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Changing Lanes 3

By Autopony
Created: 2020-12-18 10:47:43
Updated: 2021-11-02 01:48:42
Expiry: Never

  1. >"So how is your arm doing, Anon?"
  2. >Twilight gingerly pokes at your arm as you move it around.
  3. "Not bad. it feels kinda stiff, but I guess when it's been in a sling for weeks, that's normal."
  4. >You've spent the better part of the past few weeks in Canterlot, living in the castle with Luna and Celestia.
  5. >Luna and Celestia felt it was in your best interest to stay with them until your arm fully healed.
  6. >But finally today, you got the sling off your arm.
  7. >To celebrate, you and Luna met up with Twilight and Rainbow Dash in one of the finer dining establishments in Canterlot this afternoon.
  8. >You feel it will not only be good for you to get out of the castle, but Luna as well.
  9. >She hasn't seemed herself lately.
  10. >She has seemed lost in her own world at times, deep in thought.
  11. >You've questioned her about it, but she's been quiet about it, brushing it aside.
  12. >"I'm still sorry about doing that to you, Anon. "
  13. "Twilight, how many times are you going to apologize for something that wasn't your fault?"
  14. >"I know, I know, but it kinda was my fault."
  15. "Tell you what, now that my arm is good, when I get home to Ponyville you can make it up to me somehow."
  16. >Twilight hesitates a bit.
  17. >"Yeah, of course."
  18. >"I still would have liked to have been there for that fight, I can't believe you whooped Chrysalis's flank, Anon!"
  19. >You scratch the back of your head.
  20. "I don't think it really counts as a win if we both get knocked out, Dash."
  21. >"But you were conscious last!"
  22. >You can't help but laugh, as does Twilight.
  23. >You stop when you notice Luna staring off into space, silent.
  24. "Luna?"
  25. >Her eyes refocus, as if snapped out of a trance.
  26. >"Hm?"
  27. >Your other two friends stop, their laughter turning to quiet apprehension.
  28. >"Are you alright, Princess Luna?"
  29. >Luna brushes her mane aside with a hoof awkwardly, before taking a sip of her tea.
  30. >"I'm fine. I just have a lot of royal matters on my mind, is all."
  31. >With both of your friends as witnesses, you press on.
  32. "Come on Luna, you can tell us."
  33. >Luna seems to be getting annoyed.
  34. >"I assure you I am fine!"
  35. >You, Dash and Twilight exchange uneasy glances as Luna struggles to regain a bit of her composure.
  36. >"I must use the rest facilities, I will return shortly."
  37. >The night princess rises from the table, while the three of you remain quiet until she is out of sight.
  38. >You sigh, breaking the awkward silence that has befallen the table
  39. >"What was that all about?"
  40. "I don't know. She's been kind of on edge for the last two weeks or so, I was hoping getting out and about with you two would help. Obviously not."
  41. >"What do you mean 'on edge'?"
  42. >You motion with your hand.
  43. "Like what we just saw. She's just starts daydreaming like that sometimes. The other thing I've noticed is at night, anytime I wake up during the night, she's already awake, tensed up. It's a little creepy."
  44. >"Er, insomnia, maybe?"
  45. "Or afraid to go asleep."
  46. >Twilight and Dash both give you a funny look, urging you to elaborate.
  47. "After all of this with the changelings went down, before we got Twily back, Luna learned what happened in the past... wasn't what really happened, I guess. Apparently she can have nightmares, which is what I suspect might be the problem."
  48. >You glance around for any sign of Luna.
  49. "I'd elaborate, but it's a long story."
  50. >"Aww."
  51. >Twilight elbows Rainbow, before focusing on you.
  52. >"Well, can't you just pop into her dreams like she does to other ponies?"
  53. >You shake your head, continuing to keep your eyes peeled for the blue alicorn.
  54. "No, she'd know. Luna knows the ins and outs of the dream world way better than me. If I could catch her when she wakes up from one of those nightmares, I'd be able to confront her, I think."
  55. >Rainbow rises out of her seat in excitement.
  56. >"Then it sounds like what you need is an extra pair of eyes or two. We should have a slumber party at the castle!"
  57. "It's an interesting idea, but I don't think she will go for it, Rainbow."
  58. >"You're just mad you didn't come up with the idea."
  59. >"What idea are we discussing?"
  60. >The three of you snap to attention to Luna, who takes a seat at the table again.
  61. >Dash speaks up.
  62. >"well, we were thinking why should the celebrations end here at a restaurant? Maybe we can continue this on into the night with a slumber party at the castle!"
  63. >She is cut off by Twilight, who chimes in hastily.
  64. >"If that's alright with you, she means. Don't want to intrude, after all."
  65. >Luna lowers her gaze, thinking about the proposition while the other two lean in, anticipating her answer.
  66. >"I suppose there is no reason we could not."
  67. >The cyan pegasus pumps a hoof into the air.
  68. >"This is gonna be great!"
  69. >The other patrons in the restaurant quiet, staring at your table.
  70. >Rainbow takes notice and slowly slinks back into her seat.
  71. >Luna manages to crack a smile, relaxing a bit.
  72. >As Twilight tries to strike up another casual conversation, you lean over to Dash.
  73. "Remember Rainbow, we're doing this to try to figure out what's bothering Luna, not to party."
  74. >"I know, I know. Geez you're a buzzkill."
  75.  
  76. >"I bet it's awesome living in the castle, huh Luna?"
  77. >Luna smiles as the four of you walk the halls.
  78. >"It is nice, though I can not say I am sometimes fond of the amount of walking that it entails living in such a large place."
  79. >You all can't help but laugh as you reach Luna's room, walking in and flopping down on her massive bed.
  80. >"So where is Princess Celestia, will she be here?"
  81. >Luna looks down at Twilight after setting her tiara on the bedside table.
  82. >"Oh, she'll be around, I'm sure."
  83. >"Did someone call my name?"
  84. >You look over to the entrance of the room to see Celestia standing there smiling, devoid of her royal attire.
  85. >In front of her hovers a tub of ice cream, a spoon sticking out of the top.
  86. "Didn't you just finish off one of those last night, Tia?"
  87. >Dash and Twilight look at you horrified, as if expecting you to be immolated.
  88. >Celestia just laughs.
  89. >"Guilty, I suppose. It's been a long day. Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, what a pleasant surprise to see you both."
  90. >Both Twilight and Rainbow Dash bow, while Celestia waves a hoof.
  91. >"Oh come now, no need for formalities. I'm not even wearing any of my regalia."
  92. >"You look a lot.... different without all that stuff on."
  93. >Celestia just chuckles at Rainbow, taking a heaping spoonful of her frozen treat.
  94. >"So what are you all up to, anyway?"
  95. >"We are having a slumber party tonight, sister. I'm sure you don't mind."
  96. >"Not at all, that sounds like fun."
  97. >Celestia wiggles her tub of ice cream in the air.
  98. >"There's plenty more of this if you all want any. Try the strawberry fudge, it's my favorite."
  99. >"Not if you finish it all, sister. I do not want to hear you complaining about how the size of your posterior has grown in a week if you're going to keep eating that."
  100. >A sly grin crosses Celestia's face.
  101. >"Oh, don't worry about that. Besides, I can lose weight, but you can't gain height, can you, 'little' sister."
  102. >Luna's eyes go wide, before she leaps off the bed and runs toward the door.
  103. >You hear the sound of rapid footsteps and giggling as Celestia makes tracks down the hall.
  104. >"Come back here!"
  105. >Twilight and Rainbow stop staring at the now empty door and turn their attention to you.
  106. "Before you ask me, yes this is normal. And don't ever bring up Luna's height, she's a little sensitive about that."
  107. >"Wow, I've never seen Princess Celestia act so...."
  108. "Childish?"
  109. >Twilight cringes.
  110. >"I was going to say carefree and playful. And I lived here for a while when I was Celestia's student."
  111. >"Anon, are you sure Luna acting strangely lately isn't all in your head? I mean, she looks like she's enjoying the day."
  112. >Rainbow does have a point.
  113. >Since arriving back at the castle, she seems much more relaxed and back to her normal self.
  114. >Maybe it is just you?
  115. >You don't want to be hasty coming to a conclusion either way yet.
  116. "We'll just wait and see. In the meantime, let's all just enjoy the night, shall we?"
  117. >Twilight and Dash nod in excited agreement, as the sound of hoofsteps and Celestia's laughter come closer.
  118. >Luna appears in the doorway, a look of irritation upon her face.
  119. >Likely because of her mane, which is dripping with ice cream and chunks of strawberry.
  120. >"Thank you for sharing with us, sister."
  121. >Celestia does her best to keep a straight face as she trots in behind.
  122. >"Well, you did tell me to hand it over, so I did."
  123. >Ignoring her sister, Luna looks at the three of you, still seated on her bed.
  124. >"I will be back after a quick shower. Do make yourselves at home."
  125. >Luna trots out of the room, a quick glance at her sister, who is still struggling to keep a straight face.
  126. >When she is seemingly out of earshot, Celestia as well as the rest of the room erupts in laughter.
  127. >As everyone calms down, the white alicorn takes a seat on the rug in the room.
  128. >"So how was everypony's day in Canterlot? I understand you all got to taste some of our fine cuisine."
  129. >You and Twilight nod, while Rainbow seems hesitant.
  130. >"Well, they aren't exactly generous with the portion sizes here. I had to have two main courses to feel like I actually ate something!"
  131. "Luckily you didn't have to foot the bill, right?"
  132. >Rainbow sticks her tongue out in response.
  133. >Celestia's smile grows wider, turning to Twilight.
  134. >"How has Ponyville been? I haven't heard from you lately, I was beginning to get concerned."
  135. >Twilight tenses up.
  136. >"Sorry, sorry, it's been so busy in the library lately!"
  137. "Twilight, chill."
  138. >She looks over at you, taking a deep breath as Celestia chuckles.
  139. >"Well, Ponyville is in the middle of winter now. The first week of winter, the pegasi weather team made a mistake. We were supposed to only get two inches of snow, but instead we were hit with two feet of snow!"
  140. >All eyes dart to the cyan pegasus in the room, who crosses her forelegs.
  141. >"What? I wasn't even at work that day!"
  142. >Twilight continues.
  143. >"Nopony was prepared for that much snow so soon, it took a couple days before travel and everyday life got back to normal after digging out."
  144. "Glad I missed that."
  145. >Winter still has not settled upon Canterlot, as the weather is rather pleasant, if just a bit chilly at night.
  146. >"Well, your home didn't get dug out since you've been here residing in Canterlot."
  147. >Rainbow cringes, as Twilight giggles nervously.
  148. >"So yeah, don't be in too much of a rush to get home. Heh."
  149. >You are confused by your friends' reactions.
  150. >Abruptly, you are distracted by the scent of lavender striking your nose.
  151. >You can't help but smirk.
  152. "That was a quick shower, Luna."
  153. >You hear the disappointed stomping of a hoof as you turn to face the blue alicorn.
  154. >"How did you know? Was it Twilight?"
  155. >You shake your head.
  156. "Your shampoo is really strong."
  157. >Everyone is the room gets a chuckle.
  158. >Luna narrows her eyes at you.
  159. >"Very well. But we shall see who has the last laugh tonight."
  160.  
  161. "Let's speed it up a little bit here, Moonbutt."
  162. >Luna blushes a bit, shooting you an annoyed glance.
  163. >She really doesn't care for that nickname.
  164. >It's down to the two of you in the game that makes everyone angry, Marenopoly.
  165. >Celestia fell out of the game early.
  166. >Apparently she did have a very rough day, as she fell asleep.
  167. >Twilight made the decision to auction off the few properties the white alicorn had, as she was so excited to play the role of auctioneer.
  168. >Not to mention managing the bank, which is why she did not participate in the actual game.
  169. >Rainbow Dash was way too eager to get her hooves on the Cloudsdale property Luna possessed, so much so she made an absolutely horrible trade.
  170. >Five properties for just that one.
  171. >She didn't last much longer once you and Luna started putting up hotels.
  172. >Now, it's been nearly an hour of the two of you going around the board swapping bits back and forth.
  173. >Finally, after about a minute of shaking, Luna rolls the dice.
  174. >Seven.
  175. >Finally!
  176. >That puts her right on your most expensive property, Canterlot.
  177. >That should be the game.
  178. >Luna frowns as she looks down, oblivious of your cocky smirk.
  179. >She looks up at you after moving her token.
  180. >"What are you so pleased about?"
  181. "Time to pay up."
  182. >"But that is my property."
  183. >Confused, you look down at the board.
  184. >Fillydelphia?
  185. >You scan the board, finding Canterlot where the Fillydelphia square should be.
  186. >You shake your head.
  187. "Luna, that's cheating. You can't move squares on the board."
  188. >"Tell me where it says that in the rules."
  189. >"Right here, under Unicorn-specific rules."
  190. >Twilight pipes up, pointing a hoof to a paragraph in the rules booklet.
  191. >Luna cocks her head, smiling as she unfurls her wings.
  192. >"I suppose it is a good thing we are an alicorn, in that case."
  193. >You scoot over, grabbing her wings.
  194. "We can change that, if it's going to be an issue."
  195. >Luna flops backward onto the floor, dragging you along on top of her.
  196. >She pulls you closer, smirking.
  197. >"You are adorable when you act tough."
  198. "Who's acting?"
  199. >She chuckles, leaning in and giving you a quick peck on the forehead.
  200. >"I don't mean to be rude, Luna, but I think the 'no magic rule' is a generalized rule."
  201. >As Twilight's nerdiness shows up, Luna rises out from underneath you, a sigh of defeat emanating from her.
  202. >"Yes, Twilight, I know. Anon, you win."
  203. >You pump your fist.
  204. "Ha, I've never won at this game. Mainly because the board ends up being thrown."
  205. >Rainbow Dash yawns, rubbing her eyes.
  206. >"Well, can we finally get some sleep? I'm exhausted."
  207. >Luna cocks her head.
  208. >"Sleep? But it is only.."
  209. >She turns to the clock on her bedside, which reads 2:30 in the morning.
  210. >"Oh my, I did not realize it had gotten so late. Give me just a moment, I have a cloud mattress somewhere for you and Twilight."
  211. >Luna rises to her hooves, stepping over her sister who is still sound asleep on the floor.
  212. >"So, Anon, are you still sure there is something up with Luna? She seems to be in a pretty good mood to me."
  213. >You turn your head to face Twilight, who seems unsure of how you will react.
  214. >It isn't so much Luna's behavior that is bothering you, but all of your friends.
  215. >It is beginning to look like it might be YOU that is the one acting odd.
  216. >Sighing, you admit defeat.
  217. "Well, I thought I was sure something was up. Maybe it's been me all along."
  218. >Rainbow pats you on the back.
  219. >"Don't worry about it. It's not like we didn't have fun tonight, this was great."
  220. >A muffled bang startles the three of you into turning around to face the doorway.
  221. >A large white mattress is wedged into the opening at an angle.
  222. >With another heave, it pops into the room, levitated by Luna.
  223. >She seems to sense everyone on edge.
  224. >"Apologies, I forgot it was a tight fit."
  225. >Glancing over at Celestia, she is still out like a light.
  226. >Luna follows your gaze, letting out a low chuckle.
  227. >"Do not worry about her, she's fine sleeping there for the night. She's a heavy sleeper, so it would be difficult to wake her regardless."
  228. >She drops the mattress onto the floor.
  229. >Despite its size, it practically floats down to the floor, no doubt based on the fact it is a literal mattress of clouds.
  230. >It still astounds you the things that are possible in this world.
  231. >As Twilight and Rainbow make themselves comfortable on the bed, you and Luna flop down onto her bed.
  232. >"Goodnight everypony."
  233. >A chorus of hushed 'goodnight' is the response to Luna as the lights in the room go out.
  234.  
  235. >It is rather early in the morning as you stir awake, the first decent night's sleep you have had in a while.
  236. >Sensing Anon not in the bed causes you to jolt up.
  237. [Anon, where are you?]
  238. >[Dining room.]
  239. >As you get out of bed, you quietly move around Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, who are still asleep.
  240. >Your sister is nowhere to be seen, but she is likely up and about at this time of the morning to raise the sun anyway.
  241. >Making your way to the dining room, you see Anonymous seated at the expansive table, sipping on a cup of coffee.
  242. "Are you alright?"
  243. >He looks up at you.
  244. >His face shows he hasn't slept too well.
  245. >"Yeah, I'm fine. Didn't sleep great, so I figured I may as well get up."
  246. >You take a seat next to him.
  247. "What is wrong? Something is bothering you."
  248. >He shakes his head, chuckling a bit.
  249. >"Well, I thought you were the one having issues. But now that I think both Twilight and Rainbow are acting odd, it must just be me."
  250. >Your heart sinks a bit.
  251. >Perhaps now is the best time as any to tell him if he thinks he's going nuts.
  252. "Anon, it's not you. I've been waiting to explain something to you, but I haven't been sure how you will react."
  253. >He looks at you, perplexed.
  254. >"What is it?"
  255. >"You two are up quite early this morning."
  256. >Celestia's warm smile greets the two of you as you turn around.
  257. >One look at your expressions causes it to disappear, instantly realizing what is up.
  258. >Nodding to her, you focus back on Anonymous.
  259. "Anonymous, I am afraid it would be extremely unwise for you to return to your home in Ponyville."
  260. >He seems dumbfounded.
  261. >"Uh, what? Everything is okay, right?"
  262. "Your home was..... vandalized, I'm afraid. Several windows were shattered, and the contents of your home were gone through. I am sorry Anon, but it seems the changelings seek retribution for what you have done to their queen. We have received several reports of them lurking throughout the kingdom, likely searching for you."
  263. >He balls up his fists, trembling with anger.
  264. >"Bring them on, I'll fuck up every one of them like I did Chrysalis!"
  265. >A fierceness you have never seen before appears in his eye, sending a chill down your spine.
  266. >"Anonymous, we need you to calm down."
  267. >Your sister speaks up, causing Anon to roar even louder.
  268. >"What, I don't have a right to be angry?! You're telling me everything is fine?!"
  269. >"No, Anonymous, everything is not fine, but we need you to remain calm. There's something else."
  270. >Your sister nods to you as Anon relaxes a bit, unclenching his fists.
  271. "Anon, do you remember how you described to us how it felt when you attacked Chrysalis?"
  272. >His face softens up a bit as he scans through his memory.
  273. >"Yeah. It hurt something awful, it felt like I was on fire."
  274. >"Luna and I have spent the last few weeks looking for something to explain such an odd occurrence, and I believe we know what caused it."
  275. >He seems a little nervous as he gives the two of you his undivided attention.
  276. "While wielders of magic in our realm have a way of focusing and discharging their energy, such as unicorns with their horns, you seem to have no way of doing so properly. When you stabbed Chrysalis, it seems the rush of adrenaline fuelled the release of some magic, using the key in your hand as a sort of conduit. However, we think in doing so, that energy was also channeled back into you as much as it was the Changeling Queen."
  277. >"In short Anonymous, the so-called 'feeling of death' you experienced.... was not exactly far off what seems to have happened."
  278. >Anon sits quietly, looking down at his hands.
  279. >"So what you're saying is, I managed to fry myself from the inside just like Chrysalis?"
  280. >He looks up at the two of you, both nodding in response.
  281. >"Yes Anonymous. And I am afraid such a stressful situation could possibly cause a similar occurrence, which is why we need you to remain calm."
  282. >"So not only am I a marked man by a whole species of giant bugs, but I am at risk of hurting or killing myself at any moment?"
  283. >You cringe at the bitterness of his tone.
  284. "Perhaps that is a rather harsh way o put it, but yes. I am sorry, Anon. You understand why I have been debating on when to give you this news."
  285. >His shoulders slump as you and your sister exchange worried glances.
  286. >"Well, I guess I'm glad you told me. So much for everything going back to normal."
  287. >Rising from the table, he turns and begins to head out of the dining room.
  288. "Where are you going?"
  289. >He doesn't turn around to answer you.
  290. >"I need some time to think. I'll be fine."
  291. >You find his words unconvincing.
  292. >"Do not hesitate to speak to either of us if you wish."
  293. >He says nothing as the door closes behind him, leaving you and Celly to wonder where to even begin the day.
  294.  
  295. -----
  296.  
  297. "What a mess."
  298. >As you remove the last bolt, you let the crumpled nose of the Superbird fall to the floor with a clatter.
  299. >You decided to start work on your car today, to distract your mind from the news Luna and Celestia had for you this morning.
  300. >A few weeks ago, Celestia had suggested moving the Superbird from the garden outside, to the garage where both of their chariots were stored.
  301. >It caused more than a few head turns and stares from the guards when you rolled in, but they seem to have settled down and gotten used to the sight.
  302. >Today, there is no one in sight as you work, the garage echoing every sound you make.
  303. >Both Luna and Celestia are either busy, or are giving you space, as you have not seen them since this morning.
  304. >Rainbow and Twilight already left for the trip back to Ponyville this morning.
  305. >Leaving you alone with your thoughts.
  306. >With the nose removed, you inspect the front of the radiator for any damage.
  307. >Luckily, it looks intact.
  308. >But you had already assumed that, since you managed to drive it here from Ponyville weeks ago.
  309. >Which may be the last time you ever see that place without bodyguards.
  310. >"Are you always this pessimistic, or are you just looking for pity?"
  311. >You feel the presence of Nightmare Moon behind you as you focus attention on getting the front fenders, not bothering to look at her.
  312. >This is the first time she has appeared since the night Luna had her breakdown.
  313. "Well I know I'm not going to get pity from you, nor do I want it. But how is there any other way to look at this situation?"
  314. >Hearing no reply,you turn your head, finding the black alicorn sitting on her haunches.
  315. >It really doesn't faze you seeing something that really is not there by this point, though you would probably feel differently had other ponies been around.
  316. >"Gee, I don't know. Maybe the fact you're living with the princesses of all of Equestria? One of which you are intimately involved with, that is willing to do anything for you? I'd say that's a pretty good positive."
  317. >You look down at your hands.
  318. "Right, so we'll just forget that a whole species wants my head, or the fact I practically have a nuclear warhead in my body that could go off the next time I get stressed."
  319. >You look up at Nightmare Moon, who does not respond.
  320. >As you start loosening bolts on the driver's side fender, she speaks.
  321. >"I am sorry your vision of a peaceful, perfect world has been shattered. But do not allow it to sour your outlook on life."
  322. "I'm not, though it is funny hearing that from you, seeing as how you were created from such a scenario."
  323. >"Who are you talking to?"
  324. >You snap around to see Luna standing there, looking rather concerned.
  325. >You briefly consider some sort of excuse, but stop.
  326. >Luna was honest with you earlier today, the least you could do is the same.
  327. "Nightmare."
  328. >The black alicorn seems to have disappeared at this point.
  329. >Surprisingly, Luna's apprehension seems to subside a bit.
  330. >"I see."
  331. >Neither of you say anything, as you return back to your work.
  332. >"Do you find.... comfort in speaking with her?"
  333. >Confused, you turn back around.
  334. "What do you mean?"
  335. >Luna steps closer to you.
  336. >"What I mean is, do you find Nightmare Moon to be helpful to speak to? Do you do this on a regular basis?"
  337. >You balk a bit at the question.
  338. "No, not really. I mean, I've spoke to her once or twice to get my thoughts in order, but I wouldn't say she's more helpfu-"
  339. >Luna raises a hoof to stop you.
  340. >"Please, relax Anon. I am not upset with you, merely curious."
  341. >You rise to your feet, hopping up and taking a seat on the hood, while Luna sits in front of you.
  342. "It's hard to explain. It's like I'm talking to someone else, but at the same time, I'm speaking to myself. Helps me clear my thoughts, I guess. But why aren't you mad at me for speaking to her?"
  343. >She cocks her head.
  344. >"Consider it a change of perspective after what we have learned of our past. While I am not exactly enthused of the idea, she has proven to keep you safe, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt at this point."
  345. >She pauses a moment, before continuing.
  346. >"Are you alright? From what we discussed earlier today, I mean?"
  347. >You nod your head.
  348. "Yeah, I guess I am. Just frustrated as hell, is all. I suppose to a lesser extent, a bit nervous about the fact something that I can't even control inside me could kill me."
  349. >Luna places a hoof on your shoulder.
  350. >"I do not want you to worry about that. Hopefully my sister and I can find some way to either rid you of the magic, or somehow contain it. But do not fret over it."
  351. >She looks over to the crumpled nosecone of the Superbird Laying on the ground, and begins to use her magic to reform the steel and remove the dents.
  352. "Thanks. But what about the changelings? You said they were out for blood, so am I just going to be stuck in the castle for the rest of my life? I mean, at least I get to spend more time with you, but I still miss my own home to a point."
  353. >Her face contorts oddly as she focuses on her work.
  354. >"I don't know Anonymous. I wish I had an answer for you. Unfortunately, changelings are nigh impossible to find, for the simple reason they can look like anypony. In addition, nopony I know of has any idea where their hive is located."
  355. "So, is there any way to reveal a changeling disguised as someone else? I mean, what if they try some fuckery to capture me or kill me? How am I going to know who to trust?"
  356. >As she finishes her work, she turns it over in her magical grasp, as you nod and smile.
  357. >It will still need to be painted, but Luna's magic saves you a hell of a lot of time.
  358. >"Well, Canterlot has worked hard since the first major attack by the changelings during Princess Cadence's wedding. They very nearly took over the city, but Twilight Sparkle was able to recognize Chrysalis for who she was. But we have not had the chance to try any sort of wards or spells because nopony has had a live specimen of a changeling. But, we do now. The changeling that I had to fight off in the dungeon is still alive, so there are certain things we can try."
  359. >She rises to her hooves.
  360. >"The best advice I can give you for now is to be on guard Anonymous, and stick close to my sister and I. The castle is on high alert, so it will be very difficult for any changelings to try anything, but trust your judgement if the need arises."
  361. >You cringe a bit, the situation seeming rather dour, at best.
  362. >Flaring out her wings, she stands on her hind legs and embraces you in a tight hug.
