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The Other Side · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Nights of Frights and Butterscotch
"If I'm being honest, my dreams are more like visions. I can't control them."

It was one of those common softball questions Luna had received hundreds of times before. Of course she didn't blame ponies for being curious; it was only natural for them to wonder how the Princess of Dreams dreamt. Standard journalist faire. She smiled at the mare who had begun her interview, feeling fondness for her delicate demeanor and firey blush.

After some silence, Luna prompted the mare, "Did that answer your question? Or were you hoping for more, Miss Ink Blot?"

The mare's jet mane was tied into a tight bun behind her head. It bobbled as she shook her head. "Oh, umm, you can just call me Ink, your highness."

"Only if you just call me Luna. Deal?"

Ink anxiously panned her eyes down the pages of her notebook. She nodded, fixing her glasses on her snout.

Uneasy. I'm intimidating her, thought Luna, frowning.

She'd hoped a public setting would make the pony feel more comfortable. She'd spared cursory time for other journalists in the middle of the city square before. The Canterlot Chronicle had a whole contingent of journalists to sling at her, their noses and quills keen to capture the latest news. Ink Blot must be relatively new to the Chronicle, she thought.

A waitress floated by their booth to take their order on a small yellow notepad. "A latte," said Luna, then asked Ink if she wanted anything, which the mare timidly declined. Luna nodded. She didn't want to push her.

"You say your dreams are more like visions," said Ink. "I've heard of other ponies that are blessed with prophetic gifts. Do they come from you?"

Another one Luna had heard, to which she replied her typical "Yes, but also no."

"Could you please explain?"

Luna chuckled. "I could, but wasn't this interview meant to be about Nightmare Night?"

"Oh...sure. We should get back on topic..." Ink trailed into an uncomfortable silence.

"No, no, I'm sorry." Luna shook her head, forehoof against her forehead. She took a moment to distill her thoughts, mentally chiding her insensitivity. "I'm not the matron of prophetic visions. I don’t create them, but they pass through me. Does that help?"

Ink nodded. "A little." She scribbled notes with a pencil held between her teeth, which was a noteworthy feat on its own. Most of the field journalists the Chronicle sent were unicorns with the advantage of magic to take quick notes. "But back to Nightmare Night." She straightened up in her seat and cleared her throat.

Luna smiled, matching Ink's attentive adjustment with her own. "Ah, the topic du-jour. Ponies worried that Nightmare Night doesn't feel the same without the threat of Nightmare Moon, correct?"

"Sounds strange to want a villain back—oh!" Ink gasped, then attempted to retract her statement.

"No need to apologize, I take no offense." Luna thanked the waitress as her latte arrived. She took a first sip, raising her eyebrows at the sharp bitterness and heat. "It makes sense to me why ponies want to keep Nightmare Moon around. I can imagine the thrill behind the legend, the idea that a dark creature would come out of the moon to eat you."

"Unless you appeased her appetite with candy," added Ink.

Luna nodded over the rim of her paper coffee cup. "Brilliant solution. I love butterscotch by the way. There's a tip for next week."

Ink scratched "Thrilling legend" and "Butterscotch" onto her notepad. It would be a fun, lighthearted addition for the article, thought Luna.

Ink rolled her pencil between her teeth until it reached the corner of her mouth. "Do you worry what will happen to the holiday, now that Nightmare Moon is gone?"

"Not especially. It's a wonderful holiday. Ponies would hate to give it up. Plus..."

Luna trailed her thought. This wasn't the appropriate place to continue it. She knew what might happen if she admitted Nightmare Moon wasn't gone forever. Though it was true, they didn't need to know, but to keep the secret tasted strongly of a lie, and Luna struggled to stomach it.

She buried her lips in her latte, ignoring the burn.

"Plus...what?"

Luna vented the coffee heat through her pursed lips.

"Plus...it's too important to abandon. More than a holiday for ponies to dress up and eat sweets, it's an exhibition of how to properly combat darkness. Laughter. Joy. Butterscotch."

Her statement prompted a small giggle from Ink, which made Luna smile and let out a steady sigh.

Their interview continued for another few questions; what did she think Nightmare Moon would think of the celebration (Oh, she'd despise it!), and what was her favorite costume (Tricky, but probably a possum). Ink also saw fit to inform her that she had prepared a question about what her favorite candy was, but Luna had already answered that.

"What's your favorite candy, then?" asked Luna.

"Choco-Peanut Bites," said Ink. Her tone had lost its nervous hesitance, noted Luna pleasantly.

