Luna stared at her Moon.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered how she’d gotten to this point. The manic energy which fueled her night of benign mischief left as quickly as it came, but for one glorious night she’d felt like she was truly home. She could still feel the thrill of the devious creativity surging through her, and the silent joy of seeing Celestia break her mask and laugh a real, heartfelt, unselfconscious laugh in front of Twilight. The memory made Luna’s heart swell.
The next day hadn’t been a total disaster, either, though the thought of it made Luna’s insides quiver.
It had started out innocently enough. Luna had woken early, trying to relish the little daylight she got to see, and trying to engage the bustle and business of the palace when most ponies were actually still awake. She slunk through the halls, partly because she felt no real urgency, but also because she felt slightly intimidated by the constant activity, and felt like her very presence disrupted the flow in some way that would negatively impact those around her.
So she crept unhurriedly through the halls, trying her best to be unobtrusive. The only thing really drawing her was the sense of Celestia somewhere nearby.
As she drew near a meeting room Celestia opened the door.
“Luna, thank goodness. Just the pony I need.”
“Sister?” Luna asked, feeling slightly alarmed.
“I’m mediating some foalish dispute over who owns what land,” Celestia said in a hushed voice. “It’s going nowhere, and I need a fresh perspective.”
Luna glanced over Celestia’s shoulder at the arrogant and disgruntled figures glaring at each other within.
“Why are you mediating this? Why is it worth your attention?”
“It isn’t, really,” Celestia answered, “but the ponies in question are very high status. They’ve rejected, bullied, and disregarded everypony who’s dared attempted mediation before now. I need to get this resolved, and begin smoothing the ruffled feathers soon, or there will be some serious political ramifications. I don’t expect you to come up with a solution, necessarily, but could you come in and listen for a while? Just to give me a fresh take on the matter? Please?”
Luna glanced dubiously at the conference room, but knew she was trapped the minute Celestia said please. She never could say no to her sister.
The ponies within were even more arrogant than they’d appeared. Each side thought themselves above all. Each spoke at length about what they deserved, what was rightfully theirs, and how little the claims of anypony else mattered. They ranted, they sneered, they tossed thinly veiled insults at Celestia, and overt insults at each other.
Luna watched this with pompous display with horror. How could anypony be so mean-spirited and self-centered? The heat of the room became stifling. When Luna and Celestia had to excuse themselves to lower the Sun and raise the Moon, the cool evening air was blessed relief, but all too brief.
Back in the meeting room, the ponies continued to yell and argue, and the heat, real or imaginary, threatened to cook Luna in her skin.
Enough was enough, and this was…
“ENOUGH!” Luna roared. “You sniveling little toads, I have had enough of your petty complaints and posturing. You will form a working plan for dividing the land between you. You have one hour. If you do not have the beginnings of an agreement, I will personally rend each tree, split each rock, divide each house, and halve every usable resource in the disputed area, giving half to each.”
“Now see here,” one of the ponies protested, “you can’t just-”
“I CAN. Do you doubt my conviction? My power? You have one hour. If you do not take my words seriously, I may decide that your personal homes be included in my division of goods.”
Luna stomped from the room, feeling like a tantruming yearling, but caring only slightly.
As soon as she was out of sight, of the conference, she fled, and returned to her perch with all haste. The cool air quickly sapped the heat from her boiling skin. If Luna closed her eyes, she could imagine it steaming in the darkness.
“Luna,” a soft voice snapped her out of her ‘meditation’.
“Thank you. They suddenly found a well of motivation I’d not seen from them previously. Perhaps I should bring you in more often.”
“I don’t want to be thy blunt instrument, Celestia,” Luna told her, feeling tired.
“Nor should you,” Celestia agreed. “I just wanted to… to thank you for saying the things I didn’t have the courage to say. I was coddling them, and making the problem worse by feeding their egos.”
Luna nodded to her sister.
“As you say, Celestia.”
Celestia frowned slightly at her sister.
“Well… I must go see to the petty ponies, then I’m off to bed. I’ll save you from having to go back in by ending the mediation for tonight.”
“Sleep well, sister.”
Luna hopped from her perch to nuzzle Celestia affectionately.
“Good night, Luna.”
The evening wasn’t a total disaster, despite the rocky start, but when Luna went to her rest in the morning, she had the Dream.
