
"Ma'am, the Princess is waiting for you. It is not proper to keep Her Highness waiting!"
The other two looked to Navy Shield after his sudden exclamation. He was staring at Moonbeam with an impatient look upon his face.
"Oh! Right, I'm sorry. I'll go right in then," Moonbeam quickly apologized. She then made her way into the hallway beyond, after which Navy Shield closed the door.
"You didn't have to be so rude…" Shining Sword muttered.
"Her Highness Princess Celestia is a very important and very busy pony. It is disrespectful to keep her waiting longer than necessary." Navy Shield did not even glance to the other guard as he said this.
Shining Sword only rolled his eyes.
About ten minutes later, a similar-looking orange pegasus walked past the hallway that the two were guarding. He stopped and approached the two lower-ranking officers. He was not at the top of the ranks, despite being Celestia's personal guard, but he still outranked the two ponies that stood before him. They saluted him.
"Vigilant as ever?" Sunbeam said to them.
"Yes, sir!" they replied in unison.
"Very good. Has my sister arrived yet?"
"Yes, sir," Navy replied, "She has just arrived and is now speaking with Her Highness."
Sunbeam nodded. "Thank you, Navy Shield."
"Oh, no. Thank you, sir"
"Would you please inform the Princess that her meeting with the mayor of Cloudsdale has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances?"
Navy saluted again. "At once sir," he said before disappearing behind the door.
Sunbeam turned to Shining Sword and smiled. "I get a very strong and loyal impression from him."
"Oh, yes sir," Shining Sword responded, "He takes his job very seriously."
"I can see that."
"He honours and serves the Princess, no matter what is required of him. I believe he'd take a bullet for her, sir."
Sunbeam chuckled. "I don't doubt it."
Meanwhile, Moonbeam made her way through the short hallway after speaking with the guards. She tried her best to keep her eyes away from the door opposite of her destination and knocked upon the sun-emblazoned door of Celestia's room.
"Come in," the Princess' sweet voice could be heard from within.
Moonbeam nudged the door open and stepped through. Celestia was sitting in the centre of the room and smiling. Her crown was not on her head and her mane was still grey and lifeless, but she seemed to radiate more positive energy than in previous days.
"You wanted to see me, Your Highness?"
"Yes," Celestia said, nodding, "I wanted to give you something. Come over here, my little pony."
Moonbeam stepped over to where the Princess was sitting. "What is it?"
Suddenly, Moonbeam felt herself being hugged tightly. The warm embrace was cozy and comforting, but it took the pegasus by surprise. Moonbeam was silent for a few moments. She began to realize that she was not only being hugged by the ruler of Equestria. She was also being hugged by a pony who had lost somepony close to her heart, and Moonbeam realized that they could help each other get through the rough patches.
She began to cry.
The moon had risen about half an hour ago and the city of Canterlot was beginning to fall asleep. Despite the bright streetlights that kept the roads safe for travellers, the city was dark and uninviting. Its citizens were staying indoors to spend time with their families and to simply relax. The city seemed to be hanging up a sign saying, Come back tomorrow.
Some of the few ponies still around in the cold night air were the guards currently standing watch at the gates to the graveyard. Normally, the cemetery was overseen by a single groundskeeper, but the events earlier in the morning had necessitated an increase in security, at least temporarily. The guards yawned as they scanned the nearly empty streets for troublemakers.
In the square halfway across town, a hot air balloon being towed by a colourful pegasus touched down and its occupant jumped out. Nopony spared the balloon a second glance as balloon travel was not uncommon for ponies destined for Canterlot.
Twilight and Rainbow Dash hastily made their way towards the Canterlot Graveyard, stopping on a street a few blocks up from the main gate. They could see the guards clearly.
"Okay, we're here. Now what?" Dash asked uncertainly.
Twilight had worn a steeled look on her face since their departure, during which time she had barely said a word.
