Everything was eerily quiet.
Night Glider took in the forest; there was no wind, no bugs, not any sound to be heard. It left her in a bubble that she wasn’t used to, one where all she knew about was what she could see.
A full moon was hanging high in the sky, but there were no stars. She looked back towards the mighty gates of Modus in front of her, which had remained shut even after the sun had gone down.
“He said sunfall,” she thought to herself. “It’s long past…”
As if on cue, a deafening roar came from the gates as they swung open. Night Glider stepped back as they passed by her, creating a massive rush of wind that nearly blew her to the ground. She steadied herself as best she could as the gates came to a halt, and she could see figures approaching.
The mayor, flanked by two guards at each side, walked over to her. His eyes were turned down in an angry glare as he looked down his nose at her as the guards continued to walk forward.
“Night Glider,” he said, his every word hanging coldly in the air. “Follow me. Do not stray.”
He turned around and walked with purpose back through the gates, as the four guards immediately closed in around Night Glider. She felt a jab in her back as one of them shoved her forward. She turned back to glare at him, but her body went numb when she saw the look he was giving her.
His face was contorted inwards, his eyes piercing through the darkness as he stared directly at her. There seemed to be an unearthly glow coming from his eyes as he again shoved her.
“Move!” he barked.
Night Glider’s hooves were shaking as she kept pace with the guards. As they moved towards the gate, Night Glider could more easily make out all the ponies who awaited her. Their expressions matched the one the guard had, to an unsettling degree., and they all turned into a menacing sneer as she made her first step into town.
Almost immediately, her hearing was bombarded by shouts from every direction.
“This is a disgrace!”
“She was exiled, and she should stay that way!”
“How could you let that failure back in?!”
Night Glider’s head lowered to the ground as the shouts only got louder, her every step punctuated by more yells from every direction. She instinctively reached for her locket, but her hoof came up empty. She immediately stopped in her tracks and frantically looked around for it, but the guard behind her stepped forward and gave her a rough shove.
She pitched forward, losing her balance and falling to the right. Almost immediately, the guards grabbed her by the legs and yanked her to her feet. She looked up to find herself staring at the mayor, whose face was shaking with rage.
“I told you not to stray!” the mayor seethed.
“I was pushed!”
“I don’t care!” he yelled, yanking her forcefully up to her hooves. “Get moving!”
The guards pushed her again, forcing her down the path, as the shouts from every side had grown even louder. She frantically scanned the area as best she could for her locket, but barely had enough time to look around before she was practically dragged away.
Modus had never seemed so big, so imposing to her. The trees stretched out infinitely into the sky, covering up most of the moon and leaving so much of the town completely shrouded in darkness, except for the many ponies who lined the streets, staring a hole in her.
She felt small. Very, very small.
She looked forward and found herself at the front door to her old home. It almost was bending forward, looming over her and darkening her surroundings even more.
“Well?” the mayor snapped at her.
Her hoof wouldn’t move. No matter how hard she tried, how much her brain screamed at her muscles, she was completely stuck in place.
“You had best hurry up,” the mayor snarled.
She closed her eyes and struggled, barely getting her hoof high enough to knock the door. The sound resonated through the whole town, ringing in her ears.
There was quiet as the seconds ticked by. Night Glider could feel the sweat pouring down her face. From inside, she could hear hoofsteps growing louder, until the door swung open.
Night Glider instinctively took a step back. Her parents’ expressions matched those of the rest of the ponies around her; cold anger. They looked down at her.
“What do you want?” her dad muttered.
“Guys,” Night Glider stammered, “T… they let me back into town!”
“We can see that,” her mom said quietly. “Why?”
“Why…” Night Glider took a step back. “Why?? I-I’m your daughter!”
“By blood, yes,” her mom continued. “But you already showed us that you have no use to Modus. So you have no use to us, either.”
Night Glider’s legs wobbled, her vision blurred, and she nearly collapsed backwards. She stared at her parents, unable to speak as they glared down at her with the same expression on their face that the rest of Modus had.
“B-but…” she stammered.
“You should leave,” her father said. “There’s nothing for you here.”
With that, he reached out and grabbed the door. Before Night Glider had a chance to react, he slammed it in her face, sending Night Glider tumbling back and falling to the ground. She laid in silence, feeling tears rolling down the sides of her face as she stared at the sky.
