Frigid Winds and Burning Hearts

Part 4

In a small hut on the far reaches of Ponyville and nearing the border of Everfree Forest, an unhappy rabbit thumped his foot impatiently as he stood in the kitchen waiting for his breakfast. Angel Bunny was a creature of habit, everyday he'd awake at 8:00 and be promptly served his morning carrot by 8:15. It was now nearing 8:30, and his pegasus had still not awoken to perform the daily ritual. Fed up with waiting, the peeved ball of white fluff hopped upstairs to see to it that his Fluttershy got her lazy yellow carcass out of bed. Jumping up and turning the knob to her bedroom door, Angel bounced to Fluttershy's bedside. Grabbing her clock from the nightstand, the rabbit leapt on top of the snoozing pegasus. A light sleeper, Fluttershy's eyes snapped wide open, a terrified squeak soon following. Peaking from the covers that were currently serving as her first line of defense against the many evils and perils of the world, she saw only her beloved rabbit before her and smiled.

"Oh Angel Bunny," Fluttershy said groggily, pointing to the night sky outside her window "it's much too late to be up. Don't be anxious, I know we have a lot to do in the morning. We have to see more of our bird friends off before they leave for winter, snuggle in the frogs and lizards, and…"

As she spoke, Fluttershy slowly drifted back to sleep, a single crude snore signaling the finality of her retreat back into the world of dreams. Angel brought his paw to his head in disappointment and aggravation. Hopping up close to her face, the rabbit gave the pegasus a light wake-up slap on the face. Torn from her sleep again, Fluttershy gave Angel an annoyed look.

"Angel Bunny! It's—"

The rabbit interrupted her by shoving the clock into her face and pointing to the hour.

"…It's 8:30! Oh my, but it's so dark outside," her eyes narrowed, "Angel, you wouldn't happen to be playing a trick on me, would you?"

The bunny shook his head and pointed at the clock again.

"No? Hmm not a trick…an all day eclipse? An Ursa Major ate the sun?"

The rabbit disconfirmed each theory with two more headshakes.

"Daylight savings time?"

The rabbit gave her another light smack, causing Fluttershy to blush in embarrassment.

"You're right, that was silly of me; that was just last week. Then…am I dreaming?"

Angel gave Fluttershy a pinch.

"Ah! Okay, so that's a no…"

Angel leapt from the bed and hopped back to the doorway. Pausing, he turned back to look at Fluttershy with an angry expression as he pointed down the stairs. Realizing what Angel really wanted, Fluttershy's sleepy demeanor shifted quickly to an alert concern as she hurriedly flew out of bed and down the stairs.

"Oh Angel Bunny, I'm so, so sorry! You must be starving you poor thing! I, I just slept in today without thinking. Please forgive my selfishness little friend, let Fluttershy get you a nice, juicy morning carrot."

From back upstairs, the white rabbit smiled and hooped merrily down the stairs. Fluttershy met him at the bottom with a particularly large carrot. At the sight of the monstrous orange root, Angel's eyes widened and began salivating. Jumping up and snatching the carrot, Angel Bunny scurried off to a corner and proceeded to gnaw away on his prize.

Glad to see her pet satisfied, Fluttershy's thoughts turned back to the unabated night outside her door. Gazing through the window, she saw that the stars were shining brightly and that the wind was still as fierce as it had been when she went to bed. There was but one change: the moon was fixed in the corner of the sky as if it were trying to escape, but with little success. Not quite sure to make of the phenomena, she looked back at Angel and shook her head.

"I don't know Angel," she said to her gorging pet, "I don't like the looks of this, it reminds me of, well,—"

A blinding flash lit the room, followed immediately by a loud bang. As the light dissipated, Fluttershy immediately took cover underneath her coffee table, her eyes glued-shut and body shaking. Then from the darkness she heard a familiar voice:

"Fluttershy, it's all right. It's me, Twilight."

The yellow pegasus slowly opened her eyes only to meet Twilight face-to-face. Relieved, Fluttershy smiled at her friend.

"Oh Twilight," Fluttershy said as she emerged from underneath the table, "you gave me quite the scare! You really should knock next time, it's just plain rude to…"

"Fluttershy, I know this might sound weird," Twilight interrupted, her tone gravely serious, "but I need you to be strong for me, can you do that?"

"Umm, I don't know…I thought…is something wrong?"

"Fluttershy, I want you to take a deep breath and brace yourself."

"Umm, why?"

"We have a problem, a very, very nasty problem that requires your medical expertise."

"Oh, did you find an injured animal?" Fluttershy responded, her timidity giving way to a sense of urgency "That's terrible! Please, let me see it right away!"

"Well, it's not exactly…wait Fluttershy!"

As Twilight spoke, Fluttershy weaved around the purple unicorn to get a look at her new patient. Nothing, especially Twilight's few words, could prepare Fluttershy for the shocking sight before her. The only way the fragile pegasus could process the situation through the one way she knew best: vocalizing every observation until she could make sense of it. She started her list with the blood drenched pony before her.

"Big Mac bleeding? Applebloom crying?"

Fluttershy then caught sight of the blue alicorn's figure.

"Princess Luna!"

She quickly turned her head back to her window.

"Night during the morning!"

Looking back to Luna, she made her final conclusion.

"Nightmare Moon is back to wreak her terrible vengeance on us! Eeep!"

Before her friend could fall into her usual catatonic state, Twilight firmly grabbed a hold of the terrified pegasus.

