A State of Darkness

by Wing

A Game of Darkness - Installment 28 - A Nightmare's Reverie, Part Two

“Checkmate.” Blood leached from Conrad’s wound as I readied Resolve for the fatal strike. The griffon’s brow had lifted from the load of his shock. Denial gripped his dilated pupils, and the tendrils of nightmare that had infected his body disappeared into the salvation offered by Revenir.

“What did you do?” Lichlos squealed, his body hastily scouring for the powers I had removed. “What did you do with it Wing? Where did it go!? What did you do!? What the fuck did you do to me, equine!?” His chest rose and fell to the rhythm of his last ride, and I could not help but smile at him in total and complete silence. My other hoof was already in motion, and soon enough I would gift that grifftrash the most appropriate send-off I could muster – a death without an answer.

A surge of magical energy flooded the deck of the Phoenix Star before the blur of moving metal shot into my field of vision. “What the buck do ya think you’re doing?” Trigger shouted as he ensnared the sweeping Resolve with Twyst’s scythe. “Ya can’t kill him like that, and ya damn well know it!” he grunted, leaning into Autumn Tea’s grasp while the loitering sparks of his teleportation spell dissipated from his horn. He clutched the scythe’s shaft out of sheer desperation, and the pained look painted upon his muzzle managed to tear my attention from the incapacitated Lichlos.

Trigger’s muscles sagged, and he struggled to stay upright despite his perch. His eyes, however, burned with the bright fires of unlost candor. They were the hallmarks of a stallion with a point to prove; a point emphasized by those that emerged from the clutches of his cast. Wick, Defiant, Mosaic, and Amora had all been summoned. Luna, herself, had followed, and her teal cores examined the midnight aura that cascaded from my frame through the mask of a guilty burden.

“Why did you stop me?” I blurted the instant I saw the princess open her mouth. I would have none of her long-winded, royal speeches. I would hear no lectures about her personal experiences. I had neither desire nor care to hear them, and the threads of shadow that flared from beneath the lining of my vest held no craving for her lunar light. “This is a matter between Conrad and me. It has always been between us, so I will make sure that it ends today. You should all know that! It’s why I didn’t let you come on the bucking ship in the first place, so why are you here!?”

“Because the eclipse is your doing!” Trigger retorted. “If ya kill him while still a tantibus, you’ll curse Equestria to an eternal night!”

I twitched the instant Conrad’s laughter hit my ears, and I instinctively pressed Revenir deeper into his shoulder to draw a cry from the depths of his lungs. The look of lost agony had vanished from his countenance. It had been replaced by a barely noticeable smile that conveyed a self-assured sense of superiority. “I win,” he coughed, lifting a talon to stroke the sword as he persisted. “I win anyway. Even after robbing me of my greatest treasure… with your… pathetic equine foolishness, I still win. I still win because you’ve become the you that I always saw.”

His joy continued to shine from behind the grimace inflicted by his injury, and he dared to rile my nerves even further. “Go on! Do it! Shove my words back down my throat by removing it! Kill me, and kill everyone with a slow, agonizing death! Or trot away like the pussy coward you became in Whynnyapolis. Either way, I win. I tasted it, Wing! I tasted it, and now I know it can be obtained. It’s the secret of the century – the discovery of the millennium! I’ll get it back, and then we can do our little thing all over again. Maybe next time I’ll let it get even more personal! Maybe next time I’ll even go after that little Ambrosia of yours and…”

Abruptly, the sounds of the griffon failed to reach my ears. Midnight Star, along with the other San Palomino Nine, had appeared behind me, and the unrepressed buzz of young unicorn magic curved along the filly’s spire. She had perturbed the natural flow of air around Gänse’s head. It was a mere parlor trick, a teasing ruse that generally ran its course before the end of elementary school, yet the application here seemed fitting. “Don’t listen to him, Uncle Wing. You were given a choice. It’s one that he doesn’t have. He doesn’t know you like we know you.”

“None of you know me,” I answered, afflicting shivers of sorrow as I blatantly ignored the statements of truth. “The pony you knew died here, and he died a long time ago – more than you can imagine. I wandered the Ocean of Nightmare alone for months, and then I wandered it with my crew for even longer. You may have known me, but you have no idea what I’ve become. You can say the name, but you have no idea what it means. Only one of you came for me. Only one! And that was after… everything.

“I hear them again, like I did when Laizzy… happened. I carry the weight again… just as I did as a colt. I was supposed to save everyone from the shadows, and now I am one. So tell me, what am I meant to do? What am I supposed to do now? I’m a pony displaced from his path! I’m a pony whose creed has been wrecked, and through it all I still hear your mantra. The only currency in war is life. That’s what you told me, Trigger! Those were your words! I battled my way back here just to finish the job, so tell me why I shouldn’t cash in on the currency that matters! Tell me why!”

