“So, you’re definitely ready to do this? It’s a big job, ya’ know,” spoke the voice of a stallion, hidden within the shadows of the alleyway. The only visible features were his golden, dragon-like eyes.
“Obviously. How hard can it be? They’re just six civilians,” came the reply of a grey mare. She stared at the stallion, narrowing her red, dragon-esque eyes.
“Just civilians? As if! These are the bearers of the Elements of Harmony. They aren’t just ‘civilians,’ so don’t underestimate them. Did you read the mission file?”
The mare snorted. “Yes,” she deadpanned. “They don’t seem that tough without their precious elements on hoof.”
The stallion’s eyes narrowed. “Just remember, Nocturna, I have someplace else to be, so I can’t bail your flank out if something goes wrong.” Although it wasn’t visible, he smirked. “After you’re done, you know where to meet me. Just don’t screw up, or the boss won’t be too happy about it,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Not that she’s ever happy.” With that, the mysterious stallion vanished in a flash of yellow light.
“Hmph,” grunted Nocturna. “How hard could this be?” She brushed her unkempt mane, consisting of both dark and light blue, out of her eyes. She stepped out of the alleyway and into the night time streets of Ponyville. Upon her flank were a few blue swirls resembling a flame. Curiously, next to her cutie mark was a strange symbol. She glanced both ways down the street, standing under a streetlight. “And now, the fun begins.”
Nocturna’s horn flared to life with a deep blue aura. “Maybe if I lure them out, I can take them all out at once...” she said to herself, smirking. The grey mare turned towards the nearest house, wasting no time in firing a jet of blue flames, setting the home ablaze. With that, Nocturna took several steps back and waited. She could hear muffled screams of a mare who lived inside.
The door of the house burst open with a soot covered mare stumbling onto the street as her house continued to burn. She caught herself by kneeling down, coughing to clear her lungs of smoke.
Nocturna stepped forward with a sinister grin as the distraught mare was shrouded with a deep blue aura, hoisting her into the air.
The purple mare’s attention whipped towards a smirking Nocturna, fear overtaking her thoughts. “Somepony help me!” she cried, terrified for her life. She did little more than tremble in the air.
“Yeah, go ahead, cry for help as loud as you want,” Nocturna encouraged.
“Help me!!” the mare continued, louder than before. Nocturna glanced around, seeing the frightened eyes of many ponies from their windows. But they didn’t matter. None of these common ponies mattered. The pony who mattered most of all was-
Nocturna whirled around to see who her hostage had yelled out to. Glaring at her was indeed Twilight Sparkle, standing a distance down the road. Nocturna grinned ominously. “So, you’re Twilight Sparkle, huh?”
Twilight shuddered at the sight of the mare’s eyes, but shook herself and took a stance. “Who, and what, are you? Your eyes... they look similar to Nightmare Moon’s.”
“Name’s Nocturna Flamma, world’s strongest fire mage,” she boasted. The hostage mare was levitated in front of her, where she shivered in terror. “See her? She’s firewood if you don’t do what I say!” The trembling hostage looked at Twilight with pleading eyes.
Twilight cast a long gaze at Nocturna. “It’s okay, Cheerilee. Don’t worry; everything will be okay,” she soothed before turning her gaze sourly to the grey mare currently holding the teacher in her magical grip. “What do you want?”
Nocturna’s ominous grin widened. “I want you to gather your five special friends here first, then we’ll talk,” She demanded, snorting blue flames.
The unicorn snorted. “Fine, but out of curiosity, if you’re the best fire mage around, then logically we wouldn’t stand a chance, so you don’t even NEED a hostage. Perhaps you’re not as tough as you-”
A grey hoof suddenly gripped Twilight by her muzzle before twisting her off her hooves with apparent ease, leaving her amethyst muzzle ground into the dirt. Twilight’s thoughts were flustered from the sudden attack. When did she...?
“You may have a point, but she’s more to ensure that you move quickly. So stop talking and move before I decide to singe your pretty little flank on the way out.”
Twilight nodded silently, something which wasn’t easy to do under Nocturna’s grip.
“Good... now get going.” Nocturna released her solid grip on Twilight, swiftly jumping back over near her hostage.
Twilight took off like a shot, though it seemed she ran more for the sake of Cheerilee than for herself. She was confident, though scared. How admirable for a civilian.
After watching Twilight run off, Nocturna turned to Cheerilee, grinning. “I hope, for your sake, that your friend does what she’s told,” she mocked, snickering afterwards.
Twilight ran, she ran full gallop as lives depended on her. The first house she hit was Rarity’s, which led to a very flustered alabaster unicorn moving off to get Pinkie Pie and Applejack while Twilight swung out to Fluttershy’s place so she could wake up Rainbow Dash. All the while, she was pondering in her mind how she could stop this vicious assault on Ponyville, and keep Nocturna from hurting anypony else.
“Oh, Twilight!” Fluttershy exclaimed, then squeaked and hide behind her mane. “Um, what is that cloud of smoke over in Ponyville about?”
“Trouble,” she replied. “I need you to find Rainbow Dash, wake her up, and meet me at the library. Right now, I need to get a letter to Princess Celestia!”
Fluttershy branched away from the group, making a beeline straight for Rainbow Dash’s home with the utmost urgency.
Twilight spun around herself, charging back to Ponyville and more specifically, her library. Her mind had run itself ragged, but little option presented itself. They couldn’t fight Nocturna with Cheerilee held hostage, and if she was some kind of nightmare, they’d need the elements.
Spike awoke with a start as Twilight hurled into the library and up the stairs, practically screaming his name. He toppled and fell against the door, only for it to open a moment later under a purple glow. “Spike! Get up! Hurry!”
Spike grumbled. “What’s the big deal Twilight? I was sleeping. It’s night time, you know. Did you get back from Vinyl’s block party already?”
Twilight was frantic. “No no no, Spike! There’s a big problem. Some strange mare is attacking Ponyville, and she wants the bearers of the elements! She’s taken Cheerilee hostage and set at least one building alight. I need you to send a letter to the princess now! I’ve already written it!”
Spike gaped for a long moment, then nodded. Twilight hurled the letter at him magically, and he caught it in a blast of fire before it hit him. They’d been practicing his aim.
After a moment, the scroll vanished along with the fireball, and Twilight finally released a breath. “Okay, that’s done. Now to stall her... Spike, the elements should arrive by dragonfire. Please bring them when they arrive? I’ll be over by Cheerilee’s place.”
The baby dragon nodded, and shuddered. “You had to send them by dragonfire?”
“We don’t have time. Cheerilee’s life may be at stake.”
Spike grumbled. “Fine.”
Her objective fulfilled, Twilight took off again, out the door and towards the flames of Cheerilee’s burning house.
Nocturna was leaning on a lamp post, whistling idly while she watched Cheerilee’s house burn to cinders. The fire had already spread to a few of the surrounding houses; the inhabitants had long since abandoned their homes and abandoned the area.
“So,” the grey mare began, glancing towards Cheerilee. “I’ve got about ten seconds till I’m bored of keeping you here.” Her tone was casual, as if she truly had no qualms with murder. “Better hope Twilight shows up to save the day,” she mocked.
“It’s done. They’re coming, now let her go,” the lavender mare said as she trotted out of the shadows. “It’s us you want.”
Nocturna whirled around to face Twilight, narrowing her eyes. “Well... aren’t you a big damned hero,” she deadpanned. “But you aren’t getting her friend back ‘till I see all of your stupid friends here. You’d better not be screwing with me!”
Twilight shuddered, but kept her voice even. “They’re coming. Don’t worry about it. In the meantime, we can talk.”
“Talk? About what?” she asked. “I have no obligation to answer questions or anything.”
“No, but isn’t it a villain’s obligation to monologue? Might as well do it now before the rest of them show up so you don’t do it in the middle of the fight and lose as a result right?”
Nocturna narrowed her eyes. “What’s there to monologue about? Basically, I’m going to kill you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me because I’m more powerful than you and your friends!”
“Not bad, but you want to really be the callous, sinister villain right?” Twilight asked.
“Just what are you getting at?” Nocturna scowled.
“Monologuing is required by the megalomaniac code of conduct. I read it in a book.”
Nocturna dismissively waved a hoof. “Book schmook! Do I look like I care? Now stop stalling! Where are you friends? If they aren’t here in ten seconds, this pony’s dead!” she yelled, levitating Cheerilee next to her.
“You really think Rarity will be here so soon? Really?” Twilight shook her head in disbelief. “Even in an emergency it takes that mare twenty minutes to take care of her hair. What’s the rush? It’s not like we can do anything.”
“Shut up!” she spat. “I’ll do this however I want!”
“Granted, but it still makes sense that if you have time, why not practice the megalomaniac angle? It would add some flavor to your style I think.”
“One more word out of you, and the mare’s firewood!” Nocturna threatened. She was done with this petty back-and-forth between her and Twilight. “Great, now I have to count all over again...”
Twilight smiled. “Oh? What were you counting? I hope it’s not the stars. There’s too many, and you could just ask Luna.”
Nocturna gave Twilight a deadpan stare. “Congratulations; you just killed the hostage.” A sudden pulse of light came from her horn. Just as the aura that levitated Cheerilee was about to burst into flames with her inside it, a burning piece of wood, shrouded in a lavender aura, slammed into Nocturna.
Twilight snorted. “Leave her out of this. You want us? You deal with us.”
Nocturna shook her head for a brief moment. She gritted her teeth, tossing Cheerilee away. She landed on the ground with a thud, but climbed to her hooves. Cheerilee mouthed a thank you and gave a curt nod to Twilight before fleeing.
The grey mare stared daggers at Twilight. “Why you...” Nocturna ominously approached Twilight. “Oh, I’ll deal with you alright!” A ball of blue flames suddenly erupted from her horn, speeding towards Twilight.
Twilight’s horn glowed as she blocked the fireball with a spherical, purple shield. “Unh!”
Keeping up her assault, a jet of searing blue flames spiralled out and high into the air,
forming the shape of a dragon’s head. “Take this!” The massive dragon-shaped flames opened its maw, letting out a terrifying roar before arching downwards towards Twilight, ready to engulf the mare in a blazing hellfire.
Twilight’s response was a bit less predictable, as she suddenly teleported and appeared before and below Nocturna, spinning to buck her in the face.
Nocturna’s eyes widened, glaring at the mare. The flames from her horn ceased as her head jerked far to the left, avoiding Twilight’s buck. Just as the grey mare was about to blast her with fire, Twilight vanished in another flash of light.
She appeared a distance behind Nocturna. “So you can make flames. You’re not fireproof. Threatening Cheerilee was a bad idea. Now we talk. Who are you, what do you want, and who sent you?” she voiced threateningly, her eyes widening slightly, perhaps in surprise at her own aggressive reaction. Her horn was glowing, though what it was affecting remained unseen.
“Not fireproof, huh?” retorted Nocturna, ignoring Twilight’s questions. The aura shrouding her horn expanded quickly, covering her entire body. The aura tightened around her, fitting her like a skin tight suit. Her entire form was now enveloped in a calm, deep blue glow. “I am now!” she boasted, turning around to face Twilight.
Twilight twitched. “Well, that’s a bit awkward. Oh well.” She shrugged, and hit Nocturna with the burning house.
The large pile of burnt, charred wood took Nocturna by surprise, burying her within the rubble. A muffled scream of rage sounded, followed by an explosion, discarding the burnt rubble. Still shrouded within her magic, Nocturna stood. “Oh, now you have really pissed me-”
Twilight had already vanished.
“-off?” Nocturna glanced quizzically around the battle scarred street. “Ah horseapples!”
Twilight ran, and she ran fast. The screams of distant ponies sounded as more smoke filled the skies. Was she simply attacking the whole town now? More lives could be in danger. She knew she had to get the girls and the elements. Those had to work.
Nocturna’s voice in particular rang out, rather threateningly. “If you don’t face me, Twilight, I’ll burn the whole town to the ground and everypony with it!” Her voice was laced with venom, clearly more than just agitated. An explosion thundered somewhere behind her, splintered wood flying into the air.
Twilight skidded to a stop and spun to face her attacker. “What are you? Have you no respect for life? Is an entire town a rounding error to you?!” she snapped furiously. To her, the thought that someone could be so callous... even Nightmare Moon, Chrysalis, and Discord had not been so.
Nocturna stepped out of the wreckage of the destroyed building and into the street, eyeing Twilight with a dastardly grin. “It doesn’t matter what I am! All that matters is that you and your friends end up dead!” The fiery mare’s horn unleashed a flurry of several blue fireballs at Twilight.
Twilight’s shield suffered the impacts with aplomb as the searing bolts turned the ground around her into charcoal. She snorted. “Stop this. Wanton destruction is only going to bring the princesses down on your head. I’d bet they can see the smoke from Canterlot right now.”
“This will be over quickly! Even if they got here, I’d bet they won’t make a difference!” Nocturna boasted, conjuring several large orbs of blue flame around her. One by one, they were launched at Twilight, arching through the air and down towards their target.
The mare kept her shield up, bracing for impact. In her mind, she was running at several hundred thoughts a second. She was analyzing it; All of it. The environment, her opponent, and the trajectory of the fireballs... it was almost more than she could track at once, and her shield almost flickered as a result, but it held.
This stalemate held for an incredibly long moment. Twilight ground her teeth, but she was smiling inwardly. Her magic reserves were massive. “Is that all you’ve got?” she gasped shakily, “I could do this all week!”
