• Published 14th Sep 2022
  • 8,465 Views, 220 Comments

The Harem Noses - Irrespective

A stallion, three immortal Alicorn mares, and a healthy competition. What could go wrong?

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1. Nightmare Moon's Return

* * * *

Ponyville is a most remarkable village. Located to the south of Canterlot, and with a commanding view of our country’s seat of government, it is a hamlet where one can find their center in the midst of calm tranquility.

Baked Bean paused as he looked over the words he had written. As the first paragraph for a travel brochure, it could use some work. A pair of scissors here, some fire there. A deep hole, maybe.

Well, a lot of work, admittedly, but that’s what the editing process was for. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and all that. Nopony would be interested in reading about all of the faults and problems a place had, especially if they were trying to plan out a vacation, so a little creative adjustment was in order.

Citizens are welcomed to this charming town in one of two ways. The first is a cheerful train station, where a pony can catch their first glimpses of the thatched-roof cottages that make up this quaint outlying village. The second is via the main road, which is well-used and maintained admirably. Potholes are regularly filled and big stupid rocks in the middle of the road rocks occasionally frequently removed from the path, and a pony pulling any sort of wheeled vehicle will find little to encumber their progress.

Baked Bean cringed a bit and glanced down at his left rear leg. What he wasn’t writing down was how he had tripped on a small boulder the size of a large boulder on his way into Ponyville, and how his hoof and his ribs both still ached from the meeting.

After a well-deserved sigh, Bean slid his pencil into the spiral binding of his notebook, and placed that into his saddlebag. He felt that he had gotten a good start with his introduction to Ponyville, but there was another stop he wanted to make, and he needed to leave now if he was going to get there and come back in time.

“I’m overdoing the descriptions. Then again, it is a travel guide, and ponies should be reading it for descriptions. Still…” he muttered to himself as he stood and began to walk towards the town. He was new to writing, and with no formal training he was forced to improvise at the moment and hope he wasn’t screwing up too badly. Still, he remained hopeful that someone would give his tour guide descriptions a chance, and with that, he might be able to save up enough bits to buy a modest home, with enough left over to take some creative writing classes to further refine his writing skill.

The morning air was clear and refreshing as Bean walked towards the center of Ponyville, and he felt rejuvenated as he began to use adjectives—or were they adverbs?—to describe the modest shops and two-story homes that made up the main road through this singular town. Bean had arrived yesterday after visiting Canterlot, and he had to admit that the lack of either hustle or bustle was quite enamoring. Everything was so laid back that Bean wondered if time itself pulled up a chair when it came here to visit, stretched out its legs, and enjoyed a freshly-squeezed glass of chilled lemonade before moving on with its business. The peace and serenity tempted him to stay, to make his new life and his livelihood with the friendly ponies who were now greeting him with cheerful smiles and friendly waves.

“Hey Baked Bean!” a voice called out before a pink blur caught up to it. “Happy Tuesday! Did you sleep okay? I told Mister and Missus Cake about you, and they said they could hire you on, but only part-time for now unless business picks up, but that way you could start saving up your bits for your own restaurant, right?”

Bean hesitated while he tried to put a name to the hyperactivity. “Pinkie Pie, right?”

“That’s me! Say, do you know how to make a cherrychanga? I bet you could earn all the bits you could ever need with something like that.”

“I’m afraid I don’t, but I’m willing to try. As to your first question, I’ll talk to the Cakes later about that job. I’ll bet they’re busy trying to get ready for the Summer Sun Celebration tomorrow.”

“Yeah, it’s been pretty crazy around here, but it’s gonna be super-duper fun! We’ve never had Princess Celestia here before, but I’ve heard she’s way nice. Do you think she would like sprinkles on her cupcakes, or maybe just plain? I like sprinkles, but it’s okay if she doesn’t. Maybe she’d like a vanilla cupcake with rainbow swirls! That’d be super easy to make, and maybe I could even put little suns on them as toppers!”

“Why don’t you go try that out?” Bean said. “I’m sure she’d love something like that.”

“Okay! See you at the celebration!”

