• Published 12th Oct 2021
  • 195 Views, 1 Comments

Nights of Frights and Butterscotch - Rocket Lawn Chair



On the eve of Nightmare Night, Luna's budding friendship with a young journalist is tested by a terrible secret she's kept for years.

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Secrets and Lies

The following afternoon, Luna had a familiar dream.

She hovered through the frigid air, her wings outspread, her fangs displayed in a cruel, glistening sneer. A mountain rose before her, tall enough to stun the minds of mortals.

Up she rose.

She was at the very top, taller than anything else. So high, the void of space replaced the blue sky. It was so cold, and she didn't need to breathe. The sensation was both liberating and terrifying. She didn't need air anymore.

All of a sudden the sun crashed down from the sky. Not on her, nor even the planet, it simply fell away and was gone. It was in the way to begin with, she thought. Blocking out all the stars and the dark void around them. Even the stars were an impurity.

Things grew much colder. The sky was oh so beautifully dark.

She inclined her neck, peered to the sky, then opened her mouth and laughed. The sky began to fall to the earth in a great, gaping wall and a thundering avalanche of icy air. She continued to laugh as it rushed down upon her. It fell and became the ocean.

Deep underwater. No air, or light, or warmth. It was absolute. Still she laughed, but there was no sound.

Finally, there was no sound!

She awoke to tell her sister of her dream, as was their arrangement.

Celestia had to know about them. Luna’s feedback to her sister helped them monitor the machinations of Nightmare Moon together. The nightmare was testing Luna’s mind for weaknesses, looking for ways to slip through and terrorize the populace in their dreams. More than ever, Luna wished she could tell somepony else about them, especially those to whom the nightmares slipped in the form of prophetic visions. Celestia continued to encourage Luna, reinforce her shaken psyche against the nightmares, re-emphasizing the importance of Nightmare Moon’s containment.

“Once she secures her hold on ponies’ minds, it’s a simple matter for her to emerge into the physical world again. Better they live without knowing of her return. Why should they?”

As usual, Celestia’s argument was logical and well-reasoned, and yet Luna felt somehow uncomfortable for keeping this vital secret about the world’s destruction. Nightmare Moon would return someday. Shouldn’t their subjects know about it?

“Sister,” she replied, “Ever since my return from exile, we’ve kept the truth of Nightmare Moon hidden, buried all the old stories, and now our subjects go on believing Equestria will endure forever. It feels...deceptive.”

“Hope is our best safeguard against doomsday.” Celestia was calm, passing scrolls beneath her quill, mechanically signing documents while she spoke. She folded her hooves in front of her mouth. “You well know that telling them the truth would damage their hope for the future. It would play right into her hooves.”

“Yes, it’s a lie I need to tell—my burden. It’s still a lie.”

“For the good of everypony,” Celestia raised an eyebrow. “And to the detriment of nopony.”

Luna moved her lips to disagree, but couldn’t find the right words. Her feelings on the matter were tangled through her mind like the roots of a tree, buried and difficult to trace to the source.

There came a knock at the door to Celestia’s study, bringing Luna’s quiet reflection to a close. Celestia said, “Please come in,” and a royal guard entered. He bowed before the two sisters before speaking.

“Your majesties, forgive the intrusion.” He addressed Luna directly. “There is a journalist from the papers waiting outside the castle. She has requested a private audience with you, Princess Luna. I tried to tell her that press are only allowed on special invitation, otherwise she’d have to wait for your next confer—”

Luna halted the guard with a wave of her hoof and a smile.

“Does this journalist happen to be a mare with a dark amber mane and glasses, who goes by the name Ink Blot?”

“The journalist you met at the cafe yesterday?” Celestia added, more as a casual hypothetical while she continued signing her papers.

The guard nodded. “She said you knew her, and she sounded very anxious to meet with you.”

“Bring her to my study,” said Luna. “Tell her I’ll be waiting for her there.”

Once more the guard bowed, then departed.

Why did Ink want to see her again? Undoubtedly professional reasons—extra information to put in her article, something like that. An anxious matter? Perhaps she’d lost her notes from the previous afternoon. Nopony would even bother requesting a private audience with a princess unless it was for important reasons. Still, secretly Luna hoped it wasn’t important. Maybe just a casual chat about the weather, or how Ink’s violin practice was going. She still owed Luna a private recital.

“Celly?” Luna turned before leaving her sister’s study. “Do we have any Choco-Peanut Bites in the castle?”

Celestia peered up from her papers, quill frozen between signatures, her eyebrow raised in suspicion.

“Yes, in the pantry. I asked the cooks to save a box for me. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. Have a nice afternoon.”

Luna smiled to herself, closing the door to her sister’s study. Whatever urgent business miss Ink Blot had to discuss, it would be good to see her again.

