• 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...

  • ...
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Against the Day

A terrified silence hung upon Ponyville. After the initial stampede, Lady Rarity had ordered Aurora Flash and her troops to clear the streets, and now scores of pegasus soldiers were perched on the city walls and rooftops, enforcing the curfew with a heavy hoof.

Above the silent town, the dark clouds roiled and swirled. The weather service was working overtime to keep their sunshade together under the glare of the terrible sun, fixed in the zenith of a sky turned into a pale, starless shadow of its usual glory. But every so often a beam of searing light stabbed through, and it was clear that they would eventually lose the battle.

In the library, a hasty meeting was taking place. Besides Moonlight Sparkle and her dragon assistant Spike, there were five ponies present: Lady Rarity and Aurora Flash representing the civil and military branches of local government, Sister Fluttershy as the head of the Royal Temple in town, and - at the far end of the meeting table - Applejack and Pinkie Punch.

Moonlight had grumbled about including them - especially Pinkie - but Rarity had pointed out that not only were they influential among Earth ponies, they also had the most experience about sunshine. The purple unicorn had to admit that Rarity, as a skilled administrator, had a point, and so the two civilians had been allowed in.

"Ladies, we are facing what may be the greatest crisis in a thousand years," Moonlight began, looking at each of the ponies around the table in turn as she spoke. "I've just returned from the hospital where Her Majesty was taken. Queen Luna is still comatose, and the doctors are baffled."

Noticing Fluttershy's raised hoof, she shook her head. "No, I could not get the Knightmares to release more nurses or medical supplies. They accept my authority on most subjects, but not when the Queen's well-being is in question."

The yellow pegasus looked sad. "Aww," she said in a soft voice. There had been numerous casualties in the stampede and the following crackdown, and Fluttershy had been instrumental in organizing the care for the injured ponies.

"You can't make a peace without breaking a few heads," Aurora Flash commented, taking another bite of her jerky strip. Moonlight hoped that it was made of something innocuous, but knowing Knightmares and how Flash emulated their manners, she had her doubts about that.

"I've sent Gilda and her griffons to patrol along the edge of the forest, so I think we're safe from any outside threats," Flash continued as she fixed her magenta gaze to Moonlight with suspicious intensity.

Rarity, looking spooky in the dark goggles whose obsidian lenses protected her sensitive eyes from the sunlight trickling through the cloud cover, tut-tutted at the pegasus. "My dear Aurora, we mustn't be pointing hooves at a moment like this! I am sure that everypony in this room is nothing but completely loyal to our Queen. However, I would still be interested in hearing more about these mysterious Elements of Harmony you mentioned earlier, Moonlight."

Both the Earth ponies, who had been silent until now, raised their heads at this. "Elements of Harmony?" Applejack asked. "Ain't that just an' old mares' story?"

Pinkie Punch, who'd been sampling her wares, looked excited at this. "Ooh! Ooh! Now how did those words go?" She cleared her throat, drew a deep breath and launched into a peppy song.

"When the moon is in the Seventh House, and Celestia aligns with stars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will break the bars! Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, no more falsehoods or derisions! Golden living dreams of visions, mystic magic revelation, and the ponies' true liberation..."

Noticing the horrified stares she was getting from everyone else for this piece of musical sedition, Pinkie faltered and fell silent. "Uh... I just heard that somewhere and it stuck to my head, that's all! You know I'm such a sucker for snappy songs, and that one's about harmony and magic and all..." she said with a nervous giggle.

"Yes, thank you, Pinkie Punch," Moonlight said dryly. "After this crisis is over, we can discuss in detail where you heard that particular song. But now, we have more urgent matters at our hooves! The Elements of Harmony – Honesty and Kindness, Loyalty and Generosity, Laughter and Magic – are ancient artifacts of great power that Queen Luna used to banish her rebellious sister to the Moon. Applejack, do you know anything more about them?"

The orange pony glared at Pinkie, who had hidden her face in her pitcher of fruit punch, and spoke with obvious hesitation. "Ah first want to say that we Apples have always been loyal subjects of Her Majesty, an' y'all can have complete faith in me. But... there's some mighty old stories passed down in the family; just as bedtime stories, mind you, nothing more! An' one of 'em is about how a thousand years ago the Queen, she used to live in a castle in the Everfree Forest with her sister... an' how when she went an' built Canterlot, she left the Elements of Harmony there."

Moonlight nodded. "That matches what little I have managed to find out. Therefore, I have decided to enter the Forest, to search for the Elements. They are our only hope of waking Queen Luna up, and saving Equestria from the Hellion Queen and her eternal sun!"

Gasps of surprise and shock greeted this announcement, just as she had expected. "But Moonlight, it's much too dangerous to go alone!" Rarity protested, with the other ponies nodding in agreement.

The purple unicorn silenced the room with a wave of her horn. "I have made my decision, and I cannot be swayed. As the most faithful student of Queen Luna, it is my duty and honor to sacrifice my life for her if need be! I will leave Spike behind, so you can send dragon-scrolls to Canterlot and other towns to coordinate things..."

"T-that's not what we meant," Fluttershy said in a quavering voice. "W-we meant we are c-coming along with you!"

