The doors to the Ponyville schoolhouse burst open with cheers as little fillies and colts raced out wearing wide smiles. Among them were the Cutie Mark Crusaders, who laughed and giggled along with all the others. Behind them, Cheerilee walked to the school’s doorway. She too had a small bounce in her step and a bright smile on her face, for it was a day both she and her students had been looking forward to. School was officially out for the summer.
“No more school, no more school, no more school!” Apple Bloom cheered several times, bouncing around like Pinkie Pie as she and the other crusaders made their way into the center of Ponyville.
“Yeah, a full summer vacation to find our cutie marks! This is going to be awesome!” Scootaloo exclaimed. “So, what should we try first? Skateboarding? Paragliding? Wait, no… we should be Cutie Mark Crusader Bungee Jumpers!”
“That all sounds kind of dangerous, Scootaloo,” Sweetie Belle said anxiously.
“And scary,” Nyx added quietly.
Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement. “Yeah, maybe we could start off with something else first. We… uh, we don’t want to go through all your awesome ideas straight away, do we?”
Scootaloo and the others slowed down and began to walk through Ponyville side by side. “No, I guess not.”
“How are we gonna keep track of all our ideas, anyways?” Apple Bloom asked. “After all, haven’t we tried paragliding before?”
“Did we?” Scootaloo asked, looking at her friends for an answer.
“I don’t remember,” Sweetie Belle said with a shrug.
“Well,” Nyx began cautiously, “Twilight’s always making lists to keep herself organized, so how about we do that? We can each make a list of ways to find our cutie marks, and then we can combine them and make one big list. That way, we’ll know what we have and haven’t done.”
“That’s a great idea!” Apple Bloom praised. “If we do that, we’ll be sure to find our cutie marks in no time!”
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle both agreed, and the quartet quickly began hammering out the details of the plan. They each agreed to make a list that night and bring them all to the Golden Oaks Library after lunch the next day. Then, after a final “Cutie Mark Crusaders” chant, the group disbanded with a cascade of excited giggles. Each was eager to get home and start thinking up as many things as they could.
Nyx practically galloped all the way back to the library, bursting through the door when she arrived. She raced across the floor towards Twilight, who was working to put some books back on the library shelves. Unable to contain her excitement, Nyx tackled her, an endless stream of giggles escaping her lips before she shouted, “I’m home!”
“So I see,” Twilight replied. She sat up from her new place on the floor and picked up some of the books she had dropped while Nyx bounced excitedly around her. “And how was your last day of school?”
“Really fun,” Nyx replied. “Cheerilee ordered some treats for us, and she passed out our final grades.”
“And how were your final grades?” Twilight asked.
To answer Twilight, Nyx eagerly opened her saddlebags and held out her grade report. Twilight took it in her own magic, and a smile spread across her face as she read over it. Nyx’s grades weren’t perfect, but they were still good for a filly who started two-thirds of the way through the school year.
“So,” Nyx asked nervously, “did I do good? Cheerilee said I did good, but… did I do good?”
“You did great,” Twilight replied, setting the grade report on a nearby table. “In fact, I think we need to celebrate. What do you think, Spike? Should we take the rest of the afternoon off and do something fun?”
Spike, who had been sitting in the corner as he played with and fed Peewee, glanced up at Twilight. “What about the library? You’re always saying we have to keep it open during the day, so that ponies can check out any books they want.”
“Oh, come on, Spike, it’s a special occasion,” Twilight said happily. “The end of school only comes once a year.”
“Hey, you don’t have to ask me twice,” Spike said with a laugh. He jumped out of his seat and carefully placed Peewee back in his nest. Peewee was just as small as he had been when he was hatched, and he was more than willing to settle in for a nap in his nest. Spike tucked the phoenix in, smiled, and jogged over to where Twilight and Nyx were standing. “So, what are we going to do?”
Twilight smiled as she placed a few final books onto the shelves. “I think Nyx should decide.”
Nyx blinked in disbelief, and the smile on her face grew wider. “Really? I get to pick?”
“Yep, whatever you want to do, Nyx,” Twilight confirmed.
“Can we get lunch at Sugarcube Corner?”
“And then can we go play at the park?”
Nyx was on the verge of exploding with excitement. She bounded over towards the door and kept bouncing until Twilight and Spike had caught up. The trio stepped outside, Twilight locked up the library, and Nyx happily bounced in the lead as the three of them headed off in the direction of Sugarcube Corner.
“That was the best afternoon ever!” Nyx cheered.
Twilight laughed in agreement and looked over her shoulder. Both Nyx and Spike were riding on her back as she carried them to the library. After eating lunch at Sugarcube Corner, the three of them had spent the entire afternoon playing in the park. They enjoyed a game of tag, played hide and seek, and Twilight even played the part of a pretend monster that Nyx and Spike defeated a number of times. It was the kind of random, unplanned day of fun that Twilight had often missed growing up because of all the time she spent studying.
Yet the day was coming to an end. The sun was nearing the far horizon, and Twilight was thankful that it would soon be going down. It had been fun playing with Nyx and Spike, but it had also been exhausting. Her body was worn out from all the playful running and laughing.
Nyx, on the other hoof, was still full of energy. “Can we do this again tomorrow?” she asked.
“Not tomorrow,” Twilight replied with a tired smile. “But maybe next weekend. After all, weren’t you going to do something with your friends tomorrow?”
“Yeah, we’re each supposed to think up a bunch of things we could try out over the summer to try and find our cutie marks,” Nyx answered before her smile turned into a panicked frown. “Oh no! I forgot to start my list!”
Twilight chuckled. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Nyx. You have until noon tomorrow. I’m sure that if you start on the list tonight, you’ll have more than enough things to share with your friends.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it, Nyx,” Spike said from his seat on Twilight’s back. “You got all night to… Hey, Twilight?”
