• Published 1st Jun 2022
  • 25,989 Views, 1,773 Comments

Hold It Together - OverUnderCookened

If Ponyville's new repair-pony gets his way, the Mane Six won't even know he exists - and nopony in Ponyville will miss him for long once he's returned to Earth.

  • ...

The Summer Sun Celebration, Section B

Lapis, Lyra, and Bon Bon trotted into the Town Hall just in time to find complete chaos.

Lapis felt his jaw drop as he took in the sight of ponies running around and screaming like chickens with their heads cut off, or else sitting in corners, rocking back and forth, and hyperventilating. Mayor Mare was up on stage, trying to make herself heard over the noise, but it was clear from her over-wide eyes and tucked-back ears that she was panicking just as much as every other pony in the room. In the back of the room, a pale pegasus slipped on a purple Earth-pony’s tail, promptly falling flat on her face with a ground-shaking thump. Mayor Mare yelped at the noise and fell to the floor, covering her head with her forehooves.

“Wow,” Lapis muttered. “Well, at least it’s not violent…”

“Don’t say that, you’ll give them ideas,” Bon Bon replied. “Know any megaphone spells?”

“Uh… no.”

“Oh, what good are you, then. Lyra?”

“I can whistle really loud!” Lyra chirped, raising a hoof. “I used to do it all the time, before I figured out how to play-”

“It’ll have to do,” Bon Bon said. “Ready? On three. One. Two…”

Lyra frowned, then sucked in a breath.


A shrill, piercing whistle erupted from Lyra’s pursed lips, and Lapis winced as he felt his ears tuck themselves flat against his head. All through the room, ponies cringed away from the noise, turning their heads and scrunching their eyes shut. It went on for a good ten seconds before Lyra finally ran out of steam, and Bon Bon stepped forward, puffing up her chest and glaring toward the suddenly-still crowd.

“Alright, everypony, listen up!” Bon Bon barked, and suddenly Lapis couldn’t help but imagine her as a drill sergeant. “Princess Celestia’s student has dispatched herself and a team of… qualified ponies to enter the Everfree Forest and stop Nightmare Moon. Until she succeeds, we need to keep this town in order, and that means not panicking! The next pony I see galloping in circles and screaming is going to end up patrolling the border, alone. Is. That. Clear?!”

Nopony moved a muscle. Bon Bon straightened her back and nodded. “Good. Now, Mayor Mare, where do these ponies need to be right now?”

Mayor Mare picked her head up from beneath her hooves. “What? Oh. Oh!” She scrambled to her hooves, forcing a grin as she dusted herself off, then cleared her throat. “Right now, the safest place for ponies to be is inside their own homes. Whatever the Princess’ student is doing right now, it’s sure to take a while, so-”

“Are you saying we’re supposed to just sit on our hooves and wait?!” snapped some pony in the crowd, and a ripple of worried murmurs spread in the wake.

“Absolutely not,” Bon Bon said, stepping forward and putting her hoof down. “Day or no day, ponies still need to eat, sleep, and keep each other safe. So…” Bon Bon trailed off, glancing at Mayor Mare.

“…So,” Mayor Mare finished, “we’ll need to make sure that can happen. First things first… let’s make sure ponies can see. I need twenty volunteers, to find and light enough lanterns to keep Cantering Boulevard and the main plaza bright enough that we won’t trip on our own hooves. Oh, and how many of you can cook?”

A few ponies raised hesitant hooves, and the mayor nodded. “Everypony who just raised their hooves, go stand on that side of the room. In a little while, I’m going to show you to the food reserves. You’re going to be making emergency rations for the whole town, so once I’ve shown you where the oats are… well, you’d best find any ponies that you can trust not to burn oatmeal…”

As the mayor continued to issue orders, Bon Bon stepped back between Lapis and Lyra, heaving a quick, relieved sigh. “Thank goodness.”

“That was some quick thinking, Bon Bon,” Lyra muttered, glancing between her and the mayor. “Have you done anything like this before?”

“No, but I know the Mayor,” Bon Bon replied. “She’s a decent pony when things are running according to schedule, but as soon as something unexpected happens…” She cut herself off. “Well, I gave her the push she needed, and it looks like she’s back in her stride.”

“No kidding,” Lapis said, watching Mayor Mare lead the group of conscripted cooks toward a closet to the side. “You think she’ll need any more help?”

“I hope not,” Bon Bon muttered. “But right now, we need to be worrying about any actual danger.”

“Danger?!” Lyra squeaked, her ears tucking back. “But… wait, won’t the guards take care of that?”

“They already are. If they remember their training, they’re patrolling the village,” Bon Bon said. “But there’s a lot of Ponyville, and not very many guards, so if I were them, I’d only be patrolling the border of the Everfree.”

And how do you know what the guards are trained to do? Lapis thought, frowning at Bon Bon. “Hey, hold up a second,” he said, as something else occurred to him. “Does Ponyville have any neighboring towns? Anywhere that we should send messages to, to let them know what’s going on?”

Bon Bon and Lyra both froze.

“Wait,” Lyra whispered. “Bon Bon, do you think anypony outside of Ponyville knows what’s going on?”

“You know, I don’t think they do,” Bon Bon said, her eyes wide. “But… well, the only place near enough to send a messenger to is Cloudsdale, and none of us are pegasi.”

“But we have to tell them!” Lyra said, turning to face her friend. “Bon Bon, they’re probably an even bigger mess than we are right now!”

“Don’t worry, I got it!” a voice called from across the room. Lapis, Lyra, and Bon Bon all looked up at once, just in time to see the cloudy-gray pegasus from before take off towards a window - and then ram, face-first, into the wall beside the window.

Lapis winced, and Bon Bon huffed a sigh. “Derpy, no offense, but we might need a different pegasus for this one.”

“No, no, I got it,” said ‘Derpy,’ pulling her face off the ground with a pop. To Lapis’ surprise, the pegasus’ eyes were looking in two completely different directions, neither of which was forward. “Just gotta get outside first, and I’ll be there in no time!”

“No, you’re not going to fly anywhere at night, especially not outside of Ponyville town limits…” Bon Bon said, trotting over toward Derpy.

“…Is she okay?” Lapis muttered, glancing over at Lyra.

Lyra nodded, sighing. “Yeah, she’s alright, her eyes just kinda… do that. That’s Derpy Hooves, the town mail-pony. She’s good at her job, but a little clumsy.”

Well, that explains why I’ve been fixing so many broken mailboxes, Lapis thought, and he immediately felt bad for thinking it. “You think it’s a bad idea to let her fly to, uh, Cloudsdale?”

“Normally, it’d be no problem, but tonight…” Lyra stopped, her eyes narrowing in thought. “Or… today, I guess? Today, it could be an issue.”

Lapis nodded, glancing back at the pegasus. “Still, maybe we should let her know that we’re sending somepony. Just in case she has family over in Cloudsdale.”

“And as soon as somepony’s been sent, I will,” Bon Bon muttered, trotting back over from where she’d been talking to Derpy. “Right now, though, we have to focus on the danger to Ponyville. If something comes out of the Everfree, well, that’s where the guards are. They’ll take care of it. The real issue is what might happen if somepony inside the village starts causing trouble.”

“Causing trouble?” Lyra said, cocking her head. “But… it’s already an emergency, why would anypony cause trouble?”

“They wouldn’t do it on purpose, they’d be panicking,” Lapis said, the gears already turning in his head. “But what would we even do?”

“We’d figure out where everypony else is, and wait there,” Bon Bon said, grinning. “The town square.”

Bon Bon and Lyra turned and headed for the door. Lapis went to follow them, but paused when he saw Derpy scowl and scrunch her mis-aligned eyes in determination - then she took off, heading for the ceiling, but swerved just in the nick of time to pass through the window instead.

Lapis briefly considered trying to stop her - there was a fair chance she’d hurt herself, after all. But, I don’t have wings. And… well, even if I did, I don’t think I’d use them this time. If it were my family, I wouldn’t stop just because of one random pony.

…Besides, somehow, I think she’s got this. Lapis nodded, then turned and hurried to catch up to Lyra and Bon Bon.

Yeah. She’s got this.

Lapis felt his jaw drop as he reached the town square. Huh… not so panicky and useless after all, are they?

