Twilight reached the balcony which had become so familiar through her time with Luna. Today, however, it held something new, something disturbing.
"No, I'm not saying you're overreacting, but you need to calm down so we can talk about this!"
Princess Celestia sat on the roof of the tower, a rock in the midst of a raging storm.
Luna was the storm.
"This will not be fixed with words, sister, and perhaps if thou were less calm, I might believe thou were taking this seriously!"
Luna was on her hooves, pacing furiously. She was in constant motion, stomping, twitching, and flapping her wings to emphasize her words.
Twilight had seen Rainbow Dash acting agitated when she felt confined or grounded too long and needed to feel the wind in her mane, but it was nothing compared to this.
Luna was such a font of furious energy that Twilight was surprised the air around her wasn't crackling with electricity.
"Am... am I interrupting?" she asked timidly.
"Twilight," Celestia gasped in relief, "thank goodness you're here. Perhaps you can talk sense into my sister. She refuses to listen to me."
Luna stomped her hoof, shattering the slate roof tile beneath her.
"Thou art not listening to me!" she cried.
"Wha-what's going on?" Twilight asked.
"Luna's been having dreams about Nightmare Moon," Celestia said.
"They were not mere dreams!" Luna interrupted.
"Yes, you're right, but until something a little more concrete happens I don't think we should be panicking."
"When should we panic, Celestia? When it is too late to prevent disaster? When ponies have died?"
"We shouldn't panic at all! Luna, you need to calm down!"
"You've been having bad dreams, Luna?" Twilight interjected.
This, finally, made Luna pause, if only for a moment.
"Yes, Twilight, I've had dreams of the Nightmare. I thought not to worry thee about things outside thy control."
"You should have told us," Twilight accused. "We could have done something. We stopped Nightmare Moon once..."
"Dost thou think she would be so easily overcome a second time? That she would learn nothing? I am trying to protect thee, Twilight. Protect our friends! Dost thou not understand that you would be her first victims? The elements have been used against her twice now. She is not so foalish as to allow a third."
"Luna, really." Celestia rebuked. "You act like you're just going to suddenly transform into a monster and go on a rampage. The sheer fact that you're worried about this makes it less likely that it will happen!"
"I think Celestia's right, Luna," Twilight added. "I know you love us. You're worried about our safety. How could you suddenly forget that and become a murderous demon? I know you're worried, but-"
"WE TALK NOT OF SENSE, BUT OF MADNESS! THE NIGHTMARE CARES NOT FOR LOVE, BUT POWER! THOU ART NOT TAKING OUR CONCERNS SERIOUSLY! WE-"
Luna stopped. She dropped backwards onto her rump, and place a hoof to her mouth. Her eyes were wide and afraid, and her face paled as she began shaking.
"Luna?" Twilight asked as she recovered from the verbal onslaught. "Are… are you okay?"
Luna merely sat, staring at nothing as her shivers continued.
“Twilight,” Celestia said gently, “why don’t you take Luna back to her room. It’s getting late, and I think Luna should return to bed.”
“Come on, Luna,” Twilight said. “Let’s get you back to bed.”
Luna remained still, as if she had not heard.
“Luna?” Twilight asked. “Please?”
“Go on, sister,” Celestia prodded. “Nothing shall harm you while I keep watch. Go. Get some sleep. We’ll talk about this again this evening.”
Luna gave the barest hint of a nod. Had Twilight not been watching carefully, she might have missed it.
Slowly, like cold molasses pouring from an overturned jar, Luna began to move. Eyes unfocused, moving as though in a daze, Luna stumbled her way off the roof and onto the balcony. Immediately, Twilight was at her side, guiding her inside and down the stairs.
Twilight clenched her teeth in frustration. It was like guiding a foal. Luna moved slowly and unsteadily, barely paying attention to her surroundings. She stumbled often, clipping walls and, at least once, nearly tumbling down the tower stairs. Twilight resisted the urge to yell, however. Luna had experienced something which disturbed her greatly. She need empathy, not chastising.
After no small amount of time, and a great deal of patience on Twilight’s part, they made it to Luna’s room.
Twilight coaxed the larger mare into bed.
“There,” she said softly. “Safe in bed at last. Will you be alright on your own?”
Luna nodded in that barely perceptible way.
Twilight nuzzled Luna’s forehead.
“Everything will be okay,” she assured Luna. “We won’t let anything happen to you.”
With that, she left. She hated leaving Luna in such a state, but there was little more that she could do for Luna aside from just being available. She’d make as much time for her friend as she could, she vowed to herself, but for now it seemed best to just let her sleep.
Twilight gently knocked on the door to Luna’s bedroom.
“Luna, are you awake?”
