Princess Luna entered her bedroom and closed the door behind her with a sigh. It had been over a month since she had, as Nightmare Moon, freed herself from her imprisonment in the moon and returned to Canterlot, shedding her evil persona along the way. Still, even though her older sister Princess Celestia had welcomed her back with an open heart, not everybody else seemed ready or willing to do the same.
Climbing into her bed, she knew that she couldn't really blame them. After all, she had done some pretty dastardly things, the greatest of which was her recent attempt to overthrow her sister and bring night eternal to the land of Equestria. But still, it was hard to face nothing but looks of contempt and disdain from everyone else all the time. She was trying to earn their trust, she really was. But how was she supposed to make any progress when nopony would give her a chance? With one last, soft sigh, she used her magic to close the drapes and douse the lights. Getting comfortable, she closed her eyes, and hoped that tomorrow would be better.
Luna looked around her. In every direction but down was the night sky, filled with a thousand stars shining like diamonds of every color. Beneath her hooves wasn't the grass of a field, or even the floors of Canterlot, but a white, rocky glowing terrain that she instantly knew was the moon. She turned her gaze upward again, taking in the night sky, and slowly realizing that, although she was obviously dreaming, this was too real to be just an ordinary dream. At the sound of a throat being cleared behind her, she turned around and froze in shock at the sight; Nightmare Moon was standing behind her!
"Hello there, Luna," the larger, black mare sneered with contempt. "Still trying to fit into society, I see. And just how is that working out for you?"
"How… how are you…" Luna stammered in fright, wondering how this could be happening.
Nightmare Moon rolled her eyes. "The only question I have is, how am I not the one who is still in control? We were me for a millennium! Compared to how long you've lived as Princess Luna," Luna flinched at the venom her dark side put into speaking her name, "why, I'm the one who has lived the majority of her time in control!"
Princess Luna took a deep breath and tried to regain her composure. "Yes, yes you did. But that's behind me now! No more being feared, being evil! I just want to live a happy life! One filled with friends, and smiles, and…"
Nightmare Moon cut her off with a sharp laugh. "Ha! Again I ask, how's that working out for you? No, don't try to cover up the details, I'm you after all. I saw it all! How even though the only word you said to those two unicorns in the halls after breakfast was a friendly 'Hello', what did they do? They turned tail and ran in fear! Or how about those guards you passed after lunch? Did you see how they just stared at you? And trust me, Luna darling, those weren't the good kind of stares from a stallion, oh no. Those were eyes filled with wariness. Distrust." Nightmare Moon leaned close to whisper into Luna's ear. "Hatred."
"NO!" Luna surprised herself with the fierceness she used to deny the accusations levied at her. Nightmare Moon chuckled at her, but she shook her head in disagreement. "Maybe distrust, but not hate! And I can understand why too! After all you did to them! And, and I'm not the best at trying to talk to others either. I'm sure if I just keep trying, I'll get the hang of it eventually."
"Yes, I'll agree with you on that one, Luna. A thousand years trapped in a celestial object did stunt our interpony skills, didn't it? However, I simply think you're going about it all the wrong way." Nightmare Moon slowly walked around the smaller Luna, who turned her head from one side to the other to keep her darker self in view. "Think, Luna. What is it that we have that they don't? Magic. POWER. We were strong enough to keep the moon in the sky, and stop the sun from rising! They should not be looking at you in fear, no! They should be loving you! Worshiping you! Bowing down before your majestic might!"
"No! No no no no no!" Luna jumped away from Nightmare Moon, shaking her head in an effort to make the words from her dark half go away. "Enough! Stop! I don't want to hear this! Didn't being locked away for our actions so long ago show us that they were wrong? We don't need worshipers, or followers! What we need is…" Luna trailed off, and looked down to the ground. In a whisper, she finished, "…what we need are friends."
Gasping loudly, Princess Luna woke up to find her body and the sheets of her bed drenched in sweat. Still not entirely certain of where she was, she clumsily rolled out of her bed and landed on the floor with a thud. Even through the closed curtains, the waning moon, still three quarters full, lit up her room with an eerie white light. Not wanting to bother anyone for new sheets, or have to explain to her sister why her bedding and her fur were soaked, she magicked a smaller blanket over from her closet and curled up on the floor and tried to go to sleep.
Sleep wouldn't come, however. She was afraid of ending up back in the weird, too real dream world. The words of her darker side still echoed in her head, and kept her from finding any solace in looking at the night sky, one of her favorite things to do usually. Just when she thought she might start to chew her own tail off in frustration, certain words that Nightmare Moon had spoken to her meshed with a different train of thought, and the epiphany had her standing up in excitement.
