• Published 31st Oct 2013
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From The Depths - Pen Stroke



It should never be forgotten that those who have been touched by Tirek are forever within his grasp.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Cover Art Done As Commission By SilFoe

From The Depths

Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By

Illustrious Q, Batty Gloom, El Oso, Alexstrazsa, JustAnotherTimeLord, amacita, Hidden Brony

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Chapter 1

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

====================

(Takes place before Season 4)

“Strawberry! Strawberry! Okay, now a little kiwi. I said kiwi, not broccoli! Are you even listening?"

Discord, or rather one of the many Discords wearing yellow hardhats, stuck out his tongue at the one, true lord of chaos, who was wearing a white hardhat. The main hall of Canterlot Castle was bustling, decorations of frightful nature going up right and left. Jack-o-lanterns with changing faces, spiderwebs the size of bed sheets, and numerous bags of bones were tossed about in a neverending shuffle. It was an orchestra of accidents and happy coincidences, where any mistake ended up helping the room progress to its final form.

A place fit to host the castle’s annual Nightmare Night celebration.

“Now, where am I going to put those fourth-dimensional stairs?”

“I thought we agreed against decorations that break the fundamental laws of the universe.”

Discord turned to look at Celestia as she came into the room, leaving behind an assistant and a few ponies she had been previously speaking too. He tipped back his white construction hat, smiled, and held out his clipboard, which bore papers covered in little more than crayon scribbles. “But is it really breaking laws when one of your own ponies managed to imagine such a beautiful structure in a simple drawing?” Discord began to climb up in the air, as if walking up steps, yet even as he went higher his head began to materialize out of the floor like a ghost.

“A staircase that keeps climbing up through eternity and a waterfall that flows upwards only to fall down again. Honestly, it’s a shame I never got to meet that particular pony. He sounds like an artist after my own heart.”

Celestia just rolled her eyes as she looked about the room, taking in the decorations. Chandeliers of black licorice hung from the ceiling, glowing with flames colored like candy corn. One of the Discord’s clones was manifesting large, black spiders and dressing them with white ties to be waiters. The centerpiece of the room was a statue of Nightmare Moon, made from spools of silk that moved, turned, and even struck the occasional flirty pose.

“Just remember Nightmare Night is Luna’s holiday, Discord.”

“Sí, sí, sí,” Discord said, waving his claw. One of the worker clones brought up a tray of ice cubes in the shape of bats, a few of which were twitching with a desire to fly. Discord gave an approving nod, even tickling one of the ice-cube bats before looking back at Celestia. “Though this really isn’t Luna’s holiday, if we think of it honestly. This night belongs to Nightmare Moon.”

Discord chuckled to himself, grabbing a piece of construction paper from a passing clone. A few quick folds and it was an origami sculpture that looked like Luna. “I always wondered how she pulled it off, going from such a little thing into the frightful queen of eternal night. Leaning on demon power would certainly do the trick.” He refolded the paper again, even changing its colors so it looked like a jagged, monochromatic rainbow.

“Though, ever since that fateful night, she’s not the only one that’s used some dark power, is she, Celestia?”

“I do not want to discuss what happened that night, Discord. You know that,” Celestia said, her voice carrying an undercurrent of irritation from from all the times she had said the very same thing in the past.

“But I want to have my bedtime story.” Discord, in the blink of an eye, was dressed in bright pink pajamas and was tucked into an oversized bed. He transformed his face into that of a big-eyed puppy who was pouting and whining as if his favorite toy had been taken away.

“Discord, haven’t I said before that your desire to antagonize Celestia is just a cry for attention and that there are far more constructive ways for you to express yourself?”

The pair of immortals turned, seeing a stallion walking up to them from the main hall’s entrance. He had an air of comfort about him, a unicorn that had a subtle smile to his face and seemed totally at ease in his pumpkin-themed sweatervest. A few wrinkles of age marked his face, and his voice was smooth and gentle, a voice most ponies would use only to speak to a scared animal.

“Dr. Well Wish, I apologize. I did not realize it was already time for our appointment,” Celestia said, smiling at the good doctor while Discord’s face fell into a frown.

