Part Six: Darkness Awaits In Cimarron
Nightmare Moon laughed as she enjoyed watching her creation The Tantabus infect the dreams of the pathetic pony's of Equestria, her rightful subjects. She could not believe that her sister invoked such strong loyalty and love from so many of these wretches. In the back of her mind she could feel Discord's pull. He was calling her back to that empty shell of a city. She hated being at his beck and call, the Draconequus was a creature so lowly that he was beneath her. She was of royalty and should not have to suffer Discord's company anymore but she could not resist him. She swore that she would find away to break his hold over her even if it meant strangling the answers from his lanky neck. Something else had bothered her, she had not seen her sister in many moons and wondered where she could have gone to. Her sister's absence wasn't the only thing that seemed off about the world. Everywhere she traveled she barely recognized her kingdom.
Her memories from before were of a rich green land of flowers and magic that stretched into the horizon. Now it was a barren place, covered in scrub brush and tumbleweeds. Every now and again she would fly over the twisted metal girders that remained of the cities she once ruled over before her banishment to the Moon. This was no land even fit to rule over, as there was nothing left of anything even the palace she shared with her sister in the Everfree Forest was an overgrown ruin. She knew that her sister had plans to move to Canterlot but even that place was gone to. She wasn't sure what had caused such a cataclysmic event but she would make her sister pay for ruining her birthright.
Discord whispered into a small glowing orb held outstretched in his clawed lion's paw. The image of Nightmare Moon glowed brightly, her icy blue eyes seemed to stare through the orb and into Discord's twisted soul. Discord knew that Nightmare Moon hated him with every fiber in her body but that didn't matter to him. He held the reigns of power over her and as long as he did she would be forced to differ to his authority. The magical orb in Discord's paw disappeared as Nightmare Moon emerged from a cloud of dark blue smoke. "Why have you summoned me Discord? What could you possibly want now?"
Discord sat down on his twisted throne, "When you were flying over that dreadfully desolate desert out there did you perchance sense anypony?" Nightmare Moon stomped her foot in annoyance against the hard cement floor sending a shower of sparks onto Discord which scorched his fur. Discord smiled, "I take that as a no?"
Nightmare Moon narrowed her eyes, "I only sensed a few life forces out there in the wastes but nothing that would pose a significant threat to myself." Discord rolled his eyes and rested his head on his bird like hand. "You must be slipping Princess, there are currently five ponies within the city limits themselves along with something I never thought possible. Apparently among their number there is also a Servant of the Goddess of Death Sleipnir. This is a most unwelcome turn of events. This servant could report back to his Mistress and be the downfall of both of us." Nightmare Moon stood silently thinking. She had only encountered Sleipnir a few times in her life. The enigmatic ethereal pony was always very withdrawn. She only ever interacted with her older sister Princess Celestia on rare occasions usually concerning the death of a member of her sister's court or the few times she actually came to visit on a social call rather to enact her unique business on the residents of Equestria.
"If a Servant of Sleipnir is here within the city then I will find him and his compatriots." As she stretches her large black wings and turns to leave Discord calls out, "Now what would be the fun in that Nightmare? Let them come to us, I am most interested see who came to visit us, maybe I should brew up some tea for their arrival?" Discord chuckles twiddling his thumbs in eager excitement at the prospect of having visitors after all these years. Nightmare stopped and looked back at the curious draconequus. Ever since they had first met all those moons ago she could never wrap her mind around his paradoxical nature. She refused to take orders from such a creature deciding that if Discord was going to wait for these guests to arrive that didn't mean she could have fun slowing their arrival and making Discord wait a little longer. Nightmare left the wretched presence of Discord behind as she soared out over the ruined city her horn glowing as dark clouds gathered in the sky above the Princess of Terror.
Airborne left the sheltered safety of the basement he and his friends had been hiding in for the past few days. He felt well rested after his night with Starshine sleeping by his side. In the distance he could see the growing darkness that sent tendrils reaching out from the confines of the dead city. Duty appeared by his side without him noticing, "It would seem our enemy has learned that we are here. We should leave now before their defenses grow too strong for us to pierce." Behind Duty followed the rest of his friends. Celestial was tightening the straps on her battle-saddle with her teeth. Looking towards the ruins she smiles, "This is going to be fun! I cannot wait!" Starshine and Fractured smile at the brutal Earth pony's desire to fight. Sunrise was checking her supplies of ammo and did a last check of her weapon. This gun was her last link to her love Baleout, she hoped that he would be with her and make each shot count.