Nocturna narrowed her eyes, glaring at the lavender mare. “Those were just warm ups,” she replied. A blue light appeared at the tip of her horn, and began to grow, slowly. It was an orb of... compressed flames? While that happened, the skin-tight shroud of deep blue magic enveloped her body. Even she needed protection from this level of heat. The ground Nocturna stood on blackened as the orb increased in size. The grey mare gritted her teeth all, the while forcing a great effort.
Twilight reinforced her shield. This was going to hurt. She only hoped the time she was buying was enough.
“Almost... there...” Nocturna grunted. In mere moments, she would have poured as much power into the attack as she could control. It was strenuous, and put a large drain on her magic pool, but it was a fierce and destructive attack. “And... there!” The orb of compressed fire magic reached the size of a basketball, but was far more potent than it appeared. The surrounding air was searing hot. Nocturna forced a grin, staring at dead ahead at Twilight. “That shield... isn’t gonna help you!” she claimed.
Twilight snorted. “My brother can shield an entire city against an invasion, and he wasn’t raised in magic since he was four and taught by an alicorn. I know my shield won’t protect me from that much concentrated heat. Magic used as a barrier can’t stop heat any better than normal material” she smiled. “Which is why, according to Starswirl the Bearded’s postulates, I also know that you have to be concentrating extremely hard to maintain that fireball. Now, ” she said. “What happens if you get distracted, say by the pony standing behind you.” At that moment, a cheery voice sounded.
“Ohhh! Are you the Meanie-McMeaniepants that started burning down everpony’s homes?”
“Huh!?” Nocturna whirled around to see who was behind her, staring daggers.
Sure enough, there was a pony. The pink one of the six she was told to take care of. The pony just smiled obliviously. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!” Then her face fell. “That wasn’t really nice of you to burn the town you know. Ponies could have gotten hurt!”
Nocturna snorted. “Shut up. I’ll deal with you in a second.” She then spun around to face Twilight again, only to find her nose to nose with the mare in question. “Oh...”
“This is for threatening Cheerilee!” She promptly struck Nocturna with a concentrated bolt of pure magic.
It was like getting hit by a train, even with the protection of her shroud. Nocturna soared backwards like a bird as she dropped the orb from the tip of her horn. Her less-than-graceful fight was interrupted by smashing into an unused wagon.
Twilight, meanwhile, teleported back to her original position and took cover, dispelling the illusion of Pinkie Pie she’d conjured. There was no telling if that magic would go off or-
Nocturna’s spell exploded violently on the ground where it landed, its blue light filling the entire width of the street and beyond. The nearest buildings on each side of the street were blown away, their flaming debris further spreading the destructive fires. A searing wave of heat expanded beyond the explosion, making Twilight’s mane singe a little.
Twilight staggered to her hooves as the dust cleared, shaking the char from her mane. “Unnhhh... what?” Then, she beheld the devastation. A massive, charred crater, stretching beyond the width of street, was all that remained before her.
“No... Ponyville... the fire... so many innocent ponies’ homes...” Her face fell. “Why...?”
Nocturna climbed out from under the wreckage of the wagon, her shroud no longer active. She grunted as she pulled herself out. Her body was somewhat bruised, but it would take more than that to stop her. The destructive mare quickly climbed back onto her hooves, spotting Twilight on the other side of the crater. “You made me drop it, you idiot! I could have been killed too!” she yelled, glaring at the lavender unicorn.
Twilight didn’t respond. She simply gazed at the burning buildings and the massive crater in the middle of the road. “So much destruction, for nothing but the sake of destruction...”
Nocturna took off towards Twilight with swift speed. She jumped, clearing the width of the crater with assistance from her levitation. The grey mare landed on the other side of the crater, staring daggers at Twilight. “And I still don’t see your friends!” she spat, walking towards enemy.
Twilight looked up. “Why did you do this? You didn’t have to destroy anything. Why do you want to kill us? If you wanted to settle something with us, you could have done it away from the town. These ponies didn’t deserve this!”
Nocturna smirked, furrowing her brow ominously as she came to a stop. “Collateral damage doesn’t mean a thing to me,” she answered. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate these ponies, but I just don’t care.” Nocturna’s horn shimmered with magic once more, unleashing a stream of blue fire at Twilight.
Twilight’s shield half-heartedly rose, blocking the stream of flames, but it began to grow stronger. “You don’t care? Is that all you have to say?! These ponies have lives and families of their own! They’ve never hurt anypony, and many poured their heart and souls into their homes. Look at the town! Does that mean nothing to you?!”
The fire blast came to an abrupt halt, with Nocturna’s eyes scanning the surroundings. It was true, buildings were on fire, many of them now abandoned by their frightened inhabitants. Smoke blocked the night sky and its moon, and would have darkened the streets if not for the various raging fires that had broken out.
“Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Are you no more heartless than Nightmare Moon!?” she demanded. “Have you no piece of goodness left in your soul?”
Nocturna stood in place, her expression betraying light shock. She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth as memories flash in her head, memories of times that have long since passed. She seemed... troubled? However, she quickly shook it off, shooting a glare at Twilight. “I came here to do something, and I’m gonna deliver!” Nocturna shouted back.
Twilight shook her head sadly, then catching a sudden glimpse of alabaster.
“Twilight?” a voice said. Both Nocturna and the mare in question turned their heads, and saw Sweetie Belle.
“Sweetie, run! Get away from here!” At that moment, Twilight’s distraction was enough to drop her shield.
Nocturna’s head whirled back around, seeing Twilight’s shield drop. Acting quickly, her entire body was once more shrouded with magic. Her hind legs kicked off the ground, sending Nocturna forward with graceful, swift speed. She angled her head down, pointing her horn at Twilight, unleashing a fireball.
Twilight realized her mistake instantly, and her horn glowed to bring the shield back. The fireball impacted against the energy field just as it began to conjure. The force shattered the shield and knocked Twilight back, having narrowly prevented a direct hit from the fireball. However, Nocturna was hot on her tail.
“It’s over!” she shrouded mare yelled as she dove on top of Twilight, pinning her. The lavender mare’s fur began to singe from the heat radiating from Nocturna’s shroud.
Twilight grunted in pain, glaring at Nocturna. “Not even close!” She attempted to buck the lunatic mare off her, but to no avail. Nocturna hardly budged, only grunting before letting out an arrogant chuckle.
“You’ll have to hit me harder than that!” she claimed, conjuring flames at the tip of her horn. “Now die!”
Twilight closed her eyes, and her horn flared in an attempt to get away. There was no way she’d be able to teleport in time. She knew it. Incredible to think that after all the fiends... the lunatic gods and evil royals she and her friends had beaten... she’d die at the hands of somepony she knew absolutely nothing about. That was when Rainbow Dash did her best freight train impression.
“Gah!” cried Nocturna as she was sent hurtling off Twilight, smashing into the wreckage of a nearby building.
Twilight groaned as Rainbow rushed back over and helped her up with a wing. “Unnh... thanks, Dash. She...” Twilight shuddered. “She almost got me. She really wanted to kill me. She almost did.”
“What!?” Raindow Dash shouted angrily. “Oh, this pony’s gonna get it!” She quickly glided over towards Nocturna, who was just now climbing back onto her hooves, bruised and panting.
Twilight grunted, using her magic to grab Rainbow’s tail, pulling her back. “No. She’s too dangerous to take on your own.”
Rainbow’s head whipped around to Twilight. “Oh come on!” the pegasus groaned.
Twilight shook her head. “No. We need the others. There’s no way we can take her alone... she’s -unh-” she grunted, staggering a bit. “She’s the same as Nightmare Moon.”
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by what sounded like an explosion. Both mares instantly snapped to focus on Nocturna.
There she stood, not only once more within her shroud, but with blue flames emanating directly from her shroud. “Now you’ve really made me angry!” Her voice was an angered growl, intimidating both mares.
Twilight winced as she took a step to steady herself, and almost toppled. Rainbow caught her. “Easy. Don’t overdo it.”
Twilight nodded, then turned to Nocturna. “You know, you made a mistake.”
Nocturna only took off full gallop in response, using the same swift speed as she did when she first subdued Twilight earlier that night.
A deep blue glow resonated across the ground before her, the only warning she had before it rose straight in a vertical wall several meters thick. A pained thud sounded as Nocturna slammed headfirst into the wall, staggering backwards.
“Twilight Sparkle! Are you alright?” came a voice from behind them. That voice... it was so familiar. Twilight and Rainbow Dash turned around to see the Princess of the Night, Luna, land behind them. “I could see the fires of Ponyville from Canterlot.”
Twilight gaped for a moment. “Princess Luna? What? How?”
Several Lunar Guards descended from the sky, landing behind Princess Luna. “Allow me to reiterate: I saw the fires from Canterlot, and came to personally investigate,” she replied with a serious tone.
Twilight nodded limply. “The fire... all those homes...” she whispered sadly, then her eyes sparked. “Princess, be careful! That mare, she came to kill the bearers of the elements! She’s like Nightmare Moon!”
“What!?” bellowed Princess Luna, reverting to the Royal Canterlot Voice. Her magic took hold of the rock wall, and lowered it back to the ground, glaring at Nocturna, who was momentarily dazed. “Seize her!”
“Careful!” Twilight called. “She’s dangerous!”
The four Lunar Guards gave a curt nod before moving swiftly, surrounding Nocturna. “You’re under arrest!” one of them barked.
Nocturna shook her head rapidly to regain herself before glancing around quickly, prompting a growl. “Do the interruptions never end!?” The grey mare’s horn activated, bringing back her magic shroud yet again. With that, deep blue flames erupted from the shroud’s surface.
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Look out!”
The heat radiating from Nocturna’s form prompted the guards to step back, each raising a hoof to block some of it. “Wanna know the best part about this spell is?” the flaming mare rhetorically asked. “I can generate fire from any location on my shroud!” She performed a buck, sending two fireballs from her hind hooves at the guard directly behind her.
Twilight twisted and dragged Dash down, trusting the princess could handle herself. Meanwhile, the lunar guard barely managed to avoid the sudden fireball attack by swiftly going airborne, hovering in place. The other three rushed Nocturna en masse.
Nocturna spun around quickly, releasing a wave of flames from her body. The three lunar guards, unprepared for an attack of such ferocity, tried to escape into the air, but it was too late. The torrent of heat and plasma swept over them and set them ablaze, the wall of air in its wake casting them about like tenpins.
Princess Luna’s horn quickly shrouded the three of them with magic, simultaneously snuffing out the flames, and levitating them over towards her. They hadn’t been on fire long enough to be fatal, but given the intensity of Nocturna’s power, they were in no shape to fight.
The single airborne guard gulped nervously, seeing three of his comrades dispatched in a single attack. He knew he didn’t stand a chance against the monstrous mare. His fear only intensified when Nocturna turned, staring up at him.
“You’re next, buddy,” she taunted.
“No!” Luna bellowed. “Stand down, Night Glide. You don’t stand a chance against the likes of her. I will fight her instead.”
“But, Princess Luna...”
“Do not worry about me!” she retorted. “I order you to stand down.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” The Lunar Guard gave a reluctant nod before swiftly flying over to Luna, landing behind her.
Nocturna’s dragon-like eyes followed the guardspony, watching him as he retreated behind his princess. Her gaze then focused on the injured guards, then on Princess Luna. “Well, isn’t that noble? Protecting your guards like that,” she spoke, giving Luna a somewhat approving grin.
Princess Luna’s gaze was placid as she returned the smile with a deadpan gaze. “I will give thee one chance to surrender.”
Nocturna’s grin held, but her brow furrowed. “Sorry, Princess, but I can’t do that,” she answered arrogantly.
Luna’s lips curled faintly into a ghostly smile as she flexed her wings. “Good. I have not had a good fight in far too long.”
Nocturna arched an eyebrow. So, she was eager to fight? The grey mare didn’t know how strong one of the princesses was on the battlefield, but she felt excited to face one of them. It would be a wonderful test of her power. Nocturna even felt a bit jittery, maintaining her grin.
The princess took a slow step forwards, then another, and crouched. “I must admit that we are curious. Why are you attacking this town?”
Nocturna snorted, raising a hoof, and pointing directly at Twilight Sparkle. “To kill her, and her friends.” Her smirk intensified as she looked into the eyes of Princess Luna.
Her arrogance truly knew no bounds.
“Indeed. And why, pray tell?”
“That’s for me to know, and you to find out!” The mare’s horn conjured a single, large orb of fire before launching it at Princess Luna. Then, there was a pulse from Nocturna’s horn, causing the large fireball to burst into dozens of smaller ones.
Luna reacted with admirable control, her horn glowing in conjunction with a flap of her wings to throw a wall of frozen air... no. Rather, a vacuum into the path of the bolts, extinguishing them.
“Not bad, but let’s spice this up a bit!” Nocturna’s horn released more power as she raised her head. A blue inferno erupted from the ground, surrounding the two in a decently spacious ring. The wall of flames surrounding them stretched into the air, reaching as high as most buildings in Ponyville. Despite the impressive display in magic, Nocturna felt herself growing more drained, but refused to falter.
Luna looked around blandly. “Impressive, but pointless. Such power has no direct impact, and as an alicorn I have the physiology to survive a thousand years without air, or heat. Do you really think this will do anything to me?”
“Hmph!” Nocturna snorted, suddenly jumping back. The fiery mare disappeared behind the veil of flames. A fireball then burst through from behind Luna, speeding towards her with ferocity.
The alicorn snorted, taking several meters into the air with a single powerful flap and spinning to hurl a barrage of ice, created on her feathers by her previous vacuum attack, with telekinesis at the point the fireball penetrated the wall.
A flaming blue form suddenly blindsided Luna from the left, tackling her in mid-air.
