• Published 1st Nov 2012
  • 19,992 Views, 635 Comments

Winning, and the pitfalls therein. - RandomNPC

Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't and sometimes you win only to lose. This is the third one.

  • ...

Nightmare Moon

The townfolk waited with eager, barely restrained anticipation for the Princess to appear before them, raising the sun for the longest day of the year. Guards stood nearby, as they always did when the sovereign of the nation was making a public appearance, but even they were looking forward to the revelry, rather than actually guarding anything.

Goddesses were fairly easy to keep safe, and nopony in a town like Ponyville would be likely to cause any trouble, and ruin what was probably going to be one of their only chances to see the Princess up close, in the flesh. The guards were only even putting on a token showing, having most of their members oversee the festivities in the capital of Canterlot and other major cities.

Only one face showed any emotion aside from rapt wonder, anticipation, or awe as the mayor went through her speech; that of Twilight Sparkle, personal student of the Solar Princess. She had been upset earlier with her teacher for apparently brushing off her concerns about the return of one of the land's most feared figures, but she had realized what was going on after reviewing her notes, and doing a bit of deductive reasoning. The Princess was placing all of her trust in her most faithful student, and Twilight intended to show that it was not misplaced. She fixed an intense gaze upon the balcony above her, ready to do what she needed to do. She was ready to make Princess Celestia proud.

As the moment when Celestia was scheduled to appear finally arrived, the curtains on the balcony were drawn back to reveal... nothing at all. The birds stopped singing, and the ponies in the room started murmuring amongst themselves as they started wondering what had gone wrong. The Mayor tried to keep the crowd calm, which helped for all of a second or two before Rarity decided she needed to state the obvious. “She's gone!"

The entire crowd gasped in shock... as they had apparently not realized that the Princess wasn't stepping forward, because she wasn't there. Twilight's estimate of the average IQ of the ponies in Ponyville dropped about ten more points, and it was already below average. Way to go Rarity. Great job keeping everypony calm.

Twilight took the momentary distraction as her chance to gather her magic to start switching out some of the decorations. She’d had Rarity make some extra, alternate ones on a rush job before coming to the celebration. And while dressmakers might have been a bad choice for keeping a mob from panicking, she had done her job with the banners and ornaments quite well.

The room was shocked back into silence, after a second requisite gasp of surprise, as the balcony began filling with a deep indigo fog that sparkled with the light of the stars. The room dimmed, as the lights were blown out by a chill, fell wind, and the fog coalesced into solid whirling mass. Within it, powerful magic sparked, and suddenly, the fog blew apart to reveal a pitch black alicorn, standing where Celestia had been meant to appear.

She was as regal in image as Celestia, though her mane was the night sky, and her eyes were predatory slits of teal. Silvery armor covered her chest and head, and when she spoke, her voice sent shivers down the spines of ponies. Nightmare Moon had returned.

“Oh, my beloved subjects, it's been so long since I've seen your precious little sun-loving faces." Scorn all but dripped from her words and, as she was, it was not so difficult to imagine the terrifying creature killing a pony for saying the wrong thing to her. Naturally, Rainbow Dash felt the need to say something.

“What did you do with our Princess?" She shouted. She'd have charged up to the balcony too, if Applejack wasn't holding her back by her tail. Twilight would need to see to it that Sweet Apple Acres got some sort of a bonus for that.

Nightmare Moon laughed at the outburst – a mocking sort of sound, holding no mirth or joy.

“Why," she asked, "Am I not royal enough for you? Don't you know who I am?"

Well, at least she hasn't killed anypony yet, and that's as good a cue as any for me. Twilight sent a jolt of her magic to activate her preparations, hopefully cutting off anypony else who was going to do something stupid. Lights flared up and brightened the room suddenly, revealing the changes Twilight had made without anypony noticing.

Banners now showed the symbol of the moon rather than the sun, with a black alicorn where the white of Celestia had been. Blue and violet dominated the color scheme of the room, and the balcony on which Nightmare stood, had a pearl crescent moon affixed to it. But what froze Nightmare Moon where she stood, was the cheerful purple welcome banner, covered in scattered white stars.

