Moondancer sniffled, struggling against tears. Once again, she had been forgotten. Today – this very day, one she had been anticipating for months, spending almost every hour of every day on this very moment – was supposed to be a magical exam. One of the most important ones she could ever hope to pass, especially since it was to be judged by Princess Celestia herself.
But the Princess had forgotten, choosing instead to visit Ponyville for a 'casual brunch.'
"It's nothing unusual," her friend Lemon Hearts had said, walking Moondancer home from an empty auditorium. "She's very busy, you know. She forgot one or two of my exams, also. It happens."
The lavender unicorn sniffled again, wiping the wet tips of her navy-blue hair out from her face. Not even Mopsy, her baby dragon companion, had been able to stay with her today, citing too many errands to run. She gave a loud sigh and rested her head on the floor between her hooves.
So deep was she in her grief that she failed to notice a tendril of black smoke crawl from under her front door. The smoke poured into the room, gathering itself up into a small cloud.
Moondancer jumped at the sultry voice. She looked around, quickly wiping tears away. "Wh-who's there?"
She gaped in shock at the black cloud. It swirled around, taking the form of a pony, an ailicorn, violet-furred, with stark white hair and glowing yellow eyes with no pupil.
"Who are you?" Moondancer cried, shrinking back.
"A friend of the forgotten. A guardian of the neglected. I am the savior of those denied their proper due."
The lavender unicorn's jaw dropped. "It's you! Y-you're-"
The shadow-pony's white hair pulsed with energy. "Listen not to the tales others spread. I am a neutral spirit. Only if one harbors anger can I be used for evil. And, Moondancer, whether knowing or unknowing, you have summoned me here. You have asked for my help, and I only seek to provide it."
"H-have I?" Moondancer relaxed, daring to approach.
"Indeed. You have asked with your heart not to be forgotten. An honest and pure wish, and one I am happy to grant. Trust me, after I help you, no one will forget you ever again, not even Princess Celestia."
Moondancer paused, closing her eyes. On one hoof, she would never be neglected again. No one would ever forget her name or overlook her raised hoof when she knew the answer in class. On the other hoof, how, exactly, did this shadow spirit plan on making her memorable?
"She forgot your birthday," hissed the shadow.
Moondancer's pupils narrowed, remembering the exact moment her life collapsed. Turning from fear to desperation, she cried out to the spirit: "Help me. Make me unforgettable! I want my name spread through the cosmos!"
The shadow-pony smiled a wide, wicked grin.
Spike hummed happily to himself, removing a tray of safflower-seed muffins from the oven. They smelled so delicious and sweet! Later, they would be a good way to wrap up dinner, and the next morning they would make such a filling breakfast for Twilight's full day of studying.
He set the muffins on the counter to cool, beaming with pride. Serving Twilight, though sometimes a thankless job, certainly paid off when she was pleasantly surprised. Safflower muffins were one of her favorite dishes but a rare find, especially since it was so darned difficult to shell all of those little bitty seeds.
But Spike's dedication knew no bounds. Plus, she might bring gems. She was out watching Applejack and the farmponies flatten some land, and who knows what might be found in a large pile of dirt?
He was licking his lips, thinking of some nice, crunchy quartz, when there was a knock at the door.
Still in his happy place, he quickly stepped into the main library. The visitor had already opened the door and allowed himself inside. It was another baby dragon. He was all black with some dark gray on his stomach and spines. As for his spines, they were unusually long and hung about his face like a shaggy haircut. The spines along his back and tail were long, too, giving him a very strange, ragged appearance.
Spike stopped, recognizing the dragon. "Mopsy?"
The baby dragon snapped his head up, staring at Spike. His eyes were completely yellow, like two bright stars. It was Mopsy – it should have been Mopsy – but wasn't Mopsy dark blue with red spines and belly? And Spike certainly remembered that Mopsy had light blue eyes.
Spike felt himself grow a little afraid.
"My mistress requests the presence of Twilight Sparkle. Where is she?" The baby dragon's tone was deep, haunting, unlike the childish voices of other dragonlings.
"Out," snapped Spike, suddenly getting on the defensive. "And I think you'd better leave, too."
There was an uneasy silence. The shadow-Mopsy's yellow eyes bore into Spike's, crushing his brave facade, bringing a looming sense of terror into the purple dragon's heart.
"You will do," Mopsy said with grave finality. Murky black shadows flew from beneath his feet. They caught Spike before he could even budge.
A baby dragon's scream echoed through the wooden walls of the library.
