The ruined castle stood silent, holding its breath at the momentous showdown now taking place within it. At one end of the once-regal room stood a tall, black unicorn, clad in blue armor and with a waving mane of pure magic. Nightmare Moon had returned from a thousand year exile, defeated Princess Celestia, and now all that stood between her and control of Equestria was this small group of young ponies before her.
The ponies were not standing down, they were ready for a fight. They had come here to gather the Elements of Harmony, the magical artifacts that had banished Nightmare Moon in the first place. Led by a purple unicorn named Twilight Sparkle, whose cutie mark was a star-like pattern, they had gathered the elements of honesty, loyalty, laughter, generosity and kindness. Yet they had failed to generate the spark needed to produce the final crucial element. Nightmare Moon had shattered the gathered artifacts in the awkward pause after the failure, and now watched them cautiously. Why were they not backing down?
"You think you can destroy the Elements of Harmony just like that?" The purple unicorn was lecturing her now. "Well, you're wrong, because the spirits of the Elements of Harmony are right here!" She began to list the other ponies, indicating them as she went.
"Applejack, who reassured me when I was in doubt, represents the spirit of Honesty!" Applejack was an orange earth pony with a blond mane, wearing a cowboy hat and with three apples for a cutie mark. She watched alertly.
"Fluttershy, who tamed the manticore with her compassion, represents the spirit of Kindness!" Fluttershy was a yellow pegasus, with butterflies on her flank and light pink hair. She seemed almost embarrassed by the attention.
"Pinkie Pie, who banished fear by giggling in the face of danger, represents the spirit of Laughter!" The aforementioned pink earth pony outright beamed, colorful balloons dancing on her flank as her buoyant pink hair bounced with her movements.
"Rarity, who calmed a sorrowful serpent with a meaningful gift, represents the spirit of Generosity!" A pure white unicorn with purple hair and a cutie mark of three gems stood proudly.
"And Rainbow Dash, who could not abandon her friends for her own heart's desire, represents the spirit of Loyalty!" The appropriately named blue pegasus with rainbow mane and tail sported a multi-colored lightning bolt on her flank, and looked outright arrogant.
Twilight wasn't done yet. "The spirits of these five ponies got us through every challenge you threw at us!"
Nightmare Moon was frustrated, "But you still don't have the sixth element! The spark didn't work!"
"But it did," countered Twilight. "A different kind of spark." She looked back to the other ponies. "I felt it the moment I realized how happy I was to hear you, to see you, how much I cared about you. The spark ignited inside me when I realized that you all... are my friends!"
She turned back towards the taller unicorn, tilting her head up to meet Nightmare Moon's gaze. "You see Nightmare Moon, when those elements are ignited by the spark that resides in the hearts of us all, it creates the sixth element." She took a step back, and finished dramatically, "The element of MAGIC."
There was an instant and tremendous flow of magical energy that seemed to come from every corner of the ancient room, and each of the ponies was lifted into the air as the shattered remnants of the Elements of Harmony took flight, and gathered around each of them. Selecting their new mentors, each element formed into a necklace, attaching itself around each pony's neck and giving off a glow of magical light. Twilight herself took center in this aerial formation as she took control of the Element of Magic, a crown forming on her head.
It all happened in seconds, and as Twilight opened her eyes Nightmare Moon saw the same power that had sent her to the moon centuries ago. She screamed in helpless frustration and fear, as from the group a rainbow-colored beam of magic shot forward and enveloped her, tearing at her armor and threatening to rip the very fur from her hide. She desperately tried to think of a counter-spell, all the while knowing it was hopeless, this was the most powerful magic in Equestria.
And yet abruptly, it ended, and the castle vanished from her sight.
She would have preferred to have passed out, at least then there would have been some respite from the heat and light that suddenly enveloped her like an oven, roasting her beaten body and blinding her. For a moment, she was terrified she had been banished to the sun!
As her eyes adjusted, she found herself on a large, flat, sandy landscape, clearly baked for generations by an intensely strong heat. "Curse you, Celestia," she muttered, trying to get her bearings. Had the solar Princess returned during the attack by the Elements and exiled her here? It was not the magical exile of her previous confinement, she was here in physical form. She dug at the dirt briefly with her hoof as if to confirm it.
The sand was only reflecting the heat back up at her, and her black coat was absorbing it without mercy. Already her armor was growing hot to touch, and so she set off towards the only obvious landmark - a cliff which offered some slight potential of shade. She saw no other pony, musing to herself that if there were any in this land, they were at least wise enough to stay out of the sun.
Although it only took about ten minutes to reach the cliff, she was already miserable - sweat soaking her fur, and the heat of her armor only made bearable by the promise to herself to remove it once she reached the shade. Drawing closer revealed a small victory, there was a cave entrance in the side of the cliff which was more than large enough to go inside - and dark enough to promise some relief. She entered without hesitation, her hooves noisily striking the floor with each step.
The cool darkness was wonderful after the brutal sun, and she did not even bother to light the way as she stepped deeper, just reaching out ever-so-slightly with her senses. She was the Princess of the Night, and she had no fear of the dark. Once she judged she'd reached a central point of the cave, she stopped. With the faintest purple glow her horn lit up, and a similar glow appeared around her helmet, lifting it off her head and setting it on the floor.
"This cave is occupied," growled a voice from somewhat deeper in the cave, and as she turned her head in that direction, two dim yellow eyes lit up in the darkness. They watched her intently as the voice continued. "But I've never seen a horse do that trick before."
The voice was almost feral, and she sensed undertones of a predator. Perhaps a manticore? She was of no mind to deal with a mere beast. "If you know what's good for you," she responded, “you'll mind your place and leave immediately. I've no patience left today."
"Strong words for an herbivore," purred the response, the eyes narrowing in the darkness. "Perhaps you don't know who I am. My name is Scar.” His voice was like honey. Thick, menacing honey. Nightmare Moon stayed alert. "Brother to the King and Prince Consort of the Pridelands?"
"Then return yourself to your Pridelands," she retorted. "Unless you'd like me to buck you there myself."
There was a chuckle in the darkness, and the eyes stayed distant, but perhaps a little brighter. "My mistake," he purred. "It's not that you don't know who I am, but, you don't know where you are. What is your name, horse?"
Nightmare Moon's eyes darkened, and for a moment she considered some of her most horrible spells. She hesitated, however, as some of his words soaked in. She didn't know where she was, that was true, but he did. It sounded as though it were another monarchy, and killing the King's brother would certainly have repercussions. At least until she understood what was going on, she had best play along. It was that, or go back out under the cursed sun again, and she wasn't going to do that. She assumed a more regal air.
"Forgive us, Prince Consort," she responded. She began to use a more formal speech, though her voice was cold as ice. "We are N.. Princess Luna, of Equestria." She used her formal name, the name she used before declaring war on Equestria. "Thou art correct, we have strayed off our path due to a magical accident. What canst thou tell us about this place?" She let her horn light a little again, reaching out with her sensing magic to learn about the creature.. just a lion. Not even a magical beast. She considered this.
Scar took in everything Nightmare Moon said as well, including the hesitation when speaking her name, the glow of her unusual horn, and her mention of magic. Though her fur was dark as midnight, he saw her well against the light of the sun outside the cave, and even noticed the painted marks on her hindquarters. Her armor was unlike anything he'd seen before, and indeed this was why he didn't simply attack on first sight. She was stunning, she was clearly powerful, and she didn't belong here. Thus, he knew, he must become her ally before anyone else did.
They spoke until late afternoon, and although Scar shared much information on the Pridelands, he learned very little about Equestria. Nightmare Moon learned about the creatures of the Pridelands, but in particular she insisted upon learning about the magic of the land, something Scar seemed to hold in disdain.
"We have healers, and they can help, but much of the rest is fakery and outright lies. They rattle sticks, mix the juices of fruits and claim to read the slurry that results. But magic like yours... true magic.. I have never seen before. What more can you do?"
Nightmare Moon frowned in annoyance. “I am not a show-mare," she responded, completely discarding the question.
Scar was left frustrated, but clearly he had already seen a great deal. Her mane alone was a showpiece of power, showing the night sky and moving without the slightest breeze, it seemed to be pure energy.
"I share your dislike of the sun," he commented at last, and smiled. "And the hottest part of the afternoon is upon us. It is customary here to sleep through it, and if we nap now, we should wake in time for dusk. It will be much cooler then, and I can show you the Pridelands in all their glory."
Nightmare Moon nodded, considering all she had learned. Indeed this one was royalty, but, such a weak grip these creatures held! Scar had told her Mufasa was the strongest lion around, yet, he was JUST a lion, he had no magic, no exceptional power, only brute strength. They ruled more or less by being the top predator, yet Scar assured her that their rule was not based on fear.
But something else had leaked out, Scar's frustration. His brother had recently sired a son, Simba, and Scar now knew that he would never become King, something he desperately wanted. He had been subtle about it, and dismissed it with a wave of his paw as not important, but she could tell he was just putting on airs. He wanted to rule more than anything in life.
She used her magic to observe him as he retreated to the furthest, darkest corner of the cave, and laid down to sleep. She sensed him watching her in the dark, and so she feigned rest for a long time, until at last his thoughts slowed, and his eyes closed for true. In sleep his own pretensions evaporated, and she saw a weak, frustrated lion, hurt by circumstance and unable to fight back against his own brother. She understood full well how that felt.
She sent her senses out further, taking note of the creatures hiding from the sun. An entire land where the sun was so hostile that the creatures hid from it, and many only ventured out at night. She smiled, it was just what she'd always hoped for in Equestria. Even if she could work out how to get back there, she doubted that she could ever overcome the Elements of Harmony. She herself had once wielded them, along with Princess Celestia, and used them to stop even more powerful foes. They were the strongest magic known to her, and she had no defense against them.
Maybe ruling the Pridelands would do in its place. If she only assisted Scar, then it might even be legitimate in this land of 'strongest rules'. She laid her head down at last, and closed her eyes, finally resting from her long day.
To see what the night would bring.
The “glory” of the Pridelands which Scar had promised did not amount to much.
Even though most of the lands were awake in the cooler dusk, Scar preferred to remain unseen and distant. This suited Nightmare Moon, who did not yet wish to meet with the other lions of the Pride. But the lands themselves offered little to her.
The primary landmark to which she had been attracted was called ‘Pride Rock’, somewhat unimaginatively. Some great ancient event had stacked boulders the size of houses in the middle of an otherwise flat plain. The lions lived here, in the shade of a great outcropping, and in caves within.
The lands were otherwise flat and nearly featureless, save a deep gorge splitting them, as though an ancient claw had torn the land in two. In the distance was a darker, shadowed place which Scar dismissed as unimportant.
She also learned about the animals living here. These creatures had no industry, no construction, no homes save what nature provided by chance. They lived off the land and by the fates, rather than the industrial planning and working to which Nightmare Moon was accustomed. Yet a simple system of organization had arisen, with the lions at the top. All others were both citizen and prey, save for those favored by the lions and granted amnesty.
It wasn’t much, but maybe it was something. So when at last Scar spoke of the right of challenge, at first throwing it out casually, she took interest.