Ten minutes ago, the town square had just been one more wall of darkness, but whoever Mayor Mare had put in charge of illumination had been good at their job - wrought-iron and glass lanterns were scattered across the stone of the courtyard, so that the entire square was lit by dim, amber-hued circles. It almost looked like a modern-art piece; there were enough ponies seated or waiting in line, their colorful coats and manes contrasting against each other, that it looked as if a few dozen buckets of paint had been emptied across the square at random.
Along one side of the square was a single long row of splintery tables, where Mayor Mare’s designated cooks ladled oatmeal into the waiting ponies’ bowls. In one corner was the single biggest cauldron that Lapis had ever seen - a boulder of glinting pewter at least twice as tall as he was, with a roaring bonfire underneath and steam almost thick enough to be a cloud rolling off the top. As he watched, a well-built maroon stallion with an orange mane approached the cauldron, a smaller pot gripped in his teeth as if it were a basket. He climbed up a nearby stepladder, dunked the pot over the cauldron’s rim, and brought it back full to the brim with oatmeal, before climbing back down and trotting the pot toward one of the tables. Lapis could smell the oatmeal from here, and it wasn’t just plain - apple chunks with cinnamon and nutmeg, and maybe some crushed pecans?
It smelled delicious, but he seemed to be about the only pony that was enjoying the aroma. As he started making his way into the crowd, passing by little circles of ponies huddled around lanterns to eat, all the faces that he saw were tense - ears upright and flicking around to catch any noise, their eyes darting to the edge of the square as if expecting something to jump out and start attacking at any moment.
So… panicky, but not panicking, Lapis thought. You know what? That’s fair. Not like I’d be much better.

“There you are!” Bon Bon snapped, and Lapis turned to see her trotting toward him from one of the tables. “I swear, I take my eyes off you for three seconds- Never mind. So far, everything’s been alright, but we’d still better not drop our guard.”

“No kidding,” Lapis replied. “What needs done?”

Bon Bon blinked, her ears flicking suddenly upright. “By you? …Well, Granny Smith’s cooking pot is about ready to break. Do you have the magic to spare-”

“Yep,” Lapis said. “Just point to her, and then get me as soon as anything else is broken.”

“Well, if you’re sure… She’s all the way over there, at the end of the tables.”

Lapis nodded, then started trotting in the appropriate direction. There stood a pale green Earth-pony with a white mane and tail, both of which were tied back into tight, no-nonsense buns. She was old, old enough that Lapis could practically hear her joints creaking as she jerked the ladle of her pot in slow, crooked circles. Her cooking pot was in bad shape, one of the mounts for its handle looked like it was about to fall off.

“Excuse me, miss,” Lapis said, coming up to stand next to the old mare. “Sorry to bother you, but-”

“Whaaaa?” asked Granny Smith, cupping one hoof to her ear.

Lapis leaned closer, then continued. “I heard that you needed help with-”

Granny Smith scowled, putting her hoof down. “Help, with oatmeal? Now, you listen here, sonny. Ah’ve been makin’ oatmeal fer fifty years ‘fore you were a twinkle in yer sire’s eye, and Ah’ll go on makin’ oatmeal fer another ten yet. So if y’all wouldn’t mind, Ah’d thank you to leave the cookin’ to the per-fessionals.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of messing with your oatmeal recipe, the smell had my mouth watering from the other side of the square,” Lapis quickly said, raising a hoof apologetically. “It’s the cooking pot I’m here to help with. The handle isn’t looking too good, I’m over here to fix it.”

Granny cocked a snow-white eyebrow, glancing at the steaming pot of oatmeal and then squinting at Lapis right in his eyes. “Ah think the pot may be a mite hot fer that just now.”

“Not for me,” Lapis said. “It’ll take five seconds, nopony will get hurt, and I promise not to spill a single oat. Please?”

She continued to squint at him for a few moments, then shrugged and stepped back. “Yer call.”

“Thanks,” Lapis said, then he gripped the handle mount, pushed it into position, and shut his eyes. There was a flash of light, accompanied by a burst of warmth on Lapis’ flank and a sudden burst of fatigue that left him slightly weak at the knees.

He opened his eyes, and sure enough, the mount looked as if it had never been broken at all. “Perfect. Alright, I’m done.”

Lapis turned to look at Granny Smith, and found that she was preoccupied with blinking the spots from her eyes. Once she had, she squinted down at the pot, and grunted. “Seems you are. I’ll be impressed if you work out a way to do that fer mah hip.”

Lapis had just opened his mouth to reply when a crack rang out through the square like a gunshot. He whipped around, trying to spot the source, and for a moment he couldn’t see anything wrong. Then, slowly, the giant cauldron full of oatmeal started listing to the side with a deep metallic groan.

Oh shit.

All at once, Lapis was running - toward the cauldron. The large, red pony who had been on the ladder got there first. He snorted and set his jaw, reared up on his back hooves, and caught the cauldron, skidding an inch back on the flagstones. His front hooves smoked against the scalding pewter, an acrid scent like burning hair prickling Lapis’ nostrils.

“Can’t… hold it long!” the red pony bellowed, his face strained.

Lapis skidded to a stop beside Red. Behind him, half a dozen other ponies ran toward the pot, more behind them. He shut them out for now, ducked to see what had broken, squinting against the baking roar of the cook-fire, clenching his teeth against the rapid pounding of his pulse. The pot was held up on a ring-shaped metal stand with three scorched wood legs. One leg had snapped, splinters long as nails stabbing out from a length of wood as thick as Lapis’ leg. Wood?! Who the hell-

Beside Lapis, another pony tried to help hold the cauldron upright. His hoof hissed against the scorching metal, and he pulled away with a yelp. No time for questions. Fix it. Now!

Lapis grasped the leg of the stand with his magic, groaned as the heat of the fire slammed against him. He lifted the brace into position, jammed the splintered ends together, and pushed.

It might’ve been his imagination, but the flash of light seemed brighter than usual, and the surge of weakness that shot through his body seemed to leave his knees less steady than before. When Lapis opened his eyes, the stand was as whole as it had ever been. Red must’ve been able to feel the support - he didn’t wait for confirmation before dropping from the side of the pot, sitting on his rump and grimacing as he cradled his front hooves against his chest. His hooves were scorched black around the edges of his metal horseshoes, smoke rising from the char.

“You alright?” Lapis heard someone ask. Red turned, bright-green eyes meeting Lapis’, and Lapis realized dimly that the asking voice was his own.

“E-yup,” Red said, grinning. His voice was deep as a bass guitar, and had the same country twang as Granny Smith’s. “But Ah’d’ve been worse without your help. How’d you find the spare leg for the stand so fast?”

“…I didn’t,” Lapis said. “I fixed the old one. Though, if one leg broke just now, the others might be at the end of their rope too.”

Red nodded, wincing as he set his front hooves back on the ground. “E-yup. There’s some spare posts in the Apple family barn, but Ah think Ah’d better stay here.”

“Then you’ll be staying too, Lapis,” said a voice. Lapis turned to see that Bon Bon had arrived, the Mayor struggling for breath by her side.

“How much… galloping… do you do?” panted the mayor. “But yes… I need volunteers, five ponies, not Lapis, not Big Mac, to go to the Apple barn, grab the posts, brace this thing up.”

Five hooves shot up from the crowd at once, and Big Mac spoke again. “Applebloom, the posts are in the corner by the ladders. You know the one?”

“Well, yeah…” said a high voice. A small, meringue-yellow filly with a comically oversized red bow in her mane stepped out of the crowd, then nodded. “…Ah think so. But Big Mac, Ah can’t just leave you here alone!”

Lapis cocked an eyebrow, then winced as someone - Lyra - spoke directly from his side. How long has she been there for?

“Don’t worry, he’s not alone at all,” Lyra said, grinning. “We’re all right here, aren’t we?”

Big Mac chuckled. “E-yup. Ah’ll be fine, Applebloom, Ah promise. Just show these ponies where to get those posts, and hurry on back. Alright?”

Applebloom swallowed, her ears tucking back against her head. Then she nodded. “Alright.” She hesitated for a second, then turned and scampered off toward the edge of town, the volunteer ponies breaking into a trot after her.

