• Published 11th Feb 2012
  • 5,162 Views, 124 Comments

Phases of the Moon - Laurence Brown

Sequel to Moonbeam

  • ...

Crescent -- Chapter 4

Dewdrop’s breakfast was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Turning from her plate of apple slices, she trotted out of the kitchen, wondering who it could be so early on a Saturday. Opening the door, she was surprised to see Ponyville’s mail mare standing there with a scroll at the ready for her. “Oh, hello Derpy!” she said as her horn glowed to float the scroll towards her. “This is a surprise, you usually don’t stop by here until late in the afternoon.”

“Special delivery!” the pegasus cheerfully replied. “It came in with the overnight bundle from Canterlot, with instructions to have it delivered first thing. I have two more to drop off, and then I’ll be starting my usual rounds for the day. Can I get you to sign here, please?” she asked as she produced a clipboard from underneath one of her wings.

“Of course, hun,” Dewdrop said, stretching her spell to encompass a quill attached to the clipboard, and quickly signed her name with a flowery script. “There you go. Anything else I can do for you?”

“Nope! That’s all I need, thank you.”

“No, thank you!” Dewdrop replied. “Have a good day, and I’m sorry you had to be out and about so early on account of us.”

Derpy chuckled. “Oh, I’m up early all the time because of my work, so this is no bother at all. You have a good day too!” the pegasus cried out as she flew away, waving as she left.

Dewdrop waved back, then closed the door behind her as she headed inside. She opened the delivered message, but before she could start reading it she was interrupted by a groggy voice from above asking, “Who the hay was that at this early hour?”

The unicorn turned and smiled at her sleepy roommate, who was standing at the top of the stairs that led to their bedroom. “Eight o’clock isn’t that early, Feather Down. And that was Derpy, dropping off an important piece of mail for us. I’m guessing it’s from Luna, since she said it came from Canterlot. Come on down and I’ll read it to you,” Dewdrop said, waiting patiently until Feather Down made her way down the stairs to stand across from her.

“Let’s see,” Dewdrop said as she quickly scanned the parchment floating in front of her. “Feather Down and Dewdrop, you are both cordially invited to a moon viewing party to be held tomorrow at sunset. Since I have continued to pay the rent on where I lived when I was disguised as Moonbeam, I figured we could hold it there, which would make it the perfect place to try to make up for how the first one I hosted ended. Of course, since I will have to take some time to set things up, this will mean that your weekly trip to visit me in Canterlot will be cancelled. I apologize for that, but we would have been very restricted in what we could have done with all of the preparations going on for the Grand Galloping Gala anyway. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow! Your friend, Luna.”

Feather Down rubbed the sleep from her eyes with a hoof. “Aw, I was kind of hoping it was going to be a last second invitation to the Grand Galloping Gala, but this should be fun too. How long has it been since the first moon viewing party? About a month?”

Dewdrop nodded slowly, her eyes looking upward in thought. “That sounds about right. Maybe a week off one way or the other, I couldn’t tell you exactly without looking at a calender.”

“That’s okay, there’s no need for that. I was just thinking that the moon should be close to full again at least. Doesn’t it take around a month for it to go through its phases?”

“I have no clue, hun,” the orange unicorn replied. “To be honest, I forgot a lot of what she told us during the last moon viewing party once we got to looking through the telescope. It was all so fascinating! And, of course, anything I might have held onto after that was lost with what happened at the end, and our subsequent journey into the Everfree Forest. That was more excitement than I like, let me tell you,” she said, shivering a little at the memory of it.

“Ah, don’t worry Dewdrop,” Feather Down said, “we won’t see a repeat of what happened last time. I mean, it would be impossible for us to have an exact repeat, right?” Seeing her friend nod slowly in agreement, Feather Down smiled and turned to head back upstairs. “We’re just going to be spending the night looking up at the moon with a princess! What could go wrong?” Feather Down froze, and then drooped her head. “I just jinxed us, didn’t I?”

Dewdrop chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure we’ll be okay. Although I do appreciate being able to blame you if things go wrong.”

Feather Down blew Dewdrop a raspberry, and trotted back up to her bed as Dewdrop laughed from below.

