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The Brightest Days · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
With a Terrible Brightness
“No. No clouds. That day must be full sun,” Celestia said, walking down a hallway in a quiet part of the palace. She let her head turn lazily this way and that, sweeping her pondering gaze over the various artifacts lining the walls in display cases and niches.

“That day? Isn’t that when the—”

“Yes, Raven,” Celestia said hastily, cutting off her attendant. “Yes, it is.”

The poor unicorn followed close behind the princess, trying to split herself between tasks. She was, variously, juggling a notepad, pen, and sheaf of papers in her magical field, paying attention to the notes she was scribbling down, and trying to keep pace at just the right distance from Celestia to hear everything the Princess was saying but also not bump into her rear whenever she paused for a moment to study a jeweled relic or piece of armor among the detritus of past ages on display.

“Sunny... day...” Raven mumbled to herself, scrawling down the note.

Full sun,” Celestia corrected her. “Not just ‘sunny,’ full sun. Clear skies. Not a cloud.”

“Clear… sky… no clouds,” Raven corrected herself, scratching and scribbling furiously for a second or two. She lowered her pen and looked up curiously. “Umm… but why?”

Celestia just turned to glare back over her withers and gave her attendant a look.

It wasn’t an angry look – if anything, something more like tired – but nonetheless it was one that said questions about the purpose of her directions would not be indulged right now.

Not about this.

Not today.

“I really did want to be friends, you know,” the powder-blue unicorn said from the other side of the heavy steel bars.

“You just wanted to be queen even more,” Celestia commented sadly, staring into the dungeon cell.

To call it a ‘dungeon’ might have been overstating things. The name stuck around mostly out of tradition. The inside of the cell was hardly designed to torture. The bed was a thick twin mattress, not a hard cold slab. The toilet was in an enclosed little alcove, not a bucket in the open, and had a curtain for at least some minor privacy. There was a cushioned chair, a dresser, and a desk for reading and writing and using as a dining table. There was even a window with a nice view, overlooking some of Canterlot’s skyline with its ornate gleaming white and gold towers and their colorful pendants waving with slow drifts in the wind.

Put down some carpet, and it almost could have been a hotel room.

Still, Celestia knew that in the end, the niceties would be of little comfort and less meaning.

“Of course I did,” the mare said in a low voice that almost sounded regretful, somewhere unreadable on the line between feigned and sincere; the voice of an aristocrat practiced at speaking with intonations that always felt reassuring and believable no matter what was being said. “But why is it so wrong to just want what everypony wants? Who doesn’t want to be queen? And who doesn’t deserve it sometimes, even?”

Celestia hated to hear it. All it did was remind her that she was well-versed in the same trick herself.

“Oh, Dawn Star. Why could you not be content?” she lamented. “You were made a Lady. You were wealthy. You were a central fixture here in Canterlot. What more could you have wanted?”

Dawn Star shrugged. “Why could Luna not be content, a thousand years ago?”

The barb in her question stung like a slap across the face. Celestia wanted to fly into a rage, to scream, to grab the Lady Dawn Star by the throat and lift her into the air and thrash her against the bars while ordering her to never again speak of a time she hadn’t seen, a thousand years before her own, when the world was nothing like it is today.

“That was different. It wasn’t Luna that I fought and banished,” Celestia said calmly. “She was overcome with the madness of Nightmare Moon.”

“Oh. Was it the Nightmare?” Dawn asked, with the hint of a clever smile forming on her lips. “Well, then maybe I was also overcome with madness. You should give me a blast of magical rainbows or something and ‘change my ways.’ Not that I don’t appreciate the posh accommodations—” she looked around the cell “—but I have places to go and things to do, if it’s all the same, so, if that’s the dance we shall dance, then I’m not too proud to say to the crowds that I realize now I was wrong, and I’ve seen the light and found a better way, and so forth. So if we could get a move on reforming me, that would be choice.”

It was tempting.

So tempting to cave to the pretense, the painless way out.

