nohooves

Twilight Emancipation Agency [✔]

Jul 26th, 2016
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  1. "Th-this can't be."
  2. >Twilight whispers to herself, her eyes wide with disbelief.
  3. >Before her, a deceivingly simple device crackled and buzzed with sounds that resembled waves crashing into the beach, only continuously.
  4. >The noisy portion of the experiment wasn't a surprise.
  5. >After all, plenty of Twilight's experiments were noisy — explosive powders, lightning without clouds, funny-smelling air that exploded when lit…
  6. >But to think that a mere slice of an insignificant but oddly-shaped metal could make sounds out of thin air!
  7.  
  8. >The idea had come out of nowhere, as though whispered to Twilight by an unknown muse.
  9. >Take some copper wires, wrap them as such—
  10. >Twilight finds herself tracing the design in the air with her finger. It's all so vivid to her.
  11. >—some pieces of those strange stones here and there—
  12.  
  13. >Twilight stops.
  14. >Just *where* had that idea come from, anyway?
  15. >Was it in her dream? During her studies?
  16. >She looks down at the spools and spools of copper wires, all commissioned out of her pocket to a local blacksmith.
  17. >Who gave her the idea to make strings out of metal?
  18.  
  19. >"[Hello?]"
  20. "GAHHH!"
  21.  
  22. >Twilight jolts up and gazes around her tiny cottage.
  23. >No one.
  24. "Is… Is it you again, Sweetie Belle? I do not have time for these pranks, missy—"
  25. >"[Hello? Is this thing on?]"
  26. >Twilight looks out the window, looking for Sweetie Belle or any of her trio of troublemakers.
  27. >"[Hey, if you can hear me, it's your trinket talking.]"
  28. >Twilight freezes, turning around slowly.
  29. >A ghost? Is her invention haunted?
  30. >Maybe Lord Trenderhoof was right. This "science" nonsense was nothing but heresy and she ought to have stopped long ago.
  31. >A high-pitches whistle squeaks out of the device, only to fall in pitch rapidly.
  32. >"[I'm not getting anything back. Maybe she's deaf or doesn't know how to turn the volume up.]"
  33. >Twilight draws her flintlock with a shaky hand.
  34. "If y-y-y-you're a demon, I suggest you l-l-leave me alone!"
  35. >The tip of her flintlock wobbles as she struggles to stay calm.
  36. >She wipes her forehead with her free arm, approaching the device slowly.
  37. "I-I know Lord Trenderhoof personally! H-he commands a legion of powerful sorc—"
  38. >"[Hello? I just heard something in the background. If you can hear me, please speak into the cone-shaped probe thing so I can hear you.]"
  39.  
  40. >Twilight's aim wavers for a moment.
  41. >A demon or any of satan's lackeys wouldn't be so eager to talk, right?
  42. >They would've possessed her already if they wanted to, or…
  43. >…Maybe the possession part of the deal comes later?
  44. >It's been a while since Twilight had read the Holy Book.
  45.  
  46. >Well, it wouldn't hurt to converse a little with this mysterious being, right?
  47.  
  48. >Her flintlock still aimed at the device, she extends her other arm towards the cone-thing.
  49. >With the rest of her body kept as far as possible from the device, she snatches up the thing and examines it at arm's length.
  50. >It's the same old device she spent past few months on.
  51. >Hesitantly, she brings the cone closer to her thin, lavender lips.
  52. >She clears her throat.
  53. "H-hello?"
  54.  
  55. >"[Finally,]" the device croaks with what sounds like a sigh. "[Hey, uh, greetings!]"
  56. >Unsure how to respond, Twilight stutters.
  57. "I— uhhhm…"
  58. >"[It's okay, take it easy,]" responds the device. "[I know this is strange and rather upsetting for you, but I'm here to help.]"
  59. "A-alright…"
  60. >"[Just breathe easy,]" says the device in a pleasant alto. "[It's going to be alright, Twi.]"
  61. >How did she know my name, wonders Twilight.
  62. >It takes Twilight a moment before she breaks out of her stupor.
  63. "Wh-who are you? Are you a demon?"
  64. >"[My name's Sunset. And well, I guess you could say that I *used* to be a demon…]"
  65. "O-oh. I see."
  66. >"[Yeah. It's complicated. Regardless, my past is not today. It's all behind me now.]"
  67. >Twilight fidgets.
  68.  
  69. "So, you're not a demon? You're not here to steal my soul? Possess me in the name of Lucifer?"
  70. >The disembodied voice lets out a charming chuckle.
  71. >"[Hahaha… No, Twilight. And I don't even know what that last one is supposed to be.]"
  72. >Twilight lets out a nervous laugh.
  73.  
  74. >"[Hey, listen. You built this device from a blueprint that just popped into your head out of nowhere, right? Can't remember how you learned it, had to build materials from scratch, all that jazz?]"
  75. "Wh-what's jazz?"
  76. >"[It's— nevermind. Plans out of nowhere, strange components you've never built before, yes or no?]"
  77. >Twilight tries to think.
  78. >Thin metal wires, cone-shaped probe thing, cylinders with wires wrapped around it thousands of times—
  79. "Y-yes. I suppose so."
  80.  
  81. >The disembodied voice — Sunset — clears her voice.
  82. >"[Let me properly introduce myself. I am Sunset Shimmer, and I'm a field agent of Twilight Emancipation Agency.]"
  83. >Twilight raises her eyebrow, unsure how to respond.
  84. "Oh. Okay?"
  85. >"[The agency specializes in "liberating" less privileged Twilights from their toxic environment,]" continues Sunset, with practiced speed and intonation. "[We've scattered countless thought-transfer beacons tuned to a specific frequency designed to be picked up by Twilights not already under the influence of High Society of Twilights.]"
  86. >Twilight pinches her thigh, wondering if she'd gone mad or merely having a terrible dream.
  87.  
  88. >"[So,]" Sunset breathes harshly, having finished her well-practiced recitation. "[Any questions?]"
  89. "Yeah."
  90. >"[Okay, shoot.]"
  91. "What in the world is 'High Society of Twilights,' and why is my name on it?"
  92.  
  93. - -
  94.  
  95. >After an hour of explanations and inquiries, Twilight sits back in her wooden chair.
  96. >She feels less flabbergasted than before, and yet…
  97. >Multiple Twilights? Across countless stars?
  98. >Shimmigrants?
  99. >Orgy Planet?
  100. >Twilight blushes furiously at the last part.
  101. "So you're telling me that I've been chosen because—"
  102. >"[Not chosen,]" Sunset chimes in, the crackle of radio doing little to hide her not-quite-singsong pleasant alto.
  103. "Right, sorry. Fell within the filter's threshold, whatever that means."
  104. >"[I know it's really hard to take in all at once, but everything will become clear in due time.]"
  105.  
  106. >Twilight curls up in her chair, hugging her knees.
  107. >"[You don't sound excited,]" observes Sunset, her voice full of concern.
  108. >Twilight sighs.
  109. "It's just so sudden, you know? I mean, His Highness isn't exactly an accommodating person, but I've got a pretty decent set-up here. I get to do all the science and mathematics I want for a small stipend, in exchange for…"
  110. >She idly rubs at the massive jewel-encrusted gold engagement resting on her finger.
  111. "…Well, not everything is perfect, I admit."
  112.  
  113. >"[The HST can offer you much more than a small cottage and a paltry stipend,]" chides Sunset, her optimism sounding too forced and to-the-script. "[And let's face it. Letting you continue your studies in exchange for your hand in marriage is a little…]"
  114. >Sunset trails off, letting the radio static fill in the void.
  115. "I know, it's not ideal."
  116. >"[It's despicable,]" Sunset cuts in with fire in her voice.
  117. >Twilight lets out a squeak, taken aback by the sudden passion in the disembodied voice.
  118. "It's r-r-eally not that bad—"
  119.  
  120. >"[Twilight, listen,]" Sunset interrupts.
  121. >Twilight freezes, her jaw clenching shut.