Placing one hoof in front of the other, Nightmare Moon continued her steady pace. Having no need to stop to eat or sleep, she had covered an amazing amount of ground. She was now on the far side of the moon from Equestria, the world below having passed from her view some time ago. She tried to remember when that had happened; had it been yesterday, or the day before? She had been so focused with honing in on where the energy she was feeling was emanating from that she had lost track of time.

Now she found herself stopping at the top of a ridge, looking down on a plain covered with rocks made of basalt, and she quickly realized where she was; the eastern ‘sea’ of the moon, or as it was called by the astronomers of old, Mare Orientale. It had been formed when, presumably, an asteroid had crashed into the moon long ago in the past, leaving behind a startling series of concentric circles where it had impacted. The sages of old had been drawn to it for its unique look, as well as for the fact that it wasn’t always visible from below, due to the moon’s want to rotate slightly on its axis when it was being raised and lowered.

While the ponies of the past had been pulled to it for aesthetic reasons, Nightmare Moon found herself pulled towards it because of a much different purpose. Curious as to whether or not the center of the Mare was indeed where the sensation she had been following was coming from, or if it was merely past it in a straight line past it from her, she decided to angle her path a little off to one side. If her goal was where she suspected it might be, she figured she would start to notice a change in what she was detecting after a few hours of steady travel. Pleased that she had something of interest to keep her occupied during her imprisonment, she resumed her steady pace down one of the gradual parts of the ridge she was currently standing upon.

Exhausted after a busy morning, Pine Needle had stopped for lunch at one of the many diners near the market of Ponyville. He was pleased that he had been able to order a small bowl of nuts for Acorn, who was happily and peacefully chowing down on them. The squirrel, his new pet, had been the reason for his shopping expedition. After a long talk about the joys and responsibilities of owning a pet (as well as a stern lecture directed at both of them about the less than friendly attitude they had shown towards each other in her presence), Fluttershy had then gone on at length about what Acorn would need in order to be comfortable and content as his pet.

Still feeling bad about how he had treated his friend earlier, Haystack had given him some bits to help cover the costs of buying food and other essentials for Acorn. The hardest part had been trying to communicate with the squirrel what he wanted to get for him. Through the use of excessive pantomime, the two of them had finally been able to work some things out, only to realize that it was then so late in the day that most of the stores they would want to visit would be closed. So, the two of them had gone to sleep, with Acorn spending the night curled up in some old sheet of Pine Needle’s.

He had just finished breakfast when Derpy stopped by to deliver an invitation for Luna’s moon viewing party. Thanking the cross-eyed mail pony for her efforts, he placed the invitation safely on a shelf and got through to Acorn that they would be heading out to go shopping for him. Pine Needle found that Acorn enjoyed riding on top of his head, the lower half of the squirrel hidden from view by his mane.

Shopping was an interesting experience. He ended up attracting a small crowd of fillies and colts who, having no school that day, followed him around to watch him act things out to the squirrel, who would then carefully consider his options before selecting something. He had even overheard two ponies mention how cute he looked with Acorn perched in his mane, which had led to a brief stop as he floated through a daydream where Applejack complimented him on his taking in the squirrel as a pet. Acorn, for his part, had made himself useful by waking him up from his stupor with a couple of well placed stomps after he became bored of waiting for the pony underneath him to start moving again.

“Pine Needle!” Hearing his voice called out, the green earth pony looked about and spotted Feather Down walking towards his table. “You don’t eat out all that often, what brings you... why do you have a squirrel eating with you?”

“Feather Down, mine friend! Sit, sit, have you had any lunch yet?” he asked as he quickly swallowed a mouthful of greens. “I have been out shopping all morning for mine new pet, Acorn,” he said as he gestured at the bundle of wrapped goods next to him and at the squirrel. For his part, noticing that Pine Needle was talking to someone else, Acorn looked up from his meal to examine the pink pony that was sitting down at the table across from him.

“A pet? That’s new. What made you decide to get one? Oh! I bet this has something to do with your pine trees and that earth pony magic you keep on talking about, right?”