  363. >"Please, I do not want you to fret over the situation. I am merely informing you of what we are dealing with at this point in time."
  364. "I know, and I appreciate you being honest with me."
  365. >She steps back, her wings still flared out on either side.
  366. >"It has been a difficult lesson to learn, but I will not hide anything from you. Our mistakes in the past have led us here, and we are doing the best to fix them."
  367. >It is your turn to feel concerned for Luna's state of mind.
  368. "Are you alright? I mean, you know I don't blame you for everything that has happened, right?"
  369. >"I will be fine, Anonymous. As I said, I do feel responsible for putting you in this situation, but it is giving me a stronger drive and will to come up with a solution and fix our wrongs."
  370. "Okay, just don't dwell on it too much."
  371. >She turns her gaze to the castle.
  372. >"I must go Anonymous. Let me know if there is anything you need."
  373. >She leans back in, giving you a kiss.
  374. "I'm good. I'll catch up with you this evening."
  375. >She smiles, turning and taking to the air, back towards the castle.
  376. >"At least somepony can talk some sense into you, dingus."
  377. >You jump a bit, turning to see Nightmare Moon sitting on the hood next to you.
  378. "Most other ponies don't act like a sarcastic bitch when they're supposedly trying to help."
  379. >She stares at you.
  380. >"Sorry, I'll try to work on that."
  381. "You're just proving my point."
  382. >She scowls, then disappears again.
  383. >You return back to your work, feeling a bit better about your situation.
  384.  
  385. >"There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you had fallen asleep in there."
  386. >You climb into bed next to Luna after a long, relaxing shower to finish the day.
  387. "Good thing I didn't take a bath, then."
  388. >She giggles.
  389. >"I must ask, how does your shoulder feel?"
  390. >You rotate your arm around a bit in demonstration.
  391. "Not bad at all. Some of the stiffness has gone away, just feels a little weak from being unused for so long."
  392. >She nods, her face turning serious.
  393. >"Anonymous, this may seem like an odd request, but I want you to meet me in Celestia's dream tonight."
  394. >You stare at her, rather confused.
  395. "Uh, okay. What's going on, we gonna torment her?"
  396. >Luna shakes her head.
  397. >"No, I will explain in time. But for now, goodnight."
  398. >The two of you kiss, then turn out the lights.
  399. >But rather than wait to fall asleep to enter the dreamscape, you close your eyes and focus your mind, and enter into the void.
  400. >Once again, the familiar starry night sky of the dreamscape surrounds you.
  401. >It has become a lot easier to find a specific pony's dream, as you focus your thoughts.
  402. >A door materializes in front of you, and you enter.
  403. >You step through to find the castle.... of cake?
  404. >Looking around incredulously, it seems everything around you is made out of some sort of sweet.
  405. >You knew Celly had a sweet tooth, but this is ridiculous.
  406. >"This is not exactly a rare dream for my sister."
  407. >You turn to find Luna next to you.
  408. "It's, uh... certainly something. Wow."
  409. >"Come, she is likely to be in the throne room."
  410. >You follow Luna's lead as she pushes open the doors to the room.
  411. >Up ahead, Celestia is lounging on the throne, munching on what looks to be a part of the aforementioned seat.
  412. >You do your best not to laugh.
  413. >"Sister."
  414. >Celly takes notice, scrambling to save face.
  415. >"Luna, Anonymous. I was not expecting you for a while."
  416. >She closes her eyes, the castle melting away into a quiet meadow.
  417. >You lean over, whispering to Luna.
  418. "I thought she didn't have the same abilities to manipulate dreams as us."
  419. >"Not other ponies' dream, but this is her dream. She has become quite skilled at lucid dreaming."
  420. >Clearing your throat, you resume a normal speaking voice.
  421. "So, what are we doing here? I mean, this is an odd place to meet, in a dream?"
  422. >Luna is the first to speak up.
  423. >"Anonymous, do you recall the evening that a changeling attempted to pose as me in the castle that started this whole mess?"
  424. >Thinking back, you remember that the only reason you recognized that it was not Luna was a heads up by Nightmare Moon.
  425. "Yeah, one of them apparently tried to put a spell on me, and it didn't work."
  426. >"Luna told me that the reason you were able to recognize what was going on was the result of information from... Nightmare Moon."
  427. >Celestia's tone darkens at the mention of her sister's counterpart, startling you a bit.
  428. "Uh, yeah. Obviously that didn't work out too well, but she did warn me."
  429. >"Do you know how she did it?"
  430. >Celestia leans in, hopeful for an answer.
  431. "I... really don't know. She said she sensed it, but.... why are we here, anyways?"
  432. >"Anon, Nightmare Moon may have a way to identify changelings that we do not know as of now."
  433. >Luna and her sister exchange glances, taking a deep breath.
  434. >"Which is why we want to talk to her. We want you to summon her here in the dreamscape."
  435. >You look at the both of them in shock, not believing their straight faces.
  436. "Are you two serious?"
  437. >Celestia speaks up.
  438. >"Yes, Anonymous. As much as I am not fond of the idea, your safety as well as all of Equestria's is more important than my desire to never set eyes upon what I was forced to banish long ago."
  439. >Luna looks up at her sister rather uneasily.
  440. >She has definitely made peace with her past better than Celestia.
  441. >How do you even begin to respond?
  442. "Well, I don't really ever 'summon' her, I guess. She just sort of shows up."
  443. >Both of the royal sister's shoulders droop in dismay.
  444. >You close your eyes, focusing, trying to contact her.
  445. [Alright darkie, if you want to make a good impression, now is the time.]
  446. >You open your eyes and look around.
  447. >Other than the royal sisters, the only other sign of life in this dream are birds off in the distance.
  448. "Sorry, I wish I could just snap my fingers."
  449. >As you demonstrate, you feel a presence behind you.
  450. >Turning, you find a pair of feral turquoise eyes greet you.
  451. >"You rang?"
  452. >You thumb over your shoulder.
  453. "Yeah, apparently they want to talk to you."
  454. >Nightmare Moon's gaze drifts to the sisters behind you.
  455. >Her solemn face suddenly erupts in a toothy grin as she steps past you, while you whirl around to watch.
  456. >"Princess Celestia. This is a surprise. And hello, me."
  457. >Luna seems to take it all in stride, while Celestia seems rather on edge.
  458. >The black alicorn stops less than a foot away from where Celestia is seated.
  459. >"It has been quite a while since we've spoken. How are you?"
  460. >Sternly, Celestia glares back, silent for what seems like an eternity.
  461. >Even you are beginning to feel uncomfortable.
  462. >With no answer, Nightmare Moon turns her head towards Luna.
  463. >"Luna, I assume you are doing well, considering your history lesson a few weeks ago?"
  464. >She doesn't smile, but remains calm.
  465. >"It has not been easy, but I have made peace with my past. Though I do wonder why you are putting on this act of arrogance, considering you were rather sympathetic the last time we spoke."
  466. >If you didn't know any better, you would think Nightmare seems a tad rattled by Luna's words.
  467. >"Yes, well, that was then, and this is now. Consider the issue that the pony that banished us from existence is standing before me."
  468. >This is not going in a good direction.
  469. "Maybe we can sort history out later, but right now, why don't w-"
  470. >Nightmare Moon raises a hoof, glaring at you.
  471. >"No. You are the one always in control, I have always been stuck idle, silent. But not now."
  472. >Even the birds in this dream world lie silent at this point.
  473. >She turns back to Celestia.
  474. >"Perhaps the other half of me has made her peace with the past, but I have not. Tell me, do you know what it feels like to be banished, vaporized, sealed into the moon itself?"
  475. >"No, I do not."
  476. >"Let me assure you, it is a pain so agonizing, the fires of Tartarus do not even begin to scratch the surface."
  477. >"You gave me no choice. You threatened to bring harm to the ponies I swore to protect."
  478. >Celestia's voice remains defiant.
  479. >But rage burns in Nightmare's eyes.
  480. >"AND YET YOU HARM ME! YOUR OWN SISTER! You didn't even try to save me!"
  481. >Celestia falters, tears in her eyes, anger in her voice.
  482. >"What was I to do?! We were so young, I did not have the knowledge I do now! You are not my sister, but I still live with the shame of what I had to do to my Luna."
  483. >"No, I am Luna, but just a part of her. The years of bottled up anger, crushed dreams, sadness has warped part of me into what stands before you. All that pressure to step into a role I did not want, led to me."
  484. >"That's enough. You've had time to say what you want, but let us move on from the past and look to the present."
  485. >Everyone's attention has snapped to Luna, who has remained surprisingly calm.
  486. >"Fine. Why am I here, anyways?"
  487. "How did you manage to see that Luna wasn't really Luna that night at the castle when all this shit went down?"
  488. >Nightmare Moon cocks her head at you.
  489. >"I told you, I could feel her trying to feed off you."
  490. >"But how? How did you sense that, exactly?"
  491. >"I don't know. The only theory I could come up with is the changeling's efforts were focused on Anonymous, without realizing there was another entity within him. Its magic had no effect on me whatsoever."
  492. >Nightmare pauses.
  493. >"Well, there is one other thing, though I do not know how helpful it will be."
  494. >Celestia has regained most of her composure by this point.
  495. >"Please, any information is of use to us. The changelings desire to capture Anonymous for what he did to their queen."
  496. >"Yes, I know. As boring as it is, I listen in and see through Anon's eyes from time to time. I'm caught up on all the events. The only
  497. other thing I can tell you is existing this long without my own body, my own senses, has left me with a better ability to sense magic, to identify it. Changeling magic has a unique feel to it, and it is something they exude when they are in a form other than their own."
  498. >Luna steps forward, looking up at her counterpart.
  499. >"I ask of you you keep on guard for changelings. Warn Anonymous if he is in danger, just as you did in the castle. Your guidance in my nightmare tells me you are willing to help, and I ask for your assistance now."
  500. >Nightmare Moon seems taken by surprise by Luna's request and trust.
  501. >Nevertheless, she nods.
  502. >"Only because it is you who is asking. And to save my own hide, since I'm stuck with him now."
  503. >She nods her head over her shoulder, to where you stand.
  504. >Bitch.
  505. >"Thank you."
  506. >Everyone turns to Celestia.
  507. >"While it upsets me to have to see you again, to even hear from you again, it does not make me oblivious to what valuable information you have given to us."
  508. >Nightmare rolls her eyes.
  509. >"Right. Well, we should do this again sometime. perhaps a reenactment for old time's sake?"
  510. >In a cloud of blue haze, the black alicorn disappears.
  511. >Luna looks up at her sister.
  512. >"Are you alright?"
  513. >"I will be fine Luna. I suppose we are all having to face our inner demons recently."
  514. >She manages a small smile, before looking at you.
  515. >"Anonymous, while it may not seem so, Nightmare Moon's insight may hold a key to preventing changelings from penetrating the castle. But until then, you must be on guard. Do not rely solely on what she has promised."
  516. "I'll be fine. At least I get to be in the castle with you two, that's a plus."
  517. >She beams in response.
  518. >"I feel the same way, Anonymous."
  519.  
  520. >Sunlight filters through the drapes of Luna's bedroom as you begin to awaken.
  521. >With Luna still cuddled into your arms, you lie there, just enjoying the quiet.
  522. >It is not long before she stirs awake as well.
  523. >"Good morning."
  524. "Mornin."
  525. >"I hope you slept well after the discussion last night?"
  526. >You yawn, rubbing one of your eyes.
  527. "Yeah, I did. Boy, that didn't exactly go smoothly, did it?"
  528. >Your yawn seems to be contagious, as Luna does the same.
  529. >"It was... more dramatic than I had expected, yes."
  530. "You think Celly is okay? She seemed pretty shaken up."
  531. >Luna lies there a moment before answering you.
  532. >"I believe so, yes. She was right about one thing. We have both had to confront our inner demons, whether we had wished to or rather to forget them. It has been a long time since those events, which make it even harder to face them."
  533. >You brush her mane away from her face.
  534. "I'd say you came through it with flying colors. You seemed to be the calmest out of everyone last night."
  535. >Luna blushes a bit.
  536. >"I wouldn't say it was easy, but somepony had to keep their mind clear through the emotions."
  537. "And you really trust Nightmare Moon?"
  538. >She nods quickly.
  539. >"Yes, I do. She may say otherwise, but I believe she is willing to look over you for reasons other than her own well-being. Nightmare Moon came from a desire for somepony to empathize, a shoulder for which to cry on, for guidance. I do not think that purpose she once had has diminished one bit."
  540. >This complete turnaround of her opinion of Nightmare Moon is astonishing, to say the least.
  541. "How nice, I have a guardian angel now. I of course use the term 'angel' lightly."
  542. >Luna giggles, lightly whacking you over the head with a pillow.
  543. "Ow! Celestia, your sister is abusing me!!"
  544. >From the other side of the wall, you hear a reply.
  545. >"You probably earned it!"
  546. >Luna's giggle fit erupts into all-out laughter.
  547. "When I grow up, I'm living alone."
  548.  
  549. -----
  550.  
  551. >As the afternoon begins to transition into evening, you lounge in Luna's room, head buried in a book.
  552. >The chair you are in suddenly tips back, and you tilt your head back as well.
  553. >A pair of bright turquoise halos greets you.
  554. >"Hi, Anon."
  555. "Hi Moonbutt."
  556. >Luna blushes, giggling as she slowly allows your chair to sit level again.
  557. >"Why are you so obsessed with calling me that lately?"
  558. >You spin around in your chair to face her.
  559. "I'm not sure. It might be because you got a moon on your butt."
  560. >She blushes more, turning and wiggling her rump at you teasingly.
  561. >"You mean this one?"
  562. >Nnngh.
  563. "Yeah, that one."
  564. >At the same moment, Celestia walks by the open door.
  565. >Her eyes suddenly widen, before she hurries off to the other side.
  566. >"At least close the door!"
  567. >Luna laughs, stopping and turning around.
  568. >"Oh come on sis, we were not doing anything!"
  569. >She gets no response from Celestia, who has apparently high-tailed it.
  570. >The blue mare takes a seat on a cushion next to you, leaning over your armrest for a kiss.
  571. >You waste no time in obliging her, her silky soft lips too tempting to pass up.
  572. >After a moment, she pulls back, smiling.
  573. >"So, what did you do today?"
  574. >You lean back in your chair.
  575. "Not much, really. I finished buttoning up the Superbird today, that took a little while hooking up the wires and vacuum lines. Other than that, I raided the library, did some reading. How 'bout you, any noteworthy things happen serving as Princess of Equestria?"
  576. >She shakes her head, continuing to smile.
  577. >"No, it was very quiet in fact. Other than some paperwork and a few ponies requesting an audience, there was not much happening around the land, it would seem."
  578. "I was wondering why you were so full of energy. You have tomorrow off, don't you?"
  579. >Her face lights up.
  580. >"Yes, yes I do. The night is ours, perhaps we should do something."
  581. >You scratch your head.
  582. "Like what?"
  583. >Her face twists.
  584. >"Well, I don't know. Perhaps we should go for a cruise through Canterlot?"
  585. >You brush her mane, grinning.
  586. "I think that's a great idea, Luna."
  587.  
  588. >the Superbird seems happiest running at 45 mph, so you oblige her until reaching Canterlot's busy streets.
  589. >The engine runs at a smooth 1000 rpm, pulling without effort, the deep exhaust note at a leisurely rumble.
  590. >It is just beginning to change into spring in Equestria, with the weather around Canterlot a bit warmer than normal, as usual.
  591. >Both the driver's and passenger's windows are down to take in the lovely night air.
  592. "I take it your sis has never been a fan of winter."
  593. >Luna giggles, her mane thrown back behind her by the wind.
  594. >"No, she is not fond of the cold. Ever since I can remember, she's always made it warmer than usual wherever she lives. Winter tends to not happen around her."
  595. "The perks of being in charge of the sun, I suppose. You take any liberties in the night sky?"
  596. >Luna puts a hoof to her chin, thinking.
  597. >"Other than creating constellations, not really. I take that back, Nightmare Night, I always ensure there is a full moon."
  598. "Just to add to the atmosphere of the night, huh?"
  599. >She nods.
  600. >Up ahead, the warm glow of the lights of downtown Canterlot lighten the rapidly darkening evening sky.
  601. "Anything new and exciting in Canterlot we should check out? Or just a cruise through the city?"
  602. >"Well, there is an upscale nightclub that just opened up a week or two ago, we could go to that?"
  603. >You turn to her, confused.
  604. "I never took you for a pony that enjoys the nightlife."
  605. >She returns your confused look.
  606. "What I meant was... nevermind."
  607. >You begin slowing down, reaching the tighter streets of the city.
  608. >As you rumble through, ponies on either side of the street stop and stare, both in curiosity and shock.
  609. >Right, this is the first time you've actually taken the old girl through the city.
  610. "So, where is this place, Luna?"
  611. >"It should be around here somewhere..."
  612. >As you cruise slowly down the street, a line of carriages alongside the street you are on begins to appear..
  613. "What are the chances that's for the club?"
  614. >Luna's eyes widen.
  615. >"Wow. I would say it likely is."
  616. >After a block following the line, a brightly lit building comes into view where the line ends, titled 'The Mane Attraction.'
  617. "So, where to now?"
  618. >Luna giggles.
  619. >"Anonymous, have you forgotten who you are with this evening?"
  620. >It takes longer than it should to figure out what she's saying.
  621. "Alright then. Perks of being with the night princess. But where am I going to park this? It looks like they have a valet service."
  622. >"Alongside the street should be fine."
  623. "I don't want my baby being towed."
  624. >"Do not worry. I will assure you when they see me climb out, this car will be watched over by the guards outside."
  625. >You pull off to the side, killing the engine.
  626. "Good enough for me."
  627. >As the two of you climb out of the car, the bustling city seems deafeningly quiet.
  628. >Turning to head to the club, you understand why.
  629. >Everyone as far as the eye can see is bowed down.
  630. >Luna clear her throat as she continues to walk.
  631. >"Please, citizens, I am not here on official duty. I am merely here for an enjoyable night, the formalities are not necessary."
  632. >Slowly, the ponies rise, murmuring to each other quietly.
  633. >Clearly, they aren't used to this.
  634. >And judging by the stares you are garnering, they weren't expecting your presence, either.
  635. >It makes you a little nervous, causing you to slink behind Luna.
  636. >Walking up to one of the bouncers at the front of the line, they quickly move aside without a word, letting the both of you past.
  637. >Luna pulls you close to her with one of her wings as you enter the building.
  638. >"Are you okay, Anon?"
  639. "I'm fine. Just not used to being stared at like that. It was a little unnerving."
  640. >"Well, I believe this is among the first times you and I have been seen out in public together, aside from the Grand Galloping Gala for a short while. But do not fret, the eyes will be off us from now on."
  641. >She looks around, seeing nopony in the direct vicinity, before closing her eyes and focusing.
  642. >But nothing happens.
  643. >No glow, magic, nothing.
  644. >She opens her eyes, turning to look in one of the glass panes that lines the foyer.
  645. "Uh, Luna, what did you do? I don't see anything different."
  646. >She points a hoof to her reflection.
  647. >Instead of a blue alicorn, the reflection is that of a tall, teal unicorn.
  648. >"The perks of being gifted in illusion magic."
  649. >You don't understand.
  650. "But why can I see you?"
  651. >The two of you resume walking into the club, where it opens into a dance floor and stage, where a live bland plays.
  652. >Both of you take a seat in an unoccupied booth.
  653. >"The same thing happens with my sister, I am unable to fool her with my magic. I believe it has something to do with the mental link we share, but it is just a theory."
  654. >A waiter walks by, greeting you and placing down menus.
  655. >Luna turns to you, smiling as she opens her menu.
  656. "Now then, why don't we enjoy ourselves in peace?"
  657.  
  658. >As the band currently on stage finishes, Luna rises to her hooves out of your arm.
  659. >"I will be back, I must use the facilities. Hopefully before the next song."
  660. "I doubt they'll be starting that quick."
  661. >While you have never been a fan of classical music, it has been an enjoyable night.
  662. >It's a change of pace for one, and just being with Luna, nestled together in a cozy booth has made you forget all of the troubles of the past few months.
  663. >Luna seems to be really adapting to the open mind philosophy.
  664. >Seeing a drink named after her on the menu, she felt she had to try it.
  665. >It is obvious she is a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, because after only one, Luna clearly has a bit of a buzz going.
  666. >She noticed it herself first, and has not ordered another.
  667. >As the blue mare departs the table, you cannot help but feel the eyes on you again.
  668. >One pony in particular has been eying you all night for whatever reason.
  669. >At first, with her tall and lithe build, you thought she was yet another alicorn.
  670. >While no wings disproved that thought, her bright white coat and pale pink mane stand out in the dim room.
  671. >Now, you see that same pony heading towards your table.
  672. >She stops at the edge of the tabletop, staring down at you coldly.
  673. "Uh, hi."
  674. >"Why are you here?"
  675. >You are thrown off a bit by the question.
  676. "What do you mean?"
  677. >She leans down towards you, you can smell the faintest trace of alcohol on her breath.
  678. >Well, there is a reason they call it liquid courage.
  679. >"I mean, why are you here in Canterlot, in Equestria itself?"
  680. "...Uh, I don't really know? It's not like I decided to fall my world and land here.
  681. >She doesn't seem to like your answer as she scowls.
  682. [Uh, Luna?]
  683. >[Is the next show starting already?]
  684. [You could say that.]
  685. >You fidget in your seat as the tall unicorn continue to glare at you.
  686. >"Lately, rumors have been swirling around Canterlot that the changelings have returned. How odd of a coincidence that around the same time, you suddenly pop up here in Canterlot, no?"
  687. >Her implied accusations burrow under your skin.
  688. "If you're going to imply something, you could at least have the courage to say it."
  689. >She throws her head back, laughing.
  690. >"I'm not implying anything, just giving you something to think about. Rumor is you also are intimately involved with one of the princesses of Equestria. I assume it is Luna, for her decision-making seems to be poor, at best."
  691. >The sheer idiocy she is preaching causes you to laugh.
  692. "Yeah, okay. why should I care about what you have to say?"
  693. >She slams her hoof on the table, startling some of the patrons at nearby tables.
  694. >"Watch your tone. I am a very important pony here in Canterlot. You would do well to tread lightly while you are in our capital."
  695. >You catch a glimpse of an ethereal, flowing blue mane behind the pony.
  696. >How long has she been there?
  697. >Seemingly finished with her visit with you, the unicorn turns, jumping back in surprise.
  698. >"Leaving so soon, Fleur-De-Lis?"
  699. >Luna's face is devoid of any emotion.
  700. >Well, at least you have a name to this rude guest.
  701. >Fleur-De-Lis looks up and down Luna's form, unable to see through her illusion.
  702. >"Pardon me, but do I know you?"
  703. >Luna's face turns smug.
  704. >"Oh, I believe you do. But it has been a while."
  705. >You do your best to keep a straight face.
  706. >Fleur-De-Lis seems to be taken off-guard a bit when Luna does not introduce herself properly, but forces a smile.
  707. >"w\Well, I just came over to speak with the guest you have brought with you this evening. He seems like quite the gentlecolt.."
  708. >"I assume that is why you waited until I was gone to accuse him of a rumor that may or may not even be true? Or that one of our very monarchs is questionable to rule, at best?"
  709. >The unicorn takes a step back, bumping into the wall next to your booth.
  710. >"Well, that is a little bit out of context, what I said was-"
  711. >Luna will have none of it, as she puts a hoof up to silence Fleur.
  712. >"I assume lying that you are an important pony here in Canterlot was also taken out of context, as well?"
  713. >Fleur-De-Lis's stomps forward again.
  714. >"I AM an important pony! Everypony in Canterlot knows me!"
  715. >Luna seems to be enjoying this for some reason.
  716. >"Being a distant relative to royalty doesn't make you important. And the only reason everypony knows you is because you are a model. All you are to these ponies is a pretty face."
  717. >Damn, Luna.
  718. >Luna turns to you.
  719. >"Come, Anon. I believe it is time we left."
  720. >You rise to your feet, heading to the entrance of the club beside Luna.
  721. >Suddenly, you feel yourself jerked back, whirled around to face Fleur-De-Lis.
  722. "Hey, what the hell are you doing?!"
  723. >"This unicorn that I do not even know may think you are special for whatever reason, as do the princesses. But I assure you, everypony else sees you as a burden on this world!"
  724. >You are pulled back by Luna, who clocks Fleur in the face with her right hoof.
  725. >The club goes silent, save for a few gasps from shocked onlookers.
  726. >"Silence your tongue, and get out of my sight before I do more to you than that."
  727. >With blood beginning to trickle from her nose, Fleur-De-Lis steps back with a wobbly gate, stunned.
  728. >"How... DARE YOU!"
  729. >A few ponies rush to her aid, while a couple stallions head for you and Luna, scowling.
  730. >"Time to go, Anon."
  731. >You feel yourself being lifted up by Luna and tossed on her back, as she gallops towards the exit.
  732. >She weaves her way through the crowd as best she can, nudging ponies out of the way.
  733. >All you can do is hold on for dear life, your arms wrapped around her neck.
  734. >The two of you burst out of the front doors to the startled cries of ponies outside.
  735. >Luna skids to a stop on the passenger's side of the Superbird, and you slide over the hood to your side.
  736. >Both of you climb in, and you hit the key, the engine roaring to life.
  737. >Matting the throttle and slinging the steering wheel, you do a smoky u-turn, flying past your pursuers, who look on in confusion.
  738.  
  739. >As downtown Canterlot grows smaller in the rearview mirror, Luna starts laughing.
  740. "What? I missed the joke."
  741. >She gets a hold of herself, leaning her head on your shoulder.
  742. >"I have wanted to do that to Fleur-De-Lis for a long while now."
  743. "Who the hell was that, anyways?"
  744. >"Fleur-De-Lis is a distant relative of Celestia and I. For that reason, she feels entitled, as if she herself is somehow part of the monarchy. In fact, she is a glamour model, which is the only reason she is a celebrity in Canterlot."