Luna stood on the Moon. Her Moon. On the spot she’d landed once banished. The spot she’d always thought of as ‘ground zero’.
It was cold. The unfeeling, implacable cold leached the warmth from her like a vampire, but didn’t stop there. Life and emotion seeped from her as well, leaving her feeling numb and empty.
Luna began to shiver. She never shivered, not on her moon. Something was wrong. This was all wrong.
“THOU THOUGHTEST THOU COULDST BE RID OF ME THAT EASILY?!?” a booming voice shook Luna from her immediate concerns.
She knew that voice. She’d heard it all too often. But she couldn’t be here. She couldn’t be.
Luna turned to face Nightmare Moon.
“How are you here?” she asked. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“STUPID FOAL, THOU WILT NEVER BE FREE OF ME! I AM WHERE THOU ART!”
Luna tensed. Her body felt like an over-wound clock spring, ready to break at any moment.
Realization dawned on her.
“A dream. This is a dream.”
Luna let magic flow from her, warping the Moonscape around her, trying to end the nightmare in lieu of something more pleasant.
Reality shimmered, distorting until it was unrecognizable. As it re-solidified, Luna found herself alone on her perch at the top of the palace, the Moon overhead.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Even in the face of The Nightmare herself, Luna’s hold over the dream realm was still secure.
Or so she thought until the Moon started laughing at her.
She stared up in horror as The Nightmare’s face appeared in the Moon.
“THOU TRULY ART A FOAL. THOU THINKEST THY MAGIC CAN DEFEAT ME SO EASILY? I AM THOU! THY MAGIC IS MINE! THOU! WILT! NEVER! BE! FREE!”
The booming voice hammered on Luna. The temperature around her plummeted. Luna began to shiver, her knees shaking violently. She realized that frost was forming on her coat.
As she stared back at the Moon, she understood the truth of what The Nightmare had told her, and fear stabbed through her. She would never be free. The Nightmare was back, and more powerful than ever, and she would never be free. She would see Equestria burn and know she was the cause. She would never be free. She would never-
Luna bolted upright in bed, still shivering. She breathed out a shaky, teeth-chattering breath, which showed as vapor in the air, despite the warmth of the room around her.
Her thoughts whirled in her mind, flitting from fear to fear unceasingly. Her thoughts were jumbled. Incoherent. So much so, that it took a minute to register the pounding on her door.
“Luna? Luna! Luna, are you alright?!?”
“Come!” she croaked in response.
The door flew open, and Celestia, wide eyed and worried, all but galloped in.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“D-dream. N-nightmare. THE Nightm-m-m-are”
“Oh, Luna. Look at yourself! What happened?”
Luna looked down at her coat, cursing her inability to stop shivering. When she saw, her trembling redoubled itself. Her coat was covered in frost. It was beginning to melt in the heat of the room, but some still clung to her. Dampness marked the passing of the rest.
“You’re soaked. The sheets are soaked. Come out here, and let me get a towel or a dry blanket or something.”
Luna nodded mutely, and let herself be pulled from her damp bed. She watched as Celestia pulled a towel from the bathroom and wrapped it around her.
“Um… Luna,” Celestia’s brow furrowed, and she frowned. “I don’t mean to be…. What I mean is…. Luna, when’s the last time you’ve bathed?”
Celestia pulled the towel back to reveal dirty smudges from rubbing against Luna’s coat.
“Bathed?” Luna asked.
“Yes. Bathed. You know, soap and water? Good grief, I’m surprised you don’t…. Luna, how the hay don’t you smell?”
Luna shook her head slowly.
“I found some clay to roll in just the other day,” she offered.
“...Clay? How did.... What.... No. I don’t want to know.”
Luna saw Celestia’s skin twitch in revulsion. That and the abhorred look on her face cut Luna deeply. She felt the familiar empty ache begin to grow within her, and she welcomed it. Soon it would eat all the pain, and just leave that dull ache.
“Hmmm,” Celestia mused. “Twilight sent a note for you while you were sleeping, wondering if you’d like to try again with her friends. I think I know what to tell her.”
“You would speak to her in my place?”
“Yes I would.” Celestia poked Luna in the chest with a hoof. “You need to make some friends. Get out and meet ponies. Trust me. I’m your big sister.”
“Of course, sister,” Luna said contritely.