Pine Needle sighed. “As I keep on having to tell everypony, that isn’t how earth pony magic works. But, you are correct on mine pine trees having something to do with it.” He stopped for a moment as a waitress came over to take Feather Down’s order, and he then proceeded to give his friend a quick recap of what had happened yesterday and that morning. By the time he had finished, Feather Down’s meal had been brought over, and the conversation paused as they all focused on their meals for a few minutes.

“So,” Feather Down asked after finishing off half of her dandelion sandwich, “are you going to bring him with you to the moon viewing party?”

“If he’s up for it,” the earth pony stallion replied. “Fluttershy said that squirrels usually go to bed once it gets dark, to help them avoid all of the predators that are out and about during the night time. I’d like to, to be honest, just so we can get used to each other some more.”

“It’ll be a good chance for you to show him to Dewdrop and Luna too. Hmm, is he going to come with us on our trips to Canterlot?”

“I honestly don’t know yet. That will be something I’d like to talk to Luna about tomorrow. In a way, it’s a blessing that she’s coming to Ponyville tomorrow instead of us going to visit her in the capital.”

“I guess so,” Feather Down said reluctantly.

“What’s wrong?” Pine Needle asked, sensing his friend’s discomfort.

With a sigh, Feather Down said, “Oh, I’m just being silly, that’s all. I had such a great time at the charity dinner we went to last time we were in Canterlot, and a small part of me was hoping we’d get to go to the Grand Galloping Gala. I know I’m being greedy, but still... it’s the Grand Galloping Gala!”

Pine Needle blinked a couple of times before asking, “And this Gala, it is something, um, grand?”

Feather Down shook her head in dismay. “I really should know better than to discuss high society with farmer stallions,” she said with a sigh. “Yes, for simplicity’s sake, it is very grand. It is the biggest social event of the whole year, and everypony who is somepony will be there.”

“Except for Luna, apparently,” commented Pine Needle.

Feather Down paused, and a serious look covered her face. “Now that you mention it, that is kind of odd, isn’t it? I wonder why she’s coming to Ponyville to spend the night with us instead of going to the Gala? You would think that with her trying as hard as she is to fit back in that it would be the perfect event to help her out.”

Pine Needle shrugged. “I don’t know. You should ask Haystack about it, he seems to be spending a lot of time wondering about the princesses lately, although more about Celestia now that I think about it. It sounds like a lot of the other things he’s heard or talked about recently.”

“Hmm. Actually, I think I will. That’s a good idea, Pine Needle. Thank you. Do you know if he’ll be at his farm today?”

“As far as I know he should be,” he answered. “At least, he didn’t mention to me that he was going to be doing anything out of the ordinary yesterday.”

“Of course. It isn’t like he comes into town that often anyway,” she replied with a chuckle. Feather Down then proceeded to quickly devour the rest of her sandwich, slapping some bits onto the table to pay for it as she got back to her hooves. “Well, I’ll be heading off to Haystack’s farm then. If you’ll excuse me?” Upon receiving an acknowledging nod from the stallion she headed out, accelerating quickly to a gallop and was soon out of sight.

Acorn looked at Pine Needle and made some questioning chatter sounds while waving his arms. Pine Needle simply shrugged expressively in return, which garnered a disdainful sound from the squirrel. It wasn’t until later, on their way home, that Pine Needle realized that he and Acorn had come their closest yet to actually understanding each other. All it had taken was the one thing that had befuddled males of all species since the beginning of time: Just why were females so confusing?

Luna woke up early on Sunday, having spent Saturday planning for her moon viewing party, eager for the events of the day ahead. She had worried that it might be difficult to get some of the things that she had needed, due to all of the preparatory work going on in decorating the castle for the Gala, but it had turned out to be the opposite. With the chefs making snacks for hundreds of ponies, getting them to give up one tray for a small group of five had been easy. Finding a pair of guards willing to pull a chariot for her and her supplies had been a surprise too; it turned out quite a few members of the guard didn’t like having to take care of all the minor hassles that so many ponies together inevitably caused, and she had been forced to wait until one of the commanders had come by to help her decide who would get to spend the evening as her personal help.

