The Crystal War Book I: A Spark to Light the Dark

by NatureSpark

Ch.33 Those Darkest of Memories

~Chapter 33: Those Darkest of Memories~

It had taken all of Star’s formidable concentration to drive back the demented shadows of her nightmares before Princess Luna arrived for their nightly meeting and by the time she saw the graceful form of her mentor descending into the dream version of her home she was already tiring from the effort. Luna’s hooves touched down on the floor without a sound and Star forced a smile and bowed before taking a seat at the table. The princess returned her smile and folded her large wings before taking the seat opposite of her student. Star was aware that her nightmares were being held away by only the thinnest of mental barriers and she hoped that the princess wouldn’t notice.
“Good evening Princess Luna,” Star greeted her, with as much cheer as she could muster under the circumstances.
“Hello Discipula Star. How was your day in Ponyville?” Luna asked. “I do hope that everything went well for you.” Star would have liked to tell Luna that her day had been great and that everypony was feeling better than ever, but it would have been a blatant lie. The truth was, that she had spent all day digging the graves of ponies who had never deserved to die in the first place and she still hadn’t heard from her friends.
“It was… an experience,” she finally replied. Star figured being vague was the best course of action, because the princess had her hooves full dealing with the rest of Equestria and there was no need for her to spend time worrying about something that she couldn’t help anyway. “Has there been any word from my friends yet?” Star asked, hoping to change the subject away from her own activities.
“I am afraid not Star,” Luna replied softly, “but I have no doubt that we will receive word from them soon.” The princess was trying to cheer her up and Star appreciated it, but she was beginning to lose faith that her friends were alright. Star knew that her spirit would be utterly shattered if some harm had befallen them, especially Inferno, but she tried to put on a brave face for the princess.
“I’m sure that you’re right princess,” she replied with a strained smile. Luna seemed to pick up on her inner feelings, which shouldn’t have surprised Star considering her mentor was co-ruling Equestria for generations, and she reached her hoof out to her for comfort.
“Tell me what is weighing so heavily on your mind my little pony,” Luna said in gentle voice, like the whisper of the wind on a still night. It was a voice that had often been used to comfort Star as a filly and had lost none of its affect on her. “I can see that something is troubling you and I do not want to see you locking it away.” Star turned away, unwilling to meet her teacher’s gaze for fear of seeing her disappointment, but the princess placed a hoof on her cheek and gently turned her head until their eyes met. “If you don’t open up and let those dark feelings out into the light then they will fester and grow in the darkest parts of your mind until they corrupt your very soul.”
What Luna had told her made sense, yet Star paused for awhile before answering the princess. She considered lying about her true emotions, but realized that somepony of Luna’s wisdom would no doubt see through her fickle words, so she reluctantly decided to acknowledge her own fears. It seemed like the best course of action to the young mare and Luna awaited her thoughts with a compassionate concern.
“It- it’s everything,” Star finally replied. “I spent yesterday morning working in the temporary clinic that Doctor Suture was running and then after that I spent my afternoon digging graves.” Luna gazed at her with a knowing pity as Star fought off her tears. “I just don’t know how this could happen. Why do bad things have to happen to good ponies? Why can’t the world live in harmony?”
Luna sighed deeply and closed her eyes as she explained, “I wish that I could give you an answer that would make you feel better my faithful student, but I can not.” The sound of Star’s forehead hitting the table caused Luna to open her midnight blue eyes and gaze down at her. “It could be that Discord caused a permanent change in the world that created chaos, but part of me knows that disharmony was always lying somewhere deep inside ponykind and with these times of confusion and violence it has managed to seep out.” The princess’s words did little to comfort her student, but Luna continued unabated, “What I can say is that as long as there is friendship and love in Equestria than we will always have hope. Hope for a future in which every race can live together without fear.”
“Do you… do you really believe that, princess?” Star asked as she forced her head up from the wooden tabletop. “Do you really think that harmony will prevail after so much evil has been spread across the land?”
“I do,” Luna stated with a shimmering smile that lifted Star’s spirits. If the princess could continue on with hope in her heart, then Star would be no different. She would do whatever was needed to return Equestria to the harmonious utopia that ponies had written of in the books she had read. No matter if her friends were successful in their quests or if Discord himself rose from his stone prison, Discipula Star would stand beside her princess to the ends of the earth if that was what it took to restore the peace that everypony had once known.
