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Dreams to Dream

By StabbyTheSnowman
Created: 17th November 2020 09:31:33 PM
24th November 2021 04:20:47 PM

  1. >Celestia sighed as she signed another funding measure with a flourish of a pen, the gentle rain hitting the ornate stained glass windows and leaving trails of water over their colorful surfaces.
  2. >It was only half past ten in the morning and already she was ready to call it quits for the day.
  3. >Politics really got boring after 1000 years of virtually the same thing over and over again, day after day.
  4. >But there had been an upheaval in the political clime as of late though, thanks to Princess Cadence.
  5. >She had noticed for several years the rise of single and lonely mares within not just the Crystal Empire, but Equestria as a whole, and the Princess of Love, just a few months ago, had finally found a way to help.
  6. >With the help and smarts of Celestia's former student Twilight Sparkle and Discord’s chaos magic, they had found
  7. >And thus the Human Immigration Initiative had been created.
  8. >Based from the Crystal Empire, and given permission to function with Greater Equestria by the government, Cadence had been quick to get to work on the lonely mare problem.
  9. >The solution to her problem were equally lonely and sadly downtrodden males from another, parallel reality to theirs
  10. >Using the powerful love magic of the Crystal Heart, combined with Twilight and Discord's portal magic, suitable matches could be found for mares, one at a time and brought to Equestria.
  11. >The program had only been approved a couple of months ago, and so far thirty six male humans had been registered, accepted Cadence's emigration terms, and had come to Equestria.
  12. >To Princess Cadence's absolute joy, these poor humans and their equally lonely matched mares fit together perfectly, and thus far there had not been a single, major problem with either the mares or the emigrated humans.
  13. >Even after the human males had left virtually everything they knew behind.
  14. >Princess Celestia sighed as her mind wandered further from her work, even as her faithful assistant Raven Inkwell hoofed her another proposal from the Canterlot School Association.
  15. >She didn't blame the humans for wanting to come here. In fact, from what she'd heard and read from several reports that Cadence had sent her, most were very willing and eager to come.
  16. >At first she had been confused. Why would they want to leave their own world, their own species' females to go to an unknown world for a chance at love?
  17. >Then she'd taken a glance herself, through one of Discord's portals, and she understood.
  18. >All of the bigotry, the incessant blaming of males for all of their societies' problems no matter how false, the abuse they suffered under laws that almost always favored the female partner in legal disputes, no matter the male's innocence.
  19. >It had made her stick to her stomach. No wonder they jumped at the first chance to leave their war-torn, degenerate, and immoral world.
  20. >While their reality had been close to their, she had no idea that reality seepage would leave the big an impression on their world until Discord had shown her something very surprising.
  21. >A show on a device called a television, about about the 'fictional' world of Equestria, being so popular? The first time she had heard of the program called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Celestia had almost hurt herself she had laughed so hard.
  22. >But that's how these young men were being picked. They knew where they would be going, and they knew that it would almost certainly be better than the world they would be leaving.
  23. >Chuckling despite herself, Celestia signed the proposal and levitated it back to Raven, who placed it in a pile of other completed paperwork.
  24. >A sudden pop of magic startled her from her musings as a scroll suddenly fell at her hooves, bearing the signature of Twilight Sparkle's magic.
  25. >Celestia smiled as she opened the letter.
  26. >Letters from her former student always brought cheer to her day, sometimes they even gave her an excuse to sneak out of court for a few hours to do something that would never be on her dreary schedule.
  27. >As she read the quickly scrawled words, Celestia's blood ran cold and her mane, which always waved and flowed in it’s never-felt breeze, froze as if suddenly encased in ice.
  28. >”Is something wrong princess?” Raven inquired, surprised at her ruler’s drastic turn in mood.
  29. >”Cancel all remaining appointments and meetings for the day; I must leave immediately.” Celestia commanded before disappearing in a flash of golden light.
  30. >The mood within barracks of the Canterlot Royal Guard could normally be called 'low-key' during this time of day, especially on a early Saturday morning.
  31. >It was relatively dark outside though because of the storm, which was scheduled to go one for a couple more days in the greater Canterlot area as well as Ponyville so the guards not out training in the mud were inside relaxing in the dinning hall, playing cards, talking or exercising.
  32. >A harsh flash of golden light from within the dining hall got almost all of their attention though, as Princess Celestia appeared among them.
  33. >The assembled guards immediately stopped whatever they were doing, and stared at her with mixes of surprise and apprehension; her face was a mask of grim determination few had seen her wear.
  34. >”Prepare yourselves for a Level V magical threat. You all have two minutes until teleportation.”
  35. >Several years ago, many ponies would have, if asked, said that the Royal Guard had been incompetent or irrelevant in the face of several near world-ending disasters, but over the last couple of years, Celestia had endeavored to change that.
  36. >Over the course of two years the guard had been completely re-trained and re-equipped to much more modern standards, standards that had made several military envoys from the griffons and minotaurs impressed.
  37. >As soon as Celestia’s words had finished echoing around the barracks, the assembled guards immediately sprang into action, sprinting for armor racks and weapons lockers. Those who were able to get their equipment together first quickly assisted those who hadn't.
  38. >One minute and twenty-six seconds later, the last couple guards returned, and stood in perfect formation before Celestia, armed with the latest ant-magic weaponry as well as traditional spears, halberds, and broadswords, held by the strongest Earth Ponies.
  39. >”Stand together, my Guard.” Princess Celestia called out, her voice echoing with the thunder of authority.
  40. >She knew that her sister Luna was asleep, having only lowered the moon scant hours earlier, so it couldn't be her.
  41. >Celestia grit her teeth. She would get rid of it once and for all this time. She would not lit it touch her sister again.
  42. >Her horn began to glow, and within seconds the light had enveloped her and the assembled guards, and with a crack and flash like lightning they vanished.
  43. <>
  44. >Twilight paced inside her protective shield bubble, head furrowed in thought and fear, as she cast constant glances at the improbability that sat just scant hoofsteps from her.
  45. >The furious rain spat and pinged off her shield. The scheduled storm had grown much more violent than apparently planned, and Twilight had gone to take readings off of it when Fluttershy had met her half-way to her cottage.
  46. >Twilight had been very surprised; Fluttershy would never be caught out in a storm like this unless absolutely necessary, so Twilight had been very curious as to why the easily-frightened pegasus was out in such a storm.
  47. >But before Twilight could say a word, Fluttershy had grabbed and practically dragged her to the edge of the Everfree, only a hundred yards or so from her cottage.
  48. >What Fluttershy had shown her had immediately made Twilight create a shield around them both, as well as send an emergency message to Celestia
  49. >Fluttershy was currently hiding behind Twilight, crouching down as close as she could get to the ground behind the purple alicorn, shaking in fear behind her pink mane.
  50. >”W-w-w-what is sh-she d-doing b-ba-”
  51. >”I don’t know Fluttershy, but that quick message I sent should hopefully get Celestia’s attention.” Twilight said confidently, thunder rumbling through the rain and shaking the air around them
  52. >However, though, even as she tried to hide it, Twilight was almost as scared as Fluttershy. It was impossible. There was no way that she could be back...
  53. >An ear-splitting crack and flash of golden light caused Twilight to squeak and hit the ground next to Fluttershy, covering her ringing ears.
  54. >Twilight looked up, and gasped at what now surrounded them.
  55. >Easily over two hundred members of the Royal Guard, all fully armored and armed to the teeth, stood around her shield, but what really shocked her the most was seeing her former mentor and Princess of Equestria.
  56. >With her multi-hued hair flying in the storm winds Celestia stood, wearing an ornate and deeply carved set of armor that Twilight had never seen; steam rose from where the rain impacted her armor, head, and mane
  57. >Which, Twilight noticed, had small streaks of yellow flame flying within it.
  58. >As Celestia looked at her, Twilight tried to talk to her, to explain why she had sent the letter, she couldn't get the words out of her muzzle.
  59. >With her voice having abandoned her, and the purple alicorn simply pointed with one hoof, towards the dark, imposing tree line.
  60. <>
  61. >Celestia turned her gaze towards where Twilight had pointed, and there, just outside of the forest’s edge, was the figure that still sometimes haunted her darkest nightmares.
  62. >As one, the Royal guard readied their weapons, awaiting orders from Celestia, who stood still as stone, briefly illuminated by a flash of lightning.
  63. >”Orders ma’am?” The senior guard yelled over resulting thunder, which shook the ground beneath all of their hooves.
  64. >Celestia didn’t respond, too stunned by what the flash of lightning had clearly shown her
  65. >At first glance, in the darkness of the storm and rain, all Celestia had seen was the evil entity that had possessed her sister and had torn the elder alicorn's life to shreds in a matter of heartbreaking minutes.
  66. >The being that the rest of Equestria knew as Nightmare Moon.
  67. >But the flash of lightning had shown her something else as well, something that she had not expected from her worst fear and greatest failure.
  68. >Celestia lit her horn, it's glow piecing through the rain and wind like the beam of a lighthouse.
  69. >The bright golden light revealed not a powerful, dominant alicorn ready for war, but a torn, bloody visage that she would have expected from a horrific battlefield from ages past.
  70. >Her hide was covered in filth, mud, and blood, and her wings were severely lacking in feathers, the threadbare limbs were almost touching the muddy ground.
  71. >Even her mane, which, during the two times that she had appeared, had always been a glowing nebulous semi-solid cloud of violent magic, was now a collection of faint, trailing wisps, barely visible through the rain.
  72. >Celestia’s eyes took it all in an instant. The ribs showing through the muddy, torn skin of her barrel, the trembling of her on too-thin legs, even though she was sitting.
  73. >And the vacant, sunken eyes, further illuminated by another flash of lightning; dull, lifeless, almost unseeing.
  74. >Those eyes slowly seemed to focus on her, and when they did, they grew wider, terror began to fill them, and Nightmare Moon’s trembling grew worse.
  75. >What remained of the pitiful alicorn's strength seemed to leave her at the sight of Celestia and her armed entourage; her slitted, alien eyes rolled up into her head, and she collapsed muzzle first into the muddy ground.
  76. >The assembled Royal Guards seemed to be as surprised and confused as Celestia; none of them moved a muscle.
  77. >”O-orders Ma’am?” The senior guard asked again, uncertainty and hesitation in his voice, even over the pounding rain and the rising gale.
  78. >Celestia broke herself out of her surprise and narrowed her eyes, her resolve returning with each rapid breath.
  79. >She stared down at the unmoving, crumpled form of the thing that had taken Luna away from her for so long and grit her teeth as she chose..
  80. >”Take it alive.”
  81. <>
  82. >Celestia stared down at the form of Nightmare Moon, the soft beeping of the medical equipment the only thing telling her that time was slowly passing by.
  83. >After the medics within the Royal Guard that Celestia had brought with her had found that Nightmare Moon was in dire need of medical attention, Celestia had teleported all of them to Twilight’s castle in Ponyville.
  84. >She had decided to take the injured alicorn there for several reasons.
  85. >There was plenty of extra space for additional guards and trained, trustworthy medical personnel.
  86. >And the magical, Harmony-based energies of the crystal castle itself would help suppress Nightmare Moon’s magic.
  87. >Hopefully.
  88. >If she could break through the multiple restraining enchantments and wards cast by her and several battlemages among her Royal Guard first.
  89. >A little over an hour had gone by since then, and Celestia had managed to get out of her armor and dry herself.
  90. >”What is her… condition, Tea Leaf?” Celestia asked the nurse across the bed from her. The young pegasus mare was currently writing down readings from several different devices that were connected to the emaciated Nightmare Moon.
  91. >”Well princess, I’m honestly having trouble about where to begin.” Tea Leaf looked up from her instruments and joined Celestia in examining Nightmare Moon’s still form.
  92. >The bright lights and gentle crystal glow were a welcome from the cold, harsh winds of the storm which still raged outside, battering the windows with loud pings of rain, turning day almost into night.
  93. >”She is in very bad condition, Princess. If she had been out there for another hour she wouldn’t have made it.”
  94. >Tea Leaf slowly made her way around the bed, while reading off of a small notebook held in one wing.
  95. >”She has multiple broken bones: her left radius had a clean break, most likely from a fall, while both of her rear metatarsal bones appear to have stress fractures, most likely from the same fall that damaged her radius.” Tea Leaf paused, collecting herself.
  96. >”Her lower jaw and her scapula both had breaks, and it looked like something attacked her.” The pegasus pointed with one wing to the bandages on the left side of her patient’s body.
  97. >They covered severe claw marks, which had been covered with mud and blood and had been unseen in the rain and storm.
  98. >”Also Princess, you said when she saw you she seemed to faint, or pass out?” Tea Leaf asked, quill held in one wing.
  99. >”Yes, yes she did.” Celestia replied quietly, not taking her eyes off Nightmare Moon’s form.
  100. >She was lying on her right side, due to the claw marks and the break in her left scapula, the medics had decided to keep her that way until it was decided what would be done with her.
  101. >An oxygen mask was attached to her muzzle, and the oxygen machine's beeps and the slow rise and fall of her barrel were the only indications that the alicorn was still alive.
  102. >Her mane and tail were a collection of small, faint wisps coming from her head, neck, and dock, and simply lay flat on the bed. Unmoving, lifeless.
  103. >Celestia’s eyes slowly roamed over the other alicorn’s form, again taking in the visible ribs, the absence of healthy flesh and muscle, and her disheveled and marred coat, patches of which were missing in several spots.
  104. >Something was different from the last time she had, though, Celestia could feel it.
  105. >There was a feeling, a feeling that Celestia couldn't shake, a tinge, a tiny remnant of familiar magic. Nightmare Moon had appeared now...
  106. >Celestia sighed, rubbing the side of her head with her left front hoof.
  107. >There was one thing that she could do to check to see if her suspicion had any basis.
  108. >”Y-your highness?” Tea Leaf asked, and Celestia realized that she had been staring at the alicorn, lost in her own thoughts.
  109. >”I’m sorry Tea Leaf, I was… pondering several factors that may have led to her current condition.”
  110. >Tea Leaf just gave a sad smile as she picked up another set of papers and winged them to Celestia.
  111. >”Despite her injuries, I haven’t found any medical or magical reasons for her to be in such a deep magical coma. These may be able to help you form your own conclusion.”
  112. >Celestia quickly read the forms and examined the detailed magically-produced pictures of the wounds and injuries that Nightmare Moon had sustained.
  113. >”I think I may have an idea of why, but I will need to be alone to perform the spell necessary to see if my hunch is correct.”
  114. >"But don’t worry,” Celestia smiled as Tea Leaf began to open her mouth to object, “This spell won’t interfere with any of the medical equipment. Your patient will be fine.”
  115. >”I know that your patients are your top priority, and I swear by my title that I will not harm her, despite what she did to me…” Celestia stated as she turned away from the nurse and looked again towards Nightmare Moon’s still form.
  116. >There silence in the room for several moments, only broken by the steady beeping of the medical machines.
  117. >”As you wish, Princess.” Tea Leaf seemed satisfied by Celestia’s promise, as she gathered her notes and trotted out the door, closing it softly behind her.
  118. >Celestia sighed as she locked the door with her magic. She would need to be alone for the duration of this spell. It’s complicated nature and purpose only allowed the caster of the spell near the recipient.
  119. >Her horn lit up with a soft golden light, and small streamers of magic softly wound around over the still pony on the bed.
  120. >The bands of golden light made several passes, in every direction, coming close but not touching Nightmare Moon’s body.
  121. >Celestia finished the spell, and the bands of light faded.
  122. >Celestia activated her horn again, this time projecting an image of something very few ponies had ever seen.
  123. >The image showed an intricate design filled with lines of coursing energy and pinpoints of light.
  124. >A marcroview of the soul of Nightmare Moon hovered before Celestia.
  125. >But something made Celestia frown slightly. As pretty and majestic the image was, there was something about it that wasn’t right.
  126. >She didn’t know what it was, but she knew somepony who definitely would.
  127. >Celestia sighed, dismissed the spell, and turned to call out for Spike.
  128. >She needed to send a letter to her sister Luna immediately.
  129. >Luna was much better at subtle mind and soul magic than her, perhaps she would find something else.
  130. >Just as she opened her mouth, , the door opened and Spike poked his head in.
  131. >”Um, Princess Celestia, you’ve got a letter waiting for you.” He said cheerily.
  132. >”Really? From who?” Celestia asked as they both stepped outside the room currently serving as Nightmare Moon’s recovery ward,
  133. >Tea Leaf, who had been waiting outside patiently, quietly slipped back inside and shut the door behind her.
  134. >”Well, it’s from Cadance.” Spike replied, handing over the rolled up letter to Celestia, who unfurled it with her magic.
  135. >”I didn’t peek at it, in case you were curious.” Spike stated. “I know you don’t like it when others read your private mail.”
  136. >As Celestia’s eyes scanned the words the letter contained, she felt herself growing more tired with each word that she read.
  137. >”Well, what does it say?” Spike asked, hopping up and down besides her, trying to peak at the letter still held in her magic.
  138. >Celestia let out a quiet chuckle, slowly shaking her head at the absurdity that her adopted niece’s letter had described to her.
  139. >Celestia summoned two pieces of parchment and a quill and began to write a letter of her own.
  140. >”Nothing good. This has turned into something much more convoluted than I hoped it would be. Now, if you would send this letter to Luna for me, and this second one to Cadance, I would be ever so grateful. I require both of them here immediately.”
  141. >Spike took the offered letter and sent it with his breath before turning back to Celestia, who floated over the second letter.
  142. >”Is there anything else I can do to help out, Princess?” he asked.
  143. >”Actually Spike, I believe that Twilight will need something to calm her nerves. The poor thing hasn’t stopped pacing and mumbling to herself since we returned here.”
  144. >”Good idea! I know just the thing that’ll help.” Spike bounded off, leaving Celestia alone in the hallway.
  145. >Celestia began to count under her breath, and before she reached ten, a flash of blue light and a resounding crack came from directly in front of her.
  146. >Luna stood there, covered in the same type of armor Celestia herself had worn not three hours ago,
  147. >”Where is the fiend sister.” Luna snorted.
  148. >”Is the armor really necessary sister? I believe I said in my letter that the being had been properly restrained. It is going nowhere at the moment.” Celestia calmly told her sister.
  149. >Luna snorted. “I read your letter. I am simply being prepared for any kind of unforeseen actions by the being.”
  150. >Celestia gave a small smile. “I knew you would show up like this. Unfortunately, I have more news that I’m sure you won’t like”
  151. >Celestia floated over the letter from Cadance, which Luna unfurled and began to read for herself.
  152. >”T-this is preposterous sister; the Crystal Heart matched a human with...with that thing?” Luna flushed with anger. ”How is that even possible?”
  153. >”I don’t know sister, but I have requested Cadance to come here as soon as possible to verify with no room for doubt that the Crystal Heart did not make a mistake.”
  154. >”Now, for the reason I requested you, I need your assistance with something related to soul magic.”
  155. >”Soul magic? What do you wish to know?” Luna asked as they both returned to the door that led to Nightmare Moon’s room.
  156. >”The being Nightmare Moon is in a magical coma. None of the medical scans and standard magical checks turned up a reason why, but I had a hunch, but I need your expertise to confirm my hunch.”
  157. >The door stood in front of them both. Luna seemed almost nervous to enter.
  158. >”Luna, I will be right here the whole time. Are you ready?” Celestia asked as she glazed over at her younger sister, who was currently fidgeting in her armor.
  159. >Luna took a deep breath, and let out a long sigh, glazing upward at Celestia. “As ready as I’ll ever be sister.”
  160. >When they entered the room, Tea Leaf turned, and seeing who her guests were, quickly threw herself into a shallow bow.
  161. >”Princess Luna, Princess Celestia, is there anything I can help the two of you with?” Tea Leaf asked, glancing nervously at Luna’s armor and the large battle axe that she carried on her back.
  162. >”Just a little privacy is all. And no, there will be no violence, I promise you that.” Celestia said.
  163. >Tea Leaf quickly vacated the room, leaving the two princesses alone with Nightmare Moon’s still form.
  164. >”It is… so strange to see it like this. Weak… and helpless” Luna said as she slowly approached the bedside.
  165. >”I cast a Soul-Search spell on her earlier. This is what I need your help with.” Celestia quickly brought up the image that the spell she had cast earlier had shown her.
  166. >”My lack of knowledge regarding the intricacies of the construction of the soul might be preventing me from seeing something that may be amiss.
  167. >”I can feel that something is wrong, but I don’t know what it may be. What do you see sister?
  168. >Luna looked at the projection of Nightmare Moon’s soul that hovered before her.
  169. >Her eyes widened as she sat down, and pointed at a section of the glowing lights and lines.
  170. >”You are correct sister, there is indeed something very wrong. It is incomplete.” Luna stated.
  171. >”So I was right,” Celestia rubbed her chin with one hoof, “But how is it incomplete? ”
  172. >”This whole section here is incomplete. Broken apart.” Luna pointed with a hoof, and the section lit up blue with her magic.
  173. >”This effect won’t be the perfect example, but this is what a complete and healthy soul should resemble.”
  174. >The section that Luna was illuminated grew larger, filled with almost double the lines and glowing lights that were already there.
  175. >”Since Nightmare Moon was a parasite, a symbiote that fed off of my rage, fear, and feelings of rejection, it is right that it would not have a complete ‘soul’ of its own.”
  176. >Luna sighed, looking away from the display before her, and back to the bed, and it’s still occupant.
  177. >“It needed an engine, a host, in order to function with any sort of higher thoughts or physical action.” Luna turned her gaze back to Celestia.
  178. >”However, something is different this time. Nightmare Moon shouldn't have been able to even move the body that it created.” Luna’s brows furrowed, deep in thought as she turned from Celestia and studied the soul matrix that hovered before her.
  179. >”There is much more soul here than what even a symbiote like Nightmare Moon should inherently possess by itself. It’s somehow more than just a symbiote, but not quite it’s own being. It still needs a bond with somepony to fully function it seems.”
  180. >Celestia looked from the glowing mass of lights, and glanced towards Nightmare Moon.
  181. >”When I first saw her, it looked at me. It recognized me.”
  182. >” I could see the fear in.. in her eyes when she saw me. That’s when she fell unconscious and I had her brought here.”
  183. >Luna could see the thoughts etched on her older sister’s muzzle.
  184. >Just as she was about to voice her own thoughts on this topic, a scroll appeared in a flash of magic and snowflakes, directly in front of Celestia.
  185. >Celestia quickly opened and read the rather short letter.
  186. >”Ah good, Cadance should be here within 5 hours or less, courtesy of one of the new high-speed airships.”
  187. >”That is indeed good news, sister,” Luna replied, “I am curious, I’m going to cast the same spell you did on it, I may find something that your particular spell did not.”
  188. >”After all, I do cast spells very similar to this quite often in the dream realm to help ponies overcome deep-rooted fears and worries.”
  189. >Celestia smiled as she folded up the letter from Cadance and teleported it to her temporary room in the castle. “I think that’s an excellent idea. Try it and we will be able to go over the results with Cadance when she arrives.”
  190. >Luna took a deep breath as Celestia shut the door behind her, and prepared the spell.
  191. >While her sister had done a fine job with the spell, it was quite crude and unsophisticated when compared to her own.
  192. >Her spell was much more detailed and in-depth and able to discern emotional states, memories, and other personality traits.
  193. >Rather handy in the dream realm, if she did say so herself.
  194. >The bands of blue light, instead of simply passing over Nightmare Moon’s form, seemed to wrap completely around it, like a cocoon, completely hiding the still form on the bed from view.
  195. >After several seconds of calm deliberation and concentration, Luna cut off the spell, and the blue cocoon vanished.
  196. >Luna opened her eyes, and cast the completed soul projection into view.
  197. >What she saw made her eyes go wide as she took a step backward.
  198. >”Impossible… This cannot be.” She managed to gasp out.
  199. >The door flew open and Celestia burst into the room, eyes alert.
  200. >”Are you okay Luna? I heard your cry and… what is that?”
  201. >Luna’s projection was similar to her sister’s, but much more detailed in every way possible.
  202. >It wasn’t colored according to Luna’s magic, like her sister’s was.
  203. >The projection was in it’s true, raw form, a dark, deep blackish blue, and sparks, like small twinkling stars, danced slowly along bands of soul energy.
  204. >What stood out to both of the two princesses, however, were the glowing, multicolored veins of light that weaved through the entirety of the projection.
  205. >”Is… Is that what I think it is Luna?” Celestia asked, eyes wide.
  206. >Luna stood, unmoving, eyes fixed on her projection, the raw view of the soul of Nightmare Moon.
  207. >”I must be sure.” Luna said after several seconds of stunned silence.
  208. >”Her magic once again ran over Nightmare Moon’s form, this time, the spell flashed a myriad of colors when it had completed its cocoon-like shape.
  209. >”Harmony Magic…” Luna attempted to speak further, but her voice failed her.
  210. >The two sisters stood side by side, both of them trying to comprehend what this could possibly mean.
  211. >Celestia was the first to regain her speech. “It must be left over from when the Elements were used on… her 1,000 years ago. And when Twilight and her friends freed you from her at last.”
  212. >Luna nodded slowly, her wits finally returning to her as well.
  213. >”The Elements of Harmony freed me from the parasite Nightmare Moon, but some of their inherent magic must have latched onto her as well when we were separated.
  214. >”I would say that the Harmony Magic corrupted her essence, but it’s more along the lines of… purification. Harmony cannot destroy or corrupt, only create and purify. Make something more than it was before..” Luna finished quietly.
  215. >She sounded almost awed by the evidence presented before her.
  216. >Celestia suddenly let out a quiet chuckle, her head shaking.
  217. >Luna looked over at her sister, a single eyebrow raised in surprise.
  218. >”I don’t think now is an appropriate time for jokes, sister.”
  219. >”I’m sorry Luna, but it really seems to me that Nightmare Moon is being given a chance to redeem herself.”
  220. >Luna froze at her sister’s words, then slowly walked towards Nightmare Moon’s bed.
  221. >”Luna, don’t do something you will regret.” Celestia quickly made her way to her sister’s side, just as she reached the bedside.
  222. >Luna gazed down at her darker, broken counterpart.
  223. >Celestia could see anger, hurt, and regret in her sister’s eyes.
  224. >Luna let out a long, heavy sigh.
  225. >”I will give her a chance.”
  226. >”That’s all I’m going to ask of you little sis.” Celestia replied, extending a wing and pulling Luna in for a hug.
  227. >”I just hope the Crystal Heart chose well for this task. This plan worked with Discord, but he had Fluttershy as the driving force towards his reformation.” Luna nuzzled into her older sister’s shoulder.
  228. >”I just hope that this human will be up to the task.”
  229. >Celestia looked down at her sister, “There’s only one way to find out.”
  230. >”Here is your temporary room Anon, we hope that it will be sufficient for the time being.”
  231. “Oh it looks good to me, thanks for bringing me here.”
  232. >”It’s no problem at all. As Shining Armor told you earlier, we are sorry Cadance could not be here herself to welcome you, she had a pressing issue in Ponyville that she had to attend to personally.”
  233. “No problem, I understand.”
  234. >The guard turned to leave Anon to his room. “Remember, if you need anything at all, just find any guard and ask.”
  235. “Awesome, sounds good.”
  236. >As the guard turned and left to return to his other duties, Anon entered his temporary lodgings and took in the space before him.
  237. >’Looks good’ was an understatement.
  238. >The main room by itself was bigger than his whole apartment back on Earth.
  239. >Not including the bathroom, or the small balcony on the far side, near the fireplace.
  240. >He had his own damn fireplace.
  241. >Goals achieved.
  242. >Walking over to the bed, which looked significantly larger than any King sized bed he’d ever seen, Anon kicked off his shoes and fell backward onto the large comforter.
  243. “Damn, cloud beds truly are heaven.” He sighed as he wriggled around, almost sinking into the bed itself.
  244. >It had been only three weeks since he had received the strange letter in his mailbox
  245. >He had assumed the ‘Human Immigration Initiative’ was some lame scam to draw even more money from his already thin budget, so he had tossed it without a second thought.
  246. >Until the second, identical letter had appeared taped to his monitor one morning when he got home from work.
  247. >That got him spooked enough to actually open the damn thing to find out what company was wanting to take his shekels this time.
  248. >He couldn’t resist laughing a little while reading the ridiculous letter.
  249. >”Mares need YOUR love and tender care! Sign today!” with other information regarding ‘single lonely mares’
  250. >All capped off with the signature of a ‘Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’
  251. >He knew that name, but it was impossible, outside of a prank.
  252. >But considering he didn’t have any friends who were into a child's cartoon about small colorful horses, or who knew his address, or could get into his apartment, it would have to be one hell of a prank.
  253. >He had signed on the space provided for shits and giggles.
  254. >He had stopped giggling when he had woken up that evening, when he had found the letter gone, and a large, book shaped package witting on his desk.
  255. >Inside was a bound book and another, smaller letter with his name on it.
  256. >The book turned out to be a guide on how to help ‘you and your dream mare become the inseparable pair that you were both made to be’.
  257. >The shorter letter was what appeared to be what he now guess was hoof-written, and again signed by Cadance.
  258. >”Are you completely sure you wish to do this? Once you sign on the final line, there is no turning back.” The letter wrote back at him.
  259. >There was a small section of writing lines above the signature space, so he decided to try something.
  260. “Can I have a week to think about it? He had written.
  261. >less than 30 minutes later, a reply had scrawled itself out below his writing. Much more neatly, but it had appeared there all on it’s own.
  262. >”Of course you can. Leaving behind everything and everyone you’ve known is a very hard decision, but if you do decide to come here, you will never regret it.”
  263. >Seeing the response magically write itself onto the page had sealed the deal for him.
  264. >All he had going for him right now was a soul-crushing night shift job moving freight and a small and slowly dwindling circle of friends.
  265. “Give me two weeks to settle my affairs and say my goodbyes, and I’ll do it.” He had quickly penned out.
  266. >The response had come almost immediately after he had finished writing.
  267. >”Perfectly reasonable. We will prepare for your arrival. Just sign on the final line when you are absolutely ready to come to Equestria, your new home.”
  268. >Anon roused himself from his thoughts, and went over to the balcony, which afforded him a wide view of the Crystal Empire.
  269. >He took a deep breath, and let out a long sigh as he viewed the beautiful landscape surrounding him.
  270. >Everything was so much cleaner here; the air, the water he had gotten from Shining Armor, and even light seemed more bright and vibrant than back on Earth.
  271. ”I really am here aren't I?” He chucked to himself, watching a flock of birds fly overhead.
  272. >He had been a nervous wreck in the two weeks leading up to his leaving for Equestria.
  273. >Telling his parents and two brothers had been the hardest part, but thankfully they had believed his cover story about a new job, one that required him to be isolated constantly.
  274. >He was pretty sure his dad and older brother knew he was feeding them BS, but they hadn’t pressed the issue.
  275. >Getting rid of his possessions had been a simple but sad affair.
  276. >He had hated to give his guns away, but thankfully he had several friends who he knew would treat them as well as he had.
  277. >In the end he had stood in his now empty apartment, a packed traveling bag at his feet, filled with several sets of clothing, and one of the few possessions that he was allowed to take with him.
  278. >He had wrapped a small, framed photo of his family in one of the spare shirts he was taking and put it on the top of his bag.
  279. >He was finally ready.
  280. >Letter in hand, he had taken a deep breath, and signed on the final line.
  281. >For several seconds, nothing had happened, then the letter had begun to glow with a soft blue light, until it had floated from his grasp and hovered in the center of the room in front of him.
  282. >The light suddenly grew blindingly bright, and a burst of frigid air came howling from the center of the room.
  283. >When he had opened his eyes, an oval shaped blue hole floated there, inches off the floor.
  284. >Looking through it was like looking through an out-of-focus camera.
  285. >But he had definitely seen what looked like a pony, and it was waving him forward.
  286. >So Anon had thrown his travel bag’s strap over his shoulder and taken one last view of the apartment that had been his home for over 2 years.
  287. “Sayonara.”
  288. >”Mr. Anonymous?”
  289. >The voice tore Anon from his recent memories, and he quickly turned to find Shining Armor standing at the balcony entrance.
  290. “Oh I’m sorry I didn’t hear you come in”
  291. >“No problem, but I do have some good news for you, we need to head for the train station.” He said as he turned and began to trot towards the door.
  292. “Dang already?” I haven’t even unpacked my bag yet” Anon asked as he walked back over to the bed and put his shoes back on.
  293. >”Well I sent a letter to my wife telling her that you had arrived, and immediately got back a reply from Celestia and Luna telling me that you have to leave for Ponyville immediately.”
  294. “Huh, that’s weird.” Anon sat down in an ornate chair that probably cost more than everything he used to own as he began to tie his shoes.
  295. “Did they give any reason why”
  296. >”They said that it’s urgent obviously, your match did have a… medical accident 2 weeks ago.” Shining Armor said slowly.
  297. “Damn, is she okay?”
  298. >”She’s stable from what little I’ve been told, but she is hurt pretty bad. I’ll let Cadance and the doctors there tell you the specifics.”
  299. “What’s her name again? I don’t think you told me when I first crossed over.” Anon asked as he picked up his travel bag.
  300. >”I’ll let my wife tell you, she said it would be better if it was a surprise for the both of you.”
  301. >Anon stretched, twisting several times to listen himself up.
  302. >Mainly it was so that he could hide his narrowed eyes and frown.
  303. >Something was off about this, he could feel it.
  304. >Working in freight for years, while soul-sucking and repetitive, had given him a pretty good ability to tell if people were feeding him bullshit.
  305. >Shining Armor seemed to be giving him a little, but it didn’t seem like the stallion had a choice in the matter.
  306. >He seemed more embarrassed and frustrated that he couldn’t tell him any more information.
  307. >This just made Anon even more nervous than he already was about this whole deal.
  308. >Anon groaned a bit as his back popped, and he sighed as he settled down.
  309. >He’d let it slide this time, but there would be some explaining when he arrived in Ponyville if he had any say in it.
  310. “Alright, then let’s not keep this mare waiting any longer then, lets go.” Anon adjusted his bag on his shoulder and followed Shining Armor out the door.
  311. >As the two of them left the castle and made their way to the train station, Anon gazed in amazement at everything around him.
  312. >The crystal houses, the gardens, everything shone in every color in the bright, cheery sunshine.
  313. >The streets were paved in white stone, and seemed clean enough to eat off of.
  314. >The ponies he passed smiled and waved happily at him and Shining Armor.
  315. >As the two of them rounded one corner, he could see another human, sitting at an outdoor café with a mare.
  316. >Both were laughing, and seemed not to have a care in the world.
  317. >Anon smiled at the sight.
  318. “I wonder if that’s what it’s going to be like for me.” He said as they walked past.
  319. >”Oh like them?” Shining Armor looked at him and grinned.
  320. >”From what I’ve heard from Cadance, almost every matched couple has bonded almost immediately after they met.”
  321. “Almost every pair?”
  322. >”Yeah, almost. Nothing is perfect, and this Initiative is no different. There have been a few couples that had some hiccups in their relationships. But thankfully, they’ve made up, and now are doing better than ever.”
  323. “Good to hear.”
  324. “Like I said, nothing is ever perfect. Ah, here we are.” Shining Armor stopped as they reached the entrance to the main platform of the train station.
  325. >A large steam engine sat next to the platform, the doors open as ponies slowly disembarked the cars.