Once Luna’s coat was dry enough, and she showed no further indication of shivering, the pair went to their evening ritual.
Then Luna went to her perch to stare at the Moon.
And so the rest of her week went.
Luna raised the Moon.
Luna sat on her perch and stared at the Moon.
Luna lowered the Moon.
Luna slept fitfully.
Which brought her back to the present, staring at the Moon after such a promising start to the week. She felt that dull emptiness, and let it swallow all her anxiety about meeting Twilight’s friends again, after the last attempt went so poorly. She let it swallow all her fears of The Nightmare returning. She let it swallow everything. It was easier than feeling.
Luna shook herself, and rose to return to her room. In the morning she would be in Ponyville. She needed to sleep now to be awake enough to face whatever ensued.
Luna looked at the establishment with more than a little skepticism. Everything, from the curtains in the windows, to the script in which the establishment’s name was written all sounded klaxons in Luna’s head. Even the simple one-word description made Luna quake: Spa.
She should run away, Luna decided. She should run away right now, and go live at the top of a mountain somewhere like a hermit or guru. She should go right now, before-
“They’re not going to hurt you, you know,” Twilight said from behind her.
“That remains to be seen,” Luna retorted dubiously.
“We should go in. They’re expecting us.”
Luna looked at Twilight, hoping the fear didn’t show in her eyes.
“Art thou sure about this, Twilight?”
Twilight smiled in response.
“Rarity and Fluttershy say it’s quite relaxing. They have a standing appointment every week. In fact, they should be here later. We’re here early to get a… er… head start.”
Luna narrowed her eyes at Twilight.
“Thou hast spoken with my sister.”
“Well… yes,” she admitted, “but that’s not the only reason. Fluttershy can be a bit… timid, but she probably won’t give you a second look if you’re just somepony in the spa. That way we can get a conversation started before she knows who you are.”
“Now that I say it out loud, it sounds a little cruel, but I just know you two will love each other. I just need Fluttershy to give you a chance before bolting.”
Luna digested this answer for a moment.
“Thou art sure?”
Luna sighed, dropping her head and feeling very much the condemned pony.
Twilight pushed through the door with Luna in tow. The interior was awash with various herbal and fruity scents. Immediately upon entering they were descended upon by the two proprietresses.
“Princess Luna! Twilight Sparkle! How lovely to have you in our little establishment. Please, Twilight, make yourself comfortable. Princess Luna, right this way.”
Luna shot Twilight one last pleading look before being led off to her doom, whereupon she was scrubbed within an inch of her life.
Luna was soaped, lathered, scrubbed, rinsed, and repeated. It was bad enough that the water had to be changed once even before the pair began to work on her mane. The pair worked with unflinching single mindedness, until….
“Oh,” one of the mares gasped. “Oh. Oh, my!”
“What is it?” Luna asked. She felt a stab of fear at the mare’s expression.
The mare said nothing, but gestured to a mirror. The other mare pulled it closer, giving Luna a better look at herself.
Luna’s coat, which had been a dirty blue-grey, had deepened to a midnight blue, but that wasn’t all. Her mane... her mane, had deepened as well, and it had stars in it.
“Once we started washing that stuff out of your mane…”
“Regolith,” Luna said absently. “Means ‘blanket of rock’.” Her voice sounded to her own ears as though coming from far away.
“Yes, well, once we began to wash it out, your mane began to deepen, and well….”
Luna stared at the unrecognizable pony staring back at her from the mirror. She looked mostly like a drowned rat, but the vibrant color to her coat, and the way her main looked like a void full of stars…
It was amazing.
“Th-that’s me?” she asked, feeling foalish.
“Oh, yes, darling! You are beautiful!”
Luna shook her head at the pony in the mirror. It shook her head back at her.
“Oh my oh my,” one of the spa ponies gasped. “I’m so glad we got to see this. You know, we don’t usually give this much… er… intensive attention to anypony, but we were told you needed something a little extra. I’m so glad we did. This is so wonderful!”
The pair helped Luna out of the bath.
“Here you go, luv,” one of the ponies said, offering a robe. “Twilight is already in the sauna. It’s just through those doors, second room on the left.”
“I shouldn’t dry first?” Luna asked.
“Oh, no, dear, I shouldn’t bother. Take a towel for your hair, but don’t worry about anything else. You’ll be drenched in no time once you get in there. Now, please excuse us. We mustn't neglect our other patrons.”