As soon as she was out of visual range, Big Mac sighed, then sat back on the flagstones with a thump that Lapis felt more than heard. “Ah’d’ve hated for her to see me get hurt too bad,” he muttered, staring at the flagstones. “Thank you. All of you.”

“Least we can do,” Lapis replied, sitting down more gingerly beside the massive stallion. Lyra and Bon Bon taking a seat to Big Mac’s opposite side.

Big Mac glanced up, looking Lapis over. “Ah don’t think we’ve met before.”

“Well, I only moved in three days ago,” Lapis replied, offering a hoof. “Lapis Print.”

Big Mac eyed Lapis’ hoof, then raised his own in turn, still black around the horseshoe. “Big Macintosh. But Big Mac'll do fine.”

They shook hooves - Lapis wasn’t quite sure how, but somehow the feeling was the same as a handshake - then Big Mac turned to look at Lyra and Bon Bon. “And the two of you, Ah’ve seen before.”

“Lyra Heartstrings,” said Lyra, “and this is Bon Bon. I’m a musician, and she-”

“Runs the candy shop on Acorn Route, and occasionally manages to introduce herself,” Bon Bon cut in, grinning over at Lyra. “And Lapis here is this year’s repair-pony.”

Lapis blinked. “Wait. This year’s?”

Big Mac chuckled. “E-yup. And Ah’m a member of the Apple family.”

“That makes the two of you the busiest pair of ponies in town, huh?” Lyra added.

To Lapis’ surprise, Big Mac shook his head. “Nope. Applejack’s got both of us beat. Speakin’ of, anypony seen her lately?”

Oh. “Uh, she joined in with the rest of the team heading into the Everfree,” Lapis replied. Right on cue, a bestial roar echoed out of the forest, causing a few of the ponies - Lyra among them - to yelp in surprise. About a dozen of them scrambled to their hooves, and a third of those took off, screaming and skittering out of the lights of the town square.

“Wonderful,” Bon Bon muttered, glaring after the runners. “We’d better go catch those fillies once the posts are in place, or they might run into somepony’s window.”


Lapis looked around, then cocked an eyebrow. “Speaking of which…”

The five ponies who had left were walking in tandem into the town square, bearing a pile of wood posts atop their backs. Sat on the center of the stack was a grinning Applebloom, who waved at Big Mac as she got closer.

“Ah knew she remembered where those were,” Big Mac said, grinning and standing up. “Ah’ll take things from here. Once this is all over, y’all can come by the Apple farm any time you like - for now, go catch those other ponies.”

“Got it,” Bon Bon said, rising.

“You need a ha- hoof again, just holler,” Lapis added.

Big Mac nodded, then turned and started toward his sister. Lapis smiled as he watched them briefly embrace, then he turned and followed Bon Bon out of the main square, only briefly stumbling as one of his knees jittered.

“Okay,” Bon Bon started, “we’ve got four ponies running off into the town at random. If they could see, they’d probably end up inside their own homes, but since that’s not the case, they’ll be anywhere from ‘almost right’ to ‘the other side of town.’”

“Do we split up to look for them?” Lapis asked.

Bon Bon shook her head. “In this lighting, we’d just get lost too. We need lanterns first - or, well, I need a lantern. The two of you are unicorns, so you should be fine.”

“Yep,” Lyra chirped, and suddenly her horn was glowing the same hue of neon orange as her eyes, bright enough to light up the flagstones beneath her hooves for about five steps.

Lapis blinked in the light, then grimaced. Okay, I really need to find a beginner’s guide to magic somewhere. “So, let’s say I needed a lantern too…”

Lyra and Bon Bon both turned to look at him.

“…You don’t know a Hornlight spell either?” Bon Bon asked, raising an eyebrow. “Were you raised by griffons or something?”

“Bon Bon!” Lyra said, briefly shooting her friend a look before turning to Lapis. “I didn’t know much magic at all either, until three years ago. I only really needed telekinesis to play the lyre, so learning anything else wasn’t really important. Bon Bon is just used to working with more… versatile unicorns.”

Griffons? Lapis thought, confused.
Like, the half-lion half-eagle griffons?
Those exist here?
Okay. Sure, why not.

“Every unicorn in Canterlot knows how to cast a Hornlight,” Bon Bon muttered.

Lyra looked up, glancing at the houses around them, her expression surprised. “Wait, we’re in Canterlot? Wow, I never even noticed! Were the houses always so short here?”

Lapis snorted, and Bon Bon chuckled. “Oh, alright, I get it. I’m sorry for the comment, Lapis. There’ll be plenty of lanterns, I’m sure.”

“No harm done,” Lapis replied. “Though, Lyra, I might end up asking you for some guidebook recommendations or something.”

“I can do that,” Lyra said, turning and heading for a nearby alley. “Ooh! Hey, I found some extra lanterns over here!”

Bon Bon cocked her head, frowning. “Extra? What do you mean?”

“See for yourself!” Lyra beckoned them over with a hoof. Lapis and Bon Bon exchanged glances, then trotted over to look.

There, just beyond the entrance to the alleyway, was a disorganized pile of extinguished lanterns. They looked just like the ones in the town square, made from wrought-iron and cloudy yellow glass.

“That’s… odd,” Lapis muttered. “Shouldn’t these be lit already?”

Lyra shrugged. Bon Bon didn’t reply, instead turning to examine the front of the nearest building. She seemed to recognize it, and her face grew grim.

“Oh, they should be more than just lit,” she replied, her voice low. “This is Cantering Boulevard.”

Lyra frowned. “Wait, didn’t the Mayor say to light this street?”

Lapis nodded slowly, then reached out a hoof to touch one of the lanterns. “They’re still hot. These were lit a few minutes ago, tops.”

“Which means,” Bon Bon replied, “that somepony put them all out, and hid them here.”

She looked up, the light of Lyra’s horn casting deep shadows across her face. “Somepony wanted Cantering Boulevard to stay dark.”

“Oh, great. Just what we needed,” Lapis muttered, shutting his eyes. Fear, anger and something painful twisted in his stomach, and he felt his mouth twitch. I just had to think things would be easy, huh? Thanks, Murphy.

Then a scream echoed from around the corner of the alleyway.

Lapis’ gut wrenched, and he was halfway down the alley before he realized he’d started galloping. He whipped around the corner, looking down a shadowy side street, just in time to see the pegasus waitress from the Corner Cafe scrambling towards him on her back. She didn’t even look at him, she was busy staring into the darkness beyond Lapis’ vision.
Lyra rounded the corner a second later, and the light of her horn showed the faintest glimpse of something indistinct - a tendril, a wisp, maybe a tentacle? - darting out of sight.

“Lapis, catch!” Bon Bon barked, and Lapis looked over just in time to telekinetically snatch a broom handle out of the air. Bon Bon emerged from the alley a second later with a fluffy pink something grasped in one of her hooves, spinning the object like a flail too rapidly for Lapis to tell what it was.

“Monster,” the waitress gasped, staring at the space where the tendril had been. “Something long and thin- too dark to see, it felt too soft- it grabbed my hoof, it tried to get me, and-!”

Okay. She’s panicking. Nothing too weird here, just handle her like you’d handle Amanda. “Hey. Hey, look at me!” Lapis said, placing a hoof on the pegasus’ shoulder and meeting her gaze. “Look at me. You’re safe now. We’re safe. We’re gonna get you back to the main square, alright? Take a second to catch your breath, and we’ll go. Slow, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, can you do that?”

The pegasus nodded, and Lapis smiled. “Good. It’s easy, I promise. In, and out. In… and out. In… out.”

The waitress followed along as best as she could, taking deep, shuddering breaths, and Lapis felt her pulse began to settle under his hoof. “You’re doing great. Take as much time as you need, and then we’ll go.”

“Okay… okay.”

Lapis smiled again, then looked back at where the whatever-it-was had been, holding the broom handle awkwardly at his side, Lyra wrapping the waitress in a hug at once. Bon Bon had stopped spinning the fluffy pink thing, and Lapis could now identify it as a towel wrapped around what looked like a couple of the extra lanterns. He cocked an eyebrow at Bon Bon, and she spared him half a glare before turning back to the wall of darkness outside Lyra’s light.

