The Guardian of the Night

The Royal Guard has intensified their training regimen after countless attacks on Canterlot. They’re tougher, better, faster, stronger – and, after months of hard training, they only accept the best of the best. The Night Guard, the elite soldiers trained to protect Princess Luna during the evening, are similar to the Royal Guard, only ten times tougher.
Undeterred by the challenges that await him, Pipsqueak (now a full grown stallion) signs up to join the most elite soldiers in all of Equestria... The Night Guard.
He isn’t doing it for the fame or glory. Pip is motivated by one goal and one goal only: to fulfill a promise he made as a foal. He will become the guardian of the night.
This story is technically a sequel to The Dream Stalker, but it is not necessary to read that story first in order to understand this one.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/201940/the-guardian-of-the-night

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22. The Guardian of the Night

“We need… to help the ponies still trapped in Canterlot escape,” Pip finally stated. That’s what Luna would do.

“That’s great,” Scootaloo sarcastically commented between breaths. “But how are we going to that?”

“We’re going to have to draw the King Basilisks away so the ponies can run. Just like we did here. We’ll be the distractions.”

Rumble flew to Marble in order to help her get up. She was bashed, but still functioning. The two of them trotted over and nodded, signifying their commitment to keep going. Pip motioned for them to start heading forward, though he wasn’t sure how he would handle the King Basilisks.

Pew! Pew-Pew!

Flashes of magic shot into the sky from the concert stage, clearly the work of unicorns trying to fend off the monsters. The more magic they used, however, the more excited the King Basilisks became. Two of them turned toward the stage and began lumbering that way, shaking the streets of Canterlot as they walked.

A small group of ponies tried to run out between the monsters, but they became stone statues the instant they turned their heads, frozen in place, mid-run.

“Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo suddenly gasped. She didn’t even wait for anyone to reply, she took off running the moment she realized who was in trouble.

“Wait! Scootaloo!” Pip tried to call her back, but the pegasus pony was already long gone. He turned to Rumble and Equinox. “Marble and I will try and steer them away. You have to go tell the unicorns to stop using their magic!”

Equinox and Rumble nodded and flew off toward the stage. Pip and Marble ran up behind the dragon-like King Basilisks, both injured from the fight before. Marble was sore and Pip’s back leg was bleeding terribly, and putting his weight on it was agonizing.

With a powerful swing, Marble smashed the tail of the King Basilisk she was standing behind, crunching the tip of the spine located within. It turned back, anger fueling its quick movement, and lunged. Marble jumped away and began running through the street.

Pip didn’t have to engage his. The blood on his leg was enticing, and the beast turned just to see the source of the smell. Before Pip locked eyes with it, he turned and began running. His back leg, however, gave out under him, causing him to fall. His “wounded animal” mannerisms piqued the interest of the King Basilisk, and it walked its way over, its claws digging into the cobblestone roads.

Miscalculating the speed of the King Basilisk, Pip only managed to stand before the beast was on top of him. Using one of its six legs, the King Basilisk clawed at Pip, tossing him to the air and sending him crashing to the ground, rattling in his own armor. Dazed, Pip could hear the King Basilisk breathe deep as it rushed for him again.

Struggling to stand, Pip realized his leg would never be able to carry him in his current condition. He cut the straps of his armor with his claws and began moving forward, shaking the armor off as he went. All Pip had left were his helmet and weapons, and he heard his armor crumple under the weight of the pursuing King Basilisk.

Running as fast as his injured leg would allow, Pip kept his gaze forward. The King Basilisk slammed its body against the nearby buildings and began collapsing them. The debris rained down on Pip, but as long as he stayed well ahead of the King Basilisk, he knew he wouldn't get trapped.

“Nothing will stop the heat of the eternal day,” the nightmarish version of Celestia cackled. “Its warmth gives me strength! All hail Infernal Flare!”

Pip could barely see what was happening as he ran through the streets of Canterlot, but he could see Luna circling the sky. She raised her forelegs up and soon the moon appeared in the sky, eclipsing the sun. The bright ring of the corona was the last light Pip saw before the blanket of the night swept across the land.

Oh no… The darkness made it nearly impossible to see. Pip jumped over debris from the falling buildings, but his hoof caught on a jagged edge and he tumble to the ground. A wall crashed down in front of him, creating a dead end.

