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Heart of War: A Changeling's Journey

LukeDaDuke Jul 19th, 2016 (edited) 963 Never
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  1. >"Everyone out of the train! Move! Hurry up!"
  2. >You are huddled around other ponies trying to stay warm in the freezing mountains of YakYakistan.
  3. >"Old nags to the left new Gee Gees to the right! No lollygagging! The faster you move the faster you can get warm!"
  4. >"Hurry up everyone line up, get to your positions!"
  5. >You hear an assortment of yelling native Yakistani language and the moans of confusion and cold from the stallions around you.
  6. >Finally the Yaks were able to direct all the new stallions into the main courtyard while the old POW's were sent into the mines.
  7. >"You are all to repeat! Failure to do so will result with no heat for you new curds!"
  8. >Every stallion around you quiets down and listens with anxiety.
  9. >"We are not prisoners of war but criminals who started a war."
  10. >Everypony grimaces but repeats the words.
  11. >"We shall repay our debts to Yakyakistan with dedicated work and reform."
  12. >Another grimace but they all still comply.
  13. >One of the Yaks looking down on us steps forward.
  14. >"As proof you will carry out the oath, your commanding officer of you Equestrian nags, Flash Sentry, must now step on your national flag."
  15. >You are Flash Sentry.
  16. >What will you do?
  18. >You step up right before the flag laid on the ground before you.
  19. >The Yaks in front of you have a stern look on their faces.
  20. >Looking back to all your subordinates, all your friends, all your brothers in hooves.
  21. >With a grim thought on what will happen you act.
  22. "We are not criminals or laborers, but proud Equestrian Knights. You have no right to force us to reform."
  23. >With your body freezing you pick up the flag and raise it high in the air from your mouth.
  24. >It blows in the cold wind.
  25. >The fine stitching holds the tattered piece of cloth together.
  26. >The wind continues to blow and it unravels from its fold to show all around you the image of the Princesses with the sun and moon.
  27. >Throwing it over your shoulder and letting it rest on your back you turn to your troops.
  28. "The Princesses and Equestria will not abandon you! Keep your dignity till the day you return home and fight on with honor!"
  29. >You see a brief second of hope and glitter in many of the troops eyes.
  30. >A brief second,
  31. >Then a barrage of batons and clubs hit you from all sides almost simultaneously.
  32. >You pass out.
  33. >...
  34. >Awake tied down to a post outside.
  35. >All around you are dead frozen ponies with an incinerator to the left.
  36. >You watch as ponies are forced to pick up the dead and burn them to ash.
  37. >Scraping the skeletal remains into a wall chute.
  38. >You pass out again.
  39. >...
  40. >You wake up on a cold wooden floor with your closet friends huddled around you trying to keep you warm.
  41. >Wool blankets and leather cover your entire body.
  42. "T-tha-"
  43. >"Save your energy Sir."
  44. >No
  45. "T-tha-nk y-you. Captain."
  46. >You pass out again.
  47. >...
  48. >When finally awake you take in what just happened to get you and your men here.
  49. >Looking back, you remember about the platoon you relieved.
  50. >About how he failed at holding the farmlands and railway at Galloping Gorge.
  51. >Those fields were essential, if lost they could've starved out Vanhoover.
  52. >The mission was to retake the railway system to open up connections back to the city.
  53. >Where did it go so wrong?
  54. >You remember marching.
  55. >Valiantly leading the stallions.
  56. >Then an ambush.
  57. >From both flanks legions of Yaks charge out of nowhere.
  58. >It was an immediate route.
  59. >How could we have been so easily defeated?
  60. >How could they have know?
  61. >Suddenly walking through the doors from outside walks in a stallion wearing the Yaks colors.
  62. >No not a stallion.
  63. >A donkey.
  64. >"Commander Flash Sentry, by the Princesses name it really is you."
  65. >"Traitor! You backstabbing ASS!!! You and your damn striped friends were the ones who sold our company out!"
  66. >The donkey looked frightened by the Sergeants yelling and dropped to his front hooves bowing.
  67. >"Please forgive me Sir!"
  68. >The Sergeant looked down upon the former subordinate with hate in his eyes.
  69. >"I should rip-"
  70. >"Bet you think I'd say something like that?"
  71. >The donkey raised up and smacked the Sergeant with a club hidden under his cloak.
  72. >"You damn horse! Dare call me an Ass? You still think I am a soldier under you?"
  73. >Every time he spoke he would give another hit.
  74. >"Me and the rest of the donkeys were never sons of the 'Glorious Princesses', and we are no longer your subordinates! All of us were unjustly dragged and forced to become your troops. Like how our dear commander here said the Yaks can't demand reform, you can no longer demand us to follow you, damn nag!"
  75. >Everypony stood in horror while the donkey continued to beat the sergeant.
  76. >"THIS ISN'T CANTERLOT OR THE CRYSTAL EMPIRE! We are in the great nation of YakYakistan! Here I am your Sergeant! Here I am your Prince! Here I am your Leader! Got that? YOU DAMN HORSES GOT THAT!?"
  77. >He then kneels down to the half dead stallion.
  78. >"If you want to stay alive, keep out of my sight."
  79. >Turning to the onlooking crowd he addresses him.
  80. >"I am Dalton! The Yaks gave us the position to be your overseers! Anyone who doesn't listen to me or my companions will meet the same fate as Sergeant Wildwind!"
  81. >Dalton motioned to a group standing at the entrance.
  82. >All of them either donkeys or a zebras.
  83. >You don't recall being too harsh on any of the draftees.
  84. >I guess through the ranks below, discrimination was happening.
  85. >Recalling all the times a report has been filed about that, you would blow it off.
  86. >Regret and shame wash over you because it's all your fault.
  87. >You were supposed to represent the nation of Love, you were married to the Princess of Friendship!
  88. >Now here you are locked away because you thought it was too busy to look into those reports.
  90. >The next day was filled with hard work.
  91. >While some get sent to the mines, your group is assigned to working outside in the forests.
  92. >Chopping down trees to help reinforce the walls and building new bunkhouses in anticipation for new prisoners.
  93. >New prisoners.
  94. >You cringe at the thought of Yaks marching through a conquered Equestria.
  95. >"No slacking. Hurry up!"
  96. >You hustle to the drop off point and deliver your logs.
  97. >Then hustle right back to where the other stallions are cutting down the trees.
  98. >Picking up two more you repeat the process for hours on end.
  99. >It's freezing.
  100. >You feel the cold blister your skin.
  101. >By the end of the day your body aches while you crouch next to the tiny wood fireplace along with twenty others.
  102. >Days turn to weeks.
  103. >Your curiosity about the war is one of the only things that keep you going.
  104. >Is Twilight safe?
  105. >Are we holding them back?
  106. >Damn desert horses attacking when our defenses were down in the South.
  107. >You watch as many of your old friends either succumb to the freezing cold outside...
  108. >"Frostbite inspection! You, show me your hooves! Yes you! Step forward!"
  109. >"It's not too bad. I am okay. Really."
  110. >...Or get taken away to the incinerator when the Yaks see you can no longer work with frostbitten hooves.
  111. >"Take him."
  112. >Two Yaks drag the exhausted pony from his place and to the door.
  113. >"NO please I can still work! Stop! Tell them Commander I am fine, I ca-"
  114. >The door slams.
  115. >Nopony will ever see him again.
  117. >Be Dalton.
  118. >Sitting near the incinerator staying warm.
  119. >Probably the warmest spot in all the camp.
  120. >Thinking back to when you were still a foal living with your Dad.
  121. >Growing up in Ponyville you were practically shielded from the discrimination.
  122. >Everypony was so friendly.
  123. >Maybe being the only Donkey family there had something to do with it.
  124. >You never got to meet your mother.
  125. >Died after you were born.
  126. >Your Dad everyone called 'Crankey' raised you the best he could.
  127. >Don't remember having too many friends.
  128. >Only one you could recall was a zebra foal living alone with his mom in the Everfree Forest.
  129. >Wonder what happened to him.
  130. >Probably got drafted just like you.
  131. >Draftee life.
  132. >You shudder.
  133. >That's when you learned how the world really worked.
  134. >Every protest made was met with a beating.
  135. >Along with the occasional 'Stupid Ass'.
  136. >After a transfer to a new platoon, you had high hopes since the Commander was Husband of the Princess of Friendship.
  137. >Back home she would always show time and kindness for everypony, surely her husband would be the same.
  138. >Nothing changed.
  139. >He wouldn't even give you the time of day.
  140. >He'd just turn to the Sgt. And say, "Deal with it for me."
  141. >And boy did he deal with me.
  142. >Now they are all 'dealing with it'.