“Alright, are you ready?” Lyra asked. The waitress nodded, then got back to her hooves, awkwardly shuffling her wings in a way that reminded Lapis of Nikki. Oh yeah, I wonder if she’s woken up at all yet?

As they set off back toward the town square, a high-pitched and vaguely-accented squawk echoed from the forest, followed by a faint, reverberating thud. Lapis cocked his head. Did that happen in the show? …I think that sounded like the sea serpent, maybe? So, I guess that means we’re about two-thirds of the way done. Huh.
That was fast.

“What was that?” asked Lyra.

“Nothing to worry about,” Lapis muttered. “…I mean, whatever it was, it was deep enough inside the Everfree that we don’t need to worry about it. Unless it starts getting closer, or something.”

Bon Bon glared at him, and Lapis blushed. “…Tell you what, I’ll just keep quiet and watch.”

“Please do,” Bon Bon replied.

Lapis nodded, then turned back to watch the shadows behind them. They looked like they were moving, but this wasn’t Lapis’ first rodeo with spookiness - it was his imagination, and he knew it. Still, it’d be a lot harder to keep calm if I were alone…
Like Nikki is right now, if she’s awake. A quiet ache of guilt settled into Lapis’ chest, and he sighed. Yeah, I’ve gotta get away from Bon Bon and Lyra again. Not for too long, just long enough to make sure Nikki’s okay. Can’t have either one of them seeing the inside of my house, though - I told them I had boxes everywhere, but… well, I don’t, and that’ll raise some questions.
Lapis set his jaw, then resumed his watch, his brow furrowing as he tried to come up with a plan.

When they got back to the square, Bon Bon only slowed down long enough to grab and light the two lanterns she’d taken from the pile. She passed one to Lapis, then surprised him by holding the other in one hoof and walking tripedally down the same street they’d embarked down before.
Lapis watched, cocking an eyebrow, as Bon Bon raised the lantern high in one of her front hooves, then stepped forward with her other front hoof - and somehow, didn’t fall over despite having both her front hooves completely off the ground.
…You know what? That’s fine. Lapis pointedly lifted his lamp into the air via telekinesis, then carried on.
The street was just about pitch-black, aside from the fiery light of Lyra’s horn, and the less-intense light from Bon Bon and Lapis’ lanterns. The stars were so dim as to be almost nonexistent, and even the full moon was barely enough to outline most surfaces. The pointed rooves of the Ponyville houses, in this light, suddenly became pointed blotches of pitch-black against the pale spotting of the night sky - they looked, Lapis felt, rather like a row of giant teeth might, if viewed from inside the mouth.

“So where do you think those other three ponies are?” Lapis muttered.

“I don’t know,” Bon Bon said, “but we need to find them fast. Lyra, do you know any spells to locate them?”

“Not unless they’re singing,” Lyra sighed. “Lapis, any sp- …I mean, ideas?”

“Ouch,” Lapis muttered, but he took the opportunity. “Well, I’ve got two. Either we split up to cover more ground, which I don’t like, or we get more ponies searching.” And, if there’s more ponies searching, that means it’ll be harder to notice if I disappear to check on Nikki.

Bon Bon huffed. “There’s no time to organize a formal search party, and besides, that’ll just lead to more ponies panicking.” She took a deep breath, then sighed. “We’re going to head down this road until we’re about fifty paces from the edge of town. Once we’re there, I’m going to circle around clockwise listening for the sound of anypony panicking. Lapis, Lyra, you two stay together and head counterclockwise.”

“Wait, what?” Lapis and Lyra said together.

“I just said that wasn’t a good plan,” Lapis said.

“Bon Bon, what do you think you’re doing?” Lyra added. “It’s just as dangerous for you out there as it is for us!”

“Yes, but in case you haven’t noticed, I can handle it,” Bon Bon replied, turning to stare at them. “We have to split up. It’s the only thing we have time to do, and the two of you will be safer together than either of you would be alone.”

“But what about you, Bon Bon?” Lyra replied, leaning forward, worry plain in how far her ears were folded back. “You’ll be alone! What if the monster comes after you?!”

“If that happens, I’ll yell, and then I’ll kick its tail,” Bon Bon replied, her tone perfectly casual. “And you’ll do the same thing if it comes after you. Got it?”

Oh, this is not happening. “Uh, no, I don’t got it,” he said. “Listen, you and Lyra have been together for a long time. You know each other way better than I know either of you, you’ll have a much better shot at working together if something else happens.”

“And you’ll fare any better by yourself than I will?” Bon Bon asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Bullshitting practice, don’t fail me now. “Maybe not,” Lapis replied, levitating the lantern down by his hip and spinning the broom handle out to his side. “But you’ll definitely fare better with somepony than you would without. I’d be willing to bet that you’ve spent more time working as part of a squad than I have, ergo, you’ll do better with somepony by your side than I would. And as for me…” Lapis paused, trying to come up with something that made sense. “Well, I’m the town repair-pony. I fix things. I know how to keep myself together, too. And besides…”

Lapis paused before he got the last words out. This part might be too much… no, y’know what, she doesn’t look convinced yet. Either I say it and maybe look like an idiot, or I don’t say it and I lose my chance.

Despite his reasoning, Lapis still felt his cheeks growing warm under Bon Bon’s gaze as he spoke. “…Besides, maybe I actually was raised by griffons. And maybe griffons know how to take care of themselves.”

Bon Bon’s eyebrows shot right up - then, to Lapis’ astonishment, she actually seemed to buy it, her ears tucking back as she grimaced and looked awkwardly to the side. Lyra, however, raised her hoof. “Hi, can I talk now? Please?”

Lapis and Bon Bon exchanged looks, then nodded.

“Great! Thanks!” Lyra took a deep breath, then shouted, “NO! No splitting up! Either of you! There’s something scary out there, and we all know it, and nopony is going to try and take it on alone!”

Lapis’ jaw dropped as Lyra leveled a hoof at Bon Bon. “You first. I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight, Bon Bon, but whatever it is, you’re taking it too far. You’re acting like some guardspony captain out of Canterlot, and you’re not! You run a candy shop, Bon Bon, and I run it with you. I watch you jump up on the counter to get away from spiders - hay, I sweep them outside for you! I’m not about to let you wander off alone just because you decide tonight’s the night to live out one of your Tom Prancy novels!”

“And as for you,” she said, turning to face Lapis, “you’ve already put yourself at enough risk for one night! First you run off alone as soon as this ‘Twilight’ unicorn thinks she has half a plan, then you cast a real, actual Mend-All spell with a wagon-sized pot of oatmeal about to fall on your head, and now this?!” She waved the same accusatory hoof at Lapis, her eyes wide. “I don’t know if you’ve looked at yourself lately, Lapis, but you look about tired enough to drop, raised by griffons or not!”

“No,” Lapis muttered, “that’s just how my face-”

“Oh, horseapples it’s just your face! It’s also your knees, your puffy eyes, and the fact that you’re not casting any magic besides telekinesis.” Lyra pressed a hoof to her barrel. “I know what mana-burn looks like, Lapis. I know what happens if you push it too far. Don’t keep going like this, please, you’ll only hurt yourself!”

Then, finally, Lyra seemed to run out of steam. She sighed, then sat back on the street with a thump, her ears tucked back as she staring at the ground between her sticking-out legs. Even now, she’s sitting like a human, Lapis thought. …And that’s what I notice? Really?
Lapis exchanged a look with Bon Bon. No words were spoken, but they seemed to reach an agreement regardless, because when Lapis sat down beside Lyra, Bon Bon did the same on her other side. Absently, Lapis tried bending one of his knees, and found that they were almost too weak to bend. Oh. Guess fixing those pots really did take it out of me.
Wait. I can just call Nikki from outside of my house.
…Yeah, I’m definitely too tired for this crap.

Bon Bon was first to speak. “Lyra, I… I’m sorry. I was so worried about everypony else in Ponyville that I forgot to stop and think about you and me. I never meant to make you worry about me, Lyra, and I promise I’ll try not to give you anything else to worry about.”

Lyra sniffled, but turned her head and smiled at her friend. Lapis took a deep breath, then said, “…And I’m sorry too. For… well, basically the same thing, plus running myself ragged enough that I might have trouble standing up here in a second.”