She understood what they meant once she entered the sauna. Heat and humidity like a blistering summer’s day washed over her as she opened the door to see Twilight seated in a similar robe, sweat pouring off of her.
“LUNA!” Twilight’s eyes widened in surprise as she looked at the freshly-bathed mare, “Your coat! Your… your mane!”
Luna dropped her head and pawed the floor, unable to tell if it was the head from the sauna or her cheeks coloring which made her face feel so hot. Attention still did not sit well with her.
“Once they washed out the regolith, it… it looked like this.”
“Luna…” Twilight breathed. “Luna, it’s beautiful.”
Luna walked to sit next to Twilight, feeling so self-conscious she nearly forgot how to walk.
“Thou thinkest so?” she asked.
“May I?” she asked.
Luna hesitated, unsure what Twilight was asking, before feeling silly. Twilight had her trust, after all.
Twilight reached out and stroked Luna’s mane, feeling the strands of hair and experimenting with the starry effect.
Luna surprised herself by leaning into the contact a bit. Her eyelids drooped, and she hummed quietly to herself. She’d forgotten how pleasant such simple physical contact could be. She simply sat and enjoyed the sensation as Twilight played with her hair.
“It’s so wonderful. It looks like you could just stick your hoof in and touch the stars, but all I feel is hair.”
“Mmm hmm,” hummed Luna.
“So…. why hadn’t you bathed in so long?”
“No soap on the Moon,” Luna said, trying to remain focused on the sensation of the hoof in her mane. “No water either.”
“I see. Well, I’m glad you have now. Your mane is so lovely.”
Twilight retracted her hoof.
“I think Rarity and Fluttershy should be here soon. You might want to wrap up your mane to attract less attention. I’d like to get Fluttershy comfortable talking to you before she even realizes who you are.”
Luna felt a pang of regret for the loss of contact. It was such a casually intimate thing, the kind Luna hadn’t realized she was missing until now.
She tapped her magic to wrap the towel around her mane.
As luck would have it, it was just then that the door opened and Rarity and Fluttershy entered.
“Ah, there you are, Twilight,” Rarity exclaimed. “And here I thought we were early.”
“Oh, no,” Twilight assured them, “We came very early. Lulu here needed some… well… extra care.”
“Lulu is it?” Rarity asked. “Pleasure to meet you, darling. Any friend of Twilight’s.”
Lulu? Luna shot Twilight a look. It was returned with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
Lulu it was then.
“The pleasure is mine,” she assured her. “I’ve heard so much about you and your wonderful dresses.”
“Oh. Well, modesty forbids me from bragging, but I do like to think I have a certain flair. What do you do, darling?”
“Ah,” Luna hesitated. “I’m… in the middle of rediscovering myself. At the moment I don’t do much of anything.”
“Oh, no!” gasped Fluttershy. “What happened? I-I mean ever since I got my cutie mark, I’ve never questioned what I’m supposed to do.”
“Oh, it’s not like that,” Luna assure her. “I know what I’m good at, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it anymore. It’s just going to take time to figure things out.”
Fluttershy smiled at her.
“I hope things work out for you,” she said. “Do you have family to help you?”
“My sister, Tia, has been very supportive. She’s how I met Twilight.”
“Oh?” Rarity chimed in. “Have we met her?”
“I’m sure you’d recognize her if you saw her,” Luna assured.
“Where are you from, dear,” Rarity asked. “I’m sure I haven’t seen you around Ponyville.”
“I suppose I’m technically from Canterlot, though I don’t really feel like I’m from anywhere. I was… sick. Hospitalized, I guess you’d say, for a long time.”
Luna found herself enjoying the subterfuge as she settled into the conversation. Both Rarity and Fluttershy were polite and kind. Rarity possessed a very lady-like gift for casual conversation. Fluttershy, for her part, did much less talking, but as she became more comfortable with Luna’s presence, her face became more open, more cheerful, more willing to smile. She added her own thoughts to the conversation in a subtle manner.
“...and that was the absolute last time I let Tia cook for me,” Luna finished.
The laughter which ensued was like the musical chiming of bells. It was wonderful. Luna felt like part of the group, a feeling she hadn’t experienced in she didn’t know how long. She never wanted it to end.
