They say a unicorn's tree is the safest place during a storm, to take cover and be protected as everywhere else is ravaged, but not when it stands alone.
To say it was safe would be an understatement; it was shielded with a powerful spell that only a unicorn specialized in magic could conjure to withstand the natural elements of the outside world, even if she barely left the premises. I remember its owner fondly, a beautiful soul with so much to give, a brilliant mind who always had the answer and the urge to find ones that did not yet exist. It should have pained me when she was lost, she being one of the most memorable ponies I had encountered in my lifetime. When she slipped, it should have devastated me, should have ripped me apart inside. Instead, it made me feel complete; to know that I had finally broken her proved to be my greatest, if only, accomplishment during the Lighting.
The ash billows around my horseshoes as my hooves fall in a steady rhythm, coated with whatever muck they happen to pass over. I survey the land as I am so often forced to do, searching for a glimmer of hope that not everything is lost. It is deathly silent, my ears pivoting side to side searching desperately for anything that could hint of ife.
Desperate isn't the right word. No, not at all. Distracted. That's better. Distracted with the thought that life may still be present. I have lost hope and all shreds of desperation; my brain is exhausted, unable to sleep in the blinding light forced upon my eyes at all hours that I roam. My functions have failed, and I can't keep myself from wandering aimlessly through the ruins, my legs refusing to stop pacing. I don't know why, and I have no way of finding an explanation. They just continue to move, unable to cease their stride through the wasteland that I used to call my kingdom, and even for a short time, my home.
Around me the world is black and grey, unable to hold color more than my own coat can anymore. My fur's hue has faded into oblivion, and I cannot even recognize myself when faced with a puddle of undrinkable water.
It hurts. The light beating relentlessly down on my tired eyelids, my horn withered and chipped on the edges. Unreachable stains have dried and smudged into my fur, though they hardly makes an appearance through the dust that coats it. I weep silently for the beauty that has vanished from my once pristine face and for the deep wrinkles that now wind their way throughout my muzzle. The beauty that I flaunted just months ago has disappeared from what used to be my ever youthful eyes, leaving them dead and grey. I refuse to entertain my reflection anymore for more than a second.
I was once famed for my glowing beauty, alongside my gorgeous sister with whom I ruled. We would wave from our chariots at the mass of ponies who would kiss the tracks, and I reveled in it. She told me to remain composed, to refrain from indulging too much in the pleasure of the admiration of my subjects. I wanted more though, and I would get more, even if it meant drastic measures.
But when one forces others to love one, that affection is quickly replaced with fear and revolt. Sister was right; what she predicted became a reality, and that was a mistake that would rest heavily on my withers for the rest of eternity.
The streams flow freely still, rushing away the sandy banks and bringing them down to some unknown bay where the grains will continue their life in an unknown home. Branches hang loosely off of dried husks of trees, wilting in the light that never ceases, casting shadows that eerily stretch towards me. The branches are limp and dry, scratching at the ground that they kneel toward, breaking off from their tree in the gentlest of breezes. I continue to pace on, although not sure of what I am looking for, through the town once called Ponyville. Such a cute, quaint little place in its prime, home to the Elements of Harmony that had been such a momentous help in the past years.
The light blinds me so that I am constantly forced to cast protection spells to keep myself from frying. I never meant it to turn out like this, for everything I knew to burn beneath me. I knew I had the potential to do so, but when doubted one is forced to set example.
Illegitimi non carborundum.
She used to tell me that everyday in the old times, when things were well and ponies were plentiful, that I could do anything, and that the stress would be worth it in the end. She was so kind, so mature for her age and so…
No, I cannot let myself think in that way. She is gone, and I am happy that it is that way; the only consequences were for those foolish enough to turn against me. A tyrant they would say. A monster, even.
After what seemed like forever (and for all I know, it could have been) I come to a particular spot that I was dwelling to come upon. I stand dwarfed in the oak's daunting shadow that adds another shade of darkness to my fur, staring in awe at the structure that was before me. Of course it is nothing in comparison to Canterlot Castle, or even Everfree Castle, but for this town it is an architectural feat.
The tree stands tall and mighty, an oak protected by powerful unicorn magic to withstand the heat of a warming fire inside the hollowed structure and the weathering effects of the outside world for millennia if it was required to do so. The balconies remain intact, still beaming with the glorious architectural skill of whatever pony had crafted them from a few planks of wood, a seedling, and some magic. Spirals and loops dance along the bark, twisting and contorting as they gracefully twirl upward towards a personal balcony under what used to be the lush, cool canopy of evergreen leaves. A certain pony, dare I say maybe my favorite pony, used to study for hours on end, looking for a way to solve what I had done. It killed me to watch her frantically search for the answer that did not exist; I warned her that she was wasting her time, and that if she tried to work with me, everything would be glorious. But her pride, her endless hope, drove her to solitary study where she forced book after book down her throat, until her zest for learning withered away. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
I force myself to tear my eyes away from the structure, let not tears slip down my cheek for any pony ever again.
