Luna walked through the Dreaming on her now nightly patrol. The more frequently she patrolled the less work it became, both because her strength was increasing back to her old levels, and also because fewer bad dreams arose. Luna supposed it was like gardening. She'd spent enough time cutting back the brush and trimming the overgrowth, and now that it was done she only had to pull the occasional weed.
This was not to say that she ended every nigh- bad dream, she didn't. Bad dreams could teach, and sometimes they held important lessons. Take, for instance, the rather pudgy pony who was gorging himself only to find that everything he ate was full of insects. It gave the definite sense of the dangers of gluttony, even if the specifics were a bit strange. Contrast that to the pegasus who was trapped in a coffin, hysterically beating her hooves against the lid, mind nearly broken with claustrophobia. She wasn't being taught anything. That was more like torture. There was no lesson, only terror. Terror was bad. Terror rippled through The Dreaming. Terror could attract things.
Terror was the weed, and Luna took her role as gardener seriously. It was the one thing she knew she could do that Celestia couldn't.
Of course, on the other hoof, she'd been gone a thousand years without anything preying on the ponies in her absence, so perhaps her guardianship was less important that she supposed.
Luna shook her head. Even if it wasn't important she couldn't stop. Something instinctual drove her with primal urgency.
Luna felt a ripple. Something was beginning. It was small yet, but growing. The ripples would become waves if Luna did nothing. She turned into the ripple and pushed toward the center.
Luna stepped into the dream, and what she saw shocked her.
The pink party pony sat alone in a pool of light, her coat lacking its usual vibrancy. It was pale, as though it had faded in the Sun, and her mane and tail drooped straight and limp.
"They're all gone," she whimpered. "They aren't my friends anymore."
Luna's words were interrupted by laughter and a flash of rainbow colors which Luna caught from the corner of her eye. Pinkie turned, but the colors vanished out of the light as quickly as it had arrived.
"Pinkie, you're so random!" a voice echoed in the darkness.
Pinkie ran in the direction the color had come from. The light remained fixed on her, giving the impression she was running in place.
"Okay, so I'm random. You say that because you're my friend, right?"
An all too unkind laugh sounded from behind Pinkie.
"Sure, Pinkie. Sure."
The barest hint of white flickered beside Pinkie before disappearing into the gloom.
"Pinkie, darling, your parties are so... gauche."
Pinkie turned and sprinted in that direction. Luna realized she really wasn't moving, at least not with respect to Luna.
"But you have fun, right? You always tell me how much fun you have!"
"Of course," the sarcastic reply came. "Fun. Overly loud music, sickeningly sweet pastries, and garish decorations. How could I not have fun?"
A flash of pink and yellow came and went. Pinkie skid to a halt, trying to follow the new cue.
"No," a whisper said. "Too loud. Too much. No more, please."
"But I'd never do that to you!" wailed Pinkie. "You're my friend! Come back, please!"
Enough was enough.
"Pinkie Pie! This is a dream. It's not real."
"L-Luna?" a frighteningly timid Pinkie asked. "A-are you going to leave me too?
Luna opened her mouth to reply, but no words would come forth.
She cleared her throat and tried again.
"This isn't real, Pinkie Pie. This is a dream. You can face your fears here and bring them back if you want. You just need to believe."
"This isn't real?" Pinkie asked. "Are you real?"
"Yes, Pinkie Pie. I am real."
"Then is she real too?" Pinkie asked, pointing behind Luna.
Luna turned, confused. There, in the shadows, was the Nightmare.
Luna felt her blood turn to ice water. Her hooves all went numb.
"N-no," Luna stammered. "Y-you can't be here."
"PINKIE PIE," the nightmare boomed, "THOU ARE A FOALISH MARE. IF PARTIES ARE ALL THOU ART, THEN WHAT ART THOU WHEN THE PARTIES END? THOU ART NOTHING, PINKIE PIE. NOTHING TO THY SUPPOSED FRIENDS, NOTHING TO ANYPONY."
It was Pinkie's dream. It was Pinkie's Nightmare. The realization eased some of Luna's terror, but the feeling that the Nightmare was chasing her through The Dreaming did not cease. First she appeared in her own dreams, then Fluttershy's, now this. It was too much.
"You're scared of her," Pinkie said from beside Luna. It was not a question. Pinkie's coat was a bit more vibrant, and her hair a little springier, though still mostly straight.
