Once Trixie had gone Luna sat up, clearly uncertain about the pony she was talking to. It took her a couple of false starts to get going, but with Celestia's help she managed.
"Nightmare Moon, I've..I've been struggling with what to say to you since Celestia decided to do this. Once I really looked inside, I realized I can't rest all the blame on you. You offered the temptation, but I chose to embrace it."
She hung her head, not looking at either Celestia or Night, her voice even and calm. "I let my anger and jealousy get the better of me and I see now what the end result would've been. I've made some terrible mistakes, but Celestia was still willing to forgive them and take me back. So I would be the queen of hypocrisy if I held a grudge against you for what happened. She told me what you were and what you've become; we were mingled so long that I can truly understand how difficult your transformation has been. We're both lucky to be alive and to have what we have now."
She took a deep breath, as if to speak more, but Night stopped her.
"Luna, it was my fault!" Night said. "It was all my fault. Don't blame yourself and please don't suffer anymore for anything I did."
Luna managed a small smile. "I would never have dreamed of hearing such things from Nightmare Moon, but it does bring some comfort. Perhaps we share responsibility?"
"Yes, perhaps that is best. We both fed on what the other offered. Luna, can you forgive me for what I've done?" Night asked, looking down just as Luna had, feeling tears roll down her cheeks, unable to look either pony in the eye.
To Night's astonishment, she felt Luna embrace her.
"Yes, Nightmare Moon," Luna said. "As a wise mare once said to me, 'will you accept my friendship?'"
Night rested her head on Luna's shoulder and cried hard, letting a thousand years of guilt and shame rise to the surface. When her tears finally abated she sat back, and she noticed that Luna had been crying as well.
Wiping her eyes, Night turned to Celestia. "Now it is my turn to speak, but before that, there is something I must do."
Night bowed deeply before the sisters, her action eliciting a small gasp of surprise from both. She stayed down as she began speaking.
"Celestia, you are indeed worthy to wear that crown. You were the better sister. You alone deserve to wear it. You alone deserve to be queen."
Celestia looked very surprised as Night rose, but said nothing. She closed her eyes for a few moments and slowly broke into a smile. "Those words mean a great deal to me. Thank you, Nightmare Moon."
Now it was Celestia's turn to hug her and she felt such joy, recalling from Luna's memories how much she enjoyed her sister's hugs, knowing the great love and warmth Celestia possessed. She smiled, knowing that at least some small part of that she was willing to share, even with Nightmare Moon.
Night looked at the sisters and sighed. "What is to become of me now? I am very grateful to you both for setting me free, but what place is there for me in this world?"
"That is entirely up to you now, Nightmare Moon. As I said when this began, if you showed yourself worthy, I would give you a new form. If you wish I could change you into something else; if you wish I could erase your memories of Nightmare Moon and you could begin completely anew. As with Trixie, you are 'off the hook' as well. Your future is your own, but if you have no plan, there are some things I could suggest."
Night shook her head, looking at Celestia.
"This is who I am. While it is tempting to wipe away every trace of Nightmare Moon, she is a part of me. As for a new form, a unicorn would be nice. She held up her hooves. "Trying to do everything with these when you are used to doing them with magic is quite a challenge. Also, I wish to be known as Night now. I am no longer Nightmare Moon and I need to start thinking of myself as someone other than her."
"As you wish, Night. So be it," Celestia said as she leaned forward and touched Night's head with her horn. Night felt power flowing into her, her body changing, her nature changing. She closed her eyes as the feeling washed over her, then she opened her eyes and saw that she had wings again and she could feel her magic; her horn had been restored. Her powers were just a shadow of what they had been as Nightmare Moon, but compared to her mortal powers, this was amazing.
"Oh, it's so good to be normal again!" Night flapped her wings for joy as he looked up at her new horn and giggled. She caught herself when she realized who she was with, but a moment later she realized she need not have and bowed again. "Thank you, Celestia. Thank you."
"You are quite welcome, Night. As for opportunities, there has been a task that needs to be done, something I have been trying to find the right person for and you would be uniquely qualified."
