Shadow of the Dragon Lords

D. G. D. Davidson

My Little Pony is © 2012 by Hasbro, Inc.

Chapter 1: The Dark Princess

It was Nightmare Night again, and Princess Luna returned to Ponyville to participate in the celebrations. She intended in the future to visit a different community each year, but the year previous, she had made a promise to revisit Ponyville, and this year, she kept it.

Knowing they were to have a visit from royalty, the Ponyvillains spent a full month in preparation, so this Nightmare Night festival was the biggest and most elaborate the small town had ever known. Everypony spent extra time and care on his costume, and Rarity, who annually turned her dress shop into a costume shop, found herself with a massive number of orders for outlandish clothing. The Cakes, and occasionally Pinkie Pie, slaved away for days at Sugarcube Corner, preparing pumpkin cupcakes, spun sugar cobwebs, edible chocolate bats, and other treats. The Apple family opened its private cellar and rolled out the best barrels of their special October cider spiced with cinnamon and clove. Mayor Mare even called an official town meeting to assign workers to the booths, prepare decorations, and plan the carnival games. Twilight Sparkle, having lived for years in Canterlot under the tutelage of Princess Celestia, was assumed by most Ponyvillains to be familiar with the niceties of the court, so she received the task of heading the formal greeting party that would welcome the princess when she arrived. Although she in reality knew nothing of courtly manners, having spent all her time in Canterlot with her muzzle firmly planted in a book, Twilight took this task readily, being fully aware that she was just about the only pony in town who didn't find Luna intimidating.

Nightmare Night was always frightening, at least in an entertaining way, but this year it had the extra bite of genuine terror: a few days before the festivity began, news arrived at Ponyville that a number of Unicorns in frontier or border towns, particularly Apple-loosa, Dodge Junction, and Coltston, had been found dead with their horns ripped out. The perpetrators of these gruesome crimes had not been identified, but- perhaps because the atrocities happened so close to Nightmare Night- some suspected Princess Luna was to blame, and a few even suggested that the ancient cult of Witch-Ponies, though it had been extinct for a millennium, had arisen again to practice unspeakable rites. Though Nightmare Night was traditionally an opportunity for children to roam the town and demand sweets, because of the crimes, and because Princess Luna had promised to make a personal appearance, some ponies decided to keep their colts and fillies at home; many did not trust the princess who had formerly been Night Mare Moon, and many did not like the idea of their children wandering door to door when murderers were on the loose.

Because of the royal visit, the mayor tasked the Pegasus Ponies with keeping the sky free of clouds so that the Princess of the Night would not be dishonored by an obscured moon. Rainbow Dash argued that Luna wreaked havoc on weather patterns wherever she went, so it mattered little what the Pegasi did with the clouds, but the mayor, who grew increasingly stressed and snappish as Nightmare Night and the royal visit approached, replied that the princess could do what she liked with the weather, but that was no excuse for the Pegasi to slack off.

Mayor Mare was in fact so stressed that she felt it necessary to assign every Pegasus to cloud detail, and that led to an argument with Fluttershy, who had no intention of setting hoof outside her cottage on the frightful Nightmare Night. When the Mayor ordered her in no uncertain terms to assist the other Pegasi, she was so terrified by the prospect that she even went so far as to stare the mayor down. By that means, of course, she got her way and was free to hole up at home on the most horrible night of the year: the mayor decided that, however scary Princess Luna might be, Fluttershy was undeniably scarier.

The anticipated night arrived. As the sun set, children in costumes shrieked and laughed and trotted from house to house. Young Pipsqueak, having been a pirate the previous year, dressed as a ninja, and several fillies had chosen to dress up as Mare Do Well. Pinkie Pie, still insisting she was not too old for door-to-door candy begging, dressed as a cow.

After the sky had turned dark and the stars had come out, everypony gathered in Town Square for the festival, and Luna's black chariot, drawn by her bat-winged Pegasi, flew out of the moon. Just as Rainbow Dash had predicted, angry storm clouds and flashes of lightning accompanied Luna's arrival, rolling over the town in powerful waves, and deafening peals of thunder left everypony stunned. When the chariot pulled up above Town Square, Luna leapt from it and spread her great wings. Her eyes glowing with white fire, she dropped to the ground; her hooves cracked the cobbles when she landed, and she announced in a booming voice accompanied by a sharp gust of wind, "Citizens of Ponyville, your Princess of the Night hath returned!"

