“Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together and created harmony for all the land. To do this, the eldest used her unicorn powers to raise the sun at dawn while the younger brought out the moon to begin the night. Thus, the two sisters maintained balance for their kingdom and their subjects, the three tribes of ponies.
But as time went on, the younger sister became resentful. The ponies relished and played in the day her elder sister brought forth, but shunned and slept through her beautiful night. One fateful day, the younger alicorn refused to lower the moon to make way for the dawn. The elder sister tried to reason with her, but the bitterness in the young one’s heart had transformed her into a wicked mare of darkness- Nightmare Moon. She vowed that she would shroud the land in eternal night.
Reluctantly, the elder sister harnessed the most powerful magic known to ponykind- The Elements of Harmony. Using the magic of the Elements of Harmony, she defeated her younger sister, and banished her permanently in the moon. The elder sister took on responsibility for both sun and moon, and harmony has been maintained in Equestria for generations since.”
“Curious text, isn’t it?” In Twilight Sparkle’s telekinetic grip, her favorite lecturer’s pointer tapped each gorgeously-illustrated page of the historical document she’d hadphotoalchemicallyenlarged to occupy the easel on her right. “In tone it’s highly similar to other late Solarist polemics and directly includes a number of key phrases- for instance its description of Celestia ‘taking on responsibility’ and the repeated motif of ‘harmony’ as a political or social concept instead of simply metaphysical. However, you’ll note the inclusion of a great deal of background information that any pony in Equestria would already consider common knowledge.”
The purple unicorn took a half-step forward, tensing unconsciously in excitement. “That’s why I’d posit that the Fragment is in fact at least partially Griffonic in origin, possibly even a copy of one of the Equestrian texts collected, translated, and annotated by Gaius Black-Talon himself. The dating of the paper to the mid 250s would support that claim, as would the two-illustrations-to-a-page layout distinct to the historical primers used to teach the children of Griffon nobles!”
“If that’s the case…” with practiced ease, the pointer executed a quick sweep for added emphasis, “we could be looking at the only surviving account of the Lunar Rebellions not to have been subjected to factional censorship!” That was the problem with any sort of historiographic research relating to the Lunar Rebellions. While by that point in Equestrian history the royal libraries and clerical system had been well-established, all that had done was make it both incredibly tempting and ridiculously easy for the supporters of both Celestia and Luna to alter the public narrative. Anything dating before about the mid third century of the Circadian Era was now generally recognized to be propagandistic garbage.
Suddenly aware that she was advancing out of range of her easel, Twilight backtracked and sidled over to the right. “It’s a simplified account based off of a polemic, to be sure, but if it was preserved and annotated by the Black Talon Society- which, at the time, took immense pride in rigorous, factual impartiality compared to the revisionist historians of a divided Equestria, and had been established when the events of the Lunar Rebellions remained in living memory- then we can conclude with a high degree of certainty that the key events depicted in it had been independantly verified by outside sources!” She fought back a smirk borne from long-overdue vindication. It wouldn’t do to appear unprofessional before the Day Court. “And that substance unambiguously identifies the rebel Princess Luna as both Nightmare Moon and the cause of the Mare-in-the-Moon Phenomenon!”
The pointer was left to float idle for a moment as Twilight flipped her canvas back onto the not-inconsiderable stack behind her, revealing the next in sequence; another enlargement of an ancient text, this one depicting a stylized Mare-in-the-Moon above a block of cramped, heavily stylized Early Modern Ponish.
“This brings us to the year 642 and Mist Watcher’s Predictions and Prophecies, a popular-magic encyclopedia which contains an entry on the Mare in the Moon eerily consistent with what’s described in the Luna Bay fragment- and completely contrary to the prevailing wizardly consensus of the time that the image was simply a projection created by Princess Luna to rally her forces, which Celestia was then unable to remove following her sister’s presumed death.”