  745. >Luna pauses, then continues slowly in a more somber tone.
  746. >"When I returned to Equestria and broken free of my burdens, Celestia was considering whether or not it would be wise for me to rule alongside her again. While most ponies seemed to embrace the idea and welcome me back, Fleur-De-Lis made her opinion known that she did not trust me. And pushed it fervently."
  747. >You look down at Luna, confused.
  748. "Why would Celly listen to a glamour model's opinion?"
  749. >"At one time, she was also a royal advisor, which added to her inflated sense of importance."
  750. "So, you think we'll be in trouble? I mean, you were not recognized, but I certainly was."
  751. >Luna waves a hoof.
  752. >"Do not concern yourself, you did nothing wrong."
  753. "Alright. When the hell did you get back to the table though? Apparently I was too focused on her to see you approach."
  754. >"Well, I got back as quick as I could when you contacted me. So, I heard pretty much everything that was said."
  755. >You drive on for a few miles in silence, until you reach the entrance to the castle.
  756. >Smiling, you wrap you arm around Luna.
  757. "Not exactly my idea of a relaxing night, but I certainly can't say it was boring."
  758. >"Hm. It was certainly a memorable one. Now I remember why I do not partake in alcoholic drinks."
  759. >You look down at her, stunned.
  760. "You had one drink. Are you really that much of a lightweight?"
  761. >She looks up at you, smirking as you pull into the garage.
  762. >"To a certain extent, yes. But, I also need some sort of excuse in case somepony somehow figures out who you were with this evening."
  763.  
  764. >"Good morning, Anonymous."
  765. >Celestia greets you as you join her at the dining room table.
  766. "Hi Tia. How are you this morning?"
  767. >As she smiles, you sense there is more behind that expression.
  768. >"I am very well, thank you. I was just reading up on a report of an altercation that happened at the newest nightclub in Canterlot last night."
  769. >No sense in denying it.
  770. "News gets around that fast, huh?"
  771. >"Indeed it does."
  772. >An awkward silence follows, as Celestia continues to smile, sipping her tea.
  773. >Luna shuffles in to the room, making eye contact with her sister.
  774. >She rolls her eyes, as she apparently realizes her sister is informed.
  775. >"In my defense, Fleur-De-Lis was asking for a comeuppance."
  776. >"I didn't say anything, sister."
  777. >"You did with your eyes."
  778. >You do your best to keep a straight face as Luna pours some coffee for herself.
  779. >Celestia's eyes dart to you, as she smirks.
  780. >"So, I must ask, who is your newest special somepony you went out with last night?"
  781. >You look up at her.
  782. "Smartass."
  783.  
  784. -----
  785.  
  786. >The sound of your slippers upon cobblestone rings out throughout the dungeon.
  787. >There is no other sound besides your hoofsteps, making the eerie hall even more unsettling.
  788. >Your sister said the dungeon had not been in use for at least a couple centuries, and with the amount of dust and cobwebs in the corners, it certainly shows.
  789. >Perhaps a cleaning detail is in order to keep this place neat.
  790. >Finally, rounding another corner, you reach the cell you seek.
  791. >The shiny black hide of your prisoner seems to gleam, despite the lack of light aside for a few torches.
  792. >It seems to be sleeping at this point in time.
  793. >You bang a hoof upon one of the bars of the cell door, startling the creature.
  794. >The changeling you captured the day Chrysalis escaped has found itself useful as a test subject for ways to reveal an imposter.
  795. >So far, in the weeks that have followed, there has been very little progress made.
  796. >Among the few items you have taken note is the hue of their magic aura does not change despite the change in form.
  797. >Their magic seems to always be green, if this creature and Chrysalis's magic are a pattern to be believed.
  798. "Wake up, you have had enough rest."
  799. >The changeling swivels its head, still lying among the pile of straw and burlap it considers a bed.
  800. >Its luminous blue eyes narrow, as it reveals its sickening, sharp teeth, letting out what sounds to be a combination of a growl and hiss.
  801. >You narrow your own eyes, pinning your ears back.
  802. "The attitude is not needed, prisoner. Heed my advice and cooperate this evening, if you wish to be fed."
  803. >While the prospect of spending an hour down here after a full day of presiding over the castle does not thrill you in the slightest, the thought that one of these vile beasts could be anywhere, waiting for the opportunity to strike is much worse.
  804. >Unbeknownst to Anon, you have been essentially sleeping with one eye open since finding out he is a wanted pon- er, man.
  805. >It has driven you to ensure that you spend at least an hour a day trying different things down here on the test subject.
  806. >You seat yourself on a cushion you have left down here previously, about a foot away from the cell door.
  807. >Slowly, the changeling rises to its hooves, stretching before shuffling towards you, also a foot away from the door.
  808. "Now then, shall we begin?"
  809. >It scowls at you in response, before relenting and beginning to change.
  810. >You close your eyes, keeping your mind clear.
  811. >After a brief moment, you open your eyes again.
  812. >The changeling that was in the cell has been replaced with a mirror image of you, also sitting on its haunches.
  813. >Already you begin to feel frustrated.
  814. "I just don't understand how she sense it."
  815. >The sound of your own voice spoken by another being snaps you to attention.
  816. >"What is the point of all this? I assume you are not doing this for your own entertainment."
  817. "My reasons for these trials do not concern you, creature."
  818. >Your twin rolls her eyes.
  819. >"Well, clearly they do concern me, seeing as how I have to take part in these 'trials,' or risk starvation. Eventually you're going to have to prove your threat, otherwise it will just get stale."
  820. >You say nothing as you study its form, looking for any minor imperfection, any minute flaw in its disguise.
  821. >"This is about your little ape friend, isn't it? Mother is eagerly awaiting his capture, you know."
  822. >A smirk crosses its face as you focus on your doppelganger's words.
  823. "How could you possibly know about that? You have been here since your queen has escaped?"
  824. >Its smirk grows even wider, making you uncomfortable.
  825. >"Mother is with us all. Her words reach us beyond what our ears can sense."
  826. >These things are telepathic, too?
  827. >While you have not let your tongue wander during these experiments, you make a mental note to keep talk to a minimum from now on.
  828. >But something else the creature has said catches your attention.
  829. "I thought Chrysalis wanted Anon dead. At least, according our sources."
  830. >Your duplicate smirks.
  831. >"You need to get better sources, it seems. No, Mother has explicitly stated she wants him alive and well."
  832. >You aren't sure whether this information is a relief or even more troubling.
  833. "But why? What in Equestria does she want with him?"
  834. >"Well, even if I knew, I wouldn't exactly be obliged to explain it to you."
  835. >Narrowing your eyes, you focus on its face, trying to find any hint of the creature lying to you.
  836. >"How is it going, sister?"
  837. >You jump a bit, as you turn your head to see Celestia approaching.
  838. >It seems you have been so involved, you failed to hear her hoofsteps.
  839. >The changeling jumps up in excitement.
  840. >"Sister! I have been tricked, the being before you is not me, it's the ch-"
  841. >You slam a hoof on the bar nearest its face, silencing it.
  842. "It has not worked before, you may as well give that old routine a rest, heathen."
  843. >You turn back to Tia.
  844. "Let's talk somewhere more private."
  845. >Both of you teleport back to Celestia's private study.
  846. >Philomena, Tia's pet phoenix, squawks in response to your sudden presence.
  847. "It seems that changelings are telepathic, like we are, sister. I do not know if they can all speak with each other, but it is certain the queen can speak with each drone."
  848. >"How do you know this?"
  849. "Our prisoner downstairs knows of the bounty placed upon Anonymous."
  850. >Your sister seems somewhat troubled by the news.
  851. >"Well, that certainly makes it more important than ever to keep tight-lipped when in the dungeon."
  852. "My thoughts exactly. But other than that bit of trivial information, we are no closer to understanding or detecting these creatures than we were weeks ago."
  853. >Celestia steps over to her desk, picking up a quill with her magic and scribbling in an opened book.
  854. "What are you doing?"
  855. >She looks up at you, as if you have spoken to her in a foreign tongue.
  856. >"Taking notes of this, of course. What else would I be doing?"
  857. "You are writing a book on what we have learned of these things?"
  858. >"Not necessarily. But it is good to have this information for a later date rather than rely on memory alone."
  859. >You smirk.
  860. "You always were the teacher's pet in school."
  861. >She returns your sly grin as she finishes her notes.
  862. >"And as I recall, you were eager to use my notes rather frequently, as you used class to catch up on sleep."
  863. >You mock her words, then stick your tongue out at her.
  864. >"And you still haven't grown up."
  865. "That's quite funny, coming from you."
  866. >The two of you laugh at each other as you both find a few cushions and take a seat, relaxing.
  867. >As the chuckles die down, Tia's face resumes a more serious expression.
  868. >"Is there any other information you managed to extract from our..... guest?"
  869. "Not anything about changelings, but about Anonymous. It seems we were wrong, Chrysalis does not want him dead. She has demanded he be captured, alive."
  870. >Your sister seems to be as troubled as you.
  871. >"That doesn't make any sense. Her plan already failed, so he already will not fall for her spell. what does he have that makes him valuable to her?"
  872. "I don't know, sister. Whatever her plan is, she has not told any of her drones, from what I can tell."
  873. >An abrupt knock at the door causes you both to turn.
  874. >"Come in."
  875. >Twilight Sparkle trots in, followed by Anonymous.
  876. >"Princess Celestia! Princess Luna! It is good to see both of you."
  877. >"Hello Twilight. And welcome back, Anon."
  878. >Anonymous spent most of the day in Ponyville, catching up with Twilight and Rainbow Dash.
  879. >In addition, he planned on collecting some of his personal belongings from his home, since it seems more unlikely he will be able to return to life in Ponyville anytime soon.
  880. >Anon takes a seat next to you on the floor, as you drape a wing behind his back.
  881. "Well, did you get what you needed?"
  882. >"I think so. Twilight already helped me bring most of my crap into your room. Now you just need to figure out how to make electricity and we can watch movies."
  883. >You cannot help but giggle.
  884. >He seems somewhat excited about the prospect.
  885. "I told you Anon, there are no guarantees I can get your electronic devices to work here. I do not even understand how they still worked in your home."
  886. >He scratches the back of his head.
  887. >"That makes two of us, I suppose."
  888. >You turn to Twilight.
  889. "You are free to join us in the castle tonight if you desire, Twilight."
  890. >She smiles upon your invitation.
  891. >"Thanks, but I really need to get home. We've been all over the place today, and I'm exhausted."
  892. >"Thank you for helping me out, Twily. Hopefully we can spend time together again soon."
  893. >With a smile and a big wave, Twilight heads out the door for home.
  894. >Once she is out of earshot, Anon speaks up.
  895. >"I hate to say it, but I think Twilight still feels a bit uncomfortable around me since the whole clusterfuck with the changelings."
  896. >While he is the first to say it, you and Celestia have noticed her change as well.
  897. >While not drastic, she does seem to be not as close to Anonymous, in terms of intimacy.
  898. "I'm sorry, Anonymous. Perhaps in time she will adjust."
  899. >He smiles, waving a hand.
  900. >"It's alright. I mean, we're still friends. I have to imagine going through all of that would make it feel weird to be with me in any sort of relationship."
  901. >You lean in for a quick kiss, which he gladly accepts.
  902. "Well, I suppose that's just more for me then."
  903.  
  904. >"What were you two arguing about earlier, anyways?"
  905. >Your concentration on the spell you were working on is broken by Anon's question.
  906. >As you lie on the floor, Anon is sprawled out on your bed, tossing the remote control to his television device in the air and catching it repeatedly.
  907. "Oh, were you eavesdropping on our private conversation earlier?"
  908. >He shakes his head.
  909. >"No, your voices carry a lot further than you think they do. Twilight and I could hear you in the hall, but neither of us could make out any words."
  910. "Yes, my sister does have a big mouth."
  911. >"Speak for yourself, it took you nearly a year to cut it out with the royal Canterlot voice."
  912. >Tia pipes up from across the room, where she sits with a stack of manuscripts.
  913. "Thank you, Tia. Anon, go ahead and try the power."
  914. >He stops tossing the remote, pressing one of the buttons to hopefully turn on the device sitting in front of your bed.
  915. >After a few moments of waiting in silence, the screen is still black and lifeless.
  916. >You groan in frustration.
  917. "This is much more difficult than I had imagined it would be. How exactly do these work in your home, seeing as how it is not hooked up to any sort of electric power generating device?"
  918. >Anon just shrugs, trying not to smile.
  919. >"Beats me. Magic, I guess."
  920. >You would really like to wipe that smirk off his face.
  921. >"Luna, let me see if I can come up with something."
  922. >Tia's magic grasps onto the end of the power cord you are holding, as you relinquish it to her.
  923. "Knock yourself out. This may end up being a science project for Twilight Sparkle, I'm afraid."
  924. >"You never did answer my question, by the way."
  925. >Anonymous focuses intently on you, arms crossed.
  926. >You rise up off the floor and stretch.
  927. "It is just trivial matters, Anon. Normal sisterly bickering."
  928. >He doesn't answer, but his gaze softens somewhat.
  929. >"If you say so. How's everything else going?"
  930. >You stare at him, confused.
  931. "Everything else, as in..... what, exactly?"
  932. >"The changelings, the target on my back. You know, that happy stuff."
  933. >You pause a moment, deciding what to say.
  934. "It's.... complicated. My sister and I have been doing what we can to find any information."
  935. >[I don't believe that was a convincing as you had hoped, Lulu.]
  936. [Hush, sister.]
  937. >Before he can respond, you continue.
  938. "I know feeling like you are constantly having to watch over your shoulder is tough Anon, but you must understand, this will take some time to solve this mess."
  939. >He rolls his eyes, unamused by your pep talk.
  940. >"Patience isn't one of my virtues, Moonbutt, you should know that by now."
  941. >"The way you drive sums that up pretty well."
  942. >Both you and Anon look over to Celestia, who is trying to keep a straight face.
  943. >"What?"
  944. >You just shake your head, smiling.
  945. >"So, is there anything you've learned that can be helpful to me? At all?"
  946. >Jumping up onto your bed beside Anon, you take a seat.
  947. "My word, your curiosity is insatiable tonight. Let's see.... as far as either of us can tell, all changelings seem to use a magic whose aura is green. As you found out the hard way, their hide seems to be extremely resistant to physical force."
  948. >"Any luck with being able to sense them like Nightmare mentioned?"
  949. >Your ears droop.
  950. "I'm afraid not. But I am still trying."
  951. >His gaze turns to one of confusion.
  952. >"What do you mean by 'still trying?' You have a changeling, here?"
  953. >You bite your lip, feeling uneasy.
  954. >While not fond of keeping information from him, you also weren't keen on Anon knowing you still had that changeling imprisoned in the dungeon.
  955. "Yes. It is the same one I had to fend off before, the one masquerading as Twilight."
  956. >"Oooh, interrogation. why didn't you tell me? I can help."
  957. "I am sorry Anonymous, but this is the responsibility of my sister and I."
  958. >"Come on, I should have a hand in this. It's my life in danger."
  959. >Before you can respond, a blue light envelops the room, Anon's picture device coming to life.
  960. >Celestia chuckles with delight.
  961. >"Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
  962. >As if on cue, the screen instantly cuts to black, dead.
  963. "You were saying, sister?"
  964. >You can't help but smirk as she blushes in embarrassment.
  965. >"Maybe this would be a good project for Twilight after all."
  966.  
  967. >Gingerly, you slide out from underneath Luna's foreleg draped across your chest and climb out of bed.
  968. >As you tiptoe your way to the bedroom door and crack it open, you hear her stir.
  969. >"Nnngh. Anon?"
  970. >Dammit.
  971. "Sorry, did I wake you?"
  972. >In the dim light, you see her sit up in bed.
  973. >"What are you doing?"
  974. "My stomach woke me up. I'm just going to head to the kitchen and get something to eat."
  975. >She doesn't respond, her eyes drooping with fatigue.
  976. >Finally, the silence is broken by a yawn.
  977. >"Alright, just don't get lost. I can't sleep anywhere near as well without you."
  978. "Aww, the princess needs her teddy bear to sleep."
  979. >"Oh hush."
  980. >You slide on your slippers before heading out.
  981. >As you walk out into the hall, you hear the covers shift as she lays back down and rolls over.
  982. >Walking down the cavernous, dim hall, you take a turn and head down the main staircase to the ground floor.
  983. >The few guards on patrol acknowledge your presence with a nod.
  984. >Before you reach the dining room, you stop and look around to see if anyone has eyes on you.
  985. >You feel a twinge of regret as you instead keep going, before reaching a narrow staircase.
  986. >As you head down the stairs, an intense headache begins to take hold of you.
  987. "What?"
  988. >"So, you feel like heading down here to the dungeon is wrong, and you are doing it anyways?"
  989. >The familiar black alicorn appears beside you, a look of disapproval upon her face.
  990. "You worrying about what is right and wrong? Didn't know trying to bring eternal darkness to the world was a good thing."
  991. >With a scowl, Nightmare Moon disappears again.
  992. >Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, your memory kicks in, as you take a left.
  993. >Much like the rest of the castle, there is nothing but dead silence.
  994. >However, the claustrophobic halls make this place much more uncomfortable.
  995. >The few sporadic torches left on the walls do little to improve your vision.
  996. >Something from behind you spins you around, causing you to lose your balance and fall on your ass in surprise.
  997. >You look around in shock, as there is nothing there.
  998. >"Odd, this does not look like the kitchen to me."
  999. >You jump as a voice behind you cause you to face the other way again.
  1000. "L-Luna?!"
  1001. >She stands before you, her gaze one of disappointment.
  1002. "You scared the shit out of me."
  1003. >"Yes, that was the point. Tell me, what were you planning to do down here?"
  1004. >The shame of being caught red-handed causes you to hang your head.
  1005. "I don't know, I hadn't really thought of what I'd do."
  1006. >Your head rises back up at the insistence of Luna's magic.
  1007. >Her face has softened somewhat.
  1008. >"Anon, I understand you wish to help, I understand your impatience as well. But you need to keep your emotions in check and trust we are doing all we can to keep you safe. There is only so much I can do in one day, extracting any useful information from our prisoner is going to take time."
  1009. >She helps you back up onto your feet as you begin walking back to the staircase.
  1010. >In silence, both of you make your way back to her room, and crawl back into bed.
  1011. >Your heart has finally slowed its pace from Luna's scare, but you still don't exactly feel sleepy.
  1012. >"Anon, I want you to promise me that you will let me handle this. Please, for your sake and mine."
  1013. >She locks her eyes on yours, waiting for an answer.
  1014. >You sigh.
  1015. "Alright. But you gotta promise me, if there is anything I can help with, you'll allow it. This is my ass we're trying to save, after all."
  1016. >She smiles, a look of relief upon her face.
  1017. >"Of course. Now, can we please get some sleep? Your princess requires snuggles."
  1018. "Damn, you're needy."
  1019. >She giggles as the two of you get comfortable.
  1020.  
  1021. -----
  1022.  
  1023. >The door slams behind you as you enter Twilight's home, making you spin around.
  1024. >There is no one there as your heartbeat slows down a bit
  1025. "Hello, Twilight?"
  1026. >"At any point in your travel here, did you notice anypony following you or watching you?"
  1027. >You jump again as Twilight speaks up from behind you, holding a scroll.
  1028. "What? No."
  1029. >You look around the room, realizing how dark it is in here, considering the snow outside, in the middle of the day.
  1030. >"At any point in your travel, did you notice anypony suspicious, such as odd clothing like a trenchcoat?"
  1031. "Twilight, it's the dead of winter, there's a lot of ponies wearing coats."
  1032. >She doesn't acknowledge your answer, as she keeps her eyes on the scroll.
  1033. >"At any point in your tr-"
  1034. >You swipe the parchment from her, quickly perusing it as she fights to get it back.
  1035. >"Anonymous, this is important!"
  1036. "For god's sake Twily, Luna teleported me here, my travel was four steps and opening the door."
  1037. >Princess Celestia and Luna were on their way to an annual visit to Saddle Arabia, and felt it best you stay with Twilight.
  1038. >The idea was a little embarrassing, but considering a whole species wants your head on a platter, it is probably for the best.
  1039. "'Double-check the list after completion to confirm the answers given. If in doubt, go though all scenarios again.' Really Twilight?"
  1040. >She scrunches her face up in a sign of frustration.
  1041. >"You wouldn't think it was so funny if you had been followed, and this list had made you realize that!"
  1042. >You toss her list back to her, as she catches it with her magic.
  1043. "I think you need to lay off the spy novels."
  1044. >A sudden knock at the door silences any retort Twilight had for you.
  1045. >The two of you look at each other in uneasy silence.
  1046. >"Twilight, dear! Are you home?"
  1047. >You recognize the voice as Rarity, one of Twilight's close friends.
  1048. >Twilight is still motionless, as if unsure to trust what is on the other side of the door.
  1049. "Twilight, are you going to be this paranoid the whole week I'm here? Just open the door already."
  1050. >She narrows her eyes at you as you take the initiative, standing behind the door as you open it.
  1051. >"Twilight, are you alright? You look tense, darling."
  1052. >She perks up as Rarity walks in, trying to pass off her nerves.
  1053. >"Fine, I'm just fine! What are you doing here?"
  1054. >"Don't tell me you forgot about our spa day, Twilight."
  1055. >You slowly close the door as Twilight brings a hoof to her head.
  1056. >"Oh Rarity, I'm so sorry. You see, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are visiting Saddle Arabia, and they asked I keep an eye on Anonymous while they're gone."
  1057. >She motions to you.
  1058. >As Rarity spins around, you wave.
  1059. >You almost fall over as she runs up to you, hugging your waist with her forelegs.
  1060. "Uh, hi?"
  1061. >"Anonymous, I want to thank you for saving Twilight, she told us all about what the two of you went through with those dreadful changelings."
  1062. >You slowly raise your eyes, focusing on Twilight.
  1063. "She told you all about the changelings, huh?"
  1064. >You know from what others have said that Rarity is a big gossip.
  1065. >Well, now you know how the rumor of changelings began circulating.
  1066. >Another knock at the door silences the pleasantries.
  1067. >You eye Twilight as Rarity releases you, regaining her composure.
  1068. >"Oh, that must be Princess Cadence."
  1069. >Sure enough, the door opens with the aid of Twilight's magic, revealing the pink alicorn.
  1070. >"Hello everypony."
  1071. >She seems to take a moment to notice you.
  1072. >"Anonymous, it is a surprise to see you here. How is your shoulder doing?"
  1073. >She motions to the side that was injured when the two of you met.
  1074. "It's good. Also good to see you on a day where things aren't so..... dire, I guess."
  1075. >She nods, giggling before turning her attention to Twilight and Rarity.
  1076. >"Are we all ready to go, girls? A-and guy, I mean. I assume you are joining us, Anonymous?"
  1077. >Twilight speaks up before you have a chance to respond.
  1078. >"I don't know if it's a good idea, Cadence. You see, Anon is here beca-"
  1079. "Because she was telling me how awesome the spa is, and I wanted to experience it for myself. Lead the way, Cadence."
  1080. >Without hesitation, she heads for the door with the rest of you in tow.
  1081. >You suddenly find Twilight at your eye level, her wings lazily flapping as she grits her teeth.
  1082. >"If we run into any trouble, I swear to Celestia, Anon..."
  1083. "I think you need more relaxation than anyone else, Twily."
  1084. >You ruffle her mane with your hand as you stride ahead, causing her to growl.
  1085.  
  1086. >As you sink into the jets of the hot tub, you close your eyes, feeling the stiffness from the cold leave your body.
  1087. >"So Anonymous, how is living in Canterlot with Princess Luna?"
  1088. >Rarity's voice drifts from the other side of the tub.
  1089. "It's an adventure every day, I'll say that much."
  1090. >"Oh? Do tell more."
  1091. >You open your eyes, finding the unicorn leaning forward in anticipation.
  1092. >Unable to help yourself, you chuckle a bit before answering.
  1093. "Well, behind the scenes, Luna and her sister aren't quite as regal and serious as they seem to be. But I think if I said any more than that, Luna might have my head."
  1094. >Rarity groans as she leans back.
  1095. >"You don't have to tease us, Anon."
  1096. >You glance over to Twilight and Cadence, who have just finished up with a hooficure.
  1097. >If they are still awake, the two of them aren't saying anything.
  1098. "Sorry. But really, it's been good. Hard to adjust to such a massive home, but I'm figuring out how to get around."
  1099. >The next question is one you've been expecting for a while.
  1100. >"Twilight said you saved her from another encounter she had with those horrid changeling creatures, but she wasn't much clearer than that. What did happen, if I may ask?"
  1101. >You shrug.
  1102. "I don't really know what the plan was, but one went after me impersonating Luna, and one went after Twilight, posing as me. We, uh, have a close sort of brother-sister bond, me and Twilight."
  1103. >Rarity gives you a funny look as you continue.
  1104. "Anyway, I didn't fall for it because.... well, Luna and I are super close, I just know her. Twilight did, but we snapped her out of it."
  1105. >You don't know how much Twilight has told her friends about the strange magical bond you share with Luna, so you try to keep it vague.
  1106. >Rarity seems to suspect you aren't telling the whole truth either.
  1107. >"I don't mean to be nosy, but how exactly did you know that impostor was not Luna? The previous encounter anypony has had with these creatures, Twilight's brother could not tell that his wife-to-be, Princess Cadence, had been replaced."
  1108. >Scratching the back of your head, you find yourself in a corner with no way out.
  1109. "Look, Rarity. I don't really think I should be talking about it in the first place, so can you please keep this a secret? It might endanger my own life if it comes out into public knowledge."
  1110. >"Yes Anonymous, I won't tell a soul."
  1111. "Luna and I share a sort of mental link. It's hard to explain, it happened not long after I arrived in Equestria."
  1112. >She blinks, trying to decide whether you are joking or serious as she speaks.