"What?!" Moonlight looked around her, astonished. Everyone was looking back at her, looking serious and resolute - even Pinkie Punch, although the pineapple bit stuck in her nostril spoiled the effect somewhat. "But, but you can't-"

"Sure we can, sugar," Applejack said. "The Apple family's never faltered in the service of Her Majesty, an' I just happen to know a couple of paths into the Forest."

"You're going to need someone who knows their way around in a fight, too," Aurora Flash said, gouging a long splinter out of the tabletop with one of her spurs. "Can't wait to tangle with some monsters!"

"I believe my magic can be quite useful as well," Rarity commented. "And Derpy is more than qualified to run the town in my absence!"
"I, umm... I'm a trained healer," Fluttershy said. "And... I like animals, so maybe I could be of some use that way..."

Pinkie blew the pineapple piece out of her nose and grinned. "And I'm just the pony you guys need if you got to keep your mood up, or distract a hungry beastie, or set off a trap or something! This'll be the coolest quest ever!"

---

The shred of cloud Fluttershy and Flash had taken with them to give some shelter from the blazing sun faded fast, and by the time the six ponies reached the eaves of the Everfree Forest, they were all sweating and blinking away tears, even the Earth ponies. Despite her goggles, Rarity had it the worst; she complained that the light burned her whole body. She refused to turn back, however, muttering something about noblesse oblige.

Taking up the lead, Applejack guided them into the deep shadows of the forest. The trees grew huge and threatening, their branches and leaves twined into a thick canopy that blocked even the sun's unnatural fury, making the place about as dark as an ordinary, starry night.

Moonlight soon realized that braving the Everfree Forest on her own would have been a doomed attempt. The path they followed was hard to find in the gloom, and several times it crossed other paths and tracks. Some of those were just as narrow and faint, while others were wide and made by huge, heavy feet. Several times, Applejack had to stop and think, but she never lost the way completely.

"It's a good thing we have you as a guide," Moonlight said after one of the longer pauses as she walked up to the earth pony. "How is it that you know your way around here anyway, Applejack? I thought nopony except the soldiers ever went into the Forest."

Applejack gave the unicorn a wary look. "Well, it ain't illegal, just dangerous. There's plenty of us Earth ponies who come here to gather mushrooms an' herbs an' stuff... Some of it sells for a pretty penny with traders from Canterlot an' elsewhere."

"I see," Moonlight said. It made sense; she had noticed a few patches of magical moss on the trees they had passed. "But we're getting rather deep into the Forest, aren't we? I doubt most ponies ever come this far, yet you seem to know your way around..."

The Earth pony sighed. "My Ma an' Pa vanished here when Ah was young, an' Granny Smith raised me an' my siblings," she said, looking uncomfortable. "Then as Ah grew up, Ah started comin' here, lookin' for them. Ah reckon Ah know this place better than any pony in the town..."

Moonlight nodded. "That's very admirable, if rather foolhardy. But what were your parents doing in the forest in the first place? Were they looking for something particular? It must have been something very important..."

Applejack scowled, looking like she had bitten a rotten apple. "You just can't stop askin', do ya? Fine. They were lookin' for the rebels. To join 'em," she growled and spat on the ground. "Me, Ah'm been lookin' for 'em, to make 'em pay for puttin' the whole Apple family in danger. But Ah've never seen so much as a sign of 'em. That's it, now you know my darkest family secret. Happy now?"

Feeling awkward, Moonlight fell back with the others. Applejack was right: if the news that the local heir of the Apple family had run off to join bandits and revolutionaries spread, it would do tremendous harm to the clan's business and standing all across the Equestria... She blinked. "Did anyone else see light over there? Something... like a pink flame?"

Applejack nodded. "Ah did. There's some old ruins thataway, an' we'll be passing close by. Let's be cautious, everypony, this place is dangerous. Rebels come here sometimes."

- - -

The ruins were scarcely enough to be called such; just the remnants of a small cottage, with most of its walls tumbled down to scattered blocks of stone, and the roof collapsed into a mess of rotting beams. Here, the canopy overhead was thin enough to let some sunbeams stab through. After the blessed darkness of the forest, they were an eye-watering reminder of what the whole of Equestria was suffering through.

"I wonder who used to live here," Moonlight said, curious despite herself. "I've heard the bandits don't build permanent structures."

Rarity shrugged. "I couldn't say, darling. The Forest has always held an attraction for the misfits and eccentrics. Perhaps this was the home of some overly inquisitive fool, who thought she could live here."

Flash, who had been circling warily above the others, dropped suddenly to the ground.
"Everypony quiet," she hissed. "I saw something moving in those ruins. Spread out, but don't get into the trees." She advanced in a low crouch, her open wings quivering. Then, with a single wing-assisted leap, she vanished behind the largest standing portion of the ruins.

There was a hoarse yelp, followed by a few sounds of struggling and a sharp cry of pain. "Just some half-starved rebel," Flash called, sounding vaguely disappointed. "You want me to stick a spur in him so we can get going again?"

"N-no!" Fluttershy shouted, before either Moonlight or Rarity could tell the soldier pegasus to go ahead. "Let me see him first, please?"

