• Published 7th Mar 2012
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Dark Equestria - Lurks-no-More

In the magical land of Equestria, the night has lasted for a thousand years...

  • ...

Mare in the Moon

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together and created harmony for all the land. To do this, the eldest used her unicorn powers to move the moon across the starlit skies. The younger brought out the sun, when the bright light was called for. Thus, the two sisters maintained balance for their kingdom and their subjects: all the different types of ponies.

But as time went on, the younger sister's pride made her grow resentful. She envied the beauty of night and wished to impose the blazing light of her sun on the ponies and the world all the time. One fateful night, the younger unicorn raised the sun in challenge to her sister's beauty and glory. The elder sister tried to reason with her, but the overweening vanity and pride in the young one's heart had transformed her into a wicked mare of blazing fire: Hellion Queen. She vowed that she would burn away the night, blot out the stars and banish all rest.

Reluctantly, the elder sister harnessed the most powerful magic known to ponykind: The Elements of Harmony! Using the magic of the Elements of Harmony, she defeated her younger sister and banished her forever in the Moon. The elder sister took on responsibility for the night again--

The purple unicorn lifted her head from the old book she had been reading in the dark garden, and looked up at the moon, almost full and approaching its zenith. "...and harmony and order have been maintained in Equestria ever since," she finished the sentence. Something about the name "Elements of Harmony" rang a bell in her memory; she had read about them before, but where?

My Little Pony: Darkness is Magic

The young unicorn with the mark of stars on her flanks trotted through the moonlit terraces of Canterlot, deep in thought. She barely registered the way her fellow nobles nodded their horned heads to her, how the pegasus guards raised their wings in salute as they opened the doors for her, and how the occasional servant ponies hurriedly kneeled, their eyes lowered as she passed. As the Queen's favorite student, she had long since become used to such deference, and unlike some unicorns, she was not interested in reveling in her status.

Reaching the white marble tower of the palace library, the unicorn hurried up the winding stairs and entered the tall rotunda at the top of the tower. The silvery moonlight poured in through the large windows, illuminating the various astronomical instruments and the books piled on the long, low tables. More tomes and scrolls lined the walls, vanishing in deep shadows.

"Spike! Spike!" she shouted as her horn lit up with gleaming fairy-fire that cast flickering light into the shadows. There, green eyes glimmered in the darkness where the dragon crouched over something bulky. "Ah, there you are. What is that thing?" she asked, moving closer so that the faint light of her horn illuminated her assistant.

"It's going to be your gift for Moondancer," the small purple dragon said, looking critically at the ancient set of full plate barding he had been buffing and polishing. "Her great-grandfather used this in some war or other, and-"

"Yes, yes," the unicorn said, having completely forgotten the party. There were much too many such occasions in Canterlot, with various nobles showing off their wealth, sophistication, magical power and ancient lineage. "Let the servants finish the job, we don't have the time for that. I need you to find me "Predictions and Prophecies", the old, unexpurgated version."

Spike scampered off into the darkness, returning soon with a battered old tome. "Here you are," he said, placing it on the desk before the unicorn. She flipped the book open with a bit of magic, and leafed quickly through. "Elements of Harmony... see the Mare in the Moon. Ah, there! 'Mare in the Moon: A tale of olden pony times, of a powerful unicorn who defied the Queen's harmonious order and was banished to the Moon by the use of Elements of Harmony. A legend says that she is linked to the stars, and that after one thousand years, an evil conjunction will sap the Queen's strength, letting the Mare to escape. See also: Hellion, Legend of Fire, Star-Cults, Solar Heresy.'"

"Sounds bad," Spike said; he had been reading over her shoulder. "So, do you think this is connected to... you know." Even in their own library, away from prying eyes and ears, the dragon lowered his voice to scarcely above a whisper. Very, very few people were aware of the strange fainting fits and magical spasms that had begun to plague the Queen, and the ones in the know kept very quiet about the matter.

The unicorn nodded. Straightening her back, she looked up into the night sky beyond the library windows. "Spike, take a note, please." She waited a moment until the dragon had found an empty sheet of parchment and a quill, and started dictating her letter.

