• Published 15th Jun 2022
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Changing Expectations: Reflections - KKSlider

The entire course of history can be changed by a single butterfly flapping its wings. So what if an entire war was won instead of lost? What if a King never existed?

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Waning Crescent 2/3

Nightmare Moon slowly stalked around the table, pausing occasionally behind one of the seated ponies.

“You have all been hard at work,” the alicorn began. “Toiling away at reforging this chipped and rusted blade of an army into a fighting force. Within a fortnight, I will put the Night Guard to the test. We shall see if your work has produced diamonds….” She leaned in between two ponies, “.... Or dross.”

“Two weeks isn’t a lot of time,” I pointed out.

Nightmare straightened up and resumed her prowl over to me.

“Nay. In times of war, time is a resource that is scarce more often than not.”

“.... Are we at war, Your Majesty?” A Shining Armor asked, trying to look more awake than he was.

Just like me, Shining Armor was not doing so well in the sleep department. Ironic, considering that Nightmare Moon was ruling over the Dreamscape. One would think that she would put more importance on a good night’s rest for her subjects and friends…

Nightmare Moon slowly sat down in the chair next to me, “.... We shall be, soon. The time draws near when our mettle will be tested. If we do not hold, then we will be shattered and undone.”

‘Great, more gloom and doom prophecies. This is worse than what I had to sit through in the Fourth Hive.’

“What will be our… test, Mistress?” Sanguine grinned.

Instead of being afraid of this ominous threat, like the rest of us sane people, Sanguine seemed to be actually excited.

Nightmare Moon levitated a map down onto the table and spread it wide. Equestria, from Dodge City to Vanhoofer, rolled out before us. Nightmare also brought out several sets of miniature ponies from the cabinets– ‘So that’s what’s in those!’– and placed them across Equestria. I recognized the placements as the locations of Night Guard garrisons, with the largest concentration being in Canterlot.

Nightmare explained, “There will be a foe, powerful beyond reckoning. When he comes, our fight shall yet determine the course of all beneath the sky. And above it, for you pegasi.” She pushed many of the small figures into lines facing the north, “We must begin preparations at once! There is no way to discern when the fight shall be, only that we have less than two years.”

“So this is what we have been preparing for,” Sanguine muttered, leaning over the table to see better.

“This is rather short notice,” I pointed out. “Well, not for me, but for most people.”

Nightmare smiled at me and placed one of her booted hooves over one of my own.

“Indeed, young Phasma. Your expertise at forging a military from scraps shall be put to good use! Your efforts must all be doubled! We must set lofty goals for our soldiers, for nothing less than the finest will save the night. Captain Shining Armor,” the stallion sat up straight, “the new officers shall be put in charge of the Night Guard. You shall oversee this transition. Ensure that there are no delays, or else…..

“Elder Sanguine, you must oversee the distribution of the thestral squads into the Night Guard. Your crack units shall be the hammer with which we shall land the killing blows. King Phasma, your Praetorians and Swarm drones shall perform similar functions as the thestrals; any weakness you sense, you must pour into and exploit, like water cracking a mountain in half.”

“We don’t have the love storage for full-scale deployment of transformation tactics,” I pointed out.

“You will get your ambrosia,” Nightmare dismissed the concern. “Leave that to me.”

‘Great, as if I wasn’t enough of a monster. Locksdale is about to get a lot more full…’

“Then I’ll get them ready for their front-line duties,” I assured her.

“The thestrals will be ready, Mistress,” Sanguine bowed.

“The E.U.P. will be stronger than ever, Your Highness,” Shining saluted.

Nightmare stood, and we rose too, “So you shall. Remember, your first test is in one fortnight. If you fail, the consequences will be dire. We cannot afford to lose this fight; so I must place burdens upon your shoulders to keep your hooves on the ground.”

“What, ah, consequences will there be for failing this test?” One of Shining’s officers piped up.