Fractured looked at Airborne, "Just a question Airborne, how do you suggest that Celestial, Duty, and I make it into the city? We cannot fly as you, Starshine, and Sunrise can. We would have to hoof it through the city ruins before we could reach Discord and I would rather not walk through that city without knowing what kinds of things we will find in there." Duty chuckled, "The solution is quite simple Fractured Heart. I will use my magic to fly us into the city. My abilities as a servant many just come in handy as we go to meet our foe." Fractured clicks his tongue and shrugs, "Well if it gets us into that blasted city without us having to trot another step count me in." Duty's horn glowed as his magical spell envelopes himself, Fractured, and Celestial in blue aura. Slowly all three ponies levitate high into the air. Watching Airborne flaps his wings following closely behind them. Starshine and Sunrise appear on either side of Airborne as they take up a position ahead of the levitating ponies flying in a standard v-formation. Starshine casts her head side to side as they enter the narrow steel canyons of Cimarron.
Despite having survived a direct hit from a balefire bomb most of the cities large buildings were intact with the exception of the lower floors which were buried in centuries of accumulated sand blown in from the desert that surrounded the city. The dry air quickly makes Airborne thirst for some water and he coughs out sand that had flown into his mouth. The sound of his coughing echoed through the city, as the ponies quietly approached the cities center. As they fly by a building to their right starts to collapse around its base. "Watch out!" Airborne shouts as he ducks and weaves through the shattered interior of the building as it smashes into a neighboring building sending a cascading rain of broken glass and metal. Both buildings topple onto each other. Duty guides the magical orb containing himself and the others high above the ruined buildings.
As he does he sees a dark figure flapping her wings and cackling. The sight of the long dead princess makes Fractured's blood run cold. Duty levitates the orb away from the princess who sends what seems like a thousand bolts of lightning hurling towards the orb. The lightning ricocheting into the city below causing large plumes of flame and smoke to rise up from the ground. She laughs watching her attack bounce off of Duty's protective magical barrier, "I see the Servant's of Sleipnir live up to their reputation! Tell me what brings you here?" Duty snorts and refuses to speak. The princess grins, "Well I guess I shall have to pry the information from you and your friends. I look forward to testing whether or not the rumors of a servant's immortality are true."
Fractured and Celestial stick the barrels of their respective weapons through the barrier of Duty's orb and fire at Nightmare Moon who quickly conjures a protective barrier of her own. "You dare shoot at me! You worthless sacks of dug! I am your princess, you should all be groveling before me!" Celestial yells to Nightmare Moon, "As if I would ever bow down before you bitch!" As Fractured and Celestial continue to fire at the alicorn she doesn't notice Airborne, Starshine, and Sunrise emerging from the clouds above. As Nightmare Moon raises her shield again all three Pegasi slam into her like feathery rockets sending the princess tumbling down into the nearest building. She slams through the wall disappearing into a cloud of dust. The momentary disappearance of the princess doesn't last long as she quickly flies towards Duty's protective orb. She uses her horn to slice through the bubble and grabs a hold of Celestial's neck. "You will pay for your remark with your life you pathetic pony!" Nightmare Moon hurls Celestial down into the city below before Duty can repair the bubble. Celestial screams as she descends on her way down smashing through the roof of a nearby skyscraper.
Duty uses his magic to float Fractured over to Starshine and Sunrise. "Here take care of him! I will draw her away while you two go after Discord then I will heal Celestial and join you!" Duty draws his knife and both ponies watch in amazement as two black wings appear on his back. The daring immortal unicorn had conjured a pair of wings with his magic that would allow him to fight Nightmare Moon on equal footing. Airborne starts to fly towards Duty who holds up a hoof, "No, Airborne. This is my fight. Get out of here while you still can." Airborne sighs and turns away from Duty flying towards the now obvious lair of Discord which is lit up like a hearth's warming eve tree.
Nightmare Moon watches the other ponies leave and she turns back to Duty, "So noble of you to let them go on without you but also futile. Only one pony has ever bested me and she was my sister. What hope do you think you have of defeating me you undead wretch?" Duty flies towards her with his blade held aloft, Nightmare Moon blocks the blow with her horn. Normally Duty's blade would cut through even the thickest armor but Nightmare Moon was unlike any opponent he had ever faced. She was a princess of Equestria endowed with powers the likes of which he could never even imagine his Mistress wielding. Instantly he knew this wasn't a fight he could win. As he parried a thrust from Nightmare Moon's large horn he flew as fast as he could away from her. The maddened princess laughed as she gave chase. She spewed curses while launching deadly spells of both fire and lightning at him. Using the buildings as cover Duty ducked and weaved in between them. Attempting to draw her as far away from Discord's grasp as he could. If he somehow could trap the princess then he could at least even the score between Discord and his friends by denying the God of Chaos the ability to use the princess's magic against his new friends.