"More than anything in the world."
"Well, Grandma Pie always taught me to laugh at what I'm scared of."
"How do I laugh in the face of that?" demanded Luna. "Besides, she is madness, and she laughs. If I allow myself to.... What I mean is, can she...."
"Just because she laughs doesn't mean laughter is bad," Pinkie said, "or that it means you're going mad, or that she can use it to control you. Everypony needs to laugh. You gotta let go sometime. I think we just need to give you something to laugh about."
Luna stared at the Nightmare, who glared back at her malevolently.
"What could I possibly laugh about?"
"Well," Pinkie mused, "what if we gave Nightmare Moon a red clown nose?"
"A red clown... nose...?"
Immediately, a bulbous red nose appeared at the end of the Nightmare's snout.
The Nightmare reared back.
"WHAT INANITY IS THIS?"
"OH! OH!" cried Pinkie, "I betcha it squeaks!"
Pinkie zipped over to the Nightmare and hopped into the air, hovering in place before the Nightmare's face just long enough to extend a hoof and boop the red nose.
Pinkie zoomed back to beside Luna.
Luna gaped at the Nightmare. It was inane. It was ridiculous. It was insane.
"HOW DAREST THOU!"
The Nightmare reached up to probe the red nose.
"OOH!" Luna looked down to see the now curly coiffed pink pony pronking happily in place. "We should totally give her floppy clown shoes!"
Luna looked back to see the Nightmare's hooves were now encased in floppy shoes.
The Nightmare looked in horror at the hoof she had been touching her nose with only moments before. The shoe sagged and flopped back and forth on the end of her foreleg.
"THOU WILT PAY FOR THY INSOLENCE!"
The Nightmare stomped forward two paces before realizing the obvious; that floppy clown shoes were detrimental to the forward locomotion of hooved creatures. She stumbled over the shoes as they flopped this way and that, and tripped forward, face-planting into the ground.
"THIS INDIGNITY SHALL NOT STAND!" raged the Nightmare.
"Nor shall you, apparently."
Luna wasn't even aware she was speaking.
"Oh, that was a good one," Pinkie giggled.
"GRRR... GET THESE WRETCHED THINGS OFF ME!"
Pinkie began laughing.
Luna stared at the Nightmare flailing on the ground. She felt a corner of her mouth curl.
The Nightmare managed to scramble to her hooves, only to pitch forward again as one of the shoes folded itself under her hoof. She landed chin first on the ground.
"CONFOUND THESE INFERNAL SHOES!"
Luna felt a chuckle begin to bubble up inside her.
The Nightmare rolled onto her back and struggled with the shoes, trying to remove them. They flapped back and forth as she waved her legs in the air in her attempt to rid herself of them.
The chuckle Luna was holding back burst forth. Almost immediately it became a laugh. The laugh grew. The laugh grew some more. Soon Luna was on her haunches, gripping her sides as the laughter spilled forth without apparent end. Luna couldn't help it. It was too absurd.
Luna fell to the ground, tears filling her eyes. She gasped for breath between guffaws, desperate for air. Her sides hurt. She couldn't breathe. It was joyous.
Luna rolled back and forth on her back, kicking her rear legs and cackling like a madpony.
"I knew it was in there somewhere," Pinkie said happily.
Eventually Luna wore herself out from the laughter and simply lied there, gasping for breath. It occurred to Luna that that was the first time she'd really laughed since her return.
She blinked a few times to clear her eyes and looked around. The Nightmare was nowhere to be seen.
"Gee, Luna, you must have really needed that."
"I suppose I did," Luna replied. She rolled to her hooves and stood. Her sides ached. "I was supposed to be helping you," she said.
"Silly filly," Pinkie said, "you did! I was sad and you came and told me this was a dream and let me know I wasn't alone! Then I noticed I could help you, too. That's what friends do; they help each other."
"Yes," Luna said, "they do, don't they? And I am thy friend."
"Thank you for reminding me how to laugh, Pinkie Pie."
"That was super duper fun! I'm totally going to invite you to the next party!"
"I look forward to it. For now, however, I should take my leave."
"Aw, don't leave yet," Pinkie pleaded. "Now that I know this is a dream we can do all sorts of super awesome stuff! Besides, we haven't talked about you talking to a doctor yet."