  122. >"[I'm going to be honest with you. These people in HST, they… They treat me horribly. Quite frankly, a lot of the Twilights are just terrible people.]"
  123. >For a brief moment, Sunset lets her guard down. Her voice flutters audibly.
  124. >"[But for a majority of Twilights, life is good. They live happily, fulfilling their desire for science. Dating Anons. Dating… other girls, sometimes—"
  125. "Anons?"
  126. >Twilight's mind wanders to a handsome and enigmatic knight in His Majesty's court.
  127. >"[Yeah, Anons. Twilights aren't the only ones with multi-dimensional copies of themselves.]"
  128. "I-I see…"
  129. >Twilight blushes furiously.
  130.  
  131. >"[The point is, Twilight, you'd have a much better existence with us here in HST.]"
  132. >"[And even if it means you get to turn into *another* one of them, the mean and spiteful ones…]"
  133. >Sunset recollects herself, regaining some of her chipper attitude.
  134. >"[I'd rather see you happy. For your own sake.]"
  135. >Twilight lights the lamp next to her. It's getting dark.
  136. >Silence hangs thick for a moment.
  137.  
  138. >"[So, what will it be?]"
  139. >Twilight glances around at her science-y things around the cottage. Beakers, flasks, test tubes. Burners.
  140. "It… It does sound rather enticing."
  141. >Stacks of math equations, theorems in various states of proof.
  142. >"[Will you come with us, then?]"
  143. >Twilight pulls the engagement ring from her finger, setting it down on the table with a dull knock.
  144. "Yes. But not until tomorrow. I want to say goodbye to a few people first."
  145. >Sunset pauses for a moment.
  146. >"[You know, if this Lord Trenderhoof is as bad as I imagine him to be, he won't like the news one bit.]"
  147. "I know. He's always moping in his throne room anyway, but I'll be careful."
  148. >"[Please do. I worry for you, Twilight.]"
  149. "Th-thanks…"
  150.  
  151. >They sit in silence for a few minutes.
  152. "Sunset."
  153. >"[Yeah?]"
  154. "If you hate the HST so much, then why are you still working for them?"
  155. >Sunset lets out a sad chuckle.
  156. >"[Because, despite all the differences and flaws Twilights have, they always remind me of my special someo—]"
  157. >Sunset stops.
  158. "Can't help but what?"
  159. >"[I've said too much,]" Sunset mutters. "[Goodnight, Twilight.]"
  160.  
  161. - -
  162.  
  163. >The morning starts off for Twilight like any other morning.
  164. >Well, except for the constant wave-crashing noise emitted by the device she's been talking to well into the wee-hours of the night.
  165. >Twilight stares at the device for a while, chewing slowly on a piece of stale bread.
  166. >The device keeps screeching nonchalantly.
  167.  
  168. "So. It was not a dream, after all."
  169. >Could she really just leave it all behind, after so many years?
  170. >She thought of her friends in Lord Trenderhoof's court.
  171. >Moondancer, Minuette, Lemon Hearts, Twinkleshine, Flash Sentry—
  172. >Sir Anonymous.
  173. >Twilight feels her heart sink a little.
  174. >Sunset *did* say there were multiple Anons…
  175. >But none of them would come close to Sir Anonymous.
  176. >Handsome, strong, chivalrous, so gentle.
  177.  
  178. >Maybe today, she'd tell him.
  179. >Confess her feelings for the knight.
  180. >Maybe even share an intimate moment, just for once.
  181.  
  182. >Twilight sits in front of her modest vanity, readying herself in the mirror.
  183.  
  184. - -
  185.  
  186. >On the way to Lord Trenderhoof's castle, Twilight runs into Flash Sentry, her childhood friend.
  187. >"Well well well," Flash grins, gently nudging his mount toward Twilight. "If it isn't our Fair Virgin Lady Kissless."
  188. >Twilight smiles at the jab, returning something of her own to the blue-haired playboy.
  189. "Aren't you thirty years too old for childish jokes? Or have you finally stooped to the age level of your new trophy wife?"
  190. >Flash Sentry lays his hands over his heart, feigning hurt.
  191. >"Oh, again with the age difference jokes! At least I have a lover to call my own!"
  192. >They both share a chuckle.
  193. "How do you do, Flash Sentry?"
  194. >Flash shrugs, his leather saddle creaking with movement.
  195. >"Eh, could be worse. Just came back from taking the recruits out for a morning ride. They're not bad, but some of them still can't saddle a horse without choking it to death."
  196. >He tilts his head sideways, looking at Twilight.
  197. >"Hey hey, you're done up nice and tidy. Going somewhere?"
  198. "I'm headed to the castle. I need to see some people before…"
  199. >Twilight trails off.
  200. >"Before what?"
  201. >Twilight hesitates.
  202. "It's complicated."
  203.  
  204. >Flash sighs.
  205. >"With you, it always is."
  206. >He extends his arm, helping Twilight up to a spot on the saddle behind him.
  207. "Thanks, Flash."
  208. >"No problem, Lady Kissless."
  209. >Flash winks.
  210. >Twilight slaps him on the shoulder, but not too hard.
  211.  
  212. - -
  213.  
  214. >The ride is uneventful but chatty, both sharing court gossip and family matters.
  215. >Flash Sentry, being the more active one in the court given his role as a senior trainer of the guard, did most of the talking.
  216. >As they draw nearer to the castle entrance, Flash's story wraps up conveniently with the kind of joke only he himself found amusing.
  217. >"…And then Miss Pie *actually* stepped forward and said "Oatmeal" Are you crazy?" out loud. Can you believe that?"
  218. >Flash laughs heartily.
  219. >Twilight smiles, tightening her grip around his waist.
  220. >She's going to miss Flash badly.
  221.  
  222. "Flash."
  223. >"Hmm?"
  224. >Twilight leans forward, resting her chin on Flash's shoulder.
  225. "I may be leaving on a journey today."
  226. >"Ah."
  227. >Flash stays silent, mulling over her words.
  228. >"So, is this why you've been glum the whole ride here?"
  229. "Kind of."
  230. >Flash's faithful steed pays no mind, rhythmically tapping its hooves on the cobblestone road in a pleasant clik-clok.
  231.  
  232. >"And you aren't coming back," Flash observes.
  233. >Twilight says nothing.
  234.  
  235. >"I understand that Trenderhoof is not the noblest of man in the realm, but must you leave again? You know he'll catch you in no time, and he won't be as forgiving as last time."
  236. >Flash pulls on the reins, slowing his mount to a stop.
  237. "It's complicated, Flash. I can't explain."
  238. >Flash sighs, dismounting with practiced ease.
  239. >"You always were a complicated woman," mutters Flash.
  240. "I know. Always getting into troubles."
  241. >He kneels, forming a stepladder for Twilight to dismount off of.
  242. "And you. You're way too chivalrous to be boning that young broad of yours."
  243. >"What can I say darling, I've got my own vices."
  244.  
  245. >As Twilight hits solid ground, Flash rises back on his feet.
  246. >"Will I ever see you again?"
  247. >Twilight stares away, avoiding his piercing eyes.
  248. "Maybe. I don't know."
  249. >Flash nods grimly.
  250. >"Very well. Farewell, my friend, and best of luck to your future endeavors."
  251. >He puts his hand out for a shake.
  252. >Twilight, having none of it, pushes it aside and goes for a hug.
  253. "Goodbye Flash," says Twilight, choking back tears. "I'll miss you so much."
  254. >Flash embraces her, whispering.
  255. >"I'll miss you too. Be safe, Twi."
  256.  
  257. >A hooded, green figure looks on at the childhood friends wrapped in embrace from a window, then slinks back into the shadows.
  258.  
  259. - -
  260. - -
  261. - -
  262.  
  263. >Inside Minuette's chambers, Twilight shares tea and cake with the perpetually-chipper court gossiper.
  264. >"And and and hear this," says Minuette, clanking her teacup onto the saucer. "Miss Pie actually says "Oatmeal? Are you crazy?" out loud! Ohmygosh can you believe it??"
