• Published 13th Jan 2015
  • 2,864 Views, 193 Comments

Black Feather - Recon777

A young mare must discover the secret of her own nature in order to stop the destruction of ponykind while an ancient adversary with a vendetta intends to reclaim his former glory.

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02 - Life in the Battlefield

“Haha, you can’t escape!” Dusty zoomed his Equestrian SkyGuard action figure around to encircle and confront the toy zebra once more. His aerial advantage left the zebra with little chance of winning this fight. Thinking quickly, the zebra had one last option. He—

Suddenly, a shimmering, indigo-tinted bubble appeared around Dusty’s body, breaking him out of his playtime reverie. He looked up, startled. He could see that the bubble was barely wide enough for him to fit within. What was this? It—


Dusty felt like something bit his ear. It hurt worse than a bee sting. Before he could put a hoof to his ear, a large, black, adult pony slammed into the ground right in front of him. A pegasus, from the looks of it.

Dusty flinched, squinting as he fought to see through the cloud of dirt and dust kicked up from the impact.

Wait, that's no pegasus.

The adult seemed panicked. As the dust settled, the colt could see that this grown-up had a horn as well. Then he saw her eyes as she opened them, locking onto his own.

No. It couldn't be.

It was! It was her. How was this possible?

A single, muffled boom echoed in the distance. It sounded like Pinkie Pie's party cannon or somepony setting off fireworks.

Nyx looked over her shoulder, focusing on the sound. She stood up and spread her magnificent, black wings, casting a shadow over him.

Dusty stared up in awe. She was amazing. Sleek, towering, and powerful. He watched the feathers of her wings fan out as she spun around and bent her knees just a little, preparing to leap into the air.

Nyx glanced back down at him for a split second, and the shield bubble around his body evaporated.


Dusty tensed up. He remembered what his mother had taught him. Find an adult. Get inside. Stay safe. He galloped toward the schoolhouse door, looking back at Nyx while he ran.

Nyx tore off into the sky, faster than any creature alive. Dusty watched from the school doorway until she had vanished behind the trees.

He ran inside the school, seeking his teacher. Cheerilee was sitting at her desk, grading papers.

“Miss Cheerilee! It's Nyx! She's so awesome. She plowed into the ground right next to me and put me in her shield, and she looked right at me! It was so cool! Then she stood up and it was so amazing; her wings are huge. She flew off so fast. I couldn’t believe it. You missed it; she was right outside!” Dusty let the air back into his lungs.

His teacher glanced up from her paperwork for a moment and stared at him with one of those stares grown-ups give when they aren’t really getting the message.

“Yes, Dusty, she’s a real super pony, isn’t she? Say, I’ve got to finish these up, so be a dear and take your adventures back outside, okay? I’m sure you don’t want to use up your recess just talking to me.” Her smile matched the flowers on her cutie mark.

“Miss Cheerilee, you don’t understand. She was here. It was awesome, and…”

Cheerilee looked off to the side, her ears swiveling about, listening, but clearly not to him. The ambient chatter in the playground had shifted tone. The word ‘blood’ drifted in ever so subtly. All the kids had just become focused on the same thing—and that thing was not fun and games.

Dusty watched Cheerilee looking about, unsure if she was even hearing him. She looked concerned about something. Suddenly, her head snapped back to look at him, not quite meeting his gaze. Her eyes widened. Why was she looking at him like that? Was she looking at… his ear?

Cheerilee stood up so fast her chair fell backward. Just then, two other kids came in from the playground, talking over each other and panting.

“Stay inside!” Cheerilee instructed, directing the two newcomers to sit with Dusty. She trotted to the door and looked outside.

“What’s goin’ on?” the filly next to him asked. “We saw Nyx practically land on you and put you in a shield, then fly away! We told the others, and now everypony’s talking ‘bout it.”

Cheerilee had her head outside the door and spoke with authority. “Children, come inside. Hurry!”

“I don’t know. I came in to tell Miss Cheerilee all about it, but I don’t think she heard me,” Dusty replied.

The other children came pouring in through the doorway while Cheerilee kept watching outside.

“Dusty, there’s blood running down your ear. Did Nyx do that to ya when she slammed into you?”

“She didn’t slam—” Dusty put a hoof to his ear. “Ow! That stings.” There was a fair amount of blood dripping from his ear down his jawline and dripping onto the floor. He looked at the red stain on his hoof.

The filly gave his ear a closer look. “That doesn’t look like any kinda cut or scrape I’ve ever seen. It’s like a little part of your ear is missin’.”

Cheerilee looked at Dusty from the doorway. He could see the concern on her face, and it began to frighten him. After the last of the kids finished coming in, she closed the door.

“Everypony in the center of the room,” Cheerilee said, her voice teetering on the edge of panic.

Why was she so scared? What was going on? Was this because of Nyx?

“Now, who can tell me the first thing we do in an emergency?”

Half the room raised their hooves high.

Flitter set down beside Nyx and Rumble, panting. “We’re clear; I’ve told the Ponyville garrison, and they’ll take it from… Whoa. What happened?”

Nyx was staring at the flames licking at the remains of the zebra soldiers. This wasn’t how she intended to deal with them. What had just happened? She killed them with… with what, exactly? Her emotions? Her fury? Was that even possible? She felt a brief, familiar pang of guilt. Two more lives.

But they deserved it. This was inexcusable. An outrage! Why were they targeting children? The zebras had just recently killed over seven hundred children at Brumby Ridge. They left no survivors. And now this? They were monsters!

The emotional dam that held back months of built-up stress began to crumble within her. Nyx let out a guttural scream at the burning remains. She spread her wings wide and sent the embers and ashes flying in a telekinetic outburst. Without warning, she leapt up into the air and tore across the sky toward home.

Nyx was making her bed when an exhausted Rumble and Flitter walked out of the elevator room to find her.