Bean shook his head as the bundle of pink, pony-shaped sugar began to hop away, and he let the breath he was holding out very slowly. Pinkie Pie had been the first pony to greet him last night, and he had nearly had one of his ears chewed off while she asked him a hundred questions about why he was there and what he was doing, and she probably wouldn’t have stopped if he had not distracted her with a new recipe for rhubarb pie.

Baked Bean had to smile as began to walk. Pinkie Pie was a bit too wound up for his liking, but she meant well and smelled like sugar and spice and everything nice, so she couldn’t be all bad. She would probably be disappointed when he told her he would be moving on after the Summer Sun Celebration, but it couldn’t be helped.

His heart still yearned for.... something. Part of it was in this wonderful small town, but most it it was not, and it made the frogs of his hooves itch for motion every time he stopped to smell the flowers. It was just so blasted frustrating, like stubbing a hoof on a rock everywhere he went and unable to keep still.

His heart (and his empty bit pouch) did tell him to visit the Castle of the Two Sisters, no matter how treacherous everypony said the journey would be. During all of his research, he had found numerous references to the former seat of government, and he was pretty extra sure that he could find an untapped source of writing potential out in the Everfree Forest.

Bean paused for a moment to pull out a map he’d cobbled together of the Everfree, and he made one last check of the best path to take. Most of that business about manticores, river serpents, and killer trees were probably just fanciful flights of imagination that had been told ages ago and embellished several times with each retelling. The legends even said the weather occured on its own in the Everfree, which was just proof that the rest of the stories were also superstitious hogwash.

How bad could it possibly be?

Baked Bean drew in a large gasp of air as he flopped across the threshold of the Castle’s main entrance with a squelching splat. He shook his rear leg furiously to kick off the piranha-like moat creature that had clamped down on his hoof, and then for a moment, he simply focused on breathing.

That was the worst walk—or rather, the worst dead sprint as fast as he could run in ways that would have astonished his old high school track coach—that he had ever endured in his life! All of those accursed legends had proven to be understated, and he was seriously considering living the rest of his life in the ruins of this old place to avoid making the return trip.

At least the handsome river serpent had been surprisingly civil. He was going to have to thank him again for the directions, if they ever happened upon each other in the future.

Once he had a chance to catch his breath and check for any more sharp-toothed creatures clinging to him, Bean slowly stood, shook the remaining water from his coat, and began to take stock of his surroundings. There was still an elegant majesty in the old crumbling stonework, and as he stepped around the debris that littered the hallway, he began to consider phrases for the future travelogue. Admittedly, it was a favorable description, something better than “Come to the Everfree and get eaten,” but travel books were by nature positive about their subjects, and this decaying ruin needed all the good press he could give it. Although, tourists would need to be flown in to avoid potential bloodshed.

“The Castle of the Two Sisters is a sight that must be seen to be believed. Although during the day, if you want to see what is attacking you,” he said to himself as a distant flash of lightning briefly illuminated the hallway. “Located deep in the heart of the Everfree Forest, it is a treasure trove of relics from a bygone era. Lacking only the treasures,” he added, looking around in vain for perhaps a few piles of gold, or a misplaced enchanted sword. Even a loose bit stuck between some paving stones would be welcome, both for the metaphorical writing and the quite physical click it would make in his bit pouch.

His description was good, but could it be better? Bean grumbled and began to rack his brain for a better prepositional phrase to use. Was that even the right thing? Oh, how it drove him nuts! He just knew he was supposed to be a writer, but having a very loose understanding of the rules made it so difficult to know if he was doing things right or wrong.

Growing frustrated with his lack of skill, Bean moved towards a large, overgrown statue that loomed in a most impressive and imposing fashion nearby. It was the closest thing to treasure he could find, and he glared at the odd stone spheres that rested on the various pedestals as if they were the source of his inability and defeats. There had to be a way to describe these things, and by Celestia’s sun, he was going to figure out a way or he would eat his horseshoes!

Bean moved in closer, and he studied the first granite orb with the same intensity a jeweler gave to an uncut diamond. Another flash of lightning illuminated the broad, empty room, but Bean was too busy evaluating the gem patterns engraved on the surface to notice. What could this symbol mean? Why orbs? Why would Princess Celestia have such a statue, right in the middle of her own throne room? Everypony would have to walk around it all the time, and it looked older than the rest of the room. Maybe it was here first, and the castle had been built around it.

