Nightmare tore her way through the comforting darkness, only to find pain and dizzying motions. To her the world was spinning, yet her horn was telling her it was turning inside out. Her earth pony sense was telling her down was above her and her pegasus senses were telling her she was falling, and yet she could clearly feel she was laying.
She tried to move, to open her eyes, to do anything, but nothing physical worked, nothing would respond. Anger flared. She would not be defeated. She was strong, she was powerful. She lit her horn, the crack and sizzle from her horn drowned out by the agonised scream Nightmare released.
The sound of the scream echoed repeatedly, hammering her head into submission. Everything hurt.
Slowly, she managed to pull herself together. I am strong, I am powerful, she reminded herself again. She could stand against the sun itself. She would get through this, she was in control of her body, she would heal. She just needed to wait.
The sound of galloping hooves approached, of laboured breathing. Then the sound of hooves sliding on a smooth floor, a crash of metal, and glass shattering.
“No, no, no, maybe? No, that one's broken too.” Star seemed to be panicking. “Yes” she shouted.
It sounded like Star had moved closer to her, and the world shift slightly. It felt like she was on a bed and... did Star just climb up on it, too?
Something pricked her flesh, though her senses were still too jumbled to tell where. Her leg? Her body? Who knew. Did she even still have them? No matter. If not, they would grow back.
“There, Princess, that will help with the pain,” Star said.
A wonderful cold numbness started to seep through her flesh. Oh she could resist the drug, stop the drug's effects and halt its spread, but the cold was too nice.
Her world started to fade again, but before it did, she felt something. What was that? A bandage? No, it was warm... is... is Star hugging her?
The sound of a page being turned reached her. “Talk reassuringly to patient,” Star muttered under her breath. “Everything's going to be ok, Princess, we're home. We got away from the bad ponies and…”
Nightmare did not hear what Star was going to say next. The anaesthetic was dragging her into the darkness, but she did not care about that, nor did she care about the smile on her face. Before she slipped away into blissful unconsciousness, a single thought ran through her mind. Somepony cares about me...
Nightmare did not like this, it was humiliating. She was bed-bound, yes, even with an Alicorn for a host. If she just had enough magic she could just discorporate herself and reform, uninjured. Sadly, it was not a possibility – whatever had happened after Twilight’s panic had left their wellspring severely damaged.
Her Little Star was out acquiring food and other supplies. She hoped she was safe, not that she could do anything to keep her asset safe anyway. She snorted. Is it worse to be powerless, she thought, than to be imprisoned?
Laying there on her huge bed, bandages and strong-smelling herbal medicines generously covering her burns, she had little to do. At least the room she was in was interesting: the play of light and shadow upon the crystal wall were quite appealing with the flickering mage light. So, this place is unimportant enough to risk the light failing?
As nearly everything was made of crystal Nightmare figured she was either in Twilight's castle or the Crystal Empire. Where else could one see such opulence? She did not recognise the area, so wherever it was, Twilight had likely never been here, or it had changed since she last was.
She tried again to get into contact with the fragment tending to Twilight. Still no answer, no response. She could feel its presence close to Twilight, so she knew it was still there. Nightmare closed her eyes, shifting her perceptions to her mental space. She was embraced by peaceful darkness and calm music.
Seeking about, she felt they were both close but just out of reach. Am I still too weak even for this? Nightmare thought about herself with scorn.
So long as it kept Twilight happy then everything would be fine. That was the one directive it was given upon its creation that should be its inescapable purpose. She idly wondered what they would be like and if they would try and contest control of the body from her just to try and keep Twilight happy. No, it was probably keeping Twilight with pleasant dreams of her friends.
Opening her eyes and starting to breathe again, she lamented to herself that breathing with this much injuries hurt, but it was a torment she had to endure. Her host did not need to breathe, but for every painful breath she avoided, it was a little less magic dedicated to restoring her wellspring. If only Star had more of that Alchemy she had used before, but alas, there was nothing more to be had.
