In the Eye of the Storm by SPark

Chapter Six

Where am I?

Darkness, coldness, bitter hatred. Jealousy. Never first, never best, never the one loved and praised.

Oh yes. The moon. My exile.

Outcast. Never to go home again. And no way to reach those who had caused this wrong. But they would pay!

Yes, they will all pay! They will all see my true power!

Power of darkness, power of hate, soul filled with suffering, and all will suffer just as I suffer now. And then the end. Darkness covers all, death makes all equal, they and I. The betrayers who did this, the ones who ignored me, the ones who judged me second best. All at peace, all dead.

No wait. I never wanted them to suffer. I never wanted them to die! I only wanted to make them love me! I wanted them to praise my night! I wanted her to regret that she'd banished me, I wanted her to know what it was like, yes, but I didn't want everypony to die!

Death is the only peace. No life for me. No life I should have had. Death. Death is the only peace.

No!

So much pain. So much suffering. The ones who should have loved, hated instead. Rejected. Banished.

Yes, banished to the moon. But where are the stars? Why am I wishing for death?

Death is peace.

No! No it isn't!

Yes.

NO!

No. Luna. Luna! This is not you. Wake up Luna.

What? I'm not Luna, I am Nightmare Moon! I'm on the moon, alone. There is no one here to talk to me. Am I mad?

You're not on the moon. And you're not alone. Never alone, I promised. Remember, Luna?

...Dale?

Yes. Now wake.

Luna blinked. It was still night. She lay on blackened, dead grass. The creature had walked over her, but hadn't harmed her. It must have been only minutes, for when she lifted her head she could see it still walking tirelessly onward, only yards away. The other ponies stood around her, looking bewildered. They had gotten out of its path, apparently they'd all woken while she had been knocked out.

"Luna? You're all right?" Twilight Sparkle stood looking down at her.

"Yes, I'm fine. What happened?"

"I don't know, exactly. I blacked out for a moment. When I got up it was standing over you, and you were screaming. Then it just stepped over you and kept going, and it didn't kill you but you kept screaming and screaming, but thankfully now you've stopped." She looked worried and more than a little disturbed.

Luna shuddered, remembering. "So much pain... I have to help him."

"What?" That cry came from several throats.

"You want to help that?" Rainbow Dash gaped at her incredulously, and her expression was echoed on several faces.

"Yes! He's hurting. He's like Nightmare Moon, but he's in so much more pain. I was bitter, and jealous, and I resented being banished, but something happened to him that's even worse. Or that was harder for him, or something. He was jealous of someone close to him, like I was. I could tell that much. And he feels that they betrayed him somehow. He hurts so much he just wants to die, but he hates so much he wants to kill everything else. That's why he's going to kill Celestia, he wants the whole world to darken and die."

"And you want to help him."

"Not help him do that! Help him the way you all helped me! Help break him free of it!"

"Could we use the Elements of Harmony on him?" asked Twilight Sparkle.

Luna considered. "I'm not sure. Last time they activated naturally, when all six were present along with me. But all six of you were together in front of him several times, and nothing happened. Maybe because he's not a pony. Maybe for some other reason, I'm not sure. I don't know enough about them to know how to trigger them. But there has to be something I can do! If there were some way to reach into his mind... but a horn touch won't work. That conducts magic too, and he's so powerful! He'll just suck me back into his pain again." Her brow furrowed as she thought.

"All right. Rainbow Dash? Can you fly to Canterlot and find my sister? Tell her about this, and about how we might need the Elements of Harmony. She knows how to activate them."

"All right," said Rainbow Dash. "I guess if it's like you, then it does need help. And Celestia is probably the one to do it. Although if that thing kills her when she shows up, I will never forgive you!"

Luna sighed. "I think we are all too tired to think straight. You don't need to bring her here. In fact please try not to! Just find out how to activate the Elements. And then come back, since we can't do so if you're not here."

"Oh. Right. Will do." Rainbow Dash saluted and then sped off.

"Fluttershy? You probably should start warning the creatures. I'm not sure how long it will take to stop it, or to hear from my sister."