Maybe the orbs were concealing something? It made little sense, but nothing had made sense since he had walked into the Everfree, so it was a possibility. There was a chance this thing could be some sort of puzzle, and if he could solve it, he might be able to find that elusive treasure.

Oh, he’d give it back, of course. It would rightly belong to the Princess of the Sun and the Moon, after all. But, perhaps she’d grant a boon to the stalwart stallion who had braved the Everfree to return her long-lost items? It seemed reasonable to him, and it beat the butter out of going back through the dark forest, so with a determined grunt, he reached out to nudge a pedestal, and gave a slight squeal of delight when the platform moved.

The stars will aid in her escape…

Bean paused and whipped his head around to evaluate the room. He thought he had heard a voice, but there was still nopony here other than himself. With a shrug, he passed off the odd sound as a trick of the wind and again began to work on the puzzle before him. Perhaps they just needed to be all in a row? The answer seemed a bit too simplistic, but it was a good starting point.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a simple and wrong answer to a difficult if not impossible challenge, if not impossible. For several hours, he tried every combination that he could think of, but nothing happened despite his best efforts. Perhaps it was not a puzzle, but just a display case that moved? No, that was just silly.

Did you really expect me to sit idly by while they all basked in your precious light?

“Hello?” Bean called out. An echo of thunder was the only reply, despite several long and anxious minutes spent waiting for/dreading more.

Bean looked over the strange orbs once more. The reason why nopony came to this haunted place was now beyond obvious, but there was still something that kept him from high tailing it back to Ponyville, crazy pony-eating forest and haunted castle notwithstanding. The airs of destiny and harmony were thick, and he couldn’t help but feel that he was supposed to be here.

With a grunt, Bean gave the statue one last push, plopped his rear on the floor, shut his eyes so tightly that little lights began to appear, and pushed against his head with his hooves in the frustrated hope that he might squeeze an idea out of his empty noggin. Even if he had to spend a week in this bizzare place, he was going to make this trip worthwhile in one way or another.

Had Baked Bean been paying attention, he might have noticed that when the statue behind him stopped spinning, there was a soft clink as a mechanism locked into place. He might also have noticed that the strange stone orbs were beginning to glow, and he probably would have felt alarmed when a surge of energy shot from each of the smaller orbs to the large, moon-shaped capstone.

That all changed when another blast of energy lept from the capstone, punched through the rotting remains of the roof, and surged into the sky. Bean yelped when he heard the discharge, dodged a number of falling ceiling chunks, then caught sight of the bolt of apparent moonlight just as it hit the surface of the full moon overhead.

“What was that?” he whispered to himself. “Did I err?”

His question was answered when a return beam of dark magic struck just to his left with a furious flash of lighting and a large boom of thunder. He backpedaled as quickly as he could with a screech of alarm until his rump hit the statue behind him, and then he held one hoof in front of his face to shield himself from the pitch-black energy that sent a chill of dread down his spine and into his hooves.

This was not good.

The thought was confirmed as a ball of nightmarish proportions screamed down the new pathway, slammed into the ancient tilework, and sent bits of rubble and dust flying in all directions. Baked Bean had to avert his eyes for a moment, but when he looked back, he instantly regretted doing so.

Any mention of the Castle of the Two Sisters always included a dire warning about the ancient scourge of Nightmare Night: The Mare in the Moon herself, Nightmare Moon. Like every other pony, Baked Bean had grown up with the tales and legends of the Deity of the Dark, who would gobble up ponies unless they offered her some candy as a far tastier alternative to pony flesh. When he had struck out for Ponyville, he had considered those old mare’s tales to be nothing more than superstitious rot and nonsense, much like Santa Hooves or the Winter Wrap-up Rabbit.

It was now beyond clear that he had been oh so very wrong about all of that, and in the back of his mind, he regretted not sending more letters to Santa Hooves. Or keeping an emergency piece of candy in his saddlebag for just such an occasion.

There can only be one princess in Equestria, and that princess will be me!

