• Published 22nd Jul 2012
  • 24,978 Views, 1,143 Comments

A Dream of Dawn - Starsong



What if Luna won against Twilight? What happens when Discord comes back?

  • ...
29
 1,143
 24,978

The Longest Night

Twilight Sparkle

Twilight Sparkle could not remember the last time she had been allowed to leave the confines of Castle Canterlot. Nightmare Moon spent an extravagant amount of time and effort in recapturing the place in her colors. Where once hung tapestries of the sun now stood banners dyed with black berries and wines. Golden lines now hung as silver about windows and pillars, not radiant as the moon but pale as the dead.

Most of the guard had been imprisoned, for many refused to fall under the service of their new princess. The rest had been let go, their good behavior promised in return for the safety of their families.

Twilight was no different. Nightmare Moon had sounded so sweet when she granted the unicorn full run of the castle, informing her that her parents had been sequestered and cared for in the distant reaches of the realm. That was when Twilight learned to smile and say 'yes, your Grace,' when she felt nothing but the cold grip of terror inside her chest.

Once a prodigy, now she felt little more than a court fool. Nightmare Moon kept her at her side for no other reason than to display superiority over her sister. And there was little she could do for the Equestrians who had come to beg for mercy.

Today, ponies from all over Equestria came bearing offerings. Golden bits and heirlooms, harps and gems and the beginnings of a dragon hoard piled up behind the throne. It was no accident that the ponies of her kingdom offered tribute before asking small favors.

An orange earth pony, named Caramel by birth, pulled in a cart full of small treasures. Pools of bits propped up other glittering objects—a sapphire brooch, silver earrings, a moonstone with horseshoes engraved along the grip. Two of the night guards stepped forward, seized the harness from his back, and nearly knocked the colt over while pulling his offering before the throne. Caramel groveled as the princess sifted through his things.

“This is very generous for someone of your upbringing,” she said. An uncomfortable silence lingered before Caramel realized he was supposed to respond.

“It is all we can do to offer you, other than our service, princess,” he said, looking over his nose at the pair of stallions between him and the throne.

“Your gifts will not go unrewarded,” she said, about to send the treasures off to be piled with the rest. She jerked back, and pulled a red lump from the coins, holding it up and away from herself with her magic. “What is this?”

“The finest apple in our stocks,” said Caramel.

“It's positively wretched!” She hurled the apple and it split as it bounced off of his flank.

“It was from our last good crop. You see, it's just...”

Twilight could almost hear his heart pounding, as if it echoed in the chamber. The guards glanced at one another and Nightmare Moon sat up in her seat. Oh, no, thought Twilight.

“You should excuse him, your Grace,” cut in Twilight. “Look at his eyes. He appears to be moon brained.”

Both Caramel and Nightmare Moon looked upon her. The princess scowled.

“Do not speak out of turn, Twilight Sparkle. I wish to hear what this colt has to ask. It is the least I can do but to offer my ear to my people.”

Caramel drew a heavy breath and lifted his head. “Prospects for our harvests are bleak. The air is growing too cold for the orchards and gardens.”

“Then the Earth ponies are not doing their jobs,” said Nightmare Moon. “It is their job to provide sustenance for the realm. Even we cannot feed them all.”

“We are trying with all of our strength,” said Caramel. “It just cannot be done. The season will not last. Our crops will not survive.”

Nightmare Moon's generosity grew thinner. “Then find other crops. There are many great foods that grow in the dark and moonlight. There are mushrooms and ferns and moon flowers.”

“And how can we find them before the frost sets? How can we grow enough to feed your entire kingdom? I'm begging you, princess.” Caramel stood now, though perhaps he was not realizing it. It did not matter. He was already asking the impossible. “Help us. You must raise the sun--”

Black lightning flashed through the court as Nightmare Moon rose into the air and evoked the voice of the storm. “Raise the sun!? How dare you! The night is our gift to you, the essence of our world. You bring us great shame and dishonor, young foal.”

Caramel took a step forward and found his way instantly barred by the metal-clad wings of two pegasus stallions. “Your night will be the death of us all!”