She received no answer. This posed a problem, Twilight decided as she stood waiting, Luna’s breakfast levitating beside her. She wanted to make sure Luna was okay, and also to make sure she ate, but entering her room without permission meant taking liberties that Twilight wasn’t entirely uncomfortable with.
She knocked again.
She looked back and forth between the food and the door. Was it worth the breach of privacy to make sure Luna was okay? Would Luna be upset with her? Twilight shuffled her hooves, feeling anxious.
The most important thing, Twilight decided, was that she made sure Luna was well, and ate.
Decision made, she turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open.
The room greedily swallowed all light, allowing nothing to cut the gloom within. Cautiously, Twilight stepped inside.
Luna’s bed was conspicuously empty, and, oddly, her blanket was missing as well. Worry knotted in Twilight’s chest. She carefully placed the plate of food on Luna’s nightstand and used her magic to create an orb of soft light. As soon as she did so, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye.
There, sitting in the corner, blanket draped over her shoulders like a cloak, was Luna, blinking and recoiling from even the pitiful light from Twilight's orb.
“Luna!” Twilight cried softly. “Why didn’t you…”
Twilight hesitated, looking Luna over. She huddled on the floor, looking very small. It was an odd sort of posture; neither cold nor fearful, yet withdrawn, as though she were wrapped around herself. Walled off.
“Luna,” Twilight started again, “I brought you some breakfast. Come eat.”
Luna gave a slow, subtle shake of the head.
“Come on, Luna,” Twilight encouraged. “You know you have to eat something.”
“Leave me.” Luna’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Leave me,” Luna repeated. “Leave this place. Go back to your friends and your family. I’m a danger to all you hold dear.”
“I feel like we’ve done this before,” Twilight chided.
“Indeed, and despite your protestations, my concerns have not been disproven. What would you do, Twilight, if the Nightmare surfaced now? In this place? What would you do? Your friends, the other Element bearers, are far from here. Would you go to my sister? Would you stand and fight?”
Twilight shook her head.
“I’m not going to sit here and play ‘what if’ with you,” she said. “I’m not worried about Nightmare Moon. Do you know why? Because I saw what happened after the Elements were used against her. I saw an impossibly young looking princess throw herself into the forelegs of her sister, like a yearling looking for her mother. I saw her cry in her sister’s forelegs, looking very lost, and wanting nothing more than to be accepted. To be loved. That’s why Nightmare Moon doesn’t frighten me. I know who she really is.”
Luna shook her head.
“You are mistaken,” she said. “The Nightmare is not that foal. I’m fractured inside. Broken. Like there’s an infection growing under the surface unseen.”
“You can’t chase me away that easily, Luna.”
“I’ve depended on you so much. Too much. If I had not been a princess, if I had not been your favored mentor’s sister, would you have still been my friend? Would you even have given me a second look?”
“I…” Twilight hesitated. “I don’t know. I can’t know. I like to think so. I said I’m not going to play ‘what if’ with you and I meant it. I don’t care how much you worry, how much you push, or how much you try to run away. I’m not going to give up on you.”
“I don’t deserve your attention, Twilight.”
“Pffft,” Twilight replied. “Of course you do. I have faith in you, even if you don’t.”
“Then woe be unto you the day you find your faith is misplaced.”
It was one of those rare occasions where Twilight gave thanks for her flexible schedule. Twilight loved Ponyville, and the ponies therein, but despite all their many admirable qualities they were not avid readers. Usually this irked Twilight to no end. She savored the moments she could share her love of books because they were few and far between. Today, however, she appreciated their... less than studious natures, because it allowed her to spend the entire week in Canterlot spending time with Luna without worrying that the Library was unattended.
Twilight knocked on the aforementioned princess's door before pushing it open.
“Ah,” Luna said, turning to greet her visitor, “Twilight. Please, make thyself at home. I'm just doing some cleaning up.”
Luna smiled serenely. It looked out of place on her normally angry or expressionless face. It was the calmest Twilight had ever seen her.
“Doesn't the palace staff usually handle that?” Twilight asked, settling herself in a chair. It was good to see Luna up and about. This was the most active, the most normal Twilight had seen her all week.
“They keep the room clean, yes, but they leave personal items untouched. That leaves it to me to attend to the rest, and rightly so. Some things are too important to leave in the hooves of others.”
Luna gestured to several small piles on her bed.
“Borrowed things that need returning,” she said. “Precious things that need careful storing, so as not to be damaged, and...”
She paused, her voice thickening.
“Things too precious to store. Things that need care. Things that should be placed in the care of others should I not be able to care for them myself.”
Twilight frowned. Something was wrong, both with Luna's voice, and her actions. She wasn't cold exactly, but... distant. Removed.
“But why are you getting rid of them if they're so important?”