“Luna and I finished a bit early. She wanted to pay a visit to some ponies in Ponyville before coming back to the castle for this celebration,” the ember-orange unicorn said as he looked at the army of Discord clones going about the room. “I see the decorating is going well, though you really should have reached out and asked ponies for help, Discord. Organizing a crew of ponies and taking part in that kind of social interaction would be good for you.”

Discord snapped his claw, making the bed, pajamas, and puppydog face he had conjured disappear before glowering at the doctor. “Don’t shrink my brain with your babble, Doc. You don’t know me.”

“No, but I would like to. My invitation for you to join the princesses’ therapy sessions still stands. I think you three, together in a group therapy session, could make great progress.”

“Sorry, can’t hear you over the construction work,” Discord shouted, motioning for his clones to start making a cacophony of noises as he walked away.

Celestia chuckled and looked at the doctor with a toothy smile. “Have I told you before how much I like the effect you have on Discord?”

“Yes, multiple times,” the doctor said, returning the smile as he and Celestia left the din of Discord’s clones behind. “Though, as I’ve said in our sessions, perhaps telling Discord about the events of that night would not be so bad. It would sate his curiosity and help you come to better terms with what happened.”

“I am not ready to talk about it with him, doctor.”

“Yet you are willing to participate in Nightmare Night celebrations with your sister?”

Celestia nodded as the pair continued down the castle hallways. “Despite the origins of this holiday, Luna rediscovered friendship because of Nightmare Night. She has taken and claimed this day, a day where you laugh at the things you fear. A day where you perhaps see that the scary things do not even need to be feared in the first place.”

“You sound like you are looking forward to it as well,” Well Wish pointed out as the pair rounded a corner.

“I would not mind having a reason to laugh at the things that go bump in the night.”

“Are you having trouble with bad dreams again? I thought we had put these night terrors to bed a month ago.”

“We had. It was just one little bad dream last night. It is nothing to worry about.”

Celestia and Well Wish reached her study, the pair moving to their usual places. Celestia walked to her couch while the doctor sat in an oversized chair nearby. “Let’s review the dream anyway, just to be certain it’s nothing to worry about. Where did it begin?”

