Part Four: Facing the Nightmare
Dimming light cast long silhouettes over the buildings of Canterlot. Shortly the moon rose. It’s hollowed light sending soft shades over the castle garden. The pale alicorn cast her gaze over the beauty of it all before reverently staring at the moon and the haunting image that made up the Mare in the Moon.
“I didn’t imagine that it was that difficult for you.” Dream Walker stepped out of the shadows. It had taken him several days to make it from the Everfree forest to Canterlot Castle. “Do you miss her?”
“It’s hard not to. Every night I rise her moon and her with it. Every morning I lower it just the same. It helps if I imagine that I am tucking her into bed.” Celestia holds her eyes on the moon.
“So what is this great plan of yours to return Luna to her former glory?”
“Strait to point I see. By the way, how did you make it into the gardens without getting noticed anyway?”
“Are avoiding my question?”
“Not at all I’m just concerned about the security of the castle is all and possibly my castle guards.”
“You guards are fine. I didn’t harm any of them. However, they aren’t exactly the most competent individuals I’ve met. They seem too focused on keeping a presence and being seen. Staying in the light blinds them from what goes on in the shadows.”
“Very interesting. I see both the practicality of this and symbolism.”
“I’m sure you do. Now if you don’t mind what is your plan?”
“You lack a certain finesse yourself.”
“All due respect Celestia, but you may be an alicorn and all. However, you are not my princess. At least not yet. Respect for your authority doesn’t really mean much. Not-”
“I understand completely. You blame my subjects for what happened to your ancestors and I, as their princess, must be held responsible for the tragedy that happened so long ago. It’s not the only thing I feel responsible for.”
“Oh, well I admit you aren't exactly the tyrant that I imagined you would be. You haven’t really shown any manner of hostility toward me. I’m not sure if this is a trick to gain my trust or not. Regardless, even in your memory of what happened to you with… Nightmare Moon, you showed no aggression. You didn’t even fight back. I’m not sure if this is a fabrication or not though.”
“You find it difficult to trust me.” Celestia looked down from the moon and looked Dream Walker in the eye. “I don’t blame you.” She stood up from where she sat. “Now about this plan to save my sister. I hope you trust me enough to help me.”
“I left my village because I didn’t feel like I belonged without a Cutie Mark. In the wilds of Everfree, I would look up at the moon for guidance. In a way, it gave me comfort that I was alone as was the Mare in the Moon. I felt that were alone together which didn’t make the loneliness feel that bad. Now that I know the truth about the Mare in the Moon I will do anything to return Princess Luna to her former glory.” Dream Walker looked down at his flank that was cover by his cloak. “I suppose you could say it is my purpose.” He turned back to Celestia. “So if you are going to do what you can to return my princess to me and her subjects than I will help you any way I can.”
“I am opening up a school for unicorns.” Celestia was so matter-a-fact that Dream Walker wasn’t sure if he heard her correctly.
“What? How- how does that have to do with anything about freeing your sister?”
“The Elements of Harmony needs a new holder or rather holders. Nightmare Moon has consumed my sister to the point that she will not be able to return without the Elements. By operating a school for talented unicorns I will be able to find new holders for the Elements. However, I will need teachers I can trust to help me find potential candidates.”
“This feels a little extravagant. I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more you aren’t telling me.”
Celestia turned to the castle and began walking through its halls. Dream Walker was too curious not to follow. “I know if I am to gain your trust I can’t keep any secrets from you. With that said it’s not that I not purposefully keeping anything from you. It’s just that I haven’t told you yet. You see, I have been the princess of Equestria for hundreds of years now. My reign wasn’t meant to be this… empty.”
“You’re lonely too. Aren’t you?”
“I have seen my subject grow old and pass away only for a new generation to rise up and give away to the generation after them. I may be surrounded by ponies but it’s not always easy for them to relate to me. I’ve lost count as to how many fillies and colts that I have adopted as nieces and nephews.”
“I never would have imagined.”
“After Luna became Nightmare Moon and subsequently the Mare in the Moon my most loyal subjects formed the E.U.P. guard so that I would be well protected and never alone, but it never prevented the loneliness. I trust you because you know loneliness. However, I don’t want any of my subjects to know such a sickening feeling or the emptiness and never have a pony to go to when they are in need. This school is in hopes to raise up new leaders to guide the following generations.”
“Why unicorns? Why not pegasi as well or earth ponies?”
“They may have their own magic, but not like unicorns do. If a unicorn train hard enough they can master great spells and even… control their own age.”
“So that there is at least someone to at least wait with you until you sister returns.”
“How much time will it take for your sister to return?”
“You will have grown old and your bones dust before a wielder of the Elements will have been born in time to use against my sister.”