There was one last task that still had to be completed, the transferring of the duty to raise and lower the moon. While there wasn’t any need for a specific spell to be able to influence the celestial objects, the ponies of long ago had developed enchantments that made the task much easier, and the passing of these magics from one pony to another had been a vital piece that had helped create the monarchy that currently ruled Equestria. She had wanted to make tonight be the first night that she performed the duty herself, and so had told Celestia to keep it until today. With a spring to her step that she rarely exhibited, she made her way to the dining hall, hoping her sister would already be there. Opening the door with a quick spell, she smiled widely at the sight of her sister patiently waiting for her.

“My, my, somepony sure looks happy,” Celestia said with a grin. “We both have big things waiting for us today, are you ready?”

“You bet!” Luna said as she took her seat. The servers brought out their meal, a platter with a variety of fruit slices on it, and the two sisters broke their fast.

“So,” Celestia said after a few quiet minutes of eating, “do you need any help with anything for tonight? Did you have any problems?”

Luna shook her head. “No problems at all. Right after lunch I’ll go get the guards, and they’ll help me get everything loaded into the chariot. The hardest part is going to be waiting that long, to be honest. Is there anything I could help you with while I wait?”

Her sister shook her head while smiling. “Thank you Luna, but no. I will be spending most of the day simply waiting and keeping out of the decorators way. Unless some sort of emergency comes up, I’ll probably use the morning and the afternoon to get caught up on my reading. Speaking of which, how are your studies coming along?”

“Oh my goodness!” Luna said while blushing in embarrassment. “I’ve been so busy this week, what with the assembly and now tonight, I don’t think I’ve even looked at my history books, let alone done any reading.”

“Well then, why don’t you join me in my quarters?” Celestia asked. “That way you can ask me any questions that might come up, we’ll be out of way of the decorators, and we can take care of the transfer while we’re there too. To be honest, I think it would be best if it was done in private.”

Luna paused, her magic holding a slice of pear in the air in front of her. “Not that I wanted to make a big scene of the transfer, but why would you prefer it be done in private? Are you afraid that something might go wrong?” she asked, her voice tinged with worry.

“No, not at all,” her sister hastily replied. “I’m just a bit... nervous about it, that’s all. After all, I’ve never had to give somepony else the enchantments before, and while it should be easy, I’d rather spare us both some embarrassment if I happen to mess it up somehow. Still, to be on the safe side, make sure you eat a full breakfast. My biggest worry is that raising the moon for the first time in a thousand years may be particularly draining. I don’t want you passing out from the exertion in front of your friends.”

With a nod, Luna ate everything on the plate in front of her. With a barely visible nod, Celestia let the servers know that they were finished. After the table had been cleared, and compliments to the chefs and the servers had been given, the sisters headed to Celestia’s quarters with a brief stop at the library to pick up Luna’s books and say a quick hello to the Mrs. Hardback. Luna had to fight the urge to gallop on ahead; finally, after so long, she would soon be an actual part of how things worked in Equestria again.

After what seemed like an eternity of walking down long hallways, they finally reached Celestia’s rooms. Once inside, Celestia shook her head and laughed at the eager and excited look in Luna’s eyes. “You know,” she told her younger sister with a grin, “if some of those grumpy ponies from the Assembly saw you right now, they would think that all of their crackpot conspiracies were correct.” Seeing Luna roll her eyes, Celestia chuckled and said, “Okay, hold still for a minute, if you can, and I’ll get this done so you’ll be able to actually concentrate on what you’re reading.”

Luna stood perfectly still and closed her eyes. Celestia’s horn glowed white, and then both of the sisters were covered with a bright, almost blinding aura of magical light that Luna could see through her eyelids. After a few seconds, she felt a slight tingle throughout her body, starting at the top of her horn and quickly spreading throughout her entire body. Soon, every part of her felt different, from the tips of her wings to the bottom of her hooves. Finally, with one last pulse the light flared and slowly disappeared, and the tingly sensation faded away.

Keeping her eyes closed Luna activated her magic, and she felt inside of her the enchantments that had been developed long ago in Equestria’s past to assist the royal alicorns in their duty of raising and lowering the celestial bodies. She smiled as she explored it with her magical senses, getting reacquainted with it. After a minute or so, she opened her eyes to see her sister studying her closely, a puzzled look on the elder alicorn’s face. “You did it, Celestia!” she said happily, only to fall silent as her sister seemed to ignore her by slowly walking around her, her puzzled look growing.

