Princess Luna stood, motionless, on the balcony at the top of the highest tower in Canterlot castle. She watched silently as the sun rose over Equestria on the morning of the 1010th Summer Sun Celebration since her exile to the moon. It was being held in Ponyville once again, in honor of the 10 year anniversary of the six friends that had bested her. Luna couldn’t bear to attend. Not that she was bitter about having been defeated. She had truly lost herself to the strange dark powers she came to own and was glad to be rid of them.
A whole 10 years had passed since she had called herself Nightmare Moon. She spent those 10 years learning what she had missed in the last 1000 years. People had begun trusting her once again; she was no longer feared. Things were normal now. Things were as they should be. But were they really? So much had changed in the time during Luna’s absence, but more than that, some things were exactly the same.
Luna watched over Equestria while her sister was at the celebration, making the sun rise. She watched the shades of orange and yellow dance over the landscape as a gentle breeze blew through her starry mane. Normal…as they should be. At least, that’s what Luna told herself.
Crystal Charge watched as the would-be pegasus soared through the sky. The black buck flew through the first cloud-ring of his course then banked a sharp right towards the second. He dove below the storm cloud blocking his path and executed a flawless barrel roll through the second ring.
Crystal had to admit, she was impressed. The young buck was healing faster than she had anticipated from his surgery. Still, he had a long way to go before he would be able to match the grace and agility of a true pegasus. As if on cue, Crystal saw the buck’s wing twitch awkwardly and sent him careening into the grassy plain below him.
The teal mare snickered quietly as she walked over to where the buck had crashed. “Still can’t even control your own wings, eh Cloud Chaser?” she said, stifling a giggle.
“Oh shut it, Crystal, you were born with your wings,” the buck huffed as he stood up and shook the leaves and dirt from his fiery red mane and charcoal coat.
“That’s Sergeant Charger to you, Airman!” the mare barked.
“Yes sir, Sergeant!” the buck barked back, snapping to attention and saluting the mare. They both held each other’s gaze, each silently daring the other to be the first to crack. Finally, Crystal’s gaze softened and she began laughing. The buck dropped his salute, “You’re such a parasprite, Cry. You could even rival Celestia herself.” the buck sighed, shaking his head.
“Well, what happened? Some kind of mechanical malfunction?” Crystal asked, brushing away wisps of her long, silver mane that had fallen over her pale, pink eyes. “You might want to have Bolt take a look at em,” she suggested.
“No…it was just a bad muscle cramp. The doctors say those’ll never go away completely. Guess it’s just something I’ll have to get used to,” Cloud Chaser replied, looking over the implants on his upper back.
He flexed the muscles, feeling where the machines melded together with his flesh, watching as the gold-tinted metal began to buzz and whir, moving his synthetic wings along with it. He felt a dull ache all along his back, flaring up each time his wings flapped. His body would never fully recognize the machines as a part of him and he would feel that ache for the rest of his life.
“Well, you should go see Bolt anyway, especially after that crash. We can’t have anything go wrong on the mission. You know that,” Crystal said solemnly.
Cloud sighed, “Yea, I guess you’re right. I’ll go see Doc Knight too while I’m at it, maybe I can talk some more painkillers out of him,” he said with a smile.
“Ah, good, I actually have some business with him too. I’ll meet you over there when you’re done with Bolt.”
“Sounds like a plan,” the buck said with a nod.
“Speaking of plans, have you been briefed yet for the mission?”
“Just that we’ll be infiltrating Cloudsdale. Nothing specific.”
“Well then I’ll have to catch you up on the details when we’re done with the doctor,” Crystal said with a mischievous smile before abruptly flying off towards the sunset.
“I don’t like the sound of this already…” the buck muttered to himself as he trotted off after her.
Cloud Chaser looked over the town he was stationed in. Ponyville wasn’t a very large city; in fact, it was probably the smallest in Equestria next to Appleoosa. Nonetheless, it was the only city on the road connecting the NLR capital of Los Pegasus and the SE capital of Canterlot, which made it an important city for both sides. It was also the closest city to Cloudsdale.
NLR soldiers patrolled the streets of the town, their dark purple and blue armor rattling in time to the clopping of their hooves. Most of the citizens had fled as the battlefront pushed closer to Ponyville, and those that had remained stayed hidden away in their houses, staying out of the way of the soldier ponies.