“Thank you,” Star replied as a she wiped a lone tear from her black cheek. “You were right; it is much better to confront your emotions rather than hiding them from the light.” Star reached her forelegs over the table for a hug and her mentor responded in kind, embracing Star with the gentle care that a mother would show her child. Even in the dream world it was enough to ease Star’s relentless nightmares and she felt the pressure of holding back her inner darkness receding just a little. “Ahem, not to change the subject, but I was wondering what the news is from Canterlot. Have you already sent soldiers out to patrol the borders?”
“Yes, the royal guards have been dispatched in all of the major cities from Manehatten to Los Pegasus and all around the border,” Luna assured her.
“That’s good news. I’m sure that will prevent another disaster like the one that occurred in Ponyville,” Star replied as she formed a cup of tea on the table in front of her. She took it in her hooves and sipped quietly from the cup. Although the beverage didn’t actually exist, the mundane act of drinking tea helped calm her nerves and between that and the soothing presence of Princess Luna she began to feel more at ease.
“I agree, but I still wish that these precautions were not even necessary,” Luna replied, following her student’s lead and conjuring her own cup of hot tea. “I have also seen fit to send out my own soldiers to watch over the night, but even so, my sister seems to think that we should enforce a strict curfew on all of Equestria. It seems that she and many of the diplomats feel that the nighttime has become unsafe due to the attack on Ponyville.” Luna seemed to be quite irritated with her elder sibling’s decision. “I have tried to convince her that my nights are no more unsafe than her days, but ponies seem to fear the unknown, so she refused to listen to my logic.” Star had never before seen the princess of the night in such a mood and was unsure about how to respond to her statement. It almost seemed to her as if Princess Luna was resentful of her sister, but she didn’t want to believe that it was the case.
“I don’t feel unsafe during the night, “Star replied truthfully. “I actually find the quiet stillness to be quite peaceful.” Star grinned awkwardly, hoping that Luna would be distracted from her negative thoughts and it seemed to work.
“Thank you Star. I know that there are a few ponies who still relish the night as much as I, but lately it seems as if my work goes unappreciated,” Luna responded morosely. She sipped the last of her nonexistent tea and with a slight wave of her hoof the cup disappeared. “I just wish that my Celestia respected my gifts as much as everypony respects hers.”
“Forgive me if I overstep my boundaries princess, but I am certain that Princess Celestia has just as much admiration for your nights as you have for her days,” Star said uncertainly, hoping that she hadn’t displeased her immortal teacher. It was silent in the dream world for a few moments and Star feared the worst.
“You mean to tell me that she doesn’t care in the slightest then?” Luna asked with a straight face, until she broke out into a fit of giggles a few seconds later. Star joined in and she could feel the tension of their meeting leave her mind as they laughed. “You are probably right my faithful student. I suppose that it is I who has learned the lesson today.” Luna fixed her with a joyous smile which Star eagerly returned.
“I’m glad to have been of some help,” Star replied.
The two mares sat in the luminescent glow of Star’s dream world, enjoying the relaxation of each others company for a short time, but eventually the princess’s duties called her back to the real world and she had to bid her student a fond farewell until their next meeting. Star thanked her for the sage advice, and Luna did likewise, before she gave her a hug and watched the princess ascend into the starry skies above her safe place.
“Good night, Princess Luna,” she whispered into the air as she watched the last sparkling horseshoe of her matriarch disappear from view. “I suppose I should try to get some rest now.” Star closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift into the uncertainty of her ever shifting dreams as Luna’s moon glowed above the old barn in which her physical body lay.

“Wakey- wakey.” Star could hear the familiar voice penetrating her fitful rest, but she tried to ignore it. She hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in nearly a week and she was loathing giving up even a few minutes of it. “I knew that you would get to sleep eventually, but I’m afraid that it’s morning and you need to get up Star,” Doctor Suture told her. Star cracked one eyelid and saw the older mare standing over her, as the doctor’s wavy, orange mane dangled just above her nose.
“Okay, I’m getting up already,” Star mumbled as she rolled onto her stomach and then completed the maneuver until her legs were hanging over the edge of the cot. “You couldn’t let me have this small piece of happiness?”
“I wish I could, but unfortunately there are plenty of sick ponies who need this space a little more than you,” Suture replied as she helped Star onto her hooves. “Tonight is always another chance for you to actually get some rest though.” Star blushed with embarrassment as she realized how selfish she had been. Suture handed her the saddlebags she had placed under the small cot and the two of them headed towards the side door, where they could get some fresh air.
