• Published 19th Feb 2012
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Solar Flare - Dragryphon

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Solar Flare Part 2

SOLAR FLARE
A SURVIVOR’S EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE WAR OF THE NIGHT
Written by Dragryphon

Twilight Sparkle had tossed and turned throughout the night. Her dreams had been anything but pleasant. In them, she observed a Nightmare Moon who seemed to be composed of two parts: One of these was but a small fragment, diminutive but immensely powerful, and the other was the Night Princess herself. Around them, her dreams rapidly disintegrated into a horrifying parade of nightmares. War, death, and destruction echoed through Twilight’s dreams, things nopony should ever have to see presented to her, each image more terrifying than the last. And try as she might, she could not force herself to wake up from them. Oh Celestia, the unicorn could not awaken! Why am I being shown this!? WHY!? Such terrible things! Nothing this horrible could have ever happ-

Finally, Twilight Sparkle awoke, shaken from her restless slumber by her number one assistant, Owlowisc- Wait, no, her number one assistant was Spike! I must be really out of it... It was Spike who woke her. Those nightmarish images had really gotten to the unicorn.

“Twiliiight! You’ve been sleeping all day! I know you were really tired, but I had to wake you! We got a scroll from Princess Celestia and Princess Luna,” he announced to Twilight, staring up at her with large, apologetic eyes.

Shocked at his words, Twilight stared out the window and noticed Princess Celestia’s sun sitting high in the sky. Panicking, the mare leapt out of her bed, not taking the time to make it or even comb her bed-raggled mane. Passing by her vanity mirror, she caught a glance at just how awful she really looked. There were heavy bags under her eyes, and her mane had been reduced to a tangled, knotted mess. No matter. She shook her head, putting her appearance out of her mind for the moment.

“I have to get back to my reading! I won’t unravel what happened during that war if I don’t study this tome!” As Twilight began to trot over to her desk, Spike interrupted her with a cough and held up the scroll, causing Twilight to stop and ask, “Yes, Spike? ...Why aren’t you reading it to me?”

Spike scratched a footclaw against the wood floor before replying, “Ummm, it’s addressed straight to you, Twilight. In fact, it’s sealed with the royal crest, so... I’m not exactly permitted to read it.”

Rolling her eyes, Twilight hovered the scroll over to herself and unfurled it, the parchment crackling with an otherworldly energy as she broke the seal. She began to quietly read it to herself.

“To my Faithful Student Twilight Sparkle,

This is meant for your eyes only. Once your magic touches this scroll, the rest of the message shall appear.”

And indeed it did, the words slowly appearing on the scroll as the rest of the page wrote itself into existence in front of her eyes. What could require this kind of secrecy? Twilight read on.

“It has come to the attention of my sister and I that you have found a history involving us. We suspected that you would be the only pony powerful enough, aside from us, who could undo that lock I placed. It seems that we were correct.

There are certain things that nopony should know. Histories Equestria should never have to bear witness to. An entire civilization’s innocence can be lost by knowing the wrong things. We trust in you, my student, not to reveal what you may discover, for whatever you may find in your thirst for knowledge will bring you only sadness in the end. I presume the book’s magics have already begun their work on you, revealing bits and pieces of what occurred during the War.

Understand, my faithful student, whatever may be recorded in that book I have tried to cover up as best I could, to save the innocence of my little ponies. Even our current legends do not touch upon what happened during those times.

However, above all, please, do not think less of my sister for the things that transpired back then. It is not her fault. Part of the blame lies with me, and the rest with that wretched statue. I discovered it in the rubble shortly after banishing Luna those many centuries ago, and I have kept it hidden ever since.

My student, you must tread carefully. If you do not read this tome, your innocence will be spared, but if you decide to go on, please do not let what happened change your views of us. We were young, so very young...

Your teacher, Princess Celestia.”

Twilight could only stare at the parchment with her jaw upon the floor.

There was a rather forceful belch from Spike, causing Twilight to snap out of her disbelief as something heavy thumped loudly upon the floor. Sweeping her gaze over to Spike, she saw that, there upon the floor in front of the baby dragon, lay another tome with a second scroll set neatly upon it. Before Spike could react, Twilight hurriedly snapped them both over to her with her magic, setting the book atop her desk while she cracked open the second scroll. The beginning was the same as the first, and she watched intently as more writing appeared in front of her eyes.

“This will probably come as no surprise, but I already know your decision, my student. You never could resist the lure of the histories. In light of this, I have included with this scroll a tome of what could have been. Shortly after you and your friends freed my sister I divined what might have happened had you failed. In this book are all of my notes and observations relating to what I saw. Take heart, my dearest Twilight. Your actions prevented something the likes of which only exist in the histories. What you read in this tome, you may share with your friends at your own discretion, but do not take what lies within its pages lightly. It has no happy ending.

Your dearest friend and teacher, Princess Celestia.”

Twilight was perplexed, but she got herself back into order right away. Turning toward Spike, she gave him a reassuring smile before saying, “Spike, I will need to study alone for quite some time. I will release you for the next few days so that you can have some time for yourself.” And now, to make sure that her assistant would agree with her, “You know, come to think of it, I heard that Rarity has been completely overrun with orders recently. She may need your help.”

Spike, who looked cautious at first, suddenly bounced up and saluted, exclaiming, “Yes, ma’am!” He then darted off down the stairs, and shortly thereafter she heard the library door slam shut.

Works everytime. That should keep him busy enough to allow me privacy for the time I need to study these tomes. Now... She turned toward the desk, upon which lay the two tomes: the history of the Princesses, and something still unknown to her. I feel I should be afraid of what I may find in them both, but I have to know! Ohhh, Princess Celestia knows me all too well. Climbing atop her seat, Twilight Sparkle steeled herself as she picked up from where she had left off the night before...

______________

Power. The power! The strength! It was exhilarating! The intensity of it all! There was so much of it, and she couldn’t hold it all! Oh, yes, something would have to be done about that. But for now, she had to see her new form! Yes indeed! All this glorious energy had allowed her to transform this young, feeble body into something truly befitting of a goddess!

A whimper drew the alicorn’s gaze inward. Dear Luna sat in a corner of her mind, terrified of what was occurring. A thought jumped across the synapses of their shared mind. W-What are you!? Who are you? What did you do to me!?

The creature grinned. She would need a name. Indeed. Luna was a weak name for a weak alicorn. No, she would need something stronger. Something powerful. Something terrifying. She deigned to reply to her other self, “I? I am you, my dear Luna. You beholden with anger, sorrow, and your loneliness multiplied a thousand fold. I want everything you want. I am....Nightmare Moon. Yes, I think that shall be a very fitting name. Now, my dear Luna, be good, stay quiet, and I shall deem you worthy of staying within my mind untouched.”

A simple feeling indicating that Luna nodded her assent caused Nightmare Moon to cackle with glee! Everything was so bright! So new! She had a body of her very own, and all the feelings that accompanied it! And most importantly of all, she had the power of the Core pulsing in her veins. Yes, like this not even her dear sister could stop her. Especially not once she enacted her plan. Everything she wanted, everything she had tempted Luna with could wait. The power of the Core sang in her ears; it was...intoxicating... addicting... controlling in a way. It wanted to be used, not held. In fact, what Luna wanted did not matter! She was a goddess! A goddess with more power than any other pony had! She could do anything!

And right now, Nightmare Moon wanted revenge. Revenge upon the ponies who had forsworn her beautiful night. Revenge upon her sister, who had abandoned her. Her plan to shroud the day with night, to become a ruler over even Celestia herself, was not enough! The Nightmare wanted even more than that. The power sang its siren’s song to her, whispering sweetly in her ears. She would crush Equestria beneath her hoof, and the entire hemisphere would cower in fear at her total domination. Celestia herself would bow before her, only to be made into her slave. The power was driving her mad, and she was loving every second of it.