Trying to find anything else to focus on, I watch the brown husks of a certain farm's corn rustle in the wind, scraping the hard ground with their brittle edges as they race alongside each other, heading for a place hopefully better than here. A demolished cloud mansion hangs gloomily in the distance behind the tree, the last traces of rainbow waterfalls staining its fluffy white structure.
Racking my brain for the name of the resident, I come upon the answer of Rainbow Dash, the Element of Loyalty, although some would not describe her like that in the last days.
'Enough dilly-dallying,' I think to myself. I turn back to the tree, the old Golden Oaks Library sign barely managing to stay upright. I muster my pride and walk to the old home that I had many a time visited before the Lighting.
I open the door with a kick of my hoof. The hinges are horribly rusted, sending the door open in an awful array of screeches and whines until it dislodges from one hinge and hangs loosely from the other. Spooked, the dust flies around the room in a tornado that could only suggest that the abode has not been visited in an obscene amount of time. How long? I cannot remember for the immortal life of me.
Books are scattered around the floor, tossed about without a care by what used to be the most organized pony in Equestria. I see the remnants of her massive book pile, the one she had been maliciously sorting through during my last visit; I can barely stand the sight. Their pages are ripped and ruffled, stained with leaking water and bran mash; one of the books' pages deteriorate to piles of ash at my touch.
I recoil my hoof at the destruction it has caused, bringing my muzzle close to examine it. Deciding that the book needs to be put out of its misery, I flip it closed, hearing the sand rush out as the pages disintegrated on contact with each other.
Papers and vials litter the wooden floor that was now also home to dirt and small rodent remains. One particular vial contains a stagnant green goop that looked as if burned right through the floor when spilled. I decide against sniffing that one, not wanting to burn out my nostrils.
I do not know what possessed me to enter this cursed residence; perhaps it was the incessant need for my legs to keep moving, or that I hadn't yet brought myself to examine my past. Either way, I am here now, and I am hoping to find some answers. Well, answers aren't exactly my quest either. I am cursed to always hold the memories of my wrong doings crystal clear in my mind, to constantly hear the ringing of my subjects' screams echo through my ears for all of eternity. The growls of my stomach do nothing to silence them; I'm so hungry, so emaciated.
Death will not come to me.
Pinned-up papers decorate the wooden interior, crumpled by time and age, though some still bore meaning in their cryptic script. Peering closer, one was still intact. A map; yes it was most definitely a map. With a careful breath, I scatter the dust from its surface, revealing the plot behind the ink. Large X's marked on different areas connected the dots of a mad pony's plan, though it looked desperate and scribbled. Peering through the marks of the letter that desecrated the writing underneath, I am able to uncover what wasn't too surprising.
By Manehattan, a giant X covered the name Applejack, while the same X covered the name Pinkie Pie on the outskirts of Ponyville. Rarity's name crossed out in Canterlot city, while Rainbow Dash's scribbled out on Cloudsdale. The yellow one's name was not in sight. She couldn't let go, could she? Couldn't take the time to say goodbye, too hard-headed to give up even when she knew there was no hope. To think that Fluttershy, the pony who wouldn't give up on Discord himself, wouldn't stand by her was truly a testament to the state of her mind after I left her. I could have saved her.
I step on a piece of paper, the soft crinkle bringing it to my attention. I send my starry mane to the ground to pick it up.
"NO!" I scream, throwing it to the ground. I send a fiery blast from my horn, incinerating the photo quickly. Luna's face burns so slowly it makes me sick, her eyes shooting through my soul.
'The door creaks open, catching my attention. I turned to see my sister strolling in with a curious look on her face.
"Celestia? What are you doing in my chambers? Not that I don't like your visits for they are always pleasant," she said with a smile.
"I had nothing else to do today, and it is quite tiring to listen to the noble ponies quarrel over whether or not the griffins should be allowed in Canterlot University. I say yes, we need more culture in this city. But no, the Bluebloods think it should stay strictly pony. For all I care-"
"Tia, please. This is a casual encounter, no? Let us forget the nobles for a night."
I smiled at my sister. "As you wish." I strolled around the room, taking in the strange baubles Luna had scattered across her night table and dresser.
"Snooping much?" she said with a snort.
I quickly dropped the butterfly pin that I was examining in my magic. "No, just trying to see what keeps you locked in here for so long."