Despite the terror that held him captive, he couldn’t help but compare the fearsome mare that now stood before him to the legends and myths that he had heard and read about. She was a terribly glorious alicorn, with a coat as black as midnight and a star-studded mane that swirled and billowed about in an ethereal wind of pure power. She wore a helm of silver steel that clung tightly to her neck, her hooves were clad in shoes that extended up her forelegs, and the breastplate that bore the symbol of her crescent moon was the final touch to her invincibility. The legends had been totally wrong: this was a mare who would never be satisfied with devouring mere candy.

Nightmare Moon then drew in a deep and satisfied breath, and she snorted with a maniacally wicked grin. “At last! After so long, I am free! Free to exact my revenge upon my sister and her sun-loving sycophants! Your time under the sun will now draw to a close, my little ponies! My night shall last forever!

Bean’s breathing stopped completely, and his heart would have followed suit if it wasn’t so busy trying to hammer its way out of his chest. This was beyond bad. This was a mass hysteria, world-ending, cats and dogs living together type of apocalypse, and he’d been the one to instigate it!

It was then that he seized upon a wild idea: maybe, if he could just run fast enough, he could get back to Ponyville and raise the alarm. He was on the taller side, and his long legs had served him well during his high school track days, as well as his most recent dash through the creepy forest. There was a chance he could accomplish his frantic and poorly thought-out plan, and he quickly made a break for it while Nightmare Moon began to cackle with wicked delight.

Or at least he would have, if he could have moved his legs, or done anything but stare.

Operation Flee Screaming From Nightmare Moon ended before it began when her magic snagged him, hoisted him into the air, and then slowly began to reel him in. “How dare you intrude upon my sanctuary!” she thundered. “Have you no respect for your Princess?! Do you not fear the Moon?!”

I’m dead, I’m dead, I’ve died and I’m dead and I’m going to be drawn and quartered and turned into glue. Maybe she’ll be nice and banish me to the moon, but she’ll probably just snap my neck and be done with it.

“I’m so sorry!” Bean wailed while he floated ever closer to those glowing draconic eyes. “It was all an accident, really! Just let me go, and you’ll never see me again! I won’t say anything to anypony, and—”

“Cease your infernal sniveling, you coward!”

Bean clamped his lips tightly together and simply focused on breathing while Nightmare Moon took several long moments to evaluate him, turning him slowly in her magic. He had gone beyond panic, far past screaming, and into a strange floating kind of world where things made sense in only a sideways fashion. There was a word for it that escaped him at the moment... surreal, that was it. He’d have to write it down when this was all over, except he would have to go back through that terrifying place of screaming again and it would probably slip his tiny mind in the process.

“You are a rather homely looking thing, aren’t you?” Nightmare Moon said at last, although why she had said it while his slow rotation had his rump pointed to her was a complete mystery. “But not altogether unattractive. While I do not approve of such a sunny yellow coat, your mane does resemble my blessed night.”

“It’s more of a mocha color. Maybe earth-brown,” he said, but then he cringed when her eyes narrowed. “Um, but that really doesn’t matter.”

“If I want your opinion, I shall give it to you. Until then, I suggest you remain silent.”

Baked Bean followed her advice and simply nodded.

“Good. Tell me, cur, how did you come to a knowledge of the Elements of Harmony, and how did you utilize them to release me?”

Baked Bean remained exactly where he was, just barely able to breathe and keep his mind blank. Horrible, terrible adjectives like ‘majestic,’ ‘alluring,’ and ‘awe-inspiring’ kept creeping into his ears, and he could not help but break into a sweat at the thought that Nightmare Moon might be able to read minds, and if so, she would certainly tear him to pieces if she realized how he was admiring her glossy dark coat and the way her oval pupils brought pure terror to his heart.

She’s beautiful. In a terrifying way, but still…

“You are permitted to speak.” Nightmare Moon’s harsh statement kicked his thoughts back to the here and now but failed to elicit an intelligent response.

“Is that what those are?” he blubbered with a squeak.

“You would also do well to address me as ‘Your Highness,’ cur. I am still your Princess.”

“Deepest apologies!” practically lept from Baked Bean’s mouth, followed immediately by, “Sorry, Your Highness! Won’t happen again! Honest!”