"What is that?"
"The Everfree Forest has been quite troublesome lately and I have been thinking of appointing someone as tender of the forest."
"Yes, that would seem a perfect fit."
"You do not need to decide now. It is just one option of the infinite variety that you now possess."
"Were I to accept, that means I would be near Ponyville. It would become like home," Night said more to herself than to the princesses.
"Yes, but it is a very nice place to call home, with good ponies, some who may even become your dearest friends."
"I could accept the thought they could forgive Nightmare Moon, but to be my friends after such events?"
"They are the Elements of Harmony, my dear. They are quite remarkable." An hourglass appeared out of thin air and Celestia started for the door of the tent. "Oh my, the time has gotten away from us. We should be getting along to the party
or as Miss Pinkie Pie assured me, it would be a par-tay." Celestia giggled a little at the idea.
Luna looked at her strangely.
"There's a difference?"
"I can assure you there is quite a difference. I have been to two social functions with Miss Pie in attendance; she took things to a different level both times. So I quite look forward to it. If you want to see what Ponyville is really like, Night, I would highly recommend attending. You are after all the guest of honor."
"I'm sure there was a celebration at my defeat, but why would they do such a thing now?"
"For the simple reason that it's fun. We'd best be on our way," Celestia said.
The three walked the short distance to Ponyville and there were mixed reactions of awe and horror as people bowed and some recoiled. Night started having regrets about not changing her form at this point.
Celestia explained details about the town and pointed out notable landmarks and prominent ponies that they encountered. Finally they approached a building that looked like a giant cake.
"There they are!" they heard Pinkie Pie shout as she threw open the door and gestured wildly for them to enter.
Celestia and Luna entered. The elder princess looked back at Night and nodded her head in the direction of the door.
"Come along, just one last step in your journey," she said with a smile.
"One last step," Night repeated as she walked forward and entered.
Inside were the Elements of Harmony, Trixie and a baby dragon. No one said anything at first, the Elements too shocked to speak. Night looked aroundthe place was lavishly decorated with bright pink everything. A banner over a table overflowing with food read: We're Glad You're Not Evil Anymore!
Trixie found her voice first. "I tried explaining to them that I was not 'evil'!" she said mock indignation.
"I think it is more directed at me, Trixie," Night said with a smile and an instant later she was being tightly hugged by Pinkie Pie.
"We're so glad you could join us! Life's too short to waste time making or keeping enemies," she said happily.
"Pinkie Pie, I take it all back. You aren't totally nuts," Rainbow Dash said, staring with incredulity at Night.
The girls bowed to the princesses once they'd regained their composure.
Twilight looked to Night and hesitantly stepped forward. "I never imagined I'd say this, but welcome back to Ponyville, Nightmare Moon."
Night laughed good naturedly and smiled.
"Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. It has been a strange and painful journey that's brought me back here. And thank you for letting me return. And it's just Night now."
"Ah can't believe that you're the same... thing, that we saw in town just a few months back. I suppose the princess had a good reason to do what she did... I just... I just never would imagine you'd be here now, like this."
"I never would have imagined it either, but I am not as I was then, thanks to Celestia and Luna's compassion and Trixie's friendship. They showed me the path I was on would never have given me contentment or happiness."
"Well, darling," Rarity said. "Perspective does come at a price, but it is worth it. I am Rarity. Welcome to our humble town, Nightmare Mooner, that is, Night. Now, as for you, something should be done. That mane, it needs some sort of style; it's too unruly and perhaps a scarf or something to take the edge off the dark colors. You need a visit to the spa and then a total makeover, dear."
Night looked over the Elements and smiled. While the rainbow colored one was still silent and suspicious it wasn't the overt fear or hatred she had feared. However, the yellow and pink one was rooted to the spot where she sat, just staring at her with wide fear filled eyes.
"So, is she a princess or something?" Rainbow Dash asked, pointing a hoof at Night.
The princesses looked to each other and then back to her.
"She is not a princess, but she is... family of a sort," Celestia said.