“So I will never see my princess… No. I can’t allow that. You said that a unicorn, if powerful enough, can command spells powerful enough to control their aging. Teach me. Train me. If you want my loyalty- No. If you want me to consider you my princess as well then allow me to learn these spells.”
Celestia giggled lightly. “If you promise me to remain as casual with me as the day we first me than the libraries of Canterlot will be open you.”
“When my subjects are so formal it’s as if there is a wall there. A wall I can never pass. They may feel that they are paying their respects but it just increases the loneliness that much more.” She frowned but quickly smiled. “I sometimes pull harmless pranks or joke with the ponies I feel closest to just to make sure that casualness remains. I thought you might want a fair warning.”
“Wait. Then am I to expect such juvenile behavior from a princess in the future?” Dream Walker was completely taken aback. Celestia was nothing like what he expected.
“We’ll see what happens the next hundred years now won’t we,” Celestia grinned but she got serious one more. “I have another request of you. Your kind, how many are left?”
He was expecting something like this. That she might want to know more about the night ponies so she could finish them off. “A few. I won’t tell you how many or where they are. If that’s what you want to know.”
Celestia stopped. “You left your own kind because you felt like an outcast. Yet you are still loyal to them.” She smiled warmly. “That’s good. It means you have a good heart under all that rough attitude. I’m not asking so I can plan an invasion if that’s what you are wondering.”
“How did you…?”
“With as mistrusting of me as you are it’s not hard to figure out what you think of me. I was only asking because I think it would be nice to see more night ponies around the castle. Maybe have some in the guard, to know what happens in the shadows. It would also be nice to have a herd of night ponies to welcome Luna back when she returns.”
“Oh. To be honest, I actually couldn’t help you with that even if I wanted to. You see when I left my village I lost my way. The Everfree has its ways of changing on you so it’s hard to navigate or not get lost.”
“In that case would you mind staying at the castle for a while?”
“For starters, you want to learn more spells, don’t you? Wouldn’t it be easier for you to stay here while you begin to continue your studies?”
“I suppose you are right.”
“Also, if you could train the night guards to better fulfill their duties I know I will be able to sleep better at night.”
“So you feel safer?”
“So they are safer. If there is a sneak attack the guards are the first to be in harm’s way. I told you, I don’t want any harm to fall on my subjects.”
“Oh, you really aren’t what I expected you would be.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Now if you are going to live here then you need to know your way around the castle. Let me show you around. I’ll introduce you to my guards in the morning and you can begin training them that evening after full day’s sleep.”
“I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Well saying that you accept would be a huge relief.”
“Ok. I accept.”
Dream Walker had gotten to know the castle fairly the next passing years and had mastered enough spells to be more than an adequate teacher once Celestia’s school for gifted unicorn began. In time he even mastered the aging spell so that he could see the day of Luna’s return. There were many powerful unicorns that were trained, but Celestia wasn’t always concerned with power when it came to determining the next wielder for the Elements of Harmony. The dedication for power and glory commonly outweighed the desire for compassion or friends.
When Dream Walker saw a sonic rainboom one fateful day he hoped that it might be a sign of good things to come. Later that same day Celestia informed of her newest student, Twilight Sparkle. That she believed that that little filly had the potential of being the next wielder of the Elements of Harmony. He, however, was bit skeptical, but he always was. Less so than when he first met Celestia, but she also encouraged him that a little bit of skepticism was healthy and balanced overconfidence. Over the following years, he watched as Celestia carefully played her part. Twilight Sparkle wasn’t their only candidate to plan for, but she seemed the most promising. When Sunset Shimmer fled from the school into a magic mirror Dream Walker was more than disappointed. He actually thought that she had a better chance than Twilight Sparkle. He had thrown everything he could at Sunset, but she passed his tests with surprising skill and creativity. When the day finally came it was Twilight Sparkle who ultimately saved Luna.
When that day finally came Dream Walker couldn’t look at Luna. She seemed so weak and frail. It was as if she was filly all over again. It wasn’t long before she had once again regained her former glory, but by then he couldn’t stand to be in her presence. He could speak to her. He could look at her.
“I know I said having some skepticism is healthy but you haven’t so much as greeted yourself since Luna’s return.” Celestia walked up to Dream Walker. Her entrance gave him such a shock he felt his prostatic that wrapped his horn come loose. When he first arrived at the castle he found the rumors of night ponies returning to being distracting so he created a prostatic to fit into the groove of his spiral horn. The rumor died down and become nothing more than stories older student would tell younger students at the school that a night pony lives somewhere hidden in the school and would hunt any student who let their grades slip. He was fine with those rumors and jokingly spread from time to time himself. Claiming that the night pony lived in the dungeon or in a tower or in a secret passageway. Even Celestia chuckled at what the legend had become. As for his eyes, he wore glasses with tinted lenses to hide his nocturnal slit eyes. Plus the glasses help tolerate the sun whenever he was out during the day.
