The Virtuous Sister.
Chapter 1 : Regression.
"I am not evil. I just made bad decisions," Luna muttered to herself.
Good and evil were abstract concepts that changed over time.
Luna clenched her jaw and ignored the looks she received from the two guards serving as her escort as she continued repeating the lessons she had been taught in rehab while on their journey to Ponyville.
"I will abide by the eight virtues. I am blessed with a position of leadership, and I shall maintain my honor in the eyes of my people."
That was easier said than done. Most of her subjects were still wary around her and preferred to look at the ground instead of her when she spoke with them. Celestia had said that this was a natural response since Luna represented darkness. Her sister insisted that it was a gift since everypony took her so seriously. Of course, it didn't help that Luna's rebellion was still fresh in their minds since they believed that nothing personified an apocalypse better than a night that never ended. Plants would die, sleeping schedules would suffer, and the tides would behave differently. Those were all minor problems. Had Night Mare Moon succeeded, she would have undoubtedly found a way around them. There was no telling what she might have done after that. Luna knew it wouldn't have been good.
Her eye twitched. She tucked that thought away before she could dwell on it further and made herself focus on something else. It was a particularly dreary morning. Many of the citizens were still asleep. Mist clung to the ground, limiting their visibility. The iron lampposts were their beacons of light as they made their way through the town.
"I am blind. I am the embodiment of justice."
Yet no choice was ever made without some form of bias. Luna bit her bottom lip. It would be easier if she saw the world in black and white. There were far too many ways to interpret what she had learned. She had managed to hide her mental anguish from the doctors and mages facilitating her recovery after her defeat during her stay on the tropical Island of Hope in the Archipelago of Faith. The ponies there handled special cases and she was certainly no exception. Luna had said what everypony wanted to hear, which resulted in an early discharge. Celestia sensed Luna's charisma at work and ordered further treatment to take place in Canterlot. She had been so close to getting away from them.
"I carry valor with me into every conflict."
Valor could quickly turn into humiliation. This was getting her nowhere. Luna took a deep breath.
"Compassion, humility, sacrifice, honesty and spirituality!" Luna blurted out a little louder than she intended.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" the taller escort known as Biggs asked hesitantly.
Luna nodded wearily. Adherence and memorization to several approved schools of thought had been a part of her boring curriculum. They were elective before she turned to the dark side, but Celestia made them required now. Luna chose to embrace the older virtue system instead of the path of harmony because she thought that the virtues were more her style. They were, but she couldn't stop pointing out their weaknesses.
Philosophy and logic existed to make sense out of the world, but the world was chaotic and there was no point in trying to make sense out of chaos. If that had been something she could have studied she definitely would have been on board with it, but anything associated with chaos was frowned upon these days. There was no way she would be like her sister at this rate. Celestia had always been better with internal affairs, keeping up her appearance, and all the other aspects of leadership.
"Too early in the morning for an emergency, right?" the shorter guard, Wedge, asked. "Nothin' quite like third shift, lemme tell ya."
An urgent message had arrived earlier requesting Celestia's presence at the hospital in Ponyville. The two earth colts with her now were on duty at the front gate when the messenger had arrived and had taken the sealed message to her themselves so that they could do something other than stand around for eight hours. Celestia was away on business. Luna had been told to relay any problems to her sister immediately while she was away since she wasn't technically in charge of anything yet even though nothing had been said to enforce that. Seeing an opportunity to act, Luna had decided to investigate the matter personally before bringing it to the attention of anypony else and the two colts eagerly agreed to accompany her.
The lights of the local hospital were lit up. Luna had traveled here on hoof, not one for fancy carriages like her sister. This was not a special occasion like Night Mare Night. Just before the trio reached the front door, Luna felt something heavy land on top of her and shove her muzzle into the mud with enough force to leave her dizzy. It felt like another pony, although Luna could see nothing but worms with her face buried in the ground. Her guards helped the pony off her back and pushed the citizen away from her. It was a good thing she was wearing a cloak or she would be filthy.
Luna stood up and turned to face whoever had crashed into her when another lesson came to her that she had to repeat to herself.
"Compassion. An accident is without fault."
Celestia required a written report from her at the end of each week detailing all the virtuous decisions she had made. Luna had to struggle to come up with things to write down. Celestia ate that stuff up. Luna swore that her sister could get excited over a shopping list. It was clearly time for some compassion and she rose to the occasion gratefully. Luna adjusted her cloak and took a step forward. The pony before her was a Pegasi with a yellow mane and a gray coat. She was carrying two brown saddlebags that were stuffed beyond their carrying capacity.
"Name, mark and occupation," Luna requested evenly.