"All right," said Fluttershy quietly. She circled widely around the creature, and with Skif and Cymry in tow she went off to warn the forest animals in the path of destruction.

Luna closed her eyes. She was so tired. Even moonlight wasn't enough to fully recharge her after all she'd been through. She could tell the others were worn out too.

"If only there were some way I could reach him. Some way to show him that he doesn't have to hate like that. To show him what I've learned about forgiveness and friendship."

"There might be."

Luna looked up, into Dale's vivid blue eyes. "What?"

"There might be a way. You don't have the mind-magic to reach into another creature's mind. But I do. I can reach nearly anyone, if they're not shielding. And that thing... He's broadcasting death and hate so loudly I've been having to shield against him since we first came close. He's practically inviting me into his mind. And where I can go, you can use our bond to follow."

"But won't that just suck me in again?"

"I'll be there. I can anchor you."

"Then let's do it. He needs to be helped."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" said Twilight.

"You've all done so much already. But this I have to do alone. I'm sure if I can just reach him, I can help him understand. He's gone through something very like what I went through when I was banished. Nobody else can help. And nobody else has my bond with Dale."

Elspeth chuckled tiredly. "I have mine with Gwena. But I've no experience with banishment and only a little with jealousy of family, and that was just a spoiled little girl's brattyness. So no, I can't help. I guess it's all up to you."

It's never been all up to me before. No pony has ever depended on me. Celestia could always raise the moon if I didn't. And what else did I do? Read books. Dabble in art and music. Nothing that mattered. And now my sister's life and perhaps the survival of the whole world is up to me? The Elements might save us, if I fail. But what if they only work on ponies? What if they can't save us, and it really is all up to me? It was a frightening thought.

:You can do it,: said Dale, deep in her mind. :I know you can. Reach out to me, and together we'll reach out and help him.:

Luna lifted her chin and nodded. She reached within herself, as once she had reached for the mask of darkness, the name and persona of Nightmare Moon to hide behind. But that darkness was gone now. Deep within was only herself, Luna. Herself and the bond she shared with Dale. She grasped it, like holding hooves with a friend, and then felt Dale reach out to grasp something else. Black despair beat on her, saying death is the only peace, though it wasn't saying it in words. Or rather there were words, but they were foreign ones that Luna couldn't understand. She didn't need to understand them, she knew what they meant. He had been betrayed. He had let pain lead to hatred. She knew that path so very well, and it would be easy to let him suck her in once more, to recreate Nightmare Moon within her. But Dale was there, a firm anchor, a shield against that path. So with Dale by her side she reached out and showed him. She showed him her own past pain, her hatred, her long, cold exile. But then she showed him her sister's forgiveness, her sorrow, and her friends. Friendship had blossomed in the place of bitterness. It could blossom in the place of despair too.

No. What friendship is there for one like me? There is nothing but death, even my magic has turned to death. No one is a friend to death.

You're wrong. I will be your friend. I care about you. You are so like me! I want to help you. Let me help you. Please.

You lie. Pretend friends only betray. You could not be a real friend.

I don't speak to you with words. We have no words in common. I speak to you with my heart. It can't lie. I want to be your friend. I don't want you to die. I don't want you to hurt. I want to help you. I want to help right whatever wrong has been done you. I want to help you learn to right the wrongs you've done. Let me be your friend. Let me help set you right.

Hope was like a crack in the blackness around him. You? My friend? But you... you are one I tried to kill. How? Why?

Because I know your pain. Again the memories, the images. Sister, how could you? Sister I hate you! Sister, you want to be my friend? I felt then what you feel now. And then... Sister I forgive you, as you forgave me. Sister I love you.

The crack widened. The dark aura around him visibly lightened. And he stopped walking. You will not betray? You will not banish from this kingdom?

No. I will be your friend. I will help you.