Celestia got comfortable, settling in as she had for every session with the doctor since her trip into the catacombs of the old castle. “It began like all the others, with a hand reaching out to touch my forehead.”

~~~

“Don’t you think we have enough candy?”

Pinkie Pie spun on her hooves, the long tail of her seapony costume gently slapping the faces of the fillies and colts who had been following in her wake. “Are you joking!? We haven’t even reached half the bowls yet!” Pinke then quickly spun back around, the children managing to duck before getting slapped by her seapony tail again. “Now, forward march!”

With a few anxious glances, the children followed Pinkie’s lead. They were all in the Oogie Boogie Blocks of Ponyville. A small section of the town had been cordoned off and turned into an open-air haunted house. Bowls of candy stood waiting in strategic locations. Those brave enough to try and steal a few pieces from any given bowl were quickly greeted by an accompanying scare.

And the bigger the candy reward, the bigger the danger.

“Then can we at least take a break and go back to the bowl with the apples?” the filly in a fairy costume asked.

A young colt dressed as a royal guard nodded his head. “Yeah, the only thing scary there was some ghosts made out of bed sheets.”

Pinkie Pie shook her head firmly, leading her group onward. “Nope. Fortune favors the bold, my little ponies, and I want to break my candy collection record this year. Now, where should we go next? There’s a sign outside of Quills and Sofas. We could go there. Or—”

Stopping dead in her tracks, Pinkie Pie’s eyes widened. She and the children had stepped into an intersection. Just ahead of them was Quills and Sofas, but Pinkie’s gaze wasn’t fixed there. Instead she was looking to her left. A half block away, resting on the rim of a plaza fountain, was a bowl of candy out in the open.

A bowl filled with king-sized chocolate bars.

“Troops! We have a new objective! Kingly Candy Confections at nine o’clock! To the left flank, march!”

“Do you really think this a good idea, Pinkie?” the filly dressed as a fairy asked as the group of children clustered closer together. The street was quiet, with no sign of danger to be seen. A cool wind blew at their necks. The sounds of their hoofsteps echoed off the buildings, making it sound as if something was stalking them from just beyond sight. “There could be something really scary over there.”

“Yeah, maybe we should just go to Quills and Sofas,” another filly, dressed as a flower, suggested.

“No!” Pinkie Pie pointed at the bowl of candy with her hooves. “Those are king-sized candy bars. You almost never see those given away on Nightmare Night. If we get those, we’ll be Nightmare Night legends. This will be a Nightmare Night worth remembering. That candy right over there is worth five... no, six more stops.

“Now, come on! Tonight! We eat candy like kings!”

The mood in the children shifted, inspired by Pinkie Pie’s words and raw energy. They cheered, stomped hooves, and, those who had them, waved toy weapons. The troop then set out, marching towards the unsuspecting bowl of candy. But the stillness lingered, and the children’s energy faded as their eyes searched every nearby shadow. They should have seen something. Should have heard the clatter of a rusty horseshoe or a moan from some ghoulishly costumed pony. But there was simply nothing. Nothing but the candy bowl.

“Almost there,” Pinkie Pie whispered as she started to stalk the bowl of candy like a predator, despite her seapony costume. They were just a few feet away now. A few more steps and the chocolatey goodness would be within reach. And still nothing had leapt out at them. For all the other bowls they had been scared before getting the candy. That was how it worked. The ponies in costumes scared them, then those same ponies would either give them the candy with warm smiles or let them grab their sugary reward as they ran off screaming.

Yet, for this one bowl with the biggest prize, there seemed to be no guards, no ghouls, and no ghosts.

“Maybe we got lucky,” the colt dressed as a royal guard said, trying to break the tension. “Maybe the ponies guarding this bowl are on break.”

The other children nodded, starting to let down their guard. They reached the bowl without incident, and after greedily snatching a king-sized bar for herself, Pinkie Pie let the children cluster around. Each took a candy bar, marveling at its size. Some began telling how they’d brag to their friends about getting a king-sized piece of candy. Others held their massive rectangle of chocolatey goodness, fighting the temptation to open the wrapper right then and there.

But as the last filly took her piece of candy, the bowl overturned. It fell off the side of the fountain, shattering against the ground. The remaining candy bars spilled, and, for a moment, everything went silent. A few hushed then whispers spread amongst the children.

“You broke it!”

“I didn’t break it! She broke it!”

“I did not!”

As some of the children argued, others watched the bowl’s shards as each fragment melted into the ground, becoming nothing but black smudges. Those smudges then moved with lives of their own, darting about. The insectile movement made some of the fillies scream and jump, dancing on their hooves.

The living smudges scampered off down the street, drawing the eyes of the children away from the fountain. On the wind, the children heard a whinny followed by the gruesome growl. The wind surged, whipping at their costumes while a thick plumes of steam rose from every nook and crack in the ground. Soon, the children were surrounded by a thick fog. The surrounding buildings disappeared into the white mist, and the few lit streetlights became nothing more than an amber glow in the fog.

Then, came a pattering. A quick passing sound of something running just beyond sight.

“What was that!?” The fairy filly shouted, stumbling back into the other fillies and colts. The pressed their backs against the fountain.

Another terrible whinny cut through the air, and it brought with it another gust of wind. The fog that had surrounded them was blown away in the matter of seconds. The filly and colts, for a moment, believed they were safe. There was nothing in the streets, no creature revealed by the lifting fog. But there was a sound, a slow dripping of water. It came from behind them, the splish and splash of water growing louder as a dark, massive shadow fell upon them.

For a few seconds none of the children had the courage to look back. They just stood perfectly still, listening to the dripping of water and a heavy, belabored breathing. Then, slowly, a few of the fillies and colts looked back, and saw just what was casting its shadow upon them. It was massive, covered in sickly green fish scales and with a wet, gangly, black mane that hung across the beast's muzzle. Its jagged, sharp fangs protruded from its mouth like the craggy edges of cave. Its odor of rotting fish washed over the children as a finned tail splashed in the shallow water of the fountain.