“I wish it was that easy,” Celestia said. “I really wish I could accept that excuse.”

“Then accept it,” Dawn challenged her. “You’re the princess. What’s anypony else going to say about it? They do what you tell them to do. They think what you tell them to think. It’s so easy. Just do it.”

“And that,” Celestia lamented, “is what you don’t understand.”

Dawn paced in her cell, her smirk fading. “Were you born into the nobility, Princess?” she asked.

Celestia stared at her, without expression. “No.”

Dawn Star stopped and stared back with a fuming intensity in her eyes. “Then maybe there’s some things you don’t understand, either.”

“I’ll be honest, I had hoped you would convince me otherwise,” Celestia said, mumbling into the papers in front of her on a boardroom table.

“Me too.” A grey mare nodded from one side of the table, with a dark mane rolled up into a severe bun that had a pencil sticking out of it. “We’ve been able to find ways around this kind of thing for years. We were this close to having it pass out of living memory, even. But I don’t see what choice there is now.”

“Cut-and-dry coup attempt.” Another panel member nodded their agreement. “Made in full cognizance. I don’t see any extenuating circumstances here. She’s got no one and nothing to blame but herself, I’m afraid.”

“High treason, without mitigation…” the third panelist piped in. “And that can only mean—”

“Yes, I know,” Celestia shifted in irritation. “I know. Is this the last review, then? Nothing more to examine?”

“Not unless you can find something more,” the grey mare said. “We can’t.”

“No.” Celestia took a deep breath, and sighed. “No, inexplicably ‘finding things’ where my experts cannot isn’t my place.”

“We appreciate your trust,” the second panelist said with a nod. “And, uh, if I can say…” He cleared this throat, and looked back and forth at his compatriots. “We, uh. We trust you, too, your highness. If you know what I mean.”

“I’ll take that as merely a flattering declaration of confidence,” Celestia mumbled sourly, “and not as the offer I know it wasn’t.”

“Yes. Yes, of course that is exactly what I meant,” he said, quickly, flipping over one of the sheets of paper in front of him, brushing past the words.

Celestia thought for a moment, but found herself content to let the possibly slide, so long as it was only a mere possibility, and one that she could afford not to look and read too deeply into. But she suspected that in the near future, panelist #2 might be called mostly to duties other than final judicial review boards for extraordinary sentences requiring royal assent.

At least for a while.

The branch superior courts—the ones outside of Canterlot, she was thinking of specifically—could always use more help with good review oversight, after all.

Still, he had done his duty with complete diligence, as far as she could tell. They all had.

And that meant there was only one thing left, here.

Celestia slid the special piece of parchment over to herself, the one that had sat uncomfortably unmentioned and untouched in the center of the table for this whole meeting – the one nopony seemed to want to acknowledge, as if even so much as looking at it would poison the very air in the room.

She looked around the table. There was an inkpot in front of each of the panelists for their fountain pens.

But no quill.

She wanted to facehoof. Something as basic as a quill, for crying out loud, and somehow, somepony, whose job no doubt was specifically to prepare these rooms ahead of time for meetings like this one, had forgotten. She could borrow a pen, of course, but that wouldn’t be right. Not for this.

Never for this.

She could never stoop to the vulgarity of signing this kind of assent with a pen. Pens were crude, manufactured, lifeless things. Only a quill would do.

All the same, she didn’t want to call for a clerk to bring one. She just couldn’t bear it; sitting there in the awkward, dead space, the uncomfortable silence of the minute or two that would roll by while some gofer hunted down a quill, then ran it over to the conference room, and they all just sat here in embarrassed idleness with nothing to say in the meantime.

Just the thought made her feel like crying, and she’d spent enough time close to the edge of that precipice lately.

So she spread her right wing and leaned her head down to brush her muzzle through her brilliant white swanlike feathers as if preening. She selected the right feather by the feel on her lips; the one with just the right stiffness, not too large but not too small, not too much downy fluff near its base. Gently but firmly, she grasped the feather’s shaft in her teeth, steeled herself, and plucked it out in one clean, swift motion.

