• Published 21st Oct 2014
  • 6,118 Views, 248 Comments

I Watch the Moon - zeus_tfc



Luna has been redeemed by the elements of harmony, but is finding that salvation is harder to come by. Perhaps the Moon, her prison for so very long, is truly where Luna belongs after all.

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Chapter 7: Remembrances

The evening became a regular meeting time for Luna and Twilight. A quirk of scheduling made it the perfect time for them to get together. Twilight tended to be a night owl, a habit formed from many late nights studying. Luna was fresh from sleep, and once raising the Moon had no other pressing concerns. With most other ponies seeking their sleep, it made sense for the two friends to seek each other’s company.

Luna sipped her tea, reveling in the warmth and aroma. Tea was such a complexly simple thing. On one hoof it was only leaves and hot water. On the other hoof, it was a myriad of discrete steps and processes in which tiny variations could greatly affect the end product. Where were the leaves from? What time of year were they picked? How big were they? Were they cured once picked? For how long? How were they blended? How long had the tea been sitting? How hot was the water? How long did it steep? Milk? Sugar? Honey? Hot? Cold? Gin?

Luna breathed in the steam rising from her cup. Yes, Luna liked tea. Even the process of steeping it was a calming meditative act, which only added to the appeal.

Twilight strolled by, teacup and books dancing in her magic.

“Something new on thy mind today, Twilight?” Luna asked.

“Mmm? No, just re-shelving some books,” she replied. “The library doesn’t get much use, unfortunately, but there are some ponies do come in for a book or two. Then I get to act like an actual librarian.”

Books flew through the air, magic propelling them to their designated homes.

“I like re-shelving books, too. It’s relaxing. Everything goes in its place, and Equestria doesn’t hang in the balance if I mistakenly put ‘Magic: Practical Applications’ after ‘Magic: Practice and Procedure’.”

Luna chuckled.

“I can see the appeal.”

“I just wish more ponies shared my love of books,” Twilight groused. “If it isn’t Rainbow Dash calling me an ‘egghead’, it’s-”

Twilight’s words were lost as the door of the Library burst open, and Rarity and Applejack galloped into the Library at speed.

“Twilight!” Rarity gasped. “Sweetie Belle is missi- Ah! Oh, Luna, dear, you startled me. Sweetie Belle is missing!”

“Apple Bloom, too,” added Applejack. “Ah’d guess Scootaloo is with ‘em too. Fillies were supposed t’ be having a sleepover. Ain't seen hide nor hair o’them since b’fore dinner.”

“Twilight, Luna, is there anything you can do?”

Twilight looked at Luna expectantly.

“No, Twilight, I can’t simply cast a spell and locate them.”

Twilight gave a crestfallen look.

“Though… I might be able to do something,” Luna offered. “It holds no guarantee. Might they let themselves sleep?”

“I… I don’t know,” replied a curious Rarity.

Applejack merely frowned and shrugged.

Luna thought furiously. It seemed like such a long shot. She sighed.

“It’s worth a chance.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Twilight.

“If they sleep, I may be able to find them in their dreams. I promise nothing,” Luna warned, trying to forestall undue hope. “I think they would benefit more from thy talents, Twilight.”

“Huh?”

Luna leaned close and whispered in Twilight’s ear.

“Organize a search.”

“Oh!”

“I will need someplace to sit undisturbed, and descriptions of the fillies. I shall find thee should I succeed.”

“Apple bloom’s a few shades lighter than me,” Applejack said. “She usually has a red bow in her hair. Other than that, there’s not much to say. Y’ usually know an Apple when ya see one.”

“I could say the same about Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said. “She looks much like a younger version of me. We are sisters, after all. The other is Scootaloo. She’s a pegasus filly with a rusty-orange colored coat. She’s a sweetheart, but a bit of a diamond in the rough, and she idolizes Rainbow Dash,” she said as if that explained everything. Perhaps it did.

Luna nodded, satisfied.

“Okay! Let’s go, girls!” cried Twilight.