  143. > A train whistle sounds.
  144. >New prisoners, same routine.
  145. >Eyeing the poor souls one catches your eye.
  146. >A zebra.
  147. >He looks oddly familiar.
  148. >As he gets closer to view, a smile goes across his face as your eyes connect.
  149. >"Dalton? Is that you I spy. You definitely are a sight for sore eyes."
  151. >"Everypony get in rows now! Move your hooves! Faster!"
  152. >The reunion will have to wait.
  153. >Time for the oath and directions.
  154. >Awaiting them to be finished you watch as your friend bits his lip at the end of each statement.
  155. >Always trying to end with a rhyme.
  156. >At least he learned to control it a little.
  157. >The new commander wisely decides to abandon his loyalty and step on the flag.
  158. >Darn, hoped to see another beating.
  159. >After getting settled in you approach your long lost friend.
  160. "Still have your mother's tongue I see."
  161. >The zebra turns around with a big smile.
  162. >"And you still have that ugly mug, here give your old friend a hug."
  163. >Cheeki bastard.
  164. >You have no idea how he doesn't go crazy talking like that.
  165. >You give him the hug anyways, it's been years since you have seen a friendly face.
  166. "How in Equestria did you end up here?"
  167. >"Well my friend, it is a long tale full of twists and bends."
  168. "Please talk normally for the sake of my ears...I don't think I can get drunk enough...here..."
  169. >"Not too bad, with more practice it will be less sad."
  170. "Tell the story ya weirdo."
  171. >You both laugh then he continues.
  172. >He tells you about how he and his platoon tried to take back the city of Vanhoover.
  173. >Apparently after supplies got caught off the city surrendered and was annexed into Yakistani territory.
  174. >Due to mismanagement and a terrible communication through the chain of command the lines broke to route and he was one of the many captured.
  175. "Don't worry my friend, see these colors I am wearing? I am an overseer for all you greenhooves, you will be as safe as we were back home."
  176. >A stallion walks up.
  177. >"Striped shit, we need to head inside."
  178. >A frown comes across the Zebras face, before he could get up, you jump to life.
  179. "You don't talk to him like that you damn NAG!"
  180. >You hit the stallion in the head and he drops to the frozen ground.
  181. "Nopony messes with donkeys or zebras here."
  182. >You can't see it, but a worried look goes across your friends face.
  183. "Nopony."
  185. >Be Flash
  186. >Almost everypony you came here with either hates your guts or is dead.
  187. >They all have lost hope.
  188. >All except one other pony.
  189. >Captain White Lightning
  190. >With him still at your side you still feel hope.
  191. >Hope that the Princesses will be here any day now freeing you from this freezing wasteland.
  192. >Hope that Equestria isn't completely overrun by the Yak Hoard.
  193. >Hope that your wife is safe.
  194. >"Commander Sentry, your presence is requested!"
  195. "What if I refuse?"
  196. >They Yak hits you over the head and then tries to forcibly drag you out.
  197. "I can walk fine!"
  199. >Following the Yak he leads you to the Commissioner's office.
  200. >"Why do you continue to resist? Everypony else has committed to the oath yet you refuse. Why?"
  201. "Because I know the Princesses are coming to rescue all of us!"
  202. >The fat Yak laughed.
  203. >"We received a letter today, take a look."
  204. >He sets it on the table only for you to push it off the side.
  205. >"Your Princesses have abandoned you."
  206. "How dare you speak of our Princesses!"
  207. >"The letter stated that POW reparations have been denied. We showed mercy but they refused. They're battling the Saddle Arabians across the Celestial Sea coastline and have no interest in 'rescuing' any of you."
  208. "You expect me to believe that? Imperial soldiers are sons of the Princesses! A mother does not abandon her sons!"
  209. >"That's what you choose to believe? You poor naive abandoned bastard."
  210. >He turns to look at you eye to eye.
  211. >"You will die here just like all your brothers, and your body will burn just like them in the incinerator. Take him back!"
  213. >Walking through the thin wooden doors, Captain Lightning greets you with a warm smile.
  214. "What are you fiddling with Captain?"
  215. >"Before I joined the army I just sort of wandered. I wound up working at a rock farm for bits. One of the ponies there taught me how to craft a little."
  216. >Looking at his bed-shelf.
  217. >It's filled with an assortment of rock figurines.
  218. >"That one right their she made for me herself.
  219. >He motions a hoof to a little stone heart.
  220. >"I like to keep it on me at all times."
  221. "They all look amazing."
  222. >"Well she didn't teach me everything, the grumpy grey mother told her to stop so I kind of taught myself."
  223. >He smiles as he stares off into space.
  224. >"When we get back to Equestria, I'm going back to that farm and asking that beautiful mare to marry me. I'll open a little shop and sell these tiny things."
  225. "That's a very noble ambition."
  226. >"Thank you Sir...Permission to ask a question?"
  227. "Speak freely Captain."
  228. >"Do you want to know why I still stick to your side while everypony else had left Sir?"
  229. "Enlighten me."
  230. >You look dead straight into the fire in front of you waiting for his explanation.
  231. >"Because I saw the dedication and loyalty in your eyes for our country."
  232. "Loyalty..."
  233. >The two of you sit there silently staying warm by the fire.
  234. "Promise me you will make it back home with or without me Captain."
  235. >"Sir I can never aban-"
  236. "Promise me!"
  237. >He grumbles under his breath.
  238. >"Yes Sir."
  239. >You both stop to take in the warmth of the fire again.
  240. "Come on, let's get some sleep, we have a never ending line of work to do tomorrow."
  242. >Be Sacul, Zecora's son.
  243. >Weeks go by in the camp.
  244. >Dalton has been so brutal to the ponies.
  245. >It worries your mind.
  246. >Yes many treated you both like second class citizens, but not all ponies have.
  247. >What Dalton is doing is barbaric.
  248. >Even the Yaks back off a little when he goes off.
  249. >Try to ignore it.
  250. >Once this is all over we can just return home.
  251. >If home is still a thing.
  252. >You worry about Ponyville.
  253. >Worry about your mother.
  254. >Would she be safe in the forest?
  255. >Worry
  256. >Worry
  257. >Worry
  258. >Beating
  259. >Blood
  260. >Brutality
  261. >You worry about Dalton.
  262. >Will he ever be normal after this?
  263. >You hear him scream in the distance and you turn to see what he's yelling about this time.
  264. >"Hurry up and pull those logs! If we don't get these new bunk houses built you will all be sleeping outside!"
  265. >Dalton is off yelling orders while you and a stallion tirelessly pull a sled filled to the brim with logs.
  266. >*Snap*
  267. >The ropes holding the load in place breaks off.
  268. >You watch as the logs roll off the cart and down the hill.
  269. >Directly at your friend.
  270. >Hearing the crashing he turns to see the large logs rolling down at him.
  271. >Quickly he darts to the side while the timber continues rolling down the hill.
  272. >*Crash*
  273. >They smash into a couple of tree stumps splintering them.
  274. >Dalton looks furious.
  275. >"What in the name of Tartarus are you trying to do? Kill me?"
  276. >Your companion looks at him nervously.
  277. >"It was an accident, the rope it just-"
  278. >*Whack*
  279. >Dalton hits the stallion over the head.
  280. >"Just snapped huh? I'll show you a snap you damn horse!"
  281. >With another hit from the club he sends the stallion tumbling down the hill.
  282. >He tumbles faster and faster until he hits the bottom where the logs have rested.
  283. >He doesn't move.
  284. >By the time you both get down there you see why.
  285. >The poor pony smashed into a splintered branch impaling his head.
  286. >Looking down at his body, a little figurine sits by him.
  287. >A heart.
  288. >It looks beautiful.
  289. >Hoofcrafted.
  290. >Suddenly a pegasus with an orange coat rushes over.
  291. >"No no no no! I gave you an order Captain! You were supposed to make it back! To live your life, not die like a slave!"
  292. >A snort comes out in front of you.
  293. >"What, never seen a stallion die before? Get back to work!"
  294. >A small crowd gathers around to see what happened.
  295. >"I said get back to work you lazy nags!"
  296. >Right when he turned to face the crowd the orange coated stallion tackles him.
  297. >He kicks and stomps Dalton's face until a wack from his club pushes him off.
  298. >In a mad furry he tackles the pony and both go tumbling further down the hill.
  299. >At the bottom other stallions rush to get out of their way dropping equipment and wood.
  300. >Dalton is on top beating the orange stallions face with his club.
  301. >Enough is enough.
  302. "STOP IT!"
  303. >You reach out and bite his collar to pull him off but in the frenzy he turns and hits you.
