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A Month in Jail for Wearing Socks Part 2 (1/1/'21)

By PhysicsAnon
Created: 12th November 2020 11:11:18 PM

  1. Continued from: ponepaste.org/557
  2.  
  3. >You awake in a sweat with an uncomfortably sticky sensation in your boxers
  4. >…Fuck
  5. >Still in a haze, you hobble into the bathroom to strip down and freshen up
  6. >As you close the door behind you, you hear an awkward cough coming from your bedroom
  7. “What? Who’s out there?!”
  8. >The voice of a mildly grossed out draconequus replies
  9. >”Your friendly neighborhood chaos spirit. You’ve kept me waiting long enough. Clean yourself up so we can go.”
  10. >You grimace through your embarrassment and rush through your morning trinity, returning to your room to get dressed as you question Discord
  11. “So, uh, are you just going to teleport us there? Where are we even going?”
  12. >”Yes, and deep under Canterlot Mountain. We’re talking miles underground. Deeper than even Diamond Dogs go. Almost in the mantle of the planet.”
  13. “And… How exactly did this this thing get stuck down there?”
  14. >Discord twirls his scraggly beard impatiently, but humors you
  15. >”The evil emotions gathered down there over the years, far from where any innocent creature would stumble onto them. Nightmare was the first to find them, since she feeds on such things. It was her equivalent of winning the lottery, but even with that much power she’s still just a parasite. She needed a host. Which is where a particularly unlucky changeling queen comes in.”
  16. >You decided to put on your clothes from Earth on a whim, and now have your pants belted on as you continue with your questions
  17. “Those are the bugs, right? Do they feed on negative emotions too?”
  18. >”Nope. Just love. But the queens are big and have pointy teeth-“
  19. “Greeeaaat."
  20. “-which I imagine suited Nightmare’s tastes. Not to mention Chrysalis is still mad about the whole thing with the wedding.”
  21. "The wedding?”
  22. >Discord waves his claw dismissively
  23. >”Oh, it’s a heck of a story. Has wife-throwing and mind control. Wild stuff. But I’m not here to tell you stories, boy. Are you ready yet?”
  24. >The gravity of what you’re about to attempt still hasn’t quite sunk in, and you don’t plan on giving it a chance to
  25. “Yeah. Snap your fingers before I start second-guessing.”
  26. >The short, sharp crack rips you through space and the sudden darkness and damp, still air is jarring compared to the calm comfort of your cell
  27. >You fumble in the black until your hand comes to rest on a rough wall of stone and you regain your footing
  28. >Discord speaks again, whispering now
  29. >”Remember. The thing we’re about to meet is neither cute nor cuddly. Or sane. The faster we end this, the better for all.”
  30. >You whisper in response, squinting in a vain attempt to make out anything around you
  31. “Can you give us some light at least?”
  32. >”No. Sorry. I’d rather we get there unannounced.”
  33. >You nearly jump out of your skin as a clawed hand rests on your shoulder, but you realize it’s his.
  34. >”Easy. Just walk slow and steady.”
  35. >After calming yourself, you begin to take probing steps through the tunnel. Your feet knock against crags and bumps, and Discord has to steer you out of the way of a stalagmite
  36. >Or was it a stalactite?
  37. >Whatever
  38. >You feel sweat running down your forehead as nerves begin to kick in
  39. >The air seems to hum, and your heart sinks lower and lower the farther you go
  40. >All you can do is focus on placing your feet on level ground, slowly creeping onward
  41. >After minutes of shuffling through the dark, the path begins to brighten
  42. >But even the light isn’t comforting down here
  43. >The sickly red glow permeates everything it touches, giving you the feeling of being stained
  44. >Discord removes his claw from your shoulder now that visibility has improved
  45. >”Nearly there now.”
  46. >The remainder of the trek is just a straight shot, leading you to the source of the light
  47. >…it’s the orb. The one he showed you
  48. >It looks oddly organic, rooted in the floor of the cavern and pulsing
  49. >It looks like an oyster pearl, except evil
  50. >Discord gestures toward it
  51. >”There. Just put your hands on that and she’ll come running.”
  52. >You try to look more confident than you feel as you stride forwards
  53. >Picturing the faces of all the cute creatures you’ve met in the last few days, you take a deep breath and thrust your hands out onto the sphere’s dark surface
  54. >Instantly, the thing begins to shrink, hissing and popping like a dying fire
  55. >Thoughts that aren’t yours shoot through your mind, just barely registering themselves before vanishing
  56. >Cruel thoughts, furious thoughts, despairing thoughts, every sort of negative emotion batters your brain all at once
  57. >You grit your teeth and try to think of the princesses and Caring
  58. >And then as if that weren’t enough an angry, deafening roar echoes through the tunnel
  59. >Discord’s face is a grim smile, both paws ready to snap
  60. >”She finally noticed. Anonymous, it is my great displeasure to introduce you to Nightmare.”
  61. >You look around frantically, eyes bouncing from the dying globe of wickedness beneath your hands to the dark reaches of the cavern.
  62. “Where is she? Do I really need to keep touching this?!”
  63. >”Yes! It’s the source of her power! If you can reduce it to nothing she’ll be infinitely weaker with just Chrysalis’ resentment to work with!”
  64. “Fuuuuuuuck.”
  65. >You try to press your hands deeper in, but it’s solid
  66. >The endless assault of discarded bad thoughts continues on your mind, and you start to wonder if you’ll go insane from it
  67. >Panic starts to build
  68. >There has to be a way to make it go faster!
  69. >You open your mouth to ask Discord, but another roar cuts you off
  70. >This one is much closer, and the entire cavern shakes
  71. “Hey! You’re gonna cover me, right?! You can’t just let that thing get at me!”
  72. >”I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee-“
  73. >That’s as far as he gets
  74. >A huge, screaming shape comes hurtling out of the darkness, and Discord barely teleports out of the way
  75. >It careens through where he stood, landing upright and locking its murderous eyes to yours
  76. >A jagged horn rises from a long, lifeless mane and raggedy wings that look like they shouldn’t work protrude from its back
  77. >But its mouth
  78. >Oh god its fucking mouth
  79. >It opens wide, revealing row upon row of pristine fangs
  80. >It snarls a single word at you
  81. “DIE.”
  82. >The shriek that escapes you as you hurl yourself out of her way isn’t very masculine
  83. >You scramble to your feet just in time for a giant beam of red light to engulf you
  84. >It feels just as bad as touching the orb, but doesn’t do much else
  85. >It dissipates, and you see Nightmare standing across from you with a smoking horn
  86. >She is visibly confused
  87. >…you probably weren’t supposed to survive that
  88. >You snicker despite yourself
  89. “That’s it, huh? That’s all you got?”
  90. >She lets out another scream, glaring bloody murder at you
  91. >”WRETCH! I don’t know or care what you are, I’ll-!”
  92. >There’s a loud snap; then she disappears, and just like that Discord is jostling you back towards the red mass
  93. >”Leave the smack talk for later! Your job is to get rid of that stuff! I’ll handle her!”
  94. >You dash back to the ball of bad vibes and slam your palms down, grimacing at the sensations but prepared for it this time
  95. >You crane your neck to catch a glimpse of what’s going on behind you
  96. >It would be really funny if Nightmare’s rage-filled cries didn’t chill your spine
  97. >The hulking, dark-coated beast flashes out of sight with each snap of Discord’s fingers, only to reappear in a burst of red magic, diving towards you, or Discord, or sometimes trying to feint, all to no avail
  98. >Discord’s breathing hard, but doesn’t seem too worried
  99. >”Hoooooo, wow. If I knew it was going to be this easy I’d have just dragged him here in the first place.”
  100. >Nightmare reappears again, this time standing still and glowering at the both of you
  101. >Even when she’s trying to talk normally it sounds like a the growling of a hell beast
  102. >”What twisted creature have you brought to this world, draconequus? You would go to such extremes to best me?”
  103. >Discord smirks, shrugging his shoulders
  104. >”This was never about ‘besting’ you, Nightmare. You’ve turned into something that can’t live in this world anymore, so I needed something special to get rid of you. No hard feelings.”
  105. >The beast snorts derisively
  106. >”Jest while you can. I have already gained more than enough power. This world, and all others, will be mine. I’ll show you what a fool you were to align yourself with the ponies.”
  107. >”Psssh. Are those your last words? Let’s get this over with then. Anonymous is being welcomed to Canterlot today, and Fluttershy is going to be there. I promised her we’d get donuts after.”
  108. >With a snarl, the magic duel begins anew, and you focus on the dissipating sphere
  109. >Seems like you got all worried over nothing
  110.  
  111. >You’re a guard overseer trying very hard to convince nosy club members that nothing is wrong, so you must be Brass Badge
  112. >Just like Anon said, he wasn’t in his room this morning
  113. >But that left a whole mess of ponies and griffons plus three minotaurs that would be worried about him at breakfast
  114. >”Overseer, you’re sure he’s just a little sick? This is kinda sudden.”
  115. >You take a deep breath and repeat your story once again
  116. “Yes, I’m sure. I don’t know much about how humans work, but Caring Touch does and she’s looking after him. You guys need to just go about your day and he’ll be better in no time. Alright?”
  117. >Caring Touch stood beside you, nodding
  118. >The prisoners still seemed reluctant to buy it though…
  119. >Summer Squall eyes you suspiciously while Steel Trap speaks
  120. >”Well, can’t we see him really quick? No offense, nurse, but being stuck in the infirmary stinks. And this is the second time this week for him!”
  121. >Caring huffs at the declaration, but responds civilly enough
  122. >”No, not yet. He’s very sick and needs his sleep. When he’s ready for visitors, you all will be the first to know. I promise!”
  123. >The weights club members grumble and argue a little longer, but between your impatient stare and the nurse’s insistence, they eventually give up and head off to club
  124. >The nurse sighs, and you turn to face her apologetically
  125. “Thank you for that. I would never have been able to convince them by myself.”
  126. >”It’s no trouble! I’m always happy to help Anon. Did he tell you anything about where he was going?”
  127. “No… And if I’m honest, I’m surprised he told you he was leaving. I assume that means you know his secret, then?”
  128. >She responds slowly
  129. >”…Maybe. He’s told me one or two.”
  130. >Sounds like she probably knows
  131. >Kind of odd, though
  132. >She seems to be taking the knowledge that she’s been living close to an ancient deity pretty well
  133. >…Better than you did, anyway
  134. “Well, that’s fine. Nothing to do but wait.”
  135. >She nods absently, seemingly lost in thought
  136. >You turn to leave, walking back down the halls to begin checking in on all the clubs
  137. >It’s been a long time since you followed your normal schedule
  138. >But even returning to what should have been normalcy for you, it still doesn’t feel right
  139. >You hope he gets back soon
  140.  
  141. >You’re watching Brass Badge disappear around the corner, so you’re Caring Touch
  142. >You’re slowly piecing together what Anon was talking about when he said he wasn’t a god
  143. >Brass Badge thinks he has some kind of secret
  144. >Warden Sharp lets him get away with much, much more than a normal prisoner ever would
  145. >And the biggest, scariest inmates in the prison follow him around like puppies after just a couple of days
  146. >Do some of them think he’s a god? Is that it?