Luna could only cower in distress, buried deep within Nightmare Moon’s mind, her soul heavy with the knowledge of everything that was about to befall her sister and all of Equestria...

______________

Celestia woke, groggily rubbing at her eyes with her hooves. It was nearly dawn, and she had duties to perform. Slipping out from under her pegasus down covers, she picked up a brush from her nightstand and began to pull it through her mane and tail, which were being quite unruly at the moment. It took her several minutes to pull the pink hair into behaving, but she managed it. She then proceeded to levitate her hoof-ornaments, chestplate, and crown upon her body, settling them in place. Lastly she grabbed a simple little toy that lay upon her bedstand, a little black alicorn, which she slipped into her mane.

I don’t like this morning, I can already tell that it will be a bad day. The heavens feel strange, and even the ambient magic feels wrong. Like there is a storm blowing in and there isn’t time to close the shutters. Heading out to her balcony to raise the sun, she looked up into the night sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen, but something seemed out of place. There. Why is Luna’s moon on the wrong side of the horizon? She must be trying something new, I should not be worried. I look forward to what she has in store for Equestria this time.

Raising her horn to point it at the sky, she began to emit a pure white glow. The sky in the east lightened as the sun began to peek over the horizon. But the moon did not go down like it should. It hung there near her sun. This...What is my sister doing?

As the sun’s rays hit Celestia, she could feel herself become empowered by the light of her day. It was when she was most alive, when Celestia felt like she would never tire. Her Sol was too bright to look at directly, but she still smiled at the celestial body she had named after her mother.

About to turn away to head back inside, something out of the corner of her eye caught the white alicorn’s gaze. Darting her head around to peer back at the moon, she watched as it crept across the sky and covered her sun. At first, it was only a small slice, but as it grew, the day’s light dimmed. Soon, the sun’s radiance had completely vanished as all but a sliver of light escaped around the edges, her sun completely eclipsed by her sister’s moon!

Celestia could feel her power seep away, leaving behind the lethargy of the night. No...No! My dearest sister, what have you done!? With her sun in eclipse, the stars were in full bloom, and the sky was as dark as the middle of the night.
Thoughts raced through Celestia’s mind as she began to panic. Then, a voice boomed out from high over the Everfree Castle.

“My sun-loving subjects! I am Nightmare Moon, your Queen! It is I who will control Equestria from here on out. Those who accept my rule will be safe from my upcoming judgement. Those who run, those who fight, and those who do not accept me as your empress will have their lives forfeit, to do with as I please. Consider this your first and only warning. Those who wish to bow before my graces, head to the throne room now. Everypony else? ….Run.”

Celestia had galloped out of her bedchambers halfway through the speech, and all around her she saw nothing but panic. Her little ponies were running all over the place. Some had saddlebags upon their backs, evacuating while they still were able. Some had nothing, simply trying to find a place to hide or to get as far away as possible before it was too late. She could not worry about that now, Celestia had to find Luna and find out who this pony was. The audience chambers were her best bet, and she more than once nearly plowed into one of her fleeing subjects in her run there.

Bursting into the throne room, she could immediately see who the commanding voice had belonged to. Sitting upon the throne sat an alicorn the size of her mother with a pitch black coat, ornate head and breast armor, and a tail and mane that billowed out, shifting shape and displaying a vast field of stars against the black of night. What hit Celestia hardest, though, was that the mare shared her sister’s cutie mark, and yet the eyes, the violent turquoise eyes bared no resemblance to her sister’s own.

Nightmare Moon turned to Celestia and flashed her a wicked grin. Throughout the audience chambers stood multitudes of ponies, which Celestia had not noticed until now, and a small group, a family it looked like, were in front of the throne, bowing before the mare.

”Ahhh, my dearest sister. I see you have come to pay your respects to me as well. I am afraid you will have to wait in line. It’s a very, VERY long line, but I want to make sure everypony knows who you bow to,” Nightmare Moon jabbed at Celestia before bursting out into a contemptuous laughter that echoed around the hushed chamber.
Princess Celestia could only stand aghast at what had become of her sister, speechless. It took her several seconds for her to find her voice again, and when she did, it was wavering and uncertain. “L-Luna? What happened to you? Why are you eclipsing my sun? Doing all this?” The amount of hurt that lay within her next word could be felt by anypony close enough to hear, “Why...?”

Keeping an eye on Celestia, Nightmare Moon leaned forward, her horn glowing as white crescent moons appeared upon the foreheads of the earth ponies. They walked off and stood to the side of the chamber while the next group came forward. “My dear, dear sister. Did you honestly think abandoning me to the cold, lonely night would not have its consequences? Did you consider how it felt for me to sit alone in my chambers all night, longing for your presence, just wanting to sit against your side while we talked? Or for all these sun-loving foals in front of me to not acknowledge my night in the slightest? Oh, yes, that may have hurt; it hurt to know my night sky, my painting, my masterpiece was ignored. But what hurt the most was YOU leaving me to this fate!”

Nightmare Moon’s eyes flared, and she glared down at Celestia, daring her to contradict her. Celestia only fell upon her haunches in disbelief, managing to only mumble, “Why...Why didn’t you talk to me about it, Luna...?”

The Nightmare stamped her hoof, causing the sound of thunder to echo throughout the chamber, frightening the already terrified ponies gathered within it. “I am no longer Luna! I am Nightmare Moon! And you had best remember that, sister. This fault lies with you. How many times did we come to you in the dawn, or the dusk? How many times did you say things would get better, and yet they did not? How many times did your shoulder become soaked in our tears!? Four months we suffered, alone!”

Celestia flinched back, unsure of who Nigh-No, Luna, meant by ‘we’ and ‘our’. But her sister’s argument hit close to her heart. It was true she had not helped Luna as well as she could have. The princess imagined how she could have stayed up late at night to keep her sister company through the lonely nights, and of how she did not, a pang of sadness causing her to flinch once more.

The guilt upon her face must have been evident, because Nightmare Moon cackled again, her glare intensifying, “Yes, you know what you could have done to prevent this, but it is too late now.”

Celestia stepped forward, her pain all but evident in her eyes, “Luna...My dearest sister, Luna...P-Please set your moon. Now that I know just how much this has been bothering you, I can keep you company during those long nights as best as I can. I can fight against the weariness to keep you from being lonely. To keep you happy. Just, please, you don’t have to do this...”

It almost seemed like Nightmare Moon had, for a moment, considered her sister’s request. However, that hope was quickly dashed, her voice ringing out like a hammer on cold steel. “No. You had your chance, sister. And you threw it away. EVERYPONY did. No! You have two choices, Celestia.” The Nightmare did not use Luna’s normal way of calling her name. “You can either remain here, bow before me, and continue to rule by my side as my subordinate. If you do, you will have my pity, and I will allow your sun to occasionally shine over this land.” Nightmare Moon raised a hoof, and all humor in her voice vanished, “Or, you can run. Run far, far away. You run as far away as you can and never return! For if you do... I will take you captive, and you will never see the light of your precious sun again. Ever!”

Celestia took a step back, then another, and then a third. “T-This isn’t you, Luna! Please, you must break free of whatever has you in in its grip! This isn’t you!” With that she sprinted off back into the depths of the castle, chased by Nightmare Moon’s relentless laughter.