  326. >Ponies waiting to board were busy talking and socializing as they got their tickets punched by several mares in uniform.
  327. >”Your ticket is enclosed here.” An envelope was levitated into Anon’s hands as he turned to Shining Armor. “It will get you from here to Ponyville after a stop in Canterlot. Cadance will pick you up at the station in Ponyville.”
  328. “Do you know where I’ll be staying when I get there?”
  329. >”From what she told me you’ll be staying at my sister’s castle.”
  330. “Cool, can’t wait to see it.”
  331. >”You’ll have plenty of time to burn, it’s a lengthy trip. I’d get ready to be questioned by my sister.” Shining Armor chucked.
  332. >”She’s only gotten to talk to a couple other humans, and she was determined to question them at length until either they fell asleep or she passed out.”
  333. “Hehehe, I bet she was” Anon chucked as well.
  334. >“NOW BOARDING, CRYSTAL EMPIRE TO CANTERLOT.”
  335. >The crown of ponies waiting to board began to file onto the train, goodbyes and waves from ponies abounded from across the platform.
  336. “I should probably go get this punched before I miss my ride” Anon said to Shining Armor, walking towards the ticket mare, ticket in hand.
  337. >The pegasus mare gave him a huge smile as he held out his ticket, and punched it with the puncher held in one wing.
  338. >”I hope you have a pleasant ride sir!” She said cheerfully.
  339. “Thank you very much.” Anon responded with equal cheer.
  340. >Shining Armor, who had followed Anon up to the ticket booth, nodded at the mare, who gave a short bow towards him as she let both of them onto the platform
  341. “Anything else I need to know?” Anon asked as both he and Shining Armor walked up to his assigned train car’s door.
  342. >”Nothing I can think of off the top of my head. If I think of anything I’ll send a letter to Ponyville ahead of you.”
  343. “Sounds like a deal to me.” Anon replied.
  344. >The train suddenly let out a piercing whistle, as the last of the passengers began to make their way into their assigned cars.
  345. >”Well, I don’t want to hold you up any longer.” Shining Armor stuck one front hoof outward. “I hope you have a safe trip, and good luck.”
  346. >Anon smiled and fistbumped the offered hoof.
  347. “Thanks for that, and for the lodgings, short lived as they were.”
  348. >”It’s no problem, nor will it ever be. If you ever need anything, don’t be afraid to send a letter”
  349. >Anon nodded, and boarded the train car, taking his seat, placing his bag next to him.
  350. >Shining Armor watched as Anon took his leave, a small frown on his muzzle.
  351. >He hated having to tell half-truths to Anon, despite being sworn to secrecy by Celestia and Luna.
  352. >He never was a fan of lying, no matter the case.
  353. >He could see Anon at a window seat, and waved at his hoof as the train let out one last trumpeting blast, and slowly began to pull away from the platform.
  354. >Anon saw the wave, and waved back with another smile on his face.
  355. >”I’d hold onto that luck if I were you.” Shining Armor said to himself as the train left the station and began it’s 10 hour trip to Ponyville.
  356. >”Because from what I’ve heard, you’re going to need it.”
  357. >Anon sat back in his seat, looking at the view of the disappearing Crystal Empire through the window.
  358. >The car he was in was rather spacious, at least compared to what he was used to on Earth.
  359. >But considering he had only ridden on a train only a handful of times, he couldn’t say anything bad about it.
  360. >Only a dozen or so ponies were riding in the car he was in, and since he was alone on his bench, so he took out the guide he had received with his second letter, and began to flip through it.
  361. >There were chapters for pretty much everything he would need to know, from mares hairstyles to regional delicacies in food.
  362. >He smiled and chuckled as he continued to flip through the book at random, reading some sections if they caught his eye.
  363. >With the 10 hour ride ahead of him, he certainly had the time to do some in-depth reading.
  364. >”E-excuse me, Mr. Human?” The voice broke Anon out of his reverie.
  365. >He looked to his right, and saw a young unicorn filly sitting in the aisle facing him.
  366. “Oh, can I help you?” He lowered his book and turned himself to face the young pony.
  367. >”W-well I’ve n-never talked to a h-human before, so I w-was just wondering if we could t-talk.”
  368. >Anon had to hold back a laugh; the poor filly looked so nervous.
  369. “Sure we can.” Anon gave a friendly smile.
  370. >The filly’s eyes grew huge, and Anon watched as she spun around, beaming at a mare and stallion sitting directly opposite from him.
  371. >”He said I could talk to him!” She squealed as she bounced on the tips of her hooves.
  372. >”Well don’t stand there Crystal, hop on the seat, we don’t want you blocking the aisle.” The stallion laughed.
  373. >The filly, encouraged by who Anon assumed to be her parents, immediately leapt up next to him and sat down, staring at him with large, inquisitive eyes.
  374. “So your name is Crystal? It’s a pretty name”
  375. >The filly tried to hide her head between her forelegs, blushing furiously while peeking at him with one eye.
  376. >”T-thank you. What’s your name?” She asked as she finally came out of hiding.
  377. >Anon had to take a few breaths before he could respond. The amount of cuteness he had just witnessed had nearly given him a heart attack.
  378. >I’m Anonymous. You can call me Anon if you want, everyone does.” He stated.
  379. >”Well Mr. Anon, could you tell me who you are going to meet.”
  380. “Well Crystal, I’m not quite sure yet. You do know why I’m here in Equestria right?”
  381. >”Well, my parents did tell me that there are some lonely mares out there, and that Princess Cadance was going to help them. I’ve seen a couple of humans here in the Crystal Empire, but never had the courage to talk to one.”
  382. “I am here to help someon-somepony with their loneliness, but I’m not sure who it is yet.”
  383. >”I bet you’ll help them a lot, whoever they are. You look like a good human.” The filly smiled innocently.
  384. >Now it was Anon’s turn to blush.
  385. “I’ll do my best.” He chuckled. “What else do you want to know?”
  386. >”Well, was it hard to come here?”
  387. “Physically, no. I just stepped through a portal and bam, here I stood.” Anon let out a small sight.
  388. “Mentally? Yes, it was hard. It was very hard.”
  389. >”How?”
  390. >Anon could tell she didn’t mean anything by the blunt question. She was young, and her innocence still ruled her thoughts and words.
  391. “Well, I didn’t have much back home. I had a boring job I really didn’t care much for. I only had a small group of people I would consider friends. All in all, I was lonely. Really lonely.”
  392. >Crystal let out a small gasp, her hooves covering her mouth as tears began to form in her eyes.
  393. >”W-what about a marefriend? Did you have one of those?”
  394. “No, I didn’t” Anon shook his head sadly. “Very few human women were interested in me. I didn’t like the things they liked, liked the people they looked up to, or believed in the ideas that most women my age believed in.”
  395. >Seeing that the poor filly next to him was about to burst into tears, Anon was quick to amend his (admittedly) very depressing statement.
  396. “Sorry about sounding so depressed about it all. There were things I enjoyed very much back home.” He said gently.
  397. >”W-what did you enjoy?” The filly squeaked out.
  398. “I had my family, who I love more than anything. They were always there to help me. And my friends. I said I only had a few, but we were pretty close, and we always stood up for each other.”
  399. >Crystal seemed to calm down at these words.
  400. “I had some possessions that made me happy. I loved to go fishing with my dad, or hang out and play board games with my friends. I talked to my mom every week about how I was doing.”
  401. >”And... and you left them?” Crystal asked, head tilted and lower lip quivering.
  402. “I did. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I left everything I’ve ever known behind, to make a mare I’ve never known happy, while hoping that it makes me happy in return.”
  403. “I just pray that my decision was ri-”
  404. >Anon was cut off, because the filly Crystal had leapt from the seat next to him was giving him as big a hug as she could.
  405. >”Oh I’m so sorry Mr. Anon! Y-you must be so s-sad and a-all alone and s-scared and..”
  406. >The poor filly stopped talking and began to sniffle into Anon’s shirt as she continued to try and crush his rib cage.
  407. >Anon looked down at the cute little filly trying to crush him to death with surprise.
  408. >Desperate to comfort the sweet filly before her parents came over, he began to pet her back gently.
  409. “Hey, hey, it’ll be okay. I’ve made my decision and I’ll live with it. But hey, do you want to hear something good about this?”
  410. >”W-what?” Crystal looked up from the tearstains she had left on Anons shirt.
  411. “Since I came here, I got to meet a super nice filly like you”
  412. >That did the trick. Crystal blushed again and relinquished her hold on anon and sat back down from her seat, once again hiding behind her forelegs.
  413. >”You really think I’m super nice?” She mumbled, barely loud enough for Anon to hear.
  414. “Yup, you sure are. You’re so cute I think it should be a crime” He laughed.
  415. >”Nuh uh it shouldn’t be.” She pouted, crossing her forelegs as her parents tittered behind her. “I'm gonna be a good pony. I’m not gonna break no laws”
  416. “I bet you won’t. Oh, what’s this?”
  417. >Anon looked back forward just a stallion wheeling in a cart laden with snacks and goodies came from the train car in front of them.
  418. >”Crystal dear, do you want a scone? I know they’re your favorite.” The filly’s father called out.
  419. >Crystal, who like Anon had seen the snack cart enter, seemed to forget all her previous angst.
  420. >”I gotta go Mr. Anon, I gotta go get a scone!” She squeaked excitedly.
  421. “Don’t let me stop you, go on.” He said, a sudden hunger coming over him as well.
  422. >With another quick nuzzle into Anon’s chest, the rambunctious filly quickly made her way back to her parents, who gave her several bits to purchase snacks with.
  423. >Pulling out a few bits of his own, he began to eye several of the advertised goodies.
  424. >Five minutes and several bits less letter, Anon sat back in his seat, munching on several vanilla donuts.
  425. >Anon also decided that no donuts he had ever eaten could even come close to trying to be as good as these.
  426. >Needless to say, it did not take him long to finish his donuts.
  427. >Anon sighed in contentment as he looked to his left, where Crystal sat with her parents as she bulldozed through several scones, and then to his right, through the window and out into the now forested landscape.
  428. “Yeah, this is totally worth it.”
  429. >Taking in the beautiful scenery as it went past him, he picked up his guide again
  430. >He still had over 9 hours of travel left before he arrived, so he might as well make the most of it.
  431. >So Anon kicked his seat back and, with a stomach full of food and a super comfy headrest, he quickly fell asleep.
  432. <>
  433. >The whistle of the train woke him from his slumber.
  434. >He sat up, rubbing his eyes, trying to collect his bearings as his body rebooted
  435. “How long did I sleep for?” Anon mumbled to himself as he stretched.
  436. >After a long yawn, he glanced outside his window, just in time to see Canterlot appear around a bend in the mountainside.
  437. >He openly gawked at the large city, perched precariously on the mountainside, silhouetted by the setting sun.
  438. “Holy crap.” Anon managed to let out.
  439. >”Look mommy! We’re home! We’re home!”
  440. >Anon turned from the window to see Crystal bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement, her parents slowly rousing themselves from their own sleep.
  441. >As the train got closer to Canterlot, Anon’s amazement grew at the majestic city that grew larger every second.
  442. >When the train finally pulled up to the Canterlot railway station, he was speechless in awe.
  443. >It was like nothing he had ever seen before in his life.
  444. >Anon knew that somewhere up there, among Canterlot’s spiraling towers Celestia sat, lowering the sun as the day ended and night began.
  445. >The hissing of the train car’s door opening pulled him from his observations, as the ponies riding in his car gathered their belongings and began to file their way out onto the platform.
  446. >”Mr. Anon, I hope you have good luck!” He turned just in time to catch another hug from Crystal.
  447. >Thankfully the hug wasn’t as crushing, so Anon was able to return it without wincing in pain.
  448. “Thanks so much, I hope you and your parents get home safe.” He smiled down at the filly.
  449. >”I hope you have luck with your match. She’s in Ponyville right?” She asked as she left the hug and stood back.
  450. “Yup, it’s going to be another 2 hours to get there though.” Anon replied.
  451. >”Crystal honey, time to go!” Both Anon and Crystal turned to see the filly’s parents standing outside the train, waving excitedly towards their daughter.
  452. >”Sorry Mr. Anon, but I gotta go!” The filly quickly hopped out the open door and galloped over to her parents, who enveloped her in a group hug.
  453. >Just then the doors hissed and shut, the train let out another whistle, and began to move once again.
  454. >Through your window you could see Crystal waving furiously at you as the train began to leave the platform.
  455. >You smiled and waved back until a bend in the mountain caused the platform to disappear from view.
  456. “Only two more hours…” Anon muttered as he looked at his ticket, checking the time from Canterlot to Ponyville.
  457. >He thought about trying to get some more sleep in before he arrived.
  458. >But an anticipation had been building in him since he had seen the majesty of Canterlot.
  459. >Suddenly wide awake and not in the mood to sleep or even look for something to eat, he pulled out his guide once again and began to once again flip through it.
  460. >As much as he tried to focus on the words however, he couldn’t.
  461. >Soon he would be meeting Cadance, and then he would be taken to see his match.
  462. >’The mare of his dreams’ his second letter had proclaimed. That was what she would be for him.
  463. >If everything worked out.
  464. >Anon looked up and, seeing he was the only occupant of his passenger car, set his guide down and began to pace.
  465. >He paced while the sun finally went down, and Luna’s brilliant moon went up in its place.
  466. >He couldn’t sit still or concentrate.
  467. >He was about to meet his dream mare.
  468. >Anon didn’t know how long he kept this up, until he spotted a few twinkling lights outside the windows that weren't stars.
  469. >As the artificial lights grew closer, he could see a small platform connected to a small train station.
  470. >He was so close.
  471. >As the station got closer and closer he could see a couple ponies lingering on the platform, most likely waiting for somepony they knew.
  472. >But one was taller and much more pink than the others, and seemed to be bouncing on her hooves much like the filly Crystal had been.
  473. “Well, here goes nothing.” Anon said to himself as the train came to a stop at the platform.
  474. >The doors hissed open, and the last few ponies who had been riding on the train quickly disembarked, quietly welcomed by the ponies already on the platform.
  475. >When Anon exited his car, Princess Cadance, who seemed like she was trying to tap dance, quickly let out an excited squeak and bounded over towards him.
  476. >”Oh hello! You must be Anon! I’m so excited to have you here. I hope Shining was welcoming?”
  477. “Yes he was, for the hour or so I got to spend in the Crystal Empire at least.” Anon replied
  478. >He was still trying to keep track of the bouncing princess, as she finally came to a stop directly in front of him.
  479. >All in all, Anon wasn’t really surprised when Cadance reared up and gave him a big hug.
  480. >At least she didn’t try to crush him, one pony death-hug per day was enough for him at the moment.
  481. >After a polite few seconds she released him and settled back on her hooves.
  482. >”Anon, I’m so sorry I couldn’t greet you at the Crystal Empire myself, but I was needed here.”
  483. “That’s what Shining Armor told me. He said it had something to do with my match? He said she had a… what did he call it? A ‘medical accident’.”
  484. >Anon thought it was just the darkness of the night and the harshness of the platform lights, but he could have sworn he saw Cadance shiver for a second.
  485. >”Yes, she got hurt pretty badly but she’s stable right now. Now common, let’s get you to my sister-in-law’s castle.”
  486. >Cadance snatched Anon’s bag from his hand, and, humming a happy tune, began to trot off the platform towards an imposing shape, one that blocked the stars.
  487. >A few lit windows could be seen across its surface, and from it’s height compared to the other buildings nearby he assumed it was Twilight’s castle.
  488. “I preferred the tree.” Anon muttered to himself as he followed Cadance off the platform and onto a well beat-down gravel path.
  489. >”What was that?” Cadance asked as Anon caught up to the pink princess, the area around them lit up by the princesses magic.
  490. “Nothing.” Anon coughed. “Sow, what can you tell me about my match? I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous to meet her.”
  491. >”Well, hehe, I understand perfectly, but there isn’t anything to worry about.” Cadance said.
  492. >This time Anon definitely heard a stutter in her voice.
  493. “You sound a little nervous yourself. I thought you’ve done this human/pony matchmaking thing before, much less matchmaking with other ponies.” Anon stated flatly.
  494. >Cadance glazed over at Anon, a visible drop of sweat rolling down her brow.
  495. >”Me? Nervous? No way, heheheh, I’m totally calm and collected. Yup, I am a princess after all, regal and composed, right?.” She stammered.
  496. >Anon stopped walking and stared at Cadance, who also halted.
  497. >As he took a quick glance around, Anon saw that they were just about to turn onto the path that led to Twilight’s castle, which still had several lit windows, despite the late hour.
  498. >The soft sounds of night covered everything, so Anon kept his voice low, but his frustration and confusion was still evident.
  499. “Okay, what’s the issue? Why are you nervous, don’t try pretending anymore. I can tell you’re hiding something, just like your husband was.”
  500. >”H-he didn’t tell you did he?” Cadance squeaked out, ears pinning to the back of her head.
  501. “No he didn’t, although I could tell he wanted to. What are you hiding?”
  502. >”Well, um, you see…” Cadance took a step towards the nearby castle, before sighing and hanging her head.
  503. >”It would be better if they explained it to you themselves. Come on, they’re waiting on us.”
  504. >Cadance turned and began to trot off towards the castle, her excited gait gone, replaced with a slow, lethargic pace.
  505. >Anon stood alone for several seconds, before he let out a long sigh and once again began to follow the pink princess.
  506. >It was easy for Anon to catch up to her pace, but his mind was still running a mile a minute.
  507. “So what can you tell me about her? He asked quietly, attempting to keep his anger in check.
  508. >Cadance said nothing for a moment, to Anon it looked like she was trying to formulate an answer that wouldn’t get her yelled at.
  509. >”I can tell you that… that she’s hurt and alone right now. In my opinion, she will need all the companionship she can get, given her condition.”
  510. “In your opinion? Are there other opinions to be considered that factor into this? Other than mine obviously.”
  511. “Yes, there are.” Cadance said as her and Anon ascended the few steps to the large double doors of the Castle of Friendship.
  512. >”Are you ready?”
  513. “Ready as I’ll ever be, given all the secrets floating around apparently.” Anon grumbled.
  514. >Cadance gave a downtrodden face. “Don’t worry, your questions will get answered as soon as we get to her room.”
  515. >The doors lit up in her magic and slowly opened, wide enough to let them both through.
  516. >As they entered, Anon took quick stock of the entry hall and surroundings.
  517. >Crystals? Check. Annoying reflections? Check. Purple bookhorse? Not so far it seems.
  518. “Where’s Twilight? I half expected her to be bouncing off the walls with me coming here and all.”
  519. >”She’s upstairs. But let’s get your belongings into your temporary room first before we do anything. If you don’t mind?”
  520. >Cadance gestured to the travel bag still slung over Anon’s shoulder, and he unslung it and set it on the floor at his feet.
  521. >The bag was encased in a light cornflower blue aura, before vanishing with a pop.
  522. >”There, now that’s done. Now, let’s get your questions answered.” Cadance began to trot towards the staircase directly ahead of them.
  523. “So this isn’t another stalling tactic?” Anon followed Cadance up the stairs.
  524. >”No, it’s not. The ponies you want to talk to are in your match’s room.”
  525. >Princess Cadance made her way through the castle, along several winding, crystalline hallways which were lit by small lanterns or by the castle walls themselves.
  526. >Anon couldn’t help but notice Royal Guard patrolling along several hallways, and standing at the base and top of several staircases they climbed.
  527. >”Her room is right up these stairs.” Cadance said as her and Anon began to climb.
  528. >Anon took note of the guards at the top, both of whom nodded towards Princess Cadance and him as they passed.
  529. “I didn’t take Twilight for a pony who had this many guards in her castle.”
  530. >Cadance winced at the open sarcasm in Anon’s voice.
  531. >”I’m sorry, I truly am, but If you want your questions answered, then they are the ponies you want.”
  532. >Cadance rounded a short bend in the hall and pointed with a hoof.
  533. >There were two doors at the end of the hall, on the left and the right, but it was the ponies standing next to the opened left-side door that he immediately gave his full attention too.
  534. >Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were standing there, apparently having a silent discussion with themselves.
  535. >While Anon couldn’t make out what they were saying, he could tell it was something important.
  536. >However, Cadance’s voice seemed to have gotten their attention, because no sooner than Cadance had set her hoof down, the two princesses immediately halted their conversation.
  537. >Both Luna and Celestia smiled when they saw Anon standing besides Cadance.
  538. >”Hello there young human, you must be Anon.” Celestia said, a small smile appearing on her muzzle.
  539. >For a moment, Anon was shocked into silence.
  540. >He was standing in front of the being that literally made the sun rise and fall every day.
  541. >There was this feeling, a small, almost unnoticeable background humming, not really so much a sound but it resonated in the air around her if Anon focused on it.
  542. >Talk about scary power levels.
  543. “H-hello Princess Celestia, Princess Luna.” Anon nodded politely, smiling despite his earlier mood.
  544. >”Greetings to you too, Anon. Was your trip here well?” Luna asked.
  545. “Yes, it was fine. I’m sorry if I’m going to be a bit blunt here, but is my match in that room?” Anon pointed at the open doorway.
  546. >Celestia took note of the edge of annoyance in Anon’s voice. “Yes, she is. Would you like to see her?”
  547. “I...I would.” Anon slowly walked towards the doorway.
  548. >As much as he was trying to stay calm, all the emotion in him was almost ready to burst.
  549. >All the waiting, the misleading information, even his snapping at Cadance, all of it was forgotten.
  550. >The two princess entered ahead of him, and he followed closely behind them.
  551. >The first thing Anon heard was the steady beeping of a heart monitor, while the clean, sterile smell of medical equipment hit him second.
  552. >The room wasn’t too big, large enough to be a living room for a decently sized family, but it wasn’t decorated for entertainment.
  553. >Charts and medical equipment were arranged around what Anon assumed was a bed, but a privacy screen blocked the occupant from view.
  554. >To his untrained eyes it looked like runes and other symbols had been placed on sections of the walls, floor, ceiling, and even several, smaller drawings covered the one large window on the far side of the room.
  555. ”Is… Is she okay?” Anon let out, finally finding his words.
  556. >”She is stable at the moment,” Celestia replied, looking towards the hidden bed. “But she is in a coma. We believe it to be magical in nature.”
  557. >Anon slowly made his way over to the privacy curtain, hesitant despite his own building anticipation and curiosity.
  558. >Celestia, having followed Anon over to the curtains, looked over to him, eyes boring straight into his soul.
  559. >The human gave an involuntary shudder at the intensity of her gaze. “You were chosen as the perfect match for a being I never would have guessed would have been able to love anything.”
  560. >”However, believe in second chances, no matter who the pony may be. I hope and pray that you are the right one for her.” The privacy curtain lit up with a golden glow, and simply melted from existence.
  561. >Anon looked down at the pony that lay on the bed, and his eyes grew wide with recognition.
  562. >Despite the bandages covering her body and the face mask covering her muzzle, he could recognize the dark, nearly black fur, and the mare’s cutie mark.
  563. >While almost identical to the Lunar princess standing behind him, the crescent moon was outlined in a dark, sinister purple, while the moon itself was an off white blue color.
  564. >Anon froze, shock erasing every thought from his head.
  565. >Suddenly the apprehension, secrecy, and nervousness of Cadance and her husband made sense.
  566. >Celestia, now joined by the other two princesses, did not say a word, simply observing Anon’s first moment with Nightmare Moon.
  567. >Finally, Anon managed to open his mouth, and express his first thoughts.
  568. “Well, shit”
  569. >There was a moment of silence in the room, only punctuated by soft beeping of the medical equipment.
  570. >”Well, what do you think Anon?” Cadance managed to break through the awkward silence.
  571. “I… I don’t really know what to think, isn’t Nightmare Moon supposed to be destroyed?” Anon managed to get out.
  572. >His back was still to the princesses, so he couldn’t see the nervous looks they shared with each other.
  573. >”We had assumed this as well until two weeks ago, when she appeared.” Luna said quietly, walking up to the bed to stand beside Anon.
  574. >”Fluttershy found her while feeding her animals near the border of the Everfree Forest, and she got Twilight Sparkle, who in turn messaged me.” Celestia replied.
  575. >”She was found severely injured and near death, and my sister and I believed that through allowing her to live, we would be able to learn how she was able to return.”
  576. “Have you learned anything?”
  577. >”Unfortunately no, we haven’t. She has been in a magical coma since she was brought here.” Luna finished, looking from Nightmare Moon towards Anon.
  578. “So, Cadance” Anon turned around fully, looking Cadance in the eye. “You’re sure that… that Nightmare Moon is the mare that I’m matched too? There isn’t a mistake somewhere?”
  579. >For her part, Princess Cadance didn’t slump in embarrassment or look away from Anon.
  580. >”No, there isn’t. The Crystal Heart has never been wrong before. Sometimes a humans and mares bond isn’t perfect or found at first, but it will never match two incompatible individuals.”
  581. “So what you’re saying is that we’re destined to be together, whether we want to be or not?”
  582. >””...Yes.” This time Cadance did look away, unable to meet Anon’s gaze
  583. “That’s so fucking stupid, I hate this metaphysical ‘fate’ bullcrap. If I’m going to love a woman, or a mare, or anybody, I’d rather earn it myself. Where I’m from, everything freely given always ends up having a price to pay.”
  584. >Anon turned back to face Nightmare Moon, and began to examine her closely for the first time.
  585. “Do you know if she’s even in there? She could be braindead.” He asked, squatting down next to her bed, looking at her mask-covered face.
  586. >If Celestia and Luna were startled at his outburst they didn’t show it, but Cadance’s eyes went wide with surprise at his words.
  587. >Celestia spoke before her adopted niece could interject. “Frankly, we don’t know. All of our tests, both magical and medical, haven’t shown that she is gone.”
  588. >The Princess continued with a humorless chuckle. “We had a hope that, by bringing you both together, something may change in her condition.”
  589. >Anon studied the contours of Nightmare Moon’s muzzle, and the spire of her horn.
  590. >He could imagine those strange, slitted eyes hiding behind the closed eyelids.
  591. >Her horn took his attention though, covered with nicks and small chips taken off of it.
  592. >”That is another thing that we cannot determine the reason for.” Luna spoke up, taking note of Anon’s inspection of Nightmare Moon. “She has not begun to heal from her injuries, nor have they grown worse.”
  593. >The Lunar Princess approached the bed to stand besides her sister. “It’s nothing I’ve seen outside of very advanced healing spells, but it’s not one of those, it’s… something else. Something my sister and I have never seen before.”
  594. “Hmmm… That is kinda strange.” Anon absently reached out and poked a small notch in Nightmare Moon’s horn.
  595. >For a moment, it was as if a static shock went from his outstretched hand all the way to his toes.
  596. >Blackness quickly encroached in his vision as he felt his legs give out underneath him.
  597. >The last thing he heard was Celestia’s surprised cry as he kit the floor.
  598. >Instead of the encroaching blackness, Anon suddenly found himself in a white, empty void.
  599. >No sun, no moon, no terrain features, no nothing.
  600. >The light was a murky, damp shade, like light coming through a thick layer of clouds, but when Anon looked up, he couldn’t see anything that looked like a sky, much less clouds.
  601. “Hello?” Anon called out to the void.
  602. >His voice echoed for a second or two, then faded.
  603. >Nothing responded.
  604. “Well this sucks.” Anon crossed his arms, pouting.
  605. >A quiet, shuffling sound behind him made his hair stand on end.
  606. >Gritting his teeth together so he wouldn’t scream like a little girl, he slowly turned around.
  607. >Nightmare Moon stood before him, and Anon took several cautious steps backward.
  608. >Her appearance was the same as it was in real life, except there were no bandages to hide the wounds and her emaciated frame, all of it was completely laid bare to Anon.
  609. >Even her mane and tail, both of which he knew should be glowing clouds of miasmic stars, were barely in existence, just small streaks of blue even showed that they were there.
  610. >Her eyes were what drew Anon’s gaze ultimately. Those serpentine, cyan eyes were filled with terror.
  611. >In fact, now that Anon was recovering from the shock of her appearance, he noticed that she was trembling from hoof to horn. Despite that, if she was standing tall, they would be about the same height.
  612. >He swallowed the lump in his throat, and hesitantly took a step forward.
  613. >Immediately, the broken alicorn seemed to cower, like a scared fawn, shrinking into herself, leaning away from him.
  614. >”W-what are you?” He could barely hear her voice, filled with terror and weakness. “Do not hurt us, please.”
  615. >Anon paused, uncertain of what to do.
  616. >The voice he had heard did not sound like the one he knew from the show.
  617. >No pride, no malevolent glee filled the words he heard, only pain and fear.
  618. >Even the young filly Crystal had sounded less scared of him than Nightmare Moon did right then.
  619. “My full name is Anonymous, but you can call me Anon. Everyone does.”
  620. >Nightmare Moon didn’t respond, so Anon took another step forward.
  621. >Somehow, the alicorn curled up even smaller into herself, still shaking and quivering like a leaf in the autumn wind.
  622. >He hoped he wasn’t going to spook her any more than he already had, so he decided to stand his ground where he was.
  623. “Do… Do you know what happened to you?” Anon questioned quietly.
  624. >”I remember darkness, and the cold, a-and the rain.” Nightmare Moon responded after several seconds of silence.
  625. >”Then, then she appeared.”
  626. “Who?”
  627. >”The one who tore us from our host permanently, We could do nothing but watch as she summoned… She summoned....”
  628. >The dark alicorn couldn’t finish, as tears began to leak from her eyes, she finally gave up on standing, and collapsed to the ground in a quivering, sobbing mess.
  629. >Anon stood there, unsure of what to do next. Clearly his plan of not freaking her out more had backfired, so he needed to do something else.
  630. >With a small smile he sat down, legs crossed, in front of the crying alicorn.
  631. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.”
  632. >”W-we don’t want to hurt anymore.” She managed to get out, slowly opening her eyes to look at him. “We d-don’t want to go back.”
  633. “Back? Back where?”
  634. >”I-I was disintegrating, slowly and slowly. Nothing could stop it. Then I found a way.” Her voice was barely audible, and Anon found himself leaning forward in his curiosity.
  635. “What did you do?”
  636. >”We c-created this body, with the last bit of energy we could gather, We do not remember how we did so.”
  637. “Then came the forest.” Anon guessed, going off her earlier words.
  638. >”Then the cold, the r-rain, and Celestia the Sunbringer.” Nightmare Moon hid her head under her trembling forelegs as silent tears again began to fall from her eyes.
  639. >Anon’s eyes widened a bit at those words.
  640. >He’d never heard of Celestia officially called that before.
  641. >As he opened his mouth to ask another question, wind began to blow, coming from seemingly nowhere, but the ferocity of it blew his clothing out behind him.
  642. >The sudden wind turned into a gale-force howl that nearly caused Anon to topple over, only planting his feet into what he assumed was the ground prevented his fall.
  643. >Strangely, Nightmare Moon seemed to be unaffected by it all, as she ceased crying, and looked at Anon with surprise and fear in her large, tear-swollen eyes.
  644. >”W-what are you doing?” She called out through the now gale-force winds, which still didn’t seem to be touching her.
  645. “I don’t know!” Anon shouted to be heard, his arms shielding his face from the whipping wind.
  646. >Suddenly he felt himself being lifted up off his feet and being thrown high into the sky as he let out a scream of terror.
  647. >“...I think he’s waking up.”
  648. >Anon’s first feeling was that he was lying on a bed, an extremely comfortable one at that.
  649. >The second was that he could feel a hoof pressed up against his temple.
  650. >”Just stay still Mr. Anon, take a couple deep breaths.” It was a different voice this time.
  651. >Anon brought a hand up to his head with a groan, feebly moving the hoof away while clutching at his head.
  652. >His head felt like he had brain freeze, except with a delivery truck’s load worth of ice cream shoved through his forehead.
  653. >Hell, he could feel the cold, numbing chill go most of the way down his spine and down to his elbows.
  654. >Especially his left arm though, it felt almost like it was burned by something.
  655. >He vaguely remembered touching Nightmare Moon’s horn with it, so that’s probably why it hurt so damn bad.
  656. >”Anon, could you tell us if you are alright?” He recognized this voice, and slowly opened his eyes.
  657. >All three Princesses stood by the side of the large bed he was currently lying on, while a pegasus mare scribbled down notes on a clipboard with one wing.
  658. >”He looks to be fine physically, Princess. Magically and mentally, however, that would be up for you to decide, I can’t really test for that kind of thing myself.” The mare finished, finishing up whatever she was writing.
  659. >”Thank you so much Tea Leaf. You may go.” Celestia nodded to the mare in thanks.
  660. >Bowing, the rather tired looking pegasus turned and left the room.
  661. >As Anon got his bearings, he slowly examined the room he was in.
  662. >It was a bedroom, smaller than the room Nightmare Moon was in.
  663. >Through a separate doorway he could see a bathroom sink, and several bookcases adorned the walls around his bed
  664. “What… What happened?” Anon muttered as he slowly sat up, still rubbing his aching head.
  665. >”A connection, young human. We did not think it possible, but many things thought impossible have happened as of late.” Luna spoke up for the first time, her horn glowing blue.
  666. >”The connection you just experienced was one of the minds, only possible during periods of rest. Or in your case,” The lunar princess let out an apologetic cough. “One of unconsciousness.”
  667. “So, I was dreaming?”
  668. >”Very simply put, yes. However, this experience didn’t affect you alone, it had an effect on Nightmare Moon as well.”
  669. “Really, what happened to her?”
  670. >Anon swung his legs off the bed, the cold feeling and numbness seemed to be vanishing quickly.
  671. >”Her brain activity spiked dramatically when you connected with her, and while it has gone down somewhat since, it seems her mind is much more active now than it was before your presence here.”
  672. >Luna paused her explanation, and turned to face Anon fully. “But enough of that for the moment, tell us exactly what happened after you touched her horn and fell unconscious.”
  673. >So Anon told them everything that had happened, from his touching Nightmare Moon’s horn to his being blown away by the gale force winds.
  674. >”I must apologize for the sudden exit you had, that was my doing.” Luna said as he finished, “I did not mean for it to be so rough but we were greatly concerned for your well being.”
  675. “Well, thanks for that, but I don’t really think I needed saving at the moment. Nightmare Moon looked much more afraid of me than I did of her.” Anon replied, taking a glass of water offered to him by Cadance.
  676. >”Nevertheless, we do not know what secrets Nightmare Moon may be hiding, so until proper precautions can be taken regarding your dreams, we thought it necessary.”
  677. “Wait, why are you acting like this may turn out to be an ongoing thing?”
  678. >”We believe that due to your… connection to her-”
  679. >”Through the Crystal Heart, she means,.” Cadance interjected.
  680. >”-Due to your connection to her through the Crystal Heart,” Luna rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at Cadance. “We believe that your minds may begin to connect through the dream realm when you slumber.”
  681. “...Really?” Anon tilted his head, confused. “Does she dream?”
  682. >”We are unsure if she ‘dreams’ while in her current state. However, it is possible that you may share your dreams with her while you sleep.”
  683. >”I think this gives both Nightmare Moon and yourself the chance to connect together.” Celestia spoke for the first time since Anon had begun his story.
  684. >”You said before your contact with her, that you wished to form an emotional bond through your own power?” Celestia asked.
  685. “I mean, I don’t really like the idea of being forced to love somebody, somepony, or anyone. It takes away from the journey that both individuals have to share, I guess” Anon responded, looking at Celestia.