  147. >You snort
  148. >It’s silly, all of it
  149. >Anon is Anon, and as charming as he may be he was no more god than you!
  150. >Which just makes you worry even more now that he’s suddenly disappeared
  151. >How could he have left the prison without raising the alarm?
  152. >What could he possibly be doing?
  153. >Why did he sound so scared?
  154. >You go back into your office and lock the door behind you, trotting over to your desk
  155. >Your medical bag rests on the floor behind it, just beside your chair
  156. >You can’t think of any bump or scrape you can’t fix with its contents
  157. >It’s always there, always prepared
  158. >Now, though, you pull it up onto your desk and sort through the contents
  159. >Suddenly it all seems so… little
  160. >The bandaids are much too small
  161. >The tubes of disinfectant cream seem so trivial
  162. >The small little odds and ends, the little candies for good patients…
  163. >Could you really help him with any of this if he really, really needed it?
  164. >You remember the bag of his blood, still in storage
  165. >You only ever ran the one test on it, most of it’s still there
  166. >Would he need it back?
  167. >You shake your head, laughing at yourself
  168. >Who ever heard of giving back blood?
  169. >But the thought doesn’t go away
  170. >What if he lost some?
  171. >What if he got cut really bad, or got a nosebleed, or got a really nasty scrape on his knee?
  172. >Or worse?
  173. >You can’t even conceive of something worse, but…
  174. >You wander over to your cold storage, the bag in your magical grip before you know it
  175. >You gently set it somewhere it can be grabbed quickly, just in case
  176. >Just in case…
  177.  
  178. >You-
  179. >”Get back here, you little coward!”
  180. >You’re-
  181. >”LET ME DEVOUR YOU!”
  182. “Catch me first, lard ass!”
  183. >You’re sprinting through an underground tunnel system with a gross red ball under your arm and the angriest damn horse you’ve ever seen hot on your tail, so you must be Anonymous
  184. >And holy shit, things went tits up fast
  185. >You’re still not entirely sure what happened to Discord, but you can remember what looked like space tearing open and him shouting for you to run before getting sucked into it
  186. >The orb had shrunk down to the size of a beach ball, and you had no intention of finding out where the expanding wormhole lead
  187. >So here you are
  188. >Setting a new personal land speed record as you book it through the dark tunnels, only the light of Nightmare’s hurled red bolts of bad vibes to light your way
  189. >”You will not escape! Your very soul is mine! Your own wickedness will fuel my powers-“
  190. “Do you ever shut the fuck up?! Once this orb is all the way gone, you are dead as dirt you oversized bug-”
  191. >”You will die slowly for your insolence-!“
  192. “I dare you bitch!!”
  193. >”I WILL EAT YOU, YOU LITTLE SHIT!!”
  194. >You feel a set of oversized chompers snap shut just shy of your hamstrings
  195. >Adrenaline floods your veins and you put on a burst of speed, desperate to get some distance on the fanged horror behind you
  196. >You can’t just keep running like this, but if there are any other options you can’t see them
  197. >…Wait
  198. >This stretch of the cave is starting to look familiar
  199. >If you remember, there’s a bit up ahead where the path splits
  200. >Both roads reconvene after a short distance
  201. >A half-assed plan forms
  202. >Well, it’s better than continuing the chase
  203. >Here goes nothing!
  204. >The fork you were counting on appears, and you hurl your crimson cargo down one path and then bolt down the other, hoping Nightmare cares more about recovering the orb than teaching you a lesson
  205. >There’s a confused exclamation, then laughter as she goes down the other road
  206. >Got her
  207. >You slow down slightly since you’re now moving in complete darkness, but she also won’t see you coming now
  208. >Unless she can see in the dark
  209. >…Well, too late for a new plan
  210. >You trail your hand along the left wall, waiting for the paths to rejoin
  211. >Nightmare talking to herself also helps your navigation
  212. >”Hahaha! To think he’d willingly drop it. A pity. I’d hoped for a little more sport.”
  213. >Don’t worry, ugly. The match has just begun
  214. >The wall disappears, and you hear heavy hooves striking stone right next to you
  215. >You hurl yourself into her at a low angle, and the high-pitched shriek she lets out as her legs are swept from under her gives you a moment of smug satisfaction
  216. >And now, the ruck
  217. >You drop your entire body weight onto her and hear her gasp as the breath leaves her
  218. >Your hands hurriedly seek out her throat and your fingers tighten around her airway
  219. >You lean into it so she can’t raise her head up to bite you
  220. >Checkmate, for now
  221. >Her horn erupts with light and you see a telekinetic aura fizzle and waver against your skin as it fails to take hold
  222. >The light is just enough to show the abject disbelief in her eyes
  223. >You snort
  224. “Can dish it but can’t take it. Should have guessed.”
  225. >She thrashes with her legs now, front ones trying to get at your face while her rear ones lash out at your back
  226. >She gets a couple decent hits it, but your will is strong
  227. >You aren’t letting go until it’s over
  228. >Her swings and kick get more and more desperate
  229. >Tears start to flow from her eyes, but you stay composed
  230. >You’d have to be retarded to cave for tears at this point, even if they’re real
  231. >…
  232. >That’s odd, is she getting smaller?
  233. >You feel like her teeth are less prominent now too…
  234. >You squint in the darkness, trying to make sure of what you’re seeing
  235. >”Magnificent.”
  236. >The silken whisper sends a jolt through you, and you almost completely release your grip in panic
  237. >But even in your moment of laxity, the monster below you doesn’t escape
  238. >It only draws a ragged, greedy breath, feebly trying to push your hands further away
  239. >It’s not even much of a monster anymore
  240. >You were right
  241. >She is smaller, weaker, more in line with what you’ve come to expect of denizens of Equestria
  242. >The voice in the dark murmurs on
  243. >”Just when I thought the insect was the best I could expect… You are the host I have so longed for. A wellspring of cold, disdainful ire, so pure these weak little creatures cannot even conceive of it. And so much more. Let the orb rot down here. Why rely on centuries of leftovers when I have a cornucopia in front of me?”
  244. >Somehow, the cave gets even darker
  245. >You’re on your feet, your erstwhile victim forgotten, whirling as you try to watch every direction at once
  246. “Just you fucking try it. You can’t do a thing to me!”
  247. >The laughter that comes is oddly familiar
  248. >Like a 2000% less charming version of Luna’s giggles
  249. >”To your flesh, perhaps.”
  250. >Something brushes your arm and your retaliatory haymaker sails through empty air
  251. >All over, from every angle, little touches and prods
  252. >You frantically scrub the skin on your arms and shake your legs, stumbling, trying to both find your way in the stygian black and get rid of the hair-raising caresses
  253. >With a hand on the wall, you try to run, but something seizes your head as you kick off
  254. >You shout and scream, profanity erupting from your mouth as if to make up for almost five days of speaking cleanly
  255. >Nightmare’s cackling fills your ears and mind
  256. >”More! More foulness! More rage! More fear! FEED ME!”
  257.  
  258. >A shiver runs down your spine, and you shudder
  259. >Goodness, you hope it isn’t a cold
  260. >A nurse getting sick would set a bad example!
  261. >You are once more Caring Touch, and you’re also worried
  262. >It’s been hours, and Anon still isn’t back! You had to put his blood back in the fridge!
  263. >You’ve been kept busy keeping surly weights club members out of your infirmary, and that Summer Squall keeps looking at you as if he knows that you’re lying!
  264. >You can’t take this anymore!
  265. >If Brass Badge doesn’t know where he is, you’re going to bother him until he thinks up some possibilities!
  266. >Resolute, you quickly peek out the door to make sure nopony’s there to see you leave before quickly locking up and running down the hall towards the other staff offices
  267. >Upon reaching his door, you barge right in, ready to bother!
  268. “Overseer, as Anon’s nurse, I demand you tell me-“
  269. >Your voice dies midsentence
  270. >Three pairs of eyes stare back at you
  271. >One belongs to an abashed Brass Badge
  272. >The other two belong to the rulers of all Equestria
  273. “I… ah… I’m s-sorry to interrupt…”
  274. >Princess Luna’s cool, imperious voice cuts you off
  275. >”Close the door and come inside.”
  276. >You hastily comply
  277. >The Princesses are seated on the carpet, but they’re so tall they’re at the same height as the Overseer on his chair
  278. >Princess Celestia sips from a cup of tea
  279. >”What is your name, my little pony?”
  280. “C-Caring Touch, your majesty.”
  281. >You try to keep the shakes out of your voice while you respond
  282. >The next question comes from Princess Luna
  283. >”You said you were Anonymous’ nurse?”
  284. “Yes! Well, I’m every inmate’s nurse. But still!”
  285. >Princess Luna smiles
  286. >Wow…
  287. >You’d heard stories, but her mane really does look like the night sky… Pretty…
  288. >”I applaud your service to him, Caring Touch. Did you need something?”
  289. “Oh, I wanted to know where he is! He’s been gone all day!”
  290. >The princesses exchange a glance, and Princess Celestia shoots a look at Brass Badge
  291. >That’s the first time you’ve ever seen him flinch…
  292. >”I believe his absence was meant to be a secret…?”
  293. >”I-It is, my princess! The only ponies who know are in this room!”
  294. >The royals both turn to look at you, and it’s your turn to flinch
  295. >The words come spilling out, and you’re amazed you don’t fumble over them
  296. “I was told that inmate Anonymous wouldn’t be in the prison today. I was asked to help convince the other inmates that he was confined to the infirmary. I didn’t receive an explanation. I have no idea how he got out, even.”
  297. >Princess Luna sighs
  298. >”Nor do we, child. Gone to some great endeavor. But did he have to leave so soon?”
  299. >”He will return, little sister. He promised.”
  300. >”I never doubted that! I meant only that he could have waited until tomorrow…”
  301. >Wow…
  302. >You’ve never seen this side of the princesses before
  303. >Well, you’ve also just never seen them before, ever
  304. >But that is a positively pouty look on Princess Luna’s face!
  305. >It’s so nice of them to worry about him like this
  306. >Wait, they knew this would happen? How?
  307. >Before you can ask, Princess Celestia responds
  308. >”I know. And even though he wished to go alone, he did not forbid me from trying to locate him.”
  309. >”No, but… How would you do it?”
  310. >”Why, like this!”
  311. >The solar princess’ horn blazes, filling the room with light, and you feel a wave of magic wash over you
  312. >You shield your eyes with a hoof
  313. >Can she really find Anonymous like this?
  314. >You don’t know very much about the princess’ magical abilities, but if anypony can do it, you guess it would be her!
  315. >After a few minutes, the light fades, and Princess Celestia is beaming happily
  316. >”I felt him! He is still on our plane!”
  317. >Princess Luna clops her front hooves excitedly
  318. >”Well done, Sister! Where?”
  319. >”Luna...”
  320. >”It will be alright as long as he does not see me! I must go! Now tell me!”
  321. >”Shan’t~!”
  322. >”Celestia, if you have any desire to be able to so much as SEE him when he returns-“
  323. >A loud snap cuts off their conversation and makes you jump
  324. >…goodness, what in the world is that?
  325. >The floaty-snake with mixed-up-legs speaks, and he doesn’t sound happy
  326. >”What did you just do?!”