  1113. >"Well, we are all very glad you managed to break her from the spell. If you desire any updates to your wardrobe in the future, it's on me, dear."
  1114. >You feel a bit better as she seems to avoid the subject further.
  1115. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."
  1116. >"Perhaps a tuxedo for a special day that I assume is nearing?"
  1117. "Special day? I'm afraid I don't follow."
  1118. >She laughs, waving a hoof.
  1119. >"You know. You, Luna. The two of you have been a thing for a while now."
  1120. >Your eyes snap wide as you realize what she's asking.
  1121. "Rarity, we've been together for barely a year. I don't think either of us has given any thought to..."
  1122. >She gasps.
  1123. >"Anonymous, it is every mare's dream to meet that special somepony and be joined in body and soul! Just think, Luna has had to wait well beyond a thousand years for her chance."
  1124. >You do your best not to gag at her sappy speech.
  1125. "I uh.... wow. No, I can't say anything like this has come up in conversation. She hasn't mentioned any desire to make our relationship formal, anyway."
  1126. >If her dramatic words weren't enough, Rarity looks as if she is about to faint.
  1127. >"Anonymous dear, of course not! She is waiting for you to propose. Just think, Princess Luna and Prince Anonymous..."
  1128. >Finding this conversation to be a bit much at this point, you begin to climb out of the tub.
  1129. "Apologies, but I think I've been in here too long. I'm starting to get pruny."
  1130.  
  1131. >"I have waited so long, and now you stand here, denying my desires because you are afraid of responsibilities?"
  1132. >Luna wails from her bed, holding back tears as you stand in her room.
  1133. >Your stomach churns endlessly as you try to explain yourself.
  1134. "Luna, no. It's not like that at all. It's just-"
  1135. >"You don't love me as much as I thought you did. I understand."
  1136. >The dams burst as she sobs, turning away from you.
  1137. "Luna..."
  1138. >"GET OUT! LEAVE THE CASTLE AT ONCE, AND DO NOT RETURN!"
  1139. >Despite her booming voice, you stride towards her fighting to keep your own emotions in check.
  1140. "Luna, please.."
  1141. >"Anonymous?"
  1142. >You awaken with a jolt, sitting upright.
  1143. >The room is quite dark, as the glow of the full moon outside Twilight's home is the only light source.
  1144. >Apparently you fell asleep not long after getting home from the spa, as you don't remember much of anything.
  1145. >The four of you spent the whole day there, and for the most part, it was enjoyable.
  1146. >Aside from the rather uncomfortable conversation with Rarity.
  1147. >As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you spy Twilight sleeping next to you, and Rarity beside her.
  1148. >All of you are on the floor, amidst an impressive collection of pillows and blankets.
  1149. >Where did that voice come from?
  1150. >It definitely wasn't part of your nightmare.
  1151. >You jump as you feel a slight nudge on your left side.
  1152. >Twilight groans and rolls over in response to your sudden movements, but remains asleep.
  1153. >You turn your head to find Cadence looking at you, concerned.
  1154. >"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. But you were talking in your sleep."
  1155. >You rub your eyes, trying to calm your heartrate down.
  1156. "I was? I don't remember anything."
  1157. >You see no reason to explain your nightmare, especially considering you normally control dreams.
  1158. >Slowly, Cadence slips out from underneath the sheets and stands, beckoning you to follow her as she climbs the stairs to Twilight's room.
  1159. >Gingerly, you crawl out of the makeshift bed and tiptoe upstairs, sitting on Twilight's bed next to Cadence.
  1160. >"I happened to overhear you and Rarity talking in the hot tub at the spa, and I couldn't help but notice you seemed a bit flustered. Is everything alright?"
  1161. "Yeah, I'm good. The topic just caught me off-guard, I guess."
  1162. >Luna's moon shining through the windows casts enough light to see Cadence's face, her concern evident despite her warm smile.
  1163. >"You know, while I enjoy her company, Rarity is quite the dramatic romanticist."
  1164. "Yeah, I kinda got the gist of that the first time I met her."
  1165. >Your response receives a hushed giggle from Cadence.
  1166. >"I suppose what I'm trying to say is, her fantasies aren't what everypony here in Equestria believes."
  1167. >You feel rather confused by the advice.
  1168. "Thanks, but I'm fine, really."
  1169. >You stop, before slowly continuing.
  1170. "What was I muttering about in my sleep?"
  1171. >She gives you an uneasy smile.
  1172. "Okay, I *thought* it wasn't bothering me."
  1173. >"Maybe you should consider talking to Luna. It can't hurt to see what her desires are for the future, can it?"
  1174. "Yes. It's only been a year, there's no way I'm ready for something like that, even if she is. Why does everything always have to lead to marriage when it comes to relationships?"
  1175. >"Your biggest fear is the responsibilities concerning marriage into royalty, isn't it?"
  1176. "I'll admit, that's part of it. I don't know, it just..... What if she has been waiting for me?"
  1177. >"I think that's a question you need to discuss with Luna. I don't know her as well as you do, but I think you'd be surprised how alike the two of you are."
  1178. >Cadence stands, heading towards the stairs.
  1179. >"I hope I was at least some help with advice. You seem like a really nice guy, and Luna is always talking about you. Talking to her about this is the only way you can get any peace of mind, as far as I can see. But for now, I think we should get some rest, huh?"
  1180. >You rise to your feet slowly, as the floor quietly squeaks.
  1181. "Thanks Cadence. You're probably right."
  1182. >You follow her silently down the stairs, both of you taking time to get back to bed, to try to leave the other two undisturbed.
  1183. >As your head hits the pillow, you close your eyes and focus your mind, honing in on Luna's unique energy in the dream world.
  1184. >Why wait to talk to her when you can do it now?
  1185. >The black void you are in soon fades to the familiar night sky of the dream world.
  1186. >You can sense Luna is in someone's dream, which you are not keen on invading.
  1187. >Luna is likely helping another pony deal with his or her nightmare, so you decide to wait.
  1188. [Oh Luna, guess who?]
  1189. >Within a minute, the brightest stars in the sky begin to shift, converging into a form which glows brightly.
  1190. >When the searing white light clears, Luna hovers before you, smiling.
  1191. "You always have to make a grand entrance, don't you?"
  1192. >She giggles, snatching a quick kiss from you.
  1193. >"What, I can't have any fun?"
  1194. "Fun? Isn't that what you're having in Saddle Arabia?"
  1195. >She smirks.
  1196. >"It's not all fun and games, Anon. But their capital city is beautiful, and the food is exquisite. Someday you and I will travel there for a day or two. How is your stay at Twilight's? I assume she has seven or eight padlocks on the door and a magical barrier up around her home."
  1197. >You find it scary how much she knows everyone's habits and mannerisms.
  1198. "Well, you aren't far off. But I forced her to get out and about, we spent the day at the spa with her friends."
  1199. >Luna's smile fades.
  1200. >"Yet you seem like something is bothering you. What's wrong?"
  1201. "What makes you say that?"
  1202. >"The way you ended your sentence, that tone."
  1203. "Okay, you really need to lay off observing people. It's creepy."
  1204. >You get the sensation of falling, as you and Luna find yourself sitting on the side of a grassy hill.
  1205. >She unfurls one of her wings behind you, the soft feathers gently pulling you next to her.
  1206. >"Come on, you can not hide anything from me. What's on your mind?"
  1207. >You take your time thinking out how to start to explain yourself.
  1208. >Luna's concern only grows with the delay, pulling you tighter against her with her wing.
  1209. "Well, what's your feeling on marriage?"
  1210. >Her expression snaps from one of worry to one of absolute confusion.
  1211. >"What?"
  1212. "Like, you and me."
  1213. >"Yes, I understand that. Anon, where in Equestria did this idea come from?"
  1214. >She holds a hoof up as you attempt to respond.
  1215. >"Let me guess. You said you were with Twilight and a few of her friends, I have a hunch it is the white unicorn, Rarity."
  1216. "Okay seriously, this is why ponies think you're weird. How did you know?"
  1217. >"Rarity is a frequent socialite in Canterlot. On a couple of occasions, she has made a few passing comments of designing a dress for me for 'that special day' ever since our relationship has become public knowledge."
  1218. >She rolls her eyes, then smiles at you.
  1219. >"Let me ask you, what is your opinion on the matter?"
  1220. >Your stomach knots up as you try to decide how to answer.
  1221. >Luna just chuckles.
  1222. >"Anon, I know you know what such a binding would entail. By our laws, you would be royalty as well upon our marriage, and I know how you feel about that."
  1223. >She abruptly stands, pulling you up with her forehooves in an embrace and flapping her wings.
  1224. >"I don't need official documentation to know you love me, nor do you need the same. To Tartarus with anypony that disagrees or thinks otherwise, Anonymous."
  1225. >You feel as if a weight has been lifted from you as Luna sets you back down, as she continues to hover.
  1226. >"So, does my answer help you at all?"
  1227. "You tell me. You seem to have all the answers tonight."
  1228. >She giggles, before snatching another kiss from you.
  1229. >"Well, not all the answers. But a good deal of them. I regret having to leave, but somepony needs help dealing with nightmares tonight."
  1230. "Oh, who's that, if I may ask?"
  1231. >Luna bites her lip, trying to keep a straight face.
  1232. >"My sister decided to ignore my warnings of eating excessively spicy delicacies before bed, as I know what it does to her dreams. And I do not wish to have to deal with a grump tomorrow."
  1233. >You laugh.
  1234. "Better you than me. Have fun."
  1235. >"Take care of yourself Anonymous. Try not to let Twilight drive you up the wall."
  1236. "That's a tall order. See you tomorrow night?"
  1237. >Luna nods, her smile growing wider before disappearing in a burst of stars.
  1238. "Showoff."
  1239.  
  1240. >"Anon, are you going to sleep all day?"
  1241. >You groan, throwing a pillow over your head.
  1242. "Shut up Twilight, you know me and mornings are not on speaking terms."
  1243. >"You do realize more than eight hours of sleep at a time is bad for you, right?"
  1244. "You know what else is bad for you? Waking up someone that can give you nightmares for the rest of your existance."
  1245. >The pillow over your head is yanked from your grasp, as you are pulled upright by Twilight's magic.
  1246. "Fine, I'm up."
  1247. >"That's better."
  1248. >As you glance around the room letting your eyes adjust to the sunlight of late morning, you spot Spike's tail under a heap of blankets.
  1249. "Aren't you going to wake him up, too?"
  1250. >Twilight doesn't even glance over as she begins putting away the linens making up your bed.
  1251. >"He's a baby dragon, he needs his rest."
  1252. "Is all week going to be like this? I think the changelings might offer better hospitality than you."
  1253.  
  1254. -----
  1255.  
  1256. >"Your Highness, a visitor seeks an audience with you."
  1257. >You sit upright in your throne, the boredom and lack of activity in the last hour nearly putting you to sleep.
  1258. "Thank you. Send them in."
  1259. >The guards on either side of the massive double doors pull them open, and a familiar face struts through.
  1260. "Anonymous? Guards, do you honestly not recognize who-"
  1261. >"It's fine Luna, I told them to be professional about it. I figured you were bored and needed some excitement."
  1262. >You stretch as Anonymous makes his way to you, your back popping loud enough to create an echo.
  1263. >Sliding over in your throne, Anon has just enough room to sit next to you, which he does.
  1264. "So what have you been up to this fine day?"
  1265. >He reaches up and scratches your ear, as you can't help but lean into his hand.
  1266. >"Not much really. Buried in the library."
  1267. "Again? Twilight Sparkle has really rubbed off on you. I suppose the next step is besting her longest reading binge."
  1268. >"I can't imagine how long that would be, as I've seen her spend a whole afternoon with her head buried in a book, not moving an inch. It's a little eerie, honestly."
  1269. >You chuckle, resting your weight against him as he leans back in the throne.
  1270. "From what I recall my sister telling me, Twilight once spent three days straight in the library."
  1271. >"As in, afternoons?"
  1272. "No, I mean seventy-two hours straight."
  1273. >"Wow."
  1274. "Yes. I don't know how she does it. Just sitting here for four hours has me feeling stiff."
  1275. >Anonymous turns his body, looking at the throne itself.
  1276. >"Obviously it's time to upgrade to a lazy boy recliner like mine."
  1277. >You can't help but giggle at the mental picture.
  1278. "I don't believe that could be even remotely considered professional and proper, Anon. However, it would be a welcome change."
  1279. >The quiet conversation is interrupted by the echoing bong of the large clock outside the throne room.
  1280. >You rise to your hooves, Anon doing likewise.
  1281. "With as uneventful as this day has been, I am surprised it is already five o'clock."
  1282. >"I could tell it was almost five. I'm starving."
  1283. >The two of you make your way out of the throne room and to the dining room, making small talk along the way.
  1284. >Celestia is already seated at the table to greet you when both of you arrive.
  1285. >"Hello you two. I assume you're as hungry as I am?"
  1286. "I don't think that's possible sister."
  1287. >Tia sticks her tongue out at you, making you giggle.
  1288. >"Wow, we just arrived and already shots fired. Impressive, Luna."
  1289. >You and Anon take seats next to Celestia.
  1290. "It comes natural when you've lived with her as long as I."
  1291. >"Am I too late for dinner?"
  1292. >Twilight Sparkle trots into the room from where you just entered.
  1293. "Twilight, what a pleasant surprise. It is as if you heard Anon and I talking about you."
  1294. >She stops, perplexed.
  1295. >"Me? What did I do?"
  1296. >"A three day reading marathon, apparently."
  1297. >Twilight takes a seat across from you, seeming to go through her mind for the memory.
  1298. >Meanwhile, your sister is unable to contain a minor fit of laughter.
  1299. >"Oh, I had forgotten about that. The day I introduced her to the Daring Do series of books, she couldn't help to read them all in one go."
  1300. >Twilight perks up.
  1301. >"I remember that now! The first book was just so good, there was no way I was going to wait to read the next one!"
  1302. >"And the one after that, and so on. From what I recall, those three days were followed by a whole day of sleep."
  1303. >Twilight blushes.
  1304. >"You complain about me getting too much sleep, and you slept for a whole day? I don't want to hear any more criticisms about my sleeping habits, Twily."
  1305. >"Oh hush, Anon. It was only once. You oversleep every day."
  1306. >Anon turns to you, as if requesting backup.
  1307. "It's true, I practically have to drag you out of bed every morning."
  1308. >He crosses his arms, acting frustrated.
  1309. >"I'll remember that next time you want me to defend you."
  1310. >Everypony in the room gets a good chuckle, as a few servants enter the room hovering dishes in front of them.
  1311. >While Celestia gets a vegetable medley stir-fry and you get a fresh vineyard salad, Anon has gone wild with the meat, his plate dominated by a thick steak, amidst a sea of garlic shrimp.
  1312. >It took quite a bit of reassurance that neither you or your sister were bothered by his normal diet before he finally gave in and began eating what he really craved.
  1313. >Not a minute passes before another servant arrives, placing a nice garden salad in front of Twilight.
  1314. >Nopony hesitates to dig in, the dining room devoid of conversation for some time.
  1315. "So Twilight, what does bring you to Canterlot this time of the day?"
  1316. >"Anon sent a letter to me a few days ago. He said the two of you have been having some difficulty talking to the changeling you've apparently caught?"
  1317. >You glance to your left at Anonymous, who grins sheepishly.
  1318. >Despite his protests, you have been hesitant to allow him to accompany you to the dungeon.
  1319. >Not necessarily because of danger, but because you fear he may be unable to control his emotions.
  1320. "Did he now? I was not informed of this."
  1321. >"I thought I said something to you about it. My bad, Luna."
  1322. >You sigh, turning your attention back to the purple alicorn across the table.
  1323. "To tell the truth Twilight, it has not been going well at this time. In addition to a lack of information about Chrysalis's whereabouts and intentions, very little progress has been made in regards to identifying changelings masquerading as common ponies."
  1324. >"Well, I've been reading up on some law and psychology books the past couple days, maybe I can help?"
  1325. "I suppose I am running out of ideas, perhaps a fresh mind can come up with something."
  1326. >"And maybe you can give me a crack at it too, Luna. Like you promised?"
  1327. "Anonymous, please. It is for your own safety."
  1328. >He leans back in his chair, studying you.
  1329. >"Luna, what's the real reason you won't let me down there?"
  1330. >You scoff.
  1331. "That is the real reason, Anon."
  1332. >The room is silent, as you return to picking at your plate.
  1333. >"Either I'm getting better at reading you, or you're turning into a really bad liar, Luna."
  1334. >Anonymous folds his arms, as all eyes dart between him and you.
  1335. >Seeing no way out of his condemning gaze, you relent.
  1336. "Anon, do you recall what we discussed about your.... magic predicament?"
  1337. >"You mean if I use magic, I risk frying myself?"
  1338. "Yes. I don't intend to be rude, but I fear you may not be capable of keeping your emotions in check, and thus, your magic contained within."
  1339. >Twilight interrupts before Anonymous can respond.
  1340. >"Wait, hold on. Using magic can kill him? When did you find this out?!"
  1341. >Celestia breaks her silence, giving you a chance to sip at your water.
  1342. >"We aren't one hundred percent sure, Twilight. For right now, it's a theory based on what happened in your home during and directly following the exchange between Anon and Chrysalis."
  1343. >"And with all due respect, Lulu, I'm willing to take the risk."
  1344. >Nearly choking, you set down your water.
  1345. "Anonym-"
  1346. >Animated, he shakes his head, interrupting you.
  1347. >"Luna, Chrysalis wants me. And she's not going to care who gets in her way. If it takes harming or killing someone, she nor her minions are going to hesitate. If that happens, that blood is on me. And I'm not going to live with that guilt my whole life."
  1348. >He unfolds his arms.
  1349. >"We haven't come up with anything useful in the months since the incident. I know I'm impatient at times, but the more we sit around with our thumbs... or hooves or whatever, up our asses, the more likely it is I'm going to wind up dead anyways."
  1350. >You can't help but gasp at Anon's harsh tone.
  1351. "Don't say that! You act as if there is no hope!"
  1352. >He seems to ease off a bit.
  1353. >"I'm sorry, but I've been quiet about how I feel about this for a while now. But no more, I'm getting more involved in ending this standoff with these creatures whether you like it or not, Luna."
  1354. >His words seem to echo as if a gavel had been struck.
  1355. >"So, tomorrow morning, maybe?"
  1356. >Twilight's eyes nervously scan the room, as she flashes an uneasy grin.
  1357.  
  1358. >As a dramatic score builds up from the television, Anonymous jolts upright from your desk he was slouched upon.
  1359. "Fall asleep?"
  1360. >He turns to you, holding something in his hands.
  1361. >"No, testing this thing. Definitely still works."
  1362. >He displays it to you, the object looking like a collar, but with a curious small box attached to it.
  1363. "Is it a collar, a necklace... what is that?"
  1364. >He points at you.
  1365. >"Collar. Shock collar, to be more precise. In my world, we used these to train dogs. When the dog wearing it does something wrong, like stray away from the property, this box will emit a small shock that startles the dog. I had a feeling I pack ratted it somewhere in my house from when I had a dog, Twilight found it for me."
  1366. >You cringe as he describes how it works.
  1367. "And your reason for testing that is...?"
  1368. >"It's not going to hurt our little changeling friend, but it will shock the hell out of him. Or her, or it, whatever."
  1369. >Motioning for him to join you on your bed, he sets the collar down on your desk and flops beside you.
  1370. >His excitement for tomorrow morning is making you increasingly uneasy.
  1371. "Anon, you aren't looking forward to this for the wrong reasons, are you?"
  1372. >His eyes dart across the room, as if looking for the answer.
  1373. >"I don't follow. Wrongs reasons as in, what?"
  1374. "Revenge? Sadism?"
  1375. >He seems genuinely hurt by your inquisition as he puts an arm around your neck.
  1376. >"Lulu, I know you're worried about how I'm going to react during our little interrogation tomorrow, but I swear to you, this is purely to get what we need out of the prisoner, nothing more."
  1377. >He stops for a moment, before pressing on.
  1378. >"I suppose I didn't help matters regarding your apprehension with my little speech during dinner, did I?"
  1379. >Anon his the proverbial nail on the head with that question.
  1380. "No, you were a little... charged up."
  1381. >"Well, it's just been festering in the back of my mind for a while now. I didn't mean for it to be that harsh. But you and Celly - hell, everyone - has done so much for me, caught me so many times when I tripped. I got us into this mess by being impatient and rushing into danger, I want to at least play a part in getting out of this shit."
  1382. >You poke him playfully in the ribs with a hoof.
  1383. "You seem to forget you've caught me a few times when I fell. I'd say we're already even."
  1384. >"In that case, I want to get ahead of you."
  1385. "You're just stubborn, is all."
  1386. >He wraps his other arm around you, hugging you tight.
  1387. >"I learned it from you."
  1388. >You giggle, sharing a kiss with him, before your attention turns to the television.
  1389. "So, what are we watching anyways?"
  1390. >"Eh, various crime dramas. Figure I may as well get into the spirit of things, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from the questioning scenes."
  1391. "Twilight, I can see her getting some useful insight after a reading marathon on psychology. This might be a stretch, Anon."
  1392. >"Oh ye of little faith. You'll take that back when we find out where Chrysalis is tomorrow."
  1393. "If you managed to do that, I'd have no choice but to knight you."
  1394. >"Alright, I won't do that, then."
  1395. >You turn out the light beside you, snuggling up to Anon as the next episode rolls on the TV.
  1396.  
  1397. >A loud clang echoes through the damp dungeon as Anonymous raps on the cell bars.
  1398. >"Wake up, you slimy sack of shit!"
  1399. >Startled awake, the changeling prisoner jumps to its hooves, head darting around before focusing on your group.
  1400. >This is one of the few mornings Anon has woken you up, instead of what is normally the other way around.
  1401. >You've relented, allowing Anon to head this interrogation session, which he was all too eager to accept.
  1402. >Meanwhile, Twilight is confident in her research binge on psychology and methods of spotting 'tells,' as she called them.
  1403. >Hopefully, any information you can get, she can confirm is the truth.
  1404. >"What, cat got your tongue?"
  1405. >You lean over to Anon.
  1406. "It seems as though changelings in their normal form are unable to speak in our tongues. I have always had our prisoner shift into me to get it to talk."
  1407. >Apparently it heard you, as the changeling's form begins to warp, before once again your duplicate is behind bars.
  1408. >"Well, not impossible, but rather difficult. I see the princess brought her toy with her today."
  1409. >You scowl, seeming only to give it more joy as it continues.
  1410. >"Oh, and the purple runt is here. This is great, I was beginning to tire of seeing only this stick in the mud all the time."
  1411. >"I suppose it's your lucky day then. Not only do you get new visitors, you get to see them out from behind bars."
  1412. >As Anonymous taunts the creature, you use your magic to bind both its front hooves together with rope, as well as its hind legs.
  1413. >You nod to Anon when you are satisfied, sliding open the wrought iron door.
  1414. >Carefully, Anon pulls out the collar he was fiddling with last night, fastening it around the changeling's neck.
  1415. >"And what exactly is this supposed to be?"
  1416. >"We're going to play a fun little game. I'm going to ask some questions, and you're going to answer them. Depending on whether we like the answer, we will either move on, or that little collar is going to give you a nice jolt. Every wrong answer kicks up the jolt a bit, every right answer knocks it down a notch."
  1417. >The creature smirks, as Anon pulls out a small remote.
  1418. >"You're going to have to do better than that if you're going to psyche me out."
  1419. >He presses a button, causing your twin to jump.
  1420. >"Still think I'm joking? That was just the lightest setting. All set to play?"
  1421. >The smirk on its face is gone, replaced by the slightest hint of worry.
  1422. >"Let's start out slow here. I want to know, how high up on the chain of command are you in the grand scheme of things?"
  1423. >A chuckle is the initial response received.
  1424. >"I've already told your pretty princess friend there, I am just one of my mother's common drones. Nothing special, which is why I'm still here with you."
  1425. >While Twilight shakes her head, signaling Anon it is lying, he presses on.
  1426. >"I don't believe that for an instant. you see, if I was a queen trapped in an enemy's dungeon, I'd want only my best soldier behind enemy lines to save me. I want the cream of the crop, someone with experience. I'll give you a free retry, since we're just starting here."
  1427. >It shrugs its shoulders.
  1428. >"I don't know what you want me to tell you, then."
  1429. >"Level one it is."
  1430. >A few presses of the remote, and the changeling grits its teeth, sitting straight upright as it writhes in pain.
  1431. >You can't help but feel a pang of sympathy, trying to imagine what that felt like.
  1432. >The creature takes a deep breath as Anon relents.
  1433. >"I'm... one of Mother's.... first."
  1434. >All eyes turn to Twilight, who nods solemnly.
  1435. >She seems taken aback by the display as well.
  1436. >"Okay, we're getting somewhere. You're one of Chrysalis's first born, I take it?"
  1437. >"Yes."
  1438. >Anonymous paces the room, while you sit down to the left of the seated prisoner.
  1439. >"I'd say that makes you pretty important. Important enough to not leave behind, at least not forever. So how many changelings have we got in the castle waiting to rescue you?"
  1440. >"I don't know. Maybe none, maybe a hundred."
  1441. "Lies, you know if there is other changelings in our midst. You said so yourself, you have telepathy."
  1442. >Anonymous stops his pacing, his interest piqued.
  1443. >"Telepathy? When did you find this out?"
  1444. >Before you can reply, your duplicate interrupts.
  1445. >"The gift only shared between Mother and child. We do not share the gift amongst ourselves."
  1446. >"It's telling the truth, Anon."
  1447. >Anon points to Twilight.
  1448. >"Be glad I brought this purple runt with me, I was getting ready for level two of this thing."
  1449. >"Hey!"
  1450. >"No offense, Twily. Just using its own words."
  1451. >Pressing on, Anon once again begins pacing the cell, the creature beginning to look more and more shaken.
  1452. >While you are impressed the method seems to be getting results, you still find the charade rather sickening to watch.
  1453. [Anon, I think you are enjoying this too much.]
