Luna arrived on the balcony outside her quarters back at Canterlot. It had been a long flight to Dappleshore and back, and the sun had just begun its rise above the horizon. She looked back as Trixie landed behind her. "Let me talk to her first," Luna said as she opened the doors and stepped inside. "Also, I think it would be best if we don't mention this little trip to her, or anything about the envelope." Trixie nodded silently as she walked in behind Luna.
"You know what I think would be best?"
Both Luna and Trixie let out a squeak at Celestia's voice. Luna seemed to grow smaller as she turned to where the voice had come from. "S-sister! You scared us." She tried to smile, but it didn't quite work and ended up being a rather nervous quiver instead.
Celestia stood up slowly from where she had been sitting. All her usual warmth had drained from her face, a look of disappointment rather than anger. "Every day I hope that you will talk to me. That you will come to me when there is something. I try to be your friend, I try to help you, but you continue to repay me with secrets and lies. I am truly disappointed in you, Luna."
Luna looked down in shame. After a long moment of silence Celestia sighed and continued. "Moving on to business, however. I received several missives not long ago, from reliable sources, about a certain two ponies walking around Dappleshore digging in things best left buried. Perhaps you wish to tell me what you were doing there, and how in Equestria you could possibly believe I wouldn't know of it?"
Luna opened her mouth but Trixie interrupted her before she could speak. "It wasn't Luna's fault. She wanted to see you first, but I didn't want to disturb your sleep. But I can explain."
Celestia sat back down on the couch where she had been sitting before. "Then explain."
Trixie began telling of her experiences which, unknown to her, Celestia had already heard from Luna. Celestia remained silent throughout, however, listening with a steely gaze which made Trixie uncomfortable. She tried not to show it, however, and moved on to tell of their visit to Dappleshore and the envelope she had restored from the ashes only hours ago. She held the envelope out for Celestia, but the princess didn't take it.
"I thought you knew I had everything there burned for a reason. I thought you both understood and agreed with that decision, even welcomed it," Celestia said after a while. "Was I mistaken?"
"No. We did," Trixie muttered. "But what's happening to me …" She paused, taking a deep breath to face Celestia, looking up to meet the princess' unflinching gaze. "I, no, we need answers! We need to know what we're dealing with. We need to understand what happened in Dappleshore, and what it means for us all. We need to understand it. And—" She broke off but quickly straightened back up and continued. "And burning those things may have been a mistake. It may have been the only place to find these answers."
Luna nodded. "I agree. We can't afford to stay ignorant of a potential danger like this. What's done is done, but we must move to remedy our mistake before it is too late."
Trixie gave Luna a small, thankful smile. She was glad to not stand alone in trying to convince Celestia, who remained silent. The silence made Trixie nervous and she decided to continue, arguing with herself that she might as well plunge headlong in rather than prolong the torture. "Midnight's work is gone, even if I tried I don't think I could restore much more from those ashes this long after. But that envelope … maybe she had correspondence with somepony in that asylum. At the very least somepony there must have known about her. I … need to go there. It's the only hope we have right now."
"And I'll not let her go alone," Luna added quickly. "Please, Tia. This is important. I'm sorry we didn't come to you right away, but I swear we didn't intend to leave you out of this. I just didn't want to mention the letter, and our little trip, because I feared it would complicate the issue."
Celestia sighed. "I am still disappointed that you didn't come to me immediately. You both know you can come to me any time. And—" She paused and looked away. "I don't think it is a good idea for you two to visit that asylum, or dig in any more ashes. The knowledge you seek is too dangerous, you know this Luna. It is what lead to all this in the first place, both with Nightmare Moon and now Midnight."
Luna stood up and walked closer, narrowing her eyes at Celestia. She knew her sister well, and she knew when something was on her mind. "Tia, there's more to this than what you're telling us is there not? Who's the one hiding things now? I know this is dangerous, but ignorance is even more dangerous. And if you know something that we ought to know, then I would hope you would share it like you keep telling me to do."
Celestia looked up, keeping her regal posture. "There are ponies there who are best left alone, in the care of their designated guardians. Not just for your sake, but for theirs as well. The ponies there are not kept like that only to keep the outside world safe from them, but also to keep them safe from the world. Visits are strongly regulated in such places, for very good reasons."
Luna kept her eyes on Celestia, not entirely satisfied. After a while Celestia sighed in defeat. "If you must know, a young and troubled pony was admitted to the Hoofswell Asylum … many years ago. She was … much like Twilight, and has suffered greatly. She is very unstable and I would not want to see her hurt further. For her sake, as well as for yours, I can not allow you to go."
Luna frowned, as she and Trixie asked almost in one voice. "Who is this pony?"
Celestia stood up and shook her head firmly. "I will say no more. I am sorry. This is too dangerous, and I will not allow you to go. And I don't want to find out again that you have been digging in things you shouldn't. And that's final. Am I making myself clear?"
Luna scowled but didn't say anything as Celestia turned and left the room.