Twilight Sparkle's hooves dug deep and quick into the soft ground of the Everfree Forest. Her heart was pounding almost as fast as she was running. She hadn't collected her friends; the mysterious note left at the library suggested Spike's life may not hold enough time.
She found the fork in the path and skidded to a halt. One way went to Zecora's hut. The other went past Froggy Bottom Bog. The note had been ambiguous on the exact location of Spike's kidnapper, and for a fleeting moment, Twilight allowed herself to distrust the mysterious zebra who lived in the swamp.
A dark mist swarmed from the direction of Froggy Bottom Bog, chasing the thought from her mind. As she galloped down the path, she reminded herself to apologize to Zecora later.
The mist grew thicker, and Twilight followed it, turning away from the Bog on another fork in the path. At last, she came to an open clearing and almost fell tail over head as she stopped.
In the middle of the clearing was Spike, bound with rope and gagged. He flailed uselessly, spotting Twilight as she approached. Holding him down was a vaguely familiar baby dragon with long, floppy spines.
Twilight searched her mind for the name. "M-Mopsy?"
She jumped as another Mopsy appeared behind Spike, who started to struggle harder. Then another appeared. Another. Several more. Soon Spike was surrounded by a swarm of them, black-scaled, jaundice-eyed, glaring with hatred and contempt.
A shrill, insane laugh erupted from the trees. A large unicorn, almost the size of Princess Celestia and certainly twice as big as any pony, stepped out. Her coat was midnight blue, shining in spots as though covered with stars. Her black hair seemed amorphous, wriggling and waving as though it contained its own free will. Her eyes were bright yellow like those of the dragon minions, with little slivers of pupil in the middle. She stood menacingly over Spike, and only when Twilight tried to move did she realize that the shadow-Mopsys were holding her as well. They seemed to come from the ground itself, as though a part of the forest's shadow. Their little claws did not hurt but held fast.
"If it isn't Twilight Sparkle, Celestia's *favorite* student!" The dark unicorn's voice, mature and sultry, sounded very familiar.
"Let Spike go!" Twilight demanded, struggling against the shadows. Almost on impulse, she shot out a magical burst of energy at her captors. They parted but swarmed back twice as fast, as though she had tried to push away an ocean wave. Soon they had her buried up to her belly, immobilized and helpless.
The dark unicorn approached her until they were muzzle-to-muzzle. Twilight sucked in a frightened breath as the unicorn analyzed her intently.
"You don't know who I am, do you?" the unicorn said at last.
"Of course I do," Twilight hissed. "You're Nightmare Moon."
The unicorn let out a high laugh. She stepped back from the captured scholar and flashed her flank, showing her cutie mark: a shooting star crossing a crescent moon. The star was shattered into little shards. Twilight's eyes widened in recognition.
"My goodness, Twilight! I never imagined I'd bear witness to a moment where *you* are wrong! No, not Nightmare Moon. I suppose you could call me...Nightmare Moondancer!" She allowed her shrill laugh to pierce the forest air.
"Why?" Twilight demanded. She shot another blast of energy, breaking free of the shadow-dragons' grip. As they grabbed for her, she teleported a short distance away. Nightmare Moondancer jerked her head up, and all of the shadows vanished into the ground, save the ones holding Spike.
"Why are you doing this? What did we ever do to you? And what happened to Mopsy?"
"Mopsy got in the way," the dark unicorn said dismissively, flipping her black mass of a tail. "As he is now, he is much more helpful. I can create hundreds of them, all at my whim. And they will all obey me 'til the end."
Twilight was stunned. "Y-you...you killed Mopsy?"
"I merely subtracted from him. I took his heart. And as for why I am doing this, Twilight Sparkle? Let me tell you."
Tendrils of inky hair shot out, wrapping around Twilight's chest and neck. The dark unicorn picked her up and slammed her to the ground. The world went white and then to dizzy color. The ground under Twilight's cheek seemed to spin and shift. She felt a presence close to her ear.
"You stole everything from me. You made everyone forget me."
Moondancer lifted up the scholar. Twilight, still dazed, made no attempt to struggle.
"We studied together for many years. I was so much younger than you. A prodigy! I excelled in talents other unicorns only dream of conquering. You were never more talented. You were only more powerful.
"Regardless, I was not jealous of you. Hand-picked by Celestia? Yes, we both were. Top students in class? I was always right behind you. Friends? Never."
The tendrils gave Twilight an anxious squeeze, and she let out a small cry.
