A gentle breeze sent ripples over the golden grass that covered the plain, sunlight glinting from the stalks as if they were real gold. Here and there green peeked out amid the gold, signs of the new life that seemed to be flourishing all around.
There were flowers, too, adding splashes of color, and not far away a thestral team was tilling the latest of several farm plots, where a thin green haze showed new seedlings sprouting with fervent energy on the previously tilled soil. Their village loomed beyond, its black stone looking stark and strange in the warmth of the sun. The thestrals were going cloaked against that brightness, so that they wouldn’t burn.
The two who sat in the grass surveying the scene, though, had no need of such guards. The sun was Celestia’s, and Luna was long proof against its rays. Celestia, white of coat, with flowing pastel mane and tail, sat with her wings folded and her hooves tucked tidily beneath her. Luna sprawled on her side, her longer legs splayed out, her mane and tail spreading wayward stars across the grass.
“I established the link to Equestria this morning. Twilight says hello,” said Luna, tilting her head to look up at Celestia from where she lay. “I’m sure I’ll be able to hook you into it next time I open it.”
“There’s no rush. We haven’t even been gone a year, and it’s not as though Equestria needs us.” Celestia smiled. It had taken centuries, after giving up their thrones, to grow so bored of retirement and of the wonderful utopia that Twilight’s rule had established, that they’d wanted to seek out a world that might need them. A few months was nothing, compared to that span.
“True. That’s why we came here, though I’m not sure I’d have chosen this world if I’d known everything about it.”
“It was a word that needed—needs—us badly,” said Celestia gently. “It needs you in particular. I appear to be merely a bonus.”
Luna’s cheeks colored ever so faintly. “It feels…strange to be the greater sister, I will freely admit it. Old jealousies say that I should be ecstatic, but mostly I am finding it unnerving. To have such power, and such devotion…”
“It’s frightening,” said Celestia, nodding. “You fear you will fail them.”
“Yes. That’s always been something I needed to worry about as a princess and as the alicorn of the moon, but now it seems especially acute. All these pilgrims, coming to petition me… The ones who don’t have petitions scare me more than the ones that do, truly. They’d do anything for me. I could abuse that so easily. It’s obvious the gods here often have before.”
“You’ve never abused your position,” said Celestia, chuckling.
“Oh?” Luna rolled fully onto her back and looked at Celestia upside down, smiling. “I would think that the Nightmare Moon incident…”
“If anything that was the inverse, a lack of power, not an excess,” Celestia smiled back. That was ancient history by now. Rather literally, even if you only counted back to the Nightmare’s return.
A loud, meeping cry interrupted them, and a voice cried out, “Luna!” The voice’s cheerful tone and its gravely, bubbling sound were very much at odds, and Cotton Candy looked even more horrible by bright sunlight than she’d looked in the zoog wood’s dark shadows, but Luna and Celestia both broke into broad smiles as the ghoul came lurching towards them.
Luna rolled to her hooves and leapt to meet her. “Cotton Candy! I didn’t expect to see you here! How did you get over the mountains?”
Celestia rose as well, but let Luna take the lead, standing at Luna’s shoulder, and feeling oddly pleased to find herself still the shorter of the pair despite her ascension.
“I followed the changelings. They have some kind of way to lull the shoggoth to sleep, they said. I knew I wanted to see you, when I overheard the news. They stopped to rest on the other side of the mountains, they’ll be here all formal and diplomatic and probably kissing your cutie mark soon enough.” Cotton Candy grinned toothily. “But I came on, since I don’t need sleep. I couldn’t wait! Though where’s Whiffletree? Did something happen to her?”
“Something did indeed,” said Celestia, still smiling. “I was Whiffletree.”
“Oh wow.” Cotton Candy peered at Celestia, eyes that had looked entirely black in the forest now shown as pale blue, pupils tiny pinpricks in the brightness. “You got bigger! Though I guess Luna did too. I didn’t know you were a goddess.”
“Neither did I! I’m Celestia now, and the sun is mine, as the moon is Luna’s.”
“Right, of course.” Cotton Candy nodded, looking between them.
“Have you come seeking a boon, then?” asked Luna. “I know somewhat of the magic of the dream that lies over your home forest, and of the nature of ghouls. If you wish to be a pony again…”
“Oh hell no!” Cotton Candy shook her head vehemently. “Being a pony was nice enough, but I like what I am. I don’t want to go back to needing to sleep, grazing all the time, and having to fear anything with teeth.” She bared hers in a literally ghoulish grin.
Luna laughed out loud in obvious delight. “I see!”
“No, I just learned the name of the new goddess, who returned the moon and sun—that’s what they’re saying, sorry, Whiffletree, or whoever you are now—and I wanted to see you now that you’ve ascended. I knew a goddess! How could I not come say hi?”
“I’m glad you see you,” said Luna. “Come, here, sit and speak with us. I can send for fish, if you’re hungry?”