Twilight teleported herself to the balcony and bowed low. “Of course I know who you are; you're Equestria's second Princess, finally returned after a thousand years. Welcome back, your Royal Highness."

A pony could have heard a pin drop right then. A chorus of voices raised up a cry of 'Say what?' as Nightmare Moon turned her surprised expression on Twilight.

"...Yes, yes I am. I was actually expecting that nopony would know that. I had a whole little speech prepared to denounce my sister for hiding the truth out of guilt, in fact." Her flowing mane twisted down to cup Twilight's chin and tilt it upwards, so that the two of them were looking into each others eyes. “So then, my subject, who are you?"

“I am your sister's personal student, hoof-picked to act as your adviser and aide upon your return." she replied.

Twilight's response might as well have struck Nightmare in the face; so quickly, had she drawn back. Her mouth worked up and down a few times, as she tried to come up with some sort of response. In all of her years of practicing her speeches and imagining the responses to her return, she had never quite considered a situation like the one she found herself in. Not seriously at least. Finally she managed an oh-so eloquent, “W-what, why?"

Twilight rewarded the question with a sparkling smile, pleased to be able to go over her observations and reasoning. She collected herself for her presentation, and pulled out a piece of paper with check-boxes and small lines of hornwriting. Somewhere in the audience, a baby dragon groaned and pulled out a pair of earmuffs. He'd already heard it all – about fifteen times now – and he had no intent to hear it again.

“Princess Celestia has known about your imminent return for centuries, but she's obviously never been able to forgive herself for your banishment. She probably blames herself for not noticing your depression before things got so bad, and as such, she planned to find a way to make amends to you. She's done just about everything she could to make sure that you could return to an Equestria where your rule could be accepted, short of having the Summer Sun celebration be turned into a festival for your return being another year closer.

“First off, she's left almost no specifics on the details of your banishment, save for that it happened and she felt that she had no choice with the whole eternal night threat. 'Nightmare Moon' shows up in a few folk tales and fables as a frightening figure, but none of these are allowed into non-fiction print, and the only historical documents are written to make you a sympathetic figure.

“If Celestia wanted to stop you from regaining power, you would expect her to have a small army ready to meet you in combat with her. She'd at least have a crack team of the most skilled unicorns she could find ready to support her in a fight with you. However, she specifically sent almost all of the royal guard out to the different cities to help with the celebrations, sending only four pegasus guards here, where you would be most likely to first show up publicly. After all, this is where she was supposed to make an appearance.

“Then there's me. While I'm not the sort of pony to make claims of greatness, I am the personal student of your sister. She's told me that I might have more raw power and talent than any other unicorn she's ever seen before. If she was preparing to fight you, she'd have tried to train me primarily in combat magic and military tactics, and done everything she could to make me a potential danger to you. Would you like to know how I've been taught instead?"

Twilight took a moment to take a breath, looking up at Nightmare Moon. Still looking slightly shell-shocked, she gave a nod for Twilight to continue.

“Alright then," Twilight checked off two check-boxes, “I have been taught all sorts of magic theories and practices of course, but I have also been trained in statecraft and law. I've sat in on judgments of law, been all but raised around nobles and politicians, and I've been taught to be an expert at organization. I'm a well-known face to the ponies who keep Equestria running, an expert in history, and I know the layout of the royal library better than most ponies know their own homes.

“Add to that my intimate knowledge of Celestia's daily tasks and schedules, and the only logical conclusion when factoring in current circumstances, is that I was being groomed to act as an adviser for you: Royalty who has been absent for a thousand years, and who would need the help of somepony who could help you get caught up on what you've missed, while helping you keep things in the country running."

Twilight marked a third check-box on her sheet, and then levitated a cup of punch over to herself to wet her throat. Nightmare Moon had finally recovered from her shock as well as she was likely to do anytime soon, and seemed to be ready to comment. The next check-box would be for answering her question.

“Even with all of that," she said, “How can you be so sure if my dear sister never told you her plans outright?"

Twilight smirked, feeling quite pleased with having predicted the new princess's question, and marked a check in the fourth box.