Patients were just waking up, most of them milling about the room still groggy from sleep as they wandered around the dim barn. Suture navigated around swaying forms as she led Star to the nearest exit. Nurses were just beginning to prepare breakfast, but Suture had decided that they should eat outside, so Star followed her yellow friend, stepping around everypony who wandered through their path.
“Sorry about that,” Star told her friend, “I guess that I was just caught up in the coziness of finally getting to sleep.” Suture just nodded her head as she held open the door with its peeling red paint. Star walked out into the open air, thanking Celestia that the sun was hidden behind a thick blanket of clouds. “At least it isn’t bright out here,” she mumbled to herself as she stumbled towards the table. She hadn’t pulled her cloak out of her saddlebags yet and the early winter air made her teeth chatter and sent a shiver along her spine as she slumped down onto the bench.
“You didn’t sleep very well last night, did you?” Suture asked as she joined her young friend and placed their breakfast on the table. Star shook her head and yawned in reply. “I suppose I can try to make some room for you to sleep a little longer if you would like.”
“No thanks,” Star said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and stretching out in an effort to rouse her body as she did. “I appreciate the offer, but there are a few things that I must see to before I leave for Canterlot and I get the feeling that if I were to fall asleep again I would lose most of the daylight.” They both giggled as Star used her magic to unlatch her dusty, white bags and call forth her worn cloak. She wrapped it around herself and sighed with relief as it eased some of the chilly bite of the breeze.
“You’re returning home today then?” the doctor asked as she cinched her own covering tightly around her body and started eating.
“Yes, I just have to speak with a couple ponies first and then I’ll be on my way. How long are you going to stay here?” Star asked as she took a bite from her own bowl of oats.
“Oh, I have a few things left to supervise, but if all goes well then I should get back in three or four days at the longest,” Suture replied with a wave of her hoof. “Have you found out anything more about your friends?”
“No I haven’t, but that’s why I’m going to talk with Half Step today. I asked him to let me know if they buried any pegasus or a mule in the cemetery last night. Part of me wants some closure, but I’d still much rather go through not knowing what happened than be certain they are dead,” Star explained in a voice wavering with sadness.
“I can only imagine,” Suture told her. They sat in silence for a short time, each one relishing in the cold winds that caressed their face and helped shake the last remnants of sleep from their weary minds as they finished eating. Eventually the sounds of Sutures stomach rumbling broke the tranquility of the moment and Star snickered into her hoof. “I guess that means that I should go get some more breakfast,” Suture said with a mildly surprised grin. The doctor got up from the table and took one last look at the sun beginning to creep out from the large, grey clouds that had been covering it before turning to go back inside. “Are you coming?” she called over her shoulder.
“Yeah, I’ll be there in just a bit,” Star replied. She needed a little more time to wake up and collect her thoughts before returning to the crowded and musty barn. Princess Luna had shared some of her wisdom last night and Star knew that she needed to confront her nightmares, but it would not be an easy task, especially while she was still preoccupied with worries of her friends. She needed to take care of her duties in Ponyville and get back to Canterlot, then she could put to rest the dark shadows that haunted her nightly dreamscape.

After breakfast Star performed one last check of her saddlebags, making sure that she still had everything that she had brought with her. After donning her black boots and tucking the Wyrm Stone securely in her bags she latched them closed and strapped them to her back with the slightest flash of magic. Once her belongings were together, Star decided to find Suture and tell her goodbye before going out into the town to speak with Half Step. She found her friend near the back of the barn, speaking with the remaining volunteers about what tasks they would need to tend to that day.
Doctor Suture gave them their directions with the self assuredness that she had developed over almost a decade of running the largest hospital in Canterlot. Star had no idea how the facility was managing during the yellow mare’s absence, but she was sure that they would be eager to have their Dean of Medicine back soon. She waited patiently as her friend gave the last few directions and the ponies wandered off to start their days. Suture smiled to Star as she walked up.
“I just thought that I’d tell you goodbye before I head out,” Star explained as she reached out for a hug. “I’ll be on my way to Canterlot as soon as I finish up in town.” Suture took her in a quick embrace, practically choking off Star’s air supply as she squeezed tightly around her neck. It was unusual for the generally gentle doctor. “I’ll miss you too, but you’re choking me,” Star rasped as she pulled back from her overenthusiastic older friend.
