The next two days at the inn were easier than the first. With the trouble making unicorn no longer in town, work proceeded smoothly. Dewdrop was able to use her magic to keep the dress that Rarity had given her free of any stains. "It helps that my specialty is water based, I can use my magic to help clean up even the nastiest of messes," Dewdrop confided to Luna. For her part, Luna was feeling much better after having come to grips with what she felt she needed to do.
On the second evening, just as the group was about to head back home, Luna called her friends together in the lobby. She had practiced in her head what she wanted to say dozens of times during the day. But now that she was faced with actually having to speak the words, she found that she was having trouble opening her mouth. Her friends waited patiently, and finally Luna found her nerve.
"Tomorrow night, the moon will be full. If the skies stay clear like they have been, it will be a perfect night for looking at the moon up close. So, I want to hold a moon watching party. You're all invited. I want…" She trailed off for a second, then looked at the ground. "I want to share more about myself with you guys, and I think this will be a good way to do that."
"We would love to come, Moonbeam!" Pine Needle said enthusiastically. The other ponies all nodded in agreement. "I have to be honest, I have always wondered what it would be like to look through your telescope, so I will not miss this for anything."
"We'll be more than happy to be there," Feather Down said. "What time do you want us to show up?"
"I would like to have us start at sunset," Luna replied. "I'll serve some snacks, and explain some things as the light of the sun fades away. After that, the moon will be up and the sky should be dark enough that I can start showing you some specific things." She looked around at all of them. "This means an awful lot to me, so thank you very much."
"And thank you, Moonbeam," Haystack said. "It's never easy to host something like this, even for a small group like us. We appreciate the effort you're putting forth."
Luna blushed, slightly embarrassed. "Okay then, tomorrow's the last day we need to come in, right Dewdrop?"
Dewdrop nodded. "Yes. The manager is returning tomorrow. It should be an easy shift of cleaning and straightening up. I think we have a couple of groups scheduled to arrive, but compared to the packed house we've been watching over for the last couple of days, it will seem extremely easy."
After some more small talk, the group left the inn and went their separate ways. Luna stopped by the market on the way home to pick up some food for the party. 'I could get it on the way home tomorrow,' she thought as she left with a full bag carried in her mouth by is handles, 'but I want to save as much time as I can then for setting things up and getting ready.'
The thought of what she was going to do, finally reveal her true identity, had been making her nervous ever since she had decided to go through with it. And yet, at the same time she was surprised by how calm she felt. 'Maybe its because I know that, just a little later than this time tomorrow, the worst lie of my life will be revealed. I'll no longer have to hide. From them, or myself.' Arriving at her house, she paused just inside the front door. "Depending on how things go tomorrow," she whispered, "this might be my last night here ever." She put away the food she had bought, and then went upstairs to give her telescope another look over. She had practiced using it nightly, and now felt comfortable enough with manipulating it with just her teeth and hooves that she felt sure she wouldn't make a fool of herself tomorrow while setting it up and changing what it was looking at during the party. Finally, she laid down in her bed. Even though her emotions were still in flux, she still managed to fall asleep rather easily.
Luna stared at moon landscape with frustration. "How did I know I was going to end up here tonight?" she complained.
"Well, some might say that coming here is your way to think things over, to talk with yourself. In more ways than one, I suppose," Nightmare Moon said with amusement from behind her.
Luna turned around. "I've been trying to avoid showing up here as much as I could. I thought I had it figured out, until tonight anyways."
Nightmare Moon looked at her gravely. "It's never wise to ignore what you're telling yourself. After all, if you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?"
"What do you want? I'm not in the mood for this," Luna griped, looking at the white, rocky soil under her hooves.
"Well, boo hoo hoo. But somepony has to talk some sense into you. If you go ahead and break the disguise tomorrow, you are aware of how bad things are going to be, right? Do you honestly believe that they will all simply forgive and forget that you've been lying to them for such a long period of time? Look, I've been thinking." Nightmare Moon slowly walked around Luna. "You're worried about being stuck as earth pony forever, aren't you? Consider, if somepony made a spell to change a unicorn into an earth pony, I don't see why it can't be done the other way around too. It isn't like we won't have eternity to work on it, and then find somepony to cast it for us down the road. If worst comes to worst, I'm sure we could get our sister to do the deed for us, although I'd rather save that as a last resort."
"So," Luna said softly, still staring at the ground, "you think the best path is to stay in our disguise, and not show my friends?"
"Without a doubt!" Nightmare Moon proclaimed.
Luna raised her head, and flashed a gigantic smile at Nightmare Moon. "Thanks. Hearing you say that, it means that my plan to reveal myself is the best thing for me to do." Luna wavered for a brief moment, and then disappeared from the moon dream.
Nightmare Moon waited for a moment, to make sure Luna wasn't returning, and then started laughing maniacally.
"Sometimes," the black mare said after calming down, "it's almost too easy."
The next day passed in a nervous blur for Luna. She, Haystack, and Pine Needle were at the inn, while Feather Down was back at her regular job. Luna and her friends were busy getting the rooms all cleaned up. Pine Needle and Haystack were carrying loads on bedsheets and towels down to the basement, where Dewdrop, with the use of her magic, was doing her best to get as many cleaned as she could. Luna, meanwhile, was working on scrubbing out the bathrooms. They had finished with the lower floor when the front door opened, accompanied by the ringing of the bell attached to it. Dewdrop rushed up to see that the hotel manager had finally returned from Canterlot.
"Welcome back, sir!" she said. "Look! The inn is still standing! Hooray!"
The manager chuckled. "How did everything go?"
"Well, that's a long story, sir." Over the next ten minutes, Dewdrop filled in her boss about Lilypad and Hazelnut being ill, getting her friends to help cover on really short notice, and the near disaster that was the dinner of the first night. "We're getting everything cleaned up now, sir, I'm pretty sure we'll be done come lunch time."
"Well, I'm mightily impressed by your resourcefulness then, Dewdrop! If you don't mind, I'll head out and visit Hazelnut and Lilypad, see how they're holding up."
"Thank you, sir! Tell the girls I said hi and that I miss them, would you? I've been too busy to go visit them myself, and I feel a little bad about that."
"I'll be sure to do that." With a wave, the manager left again. Dewdrop watched him leave, then returned to her work. After an hour, Luna called for her to come put the finishing touches on the rooms. Her horn aglow, she flattened the sheets, got the towels all perfectly placed on the shelves, and cleaned those hard to reach corners with a feather duster. They all gathered back downstairs for lunch just as the manager returned from visiting the ill employees.
"Ah! You must be Dewdrop's friends!" he said, going around and shaking each pony's hoof in turn. "Dewdrop told me all about what happened, and I can't thank you enough for your help. Please, let me know if there is anything I can do to help you out in the future!"
Haystack looked a little embarrassed by the praise. "We were happy to sir, especially after Dewdrop went out of her way to help us just before this when we were trying to bring in the harvest on time. That isn't the only reason why we came, of course. She's our friend. That's all that matters, really." He gave Dewdrop a smile.
"Still!" the hotel manager said. "I owe you on top of the pay you'll be receiving. Have any of you had lunch yet?" Seeing them shake their heads no, he said, "Well then, this will be my treat! I'll take you all to the fanciest restaurant in town!"
"But sir! What about the inn? There will be nopony here to watch the place!" Dewdrop protested.
The manager chuckled. "Ah, Dewdrop, it pleases me that there are still things you do not know, so I don't have to worry about you opening your own establishment anytime soon and driving me out of business. I don't know if I could compete against a place called the 'Dewdrop Inn'. So! Let me show you a trick I have." He walked behind the front desk. "Back here, I have a mysterious device that I use in times of dire emergencies. Where did I hide that thing?" the manager muttered as he dug around in the nooks of the desk. "Aha! I have… this!" He lifted up a sign that read 'Closed – We'll Be Back Soon!'
Dewdrop put a hoof to her head and moaned as Pine Needle laughed. "Excuse me, sir?" Luna softly spoke up. "One of our friends helped out for most of the days, but had to go back to her job today. Could we stop by on the way and see if we can get Feather Down to join us for this meal?"
"Feather Down! I know her, that's your roommate that you talk about all the time, right Dewdrop?" Seeing Dewdrop nod in confirmation, he added, "We'll stop by to pick her up on the way then. I know her boss, so I'll pull some strings if I have to." The manager then hung the closed sign in the window, and held the door open for the others. Locking the door on the way out, they headed over to Feather Down's restaurant and, after a small amount of talk between the two bosses, Feather Down was free to join the group for lunch.
For Luna, the meal was another reminder of all that she had left behind over a month ago. The decor and expertly dressed wait staff reminded her of the servants and dining area back in the castle in Canterlot. Also, it was easily the best tasting meal she had eaten since arriving in Ponyville. It made her realize that while anypony can choose good looking pieces of fruit or vegetation to eat for a meal, it takes a master of the cooking profession using just the right methods of preparation and the exact proportions of spices and seasonings to bring out the best in a meal.
Done with lunch, they returned to the inn. After an easy afternoon, the manager let them leave a few hours early, and the friends went their separate ways. "We'll see you later tonight, Moonbeam!" Haystack said as he left, and the others echoed his words. Luna headed home, suddenly unsure as to what she wanted to do.
At home, she double checked that she had all the snacks that she wanted to serve that night ready, and soon found herself with hours to go before having anything planned. With nothing planned, she left her house and just started to wander randomly. Soon, she was walking through the outskirts of town, in an area that she knew she hadn't spent much time in, but yet seemed familiar to her. Looking around, she gasped in recognition. She galloped up a hill, and upon reaching the top, looked back at where she had come from.
'This is where I first saw Ponyville. Right before I cast that spell.' For a while, she just stood there taking it all in, reminiscing over all that had happened since then. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
"In a way," Luna whispered, "it has been a lifetime. Moonbeam's lifetime." Suddenly, she found her legs could no longer support her, and she was curling up on the ground, sobbing. 'Why am I crying?' she thought. And then it hit her. She was mourning. Mourning what was to be the end of everything that she had come to know over the past weeks. 'It could end up better. It may result in something worse. But while it lasted, it was fun.'
'I just wish it didn't have to end.'
Luna lost track of time, but knew that as long as she got home before the sun started to sink below the horizon, she would be fine. So she just rested there for a while, crying until no more tears came. Finally, a rumble in her stomach let her know she was getting hungry, and she picked herself up from the grass and headed home. After eating, she took a long bath, doing her best to get rid of any signs of her earlier breakdown. Looking outside, she saw that there was maybe an hour left until sunset. She decided it was late enough, and started to get everything ready.
First, she drug her telescope out onto the deck, and set it up roughly where the moon would be in a short while. Next, she went and got the plate of snacks she had prepared and placed them on her table. Then, she went and got her pouch with the moonstone in it, and placed it on the pillow of her bed. 'I'll just have to make sure Feather Down doesn't break my spell early,' Luna thought to herself, a small chuckle escaping from her throat at the thought.
Finally, she ran out of things to do. She walked out onto her deck and watched the sun set, glancing constantly at the road below, looking for her friends. Time dragged on, and doubts started to fill her. 'I don't have to reveal myself,' she thought to herself. 'There are other ways I could do this! I could say I had a family emergency come up, and leave town and break the spell when nopony is close by. Then they'll never have to know!'
As soon as she finished the thought, she knew that wasn't what she wanted. 'No. After everything they've done, I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror without despising myself. After all the risks they took on me, for me to just run away, without even saying goodbye?' Her train of though was interrupted from a holler down below. Turning, she saw that her friends had finally arrived. "One second!" Luna called down to them as they turned off the road to approach her front door.
Dashing downstairs, she got to the door before her friends did and held it open for them. "Thank you all for coming!" she said with enthusiasm that she didn't quite feel.
"We thank you for having us!" Pine Needle proclaimed.
"Yes, I've been looking forward to this ever since you told us about it," Dewdrop said. "I've never been to a moon party before, what exactly do we do?"
"Well, there really isn't anything official about this. It's something I've made up," Luna admitted. "But there are a few things that I thought of, so hopefully this won't be a complete flop."
"Moonbeam, don't stress yourself out," Haystack said. "Unless the moon somehow manages to disappear on us, I think we'll be entertained by what we do tonight."
"Well," Luna said, gesturing with a foreleg at the table, "first, help yourself. While you snack on those, I'll do my best to explain what we'll be doing in a short bit, after it gets dark enough to be able to view the moon properly." The other ponies all crowded around the table, and soon, they were all nibbling on various crackers and slices of fruit.
When everypony had their attention focused on her again, Luna started to speak. "First off, one thing I want all of you to understand through this is just how big the moon really is. Most ponies, when they look up into the night sky, the idea of what size the moon is never crosses their mind. If you were to ask them, they would most likely say that it is the size of an apple. Which is what it looks like in a way."
Luna started to walk around the room, getting into her explanation as she started using gestures to emphasize certain points. "But consider the mountains on the horizon all around us. They look no bigger than a house from far away, but we know that the closer we get, the taller they grow, until we find ourselves at their base, and having to lay on our back to be able to take in their towering heights without spraining our necks. Consider then, that while we can walk to those far off mountains, that no pegasus has ever been able to fly high enough to reach the moon. That's how far away it is. For it to still be visible in the sky as it is, it is literally its own world above us. I know you won't be able to really appreciate this until you see it through the telescope, but trust me, it's amazing when it finally sinks in just what you are looking at.
"There will be a couple of different features I will be pointing out to you that will help get this across. My personal favorites are what are called seas, or in the older languages that researchers and astronomers from long ago used, mares. It may be pronounced as mah-ray, but it is spelled just like a female pony, or a mare."
Feather Down raised a hoof. "So, there's water on the moon then? For there to be seas?"
Luna shook her head. "No. That was what they thought those dark areas on the moon were long ago, but once telescopes were developed, ponies could see that there wasn't any water on the moon. However, the name stuck around." Luna looked out through a window. The sun had set, and the sky was turning dark. "Okay, I think we can head on up when you're all done. I'll need a minute or so to get the telescope properly set for what I want to show you first, so please bear with me."
Her friends finished with their snacks, and they all headed up the stairs and then outside onto Luna's deck. The nights of practice that Luna had put in with the telescope were finally paying off. She was able to align it quickly, and without any fumbling. "First up, we'll be looking at one of the larger craters on the moon. Astronomers believe this was created when a falling star landed on the moon long ago, creating a giant impact. Pay attention to how high the crater wall goes up."
One by one, her friends all took their turn. And one by one, they all had to be almost forcibly pushed aside by the next in line, they became so enraptured by the sight. Finally, Luna was able to get Haystack to give up his spot at the telescope, and she started to adjust where it was aimed. "Next up," she said when her teeth weren't busy turning knobs on the telescope to change where it was aimed, "we will look at one of the mares I was talking about. This one has the name 'Mare Tranquillitatis', which in the ancient tongue means 'Sea of Tranquility'."
Haystack insisted they reverse their order from the last go around, and after they all agreed, he got to look first at the lunar sea. As before, ponies had to be almost dragged away from the telescope so the next could have a turn. Luna had been worried that this portion of the night would go by too quickly, but she was starting to realize that she could probably spend the entire night just changing where the telescope was pointing, and never have to reveal herself. Again, she forced such thoughts out of her head. 'I can't back out now!'
Over the next hour, she showcased a couple more craters and another mare. She could see that her friends, while still greatly enjoying themselves, were also starting to feel the effects of the late hour. 'This is it,' she thought, 'I need to do it now, before they get too tired to understand what I'm doing.' Suddenly, without warning, she felt herself starting to cry again.
"Moonbeam, what is wrong?" Pine Needle asked. "Those do not look like tears of joy."
Luna took a deep, ragged breath which quickly got everypony's attention focused on her. "I'm, I'm so happy you all enjoyed this part of the night. But, I have something…" she took another deep breath, trying to ignore the alarmed looks on the faces of her friends. "I have to tell you something, before it eats me away from inside!" She blurted out in one big rush.
Concern and worry showed on the faces of her friends, and Luna motioned for them to follow her into her bedroom. Once they were all inside, she looked at her bed and said, "I've been a terrible friend to all of you, and I'm so very, very sorry."
A silence hung in the room, and finally Dewdrop spoke up. "Hun, you're scaring us, talking like this. I don't know what you think you have to apologize for, but you have not been a terrible friend to us at all!"
"That's right!" Feather Down chimed in. "Please, tell us what's wrong, so we can help you, Moonbeam."
"That, that is the problem. My name isn't Moonbeam." Luna walked over to the bed, picked up the pouch with her teeth, and shook the moonstone onto the floor.
Seeing all her friends staring at her in complete confusion, she dropped the bag to one side and bowed her head deeply. "Dewdrop, the pony you found all those weeks ago on the edge of town, was not the pony who was there even minutes before. Moonbeam has been a cover, a disguise…" Another deep breath filled the silence. "It has all been a lie," she whispered.
Finally, Pine Needle broke the silence. "I can not even pretend to understand what you are saying. What do you mean, disguise?"
"I cast a spell. A disguise spell."
"Wait a minute," Dewdrop interrupted. "Earth ponies can't cast spells!"
"I'm not an earth pony," Luna whispered. "I'm not Moonbeam. I really am…" She raised her hoof above the moonstone. After a brief wait, a short delay not so much born of hesitation but of savoring what she had been for one last instance, she brought her hoof down onto the moonstone, shattering it with a stomp.
From underneath Luna's hoof, light erupted, filling the room with a dazzling array of streams of light. Luna again found herself being lifted off of the ground, but instead of experiencing pain, she felt joy and comfort. She could feel her wings and horn slowly reappear, and only then did she truly understand just how incomplete she had felt without them. She looked around the room, and saw her friends all staring at her, mouths wide open, eyes filled with shock and awe. Her coat and cutie mark returned to their proper shades and shape, and then Luna felt something else start to enter her. 'It must be my magic returning,' she thought.
Suddenly, a giant boom shook her house. The light exploded from her, leaving Luna to collapse to the ground like an overripe apple finally becoming too heavy for its stem. The windows were blown out, turning into small clouds of shattered glass to fall onto the lawn outside. Her friends were picked up by the wave of force and slammed into the walls, hard.
Luna got to her feet shakily, staring in horror at how the spell had finished. Her friends were all splayed out on the floor, moaning in pain. Her bed had even been tossed onto its side. 'No!' she thought, 'It wasn't supposed to hurt them like this! This shouldn't have happened! Why? Why?'
In her head, another voice replied, 'They will hate you for this.'
"No." Luna protested softly, as the other ponies groaned and slowly tried to get upright.
'Yes,' replied the other voice. 'Look in their eyes. I see shock. Fear. Pain.'
Luna moaned in despair. Indeed, the eyes of her friends were wide open, full of shock, unable to focus on anything but her.
'Run,' said the voice. 'Run now, before they turn on you out of fear. You don't want to hurt them anymore, do you?'
Luna, eyes filled with tears, did as the voice told her, and fled down the stairs and out the door. Blindly, she felt herself being gently guided away from town, and let herself be taken away from the disaster she had caused.
Back in the house, Feather Down was the first to regain her senses enough to ask out loud, "What just happened? Was that really Princess Luna?"
"Princess Luna?" Haystack asked groggily. "Are you sure?"
"It had to have been," Dewdrop replied. "Even if I hadn't seen her at the Summer Sun Celebration a couple of months ago, just the fact that she had both wings and a horn narrows the options down to two. And that wasn't Princess Celestia."
Haystack nodded slowly in agreement. "Okay then, so one of the two royal princesses was somehow Moonbeam? I mean, I guess there is no denying it, but I just can't grasp it at all!" He looked around at the others. "What are we even supposed to do about this?"
Pine Needle finally stood up, the last to do so, and looked around. "We need to go after her. That's what we do." The others turned to look at him. "Only one pony can explain to us why Princess Luna did what she did, and I would like to hear it from her own mouth. It was obvious she was hurting." He looked each of the others in the eye. "She is our friend. To not do at least that much for her, would be criminal." The others all nodded slowly in agreement.
Dewdrop stepped forward. "Okay then. Haystack, quick, get in the sky, try to track her down from above. She left on hoof, and not on wing. I don't know why, but that gives us a chance to catch up to her. We'll follow behind." Haystack ran out onto the deck and took off, while the others ran down the stairs and out the front door, hoping to be able to somehow track down and catch the fleeing princess.
In Canterlot, Celestia was just about to turn in for the night when she felt the spell on Luna break. She quickly headed over to her desk and, using her magic, wrote a letter quickly. 'Twilight Sparkle, it seems that Luna has finally decided to break the disguise spell. Could you please go over to her house and make sure that she is all right? Thank you very much, Princess Celestia.' She sent the scroll away with a spell and waited for a reply. A minute later, another scroll appeared in front of her. With her horn glowing, she opened it up and read it out loud to herself.
"Princess Celestia, I am happy to hear that princess Luna has finally decided to stop hiding behind that terrible spell. However, since me and my friends are currently on our way to Appleloosa to deliver an apple tree, and won't be arriving until the day after tomorrow, I am unable to check in on how Princess Luna is doing…" Celestia stared at the letter for a short while, then let it drop to the floor. She suddenly recalled Twilight mentioning something about a trip to the frontier village in her previous letter, but hadn't paid it much attention. Finally, her shock wore off, and she galloped out of her room.
"Guards! To me!" Two armored pegasi stallions quickly arrived in front of her. "With all haste, get a cloud chariot, and follow me to Ponyville! I don't know what awaits us there, but prepare for the worst. I will go on ahead." Without even waiting to see if they understood, Celestia rushed to the nearest open window and dove through it, taking wing and flying towards Ponyville as fast as she could.
'Hold tight sister, I'm coming as fast as I can!'