The unicorns exchanged a look and shrugged, following Fluttershy into the ruins. The rebel, an Earth pony pinned down under Flash in a very painful-looking position, was wiry and shaggy, with wild eyes and old scars crisscrossing his brown coat. "K-kill me if you want, you bastards, I won't talk!" He gasped in pain as the pegasus twisted his foreleg further.

"Uh, you can let go of him, Aurora," Fluttershy said. "He doesn't look like he could make trouble for us." The blue pegasus rolled her eyes but relented, moving aside and keeping her spurs ready. "Look at you poor, lost soul," Fluttershy continued in a kind voice, crouching closer to their captive. "Did the other outlaws kick you out from their band, or have you been wandering here all alone? Lost in the dark, without even Queen Luna's moon to guide your steps, terrified and without a purpose... Yes, I see your flank is bare. It's not just your poor body that's starving, but so is your soul. I can help you with that, you poor dear. Tell me, what is your name?"

The gaunt pony shivered as Fluttershy pinned his eyes with her serene gaze. "I'm F-f-Freedom," he managed.

"Oooh. That's a sad name for a pony," she said, shaking her head a little. "You have the freedom to live in this forest full of monsters, when other ponies live safely in Ponyville. The freedom to be all alone, when the others have their friends and neighbours to help them. The freedom to starve, when the others have enough food... Would you want a sandwich, Freedom?" she asked, almost as an afterthought.

Moonlight listened in increasing awe as Fluttershy, in her kind and gentle way, demolished the rebel pony's defenses. Five minutes later, he had told them about a path that would lead them past the bandit sentries and across a bog, and was now weeping openly and begging to be allowed back into Equestrian society.

"There, there," the yellow pegasus said as she helped him back onto his feet. "Here's another sandwich for the trip back to the town. You'll be put to hard work, but you will know it is for the good of everyone, most of all yourself. Go now with Luna's blessing, my friend!"

Still weeping, the new convert stumbled away in the direction of Ponyville as the other ponies watched, unable to believe their eyes. Pinkie was the first to recover. "Wow, that was about the super-scariest thing I've ever seen, Fluttershy!" she said. "Ooh! Ooh! Look, there's something pink there in the bushes! Aww, now it's gone..."

---

The path that Freedom had told them about continued level and easy for a while, before heading down a steep slope. Except for the occasional minor slip and stumble, the six ponies got down safely. "We must be gettin' closer to the river, the ground's gettin' muddy," Applejack commented, making Rarity grimace with distaste.

"Ah've never been in this part of the Forest myself... Ah just hope whoever made this path knew the route."

The ground became soggier and wetter, until they found themselves walking through a bog. There was enough solid ground for the earthbound ponies to get ahead with nothing worse than muddy legs, but it was still slow and unpleasant going. Even Fluttershy, who seemed to prefer walking to flying, had taken to wing, and hovered above as Applejack and Moonlight carefully picked their way through the dark pools and treacherous patches of mud.

"Wow, this place is starting to look really super-creepy," Pinkie commented, watching with avid interest the dark, gnarled trees rising from the bog all around them. Somehow, the pink pony managed to always find a solid patch of ground under her hooves despite paying little attention to where she was walking. "Look at those big branches! They kinda look like huge grasping claws to me, what about you guys?"

"Oh, will you shut up, you pink ball of fluff," Rarity snapped as she pulled her front leg from a sucking puddle of mud. "They're just trees! Now stop before you make poor Fluttershy any more nervous!" The pegasus was indeed looking increasingly anxious, and muttering litanies to Luna under her breath. "At least we're starting to get back on solid ground," the unicorn continued, nodding towards the cluster of large, brownish-gray rocks rising out of the bog a little way off.

Pinkie frowned as she looked at those rocks. "Gee, that's funny, Rarity. I didn't notice those rocks were there just a moment ago... And looky, doesn't that one look like it's got a big, ugly face on it?" The pink pony stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry at it.

The "rock" opened a pair of yellow eyes and glared back at Pinkie, who yelped and jumped back. As Applejack and Moonlight turned to look what it was, the bog began to roil and bubble all around them.

"A hydra!" Moonlight screamed. "Run, everypony!" Her horn gleamed, and with a flash and a bang, the unicorn winked out only to reappear at the edge of the bog, several hundred feet away.

Applejack took one look at the hissing and roaring heads rising from the muck on long serpentine necks, swore under her breath, and ran for it, splashing through the bog with surprising speed. Pinkie Punch followed right on her heels, her pink mane standing up like a cloud of shocked cotton candy; somehow, even now, the odd pony managed to find footing wherever she bounced. Fluttershy and Aurora Flash hadn't wasted time, either, bolting towards Moonlight and the safety that the solid ground promised.

A scream of fear made everyone turn; in their panic, they had all forgotten Rarity! The unicorn noble stood shivering in the middle of the hydra's coiling necks, her head turning this way and that as she desperately tried to find a way out of the certain doom.

"Consarn it!" Applejack grunted. "Can't you do something 'bout that beastie?" she asked Moonlight. The unicorn shook her head mutely; the hydra was way too big for any of her spells to stun or stop. "Then she's done for," the Earth pony said in a grim tone of voice.