Nightmare cackled, “The punishment will be… What did you call it, my dear?” She looked at me, “Decimation? Is that correct?”

‘Oh fuck. She sure as hell isn’t touching my changelings, but that would only make the ponies hate us more. Being excused from such a horrific punishment would only breed jealousy and animosity.’

I swallowed, “Yes. Decimation…”

Nightmare leaned close to whisper into my ear, “Our chambers, ten minutes from now. Do not be late, I will know. You are lucky I was delayed to this meeting, but my hunger will not face such delays.”

I swallowed again and nodded, “Uh, yeah. Yep, I’ll be there!”

‘Not going to even ask how she knows.’

Nightmare abruptly turned away and strutted towards the doors, “Then you all have your orders. Execute them, before you join in on the decimation yourselves.”

The doors shut behind her and all the ponies turned to me.

‘I really could have used actual information, like defensive lines, logistical support, key locations, enemy composition– hell, even what the enemy looks like. But, as much as I hate to say it, I’m getting pretty good at figuring everything out on my own and delivering the impossible to my vague and ominous leader. Wait, leader? Damn it all, I feel like I’m back to square one again…’

“What is decimation, King Phasma?” Sanguine asked.

“It’s something to be avoided if at all possible,” I sighed, sitting back down. “Decimation. Deci, meaning ten, and… uh... imation, which means to kill systematically. Probably. One in ten soldiers will be… executed.”

The ponies all gasped in surprise or alarm. Several began yelling at each other, and at me, declaring this a ridiculous punishment.

“This is unheard of,” Sanguine shook her head. “Not even during the ancient war did the Princess ever resort to such barbaric measures!”

“Which means she’s thoroughly terrified of whatever mysterious threat only she knows about,” I summarized.

That thought brought some order and quiet into the room.

“Nightmare Moon? Scared?” Shining repeated. He must have believed me, because he continued, “I don’t think I want to know what could scare her, but I get the feeling that we’re going to find out whether we want to or not.”

“Is there any other reason why she would suddenly be okay with killing so many of her own subjects?” I asked. “... Actually, I just had a rather gruesome thought. When I told her about… ergh, these kinds of things, I did mention how it was the soldiers brutalizing their own. But Nightmare Moon might do something stupid like order one in ten soldiers to be completely drained of love instead of being beaten with clubs or rocks.” I groaned, realizing that I was probably right, “That’s missing the entire effectiveness of the bloody punishment of decimation, and it’s painting a massive target on my back!”

“One in ten,” Sanguine echoed. “The world must truly be on the line. Very well, we shall ensure that these are merely threats, and nothing more. Captain, do you think we can pass this unspecified test?”

Shining shrugged, “It’s going to be some sort of war game, undoubtedly. There’s a chance, but… morale is already as low as it can possibly be. The training we’d have to go through, my ponies just won’t see the point.”

“Then we’d best give them some incentive,” Sanguine smiled. “If glory and the importance of our duty aren’t enough, then find material pleasures that will satisfy.”

Shining glared at her, “It’s not that simple. These aren’t bandits we’re talking about, they are my R– Night Guard. They need something more than double pay, or… anything like that. They need hope. Hope that all this,” Shining gestured to us and to the map, “is for something.”

I frowned, “How do you plan on giving them that hope?”

The Captain slumped, “I… don’t know.”

I rose from my chair and started to leave, “Then let’s hope you or someone else thinks of something. I’ll try to weed out more information from Moon, see if I can learn just what we’re going up against.”

Shining reached out and stopped me, “Wait! King Phasma… have you heard… anything? Anything at all?”

I had frozen up at the contact but slowly relaxed. He looked up at me with eyes full of pain and suffering. I could taste his emotions and knew that his hurt was running deep.

'I need to keep leading him on. Losing him right now would be an unacceptable setback to…. everything.'

“.... Maybe.”


I nodded, “Maybe. Don’t lose hope: a maybe is far more than a no.”