After the laugh faded away, Nightmare Moon grinned to herself as she raised her horn into the air, a wave of powerful magic blasting out of it and spreading across all of Everfree forest. “Celestia has made her choice. Those who are loyal to me will be protected. Those who are not, will perish or Slumber for all eternity within my Nightmares. Guard Captain?”

From the other side of the throne, the captain of the Royal Guards stepped out into view, having been hidden from Celestia’s gaze. A white moon sat emblazoned upon his brow, both upon his armor and his fur. “Yes, my Liege?”

A chuckle bubbled from Nightmare Moon’s throat, and she replied, “I will require an army. Train the unicorns in battle magics, the pegasi in aerial tactics, and the earth ponies in hoof to hoof combat. It has been decided. We go to war...”

______________

What do I do? What do I do!? Oh my dearest sister, what has happened to you? Why did I allow it to go this far! How did I not see the signs! Rounding a corner, Celestia nearly slipped and fell as she skidded upon the floor tiles. She had to find the Captain of the Guard! Her Ministers! Somepony that knew what to do!

The hallway ahead of her suddenly exploded as a lance of energy cut through it at an angle. Just ahead of her, a pony that had been too close to the blast vaporized with an anguished scream, leaving behind little more than a greasy stain upon the floor tiles. Splinters of stone and tile flew everywhere, pelting angrily against her skin as she herself was knocked off her hooves, sliding across the tile floor as bits of rock dug into her hide. Thunderous blasts began to resound all throughout Everfree Castle, each one causing the walls to shudder violently. That....That was the Core! Oh mother, what has she done!? Finding her ministers would have to wait, she had to escape from the castle and help with evacuation. If the Core goes, so would all of Everfree!

Galloping off, Celestia came across even more intense destruction: huge, gaping holes in the masonry; piles of rubble littering the halls; the bodies of the dead strewn about like wet laundry, soaked in their own blood. Some of the bodies had been crushed by large stones, while others...She could not think it. Magic gone wrong did awful things. There were pools of crimson everywhere, and it seemed to be seeping out from the debris throughout the ruined halls. Celestia couldn’t look at it. She had never encountered death before, and nothing could have prepared her to see it on such a grotesque scale. The stench and sight of it made her gorge rise. She had to get out.

Locating a sufficient enough hole in the exterior wall, Celestia leapt out into the dark sky and fled out to the city of Everfree. She could see the destruction ravaging the city below. There were fires everywhere, and even as she watched, arcs of power from the Core burst forth from the castle, carving blackened swaths through the city. Helpless, she watched one land amongst a group of fleeing refugees, the blast leaving only sooty remnants, splatters of blood, and various unidentifiable bodily parts. It was all too much for her to bear, and she turned her head to evacuate her stomach.

The taste within her mouth was dreadful, and Celestia took several deep breaths, keeping her eyes averted from the disaster to compose herself.

My little ponies need me. They need their Princess. To bring order to things, to help them. I have a duty to perform...

______________

Ponies of all kinds still shuffled into the throne room while the castle around them shuddered from the explosions. Nightmare Moon had no worry that the charges she was setting off would hurt any pony who had pledged themselves for her, or were coming to do so. Oh no, she was only targeting those who refused her right to rule. Who refused her!

A voice within her mind whimpered, Please stop...This is not what I wanted at all...

Nightmare Moon sneered and snapped back, “Silence, foal! You know what will happen if you fight me. I will make you beg for death!”

The voice of Luna clammed up quickly, bringing satisfaction to Nightmare Moon. The bothersome foal still spoke every once in a while, but she was too fearful of what the Nightmare would do to her if she did anything more than that.
The ponies filling the audience chambers all looked up at Nightmare Moon with fear and trepidation. Those who bowed before her became marked, her silver moon placed upon their foreheads.

Suddenly, she spoke, making sure her voice carried to all those awaiting within the room, as well as those approaching from outside, even through the destruction of the city. “My subjects of the Night. You are amongst the few intelligent ponies who obeyed. Who knew who their true ruler was, and who came to pay me homage. Know this: your marking will protect you from the coming tribulations, and even those who do not yet have my mark, but are coming to my side now will be protected.”

Indeed, the only room truly left untouched in the entire castle was the audience chambers. Oh, yes, she knew not to waste loyal subjects, especially not for the coming days. The rest of the castle, however, was in ruin, to one extent or another.

Willing it to stop, the lances of energy erupting from the Core ceased, and Nightmare Moon drew deep upon its power. While rumblings still reverberated throughout the castle, its destruction was at an end.

Shaping that power, she infused it within her mane and issued a burst of maniacal laughter. The power whispered to her, commanding her to use it. “And now with the everlasting night comes the everlasting Nightmare. I require an army of bodies, and so they shall come...” A piece of her mane severed itself from the whole and fell to the floor, fusing itself to the stone tile. It then began to spread out in all directions, covering every surface. Her eyes closing to little more than narrow slits, Nightmare Moon willed it to spread further, and so it did, darting out in all directions and causing panic amongst her subjects. They backed themselves against the walls, trampling and climbing over each other to get away, but upon touching them, nothing happened, and they became calm once more.

However, once the creeping darkness spread past the castle and into Everfree city, that is when the screaming started -- the screaming of ponies facing things infinitely worse than their greatest fears...

_____________

Celestia was rushing, attempting to help with the evacuations as best she could as she flew between the groups of refugees fleeing Everfree. She landed next to a family who was trying to lug heavy furniture upon their backs in the false night intent on assisting them, but just as the Princess was about to grab their attention, the screaming began. It was something the likes of which nopony had ever heard, and they all stopped to look back as it grew closer. Taking to the air again, Celestia watched the creeping night spread itself upon the ground, and wherever it touched, screams erupted, only to be silenced immediately.

As she watched, the shadow began to pick up speed ...swallowing portions of the city at an ever-increasing rate.
The Goddess of the Sun’s eyes widened as fear gripped her heart. Rearing back, she yelled into the air, her voice ringing out across the city over the horrified screams of its inhabitants, “Flee, my little ponies! You must run into the forest! Abandon anything you cannot easily carry! GO!”

Joining a group of fleeing pegasi, Celestia looked back just in time to see her ancestral home destroyed; the entire city of Everfree becoming completely engulfed in the darkness of night. All she could do was watch, and as she did, tears streamed from her eyes.

Knowing that she needed to get more magic to supplement her own weakened powers, Celestia set course for the unicorn city of Canterlot. The alicorn did not wish to look back anymore, to see the death and destruction her sister had caused. No, she needed time to think and to plan. And right now Celestia believed it was time that she did not have.

______________

The white alicorn hovered in the skies above Ponyville, the earth pony town on the edge of the Everfree forest. I failed them....I failed them all... The shadow had chased them to the edge of the Everfree, overtaking all but the pegasi and those unicorns that had teleported themselves out. Celestia could still hear the screams, knew she would hear them within her dreams for years to come.

The shadow had followed them up to the edge of the forest, and then had receded shortly afterward. What it left behind... It defied description. A twisted, wild forest lay in Everfree’s place. A deep foreboding sense told her never to enter that forest again, less she not return. And Celestia did not doubt it.

No, she had failed her subjects, failed the city of Everfree, and failed all of Equestria. An entire city, destroyed, ponies lying dead within its walls. Others...worse than dead. Her subjects bowing at the feet of whatever her sister had become. Lowering her head, she could see several pegasi Royal Guards waiting for her below, survivors from the castle who had managed to escape. Jerking her head to beckon them, they rose up to meet her, taking positions around their Princess.

“We fly for Canterlot.”