  1454. >His eyes focus on you.
  1455. >[Relax, Moonbutt. It's all part of rattling this thing's composure, nothing more.]
  1456. >For now, you relent, allowing him to continue.
  1457. >"Why don't we move on to the main event here, what does Chrysalis want with me. From what I understand, you've told Luna here I am not wanted dead, but alive. Why is that?"
  1458. >"Mother's plans are only revealed to us when we play a part in them. Otherwise, you know as much as we do."
  1459. >Once again, Twilight shakes her head no, and Anon presses the remote.
  1460. >An unsettling hiss erupts from the prisoner as a charge of energy courses through its body.
  1461. >"Nope, we don't like that answer. Care to try that one again, or do you want level two?"
  1462. >"I'm telling you the truth! That purple one is just a sadistic little wench!"
  1463. >"Level two!"
  1464. >Your duplicate shrieks in agony, thrashing about as it falls to the floor.
  1465. >The cries seem to echo endlessly, long after the the creature quiets down.
  1466. >"That looked like it hurt a bit more. I'll give you a sec to catch your breath."
  1467. >It feels like an eternity before the thing is able to speak.
  1468. >"Mother has found very few foes that can stand up to her. Mother was under the impression you did not possess magic, but her metting with you proved that wrong."
  1469. >Your twin rises to its hooves, still a bit wobbly.
  1470. >"Mother desires your power for herself."
  1471. >An uneasy silence settles upon the cell.
  1472. >You don't understand how Chrysalis thinks she can harness that power for herself.
  1473. >Nor do you want to know, for that matter.
  1474. >"See? This can be very easy and painless if you just answer correctly the first time."
  1475. >"You will not be laughing after Mother has her way with you."
  1476. >anon rolls his eyes, as the fake Luna scowls.
  1477. >"I think you're getting ahead of yourself here. But while we're on that subject, where is mommy dearest?"
  1478. >The question incites a bout of laughter from the weary prisoner.
  1479. >"You really think I will tell you where the hive is located? You think I would betray my own kind?"
  1480. >"Okay, we'll start on level two this time."
  1481. >You cringe and turn away as the creature screams again.
  1482. [Anonymous, maybe we need to take a break.]
  1483. >[We're on a roll. We need to press on, Lulu.]
  1484. >"Now, try again. I can do this all day, and I still have three more levels on this baby to play with."
  1485. >"Go... to... Tartarus.."
  1486. >"Cool. Level three!"
  1487. >The howls only get louder as the energy increases, the changeling flailing about.
  1488. >You spot something that makes your blood run cold.
  1489. "Anon, stop!"
  1490. >He looks over at you confused, letting go of the button on the remote.
  1491. >With a surge of adrenaline, the creature growls, noticing the loosened bindings on its forehooves.
  1492. >You try to jump in front of it, but the changeling is quicker, leaping at Anonymous and landing a forehoof across his head, knocking him to the floor.
  1493. "Twilight, help me!"
  1494. >Before it can take another lunge at Anon, you and Twilight manage to hold the thing back, as you use a bast of magic to subdue the raging beast.
  1495. >It falls to the floor, knocked unconscious.
  1496. "Dammit, Anon! When I say we need to take a break, we take a break from now on, do you understand?"
  1497. >You turn around to him, where he still remains on the floor.
  1498. "Anon, are you alright?"
  1499. >Your heart rate begins to quicken as you gingerly roll him over.
  1500. >An ugly bruise begins to form on the left side of his head, as he lays unconscious.
  1501. "Anon, we need to get going!"
  1502. >Carefully pulling an eyelid up with your magic, his pupil nearly takes up his whole eye.
  1503. "TIA!!"
  1504.  
  1505. >The doctors surround Anonymous in a flurry of activity as You and Celestia arrive at the hospital in a flash.
  1506. >Numerous tubes and devices are connected up to him, as you try to understand what is going on.
  1507. >"Sister, what happened?"
  1508. "I don't know! Somehow the thing's bindings got loose, and it just- "
  1509. >"I don't have anything over here!"
  1510. >The pace of a few doctors quickens, as one attaches something that looks like a bag over Anon's face, pumping it rhythmically.
  1511. >What the hay are they doing?
  1512. "Sister, I must admit, I didn't pay attention in health or anatomy in school, what - "
  1513. >"Still nothing!"
  1514. >None of this makes sense!
  1515. >He took a blow to the head, clearly it's a concussion.
  1516. >A few doctors walk away, as the feverish movement in the room slows down.
  1517. "Where are you going?! As your princess, I demand that you return at once!"
  1518. >"Luna-"
  1519. "We both demand your undivided care upon Anonymous!"
  1520. >"Luna-"
  1521. "Hush sister!"
  1522. >Everypony seems to ignore you as they slowly shuffle past, leaving a ragtag group in the room.
  1523. >You can't keep your composure any longer as you raise your voice ever louder.
  1524. "Why aren't any of you doing anything?!"
  1525. >The head doctor looks over at you, his gaze one of empathy and fatigue.
  1526. >"I'm sorry."
  1527. >You suddenly feel extremely ill as your knees become weak.
  1528. "No. Nonono. NonoNONO! NO! NO!"
  1529. >You feel something catch you as you lose all control.
  1530. >"Time of death..."
  1531.  
  1532. -----
  1533.  
  1534. >The radio softly plays in the Superbird as you finish another tome, and set off into the next one, scribbling down some notes on an old piece of parchment.
  1535. >While hardly comfortable to sit in the car for any period of time, you don't care.
  1536. >For the first time in almost two days, you've managed to finally gain some semblance of control.
  1537. >Now you just feel tired.
  1538. >Numb.
  1539. >Empty.
  1540. >News has spread rapidly across Equestria, and the outpouring of condolences still continue.
  1541. >Despite this, you decided to hold a private ceremony for Anon's internment in the mausoleum, with only his closest friends.
  1542. >Twilight has taken it extremely hard as well.
  1543. >Now all that is left is work.
  1544. >"Sister?"
  1545. >Your eyes look up over the dashboard to see Celestia cautiously approach.
  1546. >She has hardly fared better in the days since..
  1547. >"Luna, are you okay?"
  1548. "I am... managing."
  1549. >Her face lined with fatigue, Tia still forces a weary smile.
  1550. >Despite the events, Celestia has tirelessy stood in the throne room, fufulling both her duties and yours.
  1551. >She insisted upon it.
  1552. >"I thought I would find you out here."
  1553. >You do your best to shuffle the books on the seat next to you away as your sister peers in.
  1554. "I just wanted to be somewhere.... close to Anon. I couldn't think of any closer place than his pride and joy."
  1555. >You try to sound calm, but the pain in your voice is all too obvious.
  1556. >"What are you doing out here?"
  1557. "Just... reading. Something to occupy my mind."
  1558. >As her magic reaches for one of the tomes, you have no choice but to face the inevitable as it floats out the window to her curious eyes.
  1559. >The book falls to the concrete floor.
  1560. >"Luna, I know you are taking this loss the hardest, and for good reason, but this... this is not the answer."
  1561. >You already find yourself becoming agitated.
  1562. "What is the answer, sister? What else can I do?"
  1563. >"Dark magic? Necromancy? These certainly are not it!"
  1564. "What else is there, Tia?"
  1565. >You feel yourself being pulled out of the car, as the door opens.
  1566. >Her magic surrounding you, you sister hugs you tight enough to cause a bit of discomfort.
  1567. >"We all hurt right now, Lulu. You more than anypony, I'm sure. But you can't let yourself be consumed by your grief, we all need you. I need you."
  1568. >You aren't sure how long the two of you hold each other there, saying nothing.
  1569. >"Lulu, we will make it through this. It's just going to take some time to heal."
  1570. "I know."
  1571. >While you agree with her, the words feel hollow, meaningless.
  1572. >Slowly, Celestia gathers up your pile of worn manuscripts with her magic.
  1573. >"Until that time comes, I will be sure to seal away what we have in our collection."
  1574. >She manages another weary smile, before walking out of the garage.
  1575. >When she is out of sight, you pull your notes out from underneath your wing, smiling.
  1576. "Okay, Tia."
  1577.  
  1578. >You make your way to Twilight's home in as discreet of a manner as possible.
  1579. >Words of condolences mean so little at this point, you don't want to hear them.
  1580. >Especially now that you have something that should work, if your research was correct.
  1581. >Covered from horn to hooves with a cloak, you rap on her door and wait.
  1582. >"Come in."
  1583. >Without hesitation, you you make your way inside the library, slamming the door behind you.
  1584. >"Can... can I help you?"
  1585. >You drop the hood on your robe and turn to face the apprehensive mare.
  1586. "My apologies, Twilight. It is difficult to travel considering what has happened."
  1587. >"Princess Luna, I didn't expect you..... how are you doing?"
  1588. "I am... better. It is still difficult."
  1589. >Twilight looks down at the floor, shuffling a hoof.
  1590. >"I know. I still can't believe it myself."
  1591. >You already begin to grow impatient with the small talk.
  1592. >Clearing your throat, you pull out your notes from earlier.
  1593. "Twilight, I know you are well-versed in many subjects, I was wondering if you could tell me where I may find some of these items."
  1594. >You hold up the parchment for her to read.
  1595. >Her lips move slightly as she reads off the various plants and items you have listed.
  1596. >You made sure to omit some of the things you need that seem..... out of place.
  1597. >"What.... what are all of these for? It looks like some sort of spell."
  1598. >Racking your brain, you try to come up with a believable excuse.
  1599. "It is, it's..... I'm not exactly sure what it is. You see, my sister and I have been going through some books regarding arcane magic, and this one, we couldn't quite translate."
  1600. >Her sorrowful face perks up a bit.
  1601. >"That sounds very interesting. Maybe I could help you."
  1602. "No! Er, no, sorry. This is all very advanced magic, Twilight Sparkle. However, I do appreciate your offer."
  1603. >The twinkle in her eyes diminishes somewhat, but she nods.
  1604. >"I understand. Unfortunately, I don't think you will be able to find some of those ingredients to complete the spell."
  1605. >Your heart sinks.
  1606. "What do you mean?"
  1607. >"Well, the meadowsweet plant does not exist any longer, as far as I know. And Tartarus root? If such a thing ever existed, I've never heard of it. And I've read all the books and notes my friend Zecora has to offer."
  1608. >You bite your lip to keep from screaming, taking a moment to reel yourself in from the edge of self-control.
  1609. "I see. A shame, but understandable. Thank you, Twilight Sparkle."
  1610. >Twilight frowns, looking concerned.
  1611. >"Are you sure you're alright, Luna? You can talk to me."
  1612. >Her eyes seem to cut into you, as if she can see something else underneath you are hiding.
  1613. >Fighting back tears of defeat, you turn away, opening the front door..
  1614. "I am fine, Twilight. I must head back to Canterlot."
  1615. >If she does sense something amiss, she lets it go.
  1616. >"It was good to see you, Luna. If you need something, just let me know."
  1617. >You close the door behind you, without a word.
  1618. >With all of your might, you throw yourself into the air, your anger and sorrow driving the rapid beat of your wings as you head home.
  1619.  
  1620.  
  1621. >As you reach the bottom of the staircase, your fatigue and disappointment only makes your pent up anger build.
  1622. >It seems there is no spell in the world to bring your Anon back.
  1623. >You would cry, but with the constant grieving of the past few days, you have nothing left.
  1624. >All that's left is anger.
  1625. >Finding the cell, you stop in front of it.
  1626. >Apparently hearing your footsteps, the changeling sits upright, already staring back at you, before shifting.
  1627. >"I was wondering when you were going to come back down here for me. Why the long wait?"
  1628. >You just glare at the creature, now in the form of you.
  1629. >"Did I break your toy? I hope he comes back soon, that was fun."
  1630. "My toy?"
  1631. >Your doppelganger rolls its eyes and sighs.
  1632. >"Sorry, your highness. By toy, I refer to your precious little ape friend you keep with you in the castle. You know, it makes it hard to capture him when you have him under lock and key."
  1633. "He's dead."
  1634. >The words just drop out of your mouth.
  1635. >It laughs in response.
  1636. >"Right, right. He's dead, so we can stop looking for him. Try a bit harder than that, princess.
  1637. >You just stare, imagining your vision being enough to tear this beast into bits.
  1638. >Whether it is your silence or your glare, the changeling stops, mulling over what you have said.
  1639. >"You really are serious. Well, I can't say I'm upset. Mother might be, but I guess that's what he gets for torturing me."
  1640. >Your grit your teeth as something within snaps.
  1641. "That's 'what he gets?' Pardon me, but I believe you vile creatures began this whole mess with your haphazard plan to feast upon us. Anon was my friend, he was my whole world!"
  1642. >Pure hatred pours out from every fiber in your body as tears stream down your cheeks, blurring your vision.
  1643. "I want you to send Chrysalis a message. She has ruined my world, now it's my turn to ruin hers."
  1644. >A nervous chuckle is the response from your prisoner.
  1645. >"Ruin her world? We already starve for food, banished away from society. There is nothing you can do to us. We have nothing to lose. Which just makes this news all the sweeter for me."
  1646. >You tremble as you feel yourself slipping into the abyss.
  1647. >And you don't care.
  1648. "Oh, but you do have something to lose. You have your entire species to lose."
  1649. >Confusion spreads across your twin's face.
  1650. >"Uh, run that by me again?"
  1651. "I will hunt every one of your kind down, across every corner of this land. And I promise you, I will make every one of you suffer."
  1652. >You feel yourself being consumed by your rage.
  1653. >Your hatred.
  1654. >Your sorrow.
  1655. >Nothing matters anymore.
  1656. >You feel your teeth rearrange themselves, as the room slowly seems to grow smaller.
  1657. "No amount of pain and suffering will bring my Anonymous back. But I will make sure every one of you regrets ever living."
  1658. >The look of confusion changes to horror on the changeling's face.
  1659. >"Night.. mare... Mo-"
  1660. >You seize the creature by the throat with your magic, slowly constricting as you watch its eyes frantically search the room for salvation.
  1661. "You think you know suffering? You think you have been tortured?! I assure you, you have not experienced either in your pathetic life. But you will now."
  1662. >Unable to speak, the creature moves its lips, silently apologizing.
  1663. >You just tighten your grip on its windpipe further, relishing the feeling of its struggle for mercy.
  1664. "Sorry? You're sorry? It doesn't matter. You are only sorry to protect yourself. Nothing more."
  1665. >"Please, don't do this."
  1666. >You snap your head around in the direction of the voice.
  1667. >Celestia stands a few feet away, her expression a mixture of fear and anguish.
  1668. "Why? Why should I stop?! Why does this... this THING, deserve to live?!"
  1669. >Her voice wavers at your tone.
  1670. >"This isn't you. You are better than this."
  1671. >The pressure cooker inside you bursts as you further tighten the vice.
  1672. "WHY DOES THIS THING DESERVE TO LIVE, OVER ANONYMOUS?"
  1673. >Choking down a sob, Celestia gives in, letting the tears stream down her face.
  1674. >"Because revenge isn't going to bring him back. Revenge will only deepen the void left behind."
  1675. >You turn back to the Luna in front of you.
  1676. >You look into its eyes.
  1677. >The light of life begins to dim, its struggle subsiding.
  1678. >"Don't do this Luna. Please."
  1679. >Celestia begs in between sniffles, her voice getting quieter.
  1680. >You can't bear to hear your sister's pleas.
  1681. "Please. Come back to me."
  1682. >You turn to her again, as her pink irises lock onto you.
  1683. >"I just want my little sis. My Luna."
  1684. >'My Luna.'
  1685. >Your memory flashes back to the night of your breakdown, Anon consoling you.
  1686. >'You're not a monster. You're my Luna, and my Luna's a sweetheart.'
  1687. >You're not a monster.
  1688. >Not now.
  1689. >The ache in your heart saps your strength.
  1690. >'My Luna's a sweetheart.'
  1691. >Clinging to those words, you relent.
  1692. >Your knees give out on you as you cry out in anguish, dropping the changeling.
  1693. >It takes a massive gulp of breath, as you let the dam inside you burst.
  1694. >The cold of the stone floor seems to suck the energy from you, taking your own breath away as you sob deeply.
  1695. >And yet, at the same time, you feel the warmth of your sister over top you, as she embraces your form.
  1696. >You raise your head, taking a moment for your damp eyes to adjust and focus.
  1697. >You jump a bit as you look up, finding not only your sister atop you, but Twilight Sparkle, as well.
  1698. >The purple alicorn is very nervous, and doesn't wait for you to say anything before unleashing.
  1699. >"I'm sorry Luna! After you left, all those items you had listed made sense, and I figured out what you were trying to do, and I just had to tell Celest-"
  1700. >You do your best to speak in a somewhat calm voice.
  1701. "It is fine, Twilight Sparkle. I am not upset, just.... I just feel empty. Lost."
  1702. >"You aren't alone, Luna. I know it feels that way, I know you feel a hole inside, but you can't let that consume you."
  1703. >Your big sis raises her head beside, pulling you tightly next to her with a wing.
  1704. >"Do not let the anguish of loss cause you to lose yourself. Equestria can not bear to lose you again. I can not bear to lose you again."
  1705. >Twilight pipes up as she stands in front of you.
  1706. >"I know it hurts, Luna. I hurt too. But the pain does not signify an end. You've come so far from when we first met on Nightmare Night. You've helped countless ponies with their dreams, you make the night sky beautiful. Just as much as Anonymous has affected you, you affect all of us."
  1707. >You take a deep breath, as you feel a weight drop off you.
  1708. "Thank you. I have felt alone these past few days. I almost let my anger and sorrow consume me, as I have once before. But you, you both refuse to give up on me, you saved me from myself. And for that, I am eternally grateful."
  1709. >"Anon would be proud of you, Lulu. You are stronger than you think you are."
  1710.  
  1711. >Darkness falls over Equestria, and with it comes another night of insomnia.
  1712. >Carefully, you creep past both Tia and Twilight, not wanting to wake them.
  1713. >Both of them decided it would be best to stay close to you for the next few days, after the events of earlier today.
  1714. >You can't blame them, and you appreciate and cherish having two ponies so dedicated to you, that care so much.
  1715. >It makes it easier knowing you aren't alone, even if it has felt that way.
  1716. >That mistake has been made once before, and nearly repeated again.
  1717. >And yet, even in his absence, Anonymous rescued you from yourself.
  1718. >The empty halls of the castle are silent, as all but a skeleton crew of guards are resting like everypony else.
  1719. >Even so, you focus on your destination in your mind, the castle fading away, to replaced by the garden.
  1720. >Your sister is likely worried enough about you to have the guards notify her if you are seen up and about tonight.
  1721. >The heavy door in front of you takes some exertion to move, as you slide inside the stone structure.
  1722. >Closing it behind you and turning around, you look over at the wall.
  1723. >Engraved with the names of past family members and close friends throughout the many years of you and your sister's existence, the freshest chiseling stands out the clearest in the dim light.
  1724. >Standing in front of the marked resting place, you try to arrange your thoughts.
  1725. "In my many years of existence, I have had the pleasure of meeting countless ponies and other beings. All across this land I have traveled, and there are many more acquaintances and friends I will make in the coming years, no doubt."
  1726. >You sit, feeling once again overwhelmed by emotion.
  1727. "And yet, only one has so drastically affected me so, has helped me find myself. Helped me move on from my past, and look to the future. To find every day of my existence something to enjoy, rather than a burden. To help me see that even in your absence, I am not alone. For that, I thank you."
  1728. >You exhale, letting go of everything you have pent up inside.
  1729. "I miss you, Anon."
  1730. >You touch a hoof to the internment stone.
  1731. >Involuntarily, you jerk it back, a searing hot pain cutting into you.
  1732. >The marker itself feels as if it is molten, as you gingerly drop your leg and stand in shock.
  1733. "What in Equestria?"
  1734. >Curiousity and fear mix with adrenaline as you use your magic and pry at the stone.
  1735. >As it relinquishes its spot, intense blue flames erupt from the void, causing you to duck and drop the marker.
  1736. >Falling to the ground, it shatters, as you feel the intense heat above you, nearly singeing your back.
  1737. >You find yourself pinned there, unable to move, not even to look up.
  1738. >Slowly, the heat dies down, allowing you to look up.
  1739. >The flames are gone, light wisps of smoke coming from the chamber above you.
  1740. >Apprehensive, you rise to your hooves slowly, minding your burned hoof.
  1741. >As you peer inside the internment chamber, arms reach out for you, causing you to jump back.
  1742. >"Luna, this isn't funny! I've told you before I'm claustrophobic!"
  1743. "Wh-What?!"
  1744. >"Sister!"
  1745. >The steel door to the mausoleum opens, Celestia and Twilight rushing in.
  1746. >"Luna, what is-"
  1747. >"Someone get me the fuck out of here, I can't breathe!"
  1748. >Without another thought, you focus your magic on the outstretched arms, pulling.
  1749. >Anonymous falls out onto the floor, breathing rapidly and looking around incredulously.
  1750. >You stand dumbfounded, as your sister and Twilight stand stunned with you.
  1751. "Anon?"
  1752. >"Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?"
  1753.  
  1754. "So I was dead. As in... what?"
  1755. >"Clinically dead. No pulse, not breathing, deceased."
  1756. >Luna still hasn't let go of you since getting back into the castle.
  1757. >Continuing to run your hands through her mane, you try to make sense of the story the three princesses are telling you.
  1758. "Are you sure you checked correctly?"
  1759. >"Let me ask you, Anonymous, what do you remember?"
  1760. >Scratching your head, you try to think of anything from what is apparently the last two and a half days.
  1761. "I remember going down into the dungeon with Lulu and Twily, but I don't remember anything that happened down there. Next thing I know, Luna's staring back at me from some hole I'm crammed into."
  1762. >"Internment chamber, Anon."
  1763. >You stare at the purple alicorn.
  1764. "My bad. 'Internment chamber,' I mean. All I know is, that is one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had."
  1765. >Luna sits up in your lap.
  1766. >"You try getting burned by a grave stone, then have a wall of flame rush out at you at breakneck speed and tell me which is more terrifying."
  1767. "Claustrophobia will win every time, Moonbutt."
  1768. >"You don't remember that, either?"
  1769. >Luna gazes into your eyes, curious.
  1770. "I told you, I just remember seeing your face pop up in front of me."
  1771. >Luna turns to her sister as she sits back down in your lap.
  1772. >"What do you make of it, Tia? Surely you do not think I have dabbled in the dark arts, do you?"
  1773. >The white mare rubs a hoof to her chin, thinking hard.
  1774. >"The only thing I can think of that makes sense is the phoenix."
  1775. >Everyone in the room just stares, not following Celly's thought process.
  1776. "You want to run that by me in layman's terms?"
  1777. >"Anon, Luna, when the two of you swapped consciousness a few years ago, Nightmare Moon when back with you, correct?"
  1778. >Luna nods silently, as you do the same.
  1779. "Unfortunately, yes."
  1780. >"With her went not only that part of Luna, but also some of her magic. I don't think it is too much of a stretch to consider with some of that magic contained within you, our gift of the phoenix, of rebirth, is with you as well."
  1781. >Holy shit.
  1782. >"So, you think he is like us now, sister?"
  1783. >Celestia nods.
  1784. >"It is the only thing that makes sense to me, though the length of time between death and resurrection is rather odd. So too, the rather..... violent nature of the flames of rebirth."
  1785. >"I don't care, I just know I have my Anon back."
  1786. "So by the sounds of it, I can't get away from you, can I?"
  1787. >Luna looks up at you, her eyes still damp from earlier.
  1788. >"Just shut up and hold me."
  1789. >You oblige Moonbutt as you pull her in tight.
  1790.  
  1791. -----
  1792.  
  1793. >"Anonymous?"
  1794. >Luna's cheerful voice echoes off the hard concrete floor of the garage.
  1795. "Under here, Lulu."
  1796. >Her hooves rapidly make their way toward you.
  1797. >As you look up, her bright eyes peek through what little space there is between the engine and radiator of the Superbird.
  1798. >"What are you doing down there?"
  1799. >You knock on the oil pan of the motor, making a hollow sound as it is nearly empty.
  1800. "Changing the oil in the old girl. General tune up stuff while I have it parked for the winter."
  1801. >Too impatient to wait, you put the drain plug back in, tightening it before you slide yourself and the nearly full drain pan out from underneath the car.
  1802. >"I still find it odd you insist on parking it until spring. Tia hates winter, Canterlot hardly even gets below freezing."
  1803. >You shrug as you pull yourself up off the hold floor, wiping your hands on an old rag.
  1804. "I didn't do much for maintenance during the summer and fall, because I'm so used to doing it in the winter. Old habits die hard."
  1805. >Luna sighs, sitting down in front of you.
  1806. >"I was hoping for some excitement this afternoon. Today has just been so.... dull."
  1807. >You look at her, frowning.
  1808. "Well, if you want excitement, you just managed to sit in a puddle of oil."
  1809. >She stands up quickly, turning to look.
  1810. >"What? I do not see anything."
  1811. "That's because it's all right here."
  1812. >You goose her on the black markings of her rear, making the mare jump and squeal.
  1813. >She turns back around and playfully tackles you back to the floor, grinning.
  1814. >"Gah! You're terrible!"
  1815. >You just laugh at her in response as she lays down on top of you.
  1816. "I can't help it you fall for that every time."
  1817. >Her smile grows mischievous at this point.
  1818. >"Well I'm not letting you back up now."
  1819. >You kiss her on the nose.
  1820. "I'm not complaining. Might look a little awkward if someone were to walk by, though."
  1821. >She mulls over the thought, before standing up and helping you to your feet.
  1822. >Ruffling her mane with your hand, you bend over and pick up your tools.
  1823. "So, what do you want to do this afternoon for 'excitement?' I got the rear end torn apart on this thing, so this is out of the question."
  1824. >She peers over to your side at the car, then back to you, completely lost.
  1825. >"It looks in one piece to me, Anon."
  1826. "No, the differential, the axle in the back. I have that tore apart, I wheel hopped it really bad earlier this year, I want to make sure I didn't hurt any of the rear gears."