Luna was surprised at the sheer speed of her opponent, but countered by barrel rolling in mid air, throwing her attacker off and to the ground with a grunt. “As fast as you are, you forget that attacking an alicorn means you must face earth pony strength!”
Nocturna rolled as soon as she hit the ground to displace some of the momentum to soften the blow. She quickly staggered onto her hooves, and glanced up at the alicorn, with neither her shroud nor the ring faltering. She took a moment, panting while thinking of a way to take on Luna. Despite making direct contact with her shroud active, Princess Luna received the most minor of burns, where a normal pony likely would have died.
Her thoughts were interrupted, however, by Luna dropping down with her forehooves aimed at her head. She was fast!
Nocturna’s legs reflexively kicked off, sending her in a backwards jump. A burst of fire magic from her shroud increased her speed for just a moment. Following up, the fiery mare immediately launched another fireball to intercept Luna’s path.
Luna blocked with a wing just as her hooves touched down on the ground, and the stench of burning feathers filled the air. “Good! You react swiftly... but now you’ve burned my wing. My sister will be furious.”
Nocturna panted as she stood in place, facing down Princess Luna. “I’ll burn... more than that!” she claimed, spreading her hooves in a wider stance. The light around her horn grew more intense, mirroring the turmoil of the ring of fire that enclosed them. Then, with a final grunt, Nocturna’s horn let out a sudden pulse of light. The swirling inferno around them arched in, the entirety collapsing in on top of them both.
Luna’s horn could just be seen glowing as the fire cascaded down, that same obscenely calm expression on her face.
When the torrent of flame cleared, it remained hard to see anything through the veil of smoke. Nocturna’s shroud was no longer active, her body kneeling down, panting. She was just about at her limit, having used so many high level fire spells.
In the soft background of the few remaining flames crackling, a hoofstep was heard. The grey mare’s ears perked up, her eyes locking on the direction of the hoofsteps.
It was Luna. She was a bit charred, but generally unhurt.
Nocturna’s eyes shot open wide, awash with incredulity. “H-How?”
“Your weakness is that you focus so much on purely fire magic. Fire is not a perfect weapon, you know,” Luna said. “It requires three things to function, heat, fuel, and air. All I have to do is remove the air.”
Flames shot out of her nostrils with a snort, glaring at Luna. “What else am I supposed to do? It’s my special talent! I suck at just about all other magic except levitation!”
Luna sighed. “All that power, and you cannot see the truth... oh well,” she shrugged with her horn aglow. “Monsters like you have too much power already.”
“Princess Luna, wait!”
Luna paused at the sound of Twilight’s voice. “Yes, Twilight?”
“She’s a Nightmare like you were, doesn’t that mean...?”
Twilight was interrupted with an orb of fire narrowly missing her head, scorching her mane lightly as it passed. “Ah... horseapples!” blurted Nocturna, who was hunched over in exhaustion. Her aim had been shaky, given what little magic she has left to draw from.
Luna shook her head sadly. “You may speak, Twilight,” she snorted. “She cannot harm us at the moment.”
“Like Tartarus I can’t!”
Luna snorted and telekinetically swatted the foul-mouthed mare across the face with a large piece of wood. Nocturna yelped as the wood broke across her face. The grey mare fell onto her side with a hard thud. “Uhhhnn...”
Twilight winced at the sound of the mare’s yell, and shook her head. “What I meant to ask is, if she’s a nightmare like Nightmare Moon... wouldn’t the Elements of Harmony...?”
Luna paused for a moment. “In truth, I do not know. I was, you could say asleep, and don’t know what happened while I was Nightmare Moon. However, I do remember the feel of a nightmare, and this... this is different somehow.”
“Really?” Twilight’s eyes shone in spite of themselves. “Can you tell me how? Maybe I can-”
“No, Twilight, I’m afraid I cannot.” At the sight of the mare’s ears drooping, Luna sighed. “However, it may be that the elements may indeed have some effect on her. My chief worry comes from that.” There was a long pause before she continued. “The Elements of Harmony are an incredibly powerful force of magic that could be used for good or ill. Thus far, they have only been used on immortals, such as alicorns or a draconequus such as Discord. However, this mare is neither. What if that immense magical power doesn’t simply cleanse her, but annihilates her as it would to me had I not been immortal?”
Twilight shuddered. “You mean the elements-”
“-can kill?” interrupted Luna. “Yes, I believe that is possible.”
“But, we have to use them! We have to try to get that monster out of that mare’s head. Whoever she is, she deserves to be free!”
“Yeah!” added Rainbow, who stepped forwards.
“I agree, darling,” Rarity said, trotting up. Sweetie trailed behind her. “Sweetie here ran to get us at the library as soon as she escaped. Are you alright?”
Twilight nodded wearily. “Yes, just a few minor burns. I’m pretty tough. Comes from growing up with a baby dragon.”
Rarity sighed in relief.
Applejack arrived next. “Sorry, I had t’get Derpy and Dinky out of their house. They were having trouble packing their muffins. By the moon what happened here? Ah’ Princess!” she yelped, noticing Luna. “Beggin’ your pardon, princess.”
“It is fine, Applejack. That leaves only... ah there they are.” She smiled. Sure enough, Pinkie Pie was approaching, and she was running on her back legs like a diamond dog, her forehooves up in the air as she made the most bizarre sound they’d ever heard.
“OOLOOLOOLOOLOOLOO!!” The only way to describe it was nonsensical, and for a long moment they just gawked, though less from that and more from the fact that Fluttershy was in Pinkie’s forehooves looking like she was sitting in an electric chair.
It was only a moment later when Pinkie arrived and set the traumatized pegasus down. “Ready-ready! Fluttershy got all twitchy, so I had to carry her. Where’s the big Meanie McMeaniepants that did this?”
Twilight gestured to the concussed mare not far from Luna, and Pinkie nodded. “Okie dokie loki! What’s the plan?”
“We use the Elements of Harmony,” was the lavender mare’s solemn reply. She turned to face Luna, who spoke next.
“Then you are certain? You will risk it?”
Twilight swallowed, but her expression didn’t change, nor did her resolve. “I just want to help her. I trust the elements.”
Luna nodded. “You are really willing to bear the burden of killing her then?”
The other mares snapped to attention at that. What did the princess just say?
“Twi?” Applejack questioned.
The unicorn took a deep breath, and nodded. “Yes. Even you can’t stop her if she keeps fighting or escapes. Imagine the damage she could do to Manehatten in retribution. We have to stop her. We have to try. I’ll bear that.”
Luna nodded, and prepared to step out of the way, when a sudden eruption of flames caused her and the other ponies to stagger on their hooves. Their heads all whipped towards Nocturna, who stood on all four hooves, glaring venomously at them. The insignia next her cutie mark was glowing, while the rest of her body was shrouded with a familiar blue glow, only it was unstable. “I... will not... lose!”
Luna took a battle stance, and nodded to the bearers. “Take cover. I will keep her busy.”
“Are you sure, Princess? Your wing...”
“I can manage for now,” Luna assured before turning her attention back to the enraged mare.
Nocturna unleashed a swirling, continuous torrent of flames from her horn at Princess Luna. The front end took the shape of a dragon’s head, opening its infernal maw as it closed in on the dark alicorn.
Luna spun and threw herself sideways, telekinetically hurling large chunks of debris at her opponent while she was busy directing the salamander. “You waste time detailing your fireballs? are you so narcissistic that you make art out of destruction too?”
“Shut up!” Nocturna bolted the same direction Luna did, mentally directing her dragon-esque torrent of flames to swerve towards Princess Luna.
Luna continued to rain wood and rock in Nocturna’s direction, while mentally focusing herself on avoiding the dragon. It was much like a dance, with each partner trying to hurt the other.
Nocturna swiftly dodged around the debris, spinning, sliding, and even jumping until Luna’s assault ended. With a grunt of frustration, she ceased her previous attack. The dragon of flames dissipated rapidly. The fiery mare pawed at the charred ground with a hoof, staring down Princess Luna. It was then that a wicked grin manifested on her features. She began to pool her magic at the tip of her horn, all into a condensed, infernal sphere. Dust and ash were continually swept away from her body, a heated wind emanating directly from the orb.
Luna’s horn glowed in response. “Have you learned nothing? Fire doesn’t work in space.”
At a respectable distance from the conflict, Twilight turned to the other five girls. Rarity spoke first. “Twilight, dear... what was Luna talking about?”
“There’s a risk, that if we use the Elements of Harmony, there’s a chance, a possibility, you could say, that they might not heal that mare, but kill her.” She took a deep breath as everyone, even Fluttershy, who was just starting to recover, gasped in horror. “The Elements are incredibly powerful, and thus far we’ve only used them on immortal entities like Discord and Nightmare Moon. That mare... she’s no immortal, no matter that she’s a nightmare.”
There was a long silence among the six mares, in spite of the roar of the fires and of the battle between Luna and Nocturna, then Fluttershy spoke first. “I... I think...” she began, hiding behind her mane, then her voice strengthened “I think we should do it. ”
To say the others gawked would have been an understatement. Of the six of them, Fluttershy was the first to be willing to risk another pony’s life?
Twilight was the first to recover, giving a curt nod. “Well, girls?” the lavender mare spoke. One by one, the other bearers of the Elements of Harmony followed Twilight’s example, each giving a nod of approval. In the end, it was the best solution. They had to protect Ponyville, its inhabitants, and themselves. Even if there was a chance that Nocturna could perish, they had to give it a chance to save her. Besides, Luna herself had told them what it was to be a nightmare; to be trapped in your own skin as something took over. Death was better than being a prisoner in your own skin.
Their attention was broken when a wave of heated air rushed past them. They turned to find Nocturna’s spell had reached dangerous levels of power, a wicked grin plastered on her face. “It’s done!” Nocturna exclaimed. “Do you really think... you can just stamp out this much power!?” Her rhetorical question was followed by a sinister laugh.
Luna snorted. “You are fire. Without fuel, you cannot burn, without air, you peter out. Heat you have in excess, but all you are in the end is hot air. I’m used to hot air. I get enough of that from having to deal with politicians kissing my hooves every evening. I used to want to be loved. I still do. But I know the difference between somepony trying to kiss my royal flank, and a colt that truly adores me and my work.”
Nocturna held her tongue, pawing at the ground with a hoof. She growled under her breath, glaring venomously at Princess Luna. She had nothing further to say to the alicorn. Nocturna’s head reared as her smirk returned. Then, as quickly as it came, her grin vanished.
Nocturna’s eyes shot open wide, looking behind Princess Luna. A look of fear overtook her features. “B-Boss?! What are you doing here!?”
Luna smirked. “Do you take me for a fool? A year ago I might have fallen for that, but spending time having a prank war with my immortal sister makes it hard to be surprised anymore.”
The princess of the night suddenly felt something tap her shoulder. She perked up, turning to see nothing more than a floating piece of wood.
Nocturna’s plan worked. The mare’s head whipped forward, sending the dangerously unstable sphere of compressed fire magic hurtling towards the distracted alicorn.
Luna realized what was happening, and threw up a magic barricade, but it wasn’t enough to completely block the impact. The massive explosion managed to break her barrier, blow her off her hooves, and crashed into the remains of a house, scattering splintered wood everywhere.
Nocturna herself was knocked back, skidding down the charred road as her shroud of magic dissipated. Her burst in magic power was over, and she weakly staggered onto her hooves, looking on at the destruction she caused, this being the second time she used her most destructive spell. A new, charred crater was left in the wake of the explosion, this one just as big as the first. With a grimace, she stepped forward and glance across the crater to make sure the princess was out.
This hadn’t gone at all how it was supposed to. She was supposed to take out the element bearers, at least one or two of them, then vanish without being noticed, but she’d gotten out of control and attracted one of the princesses. The mistress would be furious at her for blowing their cover. For blowing all their covers. Years of caution and careful planning to stay hidden, and now a princess had seen it. Even if others had, the fire could easily be attributed to an oven being left on or something, but a princess... No, this ruined everything.
“Unh... well played, Nightmare,” the lunar alicorn grunted, trying to get a hoof under herself and rise to continue, but she had difficulty doing so.
“No... no! How are you still alive!? No pony is supposed to survive that!” the grey Nightmare screamed. She stomped on the ground with her hooves repeatedly in a fit of rage, grunting and growling all the while.
Luna groaned and shook the dirt off her wings. “So you say. I guess that just makes me inequine. By the way,” she added with a victorious smirk. “You lose.”
At those words, Nocturna snapped. Her head drooped as her body trembled, growing more unstable with each passing moment. Then, her head shot up, with her back legs kicking off.
“Rrrraaaaaaaaahhhhh!” Nocturna blindly rushed forth at Princess Luna as fast as her legs to take her. No more strategy, no more reason, just rage.
Luna’s horn glowed, her confident smirk widening into a mildly disturbing grin. It was about a half-second later that bars of solidified magic erupted from the ground. At the speed she was going, Nocturna couldn’t possibly stop in time.
Pain. Pain was all she could feel, her mind almost going black. Nocturna fell onto her side with a hard thud, dazed from the pain of having run head first into magically conjured bars. Blood trickled down her face from her forehead, her mind teetering briefly on the edge of consciousness.
Luna’s horn continued to glow, materializing more magical bars until her dazed opponent sat in a luminous cage, and she smiled, gesturing beyond Nocturna. “You forgot about the bearers.”
Nocturna groaned, raising her head as she fought to stay conscious. Her eyes widened as she turned to face the group of six mares, whom she had been sent to murder.
Each of the mares stood in a familiar formation, and wore a golden artifact. A smug and very content baby dragon stood off just to the right, watching with a grin she could only describe as that of a brother seeing the bully that hurt his sister get their just desserts. Even as she watched, they began to float, held aloft by the energy of the arcane relics they bore.