As Celestia’s eclipsed sun crept across the sky, hours seemed to go by as the guards and their liege flew onward, the mountainside city growing larger in their sights. Celestia’s thoughts tormented her the entire way, but she kept a somber face so as not to worry her guards.

The entire trip from Ponyville was spent in silence, up until they landed in the courtyard in front of the building for the Canterlot Ruling Council. Almost immediately one of the two guards stationed in front of it ran inside, and a procession began to stream out, stopping in front of Celestia and her guards.

As the council and various other ponies finished gathering in front of their ruler, one of them stepped forth and bowed before Celestia, inciting the rest to kneel before their goddess as well. She was a crimson unicorn with a blue and red mane, further into her years than the others around. On her flank stood the symbol of an eagle. “Your Majesty, I am Prime Minister Bushel Gorge. It’s absolute chaos out here, Your Highness, and we have only heard of rumors of what may be going on in Everfree, but the implications are terrifying. Please, if you would be so kind, Madame, follow us inside to the ready room.”

Celestia simply raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. She needed them, of course, to plan for whatever may come, and to use the Core they had there in Canterlot to supplement her diminished power.

As the ponies filed back into the building, Celestia followed close behind, bracketed by her guards, who seemed to be trying to watch everything around them all at the same time. As she stepped inside the elegantly designed building, a wave of emotion struck Celestia and she nearly stumbled over herself, causing one guard to glance over at her in concern. Altair and Sol had taken the white alicorn and her sister here on a state visit not long before their departure, though right now it seemed like years ago. Luna had managed to trip on the stairs and injure her forelegs... Celestia could still hear her crying and whimpers as she had nestled into the safety of her sister’s wings.

Blinking the wetness from her eyes, the Princess of Equestria pursued the group of ponies into a large chamber that had a massive table stretching the length of the room, with large piles of cushions adorning the floor for the ponies who sat at it. Gesturing wordlessly to her guards, two took positions outside of the doors, while another two stood on the inside when the doors shut. The final stood back and to one side of Celestia once she had seated herself down upon the cushions at the head of the table.

It took several more moments for the rest of the Council to sit themselves down around the table, muttering to themselves as they settled in. Celestia herself was not answering any questions directed at her, momentarily lost in her own thoughts. I must be strong. I have to show them that I can be strong. To be like mother, like father. How would they deal with this situation...?

The sound of a hoof slamming down upon the tabletop interrupted the alicorn’s thoughts and she brought her gaze to Bushel Gorge, who sat across the length of the table from her. “Princess Celestia should be able to clear up the reports we’ve been getting from refugees entering the city. Please save all questions until after we are done hearing her report.” The mare turned to the princess and bowed her head, “The table is yours, Majesty. What is going on in Everfree?”

Scanning her eyes across all of the unicorns whose rapt attention were upon her, Celestia cleared her throat before beginning. “Something has possessed my sister, Princess Luna. She is not herself, and now calls herself Nightmare Moon. She...” Celestia paused and shut her eyes tight.

Be strong. I am still new to ruling, but I must be strong!

“She attacked Everfree. The castle now lay in ruins; the city -- in flames. Anypony who could not fly or teleport themselves to safety is dead...Or worse...”

Taking a deep breath, Celestia slowly let it out before continuing, her eyes opening with a rock hard stare as she decided what must be done. “We must prepare for war. Even if only to defend ourselves. I... We must release her. I came to this city because you have a Core of your own. Without it, we will stand no chance against Nightmare Moon. The spell she used to corrupt Everfree Forest could only have been done with the Core located in the castle, and with my sun eclipsed, I do not gain strength from it. Nightmare Moon has the upper hoof.”

Immediately, the unicorns within the chamber burst out in a heated debate, yelling and screaming at each other, each trying to be heard over the others, arguing with one another or trying to attract Celestia’s attention. She caught little snippets of what they were saying: how they were not prepared for war; how Altair and Sol had never needed war; that Celestia was mad, lying, exaggerating, or a multitude of other things. Gritting her teeth, she slammed her hoof down upon the table, the sound cracking across the chambers as the force split a massive rift across the table’s length.

“You will all be silent as of now. We do not have the time for arguing or accusing! We have a nation-wide emergency and you all bicker like foals caught stealing from the cookie jar!” Celestia said sternly, the stress of the day’s events bleeding from every word. “My sister has already wiped out not only Everfree, but the entire forest as well, and you accuse me of making this up?! I do not have the power to take her on alone, and-”

A knock at the door interrupted her, and an aide opened it to poke his head in. “Majesty, Councilmares? I would not be here if it weren’t dire. There is a....messenger.” He pulled his head back out, and not a second later another pony walked in. An unicorn mare.

But there was a sense of wrongness about her. Her eyes were completely shut, as if she were sleeping. Her coloration was monotone, all the color drained from her being, and where her cutie mark should be, sat only a silver crescent moon.
Before anypony could say a word, her horn lit up, causing many of the council to gather up magic in their own just in case. However, instead of an attack, a snide voice resonated throughout the chamber.

“Hello, my subjects, loyal or otherwise. I am your new Queen, Nightmare Moon. If you wish to survive, you will surrender immediately, or you will be cast into the shadows, just as I have done to Everfree. Refusal to comply will be severely punished. And do not think you can hide this matter from the citizens. My messengers are everywhere. You have one day, starting at midnight. If you have not given me your answer by twenty-four hours afterward, or given me a non-favorable reply, you will be destroyed. Any city found harboring the Traitor Princess, Celestia, will be found guilty immediately, and all ponies will be put to Sleep without clemency. If you doubt me, look to my messengers. They will show you what it is like to Sleep.”

The moment the message ended, the grey pony collapsed upon the floor. The Councilmares sprang from their seats, and rushing over to the fallen pony, gathered around her. Suddenly, she opened her maw, and a horrified scream came from it. Celestia recognized it. It was the same screams she heard back in Everfree. The scream of a pony being subjected to nightmares infinitely worse than anything they could possibly imagine.

Everypony covered their ears. They could hear echoing screams from many points in the city. Nightmare Moon hadn’t lied. Her messengers were everywhere! And then, just as the screaming had started, it stopped abruptly, and the messenger was teleported out of the room in a flash of silver moonlight.

The entire chamber was shook up. Turning to the councilmares, all of them pale with shock, Celestia whispered one thing.

“We must defend ourselves...”

______________

She...she ran from us... Abandoned us... Our sister, the one I thought we could rely on most to support our decisions...she left us here... Luna whispered within Nightmare Moon’s mind, the pain of Celestia’s betrayal aching within her.

And Nightmare Moon agreed. If there had been one pony she thought would join them, it had been her sister. No matter what her name was, she was still a copy of Luna at her core, and she felt Celestia’s betrayal just as much as Luna did herself, “She gave us her answer, foal. Her actions speak clearly for what she had done. She...never cared for us...” Even in her blackest of hearts, Nightmare Moon truly felt that this was the case.

No matter how Luna felt about Nightmare Moon’s actions, she still knew that her alter-ego was part of her, and no matter how much she was put through, no matter what terrible things she saw Nightmare Moon do, she had to trust her, as now she could not trust the one pony she had cared for most. Then what shall we do? Nightmare...You’re the only pony I have left. What will we do with our sister?

Nightmare Moon was surprised at Luna’s words. Perhaps she was not as weak as the Nightmare had first thought!

“We will soon find out, dear Luna. The messengers have been deployed. Now, we await the answers from every town and city. And as for Celestia? If we cannot capture her and turn her back to our side, then we will have to kill her. Pure and simple. I see no other way around it.”

The Nightmare uneclipsed the sun, Sol’s light going out across the land as it began to set beyond the horizon, and as it did Luna replied with something that made Nightmare Moon smile so very wide.