"Like Hell!" Flash shouted. "Hang on, Rarity, I'm coming!" Ignoring the others' shouts, she dodged Applejack's hasty lunge for her tail and dashed back towards the hydra and the cowering unicorn. Flying with reckless speed, the pegasus wove through the monster's necks, lashing out with her spurred legs just as one of the hydra's heads lunged towards Rarity.

The reptilian beast roared as Flash's kicks cut shallow but painful wounds in its thick, scaly hide, and missed, burying one of its heads in the bog with a massive splash that knocked the unicorn over. Two other heads snapped at the pegasus' heels, only to collide with one another with a loud thump as she looped around and dove for the white unicorn.

"Flash, watch out!" Fluttershy squeaked, pointing at the hydra's last head that was drawing back, ready to snatch two morsels with one strike. "Oh, Moonlight, can't you do something?!" she pleaded.

The purple unicorn closed her mouth that had been hanging open. "Uh... I can try," she said, and cast the first spell that came to mind. The purple flash struck the hydra just as it was about to strike at Aurora Flash and Rarity, and an enormous, bright green mustache sprouted on its face. Surprised and distracted, it missed its moment: Flash was back in the air already, Rarity hanging onto her legs for dear life.

"What the hell are you standing there for?" the pegasus rasped as she zoomed over them so low that Rarity's flailing legs almost knocked Applejack's hat off. "Run, you idiots!"

Trusting a soldier to know when to fight and when to run, everypony turned their tails and raced away from the hydra. Only Moonlight glanced back over her shoulder to see the monster turn away without chasing them, a pink light dancing around its heads like a magical halo...

---

Beyond the bog, the ground turned rocky and began to rise again. Moonlight scarcely noticed the change in terrain, for her mind was focused on the elusive pink light and what it implied. The ambient, unruly magic of the Everfree Forest made it impossible to be sure, but the unicorn had no doubt that the light was some manifestation of the Hellion Queen's will. But what was its purpose? It had led them to danger, but then turned the hydra away from their trail... was it taunting them, or somehow testing them?

A sharp gasp of pain jolted Moonlight out of her thoughts and made her look back. Everypony had stopped to look at Rarity, who was holding her right foreleg in the air. Carefully, the white unicorn lowered her hoof to the ground, testing her weight on it... and immediately lifted it up again, wincing in pain.

"Oh dear, let me look at that," Fluttershy said, landing next to Rarity and nuzzling the white pony's ankle with her soft nose. "Does it hurt when I do this?"

A shudder went through the unicorn's body."Y-yes," she said through gritted teeth.

"Oh. Ummm... can you flex your hoof? I know it hurts, but I need to know... Oh, that is enough, you don't have to continue. You've got a bad sprain there, but no fracture, I believe," Fluttershy said. "What happened?"

"Oh, she didn't look where she was going, and stumbled on that rock over there," Pinkie interjected, pointing at an unremarkable lump of stone jutting from the gravelly soil. "I think it's because of those silly goggles, I mean they look cool and all, but it's all nice and comfy dark here anyway, well most of the time, anyway, and–" A glare from Flash made the pink pony shut her mouth, but she still showed what she thought of Rarity's caution about the sun with an expressive roll of her eyes.

Rarity nodded, biting her lip. "I must have twisted my ankle when that hydra threw me down," she said. "I noticed that it was hurting a bit after Aurora Flash let me down, but I didn't think it would be that bad."

As Fluttershy started bandaging Rarity's ankle, Moonlight decided it was a good moment to share her thoughts about the strange light with the others. But just as she opened her mouth, she saw another glimmer of light in the distance, this time the familiar green of Spike's dragon fire.

A green-glowing wisp of smoke came twisting through the trees and solidified into a scroll before her eyes. The others, unused to dragon-mail, watched with keen interest as Moonlight opened the scroll and began to read aloud.

"Moonlight – the Queen is gone!" A chorus of gasps, and a sharp curse from Flash welcomed this. "There was a magical explosion at the hospital, and she is missing. All the Knightmares are also out cold, and we can't wake them up. A nurse who saw it said it was like pink fire blazing out of the Queen's room. Somehow the rumor leaked, and now the town is in chaos. Derpy has ordered the troops to clear the streets, but the riot is just spreading. You must hurry! – Spike."

Rarity was the first one to speak. "Fluttershy... can I walk properly once you're done?" The pegasus looked uneasy, and Rarity continued. "Then it's clear. You have to leave me behind, and go! I can tie up those bandages myself, and follow you the best as I can, but right now I'm just holding you back. No, I insist," she said as Fluttershy opened her mouth. "In fact, as a noblemare of the Realm and the Royal Governor of Ponyville, I command you to leave me behind, and continue on your quest to save Queen Luna and all of Equestria!"

Aurora Flash chuckled at this. "First time I've heard anypony pull rank to get her companions to abandon her! C'mon, help me get these saddlebags off her, there's stuff in here that might be useful..."

Soon, the other five ponies were on their way again, having left Rarity with nothing but some bandages, a canteen of water and her goggles. The unicorn had offered those to Moonlight, but she had declined the offer; she was sure her eyes could take the sun as long as it was necessary. "Good luck, everypony," Rarity said as they parted. "I'll be following you in my thoughts, even if I can't be there in flesh!"