“If you cannot learn to live in harmony with the night, then so be it.” Nightmare Moon turned away from the ponies and laid herself upon her throne. “Take him to the dungeon. Let him sit in the deep dark for a week and see if he does not love the Equestrian night then.”

Twilight Sparkle shrunk back but made herself watch as they bound Caramel with his own harness and dragged him, bucking and yelling, away into the torchlit corridors. She could do nothing. She had tried to intervene with the likes of this once before, and had gotten her own taste of the darkness. The deep dark was more than just a grim name for a cell. The stone chambers that Nightmare Moon had prepared contained nothing but darkness. No light, no sound, just the caress of dank stone and the enchanted veil of darkness that suppressed even magical light from within. Most ponies lost their sanity after a few days. Twilight was uncertain she'd kept hers.

“We will not see another pony tonight,” Nightmare Moon declared, and her guard listened. “Bar the inner sanctum and send them home.”

Four gray pegasi saluted and began to follow the orders that had become all too familiar to them. Nightmare Moon rose from her throne with a wilting sigh and drifted towards the courtyard like a shadow shrinking across dusk. She paused to glance at Twilight Sparkle, and she knew that meant a summons. The unicorn gulped and followed the princess out into the night air.

Some magic must have sustained the Canterlot Gardens, for they stood lush and full of flowers in spite of the first coat of frost that ran across them. The chill was taking hold, though, and not just there—all of Equestria had been cooling since it had last seen the sun. Trees and grasses wilted and some had already entered their slumber, and not one pony knew if they would ever awaken to see another Spring.

Twilight Sparkle's breath misted into the air as she followed at the Princess' flank. The princess looked from statue to statue, shrinking at some, scowling at others, all the while muttering. Then once they had reached an archway of the hedge maze, she turned without warning and loomed over Twilight.

“Do you think that we should raise the sun?” she asked.

Twilight Sparkle swallowed. It was a dangerous question, but the fact was, if day did not come to Equestria soon, trees would not be the only things to perish in the cold. “You want my honest opinion?”

Nightmare Moon leaned down and touched her nose against side of Twilight's face in a way that could have been motherly. “I would always have you speak your mind.”

Twilight shivered at the Princess' touch. She had to choose her words carefully, if there was a chance she could reach the Princess. “The ponies of Equestria have not been accustomed to the long nights for generations. Everything is changing so fast. But the can adapt, if they are given the time.”

“You are not answering my question, child.”

“Your sister once took control of your moon,” continued Twilight. “It is only fair that you demonstrate your power by claiming the sun as your own.”

“Ahh, but I already have,” said Nightmare Moon. “Even now I can feel it burning in the deepest reaches of the sky. Burning, and yet I hold it in place.”

“Show your people, and you can win them all. Show them that the sun is yours to command, and remind them as often as need be.”

“Perhaps you are right, child.” Nightmare Moon paused. She looked left, then right, then stared distantly at the stars over the hedge. Her lips moved and the wind changed. Twilight held her breath. Could she be willing to do it, to lift the sun and the moon, as Princess Celestia had? If nothing else, it would buy them time. Time to find Celestia and put things right again.

The princess whirled about and screamed, her eyes filled with blackness. Twilight's heart almost stopped as lightning ripped around her. But the magic went elsewhere, raking up the grass and lighting it with faerie fire before exploding on an open patch of flowers not a few feet away.

“You think you could trick me?” she hissed, but seemed to be speaking to someone else, someone far away. She flared her wings up, and Twilight knew that stance. Dominant. Large, but with legs stiff and shaking. A pegasus only took that stance when frightened.

The princess blasted the empty space again.

“I am sorry,” said Nightmare Moon, rubbing her head. “I did not mean to frighten you. Now is not a good time for this. I am going to my bedchambers.” She turned about and smiled a little at Twilight. “Please, enjoy the rest of the night.”

The soft tap of her hooves against the grass faded as she melted into shadow, and then the wisps of her magic carried her up to the tower.

Twilight threw herself back on her flanks and slammed her hoof against the ground. I was so close, she thought. But what is wrong with her? She's never seemed quite so... upset.

A stray thought suddenly entered her head. Oh, but people rarely show you what their real feelings are.

