• Published 11th Feb 2012
  • 5,154 Views, 124 Comments

Phases of the Moon - Laurence Brown

Sequel to Moonbeam

  • ...

Part 3: Half -- Chapter 1

Dewdrop looked at the clock on the wall behind her. It read three in the afternoon, which meant she still had another hour of trying to keep busy at the Ponyville Inn before her shift was done. Having already done all of her tasks twice, she was out of ideas to help kill time and found herself simply standing behind the the front desk, patiently waiting to greet anypony who might stop by.

Not that she expected any guests though. The weather pegasi had dropped a half a foot of snow across the area during the past few days, making the season officially winter. And while that didn’t mean that nopony was out and about, the number of vacationers was drastically down, as the near empty inn proved. While she didn’t mind a lighter work load, she would rather have something to do to help pass the time than just stare at the clock.

Her reverie was broken by the sound of a bell chiming, announcing that somepony had come through the inn’s front door. Quickly turning around, Dewdrop gave a warm smile to the young mare that had just entered. She was a yellow earth pony, with a dark green mane that held its fluffy shape even in the cold weather. On her back was a sturdy looking set of saddlebags, and a white scarf was wrapped around her neck.

“Welcome to the Ponyville Inn!” Dewdrop said, motioning the newcomer forward with a wave of a hoof. “How can I help you?”

The young mare smiled in return and walked up to the front desk. “Hello! I am here looking for a room for the night. Mine journey has been a long one, and so mine hooves are a bit sore, but I am glad to have finally made it to Ponyville,” she said in a very thick accent while stretching out the syllables in her words.

Dewdrop’s eyes grew wide. “I apologize if it is rude of me to ask, but are you from Stalliongrad?”

“Yes!” the mare replied, her smile growing. “Very well done, not many ponies this far south recognize mine manner of speaking. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know?”

“Hearing you speak as you did was deja vu for me. Several years ago, a young stallion came here and said almost the exact same thing you did, in the same accent too. He’s become one of my best friends since then,” Dewdrop explained.

“I am here looking for somepony who would have arrived here around that long ago!” the mare said excitedly. “Tell me, is your friend’s name Pine Needle?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact it is,” Dewdrop replied, stunned by the turn of events.

“Ah, thank goodness!” the mare exclaimed, her accent becoming even more pronounced in her excitement. “Please, you must help me find him. I am his sister, Pine Bough, and I have not seen mine brother for a long time. I have some important news to tell him, and time is of the essence. Anything you could do to help me would be greatly appreciated.”

“Of course! Let me go talk to my manager. I still have another hour or so left to my shift, but with how slow things have been today, I’m sure I can get off early. I’ll gladly guide you myself. One moment, please.” Dewdrop walked to the door to the manager’s office and gently knocked. Hearing him call out for her to enter, Dewdrop opened the door and stepped inside.

“What’s up?” her manager asked, glancing up from the magazine he was looking through.

“A relative for one of my friends just showed up unexpectedly. It’s been really slow, and I have all of my cleaning done, do you mind if I leave a little early to show her the way?”

“I don’t know, I’m awfully busy just sitting here, paging through this month old thing,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye. “Of course you can. I’ll be right on out to watch the desk until Sundown shows up.”

“Thank you very much, sir!” Seeing her manager wave her out, Dewdrop returned to the front desk. “I got the go ahead, Pine Bough, so whenever you’re ready to go, we can start making our way to Pine Needle’s house.”

“I am as ready as I can be, um...”

Dewdrop lightly bopped her forehead with her hoof. “I forgot to introduce myself again, didn’t I? My name is Dewdrop.” She held the door outside open for Pine Bough, followed her through and fell into place beside her as they walked away from the inn. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to stop by my place first. It isn’t too far out of the way, and I’d like to drop off my apron. Besides, I think my roommate would be very interested to meet you.”

The two mares trudged through the snow, with Dewdrop pointing out various places to Pine Bough and greeting other ponies they passed on the way. After a few minutes of walking, Dewdrop came to a stop. “Here’s where me and Feather Down live. Would you do me a favor, and when my roommate comes down, just say hello and tell her your name?”

The yellow earth pony nodded slowly. “I can do that, but I am wondering why?”