---

Less than half an hour later, Moonlight was wishing she'd accepted Rarity's goggles. She and her four remaining companions were standing on the brink of a deep chasm, shading their eyes with their hooves as they looked at the ruined castle on the other side. It was small compared to the majestic palace at Canterlot, and badly in need of repair, but the unicorn thought it had a familiar look to it.

"So... how are we going to get across?" Pinkie Punch asked, poking at the ancient stone supports of the broken drawbridge with a hoof. The bridge had snapped and was dangling down into the chasm, vanishing in the billowing golden mist that filled the ravine.

Aurora Flash's only reply was a disdainful snort. Before Moonlight could stop her, the blue Pegasus had dived off the ledge. "Oh yeah! You've got wings," Pinkie said cheerfully. "I always forget."

Applejack frowned as she watched the soldier vanish into the mist. "Ah don't like the look of that stuff," she said with a sidelong glance at Moonlight. "It ain't natural!"

The unicorn agreed. Everything about the mist made her magician's nerves tingle, from its unnatural persistence in the cruel sunlight to its golden shine and the way it moved. Moonlight let out a loud sigh of relief when Flash rose up from the mist, the beats of her wings barely stirring it, as she dragged the other end of the bridge up towards the support posts on the other side.

There was some kind of magic in the bridge, for even though its old oak planks looked rickety and half rotten, they were still sturdy enough that they didn't give when Applejack tested the closest ones by stomping hard on them. "Ah guess we can all cross this," the Earth pony said. "C'mon, let's not linger here!"

Walking in a single file, the earthbound ponies began to cross the bridge. The two pegasuses were circling close above, ready to swoop into rescue if someone fell. As Moonlight approached the bridge's midpoint, she felt her mane starting to stand up on end, and saw the mist begin to roil and rise around them. "Quick, everypony! Run!" she shouted, but it was too late: the magical mists were already swirling around her knees and rising fast.

In just a few seconds, the five ponies were wrapped in the glowing golden mists, unable to see one another or even their own hooves. Moonlight could hear Applejack's voice calling as if from far, far away before the mist swallowed her words completely.

Then a voice began to speak out of the mist, seeming to come from right next to her. It was the voice of a young mare, soft, melodic and melancholy. Something about it reminded Moonlight of Queen Luna on those few times when her mentor had let her imperious persona slip a little, revealing the pony behind the dark majesty of Equestria's ruler.

"Moonlight Sparkle, my sister's most faithful student..." the voice said. "She has taught you much, but at what cost? You have no family, no friends, no goals beyond acquiring more and more magic and knowledge in your queen's service. Tell me, Moonlight... Are you truly happy?" The unicorn saw glimpses of another life in the swirling mists: a simple, pleasant life as a librarian, no longer feared and envied, with friends she could share her knowledge freely with for the sheer joy of helping others.

The voice moved on, leaving Moonlight standing in a wistful daze. "Applejack, the most honest and dependable pony in all of Equestria... You place your family above all else, yet you nurture and cherish a bitter hate of your own parents, poisoning the soil of your heart. Tell me, Applejack... Can you not let go?" She couldn't see what Applejack saw, but she heard the orange pony gasp as if in pain.

Now the voice echoed above them. "Fluttershy, oh Fluttershy... I know the anguish in your heart, the pain that you try to heal by pouring your kindness out to your fellow ponies, suffering under my sister's darkness. Yet you know that every last one of your good deeds lengthens the eternal night. Tell me, Fluttershy... Do you truly believe in my sister's divinity?"

Coming very close to Moonlight again, the voice continued. "Rarity, great-hearted and beautiful... You were not created to rule over other ponies, but to create and to stand as an example for others. Tell me, Rarity... When have you last made anything with your own hooves and magic?" Moonlight strained her eyes; was there a whiter smudge in the mist before her?

The bodiless voice changed, sounding both sterner and sadder than before. "Aurora Flash, loyal unto death, the fiercest and fastest flier in the skies... Such dark and terrible things you have done in pursuit of your ambitions, for there are no dreams lofty enough for you to chase in my sister's eternal night. Tell me, Aurora... Are there no limits to what you would do out of loyalty to your ruler?"

There was a moment of silence before the voice continued, full of pity this time. "And finally you, Pinkie Punch: so full of laughter that no one would guess how much you hurt. Your past, you have abandoned with your name; your future, you've built out of champagne bubbles and endless parties. Tell me, Pinkamina... How long will the party in your heart go on in this darkness?"

Moonlight's ears picked up a faint wheezing sound that turned into something like hiccups... then into slow, quiet giggles, rising into rich, mocking guffaws of laughter that echoed in the golden mist, louder and louder. At the sound of Pinkie's laughter, the mist wavered, and Moonlight felt like a dreamer struggling towards wakefulness.

"Oh, you're good, miss Snooty Voice," the pink pony laughed. "You got everypony else, and you almost got me too, but you made one teensy-weensy, tiny little mistake! You called me that silly, stupid old name, and nopony but nopony does that to Pinkie Punch, no ma'am!" Her voice rose as she forged on. "Pinkamina Pie... that was a whole other filly, the penniless bastard daughter of a bunch of dumb, dour, drab, inbred rock farmers, a pink freak they all hated almost as much as she hated them! I'm Pinkie Punch now, and I'm successful and happy, do you hear me? I've got all the candy and cupcakes and champagne and cherry brandy and hot chocolate and hot studs that I want, and the party's never ever going to stop! And if you think you can make me give up on all that, you've got another thing coming, you stupid sugary silver-tongued Snooty Voice! So ha-ha-ha!"