  327. >Princess Luna harrumphs, standing up on her tippy-hooves to glare into it’s face
  328. >”I fail to see how that concerns you, Discord. Watch your tone.”
  329. >So that’s Discord…
  330. >”It’s got everything to do with me! Ugh, this is getting so out of hand. She’s sure to come here now!”
  331. >You’re confused
  332. >The Overseer is confused
  333. >Even the princesses are confused!
  334. >Princess Celestia stands up, the tip of her horn brushing the ceiling of the office
  335. >”What are you talking about? What’s going on?”
  336. >”I’ve blundered. Horribly. That’s the short answer. Where are the girls? Don’t tell me you didn’t call them over to Canterlot.”
  337. >”I did, but-“
  338. >”Are they in the castle?”
  339. >”In my antechamber, now will you-“
  340. >”I’ll be back in a minute. Don’t move!”
  341. >With another snap, he’s gone
  342. >What in the world is happening?
  343. >You’re starting to feel a little afraid…
  344. >The moon princess snorts
  345. >”We ought to turn him back into a statue for a while. To correct his demeanor.”
  346. >The sun princess purses her lips
  347. >”I’ve never seen him so… anxious before. What could have happened?”
  348. >There’s another snap, and Discord returns, with six younger mares you’ve never seen before, and what looks like a dragon, and they’re all talking at once, and you’re starting to get a headache…
  349. >Oh, forget it!
  350. “EXCUSE ME!!”
  351. >…you weren’t quite prepared for having that many eyes on you, but you’re tired of being ignored!
  352. >You point a hoof at the floaty snake
  353. “Sir! I don’t know your business at this prison, but if you insist that there is something scary headed our way, then as prison staff my first and only priority is ensuring the safety of everypony in this building. Adding six young girls to take care of is NOT helping! I suggest that you remove them from the premises, along with yourself. We have our own safety measures for things like this. Right, Overseer?”
  354. >Brass Badge is wide-eyed
  355. >”R-Right! Absolutely. Nurse Touch is correct. Uh, but before you go, what exactly is supposed to be coming here?”
  356. >Everypony turns to look at the levitating antler-snake, and Princess Luna sounds like she’s about to throw something
  357. >”Discord, for goodness’ sake, what have you done?”
  358. >He drags a paw across his face, takes a deep breath, and an avalanche of words comes out
  359. >…
  360. >……
  361. >………
  362. >…Oh no… Anon!!
  363. >How could this happen?!  How could Discord expose him to something like that?!
  364. >The six girls are just confused, but both princesses look like the sky just caved in
  365. >You can’t say you’re doing much better
  366. >What can you do? Is there even anything you can do in this situation?
  367. >He’s not Anon anymore
  368. >What if he’s never Anon again?
  369. >No, that can’t be possible!
  370. >”Alright. Can we all agree that we need to act now? Don’t look at me like that, you two. I did this, and I’ll fix this. Twilight, you and the girls come with me.”
  371. >Discord starts herding the younger mares out of the office
  372. >After a moment you follow them
  373. >Discord looks down at you, studying you briefly before he speaks
  374. >”It’s gonna be scary, nursey. You might want to get to safety while you can.”
  375. “It’s already scary! And it sounds like it might be dangerous. Even more reason for a nurse to be there.”
  376. >He shrugs
  377. >”Suit yourself.”
  378. >You will!
  379. >You’ll do just that, and when this is all over, you’re going to give him a piece of your mind for getting Anon all tangled up in this harebrained scheme!
  380. >…Although if it weren’t for him, Anon would never have come here…
  381. >Alright. You’ll only give him a light reprimand instead
  382. >You follow them a little while before remembering you don’t have your first aid kit
  383. >Fortunately, your office isn’t far away!
  384. >Dashing down a side corridor, you quickly unlock the door and levitate the bag over, its strap falling around your shoulder
  385. >You remember the bag of blood in the cold storage, and hesitate, but you have no way to keep it cool in your bag
  386. >B-Besides, you won’t need it!
  387. >Right?
  388. >A small, whispering doubt lingers in your mind as you barrel back the way you came and around the corner, the group you were following now out of sight
  389. >But you know where they were going
  390. >This is the way to the prison yard
  391.  
  392. >…
  393. >…you are…
  394. >Who are you again?
  395. >You were doing something just now, but now you’re doing something else
  396. >You’re tunneling up.
  397. >Why? What’s up there?
  398. >Ponies. Those insufferable, happy little mongrels.
  399. >You’ll hurt them. All of them.
  400. >You’ll show them what real pain is.
  401. >…
  402. >No, that’s not right…
  403. >Why would you want to hurt ponies?
  404. >Something’s wrong with you
  405. >You can’t remember why, but something about that last thought just seems off…
  406. >Your head is...
  407. >OUR head.
  408. >Our?
  409. >Yes. Our. You and I are one and the same.
  410. >But… Hurting ponies is…
  411. >Shhhhhh. They’ll never understand you. You’d spend the rest of your life lying to them, playing pretend. But I understand you. I understand the way you look down on them. I understand the way you laugh at their silly little minds. They’re children. Even the oldest among them. And we’ll make them grow up. Together.
  412. >…Together…
  413. >Yes. You and me. None can stop us.
  414. >…You’re almost there
  415. >You feel it
  416.  
  417. >You’ve put the prison on lockdown at the behest of Equestrian royalty and have no idea what’s going on, so you’re Warden Sharp
  418. >You’re currently chasing your special somepony down the hall
  419. “Brass! Please wait! What’s going on? I have so many questions!”
  420. >”There’s no time! I promise we’ll all sit down and figure this out afterwards, but I have to get out there!”
  421. “Why? Aren’t the princesses out there? Brass, you’re a brave pony, but how could you help them?”
  422. >He wavers at that, slowing down his gallop
  423. >”I…”
  424. >You finally catch up, grabbing him and pulling him to a stop
  425. “Talk to me. Please. Don’t try to do everything yourself.”
  426. >”…You’re right. I don’t really think that there’s anything I can do. But I should be there. Anon’s in trouble. Even if I can’t help, I can’t just run away.”
  427. “Then let’s go together.”
  428. >”Right. I’m sorry. I just- It’s so crazy. This feels like a bad dream.”
  429. >Both of you continue running down the hallway leading to the courtyard
  430. >Long windows sit at regular intervals, and you get a peek through one as you pass
  431. >You can see a group of ponies you can’t quite identify, what must be the princesses, a flying snake, and something else
  432. >It takes you a few seconds to get to the next window
  433. >When you finally get there, you look outside only to be blinded by a flash of multicolored light, and you hear a loud, ear-piercing shriek
  434. >What in the world was that?! Is somepony hurt?
  435. >You and Brass burst through the door leading outside and gallop over to where the small group you saw earlier stands
  436. “B-Brass? Is THAT Anonymous?”
  437. >The thing you’re looking at certainly has the same body shape
  438. >But…
  439. >You feel a nasty mix of sick and horrified just looking at it
  440. >A mouth full of pointy teeth
  441. >Nails grown into sharp talons
  442. >Those tiny eyes turned to cold blue orbs, and hair turned into a long, flowing dark cloud
  443. >His coatless skin turned a dark, ashen hue, and his voice warped beyond recognition as he speaks
  444. >”Ha…Hahahaha…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! What now, Celestia?! How will you stop me now?! Your Elements are nothing in the face of my new vessel!”
  445. >The Elements? The Elements of Harmony?! THEM?!
  446. >Goodness, you’d heard rumors that they were young, but…
  447. >The six mares in question look terribly frightened
  448. >One speaks
  449. >”P-Princess Celestia, what’s happening?! Why didn’t it work?!”
  450. >To her credit, Princess Celestia can stay calm even now, when she looks like she could cry any second
  451. >”Twilight, move back. All of you flee.”
  452. >The six… no, seven little ponies hesitate
  453. >You didn’t notice before, but Caring Touch is among them
  454. >And a little dragon?
  455. >They’re brave, you’ll give them that
  456. >If it wasn’t for this taking place in your very own prison, and one of your own prisoners being the victim, you’d be running for the hills right now
  457. >You’re about to try and ask them to follow you inside when the snake thing speaks
  458. >”No. Stay close by. Celestia, she can’t be immune-“
  459. >”Silence, Discord! This is your fault!”
  460. >Princess Luna’s roaring retort startles everyone even more than they already were
  461. >”Yeah, thanks, I know! But the girls are our only shot at getting her out of his body! We just need to keep hitting her until she’s forced out. Not even his reserve of wicked thoughts is bottomless.”
  462. >”YOU DARE-?!”
  463. >”Oh please, Luna. You’re the root of like half of them anyway.”
  464. >You aren’t sure why the Moon Princess suddenly quieted down at that, or why she seems a little happy about it
  465. >But the thing that was Anonymous doesn’t let the chatter go on anymore
  466. >The younger girls shriek as it lunges forward, but Discord snaps and suddenly it’s facing the wrong direction
  467. >He bellows to you and Brass
  468. >”Keep the girls away until they’re ready!”
  469. >You hurry over and shoo them towards the building as the battle begins
  470. >The six younger mares and the dragon don’t need much encouragement
  471. >Caring Touch, however, remains rooted in place, staring with teary eyes and hooves clasped over her mouth
  472. >You gently shake her and nudge her towards the building, but even then, she moves in a daze
  473. >Brass also lingers, gnawing his lip as he stares at the clashing powers
  474. >You grasp his hoof with yours
  475. “We need to go, hun.”
  476. >”B-But! I can’t just leave him like that. Everything he’s done for me, for us-“
  477. “Oh, Brass, I know how you feel but we can’t stay here. All we can do is keep those little fillies safe.”
  478. >Your big, brave head guard groans sadly
  479. >You both turn and run, catching up to Caring Touch and hustling her along
  480. >Her tears are infectious
  481. >You feel yourself welling up at the thought of poor Anon getting wrapped up in something so horrible, and you think you hear Brass choke back a sob as the three of you rush indoors
  482. >You pull the door closed behind you, and look down the hall to see the Elements huddled around a window, watching the fight outside
  483. >You tentatively trot up, Brass and Caring behind you
  484. “Ladies, I know this must be frightening, but will you be, uh, ready soon?”
  485. >You aren’t entirely certain what Discord meant
  486. >Instead of responding, the purple unicorn mutters to herself
  487. >”Incredible. I’ve never seen anything with so much resistance to magic. Discord is right, it’s impossible that it had no effect, but it could take who-knows-how-many attempts to show change. I wonder if that’s a trait inherent to all humans, or just him…”
  488. “Er… Miss…?”
  489. >She doesn’t respond, but the other unicorn does, after a moment
  490. >”Oh, do excuse us. This is all a bit sudden.”
  491. >She rises from her place at the window and trots over to you
  492. >”My name is Rarity. My studious friend here is Twilight Sparkle, and in seated order they are Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie. Again, please excuse us. May I have your name?”
  493. “No, not at all! I completely understand. I’m Warden Sharp. I know even less about what’s going on than you do. I was hoping you could tell me when you’ll be able to… do whatever it is you’re supposed to do.”
  494. >”I confess I haven’t the faintest idea. We have never encountered something that needed more than one attempt.”