"I have not yet. We shall speak of it another time. For now I must leave thee."
"Okie Dokie, Loki!"
Luna stepped out of Pinkie's dream before she could follow up on her question. Perhaps Luna had patrolled enough of the Dreaming for one night.
"SO, PINKIE PIE, THOU THINKEST TO DEFEAT NIGHTMARE MOON WITH LAUGHTER?"
"Sometimes laughing helps you face what you're afraid of, that's all."
"AND THOU ART THE ELEMENT OF LAUGHTER."
"Of course! I love making ponies laugh and making sure everypony is having a good time! That's why I'm Ponyville's number one party planner."
"THEN I GRANT THEE OUR GIFT OF LAUGHTER."
"Silly Luna, I already know how to laugh. I reminded you, remember?"
"THIS IS OUR LAUGHTER."
Pinkie Pie began to chuckle.
"THIS IS THE LAUGHTER OF MADNESS."
The chuckle became a laugh.
"THIS IS THE LAUGHTER OF HOPELESSNESS AND DESPAIR. WHEN ALL IS RUIN, AND ALL THOU CANST DO IS LAUGH AT THE SHEER AWFULNESS OF IT ALL. THAT IS OUR LAUGHTER. THAT IS OUR GIFT TO YOU. DOST THOU ACCEPT OUR GIFT?"
Pinkie laughed as though possessed. Her eyes were wide with horror, but the laughter continued to pour out. She pawed her face with her hooves, as though questioning it still belonged to her.
"ACCEPT OUR MADNESS, PINKIE PIE. ACCEPT OUR GIFT TO THEE."
Pinkie Pie fell to the ground. She twitched on the ground, her eyes full of despair. Luna imagined a living marionette realizing her strings were cut, and understanding she would never be whole again.
Pinkie's eyes went vacant, but still the mad laughter poured out of her.
Luna stared in horror at the sight before her. She opened her mouth to scream, but all that came out was laughter.
Luna flew up to her perch, but to her surprise it was already occupied by a young lavender unicorn.
Luna landed gently on the balcony, aware of the role reversal.
Twilight watched the Moon.
"I love astronomy," she said. "I even have a telescope in my bedroom at the library. The movement of the Moon and stars fascinates me. But I don't think I appreciate enough just how beautiful it all is."
Luna turned to look at the night sky from her current spot on the balcony.
"Indeed. The Moon and stars are quite lovely from here. It is easy to forget the Moon is a barren, lifeless rock. I've often found it true that the idea of something is usually better than the actual thing itself. Too much knowledge of something can be detrimental to its enjoyment."
She turned back to face Twilight.
Twilight looked down at Luna.
"Is the idea of me better than the real me?" Twilight asked.
"Not in the slightest. But what about thee, Twilight? Hast thou found thy idea of a princess better than the princess in fact?"
"I admit you're much different than I expected you to be when we first met, and you're different from Princess Celestia." Twilight paused and cocked her head slightly. "I like the real you better."
"Better than my sister?"
"Better than the 'you' I expected. You are a real pony. Somepony with thoughts and feelings. Somepony I can share things with. I wouldn't trade the real you for anything."
Luna turned back to the Moon, hoping her blush didn't show as she felt her face heat.
She turned back to Twilight.
"How didst thou get up there, Twilight?"
"I just used my teleport," she replied. "I'd have done it before, but well... I didn't think about it. I know slate can be slippery, so I took precautions. I was thinking about how to get a better grip on the roof tiles, and at first I thought 'bubblegum', but I realized I'd be leaving gum everywhere, and it would be a pain to get it off my hooves. So then I tried to think about other things that would give me good grip... and... well... I was talking to Pinkie Pie, and she was getting ready for a party... and..."
Luna realized Twilight's hooves were each different colored.
"Twilight, don't tell me those are-"
"Balloons. I put balloons on my hooves. I had to cut the narrow ends off, of course, but the rubber from the balloons gives me a better coefficient of friction to the slate roof tiles. I was skeptical at first, but-"
Luna couldn't contain her laughter any longer. She reared back and let out a full, hearty laugh.
Luna spread her wings and leapt into the air, swooping around and scooping Twilight into an embrace from behind before dropping herself onto the roof.
"Twilight, my sister once called thee a treasure, and a treasure thou art."
Twilight ducked her head.