"Are you going to tell me what we're doing here?" she pressed, trying to get Twilight to say or explain anything. She had initially been content to sit by the balloon and await Twilight's return, but the unicorn had insisted she come along.
Now the two of them were stationed a fair distance from official Canterlot guards, seemingly spying on them.
Dash was about to protest but Twilight held up a hoof and gave her a look that said, Don't make me stick this in your mouth. Twilight returned her gaze to the entrance and spent a few minutes observing the guard. Dash simply stood, not moving.
"Okay," Twilight finally said in a coarse whisper, "they look tired but not totally out of it. Shouldn't be a problem."
"I'm guessing whatever we're doing doesn't involve us just going up and asking them if they can let us in," Dash responded in a deadpan.
Twilight shook her head and closed her eyes.
"…or anything legal," Dash muttered.
Dash fell silent after being hushed for the second time. She looked at Twilight, who appeared to be concentrating. After a moment, her horn dimly glowed with a purple aura. She stayed still, concentrating for a few moments more, before the aura suddenly wrapped itself around the two of them.
There was a small, white flash and the spot where the two had been standing was suddenly empty. The guards' heads shot in the direction of the flash, alerted. However, they saw nothing out of the ordinary and returned their gazes forward.
Inside the graveyard, not far from their earlier vantage point, Twilight and Rainbow Dash suddenly reappeared in another muted flash. The guards hadn't noticed, as they had been preoccupied by the initial flash. Dash blinked in confusion and disorientation.
"Whoa…" she said, sitting down.
"Sorry," Twilight whispered, "Unexpected teleportation will do that to you."
Dash shook her head. "Uggh…" She looked at her surroundings. "Did we just commit breaking and entering?" she asked, "Into the Royal Graveyard?!"
"Shh! Keep your voice down!" Twilight whispered coarsely.
"Sorry," Dash replied, now in a whisper.
Twilight nodded and then turned and trotted off in the opposite direction. "Follow me!"
Dash stood up. She stole a quick, worried glance at the guards. They weren't paying any attention to what was happening behind them. She then turned and followed Twilight.
Canterlot Graveyard was indeed huge. It was perhaps two or three times larger than the average cemetery. Dash hadn't been able to fully appreciate its size from the image broadcast over the news. She tried to look at the graves and read the names written onto them, but Twilight was moving too quickly and Dash didn't want to get left behind.
Twilight was as silent and vigilant as ever. Dash wished that she would say something about their 'mission', but Twilight's lips seemed to be sealed. Dash was slowly beginning to doubt if trusting and following Twilight was going to turn out to be a good idea after all.
They made their way approximately halfway across the cemetery from where they had teleported in. Near the exact centre of the graveyard was a large stone structure. It was square-shaped with decorative corners and writing in old Equestrian engraved above and beside a square shape on the front. Upon this square something was written:
Coregent of Equestria, sovereign of the night,
Beloved ruler, cherished sister, friend.
We will all miss you.
Dash took a deep breath. They had found Princess Luna's tomb. She sat down and gazed at the fairly large structure. A humbled, breathless sensation overcame her. She felt insignificant sitting in front of the final resting place of such a great mare.
"Wow…" she breathed. She took a deep breath of the cold night air and then shivered. She had never thought of coming here, and now she wondered why she hadn't come sooner. The area had a unique atmosphere to it. It was strangely peaceful.
"What does the writing say?" she said to Twilight, indicating the old Equestrian writing. When Twilight didn't respond, Dash turned to look at her.
Twilight, meanwhile, had stepped towards the square marking and sat before it with her eyes closed tightly. She was concentrating on something. Dash was about to ask what she was doing, but then remembered being shushed twice before. She closed her mouth and simply observed Twilight.
The unicorn was barely moving. Dash wasn't sure if she was even breathing. She simply sat as still as a statue upon the cold stone. Dash's mind was racing with questions, but she held her tongue. Many minutes went by and nothing happened.
