• Published 2nd Aug 2018
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Acolyte of the Lunar Court - Lets Do This

"The Night is not as forgiving as the Day." -- Twilight finds out the hard way what Luna's night is like.

  • ...

Where Nightmares Come From

When the last of the evening's petitioners had made their requests and received judgment, Luna stamped her hoof three times and loudly proclaimed the close of her Lunar Court for that evening. The assembled horde gradually filed out of the chamber and into the broad corridor outside.

When the last of them had left and the Night Guard had shut and barred the entry doors, Princess Luna finally relaxed. She sat down heavily. Then she lay down on the stone of the dais, looking utterly spent. "We are delighted that is over!" she said in her normal speaking voice, looking up at Twilight. "We are not as young as we used to be!"

Spike, seated next to Twilight, spoke up. "But you're... immortal, right?"

"That only makes it worse." Shrugging herself back to her hooves, she addressed the assembled guards.
"Excellently handled, everyone!" she said, nodding to them. "We are grateful to thee for thy diligence and loyalty! Resume thy normal duties!"

Nacht and Skaad, standing before the dais, bowed respectfully. "We live to serve, Mistress of Nightmares!"

"Mistress of Nightmares!" the assembled guards echoed as one.

"Company!" Nacht called out, "Dismissed!" The guards gradually filtered out of the room through side tunnels, heading for their assigned tasks.

Twilight, seeing that they finally had a moment to themselves, gestured to the emptying hall. "If I might ask, Princess... all these races and species here tonight... well, I mean... this is the Lunar Court?"

"Are they not denizens and citizens of Equestria?" Luna replied, tartly but with understanding. "Deserve they not the right of petition, to stand before their sovereign and state their needs?"

"I had no idea!" Twilight said, amazed.

"It would be difficult for them to simply walk the streets of Canterlot in the day, certainly," Luna said. "So our Court is held here, in a hall accessible by a cave mouth on the far side of Canterlot Mountain from the city itself. As thee can see, it is securely protected from any attempt on the city, and patrolled by the Royal Night Guard, who keep order here. Hence there is little risk. Yet it can be inordinately tiring, at times, having to keep up appearances like this!"

"Uhhh... if I may ask...?" Twilight began uncertainly.

"Why the pomp and circumstance?" Luna replied.

"Yeah. It seems a bit, well... overblown!"

"Thou sees the races that attend the Court of the Night! Their lives are not easy. They are not readily open to the comfort and friendship that we take for granted in Canterlot and its neighboring cities. They respect power and authority, and a strong voice to rule over them. We give them what they look for in order to draw them together, here in our Court, even as we put in place plans to reshape it along the kinder and gentler lines that our Sister favors!"

"Sounds like a tough job! Doesn't seem like they'd be open to that."

"It will take time," Luna agreed. "But we have great hopes of making progress soon!"

A cough from below the dais brought their attention to Nacht, who stood facing them. Behind him were a pair of nightmares, who despite their armor, fangs, and gleaming eyes nevertheless managed to look nervously excited. Between them was a young nightmare filly, peering up wide-eyed at Luna and Twilight.

Despite herself, Twilight couldn't help smiling. Put her in a hang-glider, and she could join Scootaloo and the other Crusaders for an adventure!

Then Twilight remembered where she was, and who she was, and settled her face in a carefully neutral expression, matching Luna's.

"Mistress!" Nacht called up, "If we may ask for thy Blessing?"

"Certainly!" Luna rose to her feet. "This is one duty we never tire of!" She nodded her head to the right. "That black urn, Acolyte... fetch it, if thou wouldst!"

As Twilight moved to grab the heavy urn in her magic and bring it over, Luna motioned for the couple and their child to come forward. They ascended to the level of the dais, and then knelt respectfully.

"Rise, and be welcome, friends!" she told them. She looked down at the filly. "What is thy name, small one?"

"Moarn, Mistress!" the filly replied, timidly, in a gravelly voice.

"Art thou prepared, Moarn, to take thy place in our Royal Guard?"

"Yes, Mistress!"

"Be welcome, then! And receive our Blessing!" Luna glanced around, making a show of annoyance. "Where is our assistant!"

"Oh, right here! Uh, Mistress!" Spike hurried over. At a gesture from Luna he took hold of the scrollwork of her right shoe and helped her slip her forehoof out of it. At a nod from Luna, Twilight lifted the top of the urn, revealing a fine gray powder.

Luna lifted her bared hoof. A glow blazed from its surface. Seeing the filly shying from its brilliance, she paused.

"Dost thou trust us, young one?"

"Yes, Mistress!"

"Then trust us when we say this will not hurt thee!"

Timidly, the filly turned to present her bare gray flank. Luna gently dipped her gleaming hoof in the urn, coating its surface with powder. Reaching out she gently pressed her hoof to the filly's flank. When she drew it back, a smooth circle of lighter gray remained, like a full moon.

"From dust thou comest, to dust thou returnest. Be welcome, faithful defender of the Mistress of Night, Moon, and Stars!"

Then she repeated the ceremony with the filly's other flank. Finally, Luna held her hoof over the urn and doused her magic, allowing the remaining dust grains to fall back into it.

The filly was overjoyed. She spun in a circle, admiring the marks on her flanks. Then she caught her parents' gaze, and hurriedly joined them in kneeling to Luna once more. "We thank thee, Mistress!" the nightmares intoned.

"Thou art more than welcome! As thou wert!"