“I'm not getting rid of them, Twilight,” Luna assured her. “I'm simply getting them out of my room. After so much time on the Moon, a spartan lifestyle suits me. Having so many things cluttering my room has been making me anxious.”
“Besides,” she said, turning back to Twilight, “many of these things are too important to keep to myself. Take this for example.”
Luna plucked a book from the third pile. It was ancient, but in remarkably good condition.
“I believe this should be placed in thy care.”
“Wha... what is it?” Twilight asked, awed by the weighty tome.
“That, Twilight, is the entirety of my poetic work. That is my personal journal of every scrap of drivel, and every horrific verse that I have ever written. Celestia kept it squirreled away, and only returned it to me recently. I think it was an attempt to embarrass me.”
Luna touched the cover gently with her hoof before levitating it to Twilight.
“Personally, I think it should be burned as an affront to language, but I can't bring myself to destroy it. It's too much of a reminder of a more innocent time.”
Twilight grasped the book tenderly, as though afraid it would disintegrate in her hooves.
“Luna, I... I can't accept this. This is too....”
“And yet thou must,” Luna replied. “It belongs with somepony who will truly appreciate it. As a lover of books, I can think of no better hooves than thine.”
“Just...” Luna added hastily, “just don't read it to anypony. At least, not if you care for them.”
Twilight strolled down the hallway, tome in tow, mulling over Luna's odd behavior. Luna was very good at being still, Twilight had noticed. She supposed it had to do with being on the Moon with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Even when she was still, however, she was never what Twilight considered calm. She was usually annoyed, often angry, and occasionally bored, but never calm. Never peaceful.
Perhaps, Twilight thought, she was finally accepting her existence in modern Equestria.
“Oh, hello, Twilight,” a pleasant voice shook Twilight from her musings. “What do you have there?”
Twilight shot a look up and down the hallway, ensuring they were alone.
“Hi Celestia! Luna gave me a book of her poetry!”
“Oh?” A tightness formed around Celestia's eyes. “How remarkable! I expected her to hide it away. You know, she used to corner passing nobles and press them for their opinions. The looks on their faces as they tried not to cringe! It didn't matter who it was; they always had this fake smile plastered on their faces as they looked for a way to escape. It was the funniest thing!”
Celestia raised a hoof to her mouth with a giggle. The giggle faded, and her mouth was a frown when she removed her hoof.
“Still, the poetry made her happy. I gave her the book, hoping she'd remember how happy it made her.”
Celestia tilted her head to the side, pondering Twilight and the book.
“I'm... I'm glad she gave you the book,” she said finally. “I think it shows that there's a real connection between you, and not just because an old busy-body kept pushing the two of you together.”
“I don't think you're old, Celestia,” Twilight assured her, “and I don't think you're a busy-body either.”
“Oh, Twilight,” Celestia said with a chuckle, “I'm the most consummate busy-body in Equestria.”
Twilight stood on the balcony, watching the ritual of the Pony Sisters. The Moon set, and the Sun rose. The week was at its end, and Twilight would soon be on the train back to Ponyville.
One day, Twilight thought, this will make the friendship report to end all friendship reports. For now, however, it was simply enough to spend time with Luna. Reports and the like could wait.
Luna walked up to Twilight, her morning ritual complete.
“I hope the show was not too boring,” Luna said. “Celestia and I tend not to embellish when it is just the two of us.”
“Not at all,” Twilight assured her. “I love the sunrise. I actually don't get to see it much. I'm usually still asleep after all the late-night studying I do.”
“Then I am content,” Luna said in that smooth, serene, irksome voice she'd perfected during the week. “I hope it does not offend thee if I do not see thee to thy train,” Luna said. “I have one more thing to do this morning, and I find myself more tired than I expected.”
“Are you okay?”
“Do not concern thyself,” Luna assured her. “All will be concluded as is just.”
“Well I'll see you to your train, Twilight,” Celestia said chidingly, “even if my little sister is far too busy to.”
“An excellent idea,” Luna encouraged. “Fare thee well. May the wind under thy wings bear thee where the sun sails and the moon walks.”
“Uh... right. Well, goodbye, Luna. See you later!”
Luna merely smiled in reply. It was a serene, yet oddly sad smile. Twilight felt a pang of uncertainty when she saw it, but dismissed it as nothing. She turned and walked beside Celestia, headed for the palace entrance facing the train station.
“Excited to see your friends, Twilight?” Celestia asked. “I’m afraid I’ve been taking up too much of your time lately. You should be free to spend time with your friends like a normal pony without running to my aid at a moment’s notice. I’m very sorry for that.”
“Oh, it’s no bother,” Twilight assured her. “Luna’s not a responsibility, she’s my friend. Besides, the girls understand. Luna’s their friend too.”
