• 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 Dudette-Where-Are-My-Marshmallows?!

Dragoonsmare Prime N1, Personal Log Entry - 22nd of Sunwane, C.E. 1007

“What is the situation?” the Commander asked cooly, even as the entire fortress shook like a caffeinated examinee on a deadline. He looked calm amidst the blazing warning sirens and sea of chaotic activity around him, like the anchor he was. But his tight grip on my withers told me otherwise; he was worried. Very worried. Only an hour after his official appointment as Knight Captain, his fort was under fire and he was already facing a cafeteria war room full of grim faced human and pony officers, all looking to him for leadership in what will likely be our first ever real life battle.

I bit my lip, wondering just how I ever thought I’d make a difference accompanying him here. Picking up a rune-spear and picking off tin cans was one thing. After years of training I am just about able to hold my own in a fight. But support my squad? Help my Commander?

I suddenly felt like a tiny helpless filly in a room full of adults.

The only thing that felt real was his hand tightening on my withers. That was when I realized: He would hide his fears from his officers, his troops, everyone. But not me. He relied on me to be there for him.

I could do that much, at the very least. I put on my most stoic face, even as I pressed my side up against his legs. He seemed to relax at that, much to my relief.

An off-white unicorn everyone knew as N9, once Raven, Celestia’s personal secretary in a past life, stepped forwards. “Sir.” She quickly unfurled a map of the fortress on the cafeteria table in front of us. “At 1705 hours, her Royal Majesty left the compound with an escort of royal guards and boarded her personal airship, the REAV Sun Flare, in the fort’s airfield here.” Raven pinned a white marshmallow on a pudding before placing it on the airfield on the map. “At 1722, Sun Flare abruptly ceased communications with our control tower. At 1728, a submarine craft surfaced next to the airbase. We have no intel on it, but the tag it broadcasts identify it as an Equestrian navy vessel, the RENS Toybox.” She placed a half-eaten subway sandwich in the sea to the southwest of the fort.

“At 1734 hours, the Toybox deployed a landing vessel carrying a heavy tank and a platoon of soldiers in royal guard armour. They made ground on our airfield at 1740 hours. All our attempts at hailing the REAV Sun Flare and RENS Toybox on all frequencies went unheeded. We were just sending out a detachment to investigate when the Toybox, the tank and the platoon all opened fire on us. We have lost our southwestern sentry towers to rune-artillery fire from the Toybox and the tank. We also have reports of rune-fire inside the Sun Flare. The royal guard appear to be fighting amongst themselves.”

The Commander wore a thoughtful look, even as another violent tremor shook the entire fort. Dust rained down on us as he frowned down at the map. “The Toybox and all troops it deployed are hereby designated as hostiles. The shoot first variety,” he said, placing a small bowl of pea soup in the airbase between the airship and the fort.

Everyone in the room glared down at the pea soup as if it had personally insulted their respective mothers.

“Mind-enslaved soldiers?” Luna frowned at the map.

"Or the Imperials are having a costume party?" Sunshine suggested with a giggle, "Good thing we're all dressed up too!"

A tall, severe-faced human woman who looked as if she had been born with a lemon in her mouth, a certain Major N84, leaned forwards on the impromptu war room table. “Or worse, Equestria has finally decided to wipe us all out once and for all,” she muttered darkly. There is a reason her warm heart and sunny disposition had long earned her the nickname ‘Ice’. “Revealing our hand to Celestia was a mistake.” She slammed a fist down on the map right next to the pudding. “You can never trust a tyrant who doesn’t cackle and monologue.”

“She’d never do that!” I gave Ice a dark scowl of my own. The rest of Shadowbolt 1 echoed my protest.

“I agree. She’d never cackle and monologue.” A human flight officer, N250, scratched his blonde mane thoughtfully while pacing around the table. He was built like a featherless bird, more limb than body, making his gait a turbulent thing to watch. From what I heard from the pegasi, he flew about as well as he walked, a fact that had earned him the nickname ‘Stone’ amongst his pegasi Nightmares. “She would have just set this whole place on fire before she left. She wouldn’t bother with sissy things like tanks and submarines.”