Spike leaned to one side and pointed with his claw. “Isn’t that Princess Celestia’s chariot outside the library?”
Twilight, who had been paying most of her attention to Nyx and Spike, looked forward. He was right; the princess’s royal chariot was parked just outside the library with a pair of pegasus guards hitched to the front.
Without giving Spike or Nyx any warning, Twilight broke into a panicked gallop. She burst into the library, drawing the attention of Princess Celestia, who was sitting on a cushion at the reading table.
“Ah, Twilight, I was wondering where—” Princess Celestia began, only to be cut off. Twilight galloped around the room, horn glowing as she hurriedly cleaned the library. All the while, Spike and Nyx hung onto her back for dear life.
“Princess, you should have told me you were coming! I would have cleaned the library! I would have organized a dinner at Sugarcube Corner! I would have—” Twilight’s panic was interrupted as she felt herself being lifted off the ground. She twisted around in the air to face Princess Celestia, who was wearing a gentle smile as her horn glowed.
“Please calm down, Twilight. There is no reason to get yourself so worked up,” the princess said soothingly.
“But—” Twilight tried to protest.
“This is meant to be a casual visit,” Princess Celestia said before she set Twilight down on the floor, “and I apologize for not telling you in advance. Still, if I had, you would have gotten the whole town to decorate for my arrival, and I don’t want that this evening.”
Twilight sighed in defeat, bowing her head. “Of course, Princess, but you have to at least let me offer you something to eat. We were about to make dinner.”
“I appreciate the offer, my faithful student, but I’m not hungry at the moment,” Princess Celestia said. “But please, don’t let me stop you. It looks like you three have had a long day.”
“Yes, but it was fun,” Twilight replied before turning to look at Spike and Nyx, who had managed to stay on her back despite her panicked galloping. “Spike, Nyx, would you two mind starting dinner? I know I said I’d cook tonight, but—”
Spike waved her off. “Don’t worry about it, Twilight. Come on, Nyx, let's go rustle us up some grub.”
Nyx nodded eagerly before she and Spike jumped off Twilight’s back and quickly made their way into the kitchen. At the same time, Twilight moved over to the reading table and sat down across from Princess Celestia. She put on a smile and asked, “So, what brings you to Ponyville? Is there another dragon taking a nap in the mountains?”
“No, but there is something important I need to talk to you about,” Princess Celestia replied, her usually cheerful, almost whimsical tone growing more serious.
The princess’s horn glowed, and there was a flash from behind Twilight. When she turned to look, she saw a few lingering sparkles around the kitchen door. It was a spell she recognized immediately, having seen Princess Celestia use it before. It blocked sound, which meant that what the princess wanted to talk about wasn’t meant to be heard by Spike or Nyx.
“Now,” Princess Celestia continued calmly, “Twilight Sparkle, I’m here because I need to talk to you about Nyx, who I know is not your cousin.”
Twilight felt her heart skip a beat, and she turned back towards Princess Celestia. Her first instinct was to continue her lie, but the knowing look in Celestia’s eyes told Twilight she couldn’t get away with that. It was just like the few times in the past she had been in trouble; there was no point in trying to lie to the princess.
“How much do you know?” Twilight asked quietly.
“I have my suspicions, which is part of the reason I’m here. Before I say another word, I want you to be completely honest with me about Nyx. Tell me everything.”
Twilight felt her mouth go dry, but she began to speak all the same. She held nothing back, made no effort to conceal any truth. She divulged every hard fact she could offer and presented every one of her theories about Nyx’s origins, existence, and nature to Princess Celestia.
And, as Twilight spoke, Princess Celestia listened. She maintained her regal composure and didn’t show a drop of emotion. The line of her lips was flat. Her eyes were steely and knowing. It was not the face of a teacher, mentor, or friend that Princess Celestia wore. It was the face of a monarch.
When she finally finished speaking, Twilight was exhausted. With every word she had spoken her anxiety had grown, and she was beginning to feel just a little weak because of it. But now she was done. Now she had said everything she could say about Nyx, and it was Princess Celestia’s turn to speak.
“Thank you for your honesty, Twilight,” the princess began, offering a truly warm smile with her words, “and I want to say how proud I am of you. Few ponies would have done what you did. Not only did you help a filly who was lost in the forest, but you did so even though you believed she had once been your enemy. You must care about her greatly if you felt it was necessary to keep this a secret.”
“I-I do,” Twilight replied, letting herself smile a little.
“Might,” Celestia began, coughing once to try and improve the strength in her voice. “Might I ask how much you care?”
“What do you mean, Princess?”
“What is Nyx to you?” Celestia elaborated. “Are you simply a caregiver? Does Nyx perhaps look upon you as a friend? Does she see you as you once looked upon your foalsitter, Princess Cadance?”
Twilight chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of her neck. “Well, actually, it’s funny you should ask that. Nyx kind of thinks of me as…” Twilight grew very quiet, muttering out her final few words so quietly that they were unintelligible to the princess.
“Could you please say that again, Twilight?”
“S-she thinks of me as her mother,” Twilight admitted.
Those words ushered a dead silence into the library. Princess Celestia sat perfectly still for a time, as if Twilight’s admission had locked up her brain. She began to frown, her regal composure failing as a mixed expression of exhaustion and guilt formed on her face.
“Twilight.” Princess Celestia sighed. “I wish I had not asked, for you have only made what I have to do that much more difficult.”
Twilight tensed, leaning in anxiously. “What do you have to do?”
“Twilight, your theories about the night you were ponynapped are correct,” the princess said. “Bastion Yorsets led a team of unicorns in studying the spell performed by the cult. He confirmed that it was intended to resurrect Nightmare Moon using the shreds.”
Twilight blinked in confusion. “What shreds?”