Then Twilight's horn began to glow. It was a soft glow at first, but it slowly increased to a shimmering purple aura. Dash's eyes widened. She's casting another spell? she thought, What if the guard sees us? It's gonna flash!
Twilight stood still for another minute with her horn glowing. Initially, nothing seemed to be happening. Then, however, Dash noticed a second glow beginning to form around the square shape at the front of the tomb. It also quickly increased in brightness.
Dash gasped. "Twilight, what're you doing?" she whispered uncertainly. She glanced over her shoulder nervously, looking back in the direction of the gate. Nopony was chasing after them yet. She looked back to Twilight, who was concentrating intensely. Dash wanted desperately to demand that Twilight explain herself, but she could see that if she broke Twilight's concentration, her friend would not be pleased.
She stood and began to pace nervously as Twilight focused on her spell. She was gripped by confusion and it was frustrating her. Another minute drifted by, then two more, and then another four. The wait was agonizing.
Finally, something broke the silence. There was the sound of rock grinding against rock. Dash turned and looked at the square at the front of the tomb. Twilight was slowly moving it outwards towards them. Inch by inch, it was coaxed out of its position by Twilight's powerful magic. Before long, the large stone was nearly free.
It was then Dash realized what this stone's purpose was. It was the tomb's entrance. Dash immediately panicked. "Twilight, what are you doing?!"
With a huge sigh of relief, Twilight released her magic's grip on the stone once it was free of the passageway. She panted from the exertion of casting the spell. Once she had caught her breath, she opened her eyes to respond to Dash. She jumped when she saw Dash standing directly in front of her, eyes wide open and wild.
"Twilight, are you crazy?! What in Equestria are you doing?!" she exclaimed. She took hold of Twilight's shoulders and began to shake the unicorn as she continued her panicked cries. "Are you insane?! You just broke the seal on Princess Luna's tomb! Have you lost your mind?!"
"You're gonna get us both arrested and locked in a dungeon forever! We're probably gonna be banished to another planet for this! You're mad, Twilight! Mad!!"
"And that's not even the half of it! Don't you have any respect?! How could you do something like this? How could you?" Dash wanted to say more, but suddenly found a purple hoof in her mouth.
"Dash!" Twilight hissed, "Quiet! Please, Dash. The last thing we want to do is let ponies know we're here. Now please. Be quiet when I take my hoof away."
Dash stared for a moment, but then nodded. Twilight removed her hoof. "Twilight," Dash continued, but in a whisper, "I could handle it when you were hiding in the basement doing weird stuff. I could handle it when you were making me look at recordings of a funeral like they were a game. But this? What in Equestria has gotten into you?"
Twilight sat and listened to Dash in silence. When the pegasus had finished, she stared Dash in the eyes for a few moments. The pegasus shifted uncomfortably. "Dash, do you trust me?"
Dash stared, dumbfounded. She opened her mouth to respond, but couldn't find the words to convey her sheer disbelief and incredulity. Instead, she shook her head.
Twilight closed her eyes and sighed. "Well, I'm sorry but you're going to have to." She stood up and began walking towards the entrance of the tomb.
Dash immediately stepped in front of her. "No. No, no, no, no! We're not going inside, you lunatic!"
Twilight gazed at Dash imploringly. "Dash, please! I'm just asking you to trust me this one time. Just for a few more minutes. That's what friends do, Dash; they trust each other."
"Dash, come on! We've come this far."
Dash paused and gazed at her friend. "You're insane…" she muttered.
Twilight chuckled. "Hey, maybe I am. But I'm pretty sure I'm not this time."
The two stood at a stalemate for a few more moments. Dash considered the situation carefully. Twilight didn't seem to be suffering from any kind of mental illness but, at the same time, the things she said and did were confusing and frightening to Dash. Every fibre of her being told her to drag Twilight off to the authorities or even the hospital by her mane.
