A fan-fiction author and computer programmer that lives in Pasadena. ======> TIp Jar <======
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“I am a full-grown mare, Nexus; explain how this is even possible!” Nightmare Moon bellowed, finishing what had been an exhausting half hour rant. It was the morning after she had been forced to imprison her old friends in the dungeon, and a near sleepless night had worn her patience thin.
“Y-your Highness, I’m certain there is an explanation for why you don’t have your cutie mark,” Spell Nexus assured her in an attempt to assuage his queen’s rage. “Perhaps you have simply not struck on your talent for ruling.”
“Is being queen not enough!?”
“It should be, and, if I had the magic, I’d force your cutie mark to appear,” Spell Nexus said. “Please understand, you have been preoccupied with more important tasks than the responsibilities of ruling a kingdom. Perhaps, now that your rule is assured and there are no challengers to your throne, you can discover your talent for truly ruling Equestria.”
Nightmare Moon leaned back in her throne, not convinced. “Perhaps. What would you suggest, Nexus?”
“There are many things, Your Highness,” he eagerly answered. “If I may be so bold as to speak of your predecessor, Princess Celestia would often oversee the enactment of laws and make public appearances. She would entertain dignitaries and regularly held open court, where petitioners would make requests of the throne.”
Nightmare Moon twitched her wings in irritation. She had little interest in laws, giving speeches, or speaking with dignitaries who were too eager to please her. Only the idea of holding court held any appeal, and that was only because it was the simplest of the tasks.
Holding court was something she could at least see herself doing, but it felt strange to even consider it. A ruler held court so that her subjects could petition for things they wanted, things to make themselves happy. In all her memories she had never been concerned with the happiness of Equestria, just her own. Perhaps Spell Nexus was onto something. She had never held court before, thus if she had a talent for it, she would be unaware of said skill.
“Do you believe my mark would appear if I were to hold court?” Nightmare Moon asked.
“Most certainly, Your Highness,” Spell Nexus assured her.
Nightmare Moon gave a firm nod. “Then announce that I shall be holding court every day, from when the castle opens in the morning to when it closes at night. Let it be known that it will be this way until I deem otherwise or until my cutie mark appears.”
Nightmare Moon nestled herself into her throne just before open court was due to begin. Messenger pegasi had flown out the day before, carrying her proclamation to every corner of the kingdom, and the response had been greater than she could have anticipated. Ponies, wrapped in winter clothes to fend off the cold, had formed a line outside the castle gates that stretched all the way to Ponyville. They had come from every corner of the kingdom to see her, and, for a moment, she allowed herself to smile.
The sound of hooves and voices beyond the throne room door alerted Nightmare Moon that her court was about to begin. Hastily, she adjusted her armor, preened her wings for out of place feathers, and made whatever last-minute preparations she could think of.
Clocks around the castle rung out the hour, and, with the final chime, the throne room doors opened. Nightmare Moon watched as her servants quickly guided the front of the line into the room, looking over the many visiting ponies as they slowly filed in. Those brave enough to meet her gaze looked on with wide eyes, and everypony else kept their heads bent down towards the floor.
At the prompting of the servants, the first pony in line stepped forward and approached her throne. He was a farmer that Nightmare Moon found vaguely familiar. His cutie mark was of several carrots lying on their side. He had come in wearing a large brimmed hat, but he quickly removed it once he reached the foot of her throne.
“It is an honor to be in your presence, Your Majesty,” the farmer pony managed to choke out. “I am Danver, and my family runs a carrot farm just outside of Ponyville.”
“Danver… yes,” Nightmare Moon mused pleasantly. “You are neighbors to the Apple family, correct?”
“Yes, your… uh,” Danver glanced around anxiously, stumbling on his words. A few servants eyed him, and one guard began to approach before he hurriedly forced out, “Your Glorious Majesty.”
Nightmare Moon arched an eyebrow but made no other move. “And what request do you bring to this court?”
“I-I-I,” Danver stuttered under Nightmare Moon’s constant, expecting gaze. “Would you please raise the sun, Your Highness?”
Nightmare Moon’s eyebrows furrowed, and she spoke with such resentment that her words seemed dipped in poison. “The sun?”
Danver winced and took a step back. “M-my crops are wilting, Your Highness. Your servants have come to help me replant, b-but we can’t just r-replant this late into summer. The carrots won’t be ready in time for the harvest, a-and I can only imagine how much colder it will get when winter sets in. W-we just need a few more months of s-s-sunshine to grow enough food for w-winter.”
Nightmare Moon stomped the floor with a hoof. “Like my rule over this kingdom, the night shall be eternal! Your request is denied!”
Danver did not argue nor protest. He instead turned tail and sprinted out of the throne room, as if lingering a moment more would be suicidal. His quick departure made many of the ponies in line shift uneasily. They all stayed, though many looked much more afraid than they had moments before.
After giving her temper a moment to cool, Nightmare Moon motioned for the next pony in line to come forward. The stallion appeared to be a businesspony and was dressed with a tie, collar, and cuffs. He bowed and introduced himself in almost the exact same way the carrot farmer had. Nightmare Moon could only guess her servants were instructing the petitioners on how to speak to her.
And just as his introduction was similar, so was his request. He asked for the sun to be raised. His reasons were far different from the farmer’s, but his request still made Nightmare Moon grit her teeth in anger. She denied the stallion’s request and quickly called for the next pony in line.
Pony after pony came to her, and time after time Nightmare Moon heard the same request. They wanted the sun, they wanted their day, and, while none dared speak it, she could tell that they wanted more. They wanted the Royal Sisters back. They wanted Equestria to go back to the way it was, but they would be disappointed. She was queen now, and she would not simply give up the throne.
After spending hours listening to ponies requesting the sun’s return, Nightmare Moon had heard enough. She stood up from her throne and spread out her wings. “Let it be known that the next petitioner who asks for the sun to be raised will be locked in the dungeon! I will never raise the sun! I have decreed that Equestria shall live in a night eternal, and that decree will stand! Now, all those who have a request for the sun to be raised should leave… now!”