Agreed.

_____________

The quarters that had been provided for Celestia weren't lavish, but they were the ones typically used by the royal family during their visits. The day had been long for the alicorn, involving meetings of every kind, addresses to the public, and extensive planning for the days ahead. The city of Canterlot was indeed going to war, but nopony knew just how to go about it and many of the meetings were concerned with just that problem: How to go about acquiring conscripts for their force, what sort of training their troops required, the logistics of any possible campaigns, the acquisition of important supplies, and many other impenetrable details that served only to give Celestia a tremendous headache.

She was no general, and if those Messengers were any indication, her sister had an entire city's worth of bodies for her army. The princess felt Luna's chosen name was more than apt for this situation, as trying to figure out how to defend Canterlot itself was turning into an absolute nightmare.

Celestia slumped down upon the bed within her quarters, every fiber of her being exhausted. Lowering the sun had tired her out even further, but the cycle had to be maintained. She did not dare risk agitating the situation before her ponies were ready, and now that true night had come, that familiar feeling of lethargy had all but shut her down. However, she was trying to hold on. There was too much at stake for her to sleep now. Too much to think about.

I will not give up on you, dearest sister. I will find a way to free you! I just....I just don't know how to do it... Canterlot's Core is not even a fraction of the strength that Everfree's was, and with the forest now... the way it is, I cannot see getting to the castle being easy, Celestia thought to herself, her mood heavy with depression. I do not see you or I getting out of this situation unscathed. Already I have seen more than any pony should. I cannot imagine what it is like for you, Luna, to be committing these atrocities...

Laying her head down, Celestia's thoughts turned to memories of her sister. Of times good and bad. Of times with their parents, when they had been totally carefree, save for their schooling. The bond between the two siblings had been so strong. The love they had for each other: immeasurable. What had gone so wrong as to result in this? Eventually Celestia could hold out no longer and gave into her desire to sleep, her exhaustion from the day’s events finally catching up with her.

______________

All the two felt was guilt and regret, and Nightmare Moon was all the more angry for it. It was midnight, and the moon was in full glory overhead the castle. The Nightmare had repaired her bedchambers as best as she could, and then tidied up a bit before refreshing herself in the washroom. Afterward, she had released the power of the Core, so as to conserve its energy. She would need it for the days ahead.

But now, without the Core’s voice singing in her ears, the overwhelming need for power and retribution had seeped away, leaving her cold and contrite. In the back of her mind, Luna kept asking What have we done...?

Nightmare Moon kept asking herself the same question. This hadn't been meant to happen. Yes, she had wanted eternal night, so that everypony would finally take notice of its splendor. She wanted everypony to love her, just as they did her accursed sister and her equally accursed sun. But the Core...The Core had filled her with a lust... a lust for power, blood and destruction, and the irresistible desire for more had driven her mad.

"What we have done... was done with with purpose. It’s too late for us to turn back, now. We‘ve crossed the line, even I know that, and I...dare not think of what will happen to us if we lose this fight, dear Luna," Nightmare Moon's bravado was gone, instead replaced by the endless, gnawing guilt she felt for her actions, "We have to win now, through whatever means necessary . We may even have to do more abhorrent things than we have already, just to survive."

Do we even deserve to live, though? And what about all of your confidence? Has all that vanished, now that we know the things we’ve done? Was it all an act...?

"No!" Nightmare Moon snapped at her other half. "I suppose some of it was, but not all of it. Remember, dearest Luna. I am you. A different you, to be sure, but you nonetheless. Every insecurity, every fear, every dislike of yours is mine as well. Even your own self-doubt infects me just as much as it does you, if not more! Just one more thing I have to curse you for, foal."

Nightmare Moon had removed her breastplate and helmet, setting them aside so she could relax upon the pile of cushions on the floor. But try as she might, her body rebelled against her, staying tense even now.

"We cannot go back, we can only keep moving forward. Whatever may happen, we cannot give up our plans. Everypony will love us and our night, and Celestia, curse her name, will bow before us and come to love us again, or by our own hooves, will she die..."

I...I have been meaning to ask, Nightmare... Luna ventured, hoping that her other self would not be angry at her request.

The Nightmare was surprised that her alter-ego would go so far as to ask something of her, but she was curious, and so said, "Ask me what, foal? I will consider it, depending on what it may be."

Luna took a moment, as if gathering her thoughts before replying, I want us to do that link again, the same as the day you took over. I will go through the pain again, and it isn't a takeover! I promise! It’s just...if...if we must fight Celly, I would rather us do it together. If our sister has to die, I want it by both our own hooves, and nopony else's.

A broad grin spreading across her muzzle, Nightmare Moon knew then that the foal sharing her mind could be salvaged, replying, "You know what will happen if you try to take over, but this idea of yours intrigues me, so I shall allow it."

Thank you, my dearest Nightmare..., whispered Luna, who meant every word. Without Celestia, Nightmare Moon was all she had...

And Nightmare Moon knew this.

"We must sleep now. Night it may be, but we need our full strength for the coming days... and to deal with the Core's whispers."

______________

The skies above Everfree were once again dark, Celestia's sun eclipsed by Luna's moon. A pegasus stallion ran through the afternoon darkness, coming straight into the audience chambers of what remained of Everfree Castle. Upon his forehead stood a silver moon, glowing against his night black coat and watery-colored mane. The cutie mark upon his side was of a group of clouds over the full moon. He ran straight up to the throne, past several ponies who leered at him for his rudeness.

However, Nightmare Moon herself did not bat an eye, and smiled down at her subject graciously. “Ah, Aqua Mane, by your presence, I assume that you have something to report regarding the answers that my lovely little Equestrians have given me in response to my royal decree. Yes?” She quirked an eyebrow, her smile growing wider, nearly daring him to say no.

"My leige!" Aqua Mane announced, bowing deeply before her. "I am too loyal to you to permit failure of that kind. I have the reports alright. To begin, Ponyville surrenders and awaits you. The earth ponies are all ready to serve. They knew they could not fight you, Majesty. Cloudsdale has started mobilizing their air forces, and has sent us a very clear, 'Buck you, we’ll fight!' How unfortunate. No word yet from Canterlot, though we will need none. Your spies have told us that the Traitor, Celestia, is sequestered within their Ruling Council's headquarters. Manehatten and Fillydelphia have yet to respond..."

Aqua Mane continued his report, listing off the various towns and cities that had surrendered, refused, or have not yet answered the call of his Queen.

The entire time, Nightmare Moon smiled down at him, and in the back of her mind, Luna quietly spoke. I did not wish for it to come to this, but we will have to fight her...Our own sister.

"Yes, and we must make an example of Canterlot after we capture her. And make use of their Core; ours is fading. I do not see it lasting more than another week at our current usage," Nightmare Moon replied within her mind.

Aqua Mane, finishing his report, had of course heard none of the internal exchange and had remained bowed the entire time, his eyes to the floor. "...And that is where matters stand now, my Queen. Our forces are ready to mobilize at your command, and are currently stationed in a portion of the city we have cleared for their bivouac. They are ready for your inspection."

Tapping her hoof upon the tile near the throne, Nightmare Moon responded, "This is fine news indeed, my subject. You are dismissed. Oh, and one more thing?"

As the pegasus had stood and began to turn away, he turned his head back, hesitant. "My liege?"

"Report to the Captain of the Guard. He is to promote you to the Captain of the Shadowbolts. Your current orders still stand, however. Do not disappoint me," she announced to him, making sure she put the hint of a threat in the last sentence
.