Pip stood, but it was too late. He was trapped. He could turn around and risk being turned to stone, or he could wait and be eaten. Pip pushed up against the wall in an attempt to push it down. It was too heavy, and the steps of the King Basilisk were drawing ever near…

“Pip!” Marble called out. “Get down!”

He ducked, not daring to turn around and look. Without warning, Marble sailed in from above, Sebastian at the ready. She smashed the wall blocking the road, but her forward momentum caused her to keep going and roll to the ground. There were now growling and roars from the King Basilisks, and Pip snuck a quick glance to see how many there were.

Marble had led her King Basilisk behind Pip's. She had jumped into Pip’s King Basilisk and allowed the one chasing her to cut into the other King Basilisk flesh with its claws, resulting in the two monsters fighting.

“Everypony still in their houses!” Marble yelled. “Run! Now’s your chance! Run!”

Citizens that had walled themselves up began pouring from their homes and galloping down the street. Pip and Marble turned back around and tried to keep to the alleys in order to get back to the stage area. Up above, Pip saw the two sisters still clashing, Celestia’s bright white mane a tiny sun all its own. He also caught a glimpse of two bat ponies and a small squad of Sun Guard pegasi.

They galloped into the concert area and saw that the unicorns had all left. All except for Sweetie Belle. She was standing next to a stone version of Scootaloo, tears streaming down her face. Equinox was there, glancing all around. The glowing eyes of the King Basilisks pierced the darkness like enchanting stars, beckoning ponies to gaze upon then. Equinox didn’t look, but counting the glowing auras all around them, Pip suspected they shouldn’t stay here for long.

“We gotta go,” Equinox told Sweetie Belle, parroting Pip’s unspoken thoughts.

“We can’t leave Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle said, hugging her stone friend. “She saved us! I can’t leave her!”

“You’ll both be stone if you don’t go now! The King Basilisks are sure to return!”

Rumble came soaring in. He landed and his expression turned to dread when he spotted Scootaloo. He galloped over and examined her. “What’re we going to do? Is there a way to fix this?”

Pip had to sit. His back leg was throbbing in pain. He shook his head. “I… I think so… But we can’t panic now. We have to keep it together. If we’re all turned to stone, who will help Scootaloo? Nopony.”

“But… But what can we do? More ponies are being turned to stone! And now it’s dark! Nopony is going to escape now!”

A blue and yellow thunderbolt streak lit up the sky above them, and Pip’s attention was immediately drawn to it. “What was that?”

Rumble glanced up and frowned. “It’s Captain Lightning Dust. She’s rallying the last of the Sun Guard to try and fight the King Basilisks until the Night Guard arrives.”

“They could be hours,” Equinox interjected. “They’re all the way in Hollow Shades! They’ll never make it in time to help the ponies still trapped here!”

“Rumble,” Pip said, suddenly struck with an idea. “Your brother is in the Wonderbolts, right? Fly up there and convince them to start a sandstorm, like yours, only larger. Anything to keep the King Basilisks from staring at the ponies. Then try and talk Captain Lightning Dust into guiding the last of the ponies out of the city!”

He nodded, gave one last look at the stone Scootaloo, and then took to the sky. Pip watched him go, hoping it would be enough to save the citizens of Canterlot.

“What’re we going to do?” Equinox asked.

Marble nodded. “Yes. What are we going to do?”

Pip took a moment to think. “Something is… wrong.”

Equinox practically started laughing. “Oh really?” she sarcastically asked. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“No, not like that! I mean… something is wrong about this whole thing. Luna… she lied to me and… and-”

“What is your problem?” Equinox asked in disbelief. “Why are so obsessed with her? Even after everything we learned! Get yourself together! Do you ever think about anything else?”

She grabbed him and jerked his head to the side in order to make him stare upward. She pointed to the sky, right were Luna and Celestia were clashing; the two titans of the day were at each other’s throats.

“There she is, Pip! Do you want to talk to her now? I think she might be a little busy!”

Pip pulled away. “Look, I have nothing to lose and it’s not like a single earth pony is going to make the difference! I need to search the castle! I’m sure there are ponies stuck there regardless… You can come with me, or you can do your own thing, I don’t care.”

The wind began to pick up and Pip saw the Wonderbolts swirling through the air. Using the wind as a distraction, Pip took to the street. He half-limped, half-galloped to the Canterlot Castle. Much to his surprise, Marble kept up behind him… and so did Equinox.