"Fluttershy, you've played with a deadly manticore, lectured an enormous dragon, and literally stared down a cockatrice! I need you to show me some of that courage, Big Mac really needs your help now. Please, we can't afford you to pass out!"

"But, but Nightmare—"

"No, that is Princess Luna. It's a long story, but, put simply, Big Mac was assaulted by the Royal Guard. As things are, we can't take Big Mac to the hospital, Ponyville is unsafe for Luna and I right now…"

"But, but why did they do it, Twilight? Why would they hurt Big Mac?"

"I promise I'll explain everything to you. I Pinkie Pie swear. But you have a patient that is in dire need, do you think you can help?"

Fluttershy looked from Twilight to the severely injured pony in her living room. Taking Twilight's words to heart, she bucked up; her expression of horror was soon replaced with one of determination. Somepony required her aid, and she would do all in her power not to fail him.

"Yes Twilight. I can help." Fluttershy responded resolutely, "I'll need you to lay him down on that table and start cleaning his wounds. I'll have Angel get you some wet wash clothes. Angel!"

The rabbit hopped over to Fluttershy quickly. It was clear by his haste that he was far from oblivious to the crisis that was now playing out in his home. Having heard the pegasus' order, Angel saluted and dashed into the kitchen to retrieve the requested rags.

"Good," Fluttershy said, returning her attention back to Twilight, "I'm going to disinfect my hooves and gather my medical supplies. The largest animal I've ever had to care for was a bear, so I think I can, uh, do this."

"Fluttershy, I have no doubt in your ability. I've seen you take the most hopeless creature in and get them back on their feet in no time flat. Even Philomena looked a little better before she combusted."

As Fluttershy trotted into the kitchen, she looked back at her friend and gave her a nasty look.

"Don't ever bring that bird up in this house again, Twilight, I mean, if you don't mind." Fluttershy said, her final words reverting back to her usual meekness.

Realizing her mistake, the unicorn thought it prudent to just shut up and help Luna and Applebloom prepare for Big Mac's surgery. Both her companions had up to this point been silent, doing only their best to comfort the massive pony. Like Angel, they had heard Fluttershy's instructions and immediately followed them.

Using her magic to lift Big Mac onto the table, Luna could not help but be overcome with revulsion at the hideous wounds that marred his body. She had witnessed terrible sights in the past, many that even dwarfed the present, but never had the shadow of death seemed so close to her. The centuries of watching fillies turn to ponies and ponies turn to dust did much to desensitize Luna to the tragedies of life and death, but now her heart could not help but to empathize deeply for the mortal in front of her. The goddess knew that her selfishness was at the root of her morose reaction; being mortal herself she could not simply write off life and death so lightly, especially when death came so unnaturally and undeserving.

Once again, Luna shook off her morbid fears. She would not permit death to come for Big Mac.

Setting him down, Luna lowered her face on level with Big Mac. The red giant opened a single eye and looked at the princess, saying nothing but telling her everything. The pain of every excruciating wound and shattered bone coalesced and was made manifest through the reflection of his swollen and bloody eye. Resisting the urge to cry, Luna whispered gently into the pony's ear.

"Big Macintosh, my champion, I can never repay you for your selflessness, but at the very least I can relieve you from the pain you suffer."

Angel returned, bringing the ponies a bucket of water and several wash rags. Wetting the cloth, Luna wiped the blood from Big Mac's face, his body stiffening from the sting of her touch. Seeing his discomfort, Luna plucked one of her azure feathers and transfigured the plume into her potent sleeping powder. As she dispersed the drug around Big Mac, she lightly sang an ancient lullaby.

"Hush now, quiet now, it's time to go to sleep…"

Big Mac felt a wave of relief pass over him as the fragrant substance soothed his weariness and numbed his pain. He felt the touch of spring on the doorstep of winter; Luna's soft voice sounded to him a chorus of songbirds calling him away to green pastures and a warm sunrise. With a peaceful smile, Big Mac closed his eye and drifted into serenity.

Seeing Big Mac fade, Luna felt fatigue finally catching up with her. Coupled with the fact that she too sustained significant injury, Luna had not slept in a day. Trying to snap out of the sleepiness that now gripped her, Luna slapped herself and shook her head about. The princess couldn't doze off now, Fluttershy needed her assistance, so she continued to clean his wounds.

Returning from the kitchen, the yellow pegasus was now clad in green scrubs and had her mane tied back. In her mouth was a large white medical kit with a red sun blazed on the front. With a stern look on her face, she approached Big Mac and inspected his body. After a minute, Applebloom broke the silence.

"Fluttershy, will Big Mac be okay? You can help him, right?"

"Well, yes, I hope." Fluttershy responded, "Let's see…it seems that Big Mac was hit by a blunt object repeatedly on the torso and several times on the head. The cuts he has on his face I can easily stitch up, no problem, but I worry about blunt trauma possibly sustained on both parts of his body. I'll need to check if there is any internal bleeding, but from the looks of it his back bore most of the strikes so damage to the organs seems unlikely."

"And this," she said with a hint of disgust, turning her attention to the bolt that pierced Big Mac's thigh, "I've seen this type of injury many times, unfortunately. Poaching around Everfree Forest is not too uncommon, you know. For now the arrow is stopping the bleeding, so we can tend to it lastly, but we need to be very, very delicate when we do! I'm almost certain the arrow fragmented some bone, so I'll need to perform surgery."