“Um, is something wrong?” Luna asked, suddenly growing very nervous. Her sister didn’t answer, and simply continued her circuit around her. Feeling panic starting to turn her insides to jelly, she said, “You’re starting to scare me, Celestia. What are you doing?”

Celestia shook her head, as if trying to clear it. “I’m sorry Luna. Nothing is wrong at all.” She gave her younger sister a reassuring smile. “To be honest, I had a silly little theory, but it seems that I was incorrect. I’m actually a bit embarrassed by it now, looking back on it. Nothing to be concerned about at all.”

“You’re sure?” Luna asked, doubt still audible in her voice.

“Yes. One hundred percent. Please, don’t worry about it at all.”

Luna nodded slowly. “Okay, then, I won’t.” A smile grew on her face. “Thank you again.” The two sisters nuzzled each other and then sat down to start on their reading.

Haystack landed from his glide onto the road outside the house that Luna had lived in as Moonbeam. It was still around an hour before sunset, but he had wanted to make sure that he had arrived early rather than late. Looking at the house, he saw that Luna had brought with her a much larger telescope than what she had used last time. Wondering just how well it would let him see the moon, he started up the path to the front door of the house, only to stop when an armored pegasus came outside and shot him an intimidating look. “Hello, sir. I have my invitation right here,” he said to the stone faced guard as he produced the scroll that Luna had sent him from where he had tucked it underneath his wing. The guard looked it over, and then silently motioned for Haystack to enter the house.

Inside, he called out a greeting as he looked around the place. One wall was covered by a large map of the surface of the moon, and the table was covered with a enough snacks that Haystack briefly wondered just how many others Luna had invited. His thoughts were interrupted when Luna came down the stairs and greeted him with a friendly hug. “I’m so glad you could come for this!” she said excitedly.

Haystack chuckled. “Well, it isn’t like I had anything else planned for today. I’m sorry if I’m too early.”

“Oh no, not at all,” Luna quickly reassured him. “If anything, I was hoping that you would all show up early, so we could at least get some of our usual talking in before the actual event begins. Speaking of which, how are-” Luna was cut off as the front door opened to reveal Dewdrop and Feather Down.

“Hello Luna!” Feather Down said as bounded over to hug the princess. “I’ve been waiting all day for this, let me tell you. Why, I think I’ve only been able to nap once or twice this afternoon because of my excitement!”

Dewdrop walked over to stand next to Haystack, and the two ponies exchanged smiles. “How had your day been, dear?” she asked the pegasus.

“Honestly, it’s been kind of strange. I’ve gotten used to having Sunday’s off from work because of our trips to Canterlot, so I found myself with nothing to do. I ended up just walking around my farm and letting my mind wander for most of the day,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck with a hoof self consciously.

“You know,” the orange unicorn replied with a chuckle, “you could have come into town, there’s lots of things to do. Even if all you did was stop by our place and chat for a bit, I’m sure that would have been better than just tromping around that hill of yours all by yourself.”

Haystack blushed a little. “You’re right, of course. It’s just that I’m still uncomfortable around large groups of ponies I don’t know. Being social has never been easy for me.” He looked around. “All we’re missing is Pine Needle, want me to go grab him?”

“No need, he should be here any second,” Dewdrop replied. “We passed by his place on the way, I guess he’s trying to find out if Acorn wants to come along or not.”

“Acorn?” Luna asked as she and Feather Down walked over to the other two ponies. “Who’s that?”

“Pine Needle seems to have adopted a pet,” Feather Down explained. “A squirrel. I’ll let him explain it all when he gets here.”

At that point the door swung open again, and Pine Needle entered with Acorn perched on top of his head. “Mine apologies for taking so long to get here everypony,” he said. “I had wanted to be here sooner, but getting that across to Acorn was, as always, a challenge. Luna, may I please have the honor of introducing to you mine new pet, Acorn the squirrel.”

Luna smiled at the green earth pony. “I find it very fitting that you have a pet that lives in the trees that you are named after. Well then, since we still have some time before sunset, let’s use it to get caught up on everything that has happened.” She motioned towards the snack laden table. “I made sure to bring more than enough, so please don’t feel like you need to hold back.”