Everypony hit the ground, and Twilight forgot whatever it was she was supposed to say by way of formal greeting. Luna had discovered the year previous that ponies enjoyed being spooked on Nightmare Night, but this year she had outdone herself.

As was tradition, the fillies and colts- and Pinkie Pie- went in a group to the edge of the Everfree Forest where a statue of Night Mare Moon stood. As she had the year before, Zecora the zebra, even though the local traditions were foreign to her, took up the task of telling the children the legend of Night Mare Moon, who annually roamed forth on this night to gobble up young ponies. But this year, Zecora had Night Mare Moon herself, in the flesh, to serve as a visual aid. Some of the children found Luna genuinely frightening, and when Zecora had finished her tale, they were too scared to approach her and make the traditional offering of some of their candy, but after Pipsqueak eagerly ran up to her and tossed some of his goodies at her hooves, the others nervously joined in.

The farmers had worked together to create a corn maze in a field just outside the town, and that maze became the focus of the evening's main event. Zecora led the children to the maze's entrance and gave them their instructions:

"In this maze of corn will Night Mare Moon abide,

"For its many twists and turns give place to hide.

"Into this maze, my little ponies I will send,

"And they must find their way unto its other end.

"If Night Mare Moon should catch you on the way,

"You must make her an offering, lest you she slay:

"From your bags, give her some candy she might chew,

"Or in her fearsome wrath she'll gobble you!"

Transforming herself into mist, Luna slipped into the labyrinth and then returned to her normal form somewhere in its middle. Teeth chattering and legs quaking, the children entered and crept along, hoping to make their way to the exit unnoticed.

The adults waiting outside the maze soon heard squeals and shrieks coming from within. Pinkie Pie was the loudest, mixing her screams with a good deal of cattle-like lowing.

After Luna caught them the first time, the children scattered, and most of them found themselves navigating the maze alone, which was much more frightening than doing it in a group. Luna made liberal use of her shapeshifting abilities, moving stealthily from one place to another and jumping out at the children, who screamed at the top of their lungs, dropped candy, and galloped away like mad.

Adult Pegasus Ponies hovered over the maze; whenever Luna successfully grabbed a filly or colt, a Pegasus would swoop down, scoop the child up, and take him outside where he received a consolation prize- a small bag of gumdrops from Sugarcube Corner.

Rainbow Dash was in charge of the Pegasi monitoring the maze. Unfortunately, Derpy Hooves and Ditzy Doo were both on maze duty as well, and for reasons known only to them, they began picking up children at random even when Luna hadn't caught them. Rainbow managed to put a stop to this, but then had to return to the maze a lot of angry fillies who threatened to cry for having been unjustly removed from the game.

The first to reach the exit successfully were the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo had determined to stay together no matter what, hoping perhaps that they might thereby earn maze-navigation cutie marks. Scootaloo's speed and keen sense of direction proved invaluable: they ran into Luna three times, but each time they managed to escape after dropping a few lollypops in her path. Breathing hard, high on both sugar and adrenaline, they sped through the exit to the stomping applause of the adults and gave each other high hooves in congratulations. Applejack gave each of them the reward for completing the maze- a caramel apple coated in tiny sugar spiders. Between the three of them, they also shared the prize for first place, a small trampoline designed to look like a spider's web, which they agreed to keep at their clubhouse. But in spite of their success, their flanks remained stubbornly blank.

About half the children eventually made it out. Pinkie Pie, to her distress, ran into Luna over a dozen times and thus sacrificed the entire contents of her candy bag, but she gratefully accepted a caramel apple when she at last reached the exit.

Pipsqueak held the night's record for most encounters with- and most evasions of- the dark princess. He ran into Luna seventeen times and, thanks in part to his small size and in part to his darkly colored costume, managed to get away each time. He never reached the exit, however; when he was the last one still in the maze and was thoroughly lost, Rainbow Dash flew down and airlifted him out. Applejack still gave him a caramel apple.

