It was not good for an immortal's heart to be beating that rapidly.
She stumbled through the gloom, her pale wings like saddlebags full of lead, dragging like anchors or shredded sails behind a listing ship in a storm. Thorns tore and scratched at her, vines wound around her legs, brambles caught in her mane and tail, branches struck her across the eyes and rattled against her horn.
She knew that she had taken a wrong turn, that she had chosen the pathway to doom rather than the one to safety. But for knowing that she was still utterly lost, the very world turned against her and her body itself on the verge of rebelling as exhaustion and heartache welled inside her. She could barely move her legs without forcing them with all her will. All the paths looked the same. She should have known the right one, but with each turn nothing made any more sense than it did before.
She could hear the distant keening. Was it cries of pain or merely the wind whistling through the hateful branches? She knew there were ponies in danger, but she couldn't find them. She knew and could do nothing. They were calling for her in wordless wails of anguish. If only she could get to them. If only she could do something. She was supposed to be able to do something. What would happen if she didn't?
But she didn't dare stop to get her bearings, for a shadow was behind her, black and terrible as eternal night, chasing swift as the wind on darkening wings, toying with her with a mocking laugh that creaked like the hinges on the gates of Tartarus, watching her struggle with eyes sharp and cruel as icicles.
And so she ran, her eyes wild, foam splattering her begrimed coat, her breathing as ragged as the fitful booming of thunder over the horizon of a forest without end. The spiked vines closed about her, suffocating, choking the breath from her. She thrashed and kicked and struggled, breaking through with a horrible crackling sound that might have been the bones in her wings as much as the hideous growths giving way to her panicked flailing of hopelessly heavy legs.
A chasm howled beneath her skittering hooves as she stumbled to a stop. She did not know what was down there. She knew it was terrible. What ruin could lay in the thick fog that curled its tendrils over the ledge, as if groping for her fetlocks to seize and drag her down. She froze, trapped between the vast shadow of the unknown and the gloating shadow that relentlessly followed her.
She knew that she'd dithered on the ledge a moment too long, as she felt the ground give way behind her as well, leaving her perched on a treacherous ledge that would soon crumble away beneath her weight, letting her fall onto the jagged teeth of the rocks below.
She let out a plaintive moan, weeping freely as the pursuing shadow laughed in triumph and swooped down upon her on a crackling cloud of doom.
"KABONG!" Came the bellow of a silvery voice, followed by the garbled twang of an out of key guitar being used as a tennis racket with the shadowy monster's skull serving as the ball.
She looked up over her trembling hooves, tears washing trails of white down cheeks greyed by fear and grime, to see her sister tossing the shattered halves of the instrument in question over her shoulder and dusting off her fore hooves with a look of immense satisfaction on her face.
Her savior was dangling from a rope leading into the open sky, dressed rather ridiculously in a black cloak and flat brimmed hat, with a domino mask over her eyes. Prostrate beneath her, the nightmare lay sprawled across the dark cloud with its rump awkwardly jutting in the air and a small constellation of painfully throbbing stars and comets orbiting its head as its eyes spiraled in a daze and a swelling bump sprouted next to the base of its wicked horn. With a flourish of her silver shod hoof, the younger alicorn swept off her flamboyant disguise and hovered on her dusky wings in her usual ebon raiment of tiara and torc.
The princess of the night gave a toss of her star speckled mane and smiled down upon her, white teeth and turquoise eyes gleaming in her dark, indigo face. "It's all right now, Tia. This is all just a bad dream, nothing more."
Celestia pawed at the ground, now much more solid beneath her hooves. "L-luna?" She looked around half dazedly. "A... a dream..."
Her younger sister nodded. "Indeed. And if you'd asked me to take a look sooner I could have spared you several restless nights..." She gave her sister a wry, sidelong glance."...and spared Equestria several, shall we say, haphazard sunrises."
The white alicorn's eyes became clearer as lucidity came to her, more tears welling from the corners. "I... I didn't want you to... to see... that." She pointed a tentative hoof at the discombobulated nightmare that lay stunned on the dissipating thundercloud between them.
Luna rolled her eyes. "This? Oh, Tia. This is one of the best aspects of walking in the dreams of others."
With that she, wheeled and bucked the shadowy creature firmly across its upraised rump, sending it flailing and tumbling off the remnants of its cloud with a strangled yelp. It landed with a crash among some of the horrible thorns, its feeble moan rising from the thicket. "owww. I think I landed on my penumbra."
The moon princess cast her elder sibling a smug grin. "Trampling night terrors 'neath my hoof is enjoyable enough as it is, but how many ponies get the chance to give themselves a boot to the cutie mark for being a complete and utter ninny?"
Her expression faded to graveness as Celestia sat heavily down on her haunches and began to sob into her hooves. With a sigh Luna floated down to join her sister, gently taking her into a hug with both wings and forelegs. "Shhh. It's all right."
The elder alicorn's voice came plaintively as she trembled in her sibling's embrace. "It's not all right! You and I weathered a thousand years apart, and now by the grace of the Maker and the courage of Twilight Sparkle and her friends we're together again. I... I don't ever want you to think I don't t-trust you. I don't want you to ever think I fear you. I want no shadows between us. I love you, Luna! But now you've come into my nightmares and have s-seen... seen that... that thing... I... What else could you think but... but..."