“As I thought,” the mayor said. “Your parents want nothing to do with you. Nopony does.”
“F-fine,” Night Glider said, rolling over and trying to push herself to her hooves. “I’ll… I’ll leave.”
“Leave? Who said anything about letting you leave?”
She looked up to find the mayor standing over her. All around them, ponies had formed an ever-tightening circle, all of them focused on Night Glider. Her heart felt as though it could pound through her chest.
“What?” Night Glider said, her sight darting back and forth at the ponies closing in on her.
“We don’t want you. Your parents don’t want you. Nobody wants you, Night Glider,” the mayor said. “You have no worth to anypony. So we will ensure that you don’t ruin anypony else’s lives.”
The ponies around her took a step closer, their yells quickly drowning out everything else. Night Glider instinctively stepped back, only to bump into the ponies behind her. One of them swiped a long black wing at her, and she leapt forward into the center. She unfurled her wings, but suddenly she couldn’t move. She looked down and her body went numb; the ground had grown around her, trapping her back hooves in place. She flapped her wings and kicked her front hooves, but she only sank further.
She looked up and lost her breath as the ponies closed in. What little light there was in Modus seemed to be going out, shrouding the figures in near pitch-black, yet no matter how loud their yells were, she couldn’t sense where they were.
“Please, stop!” she screamed. “I-I’ll leave, I’ll leave!”
“You had your chance!” the mayor screamed right back, his voice deep and booming. “You made your choice, now live with it!”
The ponies were only inches away. Night Glider collapsed to the ground, sobbing as she put her hooves over her head, awaiting the inevitable.
And suddenly, everything stopped.
Night Glider waited, but there was no movement, no more angry cries, no more sound at all. She lifted her shaking head off the ground and gasped at what she saw.
Around her, everything had frozen: the rustling of the trees, the howl of the wind, and even the movement of the ponies that had surrounded her. But they weren’t ponies anymore. There were a dark, amorphous mass, completely surrounding her, glowing red eyes staring at her from every direction.
She could feel the ground loosening up around her hooves, and she stood. She reached out towards the blob, and it shuddered and wrapped around her hoof, returning to its former state as soon as she pulled it away.
“W… what…” Night Glider muttered just above a whisper.
“My apologies for letting this go on for so long,” a voice came from above.
Night Glider looked upwards. The canopy of Modus was gone, leaving the shimmering full moon hanging high in the sky. She watched in amazement as the moon flashed brightly, and a figure slowly shimmered into existence. She unfurled her wings and descended, the black blob bending away from her as she landed.
“Hello, Night Glider,” the alicorn said.
“You’re Princess Luna…” Night Glider said. As Luna nodded, Night Glider immediately crouched down into a deep bow to the princess.
“I thank you for the sentiment,” Luna said, “but I assure you that isn’t necessary.”
As Night Glider stood back up, she could see the massive black and red blob that surrounded them undulating and closing in once again.
“Wh… what did you do to them?!” Night Glider stammered, her eyes nervously scanning around her.
“I merely stopped it from going any further,” Luna replied. “Dreams oftentimes have a way of spiraling out of control.”
“Dreams?” Night Glider looked around again. “This is a dream?”
“Yes. Well, far more of a nightmare, to be honest,” Luna said. She closed her eyes and gave her wings a powerful flap, and the world around her began to fade away.
Night Glider looked down as the ground beneath her hooves faded. She found herself standing on nothing, staring off into an endless sea of shining stars. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out, then looked up at Princess Luna.
“I must have dozed off while waiting for sunfall,” she said. “Princess, thank you for saving me.”
Luna nodded. “Of course. As princess of the night, is my duty to assist when ponies find themselves in nightmares as intense as yours. I am happy I could, at the very least, end it before it went any further.”
“Well, at least things won’t go that bad,” Night Glider said, chuckling as she surveyed the starscape around them. “Compared to that, it’ll be a breeze!” She looked back at Princess Luna. Luna was staring back at her, but her gentle smile had wavered, instead a slight frown crossing her face. “Princess Luna?”
Luna briefly looked away. “Night Glider… please know that I understand your situation.”