  265. >Minuette giggles out loud in the only way Minuette could — bubbly and carefree.
  266. >Twilight laughs politely, acting entertained for the benefit of the oft-overbearing host.
  267. >Minuette pours another heaping cup of the yellowish green liquid for herself. "More tea?"
  268. "No thanks, I'm good."
  269. >Twilight stabs a small portion off of her slice of cake and chews on it thoughtfully.
  270. >"Soooo," starts Minuette.
  271. "Hmm?"
  272. >"You've been glum the whole visit, silly!" Minuette giggles again. "What's up?"
  273.  
  274. >Twilight sets her plate down and sighs.
  275. "Minuette, could you keep a secret?"
  276. >"Well, you know I can't help but blabber," she admits apologetically. "But since it's from you, I'll try my absolute best!"
  277. >She flashes a radiant grin.
  278. >Twilight allows herself a sad smile. She was going to miss this devil-may-care friend of hers very much.
  279.  
  280. "I'm… Leaving. Tonight."
  281. >Minuette's smile fades a little.
  282. >"Leaving on a trip? Moving out of town?"
  283. "I'm going alone, Minuette."
  284. >The smile fades a little more. Minuette understands the implication, and sadness spreads across her face like blight.
  285. >"It's going to be one of *those* trips, huh?"
  286. >Minuette stirs her tea uneasily.
  287. "Yeah, I'm afraid so."
  288. >"I can't blame you, Twilight. Trenderhoof is a real stinker and I'd try to run away too if I were you."
  289. >Minuette reaches for Twilight's hands, and holds them close.
  290. >"You know, last time you ran away, I was so worried. Not about wild beasts or highwaymen or anything like that. I feared what Trenderhoof would do to you when he caught you."
  291. >Twilight nods quietly.
  292. "It won't happen this time. I'll be gone for good."
  293. >"And you decided to pay me a visit before leaving," says Minuette, her smile returning. "Oh Twilight, how sweet of you!"
  294. >Twilight smiles back.
  295. >She's really, really going to miss Minuette.
  296.  
  297. **THUD THUD THUD**
  298. >A sudden knock startles the occupants.
  299. >"(Lady Minuette, please open up.)"
  300. >"Shit," hisses Minuette uncharacteristically. "It's Trenderhoof."
  301. >Twilight's eyes go wide with panic.
  302. "T-Trenderhoof? What?? What's he doing here?"
  303.  
  304. >Minuette tugs Twilight up on her feet, and rushes her towards the window.
  305. >"I don't know," she whispers fiercely. "He's supposed to be busy meeting with the king's delegates!"
  306. "Then how—"
  307.  
  308. **THUD THUD THUD**
  309.  
  310. >"(Lady Minuette, I must ask you to open this door or I *will* find a way in. Guards!)"
  311. >"No time, Twi! On to the windowsill. Up you go. NOW."
  312. >Twilight hurriedly climbs through the window, standing uneasily on loose shingles.
  313. >Minuette's chambers wasn't up too high in the castle, but it wasn't exactly down low either.
  314.  
  315. >She reaches for Twilight and gives her a brief but tight hug.
  316. >"Take the right and follow along the wall towards north. There should be a ladder on the northern end of the roof. Watch out for the lighter shingles, they're old and prone to slide out."
  317. >Minuette pecks Twilight's forehead and gives her one last hug.
  318. >"Be good, Twilight. Be careful and remember us. Remember me."
  319.  
  320. ***THUD THUD***
  321. ***CRACK!***
  322. >"(Lady Minuette! OPEN UP!)"
  323. "I'll miss you, Minuette—"
  324. >"I know. Now GO!"
  325. >Twilight bolts, skipping shingle-to-shingle as fast as she can manage.
  326.  
  327. - -
  328.  
  329. >Minuette turns around and straightens her hair, just in time for a guard to blow the hinges on the door to her chambers.
  330. >A dozen guards flood in, spreading out and securing every nook and cranny of the place.
  331.  
  332. >Lord Trenderhoof enters last, staying half-hidden behind a wall of guards.
  333.  
  334. >"Should've let us in, m'lady," gloats Trenderhoof. "You of all people should be aware of the price of being disloyal. Hmm?"
  335. >Minuette smiles, her eyes glinting ice-cold.
  336. "What can I say? I dislike having my tea time disrupted by an untamed cur."
  337. >The guards tense up at the offense, ready to strike.
  338. >Trenderhoof lets out an amused whistle.
  339. >"Mmm mm mm. Fiery as ever. Just like your father."
  340.  
  341. >A guard approaches Trenderhoof, then shakes his head.
  342. >Trenderhoof nods, turning to Minuette.
  343. >"Where is Twilight?"
  344. >Minuette grins, satisfied that the guards didn't bother to look out the window.
  345. "Not here, obviously."
  346. >Trenderhoof grunts.
  347.  
  348. "Aren't you supposed to be greeting my father's envoy? Neglecting your duty to harass me is going to reflect quite badly on you."
  349. >"Hah! Fools, sent by an even bigger fool."
  350. >Minuette clenches her jaw.
  351. >"Let's just say that a loyal servant of mine informed me of an interesting…development. Your father's envoys can wait."
  352. >Minuette's heart races. How much does he know?
  353.  
  354. >Trender struts past the guards, but not far enough to be exposed.
  355. >He slowly paces back and forth, his eyes firmly fixed on Minuette.
  356. >"You know, in the light of recent events, I regret not having asked for *your* hand in marriage. Fiery. Sexy. Daddy issues. And a legitimate claim to the throne. Mmmmf!"
  357. >The shameless nobleman kisses his fingertips like an obsessed chef.
  358. >"So so so SO much better than simply lusting after something fleeting like KNOWLEDGE or BEAUTY."
  359. >He draws a wicked-looking steel from its jewel-encrusted sheathe.
  360.  
  361. >"Wouldn't you agree, cousin?"
  362.  
  363. >Minuette stays silent, her expression frozen in a cold smile.
  364. >Trenderhoof steps forward.
  365. >"It's really too bad that we're so close to the Everfree Forest," he twirls his dagger around with frightening expertise.
  366. >"A royal princess, heiress to the throne, found dead! Kidnapped and killed by bandits!"
  367. >Trenderhoof flashes a wicked smile at Minuette, snatching his dagger into a tight grip mid-twirl.
  368.  
  369. >"Get her," Trenderhoof commands nonchalantly.
  370. >The guards rush forward, their weapons drawn.
  371.  
  372. >Minuette reaches under the couch, drawing two blades in a blurred arc.
  373. >She grips both blades in reverse grip, twirling and stabbing in a flurry of dance-like strikes.
  374. >The first guard to reach her raises his longblade to strike.
  375. >Minuette sidesteps his strike easily, doing pirouettes around him and leaving dozens of deep lacerations on his torso.
  376. >The second one runs to aid his comrade.
  377. >Minuette trips him mid-pirouette, letting him fall into her whirlwind of razor-sharp steel.
  378. >His jugular is slit open, spraying dark red liquid onto Minuette's face.
  379. >She doesn't flinch.
  380.  
  381. >"Hahahaha, yes, YES!"
  382. >Trenderhoof laughs and applauds like a maniac, seemingly amused by the bloodshed.
  383. >One of the guards looses his cool, shuffling backward towards the doorway.
  384. >"I-I-I can't do this! She'll kill us all! She'll—"
  385. >Trenderhoof throws his dagger squarely into the defector's left eye.
  386. >The guard's head jerks back. He lets out a long, startled moan.
  387. >With a graceful lunge, Trenderhoof hops forward and pulls the dagger out of the socket.
  388. >He then slits the guard's throat in one smooth motion.
  389. >Blood sprays forth, but Trenderhoof artfully dodges sideways, twirling his dagger around like an excited teenager.
  390.  
  391. >"Kill her," he commands flatly to the rest of his retinue, "or be killed by me."