Dewdrop grinned. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to surprise her. I think her reaction should be interesting, if not fun, to watch.” Casting a quick spell, she opened the door and called out, “Feather Down! I’m home, and I’ve brought a guest!”

“Welcome back, Dewdrop!” a voice answered from upstairs. The sound of hooves on stairs soon followed, and Feather Down soon joined the other two mares in the main room below. “Hey there! My name is Feather Down, nice to meet you.”

“Hello, mine name is Pine Bough, and it is nice to meet you too."

Feather Down’s eyes went wide in shock, then quickly narrowed into a very focused look. “Oh. My.” Turning to face Dewdrop, she asked, “Is she...?”

Dewdrop nodded. “His sister. We’re heading over to his house as soon as I drop off my apron.”

“Right, I’ll go grab Haystack then. We’ll meet you there!” With that, Feather Down charged out the still open front door at full speed, leaving a plume of churned up snow in her wake as she sped away at a full gallop.

Pine Bough blinked in surprise. “That was very... unexpected.”

“Heh, sorry about that, I’ll explain things to you, just let me run this upstairs real quick.” Dewdrop trotted up the stairs and returned a few moments later, the apron discarded and her neck now covered by a red and white striped scarf. Leading the way back out of the house, she closed the door with a quick burst of telekinesis and starting walking down the road side by side with Pine Bough.

“A couple of weeks ago, we were at a dinner in Canterlot with one of our friends, and Pine Needle sat next to somepony that, after recognizing his accent and name, asked if he was related to Stalliongrad’s mayor,” she explained as they walked through Ponyville. “That piqued Feather Down’s interest, because she realized that Pine Needle simply never brought up anything about his past to us besides the barest minimum. I guess she got him alone and tried to dig some more stuff out, but came away empty hoofed. Now that you’re here, it looks like we’ll finally be able to learn some more about him.”

Pine Bough frowned. “He never once mentioned me, or the rest of our family, or why he left?”

“Hun, he barely mentioned the fact that he was originally from Stalliongrad. About the only time I can remember him mentioning it would be in passing while trying to explain something about his earth pony magic. I always assumed he left Stalliongrad because of the weather, although now you have me wondering just what that reason was.” Seeing Pine Bough about to answer, she raised a hoof to stop her. “Wait. Haystack and Feather Down are going to want to know too. I can wait a few minutes easily enough to save you the trouble of repeating yourself.”

After rounding a corner, Dewdrop pointed ahead of them. “See those pine trees? Guess who lives there,” she said with a grin.

Pine Bough started to pick up her pace when a voice from above called down, “Over here, Feather Down!” The young earth pony mare came to a stop as a brown pegasus landed on the other side of Dewdrop from her. A few seconds later, a sprinting Feather Down came to stand next to her, and without word, the four ponies all started walking forward as one.

Around half a block from Pine Needle’s house, Pine Bough came to a stop. She watched as Pine Needle stood next to one of his trees with a basket at this feet. He made wide, sweeping gestures with a hoof towards the basket, and a second later a pine cone flew down from the branches... to hit him squarely on top of his head. Quickly picking up the erroneously thrown cone with his teeth and dropping it into the basket, he shouted something upward while pointing at the basket again. The amused chattering of a squirrel could be heard from above and another pine cone was dropped, this time into the basket.

With a wide smile on her face, Pine Bough trotted ahead, and when she was just a house away shouted, “Pine Needle! Brother!”

Pine Needle whirled around, shock plain on his face. So stunned by what he saw, he didn’t even register the pine cone that flew down and bounced off the top of his snout. Surprised by the lack of a response, Acorn scampered down a branch to see what was happening.

Pine Bough ran up and embraced her brother in a giant hug. Pine Needle’s friends stopped at the edge of the front lawn, giving the two siblings their space in what was turning into a very heartwarming moment as Pine Needle returned the hug and lifted his sister off the ground to spin her around. “It, it is you!” he exclaimed as he put her down, still having trouble processing what was happening. “You’ve grown so much since I last saw you? How long ago was it?”

“Almost three years, mine brother," she replied, her accent showing up in full force in her joy of the moment. "You missed me getting mine cutie mark too, see?” she pointed at her flank.