Every pony in line turned and bolted, many screaming in panic as they ran from the throne room. This just seemed to fuel the anger burning in Nightmare Moon’s chest, but she did not pursue the petitioners. She was glad they were gone, glad to be rid of their sun-loving faces.
On top of it all, she could tell that her special talent was not in holding court. No cutie mark would come of this, and the frustrating indignity of being an adult blank flank, coupled with the disrespect of the ponies, had Nightmare Moon seething. She turned her head down, glaring at the floor around her throne as she debated which part of it she would smash with her hoof.
Just as Nightmare Moon had picked the part of the floor that was going to be the victim of her aggravation, she heard a pair of hoofsteps echoing from the exterior hallway. Were there still petitioners who had a request not related to the sun, or were they just too stupid to take a hint?
Preparing herself to make good on her threat, Nightmare Moon sat up in her throne and watched two ponies step through her throne room door. It was a pair of unicorns, a mare and a stallion. Both had fairly common builds, at least for ponies their age. The stallion had a white coat, brown mane, and a prominent, almost distracting, mustache. The mare had a pink coat and wore her purple mane up in a beehive style that easily added another half a foot to her standing height. The mare, unlike the stallion, was also wearing clothes. A reddish-orange shirt with a frilled collar and white pants.
The pants alone made Nightmare Moon cock an eyebrow as the pair approached her throne and bowed. She couldn’t fight a nagging feeling that she recognized these ponies. She could not recall from where or when, but she knew them from someplace.
“It’s an honor ta be in your presence, Your Majesty,” the stallion said. He rolled his vowels like he had a small ball in his mouth, and once more Nightmare Moon felt the nagging sensation that she knew these ponies from someplace. She, however, did her best to push that annoying thought aside. She flattened her expression and looked down at the pair.
“And what do you want?”
“Well, Your Highness, if ya wouldn’t mind, we’d like ta know…” The stallion choked on his words as if the air in his lungs was being sucked away by Nightmare Moon’s gaze. Still, he soldiered on and asked, “we’d like ta know if our daughter could come home.”
The shout Nightmare Moon had been preparing in response to another request for the sun died, and her voice became hollow, almost shaky. “Your daughter?”
“Our lil’ cupcake, Sweetie Belle, Your Highness.”
Nightmare Moon felt her heart seize up in her chest. She now realized why the pair was familiar; they were Sweetie Belle and Rarity’s parents. She had seen them only in passing, when she and the other Crusaders went by their house. She also began to see the resemblances. Rarity had inherited, at least in part, her mother’s purple mane, and both Rarity and Sweetie Belle had a white coat like their father. Yes, his fur was a slightly different tone of white in comparison to Rarity’s or Sweetie Belle’s, but the resemblance was still there.
After hearing their request, Nightmare Moon almost wished they had come to ask for the sun to be raised like everypony else. It took all of her strength to keep herself from looking away when she answered, “I am afraid she cannot.”
Sweetie Belle’s mother stumbled forward, her once solemn and respectful gaze shattered and replaced by the panicked, pleading eyes of a mother. “Please, Your Highness, my lil’ cupcake doesn’t belong in a dungeon! Whatevah she did wrong, I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it. Please, Your Highness, she’s just a lil’ filly. She needs ta be with her family!”
Nightmare Moon closed her eyes and shook her head once. “I cannot release her.”
Those words were enough to break what little control Sweetie Belle’s mother had over herself. She wailed and collapsed into a heap on the floor. She began to beg, to plead, saying a thousand different things as fast as she could to try and convince Nightmare Moon that Sweetie Belle should be allowed to return home. Sweetie Belle’s father placed a hoof on his wife’s shoulder, trying to calm her, but she batted it away and continued to wail out her pleas.
During this, Nightmare Moon was making every effort to shut out the cries. The guilt they were causing clawed at her insides, and, when she couldn't shut out the wails, she did the only other thing she could think of. First, without a word, she motioned for her guards to leave. Then, once they were gone, the throne room was sealed once more, leaving Nightmare Moon alone with Sweetie Belle’s parents.
With no prying eyes to see what she was about to do, Nightmare Moon stood up from her throne and closed the distance between her and Sweetie Belle’s parents. Both of them looked up at her in fear, undoubtedly terrified they had asked too much of their new queen and were about to suffer the consequences. Nightmare Moon, however, didn’t raise her voice nor did she lift a hoof to harm the pair. She instead lowered herself down, putting herself at eye level with them.
“I am sorry. I would like nothing more than to let Sweetie Belle go home with you, but she must face the consequences of her actions,” Nightmare Moon told them with an apologetic tone. “She, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo trespassed into my castle and were extremely lucky they found me before the guards found them. I promise I will let them go soon. I just… can’t do it right now.”
“But when? When can she come home?” Sweetie Belle’s mother pressed.
Nightmare Moon sighed, turned her back on the parents, and began walking back to her throne. “Request an audience with me again in a few weeks. My advisor should be satisfied with the punishment by that time. I will then be able to release not only Sweetie Belle, but Scootaloo and Apple Bloom as well.”
Nightmare Moon retook her seat in her throne and looked down at Sweetie Belle’s parents. “Despite what you may think of me, know that I take no joy in punishing my old friends. Still, they must learn that I am Nightmare Moon, and that I can no longer be the friend they once knew.”
Sweetie Belle’s parents nodded and, unlike all the petitioners before them, bowed to Nightmare Moon a second time. “Thank you, Your Highness, and we’ll be sure ta come back innah few weeks. We’ll also tell Apple Bloom and Scootaloo’s families da news,” Sweetie Belle’s father assured Nightmare Moon before looking back to his wife. “Come on, honey.”
Sweetie Belle’s mother nodded, and, though tears were still streaming down her face, she managed a small smile, hopeful that she would see her daughter again soon. Together, the pair left the throne room. At the same time, the servants and guards moved back in to find Nightmare Moon sitting in her throne with her eyes shut and a frown on her face.