Suddenly Luna felt the dark shell around his mind dissolve in a rush of hope. He had despaired in darkness for ages but now there was light. Small but bright, hope again after so long. As the darkness of his mind dissolved, the physical darkness did too. His scales were no longer mottled with black. His eyes were no longer pits of black despair. His fangs no longer dripped blood, and his horn no longer radiated darkness. His scales were not the burnished beauty of Twilight's picture book, they were dirty from long travel, and he was thin to the point of emaciation, his coat matted and tangled, his tail filled with snarls and knots. But he no longer was a death-creature. He was now clearly a kirin.

He slumped to the ground, and for a moment Luna was afraid that he'd died, that with vengeance no longer before him he'd just run out of energy entirely. But then he opened his eyes. They were bright green, and tears gathered in them.

He said something incomprehensible. Luna sighed. "I wish I understood you."

"I can translate."

Luna gasped and looked up to see Celestia hovering overhead.

"I tried to stop her!" said a tired Rainbow Dash, following behind. "But how do you stop a goddess when she won't listen to reason?"

Celestia chuckled.

"Celestia," said the kirin.

"Qui-Long," replied Celestia, followed by something Luna couldn't understand at all. The kirin replied, bowing his head, an expression of shame on his face.

"He wasn't himself," Luna broke in, wanting to make sure that Celestia understood. "He was like Nightmare Moon. He only wanted to hurt others because he felt so hurt."

"I understand," said Celestia. "But he has done somewhat more harm than Nightmare Moon ever did. She hurt my feelings, and made a couple of nights longer than they should have been, and coveted power and plotted evil, but he has done much the same and also destroyed much, and killed at least some creatures, be they ever so small. Forgiveness is harder, when you've done greater wrongs."

"I know," said Luna. "I just... I remember how bad I felt, how much I apologized. I didn't want you to only hear that, I wanted you to know... well, you do understand."

"Yes."

The kirin turned to Luna and said something.

"He says 'thank you'" said Celestia. "He is very grateful to you for reaching out to him, for being willing to be his friend."

"He's so like me... And he needs a friend."

"Yes he does. So thank you from me as well."

"I guess... I guess he'll be going home now?"

Celestia turned to the kirin, and they spoke back and forth for a very long time. Rainbow Dash and several of the other ponies seemed to grow bored with this conversation they couldn't understand, that didn't involve them, and wandered off a little ways, talking among themselves. But Luna stayed, and listened, even though she couldn't understand. Eventually Celestia turned to her. "His situation at home is not so easily mended as the breach between you and I was. He may not be able to return, though I know his brother and father, and I hope to at least bring some peace between them, even if his banishment can't be ended. But for now he will be leaving, yes. He wants to use his proper life magic to try and restore the land he killed when he was walking here. So he will be retracing his steps for some time. But when that task is finished he has asked if he can visit you in Canterlot, and I have of course said yes. If you are to be friends, you'll need to see one another every now and then. And learn one another's languages too, I'm sure. You can start studying while he's gone."

Luna smiled, and turned to smile at the kirin as well. "Tell him that sounds wonderful, and I'll be looking forward to his return."

Celestia relayed the message, and the kirin smiled faintly at Luna, and Celestia gave her his reply. "He says he will look forward to it also."

The kirin got slowly to his feet. His horn glowed, golden against the silver moonlight. He seemed to stand a little straighter, and to look a little less starved and bedraggled. And suddenly, around his feet where the land was blackened and the crumbling remains of grass and other plants stood, little spears and tendrils of green appeared. The plants were growing anew. A flower raised its pale face to the moon, and Luna caught a whiff of delicate perfume on the night breeze. He walked towards her, even more slowly than he had before. Realizing that she was blocking his path, Luna got to her feet and moved aside. But when he reached her he stopped once again. He bowed deeply before her, and spoke.

"He says 'I will always be in your debt,'" said Celestia.

Then he turned and began to retrace his path once more, the blackened forest floor coming alive beneath his hooves. Luna looked after him, wishing she could think of something else to say. But they had touched mind to mind, and surely that had said everything that needed saying.

