After waking up, her first thought had been, 'I'm still alive?' The end had seemed inescapable, in the form of a prismatic whirlwind bearing down on her. It had enveloped her, blinded her with its literal rainbow of colors. And then, only blackness. No, less than that. Emptiness.
But she had woken up, and it looked like she was right back where she had been for the last thousand years. The moon, in all of its barren glory. 'So, is it another millennium here for me then?' she thought, despair overwhelming her in her failure. At that point, she had wanted to simply lie down, and never move again. Her plan had worked perfectly! Her sister, Celestia, had been removed from the equation with no problem. Her freedom had been gained. And still, the Elements of Harmony had somehow been there, waiting to banish her again.
What was an incarnation of darkness to do?
To her amazement, however, a sliver of hope appeared. However strong those little ponies Celestia had rounded up to be her surrogate Elements of Harmony had been, they had lacked experience in using that power. While they had been able to dispatch her with ease, the seal they had left on her imprisonment was weak, and full of holes for her to exploit. In a matter of a few weeks, she was already able to reach across the void and influence things from afar. Small things, such as making matters hard for Luna. Keeping her off balance by speaking to her in her dreams, and creating a a sense of unease in those around her when Celestia wasn't close enough to notice.
That was what irked Nightmare Moon the most. That somehow, while she was banished away, the other part of her, the fragment that really had no business being out and about, was free to do what she wanted. That simpering and bashful little waif! If the positions were reversed, Nightmare Moon had no doubt she would be in charge of Equestria by now, and her other half would still be crying, coming close to flooding a crater with her tears most likely.
Finally, she had been able to take advantage of the gift dropped into her saddlebags. She had maneuvered Luna into making an grievous error. She kept on filling her head with dark thoughts, manipulating her. It wouldn't be long now, until Nightmare Moon would be able to force her way back into control again. This time, she knew what to do, and how to stop those Elements of Harmony.
This time, she was going to win!
Dewdrop, Pine Needle, and Feather Down ran through the outskirts of Ponyville, doing their best to keep Haystack in view above them. The late hour both helped and hindered them. With it bedtime for most of the inhabitants of town, there were no other ponies on the roads and paths to get in their way. However, the night sky made it harder to see their pegasus friend. If the moon hadn't been full in the sky, their pursuit would likely have been doomed from the start.
Soon, they found themselves leaving Ponyville behind, and the flora around them grew thicker. Finally, they reached a bridge, and the road beyond it quickly degenerated into nothing more than a rough outline of a trail. Despite their urgency to keep pushing forward, they found themselves stopping. In front of them stood the Everfree Forest, a land where things simply worked differently. Where instead of rabbits and birds, creatures fantastic and often carnivorous lived. Haystack came swooping back after seeing them pull up short, and landed next to them.
"We're closing the gap, but whatever progress we've made we're letting slip away right now," Haystack said, taking the chance to catch his breath.
Dewdrop grimaced. "I know, I know. It's just… I've heard stories about this place. And none of them the happy kind either."
Pine Needle shifted his balance back and forth, from one hoof to another. "I don't like it. It feels different. Nothing at all like your farm, or the rest of Ponyville for that matter."
Feather Down let out a scream of frustration. "No! I'm not going to stop here, not after coming this far. If we were going to stop the moment it got difficult, we should never have started out in the first place." With that, she dashed off into the woods.
Haystack looked at his other two friends. "I won't blame you if you stay behind."
Dewdrop shook her head. "No. I'm going. I just needed to gather myself. Feather Down is right."
Pine Needle nodded in agreement. As one, they took off, galloping into the forest, and Haystack flew back into the sky.
A short ways in, Feather Down rejoined her two friends on the ground, relief plain on her face. "Oh, thank the sun and the moon you guys came. I don't know how far in I could have gone by myself. Especially during the night, it just seems ten times scarier in the dark. I'm sorry I yelled at you like that!"
"That's all right, hun," Dewdrop said. "We needed it to keep us going."
Despite their fears, the biggest danger they faced over the next hour was losing their way. The thick canopy above made it hard to keep Haystack in sight, and the ill defined path made it difficult for the ponies to keep going in the right direction. Occasionally, Haystack had to return to the group to have them backtrack and take a different branch than the one they were following. Eventually the path became more of a regular road again, arriving at a rope bridge that stretched across a cavernous gap, shrouded in fog. Haystack flew across first, checking to make sure that there were no gaps in the bridge that couldn't be seen from the edge, and then, one by one, they crossed to see a large stone ruin up ahead. The moon was high in the sky now, and illuminated the area with an eerie white light.
"She went in there a while ago," Haystack said once they were all together on the far side of the chasm. As one, the walked forward to the keep.
Nightmare Moon looked around. She had managed to drag Luna all the way out here, and had the alicorn curled up in a ball in the room where she had been brought down before by the Elements of Harmony. Extending her senses, Nightmare Moon could feel the strands of power that had been torn from her, that had been stolen from the magnificent body she had once had. Without it, she had been forced to assume the form of the younger shape the body was currently in. She had started to slowly gather in the threads and weave them back together when she felt the presence of others enter the abandoned keep.
She left Luna alone for a moment, trusting that the princess wouldn't fully escape from her influence right away. Using the small dregs of power she had already reclaimed, she flew as a near invisible spirit to investigate. Doubts began to fill her head; had Celestia actually anticipated this happening? Were the Elements of Harmony already here?