"I assure you it is nothing that concerns you," she said with a small chuckle. She took the pin and knocked it into an open drawer, closing it softly.
"I see your speech lessons have proved successful," I say.
"I suppose," she said with a toss of her mane. A glint of light caught my eye, bringing my attention to a mannequin on the far side of the room.
I gasped. "Luna! What is this?"
Luna appeared in a flash of light in front of the mannequin, the teleportation spell evaporating. "Do not be alarmed Tia, it is just for reassurance."
I pushed her out of my way, trying to get a better view. Scratches and nicks covered the surface of what used to be a flawless silver while shards and pieces were obviously stitched back together with magic. The blue sheen was dull, but it was still the same armor that had been present in my nightmares. I spun around to face my sister. "Why do you have this?" I hissed through clenched teeth.
Luna stood tall. "It is for safety."
"I doubt anything is dangerous enough to force you to resurrect her. How did you even get this?" I demanded.
"Twilight gathered the remaining shreds from the castle and sent them here where I put them back together." She was so calm, so sure that nothing was out of order in the situation; it infuriated me.
"You used my student behind my back to fetch this monstrosity? She is a sweet pony, you will not get her involved in whatever this is being used for!" I said, looming over Luna.
"She was in no danger!" retorted my sister.
"You're telling me that my student was in no danger to trek into the Everfree Forest alone to gather pieces of your cursed barding?
"I don't know what you were thinking. This behavior is not suitable for a princess, Luna! What if somepony had seen this being carried back into the castle?" I said, gesturing to Nightmare Moon's signature armor. "What would they think of you then?"
"Celestia stop! There was no danger. She is a grown pony who can take care of herself and willingly agreed to do this favor for me. She is not possessed, nor has she fallen ill. The armor has done nothing," assured Luna.
"Are you insane? Do you not remember what this armor has done to you? I trust you that Twilight may be fine, but that does not convince me that this armor is not manipulative and evil. It changed you before, and it will change you again." I said sternly.
"It won't influence me this time Celestia."
"And how do you know that?"
"I know of its magic now; it still holds some of my essence in it. If I were to ever use it again, I will have control, for I am no virgin to its power," she answered.
"Why would you ever have to use it again? Destroy it now!" I commanded my sister.
"I cannot," said Luna firmly. Her horn lit up in defense, her hooves staying carefully glued to the ground before she spoke again. "It is to save us from you," she said quietly.'
I snap out of my daze, pushing the thoughts to the farthest, darkest recesses of my mind, forbidding them to resurface again. They are beneath me now.
A pedestal stands alone at the corner of the room, adjacent to the stairs that lead up to a personal dormitory. Paper crumpled in stress-fueled fits litters the floor around it, but atop its smooth, polished surface lies an untouched parchment, unraveled with a silky red tie placed neatly next to it. Lying on its side next to it remaines a dried bowl of ink, along with an owl's feather, the tip of the quill snapped and loosely hanging by a few threads of the shaft.
I approach it with quizzical eyes. Why would something in such a decimated environment stand untouched? Perhaps, though, it was the tiara of the Element of Magic sitting in a nearby trashcan that drew my attention, but to be honest, I feel my own mind is slipping. I do things that I would usually scoff at, such as reading commoners letters. But if it means something to do, I am for it. I know this is no way for a princess to behave, and I have reprimanded myself countless times for trying to conjure up a playmate, but when one has nothing, something is everything.
But the crown, it reminds me what such metal can do to somepony. Some just have to be brave enough to accept the powers it gives, and to see the true beauty that they can posses.
"Celestia, put that down. You know not what you do!" yelled Luna. I was levitating Nightmare Moon's armor helmet in the air, poised to smash it into a billion pieces.
"Tell me one reason why I shouldn't end this damned relic before it ruins you again!?" I screamed back at her, tears floating on my eyes.
Luna breathed out heavily, but did little to expel the rage present in her face. "I'll give you two."
Luna turned from me, staring into the wall as if a portal would open up depicting her thoughts. "I know you are stronger than I, Celestia."
"Luna we are-"
"Do not pity me Celestia!" she yelled, whipping around to face me. "You are more powerful, and that is a fact I had to learn in the most unpleasant of ways." She carefully smoothed her frazzled mane before resuming her gaze at the wall. "But I know that precautions must be taken, in case something ever happens to you. In case you choose a wrong path, like I did."
"Luna," I said softly, still holding the armor, "that will never happen. I have you, my ponies, and that is all I could ever want. Nopony could love me, and I'd still be content. If they chose to sleep through my day, I would still be happy, because I would know that I was still doing good. I don't need anything else, and I promise I will never leave you."
"I'm just scared," she whispered, a few tears rolling down her cheek. "I need to know that if you ever turn against us, I can be strong enough to stop you. To save us all.