She walked down to the pantry, whistling a pleasant tune.

***

“Okay, so it isn’t every day a pony receives a private audience with Princess Luna,” thought Ink, working out her nerves with deep, slow breaths. Luna had accepted her request, meaning she expected a very good reason to be interrupted from her typical duties. What did Luna usually do during the day anyway? Sleep?

Ink was glad the castle guard was leading her down so many hallways and staircases. More time for her to sort out the crazy things she needed to tell the princess. Her mind buzzed through the myriad directions their conversation might go.

“I’m really sorry, your highness, but I had to see you...Yes, as a matter of fact I have a very good reason…”

Did that sound like a good way to start? Ink shook her head and breathed. Her sweaty mane clung in black seaweed-like strands to the side of her neck. She had been waiting for the guard’s return at the castle gate, sweltering under the hot midday sun. Once she’d been brought inside, she prayed a thankful prayer to whomever had invented enchanted air conditioning.

“So, uh...” Ink gulped, hearing her own shaky voice resonate in the deep castle halls. “Did I, um...interrupt anything?”

“It’s not really my place to say,” said the guard, turning his head to address Ink. “I’ve never seen you before, yet the princess seems to know you.”

Ink nodded. “Professionally. I mean...well, I interviewed her yesterday.”

“You said you’re with the Chronicle?”

“Uh-huh.”

Ink wondered if this line of questioning would lead to her becoming accused of spying or some other treasonous activity. It felt like this guard was prodding her story’s validity, sniffing for information that might not add up. She wondered if she should say something else to ease the guard’s suspicions.

“We talked for a few hours about Nightmare Night and about each other. It was easy to talk to her once I got past the whole ‘Princess of Equestria’ thing. She felt like...well, like a normal pony.”

“Here we are,” said the guard, gruffly interrupting Ink’s thoughts. A stately pair of double-doors stood before them, painted a deep blue and embossed with the Princess of the Night’s iconic cutie mark.

The guard knocked three times. “I’ve brought the reporter, your highness.”

“Show her in!” came Luna’s voice from within her chambers.

“She sounds cheerful,” thought Ink, relaxed that the princess seemed to be in a pleasant mood. Perhaps this conversation would go smoother than she expected.

***

"Unfortunately I can't interpret your dream," said Luna. She grimaced, tasting the unpleasant flavor of a lie washing over her tongue. "I remember passing it on to you last night, but I cannot tell you more than that. It was certainly an odd dream." She held up a box of candies, smiling. "Choco-Peanut Bite?"

Ink ignored Luna's offer entirely. "Odd? But didn't you give it to me?"

Luna frowned, setting the box of candies on her desk. She took Ink's distress very seriously.

She rose from her chair, took several paces while staring at the tall ceiling of her study. It had been painted the deep blue of a night sky, with caricatured five-pointed stars scattered all across it, and the constellations incorrectly traced by silver lines. Had she been around to conduct the design of her own study, she would have done things much differently, yet she didn't let Celestia see how much it irritated her.

"What makes you think it was a vision of the future?"

"It was just like you said visions were! It had a scent!" said Ink. She stared at the floor, stirring the carpet with her hoof. "It...It felt like a warning, I’m not sure. I need to know where it came from and what it means. You said you have those all the time, so could you please help me?"

"I'd like to, I really would, but..." Luna breathed heavily, rubbing her forehead. Ink's description of her dream was so vividly familiar. She'd never heard of anypony else having it before. "She's toying with me now", thought Luna, not referring to Ink. "...perhaps you only miss-read it, my dear. It's possible our talk yesterday put these thoughts of prophecy in your head, and your subconscious convinced you it was something greater."

"What?? How...how can..." Ink's voice flared with anger for only the briefest moment before simmering down to a smoldering silence.

"Only a disturbing dream, but the memory will pass," added Luna, extending her hoof to the journalist's shoulder. Ink recoiled, sending a stab of pain through Luna's heart.

"Why don't you believe me? You must have seen what I saw!"

"Please, I don't want you to be upset..."

The two stood alone within silence, overseen by a sky of tacky stars.

"I thought I felt something," said Ink slowly. She rubbed her shoulder. "When I first learned to play the violin, you know? Something that tugged me in a way I couldn't explain. I felt a similar tug from this dream, like it was plucking the soul out of my body. Maybe it was really nothing the whole time, and that's all I ever see. Smoke. Mirages. Things that aren't real."

Ink made a curt bow, wiping tears from her eyes. She made her way to the door of Luna's study. "If you'll excuse me, your highness, I have a piece to write. Thank you for your time." Her words were frosted, stiff and formal. She closed the door behind her with a similar tone, leaving Luna feeling cold and empty.

***