Celestia’s sun rose over the Coltave Desert, revealing a simple wooden coach slowly rolling down a dusty road, pulled by a single brown-coated pegasus in a dark brown Strotson hat. The stallion, if he could even be called that, wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep pulling. He panted and wheezed like a donkey, and his tongue lolled out of his mouth like a Diamond Dog’s. He coughed loudly, and smacked his dry, parched lips. He flapped his wings once, hoping to prevent them from chafing against his rope harness, and the ground around him was lightly drizzled with his sweat. As he approached a fork in the road, he ran out of energy and slowed to a stop. He bowed his head to the ground and gasped for breath. The hot desert air burned his lungs, but no more than his spindly legs were already burning.
A few moments later, a second brown head in a similar hat popped out of the right-side window and scowled at the pegasus. “Why’d you stop?” he asked sternly, his black, bushy beard bouncing up and down as he spoke. “We’re on a schedule here, Brisk!”
Brisk weakly raised his head and turned around. “Pa...” he wheezed. “Can we... switch places... please? I... feel like I’m... about to pass out...”
“Stop your whining, boy,” the older stallion snapped. “You see that sign up there?” He lifted his leg out the window and pointed at the fork in the road ahead.
Sure enough, there was a wooden post by the side of the road, with three scraps of wood nailed to it. The pegasus followed his gaze and saw three signs nailed to the post. He squinted in the desert sun for a few moments, trying to read the dust-coated sign. Once he’d done that, his eyes went wide with shock. “O-One mile to Ponyville?!” he blurted out, his eyes going wide with shock. “Pa, I can’t pull this thing another mile! I don’t think I can even pull it another yard!”
The older stallion rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Well, if you keep going at this rate, son,” he said, “Celestia might bring the sun up for you before we get there. You’d have more problems than your weak legs then, wouldn’t you? Now move! In case you forgot, we’ve got passengers who have to be in Ponyville some time today!”
As if on cue, a third voice spoke up from inside the carriage. “No, wait a minute,” interjected a third voice. “If your son’s too tired to pull us, we won’t get us to Ponyville any faster by forcing him. We’re already five minutes and twenty-three seconds behind schedule. We don’t have time to argue this. Take the reins, Mr. Pace.”
Brisk’s neck fell to the ground, and he let out a deep breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
The older stallion looked surprised for a moment, but quickly wiped that expression from his face. He growled to himself for a moment, then simply said “Yes, ma’am.” He pulled his head back in, and the door opened a few moments later. “All right, son, let’s get you unhooked,” he grumbled, trotting up to the young pegasus and undoing the rope with his mouth.
“Thank you, Pa...” wheezed Brisk, stepping out of the harness.
“Make yourself useful while you’re in there for once,” Mr. Pace grumbled, stepping into the harness and tying himself in. “Chat ‘em up a little. Happy customers pay more!”
“Yes, Pa...” Brisk wheezed. He weakly stepped up to the carriage and climbed in, his spindly legs wobbling beneath him. He grabbed the door behind him with his leg, gently pulled it shut and crawled onto the seat on front of him. The air inside the carriage was barely cooler than the air outside, but it felt like he’d jumped into a freezing lake. He tried valiantly to catch his breath, but he didn’t have much success at first.
“Um... do you want some water?” the passenger asked nervously.
Brisk weakly lifted his head and looked at the seats across from him. On the left, staring at him with what looked concern, was a the first of their two passengers, a lavender unicorn mare. Brisk hadn’t gotten a very good look at her before they’d left Dodge Junction, but he was sure looking now. She was a very pretty young mare, looking like she’d just graduated from prepubescence. All she wore was a simple, brown cloth vest and a matching Strotson hat that didn’t hide her horn. Brisk’s eyes flitted over to her cutie mark, a pink, six-pointed star with white sparkles around it, and hovered there for a few moments.
“...Yes, I would,” he eventually said, slowly pushing himself upright.
The mare’s horn began to glow. The small wooden box between the two seats opened, but only after a heavy-looking book had been removed from it. She levitated a small glass bottle and a wooden goblet out of the box. Right before she poured them, the carriage started moving again, causing a few drops to spill onto the seat. As soon as the goblet was full, she gently and gracefully placed the bottle back in the box, then levitated the goblet to Brisk. He snatched the goblet in the crook of his hoof and gulped the water down without coming up for air once.
“Ahhh...” he sighed, lowering the goblet again. “Thank you, Miss Sparkle...”