“No, but the war cabinet might,” Major N26, a unicorn once known as Major Charge Light, ex-Equestrian military, said. “I wouldn’t put it past Blueblood and his dogs. They’ve got a fetish for tanks.” Her love for the good General Blueblood had earned her the endearing nickname ‘Princess’.

I noticed Luna give the Commander a subtle nudge. On cue, the Commander cleared his throat. “Now now, no fighting, please. This is a war council after all,” he said with a faint disarming smile. “We have too little information to point any fingers. But we do have enough to point our rune-weapons. We have enemies firing on us. We will be generous with our reply.” He earned himself nods from the gathered officers. He rallied his officers with what looked like ridiculous ease. But I felt just how much his knees shook against my withers. He knew one slip, one moment of indecisiveness, was all it would take to lose the confidence of his officers on their first ever mission.

“Aye, jolly well said, Captain.” A large, fruity human man gave my Commander a moustache bristle of approval. There wasn’t much else to his expression, seeing as everything above the moustache was obscured by the broad brim of his black officer cap. “Now, what shud our troopers chucker while we sit around ’n’ bash out de finer details of our engagement?” Major N16, more commonly known as Major Moustache, said. “Can’t have’em sitting ‘round with their thumbs up their arses, aye? They might lose’em up there.”

“N9, issue the order.” The Commander gave Raven a decisive nod. “Fire on anyone who as much as sneeze on us. Fire on anyone who does not lay down their arms when politely asked. If ever in doubt, shoot first. If it screams in Crystal, shoot harder.”

Raven nodded, turning to the magic-broadcaster mounted on her squadsister’s saddle.

“Banner Heartsong of the Pages, reporting! What are our orders, Captain?” a quivering but brave little voice asked. I looked around and found one of the Page Commanders, a young human girl named N117, crawling out from under the meeting table with her little squad of four Nightmare fillies. She saluted firmly even as her knees trembled beneath her. Her squad of Nightmare Pages, one perched on her head, two on each of her shoulders and one cuddled tightly in her other arm, all mirrored her salute with varying degrees of success. One tried to salute with a hindhoof in a commendable effort to copy her fellow Pages.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this is our secret superweapon of mass distraction.

“Pages.” My Commander saluted the five young Pages with a little smile. “You five have a very important mission. You will lead all the other Pages to the Keep’s inner gate and form our final line of defense. Remember your training. You are the Order’s last hope if all else fails.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” The five little Pages nodded. “Raise the Heavens!” They marched out of the war room with grim purpose.

The remaining Knights, interestingly, stood straighter, all sharing looks of grim determination, probably reminded of what exactly we were defending.

“Cute.” Ice rolled her eyes. But the white of her knuckles as she clenched her fist betrayed her own renewed purpose.

“So, Captain, I take it we get less critical important orders?” Stone chuckled.

“Nothing too difficult, I assure you.” The Commander nodded. “Now, we will assume Princess Celestia has been neutralized and taken captive. She is now designated objective ‘Marshmallow’.” The Commander waved a hand at the….where the marshmallow was. He frowned down at suspect number 1 of 1, Sunset.

“What?” Sunset paused her chewing to look up at him. “I mean, sir, yes, sir!”

“Sunset, what did we say about eating Celestia?” the Commander asked, pointedly.

“I must restrict it to my dreams, Commander.” Sunset saluted smartly, offering the Commander a bag of marshmallows. “Want some Cele-....marshmallows?”

The Commander chewed thoughtfully as he straightened back up. “Our primary mission will be to ensure the enemy does not escape with our Marshmallow,” he said, passing the bag of marshmallows around the room.

“Aye. Losing the Marshmallow might put a wee cramp on our plans for world domina-...I mean, savin’ Equestria, ya ken.” Moustache helped himself to a marshmallow.

“There is the little problem of that tank in our way. And we can assume the enemy has captured and manned the three bunkers around the airfield.” Ice placed three liquorice gumdrops and a single candy bar around the airfield facing towards the fort.

“Teleportation?” Stone suggested, turning to Major Princess. “We’ve turned off the anti-teleportation thingy in the prison, right?”

