• Published 11th Dec 2015
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The Nightmare Knights and the Crystal Wars - Pen Mightier

Heroes are not born. They are made. And the Crystal War was a forge of heroes, turning even Nightmares into hope. This is the story of six Nightmares; Twilight, Starlight, Sunset, Trixie, Luna and Sunshine, the first of the Nightmare Knights.

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Operation Snuggle-Combo-Counter

Dragoonsmare Prime N1, Personal Log Entry

In another time, another place, an explosive burst of rainbow light rocked the sky. The eruption of power rippled across Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns'. A giant dragon burst forth from the roof of the entrance exam hall. Princess Celestia was on her way to a meeting with her personal pupil, Sunset Shimmer, when the sight gave her pause. She went to investigate.

She would never meet up with her personal pupil, only to find her intimidating the school's entrance examinees.

A certain Trixie Lulamoon, a young unicorn filly, had come to the school aspiring to be the greatest and most powerful unicorn mage ever. She had come to the entrance exams early in the hopes of scoring a good enough impression to win herself that scholarship she needed to get her place. But to her dismay, she ran into a very scary upperclassfilly who stopped her getting into the entrance exam.

She never got her shot at greatness. She would spend the rest of her life wondering what her life would have been like if she had stood up to that upperclassfilly and showed her exactly how truly great and powerful she was.

A little unicorn filly from the country, a certain Starlight Glimmer, had come racing to Canterlot on her own four hooves. She had come in search of her one and only childhood friend who had been spirited away to be made the Princess' personal pupil. She would find her and bring her back. She would fight through guards and knock down gates if she had to. She would stop at nothing… nothing except for giant scary dragons.

Losing her nerve, the poor little filly turned tail and fled. She would spend the rest of her life regretting her decision, forever wondering if she would've been allowed to keep her friend if only she had kept up as her equal.

A very cheerful little filly, a certain Sunshine Smiles, visited the school to cheer up her ever-moody elder sister with a big box of homemade cookies. She would never have encountered a little purple filly crying over her failed entrance exams. She would never have stopped to cheer her up and drag her off to find the school's smartest student, Celestia’s own personal pupil, to ask for help in passing the retake exams...and end up inexplicably passing the exam herself.

She would go on to live a long, full and very happy life being her ever bubbly and cheerful self. Oh, and she would get herself and her sister very cute princess dresses at some point.

And the rest was history. A very peaceful and pleasant history.

This was not that place or that time. This was Fort Nightmare, an island fortress off the coast of San Palomino. Once a quarantine for victims of the Nightmare curse, the fort was now home to the Nightmare Knights, Equestria’s first all-Nightmare special forces unit.

The fort had been, in fact, remodeled into what was best described as a comfortable (if claustrophobic) apartment complex, if apartments were ever built to keep monsters of Tartarus both out and in.

At least the monsters on the inside were allowed nice, clean and comfortable rest rooms. I groaned loudly into the sink, splashing soberingly cold water on my face. Facing Celestia had been nerve-wracking as hay. Meeting her as a unicorn brought me straight back to my days as her student facing one of her really obtuse pop quizzes. ‘Twilight, what is the sound of one hoof clopping? Twilight, what is Pinkie Pie? Twilight, why is Equestria being overrun by an evil tyrant who can’t even string two words together?’

Gotta admit, I kinda screwed up on that last one.

Funny thing is, I was at a point where I felt more guilty about not feeling guilty at all. There is something about living all those years as a cursed monster of darkness that kinda drains all feeling out of you.

I can’t help but admire Luna for keeping up her guilt for over one thousand years.

I looked up at the mirror above the sink. A simple purple unicorn wearing her mane in short, spiked curls stared back at me. It was the final result of a protracted war between her once long straight mane and the loading breech of her bolt-action rune-spear. End result - rune-spear 1, mane completely mangled and burnt. But what struck me the most was her eyes. Her once bright violet eyes had long since contracted into cyan serpentine slits. They stared back at me with a haunted, ravenous look.

I shook my head as I turned my attention down to the saddlebags by my side. A bright speckled purple egg was very comfortably cushioned in one of them. I reached down and gave the egg a gentle pat. "Hay, having a good dream in there?" I asked softly, a fond smile playing across my lips. I knew dragging him around was always a risk, but no place in Equestria was safe, not anymore. Besides, if I ever left him behind he'd be all 'Fine, leave me here, I'm just gonna go get laid or something. Hah, cracked you up!'.

I miss him so much, even his bad puns.