“Sorry, you’ve just been such a big help these past couple days and I know it hasn’t been easy for you,” Suture said. Star tried to shrug her shoulders nonchalantly, but the orange maned mare wasn’t buying it. “Just take care of yourself, okay? I’ll see you back in Canterlot when I finish here.”
“Heh, it’s a deal,” Star replied with a smile, which Suture returned before a loud crash from the front of the barn tore her attention away. It looked like one of the volunteers had accidentally knocked over a table, spilling medical supplies all over the dusty barn floor and causing a ruckus.
“Ugh, I better go and deal with that,” Suture huffed. “I’ll see you again soon.”
“Goodbye Suture,” Star called out as she turned to leave, but the doctor was too busy dealing with the mess, and the mare who caused it, to respond to her farewell. Star shrugged and continued on her way, dodging the various ponies who were hurrying about the cramped space as she left through the large front doors.
The sun had managed to find its way out from behind the ample cloud cover and there was a slight warmth shinning down from above, but the cold sting of the wind was still enough for Star to puller her cloak tight. She was glad that she had remembered to put on boots that morning because it looked to her like winter was well on its way. She turned north and headed for the town square, figuring that it was the best place to start looking for Half Step and the other Ponyvillians she had dug graves with.

Sweat glistened along the broad, white shoulders of Half Step’s back as he and a team of three other athletic stallions pulled against a rope that connected to a large piece of roofing that had collapsed. They were only a few blocks from the town square and Star had spotted them easily as they slowly made their way to the edge of town with the wreckage in tow. Half Step was grunting and groaning as he fought with the weight of the roof, but the rest of his team seemed absolutely exhausted and it appeared as if he was doing most of the work at that point. Star had decided that it might be better to wait until a time when he wasn’t quite so busy to speak with him, but Half Step spotted her from the corner of his eye and called for a break, which the other stallions seemed thankful for.
“Why hello there, Miss Star,” Half Step said as he allowed the rope to fall limply from his powerful jaws. “Did ya come here ta help us again?” he asked with a smile.
“Sorry, but not this time I’m afraid,” Star told him as she closed the distance between them. “I’m actually returning to Canterlot later today, but I wanted a chance to speak with you before I left.”
“Don’t I feel special,” the white stallion chuckled as he pulled off his hat. Half Step beat the Stetson against his hide a few times to remove some of the dust that had accumulated over the course of the morning and replaced it on his head. “I ‘spose ya want ta know if’n we seen yer friends last night, huh?”
“Yes,” Star replied simply. Half Step started walking away from her without a word and Star followed in confusion as he led her to the remains of a building, where he promptly took a seat on a charred wooden beam with a satisfied sigh.
“Sorry ‘bout that, but my legs are hurtin’ somethin’ fierce after tryin’ ta pull that there hunk of roofin’. Those boys ain’t exactly the best help around,” he stated with a mildly annoyed tone.
“I noticed that you were doing most of the work,” Star agreed.
“Anyway, about yer friends; I didn’t see any pegasus bodies among the dead, but I’ll keep looking an’ I’ll send word ta Canterlot if ya tell me where the letter needs ta go,” Half Step told her. Star let out a deep sigh of relief at the great news. She had been worried about the brothers, but if they hadn’t been found yet then chances were that they had made it out of Ponyville before the fire was started.
“Thank you so much. If you hear anything else just send a letter to Princess Luna and she’ll see to it that I receive it,” Star replied. Half Steps eyebrows rose when he heard her mention the younger princess of Equestria.
“I didn’t realize that ya’ll were that close with the princess o’ the night,” he said with surprise. “I mean, you look a little bit like a city mare, but you don’t really seem the type ta walk ‘round like you have a stick up yer…” He noticed Star blushing and caught himself. “Eh, never mind.” Half Step pulled his hat low over his eyes to hide his embarrassment at using such uncouth language in front of a lady, until Star began laughing.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she giggled.
Half Step cleared his throat and replied, “Good, because that was how I meant it. Now before you get yer hopes up too high I got some bad news as well.” Star could feel her heart drop in her chest like a lead weight, completely reversing her spirits in an instant. “One o’ my boys did find the body of a mule and nopony in town seemed to know him, but he was found in the same house as a unicorn. The unicorn was some kind o’ rich pony by the looks of him, but I remember you sayin’ that yer friends were here to meet with a mule, so I thought you should know.”