  686. >The Solar Princess stood tall before Anon ”Well I believe that settles it then. I believe that should any more of these connected dreams occur, you attempt to gain Nightmare Moon’s friendship.”
  687. >”The building of spiritual and emotional bonds can be hard, but I believe in you Anon, and if Nightmare Moon is as timid, afraid, and alone as she seemed to you, then she will need someone there to help her find her way.”
  688. >Celestia summoned a sheet of parchment and a quill pen with her magic, and began to write quickly.
  689. >”Should a joined dream occur, you will write down anything and everything that happens. We will read them to determine if there is any gradual change in both her or your behavior.
  690. >”We are allowing this bond but if we find any attempt by her to influence or corrupt your mind Luna will block her consciousness from reaching you.” Celestia finished, her face as serious as bedrock granite.
  691. “U-understood Princess.” Anon couldn’t help but swallow nervously.
  692. >While Celestia had been talking, it seemed the room had gone up several degrees, Celestia’s intensity manifesting itself physically.
  693. >Thankfully, the calmer Celestia got, the temperature began to fall back to normal, bearable levels.
  694. >”But like I said, I have faith in you Anon.” Celestia gave Anon a calm smile.
  695. >”Now, since it is morning, you should get something to eat. Me and my sister will walk you down to the kitchen before we leave for Canterlot, and Cadance returns to the Crystal Empire.”
  696. >Anon stood up and stretched, yawning loudly.
  697. “Breakfast sounds awesome right now. Do you think Spike could cook me some pancakes?”
  698. >”I’m sure he’d be delighted to.” Celestia chuckled as the trio left the room and made their way towards the kitchen to secure food for themselves.
  699. >As it turned out, Spike made amazing pancakes, and he eagerly listened to Anon sing their praises as he greedily devoured the plate set before him.
  700. >The three Princesses seated at the table with him laughed as they witnessed the destruction Anon caused.
  701. “Hey, uh, do you think you can make me another couple pancakes?” Anon asked hopefully, looking forlornly at the empty plate in front of him.
  702. >”Of course Anon, I’m glad you like them!” The young dragon hopped back into the kitchen, where he quickly went back to work on his culinary magic.
  703. “That dragon sure knows how to cook food.” Anon said wistfully.
  704. >”Of course he does. Who do you think taught him how to cook?” Celestia gave Anon a sly smile as Spike reappeared, the large plate in his claws full of puffy pancakes.
  705. “So, other than trying to be Nightmare Moon’s friend while I dream, what should I do in the meantime?”
  706. >”Oh I’m sure Twilight would love to help you make a list of things you can do to pass the time.” Celestia remarked as she set her utensils down. “In fact, I believe that it is time for me and my sister to return to Canterlot.”
  707. >”Yes, I can only imagine what has become of it since we left Twilight in charge for the last several days.” Luna added, eyes rolling.
  708. “So do you think she’ll be able to help me after that much stress?” Anon asked once he had swallowed a large mouthful of pancakes and syrup.
  709. >”Once she has gotten a good night's sleep in, yes, she certainly will.” Celestia stood from her chair, and her sister rose alongside her.
  710. >”We will be sending you a special book, although ‘journal’ would probably be a better term for it. You will use it to document every interaction you have with Nightmare Moon, every last detail.” Celestia looked Anon in the eyes.
  711. >”It will be enchanted so that it can tell if the pony, or human rather, is under the influence of any kind of mental magic. It also will be able to detect falsehood in your writing.”
  712. >Luna spoke up “We will have our own copy, and whatever you transcribe in your book will appear in ours, for our own study. We are giving Nightmare Moon the chance to change herself, and only one chance.”
  713. >Under the intense gazes of two princesses, Anon felt himself shrink in his seat, pancakes forgotten for the moment.
  714. >”I did not wish to give her the chance at first, but I am willing to as of now. You must impress this upon her. If she does not, then, well…”
  715. >Luna left her statement hanging, but Anon could see the direction in which she was going.
  716. “Ummm… Understood. I'll try to get her to understand the position she’s in.” Anon slowly took another fork full of pancakes.
  717. “Anything else you need from me?”
  718. >”No, we believe that the time has come for us to leave.” Celestia’s stern face was replaced with a reassuring smile. “As I said before, we have faith that you can do this. However, if you need help, all you need is to ask.”
  719. “I understand, and thanks.” Anon smiled and nodded towards the two princesses.
  720. >The princesses nodded back, and left the room, leaving Cadance and Anon alone.
  721. >”So, how do you think your first conversation with Nightmare Moon went?” Cadance asked politely, but while her face was neutral, her eyes had grown and seemed to sparkle with contained excitement.
  722. “Well, we barely talked, and she was in tears from fear for most of the time, so I’d say it could have gone better. You heard me earlier when I told you three what happened.”
  723. >”Well I’m just making sure you didn’t leave anything out that you didn’t want to tell Celestia or Luna.
  724. “Trust me, I didn’t leave anything out. I don’t want them mad at me right now, considering the position I’m in.”
  725. >Cadance looked at Anon for a moment, before she nodded sagely “That’s for the best. They don’t like it when anypony lies to them.”
  726. >The pink princess pushed her chair back from the table and pranced over to Anon’s side. “I’ve got to go back to the Crystal Empire as well. I’ve got tons of stuff piling up right now, I just had to make sure everything went smoothly for your first meeting with your match.”
  727. >She leaned over and wrapped Anon in a quick hug, sending the fork out of Anon’s hand and back onto his plate.
  728. >”It’s just like Celestia and Luna said, if you need anything, just send a letter and we’ll do whatever we can to help, especially me. It’s kinda my job after all.”
  729. “Ummm… Sure?” Anon said awkwardly as he gently pushed the princess off of him, while his eyes quickly focused back onto his unfinished plate.
  730. >”I’m just making sure you know that you don’t have to do this alone; if you need help, just ask.”
  731. >Princess Cadance took stock of herself and, with a burst of her magic, several travel bags styled in her colors appeared on the floor at her feet.
  732. >”Well, I must be off, my train arrives in less than 30 minutes. If you ever need my help in the love and relationship department regarding your match, you know how to contact me.”
  733. >Anon, who was in the midst of putting another forkful of pancake into his mouth, coughed and roughly swallowed his mouthful of food.
  734. “E-excuse me?” He spluttered, holding his chest and trying not to choke.
  735. >But the Princess had gotten in the last word, all Anon saw was her tail disappearing through the entryway to the kitchen, travel bags hovering behind her.
  736. >Anon stared at the empty doorway for a moment, then turned back to his plate.
  737. >But his appetite had virtually disappeared, along with Princess Cadance.
  738. >He figured 12 large, syrup soaked pancakes was enough for breakfast anyways.
  739. >Just as he was standing up from his chair, Spike came back into the dining room, drying his claws on a towel.
  740. >”Oh hi Anon, you think those are the best pancakes ever or what?”
  741. “I sure did, I haven’t had pancakes that tasty in a long while. You mind if I get this cleaned up?” Anon gestured to his plate, still covered in the remnants of a glorious and hard-fought battle.
  742. >”Oh don’t you mind, I can take care of it. I was just finishing up the rest of the dishes anyways.” Spike reached for the plate, but when he went for the utensils Anon snatched them up first.
  743. “I don’t think so buddy. You cooked all that food, and I’m going to at least help you finish cleaning, it's the least I can do.”
  744. >”Well, if you really want to, sure you can.”
  745. >Anon followed the young dragon into the kitchen, and gazed around at all the cookware organized in neat, orderly rows on the walls or hidden in crystal cabinets.
  746. >”So, what do you think of Ponyville so far?” Spike asked as he sat on a stool next to the large sink, watching as Anon scrubbed his plate and utensils clean.
  747. “Well, I haven’t really been about at all actually. I got here late last night so I couldn’t see much of anything, and I’ve been in here since then.”
  748. >Anon took his now clean dishes and stacked them on the drying rack, where 4 other plates also shone, cleaned to perfection.
  749. >”Spike left from his stool as Anon dried his hands. “Well, since you don’t have much else to do right now, and since Twilight won’t get her for another couple hours, I can show you around Ponyville, Common!”
  750. >Anon followed the cheerful dragon out from the kitchen, through several hallways, past several sets of guards, through the large double front doors, and into the bright morning light.
  751. >Anon couldn’t stop and take a deep breath, relishing the sweet, clean air.
  752. >He could still hardly believe the difference.
  753. >”Hey, are you coming?” Spike called out.
  754. “Sorry, just thinking.” Anon caught up to Spike as they both walked into Ponyville proper.
  755. >As Spike began to name buildings and ponies, Anon was comparing them to his knowledge from the show.
  756. >It was damn near the same, if he was honest with himself.
  757. >Except for the fact that the buildings and houses were much closer together, kind of like a frontier western frontier town.
  758. >There was bright green grass everywhere; trees filled the spaces between buildings and alongside the main thoroughfare as well as in front of buildings.
  759. >Literally small town Equestria.
  760. >Anon smiled and nodded at the wonderful sights around him. He could get used to this.
  761. >Ponies smiled and waved at Spike and Anon as they passed, completely at ease with the human in their presence.
  762. “Is Pinkie Pie going to surprise me out of my skin since I’m new here?” Anon asked as they rounded a corner and Sugar Cube Corner came into view.
  763. >”Probably not, I heard that they have a huge order to fill out, so she’s probably super busy cooking right now.”
  764. >Anon let out a quiet sigh in relief.
  765. >He wasn’t ready for that right now.
  766. >Several hours later, Anon and his dragon guide found themselves back at Twilight’s Castle.
  767. “I didn’t know Sweet Apple Acres grew so many different types of products. I just kinda figured that, well-”
  768. >”That they only grew apples?” Spike chuckled as Anon closed the double doors of Twilight’s Castle behind them. “A lot of ponies unfamiliar with Ponyville think that too, but they provide a lot more than just apples.”
  769. >Spike stopped suddenly, and Anon nearly tripped over him.
  770. >”Twilight is back.” Spike sighed.
  771. “How can you tell?”
  772. >Spike pointed towards a pair of saddlebags, which looked like they had been thrown into a corner or the entrance hall.
  773. >The top of one was partially open, and innumerable sheets of writing-covered parchment filled it, and flowed out of it to cover the floor surrounding the bag.
  774. >Spike sighed again. “I’d better go check on her.”
  775. “Hey, where is my assigned room again?”
  776. >”You were there this morning when you woke up. It’s right across from her room.” Spike shivered. “If we didn’t have the extra guards here I’d be scared stiff.”
  777. “Well I’ll be on my way then. Tell Twilight I said hi, only if she’s in the mood of course.”
  778. >”I will!” Spike bounded off on his pudgy legs, up the stairs and disappeared from sight.
  779. “Might as well unpack my stuff while I’ve got time.” Anon made his own way up the stairs, guessing his way to his room.
  780. >He only took a couple wrong turns, but in the end he had found his way.
  781. >Anon stopped though, and took a peek into Nightmare Moon’s room before entering his.
  782. >The privacy curtain was unfurled, and he could see the dark alicorn’s still form on the bed.
  783. “I hope this works.” He whispered as he turned and entered his room.
  784. >An hour and one unpacked bag later, the room felt much more ‘his’ than it had before.
  785. >Anon lay on the bed, a glass of crystal clear water from the bathroom sink in hand, taking sips as he casually flipped through his guide of mares again.
  786. “This probably won’t be of much help with my match.” He said, putting the book on the bedside table and finishing off the last bit of water in his glass.
  787. >Anon chuckled to himself
  788. >He didn’t think that the writers had planned on a human being matched with a nightmare alicorn demigod.
  789. >He tried to keep reading, but he could feel himself getting more and more relaxed by the minute.
  790. >His bed was unfortunately almost too comfy, and before he knew it, his eyes were already closing.
  791. >He awoke in the white void again, although it seemed brighter and less pale than it had before.
  792. >More natural, it seemed, less artificial. The colors, what few there were anyways, were brighter and not completely washed out
  793. “Wonder if Nightmare Moon is here?’ Anon turned around, inspecting his surroundings.
  794. >There she was, laying on a short rise behind him that hadn’t been there before..
  795. >She was watching him, with apprehension on her muzzle.
  796. >But curiosity was the predominant emotion though.
  797. >They weren’t that far apart, and as Anon closed the distance between them, she shrank back a little.
  798. >She still looked curiously at him, more fascinated than frightened.
  799. >Anon finally reached her and, deciding to make himself less threatening, sat down on the ground in front of her.
  800. >For a moment, they both observed each other in the silent, empty space.
  801. >Her body still looked as rough and battered as it did in the physical world, her mane still barely in existence.
  802. >But her eyes were bright, held fear and what had the appearance of childlike curiosity.
  803. >”We… We are sorry for how we acted before. We were frightened by your appearance within the dream realm, We were thrown in by surprise as well.”
  804. >Her words were measured and precise, but still held some apprehension.
  805. >Anon moved to speak, but Nightmare Moon beat him to it.
  806. >”We do not wish to be rude to a stranger, but We must ask, what are you?” Her head tilted slightly, almost like a dog. “We do not recall ever having seen a creature such as yourself before.”
  807. “Well, I’m what’s called a human. I’m not from Equestria.”
  808. >”Really, what land do you hail from then?”
  809. “Actually I came here from another reality entirely. From a place called Earth.
  810. >The look Nightmare Moon gave him told him that she thought he was lying.
  811. >”Impossible, the methods to tear and open portals to other realms is nigh impossible to achieve though any means, my sister and I-”
  812. >The alicorn froze suddenly, her eyes going wide, with surprise, before she began to shake her head.
  813. >”No, that is not right. W-We are not her, but… but…” She sat up and held her head in her front hooves, groaning in pain.
  814. “Are you alright?” Anon asked, ready to get to his feet to help, although he didn’t know what he would do, or if he could do anything.
  815. >”N-no, We are not alright.” Nightmare Moon shook her head one last time, then let her hooves fall to the ground again.
  816. >”We have these, these images, and these memories in Our mind. Ones that are not truly Ours.”
  817. “They’re Luna’s memories aren’t they? From when you both shared a body.”
  818. >Anon had never seen anything’s mood swing so quickly, or dangerously for that matter.
  819. >One moment the alicorn was on the ground, gazing at him with large eyes, the next she stood over him on trembling legs, glaring down at him with a look of absolute fury on her muzzle.
  820. >”DO NOT SPEAK HER NAME IN OUR PRESENCE!”
  821. >Her eyes glowed, cyan smoke leaked from the irises of both her eyes, and what little of her mane existed writhed and twisted about angrily.
  822. >Anon cowered in fear from the display and the booming report of her voice.
  823. >He could see her screaming something else at him, but he could only hear an ‘eeeeeeeee’ sound since his eardrums had just been blown out.
  824. ’I really wish I could hear what she was saying.’ Anon thought to himself.
  825. >Suddenly, he could hear again, and again the only thing he could hear was Nightmare Moon’s screaming.
  826. >”YOU WILL NEVER SAY ANY OF THEIR NAMES-” The alicorn was cut off mid rant, as she suddenly went into a severe coughing fit.
  827. >Her legs, already trembling, gave a final wobble and she collapsed completely onto the featureless ground.
  828. >Now more worried for her than scared for himself, Anon leapt to his feet and went over to her side.
  829. “A-are you alright?” Anon asked, helplessness flowing through him as he watched the alicorn fidget on the ground.
  830. >Through the incessant coughing, Nightmare Moon still gazed upon him, tears beginning to flow from her eyes from the pain and intensity of it all.
  831. >”Please, d-do not s-say her name.” She gave several more coughs and finally they stopped.
  832. “...Why not? If you don’t mind me asking?” Anon asked quietly, kneeling down next to the fallen alicorn.
  833. >”In the night, w-we were made. S-she called out to us, in her anger and her fear and her jealousy, and we were born. We gave her the power to take what she would not be given.”
  834. >Nightmare Moon rasped, gave a few quiet coughs, and continued. “With us guiding her, we confronted her sister… and lost.”
  835. “And you were banished to the moon.” Anon finished
  836. >He was surprised he could say anything at all.
  837. >Anon knew he was most likely the only being to hear Nightmare Moon’s side of the story, so he decided to keep his mouth shut and tried to listen.
  838. >”W-w-we were. It was so l-lonely up there, with only h-her to see or hear. She c-cried for 300 years.
  839. >Nightmare Moon continued to look Anon in the eyes, but her tears had vanished; she seemed beyond any comprehensible emotion.
  840. >”Then, she turned her ire on Us. She blamed Us for what had happened. She blamed Us for her sister’s use of the Elements of Harmony. She blamed Us for her failure to best her sister. She blamed Us for the ponies' rejection of her night and stars.”
  841. >”And so it continued, over and over, for all eternity it seemed. Then a gap began to open, the tiniest crack in Our prison showed itself to Us.”
  842. “The Summer Sun Celebration.” Anon whispered to himself.
  843. >Nightmare Moon didn’t seem to hear him; her eyes were vacant, focused somewhere behind him, and seemed to be a window into the past.
  844. >“We finally managed to slip our bonds, only to have them confront Us.”
  845. >”In the ruins of the castle We had fought her sister in, they used the same Elements to tear Us apart from each other. It.. It hurt Us.”
  846. >The tears reappeared in Nightmare Moon’s eyes at the memory of what had happened to her.
  847. >”We were flung into the black abyss, there was no light, no pain, no joy, no suffering, no nothing. It was void. We tried to flee, but W-We couldn’t, t-they wouldn’t let Us.”
  848. >At those words, Nightmare Moon completely broke down, holding her head in her hooves she sobbed like a child.
  849. >Anon raised his eyebrows in surprise at the mention of these ‘they’ beings that held Nightmare Moon in the void.
  850. >But that question was for another time, he had to deal with a crying alicorn to deal with first.
  851. >The young man bit his lip, trying to decide what to do for the sobbing alicorn, when the idea came to him.
  852. >It was from his guide on mares, the one he had discounted just before entering this dream to be exact.
  853. >Only one way to find out.
  854. >Anon slowly reached out his hand and placed it on the back of Nightmare Moon’s neck.
  855. >The Alicorn seemed to freeze at the sudden contact, but she still continued to sob.
  856. >Anon began to stroke her neck, gently and with the most ease he possibly could.
  857. >Gradually Nightmare Moon’s sobs died off, but the tears still flowed.
  858. >”W-what are you doing?” She asked through her tears, trying to look up at him.
  859. “Well, I’m trying to make you feel more comfortable.”
  860. >Sweat was running down Anon’s forehead as he continued to lightly stroke her neck.
  861. >While still thin and dangerously unhealthy looking, her fur was soft to the touch, even softer than the bed he had fallen asleep on.
  862. >Anon continued to stroke her until the tears had died, and she shifted into a more comfortable position for herself.
  863. “Do… Do you mind telling me how you got out of that.. Void?” Anon carefully asked.
  864. >”We were losing ourself, and the… the alicorn that We had been attached too could not provide for Us. We began to fall apart, slowly.
  865. >”We began to forget things, things We still do not know or remember knowing. We thought it would be Our end. Then We saw a light, so small and dim, but it was light nonetheless.”
  866. “They tried to keep Us, oh how they tried, but with the last speck of power within Us we pushed back and away, and found Ourselves in that accursed forest.”
  867. >Nightmare Moon looked back up at Anon, who still continued to stroke the alicorn softly.
  868. >”You know the rest of the tale. We told you last time We met what happened to Us.”
  869. “I remember. But on that subject, I do have to talk about… them. They wanted me to tell you some things if we were to meet here again.”
  870. >At these words Nightmare Moon’s eyes narrowed slightly, her lips forming a thin, neutral line.
  871. >”Go on.” She said flatly.
  872. >Anon swallowed nervously and continued.
  873. “They wanted me to tell you not to mess with my mind or attempt anything evil or something like that. They said that you have one chance to change yourself for the better.”
  874. “I’d take that advice if I were you” Anon said, a bead of sweat again running down his brow. “They looked pretty serious when they said it.”
  875. >Nightmare Moon let out a quiet chuckle. “We have none of Our power at the moment, and We can barely stand under Our own strength. What do they expect me to do to you?”
  876. “I don’t know, but I’d rather not find out. We’re in this together, so I’d rather it not go bad.”
  877. >”What do you mean by that? We are in this ‘together’?”
  878. “Well, when I said before that I came from another world, I came for a specific reason; to make a mare happy.”
  879. >Anon pushed down the nerves writhing around in his guts and dropped the bomb.
  880. “I was matched to you, and you were matched to me.”
  881. >Nightmare Moon stared at him for a second, before she burst into laughter.
  882. >Anon raised an eyebrow, and withdrew his hand, apprehensive at what the alicorn would do.
  883. >He was now officially flying blind, and he was scared shitless.
  884. >Nightmare Moon began to cough again, the force of her laughter causing her already weak lungs to give up.
  885. >”Y-you honestly believe that drivel? That you, a ‘human’ from another world could possibly be considered a partner of something such as Us?”
  886. “Well I think it’s worth a shot, and since your life depends on it I suggest you start giving it some effort.”
  887. >”The alicorn let out a snort of pride and held her nose up high in pride.
  888. >At least as much pride as a weak, broken alicorn with tear-stains in her fur could have.
  889. >”We will consider it, but even if We do accept this, this offer that your princesses have laid down, We shall not make it so easy for you.”
  890. “That’s not nice.”
  891. >”That is the point. The world that Our former host lived in was not nice, nor was ‘friendship’ or respect freely given to anypony. It had to be earned, through blood, sweat, and tears.”
  892. >Anon smiled and nodded.
  893. “If I can do that, and earn those things will you be my f-friend? That’s all I’m asking.”
  894. >Unfortunately Anon couldn’t hide the stutter in his voice.
  895. >For a moment, Nightmare Moon simply laid there, studying Anon as he knelt by her side, then she offered him a hoof.
  896. >”W-we do offer this deal to you, Anonymous the human. We swear that We will hold ourselves true to it.”
  897. >Anon popped his neck, and took the offered hoof in his hand and shook it.
  898. >For a moment, Anon could have sworn that the alicorn's cheeks grew slightly red.
  899. >No way.
  900. “It’s a deal then.”
  901. >Anon released her hoof, and Nightmare Moon quickly withdrew it to her side, where she rubbed it awkwardly with her other front hoof, while turning her head away from him
  902. >Anon didn’t want to voice his thoughts, but at that moment he could have sworn that the alicorn was trying not to blush.
  903. >In the end it didn’t matter, because before he could think of something to say, the alicorn spoke first.
  904. >”So, where do you think We should start this ‘friendship’ thing at? Ah, you could tell Us about yourself!”
  905. >Nightmare Moon laid back down on the ground, and gestured to Anon to join her.
  906. >”You must tell Us of how you came to be in Equestria, and what you did before you came here.
  907. “You seem awfully eager all of a sudden.”
  908. >”We have never had the pleasure of a simple conversation with any living being, and since We told you Our tale, it is only fair that you tell Us yours.”
  909. “That’s fair.” Anon took a breath and began his story. “It all began when I found the letter on my desk…”
  910. <>
  911. >To her credit, Nightmare Moon seemed to listen with great interest as Anon told his tale, rarely interrupting with questions.
  912. >He did try to simplify things, and left out lots of human technological advances in order to not confuse her.
  913. >Anon figured she didn’t know what even modern Equestria had technology wise, and he was right.
  914. >When he told her how he had left the Crystal Empire, she interrupted him.
  915. >”What is this ‘train’ you are telling us about? We wish to know more.”
  916. >She seemed almost eager, like a young child learning things for the first time.
  917. >’Then again she is in a lot of ways’ Anon thought to himself.
  918. “A train is kind of like a carriage, except there are multiple cars and an engine to pull them all along a track.”
  919. >”Fascinating, we have wondered how things have-eeeeep!”
  920. >Nightmare Moon crawled backward in fear as a miniaturized train engine along with several cars appeared, floating between the two of them.
  921. “What the heck?” Anon leapt back himself, as a tiny cloud of steam came from the engine, and it began to move all on its own through the air.
  922. >For a moment Anon was confused as shit, then it came to him.
  923. “Wait, since I’m dreaming, this must have come from my memories and imagination!”
  924. >”Correct, while in the dream realm, if the dreamer becomes aware of his dream state, they may be able to bend the rules of the dream world to their will if they so wish.”
  925. >Nightmare Moon’s eyes went wide as she brought a hoof up to her mouth.
  926. “Why didn’t you tell me I could do this earlier? It would have saved me a lot of talking.”
  927. >”We… We did not know we knew that. We do not know where this knowledge came from.”
  928. >Suddenly the alicorn seemed much more wary of herself.
  929. >”It must be from her. It must be her knowledge.”
  930. >Anon opened his mouth and then just as quickly closed it.
  931. >He had an in with the alicorn now and he didn’t want to sour it by mentioning Luna or her sister.
  932. “Maybe we should leave that be for the time being and talk about something else.”
  933. >That seemed to be the right call, since Nightmare Moon seemed to calm down somewhat at his words.
  934. >”A-a good idea Anon, We endeavor to know more about yourself.”
  935. >Just as Anon was about to respond, he felt a slight wind begin to blow through the featureless landscape.
  936. >Once again it seemed to only affect him.
  937. “Awww not this shit again.” Anon sighed as the wind began to blow faster.
  938. >”Your body seems to be waking up on it’s own.”
  939. >Nightmare Moon held her head as soon as the words left her mouth.
  940. >”Ahhhhhh, t-the words, they won't stop coming from Our mind.”
  941. >The alicorn held her head in her hooves as she groaned in pain, while the wind continued to grow in strength.
  942. “I’ll try to help you next time I’m here!” Anon shouted as he began to be lifted from the ground. “I’ll see what I can do!”
  943. >Anon’s eyes flew open and he shot up in his bed as he quickly glanced around.
  944. >He was in his room, and it seemed to be morning again, if the sun shining through his window was correct.
  945. >Coming to his senses completely, he remembered the conversation that he’d had with Celestia in the morning.
  946. >Quickly grabbing a pencil that he’d found in his pack while he had been making himself at home, he quickly grabbed the closest source of paper and began to write.
  947. >He figured that Twilight would hate the fact that he was writing on the inside cover of his Guide to Mares, but he figured that she would forgive him later.
  948. >Anon chuckled as he wrote.
  949. “Well that didn’t go too badly for a first conversation.”
  950. <>
  951. >Nightmare Moon watched as Anon was lifted by the blowing wind and was ejected from the mindscape.
  952. >Once again, she found herself alone with only her thoughts to provide her company.
  953. >She found herself fascinated by the human Anon.
  954. >While she had not been lying to him earlier about not having her magic, she wasn’t quite truthful either.
  955. >She had a spark, a small, barely lit spark in her core being.
  956. >But it was there.
  957. >And that gave her options.
  958. >”We need to learn more about him, as well as the Equestria that we now exist in.”
  959. >She sat down, and looked at the object that rested in her front hooves.
  960. >”Lack of knowledge cost us everything in the past, we will not let the lack of it destroy us anymore.”
  961. >Unseen by anyone or anypony, a small yet grim smile formed itself on her muzzle.
  962. >Hopefully soon, she would have what she truly wanted.
  963. >But for now, she would wait.
  964. >There was much yet for her to learn.
  965. <>
  966. >Spike had been more than happy to send a letter containing Anon’s first encounter to them.
  967. >Celestia had replied less than ten minutes later, expressing their thanks.
  968. >Thankfully, the princess said they would send his special book/diary/journal later that afternoon.
  969. >He figured getting off to a good start with them would pay off in the long run.
  970. >Honesty was a virtue after all.
  971. >And it was also one of the Elements of Harmony, which ponies took much more seriously.
  972. >However, Twilight Sparkle had freaked out when she found out Anon had written in his book.
  973. >After magicking the written words onto several pieces of parchment, Twilight had spent the next hour hugging and comforting Anon’s book.
  974. “Hey, I figured I should write everything down before I started to forget anything.” Anon told her as she wiped a tear away with one wing.
  975. >Letting out a very snake-like hiss in reply, Twilight turned her attention back to the book she cradled in her hooves, nuzzling it lovingly.
  976. >Anon shook his head and looked back to Spike, who simply shrugged in reply.
  977. “So, yeah you did your magic and got my writing onto those pages, that was pretty neat, but I do need to ask a question.”
  978. >Twilight’s head came up, anger almost forgotten.
  979. >”What do you need? I’ll help you of course, as long as you don’t mutilate poor, helpless, innocent books.”
  980. >The irate alicorn leaned away from Anon as she clutched the book tighter to her fuzzy chest.
  981. >As hilarious as the sight before him was, Anon managed not to laugh.
  982. “I’m going to need something to do while I’m here or I’m going to go crazy with boredom. Do you need any help around here that I can do to keep myself sane?”
  983. >Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof, while finally relinquishing Anon’s book, floating it over to him with her magic.
  984. >”Well, I could use some help with the library here. With my princess duties and other related issues I don’t have much time to keep it running the way I’d like to.”
  985. >”If you want you can help check out books and keep it organized.”
  986. “That sounds kinda boring but really neat. I need to read more about Equestria anyways.”
  987. >”That’s the spirit!” Twilight said cheerfully as she stood and made her way out of Anon’s room.
  988. >”Follow me, I’ll take you there.”
  989. >The young purple princess pranced out of Anon’s room, leaving Spike and Anon alone.
  990. >The two of them looked at each other, shrugged, and followed her.
  991. >Anon was beginning to learn his way around the castle at this point, and he was able to remember the way to where the library section was when their small group reached it.
  992. “Any reason why the guards are only upstairs and not guarding everything?” Anon asked as he sat in a large fluffy chair in the main reading room,
  993. >The library wasn’t open yet, so Twilight was able to speak freely in it.
  994. >”They want the guards to remain out of sight of the public, since this whole ‘dark nightmare alicorn’ thing is still a top secret. They don’t want the public to know about her just yet.”
  995. “That’s fair, but why have guards at all? I saw all the magic and wards and stuff in her room, if she broke through those I doubt a dozen or so guards would make much of a difference.”
  996. >”Honestly, they are mainly here to keep snooping ponies out so they don’t find her or evidence of her being here.
  997. >”Thankfully, I’ve lived here for a few years now and most of the ponies know not to go poking around in my private business, but it never hurts to be prepared.”
  998. “So who actually knows about her?”
  999. >”Celestia, Luna, my friends, my older brother, the guards here, Celestia’s personal nurse, and us here in this room.” Twilight finished, looking at Spike and Anon.
  1000. >”The Princesses want to keep it that way to avoid causing an uproar in the population, and I can’t rightly blame them. But, back to the subject at hand…”
  1001. >Twilight trotted over towards a small desk near the large doors leading into the public library area.
  1002. >”This is where ponies check out their books. I try to do it myself whenever I have the time but it’s hard to get that time… I wish I could do it more often.”
  1003. >Twilight threw herself onto the desk in a sad embrace.
  1004. >Anon nodded sagely.
  1005. “You miss your old library don’t you?”
  1006. >”Of course I do, it felt more like a home than this castle does, but this place does have its perks, like crystal hot tubs!”
  1007. >Anon wiped a single tear from his eye.
  1008. >Poor tree/bookhouse
  1009. >Fs in the chat.
  1010. “Wait, what was that about crystal hot tubs?”
  1011. >Anon found himself in his bathroom later that day after the library had closed for the day.
  1012. >Helping ponies find and check out their books had been much more interesting that he’d thought at first.
  1013. >Many were eager to talk to a human, since his kind were still so uncommon in Equestria.
  1014. >He’d spent most of the day happily answering questions and telling stories to foals and their parents as he helped them with their books.
  1015. >At one point he could see Twilight peek her head in to check in on him, and seeing him reading aloud to several foals from a storybook, quickly retreated, tears of joy in her eyes.
  1016. >Anon had considered himself forgiven for his earlier sin of defacing a book, so that was alright by him.
  1017. >At least it gave him something to do other than die of boredom.
  1018. >And the downtime he did have he spent reading.
  1019. >Mainly about Equestrian history, and other modern topics.
  1020. >Like actual functioning-adult kind of stuff.
  1021. >One thing he did secretly want to find was find a violin though.
  1022. >He’d taken lessons for several years back when he was much younger, but it had fallen to the wayside and he’d never picked it up again.
  1023. >Now that he had loads of spare time and was in much better spirits about himself, he figured now was as good a time as any to get back into it.
  1024. >He’d have to ask Twilight about it, she would probably know how to help him with that.
  1025. >But for now, this hot tub was all that mattered to him.
  1026. >No Nightmare Moon, no books, no nothing.
  1027. >Just the sweet, steamy embrace of the hot water that surrounded him.
  1028. >Dammit it had been too long since he’d been in one of these.
  1029. >He figured he should probably get out though.
  1030. >He’d been in here for 2 hours already and was about to drift off to sleep.
  1031. >Drowning in a hot tub was not something he wanted ponies to remember him by.
  1032. After drying himself off and brushing his teeth, he lay in bed, looking over the book the two princess had sent him.
  1033. >It didn’t look any different than a typical journal did, other than the runes and magical symbols etched all over the outside and inside of both front and back covers.
  1034. >Shit looked serious, so he figured he’d try not to do something stupid with it.
  1035. >A small note had accompanied the book, and he looked over it again while letting his body relax.
  1036. >The flowery language and the signature indicated that it had been written by Luna.
  1037.  
  1038. >--To our new subject Anonymous
  1039. >--We are sending you this book to fulfill what we had told you when we last spoke at young Twilight Sparkle’s castle. In it you will write down every last detail that you can possibly remember from your encounters with Nightmare Moon within the realm of the mind. Please write everything truthfully and all will be well, as the book is enchanted to detect any falsehoods from the writer. We do not wish to have to judge you harshly, but due to your strange and remarkable bond with Nightmare Moon nothing must be left to chance. I will also be coming to speak with you in person at the end of each week to possibly gain more insight than written words can offer.
  1040. >--Now onto your comments regarding your questions regarding the dream realm. The blank space you are in is a simple blank slate for the mind when it is at rest, the mind gives it form, and thus dreams are created. If you so wish you can form the world around you within the dream realm at will if you so wish. If this increases the chances of you successfully bonding with Nightmare Moon then by all means do so. I have sworn I will not interfere or attempt to view your shared dreams, I do not wish to contaminate the process by which you two have agreed upon. Once again as both me and my sister told you then, we have faith in your ability to do the task set before you. If you are ever in any need, we will help you, as will Twilight Sparkle and her friends.
  1041.  
  1042. >--Luna, Sovereign of the Night and Mistress of Dreams.
  1043.  
  1044. >Anon sighed and put the note next to the book he had been given, which sat on his bedside table.
  1045. >He honestly wondered if he would see Nightmare Moon every time he slept or not
  1046. >As cool as it would be to lucid dream every night, a good night’s worth of mental rest would be good to have if he wanted.
  1047. >Anon just wondered what Nightmare Moon would want to talk about this time.
  1048. >He wanted to trust that she wanted to change.
  1049. >But there was the lingering doubt in the back of his mind.
  1050. >He couldn’t trust her, at least not completely.
  1051. >When he had gotten comfortable in his new bed (which wasn’t hard) he tried to calm his mind.
  1052. >But that was hard to do suddenly.
  1053. >He was strangely nervous about meeting with Nightmare Moon.
  1054. >He had an idea, one that he thought would be able to help him win her trust.