"Mail Mare, Derpy Hooves, bubbles."
"Your name is Mail Mare and you do bubbles for a living?" Luna asked, raising an eyebrow.
She watched as the eyes of this particular pony did things that made her squint in empathy. Mail Mare looked at the guards and recognized she had just disturbed royalty.
"I'm not sure what the right answer is," she said quietly.
"Ma'am, this is Derpy Hooves," Biggs said. "Her vision is slightly impaired. I'm sure she didn't mean to hit you."
"I know. Mail Mare, please watch where you're going."
"I'm sorry. I didn't see you standing there," Derpy said.
Derpy took off her saddle bags and sat down in the mud for a moment. She reached inside the bag, took out a yellow form, and held it in front of Luna with her teeth.
"If you would like to submit a written complaint against me, please use this form. If you would like to submit a verbal complaint, take this form to our post office and speak with the postmaster," Derpy stated, her eyes spinning like a compass that couldn't figure out where north was.
"Since your diction is so well despite the fact that there is something in your mouth, I will let it slide. Carry on and do be more careful."
"Thank you, I will do my best."
Luna nodded and turned to her guards. It was time to get back to work.
"Stay here and don't let anypony enter unless it's an emergency." Luna instructed.
"Ma'am!" Biggs and Wedge replied simultaneously.
Luna turned to face Derpy Hooves, who was looking at the ground submissively.
"Yes, Mail Mare?"
"I have ten letters addressed to the hospital. They are also due to receive five packages today."
"I will deliver the mail for you. Go tell the postmaster to deliver the packages going to the hospital immediately."
"I don't know if he'll listen to me."
"Chin up, Mail Mare," Luna said, placing a hoof on Derpy's face and making her look her in the eye. "This is an order from Princess Luna."
Luna flicked the hood of her cloak off, revealing her face. Derpy's eyes centered for a moment to gaze upon Luna in awe and she swore she heard a subtle click when they did before they started spinning out of control again.
"Hail and good morrow, Princess Luna!" Derpy said, smiling broadly.
The princess had to roll her eyes at that. None of the ponies Luna had worked with had said anything about her use of the royal voice. Celestia didn't bother mentioning it either. She had thought that they were at fault, but chose not to correct them.
"Charmed and well met. The mail?" Luna asked.
Derpy Hooves offered her saddlebag to Luna, who facehoofed and sighed in exasperation when she realized what was going on.
"I meant I would deliver the mail addressed to the hospital, not take over your route for you."
Despite how disorganized the bag seemed to be, Derpy quickly took out ten envelopes. Luna used her magic to hold them suspended in front of her and made sure that they were the correct letters. Derpy took off towards the post office in a spiral that would make any other pony vomit. Miraculously, none of the mail in her bag fell out.
"I like her," Biggs said.
"Me too," Wedge agreed. "She keeps at it, you know? Really admirable."
"Yes, we'll give her a medal. Wait here until I'm finished, gentlecolts."
Luna released the spell on her cloak. A collection of bats flew off her back and began roosting on the roof of the hospital while cleaning off the mud on their bodies. Her guards gasped at the display of magic. They were not aware that her cloak was enchanted. Luna gave them a smile of reassurance and entered the hospital. For such a small settlement, Ponyville had some rather advanced establishments. No expense had been spared at the hospital, which was funded by tax and therefore free for all ponies. She knocked the mud off her hooves by stomping in place on the provided welcome mat. Luna then placed the mail on the receptionists' desk, who almost jumped out of her seat. She began trembling in fear at the sight of the princess.
"I am Princess Luna and I am here to see Nurse Redheart or Doctor Gesundheit. I have very important business with them," Luna said politely.
The receptionist ran off so fast she knocked over the chair she had been sitting on. Doctor Gesundheit and Nurse Redheart appeared a moment later. They both bowed down to her out of respect and seemed less bothered by her presence.
"Princess Luna, thank you for coming on such short notice. Is Princess Celestia with you?" Nurse Redheart asked.
"She is not. My sister is assisting with the development of another settlement."
"So you're in charge?" Doctor Gesundheit asked.
Her ears lowered for a moment.
"Honesty, because a lie does not live forever!" Luna muttered frantically.
"I beg your pardon?"
Luna cleared her throat.
"I would ask that you not question my authority. If this is indeed an emergency, Ponyville needs direction, which I am qualified to give."
She was starting to sweat a little. Redheart and Gesundheit looked at each other. They were clearly confused. Luna decided to gamble with them.
"If you believe the mayor can handle this, then I shall take my leave."
Luna turned to go.
"Wait!" Redheart shouted.