The trio galloped out of the Library. Luna shut the door behind them, and retreated to the most out-of-the-way corner she could find. Uncertainty filled her. She’d not tried this in…. Well, it had been a long time.

Her heart raced. She took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. Then she stepped otherways.

Otherways. That was the only way she could describe it. It was like stepping sideways, but perpendicular to reality. Luna stepped otherways, into The Dreaming.

There was little she could compare it to. It was like opening a door and stepping into your own dream, for she always started in her own space, her own dream, apart from the dreams of others.

Quickly, she stepped across the boundary and into the closest dream. Close didn’t mean the closest physical pony, however. Distance and time meant little in The Dreaming.

Luna scanned the dream for the dreamer. She found the stallion surrounded by mares in a love nest that could only exist in the delirium of the mind.

Luna shrugged to herself and moved on. Dreams were not to be judged. Too much influenced them, be it the trials of the day, the mind searching for catharsis, or hopes and desires unfulfilled. The Dreaming was the only safe place for it to exist in most cases. Luna was not about to take that away from anypony.

The next dream contained a young mare going about her daily routine. Luna moved on.

Another adult dreaming of intimacy.

A green unicorn filly dreaming of cakes.

A brown earth pony colt dreaming of flying.

A unicorn stallion….

Luna paused.

The stallion was having a nig…. He was having a bad dream. He was being chased by something he couldn’t see, only sense. Fear clung to him like a stink as he ran. Panic shaped the land around him.

I should leave, Luna thought to herself. I have a duty to perform.

Regardless, his fear drew her.

She set herself down before him. He skidded to a halt, his eyes wild.

“Peace,” she said.

“NO! PLEASE! IT’S CHASING ME!”

“Peace!” she repeated. “Be at peace. You are dreaming. Nothing can hurt you here unless you let it.”

“Dreaming? But… But…”

He looked back at a cloud of smoke approaching like a thundering herd.

“Do not be afraid.”

Luna flapped her wings, sending a gust of air into the smoke. The wind hit it with a terrible thunderclap which shook the dreamscape. The cloud of smoke roared in defeat as it began to dissipate into nothingness.

“You are safe. Dream, pony. Dream, and be at peace.”

The world around them brightened. The Sun appeared in the sky, and slowly the dream changed, becoming serene.

“Thank you!” cried the stallion. “I don’t know what I would have done if you… I…”

He trailed off, focusing on something only he could see in the distance.

“Go.”

Without another word the stallion sprinted off to meet whatever he saw.

Luna watched him go for a moment, a smile on her face, before stepping to the next dream.

As she walked from dream to dream searching for the lost fillies, more and more she became aware of the night- the bad dreams. More and more they called to her. They drew her in.

An earth pony mare was falling from a great height. Terror drove everything from her mind.

Luna aligned herself to the mare in the fall.

“Peace.”

“PLEASE! HELP ME!” cried the mare.

“Peace! You are dreaming. Nothing will hurt you here.”

“B-but I’m falling! Please won’t you save me!”

“Hush, child. You aren’t falling, you are flying.”

Luna faced the ground and stretched her wings.

“But I can’t fly!”

“Then give yourself wings!”

“Give myself…”

Wings sprouted from the mare’s back. She gasped in delight, and terror was consumed by elation. immediately the world changed. No longer was she plummeting toward the ground, but rather soaring through the sky. The same buffeting of wind that foretold imminent impact, now was a sign of victory and speed.

The mare gave a whoop as she rolled and dove, reveling in the sense of freedom.

Luna smiled, and stepped to the next dream.

Soon Luna was only stepping from Nigh- from bad dream to bad dream. In each dream she soothed the fears of the ponies in them. In each dream her message was the same. Be at peace. Do not fear. No harm will come to you.

A pegasus mare was trapped in a coffin.

A unicorn mare was chased by a giant beast.

An earth pony stallion was lost in a maze or catacomb.

Falling.

Abandoned.

Chased.

Lost.

Attacked.

The themes became familiar even if the specifics changes.