Miss Sparkle smiled softly at him, shrinking down in her seat a little. “You can call me Twilight,” she said softly.
“Thank you, Twilight...” Brisk corrected himself. Twilight didn’t respond at first. Her silence gave Brisk the opportunity to get a good look at her. His eyes wandered all over her body, never holding still. “I’m Brisk Pace, by the way,” he added, trying without success to keep his focus on her eyes. “The ‘Son’ of Steady Pace and Son’s. Nice to make your acquaintance.”
Twilight didn’t respond at first. After a few moments, though, somepony else cleared their throat. Confused, Brisk turned back to the seat in front of him. He only now noticed the coach’s second passenger. The passenger was purple, like Twilight. Unlike Twilight, however, he was a dragon, no larger than an infant. He was dressed in a tiny, custom-made Union uniform, complete with a tiny cap worn over his emerald-green spines. In the place where a rank insignia would normally be, there was a sun emblem. The dragon looked up at Twilight, elbowed her in the leg and cleared his throat again.
“O-Oh, uh, it’s nice to meet you too, Brisk,” Twilight said quickly. “And this is Spike, by the way.”
The dragon smirked. “The name’s Spike. I’m a US Marshal,” he said, crossing his arms. “Nice to meet you.”
“Howdy,” Brisk said, finally managing to catch his breath. He took one more deep breath for good measure, then flashed Twilight what he hoped was a charming smile. “So... the dragon’s a Marshal, huh? I guess you two are from out east, then?”
Twilight levitated her book off the floor of the carriage and set it down next to her before responding. “Yes, we are,” she answered. “We’re from Canterlot, D.C.”
Brisk arched an eyebrow. “Oh... D.C., huh?” he repeated, tilting his head to the side slightly. “Not bad. What brings a nice young filly like you this far west?”
Spike grinned and reached for his breast pocket. “We’re here on behalf of Chief Justice Celestia,” he answered.
Brisk’s other eyebrow shot up to join the other. “You are?” he blurted out. “Well, I guess it makes sense. You are a Marshal, after all. But what does Celestia want with a tiny little frontier town like Ponyville?”
Spike pulled out his claw clutching a folded piece of paper. “I’m glad you asked!” he said, unfolding it.
Twilight’s eyes glazed over, and she groaned heavily. “Spike, please don’t read that again...” she said wearily.
Brisk chuckled. “Go on,” he said.
Spike cleared his throat matter-of-factly. “MY DEAREST AND MOST FAITHFUL STUDENT TWILIGHT STOP,” he read aloud. “YOU KNOW THAT I VALUE YOUR DILIGENCE AND THAT I TRUST YOU COMPLETELY STOP. BUT YOU SIMPLY MUST STOP READING THOSE DUSTY OLD BOOKS STOP.”
Twilight didn’t say anything, instead wearily hanging her head.
“MY DEAR TWILIGHT,” Spike continued, “THERE IS MORE TO A YOUNG PONYS LIFE THAN STUDYING STOP. SO I AM SENDING YOU TO SUPERVISE PREPARATIONS FOR THE INDEPENDENCE DAY FESTIVAL AT THIS YEARS LOCATION PONYVILLE NEIGHVADA STOP. AND I HAVE AN EVEN MORE ESSENTIAL TASK FOR YOU TO COMPLETE STOP. MAKE SOME FRIENDS STOP.”
Twilight moaned. “Do you have to read out the word ‘stop’ every time it appears?” she sighed. “It’s supposed to be a period...”
“You’re the personal student of Chief Justice Celestia?” Brisk repeated. “Wow. I never thought I’d see the day. It’s an honor.”
“Oh, it shouldn’t be so bad, Twilight,” Spike said calmly, placing his hand on Twilight’s leg. “At least Ponyville has a library. Celestia even set it up so you could stay there! Doesn’t that cheer you up?”
Brisk cleared his throat. “I’m still here, remember?” he pointed out.
Twilight’s expression seemed to brighten. “Yes!” she said, jerking upright and turning to Spike. “Yes, Spike, it does make me happy. Do you know why? Because I’m right! I’ll check on the preparations as fast as I can, then go to the library to get some proof of She Who Brings Nightmares’ Return!”
Brisk blinked. “She Who Brings Nightmares?” he repeated. “The old buffalo legend? Well, well. Powerful, well-read and pretty.”
Twilight blinked. “You’ve heard of She Who Brings Nightmares?” she asked, turning to face Brisk.
“Well, if you live in Neighvada long enough, you’ll hear all the folklore,” Brisk replied, smiling confidently.