“Sorry it wasn’t as fun a flight as we were hoping,” Nyx said casually while her heart bled within her. She didn’t turn around but continued to make her bed, tucking the blankets in neatly along the sides. Grabbing a feather duster, she began cleaning the trinkets along the shelving.

Rumble sat down on the edge of the bed. “Nyx… are you—”

Nyx glanced over her shoulder, her voice shaky as her glistening eyes locked onto his. “Why wouldn’t I be okay, Rumble?” She looked away again and continued dusting. “It’s just war, right? I mean, what can we expect? This is just how life is now.”

Hesitating a moment, Rumble continued with caution in his voice. “Do you need—”

Her voice cracked. “Yes. Yes, please.” She held still for a moment, waiting.

“Alright. We’ll be in the living room if you want to talk.” Rumble and Flitter left her alone and closed the door.

Nyx collapsed onto the bed, taking a deep breath as she once again stared at the ceiling. Her mind couldn’t process what had just happened. She lay there motionless for two minutes before sitting up. She noticed her nightstand was a little dusty. The levitated feather duster danced across its surface before coming to a stop in midair. Nyx regarded the upper drawer, remembering what was inside. She resisted the urge to open it.

Her hoof touched the drawer. Don’t open it, don’t open it, her mind whispered to her will. She opened it anyway. Inside was a photo. It was from that silly office event at her mother’s research institute where everypony had brought their daughters to work. Her mom thought it would be fun to bring Nyx, despite her being a married mare in her early twenties. Nyx could already feel the tears forming in her eyes as she touched the photo. She lifted it up, revealing a second item in the drawer—a child’s colored pencil sketch of Nyx herself.

Investigators had recovered the items from a filly’s saddlebags after the massacre at Luna’s school for gifted unicorns in Brumby Ridge. Nyx was in the photo, along with her mother and one of her researchers. Sitting beside Nyx was a little pastel blue and yellow filly with this huge grin on her face like it was the best thing in the world. She remembered meeting the filly, who seemed to think much more of Nyx than she felt she deserved.

This one was special; she had an exceptional gift. Something to do with linking to another unicorn’s abilities. Amazing talent and potential. Nyx flipped the photo over, her breath catching in her throat as she put a hoof to her lips. On the back, Nyx herself had written a message.

For Misty,

You’ve got the makings of a real hero.

I can’t wait to see what you become when you grow up.

-Nyx Sparkle

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she held the photo to her chest with her eyes closed. This would never have happened in the world Nyx grew up in. The loss was overwhelming. When would it end?

Somepony knocked at the bedroom door. “Nyx?” It was Rumble.

She opened the door, and he saw her sitting on the edge of the bed. She felt like such a mess.

Rumble approached and saw the photo. “Nyx, come on out. It’s okay.”

She put the photo away and followed Rumble to the living room. She cuddled with him on the couch while Flitter sat in the reclining chair. There was no use hiding her feelings from her family. She leaned into him as he put a hoof around her shoulder.


“Yeah, hon?”

“I miss home.”

Rumble shifted. She knew he wondered what she meant.

“I miss Equestria. How it used to be.” There it was; he held her tighter, and she knew he understood. Her mind wandered to the dark places that she usually tried to keep hidden.

So many lives lost, she thought to herself. And for what? She thought about what life in Equestria was once like before the war—recalled what was lost.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Rumble. Do you remember what it was like when we were kids? What’s the most serious thing that ever happened—Discord’s pranks or the occasional monster from Everfree? Struggles of friendship? Rainbow Dash breaking the weather factory? Never an entire nation bent on our destruction. Never… Ponies aren’t warriors, Rumble. Not most of them. They’re not made for this. Thousands of years of relatively light conflict, peace and harmony, and now this. Countless families ripped apart—especially after the Crystal Empire was—”

Nyx paused, glancing at Flitter. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. She carried on, her voice trembling. “I’m trying to be strong. I really am. But I feel like we’ve all lost so much. Everything we grew up with. All the love and happiness… this isn’t the way it’s s-supposed to be.”

Rumble held his mate close. She pressed into him, burying her face into his chest, tears flowing. “I—I can’t remember the last time we could just run around and play, or dance in the street without worrying that somepony might get shot, or hearing that a pack of zebras came rushing into a school and k-killed everypony, or… or,” she sobbed.

Rumble held her tightly, letting her get it out, ignoring that his chest was soaked in snot and tears. All the pent-up stress Nyx had been holding back for months came to the surface. Each tear stabbed at her soul. Each drop, the blood of an innocent life she couldn’t save. The weight of her failure was crushing. She had promised to protect them. How could she have known there was a war coming? How could she have known that she could not save them all?

She wept until her tears ran dry, but there was still more blood on the scales. Eventually, she quieted herself, still breathing erratically. “I don’t know how much longer we can hold on. Will we ever have normal lives again?”

“Someday,” came Rumble’s comforting reply.

She lifted her face off his chest, suddenly aware of the sticky mess she had created.

“Oh my. I…”

“Shhh. Don’t worry about it.”

Flitter brought Nyx a cup of hot cinnamon tea and a box of tissues.

Despite the snot still trickling out of her nose, Nyx was feeling much better, having got all that off her chest. “Thank you,” she croaked as she grabbed a tissue, “Listen, I’m sorry about—”

“Don’t,” Flitter said as she put a hoof to Nyx’s mouth. “Listen, we all have our moments. This war is tough on everypony. You’re allowed to feel overwhelmed once in a while. You were there for me when I lost my home and my entire family. Nopony is keeping score.”

“Thanks, Flitter,” Nyx replied, relaxing a bit.

Flitter gave her a hug and joined the couple on the couch.

“You should take it easy,” Rumble said with concern. “You probably came close to burning out after… after whatever that was out there.”

Nyx’s thoughts focused on the spell matrix resting at the base of her horn. The number which appeared, floating in mid-air before them, read seventy-eight percent! Nyx did a double-take; that wasn’t possible.