“You may not have noticed them, but, when you used the Elements of Harmony on my sister, a number of shreds were left behind. The Elements of Harmony literally shattered my sister’s old armor and peeled the power and hatred of Nightmare Moon away from her just as you would peel the skin from an onion.
“The end result of the peeling was the shreds, which held lingering amounts of Luna's old power and echoes of the mare she was when she called herself Nightmare Moon. I entrusted Spell Nexus with studying these shreds, to see if they were dangerous and what, if anything, needed to be done with them. They, unfortunately, were stolen from Nexus’s manor. We now know that the cult ponies who ponynapped you were responsible for the theft and that they took the shreds to use them in the resurrection spell.”
Princess Celestia took a deep breath, shoring herself to tell Twilight something she wouldn't want to hear. “Thus, Nyx did not simply come from that spell. She was made from those lingering shreds. Nyx is the very essence of the mare my sister used to be given a body and mind of her own. Twilight, she is Nightmare Moon.”
“No… no no no no!” Twilight shouted, shaking her head furiously. “That doesn’t mean anything! She doesn’t want to take over Equestria. She doesn’t want to hurt anypony! She actually likes the sun and—”
“Please understand, Twilight, I take no joy in this,” Celestia interrupted, trying to calm her student down. “While Nyx currently shows no signs of being dangerous, you cannot deny she could be a threat to Equestria. For all we know, Nightmare Moon could just be disguising herself as the filly you care for. She could be biding her time, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
“Even if that is not the case, you just admitted to me that Nyx has some of Nightmare Moon’s memories,” Princess Celestia pointed out. “Should more of her memories return, Nyx might also remember her hatred of me and her jealousy of the sun. She could become a threat to Equestria once again.”
“But Nyx would never do that!” Twilight argued firmly. “Nyx hates those memories. She was crying when she remembered them because she remembered wanting to hurt me and she couldn’t understand why.”
“Twilight—” Celestia tried to interrupt again, but Twilight continued her rant.
“And I’m not blind. I realized who Nyx was after what happened at the Learn and Play Day. I don’t think she’s trying to trick me though. I have no evidence to prove it, but I think—” Twilight stopped there, shaking her head once. “No, I know Nyx is a good pony. She’s good, she’s changed, and—”
Twilight found herself silenced, not by harsh words or anything violent. Instead, in a span of a few moments, Princess Celestia had circled the table and pulled Twilight into a warm embrace, holding her student with her neck and one hoof.
“Please stop, Twilight,” Princess Celestia pleaded, her voice ringing with the echoes of desperation. “You are only making this more difficult for me. I am sorry, but Nyx is Nightmare Moon, and I must take her with me to Canterlot.”
“But why?” Twilight asked in desperation. “She isn’t bad. She hasn’t tried to hurt you. Why do you have to take her?”
“Because I must, Twilight,” Celestia admitted, her words ringing out in the silence of the library. “My dreams have been haunted with visions of Nyx growing into Nightmare Moon. I see her threatening not just Equestria, but everypony I hold dear. I see her threatening you, my sister, and the kingdom. I see her stealing everything away from me, and I’m powerless to stop her.”
Celestia began to hug Twilight more tightly, bitter memories surfacing in her mind. “Powerless, just as I was powerless to save Luna a thousand years ago. It is my duty to do what is necessary, Twilight. It was my duty a thousand years ago to defeat my own sister, so the sun could rise over Equestria again. It was my duty, and I would do it again. My actions saved lives and brought joy back to the ponies of this kingdom, but that day still weighs heavily on my heart.”
A tremor entered Celestia’s voice, her conviction wavering. “This is something I have to do, Twilight. I cannot wait until Nightmare Moon has risen again before acting. I cannot give her a chance to take my sister away again, to hurt anypony… especially those I care for so dearly. I cannot let her have that chance.”
Twilight tore herself away from Princess Celestia, tears streaming down her face. “But she’s not the same Nightmare Moon my friends and I defeated. She’s a different pony now. She’s changed, and I won’t let you take her away for things your sister did.”
Twilight gasped and covered her mouth with her hoof, realizing all to late what she had said. At the same time, Princess Celestia looked as if she had just been stabbed in the heart.
“Princess, I didn’t mean… I would never—” Twilight tried to apologize.
“No, you’re right,” Princess Celestia said in a solemn tone as she turned away from Twilight. “Back then, Luna and Nightmare Moon were one and the same, and, thus, they share the guilt of what they’ve done. I’ve tried to assure Luna that she has been forgiven, but my sister still carries the burden of her actions.”
“But if you’ve forgiven Princess Luna, can’t you forgive Nyx too?” Twilight pleaded.
“You misunderstand, Twilight. I am not taking Nyx away to punish her. I am taking her to, hopefully, put my fears to rest,” Celestia explained. “Spell Nexus has prepared an old, powerful spell that will allow me to take a glimpse at who Nyx really is. It is a spell that will let me see into both Nyx's mind and her soul. In that glimpse, if I find nothing more than traces of what Nightmare Moon used to be, then I will return Nyx to you with the sunrise.”
“And what if you find more than a few traces?” asked Twilight.
“As long as Nyx does not contain the malice, jealousy, and hatred that once defined Nightmare Moon, then she will be returned to you,” Celestia assured her student. “It was those feelings and emotions that drove my sister. If they do not exist in Nyx, then she cannot truly be the same mare my sister once was. This spell can also be used to monitor Nyx as she grows, to keep a constant gauge on the kind of mare she is becoming.”
“But what if you find that she does have these feelings? What if you find—”
“Twilight, don’t make me tell you something you don’t want to hear,” Celestia almost begged.
“NO!” Twilight raged, picking up on the truth behind Princess Celestia’s words. “I won’t let you banish her to the moon! Yes, Nyx is Nightmare Moon, but she is also my daughter, and I’m telling you she’s changed! That should be enough for you, or do you doubt me like you did when I told you Cadance was acting evil? Didn’t I turn out to be right then?”