  304. >You pull him off again and give one good stomp to his stomach.
  305. >"Ahhh! Damn strip! I protect you and this is how you repay me?!"
  306. "An eye for eye and tooth for tooth, you have turned into a monster you bucking brute! Yes we were less but in a way we were more, there's no reason to keep lashing out this horror!"
  307. >"Again with those stupid rhymes! Zecora must have wonderful throat work if she taught you how to stay so hardwired on that crap."
  308. >That was the last straw.
  309. >Now you were on top stomping his face.
  310. >By now the other overseers came to break up the fight.
  311. >Watching you tackle Dalton must've ignited a spark in all the stallions.
  312. >Right when the others came they all attacked them.
  313. >You can barely see anything through all the hooves flying and snow falling down.
  314. >The last thing you remember seeing is Dalton on his back, blood spewing from his nose while desperately blowing on a whistle.
  315. >Then just fur from dozens of Yaks charging into the fray.
  316. >...
  317. >Back at the camp, everypony is lined up just like when you first got here.
  318. >Only difference is that there is a big clearing now with five yaks on the far right.
  319. >"There is no mercy for those who partook in this riot. Begin the executions."
  320. >Five stallions are pulled into the clearing.
  321. >Executions? What are they going to-
  322. >The Commissioner's arm moves downward and a yell from one of the yaks on the right startles you.
  323. >You watch as the stallions get trampled to death on the cold ground.
  324. >Barbaric.
  325. >Slowly but surely you get closer to the front of the line.
  326. >Finally you make it up there.
  327. >The orange pegasus is next to you.
  328. >He turns to give you a little smile and nod.
  329. >You nod back.
  330. >Turning to look next to the commissioner sits Dalton.
  331. >He sees you and looks away.
  332. >This is it then.
  333. >To get stomped to death as a POW in the freezing mountains of YakYakistan.
  334. >You close your eyes to await the inevitable.
  335. >Then you open them.
  336. >What is that sound?
  338. >Be Huduud
  339. >The yak waiting in the watchtower.
  340. >You feel the full front of the wind.
  341. >Why did you volunteer for this?
  342. >It's freezing even with your extra fur.
  343. "You will be relieved when the executions are done."
  344. >You mimic the commanding officer's words.
  345. >This is going to take forever. There's so many lined up.
  346. >At least it's not a bad view.
  347. >From here you can see for miles.
  348. >Or 'could have' if it weren't for all the snow pouring down.
  349. >Why do we even need a lookout now?
  350. >No trains were scheduled to arrive.
  351. >This blizzard blurs my eyesight so bad the treeline is barely visible.
  352. >While sorting out your thoughts you see a sparkle in the distance.
  353. "What is that?"
  354. >You look through the swivel stationary telescope.
  355. "T-that's..."
  356. >Immediately you drop the telescope and ring the alarm bells
  358. >Be Flash Sentry
  359. >Noose still around your neck.
  360. >Alarms bells are ringing all over the camp.
  361. >Looking back to the zebra next to you he looks just as confused.
  362. >Suddenly the doors to the camp bust open and four large carts pour in with dozens of soldiers.
  363. >A yak gets off one of the carts and walks over to where the commissioner is.
  364. >Whispering something to him he then addresses all of you.
  365. >"The Griffonstone Kingdom has invaded YakYakistan. Our great Khan has graciously given each and every one of you a pardon for their crimes if you take up the fight against these invaders!"
  366. >The commissioner walks down and speaks to that overseer who killed White Thunder.
  367. >The donkey then proceeds to untie you and the zebra next to you.
  368. >"Put these on!"
  369. >He shoves a tattered uniform with the Yaks national colors on it.
  370. >"Come on! Hurry before they-"
  371. >A slash from a sword is heard.
  372. >They are just killing anypony who isn't putting on the uniforms.
  373. >The zebra looks you and nods.
  374. >Solemnly you pull off your old leather clothes.
  375. >You drop them to the floor and put on the uniform.
  376. >A teardrop fall from your cheek.
  377. >In a blur of motion you get shoved in one of the carts and are pulled off into the unknown.
  379. >Dalton stood proud on the cart.
  380. >With a sparkle in his eyes he tries to give an inspirational speech but nopony wants to hear it.
  381. >Even the other former overseers grew tired of his banter.
  382. >"Let's give this a good shot! Better than freezing to death, right Sacul?"
  383. >The zebra didn't even move.
  384. >Eyes forward with a dead stare.
  385. >"Cmon we need to show the Yaks that we won't let them down!"
  386. >The only response he got was a yell from the Yak pulling telling him to be quiet.
  387. >Another stallion in the cart turns to you.
  388. >"The Yakistani uniform suits our 'Commander' so well, doesn't it guys?"
  389. >You grimace in hate and shame.
  390. >By Celesta you vow to get back home.
  391. >Just have to figure out how.
  392. >A sudden halt from the cart makes everyone jump.
  393. >"Get off! All of you out!"
  394. >You take a look around and all you see is a desolate village.
  395. >A broken sign with the smudged words of "Our Town" can be seen next to the cart.
  396. >Our Town?
  397. >Isn't that where Twilight liberated ponies under control of Starlight?
  398. >No time for thinking of the past.
  399. >Getting shoved past the ransacked village you are quickly pushed toward the front lines.
  400. >Yaks standing on a cart throw out old clubs and swords for a mob of stallions all trying to grab one.
  401. >Better to just wait and grab one off the ground.
  402. >The Yaks line all the stallions in the front just before the giant mountains, where the Griffons were dug in.
  403. >"Chaaaaaaarrrrrrge!"
  404. >With fear of death from the Yaks all the stallions charge up the mountain.
  405. >Charging with broken spears and dull swords.
  406. >Some charged forward with nothing but the cloth 'armor' they were given.
  407. >The Yaks knew what would happen, this wouldn't be a battle, this will be a slaughter.
  408. >Almost half way up the trail the Griffons attacked.
  409. >Iron claws met rusted shield.
  410. >A sword with a hoof still holding on to it landed next to you.
  411. >Trying to pick it up the stallion who mocked you on the cart grabbed it too.
  412. >"Let it go you bastard!"
  413. >The two of you wrestle over the rusty dull blade.
  414. >With a thud he pins you to the ground.
  415. >"What Pegasus? You want to live? I do too. I'm not going to die in these mountains!"
  416. >The sword leaves your hooves and into his grasp.
  417. >"YOU DIE!"
  418. >He plunges the blade downward only for it to find your clipped wing shielding yourself.
  419. >It feels ice cold, though it's not like you would be flying anytime soon.
  420. >Before he could follow up the attack, a griffon flies by slashing his throat with one of its talons.
  421. >Coughing up blood he blinds you slightly while you take back the 'weapon'.
  422. >Before recuperating from your wound a yak pushes you forward.
  423. >Another Griffon flies in for another sweep.
  424. >The Yak uses a spear to catch the griffon mid-dive and bring him to the ground.
  425. >There he then stomps the life out of the bird.
  426. >"Don't stop, keep charging up the mountain! MOVE!"
  427. >Did the yaks believe this would actually work?
  428. >Blindly charging up a secure position to just try and overwhelm the griffons?
  429. >Or most likely they were here to make sure no pony was trying to flee or desert.
  430. >No time to think.
  431. >Two more griffons dived down.
  432. >The one who went for the Yak pushed him off the steep cliff, only to find in horror that the yak held on tightly to his tail bringing it down with him.
  433. >The other one dove for you.
  434. >In sheer reaction you jumped to fly and meet him in battle in the sky.
  435. >Only for you to fall back down taking a hard hit from the ground and the griffon.
  436. >The metal talons barely miss your throat but the steel armored tail hits the back of your head.
  437. >Things begin to go dark.
  438. >Then really cold.
  440. >Be Sacul.
  441. >"Charge! Charge you cowardice nags!"
  442. >Be Sacul following an insane donkey up a mountain to certain death.
  443. >Arrows and javelins whizzing past him, yet he still presses forward.
  444. >Following him are dozens of stallions.
  445. >All fearing his wrath more than death.
  446. >Running as fast as you can to get up the mountain.
  447. >Griffons dive down tearing faces and throats.
  448. >"Press on, leave them until the battle is won!"
  449. >A wave of arrows fly into your crowd.
  450. >A miracle, unscathed.
  452. >Two arrows were sticking through Dalton's front right leg.
  453. >Exhausted you sprint as hard as you could and tackle him behind a fallen boulder.
  454. "Dalton this is insane, you must stop the attack, for both our sake we need to head back!"
  455. >"NO! Keep up the pressure! Attack! Charge!"
  456. "You need to rest, or else all of this death will be pointless!"