As he galloped through the gates, Pip realized there were King Basilisks here too. A portion of the wall had been smashed and the gardens torn apart. There were stone ponies there, like decorations, lining the garden hedges.

Three ponies sailed down from the sky; Mist, Specter and Gloom, all dressed and ready for a fight. Pip skid to a halt in front of the castle doors and smiled to them. “You guys made it,” he breathed.

Pip felt tremors beneath his hooves.

“Something’s close,” Gloom suddenly growled.

Before Pip or any of the others could react, a King Basilisk burst through the wall of the castle, its many claws extended and its mouth wide open.

“Mist!” Equinox gasped. She dove forward and shielded her sister with her body. One of the monster’s claws cut across her back and side, completely shredding her left wing and tearing into her unprotected flesh. Unlike the others, who had gone back to the barracks to equip, Equinox was wearing no armor.

Pip just barely managed to jump out of the King Basilisks path, sliding across the garden grass. Marble took this opportunity and blindly swung with Sebastian. Although her eyes were closed, her aim was true. She smashed down on the monster’s eye, squishing it inward and preventing its evil gaze from turning anypony else to stone.

“This way!”

Looking up, Pip was relieved to see the pegasus drill instructor, Thunder Clash, flying inside the castle.

“Quickly!” he shouted to them. “Before the beast gets you all!”

Gloom flew over and grabbed Pip, helping him up and pushing him into the castle. Marble ran with them, but Specter, Mist and Equinox were on the other side of the King Basilisk. Pip couldn’t see where they were or what they were doing. Equinox... I hope she's okay...

It didn’t matter though; the King Basilisk made its choice and decided to pursue Marble and the others. The instant Pip got into the castle, the King Basilisk was on his tail, lunging forward and smashing the walls in its wake. Thunder Clash, Gloom, Marble and Pip began running the halls as fast as they could, but the creature wouldn’t relent. It smashed through pillars and shattered windows with its earthquake-like steps.

“Some ponies are calling for help from below,” Gloom suddenly informed them.

Thunder Clash nodded and pointed to an area up ahead. “The dungeon! Quickly! Jump down the stairs! The beast cannot follow us down such a narrow stairwell!”

Pip didn’t think that was the greatest idea. They would be trapped, and it was never a good idea to be trapped… Despite his feelings for the matter, Pip listened to Thunder Clash. His back leg was threatening to give out on him at any second, and he needed the rest.

He leapt into the stairwell and completely lost his footing on the stairs. He crashed downward, rolling to the bottom and slamming his ear against the stone of the floor, rupturing something inside and becoming disoriented. Thunder Clash and Gloom flew down and Marble easily jumped the steps with grace.

The King Basilisk slammed at the entrance of the stairwell, cracking the doorframe and wall. It began frantically clawing its way inward, like a bloodhound fresh on the scent of a fox, digging at the hole of its den.

There was a single Sun Guard soldier and one prisoner locked in the cells of the dungeon. Thunder Clash turned to the solder. “You were calling for help?”

“S-sir!” the soldier choked, pointing to the ever-nearing King Basilisk. “I-I was calling because t-there was a m-monster pacing the door outside! It left and then y-you came in, s-sir!”

“Get ahold of yourself, Glass Cutter!” Thunder Clash yelled. He pulled the soldier close and pointed to the monster. “We have bigger problems and you need to keep your wits about you!”

“I-I don’t want to die, s-sir! It would be a sh-shame to die now! I’ve just m-married, sir!”

“It would be a shame to die untested,” Thunder Clash quickly snapped. “Remember your duty!” The drill sergeant suddenly clutched his side. Under his Sun Guard armor was bandaging. The white gauze was stained slightly with a spot of red. As if making a mental note to ignore it, Thunder Clash suddenly let go and took a deep breath.

Pip pulled himself off the floor of the dungeon. The ringing in his ear just wouldn’t stop, and the warmth of his own blood was coating the side of face and muzzle. Gloom flew around the dungeon in a matter of seconds.

“There’s no other way out of here!” the bat pony yelled. “The King Basilisk is going to dig its way in and eat us all!”

“What?” the prisoner yelled.

Pip and the others turned to see Hemlock, the bandit bat pony. He was pacing inside the cell, his eyes wide with fright. “You have to get me outta here! Please!”

“Marble,” Pip breathed. “You got this.”