Nightmare Moon struggled not to break out in relieved laughter when she saw who the trespassers were. 'It's only Luna's friends! Nothing for me to worry about at all. I doubt they'll even be able to get past this!' Using the limited magic she had at her disposal, she shattered the rusted remains of a lock that had been holding a portcullis up for hundreds of years. With a loud crash, the pitted, vine wrapped gate dropped, blocking the entrance to the inner keep from the outside. 'That should stop them, or at least keep those feeble foals busy long enough for me to finish my work.'
Luna's friends slowly proceeded into the outer courtyard of the ruins. The loud crashing sound a moment ago had brought them all up short, and they were now advancing slowly, watching for one of the feared creatures of the Everfree Forest to suddenly show itself. Haystack frowned when he saw the lowered portcullis. "That wasn't lowered before. I know I saw Luna run up through that gate before I turned back to meet up with you guys again. That has to be what we just heard."
The ponies walked up to the portcullis and peered through. Dewdrop frowned. "I only see one set of hoofprints, and they go upward. This doesn't add up. If Luna had closed the gate on her way through, it should have been lowered a while ago, not just now." She turned to Haystack. "Are there any other ways into this place?"
"I don't know. Let me check." Haystack took off, flying around the keep and quickly out of sight. Feather Down tried sticking her head through one of the gaps in the portcullis, but could only stick the front part of her muzzle through one of the small gaps. She then tried pushing up on it with her forelegs, but saw no discernible effect for her efforts. Pine Needle kept a watch over the area, and Dewdrop peered through the gate.
"You know," Dewdrop muttered, "I think I can see how this is supposed to work. That chain there is connected to the gate," she pointed with a hoof to Feather Down, who had given up on trying to lift the portcullis by herself, "and it then runs over there, to that pulley, and down to the crank. That's how it's raised."
Feather Down nodded. "I think you're right. Look on the ground over by the crank there, something is broken, although I can't make out what it is." Haystack returned from his scouting, cutting short their discussion.
"It's no good. The only other ways in that I could see were some windows. I could get in, but that still leaves all of you out here."
Feather Down pointed at the crank. "Any way you can get to that and turn it? We think that will open the gate."
Haystack took off, and landed again shortly. "There's no way to get into that room directly. I could try another way in, and try to work my way back to here, but…" Haystack looked uncomfortable at the thought. "There's something else. When I was flying around, I saw some flashes of light from near the top of the keep. Something is happening up there."
"Stand back." Dewdrop walked up next to the gate. "Let's see if all that practice I got at the harvest will pay off." Taking a few moments to focus her magic, Dewdrop focused on the crank, and a ray of magic flew from her horn and through the portcullis. The crank glowed briefly, but other than that there was no visible effect from Dewdrop's magic.
Haystack spoke up. "Look, I'll go find another way in, work my way back here, maybe with my help, we can…"
"No," Dewdrop interrupted. "You said something is happening. We might not have time. I know I can do this!" Dewdrop turned to face the crank again, and built up as much power as she could before unleashing it upon the crank. This time, she kept on pushing past the first moment of nothing happening, and just when it looked like she was about to collapse, the gate shook, and slowly crept up a couple of inches.
"Yes!" Pine Needle cheered. "Quick, everypony help!" Putting action to his words, Pine Needle quickly got his nose under the bottom rung of the gate and did his best to help lift it up. Soon, Feather Down and Haystack were aiding too, and the gate climbed over a foot off the ground. Feather Down dropped onto her belly, shimmied under the portcullis, and ran to the crank where she added her strength to turning it. Soon, the portcullis was a couple of feet off the ground.
Pine Needle looked at Haystack. "How do we get Dewdrop through?"
"I'll take care of that. Help Feather Down with the crank, try to keep it from winding back down as long as you can." Pine Needle did as instructed, and Haystack turned to Dewdrop. "Just a few more seconds! Hold on!"
Taking to the air, Haystack flew out, and then circled back in towards Dewdrop, building up as much speed as he could. Crashing into her, he knocked the pair of them under the gate. Doing so disrupted Dewdrop's concentration, but Feather Down and Pine Needle were able to halt the movement of the crank long enough to allow their friends to tumble under the iron barrier before it came crashing down again behind them.
Dewdrop moaned in pain. "I don't suppose you could have found an easier, less painful way to do that?" she asked as she slowly stood back up.
Haystack gave her a sheepish grin. "It was the only thing that came to my mind at the moment. I'm sorry." He turned to look at the portcullis, once again closed. "Well, there's no turning back now. Let's head on up and try to find Luna."
Nightmare Moon continued to slowly gather strands of power. It was a slow and tedious process, made even longer by having to keep Luna under her hoof. The stupid mare just wouldn't be content to let her do as she please! She kept trying to ask where she was, and what she was doing here. It was becoming a hassle to have to keep on reminding her of all of the wrongs she had committed. Still, the fact that she was being given the time to do so, to keep rubbing salt in the wounds, so to speak, of the depressed princess meant she really had all the time she needed at this point. After a wait of over a thousand years, a few more minutes didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Her train of thought was brought to a stop when she heard a crashing sound come from down below. Checking to make sure that Luna wasn't about to go anywhere, Nightmare Moon flew back down through several passageways to see what was going on. Now a small cloud of dark energy, she had to be careful to avoid being seen by others. She still had no problem stealthily looking down at the courtyard from above to see that Luna's friends had somehow gotten through the gateway.