And with that last laugh, the mist let out what sounded like a sad sigh, and vanished just as quickly as it had appeared, sinking back down into the chasm. Moonlight was mildly surprised to see that they were already on the other side, and that Rarity had joined them somehow.

"Was... was that...?" Fluttershy asked in a trembling voice.

Moonlight nodded. "I'm certain that was the Hellion, yes. We are very close to our goal now, and she's getting worried. I believe she can't stop us outright, so she tried to tempt us into her service..." Her voice faded as she remembered the offer. She shook her head, steeling herself and reminding herself of her duty to her teacher. "We would have broken free eventually, of course," the unicorn continued, trying very hard to sound convincing. "But you shattered the spell, saving us a lot of time, Pinkie. Thank you for that."

The pink pony's grin looked a bit forced in its broadness, and there was an odd gleam in her eyes. "Aww, it's nothing, Moonlight! I just couldn't take all that sappy silliness seriously!"

---

Despite their excitement and wariness, every one of the ponies felt relieved when they entered the ruined castle. Although the ceilings were mostly gone, the tall walls and the overgrown trees around the ruin provided a little shadow that seemed all the more welcoming after the fierce light of the crossing.

"Everypony, don't get too close to the others," Moonlight said. "If the Hellion could teleport Rarity here, she might be able to scatter us all across the Everfree Forest, or worse. So keep your eyes open for that pink flame!"

"An' what're we supposed to do if it comes at us, Ah wonder," Applejack muttered under her breath as they picked their way over the cracked and tilted flagstones, passing deeper into the ruin. In front of them the light brightened again, and the ponies emerged into a large hall lit by the sunlight pouring in through the tall windows and the great, gaping holes in the ceiling.

"Moonlight... Could those be the Elements of Harmony?" Rarity asked in a suddenly strained voice, gesturing with her horn towards five stone spheres, held up high on five beautifully carved stone supports at the other end of the hall.

The purple unicorn nodded eagerly. "Yes! I can feel their magical power all the way over here! Come on, we must get them before-"

As if on a cue, the flickering pink flame flowed into the hall from a doorway behind the Elements. Before any of the ponies had time to act, it had formed a spinning whirlwind of rosy fire that careened towards the spheres.

Aurora Flash reacted immediately, letting out a war cry and flashing across the room with incredible speed, her spurs slashing through the pink fire without effect. There was a clash of multicolored light, and the Pegasus was tossed aside, hitting the wall with loud thud.

"The Elements! No!" Moonlight screamed. "I cannot let her take them!" Her horn blazed with magic as the purple pony desperately charged the spinning flame. Again, there was a flash of light, but instead of knocking her aside, the pink fire enveloped Moonlight. Then it winked out, taking her and the Elements with it.

---

When Moonlight Sparkle's eyes cleared, she found herself elsewhere, in a darker and better preserved chamber than the hall where the Elements had been. She barely registered her new surroundings, however, focusing instead of the two ponies before her.

Queen Luna was lying on the floor, her night-dark mane dim and limp and her flanks barely moving with her shallow, labored breathing. Even though Moonlight had visited her mentor and mistress at the hospital earlier, seeing her like this shocked her to her core. The five Elements were arranged in a circle around the dark alicorn's body.

Standing over the unconscious monarch was another winged unicorn, this one white as clouds, with a flowing mane of rose-colored fire and an ivory-white horn. She was only slightly larger than Moonlight, and built more like an ordinary pony, but there was an indefinable similarity between her and Luna that left the unicorn no doubts about the stranger's identity.

"The Hellion Queen!" she gasped, clambering back onto her hooves.

"That is the name my sister has called me for a thousand years," the Hellion said in the same soft, slightly melancholy voice that had spoken to Moonlight in the magic fog earlier. "But unlike her, I do not claim the title of a queen. I am merely the Princess of the Sun... Celestia."

Moonlight ignored her words. "What have you done with her, you monster!? Get away from her!" she shouted, scraping the floor with her hooves as she prepared for another, probably suicidal, charge.

The Hellion looked sorrowful. "The situation my sister finds herself in is entirely her own doing," she said. "Luna, in her pride, abandoned the cosmic balance long ago. Maintaining her eternal night has taken a terrible toll on her... My sister is close to death, but even now she struggles against me, forcing a standstill between day and night."

"Lies!" Moonlight gasped and charged. Instead of throwing her across the room, or making her burst into flames, the Hellion merely turned into a streamer of rosy fire and flowed out of Moonlight's way, materializing again behind the purple unicorn.

"I am not going to fight you, Moonlight Sparkle," she said in that maddeningly kind voice. "You and your friends do not have the power to stop me or harm me. All I have to do is to wait for my sister to relent... or to die. Either way, it will not take much longer."

As Moonlight turned around, ready to hurl her most destructive spells at the Hellion, she saw faint light at the other end of the room. It was the glow of Rarity's horn! And running and flying behind the white unicorn were the rest of her companions, their faces set in expressions of desperate courage. "Hold on, Moonlight! We are comin'!" Applejack shouted.