“You were right and I do trust you, but—” Celestia tried to reply, only to be cut off.
“Then listen and believe me!” Twilight pleaded. “Nyx. Is. Not. A. Bad. Pony. Anymore!”
Celestia approached Twilight again, and, even though Twilight tried to shy away, the princess pulled her into a comforting embrace for a second time. Celestia, not only to put her hoof and neck around Twilight, but also sat down and wrapped her wings around her student. It was the most tender and comforting hug the princess could offer.
“Twilight,” Princess Celestia began, a single tear rolling down her cheek. “I am sorry. I promise, I swear to you, that, unless I am utterly convinced Nyx is a threat, I will return her to you in the morning. I, however, cannot ignore my own instincts. I fear Nyx could pose a great threat to Equestria, so I will do what I must to protect the ponies of this kingdom.
“But you know me, Twilight. I am not heartless. If Nyx has changed, if she is not the Nightmare Moon she used to be, then I will give her the chance she deserves. It is no less than what I did for my sister. It was only when I felt all hope was lost that I used the Elements of Harmony.
“So please,” Celestia whispered. “Please, Twilight Sparkle, I ask this of you not as a princess of Equestria or as your teacher, but as a pony who fears for those she cares about. Let me take Nyx. Allow me to put these fears to rest, for you do not know how much they torture me.”
Twilight squirmed weakly in the princess’s embrace, trying to escape, but her resistance was failing. The doubts that had haunted her more than once rose up in full force, filling her mind. Celestia was right; it was better to be safe than sorry. It was better to know for sure whether or not Nyx was a threat to Equestria.
Breaking down, Twilight allowed herself to sink into Princess Celestia’s embrace. “I've wondered, sometimes, who Nyx really is. I've seen what she can do. I’ve seen the power she holds and the memories she has. But even if she is Nightmare Moon, that doesn’t mean she has to grow up to be evil, does it? Can’t she still be a good pony? Can’t she change?”
“Yes, Twilight, she can,” Princess Celestia said, attempting to comfort her. “Anypony can change. I’ve seen you grow into a strong young mare with dear friends, and I know that if anypony could heal Nightmare Moon of her pain, it would be you, my faithful student. Though, it seems you share my fears. So please, let me take Nyx to Canterlot. Allow me to put our doubts to rest.”
With Celestia’s final plea and the promise that the test would kill off the doubts that had, at times, flitted through her own mind, Twilight's last defenses fell. It was a chance to know, without a doubt, whether Nyx was or was not a threat to Equestria.
“O… o-okay, Princess,” Twilight surrendered. “But… can I at least come with her? She’ll be scared without me.”
“I’m sorry, Twilight, but Spell Nexus has asked that you remain here in Ponyville during the test. He doesn’t want you there, watching, should the worst be revealed, and I feel he’s right. I do not want to make this harder for you than it has to be.”
Twilight choked up and leaned into Celestia’s embrace. She cried quietly, and Princess Celestia let her. The princess held her, comforted her, and waited until Twilight was able to dry her tears. Then, and only then, did she pull away from Twilight and begin making her way towards the kitchen door.
After sucking in a breath to regain her own composure, Princess Celestia flicked her horn and removed her spell of silence from the door. The sounds of cooking started to echo into the library’s main room, breaking the uneasy silence as Celestia pushed her head into the kitchen.
“Oh, hey Princess,” Spike greeted. “Change your mind about eating dinner with us?”
“No, I'm afraid not, and—” The princess was forced to pause to clear her throat and bring back her normal, motherly voice. “And I must ask that Nyx come back with me to Canterlot.”
Spike and Nyx paused from their dinner preparations. “What for?” Spike asked.
“Twilight has told me that Nyx is an alicorn, and we agreed that it would be for the best if she got a checkup from my royal doctor.”
“Can't you have a doctor come here or something?”
“While I could ask my doctor to come to Ponyville, he also serves as the doctor for many others in the royal palace, and I cannot, in good conscience, ask him to drop everything else he has scheduled to make a trip here,” Princess Celestia lied, keeping up her regal composure in hopes that Spike would believe the story.
“I guess that makes sense,” Spike eventually replied, “but why right now? Isn't it kind of late?”
“My intention is to take Nyx back with me this evening and have her see the doctor as soon as we arrive,” the princess explained smoothly. “Then, I thought Nyx might like to spend the night in the castle. I can even show her Twilight's old bedroom at my school for gifted unicorns.”
Nyx lit up with excitement at the prospect of not only getting to see not only the castle but also Celestia’s prestigious school. On more than one occasion, Twilight had told Nyx bedtime stories about the time she had spent with Princess Celestia, learning magic as the princess's private student.
“Well, I guess if Twilight is okay with it,” Spike said, not entirely sure about what he was being told. Still, like Twilight, he had never been given a reason to doubt Princess Celestia, and he had no reason to start. Nyx, on the other hoof, was bouncing with excitement, willingly following the princess out of the kitchen.
Yet, as Princess Celestia moved to the library’s front door, Nyx glanced over to Twilight. She had intended to tell Twilight how excited she was and how thankful she was that Twilight was letting her go. Instead, the excitement that had been filling Nyx died away. Twilight was sitting with her head turned down, her eyes hidden by the bangs of her hair, and Nyx thought she saw a tear fall to the ground.
Before Princess Celestia could stop her, Nyx strayed from her path to the door. She trotted over to where Twilight was sitting and asked gently, “Twilight? What’s wrong?”
Twilight didn’t answer, didn’t even turn to look at Nyx. She just kept looking down at the floor, body trembling as tears flowed from her eyes.