“Are there any other petitioners?” Nightmare Moon asked.
“No,” one of the servants replied.
Nightmare Moon offered a weak nod. “Then I am ending court today. Notify the guards at the gate and let the ponies of Equestria know that they must come asking for an audience if they wish to speak to me. Let it be known that I shall no longer be holding open court.”
“Understood, Your Majesty.”
Despite the failure of holding court, Spell Nexus continued to offer royal tasks to Nightmare Moon. She tried every aspect of ruling the kingdom, from making speeches to helping form laws. Nightmare Moon even sat through an utterly boring tax meeting, but, despite Spell Nexus’s continued promises, her flank remained blank.
When a week of trying different royal duties failed, Spell Nexus began proposing talents related to the nighttime sky. He suggested turning the night into her tapestry. He told her that she should “fill it with such beauty that all of Equestria would want the night to last forever, if only so they would never have to be parted from her skybound art.”
Yet, when Nightmare Moon tried her hoof at moving the stars, she quickly regretted it. Her mind flashed with memories of art projects in Cheerilee’s class. Some of her classmates were talented in such endeavors, but her pictures always turned out foalish. The only way she knew how to draw a pony was as a stick figure. The only pony less skilled with art in the class was Sweetie Belle, and that was only because she kept forgetting to wash out her brush between colors when they were painting.
Thus any change Nightmare Moon made to the sky was no improvement. She tried to make constellations, but there was a subtlety to Luna’s artwork that she just couldn’t match. The constellations had vague resemblances to the creatures they were supposed to be, but were also up for interpretation. All the while, they remained hidden within the grander picture of the sky. They only came to the surface when one actively searched for them.
This was a stark contrast to anything Nightmare Moon attempted. The constellations she made stood out like rough and haphazard brushstrokes. Despite trying dozens of times to make the sky her own, the only thing that Nightmare Moon succeeded in doing over the course of the night was to build up her frustration. Her cutie mark had once been a moon against the darkest night. She was supposed to have a special talent for this, for tending the night sky. But, if anything, her actions were equivalent to those of a foal who was defacing a masterpiece with hoofpaints.
A nearby clock chimed the morning hour, and Nightmare Moon finally admitted defeat. With a stomp of her hoof, she used her magic to wipe away her latest failure at painting the sky. She then willed her body to become smoke and, like an angry snake, zipped back through the air to her bedroom balcony. Once there, she rematerialized and stomped through the open door.
Nightmare Moon moved straight to her bedroom mirror and stared at the reflection of her still very blank flank. She glared at it, trying to force her cutie mark to appear through sheer will alone. When that didn’t work, Nightmare Moon shut her eyes tight and fought the urge to smash her mirror again.
What was different? Why wasn’t her talent what it used to be when she and Luna were one and the same? Was there anything that made her unique beyond being a queen that everypony feared, despised, and wished was banished back to the moon?
Opening her eyes again, she let her angry glare turn from her blank flank to her armor. At the moment, it was just as much of a mockery as her absent cutie mark. She wasn’t a war pony or a terror who would strike down those who stood in her way. Armor was something worn by a killer or a soldier, and she was neither. Without even a thought, Nightmare Moon magically removed her armor and tossed it all into a corner with a loud clatter.
Her eyeshadow was next to go, another thing that Nightmare Moon had grown tired of applying. She had worn it to meet the expectations of Nexus and the Children of Nightmare, but she was weary of it. A wet cloth removed every trace of the makeup, and once again Nightmare Moon looked upon herself as simply a black mare.
How befitting was her black coat. She was once nothing but a shade, a poison, an infection of thought and jealousy that had taken captive the true guardian of the nighttime sky. Even the cutie mark she had once possessed was just a twisted shadow of Luna’s. It had been Luna’s talent for the sky, Luna’s jealousy and hatred, and Luna’s desire that had formed and given purpose to Nightmare Moon.
Now that she was separated from Luna, made a mare of her own, what did that leave? The desires that Nightmare Moon remembered, that once burned within her like fire, had gone ice-cold and lingered only in memory. It felt like she had no desires or wishes of her own, like she was hollow. She was beginning to fear she didn’t even have a special talent or a cutie mark.
Unable to stare at her reflection in the mirror anymore, Nightmare Moon moved back to her bedroom balcony and looked across Equestria with tired eyes. For two weeks the night had lasted, and the effects were noticeable. Plants were wilting all across the kingdom; even the staunch and sturdy Everfree Forest was looking sickly. The few ponies out so early in the day were bundled up like it was the dead of winter, when it was in fact supposed to be summer.
Nightmare Moon saw Sweet Apple Acres on the far side of the town and thought of Apple Bloom’s family. The orchards looked weak; how much longer would the trees be able to survive? What would happen to the Apple family and to Ponyville when the harvest failed? Would the town survive winter without the orchard’s usually bountiful harvest?
Nightmare Moon violently shook her head. Why did she care about this? The Nightmare Moon she used to be would have just laughed at the hardship and reveled in the suffering. She never used to care about the ponies of Equestria. All that used to matter was that the ponies saw her, or rather Luna’s, night sky and appreciated its beauty.
Nightmare Moon glanced upward at the sky. She sought comfort in the beauty it was supposed to hold, but, after staring at it all night, it only disgusted her. She was tired of the moon and stars. She was tired of the night’s cold and darkness. She was just… tired of it all and wanted to see something else. She wanted something other than night.
There was, however, only one other thing.
Furrowing her brow, Nightmare Moon looked to the horizon. She stared at it as her thoughts snowballed together. The thoughts became a desire, a desire that she shouldn’t have felt. That desire, however, only grew stronger, and soon Nightmare Moon began to do the one thing she had sworn she would never do.
With her mane swirling and her eyes glowing white, Nightmare Moon stretched her magic to the heavens. Without a warning to anypony watching below, the moon began to race across the sky. Within five minutes it had reached the west and began to set beyond the distant horizon, but Nightmare Moon did not watch her moon set. Instead, her gaze remained focused eastward.