  457. >"Use one of your magic spells or whatever!"
  458. "I am no unicorn from Canterlot! In order to get any spell from me I must mix them in a pot."
  459. "Not only that but I am no healer, the most I could ever do is brew tea for a fever."
  460. >His commands were pointless, seeing him incapacitated all the stallions following him turned to run down the mountain.
  461. >Easy targets for the flying griffon warriors.
  463. >In a huff he somehow makes it back up on his hooves and charges up the mountain again.
  464. >No arrows this time.
  465. >Three griffons descended on the crazed donkey.
  466. >With the strength and anger of a bugbear, Dalton fended off their blows.
  467. >He even managed to bring one down.
  468. >Tearing off the griffons talons, he shoves them into its owners own throat.
  469. >With that done he pressed upward again.
  470. >This time though only more arrows greeted him.
  471. >You watch as your friend drops behind a small stone wall.
  472. >Four arrows sticking out of his chest.
  473. >With the last of your stamina you charge up the hill.
  475. >"Wh...at...what is with my damn life?"
  476. >Behind the wall you cradle him in your hooves.
  477. >"I w-wanted to l-live it up, see the world.
  478. >With every exhale a cough of saliva and blood came with it.
  479. >"I'm so sorry Sacul."
  480. >He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small folded picture.
  481. >It was from when the two of you were fillies back home. With your Mom and Cranky standing behind both of you.
  482. >"I want to see my Dad. I miss him. I miss Zecora."
  483. >Tears mixed with blood came dripping out his eyes.
  484. >"I miss the times we were together back when we were still colts. I miss it so damn much."
  485. >A griffon came diving down, he almost throws the two of you off the ledge.
  486. "We need to leave before they come back, I don't think we will withstand another attack."
  487. >"No, don't go out there."
  488. >He grabs your leg and pushes himself on top of you.
  489. >"Stay here, if they see you are alive during the battle they will cut you open."
  490. >In his last breath Dalton hides you with his body.
  491. >You hug the corpse of your friend and slowly pass out from exhaustion.
  493. >"Another one over here!"
  494. >"It looks like he was cuddling this ass."
  495. >Two griffons pull off the corpse of your friend that was shielding you.
  496. >"Say good-bye to 'big spoon'."
  497. >With a laugh they toss his body over the cliff side.
  498. >"Don't worry, you'll see him in just a second."
  499. >Seeing him raise the spear you accept your fate.
  500. >"STOP!"
  501. >The two turn to face a stern looking griffon.
  502. >"He could be useful, bring him with the other one."
  503. >Looking towards a cart you see a chained up orange pegasus.
  505. >Be Flash
  506. >A griffon is digging through corpses for loot.
  507. >You look closely and see the body of the stallion that tried to kill you over a sword.
  508. >"Captain Summer Soldier huh? Well 'Captain' I salute you, throw him over the cliff with the rest."
  509. >Summer Soldier?
  510. >Name sounds familiar.
  511. >Doesn't matter, just another irrelevant mystery never to be answered.
  512. >Another stallion was being taken to the cart.
  513. >Not stallion, zebra.
  514. >The same one that saved you from Dalton during the camp riot.
  515. >"Okay hurry up, get in."
  516. >The zebra sits right across from you eyes to the ground.
  517. >The cart slowly starts moving back up the hill.
  518. "GLaD to see you survived this..."
  519. >Silence.
  520. "...I never got a chance to thank you for saving me back at the camp. So uhhh, thank you."
  521. >He looks up eyeing you, then looks back down.
  522. >Now awkward silence.
  523. >You turn and watch as the griffons loot and clear away the dead bodies.
  524. >The smell is horrible.
  525. >Not as bad as the incinerator back at the camp, but still unpleasant enough to make you feel sick.
  526. >You try to break this gut-wrenching silence.
  527. "I never got your name, since it seems we will be together for a while maybe we should get to kn-"
  528. >"Sacul."
  529. "Well Sacul my name is-"
  530. >"I know who you are Flash Sentry, Madam Twilight helped raise me to become a gentry."
  531. "Y-you know Twi?"
  532. >"Before she left I was an adviser, learning about Zebra culture through my mind of a geyser."
  533. >Wow the stereotype is true.
  534. >Zebras love to rhyme.
  535. >Wait, before she left?
  536. "Where did she go? A safehouse to escape the war?"
  537. >"Sorry Sentry but I do not know, I got wrangled in the draft and had to go."
  538. >All this rhyming is going to drive me crazy.
  539. >Apparently it's driving the griffon pulling you both crazy also.
  540. >He turns around with furry in his eyes not saying a word.
  541. >For the rest of the trip you both sat silent.
  542. >You sit pondering your thoughts about what happened to Twilight.
  543. >Why didn't she nor the other Princesses pay for the ransom money?
  544. >What is going to happen once the you get further into Griffon territory?
  546. >After making your ways through the caves you come upon a camp.
  547. >"Stripper over there, and you come with me!"
  548. >Sacul goes and sits next to a couple guards while you follow the griffon inside the building.
  549. >He leads you to a small room and tells you to sit.
  550. >"Wait here."
  551. >You sit in silence and wait.
  552. >Looking around you see a bookshelf, a couple trophies for Boffyball, and a couple family pictures on the wall.
  553. >A couple minutes go by and still nothing.
  554. >Probably sizing me up or something, seeing if I crack.
  555. >Ten minutes
  556. >...Okay...maybe they are still sizing you up?
  557. >30 minutes
  558. >Okay what the heck, did they forget I am in here?
  559. >You decided to rummage through the bookcase.
  560. >There were a couple books on dive maneuvers and outflanking, but a great majority of them were about saving and gaining bits.
  561. >Of course.
  562. >2 hours later
  563. >Maybe this is your new cell?
  564. >Your still flipping through "The Art's of Being Debt Free" until the door starts to open.
  565. >You scramble back to your seat and drop the book on the desk.
  566. >As you sit down a griffon walks in.
  567. >"Learning how to stay in the green hmm?"
  568. >You sit quiet trying to look as innocent as possible.
  569. >The griffon walks past and sits across from you.
  570. >The smile falls from her face.
  571. >"Okay let's get down to business. When is the next attack?"
  572. >Attack?
  573. >She must've noticed the confused look on your face.
  574. >"Yes the next attack! Normally you ponies and Yaks never got along, but this cooperative attack from both of you at the same time caught us by surprise."
  575. >Cooperative attack?
  576. >Wait is Griffonstone at war with Equestria too?
  577. >"What I don't understand is why you assaulted anyway? No air support, no cannons, I didn't even see a unicorn. Even you had wings yet restrained yourself."
  578. >Restrained.
  579. >You don't know how to respond.
  580. >Your head is still spinning from the battle and your wings feel sore.
  581. >Taking a closer look at the Griffon she looks a little familiar.
  582. "Gilda? is that you?"
  583. >You feel a smack hit your head.
  584. >"I am Colonel Gild of the Mountaineer Knights and you will refer to me as such."
  585. >Yup that's Gilda.
  586. >"Now tell me what I want to know."
  587. "I don't know anything, we were all in a POW camp."
  588. >"Really? Then explain why we found, 'The Honorable Commander Sentry of Equestria' fighting along side Yaks?"
  589. >Your shame for abandoning your homeland silences you.
  590. "I would've been killed, we all would've. I expected that since we are allies th-"
  591. >"ALLIES!? After what you ponies did in the first war! Reducing our capital to rubble?"
  592. "...I understand tension is high, but we both want to get ride of the Yak's right?"
  593. >"Actually we are in an alliance, an alliance with the Yaks!"
  594. "W-what?"
  595. >"Not only them but the Dogs, Minotaurs, Zebras and Saddle Arabians are with us as well."
  596. "T-this is an all out Total War!"
  597. >"Equestria's tyranny over these past couple years forced our talons, and apparently all the other species agree."
  598. "So why attack the Yaks if all of you are together?"
  599. >"We didn't! This village was supposed to be under our control! When our armies passed though they just outright attacked us!"
  600. >The Yaks probably thought they were trying to take away their conquered land. They always assimilated new territory immediately. Good thing Griffons don't care to learn about other species history.
  601. "Not as close as you think you are huh?"
  602. >"Bout as close as you were with that Zebra."
  603. "What are you talking about."
  604. >"Since he is from Zebra decent we decided to give a full pardon if he agrees to join us."
  605. "Sacul would never turn his back on the Princesses, especially Twilight!"
  606. >"Guards take him away! The next time I see you I want answers. Or else you'll end up like the other ponies on the mountain!"
  607. >You are led to a cage and locked up next to Sacul.
  608. >He had a scowl looking at you.