Bon Bon looked up sharply at that, but Lapis carried on. “I guess I just got so tired that I started doing stuff without thinking it through first. You’re right, and I’m sorry for not seeing it sooner. I’ll take better care of myself from here on out.”

“We’re all tired,” Lyra giggled, her voice cracking a little. “We’ve stayed up for at least one more hour of night than we were expecting, y’know.”

“Well, I suppose we have,” Bon Bon said, a hesitant grin creeping across her face. “Why don’t we head back to the town square, make sure the missing ponies have come back, and then see if we can catch some sleep?”

Lyra shook her head, to Lapis’ mixed relief and disappointment. “No. We’ve gotta find those ponies. Celestia only knows what kind of trouble they’re in right now.”

“Alright,” Bon Bon said. “Still, it won’t hurt to check the town square first, right?”

Lyra nodded, sniffled again, then stood back up. Lapis stood up soon after, grunting at the effort it took, his legs suddenly burning with the strain of supporting his weight. Oh. Wow. Okay.

Bon Bon took notice, glancing back at Lapis. “Hey, you alright?”

“I’m good,” Lapis grunted. “Should be able to get back to the town square just fine, but after that I think I had better sit down for-”

He paused, confused, as he felt something soft and light wrap around his back left hoof. Then, suddenly, it pulled, and Lapis barely had time to yelp before he was dragged back into the dark. His vision went black as his head hit the ground, and he knew no more.

“…and unless you can get that cash back to us within a week, we’ll have no choice but to involve your parents in the repayment process.”

Lapis’ head was resting on something hard and warm. Wood, if the knothole jutting into his chin was anything to judge by. His jaw was aching, and a spike of hot pain flared through the back of his head with every heartbeat. Wincing, he opened his eyes, but found that it was too dark to figure out where he was. He tried to think, to remember, but it felt like there was fog in his brain - he could remember waking up, and he remembered who he was, but how he got here was a mystery.

“Wha?” he croaked, picking up his head and trying to stand up - then grimacing as fire shot through his legs, and he fell to all fours. For a second, he was confused by the echoing knock his hands made as they hit the ground. Then he remembered he had hooves, and that he was a pony, and the fog in his head washed away as Lapis remembered-

It got me, Lapis realized, his blood running cold. The thing in the shadows.

“Do you understand?” the voice asked again. It was calm, polite, neither cold nor warm. “Eighty thousand, in full, by the end of the week. Or we’ll have to take whatever you have, and your parents will start paying for the rest.”
Lapis frowned, confused, as a shape took form within the shadows, the darkness around him contracting to reveal he was standing inside his own bedroom.
And sharing the space with him was… a pony, a pale-maroon stallion in a suit, sitting on one of his spare chairs with a briefcase before his legs. His gaze was flat, his eyebrows raised, in an expression that might’ve looked like sympathy if not for the words he’d been saying. “I know it’s hard to accept, but those were the terms you signed. There’s nothing you can do,” he continued. “If it wasn’t what you wanted, you should’ve thought of that before you accepted the application.”

Lapis cocked an eyebrow at the apparition. Wait a minute. Is that…

His mouth twitched. It trembled. Then, Lapis could contain it no more, and a cold, humorless laugh shuddered its way out of his throat. His knees shivered, then gave way, but Lapis continued to chuckle even as he fell to a seat.

“Excuse me?” he said, glaring at the apparition of Nightmare Moon’s magic, continuing to smile as his head began to grow hot. “I know it’s your shtick to mess with ponies’ heads, but… what?! Of all the things you could’ve picked to scare me with - fire, claustrophobia, spooky noises, anything with big teeth - you decided that the scariest thing I can think of is defaulting on my student loan debt?!”

Lapis laughed again, even louder than before, and every bit of hysterical stress in him went with it. His gut twisted with fear of the situation he was in, anger at the ridiculousness of it and raw, heart-aching guilt for being able to see something to laugh at in the first place. But he laughed anyway, because the scariest thing this world could throw at him was a unicorn with a tie, and that was just sad.

Finally, Lapis cut himself off, and grinned levelly at the pony behind the desk, shutting out the ache in his back legs as he stood. “Well, guess what? You’re right. It is scary, and I’m terrified of it. Which is why I haven’t stopped working on it since I got here. I’m going to get back to Earth, and when I do, I’ll be bringing enough diamonds with me to deflate the jewelry market. You think there’s nothing I can do? Well, I hate to break it to you, you big cloud of smoke, but there is, and I’m already doing it!” He pointed at the door. “Get the hell out of my house. Or else, I’ll grab a blanket and waft you out-”

“NOOOOOOOOO!” echoed a distant scream from outside, and the next second, a burst of light brighter than the sun flashed through Lapis’ window. It washed directly over Lapis, and he felt the weakness in his legs fade just a little, his Cutie Mark briefly pulsing with warmth against his flank.

Then, the light faded, and Lapis opened his eyes to see that he was alone in the room. The pony with the briefcase had vanished, and in its place was a small, inky blotch of black fog, pooled and writhing on the floor but otherwise immobile.

Lapis took a deep breath, then stepped around the whatever-it-was on the floor and headed for his front door. Was that the Elements just now? Had to be. Then… sunrise should be coming in around thirty seconds or so. He’d done it. He’d survived the night, he was home free. Where was Nikki?

Something behind him hissed, long and slow as steam from a leaky pipe.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Lapis muttered, spinning to face behind himself. “What now-”

The words died in his throat as he saw what was coalescing in his bedroom. The knot of smoke had risen from the floor, and more and more blotches of it were pouring through the window, rushing down from the Everfree and inside Ponyville alleyways, melding with the spherical cloud of shadow right in front of Lapis. As he watched, a slit formed in the shadow, opening to reveal a vertical, blue-green, slit-pupiled eye.

“Nikki, get help!” Lapis had time to yell. Before he could do anything else, the eye of the cloud snapped shut, and a tendril of vapor darted toward his face. It wormed its way into Lapis’ nose, and he made the mistake of gasping, allowing more of the stuff to pour into his mouth. He stumbled back, away from the body of the shadow and into the front room of his shop, then froze as he felt his fear suddenly vanish, snuffed out and replaced by cold anger.
Lapis hesitated, then kicked out at the smoke, realizing that the weakness in his legs was gone entirely. The shadow recoiled, pulling itself back and curling into a corner, shrinking as Lapis gritted his teeth and glared at it.
I feel… good, he realized. Better than ‘good,’ he felt wide awake, his mind as clear and sharp as ice as he stared down at the latest source of his frustration, the shakiness in his legs replaced by a cold, perfect steadiness, an odd blue-green tint coloring the edges of his vision. I could kill that thing myself. I feel like I could grab enough gold and gems to buy an island or two back on Earth… or maybe enough to put my loan company out of business. And why shouldn’t I?

A sudden flapping of wings echoed through the air, and Nikki landed on Lapis’ back, her wing snapping out to slap clean through a tendril of shadow that had been curling up his neck, around the side of his jaw. Lapis coughed, smoke washing out of his mouth and nose, and suddenly the coldness was gone, the tint fading from his vision as his aches and pains returned with a throbbing heat. Wait, what the hell was that?!

The shadow in the corner hissed, shooting another tendril down Lapis’ throat, and he felt his legs growing cold again. Nikki squawked a warning, but Lapis was already moving, wrapping a hoof around the tendril and pulling it from his mouth himself, his foreleg trembling with the effort. The shadow hissed again, trying to lunge forward, but Lapis just barely held it off, something ocurring to him as he held the parasite back.

“I don’t care,” he said, his voice strained, “how much power… you’d give me. I think I know what you did to Nightmare Moon, and I will never bring you back home.”

The shadow screeched, then wrenched its tendril free of Lapis’ grip. Lapis heard the door to his shop opening behind him, then the whatever-it-was twisted like a pony, bucking him right in the barrel. Lapis braced, expecting to crash into the wall-

“Lapis!” shouted a voice, and suddenly a feeling like warm water engulfed him, washing over his body for just a moment before he dropped to the floor, unharmed. A second later, Lyra was standing next to him, glaring at the shadowy thing in his living room, pawing the ground like she was about to charge, the orange glow of her horn ominously bright.