The next hour was spent in conversation. Luna was evasive about what had happened during the week, and did her best to keep her friends talking. She was glad that, besides Haystack, none of the other ponies had had much of a chance to see Pine Needle’s new pet, and so she was able to steer the conversation towards him rather easily. Finally, the sun disappeared behind the horizon, and Luna waited for a lull in the talking before getting their attention.

“My friends! It looks like it is just about time for the official start to this party, so let’s all head up to the viewing area, okay?” Hearing them voice their approval, Luna led them up the stairs and out onto the porch, where a telescope that was taller than the dark hued alicorn stood. Luna’s friends all stood and gawked in amazement at the size and complexity that the knobs and dials hinted at.

“My goodness!” Dewdrop exclaimed. “This thing is bigger than the one Twilight Sparkle has at the library! It couldn’t have been easy to bring over here.”

Luna grinned at her friend. “Well, I did have the help of the guards,” she said while pointing at the two armored pegasi who were slowly circling the area, keeping a watch out for anything out of the ordinary. “And, of course, I have my magic, something I didn’t have for the last party. Let me tell you, I am so glad to be able to adjust this telescope with spells instead of teeth.”

Feather Down stared at the horizon. “Pardon me for saying so, Luna, but I think your sister is slacking off. Shouldn’t the moon have started to rise right after the sun set?”

‘Well...” Luna drawled, her grin turning into a giant smile. “About that? One second, let me get the guards down here, this is important.” Her horn aglow, she looked up at the flying guards and projected in a voice much louder than normal, “Sun Ray! Iron Pinion! Please come here!”

After the two pegasus had landed, she said, “Everypony! I am pleased to announce that you about to witness something that has not happened for over a millennium! Tonight, I shall renew my duty to raise and lower the moon in our night sky!” Seeing her friend’s mouths drop open with astonishment, she added, “I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous, not to mention out of practice, so please forgive me if things don’t go as smoothly as they usually do. While I’m sure that eventually I’ll be able to do this as easily and effortlessly as Celestia does, I will be going through some extra motions tonight that will assist me in getting this done correctly the first time.”

Slowly flapping her wings, Luna rose from the deck. Closing her eyes, her horn started to glow brightly, and soon she was enveloped by a silver aura bright enough to cast shadows. The pace of the beating of her wings quickened, and beads of sweat started to form on her brow. In response, another glow formed on the horizon, and the moon started to reveal itself. Straining, as if she was trying to fly against a strong head wind, Luna continued to climb slowly in the sky, and the moon in turn ascended with her. Finally, around half a minute after she had started, she opened her eyes and her horn dimmed. Turning, she shouted in triumph as she saw that she had successfully raised the moon high into the night sky.

Her friends and the guards all cheered and stomped their hooves in applause as Luna landed back on the porch. She felt exhausted, and was glad she had taken her sister’s advice from earlier, yet she didn’t have any fears about falling over from fatigue. The joy that was welling up inside of her felt like it was about to lift her back into the night sky. “Thank you! And now that that’s done with, let’s get on with the actual party itself!”

It had taken several hours before she felt safe in believing her hunch to be correct, but once she was certain that what she was feeling was coming from the center of Mare Orientale, Nightmare Moon quicken her pace. The only thing keeping her from breaking out into a full gallop was the unevenness of the rocky, scree covered terrain and the possibility of twisting a leg after an ill placed step. While she felt somewhat confident that she could either heal herself, or at the least make her recovery faster than what it would normally take, she didn’t feel inclined to put her theories to the test if she didn’t have to.

A while later-- maybe a day, maybe two, she wasn’t entirely certain-- she came to a stop at the edge of the center impact ring. In front of her, the ground was as smooth as glass, and seemed to act as a mirror for the star filled sky above. The faint tug she had initially felt had now grown to become an almost insistent pull. Suddenly wary of a trap, Nightmare Moon stepped ahead cautiously while trying to discern if she was being manipulated in any fashion. She didn’t think she felt anything subversive in what she had been following, but she wanted to make sure. While she wouldn’t mind using what laid ahead in whatever manner she could, she would never allow herself to be used by another.