Hefting her war hammer, Marble smashed the wall near the cell, shattering a small hole for the bat pony to crawl through. The King Basilisk inched forward, however, getting further down the stairwell. Its tongue lashed about, feeling its surroundings since it couldn’t get a good view with its one remaining eye.

“Praise ya all!” Hemlock said, gulping down air. “Now ya guys are gonna defeat this monster, right? Ya been trained for this?”

Pip and the others exchanged nervous glances. Marble rubbed her war hammer. “Sebastian isn’t afraid of being tested.” She turned and charged toward the mouth of the King Basilisk. She smashed down with her hammer, connecting with its squirming tongue and crushing a chuck of it off.

The King Basilisk couldn’t back up fast enough to scream in agony. Unlike its hide, which was as tough as iron, its tongue had squished like any other tongue… The monster wasn’t deterred, however. It stayed at the doorway, yelling and growling. At this rate, it would call others… Pip knew. This place would be swarming.

Gloom and Hemlock were whispering to each other in the back, both angry and verging on flat yelling. Pip couldn’t hear very well… the ringing was drowning out half of everything.

“You could save us,” Gloom suddenly shouted. “Just go up there and do it! We let you go! We saved you from being turned to stone! Repay the favor!”

“Yer nuts if ya think I’m goin’ up there! I’m no warrior!” Hemlock shook his head. “I’ll be eaten for sure! I’ll-”

Gloom suddenly turned and bucked the other bat pony, practically knocking him out in one unexpected blow. Before anypony else could ask what he was doing, Gloom bit down on Hemlock’s leg, drawing blood and drinking it in.

“Recruit!” Thunder Clash yelled. “What’re you doing!? You know the-”

The bat pony flew passed Thunder Clash with a determined look. He leapt up the stairs and entered the hallway with the screaming King Basilisk, his eyes firmly closed. Screeching slightly, to use his enhanced echolocation, Gloom easily dodged the monster’s attacks. Right as the creature was about to smash everything around it, Gloom dove and bit down on the monster's other eye, piercing its flesh with his fangs.

The King Basilisk growled and then slammed to the ground, twitching.

Hemlock rubbed at his muzzle and pointed. “Go! That poison won’t last long!”

Pip and the others ran out of the stairwell and beyond the paralyzed King Basilisk. Thunder Clash pointed them to a room and they ducked into it. They all took a moment to catch their breath, yet again. It was stressful running frantically from one area to another… like a deadly game of hot lava monster.

“Sacré bleu!” Gloom shouted, glancing at his foreleg. A fleur-de-lis cutie mark had suddenly appeared.

Marble turned to Hemlock and shook her head. “You’re diseased!”

Hemlock nervously laughed. “He forced himself on me! I’m the victim here!”

“Both of you are incompetent!” Thunder Clash shouted. “We have to get ourselves in order if we’re going to help the princesses!”

“Thunder Clash, I think something is terribly wrong with what’s going on!” Pip said. “I want to search the castle! I want to know what’s really happening here!”

“Shouldn’t we focus our energy on trying to defeat Infernal Flare before Luna has to banish her to the moon or something?” Marble asked.

“I know something is wrong with this situation!” Pip pleaded. “Please, listen! Luna would never lie to me! She did! I don’t why… and she’s still the only one that could have altered our dreams! I must know what is happening! I have to get to the bottom of this!”

A woodworking tool suddenly appeared on Gloom’s neck and he promptly began disassembling a nearby desk and carving the wood with his hooves.

Thunder Clash nodded. “All right. If you feel that strongly about it, we should at least try. Besides, all we have are two earth pony trainees, a bandit, an old, injured soldier, and a bat pony trainee in desperate need of treatment.”

“Pourquoi moi!?” Gloom shouted in frustration.

“Don’t count me in this,” Hemlock said, shaking his head. “I’m not part of it!”

Marble glared. “Watch Gloom and stay in this room. If you two keep quiet, and stay to the back of the room, the King Basilisks most likely won’t find you. If you leave, you could get caught by one, or worse, get caught by Infernal Flare. You wouldn’t want any of that, would you?”

Hemlock quickly shook his head. “I got ya, I got ya… I’ll stay here. I’ll watch’em.”

Pip nodded and he slowly opened the door. The outside was filled with the sounds of monsters, but he could just barely tell they were there. What mattered most, however, was that he didn’t see any monsters in this hallway. Pip exited the room and began running toward the towers of the sister’s lived in. He would start with their rooms and then move on…

Thunder Clash pointed to the tower in front of them. “That’s Princess Celestia’s!”

