• Published 13th Feb 2015
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Twilight, Good Night - Carapace

To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports. She never expected to find herself under the microscope in turn.

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42: The Dream

Luna knew something was amiss as soon as she felt the chill of winter’s breath on the back of her neck. Such a cold wind in midsummer was impossible, unless the weather factories made some drastic error. On an entire shipment of clouds to Canterlot. Or if, Harmony forbid, Discord had escaped.

A quick glance around the room allayed her fears of the latter. Nothing was out of place. Her pictures, the old gothic style art, the dark blue walls and soft satin drapes were all in order. Her eyes flicked to her desk and found that the drawer—that cursed drawer—was closed and locked tight. Everything was just fine. Everything except for the cold shiver running down her spine as she felt the breath on her neck once more. Then Luna noticed the one thing in her room she had missed.

Her full-body mirror wasn’t covered. The dark sheet she insisted be thrown over it lay useless upon the floor, granting her a full view of the reflective surface which stared back at her. Luna could see herself huddled back against the headboard, clutching her covers in her hooves. Every breath came in short, ragged, keening gasps.

Then her reflection’s expression changed. A wicked smile spread across her midnight blue face, a flash of pearly white teeth showed between her lips, and her eyes …

Her eyes were colder than the deepest, darkest blizzard, the likes of which even the long-fallen Crystal Empire had never seen.

“Is this the mare who made the monsters tremble in their little dirt holes?” the reflection drawled. “Reduced to hiding beneath her covers, her chest aching with anxiety, longing for her elder sister to come chase the nightmares away?”

Luna tried to push herself back. The headboard creaked in protest. “Y-You are not real!” she stammered. “You are but a figment of my imagination!”

The reflection laughed a cold, cruel laugh that made the skin beneath Luna’s coat crawl and her wings twitch. “Not real, am I?” she asked, pulling the covers away with a casual flick of her magic and rising to stand on the mattress. She sauntered slowly forward, her tail lashing behind her. “Of all the denials they gave when you and yours came for their head, that was your favorite, was it not?”

There was a ripple in the glass, like magic through the air. A shimmering teal glow wrapped around the reflection’s shoulders like a cloak of light, then began to pull downward as if drawing the curtains back to begin a performance in a concert hall.

Familiar armor shimmered into existence. Made of obsidian plate and streaked with dark purple accents, it floated before her. A helmet form-fitted to her skull, shin guards stained with blood and littered with scratches and scuffs of battle lifted just over the carpet floor.

Or, in her case, desperate struggle. But not on her behalf.

Luna remembered all too well how those battles had gone. It had never been her struggling in another’s grasp, not since she waged war against Discord with Celestia by her side.

It had always been her enemies when she and the Night Guard hunted. She remembered them, every single one. From the terror in their eyes when she loomed over them, to the frantic fight some dared to put up while others might run away, down the rattle of their final breath.

“If I were not real,” Luna’s reflection purred as she came to a stop a step from the mirror itself, close enough that she could reach out and touch the glass, “if this were just some figment of your imagination, why is it that I control your dream realm, O Guardian of Dreams? If I were nothing but a figment of your imagination, then why fear the day when your beloved Twilight Sparkle discovers me?” Before Luna could reply, her doppelgänger took another step forward.

Her hoof pushed through the mirror as if it were little more than a gentle curtain of water. “Soon, little Luna,” she continued, her smile spread into a wide grin, “very soon. She and I will meet, for she draws nearer and nearer to your past with each day. And I will be there to greet our beloved.” Quick as a cat, she leaped from the mirror and pinned Luna’s shoulders to the headboard.

The Princess of Night tried to fight, she tried to cast a spell to banish the apparition, but her efforts were in vain. She squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head away.

Soft lips pressed against her cheek, then a cold breath tickled her ear. “Give her that from me, and tell her that I wait with bated breath to taste hers myself.”

Fire ignited in her chest. Luna’s eyes shot open, glowing an angry, pure white. Her horn lit up with the force of pure magic, shining brighter than ever before. “She will never be yours!

The dreamscape shattered like glass. Luna awoke in her bed once more, gasping for breath. She brought a hoof to her forehead and shook herself, blinking rapidly as she fought to chase away the last remnants of sleep, lest she fall into its clutches again. For all she knew, the next time wouldn’t be so easy to escape.

After several moments, she was finally able to bring her breathing under control and calm her heart. Luna levitated the covers off her body and rolled out of bed, landing heavily on her hooves. She walked toward the bathroom with her head bowed, her ears pinned, and her wings drooped at her sides.