On an impulse, she turned from the center of the Mare and ran away as fast as she could while still keeping her focus on what she was experiencing. Five minutes passed, and then ten, and she was back onto the scree covered terrain, and still she kept galloping. After half an hour all told, she finally came to a stop. Not once had she felt even the slightest change in how she felt what she had been following, just the intensity of it based on how close to it she had been. Satisfied that she wasn’t being influenced in any way, she once again turned around, and headed back towards the center of the Mare.

A couple of hours later, she found herself at the very center of the impact site. In front of her was a hole that opened into a large cavern beneath her. Flapping her wings, Nightmare Moon floated downward, illuminating the depths around her with a light spell centered on her horn. Below her, around forty to fifty feet down, was the core of the meteor that had created Mare Orientale long, long ago. Landing next to it, she could tell that what she was feeling was coming from the ancient rock from far away. It resonated with her in a way that she didn’t think would have been possible if she had still been a part of Luna. Slowly, she circled it, trying to figure out not only why it was doing so, but if and how she could utilize this power for herself.

“...and with that, I think we had best call this a night,” Luna said to a series of groans from her friends. “I know, I’d stay up all night doing this if I could, but it wouldn’t be fair to the guards who volunteered to help me out tonight. Also, I want to get some rest before I have to lower the moon before dawn, especially with how much raising it took out of me.”

“I have to get up for work in the morning too, hun,” Dewdrop said. “While I’d like to be able to simply call in and ask for the day off, I have to admit that the hour is starting to get to me regardless of how much fun looking up at the moon is.”

Feather Down opened the door that led back inside and led the way towards the stairs. “Thank you very much, Luna!” she said. “I’ll admit, when we first got the invitations, I was hoping that they were for the Grand Galloping Gala. But after what I saw tonight? I had so much fun, I’ll take this over a ball any day!”

“I had a good time too,” Luna said as she entered the house. “You know, I was a bit envious about not getting to go to the Gala myself. Although, with what Celestia was hinting might happen tonight, I think this was the better place to be myself.”

Haystack froze in his tracks, so suddenly that Dewdrop, who was following him, couldn’t stop herself from bumping into him from behind. “Oh my goodness,” he said, “that’s it.”

“What’s it?” Luna asked, her head turned around to see what had caused the collision behind her.

“I, I think I know why Celestia has been acting the way she has been. Why she’s been doing all these strange things, pulling all those kind of but not really pranks. I think,” he hastily added, looking very uneasy.

“Well, don’t just stand there, tell us,” Dewdrop said. “You’ve been working on this for quite a while now, I’d like to hear what you’ve come up with. I gave it some thought myself after you brought it up at the dinner at Celestia’s school, and I couldn’t come up with anything myself.”

Luna stepped up to the pegasus, with a curious look on her face. “I’ve been wondering about this some too, to be honest. Please, even if you aren’t one hundred percent sure, at least tell me what your theory is.”

“Well,” Haystack said, looking at the floor, “it came to me when you mentioned being envious. I think your sister might be envious of you.” Looking up, and not seeing anypony stopping him, he added, “You got to come here tonight and spend the evening with friends, having fun-”

A gasp from Luna cut him off. “And she’s mentioned to me how boring and predictable the Gala is to me several times. She doesn’t have fun at it at all.”

“I don’t think she’s being malicious about it at all,” Haystack hastily added. “It’s just that she sees you getting to have fun on a weekly basis, and getting together with a close group of friends, but who can the thousand year old ruler of a country even get close to? I mean... She isn’t doing these things to be mean, to you or anypony else, but...” He paused and growled in frustration. “I just can’t find the exact words to say what I’m thinking!”

Luna put a comforting hoof on his shoulder. “You don’t have to, Haystack. I know exactly what you mean.” She sighed, and closed her eyes to keep her friends from seeing the tears that were threatening to burst forth. “I even left her alone to go on an adventure and make some friends, while she was stuck back in Canterlot, forced to do the same old things that she always has.” Rubbing her eyes with a hoof, she took in a deep breath to calm herself. “I should have thought of this on my own, and yet, I also asked her to tell me if there was anything that she wasn’t happy about. I’m a little upset that she didn’t.”

