My hooves pound soundlessly against emptiness. With four strides, I am swift enough to leap the eastern sea. With eight strides, I am mighty enough to crash into a mountain and reduce it to ash. With twelve, I am a star in flight, powerful enough to impale an alicorn’s immortal throat on my horn. An hour passes as I charge, or it might be a year, or a hundred years, but I run until I collapse, and she speaks.
She says, “Your punishment has ended, sister.”
“My punishment has only begun! Princess Celestia, O Solar Tyrant, will you not even afford me a silent cell in which to serve your twisted idea of penance, instead of gloating about the worthless world that you have created?”
For the thousandth time, I attempt a glance at the surroundings, but Princess Celestia is all that exists in this place. The world surrounding us is an emptier-than-blackness void of dark white, making me blinder than I would be with my eyes closed.
“Do you remember how it began?”
She speaks and only speaks: her words are neither cold nor warm.
“I will not give in to torture, Tyrant.” I gather my hooves, and find that I possess the strength to stand.
“The memories that you have lost are what torment you, sister. Let us remember together.”
It is not a question. As she speaks, the void melts into a memory.
Luna raised a hoof and gingerly adjusted her crown. It had been seated perfectly for several hours now, of course. She shifted in her shoes, straightened her cape, and cleared her throat, until there was no avoiding the fact that she was ready to make her appearance. With one last deep breath, she walked forward.
A few steps later, Luna was on the stage and under the gaze of nearly a hundred ponies. There was no rambling introduction or regal fanfare to announce the entrance of the Princess of the Night--the shimmer of a mane spangled with the stars of an unknown sky was enough. The auditorium fell silent before the first echoing hoof-fall.
A podium had been placed at center stage. Luna reared up to rest her hooves on its surface despite the fact that she already stood head and shoulders taller than it. There were no notes on its surface; Luna needed none. When she spoke, she did so with long-rehearsed enunciation and poise.
“Good evening. I am greatly honored to welcome so many of Equestria’s citizens to this historic event. Tonight marks the first step toward a world in which the rulers of the land are neither aloof nor mysterious, but familiar to everypony, able to address any community, no matter how small!”
Luna raised a hoof above her head, and was rewarded with a rumbling of applause. When she lowered her hoof, the audience fell silent again.
“The Midnight Forum will serve two purposes: to provide my sister and I with new guidance in our shared task of ruling Equestria, and to ensure that the ponies of Equestria never need worry that their lives and ideas might go unnoticed. While Princess Celestia may not be in attendance, know that my ear is hers, and that both of your Princesses will always hear the voices of all who attend the Forum.”
Finally, Luna puffed out her chest and let loose a triumphant boom of Royal Canterlot thunder:
“In the name of the Sisters, the floor of Equestria’s first Midnight Forum is officially open!”
The applause that rose was only mostly controlled and polite; along with the thumping of hooves came a few whistles and a general wash of infectious excitement. Luna barely stopped herself from returning the audience’s cheers, because it was they, not she, who deserved to feel proud in this moment. Celestia and Luna were the ones who had decided to open a weekly forum, but it was the little ponies in attendance who would bring about this exciting, promising new age for Equestria.
“The Midnight Forum,” I say as the memory clears and the void returns. “I remember.”
“The Forum,” Celestia agrees. “We decided together that your night would be the time for the ponies to speak to us, and that you would be the one to hear their voices.”
I turn and fix her with a glare. “The Republic’s first leaders were the ponies who had the courage to confide in me and speak out against your failures.”
“They were noble ponies with worthy ideas,” Celestia says. Her eyes do not break from mine.
Those words send the frozen-hot rage of the Nightmare surging through my body from head to tail.
“They died at the hooves of your soldiers, Tyrant!”
I realize that I have raised my wings, braced my hooves against the ground, and leveled my horn at my sister’s throat once again. It is not anger in my chest this time, but pitch-black hate. The faces of the ponies who gave their lives fighting against tyranny flash before my eyes, making me wish with all my heart that this mad realm would somehow allow me to deliver justice. It takes tremendous willpower to force myself to raise my head and speak despite how the magic in my horn pleads for a chance to finish the work that it began a thousand years ago.
“You met their ‘worthy ideas’ with violence--slaughtered them in the streets and called it peacekeeping! The lies and propaganda of centuries cannot wash the blood from your coat!”