Shining sniffled and nodded, “Thank you. I’m just so worried about her…”

I patted his outstretched foreleg, “If your sister is anything like you, then I am sure that she will be hard to kill. After all, you’re still standing after I whooped your ass in the invasion.”

The joke fell flat and Shining lowered his gaze, “Y–Yeah…”

When his hoof dropped to the table, I thought about saying something more. Something to lift his spirits so that he didn't turn in every night, wondering if his little sister was dead or not.

Silently, I left the room with Oest one step behind me.

I entered our chambers alone, having sent Oest and my guards off to do whatever they wanted to do for the rest of the shift, and found Nightmare Moon waiting for me. She was returning her regalia to its place on a mannequin near a wardrobe, taking care to ensure the pieces were on securely and straight.

"I trust that you successfully imparted the importance of our duties?" She asked.

"I answered their questions, yes," I replied as I placed my own peytral and crown onto a nearby table. “Are you really serious about the decimation?”

“If we falter and fail, we will die. There is no other outcome, either we win or we perish. Explaining this to the masses will simply not drive the importance of our fight.” She finished undressing and turned to me, “Something drastic must be done, for dire consequences may befall us if our soldiers do not give all that they can. Millenia of peace has lulled Equestria into a sense of laziness and complacency. We have lost any edge we once had….”

‘Two steps forward and one step back. This all just feels too familiar…’

I shook my head to try to clear my thoughts and suddenly found Nightmare Moon to be an inch from my face.

“Damn it, Moon, don’t scare me like that!” I yelled as I reared back.

She followed my retreat and I quickly found my back against a wall and sitting on my haunches with her standing above me.

“I fear that I have been…remiss in my duties,” Nightmare whispered. “This forsaken kingdom is consuming more of my attention than I would have liked. So much to do, so few competent ponies to entrust… I talk too much. As I said before, now is the time for action…”

The taste of the pure love she was offering was nearly overpowering. Yet it only made the deep-seated fears of déjà vu even worse.

Nightmare lunged forward, kissing me aggressively and pressing me against the wall. I froze up when I felt a hoof push against the underside of my chin, lifting my head up so she had a better angle. When she pulled back and slowly opened her eyes, she frowned.

“What is it?”

I blinked, “Err, nothing, Moon. Just a bad memory that came to mind.”

Her nose twitched, “It is more than that. You have grown despondent over the past month, have you not?” Nightmare stepped back, “You are hiding pain. I am somewhat of an expert on such things, you can not hide it from me. Speak.”

I nervously tapped my hooves together as I thought about what to say.

‘I can’t tell her about anything I’m doing. I want to, but it would put my changelings in danger. The entire point is to protect them, no matter what. I can’t tell her about Locksdale, about how I saw all the ponies she sends my way and the meager crimes they commit… I could tell her about how this is all sickeningly familiar…’

“Speak!” Nightmare demanded.

“I’m scared, Moon,” I admitted. “... This war, this love, this pressure to make another army. It’s all too damn familiar. Last time…. Chrysalis nearly put me in a tube for all eternity. I don’t know what could happen this time…”

She reached down and I flinched away from her hoof. Pausing for a moment, she once again brought my chin up.

“My love, there is nothing to fear. That is to say, it is wise to be afraid of this, but you should have faith in me. In us. Together, we will stand victorious, just as we did over our tyrannical families.”

“I don’t even know who we’re facing this time,” I whined.

“.... His name is Epitaph, and he will be the greatest danger we will ever face,” Nightmare Moon whispered quietly. “We will face him, and we will kill him. That is the whole of the matter. I have come too far and fought too hard to lose everything again. I will not lose Equestria. I will not lose my night. I will not lose you.”

I tried to smile, but couldn’t manage, “I don’t know, Moon… If this Epitaph is so dangerous that he’s getting under your skin, then I don’t think we’ll be prepared in time. The resistance is growing bolder, the Night Guard are constantly facing internal issues, and we seem to be making only enemies…”

“The path of the ruler is not an easy one to tread, but it is our duty to do so. We are together in this. We have all the strength we need…”

“What if it isn’t enough?” I asked. “What if we need more than what we have? Shining said that the Night Guard needs something to rally around. What if we give them that something?”