However, what Twilight had said about friends trusting each other had ingrained itself in her mind. That was what friends did. She could remember a time, long ago, when Applejack had asked Twilight to trust her, and it had prevented severe injuries to the two of them.
Dash sighed and hung her head in defeat. Twilight paced up beside her.
"I promise, Dash," she said comfortingly, "nothing bad will happen."
Dash turned and gazed at her unicorn friend.
"Just trust me."
Twilight then turned and wedged herself through the small opening she had created by removing the block. In a few seconds, she had disappeared from view. Dash followed reluctantly.
The inside of the tomb was dark and cramped. Twilight immediately lit her horn and its glow illuminated their surroundings. It was a simple, square area made of thick stone. Bouquets and wreaths of now-wilted flowers were gathered around a smaller square stone in the center, upon which rested a familiar coffin.
Dash gulped. The moral side of her was fighting back. This is wrong, she thought, This is improper and disrespectful. She made to tell Twilight that she'd had enough and was going to leave, but Twilight had placed herself before the coffin and was studying it closely.
Dash gulped again. "Twiliiight…" she moaned anxiously as she stepped over to stand beside the unicorn. When she turned to look at Twilight, she was surprised at what she saw.
Twilight was grinning triumphantly. Her expression showed confidence; more confidence than earlier. She began to shift on her hooves, as if anxious to start something.
Dash was tremendously confused. "Twilight?" she ventured.
Twilight turned to face her. "Remember what I said about trusting me?"
"Good," she continued, "because it's more important now than ever. Now just sit still and don't try to stop me."
"Try to stop you?" Dash echoed, even more confused.
Before Dash could say anything more, Twilight lit up her horn with more magic. A purple aura suddenly appeared around the lid of the coffin. Dash's jaw dropped.
Twilight ignored her and carefully lifted the lid off, depositing it on the opposite side. The coffin now lay open and exposed to the two visitors. Dash felt her stomach flip. She caught a quick glance of its occupant before turning away and covering her eyes.
From her brief glimpse, she had seen that the Princess' body had been preserved somehow. She recalled somewhere in the back of her mind Twilight mentioning something about the use of magic on deceased royalty. However, at this point she didn't care.
"What's wrong with you…?" she muttered almost inaudibly under her breath. Her mind couldn't quite process what was going on around her. She had been putting her trust in Twilight, a pony that her mind was telling her was beyond insane. Here she was desecrating burial places, breaking laws, and unearthing the dead. What was Twilight doing? What was she doing?
"I'm leaving," she said simply before turning around, not daring to look into the casket again.
Dash stopped walking and hung her head, sighing. "Twilight…" she moaned, "please stop this. Please."
"Dash, come here! Please! I need to show you this!"
She faced Twilight, who was standing on her hind legs and leaning on the edge of the coffin, looking into it. Dash shook her head in disbelief.
"Twilight! Please don't make me drag you out of here!" she exclaimed, "Don't do anything stupid!"
Twilight's horn began to glow.
The purple glow enveloped the coffin and its occupant.
"All right, Twilight! That's it!" Dash said as she made her way towards the unicorn, "You have completely lost your mind!"
Twilight's eyes were once again closed in concentration. She wasn't paying any attention to Dash.
"Come on!" she shouted as she got up beside Twilight on the coffin's edge, "Stop doing whatever you're doing and let's get out of here!"
Twilight ignored her.
"Now!" Dash wrapped her hooves around Twilight and tried to pull her away. The magical aura grew brighter.
"Twilight! Stop this madness before you make a huge mistake!"
Dash's mind was reeling. She had no idea what Twilight was doing or what spell she was casting, but it was being directed at the body in the coffin. Dash couldn't allow her crazy friend to desecrate the Princess' body in any way.
She managed to slightly pull Twilight back, but the unicorn held on tightly with her front hooves.
Dash was panicking. Whatever Twilight was doing, she had to stop it now.