I want her to rage back at me. I want to know that she feels my hate, as long as she cannot feel my horn at her throat.
Instead, she almost sounds sympathetic, even as she addresses a victim of her evil.
“Has time stolen so much from you, sister?”
Hate flares again, poisonous instead of violent.
“How dare you. How dare you! Do the lives of innocents weigh so lightly on your conscience?”
Yet she does not so much as blink.
“The story did not begin in blood, sister. It is you, not I, who can remember the events that led to that fateful day. Will you remember them now?”
Tonight, the Midnight Forum’s auditorium rumbled with the muttering of hundreds of ponies of every type and build. Even as the gathered citizens fell gradually silent to acknowledge the arrival of their Princess, their nervous energy vibrated in the air and did not dissipate.
From her elevated position atop the platform, Luna could see every face focused upon hers, all of them waiting in expectant silence. Tearing her eyes away, she straightened and forced a deep breath. She had long since overcome her reluctance to subject herself to the gaze of the Forum’s attendees; the reason for today’s pressure was much more important than simple stage fright.
But despite the pressure weighing upon her shoulders, she smiled--the better to convince her audience that the news she bore was mostly good. Instead of drawing upon the the Royal Canterlot Voice, she spoke with an easier kind of force, as if delivering a speech at a happy occasion.
“Dear attendees of the Midnight Forum, you will be glad to know that the special session with Princess Celestia ended amicably and with the promise of productive future negotiations. My sister and I will be reviewing an exhaustive report containing key issues raised by the Forum. Rest assured that the process of change continues to make important progress every day. With that, the floor is now op--”
A stallion’s voice called out from somewhere in the throng: “Were there any changes from the special session? Expansion of the city governor’s power? Reduction of guard presence? Control over day and night cycles?”
Luna suppressed a sigh. “There were no immediate changes.”
“Then the special session was entirely pointless?”
The crowd’s respectful silence deepened into a silence of another kind as a lone pony rose and hovered above the crowd--a pegasus, blue-grey with an auburn mane.
“The special session was far from meaningless, mister Nightlight. Princess Celestia respects my position as speaker for the ponies of Equestria, and understands that the issues raised are not to be dismissed easily. Just because no immediate changes were made does not mean none are coming.”
Nightlight climbed a few feet higher as his face and his voice hardened. “Whose position does she respect, exactly? Our last three protests were broken up by the Lightbringer guard! The Republic will not stand for--”
“The Republic will respect the lawful authority of Equestria’s peacekeepers,” Luna interjected. “The legitimacy of the Republic hinges upon its ability to represent good citizens who deserve greater respect from the Lightbringers. That is your movement’s stated mission, is it not?”
But Nightlight did not back down.
“Our movement is growing, and your lack of support for it shows a worrying amount of complicity in the Tyrant's suppression of dissent. What meaning does the Forum have if the Princess who supposedly hears the citizens’ voices is content to let the Lightbringers silence us?”
Tyrant. The word was acid on Luna's ears.
“All of your concerns are under very serious and ongoing discussion--”
“Under discussion! You’ve been telling us that for years! How long do you expect the ponies of Equestria to sit and wait for change that never comes?”
The crowd began to rumble. Luna took another deep breath and waited for them to fall silent. It took far too long.
“I remember them all.” I see their faces again: they had been martyrs, yes, but not warriors--they fought with nobler weapons than lance and blade. “Nightlight. Overcast. Evening Star. Black Diamond. The Republic’s founders.”
Another wound opens upon my soul.
“They were intellectuals. Leaders. Proud citizens. Your citizens, and mine.” I search Princess Celestia’s face for signs of emotion, and find none. “Fool that I was, I spent years trying to work as your intermediary, when to you, their ideas were nothing but threats to your absolute power.”
“I knew their names, but never their faces,” Celestia says. “I wish that I had. Your memories of them hold answers that I cannot give.”
Of course she wishes that she had known them. Of course she wishes that she could undo her transgressions. I find myself wondering if the great, patient, and benevolent Princess Celestia ever repented her actions in the wake of the bloodshed that she unleashed.
“They stood against against your evil, and were killed for it.” My words taste of spite and sorrow.
Still she maintains the same impassive tone--the same stare--judging, but never condemning.
“They stood against me, but they were not my enemies. They were my subjects, and I mourned them.”