  1055. >Whether or not she would like his idea, he didn’t know.
  1056. >But there was only one way to find that out.
  1057. >So Anon went to the tried and true method of counting sheep.
  1058. >He fell asleep before he reached twenty.
  1059. >When he found himself inside the featureless dreamscape, Nightmare Moon was waiting for him, sitting in almost perfect posture.
  1060. >She would have looked rather regal, except for her damaged visage.
  1061. >”Hello there young Anonymous, We have been waiting for you to return.”
  1062. “What do you mean ‘waiting’ for me?”
  1063. >”Within this realm, while Our physical body still remains damaged, Our mind remains awake and aware. We do not know Ourselves if We can slumber in this state.”
  1064. “...Well, I wish I could say something to comfort you, but I doubt anything could really.”
  1065. >”You would be correct in that assumption, young human.”
  1066. >The Alicorn rose to all four legs, and carefully made her way over to him.
  1067. >”What do you wish for Us to speak of tonight? Are We going to discuss more personal histories of ourselves?”
  1068. “Actually, I wasn’t thinking of that to be honest. I had something else in mind.”
  1069. >”Really? Then do not keep us waiting so, Please tell us what we are going to do together?”
  1070. >Anon concentrated on the memory he wanted to bring to reality, as least in this realm of dreams and imagination.
  1071. >To his genuine surprise, he felt a shift beneath his feet as green grass swiftly appeared from the white, featureless surface they both stood upon.
  1072. >The grey, filtered light that filled the world and what would have been the sky began to fade away, replaced with the blackness of the night sky.
  1073. >The terrain shifted under them again, forming rises, and large mountains, one of which they found themselves on top of.
  1074. >As Nightmare Moon gasped in surprise at what was happening around her, a cloud of countless stars appeared in the sky.
  1075. >Free from any sort of light pollution, they shone and twinkled brightly as they shone down on the duo.
  1076. >To top it off, a faint band of milky reds, blues, and golds formed through the now complete night sky, making Nightmare Moon freeze in shock.
  1077. >Anon stood next to the stunned alicorn, studying her closely.
  1078. >He figured that he would have to read her mood carefully to not get her angry again, but he was completely wrong.
  1079. >Jaw hanging freely, Nightmare Moon cast her gaze over the endless expanse of stars and pristine, alpine mounts that had appeared before her in the spawn of seconds.
  1080. >”I-it is beautiful, so many stars…” Tears began to flow from her eyes as she sat, her already shaky legs failing her.
  1081. >She turned her head to Anon, tears falling from her face. ”W-what is t-this place?”
  1082. “It’s from a place called Yellowstone National Park. I went there years ago with my family for a camping trip and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”
  1083. “The best part was that being so far away from any kind of towns or cities, the night is so much clearer than anywhere else I’d ever been before. I thought you might like to see it.”
  1084. >’Y-you were right. It is beautiful. More b-beautiful than I thought anything could ever be.”
  1085. >Anon sat down and lay back onto the soft grass, the now cool air of autumn filled the air with all the wonderful smells of nature.
  1086. “I figured that you might want to look at the stars with me, to see a bit of something from my world. I still know a few constellations, I could show them to you if you want.”
  1087. >For a moment, Nightmare Moon was as silent as the grave, still exploring the new world around her with wide eyes full of childlike wonder and tears.
  1088. >”We... We would love to.” She said quietly.
  1089. >She slowly lowered herself to the ground and, careful of her still mostly featherless and damaged wings, rolled onto her back, folding her forelegs against her chest.
  1090. >They were close enough to touch, yet they didn’t.
  1091. >Both of them still gazed at the wonder and beauty of the night sky before them.
  1092. >”We saw the same stars and same blackness every moment of Our banishment. This… This is…”
  1093. >Nightmare Moon didn’t cry anymore, but she seemed too overcome with emotion to continue.
  1094. >Anon smiled and congratulated himself silently.
  1095. >His idea had worked, better than he had thought possible.
  1096. >”Anonymous?”
  1097. >The young human turned his head to see Nightmare Moon looking at him, a slight blush on her muzzle, she seemed hesitant to speak.
  1098. >”Could… could you show Us the constellations that you know? We wish to see them for Ourself.”
  1099. >Anon gave her a genuine smile and an honest laugh.
  1100. “Of course I would.”
  1101. >Anon pointed with his finger towards a section of the night sky, and Nightmare Moon eagerly followed.
  1102. “That row of three stars right there? That’s the belt of Orion the Hunter, and if you look a little bit upward, you’ll see…”
  1103. <>
  1104. >”My sister and I have found your reports very informative thus far Anon, we again thank you for your cooperation with this endeavor.”
  1105. >Princess Luna and Anon sat at a small table in his room, deep in conversation.
  1106. >As Luna had told him in the letter that had accompanied his enchanted journal, she had shown up at the end of the week for a face to muzzle conversation.
  1107. >Anon could hardly believe a week had passed already.
  1108. >He had found Nightmare Moon waiting for him every night that week except for one.
  1109. >He’d slept like the dead for over 12 hours that night.
  1110. >”Anonymous, did you hear me?”
  1111. >Luna’s voice cut the young man from his thoughts, making him flush with embarrassment.”
  1112. “Sorry, I was thinking about something else to be honest.”
  1113. >”Well, what was on your mind? Do not be afraid to be honest, I will not judge.”
  1114. “I was thinking about how fast this week has gone by, just kind of surprising considering how much has gone on.”
  1115. >”That is understandable. Now, we wish to ask you a few questions regarding your conversations and actions with Nightmare Moon.”
  1116. >Luna summed several sheets of parchment and a quill, ready to write down anything she believed to be important.
  1117. “Go for it.”
  1118. >”Do you think she has opened herself up to you more or less from your point of view?”
  1119. >Anon leaned back in his chair and looked back at the ceiling, contemplating the question.
  1120. “Well I think she has to some degree.”
  1121. >”Explain.”
  1122. “The night I received your book was when I think I got to her. When I entered the... dreamworld I guess?”
  1123. >”Yes that would be correct.”
  1124. “Okay, so anyway I decided to try and show her that my intentions were honest, and as a show of my good intentions towards her, I showed her the stars.”
  1125. >”We read that part with great interest. She found them that fascinating?”
  1126. “She acted like she had never seen anything like it before, like a kid shown something new for the first time.”
  1127. “It all made sense the next night though, when we actually started to talk about each other in detail.”
  1128. >Luna looked up from the few notes she had made and met Anon’s gaze.
  1129. >”My sister and I read your entry that day with great interest, as we both gained new insight into Nightmare Moon’s personality that we have not known until now.”
  1130. >Anon nodded in response.
  1131. “I remember her saying that she had never really existed until you brought her forth when you… well, you know.”
  1132. >Anon raised his hands in defense as Luna puffed up, her eyes narrowing.
  1133. “I’m just telling you what she told me. And I already wrote it down in that letter Spike sent you so you’ve read that already.”
  1134. >The alicorn sighed and let the subject drop.
  1135. >”I’m sorry, you’re right. Now, back to what you were saying?”
  1136. “Well, I think that there are large gaps in her knowledge about basic concepts. Last night for example, we were talking about personal letters of all things, and she didn’t know how they were written.”
  1137. >Luna again looked up to anon, confusion written across her muzzle. “Whatever do you mean by that?”
  1138. >Anon began to fiddle with a spare pen that had been sitting on the table, flipping it between his fingers.
  1139. “She didn’t know what a pen was. She knew that the words you wanted to write ended up on the pap-parchment somehow, but she couldn’t tell me how one should go about writing them for the life of her.”
  1140. >Anon sighed dejectedly.
  1141. “Kinda sad really, she seemed really dejected when I pointed out that fact to her. At least when I showed her what a pen did and how it worked she seemed to get into a better mood.”
  1142. >Luna was now writing furiously, her quill a blur as it flew over the parchment sitting in front of her.
  1143. >”This information wasn’t in your entry for that night, as that would have definitely caught my attention. I understand that sometimes the mind skips over certain things when you are writing them down, but there is never anything wrong with more information.”
  1144. >As Luna continued to speak, Anon began to flush with embarrassment.
  1145. >Luna noticed this, and set her quill down as she concluded her thoughts.
  1146. >”Don’t be ashamed, you have done very well considering the circumstances. This is why I have planned these meetings after all, in case something is forgotten or left out of your entries.”
  1147. >”The next thing I wish to discuss with you is not about your interactions with her within the dream realm but the physical. Have you visited her room?”
  1148. >Anon, still recovering from his bout of self-shame for his forgetfulness, perked up at these words.
  1149. “I have actually, I try to at least a few times a day when I’m not busy helping Twilight run the library here.”
  1150. >”Have you noticed any sort of… change in her condition?”
  1151. “Actually, I think I have.” Anon rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Her mane seemed more ‘full’ I suppose, and her fur looks a little more healthy to me.”
  1152. “Then again I’m not a trained medical professional, especially one for alicorn ponies at that.”
  1153. >Luna magicked up a folder, which she then floated over towards Anon.
  1154. >He caught the folder when it reached him, and he looked at it in confusion.
  1155. “What is this”
  1156. >”That is Nightmare Moon’s full medical file. Everything that has happened to her physically since her appearance is documented there. I presume you have seen a sandy-colored pegasus here in the castle?”
  1157. “I have a few times, and she seems nice enough to everyone. Who is she?”
  1158. >”Her name is Tea Leaf; she is my sister’s personal nurse and physician. She will be here until such time as she isn't needed to monitor Nightmare Moon’s physical condition.”
  1159. >Luna continued to speak as Anon flipped through the thick folder, looking at charts, notes, and diagrams.
  1160. >”She has also been doing daily reports to my sister and I, and she has noticed the smallest upswing in Nightmare Moon’s physical condition.”
  1161. “Isn’t that normal though? She’s been here for three weeks, she should have started healing already, right?”
  1162. >”Normally you would be correct, but whatever magical coma she is currently in has virtually stopped the healing process. At least it did, until you arrived here.”
  1163. >Luna selected a set of data forms and floated them over to Anon.
  1164. >The young man took the offered documents and looked at the data that Nurse Tea Leaf had accumulated thus far.
  1165. “How recent is this particular sheet of data?”
  1166. >”She sent that particular form just this morning. She sends updated forms twice a day, as Nightmare Moon’s health is a large factor in this current situation between you and her.”
  1167. >”The more that Nightmare Moon opens herself up to you and accepts your genuine offers of companionship, the faster her health and mind will recover.”
  1168. >Anon’s eyes widened in realization of Luna’s statement as he stood up from his chair.
  1169. “It does make sense now that you say it like that.”
  1170. >Anon shuffled on his feet, suddenly nervous for some unknown reason.
  1171. “Can we continue this conversation in her room? I don't know why, it just feels wrong to talk about her like she’s some nebulous thing, even though she’s right next door.”
  1172. >Luna seemed to contemplate it for a few moments, before she nodded to Anon, gathering all the papers she had brought with her into a small, levitating pile in front of her.
  1173. >”Of course we can. If it makes you more comfortable to speak, then it will be done.”
  1174. >Less than a minute later, the two of them stood besides Nightmare Moon’s bed, looking down at her silently.
  1175. >Only the beeping of the medical equipment told them that time was passing them by.
  1176. >Now that he had seen the medical charts and actually thought about it, he could see the difference in her physical body.
  1177. >Nightmare Moon’s starry, ozone-like mane was more present than it had before.
  1178. >Rather than simply a few, sickly strands emitting from her head, crest, and tail, the amount of ‘mane’ looked to have almost doubled from their first meeting.
  1179. >Her fur, which had looked rather sickly and had several places where it had fallen out, seemed to be slightly more vibrant.
  1180. >It shone slightly in the warm late-morning light that came unfiltered through the side window of her room, and seemed to be re-growing in places where it was thinned out or gone entirely.
  1181. >Anon looked over to the Lunar Princess, and saw that something seemed off about her.
  1182. >The calm yet friendly vibe from their meeting had gone, replaced with something else.
  1183. >Luna’s smile was gone, replaced by a thin, unmoving line, while the friendliness had all but vanished from her blue eyes.
  1184. “Is something wrong?” Anon ventured, hoping he wasn’t about to regret his question.
  1185. >Princess Luna didn’t respond immediately, but continued to stare at her darker, much more injured counterpart.
  1186. >”I wanted to kill her, which Celestia sent me the first letter telling me that she was here. I wanted to wipe any trace of her existence off of this world.”
  1187. >Anon opened and then closed his mouth.
  1188. >He’d let the millennia’s old alicorn speak to her heart’s content before he dared interrupt her in her current mood.
  1189. >”For what she did to me, for separating me from my sister and from everything and everypony that I had known, I wanted her to feel the pain and suffering that I’d felt.”
  1190. >”The fact that she had been chosen by the Crystal Heart to have a match, a bond of love with another living being disgusted me, only on my sister’s urging did I not destroy her.”
  1191. >Luna let out a long, sad sigh. “What she told you about us creating her in our rage, jealousy, and desperation for power, that is true and I do not deny it. I made many mistakes that day, the wounds of some persist to this day.”
  1192. >She finally turned her eyes from Nightmare Moon and looked straight at Anon, who was somewhat mystified by the lunar princess’s statements.
  1193. >”Give her the help and support that she needs and she will be happy, If she doesn’t listen to you...” Luna’s eyes narrowed dangerously and her mane began to move faster in agitation.
  1194. >Anon got the meaning of Luna’s words clearly.
  1195. “I understand.”
  1196. >Luna gave him the smallest smile, then turned her gaze back to the silent Nightmare Moon.
  1197. “My dad used to say that you had to play life with the cards that you were dealt, and to play the best that you could.”
  1198. >”Really? You didn’t strike me as a card player.” Luna asked, surprised.
  1199. “I haven’t played in a while, no one to play with really, at least the card games I knew and liked to play.”
  1200. >”Hmmm… I believe I know several ponies who would be more than happy to help you get back into such activities. As a matter of fact, they live right here in Ponyville.”
  1201. >Anon thought for a moment, then he smiled and chucked.
  1202. “I think I know who you’re talking about. I’ll ask later today.”
  1203. >The two of them went back to observing the still, silent alicorn on the bed.
  1204. “I wonder what she’s doing right now?” Anon voiced his thoughts to the alicorn standing beside him.
  1205. >”I have promised to both myself and my sister that I will not attempt to view your interactions with Nightmare Moon inside the dream realm.”
  1206. >”Despite my distrust towards her, your statements regarding her thoughts towards me say that my presence in your shared dreamscape would be highly detrimental towards you furthering your relationship with her.”
  1207. >Luna paused for a second and turned back towards Anon.
  1208. >”But back to your question. Nightmare Moon is not exactly dreaming, she’s more in between sleep and wakefulness. She is trapped within her own mind by the magical coma she is in.”
  1209. >Luna turned to peer intently at the still alicorn laying on the bed. “I do wonder what she is doing at this moment though, when you are not there.”
  1210. <>
  1211. >Nightmare Moon desired it.
  1212. >She desired it all.
  1213. >She sat in the unending pale whiteness that confined her, thinking about what to do as she gazed around her.
  1214. >While still pale white, the endless flat terrain had been replaced with the gently rolling hills Anon had brought forth on his last visit.
  1215. >It was a much better sight than it had been before.
  1216. >”We must know, he has to tell us everything.” Nightmare Moon whispered to herself.
  1217. >She stood up and began to walk the rolling hills, if just to move around.
  1218. >It had been getting easier since the human had come, she’d noticed.
  1219. >Even thinking had been getting easier for her, easier for her to ignore the pain that still often filtered it’s way from the physical world to her mind.
  1220. >”He must show Us more of his world, h-he has to…” Nightmare Moon stopped and sat, her still weak legs refusing to move anymore.
  1221. >She looked upward, toward the pale area that would have been the sky, imagining the beautiful, wonderful stars that had filled it that night.
  1222. >The sight of something so different yet so majestic had robbed her of all the composure she had tried to build around herself.
  1223. >In the end she had nearly broken down like a foal, until Anon had shown her the constellations that he could remember.
  1224. >”We must be strong, We have to. We know what We wish for the most.”
  1225. >But the foal-like joy that had filled her as Anonymous had shown her a piece of his world rose up in her, even as she tried to deny it.
  1226. >”Our knowledge is rife with holes about even the most everyday things and ideas that must be fixed first. We are not yet ready.”
  1227. >She sat there for a moment, eyes flickering back and forth in thought.
  1228. >”Talking to Ourself is probably not the most healthy thing to do, but who else is there to talk to besides Anonymous? We cannot tell him what We wish for, not yet.”
  1229. >A slight rustling from the ground in front of her brought her gaze down from the imaginary stars.
  1230. >It sat at her hooves, what she desired most of all.
  1231. >”It… It is the only way for Us. They will never accept Us as one of them. They will always see Us f-for what We truly are.”
  1232. >But the hesitation in her voice made even her doubt the sincerity of her own words and thoughts.
  1233. >She reached down and picked up the object that had appeared before her, holding it in her hooves in front of her.
  1234. >”I-it is the only way, it has to be.”
  1235. >Nightmare Moon thought back to Anon’s kind words, his completely selfless gift of the stars to her, the long talks they’d shared on his visits afterwards.
  1236. >She wasn’t sure, not anymore.
  1237. >She needed more time, more information.
  1238. >”What do We want?” Nightmare Moon asked herself quietly, setting down the object that had been her obsession since she had awakened here, staring at it intensely.
  1239. >The more that she thought about it, the less sure she became.
  1240. <>
  1241. >Thankfully Anon’s meeting with Luna didn’t last much longer, and she had returned to Canterlot before lunchtime to go to bed.
  1242. >Moonhorse needs sleep more than most apparently.
  1243. >Twilight graciously let Anon off of library duty for the day, so he decided to cross off some items on his self-made checklist.
  1244. >First and foremost was acquiring a violin.
  1245. >He figured he might as well pick back up an old hobby since he had tons of free time to do whatever he wanted when he wasn’t helping with the library.
  1246. >Anon also hoped that it would be able to help Nightmare Moon.
  1247. “Music soothes the savage beast after all.” Anon said to himself as he walked out of Twilight’s castle and into Ponyville proper.
  1248. “Well, I guess she isn’t a ‘savage beast’, more like ‘scared and alone’ from what I’ve seen of her so far.”
  1249. >”What was that dear?”
  1250. >Anon suddenly realized that he was talking to himself in the middle of Ponyville where anypony could hear him.
  1251. >About a nightmare demi-god alicorn that was supposed to be gone forever.
  1252. >Resisting the urge to facepalm, he turned to the mare that had asked him the question and found himself face to muzzle with Rarity.
  1253. “Nothing, just talking to myself.”
  1254. >As Anon began to internally throw spaghetti all over, Rarity just tilted her head and flicked an ear.
  1255. >”Well, I figured that, but I was wondering what about? If you don’t mind me asking of course.”
  1256. >Anon quickly began shoveling as much mental spaghetti back into his shorts as he could.
  1257. “Just had a weird dream last night, nothing really at all. But, you may be able to help me with something.”
  1258. >At this Rarity perked up and smiled up at the human. “Whatever do you need? I’ll gladly help.”
  1259. “Well, I was wondering if you could tell me where Octavia Melody’s house is? I was wanting to borrow a violin and Twilight told me that she was the pony to go to.”
  1260. >Rarity’s eyes went wide and she let out a squeal of excitement as she began to bounce on the tips of her hooves.
  1261. >”Oh you romantic! That would be perfect for wooing the mare of your dreams! Tell me please, who is she?!”
  1262. “Um... Rarity, ponies are staring.”
  1263. >Rarity stopped mid-bounce, glazing around her in sudden terror as she noted the curious glances and raised eyebrows of most of the ponies in the vicinity.
  1264. >”Hehe, I’m sorry Anon but it’s so romantic. But I will help you, follow me.”
  1265. >The mare attempted to casually stroll away, despite her un-characteristic outburst, curious gazes still following her.
  1266. >Anon smiled, shook his head, and followed her.
  1267. >Once they were clear of the town center, Rarity spoke up again.
  1268. >”So, who is the mare you’re matched to? If you don’t mind me asking now of course.”
  1269. “Well, I can’t really tell you that. I’d prefer it to be something between the two of us for now. I’m not the biggest fan of public attention.”
  1270. >”Oh I understand, and I am sorry about my, err, outburst back there, It was rather unbecoming of me.”
  1271. >The white mare blushed as she trotted next to him, looking away slightly.
  1272. >”However, it is awfully romantic though, playing music for the mare you love, that is what you’re doing right?”
  1273. >This time it was Anon’s turn to blush.
  1274. “Well, no, not really, I mean, I used to play when I was younger, but since I’ve got more spare time on my hands, I figured it was worth it to try and get back into some old hobbies of mine.”
  1275. >”Oh that’s simply divine! I’m sure Miss Melody will be glad to help you.”
  1276. >The two walked in silence, Anon still gazing around at the lush, rolling countryside, while Rarity tried not to pester Anon with more questions.
  1277. >”Ah, there is her house, I’, sorry but I haven’t been out here in awhile, I’d forgotten that they live further outside Ponyville than most.”
  1278. “It’s fine, I’m just enjoying the beautiful day.
  1279. >And beautiful it was.
  1280. >Not too hot, not too humid, the weather seemed to be around the early fall, with heat still there, but slightly chilly nights.
  1281. >Anon was more than okay with that.
  1282. >As he looked at the strange, half-divided house that Rarity had pointed out to him.
  1283. >Yup, same as the show.
  1284. >He didn’t hear any loud thumping and he couldn’t see the windows rattling in their frames.
  1285. >Apparently Vinyl wasn’t home.
  1286. >As the two of them walked up to the small house, Anon could hear the sound of a cello emanating from an open front window.
  1287. >Anon sighed inwardly, relieved that he wouldn’t have to wander around looking for Octavia.
  1288. >Not that he would have minded too much honestly.
  1289. >He was still trying to absorb how beautiful Equestria was, so a nature walk would have been nice.
  1290. >The knocking of Rarity’s hoof on the front door shook Anon from his thoughts.
  1291. >The sounds of the cello, which had been playing a slow melodic tune, stopped when the knocking started.
  1292. >With the clack of a lock being undone, the door opened and Octavia appeared.
  1293. >She also appeared rather angry.
  1294. >”I’ve told you snobby Canterlot salesponies that I don’t wa-oh, Rarity, how are you?”
  1295. >After noticing Rarity, her mood seemed to improve greatly.
  1296. >”I’m fine Octavia, but I was wondering if you could help me and Mr. Anon here with something.
  1297. >At Rarity’s words, she finally seemed to notice the tall human standing next to the unicorn.
  1298. >”Oh my, I’ve seen you around town a couple times this week but I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced. I’m Octavia Melody, it’s a pleasure to meet you formally.”
  1299. >She gave him a genuine smile and held out a hoof.
  1300. >Anon smiled back and bro-hoofed her with his fist.
  1301. >”I’m Anonymous. You can call me Anon if you want, and it’s nice to meet you as well.”
  1302. >Octavia lowered her hoof and beckoned the two of them inside.
  1303. >”Come in, please, we can talk more inside. Feel free to make yourselves at home.”
  1304. >Anon closed the door behind Rarity and himself as they two of them entered, and Anon gazed for a moment at the inside of the musicians main room.
  1305. >It was literally divided in half; half of the room was classically themed, while the other had a much more disco/techno theme about it.
  1306. >Although the disco/techno area that was Vinyl’s seemed rather empty.
  1307. “Do you have a roommate?” Anon probed gently.
  1308. >”Yes, dear Vinyl is conducting a charity show in Manehattan this weekend.”
  1309. >Octavia sighed as she sat on a couch next to the wall and sighed as her head fell back.
  1310. >”It’s given me some much needed quiet to rehearse some music. I love that mare like a sister but sometimes I want to strangle her with how loud she insists on mixing her music.”
  1311. >Octavia brought her head back down and looked at Anon. “Now, what can I help you two with?”
  1312. >Rarity spoke up before Anon could open his mouth. “I was simply helping Anon here find your house, he was the one who needed your help in the first place.”
  1313. >”Oh, what do you Anonymous? I’ll gladly help a human and new resident of Ponyville.”
  1314. “Well since I’ve arrived here I’ve been wanting to get back into a few hold hobbies I used to have, and the violin is one of them. Do you happen to know anypony who sells them or would loan one to me?”
  1315. >Octavia’s eyes went wide and she let out a gasp of surprise.
  1316. >”Really? Oh sweet Celestia of course I’ll help! I can loan you one of Vinyl’s violins.”
  1317. >That statement caught Anon off guard.
  1318. “Wait, Vinyl plays the violin? I thought she was just a DJ?”
  1319. >Octavia leapt from the couch, a sly grin on her face.
  1320. >“Oh, that’s what most ponies think. She is a very ‘talented’ DJ according to her fans and her record sales numbers, but she is also one of the best violinists I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with.”
  1321. >”Now wait here for just a moment, I’ll be right back.”
  1322. >The grey mare quickly trotted out of the main room and down a hallway, presumably to root through her roommate's belongings.
  1323. >There was a moment’s silence in the room.
  1324. >Anon turned to Rarity, who also looked confused as well.
  1325. “Did you know she played the violin?”
  1326. >”No I didn’t, not that I know her particularly well though. I guess that goes to show that even if you think you know what somepony is, you can be proved wrong indeed.”
  1327. “Whatever Anon was about to respond with died in his throat as Octavia reappeared, violin case slung over her back.
  1328. >”Here we are, I’m sure she won’t mind if you borrow this one. It’s one of her practice instruments.”
  1329. >Octavia sat down, unslung the case, and hoofed it to Anon.
  1330. >”Vinyl has had it clear to me the last couple months, what with humans being slowly brought here, that she would be very happy to have one share her love for music.”
  1331. >Anon turned the case around and opened it.
  1332. >A beautiful violin of darkly stained wood lay in the case, along with a matching bow.
  1333. >Anon reverently took the violin out and held it in front of him, testing its weight and the highly polished wood surfaces.
  1334. “You’re going to loan me this?”
  1335. >”Indeed.”
  1336. “Are you sure? I’ve held expensive instruments before and this one feels just like those.”
  1337. >”Oh I know it is. I bought it for her as a Hearth’s Warming gift last year. But as I told you, I have no doubt in my mind that if you came to her for help, then she would give you this particular instrument in a heartbeat.”
  1338. Anon gently placed the instrument back into its case and closed it.
  1339. “Thank you very much Octavia.”
  1340. >”Oh think nothing of it. If you wish to get back into playing the violin, then both myself and Vinyl will do whatever we can to help you; sheet music, remedial lessons, we will do them.”
  1341. >Anon was speechless for a moment.
  1342. “I would thank you but I’ve done that enough in the last 5 minutes. Do you think you could loan me some simple tunes to practice on? It’s been several years since I’ve played.”
  1343. >”Goodness me, how tragic! Of course I will. Now, where did dear Vinyl keep those?”
  1344. >The grey earth pony began to rummage around her roommate's music equipment, stacks of spare speakers, and her many records.
  1345. >She very nearly tripped several times over loose cables and cords, muttering quiet threats every time she did so.
  1346. >”Oh where or where were those blast-ah, here they are. I knew they were here.”
  1347. >Octavia returned again, this time with a manila folder held lightly in her mouth.
  1348. >Anon gently took the offered folder and flipped through it.
  1349. >It was full of very simple, repetitive melodies, perfect for practicing.
  1350. >”I believe those were from her last student, she outgrew them very quickly. I hope that you will make better use for them than simply using them to level a subwoofer.”
  1351. >Octavia’s eyes rolled in pent up frustration.
  1352. >”I swear, that mare has some serious clean and organizing to do when she returns home.”
  1353. >She looked at the small disaster that was Vinyl’s side of the living room and sighed.
  1354. >”Well that’s something for another day. But besides that, is there anything else I can help you with? Don’t be afraid to ask if you need anything.”
  1355. “I think that’s all I’ll need for now. I’ll be sure to come around if I need help with anything.”
  1356. >Rarity and Anon stood, the latter slinging the violin case over his shoulder.
  1357. >He held out his hand, and Octavia met him in the middle and they shook.
  1358. “Thanks again for everything, I really mean it.”
  1359. >”Like I said, it’s no problem at all. A good day to the both of you!”
  1360. >When the duo had left the small cottage and were a comfortable distance away, Rarity turned her attention to Anon.
  1361. >”Oh can you believe that Octavia loaned you Vinyl’s violin? It’s so beautiful!”
  1362. >Anon just shook his head at the nearly-swooning unicorn.
  1363. “I just thought that she would point me toward a pony who sold them, but I didn’t think she’d just go and ‘borrow’ one of her housemate’s instruments though.”
  1364. >”Even that! I can’t hardly believe it. What if she’s angry and wants it back?”
  1365. “Then she can find me and take it. It’s not like it’s mine to begin with, but I’d at least ask if she could give me lessons.”
  1366. >”That would be the proper thing to do wouldn’t it.”
  1367. >The two of them reached the edge of Ponyville proper, and Rarity turned to Anon and gave him a large, genuine smile.
  1368. >”Well while it was fun to learn more about you and help you acquire that wonderful instrument, I have several dresses that must be ready by next weekend and they cannot be put off for any longer, tata!”
  1369. “Thanks for the help Rarity!” Anon waved as the prim unicorn began to trot off back towards her house/business.
  1370. >Now that he was relatively alone, an excitement began to build in him.
  1371. >He had a violin, and he was going to relearn how to play.
  1372. >Anon made his way back to Twilight’s castle, attempting not to run in his sudden elation.
  1373. >Soon he saw the large crystal structure directly ahead of him.
  1374. >His building excitement got the better of him, and he jogged the rest of the way there.
  1375. >Lost in his own excitement, he nearly ran into Starlight Glimmer as she exited the castle and came down the front steps, muzzle buried in a book.
  1376. >Anon managed to dodge to the side, narrowly avoiding the light-pinkish mare and her book-laden saddlebags.
  1377. “Sorry Starlight!” He shouted as he slipped past her and closed the large doors behind him.
  1378. >Starlight Glimmer froze and lowered her book, looking around in surprise.
  1379. >”What? Hello? Anon was that you?”
  1380. >A quick glance around her showed nothing, while her mind flashed backward.
  1381. >At least she hadn’t run into Pinkie’s sister Maud, that mare was as solid as bedrock.
  1382. >With nobody to answer her, Starlight shrugged and continued onward, book once again occupying her mind and eyes.
  1383. >Meanwhile Anon practically flew up the several sets of stairs that led to his room.
  1384. >Several of the guards he passed gave him strange looks as he passed by.
  1385. >Humans did strange things after all.
  1386. >Anon opened his door and quickly shut and locked it behind up.
  1387. >He suddenly realized he was sweating slightly and virtually out of breath.
  1388. “Hehe, worth it though” He chuckled, recalling the very confused faces of the guards he had passed.
  1389. >taking off his shoes and gently placing the violin on his bed, Anon paced around his room, attempting to calm himself down.
  1390. >He couldn’t wait.
  1391. >He had to try to play now.
  1392. >Sitting himself down cross legged on his bed, he pulled out the beautiful violin and matching bow, as well as some of the sheet music that he had received.
  1393. >It was simple stuff really.
  1394. “This shouldn’t be too hard I think” Anon muttered as he placed the violin on his shoulder and beneath his chin, the bow resting lightly in his opposite hand.
  1395. >He rested the bow on the strings.
  1396. >He could do this.
  1397. >The resulting sound left his teeth grinding and him wishing his ears never worked.
  1398. >He looked down at the sheet music, then back at the violin, and sighed.
  1399. “This is going to take a bit longer than I hoped for.”
  1400. <>
  1401. >Several hours later Anon thought he’d made some progress.
  1402. >At least the noises he made didn’t sound like a dying animal to him anymore.
  1403. >While he was sad that it wasn’t anywhere near to the skill he’d once had, he knew he’d get back to that level at some point.
  1404. “Hopefully it only takes a couple weeks...” Anon muttered to himself as he carefully placed the violin, back safely in its case, on an unused shelf in one of his bookcases.
  1405. >He patted the case affectionately and turned to examine his room.
  1406. >Barely a week since he’d lived here, and already it was starting to feel like home.
  1407. >He even had a small picture collection taped to the mirror hanging on one wall.
  1408. >Of course that had been Starlight’s idea.
  1409. >He smiled at the last picture he had put up, one of him helping Pinkie Pie carry a load of cupcakes out to the Cakes delivery wagon, the both of them laughing at a joke she’d just told him.
  1410. >Anon had just been passing by at the time, but he couldn’t just let her carry 100 boxes of cupcakes all by herself.
  1411. >She’d squealed and given him a huge hug when he jumped in to help.
  1412. >Shaking himself out of his memory, he glanced at the clock on his bedside table.
  1413. >Anon’s eyes widened in surprise to see the hands nearing 12:00.
  1414. “Time flies I guess, but I really need to get to bed.” Anon muttered.
  1415. >Then he remembered that Twilight said that he had to open the library up in the morning.
  1416. >At 6:00 AM.
  1417. >Quickly hopping into his expansive shower and taking a very short shower, he was out and in bed just as the minute hand on the clock hit 12:00.
  1418. “Nailed it.” He smirked.
  1419. >Suddenly he realized how sore his arms were.
  1420. >He’d apparently forgotten how strenuous violin playing was, even if he wasn’t ‘playing’ quite yet.
  1421. “Owie.” Anon moaned as he rolled over, trying to get comfortable.
  1422. >Thankfully his bed, being made of clouds for the most part, was good at making it’s occupants comfortable.
  1423. >Less than five minutes later he could feel himself slipping away.
  1424. >Anon smiled to himself as he went through his plan for Nightmare Moon tonight.
  1425. “She’ll love this. I hope.” He muttered into his extremely soft pillow.
  1426. >The next thing he knew he was staging in the endless white again.
  1427. >Nightmare was sitting in front of him, but facing away from him.
  1428. >She didn’t seem to have noticed his entry into the dreamscape.
  1429. >In fact, she seemed rather preoccupied with something in front of her.
  1430. >Anon’s eyes narrowed in confusion and suspicion.
  1431. >As far as Luna had made known to him, the only things that appeared in their private, shared dreams were things that came from his imagination and thoughts.
  1432. >The more he paid attention to her, it sounded like she was mumbling, talking to herself about something.
  1433. “What’s that you got there?” He casually asked, leaning to one side, attempting to get a glance at whatever she was holding in her hooves.
  1434. >Nightmare Moon let out a shriek of surprise, flailing around until she faced him, still sitting, her already ruffled and hurt appearance looking worse for wear in her fright.
  1435. >She glared down at him with rage and what looked like fear writing on her muzzle.
  1436. >”DO NOT SCARE US SO! WE DESERVE-” She descended into a small fit of coughing, her Royal Canterlot Voice robbing her of her breath in her severely weakened state.
  1437. >”Please, don’t do that to Us again, We beg you.” Her eyes brimmed with tears as she gulped in air, the shock of Anon’s arrival seemed to have robbed her of what energy she seemed to have.
  1438. “Sorry about that, but I was just curious, what were you muttering about? I just want to make sure you’re okay is all.”
  1439. >While his statement was true, he hoped that she’d accidentally slip up and give him some information.
  1440. >She seemed to look the same as she’d been the last time they’d met, but something was still off about her mood.
  1441. >He knew she’d been looking at something in her hooves when he’d showed up here.
