Celestia stood mournfully on the balcony where she and Luna often performed their duties at dusk and dawn. The day’s events had been so stressful that they’d nearly forgotten to set the sun and raise the moon. Luna hadn’t said a word as the pair moved their respective birthrights, stiffly raising the moon before departing silently.
Celestia knew why; she kept her thoughts purely on her mistakes, as merely one form of penance. She forced herself to keep thinking of how she’d broken Luna’s heart, for reasons that were ultimately false. How she’d betrayed somepony who, though it had taken the impending doom of her home to make her believe it, genuinely sought her friendship, and a peaceful existence with the land he would now call home. How she had failed to truly learn one of Twilight’s earliest lessons in Ponyville: “never judge a book by its cover.”
How she had given in to her own fears.
Celestia slightly turned her head to the side at the all-too-familiar voice of her student. “Hello, Twilight,” she said dully. Twilight slowly approached; as she stepped into Celestia’s field of vision, Celestia could see her staring fixedly at the horizon. The pair were silent for a time, both having trouble finding anything meaningful to say.
Twilight finally broke the silence. “...Believe it or not, even I know that you’re not… infallible…” she said softly, the words sounding painful for her to utter. “I can believe that no amount of experience—not even centuries—will keep you from making mistakes down the line, big or small.”
“On top of everything, you’re implying I’m getting old, Twilight?” Celestia asked, giving a soft smile. Twilight’s eyes flashed with panic for a brief instant, but quickly relaxed as she smiled back.
Celestia’s smile faded, the little joke only doing so much. “...And yet, it’s hard to forgive such a grievous error… especially when you’re the one who committed it, out of what could charitably be described as ‘ignorance’...”
This time the shock didn’t fade from Twilight’s eyes. “Princess…!” She began.
“And it’s nearly impossible to forgive yourself…” Celestia continued. “...when you’ve made this same mistake before…”
Celestia took a shuddering breath. “A thousand years ago… There had been signs… Signs of Luna’s feelings of bitterness and neglect… Of her unhappiness from being in my shadow… Signs that I may as well have laughed off. And in the end, because of my blindness, Luna was painted as a monster, and I as a hero… The hero who banished her sister to the moon for a thousand years, for lashing out when I wouldn’t comfort her in her darkest of moments…”
“Princess, that wasn’t your fault!” Twilight said.
“And when I felt I’d learned from that…” Celestia continued. “Dread arrives… Yes, his initial actions were aggressive, and the talent he held was… atrocious, but he quickly made efforts to redeem himself in our eyes, worked to be seen as a friend… Yet when the victims began turning up, plunged into their deepest fears, I was so quick to lay the blame on him… In spite of the signs that he wasn’t the monster who would do such a thing… In spite of the signs that the victims were… different to when Applejack and Luna had been stricken...”
“I’d told myself that his friendly attitude was a means of disguising his true intentions, told myself that the victims were different because I had no way of truly knowing just how much darkness lingered in Dread, and how much of that darkness took form in those he’d inflicted his Nightmares upon… All this, because… because it was so easy to blame him, to see him as another, somehow even more monstrous version of Sombra…
“Much easier than attempting to see the truly friendly demeanor past a shell built of fear…”
Twilight gazed sadly at her mentor. “...Princess, it… It wasn’t like you did it out of malice…” She said. “You were doing what you believed would protect Equestria…”
Celestia nodded stiffly. “Perhaps… I’ve had a fair number of misjudgments with Equestria’s well-being in mind, though… none with such dire consequences… Should we prevail against Sombra, perhaps I could, in time, learn to move on… to forgive myself for being so blind…”
She blinked back tears. “Yet I could never forgive myself for hurting Joel… My dear Luna…”
Twilight glanced towards the door, remembering how upset Luna, in particular, had looked in the wake of Joel’s furious outburst. “...What happened?”
“In order to… depower Joel, I needed Luna’s help…” Celestia explained. “It would have been difficult enough to convince her if she and Joel were simply good friends, but…”
Twilight’s eyes widened in understanding. “...Oh…”
Celestia nodded. “I made Luna think that the person she loved—and who I now believe loved her in return—was using her, Twilight… I… I hurt her, in ways nopony should hurt another… I broke her heart…”
“And when we realized our mistake, I saw that I’d… done the same to Joel…” She sniffled. “He’s right to be angry, to distrust us, to… loathe us… I’d be surprised if he could ever trust us again after this… If he can ever even speak to Luna again… and if Luna will ever speak to me again…”
Celestia fell to her haunches, eyes screwed shut in a vained attempt to block the tears that now dripped down her cheeks. “...What have I done, Twilight?” She asked.
Again at a loss for words, Twilight sat beside her teacher, threw a foreleg over her shoulder and hugged her tight.
Luna lay on her usual balcony, her eyes burning from tears. Even with her best efforts to ignore everything else—the shouts of the Royal Guard preparing the defenses, the glow of her moon, the cool night air—she couldn’t ignore just how empty it felt up here, now…
And she couldn’t get the image of Joel’s wounded gaze out of her mind.
She wished that Celestia had been right, that Joel truly was a monster… Then at least she had more of a hope of moving on, considering this a lesson learned…
But now, all she could think about was how she’d been tricked into throwing away the happiest days of her life since before her banishment.
Because of HER…
Luna’s eyes sprang open; the voice was not unlike her own, only lined with… bitterness.
Does everything she can to RUIN us… Keep us in what she believes to be our PLACE…
Despite there being no breeze, the sound of a gust behind her made Luna sit up and turn around. Her shadow in the moonlight was twisting of its own accord; its head was turning to address her.