  1827. >She continues to just stare.
  1828. "Long story short, we can't go flying through the countryside in this thing."
  1829. >You hear her gasp, and as you look up, her eyes are lit up.
  1830. >"That's it, Anon! We should go flying together!"
  1831. >You shake your head, playing dumb.
  1832. "I can't fly, Luna."
  1833. >She prances around you, ignoring your obvious tactics.
  1834. >"Oh come on, Anon. It will be fun!"
  1835. "Luna, I'm too big for you."
  1836. >She stops, rolling her eyes as you continue to stall.
  1837. >"Anon, I've told you many times now. You aren't too big to ride on my back. But if it will make you feel better, I can always shift myself to a larger size, like I have in the past."
  1838. >Out of options, you have no choice but to tell her the real reason you don't like the idea.
  1839. "Luna, I'm afraid of heights. I don't think it's a good idea."
  1840. >Her expression of minor frustration turns to one of sympathy.
  1841. >"You've never mentioned that before. You're serious, aren't you?"
  1842. >Nodding, her face suddenly lights up again.
  1843. >"Then we just have to help you get over your fears this afternoon."
  1844. >Dammit.
  1845. "No. I am perfectly fine with my reasonable fear of high places and flying, thank you very much."
  1846. >She sticks her lower lip out, pouting.
  1847. >"Please?"
  1848. >You cross your arms.
  1849. "No."
  1850. >[Please?]
  1851. "Why do you think asking me telepathically is going to make a difference?"
  1852. >[Pleeeaase?]
  1853. "You aren't going to stop until I say yes, are you?"
  1854. >She shakes her head.
  1855. "Luna, I love you, but you are such a brat."
  1856.  
  1857. >Between insisting on washing up and getting something to eat, you do your best to stall for time.
  1858. >Unfortunately, it only adds up to a total of an hour.
  1859. >"Are you ready, Anon?"
  1860. >Luna smiles as she heads towards the balcony of her room.
  1861. >You continue to slouch on her bed, not budging an inch.
  1862. "No."
  1863. >She turns back round, disappointed.
  1864. >"Come on, what is there to fear?"
  1865. "I dunno, maybe falling off, dropping thousands of feet to my death could be the issue."
  1866. >"Anon, we've already found out you share my gift of the phoenix. You can't die."
  1867. "Well, I might smack the ground and NOT die."
  1868. >She rolls her eyes, growing impatient with you.
  1869. >"I promise to be careful and take it slow. I want to help you overcome your fears. But to do that, you must face them head-on."
  1870. >Sighing, you pull yourself to your feet.
  1871. "Fine, fine. Let's get this over with so I have time to get through the trauma before dinner."
  1872. >Luna focuses, her body glowing as her form twists and grows larger, until reaching roughly the same size as her sister.
  1873. >"Just to make sure you are comfortable, and not worrying about me."
  1874. >She kneels, and you begrudgingly hop onto her back.
  1875. "Just take it easy, please?"
  1876. >"Of course, Anon."
  1877. >She stand and walks over to the balcony.
  1878. >You take this pause to hold on tight to her neck, as you feel her muscles tense.
  1879. >Without warning, she leaps up and over the balcony, putting both of you into a swan dive.
  1880. "Luna, I said take it easy!"
  1881. >You can't hear her with the onrush of wind past your ears, but you can feel her giggling.
  1882. >After a few moments of freefall, her massive wings open, the deceleration pressing you into her body.
  1883. >Leveling out in a glide, Luna begins to flap her majestic wings, rapidly gaining altitude.
  1884. >Tightening your stronghold on her neck, you don't dare to look down to see how high up you are, as you catch your breath.
  1885. "You call this easy?!"
  1886. >"Mmm, no. But in order for you to overcome your fears, we must face the worst case scenario of your fear, the root of it all."
  1887. "You couldn't just tell me that was your plan?!"
  1888. >She turns her head, smiling.
  1889. >"If you knew what my plan was, it wouldn't be that scary, would it?"
  1890. "Luna, when we land, I'm going to kill you."
  1891. >She erupts in laughter, abruptly pulling up and over, until you are both flying upside down.
  1892. >Instead of feeling gravity shift to pulling you away from her body, you feel no change.
  1893. >The blue alicorn seems to sense your confusion.
  1894. >"Anon, as long as I have the ability to fly and my magic, you cannot fall off."
  1895. "So basically, I'm super-glued to you?"
  1896. >"An interesting way to look at it, but yes. In a sense."
  1897. >Allowing yourself to relax a bit, you loosen up your deathgrip on Luna's neck, sitting more upright.
  1898. >The two of you roll back over, moving along at a leisurely pace at this point.
  1899. >"I take it you aren't quite as terrified as you were?"
  1900. >You reach up and scratch her behind the ear.
  1901. "No, this isn't too bad."
  1902. >As if on cue, she tucks in her wings, throwing the two of you into a deep dive.
  1903. "Well it wasn't bad!"
  1904. >"You seem comfortable in the air in a calm flight now, so I figured it's time to put the rest of your fears to bed."
  1905. >You growl.
  1906. "What happened to taking it slow, Moonbutt?"
  1907. >"I seem to recall somepony not taking it slow in my first ridealong in his vehicle."
  1908. >She turns her head again, giving you a sly wink.
  1909. "So this is about returning a favor?"
  1910. >"Not at all."
  1911. >Luna's wings stretch out again, acting as a massive airbrake to slow you to a stop.
  1912. >"I am merely showing you how much control I have, to assure you nothing will happen to you up here when you are with me."
  1913. >"I thought I heard yelling coming from up here."
  1914. >You and Luna continue to hover, turning around to the direction of the voice.
  1915. "Hi, Celly."
  1916. >"Sister? Aren't you supposed to be in the throne room?"
  1917. >Celestia's graceful wings flap slowly, as she just chuckles.
  1918. >"Well, yes. It's been a very quiet day once again, so I decided to go for a stroll. Until hearing the two of you causing a commotion, that is. What are you doing?"
  1919. >Luna speaks up, her voice filled with excitement.
  1920. >"We're working on Anon's fear of heights and flying!"
  1921. >Tia seems surprised.
  1922. >"Anon, I didn't know you had a fear of heights."
  1923. >You shrug.
  1924. "It never came up in conversation, I guess. I have to say though, I'm a little bit more comfortable with it, with Luna."
  1925. >You stop yourself.
  1926. "At least, when she's not showing off."
  1927. >Celestia's eyes dart to her sister, smirking.
  1928. >"Luna would never do that, I'm sure."
  1929. >Jutting her chest out, Luna shakes her head.
  1930. >"I would never do such a thing."
  1931. >With a giggle, Celestia turns away.
  1932. >"I thought so. Now, race you back to the castle!"
  1933. >With that, Celestia pins her wings back, diving toward Canterlot.
  1934. >You have just enough time to wrap your arms around Luna's neck before the two of you plunge into a dive after her.
  1935. >But rather than fear, your heart beats with excitement.
  1936. >You lean into Luna's body, trying to streamline yourself as much as possible.
  1937. >"Now you're getting into the spirit of it, Anon!"
  1938. "Don't let her win, Luna."
  1939. >As if fueled by your words, Luna pushes herself to go faster, her wings flapping in a fury.
  1940. >Celestia doesn't stand a chance, and as the two of you whoosh by, you take a moment to wave at her.
  1941. "See you at the castle!"
  1942.  
  1943. >"After all these years, you still don't have the speed to match me, sister."
  1944. >Celestia lands not long after you've hopped off Luna's back.
  1945. >"I thought I had a chance with you having some extra weight with you. Clearly I was mistaken."
  1946. >Luna nuzzles you as you ruffle her mane, her breathing subsiding to calmer levels.
  1947. >"I take it your fear has subsided somewhat?"
  1948. >Smiling, you nod.
  1949. "Definitely more comfortable, though I won't say I won't still be nervous for next time. But that was pretty cool."
  1950. >The three of you head for the castle, the two sisters no doubt looking for something to drink.
  1951. >As you pass by the garage, you remember something you found earlier when cleaning up the Superbird.
  1952. "Hey Luna, I was cleaning out the inside of the car earlier, and I found an old book under the seat. I don't recognize the writing at all, I assume it's yours?"
  1953. >Luna steps awkwardly, nearly falling flat on her face.
  1954. >"I... probably, yes."
  1955. >That's certainly an odd answer.
  1956. "What is it?"
  1957. >She clears her throat, as all three of you have stopped walking at this point.
  1958. >"Your loss was.... extremely difficult, as you can imagine, Anonymous. I regret to say I was willing to turn to rather.... forbidden methods to bring you back. It is likely fortunately the idea did not work."
  1959. >She looks around to avoid eye contact, clearly embarrassed.
  1960. "You mean like necromancy?"
  1961. >Celestia's eyes go wide, as Luna gasps.
  1962. >"You have heard of such a thing?"
  1963. >You shrug.
  1964. "Well, yeah. I mean, it doesn't technically exist where I'm from, but it exists in legend."
  1965. >The two exchange glances, before Celestia speaks up.
  1966. >"We definitely need to discuss more of your world at some point in time. You seem to know a fair bit about magic, despite its lack of existence."
  1967. "Sure. Trust me, this is all just as odd to me as it is to you."
  1968. >Your small group resumes your stroll back into the castle.
  1969. "Speaking of me being gone, what did I miss as far as the interrogation? Did we learn anything?"
  1970. >"You really don't remember anything from that day?"
  1971. >Luna turns her head to you with intense curiosity.
  1972. "No, I really don't. Is that bad?"
  1973. >"I do not think it is an issue, Anon. It is just different. You see, whenever Luna or I rise again, we can remember what happened. Not to mention remembering the pain of the flames of rebirth."
  1974. >Luna shudders.
  1975. >"Consider it a blessing, Anonymous. Perhaps your mind has blocked it out."
  1976. "Okay. Anyways, back to the original question?"
  1977. >"Right. It seems the prisoner we have is somewhat important. While nopony really knows the internal workings of the changeling's social structure, the one we have is among the first born to Chrysalis. Unfortunately, the only other information we got before your... incident, is something we had already heard. Chrysalis does not want you dead."
  1978. "Sooo, what does she want?"
  1979. >"Your power. Or perhaps more specific, Nightmare Moon's power contained in you. She doesn't know what it is as far as we can tell, but you certainly made an impression on her when the two of you met."
  1980. "That sounds just as bad as wanting me dead. Of course, the death scenario would be a lot better now with what we know."
  1981. >Luna playfully bops you with a wing.
  1982. "Just saying. "
  1983.  
  1984. -----
  1985.  
  1986. "Hi Moonbutt."
  1987. >Luna looks up from her bowl of oatmeal, surprised to see you.
  1988. >"Wow, I didn't have to pull you out of bed today."
  1989. "Yeah, hell must have froze over."
  1990. >You look over at where Celestia normally sits.
  1991. "Speaking of which, where is she at? Celestia is always the first one here in the morning."
  1992. >Luna rolls her eyes.
  1993. >"Trying to convince me she's too sick to preside over the castle today."
  1994. "I'm not saying you're lying or she is, but did you actually check on her? I mean, usually when she's faking, she at least shows up with an act."
  1995. >Luna rises from the table, having finished breakfast.
  1996. "I suppose, let's go see what kind of dramatics she has in store today."
  1997. >You follow her up to Celestia's room, still trying to rub the sleep from your eyes.
  1998. "So, what are we doing today, Lulu? Anything special?"
  1999. >The blue mare smiles at your question.
  2000. >"I don't know, did you have anything in mind? Maybe we ought to visit Ponyville today, we haven't been there in a while."
  2001. "Sounds like a plan to me."
  2002. >Finally reaching her sister's door, Luna pushes it open.
  2003. >A form which you can only assume to be Celestia lies on the bed, covered with a blanket.
  2004. >"Now sister, show me how you are so sick that you cannot preside today."
  2005. >With a groan, the covers roll off from the top of the bed.
  2006. "Whoa."
  2007. >It's Celestia, all right.
  2008. >But rather than her normal, light mane of pastels, her mane glows with a sea of red, orange and yellow, swirling about like a storm of fire.
  2009. >"Do you believe me now, Luna?"
  2010. >Celestia's voice comes out rather raspy, as it devolves into a coughing fit.
  2011. >With every cough and hack, her mane pulses, looking like bursts of flame.
  2012. "Uh, what's... what's with the-"
  2013. >"Solar flares."
  2014. "That's an illness here?"
  2015. >Luna's face shows her empathy for Tia as she turns to you.
  2016. >"It is for my sister. You see, we are tied so close to the heavenly bodies we control, their afflictions tend to transfer to us."
  2017. >Celestia lays her head back down on the bed, her coughing subsided for now.
  2018. >"I'm sorry, Luna. I wish I was faking."
  2019. >"You have no need to be sorry, sister. I will sit on the throne today. Just try to get some rest."
  2020. >Well, Ponyville will have to wait for another day.
  2021. >"I suppose I should get ready. Anonymous, I'm sorry we cannot visit with our friends today."
  2022. "It's fine. I can stay with Celestia today and help her get anything she needs, if she wants. Keep her company."
  2023. >You turn to the white alicorn, flashing her a smile.
  2024. >Her tired expression lights up at the idea, as she returns the smile.
  2025. >"I would like that very much, Anon. Thank you."
  2026. >As you turn around, Luna's lips greet yours.
  2027. >"You are too kind, Anonymous. I'll check up on the both of you from time to time."
  2028. "Have fun at work, Lulu."
  2029. >Her smile turns into a sly grin.
  2030. >"Well, you *were* too kind."
  2031.  
  2032. >Celestia falls asleep not long after you return from fetching a few books.
  2033. >You look up every time you turn the page, just keeping an eye on her.
  2034. >Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like she can get into a sound sleep, as the alicorn tosses and turns in bed.
  2035. >It's miserable being sick.
  2036. >While her mane looks like a massive fireball, it is not any hotter than normal.
  2037. >It took some convincing from Celestia for you to check her temperature.
  2038. >She doesn't have a high fever, but it's a fever nonetheless.
  2039. >As far as you can tell, aside from her change of appearance, this sickness is about the same as the normal flu.
  2040. >Her restless sleep continues, as you hear her mumbling something.
  2041. >You feel torn, wanting to help her in the apparent dream she's having, but also wishing to respect her privacy.
  2042. >Before you can mull it over, Tia snaps awake, jolting upward and panting.
  2043. >You toss your book down and hurry over to her bed.
  2044. "Whoa, relax. You're fine, it was a dream."
  2045. >Still somewhat recovering from the haze of sleep, it takes Celestia a moment before she recognizes where she is, her breathing slowly returning to normal.
  2046. >While she regains her senses, you head to her private bathroom, grabbing a small towel and soaking it in cool water.
  2047. >As you head back into her bedroom, Celestia has finally calmed herself, resting her head back down on the pillow.
  2048. >You can practically feel the heat radiating from her as you place the towel upon her forehead.
  2049. >"Thank you, Anon."
  2050. "Don't mention it. You were starting to worry the hell out of me."
  2051. >"It was not exactly an enjoyable experience for me, either. I suppose the fever may have something to do with that convoluted dream."
  2052. "You... want to talk about it?"
  2053. >A short coughing fit from Celestia is your immediate response, her mane lighting up the room with each pulse.
  2054. >"Sorry. But I'm fine, Anon, it's not a big deal."
  2055. "Alright. I don't suppose you feel any better at all after some rest?"
  2056. >She gives you a tired laugh.
  2057. >"Now that's just wishful thinking."
  2058. "Just trying to stay positive."
  2059. >"Speaking of staying positive, I wanted to ask you about how you've handled the last few weeks."
  2060. "I'm assuming you're talking about my miraculous return."
  2061. >"Not just that, I'm also referring to the fact it's quite clear you share the same gift of immortality my sister and I possess. That's a lot for somepony to digest, I would imagine."
  2062. "It's not something I have really considered, to be honest with you."
  2063. >"You haven't thought about it at all?"
  2064. "No, what I mean is, I understand it is a big deal, but I've always tried to live my life one day at a time. Forever is a long time, so why worry about the future? I don't intend on changing that way of thinking."
  2065. >She smiles.
  2066. >"Nor should you. It is a good way to think about it."
  2067. "It also means I have to deal with the two of you forever."
  2068. >Tia reaches up with a hoof and pokes you in the ribs.
  2069. "Sorry, merely thinking out loud."
  2070. >"Why do you do that?"
  2071. "What, think out loud?"
  2072. >She shakes her head.
  2073. >"No. I mean, why do you seem to always avoid compliments?"
  2074. >Her question catches you off-guard.
  2075. "I don't.... do I?"
  2076. >"How is it going in here?"
  2077. >Luna waltzes into the room.
  2078. >"Sister, good! Luna, doesn't Anonymous try to avoid compliments, or have some sort of smart reply to them?"
  2079. "Hey, wait a minute here. I'm supposed to be taking care of you, not listening to you point out my flaws."
  2080. >"She is right, Anon. Why is that?"
  2081. >You can feel the both of them staring you down as you try to come up with an answer.
  2082. "I don't know. I've just always done that."
  2083. >Celestia speaks up.
  2084. >"Do you not believe ponies are serious when they compliment you?"
  2085. "What? No!"
  2086. >"Are you afraid of being considered a good pony... er, person?"
  2087. "NO! And aren't you supposed to be sitting your rear on the throne?"
  2088. >"I am on lunch break."
  2089. "Luna, it's 10 am."
  2090. >"Brunch break, then."
  2091. "Now you're just making up your own rules."
  2092. >Luna bats her eyelashes.
  2093. >"Have you forgotten I am one of the princesses of Equestria? It's my duty to make rules."
  2094. "I haven't forgotten. It's probably why you're such a brat."
  2095. >Luna tackles you to your back on Celestia's bed, laying on top of you.
  2096. >"I'm not getting off you until you tell us why you don't like compliments."
  2097. >You struggle in vain as the two sisters giggle.
  2098. "Look, I really don't know. It's not something I'm used to hearing, I guess."
  2099. >Both of them suddenly quiet down, exchanging confused glances.
  2100. >"Not used to it? Did poni- er, people, not compliment each other in your world?"
  2101. >You shrug your shoulders as best you can.
  2102. "I mean, from time to time, I suppose. Most people just go about their day as quick as possible, not really paying attention."
  2103. >The sisters seem a bit troubled by your response.
  2104. "Is it really a big deal?"
  2105. >Luna rubs her chin.
  2106. >"No, I suppose it isn't. It is something we can work on in the future."
  2107. "Ugh, wonderful."
  2108. >She smooches your forehead, before crawling off you and the bed.
  2109. >"I'm afraid I've been up here longer than I anticipated. Just wanted to check how the two of you were doing."
  2110. "We're still here. She's still sick as a dog."
  2111. >As if on cue, Celestia goes through another coughing fit, as Luna cringes.
  2112. >"So it would seem. I will check back on you two later."
  2113. "Bye, Moonbutt."
  2114. >Luna teases you by sashaying out of the room.
  2115. >"My, do you two need a moment?"
  2116. >You turn to Celestia, her face twisted into a mischievous grin.
  2117. "You. Less talk, more sleep."
  2118. >"Alright, doctor."
  2119.  
  2120. >"What are you reading, by the way?"
  2121. >As the clock hits three, you and Celestia hunker over bowls of tomato soup in her room.
  2122. >She seems to be a bit better, as not only has her fever dropped, but the fire in her mane has simmered down somewhat.
  2123. "Not much. Just some stuff on your history."
  2124. >She sets her empty bowl down on her nightstand, focusing all her attention on you.
  2125. >"Do you enjoy history?"
  2126. >You nod.
  2127. "Yeah, I've always had an interest in events of the past. I felt the need to explore Equestria's history, so I have at least some idea of the past here."
  2128. >"Don't be afraid to ask me any questions you may have. I have seen it all."
  2129. "I guess I never thought of asking you because I don't want to make you feel... old."
  2130. >The calm quiet is instantly interrupted by a hearty chuckle from the solar princess.
  2131. >"Anonymous, if I haven't gotten over how old I am, I never will. I'm only as old as I let myself feel."
  2132. >You finish up your own soup, setting the bowl on the desk.
  2133. "Okay, point taken. I'm just trying to be mindful."
  2134. >Celestia quiets down, her benevolent smile lighting up the room.
  2135. >"I must ask, why are you spending the day up here with me? It is a beautiful day out, and I have servants that can attend to me."
  2136. >You shrug your shoulders in response.
  2137. "I guess I feel like I should do something to repay you."
  2138. >Tia tilts her head, sitting up in bed.
  2139. >"Repay me? For what, exactly?"
  2140. "Keeping me here in the castle, feeding me, making sure I'm not changeling food, all that for free. I really haven't done much to help out, so I figured keeping you company on a day you aren't up to par is at least something."
  2141. >"Oh, Anonymous. Do you really think we would have you here if we didn't want you? Obviously Luna is ecstatic you're living with us, but this has been a wonderful experience for me as well."
  2142. >Curiosity gets the best of you.
  2143. "How so?"
  2144. >"I think you underestimate how much of an effect you have on others. I know Luna has mentioned it before, but you make us feel... like everypony else. You don't let our royalty blind you, you see past it. And it gives us a chance to just be who we are around somepony else, without worrying about keeping up a regal visage."
  2145. >If it was even possible, her smile grows even wider.
  2146. >"No, Anon, you don't owe us anything. If there is one silver lining in this whole mess with the changelings, it's that I've gotten to know you like my sister has."
  2147. >She mulls over her words, before smirking.
  2148. >"Well, maybe not knowing you as 'intimately' as my sister."
  2149. "Way to make this heartfelt conversation awkward."
  2150. >"Yes, she has a gift for that."
  2151. >You jump a bit as Luna steps through the doorway.
  2152. "Could you at least knock? Or wear a bell?"
  2153. >"But it's fun startling you."
  2154. >The night princess walks up and nuzzles you, before turning to Celestia, who is still sitting upright.
  2155. >"You are looking better, sis."
  2156. >"Yes, I'm getting there, thanks to the doctor."
  2157. >She winks at you.
  2158. "Speaking of feeling better, you said what the moon is doing can affect you just like Celestia and solar flares. What can it do to you?"
  2159. >Celestia seems eager to speak up.
  2160. >"During a harvest moon, Luna's ass gets really big. And during a blood moon, she thirsts for the blood of ponies."
  2161. >Luna picks up a pillow and flings it at her sister, who manages to dodge it.
  2162. >"Don't listen to her. But a blood moon tend to leave me feeling rather ill, yes."
  2163. "So I don't have a vampiric Luna to look forward to the next blood moon? How disappointing."
  2164. >"During a blue moon she turns blue."
  2165. >Before either of you say anything, Celestia catches herself.
  2166. >"Cut me some slack, I'm ill."
  2167. "Whatever. And Luna, you're playing hooky again?"
  2168. >She snorts.
  2169. >From underneath her wing, Luna pulls out a piece of parchment, levitating it over to her sister.
  2170. >"I did not just come to see how you were doing. This was requested to be signed by you and ONLY you."
  2171. >Tia peruses the paper, rolling her eyes.
  2172. >"Fleur-De-Lis, of course. Luna, when are you going to make good with her?"
  2173. >Luna stomps a hoof down, making you jump a bit.
  2174. >"Me?! Pardon me sister, but from what I remember, it is SHE who holds a grudge against ME!"
  2175. >The solar princess leans back, as if Luna's voice is on the verge of carrying her away.
  2176. >"Take it easy sister, I was only joking."
  2177. >Luna takes a deep breath and sits on her haunches, as Celestia quickly signs the paper and hands it back over to her.
  2178. >Taking a quick look at it, she tucks it back under her wing.
  2179. >"I should have just told her to come back tomorrow when you would be present."
  2180. >"That's if I'm feeling well enough, Luna."
  2181. >The night princess shakes her head fervently in defiance.
  2182. >"Oh no, there is no 'if.' I am not going to preside over the kingdom five days in a row."
  2183. >Celestia starts to answer, before being interrupted by a coughing fit.
  2184. >After a moment, she regains her composure.
  2185. >"Lulu, what is the difference? Before we went to this schedule, you were presiding every night."
  2186. >Sitting upright, the blue mare crosses her forelegs.
  2187. >"And since that time, you've been taking a lot of vacations."
  2188. >"Well, you got a thousand year vacation, so I don't want to hear it."
  2189. >Wow.
  2190. >Taken aback, Luna slowly rises to her hooves.
  2191. >"Anonymous?"
  2192. "Luna?"
  2193. >"Leave the room. I don't want any witnesses while I kill my sister."
  2194. >Before you respond, Luna leaps onto her sister, batting at her with her outstretched wings.
  2195. >Celestia's laughter fills the room, before being interrupted by another hacking fit.
  2196. >Her ears drooped and face lined with concern, Luna stops her rough-housing, climbing off the bed.
  2197. >"Are you alright, Tia? I'm sorry."
  2198. >"It's... it's fine Luna. I guess laughter isn't always the best medicine."
  2199. >"Your Highness?"
  2200. >You turn your head to see one of the guards at the doorway, attention focused on Luna.
  2201. >"Yes, I will be right there."
  2202. >The guard nods, disappearing into the hallway.
  2203. >"I suppose I've been up here too long. Anon, look after her."
  2204. >She leans in, giving you a quick smooch before trotting out of the room at a hurried pace.
  2205. >Your attention focuses on the solar princess, who lets out a drawn out yawn as she lays back down.
  2206. "I never thought I'd hear either of you make a joke about... that."
  2207. >"Well, I suppose it shows we've finally moved on."
  2208. "Just like that?"
  2209. >You snap your fingers, to emphasize your point.
  2210. >Celestia tilts her head, seeming to put her answer together carefully before responding.
  2211. >"No, what happened between me and my sister will never just go away, Anon. But, we've acknowledged that, we're willing to accept it happened. We both made mistakes. Luna and I sat down and had a long discussion after we all met and had words with Nightmare Moon in the dreamscape meeting a few months ago. And it just..... I don't think either of us had really been willing to actually look back and truly understand what we did, to each other."