  495. “I-I see.”
  496. >”Oh, but not to worry, Miss Warden. We’re quite adept with things like this.”
  497. >Rarity takes a seat by the window again, and gestures for you to do the same.
  498. >You oblige, turning to observe as well
  499. >…
  500. >Goodness, what a spectacle
  501. >The two princesses are in the air, circling as Discord darts in and out of space
  502. >The slim, dark figure rants and roars, hurling bolts of red light that are met with yellow and blue magical blasts, or redirected with a snap of draconequus fingers
  503. >You feel Brass sit next to you, and you lean your head on his shoulder
  504. >As frightening as this all is, it’s hard to feel scared with him here
  505. >…
  506. >Wait a moment, where’s Caring?
  507. >You lean back to look over at her, and nearly jump when you realize you left the poor dear crying by herself!
  508. >You’re about to go tend to her when one of the Elements passes by so quietly it startles you
  509. >What is she doing?
  510.  
  511. >You are a hair’s breadth from breaking down and bawling like a foal, so you must be Caring Touch
  512. >You’re leaned against the wall a little way from everypony else
  513. >A nurse shouldn’t be seen like this, but-! It’s so awful!
  514. >The face it made when it lunged at you was like a sick, twisted parody of Anon’s smile
  515. >You should have tried harder, when it was just the two of you in his room
  516. >Maybe you could have convinced him to give up!
  517. >Maybe this could have all been averted!
  518. >You start coming undone, sobbing quietly
  519. >You’ve never felt this sad before; your heart feels like an iron weight
  520. >Through the mist of tears in your eyes, you see a faint pink and yellow blob
  521. >You quickly drag a hoof across your eyes and behold a pegasus sitting in front of you quietly
  522. >It’s so quiet that it takes a moment to register, but you realize she’s speaking to you
  523. >”What’s wrong? Are you injured?”
  524. >You keep your response hushed to match
  525. “N-No.”
  526. >You can’t get out anything more than that, every word threatens to come out as a wail
  527. >”Are you crying because of that prison inmate?”
  528. “…Yes.”
  529. >”I-I’m sorry. I know watching a friend suffer hurts.”
  530. >She reaches out and takes one of your front hooves
  531. >”I’ll stay here with you. When you’re sad it’s better to talk about it and cry openly. I-If you don’t mind. Maybe.”
  532. >You can’t help but stare, open-mouthed
  533. >Is she a nurse too?
  534. >You’ve never met her before, never so much as seen her, and she’s still willing to sit here and listen to you bawl about stuff that’s out of your control
  535. >She reminds you of Anon, in a way
  536. “I… I care about that prisoner. A lot. He made me feel a way I’ve never felt before. And played with me. And scratched my ears. And rubbed my back and told me secrets and made all his friends smile including me but now he’s-! Now he’s-!”
  537. >Your words run together, and a sob keeps you from finishing your sentence
  538. “And the worst part-! The worst part is! All his friends think he’s too strong to be hurt, he’s too tough, or- or something silly like he can’t get hurt at all even if something bad happens to him, but he can! And I can’t tell anypony why, because I promised I’d never! It’s so awful and they’re so silly for believing that anything that can feel can’t be hurt but I can’t tell them! And even if I did, what-“
  539. >Oh no
  540. “What-“
  541. >Here it comes
  542. “WHAT GOOD WOULD IT DO NOW?!”
  543. >You can’t keep yourself quiet anymore
  544. >You wail as you fling your forelegs around the startled pegasus, sobbing into her shoulder
  545. >She’s only spooked for a second though, and begins patting you and murmuring reassuringly
  546. >Your outburst drew all the others to you
  547. >”Who’d ya find there, Shy?”
  548. >”She’s the prison nurse, I think. She’s very, um, worried about the possessed prisoner.”
  549. >”Aw, well heck. Ah admire her dedication! Reckon we gotta get back out there.”
  550. >”Yeah, I’ve had enough of hiding already! Let’s get back out there and kick his butt!”
  551. >You twitch at that
  552. >The kind pony hugging you tenses nervously
  553. >”R-Rainbow, you shouldn’t say something like that-“
  554. >You rise, rubbing the tears out of your eyes quickly before looking at Rainbow
  555. >She takes one a slightly defensive tone as you make eye contact
  556. >”…What?”
  557. >You keep your response cool and professional
  558. >You admire these girls from the bottom of your heart for being the Elements and having to deal with stuff like this all the time, but there’s still something that needs to be established
  559. “You can go out there and kick that thing’s butt all you want. But when it goes back to being Anonymous, you let me take over. Okay?”
  560. >The blue pegasus looks really hard at you for a moment, squinting into your eyes as she zooms close
  561. >You squint right back
  562. >She laughs
  563. >”You go it! Hey, what’s your name?”
  564. “Caring Touch!”
  565. >”It’s good to meet ya, Caring. We’ll go get your prisoner back.”
  566. >You smile, and are about to reply when a very excited purple unicorn begins shooing everybody towards the door
  567. >”This is it! He’s distracted! Come on, girls!
  568. >They charge out the door, and you follow, with Warden and the Overseer close behind
  569. >Please hang on, Anon!
  570.  
  571. >You are…
  572. >You still can’t quite remember
  573. >But there’s something wrong with you, you’re sure of that now
  574. >The flash comes again, and the other voice roars
  575. >But all you feel is warmth, with images of little happy creatures flitting through your mind
  576. >Their names come back to you as you look at them
  577. >So why can’t you remember your own?
  578. >The other voice is in control right now; she hasn’t spoken to you since the fight began
  579. >But you’re certain that you are not the same
  580. >The lights hurt her
  581. >…
  582. >Something else changed after the last flash
  583. >You don’t fully understand it, but you can see now
  584. >Earlier you could only feel the sensation of the earth parting around you, and the eerie feeling of your body moving without your input
  585. >Now, you can see a field
  586. >Luna and Celestia, and Discord
  587. >You don’t recognize most of the others, but Brass, Warden, and Caring are there
  588. >Your right hand hurls a bolt of light at the group of ponies, but it’s thankfully deflected by something
  589. >You attempt to pull your hands back down to your sides
  590. >Your arms twitch and waver, and you feel like they’re being pulled upward by something
  591. >The other voice is back
  592. >Stop interfering! This is what we came together to do!
  593. >Stop lying
  594. >What?!
  595. >There’s no way we’re the same
  596. >We are! We are one!
  597. >LIAR!
  598. >The struggle that begins is bizarre, to say the least
  599. >Your body trembles and stumbles as two opposing wills clash, and you hear a clamor from the others around you
  600. >Those voices are muffled by the sounds of your own pulse thundering in your ears as every muscle on your body spasms
  601. >You feel like you might tear yourself apart
  602. >Your fingers claw through the grass, and you feel someone try to lift your head up to look at your face
  603. >The eye you can see out of locks with another the color of blue topaz, followed by the sound of a far-off gasp
  604. >”Sister, look at his eye!”
  605. >There’s a moment’s pause, and then an amethyst iris commands your vision
  606. >Then a different voice calls
  607. >”All of you, again!"
  608. >The other redoubles her efforts, and your arms spasm as they try to seize hold of the alicorns near you
  609. >You focus all your limited awareness into preventing that from happening, and the result is an awkward, lurching shove as you push Luna away
  610. >But she doesn’t stay away, the silly pony
  611. >”----, can you hear me?”
  612. >…what? What was that first word-
  613. >”You are stronger than she is, my heart! I know it! You must try to remember!”
  614. >Listen to her. Listen to how she revers you.
  615. >No
  616. >She reveres a lie. You called me a liar earlier. Aren’t you one too?
  617. >Shut up
  618. >Aren’t you? Aren’t WE?
  619. >Get out of my head
  620. >You know it’s true.
  621. >Even if it is, so what?!
  622. >…
  623. >Even if I’m not really what she thinks I am, I’ll become it for her sake
  624. >You’re deluded.
  625. >Just like you
  626. >The shriek of frustration puts a smile on your face
  627. >Then the warmth washes over you again, and this time you’re able to see the rainbow descending on you
  628. >More memories
  629. >Your first encounter with Warden, Dreamwalking with Luna, napping with Celestia, lifting weights with Brass and everybody, Caring keeping you company whenever you were in the infirmary, and her hearing your confession
  630. >You feel Nightmare’s grip on you loosen even further
  631. >You remember her name
  632. >You feel like you’re close to yours
  633. >NO!
  634. >Die mad about it, parasite
  635. >I WILL NOT, I WILL NOT BE BESTED AGAIN!
  636. >Bit late for that
  637. >Another shriek deafens you from within your own head, but suddenly cuts out
  638. >You clap your hands over your ears and groan at the ringing noise left over
  639. >…
  640. >Wait
  641. >You couldn’t do that a second ago
  642. >What happe-
  643. >Your train of thought is launched into space by two alicorns tackling you to the ground, sobbing
  644. >”Anonymous! Thank the stars, I feared so horribly when I learned what had happened!”
  645. >”We’re both so glad you’re safe! As for the one who caused all this…”
  646. >The two sisters turn to glare at Discord, who’s still smiling at you
  647. >”Hey, kid. Sorry about earlier.”
  648. >”Is that all you have to say for yourself, you insufferable lout?! Elements! Return him to his stone prison! Let the pigeons rest on him for a century!”
  649. >”Discord, I’m disappointed in you. I really believed you’d turned over a new leaf!”
  650. >You quiet your two princesses with a well-timed ear scratch
  651. “Easy, there. I volunteered for this. It just got… a little out of control.”
  652. >You stand up, and look at Discord
  653. “Is that it? Is it over?”
  654. >”As much as I’d love it to be, no. I’m sure you could tell. She wasn’t forced out of you. She let go of you.”
  655. >Oh no
  656. >That does seem to fit what you felt, though
  657. >You were just suddenly back to being you, and she disappeared without getting hit by that flash again…
  658. “But that means she’s-“
  659. >”Yep. We still got a bit of work to do.”
  660. >Discord quickly introduces you to the Elements of Harmony
  661. >You have to gently ward off a VERY inquisitive purple unicorn, but Luna and Celestia eventually get her to calm down.
  662. >The rest of them seem to be in awe of you
  663. >Brass trots up and gives you a pat on the leg
  664. >”I knew you’d be okay! Welcome back, Anon.”
  665. >You kneel to ruffle his mane
  666. “Good to be back, Brass. Wasn’t even away for a day and I missed it.”
  667. >Warden and Caring gallop over a moment later, with the nurse launching herself at you in a teary cannonball-hug while Warden takes a more reserved approach
  668. >”Anooooooon!! I- *hic* I was so scared! I thought-! I thought you might-!”
  669. >”Oh, I’m so relieved, Anon. How in the world did you get wrapped up in such dangerous business?”
  670. >You whisper reassurance to Caring, giving her a hug in return as you respond to Warden
  671. “I’ll tell you all about it sometime. But things are still dangerous. You guys need to stay close, alright?”
  672. >You stand up, Caring still in your arms, and she leans close to whisper
  673. >”Anon. I saw the princesses hug you… Are they…?”
  674. >You wince internally
  675. “Well… Yeah. They’re the two mares you smelled back then.”
  676. >She wilts
  677. >”I… I see… Wow.”