For several days, the two of them slept through the day, and plotted through the night, separating only to eat. Scar had once brought back a rabbit to eat, which so disgusted Nightmare Moon that she incinerated the remains on the spot. This was a display of magic which Scar had not asked for, and did not wish a repeat of. For her part, Nightmare Moon was able to find plenty to eat once she knew where to look. Traveling using her magic, nobody else even saw her, and any who saw the cloud of purple smoke flit past attributed it to a trick of the dim light. She had shed and hidden her armor in Scar's cave upon seeing no other creature so outfitted, so even if she was seen, none would think her terribly unusual.
“A challenge? You can’t be serious, Scar!”
Mufasa shook his head as Scar confronted him on the Promontory, out in full view of the Pridelands. It was as if the land itself caught its breath, and the animals below stopped what they were doing to watch. Nightmare Moon had followed Scar to the Promontory, and stood back against the wall, watching silently.
“It is my right, Mufasa!” Scar simply stood there. Tall and proud as he stood, the awkwardly thin lion looked ridiculous next to the thick muscles of his older brother. Queen Sarabi stepped forward, standing next to her husband.
“Scar, I’ve known you since we were cubs. You know you can’t do this, why even try?”
Scar’s nostril’s flared, and he growled his irritation. “I have the RIGHT!” he repeated. “You KNOW this, Mufasa!”
Mufasa gently nudged his wife aside, and took a step forward. “Brother, I know you’ve been upset lately. But fighting me won’t solve anything.”
Scar’s eyes blazed as he met Mufasa’s gentle gaze, and he spoke through gritted teeth. “IT. IS. MY. RIGHT!” His head came up and he spoke more clearly. “Accept the challenge or step down, as is law!”
Mufasa sighed and lowered his gaze, shaking his great head sadly. Sarabi went back to the shade where Simba was playing, as Mufasa spoke again. “Very well, Scar. This is madness, but you have always been stubborn. With no other choice, I accept your challenge.”
The two backed off, standing a few paces apart as they crouched, beginning to circle each other slowly. Scar’s eyes gleamed as a smirk began to cross his muzzle, but Mufasa only looked tired and disappointed.
"I'll go easy on you, brother," he whispered as they drew near each other. "You can still concede without losing face."
Scar only stood tall, and sneered at him. "Long live the King," he stated, slowly and deliberately. Then he nodded towards Nightmare Moon.
As rapidly as it had begun, the challenge was ended. Though few noticed the glow of Nightmare Moon's horn, it was hard to miss the results as Mufasa was lifted off the ground, and hurled through the air with great force, traveling so far as to be out of sight before landing.
Panic ensued immediately. Those creatures who had been there to watch, and many of the lionesses, bolted with fear. Sarabi bolted too, not for fear of her own life but terror over the fate of her husband. She chased the direction he had been hurled with more purpose than she had ever mustered, only to have little Simba chase after her with just a momentary glance of horror at Scar.
Yet Scar stood tall and still, barely watching, with the hint of a smile growing ever so slowly across his lips. Nightmare Moon watched him, waiting for the ceremony to end so she could get out of the sun. When at last Scar spoke, only Nightmare Moon and the few lionesses too horrified to run heard him.
"I... am the King."
When Sarabi finally found Mufasa laying still in the bottom of the gorge, she immediately turned and covered Simba's eyes, to prevent him from seeing too much. She held her son gently, as a bright blue hornbill alighted quietly nearby.
"Zazu," said Sarabi, "Watch Simba. I have to make sure..."
The bird opened his beak to speak, but chose not to let any words out. He had seen it all from the air, and it had terrified and horrified him. Zazu hopped down from the branch, and stood between the cub and his father, distant in the dust. Sarabi released the cub and approached her mate.
All the Pridelands understood the meaning when a heartbroken roar echoed from deep in that rift.
It was late in the night when Sarabi finally completed arrangements to leave. She only looked at Scar along her nose as she left Pride Rock for the last time. Scar and the dark mare stood at the tip of the promontory, watching every move. A mare for Queen? What was Scar thinking? But this was not her concern anymore. It was not allowed to be.
She took her son, of course, and Zazu had been loyal to their family since she could remember, she would not leave him to this murderer. Nala was a young lioness cub, and Simba's betrothed. Well, back when that mattered, but she was as good as family, and so Sarabi brought her and Sarafina, Nala's mother. This little party marched off into the desert, feeling the burning eyes on their backs, and the tension that now hung over the Pridelands. As Queen, she thought that she would do anything to help her Pride. She even thought that Scar had loved her once, and for that alone she would have stayed to help. But not with this mare - when she was nearby there was nothing but hunger for power in Scar’s eyes. Help would have to come from elsewhere.
Exile from the Pridelands was nothing to be taken lightly. Sarabi know that there were really only two choices. One was to head north into the Elephant Graveyard. But there was no food there, and the land was overrun with hyenas. They would not welcome lions into their midst, and would certainly kill them all.
The only other option was the great desert surrounding the lands. It would surely kill them as well, but Sarabi had heard of greener lands across the sand. If they had the good fortune to choose the right direction, and could survive the crossing... it was possible. After reflection she had to admit to herself that it wasn’t a much better option than the hyenas.
“What do you think, Sarabi?” Sarafina looked at her expectantly, the younger lioness uncertain. Sarabi realized that she was still the Queen to this one, at least, and that meant she was not allowed the luxury of doubt.
“We must cross the desert,” she answered, and looked down to Simba and Nala. “This will be a difficult crossing, but there is a beautiful land on the other side of it. We will be okay.”
Their smiles reminded her why it was so difficult to lead, and her only hope was that their hope would see them through.
“Can we keep them!?” The warthog looked more like a large puppy, bouncing with excitement. His smaller companion looked a little less enthused. Between them were two lionesses, passed out in the heat but protectively covering one cub each. Zazu perched on Sarabi's shoulder, nearly done in himself, having flown until he found someone, anyone, to bring back.
“Pumbaa, are you NUTS!?” Timon the meerkat climbed onto the warthog’s shoulder to shout directly into his ear. “You’re talking about lions! Lions eat guys like us!”
“What about the little ones?” Pumbaa begged.
“They’re gonna get bigger!”
“Maybe they’ll be on our side!”
Timon threw up his arms in exasperation. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. ‘Maybe they’ll be on our..." He paused in thought. “Wait a minute. What if they’re on our side? Having some lions around isn’t such a bad idea!”
“So we’re keeping them?” Pumbaa looked excited.
“Of course, who’s the brains of this outfit?”
Pumbaa paused, confused. “Uhhhh..."
Timon didn't even miss a beat, "My point exactly!"
Neither Sarabi nor Sarafina were willing to give up their cubs, even unconscious their growls kept the two prey animals at a respectable distance, so instead they were forced to bring water out. Standing a respectable distance back, Timon used his tiny hands to splash a stream of water at the lionesses faces, only to jump back behind Pumbaa when they began to stir.
Sarabi spoke first, "S... Simba?"
Zazu quickly moved in before her, "Your Majesty," he bowed. "The cubs are right here with you, but they need water. These two have brought water, and can lead us to shade."
Sarabi and Sarafina both exchanged a groggy, but confused glance as Zazu stepped aside, revealing the large warthog and a nervously waving meerkat. "Stranger things have happened," noted Sarabi.
After a few hours in the shade of the jungle, and many long drinks from the river running through it, the lions were starting to shake off the heat stroke, and Timon and Pumbaa were beginning to relax in their presence.
"So the antelope says, I ain't lion around to find out!" Timon doubled over laughing at his own joke, backed up somewhat by Pumbaa. Even Simba was starting to giggle at the terrible puns, but the others just looked at each other with quiet patience. Timon had been trying joke after joke, but every one of them was some form of bad lion-centric pun.
"No! No! Wait! Wait! I got another one!" Timon tried to catch his breath, and the rest listened patiently. They owed him, after all.
Scar was King in the Pridelands, just as he had always wanted. Nightmare Moon watched while he strutted around, making himself far more visible than he ever had been before. He would roar from the tip of the promontory seemingly for no reason other than to listen to the lionesses roar back, as she learned they were expected to. Scar was living his dream.
But Nightmare Moon also saw how the lionesses looked at him with fear and revulsion, and how the prey animals were beginning to leave the lands. It frustrated her how little attention he paid to these things, content in simply 'being' the King. As she travelled, she heard whispers. The lionesses were most cruel.
"He doesn't care about anything but strutting about like a turkey," one grumbled.
"And he's so weird... he always has that mare with him. Who even is she?"
"They sleep in the same cave!"
"Do you think...?"
"He's not fit to be King."
"But what can we do? You saw what he did to Mufasa..."
"We could leave?"
"To leave is death."
Both hung their heads in memory at that. And Nightmare Moon, who was once Princess Luna, resolved to fix this problem before the rumors got worse.
It was dawn, and Scar had already settled himself down to sleep when Nightmare Moon approached him, her hooves clopping purposefully on the stone floor.
"Time for Kings to sleep," he noted, "and aides to do the same."
Nightmare Moon snorted and slammed a hoof into the floor, sending chips of rock flying. The sound echoed loudly through the cavern, and Scar winced as he flattened his ears.
"Very well," he grumbled, "since you clearly have SOMETHING on your mind, I will hear you out. What is it?"
"Your citizens consider you a joke," she sneered.
Scar woke up a little more, his anger starting to leak into his eyes, as Nightmare Moon had seen so many times by now. But she knew how to rule, and she was not going to sit through his attitude this time.
"Don't even START," she warned, and when he sat up defiantly, a sneer on his lips and a growl in his chest, she lit her horn and thrust him back against the cave wall, lifting him by his throat.
"Now SEE HERE! What do YOU know about it?" he gurgled, and she gave him a warning shake.
"I am a Princess of Equestria!" she informed him, her voice echoing loudly. "I am over fifteen hundred years old and I know more about ruling than you have ever dreamt. And from that I tell you that you are a JOKE."
She released the magic and he fell to the cave floor, coughing and gasping for breath. She waited until his eyes came up, full of confusion and wonder, even a little fear. Good, he was ready to listen.
"Your lionesses do not see you as their ruler. They fear and despise you. They spread rumors about you and about me. You must take charge of the situation. You must end the rumors or you will lose everything. And you must do it now!"
Rubbing his throat, Scar nodded, slowly. He spoke, finally, his voice quiet and respectful. "I am no fool," he noted. "I have seen this, and I have heard the whispers." His eyes came up to meet hers. "Tell me what to do."
And so it was that Scar held his first grand address, ordering that all creatures be assembled at dusk.
When he strode onto the Promontory all whispering below ceased, and hundreds of frightened and confused eyes looked up at him. The group was smaller than he expected, certainly half the size that had assembled for Simba's birth, and he found he didn't know whether the others had run away, or just declined to attend. He found the combination of low attendance and frightened gazes to be infuriating, and this anger added to the helplessness Nightmare Moon had instilled in him. His irritated roar for attention was completely unnecessary.