"I tried to be nice to them, I really did," she muttered as she retreated a short ways. "I figured I owed them that much for making it possible for me to do this. But no! They just won't leave well enough alone." She flew most of the ways back to where Luna was, stopping in a chamber just a flight of stairs down from where she was doing her work.
"I might not have the magical strength yet to create a real monster to defeat them," she said as she spent some of the energy she had collected to cast a spell, "but all I need is time. This illusion should keep them from moving forward until I'm strong enough to take care of them personally, once and for all."
A dark flash of magical energy lit the room, and a large, bipedal form appeared, dominating the area next to the stairs leading up. It had a tan, chitinous covering, and a face that looked like it belonged on an insect. At the end of its massive arms were two giant, crab like pincers. From its back several dark tendrils of energy waved menacingly. With a loud bellow, the hulking form flexed and then planted its feet, staring at the far side of the room. Nightmare Moon nodded in approval. "That should do the trick. And now, back to work!" She flew back to where Luna was, and seeing her start to stir, Nightmare Moon once again swooped in to torment her. 'Can't have her leaving now, not when I'm so close to success!'
Princess Celestia glided around the house where Luna had lived for the past month. All of the second story windows had been destroyed, and now laid as patches of broken glass on the lawn surrounding the building. Spying the front door ajar, she landed and walked in. Glancing around the sparsely furnished room, she saw a mostly empty plate of snacks sitting on the lone table on the bottom floor. A quick glance inside the kitchen revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and so she climbed the stairs. On the upper floor, she saw that the bedroom was a mess, despite having so little in it. A bed had been tossed onto its side and leaned against a wall, and the walls showed several small indentations in them. She poked her head into the bathroom, and seeing no clues to anypony's whereabouts, opened the closet. Inside, she found a set of saddlebags, and the spellbook Teakettle's Tome of Transformations.
Celestia paused, the sight of the tome a minor shock. This was the book that had put everything into motion, that had enabled Luna to leave Canterlot and embark of this journey. Seeing the mess it had now made, she wished that she had taken Luna back home when she had first discovered where she was staying. 'I could have prevented this,' she thought, trying to keep up a stoic front as her stomach wrenched in guilt. 'I should have prevented this.'
Somberly, she resumed her search. Poking her head outside, she saw a telescope lying on its side. No clues at all. She wasn't sure what she would find, if anything, but she had been hoping that Luna would still be in the area. Instead, she was at a dead end. The best she could do would be to search the area, and hope to stumble upon her sister. 'Where would she go though?' Celestia wondered as she headed back downstairs. 'Does she even have a destination in mind? For all I know, she might have gone back to Canterlot, and I'm just wasting my time here.'
Outside, she watched the two pegasus guards land with a cloud chariot outside on the road. She was impressed by how quickly they had gotten the conveyance hitched up and then followed after her. They stood at attention, and awaited her orders.
Celestia went out to meet them. "I don't know where Luna is. She was here a short while ago, but has since left. Leave the chariot here for now. We'll spread out and try to find her. Please try to avoid waking or troubling any of the residents if you can. I don't want to alarm them. If anyone sees something, fly up high and the head back here as fast as you can, and circle tightly. That will be the signal for us to regroup here, and then decide on a course of action." She sighed. "I wish I had a better plan."
The pegasi guards saluted her, and they all flew away, slowly fanning out and scanning the area for any signs of the other princess.
What had started out as randomly searching through the ruins for a way up was soon made easier by flashes of light erupting from elsewhere in the keep. Without a plan, Luna's friends followed the display until they came to a set of stairs that led upwards. Climbing to the top, they came to a large chamber with several other doors down the sides. On the far end, they saw another set of stairs heading up, from which the flashes seemed to emanating. They were brought up short when they saw that their way was blocked by some sort of monstrosity.
On the far side of the room, the hulking beast roared loudly, and brought its two pincer like claws together with a loud crash. Tentacles from its back waved fearsomely and slowly around it, making it seem even bigger than it already was. The only solace the ponies had was the fact that the thing seemed more than comfortable just standing where it was.
"So, what is that thing? A guard?" Feather Down asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence that had settled over their group.
"That's what it looks like to me," Haystack replied. "Whatever it is. What do we do? None of us are the fighting type, I can't see us battling it out with it."
Dewdrop shook her head. "Luna is pulling out all of the stops to keep us away, isn't she? This is so frustrating"
"I'm not turning back." Feather Down said, staring at the creature, who in turn simply looked impassively at the group conferring across the room from it. "Look, its just one thing, right? There's four of us. We just need to split up, get it to chase one of us. Then the rest of us can get past it and ask Luna to call it off. Shoot, if one of us can do that, get past it and up to Luna, that would be enough. I can't believe that she wants to hurt us, even now. She probably doesn't know we're here is all, and is afraid of... well I don't know what, but something else."
"Let's try all shouting then," Haystack suggested. "If she hears us, and knows we're here, maybe she'll tell that thing to stand down?"
They all lined up and started hollering. "Luna! It's us! Your friends! Let us up! We just want to talk!"
Upstairs, Luna was still curled up in a ball on a small dais near the far end of the room. Nightmare Moon hovered around her, slowly becoming more and more visible and whole. Hearing the voices of her friends, Luna slowly opened her eyes, and peered around. Seeing her interest, Nightmare Moon flew down. "They are angry at you," she whispered into Luna's ear. "They want to yell at you, accuse you of being a terrible friend. All they want to do is tell you off, and then leave, feeling better about themselves for doing so. I've put up a barrier to keep them from getting here, so just ignore them. Don't worry, I'll make sure they don't bother you. I'll take care of you. Just lay back down, and get some rest. You're tired, after all. I'll watch out for you."