"You think the balloons are silly, don't you?"
"They are a bit silly," Luna agreed, "but they are also ingenious. One does not invalidate the other. Perhaps if thou hadst used four of the same color?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."
"And that is one of the many ways in which thou art an absolute treasure."
Twilight snuggled back into Luna's embrace, savoring the contact and the shared body heat in the exposed perch she found herself on. Luna, for her part, wrapped her wings around them, protecting Twilight from the worst of the wind.
Twilight looked to the sky, searching the stars.
"There's Sleipnir the Warrior," she said, gesturing with her head.
"Indeed. A fine constellation. And there is Rolan the Wise to the east."
Twilight looked for the signature line of stars which formed Rolan's spine.
"Ah. There he is."
Luna craned her neck.
"That means.... Ah. There, between them. Binky."
"Wait, there's a constellation called 'Binky'?"
"Binky the Dark. Hast thou not heard of him?"
Twilight twisted her neck to give Luna a skeptical eye.
"You're pulling my hind leg."
"I do not. Binky the Dark was an honored figure long ago. He is a psychopomp."
"Now I know you're making this up. Okay, I’ll bite, what's a psychopomp?"
"A psychopomp is a guide for the departed. Binky escorts their souls to whatever lies beyond."
Twilight shivered despite the warmth of Luna's wings.
"That's a bit morbid."
"Not at all," assured Luna. "I've always seen hope in Binky. It was always said he was kind and caring, so that in our loneliest hour we might not be truly alone. That there might be somepony there to keep us company even in the end. It is all lies, of course, but more pleasant to believe than the alternative."
"You don't really believe that, do you?"
"What proof do we have of what comes after? None. There is no proof. There is no fact. There is only faith. Once I thought that faith was enough. After a millennium of exile, however, I find it hard to have faith in anything."
"You have faith in me, don't you?" Twilight asked softly.
Luna nuzzled Twilight's head.
"I trust thee, but it was trust earned slowly and painfully. It was tested and proven sound over and over again. Faith isn't blind, but it isn't knowing either. It is belief in the absence of the provable."
"You talk like faith is bad."
"Then I speak wrongly. Faith is not bad. It's a life raft in the sea of the unknowable. It's simply... difficult for me now."
Luna raised her head back to the night sky.
"I hope Binky exists. I hope for the sake of the friends and loves I've lost. I hope he is as kind as they say, and that in their final moments they were not alone."
Luna rested her nose on Twilight's head, and squeezed the smaller mare even tighter for a moment before returning her eyes to the sky.
She blinked away tears that kept threatening to collect in her eyes.
"There. There's Bill the Stout."
"Oh, now you are messing with me. There's no way there's a constellation called 'Bill the Stout'.
"I do no such thing. There," Luna pointed a hoof. "See how those six stars up from Sleipnir form a bowl? That is his belly."
Twilight stared into the sky.
"Oh, I do see that! Wow, he must really be... um... stout."
"Indeed, but hold that not against him. His tale is one of cleverness and loyalty."
"More clever than Rolan?"
"Rolan is wise. Bill is clever. Wisdom is of the heart, where cleverness is of the mind. The clever seek to solve where the wise seek to understand."
"Hmmm.... Oh, there's Arion the Swift rising."
"Very good, Twilight. I'd not have expected the story of Arion to have endured to this age."
"I don't really know the story, I just recognize the stars."
"The constellations used to be a way to keep the stories alive. Strange that the constellations would survive after the stories have been forgotten."
"W-would you tell me the story?" Twilight asked softly.
"I.... It's been so long since I've recounted the tale. I'm not sure I...."
Luna closed her eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the cool night air fill her lungs. She exhaled slowly, trying to slow her suddenly racing heart and clear her mind.
"Arion was the foal of Poseidon of the Sea and either Demeter of the Harvest, or Gaia of the Earth, depending on the tale. Arion was an earth pony, but blessed with a swiftness none could match, not even the fastest pegasus. His story truly began, however, the day he met King Adrastus of Argos."
Luna paused, taking another breath and trying to reframe her mind. It was one thing to speak of ponies and places long forgotten, but it was another to weave a story. Once, Luna had been known for her ability to tell stories. They used to be events that ponies would flock to. As the Princess of Night and Dreams and Illusion, her flair for creating a tapestry of pictures in the minds of those who listened was known far and wide.