The three of them backed away, escorted by Nacht, and then turned and hurried off.

Luna glanced at Twilight, who was just returning from putting the urn back, while Spike helped Luna don her shoe again. "Thou hast a question, Acolyte?"

"Those aren't... cutie marks, are they?"

Luna shook her head. "Merely lunar dust, plus a small amount of magic to hold it in place until she can show all her friends and they know she has received the Blessing. The ceremony is what is important. The nightmares can't help but look forward to it. They are made to serve us, and we would never deny their fondest wish!"

"Made... to serve you?"

Luna looked troubled. "It is not easy for us to speak of. When Nightmare Moon -- no, when we -- sought a guard for ourself, we did not trust those who came to us offering their service in return for power or glory. So she -- or rather, I, reached into our own worst nightmares, found a creature of blackest night, vengefully strong and fiercely loyal to its own... and brought it into the real world, gave it substance and life.

"Those were the first of the nightmares: Nacht and Skaad, whom thou hast met. They were followed by others, a small army. They are our creations, so when we were banished, they were locked away with us. And as we have returned, so have they."

"And they're able to have children of their own?"

Luna's expression turned sour, angry. "No. They do not even know how. They are figments of our imaginings, shadows. Incomplete! And it is because Nightmare... because we did not wish any distractions from their duty. So we must aid them, when they wish to increase their numbers!"

"Um... how?"

"Thou wouldst like to see?" Luna rounded on Twilight, her expression set and cold. "Thou wouldst like to know the depths of our depravity?"

"I... I just wondered, your Highness!"

"Nacht! Skaad! To us!"

Looking round at the sound of their names, the guards turned and stormed up the ramp to stand by her side.
Luna brought her head down. Her horn blazed.

"Walk with us, Acolyte!"

And this time there was no resisting the spell.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Twilight shook her head. The suddenness of the change in locale was startling.

In place of the chill, dry air of the cavern she was in a dark, muggy forest, near a trickling stream that fed into a moonlit pool. Nearby was a small wooden guardhouse with a peaked roof and a domed upper room. And dimly visible beyond through the gloom and fog was a small city of tall, oddly-shaped buildings and towers. Their windows shone softly with the emberlight of torches and cookfires.

The front door of the guardhouse swung open, a nightmare peered out. Spotting Luna, he hurried down the steps to prostrate himself before her.

"Mistress," he whispered. "My apologies. We did not anticipate thy arrival! All is not in readiness for the selection!"

"Be at ease, good Tasjen! The time is not yet. We merely wished to allow our Acolyte to view thy fine city!"

"Of course, Mistress! Be welcome!" He prostrated again.

Luna stalked past him, forcing Twilight to hurry to keep up. Behind her, the guards trotted along, gazing about watchfully.

They walked up a long path through the forest toward an archway several stories high. Beyond it they passed into narrow, winding streets between the towers. The air above was criss-crossed by bridges, and lit by doorways that opened straight on to several-story drops. But of course, Twilight reminded herself, to winged ponies, doors like that would be perfectly normal.

And everywhere they went nightmares gazed watchfully at them, from houses and shop-fronts and windows overhead, as Luna strolled regally through their city. The nightmares' faces were expressionless as always, yet Twilight felt uncomfortable with how intensely they stared at Luna as she passed.

They arrived at what seemed to be the town square, with a high-peaked chapel to one side and a broad-faced governmental building opposite it, and in between a grand gothic palace with soaring spires.

And in the center of the square was a fenced-in area, like a large animal pen.

"We remember..." Luna sighed. "We remember coming here, demanding tribute! Children taken from their parents, to be adopted by the nightmares we had already brought to the outside world. We... as Nightmare Moon, the Mistress of Nightmares... made this place serve our need for an army!

"And when we returned from the Moon, no longer the Nightmare, this place still remained." She lowered her head sorrowfully. "We could not simply destroy it. We could not abandon the nightmares; we created them! So we have maintained this dream, kept it alive, and tried to make amends for our actions. And if ever we do have need of additional guards, we have decreed it shall only be by families, and then only by their willing choice!"

Nacht and Skaad, clearly distressed by Luna's sadness, edged closer. Their gleaming eyes beseeched her for orders, for something they could do.

"Thou..." she whispered softly to them. "Who have been with us the longest, wish thou to return home? To remain here, and fade back into the dream from which thou arose? Know that if thou ever willed it, we would willingly give thee up to thy freedom!"

The guards looked at each other, seemingly puzzled. "Our home is with thee, Mistress of Nightmares! We would never abandon thee!"

She smiled sadly. "Alas, we have done our work too well! Very well, then! Remain with us, and we shall never abandon thee, our faithful guards!"

Relieved, they moved to stand to either side of her.

Luna looked to Twilight. "Hast thou seen enough, Acolyte?"

Twilight took a long moment to look around at the fog-swathed city which, for all its grandeur and apparent solidity, was but a figment of her teacher's dreams.

"I think so," she finally said.

"Then we shall return. And when thou lookst upon our Royal Guard, remember this place... and from whence they came!"

Author's Note:

Before you ask, I am totally in awe of the impressively detailed fan-canon that has been built up concerning Princess Luna's Royal Guard, a.k.a. the Thestrals, Noctral, Vesperquines, bat ponies, etc. Since that's not the focus of this story, there is no way I could properly do justice to all of that here. I decided instead to take a shot at something hopefully original as an origin/backstory for the Royal Guard of the Lunar Court. Let me know what you think in the comments!