Nightmare's Nightmare, a Fireside Story and Unexpected Kindness
When Nightmare Moon was aware again, she found herself standing in the throne room of the opulent palace-temple she had constructed for herself over the thousand years of her imprisonment on the moon. A structure she was going to bring to Equestria, one she was sure would dwarf any structure ever created by ponykind.
A dark misty form began to materialize on the throne. It was her old self, her true form and it looked down at her with contempt.
"You have failed me, Nightmare Moon," it said, its voice wavering and shifting.
"And you have failed me," she replied to the phantom.
"You have lost us everything. You have reduced us to eating off the ground like an animal. Stealing just to eat. You are pathetic. A worthless construct, existing only out of Celestia's pity. As helpless and vulnerable as a newborn. Do you feel the weariness in your bones? How does it feel to grow older, knowing that one day there shall be an end to you, knowing every tick of the clock brings you closer to the grave?"
"Why have you turned on me? We are one! How can I afflict myself?"
"Nightmare Moon, we are a tormentor and you have robbed me of my prize. You are all that is left to me, the only one under my woefully diminished power. When you wake you are beyond my influence, but here in your dreams, I am still queen."
Nightmare Moon found herself engulfed in a whirlwind of despair and emptiness as the phantom tormented her. Despair ate away at her as she died a thousand nightmarish deaths.
Amid the horrors she became aware of a distant voice, each word illuminating the darkness like a beacon of light and she desperately reached out for it.
"Night, wake up!" Trixie called.
Nightmare Moon's body convulsed as her eyes opened and she let out a cry of anguish, her heart pounding and chest heaving.
"Good gracious! When you said you were afraid of your dreams, I thought you were exaggerating. Are you alright?" Trixie asked, clearly worried.
"As long as I do not dream, I am well," she moved and found herself now free of ropes, but bound in another way. "What is this you have put on me?"
"A harness. As you broke my walking horse, you are going to earn your keep and pull my cart until I get it fixed."
The weariness and horror of her dreams immediately faded in the face of this newest indignity.
"How dare you demand the mistress of the night do the work of a draft animal, you
" her protest was cut off by a rope around her muzzle. A moment later she felt herself being levitated off the ground and moved to the front of the cart where she was bound to it. She glared back at Trixie.
"Night, if you're smart you'll swallow your pride and pay for what you did as quick as possible. Then again, you can fight me every inch of the way and make things a hundred times worse. The choice is yours. Either way, let us be on our way. You have delayed me far too long already."
Nightmare Moon ignored her command, turning away from her and refusing to budge. There was a loud cracking sound and Nightmare Moon felt a stabbing pain across her flank.
"Fine. So be it, we'll do this the hard way. Hyah, mule!' Trixie shouted and struck with the whip again.
Nightmare Moon turned back, her anger boiling over. Trixie levitated the whip threateningly and Nightmare Moon turned away, snarling and mumbling curses as she threw her weight against the bonds and the cart slowly creaked into action.
"See, if you had simply done what I asked, you could have avoided all that."
Nightmare Moon's muffled curses were the only reply.
The past ruler of Equestria suffered through all manner of yesterday's aches and pains, but even she had to admit there had to be some magic at workthe cart was not as heavy as it would appear and the toil not as strenuous as she expected. But that in no way cooled her anger at having to bear the load. She, the mistress of the night, Queen of the Moon, was pulling a cart after having been accused of being a common thief.
She trudged on, cursing the heat and garish light of the bright sunny day. As if in response to her thought, something hovered onto her head, shielding her eyes.
"This will make things a bit easier on you, Night," Trixie said, levitating a hat identical to hers on to Nightmare Moon's head. Nightmare Moon snorted and shook it off, giving Trixie an angry look.
"Why so obstinate? It's a hot day with a bright sun, yet you'd spite yourself even the comfort of a hat."
They traveled on a while longer, Nightmare Moon cursing Celestia in her heart as the sweat ran down her brow from the heat. Trixie would have her stop to rest time to time throughout the day and into the evening.
"Enough, Night. We will stop here and make camp," Trixie said.