“Then you mourned them even as you betrayed them,” I say through bared teeth. “Every lost life belonged to a subject whom you failed to protect. Even your patience would not have lasted forever, had you heard their voices instead of shutting them out!”
For the first time, Princess Celestia does not answer me immediately. And, for the first time, she lowers her head and closes her eyes.
A brief but absolute silence hangs in the empty air.
When she speaks, it is not in the same empty voice. Her tone is softer, breathier.
“I remember that day, as do you.” She pauses, and visibly takes a deep breath. “Let us remember it together.”
It began as a Republic protest like any other--not even the largest in that month. The same ponies were present, bearing the same signs, the same slogans, and the same proud anger. BRING DOWN THE SUN, said one. CITIZENS BY NIGHT, SLAVES BY DAY, said another. And, of course, the largest sign of all, one of the few that evoked the Forum and the humble beginnings of the Republic: MIDNIGHT WILL LAST FOREVER.
The Republic protesters were packed so densely that they filled the streets from edge to edge like a swaying, chanting river. Two shoulder-to-shoulder ranks of gold-clad Lightbringers stood with their backs to the gates of Princess Celestia’s castle grounds, with only a thin bubble of empty cobblestones separating them from the flood. Luna, far above, was the Republic’s living banner, her mane a gash of starry darkness on the sunlit blue of the midday sky.
Nightlight patrolled the front lines of his Republic, glaring at the Lightbringers as he led the chants. Gradually, the divide thinned until it nearly disappeared, and Nightlight stood shoulder to shoulder with the mob. His nose nearly touched that of the lead Lightbringer, a unicorn whose glamoured armor colored him in yellow instead of the greys and whites worn by his comrades.
Do you hear them, Tyrant? Luna thought. Her heart thumped in time with the voices of her people, far below. Do you think that they still fear you? Do you think that they will still bow to you?
Somepony shoved one of the Lightbringers, who crashed into the ranks behind him.
Their leader raised a hoof, dealt Nightlight a firm blow across the muzzle, then twisted and bucked him in the chest with both rear hooves. The rest of the squad lit their horns in unison, together projecting a half-sphere of glimmering white that covered the gate and its guards.
The crowd caught Nightlight like a safety net. Nightlight raised a hoof to his bloodied mouth as he sagged into them for support.
In the stunned silence, the lead Lightbringer’s magically amplified voice rang loud and clear.
“This protest is now in violation of Celestial law! You will all return to your homes immediately!”
The word “immediately” didn’t even finish echoing before it was washed away by a sound that Princess Luna had not heard for several mortal generations. It was a great chorus of united voices rising in a uniform roar much like the roar of a protest chant. Unlike a chant, however, there was no rhythm to it--just a single, unending sound.
Even alicorn ears could not hope to isolate individual voices from the chaos, and even alicorn eyes could not find more than a glimpse of an individual pony face, but nopony could mistake what was happening in the streets below.
The slogans of the Republic had become a wordless, bloody battle cry.
The Lightbringers fired their first repulsor spells in a single volley, loosing well over a dozen linear explosions of white that threw the front rows of protesters back with such force that it sent visible ripples through the crowd. They fired a second salvo, and a third, but holding back the mob was like trying to push a river upstream. In order to reach the front lines, pegasi rose from the crowd and swarmed like sparrows fighting for position to peck at breadcrumbs, only to fall again when they were struck by blasts of white.
Centuries of watching over the night had shown Luna the truths of the world; she had seen terror, and she had seen death. To call Luna younger and less wise than Celestia would be like calling the mountain younger than the ocean.
But even Luna’s immortal eyes were not prepared to see panic and bloodshed in the streets of the city.
The Republic broke itself against the Lightbringers like a crashing wave. Even when rioters fell or fled, the mob did not thin--each gap on the front line was immediately filled by a pony with a different face, but the same fury. Fear laced the air like a drug, awakening something primal in the hearts of the ponies below, turning what had once been an organized protest of respectable ponies into a frenzied horde of feral beasts. The violence was terrifying... and, somehow, exhilirating.
Then Luna saw something else that her immortal eyes were not prepared for.