“Shadowbolt 24 confirmed there is a spatial disruption matrix over the entire area. The enemy must have deployed one,” Major Princess said grimly. “That means no teleporting in or out,” she added, noticing the blank look on Stone’s face.

“Aerial options?” Ice asked.

“The bunkers provide a wide angle of anti-air fire and are equipped with rune-flak,” Raven reported.

“Nope. Nope. All my nope. Not taking my pegasi anywhere near that.” Stone shook his head. “How about using Nightmare mode?”

“Still won’t be enough to absorb all that anti-infantry fire. We’d be dead long before we even see their faces.” Ice waved a hand at the bunkers. “Not that I want to see their faces, not without my fists in them at least.”

“We’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. Fight and take the hill by hoof alone.” Major Princess sighed. “Doesn’t help that the airfield is all empty space. There’s no cover for us to advance.” She pointed out all the embarrassingly empty space on the map.

I noticed Luna give the commander another subtle nudge, her tail curled around the hand the commander held behind his back. “Not exactly,” the Commander finally spoke up with a faint smile, pointing at the candy bar in the middle of the airfield. “There is a tank.”

“An enemy tank that would sooner run you over than provide you cover,” Ice pointed out.

“That would be the case if it had a driver.” The Commander picked up the candy bar with a smug little smile. “For they have brought a tank to a sniper fight.” He tossed the candy bar over to me. I was so surprised I almost fumbled the candy bar in my forehooves, forgetting I even had magic. “Ladies and gentlemen, you know what I’ve always wanted for Hearthswarming?” He grinned, widely. “A tank.

Wait. He wants me to do what?!

When one imagines a rune-spear sniper, one imagines that popularized image of the lone runemare sitting in a lofty tower all by her lonesome. She would have the sparkling tip of her spear poking out over a parapet as she dealt death through her high-powered crystal-ball scope.

One would never have imagined a unicorn lying down on a pool table about five hooves away from a narrow window half-obscured by a torn curtain. She cradled her ancient toothpick in her forehooves, bracing its rear over her right withers. Her rune-spear was anything but sparkling, every bit of its reflective surfaces blackened with soot and warpaint. Neither would one have imagined her having a fellow squadsister cowering beneath the window sill while holding a hoofheld anemometer out through a crack in the window.

The scene outside was one of absolute chaos. In the distance the REAV Sun Flare, Celestia’s airship, sat like a beached whale on the airfield. Between us and it, three squat bunkers sat like trolls protecting the airfield. Its parapets blinked bright yellow, pouring heavy rune-lancer fire at us in wide sweeps, keeping us all pinned down behind our cover. The tank, a mighty ten-wheeled iron monster, slowly advanced on us at a leisurely pace, pounding our entrenchments with its heavy rune-hammer. Behind it marched the enemy platoon, using its broad iron hide as cover from our pitiful return-fire.

Panicked communication crackled over my omni-colt. “Command! This is Shadowbolt 25. We have royal guards retreating under enemy fire towards point Manehattan! They have thrown aside their weapons in surrender. They appear to be friendlies. We are providing covering fire!” A brave mare shouted over the coms. “Wait...what’s that strapped to his saddle? Oh, Celestia! He’s carrying a bomb! He’s running at us! Shoot him! Shoo-.....” A violent explosion rocked the fort. Loud static hissed at us in the emptiness that followed.

“Medic!” a new voice crackled over the coms. “Please, somepony! Oh, heavens, she’s bleeding! We need a medic at point Manehattan! Please! For the love of Celestia, please!”

“Command, this here’s Shadowbolt 22 reportin’ from point Aaaappleloosa. We got more of’em mind-enslaved suicidin’ buckers crawling this way!” another urgent voice crackled over the coms. “Command, if ya’ll kindly advise, we’d be mighty grateful! Over.”