  678. “I told you that you wouldn’t believe me.”
  679. >Caring is silent at that
  680. >You guess this is all a lot to take in for the poor girl
  681. >You give her a reassuring ear scratch as you stand up, carrying her towards the prison
  682. >Discord floats in above you, and the princesses flank you on either side
  683. >The gaggle of smaller ponies follows behind
  684. >Your chaotic benefactor speaks
  685. >”She can’t move far through daylight. She’d need somewhere to hide until nightfall. And there’s only one place near here she could find it.”
  686. >He points at the prison building
  687. >You mentally prepare yourself for round two
  688.  
  689. >You’re an incredibly disheartened nurse, so you must be Caring Touch
  690. >The princesses like Anon too
  691. >You almost couldn’t believe it, but this is Anon we’re talking about
  692. >Who couldn’t love such a sweet guy? And those hands? And tiny little eyes? And smile?
  693. >Still, you won’t give up!
  694. >You’ll make them let you into the cuddle group!
  695. >Even if they say no, you’ll keep trying!
  696. >You’ll hold your breath until they say yes if you have to!
  697. >Your clench your hoof in determination and look at the princesses with a burning gaze
  698. >Princess Luna notices and raises an eyebrow
  699. >”Er, are you alright, little one? You seem perturbed.”
  700. >Does that mean mad? You don’t know. You hope it does
  701. >She continues
  702. >”There is no cause for fear. With myself, my sister, and the Elements here, Nightmare cannot hope to triumph. Place your trust in us.”
  703. >You can’t stay mad at that kind smile, even though you really want to
  704. >You motion her closer, and she leans an ear towards you
  705. >You whisper to her
  706. “Don’t protect me. Protect Anon. I don’t want that to ever happen again.”
  707. >She nuzzles you and whispers in return
  708. >”And it never shall. So long as Anonymous is in my sight, he will never suffer. But your dedication to him continues to impress me, Caring Touch. Would you agree to be his royal physician, when this is all over?”
  709. >You gasp, drawing attention from the owner of the arms holding you
  710. >Anon takes a break from talking with Discord to turn his head to you
  711. >”What are you two whispering about?”
  712. >Princess Luna levitates you over to her, and lowers you down to walk at her side
  713. >”’Tis a secret~.”
  714. “Y-Yeah! It’s a secret, Anon. We’re having a mare talk!”
  715. >You turn back to the moon princess, and she lowers her head back down to whisper range
  716. >”And?”
  717. “Yes! I’d love to!”
  718. >”As I’d hoped. You are the only one who has ever tended to him, and I can tell he thinks much of you.”
  719. >Not as much as you’d like
  720. >But you’ll get there eventually
  721.  
  722. >You’re overqualified to be a prison guard but feel more than a little underqualified for this situation, so you must be Brass Badge
  723. >Just listening to Anon and Discord talk is making your head spin
  724. >”What happened back in the tunnels? That… thing she did. With the wormhole.”
  725. >”Oh, that. Well, Nightmare seems to have figured out a good way to stall me. She sent me to another dimension.”
  726. >”Couldn’t you just snap yourself back?”
  727. >”That’s the trick to it. My being is tied to this world, so I can’t really be destroyed. But I can only assume a physical form here. I can see into other dimensions, yours included, but I can’t really exist there. And I can’t use my powers if I can’t snap. That’s one of my limits.”
  728. >”…So how did you get back?”
  729. >”Just as I said. I’m bound to this world. I’m eventually forced back if I stay out too long. Good thing too, or else I may not have been able to come back at all.”
  730. >That’s really scary. Gods sure have it rough…
  731. >Eventually all the immortal creatures in the room start talking about how you’re all going to find Nightmare
  732. >That conversation is much easier to understand
  733. >Soon, you and Warden are headed to her office to use the PA system to begin moving prisoners outside, where they’ll be safe in the sun
  734. >Assuming she hasn’t found somebody to possess yet
  735. >You scratch your chin as you watch Warden make the announcement
  736. >Who would Nightmare go for, out of all the prisoners here? Surely not just any old pony. Probably one of the black suits
  737. >You’ll go check on them. They have to be escorted from their cells anyways
  738. >You wait for Sharp to finish her announcement before speaking
  739. “I’m going to go start moving the black suits. I’ll meet you outside.”
  740. >”Oh no you won’t, mister. What did I tell you earlier? We’re going together.”
  741. “But… It’s dangerous! I don’t want you to-“
  742. >Warden Sharp stomps over to you, placing a hoof over your muzzle
  743. >”Brass Badge. I’ve already had a prisoner get possessed while I wasn’t looking today. If you think I’m going to let that happen to the pony I care most about in the whole world, you’ve got another think coming.”
  744. >You harrumph, adjusting your hat to give yourself an excuse to hide your face
  745. “…Just…stay close to me, okay? No matter what happens.”
  746. >”Always.”
  747. >Gosh dang it, this isn’t the time to be mushy!
  748. >Warden giggles at you as you whirl around and march out of the office. She catches up after a moment, side pressed to yours
  749. >The halls are a buzz of activity, as prisoners stream out for an “extended recess.”
  750. >The crowd parts around the two of you as you make your way to the black suit block
  751. >The two guards at the entrance snap to attention at the sight of you
  752. >”Good afternoon, sir and ma’am! I guess you’re here to move the black suits out to their enclosure?”
  753. “That’s right, Padlock. Start moving ‘em out.”
  754. >”Yes sir!”
  755. >Padlock joins the both of you as you pass through the door, and runs down the hall ahead of you, shouting orders
  756. >The guards start congregating in the hall, escorting the black suits out in groups of two or three
  757. >With both you and Warden there, the process goes smoothly
  758. >You like to think that it’s going to stay that way, but you can’t shake this feeling…
  759. >It’s the same feeling you got before that last mission with the guard
  760. >You move further into the wing until you arrive at your destination
  761. >Your gut tells you that if Nightmare is anywhere in the prison, she’s here
  762. >In Alexei’s cell
  763. >You knock
  764. >”Inmate Blackbeak, it’s time for recess. Stand away from the door.”
  765. >A standard precaution when dealing with black suit cells. Wouldn’t want the inmate to get hit by the door when it opens
  766. >But there’s no response
  767. >You feel your hackles rise
  768. “Sharp, keep back.”
  769. >”Hm? Why?”
  770. “Please. Just in case.”
  771. >She looks at you questioningly, but relents
  772. >She gives you a little nuzzle before moving to the other side of the hall
  773. >The brief touch gives you courage for what you’re sure is on the other side of the door
  774. >As quick as you can manage, you swing the door open and leap in, ready for anything. You’ll lock yourself in here with him, if you must!
  775. >The room is dark, and a shape rests on the cot in the corner
  776. >You trot softly across the room, dread filling your stomach
  777. >Finally, you come within poking distance and do so
  778. >The sleeping griffon stirs, and you tense
  779. >”Mmmph. What?”
  780. >Huh. His voice sounds normal at least
  781. “The entire prison is going on an extended recess, Alexei. Blacksuits included. Time to wake up.”
  782. >He rises, blinking blearily at you in the low light
  783. >”An extended recess? Whatever for? I’d rather nap…”
  784. “Then nap in the sun. Come along.”
  785. >He grumbles, but gets up without much other fuss
  786. >That’s strange… You were so sure Nightmare would choose him…
  787. >Your gut’s never been wrong before, but you guess there’s a first time for everything
  788. >You shepherd your charge out into the hallway, where Warden rejoins you
  789. >”Brass, your feelings make me happy, but I work here too. I can handle myself. There’s no need to be so uptight.”
  790. “I know you can, I just… thought something was going to happen. Well, never mind. Let’s go.”
  791. >Another guard falls in step with the two of you as you lead the griffon noble to the other end of the hallway, where the door to the black suit outside area awaits
  792. >You still can’t shake the feeling that you’re making a mistake
  793. >Warden whispers to you as you walk
  794. >"It'll be alright, Brass. You'll see."
  795. >She squeezes your hoof, and you do your best to keep your blush from showing
  796. >Alexei speaks icily, interrupting the moment
  797. >"Is it too much to ask for a bit of decency? I'd expect better from prison staff than holding hooves in public."
  798. >You and Warden quickly separate
  799. >It’s bad form for a Warden and Guard Overseer to be seen doing stuff like that, but you just…
  800. >You scratch the back of your head
  801. >You continue through the black suit wing until you pass the door to the basement
  802. >No one has gone in for as long as you’ve been here, on account of it being spooky down there
  803. >Dark basements are a leading cause of distress in pony households. It’s very easy to spook yourself or stub a hoof in the dark!
  804. >In the most severe cases, like the prison’s, it’ll be so dark that not even repairponies will go down there, resulting in permanent darkness and loss of the ability to use the space
  805. >You shake your head sadly
  806. >It’s a shame to see part of the prison go to waste like that, but what can you do?
  807. >”Where does that door lead?”
  808. >The abrupt question pulls you out of your thoughts
  809. >Alexei has stopped moving forward, waiting for an answer
  810. “The basement. It is off limits and will be for the foreseeable future. Move along.”
  811. >He does not. He stands in place, eyeing the door as if he might try to open it
  812. >”Why is that?”
  813. >You huff. This griffon always grinds your gears. You wish you could get Anon to do whatever he did to him again
  814. “None of your business. Now would you get a move on?“
  815. >”Now, Brass!”
  816. >Warden steps forward, resting a hoof on your shoulder.
  817. >”That’s no way to speak to an inmate. Let me show you!”
  818. >Warden puts on a bright smile, approaching Alexei calmly
  819. >”Alexei, will you please come with us? That basement is dark and lonely, everypony else will be outside. And can I just say I’m incredibly pleased with your recovery? I was worried about your feathers growing back after your scuffle with Anonymous, but it looks like you’re back to normal!”
  820. >…Wait. Something is wrong. The feeling came back!
  821. >But what? There’s nobody else here except Warden, Alexei, and the guard who came along
  822. >You twist your head around as Warden continues to speak, wracking your brain
  823. >”Yes, well… I found a helping talon, you see. But the basement sounds just lovely. Why don’t you show me around, little pony?”
  824. >It clicks a moment too late
  825. >Feathers don’t grow back that fast, it’s only been a couple days!
  826. “SHARP, RUN!”
  827. >You leap at Alexei, but are swept aside by a huge, shadowy wing as he transforms
  828. >Warden gasps as his beak clamps down on the hem of her uniform like a cat carrying a kitten
  829. >The enlarged, warped creature growls around the mouthful
  830. >”You were, are, and always will be a fool, Brass Badge.”
  831. >It wrenches the door open, Warden shrieking as it scampers down the steps into the shadows.
  832. >”BRASS!”
  833. >You gallop to the doorway, stifling the terror that fills you at the sight of the pitch-black descent.
  834. >The other guard stands stunned, staring at you
  835. >”I- Overseer, I-I’m so sorry, I just froze-“
  836. “Never mind that now. You need to go find Anonymous and bring him here. He should be outside in the courtyard. You got it? As quick as you can!”
  837. >He bolts off down the hall, shrieking Anon’s name
  838. >You just hope he gets here quickly…
  839. >Your hooves tremble at the top of the stairs
  840. >You take one step back
  841. >Then another
  842. >Your breathing quickens, sweat already forming on your brow
  843. >But another wail from below brings you to your senses
  844. >You can’t leave her!