The creature looked at them for a few brief moments, then threw its head forward and unleashed a terrible whinny that had undertones of a roar. It sounded as if the creature was beginning its hunt. The fillies and colts all screamed, streaking down the street as fast as their hooves could carry them. Only one pony remained behind, so enchanted by her king-sized candy bar that she hadn’t even noticed the theatrics that had just gone on around her.

The beast drew in close to Pinkie Pie, extending its hoof and poking her once in the shoulder. This finally seemed to snap the party pony back to reality, and she looked over her shoulder. Her eyes then narrowed to dots, and for a moment she stared at the furred face just inches from her own.

The beast then gave a short, pointed snort as it bared its teeth.

“AH! KELPIE! RUN!”

Pinkie Pie was gone a moment later, the seapony tail of her costume flailing behind her as the kelpie howled into the night. Once Pinkie was gone, however, the fishy figure’s lips curled into a smile and a feminine chuckle escaped its lips. A magical glow enveloped the beast, its shape changing back into a more familiar figure. At the same time the black smudges that had hidden around the plaza came rushing back. They assembled themselves back into the bowl while a box of candy levitated down from the safety of the nearby roof to refresh the supply of chocolates.

“That was a good one, Princess Luna.”

The kelpie, or rather, Princess Luna, finished dispelling her illusion charm and stepped out of the fountain as Twilight walked up to her. “Thank you, Twilight, and your costume looks wonderful this evening.”

The recently coronated Twilight smiled, twirling on her hooves to show off her costume. The four princesses of Equestria had, at Twilight’s inspiration, decided to dress as one another the for Nightmare Night party in Canterlot. Twilight had dressed as Celestia, managing to get her mane and tail to mimic Celestia’s naturally magical hair very accurately. Truly, the only thing missing was how Celestia’s mane constantly waved in an non-existent wind.

The costume’s final touches were a few fake royal garments, though Twilight did make use of her real crown. Beyond that, Twilight, like all the princesses, kept her cutie mark and coat color the same. Still, despite the costume's visual simplicity, Twilight couldn’t help but smile at Luna’s compliment.

“Thank you,” Twilight said. “Still, we need to get going if we’re going to make it to Canterlot in time. Even with your teleportation spell, we do have to leave a few minutes early.”

“Yes, of course,” Luna said, calling on her own magic again. In another small flash of light, she had taken on Cadance’s colors. Tones of pink, purple, and yellow filled her mane and her royal garments were transfigured to more accurately match what Cadance normally wore. “Do you have a replacement for my position? I would hate for the children to get such candy treasure without any scare.”

Twilight waved her hoof reassuringly before the pair turned to leave. “Don’t worry, Zecora’s going to fill in for you. That magic powder she uses can pull of some really spooky effects. Though, I doubt she’ll be able to compete with such a convincing kelpie.”

“You flatter me, Twilight.” Luna turned to head down an alley, one of many that bridged the Oogie Boogie Blocks to Ponyville’s more traditional Nightmare Night festivities. Yet, as she began to step down the alley, she felt quite alone. Looking back, she saw that Twilight had stopped at the edge of the narrow passage. “Is something the matter?”

Forcing a smile, Twilight shook her head. “Oh, no... nothing’s wrong. Just thought I had forgotten something.” Twilight lifted a hoof, trying to take the first step into the alley. Yet she still hesitated, like she was trying to convince herself to dip her hoof into hot lava.

Luna knew the look and walked back to Twilight’s side before offering a comforting smile. “We can take the long way, if you would like.”

“Oh... yes. We’re not in that big of hurry. Let’s enjoy the walk. Yes, it’s a nice walk... the long way,” Twilight said, laughing nervously.

“You don’t have to try and conceal your feelings, Twilight,” Luna reassured her. “You’re still scared of small spaces, are you not?”

Twilight sighed, nodding as the pair took the wide, open street out of the Oogie Boogie Blocks. “I’m not mad that you put in me that coffin. That decision probably saved my life. I just... it still gets to me, a little bit.” She turned and looked to Luna as the pair continued to walk. “What about you? Are you still seeing your therapist?”

“I am,” Luna said with a confident grin. “I had a breakthrough with Dr. Well Wish a few weeks ago. It’s part of the reason why I felt I could still enjoy Nightmare Night this year.” Her grin softened into a content smile as her eyes wandered across the spooky decorations she and Twilight were passing. “It is interesting, the field of psychology. I have to wonder if things might have gone differently a thousand years ago if I had been able to talk to a pony educated in the matters of the mind.”

The pair stepped out of the Oogie Boogie Blocks and into the parts of Ponyville that were celebrating Nightmare Night in a more traditional sense, with dancing, festival games, and pumpkin toss. A few ponies smiled and waved at the two princesses, and they gladly waved back as they continued to talk. “It’s hard to say,” Twilight commented.

“Yes, it is, but we can’t let things like that pull us down, as Dr. Well Wish put it. After all, what do we truly have to worry about this evening? ” Luna asked.

“Oh, I could think of a few things,” Twilight answered. “This is the first time I’ll be attending the Nightmare Night party in Canterlot as a princess. There’s plenty to be worried about regarding that. We also can’t forget that Discord did the decorations this year. He could have set up some elaborate prank that will ruin your and Princess Celestia’s reputations with Canterlot’s upper class. And let’s not forget that Princess Celestia is going to see my costume and that I may have made my copy of her mane too poofy.

“It isn’t too poofy, is it?”

Princess Luna laughed, placing a reassuring wing over Twilight’s back as the pair arrived outside Ponyville’s library. “Your reproduction of my sister’s mane is flawless, Twilight. Also, if the fact Discord may have prepared a prank is our greatest concern, then I think we can say that tonight is going very well.”

Twilight laughed, nodding her head as she stepped toward the library's door. “Yeah, I guess things really are back to normal if the thing I’m worrying about the most is how my mane looks. Still, just let me grab a few things and then we can teleport to Canterlot.”