"To Her Tenebrous Majesty, Mother of Night, my most illustrious teacher, Queen Luna: My continuing studies of unicorn magic have led me to discover something that may have a connection to your recent..."

She hesitated, carefully considering how to word this.

"How about illness?" Spike suggested. "Or symptoms?"

"No, no, no... Strike the sentence; let's go with 'the recent events', instead. Got it? Good. For you see, I am convinced that the stars are moving to release the mythical Mare in the Moon, who is in fact the Hellion Queen. Something must be done to make sure that this terrible event does not come true. I humbly suggest that steps should be taken to acquire the Elements of Harmony, in case they are required. Your most obedient and faithful student, Moonlight Sparkle."

"Moonlight... Sparkle, got it. Do you want me to send it now? I mean, the Queen's pretty busy with the preparations for the millennial celebration of the Night of Victory..."

"Exactly," Moonlight said. "The prophecy says that that's when the conjunction happens! We need to be prepared with the Elements, if she is... if we need to do something," she finished.

Spike shrugged, raised the finished scroll to his face, and breathed green fire at it. The scroll caught fire and went up in a flame, the scintillating smoke wafting away. "There. I just hope she won't take this badly..."

Moonlight flicked her tail. "Of course not! I am her most obedient and faithful student, after all! In all the years she has mentored me, I have only striven to serve her to the best of my ability. She knows she can trust me utterly."

In truth, the unicorn wasn't quite as confident as she claimed to be. Yes, she was probably closer to the Queen than any other living pony, but no matter how close their relationship, it was all on Luna's sufferance, and should she anger her... Well, the Queen had absolute power of life and death over every pony in Equestria. Even - especially - her most faithful student.

A sudden burp of green fire from Spike made Moonlight skip nervously. She hadn't expected an answer quite this quickly! "What does she write?" she asked.

"Our faithful student Moonlight," Spike read. "We value your diligence and demonstrated loyalty, but this matter does not concern you. Rather than spending your time delving into useless and proscribed lore, you should prepare for the tasks of governance that lie ahead of you. Therefore, it is Our decision to send you to oversee the preparations for the Night of Victory Celebration in this year's location, Ponyville. Make use of this opportunity to make contacts with your peers. In Her Own Writing, Luna, Queen of Equestria."

"W-what?" Moonlight said, scarcely believing her ears. She hadn't expected the Queen to send her on some quest to gather the Elements personally, but she had assumed Luna would acknowledge her concerns. Instead, the Queen had brushed them aside, all but told her to give it up, and sent her off to some provincial town!

"I think that went about as well as we could hope, Moonlight," Spike said. "Think of the bright side: you don't have to attend Moondancer's party!"

The unicorn merely groaned in reply.

- - -

The first thing that Moonlight Sparkle saw of Ponyville was the cloud castle floating over the town, obviously the local garrison. The unicorn frowned a little; had there been unrest that necessitated bringing the fortress so close? She considered asking the leader of her guard detachment, flying alongside her sky-chariot, but decided against it.

As the chariot moved lower, the rest of the town came to sight, looking peaceful in the eternal moonlight. At the center of the town, almost directly beneath the garrison, stood a glimmering black tower, like a dagger of obsidian thrust at the starry sky. Between the purple-and-black banners of Equestria it flew smaller, white pennants bearing the governor's cutie mark: three blue diamonds.

Around the tower, surrounding the town square, were the townhouses of lesser nobles, the royal temple, and a handful of civic buildings and most exclusive shops. Beyond them lay the smaller and less elaborate houses of the prominent merchants, guildponies and municipal pegasi, mixed with common stores, taverns and such. And finally, crammed between their betters and the encircling wall, were the dark houses of the common ponies.

Moonlight's chariot swooped down and landed on the town square. The lieutenant touched down next to her, while the rest of her entourage circled above, showing off to the local troops that were crisscrossing the sky at a higher altitude. It was perhaps a bit overdone – there hadn't been notable uprisings or assassination attempts in years – but the guards were taking no chances with the life of Queen's favorite student.

"Thank you, lieutenant," Moonlight said as she stepped off the chariot, Spike on her heels. "I trust you will handle the arrangements." She acknowledged his wing-salute with a polite nod and walked off towards the front door of the black tower where liveried servants were already waiting for her.