“Oh no,” Star mumbled under her breath. It sounded like they had found Chestnut and if that were true then Nature Spark was going to be heartbroken when he found out. She hadn’t known the mule personally, but from everything Spark had told her about him, Chestnut seemed like a very kind mule and a close friend. “Has he already been buried?”
“Yes’m. I figured it was the right thing ta do, but if ya want I can have him moved ta Canterlot for ya.” Half Step’s voice grew somber as he spoke and the wind began to pick up, as if sensing the depressing nature of their conversation. Star shuddered and retightened her old cloak, which had gotten loose during her walk.
“No, I didn’t actually know Chestnut very well, but my friend Spark had been his friends for years and I’m sure when he gets back from his business overseas he’ll want to visit the grave,” Star explained.
“Well ya know where ta find it,” Half Step replied. “I ‘spose I should be getting’ back ta work now.” Star nodded sympathetically as the stallion forced his body off the piece of wood they had been using as a seat, groaning from the effort as he did.
“I should probably get going too. I’d like to make it to Canterlot by dark,” Star said as she stood up. “It was nice meeting you Half Step and I do hope that we will see each other again somewhere down the road.”
“Likewise Miss Star,” Half Step replied with a tip of his faded brown hat before ambling off to finish removing the formidable heaps of ruble from around the town. Star stared after him for a short time, admiring the way his words were able to snap the other stallions to attention and the look of determination on his face as he got back to work. She still had no idea what his cutie mark meant, and wasn’t rude enough to ask, but she was sure of one thing; Half Step was going to be an anchor during the small town’s time of uncertainty and sorrow.
One last wave of her hoof and Star was off, looking for the nearest royal guard who would take her home. Princess Luna had sent her with an escort, but it seemed that the soldiers had occupied themselves with patrolling the area around Ponyville while she was busy helping out. Star decided her best course of action would be to find the wagon she had arrived in and wait there until she saw one of the familiar stallions. As long as they left by noon, she could be in the capitol by midnight at the latest and a comfortable bed sounded very welcoming to the small mare after sleeping in a tiny cot for two days, so she wanted to arrive in time to get a little sleep.
The sky overhead was thickening with dark grey storm clouds and the gentle breeze that began that morning had grown forceful and now blew ashes through the air, peppering Star’s cloak and every bit of fur she had left exposed. If the weather continued on its current course Star expected freezing rain would develop by that night. She felt bad for those ponies whose homes had been destroyed and would now have to share the cramped barn until the storm passed. “At least it will help wash away the ashes and maybe even some of the pain,” Star said aloud as she ducked her head low against the oncoming gust.
The cart was abandoned when she finally made it to her destination, but it had a roof and she was happy to have some shelter against the freezing elements. Star tossed her bags in through the side door and hoisted herself up after them, eager to curl up with a blanket and get warm while she waited for the guards to return. The wagon rocked from side to side as the wind fought to overturn it, but the cart was large and Star knew that it would take a much larger storm to damage it, so she unfolded one of the blankets that had been left inside and wrapped it around her slim, black body without bothering to remove her cloak or her boots. She wanted all of the extra warmth she could get while she waited.

“Miss Star, are you ready to leave?” the voice shook her out of her sleep and she shot up in the wagon, only half awake and very confused. Her head flew back and forth as she glanced around the small area, trying to get her bearings as she recalled where exactly she was. “Are you alright Miss?” the guard asked her in a concerned voice. Star’s cheeks burned red with embarrassment as she remembered what she had been doing in the wagon. At some point during her wait, the tired mare had fallen asleep without realizing.
“Umm, yes,” Star blurted out as she scrambled about, picking up the various things that had fallen out of her bags during her nap. “Just give me one moment and I’ll be ready.” The guard nodded his head as he tried not to crack a smile, but Star didn’t even notice him on the verge of laughter as she hurriedly packed up and relatched her ashy, white saddlebags and tossed them in the corner of the vehicle. “Okay, I’m ready to go when you are,” she huffed.
“Alright Miss Star, and you’re sure that you haven’t forgotten anything?” the soldier asked as he checked the wagon over for any damage. Star thought for a minute, but she didn’t believe that anything had slipped her mind.