“Twilight?” Nyx ventured to ask again, only for Princess Celestia to move beside her.
“Twilight will be all right,” the princess tried to reassure Nyx, using a hoof to gently guide her towards the door. “Now come along. If we hurry, we might be able to get back to Canterlot in time to watch Luna raise the moon.”
Nyx squirmed away from Princess Celestia, running back over to Twilight. “No, I don't want to go any more. Twilight… Twilight, what's wrong? Why are you crying?”
“Nyx, please, we need to leave,” stressed Princess Celestia.
“NO! I don't want to go!” Nyx snapped. She got right up beside Twilight and nuzzling one of her legs. “I want to stay here with Twilight.”
Princess Celestia took a step towards Nyx, her tone growing firmer. “I promise you'll be back in the morning, but I need you to come with me.”
“NO! I don't want to see the doctor! I want to stay here with Twilight!”
“I'm sorry, Nyx,” the princess said, struggling to stay strong as her horn began to glow, “but you have to come with me.”
Slowly, Princess Celestia began to wrap her magic around Nyx, levitating her away from Twilight. Nyx began to toss and turn in the magic, trying to free herself even though she had no chance of escaping the spell. All the while, she panicked and screamed.
“NO! Let me go! I don't wanna go! I want to stay here!”
“What's going on out here?” Spike asked, starting to open the kitchen door. Princess Celestia, however, quickly diverted some of her magic, slamming the door shut and locking it. Spike began to pound and shout from the other side, but she ignored his protests. Her conviction was already failing, crumbling like a sand castle being eaten away by ocean waves. She needed to leave with Nyx quickly, before she lost the will to do what needed to be done.
Celestia quickly slipped out the door, Nyx floating in the air behind her. Nyx had now given up trying to free herself from the magic and was now focusing on Twilight, flailing and calling out to her in panic.
“Twilight! TWILIGHT! Please, don't let her take me, Twilight! I don't want to go! Please, I want to stay here, Twilight! If I did something bad, I'm sorry! Please, I don't want to go! Twilight! TWILIGHT!”
The last of Nyx's cries were muffled as Princess Celestia shut the door to the library, carrying Nyx out to her waiting chariot. The princess motioned to her royal guards, who quickly snapped to attention and prepared to take off as she stepped into the chariot. It was then Nyx cried out with all the force and volume her small voice would allow.
“I’m sorry Twilight, but Spell Nexus has asked that you remain here in Ponyville during the test. He doesn’t want you there, watching, should the worst be revealed.”
Twilight’s thoughts spiraled as she looked down at her hooves. She became numb to the world. She could hear Spike and Princess Celestia talking but could not process what they were saying. She could not feel the floor beneath her hooves or the tears running down her face. Her mind was too preoccupied with its internal struggle to handle anything else.
Princess Celestia was right; every argument she had given was valid, and Nyx wasn’t being taken away forever. The princess was just going to test her. If Twilight was right, Nyx would be back at the library in the morning, no worse for wear. On the other hoof, if she was a threat or a danger, this was for the best. Princess Celestia would be able to stop her before she threatened anypony. Equestria would be safe and secure.
That, and Twilight couldn’t ignore the fact Princess Celestia had been her mentor for years. She would trust the princess with her life, just as the princess had trusted her and her friends to defeat Nightmare Moon. If there was one pony she could trust to take care of Nyx, to be fair and forgiving, it would be the prin—
Twilight’s head snapped up. From outside, Nyx's cry pierced the night. The cry rang loudly in the library, surged deep into Twilight's mind, and broke the mental stalemate that had gripped her. Twilight realized all too late that she had zoned out, that Princess Celestia was gone, that she could hear Spike pounding on the kitchen door, and that Nyx was nowhere to be seen.
Heart skipping a beat, Twilight scrambled to her hooves. It didn’t matter if Nyx was Nightmare Moon or not. It didn’t matter if someday Nyx brought about the destruction of Equestria. It didn’t matter how much she trusted the princess. Nyx was her daughter, and she had to protect her. She understood why Princess Celestia was scared, but this wasn’t right.
Nyx was her daughter, and no real mother would let anypony take her child away.
Moving as fast she could, Twilight burst through the library’s front door. She couldn’t really hope to face off against the royal guards, let alone Princess Celestia. Still, she couldn’t just let Nyx be taken away. She could try and appeal to the princess one more time, beg her to be allowed to stay with Nyx. If that didn’t work, she could at least calm Nyx down and assure her everything was going to be all right. Twilight didn’t know what she was going to do, but she had to do something. Nyx deserved that much.
Yet it was too late. The chariot had taken off and was flying away. Twilight tried to chase it, running with her eyes turned skyward. She began to call on her magic, hoping to teleport herself into the chariot, but her concentration was abruptly broken. In focusing on the chariot, Twilight had taken her eyes off the path ahead and was unable to see the rock she was racing towards. Her hoof caught on it, and she tripped, tumbled, and crashed to the ground with a brutal thud.
By the time Twilight was able to climb back to her hooves, the royal chariot was even farther away, whisked back to Canterlot by the strong wings of the royal guards who pulled it. She had no hope of catching it, no hope of teleporting onto it. Nyx was gone.
Twilight broke into tears right there, not caring who saw her or where she was as she cried openly. She had just done the unforgivable. Even if Nyx was returned to her the next day, even if Nyx was officially decreed to not be a threat to Equestria, she would never be able to forgive herself for what she had just done.
It all came rushing in too fast. The realizations and heartaches filled Twilight to the brim. She couldn’t cry hard enough or fast enough; the pain was just too severe. In the end, it simply overwhelmed her, and she screamed. She cried out to the night with the loudest, most pain-filled voice that had ever escaped her lips.
