“You are a wizard! You mean to say you cannot track a simple teleport?”
“I'm not actually a wizard…” The orange Unicorn at the foot of Nightmare Moon’s throne muttered, adjusting his glasses, “But, um, the magic blueprint you gave me was completely jumbled and coded, your Highness. I can tell that multiple ponies cast the spell but besides that all data is lost. Whoever made the spell was very thorough in making sure it couldn't be decoded.”
Nightmare Moon ground her teeth and leaned forward in her throne, glaring down at the poor scholar she had summoned. “I am the one that gave you the blueprint, Sunburst! My magic decodes it automatically. Are you saying that some mere Unicorn is more powerful than me?”
Sunburst cringed back and rapidly shook his head. “N-no of course not, y-your Majesty. I-I just think that multiple ponies, with a lot of time, might have been able to… to come up with a way to, um, fool your magic. A little…”
Nightmare Moon glared at him and the poor stallion flinched back farther.
“They probably had a lot of luck?”
After a few tense seconds, Nightmare hissed out a long breath and rubbed her forehead. “Fine. If that is all you can do then somehow we will have to manage. Leave us, Sunburst. Keep researching the spell and come back to me immediately if you find anything else. You are to give all your findings to no one but me. Is that understood?”
Sunburst staggered back, as if he had been struck by the fact that he had not been struck at all. “I… o-of course your Highness,” he stammered, backing away quickly, “Of course. Thank you.”
The stallion couldn't get out of there fast enough and almost tripped over Charged Night in his haste, making the captain of the guard shoot him a hateful glare.
Nightmare Moon sighed deeply and closed her eyes. A mortal, a little pony, had found a way to best her magic? It was impossible to think of, yet it seemed to be true.
“Idiot,” Charged huffed, jolting Nightmare from her inner musing, “He dares suggest that anyone could best you? He should be thrown in the dungeon for his insolence.” He turned to Nightmare when she did not immediately reply and dropped into a bow. “Your Majesty, let me organize some soldiers to go search for Rainbow Dash and her companions. With most of the soldiers looking and some wanted posters out we could… “
“No!” Nightmare snapped, “I have already said that I don't want this to get to the public and I am not one to change my mind.”
Charged’s only reaction to her harsh tone was to bow his head deeper. “Of course your Majesty. I only mean to say that there is no shame in getting the population to hunt down a dangerous criminal.”
“It is not a matter of shame…” She muttered under her breath. Rising from her throne, she spoke in a much louder voice, “I still do not want this getting out. In fact, it is now your duty to make sure no one is out there spreading rumors. See to that immediately, and I will see if our new guest can shine any light on the subject.”
She didn't look back to see if he had complied with her order before marching out of the throne room and down toward the dungeon.
First another Alicorn shows up and drops out of existence right before my eyes and now some of my own staff run off without a trace, Nightmare thought to herself as she stalked down the hallway. Maybe I've gotten too used to being worshiped. I’ve lost my edge.
Or you're scared…
Nightmare stopped short as the words echoed around in her head. She hadn't heard that soft voice for over a year and thought she had been rid of it entirely.
With an annoyed snort and a shake of her head, Nightmare Moon continued on down the hall. I am not scared of anything.
Yet you threaten… it is the only way… you are served. You are afraid… of their loyalty… falling apart…
My subjects are loyal to me, Nightmare snapped back, some just need to be reminded of that.
The voice fell silent and Nightmare hoped it had sunk back into the crevice of her mind.
…Are you glad… some are out of… harm's way?
Nightmare Moon stiffened. No. No, I am angry they have disobeyed. They need to be punished.
I think… you don't like hurting them… I think… that you c--
“Be quiet,” She hissed under her breath, silencing the unwanted voice. She had reached her destination and certainly didn't want that weakling butting in at the wrong time and distracting her thoughts.
The guard bowed low to her as she approached and lit his horn without question. The heavy, iron door swung open at the spell and Nightmare Moon strode in.
The cell wasn't decorated, of course, with only a lone cot on the back wall and a barred window to let in the moonlight as the only disruptions from the stark grey. On the cot, with a shackle chaining her leg to the wall, laid a yellow Pegasus who sat up the moment Nightmare walked into the room.
She trembled lightly and held her left wing, which looked to be bent a little the wrong way, close to her, but she looked Nightmare Moon in the eye and did not flinch away.
The Alicorn admired that in the little Pegasus. She hadn't expected bravery from the soft spoken pony.
“Hello,” Nightmare greeted coldly, closing the door behind her but not moving farther into the room.
Fluttershy licked her dry lips and shifted on the cot. “Hello.”
“You can relax dear,” Nightmare chuckled, “I am not here to hurt you.”
“I'm not…” Fluttershy trailed off with a shiver. After taking a couple deep breaths she started over. “I'm not going to tell you anything about Rainbow. A-and you can't make me talk.”
Nightmare raised a brow. “Child, I do not need you for information. Rainbow Dash has been in my service for three years, I know everything I need to about her.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Then why bring me here?”
Nightmare Moon smirked. “Because what I know about Rainbow Dash is that she will always come to your rescue if she even thinks you are in danger. To put it simply for you, you're bait.”
“Bait?” Fluttershy’s brow furrowed and she sat up a little straighter. “That doesn't make any sense. I heard from the guards that… that Rainbow’s friends also left with her. Why would they come back for me?”
“Rainbow Dash is stupid, but years in my care have made her less and less reckless. She will try to come rescue you and bring her friends as backup, and then I will have them all in one swoop thanks to her.” Nightmare grinned devilishly. “And if I am correct in my assumptions, which I usually am, then she has gone with that pesky little rebel group. When she comes back for you she will happily give me all their secrets in exchange for your safe return. She will betray any worthless friends she makes.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Rebel group? But there hasn’t been a rebel group for three years.”
Nightmare raised a brow. “Really? You didn’t know? They make the fact that they are a ‘secret’ group so obvious that it is all I can do to not kill their leaders on the street.” She smiled again and the Pegasus shrunk back at her sharp teeth. “I think this way will be much better. Having someone from the inside bring them down always has a sort of poetic justice.”
Nightmare Moon leaned closer to Fluttershy so that the Pegasus drew back in fright. “How does it feel? How does it feel to know your friend would betray everyone? Do you wonder when she will betray you, too?”
And then, instead of crying or shrinking back further, the insufferable pony smiled back at her.
“Not at all,” Fluttershy said happily, “I know Rainbow will always be there for me. I have complete faith in her.”
“And why would you be foolish enough to do that?” Nightmare sneered.
“Well, I have known her since we were fillies and she’s protected me through thick and thin for years. I trust her because I’ve known her so long. But the main reason I trust her is you.” She fixed Nightmare with a gaze that was so intense, yet so happy, that Nightmare Moon took a step back. “You have so much faith that she'll risk her life to save me that you aren't even going to look for her.”
“Plus,” She continued on as Nightmare’s frown grew deeper, “I think deep down you want her to do it. You know what a good fighter she is and yet you just wait. You want her to be happy don't you? I think, deep down, behind all the smoke and anger, that you're kind, and really do care about your subjects. Including Rainbow.”
Sometimes I wish I could be as kind as you Lulu.
“No!” Nightmare’s magic sparked and Fluttershy gasped as she was lifted into the air by her neck. “I am not kind! I am Night! I am terror! I will crush you if Rainbow does not surrender and I will do so without a thought. Do you understand?”
Fluttershy let out a strangled whimper and Nightmare Moon dropped her to the floor with a solid thud.
Before her anger could drain, Nightmare Moon stormed out of the cell and back up to her castle.