“All units, neutralize any approaching non-Nightmare mobiles,” my Commander ordered over the coms, his voice chillingly grave. “Shadowbolt 4, provide overwatch over point Manehattan. Shadowbolt 3, sweep and secure. Shadowbolt 7, standby to provide medic support once Shadowbolt 3 gives the all-clear. Over.”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

I took slow, deep breaths, shutting out the screams of panic and cries for help. I have been trained to snipe in thunderstorms. I have been trained to snipe in the middle of a burning ring of fire. I have been trained to snipe while buried under a hill of quesadillas. I can shut out anything. I turned a blind eye to N14, Red Heart, rushing past while singlehoofedly towing what I think was a human on a stretcher. I ignored the stray tracers raising dust and debris from the furniture all around me, even the few that pinged off my barding. I even braced against one stray bullet that managed to find its way through a gap in my left pauldron, biting and searing my withers beneath. My omni-colt pinged red, notifying me of my injury. Y’know, just in case I hadn’t noticed the big gaping hole in my withers.

“Twilight!” Starlight gasped, dropping the anemometer. She must have noticed me shake from the impact. “You’re shot!”

I swear, she’s worse than the omni-colt!

“I noticed,” I grunted, even as my nightmare began to coil around the wound, knitting the flesh back together painfully slowly. “Focus and give me a wind reading,” I hissed, biting back the slow, torturous pain as best as I can.

“Three hooves per second, bearing forty two degrees east by north east,” Starlight reported, timidly.

I peered through my ‘decent’ scope. The tank was finally in range, its bearing allowing me a perfect view of its driver’s porthole. I spotted the driver. He was a young colt, probably no older than my brother. His eyes glowed a nauseating green and sickly purple, a telltale sign of mind-enslavement.

I can do this. My squad is relying on me. My fellow Knights are relying on me. My Commander...

I curled my forehoof around the trigger.

Don’t close your eyes. Don’t look away. Aim. Shoot. Kill.

My forehoof quivered.

He’s just a colt, barely a stallion. He’s a mind-enslaved innocent!

The tank’s turret swung around, its muzzle obscuring my line of sight. I growled in frustration, mentally kicking myself for not taking the shot when I had the chance.

I have been trained to shoot tin cans and straw dummies. I have been trained to believe that ponies are made of tin and straw. I have been trained to kill ponies.

None of that prepared me to kill ponies.

The tank’s muzzle flashed. Another explosion rocked the fort. Dust and debris rained down on me from the creaking ceiling. I couldn’t help but wonder just how much longer the fort will hold.

A voice cried over the coms. “This is Shadowbolt 1 at point Ponyville!” I felt my heart freeze over. “Knights down! I repeat, N4 and N7 are down! Injury too serious for nightmare regen. Medic! Please, medic!” I heard Luna’s voice plead over the coms.

Something fogged up my scope. I realized it was tears. I numbly noticed they were my own.

Trixie….Trixie’s hurt. The...The Commander's hurt. They hurt them. I could have stopped them. I could have killed them. But I let them hurt them.


“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” I heard myself scream, almost as if I had been the one shot. I almost broke the spear’s trigger under my forehoof. The tank’s turret swung away. The driver was wide open. My horn sparked, charging my spear with a burst of magic. There was a loud crack, a boom of thunder. The magic bullet flew true. The shot struck the colt clean in the head. I saw it all through the scope, every jerking movement of his dying body. I pulled the bolt back violently, ejecting the spent casing and chambering a fresh magic catalyst round. I shot again. I struck him in the muzzle. I shot again. I struck him in the neck. I didn’t need to check his pulse to know he was well and truly dead. But I continued pounding him, even as the tank lurched to a halt.

“E-Enemy armour immobilized!” I numbly heard my Commander croak over the coms. “B-Bombardiers, f-fire fog grenades on the target!”

Is he...is he alright? Is the Commander alright?

A wave of fog canisters sailed through the air overhead, trailing wisps of fog in perfect unison. They exploded into clouds of thick choking smog as they struck the tank. They hid the colt from my sight, even as my rune-spear clicked empty. I pulled the trigger back again. And again. All I got were hollow clicks on a blank, foggy scope.

I slumped against my rune-spear. The heavy spear lost balance, rolling over the edge of the pool table and onto the floor, taking me with it. I sobbed and whimpered against the ground, willing it to swallow me whole.