Spell Nexus stood, slate-gray eyes focused on the approaching chariot. He stood just outside the entrance into the grand throne room of the palace. Inside the Children of Nightmare worked to set up the ritual, though they did not look the part of Nightmare Moon’s followers. For the moment, the cult looked simply like normal ponies Nexus had recruited to assist in the delicate spell.
The royal chariot floated down from the sky, landing at the door. Princess Celestia stepped down, looking as if she had been crying. Behind her, a pair of guards moved to the chariot and brought out the sleeping Nyx.
“Are you all right?” Nexus asked, faking concern.
“No… no, I’m not,” Princess Celestia replied, trying to keep her composure but finding it difficult. “I just stole a filly away from her mother. If Nyx isn’t a threat, then what I’ve done is inexcusable.”
“Such a task should not have fallen to one with a heart as tender as yours, Your Highness,” Nexus offered solemnly. “But, hopefully, you shall be able to return her to Twilight unharmed in the morning.”
“No,” Celestia corrected, “the harm has already been done.”
The princess stepped past Nexus and approached the ritual that had been constructed in the throne room. Four stone columns, with torches burning at their tops, stood in a perfect square around a mural. The mural, which had been magically infused into the stone of the floor, was comprised of a sun and a crescent moon standing together in perfect union.
To Celestia, it was an image meant to celebrate her and Luna’s long-awaited reunion. Spell Nexus, however, struggled to suppress the grin that wanted to crawl onto his face. In his mind, the floor mural was a fitting place to perform the spell: a perfect backdrop for the event that would mark the beginning of the end of the Royal Sisters.
“How does this spell work, Nexus?” Princess Celestia asked as her guards gingerly placed Nyx on a single soft pillow in the center of the elaborate ritual.
“You need not concern yourself with the mechanics,” Nexus assured the princess. “The spell will handle all the work. All you need to do is stand in the center and feed your magic into the columns. When it has built up enough energy, it will activate.”
Princess Celestia nodded and strode into the center of the ritual. At the same time, all the unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies that had been finishing the spell moved away. Nexus, however, stayed close, standing just on the edge of the spell circle as he watched the princess with slate-gray eyes.
Celestia approached the center of the spell slowly, her towering shadow falling over Nyx. She had put Nyx to sleep with a sedation spell during the flight to Canterlot. It had been necessary. Nyx’s wails and pleas had almost caused her to falter. She had almost ordered her guards to turn the chariot around, so she could return Nyx to Ponyville and beg Twilight for forgiveness.
But she, as the princess, could not let her resolve waver. This had to be done. It was better for all of Equestria if they knew, for certain, if this filly posed a threat. Still, as she prepared to begin the spell, Princess Celestia bent in close to Nyx and whispered a prayer into the filly’s ear.
“Please, my little pony… Please, let Twilight be right about you.”
With that, Celestia took in a deep breath and spread her wings. Her horn began to glow, and slowly trails of energy, which danced and moved like threads in an intangible wind, formed between her horn and the four columns.
With each passing moment, more and more of the spiderweb-like threads formed. The stone columns began to glow with spell runes, and even the edges of the floor mural began to give off light. The spell was building in power, and, as it did, Nexus slowly circled. He stayed just beyond the border of the ritual, striding slowly without taking his eyes off the princess. He passed behind a column, and, when he reemerged from the other side, his eyes had turned turquoise.
“How much magic does this require, Nexus?” Princess Celestia called out, her voice strained from her effort.
“Just a little more, Your Highness. The columns just need a little more charge.”
Princess Celestia tossed her head and furrowed her brow in concentration as she put more of her magic into the spell. She felt a twinge in her horn. The spell reached full power, and she prepared herself for it to activate. She didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps she would see visions or see Nyx transform into the mare she would become.
Yet the nature of the magic in the spell changed. The stone columns, which had been glowing pastel colors, shifted to a threatening red tone. Celestia felt something hit her in the chest with the strength of a hard buck. The force was enough that her hooves were lifted off the ground, and she was sent flying across the room. Her flight ended when she crashed into the throne room doors.
The force of the impact knocked the wind from her chest, and it left Princess Celestia momentarily stunned. When she did recover, however, she scrambled to her hooves and looked in the direction of the spell.
The ponies that had been around the room had converged on the spell. They all moved inside the ring drawn on the floor, and standing in the very center of them was Nexus. He looked across the room at Princess Celestia, turquoise eyes dancing in joyous victory.
“For the night eternal, for Equestria’s true queen!” Nexus called out, grinning devilishly before his horn lit up. Energy began to crackle across the stone columns, and their harsh red color grew brighter and brighter. The light soon enveloped Nexus and the other ponies, and, with a final flash, they all disappeared.
It was then, all too late, that Princess Celestia realized the treachery that thrived in her royal court.
Nexus and the rest of the Children of Nightmare appeared in the center of Ponyville, their arrival announced with a flash of light and a rumbling sound of thunder. It was a thunder that woke everypony in the town from their sleep, many moving outside to see where the noise had come from.
“Form a perimeter,” Nexus ordered the ponies around him. “Let none draw near. The spell that will finish our queen’s resurrection has already begun, but it will take time for her to draw in the magic needed.”
The cult members nodded and quickly spread out. The earth ponies and unicorns formed a tight ring around the still-glowing red pillars while the pegasi took to the sky and circled, becoming a threatening air force. Other members of the cult, who had been told to wait in Ponyville, quickly rushed in from the nearby streets and alleyways. They brought with them saddlebags filled with cloaks. All the ponies present quickly donned their uniforms as their eyes turned turquoise.
Night Wind, Gray Gale, and Stonewall, Nexus’s lieutenants, were among those who had been waiting in Ponyville. Joining them was a thin earth pony with a regal blue mane and a gently turned mustache. To the locals, he was known as Horte Cuisine, a waiter at a local restaurant. To the Children of Nightmare, however, he had been the spy at Nyx’s school on the Learn and Play day.