Pine Needle bent his head to get a closer look at it, a trio of small pine trees. “I, I’m so proud of--”


Pine Needle was sent tumbling to the ground as Pine Bough used his diverted attention, and convenient placing, to buck him squarely on the cheek. Pine Needle’s friends all stared in shock, mouths open wide in disbelief, at the sudden turn of events. Pine Bough walked over to stand above her brother with tears starting to trail down her cheeks. “That’s for leaving like you did! You didn’t tell anypony, you didn’t leave a note, NOTHING! I was so afraid that something terrible had happened to you, and mother and father were in such a panic...” She broke down into sobs, unable to say anything else as the memories of the past overwhelmed her.

Pine Needle slowly stood up and, without saying a word pulled her in and silently comforted her. Haystack led the others forward and, pointing to the house, said, ”Maybe we should take this inside? That way we can have some privacy, and we can all find out just what the hay is going on.” Seeing the two siblings nod, they all entered the domicile, Acorn quickly scampering after them all, not wanting to be left outside by himself.

Having finished her studies for the day, and with some time remaining before dinner was served, Luna walked the halls of Canterlot Castle lost in thought. Looking back on the night of the Gala, she realized how lucky she had been that she hadn’t confronted her sister about what she had discovered. While she felt she had a point to make, she had quickly realized that she didn’t know how to convey her thoughts appropriately.

Pausing in front of one of the many detailed stained glass windows that were prominent throughout the building, she pondered what to do. It still made her upset that Celestia hadn’t told her about being jealous of her and the time she got to spend regularly with her friends. However, her anger had long since shifted from her sister to herself for not picking up the signs on her own. All the clues that had been dropped around her, and the subtle hints discretely placed, looking back they all seemed so obvious.

She shook her head in frustration; she needed to stop beating herself up over what had happened, and think about how to make the future better. She had come up with several ideas during the past few days, and had quickly discarded each of them in turn for obvious defects. Now she was down to only two real options left that she could think of. The first was to follow in her sister’s tracks and do as she did; leave clues for her in the same fashion that Celestia had done for her, hoping that her sister was able to see them and figure out her intentions. The other was to simply grasp the bit firmly between her teeth and bring it up bluntly.

Part of her really wanted to try the first path, if only to see how well she could do in emulating her sister and her methods. She had a suspicion that it might be just what Celestia wanted, a private game between the two of them, as they tried to carry out a conversation that was communicated not through words or personal actions, but through events and unvoiced hints. Even if she failed, Luna suspected that her sister would still be happy for the effort that she had put into it.

The problem was it went against her nature so strongly that Luna couldn’t see any result but failure. The last couple of evenings, while waiting to carry out her duties in raising the moon, she had tried to create some schemes that she could put in motion. And while she had come up with a couple of basic ideas, she knew that she still lacked the connections and resources to pull them off effectively.

Hearing the bells announce that dinner time had arrived, she took a deep breath and made her way towards the royal dining room. Upon entering, she found that she had arrived first, so she quickly gathered up all of the servers. “I’m sorry to ask this of you, but after you bring us our meals, would you all please leave the room? I have something that I want to discuss in private with my sister.” Seeing them nod, she thanked them and then took her seat.

A short while later, Celestia arrived, looking worn out. “How was your day?” Luna asked as her sister took her seat at the table.

“Oh, the same as it usually is during the start of every winter Luna,” the white alicorn replied. “Having to deal with the inevitable hiccups in the distribution of the snow, the usual increase in ponies needing help to deal with the weather, and of course there are always some nobles trying to find a way to turn things to their profit or advantage.” She sighed and gave Luna a weary smile. “But you don’t want to hear me complain about that, I’m sure,” she said as the servers placed a large bowl of salad onto the table. “Tell me, how was your day?”

Instead of answering, Luna nodded to the servers, who with a quick bow left the room. Seeing Celestia raise an eyebrow inquisitively, Luna looked her in the eyes and said, “Actually, yes, I do want to hear you complain. Be it about the nobles, the state of Equestria, or...” she paused, taking one last brief moment to prepare herself before committing herself to her course of action. “Or especially if it is about me, and how inconsiderate I have been to you.”

Celestia paused, a bite of leafy greens halfway to her mouth, and eyed her sister questioningly. “What are you talking about, Luna?” she asked, confusion evident in her voice.