I caught a glimpse of a human staggering up a pile of rubble in the distance. In his right arm was a rune-banner, its flag stained a vicious dark red. In his left was a pony, pulling him up by her own shaky hooves. I couldn't tell whether her fur was light blue or dark red in the blinding glare of the sun. They stumbled. They even fell. She pushed him back up to his feet before finally collapsing into the dust herself. He staggered the rest of the way to the top alone. There he stood tall, his back broad. Something in his eyes sparkled bright in the fierce sunset glare.

Tears? Blood? I couldn't tell.

“NIGHTMARE KNIGHTS!” I heard a familiar voice cry as he raised his rune-banner into the sky. “RAISE THE HEAVENS!” he roared. That was when I recognized him. He was the Commander. And he was leading the charge.

“RAISE THE HEAVENS!” Ponies and humans alike climbed out of their entrenchments and charged the airfield.

The rapidfire bark of the heavy rune-lancers in the bunkers suddenly focused midfield, right on the tank’s last position. Loud clangs and pings filled the air as the rounds struck the back of the tank, almost drowning out the cries and screams of the soldiers caught in the blind fire.

One of the bunker’s heavy rune-lancers ceased fire. Then another. Eerie silence took over all three of them.

“Command, this is Shadowbolt 15. Objective Gumdrop 1, secured! Bunker neutralized. Over.”

“Command, Shadowbolt 18. We have the prize. Gumdrop 2 is bagged. Over.”

“Command, Shadowbolt 25 here. Ah think yer gonna want ta give Gumdrop 3 a darn good scrubbin’, like, before we ever use it again. Objective’s kinda dirty but neutralized. Over.”

The fog cleared. Three bunkers lay dormant. The middle of the airfield was a scene of massacre. An entire platoon of ponies in royal guard armour lay unmoving behind the tank.

It had all gone according to the Commander’s plan. We took out the tank driver, paralyzing the tank. The immobilized tank was covered with fog grenades, hiding it from view. Believing we were using the fog to rush and capture the tank, the bunkers had unleashed their trap and opened fire on the tank’s position, mercilessly mowing down its own ponies that had been using the tank as cover. Meanwhile, our troops ignored the tank, using the smoke cover to advance up the flanks and take the bunkers instead.

I watched blankly as the tank’s turret slowly turned towards the nearest bunker, intent on avenging its comrades. But it was too late. A fiery yellow and red blur followed by a bright pink one were already clambering its front grill.

“Knock knock, motherbuckers!” I heard Sunset bark as her horn glowed a bright blinding blue. I felt my own nightmare stir within me, sensing that familiar twitch of a Nightmare sister dipping into her well of nightmare power. With brutal casualness she ripped the undoubtedly magic-resistant tank hatch cleanly off its hinges. She loomed over the opening, her two rune-halberds glinting fiercely in the sunset.

“M-mercy!” a voice inside the tank screamed.

“This one’s for Trixie!” Sunset roared, ramming her two rune-halberds down the hatch. "And this one's for the Commander!" She pulled the triggers on her rune-halberds with grim vindictiveness. There was the thick sound of rushing air. A pillar of fire erupted from the hatch, turning the tank into a deadly volcano. There was no hope for the crew inside.

“Command, this is Shadowbolt 1,” Sunshine reported from her position covering Sunset, her voice uncharacteristically grave. “Objective Candy Bar neutralized. I repeat. The tank is neutra….”

The tank suddenly erupted in blinding magical light. The ground rumbled. I felt the rush of hot air prickle my fur all the way from within the fort. I could only watch as the booby-trapped tank turned into a blazing magical fireball, devouring Sunset and Sunshine right in front of me.




“Shadowbolt 1, Command Awake!” I heard my Commander’s pained cry fill the coms. “Awake! Awake, dammit!”

Black sparks of energy coiled around the two limp forms in the cloud of dust and debris left behind by the fireball. The dark wave of energy from the two was unmistakeable. It was the evil light of two Nightmares awakening. The question is, would they awake in time to save their hosts?

I felt my blood boil. My Commander’s release command was all it needed to spill over. My anger surged in a violent storm. I felt my mane and tail explode in a miasma of pure, dark magic. My nightmare rushed and coiled about me in thick, jet black serpentine tendrils. The half-healed wound in my withers instantly vanished in a wisp of smoke.