Luna yawned and stretched. She felt as though she had slept for a week, but she knew that it hadn't actually been that long. She hadn't even made it all the way back to Canterlot after their adventure had finished, but had once again ended up in Twilight Sparkle's spare bed. She looked across to see that Twilight herself was still in bed, despite it being well past noon. She smiled. Seeing the mare lying there, so peaceful, brought new and strange feelings into Luna's heart. She wasn't sure what to call those feelings. She already thought of Twilight as her friend, her first and possibly closest, if one didn't count Dale, who was different. Could there be something more between them? The touch of Twilight's soul against her own when they crossed horns had been intense, but was that only the strength of her magic? Or was it something more? Luna didn't know.

She glanced over at where Dale was also still asleep, though he was standing up on his hooves. She had no idea how he could do that, though she recalled Celestia telling her, when she was still a filly and had complained about her bed being lumpy, that long ago ponies hadn't had beds, they slept outdoors, on their feet or lying in the grass. Obviously Companions were more in touch with their ancient equine ancestry than Equestrian ponies were.

As she descended the stairs she heard a tapping at the library door. Deciding that she might as well play librarian while Twilight slept, Luna went to answer it.

She couldn't keep her face from falling when she saw Elspeth on the other side of the door. "Hello," she said, trying to not sound sullen.

"Is something wrong?" asked Elspeth. "I just came over for another magic lesson, if you're up to one so soon after everything."

Luna sighed. "I am up to one, I just wish I didn't have to teach you this. I have to confess that part of the reason why I decided to go investigate the strange magic I felt was that it was an excuse to put things off just a little bit longer. You're ready to learn the portal spell, Elspeth. You've mastered everything else, and you have enough power. It probably won't take you more than a day or two, and then you can go home."

"Really?" Elspeth looked delighted. "But why..." She stopped. "Oh. You have to decide if you're going to stay or go, don't you?"

Luna nodded. "Yes."

"You know I want you to come. But I won't force you."

"Thank you, Elspeth. I consider you a friend."

"Friends are very important to you ponies, aren't they?"

"They're not important in Valdemar?"

"Well... they are, but not in the same way, I think. Nobody makes any big deal about friendship. It's something we know everybody needs, but it's treated very casually. We don't talk about friendship as much. Love and romance get a big fuss made about them, but not friendship. But here you hardly hear about romance, and all the stories and songs are about friends."

"Our kingdom was founded on friendship," said Luna. "And it's part of our strongest magics. So I suppose it's natural for it to be important to us."

"Well, don't think that in Valdemar you won't have any friends, I know you will, if that's what you choose."

"Thank you. Why don't you come in, and we can get started on the spell."

"What do I do, Dale?"

The night had fallen once more, and Luna sat on the highest balcony of the library and looked out at the stars. They comforted her less than usual tonight.

"I can't choose for you, Luna."

"But I don't know what to choose! I feel duty pulling me both ways. Everything you've told me says that Heralds aren't chosen lightly, and if you chose me, then I'm meant to be one. But everything else tells me that Equestria is where I belong!"

"Is it only duty?" asked Dale softly, "or is there something else? I can understand very well why you want to stay, but what's the real reason you want to go?"

Luna stared at him. "The... the real reason?"

"You've been hiding it even from yourself. But there is a reason other than your duty as a Herald, isn't there? I can sense it in you."

Luna swallowed, suddenly forced to face the truth. "Yes."

"You're afraid."

"Yes! I'm terrified! But if I go to Valdemar I'll never have to raise the moon. I'll never take up my full power and become Nightmare Moon again. I'll be safe there."

"That's probably true."

Luna sighed. "But it's a lousy reason to go, isn't it? Running away from my troubles, and not towards my duty."

"Heralds are not cowards. I will support you if you choose to go to Valdemar, or if you choose to stay here. But I can't support you choosing to be a coward, Luna. You need to face your fear."

"I don't know... I don't know if I can! I don't know if I'll ever be ready. I put it off, each night I say 'tomorrow maybe' and tomorrow night comes and I still don't. I've put it off for a whole year now. Will I ever be ready?"

"I believe you will, Luna. A year isn't very long, after a thousand."

She sighed again. "True. And I guess in that case I know what my decision has to be."

Dale smiled at her. "There's something else you should consider as well," he said.