Twilight was impressed at how quickly her demure friend had analyzed Big Mac's condition and prescribed an appropriate course of action. But Fluttershy was a caretaker; it was only natural for her to be so perceptive. Like the great flock of butterflies that spared her from certain death, Fluttershy was a fragile, gentle savior capable of seemingly miraculous acts. An excellent testament to her destiny, it was fitting that the elegant insects be venerated as the yellow pegasus' emblem.

As Fluttershy began to lay out her instruments, she noticed that Twilight's eyes were bloodshot. It must have been a long night for the unicorn prodigy.

"Twilight, before we start, I need to know if you slept last night at all."

"No Fluttershy, I can't say the princess and I had that luxury."

"Twilight, I can't have you two help me if you're going to doze off mid-way through surgery. I insist that you both go to my bedroom and get some shuteye."

"But…"

"Don't 'but' me, miss! Now take Princess Luna with you upstairs and have a good rest."

Twilight sighed in defeat. There was no point in arguing with the pegasus when she felt the need to be assertive. Besides, Twilight was dead tired and the prospect of sleeping in a soft bed right now was very appealing.

"C'mon princess," Twilight called to Luna, "Fluttershy says we should rest for a bit."

"What?" Luna replied with a look of rejection, "Fluttershy, surely I can be of help! I've already sedated Big Mac an—"

"Princess Luna, if you could please go upstairs…"

"Wha-? I am a goddess, Fluttershy! Not some fil-"

Fluttershy's eyes bore down on Luna, her frightening stare paralyzing the princess.

"Upstairs!"

Luna was suddenly compelled to comply with Fluttershy's order, despite her better wishes. She knew full well of "the stare"; it was a very rare ability developed through one's close relationship with the natural world. The fact that it worked on her was what was troubling to Luna, it only reminded her of the limits of being mortal. In her mind, there was nothing worse than a restriction of her liberty. It was partly this dearly held conviction that drove her to insanity during her imprisonment, but even then it was Celestia, her equal, who had banished her. Now she was at the mercy of a soft-spoken pegasus? She could not help but resent Fluttershy and curse the new prison her mortal condition had come to represent. In some ways, it was far worse than the moon.

As Luna obediently ascended the stairway, Fluttershy turned to Twilight.

"Tell the princess I'm sorry for raising my voice, it was, uh, quite rude of me to be so disrespectful, but you two need sleep. Don't worry about me, Angel Bunny and Applebloom will be all the help I'll need to perform the surgery. It's mostly a one pony job, anyway, uh, so please don't feel bad, okay?"

Twilight nodded to her friend and went upstairs, eager to throw herself on a pillow and sleep. She welcomed the reprieve a good rest would provide from the questionable journey she had gotten her and her friends involved in, almost with deadly consequences. Twilight could only hope that Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Rarity could make it out of Ponyville all right. Reaching the top, she entered Fluttershy's room and found Luna asleep on the floor. Twilight gave the princess an apathetic look that just bordered on open distain before jumping into Fluttershy's bed. It had been physically and emotionally trying night in many ways, and Luna was the cause of all of it. The unicorn did her best to chase away this and the many other troubling thoughts plaguing her, closed her eyes and fell asleep. Luckily for her, happy dreams carried her off to the Royal Equestrian Library at Canterlot where a pile of research was waiting for her to tackle.

Luna, however, was not as fortunate as Twilight.

The princess of the night found herself alone, surrounded in darkness.

"Celestia! Sis! Where are you?"

A feminine, regal laugh was all that responded .Luna's face turned red with anger.

"Sister! This isn't funny! Show yourself!"

"Very well," A voice chuckled, "Let me get the lights then!"

A fiery red flash exploded from the void, blinding Luna with an intense, searing heat. Opening her eyes, she found a giant ball of fire before her, a crude mimicry of the sun. As she looked into the fire, she could make out what appeared to be a large pupil gazing intently back at her.

"I see you Luna! You will never be alone again, for I see all that dwells within your heart and mind. I know all that you have done, plan to do, and will do. "

"Celestia, don't do this, you're scaring me!"

"Don't fret dear sister, my vision pierces cloud, shadow, earth and flesh. No pony is free of me, all live according to my will in perfect harmony."

"No Celly, that isn't what we wanted! It's not right!"

"Right?" the voice laughed "There is no good and evil, little sister, only order and chaos! Now take your place in the grand tapestry of my design!"

With a cataclysmic thunder, the ball of fire imploded, blinding Luna a second time. Her vision blurred, she checked her new surroundings. She found herself in the middle of a field, the sun above scorching the desolate brown earth. She soon saw a hundred grey earth ponies bearing plows moving towards her in a perfect line, each step they took was in complete unison. As they drew nearer, Luna gasped in horror. The ponies had no eyes, yet each wore the same disturbing smile. Their flanks were bore no cutie mark, but rather a nine digit number. Unable to stand the dystopian scene, Luna turned around only to behold her sister.

"Why, hello Luna. I see your checking on the crops today too. How responsible of you, I commend your initiative."

Celestia sat upon an ornate sedan being carried by several of the Royal Guard. Unlike the farmers, the pegasi had eyes, but their cold, empty stare made Luna question if there really was a difference between the two. Looking back to Celestia, Luna saw that the sun goddess was garbed in the vestments typical of an Imperial Drake: a suit of golden armor covered her entire body while an extravagant red cape lined with fur draped across her figure. Her head was adorned by her usual, simple crown, but in company with her opulent costume it served to accentuate, not diminish, the intimidating stature of the princess. At her side was a seethed long sword and in her hoof was a scepter of many precious metals covered in equally precious gems. The staff was crowned with a ruby sun resembling that of her cutie mark.