“Have you ever known her to be straightforward about anything? Regardless though, I found a reference to your return a couple of days ago. I tried to speak with Princess Celestia about it, asking how we should prepare for your return. Obviously, she already knew about it – She's probably read every book in the castle three times by now – but instead of tasking me with finding the Elements of Harmony to fight you with, or having me plant a magical trap to spring on you after she weakened you in a fight... she ordered me to come here to supervise preparations for the celebration. She's actively prevented ponies like me from trying to prepare to fight you, and to top it all off, she told me that my biggest mission while I was here, was to make some friends.

“She was obviously talking about you; her sister, who has been alone for a thousand years. Alone, because she couldn't find enough time to be there for you as a friend and sister when you needed her the most."

Twilight set down her papers and looked up at Nightmare Moon with a warm smile on her face. Down below, more than a few eyes were tearing up from the last part of Twilight's speech.

The mood was shattered as Pinkie bounced up into the air, shouting. “Alright then everypony, this calls for a PARTY! Say it with me; WELCOME BACK!"

-A few hours later, in Canterlot-

Nightmare Moon sat on her throne, brought up from a storage room where Celestia had been keeping it after having it made less than fifty years ago. It served as just another piece of evidence that Twilight was right, and that the elder ruler had been planning for her sister's return.

Twilight had sent out letters to each of the squads of royal guards posted at the various celebrations around the country, informing them of the situation, and claiming that the moon was being left in the sky longer than normal, in honor of the return of the Princess of the Night. There could have been rioting in the major cities if not for the presence of the guards, but Celestia had seen to that too, it seemed.

Twilight had brought in all of the heads of staff for the castle to meet their new Princess, and it had been a nightmare to Nightmare. What sort of pony named their kid 'Red Tape?' At least one of the bureaucrats had a waffle for a cutie-mark, and the pony handling taxes could have passed for a vampony with his bleeding turnip cutie-mark.

When she asked Twilight why they couldn't just kick out all of the more obviously corrupt ponies from positions of power, Twilight had told her that “finding an honest pony who's skilled in governing is about like finding a first edition mint condition book: Your only good option is usually to write one yourself." There were some good ponies in positions of power – Celestia had managed that much – but there just didn't seem to be enough of the good ones to handle all of the work.

Now Twilight was telling her that she couldn't have night-time eternal, even if she was the sole ruler of Equestria.

“It might be fine for a day or so, but if you don't raise the sun soon, plants won't be able to grow and the country will freeze! You don't want to rule an empty wasteland, do you? It would be as barren as the surface of the moon." That unicorn was just plain irritating with how often she was right, and she'd brought all sorts of scientifically documented evidence to support why eternal night wouldn't work out. It was just unfair really.

“Fine," Nightmare muttered, slumping in defeat, “I'll raise the sun in an hour or so. But please tell me that I can at least implement some laws on a whim? My sister didn't make herself a total figure head I hope."

Twilight nodded an affirmative. “So long as you pay a certain amount of attention to precedents in matters of justice, you can make nearly any reform or ruling you want. However, Princess Celestia usually moves them in slowly and allows the nobility a chance to vote on any law she's trying to pass. It keeps them happy and prevents them from all trying to declare their lands sovereign from the throne, or trying to assassinate her."

Nightmare lowered her head in near defeat. “How did my sister ever allow things to get so bad?" she asked.

“Well," Twilight replied, “She couldn't rule on her own once the country started growing too much, and without you... she needed help. She had to take what she could get sometimes, and some things that she allowed, that seemed innocent enough at the time, have caused the most problems. Like allowing noble titles to be inherited." That idea somehow sent shudders down Nightmare's spine.

“Alright," Nightmare said, “tell me what I've got on my agenda for today then." She was less enthusiastic about ruling the country than she had been at first, but this was still what she had been wanting for ages. Even if there were some hiccups in the system that she hadn't expected, it was still her time to shine.

Twilight lit her horn with magic, and with a flash, a tremendous scroll appeared. Twilight allowed it to unroll as she held the top with her magic, and the monster of a schedule reached nearly from the throne to the door. Nightmare's eyes bulged slightly as she took in the sight before her.