“Horseapples...” Noctura muttered, looking on in horror. This was it... she lost.
The rainbow formed. So that was what it looked like... it was beautiful. To think something so magnificent could carry such destructive power.
The rainbow light of the Elements of Harmony engulfed her, swirling around her as she let out a final scream, floating several feet off the ground. She was lost from sight within its immense light. Such power... Nocturna couldn’t describe the feeling if she tried. Her entire life flashed before her eyes, lamenting the failure of her mission. It was supposed to have been easy, and yet, she failed miserably.
Then, there was mostly silence, broken only by the sounds of crackling fires that remained. The power of the Elements of Harmony had since dispersed, leaving dust cover in its wake. Then, a thud rang out from within the cover of dust. The mane six, Spike, Princess Luna, everyone. They watched silently as the dust cover eventually dissipated.
Lying on her side, was a pale yellow unicorn mare, whose mane and tail were colored with stripes of yellow and red. Plastered on her flank were orange swirls that resembled a flame. The mysterious symbol was completely absent. The mare was unconscious, her breathing steady, but audibly pained. Her body was bruised all over, her forehead continuing to lose blood.
A soft rain began to fall as everyone gathered around the unconscious pony, looking her over. Twilight was the first to break the silence. “So she’s alive after all...” she spoke, giving a sigh of relief, smiling.
“Indeed,” replied Princess Luna, trying to remain impassive, but failing to hide a relieved smile that matched Twilight’s.
“I was so worried... what if-”
“If it had killed her, you would have carried that guilt for the rest of your life. I know, Twilight. I carry enough already for a hundred lifetimes. I’m thankful that it didn’t turn out that way.”
Twilight nodded in agreement. “Me too, Princess.” A frown crept its way onto her features. “But, what happens now? With Ponyville, and this mare?”
The princess grimaced. “I have little option but to take custody of her. My sister will want to talk. Beyond that, I cannot say, but if all goes as I hope... perhaps you’ll see her again someday, and be friends, not enemies.”
“We were never enemies with this mare,” Twilight whispered, shaking her mane. “We were enemies of Nocturna.”
“My sister has rubbed off on you, Twilight. You sounded just like her for a moment. I’m glad... and proud. I’m sure she is too.”
Twilight quivered a bit. She talked like Celestia? “Princess?”
Luna sighed. “Nevermind Twilight. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to Canterlot. The fires are dying out already thanks to this rain, and I’m sure the repairs to the town will go swiftly from what we’ve seen in the past. I will speak to my sister about this as well. For now... you should rest.”
Twilight nodded limply, and Spike placed a claw on her shoulder. “Come on Twilight... let’s get you to bed.”
With that, the bearers of the Elements of Harmony split up, heading back to their respective homes, leaving Luna, her guards, and the unconscious mare alone in the street. Princess Luna turned to the only conscious guard. “Night Glide, we shall return to the castle immediately. Please take this mare, fly her back, and directly to the castle infirmary. I will take care of the others.”
The guard nodded smartly. “Yes, your majesty,” he replied, and got to work. Luna watched him for a bit, and stared absently into the clouded skies. The rain felt cool and soothing on her burns and her charred wing, but deep down, she felt... no, she knew this was only the beginning.
That night was the night they learned that Nightmare Moon wasn’t the only Nightmare lurking about in the shadows of Equestria.
“So, it looks like we’ll be having an empty seat now,” the voice of a yellow-eyed stallion echoed, walking into a mostly dark, but rather spacious, round chamber. “I told her not to underestimate them.” The clopping of multiple sets of hooves on the polished marble floor followed, echoing off the walls as a number of other ponies walked into the chamber.
“Then that is her own fault. Nocturna’s arrogant behavior became her own downfall,” a cold, feminine voice replied. “That idiot... going and blowing every rule of stealth and cover the organization has...” She trailed behind the stallion, only to branch off in a different direction.
Lining the walls were a number of large, ornate seats made of marble, each of them like a throne in their own right. Lit candles hung from the walls between each one of these seats, with but one exception. Directly across the chamber from the entrance, there was one of these thrones that did not have the a wall candle on each side, shrouding the location in darkness. One could see the beginning of a small staircase that lead up to it. The most discernable feature, however, was a set of purple eyes with slits as the pupils. There was a small opening on the ceiling, allowing light from Luna’s moon shine through, providing only minimal luminescence in the center area of the chamber.
Each pony took to their respective seats around the room. “Now that you’re all here, we maybe begin,” a vaguely feminine, very stoic, yet strong and authoritative voice spoke. The purple eyes that pierced the shrouds of darkness scanned the room, looking at each and everyone in the room. “Nocturna Flamma is no longer with us. She has been struck down by the Elements of Harmony.”
Most of the members glanced towards the empty seat in the room before turning their attention back to their leader. “Her reckless methods have also made our existence known to the Royal Sisters,” she continued. “Allow this to be a lesson in subtlety for future reference. We cannot afford to lose any more of us.”
A large, pale brown earth pony stallion shifted in his seat, looking towards his leader with slitted, light blue eyes. “With one of us gone, what happens now?” inquired his deep voice.
“We must remain vigilant. Her powers were indeed a valuable asset to our organization despite her personality.” Her purple eyes narrowed. “It is conceivable for Nocturna to return to us. While the host pony was purged by the Elements of Harmony, it is possible Nocturna was not destroyed, but only separated.”
“Surely we could find another fire mage,” the cold unicorn mare from earlier interjected. “Who’s to say that idiot won’t screw up again?”
“Oh come now, Frigid Glacier!” The mare’s eyes snapped towards the source of the reply. It was the yellow-eyed stallion who first accompanied her to Ponyville. “I actually liked her!” he said with smirk. “Even if she isn’t the brightest match in the box, I did appreciate her fiery personality brightening up this gloomy organization.”
Frigid Glacier huffed, glaring at him. “Dead Eye, we can’t be having ponies like that blowing our cover like that,” she argued, pointing at him with a hoof. “As much as you might have liked Nocturna, we all know she was an utter fool with no regard for subtlety. The secrecy and stealth we operate under is absolutely vital. It’s bad enough that the princesses discovered that our kind exists. If the Elements had not been used, and they’d actually captured Nocturna instead of just her weaker host, they might have discovered us.”
“You just hate her because you’re an ice mage,” Dead Eye replied with a smirk plastered on his face.
“No, I hate her for being such a blithering idiot!” the snake-eyed mare hissed back. “Why Lady Veil values her so highly is beyond me. All she has to offer is overwhelming firepower, and as useful as that will be in the endgame stage of our plans, all it does at this point is draw trouble like a flame draws moths. If anyone, you should have been the one to handle the mission, not her.”
Dead Eye raised an eyebrow, grinning mischievously. “You done yet? 'Cause the Griffon Kingdom called! They want their-”
“You leave those disgusting creatures out of this!” Frigid Glacier snarled as a spear of ice conjured next to her, pointing itself at Dead Eye. She grit her teeth furiously with a passionate anger.
Before either of them could blink, sharp black tendrils suddenly shot out of the shadows like bullets from their leader’s spot. They stopped not even an inch from Glacier’s and Dead Eye’s heads, narrowly avoiding impalement. The purple eyes that pierced through the veil of shadows narrowed angrily.
“Enough. Cease your arguments,” she demanded, her voice strong and authoritative, echoing within the chamber.
Frigid Glacier felt her leader’s eyes pierce the very foundations of her soul, returned her her gaze with one of fear, gulping nervously. “My apologies... I acted out of term,” she admitted, closing her eyes as beads of sweat trickled down her forehead.
Dead Eye merely sighed. “Sorry... I was just trying to have a little fun was all. Won’t happen again.”
The black tendrils receded back into the shadows from where the came. “Very well,” came her reply.
Dead Eye shifted nervously in his seat a little. “So, as you were saying?”
The sinister eyes in the darkness narrowed. “Reacquiring Nocturna will require patience. We must first determine if she was destroyed or separated. I leave that to you. For now, your secondary objectives while on missions will be to watch for any sign of Nocturna, and observe her host.” There was a pause as her eyes gave a sweeping scan of the chamber. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you all again how important stealth is after recent events. Am I correct?”
Everyone in the room gave a curt nod of acknowledgement.
“Good. You are all dismissed.”
The radiant gleam of the sun’s rays played softly across through the curtains, flickering across the bed and the face of the mare that lay in it. It would have been unfair to call it harsh, but even so, it was enough to gently rouse her from her sleep.
Her brow furrowed as a soft grunt escaped her lips. Despite the pleasant warmth of the sun’s rays, her closed eyes still weren’t spared from discomfort. She sat up slowly, bringing a hoof to her forehead. “Gah... where am I?” she muttered, opening her eyes.
“You are in Canterlot Castle, in a private room delegated for you to rest in peace. You’ve had quite the ordeal, you know.”
The bedridden mare’s eyes snapped wide open, her surprised gaze whipping to her right. Sitting next to her bed was a familiar pristine white alicorn, outfitted with her usual golden regalia. “Princess Celestia!?”
The regal figure nodded emotionlessly, though her eyes smiled. “That’s right. After you were cleansed by the elements, my sister brought you to the castle, and we’ve kept an eye on you while you recovered. You’re quite an enigma you know.”
She stared at the princess, utterly perplexed. “What? What are you talking about?” she asked with a puzzled tone.
“For the longest time, we thought my sister was the only Nightmare, but then you show up, and attack Ponyville for some reason. While I know you may have some... difficulty remembering what happened while you were possessed, we need to know whatever you can remember. That aside... what’s your name?”
The mare gave Princess Celestia a salute. “Lieutenant Nova Ignis, ma’am.”
Celestia’s eyebrow went up. “A solar guard? Strange... the guard’s roster is full. What unit?”
“The 004th, ma’am,” she answered quickly, giving a curt nod. Nova suddenly gasped, widening her eyes. “Oh no, my platoon!” She scrambled around in her bed, quickly crawling to the edge of the bed.
“The 004th? They disbanded...” Celestia’s eyes widened imperceptibly for the shortest moment. “After the end of the Pony-Griffon war...”
Nova’s chest suddenly felt heavy as she froze, her shocked gaze staring past Celestia. Several moments of eerie silence passed before she could speak. “What... what did you say?”
“Lieutenant Ignis, when were you born?”
Nova frowned, not liking where this was going. “I was born January 7th, 1313, your Majesty,” she answered nervously. “Why?”
Celestia twitched at that. The physical goddess of the sun actually twitched. Whatever Nova said must have been a surprise to cause that. “Hmm... that complicates things...” she muttered, looking pensive.
“What!? Tell me what’s going on!” Nova pleaded.
“Forgive me, Lieutenant Ignis, but this may come as a shock,” Celestia sighed. “The current date is July the 8th, 1437 EY.”
The bedridden unicorn sat there, frozen as her breathing stopped. Her eyes stared almost lifelessly into space. Nova’s entire body tensed up as she ran the date through her head repeatedly, absolutely speechless.
“For some reason, you remain roughly the same age you were when you vanished on a mission with your platoon. That was around 100 years ago.”
Nova’s ears twitched as a strained grin inched its way onto her features. “Heh heh heh heh...” she choked. “This is just a joke. This is just a joke, and my platoon is just fine, and the way is won...” Droplets trickled down her cheeks, her vision blurred her tears. As much in denial as she was, Nova knew Princess Celestia wouldn’t lie to her like that.
Celestia shook her head. “We did win the war, yes... but your entire platoon was lost during the mission you vanished on. We still don’t know who attacked your platoon, but regardless, I’m sorry. Even if there had been survivors... after a hundred years...”
Nova’s false smile fell as she listened to every word Celestia soke. Her head slowly drooped, closing her eyes in a futile attempt to hold back her tears. This is how it really is? Her entire life, her career, torn away from her with contrived cruelty.
Celestia herself knew all too well the mare’s emotions, and it stung like a hornet to see another suffer outliving all their companions. She’d gotten Luna back, but Nova... she had no such chance. Her comrades... her friends... all gone.
“I’m sorry, I know this must be a terrible shock to say the least. Is there anything I or my sister can...?”
Nova said nothing, only slumping down into the bed. The bedridden mare remained silent for what seemed like hours.
Celestia took a deep breath. “I see. Well then, I’m afraid I must speak with you on a subject of dire importance, and I’m afraid possibly a painful one for you personally. Can you bear it, lieutenant?”
Nova, despite her distraught state of mind, slowly looked up, glancing towards Celestia.
The Princess’s expression remained neutral, but her eyes did betray the urgency of her words. She was certain that whatever Nova could tell her was important. Her princess needed her.
“Yeah...” she finally answered, her tone quiet and solemn.
“I’m glad. If at any point it becomes to much... just say so, alright?”
Closing her eyes, the mare gave a slow a nod.
“Good. Lieutenant Ignis, we need to know what you remember. About the Nightmare, about the ambush that took your platoon, about everything.”
Nova took a deep breath and nodded. With that, her tale began.
The pale moon hung in the starry night sky, casting down its pale light over the forest below. The silence of the seemingly peaceful woodland was broken only by chirping of crickets, or the occasional hooting of an owl. The forest canopy blotted out what light the moon could provide, shrouding it in a soft darkness rich in shadows.
The sudden rustling of a shrub revealed a squirrel who scurried out from under it. He scavenged the forest floor for nuts or acorns, whatever he could find. From spot to spot he dashed, finding his way around in his search for food.