  609. "Sacul? What are yo-"
  610. >"Silence stallion scum, better stay quiet or else I'll smash your bum!"
  612. >2 weeks later
  613. "I don't know when the next attack is!"
  614. >A right hoof slams into your face.
  615. >Blood drips from your nose.
  616. >"Hit him again Sacul."
  617. "You damn stripper, why are you doing this?"
  618. >"You may be telling the truth, you may not be. It matters not since you are still an enemy."
  619. >"Bet that feels good don't it zebra."
  620. >He smirks and just gives a nod.
  621. >Gilda then turns to you.
  622. >"For what it's worth you are probably safer here anyways."
  623. >You spit out some teeth with blood.
  624. "What are you babbling about?"
  625. >"Word through the front lines is that your Princesses lost their minds."
  626. "How dare you insult them! They might have made some questionable choices but they are still the same loving Princesses of Equestria!"
  627. >"Your military is trying to revolt against your 'perfect Princesses'."
  628. "No! They would never! The military answers to the Princesses alone! We are their loyal sons!"
  629. >"Well they technically are answering to a Princess. Our spies have found that Flurry Heart is taking to the throne quite nicely."
  630. "But...she is too young. How can the ponies even accept her?"
  631. >"Probably because your Princesses are insane like I said. Sacul unchain him."
  632. >He gives you one last quick jab to the gut then pulls the chains.
  633. >You fall to the blood covered floor with a splat.
  634. >"We are done here, if the Yaks or Equestrians were going to attack they would've done it already."
  635. >Anger swells up.
  636. "Then why put me through this?!"
  637. >You cough up more blood.
  638. >"Like Sacul said, an enemy is still an enemy."
  639. "I'll kill you! Damn bit pinching birds!"
  640. >She turns around and grabs your head with her gloved talons.
  641. >"If you know how much we like our bits then you'll know why we don't keep prisoners."
  642. >She slams your head into the cold concrete floor.
  643. >"Too expensive to keep you all alive. The food the storage, plus we take away troops from the front to babysit you worthless cowards."
  644. >She looks into your bloody eyes.
  645. "I'll personally watch you be executed before we march on Cloudsdale."
  647. >Days have past.
  648. >Not sure how many.
  649. >You have been blindfolded after your last 'talk' with Gilda.
  650. >Your feathers almost completely grew back, you might be able to fly again soon.
  651. >The door opens.
  652. >"My turn to keep watch, go take a break and get some fresh butterscotch."
  653. >"When did chef have time to make butterscotch?"
  654. >You hear the other one try to whisper.
  655. >"I-I think he only says stuff like that so it rhymes."
  656. >"No way, c'mon let's go get a treat!"
  657. >"I doubt that slob we call a chef actually knows how to make anything other than stew, scones, and whatever that paste was last night."
  658. >"No shame in checking at least right?"
  659. >The banter between the two guards continued until you hear a door slam.
  660. "What do you want? Another round of no-hoof boxing?"
  661. >"Sorry my friend, your pain must last, pretty soon this will all be in the past."
  662. "Past? PAST!? I will probably still be feeling this-"
  663. >"Shhhhh! Stay quiet! We need to lay low before they riot."
  664. >Riot?
  665. "What are you-"
  666. >You are cut off by screaming from outside.
  667. >Sacul then promptly drops your chains and removes your blindfold.
  668. >All you see is white.
  669. >The light pouring into your room keeps your eyelids shut.
  670. >"Just rest your eyes and adjust to the light, hopefully everything will turn out all right."
  671. >He pulls you close against the wall and locks the door.
  672. >More screaming can be heard.
  673. >You hear something else...
  674. >Laughing?
  676. >Another scream could be heard being cutoff.
  677. >Then blood splattered across the window.
  678. >"The effects will where off before we become lures. For now though all these screams and cries we must endure."
  679. >What did Sacul do to the Griffons?
  680. >It seems like hours go by but eventually the screams and maniacal laughing dies down.
  681. >Your eyesight has also came.
  682. >Mostly.
  683. >Things were a little blurry but at least you didn't need to depend on somepony else.
  684. >Now to get some information.
  685. >"Okay the coast is clear, now let's get out of-"
  686. >You slam Sacul against the wall.
  687. >"-here."
  688. >You give one good punch to his gut.
  689. "That was for the two weeks of Tartarus. Now. What. Did. You. Do?"
  690. >"I'll explain later, but now we must flee, the others are waiting for us with glee."
  691. >Before you could continue to confront your former torturer, he picks you up and leads you out the door.
  692. >Surrounding you outside was something you would never forget.
  693. >In horror you stared at what seemed like makeshift battle.
  694. >There were griffons with tears all over their bodies.
  695. >Random limbs littered the area, blood gathered in pools all around as if it was rained down.
  696. >You were pulled out of your 1000 yard stare by Sacul pushing you towards the caves.
  697. >The same caves leading you back to "Our Town"
  698. "We can't go back there, the Yaks will kill us!"
  699. >"There is no time and our friends can't wait. the Yaks are gone, along with your 'swinging' fate."
  700. >He gives a gesture of being in a noose.
  701. "Let's keep going."
  702. >Making it back to the ruined village you were surprised to see that the Yaks have left.
  703. "Okay now that we are here, what did you do to the griffons?"
  704. >"I know many herbs to consume that cause healing and life, but my true potential is mixing the ones that cause confusion and strife."
  705. "Y-you poisoned the chefs food?"
  706. >You hear distant voices.
  707. >It's Gilda's.
  708. >"The hoofprints lead this way! Let's GO!"
  709. >"A dish of madness is what they ate, but the survivors will catch us traveling at this rate."
  710. >He motions you to follow him into one of the few still standing buildings.
  711. >"I found them surviving down here, a last stand. They promised to help us get back to our homeland."
  712. >He leads you into a dark basement and whispers...
  713. >"They seem crazy but they're just reclusive. Mostly because their old leader was abusive."
  714. >He closes the door and you both walk through the darkness.
  715. >Sacul lights a candle and make your way deeper into the basement.
  716. >An old iron door can be found at the very back of the basement.
  717. >It rumbles and creeks as the door opens at your presence.
  718. >A grey stallion with a silver colored mane walked out of the darkness to greet you.
  719. >"Welcome brothers."
  720. >With a warm smile he nudges both into the room.
  721. >After you both walk through the doorway he carefully and quietly closes it.
  722. >"Quickly quickly, this entrance has been compromised long ago."
  723. >On the back of the door were a myriad of locks with chains.
  724. >With the same smile he turns to you both again.
  725. >"Don't worry, we are safe now. The others are so excited to meet you."
  726. "We are really grateful for helping us. Once we get back-"
  727. >"Get back? Why would you leave?"
  728. "I need to get back to Canterlot, the Princesses need to know about the dissent between the Yaks and Griffons."
  729. >"No No No you cannot leave. And you definitely can't go to the Princesses!"
  730. >You quietly turn to Sacul while the stallion still has his flank to you.
  731. "Sacul who are these friends of your again?"
  732. >"Besides a leader like you are just what we need to push over our cause above ground."
  733. >Finally you both come to a giant opening. Almost like an underground warehouse.
  734. >A warehouse that held an armory almost doubled the size of Canterlots.
  735. >Once entering legions of other ponies
  736. >Each one with a strange cutie mark.
  737. >All exactly the same.
  738. >All equal.
  739. >...
  740. >The sudden realization jolts your mind.
  741. >You whisper back into Sacul's ear.
  742. "Sacul we need to leave."
  743. >"You must have gone crazy? With their help the Yaks will be pushing daisies!"
  744. "No you don't understand these ponies don't want to help the Princesses, they plan on overthrowing them and making some sort of 'equality state'."
  745. >Sacul just stares at you with unbelieving eyes.
  746. >"Twilight told me how she stopped Starlight's cult trying to do the exact same thing. These ponies must be what is left."
  747. >He brushes off your wild claims with a snort.
  748. >"Something wrong friends?"
  749. "No nothing! It's just that we have to...
  750. >"We would love to see, how you have been living with prosperity."
  751. >"Of course. Go on ahead, me and the stallion will catch up soon."
  752. >A couple other ponies walk with your friend while the grey stallion 'hugs' you close.
  753. >"What a nice Zebra. So willing to comply to our way of life, and all we did was show some compassion."
  754. >He drops his smile and looks at you.
  755. >"I bet Princess Twilight helped him conform really nice to Equestrias ways of discrimination."
  756. "Shut up about my wife!"
  757. >"You ponies are all the same, even when the end is near you still try to hold onto the little power that remains. A revolution is coming, and equality for all shall be born from it."