Now, however, a millennium later, with an audience of one, Luna had never been more nervous before starting a story.
Luna closed her eyes, trying to see the story in her mind.
"It was fall when Arion met Adrastus. The air was cool and crisp, and the leaves had nearly finished falling from the trees..."
Luna wove the tale of Arion the Swift until late into the night, and when she'd finished, she realized Twilight was asleep in her forelegs. Luna smiled down at the sleeping unicorn, and simply sat for a while before carrying Twilight to her room.
There was no answer at the door.
Luna immediately began to regret not sending Twilight a letter to see if she would be around. The fact that she hadn't up to this point now seemed like unnecessary risks which had now caught up with her.
The library was dark. Either she was asleep, which was unlikely considering it was still relatively early, or she was out.
Luna knocked on the door once more just to be certain.
Silence was her response.
Luna turned and looked out into the streets of Ponyville feeling rather foalish. It was a pleasant enough evening. Here on the ground it was refreshingly cool without being cold yet, and the sky was clear, showing the tapestry of stars above them.
Unfortunately it seemed most ponies did not share her pleasure in the sea of stars. There were still a few ponies out finishing up their errands, but for the most part the streets were deserted. While Luna had heard certain clubs did brisk business after dark, it did little to appease her. It seemed that they were still hiding from the beautiful night, enclosed in their windowless hives.
Some things, it seemed, never changed.
In a brief fit of frustration, Luna kicked with her hind leg, shaking the library on its foundation.
Luna looked up just in time to see several colored orbs just before they impacted her face.
The orbs burst, dowsing Luna in tepid water.
Luna ducked her head, blinking her eyes to clear the water from them. Something light impacted her head, impaling itself on her horn.
Luna looked up again. Something else was falling. This last item she managed to catch in her magic. It turned out to be a blue pegasus with a rainbow mane.
"Oh. Princess Luna. Heheh... hee hee hahahahahahaha!"
The pegasus rocked in laughter, seeing the drenched Luna.
Luna let go with her magic.
"OOF!" complained the pegasus.
"So, Rainbow Dash, I have you to thank for my current state?"
Rainbow Dash picked herself up from the ground, rubbing her rear end.
"Ya didn't hafta drop-*snrk*"
Rainbow brought her hooves to her muzzle, trying to stifle another bout of laughter.
Luna sat with a sigh, and probed her horn. She pulled away the object stuck there. It was a wicker basket, which had assumedly once held the water balloons which struck Luna.
Luna sighed again. Tonight was not starting well.
"What's the matter, Princess Luna? Can't take a jo-"
"Luna," she interrupted.
"Simply 'Luna' will do. I have no need to be constantly reminded of my failure as a princess."
Luna shook what water she could from her head and mane.
"I suppose there's an explanation for my being accosted."
"Huh? Oh. Today was me and Pinkie's prank day. After dinner I realized I had some water balloons left, and I was camping out in the tree waiting for a chance to surprise somepony, and I kinda... fell asleep. Sorta."
"Hey, you're the one who shook the tree. Don't blame this on me!"
"Would you happen to know where Twilight is?" Luna asked.
"She went to listen to some egghead talk in Manehatten. She didn't tell you?"
She might have, Luna admitted to herself. Luna could have easily forgot. It seemed so easy to forget things these days.
"You and Pinkie have a prank day?"
"Yeah. Once a week. We try to mix up the day. Ya gotta keep 'em guessing, y'know?"
"True. A good prank breaks the mundanity. It must never become routine or expected."
Rainbow Dash gave Luna a skeptical look.
"Don't tell me you've pranked ponies," she said.
"Indeed. I was quite the consummate prankster once upon a time. My antics were the stuff of legend."
"No way. Nuh-uh. I don't believe you could possibly be a prankster."
"As you wish."
Luna smothered an urge to smirk as she saw the frustration and speculation war in Rainbow Dash's eyes.
"No way. You don't get to leave it like that. If you were such a prankster, prove it!"
"It was a long time ago, Rainbow Dash. That was before your great, great, great, great grandparents were foals."
"I knew it! You're just full of hot air."
"You won't goad me either, Rainbow Dash. Any pride you might have injured was left on the Moon."
"Yeah, yeah. I should have known you're all talk. Just like that thing with Flutters, you talk a good game, but if somepony challenges you, you fold like a deck of cards."