Nightmare Moon grunted. “You claim you have no knowledge of this place, or of these things?”

“Honest to Ce—” Bean nearly bit his tongue when he hit the brakes on his words as quickly as he could, entranced by her glittering oval eyes in such a deep shade of teal that he was at a loss on how to describe them, should he ever survive this meeting. “Um, I mean, honest. I just wanted to see what this old castle looked like. Nopony has been here for hundreds of years.”

Nightmare Moon studied him intently once more, and Bean waited for the death beam to surge out of her horn and incinerate him right where he floated. “Your eyes show that you speak the truth. Hm.” She then dropped the hapless stallion, then turned to consider the ruins of her old home with a slight and welcome reduction in her radiated fury. “Could you not bear the guilt, Sister? How predictable. You flee at the first sign of trouble, unable to truly deal with the problems that beset you. While you were always weak, I have grown stronger, and you shall rue the day you dared to defy me.

“And as for you,” Nightmare Moon whirled and jabbed a hoof at the slowly retreating Bean, who yelped in fear. “I suppose a reward is in order. It appears you did free me from my prison, and I am not without heart.”

“That is very generous of you, Your Highness. If you’ll just let me go, I’ll—”

Nightmare Moon’s magic lashed out, crushed him in an invisible grip, and hauled up to her face so rapidly that his nose brushed up against hers. “Do you take me for a fool?!”

“Not at all!” he wheezed with what little air was left in his lungs.

Nightmare Moon sneered. “No, you have seen too much, and you would warn my sister with all possible haste. You will not be going anywhere.” Her sneer lessened along with her tight magical grip, and the dark princess looked him over again, from nose to tail, with a disturbingly contemplative expression.

“However, you are a young and fit stallion, strong of limb and—” her dark magic opened his mouth and she looked inside “—quite good teeth, straight and clean. As a reward for your good fortune, I believe you will be able to provide us with a vastly important service. You should be honored that I, your Princess of the Night, have decided that you should be so favored, and you shall have comforts beyond your wildest dreams, should you happen to excel in this task.”

“What…” Bean did not want to finish asking the question, but the hard glint in her eye gave him considerable incentive to keep talking. “Um... what service would that be?”

Nightmare Moon smiled, and a deadly coo of delight hissed out from between narrowed lips. “An heir. Perhaps two, if you please me. After all, it has been a long time. Doubtless, my Sister hath corrupted my prior progeny, and I will need to begin anew to build up my glorious kingdom in the proper manner.”

“Heir?!” Bean gasped in panic. “Oh, no! I’d be terrible at providing you an heir! I mean, I don’t have any experience at all in heir-making, and I’m shorter than you are, so that will make it quite difficult to…”

Bean stopped at her glance, and he knew there was nothing he could say that would convince the living night to change her mind.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way,” Nightmare Moon purred. “I do not tolerate failure, and I can be quite motivational.”

Bean managed a small “eep!” in reply, particularly since some small section of his hindbrain was providing an entire book’s worth of prospective scenarios associated with this concept.

And illustrations.

“Good. I like it when my subjects show the proper respect,” Nightmare Moon paused and tapped her chin in thought as she dumped him on the ground once more. “Now, there is much to do before my Sister attempts the dawn.” She flared her wings and turned her gaze to the full moon overhead. “She is sure to assemble her troops against me, and she will send forth champions to reclaim the Elements of Harmony. I must ensure they do not succeed.”

Her eyes then snapped to her new prisoner. “As for you, I suggest you prepare yourself for my return. Once my Night Eternal reigns supreme, I shall summon you and demand your services. Pray you don’t disappoint me.”

With a flash of magic, Bean found himself reeling for several long moments before coming to an abrupt halt. The cackle of Nightmare Moon echoed around him as he struggled with the mechanics of breathing, and from within the embrace of the pitch black nothingness, he tried to put the tattered bits of his sanity back together.

“Where am I?” he murmured while he rubbed the sides of his head for a moment to quell the chaotic voices that were running rampant inside. “Am I even still alive?”