Nightmare Moon gladly turned off to the side of the road, pulling up the cart underneath a large tree. She slumped to the ground, grateful to finally be off her hooves. The hat levitated again and landed in front of her.
"I want you to wear it, Night," Trixie said, now more of an order than a request. She loosened the rope around Nightmare Moon's muzzle.
Nightmare Moon snorted.
"I do not need your pity, mortal."
"The Great and Powerful Trixie is not without compassion and in spite of what you have done, I've been trying to make this as easy as I can. But if you continue to fight me, nothing good will come of it. I have no obligation to treat you kindly. If you were really Nightmare Moon, you'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"
Nightmare Moon just glared at the laughing Trixie and turned away. Shortly a bowl of water levitated in front of her.
"You have refused food and water all this time. You must at least be thirsty after that, or are you too proud to even drink water?"
Thirst had been clawing at her dry throat, but she had refused to show her weakness to the unicorn. After having given in to the craving for food earlier, she decided there was little point in refusing water and she began drinking.
She watched jealously as Trixie used her magic to gather up some wood and start a fire and begin preparing a meal. Nightmare Moon envied those magical powers as she rubbed the spot on her forehead where her horn had been.
"I hunger," she admitted.
"Nature has provided its bounty all around you. Eat to your heart's content," Trixie replied, gesturing to the grassy meadow around them, not looking up from the meal she prepared for herself.
Nightmare Moon looked from the meal Trixie was preparing to the grass and wildflowers around her and muttered a few choice words about Trixie under her breath. As she ate, she took a few steps and was surprised she was beyond the normal distance from the cart the bridle normally allowed. Curious, she took a few more steps before being stopped at about ten feet.
"How long must I suffer this indignity?" she demanded.
"Tomorrow we'll arrive in the village of Clocksburro, and I'll do a show there," Trixie said, a map popping into view in front of her. "Then we take the Great Celestial Road East and hopefully meet up with the Queenlion, Fatestorm & Smith's Carnival of Wonder. They're finishing up in Hoofington. Once we meet up with the circus, and if all goes well I'll call your debt paid and you'll be free to go; if things don't work out, well, then we may be on the road for a while."
Nightmare Moon snarled and stomped her hooves.
"Grin and bear it, Night. You have no one to blame but yourself for your current circumstance."
"Celestia is mocking me. It was she who sent you to torment me."
"It was lunch that put me where I was, and it was you destroying my possessions that created your torment. Don't blame her majesty."
Nightmare Moon grumbled and resumed eating. As night began to fall, she started to feel uneasy as the shadows lengthened and the forest around them grew dark, vividly recalling the horrors of the previous night.
This could not be happeningshe, the mistress of the night, was finding herself afraid of her very own element. She turned and stared at the fire, finding something strangely comforting in its brightness and welcoming warmth. She sat near it, craving the illumination driving away the darkness that was engulfing them.
Trixie joined her by the fire. "What is your story, Night? How did you end up in the Everfree Forest? You are well spoken, yet you look almost feral and act like you've never met another pony in your life."
"Why do you insist calling me 'Night?' You know my true name."
"Yes, of course. How could I have forgotten," Trixie replied, rolling her eyes. "You were defeated by Celestia and cursed with mortal life just yesterday. It's not been a good day for you it seems. So, if I understand my mythology right, Nightmare Moon was Celestia's sister; but Luna is her sister, so that means you're Luna?"
"Yes. I was the part of Luna that made her great! It was I who was destined to rule all of Equestria! It was she who fought me when it was all within my grasp, who let it all slip away. She was too weak."
"I recall Nightmare Moon wanting to shroud the world in eternal night."
"You do realize the whole food chain is based on sunlight. No sun means there'd be no warmth, no food and very quickly no ponies. Your master plan would have left you alone as the sole inhabitant of a dead frozen rock. How was that going to do anything for you?"
"I would have kept a remnant of ponykind alive by my powers. They would never be allowed to forget that every beat of their heart and every breath they took was a gift to them, one that could be taken away at any moment. They would exist at my sufferance and never forget who was their goddess. I would sit on the throne that was stolen from me by Celestia."