  392. >Fearing for their lives, the rest of the guards inch forward towards Minuette, alert and defensive.
  393. >"Useless. Absolutely useless."
  394. >Trenderhoof whips his dagger sideways, then wipes the remaining blood on his cloak.
  395.  
  396. >"My dearest cousin, do you know why we rule over these cretins?"
  397.  
  398. >He grabs one of the guards and shoves him forward towards Minuette.
  399. >The guard makes his best attempt at striking, only to be parried repeatedly.
  400. >Minuette finds an opening, and drives her blade up into the guard's jaw.
  401. >The guard gurgles before slumping onto the floor.
  402.  
  403. >"Because WE—"
  404. >Trenderhoof shoves another one forward.
  405. >"—are superior. We are intelligent—"
  406. >Minuette swings sideways, splitting the guard's chest open. He falls over, gurgling.
  407.  
  408. >Another guard gets shoved forward.
  409. >"—we are strong—"
  410. >Minuette ducks low, slicing tendons in an arc. She slams the pommel of her blade on the floor, letting the guard fall on it.
  411.  
  412. >Trenderhoof grabs another guard trying to back out of the fight.
  413. >One stab in the jugular, two stabs between the ribs, one stab in the abdomen, reaching up into the heart, all in the blink of an eye.
  414. >"—and we—"
  415.  
  416. >Minuette interrupts Trenderhoof's speech with a thrown dagger.
  417. >He parries it aside effortlessly, but finds himself besieged by a series of blurring strikes.
  418. >Sparks fly as metal meets metal.
  419. >Trenderhoof makes a forceful parry, knocking a blade out of Minuette's hand.
  420. >She jumps up, spending a split second recovering it mid-air.
  421. >Exploiting the opening, Trenderhoof kicks Minuette in the abdomen, knocking her backwards.
  422. >Trenderhoof reaches for his belt and unsheathes multiple knives in a smooth motion.
  423. >Four small knives fly squarely at Minuette's face.
  424. >She knocks them out of trajectory with a quick sweep of her own blade.
  425.  
  426. >Minuette adjusts her stand, holding both blades up.
  427. "That's quite enough words out of you for today, cousin."
  428.  
  429. >Trenderhoof smirks.
  430. >"Oh, don't you worry, my love."
  431. >He licks his blade.
  432. >"You'll have enough of me tonight once I'm through with you here."
  433.  
  434. - -
  435.  
  436. >Outside, Twilight stumbles and almost falls off the roof several times before reaching the ladder.
  437. >Every fiber of her being wants to scream for help.
  438. >But she knows she can't.
  439. >The guards are on Trenderhoof's side, not her.
  440.  
  441. >Once on the ground, Twilight falls and rolls on her back.
  442. >She can feel and hear her own heart thumping. Blue splotches begin to fade in and out of her vision.
  443. >She remembers to breathe with heaving sighs.
  444.  
  445. >How did Trenderhoof find out?
  446. >Did Flash Sentry tell on…
  447. >No. Impossible.
  448. >He'd be too busy training the recruits today, and Trenderhoof was supposed to be busy entertaining the delegates from the king.
  449. >Then who?
  450. >Was Minuette going to be alright?
  451.  
  452. >Twilight rolls over, forcing herself back on her feet.
  453. >She notices that she had scraped her elbow rather badly, and her ankle feels bruised.
  454. >She needs to get back to her cottage. Hide. Tend to her wounds.
  455. >She needs a horse.
  456. >Limping forward, Twilight heads towards the the stable—
  457.  
  458. >"Come on, you mongrels! Form up, all of you!"
  459.  
  460. > —or not.
  461. >Twilight shuffles away, ducking behind a barrel of apples.
  462. >A dust cloud of hoofsteps nears, led by a man Twilight doesn't recognize.
  463.  
  464. >"Orders, straight from Lord Trenderhoof. We're to raise our readiness and double up on city patrols. You and you, on me! Rest of you, go with lieutenant Soarin. Move out!"
  465. >The riders scatter, a large portion of them heading out towards the gate.
  466.  
  467. >Twilight waits for the remaining riders to dissipate before moving again.
  468. "Oh Minuette, I hope you're alright."
  469. >Startled by your sudden appearance, a stray dog begins barking.
  470. **WOOF WOOF**
  471. >"HEY," shouts one of the riders.
  472. "Shit!"
  473. >Twilight hobbles forward faster.
  474.  
  475. >"Intruder! Stop!"
  476. >The pounding of hooves become quicker. Closer.
  477. >Ignoring the burning pain in her ankle, Twilights begins running.
  478. >Until—
  479.  
  480. >Another rider appears in front of her, leveling a sharp spear towards Twilight.
  481. >Twilight comes to a halt, stumbling and falling on her knees.
  482. >"That's far enough, intruder," the rider says, keeping his spear frozen in place.
  483. >Someone grabs Twilight roughly from behind, propping her up on her feet.
  484. >The sharp pain in her ankle resumes.
  485.  
  486. >"Intruder," says the rider pointing his spear against Twilight, "state your name."
  487. >Twilight almost blurts out her name out of habit.
  488. >She bites her lip, preparing for the worst.
  489.  
  490. >"State your name," the rider repeats.
  491. >The man behind her jabs Twilight's ribcage with the pommel of his sword, as to add emphasis to the question.
  492. "Ungh!"
  493. >Twilight's vision blurs with pain.
  494. >"Answer the question, whore!"
  495.  
  496. >Is this it?
  497. >Is this how it's going to end?
  498. >She could see it already.
  499. >Forcibly married, then imprisoned in Trenderhoof's private chambers.
  500. >Banned from seeing her friends and loved ones.
  501. >Would Sunset come looking for her then?
  502. >Would she even know about Twilight's fate?
  503.  
  504. >Twilight stares at the rider in front of her.
  505. >"Well?" He growls.
  506. >Twilight's shoulders slump, resigning to her fate.
  507.  
  508. **POW**
  509. >The rider's head explodes into a mist of blood and skull fragments.
  510.  
  511. - -
  512.  
  513. >"Sh-sh-sh-shit!"
  514. >The guard behind Twilight steps forward, hurriedly and clumsily drawing his sword.
  515. >"Show yourself, cur! Come and face me like a—"
  516.  
  517. >A hooded figure steps forward from out of the corner of Twilight's eyes, and stabs the guard in the back.
  518. >"HURK!"
  519. >Twilight smells a hint of gunpowder on the mysterious figure.
  520.  
  521. >"Recruits," the hooded figure utters with disgust. "Always thinking with their swords, not with their brains."
  522. >He flips the hood back, revealing a full head of shocking blue hair.
  523. "Flash!"
  524. >"Twilight," nods the playboy, holstering a flintlock while whipping a bloodied knife sideways. "I'd give you a hug, but my hands are dirty—"
  525. >Twilight hugs him anyway, half-embracing, half-clinging for support.
  526.  
  527. >"You are beat up," Flash observes. "What happened? Are you alright?"
  528. "I was with Minuette, and she—"
  529. >Twilight begins tearing up.
  530. "Oh, Flash. Trender found out. Minuette rushed me outside, and now she's all by herself."
  531.  
  532. >Flash nods grimly.
  533. >"I was out at the archery range when a bunch of messengers showed up. They recalled all the guards back to the castle, then ambushed me while I was alone."
  534. >He winces, swaying a little.
  535. >Twilight notices the reddened bandage wrapped around his upper arm.
  536. "Oh my god, you're hurt."
  537. >"It's fine, it's fine. It doesn't bleed anymore."
  538. >Flash shrinks back into himself a little, keeping the wounded arm out of Twilight's sight.
  539.  
  540. >"One of Trender's lackeys must've overheard us."
  541. "His lackeys?"
  542. >"During the ambush, the messenger howled something about me cuckolding his master," says Flash, smiling bitterly.
  543. >Despite the seriousness of the situation, Twilight can't help but roll her eyes.
  544.  
  545. >"When I finally managed to fend them off, I knew something was up, so I rode here as fast as I could."