A bit of red started to mix with the dark blue and black of the night. It was just a shimmer at first, but it grew. The red fringes were pushed farther into the sky by an orange core, and the orange pushed higher as a bright yellow sphere began to peak over the horizon.
This went against everything she was supposed to stand for, everything she was supposed to want. Despite this, Nightmare Moon couldn’t help but smile. She could already feel a few of the sun’s golden rays striking her coat and filling her with warmth. Her eyes moved to the sky, and she watched it shift from inky black to a bright, cheerful blue while, at the same time, the stars slowly faded from view.
For the first time in two weeks, the sun had risen over Equestria.
Leaving her armor behind, Nightmare Moon made her way to the royal throne room, curious as to just how long it would take before somepony came running in, looking for her in a panic.
“My Queen, I have dire news!” Spell Nexus yelled as he burst into the throne room. A number of soldiers followed in his wake, yet his panic was met by a cool pair of eyes and a small smirk from Nightmare Moon, who was sitting in her throne calmly.
“Only ten minutes? I was sure it would have taken you longer than that,” Nightmare Moon mused.
Nexus and the soldiers came to a stop at the foot of the throne, confusion painted across their faces. “My Queen?”
“It is nothing. Now, what pressing business do you have that makes you feel you can burst in here and make such a spectacle of yourself?”
“Your Majesty, the moon has set and the sun is beginning to rise. Celestia has obviously escaped her imprisonment, and it is only a matter of time before she joins with Princess Cadance’s rebellion and comes to strike you down. Now, I have already alerted the guard here and sent a message to Shining Armor to do the same with our Canterlot Guard. Both castles are preparing to defend themselves, and within the hour we will be ready to—”
“That will not be necessary,” Nightmare Moon interrupted. “There is nothing to fear.”
“Your confidence is refreshing, my Queen, but now Celestia has the advantage of surprise. We do not know when or how she will attack. She could be plotting even as we speak.”
Nightmare Moon nodded her head before she let another smirk escape. “Yes, that would be true if Celestia had escaped the sun, but, I assure you, she is still trapped.”
“But… but then why…why is the sun rising? Surely it is not you—”
“Yes Spell Nexus, I am the one that lowered the moon, and it is by my will and power the sun climbs into the sky.”
Nexus could only look at Nightmare Moon in shock, mouth agape. “B-b-but… but Your Highness, why would you end your own night? Is it not your deepest desire to have Equestria forever bathed in the glory of the moon and the stars?”
“Don’t be foalish!” Nightmare Moon barked. “Have you even felt how cold it is outside the castle? Have you even seen the plants beginning to wilt? It is a miracle Equestria has survived two weeks of constant night, but to expect this kingdom to survive an eternity is ludicrous!”
Nexus shakily took a few steps towards Nightmare Moon with pleading eyes. “My Queen, if this is about our progress transforming Equestria, then I assure you—”
“That your renovations would come too late. Your progress in replanting is pitiful at best, and the warming lamps that you promised would keep the populated parts of Equestria warm haven’t been installed in most towns. Half of Equestria would starve and the rest would freeze to death by the time you finished.
“Speaking of the night, there is no longer any reason to make it last forever. Things are not as they were a thousand years ago, Nexus. There are now ponies who live and work during the night. There are ponies who appreciate its beauty, but there is beauty to be found in the day and sunlight as well.
“Beauty that I have decided to rule over,” Nightmare Moon continued. “I have decided that as long as I am the sole ruler of Equestria, I will tend to the sun and moon myself. I will do just as Celestia did for a thousand years, and I shall be her better. I shall hold dominion over both heavenly orbs and be the purveyor of their beauty not merely for a thousand years, but for all eternity. I shall be the eternal queen of both night and day.”
Nexus opened his mouth to continue his protest, but Nightmare Moon kept him silent with a single hard glare. Eventually, he bowed, as did the rest of the soldiers. “As you wish, my Queen. Is there anything else you would like me to know?”
“Yes. I will be taking leave of the castle today,” Nightmare Moon told Nexus as she rose from her throne.
“Of course, Your Majesty. I shall have somepony fetch your armor and—”
“No, I shall be going out as I am.”
Nexus stared at Nightmare Moon as if she had gone mad. “But your Highness, I really think—”
“I’ll decide what I will and will not wear!” Nightmare Moon bellowed. “Now away with you!”
Nexus did not linger a moment longer. He and the guards bolted from the room as fast as their hooves could carry them. Nightmare Moon waited until they were all out of earshot before letting an irritated sigh escape her nostrils. She departed the throne room and, within minutes, reached one of the castle’s many balconies. She looked upon the sun and rich blue sky with a smile, as if she was greeting a friend she had long missed.
A gust of wind carried with it the sounds of cheers and what Nightmare Moon believed was music. Turning her eyes towards the source, she looked down at Ponyville. Ponies all about the town were rushing out into the streets, many gathering in the town square.
Her subjects, her “unblessed” subjects, were as happy to see the sun as she was. They were rejoicing in its light and warmth. For a rare moment, Nightmare Moon felt happy. She did not try to explain or wonder why. She just took to her wings and flew towards Ponyville as her feathers and coat absorbed the sun’s warmth.
Never had Ponyville been overtaken by celebration so quickly. Pinkie Pie was working with several pegasi, including the lightning-quick Rainbow Dash, to hurriedly put up decorations for a party that had arguably already started.
A local DJ was already spinning vinyl records and filling the air with music as ponies shouted their joy to the heavens. Warmth was already filling the air, driving away the long, lingering chill of the extended night. Ponies who had been bundled up were now tossing off boots, winter jackets, and scarves to bask in the sunshine.
The ponies were so enthralled with their celebration that they didn’t notice the indigo cloud lingering in the shadows of the nearby trees. Nightmare Moon watched them and would have been grinning ear to ear if she wasn’t currently a floating mass of magical energy.