The night continued with carnival games, singing, dancing, and laughing. Luna joined in, but was distressed that most of the ponies still gave her a wide berth. Even after she had spent half the night chasing them through the maze, all the children stood back and watched her with timid awe.

All, that is, except Pipsqueak. He stayed by her side the entire night, declaring again in his adorable Trottingham accent that she was his favorite princess. Twilight coaxed the other children to join him, reminding them that, in spite of her appearance, Luna was safe.

The time of the night ended. To the awe of the Ponyvillains, Luna rose into the air and, her mane of mist swirling about her head and her horn glowing with magic, lowered the moon. As soon as she did, the sky in the east turned purple and pink, a sign that, high in Canterlot, Princess Celestia was raising the sun.

As dawn approached, Luna's chariot returned. With a booming farewell, the dark princess rose to it and sped away.

Twilight Sparkle breathed a sigh of relief and walked back to the library. She was slightly irked that the sleepless night would inevitably result in a less productive day, and she decided to ask Owloysius to whip her up an extra pot of oat-flavored coffee. But as far as she could tell, Nightmare Night had gone off without a hitch, and she hoped that meant Luna was finally acclimating to modern Equestria after her thousand years' imprisonment.

While she flew home, standing in her chariot with her black traveling cloak concealing all of her face except her horn and her glowing eyes, Luna reflected. Aside from Nightmare Night, she had hardly left her chambers during the two years since the Elements of Harmony had stripped her of her dark powers and restored her conscience. During her millennium of entrapment, when envy still gnawed at her heart, she had imagined that Celestia, who had become Equestria's sole ruler, must have turned into a despot: she had supposed that when the stars at last aligned and broke open her prison, she would return to Equestria as a liberator, freeing the ponies from ten centuries of miserable debasement under an iron hoof. Having become evil herself, she could not imagine that Celestia's motives and intentions differed much from her own; she had guessed that Celestia refused to lower the sun, and that the ponies sweltered under its constant, blasting heat.

What she actually found, of course, was that Celestia had run the kingdom well. Equestria had known a millennium of peace, and every day the sun and moon rose and lowered on schedule. When Twilight Sparkle and her friends turned the Elements upon her and blasted the evil from her heart, Luna lost her illusions and her resentment, but she still had to face an undeniable fact: she was unnecessary. For a thousand years, Equestria and Celestia had gotten along fine without her.

Officially, Luna was once again coregent, just as she had been before her imprisonment. In reality, she had made no decrees, held no councils, visited no aristocrats. She had done little besides sit in her rooms and brood. Whenever she left her chambers, ponies looked at her in terror, knelt to the ground, and quaked.

All she had ever wanted was to be loved. It was that desire, growing like a canker in her heart, which turned her evil in the first place: she had become jealous of her older sister, who commanded not only the respect but also the most tender affections of her subjects. Now that Luna had been cleansed by Harmony, the evil was gone and the jealousy was muted, but the desire remained.

For the past year, she had eagerly awaited her return to Ponyville for Nightmare Night. She knew that there, at least, were some children who loved her. But now that she was heading home from the long-anticipated celebration, a stone of dissatisfaction sat in her stomach: they loved her, yes, but only because she agreed to spook them when they asked. She was the Princess of the Night who rode the storm, flew among the stars, and commanded the moon, but they had reduced her to an entertainer. Nopony showed Luna the genuine love and affection that everypony showed Celestia.

When her chariot reached the mist-shrouded cliffs where Canterlot Castle's white spires towered, Luna alighted and marched through the gates. The royal Pegasus guards lost their usual composure, ducked their heads, knelt, and shivered as she walked by. As she made her way through the castle halls, servants who saw her did the same. A few even turned and fled.

At last, she reached the refuge of her rooms. She closed the gilded double doors behind her and breathed a sigh of relief. She would spend the next day, perhaps the next several days, alone.

She was, after all, comfortable being alone. She had had a thousand years to get used to it.

Next: Ambassador of the Dragons