"Oh? And what is that?"

When he told her, Luna found her uncertainty melting away in the face of a feeling of hope, inspiration, and determination all bound together into a wonderful excitement. And she knew exactly what she needed to do.

"Everypony ready?" asked Twilight Sparkle.

There were nods all around, and Fluttershy, who was coming along to make sure the Wolpertinger would be taken care of without hurting it, said "yes" quietly.

Luna smiled at the shy little pegasus. She smiled too at the Valdemarans, the Companions, and Twilight. She was feeling good. She hadn't felt this good in... well, in more than a thousand years, to tell the truth. The last time I remember feeling this excited about something was the day I got the idea for the archives, she mused. I remember Celestia laughing at my enthusiasm. She didn't see why a big room of books and tax records and such was so amazing, but it only took a couple of years for her to come around. She'll come around this time too, I'm sure.

The little group set out towards the forest. They traveled at a good pace, and it didn't take long to pass through the farms and fields around town and reach the woods. As they moved through the trees, Twilight came up beside Luna.

"You look very cheerful."

"I feel very cheerful!" said Luna.

"You've decided to leave with them, haven't you?" said Twilight glumly.

Luna stopped in her tracks, blinking. "What in the world makes you think that?"

"I don't know, I just... you've been so obviously upset about having to decide, and now you're not, so I know you've decided, and I just was afraid..." she trailed off and coughed. "I... nevermind. But I am right, aren't I?"

"Actually no. I have decided, but my choice was to stay."

"Somehow I thought you would," said Elspeth. The whole group had stopped in the middle of the forest. "I guess we both thought our fears of being second choice would be true." But Elspeth said it with a smile, she didn't seem upset. "Can I ask what made you decide to stay?"

"Let's talk while we walk," suggested Luna.

Once they started walking again, she explained. "There were a lot of reasons, really. One is that I realized the thing making me most want to go was fear of my duty here. Fleeing your responsibilities rather than facing them isn't right. But another reason is something that Dale pointed out to me. Heralds do some very important things. And they're things that Equestria needs just as much as Valdemar! In some towns, such as Ponyville, there are brave ponies like you and your friends, Twilight, who are stepping in without being asked and doing those things. But there are other places where they're not. So we need an organized system, like the Heralds, of ponies who will defend towns and help ponies in need. I've said it myself that I'm already doing half the duties of a Queen's Own for my sister. I think that's what I was chosen for, so I could become the first Herald of Equestria, and establish the Heralds here. I mean, obviously some things would have to be different, but we could come up with our own solutions to all those problems, I just know it!"

She looked around at Elspeth, Skif, the Companions, Twilight, and Fluttershy. "Of course I also would miss my friends, and there are... there are other things I'd miss out on too," she glanced at Twilight and tried not to blush. "But I'll miss you Valdemarans, and I know I'll be missing out on experiences I'd have if I went. So in the end the idea of Equestrian Heralds is the real reason I'm staying."

"Heralds in other kingdoms." Elspeth sounded thoughtful. "That's something that never occurred to me, and maybe it should have. You're right, Valdemar isn't the only place that could use Heralds. I think you're making a good decision, Luna. Much as I might prefer to have you come along. Valdemar needs all the Heralds it can get right now. But at least we're not at war anymore. And establishing the Heralds of Equestria is a very admirable goal. Though without Companions here I'm not sure you can ever have an actual equivalent."

"We'll call it something else then. The idea is to have people who are trustworthy, isn't it? There are other ways to judge that. If nothing else Celestia can select new Heralds herself."

"Ah yes, you have an immortal ruler. Having a trustworthy queen or king is probably the most important thing that Heralds do for Valdemar. No one but a Herald can take the throne."

"I see." Luna smiled. "Yes, choosing a trustworthy ruler isn't something we need to worry about. Celestia isn't going to be going anywhere for at least a few thousand more years."

They continued on until they reached the ruins. Soon Fluttershy was cooing at the giant wolpertinger, who was purring and nuzzling her happily, while the others filed past it to the ruins themselves. "There" said Elspeth pointing. "That's the arch we came though."