Twilight leaned forward slightly. “What have you heard?” she asked eagerly.
Brisk’s confident smile faltered for a brief moment. “Well, I heard it a long time ago...” he said slowly. “I think there was this... tribe of buffalo who think the sun and moon are two giant birds.”
“The Southern Pawutes,” Twilight clarified.
“The Pawutes, right,” Brisk agreed, nodding. He looked down and tapped his chin a few times. “Well, these two birds used to... roost together at the roof of the world, until these two goddesses came along and—”
“They weren’t goddesses,” Twilight interrupted.
Brisk looked up again. “What?”
“The legend never described them as goddesses,” Twilight clarified. “The most identification we get is that they were sisters.”
“...Right...” Brisk said. “Um... anyway, the two sisters drove the two birds off, so they started flying around the world looking for each other. And one day, the younger sister got—”
“No, wait,” Twilight interrupted. “You forgot to mention something. Every day, at sunrise and sunset, the two sisters whispered in the ears of each bird when they reached the horizon, making sure they never turned around to meet each other halfway.”
“...Oh yeah, I remember that now,” Brisk said, cringing. “Anyway, the... elder sister spoke to the sun, right?”
“Yes,” Twilight confirmed, nodding, “and the younger spoke to the moon.”
“Right,” Brisk said. “Well, one day, the younger sister realized that all the creatures of the field worked, played and lived during her sister’s day, but they slept through her beautiful night. That made her jealous.”
“Yes, and?” Twilight asked, leaning forward slightly.
“Well, one night,” Brisk continued, “the younger sister told the moon-bird to wait for the sun at the roof of the world. Then she caught the other bird at the bottom of the world and... tied it up, I think. She kept it from leaving, anyway. Then she returned to the buffalo of the field and told them that the night would last forever. And that’s when the younger sister became She Who Brings Nightmares.”
“Yes, that’s it,” Twilight confirmed.
“Of course, the older sister didn’t like that,” Brisk continued, emboldened by his success. “So she told Nightmares to release the sun. Of course, Nightmare refused, so they had to fight. That’s how the legend got its name, right? ‘The Night the Sun and Moon Fought,’ I think.”
“Yes, that’s it!” Twilight said, nodding enthusiastically.
“Of course, eventually, the older sister came out on top,” Brisk finished, “and she ended up tying Nightmares to the back of the moon, with the help of this powerful weapon, the...” Brisk rubbed his hoof against his head for a moment. “...I can’t remember the name. It started with an E, I think. But then... uh, how did it end...?” After thinking about it for a few moments, Brisk suddenly stomped his hoof on the seat. “Oh, I remember. She released the sun and left the land of the buffalo, flying over the horizon never to be seen again, right?”
“Well, yes,” Twilight said, leaning back a little. “But the legend doesn’t end there. It ends with a prophecy. The literal translation is...” Twilight levitated her book off the seat next to her and opened it to a dog-eared page. “Twenty seasons after those with flanks like canvases reunite their lands,” she read, “they will join in celebration of their freedom. On that day, the bonds of harmony will break, and She Who Brings Nightmares will return to bring night everlasting.”
Brisk blinked. “I’ve never heard that before,” he admitted. “...It’s a great story either way, though.”
“But that’s just it! It’s not just a story!” Twilight said suddenly.
Spike groaned and rolled his eyes. “Twilight, not this again.”
Brisk, meanwhile, leaned back in surprise. “You don’t say,” he prompted.
“I’ve done extensive research on the legend, and I believe I’ve proven that the legend is based on an actual historical event! And if I’m right, this year marks the thousandth year since the banishment of She Who Brings Nightmares!”
Brisk rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and bit his lip. He said nothing for a few moments. Suddenly, his eyes went wide. “Oh, wait a minute...” he said. “Flanks like canvases...” His eyes flickered back to Twilight’s flank. “Ohhh, I get it now.”
“Exactly!” Twilight said excitedly. “That must be talking about cutie marks! And ‘after they reunite their lands’? That must mean the Civil War! And everypony knows that the Pawutes had two seasons, hot and cold—summer and winter! So twenty seasons would be ten years after the Civil War ended—1875! In other words, this year!”
Brisk leaned back slightly. “Hang on a second,” he said. “You think... She Who Brings Nightmares is going to return... this year?”
“Exactly!” Twilight said excitedly. “Specifically, I think she’s going to return on the day of the Independence Day Festival.”
“You think She Who Brings Nightmares is going to return in two days,” Brisk said. “Um... you do realize that’s just an old buffalo legend, right?”