"Celly, what do you think you're doing? Have you looked at yourself? You look ridiculous!"

"Aww, you don't like it Luna? That's a shame, after all that trouble I went through to order you one. Would you at least give it a chance? It's the latest fashion."

At Celestia's beckoning the Royal Guard brought forth a mannequin displaying the goddess' gift to her sister. The silver armor and the dark blue cape were akin in style to Celestia's save for the intricately forged metal weights and chains decorating the suit.

"Go on, take it. Come; join me at my side. It's where you belong, after all."

"No!" Luna shouted, her anger rising, "I'm not you're puppet, Celly! I do as I please; I belong free in the heavens and so do you!"

"What is this?" Celestia responded in feigned surprise and distress, "Nightmare Moon has returned? Somepony stop her before the rivers run red with the blood of fillies!"

Instantly, the entire corp. of guards turned, locked their dead gaze on Luna and advanced.

"What? No Celestia, don't bother. Nightmare Moon exists only in your fairy tales! I'm your sister!"

"Oh, you don't look anything like my little sister, you lying traitor!"

Panicked, Luna looked at her hooves, and discovered that her coat was now pitch black. Trying to flee from the guard, Luna tried to fly, but found that her wings were missing. Horrified, she tried to teleport, but her magic too failed. Helpless, five guards easily subdued the princess, beat her with clubs, and brought he r to her knees before Celestia. As she struggled with the guards, Luna opened her mouth and heard somepony speak out.

"You may triumph here Celestia, but I will never bow to you!" the voice said with defiance and contempt, " 'Tis better to reign over the Moon than to serve in Equestria!"

The voice and words were not hers, yet they came from her. Was she really Luna or was she Nightmare Moon?

"Huh, you won't be so lucky this time, you piece of demon shit. I've waited too long for this." Replied a familiar gruff voice.

Looking up in fear and disgust, Luna saw that Celestia's face had been replaced with the sneering visage of Captain Braveheart. Drawing his sword and raising it above his head, the captain brought the blade down on Luna's exposed neck.

"Have a pleasant death, princess! Bwahahaha!"

Luna awoke in a cold sweat, her heart pounding and her breathing rapid. The dream had been so vivid, so memorable, that she could still hear the captain's laugh ring in her ears. Gaining her bearings, she checked her surroundings nervously, making sure that she had escaped her frightening dream. Assured of her safety, she sighed and rose to her hooves, the shadow of the nightmare still lingering in her mind.

Checking the bed, Luna found Big Mac sleeping peacefully. It seemed that Fluttershy had performed her task with little problem: all of the red pony's wounds had been tended to diligently, each cleaned, stitched and bandaged. Big Mac's right leg was propped up by several pillows, a new cast now covering his thigh. Seeing Big Mac in recovery momentarily dispelled Luna's disturbing dream from her thoughts. She smiled and ran her hoof affectionately through the stallion's yellow mane and kissed his forehead lightly.

"Oh my!"

Luna heard a soft voice and the fumbling rattle of dishes. Turning to the doorway, she found Fluttershy blushing intensely. Around her neck was a tray carrying two bowls of carrot soup, two glasses of ice water, and a single red pill.

"Oh, um, I didn't mean to, uh, oh my, I mean I see you're awake Princess Luna! Would you, uh, care for a late lunch? I thought you might be up, so I, uh, brought extra, you know, just in case."

"That would be lovely, but I just ate not too long ago, …"

Not soon after she spoke these words Luna felt her stomach growl.

"…or perhaps not. Fluttershy, would you be as kind as to tell me the time?"

"Certainly princess, uh, I believe it's about 3:00 in the afternoon, I mean, if it wasn't night still…"

"3:00? Already? It felt so short, but I suppose I should be thankful for that…Fluttershy, do you know where Twilight is? We best be making preparations to move on. Your friends have arrived by now, correct?"

Fluttershy looked to the ground before looking back at Luna, replying in a low voice.

"Um, well, no. Twilight is downstairs, I had to wake her two hours ago to give Big Mac proper bedding, so I think she's a tad, well, grumpy. While we waited for you to get up, I made her some cocoa and she told me your story and plan, too, and, umm..."

An awkward silence.

"…and?" Luna prompted. Fluttershy averted eye contact with the goddess, preferring to instead look upon her non-threatening floorboards.

"I, umm, I, guess I can, uh, trust you. I mean, you seem kind enough to Big Mac…" Fluttershy said, blushing heavily again, "I mean, whatever you did to put him to sleep, that was wonderful. He didn't stir once during the operation and he seemed very tranquil the entire time."

"Everything went all well with the surgery I presume then?"

"Oh, yes, just give him time."

Another awkward silence descended in the room, but this time it was Fluttershy who broke it.

"Uh, if you like, you can take some soup and join Applebloom and Twilight in the kitchen downstairs. I need to attend to Big Mac right now…"

Seeing that she was being dismissed Luna nodded and gave a weak smile.

"Thank you Fluttershy, I will."

Taking the bowl of soup, Luna went downstairs where she was promptly greeted by a worried looking filly.

"Princess Luna, Princess Luna!" Applebloom called out as she dashed to meet the princess."Didja see Big Mac? Do ya think he looks like he's gonna be okay? Fluttershy had me leave when Ah started cryin' durin' the operation, said that'd be best that Ah not see it an' she sent me to the kitchen. Ah haven't seen Big Mac since."