"Magic!" she said to herself. "Like Nightmare Moon said, I have that and then some to spare! Surely there can be some way that I can use that to help me make friends!" Nodding to herself, she walked around the confines of her bedroom. "Not to meddle with anyone thoughts, of course, but maybe I can do things to help others out! Or maybe even find a way to settle the scales of my actions, to start over from scratch…"
With a sharp intake of breath, she squealed in glee. "That's it! A disguise! Everypony can't help but see my evil side when they look at me as Princess Luna, but what if what they saw was a different pony? I bet they would give a stranger at least the benefit of the doubt. Then I could make some friends, and after they got to know me, I could then let them know who I am! It's brilliant! Oh, I can't wait for morning now, so I can go look for some spells to help me out!" Finally feeling like she had a reachable goal, and a course to follow, Luna curled back up on the carpet next to the bed, magicked the blanket back over her, and drifted off into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Princess Luna was up early, excited by the prospect of having something new to do. With a small spring to her canter, she joined her sister for breakfast, and started chowing down on her food at a rapid pace.
"My goodness!" Princess Celestia said with a cheery voice. "Somebody sure seems to be in a hurry to do something today!"
Luna paused, and with a blush on her face meekly replied "I'm sorry sister, it's just that I got an idea last night, and I want to go do some research and study on it before anything slips from my mind!"
"Oh my!" Celestia chuckled. "I don't think I've seen anybody want to study so badly since Twilight Sparkle still resided in these halls!" Motioning for her younger sister to resume eating, she continued, "Then by all means, please don't let me slow you down! I'm just happy to see you in such a good mood."
Luna nodded her head in thanks as she hastily slurped up the last of the apple slices on her plate. Washing it down with a small cup of water levitated to her by her magic, she gave a small sigh of contentment from the delicious meal. "Thank you, Celestia, and please excuse me. I'm off to the Royal Library." Celestia watched as her sister practically galloped out the door and down the hall.
After a couple of corners taken at high speed, and one collision barely evaded, Luna slowed down as she approached the door to the library. She knew that the librarian, while quite strict with her rules, was also very fair and was one of the few ponies that didn't show her any prejudice. She didn't want to cause her any trouble if she could help it. Entering, she saw a couple of other ponies in the library, but for the most part because of the early hour the aisles between the shelves were much emptier than they would be in an hour or two. Luna paused for a second, wondering where to look, when something her sister had said back at the breakfast table made her curious.
Seeing the librarian free for the moment Luna walked over to her. "Hello, Mrs. Hardback. Do you have a spare moment or two?"
The librarian looked up at Luna and smiled. "Of course I do, dear. What can I help you with? Oh!" Mrs. Hardback said to a cream colored stallion that had just walked up with a book to check out. "I'll be with you in just a moment, sir."
"Well, this may be a bit of a strange question, but what was Twilight Sparkle like before she left Canterlot?"
This brought a snort from the stallion waiting behind her. "Why do you want to know? Looking for secrets to help you get revenge?"
Luna shrank at the snide tone of the stallion's voice, but Mrs. Hardback in turn seemed to grow a foot taller as her face filled with rage. "Listen here, you!" she said in a loud voice that, had it come from any other pony in the library, would have been cause for a quick eviction from the area. "You have no right to judge her so! I will NOT have anypony in my library be badgered in such an unseemly manner!" With a wave of her horn, Mrs. Hardback levitated the book the stallion had brought forward, and started hitting him on the head with it. "Now, get out! Get! And don't come back here anytime soon!"
Luna stared in awe at the display put forth by the librarian as the bruised stallion fled the area. It felt good to have someone stand up for her so vocally. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Hardback," Luna said to the librarian. "It isn't often that anypony is willing to do something like that for me."
"Oh, pishposh!" huffed Mrs. Hardback. "He has no right to say such a thing. Oh dear, I'm sorry, I'm so flustered by that stallion's lack of manners that I have quite forgotten what your question was."
"Well, at breakfast today, I told Celestia that I was eager to come down here and do some studying, and she told me she hadn't seen anybody quite so eager to research anything since Twilight Sparkle was still here. I was just wondering what she was like, for me to be compared to her in such a manner."
Mrs. Hardback chuckled. "Oh, dearie me, was she ever a book worm! Why, probably half of her time was spent in here looking through one book or another. Then Celestia finally got tired of her turning into such a recluse and tossed her out to Ponyville to learn some social skills. That mare needed them too, let me tell you." With a final sigh at the memory, she returned her focus back to Luna. "Now then, can I help you find any book in particular, or would you rather search the shelves on your own?"