Something stirred in Moonlight's heart as she realized that they were coming to her aid, not to save the Queen. Moments from their journey through the dangers of the Everfree Forest flashed through her mind, as she put the pieces together. It was so clear to her now!

"You are right, Hellion... we do not have the power," she said, unable to keep her rising excitement out of her voice. The white alicorn tilted her head and looked at Moonlight with a curious expression on her face... it wasn't fear, exactly, but it was something close to that. "But the Elements of Harmony do, and my comrades –" the word came so easily from her lips now! " – have proven their worth, embodying all the five aspects! And you have foolishly put yourself right in the middle of the Elements themselves!"

As Moonlight spoke, the five stones rose up from the floor and started to glow, faint at first but growing brighter quickly. Colorful auras, each matching one of the Elements, were appearing around her comrades, who had stopped in awe to watch the events unfolding before their eyes. "Honesty! Kindness! Loyalty! Generosity! Laughter! Together with my Magic, we have you now!"

With a triumphant laugh, Moonlight reached out with her will, providing the final spark necessary. A rainbow of light was forming around the blazing elements, flowing out to swirl around the Hellion. "You are going back to the Moon, forever!" Moonlight shouted.

The Hellion raised her head and said a single word in a quiet voice.

"No."

Moonlight gasped as she felt the flow of power double, then double again and again. It was flowing through her, through the Elements and through her friends... but she was no longer in control! The rainbow-colored light was surging and swirling around the two alicorns, growing brighter and brighter until it outshone the sun itself.

Without a warning, the glowing rainbow imploded. A soundless wave of magic washed across the room, knocking the ponies down onto their knees and making their ears ring. Moonlight shook her head, trying to desperately clear it.

"Arise, my brave young friends!" The voice that echoed through the entire room was one that none of them had ever heard, yet hauntingly familiar. It was majestic, full of joy but tempered with a hint of sadness as well.

A single, winged unicorn now stood before the six ponies, tall and regal. Her coat was black and dappled with silver... or was it silvery white and dappled with black? It was impossible to be sure, as the colors seemed to flow and shift with every moment. Her wings were midnight black, her mane and tail flowing pink, her horn white with flecks of gold. On her flanks, they saw the image of a solar eclipse, the sun's golden rays shining around the black and silver moon.

"Wowzers! What happened? Where did Queen Luna and that Hellion go? And who are you?" Pinkie Punch asked, bouncing up and down with excitement. She had voiced the questions in the minds of every pony in the room, even as they stared at the majestic mare before them. She radiated an aura of regal power, similar to Queen Luna's, but not as overwhelming.

"I am them both," the alicorn said. "I am Luna's darkness and Celestia's light, held in balance once again and without the taint of the Nightmare Moon. You can call me..." She hesitated. Then a strange, knowing smile spread on her face. "Call me Equinox, the Twilight Princess. Yes, that name fits me well."

"But- but- I was trying to banish you! Uh, her. The Hellion!" Moonlight blurted out. Had she accidentally sent her mentor to the Moon?

"Yes, you did," Princess Equinox said. "But the Elements are more than just a tool of magic; they are the repositories of the spirit of Harmony. And even though Luna, maddened and twisted by her jealousy and ambition, could force the Elements to unjustly banish Celestia to the Moon, you and your friends couldn't. Instead, the Rainbow of Light returned the balance and harmony by uniting the two sisters... creating me. And for that, I owe you a great deal of gratitude. But now, we must go. I am needed, and so are you."

She spread her midnight wings and raised her head. Silvery fire, shot through with swirls of rainbow light, erupted from her horn to wrap around Moonlight and her surprised friends. The light flashed, faded, was gone, and so were all seven ponies. Only the Elements remained, their work done.

---

They returned to find Ponyville in chaos. The stampeding mob was surging against the magical shield maintained by the unicorn nobles holed in Rarity's tower, while the griffons and the pegasus soldiers circled above, strafing the rioters.

The sudden appearance of an unknown alicorn, blazing with power, brought the fighting to a stop as everypony ended up running away, kneeling in awe, or trying to do both at once. Seizing the opportunity, the six friends threw themselves at the tasks at hand. While Rarity and Aurora ordered the military to stand down, Applejack, Pinkie and Fluttershy began the job of calming the shocked ponies down. Moonlight herself roped up a dozen or so ponies from both sides who seemed to have kept their wits, and organized them as a fire brigade, putting out the fires and gathering the injured ponies for treatment.

By the time the terrible sun had set and the blessed night returned to Ponyville, the situation in town was more or less under control. The rest of Equestria was a different matter, as the growing pile of dragon-mail scrolls in Rarity's throne room indicated: Canterlot was torn by strife as the various noble houses contested the throne; half of Cloudsdale had simply melted away in the sun, leaving thousands of pegasus ponies homeless and the weather system in chaos; Trottingham and several other northern towns were being raided by griffons; Appleloosa and the other colonies in the Buffalo ranges had declared independence and kicked the unicorn governors out... the list seemed endless.