"You never even noticed me, did you? Every year – every single year – I invited you to my birthday party in hopes that we could speak. You studied so much. I experimented with my powers. Together, our knowledge would be unfathomable! Yet you always shunned my invites. Studies. Research. Always something to keep you away from your classmates."
Twilight's vision came into focus. Her horn shined in an attempt to teleport away. Nightmare Moondancer slammed her against a tree, knocking the breath from her.
"Until this year." Her voice was calm, aloof. "This year was an important year for me. I was going to complete my exams. I was going to become an official Canterlot scholar. Not only that, the Summer Sun Celebration was right after my birthday. So I once again kindly sent you the invite."
'Oh, Spike. You know we don't have time for that sort of thing.' The echo of Twilight's memory rang painfully through her head.
"Don't interrupt, now!" Nightmare Moondancer snapped, giving her another painful squeeze. "It's so rude to interrupt! Now, once I heard that you were not attending, I canceled the party. What is the point if year after year I invite you and you don't attend? I was a depressing sight; I even turned Mopsy out of the house just so I could sit and cry.
"Evidently, word of my loneliness reached Celestia's ears, because very soon afterward, I received a message from her. Do you want to know what that message said, Twilight Sparkle?"
"I didn't know!" Twilight struggled violently. Moondancer's tendrils held firm. "I thought everypony was-"
Moondancer raised Twilight up and slammed her down hard, leaving a small crater in the earth. She stood over the smaller unicorn, staring down at her with intense yellow eyes.
"Do you want to know what was in the note, Twilight Sparkle?" Her voice was threatening, her words slow and deliberate.
"Wh-what?" Twilight peeped.
"It read: 'Don't worry about the Summer Sun Celebration preparations. It seems you have a lot on your mind as it is. I shall send another pony to Ponyville in your stead'."
"I had considered it a sort of birthday present from Celestia." Moondancer's voice changed, sounding a little more like the old Moondancer Twilight had remembered from Canterlot. "I was finally going to see the rest of the world. I've never been outside of Canterlot, you know. Oh, I suppose you *don't* know, since you never took the time to know me. I had been so excited about going to Ponyville, and now even that had been taken from me.
"As it turns out, Celestia heard you weren't coming to my party. She viewed it – I suppose – as a good opportunity for you to make new friends. You, reluctant, antisocial, sent in my place. I *wanted* to make friends. I WANTED FRIENDS. And you just took them for granted."
Moondancer's voice shifted back to Nightmare Moon. She stomped on the ground with both front hooves, her tendrils flipping Twilight out of them, sending her flying into a tree. She sunk to the ground, wordless, consumed by guilt.
"Moreover, you stole my destiny." Her voice was a guttural growl, savage and low. "I was supposed to meet the ponies you met. *I* was supposed to defeat Nightmare Moon. *I* was supposed to embody the element of Magic! Not you! You were just some xenophobic loser who never set hoof outside her library! How dare you steal my destiny! How dare you!"
Twilight slowly lifted herself up, casting her head downward. "You're right," she said lowly.
The beam of energy Moondancer was building up dimmed into nothingness. "Wh-what?"
"You're right." Twilight looked up at her. "I never paid any attention to my classmates, even when they had a lot of insight to offer. I never even tried to make friends with anypony outside of a book. And I did take my friends for granted when I met them, simply because I did not want to take the effort to know them.
"Most of all, I knew you invited me every year. I never went to your parties because I thought they were just a hassle, a poor excuse to get out of studying. I never thought there was anything more to you. I...I never even attempted to get to know you, just like you said. And I'm sorry for that. If there's anything my friends have taught me, it's that I should try to be friends before I turn anypony away.
"I can't undo what happened to you. I can only hope you'll forgive me."
The Nightmare part of Moondancer seemed to quiet down. Her hair fell limp. Her ears went back against her head. Her eyes were sorrowful and reflective. Inside, Twilight gave a sigh of relief.
'This is it,' she told herself. 'She'll realize that I've learned my lesson and that she's being foalish by going through all this. In a while, I'm sure we'll be sitting in the library, drinking tea and laughing.'
But Moondancer's eyes were cast down on the shadow-Mopsys, still holding Spike at bay. The baby dragon had long since stopped struggling and had now reserved to a state of quiet panic.
"Mopsy," said Moondancer's voice sadly.
She suddenly flared with wild energy, sending a surge of force that nearly knocked Twilight off of her feet. Her horn fired up with a dark power, and she reared up with anger.