And still Luna walked on.

Luna’s legs shook. She felt drained. Spent. She’d underestimated the amount of magic she was using both from traveling from dream to dream, and within them soothing fears and dispelling the darkness.

“Peace.” she said.

The pegasus filly whimpered. She shook in her fetal positioned state as the tornado bore down on them.

“Do not be afraid. You are dreaming. The storm cannot hurt you.”

“B-but… but…”

“Rise,” Luna said. “Show your defiance. Flap your wings at it. Show it you aren’t afraid. Dispel it with the force of your wings.”

The filly looked at Luna as though she were a madpony. If only she knew.

Luna turned to face the approaching tornado.

“You do not frighten me, storm,” she said. “I defy you!”

Luna gave a sharp snap of her wings.

“Come. You do the same.”

Slowly the filly stood on wobbly legs. Her wings quivered, but remained locked at her sides.

“Show the storm you aren’t afraid,” Luna said. “What form would the storm have that would not frighten you? Shall it be made of cotton candy? Maple syrup? Alicorn farts?”

The filly chuckled at last, though her shivering did not cease.

“Come, flap at the storm. Show it you aren’t afraid. Imagine it’s made of Alicorn farts. Or cotton candy. Or Alicorn fart flavored cotton candy.”

The filly giggled at that. She stared at the storm and gave a half-hearted flap.

“Again! Show the storm you aren’t afraid of its odorous spun sugar!”

The filly flapped again, this time with more feeling.

“Again! Take that, foul smelling confectionery cloud!”

The filly flapped again.

“Yeah, take that, stinky candy cloud,” she yelled.

At once the tornado looming over them changed. Now it was a whirling mass of cotton-ball looking spun sugar, which promptly collapsed under its own weight. The filly laughed at the pile of smelly candy. As she laughed, the world around her brightened, taking on more color. The sky cleared, and the Sun appeared.

“Go,” Luna told her. “Run. Play, and do not be afraid.”

The filly ran off into the distance, laughing and leaping, and cheering at things only she could see.

Luna smiled, and sagged with exhaustion.

She stepped into the next dream.

Luna walked forward toward the huddled mass on limbs shaky with fatigue. The young pony was alone in an inky blackness.

“Peace,” she said. “Do not fear.”

A head rose to face her. She was a pale earth pony filly with a red bow, and wide, frightened eyes.

Wait, a pale yellow-orange coat and a bow? Could this be…

“Who’re you?” the filly asked.

The voice dispelled all doubt. This was certainly an Apple.

“Apple Bloom?” Luna asked.

“Y-yeah…. Are you gonna help me get home?”

“At the moment you are dreaming. Simply will away the darkness, and it will crumble.”

“I’m… I’m dreaming? This is a dream,” she said, realization dawning. “This is a dream!”

With that, the darkness lifted.

“Very good. Now we must deal with where you and your friends are.”

“My friends. Oh, no! We went into the Everfree, and we got chased by a… a something, and then we fell down a ravine, and we got totally lost!”

“Where are you, Apple Bloom? Where in the Everfree are you?”

“I don’t know!” wailed Apple Bloom.

“This is your dream,” Luna told her, “your mind. Open it to me. Show me what you saw when you lost your way.”

Images began to flicker around her. Silently the Everfree forest came to life around them. Three dream fillies trekked through the woods. Luna watched the unfolding scene, trying to keep an eye out for landmarks and gaps in the foliage which let her catch glimpses of the stars.

“Where did you enter the forest?”

The scene changed to the trio creeping their way into the forest behind a small cottage.

“Whose home is that?” Luna asked.

“That’s Fluttershy’s,” Apple Bloom replied.

Luna felt her stomach give a lurch at the sound of the timid pony’s name.

“Keep going, please. Let me see the whole journey.”

She watched the scene play out.

“Again.”

The play repeated.

“Once more, please.”

Luna nodded, satisfied.

“Very good. I think I can relay this to Twilight and your sister. In the meantime, wake and tell your friends to stay where you are. Help is coming.”