“Oh, I know just what you mean,” Rarity told her. “My sister Sweetie Belle is a doll, but don’t let her near a kitchen. In fact-”
She was interrupted by the door to the sauna opening.
“Pardon,” one of the spa ponies said, “but it is time for the massages. Right this way, ladies. Your Majesty.”
Two heads whipped ‘round to stare at Luna.
Regretfully she rose to her feet.
“I suppose the secret’s out,” she said, shaking the towel from her mane.
“P-p-p-p-p-princess Luna!” Rarity sputtered.
Fluttershy gave every indication of trying to become a turtle, pulling her head back into her robe.
“Please don’t,” Luna asked. “We were having such a good time. I was really enjoying myself for the first time in forever. Please don’t start to treat me differently now.”
“Oh…” Rarity wavered. “Well…”
“If it helps,” Luna offered, “you can continue to call me Lulu. Even if Twilight to forgot warn me.” She graced the unicorn with a pointed look. Twilight had the grace to look embarrassed.
“Oops.” Twilight blushed, and looked away.
Luna chuckled, and began to follow the patiently waiting spa ponies.
“So… um,” a quiet voice made her pause.
“So Princess Celestia really can’t bake?” Fluttershy asked.
“She loves cake, cookies, and all manner of pastries,” Luna told her, “but if you value your stomach, don’t ask her to make any.”
Fluttershy giggled. It was a tentative truce, but one Luna was willing to accept.
“No,” Luna told them. “Nightmare Moon was me. She was all my worst qualities combined.. My fear, my hate, my loneliness, my jealousy…. Does it surprise you that a princess can be jealous? My sister was always the stronger between us. She was always prettier, more beloved, more regal. Our roles are complimentary, but she always comes out on top.”
“You must be good at something she isn’t,” Fluttershy insisted.
“Luna, darling, isn’t that a bit harsh?” Rarity said, aghast.
“You misunderstand,” Luna clarified, “I’m good at lies. At Illusion. At night, when the shadows grow so long they merge, and the walls of reality weaken, there am I at my most powerful. When you can’t tell if you’re dreaming or awake, when the shadows have lives of their own, when your mind makes things real, that’s where I am.”
Luna stared through the ceiling, focused on nothing in particular, her mind wandering.
“It sounds scary,” Fluttershy said.
“It doesn’t have to be,” Luna told her. “It can be wonderful. All your greatest dreams coming true. All your fantasies made real before your eyes. It can be intoxicating. But it also sets me in direct opposition to my sister. The light of the Sun banishes illusion and reveals the truth.”
She looked back down to earth to see the other ponies staring at her, eyes full of wonder, apart from Rarity’s, whose eyes were still covered by cucumber slices.
“It’s just as well,” Luna told them. “I would be a very poor ruler. I don’t have the patient and orderly nature my sister does. I was always the passionate, fiery one. Did you know I used to be quite the prankster?”
“Oh, no,” cried Rarity. “I can only imagine what would happen if you, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie got together! Equestria would never be the same!”
Luna tensed at the sound of Pinkie’s name, but joined in the laughter of the others. She was having fun. Today, in the company of these special ponies, she could just be Luna, and feel like that was enough for once.
Luna stretched her back and rolled her shoulders, testing how relaxed her muscles were.
“This was lovely. Thank you,” she said to the spa ponies.
“Of course, your majesty. Don’t forget to condition your coat and mane to keep them shiny and healthy.”
“I won’t forget,” she said. She looked around the waiting area. “I assume my sister already sent you payment?” she asked.
The ponies nodded in response.
“I see. Well, I would like to give you something to show you my appreciation. Would you have a piece of parchment or paper?”
“Oh!” Twilight chirped, her eyes brightening. She trotted over to Luna.
Rarity and Fluttershy, curiosity evident in their eyes, followed suit.
“Here you are, Your Majesty,” one of the spa ponies said, offering a piece of blank paper.
Luna gripped the paper with her magic. Her horn glowed, and a gentle breeze began to waft around the room, and the air began to smell of ozone. All at once, the tension released, and the paper drifted down before them.
Now emblazoned on the sheet was the image from the Equestrian flag. Celestia’s portion looked like it was merely drawn in ink, but Luna’s… the portion depicting Luna breathed. It shimmered with magic, giving every indication that the princess and her Moon was chasing the Sun.
“Whoa,” Twilight gasped. That’s different than your royal mark.”