  2212. >Sitting down on the side of her bed, you can't help but find her answer odd.
  2213. "I don't mean to be obtuse here, but she tried to kill you, and you did what you had to do to save yourself and Equestria. Where exactly did you go wrong?"
  2214. >A chuckle erupts from the mare.
  2215. >"Well, using the Elements of Harmony without instructions or a clue of what I was doing, for starters. It was never my intention to imprison her for anywhere near as long as I did. But I never realized, how I wasn't ever looking at what Luna wanted, before any of that."
  2216. >She stares off into space.
  2217. >"Luna never wanted to rule Equestria. I was so busy trying to keep this land from destroying itself back then, I never saw that. I never even asked her. But she being the younger one, she just followed her older sibling, waiting for things to settle down to speak up."
  2218. "And they never did?"
  2219. >She flashes a weary smile.
  2220. >"Has it been quiet while you've been here?"
  2221. "Good point."
  2222. >"So yes, Anonymous, what she did was wrong. But I was wrong, as well. It's just taken a long time to see that."
  2223. >Celly's eyes drift close.
  2224. "Get some sleep, sicky. We can talk more later."
  2225. >"I'm not going to argue."
  2226.  
  2227. >You hear Luna humming down the hallway, giving you a good indication of how her sister is doing.
  2228. >Her bright eyes and big grin greet you as you look up at the doorway.
  2229. "I'm guessing Tia's well enough for us to visit Ponyville tomorrow."
  2230. >"Your guess would be correct. As long as she doesn't relapse during the night, of course."
  2231. "Sounds like I did a good job playing doctor today."
  2232. >Luna flops down of the bed as you toss away the book your were reading, scratching her ears.
  2233. >"Well, a good foalsitter, anyways. Did you just lounge around in her room all day?"
  2234. "Yeah. I mean, I accomplished a lot of reading, and we talked a bit too. When she wasn't sleeping, of course."
  2235. >The mare shakes her head as she takes off her slippers.
  2236. >"I swear Anonymous, with the amount of reading the two of you do, I'd be willing to believe you and Twilight Sparkle are related."
  2237. "I'm not that much of a nerd."
  2238. >"You don't think you are."
  2239. >Raising a finger, you boop her on the nose.
  2240. "Sorry, I just like being informed on the past and present of this place."
  2241. >"Then why not ask me?"
  2242. >You can't help but smile.
  2243. "Funny, your sis said the same thing. I guess the two of you can tutor me."
  2244. >Her face gets mischievous.
  2245. >"Only I am allowed to give you 'private' tutoring sessions."
  2246. "Such a dirty mind for a princess."
  2247. >She giggles as you cuddle with her.
  2248.  
  2249. -----
  2250.  
  2251. >As darkness settles over Equestria, so too does a hushed quiet, as the many ponies of the kingdom retire to bed.
  2252. >Canterlot's castle is no different, as both Anon and Luna fall asleep within each other's embrace.
  2253. >It is but another twist that fate has bestow upon you, as you lay upon the balcony overlooking the courtyard.
  2254. >You fought so hard to bring attention and glory to the night sky, overshadowed by Celestia's daylight.
  2255. >Your sister's pride.
  2256. >And yet, centuries later, Luna herself spends most of her waking hours in the light of the sun, rather than her own namesake.
  2257. >Turning your head away from the light of the brilliant full moon, your slitted eyes rapidly adjust to the darkness of the room, settling upon the bed.
  2258. >You will admit, you find some solace in the true happiness your other half has sought for eons, and finally found.
  2259. >Past wrongs have been righted, the sorrows of the past have been laid to rest for all those involved.
  2260. >Except for you, forever damned to be but a spectator on the sidelines.
  2261. >To only be able to watch as time passes without end, unable to take part.
  2262. >If this is not what Tartarus is like, it must be close.
  2263. >[Haven't I told you before not to do that?]
  2264. >You snap from your thoughts to find Anon's form propped up in bed, staring back at you.
  2265. >While he is forced to speak to you through his thought, you are under no such restrictions.
  2266. >At least there's one positive to being invisible to almost everypony.
  2267. "What?"
  2268. >[Staring at me? When I'm sleeping, no less?]
  2269. "If you can see me staring at you when you are sleeping, you aren't exactly sleeping, are you?"
  2270. >[You know what I mean. I can feel it.]
  2271. >Rising you your hooves, you leap down off the railing, onto the smooth polished marble of the bedroom's floor.
  2272. "I'm sorry. It's not like I have anything else to do."
  2273. >You sense his anger diminish somewhat through the link the two of you share.
  2274. >[I know. Just don't take it out on me.]
  2275. >And with that, he settles back into bed with Luna, leaving you once again alone with your thoughts.
  2276. >You still can't believe you agreed to be what amounts to his guardian angel.
  2277. >Though, to be fair, keeping him safe keeps you safe, too.
  2278. >Letting yourself ease away from reality back into the realm of dreams, Luna's bedroom melts into the familiar starry backdrop of the dream realm.
  2279. >Nothing left to do now but wait until the dawn of a new day.
  2280.  
  2281. >"Come on Anon, you got to sleep in an extra hour."
  2282. >"No."
  2283. >I swear, you act like such a child sometimes."
  2284. >"Compared to your age, I am a child!"
  2285. >You come to amidst the sounds of a typical morning in Luna's room.
  2286. >Playful bickering with Anonymous.
  2287. >As you watch from the corner, Luna yanks the sheets out from Anon's tight grasp, nearly tossing him onto the floor.
  2288. >Though you've seen this routine plenty of times before, you can't help but smirk.
  2289. >"One of these times, you're going to knock me off the bed, and you're going to feel bad."
  2290. >A giggle fit erupts from Luna as Anon slowly makes his way to his feet, stretching.
  2291. >"Until then, I will never get tired of doing that to you."
  2292. >They exchange a quick peck on each other's lips, before Anon gets some clothes out from one of Luna's dresser drawers.
  2293. >Luna, long since readied herself for the day ahead, struts out the door, stopping halfway into the hall foyer outside before turning back around.
  2294. >"Try not to fall back in bed, Anon. Tia and I will be in the dining room awaiting your company."
  2295. >He glances up as he threads his belt through the loops of his jeans.
  2296. >"I know better than to make that promise."
  2297. >"One of these day, we're going to turn you into a morning pony."
  2298. >With that, Luna disappears beyond the frame of the door, wisps of her ethereal tail momentarily lagging behind.
  2299. "I think she has a better chance of turning you into a pony than a morning person."
  2300. >Anon jump a bit, visibly startled by your sudden announced presence.
  2301. >"Seriously, I don't know how we're going to do it, but we need to put a fucking bell on you. What do you want?"
  2302. >His blunt reply causes you to frown.
  2303. "Well screw you too. I try to actually be somewhat light-hearted for once and I get my head bitten off, I won't do that again."
  2304. >He sighs, putting a shirt on before looking over to you.
  2305. >"I'm sorry, I do appreciate the fact you are trying to actually be somewhat pleasant for once. But you've been popping in a lot lately, I'm not keen on looking like a crazy talking to myself and seeing things that aren't there."
  2306. "Oh, I see you've forgotten I made a promise to watch over you, to be your guardian angel."
  2307. >You puff your chest out to exaggerate your sarcastic tone.
  2308. >He raises an eyebrow.
  2309. >"Right. Because you did a really good job keeping me from getting killed a few weeks ago."
  2310. >You can't help but bristle with anger a bit, gritting your teeth.
  2311. "I can't save your from your own stupidity."
  2312. >His expression softens up a bit.
  2313. >"You didn't know that I- er we, I guess.... anyway, you didn't know about the whole immortality thing, did you?"
  2314. >You shake your head.
  2315. "No, that was a surprise for me, as well. Not that I was exactly aware of the fact we were dead."
  2316. >That was a lie.
  2317. >True, you didn't know for sure whether you were going to come back, but you had an inkling of it after the first meetup with Chrysalis.
  2318. >It took a long time for you to remember that searing, burning pain from the multiple times that you - Luna, managed to get herself into deep trouble.
  2319. >This fool is just as danger-prone as your other half, if not moreso.
  2320. >Sensing something, you turn your gaze to the doorway, Anon's attention following yours.
  2321. >One of the Canterlot guards stands out in the hall, scanning the room with his eyes, before focusing wide-eyed at Anon.
  2322. >Embarrassed, Anon speaks up before the guard can say anything.
  2323. >"Uh, I just like to talk out loud. It... it helps me think better."
  2324. >Slowly, the unicorn nods, before hastily trotting away.
  2325. >Anon puts a palm to his face in exasperation.
  2326. >"Great, he thinks I'm crazy."
  2327. "Sorry."
  2328. >Instantly, he looks at you.
  2329. >"Did you just apologize?"
  2330. "What?"
  2331. >"Holy shit, you did! You might actually have a little bit of compassion in you!"
  2332. >You growl at his jab.
  2333. "Just go downstairs and have breakfast already!"
  2334. >With that, you relax your form, leaving his sight.
  2335. >It is still a strange feeling, being able to make yourself both visible and invisible to him with just a bit of concentration.
  2336. >You've definitely gotten a lot better at it, and it is nowhere near as exhausting as it used to be.
  2337. >Shaking his head and chuckling, Anonymous leaves the room without another word, as you trail behind.
  2338.  
  2339. >After a quiet breakfast, you head out to the garage to fiddle with your car, while Luna and Celestia deal with some royal matters.
  2340. >"I do not understand why you and Luna are so enamored by this thing."
  2341. >You look up from your work on the rear carburetor, to find Nightmare Moon on the other side of the engine bay.
  2342. "What do you mean?"
  2343. >She paces around the front of the Superbird, fidgeting with her wings.
  2344. >"I mean, you seem to constantly be working on this thing. How can you enjoy something so unreliable?"
  2345. >Looking down, you run a hand down the fender.
  2346. "It doesn't necessarily need work, I just enjoy tweaking on it. Besides, the work I do keeps me involved, it makes it more than just a mode of transportation."
  2347. >Rolling her eyes, she pace back to the other side of the car.
  2348. >"I guess I'm just not going to ever understand the things you do. But why, of all colors, did you paint it.... this?"
  2349. "What's wrong with In-Violet Metallic?"
  2350. >She cringes at the name.
  2351. >"Purple."
  2352. "Yes, a shade of purple for the simple-minded. What's wrong with it?"
  2353. >Your pointed comment doesn't seem to get under her skin at all.
  2354. >"Why not black?"
  2355. >You just stare at her.
  2356. >Is this a jealousy thing, or is she serious?
  2357. "Why black?"
  2358. >She remains silent for a moment, seemingly oblivious to your question.
  2359. "It looks better."
  2360. >Rather than continue to argue, you lean over the driver's side fender and finish adjusting the throttle linkage.
  2361. "You call me strange, and you're getting pissy about a color that isn't you. Go back to being nice like earlier."
  2362. >Her hoof stomps down in irritation.
  2363. >"I wasn't apologizing to you, I was showing sympathy for your stupidity."
  2364. >"Anonymous?"
  2365. >A voice rings out, startling you.
  2366. >As you stand up, you smack your head on the low hanging hood of the Superbird.
  2367. "Every damn time. Ow."
  2368. >You hear a hearty chuckle from Nightmare as you rub your head, turning to see who is here.
  2369. >One of Canterlot's guards stands at the open garage door, a pegasus with a white coat and a navy blue mane.
  2370. >"Sorry to bother you, but Princess Luna has requested to see you in the castle."
  2371. >Even as he speaks, you feel uneasy about this visitor.
  2372. "Uh, alright, I'll be up in a second. I'm surprised she didn't come get me like usual."
  2373. >"She is tending to some matters presently, she requested I escort you to the castle."
  2374. >Nightmare circles around the visitor, as if looking for something hidden on him.
  2375. >You aren't taking any chances, even if it turns out to be paranoia on your part.
  2376. "Yeah, I'm in the middle of something complex right now, I should finish it before heading up there."
  2377. >The guard nods his head, standing firm.
  2378. >"Certainly. I will wait here until you are ready."
  2379. >As you circle around back of the Superbird, you focus your mind on Luna.
  2380. [Luna, you got a minute? I need you down here in the garage.]
  2381. >[Of course, I'll be right there.]
  2382. >Looks like your hunch was right.
  2383. >Nightmare quickly joins you as you prop open the trunk.
  2384. >"There is no way Luna sent this guy to get you."
  2385. >You lean forward, using the trunklid as a sort of cover while rummaging through random parts and tools to seem busy.
  2386. [No shit, Sherlock. I can't sense the kind of stuff you can, but this guy goes way past suspicious. I've already asked Luna to come out here, thank god for telepathy.]
  2387. >As if on cue, a flash of light appears next to the two of you, Luna standing stoically beside you.
  2388. >"You rang?"
  2389. >You turn to her, thumbing towards the front of the car.
  2390. "Yeah, I'm guessing you didn't send that guy out to get me because you were too busy, seeing as you're here now?"
  2391. >Luna leans her head past the edge of the trunk, before turning back to you.
  2392. >"Who?"
  2393. >Confused, you stand up.
  2394. >There is no one in sight.
  2395. "What the hell? There was a guard just standing there a moment ago."
  2396. >Abruptly, you feel something yank on you from behind, causing you to fall to the floor.
  2397. >Before you can stand up, something wraps itself around your neck, as you feel in lean on your shoulder.
  2398. >"The queen wants a word with you."
  2399. >You can see him, but you can tell by the voice where the guard went.
  2400. >"Let him go!"
  2401. >Luna lowers herself as if preparing to pounce, her horn glowing with a charged spell.
  2402. >"This doesn't involve you princess. I don't know how you got here, but don't make any moves unless you want your boytoy to be a snack."
  2403. >The thing holding you suddenly lets out a hiss right by your ear, its hot breath drifting past your head and into your nostrils.
  2404. "Holy shit, brush and floss sometime."
  2405. >The creature behind says nothing in response.
  2406. >Nightmare Moon, still present, just shake her head silently, before disappearing.
  2407. >So much for a guardian angel.
  2408. >You keep very still, assuming Luna will attack at any time.
  2409. >Her eyes dart between you and the changeling.
  2410. [What are you waiting for? If you fuck up, I'll come right back.]
  2411. >[We cannot just assume you are immortal, Anon. It is too much of a risk. My sister will be here any moment.]
  2412. >Fuck waiting.
  2413. >You put your arms behind you, grabbing onto the changeling and pulling upwards.
  2414. "Get off me!"
  2415. >The thing hisses angrily, as you feel its teeth trying to chomp at your neck.
  2416. >Mustering up all the strength and adrenaline you have, you clench the beast's body and try to heave it over your head.
  2417. >"Anonymous!"
  2418. >As if weightless, not only do you pull your captor off, but you chuck him past Luna, into the wall several feet behind her.
  2419. >The guard, now a jet black changeling, falls to the floor, limp.
  2420. >You take a deep breath, looking at Luna.
  2421. "That was an adrenaline rush, huh?"
  2422. >Luna rushes to you, helping you up off the floor.
  2423. >Once on your feet, she shoves you, causing you to take a step backwards to retain your balance.
  2424. "Alright, you trying to help me up, or put me back on the floor? Make up your mind."
  2425. >"When I tell you to wait, I want you to wait!"
  2426. "I don't like waiting, especially when I have an oversized cockroach trying to eat me."
  2427. >Luna turns, glancing back at the imposter.
  2428. >"But how did you throw him like that?"
  2429. >"If I had to guess, I would say Anonymous managed to unleash a bit of magic in the heat of the moment, dear sister."
  2430. >Celestia strides up from behind you.
  2431. >"And where were you, Tia? You sure took your sweet time getting here."
  2432. >"I was here, in case I was needed. But I had a feeling he could solve the problem without my help."
  2433. >Luna snorts, clearly frustrated with her sister, who just smiles.
  2434. >"Why do you insist on doing this?"
  2435. >You wave your arms out, interrupting their conversation.
  2436. "Back up, you were just watching us?"
  2437. >Luna glares up at her older sibling.
  2438. >"Tia likes to sit back and watch things unfold rather than lend a helping hoof."
  2439. >"Now Luna, that's not true."
  2440. >Celestia unfurls a wing, wrapping it around you.
  2441. >"I am more than eager to help when I am needed. But, I also like to let ponies prove themselves in such difficult situations. I have done it numerous times with my students over the year, most notably Twilight of course."
  2442. >"Yes, let us not go over the near disasters of Discord's return or the multiple incidents regarding the Crystal Empire."
  2443. >Her other wing unfurled, Celestia drags over her sister.
  2444. >"Those situations were well within hoof. You know I always have a plan. I came as soon as you called me, but I decided I should wait to intervene. And it looks like I was correct in thinking he could solve the problem."
  2445. >You look down at your arms and hands.
  2446. >They aren't glowing or anything, how the hell did she know you could unleash a grapple like that?
  2447. >Celestia is already answering your question before you ask.
  2448. >"A stressful situation can bring out the strongest magic in a pony. While I would never plan nor intend to put you in harm's way, I would say what happened proves you can wield the magic that is inside you, at least if needed."
  2449. >Luna pulls away from her sister's wing, her cross expression from a moment ago replaced with one of sheer joy.
  2450. >Pulling you away from Celestia, Luna embraces you with hooves and wings.
  2451. >"This is so amazing! My Anon can use magic!"
  2452. >You kiss her on the forehead as she spins you around.
  2453. >Meanwhile, a few guards kick at the limp body of the changeling, before hauling it away towards the castle.
  2454. "Well, if I didn't kill it, I guess we have someone else to interrogate, huh?"
  2455. >The mood of the royal sister suddenly turns from excitement to serious.
  2456. >Celestia pipes up.
  2457. >"Of course. The changeling is probably fine, they are very hardy creatures."
  2458. "Have you gotten anything useful out of the other one?"
  2459. >Luna quickly speaks up.
  2460. >"No, nothing useful."
  2461. >Her short answer throws you off-guard, as she turns to her sister.
  2462. >"I suppose we should be getting back to the paperwork, sister?"
  2463. >"Yes, I still have a busy day ahead. We'll talk more later, but I'm proud of you, Anonymous."
  2464. "Thanks. Have fun, you two."
  2465. >Luna give you a smooch, before taking flight, her sister quickly behind her.
  2466. >"Well that conversation didn't end awkwardly or anything."
  2467. >You turn to face Nightmare Moon, whose sarcastic tone interrupts the silent garage.
  2468. >She looks on at the shrinking figures of the royal sisters heading back to the castle.
  2469. "Eh, snap back to reality, I guess. I'm still a wanted man."
  2470. >Nightmare chuckles.
  2471. >"Oh you are so naive. They are hiding something. Again. You would think everypony would learn their lessons about keeping secrets from each other."
  2472. >She turns to you, her face serious.
  2473. >"You didn't do a half bad job dealing with that situation. Consider me impressed."
  2474. "Right, because you sound enthused."
  2475. >"What else do you expect from me? I am not going to cuddle and kiss you all over."
  2476. >You walk to the open trunk of your car, closing it before head back to the engine bay.
  2477. "Yeah, no shit."
  2478.  
  2479. >The rest of the day passes rather uneventfully.
  2480. >Well, aside from the daily flight with Luna, that's always an event.
  2481. >Now, as you lie in bed With her watching TV, your mind drifts back to the events of this morning.
  2482. >Mainly because of Nightmare Moon, who lies on the balcony, as usual.
  2483. >"What are you looking at?"
  2484. >You turn away from Nightmare to Luna, who is trying to look over at the balcony.
  2485. "Nothing, just thinking about everything that happened this morning."
  2486. >You put your arm around her, as she snuggles in closer.
  2487. >"I'm sorry my sister can be a pain in the ass. She prefers to take a hooves-off approach to things when she can."
  2488. "Well, everything worked out fine, didn't it?"
  2489. >"Yes, and she always has had a backup plan. And I suppose her methods have always been successful in the past, from what I've seen. But I still don't like the risks."
  2490. "I understand. But I'm curious, you seemed eager to get back to the castle right away, is everything all right?"
  2491. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see Nightmare Moon suddenly take close interest, turning her head.
  2492. >Beside you, Luna looks up, her bright turquoise eyes studying you, before she offers a slight smile.
  2493. >"I guess I can't hide much from you anymore, can I?"
  2494. >reaching over for the remote, you flip off the TV.
  2495. "You shouldn't need to hide anything from me. I trust you, don't you trust me?"
  2496. >"It's not a trust issue, I'm just ashamed of myself."
  2497. >You pull her in closer for comfort.
  2498. "Just tell me what's eating at you, Lulu."
  2499. >"When you, er after you... died, I couldn't stand being without you. I tried everything."
  2500. >You nod.
  2501. "Right, you said you resorted to trying dark magic, which didn't work."
  2502. >"After that, I just... lost control."
  2503. >Her voice falters a bit as she finishes her sentence, but leaving you still in the dark.
  2504. "What do you mean by 'lost control?' I don't follow."
  2505. >She closes her eyes, before opening them to reveal a pair of feral slitted eyes.
  2506. >Your stomach drops at the sight.
  2507. >Nightmare Moon nearly falls off the balcony she is laying on in surprise.
  2508. "I was not expecting... that. But you're here now fine, so obviously you didn't completely lose it."
  2509. >"I almost strangled the changeling to death, before my sister found me."
  2510. "And she stopped you?"
  2511. >Luna shakes her head.
  2512. >"No. I remembered the night I got all my memories back, all that pain, that guilt flooding back. I remember you assuring me I wasn't a monster."
  2513. >A wave of emotions washes over you.
  2514. >Even when you weren't there, you kept her together.
  2515. >You hug her tighter.
  2516. "Luna, why didn't you tell me this before? You shouldn't be ashamed, you should be proud."
  2517. >"Wha?"
  2518. >She looks up at you as if you have completely lost your mind.
  2519. "The way I see it, you conquered what you had allowed to consume yourself in the past. I would expect anyone going through grief from an event like that to be angry. Hell, I can't say I would not have killed the damn thing if I were you. But you didn't let it take over. Even if it was because of something I had said in the past, you're stronger than you think you are."
  2520. >The room is silent for what seems like minutes before Luna speaks up.
  2521. >"I guess you're right."
  2522. "I know I'm right, Moonbutt."
  2523. >She giggles a bit, her mood quickly uplifted.
  2524. >"Now I have to ask you, how did you know that guard was really a changeling?"
  2525. "I had a feeling."
  2526. >"Excuse me."
  2527. >You can't help but turn your head to face Nightmare, who eyes you expectantly.
  2528. "And I suppose my guardian angel helped a bit."
  2529. >"Your guardian angel? Wait, are you referring to Nightmare Moon?"
  2530. "Yeah."
  2531. >Luna's soft voice gets louder, betraying her shock.
  2532. >"Is that what you've been glancing over at tonight? You see her?"
  2533. >She looks over at the balcony, as if expecting to see Nightmare as well.
  2534. "Darkie has been showing up more lately. I guess she's really taken to heart the promise she made to you to watch over me."
  2535. >Luna still seems rather shocked, but smiles as she turns out the lights in the room, preparing for bed.
  2536. >"Tell her I give my thanks for keeping my Anon safe."
  2537. >Nightmare turns her head back to the night sky.
  2538. >You wonder if she's actually a bit embarrassed.
  2539. >"I'm only watching out because it's my ass on the line too, you dolt."
  2540. "She says she's happy to help."
  2541. >"Screw you."
  2542. >Some things will never change.
  2543.  
  2544. -----
  2545.  
  2546. >While you knew something was being kept from Anonymous, the thought that Luna could have lost it and become... well, you, once again never crossed your mind.
  2547. >You suppose it only further cements that she and you are merely halves of a whole, rather than distinctly separate entities.
  2548. >As reality fades away into the familiar embrace of the star-studded dream realm, you exhale deeply, just relishing the serene, peaceful quiet.
  2549. >Just as you let your mind drift, a disturbance within the air causes you to refocus.
  2550. >Such an occurrence is quite normal, as it usually signifies somepony is having a nightmare of some sort.
  2551. >It is how Luna can sense when somepony is in need of her assistance, as keeper of the dream world.
  2552. >You have always been able to sense those same calls as well.
  2553. >What is unusual tonight is this disturbance in the calm void seems to be beckoning to you specifically.
  2554. >Not unlike a terrible case of poison ivy, such a focused outcry will be nearly impossible to ignore, as you glide in the direction of the swirling air.
  2555. >The closer you get, the more severe and focused is the sensation, as a door gradually comes into view.
  2556. >While most doors that lead to a pony's dream have their personal mark upon them, this door is strangely absent of identity.
  2557. >Suspicious, you glance around, half expecting to see either Anon or Luna screwing with you.
  2558. >They are the only two capable of manipulating this endless realm, aside from you.
  2559. >But nopony is in sight, it truly is just you.
  2560. >Even if they were hiding, you would be able to sense them.
  2561. >For a time, you stand at the foot of the featureless black door, unsure what could be on the other side.
  2562. >Then again, nothing can harm you in the dream world, so why are you hesitant?
  2563. >Pushing your nagging anxiety aside, you crack open the door, and step inside.
  2564. >To your surprise, there looks to be literally nothing within this place.
  2565. >An endless black sea is all that greets your eyes as the door behind you slowly swings closed.
  2566. >Gradually, the blank slate surrounding you begins to shift and lighten just a bit, revealing a dark, overgrown forest.
  2567. >Yet the trees and underbrush are eerily silent, devoid of the sounds of wildlife.
  2568. >Taking a few steps, your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness, still finding no sign of anypony.
  2569. >Normally when you step into somepony's dream, you can catch sight of them almost instantly.
  2570. >So what the hay is this place?
  2571. >Without warning, a bright flash of blue flame circles you, making you instinctively jump.
  2572. >"The mouse finally finds the trap. Took long enough."
  2573. >The voice seems to come from every direction, echoing around you.
  2574. >Looking down, you see archaic sigils burned into the ground, glowing with a soft light.