Twilight knew that taking a stand against the so-called ‘execution theory’ would go over well with the Day Court. The Princess of the Sun had always maintained that Luna was alive and somehow imprisoned within the immaterial firmament, but that didn’t stop various Canterlot talking-heads and conspiracy theorists from occasionally suggesting otherwise. Even Celestia herself was short an explanation as to exactly where her sister had ended up, and every attempt to return Luna to the physical world to stand trial for her insurrection had ended in failure- sometimes disastrously. It was a sore spot for her patron, and that in turn was themain reason why Twilight had started this line of research to begin with.
“The Mare In The Moon: Myth from olden pony times.” Twilight read, “A powerful pony that wanted to rule Equestria, defeated by the Elements of Harmony and imprisoned in the Moon. Legend has it that on the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aide in her escape and she will bring about nighttime eternal.”
“Obviously this is at best a secondary source, and a woefully incomplete one at that, but the implication of a prophecy concerning Nightmare Moon’s eventual return is extremely concerning.”
Another slide was revealed, this one containing a brief overview of the star charts and astrological calculations with which Twilight had opened her presentation. Even in summarized form and barely-readable font the canvas was left with more ink on it than white space. “In particular, if ‘the stars’ really will aide in her return, then a number of these puzzling astrological convergences within the outer etheric shell could in fact be reinterpreted as a deliberate attempt to create a sort of giant, ad hoc summoning circle…” another slide of equations and charts even denser than the first “…capable of manifesting a pony-sized object on the surface of Equis! Unfortunately, without purpose-built telescopes it’s not possible to track the stellar motion precisely enough to identify a departure point to within anything more than a few hundred years, and the section of prophecy Mist Watcher seems to have quoted directly is cut off before it can mention what, exactly, ‘the thousandth year’ refers to.”
The astrological calculations were banished as well, revealing beneath them a rough timeline of Equestrian history beginning with the Lunar Rebellions in 98 CE and stretching a century beyond the current year of 1097. Multiple thousand-year spans were highlighted with differently-colored ribbon; a disturbing number of their endpoints were clustered around the early 1100s.
“The prophecy can’t refer to the thousandth year of the standard calendar. If that was the case Nightmare Moon would’ve already come and gone and none of us would be having this conversation,” Twilight recovered her pointer and traced it along one ribbon in particular, the one that terminated a year from the current date at the thousandth Summer Sun Celebration, “but that still leaves an alarming number of potential entry points.”
Twilight revealed the next slide in her presentation, a map of Equestria and the surrounding environs. A dense web of thin red lines connected various locations to astrological symbols, extracts from historical texts, and heraldic emblems both familiar and foreign. Many of them converged on the Everfree Forest and the small town of Ponyville, where the Lunar rebels had made their final stand.Then the map too fell aside, and beneath it was revealed a collection of similar, well-established prophecies declared and later fulfilled over the course of Equestrian history. Certain common sections and formalisms were highlighted, others annotated in Twilight’s narrow script.
“But we don’t know under what conditions, precisely, Nightmare Moon can return, or if there’s another clause describing how to prevent it, using the mythical Elements of Harmony or any other, more mundane means!”
“So you see, my dearest teacher, honored ministers, that we may very well be standing on the very precipice of disaster! The mythical Mare in the moon is in fact Nightmare Moon, and she’s about to return to Equestria and bring with her eternal night! Something must be done to make sure this terrible prophecy does not come true!If we can unearth the original document we can identify when and where Nightmare Moon will return, but more importantly where the Elements of Harmony or another means to stop her might be located! But to do that, we will need to mobilize every branch of the national defense and launch a comprehensive investigation of Rebellion-era sites across Equestria! I await your quick response.”
Twilight finally released her pointer, slightly out of breath, and stepped over to the small purple dragon who was her only audience in the private laboratory she’d set up atop the Academy’s observatory tower. “Well? What’d you think?”
“Well, I thought it was both persuasive and comprehensive, if a little heavy on the astrology.” Spike brushed past her- not too difficult a feat given that even on two legs he barely reached the unicorn’s muzzle- and set about the complicated task of disassembling the foldable easel. “But then, I’ve been working with you on this from the beginning so maybe I’m a little biased.”