"And what do you think about the outlook of Nightmare Night?"

"Honestly, I'm not the best pony to ask that. More of a Hearth's Warming fan." She shook her head, laughing wryly. "In fact, that's probably why the Chronicle wanted me to collect this scoop. They knew I didn't have a strong opinion about Nightmare Night."

"Once again, no offence taken," said Luna, chuckling.

The pair shared pleasant smiles, having finally reached a social equilibrium in which neither had to seriously worry about what the other had said. It finally felt like they were connecting in a manner that transcended professionalism, which Luna felt was the most genuine way to handle interviews. Others would swarm her for a scoop, then immediately leave once they'd devoured the information they needed. Ink did not, which was why Luna took an immense liking to her.

Ink set her pencil and notebook aside. She placed her hooves on the table.

"Do you mind if I ask you more about your visions? Off the record, of course."

"Of course," echoed Luna. She sipped through the final quarter of her coffee. It had gone cold. "What would you like to know?"

"Anything, really. What kind of futures do you see? And whose futures?"

Luna blinked. It took her a moment to find an answer that wouldn't be a lie.

"I see mine. Mostly, it's the very far future. I see what I will become."

Ink hesitated. She felt she was approaching a line, and she wasn't wrong.

"I really shouldn't ask..."

"Go on, dear."

She gazed up at Luna, a lens of tears magnified through her glasses.

"Do I...ever become a great violinist?"

The question surprised Luna. "I..."

"It's okay, you don't have to answer. It was a dumb question."

"No! It's not that..." Luna laughed. She was relieved that Ink hadn't pressed to know more about what Luna's future was. "The visions I receive...they don't tell me who will be your true love, or how successful your career will be. In fact, they barely give me any distinct picture to work with." She paused to think of an illustration. "If the future was a loaf of bread, my visions are like the scent wafting from the bakery. I only get a sniff. As far as I know, this holds true for the visions other ponies receive."

"I see." Ink stiffened. Her expression seemed puzzled, conflicted.

Luna coughed. "So...you play the violin? You should show me sometime."

At this suggestion, Ink's expression brightened. She launched into details about her upbringing in a household of journalists, and how thrilled her parents had been when the Chronicle hired her, and where she hid her violin whenever her parents came to visit.

For the time being, Luna relaxed, feeling her secret was safe.

***


That night, Ink had a dream.

She was atop a mountain, taller than anything else. So high, the sky was space instead of blue. It was cold, and she didn't need to breathe. The sensation was both liberating and terrifying. She didn't need air anymore.

All of a sudden the sun crashed down from the sky. Not on her, nor even the planet, it simply fell away and was gone. It was in the way to begin with, she thought. Blocking out all the stars and the dark void around them. Even the stars were an impurity.

Things grew much colder. The sky was oh so beautifully dark.


She requested an audience with Luna the next morning, under the pretense that she needed more information to supplement the piece she was writing on Nightmare Night.

"We'll put your request through to the princess, but don't expect a response soon," said the guard at the palace gate.

Ink pondered this. "Fine," she said. "I'll wait here."

***


It wasn't often ponies received a private audience with Princess Luna. Her sister, presiding over the daytime, was much more accessible, and tried to make appointments with as many of her subjects as she could sensibly manage. It was far more exclusive, even sacred, to have a private audience with Luna upon request.

"Unfortunately I can't interpret your dream," said Luna. She grimaced, tasting the unpleasant flavor of a lie washing over her tongue. "I remember passing it on to you last night, but I cannot tell you more than that. It was certainly an odd dream." She held up a box of candies, smiling. "Choco-Peanut Bite?"

Ink ignored Luna's offer entirely. "Odd? But didn't you give it to me?"

Luna frowned, setting the box of candies on her desk. She took Ink's distress very seriously.

She rose from her chair, took several paces while staring at the tall ceiling of her study. It had been painted the deep blue of a night sky, with caricatured five-pointed stars scattered all across it, and the constellations traced by silver lines. Had she been around to conduct the design of her own study, she would have done things much differently, yet she didn't let Celestia see how much it irritated her.

"What makes you think it was a vision of the future?"

"It was just like you said visions were! It had a scent!" said Ink. She stared at the floor, stirring the carpet with her hoof. "It...It felt like a warning, I’m not sure. I need to know where it came from and what it means. You said you have those all the time, so could you please help me?"