Now this felt good and right. Ponies laughing and playing in the sun, overflowing with joy without a care in the world… this was what Equestria was meant to be like. This was the Equestria Nightmare Moon had seen through young, innocent eyes, and it was not an Equestria locked in an eternal night.
Spell Nexus could go eat moldy hay. This was how Nightmare Moon was going to rule, and this was what made her happy. She would move the sun and moon just like Celestia did and let the ponies of Equestria have both their day and their night.
As the celebration nearby continued to grow, Nightmare Moon’s mind began to get away from her. The ponies were so happy, so overjoyed to see their sun, maybe now they would not look on her in fear. Maybe they would even thank her for bringing back the sun. Yes, she’d appear before them, and, instead of cowering in fear, they would look upon her just as they used to look upon Celestia.
She could already picture it. She would reveal herself to them and smile. She would do as Celestia did and affectionately call them “my little ponies.” She would speak in the sweetest, softest voice she could manage. She would show them they never had to fear another eternal night, and they would praise her just as they praised her predecessors.
Nightmare Moon was drawn from her daydream by nearby cheers. A few mares and stallions had moved over beside her hiding place and were carrying with them a table laden with a bowl of punch and empty cups. As soon as they set the table on the ground each one took up a cup. One of the stallions then laughed and lifted his glass. “I propose a toast, to the sun.”
“To the day!” another in the group added.
“To Equestria’s true royalty!”
“To Celestia and Luna!”
Nightmare Moon’s heart dropped in her chest like a stone in the ocean. The ponies… they were celebrating her defeat. They thought the sunrise meant that Equestria was once again ruled by the Royal Pony Sisters.
In an instant, Nightmare Moon felt the urge to bring back the night. She began reaching her magic to the sky with every intention of stealing the sun away until the ponies could appreciate it, could appreciate her. Yet, before Nightmare Moon could send the sun from the sky, her determination faltered. It had been two long weeks of night, and these ponies would be heartbroken enough when they learned that their beloved princesses had not returned.
Sinking to the ground, the cloud that was Nightmare Moon snuck between the hooves of the ponies and away from the party. She would let them have their day, let them have their celebration, but she would not stand to stay there and watch.
On the far outskirts of Ponyville, where the party and its music were nothing more than haunting tones on the wind, Nightmare Moon laid down on the grass. She found refuge in one of the town’s many exterior parks in the shade of a weeping willow. The long, hanging branches hid her from any ponies that might walk past on the path, ensuring she had the privacy she sought.
Her heart ached. The happiness that had flickered to life when she raised the sun had been slain in cold blood by the celebrating ponies. The worst part was that she had tasted that happiness. It was like giving a sip of water to a pony lost in a desert. It had been a brief moment of refreshment that, once passed, only left the soul craving more.
But why, why had she only been happy then? Cutie mark or not, she had everything else she had ever wanted. She was queen. She banished Celestia and Luna to the sun and moon. There was nopony to challenge her rule. So why had she only been happy when she raised the sun, when she thought the ponies of Ponyville didn’t fear her anymore?
What had made her happy in the past? She knew it hadn’t always been like this, and, thinking back, memories Nightmare Moon had tried to bury began to bubble to the surface. She knew what had made her happy in the past, and it was not power or a crown. It was not an object or a trinket.
It was ponies.
It was ponies like Twilight Sparkle, Cheerilee, and Twist. It was ponies like Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo. It was all the residents of Ponyville who had once looked upon her with smiles and happy faces, as just another citizen of their humble little town.
Nightmare Moon groaned as she laid her head on the ground and covered her eyes. With determination she began to sort through her thoughts. She was tired of the uncertainty, tired of the unknown. She would know why those short months she spent as a filly were more important to her than all the rest of her memories. She would not be tormented by this a second more.
Focusing, Nightmare Moon thought back to her oldest memory, the first she shared with Princess Luna. It was just a wisp, but, as she grasped at it, the memory began to take shape. The faded memory was from when she and Luna had been one and the same. She did not remember the event or the date, but the important details of the memory held true.
Celestia had been surrounded by happy ponies, each praising her for a beautiful day. She and Luna had watched this, and, in the pit of their stomach, jealousy had twisted and turned. Why did Celestia receive all the praise? She only raised the sun. She did not fill the sky with a tapestry of stars while also tending to the moon. Celestia only put forth half the work, at best, and yet the ponies loved her ten times more.
In that ancient memory, Luna had wanted that admiration, and she, Nightmare Moon, had shared in that desire. That thirst, that hunger, had been the fuel of their existence until the Elements of Harmony split them apart. It was at the core of everything she had once wanted. Her desire for the eternal night, her desire to be queen, it all stemmed from that one thing.
That one desire, that one wish, to be… to be…
Love? Was that it? Was that all she really wanted? Nightmare Moon shook her head in disbelief, trying to deny it, but she couldn't. Even after she had been stripped away from Luna by the Elements of Harmony, that one core truth had lingered. It had been a simple thought, so ingrained in their shared existence that not even the most powerful magic in existence could wash it away.
And she had been loved as Nyx. Back then, Twilight had loved her, and her friend had cared for her as well. She had been happy, but then she ruined everything. She had thrown it all away to chase old memories and desires that had never been her own. She had let Spell Nexus and the Children of Nightmare convince her to be a monster and a tyrant. She had imprisoned her friends and… the mare she had called Mother.
It was infuriating, but Nightmare Moon did not shout out in rage. Instead she, the Queen of Equestria, cried. She didn’t wail, didn’t bawl, but, in the protective shade of the willow tree, she could not hold back the tears streaming down her face.
For the longest time, that was all Nightmare Moon did. She just let herself cry, ignoring the entire world around her. She didn’t know or care how long she had hidden beneath the shade of the tree, but her crying was abruptly interrupted by a tiny voice.
“Are you okay?”
Nightmare Moon snapped her head up in shock and hurriedly dried her eyes. Who would even dare to approach the queen when she was obviously in a bad mood? Who would even… care?