“Yes, I’m quite sure,” she told him with a polite nod. The guard looked around a bit more and then, having deemed the wagon fit for travel, closed the door and went to get harnessed up along with his partner. Star could hear the wind howling outside of the wagon walls and she felt sorry for the guards, but they would have said that it was part of their duties and they were right, so Star reluctantly sat down and tried her best not to think about it. Instead, she busied herself with writing a letter using one of the few pieces of parchment left in the wagon that hadn’t blown away during her stay in Ponyville.
Star intended to have a letter for Inferno and Spark written by the time she got home, that way she could have Princess Luna send it off posthaste. The quicker she mailed them, the quicker they would respond, or so she hoped. She had sent several letters since they had been gone, over a week now she realized, and they still hadn’t written back. The princess tried to convince her that they were most likely not in a situation where they could write back, but day by day Star was losing faith that her friends were still alive.
“I should have never let Inferno go with them,” Star grumbled as she floated a long grey quill above the paper and contemplated what she wanted to say. It needed to be straightforward and forceful, without coming off as too bitchy, Star decided. The quill flowed effortlessly over the long piece of parchment as she put her thoughts into words and wrote them out with a practiced ease. Her script was measured and precise, nary a flaw to be seen anywhere on the paper, until the wagon hit a dip and jostled Star around, sending the quill streaking across the front of the letter with an ugly black smear. “Damn!” Star cursed, a little more loudly than she had intended, as she dropped the quill to the ground before it could do any more damage.
The letter was still legible, but the ugly mark on its face bothered Star, who could be a bit of a perfectionist when it came to writing. Waves of white light glowed around the page as she held it in front of her face and stared blankly back at it with annoyance, willing the ink to come of the paper. To her great surprise the ink did actually start to move and she focused the thought as the blotch was pulled from the paper in a black, liquid ball. It hovered in front of her for a moment and she stared back with her mouth hanging open in disbelief that she had been able to pull off a new spell, not that she hadn’t successfully cast many more complicated spells, but they had all been learned from the princesses or from books.
A huge grin slowly crept across Star’s muzzle as she forced the blob of ink back into its bottle and examined the clean lines of the letter she had written. There was not a trace of spilled ink to be seen and Star was pretty impressed with herself. She rolled up the parchment, wrapped a tight little bow around it and stuck it in the top of her bag, where it would be safe until they entered Canterlot and Luna could send it off to Inferno. Star giggled as she sealed the top of her bags and sat down to practice her new trick. It wasn’t complex or even very flashy, but it was a spell all her own and she loved it.
Lightning flashed outside and thunder bellowed in the cloudy skies, but all of this went unnoticed by Star as she practiced her magic. Whenever she had her mind set on a task that interested her, Star was a master of tuning out the world around her. The glow of her horn and the removal of ink from paper were the only thoughts in her mind as a storm brewed outside and heavy rains began to fall. She vaguely registered the sound of rain hitting the roof, but it was a distant thought, like somepony’s voice coming from far off.

The trip to Canterlot was a fairly arduous one without a flying chariot, Star realized as she stared out of the small window and watched the rain cascading down around the rolling fields that separated Ponyville from the mountain on which Canterlot resided. Star had thought that perfecting her new spell would kill most of the time, but she had grown bored after just a few hours. As it turned out, an ink removal spell wasn’t exciting enough to hold her attention for very long.
Lightning arced through the sky in a bright flash, crashing down into a tree only a few yards from the cart with a loud, boom! Star’s heart hammered in her chest from the sudden scare and she decided to back away from the window for a little while. She sat on the single bench and let out a bored yawn as she contemplated what she could do to pass the time. She thought about reading, but the only book in the cart she had read twice on the way from Canterlot, so she wasn’t very keen on going through it for a third time.
Eventually, Star gave up and decided to try getting a little rest. She hadn’t slept well the past couple times and although the wagon wasn’t the most comfortable place to lay down, she was feeling pretty drained after the emotional and physical stress she had endured while helping the Ponyvillians. Just seeing Spearmint alone had been hard, but then she had spent an afternoon digging graves and learned that Chestnut was dead to top it all off. It felt like everything was falling apart and she just wanted it to stop for a couple of hours, so that she could get some genuine sleep or at least work out her issues.