"I'd like to, I really would, but..." Luna breathed heavily, rubbing her forehead. Ink's description of her dream was so vividly familiar. She'd never heard of anypony else having it before. She's toying with me now, thought Luna, not referring to Ink. "...perhaps you only miss-read it, little one. It's possible our talk yesterday put these thoughts of prophecy in your head, and your subconscious convinced you it was something greater."

"What?? How...how can..." Ink's voice flared with anger for only the briefest moment before simmering down to a smoldering silence.

"Only a disturbing dream, but the memory will pass," added Luna, extending her hoof to the journalist's shoulder. Ink recoiled, sending a stab of pain through Luna's heart.

"Why don't you believe me? You must have seen what I saw!"

"Please, I don't want you to be upset..."

The two stood alone within silence, overseen by a sky of tacky stars.

"I thought I felt something," said Ink slowly. She rubbed her shoulder. "When I first learned to play the violin, you know? Something that tugged me in a way I couldn't explain. I felt a similar tug from this dream, like it was plucking the soul out of my body. Maybe it was really nothing the whole time, and that's all I ever see. Smoke. Mirages. Things that aren't real."

Ink made a curt bow, wiping tears from her eyes. She made her way to the door of Luna's study. "If you'll excuse me, your highness, I have a piece to write. Thank you for your time." Her words were frosted, stiff and formal. She closed the door behind her with a similar tone, leaving Luna feeling cold and empty.

***


Luna hovered through the dream, her wings outspread, her fangs displayed in a cruel, glistening sneer.
She inclined her neck, peered to the sky, then opened her mouth and laughed. The sky began to fall to the earth in a great, gaping wall and a thundering avalanche of icy air. She continued to laugh as it rushed down upon her. It fell and became the ocean.

Deep, deep underwater, where there was no air. No need for air, or light, or warmth. It was absolute. Still she laughed, but there was no sound. Finally, there was no sound!


It was only a brief dream. She awoke with the laugh still on her lips.

"She's mocking me," thought Luna with disgust, rising from her bed. "We'll just see how she likes it."

***


The frontpage article looked very neat and professional, and was one of the most popular pieces on Nightmare Night the Canterlot Chronicle had ever published. They'd never had to run extra print runs during the holiday before. It even earned Ink Blot a promotion, which she couldn't help but accept. Her father couldn't be more proud of his "dyed-in-the-wool ace journalist daughter," and her mother insisted she take Ink's picture while holding a copy of her article.

Ink was happy that her parents were happy, but that was the only reason.

When Nightmare Night arrived, she told her parents she was going to a party one of her friends from work hosted each year. In truth she planned to spend it as she'd spent it in previous years: practicing her violin. After years of practice, she could almost play the entire concerto from memory. If she could nail the solo, she thought, then maybe it would be enough to impress the director of the Canterlot Philharmonic, despite the fact that she had no formal experience, and her only training came from two years under her uncle when she was twelve.

In the midst of practice, she heard a knock on her door. Ignoring it, she went back to her solo. She'd left a bowl of candies on her front porch, and a sign which said "Please Take One" with a little Jack-O-Lantern doodle. Nightmare Night may not have been her favorite holiday, but she wasn't going to be a grump about it.

Again, the knocking came. More loudly.

Ink lowered her violin with a growl. She yelled, "There's candy on the porch!"

"I know that!" came a booming voice. "There's no butterscotch in here!"

Ink set her violin on her chair. She stormed to the door and ripped it open with a glare. Princess Luna stood on her front porch in absurd costume that didn't fit her properly. Her sheepish face poked out of a fuzzy white suit, muzzle capped by a pointy, whiskered nose. A pink, ropy tail hung limply from her hindquarters.

"Can I help you, your highness?"

"Yes, I believe you can. It seems your candy bowl is out of butterscotch, and I—" She was unable to finish her sentence before Ink closed the door in her face.

Luna knocked on the door again. "I was only kidding! Ink! Please, come back!"

Ink did not return. Luna felt a tug on her costume's tail. She whirled around to see a group of small foals, impatiently waiting to get access to the candy bowl. Luna stepped away from the porch. As she did, the sweet melody of a violin caught her ear. She trotted around to Ink's parlor window and peered inside. The music wasn't bad by a long shot. Ink wasn't a virtuoso, but her music was still lovely to hear.

"Ink, please hear me! I need to tell you something!" Luna knocked on the window. "Can you please come to the door?"

Instead, Ink came to the window and closed the curtains.

"Very well," said Luna slyly. "If you'd rather not know what your vision meant, that's fine."

She heard the front door open a moment later. Ink stepped out onto the porch, glaring through her glasses. Beneath the cold disdain of her glare, the mighty Princess of the Night seemed to wilt.