Twilight spent a few more seconds following the flight of a Royal Navy air cruiser as it made its final descent towards the docks located at the edge of the city. Behind them lay an elegant series of scalloped terraces that provided the bulk of Canterlot’s commercial and residential zoning, and closer still were the intermingled spires of the Royal Academy Of Magic, the Halls of the Day Court, the School for Gifted Foals, and the Guard academy at Hurricane’s Green which collectively made up the entire district somewhat misleadingly referred to as Canterlot Castle.
“I appreciate the help, Spike, I really do. I just hope Celestia sees it the same way.”
“For what it’s worth, I stillthink you should just take this to the papers. Once she realizes how serious the danger actually is, Celestia’ll understand why you did it.”
“Oh, please.” She rejoined her assistant and set about recollecting her discarded canvasses in the proper order of her presentation. She’d tried to lay them all upside-down in the order they had been removed from the easel, but some of them had managed to end up rotated or off the pile entirely despite her best efforts. Nerves, probably. “Of the twenty percent who don’t fall into a coma as soon as I show them a first derivative, ten are going to write an editorial criticizing Celestia for funding a ‘cuh-razy conspiracy theorist’ with their tax money, five are going to claim Nightmare Moon is returning because Equestria went off of the gold standard, and the one who actually believes me isn’t going to do anything about it because nopony reads her boring column about boring scientific discoveries.”
“That doesn’t sum to a hundred percent.”
“Well if they had any aptitude for math they wouldn’t be working as opinion writers.” The unicorn shook her head, finally managed to get her slides organized, and set about carefully rolling them into a more compact tube.
“What about Princess Cadance, then?”
“I don’t know, I… really haven’t talked to her in ages, I don’t want to show up out of the blue just to beg her for what, if we’re being honest, is just a political favor.”She stuffed the canvas roll into her plain, light-blue messenger’s saddlebags with a bit more force than was entirely necessary.
Spike slipped the now-compacted easel into the opposite saddlebag and stole a look at the grandfather clock Twilight had painstakingly synchronized to Canterlot Mean Time. “You’d… better get going, or else you’re gonna miss your own audience.”
“… oh, horseapples!”
Lemon Hearts, Minuet, and Twinkleshine made their way down the marble hallway in companionable silence, still mulling over that morning’s seminar on a novel hyperplane model for classifying spell-like formal grammars. Then at roughly the same time the three of them caught sight of a familiar purple figure heading their way with a saddlebag full of equipment.
“There you are, Twilight! Moondancer is having a little get-together in the West Castle Courtyard-” Lemon Hearts began, a bag of miniature figurines and twenty-sided dice jiggling suggestively in her telekinetic grip.
“SORRYWORKTHINGCAN’TTALKRIGHTNOWMAYBETHISWEEKEND?” Twilight interrupted as she barreled past them and continued on towards the skybridge leading to the Day Court towers.
Minuette shook her head. “Does that pony ever do anything but work?”
“I think she’s more interested in books than her friends.”
Twilight made very good time and arrived at the throne room six minutes ahead of schedule.
That left her stuck in the vestibule for the better part of hour as the briefing in progress overran its timeslot and completely consumed first her own audience, then the one after it. Unlike the Longshoremares’ Guild representative who gave up and departed in a huff at the forty-five-minute mark, Twilight was at least lucky that the atrium guards knew her by name and were willing to ignore her constant pacing, frequent adjustments of her saddlebags, and occasional murmured invective. Finally, just as Twilight began to worry she was succumbing to exhaustion -Harmony, who thought it was a good idea to build a foyer without a single bench?- the gold double doors swung open.
A head taller than any of her court, Celestia was easy enough to spot, and Twilight’s short stature and scrawny frame proved for once to be an asset as she dodged through the loose agglomeration of ministers, representatives, and various hangers-on to her patron’s side.