The dream began to fade. Luna stepped otherways out of The Dreaming.

She opened her eyes in the library, memories of The Dreaming still fresh in her mind.

She rose and pushed forward, eager to convey her knowledge. As she moved, her legs collapsed underneath her, and she tumbled into a heap.

Shakily, she rose again, willing her wobbly legs to support her. Fatigue consumed her, devouring every shred of energy and making her legs like jelly, and every breath a struggle.

Desperately she half lurched, half threw herself out the door of the library.

"Twilight!" she called. "Twilight? Anypony? Anypony, please help!"

Luna's legs gave out again, dropping her to the ground.

"Anypony? Please?"

"Hey, Luna!" a bright voice called. "What are you doing on the ground like that? Are you camping? Shouldn't you have a tent, or be in the woods? Oh! Are you making dirt pegasi? Were you-"

"Pinkie Pie! Thank Moon and stars! I need to get to Twilight, but I've over-exerted myself."

"Okie Dokie, Loki! Just hop on, and I'll get you there in two shakes of a Pinkie's tail!"

With help, Luna secured herself on Pinkie's back. Her height meant her hooves grazed the ground, but Luna was too tired, and too grateful to care.

Then Pinkie began to move. She moved like the wind.

It was an odd gait she had, consisting of a trot that occasionally became a gallop, with interspersed leaps into the air. Somewhere in the back of Luna's mind, the idea came to her that wherever they were going the were only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

"Did you talk to a doctor?" Pinkie asked as she ran.

"No, not yet."

"Silly filly, you really shouldn't put that off. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you feel better! Talk to one soon, okay?"

"When I am able," Luna replied.

"Luna!" Pinkie whined.

"Twilight!" Luna called as the lavender mare came into view, grateful for the distraction. She was addressing a crowd of ponies from in front of the schoolhouse.

"Luna!" Twilight replied.

"Twilight!" Pinkie chimed in.

"Pinkie?" said a confused Twilight.

Pinkie looked expectantly at Luna.

"Twilight, I think I can find them," Luna gasped.

Pinkie frowned at Luna.

Twilight raised an eyebrow as she saw Luna's condition.

"Luna, what happened?"

"Simple magical over exertion," she replied, slumping off Pinkie's back. "Too much magic too quickly. Nothing to worry about, but we should hurry. The fillies are in the Everfree, northwest of Fluttershy's abode. I think I can guide thee there."

Pinkie glared at Luna.

Twilight addressed the crowd.

"You heard her! Cloudkicker, can you take my search area? Don't worry about yours for now. It doesn't sound like they went that way anyway. Okay? Good. Applejack, Rarity and I will follow Luna's directions. Pinkie? Are you coming?"

"Of course!"

Pinkie scowled at Luna.

"Okay," Twilight affirmed. "Everyone to their areas. Let's go, girls!"

Luna looked at Pinkie scowling at her and sighed.

"Pinkie!" she called.

The pink pony beamed.


The forest wasn't so much 'dark' as it was a 'light devouring agent of the abyss'. The magical light Twilight created seemed to only deepen the shadows and give the ponies the feeling of being exposed.

"There," Luna spoke from Applejack's back. "Go left at that boulder, and watch for a ravine. It is obscured and dangerous."

"H-how do you kn-know where to go?" asked Fluttershy.

"I spoke to Apple Bloom in her dream," she said.

Twilight gasped.

"You can do that?"

Luna nodded.

"I can walk through dreams and affect them. That's how I exhausted myself. I tried to ease the ni... the bad dreams of the ponies I saw, and there were many. Time, however, is strange in The Dreaming. I used magic at what seemed a reasonable rate, but upon leaving, minutes had passed, not hours. I unknowingly exhausted my magic at an incredible rate. Applejack has been most kind in allowing me to recover."

In truth, Luna had recovered enough to walk some minutes ago. Now she was trying to recoup magic as quickly as she could. Something had chased the fillies in these woods. Whatever it was, nopony had gotten a good look. With luck, it was just a squirrel rustling in the leaves that had frightened them so. If it was something more, something dangerous...