The streets were practically deserted, save for the occasional guard pony. As Cloud made his way towards the town hall at the center of town, the guards gave him a wide berth, their eyes drawn to his mechanical wings. Cybernetic enhancements were becoming increasingly common in the military, though it was still uncommon enough that Cloud was used to the treatment.
The town hall had certainly seen happier days. The building was covered in reinforced steel plates and little of the original wood structure was visible. The massive building had been repurposed to serve as the barracks for the NLR’s troops in Ponyville.
Inside, the metal building was a beehive of activity. Off-duty guards moved around the building in packs, some in a hurry to get somewhere Cloud could only guess at, others moving slowly, talking to one another. The buck even saw a few tables surrounded by ponies either playing card games or drinking.
Cloud moved past the merriment and happy ponies. He trotted up the spiral staircase to the upper level where things were much calmer. Only a handful of ponies were up here, all either immersed in conversations about tactics or lost in their work maintaining the various weapons and armor the NLR had at its disposal.
Cloud spotted Bolt almost immediately. The white coated pony stood at the far end of the circular room, her large mechanical wings fully outstretched as she stared intently at something Cloud could not see. Her cutie mark was of a pair of bolts with a wrench set between them. This was certainly the pony he was looking for.
As Cloud approached, he saw what she was working on. She held a strange, cone-shaped metallic object between her hooves as she worked at the wider end with the screwdriver she had in her mouth. Various lights flashed and changed colors as she worked at the thing until, eventually, the small red light positioned at the tip flashed and went out.
“Dammit,” the mare muttered under her breath.
“Ahem,” Cloud coughed, “something wrong?”
“Oh!” Bolt exclaimed with a jump, her glasses falling off her face and onto the table. She hurriedly scooped them up and placed them back over her light blue eyes. She blushed just slightly and ran a hoof through her braided blonde mane, shot through with streaks of silver. “I…well, yes,” she said, regaining her composure, “it seems I’ve broken my horn.” She frowned, looking down at the metallic cone on the table.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the pony that fixes this kind of thing?” Cloud asked, arching an eyebrow. Bolt turned bright red at his words and stomped a hoof.
“It’s not that I don’t know how to fix it…it’s just…” She let out a sigh as the red faded from her face. “Horns require much more precision than I can achieve with my hooves.” Bolt looked down at her hooves and frowned.
“Well, maybe I can help you then,” Cloud said. It was Bolt’s turn to raise an eyebrow at the buck. Cloud smirked at the look and ran a hoof through his hair, parting it slightly to reveal his horn. Bolt watched as a fiery red aura began to form around it, its pair slowing taking shape around her horn on the table. Cloud grimaced as the light briefly grew in intensity, only to snuff out seconds later. The buck let out a grunt as the light sparked out of existence and fell to the ground.
“Oh my,” Bolt muttered, trotting around to Cloud’s rear. “Your wings shouldn’t be drawing that much magical power from you,” she said as she popped a panel open on Cloud’s back, revealing the inner workings of his mechanical wings.
Cloud groaned as he regained his senses. “You sure you should be poking around back there? You couldn’t even fix your own horn,” he muttered, shifting about slightly. Bolt flushed, and buried her face farther into the open panel.
“My horn is much smaller and more delicate than your wings. I can fix this,” she said with an indignant huff. “Now quit squirming unless you want me to mess something up.” The buck let out a sigh and grew still. “Ugh, amateur engineering work. I see this far too often. Let me guess, you were just in a crash, right?” Bolt asked as she grabbed the wrench between her teeth and reached it down into the machinery before her.
“Yea,” Cloud said, “I actually came to make sure nothing broke.”
Bolt placed the wrench around a faintly glowing blue gem. “Well, something did break,” she sighed. “Seems whatever idiot set your focusing crystal didn’t do a very good job. It probably bumped into one of the gears during your flight, which might be what caused the crash.” Bolt used the wrench to pop the gem free of its restraints. As she did, Cloud’s wings fell limp at his sides.
Cloud twisted around to look at his now dead wings, and looked up at Bolt. “Hey, what’d you do? I thought you said you could fix it, not make it worse!” Cloud snapped.