Celestia smiled sadly.
“I’m glad she has such good friends. I just wish she would make one on her own. I honestly don’t understand her, and it worries me sometimes. We used to…. Well, I shouldn’t dwell on once was. There’s much that is in the past, but more which will be in the future. Tell me, have you heard from your friends since you’ve been here?”
“Oh, sure. We’ve been sending letters back and forth. I got one just yesterday. You won’t believe what happened….”
It was surreal, but wonderful talking to Celestia like a normal pony, Twilight decided. She’d never have imagined being in this position back when she was a socially awkward student. She had the ear and friendship of the two most important ponies in Equestria. It was heady to think about, and sometimes a bit frightening. Celestia was her idol. She was beautiful, kind, smart, confident, and ponies listened to her. She maintained order through sheer force of personality, without having to resort to threats or punishments. She was everything Twilight wished she could be. She was privileged to even know her, yet here she was, talking with her like it was the most natural thing in the world.
And that was just her relationship with Celestia. It didn’t even begin to describe how she felt about Luna.
“And Rainbow Dash landed in the hay stack head first! So, she tumbles out, and her legs are all shaky, and she’s got hay in her mane, in her tail, everywhere, sticking out every which way. We all run over to make sure she’s okay, and then Pinkie says, ‘If I’d’ve known you were that hungry, we could have stopped for lunch!”
Celestia laughed as they neared the palace gates.
That was when they felt it. For Twilight it was like a wrenching sensation, as though a magical vacuum had been pulled, and all magic in the area was rushing to fill its place. She put her hooves to her ears and yawned, trying to equalize the pressure, even though she knew it to be magical and not physical in nature.
Celestia's eyes grew wide as saucers.
"NO!" Celestia cried. “Don't you dare!”
She turned tail and ran at a full gallop, something Twilight had never seen. Twilight sprinted after her. Celestia crossed the courtyard in record time, her long legs and unreal stamina giving her advantages Twilight could only dream of.
Twilight watched helplessly as Celestia pulled away from her. She pumped her legs harder, trying to keep the Alicorn in sight. There were few things Twilight could think that would spur Celestia to action this way, and the most likely right now had to be…
Luna. It could only be Luna.
Twilight teleported as far forward as she dared, and pushed herself even faster. She was not going to be left behind. She was not going to fall short.
Not when it was Luna.
Twilight stumbled out onto the balcony, her legs screaming in agony and her skull throbbing in protest. She’d almost sobbed when she reached the tower’s spiral staircase, and made perhaps more, riskier teleports than were advisable, but she was here, as was Celestia.
Luna, however, was nowhere to be found.
"Luna,” Celestia cried, “you stupid, selfish, foalish pony, how could you?!?"
Celestia crumpled to the rooftop, her shoulders shaking in silent sobs.
"Ce-Celestia?” Twilight gasped, “Wha... what happened?"
Celestia froze. Slowly she raised herself up to sit demurely in front of Twilight.
Though her eyes were glassy with tears, she looked at Twilight with the serene, benevolent, aloof expression Twilight had come to hate.
"She's gone to the Moon, my little pony," Princess Celestia said in the forced, cheerful voice Twilight had heard for years without truly understanding.
Twilight cringed inside, now seeing the mask for what it was.
"She's locked herself away to prevent Nightmare Moon from harming us. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to make arrangements for her absence."
Twilight gaped in surprise as she watched Celestia step off the roof and glide down to a lower balcony, leaving Twilight alone.
Twilight stood frozen in shock and pain. Her world, which had progressively become a warmer, brighter place lately from her relationships with Luna and Celestia, and suddenly crumbled down around her. Twilight felt numb.
Slowly Twilight's mind began to work.
Twilight was many things, including occasionally naive, neurotic, and easily flustered to the point of being panicky, but one thing she was not, was stupid. When faced with a problem, all her energy went into solving it to the exclusion of all else. If a list or two could be made in the process, so much the better.
Twilight was going to solve this problem. Twilight was good at solving problems. Sometimes she solved them in the most obtuse, counter-productive way possible, which caused more problems, but she always solved the one she set out to.
Twilight's hooves began to move of their own accord, as her mind continued to map the scope of the task at hoof. She didn't need to tell them where to go, they knew already.
There was a problem to solve, and the first place to go was obvious.
Twilight went to the library.
Princess Celestia struck the wooden block with her hoof.
"Let it be so. Please bring in the next petitioner."
She waited patiently for the ponies to leave now that their complaint had been heard and arbitrated, and for the next group to be shown in. She held the benevolent smile on her face that her subjects had come to expect. It was the same as it ever was. It was easy to fall into the routine again. Now, with no obvious looming threats or ominous portents, life could go on as it was wont to do. Ponies came, ponies went. Ponies lived, ponies died. Princess Celestia remained, like a rock watching a flowing river.