“Wait, didn’t you say you were at thirty-something percent this morning?” Rumble asked.

“I—I have no idea. It was like…” Nyx had no words. What was going on? She had clearly just used a bunch of energy, but now she had more stored up than before the fight.

“Nyx, you incinerated those zebras. Not only that, but you looked like… well, you looked pretty scary.”

“I’m sorry, hon. I honestly don’t understand. I was so angry, and everything was just a blur. It felt like I had just… like I got a glimpse of something that’s beyond any description. And then it was gone.”

“Not to make light of that, guys,” Flitter interjected. “But I’m a bit worried about the fact that zebras are attacking schoolchildren in the middle of Equestria. Ponyville isn’t exactly anywhere near the front lines. What was that about?”

“No idea,” Rumble said. “Doesn’t make any sense to me. They even lost a tactical team over it.”

Nyx shook off the strangeness of her magical outburst as a sense of urgency fell upon her. She leaned forward off the couch and stood up, grabbing her saddlebags.

“We have to get to the school right away. I need to make sure that little colt is okay. I only saw him for a few seconds. I imagine he’s pretty freaked out.”

“Did you see who it was?” Flitter asked as she and Rumble joined her in the elevator room.

“I’m not sure. I’ve never seen him before. He was so cute, Flitter; you should have seen him. That cute little furry face with the big green eyes. He had no idea what was going on. He was just having fun with his toys in the schoolyard without the slightest clue that… that his life might have ended in an instant.”

Chills ran down Nyx’s back. “I’m a little worried he’ll haunt my dreams.”

“What do you mean?”

“I might see him in a nightmare as if he were killed.”

Nyx’s mind traveled to dark places for a moment as the trio left the clubhouse. “Imagine if we had failed, Flitter! Or if we hadn’t shown up at all. The colt would be dead. What would the repercussions be for his whole family? How would it affect the colt’s mother and father having discovered their precious little one had been killed and for no reason? Would his friends even understand what happened, or why? How many lives would be devastated if we had failed today?”

“Nyx!” Rumble interrupted before she could get into a full-blown panic attack.

She looked at him.

“We didn’t fail. He’s alive! Let’s just focus on that.”

“I know, I know.” She took a shuddering breath, forcing a calm over herself, “Sorry. Let’s… let’s go check up on him.” Wings spreading wide, she took flight over the trees.

After getting her class to calm down, Cheerilee turned her attention back to Dusty. He was shaking. His ear was bandaged up now, and blood had begun to soak through. She got a good look at it before patching him up; it was definitely not a normal playground injury.

Cheerilee walked over to the window and looked out. She was pretty sure Dusty had been shot. But why, and by whom? And how was Nyx involved? She peered out the window and tried to gauge the situation. Ponyville looked as normal as ever. There were no gunshots to be heard, and nopony was running around in the streets.

She sat down with Dusty again and looked over the rest of her class. Some of the children looked confused. Others, she could tell understood what had happened, and they looked frightened. Dusty was still shaking.

He looked up at her. “I almost died, didn’t I, Miss Cheerilee?”

She held him to her chest. “Shhh. You’re safe now.”

There was a knock at the front door. Finally. Cheerilee motioned for one of her students to go check who was there.

It was one of the mothers. Amethyst Star stood there, panting in the doorway. Cheerilee waved her inside.

“I was… out for a run and… saw Nyx crash into… the schoolyard.”

A little filly got up from her desk and ran to the front door. “Mom!” Amethyst took her child in her hooves.

Relief spread over Cheerilee’s face. “Amethyst, thank you so much for coming. I’ve been so worried.”

Amethyst caught her breath and noticed Cheerilee holding Dusty close. She came inside and sat next to them. “Is he alright?”

“A little stunned, but he’s okay. What’s going on out there?”

“I don’t know; I don’t think anypony else saw anything. I came as soon as I could. What happened to him?”

“I think he was—” Cheerilee caught herself and hushed her tone. “I’m pretty sure he was shot. Can you please run get the mayor? I can’t leave the kids alone here, and I can’t just let them go until I know for sure what’s going on. We’re kind of stuck until somepony gets help or has some answers.”

“Sure, I can do that. I’ll go get her now.”

“Thanks, Amethyst.”

Cheerilee watched her go, still holding onto the frightened colt.

Nyx and her friends set down outside the school where the mayor was talking with somepony. It was Amethyst Star, a longtime Ponyville resident. She had her daughter outside with her.

“Nyx! What happened? I saw you crash into the playground!” A thousand questions were lined up behind those worried eyes.

There wasn’t time for this. Nyx needed to see the colt.“No time to chat, sorry. Everypony is safe now. We’ll catch up sometime, okay?”

Amethyst didn’t seem to care for that answer, but she nodded and led her daughter into town.

“Mayor, is everypony okay?” Nyx’s heart was racing.

“Only the colt is injured if that’s what you mean. Everypony else is pretty freaked out.” She hesitated a moment. “Was it zebras?”

Nyx nodded.

“Oh my. Here in Ponyville? I don’t suppose you could set their minds at ease? I’m getting ready to lead the class to the town hall to meet up with their parents. We could use your help to keep rumors from spreading.”

Nyx sighed in resignation; she really didn’t feel like making a public appearance over this. “Fine. Let’s talk to Cheerilee first.”

The mayor seemed happy with that. She opened the door, and Nyx followed Rumble and Flitter into the school.

Every child’s eyes were glued to them.

Nyx looked around at all the little faces. “Hi, everypony.”

Three children raised their hooves high, causing Rumble to snicker.

Cheerilee cleared her throat. “Everypony wants to know what’s going on, Nyx. We know there’s some kind of threat. Are we in danger?”

“We took care of it,” Nyx said with finality in her tone. “There’s no danger now.”

The entire room seemed to release its collective breath it had been holding. “You’re sure?”