“I failed her.” Dream Walker closed the book he was reading.
“How can you say that? We have worked well over a century to return my sister, your princess, back to us, and you say you failed her.”
“I wasn’t there for her when she needed her subjects. Instead, the bat ponies we found a few years ago aided her back to strength.”
“So what? You are the one who convinced them to stay. They are even her escort.”
“Yes, them. Not me. I couldn’t be around her when she was recovering because I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover. Because I didn’t want to blemish my image of the glorious princess I knew she was. Now that she is recovered I can’t be around her because I didn’t support her. I’m not worth being her subject.”
“What do mean? Is that your old saddlebag?”
“I’m leaving, Princess Celestia. Your hospitality has been more than I could have ever imagined, but it ends up I’m not worthy to stay here.”
“I think I’m the one to make that judgment.”
“When Discord escaped I was helpless to stop his chaos from spreading. During the changeling invasion, all I could think about to protect Princess Luna, but I kept on getting fooled by one changeling after another.”
“In your defense, she wasn’t on the castle grounds during the invasion.”
“I know that know. However, when the Crystal Empire return all I did was sit back and watch.”
“I gave direct orders that no pony was to act until we the situation worsened. Princess Luna wanted to attack, her anger at Sombra for being the cause of her subjects being banished still burns in her. At least the time it did. You gambled on your prized student and it paid off. There would have been no telling what damaged would have been caused had we attacked the Crystal Empire. Regardless there are so many times I could have been the loyal subject that I thought I would be. Even during Tirek terrorized Equestria I did nothing while my princess was imprisoned.”
“Tirek didn’t know about night ponies. We could risk letting him get ahold of your magic.”
“I don’t know why you trying to get me to stay. You’ve been a good friend. A better one than I could have asked for. You even got me really good with some of your pranks.”
“You got a few good ones on me yourself.” The princess chuckled. “Haven’t you ever considered that maybe you could Luna’s student?”
Dream Walker froze. “Me?”
“Yes, you. Twilight Sparkle was my student. She even has one with Starlight Glimmer. Cadence has her daughter to raise. Don’t you think that Luna could use a student as well? I can’t of a better unicorn, and she would be ecstatic to have a spiral horn as her first student.”
“I can’t.” Dream Walker shook his head to remove the fantasy Celestia was beginning to implant in his mind. “I just can’t. It’s tempting. It’s so very tempting, but she would never accept me. I would be a fool for even considering it.”
“Why? Because you don’t have Cutie Mark? I don’t think she’ll care.”
“No. I… It’s because of my Cutie Mark.”
“You finally got yours. When? You always keep your flank covered. I just-”
“I got after I visited you in your dream.”
“You kept it hidden for so long. Why?”
“It would only be a reminder of the past that we have all fought so hard against.”
“You mean to say-”
“My Cutie Mark is the Mare in the Moon down to the very last speck. How could Princess Luna accept me? I would be nothing of a constant reminder of everything that she never wants to be again. How could I do that to her? How could I ever do that to my princess?”
“So this is the real reason you have kept your distance from her?”
Dream Walker only nodded his head tears starting to form.
“Then there really isn’t anything I can do to convince you to stay. I’m starting to think I should be amazed that you have stayed as long as have if this is how you really feel.”
“It is.” He choked.
“Then promise me a few things while you are away.”
“First, never forget you have a home here. Second, at least consider becoming Luna’s student. Finally, return. If I find myself the last alicorn in Equestria again and you aren’t back at this castle then you might be the first pony I might not be able to forgive.”
Dream Walker smiled. “I’ll at least keep that last promise. That is if I don’t get myself killed. It gets pretty dangerous outside Equestria.”
“I might not forgive you if you let that happen either.”
“Well, maybe this might soothe your rage if that does happen.” Dream Walker pulled out the old spellbooks he had grabbed in the Castle of the Two Sister so long ago. “I’ve managed to master all the spells in them, even as perplexing as your day spells can be, so I figured you might want them back.” He placed the Celestia’s and Luna’s old spell books on the desk.
“This means a lot.”
“Yeah, well your horn writing is horrible.”
“I do not. My students have always claimed that I have the best horn writing then have ever seen.” Celestia noticed the smirk Dream Walker was holding back. “Oh, that was a good one. How long were you waiting for that one?”
“Oh, a few decades or so.” Dream Walker finally released his laughter.
“You will be missed, Dream Walker. So don’t think I won’t hesitate to summon you when I need a good joke.”
He scoffed, “In your dreams, princess.” When that the green spiral horn walked out of Canterlot Castle and tried his hardest to not look back.
Celestia pondered on her old friend’s final words. She was certain there was a spell for that.
…of Dream Walker’s Nightmare
More adventures of Dream Walker yet to come.