It took Nightmare Moon a moment to locate the source of the voice. Its owner had retreated outside the sagging branches of the weeping willow. Yet, after a few moments, the pony dared to push her head through the hanging boughs once more.
It was a filly roughly the same age as the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She had a cream-white coat, curly red hair, admittedly dorky purple glasses, and a cutie mark of two candy canes crossed in the shape of a heart. It was a pony Nightmare Moon knew all too well, having spent time with her at school.
“I… I’m sorry, Your Highness,” Twist apologized in her nasally lisp. “I just heard somepony crying while I was going back to my house to get some peppermint sticks. I’ll… I’ll leave you alone if you—”
“No,” Nightmare Moon said before she could even really think about what she was doing. “Please, it’s been a long time, Twist. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“How do you know my name?” Twist asked with wide, disbelieving eyes.
Nightmare Moon lifted a hoof to her chest and pointed to herself. “I-it’s me, Twist. It’s Nyx.”
With her jaw hanging slack, Twist took a few steps closer. “Nyx? My mom said you had gone bad and that you were the one that made it dark all the time. I told her that wasn’t true, but… I guess she was right.”
The truth in those words hurt, but Nightmare Moon did not allow herself to snap at Twist, nor did she try to defend herself. “I’m sorry I did that, Twist, but I promise I’m never going to do it again.”
“It was actually kind of fun at first. I’ve never been able to play outside after dark before. I played some really fun games of hide and seek.” Twist’s face lit up and she took a few steps away. “Hey, you should come to the party in town! Everypony is outside, dancing and playing.”
Nightmare Moon winced at the invitation before shaking her head. “I… would like to, Twist, I really would, but I don’t think I can. I’m very busy,” she lied.
The smile that had blossomed on Twist’s face faded. “That’s what Apple Bloom always said before she went to visit her family.”
Visit her family? A white lie Nightmare Moon could only guess was told to Twist so she wouldn’t know that Apple Bloom and the other crusaders were locked in the castle dungeon. Still, Nightmare Moon did not focus on that. She did not want to give Twist a reason to hate her… not now.
“Why does Apple Bloom always say that?” Nightmare Moon asked, hoping to drive the conversation in another direction.
“Because she’s always being a Cutie Mark Crusader,” Twist replied. She kicked at the dirt with a forehoof. “I’m happy I got my cutie mark, but, ever since I did, Apple Bloom only ever wants to play with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. Whenever I try to play with her, she’s always too busy.”
Twist kicked at the dirt again. “I almost wish my cutie mark hadn’t appeared.”
“Now don’t say that, Twist,” Nightmare Moon said, trying to comfort her. A small smile then spread across her lips. “Hey, can you wait here for a minute? I need to run and get something, but I promise I’ll be right back.”
“Sure, just don’t take too long. I need to get back to the party,” Twist replied.
Nightmare Moon nodded, and, in a swirl of indigo clouds, she disappeared. This left Twist to sit and wait in the shade of the willow, but she didn’t have to wait long. Within a minute, Nightmare Moon reappeared from the swirling vortex of her smoky mane and laid back down on the grass.
“Okay, I want you to close your eyes. I’ve got a surprise for you,” Nightmare Moon said with a warm smile.
Twist bounced on her hooves. “Really?!”
“Yes, but you have to close your eyes, and no peeking,” Nightmare Moon told her, and Twist was more than eager to oblige. She squeezed her eyes shut and, in the process, scrunched her face into a silly expression.
Nightmare Moon had to stifle a small laugh at the sight, but she went about her work all the same. She took something out of her magical mane, and, with a delicate touch, she used her horn’s magic to carefully drape it over Twist’s back. Only when she was sure the item wasn’t going to fall off did Nightmare Moon pull her magic away. “Okay, you can look now.”
Twist snapped her eyes open and a smile exploded onto her face when she saw that a red cape with a familiar blue and yellow emblem was now hanging across her back.
“As the Queen of Equestria and a member of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, I hereby declare you an official Crusader. Now you can play with Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle all you want,” Nightmare Moon told her.
“Really?” Twist asked in disbelief. “Even though I already have my cutie mark?”
“Being a Crusader isn’t just about finding your own cutie mark,” Nightmare Moon told her. “It’s about helping a friend find their special talent, and who better to help a friend get their cutie mark than a pony who already has hers?”
Twist bounced in excitement. “Oh, I can’t wait until Apple Bloom comes back! I bet I could show her, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle how I make candy, and then maybe they could have a cutie mark like mine.”
“I’m sure Apple Bloom will be back sooner than you think,” Nightmare Moon said, still unable to admit the truth to Twist.
“Thanks, Nyx. This is so sweet! I can’t wait to show it to everypony,” Twist exclaimed before an expression of realization flashed onto her face. “Oh, I forgot, I was bringing back some of my peppermint sticks to the party.”
Nightmare Moon lifted a hoof and used it to gently nudge Twist. “Well then, you’d better run along.”
Despite Nightmare Moon’s encouragement, Twist turned back to look at her. “Are you sure you don’t want to come to the party?”
“I’m sorry, Twist, but I really don’t think I should go.”
“Okay,” Twist replied, but not before reaching into her saddlebags and drawing out one of the peppermint sticks. It was wrapped in colorful tissue paper and a big red bow. “Here, you should at least have one of my peppermint sticks. I just made them this morning.”
Nightmare Moon’s eyes softened at the sight of the small gift. “Oh Twist, no, I couldn’t.”
“It’ll make you smile,” Twist assured her in a sing-song voice after setting the peppermint stick down on the ground.
It was too much for Nightmare Moon to bear. She picked up the candy with her mane as if it was fragile glass and smiled a little as she turned it over in front of her eyes. “Thank you, Twist.”
“Okay, I’d better get going… but, Nyx?”
Nightmare Moon turned her gaze back to Twist. “Yes?”
“Is the sun going to rise tomorrow? Or is it going to be dark again?”