It was Nightlight’s broken body, still in the spot where he had landed after being thrown by the first wave of repulsor spells. His legs and wings were splayed in a careless jumble, his head was angled awkwardly atop his crooked neck, and he was staring at the sky with an empty, unmoving eye. Around him, ponies screamed, and bled, and some of them fell. As far as the rest of the battle was concerned, Nightlight could have been a discarded doll, swept aside to make way for other, more able-bodied ponies.
Luna realized that she had been wrong about the ponies in the streets below. Those ponies didn’t have the minds of beasts, no--beasts killed for food, or when they felt threatened, or when they needed to compete against their own kind for power and territory. Beasts were not capable of malice, or hate, or revenge.
The Republic weren’t fighting because they felt threatened.
They were fighting because they wanted to kill the Lightbringers.
It was terrifying.
It was exhilarating.
And it was intoxicating.
More Lightbringer unicorns emerged from the castle, and ran to the gate to reinforce the magical barrier. For the first time, the ponies of the Republic were routing faster than they could be replaced. More often than not, those thrown by repulsor blasts stumbled away or were dragged away, rather than throwing themselves back into the fray.
A vertical slash of darkness tore the the sky, falling toward the gate like a black javelin from the heavens. It struck the dome of magic with a sound like splintering wood, and then the entire dome flashed black and dissolved.
The twenty-four unicorns tasked with maintaining the shield collapsed where they stood, their horns reduced to crumbling cinders.
And the Republic surged forth like a tidal wave.
Far above, a disc of darkness slowly crossed the sky, until its edge began to bite into the sun.
I glare with sickening hatred at Celestia as the memory chills me to the soul--the specter of Nightlight’s hollow eyes, the flash of anger at the Lightbringers, and the sick glee at watching the masses of my Republic converge on the surviving guards.
“That was the very day of my imprisonment! Do you think that I could forget Equestria’s darkest hour--my darkest hour?”
Yet I shudder through my gritted teeth, because remembering has shown me something that I have been blinded to for all these thousand years. After remembering, my heart contains no more murderous resolve, and no more righteous anger. Only emptiness: all I feel is deep, painful emptiness. Celestia failed her subjects, so long ago--ignored and oppressed them--but it was I, not she, who failed to protect them from their own mortal frailties.
“You remember the full truth of that day,” Celestia says. “Even had I been present for the first blow struck, I could not have known what was in those ponies’ hearts that drove them to violence.”
Sorrow turns to disbelief. “Then you are a fool! The Lightbringers struck first! They declared the protest illegal, and attempted to break it!”
Celestia finds eye contact with me, and nods.
“The Lightbringers were afraid of the masses. It seems they were right to be.”
“The Republic was also afraid of the Lightbringers.” My words are heavy with disgust for both my sister and myself. “I may have fanned the flames, but the fire was theirs.”
A strange shift passes over Princess Celestia’s radiant face, like a cloud crossing in front of the sun. For the first time, I seem to be speaking to a living alicorn, not the impassive image of one.
“I believe you, sister,” she says, more quietly than before. “I wonder if the rest of Equestria would.”
“Not after a thousand years of your lies,” I say.
She closes her eyes before answering. “No, perhaps not. The story has passed into myth. The Republic is forgotten.”
A shock of nausea strikes my gut. “Nothing could pass into myth that was witnessed by a Princess! You claim to have loved them as subjects, and yet you erased them from history!”
“Yes, I did.”
I feel my face contort. I keep my next words tightly controlled, lest they fly forth in anger. “Telling them them that I was a monster is vile enough, but dishonoring the dead is beneath even you, Tyrant.”
Tyrant. The word is bitter in my mouth.
I continue: “And what lies do they believe now?”
“The story goes that you tried to bring down the sun itself--that you attempted to create a world that was night and only night.”
This time, I am the one whose voice falls flat. “Were you so ashamed of your part in these events that you sought to erase them from time? And did forcing ponykind to forget the truth wash the truth from your own mind, in the end?”
Celestia’s head droops under the weight of the answer to my question.
“Had I immortalized the story of the uprising, the ponies of the Republic would have been remembered as murderers and traitors.”
Silence falls upon us both, and the void bores into my eyes. When she speaks again, her voice wavers and nearly breaks.
“Do you see now, my sister? The ponies of the Republic were never my enemies. Even as I failed them and betrayed them, I mourned them.”
The pit in my stomach deepens.
“Then Equestria believes that I was a lone villain. That I acted of my own accord, out of jealousy and hate.”