Upon taking the body she had agreed to deal with the cult and had yet to do so. She already felt a strong urge to get up and go after them, even in her weakened state. She did not, however: She had already had to be put back in bed by her Little Star once today for foalishly believing she could simply use willpower to fight past this body's complaints.
She had not broken her agreement, so her control was still strengthened by it. Deal with the cult and protect her friends. She would deal with them, but just maybe next week.
Spent a thousand years on the moon, and a week of bedrest somehow seems worse. Nightmare let out a snort. She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep.
“Princess, Princess, wake up, it's time for dinner,” Star said.
Nightmare snapped awake, disorientated. No dreams? It feels like I was locked out. My fragment's doing? Luna's? Nightmare contemplated about the unexpected happening. Remembering what Star said, she opened her eyes to see Star’s wide smile and a tray of steaming food leaving before her.
“Ah, My Little Star,” said Nightmare, smiling. She sniffed the air, her smile widening. “Whatever feast you have prepared smells most divine.”
Star clapped her hooves together with glee. “I found the recipe in cookbook upstairs, only took two attempts to get it right.” Star clambered up on the bed before starting to feed her, levitating a spoon laden with food.
So I have to be fed like a foal. How demeaning. At least nopony else will ever find out. She had borne worse, she would bear this. Gracefully accepting her food, she started to eat. Then the taste hit her, making Nightmare close her eyes and let out a content moan. Oh, by Tartarus this is good.
“Good?” Star asked.
Nightmare could only nod, and for a time gone were her plans of taking over the world or hunting down cultists. All that existed was her Little Star and this most wonderful of foods, apple and cinnamon porridge most fine.
If moving did not hurt so much, she would have just plunged her muzzle in the bowl and devoured the whole thing at once, the bowl included.
After finishing her food, it was not long before she was asleep again.
Nightmare let out a dry chuckle as she turned the page of a two day old copy of The Canterlot Times. So apparently her host was dead. That might make things more difficult. Coming back from the dead would raise more questions than simply having been missing for a time.
Should she write a letter to Celestia? It is what Twilight would do, but what would it gain her? Only a small increase in her control over Twilight. It would be a risk, a large risk. She knew with her injuries, it would be weeks if not months before she was up to facing another Alicorn in battle.
Despite this, remaining hidden for too long would also be risky, and she was rather looking forward to her spa trip. Twilight and her friends looked like they enjoyed it, and she wanted to find out if it felt as good as the blood magic. Was it better or worse, similar or unique?
Whenever she did go, she would have to play the part, have to pretend to be Twilight. Applejack would be the most difficult to trick, with the rest of Twilight's friends having little quirks that could be turned against them. It was just her luck, however, that the earth pony’s Element granted her a sense of truth, so no lies could be said. The only way forward was to control the conversation carefully. She felt Twilight stir within her, a deep longing for her friends blooming as well.
She looked up at her Little Star sleeping peacefully beside her. Nightmare smiled fondly.
How would she explain her, though? The pragmatic thing would be to remove her from the equation. Yet, looking at her, she could not even consider going through with it. Her little Star was too useful, valuable for influencing Twilight, too capable, Nightmare tried to justify, she looks up to me, she cares for me, not for my host but me...
Just the thought of any harm befalling her Little Star roused a cold rage in her heart. She would hate herself if she killed her Star. She never had anything she hated herself for other than being sent to the moon.
Her Little Star had cared for her, treated her injuries, even somehow rescued her and brought her to this safe haven. No, she would not be like her traitorous sister. Her little Star was faithful to her, was loyal to her. Just because so precious few had ever given her loyalty did not mean she should not return it when it was, she told herself. Something that felt very much like approval drifted up from Twilight.
"You are making this old mare soft, My Little Star," Nightmare said.