The door to the main hall swung open with a bang, and a purple unicorn scrambled in at high speed.
"Celestia! Celestia!" Twilight called.
"NO TIME!" Twilight interrupted. "I have it! I know what to do, but I need your help."
Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow at the interruption, and gave Twilight a hard look. She didn't like what she saw. The unicorn's eyes were bloodshot and had dark circles under them, and her mane was unkempt. Her legs shook.
"Twilight, when's the last time you slept?" she asked.
"Not sure. What day is it? You know I'd never tried coffee before? Wow, I didn't know what I was missing! I really should have tried it sooner. Think of all the studying I could have gotten done! What time is it? I might be ready for more. I was due for another pot at noon. Heh, noon rhymes with Moon. Moooooon. Moon? Moon! Celestia, I have it, but I need your help! You have to send me to the Moon!"
Princess Celestia gestured her guards to stand down. Most of them knew Twilight, and held a certain amount of affection for the neurotic unicorn, but her agitated state and her proximity to the Princess was making them anxious.
"Twilight, why would I send you to the Moon?" she asked.
"To bring back Luna, of course! I've been studying for- what day is it? But I think I have the barrier spell Luna used when she took me to the Moon. I'm pretty sure it will work. I think. I haven't tested it yet. I just need you to send me there so I can find Luna and bring her back! I know I can. I just need you to send me to the Moon. Heh. Moon rhymes with noon. Noon? Is it noon yet? That means it's time for more coffee. Have you tried coffee? I did, and I think I like it!"
"Please summon Captain Armor," Princess Celestia murmured to a nearby guard. The guard nodded and slipped away silently.
"Twilight, we can talk about this later. Right now I think you need to get some sleep."
"NO! No time. Bring back Luna now. Sleep later."
"You called for me, your Majesty?" Captain Shining Armor said with a bow. "What can I do for-Ooooooooh..."
"Hey Shiny! I'm going to go to the Moon to bring Luna back. Isn't that great? Hey! Have you tried coffee? I wasn't sure about the taste at first, but then I got started getting so much studying done, and now I don't even notice it anymore!"
"Captain Armor, would you please take Miss Sparkle to her room and make sure she gets some sleep?" Princess Celestia asked.
"O-of course, your Majesty. Come on, Twily. Let's get you to bed."
Celestia watched the pair leave with some trepidation. Twilight was delirious, that much was certain, but could she do what she claimed?
Celestia wanted very much to believe it.
Princess Celestia didn't dare.
Celestia leaned to a nearby guard.
"Have somepony send a hot toddy to Twilight's room."
She glanced at Shining Armor shepherding Twilight out of the room. She hoped he'd know which pony to use it on.
"On second thought, send two."
"Come on, Twily. Let's get you to bed," Shining Armor said gently.
"No! No time. Must go get Luna. She's been up there too long already. Need to get Luna back."
"Twily, what you really need is sleep. You're worrying everypony."
"Don't need sleep. Just need more coffee. More coffee."
"I think you've had enough coffee."
"No! Need more. Need to stay awake. Study longer. Find a way to get Luna back from the Moon. Moon! I need to talk to Celestia to get to the Moon!"
Twilight darted to the side in an attempt to get around Shining. She stumbled over her hooves. Shining managed to catch her before she hit the ground.
"The Princess will meet you in your room," he told her. "We need to go there."
"Why didn't you say so! She needs to know."
Gently, Shining guided Twilight to her room. A steward was waiting for them outside her door.
"Her Majesty thought Miss Sparkle could use a hot toddy," he said.
"What's that, Shiny?" Twilight asked, staggering over to see the steaming mugs.
"It's medicine for you."
"I don't need medicine. Not sick. Just need more coffee."
"This is better for you than coffee."
Twilight eyed a mug suspiciously.
"Twilight, you take your medicine, or I swear I will dose you like a foal."
"Ok, you asked for it."
Shining grabbed Twilight by the nose and tilted her head back, pinching her nose. As she opened her mouth, he levitated a mug over and dumped it down her throat.
"Gah!" Twilight coughed and sputtered, but swallowed most of the drink.
"Guh, it's hot. It burns."
"Well, if you'd take your medicine like a good filly, I wouldn't have had to do that. Now sit and sip your other mug. The more you drink the better it tastes, I promise."
"We have to wait for the princess anyway, so sit and sip your medicine. Tell me about Princess Luna. I don't really get to see her."
Twilight plopped herself down sulkily.
"Tell me about Princess Luna," Shining repeated.