“Positive. Boooom,” Rumble said with a wide grin. His hooves gestured an explosion, causing Flitter to cringe and five or six colts in the classroom to giggle.

Cheerilee visibly relaxed and proceeded to address her students. “Alright, class, I’d like you all to go collect your bags and line up at the front door. School is canceled for the rest of the day.”

The controlled chaos of twenty-four colts and fillies erupted in the classroom as all the kids scrambled to the back of the room to collect their belongings.

Cheerilee turned to face the mayor. “Thank you for taking the children back to their parents. If you won’t be needing me, I’d like to stay and speak with our guests.” She patted Dusty on the shoulder. “I’d like this one to stay as well; please tell Rose he’s fine for me. I’ll come see her after we’re through.”

“It’s no trouble. We’ll be at the town hall. I’ll see you there.” The mayor then turned to Nyx. “Thank you for what you did today. Thank you all.” She turned and led the class out of the school.

Cheerilee sat down next to her student, who never took his eyes off Nyx. She checked his bandage, seeing that it was bleeding through.

“It was zebras, wasn’t it?” Cheerilee said. It wasn’t really a question.

Flitter approached the colt and knelt down, examining his bandage. She set her saddlebags down and pulled out some medical supplies. “Yes,” she said as she undressed the colt’s ear. His gaze was fixed firmly on Nyx the whole time. “We were flying by when we spotted the sniper. We still don’t know why, though. We’ve never seen them operate like this. But then again, there have been other attacks we never saw coming either.”

Flitter winced at the colt’s wound. There was a rounded piece of his ear missing on the outer edge where the bullet had passed through. “This is going to hurt a bit, darling.” Flitter soaked a cotton ball with alcohol and pressed it against his ear. He flinched but didn’t shy away. She dabbed his ear with blood-stop powder and sprayed on a foam protectant that sealed the wound.

Nyx waved at the colt, causing a grin along with his own wave in return. “Cheerilee, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay here with him while you guys talk.”

Cheerilee nodded. She walked with Rumble and Flitter to the craft table on the far end of the room while Nyx approached the colt and knelt down on the mat with him.

Nyx sat motionless across from the colt, feeling an uneasiness in the pit of her stomach. Would he shrink away in fear? Her unusual eyes had a history of intimidating children.

He stared at her with a mixture of awe and disbelief.

“What’s your name?”

His eyes widened just a bit further, as if he was surprised she was addressing him directly.


Nyx studied him for a moment. This was someone’s precious little colt. Alive. Dusty, she thought to herself. Nyx felt a warming in her belly. She recalled the promise she had made nearly fifteen years ago. Her mind’s eye flashed briefly to a dark castle throne-room, her head bowed in submission before the two rulers of the land.

As long as there is still breath in my lungs, I will continue to protect ponies, she had said. She could almost feel her cutie mark tingle as she regarded the colt. This was her purpose—her identity. For that moment, the morning’s concerns about the nightmare were washed away.

She scooted close to Dusty. He did not flinch or try to keep his distance.

Nyx smiled warmly. “Hi, Dusty. I’m Nyx. And I am very happy to meet you.”


Cheerilee was overwhelmed. It was a relief that the emergency was over, but the fact that this happened at all had shattered her illusion of safety. There had been drills. There had been training. But in all her years of teaching, an attack upon her students was something she never actually believed would happen.

“Thank you all for what you did today. It was almost too horrible for words.”

Rumble and Flitter sat with Cheerilee as they watched Nyx getting to know her new friend.

Flitter pointed at Dusty, who was touching Nyx’s horn with amazement. “He’s a curious little fellow. He doesn’t seem to look at things the same way that other kids do. I’ve never patched up a wound like that on a child without them freaking out about it at least a little.”

“Yes, Dusty’s a great student. He’s been with us for two weeks now. Lively and spirited, with an interesting, courageous view of life. He idolizes Rainbow Dash and the SkyGuard, like many children his age, but he isn’t afraid of the war or the zebras.”

“That’s refreshing to see in a child. During the changeling famine, we saw so many pony kids living in fear. It was hard to find anypony whose love outshined it. But Dusty wouldn’t have known life before the war. He wouldn’t be able to compare it to how life used to be.”

“I do think that’s part of what helps him. Dusty grew up around military ponies. His dad was killed in the war a few years ago. But he’s just not the type to shrink in fear when things get bad. Some kids are paralyzed by the constant tragedy. Everything about the war terrifies them. Kids like Dusty… they respect the dangers of war but face it with bravery.”

Cheerilee showed Flitter some of the artwork hanging on the walls of the classroom. One painting depicted zebras running from a pegasus who left a rainbow streak behind her as she flew.

“I see kids like him forming sets of heroes they look up to. And thanks to Rarity and Rainbow Dash, the children have a lot of media about real-life heroes out there fighting in the war. Those toys of Dusty’s are a great example.”

Rumble watched as Dusty examined Nyx’s cutie mark up close. “He sure seems to like Nyx. How is he taking what happened today?”

“I think he took it pretty well. He was a little spooked at first, but he knows who Nyx is, and yes, he’s quite a fan. I think his reaction was at least half due to the surprise of having her show up right in front of him from out of nowhere. He wasn’t entirely sure what happened, but he understood that Nyx had just saved his life.”

Dusty was showing Nyx his Equestrian SkyGuard action figures. They giggled together while making the toys chase each other around.

Cheerilee overheard the little colt talking with excitement. “And this one’s my favorite!”

Speaking in a hushed tone, she nudged Rumble with a hoof pointed toward the pair across the room. “You’re going to want to see this.”

Dusty showed something to Nyx, and judging from her reaction, she was quite surprised. A little black action figure rested in his hooves, bearing wings, a horn, and a purple mane.

“This is Nightmare Nyx: Protector of Ponies,” the colt proclaimed. “She’s the strongest, fastest, most coolest pony in all Equestria!”