Luna raised her hoof and stomped it back down. Suddenly they were surrounded by hundreds of black doors. Night Glider marveled at them as they seemed to stretch as far as she could see.
“Being able to enter ponies’ dreams like this allows me to see into ponies’ psychies. In this case, your memories.”
Night Glider slowly reached for one of the doors, her curiosity piqued. She looked at Luna, who gave her a small nod, before turning back and opening the door. For a second, there was nothing but a black swirl inside, until a scene formed.
“Am I in trouble?”
Night Glider kicked her legs under the table nervously as she looked back and forth between her parents. They glanced at each other, then both smiled.
“Not at all,” her mom said. “In fact, we have some big news for you.”
Her dad nodded. “Night Glider, this week your mother and I are going down to Palmacolta for Modus business.”
“Oh, it’s your guys turn again?” Night Glider said, her head lowering down to the table.
“Yes… and we’d like you to come with us.”
Night Glider snapped right back up, her eyes wide. “R-really?”
“Yes. We know you’ve been wanting to go outside of Modus for some time… well, we think that this will be a good time for it to happen. And you’ll get to meet an old family friend, too.”
“And the mayor’s okay with it?” Night Glider asked.
Her mom and dad shared a quick glance.
“Well, no,” her mom said, “but we assured him things would be fine.”
The door suddenly closed itself, and NIght Glider took a step back. She couldn’t hide her smile.
“I remember that,” she said. “It was a few days before I got to leave Modus for the first time. One of the happiest days of my life.”
Luna nodded. “I am not surprised you were drawn to that door. Strong memories seem to pull us in. But…” Luna paused, looking around at the multitude of doors. “But sometimes, strong positive memories can cloud negative ones.”
Night Glider rested her hoof on the door and sighed, before turning to face Luna.
“You’re here to talk me out of this, aren’t you?”
Luna shook her head. “I assure you, I am not. My original intent was simply to help you through a nightmare. However, after seeing the contents of some of these doors, I believe that at the very least, I should be able to offer you some perspective.”
Night Glider began to walk, dragging her hoof along each door. From behind, each one, she could faintly hear familiar voices. Her parents, the other ponies in Modus, Dusty, the mayor… all their sentences, all their conversations, bringing up another memory.
“Wow,” she muttered. “I can still remember all these so vividly.”
Luna paused. “You can hear what’s happening beyond the doorways?” Night Glider nodded, and Luna smiled. “I suppose any pony of your descent would have quite good hearing. It appears you have many, many memories of Modus. Yet…”
Night Glider glanced up at the princess. “Yet?”
“Yet despite so many memories, they are not what I sense the strongest in your psyche.”
Luna stomped her hoof again, and the doors raced away. After a moment, a new set replaced them. On one side of Night Glider, there were only a few doors, each identical to the others. Across from then stood a single door, the only remarkable thing about it being a dilapidated padlock hanging off of the knob.
“From what I can gather, these memories are just as strong with you,” Luna continued, motioning towards the set of doors on the right. Night Glider trotted over and opened the first door.
“This is a chance for all of us to get to know each other for the very first time!” Double Diamond said.
“And I finally have a chance to bake something besides terrible muffins!”
Night Glider smiled again. “This is just after we ran Starlight Glimmer out of town. We were all so happy to finally get to know each other, we got a party going for the whole town that night. And the Princess of Friendship and her friends… everything they did for us was so great.”
She closed the door and walked to the next one, pressing her ear to it. She could hear voices from inside, but though they sounded vaguely familiar, she couldn’t quite place from where. She looked over at Luna, who gave her another nod, before she opened the door.
“Oh, you know what? You should totally come visit us in Cloudsdale!”
“Cloudsdale? I’ve, uh, never been there. Do you think ponies would be okay with me being there?”
“Uh… I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be okay with you.”
“They wouldn’t? I mean, yeah, I guess they wouldn’t really mind…”
“Of course not! So come visit us! We all work at the Cloudsdale Weather Association of Cloudsdale, just look us up when you swing by!”
“Hey, it’s those pegasi,” Night Glider said as she closed the door. “From a few days ago. They saved me from that storm!” She trotted forward, listening carefully to each door without opening them. “That’s that filly I saved. And Dusty’s behind that one!” She turned to the door with the padlock across the way. “What’s behind that door?”