"She's really nice most of the time. She's been alone so long she sometimes forgets how to be nice, but she really wants to be. She's really pretty, and smart, and when I talk to her she really listens, and doesn't give me that smile like most ponies do that says 'oh, you're just being Twilight.'"
"Sip your medicine," Shining told her. "You've been spending a lot of time with her."
Twilight grimaced, but sipped her toddy.
"You're right. It doesn't taste so bad. Celestia asked me to try to be her friend, so I went and talked to her and realized she really didn't know how. She was a lot like me. She... she really needed a friend. She was lonely. She was lonely, but didn't know how lonely she was. I... I couldn't just let it go after that."
"Sip. So what happened?"
Twilight sipped her toddy.
"My... my hooves feel tingly."
"That's the medicine working. What happened with Princess Luna?"
"She... she's afraid of Nightmare Moon coming back. It scares her a lot. She talks like Nightmare Moon is somepony else, but repeats that it's her. It's really weird. She doesn't want to hurt anypony, but says that Nightmare Moon wants nothing more than to watch Equestria burn. How can she want both?"
Twilight was crashing fast, though whether because of the alcohol or the lack of caffeine, Shining couldn't tell. Her head drooped.
"She... she just left, Shiny. She just left me. I'm her friend and she... how... how could she leave? I.... I... I know she... she was scared.... But.... She...."
"It's okay, Twily. Whatever happened, you still have me and all your Ponyville friends supporting you."
Twilight's head rested on the table.
"But... she said... she said she... she loved me."
"I know she did... wait, what? She said what?!?"
Shining stared at the sleeping unicorn, mouth agape. He shook himself, trying to focus on the moment. Carefully he levitated Twilight out of her seat and into bed.
Kissing her on her forehead, he turned and crept out of the room as quietly as he could, sparing one last glance to his sister.
She was resting peacefully. Everything else could wait until tomorrow.
Though if Princess Luna hurt his sister, they were going to have words, princess or no.
Twilight Sparkle opened her eyes. This turned out to be a mistake.
"Ugh," she moaned, shutting her eyes quickly and throwing her forelegs over her face.
Her eyes felt like they'd been glued shut, the Sun stabbed at them mercilessly, and her head throbbed as though encased in a kettle drum.
"Ooooooh..." she moaned again.
"Sounds like somepony's awake."
That voice sounded familiar.
"Shiny?" she croaked.
"How are you feeling, Twily?"
Twilight ran through her checklist.
"My head hurts like hay, and I'm really stiff."
"I'm not surprised," Shining said with a chuckle. "You've been asleep almost 24 hours."
"How much do you remember from yesterday?"
"Yesterday? Not much. It's mostly just a blur...." Twilight bolted upright and gasped. "Did I really just barge in in the middle of court?"
"Sure did. You ran in babbling like a madpony, and you addressed the princess without her title in front of everypony. The gossip-mongers are going to be chewing on that one for weeks."
Twilight flopped back onto the bed and pulled a pillow over her head.
"I'll never be able to show my face in the palace again!"
"Well, never may come sooner than you think," Shining said, levitating over a tray of food. "The princess wants to see you as soon as you're ready."
"Princess Celestia," Twilight said with a bow as she entered the familiar common room, "I apologize for my behavior yesterday."
"Please, Twilight, I told you that you could call me 'Celestia' in private. In the middle of court, however..."
Twilight ducked her head, feeling her face heat.
"What did you mean about bringing Luna back?" Princess Celestia demanded.
"P-princess?" Twilight asked hesitantly. Princess Celestia's demeanor had changed in an instant. Twilight cringed under her gaze, which bore down on her like the desert Sun.
"Did you mean what you said?"
Twilight jumped as Celestia lunged at her, wrapping her forelegs around her.
"Oh, Twilight. I'm sorry. I... I just want her back so much. Please. You were very adamant yesterday. Please talk to me. Tell me what you were thinking. If there's a chance to bring her back..."
Twilight nuzzled Celestia within the confines of her embrace.
"Of course, P... Celestia."
"Twilight, that sounds like an awful risk," Celestia said, her head resting on her forelegs.
Twilight shook her head from her spot at Celestia's side, sheltered by her left wing. It was a casually intimate position she found herself in. It was hard to equate this in her mind with the aloof, almost cold monarch she'd seen a few days ago when Luna left.
Everypony responded to pain and loss in different ways, Twilight realized. Some attacked. Some retreated.
"As long as I can cast the barrier-"
"Which you haven't tested," interjected Celestia.
"Yes, but when I get there, I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to find her. And I'm pretty sure I know where she'll be."
Celestia shook her head.
"I still can't believe she took you to the Moon."
"She didn't tell you?"
"No. She only said she was showing you something personal... but the Moon!"