When he was done, he looked across the creatures below. Lioness mingled with prey, all desperate to know what this new King was planning. Some suspected, correctly, that he was going to formally present Nightmare Moon, and so all were waiting to gain some understanding. Scar himself hoped that by showing the power at his disposal, through Nightmare Moon, he would gain the respect he so rightly deserved. And so he began.
"My friends! As you all know, I, Scar, am now your King, having defeated my brother Mufasa in a legal challenge for leadership..."
There was a shuffling below as some considered what they knew about the outcome of that challenge.
"As you know, the former Queen, Sarabi, has left with my blessing, and taken some of the former staff with her. Therefore, I have of course brought in my own staff."
He paused, watching as every eye turned upwards, the anticipation being something he found more to his liking. He glanced back where Nightmare Moon stood, at attention and waiting her cue to appear. He was somewhat surprised that she had donned her armor for this presentation, but, this was a formal event and he had to agree it added a rather regal touch. Nor was he inclined to argue with her.
"As you know, Mufasa employed a hornbill as his Majordomo, and so it is not unusual to collaborate with other species. To that end," he smiled, preparing a dramatic tone to his voice, "It gives me great pleasure to present to you all..."
His intended pause was interrupted by a flash of light and a thick cloud of purple smoke in front of him. As it began to clear, Nightmare Moon was clearly standing there, her magical mane swirling above her head like a torrential storm, her wings spread wide and her eyes glowing as she glared down at the animals below. He didn't get to say another word as she spoke with a voice loud enough to reach even the northern border.
"Citizens of the Pridelands! I am Nightmare Moon, and I am your new Ruler!"
In the distance, an old baboon sadly watched the ceremony on Pride Rock, though he jumped in fright when he so clearly heard those last words. He shook his head in concern, and swung back down into the hollowed baobab tree that served as his home.
The baboon’s name was Rafiki, and he had been friend to Mufasa and Sarabi their entire lives. More than that, he had been healer, and mystic, an interface to the Great Kings of the Past. It was he who taught Mufasa and Scar that all Great Kings go to the stars when they die, and that those Kings will always be there to guide you.
"Oh Mufasa," he spoke aloud, looking through the branches above his head at the starry night beyond. "We could use the Great Kings now, for I fear that this Nightmare Moon brings no good to the lands."
"Zazu? When can we go home?"
Simba crawled up onto the log where Zazu had perched and was trying to sleep. Sarabi had gone out to help Sarafina hunt, and Nala had gone with them to learn. Timon and Pumbaa were off chasing bugs -- or more likely sleeping under the guise of hunting. In any event, this left Simba and Zazu alone in the little clearing that had become their home.
"Young Master," Zazu began, puffing up his feathers then smoothing them down carefully. But then he paused, uncertain what to say. The hornbill had watched over this family for so long, and never had things been so dire. He dearly wanted to tell the cub that everything would be just fine.
"We may never return, Simba," he explained, simply. He felt a pang of regret at the cub's expression, and patted the log next to him, an invitation Simba accepted. So he continued.
"It is a hard truth, Simba, but we are in exile now. This means that your Uncle rules the Pridelands, and, we can't go back. We have to make a new life."
"But... what if Uncle Scar forgives us?"
Zazu shook his head, sadly. The cub was still too young to understand properly. "There is too much hurt on both sides," he attempted. "But as long as we are all together, we will find a way.”
"A way to what?" asked Timon, rubbing his eyes as he and Pumbaa walked up together. Sleeping it was, then.
Zazu rolled his eyes, these two were not his favorite company. But they were exiles too, and had saved the Queen and her son. Tradition demanded respect.
"I was telling the Young Master that we must all work together, and if we do, everything will work out."
Pumbaa walked up to the log and hopped his forelegs onto it, so he could look Simba in the eyes.
"Don't you worry, little guy. Uncle Pumbaa's gonna make sure you're never lost or alone."
Nightmare Moon was beginning to become concerned.
It was bad enough that the land was a practical wasteland with no redeeming values. It was bad enough that it was ruled over by predators whose primary contribution to society was to be bigger and stronger than the others. And it was bad enough that she had teamed up with the weakest, most self-centered lion of the lot. But all this was a mere trifle.
She was losing her magic.
It was a slow progression, and she possessed a lot of magic, but she could feel it. Not day over day, but certainly week over week. She was weaker than when she arrived.
She took to the sky night after night, spreading her massive dark wings and soaring as high as the currents would take her, then using her magic to cast even higher, until the curvature of the Earth itself lie beneath her. Nothing was recognizable, and worse, she could sense no Equestrian magic anywhere, in any direction.
She had taken her frustration out on Scar frequently, making increasingly petty demands on his time and speaking incredibly short with him. His initial fury had been quenched by a single glare from her eyes, and when he tried to speak, she made it very clear that his input was welcomed only when she asked for it. She had taken control with a single sentence, and now stood unopposed.
But this did not help her. At first she suspected the intense sun. It would make sense, if Celestia sent her here, that the sun might drain her powers. So the very next time the sun rose, she announced that she had had enough of it. And when the sun set that night, she stood on the Promontory with her head held high, and her horn lit bright with power. The moon rose to her gestures, and the already rich night sky grew even brighter and more elaborate. And then it was as if the heavens stopped. The stars still twinkled, and the Milky Way still shimmered from horizon to horizon, but it was all locked in place. Although Nightmare Moon retired from the promontory, even hours later the dawn did not come.
Furthermore, it did not help, and holding the sky was a drain on her powers - though a small one. She could manage it for now, but given six months more, she was not so sure. So her flights continued, traveling further and faster, but always without results.
The conclusion was inescapable: as she did not belong here, the world itself was draining her magic, taking her to equilibrium. If she remained, she would eventually become an ordinary horse on a sun-baked plain with only memories of greatness.
She would destroy everything before that happened. But... if she could find a way back to Equestria... then it did not need to happen.
So she kept searching for any sign of magic.
Rafiki could only watch from a distance. By and large he was not inclined to meddle in the affairs of lions, even his friends, unless the balance of life was critically off center. But things now were far beyond anything he knew how to deal with.
With the failure of the sun to rise, it began to grow colder on the Pridelands. Plants began to wilt and die, and the herds attempted to move on, only to find that there was nowhere to move on to. He did not know how this was possible, but he had watched Nightmare Moon cast the spell.
Worse, Nightmare Moon began to disappear from view for long periods of time, reappearing only to make pronouncements or to punish those she considered to be openly against her. She demonstrated more of her powers in these punishments, including the ability to control weather and particularly lightning. Results ranged from painful to devastating. Her mood was darkening and he couldn't see why. Did she not have everything she wanted?
The atmosphere of fear, anger, and pain was overwhelming to Rafiki's psychically tuned mind. His own grief multiplied these feelings - he had lost his friends, and the lands themselves were being killed. He collected his seeing shell and gourds, and worked tirelessly mixing, pouring, and concentrating on his strongest visions yet, begging the Great Kings to see his efforts through.
He heard only the wind in response, meditating for hours, until at last, he sensed a figure forming in front of him. At last, one of the Great Kings of the Past? He waited a moment longer, until he was certain, then opened his eyes.
"I wondered how long you were going to pretend to ignore me," commented Scar, sitting not five feet away.
Rafiki was outraged! This was not a Great King of the Past, he was not even a Great King! He was one of the instigators of this destruction, and he had just sauntered into the baboon’s home without even announcing himself.
"You!?" he cried out. "You dare to come HERE??" The baboon was shaking with rage, picking up his walking staff, and pointing it at the lion.
Scar pushed the stick aside with a forepaw, and remained oddly calm. "I'm here to ask for your assistance," he said plainly. "Nightmare Moon is out of cont..." But Rafiki was hearing none of it.
"NEVER!" he cried. "I do not know what demons you have made deals with, Scar, but I will never help you bring the darkness! I will fight you until there is not a breath left in my body!" With that, he swung the stick, cracking it across Scar's angular jaw.
Scar roared with pain and surprise, and swung a backhand at the baboon. Although Scar was small for a lion, he still managed sufficient power behind his swing. Rafiki flew backwards into his mix of magical powders and juices, smashing many of the gourds as Scar yelled at him, already on his feet and stalking angrily. "I CAME HERE TO GET YOUR HELP TO STOP HER, IDIOT!"
The already dark tree darkened substantially as a cloud of dust rose from Rafiki's hard landing, and a deep roar echoed through the tree, sounding both to Scar and Rafiki as though it came from inside their own heads. Rafiki's expression lit for a moment in recognition, but Scar's reaction told the whole story. His ears folded flat to his head, and his eyes went wide as he crouched down, making himself smaller. "Father?" he asked, his voice as small as his body. And then he fell into the darkness.
Scar didn't know how long he was unconscious, but every muscle in his body told him that he was now awake, and with every movement pain shot along his limbs. He looked around himself.
He was in a forest very unfamiliar to him. It was cool, damp, and dark, although he could see hints of daylight through the leaves above. As he stood, rustling sounds all around him let him know that he was being watched, by both creatures smaller than himself, and some larger.
Despite the pain he started moving, to avoid being too tempting a target. His natural movement was almost silent, from years of stalking the shadows, and so when he heard a voice singing a strange song a short distance in front of him he was able to slink off into the thicker brush without being noticed.
A zebra came into view on the path as he hid and watched, and his stomach rumbled. He'd barely been able to eat since Nightmare Moon took over, so much did she hate his carnivorous habits. But this zebra was so strange... shorter than he was accustomed to, and wearing so many accessories. The brass rings around her neck reminded him of Nightmare Moon's armor, she wore various other things he was not familiar with in her ears, and some form of containers on her back.
She was strange, but he was hungry, and she was prey. He crouched, waiting for her to come closer.
She stopped, abruptly, just outside of pouncing range, and looked around herself suspiciously.
"/Malai/, creature of EverFree. You do not wish to tangle with me."
Scar held still, keeping his breathing silent, his claws digging into the earth. The zebra held a moment longer, then took a step forward.
Scar leapt with a roar of desperation, only to have the zebra sidestep his pounce. She turned rapidly, and somehow produced a cloud of dust that got into his eyes and nostrils, instantly burning and stinging. He hit the ground hard, blinded, and rolled into a ball, pawing at his face and crying in anguish, trying to end the pain. "What did you DO to me??"
"If a threat you do not pose, I can stop the stinging in your nose," the zebra sang. "Easy now, just stay calm, and I will apply a soothing balm."
Scar struggled with himself, forcing his paws down, taking deep breaths a little too rapidly. "All right! I'm calm! Do something!"
It seemed like an eternity before he heard the zebra moving, and she seemed to be digging for something. He held as still as he could, the pain burning deeper all the while, convinced he would be blinded. But a moment later a splash of mud came down across his face, and the burn immediately faded.
Scar looked around the room he was in, his vision still slightly blurred, but the sting long behind him. He was in a hollowed out tree, surrounded by potions, powders, and artifacts. He felt it was not so different from the tree he had just left.
"The last thing I remember," he commented, slowly, "is being in Rafiki's tree. I went to ask for his help."
Zecora the zebra nodded slowly, and pushed a small cup of steaming liquid towards Scar. "I do not know your Rafiki friend, but you may stay here while you mend. I know not from whence you roam, but it seems Equestria is not your home."