~~~

The teleportation spell occurred as so many had before. Twilight felt the sensation of being whisked away, like she was a feather in a tornado. The sensation was brief, and was over just as quickly as it had begun. She could feel firm ground beneath her hooves again. She opened her eyes and looked upon the warm lights of Canterlot Castle.

Discord had really outdone himself. The grand ballroom was like a wonderland of Nightmare Night, where spooky things were turned a bit silly for the amusement of the guests. Menacing spiders, the size of basketballs, crawled across the ceiling. But they were no threat. In fact, they were the servants attending to the crowd. They were dressed in little tuxedos, and descended on lines of silk to offer guests food and refreshments.

Though the spiders’ polite behavior didn’t stop them from scaring a few arachnophobic guests right out of the party.

A skeleton band played for the crowd, using some of their own bones for instruments. There was also a set of stone busts that, for some songs, sang in harmony like a barbershop quartet. Ghosts made of out of streamers floated about. Bats made of licorice fluttered through the air, spreading the aroma of candy all around. About the only thing normal was the food, which was prepared by the castle kitchens as the one bit of normalcy amidst Discord’s festive chaos.

“There you are!” Celestia said, coming up to Twilight and Luna. Her mane and tail were toned just as Twilight’s usually was, and Celestia had even taken the magic from her mane so her hair hung a bit more naturally. Though, to accommodate it, she had to wear some up in a bun. “I was beginning to worry you’d spend the whole night in Ponyville.”

“I could have, Sister,” Luna admitted. “But I’m glad Twilight and I arrived here as promised. The decorations are marvelous.”

“Oh, thank you, Luna. It’s so nice to have my work appreciated.”

The three mares turned to look at Discord. He was descending from the servant spider webs on the ceiling, a trail of silk streaming from his nose until he had his claw and hoof on the ground. He then gave the line a tug, making it pop free of its anchor before he snorted it back into his nose like a single, long booger.

It was a sight that made all the three princesses grimace.

“Though I wish I could say the same about your costumes. If you were going to do the swap, you could have at least dyed your coats.” Discord snickered. “I’d give up chaos for a day just to see Celestia and Luna walking around in purple and pink while they waited for their coats to grow back. Oh, can you imagine the look on the diplomats’ faces? It’d be worth the price of admission and popcorn, but not soda.”

“I find it difficult to take your criticism, Discord, when you don’t seem to be in costume,” Luna pointed out.

“Getting dressed up loses some of its luster when I can be whatever I want at the snap of my paw, or claw, or even tail.” To prove his point, Discord snapped his paw and, in a flash, became almost an exact doppelganger to Celestia, minus his manic red and yellow eyes. “Why, even the changeling queen doesn’t have anything on me.”

He snapped his claw this time, turning into the insectile queen of the changeling hive and speaking in the queen’s strange, insectile voice. “Though perhaps that would be the grandest of costumes. To be the changeling queen disguised as someone else. Or perhaps Luna as Nightmare Moon changed into the crown the changeling queen was wearing when she was disguised as Cadance. Or, maybe—”

“We understand, Discord,” Celestia said, cutting him off though a smile lingered on her lips. “It is good to see you are enjoying yourself.”

“I’d be enjoying myself more if you had let me do my original design. The fifth dimensional architecture would have really turned some heads. Still, I have guests to attend to, and you three should go find the fourth in your little masquerade swap. I believe she’s in the outer hall, muttering something about... spiders.”

~~~

“But they’re just things Discord made.”

“Did you see them, Twilight? They’re huge, and the whole ceiling is a web.”

“They seem nice enough to me.”

“You wouldn’t be saying that if they were snakes.”

Celestia chuckled quietly to herself as she stood back with Luna. Twilight and Cadance had been going around in circles for the past few minutes. Celestia would admit, she hadn’t foreseen Cadance’s arachnophobia being an issue when she first saw Discord’s decoration.

Trust the spirit of chaos to cause trouble in such a manner he could claim plausible deniability.

“Your Highnesses, it’s about time for you to make your speech.”

Celestia nodded to the guard who had poked his head out of the ballroom. “Thank you, we’ll be along in a few moments.”

“Of course, Your Highnesses. Also, this just arrived via messenger. It had orders with it to be delivered straight to you.”

Celestia arched an eyebrow and turned to face the guard. He held out the small wooden box. It was finely polished and looked almost like a jewelry box or something you’d put a very expensive quill into. “By whose orders was it to be delivered directly to me?”

“If the letter accompanying the messenger is to be believed, it was your order, Your Highness.”

Celestia gave a small humph, turning the box over as she tried to remember what it could be. Perhaps... was it the new stick for Philomena’s perch? No, that was to arrive by standard mail in a few days. Was it...

“Sister?”

Celestia turned her head quickly to look at Luna. “Sorry, what was that?”

“It appears Twilight has calmed Cadance down, at least enough she’ll stay with us on the bandstand during the address to the guests. Perhaps we should go before Cadance changes her mind again?”

“Yes, of course,” Celestia said, still levitating the box in her magic as she turned to the doors of the ballroom. “Let’s get this boring little speech out of the way so we can enjoy the night properly, and so you and Twilight can return to Ponyville if you so choose.”

Luna nodded, and after a few more moments, the four princesses walked out into the ballroom. The skeletal musicians on the bandstand stepped back, giving the small raised stage to the four mares as all the guests turned their attention to the princesses. Perhaps it was a bit old fashioned, but the higher-class sorts of Canterlot came to expect any party with the princess to be accompanied by at least a few short words.

On the stage, Twilight stood next to Cadance, the pair a few steps behind Celestia and Luna since they weren’t expected to say anything. Twilight was also holding Cadance’s hoof, keeping the Princess of the Crystal Empire from looking up at the many spider servants that watched the party from their web.

Luna was at the front, for Nightmare Night had become her night. She had chosen to own the holiday as her own rather than abolish it, and thus it was proper that it was she who made the speech for the castle’s festivities. Celestia stood just off to the side, the box still held in her magic.

“First of all, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Discord for graciously providing the decorations for this year’s party. I think we can all safely agree that we’ve never enjoyed such wonderful, creative, or lively decorations.”

The crowd chuckled a bit and applauded. Discord allowed himself to float a bit above the rest of the ponies as he took a few bows. The loudest applause came from the spiders, though one had to question their bias. Celestia applauded politely as well, though she couldn’t help but glance at the box in her magic. For a moment it felt as if it was about to slip from her grip, but as she looked at it, she was sure the hold of her levitation spell was still strong.

“And I would next like to thank those of you who have been gracious enough to spend your evening with us. Nightmare Night is a holiday about being afraid, but I feel it’s also a holiday about learning to face your fears. A night when the things that scare you aren’t as dangerous. A night when the spider or snake or ghost before you is really just a friend in a costume. A night when you can laugh and look upon the things that scare you with a new light.”

Once more the crowd applauded, Celestia joining in as well. But... she couldn’t take her eyes off the mysterious wooden box. Something was just... compelling her to look at it, to bring it in front of her chest... to even open it. All it took was a little effort, and the box snapped right open to reveal a rich, red velvet interior that cradled the box’s cargo with great care.

“Once upon a time,” Luna continued, “I was such a thing to fear. This holiday was made, in fact, by ponies who feared my return and what terrible disaster it would bring. True, the legends have changed over time. I personally do not recall a time when I gobbled children, and I would be much heavier set if I did eat such sugar-addled fillies and colts.”

The audience laughed, but Celestia almost didn’t hear it. Her eyes were fixed on the contents of the box. It was a horn crown, a type of jewelry worn directly over a unicorn’s horn. It was made of polished silver that spiraled like grasping vines. It almost looked like some piece of abstract art, and there were small words etched upon the silver as well.

“But now I want children to laugh at Nightmare Moon. I want them to laugh at the idea that I, their princess of the night, would ever truly want to hurt them. I want them to laugh so that those dark years can slowly fade into history. I want them to laugh so that, in time, the laughter will forgive the mistakes I once made. So, again, thank you all for attending, and now, a few final words from my sister.”

Everypony looked to Celestia, expecting her to step forward, but she remained perfectly still. She didn’t even notice the room full of eyes watching her. She was just focused on the horn crown. It was so... pretty. Perhaps she had seen it in a shop window. Yes... yes, or maybe... did she make it? She couldn’t remember, her thoughts like the vapors of a dream that disappeared in the morning sun.

“Sister?”

Luna’s pressed word made Celestia look up, and she quickly smiled before stepping forward. She still held the box in her magic, but ignored it entirely for a moment as she took Luna’s place at the center of the stage. She looked out across the ponies and began to speak even as her magic levitated the horn crown out of the box. Yes... she was remembering now. This was for tonight. It was something special, just for tonight. Maybe a gift for her sister?

“I would like to reiterate what my sister said. Tonight isn’t about being fearful of Nightmare Moon, of ghosts, of werewolves, of zombies, or of anything so silly. No, tonight...” Celestia’s voice trailed off as she looked at the horn crown. She began to levitate it higher, bringing its open, ringed bottom to the tip of her own horn. Yes... this wasn’t for Luna. This was for her. It was for her. She had made it for herself because he told her to make it. This is what he wanted.

“Tonight is when you’ll all learn true fear.”

A few amongst the crowd forced a few chuckles, taking Celestia’s odd behavior as some sort of joke. Amongst those who didn’t laugh was Discord, who was staring at Celestia as if she had just drawn a sword on him. Luna was concerned, walking up beside Celestia, her gaze shifting between her sister and the horn crown in Celestia’s magic. “What are you doing?”

“I’m just doing... what he wants me to do,” Celestia answered, her face stretched by a smile too large for the dark tone of her words. She began to lower the piece of silver down onto her horn, a cold chill filling the air as she did.

“Sister, what do you mean? Who is—”

“Luna! Stop her!” Discord shouted, the spirit of chaos disappearing out of existence only to reappear next to Celestia. He reached for the silver with his paw, but upon touching it he howled in pain and quickly stumbled back. His paw smoked as if burnt while red runes glowed upon the silver.

Before another thought could cross anyone’s mind, before Luna could attempt to stop Celestia, and before even another heart could beat in the room, Celestia let the silver horn crown go. It fell down upon her horn, sliding into place, and Celestia screamed. She screamed loud and long, forcing each creature in the room to shut its eyes just from the scream’s painful volume. It was a scream of pain and of pure, unbridled terror. A scream that chilled all who heard it straight to the bone.

Only when the scream began to fade did the attendants of the party open their eyes.

Only then did they realize the pure, unending darkness they had all been plunged into.

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My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic © Hasbro

I do not own the intellectual properties this fan-fiction is based on.

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