Luna patted Applebloom's red mane and replied.

"He's looking much better now, Applebloom. He's sleeping still, but I don't think it would be much of a problem for Fluttershy if you went to see him."

The goddess was surprised to see that her words of comfort did little to change Applebloom's gloomy expression.

"Ah'm glad to hear it an' all princess, but why did it have to happen? Why'd the Royal Guard hurt Big Mac? Why'd they hit you?"

Luna was now visibly nervous; she could only hope the young pony didn't catch on to it. She didn't want the incident to shatter Applebloom's innocence any more than it had or the truth to ruin her new relationship with the little filly. Luna didn't want to lie, she despised lying, but lie she did.

"Well, Applebloom, you see, do you remember when I told you that I had not told the guard of my absence?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, in their haste to retrieve me, they used excessive force and mistakenly hit me without knowing it. Yes, and, uh, they saw Big Mac as a threat to my safety."

"Well, he was thrashin' about and beatin' em up, I guess…"

"Exactly, there was…an error in communication. I demoted the captain for that reason."

"But, why'd they want you so badly that they'd wreck mah house?"

Luna was frustrated with the persistent questioning. Her lie was going to have to get bigger. Resigned to this reality, Luna hoped to kill two parasprites with one stone with her next fabrication.

"Well, I was being irresponsible. Today is the Autumn Moon Festival, a ceremony in my honor. Celestia thought it only fair, so in celebration she decided to not raise the sun so that all could appreciate my night sky. However, I don't care for such pointless showboating, so I skipped the festivities. I'd much rather eat pancakes with you!"

Applebloom had her hoof to her chin as she processed Luna's story, a look of concentration dominating her expression. After a brief while, it finally clicked in her head.

"Oh! Okay! That explains a lot, princess, Ah was wonderin' why it was night outside, I was startin' to think that nasty, no-good Nightmare Moon was back or somethin'. Ah asked Twilight why it was dark but she didn't say anythin'. She's been sad all day, maybe you should talk to her?"

Luna looked from the filly to Twilight. The unicorn stood next to the window, gazing into the empty night with a pained expression and her brow furrowed in deep thought.

"I think that's a good idea, Applebloom. Now, go upstairs and see your brother! I'm sure Fluttershy woke him up to take his medicine, you should be there for him."

"Yes ma'am!" Applebloom replied enthusiastically, running past Luna up the stairs. Taking the bowl of carrot soup, Luna trotted over to her sister's student.

"Twilight, would you care for some of Fluttershy's soup? It's nice and hot, despite the cold draft. Normally I'd eat it, but this kind I find to be…unsettling at the moment."

"No thank, princess," Twilight replied in a distant voice, not bothering to break her gaze, "I had some earlier."

Luna rested the bowl on the window's ledge.

"Twilight, is the safety of your friends' bothering you?"

Still refusing to look at the goddess, Twilight responded.

"Yes, but I think they're okay. I doubt if even the Royal Guard could ever catch Pinkie Pie…as for Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy sent one of her messenger birds to alert her to our…plans…I hope it can make it…the wind is unforgiving today…"

As Twilight spoke, her voice trailed off until she abruptly stopped talking all together. Luna was now becoming worried.

"Twilight, look at me."

The unicorn either didn't seem to hear her or refused to comply. Luna's fears were exacerbated by Twilight's dead silence. It came across as she repeated herself.

"Twilight, look at me!"

Reluctantly, she faced the goddess and looked Luna dead square in the eyes. In them the goddess saw the same doubt she had seen earlier at Sweet Apple Acres. Choking back, Luna knew full well what was troubling the young mare.

"You don't trust me."

Twilight looked away from Luna and resumed looking out the window, her face now stern as stone.

"No, no I don't, princess."

Luna was at a loss of words as anger and confusion gripped her. This unicorn, her friend, had provided her with several precious histories, fought the Royal Guard, and saved her from imminent capture and yet she had no faith in her. Trying to check her frustration, Luna did her best to calmly respond.

"Why Twilight? After all we've been through in just a short period of time, why can't you trust me?"

The unicorn turned back to the princess. The doubt in her eyes had been replaced with indignation.

"Why? Why? You want to know why? I've thought long and hard, and it just doesn't make any sense! You came to me for help at the same time Celestia disappeared and then accused her of being some sort of tyrant! But that doesn't fit with what I know it just doesn't! Tyrants do not last, you have to know this, it's one of the golden rules of history! So don't find it surprising that it's been really hard for me to believe you. I just can't rid myself of the feeling that you're manipulating me and my friends with revisions of your own. It's like you want to tarnish Celestia's name! "

Twilight's words were so potent that Luna's ire could not be contained.

"I'm the manipulator!? I'm the slanderer?! I think you have me confused with your benevolent teacher, Twilight. She's built up this world on revision, lies, and careful manipulation!"

"See, you're doing it again!"

Luna paid no heed to the unicorn's reply.

"As her student, you've been subject to her subtle art on a daily basis, so I can only imagine how pained you are to hear this, but just think back to the Grand Galloping Gala. Once my sister found out your commoner friends wanted to attend an elite social event, she counted on their ignorance of noble norms to ruin the stuffy soirée."