The hypnotic words lulled Luna, and she put her head back down and closed her eyes again.
Down below, after a few minutes, her friends gave up yelling. "Either we're not loud enough, or she's ignoring us." Dewdrop said.
"So, let's try getting past that thing, make her respond to us!" Feather Down said, her frustration at the situation starting to show on her face. "Haystack, you go high and approach it from the left, I'll come in from the right. Dewdrop, toss a rock or two at that thing with your magic, try to distract it some."
"What about me?" Pine Needle asked.
"I don't know," Feather Down admitted. "Keep an eye open, we may need you to pull our cutie marks out of the fire. Or maybe an opening will show up for you to get through. Just be ready, I guess?" Seeing Pine Needle nod, she turned to Haystack. "Let's go!"
Haystack took to the air, a good ten feet up in the cavernous room they were in, as Feather Down dashed off to the side. The creature, which had been content to stand there and let them deliberate, suddenly let out a roar. The tentacles on his back became agitated, swaying about with increased activity. Without moving from where it stood, it swung its tentacles at Haystack, while at the same time sweeping one of it pincers in a wide arc close to the ground in an effort to slam Feather Down. Haystack managed to pull up short, out of the reach of the tentacles. Feather Down however had to throw herself to one side to avoid being clobbered, and in the process tripped on a piece of debris and tumbled into the far wall.
Pine Needle ran forward to check on Feather Down, and a couple of rocks launched by Dewdrop filled the gap between the monster and her fallen friend. Still, the creature didn't seem to be interested in pursuing the fallen earth pony, and kept its guard on the stairs heading up. Haystack tried swooping in from several different angles, but the tentacles always filled in any gaps before he could even get close enough to risk dashing through.
Feather Down finally got back on her hooves, and shook her head to clear it. "I'm okay!" she yelled at Pine Needle, who had been unsure on how to get close enough to help her without getting in reach of the monster. "Dewdrop, aim at the thing's head!" Haystack continued his efforts as Dewdrop flung a few rocks at the creature's face. In response, the beast simply dodged the hurled projectiles, maintaining it position. Haystack found himself a little too close, and had to dive to the side quickly as a tentacle almost clipped him. Forced to land, he retreated back to where Pine Needle stood. Feather Down ran back to the others as Dewdrop came up.
"I'm running out of rocks," Dewdrop said. "And ideas, for that matter."
"One more try then," Feather Down said. "We need to be able to make it move!"
Again, Haystack and Feather Down charged from differing heights and sides, and Dewdrop flung more stones at the beast. Once more, the ponies found their paths easily blocked. Dewdrop threw several rocks at once, and made the beast duck down as several almost hit it in the head. Seeing a chance, Haystack flew forward, but the tentacles were too fast. Pulling hard to the side, Haystack found himself barreling into a wall to avoid being entangled by the wicked looking appendages.
Pine Needle frowned. "Something isn't right," he muttered.
"How so, hun?" Dewdrop asked gathering together a few more stones with her magic for another barrage.
"If it's so big and strong, why is it dodging those small rooks you toss at it? Why does it always miss when it swings at them? It seems fast enough it should be able to connect."
Dewdrop glared at Pine Needle. "Let's not be wishing ill fortune on our friends, okay?"
Pine Needle growled. "That is not what I meant, and you know it. That thing looks like it could take on and defeat all of us without any effort, and yet it is okay with just keeping us at bay? And why here, and not say at the top of the last stairs we just came up? Wouldn't that be a better position for it to defend from?"
Dewdrop shook her head. "I don't know what to tell you except to be thankful? We need to get a feeling for how it acts, find a way past it somehow!" She flung several more stones at it, forcing the creature to twist to one side to let the rocks pass it.
With a thoughtful look at Dewdrop, Pine Needle nodded. "You may be on to something." With that, he closed his eyes.
"Um, hun, now isn't the best of times to be pulling a Feather Down impersonation!" Dewdrop said, trying to hit the creature but only to watch as it dodged or ducked from her attacks.
Pine Needle ignored her, and tried to calm himself. It took a lot of effort to ignore the instructions being yelled back and forth between his friends, and the danger of the situation. He managed to do so, and soon he found himself centered enough to reach out with his earth pony magic and try to feel what was around him. Right away, he felt where Dewdrop was standing, just off to his side. Further ahead, he could sense Feather Down, moving about here and there. Briefly, Haystack landed on the ground, leaving a quick ripple, like a frog jumping into a pond.
He then reached out as far as he could go. At his limit, at the edge of what he could perceive, he felt something else without actually seeing it, in the same manner that the light of the sun brightens the morning sky even before it breaks the horizon. 'That must be Luna, by how strong it is,' he thought, scanning around, trying to pick up signs of anything else.
But he felt nothing but his friends.
Opening his eyes, he bent his head down, scraped a hoof on the ground, and charged straight at the beast, yelling incoherently. Haystack stared in surprise at his friend's sudden suicidal action. "Pine Needle! NO!" he yelled, trying to swoop in to stop him, but unable to because of of a tentacle placing itself between him and his friend. Feather Down and Dewdrop just stared at Pine Needle in shock. The beast raised its pincers above its head and swung them down at him, right on target, ready to cave the charging pony's head in.