As she reached the door, she felt that cold shiver once more. Then a whisper in her ear.

We’ll see about that, little Luna. I think it’s high time I came to call on our sweet mare myself.

Twilight licked her lips as she read through Silent Night’s recounting of the Night Guard’s history. Her eyes were wide, transfixed upon the words he’d written so long ago.

The bat ponies of old had been lost, scorned by their kind for their history of thievery and penchant for mischief. While earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns came together to form great cities and farming communities, they had been run off at each and every turn by the Royal Guard. Criminals, after all, had no place amongst good, upstanding ponies. Then came what bat ponies called The Dream.

They hadn’t known her at first. A shadowy mare with great wings of midnight and a horn that shone with moonlight appeared to each of them, harkening the arrival of one who would offer them a chance to escape their misery and the long-reaching consequences of their race’s crimes. Each of them, from the Elders to the youngest foals able to form words begged to know her name or be granted a hint as to what they could do to earn her favor sooner.

But she shadow refused, instead instructing them to gather at the mouth of the cave situated at the highest peak of the Everfree Mountain on the first night of autumn. Though they were confused by her want for their race to journey so close to the Castle of the Pony Sisters, the bat ponies were not ones to question an offer so sweet. They gathered at the cave early in the evening and set about making a great fire, preparing food and drink in case their savior wished to dine.

Then she came.

In all accounts, the arrival of Princess Luna came not with a herald of trumpets, nor thunder of Royal Guards’ hooves pounding the ground, nor beat of pegasus wings as they steered a sky chariot to land before the mouth of the cave. There was no sound, not even a rush of wind.

But there was a rush of stardust and shadow around their hooves. Frightened foals scampered and flew for their mother’s back. Their fathers lowered their heads and bared their fangs, eyes of amber and gold flitted this way and that in search of the source of the strange apparition’s source.

The shadow swirled in on itself like a the whirlpools around the Eerie Isles, right at the center of the gathering. From within, the shape of a shadowy mare began to form. Then the darkness began to bleed away, like oily paint running off her body to reveal a coat of pristine midnight blue, powerful wings and mighty hooves that could turn bedrock into rubble, obsidian armor with dark purple accents, a helmet held beneath one foreleg, and teal eyes that reflected the very light of the moon.

It was then that every member of the bat pony tribe knew her name. Who in all of Equestria had not heard of Princess Luna, the Guardian of Dreams and Matron of the Arts? Who had forgotten those tales of how Princess Celestia and she did battle against Discord, Lord of Chaos, countless centuries ago?

No bat pony failed to bow before her. A heavy silence fell over the mouth of the cave.

Princess Luna returned their gesture with a nod of her head. “Rise,” she commanded, waiting for all to obey before speaking once more. She glanced over the assembly, humming a note to herself. “Such a great number of you,” the Princess noted. “Bat ponies, you stalkers and rogues of the night. Long have you suffered the consequences of your own actions, and those of your forefathers. However, We come to you with an offer to change your fortunes and put the sins of yesteryear behind you.”

Let it not be said that the Matron of the Arts had lost her sway over ponies, though she had been largely absent from the public eye for the better part of two years by the time this meeting occurred. Every bat pony stood transfixed, their ears perked and eyes full of wonder. The chance for redemption had long been little more than a fantasy for far longer than any living memory.

Save, perhaps, for one of the Sisters themselves.

After a moment to let the statement hang, Princess Luna continued, “We offer you the chance to repay Equestria through service. Join Us in Our mission to protect all of ponykind from the monsters and villains who stalk the night. Under the banner of Our Night Guard, you will stand between your kin and the forces of darkness which threaten them once Our sister’s sun has set. From dusk to dawn, We place the land under your protection. Accept Our offer, and We will see to it the crimes of your race be absolved and the slate wiped clean.” Then, she offered a small smile. “We ask only that the able-bodied who are of age step forth, if they wish. Only they will serve in active roles.”

There was no hesitation in my ancestors. From the Elders to the foals, they each took one step forward and kneeled before their new Princess.