It was then that his ears perked up, prompting his innocent gaze to look off elsewhere into the forest. Within moments, the clopping of multiple sets of hooves were audible, and only grew in intensity. A mysterious orange light could be seen from behind the trees between him and whoever approached.
The squirrel retreated back into the shrub as a platoon of armored ponies, twenty six in total, rushed passed. Leading at the head of the platoon, was Lieutenant Nova Ignis, clad in golden armor of the Royal Guard. Her horn was aglow with an orange aura of magic, lighting the way. She looked ahead as she galloped, her troops following in toe.
“Lieutenant Ignis,” a stallion’s voice called from just behind her. “Are you sure you should use your magic in a dark forest like this? What if we get spotted?”
Nova’s serious gaze remained looking ahead. “Don’t worry, we’re still at least 1.5 Klicks south of where intel said the suspicious activity is. Once we’re there, we eliminate any threats.”
“I still dunno, what if there’s an ambush party, or something?”
“Corporal Streak, I said don’t worry! We’re not gonna be ambush, okay!?” Nova snapped back. Her eyes remained glued to the area ahead. Soon, they would be in position to take out any more threats to Equestria.
At this stage in the Pony-Griffon War, the Griffon Kingdom was on its last legs. Their forces were pushed back all the way to their capital city, Gryphus, and Equestrian victory was almost certain. For Nova and her platoon, they were pulled out after a six year tour, and given this last assignment. Equestria could not afford to overlook any suspicious activity, as it could potentially end up being a pivotal point in the war. Equestria would not risk it, not with victory so close at hoof.
A sudden explosion from behind caused Nova and her platoon to skid to a stop. She whirled around, a look of shock in her eyes, to find several of her troops thrown into the air, mangled from the blast. “What!?” she yelled.
Several lit bombs fell from various locations in the tree tops onto her troops, rocking the area with explosions, tearing more of her platoon apart. The cries and yells of the guards drowned out the sounds of night time forest. With half her platoon wiped out, her troops scattered, thrown into chaos from the sudden attack. Some of them were shell shocked, having been near some of the explosions.
Nova’s horn flared to life, drenching the surroundings in orange light. Her eyes widened as a dozen ponies, outfitted in skin tight stealth suits, descending from the tree tops, some of them directly in the path of a panicking guard. They were each equipped with a dagger and rope.
“What!? Ponies!?” Nova couldn’t believe her eyes. Her platoon was ambushed by a group of ponies? A shocking as it was, her military training kicked in. “Regroup and engage!” she barked, ripping her helmet off, followed by the body piece. Her body immediately felt much lighter, having shed the weight of her armor.
Only a hoof-full of her troops managed to regroup with Nova. Daggers were flung through the air, striking some of Nova’s troops in their throats. She couldn’t see any magic involved. Such stunning accuracy... The mare didn’t have time to think on this, and pulled down the guard next to her that would have been skewered through the eye with another dagger. From her position against the loam, she watched another of her platoon fall with his throat cut. The sight set a rage to boil inside her, and she grasped it. The traitors... they would burn for this!
Nova rolled to the right and shot to her hooves, her horn already wreathed in a flaming crimson aura mirrored against her eyes. “Platoon down!”
The remnants of the platoon, only six ponies strong now, dropped like rocks and curled into fetal positions to shield themselves, and not a moment too soon. A half-second later, the spell Nova had cast peaked, and the crimson taint exploded outwards like a wave of wrath. In that instant, the grass turned to ash and the trees burned sweetly. For about 30 feet in every direction, the forest became a funeral pyre for her attackers.
The mysterious attackers shielded their eyes with their forelegs as the inferno engulfed them. Every last one of them was consumed in rage of Nova’s fires, no longer visible behind the veil of flames.
Nova stood there, panting for a long moment. It took a lot out of her to start a firestorm like that. Still, it seems to have done the trick. There were no screams, no movements. Aside from the flame, all was still.
Then, through the veil of smoke, she could see shapes. Pony shapes. Nova widened her eyes in anticipation as the pony shapes emerged from the smoke, revealing the attackers to be unscathed.
Nova was stunned with disbelief. She stared wide eyed as more of their attackers calmly emerged from the smoke. How was this possible? Were their suits enchanted to withstand fire? It was the only viable conclusion Nova could come to.
But why? Fireproof enchantments were very difficult to acquire. To have so many of them would have to mean... sweet Celestia they’d planned for this. They planned on her. They studied her abilities! They knew how she fought! The resources they must have sunk into this, into preparing for her, why?! What was going on?!
Nova’s remaining troops began to stand, readying themselves to fight back, only for another slew of explosions to tear them all apart. An additional six assailants descended from the tree tops behind Nova. She spun, and realized there were none left. Twenty five of the finest ponies she’d ever fought with... her comrades. Her friends... gone. All gone!
“No... No!” She stomped a hoof into the ground, her rage boiling once more. With that, Nova unleashed a furious scream, her horn flaring to life. “Nooooo!”
The wrath in her heart was mirrored in her horn’s aura, but before her fury could be commanded, a tree branch struck Nova in the back of the head. The lieutenant fell to the ground with a hard thud, and as quickly as the strike came, the entire world went black.
“I see... and that’s everything you can remember? Nothing of your time under the Nightmare’s power?”
Nova sluggishly shook her head, staring down at the bed sheets. She felt like an absolute failure, unworthy to even be in the presence of Princess Celestia.
The princess sighed. “That will make things complicated, but at least you were spared the scars of what transpired. I am truly sorry for the events that led to all this, Miss Ignis. Had I any idea-”
Nova held up a hoof. “No, Princess, it wasn’t your fault...” she interrupted. “It was mine... I failed to protect my troops, and let myself get captured.” She looked up at Princess Celestia. “I let them down, Princess.” The mare tensed up as she fought back more tears.
“You are no less to blame than I, Lieutenant... but, I suppose this discussion is pointless in the end. Arguing fault will not change the past. All we can do is look to the future.”
“But, what am I supposed to do? I have nothing anymore... Everypony I ever knew is gone...” The bedridden unicorn averted her gaze again, staring back down at the bedding shamefully.
Perhaps... but that does not mean you are totally without connections to this time. I know a group of ponies that you will have met before, and I believe that at the very least, you can find friends in them.”
Puzzled, Nova looked back up at the princess. “Ponies that I’ve met before?”
“You really do not remember... do you? What your Nightmare did?”
Nova shook her head again, frowning.
The princess’s expression remained neutral. “I see... do you want to know? I warn you, it may be a bit of a shock, and after what you’ve gone through...”
“Might as well...” she answered.
Celestia nodded, and with that, recounted the details as much as she knew, as well as explaining what the Elements of Harmony were, and about their bearers, then for good measure explained about Princess Luna’s return, and the role the elements and their bearers played in it. Having no memory of the past one hundred years, Nova would not have knowledge of the Elements of Harmony’s existence. At best, they would have been myth. When she finished, she waited for Nova’s reaction.
Nova’s mouth hung open, almost touching the bed. It was a lot to take in for her. Celestia’s sister Luna, the Elements of Harmony and their bearers, and the fact that she tried to murder them. Sentiments of disappointment with her self welled up inside her. Possessed by a Nightmare or not, Nova felt awful for that.
“I can understand if it’s a bit of a shock, but that was not you, but the Nightmare. We all know this, and those that were not present do not know your identity. It will prevent you from suffering any... misdirected reprisals. I’ve taken another step towards that by retiring you from active duty until further notice. Your tour of duty ended a hundred years ago, after all.”
Nova took a deep breath through the mouth, and out her nose, releasing small jets of orange flames as she grimaced. That was painful to hear. After a moment, she looked Celestia in the eyes, frowning. “But, what do I do now, then?”
“Instead, I would like you to go to Ponyville. If there are any that would be willing to be your friends, those mares I mentioned are the ones. Perhaps from there, you can find a base in this time, and a purpose; maybe even happiness,” Celestia explained. “On top of that, try to make other friends as well.”
The heavy feelings of guilt lingering, Nova let out a sigh. “Alright, I’ll go to Ponyville,” she reluctantly said.
The regal visage of the sun princess broke into a faint smile. “I’m glad. Perhaps when you find those that your Nightmare wronged have forgiven you, you will begin to forgive yourself.”
The mare shifted around in the bed, nervously. “I hope you’re right...”
Celestia smiled softly. “You’ll understand my trust in you... and them, when I say that one of the six has been my personal student, and practically my adopted daughter since she was a filly.”
The unicorn’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Really? A student and adopted daughter? Which one?”
Celestia’s smile was distinctly not regal, but honest and amused in a way that would horrify a noble had they seen it. “Oh it’s not official or anything. She tends to be rather low key about her position, and I am as well to prevent the nobility from taking advantage of her. Regardless, you’ll know her. She kind of stands out.”
“Well, alright. Thank you, Princess Celestia,” replied Nova, lowering her head in an attempted bow. From her position on the bed, performing a full bow would be difficult.
The princess nodded in return, then rose to her hooves from her position by the bed. “I’m glad. You may rest here for a few days, and when you are ready, the ticket for a train to ponyville will be ready. My sister took the liberty of shopping for you, so your things will be ready as well. We can’t let you go with nothing can we? Besides... Luna loves to shop, so why not put that to use for another pony?”
“Heh, thanks...” Nova forced a grin, staring at Princess Celestia. She was grateful, truly, but it would take time to mentally recover from all of what has transpired.
“You are welcome Miss Ignis. I wish you luck in Ponyville... and welcome back to Equestria. May this be your chance for a new start.”
A hiss of steam rattled across Nova’s ears as she dismounted the train car at the little station. Slung around a shoulder was a large cloth satchel, containing a bag of money given to her by Princess Celestia, among other basic needs like hygiene products. Nova took several steps away from the train, and stopped, scanning her surroundings.
So, this was Ponyville. It had been only a week since Nova had first awoken and learned everything from Celestia, and in that time she’d at least recovered physically. She gave a quick glance at the train station’s clock. It was six o’clock pm.
From the station she could see the sizable mound of construction occurring several blocks away, and winced. Her doing. She did that. She caused that destruction, and ponies could have been hurt. Even if she was possessed at the time... there was no excuse for that kind of destruction.
Either way, Nova continued on. She walked away from the station to explore the town, deliberately avoiding the construction sights. Nova had studied a map of Ponyville during the week she spent at the castle, so she at least knew where the bearers of the Elements of Harmony lived in town. However, she remained nervous about confronting them. She decided to hold off on that for the time being.
Half an hour passed by uneventfully as her walk through Ponyville continued. She passed buildings, various stands, and ponies. Nova had admit, it was a rather simple town, something she could appreciate. However, she craved for something to drink. Something hard.
It was then that one building in particular caught her attention. The front of the building was simple; two windows and a door with the word “Bucket” above it. The sides of the building also had windows every few feet, and through the windows, a number of tables could be made out inside the building. The paint was a light shade of green that had been slowly fading over the years, though it appeared that the owners were preparing to add a new coat. Just over halfway to the back of the building, a second story rose out of roof.
The building had a pleasant scent drifting from it, or a combination of scents, to be more accurate. The flower beds around it had been neglected, though instead of being dead, they were very much alive with wildflowers and grasses blooming in them.
While most of the buildings in and around Ponyville were made of wood, the ponies that had constructed this building had opted to use stone in the construction. Large wooden pillars had been used as frames, but the majority of the outside appeared to be smooth stone, likely from a nearby quarry.
“This place looks like I could get a drink here,” Nova said to herself. With that, the unicorn meandered over to the entrance. The double doors were wide open, prompting her to step right in. Nova glanced around at the interior of the Bucket, taking it all in to get herself familiarized.
The inside was much like the outside. The floors were smooth stone, and while they looked well worn, they were their natural color. The center aisle was fairly wide, and on either side were four tables. Towards the back were four booths, two on each side, and a bar. Very little had been painted on the inside; whoever owned the building obviously liked natural colors.
A light cream colored mare was slowly drifting down the center, sweeping a wooden stick in front of her. She had her eyes closed, though she was smiling and humming to herself. Her ears were cocked towards the bar.
From behind the bar, the sounds of a pony working in the kitchen were idly drifting into the main room. Many scents were also drifting out, namely that of a cake and something spicy. Though there was no way of knowing for sure, the scents did not seem to be related.
Nova began a trot down the main aisle towards the bar, the clopping of her hooves ringing loudly in the quiet tavern. All that was on her mind right now was getting a drink, and not having to worry about anything.
The cream colored mare stopped, her ears perking up and rotating backwards. "Hello?" she asked, turning around slowly. "A customer?"
Nova slowly maneuvered around the mare and up towards the bar, her hooves clopping against the floor with each step. "Uh huh," she replied flatly to mare’s question. Nova took a seat at one of the bar stools, and levitated her satchel off and onto the floor next to her.
"Ah." She turned to face the bar, a pleasant smile on her face. "Flavor? Someone at the bar."
"Alright, alright!" came a voice from the back. A purple-maned, green pegasus appeared a moment later, the right side of his face covered in flour. "Well well well... looking for a drink? Retina won't let me serve anything strong this late in the day, but I make a mean smoothie."
Nova slouched as she let out as sigh. "How come? I could really use something strong right about now," she replied.
Flavor smirked. “Well..."
"We have a deal worked out, Flavor," Retina interrupted, carefully levitating a stick around the counter. She tapped a glass full of water, then levitated the glass to her mouth.
"Fine, fine." The pegasus gave Nova a winked. "What would you like? You don't look like a fruit-smoothie sort of girl."
Nova’s horn illuminated, levitated a sac of bits onto the counter. "Give me your best," she said as the orange aura surrounding the the sac to shake it, filling the room with the sound of jingling coins before plopping it into the counter.