Nyx just stared with her mouth open at the little toy while tears formed in her eyes. She embraced the colt, and he squeezed his little forelegs around her neck. “Thank you for saving me, Nightmare Nyx. You’re my hero.”

Rumble sat at the kitchen table, cleaning one of his combat scatterguns which was spread out in pieces over a canvas tablecloth. It was a well crafted piece of equipment, made from the finest parts by Muzzle Talk Firearms, in addition to a few non-standard Rumble bits as well.

Sliding the last piece back into place, he glanced over to Nyx, who was lying on the couch in the living room. She was staring up at the ceiling with a content smile on her face.

“You look good,” Rumble commented.

Nyx craned her neck back enough to see him, a slight grin forming on her face. “You always say that.”

Rumble chuckled. “What I mean is that you look happy. Like you do after we visit one of your memories.”

“Yeah. It’s so wonderful how things turned out, isn’t it? As bad as it almost was, I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Getting to know Dusty really made my day.”

Looking again toward Rumble, she did a double take toward something behind him in the kitchen.

Checking his shoulder, Rumble saw a happy, pink earth pony stirring a bowl.

“Flitter, why do you look like Pinkie?” Nyx asked with a giggle.

“Wha? Oh!” Flitter grinned, blushing just before reverting to her usual form with a flash of green fire. “Haha. Heh, yeah, I was just mixing up an extra large batch of nectar sticks, thinking about how Pinkie looooves making cupcakes and how much joy she puts into them.”

Nyx smiled and resumed looking back up at the ceiling.

“Mind if I try one of those things?” Rumble asked. “I’ve been wondering what they taste like.”

“I don’t know, Rumble… That’s not a good idea. It’s not like—”

“Oh, c’mon. Just a taste.” He stood and picked a nectar stick from the tray, giving it a sniff.

Nyx flipped over on the couch to watch, snickering.

Flitter rolled her eyes. “One lick. Don’t you dare bite it. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Rumble stuck the end in his mouth and sucked. Instantly, the whole world burst to life in vibrant color.

“Whoooo ponyfeathers!” A sensation like lightning exploded from his tongue and shot through his nervous system. He stumbled backward, his eyes wide as saucers. “That’s… that’s some powerful stuff right there. Why do I feel all funky?”

Flitter took the nectar stick back and helped keep him upright. “What did I say?”

The room was definitely misbehaving. Looking at his hooves, Rumble could have sworn they were somepony else’s.

Flitter leaned into him and walked him out of the kitchen. “Tell me, did you somehow think pony physiology was even the slightest bit like that of a changeling?”

“I… uh…”

“You’re having a dissociative reaction. That’s pure distilled love, my friend. Combined with… well, some other stuff. Don’t worry, though—your body will feel like it belongs to you again in a couple minutes.”

Nyx’s laugh bounced around in Rumble’s mind. “My poor hubby. Curiosity got the best of you again, my dear?” she chortled, watching him look around the room as if he’d never seen it before.

“I think I… think need lay down, I…”

A subtle glow shone from Nyx’s horn as she helped him keep from falling, guiding him to the couch. She cuddled with him, giggling and planting kisses on his face. “You always take such good care of me. Relax while I take care of you for a bit.”

Rumble looked up into her eyes. “You look byooooteeful. I feel so weird.”

“You’re high on changeling hormones and love.” She kissed him some more, holding him tight and smiling.

“If he had eaten the whole thing, you could probably saw his hoof right off and he wouldn’t care,” Flitter remarked from the kitchen. “I’m gonna make some tea. Any requests?”

“Something to clear his mind, maybe.”

Rumble shook his head, idly pawing at Nyx’s face, his hoof missing each time. “I love you, Nyxie.” He threw his forelegs around her neck and kissed her lips.

“You big goof. Next time listen. Who’s the medical pony here?”

The console by the elevator room started beeping.


Nyx’s ears perked up. Someone is topside.

Flitter and Nyx looked at one another, their eyes simultaneously asking and answering the same question: ‘Were you expecting anypony?’

Nyx gently set Rumble into a comfortable position on the couch and walked over to the console to check who it was. The monitor showed the elevator carriage interior with a very familiar pony standing on the pressure plate.

Nyx let out a squee as her apprehension vanished. “Mom!”

She hurried to activate the lift. There was a hum for a few seconds, then the door opened, revealing Twilight Sparkle. Nyx rushed up and gave her mother a tight embrace. “Mom! I’m so happy to see you.”

Twilight held her daughter close, pressing her nose into Nyx’s mane. “I’m sorry it’s been so long.”

Nyx took in her mother’s familiar scent, which dispelled her uneasiness. She wished she could pause time for a moment and just let the memories sweep over her. “Come in, come in.”

Twilight levitated her saddlebags to the end-table by the couch and sat down. “I heard what happened. I can only imagine how awful that was.”

Nyx sat next to her with joy written all over her face. “Don’t worry about me, Mom. How have you been? We haven’t talked in nearly a month.”

Flitter brought Twilight a cup of peppermint tea—her favorite. She smiled and took a sip. “Thanks, Flitter.”

Twilight set the cup down and made herself comfortable. “Things have been pretty crazy at the institute for the past few months. You know how much I like to keep organized. With so many new projects, it’s been the greatest test of those skills I’ve ever had.”

Rumble sat up and gave Twilight a hug, then slid off the couch and sprawled onto the beanbag chair beside Nyx.

“Hey, handsome. You keeping my daughter safe?”

Nyx blushed.

“You know it.” He lazily waved a hoof in the air.

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Is… he alright?”

“Yeah, he’s fine, Mom. He’s just recovering from an encounter with Flitter’s happy-candy.”

“I’m alright!” Rumble interjected, still grinning.

Twilight suppressed a laugh.

“So, what brings you to town?” Nyx asked.

“Well, I was supposed to meet with the mayor at the Ponyville SMRI branch to get some paperwork done. But when I showed up, she was at the town hall holding a meeting about what happened today with the attack. You have no idea how grateful the parents are, Nyx. The mayor was working overtime on rumor control just to keep the story straight.”