"Yes, Celestia, that wicked tyrant who's forced all of Equestria to endure unprecedented peace and prosperity for centuries, who cares for all the people with motherly affection, great patience and good humor."
Nightmare Moon stared at Trixie with an air of righteous indignation.
"It has been custom from time immemorial that when more than one was heir to the throne of the stars that the most powerful would rule. Equestria was mine by right! Celestia knew that at first and accepted it. It was my night that gave the mortals rest from their burdens, the peace of sleep. Celestia's day brought them nothing but toil and endless burdens. It was me they should have loved, not her, the ungrateful wretches!"
Trixie had become more engrossed in the story, now turning her full attention to Nightmare Moon. "Interesting, then what happened?"
"Celestia didn't even care about their love. All she did was spend her days locked away in the castle with her books. She left all the work to me, only showing herself long enough to raise and lower the sun. She'd never even met the mortals who loved her so dearly.
"It was only when I had my fill of them that I, Nightmare Moon, was born. Luna had all she could bear and set me free. I showed the mortals my true power and they grew without the limitations of emotions. I fought Celestia and nearly defeated her; it was only Luna rebelling against me at the crucial moment that allowed her escape."
Nightmare Moon took on a wicked smile. "The first time I fought her Celestia fled, I thought defeated for good. Her powers were no match for mine. I dismissed her as a threat and my reign of eternal night began. However, Celestia returned, having found the one weapon in all of Equestria that could defeat me: The Elements of Harmony."
"Right," Trixie said. "Honesty, loyalty"
"You need not list them for me," Nightmare Moon said. "Celestia drove me off, banishing me to the moon for a thousand years. I returned and too late I discovered that it was she who had arranged my escape, who brought all the Elements of Harmony together in one place. She had led me by the hoof right into her trap."
Nightmare Moon felt a strange heaviness in her chest as she talked about the events of that night. "All for the sake of rescuing Luna from me. They took her from me. They stole a part of me."
"Quite the remarkable tale, Night," Trixie said, her expression one of amusement, for clearly she didn't believe a word of the story. Nightmare Moon was too weary even to muster anger at this point.
Her body ached from the exertion of the journey and knew tomorrow would be more of the same. One more thought forced her to speak.
"What does the world know of Luna?"
In response, Trixie levitated a gold coin over to Nightmare Moon and it hovered at eye level for her to see in the firelight. On one side was the profile of Celestia, her sun mark, and around the image were the symbols of the Elements of Harmony. On the other side of the coin was Luna in profile, along with her crescent moon symbol, also showing the Elements. The way the coin was designed, it was clear that neither side was meant to be the front or back; both sides were equal. On each side of the coin was the inscription "May the sisters reign in peace for the good of all Equestria forever."
"On the day of Luna's return, Celestia transformed all the coins of the realm to show Luna. As for what the people have heard, the story goes that she was held captive on the moon for a thousand years by Nightmare Moon until she was rescued by the Elements of Harmony," Trixie explained.
"Lies. Luna *was* Nightmare Moon and she was prisoner there by Celestia's doing." She sulked, looking at the fire. "Celestia knows all her power is built on a stolen crown. Why do you think she calls herself 'Princess' rather than 'Queen'? She knows she is not worthy to bear the title."
"So she, who has absolute power over the entire world and even the forces that govern the planet itself for more than a thousand years, who could have demanded that her subjects address her by any lofty title she desired, instead chose the humble title of Princess. I must say, your little story makes me think even more highly of her than I had before," Trixie replied, still amused.
It was not until Trixie began making things appear in the air and creating colorful images in the sky that Nightmare Moon's curiosity forced her to speak again.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Just thinking of tomorrow's show."
The side of Trixie's cart suddenly dropped down into a stage with curtains and strange decorations and musical instruments. Trixie hopped up on stage.
"Ladies and gentlecolts, prepare to be amazed by the Great and Powerful Trixie!" she said, standing upright and conjuring wondrous things as she practiced her act for an audience of one.