Retina looked towards Flavor, her facial features betraying feelings of disappointment. Though, her gaze ended up missing, instead targeting a wall behind him.
The pegasus grinned, popping open a bottle labeled Banned after 6:30. He poured three shot-glasses, and the pushed all three across to the newcomer. "Don't suppose you're hungry," he said casually, looking over his shoulder. Black smoke was starting to drift out of the kitchen.
The fire mage managed to smiled a little, levitating the first shot glass towards her. "Thanks. What do you to eat?" asked Nova before downing the first shot.
"Food," the pegasus replied. "I think the cake is on fire, which means it's just about done... so I'll be right back."
"He makes pretty good hay fries if you're into that sort of thing." Retina smiled at a toaster. "He's got all kinds of sandwiches he can do, and I think there's still some soup left over from lunch."
Nova tilted her head quizzically, raising an eyebrow. "What are Hay fries?" she asked, not at all familiar with the food. She figured they must have been something that came along during her rather... elongated absence. A second shot glass came up to her mouth, which she quickly drank.
"Never had them?" Retina again levitated the stick, this time brushing it against a rather large container that was sitting on a warming tray behind the counter. Carefully, she levitated the entire container over to the table. After testing one of the hay fries, she again gave the toaster a smile. "Feel free to have all you like. He's probably got a new batch in the oven, so these need to go. No charge, of course."
Nova smiled a little again. "Oh, thanks," she said. She levitated several hay fries directly to her mouth, eating them. After swallowing, she perked up, and began to levitate more and more hay friends into her mouth. Nova consumed the hay fries almost like a vacuum cleaner does dirt. In only a matter of moments, the container was empty.
Flavor drifted out of the kitchen a moment later, holding a frying pan with an insulated pot holder. The pegasus looked perplexed, though he had every right to be; the contents of the pan were on fire. "Uh...Retina?"
"What did you do?" the creme-colored unicorn asked, frowning.
"Don't rightfully know, actually. Not really sure I can salvage this one... heck, I don't know what it was in the first place. It's all burnt." He sat the pan down on the counter before looking to Nova. "Tell me something, stranger; what dark pit did you come from? Never had hay fries before..." He shook his head. "That's a shame."
Nova rolled her eyes before downing her last shot. "You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you," the fire mage claimed, sighing. “Look, I’m not in a good mood, alright?”
"He'll believe anything you say as long as you sweet-talk him," Retina joked. "Now, Flavor, where did you put my eyedrops?"
"Uhh, I think, maybe..." The pegasus ducked under the counter, leaving the contents of the frying pan to continue burning. "Eyedrops... eyedrops... hot sauce? I thought we were out. Odd... ah!" He sat a clear bottle down on the table. Retina levitated it up, letting a couple drops into each eye. She blinked several times before setting the bottle down.
"If you don't want to talk about it, it's fine." Retina smiled at the toaster again.
"She's further to the left," Flavor deadpanned.
"Oh... I'm terribly sorry." The creme colored unicorn got to her hooves and started towards the door again, levitating a stick in front of her as she went.
The sitting mare simply shrugged. "Meh... All I know is, my life is pretty screwed up right now." Nova's horn nonchalantly flared to life, casting an orange aura around the flames on the pan. the fire quickly extinguished, followed by the magic aura dissipating. "Oh, and you should be more careful with fire. It's dangerous," she explained.
"That wasn't done burning," Flavor said, looking at the pan with a frown. "Oh well. The cake came out okay, and I think the new soup will be good. Those Zebras... man, I tell you, they do some funky stuff, and they do some down right insane stuff, but they know how to cook. Unless, of course, you use the wrong kind of salt, in which case you're probably going to be sick for a while, but it's a risk that's worth taking. I'm not going to be the one eating it." After laughing to himself, the pegasus lifted himself off the ground with his wings and hovered back into the kitchen.
"Uh huh..." Nova half-heartedly replied, not having listened intently.
"You seem to be troubled, dear." Retina knocked over a chair, freezing as soon as she did. The unicorn spent several seconds righting it up before moving on. "Had one of those days?"
Nova snorted. "Yeah, you could say that, I guess.”
"Mid-life crisis? Can't honestly say I've had that problem." Retina started towards the bar again, drifting from side to side as she walked. "Life can be hard from time to time, but things always right themselves. We all find our own special talents at least twice in our lives; once when we get our cutie marks, and once when we find out where we really belong."
Glancing behind her shoulder, Nova looked towards Retina. "I don't have a place here anymore," she casually deadpanned. "Oh, and everypony I ever knew and loved is dead."
"Sounds 'bout like an average Monday to me," said Flavor, hovering back in and setting a large pot of soup down on a warming pad. "When you wake up, everything's all fine and dandy, but by the time lunch rolls around, half of Canterlot is on fire and your ice cream has started to melt." The pegasus shook his head, still hovering. "It's a shame, really."
Nova shot a nasty, venomous glare at Flavor. “You think this is some kinda joke or something!? Have you ever lost your entire life, with everypony you ever knew is dead!? she hissed, pointing at the pegasus with a hoof. “And to top it off?” Nova took a deep breath, and exhaled. She knew she could regret telling someone, especially so soon, but she had to let it out.
“A hundred years ago, I led a platoon in the Royal Guard, and got ambushed on a mission, then I disappeared! Last week, you might remember hearing about somepony who attacked Ponyville. Well, that was me! I attacked Ponyville! I was possessed, and was used to attack the innocent...” Nova shut her eyes shamefully, and waited for the inevitable hostile backlash of either hostility or disbelief.
Neither of them ever came.
"No," Flavor replied slowly, shaking his head. "What you have is a problem that you don't know how to face. It's true; I've never ended up in a situation where I was possessed, or everyone I knew was dead... though there was that one time with the Griffons... cheeky bastards..."
Nova’s eyes opened, staring at Flavor in bewilderment. He wasn’t angry or hostile? Furthermore, he believed her?
The pegasus flew over the counter, coming to a halt several feet in front of the upset unicorn. Still hovering, he crossed his front legs. "You listen, and you listen good, got it? If you want to mope around, that's your call. I'd recommend getting a big meal in your belly, taking the night off, and sleeping till noon tomorrow. It'll help to clear your head."
"As insane as it sounds, he is right," Retina said softly, looking out a window... or at least, she thought she was. In reality, the creme colored unicorn was staring at a hole in the wall. "He's an idiot, but he's usually right."
Nova sat in place like a statue, staring down at the counter. “I... I dunno anymore...”
"Oy, cheer up. I'm doing this for your own good." Flavor lifted her head so she was staring him in the eyes. "The last thing you want now is for Pinkie Pie the Insane to get ahold of you. That pony is dangerous." Flavor flew back behind the counter. "If she found you like the, she'd destroy Equestria trying to cheer you up."
"She would not destroy Equestria," Retina argued, frowning towards the counter. "Pinkie is a perfectly normal pony, unlike you, who-" The unicorn's words were cut short by a small water balloon exploding at the base of her horn. Retina twitched once, but didn't continue speaking.
"As I was saying," Flavor continued, "there are just things that you have to deal with. Bottle it up, and boom: you've just put yourself in a hole that a pegasus would have a hard time flying out of."
The distraught mare released a defeated sigh. “I guess you’re right...”
Flavor gave Nova a smile. "You haven't mentioned your name, yet."
Nova perked up. “Name’s Nova Ignis."
"Well, Nova, I dare say that..." He pegasus looked to Retina. "What do I say here?"
Using her stick, Retina made her way to the counter. As soon as she was sitting, she reached out with the stick, found Flavor, and smacked him on the head. "It's nice to meet you, Nova. Where were you from, originally?"
Nova turned to look at Retina. "Stalliongrad, born and raised," she answered.
"Really? I've always wanted to go there. I hear it smells wonderful in the winter time."
"I wasn't that impressed with it," Flavor mumbled. "Their take on whisky was just awful."
Nova managed smirk, and pointed a hoof towards Flavor. "You're just saying that because you're a light weight," she mocked lightheartedly.
"The hay I am!" He moved down the counter a ways and reached under, pulled up a bottle, then slid it Nova’s way. It was intercepted by Retina’s magic, and levitated out of reach before it had even made it halfway.
"No! You two are not starting in on this stuff. There are still ponies that might want food, and you can't even talk when you start drinking it." The unicorn shook her head. "Where did you even get Zebra whisky, anyway?”
"Zebra homeland? It's not like I haven't been there before." After receiving another sharp smack on the head from Retina's stick, Flavor gave Nova an apologetic look. "She might give it back..." His gaze drifted to the creme colored unicorn, who was shaking her head. "Maybe... please? Oh, come on! ...please?"
Nova couldn’t help but chuckle at the scene before her. "You're like a married couple!"
"Married my hindquarters!" Flavor yelled. "Look at her! Seriously! Look. At. Her. Do you see wings there? No, didn't think so." He stubbornly crossed his hooves. "I would never marry a girl without wings."
Retina grimaced. "Pig."
"I resemble that remark."
"You do... eh?"
"Oh, for the love of Luna..." Retina sighed, locating her water with the stick. "The conclusions ponies keep jumping to. Even Twilight got it wrong."
Nova trotted up to Retina and whispered in her ear. "Heh, he totally digs you," she claimed, shooting Flavor a side glance as she spoke quietly.
"Not in the slightest," Retina replied. "He's a moron, but he's an honest one. I do feel a little envious of whoever he does marry, but that's only because of his cooking. The stallion knows his way around a kitchen almost as well as his way around a first aid station."
Nova chuckled a little as she returned to her stool. "Anyways, you guys know where a fire mage could be useful around here? I still need to do something."
"Afraid not." Flavor gave her a smile. "I'm retired from the Guard-"
"Not that you were in in the first place," Retina interjected, frowning at the pot of soup.
"Retina..." The pegasus shook his head. "I'm not connected to them anymore, but they're almost always looking for new members.” He turned to Nova. “You may as well head up to Canterlot in a couple of days and talk with the dude running it. Twilight's brother, I think."
Nova perked up a little, then winced. "Eh... I dunno. Princess Celestia has already retired me from duty ‘until further notice.’”
“Talk to him and see if you can get the ‘further notice’ happening sooner than later,” Flavor suggested.
Nova tapped a hoof to her chin, and then smirked lightly. “Hmm, good idea. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to ask. And you said to talk to Twilight’s brother about it?”
“That’s correct,” the blind mare replied. She started feeling her way towards the front of the restaurant, humming as she did so.
“If all else fails, we could try and talk to the Count. He-”
“Leave them out of this, Flavor.” Retina had turned around, and for once, she had her head pointed exactly where Flavor was standing. “There’s no need to get him involved in this.”
“He WAS pretty busy last time I talked to him...” Flavor looked to Nova, then winked and reached for a bottle of booze.
Nova gave a curt nod before her eyes locked onto the booze immediately. They shifted towards Flavor, staring him him right in the eyes. She gave Flavor a hopeful look, as if asking silently for more to drink.
After watching Retina for a second, he passed the entire bottle over to her. The blind mare, seemingly aware that something was going on, frowned. “I don’t like the silence.”
“I don’t like not having twelve bits,” Flavor replied, winking at Nova.
Nova stopped the bottle with a hoof, smiling at it. Her gaze once again shifted to Flavor, giving the pegasus a quick wink as 12 bits floating out of her money sac towards him.
“Flavor...” The blind mare was heading back towards the front, her face changing to a scowl. “If you start drinking, I’m going to impale you on a water bottle.”
“Tough love?” the pegasus laughed. “Come back around some time, eh? I haven’t been to Stalliongrad save for a brief stop. I’d like some recipies."
“Implying I actually know any of them,” Nova joked, dismissively waving a hoof. “Nah... I know a thing or two I could probably share.” She got up from her stool, letting her magic levitate the sac of bits back into her satchel. “So, anyways, you guys know the cheapest place to stay? I’m kinda homeless right now.”
“Hard to say. I personally like the roof.”
“You’re an idiot, Flavor.” Retina took a seat next to Nova. “I don’t actually know of any hotels. I’ve heard that Twilight sometimes lets ponies stay in the library, but I haven’t asked. If you don’t mind helping out a little, I’d be okay with you staying here. Flavor?”
“...Can we have a drinking contest?”
“No you’re not,” the blind mare threatened, levitating her stick. “I know where you sleep.”
“Fine...” he groaned. Flavor rolled his eyes, then nodded towards the bottle of booze he’d sold Nova. “She can stay.”
Nova’s eyes widened, her surprised glaze moving back and forth between Flavor and Retina. “Wait, you guys would really do this for me?” she muttered.
“I’m game.” Flavor grinned, looking at the ponies that were drifting in through the door. “Retina, we have customers.”
Nova’s head drooped, staring at the floor. Her mind was being flooded with thoughts and feelings. The hospitality these two ponies offered her made her smile. “Heh,” she chuckled. “Looks like I owe you guys...”
Her spirits lifted, and booze scored, tonight had been a good night.
In the Everfree Forest, within a twisted old tree decorated with tribal masks and charms, the zebra who went by Zecora was mixing potions. Nothing extremely fancy, just some medicines for infection and moldcoat. It was raining outside, as if often did in Everfree Forest, and the soft pattering of the water against the trunk of her gnarled home maintained a soothing tempo, and in her mind she meditated on it while she went to work.
It was lonely in the depths of Everfree Forest, what with her only visitors being the mane six every now and then, and dear Apple Bloom, but she cared less about it than others might. Everything had an energy, and her isolation let her meditate on those energies. In the end, she was not really alone at all.