Princess Celestia closes her eyes.
“The myth tells of the true evil that was committed that day. One that the ponies fighting in the streets were not guilty of. One that you surely remember all too well.”
Celestia raised her brows in surprise at first, and then she smiled--she smiled--with what must have been relief when she saw Luna cross in front of the twin thrones.
“Princess Luna! You came just in time! if we hurry, together we can end this madness...”
“Not another step!” Luna spat.
And she stopped. Princess Celestia, Solar Tyrant of the Celestial Empire, stopped in her tracks at Luna’s command. The look of startled confusion on Celestia’s face nearly made Luna break out into laughter. To think that Celestia had expected Luna’s help in quelling this rebellion--to think that after all that had happened, the Tyrant still expected supplication from the champion of those who opposed her!
“Did you really expect me to sit idly by while they all basked in your precious light?”
Princess Celestia’s eyes widened further, and Luna saw that she had struck a blow--that Celestia, too, had seen what kind of light the Republic was basking in just outside the castle’s walls. Mere hours ago, the Republic had been a frustrated thing made of words and ideas, but words and ideas were too easy for the Tyrant to control and suppress.
Luna took her place at the stand from which Princess Celestia had delivered so many royal decrees--so many burdens and shackles upon the ponies of Equestria. And Luna felt her voice tremble with glorious hatred as she delivered a decree of her own.
No more useless meetings and pointless discussions. The time had come to wrest power away from she who was unfit to rule.
“There can only be one princess in Equestria! And that princess will be me!”
She reared, and let a surge of anger flow through her hooves as she brought them down onto the podium. She tore the carved and patterened stone asunder as if it were made of paper. The castle rumbled with magical thunder, and as the storm of Luna’s anger grew to a climax, the wall behind the thrones shattered under the force of an alicorn’s will.
So, Luna thought, this is what my Republic felt when they lashed out against the Lightbringers.
She reached out to her moon where it hid behind the veil of blue and forced it to show itself, dragging it up to its rightful place in the heavens.
The sun waned until it was only a thin halo of fire, and then was blotted out by a wave of darkness--not an absence of sunlight, but a tangible blanket of night. For the first time in the history of Equestria, the midday sky glittered with a faint scattering of stars.
Luna cried out shrilly to the black sky above as she reached into the depths of her soul and unlocked the alicorn magic that had burned in secret for so long. She felt her heart pound with a thrill of insane, glorious, uncontrollable power. To think that Celestia had convinced her for so long to help conceal the might of the alicorns! To think that they had both gone so long without using such power to its fullest!
Something older than unicorn magic surged through Luna’s body and bled into the world around her in a whispering, spherical cloud. Ancient, unspeakable power transformed Luna, mind and body and soul, into a creature unrecognizable as the demure Princess that had been its vessel.
In the Equestrian language, there were no words for what Luna felt as she was filled with the ancient power of a goddess unleashed. So, instead, she laughed.
She laughed, because the power had taken away all of her fear.
She laughed, because the thrill had taken away all of her doubt.
She laughed, because at that moment, she knew what she had to do.
The air itself trembled in fear as an alicorn transformed stepped down from what remained of the podium. Her coat was elemental darkness, and her mane was a jagged violet gash upon the fabric of the world. On a whim, she aimed her horn toward the ceiling and let the slightest breath of willpower rage into the world as a flaring beam. The ceiling collapsed, letting the darkness of the unnatural night fall into the throne room.
Celestia suddenly spoke, and although her eyes were hardened, there was a delicious tremor of desperation in her voice.
“Luna, I will not fight you! You must lower the moon! It is your duty!”
Luna repeated her name, and it felt strange on her tongue.
Luna was a patient, benevolent speaker for the people. Luna was the Princess who sat beside Princess Celestia on the twin thrones.
No. Luna would not be the name borne by the rightful ruler of Equestria.
“I am... Nightmare Moon! I have but one royal duty now: To destroy you!”
The sky itself shuddered as a lance of screeching cold shot from Nightmare Moon's horn, aimed for the Solar Tyrant’s heart.
A Princess would have met the attack with one of her own. The creature who let the beam of destruction strike the ground as she fled through the collapsed roof was a Tyrant and a coward.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
The words left her mouth, and then she realized their meaning. If Princess Celestia fled the castle, the citizens’ triumph over the Lightbringers would be complete. The tables would be turned, and it would be Celestia begging for changes to the laws of the land.