The governor's audience chamber was just as dark as the outside of the building, all black marble and carved onyx and lit by the faint glow of enchanted gems hanging from the high vault ceiling on long chains. About a dozen unicorn couples, a few of them with their foals in tow, were gathered around in their best finery, along with some pegasi and even a couple of earth ponies. Moonlight didn't pay them much attention as she approached the dais where the governor, Lady Rarity, was lounging on her black velvet divan, flanked by two pegasus mares, obviously her chief aides.

One look at Rarity explained Moonlight the noblemare's penchant for dark interiors. She was an albino unicorn, with a snow-white pelt; a wavy white mane and tail, immaculately coiffed; an ivory horn and big, languid eyes whose red color matched the rubies that wreathed her slim neck and sparkled around her ankles. Against the dark background, she fairly glowed.

"My dear Moonlight Sparkle, I cannot say how honored I am to receive a student of our most gracious Queen in our humble town," she said in an affected tone. "My court is so rarely graced by visitors of such nobility and beauty as you, reminding us of the glories of the Royal Court!"

"Ah... Thank you for your kind words and, ah, warm welcome, Lady Rarity," Moonlight replied, trying hard not to roll her eyes. The governor looked - and sounded! - like the most effete and dandified members of the Canterlot set... although, admittedly, she would have turned heads even in the capital with her fragile beauty. Prepared for an endless circuit of introductions, hoof-kissing and pointless chit-chat, Moonlight was pleasantly surprised when Rarity clopped her hooves together a few times and announced that the audience was over.

As the locals filed out of the room, Rarity leaned over to whisper something to one of the pegasi, a gray mare with uneven eyes: one bright and golden, the other milky white and blind. She bowed deferentially and hurried away as the unicorn noble turned to smile at Moonlight. "I assumed you would be interested in getting straight to the business, darling," she said. "Allow me to introduce our captain of the guard, and the garrison commander, Aurora Flash."

Flash was a young, lean but strong-looking blue pegasus with close-cropped mane and tail that scintillated with all the colors of the aurora: soft purples, pale greens, deep reds and electric blues. She was looking dapper, if a bit uncomfortable, in her dress uniform, but even Moonlight's civilian eye could tell that the spurs on her hooves were no dress finery but lethal weapons. "Pleased to meetcha," Flash said with a smile, giving Moonlight a polite half-salute.

The smile made Moonlight's ears twitch: the mare had filed her teeth sharp, in the manner of the Knightmare Guard. Aurora Flash... The name rang a bell: a young officer of the Guard who was demoted and sent back to regular army after a duel over some filly in the Flight School at Cloudsdale, wasn't it? "Charmed," she replied, wondering if Flash had kept up the carnivorous diet after being kicked out of the Guard.

- - -

Rarity's personal study turned out to be just as dark as the audience chamber, but much more comfortable... almost too much so, as Moonlight felt herself smothered by the dark frills. "Let's cut to chase," she said when the servants bearing tea and trays of scones and crumpets had backed away, curtsying and bowing all the way to the door. "I'm not here to horn in on the way you run your fief or to do a surprise audit. My orders are to supervise the Celebration preparations, and that's all I'm going to do."

"Of course, darling," Rarity said with an easy smile. "I can assure you that everything is going splendidly. This is not a rich town, but we do manage, and the ponies are quite loyal both to the Crown and to me."

Moonlight couldn't help but to look around her. The study was almost decadently luxurious with the graceful ebony furniture, thick purple carpets and beautiful silk tapestries in deep, dark colors… not to mention the rubies Rarity wore; they had to be worth an entire mansion on their own!

Noticing her guest's disbelief, Rarity gave a little, ladylike laugh. "Oh, this is all bought with my personal purse! My family has a controlling interest in the gem mines of the Bowie Hills, you see. I prefer to keep the taxes low, as that makes for loyal and hard-working ponies. We don't have riots or other such unpleasantnesses in Ponyville!"

The purple unicorn nodded. "That's good to hear. But in that case, why is the garrison so low over the town?" That was typical of cities with frequent unrest, both because it allowed the troops to react quicker to any mobs of rioters, and because the cloud fortress would serve as an anchor for the cloud barrier. A few nights of pitch darkness, combined with hailstones and howling winds, could quell most unrest without the use of force.