A soft knock on her door disrupted the mare’s thoughts. “Hmm? Who’s hoofbeats do I hear at my door? A stranger? Here? I must know more,” she said aloud in the curious rhyming speech of her homeland, and set her herbs aside. Opening the door revealed a russet unicorn stallion dripping wet and standing as if carrying a great burden, though a cursory glance revealed he only wore a cloak and a satchel. His hooves were caked with mud, and he looked haggard as if from a long journey.
“Why, who is this upon my threshhold? A stallion upon whose ankles mud holds? A unicorn I see tonight. You look cold, care for a bite?”
The stallion nodded silently, and trotted into the room. His horn glowed an emerald green as he levitated the satchel off and set it to the side. “Thank you. I find myself too tired to carry on tonight, what with the rain turning the trail to mud.”
“Come from far, you must have then, to fall so tired before your journey’s end. From where did you come, and where do you go?”
“Where I come from, few know, but I will say I began today from Fillydelphia,” he replied, cleaning the mud off his hooves in respect. “I would ask thy name, but I can’t give my own, so perhaps it is best that we stay unknown?”
Zecora nodded acceptingly at that, and after a long silence in which the stallion took to cleaning his hooves of the mud that caked them, she spoke again.
“A long way indeed for one to travel. Some task you must have, to pound such gra-”
Zecora’s litting words paused as the stallion finished cleaning his hooves, revealing a quartet of unusual rings hanging there. “Those rings you wear, how did you acquire them? Curiosity demands that I ask or condemn.”
The stallion was quite still for a long moment. “They belonged to one dear to me that I can no longer see. They are all I have of her memory. Please ask no further, miss Zebra sage. It is a painful subject for me.”
Zecora closed her eyes. This stallion held much pain in his heart... like a gaping wound festering with hate... but for whom? She would have asked, had he not asked her to drop the subject. Still, that he wore those rings... he was unusual to say the least.
“How long will you stay then, strange traveller? Until the ground dries, you would be but a waddler. ”
“I cannot stay too long ma’am, though if it is as you say, I may as well be trapped here until the storm lets up. By your leave?”
“My leave you possess strange ponyfolk, though my call for stories was not a joke. Surely you have some tales to tell, so speak them while here you dwell.”
The stallion sighed. “Very well. It would be rude to stay in someone’s home with nothing to offer. Hmm... well, have you heard of Neighpon?”
As the stallion’s tale wove into shape, with Zecora found herself absently pondering him. He was an enigma; a true conundrum. Perhaps his tales would shed some light on who, and what, he was.
A week had past in Equestria since Nova’s return to Ponyville, and things were going well, though she had yet to work up the courage to directly face the bearers of the elements yet. Much of her time was spent in sleep and melancholy, though Retina and the incorrigible prankster spirit of Flavor did lighten her mood.
During the past week, Nova had gotten out some, usually just for a walk, and she had seen some of the bearers of the elements around. Thinking about it, it was a miracle none of the bearers had recognized her yet, especially Pinkie Pie, though from what she’d seen in her cautious exploration of the town, it was impossible to understand that pink whirlwind. She’d learned a lot about the mares, but even so she couldn’t find it in her to talk to them... not yet. She knew she couldn’t put it off forever, but she just felt... like it wasn’t time.
But for now, Nova rested on her bed in the small guest room, staring at the ceiling as all these thoughts ran through her head. However, it was once again time to sleep. Her eyes grew heavy as her thought processes slowed, and soon, her consciousness fell into oblivion.
Nova Ignis, formerly Lieutenant of her Majesty’s Royal Guard, lay curled in a fetal position as she slept on the ground. At first glance, she seemed to be resting peacefully, but a glance at her face would show it to be running through all manner of expressions. She did not dream of peace.
How long this went on she would not know, but the snap of a twig nearby broke her slumber like glass. Awakened by her military training, she bolted into an upright sitting position, panting heavily as cold sweat formed. The fire mage glanced around, taking in the surroundings. It was forest, one that was very familiar. Calm fires burned on some of the trees and shrubs, providing some manner of light and warmth in the area. But that wasn’t all. Around her, were the corpses of ponies, clad in armor. She quickly stumbled onto her hooves in a confused daze. "What...?" she choked out weakly.
Her eyes scanned the bodies, a lot of them missing limbs, almost as if... “Wait, are these...?” Nova slowly walked towards the nearest corpse, inspecting it closely. “Corporal Streak? Then that means...”
It was her platoon.
“Oh Celestia... please, is anypony alive!?” she cried, frantically looking around at the bodies. Her form bolted up, racing from corpse to corpse, hoping to find one of them that was still alive. Nova eventually finished with shaking Private Bolt Wing’s body. Tears began rushing down her cheeks as she keeled over, slamming a hoof into the ground. "No! They're all dead..."
Then, a thought suddenly hit her. Or rather, memories.
Memories of Equestria from 100 years into the apparent future. Flavor, Retina, the wielders of the Elements of Harmony, she remembered them all. And yet, she couldn't help but wonder. "Was that all just a dream...?"
Nova’s head sank as she sat on her haunches. "It all seemed so real," she spoke solemnly. Nova felt conflicted. Perhaps it wasn't a dream? What if this was a dream? The fire mage couldn't tell anymore.
Nova glanced back up, sniffling a little, only to notice a mysterious shed a small distance away. “I don't remember that shed being there...” Her eyes carefully scanned the wooden shed, taking in its rather bleak details. It was only a basic wooden shed, after all.
Broken only by the crackling of fire, silence slowly took over the night. The sky, or what little of it was visible in the thick foliage, offered no hints as to what time was.
The silence was broken by the sound of hooves clopping over the forest floor. The source of the noise drifted into Nova's sight only after a few minutes passed, and he was not the standard pony. There was no hint of abnormality until his eyes were visible. Instead of eyes, he had strange, dark blue clouds in his eyes, highlighted only by a strange dancing light-blue line and a black pit where his pupil should have been.
As Nova watched, the pony drifted into the center of the clearing. When he stopped, he looked around for several seconds before looking at the body at his feet. The stallion cocked his head, then started poking it. At first, it was a gentle poke, but it quickly escalated into violent strikes. "You’re dead!" the strange stallion screamed, now assaulting the corpse with both front legs. Stopping suddenly, he started wandering away from the corpse, this time stopping to eye a tree. When he passed by Nova, he didn't seem to see her despite her having been in plain site.
He stopped in front of another body, this time shaking it. The pony muttered something before leaning down and biting into the body. The reaction was instant: he lurched upwards, spitting several times. Turning, he bolted, slamming head-first into a tree hard enough his horn got stuck. It took several seconds to free it, and when he did, he looked Nova in the eyes. Again, though, he didn't seem to see her. The strange stallion started for a different corpse.
Nova watched in morbid curiosity at the sight, her red eyes intimately locked onto stallion who arrived. She could not be more confused as to what was going on. Just who was this pony? Where did he even come from? Nova decided she would speak up. The mare stood onto all four hooves. "Hey!" she shouted. "Just who in the hay are you?!"
The stallion's ears didn't twitch as her voice rang out; he hadn't heard her. "You look funny," the stallion commented, passing over a body. As he headed for a different body, he spun around and faced the one he'd spoken to. Dropping down into an offensive stance, he started screaming nonsense at it, slowly approaching it as he did. Stopping as randomly as he'd started, he faced the shed and sat down, his eyes continuing their odd pulsing and twitching.
Nova scowled and pointed a hoof towards the strange stallion. "Hey, I'm talking to you, pal!" she shouted angrily. The mare could only wonder what the deal with the bizarre pony was.
Still ignoring Nova, the stallion returned to the body it'd pummeled. After close to a minute of staring at it without moving or breathing, the stallion turned and looked Nova in the eyes... or at least he may have been looking her in the eyes. It wasn't clear where he was really looking.
Staring back at him, Nova’s brow furrowed in anger. "Who in the hay are you, and what are you doing here!?"
The pony slowly approached her, stopping with his nose just inches from hers.
Nova narrowed her eyes in anticipation, continuing to stare into the eyes of the stallion that approached her.
Seemingly unaware of her reaction, he started circling her. He finally stopped in front of her, then with one hoof, pushed her over.
Nova fell back, but reflexively rolled over and back onto her hooves in one swift motion. "Hey!" she yelled, staring back at the stallion after recovering. Nova's horn flared to life, encompassed by a searing hot orange aura. "Just what in the hay was that for!? You looking to die!?"
His hooves were on her shoulders before her brain could process it. "You're alive!" he yelled, shaking her. His face was alight with joy. "You're actually alive!" Setting Nova back onto her hooves, he sat on his rump, smiling. The smile faded suddenly. "Wait... you are alive, right?" Cocking his head, he pushed her over again.
Nova flopped onto her back, having been flustered by being shaken. “Sweet Celestia, he's fast...” she muttered to herself, climbing back onto her hooves. “Of course I'm alive. How else would I be talking?" she replied, shooting a glare at strange pony. "Now, I order you to tell me who you are!"
The stallion continued to eye for her several seconds before turning his attention to the corpse he'd beaten. He flipped around, quickly getting back into an offensive position. "Stop looking at me!" the stallion screamed, the volume of his voice easily matching that of the Royal Canterlot voice.
Nova was steaming red at this point, her horn flaring to life once more. She intended to really get his attention this time. Nova reared her head before snapping it forward, releasing a powerful torrent of flames to engulf him.
When the flames made contact, the stallion froze. He slowly looked her in the eyes, the expression on his face a carbon copy of what a surprised cat looked like. As the flames died out, he cocked his head. "Nooooooooooo," he finally said.
Nova stared in amazement at the pony. All that did was just surprise him? Impossible... he should have been turned to ashes, and yet he merely shrugged it off?
The bizarre stallion trotted over to her, lowering himself as if he were kneeling or bowing, though his eyes stayed locked on hers...probably. "You’re lost, aren't you?"
Nova continued looking back at the stallion, narrowing her eyes. "What I want to know is who you are right now," the mare replied.
"You too?" he asked, drifting to an undisturbed body. "I don't know where we- STOP TALKING!" the stallion suddenly yelled, swinging around and kicking the corpse with his back hooves. He turned his attention to Nova immediately after. "So, this is your dream, eh? It's a bit morbid if you ask me."
Nova calmed her expression a little, looking down at the ground. “Only a dream...” she whispered to herself. "Yeah... this is the scene of my last mission with the Royal Guard.” She raised her head, looking towards the stallion, her features betraying feelings of sorrow.
"It's well done. This is what I do, and it fooled me." He gave her a strange look that was somewhere between amused and confused. "You're lost," he said, bringing it up for the second time.
Nova’s mind ran through many thoughts for a moment, bringing a hoof to her chin as she stared off into space. “Lost?” The fiery mare returned her attention back to clearly insane stallion. "Wait, what do you-"
"Silence!" the stallion screamed, giving her a hostile look.
Nova recoiled in shock from his sudden outburst.
Starting to twitch, he turned the twitching into hopping in place, then hopping from side to side. "You..." he started, excitement in his voice. It all faded when he came back to a standstill. "You're the reason they died, not that it'd have mattered. Dreams are fun like that. The only thing that matters is that you're alive."
She let out a quick gasp before averting her gaze. Nova went back to thinking again. She could feel her heart ache with guilt. He was right about one thing though, about how it’s her fault her platoon is dead. She led them straight into an ambush, and failed to protect them. However, she also felt curious, prompting her to look back up to him. "It... matters that I'm alive? What makes me so important?"
"Because somepony wanted you alive." He drifted over to the shed, then turned around and bucked it. Afterwards, he sat down in front of it, staring at it like it held the answers to all the mysteries of the world.
Nova looked away, staring into space. It was a lot to take in for Nova, all of what happened. The mare looked back over to the strange stallion again. "So, you never did tell me who you are."
"You are really out of sync," the stallion commented, slowly rocking back and forth. Letting out a very fake-sounding laugh, he turned to look at her. "Looks like things are about to get fun for you. Plenty of stupidity to follow."
Nova gave an unamused scowl. "What the hay is that supposed to mean? And I want you to tell me who you are!” she barked in frustration. A part of her felt like a moron for arguing with an apparent dream, yet something about this was suspiciously, vividly real.
"Just to make things interesting, I'll go with no.” The stallion again kicked the shed, then trotted over to her. "If you see the slow Princess, tell her that Dream Weaver says 'hello.' I hope you can-" The stallion froze as the sound of a cluck reached his eyes. His eyes went very wide, and his head rotated slowly towards the source of the sound. It was disturbing to watch, as the angle was at least 120 degrees... the stallion practically looked like an owl. Off in the distance, a single chicken was pecking away at the roots of a tree.
Dream Weaver suddenly let out a blood-curling scream. Taking off with enough force that his hooves kicked dirt into the air, the unicorn charged towards the chicken. The bird fluttered his wings, moving out of the way, causing him to miss. He rolled and got back to his hooves quickly, still charging towards the bird and screaming. The two quickly disappeared off into the distance, and shortly after, his screaming faded into nothingness.
Nova stared blankly at the direction Dream Weaver had taken off, only for her expression to turn deadpan after several moments of silence. Without even saying anything, she sat on her haunches, and merely waited. “This is stupid...”
The mare’s ears perked, her body spinning around. There was nothing behind her. Who spoke just now?
“Nova, are you okay? Oh, please wake up..."
“Wake up?” she parroted, glancing around. Then, it hit her, what this ‘Dream Weaver’ had said to her. She really was in a dream, despite it feeling so real...
Nova’s eyes suddenly opened groggily. She was staring at a wall, laying in a soft bed.
Retina sighed, continuing to gently prod her fellow unicorn with her stick. "Nova? Are you awake?"