  546. >Flash reaches forward with his good arm, resting a calloused hand on Twilight's face.
  547. >"Now I'm glad I did."
  548. >Twilight grabs Flash's hand, leaning into his caress a little.
  549. "Flash, I—"
  550.  
  551. *** DING DING DING DING DING DING— ***
  552. >The pair is startled by an ear-shattering series of bell rings, too high-pitched for a church bell.
  553. >"Damn, they're putting the entire castle on high alert!"
  554. >Flash grabs the rein of the eerily calm horse and pushes the now-headless rider off of it.
  555. >"Come on, we've got to leave!"
  556. >Twilight climbs onto the saddle and clings tightly onto her savior.
  557. >Flash kicks the steed into action.
  558.  
  559. >"We need to hide and lay low. Rendezvous with Lady Minuette and wait it out."
  560. >The device!
  561. >Twilight's brain goes into overdrive.
  562. "Take us to my place."
  563. >"Your cottage? Why?"
  564.  
  565. "I know someone who might be able to help us."
  566.  
  567. - -
  568.  
  569. >The fugitive duo and their mount shoot out of the castle gate, kicking up a small cloud of dust behind them.
  570. >The castle is still echoing with the high-pitched clanging of alarm bells as silhouettes of men-at-arms begin poking out from various buildings.
  571. >"It's the traitor!" a guard shouts. "Archers, ready!"
  572. >Kicking the horse into a gallop, Flash Sentry grits his teeth.
  573. >"Twilight, stay low! Hang on tight!"
  574. "Wha—"
  575. >As though on cue, a beige streak whizzes over Twilight's head in a blur.
  576. "Shit!"
  577. >Flash Sentry turns the mount in response, weaving left and right.
  578. >A deadly rain of shots kicks up patches of grass around them, followed by blurred whizzes of arrows.
  579. >"We're almost out of their range! Hang on!"
  580.  
  581. >The mount zigzags some more.
  582. >Another rain of shots and arrows fall around the duo, a little more accurate this time.
  583.  
  584. "AAAAAHHHHH!"
  585. >An arrow buries itself inside Twilight's thigh, pinning her to the saddle.
  586.  
  587. >"Twilight! Are you okay— MMMMMF"
  588. >A coin-sized red splotch appears on Flash's shoulder.
  589. >The grip around Flash's waist weakens.
  590. >"T-Twi! Stay with me!"
  591. >Flash clutches Twilight's arms against his torso.
  592. >He feels her head rolling against his back. She's out cold.
  593. >"Come on, Twi! Stay with me, you're going to be alright!"
  594. >Flash continues the gallop towards Twilight's cottage, not letting up for a second.
  595.  
  596. - -
  597. - -
  598. - -
  599.  
  600. >It begins drizzling once they make it to Twilight's cottage.
  601. >Reining the mount to a clumsy stop, Flash rolls off of the saddle and flops onto moistening dirt ground.
  602. >Ignoring the burning pain down his arm, he pulls himself up, gently shaking Twilight.
  603. >"Twilight!"
  604. >Twilight's eyes open slowly, taking in the surroundings.
  605. "F-Flash? Where are we? Where's Minuette—"
  606. >Her eyes grow wide at the sight of an arrow sticking out of her thigh.
  607. >"Twilight, listen to me," says Flash, holding onto Twilight's hand. "The arrowhead went through cleanly, but it's lodged against the saddle. I need to push it through to get you out."
  608. >Flash gently breaks off the arrow shaft. Twilight winces and cries as the shaft lodged in her thigh moves around.
  609. >She breathes heavily to calm herself as Flash begins shaving off splinters from the broken end of the shaft.
  610. >"Ready?"
  611. >Twilight nods.
  612. "Just make it quick— AAAAAHHHGH!!"
  613. >She screams as Flash lifts her up and out from the saddle, grunting. His sleeves redden as his wounds reopen under the strain.
  614.  
  615. >Gently putting Twilight down on the ground, Flash groans.
  616. >"I'm *definitely* going to feel that in the morning."
  617.  
  618. >"If you survive through this, that is," an armor-clad green figure intones.
  619.  
  620. >Twilight's ears perk up.
  621. "S-Sir Anonymous?"
  622.  
  623. >Anonymous stands alert, his hands hovering near the scabbard of his longsword.
  624. >A lightning strike weaves and webs through the sky behind him.
  625. >The sky begins to pour.
  626.  
  627. >"A-Anon?" Flash says, startled. "What are you doing here?"
  628.  
  629. >Anon clenches his jaw, his expression unreadable.
  630. >"By the order of Lord Trenderhoof," he says, slowly drawing his sword, "you are hereby under arrest."
  631. "What??"
  632.  
  633. >Flash hobbles onto his feet, drawing his knife.
  634. >"So, it was YOU who ratted us out," he snarls, gritting his teeth.
  635. >A pained look spreads across Anon's face.
  636.  
  637. >"I had orders to keep an eye on you," his voice falters a bit. "Trender may not be the most honorable man, but I'm bound by my oath to obey his will."
  638. >He shifts to his side, observing Flash carefully.
  639. >"You're wounded," Anon observes.
  640.  
  641. >"Yeah," Flash bites back. "It wouldn't be a fair fight otherwise, old friend."
  642. >The tip of Anon's sword droops briefly.
  643. >"Yield. There's no honor in this fight. It's your friend that Trenderhoof is after. Hand over Twilight, and—"
  644. >Anon swings sideways, swatting away a pair of shurikens.
  645. >"And live out my life in shame?" Flash shouts. "I'd rather die by my honor than mindlessly adhere to a hollow oath!"
  646.  
  647. >Anon spreads his feet apart, shoulder-width.
  648. >"Then you've left me with no choice," he mutters.
  649. >Flash sways as he adopts his fighting stance. Sweat runs down his face, intermingled with rain.
  650. >"Twilight," he whispers. "You mentioned you had some help you could call on."
  651. >Twilight, drunk on disbelief and loss of blood, snaps out of her stupor.
  652. "Y-yeah. Sunny."
  653. >Flash grits his teeth.
  654. >"Summon her. Run to her. Whatever you do, promise me you'll stay safe."
  655. >Twilight nods grimly, standing up.
  656. "I promise."
  657. >She rushes inside her cottage.
  658.  
  659. - -
  660.  
  661. >Grasping at the device, Twilight tries desperately to stay focused.
  662. >So much pain.
  663. >SO sleepy.
  664. >Twilight slaps herself awake, then punches lightly at her thigh where the arrow had struck.
  665. "GAAAH!"
  666. >Much better.
  667.  
  668. >Holding the device close to her lips, she tries to remember how she had operated it the night before.
  669. >Spin this thing and flip the contact? Or was it flip the contact and *then* spin the thing?
  670. >Outside, a creepily recognizable clang of steel colliding on steel echoes out.
  671. >Then another.
  672. >Then another.
  673. >Twilight panics, cursing herself.
  674. "Come ON, you dolt!"
  675. >Flash was going to die because of her.
  676. >Her dearest friend.
  677. >He was going to die because she couldn't remember how to turn a damn crank.
  678. >Her dearest friend—
  679.  
  680. >"[ Hello? is that you, Twilight? ]"
  681. >The device comes to life, uttering a familiar voice.
  682. "Sunset!"
  683. >"[ Hey! Nice to hear from you again— ]"
  684. "Sunny, it's an emergency. I'm in trouble."
  685. >"[ Oh, no. What happened? ]"
  686. "Lord Trenderhoof, he… He found out. Flash is in trouble. I think Minuette is hurt—"
  687. >"[ Whoa whoa whoa, ]" Sunset interrupts. "[ One thing at a time, Twi. Stay calm. What can I do? ]"
  688. >Tears begin pouring down Twilight's eyes.
  689. "Please send help."
  690. >"[ Stay put, ]" Sunset utters, her voice monotone. Something on her end comes to life with a low electrical hum.
  691. >"[ I'm coming for you. ]"
  692.  