Nightmare Moon watched silently, amazed that a unicorn with so modest a level of magic would call herself "great and powerful". Then again, compared to the power she once had, all unicorns were weak and pathetic. A part of her wanted to put Trixie in her place, to mock her feeble displays of power, but then she recalled the bridle and more reluctantly, the whip. She grew angry with herself. Had she become afraid of the wrath of a mortal unicorn?
She looked up from the performance to the moon and like a knife in her heart, it suddenly dawned on her that she hadn't raised the moon. It was no longer her moon. It was Luna's, forever lost to her now. The night now existed as a time of sleep and, unfortunately, of dreams. Her purpose, her talent, her cutie mark, taken from her.
What was to become of the Queen of the Moon if she did not have the moon?
She quietly watched the rest of the show, studying Trixie's act. While she no longer had magic of her own, she still knew the methods and techniques and thought she'd have made a useful minion to the old Nightmare Moon. If Trixie had been one of the Elements of Harmony she tempted that night, things probably would have turned out very differently.
"And I think that wraps it up!" Trixie said, interrupting Nightmare Moon's self-pity. "What did you think?"
"Your act was diverting amusement."
"Well, thank you for that round of indifference," Trixie replied, a bit of humor in her voice.
"I am weary. I need to rest."
"Yes, it is getting late. It's a long haul to Clocksburro, so we'll need to start early if we're to make it there by dusk."
Nightmare Moon sighed, in no way looking forward to another day of meaningless and demeaning toil. A blanket levitated over to her from inside the cart.
"Goodnight, Night. Do try to sleep well," Trixie said as she entered the back of the cart and closed the door.
Nightmare moon wrapped the blanket around herself as she huddled by the fire, trying to fight the sleep that was creeping up on her.
She fought as long as she could, but soon the horrors descended upon her again. Her phantom self and her evil creations fed off her growing mortal weakness, missing no opportunity to mock her. The fresh memory of her story gave them new fuel to torment her with, reminding her how close she had come to victory, forcing her to relive her great defeat over and over. And they took particular relish in tormenting her for her fear of Trixie's power.
Slowly she became aware of a strange cold sensation that seemed to supersede her torment. She woke with a violent start from the chill of rain. The fire had gone out. She and her blanket were soaked. The soaked black pony looked around for cover and sighed when she saw the only dry place was under the cart. Grumbling again, she crawled under the cart, wrapping the wet blanket around her and huddled shivering in the grass.
After a few minutes she heard the door to the back of the cart open.
"You may come inside, Night. There is room on the floor to sleep," Trixie said sleepily.
Nightmare Moon's mind still rang with the taunts of her inner phantom and a part of her wanted to refuse the offer of pity. But she recalled the previous chilly miserable night and started to move when she heard the door begin creaking closed.
"So be it," Trixie said.
"Wait!" she said and came around and climbed into the cart. Trixie looked up from her bed and shook her head.
"Look at you, soaked to the bone. Poor dear," she said. Her horn glowed and then so did Nightmare Moon. In seconds, she was dry.
Trixie levitated her own blanket and a pillow over to Nightmare Moon, who put aside her soaked blanket. She realized immediately the blanket she had just been given was enchanted. She quickly felt its warmth and secretly marveled at such a wondrous devicea self-heated blanket. Trixie opened a trunk and took out an older blanket and pillow and put them on her bed and climbed back in.
"Night night, Night," Trixie mumbled as she was quickly asleep again.
Nightmare Moon felt the warmth driving out the cold and relaxed. Part of her told her to be angry about this, but the comfort it provided was too enjoyable.
Once she warmed up, Nightmare Moon wondered if maybe this was her chance for freedom. Trixie was close enough now, within the range of the tether. She could be done with the unicorn and free of her spell. Not having any particular plan in mind, she tested the tether but found she was now bound to the floor, having just enough length to turn side to side and sit up. Clearly the unicorn was more careful than Nightmare Moon would have given her credit. She relaxed and tried to get some sleep, but took no comfort in the notion, well knowing what awaited her in her dreams.