A pang of guilt twitched inside Nyx’s stomach. “I probably should have been there for that.”

“No, no. Cheerilee explained all the details. Nopony expected you to be there; they know you’ve had a heck of a day and need some space. Which reminds me...”

Twilight levitated several wrapped items out of her saddlebags. “I brought dinner! I figured you guys were probably a bit too lost in thought and could use something, so I stopped at the Hayburger on my way over.”

“Oooh, thanks, Mom!” Nyx’s stomach growled as she realized how hungry she was. She and Rumble eagerly accepted the yummies.

Twilight set a pouch down on the coffee table. “I brought some sugar for you too, Flitter.”

“Hey, thanks! I just used up a bunch making these!” Flitter showed Twilight her handiwork derived from all the feels at the schoolhouse.

“Not bad, Flitter. How long will something like that last you?”

“A long time. It depends on how things go with others. With Nyx and Rumble, I don’t often go hungry.”

“Awww. That’s so sweet.”

Rumble choked and pointed at the sticks. “NOT sweet. Don’t even think of trying one of those things, Twilight!” He paused and thought for a moment. “I meant the sticks. Nyx is very sweet. Not that you’d—I mean…” Rumble looked up at Nyx, his eyes begging her for rescue.

Nyx laughed and tousled his mane. “Relax, love. Learned your lesson, I take it?”

Rumble nodded. “Reality has once again embraced my senses.”

Nyx leaned back on the couch, pressing up against her mother. They used to fit together like this much better several years ago. Didn’t matter—it was still her mom, and Nyx was a happy pony.

“Have you met Dusty, Mom? He’s the little colt we saved today. I spent some time getting to know him at the school before we came home.”

Twilight shook her head. “No, but Cheerilee says you have a permanent fan, now.”

Nyx chuckled. “Yeah, he’s something. Brave little fellow. He was showing me his toys. He had these… Say, I need to ask you something.”

Nyx levitated a small object off the coffee table to show her mother. It was a trading card which Dusty had given her at the school. On the card was an image of Nyx in combat armor. The caption read: ‘Nightmare Nyx: Protector of Ponies’. She passed the card to Twilight.

“Is Equestria Forever now making toys? I think I may need to have a little chat with Rarity about something.”

Rumble glanced at the card. “I think you look awesome.”

Twilight nodded with a mouthful of hay-fries. “Oh. Mmm, I wuf gonga tell you abou’ tat.” She paused, swallowing. “Sorry. Equestria Forever is making children’s toys to encourage the younger generation in regards to the war effort.”

“Yeah, I noticed. So, what’s up with my plastic doppelganger? I’m not a soldier.”

Twilight laughed. “Yes, that one. The action figures depicting you are particularly popular. Rarity is just… helping to nudge your public image in the right direction. In many children’s eyes, you’re like a real life superhero.”

“In some adults’ eyes too,” Flitter pointed out, winking at Rumble.

“Hey, Dusty’s gonna have to step up his game if he wants to be Nyx’s number-one fan.”

Nyx put her head in her hooves with a groan.

Twilight patted her shoulder. “It’s healthy to give them a character they can look up to. Most kids still associate Nightmare Moon with something evil and scary. You should have seen Rarity’s long spiel about how ‘fabulous’ these would be.”

Nyx rolled her eyes and shifted on the couch so she could face her mother. “You know that’s not how I see myself. I’m not a celebrity. I’ve never wanted that kind of attention.”

Twilight levitated a napkin to her lips. “It’s not about fame, Nyx. It’s more to put some tangible faces on the heroes of Equestria. It’s about inspiring the kids to grow up with a healthy, realistic outlook on the war we’re all stuck in, rather than being terrified by it.”

“I… guess that’s a good point,” Nyx replied with reluctance.

“They’re also hoping that this will help inspire more than a few older kids and young adults to enlist in the various branches of the military. We all know Equestria needs more warriors. More heroes.”

“I have to agree with that,” Rumble added. Flitter nodded as well.

Nyx munched on her hayburger, considering the idea. It did mean a lot to Dusty. Maybe it wasn’t all bad. Maybe Rarity was a marketing genius after all; that didn’t mean Nyx actually was all those things. But she did enjoy the idea of being an encouragement to the kids.

Twilight regarded Nyx for a moment. “How are you really doing, Nyx? You’ve been through so much today.”

Nyx nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay. Today’s been pretty overwhelming, but I’m feeling better now.” Her thoughts then drifted over the day’s events. “Well, actually something really strange did happen today. When I saw zebras targeting children, I just lost it. I killed two of them with nothing but fury.”

Twilight stopped eating and looked at her sideways. “What do you mean ‘nothing but fury’? That doesn’t make sense.”

“I know. I was so angry, and then they burst into flames. I didn’t mean to, it just…”

Twilight shifted into that investigative tone Nyx was all too familiar with. “Wait, so you cast a fire spell on them? Do you know any fire spells?”

“No. It wasn’t a spell, Mom. That’s what I’m saying… It just happened.”

If Twilight had a pair of lecture glasses handy, she would have put them on. “Nyx, dear, that’s not how magic works. All direct-cast magic is spells, except levitation.”

Rumble chimed in. “It’s true, Twilight. I saw it go down, and Nyx’s whole body started looking really strange. These weird patterns were shifting around on her coat like staring into eternity, just looking at her.”

Twilight just stared at Rumble like he was speaking backward or something. Nyx felt her face flush, regretting she had even brought the topic up.

“I guess you had to be there,” Rumble continued. “But it was pretty intense. Oh, and she also gained energy afterward.”

Twilight’s gaze snapped back to Nyx. “Is this true?”

With a nod, Nyx caused a translucent percentage counter to fade into view over the couch. “It was quite a bit lower this morning.”