  693. - -
  694.  
  695. >Outside, the two knights continue to exchange blows.
  696. >Flash Sentry swings high and low, leaving nasty lacerations on Anon's torso.
  697. >"Ahh!"
  698. >Anon cries in pain, falling onto his knees.
  699.  
  700. >Flash staggers backward, already bleeding in several places.
  701. >He chuckles, his voice raspy and gurgling with blood.
  702. "Heh heh, you're… you're pretty good."
  703.  
  704. >Anon smirks, wiping the trail of blood from his mouth.
  705. >"Likewise."
  706. >Anon rises again. Flash doesn't.
  707. >The green knight approaches the sapphire-eyed would-be-savior.
  708. >"Yield, I beg of you. Your strength is waning, and I may be able to arrange favorable terms for you."
  709. >Flash shakes his head, spitting out blood.
  710. "C-can't let you do that, buddy."
  711.  
  712. >Anon frowns.
  713. >"Why? Why waste your life for her? She's your friend, I understand, but she will be treated humanely. No harm will come to her while she stays with Lord Trenderhoof."
  714. >Flash Sentry glares at Anon.
  715. "Do you honestly believe that?"
  716. >Anon says nothing.
  717. >Flash smirks to himself.
  718. "That's what I th-thought."
  719.  
  720. - -
  721.  
  722. >Twilight bursts out of her cottage, limping and clutching a flintlock close to her chest.
  723. >Anon's head snaps towards her.
  724. >Flash merely grins, holding onto his wounds.
  725.  
  726. >Twilight aims her flintlock at Anon, her eyes burning with fury and tears.
  727. "What the FUCK have you done to Flash?"
  728. >The muzzle twitches as Twilight struggles to keep herself under control.
  729.  
  730. >Anon stays rooted on the spot, not moving a muscle.
  731. >The raindrops pelt at Anon's creased and slashed armor, mixing with blood and staining the green knight red.
  732. >"S-sup Twi," says Flash. "I'd get up, but I'm kinda busy bleeding out."
  733. >Twilight edges towards Flash, keeping her flintlock aimed at the green knight.
  734.  
  735. >"Twilight," Anon speaks. "Your friend is gravely injured. I can help him. Turn yourself in, and—"
  736. "SHUT UP."
  737. >Twilight kneels into the bloodied mud behind Flash, propping him up in her arms.
  738. >"A-ah! Easy," Flash moans, shivering. "Wow, it's g-getting cold…"
  739. "No. Nonono. Don't pass out. Stay with me."
  740. >Twilight takes off her cloak, wrapping it around Flash.
  741.  
  742. >"Lady Twilight," Anon begins to speak again, dropping his sword and approaching her.
  743. "I said SHUT UP!"
  744. >Twilight screams, aiming at the knight again.
  745.  
  746. "H-how… How could you??? Trender tells you to hurt your friend, and you just go ahead and do it??"
  747. >"I had sworn an oath!" Anon protests.
  748.  
  749. "FUCK YOUR OATH!"
  750. >Tears begin streaming down Twilight's face.
  751. "How dare you! How dare you!"
  752. >Twilight breaks down into wracking sobs as she drops her flintlock with a splash.
  753. >Her hair is a mess of rain and sweat. Her spectacle begins fogging up.
  754. >She clutches at the rapidly paling and shivering friend.
  755.  
  756. >Anon looks on.
  757. >His chin flutters for a brief moment.
  758. >A distinctive drop of water runs down his weathered face.
  759.  
  760. >"Hmmm? What is this?"
  761. >A ragged figure makes himself visible, flanked by armed castle guards.
  762. >One of his arms is distinctively shorter than the other, ending in a bandaged stump.
  763. >He smirks, drawing a glinting piece of steel from under his tattered royal cloak.
  764. >"Sir Anonymous, tsk tsk!"
  765. >He points at the green knight with his knife.
  766. >"I specifically ordered you to take no prisoners, and yet, I see both of them staring at me with terrified eyes!"
  767. >Trenderhoof steps forward, followed by a large formation of spears and glinting armor.
  768. >"Tell me," Trenderhoof intones, staring at his own knife with amusement. "Do I have yet another traitor amidst my ranks?"
  769.  
  770. >"Lord Trenderhoof," Anon steps forward, "I was just trying to convince—"
  771. >"Nah, no words. No coercions. We're kinda past that point now."
  772. >Trenderhoof chuckles at his own words.
  773.  
  774. "Trender!"
  775. >"Ahhh, my darling fiancee! Trying to beg for mercy? Let me guess, you'd come with me in exchange for Flash's life?"
  776. >Twilight glares at him, saying nothing.
  777. >"Ohhh, tell me. What about Sir Anon? Are you gonna leave him to his fate? I mean, he damn near killed that fucking friend of yours!"
  778.  
  779. >Twilight's voice falters a little.
  780. "Any friend of Flash's is also my friend. Let them both go, and…"
  781. >Twilight looks away, resigning herself to her fate.
  782. "…and I'll come with you. I'll surrender"
  783.  
  784. >"Oh, what an angel!"
  785. >Trenderhoof puts his knifed hand over his chest, feigning heartache.
  786. >"He's practically slit the throat of her dearest friend, and she's still willing to forgive! What an angel!"
  787. >Anon narrows his eyes.
  788. >"M'lord, they're injured. They're harmless. Shouldn't we—"
  789. >"Silence, traitor!" Trenderhoof barks.
  790. >Anon turns to face him, his feet apart and shoulders relaxed.
  791.  
  792. >A bemused smile spread across Trenderhoof's face.
  793. >"Ohh? What's this?"
  794. >He fingers at the pommel of his blade, his motion unnecessarily erotic.
  795. >"You would dare strike your master?"
  796.  
  797. >Anon says nothing, keeping his stance.
  798. >The roaring sound of rain intensifies.
  799.  
  800. "Wait, Minuette…"
  801. >Twilight howls at Trender.
  802. "What have you done to Minuette??"
  803. >Trender chuckles.
  804. >"Well, let's just say that our house is short one heirless to the throne."
  805. >Twilight's face crumbles, looking far older than she had in the morning.
  806. "Oh no…"
  807. >Trender cackles maniacally, raising his stumped forearm.
  808. >"Can't say the bitch went down easily though! Would've preferred to save her for my private victory celebration tonight, but alas…"
  809. >A sudden venom creeps into his singsong intonation.
  810. >"Nobody fucks with my beautiful body and gets away with it."
  811. >Slowly, he raises his blade, pointing it squarely at the wounded trio.
  812. "Kill them," he whispers.
  813.  
  814. >The armorclad formation marches forward, spears at the ready.
  815. >Anon picks up his longsword from the muddy ground.
  816. >Flash slowly reaches for his holster, drawing his own flintlock.
  817. >"T-Twi…" Flash gasps. "This is going to be an awful fight.
  818. "I know."
  819. >"I told you t-to leave… But you c-came back for me."
  820. >The steady slosh of encroaching spearmen grows louder.
  821. >Twilight smiles weakly.
  822. "I've always been bad at following instructions."
  823. >Flash smiles in response, raising his flintlock towards the formation. His aim wavers.
  824. >Twilight grasps Flash's trigger hand with her own, and steadies his aim with the other.
  825. >His hands are ice-cold.
  826. >Another stream of hot tears run down Twilight's face.
  827.  
  828. >"I'd tell you to run away, but I don't think you'd listen."
  829. "You're right. I won't."
  830. >Flash coughs, spurting a clump of bright red blood.
  831.  
  832. >"I''ll… *cough* I'll do the aiming. Wanna h-hold me steady?"
  833. >Twilight nods firmly.
  834. "Always."
  835.  
  836. - -
  837.  
  838. >The flintlock belches smoke and sparks, downing one of the guards.
  839. >Anon, as though on cue, steps forward.
  840. >He swings left and right with practiced ease, cleaving the tips off of spears pointed towards him.
  841. >An infuriated guard drops his useless spear and draws his dagger.
