The moon was risen, and the nightly orchestra that marked the end of summer began rising into earshot. The two princesses sat beside the ornate statue in the courtyard garden, listening. The wind softly blew through the trees and decorative plants that surrounded them, drifting the soft scent of the flowers through the air. The last sounds of business in the castle had faded away, and the guards had already shifted for the night. Luna gathered her thoughts. The story she was about to tell was not one she was particularly fond to think of, least of all to tell it to a family member. She knew that her niece's perception of her would be forever marred once she told this tale.
"I... I am not worthy to rule." Luna wavered. "I should not be on a throne in Equestria." She stared uncomfortably at Cadence's shocked expression.
"What are you talking about?" Cadence gawked. "You've been nothing but wonderful since your return! Despite everything from your past, how can you ever think you wouldn't be worthy?"
"The reasons are many, but... I'm uncertain as to where we should begin." Luna admitted. "This is not an easy tale for me to recount to you, dear Cadence... it is painful, to say the least." she lowered her head in shame.
"Maybe just start when things started to go wrong between you and Celestia." Cadence offered, and smiled weakly in an attempt to reassure her aunt.
"It started more than 1000 years ago now." Luna started with a sigh. "Back then, as you may well know already, my sister and I by all means ruled Equestria together. But we were both so much younger then, and with us having so much less experience of our world one could easily say we were naive and malleable to it's sway and temptations... So often we are depicted as the ideal of perfection, as something every pony should strive to be. But it is not so, we are so far from perfect, and our mistakes are often more costly to others than the average pony." Staring heavily into her own hooves, Luna finally raised her neck, and a look of disdain spread over her face. "I am not perfect... and I am even now more deserving of such scorn than I ever was. To sit upon a throne in the country I once tore apart, after everything that I have done." Shutting her eyes tightly, Luna spoke through semi-gritted teeth.
"Even after all these years, it is a fresh wound... I remember well how the ponies of Equestria hated us." she spat. "They blamed us for the deathly cold of the winters, and the creatures of the dark which frightened them. They hid from us, spurned us, and turned their backs. They thought us to be ugly, and menacing to our very soul." Luna scowled and squinted, holding back tears. "How they tormented us." Clearly taken aback, Cadence furrowed her brow and frowned.
"Could ponies have really been so cruel to you? Why in Equestria would they ever believe such awful things about you?" Cadence questioned, sinking away from the intensity of the stare Luna turned upon her.
"Cruel was an understatement, Cadenza." Luna spoke sharply, her hair billowing larger with her tone. "I laid my life on the line many times over for the well being of Equestria and it's denizens... but it was never enough. If I fought valiantly for them, I was a warmonger. If I withheld my strength then I was selfish and unpatriotic. If I tried to plan lunar events, I was accused of promoting and partaking in debauchery and witchcraft. If I simply disappeared, then I was naught but a shadow. A monster, luring ponies to their demise in the dark." Luna's speech began to speed and run together. She shook as her hair swirled and tears streamed down her cheeks.
"Luna! Luna, please, please calm down..." Cadence consoled, wrapping her hooves and wings in a tight hug around her distraught aunt. "Ssssh, it's okay... If all this is too hard for you to talk about right now, we can save this for another time... It's okay." Sulking heavily and trembling, Luna shook her head.
"No Cadence, it's not okay. Not one bit of it... It is not these memories that disturb me the most." Luna wiped at her tears. "I am angry, but not at them. Not anymore... all the ponies who antagonized me then passed on many centuries ago. The one I am angry with is myself." Her wavering voice hung just above a whisper. Cadence slowly pulled from the hug and breathed out a soft, sympathetic sigh.
"I would watch as they relished the day. I watched how they adored her, how they sang her praises into the heavens. I would watch, and the more I observed, the more I longed. I longed to be a part of them, blissfully ignorant of the weight of my princesshood. Unaware of the burdens of a life lived in scorn... How I longed to be normal." Softly shutting her still tear filled eyes, Luna recollected memories long since past. "Oh, but how much more I longed to be my sister."
"There finally came an evening when I had made up my mind... I was going to have the same love as commanded by my sister, or leave my position as a princess behind. I'd thought that I'd had it all planned out, I had just needed the time... and the approval of my sister. Before she'd gone to take her rest for the night, I confronted her with my idea. I wished for a Winter Moon Festival in which could match her Summer Sun." Luna's face hardened a bit. "But she declined me... again. I had drawn out star patterns and a wondrous celestial show that I'd hoped would enrapture the ponies of Equestria, and my sister, and show them once and for all that my night truly was beautiful. She claimed it would only make the situation worse, and that ponies may lash out."
"You said again." Cadence stated. "She'd turned down your ideas before?" Luna nodded sullenly as if to say many times. "What did you do then?"
"I pleaded with her. I cried. I threatened. But she wouldn't budge on the matter, insistent that she had my best intentions at heart... I wish I'd have believed her then. Maybe things would've turned out for the better." Luna's prior anger had softened into a deep sadness that spread throughout the courtyard. "That following morning, I'd made the decision to leave in secret. I was certain that she'd never let me go if she knew, so I slipped away from the guards after the afternoon tea my sister and I always shared. With a small pouch of gold and a cloak to hide under I set into the city in hopes of procuring supplies to last for a time while I traveled... It was a foolish mistake."