Duty flew into the ground floor of a building in which some of the letters had fallen down from the fascade but where still readable, "Stable-Tec Industries, Cimmaron Branch." Duty waited for the princess to find him which did not take long. She landed with a tremendous thud which shook the ground beneath her hooves. Her horn glowing as she prepared to launch another spell at him. Duty quickly ran for the stairs, running as fast as he could with Nightmare Moon following closely behind him. As he reached the roof of the building Duty took off again. His horn glowed as he summoned all the strength he possessed and funneled it into the spell he was casting. Above him a large sphere grew and gained size until it dwarfed the unicorn who had created it. As Nightmare Moon emerged onto the roof of the Stable Tech building, Duty hurled down the massive ball of spells. Nightmare Moon attempted to deflect the ball as it bore down towards her. But the spell had picked up too much momentum and the princess knew she could not teleport out of the way in time. The last Duty heard of the princess was laughter as the spell smashed into the building causing it to give way burying Nightmare Moon beneath more than one hundred floors of concrete and metal. Duty hovered over the smouldering slag heap before rushing back to see if Celestial had survived her fall.
He found the brave pony lying on top of a pile of dry wall and twisted pieces of metal. One had penetrated through her abdomen creating a wound he knew was fatal. Celestial's blood ran in rivulets down the side of the pile and collected in a large pool. Duty could sense she was still alive but fading fast, her consciousness which was once like a bright flame now flickered as the eternal darkness pressed in to snuff it out. She opened her eyes and tried to turn her head but found she couldn't. "Duty, I know you are there. Please don't tell me that now I have finally found a way to scare you?" Duty trots over to her side and takes her left forehoof into his as she raises it up. She blinks smiling at him and it strikes Duty that this is the first time he has ever seen her do that. Normally her scarred face doesn't betray how she is feeling at any particular moment but now she has finally decided that there is no point in maintaining her grim expression any longer. "Did you get her?" Celestial asks weakly. Duty nods and she smiles again, "Good, I hope the bitch rots in Tartarus for all the trouble she has caused." Duty gulped not having the heart to tell her that Nightmare Moon had most likely survived his attack and was only momentarily trapped beneath a pile of rubble.
"Yes, Nightmare Moon won't be a problem any more." Duty said as he felt the moment drawing closer. Celestial looked into his icy blue eyes and pulled him closer to her muzzle. "Before I go, please kiss me. Nopony has kissed me since Darkstar died and I cannot rest in peace until somepony makes me feel loved again." Duty blinks and isn't sure how to react. He had never in all his centuries been asked to kiss anypony before but quickly puts his feelings aside as he leans forward kissing Celestial deeply. His face becomes wet as Celestial's warm tears soak into his fur. He opens his eyes and stares into Celestial's glistening green eyes. Duty brushes the locks of her grey mane out of her face and she blushes as he does so. "Thank you Duty, for everything. Now do what you have to do." Duty nods as his hooves glow with a strange aura. Celestial takes one final breath, despite the air being so humid she catches the scent of apples on the wind much like the cologne that Darkstar used to wear, "I tried my best Darkstar to live on for the both of us and protect Airborne. Look's like I failed but at least I will get to see you again." Duty could hear her final thought's as tears poured down the sides of his cheeks staining the valiant pony's fur cleaning some of the dust and grim of battle from Celestial. Celestial felt the curtains of her eyes closing as she felt tired loosing sight of the world beneath a black velvet curtain, she exhaled releasing her hold on this life and awaited to join her beloved Darkstar on the other side.
Duty pulled Celestial's soul free from her broken body, she did not fight his grip as so many had done when their final moments came. Celestial smiled as she shimmered in the daylight, her bright soul casting a thousand rainbows across the dingy dark interior of the building in which she had met her end in. Duty had never witnessed such an event and his eyes widening in surprise. "Duty, protect Airborne for me. Please get him out of her safely. Tell him I am sorry for having to die for him, I know he isn't fond of others sacrificing their own lives for his. I have faith that he will be the one to go all the way to defeat Discord and heal this world of ours." Celestial's ghost whispered in a faint voice, she noticed somepony approaching her.
As the pony drew closer Celestial began to shake nervously, out of the shadows emerged Darkstar with a large smile across his face. "After all that you up and die on a mission like I did. I thought you were supposed to carry on for the both of us?" Celestial shuffles her hooves in embarrassment, "Sorry about that. I tried my best to stay alive for the both of us." Darkstar nuzzles her cheek and smiles, "None of that matters now. We both know Airborne will take care of business besides I was getting tired of waiting for you." He laughs as he places his forehoof over her shoulder. At finally reuniting at last both pony's fade away until nothing remains but the wind and the empty silence. Duty smiles having watched Celestial disappear with her lover. Turning back to her remains his horn glows and her body is covered in blue aura that both cleans the blood and dust of battle from her fur. As he finishes his work he hears someone call his name. Turning he sees his Mistress step out from behind a large concrete pillar.