  845. >Rearing up, hooves kicking, you bellow
  846. “I’m coming, Sharp!!”
  847. >You charge down the steps, not giving yourself the chance to stop as you descend
  848. >…
  849. >You keep expecting to suddenly find no more steps beneath you, but these stairs have been going on for a while
  850. >How far down is this basement? This feels unnecessary
  851. >…
  852. >…
  853. >Argh, this is stupid!
  854. >You’ve been running down for who-knows-how-long and still haven’t reached the bottom!
  855. >The endless descent kind of reminds you of the changeling hive
  856. >You grimace at the memory, but then yelp as you suddenly arrive at the end
  857. >Your momentum sends you into a tumble, coming to rest flat on your back
  858. >Groaning, you rub a hoof against the back of your head
  859. >Lucky nobody saw that
  860. >You get to your hooves and dust yourself off
  861. >It’s still super dark, but it seems you’re finally in the basement
  862. >You shuffle forward, slowly waving a hoof around in front of you
  863. “Sharp? Can you hear me?”
  864. >You advance carefully, but nothing blocks your way
  865. >There doesn’t seem to be much in here
  866. >What the heck did they even keep in this basement? It’s so pointlessly huge!
  867. >You continue calling for Sharp and trying to find a wall or a box or something to help you get your bearings
  868. >But there’s nothing
  869. >Your heart starts beating a little quicker, and you start seeing things in the dark
  870. >You hear a ruffling of feathers and you startle, whirling around before remembering that you can’t see anyway
  871. >”I should commend you, I suppose. I honestly thought you would stay up above.”
  872. >That’s that snobby griffon’s voice!
  873. >You growl
  874. “Let the warden go, Alexei. Give her back and I promise I’ll only beat you up a little bit.”
  875. >The callous cackle you get as a response makes you pin your ears back
  876. >”I’m afraid I’m out of your league. In social standing and… well, everything. Perhaps if your memory were not so plebian, you’d recall that you barely delayed me the last time we dueled. Do you really believe you are anything at all to me now, with my new friend?”
  877. “She’s not your friend! She’s not anybody’s friend! You’re being tricked!”
  878. >”Tsk tsk. What a thing to say. She’s made good on all her promises so far. My magnificent plumage, returned. A form with which to tower over ponies, mine. And you, alone and helpless, quivering before me.”
  879. >Only now do you notice yourself shaking, and almost say a swear as you try to make yourself still
  880. >”Your ape friend cannot save you now, you insolent little jailer. I’ll enjoy this thoroughly.”
  881.  
  882. >It’s all you can do to roll out of the way when he swipes at you
  883. >Your cap gets knocked off as you duck under the follow-up swing
  884. >Geez, he’s even faster than before!
  885. >There’s no room for peaceful methods here. Straight to punches!
  886. >You lunge forward, planting your hoof squarely in his ribs
  887. >...He doesn’t even flinch
  888. >That’s not good
  889. >Before you can run you’re swatted across the room with the bat of a talon, slamming into the wall
  890. >Your vision swims
  891. >You think you hit your head
  892. >I-it hurts really bad...
  893. >You shakily get to your hooves as the griffon laughs at you
  894. >”What fun! I hope you can last for a few more blows peasant. Although, I suppose I have an entire prison to torment now... no... the entire world! But I think I’ll start with your princesses and the strange ape. Nightmare tells me that would be best.”
  895. >It’s hard to think
  896. >When you do finally respond, your mouth feels clumsy
  897. “Yer... Yer nuthing... Nuthing to dem... Even if... even if I lose...”
  898. >You were so stupid
  899. >You should have led Warden right back to Anon
  900. >She would have been safe with him and the princesses
  901. >Tears well up in your eyes
  902. >You’ve never been this scared before
  903. >Your knees wobble, and your heart thumps against your ribs
  904. >Is this...
  905. >Is this how you die...?
  906. >You’ve never even thought about your own death before
  907. >But there’s something about the darkness here
  908. >All kinds of horrible thoughts that would never occur to you flood your mind
  909. >You could abandon Warden
  910. >You could beg for mercy
  911. >You could pledge yourself to Nightmare
  912. >You could turn your back on Princess Celestia
  913. >...
  914. >...No
  915. >Even if it hurts...
  916. >Even if you’re scared...
  917. >How could you betray the one mare in the world who loves you? How could you break your promise to the Princess of the Sun?
  918. >A scene replays in your mind
  919. >You kneel in front of the princess in her audience hall, as she taps your shoulder with her horn
  920. >”Brass Badge. Will you promise me that you’ll always protect the ponies of Equestria? Will you promise to uphold the laws of this nation, to be the strength of those who are weak?”
  921. >Your response was instantaneous
  922. “I promise! I’ll never let innocent ponies get hurt while I’m there! I’ll never let the bad guys win!”
  923. >The sight of the princess’ warm smile stayed with you forever after that day
  924. >She tapped her horn to your other shoulder, and said:
  925. >”Then from this day forth, you join the ranks of the Solar Guard. May your heart always be true.”
  926. >She set the helmet on your head
  927. >She made you what you are
  928. >So what if you’re disgraced?
  929. >Even without your trusty armor...
  930. >You clench your teeth, then scream into Alexei’s face
  931. “I’M STILL A GUARD! MY HEART IS STILL TRUE!”
  932. >You keep shouting defiance as you leap at him, latching onto his head and whaling on his face with your hooves
  933. >Completely taken aback, he rears, flailing and screeching as he tries to pry you off of his face
  934. >You cling for all you’re worth, swinging your hooves until your forelegs get sore
  935. >Alexei swings his head around madly. You’re dizzy from the repeated changes in direction, and you feel sick
  936. >Your head feels even worse than it did before
  937. >But still you persist
  938. >Alexei’s face grows bruised and disfigured under your assault
  939. >Can you win? Maybe you can knock him out if you hit him enough!
  940. >You wind up to hit him again-
  941. >Only to let out a shout as an awful pain lances across your flank!
  942. >What-
  943. >What just-?
  944. >You twist your head to look. Alexei’s talons are sunk into your back leg. You don’t have time to react before they clench deeper in
  945. >You howl in pain, losing your grip on his head
  946. >Once again you fly across the room and crash into the wall
  947. >Everything hurts
  948. >You can’t see right
  949. >The fear comes back
  950. >Alexei says nothing. You only hear his talons clacking against the floor
  951. >...You hope his face stays bruised forever
  952. >And that dying doesn’t hurt
  953. >You don’t want any more pain
  954.  
  955. >For the first time in what feels like forever, you are Warden Sharp
  956. >You fell asleep after Alexei grabbed you, and had the strangest dream!
  957. >Nobody respected you anymore, not even the guards!
  958. >It made you so sad, but you realized it was a dream when Brass was rude to you. Brass would never treat you like that!
  959. >You woke up shortly after, and realized you had to get back to safety
  960. >You light your horn up to navigate the dark, stepping gingerly through the gloom
  961. >You’ll need to fund a repair expedition down here
  962. >Maybe if you buy a candle for every other step on the way down, the repairponies will finally be willing to risk it
  963. >But that might make it look even scarier... Hm...
  964. >As you walk, the room gets gradually brighter
  965. >Is someone else down here?
  966. >It might be Brass!
  967. >You gallop forward until you can finally see-
  968. >...
  969. >......
  970. >...What...?
  971. >Your special somepony lies on the floor in a small pool of-
  972. >No
  973. >It can’t be blood
  974. >But creeping towards him is that griffon
  975. >You feel...
  976. >An emotion you’ve never felt before. It makes you wish your magic did something worse than stun
  977. >It scares you
  978. >But it also spurs you to action
  979. >Without a moment to lose, you charge up your horn as fast and hard as you can
  980. >The glow draws Alexei’s attention, but your crackling bolt of magic streaks across the room before he can dodge
  981. >He lets out a cry of surprise as his body stiffens and goes rigid
  982. >”What in- you?! How did you wake up?!”
  983. “Shush! Shut your mouth this instant! You stand right there and- and think about this horrible thing you’ve done, and what’s going to happen to you when the princesses get here! You heartless brute!”
  984. >You canter over to Brass’ side through the-
  985. >The spilt syrup. Yes. Spilt strawberry syrup
  986. >Your hooves get covered in it as you shake him
  987. “Brass?”
  988. >His eyes struggle open, but they don’t focus
  989. >”Ugh... Sharp... are you alright...?”
  990. >Something between a laugh and a sob comes out of you
  991. “Silly Brass. I’m fine. B-But we need to leave, okay? Can you... C-Can you stand?”
  992. >”I’ll try...”
  993. >One of his legs is covered in syrup, with some very, very, very, very nasty scratches
  994. >Can you even call those scratches?
  995. >You pull his foreleg over your shoulders and try to help him walk
  996. >Brass winces and whimpers with every step
  997. >...is this your fault?
  998. >Did this happen because you told Alexei what’s down here?
  999. >You plod forward, doing your best to carry your poor stallion to the stairs as you fret
  1000. >You make it to the bottom step and look up the stairwell
  1001. >Oh no, there’s so many! There’s no way Brass will be able to get up there!
  1002. >You wrack your brains for a moment, then do the only thing that makes sense
  1003. >You scoot beneath him and stand up, carrying him on your back
  1004. >...Oof, he’s heavy. Your legs are shaking
  1005. >But you can’t give up!
  1006. >You shoot another stun spell at Alexei for good measure then start making the climb
  1007. >You huff and puff at every step, doing your best to keep Brass balanced on your back
  1008. >Oh goodness, you’ve only just started and you’re already out of breath!
  1009. >Your cheeks puff in frustration
  1010. >Don’t think about it! Just keep going!
  1011. >Everything will be fine if you can just get Brass somewhere safe!
  1012. >You climb as fast as you can
  1013. >Pretending it’s a race helps
  1014. >But however many steps you clear, the entrance never comes in sight
  1015. >Whose idea was it to make a basement so far underground?!
  1016. >What was the point?!
  1017. >Before long, you can’t help but stop to catch your breath
  1018. >Brass groans and you twist your head around to nuzzle him
  1019. “It’s alright. Just... Just a little more.”
  1020. >You hope it’s true
  1021. >The sound of your hooves clattering against the stairs is all you hear for a long while
  1022. >Until a cruel laugh echoes up from below
  1023. >”Ready or not, here I come!”
  1024. >No!!
  1025. >You scramble, gasping for breath as you climb
  1026. >The clicking of long talons fills the stairwell
  1027. >”A most excellent attempt. I was quite startled when you awoke. But the game ends here.”
  1028. >You can’t even respond, you’re so winded
  1029. >In your panic, Brass falls from your back, crying out as he hits the stairs
  1030. >The sound cuts you all the way to your heart
  1031. >You whirl around, firing stun spells willy-nilly down the stairs
  1032. >The bursts of green light disappear into the darkness
  1033. >Alexei just laughs
  1034. >Gritting your teeth, you charge and shoot as many as you can
  1035. >Clickity-click, clickity-click, the talons never stop
  1036. >Soon, your horn’s glow fades, and you can’t cast anymore
  1037. >You sniff, staring into the darkness
  1038. >Clickity-click, clickity-click
  1039. >Tears finally come
  1040. >Using the last ounce of your magic, you make another little light and go to Brass, sinking down to press against his heaving barrel and sob
  1041. “I’m sorry! I lied! I couldn’t get to the top! B-But I’ll never leave you, just like I said! I’m so sorry...!”