Discarding the old newspaper, she nuzzled her and set about joining her in sleep. Thoughts of how to explain Twilight's new daughter to the world was the last thing on her mind before sleep claimed her. Who would the papers claim to be the father? Nightmare ruminated, letting out a chuckle. Oh, how sweet, innocent Twilight would react to all the theories.
Nightmare awoke, disconcerted from what seemed to be a recurring problem. My third night and still no dreams. Nothing but darkness, and then the waking world again.What was wrong with her?
Deciding to leave it be for now, she stretched. There was still some pain, but whatever cream applied to her burns made them manageable. She felt she could get up, but it would be unwise, and there was no need at the moment. Give it a day or two at most and she would be mobile again.
A note explaining that Star had gone shopping sat atop today's newspaper. Remembering that her horn was wrapped in a strange leaf and the strict instructions from Star to not even think about casting magic for at least another day, Nightmare she reached out for the paper with her hoof.
The Canterlot Times
Princess Luna Still Unavailable, Mysteries Abound
Night Court is still suspended after the incident in which Princess Luna stormed out three nights ago. The Nightguard have been noticeably lacking in the capital, leaving many a citizen to wonder what they are doing.
That's when whatever happened to me happened, Nightmare realized. When she had asked Star to tell her what happened, all Nightmare could get from Star before she got too emotional was that she had been on fire, curled up on the ground, under fire from dark spells, and after that, Star had rescued her from the 'bad ponies,' getting them both outside the temple before teleporting away. If whoever her prey was could do this much damage to her wellspring, then they were not to be underestimated.
Having sorted out her thoughts, Nightmare continued reading.
Possible Dragon Attack?
Coming hot on the hooves of the tragic loss of Princess Twilight is another attack on our peaceful land. Now, in addition to the chaos wrought by the horrendous attack on Manehattan by parties unknown, it seems the citizens of Equestria have to deal with their forests being destroyed and their mountains being turned into volcanoes.
Is this a prelude to war? It has been confirmed that the mountain was set ablaze with purple and red magical fire, destroying the entrance to a historic pre-Celestia Temple. A question raised by many is if this has anything to do with Princess Luna teleporting out of the throne room with a squad of her Nightguard that night? Our magical expert says the flames have been enchanted and will burn for at least one hundred years. (See page twenty for the implications of an ever-burning flame on firewood and oil prices.)
Nightmare blinked and read that once again. Purple fire? Was that purple fire the same magenta shade as Twilight’s magic? And as for a pre-Celestia Temple, the Temple of the Hidden Path would certainly qualify. What happened? Ever burning fire... no it could not be. Nightmare's mind flicked to memories of her time with Luna.
Gleefully swooping down like an angel of death, she grabbed up her victim, sinking her fangs into their neck to send a spike of dark magic through their blood and into their wellspring. She laughed menacingly as she teleported the pony into a large group of his friends. A building-sized explosion of yellow flames erupted as her pony-turned-bomb did his final duty to the Queen of the Night. That was not all, however, and the dark magic she wove into it leapt from flames as black serpents, biting into the other ponies, spreading the doom. More and more ponies exploded, consumed by soul fire. From Nightmare Moon's view in the sky it looked like fireworks, a celebration in her honour. Just like she always deserved. She smiled, and thus the Badlands were scorched into being from the pyre of a thousand souls.
Nightmare shook her head, clearing the flashback. Twilight’s soul fire? But how are we still alive? Once lit, there should be no way, nay, there is no way to survive. Something inside her felt sickened at that level of destruction. Was it her feeling, or was it Twilight's? Nightmare spent a long moment trying to figure out and falling to determine whose feelings that were. Finally, she simply said, “They were our enemies, they deserved their fate.”
Almost as if in reply, the memories of her escape assaulted her, the all-consuming flames dragging her in. The Nightmare closed her eyes, forcing the soothing darkness in her mental space to smother the phantom of pain. “As you wish, Twilight, no incinerating armies with soul fire,” and like that the flames were gone. Another binding agreement forged.