“How could she, without it turning into a guilt trip?” Dewdrop asked. “I think she knows that you didn’t do what you did to make her jealous, or to hurt her, so why bring it up if all it would do is strain things between the two of you?”

Luna nodded slowly. “You’re right. Or, at least, you were right. However, I think that I can listen to what she has to say now without it doing that. If nothing else, she deserves the chance to open up to somepony, and that needs to be me.” Turning to the guards, she said, “Could you two please see that the telescope gets brought back to Canterlot? I’m going to head back now alone, and I want to get back as soon as I can.” Seeing them nod, she turned back to her friends. “Thank you, all of you. I’m sorry to leave so abruptly, but...” Seeing them all smile at her, she rushed back out onto the deck and took to the sky, determined to fly back to Canterlot as fast as she could.

Luna looked around her, stunned by the mess she saw. Instead of the Grand Galloping Gala still going on, the main ball room was empty and in shambles, with decorations broken and dirt trampled everywhere. Seeing an earth pony holding a broom in his mouth, looking resigned to a long night of cleaning up, she trotted over to him. “What happened?” she asked. “It looks like the weather teams set a tornado loose in here!”

“It was chaos, your Highness,” the pony said after bowing and leaving the broom at his hooves so he could speak clearly. “There seemed to be some confusion as to what the band was supposed to be playing, and then a cake went flying, and then the statue fell, and then the pillars...” He trailed off, shaking his head at the thought of it all. “I was watching from over there, just inside the kitchen, ready to step in in case somepony spilled something, but I wasn’t expecting something like that to happen.”

“That sounds crazy,” Luna admitted. “But I wouldn’t have thought that even something like that would have brought the premier event of the year to a stop.”

“Ah, but I haven’t gotten to the worst of it yet, your Highness. After all of that, Princess Celestia came running in to see what was happening. That’s when the door leading to the gardens burst open, and all the animals came stampeding in. Everypony was afraid that they might get trampled, or that their outfits would get ruined, and they all ran off. I saw Princess Celestia motion to some of them to go past her, and then after making sure nopony else followed them, closed the door and directed the rest of the guests out the other exits.”

“I don’t suppose you know which way my sister left after that?” Luna asked hopefully.

The earth pony nodded. “She went out the same door she let those other ponies leave by,” he said, pointing to the door that Luna had entered through.”

“Thank you very much, good sir. You’ve been an invaluable help to me tonight. If you’ll pardon me, I have to be on my way.” She quickly turned and headed back out of the ball room, and did her best to ask the guards and staff along the way if they had seen which direction her sister had headed. Slowly but surely, she made her way through the castle, finally meeting a guard at a side entrance who was able to tell her that Celestia had flown towards town, and looked to have landed in the educational district. Luna took flight, wondering where her sister might have gone so late in the evening.

From above, she could see that very few buildings were actually open. The cityscape below her was dominated by houses with darkened windows and closed doors. One building stood out though, the light spilling from it’s confines acting as a beacon. Landing a short distance away, Luna peered around the corner of another building to see what had caught her eye. Before her stood a donut shop, with a sign reading ‘Open 24 hours!’ Luna supposed that the students in the area needed someplace to do their late night studying, and was about to take off when she saw a pastel colored mane through one of the windows.

‘Only my sister had a mane like that,’ she thought, and started to head forward to confront her when she saw that Celestia was not alone. Although they were dressed up in amazing outfits, she still recognized Twilight, Spike, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and the other Elements of Harmony together. Luna paused, and retreated back again, keeping just enough of her head showing so that she could see what was happening. What she saw reminded Luna of the time she spent with her friends every week. Celestia was smiling and laughing, sharing stories with the other ponies. The store’s employee brought over another plate of donuts, and soon they were all snacking and conversing.

Backing away, Luna took flight and headed back to the palace. She still planned on confronting her sister, but at least she now had a better idea of why Celestia went to such lengths. If this was how far she had to go in order to have a night out with her friends, Luna wasn’t about to ruin it by barging in unexpectedly and causing a scene. Now, she realized, the challenge was to figure out how to bring it up to Celestia, and what she could do help her sister out. For now, she thought, she would do what she could by helping with the clean up. It might not be much, but at least it was a start.