“Sister, I have been a foal, and I apologize,” Luna replied. “Every week, I get to spend a day with my friends. I get to escape the day to day grind of being a princess, even if my duties pale in comparison to yours. I can’t imagine how that must make you feel, knowing how rare such chances for you are.”

Celestia let her salad return to the plate in front of her. “Luna, please, there is nothing for you to apologize for. It isn’t your fault that things are as they are.”

“But it is!” she said forcefully. “If I hadn’t been so blind to what you have to go through on a daily basis, if I hadn’t run away in a desperate attempt to turn my life around.” She paused, and lowered her gaze down to the table in front of her. “If I hadn’t allowed myself to let my jealousy get the better of me all those years ago, and left you all alone for so long.”

“Oh, Luna, you know I forgave you of that! Please don’t tell me you’re still beating yourself up over something that happened so long ago.”

Luna shook her head slowly. “No, I’m not, or at least not directly. But the consequences are still making things harder for you even today. The fact that I can’t help you in governing Equestria yet, that you have to bear that burden by yourself, instead of splitting it with me. Look at you right now, worn out, physically and mentally from having to do the same things, over and over again! You can’t tell me that you’re enjoying yourself, with how things are.”

Celestia paused to gather her words, and replied, “No, no I’m not. But that’s why I’m doing everything I can to help you, Luna. That’s why I keep on pushing you in your studies, so that you can be able to help me out sooner, rather than later.”

“I understand that, but I think that isn’t enough,” she said, feeling her confidence build. Celestia wasn’t dismissing her outright. She was taking the conversation very seriously, which meant that she was hitting the nail on the head. “There has to be more than I can do than spending all day reading books! Have me sit in on your sessions, so that I can get a better understanding on how to handle petitioners. Or delegate some lesser tasks to me, anything to give you some more time for yourself!”

A small laugh escaped from Celestia’s throat. “Oh, Luna, while I greatly appreciate your eagerness to help me out, I think you’re overreacting to me being fatigued.” Her horn glowed, and she once again started to lift a mouthful of salad with her magic.

“This isn’t about today, and you being tired, sister,” Luna said softly. “This is about last Sunday, and the Gala. About how you had to go to such lengths just to have a night with friends. Haystack had been thinking about all the things you’ve done lately, such as your trip to Ponyville with Philomena, and what you did the night of the charity dinner. He helped me realize how blind I’ve been, and so I raced back here, only to see the Gala was already over. I followed you, and I saw you at the donut shop with Twilight Sparkle and her friends. That you have to go so far out of your way to do what I do every week without any complications, I...” she trailed off, not certain what else to say.

“Well,” Celestia said, “that wasn’t the only reason why I set things up to happen as they did. Not that I knew they would go that way, but I had a good feeling that they might.”

“But it was a reason, correct?” Luna asked.

“I... yes. And if I’m to be honest, it was the outcome I was hoping for the most.”

“That’s what I want to help you with, Celestia! You shouldn’t have to do that to have a night off with friends. It isn’t right! So please, tell me how I can change that for you. Let me know what it is that I have to do to help you, not down the line, but as soon as possible!”

Celestia sat silently in her seat, and Luna thought that she might be holding back tears. In a husky voice that confirmed her suspicions, Celestia said, “Okay. I honestly hadn’t even thought about what I could do along those lines, but I promise you that I will tonight. And Luna? Thank you,” she said with a smile. “Thank you so much. I’ll be honest, even knowing that you didn’t mean for it to hurt, that it was never your intention, it still did frustrate me. To hear you say this, to hear how you feel, I...” She swallowed, and then levitated a napkin up to blow her nose into. “Look at me, tearing up over this, how silly is that?”

Luna got up from her seat and trotted over to her sister and nuzzled her. “It isn’t funny at all, Celestia,” she said, fighting back tears of her own. “Not in the least.” The two stood there, necks pressed against each other, for a couple of minutes as they let their love for each other do the talking.

Finally, Celestia cleared her throat, and slowly pulled back. “Very well then. I promise you that, starting on Monday, I’ll have come up with some things for you. I’m not certain yet what they’ll be, but I’ll do my best to help you.”