Trixie sat down heavily on the bed. She felt exhausted like never before from the journey to Dappleshore and back, and deeply worried about the events of the past day and what awaited ahead. She wanted nothing more right now than to sleep, but the thoughts churning in her mind left her restless. Trixie could hear Luna hum quietly in the bathroom, her voice mixed with the gentle sounds of running water. Trixie still felt conflicted about not talking with the young Twilight in the mirror. She understood Luna's concerns, but part of her felt terrible about betraying the filly like that. How could she leave the pony she once loved all alone in the dark?
Luna poked her head back into the bedroom, a warm smile on her face as she trotted over next to Trixie. "I covered the mirror for you, dear," she said and sat down on the bed next to Trixie, running a hoof down Trixie's back.
Trixie sighed a little at the touch. "I feel terrible. I can't stop thinking about everything, even though I think I could fall asleep standing. What are we going to do when Celestia won't let us? It won't be easy to go against her will if she's determined to keep us from digging."
Luna leaned in close to her and kissed her neck softly. "We'll work something out, trust me. But let's worry about such things later. There will be plenty of time for that in the evening. I readied the bath for us." Luna gave Trixie a gentle nudge and whispered in her ear, "I bet I could still show the Great and Powerful Trixie a trick or two of my own." Trixie's old hat lifted itself off a hook nearby and settled on Luna's head.
Trixie couldn't help but smirk a little. "Oh?"
Trixie lay on the large bed next to Luna, watching her calm breathing. She wasn't as much thinking as simply lying there, watching the mare she loved as she slept peacefully next to her. She felt exhausted and the worry still lurked in the back of her mind. Yet simply being here, with Luna, in the silence and darkness of her room made her feel better. Trixie realized just how much comfort she drew from Luna. She kissed the princess and closed her eyes with a little yawn, gently stroking Luna's soft mane as she drifted off to sleep.
Trixie wasn't sure if she had awoken, or never quite fell asleep. It seemed like she had only just closed her eyes. She was sitting in the bed, her heart beating in her chest and with a bitter taste of blood in her mouth. Had she bitten her tongue in her sleep? She sank and tried to calm her breathing. The room was dark and she could only just make out Luna's face in front of her. The princess looked—no, stared back up at her, her mouth slightly open and her eyes wide. Something wasn't right …
"Luna, dear?" Trixie whispered and rubbed Luna's shoulder with a sudden sense of panic growing in her chest. Trixie glanced down as she felt something warm and wet on her hoof. With a breathless gasp she pulled her hoof out of Luna's mane and stared at the deep crimson stain. "No!" she cried and nearly choked as the taste of blood in her mouth and throat returned to her attention. Drops of blood fell from her lips upon the dark sheets and ran down her neck in slow streams.
"NO! Luna! Luna …" she cried desperately as she shook the blood-soaked body next to her. "Somepony help me! Please help! Please … Luna, please wake up!"
"WHAT in Equestria happened!?" Celestia shut the door behind her as she stepped into the small room.
Trixie sat, rigid as a stone, staring blankly at the floor in front of her. "I-I don't know …" she whispered, her voice hoarse from screaming and crying. The taste of Luna's blood refused to leave her lips even now. "I don't know," she repeated to herself, barely audible under her breath.
"You don't know?!" Celestia stopped in front of her. The white alicorn looked like she didn't know what to make of herself, much less Trixie. "You were found screaming over my sister's body, covered in her blood! It looked like you had been trying to eat her after stabbing her repeatedly in the neck with a piece of a broken mirror! And you tell me you don't know what happened!" Celestia yelled, seemingly on the verge of exploding. It was a rare, and terrifying sight.
"Will she … be alright?" Trixie couldn't think of much else. The whole castle had been in a state of panic after they had found her and Luna in the bed. Luna had been rushed to the hospital while Celestia had thrown Trixie in here to wait. She had waited alone for hours before Celestia returned, and she hadn't heard any news in that time. The only thing she wanted to know was whether Luna would make it. Nothing else mattered to her.
Celestia took a deep breath and turned around. "She will recover. Apparently your aim with that shard was terrible, and you better thank your stars for that!" Celestia stood for a few seconds as if she considered sending Trixie to some distant star, or whether she should just roast her right here, then she simply walked back out of the room and shut the door behind her without saying more.
Trixie didn't move or say anything. A guard had brought her a bowl of water and some towels that she had used to clean herself up with, although it did little to get rid of the taste. The bloodied water and towels now lay in a corner behind her where she couldn't see them. In her mind Trixie kept hoping she'd wake up, any moment now, but she knew it wasn't going to happen. She was already awake, it hadn't been a nightmare. It had been all too real, and she had nearly killed the one she loved in her sleep.
The day passed in solitude. Trixie didn't move from where she sat. At some point a guard brought her some soup and a piece of bread, but she wasn't feeling the least bit hungry and the soup had long since grown cold. She wondered what would happen to her. Maybe Celestia would banish her, or have her hanged, or at least lock her up somewhere. She sighed.