Luna surprised herself by getting irked at this.
"I have nothing to prove to you, Rainbow Dash!" she said more forcefully than she'd intended.
"I think you do."
Luna and Rainbow Dash glared at each other. The moment drew out, neither one willing to give an inch.
"Very well," Luna submitted.
"Alright!" Rainbow Dash crowed.
"Rainbow Dash, I am about to teach you a very important lesson."
"Never get into a prank war against somepony with magic. You will lose. Now, let us go find our first victim."
"You sure this will work?" Rainbow asked skeptically. "I mean it's just a scarecrow with a jack-o'-lantern for a head."
"Quite sure. In the gloom, under the shadows, the mind will make it live. Panic will make it horrific."
Luna carefully lowered a curtain over the figure, making sure it covered its gruesome visage, but would not snag when pulled away.
"Yeah, okay, so we knock on the door, he comes out, we pull the sheet, he yells and runs back inside. That doesn't seem all that awesome."
Luna stepped back to survey her handiwork.
"You may change your mind once we use this," she said, holding up a small piece of quartz they'd gotten from Rarity.
"Okay, I give. What's that for?"
"I put a spell on it. The quartz is low quality, so it might fire two or three times, but it should be enough."
"Just pull the curtain after I get this on the ground behind him. Ready?"
Rainbow Dash grabbed a rope tied to a corner of the curtain and flew into the air.
Luna knocked on the door and stepped back into the shadows.
The door opened.
Luna hastily levitated the crystal behind the pony and dropped it to the ground.
"Hello?" he asked.
Rainbow Dash pulled the rope, revealing the straw-filled monster.
The pony jumped back before turning to run back into his house.
There was a flash.
The pony emerged back out of the house at a run.
"AAAAH!" he screamed, seeing the monster again in front of him. He turned, ears back and head down, and ran back through his door.
There was another flash.
Again the pony emerged from his house. This time he almost collided with the scarecrow.
Sliding on his hooves, he turned and ran once more into his house, this time slamming the door behind him.
Lights began to appear in the surrounding houses as ponies emerged to investigate the commotion.
"Quickly! Drop the curtain!" hissed Luna.
Rainbow Dash dropped the rope, and the scarecrow was once again obscured.
Luna grabbed it with her magic and pulled it into the shadows with her.
A blue figure dropped to the ground beside her.
"OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!" she whispered excitedly. "That was so awesome! How did you do that?"
"The quartz held a modified teleport spell. It turned him around every time he walked over it."
Rainbow snickered in the darkness.
Luna watched carefully as the curious began to lose interest and went back into their homes.
"I think we are safe," Luna said.
Carefully she crept to the door of the last victim and slipped a token into his mail slot.
Satisfied, she snuck away, Scarecrow and Rainbow Dash in tow.
"You've been doing that all night. What are those?" Rainbow asked.
"They are tax exemptions. My sister and I often used them as rewards for service in the past. I expect the practice has fallen out of use?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged.
"Pity. I will make sure they are honored. Some of my pranks can be... harrowing. This is my way of balancing accounts."
“What about that paper thingy you gave the spa sisters?”
Luna raised an eyebrow at Rainbow Dash.
“I hear things.”
“Mmm,” Luna grunted. “That was a Royal Favor. It was a mark of service to the Sisters. The chit is more… vulgar. It is money, plain and simple. It is also a single use item. Before I left, the marks of favor my sister and I gave were often passed down from parent to child or remained with a business until its closing.”
The pair turned onto the road out of Ponyville and out to Sweet Apple Acres.
Rainbow paused to look at the pilfered scarecrow.
"I don't suppose Applejack would really miss you, would she?"
Rainbow pulled the pumpkin from the scarecrow's neck and stared into its face.
"I mean, one less scarecrow won't make that much of a difference, right? 'Cause you and me, kid, we could go places."
"If it means that much to you, I could always get you one for hearth's warming," Luna told the pegasus.
"Heh. That'd be awesome."
Rainbow sighed and tossed the pumpkin off to the side of the road.
"Eh, we'd better take you back with your real head."
"STOP RIGHT THERE!" somepony shouted, running down the road.
Luna hastily stepped back into the shadows, pulling them around her and obscuring her features.