“Lyra?” Lapis said, but then a cream-yellow blur crashed through Lapis’ window, tackling the shadow to the ground in a spray of broken glass. It hissed and screeched, twisting into the shape of a pony as it grappled with a snorting, straining Bon Bon.
Golden sunlight flooded the room, and the shadow screamed like tearing metal as smoke began to pour off its body. It slipped away like a liquid, Bon Bon yelping as her hooves suddenly curled shut around thin air, and darted toward the hallway-

-oh no you don’t-

-thumping to a stop against the floor as Lapis grabbed it by the tail. It turned to look back at him, its single slit-pupiled eye glancing between Lapis and the sun, then it grew wings and flew toward the hallway, Lapis yelling as it dragged him behind, spreading his legs as he was dragged toward the doorway. His hooves hit the doorframe with two solid thunks, and Lapis groaned as his legs began to burn from the strain of holding the nightmare at bay, his shivering knees slowly bending-

“I can’t… hold it!” he said, and for a heartbeat, he was alone, his legs failing beneath him as he crumpled toward the darkness.

And suddenly Bon Bon and Lyra were next to him, grabbing the shadow and pulling it back from the hallway, Lapis finally getting a chance to breathe as he slowly, shudderingly straightened his shaking legs. Even Nikki pitched in, grabbing a wisp of the thing in her claws and flying toward the window, straining as her wings beat with all their strength.

“Together!” Lyra said, her voice clear. “Out the window, on three! One, two, three!”

They heaved, Lapis screaming as he put everything he had into pulling the nightmare into the light, and the shadow screeched in terror as it shot backward over their heads into the sunlight. Lapis fell backward in a daze, watching dimly as the shadow flew out the window and dissolved into wisps of steam, vanishing with a final hiss like water on a stovetop.

For a second, it was all that Lapis could do to lie there and keep from passing out. Then, slowly, he rolled back onto his legs, straining as he stood back up, Bon Bon ducking to wrap one of his forelegs over her shoulder. “Easy,” she said. “Take it slow. You did good work.”

“Thanks,” Lapis mumbled. “You alright?”

“Peachy. Lyra?”

“I’m good!” Lyra panted, waving up from the floor, her voice exhausted. “Just… gimme a second. Might’ve… kinda forgotten to breathe there. Oh, look, the sun’s up, thank Celestia.”

Bon Bon quickly turned to look her over, then nodded. “You’re fine. Alrighty then, so, Lapis?”

Lapis was just awake enough to feel a prickle of unease at the tone of Bon Bon’s voice. “Uh-huh?”

Bon Bon began slowly leading him to the table and the pair of chairs by the broken window of his shop, where he’d been reading the Reference Guide only a few hours earlier. “After you disappeared,” Bon Bon said, “Lyra spent ten minutes telling me all about a little something called mana-burn. You know what that means for you?”

“I get the feeling I’m not going to like it,” Lapis muttered.

“It means,” Bon Bon said, brushing off one of his chairs and pushing him firmly onto it, “that you are going to sit in this chair, and you are going to stay there until you’re ready to go to sleep, and you will do absolutely nothing else otherwise. Is that clear?”

“Whoa, hold up-”

“I said, is that clear, Lapis Print?”

“Okay, I get it, Mom,” Lapis said, raising his free hoof in surrender. “Stay put until naptime. No problem. Just… tell me you found those other ponies, please.”

“Yep, we did,” Lyra said, getting back to her hooves and taking a deep breath. “By the time we had to stop looking for you, they’d all found their way back to the town square. Whatever those smoke-things that Nightmare Moon sent out were, they didn’t seem interested in actually hurting anypony. Just… keeping them scared and in the dark.”

“Except for that last one,” Bon Bon said. “That one… it just felt different. Like Nightmare Moon, but less… directed, more wild. Lapis, what happened to you?”

“Not a lot,” Lapis muttered. “The one that grabbed me knocked me out, and after that it must’ve dragged me here, because this is where I woke up. It tried to show me my worst fear, but… well, that didn’t work. Then the Elements of Harmony went off, and-”

“Wait, that flash of light were those Elements of Harmony thingies?” Lyra asked. “How do you know?”

Lapis hesitated. “Well… I mean, the sun’s up, so it kinda had to be.”

Lyra nodded, but her ears tucked back a little, and Bon Bon fixed him with a pointed, unmoving stare. Lapis felt his ears try to fold back, grimaced, and consciously flicked them back upright before he carried on. “After the Elements went off, something was… different. Before, that thing was the same sparkly-purple smoke as Nightmare Moon’s mane, but… well, you saw how dark it was.”

“Lapis,” Lyra cut in again. “I… I know you’ve been through a lot, and I totally understand if now’s not a good time, but… you knew something about Nightmare Moon, didn’t you?”

Lapis froze. Uh-oh. He was in no state to run, and judging by the look on Bon Bon’s face, she might actually tackle him to the floor if he tried to leave. Nikki didn’t look like she’d be any help, either - she was perched on the table beside them, looking up at Lapis with wide-eyed, worried interest. This… might actually be it.

Lapis sighed, his ears folding back, and this time he didn’t bother to flick them up as he stared down at the table. “What gave it away?” he muttered.

“Whenever Nightmare Moon laughed, you always got this strange look on your face,” Lyra said. “And… well, it seems like you already knew about the Elements of Harmony.”

Lapis took a slow, deep breath, trying to buy himself some time to think. I mean, I could tell them everything, but they’d never believe it. And even if they did, that’d be worse - I’d end up disrupting the entire show, and then any edge I might have is gone.

“The Elements,” Lapis began slowly, “I knew about from a book I’d picked up this- well, I guess it’d be yesterday morning, now. It’s the same book I was reading in the Town Hall, before Nightmare Moon arrived. I read that the Princesses had used them to fix some other big problems, and I was hoping that maybe… maybe somepony with a little more talent than me could find them, and use them to take care of Nightmare Moon. So, when I heard the Princess’ student say she was heading to the library, I galloped over there and got the book into her hooves as quickly as I could. After that… well, you know everything else I said about the Elements.”

“But what about you and Nightmare Moon?” Lyra said. “Lapis, I don’t know what you felt whenever that pony laughed, but the reason we knew where to start looking for you in the first place was because… we heard you laughing, and… and it…”

“It sounded almost exactly like her laughter did,” Bon Bon finished. Lyra’s ears folded back as she looked away in shame, but she nodded. That familiar mix of emotions twisted in Lapis’ gut again, and he grimaced. Y’know, I almost wish you were grilling me on the Elements, instead.

“I… never knew Nightmare Moon,” he admitted. “Last night was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on her, and I’ll be glad if it was the last. But-” Lapis grimaced, his throat trying to close around his next words. He swallowed, then tried again. “Her laugh meant something, and I knew what it was. I recognized it, because- because I’ve meant it myself. I’ve meant it before, and I meant it just now.
“It scares me to say this, but, well, I think Nightmare Moon and I have something in common. And… well, I think whatever took control of Princess Luna, the pony who used to be Nightmare Moon, thought so too. Because it was trying to do the same thing to me, when you and Lyra helped me throw it into the sunlight.”

“So, the Nightmare has been returned to its realm after all?” said a new voice. “That’s quite the relief. Well done, my little ponies.”

The chair opposite Lapis scraped, and Lapis looked up to see that Bon Bon had gotten out of it and sunk into a low bow facing the window. He saw Lyra scrambling to do the same as he turned to look out the shattered window.

Advancing toward them was… well, she was shaped like someone had taken a pony about Lapis’ size, given them proportions and facial features a little closer to those of a real horse, and then made them twice the usual size. Maybe three times. She had a pure-white coat, almost painfully bright to look at, and her mane and tail were shimmering, psychedelic blurs of greens, purples and pinks that reminded Lapis of Aurora Borealis, floating and waving as if moved by a constant invisible breeze. Her Cutie Mark, partially covered by the tip of her folded wing, was an ornate, golden representation of the sun, and perched atop her long, spiraling horn was a simple, jeweled crown.

Lapis felt the rush of adrenaline in his veins, and quickly took a bow himself, almost falling on his face as he got out of his chair. “Your Grace,” he said. Princess Celestia. No way it could be anyone else.

He heard her chuckle. “Goodness, I haven’t heard that one in a while. You may rise, all of you.”