Twilight stared at the figure for a long moment. “I’m… I’m sorry, Nyx. I didn’t mean to lecture you. I guess it’s just something I’m not familiar with. And I know magic. We should probably talk to Luna or preferably Celestia about this.”

Nyx raised an eyebrow. “What? Why?”

“When you were recovering from your burnout in the Crystal Empire, Celestia told me you might start manifesting some unusual abilities. She said they needed to find out if you had the traits of a ‘natural alicorn’. I’m not very studied on alicorn types, to be honest; there’s just not a lot of literature on the subject. But still, she did ask me to keep an eye out for something I didn’t understand, and I’d say that this probably qualifies.”

Uncertainty crept into Nyx's gut. “If you say so, Mom. You’re not upset with me, are you?”

Twilight looked Nyx in the eye. “Absolutely not. Seriously, I’m very proud of you, Nyx. You did good today. You all did.”

The Canterlot central post office was bustling with activity as conveyor belts sorted boxes and envelopes, and ponies trotted to and fro with overstuffed saddlebags.

“Mmm.” That’s some good coffee, Primrose thought to herself. It was one of the perks that came with being the shift supervisor. This was fresh-ground Baltimare coffee meant for the Palace but offered as a tip for good delivery services.

Primrose sipped her coffee, staring idly out the window of the second-floor Operations room toward the processing floor below.

To her left, several bright, star-shaped motes of magical energy appeared in the room and suddenly exploded into thousands of shimmering fragments. There was the sound of energized particles dissipating and a small gust of air which tousled her mane. Primrose took notice but did not react to the phenomenon.

A classy-looking, pretty unicorn with a lilac coat and blonde mane appeared out of thin air. She wore a cheerful smile on her face.

“Good day, Primrose! Would there be any urgent messages this morning?” The unicorn gave Primrose a hug.

Primrose accepted the gesture from the young mare. “Hi, Dinky. There’s just a couple over in the bin.”

“Thanks!” She trotted over to the priority bins, two of which were labeled: “Pony Express”.

A number of scrolls and envelopes flew out of her saddlebags as she swiftly deposited the incoming mail into the left container, exchanging them for the messages waiting for her in the right.

She turned back to Primrose. “Looks like I’m off to the Palace. We should catch up soon for tea.” She smiled, waved, and promptly vanished in a puff of flying stardust.

Princess Luna sat alone in her study, looking over war reports. Yesterday’s incident in Ponyville revealed just how vulnerable Equestria really was. There were simply not enough soldiers to guard every possible line of attack—most were stationed along the battle lines. It was an oversight she would soon have to remedy.

We are spread too thin.

This trend for the past month or so was troubling. Her soldiers were holding their own, but not by much. How long could they keep this up?

Luna stared at the latest report, which was sitting at the top of the stack. Very unusual—what were zebras doing in that area? It held no strategic significance. She got up from her desk, walked over to the map of Equestria mounted on the wall, and pushed in a red pin along the western coastline. It was west of Whitetail Woods in the vast bayou network that extended to the coast in a complex landscape of swamps, dense forest, and rivers. She couldn’t remember the last time any news had come from the settlements in that region.

Luna sat back down at her desk with a sigh. The burden of ruling alone always felt heavier when looking at war reports. It had been six months since her sister’s hiatus from the throne, leaving her in charge, but it felt like six years. Her eyes lingered on the framed photo hanging on the wall by her desk. It was a photo of herself with Celestia at a formal diplomatic event.

I miss you, Sister.

It would take a keen eye to notice that Luna was much less comfortable than her sister in that photo. Celestia had always been the more diplomatic and politically savvy ruler, adept at keeping the various noble factions in line by pandering to their egos. Nine years of war with the zebras, and still the nobles focused on putting their own interests above those of Equestria. Luna simply didn’t have the patience to deal with those pompous fools, the factions, or the bureaucracy of the previous system.

The other photo by Luna’s desk was of the six mares of Harmony. She stared at that photo for some time, reminiscing about how things were before the war had changed everything.

With their long history of coming through for Equestria, these six were among the very few ponies Luna truly trusted. Yet this war was unlike any other conflict in recent Equestrian history. It would not be solved by a half dozen virtuous Element Bearers alone, no matter how determined they might be.

No, it was up to Luna now. Celestia had entrusted her with leading Equestria through the final season of this terrible war. And it was certainly not Twilight’s burden to carry.

Luna noticed Twilight in the photo, barely able to remember a time when she did not have wings. She was probably the pony Luna trusted the most. It was understandable why Celestia often referred to her as her “most faithful student”. She and her daughter were—

There was a knock at the door.

“Yes, come in,” Luna said.

The door opened, and a guard entered. “Messenger pony to see you, Your Highness.”

“Excellent. Send her in please.”

The messenger pony entered, levitating some scrolls out of her saddlebags. “Good day, Princess Luna.” She gave the princess a warm hug. “You sent for me?”

“Hello, Dinky. I hope you are keeping well. Come. Sit. How is business?”

Dinky sat across from Luna. “Doing very well, m’Lady. I’ve been keeping quite busy in recent months, as you can imagine. The Palace has been most generous.”

“That is very good to hear. I knew you would be successful ever since you graduated. You are doing a commendable job and have exceptional talent. I look forward to seeing how you apply it in the future.”

“Perhaps, m’Lady. The Focused Talents course did help me refine the skills necessary for what I do.”

“You opened up The Pony Express soon after graduation, if I recall?”

Dinky nodded. “Straight away, yes. I’ve been quite pleased with it, and I do meet so many splendid ponies all across Equestria in this line of work. I suppose I have a fondness for it due to Mother.”

Luna smiled. She knew that of all ponies, few had ever been more cherished or shown more pure and honest love as a child than Dinky.

“I have a task for you, my little pony. May I ask for an urgent delivery?”