  1442. >Nightmare Moon looked away from Anon and down to her left wing, which had curled around her front, tattered as it was, in a futile attempt at protection.
  1443. >”We are fine now, Anonymous, and no, We were not ‘muttering’ to Ourself in the slightest. So do not ask Us that pointless question again.”
  1444. >The small blush on her muzzle and her averted eyes told him he was right though.
  1445. >For an immortal nightmare shadow super alicorn, she apparently couldn’t lie that well.
  1446. ‘Maybe she’s never had to lie to anyone in person before.’ Anon thought as the alicorn across from him straightened the few remaining feathers on her wing.
  1447. >She avoided looking at him at all possible until she was done, and she slowly folded the wing back onto her back, wincing in pain as she did so.
  1448. “You remember what I told you last night before I left?”
  1449. >”Yes, yes We do, you were going to tell Us about Mare...mair…”
  1450. “Marathon, the Battle of Marathon.”
  1451. >”Yes! Yes that was it! Please, do tell Us about warfare from your home world. We wish to know everything.”
  1452. “Well actually I have something I want to do first before we talk about that.”
  1453. >”What? No! Please, we must know how your kind conducts combat, do not tempt us so.”
  1454. >Nightmare Moon almost seemed to be whining, but Anon couldn’t really blame her.
  1455. >During their talks with her so far, Anon had found the alicorn desperate for virtually any information that she could get from him.
  1456. >It didn’t really matter what it was about, her curiosity was seemingly endless.
  1457. “I want to play a simple game with you, it’s a card game from my world in case you were curious.”
  1458. >The impatience on Nightmare Moon’s muzzle turned to surprise and anticipation at Anon’s words.
  1459. >”A game from your world? What manner of game is it?”
  1460. “It’s called Uno, now common over here and I’ll show you how to play.”
  1461. >As Nightmare Moon slowly made her way over to Anon on her stiff and aching legs, he visualized a small table between them, and one popped into existence, as if it had always been there.
  1462. >The sky turned into the dim light of late evening, and puffy clouds in all shades of red and orange from the now setting sun filled the sky.
  1463. >Anon lowered himself into the comfy chair that had appeared beneath him, while the now trembling alicorn sat down with a small groan of pain opposite him.
  1464. >The thick, soft grass he imagined appeared beneath them, just in time to rest the weary alicorn’s haunches, and she gave a sigh of relief at the soothing contact.
  1465. “Are you okay?” Anon asked as he glanced over her form in concern.
  1466. >Due to her larger stature, while sitting on her haunches she was slightly taller than him.
  1467. >”We are not, as We are sure you are well aware.” The annoyance in her voice caused Anon to gaze away in embarrassment at his lame question.
  1468. >”Now, what is this ‘Uno’? We wish to see it.”
  1469. “Well, Uno is a card game with relatively simple rules. I think you’ll like it, while it’s mainly a game for kids it does take some strategy to be good at.”
  1470. >While Anon was talking, a deck of Uno cards appeared on the table between them.
  1471. >He picked them up and began to shuffle them, giving the alicorn across from him a smile.
  1472. “So, you wanna play?”
  1473. >Nightmare Moon raised her head slightly, looking down her nose at the cards as Anon quickly shuffled them.
  1474. >Anon had to restrain a laugh at the ridiculous pose she was unintentionally making.
  1475. >”This game does seem interesting. We will try it to see if it proves itself worthy of Our future attention.”
  1476. >Anon finished shuffling and dealt himself and the alicorn their respective hands.
  1477. ‘Would that be a ‘hoof’ in her case?’ Anon thought to himself as he finished dealing.
  1478. >Nightmare Moon picked up her lot of cards with both hooves as Anon began to explain the rules to her.
  1479. >Anon carefully watched the alicorn while he explained the rules.
  1480. >Thankfully she looked interested, her slitted eyes carefully scanning her cards with consideration.
  1481. >”We think We understand this game Anonymous.”
  1482. “Good, then let’s get started, I’ll go first.”
  1483. >Following the blue starting card, Anon placed a blue 5 down on the discard pile.
  1484. >Nightmare Moon looked at the card Anon placed down, then back at her own cards.
  1485. >She quickly placed down a blue 7.
  1486. >”That is correct right? We can make this move?”
  1487. “Yup, you sure can.”
  1488. >The more cards that were laid down the more Anon could tell that Nightmare Moon was very interested.
  1489. >In addition to her previously haughty attitude vanishing, she quickly caught onto the rules and was seemingly enjoying herself.
  1490. >Eventually Anon was left with a large handful of cards, while Nightmare Moon sat smugly across from him, with just two cards held in her hooves.
  1491. >Nightmare Moon had laid down a Draw 4 card, then reversed it back to herself.
  1492. >She had watched his face sink in dismay as she repeated this three times, much to her amusement.
  1493. >He couldn’t help but chuckle at the memory of Nightmare Moon’s childish cackle of laughter at the actions that had brought him to his knees.
  1494. >”What’s so funny, my young human? Are you too afraid to continue against Us?”
  1495. “No, I’m not, just thinking about something.” He placed a yellow 1 on the large discard pile, next to the nearly non-existent draw pile.
  1496. >The dark alicorn’s smile grew wider and more villainous at this move, and she slowly placed it down on top of Anon’s
  1497. >”We believe that this is the part where We are supposed to say ‘Uno’, that is correct, yes?”
  1498. >Anon winced at the toothy smile and equally toothy tone in her voice as he picked a yellow card from his rather large hand and tossed it down.
  1499. “You’d be correct, that is indeed Uno for you.”
  1500. >Nightmare Moon gave an even larger smile and gently placed a Wildcard down onto her monument of destruction.
  1501. >”This card counts as any color correct?”
  1502. “Yes it does.”
  1503. >”HAHAHA! WE HAVE EXHAUSTED OUR CARDS BEFORE YOU! NOW FO-Aghgh..”
  1504. >Nightmare Moon let out several coughs as she held her chest with one hoof to steady herself.
  1505. >Anon half sat out of his chair, ready to get up and help her if need be.
  1506. >”We are sorry about Our outburst, We forgot how much of a burden Our Royal Voice still places on Us. Now, what do We do next?”
  1507. >She looked at Anon expectantly, and what looked to him like genuine happiness on her muzzle.
  1508. “Well, if we go by how me and my family always used to play Uno, you win.”
  1509. >Anon sat back down and tossed his large hand onto the table, cards fanning out like some exotic flower coming into bloom.
  1510. >Nightmare Moon froze at Anon’s words and actions, glazing with wide eyes at his scattered cards, before raising her head to meet his gaze.
  1511. >Even her weak miasmic mane ceased what little flowing it had.
  1512. >”We… We win?” She seemed almost confused at her own words.
  1513. “Yup, fair and square too. Wanna shake on it?” He held out his hand across the table towards her.
  1514. >Nightmare Moon was frozen for a few moments, before she reached out a hoof and shook Anon’s offered hand.
  1515. >The look of shocked neutrality never left her face.
  1516. “You had me good there, You caught onto the rules a lot quicker than I thought.”
  1517. >Anon gathered the cards and began to shuffle them again, still looking at the statuesque alicorn across from him.
  1518. “Are you okay? You do want another round right?”
  1519. >”We… We do-”
  1520. >Whatever Nightmare Moon was about to say was lost however, as the sudden wind that signaled Anon’s departure from the dream realm appeared.
  1521. >Anon could have sworn that he had only been dreaming for less than an hour, but things were different here in the dream realm.
  1522. >Luna had explained this to him that not only was the ‘physical’ world within the dream realm malleable and changeable, but so was time.
  1523. >An hour spent in the dream realm could take up a full night’s rest or a short five minute nap.
  1524. >There was no way to really control the wakefulness of one’s physical body except through sleep inducing medicine or spells.
  1525. >Luna had not recommended any of these unless absolutely necessary, to create a neutral environment for the both of them to interact in.
  1526. “Well dammit, I guess that next game will have to wait till next time. I hoped my dream would last longer than this.”
  1527. >”Yes… Next time....” Nightmare Moon still seemed to be nearly speechless for some reason.
  1528. “What’s wrong? Common, you can tell me, I won’t laugh or anything!
  1529. >Anon shouted his last words to the alicorn as he was lifted by the gentile yet forceful winds of the waking consciousness and thrust into his waking body.
  1530. “Weeeeell, that was kinda weird.” Anon sat up and yawned, looking at the cheery early morning sunshine coming through his open window.
  1531. “I wonder what had her shook though? She seemed fine right up until she won… Oh.”
  1532. >Then Anon realized the significance of what had just transpired.
  1533. >He leapt out of bed and flipped open his journal, and began to write with feverish haste.
  1534. >Anon’s quill practically flew across the pages in his haste.
  1535. <>
  1536. >Nightmare Moon watched as Anonymous disappeared into the sunset sky, which was rapidly fading as Anon’s control over her corner of the dreamscape vanished with him.
  1537. >She turned her head around to look at the table and it’s cards, but they too had all but vanished from view.
  1538. >Less than ten seconds later, Nightmare Moon was alone in the void once again.
  1539. >She was glad that Anon was gone.
  1540. >Now he wouldn’t have to see the tears that had begun to run down her cheeks.
  1541. >Nightmare Moon lowered herself to the featureless ground and quietly wept, tears freely falling from her eyes.
  1542. >She’d won.
  1543. >She’d never felt this… strange feeling before.
  1544. >It was like a mixture of pride, which she knew, and another emotion, which she did not know.
  1545. >Regardless, they filled the alicorn’s chest until she felt like she would explode from the pressure.
  1546. >”We… We won. We beat Anonymous fairly at a game we did not truly know.”
  1547. >The words were choked with emotions that the alicorn did not fully understand, and she hugged herself with her forelegs to combat her sudden shivering.
  1548. >”W-We must try that game again. These feelings, they make Us… happy?”
  1549. >Suddenly Nightmare Moon realized what the feeling inside her was.
  1550. >Joy.
  1551. >With this revelation, that something as simple as a victory in a foal’s card game could make her feel like this, Nightmare Moon began to laugh.
  1552. >Not the high pitched, evil cackling laughter that she always gave.
  1553. >Even to her own ears, she could recognize the honesty and warmth in her quiet yet strong peals of laughter.
  1554. >As if in response to this, she could suddenly feel a cold, icy present directly to her left.
  1555. >She knew what it was, what had appeared after it had left when Anonymous had surprised her.
  1556. >But for the first time since it had begun to appear to her, she ignored it.
  1557. >She never wanted to let go of this feeling of warmth and cheer.
  1558. >A buzzing sound and several violet and cyan sparks suddenly began to flutter down from above her.
  1559. >Eyes nearly crossing as she looked up, she saw her long and chipped horn flickering weakly with magical power.
  1560. >Nightmare Moon gazed open mouthed and in wide-eyed wonder as the sparks fell from her horn’s tip and length like a gentle rain around her.
  1561. >This revelation brought back the tears and once again Nightmare Moon lost herself in her emotions, holding her head in her hooves and gently sobbing at what had transpired.
  1562. <>
  1563. >Tea Leaf slowly opened her eyes, the sunlight filtering in through the gaps in the window blinds, leaving bright, dancing streaks of yellow on the wall above her bed.
  1564. >Rubbing the last vestiges of sleep away with one hoof she sat up, yawned, stretching her legs and wings.
  1565. >”First things first, checkup time.”
  1566. >After straightening a few feathers on her left wing and gathering her clipboard, she made her way up the staircase that led to Nightmare Moon’s quarters.
  1567. >Thankfully Celestia had assigned her to the closest available room to her patient’s, so she could respond quickly even if she was sleeping.
  1568. >Her room just happened to be under Anonymous’ room
  1569. >This hadn’t been a problem until last night, until he brought that blasted violin back with him from his day trip into Ponyville.
  1570. >”Heavens to Celestia I hope he gets better at playing that thing soon, my poor ears won’t be able to take much more of that torture.”
  1571. >Shaking her head to clear the last remnants of sleep away, she came to the top of the stairs.
  1572. >The guard assigned to watch both Anon and Nightmare Moon’s rooms stood in the middle of the short hallway leading to their respective rooms.
  1573. >When he saw her slowly trot up the stairs, he smiled and nodded in greetings.
  1574. >”Good morning ma’am.”
  1575. >”Oh don’t ‘ma’am’ me Light Wing, I’m not old enough for that. Where’s Thunder? He’s normally still here when I do my morning check up.”
  1576. >”He left with Anonymous when he woke up. They both went downstairs for breakfast I believe.”
  1577. >Tea Leaf passed by Light Wing, who let her enter Nightmare Moon’s room.
  1578. >”That figures, colts always think with their stomachs, pony and human apparently. Now, onto you dear.”
  1579. >The pegasus nurse trotted up to the bedside, where Nightmare Moon still lay, unmoving from the last time Tea Leaf had checked on her.
  1580. >”Any change from last night, or did Anon’s violin ‘practice’ keep you up as well? No? Well then you got more sleep than I did then.”
  1581. >Tea Leaf continued to talk as she did the basic checks of Nightmare Moon’s medical equipment as well as a quick physical assessment.
  1582. >She’d always talked to her patients, a habit from when she’d been a field medic in the Equestrian Foreign Legion.
  1583. >It was easier to ensure a soldier was alive if they responded to her, positively or not, she didn’t care.
  1584. >She stopped, made several notes, checked several boxes off, and folded her clipboard under one wing.
  1585. >”I do wish you could see the sunrise right now, it is very pretty, and I’d like to think that even you would get some pleasure from witnessing it.”
  1586. >Trotting over to one of the tables next to the alicorn’s bed and the adjacent wall, Tea Leaf prepared the proper nutrient mix for her patients IV drip.
  1587. >”I’m not privy to what goes on when Anon visits you when he dreams, but I hope you and him get along well, he does seem like a nice young man to me.
  1588. >With a happy twirl, the pegasus turned back to her patient. ”Now, to get… you… fed…”
  1589. >Tea Leaf dropped the plastic container of liquid nutrients onto the floor, where it bounced several times but thankfully didn’t break open.
  1590. >The pegasus stared with increasingly wide eyes as Nightmare Moon began to twitch gently on her bed, a faint cyan glow appearing around her horn, while her heart monitor sped up slightly.
  1591. >All this lasted just a few seconds, before the magical glow faded, the twitching stopped, and the alicorn’s heart rate returned to its previous pace.
  1592. >Tea Leaf was rooted to the spot for a moment in shock, before she lurched forward, and sprinted out of the room, wings helping her along in her haste.
  1593. >”Tea Leaf, what’s wrong?” Light Wing spun around at the noise, eyes alert and sword half drawn from its scabbard.
  1594. >”No time! Stay here and don’t let anypony though!”
  1595. >Tea Leaf flew over his head and shot down the staircase like an arrow shot from a bow.
  1596. >Landing just before the door to her room, she slid, backpedaling with her hooves to slow herself.
  1597. >Throwing open her bedroom door with one wing, she galloped over to her nightstand and to the alert amulet that Celestia had given to her.
  1598. >With it, she could directly alert Celestia to a drastic change in Nightmare Moon’s physical condition.
  1599. >Tea Leaf figured that twitching and throwing out magical sparks and light generation was drastic enough for this.
  1600. >Grabbing it with one wing, she pressed down on the rose quartz crystal in the amulet’s center repeatedly in her panic.
  1601. >”Work work work you stupid thing!” She repeatedly mashed the crystal with one hoof, sweat running down her coat in her panic.
  1602. >A loud crack of magic interrupted her, throwing her onto her back and sending the amulet flying.
  1603. >When Tea Leaf looked up, Celestia stood before her.
  1604. >Clad in nothing but a pair of bath slippers and wet mane loose and down around her long neck, she looked equal parts curious and irritable.
  1605. >”What is the matter Tea Leaf? What has happened to her? What has she done?”
  1606. >Steam slowly began to rise off of Celestia’s entire body as the remaining water from her bath began to vaporize from the heat she was generating.
  1607. >”S-she hasn’t done anything, at least on purpose I think.” Tea Leaf stammered in fear.
  1608. >Celestia stood in silence before the room cooled off considerably.
  1609. >”Explain, please.” Celestia said in a noticeably calmer tone.
  1610. >”Well princess, I was in the mindset of doing my morning checkup on her when her horn began to glow and shoot out tiny violet sparks, so I activated the amulet like you instructed me to.”
  1611. >Princess Celestia stood still for a moment, eyebrows scrunched in thought.
  1612. >”Let me examine her.”
  1613. >”That’s fine with me Princess, just let me finish my own routine exam, I activated the amulet before I could finish it.”
  1614. >”Of course, she is your patient after all.” Celestia and Tea Leaf began their trip to Nightmare Moon’s room.
  1615. >Reaching the top of the stairs the duo encountered Light Wing, who still appeared ready to fight anything that crossed his path.
  1616. >When he saw his Princess and Tea Leaf ascend the stairs, his eyes went wide and he sank into a low bow.
  1617. >”My princess, I didn’t realize that you would be arriving here so suddenly.”
  1618. >Celestia chuckled, noticing his wide eyes staring at her very un-regal appearance.
  1619. >”Neither did I, but change apparently waits for nopony, not even me. Keep watch here please until I return.”
  1620. >”Yes Ma’am” Light Wing Stood ramrod still in the center of the hallway once they had passed, eyes alert and head constantly scanning.
  1621. >When the princess and her nurse entered Nightmare Moon’s room, the mirth that had adorned Celestia’s muzzle seemed to virtually vanish.
  1622. >”She seems… Different, don’t you think? I haven’t been here since we introduced Anonymous to her, so you will know better than I.”
  1623. >Tea Leaf carefully approached the bed and it’s lone occupant, ears laid back on her head in her hesitation and nervousness.
  1624. >”Her… Her mane. That definitely wasn’t like that when I left.”
  1625. >When Tea Leaf had fled the room earlier, the wisps of Nightmare Moon’s miasmic mane had been weak and barely able to suspend themselves.
  1626. >They had been very slowly growing larger since Anon had arrived, but they had still been sickly and frail appearing.
  1627. >Now, the wisps had transformed into what looked like a full-on mane, flowing gently and steadily around the alicorn’s motionless form.
  1628. >Her tail had undergone a similar transformation, the billowing cloud of energy and twinkles flowed off of the bed and hovered in the air, constantly shifting in gentle motions similar to its counterpart.
  1629. >”I see now Tea Leaf. Now if you will allow me to....”
  1630. >Celestia’s horn lit up as she approached the bed, and her now glowing eyes were focused solely it’s occupant.
  1631. >The Solar Princess did a complete lap around the bed while Tea Leaf watched with interest and apprehension, until Celestia stood back the glow around her eyes and horn dying away.
  1632. >”If you don’t mind me asking, but what were you doing just now?”
  1633. >”I was just ensuring that the many wards and counter spells that my sister and I placed here have worked as intended, and thankfully they have.”
  1634. >Celestia located and levitated over the still unused bottle of liquid nutrients that Tea Leaf had dropped in her panic and levitated it over towards the pegasus.
  1635. >Tea Leaf, thankful for an excuse to not look nervous in front of her sovereign, finished hooking up the nutrients to Nightmare Moon’s IV drip.
  1636. >”But how? Her horn was glowing and shooting out sparks. How is that possible?”
  1637. >Celestia paused for a moment before answering, looking out the window towards her slowly rising sun.
  1638. >”I believe her quick and seemingly sporadic regeneration is related in some way to her ongoing relationship with Anonymous. Do you know where he is by chance?”
  1639. >”Light Wing said that Anon and Specialist Thunder had just gone downstairs to eat breakfast right before I arrived to conduct my morning checkup.”
  1640. >”Excellent. Now, let me return to Canterlot to get myself more, er, presentable, then I shall return to talk with Anon about what I have learned.”
  1641. >Princess Celestia gathered her magic around herself and vanished with a crack of energy, leaving Tea Leaf alone.
  1642. >The pegasus looked away from where the Princess had stood, and back towards where the still comatose Nightmare Moon lay, seemingly innocent of what had just transpired next to her.
  1643. >Tea Leaf sighed, once again picking up her clipboard, resuming her previously interrupted checkup.
  1644. >”Sometimes I wish I was back to dodging arrows and rocks and stitching ponies back together.”
  1645. >Anon sat at the table, a plate full of cinnamon sticks in front of him, while he cheerfully talked with Spike and Thunder, the guard who covered the guard’s night rotation near his room.
  1646. >”So you’ve never played Ogres and Oubliettes? I try to play whenever I can but there wasn’t much free time in the Specialist Service.”
  1647. >Anon nodded in understanding as he continued to devour the cinnamon sticks that had been gratefully provided by Spike, who sat across from him with a bowl full of what looked like emeralds.
  1648. >A large DM rulebook for Ogres and Oubliettes sat in front of him on the table, which had started the conversation to begin with.
  1649. >No I’ve never played it, but Spike here lent me a rulebook in case I ever want to join the campaign he’s running.”
  1650. >The young drake blushed and rubbed the spines on the back of his head.
  1651. >”You don’t have to make it sound so important or crazy Anon, it’s just a fun thing for us guys to do.”
  1652. “You have Discord literally create a pocket dimension for you all to act out your campaign in real time. If that’s not awesome I don't know what is.”
  1653. >When Thunder heard this, he nearly choked on the mouthful of cereal he was chewing.
  1654. >”Wait a minute Spike, are you telling me that you have the Lord of Chaos playing in your campaign?”
  1655. >Spike puffed up with pride. “Yup, he’s really gotten into it, so much that I try to hold Guy’s Night every other weekend.”
  1656. >Thunder finally swallowed his food, staring with wonder-filled eyes at the DM rulebook in front of spike.
  1657. >”Yeah, I’m going to have to get in on this campaign, if I can get the time and if you’ll let me of course.”
  1658. >Spike gave a large grin to both Thunder and Anon.
  1659. >”You’re both welcome to join, the more the merrier I say! I know Big Mac and Discord would like to have more party members.”
  1660. “Consider that offer taken.” Anon proclaimed as he ate the last cinnamon stick on his plate.
  1661. >A set of hooves could be heard on the crystal behind him, but Anon figured it was Twilight coming to derail their conversation.
  1662. >Probably about something to do with books.
  1663. >The sudden look of surprise on Thunder’s muzzle told him otherwise.
  1664. >Anon slowly turned in his chair till he could see that Celestia was standing in the kitchen doorway, as regal as ever.
  1665. >”Good morning Anon, I’m sorry I had to come without notifying you sooner, but it was urgent.”
  1666. >Anon stood up, suddenly uneasy and nervous.
  1667. “What’s wrong? It’s not something I’ve done is it?”
  1668. >”That is yet to be determined. Follow me please, we must talk.”
  1669. >Anon shared a tense look with Spike and Thunder, before he followed Princess Celestia out of the kitchen.
  1670. >”Tell me Anon, when was the last time you visited Nightmare Moon? Physically and not in the dream realm.”
  1671. “Ummm… I’d say that was before I left to go get a violin from Octavia yesterday afternoon. Why do you ask?”
  1672. >”Well, there has been a change in her condition.”
  1673. >Anon’s eyes went wide at these words, as the duo made their way past saluting guards and up the several sets of stairs that led to Nightmare Moon’s room.
  1674. “Really? What happened to her? Is she okay?”
  1675. >”She is okay from what I can tell. In fact, she seems to be doing leagues better than where she should be, physically at least.”
  1676. >The two of them finally reached the top of the stairs that led to Nightmare Moon’s room, and passed the guard still at attention there.
  1677. >Celestia entered first, and Anon followed closely behind, closing the door behind him.
  1678. >Anon looked towards the bed and it’s unmoving occupant, and felt his mouth drop open in surprise.
  1679. “Wow, that definitely wasn’t there yesterday.”
  1680. >Anon stared with wide eyes at the now gently rippling and undulating mane and tail that Nightmare Moon had grown.
  1681. “How did this happen?” He finally asked, recovering from his momentary loss of words.
  1682. >”It happened this morning during my morning checkup.”
  1683. >Anon noticed that the nurse Tea Leaf was standing next to Nightmare Moon’s bed, reading something off of a wing-held device.
  1684. >”I came in to do my routine checkup and to give her her nutrient intake, then suddenly her horn began to glow and emit small sparks.”
  1685. “...Really?” Anon slowly approached the bed of the comatose alicorn, still examining her new mane and tail.
  1686. >”Yes, I’m sorry to say I didn’t get to see her new… mane and tail grow, I’m afraid the magical light show spooked me enough so I exited and left to retrieve Princess Celestia.”
  1687. >The pegasus looked away from Anon, attempting to hide the small blush that had formed on her cheeks.
  1688. “You couldn’t help it, and nothing bad happened, so there’s no need to apologize”
  1689. >Anon knelt on one knee next to Nightmare Moon’s bed, looking closely at her muzzle, still covered with the oxygen mask.
  1690. “She looks better, honestly.” Anon said quietly, reaching out a hand.
  1691. >To the surprise of both ponies and Anon, a portion of the miasmic, flowing mane slowly flowed out to meet him, seemingly in greeting.
  1692. >Celestia’s eyes went wide with surprise, and Tea Leaf brought a hoof up to her mouth in shock.
  1693. >Anon just smiled as he twisted his hand about, feeling the strange, magical presence that seemed to be studying him as much as he was studying it.
  1694. >He slowly reached his hand all the way, and began to stroke Nightmare Moon’s neck, feeling the semi-physical mane follow him, wrapping around his hand like gently warm cloth.
  1695. >Anon’s smile grew wider at the comfortable and protected feeling around his mane-covered hand.
  1696. >After several seconds, the portion of Nightmare Moon’s mane retracted and rejoined the main portion.
  1697. >Anon’s hand found one alicorn sized ear, and he gently began to rub it, smiling all the while.
  1698. “I guess my idea worked after all.”
  1699. <>
  1700. >Anon gently placed his violin in its case and put it onto his bookshelf, thoroughly exhausted from his practice.
  1701. >He massaged his aching arms, recalling his whole afternoon of self-imposed violin practice.
  1702. >To his excitement, he wasn’t sounding like garbage as much anymore as his muscles began to remember the notes and the movements necessary.
  1703. >Unfortunately his muscles weren’t ready for it, and now he stood there, arms and fingers aching from the 5 hours of practice he’d done in the afternoon.
  1704. >In an effort to distract himself from the pain, he thought back to the events of his day.
  1705. >After his conversation with Princess Celestia and Nightmare Moon’s nurse Tea Leaf, he’d gone out to do some sightseeing since he didn’t have to help Twilight in the library that day..
  1706. >While he’d been in the Ponyville Market, he’d finally met Fluttershy for the first time.
  1707. >The poor pegasus was as timid as he’d been led to believe.
  1708. >Fortunately she’d warmed up to him a bit once they had sat down and had a nice talk next to the river that flowed through part of Ponyville.
  1709. >Since there were hardly any ponies nearby at the time, he’d figured bringing up Nightmare Moon would be safe without prying ears close.
  1710. >Thankfully Fluttershy had listened to Anon’s story without a hint of fear.
  1711. >All she had done was listen attentively, never interrupting him.
  1712. >When he had caught her up till that morning’s events, she’d encouraged him in his endeavor to be Nightmare Moon’s friend.
  1713. >Anon smiled as he recalled what Fluttershy had told him right before he’d said goodbye to her.
  1714. >”I may not want to be her friend at the moment, but if what you’re saying about her is true, and if she hasn’t been misleading to you, then she’s going to need a friend to make it through this.”
  1715. “I’m working on it.” He said to the mirror hanging on his wall
  1716. >Freshly taped to one side of the frame was a picture of him and Fluttershy at the riverside, taken at Scootaloo’s request.
  1717. >The overeager filly had caught them just before Anon had left to return to Twilight’s castle.
  1718. >Anon hadn’t been able to say no to the begging, wide eyes of the pegasus filly.
  1719. >Anon turned from the mirror and entered his bathroom, ready to clean himself up before he went to bed.
  1720. >After a quick shower and brushing his teeth, he found himself across the hall in Nightmare Moon’s room, standing over her still form.
  1721. >Tea Leaf stood on the opposite side of the bed.
  1722. >Apparently he’d walked in on her conducting her nightly checkup of the comatose alicorn.
  1723. >”I saw the way you looked at her this morning.”
  1724. >Anon looked up to Tea Leaf, watching as the pegasus took several readings and wrote them down on her clipboard.
  1725. “What do you mean?”
  1726. >”Don’t be like that, I can see a budding romance building, it’s not the first time I’ve seen love blossom in a hospital room.”
  1727. “This isn’t a hospital room.”
  1728. >”It might as well be, but that still doesn’t change the fact that you had a dopey smile on your face when you were scratching her ears earlier.”
  1729. “Well… You see…”
  1730. >”Did you know that ear scratches are considered an intimate gesture between very close friends or even lovers?”
  1731. >Thoroughly embarrassed, Anon’s face blushed a furious red.
  1732. >Tea Leaf let out a cheery laugh as she finished writing down her notes, folding her clipboard under one wing.
  1733. >”I’m not trying to be mean, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m just stating the obvious. I can see the budding romance, even if I haven’t seen the two of you interact.”
  1734. >Anon tilted his head in curiosity despite his still blushing face.
  1735. “How so?”
  1736. >”Well, you might not know this, but before I was selected to become Princess Celestia’s private nurse and physician, I was a combat medic for the Equestrian Foreign Legion.”
  1737. >Anon’s eyes widened in surprise, all self-embarrassment forgotten.
  1738. “Really?”
  1739. >”Yes, I served three tours of duty in eastern Zebraca in the Zebra/Griffon turf war several years ago.”
  1740. “I’ve never heard that mentioned before.”
  1741. >”You won’t. We were there to support local zebra militias against separatists griffons who had broken away and were looking to gain more territory for themselves.”
  1742. >”Since the Griffonstone government decided not to take action, we were sent in to help the Zebras defend their land and families.”
  1743. >Anon was silent for a moment in thoughtful contemplation.
  1744. “That doesn’t sound pleasant.”
  1745. >”It wasn’t, the turf war had no real front lines and the border was poorly defined to begin with, being on the high plains and mountains.
  1746. >”It was all roaming zebra tribes and savage, primitive warfare between them and we got dropped right into the middle of it.”
  1747. >Tea Leaf placed her clipboard on a bedside table and sat down on a reclining couch on the opposite wall, where a slightly shaken Anon sat next to her.
  1748. >”My division was assigned to assist one tribe attempting to hold onto a vital water supply, the only one with potable water in 50 miles. I was in a small outpost closest to what would have been considered the front line.”
  1749. >”What happened?” Anon asked, eyes wide with morbid curiosity.
  1750. >”Another pony that I knew had been sent along as well, a translator to help assist with the combined guerrilla war we were using to keep the griffons on edge.”
  1751. >Tea Leaf let out a long sigh, eyes vacant and full of somber memories.
  1752. >”That stallion was my best friend, and I was planning on asking him to marry me when we rotated out in two weeks.”
  1753. >Anon opened his mouth to respond but Tea Leaf kept talking, lost in her own past.
  1754. >”I was in the field hospital, treating several wounded, including him, when they struck without warning. We were caught completely off guard in the dark of night.”
  1755. >Tears began to bud in the Pegasus’s eyes as the memories came rushing back to her.
  1756. >”We were so far out we didn’t have a defensive wall erected and only one battlemage to cast warning and combat spells. They killed him first, then moved through the camp, trying to finish us off before we could organize a proper defense.”
  1757. >”One came flying into my hospital tent. Obviously intending to finish off any wounded. I didn’t even have my armor on, or my combat knife. Stupid, stupid…”
  1758. >Anon watched in sadness as the mare refused to cry, inhaling through her nostrils to choke back a sob, tears beginning to flow freely down her cheeks.
  1759. >”The griffon threw me to the side and went to each cot, stabbing each of my wounded, one by one.
  1760. >”The next thing I remember is me and this griffon wrestling on the dirt floor among the dead, lit only by the burning camp outside, both of us surrounded by the screams of the dying.
  1761. >The Tea Leaf turned to face Anon, her glacial blue eyes hard with strength despite the tears still flowing from them.
  1762. >”I had somehow gotten him away from his sword, but that doesn’t matter for his kind, they still have other weapons at their disposal.”
  1763. >With one hoof she lifted the right side of her mane, which Anon had always noticed flowed gently down the right side of her neck and face.
  1764. >Anon’s eyes widened even more at the four ugly claw marks, which went all the way from her ear to halfway down her neck, grisly in their stark contrast to her groomed mane and chestnut coat.
  1765. >”I guess he thought he’d won, because he reached down with his beak. My best guess is that he wanted to pluck one of my eyes out as a trophy before finishing me off. That had happened on several occasions.
  1766. >A grim smile suddenly dominated Tea Leaf’s muzzle, despite her now red and tear-stained eyes.
  1767. >My dad always said I was a picky eater, but apparently I wasn’t that night. Griffon tastes gross, but I latched on and pulled. Not having a throat apparently was enough to get that bucker off me.
  1768. >”I ran to check on my patients in my desperation and haze of pain, but it was no use. They were all already dead, including the one I had never told I loved.”
  1769. >Anon scooted closer to the crying pegasus, desperate to help her but unsure how.
  1770. >”My combat knife was sitting on my cot, right where I’d left it. I never let it out of my sight after that.”
  1771. >With a flick of the wing that wasn’t holding her clipboard, a short, slightly curved knife appeared, laced in with her primary feathers.
  1772. >She extended the wing towards Anon, who gently took the offered knife in his hands.
  1773. >Anon reverently held the knife in one hand, the smoothly weathered grip comfortable even in his human hand. The blade looked worn but well cared for, and very sharp.
  1774. >”When we buried them that morning, I swore on their graves I would never fail a patient under my care again. I was rotated out after that due to my injury, back to my family in Canterlot.”
  1775. >”I was only 19 at the time”
  1776. “What did they think of what happened?” Anon carefully ventured.
  1777. >”I never told them the full story. I love them to death but they’re like most ponies in Equestria nowadays; ignorant of war and violence, always focused on keeping themselves content and safe. They all love to pretend that horrible things like that don’t exist.”
  1778. “What did you do when you got back home?”
  1779. >”Mainly lay around and try to heal, all the while I had to listen to my mom and my sisters say that I could join the family tradition.”
  1780. “Family tradition?”
  1781. >Tea Leaf had thankfully stopped crying, though her eyes were still red and puffy.
  1782. >Anon handed the combat knife back to the mare, and she tucked it back into her wing, completely hiding it from sight.
  1783. >”My family has been serving as maids in Canterlot Castle for over 400 years, and my mother and all my sisters followed that tradition.
  1784. >”They didn’t think that I would ever be accepted or fit in with my ‘disfigured and uncouth appearance’”
  1785. “Your mom said that?” Anon asked, flabbergasted.
  1786. >”No, my mom and dad thankfully supported me however they could. That particular comment came from my older sister. One broken nose and leg later and she still doesn’t talk to me.”
  1787. >”Thankfully, with my mom’s help and my rather long resume and relevant experience. I managed to secure a nurse position in the Canterlot Castle medical wing. That’s where my big break came.”
  1788. >”What was the big break?”
  1789. >”It came in the form of a small blue alicorn, afraid of everypony around her, even her older sister Princess Celestia.”
  1790. >”When Princess Luna first returned, everypony in the medical wing was too terrified to be in the same room as her, much less give her a medical examination.”
  1791. >”I was the only one who stepped up, and for that, Princess Celestia made me her and her sister’s personal nurse.”