Luna closed her eyes. “I shouldn’t say just yet. As I told you, I wanted to provide you some perspective. Your memories from Modus are fairly strong, but so are these. They are just as strong.”
“Just as strong as my…” Night Glider trailed off. She looked out over the few doors that were in front of her, then thought back to the hundreds of doors that had been there minutes before. Something in the back of her mind clicked. “No, no no no no.”
Luna leaned down. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes, something is wrong!” Night Glider started to pace back and forth. “Ever since I got my life back, all I can think about is Modus. I have spent every waking moment thinking about Modus; the things that happened there, the way they treated me so differently, and more importantly, going back. Well now, I’m there. I even got let back in! And I just know that if I talk to my parents, I can be let back in completely, not just for a half hour.”
Overhead, the starscape had begun to swirl with dark clouds. Luna glanced up at them, then back to Night Glider.
“And now you’re just telling me that everything I encountered in Modus, everything I dealt with, is just as strong in my mind as the past week?”
Luna shook her head. “That is not what I am saying. It is a very complicated world, the subconscious. I cannot say which is more ‘important’ to you, I can only comment on their existence.” She motioned towards the doors. “These memories may not be as important to you as your memories of Modus, but the fact remains that both sets of memories are just as strong as one another, yet one contains far, far more memories.”
Night Glider sat down and gazed at the doors again. She could feel a pit in her stomach as she faintly heard the scenes playing out behind them.
“But… Modus is where I’m supposed to be,” she quietly said. “The past week has been really cool and all, but Modus is my home. It’s where I belong.”
Luna’s wings drooped. She trotted over to Night Glider and gently kneeled down in front of her.
“Night Glider,” she said, “I cannot tell you what to do. But as I said, I want to offer you perspective. Modus is a town that is very close to me. I have visited there often in my life, and the ponies there remain steadfastly loyal to me, no matter what has happened. Apart from any pony who actually lives there, I believe that I understand Modus more than anyone in all of Equestria.”
There was silence. A part of Night Glider was praying she could wake up, she wouldn’t have to hear what came next. But her sight remained locked with the princess, who took a deep breath before continuing.”
“Night Glider, I do not believe that you belong in Modus.”
The pit in Night Glider’s stomach dropped. The universe felt as though it was spinning around her, threatening to collapse back into the nightmare it had been. She leapt to her hooves.
“NO!” she screamed, causing stars around her to fly back as the black clouds continued to swirl. “I’m not going to just accept that, dammit!”
“Please, calm down,” Luna said, worriedly looking at the clouds overhead. “I was not trying to tell you what to do, only offering my own view.”
“I don’t care!” Night Glider said, stepping backwards. “I am so sick of ponies telling me where I belong! I know where I belong, and it’s home, in Modus! Modus is where I was born, Modus is where I grew up, and I—”
As she was backing up, she bumped into the locked door. She whirled around, just as the old padlock on it rattled and fell to the ground. The door swung open.
Inside was almost pitch-black, except for a small blue swirl in the center. But within seconds, it began to swirl faster and faster at a remarkable speed, until a scene began to play out.
Night Glider pitched forward, her body slamming into the ground. Around her, she could hear laughter.
“See?” one of the other kids said. “She can’t even hang with us!”
“Why is she even in school?” another said. “Her parents should just home school her or something.”
Tears welled up in NIght Glider’s eyes as she pushed herself up, turning to the other kids. “S-shut up!!”
“You’re a total weirdo!” a kid yelled. “We don’t wanna see you anymore.”
“What’s going on here?!” the teacher yelled as he flew down.
Night Glider buried herself in the teachers chest. “T-they were telling me I play with them!”
The teacher looked up at the other students for a moment, then down at Night Glider again.
“Maybe you should go play elsewhere for recess.”
“It’s your first day of school, Night Glider, you don’t want to cause a scene.”
The blackness inside the door swirled again.
“You? Help us?”
Night Glider nodded. “Yeah! I figured if you guys are putting up a new hut, I could at least help out there!”
“Look, Glider,” one of the other ponies said. “I appreciate the offer, I guess, but we don’t really want your help.”
“Why not? I can do everything that you guys can do?”