"No, no, Celestia said it was the best Grand Galloping Gala ever…nopony got hurt and everypony just laughed it off…"

"I'm sure it was, I'd love to see the nobles and dignitaries scared out of their gaudy tuxedos and dresses, see them put in their place. And that's exactly what Celestia wanted, to remind them who was in charge, who it was that stood in the balance between anarchy and order. Don't fool yourself into thinking she did it for laughs, that's juvenile, Twilight. Celestia would never cause chaos or endanger lives if it didn't meet her ends."

Twilight was troubled, but not fazed by Celestia's words. The unicorn was still clearly angry.

"Princess, you act is if Celestia actually controlled everything, but Equestria is a democracy, I just voted in the provincial elections last month!"

"Twilight, if Celestia were merely a figurehead like you seem to suggest, why would she be attending all those meetings you yourself noted? If you paid any attention to her duties or weren't the least socially oblivious, you would have been aware of all the backdoor politics that transpire at Canterlot Castle!"

Her eyes welling with tears, Twilight tried to respond, but she couldn't find words to express herself. Luna's words stung too greatly.

"My sister loves control, she'll do the most heartless things to secure it." Luna continued, her tone still as fiery as before, "She'd even banish her own sister to the moon!"

Twilight shook her head.

"No, no, no! I, I know what happened a thousand years ago, Luna! You're no innocent!"

"You know nothing of the past!" Luna said, her face burning from Twilight's accusation, "I lived it, I fought it, I suffered it! What do you have? Nothing! Nothing but a collection of dusty dragon books!"

"Stop it, stop it!" Twilight cried, falling to the ground and curling up defensively. Luna stopped her assault. Seeing the unicorn so vulnerable made Luna realize that she had let her emotions get the best of her again.

"Stop it please…just listen!" Twilight pleaded, "How can I trust you when you constantly try to turn me against everything I know, everything I love? Celestia, Lightning Strike…"

The second name caused Luna's ears to perk up in interest. Her curiosity now tempering her anger, she interrupted Twilight.

"Lightning Strike? The pegasus who raided your library and stole your books?"

The memory of the incident summoned several soft tears to stream down Twilight's red cheeks.

"Yes." She responded in a solemn voice, "I was a timid little filly when I became Celestia's pupil. Going out in public with her was a living nightmare, there were so many ponies asking me questions, taking pictures of me…it was just all too much. It became so bad that I couldn't even visit my parents or my brother without being mobbed. Fearing my safety, Celestia assigned me a fresh private from the Royal Equestrian Military Academy, Lightning Strike."

Twilight smiled weakly, her happy memories doing much to soothe her anger.

"At first Lightning Strike did his best to be an average, boring guard. But as time went on, his true fun-loving nature came out. When Celestia was really busy, we'd play in the courtyard instead of having lessons. Sometimes he'd even go as far as to prank me!"

Twilight's smile faded.

"But when we went into town together, he was always professional and very protective. If I ever got into trouble, he'd lecture and lightly discipline me, but he was never insensitive to my feelings. If ever the other fillies made fun of me, I'd run to Lightning Strike and cry and he would pet my mane and call me a strong little trooper and…"

As Twilight rambled, Luna found it difficult to believe that her sister's guards could ever be that affectionate, especially one who had proven himself resolutely obedient and detached.

"… and so It hurt a lot when he was promoted and reassigned." Twilight continued in a low voice, "Celestia offered me another guard, but I refused. That was ten years ago."

Twilight paused and inhaled deeply hoping it would give her the strength to continue her distressing tale. Another tear trickled down the side of her face.

"…Then last night he knocked on my door. I was so happy to see him; I called him by his old nickname and pressed him to catch-up with me, but he just ignored my questions and wasted no words. It was all "Miss Sparkle" that and "Royal mandate" this. As his pegasi started stripping my library, I was shocked beyond words; the only thing I could do was to try to separate the cold guardpony from my memories of Lightning. If he wanted to act like a faceless soldier, I'd treat him like one. It was a petty attempt to block off the pain, but it worked until we met again at Sweet Apple Acres."

"The Lieutenant was there?"

"…Yes. Upstairs." Twilight replied, her body beginning to quiver with emotion, "But this time was different. This time, it was so much worse he, he…"

Twilight could no longer contain herself. Tears burst forth as she raised her voice to fill the house with all that tormented her.

"He called me Sparks! Only he called me that! I didn't want to believe it, my mind still refused to accept that he was my friend! And he hit me, Luna, he smacked me twice! He hit me, and I, I had to shock him! Princess Luna, my heart broke when he fell to the floor, but I could feel nothing. There was too much happening; I just couldn't process all of it. But I love him, Luna, he, he was there for me when my brother joined the academy and left me alone...when I embarrassed myself in public...when I disappointed Princess Celestia...I just don't understand why this had to happen, why he'd do this to me, and-and why I feel so empty!"

"Twilight," Luna said, her anger subdued but not subsided, "I empathize with you, I really do. What you feel is betrayal, something I know all too well. He wronged you, just as Celestia wronged me."

The unicorn's expression hardened at Luna's words.

"No, you're wrong princess," Twilight rebuked, now standing to her hooves, "We betrayed them! I betrayed both Celestia and Lightning Strike! I should have listened to Applejack; I should never have fallen for your lies!"

"My lies?" Luna said, a bit taken aback, "How can you say that? You saw me bleed, you made me bleed! Not even a deity can fake that!"

"That's just it, princess; I don't know what a deity can do. You could have limitless power for all I'd know! In the affairs of goddesses and princesses I'm just as ignorant and stupid as little Applebloom. That's right Luna; I heard what you told her."