Only to have them pass right through him, followed by Pine Needle leaping straight through the creature's chest. A roar of frustration came from the monster, and Pine Needle stopped on the bottom of the stairs heading up. Turning around and looking back he said, "It is not real. I could not sense any life coming from it at all. Close your eyes if you have to, but come on. It can do nothing to stop us other than to scare us from moving forward." Seeing that his friends were still stunned, he walked back through the illusion again, and gently started pushing Dewdrop towards the stairs up.
"Okay, okay!" Dewdrop protested, finally walking forward herself. She flinched when she saw the monster take a swipe at her, but when the pincer passed harmlessly through her, she straightened up. "Well, how about that! How did you know?"
Pine Needle gave a small shrug. "Like I told you before, it just didn't seem right, the way that it was acting. And then you told me to get a feel for what it was doing, which gave me the idea to try using mine magic. I could sense all of us, but nothing from it." He smiled. "Luna is up ahead." As a group, the ponies walked up the final set of stairs.
Upon reaching the top, they were brought to a halt by a sight that was hard to comprehend. At the far end of the smaller room, on a raised area of the floor, Luna laid on the ground, eyes closed and motionless. All around her, a dark, menacing aura swirled, clinging and wrapping itself around her. A hiss of aggravation emanated from the miasma, and it then formed itself into the shape of a tall mare, dark as the night. Lightning flashed around Luna and lit the night sky, which could be seen through a large hole in roof. The full moon was starting to peek in from above.
"You meddlesome foals! Why did you persist in coming here? There is nothing you can do to stop me!" Nightmare Moon yelled at them, hoping to intimidate them.
The ponies cringed in fear at the apparition. Haystack fell to his knees, and whispered, "That, is that actually Nightmare Moon? They said she was defeated by the Elements of Harmony!"
Nightmare Moon laughed. "That's right, there is nothing that you friends" the word was spoken with such malice and disdain that it made them flinch, "can do for Luna. Soon, I will be whole again, and I can have my revenge on Princess Celestia and those Elements of Harmony. Leave now, and I won't go out of my way to make you suffer."
"Luna, wake up!" Dewdrop yelled, trying her best to ignore the histrionics of the evil mare. "What are you doing, just lying there? Get up and away from that… that thing!"
Luna slowly stirred, and opened her eyes enough to see who was speaking. Nightmare Moon lowered her head down next to Luna's. "See? Those no good, supposed friends of yours are here to taunt you. Tell them to go away."
"Why did you follow me?" Luna asked, softly and weakly. "All I ever did was hurt you, and take advantage of you." Nightmare Moon turned and grinned wickedly at the ponies.
"What are you talking about?" Haystack asked. "What do you mean, take advantage of us?"
Nightmare Moon cackled. "Oh, it's all so obvious. She took advantage of the mares when she first arrived to Ponyville, after all. Mooching off of them for shelter and succor. And you two stallions, using you as a mean to have a job. She never really cared about you all!"
"Lies!" Feather Down yelled.
"Ah, yes, lies." Nightmare Moon replied. "How many did she tell you? How often did she do so, just by answering to the name of Moonbeam, and not Luna? Think of how she hid behind a fake image, a false pretext. Was anything she said or did while you knew her the truth?"
The four ponies all fell silent for a moment. "You are correct, in that she did hide who she was," Pine Needle stated slowly. "But I know you are wrong on the premise that all she did was lie. I can not know what her reasons were, or why she did as she did. But to say that everything she did was false is something I can not believe."
"That's right!" Dewdrop said. "I would love to hear her story! I can't imagine, after how well I got to know her, that she did what she did for a frivolous or petty reason. And you ignore one huge fact. While we may have been led to believe she was a different pony on the outside, I know for certain that, after all we went through together, we got to know the pony on the inside very well. And that pony would never do as you claim!"
Hearing words spoke in her defense made Luna raise her head and start to cry. "But, I betrayed all of you! I was such a terrible friend, I don't deserve such kind words spoken about me. I hurt you all so much!"
Haystack took a step forward. "You hurt us, yes. We did feel betrayed some. But would we have come all this way if we didn't still care for you, and want to be your friend?"
"And what do you mean, a terrible friend?" Feather Down asked. "You were a great friend, a pony I considered to be one of my best friends of all!"
"All I did was take though…" Luna started, but was cut off angrily by Dewdrop.
"Nonsense! How were you taking from me, when in a time of crisis, I came to you for help at the inn? If all you were doing was taking, you wouldn't have helped me, let alone get the rest of our friends to chip in too!" Dewdrop stomped the ground hard. "Without your help, I would have been a complete mess, a wreck, a failure!"
Pine Needle stepped forward, next to Haystack. "So many other ponies are too quick to disregard anything I say, because they think I talk funny, or because I believe in some things that they do not. But you always took the time to listen, to help me out! At the welcoming party, you not only helped me stop making an idiot of myself, but took the effort to keep me away from Applejack so I wouldn't relapse into the love struck idiot I was behaving as!"
"And the Running of the Leaves!" Feather Down added. "If you hadn't convinced me to run, instead of just trying to avoid the whole situation, I would still be hiding from a mistake of my past! You gave me the confidence and the encouragement I needed to go and do my best! Because of you, I can now be proud about my running abilities, instead of trying to hide from an earlier embarrassment caused by them!"
"Like Dewdrop," Haystack said, "you saw how big of a bind I was in with getting the harvest in. If you hadn't found Pinkie Pie, I don't even think we would have been able to do even a small portion of what we did. With just the three of us, it would have simply been too much. You helped not only keep me in my house, and make the entire year before that not be a wasted effort on my part, you helped feed many ponies by what you did. Not only I, but the entire town of Ponyville owes you!"