Luna wanted to be at full power. She would protect these ponies from harm, no matter what.

"Aw, shucks," Applejack drawled. "Ain't nothin'. Yer th' one who wiped herself out gettin' us directions. Ain't no bother lettin' ya rest after that."

The group stopped.

"I think we found the ravine," Twilight whispered.

Before them was brush and foliage, but nothing was visible beyond it, only inky blackness.

The ponies crept forward, mindful of the potential drop.

"Be cautious, Twilight," warned Luna. "The fillies were spooked into haste. In their panic they ran off the obscured edge. Calmest thy nerve, that thou wilt not share their fate."

"W-what scared them?" Fluttershy asked.

"I know not, only that they bolted forward in blind panic."

Twilight tiptoed forward, testing the ground.

"I think I found the edge. It's pretty well hidden by these shrubs."

"The fillies should be at the bottom and to the right."

Twilight tossed the orb down the ravine. Darkness enveloped the ponies as the orb disappeared from view. Instinctively they clustered together in the dark, fearful despite themselves.

"Kids? Apple Bloom? Sweetie Belle? Scootaloo?"

"We're down here!" came the reply.

Luna slid off Applejack's back, allowing the worried mare to surge forward.

"Apple Bloom! Y'all okay?"

"Sweetie Belle, darling! Are you alright?" Rarity added next to her.

"Sweetie Belle hurt her leg when we fell, but we're fine! Ah think it's just sprained."

A worried Rarity pranced in place anxiously.

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... Don't worry girls, we've got you!"

"I can levitate them up," Twilight said. "Fluttershy, can you go down there and keep an eye in case anything goes wrong?"

Fluttershy nodded, and spread her wings.

Luna nodded to herself as well. They had things well in hoof, and didn't need outside interference. Silently she leapt up into a nearby tree, hiding herself in the foliage and shadows. She'd keep guard and make sure nothing went wrong, but the last thing they needed was a princess swooping in to solve all their problems for them, even if that princess was as broken as Luna.

She watched as the fillies were levitated up without issue into waiting forelegs.

"Oh, dear, I was so worried," Rarity gasped as she squeezed Sweetie Belle.

"Y'all had us worried as a long tailed cat in a room fulla rockin' chairs. Big Mac's out with one a th' other search groups."

Scootaloo gave a yelp as she was hugged from behind.

"Rainbow Dash would have been here if she'd known," Fluttershy assured her, "but she'd already flown back home. There wasn't time to go get her."

Scootaloo blushed and mumbled something incoherent.

"Oh," gasped Twilight. "Speaking of the others, I'd better let everypony know we found them."

Her brow furrowed in concentration for a moment until a magical flare launched skyward from her horn.

"There. Everypony should be heading in. Let's go home."

Luna sighed quietly as the tension lifted and the ponies headed back to their homes, talking quietly amongst themselves.

"Hey," Twilight exclaimed, "where's L-"

Her words were cut short as she sound of rustling and breaking branches came from some nearby bushes.

The ponies tensed, and the fillies clutched fearfully to their respective mares.

The sound grew louder, and the bushes began to shake.

Luna dropped from the trees to place herself between the ponies and the unseen adversary. The shadows moved with her, draping her like a shroud. She spread her wings to block the ponies behind her from view, and summoned her magic, which crackled about her with dark energy.

She heard the ponies behind her gasp.

The noise was on top of them now. Whatever was there was close.

It was emerging.

It was a small white rabbit.

Luna withdrew her wings, and the small creature shot past her into Fluttershy's waiting forelegs.

"Angel bunny! What are you doing here? I told you to stay home!"

Luna turned to face the ponies.

The fillies sobered under her gaze.

"Nightmare Moon," Sweetie Belle whimpered fearfully.

The words struck Luna in the heart.

Hurt and anger roiled within her. After all, had she not exhausted herself in locating them? Was she not watching over them even now? Did she not deserve even a little respect?