“This is a mark of Royal favor by the pony sisters. Should my sister be persuaded to come here, I’m sure she would complete it. As it is, it shows my personal favor to this establishment. Take it. Keep it safe, display it, or do whatever you will with it. This is my gift to you."
“Oh, thank you, Princess Luna!” the ponies exclaimed. “Please, come whenever you wish. We will always have a place for you.”
Luna bowed to them, before turning and leaving.
“That was much more enjoyable than I expected,” Luna told the three friends. “Thank you for spending that time with me.”
“Oh, you are most welcome, dear,” Rarity assured her. “I enjoyed myself as well.”
“I did too,” Fluttershy added. “Although it’s time I got back to my animals. It was nice seeing you, Luna. Goodbye.”
Luna watched Fluttershy trot off down the path. Luna frowned. She did have fun, but something about the timid pegasus was bothering her. It gnawed at her. It was tender like a splinter she couldn’t pull out.
Fluttershy ran the first time they met. She waited for no explanation, no hint of violence, no nothing. She merely ran from Luna. She ran from somepony who needed some kindness.
It galled Luna.
“Luna, if I might, would you-” Rarity began.
“Um, one moment, please,” Luna interrupted. “There is something I would like to take care of. I will be back in just a moment.”
Twilight looked at her, eyes full of questions.
“It will just take a moment, I promise.”
Luna leapt into the air, summoning shadow and color to blur her passage. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. This was cruel, almost evil, but she had to. She had to know.
Luna wished, as she always seemed to, that she was as wise as her sister. Celestia would find another way. Celestia would never put anypony through this. But Luna wasn’t as smart or wise as her sister. Luna was only Luna, and Luna was the Nightmare.
She landed on the path, watching Fluttershy trot towards her, unaware.
Slowly she wove the illusion. The canopy of trees sheltered her from the Sun, giving her enough darkness to give her an edge. Luna was powerful enough to make a sturdy illusion in full daylight, but she’d meant what she said before. The darkness was her ally. In the darkness your mind helped make things real. The line between dream and reality blurred.
Layer after layer of illusion was plied over her. It would unfold at her will.
All was ready as Fluttershy finally noticed her.
“L-Luna?” she asked uncertainly.
“Afraid of me again already, Fluttershy,” Luna asked.
“O-oh, w-well, I d-didn’t ex-expect-”
The shaded area darkened, and Luna grew almost imperceptibly. The effect on Fluttershy was apparent. She shrank back with a squeak.
“I am curious about something, Fluttershy. I’m curious how a timid pony like you can claim the Element of Kindness.”
Luna’s coat darkened. She grew slightly more, and her eyes changed, becoming crueler, mirroring Nightmare Moon’s.
“You are very good with creatures of the forest, and monsters that others find scary, but you avoid other ponies, don’t you? Don’t you?”
“Yes!” Fluttershy squeaked.
“You fear me, as well, don’t you? You are right to. I am Nightmare Moon, and I threatened to blot out the Sun, and reign over a world of darkness!”
Luna’s wings caught fire with darkness.
“And yet you aspire to be the embodiment of Kindness. Where is your kindness now? Does it only exist for those you love? Is not the true mark of kindness that it is offered to those who don’t deserve it? Is not true kindness an act of courage? What hope have you and your kindness against me, pony?”
Luna leaned down, bringing her face close to Fluttershy’s. Her mouth now smoked, and her teeth were cruel curved daggers.
Fluttershy shook violently, her eyes wide with terror.
“Show me your kindness now,” Luna snarled. “Prove to me your worth. I dare you.”
“Y-y-you’re right,” Fluttershy said. “I’m a weak p-p-p-pony, and I’m af-fraid most of the time. I was afraid of you in Twilight’s library, and I ran, and that wasn’t fair of me.
Fluttershy raised her head higher. Her voice still shook, as did the rest of her, but her eyes held determination.
“Everypony deserves kindness, not just the ones I like. I can’t promise I’ll always be kind like I should, but I promise I’ll try. Everypony deserves kindness, even you, Nightm…. Even you, Princess Luna.”
Those determined eyes stared back at her, defiant and sure.
Luna dropped her illusions. She returned to her normal size, and the area around her brightened, showing the warm day.
“So,” Luna said, “You passed the test I, myself, failed.”