"It has been sometime Orion Sky. I haven't seen you in nearly two centuries and now I find you in the body of a unicorn who's life you have stolen. Violating my greatest taboo at becoming entangled in the lives of the mortal's whom we are honor bound to escort to the other side and also deserting my service after you failed to turn yourself in to me. I hope you can give me a good reason not to cast your soul into The Void." Sleipnir bore into Duty's eyes as he kneeled bowed before her. Even from distance of a few feet away he could feel her raw fury tearing through his body and threatening to remove him entirely from the body of the unicorn who's life he stole and whom he had called home for two centuries. "I am sorry to for failing to come to your side after I took this mortal's body. I have no excuse that could justify my dereliction in my duties as your servant but know that I have never failed to carry out my task since taking this body. I have escorted the souls of those who have died in this world to the other side and have just now again completed my duty by escorting the soul of this pony I have come to know as my friend."
Sleipnir stamped her hoof into the floor causing it to crack and groan, "SERVANT'S DO NOT HAVE FRIENDS! YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IMPARTIAL, UNINVOLVED IN THE LIVES OF MORTALS!!! THAT IS WHAT KEEPS AND PRESERVES THE BALANCE OF LIFE!" Sleipnir's voice cutting through Duty like an icy cold wind. He stammers, "But Mistress.....the God of Chaos has violated that balance by keeping the soul of Princess Luna from passing on. How he has managed to do this is beyond me but he has done so and in doing so he has trespassed into your realm offending your honor. This is why I beseech you not to cast me into The Void until I have taught that draconequus not to meddle in your affairs Mistress." Sleipnir looms over Duty, her eyes narrowing as her chest heaves with her angered breath. Ever since the pony's of Equestria so foalishly destroyed their own world two hundred years ago when her abilities as the Goddess Of Death were strained to the limit. She on that day had sense Princess Luna's passing but didn't feel her cross over as she does with every single pony who is attended to by her servants as a way of keeping track of who has died and who yet lives in order to preserve the balance of life and death in Equestria.
It had been Discord's interference that had kept her majesty from passing on, a duty she would have carried out herself if it wasn't for the extraordinary burden of dealing with the deaths of so many ponies in the first war in Equestria's long history. Discord had upset the balance and had trespassed into her domain by keeping the soul of Princess Luna here. She wasn't sure herself how he managed to do it but the God Of Chaos was a wily one so she had no doubt he found a way to usurp her power. "Fine, I will allow you to carry out this one final duty as my servant but then you must give up that body you have possessed. Your place is no longer among the living Orion Sky, you gave up that right when you entered my service." Duty's ears perked up at the name Orion Sky. He had never heard it before and was curious to know if that is who he really was. The only memories of his time before taking the body he now found himself in were of watching the two lovers he came to envy and ultimately failed to save on The Last Day, anything before that was a blur, like trying to see a picture through a fog. "Mistress, that name you keep using for me, is that who I was before entering your service? Was I Orion Sky?"
Sleipnir snorts and shakes her head from side to side, "Don't tell me you do not remember your old life? You must have lost those memories when you took that mortal's body for your own. Here as my final gift to you I will restore those memories for you in honor of all your years of dedicated service." Sleipnir raises a forehoof to Duty's head and gently taps him on his horn. Instantly Duty's mind flashes with memories from his long lost life as Orion Sky, captain of the Royal Equestrian Guard. Duty falls to his knees as Sleipnir disappears, Duty grasps the sides of his head as it throbs painfully. He recalls that before he entered his Mistress's service he had once been a unicorn named Orion Sky, who was an extremely gifted unicorn who showed a knack for protective spells. Princess Celestia herself had selected him to be the head of a new unit she had created after she had banished her sister Princess Luna to her heavenly prison in the Moon above. Orion Sky had occupied the rank of Captain for many years before dying peacefully at the ripe old age of seventy-five. When he passed his Mistress had been waiting for him, she only took pony's into her service after they showed that they were extremely honorable and dedicated in their lives.
He found himself unable to refuse the offer of the Goddess Of Death and chose to become one of her servants to spend an eternity putting the skills he had used in his life in the Royal Guard by safely guiding those who passed in Equestria to the other side. As Duty got up off of the floor he found that he had a knew sense of purpose, "My name is Orion Sky and I will protect Equestria from Discord." Turning to Celestial's body he bows his head, "I promise I will protect Airborne no matter what, so that he might go on to do even greater things for this ruined world." Duty sheaths his knife and conjures the strange pair of magic wings which quickly emerge from his back as he takes flight leaving the silent body of Celestial laying where she finally been reunited with her long lost love.