  2575. >It's been a long time wince you've seen this pattern, but you know what it is.
  2576. >A binding spell, albeit a very poorly made one.
  2577. >Rather than feeling chained down to the ground like a proper spell would do, you feel only a slight tug at your form, pleading with you to stay.
  2578. >But curiosity gets the best of you, so you play along for now to find out just what is going on here.
  2579. "Well, I'm here now. If you want me here so bad, why don't you show yourself?" you bark in irritation.
  2580. >The trees ahead of you part, as a figure makes its way towards you, while the flames die down just a bit so you can get a better look at you "captor".
  2581. >Before the pony makes it to you, you connect her tall, slender form with the voice you heard.
  2582. >Chrysalis.
  2583. >Focusing, you shift the treetops above you away, letting a full moon shine down and illuminate the area.
  2584. >Chrysalis flinches a bit, no doubt surprised that you can still modify her dreams.
  2585. "This 'trap' is like tying floss around the neck of a manticore," you gloat. "You're playing with one of the big ponies now, Chrysalis."
  2586. >"So I see," she say, stopping at the fiery line between the two of you.
  2587. >Chrysalis's luminescent eyes study you, as she remains silent for a time.
  2588. "Well, you summoned me. What the hay do you want?" you grumble, growing impatient.
  2589. >"You certainly aren't in a very cheery mood tonight, Nightmare Moon," Chrysalis says with a smug grin. "Or do you go by 'Anonymous' now?"
  2590. >You aren't exactly surprised to hear she knows the truth about this whole mess, considering she probably does have a lot of spies within Canterlot's gates.
  2591. >Your lack of surprise does seem to catch Chrysalis off-guard, but she again remains silent.
  2592. "So you know how Anonymous wiped the floor with you, congratulations on figuring it out. Is that all you need?"
  2593. >Your response gets a chuckle from the changeling queen as she begins to pace around you.
  2594. >"Considering I am still alive and well, I would not consider Anonymous beat me. Merely caught me out," she says, slightly irritated as her smirk turns into a scowl.
  2595. "Spin it however you want, I don't care. I suppose that cockroach you sent today was merely 'caught out' as well?"
  2596. >"Not one of my brighter children, I suppose," Chrysalis says, devoid of emotion. "No matter, there's plenty more of my offspring that have replaced guards in Canterlot. Just waiting."
  2597. "Why would you tell me this if you know I'm bunked with Anonymous?" you ask, confused.
  2598. >"I want to offer you a deal, Nightmare," Chrysalis coos.
  2599. "A deal. What in Equestria could you possibly offer me?" you ask, chuckling at the absurdity of this conversation.
  2600. >"How about a body to call your own?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
  2601. >You're waiting for the punchline as you instantly silence yourself.
  2602. >However, Chrysalis just sits there, waiting for an answer.
  2603. >She's actually serious about this? How is it even possible?
  2604. "Humor me," you respond, causing Chryssy's eyes to light up.
  2605. >"I thought that might pique your interest," she says, practically gloating. "All you need to do is lead me to Anonymous, or lead him to me. Once I drain him of all that he's worth, you get what's left."
  2606. >Normally, you would be all for the idea.
  2607. >But instead of enthusiasm, your stomach drops, a wave of nausea washing over you at the thought.
  2608. >Where is this feeling coming from?
  2609. >Nevertheless, you push your thoughts aside, seeing an opportunity to unravel Chrysalis's plan.
  2610. "You're going to have to be more specific that that, Chrysalis. What exactly are you going for, and what do you mean I 'get what's left?'"
  2611. >Chrysalis's initial response is to grin, a light chuckle emanating from her.
  2612. >"You don't actually expect me to just come out and tell you, right? Even if you were to eagerly accept my proposition, I'm not that stupid."
  2613. "One can hope," you mumble. "Why are you so keen on taking my power? and ho do you expect to do that?"
  2614. >Chrysalis stops smiling, her face turning very grim and serious.
  2615. >"Unlike your princesses, I do not have the fortune of eternal life, nor impeccable health. As much as I hate to admit it, your owner seems to have done something irreparable to me in our first meeting," she says, her voice increasingly somber. "But now, I see Luna's little mistake has led to some.... interesting side effects that greatly interest me. But that is enough answers for you."
  2616. >At this point, you tire of the changeling queen's presence, focusing your mind as a violin appears beside her, playing a somber tune.
  2617. "I care little about your sob story, Chryssy," you announce, as she glares at your abrupt interruption and your musical interlude. "If you think I would even consider helping you, you're even more deperate and idiotic that anypony could imagine."
  2618. >Chrysalis growls in anger, but otherwise gives no retort.
  2619. >Seeing a chance to prove a point, you raise a hoof and slowly step beyond the lines of the trap Chrysalis had created for you.
  2620. >Her eyes go wide as she looks at her trap, then you.
  2621. "Seems somepony needs to work on her spellwork," you taunt with a smirk, turning your gaze downward. "Your sigils are quite sloppy, at best."
  2622. >"It doesn't matter, you can't harm me in a dream, anyways," Chrysalis replies, though her voice betrays her uneasiness.
  2623. >Once again you raise your head, glaring at her intently as an idea forms.
  2624. >As you focus your energy, you shift the form Chrysalis sees before her, your alicorn form twisting and growing at a prodigious rate.
  2625. >While in reality you are still unchanged, what Chrysalis sees before her is a massive dragon-like creature with your coloring and markings.
  2626. >What bravery she had feigned before instantly disappears, as the creature looks down at her cowering form with a grin.
  2627. "Sweet nightmares, Chryssy."
  2628.  
  2629.  
  2630. >For the first time in a long time, you feel nervous as you come across the portal to Princess Celestia's dream.
  2631. >Last time you met did not go so well, though you admittedly had a lot on your mind you wished to release.
  2632. >Now, as you prepare to face her again, you pause a second to alter your visage, your trademark blue armor fading away to nothing.
  2633. >Your mane droops down in front of your face, the alien feeling causing you to flinch before you brush it aside
  2634. >It feels strange being without your armor and helmet, but if it helps to avoid confrontation, it is worth it.
  2635. >With a deep breath, you step through the symbolic doorway, the bright flash of light enveloping you.
  2636. >As Celestia's dream slowly forms, you find yourself having to squint as the sun hangs brightly in the sky.
  2637. >Underhoof, the silky touch of warm sand greets, as the sound of lightly lapping water fills your ears.
  2638. >After what seems like an eternity, your eyes finally adjust to the blinding daylight, as you scan the tropical scenery for any sign of the white alicorn.
  2639. >You only hope you find her before she spies you, a difficult task considering your pitch black coat stands out in this colorful backdrop.
  2640. >Cautiously, you make your way along the beach, pausing from time to time to scan the area before continuing onward.
  2641. >The few palm trees and sparse patches of grass sway in the salty sea breeze, the movement a rather unneeded distraction.
  2642. >After a short time, you see somepony laying on the beach off in the distance.
  2643. >As you close in, you recognize the billowing bright mane of Celestia, apparently taking a nap upon the sandy dunes, shaded by an umbrella.
  2644. >Dreaming about taking a nap, that's a new one.
  2645. >Luck is on your side, as you manage to reach the snoozing princess without alerting her.
  2646. >In fact, she is still asleep.
  2647. "Celestia," you quietly call, nudging her gingerly with a hoof to wake her up.
  2648. >As she slowly stirs, you take a step back, briefly considering a hasty retreat from her dream.
  2649. >Instead, you resolve to see this through, even though this is a stupid idea.
  2650. >Celestia's relaxed smile instantly turns to a look of shock as her eyes focus.
  2651. >"Nightmare Moon?!" she cries in surprise, quickly rising to her hooves and taking a defensive stance with her head lowered.
  2652. "Calm down, I'm not here to fight," you tell her, taking another step back. "I just want to talk, so relax."
  2653. >"I am calm. What do you want to talk about?" Celestia barks, tensely focused on you.
  2654. "If this is you relaxed, I'd hate to see what you look like when you are stressed out," you quip.
  2655. >Celestia remains silent, not budging an inch.
  2656. "Look, I'm here to talk about our little changeling issue," you sigh. "More specifically, Chrysalis, considering I just finished talking with her."
  2657. >"You did WHAT?" Celestia shouts, snapping upright in disbelief.
  2658. "That idiotic cockroach decided it was a good idea to summon me. What I'm trying to get at is that she knows everything about Anon. She knows I'm the reason for his power, she knows how it all happened. More importantly, she knows all of this because the Canterlot Royal Guard is basically composed of changelings."
  2659. >Celestia stands silently, her mouth agape as she struggles to grasp the load of information you've dropped on her.
  2660. >"Why?" she finally manages to mumble.
  2661. "Why? We already know why,she wants my power that is contained within Anonymous. As it turns out, Chrysalis is not exactly in the best of health after whatever magic Anon used on her in their first meeting. She's now all the more determined knowing he shares our immortality."
  2662. >Celestia shakes her head, as her expression hardens up.
  2663. >"No, I mean why did Chrysalis tell you all of this? There is something you are not telling me."
  2664. >You take a deep breath before you unleash the next bombshell on Celestia.
  2665. "She wanted me to help her. She promised me what was left of Anonymous - his body - would be mine."
  2666. >If possible, Celestia's eyes widen even further, as she grit her teeth in unbridled rage.
  2667. >"And you are willing to help her?" Celestia shouts.
  2668. "What? No!" you exclaim, thoroughly confused by her response. "Dammit, why do you think I'm telling you this? I'm warning you, you dolt. Like I promised."
  2669. >As if you've slapped her straight, Celestia settles down, a wave of calmness washing over you.
  2670. >"Really?" she asks softly, her voice betraying her dumbfounded mind.
  2671. >Frustrated by the lack of trust, you shake your head and turn away.
  2672. "I knew this was a stupid idea, I should have just waited until Anon awoke and told him," you growl, walking away at a rapid pace.
  2673. >A flurry of hoofbeats close in on you, as Celestia catches you in stride and stops ahead of you.
  2674. >"No, please, I'm sorry," she begs, catching you off-guard.
  2675. >As you silently gaze upon Celestia, her ears droop as her lavender eyes silently plead with you to let her speak.
  2676. >"You really are serious about this, aren't you? Helping to keep Anon out of trouble, keeping to your word, all of it?"
  2677. "I gave my word that I would, and I have. Why does that surprise you?"
  2678. >Celestia is silent, though it doesn't take a genius to figure out she's reflecting on the past.
  2679. "That's fine that you can't let go of the past, I probably deserve it," you mutter. "But considering I have nothing better to do for all of eternity, yes, I am watching out for Anon."
  2680. >Celestia tries to speak, but you cut her off as you release your burden.
  2681. "That's great that Luna -the other half of me, whatever - has redeemed herself and made amends with you and the past. she gets to move on and live a life. I don't get that privilege. Instead, I'm stuck being a spectator for eternity, bound to a hell of being an entity without a physical form."
  2682. >You feel as if your mind is fracturing, as the contents continue to spill forth unabated.
  2683. "Do you know what it is like to be alone? As in, completely isolated from the world and its inhabitants? I have had nopony to talk to for eons, until this mishandled spell by Luna cast me into another's presence. As odd as he is, Anonymous is at least willing to speak with me, and believe it or not, I cherish that company. You portray me as a monster, as does the rest of Equestria. You pushed me away once to fulfill your own hopes and dreams, and fractured me in two. You tell everypony you have learned from the past, and here you are again pushing me away."
  2684. >Celestia's proud form is by this point barely sitting upright, as she continues to endure your cutting words.
  2685. >Meanwhile, the slight breeze within this dream begins to slowly accelerate, causing the calm, peaceful waves of the sea to build higher and more frequent with each passing minute.
  2686. "You can't accept that Luna and I are one being, even as you have seen with your own eyes her transformation weeks ago into the form you see standing here. You are unable to accept it, because you cannot accept *you* created this monster you fear. You cannot accept reality, you do not dare endure the thought that my downward spiral could have been stopped, had you not been blind to my trials and tribulations. Perhaps I am not the monster here. Maybe it is YOU."
  2687. >As you lock eyes with her, Celestia slowly slumps to the ground, trembling too violently to stand any longer.
  2688. "I'm done, Tia. Fear not, you will see me no longer. If I have any further issues or ideas, I will wait to speak with Anonymous or my other half," you shout, walking past the distraught princess, en route to the portal from which you arrived.
  2689. >"Nightmare Moon," Celestia's voice cries out, wavering with a choked sob.
  2690. >You push forward without a glance backward, spray from the wild sea stinging your face and eyes.
  2691. >"Luna," she calls. "Please."
  2692. >Your breath hangs in your throat as Celestia calls you by a name you have not heard in millennia.
  2693. >Every muscle in your body freezes, before slowly turning back around.
  2694. "You called me Luna," you mumble, dumbfounded.
  2695. >"I know you are my sister. I just..... I can't - couldn't face it," she chokes. "It is easier to believe a different, evil entity forced my sister to to attack me, than my own sister alone."
  2696. >You just stand there, shocked at Celestia's admittance as she continues to emotionally implode.
  2697. >"How can I admit I did this to you? How can I accept it? If I fail at being a sister, to tend to my own kin, how can I be expected to tend to a kingdom?"
  2698. >Seeing Celestia relegated to a quivering, sobbing wreck at your mercy had been your dream for centuries since your falling out.
  2699. >To hear an apology, an admittance of guilt for her ignorance of your struggles.
  2700. >But now, you feel even worse than any other point in your life, even moreso than your exile.
  2701. >As you stare, unsure of what to do, Celestia's form begins to shimmer with a faint, white aura.
  2702. >Her billowing pastel mane swirls in upon itself, the colors blending together before settling into a pale pink hue, as it now settles down upon her like a normal mane.
  2703. >Meanwhile, her whole form contracts in upon itself, gradually shrinking until reaching nearly half her previous size.
  2704. >Your surroundings themselves begin to change as well, the violent ocean evaporating in an instant, as the sand underhoof suddenly disappears, hidden by the carpet of grass spontaneously growing.
  2705. >The sky itself vanishes, obscured by a dense canopy of trees that take form from thin air, as the sound of the howling wind is replaced with the quiet, peaceful sounds of forest wildwife.
  2706. >Celestia looks at you - or more like past you - as her sorrowful face suddenly lights up, the tears streaming from her eyes stopping their cascade.
  2707. >"Luna," she exclaims, jumping to her hooves in a flurry of excitement.
  2708. >Trying to make sense of the sudden changes, your eyes dart to a blur of pale blue running past you, leaping up to a now much younger Celestia.
  2709. >Finally stopping long enough to take in the sight, your jaw drops.
  2710. >The little blue thing is you.
  2711. >Er, a much younger you, as Luna.
  2712. >Like Celestia, her electric blue mane hangs limply, rather than the ethereal mane you gained later in life, while her coat is much paler than it is today.
  2713. >As the two of them seem oblivious to your presence, it dawns on you this is a memory you are seeing.
  2714. >"Luna, I told you to stay close to me. I thought I had lost you," Celestia scolds, leaning down to give her little sister a reassuring nuzzle.
  2715. >The little filly's ears drop, hearing her sister's lecture.
  2716. >"I'm sorry," she mumbles.
  2717. >"I am not trying to be mean, but it is dangerous out here. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you," Celestia replies, lowering her voice as she in turn sits back down on the patchy forest floor.
  2718. >"You don't have to worry about me, Tia. I'll never leave you. I promise," Luna cries. She leaps up upon her stubby legs to give Celestia a jubilant hug, giggling all the while.
  2719. >In turns, Celestia wraps her own hooves around the filly, smiling from ear to ear.
  2720. >"Nor will I ever leave you," she responds.
  2721. >You remember this scene, but just barely.
  2722. >It is one of the earliest memories you have, as you had gotten the brilliant idea to go off on your own in the forest as Celestia took a much needed rest.
  2723. >Mom had passed away shortly after your sixth birthday, so the only caretaker you ever really knew was your big sis.
  2724. >With as mischievous and naive as you were at that age, Tia had her work cut out for her.
  2725. >Especially with as wild and unpredictable as Equestria was at that time.
  2726. >It wasn't until the two of you truly united the land that Equestria became the peaceful kingdom it is known as today.
  2727. >Before that time, danger could be hidden behind every shadow, be it bandits, feral creatures, anything.
  2728. >But through it all, Celestia made sure you were safe and well fed, at a time neither of you knew about your gift of immortality.
  2729. >She did all of this for you, and you repaid her with violence.
  2730. >Betrayal.
  2731. >Hatred.
  2732. >She never left you like your mind warped itself to believe.
  2733. >Your own displeasure with unfulfilled dreams and Tia's dreams of a land brought to peace harbored jealously, jealousy that created its own fantasies as it consumed you.
  2734. >Without warning, the gale force winds return, blowing away the trees and with them, the whole scene.
  2735. >A wave crashes against the coastline with a deafening roar, making you recoil in shock.
  2736. >Celestia lies before you on the sand as she did only moments ago.
  2737. >Her form is being drenched by the vicious sea, as if trying to pull her away to the depths.
  2738. >Now, you see not a nemesis before you, but a friend you had forgotten long ago.
  2739. >Somepony you cherished, that in turn cherished you.
  2740. >Until you pushed her away.
  2741. >Something within your being stirs, as you focus your energy upon the sand beneath your hooves.
  2742. >With a primal cry, you raise the shoreline up into the air by several feet, out of reach of the ocean's torment.
  2743. >Feeling sick to your stomach, you take a few steps towards Celestia, who has snapped out of her anguished sobs.
  2744. >Falling to your knees, you lean in towards her, coming horn to horn with her as you look deep into her misty eyes.
  2745. "This isn't right. This isn't what I want," you say, choking on your emotions.
  2746. >"What?" Celestia manages to stammer out, as the winds and the waves settle down just a bit.
  2747. "This whole time I have been angry with you, let hatred brew within me. I felt betrayed, abandoned," you croak, your own vision beginning to blur with tears. "But it is I who abandoned you. I let my own petty jealousy, my own unhappiness drive to break the promise I made to you long ago."
  2748. >"Promise?"
  2749. "The vision you showed me. Didn't you?" you ask, confused.
  2750. >Celestia can only stare back, her lavender eyes puffy and red from the raw emotions.
  2751. >"I suppose the cat's out of the bag now," comes a male voice.
  2752. >In an instant, the wind stops, while the roar of the waves nearby mutes.
  2753. >"I didn't do any of that stuff, just the vision," you hear the voice say as it comes closer, before a pair of legs walks past you head.
  2754. >Both you and Celestia look up, finding Anonymous looking down at both of you.
  2755. >"Anonymous?" you and Tia shout in unison.
  2756. >"Sorry, I wasn't trying to intrude," he says somberly. "I sensed Celestia's pain in the dream realm, and Luna was busy helping some other pony with their dream. So I stopped by to see what was up."
  2757. >"I... thank you, Anonymous," Celestia says, managing a small smile as she wipes her face with a foreleg.
  2758. >Anonymous then turns to you, your own nerves begiing to twist your stomach as you realize how bad this scene looks in relation to your presence.
  2759. "Please, let me explain..." you start, before Anon puts up his had to quiet you.
  2760. >"I also sensed your anxiety and anger, even before Celestia's," he says, giving you a smile that soothes your current anxiety. "You're just a lot harder to find because you don't have a particular room you stay."
  2761. >Anonymous bends down, taking a seat next to the two of you.
  2762. >"Now, you both have a lot of skeletons in the closet between the two of you. I think several hundred years of letting ill will fester is only making it worse, so let's end it," he says, splitting his gaze between the two of you to emphasize his point.
  2763. >"Darkie, why are you here? I'm not judging, I just want to know. Obviously your lack of armor tells me you didn't mean this visit to be confrontational."
  2764. "Chrysalis talked to me tonight, she summoned me within her own dreams. I came here to tell Celestia about it, since you and Luna can be.... difficult to track down. You two don't stay in your rooms, either," you say, nudging his shoulder with a hoof.
  2765. >"Chrysalis? What the hell did she want?" Anon ask.
  2766. "To hand you over," you say flatly. Anon seems rather disturbed, but remains calm.
  2767. >"Alright then. That's.... not really what I was expecting, but we'll leave that alone for now. How did you go from trying to help to both of you being emotional wrecks?"
  2768. >"I jumped to conclusions," Celestia pipes up, still sniffling a bit. "I just assumed Nightmare was here to cause trouble."
  2769. >"You can at least admit you didn't give Darkie a fair shake. It's understandable, even if a little disappointing," Anon replies, crossing his arms in front of him as he turns his attention back to you. "I assume you didn't take too well to that and unloaded on her, yes?"
  2770. "I lost my temper, yes," you confirm, nodding. "I told her everything I had bottled up all these years, I blamed her for everything."
  2771. >"It is my fault, I should have done more to help you," Celestia says, her voice breaking a bit and she averts her gaze.
  2772. >Just as Anon is about to speak up, you cut him off, using your magic to raise Celestia's head.
  2773. "No, it's not your fault. I did this to myself," you tell her, as she looks you in the eyes. "I couldn't face my own unrealized dreams of competition, I couldn't face that it was not you that forced me from my dream, but my own physical limits."
  2774. >"Wait, what do you mean? I thought you gave up racing to help Celestia rebuild society?" Anon interrupts. You shake your head vehemently.
  2775. "As far as we know, alicorns grow very slowly, to a point. Obviously there's not a lot of our kind, but from our own experiences, once alicorns reach a certain proficiency in magic, they tend to undergo a rapid growth spurt. Which is what happened to me. You've seen how Luna lacks agility in flight."
  2776. >"I don't think she's that bad, Darkie," he replies, trying to soften your criticism.
  2777. "Not for her size, no. Have you noticed how pegasi tend to be a bit smaller than the other races of pony? That's a big boon to agility in flight. Yes, we had speed with our larger wings, but all-out speed is not what it takes to win."
  2778. >Your mind reflects back upon the tumultuous years before giving up your dream as you continue.
  2779. "I couldn't face that my own body was betraying me, while Celestia's growth spurt only seemed to help her vision of a unified land, as you see what kind of an impact our larger stature has. My own misplaced anger and jealousy warped my mind enough to believe it was Tia's fault, and it has taken me all this time to see that."
  2780. >Focusing back on Celestia across from you, you squirm towards her, opening up your wings and wrapping them around her.
  2781. "I'm sorry for putting you through this for all these years. You never abandoned me, you did nothing wrong. I broke my own promise I made long ago, to always be by your side," you tell her, letting go of your built up frustration and sorrow you've held onto for a millennia, as they slide down your cheeks in streams.
  2782. >For the first time, Celestia smiles at you, as her own eyes resume welling up.
  2783. >"Let's face it, we're both stubborn. It's how we've survived for so long," she says, using one of her wingtips to dab your face free of moisture.
  2784. >As if the weight of the world has been lifted from your back, you rise to your hooves, beaming down at Celestia as the sky above does the same, the sun beginning to shed itself of the oppressive clouds.
  2785. "You can stop the melodramatics, Anonymous," you say, referring to the change in the weather. He folds his arms in front of himself, rising to his feet, while Celestia in turn rises up once again.
  2786. >"I told you, I'm not doing any of this. You of all ponies should know a dream can change based upon the mood of the pony. Celestia is the one doing this, even if it is involuntary."
  2787. >As her name is spoken, Celestia smiles even brighter, the heavenly body above fully breaking away from its prison in the sky as she wraps her hooves around your neck.
  2788. >"Thank you Nightmare Mo - Luna," she says, correcting herself.
  2789. >You return the embrace, before pulling away as Anonymous looks at his watch.
  2790. >"I hate to break it to you two, but you've been at it for about seven hours now. It's already closing in on nine in the morning," he says, displaying his wristband for all to see.
  2791. "Thank you, Tia," you say, turning back to her. "Though perhaps it is best to just go by Nightmare Moon, to avoid any confusion."
  2792. >"Or Darkie, that's a good one," Anon chips in. Your eyes dart over to him, as he only grins in response to the cold shoulder.
  2793. >"You're welcome back any time to my dreams, sister," Celestia says, as her face suddenly becomes much more grim and serious. "We will be discussing what you've shared with me in the morning, thank you."
  2794. >With that, Celestia disappears, as does the entire scenery surrounding you and Anonymous, slowly returning to the night sky that composes the dream realm as a whole.
  2795. >"I'm proud of you tonight, Darkie. I really mean it," Anonymous says, putting an arm around your neck.
  2796. >The reassuring touch feels foreign to you, but calming nonetheless.
  2797. "I feel stupid for holding onto that grudge for so long. Even after I unleashed my anger upon her, and heard her apologize, I felt no better."
  2798. >"Luckily I have a key to your library upstairs, huh?" he responds, pointing to your head.
  2799. "I must ask, how did you find that so quickly? I did not even remember that memory at first, considering how old it was."
  2800. >"I've had a lot of free time on my hands while dreaming. You went through my memories, I figured I could do the same."
  2801. >You gently pull away from his grasp, turning to face him head-on.
  2802. "I can't believe I'm saying this with everything I've done to you, but thank you. For the first time since.... well, probably since I've been a separate being, I feel free. I feel happiness for once."
  2803. >Anon shrugs in response, giving you a smile as he pats your head.
  2804. >"Hey, you've helped me a lot, too. You saved my ass the first time I encountered changelings by warning me. But yeah, I didn't expect to become a guidance counselor when I arrived in this world. You ponies have a lot of issues. Seriously, psychologists in my world could make a mint off you guys."
  2805. >While you know his comment was made in jest, he is right, in a way.
  2806. "Celestia is right, we are both hard-headed. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to open the eyes of the ignorant. Maybe I'm not the monster I've been known as all these years. Maybe I can change."
  2807. >"Well, I knew you weren't a monster," Anonymous says with a grin. "I just figured you were a bitch."
  2808. "You have a wonderful way of ruining the mood."
  2809. >"Thanks, I try."

Changing Lanes 01

by Autopony

Night Princess vs Superbird

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Changing Lanes 2

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Friendship is Mandatory

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Changing Lanes: Dream Taming for Dummies

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