"It was.... It wasn't what I expected. I guess it's kind of silly to expect her to have a grand kingdom on the Moon. It's not like you could build a kingdom on the Sun."
"A kingdom on the Sun?" Celestia repeated. "What a ridiculous idea. Nopony can walk on the Sun."
Celestia shook head, trying not to lose track of the conversation.
"But Twilight, if you don't land where you expect, if you don't get the barrier to work, or if you don't find her in time... there are lots of ways this could go very badly."
"I'm pretty sure that where we landed before is some sort of natural focal point. Luna said that's where she landed when you... y'know. And I know right where she'll be. I know I can find her. I know it."
"Where will she be?"
"The Sea of Tranquility. She has a... a..." Twilight searched for a word to describe it. There wasn't one. It wasn't a bed or a nest. It was a place of surrender. Of resignation. It was a...
"...a spot," she finished lamely. "A place where she sleeps. That's where she'll be."
"But if you don't find her I can't bring you back!"
"I'll find her! You send me to the Moon, I cast the barrier, go to the Sea of Tranquility, and bring her back. It's just that easy. Nothing will go wrong."
She was an idiot, Twilight decided.
How long had it taken Luna to know the Moon well enough to know which direction, which looked like every other direction, to go? A century? Two? Three?
It even started out poorly. Twilight remembered Luna saying that the barrier going down would be 'uncomfortable'. Twilight assumed 'uncomfortable' meant it was 'dangerous', but she hadn't anticipated it meaning 'life altering and probably fatal'. There were a few panicky moments after she'd landed on the Moon, when she couldn't breathe and all the warmth was being drained from her skin, and Twilight wondered if she'd made perhaps the last mistake she'd ever make.
It took all her courage and focus to clear her mind long enough to cast the barrier.
The barrier which now pressed on her.
The barrier she had to focus to maintain.
That was another snag. Luna hadn't given any sign of maintaining the barrier. In fact, once she'd cast it, she appeared to pay it no mind. Was this a flaw in Twilight's research? Had she overlooked something? She'd expected to have an hour or more free to rest and recover before the barrier ran out and she might have to recast it. Now she was worried it would last until she ran out of energy, and that would be it for her. That made finding Luna all the more critical.
It also made being lost all the more maddening.
There was a fleeting moment of hope when Twilight happened upon one of the paths worn into the lunar surface, a hope that quickly faded as Twilight traveled for... how long? Twilight couldn't tell, nor could she tell if she was even going the right way down the path.
Twilight hurried down the path as quickly as she could. Even the simple act of trying to gallop was a chore on the Moon. Luna had described it as a cross between a leap and a slow gallop, but that description failed to do it justice. As Twilight stumbled and flipped on her first couple of tries, she thought of it as a cross between the easy, loping gait of a wolf, and the smooth, deceptively quick hop of a gazelle. None of that helped. In the end, Twilight had to find a rhythm and stick to it. She would have counted out the steps in her mind had she not been trying to focus on the spell while navigating the Moon.
There was something up ahead. It was a ridge of some sort. Twilight pressed on hopefully. She approached the ridge, slowing. She peered over the ridge as much as she could as she neared. Twilight swore as she recognized it. It wasn't the Sea of Tranquility, it was Luna's castle.
She knew where the Sea was in relation to the castle!
Twilight reversed course, loping as fast as she dared. At this rate one mistimed hoof placement could send her tumbling head over hooves, an event that would certainly ruin her concentration on the barrier spell.
The barrier spell.
Holding onto the barrier was like having a vice around her skull. It was a headache she knew she could end, if only she dared face the consequences.
Faster, she urged herself. Faster.
The vice tightened.
Twilight saw another ridge before her.
It came nearer.
Twilight shot over the edge of the ridge, not realizing how fast she was going. Her legs churned empty space, futilely searching for purchase. Twilight pulled in her legs, tucked her head, and tried to focus on maintaining the barrier.
The impact was mercifully gentle. She rolled in the dirt, rock and coarse regolith abrading her, but she remained relatively undamaged.
She scrambled to her hooves and pressed on.
There, at the end of the path, a figure sat.
"Luna!" Twilight called, unsure of whether she could even be heard. "Luna!"
As she neared, she realized the figure was wrong. It was too tall, too angular, too cold to be Luna.
"No!" she cried at the sneering figure. "Where's Luna?!?"
The voice came from behind her.
Her words were cut short as the barrier dissolved. She flailed wildly, rational thought drowning in a sea of panic.
"Peace, Twilight, thou art safe."
Twilight gasped as a new barrier surrounded her. She gulped air gratefully as she turned to face the voice.
"Luna? But how? Nightmar-"
Twilight turned back to see the Nightmare gone.