I jolted at the feel of damp streaks running down the sides of my muzzle. The unicorn stepped forward and maintained his grip upon his staff until he was close enough to throw his leg around my nightmare-tainted body to rest against me. “I’m sorry,” he whispered after placing his lips near an ear. “I should have known. I should have come for ya myself.” He released his weapon and set his hoof atop mine. “I let ya down, Wing, and that’s always going to be on me.

“But c’mon, you’re still Wing. Ever since ya were little, ya had the gift of foresight. The bleeding chessmaster there thinks he’s got ya beat on a technicality, but we both thought about this shit back then – back when we confronted those wild things together. Your mind has always been tinkering. The consequences of reverie weren’t ignored.

“Ya asked if I knew what ya were meant to do now. The only pony who can answer that one is you, Kiddo, but I do know that Midnight Star is right. Ya were given a choice. I can feel it. It’s the one that rests here.” He touched his forehoof to my chest and peered into my eyes with the same fierce, concerned stare. “Don’t make shit for shit’s sake, Wing. We don’t have to deal with that. Just take a look around and remember. Remember what I told ya on the last night.”

The only currency in war is life… That was what he had told me all those years ago. That was what he had told me as we stood within the nightmarish ocean of our own making. We had finished them off. We had annihilated every last creature that had plagued my dreams. We had exorcised disharmony. In the dark, nopony will see my shame. In the dark, I won’t have to see the faces of those who abandoned me.

I found myself casting a sidelong glance at Wick. My limbs burned as though the straps of nightmare tightened their constrictive holds. He left me behind – left me to die. He watched as that bastard blew me away… and did nothing. He never shared a single ounce of… “Kindness…” A dagger ran through my heart at the uttered thought. Pictures flooded my memories, overwhelming my awareness with the images of a younger Wick shyly introducing himself and becoming my friend.

My head snapped to Defiant as my ears perked towards the sky. The only currency in war is life! I have to do it myself, and they won’t do it for me. Why am I going through this nonsense? Why haven’t I put my blade through that bastard’s neck? Why do I care about the night? Why do I care about the ones who deserted me? This one never gave us anything.

“That’s not true,” I muttered. “He volunteered all of that time back in flight school. He’s had my back every step of the way…” My muscles tensed as the sting creeping from those meandering wisps grew stronger. “He’s always been generous.”

No! They failed me, and I know it! My head swiveled until Mozy was lined up in my sights. She trembled as I studied her form, and I watched her give a cautious wave. My protégé doesn’t even know how to act in my presence any more. She fears me, and it’s all his fault. The only currency in war is life. Just get rid of him, and then maybe things will go back to the way they were, Wing. Just finish the job you were destined do. “But she won’t be able to laugh in the dark…”

Amora’s horn still radiated from the power of her repressive spell. Over the course of the last few minutes, she had gradually inched closer to me until I seriously believed that she would reach out for a hug of her own. Even your medic dumped you on the field, Wing! Why can’t you see it anymore? You’re letting them take away the power. You’re letting them do this to you. You’re letting her lie to you through her silence! The only currency in war is life.

A genuine smile crept onto my muzzle as warmth poured from my heart to confront the acidic tendrils of nightmare. “No, she’s patched my flank up more times than I can count because that’s what she does. She’s never lied to me about it either. Always honest – brutally so at times – that’s who she is…” I pulled back from Trigger’s crutch-driven hug and grinned at the wobbling stallion. “And you…”

He’s the creature of reverie who didn’t come for you! He’s the one who abandoned you when you needed him the most. I am your real freedom, Wing. I am your real salvation. I am the only one left that respects the currency that killed your unfinished woes. The only currency in war is life!

“Did we really map this out, Trigs?” I asked in a hushed tone before proceeding. “You’ve been my shield when there were no other ponies around. You’ve been this crazy voice of reason when the darkness seemed unbeatable. Once upon a time, in the midst of some mystical waters, a creature of reverie once turned to an exhausted colt before leaving a proverb for the ages. The only currency in war is life, but when it’s all said and done, the only thing that matters is having a friend at your side. And would you look at that, Loyalty? It seems I have many.”

Golden bands of uncorrupted love bled from my body as I pulled Revenir from Conrad’s shoulder. Tears fell freely from the corners of my eyes as my other shield – my wonderful flower – blossomed. It was through her pure magic that the truest piece of myself was salvaged from the wants and wishes of the id. Her spark combined with those of the other five to cleanse the nightmare, and the resulting horizon of friendship dawned upon Manehattan as the sun emerged from behind Luna’s moon.

We had won… with the greatest magic of all…