Luna looked away, mortified and angered that her little lie had damned her in Twilight's eyes.

"You spun a plausible web of deceit pretty quickly for one who claims to herald truth and expose Celestia's 'lies'. I doubt you hesitated a second when you told her! But why should you? I have piles of research that paint the exact same portrait of you: a deceiver, a trickster!"

"That's not fair Twilight!"Luna said, a tear falling from her eyes, "I wanted to protect Applebloom, I wanted…"

"You wanted her to love you, and you did it through deception." Twilight said pouring as much contempt into her words as possible, "Just like you did to me."

"Twilight, that is a gross exaggeration and you know it!" Luna responded, standing her ground, "It was a white lie, nothing more! Don't try to use it to justify your misguided malice towards me!"

Hearing her words, Twilight's fury receded, leaving only sorrow and shame in its wake.

"I'm, I'm s-s-sorry princess, I, I" Twilight sputtered, fresh tears flowing "I, I'm just so confused, I don't understand anything that's happening, and it scares me!"

As the goddess realized what truly ailed Celestia's student, her hot temper faded. Despite Twilight's harsh words, Luna could only empathize with the pitiful unicorn before her. Nuzzling her, she did her best to comfort the distraught mare.

"No, Twilight" Luna said, her voice now soft and soothing, "I should be sorry. It was wrong for me to burden you with divine politics and conflicts. No mortal can fully comprehend them, no matter how brilliant and wonderful the student is."

Twilight looked into the goddess' eyes only to find the greatest sincerity. Seeing this, she reciprocated Luna's affections in silence, wiping her hot tears away as her face caressed Luna's blue coat.

"I did it because I hoped to discredit Celestia's history," Luna continued, her eyes now closed, "as if it would succeed in proving to you that I'm not evil, that I'm not power hungry witch. I love my sister more than you could possibly hope to understand, it was never my intention to turn you against her. Just...just to question her."

A short silence passed between the two before Luna broke off their embraced and looked Twilight deep into her eyes.

"Twilight, why did you join me if these doubts troubled you so much? What compelled you to comfort me, to defy the Royal Guard, and to assemble the Elements?"

The unicorn sniffled, trying to gather herself before responding.

"Princess…I'm a perfectionist. When I was a young filly, I was so excited to learn everything, but I just ended up getting frustrated by my limitations. Princess Celestia saw this, and she taught me that if ever I could not understand a situation fully, it was best to let my heart guide me."

"Celestia…Celestia taught you that?" Luna questioned, amazed that her sister would ever advocate an emotional response to a problem. It sounded more like something she would advise. Was Celestia genuine with Twilight or did she want to check her student's appetite for knowledge?

"…Yes, but it's always been difficult for me to follow. When you came to my library, every rational bone in my body screamed to dismiss you. But as you told your story, your pain was so genuine and your predicament so disturbing that I couldn't think evil of you. I had to help you; it's what Celestia would have wanted..."

"Twilight, can I ask for you to renew your faith in me? I swear to you on my life that we will find Celestia!"

To Luna's disappointment, Twilight did not respond immediately. Instead, she turned her head away from Luna and looked back to the window.

"…I'm sorry princess, but I just need to clear my head…I'm not used to emotional roller coasters, I need to go outside for a bit."

As Twilight left the cottage, Luna thought of warning her of the Royal Guard or the chilling winds, but she didn't. The unicorn needed to be alone for awhile, and Luna honored that decision, she knew all too well the drive to escape and find solitude. The goddess could use the time herself to eat and perhaps finally look at Twilight's research in peace.

Luna grabbed her bowl of soup and brought it to the kitchen table. Before she could try it, she heard Fluttershy's soft voice coming from upstairs.

"Umm…is…uh, everypony okay down there?"

Luna returned to the stairway and called back to the shy pegasus.

"Yes, we're sorry for the commotion, Twilight and I…we were…just sorting things out between us."

"Oh! Umm, you wouldn't happen to be, uh, done would you?" Fluttershy said, peaking out from the doorway of her bedroom.

"Yes, Twilight's gone out for a brief walk and I'm about to eat, would you care to join me?"

"Umm…I guess, if that's all right…"

Fluttershy descended the stairs nervously and slowly, unsure what to make of all the yelling and gnashing of teeth that just minutes ago filled her house. Meeting the princess at the bottom, the two went into the kitchen. As the princess returned to her bowl at the table Fluttershy noticed that Luna's soup looked as if it had cooled.

"Princess Luna, let me get you another bowl, that has to be cold by now." Fluttershy said as she poured herself and Luna more soup from the pot on the stove.

"Thank you for your hospitality, Fluttershy." Luna said politely and calmly, trying her best to spare Fluttershy from the intense emotional aftermath of her fight with Twilight, "This whole affair has taxed your strength at a moment's notice and yet your kindness has not diminished the slightest."

"Oh, yes, I'm always glad to help, princess, even if I'm…a little frightened. Can I get you anything else?"

Luna thought for a moment and replied.

"Actually, yes Fluttershy, you can. Do you recall seeing Twilight's saddlebags?"

"Uh, why yes. Twilight left it in my room, would you like me to fetch it for you?"

"I would appreciate that a lot, thank you for offering."

It did not take the yellow pegasus long to retrieve Twilight's things for Luna. Opening it up, Luna was surprised to see so many pages of translation; she did not remember Twilight's compilation to be that voluminous when she packed it. It would take days to read through all of it, time that would be best spent towards finding Celestia. But Luna was good at digesting information, so she was sure a quick skim, though not giving the unicorn's work justice, would suffice for her purposes.