“Twilight!” the Princess glided to a gentle stop and turned to face her, “I’m so sorry we kept you waiting, I’m afraid the budget process is taking longer than anypony anticipated.” She turned away briefly towards the retreating figure of the new Vice-Chancellor for Education and, while on an individual level the faint smile she always wore, the tilt of her elegant head, and the shape of her lavender eyes scarcely shifted, the sum total of those elements nonetheless somehow conspired to form an expression which could have stopped a charging Ursa. “I hope what you had to tell me wasn’t too urgent!”
“Uhm… actually…” the unicorn paused, shifting nervously on her hooves, then continued all at once, “I’d like it if you could authorize Commander Shining Armor to be read in on my studies of the Luna Bay fragment. I think I’ve discovered significant reason to believe that Nightmare Moon’s return is a real possibility, and the entity may be arriving in Equestria as early as next year! We need to mobilize a search of the Everfree Forest and Lunar sites immediately!”
“Really?” Having interacted directly with Celestiasince she was nine years old, Twilight considered herself somewhat more capable than the common pony of reading the Princess’s often-multilayered emotions. She had expected some measure of surprise from the alicorn, but was disappointed. “And what about the study I commissioned on thaumic resonance in glowpaz?”
“I had the report couriered to your desk a few hours ago.” Without the ministers impeding their progress Celestia turned down a narrower side hallway and Twilight followed a half-step behind, idly searching over several dozen tapestries that each commemorated a successive Baron Superintendent of the Cloudsdale Weather Factory. She had lived in Canterlot Castle for her entire adult life, and the place never seemed to run out of surprises for her. “I’ve been working on the Nightmare Moon issue on my own time,” she continued, “weekends and late in the evenings, mostly.”
“And you’re aware of the length of the waiting list for non-emergency meetings with the Commander?”
“There’s no need! I’m going to talk to him when we’re both home for the Summer Sun Celebration.”
Celestia stopped walking and regarded one of the tapestries in particular. “I see.”
The princess knelt down to Twilight’s level and looked her in the eye, heedless of the dust that had accumulated on the flagstones now clinging to her pearlescent coat. “My faithful student, you know it’s wrong for you to exploit your family connections for professional gain.”
“Well it isn’t like I’m pressuring him to do anything. When I mention what I’m working on, he could always just say ‘Not now, Twily, we’re on holiday’, and-”
“Who is this pony you’ve been writing to, and what has he done with Commander Shining Armor?”
Twilight had to smile at that, but a moment later Celestia’s tone became grave. “Have you been following the papers from Appleoosa? The common pony already sees Canterlot as corrupt and closed off to her concerns. We don’t want to further inflame the situation by sending soldiers to search a completely unassuming village based on the pet theory of the Guard Commander’s sister.”
“Well by this time next year there might not be an Appleoosa to worry about rebelling!”, Twilight snapped, and then immediately backed away and bowed her head. Over the entire course of her time in Canterlot Castle, and at the Royal School for Gifted Ponies before that, and watching from the audience at public Court proceedings even before that, the young scholar had never once seen Celestia cause the slightest harm or disgrace to ponies who had said the vilest things to her, but that didn’t make her own outburst any more acceptable. “Sorry… I’m so sorry, that was out of line and-”
Dimly, Twilight registered the presence of a golden-shod hoof against her shoulder. “You don’t have to apologize to me for anything, you know that well enough by now. And, I suppose, if this work really is that important to you… I could remind you of a bit of Court business you probably missed locked away up in that observatory.”
“What if I told you that, in recognition of the contributions of small communities all over Equestria, I would be personally officiating this year’s Summer Sun Celebration not in Canterlot or Manehattan but in… say, the town of Ponyville? And, of course, a member of the General Staff would need to be sent some time in advance of the ceremony to perform a close inspection of the town and its immediate environs…?”
“I knew you’d want to take immediate action! I’ll get Spike to help me pack my things!” Twilight dematerialized a moment later in a flash of purple energy.