The weather didn’t want to oblige her, but Star wasn’t about to let that stop anything. If something were to go wrong, the guards pulling the wagon would alert her, so there was no reason for her to stay awake. Star grabbed her saddlebags from the floor, punched her hoof softly into the side of them a few times so they were relatively soft and then placed them on one side of the bench to use as a pillow. As she curled her legs up with her, Star was thankful that she was short enough to fit comfortably, although it was the only time she could remember where being short had actually helped. With a final stretch and one last yawn, Star closed her eyes and let the constant pitter-patter of the rain lull her into a relaxed sleep, as the royal guards continued to pull the wagon through the growing storm.

Sleep came quickly for her, unlike the night before, and she was soon sucked down into the world of her subconscious mind, which she manipulated using conscious thought. Dream walking was a fairly simple concept that was easy to understand, but difficult to accomplish. It required keeping part of your mind alert while you slept and resulted in the slumbering pony not getting as much rest as they usually did. Star tried to refrain from dream walking three nights in a row, because she didn’t want sleep deprivation to start affecting her work, but there was something she needed to accomplish on this night, something that couldn’t wait.
Star opened her eyes and saw the shimmering illusion that was her safe place, but as much as she liked to stay in a place that resembled her home, it was not going to work for her current task. Star willed the room clear of everything, until she stood in a large empty hall. It was plain and dull, but provided plenty of space in case something unforeseen occurred. Before starting, she worked on her breathing; inhale- she tried to calm her mind, exhale- focused on the task at hoof, inhale- this was her world, exhale- and she would master it.
The shadows began to creep out from the corners almost immediately after she dropped the mental barriers that held them back. She could see them twisting and writhing in the corners of her vision, creeping closer as the wormed their way out from the depths of her mind. Star knew that the shadows weren’t real, just the unconscious fears taking shape with the power of her dream walking, but she could still feel her heart beat increase as one of them brushed past her rear legs. It felt cold and wet when it made contact and it was the most vivid sensation she had ever felt in a dream. Princess Luna had been right about the darkness growing as it was kept locked away from the light, but now Star intended to do something about it.
The shadows were covering most of the walls now, practically trapping her in their shifting, swirling darkness as they closed in on the small unicorn. She stared coolly back at them, focusing on maintaining her breathing. Although she didn’t actually need air in the dream world, Star continued her pattern because it helped her focus and stay calm, which she needed in the face of her nightmares. Star allowed her fears to take shape, giving them a chance to make themselves known, something she had deprived them of for years now, and they took the opportunity greedily.
The tendrils of shadow melded together in a squirming heap of bubbling black fear, gaining substance until it began to form into a coherent shape before her violet eyes. First, Star could see a leg reaching out from the mass and then another followed after. They were small and nonpony, but Star knew who the shadows were forming before they had finished and she was also fairly sure that she knew why they were taking the shape. The small form stood before her as the endlessly deep black of the shadows began to fade into colors. First a lighter black and then shades of red developed, until Inferno was standing in front of her.
It was an illusion of course, but if Star hadn’t known any better she could have believed it was actually her dear little dragon walking towards her with sadness in those yellow eyes. Star took a few tentative steps, expecting the nightmare to attack her or something else equally aggressive, but what she didn’t expect was for it to speak.
“Mother, why did you let me leave?” Inferno’s voice asked. Star shuddered from the sound. She should have known it would speak, the darkness only existed because of her thoughts after all, but when it called her mother Star’s skin crawled. “It was dangerous and you knew it, but you still let me go Star and now I’m dead,” the creature continued to approach her as it spoke, reaching out its small red arms as if it wanted a hug. Star began to slowly back away, beginning to rethink her whole plan as the skin along the illusion’s body began to blister and burn.
The little dragon-thing was burning up; something that Star was certain wasn’t even possible for a real dragon. Its charred skin began to fall off in burning clumps, dropping to the ground as piles of ashes as it came closer. The princess had wanted Star to face her fears and now she was, but she wasn’t sure what she needed to do to make the nightmares stop.
“Don’t you love me anymore?” the things asked before its jaw came apart and landed on the ground with the various other pieces of the creature. It was now more bone than anything, yet it still crept ever closer while even its skeleton began to burn and crack. “You said I was like your daughter, then why did you forsake me?” The voice was coming from everywhere now and it had grown deeper and more aggressive. Star backed up until she hit something solid and she looked back to see the broken remains of a building. It looked like it had come straight out of Ponyville and when Star looked around she noticed that the entire hall had been replaced by a twisted version of the town, one still consumed by flames and filled with the cries of dying ponies.