Luna smiled and nodded, and returned to her seat. “Don’t hold back either. I understand that you might not be able to always find interesting or important things for me to tackle, but that’s good. I think those have to be the worst for you, the boring, mundane things that haven’t changed for hundreds of years, that long ago stopped giving any challenge or excitement.”

Celestia smiled back at her sister. “You’re right about that. For now though, let’s just do our best to regain our composure, okay? I don’t want to give the servers any more fodder for their gossip than I have to, okay?”

“Sounds good to me. And Celestia? Thank you.”

“And thank you, Luna. Thank you very much.”

The main room of Pine Needle’s house was packed. Pine Bough and Feather Down stood next to the front door, while Pine Needle stood on the other side of the room facing them. Dewdrop and Haystack stood off to the side next to each other, watching the others and hoping that things didn’t get out of hand. Dewdrop looked at her roommate, concerned that the pink mare might make things worse than they had to be.

For now though, Feather Down was quite calm. “Well,” she said, looking back and forth between the two siblings, “now that we’ve had a chance to collect ourselves, why don’t you tell us what’s going on?” She turned to Pine Bough. “What brought you here in the first place? Have you been searching for him for a long time, or...?”

Pine Bough shook her head. “No, although if I had even the smallest idea of where he had gone I probably would have. We only found out where he lived because of a letter we received last week, from some pony in Canterlot-”

“Marigold!” Pine Needle interrupted. “It had to have been her, she knew so much about Stalliongrad, and our grandfather being the mayor... I can’t think of any other pony who could have done it.”

“I think that’s who it was who sent us the letter,” she replied, nodding her head slowly. “The day after it arrived, mother and father had already packed some bags and had headed out. They said that they were going to stop by Canterlot first, so maybe they are going to visit her and get some more information before coming here to Ponyville?”

Pine Needle nodded slowly. “That seems like a sound plan to me, anyway.” His face turned melancholic. “I wish the circumstances of our reunion were better than this.”

“Hold on,” Feather Down said. “There’s something I’m missing here. Just why did you leave Stalliongrad in the first place, and how come your parents showing up is so bad?”

“Our parents were very, what is the word I am looking for?” he said with a grimace. “Controlling? Domineering? Especially mother, although our father didn’t lack for it either. When it became apparent just how skilled I was with mine magic, they went to great lengths to help nurture it. At first, it wasn’t bad at all, really. I had a strength that was very rare, even in a family that prided itself on being skilled in said field. So, I found it enjoyable to be given help to make it blossom, to reach mine potential.

“It started to become a nuisance when they started to plan out everything for me. For a while I had wanted to see what it would be like to try some other things out besides working in the fields and improving mine earth pony magic. Some of mine friends in school, for example, did some part time work helping out the construction crews, earning money and picking up some skills by doing some of the lifting and the easier tasks. When I asked our parents if I could join them for a weekend, they adamantly said no.

“Another time, I wanted to take an after school class where we were encouraged to try our hooves at different types of art. Painting, sculpting, and some musical instruments for students to try out were all made available. I didn’t think that I would be any good at any of things they were offering, but I wanted to at least try. Again, I was told no, and they made sure that all of mine time was filled up with extra work so that I couldn’t sneak off to go there anyways.”

“That sound pretty unfair,” Feather Down said, “but I don’t think that it warrants up and leaving without telling anypony.”

“And if that was all that it was, I would agree with you,” Pine Needle replied. “It was somewhat miserable and lonely, and Pine Bough was pretty much the only friend I had after a couple of years of such meddling due to me not being able to spend any time with anypony else outside of school. But that was not what drove me to leave. It was when our parents decided that, in order to help keep the magic strong for future generations they would pick out who I was going to marry, that I decided that enough was enough.

“And so I told mine parents that I didn’t want them to do that, that if I was going to fall in love with somepony, it was going to be with the mare of mine choice, not theirs. Of course, they did not listen. Luckily for me, mine parents had a very hard time finding somepony who not only met their high standards, but was also willing to go through with such a forced relationship. It took them over a year before they found a mare who fit those requirements. I tried one last time to tell them no, and they simply ignored me and insisted that I just needed to give her a chance. That was when I left.”