Night turned and looked at the princesses in surprise and smiled widely.
Pinkie Pie got behind Rainbow Dash and pushed her forward toward Night. "Go on, welcome her to Ponyville and make nice."
Rainbow Dash glared at Pinkie for a few moments, then the pegasus looked Night up and down with a suspicious eye.
"Welcome to Ponyville. You've got a long way to go before you think you'll be a friend of ours. I'll be watching you."
"Dashie!" Pinkie Pie protested.
"Hey, you were there Pinkie. You know what she was planning to do."
"I know, but people can change, Dash. You didn't see what I saw, such a broken hearted pony, ready to just lay down and die," Pinkie Pie said with remarkable seriousness.
"Yeah, maybe she will, but we just need to be careful."
Applejack stepped forward and took Night's hoof and shook it.
"The name's Applejack, pleasure to meet you, Night. Welcome to Ponyville. If'n you really did have a change of heart, then you're welcome here anytime."
"Thank you, Applejack. I will endeavor to show myself worthy of the second chance I have been given."
Pinkie Pie then began pushing the yellow and pink pegasus, and she moved so reluctantly that her hooves left little grooves on the floor.
"Fluttershy, say hello," Pinkie Pie grunted as she pushed the pegasus across the room.
Night tried to put on her least threatening face and smiled. "Hello Fluttershy."
"Okay, close enough," Pinkie Pie said with a laugh.
Seeing the party was off to an awkward start, Pinkie Pie put on some music and began singing and dancing, trying to lighten the mood.
"Equestria girls, we're kinda magical..."
The others began to relax and enjoy themselves. After a while they joined in the singing and dancing along with Pinkie Pie. Night watched them dance, comparing dances from a millennium ago to this modern dancing and music. That music could be recorded on these disks and played back at will was amazing.
Night hesitantly began mimicking the moves of the other ponies, trying to let her mane down and join in the merrymaking, since this party was meant to welcome her into their world. After a few songs Pinkie Pie brought out a truly magnificently decorated cake, the likes of which made the cupcake she'd had pale in comparison.
As Night looked at the others, while there was still some suspicion and hostility, they were allowing her to be a part of thisthey trusted Celestia, and Celestia was vouching for her character. To call this place home, to have a place here in the lives of these poniesand it was obvious that Celestia wanted her to stay here, despite giving her the option of refusing her offer of tender of the Everfree Forestshe wanted Night to be among the Elements of Harmony to continue her journey of wisdom and understanding under their tutelage. There were many more worthy than Nightmare Moon to be given a second change who would never get it. She wouldn't squander the opportunity.
"Night?" Pinkie Pie asked with a bit of concern.
"I am sorry, I was thinking of something. If I may make an announcement first?"
Princess Celestia, I will accept your offer," and she could see Celestia was clearly delighted by the decision.
"Excellent!" Celestia called for attention, though she already had it. "Ladies, may I introduce Night, official tender of the Everfree Forest."
"Well, she's gonna have her work cut out for her," Rainbow Dash said, still sulking a bit over the turn of events.
"Oh yes, uh, it is a rather
frightening place, especially at night, no offense."
Night stepped forward. "I am the one who made it what it is, so it is my duty to do what I can to set things right."
"And with that duty comes something else," Celestia said, pointing with her horn towards Night's flank. Three fir trees appeared, and Night felt tears of joy coming.
"I am whole again," Night said. "I will do my best to keep the forest safe and provide safe passage to all who enter peaceably."
Celestia smiled and looked at her friends.
"Twilight Sparkle, if she's to be official tender, then we'll need to arrange accommodations for her. A place in or near the forest. We'll need to have an expense account set up, furnishings."
"We could refurbish part of the old castle," Twilight offered. "It seemed structurally sound in most parts."
Celestia blushed, appearing sheepish. "Um, well, the castle met with a bit of an accident and it's
"I may have overreacted a bit and destroyed the ruins."
"So you ruined a ruin? What does that make it?" Pinkie Pie wondered aloud.