Nightmare glared at me, “What are you suggesting, Phasma?”

“What if….” I swallowed, “... What if we give them their princess?” Nightmare flinched back, and I tasted hatred brewing within. I continued, “Princess Celestia could–”

The only warning I got was a sudden pressing wave of anger and hatred. One second I was looking up at Nightmare Moon, the next second I was on my side against the ground as Nightmare reeled back from a swing. My muzzle erupted in pain at the same moment that Nightmare Moon erupted in anger.

“Do not dare speak that name! To suggest that she is their princess or that we need her! The audacity!”

I gasped and clutched at my muzzle. I felt the warm slickness of blood amid the searing pain.

‘My nose! She– she broke my nose!’

“A thousand years I spent alone, suffering for that wretch! I will not… tolerate…”

Tears gathered in my eyes as I curled up on the ground.

‘Fuck! Come on, get it together Phasma. You’ve endured worse on the sparring field than this! A king doesn’t whimper or cower when he is hit!’

I could not tell if it hurt more because it was Nightmare Moon who had hurt me, or if it was because I was simply not expecting it.

I felt hooves snake underneath me and I froze up once more. Nightmare picked me up– a feat only afforded to her thanks to her equal size– and hauled me across the room, dropping me on our bed.

“– thou art fine! Yes, ‘tis a simple wound, a simple slip up. We did not– I did– ‘tis going to be alright! Hold still, my Phasma, hold still! We will return with medicinal aid. Please, do not, do not–”

Nightmare Moon’s frantic mumbling faded away as she practically flew into our adjoining bathroom. I heard her tear cabinet doors off their hinges as she dug around.

‘Oh fuck, this is bad! I can’t let her think I’m weak or something, I can’t! I can’t! If something bad happened between us– if our union is ended– if I fuck this up, there isn’t going to be a future for the changelings!’

I sat up, still clutching my nose with both hooves.

“– bleeding, then we will deal with the pain,” Nightmare’s frantic mumbling returned once more as she returned and threw a first aid kit onto the bed next to me.

Her anger was gone, replaced with a whipping twister of frustration, sadness, and fear.

“Tilt thy head forward– like that, yes! Thou wilt be fine! We did not mean to strike you, We did not! Twas her fault, that cursed harlot, her pain had– no, it does not matter. She does not matter. Only you. We will not make such a mistake again–”

As she pressed a towel against my nose, I tried to calm her down, “I’m fine, M-Moon! It was an accident, I’m fine!”

‘Don’t break up with me, oh Panar! Oh, I really fucked this up!’

Nightmare wrapped a foreleg around me and pulled me into a tight hug as she used her other to keep pressure on my nose.

“Yes, twas an accident! Thou knows that We would not strike you, my stallion! Twas an accident….” Her ramblings began to slow down as she calmed down.

“I’m sorry! Please don’t break up with me!” I pathetically pleaded.

‘My people need this! I need this! I can’t… this all has to be for something! I can’t lose her!’

The hug tightened as she began crying, “No, never! We will never leave thee, just as thou will never leave Us! We– I am sorry, Phasma. Please, I am sorry….”

It was night.

Of course, it was always night, but it was the new moon phase when darkness returned to Equus.

I felt snug with Nightmare’s hooves wrapped around me from her position as the big spoon. I listened to her rhythmic breathing, and felt her warm breath against my cheek. My eyes stung, but not nearly as bad as my nose did.

Slowly, I raised my hooves to look at them in the dim light. They were covered in blood.

‘S-something! This has to be for something! I am doing what I have to do! Locksdale isn’t my fault, it is us or them! This all is for a purpose… I’m doing all of this to save us! I can make this work!’