She MISSES those days, when we were up there… It gestured towards the moon. When SHE had ALL the power…
“No, no, you…” Luna muttered. “N-N-No, you were gone!!”
The shadow chuckled. You believe me to be some specter to be exorcised, dear Luna? No, no… nothing quite so simple. You see, every time you saw Celestia gain all the love… Every time you saw your subjects merely yawn at the sight of your glorious night… I grew within you. Over time, I was strong enough to take matters into my own hooves. The Elements merely restrained us… Silenced us… Made you COMPLIANT… Made you happy in your place as second fiddle… It gave a sickly-sweet smile. It was I that opened your eyes, remember?
Luna’s jaw clenched in anger, grateful for an outlet for her pain. “I remember…” She said, her horn and eyes glowing bright. “I remember what you cost me, all too well!! A thousand years!!”
Imprisoned for challenging the tyrant we called ‘sister’!! The shadow barked furiously. And even a thousand years isn’t enough for her!! Do you remember what she’s cost US?!
“That’s not her fault!!” Luna cried, though the words felt forced coming from her.
SHE RUINED WHAT WE HAD!! The shadow shrieked. Before Luna’s terrified eyes, the shadow began to rise from the ground, its body shaping to look less like Luna, and more like the archetype she’d made for herself. Its head and body were covered in plate armor, and its poise became less of grace and more of oppression. SHE WOULD DO EVERYTHING TO MAKE US MISERABLE, IN HOPES OF BAITING US INTO JUSTIFYING ANOTHER SENTENCE, THIS ONE ETERNAL!!
“NO!!” Luna screamed. Nightmare Moon began looming over her, the shadow threatening to crash upon her like a wave. Luna’s breathing quickened as she screwed her eyes shut, trying to drown out the shadow’s voice.
WHY NOT?! Nightmare Moon screamed. WHY SHOULDN’T WE HATE HER?! WHY SHOULDN’T WE MAKE HER SUFFER AS WE HAVE?!?!
Luna tensed as the shadow enveloped her; Nightmare Moon swirled around her, the wind rushing like a violent tempest. Luna’s breathing became constricted as Nightmare Moon squeezed tightly around her, a crazed, hungry look in her glowing eyes.
This was it. Luna was in no shape to resist, too drained to fight back.
“Tia…” She whispered. “Joel…”
We might not ever forget our failures, but that doesn’t mean they have to weigh us down.
Luna’s eyes slowly opened.
A blast from her horn flew into Nightmare’s face, breaking apart her shadow. The shadow reformed, backing away from Luna; Nightmare’s face was full of shock and surprise at Luna’s anger.
“It’s not whether we should…” Luna hissed, standing defiantly against her shadow. “It’s that I won’t.”
Nightmare Moon scowled. You would continue to live in her shadow? She challenged. You would continue to call her ‘sister’ after all she’s done?
Her voice quavered. “...After all she’s taken from us?”
Luna’s expression softened. “...I… I don’t know if I can forgive her…” She said softly. “...But banishing us… hurt her… In ways I cannot imagine. And I won’t hurt her that way again, even after today.”
Luna straightened up and narrowed her eyes at the shadow. “And I will never follow your path again… I will not become a monster again.” Nightmare Moon hissed in anger, but Luna’s horn flared brighter in response. “Go. And never return,” she said firmly.
Nightmare Moon glowered hatefully at Luna. ...Very well. I’ll leave. She took a step forward. But know that without me, you are doomed to slave under the sun… when you could have ruled from the stars.
In the blink of an eye, Nightmare Moon suddenly melted to the ground, reforming into Luna’s original shadow. Luna glared at the spot her darker half had stood before turning and approaching the door to the stairwell.
There was a deal of work to be done if Sombra was to be stopped.
I’d forgotten just how good a shower could feel when you were in a particularly dour mood. The hot, running water over my head helped me think without my thoughts suddenly melting into a mess of profane rage.
I had little trouble admitting how cathartic it was to unload on Dash, but I knew I was a bit unfair, myself. Not every pony in that room held that level of distrust; Applejack and Fluttershy, certainly, seemed sympathetic, Pinkie seemed to have warmed up to me quicker than the rest, and it was a safe bet that Rarity was thinking more kindly of me after I’d saved her sister. I felt I owed them an apology… though I wondered just how much that would matter if Sombra started moving south, with the mass under his control.
I turned off the shower head when I noticed that my fingers had started to prune; as I stepped out and started drying myself off, I quickly remembered that I didn’t have a change of clothes.
Guess it’s a toga party for the time being. Once dry, I gathered the blanket I’d tossed on the floor and robed myself again. I stepped out of the bathroom and into my--
“...Applejack,” I greeted quietly as I spotted the pony sitting patiently on the edge of my bed. She gave me a gentle nod as I approached, sitting quietly beside her.
We both made a few attempts at speaking, trying to find something to say. I wanted to apologize, to say that she was among those who didn’t consider me a monster, who held some semblance of trust. Yet I could tell she knew; if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have been sitting there with me.
The fact that she was there, however… It reminded me of how Luna had tried to appear in my dreams, the day I’d been told I was stuck in Equestria; it told me that I did have friends here, people who legitimately cared.
I turned to look at her, a grateful gaze in my eyes. AJ smiled, then threw her forelegs around me in a (very) tight hug. I smiled and hugged her back.
I didn’t know if I could forgive those who’d doubted me… Celestia, Dash, Twilight… Luna…
But I knew that, even now, I wasn’t without friends.