The body of the mare in question rolled over to look curiously at her tormenter. "Retina?"
"Oh, good! You're awake." Retina smiled, slowly levitating her stick back to her. "You were making some odd noises in your sleep. It sounded like you were mad at somepony. I wanted to make sure you were okay." She lowered her head a little. "Sorry for waking you."
Nova rubbed her eyes with her hooves. "It's okay... had weird dream, though," she commented. The tired mare sat up onto her haunches, yawning.
"Alright, then," the blind unicorn replied, smiling at the wall. "I don't have any idea what time it is, so I'm going to head back up to the roof and lay down until Flavor gets me up. Try and rest, or maybe go for a walk."
Nova smiled back at Retina. "Heh, thanks.” Her eyes shifted towards the window, seeing the dark, yet starry night sky outside. “I guess I’ll try to get back to sleep for now, or something.”
Retina gave Nova a warm smile and a curt nod. “Alright, then. Sleep well.” With that, the blind mare turned and left the room, tapping her stick in front of her.
Nova lowered her head onto a pillow, shutting her eyes. Thoughts of her dream invaded her mind, Dream Weaver and how real it all felt being the two most prominent things. She silently hoped she wouldn’t have another dream with him in it. Nova was unnerved by it, inwardly questioning the experience and whether it was just a dream or something more. However, her thoughts began slowing down, sleepiness beginning to overtake her.
And with that, the unicorn drifted into the realm of unconsciousness.
In the depths of Everfree, the rain had finally lightened around Zecora’s hut, and the sun was just beginning to rise. Two ponies, one a zebra and the other a familiar, if strange, russet unicorn stallion, stood outside. The unicorn’s cloak shrouded his body, and his satchel rested against his left side. The air was fresh and clean, with that smell of nature and water that you find just after a rain permeating it like a sponge dripping with water. The two of them were silent for a long time, just enjoying the smell and the air after so long inside, before Zecora spoke. “A beautiful day is it not? Such a clear open sky surely cannot be bought.”
“You’d think I’d have learned how to make sense of that rhyming of yours by now” the stallion sighed before flicking his ear. “Yes. It is a nice day. I have stayed in one place far too long... now I need to continue my journey. Thank you for hosting me this long time Zecora, and for teaching me the basics of your language.”
“Your thanks I receive. Your presence was welcomed, though I know you must leave. As for my gift of the spoken word, you need not thank me for it was nice to be heard.”
“The same is true for me. I admit, I am surprised you did not ask my name.”
“Your name you desire to keep secret. I cannot truly blame you, though I’d prefer something to call you I would not regret.”
The stallion turned to leave, then paused and cracked a smile. “Call me Duumessa.”
Zecora paused for a moment as she considered it. In her tongue, that meant “Cloud.” It was a sad name. The name of one cursed to travel forever and never touch the earth again. Why chose such a name? What would lead such a young stallion... a being so full of life, to pick a name of such sorrow? Why would he willingly pick such a name? ‘Such suffering his name entails, What could he have gone through t-’‘
At that moment, everything made sense. She recalled his stories, adventures of sorrow and travail. Individually, they were but threads, but now all the pieces fell into place, and in an instant Zecora understood. The unicorn before her had not merely made those stories up, as exotic as they were. Neigh, they were his stories. Such a life... it was a tapestry of sorrow.
The Zebra half staggered as if from a physical blow, but caught herself before the stallion could realize the extent of her epiphany. She swallowed, and offered her hoof. “Duumessa, then. Good luck on your travel. I hope good things your future will unravel.”
“Then this is goodbye. Nagaan turi, Zecora.”
“Nagaan turi, Duumessa.”
They shook hooves, and with those words the stallion departed into Everfree. Zecora stayed there in the glade for a long moment, looking after him. It was so much to comprehend. In the half-light of the glade, she spoke out loud. “Duumessa, your heart I may not truly understand, but I glimpse I have caught, and action does it strongly demand. Your heart is a cup, overflowing with sorrow... so much you hurt to think of the morrow. May your fates change, outcast son. If you bear it alone, you will become undone.”
Some time later, the shrouded unicorn crested a hill and looked down over the town of Ponyville before him. He was caked in mud but it didn't seem to bother him, and indeed much of it faded into his tawny-brown coat. Keeping his hood up, he simply walked down the streets, before pausing at the sight of a large tree down a sideroad.
"Hmmm... a tree repurposed as a building? It seems unwise to turn a growing organism into a home... I wonder what they were thinking," he muttered, turning to examine this unusual building instead of just continuing on.
When he arrived at the tree, the tawny unicorn examined the sign. A cursory glance was all it took to " ‘The Books and Branches’...? Of course, it would be the library. Touche' causality." He snorted. “Well, since I’m already here, I may as well take a look at their selection. Information doesn’t take much room in the satchel.” With that on his mind, he headed inside.
Retina let out a yawn from having recently awoken, feeling her way down the flight of stairs with her stick towards the main room of the Bucket. "Nova? Flavor? Anypony here?"
Nova perked up and turned towards Retina. "I'm here," she called out nonchalantly.
"Thank goodness somepony is. I think Flavor left again. Do you see anything written in braille-hoof? I know he got a little punch-thingy so he could leave me notes." Retina stepped off the onto the main floor.
Nova glanced around the counter before spotting the note. "Uh, yeah. Here it is," she said, picking it up in her telekinetic grasp.
Retina received it and sat it on the floor, carefully gliding her front-left hoof across it. "Retina...went...to the...Zebra...Homelands. Stop. Will be back...in...two...days. Stop. Have...fun by...yourself." Retina scowled, and then stomped on the note. Using her stick, she started feeling around in front of herself before starting towards the little room where she kept her saddlebags. "That jerk! This is the fifth time in two months he's randomly bolted to go on some crazy jaunt for new things to ruin in the kitchen!"
The fire mage simply shrugged in her seat, not knowing what to actually say. “Meh...”
"Feel like helping me pin him down and trimming his flight feathers when he gets back?" Retina asked. A second later, a loud crash followed by a scream came from the closet. "That jerk! That freaking flankhole!"
Nova cringed a little, her head turning towards the commotion. "You okay in there?"
"He put iced water buckets and tripwires up! Again!" The now soaking-wet unicorn backed out of the closet, an evil look on her face. "If I ever get the bits to hire a hitman..."
Nova smirked a little. As messed up as that was, it was kind of funny. "Need me to warm you up?" she asked.
"That would be wonderful. I'll need you to get in there and find my saddlebags for me. Last time he did this, I ended up getting soaked twelve times before I made it outside. There's no telling what other traps he's set up." The blind unicorn shook her head. "My books should be here today, and I really don't want to get them wet."
Getting off her seat and onto her hooves, Nova trotted up to Retina, her horn shimmering with orange. A constant, sustained wave of heat was emitted from the calm aura enveloping her horn, allowing it to bathe Retina in its warmth.
Once the blind unicorn was dry, she gave Nova a smile. "That's useful. I wish I could use fire magic. Would you mind looking in there for my bags?"
Nova shrugged, followed be a nod. "Sure," she answered, walking into the closet. After a few moments of rummaging, Nova emerged with a saddle bag and levitated it onto Retina's back. "So, you going somewhere?"
"Actually, I was hoping you'd take me to the library," came the sheepish reply. "I don't know where it is."
Nova bit her bottom lip, staring a Retina. Mentioning going to the library reminded the mare that she still needed to actually go talk with Twilight. As awkward as it felt, Retina still needed somepony to take her to the library. "Well... alright.” Nova grinned nervously.
Retina smiled. "If you don't mind, stay close by. I don't' want to have you hold onto your tail with magic. I'm not very good at levitating more than one thing. The last time I tried, I burned Flavor pretty good... not that he didn't have it coming."
“Okay. I'll walk right next to you. Is that good?" inquired Nova.
"Thanks," Retina replied. "Keep an eye out for tripwires. I'll bet anything that the door is rigged in at least three different ways."
Nova trotted over to the main doors, and spun around. With a simple buck, the doors flung open, the mare curious about what traps, if any, awaited Retina and her.
As soon as the doors opened, four buckets of water fell, several small cannons filled with confetti and streamers exploded, and several heavy pots fell and hit the floor. It was loud enough Retina jumped backwards, landing on a table and consequently flipping it over onto herself.
Nova, meanwhile, stumbled outside once the buckets of water landed on her, one of them landing over her head, effectively blinding her. She immediately yelled off a number of angry swears, all of them muffled by the aluminum container stuck on her head. Once she felt one of her hooves trip something, more little confetti cannons that had been buried in the ground went off, blasting the fire mage in the bucket-covered face. From the second story window, several catapults sent water balloons flying in Nova's general direction.
She angrily continued to stumble around, only to feel herself pelted with water balloons. "Gah!" Nova cried, falling down with a thud. The bucket over her head suddenly exploded in a fiery blaze, revealing her anger-contorted face. With the bucket finally removed, the mare mumbled many expletives under her breath as she got up before making her way back inside to see Retina trapped under a table. Nova's horn flared to life once more, shrouding the table in her aura. The table was lifted off Retina, and set itself down normally several feet away.
"I'm gonna kill him!" the blind mare cried, flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water. "I swear to Luna that I'm gonna freaking kill him! That freaking flankhole!"
Nova couldn’t help but crack a grin. "When he gets back, I’m gonna sear is fur off.”
Ten minutes later, the unicorns were on the way to the library, strolling down one of the sunlit streets of Ponyville.
"He does this stuff all the freaking time," Retina groaned. "I remember a party we were holding for some member of the Royal Guard that had just had his first kid and gotten some major promotion at the same time. This was right after Flavor and I had met, so he couldn't have been out of the Guard for more than a couple of months. This was still in Canterlot, by the way
“Anyway, he offered to host the party for free. Who would say no to a free dinner, you know? He didn't do anything stupid that night, but he offered to host another party in a couple of months. The food had been great, so everypony decided to come back and bring friends. Worst idea ever.
“Flavor spent the next two months rigging every inch of the place. He literally paid to have every floor tile in the building turned into a pressure plate. I didn't really know for sure what was going on, but I had a really bad feeling about. I'd set off a couple of the traps while trying to find my way around the place. Never did figure it out...
“Anyway, on the night of the party, a bunch of Canterlot nobility showed up with the Guard for some reason. It was chaos. Streamers, cannons, stink bombs... you name it, he probably had it. This was like, maybe a week before the Grand Galloping Gala, so everypony was sort of practicing for it. Flavor?" Retina sighed.
"The freaking place ended up getting burnt to the ground. Heck, a bunch of Canterlot ended up on fire that night. I still don't know why he didn't get blamed for it. It was apparently an accident a few blocks away, but the timing couldn't have been worse. No one got seriously hurt other than a guard member who ate way too much; he had to have his stomach pumped and spent a few days in the hospital due to dehydration. Not sure how that happened either." Retina looked towards where she assumed Nova was walking.
"Flavor has got to be the luckiest pony in Equestria. I've heard from several ponies that he's pranked the Princesses more than once and somehow never gotten in much trouble for it. Somepony told me that he's really likeable, but I think that pony was out of their mind."
"Seriously? Well, back in my day, pranks like that on guards and nobles would have gotten his flank court-martialed so fast, his head would spin," she replied, chuckling lightly.
"I'm pretty sure he did end up in front of Princess Celestia at least once. I remember him getting arrested while we were in the market. The Guard members that picked him didn't even bother getting forceful with him. They just went 'Hey, Flavor. Princess wants to see you about that little stunt you pulled last night.' He was offended! 'Little!?' he yelled." The blind unicorn let out a long sigh. "He actually asked the guards if he could borrow a couple of buckets as he went with them. I don't understand why he's still on good terms with the world."
Nova arched a brow. "Sounds like he gets off easy doing whatever he wants."
"He talks like he's on good terms with most of the ponies in Canterlot, the Princesses included.” Retina let out a sigh. “Are we close to the library? I think I hear other ponies..." Retina's head dropped just a hair. She had nothing to fear and she knew it, but it didn't change the fact that she was no longer in her element.
Nova gave a curt nod, not that Retina could see it. "Yeah, I think we're almost there. You alright, though?" she asked, noticing Retina's head droop slightly.
"I'll be okay. Most of the ponies here are really nice." She let out a somewhat uneasy laugh. "Truth be told, the Bucket and my parent's home in Canterlot are the only places I've ever really been comfortable. I know both pretty well. Even when I was working with Flavor in Canterlot, I lived at home. Dad insisted," she admitted, somewhat embarrassed.
"I'm not a little filly anymore, but he still worries about me being blind. He's always been protective. I've never even had a coltfriend. Trying to explain my relationship with Flavor was a nightmare. To this day, I think Dad's still waiting for a wedding invitation."
Nova smirked lightly. "Well, I guess it just means your dad loves you. And don't worry, if you ever need an escort or something, just ask. It's the least I can do..." said Nova. The fire mage had to admit, Retina was a good friend. In her time of need, she was there. In return, in Retina's time of need, Nova would be there.
"Dad's almost as crazy as Flavor," Retina replied with a groan. "He's been rich his entire life, but he doesn't seem to understand social protocol at all. Mom doesn't let him in most of the house." Retina's stick tapped against something hard. She raised it higher into the air, deciding it was some sort of wall. "Are we here?"
"Yeah, we're here," answered Nova, approaching the door to Twilight’s library, and stopping in front of it with Retina in tow. She stared at it apprehensively for a moment, only to be interrupted by Retina.
“Well, let’s go inside, then!” Retina prodded Nova with her walking stick.
Nova perked up before placing a hoof on the library door. “Right,” she responded sheepishly.
And with that, Nova knocked on the door.