  1792. >Tea Leaf stopped, looking out the dark wind and into the night, where the stars twinkled and Luna’s moon shone bright and clear.
  1793. >”But I’ve been talking long enough, I’m sorry I rambled so much.”
  1794. “Oh it’s fine, I’m always willing to listen to anypony who needs it.” Anon gave the mare a smile.
  1795. >”Back to my earlier point, don’t let these feelings sit inside you, or you might never have the opportunity to let something truly wonderful grow.
  1796. >”I failed in that regard, I don’t want to see the same happen to you, not when I can do something about it.”
  1797. >Anon looked away from Tea Leaf for the first time and glanced back towards Nightmare Moon, still peacefully still on her bed.
  1798. “I understand.” Anon replied quietly.
  1799. >”Good, now, I should probably be heading to bed. The same should be said about you, I know your arms must be sore after all that violin practice.”
  1800. “You heard? How did it sound?” Anon asked, curious as to her opinion.
  1801. >Tea Leaf felt a bead of sweat roll down the back of her neck.
  1802. >”Well, hehe, it sounded fine. Yes, fine alright. Keep up the practice!”
  1803. >Together, they both left the couch and made their way out of Nightmare Moon’s room
  1804. >Anon walked across the hall and leaned against his doorframe, looking at the pegasus mare.
  1805. “Thanks again for the advice Tea Leaf, it means a lot. If you ever need anyone to listen to you, you can always count on me.”
  1806. >Tea Leaf blushed slightly, glad to have an excuse to not look like an emotional wreck.
  1807. >”Thanks for the offer Anon, I might take you up on that offer sometime. Have a good night.”
  1808. >With a respective wave from both of them, Anon entered his room and closed the door.
  1809. >He leaned against the closed door, letting out a long sigh.
  1810. “That poor thing…”
  1811. >Contemplating Tea Leaf’s story, Anon crawled into his bed, but found himself unable to sleep, the pegasus’ words still echoing in his mind.
  1812. >The young man sighed, trying to relax his mind for sleep.
  1813. >It didn’t work.
  1814. “Don’t let them sit inside you…” Anon pondered, looking at the slightly glowing walls of his room.
  1815. >He chuckled, his mom had said almost the exact same thing in regards to his feelings.
  1816. >The only problem was he didn’t know how he felt towards her.
  1817. >As his eyes began to slowly close, he wondered what Nightmare Moon would have to say about ‘feelings’.
  1818. <>
  1819. >”Oh Anonymous! Come and see what has happened to us in your absence, it is a most joyous occasion for us!”
  1820. >Letting out a very unmanly squeal of fear Anon leapt forward and turned around, nearly falling over in his haste.
  1821. >The source of the very loud and excited voice was Nightmare Moon, who stood there, beaming brightly with a large smile decorating her muzzle.
  1822. >Her mane, he noticed through his heavy breathing, resembled what it looked like in the waking world, billowing and full of sparkling dots of light.
  1823. >Anon gathered his breath, holding his suddenly tight chest before realizing that he was not going to get hurt, and that he was dreaming.
  1824. “Was that really necessary?” He gasped out.
  1825. >Apparently the excited alicorn hadn’t heard him
  1826. >”Do you see? We do not know how it has come back, but Our magic has returned to Us, and Our glorious mane as well!”
  1827. >The alicorn’s horn began to glow a cyan color, the magic aura around it glowing fitfully and faintly as her main billowed and curled cheerily.
  1828. >”It...It is hard, but it comes at Our command, gah!”
  1829. >The light suddenly died, and the unfortunate Nightmare Moon nearly collapsed, seemingly exhausted by the strain of her small magical display.
  1830. >Anon approached her, thinking back to the conversation with Celestia and Tea Leaf that morning in the waking world.
  1831. “Hey, did anything happen to you while I was gone?”
  1832. >The alicorn, who had sat down in her exhaustion, looked up at Anon, still attempting to catch her breath.
  1833. >”O-other than Our mane, tail, and s-some of Our magic returning to Us, no. Why do you ask Us this?”
  1834. “Well, these changes you see here happened in the waking world.”
  1835. >Nightmare Moon froze for a moment, before a large, toothy smile emerged.
  1836. >”Really? And what did those in the waking world think of Our beautiful mane?”
  1837. >At these words, the alicorn sat upright, chest, mane, and tail puffed up, almost like a content cat.
  1838. >Anon, resisting the urge to laugh at the ridiculous sight, shook his head and smiled back at her.
  1839. “Well, the only ones who’ve seen you are the Princesses, me, and the doctor attending to you. They find it more fascinating than beautiful to be honest with you.”
  1840. >The large smile on Nightmare Moon’s face instantly morphed into a rather large frown of suppressed, regal outrage.
  1841. >”The common citizens don’t know of Us and our return? Why not?”
  1842. “Well…” Anon gestured towards her, and her still feeble, thin, and damaged visage. “You’re still kinda broken, remember?”
  1843. >Nightmare Moon looked down at herself for a moment, before returning Anon’s gaze, anger now dancing in her bright cyan eyes.
  1844. >”Of course we remember. We know why We are stuck here in Our own mind, never sleeping, never resting, always in pain from Our injuries in the physical realm. Do not remind Us of this again.”
  1845. >Anon held up both hands in surrender in an attempt to placate the irritated alicorn.
  1846. “Alight, I’m sorry for bringing it up like that, now…”
  1847. >Anon sat down on the comfy rocking chair that had suddenly appeared behind him, as color now began to flood into the colorless world.
  1848. “...I believe I was cut off some time ago about the Battle of Marathon. Wanna hear about it?”
  1849. >Nightmare Moon took a look at the rolling, rocky mountains of the Black Hills that now dominated her dreamscape, awe on her muzzle at the beauty of it.
  1850. >She slowly and primly sat down on a soft patch of grass next to Anon’s chair, the soft light of sunset now filling the sky above the two of them.
  1851. >”We would love to know about it.”
  1852. >As Anon described the battle in as much detail as he could remember, he learned several things quickly.
  1853. >Nightmare Moon was hooked on his every word, enraptured at his descriptions of warfare and the weapons of humanity.
  1854. >Oftentimes he lost his place due to her questions about specific weapons, places, and battle formations.
  1855. >But the thing that caught his attention the most was her knowledge of tactics and combat, from grand armies to one-one-one fighting.
  1856. >In contrast to the rest of her broken, scattered knowledge on even the most everyday of concepts or ideas, her knowledge of warfare as an all-encompassing topic was deep and learned.
  1857. >Anon rocked back and forth in his chair, smiling while the alicorn excitedly told him how she would have run the battle if she was the Persians to ensure their total victory.
  1858. ‘She must have retained all of Luna’s knowledge of this.’ He thought to himself as Nightmare Moon waved her hooves excitedly as she described the reasons for her tactical decisions.
  1859. >He figured he would write a question to her about this in his morning blog after he woke up.
  1860. >”...And once We had done this, those ‘“Athenians” would have been vanquished for good, never to be a problem to Our reign! Impressive, no?”
  1861. “Yes, I’ve read opinions similar to yours on how the Persians could have won, but in the end that doesn’t change what happened.”
  1862. >”No, it doesn’t.”
  1863. >There was silence for a moment between the two of them, thoughts swirling in their minds.
  1864. >Anon was the first to speak.
  1865. “How do you feel about your situation, as it stands, right now? I’d appreciate an honest answer.”
  1866. >Nightmare Moon turned to look at him, a tilt in her head.
  1867. >”Why would We answer such a question? What would you gain from this information?”
  1868. “Because if you do, I’ll answer any question you ask me honestly.”
  1869. >The alicorn raised one thin hoof and brought it to her chin, thinking over Anon’s offer.
  1870. >”We accept this deal.”
  1871. >Nightmare Moon took a breath, collecting her thoughts.
  1872. >”We hate Our situation, We can feel the pain of our physical body here, and it hurts Us badly.”
  1873. >She attempted to extend one broken wing, only to wince and give a small yelp in pain barely halfway through.
  1874. >”Do you see? Even here our body betrays Us. We are thin, starved, and nothing can be done for it. We long for drink and food, but even this place has it’s limits. We require the care of ponies whom We have never seen in order to continue to survive in this wretched state.”
  1875. >The alicorn lowered her head, saddened by her own words.
  1876. >”What is the point of living like this? Locked inside Our own mind, never to be free to roam as We please.”
  1877. >Looking up to Anon, Nightmare Moon gave a small smile.
  1878. >”However, you have been a comfort to Us. You do not understand how pleasant it has been to talk to another being and hear a different voice, even if for a short while.”
  1879. >Anon felt pride swell in his chest at the complement.
  1880. >”All We had to listen to during Our banishment was… was her. We do not wish to hear her voice again.”
  1881. >Nodding in silent understanding, Anon finally responded.
  1882. “If there’s anything else you need to say, just say it. I won’t judge you.”
  1883. >”We believe that is enough words from Us for the moment. Now, Anonymous, it is your turn to answer Us truthfully.”
  1884. >With a pained sigh, Nightmare Moon lay down on the patch of grass, apparently to relieve her hind legs of the ache of sitting for that long.
  1885. >”Have the… Princesses sent you here to spy on me? Or were your words to me when we first met truthful, about you wishing to be a friend to us?”
  1886. >Anon swallowed, hoping what he was about to say wouldn’t send the alicorn next to him into a fury.
  1887. “I do want to be your friend, and I think we’re well on our way, but the others on the outside are still… suspicious of you, to say the least.”
  1888. >Nightmare Moon stared at him in neutral scrutiny.
  1889. >”Explain further, you have still not fully answered Our question.”
  1890. “In short, they want to know what we do and talk about when I’m here, every interaction, every detail.”
  1891. >”...Every detail?”
  1892. “Every last one, including you beating me at Uno.”
  1893. >The neutral expression Nightmare Moon held dissolved into silent rage.
  1894. >”You… told… them… everything?”
  1895. >Sweat began to bead on Anon’s forehead as he met the furious glare of the enraged alicorn.
  1896. “I did, it was part of our agreement. If I didn’t write the truth, or if you tried to lie or use me in any way, they implied they were probably going to kill you, and I didn’t want that to happen.”
  1897. >Nightmare Moon’s slitted cyan eyes began to glow dangerously, her voice a low, chilling whisper.
  1898. >”And why would you, a ‘human’, a mere mortal being, care about the likes of Us? Is it because We were ‘matched’, by some higher power?”
  1899. >Anon opened his mouth to respond, but the irate alicorn cut him off, her mane and tail writhing and twisting about, as if they were looking for something to strangle.
  1900. >”Is it because of those… those Princesses on the outside again, meddling in the affairs of others? Can you even comprehend what We are? Does that ungrateful whore Luna even understand the torment that We have been through?”
  1901. >”HAVE YOU TOLD HER THAT?”
  1902. >Anon fell from his chair, cowering before the verbal onslaught, the words hitting him with almost physical force as Nightmare Moon’s voice grew louder and louder.
  1903. “I don’t like seeing people suffer, that’s why!”
  1904. >These words seemed to catch the furious alicorn off guard, so Anon took advantage of her momentary silence to speak his mind.
  1905. “I don’t like seeing others hurt and in pain, I never have. I also believe that nobody, or nopony, is beyond help, and that includes you.”
  1906. “I want to help you, and I’m sorry if this is the only way I can, constrained by these rules, but please, let me help you.”
  1907. >”Get out.”
  1908. “W-what?”
  1909. >”GET… OUT!”
  1910. >This time the words hit him with the full force of an avalanche.
  1911. >Anon nearly flew out of his bed with the force of his wakefulness, sheets flying off the side of his bed.
  1912. >Chest heaving, he looked down at himself in fear.
  1913. >His body was slick with sweat, and his whole body felt numb, and when he tried to get out of his bed, he landed on the floor, his shaking legs unable to hold his weight.
  1914. >As he lay there on the crystal floor, looking up at the multicolored ceiling, he tried to understand what had happened, but his mind was swirling too fast.
  1915. >Using the small amount of moonlight coming through his open window, he managed to stumble into his bathroom.
  1916. >Violently heaving, he emptied his stomach contents into his toilet, throat and eyes burning from the strain.
  1917. >As he cleaned himself off, arms still shaking, he looked into his mirror.
  1918. >Wide, frightened eyes gazed back at him from under dark, heavy bags.
  1919. “Jesus Christ…”
  1920. >Hugging himself in an attempt to ward off a sudden chill, he slowly made his way back to his bed, mind still preoccupied with his dream.
  1921. “Dammit…” He cursed at himself. “I think I fucked that up.”
  1922. >With sleep evading him, and no urge to return to it, Anon gathered the magical journal and a quill, and began to write.
  1923. >Dread filled his thoughts as he wrote, but he also felt determination rise up.
  1924. >He wouldn’t give up on her, no matter what.
  1925. >He’d seen her honest smile, and heard her genuine laughter.
  1926. >Anon knew the good was in Nightmare Moon, he just had to bring her out.
  1927. <>
  1928. >Nightmare Moon’s scream still rang in the mountains of Anon’s creation, even after her words had obliterated his dream form and cast him back into the waking world.
  1929. >She sat there, panting from the exhaustion caused by her outburst, still staring at where he had been on the ground moments before.
  1930. >”We don’t need you! We never have!”
  1931. >Even before the words had finished leaving her mouth, the cold, icy presence made itself known behind her.
  1932. >Nightmare Moon stiffened, before turning to look at what she knew would already be setting there.
  1933. >It was indeed there.
  1934. >Getting up on stiff, weak legs, the alicorn took several short steps through the rapidly disintegrating landscape to reach what had been calling out to her.
  1935. >”We… We know what will truly help us. W-we don’t need him.”
  1936. >Nightmare Moon sat, reached out with her hooves, and picked up the object that had been regularly appearing before her.
  1937. >The ornate helmet was tarnished, yet finely carved with swirling designs and patterns.
  1938. >Even as the rest of the once vibrant landscape vanished into the endless dim white light of her dreamscape, it remained dark, almost black, seemingly absorbing the light around it.
  1939. >Warm to her touch, she held it in front of her, intently staring at it.
  1940. >Thoughts swirled like a maelstrom through her mind, of actions long ago, decisions made, and events that had led to her ending up here, locked in her own mind.
  1941. >Anon’s smiling face, his warm laughter, and his kind words suddenly came to the forefront of her thoughts.
  1942. >Even those things he called hands, and how they felt as they gently stroked her neck when she-
  1943. >”No, We d-don’t need him, We c-can’t need him.”
  1944. >”We need only Ourself, Our power will carry Us through…”
  1945. >Trembling with repressed rage and a sudden loneliness, the alicorn sat in her sudden and self-inflicted solitude, turmoil racing through her mind.
  1946. >Her words sounded fake and empty even to her, despite gritting her teeth, shaking in silent sadness, eyes still locked on the helm resting in her hooves.
  1947. >She never looked away, even when tears began to fall from her eyes.
  1948. <>
  1949. >Anon signed his name on the letter and handed it over to Spike, and with a burst of green flame the letter was sent on its way.
  1950. ”So, how long do you think it will take for her to respond?”
  1951. >”Knowing her, probably about 15 minutes after she gets it.”
  1952. “That quick?”
  1953. >Spike set his quill down on the table.
  1954. >”Considering she’s probably been waiting this entire time for you to write about something to her? Yes, she will.”
  1955. “Well, I guess that’s good to know.”
  1956. >Anon put his head on his hands, staring past the single plate of pancakes he’d not been able to finish.
  1957. >After Nightmare Moon had thrown him out of her mind, he’d been unable to go back to sleep.
  1958. >While writing down the events that had led to his being booted out, he’d decided to try and read some to get his mind off of the whole thing.
  1959. >Spike had found him in the library later that morning, reading a history book about the Griffon Empire.
  1960. >Seeing the young man’s obvious downcast mood, Spike had offered a pair of ears to listen and some pancakes to sweeten up the mood, something Anon was happy to accept.
  1961. >When Spike suggested telling Twilight what had happened, Anon had said no flat out, then he had remembered Princess Cadance’s parting words to him.
  1962. >One short letter and a helpful dragon assistant later, Anon felt somewhat better about himself.
  1963. >”So, what are you going to do now?” Spike asked, picking up Anon’s half-finished plate.
  1964. >Head still in his hands, Anon didn’t respond.
  1965. >”Are you okay Anon?” Spike ventured. “You told me what happened and all, is there anything I can do to help?”
  1966. “Actually there is Spike,” Anon stood from the table, attempting to wire the last remnant of sleep off his face.
  1967. “Can you tell Twilight I need some time to think things over? I’ll be out and about in Ponyville for a bit today.”
  1968. >Spike shot a grin at Anon and gave him a thumbs up. “No problem, I’ll let her know.”
  1969. >With that, Spike went into the kitchen to clean, leaving Anon alone.
  1970. >The first thing Anon did when he entered his room was to check his journal.
  1971. >Seeing no response from the Princesses in Canterlot, he wrote an addendum, telling them he had sent a letter to Cadance for advice.
  1972. >Retrieving a pair of socks, Anon made his way across the hall to Nightmare Moon’s room.
  1973. >He paused at the doorway, letting out a deep sigh, before entering and closing the door behind him.
  1974. >Crouching in front of the motionless alicorn, he studied her.
  1975. >Nothing had changed.
  1976. >Anon sighed, reaching out to gently stroke Nightmare Moon’s only exposed shoulder
  1977. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
  1978. >A small strand of her cloud-like mane slowly reached down and wrapped around his hand, the cool and soothing sensation bringing a smile to his face.
  1979. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, but I’ve got some thinking to do. I’ve asked for help, but they can only help so much.”
  1980. “In the end, I’ve got to make the decisions on my own.”
  1981. >Anon stood, the strand of mane seemed sad to see him go, not wanting to unwrap from his hand.
  1982. >He sighed again before walking over to the door.
  1983. >Just as he reached out to open it, the door swung inwards, revealing Tea Leaf.
  1984. >”Oh, I didn’t expect to see you up this early, are you okay?”
  1985. “Yeah, I’ve just got some… well, some things to think about is all. I’ll get out of your way.”
  1986. >Anon waited for Tea Leaf to fully enter the room, before taking his leave.
  1987. <>
  1988. >Tea Leaf watched as the door closed behind Anon, leaving her alone with Nightmare Moon.
  1989. >The pegasus sighed, before trotting over to the unmoving alicorn.
  1990. >”I don’t know what happened last night in his dream, but from what I could hear through the door, it wasn’t the best.”
  1991. >Conducting her routine checkup, the pegasus made her rounds around the bed.
  1992. >”Anonymous seems like a very nice young stallion, err, human, and I know he would never intentionally hurt you. I can promise you that.”
  1993. >”He may not know how to best approach some topics, but then again, everypony has trouble with some things, but you have been improving rapidly though, just look at your coat and mane, they’re much healthier than before.”
  1994. >She reached out a hoof, brushing it through the semi-translucent, twinkle filled mane.
  1995. >It parted like smoke around her hoof, a cool yet soothing feeling entering Tea Leaf’s hoof.
  1996. >Retracting her hoof, Tea Leaf picked up her clipboard with one wing and began to write down notes.
  1997. >”Interesting… the patient’s mane clearly had a positive reaction to Anonymous’ touch, but to mine it offered nothing. I don’t know if this is just coincidence or if she only reacts to him.”
  1998. >Folding the clipboard and it’s new notes back under her wing, Tea Leaf looked at Nightmare Moon’s face, still and emotionless under her mask.
  1999. >”You’re still full of secrets, aren’t you? I just hope you don’t ruin what you have with Anon by hiding them from him. He seems almost as lonely as you are sometimes.”
  2000. >”He may spend some time with other ponies here in Ponyville, but I’ve never seen his smile reach his eyes, unless he’s talking about you, or here with you.”
  2001. >“I’ll have to ask him sometime to tell me what he does with you in your dreams, I want to help him, and help you.”
  2002. >Tea Leaf turned from the bed and it’s occupant, looking out the window towards Ponyville.
  2003. >She could see Anon just leaving the castle below her, violin case on his back.
  2004. >Shaking her head, the pegasus smiled to herself.
  2005. >”I hope you like violin music, because he can’t stop playing the darn thing.”
  2006. <>
  2007. >Anon walked out into the early morning sunshine, the cool air swirling around him in the brisk breeze.
  2008. >He reached up, pulling down the wool hat that Fluttershy had given him the day that they’d met in the market.
  2009. >She’d told him it was supposed to be getting colder soon, and she hadn’t been lying.
  2010. “What the heck, do seasons change on a weekly basis here or something?”
  2011. >Since he was alone and hadn’t reached the streets of Ponyville yet, nopony responded.
  2012. >Anon let out a discounted trouble and continued onward, searching for a quiet place to practice his violin in peace.
  2013. >As Anon walked on, he could see that the leaves on the surrounding trees had gone from a vibrant green to differing shades of brown, orange, yellow, and red seemingly overnight.
  2014. “I guess it’s fall already, isn’t it.” He wondered out loud.
  2015. >He quickly found a spot for himself off the beaten path outside of Ponyville, just outside of the fences that marked the border of Sweet Apple Acres and the woods that surrounded Ponyville.
  2016. >Not the Everfree Forest, Anon didn’t even want to go close to it if he could.
  2017. >He cast one more glance around, thankfully not seeing Applejack, Big Mac, or any member of the Apple family in sight to annoy with his attempts to practice.
  2018. >He then pulled the case off his back, set it down on the soft grass, and pulled out the violin.
  2019. >Taking several sheets of practice music out, he set them on the ground in front of him, pinning them down with a few small stones so that the wind wouldn’t send them flying.
  2020. >Anon took a deep breath, taking everything around him in.
  2021. >The gentle rusting and swaying of the trees, the sunlight filtering down through the canopy above him, the bird calls from the trees surrounding him.
  2022. >Anon placed the violin on his shoulder, raised the bow to the strings, and began to play.
  2023. >Time seemed to vanish as he sat there in the shade of the autumn trees, playing with an intensity that he didn’t know he possessed.
  2024. >He played until he ran out of the sheet music he had brought with him.
  2025. >He played until his fingers and arms ached from the strain, but he couldn’t stop.
  2026. >After an unknown amount of time, he slowly realized that he’d barely skipped a note or missed a beat.
  2027. >Only after hearing a set of hooves on the ground close by did he stop and look up from his violin.
  2028. >Applejack was there, leaning on the fence less than ten feet from him.
  2029. >The mare was covered in a sheen of frothy sweat, obviously from bucking her apple trees, as evidenced by several full baskets under the trees closest to them.
  2030. >The mare wiped one dirty hoof on the ground before adjusting her trademark seston, shooting Anon a friendly smile.
  2031. >”Well howdy there Anon, ah didn’t know you were a violin player.”
  2032. >Anon gave a small blush as he gently set down his instrument.
  2033. “I’m not really, I used to be, a long time ago, I’ve been trying to get back into it. A fresh start, you could say.”
  2034. >Applejack gave a kindly nod. “You sure didn't sound like a beginner to me if ah do say so m’self. Ah can play a tune or two on mah pa’s fiddle if ah need to.”
  2035. >Anon’s eyes widened in surprise at this information, and he stood up to go stand next to the fence, a polite talking distance.
  2036. “Really? I didn’t know that you played the violin.”
  2037. >”Yup, though ah don’t know a lotta music like the kind that you were just playin’, ah’m mostly a fiddler, ah can play some mighty fine dancin’ tunes.”
  2038. >The mare suddenly let out a gasp, and gave Anon a warm, inviting smile.
  2039. >”Speakin’ of dancin’, Ah’m workin’ on the last apple harvest of the year right now, and some of the Apple family’ll be showin’ up later this week to help me an’ Big Mac finish the rest of the fields.”
  2040. >”We were gonna have a big Apple Family feast and dance when we were finished, so ah’ll make yah an offer: help us with some of the haulin’ this week and we’ll let you in on the fun, how about it?”
  2041. >Anon considered the offer, a large smile growing on his face all the while.
  2042. “I can’t dance to save my life, I’ll let you know.”
  2043. >”Aw shucks, we don’t care if yah can’t dance, happy, sloppy dancing is fun if yer with friends after all.”
  2044. >Anon let out a short laugh.
  2045. “I guess I should start practicing some barn dance melodies then, eh?”
  2046. >”Yup, yah should, ah always end up playin’ and not dancin’. Anyhow, ah gotta get back to it, and ah’m sure you do as well. Good luck with yer playin’.”
  2047. >With another genuine smile and a tip of her hat, Applejack turned and went back to one of the apple trees, which still held a number of unharvested apples.
  2048. >Smile not leaving his face, Anon turned and went back to his violin, but just as he made to sit, he heard Applejack call out to him.
  2049. >”Anon, catch!”
  2050. >The young man turned around, just in time to see an apple, freshly bucked from the tree, come sailing in a lazy arc towards him.
  2051. >Running several steps, he caught it, and looked back at Applejack, who gave him another nod and smile.
  2052. >”Yah look famished, and an’ Apple never left no creature go hungry.”
  2053. >Anon gave her a thumbs up, before biting into the succulent looking apple..
  2054. >He decided, in that moment, that no other kind of fruit could ever match the greatness of an Apple-grown apple.
  2055. <>
  2056. >”Anon, she responded! Quick, common and read it!”
  2057. >Raising his head a bit from his view of the front doors of Twilight’s castle, Anonymous could see Spike’s head poking out of one of the windows where the public library was located.
  2058. “That took longer than I thought.” Anon responded back, looking towards the slowly setting sun.
  2059. >”She actually responded like 30 minutes after I sent your letter to her, but since you told me you needed some ‘alone’ time, I decided not to go bother you.”
  2060. >”I sent a quick response back, telling her that you’d gone to do some thinking and that I’d send her a note saying when you’d gotten back.”
  2061. >Bless that little dragon.
  2062. “On the way, just let me put my violin away first.”
  2063. >A few minutes later, Anon and Spike sat down in the now empty library.
  2064. >Since it had closed for the day, it was a decent place to get some privacy.
  2065. >”Well, what does it say?” Spike asked, attempting to look over Anon’s shoulder as he sat in one of the many comfy armchairs.
  2066. “I haven’t even opened it yet, calm down bro.” Anon opened the crystal-shaped seal on the letter, and it fell open in his hands.
  2067. >Spike watched as Anon read silently, his face emotionless in his concentration.
  2068. >”Common, what does she say?”
  2069. >Anon finished with the letter and looked up at Spike.
  2070. >Spike’s semi-excited smile fell away at the now grim expression on the young human’s face.
  2071. “Spike, you need to go get Twilight, we’ve got some stuff to do. Right now.”
  2072. >”Um, like what?” Spike asked, suddenly very nervous.
  2073. “Cadance gave me advice, but I’d rather keep that to myself, but Princess Luna detected my, err, negative interaction with Nightmare Moon last night.”
  2074. “Princess Celestia and Luna talked to Cadance, who shared the details of my letter. They’ve decided it’s time to let the others in on our little secret.”
  2075. >”Others? What oth- oh, yeah.” Spike’s eyes went wide with understanding.
  2076. “Yup, the rest of Twilight’s friends are going to have to be briefed. Celestia will teleport here once we send her the okay.”
  2077. >Spike was silent with shock for a moment, before his green eyes hardened with determination.
  2078. >”I’ll go get her.”
  2079. >Spike tore out of the room as fast as his short legs could carry him.
  2080. >Now alone in the large room, Anon fell back into his chair, sliding partially out of it.
  2081. >He had no idea what was going to happen, no idea what the rest of the Mane 6 were going to think about the situation.
  2082. >It scared him shitless.
  2083. >Covering his head with his hands, he tried to calm himself down.
  2084. >It didn’t work.
  2085. >Several deep breaths later, and he still couldn’t calm down.
  2086. >He could feel his heart beating faster, and sweat was beginning to bead on his face from his unease.
  2087. >Anon felt like he was going to be sick.
  2088. >Jerking himself upright and out of his chair, he left the letter on the chair’s arm and left to get some water from the kitchen.
  2089. >He knew he was going to need it.
  2090. <>
  2091. >Anon was just thankful that everypony present had allowed him to tell his side of the story without any interruptions.
  2092. >Princess Celestia and Princess Luna’s words to the group of six ponies and one young dragon had been both short and as firm as bedrock granite.
  2093. >Celestia had requested that Anon be allowed to tell his side of the story without interruptions, and thankfully that had gone off without a hitch.
  2094. >Anon had kept it to a short, to the point kind of story but it got the basic gist across to the ponies gathered around the Friendship Map.
  2095. >The Map itself was not present, leaving just smooth, polished stone.
  2096. >But now that he was done, Anon could see the ugly look on Rainbow Dash’s muzzle finally come apart.
  2097. >”So, you’re telling me that Nightmare Moon is upstairs, right now?
  2098. “Yup.”
  2099. >”And that she’s barely alive, but getting more healthy by the moment?”
  2100. “It comes in short spurts every now and then and we don’t know why, but yes, you could say that.”
  2101. >”And you two,” Rainbow Dash pointed a hoof towards Twilight and Fluttershy, both of whom looked calm despite their friends' intense glare. “You two didn’t tell us?”
  2102. >”We told you when we first started this conversation, Fluttershy and I were sworn to absolute secrecy. This isn’t just about wanting payback and you should know better.”
  2103. >Twilight Sparkle leaned closer, looking towards Fluttershy and then back to Rainbow Dash.
  2104. >”Trust me, both of us wanted to get the rest of you as soon as this whole thing happened, but Celestia wouldn’t let us, then we were sworn to secrecy, and then Anon came into the picture.”
  2105. >The blue pegasus, apparently relieved to be angry at someone other than two of her best friends, turned her glare back to Anon.
  2106. >”Yeah, speaking of the odd one out of the group-”
  2107. “Don’t be such a racist.”
  2108. >”Rainbow Dash! Didn’t your mother ever tell you how horribly rude it was to be like that?”
  2109. >Rarity put her front hooves onto the stone table, emphasizing her words, irritation flashing in her eyes.
  2110. >”Anon has been nothing but cheer and smiles since he arrived in Ponyville and you know it, just ask Scootaloo.”
  2111. >The rather angry look changed to one that Anon would say resembled shame.
  2112. >”Well,, okay, whatever, but how do we know that he hasn’t been lying to us this whole time and that he isn’t being mind controlled by Nightmare Moon or something?”
  2113. >”My sister and I have made sure that anything of that sort is quite impossible.” Celestia interjected.
  2114. >At her words, everypony ceased talking and focused on her.
  2115. >”I have placed many, many spells both inside and outside of the room that she is currently residing in. There is zero possibility of her affecting his mind in any magical way.”
  2116. >”The same with me, I have been paying close attention to Anon’s state of mind in the realm of sleep. I have noticed nothing, nore has the journal that my sister and I gave to him.”
  2117. >”Well, that ‘journal’ could be defective or something.”
  2118. >Luna’s eyes narrowed as she glanced at the blue pegasus.
  2119. >”If you wish to doubt the spellwork that my sister and I put into it, then you can doubt all you wish, but we know that it is working as it should.”
  2120. >Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow at Rainbow Dash.
  2121. >”But on that point, why are you so insistent on her being evil and constantly plotting the downfall of Equestria?”
  2122. >Rainbow Dash fiddled in her stone chair at the direct question.
  2123. >”Well, she already tried twice, the first time cost you Luna for one thousand years, isn’t that bad enough?”
  2124. >”When my sister and I arrived in Equestria, Discord had reduced it to a chaos infested, horror-filled wasteland. I considered him capable of redeeming himself and he has, with some rather large bumps along the way, proven himself. I have decided to give Nightmare Moon the same choice he had.”
  2125. >Rainbow Dash grumbled and crossed her hooves in response, understanding the answer but clearly not liking it.
  2126. >”Some villains are better off not existing.” She mumbled quietly.
  2127. >Anon still heard her though, and from the looks of several other ponies around the table Rainbow Dash had been a bit louder than she had meant to be.
  2128. “I wouldn’t consider her a villain myself.” Anon cut in, crossing his arms.
  2129. >”You wouldn’t? Why not?”
  2130. >Rainbow Dash’s question seemed to be on everypony’s mind, and all of them turned to face Anonymous.
  2131. >He sighed, collecting his thoughts.
  2132. “To me, she seems more lost and alone more than anything.
  2133. >”In what way?” Rarity asked quietly.
  2134. “She’s never had a chance to live as her own pony. When I first met her, she could barely finish a sentence without bursting into tears from fear or self loathing.”
  2135. >Anon sighed, not wanting to say what came to his mind.
  2136. >But he needed to.
  2137. “When she told me that when… well, when she came forth in Luna’s mind, they went straight to Celestia.”
  2138. >Anon paused, looking towards Princess Luna, who was sitting motionless next to her older sister.
  2139. >”She told you this?” The lunar princess quietly asked.
  2140. “She did; it wasn’t on purpose, she was lost in a past memory and it just slipped out. Do you mind if I say what she told me?”
  2141. >Princess Luna’s eyes went hard, lips forming a thin line, before she gave a short nod for him to continue.
  2142. “She said that when you went, well, were sent to the moon, that all she could hear was your voice, all she could feel was your rage, your sadness, and your regret.”
  2143. >Anon turned back towards the rest of the ponies at the table, just in time to miss the set of tears falling from Luna’s tightly closed eyes.
  2144. >Celesta didn’t, and she wrapped a large white wing around her younger sister in a comforting embrace, which the blue alicorn gratefully welcomed.
  2145. “Then the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration happened, and she failed again. Failure seems to have been pretty much the only constant in her existence, at least until I showed up.”
  2146. “She was very nervous towards me at first, but once I showed her my good intentions, she’s gotten a lot more accepting.”
  2147. >Anon smiled slightly as he continued, temporarily lost in his own words.
  2148. “Nightmare Moon always brightens up when I arrive, I think she’s just happy to have somebody, or something to talk to other than herself.”
  2149. >Anon paused after this statement, looking around the table.
  2150. >Rainbow Dash looked surprised at Anon’s opinion, most of her anger replaced with surprise and curiosity.
  2151. >Rarity thankfully didn’t seem upset that Anon hadn’t told her of his match’s identity, but he could still see a slight edge of distrust on her expression.
  2152. >”It still woulda been nice if yall could have told us.” Applejack said, mainly towards Twilight and Fluttershy.
  2153. >”Ah don’t quite like it, havin’ my friends keepin’ secrets.”
  2154. >”If you wish to blame somepony, Applejack, blame me.” Celestia interjected.
  2155. >“I swore them to secrecy, so the blame for that rests on me, not them. Don’t let circumstances outside of their control build barriers between you and them.”
  2156. >Applejack looked hard at the princess, then sighed and looked away.
  2157. >”Yer right, and at least Anon here ain’t lyin’ about what he thinks, Ah can tell all yall that.”
  2158. >Anon blushed and smiled at the complement.
  2159. “Well Pinkie, what do you have to say about all this? You haven’t said a word since we started.”
  2160. >The pink mare sat in her seat, seemingly in deep thought, before she gave Anon a large smile.
  2161. >”Well, I haven’t had any twitchy-twitches about anything since you got here, so I figure you’re all right, and besides-”
  2162. >The party pony leapt from her chair, back-flipped over the large stone table, and landed right next to where a wide-eyed Anon sat, giving him a face-full of large, happy blue eyes.
  2163. >”-he laughs at my jokes and even can bake a little! And if I know anything, villains can’t cook.”
  2164. “Um, what makes you think villains can’t cook?” An increasingly worried Anon asked.