  758. "It will never work! This cult is a joke, everypony knows that after Star-"
  759. >"Yes yes we remember Starlight, but much has changed since then. Mistrust of the monarchy has helped us grow tenfold. Your precious princesses won't be here for long."
  760. "Do you honestly believe that this 'revolution' will take off? Every loyal stallion will rise up against you! Our military will crush this puny little insurrection."
  761. >"I've had enough of this, let's begin the re-education."
  762. >A couple other ponies come out from the main floor.
  763. >One slams a club right on your face and you slowly start to black out.
  765. It has been three days.
  766. >"Choose equality over individuality."
  767. >Or at least it feels like it.
  768. >The voice over the intercom was unrelenting.
  769. >"In sameness there is peace."
  770. "Oh Celestia make it stop."
  771. >"Exceptionalism is a lie. Be your best by never being your best."
  772. >You feel as if your head is going to explode from the constant bombardment.
  773. "Okay in times like these I need to stay sane. Can't just wait around and talk to myself."
  774. >You scan the room for something to do.
  775. >A small bookshelf with three books are in the corner.
  776. "Just need something to keep my mind occupied."
  777. >Nothing
  778. >It's just pages filled with equality marks.
  779. "Okay let's try book number two."
  780. >Better.
  781. >It is filled with pictures of families and couples enjoying themselves.
  782. >All having the equality mark but at least it was a temporary relief.
  783. >You could almost picture yourself with them.
  784. >Being happy again.
  785. >You think back to all the times you spent with Twilight.
  786. >How even on the worst day her laugh and smile would always make it worth it.
  787. >Now she's missing.
  788. >And you're trapped underground with a cult plotting to overthrow their rule.
  789. "This damn war. I swear if it's the last thing I do I will find you Twilight."
  790. >You couldn't look at the pictures anymore, all you could think of was Twilight.
  791. "I...need to think of something else. Alright number three what do you have?"
  792. >Quotations from Our Town's Founder Starlight Glimmer.
  793. Starlight Glimmer was the greatest Equalizer of our era. She has inherited, defended, and developed Equality with genius, creativity, and comprehensibly and brought it to a higher and completely new stage.
  794. Starlight's thought is Equality of the era in which the imperialistic and tyrannical minds of the Princesses is heading for total collapse and Equality shall be given to all ponies. It is a powerful weapon for opposing the influential controlling minds of this ongoing millennial authoritative monarchy.
  795. "I would rather go insane than read more of this trash."
  796. >You throw the book against the wall.
  797. >It falls with a strangely loud thud.
  798. >"TAAaak-."
  799. >What?
  800. >Over the voice from the intercom you thought you heard another pony.
  801. >A plus side to being in a stone cell is that things echo.
  802. "Hello?"
  803. >...
  804. "HELLO!"
  805. >...
  806. >"Marhaban?! 'Ay shakhs hunak! Alrraja' musaeadati! "
  807. "Um...what?"
  808. >"He's a Caspian. One of the desert horses. Not sure how he ended up here way up north. Then again how did any of us end up here?"
  809. >"'Urid aleawdat 'iilaa almanzil!"
  810. >"SHUT IT! These Equality Announcements are bad enough without you hollering!"
  811. >The voice sounded like a mare...except a bit more hoarse.
  812. >She must've been yelling for a while.
  813. "Hey, who are you? Let me OUT!"
  814. >"Do you really think that I would even if I could?"
  815. >Time to turn on the old Sentry Charm
  816. "Well I bet a beautiful mare like you must have some type of heart in her right."
  817. >"Now I am definitely sure you're staying in here."
  818. >It always worked better with eye contact.
  819. "How long have you and the sand-stallion been here?"
  820. >"Probably around a month, the desert dweller probably been here before the war."
  821. >"Wa'ana 'afham alfurusiat lak alkhanazir !"
  822. >"I SAID SHUT IT!"
  823. "GLaD to see that in dire times you two have come to an understanding."
  824. >"Now you shut it!"
  825. >Suddenly you hear hoofsteps.
  826. >A couple unicorns walk into your cell.
  827. >"Let's go. Time to see if you're ready."
  828. "Ready to go? I've been ready since I got here."
  829. >You hear the mare make a small chuckle.
  830. >She'll come around.
  831. >"Have fun, first time is always the worst."
  832. >Wait what?
  833. >Quickly you are led to a small room with two more unicorns.
  834. >One of them is holding up a weird staff.
  835. >You are 'persuaded' with some magic to the center of the five.
  836. >You look around and see them just standing there.
  837. >Smiling.
  838. >Then their horns lit up and they all shot their magic.
  839. >Not at you...but at the rod?
  840. >The rod lights up and glows from the magic.
  841. >The magic shoots from the rod engulfing you with it's glow.
  842. >This can't be good.
  844. "This facility is awesome, your organization has quite blossomed."
  845. >"I am surprised that ponies haven't flocked to join our cause."
  846. "Yes these invasions are quite the blunder, many friends and brothers I have seen go under.
  847. With your help by our side, we can take back Equestria in full stride."
  848. >"Our cause? As a zebra I assumed you would be going back to your tribe."
  849. "No no no, I am Equestria born, and seeing it attacked makes my heart torn."
  850. >You hear a whisper behind you.
  851. >"Geez do all Zebras have to rhyme?"
  852. >"Shut-up, they probably can't help themselves. It's in their nature. Probably hard-wired into their DNA."
  853. >You politely turn a deaf ear to the racist remark.
  854. >However thinking back, you can't remember the last time you said a sentence without a rhyming word.
  855. >You can't remember 'any' time you said a sentence normally.
  856. >Maybe you should try to prove yourself and your species.
  857. "Where is my friend, I have some things to..."
  858. >You stutter a little.
  859. "to...to..."
  860. >The three ponies stare at you questionably.
  861. >Your eyes start twitching and you feel your face turn red.
  862. >"Are you alright Sacul?"
  863. "to contend."
  864. >You hear another whisper behind you.
  865. >"Told you it's in their DNA."
  866. >"Ahem!"
  867. >The stallion leading you stared daggers at the two following.
  868. >"Flash is just resting. Honestly you should too, I imagine you had a rough time with the Griffons."
  869. >You just nod.
  870. >Shame washes over you like rain.
  871. >Maybe some rest can do you some good.
  872. >You follow one of the stallions down a couple corridors.
  873. >Through the sound hooves tapping and scraping against the floor you hear something else.
  874. >It's faint but still distinguishable.
  875. >A scream?
  876. >No, screaming.
  878. >You and your escort look surprised at each other.
  879. "What was that about, singing shouldn't be responded with an angry shout."
  880. >Very soft but clearly you hear what the shout was responding too.
  881. >"Awwah laqad jit min 'ard , min mmakan baeid hayth qawafil qaflt tajub."
  882. >You both cover your ears with your hooves.
  883. >"By the equal power of the ponies that's awful."
  884. >Maybe a shout wasn't so uncalled for.
  886. >That was definitely uncalled for.
  887. >The screaming and threats amounted to nothing as you could clearly still hear the singing continue.
  888. >You casually walk towards the source of the noise.
  889. >"Hey! Hey! Hey! That area is restricted!"
  890. >You continue anyways.
  891. >The stallion jumps in front of you and pulls out a short dagger.
  892. >"Turn around stripper, that doesn't concern you."
  893. "Are you threatening me? And with something so pewee."
  894. >"Let's just head to your room shall we?"
  895. "Fine let us go, but one way or another I will see what you won't show."
  896. >Suddenly you hear the sound of glass breaking and a couple of distant screams.
  897. >You take advantage of the situation while he is distracted.
  898. >Yanking away the small dagger you land a right hook.
  899. >His body goes limb and falls against the hallways wall.
  900. >In a flash you run towards the screaming.
  901. >...
  902. >"Oh great a zebra! What's next a dragon?"
  903. >"Marhabaan sadiq jurridat."
  904. "Mar-haaban tik 'aydo-on."
  905. >"/You...you can understand me?/"
  906. >"Oh great another desert talker."
  907. "/Please no hate. I know tiny, not great/"
  908. >"/Well my friend you know enough to keep your tongue at least. Now please let me out of here!/"
  910. "/Your cellmate has quite the mouth, how did you end up here from way down south?/"
  911. >An alarm suddenly starts blazing.
  912. >"/No time for a story just let me OUT NOW!/"
  913. >You find a switch on the wall and his cell door slides open.
  914. >"/Great! Thank you so much brother! I have been in that cell for almost a year! Did my information get back? How successful was the first wave? Did we win the war? Have the Princesses answered for their war crimes?/"
  915. >Princesses?
  916. >War crimes?