Taking a sip of her soup as she glanced over the documents, Luna quickly realized that Twilight had not been merely translating the books. The margins were covered with her notes, spanning from typical translation explanations to her own empirical research into the topics. The tedious effort evident in the writing made it clear to the goddess that Twilight wasn't just brushing up on her Wyrmish, this was her hobby. It was of little wonder why the unicorn felt so torn now; there was probably nopony in Equestria that had studied Luna's 'history' more.

Taking a particularly note-riddled page from Pestilence of the Moon Witch, Luna began to read:

The Nightmare Moon and the Princess of Light struggled in open conflict, neither ceasing to sleep or eat. For many years, the sun and moon did battle in the heavens. When one sister overcame the other, their respective cosmic body would dominate the sky, causing great confusion and disorder in Equestria. The normality of the days and seasons in tatters, crops between the Years of Despair* (1001- 1033) failed to grow in sufficient quantity*. Thousands of the peasantry died of starvation as a result of the cruel power lust of the black witch*. So many dead could not be contained by the graveyards, and thus many nameless funerals for the dead were performed. They were interred en masse*.

Luna stopped to read Twilight's citation notes.

Doctor Van der Hoof writes of several mass graves found not too far off from Stalliongrad and St. Ponyburg, two of the oldest towns in this province. He lists several likely explanations, but fails to give a definitive conclusion. I'm certain that here I've found what he wanted to say. (Van Der Hoof, Dusty. "A Dirty Business: The Reasons for Mass Burial." Journal of Equestrian Archeaology 34.1 (2011): 212-28.)

The years given are my own conjecture, the actual text does not follow conventional Equestrian dating, but rather old Wyrmish methods.

Who the "black witch" in this sentence isn't specified, though probably Nightmare Moon.

A more literal translation of the text is a bit more vivid: "The withered bodies of the dead were flung into many open pits until the ground was so full of flesh that one could swear that Mother Earth herself was dead and rotting." A little extreme? Probably an exaggeration.

Perplexed, Luna continued to the translation of History of the Dark Shadow, searching for an equally enlightening entry from Twilight until she came upon it.

[The Nightmare consumed all life. With one hoof she rose the cruel and wicked to power, with the other she shielded them from the wrath of the sun goddess. The war in the heavens soon spilled to the lands of Equestria as the Nightmare's nobles and allies sought to dominate all. With the help of the Dark One's black magic*, they summoned fell beasts of black fire* to join their armies on the field of battle. Town after town fell to their forces until at last they reached Canterlot. The city's defenses were led by the valorous Royal Guard, who successfully repelled the assault with the aid of a young dragon called Blackteeth.

Again, Luna checked Twilight's adjoined notes.

Blackteeth is a legendary figure in Canterlot, but there has been little proof he ever existed.

The "Dark One's" identity is uncertain, but probably Nightmare Moon.

Visited Canterlot 5-4-2011. Noted that many of the remains of the old city walls stored in the museum archives are scorched with fire. Likely evidence for the siege.

5-8-2011, found an article detailing the excavations of medieval weaponry, armory, and remains near Canterlot. Also a surprisingly large store is kept in the archives and not on display.

6-11-2011, Asked Celestia about the siege via letter. Her response was disappointing, she told me to go hang out with my friends.

6-26-2011Found more evidence of the Lunar War in the census records. This has been another fruitful trip to Canterlot, I'm lucky to have gotten copies. Will have Spike organize them.

Luna stopped reading. Twilight's research was far more detailed and explored than she had been counting on. The goddess was now quite upset: had Celestia simply fabricated a myth or actually determined the outcome of Equestria's history? And then she recalled Celestia's thoughtless slip.

"It took me 150 years to fix the damage your last outburst caused."

The moon goddess knew her sister was a dictator, but she never believed Celestia to be prepared to sacrifice droves of innocents in war and famine just "to fix the damage" Luna's challenge brought about. But the notion seemed increasingly credible…

Luna shook herself. Why was she willing to think the worst of her sister? Was it because nopony else would dare do so or was she being just as unfair as Twilight had been with her? Thinking back to Big Mac's words, she quietly reflected her own faults as she continued to flip through Twilight's translations.

/

Twilight walked slowly past the gate to Fluttershy's cottage, her mind as distant as the stars above her. As she neared Everfree Forest, she paused and gazed at the enigma. Why was it that the weather required no upkeep there? Was weather not actually dependent on the labor of pegasi? Twilight tried to rid herself of these thoughts, but to little success. Luna's talk of conspiracy was infectious, everything she took for granted now needed to be reevaluated. It was painful to think that Celestia could orchestrate such a complex world by herself, but Luna's arguments were not fantastical. Twilight knew they could be true. However, she also knew that Luna was just as passionate and emotionally driven as her research had suggested Nightmare Moon was. The possibility that Luna was blameless seemed remote, but it was probably best to trust her. She had sworn upon her life, essentially the doom or salvation of the world, that she would find Celestia. Twilight decided that she had little other course to take but help restore the goddess's immortality.

Looking to the stars, Twilight lost herself in thought. Unbeknownst to her, the roaring wind deafened her to the approach of a flying pegasus. Descending, the pegasus' hooves slammed into the ground with a thud, catching Twilight by surprise.

"Rainbow Dash?"

The figure stepped forward, the moonlight catching his golden armor and red plumed helmet.

/