"Liar! You feel nothing for me! You never have! Let's just see if you care about something other than yourself!"
And she fired at Spike.
In an instant, Twilight was between Nightmare Moondancer and the baby dragon, deflecting the attack with a spell she had only vaguely remembered. Moondancer let out a terrible laugh, powering up her horn again and rearing.
"I'll take his heart, too! He'll be a shadow, just like Mopsy!"
"No!" Twilight cried. Energy fired from her on impulse, only emotion driving the spell. A white light covered Moondancer from horn to tail, freezing her body. A bright flash covered the clearing, chasing away the shadow-Mopsys and blinding Spike and Twilight. It took a few breaths for the brightness to fade. Uneasy on her hooves, all of her energy drained into that one spell, Twilight collapsed to the ground.
The familiar warmth of the voice brought the scholar from sleep. She opened one purple eye to see her baby dragon, a worried look on his scaly face.
"Spike," she groaned, smiling. "You're okay."
"Of course I'm okay," he replied, giving an awkward grin. "You saved me."
Twilight's eyes widened. "Moondancer!" She leaped to her hooves to look for the rogue unicorn. Night had fallen, a testament to how long she had been out. Twilight produced a small ball of light from her horn and hovered it around the area, searching.
It only took a moment to find the petrified unicorn.
Moondancer's body had turned to stone, freezing her eternally in an attacking rear, a terrified expression on her face. Twilight could only stare in shock before tears flooded her eyes.
"No. No! We...you weren't supposed to..." She stomped at the ground. "We should be having tea by now, laughing..."
A thought occurred to her, and she fired up her magic. The unicorn statue was bathed in another white light, but when it faded, Moondancer was still petrified. Twilight tried another spell – curative magic! No, purification spell! Bringing-rocks-to-life spell? She tried again and again, flipping through her memory for every single countermagic and healing spell she could muster. Nothing helped.
"No..." she sobbed, collapsing at the statue's base. "I didn't mean to do it, Moondancer. I never meant to hurt anypony. Was I really so selfish?"
Spike put a claw on her shoulder comfortingly. After a moment, he shook her.
"Twilight! Twilight, look!"
She wiped tears from her eyes and looked up. Spike was pointing to a large white object that was quickly approaching. Twilight stumbled to her feet, recognizing Princess Celestia's shape. Guilt piled into her stomach, making her heart pound and her head spin.
"There you are, Twilight! You – oh!" The Princess stopped, seeing the statue. It only took a moment for the princes to identify her student. "This...this is Moondancer. Twilight, what's going on?"
Through sobs, Twilight explained everything, including how she turned Moondancer to stone. Celestia stared in silence at her petrified pupil, scowling. Then, a matronly smile crossed her lips.
"Come, now. I'll fix this up."
The princess's horn lit up, and a golden light bathed the statue. The light flared brightly then faded away in little sparks.
But Moondancer was still stone.
Celestia looked surprised. She tried again, just as Twilight had, using several spells, all with no success. Twilight watched helplessly, feeling even more anxious as Celestia grew frustrated.
"I don't understand," she said, the scowl returning. "I've tried everything. It's as though...wait!"
The princess sat on the ground and closed her eyes. Her body began to glow, but it was a dark glow. Misty purple clouds covered her. Her horn glowed a bright blue and pulsed, as if sending a signal. After what seemed like eternity, the glow faded, and she opened her eyes once again.
"I see. This is a very difficult situation. It appears she wants to be like this."
Twilight started. "It can't be! Oh, this is all my fault. It's all because of me!"
"You didn't know, Twilight. This is one of the reasons why I wanted you to learn the magic of friendship. I had a feeling that you were unaware how your actions affected others. Besides, you are not the only one to blame." Celestia cast a guilty glance downwards. "Her exam was yesterday. I missed it because I was spending time with you. I also had forgotten her – and I know she is not the only student I have neglected."
There was a hollow silence as both reflected on their errors. Finally, Twilight perked up.
"Princess Celestia, is there somepony in Canterlot who can help her?"
"We could try," Celestia said hesitantly. She perked up. "Yes! There are many ponies who study the magic of the mind rather than traditional magic. Perhaps they can convince her to let us help." The princess stood, starting into the woods. "I need to fetch a chariot. Come with me, Twilight."
Twilight stayed in the clearing. Celestia, realizing her pupil was not with her, turned.
The scholar sat down at the statue's base. "Princess, I'd like to stay here with Moondancer. I want to make sure nothing comes after her in the forest."