Pine Needle’s friends all displayed various levels of shock and distaste for the situation their companion had been forced to go through. “Well, I certainly don’t blame you for running away in circumstances like that,” Dewdrop said. “But I still don’t get why you couldn’t have at least told your sister about it. From what you said, and the fact that she came all this way on her own just so she could warn you? I think it seems safe to say that she wouldn’t have told anypony else where you went.”

“Yes!” Pine Bough exclaimed. “I would not have told told anypony anything!”

“And I know that you would not have,” Pine Needle said, his voice filled with misery. “But don’t you see, that why I couldn’t have told you anything! If mother and father even suspected that you knew where I had gone off to, how do you think they would have reacted?”

Pine Bough blinked in surprise. “They, they most likely would have constantly badgered me, trying to find out, hoping to wear me down,” she said in a whisper.

“That’s why I didn’t tell you. With how stubborn they had become, I did not want to you to suffer because of mine actions.” He drooped his head. “Although, it seems that I made you suffer anyhow. I am truly sorry, sister. If I could have done anything else, I would have!”

Pine Bough nodded slowly. “I think that, in the long run, what you did was the best option. After a couple of weeks of frustration, mother and father took some time to look at themselves, and question why their prized son would simply up and run away. I believe that they did not like everything that they saw, and they became much less overbearing. They gave me a lot more freedom in my actions, and even encouraged me to try new things, although I think part of that is because I do not have your level of talent for earth pony magic.”

There was a moment of silence, as the gathered ponies took some time to sort through everything that had been said. “Well, that explains a lot,” Dewdrop said, breaking the silence, “but there’s one thing I’m still not understanding. At the inn, you said you had something important to tell Pine Needle, and you seemed to be in a hurry to do so.”

Pine Bough’s eyes widened in shock. “How could I have forgotten?” She shook her head in frustration. “Because of mine excitement at seeing mine brother again, that’s why,” she said, answering her own question. “Pine Needle, there is a reason why mother and father are coming to find you, and it is not for the same reason as mine.”

With a sigh, Pine Needle slouched. “Well, mine sister, do not hold back. Tell it to me straight, so that we can figure out what to do about it.”

“Well, right before the letter from Canterlot arrived, they were hosting some other ponies. A married couple who did a lot of exploring and wandering, and had their family elsewhere. They struck me as somewhat reckless, to be honest. Anyway, when mother and father read the letter, these visitors mentioned they had a daughter around the same age as you, and well...”

“Let me guess,” Pine Needle said with a moan. “They went and volunteered me to marry this mare, didn’t they?”

Pine Bough nodded sadly. After another short lull in the conversation, Feather Down started laughing. Seeing everypony else turn and look at her in astonishment, she waved a hoof in the air and said, “I just figured out how we can throw a wrench into your parent’s plans! When they show up, all we have to do is make it obvious that you already have a special somepony in your life, and that breaking up that relationship would cause too much trouble!”

“That sounds... plausible, I suppose,” Pine Needle conceded. “However, I just can’t see it working that well. There’s only one pony that I really love, and you know how I act when I get near her! What are we going to do, pretend to have me be dating somepony else?” He shook his head. “No, as good as it might sound at first, I think it might cause too much trouble in the long run. Who would want to go with such a plan anyway? You?”

Feather Down paused to consider the notion. “I guess I could if we had to, as a last ditch option. I was thinking more along the lines of helping you work past being the moon struck love colt you turn into whenever she is around. Wouldn’t that be great, if you actually got to go on a date with her?”

“Well...” Pine Needle paused, his head tilted in thought. “Okay, tell you what. You come up with how we’re going to do this, and after I hear what you’ve come up with, then I’ll give you a yes or no answer. Deal?”

“Deal!” Feather Down shouted in joy.

“I have a question,” Haystack said. “Tomorrow we have our weekly trip to Canterlot. What are we going to do with Pine Bough? On one hoof, I don’t know if it is okay to bring somepony else along without advance notice. But on the other hoof, I don’t think it would be a good idea to leave Pine Bough here all alone, especially if her parents could be showing up any day.”

“I say we bring her along,” Feather Down said. “It’s either that, or Pine Needle stays behind to watch after her. Maybe we can come up with a better plan during our visit with Luna, I’m sure she’ll be able to help us out in some way, right?”