Saluting with a wing, Nightmare Moon could see the pegasus swallow visibly, "Y-Yes, my liege. Thank you, my liege!" He then galloped out of the throne room to take up his new station.

The Shadowbolts were her pegasi air forces, a counterpart to that ridiculous showpony squadron that her parents had created. Except for one thing, and Nightmare Moon grinned, the Shadowbolts were no showponies. They were the real thing, and under her direct command. Their suits and goggles were magically linked to her, and any mistakes they made? Well, they best pray to her that they not make mistakes. They had already seen what had happened to the pony who blundered earlier in the day. She now Slept eternally.

Spreading her mighty ebon wings, Nightmare Moon threw herself into the air and bolted out of the throne room. Below her, most of the city lay in ruins, the fires and her lances of destruction having taken out many of the homes. What remained, however, were now being used by her loyal subjects. She could see the attempts to have regular markets and day to day events going on, but those were not what she was interested in.

Oh no, her attention was fixed on the part of the city that had been completely cleared of rubble by her unicorns. At one portion, the ranks and files of her Messengers were evident, an entire legion of bodies ready for war. She could make out the individual companies of earth ponies, unicorns, and the pegasi. Her Sleepers needed no food, no water, and little rest. The perfect soldiers, ready to attack at her command.

The rest of the field lay to her army, the various companies of unicorn and earth pony recruits. The unicorns were practicing combative spells upon dummies, and even the occasional pony who had accepted her gift, and then renounced it. Such a waste, but it was necessary.

The earth ponies themselves were training for charging in and bucking, amongst other ground maneuvers. And above her lay her pride. The Shadowbolts. Wings upon wings of them raced across the sky. Some were down below, doing low flying drills against target dummies, dropping pots of liquid fire at them, or scooping them up into the air before taking them high into the sky and hurling them back to earth. Pegasi were very ambitious ponies, and many had come at her command to serve her.

I am sorry I doubted you last night, Nightmare. Our army-- No, our legion is immense and powerful! We will have no trouble marching across all of Equestria. Celly was foolish in refusing to bow to us. Many were.

"Yes. With the Core singing within our ears, and her sun eclipsed, Celestia will be too weak to stand against us more than once. She will feel our wrath.”

Together.

"Together."
______________

“This is it? No more than a hundred ponies? And this is not including the guards we can spare, is it?” Celestia asked, turning her head aside to whisper to the Guard trainer next to her.

He was a musclebound fellow, his armor being highly decorated concerning his position, with his white hide visible beneath it. The unicorn quickly replied, “Everypony is frightened, Your Highness. We all saw the Messengers. Heard their screams, and their message. Many of the viable recruits have already fled the city; I am surprised we even got these hundred. The major problem is this, Princess Celestia: They’re no use to us even as shields unless we have the time to train them, and from what we’ve all heard, time runs out tonight. By what you’ve claimed to have seen back in Everfree, Nightmare Moon could have an army in the thousands, if not ten times that.”

The trainer swallowed and turned his head to the side, unable to look his Princess in the eyes. “Excuse me for saying this, Majesty, but we’ve already had several assaults on the Council building by desperate ponies who want nothing more to save their hides and turn you over to Nightmare Moon. And I must agree with them. We’re not ready to fight. At all. The last war we even had was a border skirmish, and that was centuries ago... But an example made out of an entire city? Princess, we can’t afford to let that happen...”

Celestia felt resignation take over her being, and let out a heartfelt sigh, “I know, I just...I...I need to figure out what to do first. And first thing’s first, we have to get some sort of defense ready for Canterlot...”

The trainer turned his head to stare over at his ruler, anger in his eyes. “Princess, with all due respect, I can do my job just fine. The question is, will you do yours? If that means surrendering yourself to save the people that you rule over, then it should be done. We took you in, but Nightmare Moon may not forgive us for that. I would rather not become a mindless automaton living an eternal nightmare! None of us do!”

Celestia took a few steps back, aghast and ashamed. I’m dooming an entire city to death if I don’t do something. And there isn’t anything I can do. The city doesn’t have enough guards to make even a sizable force, and there is no chance that these colts and fillies will be trained in time to last any length of time against my sister’s army. I... Celestia couldn’t take it. She ran away from the scene, dashing into the council hall for her quarters, her thoughts following her. What if I had bowed to her!? Could I have kept all this from happening? Kept Everfree from being destroyed? Kept the countless lives of my subjects from being lost? She avoided the ponies in the halls. Celestia could see their glares, their accusing eyes. They blamed her for all of this. It is my fault that this has all come about. I failed Father, I failed Luna, and I failed all of Equestria. I...I will...

A voice broke her from her thoughts as a page came running up to her, yelling the Princess’ name. She had nearly been to her room, and she stopped to see what he had to say. Probably more like what the Guard trainer had said to her.

He stopped in front of her, panting as he caught his breath before finally exclaiming, “We have a report! Nightmare Moon’s army has been spotted emerging just outside of Ponyville! She’s with them! Princess, what do you wish for me to tell the Council!?” His eyes were wide, and he was obviously frightened.

Taking a deep breath, Celestia closed her eyes for a moment before opening them again and exhaling, “Tell them they are to do nothing, and that I thank them for their hospitality. But I must do this alone. I mean to bargain with Nightmare Moon, and, if necessary, offer myself up in surrender to save Canterlot and as many ponies as I can. It... it is the only way. Now off! Go! Tell them what I have said!” Celestia shooed the page off with a hoof. She had made her decision. She was these ponies’ protector, and she would see them safe, even if it did not mean her safety in return...

Stopping in her quarters, Celestia grabbed a single item that she had placed a spell upon, hoping that it would help her sister. A tiny toy in the shape of a midnight blue alicorn.

______________

Nightmare Moon landed upon the town hall stage within Ponyville. In front of her stood every resident of the town, some watching in anticipation, others in abject fear, all waiting in the field in front of the hall.

Within her mind, Nightmare Moon asked, “Ready?”

In reply, Luna answered, Ready.

And in both their voices, speaking in unison, Nightmare Moon announced, “My faithful subjects, I am delighted to see so many ponies who know their place within Equestria. You will be a welcome addition to my new Lunar Republic, and know that, from this day forth, Ponyville will be spared any and all attacks and retaliations for their loyalty to the throne. Any and all ponies who wish to register within the Lunar Republic army, air force, or magics corps, please march out of Ponyville to where our legion currently camps.”

While Nightmare Moon talked, continuing her speech, Luna spoke along with her. Their voices intertwined and melded into one, an effect of their link. While their minds were still mostly separated, allowing their thoughts to be separate from each other, their actions and speech were as one. Nightmare Moon had been emotionally split in two about the excruciating pain her counterpart had gone through to establish the link. While she took a savage enjoyment in causing it, she was also concerned for her. Luna was, of course, herself, and utterly loyal to her. Nightmare Moon could trust her like no other pony.

Their speech, however, continued unabated, “...Breaking of these laws will result in immediate arrest, followed by a punishment befitting of the crime. Last, but not least, I require an oath of fealty, whereupon you will gain a mark that will not only protect you, but show your loyalty to me. And make no mistake, I will know if you fore-swear your loyalties. Now, bow to me, my subjects! Bow to me and show your allegiance.”

One by one, ponies amongst the crowd began to kneel to their new queen. Some, of course, looked uncertain, but bowed before Nightmare Moon regardless. However, inevitably a small group amongst the crowd rebelled.

One shouted, “No! I serve only Princess Celestia!” and three of them darted out of the crowd, sprinting away from the gathering.