"You mean the vision that didn't mean anything?"

"It did mean something. Before, when you asked, I wasn't sure how to reply. So I lied."

Luna raised her eyes and the pair of ponies shared an uncomfortable silence. Out in the streets of Canterlot, the cheers and hollers of children undercut their silence drastically. Each one felt they needed to say something, but couldn't work it out.

Finally, Luna spoke. "I...um...liked your music. You play very well."

"Oh. Thanks."

Ink rubbed her foreleg.

"I like your...outfit."

"Thanks. It's a possum. Dreadfully itchy, though," said Luna as she scratched herself.

Ink snorted. Luna blushed.

"Shall we take a walk?"

"Sorry," said Ink, covering her mouth. "Princess of Possums is still cracking me up right now." She stepped down from her porch. "Yeah, let's take a walk."

"You should put on a disguise. It is Nightmare Night, after all."

"I don't have a costume," admitted Ink.

Luna pulled a set of plastic fangs out of the pouch of her costume. "Here," she said, winking. "I've washed them."

Ink shoved the teeth into her mouth.

"There. Howth thith?"

Luna laughed. "Utterly terrifying."

The two ponies vanished into the streets, piercing the night with laughter.

***


Luna had practiced for this sort of event in her head. She'd worked out all the details she might need to share, if she ever decided to tell somepony the truth about Nightmare Moon. Of course Celestia knew, and had worked out her own scripted explanation. She didn't think Celestia had ever needed to share the truth, either.

Throughout her explanation, she watched Ink's expression change from puzzled to disbelieving, to almost angry once again. Now she'd returned to puzzled, slowly working back through each of the pieces Luna had described to her. When she arrived at the end, she heaved a weighty sigh.

"It's...a lot to process," Ink said, having spit out the plastic teeth a long time ago. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the world would end, but I didn't think it would be her job."

Luna nodded. "Sometimes the visions she grants me slip through my mental barriers, and behold, another prophet is born."

It was the truth, in a perverted way, that prophecies came from Nightmare Moon. Ink had laughed this off at first, having only heard this as a fringe superstition taken seriously by absurd religious groups and huckster fortune-tellers. Hearing it from Princess Luna herself gave her serious pause for thought.

"But did it mean anything? In my vision, I was on a mountain. I felt cold, inside and out. I saw the darkness of space and welcomed it to me. Why did Nightmare Moon want to show me all that?"

Luna thought for a moment, then suggested they head to the Nightmare Night Fair that was being held in Bridle Park. It didn't answer Ink's question, but it would give her a chance to think of a good response. She would have to go slightly off-script.

"I don't yet understand why she sends visions to specific ponies," Luna replied as they walked. A group of nearby children screamed at her grotesque costume, without her needing to add any scary actions. "All she wants is to get out so she can inspire fear, which is why I fight to keep her locked inside. The more ponies know the truth, the more despair will take hold, and the stronger she'll grow. As I said, her first appearance was too soon. She only escaped because I was foolish and wanted her to escape. Thankfully, her power was weak enough to be fought back."

"So, there wasn't anything in that vision for me specifically?"

They were nearing the park, Luna could tell from the growing sound of lively music spilling through the streets and the crowds of costumed ponies congealing around them, all walking toward the source. She grinned at them, sticking her tongue out at the children, getting delighted laughter and screams alike.

"It's possible she saw how you and I were becoming friends. Perhaps she wanted to show you the monster I would become. Perhaps she knew you would force the secret out of me."

"Oh." Ink laughed weakly. "Does that happen to all of your friends?"

"No. She must have thought you were special."

Several grinning pumpkins greeted them as they approached the park. The Nightmare Night fair surrounded them in games and laughter and colorful street fireworks. Ink adjusted her glasses to the dazzling lights.

"I guess, in a weird way, that's kind of flattering. To have the Nightmare of the Apocalypse think you're special. Should I be worried about that?"

"I wouldn't let it get to you."

"What about the doomsday in my vision? The visions you see every day? Can it be stopped?"

Luna sighed, sweat dripping from her brow. Her costume was both itchy and hot.

"That future is such a long way off that you will never see it. Very few ponies will. And the visions don't torment me every day, in fact, I've never gotten a single vision during Nightmare Night."

"But still,” Ink huffed, “you shouldn't have to live with that monster inside you. It doesn't seem fair."

"Don't focus on Nightmare Moon or her distant, ugly return," said Luna. She smiled, patting Ink on the shoulder. "Focus on a vision that matters, like playing the violin. That's a very good vision."