Bolt placed the wrench and gem down on the table and let out an annoyed grunt. “Keep your horseshoes on, that’s exactly what I’m doing. See this gem here?” Bolt said, pointing at the glowing crystal with a hoof. Cloud looked at it, still scowling slightly, and nodded. “Well, it draws power from ponies’ innate magical abilities and focuses it to work your wings. Only yours is chipped,” Bolt said, pointing at one of the ends of the tip of the diamond shaped gem. “The flatter end is causing it to draw more power than it ought to, which is preventing you from properly using your magic.”
Cloud stood up, his wings dangling at his sides lamely. “So…can you fix it?”
Bolt chuckled slightly, “Luckily for you, I don’t need to fix it,” the mare said, pulling a pale green gem from her saddlebags. “It’s an older crystal structure than the one you were using, but it ought to work well enough. At least while yours is being repaired by the unicorns.”
Cloud breathed a sigh of relief as Bolt circled back around to put the new gem in place. As it slid into its restraints, Cloud could feel the energy begin to flow through his wings again. They rose from the ground once more as the buck stretched them. He looked over his wings as he flapped them a few times. Once Cloud was satisfied they were in proper working order, he turned back to Bolt. “Now maybe I can return the favor,” he said, the glow once again taking form around his horn. Cloud felt the magic come to him easier this time, though not completely without strain. The cone lifted from the table, surrounded by the same fiery red glow that enveloped Cloud’s horn.
The buck peered into the device before him. “So, what’s wrong with it?” he asked.
“One of the wires came loose. I was trying to reattach it, but…well, I ended up severing it.” Bolt looked down at her hooves once again and let out a sigh. “Unless you can conjure up enough heat to fuse the pieces back together, there’s nothing you can do about it.” She looked up to see Cloud grinning at her. “What?”
Cloud turned around and Bolt saw what the buck was smiling about. His cutie mark was a fireball. “Burning things is what I do best,” he said smugly.
"And you're sure this will get us inside?" Crystal Charge asked as Cloud entered the Ponyville Hospital. He looked to where he'd heard the mare talking and saw her addressing a reddish-brown pegasus with a shaggy charcoal mane. He wore a red and white medical outfit and Cloud recognized him as Dr. Emerald Knight.
Crystal balanced a bottle on her hoof and stared intently at the substance within. It was bright blue and seemed to pulse with electricity.
"Positive" the doctor replied with a nod, "I brewed and tested it myself. It's exactly what you need."
"Good," she said, reaching her hoof out towards Dr. Knight. The buck took the bottle with his teeth and placed it on a table behind him, the surface cluttered with tubes and beakers. "I'll need three more by tomorrow."
"Of course, ma'am," the doctor said, saluting Crystal. The mare turned to leave and smiled as she saw Cloud standing by the doorway.
"So how'd it go with Bolt?" she asked as she strolled over to the buck. “You didn’t antagonize the poor girl too badly, did you?”
“Oh please,” Cloud scoffed, “you of all people should know the mares love me,” he said with a smirk. Crystal rolled her eyes at the buck and took gracefully to the air.
“Just hurry up and talk to Doc Knight, I’ll be waiting for you outside,” she said with a wink before bolting out of the hospital. Cloud merely shook his head as he continued trotting towards the doctor.
Emerald Knight had finished mixing together several compounds and had placed it above a bunsen burner as Cloud neared him. The doctor’s ears perked up as he heard the hoofsteps behind him and he turned to face Cloud. “Ah, Cloud, Crystal told me to expect you to come by soon,” he said with a smile. “What can I help you with?” Cloud winced and hunched over as if his back were in pain.
“It’s my wings, doc! I was in a crash and now the implants are hurting like crazy.” Knight’s smile shifted to a look of concern and he trotted over to inspect the buck’s wings.
“There doesn’t seem to be any sign of a muscle strain…” he muttered after looking Cloud over.
“But it hurts, doc!” Cloud whined. “Can’t I have some painkillers for it?” Cloud asked. The doctor’s eyes grew wide in shock.
“But—I just gave you some a few days ago when you were transferred out here,” Knight responded. Cloud looked up at the doctor with pain in his eyes.
“Please?” he said in the most pitiable voice he could manage.
Knight sighed and trotted back over to his lab table. He opened a cabinet and pulled out a small bottle of pills with his teeth, then trotted back towards Cloud and placed the bottle on the ground by Cloud’s head.