The hair on Twilight's neck stood on end at the sound of another voice inside of her. She looked around and found her gaze settled upon the statue of the draconequus, Discord. A small black crack slithered a few inches up the perfect marble, and then stopped.

“I must be hearing things.”

We hear things every day, Twilight, but we need each other. I want you to play a little game with me.

Twilight sparked her horn. Nightmare Moon had done many things to chain her but keeping her from the library was not one of them. As she began to prepare a spell to force the spectre from her mind, he spoke again.

Please, please, Twilight, wait. I get it. You're not in the mood for fun and games. And as loathe as I am to admit it, we need each other as we are.

Twilight continued to form the spell, but couldn't help but listen. “And why would that be?”

Because you can free me, and because I can dethrone that lump of gloom you call a Princess.

Rainbow Dash

Rainbow Dash glided over the streets of Canterlot without a sound. The night had brought chill and despair to Equestria, but it had also brought silence and shadows. The shadows muted even her vibrant colors.

Nightmare Moon's patrols must have been catching on to her, though. Every time she flew through the corridors of Canterlot, their numbers seemed to have doubled. She managed to move a few foals out of the castle town, here and there, but it was getting harder to accomplish anything without being caught. And she'd found no news about the whereabouts of the true princess.

Three pegasi followed her, not from behind, but from the sides. These ones hunted her differently than Nightmare Moon's lot. The guards usually relied upon the eye of the moon, the light that seemed to grasp her from within and whisper her secrets to them, but these were different. Their wings moved in sync with the wind, their movements swift. Rainbow could edge them out in speed but they were more agile, using the lowered roofs and twisting alleys to force her to turn one way or another. And they knew the layout of the city far better than any pony she'd ever met.

To take to the sky would have been suicide, for even if she could outrun the flights, the unicorns would spot her and bring her down before she reached the ramparts.

Only three of them... I'll have to take 'em on.

She envisioned the Canterlot sprawl in her mind and picked the closest stage. A cul-de-sac behind a few buildings, a hidden garden not likely to be tread upon by wayward ponies or guards. She ducked beneath a hanging banner and turned. Her pursuers closed behind her, but it did not matter. She was going to make it there first.

Only starlight reached the garden, the withered grasses cushioning Rainbow Dash as she landed. A trickle of water rolled down from the mouth of a seapony statue, into a pool below, and then filtered into the waterways. She steadied herself and exhaled as the shadows moved down the alley.

“Rainbow Dash?” A mare called out to her.

Rainbow snorted and flared her wings up to full size, prepared to fight. “Who wants to know?”

The mare laughed, and then stepped out of the shadows, flanked by two more pegasi her size. Even in the dark, she recognized the uniforms immediately. Blue suits, golden bolts, and white wings. The Wonderbolts.

“Spitfire?” She tilted her head, wings arcing downward. What is going on?

“You're getting quite a name for yourself in the country,” said Spitfire, “Stealing lost souls out from beneath our ruler's hooves. But you're acting on your own and too recklessly. Let me keep this brief. We need you.”

Rainbow Dash's heart skipped a beat. Only a little while ago, it would have been her lifelong dream come true. But something didn't add up. “Isn't it kind of a bad time to be worrying about flight shows? I mean, no offense. I totally want to join you guys, I just...”

Spitfire cut her off with a wave of the hoof. “This isn't about joining the Wonderbolts, or entertainment. Cloudsdale needs us. Cloudsdale needs you.”

“But what about the princess?”

“The princess will need Cloudsdale, and all ponies ready for her return. I will tell you more, but it's not safe here. For now, you just need to trust me.” The pegasus looked upwards at the sound of beating wings, held her breath, and then exhaled once two more shadows had passed.

“I do trust you,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Then we must hurry.” She said, turning back to the darkened passage. “Fly with us.”

A spark of excitement kindled inside of Rainbow Dash. She wasn't sure what to make of it. This isn't my dream. This is a nightmare. And yet something burned within her, tempered with fear of the Night Guard now closing in on them. She took to wing with her heroes, and together they flew like no other.