Celestia stopped her pacing and turned to Luna. "She nearly killed you, how can you—"
"How can YOU just abandon her?!" Luna winced as a jab of pain shot through her neck at the agitated movement. She was half sitting in the bed at the private hospital, her neck wrapped in tight bandages which made breathing a bit of an effort and angry outburst quite painful. She grit her teeth and took a few deep breaths. She wasn't feeling too good thanks to the blood loss, and getting herself riled up didn't do her any good. "Trixie needs our help and support, the last thing we want to do is abandon her to Nightmare Moon and whatever else torments her."
Celestia stalked back and forth in front of the hospital bed. "I am simply trying to protect you, Luna. Because I couldn't bear to lose you. What if you are wrong? Can we afford the risk?" She stopped and looked down, as if what she was going to say hurt immensely. "I know you care about her, and it hurts me as well, but we may have no other options."
Luna shot Celestia a dark gaze. "Sometimes I truly wonder how you can think the way you do, Tia. She may not be your sister, but she is the mare that I love and she deserves all the same chances that I, or anypony does. Would you not do the same for me? Or did you … did you give up on me so soon too?" Celestia took a step back, a hurt look on her face. Luna didn't look away. "Was banishment truly the last option, or did you just give up on me too like you're giving up on Trixie now. On the mare of my heart?"
"Luna, I …" Celestia whispered.
Luna lowered her eyes, unable to lower her head. "I'm sorry, Tia. I know you mean well, but sometimes … sometimes I worry that you judge too soon and too harshly. I know deep in my heart that Trixie would never hurt me. What she did was not of her own will and I think we can both clearly see whose will it was. Nightmare Moon has given up on me, she has found a new promising host and I am now dead weight to her. The last thing she wants is having me around to spoil her chances with Trixie. So she tried to get rid of me. Do we want to give Nightmare Moon everything she could wish for by giving up on Trixie? Without even trying?"
Celestia merely shook her head. Luna smiled sadly and gestured for Celestia to come over. Celestia walked over and lowered her head, letting Luna wrap her hooves around her neck in a gentle hug.
"What would you have me do, Luna? It seems whatever I do, I risk everything I hold dear, and my duties as regent would never allow me to go with you."
"We all do what we must, Tia, and accept the price for our actions. I brought Nightmare Moon into this world, she and every pony she torments because of me are my responsibility. If my life is the price I have to pay in the end to ensure she never threatens another pony, then I pay it gladly. Let me go with Trixie to Hoofswell, and as far beyond that as we may need to find the answers. At least give me this chance to put everything right that I have done wrong."
Celestia closed her eyes. "I could send somepony else. Somepony from the school, perhaps Bastion Yorsets? You know him, he's a good pony and knowledgeable in the studies of magic. And he knew Twilight too."
Luna gently wiped a tear from Celestia's eye. "You know this is something Trixie and I have to deal with, sister. But if it helps you feel better, then I promise that we will not go alone. Twilight had good friends, perhaps they would also like to find out what really happened, maybe get a sense of closure."
Celestia opened her eyes, looking at something in the distance. After a moment she nodded a little. "Take Spike with you, at least. You remember Twilight's old assistant, the young dragon she raised? I want regular letters from you, twice a day at least or I'll make sure all your flanks are properly roasted. Am I clear?"
Luna smiled and nuzzled her sister. "Of course, Sis. I promise."
Trixie moved a little, stretching her aching limbs. She had been sitting there for hours, just waiting. She glanced towards the bowl of cold soup and bread. Slowly, tiredly she reached out, lifted it up in her magic and watched it drift towards her. The soup looked simple but good, a basic vegetable soup. She stirred it a little with the spoon, then took a sip. The taste was refreshing and made her feel better, if only a little.
Trixie licked the spoon and was about to dip it back into the cold soup when she stopped mid-motion. Her eyes fixed upon the blank silver as she lifted the spoon up in front of her. A tiny lavender face peered out at her, eyes filled with sadness. "Don't leave me here. I don't want to be alone!"
Trixie's lips trembled. "I'm sorry … I'm so sorry, Twilight!"
A knock on the door broke her out of her thoughts, and as she blinked the vision in the spoon vanished. The door opened and a guard stepped in and bowed to her. "Princess Luna awaits you in the hospital, Your Highness. She wishes to see you."
Trixie spent the rest of the evening and night with Luna, who told her of the agreement with Celestia. She slept in the hospital where she felt a little safer knowing others were around. Despite tossing and turning, the day passed without nightmares. The following evening the doctors reluctantly allowed Luna to leave, although insisting that she take it easy for a couple of days. Luna herself assured them that she was feeling fine.
Celestia came by as much as her duties would allow, but remained silent throughout. It seemed as if a heavy weight hung upon her shoulders, making her appear smaller and older than Trixie had ever seen the princess of the sun before.
As they prepared to leave that evening, Celestia came down to say farewell. It felt to Trixie as if they would never see her again, and she felt a tightness in her throat as the carriage set off towards Ponyville, the figure of Celestia growing smaller and smaller behind them.