“I’ll make you a deal,” Nightmare Moon said as she leaned in closer to Twist. “If you promise not to tell anypony that you saw me or that I was the one that raised the sun today, I’ll make the sun rise again every day.”
“Does it have to be a Pinkie Pie Promise?” Twist nervously asked.
Nightmare Moon chuckled, remembering the day they had encountered Pinkie Pie after Diamond Tiara’s prank had gone bad. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Okay, I promise, Nyx,” Twist replied with a smile, “but I hope you change your mind. The party’s going to be a lot of fun. Still, if you don’t, I’ll see you later, okay?”
Nightmare Moon nodded and watched as Twist slipped out from underneath the canopy of the weeping willow. She then used a touch of her magic to push back some of the hanging branches, so that she could watch Twist bounce towards town. Once Twist had disappeared from sight, she turned her attention back to the peppermint stick. She removed it from its tissue paper wrapping and placed it in her mouth. It was sweet, minty, and, in that moment, every way delicious.
Nightmare Moon remained where she was until the end of the day when the celebrations had died down and the sun was nearing the far horizon. She made the sun set and the moon rise from her hiding place beneath the tree, and she lingered there a bit longer before daring to leave.
She moved through Ponyville as a mystical shadow, making her way to her destination: the Golden Oaks Library. While Nightmare Moon was happy to give Twist the new Crusader cape she had received from Sweetie Belle, she soon after found herself almost regretting what she had done. She realized too late she wanted the cape for her own, to have as a memento, but, at the same time, she knew that she couldn’t take it back from Twist.
That left Nightmare Moon wanting until she remembered there was one more crusader cape in the world. There was one she could have and keep for herself, which in truth already belonged to her. It was her first cape, the one she had received during the school year, and she knew exactly where to find it.
Back when she was known simply as Nyx, a pony returned a library book damaged. A number of pages had been torn out and many of the others stained with water. The book was simply ruined, and Twilight was forced to throw it out. At the same time, however, Nyx had been reading a story where the main character hid things inside of a hollowed-out book.
After fishing the book out of the garbage, Nyx made it into her best hiding spot, something even Twilight didn’t know about. She hollowed it out and then hid it under her bed with other storybooks. It was a hiding spot she had been so proud of. To find a single, small book under a filly’s bed in a library would be like finding a needle in a haystack… unless one knew where to look.
The cloud that was Nightmare Moon drew close to the library at this point, and she was struck with a bit of déjà vu as she approached one of the windows. In the past, she had snuck up to the same window and peeked in on Twilight Sparkle and the other five ponies that would wield the Elements of Harmony against her that fateful night, back when she and Luna were one and the same.
And, just like that night, Nightmare Moon peeked through the library window, only to find a very different scene than she remembered.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay here by yourself, Spike? You are more than welcome to keep staying with me,” Rarity offered. She was standing in the center of the room, watching Spike as he rushed about cleaning. Owloysius was helping as well, using his wings to feather dust the higher shelves. Peewee was sitting in his nest on the windowsill, but the baby phoenix was joined in his nest by another of his kind. Princess Celestia’s own pet phoenix, Philomena, had come to the library seeking refuge when the Children of Nightmare had tried to capture her as a prize for Nightmare Moon.
“No way! I need to be here and make sure the library is in tip-top shape for when Twilight comes back. I mean, you saw it! The sun came up. That means Princess Celestia’s back, and if she’s back, it won’t be long before she beats Nightmare Moon. Then she’ll free Twilight, and I don’t want her to come back to a dirty library.”
“You really are her number one assistant, aren’t you?” Rarity praised with a smile.
Spike paused from his cleaning and puffed out his chest in pride. “You bet I am.”
“Well then, I won’t keep you, but, if you get hungry, I want you to come over to the boutique. While I can’t promise you gemstones, you are always welcome to share dinner with me. Oh, and don’t stay up too late,” Rarity finished before she turned to leave. “You wouldn’t want to be tired when Twilight comes back, now would you?”
Nightmare Moon shrunk back, hiding her cloud-like body in a nearby bush as Rarity exited the library. She waved a final goodbye to Spike before departing, and only when she had disappeared around a distant street corner did Nightmare Moon dare to peek through the window again.
Spike had finished dusting the last of the library shelves and had moved on to Twilight’s writing desk. He began to clean it just as he had cleaned everything else, but he soon paused to pick up a nearby picture frame.
It was a picture of him and Twilight. The two were posing for the picture, undoubtedly a shot for a school yearbook or something back when Twilight was attending Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Both she and Spike looked younger in the image, back at a time when he was just starting to act more like Twilight’s assistant. It was a picture that brought a smile to Spike’s face, and he took a moment to hug it to his chest.
“Come home soon, Twilight.”
Until Spike had said those words, Nightmare Moon had every intention of waiting until he had fallen asleep before sneaking upstairs to retrieve her treasure book. Now, however, she slunk away from the window and let her cloud-like form begin to make its way back to the palace.
Spike would stay up all night for Twilight, and, with each passing hour, his hope that she would be freed by Celestia would diminish. He would soon come to realize, like everypony else in Ponyville, that it was Nightmare Moon that had raised the sun.
And Nightmare Moon had no interest waiting by the window if it meant she’d have to watch as Spike’s hopes of Twilight’s return died in his chest.
The waiting was excruciating. Nightmare Moon had returned to the castle and ordered her guards to fetch her treasure book the moment Spike left the library unattended. She had stayed in her throne since then, not wanting to move an inch and risk missing the guards’ return.
She had made the book sound like something far worse than it was. She wove a tale of how the book held her grand plans for Equestria, and Nexus was more than eager to believe her. He even volunteered to go take the book from the library with his own hooves to ensure it was never opened.
It was an offer Nightmare Moon didn’t refuse, though she insisted that Spike had to be out of the library. When Nexus asked why, she gave him the simple explanation that no pony or dragon in Ponyville was to know that the book even existed, and that seemed to thrill Nexus even more. He would have probably waited years for Spike to leave the library before securing the book.