The sting burst over her mind, bright but brief, flaring and fading until a low, dull, itching ache lingered in the empty spot where the feather had been.

Taking hold of the feather in her magical field and floating it in front of her, she saw that it still had a trace of blood on its tip. A tiny matching dot of crimson, sharp with vivid color against the white of her plumage, bloomed on her wing – just a drop, too small for anypony else to notice, hidden under the purified white of the rest of her feathers. But she saw it, and she knew it was there. And she thought it was better that way.

She slid one of the inkpots over to herself and dipped the tip of the feather into it, dabbling and rolling it slightly to pick up the thick black ink. In a smooth motion, she pulled it out, lowered it to the parchment, and scrawled her signature on the blank line at the bottom with quick, well-practiced strokes.

At the very end, with the feather’s tip running out of ink and exposing the blood that lay beneath, the final mark was tinged with red.

Better that way.

Without further remark, she laid her quill down on the dread parchment, stood up, and walked out of the conference room.

“Where did I go wrong, Daisy?” Celestia asked into her teacup, staring at the dregs. It was made from bagged tea, of course. All the rage these days for its convenience, but it left no bits of leaves at the bottom for divination.

Not that reading the tea leaves ever helped, anyway. But sometimes it was nice to pretend.

“I don’t know that you did,” a white and yellow splotched mare sitting across from her at a wrought iron and glass garden table replied. “Some ponies are just like that. Terrible business, this whole Dawn Star affair. I couldn’t believe it when I heard.”

“Couldn’t you?” Celestia mumbled.

“Oh, alright.” Daisy rolled her eyes, just briefly, subtly. “I see you’re in one of your ‘let’s be honest’ moods today.”

“Yes, let’s.” Celestia nodded, setting down her teacup and trading it for a strawberry jam tart.

“Very well,” Daisy said, her voice turning a little more curt. “If you want the honest questions, my first one is, would knowing why, and then blaming the ‘why’ on yourself, really change anything? I presume you’ve already gone through the whole bureaucratic theater production and made your… your decision. So, would it have been different?”

Celestia bit into her tart and pondered this.

“No,” she finally said, after swallowing.

“Then do you really need to ask?” Daisy continued.

“One can’t help but wonder these things about a former star student,” Celestia commented.

“You were her teacher,” Daisy said, leaning forward to give Celestia a cut-the-nonsense look from across the table. “Not her mother.”

“It still hurts.”

Daisy’s face softened. She reached across the table and gently laid her hoof on Celestia’s. “I know.”

They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, just holding hooves, under an overcast sky in the little hedge-boxed rose garden.

“Pony’s going to do what a pony’s going to do,” Daisy finally said. “That’s as honest an explanation as I can give you. Matter of the heart, in the end, and nopony can lie about that. Not forever.”

“Still, it wasn’t bound to end like this.

“No, of course not,” Daisy agreed. “We had our problems, when I was your student. I know you remember. But I never tried to literally have you stabbed in the back.”

“And why not?” Celestia asked. “What makes us friends instead of enemies?”

“I had to choose which was more valuable to me, of course. We all choose what to keep in our heart, and what to let go.” Daisy sipped her tea and set the cup down on the glass tabletop with a delicate little ceramic clink. “Sometimes, I swear, you only come here to ask me questions you already know the answers to, don’t you, Tia?”

“Oh, but you’re just so good at it, Daisy.”

They both laughed, quietly, comfortably, an easy bright beautiful sound drifting through the white and red rose blossoms atop their thorny bushes.

“But some can lie about it for a while,” Celestia said, after the last of her giggles faded. “Long enough to make their play for what they want out of the lie, anyway.”

“I suppose that’s always true,” Daisy agreed. “But… what are you getting at?”

“Nothing.” Celestia shook her head. “Nothing, other than – well, it’s a strange thing.”