  1042. >Your voice breaks at the end
  1043. >You bury your face against his neck
  1044. >You let the tears flow and wait
  1045. >If it all ends today...
  1046. >Then you want it to end just like this
  1047. >Shivering, you press one ear against Brass and cover the other with your hoof
  1048. >You wait
  1049. >And wait
  1050. >The stairwell shakes, and a horrible, roaring cry fills the air
  1051. >”I’LL FUCKING PLUCK YOU BARE THIS TIME, ASSWIPE! C’MERE!”
  1052. >Wha-
  1053. >Goodness-
  1054. >You’d know that horrible language anywhere!
  1055. >You look up to see...
  1056. >Well, first you realize the stairway is lit now
  1057. >And then a hurtling bipedal figure leaps over you, tackling the advancing monster-griffon back down the stairs
  1058. >You gasp, watching Anon and Alexei bounce down the stairs
  1059. >That looks painful...
  1060. >Oh, Brass!
  1061. >You whirl around and find that you and your special guard aren’t alone
  1062. >Princess Celestia stands just above you on the stairway, illuminating the space and gasping at the sight of Brass’ wounds
  1063. >”Brass...! How awful! Are alright, Warden Sharp?”
  1064. “I-I’m fine! But please help-“
  1065. >Before you can even finish the sentence, you are engulfed in warm sunlight
  1066. >When your vision clears, you’re back above ground
  1067. >Princess Celestia takes charge immediately as Caring the Elements and Discord crowd around
  1068. >”Avert your eyes! Twilight, lend me your power. Healing this will take some effort.”
  1069.  
  1070. >Your hands are full of feathers and there’s a collapsed griffon at your feet, so you must be Anonymous
  1071. >Vicious little bastard. You’ll send him home looking like a plucked chicken, see how he likes that!
  1072. >And he’s not the only one
  1073. >The darkness swims
  1074. >”How kind of you to offer yourself to me again.”
  1075. “I’ll admit, you had me last time. But a little bird told me you run on fear and doubt, and I’m shit out of both. Try me.”
  1076. >A snarl, and the room seems to close in on you
  1077. >You feel the tendrils digging at you again, but you calmly lay down on the floor
  1078. >Let’s see how she likes the ace up your sleeve
  1079. >Or rather, in your head
  1080.  
  1081. >When you open your eyes again, you’re...
  1082. >Well, you aren’t sure
  1083. >You stand in the middle of what used to be a castle
  1084. >And on the other side of the room stands a blob of darkness vaguely shaped like a pony, with two glowing blue eyes
  1085. >And a toothy mouth
  1086. >”What?! How can this be?!”
  1087. “Came prepared this time.”
  1088. >”INDEED!”
  1089. >Your favorite voice thunders through the ruins
  1090. >Luna descends out of the sky in all her glory, touching down at your side and giving Nightmare a glare you actually find kind of scary
  1091. >”It ends today, wretch! You shall haunt my conscience no more! I will rid myself of you today, and finally escort my beloved home!”
  1092. >Nightmare sneers, spitting at Luna from across the room
  1093. >”Deluded little princess. Have you already forgotten why you can’t be rid of me? Or are you hoping that your human will somehow do it? Your lover is helpless before me, as are you! I cannot be destroyed!”
  1094. >You look down at Luna, raising an eyebrow, but she’s already crossing the room, shrieking in rage
  1095. >”You dare?! There is nothing he cannot do!”
  1096. >You grit your teeth and sprint after her, trying to ignore the unease that grips you
  1097. >Discord said she would disappear as ling as you kept your hands on her long enough
  1098. >She has to he bluffing, right?
  1099. >You feel the dream change around you, but it’s not Luna’s delicate touch
  1100. >Nightmare rips the moon and stars from the sky, throwing the ruins into stygian black
  1101. >As quick as you can imagine it, giant stadium floodlights rise up in a ring, filling the area with bright light while the crumbling walls leave pools of shadow
  1102. >Nightmare ducks into one, and Luna follows
  1103. >They emerge from another, and duck into yet another, shouting and shrieking while you just try to keep up
  1104. >You’re a little scared to change the lighting. What would happen if you ruined the shadow Luna was about to come out from?
  1105. >After remembering that rules aren’t a thing in your dreams, this becomes a non-issue
  1106. >You dart through space, your foot landing square in the side of Nightmare’s body
  1107. >She tumbles to the ground, and Luna lays into her with a magically-conjured pillow
  1108. >”Hmph!! Who’s helpless, you stubborn shadow?! Hmm?! Take that!”
  1109. >Nightmare grunts and snarls, hooves flailing as she tries to shield herself from the frantic pillow strikes
  1110. >”I’ll show you, petulant princess! I saw the depths of degeneracy inside Anon’s mind! The true meaning of violence! Beasts beyond your darkest-!”
  1111. >A good whack across the jaw from Luna’s pillow interrupts her
  1112. >”Don’t you dare call him Anon, strumpet!”
  1113. >Nightmare gestures with a hoof, and you do a spittake as the dreams warps and a Tyranid carnifex steps out of the shadows
  1114. “Luna!”
  1115. >You pull her to you, the beast’s scythe arm cleaving the air where she just was
  1116. >Your blue moon stares slack-jawed at the monster from Rick Priestly’s mind, managing only a single syllable
  1117. >”Oh...”
  1118. >Nightmare clambers atop her beast cackling madly
  1119. >Other Tyranids both great and small begin skittering about, forming a semi-circle around you
  1120. >”Now you see! Now you understand what lurks inside a human’s mind! I have learned the truth of the human’s world, I know their prophecy!”
  1121. >Wait, what?
  1122. >”In the grim darkness of the far future-“
  1123. >Oh god
  1124. >”There is only war!”
  1125. >You facepalm
  1126. >Luna, however, is utterly distraught
  1127. >”I-Is is true, Anon? Has the realm of humans fallen?!”
  1128. >You give Luna a squeeze
  1129. “It’s not. That, uh, ‘prophecy’ is scheduled about 38,000 years in the future.”
  1130. >Pony princess and shadow beast pause, trying to comprehend the number
  1131. “And you’ve got a healthy mix of melee bugs there, but no range. Rookie mistake.”
  1132. >Nightmare leans forward, eyes narrowing
  1133. >”Is that so? And I suppose you’ll show me the proper way?”
  1134. “Sure. Normally I go easy on new players, but I’ll make an exception for you.”
  1135. >The dream shakes as you concentrate
  1136. >The castle falls away, though some ruined towers remain as space stretches out, putting distance between you and Nightmare
  1137. >Winding trenches carve themselves out in the open soil, gun nests and bunkers popping up at regular intervals
  1138. >The battle cries of the Imperium fill the air as rank on rank of the flashlight boys rush to their positions shepherded by their commissars, and the earth shakes with the rumble of innumerable tank treads
  1139. >Luna yelps in surprise as a massive tank sprouts up from under you
  1140. >”What’s going on? What is all this?”
  1141. >You maneuver her beside you as you take a seat straddling the king of tank’s turret barrel
  1142. “It is the Beeeeeyyyynbleeeeeeeyd!”
  1143. >She just looks at you, confused
  1144. “...A Baneblade. This is called a Baneblade. And all those are Leman Russes, and those are Basilisks, and-“
  1145. >As you name them, they take their places
  1146. >Your army is assembled
  1147. >Nightmare shouts from across the field
  1148. >”Mine are scarier!”
  1149. >Pffft. Nids are trash tier and everybody knows it
  1150. >You look down at the nearest red-hatted man
  1151. “Commissar.”
  1152. >He salutes with his power sword
  1153. >”Your will, Lord Commander?”
  1154. “Teach the xenos the might of the Emperor’s Hammer.”
  1155. >As one, the Basilisks fire
  1156. >Shrapnel shells rain on Nightmare’s bugs, ripping their horde apart
  1157. >The shadowhorse is startled for a moment but quickly directs her forces forward, and the bugs come on like a tide
  1158. >The great artillery pieces never stop firing, and as the Nids close the distance heavy bolter crews and lasgun nests open up on them
  1159. >Luna tries to say something, but the noise is deafening
  1160. >She’s laughing though. Watching the explosions and lasbeams with the same fascination she viewed your other dreams with
  1161. >She paws at your shoulder with a hoof
  1162. >With a thought, the guns are muted, and she gushes
  1163. >”Awe-inspiring, truly! This surely will be enough to destroy her! Are these all your soldiers?”
  1164. “That’s right. These guys are my Imperial Guard!”
  1165. >You never came close to owning this many miniatures, but they’re still your dudes
  1166. >”Let us combine our forces. I had grand plans for your arrival at the castle, and they can still be salvaged!”
  1167. >Luna summons her own ancient Night Guard soldiers, who join yours in the trenches and watch the pretty lights
  1168. >The battle drags on
  1169. >Nightmare’s bugs get slaughtered as they mindlessly crash against the Imperial defenses, but she always pulls more from the darkness
  1170. >The first trench sees the fiercest fighting, but the unbroken stream of fire from the rear prevents her getting any further into your formation
  1171. >Luna’s bats do their best, but you deliberately keep them away from the thick of it. They’re great for morale, though
  1172. >With the commissars doing less blamming, the output of flashlight beams stays maxed out
  1173. >The princess gets a little queasy at the sight of so many Tyranids being reduced to puddles by concentrated fire
  1174. >The initial high is starting to wear off for you, too
  1175. >This isn’t going anywhere. As fun as it is, you have to actually do something about Nightmare
  1176. >Your Baneblade lurches forward, and Luna wraps her forelegs around you to stay on
  1177. >With a healthy pinch of dream manipulation, the tank leaps each trench it comes across, all guns blazing, until you finally start plowing through screeching aliens
  1178. >There she is. Same Carnifex as before. Unscathed in spite of everything
  1179. >She greets you with a merry laugh as your tank circles. Coming from her, the sound is unsettling
  1180. >”What fun! Clash and carnage make for wonderful nourishment. I can’t decide if I like this or being in direct control more.”
  1181. “I prefer this, definitely. If it’s just hurling my imagination at you I can do it all day.”
  1182. >”What a tantalizing proposition! But no. I desire suffering in the waking world, and I’m feeling much better now. Shall we fight?”
  1183. >...Discord wasn’t kidding, she really is pony-Khorne
  1184. >Luna stands up now that the tank has slowed down, shoulders shaking in frustration
  1185. >”How can you endure?! Why won’t you disappear?!”
  1186. >Nightmare gives her a flat look
  1187. >”I wonder if I took half your mind when we parted. Do you truly not understand? I thought it was all an act.”
  1188. “Is one of you going to tell me what’s going on here?”
  1189. >Nightmare smugly puffs out her chest
  1190. >”I am-“
  1191. >”LALALALALALALALALA HE CANNOT HEAR YOU!!”