Thankfully, it had only taken hours. A short time after the sunrise the following day, Nightmare Moon heard the doors to her throne room open. Nexus poked his head in the moment the crack was wide enough, and he wore a broad smile.
“Were you successful?” Nightmare Moon asked, though she could already see he had been. As she rose from her throne and crossed the room to meet Nexus halfway, he walked towards her with the book levitating beside his head.
“Of course, my Queen. The book was just where you said it would be, and the baby dragon was out fetching breakfast for himself at the time. We also ensured the phoenixes and owl were asleep upstairs. Noone saw us enter or leave, and noone has even cracked the cover of your book. It has remained tightly closed since it was removed from its hiding spot, as per your request.”
“Excellent,” Nightmare Moon said gleefully as she took the book in her own magic. “You have done well, Nexus.”
“You honor me, Your Highness. Though, if I may be so bold, what exactly does this book contain? You have spoken of it as if it holds something of unfathomable importance, but I find myself wondering how such a simple-looking book could contain something so—”
“Do you question my word, Nexus?!” Nightmare Moon hissed out, leaning in close and glaring coldly at him.
Nexus swallowed nervously, trying to force down the knot that had formed in his throat. “No… Never, my Queen! Perish the thought!”
“Then you will trust in my word. This book is important, but its contents are for my eyes only. Now, I am retiring to my bedchambers for the morning. It is of the utmost importance that I am not disturbed.”
“Yes, my Queen,” Nexus replied. He bowed once more as Nightmare Moon strode past him, and he waited until she had left the throne room before shouting her orders to the guards.
Back in her bedchambers, with her armor and make-up removed, Nightmare Moon laid on her bed with the book held gently in her magic. It had taken every ounce of her will to keep herself from opening the book before she had reached her bed. Yet now she was there, now she had privacy, and, after licking her lips, she cracked open the top cover.
Inside the book a rectangular hole had been cut into the water stained pages, and within the gap was a hoof-full of items that made the air catch in Nightmare Moon’s lungs.
Lying right on top, and taking up the largest part of the book’s interior, was her original Cutie Mark Crusader cape. It was frayed on a few edges and had a stain on one corner, but the red color was still strong and vibrant. Even the rearing pony emblem it bore was just as Nightmare Moon remembered it.
Carefully, she removed the cape and draped it across the cover of the book as she looked at the other items inside. She found her blue ribbon from the Learn and Play Day and other little trinkets that she had gathered from her many attempts to find a cutie mark. Marbles, old coins… the book was filled with things that had no significant monetary value, but, to her, they were utterly priceless.
Before she could stop herself, Nightmare Moon found her magic reaching out to one of the items: her kazoo. She withdrew the cheap, little thing she had won along with the blue ribbon from the Learn and Play Day’s tug-of-war match, and, before she could stop herself, she placed the toy against her lips.
It felt so much smaller now, as if she could break it just by biting down. Still, Nightmare Moon held the kazoo with care, and she breathed out. The kazoo gave up its note, which sounded against the walls of her bedchamber.
The single note that Nightmare Moon hoped would bring back even a fraction of the happiness she once knew only left the bitter taste of plastic in her mouth. As quickly as her magic would allow, she put all the treasures back into the book and hid it in the drawer of a dresser. She then flopped down on her bed, once more finding herself staring at her reflection in her vanity mirror.
As Nightmare Moon glared at her reflection, Luna’s words rose and burned at her mind like angry phantoms. “It won’t be my past that haunts you, but your own.”
Luna had been right. She had been Nyx, and she could have stayed Nyx. The Royal Sisters had offered her a chance to stop, but she had been a fool lost in the past. She had listened to Spell Nexus, the Children of Nightmare, and her own memories. She had focused on being the mare she once was, and in the process she had destroyed everything she once had.
Yes, she was Nightmare Moon, she had made herself into Nightmare Moon, but now she didn’t want to be that. She didn’t want to be the monster colts and fillies feared haunted the shadows. She did not want to be the tyrant queen, but she couldn’t go back now. She had gone too far. No amount of apologies would cleanse her of what she had done. If she freed Celestia and Luna, they would seal her in the moon for a thousand years, if not longer.
She was… stuck— simply stuck. She could not go back, but she could not make herself go forward. She was, in every way, her reflection in the mirror. She could not be Nightmare Moon anymore, clad in armor as she struck fear into the hearts of ponies. She could not go back to being the small, innocent filly Nyx either. She was the blank-flanked, adult mare who was stuck in the middle, and she could not stand her own reflection any longer!
With an aggravated huff, Nightmare Moon flopped over on her bed. She put her back to the mirror and searched the other side of her room for something to distract her. She looked to her writing desk and the papers on the surface, but then her gaze was drawn by a familiar purple.
The purple belonged to an item that was lodged beneath her writing desk in the same place she had thrown it in a fit of rage weeks before. It was a thing she reached out to with her magical mane and drew back into the light.
Nightmare Moon once more looked upon the training dummy of Twilight Sparkle she had destroyed the day she first arrived at the castle. It now had a small layer of dust covering its features, and it had lost more of its stuffing while it had lain forgotten. Still, the resemblance the dummy shared with Twilight Sparkle was just as striking as when Nightmare Moon first saw it.
It was so much like Twilight that Nightmare Moon couldn’t stop herself from drawing the dummy close and letting her magic flow through it. The rips and tears began to fix themselves, and soon the training dummy was as good as new. She, however, didn’t stop there. Nightmare Moon continued to use her magic on the dummy, and she changed the rough burlap into something soft and plush.
Under the influence of Nightmare Moon’s magic, the training dummy became in form and appearance a doll, and the freshly transformed Twilight Sparkle doll soon found a place against Nightmare Moon’s chest. She hugged the doll to her body with her legs, and, for a moment, she dared to pretend the doll was the real Twilight.
“What do I do now, Twilight?” Nightmare Moon asked, praying that the doll might actually provide an answer.
“What do I do now?”