“What is?”

“Envy,” Celestia answered. “I just wish I had that privilege, sometimes, is all.”

“Pish posh.” Daisy waved a hoof. “No you don’t. Duplicity is the prerogative of a Lady or a Dame. Not a Princess. Never a Princess. You don’t really want to be one of us, now, do you?”

The palace doors opened and Celestia narrowed her eyes. In the widening gap, noon daylight from the sun in the perfectly clear sky she’d ordered for this day burst in, blinding and illuminating all at once. Once her sight adjusted, she strode forward, emerging into the courtyard where a somber crowd had gathered. Guards lined a path from the open door to the stone steps rising up to a raised amphitheater, keeping the way clear and the crowd silent as Celestia walked.

It was the same place from which, most years, she raised the sun at dawn on the Summer Sun Celebration.

Behind her, a cluster of guards surrounded Dawn Star, powder blue coat and deep cerulean mane vivid and neon now in the full sun. They led her forward at a sedate pace following the princess.

Celestia took her time, looking from side to side at the crowd. She’d hoped it would be smaller. Some of them almost certainly hadn’t been invited, but it was generally the policy to admit whoever came to witness a public act of the Princesses. Word must have gotten around. Not terribly surprising, really.

At least they were being dignifi—

Distantly, faintly, laughter.


Somepony out there in the crowd was telling jokes, treating this like a social event, some kind of casual amusement. Celestia felt like her blood would boil.

But she had a tool for this.


The echoes of her booming declaration in the Royal Canterlot Voice died down and left a chilling stillness in their wake. The ponies of the crowd ceased any milling about or idle chatting and stood still and sober, all eyes trained now on Celestia as she proceeded down the path.

She reached the steps, and took them one at a time, slowly, deliberately. The stone they were made of was warm under her hooves from the unshaded noon sun blazing down, filling the whole amphitheater with the brightest light of the day.

Just as she’d ordered.

The long shadow of her horn cut the sunlight, casting a dark line on the ground before her, sliding its way up one step, then another, until she reached the top.

She waited, there in the sunshine, until the guards behind her arrived with Dawn Star. They positioned her at the center of the space, kneeling before Celestia, in shackles magically enchanted to keep her hooves bound to the stone floor.


Silence. Tense, tense silence. In that moment, it seemed like nopony in the crowd even breathed.


Celestia breathed, once, slowly. “I’m sorry it’s come to this,” she said, her voice suddenly quiet. “I truly am. Forgive me for what I must do.”

“Wait, this is for real?” Dawn asked, incredulous. “I thought this would be a show, for the crowds, and you would just… send me to Tartarus, or something. Please, there has to be—”

“No.” Celestia shook her head. “No, it’s too late. I’m sorry. It may be a show for the crowd, yes, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a tragedy.”

“Incredible. You’re actually doing it,” Dawn Star said, somewhere in a blurry mid-tone between halfhearted sneering and genuine admiration. “So you do have some bloodthirst after all. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there’s more of the nobility in you than I thought. Good for you!” she laughed to herself nervously, a thin, hollow sound of desperation.

Celestia just stared at her coldly. “Do you have any last words?” She asked.

“Just one question,” Dawn said. “With all the ponies you could have do it for you, why do it yourself?”

“I am not nobility,” Celestia said. “But I am royalty. That’s what you never understood.”

She took a few steps back, and began focusing all her magical might into her horn. It glowed, brighter and brighter, and as its light and power waxed, the sun itself seemed to momentarily dim.

With a terrible brightness, faster and hotter than a bolt of lightning, blinding and burning, a beam of pure fire and light intense beyond imagination or comprehension burst skyward, then faded, and where Dawn Star had been, there was nothing.

When Celestia retreated to her private chambers, she told the attendants and the ministers she wanted to be alone with her thoughts for a while.

What she really meant was that she would spend the next hour or so in her darkened room, crying her eyes out.