“So, is it really her?” Gray Gale asked, looking at the black filly who was still sedated by Princess Celestia’s spell.
“Yes. While Princess Celestia would doubt this filly’s power, I can see the truth. Our queen lies before us,” Nexus assured, looking skyward. The red glowing columns acted as mystical magnets, drawing in the wild magical energy that lingered in the air. The magic, along with some trails of indigo smoke, began to circle, spin, and spiral down like water in a whirlpool. It all fed into the sleeping Nyx, who began to physically grow and mature. Her vest ripped as her torso grew too large for it to contain, and her glasses fell to the ground and cracked on impact.
“Should we be worried about the villagers?” Stonewall asked. He looked over his shoulder and took note of the crowd of ponies that was growing beyond the perimeter formed by the rest of the cult. The residents of the small community looked on in confusion, fear, and awe.
“Our brothers and sisters will keep the crowd at bay, and Princess Celestia will not be able to follow us quickly enough to interfere,” Spell Nexus assured before smiling down at Nyx, who had already grown much larger. “Look, our queen is already at half the size she should be. We have nothing to fear. Nopony can stop us.”
Twilight galloped at a full sprint. She had seen the flash of light. She had heard the thunder. Yet the thing that had Twilight worried was the powerful surge of magic she had felt. She didn’t know what was going on, but, for that much magic to be used at one moment, it had to be something very large.
After rounding a corner, Twilight slowed and joined the huge crowd of ponies gathered around the glowing-red stone columns in the center of the town. She jumped a few times, struggling to see past everypony else. She caught glimpses of the ponies near the columns and felt her blood run cold. It was the cult who had ponynapped her.
In a panic, Twilight tried to push her way through the crowd. She didn’t know what the cult was doing in the center of the village, but she knew it was going to be bad. She had to try and stop them. She couldn’t just let them finish whatever spell they were casting. She just had to get through the crowd, she just had to—
A crack of thunder stopped Twilight in her tracks and drew her eyes skyward. Above the town, trails of indigo smoke circled, conducting sparks of fierce blue energy. A second crack of thunder came as a ring of energy spread out through the air, stretching across the night sky like a ripple across a pond.
The ring of energy, however, abruptly stopped and began flowing back. It collapsed into a single tight sphere, taking with it the indigo smoke and other lingering magics that had been floating in the sky. Then, with a third and final crack of thunder, the energy shot down to the ground, striking the center of the spell like lightning.
Nyx awoke just as the last of the magic fed into her. Her body crackled and tingled with the last traces of energy, and, for a few moments, she was unable to move. Then she was able to feel her heart beating in her chest and the air in her lungs. She was able to stretch her wings, and, slowly, she climbed to her hooves, standing taller than she had ever stood before in her life.
No, that wasn’t quite true. She had been this tall before, though… it had been a long time ago.
Once on her hooves, Nyx looked down at the five ponies standing near her; they retreated quickly under her gaze. They bowed as low as they could, pressing their noses against the ground in respect. And, as Nyx looked upon them, she began to smile… and then she began to laugh.
She laughed, but it wasn’t the giggle of a filly. It began as a dry chuckle, but grew in volume, becoming loud and haughty. She raised her head, looking at the night sky as her laughter became crazed and maniacal. It rang out, silencing all other sounds across Ponyville.
It was the laughter of somepony who had just realized a cruel and terrible truth.
Nyx finally understood everything. She understood why she woke up in the Everfree Forest when she did. She understood why she had memories of fighting Twilight Sparkle. She understood why she was able to say those lines in that school play so well.
She remembered what she was, who she was.
Nyx turned her gaze away from the night sky and looked across the crowd of ponies that filled the center of Ponyville. They were ponies who had towered over her mere moments before, but were now dwarfed by her stature. She remembered another time when she stood over them, looking upon their sun-loving faces. She recalled how, on the day of the Summer Sun Celebration, they looked upon her with fear.
And now… now they were looking over her with greater fear, for now they knew who she was. It should have made her happy. Inspiring such fear should have filled her with joy. Yet it made her feel… uneasy.
Nyx gave her head a slight shake to banish that small, stray thought. She was enjoying this, she was sure of it. She put on a wicked smile and spoke to the crowd with a voice that was regal, smooth, and threatening.
“My friends, neighbors… subjects, why do you look upon me with such fear?” Nyx asked. “You of all ponies should feel honored! For you will be able to tell your children and your children’s children that it was you who witnessed your queen’s rebirth. That it was you who witnessed her moment of ascension and enlightenment. That it was you who showed her kindness when she was incomplete.”
Nyx took a step forward, moving past the cloaked ponies who bowed to her. She walked into the crowd, and ponies in her way quickly cleared a path, as they should. “Yes, I was among you this entire time, though I was by no means trying to deceive you. No, I truly had no idea who I was, where I was, what was going on. And yet you graciously accepted me into your community. When I take what is rightfully mine, I’ll be sure to remember your kindness… as long as you obey me and give me the respect I deserve.
“There are, however, those who deserve to be mentioned,” Nyx continued as she walked through the silent crowd. “Ponies who deserve special thanks, for, without them, I may not be standing here tonight with my mind clear and power restored. Among those are two very special fillies. Now, I wonder where they could be.
“Ah, there you are, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon.”
An entire group of ponies stepped to the side, clearing a path between Nyx and the two young bullies who had tormented her so. She approached them slowly, and her smile grew with each step. She towered over them now, like a giant, and now they cowered in fear.
“Yes, everypony, take a good, long look at these two. When I was but a meek filly, it was they who set me up with a prank. It was they who sent me into the Everfree Forest, and it was there, amongst the trees, that I came across some lingering bits of my magic. It was because of them that I regained my most important memories and regained enough of my power to attract the attention of those who would finish the spell that gave me a life and body of my own.