"What we're saying," Dewdrop concluded, "is that for everything you may have gained from us, we easily gained back from you and then some. That's what friends do, help each other when they can. They share not only the good times, but also the bad times, to help each other shoulder the load and get past them. Were we startled and shocked to find out who you really are? Yes. But we're your friends, Luna! We want to help you through this!"
Luna felt tears streaming down her cheeks, but this time, they were not ones of sorrow. "Really? You don't hate me for what I did?" she asked, emotions choking her words.
"NO!" her friends replied in unison.
"Now get away from whatever it is that Nightmare Moon is doing to you!" Feather Down yelled.
Luna stood, and started to walk to her friends. "Not so fast!" Nightmare Moon yelled. She had stayed quiet during the previous conversation, doing her best to gather in as much energy as fast as she could. When Luna tried to walk away, Nightmare Moon pulled back, and kept her from leaving the raised part of the room. "All I need is just a little more time!" she yelled in frustration. As if to match her displeasure at the turn of events, the sky lit up with a furious volley of lightning, illuminating sky for miles around.
Back in Ponyville, the sudden surge of power did not go unnoticed. Princes Celestia and the guards quickly regrouped. "For there to be such storm like effects on a cloudless night like tonight, magic must be involved. Bring the chariot there, it may be needed yet. I'll go on ahead!" Pushing herself to the limit, Celestia flew to where the storm continued to erupt. As she drew closer, recognition crept in. 'I've been there before! That's where Luna was freed from being Nightmare Moon! It can't be a coincidence!' Every ounce of her will was channeled into flying as fast as she could.
Luna's friends leaped into action. As Nightmare Moon tried to literally drag Luna up and away, even against the struggles of the alicorn herself, Haystack flew up and wrapped his forelegs around Luna's neck, adding his weight to hers. Luna reached out and in turn grabbed Haystack. Feather Down jumped up next, grabbing Haystack's tail in her mouth as she tried to wrap her forelegs around Haystack hind legs. Pine Needle and Dewdrop didn't even need to jump at this point, instead simply grabbing Feather Down's tail with their teeth, and soon the chain of ponies had stopped Nightmare Moon's progress in stealing away the princess, and began to slowly pull her back towards the ground.
The struggle lasted for a couple of minutes, and Haystack feared he was starting to lose his grip when the five of them fell free even as Nightmare Moon let out a loud yell of anguish. Their momentum ended up having them all tumble back a ways, and they ended up in a giant pile in the middle of the room. Luna found herself hugging Haystack still, and she was laughing. "Thank you all! Thank you so much, I…" She found herself coming to a halt with her thanks as she saw that her friends weren't looking at her, but instead behind her and above.
Turning around, her mouth dropped open in horror as she saw Nightmare Moon still hovering in midair, surrounded by the glow of the full moon shining down from above. Nightmare Moon seemed to be as shocked as everyone else, but finally tilted her head back and laughed loudly. "Well, well, well, what do you know?" She cackled, staring down at the others. "I don't know how this happened, but I'll take it! Maybe I gathered enough energy, maybe it's something to do with this place and my earlier defeat at the hooves of the Elements of Harmony. It doesn't matter though, because I am finally my own mare!"
Luna and her friends slowly backed away. "What do we do?" whispered Dewdrop.
"You can die, that's what you can do!" Nightmare Moon yelled, dark energy coalescing at the end of her horn.
"NO!" yelled a voice from above. Everyone looked up to see princes Celestia streaking in as fast as she could, building up magical energy of her own. "You leave my sister alone!"
Nightmare Moon turned upwards, and shot her blast at the arriving alicorn. "Oh, how I've dreamed of doing this!" she said as her dark bolt of magic hammered into Celestia's side and sent her tumbling to the floor, where she bounced twice before sliding up against a wall. "Even better! I can kill both of you, claim all of your powers, and be the uncontested ruler of all of Equestria!"
Feather Down raced to stand between Celestia and Nightmare Moon. She stared defiantly at the evil alicorn, even though her legs were shaking in fear.
"Child, no!" Celestia choked out, trying to regain her strength. "She will destroy you without even noticing. Run! Find Twilight Sparkle, and tell her what has happened here!"
Nightmare Moon laughed. "Yes, where are your pet Elements of Harmony? Why aren't they here to stop me, hmm? Why, I do believe that you may have misplaced them!" Her jibes were cut off by a small rock flying up and bouncing off of her flank. Turning in amusement, she saw Dewdrop standing off to one side lifting another stone with her magic. "Really? Is that all you can do? Mildly annoy me? I think I will make your death a most unpleasant one for interrupting me!"
Haystack flew up and tried to kick her, but she ably dodged. "What is this?" she screeched, her amusement turning to annoyance. "Most ponies would just flee and try to save their lives!" She saw Pine Needle carrying more rocks over to Dewdrop. "What compels you do such suicidal acts? You know they can not have any effect on me!"
"They do so because I asked them to!" Luna cried out from below Nightmare Moon. The dark mare cursed, having forgotten about Luna in her glee at having knocked Celestia from the air. Energy was building up around Luna's horn, and the moonlight from above seemed to almost warp and bend to be gathered in by her. "I needed a chance to get into place, and they all risked their lives to help me out by distracting you." She smiled, and now it looked like a pillar of light was coming down, straight from the moon itself to land on Luna's horn. "They are the best friends I could ever hope for, and I will repay them for their bravery and their trust in me!" Nightmare Moon tried to flee, but seemed held in place, trapped in the silvery lunar light.