“First, we'll need you to put in some appearances around the country to answer questions and assure everypony that you're legitimate, and that Princess Celestia isn't going to vanish without a trace. This is, of course, after raising the sun; unless you want to deal with at least a few assassins. In order to do everything on the list, we'll need to teleport between the cities to save time. After that, it will be time for Noon-day Court, where you'll oversee a meeting of nobles while they bring up concerns, suggestions for new laws, and other things. Then after that, is a two hour period of taking petitions, and making rulings over disputes that couldn't be settled outside of the royal court. I'll coach you on relevant laws and old rulings on any issues that come up, and you'll have another adviser, whose sole job is remembering old rulings, to help with that. Then, you'll need to start studying on some of the recent advances and changes in society. Ideally you would spend the entire day on that, but you'll still need to attend to a minimum of duties to keep everypony from revolting, so I hope you don't mind staying up late. I'll handle most of your miscellaneous paperwork for today while you study – I have some good teachers picked out to help you – But for that to work, I'll need you to sign a writ allowing me to speak in your name for the time being..."

Nightmare couldn't help but tune her adviser out. Twilight meant well, and she was probably going to be invaluable, but ruling had never been so complicated a thousand years ago. It sounded like she'd never have free time again for the next decade at this rate, but surely things would get better soon enough.

-Two days later, Canterlot-

A brilliant glow descended from the sun, resolving itself into the form of Princess Celestia. She opened her eyes to find a scene completely different from what she had expected. Before her was her little sister, still in the guise of Nightmare Moon, standing beside Twilight Sparkle. If the fallen expression of the Princess formerly known as Luna was any indication, Twilight had somehow defeated her totally and completely, crushing her will and forcing her to comply in Celestia's freedom.

Nightmare Moon looked up at Princess Celestia, her eyes large and pleading, and she asked, “Sister, won't you please, please take back your position? I apologize profusely for the extra work I have caused you these last thousand years, and I realize now that I can never truly make proper reparations to you. Will you please forgive your foolish little sister?"

Celestia blinked – twice in rapid succession. For her, it was probably equivalent to allowing her jaw to scrape the floor and her eyes to grow comically large.

“Of course I am willing to forgive you sister," she said with an easy smile. "And I would be happy to have you by my side, once again, as my equal. However, might I ask what happened to your plans to rule alone, while I sat on the sun for the next thousand years? Not that I have a problem with your sudden change of heart or anything, Luna."

Nightmare lifted an eyebrow at her sister. “As if you don't know," she muttered before lifting a wing in an obvious invitation for an embrace.

Celestia glanced at Twilight before stepping to her sister's side, hugging her. It was good to have her sister back, even if she still didn't look quite right. She'd have to get used to being the weaker sister – as Luna still possessed the dark magics she had tried to take control of Equestria with – but she could probably have Luna using her real name and appearance again soon enough. After all, if she could deal with the nobles of Equestria on a daily basis, she could do anyth-

Oh, she thought, that's why she changed her mind. Trying to work with the nobility could be as bad as trying to herd gryphons.

After their embrace ended, Nightmare turned her head slightly to hide a distinct moistness of her eyes.

“I'll leave you with your student for a bit, so she can fill you in on what you've missed... Celly. I'll need her back within an hour or so though." With that, Nightmare Moon flew off of the tower balcony where she had been, angling down towards a lower part of the castle.

Celestia turned to her most faithful student with a look of absolute confusion on her face. “How did you... What about the Elements of Harmony?" she finally asked.

Twilight smiled up at her mentor. “What about them? This was more efficient."

And so Equestria regained its Princesses, and Twilight Sparkle gained a ridiculous amount of political power with her confirmed position of royal adviser to Her Royal Highness Princess Luna, along with her previous position. Needless to say, she didn't decide to live in Ponyville, although she did choose to keep the Ponyville Library as a secondary residence. After all, she had good reason to believe that the Elements of Harmony were somewhere close to there, along with everything she might need to use them. She might not need them at the moment, but it never hurt to be prepared. Besides, studying magic artifacts in Equestria was her Luna-granted right now; she should know, having signed off on that right herself.