“So,” Nyx continued, her voice taking on a venomously sweet tone, “you could say that they are directly and fully responsible for me being able to stand among you as I am. For, without that fateful trip, I may have simply stayed a harmless, timid, little filly.”
Nyx leaned down, staring at the two fillies who were now terrified beyond belief of the pony they had once bullied and teased. Nyx, however, wore the gentlest of smiles. “Thank you, you two, from the bottom of my heart, for helping me change from the biggest loser in Ponyville into the mare I was meant to be.”
Nyx stood up and smirked maliciously as several ponies glared at the two fillies with anger and contempt. Oh yes, this was a revenge much sweeter than merely pulling them into a mud pit. Maybe her new subjects would do her a favor and take care of the two eyesores for her.
“N-Nyx? Is that you? Why are you doing this? What’s wrong?”
Nyx froze upon hearing the small voice. Her body became rigid, and her dragon-shaped irises pulsated feverishly with surprise. She turned to its source and saw a single young filly staring up at her. It was Scootaloo, who was looking at her, not with eyes filled with fear, but ones brimming with confusion.
Nyx could not stand to meet Scootaloo’s gaze or speak a direct reply to her question. She could only make a violent turn and stride away as quickly as the crowd could clear a path. It was only after she had distanced herself from Scootaloo that Nyx stopped and cast her head back. “No, I am not your friend… or, more accurately, I am no longer her.”
With those few words spoken, Nyx turned her head forward again, searching for somepony else to focus on. She caught sight of a familiar mulberry-colored pony in the crowd, Cheerilee. Instantly, Nyx’s mind latched onto verbally attacking her, if only to forget that Scootaloo was watching from a distance.
“Hello, Cheerilee, my teacher. Yes, I am no longer Nyx, but I’m sure you could tell all these ponies who I really am. After all, you saw the resemblance just as everypony else did. And was it not you who called me ‘wicked and dastardly’? Was that not why I was perfect for the part in your little spring play?”
Cheerilee shakily took a few steps back, cringing as Nyx’s mystical indigo mane held her chin. It was easy for Nyx to see the fear in Cheerilee’s eyes and how intently she watched her star-field of a mane. Cheerilee feared it as though it were a snake that would strike out at any moment, and Nyx enjoyed the fear in her teacher’s eyes. Her attention, however, was drawn away from Cheerilee when she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.
She turned away from Cheerilee and approached the pony that was forcing her way through the crowd. The pony was a mare, a purple unicorn, who came to a stop directly in front of Nyx. She looked ragged, was panting, and had a face stained with tears, some fresh while others were long dry.
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle, my savior, my best friend… and the only one I have ever called ‘mother’,” Nyx said coolly. “Are you here to lie to me again? To tell me that I’m not a ‘bitter, vengeance-driven mare’? To tell me that the most obvious answer is wrong even when the proof is right in front of your face?! Are you here to try to comfort me with false words?!
“Or are you here to apologize to me? To beg and grovel at my hooves? To admit that you were wrong to keep me in the dark? Or were you simply so desperate to care for a filly of your own that you didn’t want to believe the truth?”
Twilight couldn’t bring herself to say anything, which made Nyx furrow her brows and grit her teeth.
“Well?!? ANSWER ME!!!” Nyx shouted, anger welling up inside her from the mere sight of Twilight. It should have been pure anger, pure hatred for what Twilight Sparkle had done in the past, but, at the same time, she felt her eyes trying to water. Nyx didn’t know why she suddenly felt like crying, but she forced her eyes to stop. She would not cry in front of the crowd.
She instead waited. She waited for Twilight to say something, but, when no words came, Nyx huffed and glared down at her. “You have nothing to say. Well, that’s fine, because your actions have said enough already. You conspired with Celestia, you let her take me away, and you abandoned the only pony you have ever called a daughter.”
Nyx turned her back to Twilight, her voice cold as ice as she once more forced back the tears trying to form in her eyes. “I suppose that shows how little I meant to you. Well… I don’t need you any more, and I am ashamed that I ever called you my mother.”
Nyx stomped a hoof, stepping away from Twilight. She did not allow herself to look back, forcing her gaze on the cloaked ponies approaching her. From those ponies, one blue unicorn stepped forward and quickly bowed in her presence.
“Our most powerful and majestic queen,” the unicorn of the group said, “Celestia and Luna can be seen in the distance along with a large contingent of the royal guard. It would not be wise to linger here and face the Royal Sisters. You are reborn, but your power may not yet be complete. Let us retreat, so that you can gather your strength. Then, when you are ready, you can bring the princesses beneath your hooves.”
Nyx looked at the unicorn, smiling. Already there were those who were willing to accept her, to regard her with the same respect others had for the Royal Sisters. “I assume you have someplace prepared.”
“Of course, my queen,” the unicorn said with the utmost reverence. “Take us in your magic, and I shall guide you to the fortress we have made ready for your rule.”
Nyx smiled and gave an approving nod to the unicorn. She looked back at the rest of the crowd, raising her voice once more to a deafening volume. “Remember this night well, for it marks the beginning of the end of the old order of Equestria! Treasure the days that come, for they shall be your last! Soon the night shall last forever, and I, Nightmare Moon, shall be Equestria’s one true queen!”
After those final words, Nightmare Moon broke into maniacal laughter, and her mystical mane swirled. The magical aura consumed all the cloaked cult ponies, and, in a single flash, they all disappeared into the night.
Nightmare Moon and the cult left the shocked ponies of Ponyville to stand in utter silence in the wake of their departure. Even the arrival of Princesses Celestia and Luna didn’t ease the dread that was pulsing through the crowd. There would be no soothing their fears, no easing of their concerns. The truth was simple and undeniable.
Nightmare Moon had returned.