Nightmare Moon was ahead of them, though, as shadowy tendrils crept out of the ground and immediately wrapped themselves around the three traitors. Her horn glowing a deep violet, the three ponies drifted back through the air, nicely bound, to the stage.

With the power of her Core coursing through her, Nightmare Moon exclaimed, “Now witness what happens to those who refuse to join my Lunar Republic! To kneel in their place before their Queen! ” Her nebulous mane snaked out toward the terrified ponies, fear deep within their eyes. And upon being touched, each screamed out violently before falling silent. The color bleached from their coats, and their cutie marks vanished only to be replaced by Nightmare Moon’s signature mark: the crescent moon.

Once the three Sleepers got to their hooves, the Nightmare pointed her horn to Ponyville’s road and ordered, “Join your brothers and sisters.” The three Messengers walked off without a sound, while the alicorn turned back to her subjects. A simple glare made any ponies who had stood immediately bow back down before her. Smiling to herself, Nightmare Moon’s horn began to glow once more, and all across the field, the crescent moon sprang into being on everypony’s forehead.
Just as she was about to speak again, she heard the sound of hooves landing upon the stage next to her, as well as an audible gasp from the ponies gathered. She didn’t even have to look to know who that was.

“Ahhh, my dearest, or should we say, our dearest sister, Celestia,” Nightmare Moon said without turning her head. Then, her tone changed and she screamed at the crowd, “Go about your business foals, this does not concern you!” Immediately, the crowd scattered in all directions, leaving Nightmare Moon to face Celestia alone.

Celestia did not look amused in the least, though Nightmare Moon did not think she would be. The silence between the two stretched on for minutes, each alicorn waiting for the other to make the first move.

Finally, Celestia deigned to speak, lowering her head but keeping her eyes upon the Nightmare in front of her. “I...I’ve come to bargain...For the safety of all my little ponies...”

Nightmare Moon laughed, a sinister cackle full of threat and malice. “You’ve come to bargain with us? After you abandoned us back in Everfree? We gave you the choice to rule with us in our new Lunar Republic, and you cast aside our gift without so much as a thought! And then you dare to stand against us?! Why should we ever bargain with you, traitor!?

Celestia sat rapidly, glancing everywhere but at her sister, trying to figure out what to say. What could she say?

“I...” It was hard to speak to Nightmare Moon, knowing full well what she had done to help Luna along the path to this insanity. “I...I want you to release Luna, to free her! I’ll do whatever it takes for you to do so!” Celestia finally exclaimed. She had taken note of how strange Nightmare Moon’s voice had sounded.

“Oh my, how brash and demanding,” the Nightmare replied, tapping her hoof against the floorboards. Then, her voice changed to only be that of her own, “Of course, I do not think the answer lies only with me. Perhaps your dear sister should get a vote in, don’t you think?”

And then, from Nightmare Moon’s mouth, a second voice came, causing Celestia to gasp in shock.

“Celly, I made my decision. I want this... You weren’t there for me. You abandoned me! My Nightmare has been here the entire time and kept me company. She wants what I want. No, I will be staying, thank you. I made my choice; I made my unforgivable decisions. Leave me to them.”

And then, the duo’s voices were back in sync, “There, you see, dear sister, we made our choices long ago. I am Luna, and Luna is me. We are together, one. Inseparable. What could you ever offer that would separate us, hmmm? Surrender, Celestia. It is over! You know Equestria cannot win against my army. You know that you cannot win!”

“Maybe not, Nightmare Moon, but I can fight! Fight for my sister’s freedom!” Celestia yelled, getting herself into what she thought was a good combat-ready stance. Still, she was mentally shaken from hearing Luna’s voice come from Nightmare Moon, and wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

Nightmare Moon simply laughed in her face, causing Celestia to blink in confusion. “Oh you stupid, silly foal. Did you think you could...” The black alicorn’s horn suddenly flared to life, several dark bolts of energy shooting out from it and striking Celestia in the chest, flinging her back to slide across the dry earth, which shuddered in protest. “...Fight against us!? You have the pent up rage of both of us to deal with! You will die by both our hooves! Your memory will be erased from the chronicles, and we will rule without you!” Nightmare Moon’s eyes blazed a bright blue, streams of raw power seeping from her eyes.

Another flurry of bolts leapt at Celestia, knocking her prone again as she slid further into the gathering area. The ground heaved once more, a violent tremor rocking the land, and in the far distance, a mountain collapsed in on itself. The skies above them shuddered, and animals took flight across the countryside. A second volley, then a third, tore into Celestia, throwing her battered body about. The ground in all directions protested, great rents in the earth appearing. New mountains rose up all across Equestria, while old ones crumbled into dust as the stars above trembled in fear. The Goddesses were attached to the land, after all, and the one attacking the other was damaging the very world itself irrevocably.

Even in immense pain, her skin feeling as if it were on fire, Celestia could sense what was happening. “S-St-Stop...” She choked, as she managed to stagger up once again, just in time to dodge Nightmare Moon’s hind-kick and take to the sky. Her sister’s Nightmare swiftly followed. An immense fireball flew from the ebony alicorn’s horn this time, and Celestia barely managed to get a shield up in time to dissipate it, plowing through the orb of flame. It was close; she felt her mane and tail smolder, but before her sister could react, Celestia dove down and drove her back with a kick to the side of her armored plating.

Throwing the daze of the blow off, Nightmare Moon glared at Celestia with barely concealed hatred. She drank deep of her connection to Everfree’s Core and with a great surge of power unleashed a tempest of bolts upon the Sun Goddess. The time for playing games was over.

Celestia tried to get a shield up in time, but it happened too fast. Her shield was crushed around her body and the bolts of energy pummeled her from every direction. They smashed into every inch of her body, bruising and battering her further, and just when she thought it had ended, Nightmare Moon flew up and delivered a punishing two-hoofed blow to the Goddess of the Sun’s chest, snapping no small number of ribs and causing a spurt of blood to issue from the princess’ maw. The ground gave one final shudder in protest just as Celestia’s body hit the earth below with a sickening crunch.

Celestia was dimly aware of her surroundings through the fog of her pain. She watched helplessly as Nightmare Moon landed nearby and approached up to her to glare down at her broken body. “No mother and father to act as base this time, dear sister. I win. You may have one last chance to say something to deter me from killing you. Choose your words carefully.”

Celestia cried out in pain as she tried to move, barely managing to bring up a hoof to her mane, and pull something out of it. Losing her strength, the object fell from her hoof and rolled across the ground, drawing Nightmare Moon’s gaze.

It was a little toy alicorn, a representation of Luna, in fact. Luna remembered it fondly. Celestia had carved it herself back before mother and father had gone, and took it everywhere with her, even sleeping with it at times. It was a quaint little thing and as the two stared at it, it sent them a message...

My dearest sister, Luna. I am greatly ashamed that I did not help you, or be there for you as much as I could have. Some nights, I cried myself to sleep when you were in one of your bad moods, feeling powerless to comfort you. In fact, right now, all I’ve been wanting to do is cry for you, knowing that I had helped you become this Nightmare. And while I cannot yet forgive you for everything you have done, I can definitely say that I just want you back. I miss you little sister...

Nightmare Moon scoffed at the toy and its message. A ploy! A trick to throw them off guard. Lies. Nothing more than lies! But Luna... Luna herself caught something her counterpart did not. Love. One hundred percent pure and absolute. Unadulterated, unconditional love. She could feel it deep within her heart, and as she did, it cracked through Luna’s emotional armor and pushed her to doubt her actions. Every single one of them

Luna’s hesitation caught Nightmare Moon’s attention, however, and she snapped at her within their mind, “What are you doing, foal?”