She snorted and glared at the fillies, pawing the ground in frustration.

Then realization dawned on her. Right now she was behaving and thinking like the Nightmare. Immediately shame replaced everything else as she looked at the huddled fillies.

Luna turned and fled into the shadows, into the darkness.


There were three logical places to go from the depths of the Everfree: the old castle, back to the palace, and to Twilight's library.

The old castle was the closest, but it was depressing, drafty, and decidedly uncomfortable. The palace was the furthest, though the most obvious choice. She could sit on her perch and stew-meditate on the evening's events. The problem was Luna didn't was to be alone. The very idea disturbed and frightened Luna to no end, but it was true. Luna was hurting, and she didn't want to be alone.

That left Twilight's. Twilight would assuredly go back to the library after seeing her friends home. Luna would go wait for her there.

Luna ran through the forest without fear or hesitation. She ran silently, like she was merely a shadow casting over the ground as she passed. The darkness still enrobed her, not so much masking her passage as making her a wraith on the prowl.

Part of being so attuned to the night was sharing the essence of the creatures who lived in it. Luna's night vision was second to none. She seemed to lack the ability to trot. Instead she prowled. She stalked. She didn't thunder down the road at a gallop, but instead seemed to strike without warning from the shadows.

It was something her sister never really understood, being so attuned to the day. It also made ponies uncomfortable, keying into some primal fears of the dark and the things that dwelt there.

It was one more reason for ponies to avoid her, one more obstacle to overcome.

It was one more reason for ponies to see Nightmare Moon when they looked at her.

Any joy at the freedom of her run soured as her thoughts turned dark.

Luna reached the edge of the forest, but didn’t slow. She continued her run on the path into Ponyville.

‘Nightmare Moon’ the filly had said upon seeing Luna. Considering the display Luna had put on in an attempt to frighten off any potential danger, it was an obvious comparison. No. Not comparison. It was truth. Luna had been channeling Nightmare Moon in that instant, drawing on her self-assuredness and strength as armor in the face of danger. Luna hadn’t realized it at the time, but it was obvious in hindsight. In fact, it didn’t really bother Luna. It was just a display. An illusion. It was meant to frighten her foe and protect her friends.

No, what bothered Luna was how she reacted when the filly called her that. She’d gotten angry. Enraged. Indignant, as though she was owed something. It was laughable. It was petty and selfish. It was Nightmare Moon. That’s what bothered Luna. She’d reacted like the Nightmare.

That was why Luna ran. She was running from herself, trying to escape the fear that the Nightmare was so close to the surface, or that she might so easily fall back into those behaviors.

Luna ran.

She entered Ponyville, sprinting from shadow to shadow like a thief. She needn’t have bothered. Most ponies that were still awake and about were involved in the search for the fillies. The town was quiet and dark.

Luna approached the library. The door still stood open from when Luna tumbled out in exhaustion. She slipped through the door and shut it behind her. She stood a minute, breathing heavily and feeling soreness in her legs she hadn’t expected. It had been far too long since she’d run like that. She took a couple steps forward. The shakiness in her legs agreed with her; it had been far too long.

She walked to the darkest corner of the library and waited, occasionally stretching out her sore limbs.

Luna waited.

Time passed.

Luna waited. She was nothing if not patient. The Moon had stripped any anxiety of the passing of time away from her. Impatience was now for ponies who hadn’t given up, who hadn’t been so broken they’d spent a decade… or was it a century… lying perfectly still in one spot.

Luna waited with the patience of a stone.

At last Luna heard voices. Not a voice, voices. Luna considered her options. She didn’t really feel like talking to anypony but Twilight, but she didn’t really want to leave, either.

One of the disadvantages of having the patience of a stone is the occasional difficulty of making decisions quickly.

The door opened, and the pair entered. Twilight walked right beside Luna, unaware the alicorn dwelt in the darkness.

“Ah hear what yer sayin’, Twilight, Ah just don’t think-“

Twilight lit a lamp.