The fire gave off no heat and the smoke didn’t choke her, but the sight was still enough to make Star ill. It was as if she was seeing what had happened that night as it occurred and all the while the tortured shade of Inferno came closer, a violent laugh escaping from its misshapen head and rising above the screams.
“I do love her and I never stopped!” Star screamed out to the beast as it approached. “I care about Inferno more than anypony else in the world and I know that Spark and Strata will do everything in their power to protect her!” The laughter faded away, but the creature was still walking towards her. It began to change, growing in size and morphing into a horrifying mockery of the real Inferno. “The only reason you exist is because I care deeply for her and instead of accepting that fear I tried to ignore it, locking you away in the deepest depths of my psyche, but no longer!”
As Star confronted the shadowy creature, which had now grown to the size of a cottage and was covered in fiery tendrils that reached towards the small mare, she felt the nagging pressure of her terror begin to dissipate slightly. Star could feel every word she screamed lancing through the nightmare and destroying its hold on her. She took a few steps forward and the darkness shirked back from her, so she took another and then another. The creature screamed in fury as it lashed out at the unicorn with clawed arms, but Star stood her ground and the appendage exploded on contact in a burst of flames and thick black smoke.
“You only exist as an extension of my terror and my inability to accept that fear as part of who I am. I thought that being afraid would hold me back and make me fail, but now I realize that being too scared to confront the possibility was only making it worse.” With every word Star took another step, approaching the twisting shadows that had now begun to shrink down as pieces of it fell away, disintegrating from her very presence. “I made you and I can destroy you!”
“Nooooo!” the creature screamed in agony and rage as it began to bubble and churn into itself. “There is more than just your fear for your friends lying in the pits of your heart and you know as well I that some things should never see the light, for we are one in the same Discipula Star!” A new shape began to rise out of the inky darkness and the burning town began to fade, replaced by a memory from the past. A place that Star knew all too well began to gain substance around her. She tried to force it away, but the crushing fear of the memory was too much for her to bear and as she fought for control something else rose up from the squirming shadows.
A hoof stepped out of the mass, followed by another as something pulled itself up from the ground. Star’s heart raced as her worst fears were realized and she tried to back away from the stallion that the shadows had formed. It was her own mind, and she was aware of that fact, but the agony that the memory caused her held Star firmly in place. The wood walls of her childhood home surrounded her, cutting off any hope of escape and she screamed in terror as the shadowy stallion took its first step towards her, the putrid green of its hide just beginning to form over the blackness.
“Get away!” Star screamed at the nightmare as it approached.

“Miss Star!” the soldier yelled as he shook her awake. Star’s eyes flashed open with panic as she let out a terrified shriek. “Star, you were having a nightmare, but it’s alright.” Her heart hammered in her chest as she glanced around, waiting for the stallion from her nightmares to reach out from the shadows.
“You were screaming your head off in here, so we came to check on you,” the other guard told Star as he stared at her with a mix of worry and confusion. She gasped for breath as her senses returned to her. Sweat coated her entire body and her belongings had fallen to the floor during her sleep once again. She kicked her hooves wildly, untangling herself from the blanket, so she could gather them up and put them away. The two stallions watched her with mutual concern as she fumbled to get everything back into her saddlebags.
“I’m fine now,” she told them once she had caught her breath and her heart rate had slowed again. “It was just a nightmare, that’s all.” The guards looked at each other with disbelief.
“It sounded like you were dying back here,” the first one replied.
“Yeah, we thought you were being attacked,” the other agreed. Star threw her bags to the floor angrily and the soldiers jumped back.
“I said I’m fine!” she shouted at them as she stood up from the bench. “You two just worry about getting us to Canterlot.” The soldiers nodded their heads, afraid to speak as they watched Star stand there, shaking with rage and fear.
“Yes’m, we should be there in just an hour or so,” one of them said as they both scurried away from her. Star sank to the floor as soon as they were out of sight. She hadn’t meant to lash out at them, they didn’t deserve it, but the memory of her nightmare was so vivid and the terror clung to her thoughts like cobwebs. She curled into a ball on the floor of the wagon and began to cry as the guards started to pull her the wagon. She had wanted to confront her fears, but it had been too much for her to manage on her own. There were some memories that needed to remain buried, she decided, as lightning flashed in the windows and the thunder followed.