"She wasn't real, Twilight. Merely an illusion. A reminder of what keeps me here, as well as... as some... somepony to talk to," she admitted.
Twilight launched herself at Luna, tackling her in an embrace, and knocking Luna onto her back.
"YOU LEFT," she sobbed into Luna's chest. "YOU LEFT ME!"
"Peace, Twilight. Thou knowest the reason why. I was trying to keep thee safe."
Luna wrapped her forelegs and wings around Twilight, holding her close and rocking her gently as she cried.
Slowly the tears eased to sniffles.
"What art thou doing here?" Luna asked. "How didst thou come here?"
"Celestia sent me here. I came to bring you back."
"I.... Thou.... She what?!?"
"I came to bring you home."
Luna lifted them both upright, and pushed Twilight away so she could look her in the eye.
"That was a dangerously foalish thing to do, Twilight. Thou couldst have easily died without me ever knowing."
Twilight glared back, her face set.
"You're going home with me, and that's that." Twilight's glare faltered. "I... can't get home otherwise."
"Oh," Luna gasped. "Oh my. Oh, my dearest, most foalish Twilight, what hast thou done?"
"What?" asked Twilight. "You brought us home easily last time."
"Twilight," Luna groaned, "this was to be my prison. It would be a poor prison indeed, if I could come and go at will."
"I have locked the bulk of my magic to the Moon, Twilight. I can't simply leave. How else could I contain the Nightmare should she return?"
"But... how can you create a lock you can't open?"
Luna shook her head ruefully.
"That is the question, is it not? How do I contain the Nightmare who has all of my knowledge and power?"
Luna closed her eyes and raised her face to the black starry sky.
"Come," she said, looking back to Twilight. "Let us see if I am half as clever as I hope I am."
With that she turned and walked down the path.
"This is where your magic is locked?" Twilight asked as they returned to the churned soil of the landing zone.
"No, my lock is the Moon itself. This is simply where I prefer to leave from, assuming this works."
"But if the Moon is the lock, couldn't you get your magic back while we were in the Sea? How are you going to unlock it? What did-"
"Patience, Twilight," Luna interrupted. "The Moon is the lock, but the artistry is in the key. What key could I use that would be accessible to me, but foreign to the Nightmare? It took me some time, but I think I found the answer. As for coming back here, grant me my eccentricities. We will have ample time to regret it should I fail.”
"I... Oh. Sorry."
Luna sat and shut her eyes. Twilight watched curiously as she squeezed them shut tighter.
Luna opened her eyes and snorted in disgust.
"Um... no good?"
Luna looked at Twilight sharply.
"Twilight," she barked, "tell me what thou wantest."
"Speak. Tell me what thou wantest."
"I want to go home! With you! I want to see our friends, and I want everypony to be happy. Celestia misses you. She... she hurt when you left. I didn't see it before, but I can now. I-"
"What about the danger I represent?" Luna demanded.
"I don't understand."
"If what I say about the Nightmare is true, I am a danger to thee and thy friends."
"I... I don't believe it! You... You say you care about us, but then you say Nightmare Moon wants to hurt us. Then you say she's you! How can that all be true? I don't believe you could hurt us if you really care, if you really lo-"
Twilight shut her mouth with a snap.
"What, Twilight? Speak."
Twilight shook her head.
Luna neared Twilight and lowered her head even with hers.
"Please, Twilight," she said softly. "Speak to me. I need to hear it."
"You... you said you loved me. More than once. But the you went and left. I know you said it's because you were trying to keep me safe, but it hurt. You just left, and you didn't..."
"What dost thou want, Twilight"
"I want you! I want to believe you love me, because I... I love you, too."
Luna wrapped her forelegs around Twilight, squeezing her head tightly against her chest. Twilight closed her eyes, feeling Luna's warmth in contrast to the cold Moon's surface.
Then Twilight felt it. It was the sense of air rushing to fill a vacuum. It vibrated through Twilight like an earth shaking roar, even though there was no sound.
Luna released Twilight.
"Let's go home," she said.
Luna and Twilight appeared in common room. It was warm and bright, a substantial contrast from the Moon.
Twilight sighed in relief.
"Luna, what they hay was that all about?" she demanded.
"You mean the key?" Luna asked. "It was about lo-"
Luna paused as the sound of hooves arose, swelling to a thunderous volume.
Celestia burst through the door, and Twilight saw Luna get tackled for the second time in as many hours.
"You stupid, foalish pony," Celestia sobbed. "Don't you ever do that again! Never, ever, ever, never, never, ever, ever..."
"Yes, sister," Luna replied to Celestia's chant. "Of course, sister. Never again. I promise. Pinkie Pie promise. Yes, yes… stick a cupcake in my eye."