“Luna?” Pine Bough asked. “Wait, there is only one Luna that I know of. Are you telling me that you are friends with one of the royal princesses?”

“Indeed we are,” Pine Needle said with a smile. “And if I am to be honest, I have a hard time believing it myself sometimes.” Seeing his sister’s eyes widen in disbelief, he added, “I’ll fill you in tonight, after I treat you to dinner, how does that sound?”

“That would be great! And I can tell you about all of the things that happened in Stalliongrad after you left.”

“Okay then, we can ask the guards when they come to pick us up in the morning. If they say that she can’t come, then I’ll stay behind, and, um, I don’t know,” he admitted. Turning to face Haystack, he asked, “Would it be okay if we spent the day at your place then? I don’t think it wold be good to be here if they decide to come tomorrow, it would be too easy for them to find us, and I would like some more time before I decide on what exactly I am going to do about their plans for me.”

“Hmm, I’m okay with that, but are you sure that’s the best place to go? If they’re able to find out where you live, odds are good that they’ll also be able to figure out where you work.” He turned to look at Dewdrop. “Maybe they could go to your house if they have to stay behind?”

“I have no problems with that. Do you mind, Feather Down?” the unicorn asked her roommate.

“Not at all! Even if they figure out that you might be there because we’re your friends, there should be enough room underneath Phillipe for both of you to hide.” She turned to face Pine Bough. “Well then, I’ve got some planning to do, and I’m sure you and your brother have a ton of stuff to tell each other. We’ll give you guys your space and see you tomorrow, okay?”

Everypony voiced agreement, and after some goodbye hugs, Pine Needle’s friends departed. Haystack flew back to his farm, and Dewdrop and Feather Down walked back to their house together. Inside, brother and sister sat down, and began the long process of catching up after being apart for several years.

“Help me out here, Dewdrop. Do you have any ideas on how we can help Pine Needle get over how paralyzing his crush on Applejack is?” Feather Down asked as she cleaned up the dinner mess.

“Hmm, I honestly don’t know,” the orange unicorn replied. “I’d suggest something along the lines of negative reinforcement, such as pouring water over his head whenever he freezes up, but I’m afraid that it would be too difficult to do without Applejack catching on to what’s happening.”

“Do you think she even knows?” Feather Down asked after putting the dirty plates in the sink. “I don’t see her much, but I’ve yet to hear her comment on it, or any of her friends for that matter.”

Dewdrop shrugged. “From what I’ve seen, either Applejack doesn’t know, or she’s polite enough to not make a big deal of it. I think a lot of it is because Pine Needle doesn’t make any noise when his love bug bites him, he just freezes up and spaces out, so it isn’t like he’s bothering anypony else when it happens.” Standing up, she walked over to the sink. “My turn to do the dishes hun, I’ll take over from here.”

“Thank you! Well then, I guess there’s only one sure way for me work this out,” she said with a grin.

“Let me guess,” Dewdrop said while rolling her eyes, “you’re going to sleep on it?”

“Yup!” Feather Down said cheerfully. “If you’ll excuse me then?” Seeing her roommate chuckle and nod, she trotted happily up the stairs to the bedroom. Looking out the window, she smiled at the sight of the moon shining through. “Good job, Luna,” she said as she climbed into her giant, luxurious bed, and quickly fell asleep.

Feather Down looked around her. She knew she was in a dream, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember the last time she had been aware of that while she was still in the dream itself. She also couldn’t recall the last time she had had such a strange dream either; she was standing in the center of a large white plain, underneath a very dark, starry sky. The ground was unlike anything she could remember; it was a very dry, gravelly white dirt that was underhoof. Suddenly, on a hunch, she looked up at the sky.

“Hmm, no Equestria above me,” she said out loud. “For a moment, I thought I was dreaming that I was on the moon.”

“Oh, but you are,” said a chilling and scarily familiar voice from behind her. Feather Down turned around, and stared in shock at the sight of a black alicorn.

“You, you’re...” she stammered, unable to give voice to what was was seeing.

“But you’re wrong about one thing. This isn’t a dream,” the dark incarnation said as she slowly walked towards the pink earth pony.

“This is a nightmare.”