“Marble,” Pip said, addressing the other earth pony. “Search the tower. Thunder Clash… Mist, Specter and Equinox are somewhere here. You should find them.”

The older pony snorted. “And what makes you think I shouldn’t go with the trainee on this potentially dangerous mission?”

“You’re injured,” Pip earnestly replied. He forced himself not to limp in front of Thunder Clash as they ran, despite the biting pain. He didn’t want the other pony to know.

Thunder Clash grunted in acceptance and flew off in order to find the others. “I’ll be back with them,” he called out. “No telling what we may find when dark magic is involved.”

The instant Thunder Clash was gone, Pip slowed his pace and took the majority of his weight off his back leg. He made his way for Luna’s tower, hoping beyond hope there was some explanation for what had happened. Any explanation would do.

When he glanced over his shoulder, Pip saw the fighting in the sky was raging with all the intensity he would expect from the two sisters. Infernal Flare could breathe fire with ease, and Luna only just managed to dodge her attacks. The total eclipse of the sun made everything seem sinister. The Wonderbolts and the remaining Sun Guard were trying their hardest to contain the King Basilisk threat, but it was clear they were slowly losing. If only the Night Guard could get here faster…

Pip spotted Phantom Shade in the distance, but turned away. He suspected the bat pony captain would not want him investigating Luna. Hopefully Phantom Shade hadn’t seen me...

Pushing open the door to the tower, Pip slowly began making his way up. After a few steps, he shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to lollygag! Time was of the essence! Despite the pain of his leg, Pip ran up the stairs. He suspected this wasn’t good for his leg in the long run, but he was willing to make that trade.

He got to the top, winded, but ready. Pushing open the door, Pip entered Luna’s personal chambers. The room was… just how he imagined it. Beautiful. Elegant. It was sparse, with only a bed, a mirror, a dresser and a balcony at the far end with a telescope. He ran inside and began looking around.

Pip checked everywhere. He checked under the bed, on the balcony, under the rug… he even threw the pillows around, and still he found nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Frustrated, Pip glanced around the room again. Something had to be here. But… what if Equinox was right? What if he was just… obsessed? No! He hated the doubt! Now wasn’t the time for doubt! There were too many signs! Too many questioning moments! He would follow this through to the end!

Pip turned his attention to the walls and began yanking off any and all decorations. No curtains, no pictures! When he got to the mirror, Pip pulled and found it slightly stuck in place. He yanked it to the side and it revealed a small stairway up into the dome of the tower; the very top.

Chills ran down his spine. Pip glanced over his shoulder before beginning his ascent. It made him nervous to go alone… which was an odd feeling considering he had always imagined himself alone when he imagined himself do anything. Well, himself and Luna.

He made his way up, and the stairs spiraled into the dome. They ended in a new room; a room at the very tip-top of the tower. Sitting there, waiting like she knew, was Pip’s worst nightmare: Nightmare Moon. But… in that brief flash of recognition, he realized something was different about her. She was twisted; her neck elongated, her wings tattered, her mane and tail a mess of star clusters and voids… She was sitting on a makeshift throne of broken furniture, and banners hung haphazardly on the wall; banners of an upward pointed sword.

Pip had been so stunned by her appearance that he barely noticed the body of Celestia on the floor near the edge of the room. She was… sleeping. Or unconscious. Pip wasn’t sure, but he suspected she was still alive due to her flowing mane.

“Greetings,” the nightmare muttered in a calm and confident voice, despite her ragged and somewhat manic appearance. It was then that Pip noticed her long alicorn horn was glowing constantly, bright magic bursting forth, though he saw no magic in the room.

“You… It… it really was you all this time,” Pip felt his heart drop and his body become heavy. He knew the darkness plagued Luna every step but… but why Luna? “Why?” Pip asked, deciding he would get his answers since he had the offending party right in front of him. “Why Luna? Why the princess of the night? Why not somepony else!? Why not take Celestia!? Princess Twilight Sparkle!? Anypony else!? Why her!? Why hurt her!?”

The tattered creature before him laughed and smiled. Her teeth were rows of fangs and her eyes had pupil-slits, just like the bat ponies. “You take it so personal, but I assure you I would have taken her father had he still be here. No, I need Luna because of her dream stalking ability, nothing more. Do you think the name Nightmare Forces was made on a whim? Foolish child… I draw power from the terrors of your sleep, and grow in your mind when bitterness will not let go.”