"I think I know where to look, ma'am. Thank you though for the answer, and again for your kindness." Luna wandered off into the portion of the library that housed books with spells. As she started to scan the titles of various volumes, another inspiration struck her. 'If Twilight Sparkle was able to make friends by relocating to someplace else, maybe that will work for me too!' In a rush, a plan formed. 'Okay, so I need to find a spell to help me with a disguise. Then, make sure I take some money with me, and head off to Ponyville, that's close enough for me to reach without too much trouble. Maybe stay a week or so, see how people treat me as somepony else. Worst comes to worst, maybe I can ask Twilight to help me out. I'll leave a note for Celestia so she won't worry! Oh, this is going to work out so great, I just know it!'
After an hour of looking through book after book, Luna's hopes were slowly dwindling. While there were many a book about using magic for disguises, none of them seemed to fit her purposes. "If they aren't easily seen through," she muttered to herself as she replaced yet another book back onto the shelves, "they don't last long, or can fall apart at the slightest touch. I need a disguise that will hold up under scrutiny, and one I won't have to worry about slipping at the worst possible time. Oh, well now, this looks promising. Teakettle's Tome of Transformations? What does this book have in it?" Using magic to carry the book over to a reading stand, Luna flipped through the pages. Having long ago lost the patience to read every word, she instead scanned for certain phrases that she knew indicated that the instructions for a spell were about to be described.
"Ah ha!" she whispered. "Here we go. 'Teakettle's Earth Pony Transmogrification. This incantation will render the caster, and only the caster, indistinguishable from an earth pony through any means of detection'. Exactly what I need!" Luna took the book and checked it out, and then headed back to her chambers. 'Now all I have to do is figure out how I'm going to get out of Cantelot unseen. Oh, and pack! I need to get supplies for a week's stay out with me too. And a note, oh so much to do, so much!'
After an afternoon of slowly gathering some sundries and equipment, Luna looked up to see everypony heading towards the feast hall. "That late already? I might as well go join all of them for some…" Luna paused, and quickly scanned the area again. "All of them are going to go eat right now! If I can just hurry up and get the rest of my stuff packed quickly enough, this would be the perfect time to get out of Canterlot unnoticed!"
Luna scanned the items she had gathered. Some apples and carrots, and the small blanket she had worn last night. A portable telescope, some parchment, a quill and a vial of ink. A small pouch filled with some coins and a couple of gems in case she needed to make a large purchase for some reason. Better safe than sorry, she reasoned. And most importantly, the book with the disguise spell. With a wave of her horn, she gathered all the items into a pair of saddlebags she had taken from a dusty storage room. She had wanted a set that didn't look too fancy, or have the royal crest on it. It had, looking back on it all, been the hardest item to find, even more difficult to come across than the book she had spent over an hour searching for that morning. She turned to leave, when she found herself stopping at the door.
"The note!" Looking around, she saw that she had indeed left some writing materials on a desk in the corner of the room. Horn glowing, she quickly penned a message for her sister. 'Dearest sister Celestia. Please forgive my sudden disappearance, but I have an experiment that I need to undertake, and I have no time to waste in order for it to be made correctly. Do not worry, I have taken great pains to be adequately supplied for my sojourn, and I look forward to talking with you afterword about what I learned. Your loving sister, Luna.'
Nodding in satisfaction, she levitated the message to lie on the pillow of her bed. Poking her head out of her bedroom, she saw the hallway was empty, and coming through the open window, the sounds of many ponies starting their evening meal wafted up. Luna cautiously trotted down hallways and passed through some rooms, occasionally turning back to avoid the rare pony still out and about during dinner, and finally found her way to ground level. Wasting no time, Luna galloped a ways away, not wanting to risk being seen as she flew off, until a hill was between her and the castle. Finally she took wing, flying towards Ponyville.
Travel went well, until the sun went down. Worn out from flying farther than she had ever remembered doing so before, Luna found a small clearing a short ways from the road and settled down for the night. She was nervous being alone, out in the wilderness, but the steady chirping of crickets in the area helped her to fall asleep much faster than she thought she would have. A ray of the morning sun, shining through a gap between branches to fall across her eyes, woke her up. Magicking some breakfast from her saddlebags, she pondered what her next step would be.