Redheart barred Luna from leaving. She stood on her hind legs and blocked the entrance with her body. Luna regarded her speculatively. Still upright, Redheart pushed Luna back a comfortable distance away from the door and then dropped down on all fours.
"Princess Luna, please forgive our rudeness. May we humbly request you follow us?" Redheart asked.
"But of course."
The receptionist appeared again and sat a box of surgical masks on her desk before cowering underneath the desk and shaking violently, holding her hooves over her head. Luna put on a mask. She had to stop herself from kicking the desk with her hind leg as they walked through the hospital, which was barren since Ponyville was a very healthy place.
"By the way, it sounds like your articulation has improved since Nightmare Night. You're not yelling at everypony anymore," Redheart said.
"Thank thee. I mean, thank you."
Fluttershy and Rarity had been helping her with that. Rarity only went along because Fluttershy was terrified of Luna, but lately she was not fainting as much in the middle of their lessons.
"The two patients are in the basement. They are suffering from some unknown ailment, which we do not believe is contagious. I must warn you, it is a little disturbing," Gesundheit stated.
"I believe I will be fine."
They walked down into the basement where supplies were stored. Gesundheit was clearly trying to hide whatever problem he had found. The two physicians stopped at a door next to the generator room and turned to Luna.
"We're here," Redheart said. "We kept them down here so they wouldn't disturb any of the other patients."
Luna entered the room first. Inside, she found the mayor of Ponyville and Cheerilee, two mares she had previously become acquainted with. The mayor did not have her glasses with her and was currently trying to eat her bedsheets while Cheerilee stood in one place and drooled. Their quarters were cramped, but the physicians had done their best to make them comfortable. Remnants of hay were on the ground and a bucket of water had been overturned. Luna noticed that neither of them had their cutie marks.
"I'm going to get more hay," Nurse Redheart said, leaving the scene eagerly.
Luna approached Cheerilee, who neighed and walked away from her. She was shocked. Cheerilee had neighed. At her, a princess. It was both vulgar and extremely insulting, but Luna let it slide. She turned to the mayor, who cocked her hind leg before Luna could even think of getting too close. They were making so many social faux pas that Luna could do nothing but stare ahead blankly as her mind tried to process what was happening. Even fillies knew better than to behave in this manner.
"I don't think they know what they're doing," Doctor Gesundheit said.
"They most certainly had better not!" Luna roared. "Do you see that? Doctor, do you see that?"
Luna pointed at the mayor's cocked leg with one of her hooves.
"You should have been here when we brought in the hay. They rolled in it," Doctor Gesundheit said.
"I do not believe I need to even ask if you have run tests on them."
"We did. None of them revealed anything. There's minor bruising and lacerations all over their bodies. These two were attacked by something other than a pony in their homes, which were in disarray. Their cutie marks are gone, which I believe suggests that magic might have been involved."
"Indeed. What about their behavior?"
"They are not speaking. They communicate in all of the gestures we deem abrasive. Typically, mentally disturbed ponies will act like this while undergoing recovery, but they do not do so for very long and something like this does not happen to a pony overnight."
"One moment, doctor."
Luna took off her mask, closed her eyes and used her magic. She reached out to Cheerilee telepathically, searching for her. Luna found nothing. Cheerilee's very essence was completely gone. Only a primitive hollow shell remained. She cast a major healing spell on Cheerilee, which had no effect. Luna's trance was broken when Mayor Mare headbutted her in the side and bit her neck. She cried out in pain and backed away. It was all Luna could do to keep her composure as the mayor walked over to Cheerilee and shielded her with her body.
"I've seen enough," Luna said quietly.
Redheart and the skittish receptionist went back into the room to drop off more hay as Doctor Gesundheit stepped out into the hallway to stand beside Luna, who was deep in thought.
"Would you like me to take a look at that?"
Luna cast minor healing spell. The bite hadn't even broken her skin and would heal quickly.
"Did anypony see what happened to them?"
"No. A concerned citizen found them like this an hour ago. Redheart, Bon-Bon, and myself managed to get them here. Sedatives were involved."
"Who found them?"
"Mail Mare," Luna said in recognition. "Did she say anything?"
"Nothing useful, I'm afraid. She said they were acting silly and that she wanted me to come take a look at them. Derpy's a fairly modest mare, so I figured it was serious."
"Do you know her well enough to be sure she won't say anything?"
"I asked her not to. She won't."
"I will take your word for it, doctor. I will look into this matter further and I will let you know what I discover. I will also send a squad down here to patrol Ponyville. If you find another pony like this, send word immediately."
"Good luck, Princess Luna," Doctor Gesundheit said, bowing one final time.
"Don't worry, doctor. I'll be fine."