Luna slumped, though whether from sorrow, guilt, or regret, she wasn’t sure.
“You are, indeed, the Element of Kindness. I’m sorry for putting you through this, Fluttershy. It was cruel of me. I find that I am not the kind pony I’d hoped.”
The color was returning to Fluttershy’s face, and her shivering all but stopped.
“I think Twilight was right about you,” she said. “You do need friends more than anything else right now. I’ll be your friend, Princess Luna.”
Luna shook her head.
“Waste not your kindness, nor your friendship on me, pony. I proved myself undeserving by this little display.” She turned and began the walk back to town.
The barest hint of rustled feathers betrayed Fluttershy’s movement before she appeared in Luna’s path.
“Didn’t you just tell me that everypony deserved kindness?” asked Fluttershy. “You are worth kindness, Luna, and you’re worth being friends with. You said in the spa that you were looking for yourself. I think you’re right. You’re a kind pony who’s gotten lost. You need friends to help you find yourself again. I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you look.”
Luna looked down at Fluttershy, who merely smiled back up at her. It was a kind, sweet smile.
Luna’s heart crumbled.
“If thou consenteth to be my friend, despite all my faults,” she rasped, choking back tears and emotion, “then I shall be thine. Come what may, I shall be thy friend until the Moon no longer rises.”
Luna leaned down and touched her nose to Fluttershy’s. Tears escaped her eyes despite her best efforts.
“Thou art truly kind for thy forgiveness of my inexcusable actions. I will make it up to thee. But for now, Rarity asked a favor, and I’d best not keep her waiting.”
“I understand. Goodbye Princess Luna.”
“Just ‘Luna’, Fluttershy. Until we meet again.”
Luna trotted down the road, only pausing once to look back and wave a wing to the retreating Fluttershy.
"Hey," Twilight called as Luna came back into view. "Is everything okay?"
"Yes," Luna replied. "I arranged a little test. Fluttershy passed. I failed."
"Worry not." Luna gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "I'll tell thee all about it after I give my sister a chance to be disappointed in me."
Twilight's eyes widened.
"It's okay," Luna assured, "she forgave me. Now, let's not keep Rarity waiting."
"Luna, dear, would you allow me to make you a gown?" Rarity asked. "I'm not looking for free publicity," she added hurriedly, "but I love plying my craft, and it would give me such a thrill to know you were wearing one of my dresses. Assuming you like it, of course."
"You're offering me a gift and sounding apologetic about it? Truly you are the Element of Generosity!"
Rarity graced them with a blush.
"I just didn't want you to think I had an ulterior motive," she said.
"I would be honored to accept the fruits of your labor."
“Wonderful!” cheered Rarity. She stalked toward Luna, a tape measure levitating in front of her, and a speculative look in her eye. “Let’s take some measurements, then. Shall we?”
Luna looked at determined unicorn with trepidation. One thought echoed in her mind.
What did I get myself into now?
Luna landed on the balcony, ready for the ritual she shared with her sister. It had been an eventful and trying day.
“Luna,” she heard her sister approach behind her. “Good, you’re here. I hope you had a good-”
Celestia’s words cut off.
“LUNA! Your coat! Your mane!”
Luna turned to face her sister, a shy smile on her face.
“Dost thou like it? It showed once all the regolith washed out.”
“Like it? Luna, it’s gorgeous! I take it your day at the spa was satisfactory, then.”
“It was an enlightening day.”
Luna’s tone did not escape Celestia.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Sun and Moon first,”
The pair directed their attention to their ritual.
Luna scrutinized her Moon critically. It was not her best work. The weariness of the day, the trepidation of her impending conversation with her sister, and the knowledge of what she put Fluttershy through all weighed on her.
It would do for tonight, but tomorrow she would do better.
“So, what’s bothering you?”
“After our time at the spa I had a… run-in with Fluttershy.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what possessed me.”
“What did you do?” Celestia’s voice became cold and flat.
“After she ran from me at Twilight’s library, I questioned how she could be the Element of Kindness. Thou knowest that Element always rejected me. I just didn’t understand how she could be so timid and still have the courage to show kindness.”
“Luna,” Celestia warned.
“I told Twilight that I’d given a test, and that Fluttershy had passed, and I’d failed. It was a glib statement, but the more I think about it, the more it rings true.”
“What. Did. You. Do.” Celestia’s voice was harsh and angry.