Luna didn’t reply, and the backlash of Luna breaking their mental link stunned Nightmare Moon, forcing her down and allowing her counterpart to take control.

Dashing forward, Luna in her Nightmare’s body knelt down beside Celestia, causing the Sun Goddess to flinch back and screw her eyes shut. But, instead of more pain, a gentle nuzzle brought Celestia to open her eyes, gazing straight up into the other alicorn’s. And the eyes she saw were Luna’s. “I’m so sorry, Celly...I can never apologize enough for what I’ve done to you...”

And just as she felt the faint stirrings of Nightmare Moon coming back to her senses, Luna’s horn flashed, and she vanished from sight in a swirl of blackness, leaving Celestia broken and battered upon the ground in the center of Ponyville. The village itself had been all but demolished, a casuality of the vindictive rage of their new Queen.

_____________

Celestia drifted in and out of consciousness. At first, the ponies with the crescent moon upon their foreheads had been gathered around her. Then next she knew, she was being air-lifted by several pegasi, a pair of medics doing their best to make her comfortable and trying to sooth her grievous wounds. It wasn’t working out too well. The goddess was in pain regardless of the position, and every inch of her body hurt. She swore she could even feel the grating of broken bones grinding against one another whenever she was moved. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the bliss of unconsciousness took her once again.

Later, she woke up in what she presumed to be Canterlot’s hospital wing. Everything was painfully bright and she could barely see at all. There were multi-colored blurs moving about her with an alarming quickness, and she could hear the frightened mumbles of several different ponies. Just then, a voice rang out nearby, “She’s awake! Get her sedated! She’s not ready, yet; we need more time!” There was a great clamor about her, ponies rushing around her in a panic as the pain began to bleed slowly back into her body. She was about to scream, but a sharp prick made itself known in her neck and suddenly everything went away as she faded back into a peaceful, medicated bliss.

______________

In Everfree Castle, an infuriated alicorn paced through her quarters, seemingly debating with herself.

“I trusted you! I allowed you that link because I trusted you! And you even gave me your word you would not try to take control! You’re no better than our sister! We had her at our mercy and you prevented us from killing or capturing her! If you were any other pony, I would have slain you where you stood!” The hate and anger rolled off Nightmare Moon in waves, the tension in the air thick enough to cut with a sword.

Luna could only cower within the back of their mind, not daring to even give a frightened peep. She had never seen her counterpart this furious, and she knew she had screwed up in a big way. But she also knew now that Celestia still loved her, that there was hope for things to be fixed between the two of them.

Nightmare Moon stopped pacing, and Luna whimpered in fright. “I know what to do with you. Tonight, you will Slumber until the morrow. A fitting punishment for what you have done, my dearest Luna.” This time, her Nightmare sneered at her in derision, the hate being trained on Luna now.

No! NO! Please, I beg of you, Nightmare! Don’t- A tendril of Nightmare Moon’s power touched Luna’s mind, and she cried out in terror before being silenced. This time, the Nightmare took glee in the pain that arced across Luna’s mind. A day within her Nightmares would sufficiently cow the upstart foal and give her time to think about betraying the one who had done so much for them. For now, she had things to plan for. There were Cities to attack, and Celestia to find, though Nightmare Moon could guess that Canterlot was where she was recuperating. That was fine. She would destroy Canterlot last...

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No...No! Why? I...I can’t take anymore of this! I just can’t! Not tonight... Twilight thought to herself, pulling away from the book while tears streamed down her cheeks. It was as if the memories from the book itself had a stranglehold on her heart. Princess Celestia had been right. Her deep desire to see what was hidden within the tome was bringing her nothing but sadness.

Ohhh... I’ve got to get it together! I haven’t cried this much since I was a filly! Of course, when I would miss mother and father, Princess Celestia would be there at night to take me under her wing and comfort...Wait... Taking a quick look outside at the setting sun, her hopes brightened just a bit. She still had time. If she hurried, maybe she could. She could most certainly use the soothing, and her teacher’s guidance through this tome would help a lot more. Twilight Sparkle hurriedly slipped her saddlebags out from their cubbyhole, then placed both tomes on either side. Will I need food? No, they’d have some...Shelter? No, once again, same answer...Ah! Parchment, quills, and ink, yes!

Quickly penning a note, she set it on the book stand where she did most of her reading, just in case any of her friends were curious as to why she was not around. A few moments later she was finished packing the supplies into her bags, going over a little checklist in her head before she set out, just to be sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. Okay, calm down, Twilight. The note’s written, I have both books, along with supplies for writing and notes...Oh Goddess, I hope she’ll welcome me! She was right...

Stepping to the center of her room, Twilight sent off a tracer spell first to locate the Princesses before starting her teleportation. She needed to know where she was going before she did it, after all. Gathering up the energy in her horn, she formed the spell and then released, feeling the gentle tug of magic as she was thrown in the direction she needed to go. After a few seconds, Twilight rematerialized on the beach, to the surprise of two resting Princesses.

Celestia could see her prized pupil standing before her with not only saddlebags upon her back, but also a tear-stained face and puffy eyes. “Twilight, my faithful student, why are you here? Is it... the histories?” she ventured, Luna awkwardly quiet beside her.

Twilight stood there for a moment, simply nodding before rushing over to her teacher’s side, breaking out into fresh tears as she pushed herself under one of Celestia’s wings. “Ohhh, Princess! I should have listened to you! I had no idea things had gotten to be so awful back then! I reached the point after you lost to Nightmare Moon, and I just couldn’t keep going anymore! It was all too much!”

Luna looked away and crept across the sand, trying to appear as small as she possibly could. Celestia hunkered down with Twilight, keeping a wing over her student’ body and nuzzling her like a mother would. “I never said, Twilight, that it would be easy to read them. It just gets worse from there... I had to make a great many decisions that I am not proud about, and that set the ponies of Equestria against me for years after that. Luna and I both did things back then we greatly regret. We were very young, not yet having the experience we needed, but it was all of Equestria that paid the price for our ignorance. However, do not worry, my pupil. You need not continue with your studies tonight. For now, rest, I’ll be there tomorrow to help you through it.”

That night, the three ponies sat and talked as they looked up at Luna’s glorious night sky, the stars shining brightly above and the moon gazing gently down upon them. And when Twilight asked about why Princess Celestia was not tired, Celestia explained to her student, “I beat the Lethargy centuries ago, Twilight, out of having to also perform the night duties in addition to my own. Shortly after Luna was released, I taught her how to beat it, too, though we still tend to remain awake during our preferred times. But now at least, we make sure to spend as much time with each other as we can, and to always be there for one another...”




(A/N) This was an exhausting one to write, and I had to stop many times to collect my thoughts and figure out how to proceed. In fact, I had several ideas of how to work this part of the story, and I felt this one was the best. Ideas were added in, and others discarded. And here is the finished product. Also, a special cameo appearance by ZAquanimus as Aqua Mane, who has been a loyal subject of mine for a while. Let us hope he does not screw up. He knows the penalties...

(E/N) After... about 18 hours (over three days) of solid editing, I have to say that this is the most extensive story I’ve ever been involved with, and it’s a doozy, for sure. Still, it surprises me that despite the word changes made and all the cutting that goes into working on something like this, the concepts always ring so very clearly on first read. What I do is little more than lacquer an already very well-made table. The characterizations are amazing, the pacing is exceptional, and I, for one, genuinely enjoy seeing a kind, sympathetic if very flawed Celestia. And of course, Nightmare Moon, being simultaneously abhorrent and pitiable... it’s very easy to get drawn in. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next part... But for now, I think I’ll rest...