They approached one of the game booths together. Luna picked up a cream pie that was set out on the booth table. She offered it to Ink. "If you're still worried, just throw one of these at her." She slung the pie at the goofy wooden cutout of Nightmare Moon. The pie hit the cutout right in her snarling face.

"See? Cream pies! Her greatest weakness!"

Ink laughed. She threw a pie, hitting Nightmare Moon right in the flank. She laughed even harder.

"Cream pies and butterscotch, right?"

"Oh-ho! She hasn’t got a chance against an arsenal like that!"

The rest of the night they continued throughout the fair, stopping at booths to play games, or to steal a few of their favorite candies from the sweets stands. They brought up the topic of doomsday a few more times, but it was always to the tune of a bad joke and a flourish of laughter.


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#1 · 2
· · >>TitaniumDragon >>Rocket Lawn Chair
This drew me in right away. The interview is an excellent hook, and it segued nicely into the friendship-building between Luna and Ink. Speaking of Ink, you've done a great job at making her likable, IMO. Still, I do want to get to know her a little better; I never felt like I got much of a sense of her personality, which stopped her from crossing that final line from likable to compelling, for me.

As for the reveal, I'm left just a little disappointed. It just doesn't seem like something that Luna has much to gain from trying to keep it a secret initially. And I also don't quite agree with the decision to make the actual explanation itself happen off-screen. Having to catch up to characters who know something that the reader doesn't is tension-inducing, so it kind of rubs off the wrong way during the critical turning point of the story, where you should be trying to relieve tension with the payoff.

Still, the core of this story is the character work, and I think it carries strongly throughout. The back-and-forth read naturally and entertainingly, which made it hard to stop reading. And in the end, making me want to keep reading is my biggest criteria for whether or not I think a story holds up. I'm sure that I'm going to be rating this one highly!
#2 · 1
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
Tier: That lollipop with the caramel in the center

I'm as much a sucker for "casual princess" as I am "badass princess," and you nailed the mundane side of Luna brilliantly. She's handling Nightmare Night well, even owning it after a fashion, which means the lessons from "Luna Eclipsed" have not only stuck, but been built up since the episode.

Extra point for low-key lore building:
And the visions don't torment me every day, in fact, I've never gotten a single vision during Nightmare Night.

This is equal parts clever and hopeful, because it means that the silly holiday of Nightmare Night works. Based on Luna's data, whether she realizes the implication or not, Nightmare Night acts as an effective bulwark against The Nightmare's machinations in the world. In fact, I'm kind of wondering now if they're prophecies at all and not just The Nightmare messing with them in the hopes of getting them to crack. Which would be a self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess, but those don't count.

Anyway, fun work. Ink Blot is neat, and establishing her as being blasé about something Luna has come to embrace acts as an important, if simple, wall for their budding friendship to overcome.
#3 · 2
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
Good Stuff: I really like the easygoing way Luna and Ink developed their relationship from scene to scene. It's like the Coffee at Three story, and the characters feel so natural and pleasant. The interview was the best bit because we got to see the relationship develop most, but I also liked the ending where Luna and Ink poke fun at each other and make light of the apocalyptic dreams. The prophetic dreams world-building was interesting. And Luna in a possum costume is a funny and cool comics reference! I loved it!

Bad Stuff: The dream bits spliced between the main stuff was distracting, but they were vague and so took me out of the moment. I feel like it would have been stronger to make it obvious what was happening so that we have tension instead of mystery, and I also feel the reveal wasn't strong enough. At times, I didn't believe this was Luna talking. It's maybe just me, but I think she was too chummy at times. Maybe she should be more standoffish and polite, like a princess. That might just be me.

Verdict: Solid Entry. It's nothing ambitious, it fumbles with Luna sometimes, it's muddled with the dream bits, but overall I came away feeling the better for reading it, and I hope it does well.
#4 ·
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
I liked this story - the interview hooked me in - but at the same time, I was left feeling kind of lukewarm about it as a whole. I'm kind of with the above posters on my feelings, particularly >>Bachiavellian

As for the reveal, I'm left just a little disappointed. It just doesn't seem like something that Luna has much to gain from trying to keep it a secret initially. And I also don't quite agree with the decision to make the actual explanation itself happen off-screen. Having to catch up to characters who know something that the reader doesn't is tension-inducing, so it kind of rubs off the wrong way during the critical turning point of the story, where you should be trying to relieve tension with the payoff.