“I scared her. I cornered her, and scared her to the best of my ability. I demanded she prove herself worthy of the Element of Kindness.”
“She forgave me. She showed true courage, and proved I wasn’t worthy of the Element. I think we are now friends.”
“Luna, how could you?”
“I had to know. I had to understand. I understand now that I am not a kind pony. I never was.”
Celestia shook her head, her eyes sad.
“I must say, Luna, I am very disappointed.”
“And justly so, sister. I failed the test.”
“Luna, what am I going to do with you?”
Luna could only shake her head.
“I wish I knew.”
Luna stood in the forest, silent and still, and she watched.
“SO, FLUTTERSHY, THOU STILL THINKEST THEE OUR FRIEND?” Nightmare Moon boomed. “THAT WE ARE WORTHY OF THY KINDNESS?”
“Of course, Luna,” Fluttershy assured her.
“THEN COME, PROVE THY KINDNESS NOW!”
Fluttershy crept toward her, toward the Nightmare.
NO, Luna tried to shout. No, please! Don’t trust her! Don’t trust me!
No words would come out.
Fluttershy approached the Nightmare, unaware of the danger. The Nightmare glanced at Luna, a cruel glint in her eye, and a sneer on her face.
“COME, PONY. SHOW US THY CARE.”
The Nightmare sat and opened her forelegs, offering an embrace, one Fluttershy willingly accepted.
The Nightmare wrapped her legs around Fluttershy, and panic seized Fluttershy’s features. She began to struggle in the embrace.
Luna understood at once. The Nightmare was crushing her.
No, she pled. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this to Fluttershy.
“US?” asked the Nightmare. “THIS IS THY DOING. AFTER ALL, IS THIS NOT THE TEST OF THY DEVISING?”
Fluttershy’s struggles weakened. Her eyes became vacant. Luna called upon her power over dreams, trying with all her might to save her new friend.
“WE ARE THEE,” the Nightmare reminded. She began to laugh. Fluttershy’s body ceased moving. The laughter grew.
Then the Nightmare and Fluttershy vanished.
Luna looked down, knowing full well what to expect.
Fluttershy’s broken corpse was clutched in her own hooves.
Luna bolted upright in her bed. She wasn’t cold like last time. In fact, her mane was matted with sweat. Despite that, she was shivering, and her teeth chattered. Her body refused to obey her.
“Luna!” Celestia cried as she barreled through the door.
“S-s-s-s-s… d-d-d-d-d-d… nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh….” Luna’s tongue moved like it was swimming through molasses. Between that and her chattering teeth, all attempts at intelligent communication failed.
Celestia descended on her, wrapping her with forelegs and wings.
“Again?” she whispered. “Another dream?”
“Nuh-nuh-nightmare Muh-muh-muh-Moon,” Luna stammered. “She w-w-was….”
Celestia said nothing, but pulled Luna closer, sitting on her bed and rocking her gently.
Luna felt like a yearling being soothed by her mother. Despite the meager difference in their respective ages, it did comfort Luna. Celestia was the closest thing to a mother she could remember. Little by little, the shivering receded.
“It was Nightmare Moon both times,” she said her voice quivering. “Last time she merely confronted me. This time she crushed Fluttershy in front of me. She told me I was the one doing it, and I knew it was true. Both times I was powerless over the dream.”
Celestia continued to rock her.
“Whatever is happening, we’ll get through it. Even if she comes back, it will be okay.”
“H-how c-canst thou say that?” Luna demanded.
“Nightmare Moon was defeated by me wielding the elements. She was defeated again by Twilight and her friends with those same elements. Both times we were missing something powerful and important. Something we have now. Something that tips the scales even more in our favor.”
“You, of course, my dearest sister. We have you, my love.”
Luna buried her face in Celestia’s chest, tears beginning to stream silently down her cheeks.
“I hope thou art right,” she whispered through the tears. “I’m afraid of her. Of her returning. Of her taking control. Of the madness she represents.”
“I love you, Luna, and I’ll never give up on you. I think you’ll find your new friends feel the same way.”
Luna could form no response. She could only weep against Celestia’s chest, grateful for once that Celestia was the strong one. The kind one. The beautiful, noble, regal one. It let Luna place all her trust in her unconditionally, sure that whatever came, she could trust in her sister to make things better.