“Uunnggh!!” Apple Bloom grunted, putting her back into the effort of pushing the new power regulator into the control room with the help of Nyx. It was very heavy, bulky, and a bit too awkwardly shaped for the tight spaces of the Hideout, but they were making progress.

“Rotate it a little bit this—no stop, stop, the other way. Git ready to pull again,” Apple Bloom directed.

“Wait, wait. Stop a moment while I get a better grip,” Nyx panted. She had all four hooves spread apart for stability while her horn glowed with swirls of black and indigo, making the regulator mostly weightless but no less awkward. She set the heavy device down in the middle of the doorway and backed further into the control room.

Nyx focused, her horn once again glowing. She levitated the regulator off the ground and began to pull.

The console set into the wall of the control room chimed, indicating someone was at the elevator.

“Oh, for ffffrickadilly sake. I can’t move. Can you go get that? And hurry; I don’t want to be stuck in here.” Nyx sat down on the floor with her back resting against the regulator, catching her breath.

“Sure thing, Nyx,” Apple Bloom said as she trotted off.

After a few minutes of being trapped in the control room, Nyx was fighting off feelings of panic. It was such a stupid thing, really. Apple Bloom would be back soon. Wouldn’t she?

A cloud of flying stardust appeared out of nowhere around Nyx’s body. She nearly had a heart attack as a chipper unicorn popped into the room quite nearly in her lap.

“Gaaahh!!” Nyx startled. Dinky tackled her with a big hug. “Whoa, wow hi, Dinky!”

“Good day, Nyx! Wonderful to see you again.” Dinky climbed off Nyx and stood in a more dignified, but still very close position.

Nyx stood up and returned the hug. “Thanks for stopping by, Dinky. What’s the occasion?”

“We’ll get to that shortly. Apple Bloom said you were stuck in the control room and could use a hoof with this thing.” Dinky pointed at the regulator.

“Um, yeah this needs to go over in the corner and plug into the talisman output interface. It’s kinda heavy. I can do most of the lifting if you want to guide it along.”

“No need—I’ll take care of it. Just show me exactly where it goes and I’ll take it from there.”

“No kidding? I thought you could only do small objects.”

“I’ve been practicing!” Dinky let out a tiny squee of pride.

After Nyx showed her where it needed to go, Dinky faced the regulator and concentrated.

“Heavy objects are still a bit difficult. I can only move them short distances. You may want to stand back in case I miss.”

Sparks flew from her horn, its spiral fluting aglow in a brilliant, pulsating yellow. The room shimmered with starry sparkles which enveloped the power regulator. Suddenly, it vanished with a gust of wind and reappeared on the other side of the room exactly where it was meant to be. Dinky’s face was covered in sweat.

“Slick! Nice work, Dinky,” Nyx said with relief that went beyond just having the job done. She quickly made her way to the exit.

Nyx trotted upstairs and down the hall to the living quarters and found Dinky already there sharing a bag of cheesy oat puffs with Apple Bloom.

“Remind me never to enter into a race with you,” Nyx said flatly. Apple Bloom snickered.

“Y’all just put us ahead of schedule, Dinky. Thanks!”

“It’s my pleasure to help a friend, Apple Bloom.” She stood and addressed Nyx. “I would love to stay and chat, but I’m actually here on business and have to get going. Princess Luna wants you to meet with her tonight. Alone. Are you able?”

Luna? Nyx hadn’t spoken privately with Luna for nearly a year.

“Um, sure I guess. Rumble and Flitter are in Ponyville, running errands. But no, we don’t have anything important planned tonight. I can come.”

“Good. Wait here, please.” Dinky vanished in her signature light show.

“It must be nice bein’ able t’do that,” Apple Bloom noted. Nyx nodded and grabbed some oat puffs from the bag.

A few seconds later, Dinky reappeared. “Princess Luna says she will see you this evening before sundown. Take care!” And then she was gone.

Apple Bloom stood up and patted Nyx on the shoulder with a hoof. “Sounds like y’all got some stuff to think about. I’ll be down in the control room configuring some things if you need me.”

“So, she wants you to go alone?” Rumble asked as he collected dishes off the table.

“Yeah. I’m kind of excited. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Luna all year.”

Nyx passed Rumble her dinner plate. “Thanks for doing dishes, hon.” She kissed him on the cheek and went to freshen up. She wondered what Luna wanted to see her about so suddenly. While brushing her teeth, Nyx regarded her reflection in the mirror. She turned her head left and right, considering the strange fact that this was what Luna’s face once looked like.

She sometimes thought about how much her own appearance was influenced by Luna’s. To what extent was she herself Luna? She was, after all, Nightmare Moon, and Nightmare Moon was Luna. It seemed paradoxical that Nyx and Luna could exist separately and interact with one another.

Nyx shrugged it off. Such hypothetical excursions were more fun with her mother. This particular existential puzzle often made Nyx’s head hurt and could wait until a later date. For now, her focus was on seeing Luna again. It had been quite some time since their last casual visit, as Luna had been very busy in the months since becoming the primary regent of the nation.

Nyx brushed out her mane with a sigh. She missed Luna. Things were so different years ago. Nyx let her mind wander back to when she was a filly. Luna would come visit her at the library to play games with her and talk about life and how different Equestria was thousands of years ago.

It had always fascinated her to hear the stories of times long gone and the adventures Luna had with her big sister. In a way, the kinship between Luna and Nyx was strengthened by the fact that so many things about modern Equestria were new to both of them. Discovery of the new world was something they had the chance to experience together. In a way, it was like Luna herself was Nyx’s big sister.

Nyx turned away from the mirror and walked toward the elevator room to go. She felt a touch of sadness with her memories of Luna. Most of all, she missed their heart to heart talks. Luna understood very well the unique challenges Nyx had as she grew up. This bond had made that journey much more bearable for Nyx. She wondered if there would ever be a chance for them to share that sort of relationship again.

Satisfied she was ready, Nyx took the elevator to the surface and flew off toward Canterlot.