Reaching out with one hoof, he took a few paces forward until he touched a solid stone wall. He then made an about face, repeated the process, and then followed that wall around the whole perimeter of the rather small room, or cell to be more accurate.

“She must have thrown me in the old dungeons,” he muttered once his mind was willing to cooperate with rational thought. “This has got to be some sort of wild hallucination. If I ever wake up, I’m swearing off Pinkie’s jalapeno chili poppers for the rest of my life.”

Sadly, the ponies who had been in charge of dungeon construction had been masters of their craft, and despite his best efforts, Bean could not find a weak stone anywhere in the light deprived cell. Even the iron bars seemed to be as strong as the day they’d been forged, and Bean was finally forced to surrender after several failed kicks left him with nothing more than sore hooves.

“This is a fine way to spend the Summer Sun Celebration,” he muttered as he sat and leaned his head against the cold, unforgiving stone. “If I ever get out of here, I’m going to give everything I own to a registered charity and become a hermit.” He chuckled a bit and shook his head. “Provided Nightmare Moon doesn’t gobble me up in bed when I…”

The enormity of her words slowly finished penetrating his thick skull, and Baked Bean’s eyes grew wide. For long minutes he did nothing but sit and breathe, his mind filled with a maze of chaotic and completely impossible thoughts, before he murmured one weak sentence.

“Mom and Dad always wanted grandfoals in the worst possible way.”

Baked Bean yelped in shock when a nearby torch surged to life and almost burned his eyes out of his head with absolutely no warning. Hoofsteps on the flagstones told him that several ponies were approaching, and while he rubbed his eyes and groaned as more torches ignited by themselves, he hoped against hope that he was going to be greeted by a squadron of Princess Celestia’s finest guards.

He really didn’t want to meet Nightmare Moon again.

“I see the dungeons have remained untouched in my absence,” a soft female voice drifted into his cell. It was a rather pleasant voice, much like how Nightmare Moon might sound if she were to ever mellow out and talk normally. Or, as his overwhelmed brain began to whirl again, if she were dressed in silk pajamas and looking for an heir-raising experience.

“Thankfully, I have not had a reason to use them,” a regal, elegant voice responded. “I thought I heard something. Hello? Is anypony here?”

Baked Bean’s mind took a fraction of a second to race into the past. To his mind’s eye came a Summer Sun Celebration in Las Pegasus during a family vacation when he was but a small colt. He recalled how in awe he felt at the time when he had watched Princess Celestia gracefully and dramatically raise the sun before the assembled crowd, thus beginning the longest day of the year.

He recalled hearing Princess Celestia’s voice. Though the exact words she had said had been lost, he could still hear her tone, her pitch, her timbre.

Complicated math equations had never been a strong suit for him, but Bean’s mind quite easily put this two and that two together, and his heart leapt in his chest when the answer turned out to be freedom. Princess Celestia hadn’t sent her guards to rescue him, she had come herself.

That obviously meant that Nightmare Moon had been defeated, and a small cheer escaped before he gave a more intelligible response. “I’m down here, Your Highness, and am I ever glad to hear your voice!”

Bean blinked the rest of the burning bright lights out of his eyes while the hinges of the cell door protested being used, and Bean lurched out into the hallway at a near run. Unfortunately, his hoof caught against an uneven stone, and during the resulting stumble he bounced off another pony’s face with an impact that nearly split his nose open and knocked him right down onto his rump.

When he opened his watering eyes, Baked Bean was very glad he was sitting down. Princess Celestia, Sol Invicta, Goddess of the Sun and Moon, looked straight back into his eyes with a magenta gaze that seemed to bounce off the back of his head and turn his brains into tapioca pudding.

She appeared to be saying something, but it was hard to tell since she was rubbing her injured nose with a fetlock, thus blocking her words. The look he was getting seemed to be compassionate instead of angry for bonking up against her nose. Swallowing once, he focused very hard on his ears until he thought he could hear intelligible words.

“Are you all right?” the Princess asked once she was done with her own snout, and a golden glow gently wrapped around his sore nose with a pleasant tickle.

“I think so,” he replied out of reflex. Following the direction of Celestia’s frequent glances, he added, “Nightmare Moon? Did you defeat her?”