On and on Twilight read, devouring the book with fervor unmatched. Her hooves began to tremble as she read through the tales of the Night Guard’s training—how to vanish in shadow like phantoms and reappear like something out of nightmare, how to use their surroundings to confound, confused, and terrorize Equestria’s enemies, and above all else …

There was an entire section on how to ensure those enemies never rose again. Silent Night recounted that with such clinical detail, such devotion to each and every way Luna trained them, it was like listening to a master surgeon’s lecture. Whether it be with hidden blades, a deft strike to the throat or side of the head, a simple twist of the neck, a tight grip around the windpipe, and so much more, Luna ensured that the bat ponies, her new Night Guard, had everything they needed to snuff out lives.

And snuff them out they had. Diamond dogs, separatist griffons, wyverns, the legendary changeling race with all its tricksters and infiltrators, even ancient dragons—none who dared to come for Equestria’s citizenry when night fell escaped the Night Guard’s vengeance, nor that of their princess.

Those who preyed on ponies in the night learned to fear it. Slowly, but surely, Luna had taken her domain back from those who dared try steal it and had no intention of ever letting it go.

Luna’s words from before echoed about in Twilight’s mind. The night, the dream realm, the arts, all were her domain, just as Twilight saw Golden Oak Library as her own.

And the day was Princess Celestia’s. Luna hadn’t acted just out of offense at the monsters taking her night from the ponies …

“She saw it as an insult,” Twilight whispered as she read over a passage in which Silent detailed a mission crafted as response to griffon aggressions near Vanhoover. Roving bandits with the gall to attack traders on the paths near the border in broad daylight, a crime that earned the full wrath of a company of guard ponies led by Luna herself. “Each time there was a move against ponies during the day, Luna took it as an insult directed at you.”

“Oh, yes,” Princess Celestia whispered. “Luna knew that I was … tired, I suppose would be the word. I had grown so weary of battle. My heart ached each time because I knew no matter what I tried, I would return to the one task I dreaded more than the battles themselves—consoling grieving mothers and fathers.”

Every word she spoke drove a cold blade into Twilight’s chest, the thought of how her beloved teacher must have agonized over her lost ponies, her subjects, twisted it.

Then she thought of what it must have been like for Luna to witness it slowly eat away at her wonderful big sister piece by piece. Another cold blade pierced her heart.

“You must understand,” Princess Celestia continued, “I bear no grudge against enemies from centuries long passed. All but Luna and myself who were involved in those feuds are long since dead. But sometimes …” Ancient purple eyes squeezed shut, pained by the memories. Bitter tears rolled down her cheeks and pattered against the table. “Sometimes, I just wish that it had been me. That I could have been stronger so my sister, my Lulu, hadn’t stepped into the darkness for my sake.”

The second blade twisted deeper.

Twilight rose slowly and circled the table. Her eyes never once left the broken, remorseful mare who had taught her so lovingly for all those years. A tight hug was the very least she could offer.

And never before had she felt her teacher needed one so much as that which she gave in that moment.

“If it had been Shining in your place,” Twilight whispered, “and me in Luna’s, I think I would have done everything I could to set him free of that burden a thousand times over. And if it had been me in yours and Spike in hers, I don’t think I could ever truly forgive myself for letting him sacrifice so much for me. But I know one thing …” She drew away just enough so she could rear up and nuzzle her teacher’s tearstained cheeks, and plant a soft kiss. “We would never blame one another for the pain. I’m sure Luna doesn’t blame you for hers.”

A powerful white wing unfurled and pulled Twilight closer and a pair of golden-shoed hooves wrapped around her shoulders. Princess Celestia shifted so she could lay her chin atop Twilight’s head, nuzzling into her mane.

“I appreciate the sentiment and thank you, my dear,” she said. “But I pray you never see such a day come.” Princess Celestia then opened her eyes and leaned back so they sat nose to nose, and gave a watery smile. “Thank you, Twilight Sparkle, for being the wonderful mare I always knew you would grow to be. And for being a mare worthy of my little sister’s love.”

They stayed that way for several minutes, wrapped in a tight embrace, teacher and student, in silence. Then, Twilight felt Princess Celestia’s chest fill as she took a deep breath and drew away once more, gently nudging her chin up with the tip of her hoof.

“Now,” Princess Celestia began softly, “I need you to go help my sister just as you’ve helped me.”

Twilight flicked an ear. “I’d be happy to, but … how? How does knowing all of this help?”

Her teacher sighed. “As I said, the same way you’ve helped me. I’m sorry, but this is going to hurt her quite a bit.” A shiver ran down Twilight’s spine at the way those pristine white ears pinned and her shoulders tensed.

Princess Celestia’s advice came in a pained whisper, “Ask her to show you the book.”

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