A massive column of light erupted from Luna's horn, slammed into Nightmare Moon and reached higher and higher, lifting the dark mare high into the sky. From afar, those few who happened to be looking up at that time saw the bolt of magical energy climb higher and higher, until it seemed to merge with the moon itself, a single pillar of light reaching from the moon to the ground below. Finally, it died away, blinking out, and the night sky returned to normal.
Luna, exhausted and spent, collapsed to the ground and fell on her side. Celestia and her friends all rushed to her, relieved to see that she was still awake, and not in pain. Pine Needle stared straight up, through the hole in the ceiling. "Do we need to be watching for when she falls back down?" he asked apprehensively.
"No," Luna whispered. "I sent her back to where we were before. She is trapped once again on the moon. I can no longer feel her in my head. I am free."
"How did you do that?" Dewdrop asked, her voice filled with awe.
"I'm not entirely sure," Luna admitted, slowly standing up. "It just felt right, using the lunar light like that."
Feather Down chuckled, and then broke out laughing. The others stared at her, wondering if she was all right as she finally was so overcome with her laughing fit she ended up on the ground rolling about. "What is so funny?" Celestia asked, a smile on her face from the antics of the pink earth pony.
"Don't you see?" Feather Down said, catching her breath for a moment. "She zapped Nightmare Moon with a moon beam! How fitting is that?"
The others all joined in the laughter for a bit, and finally wound down as the two pegaus guards brought the cloud chariot in through the hole in the roof. "Sorry, your Highness," one said. "We wanted to make sure it was okay to come through first, what with that light show and all."
"I fully understand, and I thank you for your caution." Celestia turned to Luna, who was surrounded by her friends again. "Luna, I'm sorry, but I think you need to come back to Canterlot with me. It will be too hard to explain why one of the royal sisters is living by herself in Ponyville."
Luna nodded slowly. "I know. I understand now, how hasty and foolish I was. It was wrong of me to go and do what I did without confiding in you. If there has been anypony I should have been able to trust, it was you. I'm so sorry for what I did, sister. Please forgive me!" She smiled when Celestia silently nodded at her. She turned to her friends. "I just hope that after all of this, we can still be friends. Please say that you will!"
"Of course we will hun." Dewdrop said. "We're going to miss you though. I just wish that we could still be with you like we were. Things just aren't going to be the same with you not around."
"You know," Celestia said, her head looking upward thoughtfully, "I can think of an easy way for all of you to keep in touch with each other..."
One week later...
"Dewdrop! Wake up! Wake up!"
Dewdrop slowly cracked her eyes open. She could see through the bedroom window that the first rays of the sun were barely peeking over the hills. "Who are you," she asked in a tired voice, "and what have you done with Feather Down?"
"I am Feather Down silly, and I'm telling you to wake up! I don't want us to be late, not today! Today's the day!"
"What do you mean, today…" finally, Dewdrop's mind woke up enough to register what was happening. "Oh my! Today!" Suddenly awake, she fell out of bed with a crash, and shook herself awake. "Time for breakfast and a quick bath, then off to the library!"
"I already took my bath!" Feather Down said. "I left the tub full for you! I'll get some food ready, you get clean!"
A short while later, the two roommates were finished with their morning routines, and were getting ready to leave their house. Dewdrop used her magic to levitate Feather Down's saddlebags onto her friend's back. "Are we forgetting anything?"
"Nope! Let's get going! I don't want to be late!" With that the two ponies left their home and headed on into town at a gallop.
At his house, Pine Needle was in a bind. He had a set of saddlebags of his own, but they looked overpacked, and he seemed unable to figure out how to get them onto his back without upsetting the contents. He approached it from various angles, and even tried crawling underneath the back strap, but just couldn't get himself low enough to the ground. He looked about ready to have a nervous breakdown when a voice from above called down. "Looks like you could use some help there!"
Pine Needle looked up, relief visible on his face. "Haystack! It is good to see you, mine friend! If you could assist me with getting these onto mine back, I will be ready to head into town with you!"
Haystack landed and grabbed the back strap of the saddlebags with his teeth. After visibly struggling to lift the bags off of the ground, he was able to get them high enough for Pine Needle to slip underneath them, and with a gasp Haystack let them drop onto his friend's back. "What do you have in there? Rocks?"
"Close! Ha ha, I will show you later, but for now we must make haste, or risk being late!"
Haystack nodded and the two headed off into Ponyville.
Twilight Sparkle stepped outside of the Ponyville library with a smile on her face. She and her friends had just returned from Appleloosa, successful in helping the ponies and the buffalo come to an agreement. She had just woke up an hour ago, but was now ready to head out for another day of travel. Looking into the sky, she saw arriving in the distance from Canterlot two cloud chariots being pulled by pegasi from the royal guards. "That's funny," she said to Spike, who had joined her outside, "where are the others? Oh! Here they come!" She saw Luna's friends come galloping up to her. "Hello, everypony!" Twilight said. "Are you ready to spend the day in Canterlot?"
"Oh, you can not know how excited I am by this!" Feather Down gushed. "To see the capital in person, to get to ride in a cloud chariot and actually enjoy the experience, and of course, to get to see Luna!"
Dewdrop chuckled. "She could barely sleep last night. Neither could I, to tell the truth. We haven't had the chance to see Luna since that crazy night, but at least we'll get to see her regularly from now on!"