Cloud instantly perked up, all signs of pain disappearing as he wrapped the bottle in a field of magic and trotted off with a victorious smile on his face. “Thanks Doc!” the buck said as he left.
“But…I-I…” the doctor stammered, too stunned to do more than watch as Cloud happily trotted out the door.
“So did you get your painkillers?” Crystal asked Cloud as he left the hospital. Cloud grinned as he floated the pill bottle in front of Crystal’s face.
“Of course I did. That doctor is too easy to trick; I almost feel bad about it.” he said, glancing back the way he’d come.
Crystal let out a small laugh, then, faster than Cloud could react, smacked the pill bottle out of his magic and caught it on her wing.
“Hey!” Cloud exclaimed. Crystal was glaring at Cloud now and he saw no mirth in her eyes. “What?” he asked, all irritation momentarily wiped from his mind.
“Tomorrow night’s mission is extremely important. I need you at your best, not high on fucking painkillers!” she snapped.
“I—” Cloud began, but was cut off mid thought by the look Crystal shot him. He sighed as his head drooped to stare at the ground. “Sorry,” he muttered. Crystal seemed satisfied by his apology and her demeanor softened slightly.
“Just try to stay focused Cloud,” she said, her voice a strange mix of sympathy and annoyance. Cloud looked up at her and gave a quick nod as she tucked the pill bottle under her wing.
“So, what is our mission anyway?” Cloud asked. Crystal didn’t answer right away. Instead, she looked in the direction of Cloudsdale and began walking, Cloud following beside her.
After a minute of silent walking, Crystal began to speak. “We’ve managed to push the Solar Empire’s forces out of Ponyville, but now, the remains of their central army have taken refuge in Cloudsdale. We’ve got more than sufficient forces to take Cloudsdale, but…there’s a problem.” Crystal stopped walking and looked briefly at Cloud, then up towards the sky. Towards Cloudsdale. What Cloud saw however, was not Cloudsdale. In it’s place was a massive sphere of black storm clouds. Huge flashes of lightning rolled through the clouds and lit the area up like a second moon in the sky.
Before Cloud could comment, Crystal began again. “They’ve turned the storm machines up full blast and shaped the clouds into a shield to protect themselves. No doubt they’re waiting for reinforcements from their northern army. Our forces can’t get in there so long as that cloud is up.”
Crystal turned to face Cloud. “Which is where we come in,” she said with a smile. “Emerald Knight’s been working on a mixture that should keep us safe from the lightning. Once we’re inside, we need to get to the cloud factory and shut it down. Simple as that.”
“And what about me?” Cloud asked.
“Well,” Crystal began, grinning wide, “we’ll need someone to clear out all the moisture in the clouds so we can properly fly through them. I told Luna you were pretty decent with heat,” she said, nudging the buck’s flank playfully.
Cloud scoffed. “Oh, I’m more than decent,” he said
“Well, you’ll just have to prove it tomorrow then,” Crystal replied with a smirk, then took to the sky without another word.
Cloud noticed something fall to the ground as the mare flew off. He trotted over and saw the pill bottle lying in the grass and looked in the direction Crystal flew. The buck picked the bottle from the ground with his magic and looked back towards the swirling mass of black that was Cloudsdale. A smile crossed his lips.
Luna remained on that balcony for the entire 1010th Summer Sun Celebration. She continued watching over her Equestria as the sun began to dip below the skyline. She watched as the brilliant oranges and reds began to shift to softer blues and violets. The day was almost over; it was almost Luna’s turn to move the heavenly bodies. She closed her eyes as a dim blue glow began to form around her horn.
This was not the Equestria Luna had envisioned when she and her sister had stood up to Discord so many years ago. This was not an Equestria Luna was proud to be a part of. But it was still her Equestria, and she had duties she had to attend to.
The moon slowly began to rise from the opposite horizon as the sun finally dipped down, out of sight. A tiny sliver of light rising from the horizon. Tomorrow night would bring a new moon. A new beginning.
Her eyes opened once again as the moon rose above the horizon. She walked slowly towards the edge of the balcony and spread her wings, the glow dying on her horn. She reached the edge and peered down over her Equestria one last time. She knew what she needed to do for her country, for her ponies. Things were indeed normal…but not as they should be.
Luna leapt from the balcony and soared off into the night. Tomorrow would bring a new moon, and with it, a New Lunar Republic.