"I need to know that if something happens to you, I will be able to become powerful enough to rule Equestria on my own, because we both know I can't right now."
Luna walked towards the rest of her armor, not making any moves towards the helmet. She stopped and breathed in the scent of the metal, the dust scattering as she released the breath slowly upon it. "Its a shame. I know I could have been so strong when I grew up. Now this blasted armor has locked away half of my power for all eternity. I guess it was a price to pay."
I moved towards her, nuzzling her gently, all while maintaining my magical grasp on the floating helmet hovering above us. "Luna, it was a price to pay, yes. But we will get your magic out of there one day; you won't have to resort to becoming Nightmare Moon to be powerful again. I promise, everything will work out."
"You don't know that," she said, shrugging me off.
"I do, Luna. Please listen to me," I asked slowly. She spun around and trudged past me, knocking me with her shoulder. My grip faltered, the contact taking me by surprise.
"Celestia NO!" screamed Luna as the helmet tumbled from my magic.
I looked up to see my golden aura evaporate from around the headgear. Everything seemed like it was in slow motion, yet I couldn't force myself to move out of its tumbling path. The tip of my pure white horn made contact with the opening of the curved blue helmet, sliding in smoothly like a hoof in a sock.
It fit perfectly.
I tear my enchanted eyes from the crown. Curse these relics of my past that threaten to make me feel guilt! I turn my attention back to the the Equestria language of the letter, trying to make out the words from memory, not having practiced my reading in years.
'Princess Celestia,' it began. I shut my eyes, drawing a large breath, preparing myself for the plea I would never be able to answer, for the criticism I would be forced to hear once again.
'Please snap out of it. I know you're not yourself right now, but we need you to take off the armor. I know you prefer 'Nightmare Moon', but that's not who you are. You are Princess Celestia, guardian of the sun and day. Nightmare Moon was Luna's mistake, not yours, so please don't put these thoughts upon yourself for they are not your own! Let her go, lower the moon, and we can help you. But the food is all gone. Your ponies are starving; the crops have turned to ash and the water is contaminated with so much dirt and debris that it is undrinkable. Equestria needs you. Luna needs you. I need you! Please Celestia, snap out of it.
Your Faithful Student, Twilight Sparkle.'
That was all it read. I sigh, refusing to let a tear slip for this crazy pony. I know I shouldn't have done this to them, and I know it's my fault.
Refusing to let myself feel any guilt for my actions, I blow out the side of the house with my enhanced magic, stepping through the newly carved hole so that I may admire my night once again. I look up to the moon, my starry mane dancing before my enchanted eyes, blending into the forever clear cosmos up above. Under the brightness of my new moon, I can see every crack in the road, every dead leaf scraping across the ground, and every bone in sight.
"Take off my armor, sister."
My head jerks about in every direction, trying to find the source of the voice. For a second, it sounded exactly like...
"Please sister, you are not yourself. Take off my helmet, and I promise you will revert back to normal. It is poisoning you!" yells Luna in my ears.
"H-how are you here..." I ask to the voice of my sister.
"You are using my magic. The only aspect of myself that you did not acquire was my dark coat. But my magic is my being. Of course I still share a connection with it. What you are doing is wrong. Release me! Release Equestria from the hell you have plunged it into!" she lectures sternly.
"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" I scream into the empty air, panting heavily, scattering papers and dust with my heaving breaths.
"You are not me. You have just been hoodwinked into thinking so. Take off my armor, and everything will be clear again Celestia-"
"THAT IS NOT MY NAME! I am Nightmare Moon! Everypony will learn to love me. No longer will I stand in your shadow!" I declare.
"You were never in my shadow sister! Everypony loved you, I was the jealous one. This is not you!"Luna tries.
"Leave me be to enjoy my new world." I look up at my glorious moon; its full beam shot down upon my eyes, but I ignore the unholy burning for a moment of satisfaction in my creation.
The shadow of my sister stares back at me. I chuckle and shake my head. "Oh Luna, you shouldn't have doubted me, none of them should have."
If her moon could shine bright, my moon would burn brighter.
"Celestia this is not a world! It is a wasteland. You've murdered everything you've ever cared about: Twilight Sparkle, the Elements of Harmony, Discord, me! You're insane: you're a monster: you're despicable-"
"ENOUGH!" I scream, lifting the helmet from my head and smashing it to the ground so that it broke into millions of pieces, freeing my mind from my sister's denigrate berating. The voice was gone.
My eyes burn, transforming from the tiny slits of a dragon's to the round pupils of a pony's. My starry blue mane took on hues of purple, blue, and pink much like those of a sunrises first colors. Everything was so clear.
What have I done?