Finally, her sobs had subsided and her red eyes were… well. Not exactly ‘under control.’ That would take a while longer. But she was at least collected enough to answer the persistent knock at her chamber door. Opening up, she found Raven waiting patiently outside. That was about what she expected. The silver tray she carried was a nice surprise bonus, though.

“Can I come in?” Raven asked. “I brought you something.”

“Come in, yes, fine,” Celestia yielded, moving out of the way to let Raven through the door.

“I, ummm, I thought this might do you some good.” Raven held aloft the tray, and pulled back the lid. “Double chocolate. Extra big slice. I told the chef it was a cake emergency. I just had a feeling.”

“Your feeling was right,” Celestia said. “Thank you, Raven. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Celestia sat at a little table in her chambers, and started digging in to her cake. It did make her feel a little better. A little.

Raven pulled up a chair and sat with her, quite uninvited, which Celestia knew she knew better than to do, but also that she usually knew just when to do the things she wasn’t supposed to.

“Are you okay, Princess?” Raven asked.

“No,” Celestia said, without hesitation. “No, I am not ‘okay.’ That milestone is a while off, I think.”

“Yeaaaaah, dumb question, I guess,” Raven muttered. “You want me to cancel what I can for the rest of the day, and shuffle off the stuff I can’t over to Luna?”

“Would you be a dear and do that?” Celestia nodded. “I think Luna will understand.”

“Pretty sure anypony would understand,” Raven said. “You’ve had yourself a pretty rough day. Maybe next time let somepony else do that… kind of… thing… for you, yeah?”

“Never,” Celestia growled. “One thing I have learned, Raven: don’t sign the order if you’re not willing to do what you’ve ordered. Do not hide. Do not use the dark to cover up what would be wrong if it was examined in the light. Because these things will come into the light, someday, somehow.”

Raven nodded, slowly, in thought.

“I do this in the full sunlight, on the brightest days, so my subjects may see and know all that I do—even the worst of what I must do,” Celestia went on. “Especially the worst.”

She scooped up the last bite of double chocolate cake on her fork, and held it it in front of her, examining it, turning it this way and that under the soft light of a nearby lamp.

“On the brightest days, we do the most terrible things.”
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#1 ·
Thick with metaphors and symbols, this one feels mostly there. Mostly. Like 95%. Certain spots could use just that little bit of next-level polish to really finish it off proper and have a cleaner, clearer gem. Notably it feels like the ending might have been written a bit faster than the opening and middle parts, but I'm not totally sure. I get that these things have a time limit, so there's some room for forgiveness on that front, at least in my way of seeing it.

I'm not a fan of the "Celestia likes her cake" trope, but that's just personal taste. It's been done worse and for less actual relevance or reason to the story, though, so I can't knock it very hard.

On the plus side, I'm a sucker for a good tale of soul-searching, so thanks for this one.
#2 ·
The (unintended, I think) levity of the final scene takes a lot of the wind out of the execution scene. But I should stress that I love Celestia's proclamations during the execution -- you do a great job of conveying the awesome might that she carries. And the title is woven in perfectly.

Celestia using her own quill to sign the death warrant is a great image.

I'm not sure I buy that Dawn Star didn't know the execution was coming, especially since it seems like everyone else did. If this is meant to be the first execution that Celestia's done in so many years, maybe, but if so, that can probably be played up more.
#3 ·
A well thought out story. Might not have gone with the cake part mostly because all I get are allusions to Marie Antoinette and ... things didn't end well for her. Plus out of all the sections it just feels kind of tacked on. Having Raven show up to let Celestia know that she's rearranged her schedule is enough of an impetus for Raven to politely ask how Princess Celestia is doing especially if they are friendly enough as boss/assistant.

On a different note I could see how Dawn Star would think she wouldn't be executed. Given the past history of villains and Celestia ... she tends to go pretty soft on them all things considered. I could make a joke here that Dawn Star was instead sent to Skyrim where she founded her own city but I'll let that go.

Overall good work. Thanks for writing.