“The Nightmare is no more,” Celestia said, with another glance over her shoulder. “May I have your name, good sir?”

“Baked Bean, Your Highness.”

“Mister Bean, then. We are pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Princess.”

“What were you doing here in my old home? This place has had no visitors for hundreds of moons.”

Celestia’s words triggered Bean’s mouth, but not his brain, as the resulting spew of words made obvious. “Writing. Well, not exactly writing, but trying to write, even though I don’t write very well and certainly not enough to make a living, though I hope I can get better with some practice, and then I can write this idea I have for a story about some dragons, even though I’ve never met any dragons in my life, but I really would like to meet one someday, if I could, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. I guess it’s a good thing there weren’t any here, since I hear they’re very territorial, but I bet that there’s some sort of fine for trespassing here, and I’ll gladly pay whatever it is when I have some money like I don’t right now and then I’ll be more than happy to just move on and forget any of this happened. I really didn’t mean to cause any problems, and I’m sorry if I troubled you. Whatever the punishment is, I’ll gladly take it, and—”

Celestia stopped him with one upraised hoof. “There’s no law against visiting this place, but to come here shows you are either very brave or very lucky.” Celestia gave a slow shake of her head. “But I am afraid the matter is not over yet. Come, let us depart this dark place. There is much for the three of us to talk about.”

“Three?” Bean managed to ask.

“Allow me to introduce my sister.” Celestia stepped to one side, revealing another pony standing there in her shadow. “Princess Luna, Mistress of the Moon and Empress of the Eventide.”

Bean blinked rapidly again. This new, dark pony with the tousled mane was only slightly taller than he was, but unless his eyes had been damaged by the torchlight, she appeared to have a set of wings and a horn.

Another alicorn? That meant there were... three of them now, or at least that was the number Bean’s stunned brain came up with. Or maybe four with the young princess in Canterlot, the one all the colts in school were so overboard about. Or five? Bean had not really been prepared to do math this morning, and was failing the test badly.

“Hi?” he offered with a weak smile. “Forgive me, Princess Celestia, but I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Indeed. She has been lost to me for a thousand years, but thanks to my most faithful student, Twilight Sparkle, she has been freed from the nightmare that blinded her mind and corrupted her heart. The Diarchy is again whole, and both of us will ensure that we will never be separated again.”

“Oh. Well, I guess it’s a pleasure to meet you… wait.” Bean’s eyes slowly began to grow wide in alarm as his overtaxed mind put together several connections that promptly shorted out, complete with sparks and smoke. Without conscious thought, his hooves scampered on the floor until he stumbled back into the cell he’d just escaped from, but Celestia’s timely magical intervention saved his rear from a rough reentry. “Wait! You’re Nightmare Moon!”

“I was Nightmare Moon,” Princess Luna replied with an anguished grimace while Celestia pulled Bean back to them. “But no more. The darkness will never again taint my decisions, and I offer my most profuse apologies for my behavior. My forward actions and my words were most untoward.”

Bean had to blink again. He hoped that the action might help jump start some rational thoughts in his mind, or at least thoughts that did not involve ancient nightmares from the moon seeking to use his body to produce offspring.

It did not help one bit that Princess Luna was even more attractive than her evil counterpart, and that the close proximity of Princess Celestia gave a distinct alicorn-scented impression to this section of dry corridor.

“And—" Baked Bean swallowed a lump the size of an entire wedding cake "—you don't remember anything from when you were Nightmare Moon? Here?"

“No,” said Princess Luna, which removed an immense weight from Baked Bean's trembling back, only to have it drop right back onto him as she continued, "Only short flashes and images. I seem to remember somepony... but it is not important. If we met, I must apologize for my actions, whatever they were. Is there anything we can do to make it up to you—"

“No!” yelped Baked Bean. "No, I'm fine. I'm better than fine. Apology accepted. It's all my fault, anyway. I'll just be going back to Ponyville now. It was nice meeting you. And you. Both of you. I'll just—" He looked around the featureless stone corridor. "Are there exit signs somewhere?”

“Just this way, Mister Bean. Come, let us leave this place and discuss what has happened. My time as the Nightmare is now at an end.”

* * * *