  917. >"You say one word about our Princesses foreigner and I swear I will find and gut you when the other agents get me out!"
  918. >Agents?
  919. >/"That 'thing' is working for the MID. Equestria's Secret Police./"
  920. >Looking closely at the mare, something was off about her.
  921. >An explosion can be heard through the hallways.
  922. >No time to think about her.
  923. >/"Let's go brother! By the Sultan's name I will help you get back to your tribe for helping me escape! Now I can finish my mission./"
  924. >You look at him shiftily.
  925. "/Why did you come here? Surely you're not a sightseer./"
  926. >He turns to you with a crooked smile.
  927. >"/I'm a Hashshashagya. And my mission was to put an end to anypony declaring their loyalty to the Princesses./"
  928. >A Hashshashagya.
  929. >Just hearing that name sends a chill down your spine.
  930. >They were the eternal Order of personal assassins and spies for the ruling Arabian King.
  931. >Skinning ponies alive were a signature of their brutality.
  932. >If he finds out you were a Royal Soldier you'd most likely end up like one of the poor ponies put on their lists.
  933. >Better play your part, he doesn't know anything about you yet other than that he thinks you are his ally.
  934. >Perfect.
  935. >...
  936. "AHHHGGGG"
  937. >The beam from the rod dies down.
  938. >Panting from all around the room.
  939. "I'd like to *cough* return to my cell now."
  940. >"You are done when we say we are done!"
  941. >"Maybe he isn't ready yet."
  942. >"Perhaps more 'therapy' is in order."
  943. >While the unicorns conversed with each other you caught your breath.
  944. >"Let's try one more time."
  945. >"POWER THROUGH!"
  946. >Dear Celestia please not again.
  947. >The pain was still resonating through your body.
  948. >It felt as if they were trying to rip your flank off along with your mark.
  949. >Either out of divine intervention or pure coincidence a miracle happened.
  950. >An explosion.
  951. >Multiple explosions.
  952. >Through the intercoms you here a frantic stallion blare out.
  954. >"Get him back to his cell. NOW!"
  955. >"GRIFFONS HAVE BREACHED*Smash*-oh sweet Celestia. No please! I-I only joined them so I can dodge the dr-"
  956. >A scream can be heard through the speaker.
  957. >Static.
  958. >Fumbling can be heard with the microphone.
  959. >Then a voice.
  960. >A raspy voice.
  961. >Gilda?
  962. >"Flash. Zebra. I know you both are here. You can run as long as you can, but I will find you both. And I won't rest til I see your heads rest atop a pike for what you did!"
  963. >A smash can be heard then static.
  964. >"Move! You two take him back, the rest follow me to the command center!"
  965. >As the unicorns dash towards the exit you are left there alone with the two assigned.
  966. >They quickly lead you down back to your cell.
  968. >A look of horror goes up on the two escorts faces.
  969. >They run into the empty cell and inspect what happened.
  970. >"If he get loose this could mean the end for us."
  971. >"No not us, we need to get out of here! If the Griffons are this far down that means everypony here is compromised. Let's just bolt!"
  972. >"Appleloosa is still peaceful, we can just blend in with the refugees."
  973. >While they talked you slowly tipped your way to the cell levers.
  974. >Ca-chunk
  975. >"Hey what are you doing?!"
  976. "Just seeing what all these levers do."
  977. >You eye the set again and pull one on the far right.
  978. >"Bout' time I got some space."
  979. >Time slows
  980. >As the mare walks out you are completely entranced by her.
  981. >A smooth dark gray coat.
  982. >Black as night mane with a blue strip running through it.
  983. >And her eyes, a sparkling shade of purple that you could be lost in for hours.
  984. >"Thanks you."
  985. "My pleasure. I never got your name."
  986. >"Fortune. Miss F.B. Fortune."
  987. "Now how did a pony like yourself get mixed up with a bad group like this?"
  988. >"I'll explain later, now we need to get out of here so I can contact my partner."
  989. >She dashes out the door and you begin to follow.
  990. >"Wait! Please!"
  991. >You turn back to see the two stallions you locked in.
  992. >"Don't leave us! The griffons would probably just let us starve in here!"
  993. >"At least give us a chance to run!"
  994. >You turn away but stop.
  995. "If I let you go, I want you guys gone!"
  996. >With a flick of your hoof you release all the cells.
  997. >You weren't sure if there were any other prisoners, it just felt good flicking all the levers at once.
  998. >"Thank you!"
  999. "GO!"
  1000. >As they dash away you here Fortune call out.
  1001. >"Hey you coming or what?"
  1002. >You both run down hallway after hallway.
  1003. >"Okay so what's the plan on getting out of here?"
  1004. "Plan?"
  1005. >"You don't have a plan!"
  1006. "I have a base idea."
  1007. >"Oh and what is that?"
  1008. "Find my friend and head back to Equestrian territory before the Griffons skin us both."
  1009. >"Oh well that's just fine and dandy!"
  1010. >You both stop and jump into a room.
  1011. >It sounds as if a whole war is being fought.
  1012. >Sounds of screams and fizzing magic can be heard echoing through the stone structure.
  1013. >"Maybe we can rest here for now."
  1014. "For a pony as tiny as you. You keep up a pretty good stride."
  1015. >"Hmmph"
  1016. "Why exactly are you here? Did you actually think that these cultist will spread 'peace and equality across Equestria'."
  1017. >"By Celestia no. I am an agent of the MID. I was following a lead on a spy when I stumbled upon these traitors."
  1018. "You said you were in that cell for months though."
  1019. >"Yeah, if an agent goes missing they are assumed dead. No rescue or recovery. Can't risk the lives of other agents."
  1020. "So what now since the agency abandoned you?"
  1021. >"If I can just make contact with my partner I can warn them about this resurgence. This can't be the only cell, we must root out these parasites if they are others in Equestria."
  1022. "Calm down now, I doubt they could do too much damage compared to whatever carnage is happening now."
  1023. >"That's not the point, the point is that ponies have lost faith in our Princesses. And if that idea spreads it will end their rule!"
  1024. >Banging can be heard on your door.
  1025. >"Let me in! They-they're coming please!"
  1026. >"Stay quiet."
  1027. "Can't we help him?"
  1028. >"All that would do is get us deeper into trouble. Come on we need to leave!"
  1030. >The both of you sneak your ways through rooms and doorways.
  1031. >Slowly and quietly.
  1032. >That's probably what separated you from the Saddle Arabians.
  1033. >They have patience.
  1034. >Zebras like you can be disciplined, but nothing compared to him.
  1035. >Not like the Hashshashagya.
  1036. "/It seemed you and the cult had the same goals, why did they lock you up like a thieving foal?/"
  1037. >"/I have traveled through many lands, I have dozens of sleeper agents and informants that help me through it all./"
  1038. >You listen closely learning about his secrets.
  1039. >If you take him out, you could possibly save the Princesses. No, Equestria even.
  1040. >"/But coming upon a small army that is willing to destroy ALL the monarchies. That can't be allowed./"
  1041. >As you made your way through a door into a hallway. A griffon runs directly into the door you just opened.
  1042. >You awaited in horror for it to tear you to shreds.
  1043. >"What the heck, how did this door open?"
  1044. >What?
  1045. >You look at your companion and he motions you to be as still and quiet as possible.
  1046. >"Grrrr, stupid loose door."
  1047. >In a fit of rage he tears off the door smashing it against the wall inches away from you.
  1048. >"Let me in! They-they're coming please!"
  1049. >Hearing new prey the Griffon flies down the corridor.
  1050. >You look confusingly at the Arab who had a smirk on his face.
  1051. >"/Surprised yes? Unlike you Zebras who have to brew your magic. Arabs can manipulate and control magic./"
  1052. >They can use magic without a horn?
  1053. >This can be a problem.
  1054. >"/However only few can sustain control for very long. I myself almost reached my limit./"
  1055. "/No matter my friend, we will get through to the end./"
  1056. >/"Hopefully we 'Both' do. You look a little worried about something./"
  1057. >He eyes you carefully with that smirk.
  1058. >All you can do is stare back.
  1059. >Not moving.
  1060. >Not breathing.
  1061. >Time seemed to have slowed.
  1062. >What feels like hours go by in your head.
  1063. >"/Well then. Let's go 'friend'./"
  1064. "/Yes, let's./"
  1066. >Finally after traversing corridors you and Fortune find a way out of the labyrinthian tunnels.
  1067. >Climbing out of the hatch snow trickles down the ladder back into the complex.
  1068. >The cool breeze of the Crystal Mountains sends a shiver down your spine.
  1069. >"If my memory serves me right a dead drop up ahead."