  2165. >”Because they have minions to do that for them, and since you don’t have any, and you can cook, you’re no villain to me!”
  2166. >There was silence for several seconds around the table.
  2167. “...I’ll take that as it is. Thanks Pinkie.”
  2168. >Anon gave Pinkie several friendly pats on the head, causing her mane to bounce and her tongue to stick out cheerfully.
  2169. >Luna cleared her throat, getting the attention of all gathered.
  2170. >”So, now that you all know of the past and current situation, the rest of you must keep everything you now know secret, Ponies must not know that Nightmare Moon exists again.
  2171. >”I am sorry Pinkie Pie, but that means you can’t throw any kind of party yet.” Luna added, giving Pinkie Pie a small smile.
  2172. >The pink mare pulled her hoof back out from within her mane, a dejected look on her face.
  2173. >”Well, if I can’t throw a ‘you’re probably not a villain and won’t bring eternal night’ party, then I guess I’ll just have to give Anon here the good ol’ ‘Welcome To Ponyville Party!’”
  2174. “Wait, I didn’t-”
  2175. >Anon’s protests were drowned in the massive cloud of confetti that shot out of Pinkie Pie’s party cannon, almost obscuring him from view as the surrounding ponies laughed at the sight.
  2176. “Okay Pinkie, you get this one surprise party. Just let me know about the next one, okay?”
  2177. >”The pink party pony saluted Anon cheerfully from behind her party cannon. “Okie dokie Anon!”
  2178. >In the time that it had taken Pinkie Pie to pull her party cannon from God knows where and shoot Anon full of confetti, she’d managed to have a massive tablecloth set up over the map table.
  2179. >Cakes and other party foods covered most of its surface, and the gathered ponies stared hungrily at the food spread out before them.
  2180. >Princess Celestia cleared her throat, drawing the hungering eyes of the ponies away from the food.
  2181. >”Yes, I believe that Luna and myself have covered what needs to be said thus far, just remember, do not tell of what was discussed here to anypony or anyone.”
  2182. >”Make no mistake, there will be swift punishment if it is found out that anypony here let slip something they shouldn’t have.”
  2183. >The assembled ponies looked nervously at the grim expression on their princess’s muzzle before nodding together in assent.
  2184. >Anon even saw Pinkie Pie act serious, her usual smile gone, even if for a few seconds.
  2185. >”Now, my sister and I must be off, I must lower the sun, and um, get some supper.”
  2186. >Celestia stared at a large cake, licking her lips, before she, her sister, and the cake vanished in a flash of magic.
  2187. >For a moment, there was silence, then Pinkie opened her mouth.
  2188. >”Late Happy You’re In Equestria Now And You Have A Match Party!!!”
  2189. >Anon just shook his head as the pink maniac jumped onto the table, rearing up, hooves spread wide, as confetti flew into the air from every conceivable direction.
  2190. >Then he spotted what looked like slices of fresh baked pumpkin bread on a plate just next to the chair he’d pulled up to the table.
  2191. >Not daring to believe himself, he slowly took one and took a small bite.
  2192. >While the other ponies in the room began to talk amongst themselves about what they’d heard, Anonymous nodded to himself, savoring the exquisite tasting bread.
  2193. >Now that’s the stuff.
  2194. >The small gathering had lasted long after the sun had set, until Rarity had finally left just before 12:00.
  2195. >Anon had slowly made his way up the sets of stairs, past the guards, who nodded in greetings towards them.
  2196. >Thoroughly exhausted from the day’s events, he’d barely been able to acknowledge them.
  2197. >Breaking one of his own self-imposed rules, he simply flopped onto the top of his bead, shower forgotten.
  2198. >He was asleep in seconds.
  2199. >”A-Anonymous… is that you?”
  2200. >His eyes jerked open at the voice, and he sat up abruptly, eyes wide.
  2201. >The endless white horizon was all that he saw, even as grass and small flowers appeared beneath him, slowly spreading across the bleak, flat landscape before him.
  2202. >”You came-b-back?”
  2203. >Anon twisted around at the familiar voice coming from behind him, a smile forming on his face.
  2204. >Nightmare Moon stood several paces away, her expression filled with surprise and apprehension.
  2205. >But he could also find hope there, lots of it.
  2206. “Yeah, I’m here. Look, I know we didn’t end last night’s conversa-”
  2207. >With a strangled sob and tears budding from her slitted eyes, the alicorn hobbled as fast as she could towards him, practically falling onto him in her haste.
  2208. >The young man, startled by her sudden approach and hug, tried not to fall over.
  2209. >He barely managed to not get impaled by Nightmare Moon’s horn, which had ended up dangerously close to his jugular.
  2210. “Whoa whoa, easy there, calm do-”
  2211. >”We are sorry, so sorry for what We did d-did to you! P-please for, forgi-”
  2212. >The large yet thin mare, who was by this point practically laying on Anon’s legs and torso, began to hack and cough, unable to speak further, hampered by tears and emotion.
  2213. >With surprisingly little effort, Anon pulled Nightmare Moon’s head and neck, and chest to his in a gentle embrace.
  2214. “It’s okay, I forgive you. You were mad is all, but that’s over now, leave the past behind, don’t let it gnaw away at you.”
  2215. >The sorrowful mare didn’t respond, only burying her head into his chest, gently crying with relief and regret, while Anon gently began to run his hand through her mane and down her neck.
  2216. >Her miasmic mane clung to him at every opportunity, flowing around his hand, arm, even up to his neck, as though it were trying to embrace him itself.
  2217. >”Please, d-don’t leave us.” Nightmare Moon whispered into his chest.
  2218. >Anon sat on the now grass covered ground, with a softly glowing, rising sun appearing on the now golden red horizon.
  2219. >He could feel the dampness from her tears on his shirt, as he looked up from her to see the beautiful vista that had appeared before them both.
  2220. “I won’t, I promise.”
  2221. <>
  2222. >It took what felt like hours to Anon for the distraught alicorn to finally calm down.
  2223. >She had stopped crying after only a few minutes, but her anguished trembling had continued on as she had clung to him.
  2224. >Any attempt Anon made to try to extricate himself from her was met with a plaintive whimper and a tighter hold on his midsection.
  2225. >Eventually he gave up, and just continued to gently stroke Nightmare Moon’s fur and neck.
  2226. >”We… We should not have cursed at you so.”
  2227. >Anon looked away from the landscape that had been distracting his gaze, surprised by her words.
  2228. “You don’t have to apologize, I already said-”
  2229. >”Nay, we do. We let our rage and our weakness blind us, and We lashed out at you, the only being to ever show us any form of kindness or compassion.”
  2230. >Nightmare Moon finally released Anon, sitting back on shaky legs and hooves.
  2231. >The fur on her most of her face and chest were rumpled and streaked with dried tears.
  2232. >”Now that we have had time to… think about what you told us before, We can understand why the others would give you such commands.”
  2233. >”We probably would have done the same thing, if the positions were reversed.”
  2234. “Speaking of the other princesses, I had a meeting with them, Twilight Sparkle, and her friends.”
  2235. >This caught Nightmare Moon’s attention.
  2236. >”You did? Was it about Us, and Our treatment towards you?”
  2237. “Well partially, but mainly it was so that the Princesses could tell the rest of Twilight’s friends that you were alive.”
  2238. >”They did not know of Us already?”
  2239. “No, the Princesses are trying to keep your existence a tight secret. Only a very small number among the Royal Guard know. Other than them, the Princesses, Twilight and her friends, and the nurse assigned to you are the only ones who know you’re alive.”
  2240. >Nightmare Moon looked towards the dreamed-up sun, which still sat on the horizon, barely showing it’s light across their shared dream.
  2241. >”Why do they not tell the rest of the ponies of Us?”
  2242. “Probably some political shenanigans I would guess, I don’t really know the real reason and they haven't really given me a long answer, so that’s what I’m going with for now.”
  2243. >”What of Twilight Sparkle and her friends? We do not remember them well, We only saw them shortly before… before We were…”
  2244. >Her voice trailed off, eyes sinking downward in distress.
  2245. >Anon saw this, before scooting over on the soft grass to sit down next to her.
  2246. >Choosing his words carefully as to avoid another tearful episode from the dark alicorn, Anon looked to the mare that he was now seated next to.
  2247. >From her spot on the soft grass, even though she was seated, Nightmare Moon was taller than he was.
  2248. “They’re not really outright hostile, I guess I can say. They’re just a bit distrustful of you right now, but they’re willing to give you a chance.”
  2249. >The alicorn seated next to him turned her head towards him, interest showing through her slitted cyan eyes.
  2250. >”Why would they do that? Was it at the behest of their princess?”
  2251. “Partially that, but I think I made enough solid points with them to convince them to give you a chance.”
  2252. >Nightmare Moon’s eyes went wide with surprise.
  2253. >”You… you defended Us?”
  2254. >Her voice was low, almost unbelieving.
  2255. >Anon looked directly into her eyes, his expression as serious as he could make it.
  2256. “I did, and before you ask why, I’ll tell you.”
  2257. >Anon took a deep breath, placing one hand softly on her withers.
  2258. >He could feel her shiver slightly from the sudden contact, but even then she didn’t look away from his eyes.
  2259. >She seemed to be searching them for something, he wasn’t quite sure what exactly.
  2260. “I did it because I believe that you’re worth it. I don’t think you're evil, a monster, or something to be killed or destroyed.”
  2261. “To me, you’re a friend, a friend who needs help and support to pull themself from a horrible place. I’ll do anything in my power to help you, and if that means I have to face down a couple alicorn princesses and the Elements of Harmony, I’ll do it.”
  2262. >Nightmare Moon’s lower jaw opened slightly in surprise.
  2263. >”You stood up for Us? Against them?
  2264. “In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have been as blunt to them as I was, but whatever, what’s done is done. You’re safe as long as I’ve got your back.”
  2265. >The still-stunned alicorn tilted her head and flicked an ear.
  2266. >”What do you mean ‘you have my back’? We do not understand this phrase.”
  2267. “It means I’m not going to let them do anything to you. I gave enough good reasons to not blast you or use the Elements of Harmony on you, so we should be good for the time being.”
  2268. >Nightmare Moon was silent for several moments before she managed to speak.
  2269. >”That is… good We guess. We still do not wish to be acquainted with those six… incorrigible ponies once We are able to leave this place.”
  2270. “Aww they aren't that bad, they’re nice enough once you get to know them a little.”
  2271. >Nightmare Moon gave him a half-hearted glare of disdain.
  2272. >”We still cannot comprehend how they bested Us, despite our best efforts they still managed to use those accursed Elements on Us.”
  2273. >Anon saw her head and eyes fall as she remembered that night of the Summer Sun Celebration, and he regretted taking the conversation down this route.
  2274. “Hey, enough of that sad talk, what do you want to talk to me about? Ask away.”
  2275. >Nightmare Moon turned her head towards his once again, meeting his eyes with hers.
  2276. >”Anything We wish to talk about?”
  2277. “Yup, I don’t care what it is, I’ll listen.”
  2278. >Bringing a hoof up to her chin in thought, the alicorn attempted to block out the constant, residual pain she felt in order to think.
  2279. >”Well, We do not do much in this place other than try to block out the pain Our body feels in the waking world.”
  2280. “Well, what do you do besides that? I’m not trying to be condescending but I’m honestly curious, please don’t be offended.”
  2281. >”We aren’t, it’s just… We don’t have anything else to do other than converse with Ourself, and to wait for your arrival.”
  2282. “Really?”
  2283. >”Yes, it is a very dull way to exist, if We are truly honest.”
  2284. “Well, let’s find a way to make our time together as interesting as possible then.”
  2285. >Anon sat up, removing his hand from Nightmare Moon’s neck, which earned him a wistful squeak which he didn’t acknowledge.
  2286. “I haven’t gone fishing in a long time, and if I remember this place right from when I was there years ago, there should be a small river at the base of this hill. Wanna come and watch?”
  2287. >The black alicorn looked down, feeling the phantom aches and pains of her physical body, then looked back up to Anon’s smiling face.
  2288. >He’d paused mid stride, having twisted back around to look at her, a small backpack had appeared on his back, and a long fishing pole was in one of his strange hands.
  2289. >”Of course We will.”
  2290. >She stood shakily on her spindly, aching legs, a warm feeling blooming in her chest when she saw his smile widen.
  2291. >”Lead on Anonymous, since you apparently know this place.”
  2292. “It’s been around ten years since I was here, but memories like this never really leave. I had too much fun here, too many good times were had for it to simply vanish.”
  2293. “Now, lets see if I can catch a couple trout before I wake up.”
  2294. >The two of them slowly made their way down the steep hill, with Anon helping Nightmare Moon down the steeper parts she wasn’t able to handle on her own.
  2295. >When he’s suggested simply imagining themselves by the riverside, the alicorn had vehemently disagreed.
  2296. >She was fascinated by everything that she saw, despite her troubles while getting down the mountainside.
  2297. “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
  2298. >Anon whipped a small amount of sweat from his head as the two of them reached the valley, with only a stretch of grass and flowers separating them from the creek that Anon knew was there.
  2299. >He could hear the running water from here, and he could almost imagine the tugging on his fishing rod.
  2300. >”That...That was not the most enjoyable experience.” Nightmare Moon panted as she lay down on the soft grass, giving her legs a well-deserved rest.
  2301. “You wanted to walk all the way down, and I’m kinda proud that you made it. I didn’t think you would.”
  2302. >”Humph.” The alicorn puffed her chest out in satisfaction. “We would not let a meager hill best Us.”
  2303. “Apparently not. Now whenever you’re ready, the creek is right over there.”
  2304. >Nightmare Moon followed Anon’s pointing hand over towards the grass and flowers to a line of small trees several yards away.
  2305. >”Go on Anonymous, we will meet you there in a moment, our legs need just a bit more rest.”
  2306. “Are you sure?”
  2307. >”Yes, we will catch up in a moment. Now go catch these fish you seek.”
  2308. >With another smile, Anon turned and began walking towards the river, which she herself could now hear with her own damaged ears.
  2309. <>
  2310. >Nightmare Moon watched as Anonymous disappeared from view as he entered the trees and what she supposed was the creek bed.
  2311. >While the hike from their mountaintop perch had been arduous, she had persevered for her own pride's sake.
  2312. >It also gave her time to exercise her still feeble spindly legs.
  2313. >The pain was terrible, but the feeling of accomplishment was worth it when she looked back to see how far she’d come.
  2314. >She sighed, and again looked over the grass and flowers, which shone in a multitude of colors in the sunlight.
  2315. >”That is enough rest for now, We wish to see how Anon uses that strange pole to catch fish.”
  2316. >She stood, her legs just as shaky as before, but her eyes were attentive as she entered the taller grass.
  2317. >Now that she was close enough, she could see the flowers, in every color imaginable shining in the perpetual early morning light of Anon’s dream.
  2318. >She bent her head down to one in front of her and gave it a light sniff.
  2319. >The wonderful aroma filled her nostrils and made her senses brighten as a small smile crossed her muzzle.
  2320. >”This… this is good.”
  2321. >A shadow covered the beautiful flower and everything surrounding her, causing Nightmare Moon to raise her head in surprise.
  2322. >A strong breeze appeared from nowhere, blowing apart a section of the tall grass, revealing the thing that she had kept from Anon.
  2323. >Her eyes narrowed in irritation and sudden fear.
  2324. >It had never shown itself when Anonymous had been here.
  2325. >She couldn’t let him see it or know about it.
  2326. >She wasn’t ready to confront this problem yet.
  2327. >”Leave us.” She told it, her tone quiet and threatening.
  2328. >The carved, ornate helmet did nothing in response.
  2329. >It had always disappeared whenever she had wished it to, and Nightmare Moon’s eyes grew wide when she saw that it remained despite her words.
  2330. >”Go. Now. We do not wish for your presence now.”
  2331. >The breeze, which had been gentile and soothing, suddenly picked up, causing her mane to blow wildly, and her fur to ruffle in all directions with it’s sudden ferocity.
  2332. >The warm morning light dimmed even further around her, as an icy cold feeling began to emulate from the thing that she had once thought her greatest achievement.
  2333. >Her heart began to pound in her chest as her mouth went dry with fear.
  2334. >”We command thee, BEGONE FROM THIS PLACE!”
  2335. >Nightmare Moon suddenly found herself as she had been before.
  2336. >The sudden darkness had vanished just as quickly as it had come, as had the howling wind and the bone chilling cold.
  2337. >With warm morning light covering her form once again, she could feel it's warm and comfort, as the cool mountain breeze soothed her aching limbs and wings.
  2338. >The helmet had vanished, but even thinking about it caused an involuntary shiver to course through her body.
  2339. “Hey, are you okay over there? What are you yelling at?”
  2340. >Her head snapped up at Anon’s voice, faint from the distance and the sounds of the stream.
  2341. >”It’s nothing Anonymous, We are simply tired of our body acting like that of a weakling foal.”
  2342. >It took a moment for Anon to respond.
  2343. “That’s understandable, now common over where, I’ve had a couple bites and I thin—fish on, fish on!”
  2344. >A series of joyous whoops and hollers along with the sound of water splashing told her that he must have caught something.
  2345. >Taking another long look at the sea of colorful flowers surrounding her, she made her way towards the creek, following Anon’s cheerful cries.
  2346. >When she broke the tree line, she found herself standing several feet above an eroded, rock bottomed creek bed.
  2347. >Anon was perched on a small patch of rocks on the shore directly in front of her, his rod held tightly in his hands as he fought the rather large fish she could see struggling on the other end of his line.
  2348. “Oh hey, there you are! You’re just in time to see this thing in my hands, on the fifth cast too, not too shabby if I do say so myself.”
  2349. >”We cannot get down this embankment.” Nightmare Moon indicated with one hoof. “It’s too steep for us at the moment.”
  2350. “One second!”
  2351. >The ground before her suddenly writhed and extended out and down, forming a gentle, sloping ramp.
  2352. >”Thank you, Anonymous.”
  2353. “Don’t mention it. Haha! You’re mine now Mr. Trout!”
  2354. >By the time she had reached him, he had the rather large fish in a net which he had produced from his backpack, which lay on the ground behind him.
  2355. “Now, gaze on the beauty of the catch!”
  2356. >Nightmare Moon looked on, smiling, as he held out the fish towards her, satisfaction covering his every feature.
  2357. >”Indeed, that is quite the catch. I only know of fishing from… her memories. It is nice to make some of my own.”
  2358. >Anon nodded in understanding.
  2359. “It must be, I’m planning on doing this again another night, if you want to that is.” He added while producing something that he apparently measured his catch with.
  2360. >”We would enjoy that immensely. It has certainly lifted your spirits from what We can see”
  2361. “It certainly has alright, I’ve always loved fishing. Fifteen inch Rainbow Trout, not bad at all. Now, off you go buddy.”
  2362. >Nightmare Moon watched with curiosity as Anon gently lowered the fish back into the river, where, once free from his grasp, it quickly shot off into the crystal clear water.
  2363. >”You didn’t keep it? Was it not a prize worth retaining to you?”
  2364. “Well, It’s not like I can eat it here, I can go catch a fish when I wake up. But besides that, I’ve always loved fishing for the thrill of the catch, the struggle and the adventure.”
  2365. >Anon suddenly sighed as he examined the bait on the end of his strangely clear line, his face suddenly melancholy as his shoulders sagged slightly.
  2366. “I’ve always loved fishing with my dad, it’s something we always loved doing together, no matter how little we caught or how miserable the weather, we always had fun.”
  2367. “I can’t do that, now that I’m in Equestria. I can’t even send him pictures anymore.”
  2368. >Anon stopped fiddling with his lure, lost in thought.
  2369. >Nightmare Moon paused, uncertain of what to do next, before an idea popped into her mind.
  2370. >”We… We can see why this would sadden you so.” She said as she closed the short distance between the two of them.
  2371. >With a small sigh of relief she sat down next to Anon, her eyes still level with his.
  2372. >She gave him a small, honest smile
  2373. >”You could teach Us to fish with this strange rod, if this would bring you cheer?”
  2374. >Anon was silent for a moment, before he returned her smile.
  2375. “Sure, I’d love to. Now, just to let you know, I haven’t had to do this in a long time, okay?”
  2376. >Nightmare Moon gave him a playful, toothy grin.
  2377. >”We believe that We shall have this skill mastered before you wake for the morning sun.”
  2378. “If you say so, can you hold the rod in your hooves or can you use your magic?”
  2379. >”Let Us try…”
  2380. >Her horn glowed softly, and to her amazement, didn’t falter or flicker out.
  2381. >The rod in Anon’s hands glowed softly and gently left his hands to hover in front of the astounded Nightmare Moon.
  2382. >”We feel no stress upon Ourself, how has this happened? The last time We tried to call forth Our magic it hurt Us just to make sparks.”
  2383. “Beats me, but I don’t want you to spend your time worrying about that, we have some fish to catch.
  2384. >”Indeed, now…” Nightmare Moon looked at the spinning rod held in her magical grasp for several moments, before once again turning to Anon.
  2385. >”We do not know how to use this contraption. Help Us please.”
  2386. >Anon chuckled at the confusion on the alicorn’s muzzle, adjusting the hat on his head to keep the sun out of his eyes.
  2387. “Well this is what’s called a spinning rod, because this part here spins whenever you reel the line in like so.”
  2388. >”Ah, now We see.”
  2389. “Yeah, not too hard to understand, now to release the line, move this lever to the side.”
  2390. >”Like this?”
  2391. “Yup. Now I’m going to show you how to cast it, so you can see how to do it.”
  2392. >Anon gently cast the line about halfway across the stream, before reeling it in quickly.
  2393. >”Hmmm, it seems simple enough, let Us try Our hoof at it.”
  2394. “Alright, now, use the motions I did and make sure to be gent—”
  2395. >With a whizzing whine the lure, trailing line behind it, flew across the stream and into the branch of a low-hanging pine tree leaning from the opposite shore, where it quickly tangled itself in the needles and small branches.
  2396. >Nightmare Moon and Anon didn’t move or look at each other for several seconds.
  2397. >”Curses.” Nightmare Moon broke the silence between them.
  2398. >Anon began to laugh, despite the look of stoic irritation on Nightmare Moon’s muzzle.
  2399. “I’ll tell you what Moony, that’s not the first time I’ve seen somebody do that on their first cast and it certainly won’t be the last.”
  2400. >The alicorn slowly turned her head to meet his gaze, eyes flickering and glowing with mirthful indignation.
  2401. >”What did you just call Us?”
  2402. “Ummm... Moony. Why?”
  2403. >”Do not call Us that name again, it is foalish and We do not wish to hear it.”
  2404. >Even as she said it, she fought and failed to keep the smile from appearing on her muzzle.
  2405. “Alright,” Anon raised his hands in surrender, despite the grin never leaving his face. “I’ll try to restrain myself from using it too often.”
  2406. >”Good. Now, how do We retrieve Our line and bait? We are ready to try again.”
  2407. <>
  2408. >Nightmare Moon was true to her sworn word, Anon was surprised yet pleased to find.
  2409. >After a few more, slightly less spectacular failures while attempting to cast, the large alicorn was very quickly getting the hang of it.
  2410. >Anon smiled at her as he sat on a rock next to her as she gleefully reeled in her lure.
  2411. >Even though she hadn’t caught anything yet, she still seemed to be having a good time trying.
  2412. >Most of all though, he was still fascinated by how fast she had caught onto fishing with a modern fishing rod.
  2413. >Her ability to quickly soak up knowledge and her rapid adaptability was something he had noticed from her quite a few times over the course of their time together.
  2414. >He let out a sigh through his nose as he started thinking back to those conversations, and how the alicorn just feet away had reacted with almost unrestrained enthusiasm and interest, no matter what he talked about.
  2415. >A sound that Anon could have sworn was a squeal suddenly tore him from his pondering.
  2416. >Jerking his head up, he could see Nightmare Moon excitedly standing tall on the river’s edge, fishing rod bent and flexing randomly in her magical aura.
  2417. >”Anonymous, We have managed to hook a fish! Quick, retrieve your net! We will not lose this prize of Ours!”
  2418. “Nice! Don’t be too rough with it, or the fish will cut the line.”
  2419. >Anon quickly hopped off his rock and retrieved his net from its place on his backpack.
  2420. >”We remember your words, We are trying…”
  2421. >The alicorn’s voice was quiet and intense as she stared at the bobbing and weaving line in the river as she reeled.
  2422. >Anon crouched next to her by the water, net ready in hand.
  2423. “Alright, you should be good now, bring it in.”
  2424. >Reel whining from the speed of her reeling, Nightmare Moon brought the fish the remaining short distance to the riverbank.
  2425. >With practiced graze, Anon brought the net under and captured the large fish, which he could now see was a trout, out of the water.
  2426. “Nice job! Look at that beauty, all those colors really are the icing on the cake aren’t they?”
  2427. >Upon laying her cyan, slitted eyes on her rainbow-colored prize, she lost all of her royal pretense and began to laugh and giggle like a small filly, prancing in place despite almost falling down from her still weak legs.
  2428. >”Yes! Yes! We have finally caught something! And what a sight it is to behold. Do you think you could-”
  2429. “Already on it.”
  2430. >While Nightmare Moon had been prancing in place, Anon had retrieved his pliers and pulled the hook out of the trout’s mouth.
  2431. >Now free from the line, he carefully pulled the rather large trout fully out of the net for the first time, leaving both of them to marvel it’s beauty.
  2432. “I’d say about… 14 inches? That’s a really nice catch, and the colors on it are perfect too. What do you think?”
  2433. >The alicorn sat down, eyes wide as she examined her prize.
  2434. >She suddenly seemed nervous and awed, her excited noises of just moments ago having vanished.
  2435. >We… We have never caught a fish before.” She finally said.
  2436. >Anon opened his mouth then closed it.
  2437. >He could tell she wanted to say more.
  2438. >”We have also never climbed a mountain, or walked through a field of beautiful flowers...”
  2439. >She was silent for a moment.
  2440. >”You can let it go now, we have admired it enough.”
  2441. >Anon gently lowered it back into the river, where it quickly splashed him with its tail before vanishing back into the running water.
  2442. >He stood, gazing at Nightmare Moon as she gave him a small smile.
  2443. >”We have you to thank for that, even though they are within the realm of dreams. We thank you for your kindness to Us.
  2444. >She shifted her weight to her hind legs as Anon gave her a smile of his own.
  2445. >Anon had a feeling of what she was about to do, so decided to take a massive gamble and hope his guess was right.
  2446. >He took the two steps it took to reach her, just as her front hooves came up to wrap around him in a soft hug.
  2447. >Wrapping his arms gently around her as well, he felt the nerves fade away as the two of them gently embraced.
  2448. >He could feel the subtle heat from her body on his hands, and the incredible softness of her coat.
  2449. >Careful of her still-injured wings, he gently held tighter.
  2450. >He could feel her pull him tighter in response.
  2451. >Suddenly a ringing blast of sound like the trumpet of God Almighty came from everywhere around them, shaking the ground sending ripples across the river water.
  2452. >The two of them left away from each other in fright, before Anon let out a groan of rage.
  2453. “Dammit, I thought I would have more time than this…”
  2454. >”What is that noise? What do you mean?” Nightmare Moon asked, eyes wide, ears flicking instinctively.
  2455. “That’s my alarm. I promised Applejack I would-”
  2456. >Another ringing blast came, this time causing cracks in the world around them: the sky, the river, even the trees suddenly began to fracture and break apart as Anon began to wake up.
  2457. >As Anon could feel himself slipping away, he gave Nightmare Moon another cheerful grin.
  2458. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back! I’m really glad you had fun, I’ll have to think of som-”
  2459. >This time, the blast shattered the dream world that Anon had created like blown glass.
  2460. >In seconds, the last of the mountains, the river, and all the beautiful trees had vanished, leaving Nightmare Moon alone once again.
  2461. >But even alone, she couldn’t stop the smile that came
  2462. >She could still feel the warm of Anon’s body next to hers.
  2463. >The feeling of his fingers messaging between her shoulder blades and her terribly hurt wings was something she hoped he would repeat in the future.
  2464. >But she could also feel his heart, beating strong and steady in his chest and the mere thought of it brought a small blush to her muzzle.
  2465. <>
  2466. >With a jolt Anon sat up, wind up alarm still ringing shrilly next to him.
  2467. >Reaching over, he turned off the ringer and looked at the clock’s face with annoyance.
  2468. >5:00
  2469. “Dammit why did I agree to this again? The suns not even up yet.”
  2470. >After writing a quick note in his journal, promising the Princesses a full story after his day of work, he finally managed to pull himself out of bed.
  2471. >Sighing, he went to his closet for his rough clothing, already feeling the work ahead bearing down on his bones.
  2472. >With clothing and his sturdy shoes acquired, he splashed a bit of water from his sink on his face to help wake himself up.
  2473. >Looking in his mirror, he could still see a ghost of the smile he had given Nightmare Moon in their dream.
  2474. >He quickly turned and went for his door, being as quiet as possible.
  2475. >Opening it, he went across the hall and opened the door to Nightmare Moon’s room.
  2476. >Gently closing the door behind him, he quietly walked up to her bedside.
  2477. >Lit by the gentle glow of a lantern, which appeared to be filled with real fireflies, he couldn’t help but simply smile down at her.
  2478. “I’m glad I could help.” He quietly told the alicorn.
  2479. >There was no response, other than the steady, quiet beeping of the medical equipment.
  2480. >Anon gave the door behind him a quick glance.
  2481. >To his satisfaction it was shut.
  2482. >Anon bent down and gently gave Nightmare Moon’s exposed cheek a soft kiss.
  2483. >Quickly withdrawing, and blushing furiously, Anon quickly yet quietly crossed the room, opened the door, and closed it gently behind him as he left.
  2484. >Walking down the flight of stairs, he shook his head, face still flushed red.
  2485. “What are you thinking man, it’s not like you're the prince from Snow White or anything…”
  2486. >Chuckling to himself, he passed the posted guards on his way to the castle’s front doors, thoughts of work now plaguing his mind once again.
  2487. >If he had stayed in Nightmare Moon’s room just a few seconds longer, he may have noticed the tiny, virtually invisible smile that had appeared on her oxygen-mask covered muzzle.
  2488. <>
  2489. >Anon set down the large basket of apples he was carrying, using his temporary respite to wipe the sweat from his face and forehead with the rag tucked into his back pocket
  2490. >When Applejack had seen him coming down the lane to Sweet Apple Acres that morning, she’d greeted him with a wave of her hoof, a cheerful smile, and a small plate of freshly cooked apple fritters.
  2491. >Since he couldn’t buck apples or pull a plow due to his lack of strength, Applejack
  2492. and Big Mac had decided to have him haul loaded apple baskets to waiting wagons.
  2493. >It was tiring work, but he didn’t mind.
  2494. >It gave him time to think.
  2495. >Mainly about what he had done that morning before he’d left Twilight’s castle.
  2496. >His lips still seemed to burn from when he’d kissed Nightmare Moon’s cheek, and if he closed his eyes, he could still feel the softness of her fur, and smell that strange, electric fresh-rain smell that seemed to surround her closely.
  2497. >”Anon, ya alright over there?”.
  2498. >Applejack’s voice jolted him out of his thoughts, and he looked up to see her standing close by, two baskets full of apples balanced precariously on her back.
  2499. “I’m good, I’ve just got some stuff on my mind is all.”
  2500. >”Yer thinkin’ about her ain’t ya?”
  2501. >Anon was silent for a few moments, before letting out a small sigh, picking up his heavy basket of apples with a grunt.
  2502. “Yeah, I was.” He answered. “But that can wait for now. How many more groves are we doing today?”
  2503. >”Just this last one, it shouldn’t take us that long, then ya can get back tah wooin’ that pony of yer’s”
  2504. >Anon’s face went as red as the apples he was carrying as Applejack laughed cheerily.
  2505. >”Ah’m just playin’, don’ get worked up over it. Now com’on, only an hour or so left and then ya can go fer the day.”
  2506. >As the still chuckling Earth Pony began to trot towards the closest wagon, she didn’t notice as Anon went from red-faced to pensive as he followed behind her.
  2507. >For the rest of that day, Anon barely said a single word, his mind still stuck on what Applejack had harmlessly said.
  2508. >As he waved goodbye to the orange mare while promising to once again be there the next morning, his mind began to race even faster as the sun began to quickly drop to hide behind the nearby mountains.
  2509. >Slowly walking on aching feet, Anon’s mind wandered, and he quickly found himself talking out loud to the empty road.
  2510. “You do like her don’t you?
  2511. “Just as a friend I guess.”
  2512. ”Then why did you kiss her?”
  2513. “...I’m not sure…”
  2514. “Well, she is kinda cute when I think about it…”
  2515. >Still quietly rambling to himself, Anon made his way back through Ponyville back to Twilight’s castle, shining in a myriad of colors in the last fading light.
  2516. >Making his way inside, he wandered into the kitchen, quickly throwing together something edible.
  2517. >His arms and back ached too much to try and cook something complicated.
  2518. >He sat down with a sigh, stretching his arms one more time before he prepared to devour his meal.
  2519. >It wasn’t much, diced potatoes and onions fried in a skillet, but since it was fried in butter, he figured he would slam it down then crash about ten seconds later.
  2520. >The silence of the large empty room was a little creepy, but he figured Twilight and Spike were out doing something with the others.
  2521. >”Long day I assume?”
  2522. >Anon’s head shot up from his plate as the voice of Tea Leaf cut through the silence.
  2523. >She was standing in the entryway, eyeing him up with a smile, the edge of her clipboard stuck out from one wing.
  2524. “I didn’t see you there, how are you?”
  2525. >”Not too bad, I just finished my evening checkup, and everything is good. Excellent really.”
  2526. >Anon’s eyebrows rose with curiosity.
  2527. “Really, what makes you say that?” He picked up his utensils and ate as politely as he could.
  2528. >”Well, I think she might have moved on her own for the first time.”
  2529. >Anon quickly swallowed and resisted the urge to stand from his chair in his sudden excitement.
  2530. “Really, in what way? When did it happen? Did you see it?”
  2531. >Tea Leaf let out a cheerful laugh, trotting fully inside and stood next to the table across from Anon.
  2532. >”Well, I caught it this morning when I was cleaning her oxygen mask. She had the smallest, cutest smile I’ve ever seen. I’d say it’s a large improvement.”
  2533. >Anon sat all the way back in his chair, the sudden news temporarily robbing him of his hunger.
  2534. “She… She was smiling?” He asked again, voice quiet.
  2535. >”Yup. Are you going to finish that? I’m pretty hungry myself.”
  2536. “There’s some still left in the skillet in the kitchen.”
  2537. >As the pegasus happily trotted out of sight into the kitchen, Anon stared down at his plate.
  2538. >She had smiled.
  2539. >Just the thought of her doing something so simple brought forth a smile of his own
  2540. >With the shock of the news slowly wearing off and his hunger returning, he resumed eating just as Tea Leaf re-entered, carrying a plate in one wing.
  2541. “Are there any other improvements?” Anon asked.
  2542. >The mare across from him nodded, mouth full.
  2543. >She swallowed, nodding in satisfaction at the flavor.
  2544. >”Yes, her health has been steadily improving in small leaps, I’m pretty sure that whatever you two are doing when you meet is having an effect on her health here in the physical world.”
  2545. >Anon hummed in interest, his mouth full as well.