Rarity

Rarity walked with her head high between two armored stallions. She'd gotten used to hiding the fear, channeling it into her gut and out with her tongue, and now even the officers dared not cross her. The guards would obey her every whim, but she knew it was only on condition that she continued to do the bidding of the princess.

“Ember, your helmet is loose,” she tsked, and tugged it about with her magic, fastening the cord more tightly about him. He made a grunt of discomfort and then looked over like a dog caught with its nose in the trash.

“Apologies, Rarity,” he said.

“Well it isn't me you should be worried about,” she replied. “If the princess were to find out that her personal guards weren't in top form at all times, well... I could hardly imagine what she'd do to you!”

Both stallions shivered. The other guard, barely more than a colt, was a unicorn by the name of Shadowgloam. From her understanding, they were brothers, both woodworkers before they'd been 'recruited' by Nightmare Moon. Their service in turn assured their family kept coal on the fire and bread on the table, at least until that ran out.

“Maybe you should get into armor smithing,” mused Ember. “I'm surprised a lady of your station knows her way around a soldier's gear so well.”

Rarity raised an eyebrow, thus killing any insinuation the poor fellow might have made. But she could not blame him for his young impulses. No, that's a bit too much like Nightmare Moon. And while she wanted respect, she also needed favor if she was going to make a difference. “If the princess wishes it, then I would be delighted. But I'm afraid right now she prefers my talents with the needle. After all, a great many functions await her, and she deserves only the best for each and every one.”

“And you are the best,” agreed Shadowgloam.

“Indeed I am.” Rarity smiled. The guards bowed, then opened the twin doors that led into a tower workshop. Her workshop. Nightmare Moon, upon discovering her talents, had 'acquired' her and set her up with an entire spire in the castle. She had freedom to roam and coin to spend, or at least she would, if she did not spend most of her waking moments working on one project or another. She would have no assistants, no help, nothing more than a personal 'escort' to ensure her work continued at its finest.

And it was her finest. She'd been working with materials that she'd never even dreamed of before. Silk from the webs of jade butterfly cocoons, thread painstakingly harvested from ironwood spiders. Satins and cottons and even the most humble of felts that seemed to be threaded with pure starlight, setting the room to glow even with the windows shut and the torches quenched.

It would never be enough light for the kingdom, though. Just enough for the throne and the princess' bedchambers. Still, she set to work and began to carefully affix star sapphires along the collar of a cloak.

“So you're out of Trottingham?” she asked as she sewed. The stallions stirred restlessly. They'd never spoken with her at length before. This time, Ember answered.

“Closer to the coast, but yes. My parents--”

“Our parents, brother.”

“Yes, our parents set up there, mostly because of the driftwood. Local cut was alright, but the driftwood has a strange magic to it...”

“Oh, indeed,” crooned Rarity, needle and thread dancing before her. “Truth be told, my own family is out of Ponyville. Simple upbringing, to say the least.”

“And yet here we are, together,” laughed Shadowgloam. “Fate does funny things.”

“Yes it does.” Rarity kept working and looked out the window. Most times it pained her to look over the walls of Canterlot, down to the valley and into Ponyville. Years she'd yearned to escape the Podunk. And now sitting upon the seat of grace and power, she wanted nothing more to go back and to be with the others. Her clumsy sister, her family, even that slob of a farmer. They still continued to eke out their lives somewhere in the swirling shadows. Nightmare Moon promised they would have invitations to the Gala, all of them, upon completion of her ensemble.

Nightmare Moon had her exactly where she wanted. But there were still a few things that she knew, that even the princess of the Night did not.

“Why do you put gems on everything?” wondered Ember.

Rarity smiled to herself. “Aside from being the perfectly fashionable compliment to each piece, well, fabric is fickle. It does not take well to enchantment, and certainly not the type that the princess desires. The gems are, how you would say, where the real magic is.”

Her gaze flicked over to her collection of gems. It would have looked to be a mess to anyone who didn't know that they were intricately sorted by mineral and origin. The piles also contained pale fragments of the shattered Element of Generosity. Nightmare moon thought nothing of them, their power broken and destroyed. But Rarity knew better.