“That’s what everypony thinks,” Twilight said eagerly, flipping through her book. “But you wouldn’t believe how much evidence there is to support my theory if you look for it...”
Brisk winced. This was going to take a while.
The carriage finally came to a stop just as Celestia’s sun cleared the horizon. “All out for Ponyville!” the stallion pulling it before undoing the harness. The door of the carriage flew open and Brisk leapt out, gliding several feet before landing. Spike came out next, followed by Twilight, wearing a pair of purple saddlebags.
“...and when the battle was over, and the Flikings had seized the castle,” Twilight was saying, “only then did the sun finish rising! Now, everypony thinks this was just a over-romanticised account of the battle by the Griffish survivors, but what if that were what actually happened?”
“Yes, Miss Twilight,” Brisk groaned.
Steady chuckled. “Made a friend there, did you, son?”
Brisk trotted quickly over to his father. “Not really,” he whispered, “but I am a good listener.”
Steady chuckled. “Well, that’ll be thirteen bits, ma’am,” he said. “Five for you, eight for the dragon.”
“Of course,” Twilight said quickly, opening one of her saddlebags and removing a few coins from it. “Do you want me to...?”
“Just leave it in the carriage,” Steady said dismissively. Twilight tossed the coins inside without further ado. “Thank you for your business, Miss Twilight,” he said. “All right, son, I think you’ve had a long enough break. Stap yourself back in. We’re going home.”
“Yes, Pa,” Brisk sighed, stepping back up to the harness.
Twilight and Spike looked over Ponyville for a few moments. The town’s Main Street was the very image of a frontier town, a short hallway lined with buildings leading to Ponyville Town Hall. The sun was barely up, but a large number of ponies had beaten it there. The streets were already bustling with activity, and the dull roar of a crowd rose over the town. Twilight took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped into Ponyville. After a few moments, she opened her eyes again, then mustered up the courage to keep going.
Spike glanced behind him. Once he was sure the two carriage pullers weren’t listening, “So... you still believe that crazy Nightmare theory of yours?” Spike asked, crossing his arms.
“Of course I do, Spike,” Twilight replied. “The Chief Justice may not believe me, the President may not believe me, that carriage puller’s son may not believe me, and you may not believe me, but I know I’m right. All I have to do is find more evidence to prove it.”
“Well, you’re going to have to make friends at some point, like the Justice said,” Spike pointed out. “I mean, you’ve never been out west before, have you? Maybe the frontier ponies have interesting things to talk about.”
As if on cue, a pair of swinging doors burst open to Twilight’s left, and an earth mare skipped out. Her coat was bright pink, and her mane was a hot pink and curlier than anything Twilight had seen in recent memory. That in itself was odd enough, but stranger still, she was wearing stallion’s clothes: a white, long-sleeved dress shirt shirt, a red bow tie and a black bowler hat. Her cutie mark, oddly enough, looked to be three balloons. This pony skipped out to the middle of the street, noticed Twilight, and stopped dead in her tracks.
“Come on, Twilight,” Spike said, smiling and gesturing to the pink mare. “What would it cost you to try?”
The obvious answer was time. Time that Twilight had precious little of. But as much as she hated to admit it, Spike was right. She didn’t have much time until her theory would be proven correct, but... surely she had enough time for a casual greeting. All she had to do was actually greet this pony. Strangely enough, her mouth didn’t seem to want to move for a few moments. She nervously cleared her throat before speaking. “Um... hello?” she managed to get out.
The pink cross-dresser leapt five feet into the air, sucked more air into her lungs than they could physically hold, and shot back into the building like she’d been fired from a gun. Twilight and Spike just stared after her, watching the doors swing back and forth for what felt like hours.
“...Well, interesting would be one word for that,” Twilight sighed.
“Okay, but there’s one odd duck in every village, right?” Spike said nervously.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “I don’t think we have time for this, Spike,” she said. “Get the telegram back out. We have work to do.”
“But the Justice did tell you to make friends, remember?” Spike reminded her, already fishing for the telegram.
“There’s no time for that,” Twilight said again. “I intend to check on the preparations as quickly as possible, as the Chief Justice instructed me. But the fate of Amareica does not rest on me making friends.”
What you've read is a confused, misguided piece of something I've been meaning to get started on for a while now. If you liked it, or didn't like it, please leave a comment to tell me why. I feel better now that I've gotten this... whatever it is out of my system. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep going with it... Oh, well. Back to work!