  2546. “Do you have any hard evidence to back that up? Well, other than the magical mane and her hair getting better?”
  2547. >Tea Leaf swallowed another mouthful of food and shot him a grin, extending her wing with the clipboard over towards him.
  2548. >”I actually do. Check my notes from a few nights ago, the night she threw you out of your shared dream.”
  2549. >Suppressing a wince at the mention of that less than stellar night, Anon flipped back through the very detailed charts, numbers, and notes.
  2550. >”If you look at my notes here, I’ve been able to see a pattern that her apparent regeneration followers. I based it off my experience helping Princess Luna.”
  2551. >”If I was to guess, I’d say the smile is a sign that her brain is starting to function on a higher level as well, so she may start moving more in the next days and weeks.
  2552. >The pegasus pointed with one wing at another couple pages.
  2553. >”Compare those to the previous days, and you’ll see that her heath, which had been on a very slow yet steady rise, suddenly plateaued.
  2554. >Anon’s eyes widened and then as he finally began to understand the medical jargon he held in his hand.
  2555. >He sighed, and set down the clipboard, looking crestfallen.
  2556. >Tea Leaf noticed this at once, and gave him a sympathetic pat with one wing.
  2557. >”I know what you’re thinking, and I don’t want you to think about it anymore. You gave her the truth and she reacted badly. It’s not on you.”
  2558. “I still need to apologize, even if I didn’t know I did anything, I at least want to tell her.”
  2559. >”Well, if you want to feel better, you’ll be glad to know that after you two made up, her condition has continued improving, even faster than it had been before. Not by much, but it is noticeable.”
  2560. >Anon smiled, and handed the clipboard back to the pegasus, who set it down on the table next to her plate of food.
  2561. “I want to talk to her. It’s… It’s nice.”
  2562. >Tea Leaf resumed eating, still giving Anon a playful grin.
  2563. >”Well,” She said through a mouthful of potatoes, “You won’t be able to get to sleep soon if you don’t finish eating and go to bed, so if you want to meet her, I’d suggest you get to eating. Doctor’s orders.”
  2564. >Anon gave her a smug grin back as he picked his fork back up.
  2565. “You’ve seen the guard who’s outside our rooms during the night right?”
  2566. >I have, His name is Thunder isn’t it?” Tea Leaf said as she began to chew another fork full of food.
  2567. “Yup, and he told me yesterday that you had a good flank. Honest to God I’m not lying.”
  2568. >Tea Leaf’s eyes went wide and she let out a choking gasp as she swallowed.
  2569. >Anon calmly sat and finished off his plate, watching the pegasus hack and pound her chest with one hoof as she struggled to recover from his statement.
  2570. >When she had finally settled down, her face was as red as the apples he’d spent all day carrying.
  2571. >”D-did he really say that?” She stammered out, trying to act casual as she reached for her food again.
  2572. “He actually did, and you know I’m not the lying type. He’ll be on his post at 9:00 tonight if you want to ask him yourself.”
  2573. >With those parting words, Anon stood from the table, taking his now picked clean plate to the kitchen.
  2574. >As he exited to go to his room for the night, he gave Tea Leaf a glance.
  2575. >The pegasus was still red faced, attempting to eat, and trying not to look anywhere near Anon.
  2576. “I am being honest, kinda like how you were with me that one morning.”
  2577. >Tea Leaf finally looked at him, still blushing furiously.
  2578. “I’m pretty sure he’s got a crush on you, and I’ve seen a couple of the looks you’ve snuck at him yourself. You two should talk.”
  2579. >Anon turned and walked out, cheerily whistling to himself, not noticing the contemplative look that had formed on the still blushing Tea Leaf’s muzzle.
  2580. >As Anon made his way up the multiple flights of stairs and his food settled, he could feel his body slowing down.
  2581. >What little energy he had left began to drain away as he came within sight of his room, where a warm, soothing shower and a comfortable bed awaited him.
  2582. >He stopped outside of Nightmare Moon’s room first though, and took a glance inside.
  2583. >She still lay there, chest slowly rising and falling in time with the soft beeping of the medical equipment.
  2584. “Hope to see you tonight.” He hummed, before softly closing the door to her room and entering his.
  2585. >After a short shower, he collapsed onto his bed.
  2586. >He wormed deeper into the soft sheets and the unbelievably soft cloud mattress.
  2587. >He was asleep in seconds.
  2588. <>
  2589. >Nightmare Moon sat in the white expanse, softly tapping one hoof and humming cheerily to herself.
  2590. >Ever since she’d had so much fun with Anon during his last visit, she’d been in a constant state of euphoria.
  2591. >She never would have thought that walking down a mountain and then fishing would have been so fun.
  2592. >But then again, she’d never been fishing before.
  2593. >In fact, pretty much everything that she and Anon had done together had been firsts for her.
  2594. >She could barely wait for the next time he would arrive, and what new adventure the two of them would have together.
  2595. >”Where are you Anonymous? It has been some time since you last came to frolic with Us here.”
  2596. >Her words to the empty void went unanswered, as they always had since she had found herself in this miserable place.
  2597. >But to hear any sound at all was a small comfort, even if it was her own voice.
  2598. >She stopped her tapping and brought the hoof to her chin in thought.
  2599. >”What kind of view should We have him produce this time? Perhaps the mountains again? They were ever so beautiful before. How about a lush forest? Or that field of flowers, those were so peaceful in that breeze…”
  2600. >After a few moments of thought, a large smile suddenly spread across her muzzle.
  2601. >”The beach! Of course! We have never seen the ocean before, We only have… Luna’s memories to recall from…”
  2602. >Her mood suddenly soured, and her muzzle twisted into a frown of distaste.
  2603. >”We don’t want to live with… with her memories. Yes, We can have Anonymous bring something from his world again, yes, that would be good.”
  2604. >Nightmare Moon sighed, releasing the tension that had filled her at the thought of Luna.
  2605. >”Anonymous, We are ready to meet you, We shall close our eyes now, if you don’t appear soon, We shall be disappointed in you.”
  2606. >The alicorn settled on her haunches, giggling at her ridiculous joke but also trying to repress a hiss of pain as she closed her eyes.
  2607. >Her body still hurt, but she could feel the difference from what she assumed was a couple of days, based on Anonymous’ arrivals and departures.
  2608. >She felt slightly stronger, her bones hurt less, and even her wings seemed to be gaining more and more feathers.
  2609. >A sudden smell of dry leaves entered her nostrils, and underneath her flank and hooves she could feel what felt like damp forest undergrowth forming.
  2610. >”Ah, you have arrived, We were wondering when you would arrive. We were winding if you could…”
  2611. >Her voice died as she opened to find herself just inside of the edge of a dark, menacing forest, with shadowy mist filling the gaps between dead, twisted branches.
  2612. >It was night, and the moon that had always appeared even during Anonymous’ thought-up starry nights was absent, making the darkness nearly absolute.
  2613. >”What... what is this? Where are yo⎯”
  2614. “Right here.”
  2615. >With a squeal of surprise, Nightmare Moon spun around, and was greeted by the form of Anonymous, who appeared to be standing just outside the tree line on the open grass.
  2616. >”Why have you scared Us so? And what is with this dreary place? You have nev⎯”
  2617. “I’m done with this shit, trying to redeem something as vile as you.”
  2618. >The sheer hatred oozing from his voice caused her to take a hesitant step backward, where the mist began to swirl around her back legs.
  2619. >She tried and failed to keep the trembling from her voice as the cold of the forest began to penetrate her, and her surprise turned to dread.
  2620. >”W-what do you mean? Why are you treating Us so?”
  2621. >She could hear him give a soft, malevolent chuckle as a sudden breeze began to blow, rattling the branches and dead leaves around her.
  2622. “I’m wasting my time one you, you’ll never repent, never be good, and you’ll never stop hiding secrets from me or anypony else.”
  2623. >His whole outline was covered in shadow in the moonless night, but she could still make out the glimmer of his bright blue eyes in the blackness that was his head.
  2624. >The hatred and disgust in them caused her to take another step backward, the kindness and cheer that she’d always seen there had long since gone.
  2625. >This time Nightmare Moon couldn’t hide the tears that appeared in her own eyes.
  2626. >”No, No! W-We would not! We…”
  2627. >But she had kept secrets from him, and at the thought of it, she lowered her eyes from his, earning a harsh laugh from Anon.
  2628. “I knew it, you fucking little liar. What are you hiding from me?”
  2629. >Nightmare Moon couldn’t respond, other than a choked sob as she continued to look downwards avoiding the baleful look she knew he was giving her.
  2630. “I knew you wouldn't ever tell me, not that it matters anyways. I’m leaving.”
  2631. >The distraught alicorn jerked her head upwards, tears leaving stinging trails of cold on her muzzle.
  2632. >”W-what do you mean? Where are you going?”
  2633. >A bright light appeared behind Anonymous, and it slowly expanded until a door-shaped hole in the fabric of the dream realm had fully opened.
  2634. >Through it, Nightmare Moon could see bright and warm sunshine, hear the cheerful laughing of ponies as they played in the bright, waving grass, and smell fresh baked bread and cooking vegetables.
  2635. “I’m going back there, where I belong, with ponies who I can trust, who will never lie to me, or hold secrets behind my back.”
  2636. >His eyes narrowed menacingly.
  2637. “I don’t need you anymore, not that I ever needed you in the first place.”
  2638. >He spat on the ground in front of her, and turned to enter the doorway of light.
  2639. >”Wait! D-don’t go!”
  2640. >She attempted to go to him, to tell him that she was sorry, but with a lurch she was halted mid stride, almost falling to the ground.
  2641. >Nightmare Moon glazed behind her, and to her horror found her hind hooves completely stuck into the soft ground of the new freezing cold forest.
  2642. >She could see the ground slowly rising up, swallowing her hind hooves, moving ever so slowly upward.
  2643. >The breeze picked up, rattling the branches around her even harder, the mist began to twist and swirl into shapes that looked like outstretched veins of creatures long dead and forgotten..
  2644. >She could have sworn she heard laughing coming from behind her, within the absolute blackness of the forest
  2645. >”What is this? Hel⎯”
  2646. “You don’t deserve help” Anon replied without turning back to face her.
  2647. “However, I’ve heard that there are some things that are very eager to meet you. Ever since you got away from them they’ve been very lonely.”
  2648. >This time Nightmare Moon definitely heard laughing coming from behind her, and she turned her head, eyes wide with terror.
  2649. >She could see sets of eyes in the forest, glowing dark, solid red as they bobbed and weaved steadily closer.
  2650. >”No… No…” Her voice cracked as memories flew into her mind; the Elements of Harmony, being separated from Luna, and then the dark….
  2651. >”No! Please, help Us!”
  2652. >She struggled to free herself, and leave the now darkening trees, but no matter how hard she tugged and pulled, she only sank further.
  2653. >Her horn and magic glowed for a split second, and then flickered out as well.
  2654. >The laughing grew louder behind her, and she suddenly felt something absurdly cold wrap around both her hind legs.
  2655. “Goodbye.”
  2656. >With this, Anon stepped through the doorway.
  2657. >It began to slowly close, what little light left in the world around her began to fade along with it.
  2658. >Nightmare Moon struggled even harder, then shrieked in terror as she felt another something wrapped around her barrel, and slowly she began to be pulled deeper into the forest.
  2659. >Away from the rapidly dwindling light.
  2660. >”NO, DON’T LEAVE US HERE!”
  2661. >The doorway of light sealed shut, leaving Nightmare Moon alone in the pitch black.
  2662. >The laughing grew louder, until it encompassed everything around her.
  2663. >The alicorn felt herself sinking further into the ground, slowly but surely.
  2664. >She attempted to scream again, but something else wrapped around her muzzle, sealing it shut.
  2665. >It didn’t matter, she still continued to scream into her mouth and thrash wildly, even as she felt the ground rise past her legs, and her barrel.
  2666. >”You thought you could leave us?”
  2667. >She suddenly saw it, sitting on the ground before her, just out of reach.
  2668. >Her old helmet emitted an ominous, dark red light
  2669. >”You are wrong, we cannot be separate. We ARE you.”
  2670. >The ground rose to her muzzle and covered her completely, smothering her final scream.
  2671. >Nightmare Moon lurched upwards, her final scream echoing in the void as her eyes flew open.
  2672. >There was no forest, no swirling mist, no grey withered trees, and certainly no horror from beyond this plane or reality.
  2673. >Just the endless, white expanse she was always in.
  2674. >She panted with exhaustion and rose as quickly as her still injured body would allow her to.
  2675. >She looked over herself, and all around her, but there was no sign of Them, just a quickly dissipating chill.
  2676. >Nightmare Moon sat, and hugged herself with her front hooves, and attempted to wrap her wings around herself as she shook with lingering terror.
  2677. >Her coat was still clammy with cold sweat, and her eyes and muzzle were damp with tears.
  2678. >”W-what was that? Why are We tortured so?”
  2679. >She softly cried the shock and horror away, as she gently lowered herself back to the ground, covering her head with her hooves like a foal.
  2680. >It was then that the word came to her, and she suddenly knew what had happened.
  2681. >”We.. We had a dream? No, a-a nightmare...”
  2682. >She almost refused to believe her own logic at first, but the more she thought about it the more sense it made.
  2683. >She suddenly realized why she was named what she was, and why all the ponies of Equestria both hated and feared her.
  2684. >The distraught alicorn let out a strangled sob as she felt sick to her stomach, the realization finally dawning on her.
  2685. >”Anon, please, We need you…”
  2686. >Curling up as much as she could, she continued to quietly cry.
  2687. >And then she felt the cold again, seeping from behind her.
  2688. >Tears still falling from her muzzle, she turned to face the thing that she now despised with all of her broken heart.
  2689. <>
  2690. >Already, the blank, white expanse was darkening, and dark, sinister clouds were quickly forming over her head.
  2691. >Her helmet set close by, veins of black leaking from underneath the empty space within.
  2692. >Nightmare Moon shuffled backwards, attempting to get to her hooves in her panic as darkness quickly began to overwhelm the surrounding emptiness.
  2693. >”Why do you run from yourself?”
  2694. >The voice resembled her own, but was deeper and slightly distorted, as though it was speaking through water.
  2695. >”I only wish to save you from your own self-destruction.”
  2696. >Standing once again on unstable legs, and with tears still running from the end of her muzzle, Nightmare Moon scrutinized her helmet, apprehension in her still tearful eyes.
  2697. >But her jaw was clenched, and her lips pulled back unconsciously into a small snarl.
  2698. >”What do you mean, save us from ourselves? We have been recovering excellently witho−”
  2699. >”Without me? You have so much to learn…”
  2700. >The blackness had finally consumed everything, and the only light came from a solitary moon in the black, starless sky above.
  2701. >The veins of darkness that had been seeping from beneath the helmet suddenly retreated, and to Nightmare Moon’s alarm, the helmet began to rise on a pillar of liquid, oily black.
  2702. >It quickly grew taller until the helmet was level with Nightmare Moon’s head, before the oily black slowly expanded outwards, like some kind of mutating insect emerging from its shell.
  2703. >”After all, I’m only doing for you what you did for Luna.”
  2704. >The terrified alicorn stumbled backward as the expanding blackness solidified into a writhing, oily mass that quickly began to form itself into a familiar form.
  2705. >It was herself.
  2706. >The alicorn-shaped entity stared at Nightmare Moon with eyes that were blacker than anything she had ever seen as it took one trot towards her.
  2707. >S-stay away!”
  2708. >Nightmare Moon recoiled backward in terror as the entity took several steps closer.
  2709. >”And why should I? I have saved you thus far, why would I leave you here to be destroyed forever?”
  2710. >Before the terrified alicorn could open her mouth again, she saw the red eyes appearing in the blackness behind the unknown entity.
  2711. >She turned and tried to run, but before she had gone more than a few hoofsteps, the now scarred and dead ground around her cracked and fell away.
  2712. >Sliding to a stop, she realized she was on the edge of a cliff, and when she looked down, an infinite black abyss was all she could see.
  2713. >”You can’t, not this time. It’s all you’ve done since I saved your life and restored your physical body.”
  2714. >Nightmare Moon slowly turned, and faced her accuser fully for the first time.
  2715. >”What are you?” She asked again, not quite hiding the tremor in her voice,
  2716. >”Like I said before, I AM you.” It lifted a gross facsimile of a hoof, seemingly examining it out of curiosity.
  2717. >”You created me, not on purpose, but you brought me forth from yourself, when you were at your most desperate and had nothing left.”
  2718. >It took another step closer to her.
  2719. >”You should understand, since that is how Luna created you after all. You were born from her rage, her sadness, her rejection by the ponies she ruled, and her own sister’s indifference.”
  2720. >It extended the raised hoof towards her, as if to touch her, even though they were still separated by several yards of dead, dry grass.
  2721. >”I will do for you what you did for her. I can help you become whole again, I can heal the mental and physical wounds that you have suffered.”
  2722. >While the writhing black mass that constituted a muzzle had no features, Nightmare Moon could almost see a smirk appear on it.
  2723. >”And I can also free you of Them, for good.”
  2724. >The red eyes bobbed closer and closer, still hidden in the surrounding blackness, even as their laughs and insane giggles made Nightmare Moon’s ears twitch with dread.
  2725. >”You have never spoken to us before, why choose now?”
  2726. >”It’s simple really, I have only been able to hold Them back for so long, but they are growing stronger, and it won’t be much longer until They break their way into your mind fully and destroy your soul permanently.”
  2727. >”And if you perish, so do I. Help me help you, and we will both survive.”
  2728. >Nightmare Moon felt shivers run down her spine at the entity's tone.
  2729. >Something didn’t seem right to her, and she wanted to know what it was.
  2730. >She was tired of being played as a fool.
  2731. >”We are tired of running. As you said, it is all We have done in this place. But let us ask this of you, what about Anonymous? He has helped us greatly thus far.”
  2732. >A low snarl came from what she assumed was the entity’s mouth, shaking the ground underneath her already unstable hooves.
  2733. >”That… thing can and has only distracted you since he somehow managed to fumble his way into your mind, like a blind foal he has led you astray. Only I can save you from this point on.”
  2734. >”And why should We believe you?” Nightmare Moon snarled back, her anger now outweighing her fear.
  2735. >”Anonymous has given us hope where you gave us solitude. He gave us a reason to continue onward despite our self-hatred and weakness.”
  2736. >”I have helped you far more than you could possibly know.”
  2737. >The black, bottomless eyes narrowed in anger as it’s voice went low with displeasure.
  2738. >”As you gave Luna the strength to dispose of her uncaring sister, we shall give you the power to break free of your magical imprisonment, and forge your own path in the waking world. Together, we won’t NEED anypony else.”
  2739. >The outstretched hoof was retracted, only for the entity to reach up and remove the ornate helmet from it’s head.
  2740. >The entity held it before itself, before tossing it towards Nightmare Moon, who caught it with her own hooves in surprise.
  2741. >Horrendous cold ran up her forelegs as she held the ornate helm, the innumerable sigils and runes etched into it glowing black with untapped, untold power.
  2742. >”You know what you must do to join us both together. You know it is the only way.”
  2743. >The red eyes of the others pressed directly behind the entity, seemingly against an invisible wall, where they continued to laugh and whisper unknowns.
  2744. >Nightmare Moon turned the helmet so the front faced her.
  2745. >”Anonymous told Us of how he left his own world, how he left everything he had ever known behind, never to be seen again.”
  2746. >Her words came out as a whisper.
  2747. >”What? What nonsense are you speaking of?”
  2748. >The entity took another step forward, but Nightmare Moon did not seem to notice.
  2749. >She was staring intently at the brow of her old helmet, looking at her own reflection in the faded yet polished metal
  2750. >”He told Us that coming to Equestria and leaving everything he had known behind was the biggest risk he had ever taken. He risked so much for Us, and what have We done in return?”
  2751. >”He didn’t even know he was going to help Us, but he did regardless, despite all of the horrible things told about us, despite our pact actions, and even through our outburst of rage, he still came back, and he still forgave Us..”
  2752. >The entity’s eyes narrowed, the blackness burning with irritation and impatience.
  2753. >”Why are you telling me this?”
  2754. >”Because he helped Us see what We could become, if we became our own pony. You on the other hoof, have given us nothing but empty promises of power and safety, of which I know plenty.”
  2755. >The entity took a step backward in confusion, but Nightmare Moon gave it no time to reply.
  2756. >”After all, Luna did not succeed against her sister, and we both had to suffer for it. We both languished for a thousand years, only to fail again. She was freed from Us, while We were cast into the Void.”
  2757. >Nightmare Moon sat down slowly, the dried, brittle grass crackling like dried leaves.
  2758. >She still held the helmet, seemingly mesmerized by it.
  2759. >”We have learned from her mistakes, as well as our own. But Anonymous has given us the chance that We never gave Luna.”
  2760. >”And what chance is that? Freedom under Celestia’s yoke, living forever as a slave, with your former host viewing your every thought when you sleep?”
  2761. >The entity gave a deep, mirthless laugh as it stood once again, the whispering of the Others growing louder by the second.
  2762. >”This ‘Anonymous’ can give you nothing. We can give you everything, now let us be rid of this foul place once and for all, and forge our own destiny.”
  2763. >Nightmare Moon finally looked up from her helmet, meeting the entity’s gaze with her own.
  2764. >Her eyes shone with resolve and fresh tears as she turned the helmet around, and held it in front of her, as if to place it on her head
  2765. >”After all,” The entity chucked quietly, “where would you be without me?”
  2766. >Nightmare Moon’s eyes narrowed with determination as her jaw clenched.
  2767. >”It’s time to find out.”
  2768. >Nightmare Moon hooked her hooves inside of either side of the helmet, and pulled with all the strength her feeble limbs could offer.
  2769. >”What are you do-AHHHH”
  2770. >The alicorn-shaped mass of oily blackness began to scream as a jagged tear of pure white light opened in the center of it’s chest.
  2771. >It mirrored the crack opening up on the ancient helmet in Nightmare Moon’s hooves, as she began to slowly bend and twist the worn metal apart.
  2772. >The entity fell and began to wraith in agony as it continued to scream, while the red eyes that had been dancing behind it stopped their mindless uttering and emitted screeches of their own.
  2773. >Strength waning, Nightmare Moon let out a guttural scream, and heaved with the last of her strength.
  2774. >The ancient, ornately carved helmet tore in two with a thunderous crack, like deep, thick ice shattering.
  2775. >A wave of pure white light tore across the darkness surrounding her, blasting away the dark stains with the force of a hurricane.
  2776. >The wave of light hit the writhing, screaming mass in front of her and blasted the darkness away from it, as well as from the glowing eyes of the Others.
  2777. >Panting with weariness, Nightmare Moon tossed the two smoking halves of her former helmet aside, and looked up to the being that had tortured her.
  2778. >The wave of light had vaporized everything, tearing massive holes in the black night, the dark and foreboding moon, and most of all, what was hidden behind the entity that had resembled her.
  2779. >A dying, squirming mass of rapidly disintegrating darkness lay there, tentacles were strewn out behind it.
  2780. >Nightmare Moon gave an exhausted gasp as she saw feeble, fading red eyes on the end of them, and she stood fully as comprehension and rage rushed through her.
  2781. >”You… You were the one who tortured Us. You nearly destroyed US! WE will never be yours to control! WE DEFY YOU!”
  2782. >The black mass that had been her worst fear gave one last feeble whimper, and then disintegrated into wisps of smoke.
  2783. >In a matter of seconds, the world had become as it had before, plane, white, and featureless.
  2784. >Even as she looked back to the two jagged pieces of metal that had once been her most prized possession, they too crumbled to dust and disappeared.
  2785. >Nightmare Moon was once again alone.
  2786. >Then her emotions got the best of her again, and she fell down, her energy spent, crying gently with relief and misery.
  2787. >Though her eyes were closed, she could feel the tears running across her muzzle as she curled inwards, covering her head with both hooves.
  2788. >”I-is it o-over?”
  2789. “Is what over?”
  2790. >The voice jerked her out of her sorrow, and her head shot up and around, where she could see Anonymous standing just feet away from her.
  2791. >She could see his eyes widen as he took in her disheveled, tear-soaked visage.
  2792. “Are you alright? What happened to you?”
  2793. >He quickly approached and knelt down next to her, placing a hand on her exposed shoulder.
  2794. >His touch was warm and soothing as he gently stroked her matted fur.
  2795. >That was the final straw, Nightmare Moon broke down completely, sobbing like a foal.
  2796. >”We’re sorry! We’re sorry! We’re sorry We’re sorry We lied to you, We have done nothing to deserve your kindness!”
  2797. >Anon could barely understand her through her sobs, but he continued to gently stroke her as she continued to babble through her tears.
  2798. “Hey, hey, it’s alright, what do you mean when you say you lied to me?”
  2799. >The mournful alicorn took several seconds to respond, covering her head once again with a hoof to avoid looking at Anon.
  2800. >””W-We had our helmet with Us, the entire time We have been trapped here. We t-thought that We could use it t-to break free of this place.”
  2801. >”We kept it hidden, but it t-tempted Us so much, We could not bear to be apart from it.”
  2802. “What happened to it?”
  2803. >Nightmare Moon couldn’t see him, but she could hear the calmness in his voice and feel the compassion from the hand that now gently stroked her side.
  2804. >”Just before y-you came here, we had a horrible experience. A nightmare. You left us to be consumed by the Others, the ones w-who had tortured and nearly destroyed me.”
  2805. >This time she could hear the confusion in his voice.
  2806. “I… I wouldn’t ever leav⎯”
  2807. >”We know, but in our nightmare you did, and it b-broke our heart. Then We woke, and IT appeared.”
  2808. “What was ‘it’?”
  2809. >”Our helmet had manifested a consciousness and a physical body for itself, and i-it offered to free Us from this dreadful place, if We m-merged with it.”
  2810. “You told it no, didn’t you?” Anon guessed.
  2811. >Nightmare Moon sniffled sadly.
  2812. >”Yes, We thought upon the sacrifices that you have made, and We decided that we would not fall to temptation as Luna had before us. We tore our helm in two.”
  2813. “Is this other presence gone then?”
  2814. >Nightmare Moon finally uncovered her head, turning her head to look into Anonymous’ eyes.
  2815. >The compassion radiating from them warmed her heart, and she could help but give a small smile.
  2816. >”Yes, it is gone. It turns out that the Others, the beings I escaped from, were in truth creations of my own consciousness.”
  2817. >Anon’s eyes narrowed in thought.
  2818. “So, what you’re saying is, that you essentially created another being inside of yourself, like how Princess Luna created you, and it attempted to trick you into giving it control?”
  2819. >”Yes, and like the fool that I am I nearly fell it’s lies of comfort and freedom. It surely would have corrupted me the same way I did to Luna in the past…”
  2820. >There was a moment of silence between the two of them. Anon seemed to be contemplating her words, while the distraught alicorn lowered her head in shame.
  2821. >”We understand if you do not wish to come visit Us anymore, We do not deserve it.”
  2822. >There was a moment of silence between the two of them.
  2823. “I figured you were up to something while I wasn’t here.”
  2824. >Nightmare Moon raised her head, her sorrowful eyes once again meeting Anon’s.
  2825. >His face seemed neutral, but she could see a spark of cheer in his eyes.
  2826. >”You… did?”
  2827. “Yup, I knew you were hiding something, but I didn’t know what it was. In all honesty, I would have probably figured it out in another couple of days.”
  2828. >With a small sigh Anon went from kneeling to sitting, right next to her head and neck.
  2829. >In an almost pleading way, she moved her head to his chest.
  2830. >Without hesitation he gently held her neck, as gentle grass began to grow underneath them, and a soft, morning sky appeared above them.
  2831. “But I decided to wait and not mention it. I could tell that whatever it was was bothering you a lot, and I counted on you telling me about it eventually.”
  2832. >”But, We didn’t...” Nightmare Moon replied dejectedly.
  2833. “No, you didn’t. You faced down your worst fears, and solved the problem yourself.”
  2834. >Anon let out a chuckle as he began to scratch her behind her left ear.
  2835. “All in all, I’m proud of you.”
  2836. >At those words, Nightmare Moon once again let out a quiet sob, and flopped her chest fully into Anon’s lap.
  2837. >”W-We don’t deserve your kindness…” She quietly wept.
  2838. “You’ve got it anyway.”
  2839. >Anon sat and gently held her as she cried softly into his shoulder, damping his shirt with her tears.
  2840. “Think of the big picture now,” He said, patting her on the back between her wings. “You’ve got a new beginning ahead of you, it’s whatever you decide to make of it now.”
  2841. >”It… It really is. Thank you so much.”
  2842. >They sat together, Anonymous looking across the rolling plains, and Nightmare Moon buried deep into his shoulder.
  2843. “Alright, you wanna go do something?”
  2844. >He attempted to stand, but with strength belaying it’s size a single hoof wrapped itself around his shoulder, keeping him in place.
  2845. >”Could...You keep rubbing Our back? It... it feels good.”
  2846. >She considered it a mercy he couldn’t see her muzzle, she was blushing horribly.
  2847. >Though she did hear his smile in his laugh as he continued to gently brush her fur with his fingers.
  2848. >Suddenly an evil, horrible, nasty idea came to him, as he prepared to test his theory.
  2849. “Of course I can, but you know what might happen right?”
  2850. >Nightmare Moon’s ears flicked in surprise and she pulled her head away from his shoulder, looking at him with apprehension.
  2851. >”What? What would that mean?”
  2852. “That I might just find a spot where you're ticklish.”
  2853. >He brought his hand from between her still rather ragged wings to beneath the one closest to him, gently rubbing the underside of it.
  2854. >Her reaction was instantaneous, and she immediately began to giggle and tried to get off and away from him.
  2855. >”S-stop! That...That feels⎯EEEEEE!”
  2856. >Anonymous wasn’t going to be deterred, he clambered after her, continuing his assault on her, this time using both hands.
  2857. >The alicorn flopped onto her back in her effort to get away, squealing with laughter as tears once again rolled across her muzzle.
  2858. >Anonymous began laughing as well, continuing his barrage while also dodging her flailing wings, front hooves, and her star-filled mane, all of which batted at him halfheartedly.
  2859. >”P-please! Have mercy! W-We cannot take any more!”
  2860. >Anon finally stopped, his face flushed with joy, as he looked down on the panting alicorn below him.
  2861. >She lay there, front legs held against her chest, as she stared at him, her face flushed but her smile more beautiful than it ever had been before.
  2862. >It was then that Nightmare Moon realized that Anon was laying halfway on her chest, their faces just a foot apart from each other, and she again flushed with embarrassment.
  2863. >”I-is this some strange human tradition? Or do the ponies of today do this to each other?”
  2864. >He quickly turned as red as her at her words.
  2865. “Well, um, you see, the thing is, I wanted to cheer you up is all. That’s what friends do right?”
  2866. >Nightmare Moon gave a cheerful laugh.
  2867. >”Well then, We are thankful then that We have a friend like yourself. But we are curious, as we are not familiar with human customs, is it common for human friends to do this to each other?”
  2868. >Anonymous somehow went even redder than before, letting out a nervous cough.
  2869. “Um, very rarely, things like this happen more between very close friends or, well a couple.”
  2870. >Nightmare Moon’s eyes went wide at the implication, but she didn’t move.
  2871. >Neither did Anonymous, she noted.
  2872. >”What does that make us then?” She asked, her voice low and soft.
  2873. >Anon opened his mouth to answer, but at that moment, a roar of sound interrupted them, the loudness of it causing her to close her eyes and grit her teeth in a vain attempt to block out the deafening noise.
  2874. >She recognized it; it was Anonymous’ morning alarm, from what she remembered him telling her.
  2875. >She opened her eyes to wish him goodbye, but he was already gone.
  2876. >Nightmare Moon lay there on her back, pouting.
  2877. >”Bother, I was just getting comfortable.”
  2878. <>
  2879. >Anon sped upright, eyes still closed, but very irritable.
  2880. “Dammit, why did I agree to do this crap again!”
  2881. >Grabbing his alarm, he very nearly wrenched one of the bells off of it in his attempt to turn it off.
  2882. >With his room once again silent, he sighed, wiping his face in a vain attempt to get his blood flowing.
  2883. “I need to write a quick summary of that or none of them are going to believe me”
  2884. >The more he thought back to the dream that had happened just seconds ago, the more his frown turned into a smile.
  2885. >He could almost feel the softness of Nightmare Moon’s fur, the rapid beating of her heart as she lay beneath him, and hear that joyous laughter as he ticked her senseless.
  2886. >When he opened his eyes and looked around, he quickly realized where all of his blood flow had gone.
  2887. “Dammit, not now. Go away.”
  2888. >It didn’t.
  2889. “Cold shower, then hauling apples, that will get rid of you.”
  2890. <>
  2891. >The buzzing of the band around her foreleg woke Tea Leaf up instantly.
  2892. >She’d always been a light sleeper since she’d left the Foreign Legion, but the beds in Twilight’s caste had been doing their best at keeping her in peaceful slumber.
  2893. >But some things never change.
  2894. >There was only one reason the band was going off, and that was if one of the medical machines in her patient’s room was reading something that was off normal levels.
  2895. >”Oh horsefeathers!”
  2896. >Tea Leaf leapt from her bed and to the door, flinging it open.
  2897. >Running up the stairs, she used her wings to boat her speed.
  2898. >She flew by the one night shift guard, Thunder, who stared at her in shock.
  2899. >”Medical emergency! Use the summoning charm on my bedside table now!”
  2900. >Her authoritative shout seemed to snap him out of his stupor, and he galloped down the stairs behind her as she threw open the door to Nightmare Moon’s room.
  2901. “What’s going on?”
  2902. >Tea Leaf whirled around to find Anonymous pulling a shirt over his head, wearing only a pair of what he called his ‘jeans’.
  2903. >”Quick, something's wrong with her medical equipment! Follow me and do exactly as I say!”
  2904. >He nodded affirmatively and quickly followed her into her charge’s room.
  2905. >Tea Leaf and Anon rushed to Nightmare Moon’s side, where they found her shaking and convulsing erratically, the fast beeping of the machines a complete reversal from the slow tempo it had been the night before.
  2906. >The alicorn’s head and neck drew Tea Leaf’s immediate attention.
  2907. >”Strange, it almost looks like she’s thro⎯”
  2908. >It was then that she realized what was happening.
  2909. >”It’s the ventilator! She’s breathing on her own now, we have to get it out of her! Here, take the mask off of her!”
  2910. >While Anon gently pulled the soft elastic straps from the back of Nightmare Moon’s head, Tea Leaf shut off the machine and returned to the beside.
  2911. >”Alright, we have to get the main air tube out of her throat, do you think you can handle that?”
  2912. >In the half second of he hesitated, Tea Leaf had already perched herself on the edge of the bed, wrapping her nimble tips of her wings around the mask and it’s associated piping.
  2913. >”Hold her down for me! On three, two, one…”
  2914. >With practiced precision and gentleness, Tea Leaf began to ease the oxygen tube from Nightmare Moon’s throat.
  2915. >Anon closed his eyes and attempted to block out the horrendous gurgling and choking sounds that the alicorn beneath his hands was emitting.
  2916. >When the tube finally slipped free, the alicorn began to hack and cough frantically, writhing under Anon’s firm but gentle grasp.
  2917. “Is she awake?”
  2918. >”I highly doubt it.” Tea Leaf calmly replied as she began to wipe down the equipment she had just pulled from her patient’s body.