“That looks a little small for our princess, though,” puzzled Shadowgloam, who had come over to look at the cloak. It would have barely fit his brother let alone the princess. Rarity nudged him aside with a hoof and kept working.

“This is a surprise gift from the princess, to our esteemed Prince Blueblood. She's taken quite a liking to him ever since he swore his loyalty.” She leaned down and stared carefully at the silver thread that fixed the fire opal clasp to the cloak. The magic slept but burned, yearning to awaken, because she had put it there long ago. “And it would be such a shame if it were anything but exactly what he deserves.”

Applejack

Sweet Apple Acres was dying. The trees still produced apples and green leaves, but it didn't take an Earth pony's intuition to see the coat of frost on them. Applejack spent more and more of her time in the fields, coaxing them, trying to give them the strength to last. But the cold was winning, and there might not have been another harvest to follow.

She tried not to think of it as she hammered her hind legs onto a tree and bucked the whole lot of apples down. They couldn't afford to waste a single apple, no matter how green, or how shriveled or half-eaten by bugs. So she bucked again, and again, and again. She wouldn't cry, but she would sweat, always yearning for the touch of the sun again.

When she was hefting the next barrel into a cart, she heard a scurrying of little hooves and smiled.

Apple Bloom skidded to a stop and Applejack hugged her sister tight. Nightmare Moon had taken away a lot of things, but they hadn't managed to split their family. Not yet.

The filly squirmed and grunted until Applejack let her go, but didn't complain. “Applejack, Gran says it's time for supper... didn'tcha hear the bell?”

“I reckon I don't eat until Ponyville does,” she said, and began to load up another barrel. “It's only fair.”

“Y'know Granny doesn't like it when you talk like that...”

“We've got plenty of food for our own, but there are lots of ponies out there depending on us. We gotta get these fields harvested and put away before the cold can get them. I hate to admit it, but we might need to take on some extra hooves.”

“Yeah, if Nightmare Moon don't gettem first...” muttered Apple Bloom. Applejack promptly clomped a hoof over her mouth and looked up at the moon, full and bright and taking up half the sky.

“What did I tell you about sayin' that name?” she said. “She can hear you, you know. Hears everything out here but especially her name. And if she hears you, she might just take you away from me.”

“Like she took Caramel?”

Applejack tugged her hat down and bit her lip. “We'll get Caramel back, I promise.”

“How?” Apple Bloom pouted. “Diamond Tiara said he's a bad colt and that he'll be locked up forever and ever until he turns into a shadow and he'll be gone.”

“I don't want you listening to that.. that...” Applejack forced her tongue down. “That filly. Listen here. That dope has gotten himself into plenty of trouble over the years, but he ain't ever let us down. I don't know how, but I swear he'll be comin' back and he'll work on the farm like nothing ever happened.”

Apple Bloom's eyes were starting to water. “I wanna believe, sis, I really do. But it's just so hard...”

Applejack hugged her sister again and this time she clutched tight. They retreated to the shade of the freshly bucked tree and away from the night sky.

“Believin' is the most important thing,” she said. “I've seen magic, what comes from all of us and keeps us all together and strong. The same kind of magic that makes these very trees grow for us, no matter where we are.” She tapped her hoof against the trunk. Apple Bloom was starting to believe it. “We just gotta keep Caramel in our hearts, like everyone else we love, and it'll give us strength. Give them strength, too. We'll get through this.”

Apple Bloom replied with a gentle snooze. Applejack sighed. At least she managed to tuck off without crying this time. There'd been a time when she saw magic spring up just from ponies' love for one another. And then she saw it break and fall.

But if ya fall, you gotta get right back up and keep at it. And if that ain't enough... well, nothing fancy for it. We just gotta look after each other... even if it means standing up to the night itself.

Fluttershy

The worst time to be in the Everfree Forest was, of course, the night. And with nighttime eternal, the beasts that roamed within were becoming more bold. Fluttershy, having to swallow her fears and drive them back more often than not, was beginning to feel at home in the twisted branches. Nightmare Moon seemed to struggle to keep her influence there more than anywhere else, even if her old castle sat at the heart of it.