"Dash!" Twilight called out over the strain of casting the spell, "What do you see?"
Dash nearly let go of Twilight and fell over. Really?! she thought, This again? Now?
Twilight had her horn pointed directly into the coffin. Dash had been trying to avoid looking inside, but couldn't help doing so during the struggle. "What do you think?!" she exclaimed, outraged, "I see the dead body of Princess Luna!"
"No you don't!"
Twilight punctuated her response with a brilliant flash from her horn. Dash was momentarily blinded and she cried out in surprise and released Twilight from her grip.
There was an eerie moment of silence before the ponies' vision returned. Dash shook her head, trying to clear her mild dizziness.
"Ugh," she moaned, "What the hay was that-"
Dash stepped back next to Twilight. "I'm sick of playing these games with you. What are…"
Dash trailed off as she glimpsed the inside of the coffin. Her jaw fell. "Wh…What?" She shook her head and looked again, but saw the same thing. "What?!"
"Just as I thought," Twilight said matter-of-factly.
"Twilight, what did you do?"
Dash continued to stare in shock at the inside of the coffin. She was rendered speechless. What she saw before her was impossible, and yet she was staring right at it. The coffin still contained the body of a pony.
It was not, however, Princess Luna.
"What did you do?!" she demanded again. Where earlier Princess Luna's body had lay, there was now a blue unicorn mare that Dash did not recognize. She had no wings and was not wearing any royal attire. Even her cutie mark was completely different; it was a musical note.
"What happened to Luna?" Dash continued, begging for answers from Twilight.
"Nothing. That's the same body."
Dash turned to look at Twilight, who was incredibly calm and in control. Dash was flabbergasted. "What do you mean? That's not the Princess!"
"Well, who the hay is this?"
Dash stared at Twilight, completely bewildered. She tried to form a response, but couldn't find any words. Eventually, she settled for simply saying, "Wha?"
"I have no idea who this poor pony is."
Dash returned her gaze to the unknown corpse. "Well…how did she get here?"
"They put her here."
"Twilight!" Dash suddenly exclaimed, "Stop talking in riddles! Just tell me what's going on!"
Twilight turned towards Dash and began to speak. "This is the body that was at the funeral. This was the body they laid to rest in this cemetery. It's been her the whole time."
Dash simply stared in disbelief.
"I noticed it when we were at the funeral," Twilight continued, "As you know, I'm very adept at magic. It is my special talent after all. I could see that there was something off about Luna. She seemed fuzzy or unclear. It's hard to describe. It's like my brain knew something was wrong, but didn't want to outright tell me."
Dash tilted her head. "Come again?" she said, utterly puzzled.
Twilight shook her head. "The point is, I could see something when I was there. That's why I spent all that time in the basement. There, I could concentrate and not have any distractions. It was difficult, but I could tell there was some sort of magic cast onto the body.
"That's what I was studying down there. I cast vision spells and enhancement spells on myself to try to help see through this illusion. They didn't help much, since I didn't know exactly what spell I was trying to look past, but I could see more and more the more I tried.
"I could see that it wasn't really Luna."
Dash had to sit down. She stared intently at Twilight, hanging on her every word.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you girls or ask for help or anything," she carried on, "but there was always the possibility that I was wrong, and I didn't want to raise any kind of false hopes or beliefs. And hey, who would've believed me? That's why I brought you with me tonight; so you could see it for yourself."
Dash was silent for a moment. "So, this whole time…all of us have been looking at a disguised body?"
Twilight nodded. "It turns out that somepony cast a 'High-Level Perception Filter Spell' on this body."
Dash twisted her face in confusion. "A what now?"
"High-Level Perception Filter," she repeated, "I didn't even know a spell like that existed. It's not well documented. That's what had me stumped for quite a few days. Thankfully, the Doctor told me all about it."
Dash tilted her head. "'The Doctor'?"