“We all have nightmares and bitter feelings,” Pip curtly responded.

“And your nightmares give me strength,” she replied with a smile. “But… I only gain that strength when my essence haunts your dreams. Once upon a time, I infested every life and every pony… But ever since the Guardian of the Night purged my essence from your dreams, I have been confined to only a few vessels, the ponies he missed, or the ones I have tainted… Only ponies I have infected can be my... host.”

Pip perked up. The Guardian of the Night? “Who…?”

“The first alicorn to rule the evening and control the moon. He tasked himself with vanishing the Nightmare Forces. He walked from dream to dream and defeated nightmares himself, helping ponies overcome their fears and draining my strength. But… he never could complete his task. He missed a few ponies… and I have been forced to settle with what I have.”

Taking a deep breath, Pip stepped forward. “The Elements of Harmony defeated you before!”

“I am only ever defeated when fought in the realm of the pony’s nightmares. Why do you think Luna could never shake me? There is no pony else who can walk through dreams, and she cannot overcome her own nightmares. Her father has long past… who is left?” Nightmare Moon nodded to him, the magic on her horn continuing to flare and pulse with power.

“Nopony will stand for this,” Pip said, half laughing. “When Princess Twilight Sparkle returns, you won’t stand a chance! Now that I know more about you, I’ll tell the others! They’ll think of something to get rid of you! Twilight always finds a way!”

Nightmare Moon sneered, “Is that so? Tell me, who all knows of me?”

Pip opened his mouth and then closed it. Nopony. Nopony knew.

“After my defeat both times, I have come to learn a few things. They say a true master of war never has to fight at all… and I’ve found that to be true. Deception is just as viable. When I took Luna I forged my illusions to look just like her… Before Celelstia could suspect, I whispered terrible things into her sleep, controlling her dreams and making her see visions of the future… A future where she is corrupted.”

“Then,” Nightmare Moon continued, “I gathered evidence of her corruption, while simultaneously hiding my own. The Star Spiders… were my doing. But that wasn’t what Celestia thought. I think she tried to outdo me when she suggested I retrieve a Fragment of the First Day. I don’t know if she suspected my dark presence, or if she was honestly concerned about her eventual turn… but it did not matter. I had pawns to gather the fragment for me, and so you did. I whispered terrible nightmares to the ponies that slept during the day, making them doubt and feeding my power… I instilled within the day-ponies a fear the sun… the more I whispered, the more fear I spread… until the only thing any pony could imagine was Celestia’s eventual turn. They wanted to see it, so that is all they saw.”

Pip glared. “So what is happening outside? What was I watching out there…?”

“It’s nothing more than a farce, a sham, a spectacle.” Nightmare Moon laughed to herself. “I pride myself on my performance this time around. When you came to see Luna, when you almost convinced them something was wrong, I thought I had played her perfectly. Concerned. Caring. Not too harsh. What gave it away? Why did you persist? Are you that stupid? Or was there something else?”

“Celestia no longer has a Fragment of the First Night. You lied yourself into a corner.” The dark alicorn laughed, but Pip decided to push. “Why tell me this? Do you just want somepony to appreciate everything you’ve done?”

“What’s going on here?”

Pip turned and saw Phantom Shade standing in the doorway. The bat pony captain was wide-eyed and breathless. Pip hadn’t heard him walk up, but he blamed it on his shattered ear still ringing.

Nightmare Moon ignored the bat pony and turned to Pip. “I told you this because I want you to join me.”

Pip instantly laughed. “You know that would never happen.” He inched closer to Phantom Shade. “We’ll never stand idly by while you do this.”

“Oh? I don’t think you understand how thoroughly I’ve won this time around.” She smiled wide and leaned down, her fangs white and obvious against her black coat. In a dark whisper, that Pip could barely hear, she said, “I’ll let you in on a secret. Because I wasn’t defeated in one night this time, I have undone all of Luna’s father’s work. I have placed a piece of my essence in the dreams of Equestria, haunting each pony and manifesting as their darkest fears and desires. It took Luna’s father a lifetime of hunting me… and she is nothing compared to him. Should I fall, even tonight, I will rise again in another pony. Any pony. Forever. No longer do I need to hunt Luna.”

“Celestia…” Phantom Shade muttered, glancing at the body of the white alicorn. “I can’t believe Thunder Clash was right…”

“Don’t be so concerned, Phantom Shade,” Nightmare Moon spoke in a calm, almost delighted manner. “This will work out for you… Don’t you see? I’ve set it up perfectly for everything you could have wanted. Who do you think is going to drag the King Basilisks from the city? Hint: it won’t be the Sun, Crystal or Friendship Guard. The bat ponies will be the heroes here. And Luna will be their queen. The one pony to control both the sun and moon. And, in a few centuries, the ponies will forget about Celestia, just as they forgot about Luna.”

Pip laughed a single laugh. “So you’re just going to banish Celestia to the moon?”

Nightmare Moon tossed her head back and cackled. “No! No, of course not! I’m going to take a page out of Celestia’s playbook and send her somewhere equally as ironic!”

“The… sun?” Pip breathed in disbelief.

“Of course,” she continued to laugh. “No place is as fitting. Do you suppose she will stain the sun, like I stained the surface of the moon? Or do you think the blazing heat will purify her?”

Phantom Shade hung his head and glared at the floor. “I can’t believe it… I’m so sorry, Princess. I should have been more diligent.”

“Do not fret, Phantom Shade. I have a way for you to redeem yourself. Step closer.”

“You’re nothing but darkness incarnate,” Phantom Shade hissed. “I don’t want what you have to offer!”

“Isn’t darkness a friend of the bat ponies? Or would you rather Luna be banished to the moon again? Is that what you want? For everypony to be right about how evil Luna is? About how evil bat ponies are?”

Phantom Shade stared at the floor for a long while, his eyes shifting from stone to stone. Pip shook his head. “You can’t be serious… Of course you wouldn’t join her!”

“Can you… can you lift the curse of the moon?” Phantom Shade asked, turning his gaze back to her.

“All will be within my power,” Nightmare Moon replied.

“Don’t! She’s lying!” Pip said, placing a hoof on Phantom Shade’s shoulder. The bat pony pulled away, but he did not meet Pip’s gaze. Slowly he trotted over to Nightmare Moon’s side, hanging his head in resignation.

“Just… all I ask is that you lift the curse, and my loyalty will be with you…”

“No!” Pip ran to stop Phantom Shade, but the nightmare alicorn slashed at him with her horn. It cut him across his chest and sent him tumbling to the ground. It wasn’t a painful wound, not like his ear or leg, but he was surprised. Why didn’t she use magic? Of course… she was too busy using magic to power the illusions outside… the illusions all the other ponies were watching and thinking were reality… She couldn’t break her focus, and this heavy magic use was a constant drain.

Pip slowly got up. He watched in horror as Nightmare Moon offered her foreleg to Phantom Shade. The bat pony bit down onto her flesh, and soon his appearance became… twisted. His wings became larger, his mane wild, and jolts of magical energy coursed over his body. Pip could barely believe it.

“I’m going to ask you a second time,” Nightmare Moon said sweetly. “And I don’t do this often. Luna has such affections for you, it’s the least I can do for her. Will you join me, Pip? Will you use your obsession and dedication for my cause instead of Luna’s? Will you fight my enemies? Be my sword?” When he didn’t answer right away, she continued with, “Just imagine it, Pip. You could live forever by my side. Dream and be whoever you wanted. You think Luna wants some pony with no magic, no greater powers, no awe-inspiring destiny? Join me, Pip. Become Nightmare Star and serve by my side. We can have the relationship you could never have with Luna.”

While she was saying all the right things, and telling him everything he wanted to hear… Pip knew better. He knew what this was. “You’re everything Luna isn’t,” he replied in a condescending tone. “Even if I were to live a thousand lifetimes in her shadow, that shadow would be more glorious than the empty void you promise.”

“Oh, sweet Celestia…”

Pip glanced over his shoulder. Thunder Clash was now in the room, just as surprised as Phantom Shade had been. Pip knew that Mist, Equinox, Specter and Marble were most likely on their way up the stairs now.

“You won’t be hiding your presence much longer,” Pip taunted. “Not when all these ponies know you’re here.”

“Phantom Shade,” Nightmare Moon lazily spoke, turning her attention to her empowered bat pony captain. “Show them the power of the Nightmare Forces.”

“You didn’t,” Thunder Clash said, turning to Phantom Shade with an incredulous stare.

“I guess we end this tonight,” Phantom Shade stated.

 
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