  842. >Anon lunges forward and plunges his sword into the guard's gut.
  843. >He withdraws the sword quickly, fending off a new wave of spear jabs.
  844. >Beads of bloodied sweat begins to pour down his face, stinging his eyes.
  845.  
  846. >Another shot rings out, dropping a guard behind Anon.
  847.  
  848. >He does a whirling cleave, lopping speartips off of some, limbs off of others.
  849. >He parries the frustrated knife swing off of one guard, then cuts him down diagonally.
  850. >Blood spurts out from all around him, staining the green knight red.
  851. >With a mighty how, he drives his longsword into a charging guard's face.
  852. >Someone thrusts their spear towards Anon, only to be knocked out by another shot.
  853.  
  854. >Trenderhoof begins shouting orders.
  855. >"You fools! Go after the shooter first!"
  856.  
  857. >A large group of guards detaches itself from the bloody melee, charging towards Flash and Twilight.
  858. "Shit!"
  859. >"Twilight!"
  860. >Anon ducks an axe swing, tossing his own longsword up in the air.
  861. >He lands an armored fist squarely into the nose of an axeman, wresting control of the chopping implement.
  862. >In one smooth motion, Anon throws the axe with both hands, cleaving a row of guards as it spins through the ranks.
  863. >Anon recovers his longsword and shouts.
  864. >"Flash! You've got more coming!"
  865.  
  866. >The remaining guards continue their approach.
  867. "Shitshitshit!"
  868. >Twilight tugs at her holster, trying to draw the spare flintlock.
  869. >Flash reaches over casually, unlatching the button on Twilight's holster.
  870. >"There."
  871. "Thanks."
  872. >Flash draws his own spare, regaining some of his vigor.
  873. >The duo raise their arms simultaneously.
  874.  
  875. ***POW***
  876.  
  877. >A row of guards fall as four flintlocks belch fire and lead in unison.
  878. >"No time to reload those," Flash whispers. "Help me up."
  879. >Twilight helps him up, trying to keep weight off of her wounded leg.
  880.  
  881. >Flash draws two blades and readies himself.
  882. >A guard lunges forward, thrusting his spear.
  883. >Flash sways sideways, dodging it.
  884. >He staggers forward, landing two quick stabs into the guard's vitals.
  885. >The dance continues as Flash sways to and fro drunkenly, making short strikes at vitals.
  886. >Blood begins to spread his sleeves, mostly his own.
  887. >Flash grits his teeth.
  888.  
  889. >"FLASH!" Anon shouts, driving his longsword into the jaw of an overeager guard. "I can't hold them off much longer! Take Twilight and run! Take her to—"
  890. >A blur of royal cloak interrupts him mid-sentence.
  891. >Trenderhoof, holding his blade reverse-grip, slashes exactly twice at Anon's face.
  892.  
  893. >"AAAHHH!"
  894. >Anon lets out a blood-curling scream.
  895.  
  896. >He drops his longsword and collapses onto the muddy ground, covering his eyes.
  897. >Blood begins streaking down his face, mixed with something else.
  898.  
  899. "Anon!!"
  900. >Twilight shifts her aim, firing a shot at the crippled scoundrel.
  901. >Trenderhoof drags a guard in front of him. The shot leaves a gaping hole on the guard's chest.
  902.  
  903. >Trenderhoof stands over him, whipping the unwanted liquid off of his blade.
  904. >"Hmph," he kicks a dying guard aside. "Gotta get my hands dirty to get things done—"
  905. >He looks down, slowly spreading the palm of his hands.
  906. >Or, at least, the palm of the remaining hand.
  907. >Trenderhoof shakes his head at the bandaged stump.
  908. >"Ohh, that's a good one, Trender," he mumbles to himself.
  909.  
  910. >Flash dispatches the remaining guard, one of his blades lodging itself between the ribs.
  911. >He discards it, apparently too weak to pull it out.
  912. >"What have you done to him," Flash growls, brandishing the remaining blade with both hands.
  913. >"Ah ah ah," Trenderhoof chides him. "Take another step, and your precious friend will lose a finger."
  914. >Anon howls and twists as Trender pries one of his hands off of his face, kneeling on it.
  915. "Trender! STOP! I'll do anything, please—"
  916. >"The bitch took my hand, you see," Trender says, ignoring Twilight. "Cleaved it right off with a swing. What a strong woman she was!"
  917. >He raises the bandaged stump and rotates it around, staring at it like an amused child.
  918. >"No more lute. No more blade juggling. No more poetry—"
  919. >He slams the pommel of his blade down on Anon's head. Something cracks, and Anon stops writhing.
  920. >"You see, Twi, I just want to share the pain. Why should I be the only one to suffer?"
  921.  
  922. "You're sick!"
  923. >"Not sick, my dear fiancee. Merely maimed."
  924. >Twilight, realizing that she's out of reloads, throws the flintlock aside in frustration.
  925. >"Ah, the backup's here. Not that they'll do anything particularly useful."
  926. >A smaller squad of guards show up, pointing their spears ready.
  927.  
  928. >"State your terms," says Flash, biting off each syllable.
  929. >Trender plays with his blade in thought.
  930. >"Hmmm. Well, My fiancee's gotta die, unfortunately."
  931. >The blade stops twirling.
  932. >"As for you, my dear Flash—"
  933. >Trender throws the blade, sending it hurtling through the rainfall.
  934. >The blade disappears into Flash's chest.
  935. >Flash Sentry staggers backward.
  936.  
  937. "FLASH—"
  938. >"—you're going to be the one to do it!" howls Trender.
  939.  
  940. >Trender grabs a spear from one of the guards, then charges forward.
  941. >He swings the blunt end sideways, smashing at Twilight's throat.
  942. "—HURK!"
  943. >He pulls the blade out of Flash's chest and ducks, slashing downward on Twilight's thigh.
  944. "Aaaa…"
  945. >Twilight feels a stream of burning-hot liquid draining out of her.
  946. >Her fingertips tingle with creeping coldness.
  947. >Trender shoves Twilight with his muddy boots, sending her splashing down on her back.
  948. >Twilight tries to crawl backward, leaning against the front door of her cottage.
  949. >Flash, held by Trender from behind, gurgles up a spurt of blood.
  950. >'Twilight,' he mouths her name silently.
  951.  
  952. >Trender forces Flash on his knees, shoving a spear into his grasp.
  953. >"You see, the beauty about chest wounds is that it's not immediately fatal."
  954. >Trender positions the speartip over Twilight's chest.
  955. >Flash resists Trender's grip feebly.
  956. >"If you time it *just* right, you can make your victim see *so* many beautiful things and have it be their last."
  957. >Trender blows a kiss at Twilight.
  958. >"Beautiful things. Wonderful things."
  959.  
  960. >Trender leans forward, slowly driving the spear into Twilight's chest.
  961.  
  962. "H-haaah!"
  963.  
  964. >A sickening sound of tearing flesh fills Twilight's ears.
  965. >Liquid sorrow begins pouring down Flash's face. He whimpers.
  966. >"Oh, how sad," Trender mocks. "Only minutes left to live on this miserable world, and you're driving a spear into your lover's heart."
  967.  
  968. >Just then, a loud sonic boom thunders across the rainy sky.
  969. >A silvery disc-shaped object, about the size of a house, zooms overhead.
  970. >The guards shout, pointing at it.
  971. >Trender stares at it, amused.
  972. >The flying disc banks sideways, changing its heading towards the muddy carnage.
  973. >Twilight notices a pointed rod-thing extending out from the disc, and—
  974.  
  975. ***PHUT PHUT PHUT PHUT—***
  976.  
  977. >In a series of slow, thumping noises, the mysterious object disgorges streams of green energy.
  978. >Several guards go down with bits of torso missing. The rest drop their weapons and run.
  979. >Trender rolls under a dead guard, trying to hide.
  980. >"You bitch!" He howls. "You witchin' bitch and your fucking unholy experiments!"
  981. >The craft falls silent, then rapidly lowers itself to the ground.