"Do you want to go over the spell one more time?" asked Luna.

Elspeth nodded. "We should, much as I want to get home right this instant. I've enjoyed it here, but it's more than time for me to go back."

"Right." Luna seated herself. Twilight trotted over and pulled a book from her saddlebags, and the three of them pored over the spell one last time.

"I guess I'm ready," said Elspeth.

"I guess that's goodbye then," said Luna.

"Yeah. I'll miss you crazy ponies."

Luna hesitated, then hugged Elspeth. Fluttershy, who'd come in from cuddling with the wolpertinger, hugged Gwena and Cymry. Everyone said goodbye, and Luna hugged Skif and the Companions too.

Then Elspeth rose and faced the archway. Her horn began to glow. The glow grew as she built up the spell, weaving it with expert care. Her eyes were shut and her whole being was focused on her horn. The archway began to glow too. Suddenly a rainbow shimmer passed over it, and on the other side was a view of Companion's Field. "Go now," said Elspeth, "I can only hold this so long!"

Skif, Cymry, and Gwena galloped through. "Goodbye!" called Elspeth one last time, and followed them. The gate winked out as she passed through it, and she was gone.

The half-dozen Companions who's seen the Princess and the others vanish were exchanging nervous glances. Somebody was going to have to tell the Queen, and soon. But nobody wanted to deal with contacting her, or even her Companion, directly.

:Someone could tell Roland?: offered a nervous mind voice.

:Yes, someone could... wait:

They all stared as the portal snapped open again. There was a blur of motion, and Skif came tumbling out of the portal, somersaulting to end up on his feet with athletic grace. Gwena and Cymry galloped out after him, and then Elspeth tumbled through, less gracefully than Skif, though she managed to not quite fall on her face.

She wobbled to a halt and looked down to see human hands and a Herald's white uniform. She'd had one horrible moment right as she was passing through of worrying that she'd come out naked, since she hadn't been wearing any clothes as a pony. But apparently whatever magic had removed them while going one way had restored them when coming the other. Thank goodness.

"I'm me again!" said Skif with a grin. "Lovely, wonderful, dextrous hands! Though I will miss flying, a bit."

"I'm sure. I'm afraid I won't miss anything at all. Nice as that place was." She looked around, seeing the somewhat shocked Companions looking on. "None of you saw any of this, right?" she said to them.

:You heard her,: said Gwena, standing behind Elspeth and glaring at her fellow equines.

There was a mental chorus of assent and several nods, and Elspeth smiled in satisfaction. She would make up an edited account for the archives, with appropriate notes about the spell scroll, so nobody else would end up repeating her little adventure. But she was not going to actually tell a soul. Especially not her mother. Queen Selenay had gotten much better about treating her daughter as an adult, but she still occasionally reverted to protective mother hen mode when she thought Elspeth might be in danger. And what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.

:What happened to Dale?: ventured one of the Companions timidly.

"It's a long story," said Elspeth. "And one that I'll tell Roland, because he needs to know, but I don't think anybody else does. He's happy and safe where he is, I'll leave it at that." She took a deep breath and changed mental gears. Her visit to Equestria had been a little bit like a vacation, a welcome calm in the midst of the storm sweeping over Valdemar. But now she was back and there were more problems than people to deal with them. She had work to do, it was time to do it.

Luna sat at her desk, in her room in Canterlot. Already she missed Elspeth and Skif and the Companions. But Dale was with her. And Twilight was only a short flight away in Ponyville. There would be many hours of stargazing with her friend in the future, and perhaps other things as well. Or perhaps not, time would tell.

Meanwhile she had work to do. She surveyed her desk. Sheaves of paper, several reference books, her trusty abacus, everything she needed to do what she loved best. Eventually there would be other things, talking to her sister, recruiting ponies, setting things in motion. But first came the bit that made everything else after it work. First came the part that was the most satisfying, as she brought order to a realm of chaos, and created something new from nothing. A whole new life stretched ahead of her, and she needed to be ready for whatever might come.

She lifted her pen.

It was time to plan.