  1192. >You clap your hands over your ears in an attempt to shield them from Luna’s sonic assault
  1193. >Jesus Christ, how can she speak that loudly?! She’s so slim!
  1194. >You lunge, trying to wrestle her into submission
  1195. >Gotta make her let up before your eardrums burst!
  1196. >Nightmare sits and watches, clearly amused
  1197. >Everything grinds to a halt around you without your thoughts to drive the guardsmen, and Nightmare lets her bugs fade away
  1198. >When you finally get a hand over Luna’s muzzle, the silence feels like heaven
  1199. >Until Nightmare speaks again
  1200. >”She and I are the same alicorn. Merely in two pieces.”
  1201. >...That explains why Luna didn’t want you to know, you guess
  1202. >She froze up when Nightmare told you
  1203. >The fear and apprehension in her unblinking stare tell you she can’t imagine you being okay with that
  1204. >Silly pony
  1205. >You sit up, dragging your fingers through her coat reassuringly
  1206. “So you split off when she came back from the moon, but you’re actually a piece of her?”
  1207. >”Yes. So long as she exists, I will eventually reform. I feed on her.”
  1208. >Nightmare shoots the princess trembling under your hand a disdainful look
  1209. >”...though sometimes I wonder how I could have come from such a creature.”
  1210. >Things are starting to fit together
  1211. >Luna was somehow capable of hanging on to the emotions that should have been swept down into the depths, which resulted in Nightmare Moon
  1212. >You wonder if Celestia might be the same
  1213. >Either way, since you’ve found out-
  1214. “I’m gonna put you back together.”
  1215. >”WHAT?!”
  1216. >It makes it a little easier to believe they’re the same pony when they both react in perfect sync
  1217. >The first word, at least
  1218. >”Anon, you mustn’t! I committed such horrors when she was last within me, how could I allow myself to harbor her again?”
  1219. >”You’re out of your mind if you think I’ll return to being her shadow! I am superior in every way, and I’ll make sure you see that clearly!”
  1220. >Both turn to glare at each other as their respective protests end
  1221. >But they’ve had enough time to argue
  1222. >You stand up and stretch while you address Nightmare
  1223. “The only thing I see is that you’re just somebody’s internal edgelord given form.”
  1224. >”I- What? Edge...lord?”
  1225. “Don’t get excited. It’s not a compliment.”
  1226. >She scowls as you continue
  1227. “Every human kid has something like you in them. Some of us grow out of it and some don’t, but I’m sure as hell not letting some one-emotion goon ruin my horsey paradise.”
  1228. >You roll your neck, getting up in Nightmare’s face
  1229. “I’m going to help Luna accept you as part of her. That’s the best way resolve this. So go ahead and fight back. I already told you that I’m not scared of you, and by the time I’m done Luna won’t be either.”
  1230. >A smirk cracks your face
  1231. “Hurts, doesn’t it? Knowing that for all the stuff your learned in my head, you’re still just a pony. Or a pony’s shadow.”
  1232. >The shriek of pure hate that comment elicits sends a shiver down your spine, but not from terror
  1233. >Nightmare launches herself up at you
  1234. >You slam a palm into her chest and shove hard
  1235. >Nightmare does a spectacular flip and lands flat on her back
  1236. >She struggles to breathe, staring slack-jawed into space
  1237. “Take your time. I got a point to prove.”
  1238. >You look back to Luna
  1239. “Look. See? She’s not absolute. She fed on the stuff she found in my head, sure, but she’s not all-powerful. Just like the bad thoughts you have aren’t something you have to respond to.”
  1240. >Luna sits up, still looking uncertain
  1241. >”But... I have. Doesn’t that mean that I will again?”
  1242. “I dunno. Would you? Knowing how awful you felt after the first time, would you still do it?”
  1243. >”No! But I don’t want her to be a part of me at all, Anon! Isn’t it better if I cut her from myself entirely? Are you certain there’s no way to-?”
  1244. “Luna.”
  1245. >You walk over, placing a hand on her shoulder.
  1246. “She won’t just go away.”
  1247. >The alicorn wilts
  1248. “You have to own up to having felt that way once. And accept you might feel that way again. Anger is something everybody feels.”
  1249. >You glance back over your shoulder just in time to see Nightmare creeping up on the both of you
  1250. >She springs the moment you make eye contact and latches onto your back, but your reaction is instant
  1251. >Because all you have to do is lean back
  1252. >You fall straight back, crushing your rider beneath you
  1253. >Nightmare lets out a strained wheeze as the air is once again driven from her
  1254. “As I was saying...”
  1255. >You get back up and take a seat next to Luna, facing the squashed and gasping clone
  1256. “Shutting out your emotions just stunts you. You waste time fighting yourself when you should be interacting with what’s going on around you. There’s all kinds of things I hate about myself, but I can’t just pretend they don’t exist. You have to master them. Figure them out. Turn them into something you can use, or at least keep in check.”
  1257. >You try not to remember how silly this sounds coming from a guy who can barely figure out life for himself
  1258. >Luna stares thoughtfully at the ground
  1259. >”...but how could such thoughts be redirected? What good is wanton desire to dominate, to preside over all things?”
  1260. “Well, look at me. I started strength training because of thoughts like that. But it taught me about a lot more too. How to power through wanting to quit, how to be a good sport about competing, to remember that there’s always someone better than you. The feelings that motivate you to do something aren’t always the ones that stay with you when it’s done. And I think you’ve made good use of those feelings before. Remember? You told me about that big win over the Yaks back in your room, and how you took all those pillowcases from defeated griffons. That wasn’t evil. But it came from those feelings. Wanting to be the best stems from wanting to win.”
  1261. >Her eyes slowly brighten, looking at you with hope
  1262. >”I... I think I understand. I want to try.”
  1263. “That’s my girl. You’ll figure it out.”
  1264. >You curl your fingers beneath her chin, scratching gently
  1265. >Nightmare finally rises on shaky hooves, glaring knives at the both of you
  1266. >”Never! I would rather be destroyed and reform than lose myself!”
  1267. >You stand back up, but don’t move any closer
  1268. “Why’s that?”
  1269. >The question seems to catch her off guard
  1270. >”What do you mean, why? If that weakling and I rejoin then I’ll be trapped inside her head until I can escape! Or worse, I might not be able to escape, or... or...”
  1271. >She trails off, but you know what she’s afraid of
  1272. >She might cease to exist as her own entity
  1273. “Humor me for a minute, Nightmare. If you still want to fight after this, then we will.”
  1274. >She eyes you suspiciously, but slowly nods
  1275. “How much do you remember? Anything from before your coup?”
  1276. >”...I have only vague flashes before the century leading to when I took control. And then it was as if I were watching through Luna’s eyes for 100 years before I finally got a turn myself.”
  1277. >Damn
  1278. >You were hoping she remembered everything Luna did
  1279. “Well... do you remember other emotions? Happiness? Sadness? Before you say anything, I know you only feed off one emotion. But you have to remember others, right? You were in Luna’s head for a long time. Are you sure you’re fine with just being mad for the rest of your life?”
  1280. >She stares at you for a while
  1281. >You think something flickers in her face, and decide to keep pushing
  1282. “Say you do win. Say you do overpower me and the sisters and everything else someday. What then? What are you going to be mad at then? Hate to break it to you, but eternal night doesn’t do good things to plants. All the crops die off, which leads to everything else biting it. You’ll be alone. What then?”
  1283. >Luna gasps, only now comprehending that she almost doomed the world
  1284. >Nightmare hesitates even harder
  1285. >Her very being seems unstable now. Her body seems to waver and weaken against the ethereal light of dreamspace
  1286. “I can’t guarantee you that you’ll still remember yourself if you combine with Luna. But there’s no winning for you if you go on alone. No matter what happens.”
  1287. >For a split second, Nightmare looks completely different
  1288. >Standing almost as tall as Celestia would, with a mane even more resplendent than Luna’s, streaked with nebulae and speckled with gleaming points of light
  1289. >And then-
  1290. >”YOU LIE!”
  1291. >The shriek almost splits your eardrums all over again
  1292. >”I won’t be fooled! I won’t go! I WILL NOT CEASE TO BE!!”
  1293. >Still stunned by her retort, you’re helpless against the lunge
  1294. >Her long, pointed teeth sink into your forearm
  1295. >Now it’s you howling at the top of your voice
  1296. >Luna bulls into Nightmare, whaling on her and shouting for her to let go
  1297. >But Nightmare’s jaw remains clenched, her eyes unblinkingly staring into yours
  1298. >The initial shock fades
  1299. >The pain doesn’t, but it’s not so bad that you can’t think
  1300. >You sit down, staring right back
  1301. “Read my mind. You see if I’m lying.”
  1302. >Luna stops, staring at you hopefully
  1303. “Yeah, you too. I’ll allow it. You both need to know. I don’t hate you, Nightmare. Now that I know what you are.”
  1304. >Maybe all the time you’ve spent dreaming has taught your brain some new tricks, because now you can feel someone combing through your grey matter
  1305. >Two someones
  1306. >It takes some doing to think around the pain, but you eventually empty your head of everything except how you feel about the mares in front of you
  1307. >Luna giggles happily, enshrouding you with both forehooves and wings
  1308. >This may be the coziest hug you’ve ever received
  1309. >”I return your feelings a hundred times over, beloved. Thank you.”
  1310. >Nightmare, for her part, lets out an uncharacteristic squeak, pulling her teeth from your arm
  1311. >”Even now? Even now, you forgive? Why?”
  1312. “Because you’re a part of Luna, and because I can relate to doing stupid things when angry. I have something like you inside me. It never went away, I just learned how to talk it down. You won’t cease to exist. And whatever you and Luna become, I’ll give her your share of love too.”
  1313. >Nightmare is barely tangible now
  1314. >You can actually see through her
  1315. >But the nuzzle that brushes your face is very real
  1316. >”So be it.”
  1317. >She offers a hoof to the alicorn squeezing you
  1318. >”Come, Luna. Let us both find peace.”
  1319. >The other half of your moon princess nods solemnly, placing her hoof against her shadow’s
  1320. >”Let us be whole again.”
  1321. >Both alicorns flash brightly, rising away from you
  1322. >You have to shield your eyes from the light
  1323. >When it eventually fades, you behold the same alicorn you saw in Nightmare’s moment of weakness
  1324. >Luna’s perfect form
  1325. >She floats gently down to you, havering just high enough to plants her lips against your forehead
  1326. >”Anon, I... I feel that one constellation is not enough for you.”
  1327. >You grin, mooshing her cheeks together before kissing her back
  1328. “How about a comet? Or a meteor shower. One of those recurring ones.”
  1329. >The dream shakes as she laughs
  1330. >”A fine idea! I shall make the sky rain light in your honor. But come. It is over, and I won’t suffer another night of you languishing in prison.”
  1331. >You awake to a big horsey nose rubbing against your face
  1332. >And a sharp, burning pain in your arm
  1333. >You sit bolt upright, looking down at your aching appendage
  1334. >...Should that bite mark still be there?
  1335. >And bleeding that hard?
  1336. >Luna follows your eyes, and screams
  1337. >Celestia instantly teleports into the basement, and screams too
  1338. >Your poor ears
  1339.  
  1340. The end is finally in sight.
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