Lapis rose, and found that the Princess was looking directly at him with a regal, amused smile. The Mayor was standing awkwardly at her side, glancing at the ground as if trying to pick the best spot to kneel on.

“So, I understand the three of you have had a busy Summer Sun Celebration Eve?” asked Princess Celestia, her smile the gentle warmth of a sunbeam, her gaze seeming to look directly into Lapis’ soul.

“Uh, certainly not busier than yours, Your Grace,” Lapis replied. “Lyra and Bon Bon here caught the worst of it, though - I was unconscious for a good part of it, so at least I managed to catch some rest.”

“Says the pony who’s been pulling Mend-All spells out of his rump all day long!” Lyra said, shooting Lapis a sudden stern look. She blinked, then grew pale as she remembered that Princess Celestia was there, her ears flattening back against his head. “Um… pardon my Prench, Your Highness.”

“I’ve heard worse,” the Princess chuckled. “Although… multiple Mend-All spells? That’s quite impressive, Mister…”

Uh-oh, Lapis thought as Celestia waited for his name. “Uh, it’s Print, Your Grace. Lapis Print. And fixing things is just my special talent, I learned it at about the same time as telekinesis. But Bon Bon here, well, she runs a candy shop normally, but tonight she did at least a third of the work to keep this town running. And Lyra here did a better job keeping everypony calm than either of us could’ve. Not to mention Nikki over there-” Nikki cooed in surprise at being mentioned, but otherwise kept still- “who’s probably as much a reason as everypony else in this building that the, uh, Nightmare is gone now.”

“I see,” Princess Celestia replied, nodding thoughtfully. “Well, I think the four of you have done Ponyville, and Equestria, a great service by dealing with the creature that had possessed my sister. I had suspected it would search for another pony to latch onto, somepony who had a lot to lose, and greatly feared losing it - desperately enough, perhaps, to accept help from anypony or anything that offered it. That, I think, is what you have in common with Princess Luna.”

“Oh.” Lapis felt his ears flicking back. “You heard that, huh?”

Princess Celestia nodded, not a trace of anger in her expression. “We may be royalty, but that doesn’t make us quite so different from other ponies. Don’t think we would be offended that you see some part of yourself in us, nor that we might begrudge your standing together where my sister fell alone.”

She paused, her ear twitching as if she were listening to something, then spoke again. “You may know that, long ago, Princess Luna ruled over the night as I govern the day, and that she moved the moon as I do the sun. What you may not know is that, as I protect Equestria’s citizens from the worries of the waking world, she guarded them from the dangers of their dreams.
“However, her burden was heavy indeed, and as time wore on, she began to worry she might be unable to protect her little ponies. Then, a creature came forth from a place of darkness and fear, and showed her a vision of the very thing she sought to prevent - all her subjects paralyzed by terror, tormented by the things they couldn’t face alone. It told her that this vision was the future, and offered her its power to aid in stopping it. But I suspect you know the cost of the Nightmare’s aid.”

“My sister fell,” Princess Celestia said, “because she tried to face her darkest fears alone, and lost herself to obsessing over their prevention at any cost. You, Lapis Print, chose to turn to the ponies around you instead of facing your problems alone, and that is why the Nightmare couldn’t claim you. It’s a lesson that many ponies must endure in their lives, one that Princess Luna congratulates you- or would congratulate you for learning, were she here.”

“And she’s alright now? Princess Luna, I mean?” Lapis asked.

Princess Celestia blinked, her eyes briefly widening by the barest sliver of an inch. Then she nodded, her warm smile returning to her face as she giggled. “She’s quite alright, yes. The Elements were able to free her from the Nightmare’s grasp, and I imagine she’ll make a quicker recovery than even she expects.”

Lapis sighed in relief, a knot he hadn’t realized was in his gut twisting loose. “Good. Nob- uh, nopony should have to deal with the Nightmare at all, let alone for as long as she must have.” He blinked, then blanched as he realized what he’d said.

“And nopony will need to fear its return again,” Princess Celestia said, her voice firm but still friendly, a forgiving smile gracing her expression. “Now, much as I would like to stay for the rest of the Summer Sun Celebration, the rest of Equestria is yet unsure of what brought about the events of last night. As such, I must depart for Cloudsdale-”

A sudden crunch from off to the side interrupted the Princess, and she glanced to the side, then chuckled. “Or perhaps Manehattan, as it seems Cloudsdale may already be informed.”

Lapis glanced over, then saw Derpy Hooves emerging from the wreckage of a wagon full of hay, rubbing her head with a hoof as she stretched her wings. She looked exhausted - parts of her mane were sticking out, and her eyelids were sagging so low it was a wonder she could see at all - but the grin on her face was nothing short of triumphant.

“Huh,” Lapis heard Bon Bon mutter, her voice low. “She made it.”

“Of course she did… Uh, thanks, Your Grace. For explaining everything, I mean,” Lapis said, quickly taking another bow.

Again, Princess Celestia chuckled. “Not at all, Lapis Print. I look forward to seeing you again.” Her horn came aglow with golden light, and the shards of Lapis’ window lifted off the floor of his workshop, gently whistling back into place inside their frame - then, with a flash of light and a crackle like bubble wrap, Lapis’ window was as whole as it had ever been, and the Princess’ blurred form was walking away on the other side.

“Wow,” Lyra breathed. “That was… the fastest Mend-All spell I’ve ever seen!”

“No kidding,” Lapis said, his voice hushed. Is… that what it looks like when I do it? No, fixing this up would’ve taken me at least three hours, and she just did it… all at once. In less than five seconds.
Wow. No wonder she’s royalty.

Lapis tried to imagine what the process of what fixing the window would’ve been like for him, and was instantly rewarded with a throbbing headache. He winced, and Bon Bon took notice. “And speaking of ponies who need to recuperate…”

“Yeah, some bed rest sounds pretty good right now,” Lapis replied, wincing and raising a hoof to his head. “You guys better get some sleep too, I’m sure you’re just as bad as I am.”

“We’re getting you home first,” Lyra said, rising to her hooves with a yawn. “Where is your house, anyway?”

“This is it,” Lapis muttered, stifling a yawn of his own, rising from his feet and gesturing toward the hallway. “Seriously, my bedroom is just back there, I can walk fifteen steps to get there just fine.”

“Oh,” Lyra replied. “Huh. Well, it’s really nice! I love the window!”

“Yeah, me too, that’s why I put the table and chairs there,” Lapis said.

Bon Bon blushed. “Well… I’m glad the Princess fixed it, then.”

“You did what you had to do, and besides, I would’ve repaired it in like, a day,” Lapis yawned, waving a dismissive hoof. “Anyway, uh… thanks. Like, for real, you saved my sorry rump. I don’t have a clue how I’m going to pay you back.”

“Start by getting some bed rest,” Bon Bon said. “And maybe follow it up by letting us help you unpack… where is all your stuff, anyway?”

“Don’t have any,” Lapis muttered, scrubbing one of his eyes. God, I’m about to drop, huh? “Kinda moved here in a hurry. Working on it.”

“Ooooh,” Lyra said, nodding as if she’d just realized something. Lapis frowned over at her, but he was too tired to really care about what was going on. “Well… I guess we’ll let you get some sleep, then. C’mon, Bon Bon, we’re tired too, let’s go!”

“Wha-” Bon Bon began, but Lyra was already pushing her out the door. “See you around, Lapis!”

“See you,” Lapis replied, waving as Lyra shut the door. He yawned again as Nikki flew over onto his back, turning and heading for his bedroom. Wonder what that was about. …Eh.

Lapis flopped onto his bed with all the grace of a fish on land, too tired even to pull the blankets over himself as he rolled onto his back, Nikki perching on his sidetable. He glanced at the pigeon, and a twinge of guilt plucked at his chest.

“Hey, thank you too,” Lapis said, looking over at Nikki. “I’m sorry I just kinda… left you in here, through almost all of last night. You saved me from that thing at least twice today, and I’m gonna pay you back. Tomorrow, I’m getting you a bag of birdseed bigger than I am.”