"It was not long before I was discovered by the local folk, who were already afraid of me in throngs, and for me to try and skulk around in the hopes of not being seen made things worse for myself. I was accused of trouble making, of theft, of plotting. I tried to talk the ponies down, but things only grew worse until ponies were all but attacking me. The things the said, and the faces are mostly a blur in my memory now, but what stands out the most is the amount of disgust they threw upon me. They truly thought of me like a monster that haunted their nightmares." Luna spoke almost as though she were retelling the story to herself, her eyes were glazed over in memory, and the rest of the world melted away from her.
"It was then that my sister arrived. Clearly the situation had been reported and made aware to her. She berated them, and told them to go about their business. For those brief moments, I was wholeheartedly grateful that she'd arrived and drove them away. Until she turned to me. There was a look of pride to her that made me feel almost sick to my stomach, as though she relished this situation, and to be the hero. What she said me next made my heart drop: "Didn't I warn you about this? You shouldn't be outside the castle during the day, you know that! What under the sun were you thinking? You're lucky I was close by to stop this nonsense in time." Her stance, her words, the tone of her voice, everything about that moment made me realize that she spoke to me like I was a disobedient pet. Like a dog that had gotten out of it's kennel and caused a scene." Magic flaring around her horn, Luna plucked a bud from a nearby bush and began observing it more closely. It was a special kind, that only bloomed at night.
"What happened from there?" Cadence asked, jogging Luna's mind back from her daydream.
"Right..." Luna said as she twirled the flower in her magic. "Something changed in me that day. I realized then how much I had been influenced and ruled over by my elder sister. She dragged me back to the castle, never the wiser of my plan to leave. For a long time, all I felt was heartbreak, and sorrow. I moped, and cried when alone. I mourned my circumstances, and ultimately felt betrayed. I thought about trying again to leave, but ultimately decided to stay, if only to spite those who wished me gone."
"The more time I had to think, the more I began to focus on the sheer inequality of it all. It is here that my spiral began... My sadness became anger, which turned into hatred. I hated the world and what it was, I hated the ponies in it, but most of all I hated my sister for being the one that they adored. I hated her above all else for having everything I had ever wanted." Shifting in her seat, Luna continued to play with the flower, which began to wilt from her toying.
"I fought with Celestia as often as I could. For the first time in my life I wanted to be stronger, to be bolder, to be heard. If my sister would not listen to my kindness, then perhaps she'd listen to my rage. But in contempt of every attempt I made, things never changed and I became all the angrier for it. Finally, at the Summer Sun Celebration two years after the incident in the city, I'd had enough and I refused to go. The world saw me as but a monster, as complete and utter darkness. So darkness is what I became. I came to the conclusion that if they wouldn't love me as their princess, then they'd fear me as their queen." Luna turned her eyes to her niece, gauging her reaction to this. Cadence had a shocked, slightly mortified look on her face.
"Are you saying that you chose to become Nightmare Moon?" the younger alicorn dared. With a wretched grin, Luna's pupils narrowed and brought on a terrible, familiar appearance which Cadence shrunk back from.
"Ponies modernly seem to be under the impression that when I became the Nightmare that I had been possessed by some evil. Perhaps Celestia herself spread the rumor of it, wishing for it to seem that way so that others would take pity upon me... but it is a lie. Nightmare Moon is the name I gave myself. The name I chose to mark the beginning of the era I'd intended for Equestria." Within a moment, her joyless smile was gone, and her eyes returned to normal again.
"But I'd had one last fight with Celestia before giving in to my rage... She sought me out after the celebration, demanding my reasons for not being there in person. She didn't like what I had to say, so I stomped off. I'd shouted, I'd begged and pleaded, and tried compromise so many times before. I refused to stoop before her again... but she wasn't going to have it, she followed soon after and we met again in the throne room. I was done with games and arguments at that point, so I demanded she not take another step a-"
"Twilight has told me about this." Cadence interrupted. "This is the moment you blocked out the sun, and changed physically into Nightmare Moon."
"Indeed." Luna stopped playing with the flower in her magic. In a burst of magical light, the flower shifted into a new form, sparkling with petals that glowed slightly in the moonlight. "But what Twilight Sparkle saw was skewed by the sheer magnitude of time in between then and now. The battle she saw was cut immensely into a fraction. The battle that took place between us that night was long, and brutal, and... bloody." Luna scowled, and the flower dropped it's petals suddenly and erupted into flames before falling from her magic, charred into ash.
"B-bloody?" her face gone pale, Cadence stammered for something else to say before giving up. Luna looked sorrowfully to her niece.
"Selfish pride and anger blinded me beyond all reason. I know you must think lesser of me for the facts of the matter, but I stand by what I said before: my punishment was well deserved by the end of it all." Tears welled in Luna's eyes yet again. "Ponies died by my hooves that night, Cadence. It didn't matter if they were guilty or innocent, they were enemies if they stood in the way and were fair game if it hurt my sister. Most were casualties from the wreckage we wrought from our magic, but they were lives that still cannot be brought back."
"Luna! Th-that's despicable!" Cadence choked on an angry sob. Luna's eyes showed a brief flash of hurt, before reflexively becoming completely stoic.
"I know." she replied flatly.
"But how could you? How? How could you do that to anypony? How can you live with yourself after that?" Cadence breathed and wiped a tear from her cheek, staring heavily into the empty eyes of the Lunar princess.
"One awful breath at a time..."