"Hay, Twilight." I jumped off the floor as a forehoof patted me awkwardly on my withers. I quickly shoved aside my saddlebags, letting the flap close with a protective snap over the egg. "Sorry, I did try calling out to you, y'know. With semaphore and smoke signals and everything." I looked up to find the apologetic face of a fire-yellow mare with a mane that looked in dire need of a fire extinguisher. She reminded me of a certain unicorn friend of mine who had long since developed a taste for cafeteria food on alien worlds. Only her eyes seemed out of place. Instead of the bright emerald orbs I had come to expect, she had snake-like harlequin eyes, much like my own.

I miss her too, even her crazed attempts at building zombie armies to take over the world.

Though sometimes I wonder if the only reason Sunset Shimmer hasn’t tried it here is because somepony else has beaten her to it. And by a long shot too.

“Sorry, sorry. I’m just trying to wrap my head around, well, everything,” I said, quickly slinging my saddlebags over my barding.

“Heh, yeah, tell me about it. I’m still all wet and quivery from meeting Princess Celestia.” She chuckled. Creepily I might add. “I know we’re still wiped from playing ninja knights with the Princess, but we don’t wanna be late for muster,” she said, nudging me in the flank towards the door.

“Hay, easy, I need that!” I yelped as I was wheeled forwards on my forehooves alone.

“What, this?” She cracked a sly grin, nuzzling a cheek against where my cutie mark would be under my barding. “Are you planning on exchanging all this for some extra ammo and gear from the quartermistress?” She wiggled her eyebrows at me. “I can help you appraise its worth in crystal-piercing rounds, maybe get you a better deal? Whaddya say?”

Now I really miss my own Sunset Shimmer. It’s as if all that ambition she would have otherwise poured into her relentless megalomania had all been accidentally dumped into her undiscriminating lack of regard for personal space.

“I’d turn into the alicorn princess of ammunition with that much ammo,” I muttered, cradling my face with a hoof as I resigned myself to being propelled forwards by my flanks. “We’d probably just drown Sombra and the Empire in ammo.”

“So you’re currently the alicorn princess of badonkadonks?” She chuckled. “I’d totally worship you and your divine bounty, your majesty~”

I gave a long suffering sigh, turning off my ears and making sure my tail kept my flank adequately protected for the rest of our journey to the armoury.

Despite being a VIP prison, the fort had a surprisingly generous armoury, stocked with enough parts and materials to fashion all the armour and small arms we’d ever need. Princess Celestia was serious when she said she meant to keep us all well protected.

She probably never expected us to paint and dye everything black. It could be worse. The curse could have given us an obsession over the colour pink.

‘At least you’d have been Equestria’s most fabulous regiment, darling,’ I could practically hear Rarity say in my head.

I do not know how to gauge the fashionability of all the black all around me. But I can say with measured certainty that we are definitely Equestria’s most disorganized unit. At that point in time the ponies thronging the armoury had more in common with a parasprite swarm rushing a buffet stand.

I very quickly lost Sunset to a group of giggly eyelash-batting mares from the intelligence division. Deciding that not having my flank permanently groped was no great loss, I turned my attention to queuing. In a world without queues. Seriously, I’ve seen more orderly queues during the Pinkie clone stampede.

Why does this queue only get longer over time?! That should be physically impossible! I swear, the next pony who cuts in line in front of me will get her tail tied to her hindhoof!

“Next.” One of the quartermistresses further down waved a forehoof at me. I sighed in relief as I finally stepped up to pick up my gear. “Oh, Prime N1.” My quartermistress, a grape purple mare in a simple black Nightmare jumpsuit, saluted me. I recognized her as Dosey Dotes, an innkeeper in another life, another time. Here she was N92, an officer in the supply and logistics chapter of the Knighthood, the Chapter Ateliers.

“At ease, N92.” I gave her a little smile, saluting her in turn. We do not use our real names outside our squads. The prison had taken our names away and replaced them with numbers in their records. It was Celestia’s decision, one I understood well. It was best for us that nopony ever found out who we are and what we’ve done. Now it had become a mask of sorts, one we wore in the hopes that we might shed it on that happy day we return to our regular lives. When we ‘wake up from this nightmare’, as many put it.

Sometimes I wonder what sort of ‘regular’ life I would wake up to in this particular world. It’s strange how all this had become ‘regular’ for me.

“Ma’am, yes, ma’am.” Dosey smiled before consulting her clipboard. “Let’s see, N1, Chapter Dragoons, long range scout. Yep, have I got the rune-spear for you.” She rummaged around beneath the table before emerging with an ancient bolt-action toothpick. I’ve seen barracks janitors issued with deadlier looking mops. “It’s an artifact of ancieeeent power,” she whispered. “B-but it’s still totally got a warranty,” she quickly added in reply to my glare. “Look, it was the only one we had with the power capacity big enough to handle your disgusting amount of horn mojo, okay? I mean, you did kinda blow apart so many practice rune-spears in drills that we ended up making you practice with a broom. See this, we gave it all the tender love‘n’care we can. It’s got the only decent scope we managed to scrounge. It’s even got a six round magazine modified to fire anything: Crystal-piercing rounds, love taps, teddy bears, N4, whatever you want to kill your enemies with. It can even use Imperial-standard magazines and ammunition, just like the boss ordered.”