Twilight's scream rattled the windows.

“Luna!” she gasped, clutching her chest. “You startled me!”

“Is my visage so terrifying?”

“What? No, no, I just didn’t expect anypony to be here with the lights off. You just about gave me a heart attack.”

Twilight panted a moment, trying to regain her equilibrium.

“Are you okay, Luna?” she asked.

“I am well enough. Did the fillies make it home safely?”

“Sure did,” Applejack replied. “Mah sister is safe at home with Granny and Big Mac, Scootaloo is back with her folks, and we just saw Rarity and Sweetie Belle home. Ah’m headed home mahself, less’n you can spare a cup o’ tea.”

“I think we can manage that,” Twilight said, heading for the kitchen.

“Ah really appreciate you helpin’ find mah sister,” Applejack told Luna. “We’da been out all night if’n you hadn’t’a done whatcha done.”

“Twas nothing,” Luna assured her. “I am merely glad I could help.”

Applejack snorted in derision.

“Nothin’?” Applejack demanded. “Y’all found her before we could even get the search put together, and you wiped yerself out in the process so bad that Pinkie had to carry you over. Ah’d hardly call that nothin’. And Ah’m a hard pony to impress when it comes to workin’.”

Luna shook her head, saying nothing.

Applejack stared at her, a slight frown on her face and her brow furrowed slightly.

She walked over to Luna.

“Look, Apples don’t forget. It’s a blessing and a curse. We forgive, but we never really forget. In this case I’ll call it a blessing. What Ah’m tryin’ to say is that yer a good pony, Princess Luna.”

“Please, just L-“

“Ah’m talkin’. Don’t interrupt.” Applejack poked Luna roughly in the chest.

“Y’all offered to help without askin’ why y’should be bothered. You promised to try your best, and delivered more than you thought you could. You didn’t hesitate, and you didn’t quit even when you maybe shoulda. Apples don’t forget, and from here on out you’ve got the respect of the Apples. From here to Appleloosa, to Manehatten, Apples will know that Princess Luna is a friend.”

Applejack paused and looked Luna over.

“It seems to me that ponies need to know that Princess Luna deserves our respect, and when they hear it from an Apple they believe it, ‘cause Apples are honest as the day is long.”

Luna bowed her head, feeling suddenly humbled.

She started when she felt a pair of forelegs surround her.

“Yer a good pony, Luna,” Applejack said. “Yer a good pony. Don’t let anypony tell ya different. What’s more, we’re friends.”

Luna returned the embrace.

“If my friendship is of value to thee, then it is thine,” Luna told her. “Though why thou shouldst seek it from a pony such as me…”

Applejack pulled back and tapped Luna’s nose with a hoof.

“Good. Pony,” she said. “What else do Ah need to say?”

A sniff caught Luna’s and Applejack’s attention. They turned. Twilight was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a small smile on her face, and her eyes glassy with barely contained tears.

“That was so sweet,” she said, giving another sniff.

Applejack jumped back and pulled her hat down over her eyes.

“Yeah, well…” she mumbled. “Just give me mah tea."


Luna watched the Moon, a small frown marring her face and wrapped in her own thoughts.

"Here again, Luna?"

Luna jumped.

"Oh! Celestia! I did not sense thee approach."

Celestia's mouth was set in a frown.

"You're backsliding," she admonished.

"Nay, sister," Luna assured her. "I merely needed some time to myself. There is much on my mind."

Celestia sighed.

"That's always your excuse."

"I mean it, Celestia. Thine accusations are false! It is..."

Luna slumped and turned away.

"What does it matter?"

Celestia's frown deepened to a scowl.

"Just what preys on your mind, then? Why are you here?"

"The Nightmare."

Celestia raised an eyebrow, a gesture completely unseen by Luna. Celestia glared at Luna's back. She hated being ignored, and having her well-practiced cues not being acknowledged.
"Go on," she said, giving up.