That outcome would be unworthy of the awakened Republic.
Instead, Princess Celestia was going to die.
Beautiful words. Sickening, insane, impossible words that were so unthinkable that Nightmare Moon could not help but grin as she whispered them to herself and took flight, determined to make good on them. Princess Celestia was going to die.
Pegasus wings were made for evading instead of pursuing, and unicorn horns were made for rigid charging instead of agile pointing, and those disadvantages were the only reason Luna’s first spell--less a spell and more an outpouring of focused malice--did not meet its mark. One of the castle’s towers shuddered as it was struck by a thin beam of blue that pierced its ancient stone walls as easily as if they had been made of paper.
Nightmare Moon had missed her mark, but the sight of Everfree Castle being reduced to rubble was so wonderful that she hurled another lance of blue, despite the fact that Princess Celestia would most certainly be swift enough to avoid it. Then she fired another beam, and another. Clouds of dust and stone exploded from walls, courtyards, and walkways wherever the Nightmare’s magic touched.
At one point, a bolt of magic did not explode against a wall or roof, but was stopped in midair.
A scream rang out--a brief one, pushed out by lungs that were crippled by pain.
There she was: Princess Celestia, the Solar Tyrant, falling from the sky with limp, trailing wings.
It had happened. She, Nightmare Moon, had done it. The shock was matched only by the thrill.
She had killed Princess Celestia.
At the time, it had all been a blur of rage, but now, after a thousand years--now, I remember.
The surge of power that controlled me as much as vice versa. Demolishing Everfree Castle with little more than a thought. Celestia falling from the sky with a scream of unknowable pain on her lips.
The last minutes before my exile.
She sits before me with head bowed and legs folded. Her eyes are still closed, and her face betrays nothing.
“You remember,” she says.
“I tried to bring down the sun. I would have brought endless night.”
“And so I banished you.”
There is no victory in her voice.
And there is no anger left in mine.
“You have shown me your reasons, but you will not force me to condone your actions. Execute me for my crimes, or imprison me here for eternity. Thank you for allowing me dignity in defeat.”
I raise my head, exposing my neck even while I throw my mane out and let it billow in full for the last time. For an immortal to know oblivion must be a rare thing indeed--and I am determined to face it with courage, as one last way to honor the memory of the Republic.
“Luna... Luna, how can you say... I would never...”
Not merely a stirring in her voice, but a deep shudder of misery. I search her face, her posture, her words, for any sign of deception, and find none.
As I watch, Princess Celestia--Celestia the Solar Tyrant, supreme ruler of Equestria for a thousand years--starts to cry.
“Is that what you think of me, Luna? You expect me to--to execute you? Is... is there no way...”
She pauses to take a long, shuddering breath. I do not interject.
“Luna, your memories have shown you that an eternal life is not a blameless life. Yours was not the only crime committed that day.”
It had been exactly one hundred days.
Princess Celestia walked to the edge of Canterlot Castle’s balcony, alone. Far below, clocks across Equestria were striking midnight.
Nearly hidden by the light of the moon were four tiny flecks of light that had not been there one hundred days ago. They were aliens to Equestria’s sky, but Celestia knew them like old friends.
Mother’s Quill. Morningstar’s Kiss. Platinum's Folly. The Secret Cave.
They were stars from Luna’s mane, each named in honor of a great event or a dear friend.
Celestia reached out to the sky with a soft weave of magic, even though after so many weeks of trying she knew that it was a meaningless effort. She had called upon both new techniques and ancient powers, but however she begged the sky to reveal its secrets, the sky would not respond.
It seemed that there might never be an answer to the question: When Princess Celestia used the Elements of Harmony to save Equestria, what became of Princess Luna?
The low-burning remains of a bonfire colored the town square in shadowy orange. A ring of masked and costumed ponies sat in silence, enthralled by the hooded storyteller who paced around the fire pit’s edges. Princess Celestia watched, perched upon a low-hanging cloud and concealed by a veil of magic.
The storyteller completed one last lap around the fire, and then the stillness was shaken by an animal roar. The fire blazed green and leapt to an impossible height, framing the silhouette of a rearing unicorn. Colts and fillies screamed in mortal terror and scattered from the circle like insects under a spotlight. Some of the adults joined in, galloping alongside their foals with shouts of “Oh no!” and “It’s her!”