“Hah!” the pony laughed in her face. “Yeah, you can do everything we can do, but about half as well. Go find something more suited to your abilities, Night Glider, because we certainly don’t have anything.”
The darkness swirled.
Night Glider curled up in bed, trying to drown out the voices from downstairs, to no avail. She cursed her hearing.
“She’s going to be crushed,” her mom said.
“I know,” her dad replied. “She wanted this so bad. I actually thought the mayor would allow her on a hunt this time… what did he say?”
“He said that he still doesn’t trust her. He wants to wait another year, at least.”
“Another year?” her dad said. “Dear Luna… it’s all she’s been practicing for, all she’s been talking about for weeks now. She really thought she had it this time.”
“Should we tell her now?”
“No, we should wait. Let’s let her sleep for now.”
Night Glider pressed her face into her pillow, trying to muffle her sobs as best she could.
Every fiber of Night Glider’s being was screaming to turn away, but somehow she couldn’t. Her body felt as though it could collapse at any moment, but still she watched as again the image swirled.
“Alright, final preparations.”
Night Glider couldn’t hide her smile as she gathered the rest of her supplies. Around her Modus was a flurry of activity, with more ponies preparing to go on the hunt. And for the first time, she would be able to join them.
“We’re letting Night Glider on the hunt?” she heard one of her co-hunters say behind her. “Why?”
“Probably just to quiet her down,” another said. “Make her feel like she belongs.”
“But she doesn’t belong in Modus. She never will.”
Night Glider closed her eyes and took a deep breath, pushing their words out of her mind. SHe turned around to find another pony directly in her face.
“You,” he snarled.
“What do you want, Onyx Shock?”
“You had better not screw this up.”
“You said that yesterday, too.”
“And I’ll say it as many times as I need to!” he yelled. “I don’t want you on this hunt any more than anypony else does.”
“The mayor said I could participate, so that’s all there is to it!” she said. “Just watch, I’ll prove to you that I belong with you guys.”
“Belong with us?” Onyx Shock snorted. “Please. You don’t belong with us. You don’t even belong in this town. If it was up to me, we’d have gotten rid of you long ago.”
With that, Onyx turned around and stormed off. Night Glider swallowed down the lump that had formed in her throat, taking a long and stuttering breath before turning to finish her preparations.
Night Glider was completely transfixed on the door, to the screening of her life. The image swirled again, and the breath left Night Glider’s body as she recognized the scene right away. She could feel her whole body trembling as she watched it unfold.
“Your reckless behavior is directly responsible for the injuries sustained by the entire hunt team!” the mayor yelled, drawing more shouts of approval from either side of her. “What’s more, you ran!”
“I couldn’t do anything!” Night Glider replied.
“No, you couldn’t! Because what you did proved that above all else, you are a coward!”
Ponies all around continued shouting. Night Glider looked over at her parents, standing helplessly to the side.
“Look at me when I am talking to you!” The mayor screamed, jolting Night Glider’s attention back to him. “I am sick of you. From the moment you were born, you were a burden on Modus. It is miracle that we have allowed you to stay for this long, but the time has come to act in the best interest of our town, and remove the danger.”
Night Glider went numb. “No… No!”
“I am through with you,” the mayor said. “We are through with you. Night Glider, you have been a danger to this village for far too long.
The mayor shook his head. “By the rights vested in me as the mayor, I hereby announce the exi—”
Night Glider couldn’t bear to hear it again. With every ounce of energy left in her body, she slammed the door shut. The noise from behind slowly faded, and the padlock on the ground rumbled back and forth a few times, before disintegrating into the air.
Night Glider collapsed against the door. She turned and curled her back legs into her chest, shivering as she watched the clouds overhead dissipate and the doors disappear, leaving her feeling completely alone in the starry void.
She continued shivering as she heard the sound of wings flapping. Princess Luna landed next to her, sitting down. She unfurled one of her wings and gently wrapped it around Night Glider, who immediately curled herself into the Princess’ body. Seconds ticked by in total silence, Luna gently drawing Night Glider in closer whenever her shivers got more intense, but Night Glider didn’t look up at her, instead staring blankly ahead.
Finally, Night Glider opened her mouth. She was barely thinking about what she was saying, but somehow, three words formed.
“... I hate Modus.”