'I could keep on flying, but I risk being spotted from farther away by doing that,' she thought as she nibbled on some carrots. 'Of course, I still face a decent risk of being noticed just by walking down the road too. Ponies must go up and down it everyday. I guess my best bet is to walk off to the side of the road, keeping an eye out for others so I can hide from them. If anybody sees that Princess Luna is on her way to Ponyville, it will ruin my chances of my disguise succeeding. It may take some extra time, but my wings are still sore from yesterday.' Luna stretched her wings once again at the thought of how much flying she had done previously. 'Getting carried everywhere on those cloud chariots sure got my wings out of shape!'
Luna spent the rest of the morning trotting towards Ponyville. While she managed to hide from the groups of ponies that used the road, she was really starting to hate briar patches that seemed to take up acres, and walls of branches that could have been used to build a house. Thanks for her magic, she was able to clear a path without too much hassle, but the time it was taking was starting to annoy her. Finally, a couple hours after a lunch of some apples and oats, she crested a hill, only to quickly withdraw back behind it. Just past the crest of the hill was Ponyville.
"Finally!" Luna muttered as she removed her saddlebags. "If I had known just how heavy that telescope was going to be, I would have left it back in Canterlot! Well, no time to waste, it took me much longer to get here than I thought it would. I guess tonight I'll just buy a meal somewhere, get a room at an inn, and start looking for some friends tomorrow. Easy as pie. Now, where's that spell?" Using her magic, she pulled the book from her bags, and opened it to where the spell was. Luna read through the instructions again quickly. "This will be harder than I thought," she said to herself out loud. "It looks like it takes almost a minute to cast! That must mean it really is a great disguise!" she proclaimed with a smile on her face. "Okay, let's get this started!"
Using her pouch of gems to help keep the book open to the correct page as it lay on the ground, Luna began to cast the spell. The first few seconds were simply an exercise in gathering up energy, and soon a large ball of white magical energy surrounded her horn. Then she manipulated the magic just so, and the ball flew from her horn, circled around her a few times, and then cocooned her in a giant sphere of energy, lifting her a foot off the ground in the process. Luna's mouth opened in a silent cry of surprise… and pain.
In the Everfree forest, Zecora the Zebra looked up from the book she was reading. "Who could be casting such a spell," she wondered, "that I can feel it here where I dwell?"
Luna's wings started to come apart, one feather at a time. Trapped inside the nimbus of magic, they flew around her, clouding her vision even more than the tears that filled her eyes.
In the newly planted orchards of Appleloosa a unicorn looked up from the basket of fruit she had just harvested, distracted by something she couldn't quite place. All she knew was that this sensation she was feeling made her uncomfortable.
Luna's wings were finally gone, now only existing as a swirling cloud of feathers that orbited her. Now her body was starting to pale, turning from a dark, night time blue into a pale grey. Luna felt her grip on the spell shatter, and could do nothing but ride it out. 'Why does this hurt?' she silently asked to whoever might be able to hear her thoughts of panic and agony.
Pulling her cart down the road to Hoofington, a blue pony wearing a wizard's hat paused in wonder. Shivering in fear at the powerful display of magic happening… somewhere, she said in awe, "Even one as wonderful as I, The Great And Powerful Trixie, could never hope to accomplish such a feat of prestidigitation!"
Luna's mane and tail shifted from their light blue hue to a pale silver, and her cutie mark morphed from a crescent moon in a night sky to a full moon, shining a single ray of moonlight onto a hill below.
Twilight Sparkle froze in the middle of her conversation with Fluttershy as she felt the magic in the area become very agitated. Fluttershy looked at her in worry, as all Twilight could do was stand in place, mouth wide open and eyes staring into the distance.
Finally, Luna's horn unwound, becoming a long streamer that joined the feathers in flight. Then, as a long moan of pain escaped from Luna's mouth, the magic rose above Luna and shrank into a small orb no bigger than an acorn. With one final flash of magical might, Luna collapsed to the ground and rolled onto her saddlebags in agony. The ball of magic descended to land gently before her, a small gemstone looking for all the world like the moon in its full glory.
In Canterlot, Princess Celestia rushed to her sister's chambers. She had easily dismissed her sister's absence last night as her still studying, but when she missed breakfast the next day, she had started to worry. Then, lunch passed with still no sign of her, and asking discreetly around hadn't turned up anything either. But this! This flux in the air, it could only be caused by a spell being cast, one of great power! Abandoning all efforts of hiding her anxiety, she burst into Luna's bedroom, only to find it empty. She was about to dash out again to look elsewhere when, at the last second, the sight of a letter on a pillow caught her eye. She quickly levitated it over and read its contents, her eyes widening in shock.
"Oh, Luna, what have you done?"