"I've got you now, you delinquent!" the newcomer said as she approached. "You're not going to get away with those stunts you pulled tonight. I have half a mind to call the Royal Guard!"
"Hey," Rainbow cried, "cool it. We were just having a little fun. Nopony got hurt."
"We'll see what the Guard has to say about your 'fun'," the pony snarled, grabbing Rainbow Dash.
"Please unhoof my companion," Luna said.
"Two of you, eh?" the pony said, rounding to face Luna and wrenching Rainbow to the ground by a foreleg. "The Guard can take both of you."
Luna let go of the shadows and stepped into the relative brightness of the Moonlight.
"If you think that's necessary," she said. "But as my companion said, nopony got hurt, and those who received the pranks were compensated."
"Luna," Luna supplied helpfully. "Indeed, I am. If you wish to call the Royal Guard, that is your right, however I believe we can resolve this without their intervention."
"N-n-no... No, that's okay. I... I didn't..." The pony paled and backed away slowly.
"If any of the victims of this evening's frivolities feel then have not been sufficiently recompensed, I will make amends in whatever way they feel appropriate."
"N-no, please! I... I didn't mean it!"
"Didn't mean what?" Luna asked, confused. "Didn't mean to care about what happened to your neighbors? I find no fault in that."
"Please don't hurt me!" she whined.
"Peace, pony. I've made no threat against you."
The pony backed up further, her legs shaking so badly Luna was surprised she managed to remain upright.
Luna sighed, feeling the blackness welling up inside her.
"Perhaps the scarecrow wasn't necessary."
The nobles and staff were nervous around her. That, at least, she was used to. Terror? Terror was still treacherous terrain she struggled to navigate.
Luna shrank back into herself, wishing she'd not come to Ponyville.
"HEY," Rainbow Dash interrupted, putting herself between the pony and Luna. "You leave Luna alone. I'm the one who convinced her to go pranking. She's a good pony. She helped Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie with nightmares they'd been having, and I heard other ponies had the same thing happen even if they didn't know it was her. So, you leave her alone. She's looking out for ponies, not going around scaring them. Uh, you know, other than tonight... so… so lay off!"
Luna watched as fear and anger warred on the pony's face. Luna remained quiet. The mere act of speaking seemed like it would only make matters worse.
"Fine!" the pony exclaimed finally. "I... I.... Just... FINE!"
She turned and stomped off on wobbly legs.
Luna watched her leave, making a mental note to watch her dreams. Perhaps she could yet make amends.
She turned back to Rainbow Dash.
"Thank you for your words of support."
"Yeah, yeah. Let's just get this back to Applejack. It's getting late, and I've got weather duty in the morning."
Luna lifted the headless scarecrow with her magic, and the pair trotted off down the road.
Silence stretched out between them for a time.
"So," Luna said, the silence becoming too much, "you knew of Fluttershy's and Pinkie Pie's dreams."
"Well duh," Rainbow responded. "We're friends. We tell each other things."
"And you heard about my other... excursions."
"Yeah, I hear things. Ponies talk to The Dash, and... and they don't always look up when they're gossiping."
The pair walked a bit further.
Rainbow stopped and rounded on Luna.
"Look, I don't know what went on between you and Flutters, but I know you scared her, and I don't like it."
Rainbow Dash sat. Her shoulders and face relaxed, and her eyes went distant.
"I also know she forgave you, and since then she's been trying harder to get out more, which is good. I was getting worried about her for a while there. So, whatever happened seems like it was good for her."
Rainbow's eyes focused sharply on Luna.
"Don't for a minute think that gets you off the hook."
Her eyes softened.
"Look, I don't get you... but I don't really get Twilight or Rarity either, and nopony gets Pinkie... so... I meant what I said. If you're not a good pony, you're trying to be. What I'm trying to say is... friends?"
Rainbow Dash extended a hoof and looked at Luna expectantly.
Luna raised an eyebrow.
"Hoof bump. You're supposed to bump my hoof with yours."
Luna stepped forward and tapped Rainbow's hoof with her own.
"That's what I'm talkin' about. Now, let's get this stuff back."
"I can manage on my own if thou likest," Luna offered. "Thou needest thy rest for thy morning duty."
"Nah," Rainbow said. "It won't be the first time I've gone to work without sleep. Besides, I'd never leave a friend hangin'."
"Thou hast my oath. Neither shall I."