"You know, the Doctor! Brown earth pony, scruffy mane, hourglass cutie mark?"
Dash pondered for a moment. "Oh, him…He's a doctor?"
"How does he know about a spell like that if he's an earth pony?"
"I don't know." Twilight shook her head. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. He was completely right. That knowledge helped me see past the illusion in the funeral recordings easier. Once I saw the news story about the ghosts, that settled it. It was all the additional proof I needed."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember how I said the 'ghost prank' spell worked by latching onto the ponies' bodies? That's why we didn't see Luna flying around." Twilight indicated the unknown mare with her horn. "Her body didn't change into Luna's. We could only see Luna, so the prank spell was still using this body as a template. If we went back and looked again, we'd probably see her flying around."
Twilight gazed at the mare. "I've managed to remove the spell completely now. I have no idea who she is, but I think I know why she was chosen." Twilight pointed her hoof. "Her horn is strikingly similar to Luna's."
Dash was still trying to process all of the information. "I still can't believe that everypony was fooled by this. Not a single pony except you noticed that anything was wrong." She rubbed her head with her hoof. "How did it fool Princess Celestia? She's an alicorn! I don't think any old spell could fool her."
"I don't think Celestia ever looked at the body," Twilight responded, "I think it hurt her too much. She never looked in the coffin while we were at the funeral."
Dash continued to stare at the pony laying in the coffin. Disbelief gnawed at her mind. "This is impossible…" she muttered.
"Believe it, Dash. That's not Princess Luna."
"Well…why? Why is she here? Where's the real Luna?"
Twilight shook her head. "Those are the questions I don't know the answers to. It's still a mystery."
Dash turned to Twilight with a hopeful look in her eyes. "Does…Does this mean she's alive?"
Twilight sighed. "Again, Dash, I don't know. I really can't say for sure."
Dash looked down, crestfallen.
"I'm sorry, Dash, but I don't want to jump to any hasty conclusions."
"All right," Dash said, looking up again, "So what do we do now? We have to tell somepony! Should we tell Celestia?"
"I don't think we should, Dash."
"Well, how's it going to look? We broke into her sister's tomb and cast a spell on the body. Even though my theory was correct, it's still not going to go over well. They probably won't even believe us. Trust me. Besides, you saw what happened when that pony went to her during open court and said she was alive. It hurt her badly."
Dash considered Twilight's words. She definitely had a point but, at the same time, something had to be done about this. More answers had to be found. "Well," she asked, "what do we do then?"
"Well," Twilight replied thoughtfully, "I think that first and foremost we need to go tell our friends. Then we can work out something together."
"But they're not gonna believe us!"
"That's why I brought you, Dash. If it was just me, you'd all probably think I'm crazy or grief-stricken or something. But since you saw all of this too, they'll have to believe us."
Dash nodded. "Makes sense," she agreed, "You really are clever, Twilight."
The unicorn smiled.
Dash looked back towards the mare in the coffin. "What about her?"
"It'll be fine if we just leave her here."
"Twilight, are you sure you don't want to tell anypony? The police? The guard?"
"Maybe that is the right course of action, Dash. But we need to tell our friends first. Six heads are better than two."
Dash nodded. "Okay then. Let's get out of here."
The two mares carefully slid the lid back into place and exited the tomb. While Twilight used her magic to slowly slide the stone back into the entrance, Dash sat alone with her thoughts. Her mind was racing. Princess Luna wasn't in her coffin. She hadn't even been at the funeral. Where was she? Was she really dead? What was going on?
"Okay Dash, c'mon. I'll take us outside."
Dash nodded and followed Twilight to the edge of the cemetery, where they had first teleported to. "Twilight?" she said as they walked, "This is really screwed up."
"I'm sorry I doubted you. It's a good thing you told me to trust you or…"
"Don't worry about it Dash. I'm just glad it all worked out tonight."
"Yeah…" Dash muttered, "I just hope things work out later too…"