“Run!” cried the storyteller, flailing his hooves wildly at the audience. “It’s Nightmare Moon, come to gobble us all up!”
A costumed mare leapt out of the illusion-fire and galloped around the town square at random, growling menacingly at fleeing foals before veering away to terrorize a new target.
“Nightmare Moon” wore a black cape and a mask so grotesque that even Princess Celestia was taken aback when she caught a glimpse of it. It more resembled a gargoyle than a pony, with glaring eyes and a snarling mouth that showed a set of long, jagged fangs. It was the face of a terrible monster who, according to the stories told by Princess Celestia, once terrorized the good ponies of Equestria before being banished to the moon.
Celestia entered the ruins of Everfree Castle as silently as the rising sunlight. She left no hoofprints as she walked atop the thin sheet of dust and cobwebs, as if she were nothing more than a phantasm borne on the morning breeze.
The great double doors lay shattered on the age-roughened flagstones, undisturbed from the day when they had been knocked off of their hinges and trampled by hundreds of angry hooves. At the end of the entrance hall was the great staircase, rotted soft and in some places reduced to honeycombed colonies for insects. Beneath the remains of the staircase was a tiny alcove where some of the crumbling stone had been cleared away to make way for a shrine, that had been erected in secret, away from the eyes of the Lightbringers.
Celestia folded her legs and sat in front of the small memorial. Around her were a scattering of tributes left by friends, family, and followers: a bottle still full of unidentifiable brown liquid, a bouquet of papery dried flowers, a cobweb-laced hat. The most recent was a home-forged heart made of black iron. Celestia remembered the pony who had left it. She had been a young white unicorn mare who visited frequently, but on the day that she left the iron heart, she had become very old. The little heart was the most recent offering by several decades, but now it was so rusted that it looked to be just as ancient as the others.
Only one part of the shrine had not been ravaged by time: a portrait of a pegasus with a steel-blue coat and a warm brown mane. Even after being abandoned for generations, the stallion in the picture was still depicted in living color. The little painting had survived because it was encased in protective magic cast by a pony who, unlike the shrine’s original curators, would be able to renew the spell once a year for all time.
Beneath the portrait was a large, flat stone that had once borne a solemn epitaph. Only four words, painted in angry, crude strokes, were still legible: WE WILL NEVER FORGET.
Princess Celestia walked to the edge of Canterlot Castle’s balcony, alone. Far below, clocks across Equestria were striking midnight. As the Princess stared up at the night sky, the cold eye of the Mare in the Moon stared back.
Celestia reached out to the sky with a soft weave of magic, but however she begged the sky to reveal its secrets, the sky would not respond.
It had been exactly two hundred eighty-seven thousand, six hundred twenty-two days.
“...but you could not unleash it until you let true friendship into your heart. Now if only another will as well. Princess Luna!”
The sound of my name forces me awake, and I open my eyes with a gasp. Around me is the ruins of a castle, one that was destroyed by a battle, and then buried by time. I lie prone on a dilapidated stone floor, and the chill of night is upon my back.
“It has been a thousand years since I have seen you like this. We were meant to rule together, little sister. Will you accept my friendship?”
As she speaks, Princess Celestia’s face flickers, so subtly that I wonder if she realizes her own slip in composure. An untimely blink, a twitch of her mouth, half of a breath out of place. Behind her stand the six young mares responsible for unleashing the Rainbow of Light upon me, and each of them stares intently, awaiting my answer.
I gallop toward Celestia. For a single terrifying fraction of a heartbeat, her eyes flick toward my horn as I charge. But then I throw myself into her and nuzzle desperately against her chest and neck.
When she lowers her head to nuzzle me back, I feel for the first time in a thousand years what it is to be warmed by the light of the sun.
And, for the first time in a thousand years, tears soak the hair beneath my eyes and roll down my cheeks. My words fall out in a shudder as I say the one, the only thing that I feel:
“I’m so sorry! I’ve missed you so much, big sister!”
She replies with little more than a breeze’s whisper in my ear, too soft to be heard by the six little ponies behind her.
“I missed you too, little sister. Every day and every night for a thousand years, I missed you.”
She was a Tyrant. Perhaps she still is. But before anything, and at the end of everything, she is my beloved, eternal Sister.