The princess smiled. "Of course, as long as you can protect yourself as well?"
Twilight nodded. She felt a little bruised but otherwise in good form. Convinced, the Princess started back towards Ponyville, fading into the dark trees until she was a tiny white speck in the distance.
"I'll stay with you, Twi," said Spike, but it wasn't long before sleep overtook the baby dragon. Twilight lay beside the statue, and before long she, too, was asleep.
She was in a dark place.
Around her, she heard odd, chirruping sounds, like a swarm of insects moving against each other. She could feel the darkness around her, as though it were alive. She could almost hear its pulse, feel its breath. Somehow, she was not afraid, for even though the darkness was against her, it did not harm her.
Two lights flashed in front of her, a pair of yellow eyes.
"Twilight," whispered Moondancer's voice.
Twilight wanted to call out to the pony but found herself unable. Her mouth would not move. Her tongue was frozen. The pony with Moondancer's voice stood in front of her, so close that Twilight could smell her. But all Twilight could see were the wide, haunting eyes.
"I have committed a terrible crime. It was stupid and selfish of me. I hurt...someone close to me. I hurt Mopsy, who has been my companion since I was young. I loved him very much, and still I did not hesitate to strike against him. Moreover, I accepted this vengeful spirit, the same phantom that brought Nightmare Moon into existence. Even now, I feel her power: dark, angry, hungry for revenge. I could have unleashed her upon the world. My own anger blinded me.
"For this, I must accept my punishment. This land of darkness you see is the heart of Nightmare Moon. I will willingly stay here, keeping her locked away, keeping Equestria safe. I want to be forgiven, Twilight. I want it more than anything else. But until Nightmare Moon no longer exists, I cannot even try."
The two yellow lights started to recede into the inky miasma. Twilight started but found herself unable to follow and still unable to speak.
"I forgive you, Twilight Sparkle. Everypony makes mistakes. I am...happy that you acknowledge yours and are willing to atone for them. Please, Twilight. Please don't forget me."
The blackness became whole once more.
Twilight jumped, waking up, accidentally giving Spike an ungainly kick. She took a few quick breaths, chasing away the fear of darkness and loneliness. Uncontrolled tears ran down her cheeks, even after she caught her breath. Even though Spike was sleeping next to her, her heart felt cold and alone.
Something small and sharp struck the top of her head. Twilight looked up, and another fell on her cheek. She stood up, stepping out from under the statue to look at it in the moonlight. Long, thin streaks of blue were painted down Moondancer's cheek. Small shards of crystal dropped from her jaw, shattering musically onto the ground below.
Moondancer was crying.
Twilight pressed her body against the statue, the only form of comfort she could manage. The stone was cold and unyielding, and soon Twilight was shivering. But she was determined not to leave Moondancer's side.
A loud noise brought Twilight back to consciousness, and for one fleeting moment she thought Moondancer was breaking free from the stone. To her disappointment, it was only Celestia's chariot, pulled by two strong, gray pegasi. Celestia herself appeared moments later. Twilight helped the princess levitate the statue onto the chariot. No words were spoken between them.
The pegasi started off, pulling with some difficulty but eventually carrying the chariot into the sky. Celestia gave a worried sigh and lifted her wings to follow them. Twilight stopped her.
"Princess? Would you mind if I gave you my Friendship Report?"
Celestia paused. "Twilight, there isn't any need. You've been through enough."
The princess smiled comfortingly. "Very well."
Twilight gave a heavy sigh. "Friendship is a very powerful magic. The bonds it forms can last for a lifetime, and with true friendship those bonds are not easy to break.
"Some ponies may have a hard time forming those bonds. Some may not know how to begin a friendship or may fear growing close to others. Some may just act or think differently, causing others to misinterpret their actions. Still, everypony deserves a chance at friendship. Nopony ever deserves be alone. Nopony ever deserves to be forgotten."
Celestia sighed, still smiling. She craned her neck down to be muzzle-to-muzzle with Twilight. "If you want the truth, I have learned something, too. The neglect of a pony can lead to envy and anger. It isn't fair to favor one over the other. I should pay more attention to all of my students instead of my most popular one."
Twilight allowed herself to blush. Celestia again assured that Moondancer would be remedied, lifted her wings, and dashed off into the sky.
"Moondancer," Twilight whispered, watching her mentor fly off into the distance, "I forgive you. But I want to tell you that to your face. I hope you'll visit me soon – as your old self."