"My brave young ponies," the Princess addressed the six companions standing before her in the dark hall. "You have lived all your lives in the eternal night, but now that night is ending. Equestria and the entire world are changing, and you must change, as well. I am forever thankful for what you have done for me, but even though I can forgive your deeds before that, I cannot forget them."

She paused for a moment, looking at each of the ponies in turn. Moonlight felt very small before Equinox's many-colored gaze. It seemed to look right through her, discerning her every flaw and fault... but also her every virtue and good deed. Then it was over, and the alicorn's expression softened as she continued.

"There is something you can do to atone for your deeds, and to help your people. For all of my power, I am still just one pony, and cannot be everywhere at once. So, as I return to Canterlot to take the throne before Equestria tears itself apart, I require ponies who can be my eyes and ears, my horn and my hooves, in the outlying towns and provinces. They must be honest, loyal, generous and kind. They must be able to laugh at the danger... and they must be willing to learn the magic of friendship and true harmony. Moonlight Sparkle, will you and your friends serve me?"

Moonlight opened her mouth, prepared to reflexively agree to whatever her ruler asked of her... then hesitated. Was the alicorn her ruler? In the short time she had spent with Equinox, she'd come to realize that the Twilight Princess was very different from the Queen Luna she knew and had loyally served. Her Queen was in there... but so was the Hellion. Would she be betraying her Queen by swearing fealty to a being that was, in part, Luna's greatest enemy? But with Equestria in chaos, how could she afford not to?

Anxious, she looked at her comrades - her friends, now - in the hopes of some guidance. On every face, she saw her own fears for Equestria and her doubts about Equinox, but also something more. She saw Aurora Flash's ferocious loyalty and Rarity's magnanimity; Fluttershy's idealistic faith and Applejack's hard-bitten, honest pragmatism; and finally, Pinkie Punch's almost manic cheer that even now buoyed the pink pony. Realizing that these five would stand united behind her, no matter what she chose, Moonlight made her decision.

"No, Your Highness," she said as she turned back to face the waiting alicorn. "We will not serve you... but we will work with you, for the sake of Equestria and our Queen. Will you accept our help, freely given?

If the Twilight Princess was surprised by Moonlight's reply, she did not show it. "For the sake of Equestria, and for your own sake, I will gladly do so," she said and smiled as she spread her wings as if to bless them. "Together, may you six find redemption for yourselves and all of Equestria!"

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Comments ( 16 )

Right! First off, I want to apologize to everyone who's been waiting for this to be concluded. Second, those who have read this on my dA gallery will notice that the ending's changed a bit. It was slightly too pat earlier, the result of my hurrying to finish this.

I hope this has been worth the wait, and wish that you enjoy reading this story. :twilightblush:

I love this so far. I always love the concept of reversing light and day. :rainbowkiss:

I really enjoyed this - just like the first time I read it!

The ending is not what you expected, and I like that the story is not just a mirror-image of the Season 1 intro. But I think I've told you that already!:rainbowlaugh:

I like it!

What a twist ending. Awesome work with your mirror world.

You Get 5 out of 5 Spike Mustaches
:moustache::moustache::moustache::moustache::moustache:

Definitely an original ending there. :pinkiegasp: Equinox... I like it. Kinda makes sense, in a weird way. Good, but weird.

591338
Well, she is equal parts of Day and Night. Glad you liked it!

I think I prefer this to the Lunaverse stuff. It's much more nuanced. And the names... oh the names. :D

Are you planning on doing more with the concept?

921736
Well, this Equestria is quite a different place from Lunaverse. In that verse, the good sister won; she just happened to be Luna instead of Celestia, as in the show. Here, the wicked one won, and the world's a lot darker for it, literally and figuratively.

(It would be interesting to see how Moonlight, Trixie from Lunaverse, and Twilight from the show would react to one another!)

And I'd really like to revisit this, but I haven't come up with a good idea how to do it. Perhaps I should go for small vignettes and brief, self-contained stories first...

922281

Would you be open to other writers having a go?

Great story!:pinkiehappy: Well done!

1411119

Thanks! You know, the comparison to the Empire in SW has never occurred to me, but it makes sense. The Imperial March would be particularly fitting! :twilightsmile:

And that pic is awesome in so many ways. :rainbowdetermined2:

I haven't forgotten this story... SO, YOU ALMOST DONE WITH THAT CONCLUSION? I've held off reading the second chapter for over a year now, i'm thinkin' that i'm done waiting.
What a twiiiist! Now that just leaves the ending or whatever that's taking forever to get here.

Nicely writen, I enjoyed how you changed some aspects of the story, It made it feel original, I even liked the twist even though I cannot bear the idea of Queen Luna being gone, but that final speech by Moonlight was awesome, I loved how she and the rest of the Mane 6 were only going to work with Equinox for the sake of Equestria, since they were loyal only to Luna, so all in all, great story.

3778296
Thank you! I'm especially pleased that the ending worked for you. :twilightsmile:

I've always loved this story.

Well, not all of it... the ending struck me as odd, as did Equinox's conceit that she was in any position to forgive anything. Half of her is the entire reason Equestria's ponies were forced to become what they are now, yet nary a peep about her faults. Is she's to assume rulership by virtue of being the princesses combined, then responsibility for what happened before should also fall on her.

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