"She is trying to return. I can feel her beneath the surface, worming her way out. I reacted to injury as she would yesterday, not hurt, but angry from the lack of what I perceived due me. I nearly raged at them in the full Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice."

Celestia chuckled.

"I'm sure that would have made an impression," she joked.

"This is no laughing matter, sister! Her behaviors are well-worn grooves. I must struggle not to fall into them, making her return all the more sure!"

"Luna, we've talked about this," Celestia assured her. "We'll deal with whatever happens. Your friends and I won't let the Nightmare take you so easily."

Luna shook her head.

"I am the Nightmare," she said. "The Nightmare is me. All that I know, she knows. She won't be so easily defeated this time. Would she be subtle this time? She knows the Elements and my new friends are the greatest danger, but also a weakness. If they could be eliminated one-by-one, before she made herself known, they would be helpless against her. No more corruption. No more tests. Only subterfuge and murder. That is what I fear most, that they will die at my hooves, the Nightmare's laughter in my mouth and in my mind. How wouldst thou protect them? How couldst thou? Wouldst thou lock me away as a criminal before the crime? Doth thou risk their safety as bait in a trap? Doth thou forbid them from my presence, though friends they be?"

Luna turned to Celestia, who nearly shied away from the haunted eyes.

"So thou seest my dilemma. I no longer trust myself. It seems my naysayers were correct; my presence is a danger to all around me."

"Nonsense," Celestia assured her. "Listen to yourself. If you're worried about the safety of your friends, then how could they be in danger? You admitted that she is you. If you don't want them hurt, how could she?"

"You haven't heard her laughter in my mind," Luna told her. "You haven't heard the madness. She is all my worst aspects. Selfishness. Anger. Hate. What room is there for friendship and love in the face of that?"

"Love?" Celestia asked, raising an eyebrow. It was the perfect segue for taking Luna’s mind off things.

This time Luna saw the eyebrow. She colored and looked away.

"Philia, sister. Nothing more."

Perfect, Celestia thought with glee.

"Oh?" pressed Celestia, "Then why are you blushing? Have you been mixing your philia and your eros again? Have you been thinking dirty thoughts about my most esteemed protege?"

Luna's blush deepened.

"N-No!"

Celestia pushed forward, leaning close to Luna.

"Oh, you naughty pony! You have, haven't you? You've been thinking nasty, dirty thoughts about innocent little Twilight!"

Celestia cackled gleefully as Luna sputtered.

"Thou seemest so fixated on her," Luna countered, "perhaps thou art the smitten on her."

"Oh no," Celestia said. "I think of her like a daughter. Storge only, I assure you."

"And thou wouldst pair thy daughter and thy sister?" Luna demanded. "Thy thoughts are twisted and sick."

Celestia giggled. It was a free, silly, girlish laugh that would have shocked most anypony.

"Oh, I fully approve of you two. Twilight needs some loosening up, and a good roll in the hay would go a long way towards that. I know nopony would be as careful with her as you would be, and she's already proven she's a good influence on you."

Celestia poked a hoof into Luna's ribs.

"I'll forgive you if you don't go into the sordid details once the deed's done, though."

“Thou art a dirty old nag,” Luna spat.

“That’s not a denial,” Celestia countered.

Luna's face felt like it would spontaneously combust. She wished it was night, so the air would cool her as well as hide her face in the darkness.

"It is too early in the day," Luna said, retreat on her mind. "I need to seek my rest."

She scrambled off the edge of the roof to take wing.

"Sweet dreams," Celestia called after her. "Of my student, of course. Sweet, hot, messy dreams!"

She chuckled to herself as Luna spat some very un-princess-like choice words in her direction. Yes, that would do nicely as a distraction.


Luna woke abruptly.

She had been dreaming, she was sure, but the subject matter eluded her. All she could remember was the taste of apples which were sour and the laughter of madness.

She rose and poured herself a drink of water.

The cup quivered unsteadily in her magic.

Carefully she set the cup down and stared ruefully at her bed.

Sleep, she was sure, would be a long time coming.

She was not wrong.