"A memory. The castle and its history and secrets are gone forever. The first step in healing that forsaken place."
Twilight looked in alarm to Celestia.
"But Princess, that was a turning point in Equestrian civilization. A piece of our history."
"History for some, a tortured memory for those of us who lived through that time," Celestia said sadly, her anguish clearly written on her face.
The look on the faces of the ponies and the tension in the room made it clear to Night that this is what everyone wanted to talk about, but no one wanted to be the one to just come out and say it.
"Yes, it was I you encountered in Ponyville that night," Night said, turning to face the ponies in the room. "I was planning on destroying you all and plunging the world into eternal darkness. Celestia would protest my saying so, but it was I and not Luna who was doing it all. What you encountered at the time was a parasite that used Luna as its host. I fed on her anger and jealousy, fanning the flames to feed my hunger and drove her to madness. We were one and when you rescued her, Celestia discovered that there was still some small connection between us that hadn't been broken and it was only by turning me into a mortal that she was finally able to set Luna free. I came to understand what I was, a soulless creature of darkness that had been given a soul. I had to learn to think and feel and understand the very creatures she wanted to destroy. Princess Celestia, Trixie and Pinkie Pie helped me see the world through your eyes and showed me life is worth living."
Then Night turned toward Pinkie Pie.
"Princess Celestia and Trixie showed me five of the six Elements of Harmony, but I was dangling at the end of my rope, ready to just give up and let go when Pinkie Pie appeared and showed me the last piece of the puzzle, the Element of Laughter."
Upon hearing her name Pinkie Pie lifted her head from the cake she had been eating, icing all over her muzzle.
"Oh, you're welcome, Night. It was a fun dream. I'm glad I could help." She resumed stuffing her face while recounting her story of the events of Night's dream.
Seeing her eating finally prompted the others to eat, but the mood was a little darker as Night confirmed what they had all feared and assumed. Night finally tried the cake and it was even better than the cupcakes, enjoying several slices.
Celestia reluctantly put down her cupcake and looked quizzically at Pinkie Pie. "That was quite a tale, Pinkie Pie, but what did Death offer you in the wager?"
"Surely it wasn't a one sided contest. It's traditional for him to offer something as part of the wager."
"Oh yeah! He did offer me something, but I can't remember what it is. He said I wouldn't be able to remember because it was too early for anyone to know about those future events, but I do remember that it was really super neato!"
Night noticed Twilight looking strangely at her for a while, wondering if she too had icing on her face.
"Does something trouble you, Twilight Sparkle?"
"You can just call me Twilight, Night. And to answer your question, yes, something is on my mind, but not quite troubling. It's more a matter of irony. Everything I am now, everything I have now I owe to you, Night."
Night blinked in surprise.
"What do you mean?"
"My coming here to Ponyville, my friends, my cutie markeverything in my life came about because of you. You showed me my destiny and you led me to the friends I was always meant to have, the life I was always meant to lead. You showed me the power I had within, who I really was, a pony who I never would have imagined I could become."
Twilight smiled as Applejack put a hoof on Night's shoulder.
"You made some mighty big changes in all our lives, Night. And seein' as how everythin' turned out for the best, we're much obliged to you for it."
Pinkie Pie stepped up hugged Night, getting icing on her.
"You showed me I'm not just a total goofball. I learned that I had a purpose, something for a long time I thought I'd never have."
Fluttershy hesitantly approached her.
"I-I learned how to be braver and more-more assertive," Fluttershy mumbled, averting her eyes from Night's.
Rarity smiled widely. "You showed me my strength and substance, things I can often lose sight of as I obsess about my work or my
vanity," she said, flipping her hair for dramatic effect.
Rainbow Dash didn't approach, but she managed a smile as she looked at Night.
"I was already cool, but maybe after it was all over I was a little bit cooler."
Spike shrugged his shoulders.
"Hey, I slept through most of it, so I didn't learn anything."
That prompted a fit of giggles from the girls and with that the tension in the room lifted and the party resumed, the girls' attention now moving to Luna, giving Night a much appreciated break from the spotlight.