Starlight let out a high-pitched scream, sharp fangs erupting from her maw. Dark magic lanced and swirled around her like a vengeful galaxy of stars. “T-Twilight…” she whimpered at me, her hooves trembling with unbridled power. “C-calm down,” she pleaded, hoarsely. “Trixie, the Commander, Sunset and Sunshine...W-we need to…”

But my eyes were already set on the Sun Flare, a monstrous shadow against the setting sun. Its dark shape was taking off, its six powerful magic turbines whining alive. The nose was already slowly turning towards our fort in mid-ascent. The lumbering beast was slowly but surely picking up speed towards us.

My heart and mind was full of nothing but Sunset, Sunshine, Trixie and the Commander. But now that I think back, there was not a single thought spared for their wellbeing. I burned with a singular need to avenge them. All I saw in my dark, blazing world were the two stark magical glows on the Sun Flare’s bridge, the last two non-nightmare life signs. Two targets for my vengeance. They will pay! Dearly!

“Twilight! No!” Starlight cried out after me.

But nothing could stop me. I ran at the window. The fort’s walls crumbled like a stack of quills under my charge. I sailed out in a shower of mortar and debris. The airfield quickly shrunk under my galloping bounds. I charged at the incoming airship, willing it to come at me, to hasten my revenge.

I leapt. The ground rapidly dropped away below me. I soared with ridiculous ease into the sunset sky. The airship’s bridge, a giant cage of iron and glass, rushed to meet me. I braced myself as the bridge rammed into me, engulfing me in a rain of glass shards and bent metal.

Something went horribly wrong.

I flew through some sort of malicious energy barrier. My nightmare magic tried to twist itself inside out, taking me with it. It felt as if all the magic inside me was trying to rip my horn apart. My crash landing on the bridge’s floor was a dull throb compared to the searing fire coursing through my horn.

I heard a scream of pain. I numbly noticed it wasn’t my own. It was Starlight’s. She crashed into the floor next to me, rolling into a trembling, whimpering ball. From how she was spasming with pain, clutching her horn for dear life, she must have taken the full brunt of the barrier protecting the bridge as well.

The foal! Why’d she follow me here?!

My Nightmare form was still intact, at least. I sensed two life signatures nearby. I looked up at the first. I just about managed to make out what looked like Celestia, her face frozen in an expression of agony behind a solid block of red crystal. She must have walked into the barrier trap as well.

Wait, where’s the last life signature?!

“Twilight, Starlight, i-is it really you?” There was the loud click of a rune-weapon being cocked. The muzzle of a rune-axe pressed itself against Starlight’s mane. “I-I don’t r-recognize you two. But he said you’d be c-coming.”

I grunted, pushing myself up onto my shaky hooves. Every touch sent more flaming knives into my horn. My magic flashed and sparked, rebelling against my body. Raising my head alone was a struggle. But I just about managed to lay eyes on my final target.

What little was left of my heart sank away. It was yet another ghost from another life.

“O-oh. Hi, Twinkleshine,” my voice sounded flat and lifeless in my own ears.

“H-happy to see you too,” Starlight grunted, giving the rune-axe in her face a dark look.

“I haven’t seen you two since Moon D-Dancer’s birthday p-p-party.” The off-white unicorn in royal guard barding smiled a watery little smile. Terrified tears trickled down from her glowing green and purple eyes. “So, it’s true. You all really became nightmares.” She bit her lip. “We tried to find you all. M-Minuette, Dancer, Lyra and I even snuck into the palace after the whole Summer Sun thing. T-the blood...the bodies…” She trembled, shutting her eyes tight, as if it might banish the image from her mind. “We...we missed you all so much,” she choked.

“I...I missed you too, Twinkle,” I whispered, emptily.

“H-He’s letting me think...and talk! But I still can’t control my body. I-I haven’t eaten or drank in days. I haven’t slept. I-I’m s-scared, Starlight, Twilight,” she squeaked, her eyes filled with unspeakable horrors. “I-I’m scared I might hurt you.”