Flash, who had declined a divan, replied to this. "It's because of the raids from the Everfree Forest." She ignored the governor's annoyed look as she continued. "Ponyville's the closest town to the Forest, so we get our share of bandits and the occasional monster. Don't worry, though, I've got it all under control, especially now that Lady Rarity finally agreed to pay for those griffon mercenaries. Can't wait for those skulking bastards to show their muzzle the next time; they've won't know what hit them!"

"Ah. Quite," Moonlight said, embarrassed that she had forgotten about the Forest. One of the largest areas of wild magic in Equestria, it was a breeding ground of monsters and a harbor for criminals and malcontents, living in small bands under the dark boughs. "Well, sounds like the security arrangements are in good hooves! Now, can you fill me in about the rest of the preparations?"


"Wow. She really was something, wasn't she?" Spike sighed as he followed Moonlight out of the tower. The small dragon had spent the whole meeting quietly goggling at Rarity, almost forgetting to eat his quartz-sprinkled crumpets. "All those rubies... and she's so white! That horn and those eyes..."

"Cool down, Casanova," Moonlight said, annoyed by her assistant's reaction. "We'll just have to check the catering and the music, and then we're done and I can focus on the really important matters!"

The dragon cast a surprised look at her. "Do you mean the Elements of Harmony? But... the Queen told you to drop that!"

"Well, she didn't actually order me to do that," Moonlight said, "so technically it is all right if I continue my research on the side. I brought a few reference works with me from Canterlot so I can check some things I found out; that's why I didn't let the servants pack it. And I have requested Rarity that I can lodge in the town library, too. These out-of-the-way towns often have some old books that have been missed in the purges! Now, let's hurry, Spike; I want this over with."

The catering rights for the feast had been granted to the local branch of the Apple clan. Originally just a humble family of farmers and orchard-keepers, the Apples had grown numerous, rich and influential over the centuries, and many unicorn nobles considered them a royal pain in the haunch. Still, the family was scrupulous in showing nothing but complete loyalty to the Queen, and that made them all right in Moonlight's eyes.

Sweet Apple Acres was located only a little outside Ponyville, but it was surrounded by a stout palisade fence. The farmhouse itself was on a small hill, protected by a moat and sharp stakes driven into the hillside. This reminder of the closeness of the Everfree Forest made Moonlight wonder if she should have taken some guards with her after all. Then she glanced up at the floating castle, and the orbiting silhouettes of griffons and pegasus guards, and relaxed. A quick flare of her horn would bring the whole garrison to her aid in moments.

An orange mare with a long, braided yellow mane hanging from beneath a broad-brimmed hat, and a burly red stallion wearing studded leather barding, were awaiting for Moonlight and Spike at the farm gate. They bowed politely as the unicorn approached, but showed no inclination to kneel. If they thought to tweak Moonlight's tail with that, they failed.

"Welcome to the Sweet Apple Acres, m'lady," the mare said. "Ah'm Applejack, an' this is Big Macintosh. He's in charge of the defenses, while Ah handle the day-to-day business 'round here." The stallion grunted in agreement, and Applejack continued. "We'll take ya to see Granny Smith first, if that's fine by you."

Granny Smith, the local Apple matriarch, turned out to be a frail, bedridden old pony surrounded by a gaggle of respectful relatives. She welcomed Moonlight in a faint, quavering voice and apologized that she couldn't personally attend the Queen's envoy. It was clear that she had not much longer to live, and once she went, Applejack would become the mistress of the farm in name as well as in practice. To her credit, the orange pony looked genuinely sorrowful about the prospect.

Once back outside, Applejack seemed to cheer up. "So, Ah could give you the big tour of the farm, but Ah reckon it's the food yer interested in. C'mon, the kitchens are here!"

As soon as they entered the large room lit by red firelight, a whole bunch of various Apple cousins, uncles, aunts, second cousins, step-cousins and other relatives hurried over to gawk at Moonlight and to offer her samples.

"Care for some lovely apple fritters, lady?"

"You gotta try this here applesauce, it is divine!"

"Ah've got some darn fine apple strudel for you, ma'am!"

"Shut up, everypony, an' behave!" Applejack shouted, making them back off and fall silent. "Now back to the work, the lot of you! The Celebration's tomorrow, an' we still got lots to do!" As the ponies resumed their cooking, Applejack guided Moonlight to a small table. "Ah'm on top of the things, no matter what Lady Rarity might've said," she said, sounding defensive.

"I'm quite sure you are," Moonlight said, looking around her. She wasn't very familiar with kitchens - if she was hungry, she just asked the servants to bring her a meal - but the place had the kind of a controlled hurry and ordered chaos to it that she associated with a well-run laboratory. "I'll mention that in my report."

That brought a broad grin on Applejack's face. "Thanks, m'lady! Now, how 'bout a sample of our very special black apple pie?" Without waiting for Moonlight's reply, she brought the unicorn a thick slice of the pie, oozing dark red juice on the plate. "No apple that went into this pie ever saw the sun," she said proudly. "Ah'm told it's heavenly!"

As an Earth pony, Applejack wouldn't have tried the pie: foodstuffs that had grown under nothing but pure moonlight were slow-acting poison to her. Thus, every week the Queen graciously brought the sun up for one day, so that her most numerous subjects wouldn't starve. For the earth ponies, these short breaks in the eternal night of Equestria were moments of frantic activity and work, whereas most unicorn nobles stayed inside the whole time, some going so far as to sleep through the sunlit hours in a drugged stupor. Moonlight just closed the curtains and went on with her studies.

Even though she wasn't really hungry after the tea with Rarity, the unicorn had to admit that the pie smelled delicious. She took a little nibble of it, then a bigger bite, and before she quite knew it, she was licking the plate clean in a very undignified fashion.

"Ah'm sure as sugar it's goin' to be a big hit among the nobles at the Celebration," Applejack said proudly. Moonlight believed her; the pie's dark richness was almost impossible to resist!


The pie was weighing down heavily in Moonlight's belly when she and Spike returned to the town. "Ughh... shouldn't have asked for the second slice," the unicorn moaned. "What was next on that list again, Spike?"

"Hmm... More catering, it looks like. A place called "Sugary Sarsaparilla Corner" handles the drinks for the Celebration," the dragon said, hiding his grin. Moonlight had chastised him more than once over gorging on gemstones, and he was enjoying the usually stoic unicorn's discomfort and the slower pace it forced on her.

The wine shop lived up to its name, looking more like some confectioner's fantasy made from brown sugar and plum candy than a building. To Moonlight's relief, this visit was blessedly short; the proprietress was out on some important business, and the elderly couple she'd left behind to handle things were so awed by the unicorn noble they almost stumbled over their legs to bring her a glass of tonic to help her digestion.

Her last stop was at the temple, to check out the choir. She could hear the voices of numerous colts and fillies raised in a hymn to the Queen all the way to the street. Not wishing to interrupt the practice, Moonlight and Spike slipped in quietly and stayed in the shadows as they watched. The conductor was a pale yellow pegasus, her pink mane hidden beneath a wimple and her tail braided and taped tightly. She hovered in front of the foals, her wings beating the time for the song.

It wasn't as impressive as the great choirs in Camelot, with hundreds of foals and geldings singing the Queen's praise, but even an unmusical unicorn like Moonlight could tell they were quite good. Satisfied that the music was in order, the unicorn nudged Spike with her hoof and turned to go. As they did, the dragon's eyes caught the reflected moonshine and gleamed in the dark.

One of the fillies noticed the eyes and gasped, pointing with her hoof. Instantly, the whole choir was in disarray, the foals clambering over one another as half of them tried to get away from the eyes, while the rest wanted a better look. "Oh, Spike," Moonlight sighed and lit her horn, the soft purple glow banishing the shadows and revealing her and the dragon to everyone.

The pegasus, who had adopted a protective posture in front of her wards, relaxed visibly. "Oh my," she said in a soft voice, approaching Spike with an expression of wonder on her face. "A baby dragon! I've always wanted to meet one, but I never thought... How did you get here, you sweet little thing?"

Moonlight cleared her throat, making the pegasus notice her. She immediately cringed and gave an ecclesiastical curtsy. "Oh my," she repeated. "Pardon me, milady... I didn't notice you. Um. Did you... did you enjoy our singing?"

"Yes, I did," Moonlight said. "You must be in charge of the music for the celebration, Sister..."

"Fluttershy," the pegasus said in a voice just barely above a whisper. Many of the winged ponies, naturally adventurous and aggressive, ended up in the military, while the less bloodthirsty ones handled the weather or served as fast couriers and charioteers for the nobility. The few that weren't cut out for such jobs almost uniformly entered the religious orders; this meek little mare was obviously one of those.

"Right, Sister Fluttershy," the unicorn said, giving the pegasus her best attempt at a friendly, encouraging smile. "I'm Moonlight Sparkle, sent here by the Queen to oversee the preparations for the Celebration, and this is my assistant Spike."

"Nice to meet you," Spike added, making Fluttershy squeak in delight.

"Oooh! He speaks! That's just so incredibly wonderful. I... I just don't even know what to say!" the pegasus gushed, leaning in to nuzzle Spike's cheek with her nose. "A talking dragon, wow! What do dragons talk about?"

"Everything and anything!" Spike said, grinning at Moonlight. "What do you want to know about?"

"A-hem!" the unicorn said, interrupting them. "That's all very well, but I am in a bit of a hurry with the Celebration arrangements, so if you don't mind..."

"Oh!" Fluttershy said and blushed a little. "But you haven't even heard the song we're practicing for Her Majesty's entrance! It's not long, I promise!" She turned around, waving her wings to silence the murmur of curious whispers. "Children, children! In B minor, if you please... and try to keep the time, Applebloom!"

Moonlight sighed as the choir launched into a new piece. "Why does everyone think their part of the Celebration is the most important one?" she whispered to Spike. "At this rate, I'll never get back to my research, and that's the really important thing!" The dragon decided it was wisest not to say anything, and just enjoy the music.


"Finally," Moonlight muttered as she and Spike approached the library. It was built into and onto a sprawling old black oak, its bare branches decorated with fey green fairy lanterns. "You were encouraging her in the end, weren't you?" Fluttershy, despite her quiet and meek manner, had showed remarkable tenacity in introducing her choir to the unicorn, then showing her and Spike around the temple, all the time asking questions about the dragon's life.

"I was just making contacts, like the Queen said you should be doing," Spike replied, with an innocent look on his face that made Moonlight snort.

"At least now it's all over, and I have the rest of the night to study in peace," she said, pushing the library door open with a flick of her horn.

The trumpet fanfare that greeted the unicorn as soon as she and Spike stepped inside almost made her jump out of her skin. As the fairylights hanging from the roof brightened above her, she saw that the large room was practically packed with ponies. Looking frantically around, Moonlight realized they were all people she'd seen earlier at Rarity's audience... and yes, there was the lady herself, lounging on a palanquin with her half-blind seneschal by her side.

"I'm sure you don't mind that we've started the Celebration early, dear Moonlight Sparkle," the pale unicorn drawled. "With all the official business out of the way, this is the perfect moment to introduce you to everyone in my town!"

Stifling a groan of frustration, Moonlight did her best to smile back at Rarity. This was the last thing she needed! "Ah, thank you; this was certainly a surprise..." she started.

"Whee! Hi, I'm Pinkie Punch," an irrepressibly cheerful voice piped up. "I'm so glad you were surprised, because what kind of a surprise party this would have been if you weren't surprised? A boring one, I say, and I know parties!"

Moonlight blinked at the pink earth pony with a frizzy, glitter-strewn mane that had appeared by her side. She smelled of wine and sugar, and her big blue eyes fairly glowed with manic energy. "I'm Pinkie Punch, just like I said, and I arranged this party just for you! Well, at Lady Rarity's request, of course, but still! Want a gummy port drop surprise? They're surprisingly delicious!"

"Uh, ah... thank you," Moonlight stammered, grabbing the deep purple candied treat with her magic. This had to be the owner of the wine shop; arranging a party like this on short notice certainly explained why she hadn't been available.

"Yay! Oh, and I hope you're not insulted because I didn't call you Lady or Your Highness or anything like that, Moonlight!" The wine merchant babbled on, cheerfully oblivious. "We're not so formal here in Ponyville, because this is such a little place and everyone knows everyone! Well, at least I know everyone, and they know me, so it's almost the same thing. Try the punch, it's great, I made it myself! Oh, just wait a second, I have to see to those waiters..."

She spun away like a pink tornado. Moonlight used to opportunity to hurry away in another direction, nodding to the local dignitaries. Flash was at the center of a small cluster of civilian pegasi over there; Applejack, without her bruiser brother, was talking with a couple of unicorns here... "Spike? Where are you now..." Moonlight started, then blinked as she saw the dragon in one corner of the room, sitting next to Sister Fluttershy. "What the hay? How did she get here before us…? Ah, yes. The wings," she sighed.

Moonlight managed to avoid Pinkie Punch for a while, but she caught up with her again at the buffet table, showing the same familiarity as before. Letting the pink pony's constant chatter go in one ear and out the other, Moonlight chewed on her crass sandwich with little enthusiasm. What she really needed was a stiff drink!

"Oh, I can help with that," Pinkie said, making the unicorn twitch. Had she said that aloud? "A little bit of this elderberry liquor, and a dash of these bitters, and a drop of blueberry fizz, and can't miss the rose wine either," the pink pony chattered as she poured and mixed the various drinks into a tall glass. "Ooh, and some cherry brandy too, it gives it such a nice little kick, and I hope you like bubbles, because this will put them up your nose for sure... Here! I call it my Super-Duper Aurora Special!"

Moonlight took the offered glass and looked suspiciously at the swirling, multicolored drink in it. Shrugging, she raised the glass to her lips and took a gulp. Her eyes widened as the dozen different tastes assaulted her tongue... and then the alcohol hit her, like a double kick to the head and solar plexus. "Glgkhl - hic - gahh - hic - huhhh!"

"I know! Isn't it super-duper-special?" Pinkie asked cheerfully and took a sip from the glass where she had been mixing a similar concoction. Moonlight, her nose itching with bubbles and eyes watering, declined to answer.

The party seemed to go on forever. Moonlight eventually managed to foist Pinkie on to a horrified-looking pegasus from the weather service, excused herself to Rarity and the most important guests, and vanished upstairs where the librarian's quarters were placed under her use.

Her head swimming with the drink, she decided to wait a bit before looking further into the Elements of Harmony. Curling up on a couch before the window, she was soon asleep.


Moonlight Sparkle woke up as someone shook her gently by the shoulder. Blinking and yawning, she focused her bleary eyes on Spike's face. The dragon looked almost unbearably fresh and cheerful. "Uhh... What time is it?" she asked.

"You've slept through half the night; the Celebration begins in just an hour," Spike said. "Your official regalia are ready, and I had the servants draw you a bath, because you sure look like you need it. C'mon, you don't have time to waste!"

After a steaming bath and a quick breakfast of honeyed toast and coffee – lots of coffee! – while the servants brushed her mane and tail, Moonlight felt fit for duty again. Letting Spike fuss with the lay of her gem-studded neck band and cloak, the unicorn thought about her worries. She hadn't been able to find anything more about the Elements of Harmony, and now all she could do was to hope that the old prophecy had been mistaken.

The celebration was held at a pavilion near Rarity's tower. Long trestle tables for the commoners spread out from the building, already bustling with expectant ponies. Moonlight ignored the awed hush brought by her guards and her medallion proclaiming her part of the Royal Household, and the eager murmur of speculation that followed in her wake. There were more important things on her mind.

Inside the pavilion, the dignitaries of Ponyville were awaiting for the arrival of their divine Queen, speaking to one another in quietest of whispers. Moonlight headed straight to where Rarity was resting on her couch. All the ponies she had met yesterday were here, she noticed: Aurora Flash on the upper balcony, with a squad of guards all in full barding; Applejack and Pinkie Punch seated at the back, the pink pony looking a bit hung over; and Sister Fluttershy over there with her choir.

"You seem anxious, darling," Rarity whispered as Moonlight took her place next to the governor, Spike sitting down on a pillow that had been thoughtfully provided for him. "I would think it should be us worrying about everything going well, my dear!"