"Indeed!" Pine Needle enthused. "For Princess Celestia to arrange this weekly get together for us, I am honored and amazed at such preferential treatment!"
"Are you coming to visit Luna too?" Haystack asked Twilight.
Twilight shook her head. "No, while you ponies entertain Luna and get caught up, I'll be keeping Celestia company. It's been quite a while since we've had the chance to be together, the two of us. I think she'll be a bit lonely too, to be honest. Her and Luna have been getting along really well since whatever happened. Celestia still won't talk to me about it, she just says to wait till we see each other face to face."
"I imagine it would be too much for her to share simply or effectively in a letter." Dewdrop said.
"So," Twilight asked, looking at the heavy load that Pine Needle was carrying. "What's in the bags?"
"Well, since we will only get to see Luna once a week, we thought we should bring her some souvenirs for when we are not there. I am bringing something that I value greatly." With that, he lifted up the flaps of one the bags with his teeth to reveal a pine sapling sitting in a bed of dirt. "It is the first one that has sprouted from my trees, it would make me the happiest pony alive to know that Princess Luna was taking care of it!"
Haystack chuckled. "His other bag has her copy of the city map that she was given when she moved here. I thought it would be nice for her to look at it and remember all the good times we had. Also, there is a small bag of the flour she helped mill, as a memento of the time we spent working together on the farm."
Dewdrop nodded. "I couldn't think of much, but I made sure to bring her telescope back with us, and I thought she might like a towel from the hotel. She carried enough of them around, I figure she should get to have one for herself." She turned to her roommate. "You never did tell me what you were giving her."
Feather Down blushed. "I'm giving her my race medal. I wouldn't have it without her anyways, and it isn't like I go around wearing it."
Finally, the cloud chariots landed in the area outside the library, and the ponies got on board. Pine Needle and Feather Down got in one, and Twilight Sparkle and Dewdrop got in the other. "I'll be more than happy to fly alongside to balance out the loads." Haystack said, and with that they all took off towards Canterlot as Spike waved goodbye to them.
The flight there was uneventful. Haystack smiled the whole way, and just a few minutes after leaving the ground, Pine Needle pointed out to his friends that Feather Down's early morning burst of energy had worn out, and she was now taking a nap. For his part, Pine Needle refused to look down over the side of the chariot, having learned previously that flying was something he did not enjoy, no matter how much the pegasi pulling the chariots assured him that he was perfectly safe.
Finally, the spires of Canterlot came into focus, and the chariots came in for a landing. Standing there in a courtyard, so excited that she couldn't stand still, Luna watched as her friends landed, and they all rushed together to meet in a group hug. Twilight watched them slowly wander off together, and them waited as Celestia walked over to her.
"Things are going better for her," Celestia said as she stood next to Twilight, watching Luna and her friends walk away. "She's more confident now, more sure of herself, and it shows. Ponies are less able to simply shrug her off, and she has a renewed optimism about everything she does."
"And how are you doing, Princess Celestia?" Twilight asked her mentor.
"Much better. We had a very long talk, and she has promised not only to never do what she did again, but to be more open in coming to me for help if she needs it. We still have a tough road ahead of us, but I think we're going to be okay. Now, how have your studies been coming along?" With that, Celestia and Twilight headed off in a different direction. Before heading inside, Celestia turned around one last time to take in the sight of her younger sister, laughing and playing with her friends.
Thank you all for reading all the way through. All the responses and reviews I have received helped me greatly, not only to help me keep writing at my pace, but to also inspire me to try to make each chapter better than the rest.
I'm still amazed at how big this got, especially for this being just my first fanfiction. A special thanks to Lauren Faust, creator of this version of My Little Pony, for making such a wonderful world to play in. Also, thanks go to Sethisto, of the blog Equestria Daily, for giving me more publicity than I deserved for being a first time author just getting his feet wet.
I ask forgiveness if some parts came across as a bit too long, especially the farming parts in the middle chapters. But the world builder in me was way too fascinated with the thoughts of how a civilization, where the entire society lacks hands, and only the unicorns can use magic for the very fine control needed to build so many of the things present in the series, came to be. The ovens in kitchens, the books in the libraries, the houses themselves, none of those could be built without unicorn magic, or so it seems to me at least. Just how do simple things like farming get done without unicorns constantly being available to do all the (magical) lifting? I only covered a few bases, and I might tackle more in the future in other stories. It's just too fascinating to me to leave alone.
As for these characters, I am done with them for now. As much as I came to love them all, I'm not going to use them again unless the perfect story comes along. With none currently in mind, and with a Fluttershy idea currently getting my muse all excited, it won't be anytime soon either. Still, I'm certainly am not going to say never, as there are still lots of aspects about them I want to explore, including how being friends with Luna affects their daily lives back in Ponyville.
Finally, let me say thanks to all of you one last time. I had a blast writing this tale, and I'm glad, judging from the feedback I got, that the enormous majority of you had fun reading it too. I can only say thank you for the reception you gave it. I am honored and humbled by it, and I only hope that my future endeavors are as good as this one was.
Until later, may the magic of friendship be in all your lives as well!
7/01/11: A few extra notes.
Many, MANY thanks to Robotech_Master for helping me go through this novella length epic and fixing a ton of errors. I wrote this without any sort of pre-reader to help me out, and it showed. Oh, how it showed.
Also, fanart! Zonra drew a wonderful piece depicting Luna as Moonbeam with her friends. You can find a link to it on my author profile page.