Her younger sister pushed her back to meet her gaze. "Tia, I would be astonished beyond reason if my fall and betrayal had left no scars on your heart. The fabric of bad dreams is as much woven from regret as it is from fear."
Luna gave her beloved sibling a smile as she helped her back to her hooves. "How many times must I tell you that the nightmare I became was nopony's fault but my own. Not your inattention, not some shadowy corruption, not Discord or Sombra or the Smooze or a thousand other darksome foes. It was all me, all of my own pride, arrogance, wrath, and foolishness, quite a merry team of drafters all, dragging me to disgrace and exile while I sat in the chariot and whipped them on."
She brushed a tear away from the sun princess' cheek. "You've spent so many years as the peg upon which our realm hung and our dear ponies depended.I think your problem, my dear sister, is that you have stood unwavering, lo these many years, and don't know what it's like to really fail. You fear it, because you do not understand it."
Luna held up a hoof as her sister started to protest. "I'm not talking about mistakes, defeats, or even willful stupidity. A careful reading of a thousand years of history tell me you've suffered from a full measure of those while I wasn't around to keep an eye on you." She followed with a wink and the slightest smirk that caused Celestia's ears to edge backwards as the beginnings of a pout came to her face.
Both sisters' faces became serious as the younger princess continued. "No, you never failed at being yourself. You never turned away from the light into darkness. You stayed true. Whatever mishap or mayhem befell you, you rose again like your sun, unconquered and unbowed no matter how your heart might be breaking within' your breast." She gave a gentle tap to Celestia's chest.
A soft smile came to Luna's face as she looked her sister in the eyes. "When I walk the dreams of ponies and chance upon their nightmares, there are usually two sorts of advice I have to give them."
She glanced over her shoulder at the lightening sky and withering thorns."The first is for them to face their fears and not let them consume their lives. You, my dear sister, have faced such fears as would make the mightiest of beings weep like a foal for its mother. I, myself, have been fear, and know full well how its power is as fleeting and tenuous as the stuff of dreams, gone with the flutter of an eye."
The moon princess leaned in and took the sun princess into another hug. "The other is to let go of their regrets, keeping only that which might be learned from. I have passed through my darkness and am renewed in the light. My heart is full, and will remain so as long as I have you and ponies like you to reflect upon. And you have done your work well over the years, sister. The love and harmony of our fair land is testament to that."
A fragile smile blossomed on Celestia's face as she squeezed her younger sibling tighter and let out a sniffle. "When did my silly little baby sister become so wise?"
Luna let out a chuckle. "It took me a thousand years, just like my big sister."
She nuzzled her elder sibling's neck and whispered in her ear. "Now it's your turn to chase somepony!"
The white alicorn let out a squawk of surprise as something tugged hard on her tail. She turned and saw a sparkling blue aura wrapped around the etherial appendage's root. Her ears twitched as she heard the rustling thud of little hooves on grass and the sound of long remembered laughter, and turned back to see an indigo filly with a sky colored mane traipsing through a grove of beautiful, half-wild fruit trees with her wings flapping gleefully and the same blue glitter around her horn.
Celestia brought her hooves to her mouth, her eyes glistening as a smile lit them up. "Oh! The... the orchard! Oh how long has it been?"
A laughing voice called from among the gently rustling trees. "Long enough for me to make it to the big apple tree and back before thou couldst even untangle thy stilts, thou gangle-legged, kink-tailed hobby horse!"
A white filly with a fluttering pink mane kicked up her heels and flapped her dainty wings as she galloped into the glades, a heartfelt laugh in her voice. "I shall feed thee a green one when I catch thee, Woona!"
Luna sat in the shadow of the columns that bracketed the windows of the royal breakfast nook, sipping contentedly at a final cup of tea as she idly worked a word puzzle in the Canterlot Chronicle with a chewed pencil floating in her magic. The morning sun shone through the crystal panes and laid gold across the spotless white tablecloth on her sister's as yet unoccupied side of the table, the silver and crystal glassware gleaming brightly.
The doors of the vaulted chamber swung open, the deeply bowing heads of two royal guards preceding the radiant form of Princess Celestia, who gave a luxurious, but regal, grunt of pleasure as she stretched her wings and arched her back. "Good morning, my beloved sister."
Luna smiled over her cup and saucer. "Did you sleep well, O diarch of the day?"
Her sister smiled back as she sashayed to the almost endless row of chafing trays arranged before the backdrop of a clear morning sky, plucked up a plate in her magic, and started piling up an impressive stack of pancakes. "Like a log cut from a tree that had been planted next to a sheep field, wrapped in blankets, and watered with nothing but warm milk."
The dusky princess of the moon stifled a yawn as she set her cup down next to the stack of early edition newspapers by her own empty plate. "Mmm. Glad I am to hear it, Tia."
She dabbed at her chin with a napkin before laying it aside and climbing to her hooves. "Now speaking of getting some "shuteye" as the ponies out west so quaintly call it, if you'll give me your royal leave I'll be toddling off to bed. I've had quite a busy night indeed."
Celestia paused from pouring herself a tall glass of orange juice while simultaneously drenching her tower of pancakes with maple syrup, strawberry sauce, honey, and scooping large dollops of whipped cream onto it for good measure. A knowing smile appeared on her face.
She ambled over to her sister's side, and gave her a loving peck on the cheek. "Sweet dreams, Luna."
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.