“Fine,” I sighed, accepting the toothpick. I could’ve sworn I heard her breathe a sigh of relief. I couldn’t help but frown as I slung my spear into its idle saddle-firing position over my right withers. It was a challenge to not give into the temptation to use my magic to handle it. Unicorn rune-weapons differ from those built for pegasi and earth ponies in that they are boosted by the unicorn’s own reserves of magic, giving them greater stopping power and range. The downside is handling them with magic interferes with their firing mechanism, giving them all the accuracy of a drunk stallion in a public bathroom. About all the potential for misfire too. It took me months of training with a magic inhibitor ring stuck around my horn to get it right.

“Wait, that’s it?” I frowned at the single spare magazine she hoofed over. “What am I supposed to do with this? Boop the enemy with it?”

She had the decency to reply with a sheepish little pony squee. “Hay, it even comes with invisible good luck charms.”

“I don’t see any invisi-...” I stopped myself, my cheeks suddenly heating up noticeably.

“And, look, I gotcha an omni-colt.” Before I could test out just how good an implement of booping the magazine was, she had quickly offered me what looked like a hoof-guard as a peace offering. I gave a little sigh as I slipped the omni-colt on my right forehoof. “It also tells the time,” Dosey added helpfully.

“I’d hope so.” I frowned, tapping the screen on. It certainly told the time. And nothing more. “N92, I’m supposed to be able to use this to communicate with my squad and review maps and everything. I’ve seen sun dials more useful and deadly than this!”

“N119 is working on that, okay!” She sighed in exasperation. Obviously it wasn’t the first time she had to explain the problem that day. “Look, at least you can’t complain about it not being deadly enough.”

“Yeah, it’s gonna end up killing me.” I groaned, facehoofing. And very narrowly shaving my forelocks with the rune-dagger that had slid out of my omni-colt. It even made a sharpy deadly zing sound as it sliced the air.

“Yep. With your very own side-arm, a semi-automatic Flim-Flam Industries Pointy-Pokey Mk-1 rune-dagger, complete with a three round cartridge. A good way to die,” Dosey said smoothly, grinning widely at my flabbergasted look. “Look, I even got you a little something, off the records.” She passed me a small flax wallet.

I opened it with my magic, taking a peek inside. My heart leaped at its contents. It was a fresh set of bobby pins and a screwdriver. “N92….” I would have kissed her. Except her human sergeant was not too far away and would probably pony-punt me into the moat for it. I settled for politely thanking her. “Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!”

“Heh, I knew that’d save my hide.” She chuckled. “We finally finished everypony’s squadron and personal badges. Here’s yours.” She passed me two badges for my combat barding. One was a simple capital ‘N’ and a ‘1’, with a stylized version of my cutie mark. Below it was my rank, ‘Dragoonsmare Prime’. The other was my squad’s, ‘S1’, for Shadowbolt 1.

“And here’s your standard kit complete with a fresh snuggle gauge.” Dosey hoofed over a field satchel filled with all the basic amenities a serious fighting pony might need, including a medikit, water canteen and the all-important hug and snuggle gauge everypony wears clasped to their prison collars.

It’s secretly just an overglorified sand timer. But none of the humans know this. Or, at least, if they did, they were very good at pretending otherwise.

“I don’t really need this,” I said, passing the snuggle gauge back. “You realize it was my human who started the whole ‘one hug every 24 hours or your pony dies’ hoax?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Shush!” She hissed warningly at me. “What? What hoax? I totally need my huggles every day,” she managed to say while whistling innocently at the same time. “Are you telling me your human doesn’t give you daily hugs and snuggles?!” she dropped her voice to a horrified whisper.

“W-what does th-that have to do with a-a-anything?” I felt the thermal biology of my cheeks betray me. Stupid cheeks. It’s not like I enjoy being hugged and snuggled by him. Sure, my Nightmare would roll over and beg, even purr, at his touch. What kind of evil dark super monster purrs?! I’ll admit it feels nice to have my Nightmare tamed and brought to heel. And sure when he gets my ears and mane just right it’s hoof-curlingly amazing. And it feels good when...fine, okay, maybe I don’t dislike it too much.