"Equestria...?" Scar mused. The home of Princess Luna, also known as Nightmare Moon. He wasn't sure if it was a good idea to mention this, and so for the moment, he did not. "I've... heard of it. I'm not sure how I got here." He eyed the drink suspiciously.
"Tomorrow Twilight Sparkle is due to visit, I'm certain she can help with it. She can send a message to Celestia our Princess, who can put an end to any distress." Zecora sipped her drink with a smile, watching Scar. Scar looked back at his cup, realizing that he had no idea how to hold it as she did.
"Princess?" he asked. "What of your King?"
Zecora chuckled, "A common misconception, but in this land, it is a Princess with the ruling hand. We need no Queen and have no King, to these ponies it is a normal thing."
Scar's mind spun again, Nightmare Moon had also said the name 'Celestia' several times, usually whilst cursing the sun. 'Well,' he thought to himself, 'if any pony can help, it must be this one.'
"Thank you, Zecora," he responded, and leaned down, awkwardly lapping a bit from his cup. The tea was not entirely to his liking, but he forced a smile whilst the zebra concealed a giggle.
Scar finished the tea, and found to his surprise that it eased his hunger substantially. When Twilight Sparkle arrived in the morning, he was both rested and feeling rejuvenated for the first time in weeks - enough to be in a relatively good mood.
"So, you were just in this baboon's house, and all of a sudden you woke up in the EverFree Forest?" Twilight cocked at eyebrow at Scar, her tone full of doubt.
Scar had omitted the fight and the sound of his father's roar, but he nodded all the same. "There was a wind, and then things went black and it felt like I was falling. I woke up here."
Zecora chuckled, "Our meeting exhibited quite a mood, for he thought he was hunting me for food."
Scar folded his ears, looking suitably cowed. "It is lucky for me that you have such good reflexes, Zecora." He looked back to the purple unicorn. "Can you help me get home, Twilight Sparkle?”
Twilight frowned, her eyes meeting Zecora's for a moment as she mused over the holes in Scar's story. But, after a moment she shrugged. “It’s not a spell I know, but I will do my best," she said back to Scar. "We'll have to take you back to the library, though. I need Spike to send the message to the Princess, and, if you're really not from Equestria, EverFree Forest is far too dangerous for you to be staying here."
Scar chuckled this time, "If everyone here is as well equipped as Zecora, I would be inclined to agree with you."
Scar simply watched in amazement as the small lizard-like creature belched green flame, which engulfed the scroll Twilight had written, sending ashes swirling into the ether.
"It's on its way!" announced Spike the dragon.
The trip back from EverFree had been uneventful, and Twilight had taken to asking a few very guarded questions about his origin, to which Scar had given very guarded answers. He had no trouble keeping up with the unicorn, and took the time to study her as she was studying him.
She was much smaller than Nightmare Moon, and lacked the wings, but she did have the horn. She seemed to use it far more often than Nightmare Moon used hers, and it glowed constantly during the trip as she moved things about in her saddlebags, took notes on anything that caught her eye, and even once tugged Scar's ear when he had begun to glaze over during a brief explanation of the history of tea.
Arriving in town, few ponies seemed to be about to notice them, but Scar was amazed. He had never seen a town before, and the large square structures elicited a stream of questions, which Twilight was happy to answer (often in detail). They finally arrived at the Oak Tree Library, and Scar felt slightly more comfortable inside, until Spike the Dragon had waddled up and asked who he was. To his relief, Twilight offered a simple response.
"He's a guest who needs to see Princess Celestia."
Just a few seconds after the first scroll had been sent, the little dragon belched flame again, causing Scar to wince at the impropriety of it. To his amazement, the little curl of smoke swirled and then condensed into a scroll, which the dragon opened and read.
"Ahem! Dear Twilight! Thank you for taking charge of this situation, um, blah blah blah... ah! I will not be able to come to Ponyville for at least three days, as I am working to repair some issues caused by Nightmare Moon's return."
Scar's ears perked up at the mention of Nightmare Moon. There was no mistake now. This was the right pony.
"Please see to it that your visitor is kept comfortable and safe, and I will be there as soon as I can to help sort this out. Signed, Princess Celestia."
Spike hesitated, then motioned Twilight over. "Um," he whispered, "you better read this part yourself."
Twilight scanned the page. 'Be careful of him, if he's not telling the whole truth.' She nodded briefly. "Of course. You can dispose of that note now, Spike."
Scar peered curiously as the dragon puffed another spark at the scroll, causing it to burn up in a flash. He shrugged. Whatever the secret part of the message was, he wouldn't have been able to read it anyway.
Scar rested the remainder of the afternoon next to Twilight's bed. She had offered him the use of the bed itself, but the soft springy mattress and extra thick blankets were uncomfortable for him, and the hardwood floor was a surprisingly nice compromise compared to the stone he normally slept on.
As night came, and the lights in the library went out, his eyes slowly opened. The rhythmic breathing of the unicorn and louder snoring of the dragon told him that all were sleeping soundly, and he lifted his head.
He considered it such a strange life, surrounded by all these unknowable objects, in an artificial cave, closed in from the night air. He was uncomfortable, and would not need to sleep again for several hours. So he crept silently downstairs, worked the door latch as he had watched the dragon do, and stepped out into the night.
The town was completely empty, and that suited Scar fine. Apparently ponies slept through the night, and occasionally he heard a snore that confirmed it. He still was not especially hungry, but curiosity had taken him, and he crept around the buildings stealthily, observing all he could.
When he had finished exploring the town, he settled down in a small field, watching the progression of the stars. It had been a long time since he looked at the night sky.
"father?" he asked, hesitantly. It was barely a whisper, and he repeated himself, tilting his head upwards further. "Father?"
There was no response but the gentle breeze, but after a moment he spoke again.
"Father... I.. I know I've done wrong. But I really need someone now... If the Great Kings of the Past really watch over us, then please be there."
"Who are you talking to?" The voice was gentle and kind, and Scar turned his head, startled and ashamed.
Twilight stepped into the field from the path, a gentle glow of light from her horn illuminating the area. "I'm sorry," she said gently. "I don't want to intrude, but.. I had a spell guarding the door, and it woke me when you left. If you need me to leave, I will, but, I have to stay nearby and watch you. Do you want me to leave?"
Scar hung his head, "No," he responded, finally.
Twilight waited a moment, then stepped closer, sitting down in the field next to Scar. "I heard you mention something about Great Kings. Can I ask what you meant?"
Scar lifted his head just enough to eye Twilight, to look for signs of sarcasm or ridicule. Seeing none, he spoke quietly, looking towards the horizon. "When I was a cub," he says, "I was told that the Great Kings of the Past are up amongst the stars, and that if ever we feel alone..." he paused at that, continuing more quietly. "Those Kings will always be there to guide us."
Twilight gently placed her hoof over Scar's paw. "I'd like to hear more about that," she told him.
They spoke until dawn, this pony and this lion. Scar was slow to speak at first, but seeing only honest interest in Twilight's eyes, he grew more and more comfortable, telling her about leonine star lore, telling her stories from when he was a cub, and games that he and Mufasa had played. He avoided more recent questions, but there was so much to talk about anyway.
For her part, Twilight was amazed, she was learning the customs and beliefs of an entirely new world, and was already mentally planning the reports she was going to write about them. Scar was genuinely touched and impressed by her earnestness, this little pony who seemed impressed by the smallest things he had to say. When he finally started to ask his own questions about Equestria and Twilight, he found her long, detailed answers much to his satisfaction. He began to wonder if this was what friendship started out like.
A loud, drawn-out, startled gasp interrupted that train of thought, and a pink blur suddenly obscured his line of sight. He heard a giggle from Twilight even as he cried out, startled as the blur bowled him over.
"Omigosh! Omigosh! Who are you?! WHAT are you? I've never seen you before! If I've never seen you before then you must be new! Are you Twilight's friend? oooooh wow, it's so good to meet new friends of friends! But then you HAVE to be new, because if you weren't new, I'd have seen you before, and then you wouldn't be new! New to me! You're probably not new-new! In fact you look kind of old! And you have a scar on your eye! Are you a pirate? That would be cool! Then you could wear an eyepatch and say ARRR!"
Even as he was trying to process the nonstop stream of questions, statements, observations and probable truths, a second voice, much more refined, spoke up.
"Pinkie Pie! Stop that at once! Give the poor creature a chance to breathe!"
It was a safe bet that the pink blur was Pinkie Pie, and she was up in a flash, standing nearby as Scar turned his head to thank his rescuer.
Rarity stood there, and he took a moment to study the unusually well-presented white unicorn. "Thank you," he said, finally regaining his feet.
Twilight smiled gently, and nodded towards Scar. "Pinkie Pie, Rarity, this is Scar. He's a lion visiting from another land, and he's waiting to see Princess Celestia so we can help him get home."
Rarity cooed. "The Princess herself is coming to help you? You must be quite important."
Scar puffed up his chest a bit. "I am a King, after all." It was technically true, he felt. Nightmare Moon hadn't defeated him in a formal challenge, so by law, he was the King.
Pinkie Pie was in his face again. "Oh my gosh! I hope you're a good King and not a meanie King! We met a King once and he was a REAL meanie. I mean, a MEAN MEANIE, and that's the worst kind of mean meanie pants there is!"
"Well... I..." Scar was interrupted by another excited stream of consciousness by the pink pony.
"If you're waiting, then that means we have time for a party! I'm Pinkie Pie! You knew that, right? Oh! Of course you did! Cause Twilight introduced us! That's what I do! I throw parties! I'm the Ponyville Party Pony! When I first met Twilight I was all "Gasppp!" cause I knew she was new, and then I threw her a BIG ‘Welcome to Ponyville' party, and she was SOOOO surprised, because I remember she thought a surprise party was supposed to be QUIET! How silly is that? But we'll throw you a big Welcome-to-Ponyville-King-Scar party! But it won't be quiet, and it won't be a surprise party, cause you already know about it! Omigosh I need to go get ready! See you at your party!!"
With a blur, she was gone, leaving Scar again trying to process what he'd just heard.
"Don't mind her, darling," advised Rarity. "She's just being Pinkie Pie."
Any hope Scar had of passing on his Welcome-to-Ponyville-King-Scar party was promptly dashed. Rather than the library, Twilight took him to another place, which she said was called Sugar Cube Corner. Scar's nose twitched at the sweet scents inside, uncertain whether he liked them or hated them. Ponies were already milling about as they entered, and Pinkie Pie was at his side in an instant.
"Everypony listen up! I want you all to meet our very distinguished guest, a good friend of Twilight and a KING - here to see Princess Celestia... everypony say a big HELLO to King Scar!"
There was a loud cheer of greeting, and most of the ponies stomped their hooves in approval. For a moment, Scar felt that this was the greeting he'd deserved his entire life. For a moment, he allowed himself to smile.
Her job done, Pinkie Pie bounded off, and Scar found himself actually sighing in relief, although the smile remained. Twilight nudged him.
"Come on," she said, "Let me introduce you to my other friends."
Several ponies came by and said hello as they passed, with genuine smiles, and this was an experience Scar had never had before. He was frozen for a moment, and then nodded to Twilight.
Twilight first took Scar to a small yellow pegasus. "Scar, this is Fluttershy," she introduced.
The pegasus' eyes lit up as she saw Scar, and she definitely took a moment to look him over. But when they drew closer and Twilight introduced them, she looked away and scuffed the ground absently. Scar puffed up a little at the initial attention, only to blink and lean closer when she opened her mouth and barely a sound came out.
"I... I beg your pardon?" he asked.
Instead of replying, Fluttershy curled up on the spot and issued a little squeak.
"We'll... come back to her," noted Twilight. "Once she gets past that first little bit she's going to have a lot of questions for you."
Twilight then led Scar over to a corner of the room where two ponies were engaged in some form of physical competition, sitting across a table from each other and each attempting to press the other's foreleg down to the surface.
"Scar, I'd like you to meet my friends Applejack and Rainbow Dash."
The orange one, Applejack, looked up and smiled warmly. "Well, how-dee Mr Scar," she said warmly.
The blue one took advantage of the distraction and slammed Applejack's hoof to the table. "HAH!! I WIN!" she crowed.
"That don't count, Rainbow! Y'all know I was distracted!"
"Yeah, yeah," replied Rainbow Dash. "And YOU know it counts!"
"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight called sternly.
"Oh... right... sorry about that." Rainbow took to the air and swooped a rapid loop to face Scar. "Nice to meet'cha!" She turned her head and cast a wink at Applejack, which only seemed to annoy the mare.
"So, like, what brings you to Ponyville?"
The party continued without signs of abating for hours. Scar was not a social creature at the best of times, which admittedly so far this had been. But after the first hour, the smile had faded. After the second hour he was tired of nodding gracefully as pony after pony greeted him and wished him well.
Offers of bobbing for apples and "pin the tail on the pony" were gracefully declined again and again, until he was frankly tired of the whole thing and badly wanted to leave.
He began to creep towards the door, but just as he got there, Pinkie Pie was suddenly in front of him, for the fiftieth time that afternoon. "Hey Scar!" she cheered. "Do you want some cake? Or some pineapples? I have some fresh oats? Do lions eat hay? I eat hay. But not in an evil way. There used to be a pony who ate hay in an evvviiil way. Why can't I remember who that was? I'm sorry! What did you want again?"
Scar was done. His last reserves of social energy flowed into the ether during Pinkie's rambling, and when the last question hit his nerves, they were raw.
"Pinkie Pie," he growled. "I am tired of this! This noise and these ponies and the sickly sweet smell in the air and these childish games, enough! I'm leaving! I'm done! Just STAY OUT OF MY WAY."
With that he shoved Pinkie aside, and stormed out the door. Twilight came up in time to catch the end of it.
"Pinkie! Are you all right?"
Pinkie Pie giggled. "Oh, it's okay Twilight. He's just cranky because I ran out of cake. I'll take him a fresh slice later!" She bounced away as Twilight looked after the departing lion. After a moment, she followed him.
"Scar?" Twilight had to trot to catch up to the lion, who could slink remarkably quickly.
Scar only growled, initially refusing to stop. He didn't even know for certain what direction to go, so he was merely walking 'away'.
"SCAR!" repeated Twilight. He sighed deeply, and stopped, refusing to look back.
“Scar,” repeated Twilight one more time, as she caught up to him, her tone stern. “That was NOT very nice.”
“Then I’m not very nice,” growled Scar in response.
“Scar! Pinkie Pie was just trying to do something for you. That was no way to thank her, and it CERTAINLY was no way for a King to act.”
Scar sighed heavily, and sat down slowly, curling his tail around his haunches. He did not turn his head, staring straight ahead at the foreign horizon.
Twilight waited a moment, then continued, more gently. “I know it must be very hard for you, to be lost. I promise you the Princess will be able to help.”
Scar looked down at his feet again. The dust of the road reminded him of the Pridelands, and to his surprise, he found that he missed it greatly, even after just a couple of days.
Twilight came around in front of him, and looked up into his eyes. “I promise.”
Scar’s resolve broke, and he slumped a little bit. “I’m sorry,” he replied. “I don’t belong here.”
Twilight nodded, and again touched her hoof to Scar’s paw. “I know,” she responded. “You don’t have to come back to the party, if you don’t want to. You can go back to the library?”
Scar considered this, and then nodded. “Please give Pinkie Pie my apologies.”
“Scar? I’m back!” Twilight entered the library and looked around, finding Scar near one of the many shelves, studying the spines of the books.
“Hello Twilight,” replied Scar, tilting his head at one last book before turning to look at her.
“Oh, good, you’re here!” Twilight trotted up to him, and looked past him at the books he was studying.
“As promised,” he nodded, then followed Twilight’s gaze to the wall. “What are these?” he asked. “You have so many of them.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide as saucers. “You really don’t know?” she exclaimed. “How can you possibly not know?”
Scar tensed up, expecting some form of insult, but Twilight continued on with an excited gleam he hadn’t yet noticed in her eyes.
“Oh my gosh! They’re books! And they’re the most wonderful things ever created!”
Scar looked between Twilight, and the wall of books. “What do they do? Are they magic too?”
“They’re even better than magic!” Twilight exclaimed. “They contain records of history, instructions for, well, just about everything, stories and lore, oh my gosh, there’s just nothing you can’t learn from a book! And the best part is that anypony can enjoy them!”
She darted over to a corner of the library so quickly that Scar was not sure he had seen her move. “I have entire sets of all kinds of rare and important books, some on loan from Canterlot. These ones over here are technically where the filing system starts, and they cover everything from ...”
Scar watched with amazement as Twilight took him on a tour of nearly every shelf, pulling out books and speaking so rapidly and with such passion that for a moment, he half suspected that Pinkie Pie was talking. He followed her, patiently, but with growing interest. The markings inscribed on the pages were meaningless to him, but Twilight was more than happy to explain each and every cover he indicated.
After an hour or so, she settled down a little bit. “I’m sorry you didn’t have books in the Pridelands, I think you would have really enjoyed reading. If you’d like, I’d be happy to read you some. I have a story in mind, just a legend really, but I think you might like it.”
Scar nodded, and settled down. "Very well then," he commented. "Show me the magic of reading."
Nightmare Moon stomped on the Promontory so hard that the great rock cracked, her eyes glaring out at the horizon. There were no creatures below - she had no need of them and in her mood, this was just as well.
Her flights had taken her farther and farther, out over the great seas, and still nothing was familiar. Still nothing that she could call magic. No hint of how she might get home.
In Equestria, such problems could be addressed with research - studying the knowledge of the past, but there was none of that here, and indeed such knowledge did not even appear to exist. She could feel the weakening of her own magic, and was still no closer to stopping it. While her mane still flowed, a magical plasma mirroring the night sky, she knew that it would soon revert to normal hair - the first external sign. When that happened, she would soon be out of options.
In her frustration, she raised a large boulder with her magic, easily the size of a small house, and hurtled it across the plains, uttering a cry of frustration that was nearly a roar itself. The huge rock crashed down somewhere in the distant gorge, but what caught her attention was a small voice from directly beneath the great outcropping.
"Nightmare Moon!" repeated the voice. "I come seeking audience... will you hear an old baboon out?"
She looked down, curiously. Even Scar dared not approach her anymore, but as the voice said, an old baboon stood below, leaning on a large stick and looking at her. But she saw a wisdom in those old eyes, and though she studied him for several minutes, Rafiki did not waver.
"You may approach," she said at last.
The ape climbed up the rock as though he had done so many times in the past, with surprising agility for his apparent age. At last he stood before her, and bowed low and respectful. "Thank you," he said.
Nightmare Moon nodded. "What do you wish to speak of?"
The baboon straightened, a little. "My name is Rafiki," he began. "I have been counsel and seer to the Kings of the Pridelands for two generations now. If I may be so bold, I have information that you may find interesting, and perhaps, I might offer my assistance to you."
"I do not require counsel," responded Nightmare Moon curtly.
"But, you are a stranger here," responded Rafiki gently. At her response, he nodded. "Oh yes, I know. It is a part of my job to know. Perhaps I can teach you some of the ways of the Pridelands, to help you solve the issues that you yourself face."
"What makes you believe that I face any issues at all?"
Rafiki smiles, "Perhaps boulder hurtling is a common sport where you are from, with all due respect, but it is most uncommon here in the Pridelands. You have great power, but all that power is not helping you here. Let me grant you another power - knowledge." He waved his stick gently, and a sudden breeze sprung up that rattled the empty gourds tied to it. "Even the wisest among us can always learn something new."
Nightmare Moon's ears perked, and her senses went to full alert. There was something to that gesture, and something to that breeze. She could not detect the magic, yet undeniably something non-physical had occurred. There might be something to his words. He might have the key she sought.
She nodded, slowly. "Teach me."
Scar found that he did indeed enjoy books, even if he had to rely on Twilight to interpret the markings and read them out to him. He began to pick up some of the characters, with her encouragement, but he would not be reading the advanced topics Twilight preferred in the short time that he had, and so he would stretch out, content, and allow her to read to him.
Twilight herself, always glad to have a reason to re-read old favorites, devoted plenty of time to this activity, telling herself that it was her duty to entertain her houseguest, and not merely a guilty pleasure to have such an attentive audience.
Occasionally, a story would remind Scar of one from his own youth, and he would tell it to Twilight. It made him genuinely smile to see the eager attention on her face when he could share something she'd never heard before.
Other ponies would frequently drop in to greet Twilight, or to borrow a book. Scar reflected to himself that Twilight was a very popular pony. But Pinkie Pie was the first visitor for Scar himself, showing up with a fresh slice of cake balanced atop her head on a small plate adorned with streamers.
"Haiiiiiiii Twilight! Hiiiiiii King Scarie! Look! I brought you that cake I promised!"
Scar looked confused, glancing at Twilight for explanation.
"She thinks you left the party because they ran out of cake," explained Twilight.
"Oh...." replied Scar, embarrassed. "I... I do apologize for that."
Pinkie merely beamed, and placed the cake before him. "That's okie-dokie! We'll have another party before you have to go, and I'll make sure there's LOTS of cake this time, so we don't run out. Okay?" She bounced up and down in place.
"No... I mean.. thank you, but that's all right."
"Okie dokie lokie!" replied Pinkie, turning to bound away. "See you at the party!"
Scar pushed the cake aside, he hadn't been able to eat much the first time he saw cake, and Spike rapidly claimed it as his own. "I could do with some more substantial food..." he admitted.
Twilight thought for a moment, and then brightened. "Let's go see Applejack! She's the best baker around. I'm sure she can come up with something!" After a moment, he nodded, and stood to follow her.
Twilight led Scar out of town towards a large farm, which she explained was called Sweet Apple Acres.
"Applejack runs the farm with her family," she explained. "Her Granny Smith is one of the original earth ponies who settled Ponyville!"
Scar pondered for a moment. "Why do you say "earth" pony?" he asked.
"Oh!" replied Twilight. "You have probably noticed... there are three kinds of ponies. I'm a unicorn, which means I have a horn on my head for performing magic. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are pegasus ponies - they have wings and an affinity for the air, allowing them to fly and manage the weather. Earth ponies have an affinity for the ground and all things that grow. Applejack is one of the best farmers I've ever seen!"
Scar considered this, then ventured a question. "What if a pony has wings AND a horn? What are they then?"
Twilight didn't miss a beat. "That's called an Alicorn," she explained. "They're very rare, and possess great magical power. Princess Celestia is an alicorn, and you'll be meeting her tomorrow."
Scar made a noise as he thought it through, but he did not ask any more questions for the moment, as they were already walking through a large apple orchard. It didn't take long to spot Applejack, who stood beneath a tree and gave it a mighty buck, causing all of the apples from the branches to fall neatly and conveniently into baskets placed around the trunk.
"How-dee Twilight! And howdy t'you too, Mr King Scar! What can I do ya for?"
Several dozen varieties of baked apple product later, Scar could take no more. While some of the treats were deliciously sweet, he was not equipped to chew them properly, and could feel his stomach rumbling in protest. When his responses started to get shorter and more tense, Twilight stepped in and excused the two of them, permitting a safe departure.
"Y'all come back any time!" shouted Applejack behind them. Scar grumbled.
"That wasn't quite to your liking, huh?" asked Twilight.
Scar sighed, "I am sorry... she was generous enough, but I am accustomed to eating m... er... well, a different kind of food."
Twilight nodded, slowly. "I know. I've read up on lions, just to see. But we just aren't going to find anything like that around here. We will have to do our best until you can go home."
They were passing through the town when they were suddenly confronted by Rarity, who all but blocked their path. Scar marveled at these ponys' ability to appear out of nowhere.
"Now stop right there!" Rarity insisted. "I've been looking all over Ponyville for you two! There isn't a moment to lose!"
Twilight looked worried. "Why? What's happened?"
Rarity looked impatient. "King Scar is to meet with Princess Celestia tomorrow, and he hasn't a thing to wear! I simply can not allow such a fashion crime to take place in Ponyville. Not with royalty."
Before he knew what had happened, he was inside another building (the "boutique", Rarity called it), standing on a pedestal and surrounded by mirrors, while various fabrics and accessories floated magically around him. They would occasionally settle against his coat, then draw away. All the while Rarity kept up a constantly running commentary while Twilight suppressed giggles.
"No, no, no, that simply won't do. No. Too bright! Too shimmery. Not shimmery enough! Darling, your coat is so dark, can we not lighten your mane?"
"I.. what? No..." responded Scar, but Rarity kept right on going.
"We simply must capture your regality," she insisted, trying another half dozen colors at once. "We have to make those emerald eyes of yours shine, they really are your best feature."
Scar took a deep breath for patience, but found that he didn't overly mind the fussing. For once, he was finally being treated like a King, and while he didn't fully understand the purpose of the clothing, he had noticed that many of the ponies adorned themselves in various ways. He felt that it would be important to make a good impression on the Princess he was due to meet.
Secondly, he had a chance to observe Rarity's magic up close and continuous. Twilight's magic tended to come in short, rapid bursts, giving him little time to correlate the movements. And Nightmare Moon's magic had been unpredictable, and generally unpleasant. The opportunity to study this continuous stream of magic was absolutely fascinating, and Rarity balanced more objects at once than Twilight had ever done in front of him. The movements of all the objects was like a dance, and as it was all in his honor, Scar felt the least he could do was enjoy the show.
Rafiki's instruction to Nightmare Moon were more primitive than she was used to, but she quickly learned that there was some form of magic there, and that this baboon possessed both intelligence and the ability to dip into this magic. It was not the strong, precise control that unicorns possessed, more of a request than a command, but it was there all the same.
She sat quietly inside his hollowed-out tree, listening as he described the workings of the world. He knew she was no fool, either, and moved quickly from the legends he would tell cubs onto greater and deeper knowledge. He spoke of the Circle of Life, and the way a life force moves on, yet leaves parts of itself behind.
Rafiki marveled to himself that this dark mare, from whom he had only seen anger and force, was now so patient and attentive a student. Was she really royalty from another land? He had seen her great power, he believed she must be. He hoped that something in his understanding of the world would grant her the ability to return to that land.
And so, when he had explained enough that she would understand it as well as he did, he told her what had happened to Scar. Nightmare Moon grew very attentive, and finally began to ask questions. When he had told her all that he knew about the incident, she was quiet for a moment.
"And you do not believe that he was destroyed?" she asked, at last.
"No," declared Rafiki. "I would feel it. He is elsewhere, for certain."
"Can you make it happen again?" she asked.
"I.. perhaps... yes?" responded Rafiki. "But why? We do not know where he was sent."
Nightmare Moon hesitated, then put her cards on the table. "There is a magical imbalance here. Our worlds were linked through a power beyond even mine. That link may yet exist. So I wish to attempt this, because I will take whatever chance, however small, that it may allow me to go home."
Rafiki's heart soared. In those words there was hope for his beloved Pridelands.
Scar was awakened earlier than he would have liked the next morning by the sound of trumpets, a sound which struck him as rather more organized than that of waterfowl, just but as unwanted. His head rose slowly, he would have sworn he had laid it down only minutes previously. But Twilight was already upstairs and prancing nervously.
"Come on, come on," she stammered. "She's here, and you aren't even ready yet! Where's Rarity's uniform? Oh, I thought we had another hour!"
The trumpets repeated, and the downstairs door was opened inward. Twilight gave a nervous little cry and vanished in a flash of purple light. He heard her downstairs, but a second later.
"Twilight Sparkle, my most faithful student!" Scar assumed this was the Princess speaking. Her voice was motherly, gentle, and certainly not what Twilight's panic attack had led him to expect. He stood, stretching out his back and wincing as it cracked several times. He chose to forget the uniform, and then made his way to the staircase, looking down.
Standing in the middle of the library near Twilight was a very large unicorn... no, an alicorn - Scar noticed the wings. Her coat was a warm white, and it was hard to miss the large yellow sun printed on her flank. She wore a very notable golden crown, a golden collar, and golden shoes. Her mane was a multicolored plasma that flowed despite the lack of a breeze, reminding him of Nightmare Moon - but rather than the night sky this mane carried stripes of pastel color. She stood with a comfortable yet regal stance, and there was no question in his mind that this was Princess Celestia.
Still, Scar mused that he had yet to ask Twilight why every pony had painted their flanks. A mystery for another time, perhaps.
After a moment, the Princess looked directly at him, followed by a panicked glance from Twilight. Scar put on his best smile, and began to descend the staircase.
"Prrrrincess," he purred. "Thank you so much for coming on such short notice. I know you must be very busy."
Princess Celestia eyed him, her face was friendly but he could see ancient wisdom behind those eyes, sizing him up. He also saw much of the same hardness that he had seen in Nightmare Moon's eyes, and he began to wonder of his safety. But when she spoke, all this vanished.
"King Scar, I presume? Twilight Sparkle has written me of your predicament. While I am sorry for the circumstances, you are most welcome in Equestria."
Scar reached the bottom of the stairs, and bowed to the Princess, smiling inwardly when she bowed in return. "Indeed, I do apologize for imposing upon your hospitality. If I may say so, Twilight has been very accommodating and made my stay as comfortable as can be expected."
Twilight smiled nervously, but her panic attack was clearly starting to subside. "Would anypony like some tea?" she asked. Without waiting for a response, she called out. "Spike! We need three cups of tea please!"
Celestia smiled patiently at Twilight and nodded, and the three of them moved over to the small table, sitting around it. After Spike delivered tea to each of them, Scar began to recap his story once again. Again, he left out the smaller details that may have painted him in a more negative light, and again, he could see Celestia observing him as Twilight did, considering the omissions in his story.
"But now, I know from what Twilight Sparkle has taught me, that this horse is in fact an alicorn. She called herself a Princess."
Celestia's eyes narrowed, though more in concern than suspicion. "Who exactly did she say she was?"
Scar had been keeping the name close to his chest until he felt that he understood the situation, but this was the pony he knew that he needed to tell. The 'hated' Celestia and perhaps the only pony his former aide seemed to fear. He needed her on his side.
"Nightmare Moon," Scar replied. "She also said 'Princess Luna'."
Twilight gasped, and Spike, who had been standing nearby listening in, actually fainted.
Celestia hung her head, and Scar thought he glimpsed a great sadness before her eyes closed. "I did not anticipate this outcome," she spoke softly.
Twilight looked at her with concern, "What do you mean, Princess? Who is Princess Luna?"
When Celestia's head came up again, her expression was serious, pure business. "When you used the Elements of Harmony against Nightmare Moon, instead of banishing her to the moon as I did, your spell must have transported her to these other lands. I had hoped for... a better outcome."
Celestia looked directly to Scar, and her expression changed slightly to one of frank uncertainty. "That said, I do not know how you came to be here. Perhaps the banishment spell induced a magical imbalance between our world and yours, and you were trapped within it."
"Oh!" cried Twilight, with a hint of glee in her voice. "I was reading something about Magical Imbalance Theories just last week! I bet I can find that book!"
Celestia and Scar shared a smirk as Twilight sprinted off and began to pull books off the shelves by the dozen, searching for the title she just knew she remembered seeing. By this point, they'd both seen it before.
Twilight's book did indeed cover the theory of magical imbalances, but there was little information that even Scar could not have guessed. But after reading the chapter aloud to Scar and Celestia, Twilight proposed a bold plan.
"What if we use the Elements again to try to send Scar home?"
Celestia thought about this carefully. "It's possible," she evaluated. "The Elements of Harmony as wielded by you six are powerful enough to do it. But it may be difficult to control with precision, or, at all." She looked at Scar, "You might not end up where you expect to."
Twilight flipped to another page in the book, "But," she added, "it says right here that such imbalances tend to leave traces for a long time. We can use this to increase the odds of success at least eight percent!"
Celestia nodded, slowly. In her mind, she considered that this would also reintroduce the imbalance, and might thusly pull Nightmare Moon back to Equestria. She didn't want Twilight to know that she was hoping it would. Ultimately, without further comment, this was why she said yes.
Nightmare Moon worked with Rafiki in the meantime, gathering the ingredients that he had listed were in his supplies when Scar had smashed him into them. It was mindless work, but with her magic it was not terribly time consuming. Once back to the tree, Rafiki began to mix the various powders and juices, while she waited with growing impatience.
"Elements Party!" screamed Pinkie Pie as Twilight levitated her Element over to her. Scar watched in amazement - each of the five ponies Twilight had introduced him to wore a jeweled collar resembling the icon on their flanks. Twilight herself placed upon her head a crown that dwarfed Celestia's, and smiled shyly.
"It will be all right," she assured him. The others came up and said goodbyes, and all six of the little ponies embraced him in a group hug. For a moment, he was sad to be leaving. Then they drew back, with Twilight holding on the longest. "I'm going to miss you," she said with sincerity.
Scar nodded, stiffly, for fear his own emotions, so long dormant, were in danger of breaking out into the open. "You have taught me a great deal," he smiled, and he meant it. "You have become my best friend, and I will always remember you."
Twilight smiled wider, and the corners of her eyes teared up a little. "I know you are going to do great things," she stated, then walked back to the others. Princess Celestia stood off to the side, while the other six bunched up before him. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash hovered above Twilight, while Pinkie Pie, Applejack and Rarity flanked her. They glanced at each other, and nodded once.
"Ready!" called Twilight.
"Is it ready?" asked Nightmare Moon, finally.
Rafiki nodded, slowly. "Yes... yes, I think it is ready. This is everything I remember having. Now, we just need a storm."
Nightmare Moon smiled. This was still well within her powers, and her mane grew and swirled above her as she gathered the powers of the wind inside this tiny structure, preparing to strike.
Princess Celestia's horn lit first, and lifted Scar off the ground a little, so that he hovered before the six. This made him slightly nervous, but he locked eyes with Twilight and found himself reassured by her confidence. A moment later the collars around each of the other ponys' necks began to glow brightly, and those ponies on the ground rose into the air. Twilight closed her eyes for a moment, and when they opened again, they glowed a bright white with magical power.
A rainbow of color arose from each of the ponies, and arced gracefully towards Scar. Initially as the colors engulfed him he felt utter terror, then, it was as if the fear was peeled away, and he felt pure peace as the library faded from view.
"NOW!" shouted Nightmare Moon, and the full force of her winds rushed down to the ground and smashed the carefully laid out gourds against the wall, causing the powders and juices to mix and fly into the air. There was a low roar throughout the room, and for a moment all went dark.
Then, it was quiet and still.
Nightmare Moon realized she had closed her eyes at the roar, and opened them again slowly, looking around.
She hadn't moved. She was still in the tree, and the stupid monkey was staring at her, his jaw slightly agape. Her head swiveled.
"It didn't work?" she asked, dangerously quiet.
"IT DIDN'T WORK!?" Much, much louder this time. The Royal Canterlot Voice, used in anger. She was enraged. This was the only hope she had had for weeks, and she had tolerated his foolish mysticism and claim that powders would allow her to travel back home, and all for nothing!
"YOU FOOL!" she shouted, and her magic swirled the room, an entity all its own, destroying what little was not already broken. It grabbed Rafiki and hurled him against the wall, hard, where he slumped to the ground, then the entire vortex returned to its mistress.
Nightmare Moon roared her most angry roar yet, and burst straight up out of the tree, shattering the upper branches and scattering the kindling that resulted. A bright streak marked her angry departure over the horizon.
Scar's eyes opened after a moment, to find a cool breeze on his face and a dark sky overhead. He was on a sparsely populated plain, next to a large tree. He soon recognized it as Rafiki's tree. It worked!
Then came Nightmare Moon's shout, from so close he jumped.
"IT DIDN'T WORK!?"
Scar froze, crouching as low to the ground as could. And when Nightmare Moon burst from the top of the tree he remained there, suddenly wishing that maybe he hadn't come back to the Pridelands.
A low moan caught his attention, "ooh..... wh.. what was that?"
Scar's ears perked, "Twilight?"
Sure enough, Twilight was slowly pushing herself to her hooves, not far from where Scar stood. Scar ran over to her.
"Are you all right?"
Twilight nodded, slowly. "I.. I think so. What happened? Did the spell fail?"
Before Scar could answer, and before Twilight had more than a moment to look around, came a second moan from inside the tree. Scar recognized it instantly.
He ran around to the entrance to the tree. After a shocked moment's look around, Twilight followed him.
Rafiki was rocking slowly when they entered, and despite her shock, Twilight immediately recognized that he was hurt. She ran forward, and advised him to hold still for a moment, lighting her horn and pressing it near.
"Can you help him?" asked Scar.
"He's been hit pretty hard," commented Twilight, her magic flowing forth. "But I think so. He'll be okay. Is he a friend of yours? Is this the Pridelands?"
Scar wasn't sure how to answer that, so, he opted to ignore the first question. "This is the Pridelands, yes. I heard Nightmare Moon shouting inside the tree, I think she did this. But why are you here?"
"I... I don't know," Twilight replied. "We don't really control the Elements of Harmony, we just direct them."
"N... Nightmare...." gasped Rafiki, beginning to come around.
"Shh," advised Twilight. "Let my magic work for a few more minutes before you try to speak."
Now that he was conscious, he began to recover at a remarkable rate, and finally Twilight stopped the spell, panting a little bit. "There... I think that's all I can do. How are you feeling?"
"Much... much better. Thank you, little one. I have never felt anything like that.. it was most remarkable."
Twilight blushed a little, "A little healing magic... your own body did most of the work."
Rafiki then seemed to notice Scar for the first time. He looked at Twilight, then back to Scar again. "Is this your doing?" he asked. "More magical ponies in the Pridelands?"
Scar froze for a moment, then shook his head. "No," he said finally, his voice quiet.
Rafiki's eyebrows raised in surprise a moment, then slowly returned to normal as he studied Scar. His musing was interrupted as the unicorn spoke again.
"My name is Twilight Sparkle," she said. "I'm from the land of Equestria. I was trying to help Scar get back here to the Pridelands, but... something must have gone wrong with the Elements of Harmony. I'm not sure how I got here."
"Rafiki," replied the baboon, offering a small bow. "And I am indebted to you for your help. But, what are these Elements of Harmony?"
Twilight smiled, having yet another chance to explain something. "They're magical artifacts in Equestria. There are six of them, and one pony wields each one. Honesty, Laughter, Loyalty, Generosity, Kindness, and Magic, and they represent the foundations of friendship. Together, they form the most powerful magic known to ponykind."
Rafiki thought about this for a moment. "You speak of /maelewano/, harmony. But, you say you were attempting to use this magic?"
Twilight nodded. "Yes... we originally recovered the Elements in order to defeat Nightmare Moon, to stop her from causing everlasting night over Equestria."
Rafiki tilted his head. "Oh? Tell me how you used the Elements against Nightmare Moon, what exactly happened?"
Twilight relayed the events that had happened, starting with her arrival in Ponyville, and ending with Nightmare Moon vanishing in the rainbow of magic. "We had no idea that the Elements would send her here - we only found out when Scar turned up in the Everfree Forest."
Rafiki thought some more. "Most unfortunate, yes. She has done some very bad things here... but... the Great Kings sometimes work in mysterious ways. There may be greater plans afoot than we understand. You say you were just now trying to return Scar here using these elements?"
Another nod from Twilight. "Everything seemed to work correctly, but something backfired, and we both ended up coming through."
"That may be our fault," mused Rafiki. "Nightmare Moon was here, and we were trying to recreate the magic that caused Scar to vanish. Perhaps our two spells collided between the spaces..."
Twilight frowned. "If my studies are correct, that means there is a greater imbalance here now. We will have to find a way back to prevent instability."
Rafiki was silent for a moment, until Scar spoke up.
"Which means, of course, Nightmare Moon must go back too."
Again, Rafiki stared at Scar. Something was very different. But a realization was dawning on him. "I think that you are both correct... and I think I may have a plan that will work. Nightmare Moon, she wants to go back very badly. I do not believe she is thinking properly about it. But until all is rea, she must not know that you are returned, Scar, or that you are here, Twilight Sparkle. She believes the spell failed and that I failed her. If she continues to believe this, we will have time to organize."
Twilight nodded. "Of course, I'll do what I can. But without the Elements of Harmony, I'm not strong enough to face her head-on."
Scar spoke again, and smiled a little. "I don't think you need to destroy her. If you can get back with her, you and your friends are there with the Elements, and Princess Celestia is right there as well. She fears Celestia, I don't believe you will have trouble."
Another long stare from Rafiki, and then finally he walked up to Scar, limping a little, and poked Scar in the chest with his stick. "Where does your loyalty lie, Scar? To yourself or to the Pridelands?"
Scar looked surprised, and though he raised a paw to sweep the stick away, it stopped before he reached it. After a moment, his head lowered, and so did his paw. "That is a fair question," he responds. "But I will see the Pridelands restored."
Rafiki got up closer, and looked up into the lion's eyes. Scar looked away at first, but then, he turned back and met Rafiki's gaze. It lasted just a moment, and before Twilight could comment, Rafiki drew back.
"Sarabi and her family are in exile," he says, slowly at first, but growing in confidence. "Go to them, and take this token to prove I have sent you, for they will not believe you on your own, Scar." He handed Scar a small gourd, marked in sandy paint with the outline of a small lion. Again, the stare at the dark lion. "I believe you. I don't know why, but I do. They are with a small group - have them all return to me, and I will explain to them what to do. Then, the two of you must confront Nightmare Moon."
As the two set off in the direction Rafiki indicated, it was Twilight's turn to study Scar. Finally, the question burning in the forefront of her mind came out.
"Why did Rafiki have to think so hard about trusting you?"
Scar did not look back, but he slowed slightly. After a moment, he spoke, "Do you remember the fable you read to me about the pony Kings, the one who chose to bring light, and the one who felt he had to bring dark?"
Twilight looked as though this question caught her a little off-guard, but nodded. "Y...yes. Of course."
Scar nodded as well, and kept walking steadily. "I want to be more like the King who realized that he had a choice after all."
Nightmare Moon returned to the Pridelands two days later, her rage spent. She stood atop the promontory, watching. She was very worried. The magic drain was accelerating, and she could now feel it constantly. Her senses reached out, and again, nothing. She reached out to Rafiki's tree, the only source of anything resembling magic she had yet seen, and nothing special. He was puttering about, which was something at least. She had thought she might have killed him. She thought she detected a faint hint of something Equestrian, but, it could well have been traces of her own magic.
She did not go inside for hours, eventually settling down on the edge of the promontory, and staring out at her own night sky. Her rage had been a serious drain on her powers, and as she feared, her mane was faltering. It had nearly halfway reverted to hair, with only the edges glowing with the night sky. She thought about her promise to herself that she would destroy everything before she allowed her magic to slip away completely, and was no longer so sure that she could.
For the first time in over a thousand years, she wondered what her sister was doing. Her sister who always used to tease her and call her 'Lulu'. Who she played magical games of hide and seek with, and who would always compliment her night sky before going to bed. Her sister, with whom she discovered and learned to use the Elements of Harmony. Her sister with whom she defeated Discord and freed Equestria, and with whom she very nearly freed the Crystal Empire, only to lose it at the very moment victory seemed assured.
Was that when things started to go wrong? Was that when Celestia suddenly seemed so cold? She had a sudden realization... Celestia was the big sister. There was nopony else. When they lost the Crystal Empire, did Celestia feel the same guilt in her heart as well? And what did Luna do in return? Lash out with her own pain, accuse her of abandoning her little sister, and eventually... this. This personification of all the pain and anger in her heart.
She had worked on the spell for months, all the while telling herself that the fact Celestia wasn't trying to stop her was further proof that she had never really cared. She could suddenly see the entire spiral of self-pity and self-torment, and she realized it was never Celestia she was angry at, nor the ponies of Equestria. Only... herself.
And now... she turned her gaze to the eastern horizon where the sun was not rising, but if her magic continued to drain, that would be the next sign. Now, what was she doing? Alone and unwanted in a strange land, she was destroying it out of spite.
She stood, and started to walk back down the rock, towards the caves where the lionesses slept. She generally stayed away, not wanting very much to do with the lions here, but perhaps if she spoke gently enough, she would find an ear to talk to.
Her ears flicked backwards, and she recognized that voice. It was standing behind her, and there was no way it could have walked past her without being seen. The owner had to have winked into place there.
Her head came up, and the waves of self pity washed away with recognition. Her head turned, and she saw Twilight Sparkle standing defiant on the end of the promontory, glaring at her.
Now anger stirred in her heart again. The little foal had chased her all the way here - why? To destroy her? To gloat in her exile? It was ridiculous.
"What do you want?" she growled, turning and pulling herself up to her full height.
"You have to put a stop to this, and release this land," insisted Twilight.
Nightmare Moon shook her head. By now all those thoughts had faded, as she once again faced this young, insolent foal who dared to chase her all this way. The anger stirred her powers, and her mane flared to life once again. But she noticed something... Twilight stood alone. Twilight was also not wearing her element. She sent out her magic again, sensing, and could sense no other ponies, no other source of Equestrian magic. So no elements.
"You little foal!" she cried. "Who are you to make demands on me? Bad enough you have sent me to this place, now you chase me down and lecture me? Gloating in my defeat? Or perhaps you hope to finally destroy me? Hah! You will never have the chance!"
Twilight stood her ground, and lowered her head, pointing her horn at Nightmare Moon and scuffing the ground with her hoof.
Nightmare Moon was incredulous. "Really? REALLY? I know you don't have the elements! Are we really going to do this again?"
Twilight showed no signs up letting up. "I don't want to, but if you don't step down, then a challenge is the only legal way to put an end to it. I've been researching the laws of the lions and this is the way to do it."
"Oh please!" Nightmare Moon couldn't believe it. Last time, this had been an act, a feint to allow Twilight access to the fragments of the Elements of Harmony. But this time, a challenge in leonine law? Still, even ignoring the laws of the Pridelands, tradition demanded that a unicorn challenge be met. So when Twilight charged, Nightmare Moon lowered her horn and charged as well.
Just like before, right before they met, Twilight winked out, and left Nightmare Moon with open air. She had expected this, however, and skidded to a stop just before the edge of the rock. "Did you expect me to fall for that again?" she shouted back.
There was no clear answer. With a roar Scar leapt from a hiding place at the edge of the rock, catching Nightmare Moon broadside and carrying her over the lip of the rock. Though startled, she recovered quickly, spreading her wings and catching herself in flight.
The opening of her powerful wings broke Scar's tenuous grip. Unable to hang on, he plummeted to the base of the rock, landing with a heavy thud and a loud crack. Nightmare Moon twisted in the air to look at him, about to shout derision at him for this feeble attempt on her life.
Suddenly, she was enveloped in a blindingly bright rainbow that tore at her armor and her very coat, tightening around her. She knew this rainbow - she had already been its target twice. Terrified, she turned and followed it back to its source.
Standing across the field before Pride Rock was a motley crew of characters. Rafiki stood in the middle, his eyes glowing bright white as he guided the rainbow beam with his stick. She recognized Zazu, Sarabi and Sarafina as the lionesses who had left, and they stood with a meerkat and warthog she knew through this magical connection were called Timon and Pumbaa. Six friends brought together through uncertain situations and forced to be extraordinary, and she knew all this.
"But HOW?!" she screamed. "Twilight Sparkle didn't bring the Elements! SHE DIDN'T!"
Rafiki laughed, holding her tight in the magical field. "Hah! You think /maelewano/ exists only in your world!? Everywhere that friendship exists, this power exists! You will never escape it! Shed your darkness and return to your home!"
He waved his stick in a circlular, and the rainbow tightened, binding her firmly, shattering her armor. She saw a blinding white light as a circular rift tore open before her, and with a motion Rafiki directed her towards it. She felt her magic streaming away faster than ever before. Then she was falling into the darkness.
She landed on a hard stone floor, and heard the clattering of metal around her as her shattered armor joined her. She was free but felt every muscle in her body, it was painful to move. She was not sure she had any magic left in her, but at least it was cool here. She took a moment with her eyes closed to try and recover, only to hear a voice, stern and unforgiving, a voice she remembered so well from painful memories.
She gasped and opened her eyes, and saw that she was in a stone ruin - back in the old castle where she had faced Twilight Sparkle. She could see her hooves before her, and her fur had reverted to her original blue, rather than the black of her enhanced form. Then she looked up - and Celestia was standing over her. Her expression was stern, hard, and Luna remembered why she had been so angry. Had nothing changed? Was she now to be punished?
But Celestia crouched down before her, and her next words were spoken softly, with a sincerity Luna hadn't expected. "It has been a thousand years since I have seen you like this," she said. "It is time for us to put our differences aside." She extended a hoof. "We were meant to rule together, little sister. Will you accept my friendship?"
In that instant Luna realized all the answers she had been wondering just hours earlier. Here was her sister reaching out to her, her sister who had needed her as much as she herself had needed somepony, who had never forgiven herself for banishing Luna and was asking in this one instant to be forgiven.
Luna's heart not so much broke as shattered, and she got to her feet and hugged her sister with all her might, tears flowing. "I'm so sorry!" she cried, and she meant it. "I missed you so much!"
Celestia's eyes began to water as well, and she smiled as she returned the hug. "I missed you too."
Twilight reached Scar at full gallop in only a couple of minutes, but it pained her to take so long. That hadn't been the plan, he wasn't supposed to go over the edge! She wanted to wink down to him, but, she didn't know exactly where he was, and, she was terrified to notice, she didn't have enough magic left to do it. Something here was draining her magic. She had a lot for a unicorn her size, but, she had to save what was left.
Scar was laying in a crumpled heap at the base of the rock, and Twilight feared she was too late until he rolled over at the sound of her hooves on the rock. He moaned softly, but attempted to push himself upwards.
"Ah... my.. friend...." he groaned, each word an effort.
"No!" cried Twilight, her horn flaring. "Hold still!" Scar felt a heat penetrate his body, feeling it encircle his broken bones and damaged organs, and felt the pain reduce slightly. But her horn was flickering on and off, flaring then sputtering.
"Twilight?" he asked. He was stronger already, but she was still pushing hard, her body leaning into it as she strained with the effort.
"My magic," she grunted, "I'm almost out! I don't know what it is!"
"It's the Pridelands," said Rafiki, approaching from behind. "Your magic is not a part of this world, and it is trying to regain balance. Nightmare Moon must have felt it too... perhaps that was why she was so desperate to return home."
"But I have to help him!" cried Twilight, her horn flashing again, a tremendous but short-lived flare.
Scar was able to sit up now, and he placed a paw on Twilight's shoulder. "You have helped me," he smiled, although he still winced as he adjusted his balance. "More than you will ever know. I will always remember what you've told me. Because of you," he chuckled, though it elicited another wince, "I know that I have a choice."
Twilight looked hesitant, but it was clear that the effort to maintain the spell was taking a toll. Rafiki pointed at the hanging portal where Nightmare Moon had passed.
"That magic does not belong here either," he cautioned, "and it will soon snap shut, never again to open. Once balance is restored it will be very difficult to upset it again. Twilight Sparkle, you must go now, or you may never leave."
Twilight looked back to the portal, to Rafiki, and finally to Scar. He nodded slowly, and the warthog stepped forward.
"We'll take care of him, honest. Thanks for all your help."
Twilight nodded one last time, then stepped forward to embrace the lion tightly. "I'll remember you too," she assured him. "And I'll remember to look up for the Great Kings of the Past when I feel alone. I know one day you will join them."
Scar dipped his head, his ears folded shyly, and then Twilight stepped into the portal. It closed behind her without a sound, just a tiny rush of air, and then all was still.
"Well, hey!" cried the meerkat. "Who's up for some grub?"
Dawn returned to the Pridelands just a few hours later, and Scar gathered the remaining lionesses to him next to Pride Rock. Around his midsection he wore a support crafted by Rafiki, filled with healing herbs to ease the pain and aid the healing that Twilight had started for him. But he drew no attention to this. The speech he wanted to give was not one to shout from the top of the rock, but to be spoken softly from the heart.
"I'm sorry," he opened, and the lionesses lifted their heads to listen, sensing the sincerity. "Words are not adequate for all that I've done, but they are true. Our pride has lost a great lion, and I was a part of that. But I grieve with you all, because I've lost my brother, and only now do I realize what that means."
"I do not deserve to rule," he continued. "Some would say I do not deserve to live, and I might agree with them. But I will make amends."
"Simba is the rightful King, son of Mufasa and heir to the throne, but he is yet a cub. We will let him be a cub and not burden him with responsibility. I will teach and advise him to the limits of what his mother will permit, and you all shall hear me now, that upon his mantlement I shall step down and follow his lead."
Timon was off away from the group, with Rafiki, watching the small ceremony. He looked up at the baboon.
"You know, that was some pretty crazy stuff we did, with the rainbows and all. Pretty amazing, and so much power! Do you figure we can do anything like that again?"
Rafiki smiled down at the little creature. "Magic comes from the connection of hearts, my little friend. Though we guided it, that magic drew from the world of Nightmare Moon, to take her back to it. Magic in our world is usually a little more subtle, but if you watch for it, it is there all around you."
The two of them looked back towards Scar, to listen to him finish.
"This is all I can do, and I know that it will not be enough. But I will choose the light, because the choice is mine to make. I did not always know that. But finally, after so many years, someone trusts me to do my best." He looks up at the fading stars. "I think someone else always did."
Finally, his gaze settled on the rising sun, "From now on, I want to know that I won't let either of them down."
In Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle was also watching the sunrise. Upon her return the others had filled her in on Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Then she tried to spend the night taking notes on all she could remember, but of course Pinkie had insisted on a party. Finally, she was writing a summary report to Princess Celestia.
Dear Princess Celestia,
We've had quite an adventure this week, and I've learned so much. I've learned that there are worlds besides our own, and that different beings have so many different outlooks that we must all take into account to get along. I have a whole series of reports to write on the things I learned about King Scar’s world.
I've learned that it's important to know that we always have a choice, that we can always choose to be the sort of pony that we want to be. Even when it's hard and things are terribly dark around us, we can always choose the light.
But what I've learned about most is friendship. I've learned how wonderful it is to have friends who care about you and about the power for good and right that friendship brings. I've learned that the Elements of Harmony exist in all places and that all creatures are capable of the honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, loyalty, and love that friendship brings. Most of all love, because that is the true magic. And I've learned that where ever friendship blooms, Harmony is never far behind.
I'm so happy that you are reunited with your sister, and I hope that Princess Luna will visit us soon. I owe you a much longer letter very soon about everything that happened in the Pridelands, but Pinkie Pie invited us to an after-after-celebration Party, and Spike looks like he really wants to go. I don't want to keep my friends waiting.
Your faithful student,