Angel shifted against her neck and gave her neck a little bump of a paw. The bunny was utterly terrified of the forest, yet even more reluctant to leave Fluttershy's side.

“Yes, we're being followed,” she said. “No. Not the timber wolves. They've been about us for some time now.”

She tiptoed around a patch of blue flowers and found her path again. An unusual crunch of foliage came from behind her. She paused at the edge of the path and watched as several armored stallions poured from the bushes, one after the other. They somehow managed not to trip over one another.

“Halt, Fluttershy!”

The yellow pegasus winced and lifted her hooves. “You really shouldn't be here, sirs. Keep your voice down and--”

“Stay right there,” the pony hissed, and looked back at his charge. “Circle her, and watch out for the Poison Joke. You don't want to end up like the last squad.”

“Steel Gull couldn't sit straight for a week.” One chuckled.

Fluttershy leaned forward a bit more. “Please, you really should leave right now. You're in great danger.”

“Oh, really. What are you going to do to us?”

Two of the ponies were now starting to make their way around the patch of blue flowers. Another rustling came from the woods. Then everything happened at once. Ponies screamed. Timberwolves howled and pounced out of the bushes, two to a soldier, with several more prowling around. The wolves pinned them to the ground in an instant.

Fluttershy sighed. I wish it didn't have to happen like this... “All of you sit down and be quiet!”

The wolves looked up at once. As if her command were not enough, they met her gaze. The strange stare that seemed to boil into their souls and compel obedience. Each of them rolled off of the ponies they had caught and sat with their wooden ears down. The soldiers stared in disbelief.

“No, they're not my friends. But you're going to get an awful bad tummy-ache if you eat them with all that armor on. Metal and wood just don't mix, you know?” she chided. One of the wolves let a pathetic whine, under the sound of leaves scraping together. “Now let them go home and they won't bother us any more.” She turned her smile at the pony who must have been in charge. “Will you?”

“No ma'am,” he muttered. The incident had shaken him to the core. More, perhaps, than the idea of the wrath of Nightmare Moon, because they tucked up and trotted off in a hurry.

Fluttershy sighed as the wolves vanished too, save for one, the one she'd stared down, who seemed intent to wander with her for a while. The pack stayed nearby as she plumbed farther into the woods.

“That's some strange company you've found. Where is it you are bound? I'm rarely troubled by these creatures, but have never met a pony with quite your features.”

Fluttershy's mouth hung open a little. She'd had her suspicions that someone was living in the woods, occasionally skulking around town and even crossing her tracks now and then. But she'd never seen them up close, or without their hood up. Yet now here she stood: a mare. A zebra.

“I'm, um, not bound anywhere,” said Fluttershy from beneath one of her wings. The zebra laughed. Fluttershy even knew that she made a queer sight, cowering before a friendly pony and yet standing contently with a timberwolf. But that's how things always were for her.

“You do not wander like one who is lost. Most ponies avoid this place at any cost. You seem to have a way with the fauna... but you don't have to explain if you don't wanna.”

Fluttershy put a hoof on the wolf and channeled its strength. It didn't seem to mind—in fact, it seemed busy trying to somehow point its nose away from the zebra. Something about the smell of the zebra bothered the wolf.

“It's okay,” she comforted the lupine, and then nudged her aside. “Go to your family. I can take care of myself.”

The timberwolf cocked its head, amber eyes gleaming in its skull. Then it gave Fluttershy's cheek a leafy lick and darted off into the underbrush.

“I'm Fluttershy,” she said in little more than a whisper. But the zebra seemed to hear her fine.

“Fluttershy, it is a pleasure. A friendly face is such a treasure. Zecora, you may call me. Would you join me for some tea?”

“That sounds quite lovely.” Fluttershy said, and then laughed at her own turn of words. “Sorry. It should be okay, now. The timber wolves were sniffing around town, but they should keep to themselves for a while.”

“Your way with beasts is quite a surprise.” The zebra turned and beckoned for her to follow. “I admit I still cannot believe my eyes. But they are still growing bolder, and the nights are growing colder. Perhaps with our friendship made, we can offer Ponyville some aid?”