“It’s…” she trailed off into a thoughtful silence, “...it’s everything,” she said, raising a forehoof up to her own snuggle gauge. “We...we never know how much time we have left together.” She glanced further down the line at another quartermistress, a young human woman who was busy helping my Commander adjust his omni-colt. I had only ever met her in passing, N116, sergeant of Dosey’s squadron and her Anchor. She was…why is she giggling with my Commander? And why is my human chuckling along with her?! I’m so gonna boop him into next month. I’m so gonna tell the others so we can all collectively boop him into next year.

Despite my distraction, I didn’t miss the look of quiet longing in Dosey’s eyes, or the warm fond glow on her face.

Oh, no. It’s a death flag if I ever saw one.

“Dosey.” I broke the taboo and used her real name, much to her surprise. “You’re a supply officer. Y-You’ll be alright.” I was never much good at this kind of thing. But my friends were. They’d have known what to do, what to say. It was not an easy act to follow, but I did my best. I reached out, giving her forehoof a tight squeeze in my own. “Once this is all over, you won’t need these silly gauges. You’ll have all the time in the world.”

She gave me a faint little smile. “Thanks, Twilight. I hope so.” She called me by name. She sighed, giving her human another glance. “I wonder...would my commander stay in Equestria if I invited her to come stay with me? Or maybe I could go with her when she returns home?” She giggled a little into her forehooves. “You’ve...given me something to look forwards to, N1. I hope it goes well with your human too.” She reached out to give me a tight hug. I returned it as best as I could without poking somepony’s eye out with my rune-spear. “Raise the Heavens, N1,” she whispered in my ear.

Raise the Heavens, N92,” I replied, giving her a little squeeze.

“Speaking of humans, I think he wants you.” She nodded over my withers with a little giggle, releasing me.

I looked around and found my human along with the rest of my Nightmare sisters looking my way, all wearing what I believe in military terms are ‘shit-eating grins’. They all pointed at the snuggle gauges around their necks (or, in my human’s case, his bare collar), an ancient Minoan gladiator games gesture that meant ‘finish it off’, one that had been popularized within the Knighthood for all the wrong reasons.

The heat in my cheeks reached biologically unhealthy levels. I hefted my saddlebags and rune-spear and stormed over to my squad in a huff.

“Sparklebutt’s totally winning this war,” Sunshine cheered.

“She is certainly a killer. Of ladies, that is.” Luna nodded sagely.

“Totally called it, Twi.” Sunset gave me a sly grin. “Semper filly!”

“Trading flank,” somepony said, quietly. I was sure it was Starlight.

“All is fair in love and war, sometimes both at the same time.” My human enjoyed a chuckle at my expense, maybe a little too much.

“After all, where would we be without love?” Luna nodded, sagely.

“Extinct,” Starlight Glimmer replied, deadpan.

“How much plot is it for a fog grenade, by the way? Just so I know how many of these flanks I need to bring with me.” Sunset pointed a hoof at the rest of the squad.

"I am certain there is not enough change in that arms depot for even one," Luna said with a quiet chuckle.

"What'd they pay as change anyway? Oooh, I know, huggles!" Sunshine Smiles giggled.

"Everything's about huggles with you, Smiley." My human ruffled her mane playfully. Sunshine gave a contented hum at his attention.

“While the great and powerful flanks of Trixie can easily win her the contents of that armoury, all that firepower would be gross overcompensation for how great and powerful Trixie already is,” Trixie declared.

We all gave her and her bandoliers of magical rounds and saddlebags stuffed with rune-swords and lightning grenades a pointed look.

“That’s...a lot of flank,” Luna finally whispered in awe at the mini war machine that was Trixie.

“Stay safe, Trixie,” Sunset said with grim solemness as she pressed something into Trixie’s forehoof. It was a whole bandolier of...are those condoms?

We all doubled up with laughter as Trixie blushed and sputtered. “I-I wouldn’t...not with anypony other than the….nopony gets to even dream of this great and powerful plot!” She waved her forehooves like windmills at us.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of my friends, Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie. I couldn’t help but hear their laughter echoing mine. Of course, my squadmates, my Nightmare sisters, are my friends now. And perhaps...perhaps I too have something to look forwards to, even here.

‘Something worthy of our determination!’

I absentmindedly pulled out my snuggle gauge and carefully clasped it to my collar. I gave it a tap, allowing the timer to begin ticking away into the future.

I gave a teeny pony-squee as I noticed my Commander was no longer laughing along. He was looking down at me, giving me one of his fond, encouraging grins. My cheeks broke the laws of thermodynamics as I realized he saw what I did. He chuckled at my expense before pulling me and the others into a surprise hug.

I am so gonna boop him for this.

Author's Note:

Shadowbolt 1’s Squad Badge

Twilight’s Badge:

Sunset Shimmer’s Badge

Sunshine Smile’s Badge