  982. >A narrow opening appears out of nowhere, allowing its occupant to hop out.
  983. >"I will have you cut up, you demon!" Trender raves, getting up. "I'll feed you to the hounds! I will—"
  984. >Sunset draws her pistol, pulling the trigger twice.
  985. >Trender stops in his tracks, wheezing.
  986. >"Y-you dare shoot at th-the…"
  987. >Sunset pulls the trigger several more times.
  988. >Trender never finishes his sentence.
  989.  
  990. >"Don't you EVER fuck with my Twilights."
  991. >Sunset spits on the dead royalty.
  992.  
  993. - -
  994.  
  995. Some time later:
  996.  
  997. >"What do you mean, we're scrapping the program???"
  998. >Sunset shouts at the comm terminal.
  999. >A frustrated Moondancer looks on from the glowing screen.
  1000. >"{ Look, kid, }" she sighs, lighting a cigarette. "{ I hate it as much as you do. But the higher-ups aren't willing to foot the medical bill. }"
  1001.  
  1002. >"We have fucking Cure-Alls to spare!" Sunset howls.
  1003. >"{ She's practically dead! }" Moondancer counters. "{ It's one thing to patch up some broken bones or viral infections with buckets of Cure-All. This one's only alive because you put her in stasis! }"
  1004. >Sunset collapses onto her chair.
  1005. >"B-but… she's HERE. We brought her aboard! We're legally bound to help them, for fuck's sake!"
  1006. >Moondancer slams her fist down.
  1007. >"{ *I* don't make the damn rules, Sunset! }" she shouts, her voice strained and cracking. "{ They don't want her, and there's nothing you or I can do to reverse their decision!}"
  1008.  
  1009. >Tears begin running down Sunset's face.
  1010. >"For fuck's sake, boss. She's a goddamn Twilight."
  1011. >Moondancer's expression softens up a little.
  1012. >"{ I know, kid. But not all Twilights are worth the same to HST. }"
  1013.  
  1014. >Sunset lets out a hollow laughter at that, shaking her head.
  1015. >Moondancer was right, of course.
  1016. >The entire emancipation program was strictly evaluated based on the potential financial worth of each Twilights and the expenses paid to acquire them.
  1017. >They *could* give Twilight the care she needs, damn the consequences.
  1018. >But then she'd have to work the rest of her life paying off her newly repaired body, possibly as an indentured servant in HST.
  1019. >Then eventually, quietly discarded to "cut the losses and minimize liabilities."
  1020.  
  1021. >Sunset grits her teeth in frustration.
  1022. >"What do you want me to do? Watch her die?"
  1023. >"{ Look, }" says Moondancer, putting out her cigarette. "{ Don't bring morality and ethics into this, because HST sure as hell won't. All we can do is make the process comfortable for these Twilights. Abduction, injury, or otherwise. "}
  1024. >Sunset lowers her head, balling her hands into fists.
  1025. >"I can't do this, boss. I just can't."
  1026.  
  1027. >Moondancer taps on a terminal to her side.
  1028. >"{ Here, I just authorized and unlocked the morphine stores on your ship, out of my pocket. Take her to somewhere nice before you do it. And uh… Take a few for yourself if you're into that kind of thing. }"
  1029. >"I'll pass," grumbles Sunset.
  1030. >Moondancer stares for a moment, then smiles weakly.
  1031. >"{ In my day, I couldn't finish a shift without knocking my ass out on some syrettes. }"
  1032. >She fidgets, wiping something from under her horn-rimmed glasses.
  1033. >"{ You're… you're a good kid, Sunny. Stay strong. }"
  1034. >With a click, Moondancer signs off.
  1035.  
  1036. - -
  1037.  
  1038. "Wh-where are we?"
  1039. >Twilight shifts, her pain miraculously gone.
  1040. >The bandage around her thigh sloshes with blood, but that doesn't seem to bother her much.
  1041.  
  1042. >"The mountains, just east of your cottage," answers Sunset.
  1043.  
  1044. >Twilight notices that she's wrapped in a strangely cut jacket, and leaning back into Sunset's arms.
  1045. >Presently, Sunset reaches over and grabs a blanket, wrapping both of them together.
  1046. >Twilight rests her forhead against Sunset's neck. Her embrace tightens under the blanket.
  1047.  
  1048. "My… cottage?"
  1049. >Poking an arm out of the cocoon, Sunset points at a blur in the valley down below, but Twilight can't quite make out the details.
  1050. >Behind the brown-green blur, a bright yellow orb begins creeping down past the horizon, illuminating everything in a pleasant yellow hue.
  1051. >"See? That's your town right there. The beige-white jagged thing is the castle, and—"
  1052. >The castle.
  1053. >Flash.
  1054.  
  1055. "Sunset?"
  1056. >"Hmm?"
  1057. "What happened to Flash?"
  1058.  
  1059. >Sunset says nothing.
  1060.  
  1061. >Twilight reaches inside the blanket, struggling against the weight of it.
  1062. >Finally, she finds Sunset's hand and grasps at it weakly.
  1063. "Sunny, I-I need to know."
  1064.  
  1065. >"He… He didn't make it. He had already lost quite a lot of blood, and…"
  1066. >Sunset leaves it at that.
  1067. >Twilight feels oddly calm about all this.
  1068. "And Anon?"
  1069. >Sunset shakes her head.
  1070.  
  1071. >Twilight interlocks her fingers with Sunset's, playing with it feebly.
  1072. >She felt so floaty. Dull.
  1073. >Her fingertips felt tingly and bloated.
  1074. "I'm going to die, aren't I?"
  1075.  
  1076. >Sunset's chin begins trembling.
  1077. >Tears being trickling down the firebrand's cheeks, and onto Twilight's forehead.
  1078. >Twilight doesn't seem to notice.
  1079. >She snuggles deeper into Sunset's embrace.
  1080. "You know, Reverend Starlight used to tell me that we all get to see our loved ones again, in death."
  1081.  
  1082. >Twilight looks up, running a bandaged hand along Sunset's tear-stained cheeks.
  1083. "I hope it holds true for you, Sunny."
  1084. >With that, Twilight breathes her last sigh.
  1085.  
  1086. - -
  1087.  
  1088. >A blip against the darkness.
  1089. >The accursed planet lies many light years behind Sunset.
  1090. >For the moment, the infinite void occupies whatever space unclaimed by the paltry spaceship around Sunset.
  1091. >In front of her, an uncovered metal casket waits silently.
  1092.  
  1093. >"You're safe now," Sunset whispers to the lavender scientist laying within.
  1094. >She looks absolutely peaceful, adorned with fresh flowers plucked in their prime.
  1095. >Sunset kneels, clutching a pair of identical books in her arms.
  1096. >"Here, I haven't had much use for these since I left Equestria…"
  1097. >She gently lays one next to Twilight, and begins scribbling on her own copy.
  1098. >A string of words magically appear on the book laying next to Twilight.
  1099. [ I'll miss you, Twi! ]
  1100.  
  1101. >"It's a little too far from its magic source, so… It won't last for long."
  1102. >Sunset tries to regain composure.
  1103. >"B-but you know. Something to keep you company for a while."
  1104. >Her vision blurs with scalding tears.
  1105.  
  1106. >She tucks Twilight's copy firmly next to her, half-buried in flowers.
  1107. >Sunset kisses her on the forehead.
  1108.  
  1109. >"Goodbye, Twilight."
  1110.  
  1111. >Sunset steps aside, letting the coffin seal itself.
  1112. >The glass lid fogs up as cryogenic gasses fill up the coffin, preserving its occupant for eternity.
  1113. >A mechanical arm lifts it slowly, loading it into the airlock.
  1114. >The hatch clanks shut.
  1115. >Muffled hiss of depressurisation.
  1116. >The metal coffin is nudged gently into the void, carrying Twilight with it.
  1117. >Finally free.
  1118.  
  1119. >Sunset collapses onto the cold metallic floor, shoulders shaking in wracking sobs.
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