Angel gave a nervous shift against her neck. The bunny didn't trust her. But then, Angel only seemed to trust Fluttershy. She coaxed him with a wing and hushed him before trotting after Zecora, deeper into the forest still. She could smell a hint of smoke further away. Not a forest fire, but chimney smoke. It took a lot to keep warm, and the Everfree was no exception. For all of her hospitality, Fluttershy felt that Zecora did seem to want something from her.

“I hope so,” she said, and tried to relax. She was growing too used to feral company, and found herself missing her pony friends more and more. But they were all gone, or too busy trying to survive, to meet like they used to. She hoped that would change soon.

Hope was what gave her the strength to tread into the forest at night. She dare not let it shrink away and die.

Pinkie Pie

Pinkie Pie shuffled after Mrs. and Mr. Cake. The oven provided enough light and heat for the whole building, and it seemed wasteful to light anything else, so they basked in its campfire-like glow and shied from the shadows around the display cases and tables. It was after hours and they were busy fixing sugar and fruit into jars.

“What are we making again?” She said, hooves covered in peach juice and sugar. She had licked them off, once, and Mrs. Cake gave her a lengthy explanation as to why she had to wait to eat anything.

“Fruit preserves,” explained Mrs. Cake. “There's a lot of food in Ponyville, but it won't last unless we preserve it. There's no telling how long it'll be until we see another harvest again.”

“That's pretty sad.” Pinkie sighed and looked across to the pantry. “We're going to run out of sugar, too, aren't we? This is... this is just terrible!”

Mr. Cake gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder and eased another batch of hard tack into the oven. “I know it's rough, Pinkie, but we have to stay strong. Ponyville is counting on us to make it through this.”

“It's all Nightmare Moon's fault, you know,” Pinkie muttered, and the Cakes winced, indicating for her to stop. “There've been no parties here ever since she took over. And she's making everything miserable! Ponies are going hungry, and cold, and sad, and you can't even have cute little foals because of her!”

Mr. Cake cleared his throat. “That's enough, Pinkie.”

“It's alright,” said Mrs. Cake as she set the jars into boiling water. “We're not important enough for the princess to bother.”

“Hon...”

“It's true! Besides, we're not the only ones going through this. We can't be selfish. Even if what we wanted most in the world...”

She trailed off at the distant clatter of bowls and pans. Pinkie cantered into the room and propped the mixing bowl on the table, then tugged a bag of flour out of the pantry, and set to work.

“Beg pardon, Pinkie,” said Mrs. Cake, “but what are you doing?”

“I'm making a cake,” she said, matter-of-factly.

The Cakes glanced at one another, and then the mister laughed. “We don't really have the resources to spare, Pinkie...”

“It's not like one cake will doom Ponyville,” said Pinkie, rolling her eyes. “You really need it. It's okay to be a little selfish, sometimes. It's important to be able to smile and enjoy yourself. Especially when it's all dark and gloomy like this.”

The Cakes looked at each other again, and then gave Pinkie a little hug. They pulled up eggs, sugar, and milk, and set to work helping. For three practiced bakers, making a simple cake batter took only a matter of minutes. And soon the smell of fluffy cake wafted over the intense sweetness of preserving fruit.

“We can't throw a big party without the queen meanie getting all up in our craw,” sulked Pinkie. “But we can have a little one. Just us. And maybe we can be all sneaky and teach other people to party, too. Ooh, like a secret party club!”

“That's a great idea,” laughed Mr. Cake. Pinkie didn't know if he was telling the truth, but the two of them seemed to be having a better time. And so she felt a little happy for the first time in a long time. Once they'd finished the last batches of provisions, they pinched a bit of fruit and frosted the cake.

It tasted simple, but delicious--fluffy and buttery and with just the right amount of strawberry and butter cream. They savored it and sat in the firelight together, laughing and talking as if the sun had never set. And once they'd stuffed their faces, they rested in the kitchen together. Pinkie, exhausted from a long day's work, was starting to drift off. But she still heard the Cake's talking as they tugged a warm quilt over her.

“I think that's exactly what we needed,” said Mr. Cake, smiling. “Everypony could use a little bit of that, I think.”

They shuffled a bit and Mrs. Cake giggled. “I know. I can't help but feel like everything is going to be alright, somehow. And I've been thinking about what she said. About being a little selfish...”

Pinkie didn't pick out much after that, but she did fall asleep with a big smile on her face.

Twilight Sparkle

Twilight Sparkle stood poised in the garden, opposite Spike. The guards watched from the towers and the doorways, bored and stoic as always. All she was doing was penning a letter to the princess. No, not 'princess.' Nightmare Moon. I'll never accept her as princess. Having Spike there made her ache just a little. After Princess Celestia's disappearance, she'd tried to send her several letters. As far as Spike knew, they ended up somewhere. But there was never a reply.

“I'm not sure if I can do this,” said Spike. “It's a different princess and I'm not entirely sure how it works.”

“I think I've got the magic figured out,” she said. “Just send it, okay?”

“Alright, but you'd better know what you're doing.”

Twilight Sparkle gave him a reassuring smile that was anything but. The magic itself was sound. The scroll would make it to Nightmare Moon, in her chambers. But then she'd have to hope that the princess answered her summons. And that Nightmare Moon didn't smite her on the spot.

Spike puffed a green flame and watched the scroll vanish into the ether. “What did you write to her, anyway?”

“Just a few nice suggestions on how she ought to rule.” Twilight laughed nervously. “And some less-than-flattering comparisons to her sister.”

A flash of black lightning slashed across the castle, from the highest tower, followed by a roar of thunder. Twilight gave Spike a quick nudge, and when he wouldn't move, she lit her horn and teleported him back to the common rooms.

It's for the best... she thought, though she was shaking with fear herself.

Another bolt struck and Nightmare Moon stood appeared, standing on the sizzling ground. “Do you take me for a fool, Twilight Sparkle? A plaything? Do you think you can mock me so openly?”

The bright black mare heaved with rage, stomping her hooves. It rattled the guards, but not nearly as much as Twilight who expected in moments to look just as cooked as the ground beneath Nightmare Moon.

“Well? Answer me.”

“I think you need to answer to me, Luna.” Twilight Sparkle braced herself, and saw that the princess flinched at her name. Nightmare Moon hesitated long enough for her to speak again. “You're not stupid. You know that none of the ponies love you. The only fear you.”

“How dare you?” Nightmare Moon's horn flashed and Twilight found herself floating in the air, held by a ring of magic around her neck.

“If you silence me you're just admitting it to yourself,” she spoke through rasping breaths. “If they loved you, would you raise the sun again? Would you be like your sister?”

“Shut up!” Nightmare Moon growled and threw Twilight aside in a fit of rage, the magic discharging with a violent snap. “Shut up, shut up... I'll never be like my sister. Don't you dare speak of her to me!”

Twilight groaned, panting for air as bruises bloomed in her legs and across her belly. Nightmare Moon's fury grew like a storm ready to unleash itself on the land. And the crack in the statue of Discord grew, splintering off bits of stone.

“All you had to do was accept her, and she would have loved you,” said Twilight, and now she felt the fury building in herself. She'd been holding it so deep and so long, but the wound still ached as if it were fresh, and it gave her the strength to stand. “We all would have! But you took her away and that is why we will never love you, Luna.”

“I will not be spoken to this way!” Princess Luna snorted and scraped the ground. “I have let you live on too long a leash, Twilight Sparkle. I will make you regret those words.”

“What makes me the most angry, is that I know that wherever you're hiding her, she's still willing to forgive you. She still loves you, Luna.” Twilight lowered her horn and gathered all of her power into herself. It would never add up against Nightmare Moon, but she couldn't stop herself.

“But I will never forgive you.”

The two ponies screamed and charged one another, as they had the night they met. Magic crackled around them so violently that it shredded the grass, and the very air smelled like ozone at its touch. As they were about to collide, the stone entrapping Discord exploded. The force of their magics fell off of them in strands of ribbon and dissipated harmlessly before flinging them onto their backs, away from one another.

Discord floated between them and leered at Nightmare Moon. “Oh, dear. 'Nightmare Moon.' What's it been, a thousand years or so? I think you're the one I missed the most."