“Shhh, it’s alright, Twinkle. You can’t hurt us. We’re Nightmares,” I soothed, not feeling a single word of what I was saying. The Nightmare had numbed everything to a dull roar. I was secretly thankful. It made everything so much easier.

“I-I’m sorry. I can’t stop him. He’s using me to crash the ship into t-the fort.” Her eyes flicked towards the ship’s wheel, grasped in her light mulberry magic. “I-I don’t wanna harm anypony. E-especially Celestia! You need to stop me! Please!” she pleaded.

“I will, Twinkle.” I nodded. A small, guilty part of me wished I could feel something, anything, about what I was about to do. The rest of me was simply grimly aware of what I had to do.

“Th-thank you, Twilight. Thank you.” She smiled bravely at me. “W-Whatever happens, please don’t blame yourself. I’m happy...that you’ve been my friend, e-especially here and now,” she whispered, closing her eyes in solemn acceptance. “I’m ready.” She sniffled. “Please, do it.”

“Thank you, Twinkle.” I pulled her into one last embrace in one forehoof. “Good bye.”

And slammed my rune-dagger into her heart with the other.

She gave a soft sigh of relief as she slumped against me.

But I wasn’t done yet. No, I was ready this time.

Her faint peaceful smile suddenly contorted into a malicious grin as she let out a bark of feral laughter. The bomb hidden beneath her saddle bleeped alive.

But it was far too late.

I had long since summoned all my nightmare strength into my forehooves, flinging her straight through the window with all the force of a cannonball. Her body sailed out of the bridge and into the open sunset in a shower of glass shards.

“Clever girl,” Twinkleshine hissed at me. Her crazed eyes gleamed with a dangerous red spark before they were consumed by a brilliant ball of pink fire.

The ship rocked dangerously from the explosion blooming in the sunset.

“Those horseapples are getting really old, Sombra,” I growled, glaring down at the smoke and debris. I stood and watched in pensive silence as the last of the dust faded away in the sea breeze. I expected to see something, some tin or straw, anything. But there was nothing left.

But more than that, I expected to feel something, sadness, even grief, anything. My nightmare had its ‘vengeance’, but it left me with nothing but an emptiness that threatened to drown me. And my nightmare wouldn’t allow me to fill it with anything else.

Somepony, anypony, please, help me!

I felt a light touch, lighter than the wind rushing through my mane. It was soothing, like the gentle feel of my mane being ruffled. Protective, like being tucked into a blanket before the hearth. Calming, like a morning snuggle on Hearthswarming day. It quelled the raging nightmare within me, bringing it to heel like a naughty little puppy. I felt like a drifting boat finally secured by my anchor. I felt him reach out to me through our nightmare bond. ‘Come home to me, Twilight.’ His gentle voice guided me back down to sweet sanity. Just like I and my Nightmare sisters had practiced time and time again with our Anchor, I allowed our stand-down command to take over me, sealing the nightmare away and bringing me home.

My nightmare slowly faded away into the gathering twilight, taking all the strength and resilience it had lent me. I felt like a swimmer climbing out of a deep dark pool, heavy and tired but happy to breathe once more.

Starlight said nothing as she crawled over to the ship’s wheel. She gave a low grunt as she pulled herself up and took the wheel in her forehooves, turning it hard to starboard. “C-Command, Shadowbolt 1,” she rasped into her omni-colt. “B-be advised, objective Marshmallow and Pudding are secured. Repeat, we bucking won. Shadowbolt 1, out.” She threw her omni-colt into a wall. She too allowed her nightmare to fade away, leaving her to slump down against the wheel with a soft sob.

I shielded my eyes with a forehoof as the ship’s sudden turn swung the setting sun into my face. We slowly panned across the fort’s southwestern face, taking in all its burning towers and collapsed walls. The ocean sparkled innocently below, all traces of the rogue submarine gone.

The battle was over. We had won.

But then why? Why do I feel like I lost?

Like a stringless puppet, I slumped to the floor. I let out a loud sob. I was glad I was at least still able to cry.

Author's Note:

A little video to end this chapter on: