"The Final Solution"
She tried to focus, but it was becoming steadily more difficult. The sharp pains in her body reminded her that she was still alive; death wouldn't hurt so much. The mare clenched her eyes shut for a moment, then forced them open again, looking over the individuals that filled the throne-room about her.
The Nightmare looked almost majestic standing in the maelstrom of activity, despite the aura of anger and hatred that poured from her. She stood nearly fifteen feet tall now, easily towering over even Princess Celestia, a feat she seemed to take a perverse pleasure in. Her skin was an inky blue/black color that seemed to drink in all light, turning her into a walking black hole. She was still an imp, emaciated in appearance, but sinewy muscles stood out in relief on an obviously feminine form. Silver armour contrasted the dark skin, catching and reflecting all light with an ethereal glow as it sheathed her calves and forearms as well as a crest over her shoulders and chest. A helm of matching metal covered most of her brow, a worked metal unicorn horn protruding from it to remind everypony who she was. Her ethereal mane had returned with her newfound power, billowing like a living star-field, following her every whim and desire with only a thought.
Every capable pony in the room was focused on this being of malevolence, seemingly to no avail. A white coated pegasus with a rainbow mane lead a trio of melee combatants against the vile monstrosity, her hooves lancing out to impact the seemingly impenetrable armour with ringing blows. Her only adornment was a golden necklace with a yellow star gem placed at its front, not that it seemed to be helping Spectrum much.
Supporting this pony was a powerful gryphoness, with tawny fur contrasted by snowy white feathers, and a golden necklace with a bright orange gem in the shape of flared wings. Her wings seemed dipped in chrome, which she used to turn aside yet another crushing blow from the Nightmare. Still, the blow sent Steelwing reeling until into a nearby wall. She only barely saw the follow-up attack in time to launch herself bodily over it and valiantly, if vainly, launched a counter attack.
The third combatant of the melee trio danced forward in bursts of pink clouds, making her erratic progress nearly impossible to follow. Her grey coat made her sometimes difficult to see, but the mare's dyed mane and tail of streaked pink in addition to the glowing red gem at the crest of her necklace made it a far easier task. Easily the most elusive of the trio, her body continually twisted and teleported all over, her glowing horn slicing open the skin of the vile monstrosity that dominated the tableau. Unfortunately, Flourish's efforts were in vain, the cuts her horn made healed almost the instant she finished making them.
Another trio formed a ranged assault group, of which a cyan mare stood at the forefront of. Her silver mane and tail fluttered about her, her only attire the golden necklace with the soft blue gem at its crest. Her silver horn shone brightly with the spells she wove to assault the Nightmare, and yet Tome (for that is the only name she knew this new mare by) was as unsuccessful as her peers.
Above flew an armoured pony, emerald green and gold plates glinting in the light, and their angled structure gave the armour a fierce appearance. A quartet of blue-white wings fluttered over her back, much resembling her namesake, as energy lanced from Dragonfly's hooves. At the neck of the armour, a single emerald gem rested, shaped like the winder key of a clock.
The final member of this group stood watch over the downed figure of Princess Luna. Despite her usual bodysuit, one could easily see her white coat and sea-green mane and tail, the hood of her bodysuit pooling at the back of her neck. A golden tiara rested on her brow, the purple gem at its crest hanging down with a chain to rest right upon the star-shaped mark on the mare's forehead. The rest of her form was covered by a purple bodysuit with white accents, which flexed with the pony's motions as she protected the mares about her to the best of her abilities, an effort that was quickly exhausting Galaxi.
Between these two groups stood the remaining Princess, her gleaming white coat smudged from the long hours of combat. She was tired, and it showed, her ethereal mane of multiple colors was starting to wane and dull in the face of the constant assault. But the Alicorn did not allow herself falter. Her horn glowed with yet another magical assault, but the solution to this "problem" seemed to lie just beyond Princess Celestia's grasp.
Of the others present in this room, few were players of consequence to this scene anymore. Princess Luna laid unconscious, a pool of lavender and silver, her weakness to the Nightmare and her minions exploited and abused to remove her from the battle early on. Royal Guards of both stripes lie strewn about the room, many of them hurt quite badly, and many more had perished in the battle. The Nightmare had simply been too much for them.
Of course there was the pony who made all these observations, desperately struggling through her weakness to focus upon the battle. The forgotten mare it seemed, left against the wall of the throne room in a tangled heap of her own limbs and mane, wings splayed at awkward angles. Her fire had gone out, and every effort to relight it met with failure. Her fire red coat and blonde mane all seemed to run together in her eyes, like a flame that was burning out. She shivered visibly for a moment, feeling cold she couldn't remember ever feeling cold before; she was the mare of fire after all. She could control and generate heat at will, draw it from any source, and yet she felt cold.
She almost didn't notice it when the world about her seemed to slow to a crawl. Forms caught in mid-air, their motions grinding to a stop before her eyes. Her breath rasped as she struggled to make sense of this phenomenon.
"I am sorry Ember Spark," a voice said softly, and the mare's eyes looked up at the silvery form of Princess Celestia. She seemed to be in two places, the Princess that stood opposed to the Nightmare, and the Princess that stood before her.
"I I'm dying, aren't I?" Ember Spark asked softly.
The mare tried to laugh, but only managed to cough up blood. She spat it weakly to the side and rested her head on the floor, "What happens now?"
"You have earned your final reward," Celestia answered, "For all your flaws, you tried hard to do the right thing. In the end you gave your life to protect Luna; she would have died had you not intervened."
"Will will we win?" she asked, but saw the uncertainty in the Princess' eyes.
"We will fight with all we have."
"Maybe," Pyre coughed, "Maybe I should've gone with them. It might've changed all this."
"Do not say that, Ember Spark," Celestia said softly, "You have nothing to regret. You are a hero; you will be welcome in the Summerlands."
Pyre nodded weakly, "A dead hero is still dead," she tried to joke, her body shivering as she coughed out a laugh, "I'm so so cold." To her surprise, she felt Celestia lower herself down by her side, folding a wing over her like a blanket. Pyre leaned against her, taking comfort in the warmth she radiated, even if it didn't chase away the chill seeping through her.
"It is time," Celestia finally said after long minutes.
"I'm scared," Ember Spark answered softly.
"I am here for you, there is no need to be frightened," the Princess whispered, and her horn began to glow a lovely golden light.
"Give 'er hell, Princess,"
The Princess didn't respond, only watched over the small form as it released its final, shuddering, breath. A single tear ran down Celestia's face as she dipped her head, "I promise, my little pony "
" you will never be cold again."
The command, shouted by somepony, came mere milliseconds before the Nightmare unleashed her spell. Her clawed hand swept upward from the floor, drawing forth a crystalline wave that crashed through the ground in an attempt to impale everypony along the line it was cast. The warning had come just in time for Galaxi to telekinetically grab the unconscious Princess Luna and yank her out of the line of fire. Nopony batted an eye as the thrones were splintered by the spell; there were more important things to worry about.
"FOALS!!" the Nightmare boomed, "Surrender and I will offer you quick deaths!!
"Does she really think that will work?" Flourish couldn't help but ask.
"Probably," Spectrum answered as she ducked away from a descending claw.
"It's an out of control ego," Tome called as she fired a barrage of arcane missiles into the open side of the queen imp, "Tome recognizes it from her own misspent youth."
"Y'know, that explains an awful lot," Flourish joked, and vanished before the Nightmare could catch her.
"You ponies are surprisingly calm and jocular for such a dire moment," Celestia noted, her own barrage of flames garnering no more response then the other attacks.
"We're just laughing in the face of death, Princess," Flourish put in as she set through a rapid pattern of teleports, only to get caught with a backhand from the Nightmare.
"Gotcha!" Galaxi called, and caught the mare telekinetically.
"Thanks G!" Flourish called, and teleported back into the fray.
"If we are to die," Steelwing noted as she attacked the Nightmare's leg, the bladed edge of her wing skittering harmlessly across the surface, "We will not flinch."
"Gallows humor," Dragonfly clarified.
"I see," Celestia answered.
"It's a way of coping with a bad situation, Princess," Spectrum chimed in, "Steelwing, with me!"
At the call, the rainbow maned pony dashed forward with the steel winged gryphon. Both came in low, using a barrage from Tome and Dragonfly as cover, and each gripped one of the Nightmare's legs at the calf. Using their combined strength, they yanked on her lower legs, trying to spill the Imp on the floor. Unfortunately, the Nightmare was smart enough to anticipate this, and dug her foot claws into the ground. Having thus steadied herself, she brought a harsh claw down on the back of Spectrum, pinning her to the floor.
"Spectrum!" Galaxi cried, even as Steelwing swung away from the Nightmare to try and snatch up the pony, only to find the living mane of the Nightmare intercepting her. With a laugh, the Nightmare flung Steelwing aside before looking down at Spectrum, putting more of her weight on the pony to hold her in place.
"Now you will suffer!!" Nightmare screamed, magic gathering in her free hand as she prepared to smite the rainbow hued mare trapped beneath the other clawed hand. Immediately Flourish went into action, only to find herself slapped away as well. Galaxi and Tome tried together to push the Nightmare back, but the Imp only laughed at them, physically swatting away the attempts away with a derisive gesture. Even Celestia dove forward at the Nightmare, only to be met by a sudden wave of cold that clashed against her flames. Her celestial fire sputtered and seemed about to go out against the bone chilling cold from the Nightmare.
"Now she dies!!" the Imp screamed, and her hand steadied, pointing the spell downwards at the helpless mare, who could only look up with wide eyes.
Blue-white bolts slammed into the out-thrust arm, rocking the Nightmare back and causing her spell to misfire harmlessly. Spectrum quickly rolled away, catching her hooves and the air only seconds later.
"You sure took your time," Spectrum panted as she looked up at Dragonfly, "Thanks for the save."
"I think I've found a weakness," the armour-clad mare said through the mental link, transferring the conversation there for privacy, "I'm not sure how much use it'll be though."
"What've you got?" Flourish asked.
"Magic seems to be useless against her," Dragonfly said, "However; she's weak to technological sources. She's been flinching and dodging my plasma blasts this entire fight, while taking everything everypony else can dish out without even flinching."
"Wait, that means ?"
"Exactly," Dragonfly sucked in a breath, "She's basically immune to everypony, even Celestia except me."
"Then we have our work cut out for us," Celestia intoned.
"The Princess is right," Spectrum put in, "Steelwing, Flourish, spread out. Tome, pour on the firepower We're covering for Dragonfly."
"How cute," the Nightmare smirked as her thoughts boomed across the mental link, "You ponies think I cannot hear your little mental communications Really Celestia, I'd have thought that you would have realized by now that the Imps use psychic impressions to communicate."
"No, I did not," Celestia admitted aloud, "I was under the impression they had a verbal language."
"No, they jabber! They don't SAY anything! That's why they are so fascinated with pony words! Their communication is done entirely with psychic impressions while they make jabbering noises at each other. How ELSE do you think they could communicate in the Deeper Dark?" the Nightmare cackled, "It is such sweet irony. Your technological system was far more secure than your pathetic psychic network, and yet you--"
A series of blue white explosions rocked the Imp along her left side, " and yet you stood there gloating and made a target of yourself."
Clockwork Key let out a yelp and powered away from a series of blasts that chased her about the room. The armoured mare found herself in the middle of a shooting gallery, and the Nightmare was a damned good shot. Blast after blast filled the air, most of them just barely missing her as she hurtled about the throne room, making herself as evasive a target as possible.
"You expect to be a threat to ME?!?" the Nightmare laughed, "You are just another insec-- OW!"</B>
Steelwing grinned where she stood. Her wings were arched before her, acting as a shield against the last attacks, where she had withstood the shots intended for her teammate. This allowed Dragonfly to use the gryphon for protection, and launch a counter-attack.
"Form up!" Spectrum called, "Three Pony alicorn formation. Dragonfly, in the saddle. Steelwing, you're on the horn. Princess, with all due respect, take one wing. Galaxi, you're on the other wing. Flourish, you and I are on distraction duty. Tome, keep Princess Luna safe. Let's move!"
Flourish was the first to respond, literally appearing before the Nightmare's face, where she began to rapidly flicker or so it seemed. It was a trick Flourish never expected to find a practical use for, teleporting in place to generate as much of her pink smoke as possible. Usually her smoke dissipates quickly, but so long as she kept doing it she could create a blinding fogbank, as the Nightmare quickly realized.
Spectrum acted next, dashing forward and between the Nightmare's legs. She barely paused before bucking the back of one leg to force the Nightmare to one knee.
Princess Celestia found it mildly amusing to have been pulled into a formation usually used to protect her, but understood the necessity. She and Galaxi immediately had shield spells/abilities ready while Steelwing hunkered down before them both, her eyes gleaming with anticipation. Finally, nestled in the "saddle", was Dragonfly, who reared back and fired a concentrated blast right into the Nightmare's chest.
"She's down!!" Tome cried from the back, and with a crash, the monstrous Nightmare landed flat on her back.
"Be wary," Celestia warned, "She has only been felled, not defeated."
"Now you foals are making me ANGRY!!" the Nightmare boomed, and slammed both of her hand/claws into the floor. In response the marble heaved upwards beneath the group of ponies, launching the foursome into the air. Celestia recovered easily as she had only been pushed to one side, but Galaxi was sent tumbling end over end the opposite direction, caught by one of Tome's spells before she could hit the floor. Steelwing was launched forward, which she turned into a looping glide to recover.
Dragonfly, however, was the focus of the attack. She found herself launched straight upwards, her systems unable to compensate quickly enough to prevent slamming bodily into and through the dome of the throne room. Clockwork struggled to shake the stars out of her eyes when she crashed into a new obstacle, one she hadn't considered the magic globe surrounding the castle.
System warnings shouted at her as she started to fall again. Severe damage, her eyes skimmed then to her horror realized that the dual strikes to her back had taken her flight surfaces, her wings, offline. That was bad VERY bad.
"I need help here!" she called out as she plummeted back down into the throne room.
"I'll catch you," the dark voice laughed, and the armoured mare's plummet was stopped suddenly and painfully by a heavy claw clasping about her chest, "That's the sad thing about the gadgets these days They always break at the worst possible moment."
Dragonfly let out a scream as the oversized imp began to crush her armour, her legs splaying each direction. She was dimly aware of her friend's attempts to rescue her, to no avail; the Nightmare was immune to all of their abilities. Super strong, super fast, and able to absorb magic it just didn't seem fair! Now she had the only technological pony in her clutches, who she was content to torment and kill at her leisure.
"C-can't give up " Clockwork stammered, hissing her breath as she lifted a leg and pointed it at the Nightmare, the plasma ejector glowing brightly. The demon-like Nightmare grinned back at her, before reaching out to grip her foreleg and point it forcibly at her friends, turning the mare away in the process.
"I want you to watch " the Nightmare growled, "I want you to see how hopeless your friends are with you out of the picture."</B>
"You've forgotten something," Clockwork hissed painfully.
"What's that?" she asked patronizingly. Rather than answer immediately, Dragonfly acted on her flash of inspiration, and activated the armour's high-speed flight mode. The sound of the jet sliding into place caused the mare to grin. It was, after all, facing right at the gloating Nightmare's face.
"I ain't a one trick pony," Clockwork growled, and triggered the jet.
The Nightmare's shriek was loud enough to shatter glass, and the force of the engine was enough to send the Nightmare and Dragonfly hurtling in opposite directions, even if gravity quickly ensured both of them ended up quite firmly on the ground. The Nightmare scrabbled at her face with her claws, smoke lifting into the air as she landed hard against the wall of the dome. Meanwhile, Dragonfly had launched herself halfway across the throne room before skidding along the ground and painfully up the dais stairs before she could cut the engine cut off.
Celestia and Galaxi were quickly by her side, helping her to her feet. The mare was hurt, her suit screaming all sorts of warnings to her, but she was thankful to be alive.
"You got any other bright ideas?" Galaxi asked jokingly.
"No I think I'm out," Dragonfly wheezed, "The armour is about done in and so am I. Low power, over half the systems are offline, and system integrity has been severely compromised."
"Do you still have that last emitter in the helm?" Galaxi asked, her eyes gleaming.
"Of course, but what good will ?"
"Leave that to me," Galaxi said with a smile, "Princess, we need to trigger the Elements attack again."
"That only made her stronger last time," Celestia answered.
"I have an idea to handle that," Galaxi grinned, "I just need to change the order the girls all stood in, and redirect the flow of magic."
Celestia looked confused, "If not at the Nightmare, then to whom?"
"Clockwork," Galaxi motioned, "or more specifically, her armour."
"I don't know if the suit can handle it," Clockwork said, but looking at her friend's determined face she couldn't help but smile, "Guess we'll find out."
"Very well," Celestia agreed, "But you must be quick. Nightmare will recover shortly. Team, line up as you were when I brought you here!" The mares scrambled up the dais to line up along the edge in the same order they remembered from before.
"I'LL MAKE YOU PAY FOR THAT!" the Nightmare screamed, pushing herself back to her feet, still covering her face with one hand.
"Cash or credit?" Flourish called back, only to get a series of bewildered stares from the other ponies present, "What? I've always wanted to say that "
"Good luck, Galaxi, I will run interference," Celestia interrupted, and turned to dash at the still recovering Nightmare.
The blind mare nodded, and closed her eyes, gathering her energy, "Dragonfly, Steelwing, swap places. I need Clockwork at point."
The mares looked at each other nervously and shrugged. Dragonfly limped the damaged armour into place at the center, and the mares looked at each other, then back to Galaxi, curiously.
"Now the spark," Galaxi breathed, and closed her eyes.
"Did you think to take me alone?!?" Nightmare cried, and lashed out another claw. Still blinded by Dragonfly's unexpected attack, Celestia was finding it much easier to avoid the lashing claws, and competently able to counterstrike with her horn. Unfortunately her attacks were doing no permanent damage she could see.
"You are blinded, Nightmare," Celestia stated, and ducked under another lashed claw, "You cannot win. I only wish to show you mercy, if you would only accept it."
"Mercy is for the WEAK! I WILL NOT LOSE!!" the Imp screamed and lunged blindly at the Alicorn, catching her flank with a claw and ruining the pure white coat with blood. Celestia gave a cry and stumbled as her leg gave out, then quickly healed herself from the blow.
"Yet you are," Celestia answered, dancing out of range of the Nightmare again, "You are wounded and blinded, fighting a losing battle in the dark."
"Did you not just heal yourself?" the Nightmare demanded, "Do you not think I can do the same?!?"
"No, I don't," Celestia answered, "Healing magic takes kindness. That is something you do not have."
The Nightmare pulled her hand away from her face, grinning maniacally as her lidless eyes bored into Celestia from amidst the bloody tapestry that was her slowly healing face, "Then you are a blind foal!"</B>
Celestia ducked her head forward, and with a sudden exhalation of breath, literally spat fire into the Nightmare's face. She followed it with a sweep of her flaming wings, protecting herself from the Nightmare's counterattack, "Now we are both blind."
The nightmare reeled back, and let out another scream as she stumbled. Then she began to laugh, her hand slowly lowering away from her face, all wounds healed fully.
"You really are a foal," Nightmare grinned, "Your magic only healed me."
"Or maybe I'm just a distraction," Celestia grinned, and with quick glow of her horn, she teleported out of range. Nightmare's eyes grew wide as she cast about for something that might hurt her. So insistent was she in looking, she almost missed the rainbow colors swirling about the room, and the glowing sources of those colors.
"Well, this is a surprise," Nightmare sneered as she stood up fully, looking at the ponies, "You've given up and decided to make me even MORE powerful!"</B>
"No, we haven't," Galaxi answered in an ethereal voice, and the colors began to solidify about the Nightmare. The Imp grinned and spread her arms wide, letting it swirl and tighten about her.
"Then I'll simply drink what you offer and kill you all for your foalishness," the Nightmare laughed as she watched the group, the Elements of Harmony, float into the air before the new bearer of the Element of Magic. The irony was delicious; she remembered seeing the original Elements of Harmony like that, right before they severed her from Luna. Now, that same magic would insure her victory!
Finally the Elements seemed ready, but to Nightmare's surprise, neither the beam of the rainbow, nor the blinding white light, came for her
It went for the pony in the mechanical suit.
Clockwork let out a cry as the energy lanced through her, mystic fire spreading over her entire body like a million white-hot coals. The magic spread and flowed out over her form, then along her armour. Rents began to repair, scuffs in the armour slowly vanished, and broken systems came back online. Her wings flared brightly as they reappeared with a triumphant glow, the magic healing the Dragonfly armour fully.
A new read-out drew Clockwork's eyes, something she'd never seen before. It was a rainbow hued gauge that slowly filled, but with no apparent designation, prominently shown in the center of her display. Her form trembled as the energy continued to pump into her, but her eyes remained locked on this new progress bar, as if she could will it to fill more quickly.
"Enough of this." Nightmare stated, but found herself held fast by the rainbow. Her arms were locked in the wide pose she'd adopted, a pose that gave her almost no leverage. The monstrous Imp began to struggle in earnest as she realized there was a problem, straining against the rainbow bonds that held her.
The gauge continued to climb Seventy Eighty Ninety
"You have one final chance for redemption, Nightmare," Galaxi intoned, her body trembling with the continued outpouring of energy into her ally.
"FOAL!" the Nightmare screamed, and with one final wrench of her body, she yanked at the rainbow, tearing her limbs free with a shattering sound, "You. Will. Die. NOW!"
"No more chances," came Dragonfly's voice this time, and the glowing armoured pony lifted her head up. Nightmare stalked forward, reaching for the mare even as a new sound was heard, the wrenching clunk of a little used mechanism falling open. To the Nightmare's astonishment, the "mouth" of the mare's helmet had swung open, and there at the base a plasma emitter blazed with power.
"No " Nightmare breathed, her eyes widening as she clutched for the mare.
Dragonfly answered with a rainbow beam that shot forth from the emitter; the magic of friendship converted to a blast of pure technological science. The Nightmare's ability to absorb magic was worthless against it, but she tried anyway. She found her body starting to burn and boil, the pain searing through her in a way that far exceeded what she had ever known.
Darkness flashed from within the beam, and the Nightmare was gone. Only the rainbow colored beam remained as it bore through to the wall, where a silhouette of the Nightmare was imprinted.
Five mares and a gryphon fell to the floor, exhaustion claiming them all.