“Nah, there was a bunny that something else didn’t finish on the way here. Very nicely rotted and everything. I’m good for now.”
“Let us sit and speak, then.” Luna settled on to the grass once more, and Cotton Candy did too, the ghoul as ungainly while sitting as while doing anything, but Celestia was still glad to see her. They had worshipers a-plenty already, but Cotton Candy was the nearest thing they had as yet to a friend.
“So what’s it like, being a goddess?” said Cotton Candy.
“Many things,” was Luna’s smiling reply. “Worrysome, just now. I find myself surrounded by ponies who are willing to do anything I ask, and many of them seem to be almost literally begging to be taken advantage of. To misuse the power of a goddess so would be wrong, and yet I fear I will be tempted. Power and luxury and, ah, attractive partners… They can be hard to turn down, especially when those offering them seem so eager.”
“So take a little advantage!” Cotton Candy giggled, and Celestia thought that the sound of a ghoul giggling was an experience. “If they’re actually eager and you like the look of them…” She giggled again and wiggled the scraggly remains of her eyebrows.
Luna rolled her eyes. “Yes, a fine jest. But in actuality…”
“In actuality our gods have always been mad, or evil, or like…things that make me look downright equine and homey.” Cotton Candy gestured at herself, that too-toothy grin coming back.
“I think if it weren’t for the whole ‘planet slowly dying’ thing we’d have been better off without them entirely,” she added, her expression sobering. “I’ve been around long enough to remember when more of them were active, and what it was like. Knowing you, you’d have to try really hard to cause a thousandth the trouble they did, Luna. I wouldn’t worry about it. Ponies here are used to horror-thing gods, you know? They’re flinging all this at you because they’re so damn happy to have an equine god. I mean, some of them don’t trust you at all, you should hear what the changelings who argued against sending anybody to greet you were saying! Some of them think a fair seeming means you’re going to be even worse. But trust me. You are going to be wonderful for this world. Both of you are.” She nodded at Celestia. “So don’t worry too much about screwing it up. We’ve been through worse.”
Luna regarded Cotton Candy thoughtfully. “I am tempted to argue that just because the harm I might cause is lesser, that doesn’t make it not harm. Yet I do find myself reassured by your perspective. That these ponies are offering me so much because they find me trustworthy compared to their old gods is a more reassuring thought than that they are awed by me, or are not thinking of what harm I might do them.”
“Nobody, pony or ghoul or anything else on this benighted globe, could possibly fail to think of the harm a god can do, believe me,” said Cotton Candy. “They’re just happy to have you.”
“I’m happy to have you,” said Luna. “One thing a goddess seldom has is a friend.”
“Hey, I’ve said that ghouls don’t do friends.” Cotton Candy scrunched up her sunken face in a truly hideous expression of protest.
“Yet ponies do, and I do, and so I will consider you my friend. If you say I can hardly do wrong, I will no doubt do no wrong to insist you accept my friendship.” Luna’s smile was sly as she spoke, and Cotton Candy laughed again.
“Oh, I guess so. Gotta keep up my reputation as a monster, though. Can’t be seen acting all soft and fluffy.”
“I shall appoint you my official divine monster, if you wish,” said Luna. “But you and I will know that by this I mean friend.”
Cotton Candy laughed again, and Celestia found herself laughing as well. “You will definitely have to tell Twilight about this, when next you speak. She’ll be pleased to find that finding a friend was one of your first accomplishments here.”
“Finding a friend was my very first act,” said Luna, her expression gentling. “Because the first thing I recall here was finding you. You are my sister, but you are also my friend.”
“Best friends forever,” said Celestia, and leaned over to give Luna a nuzzle.
“Best friends forever,” answered Luna with a smile. She gave Cotton Candy a sidelong glance and said, “Ghouls are rather near immortal, so shall I say ‘friends forever’ to you as well?”
Cotton Candy rolled her eyes. “If you insist. But yeah, sure, friends forever. Now, if we’re talking about abuses of divine power, let me tell you about a few things on this rotten world that I totally think you ought to fix…”
Celestia let the conversation between Luna and Cotton Candy wash over her, as the sun above also washed over her, and felt a warm contentment. The road here had been strange, and the way forward far more difficult than she could have guessed, but she was glad they’d come to this world. After centuries of idleness, it was nice to be needed.
It was nice, also, to renew her bonds with Luna. She’d been reborn on the dark altar, and in some ways she felt that having been Whiffletree, and having died feeling she was of no worth save for that death, had changed her. Yet she was not so changed that she wasn’t still Luna’s sister, as she’d been for all these years, and as she would be until the no doubt far, far, far distant day when this world too became a utopia and they might find themselves ready to move on to somewhere else, and walk together down some other strange, dark road.
The ritual is done, the story told, but there's a new, sunlit world ahead, and time for catching up with friends, old and new.