Nikki smirked, making an aw-shucks sort of gesture with her wing, then yawned and nestled down on the nightstand. Lapis grinned, rolling his eyes, then settled back into bed. Finally. I can rest for a while. I don’t need to worry about the protagonists, or the script, or getting the attention of any important ponies…
…like the Princess…
…wait, did she say she “looked forward to seeing me again?!”

Lapis sat bolt upright, his eyes snapping open. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit!”

Something light and fluffy smacked against his front hoof with a whap. Lapis looked down, surprised, and saw Nikki glaring up at him with one open eye, folding the wing she’d just slapped him with. She pointed back toward his pillow with one wing, then pointedly shut her eyes and went back to sleep.

“…Tomorrow,” Lapis agreed. He nodded, leaning back, and was out before he hit the pillow.

Princess Celestia was sitting at her writing desk, calmly composing a set of letters - one for every small town and village in Equestria. She’d already visited all the larger cities personally, and would make appointments to visit the remaining towns over the course of the next week. It would add quite the delay to the tax reform she’d been planning, of course, but some things were more important.

For example, her dear sister, Princess Luna. She was sitting on a cushion by the window, staring out at the towering skyline of Canterlot with a queer look of melancholy on her face. Her eyes traced the peaks and points of the unfamiliar towers and rooftops, and yet she barely even seemed to see them.

“Sister,” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. “How can we… ever hope to take up the burden of dreams again, now that we have failed so drastically?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Princess Celestia asked, looking up from her writing.

“Our… no, thy little ponies,” Luna said, still staring out the window. “The only princess they have ever known is thee, Sister. Our name is all but forgotten, overwritten by the monster’s title we earned by our shortsightedness. Our duties are assumed null, our moon moved by your horn, our evening sky feared more than e’er before. How…” She placed a hoof against the glass of the window, staring at her own uncertain expression. “How can we pretend such a right to their trust, as to tread into their dreams again? How can we hope to help thy ponies stand against their fears, when we ourselves could not withstand our own?”

Celestia set her quill aside. “My dear Luna, do you remember why you took up the duty of facing dreams?”

“We do, Sister,” Luna replied, looking over at Celestia again. “Your nightmares have not returned?”

“No,” Princess Celestia replied, smiling. “They have not. Not only because of your help in confronting my own Nightmares, but because you guided me to seek out aid. You saw the Mayor of Ponyville, didn’t you?”

Luna didn’t chuckle, but a smile flickered briefly on her face. “We did, yes. She seemed… not what we expected thee to approve of in the office of a Mayor.”

“No, she is not,” Celestia replied. “And yet Ponyville failed to reduce itself to rubble in the absence of my guiding hooves. Do you think I would’ve believed such a thing was possible, if you hadn’t taught me to share my responsibility in the first place?”

“Perhaps not,” Princess Luna said, a frown slowly dawning on her brow. “Sister, if you are suggesting we delegate our duties… we fear the books that teach our arts crumbled to mold centuries ago.”

“Then perhaps you should take students,” Princess Celestia replied. “I have done much the same. I can’t say all of my students were successful, but many are. My current protege, for example, is quite promising.”

“She who used the Elements of Harmony upon us,” Princess Luna replied. “We are acquainted, yes. Dost thou mean to… someday…”

Princess Celestia paused, staring into the distance. “Perhaps,” she whispered. “Someday. But for now, I am content to help her learn at her own pace, and to force no more responsibility upon her than what she seeks out herself. I find that she takes quite enough.”

Luna nodded. “We… we fear, sister, that thy ponies would not learn from us. That they would hear our name, and see only the monster that sought to take them from thee, and to take the daylight from themselves.”
She sniffled, blinking rapidly as she looked down at her own hooves. “We fear… that we have earned nothing less than their fear. Their hatred. And that… that to seek to restore their trust would be an act more monstrous yet. That exposing them once to the danger we represent unknowingly may be partially excused by our ignorance, but that to take them into our hooves again, with full knowledge of the atrocities we are capable of committing…”

Her voice caught briefly, and Celestia rose from her desk, walking to sit beside her sister and folding her own wing across Luna’s back.

“You won’t need to restore my trust in you, Luna,” she said. “You never lost it. Not for a moment.”

Luna sniffed again. She coughed. Then, slowly, she broke down sobbing at last, turning to embrace Celestia, her dark wing unfolding around Celestia’s back as she buried her face in Celestia’s barrel.
“We… missed you so, Sister,” Luna choked out.

“And we missed you,” Celestia replied, feeling her own vision blur as she shut her eyes.

From atop the writing desk, a set of fifty letters awaited Princess Celestia’s attention, each a village full of a hundred ponies or more who revered her as a goddess. From beneath them sat a tangle of specifications, guidelines, and stipulations as tangled as a thicket of thorns, which her country would need her to untangle before the next recession, and not far outside these doors a dozen nobles or more were demanding an explanation for the unexpected delay in the sunrise.

They could wait. They would still be there tomorrow, she was sure of it.

Today, Celestia had her sister back.

Today, Luna had come home.

Author's Note:

Three things about the actual content so far:

First off, the chapter naming is deliberate. And no, I'm not going to change it.

Second: yeah, this chapter is why I included the "oh-by-the-way-I-might-be-biased-about-edginess" warning. Though, I might just not be clear on my terminology - is this technically angst? Grunge? Emo? I'm not sure, what's the word for "featuring characters who have poor mental health without including gratuitous violence/perversion in overzealous detail, or portraying constant anger at everyone and everything in the universe as a livable default state of existence?"

Third: if you've gotten to this point by now, hopefully you've decided there's a slight chance I care about at least some of the characters that aren't Blue McFixyhorn. That's because this is in fact the impression I'm trying to give off. Here, I've memorized some random trivia to prove it:
- Bon Bon, or should I say Sweetie Drops, is canonically a secret agent for a monster-hunting organization run out of Canterlot, living a double identity in Ponyville. I'm bringing this up now because, while it explains most of her behavior, she doesn't tell Lyra about it until, like, season five or something. It's therefore very unlikely that Lapis will get told about it anytime soon, which makes it equally unlikely that the readers would otherwise find out.
- With the exception of two scenes involving Pinkie Pie, every line spoken by the Mane 6 is exactly as written in the episodes of the show. This involved more pausing and rewinding than I'm proud to admit.
- The "Nightmare" creature that was parasitically attached to Princess Luna to create Nightmare Moon is... kinda canon? Depends on whether you want to count the IDW comics or not, which is totally up to you - I'm just using them as inspiration. Anyway, preying on your worst fears is in fact something they do in those comics, so I looked at that and thought, "Huh. Maybe Luna didn't become Nightmare Moon out of envy. Maybe... ruthless desperation to protect ponies from fear. Maybe she was tricked into believing that the only way she could truly win against the Nightmares was by forcing ponies to face their fears, alone, continually, until they overcame them. Because that's what she did, right? She faced her fears alone and won, right? And that's why she's stronger now, right?"
- Derpy Hooves. I spent a good hour or so reading into the details of the Derpy-Hooves vs. Ditzy-Doo name debate, and eventually just decided to stick with calling her Derpy Hooves. This is because it is now the year 2022, and the cringe that therefore results from anything involving the word "derp" should hopefully distract readers from the fact that I couldn't find out whether Derpy actually has family in Cloudsdale, and I just liked her enough to give her an in-chapter subplot.

Also, a brief introduction to the OCs (besides Lapis):

- Hot Cocoa, the pegasus waitress from the Corner Cafe. She makes a killer mocha if you like whipped cream, and she'll give you a funny look if you don't. When her friends ask her for "the good stuff," she adds cinnamon and a just a pinch of chili powder.

- Yellow Petal, the flower seed salespony from Cantering Boulevard. She came up with the snack bags herself, which sold better during the Celebration than all of her big bags combined. She's very proud, and is looking to expand into larger bags next year.

- Nikki the pigeon. She's a normal Ponyville pigeon, who took an interest in Lapis the first time she saw him fixing a roof. Lapis attempted to name her directly after Nikola Tesla (as he didn't know the exact details of good ol' Nick's pigeon obsession), and got himself slapped for his trouble. Later, Nikki helped Lapis find the secret tinkering workshop in his basement, but we'll get into the details of that one next time - but that's why Lapis bought her the bag of birdseed during the opening scene.

Hoki, that's all I've got time for in this note. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in the next one!