“We are not making friends with your former captors, though,” Nightmare added. A faint sense of what felt like agreement floated up from her host's mind.
Reaching out, Nightmare tried to reconnect with either her fragment or Twilight. Nothing again, but she could feel they were also recovering and they were closer, but she could not join them or even see what they were doing in Twilight's mental space.
She took a moment to fidget, trying to find a more comfortable position. Trying to forget the flames, she turned back to the paper.
Princess Luna Prepares for War
Princess Luna, ever the militant of the Royal Sisters, has commissioned a new set of war plate. Our sources report she has been seen carrying a weapon thought to have perished to time. Her hammer, Starfall, assumed to be lost for over one thousand years. This mighty weapon of legends is said to be able to strike down even the eldest of dragons with a single blow. Is Her Highness the protector the everypony needs in this dark time, or is she risking provoking a military build up from the other nations?. (See page fifthteen for the expected reactions from the other Nations)
Nightmare slowly shook her head, wondering in slight disbelief how Luna had convinced her sister to allow this. So, is she intending on knocking down Canterlot? I wonder what would be left should somepony make her jump and drop Starfall. Would the mountain still be standing? She knew more than a few valleys, gorges, and lakes were still on the map from where she had fumbled that seige breaking war hammer, said to be made from dead stars.
Princess Celestia Injured
Our sources in the Royal Court have confirmed seeing Princess Celestia with blood on her coat and a broken jaw. What foe was our great princess fighting when she received these injuries, this writer wonders. Regardless, It is expected the Princess will make a full recovery as no changes to Day Court have been announced.
Nightmare grinned. Celestia being hurt was always a good thing. A moment after, she paused her thoughts, expecting outrage from her host. The uncertainty she received instead was surprising, good, but surprising. Her fragment must be doing a better job than she thought. Nightmare’s fang-filled grin would have scared off lesser ponies in that moment. She only wished she could see what was going on in there.
Housing Drive for Manehattan Ponies
The respectable Noble Guide, an up and coming business pony, is set to speak before the Royal Court today to continue their campaign to aid the Ponties of Manehattan. “Canterlot is the shining star of Equestria, and we will show that we all stand for the ideals of Harmony,” he declared to a gathering of Nobles. His other efforts include setting up housing for the displaced ponies, and he is calling for either donations or action to help those affected.
She placed the paper on the nightstand. Dull, another pony trying to look good. This is likely some sort of trap either for the ponies of Manhattan or the crown treasury. Nightmare snorted in her mind.
Nightmare looked around for something else to pass the time with. It felt like Star had been gone a long time, though with no clock and no connection to the moon, she had no way of telling.
Should she be worried yet? No, she had faith that she would come back to her. Faith in somepony else? All it took was nearly dying and being nursed to health by them. She chuckled at the thought.
Something flickered to her left, and she snapped her head around to try to see it, only just remembering not to light her horn. For a moment she could have sworn she had seen Twilight, uninjured and clean. She blinked. She was just looking at the reflective crystal wall of her room.
Was she hallucinating, or was Twilight learning to see out of her dreamscape? She did so herself when seducing Luna to the darkness all those years ago, and Twilight was the Element of Magic so it was not impossible.
“Princess…” Star said, breaking Nightmare’s worried train of thoughts about Twilight.
Nightmare looked to see her walking into the room, ears low, hunched slightly, stride hesitant. She looked exhausted and her coat was a mess, her mane even had twigs and cake in it. What now?
Nightmare opened her wing in invitation, Star desperately accepting the comforting embrace. Using the hug to conceal the fact from Star, Nightmare discreetly searched the room for any flickers or images in any of the room's many reflections before turning her full attention on Star.
“My Little Star, what troubles you so?” Nightmare only had to try a little to make her tone sound loving and concerned. Perhaps, I did not have to try at all. A most surprising change, even if it was... welcome.
After Nightmare pondered on the new development, Star spoke. “Well…”