The purple unicorn did not answer, her gaze fixed on the balcony where Queen Luna would be appearing any moment now. Four Knightmares in their night-black barding were standing there already, their eyes scanning the pavilion constantly.

Rarity's one-eyed pegasus seneschal rose to her wings before the crowd. "All rise for Her Tenebrous Majesty, Mother of Night, our Blessed God-Queen Luna," she called out. In a shuffle and stamp of hooves, everyone obeyed. Fluttershy's foals' choir began their welcoming song, and the curtains parted.

The enchanted gems and fairylights dimmed, and the moonlight pouring in from the windows faded away as Luna's presence filled the pavilion like a bonfire of night. She was tall, towering over the Knightmares around her, but graceful; her midnight wings seemed to spread over the whole room; her horn was a spiraling spike of utter darkness. Her mane swirled and sparkled like the starlit sky, casting its flickering light over her awestruck subjects.

Overcome by the awe and power radiating from their Queen, every pony in the room – the haughty nobles and stubborn yeoman land-owners, hardened soldiers and exuberant, newly moneyed businessponies – kneeled reverently before Luna. In the presence of their living goddess, they had no choice but to adore and obey.

"My loyal subjects!" her voice echoed in the pavilion, deep and beautiful. "We accept your love and obedience, and bid you to rise proudly." As the rustle of movement ended, Luna continued, her emerald-green gaze scanning the crowd. "Tonight We celebrate the one thousandth anniversary of the defeat of Our upstart sister, and the thousandth year of Our eternal Reign of Night! In the perfected harmony of Our order, every one of you, Our subjects, has your own place. The harmony has lasted for a thousand years and shall last for a thousand times thousand more years!"

She fell silent, and somepony in the back of the pavilion began to stomp their hooves in enthusiastic applause that stopped quickly when nopony else joined. Luna closed her eyes and shook her head, as if chasing away a fly; she swayed slightly; she collapsed on the balcony, the darkness of her presence washing suddenly away.

For a second, everypony was silent. Then a pandemonium broke free, and everypony was shouting and stamping their hooves. The Knightmares had gathered around the Queen to protect her with their own bodies even as they looked frantically around, trying to discover some assailant. Aurora Flash's guards filled the air, spurs and lances gleaming as they whirled around, unsure what to do.

Moonlight grabbed Rarity and shook the shocked unicorn roughly. "They don't know me, but they know you! You have to command everypony to stay calm, right now!" Sensing the fragile noble about to faint, she gave her a sharp, telekinetic slap on the cheek. "Don't fail me now, Rarity!"

The ruby red eyes focused on Moonlight, and intelligence returned to them. "Y-yes," she said. "You're right. I will do so." Her horn flared with sudden white light, and her voice echoed throughout the pavilion, drowning out the confusion. "THIS IS LADY RARITY SPEAKING! EVERYPONY STAY CALM! STAY IN YOUR PLACES AND OBEY MY COMMANDS!"

Flash had gotten her troops in order about the same time, and now there were armed pegasi at every window and door. She swooped down to Rarity and Moonlight, giving them her tense, sharp-toothed grin. "I've got the perimeter secured, and sent a messenger to the castle, with orders to put the town under a complete lockdown. In five minutes nopony's getting in or going out, but we need to –" She turned her magenta gaze to Moonlight and frowned. "What are you looking at?"

Moonlight Sparkle ignored the question and the gasps of surprise that followed it. Her eyes were fixed on the sky beyond the eastern windows. It was fast losing its familiar, blue-black color and turning into a succession of warm colors: first purple, then red, orange and yellow. "It is happening," she whispered, shocked despite having expected something like this. "It is really happening!"

Then the unexpected sun peeked over the horizon, golden and white and too bright for anypony's eyes to bear, brighter by far than the dim red ember of Luna's tamed sun. Moonlight averted her eyes, wincing in pain. The glare seemed to burn through her eyelids and sear right into her brain! She heard Rarity's amplified voice booming through the pavilion again, but it was not quite loud enough to drown the screams and whinnies of panic coming from every direction.

"The Hellion..." Moonlight whispered. "She has broken free!"

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