  1070. >As you walk into a cave that shiver turns into a lingering chill.
  1071. >At the very back of the cave stood a giant panel with broken glass all around it.
  1072. "What is this place?"
  1073. >"This is where Starlight locked up her cult's cutie marks."
  1074. >You think back to when Twilight first introduced you to Starlight.
  1075. >She seemed so sweet and nice.
  1076. "Twilight told me she saved a small town, but I never knew that Starlight actually-"
  1077. >"Quiet!"
  1078. >Fortune reaches into one of the glass holding and presses a hoof against the side.
  1079. >A light click can be heard and out falls a tiny scribe.
  1080. >After about a minute it catches fire.
  1081. >"We have to make it to Trottingham."
  1082. "What? I need to get to Canterlot not some seaweed fishing village. I have to make a demand for more troops! Vanhoover can't stay in the yaks hooves!"
  1083. >"They won't spare any stallions, trust me."
  1084. "Why shouldn't they? One of our major port cities has been stolen, I doubt Celestia would just sit idly by. Besides I need to ask her something."
  1085. >"Ask her what?"
  1086. "That's none of your business."
  1087. >"I'm going to take a wild guess and say it's about where did Twilight go."
  1088. >You clench your jaw at the statement..
  1089. >"Ah so it is."
  1090. "Is it wrong to question where your spouse disappeared to?"
  1091. >"No, but they won't know anything."
  1092. "What makes you so sure? You were locked up. How can you know anything right now?"
  1093. >"You can gleam a lot from just a couple words."
  1094. "I don't need this. I already helped you enough, what I need to do is make it back to the Capitol."
  1095. >As you turn to leave Fortune jumps in front of you.
  1096. >"Please. I won't make it alone."
  1097. "Give me one good reason."
  1098. >"Because I can take you to the ponies who know where your dear wife is."
  1099. >...
  1100. >Traversing through the caves a bright light shines through.
  1101. >Finally an exit.
  1102. >Surprising there aren't guards around.
  1103. >As you and the Arab get closer to the cave opening the sound of rushing water fills the air.
  1104. >Could it be?
  1105. >"By the grace of the young Sultan, it's beautiful."
  1106. >Walking out of the cave you both are standing at the mouth of Neighagra Falls.
  1107. "A wonderful sight indeed, but what plan we might have for our needs?"
  1108. >"It's getting late, I never leaned Equestria's topography well enough to go this deep. Any suggestions?"
  1109. >You think back to when you first entered the Academy.
  1110. >They would march you from Canterlot to Fillydelphia travelling right past these falls.
  1111. >One of the rest points always stuck with you, a place you would never forget.
  1112. "I know of a village down this path, hopefully they will greet us without a Griffons wrath."
  1113. >As the sun slowly descended you spotted the old sign you remember from the long marches.
  1114. >Hollow Shades. 3 miles.
  1116. >Hollow Shades.
  1117. >Home of the Bat-ponies.
  1118. >Unlike the name says they actually aren't part bat.
  1119. >Just the result of a crossbreeding between ponies and dragons.
  1120. >That's what gives them their keen sight and faster flight.
  1121. >A pony with dragons eyes and wings.
  1122. >Due to their appearance they very rarely go out during the day.
  1123. >Exactly the reason why Princess Luna has employed so many for the Night Guards.
  1124. >But the population in Hollow Shades is small now.
  1125. >Due to the war many have fled to caverns in the Badlands rather than serve.
  1126. >Cowardly freaks.
  1127. >They may have the blood and strength of dragons but they lack the backbone.
  1128. >But you didn't come for them.
  1129. >You came for her.
  1131. >"Why are we traversing this darkness? This place would seem like where q𝘢reen and jinn would hide."
  1132. "Qareen and Jinn? They friends you be of akin?"
  1133. >"Qareen and Jinn are shape shifting monsters. Father used to tell me stories about them eating young colts and fillies if they stay out too late."
  1134. >Crackling comes from the bushes.
  1135. >He steps cautiously towards them close to investigate.
  1136. >"What was that noise?"
  1137. >She's here now.
  1138. >She has probably been following since you both entered the forest.
  1139. >If you are to rid the world of him now would be the time.
  1140. >Rustling from the bushes continues and out pops a filly bat-pony.
  1141. >"Little one, are you here all alone?"
  1142. >She stares back coldly.
  1143. >"Food?"
  1144. >He shifts nervously but moves ever closer.
  1145. >"We have sparse food, but I will happily give a foal my share."
  1146. >You distance yourself knowing what will happen.
  1147. >"Food!"
  1148. >"Ugh...yes som-"
  1149. >"FOOD!!!"
  1150. >The foaling's flesh melts.
  1151. >Out of its body rips out an array of tentacles with hooked ends.
  1152. >"In the name of the Sultan wh-"
  1153. >They quickly wrap around the Arab and pulls him to the ground.
  1154. >He turns to look at you one last time before being dragged into the brush.
  1155. >A mix of fear and hate is on his face.
  1156. >Nostalgia kicks in.
  1157. >It's been too long since you have seen Thingpone.
  1158. >The last time you seen her was before being deployed to the frozen North.
  1159. >Before this whole mess spiraled out of control.
  1160. >Good to know she is still...surviving? I guess that is the word.
  1161. >There isn't a thin line between thriving and surviving, but the line is still there.
  1162. >And Thingpone always seemed to be right on that line.
  1163. >Even when you first met her in the Everfree Forest as a colt.
  1164. >Many ponies would be downright terrified of her.
  1165. >Not you.
  1166. >You owe your life to her ever since she rescued you.
  1167. >That one rainy night in the forest.
  1168. >All alone.
  1169. >Nopony to hear your screams of help.
  1170. >...
  1171. >"Give us another rhyme Zebra."
  1172. >A rock hits above your eye.
  1173. >"Take your mystic voodoo crap out of Equestria!"
  1174. >Rain and blood blind your sight as the persecutors close in.
  1175. >You shut your eyes waiting for the worst to happen.
  1176. >Nothing.
  1177. >Looking up to the sky the blood washes away from your face.
  1178. >One of the attackers steps from the brush.
  1179. >He was smiling.
  1180. >Not a normal smile, something was off about his face.
  1181. >It was...half melted.
  1182. >"You don't have to worry about them anymore."
  1183. >A lump of flesh falls to the ground with a wet slap.
  1184. >Under normal circumstances you would be terrified, but not now.
  1185. >You approach the deformed pony.
  1186. >You motion your head within inches from its face and smile.
  1188. >The oozing monstrosity towered over your small colt body.
  1189. >The air smelled of blood and sweat. It was so strong not even the pouring rain could dilute it.
  1190. >As you look up into its dripping jaws and bloodshot eyes all you can do is smile.
  1191. “Thank you friend. You truly are a godsend.”
  1192. >The beast stopped with a surprised look on its face
  1193. >Or faces…
  1194. >The many tentacles and limbs seem to fall and mesh into one another until only the form of a filly remained.
  1195. >”Friend? You want to be my friend?”
  1196. >This was your very first encounter with Thingpone.
  1197. >Your very first friend.
  1198. >You both only had one thing in common, but that one thing is what built your friendship up.
  1199. >Being persecuted for your looks and actions.
  1200. >Forced to live at the edge of Ponyville in the Everfree Forest.
  1201. >Your mother Zecora said it wasn’t so bad years ago, before Ponyville turned from a small farm village into a real town.
  1202. >Not as big as Manehatten or Baltimare.
  1203. >But big enough to bring in the more, ‘nationalistic crowd’.
  1204. >The kind that would drive out anyone from town if they weren’t a pony.
  1205. >Thing didn’t exactly have the same scenario as you, but nonetheless it was nice to have a companion while you lived alone in the woods.
  1206. >One day a mob drove her from Everfree and you wouldn’t see her again until applying for the Royal Guard.
  1207. >Dalton quickly filled the void in that time.
  1208. >Years later when going on the long marches to Fillydelphia traversing through Hollow Shades is when you would see her again.
  1209. >...
  1210. >Now you are back.
  1211. >Back in a forest feeding a would be assassin to her.
  1212. >Again she saves your life just like the time when you first met as a colt.
  1213. >You can’t really help but smile thinking back on the memories.
  1214. >The smiling quickly turns to worry.
  1215. >A gurgling scream brings reality back into sight.
  1216. >Looking into the brush was a true sight to behold.
  1217. >The Hashashagya was floating above Thing.
  1218. >His sword glowing the brightest shade of gold.
  1220. >With each swing he took a tentacle falls to the ground.
  1221. >Black blood oozed from the fallen appendages followed by her shrill screams of pain.
  1222. >This was not supposed to happen.
  1223. >That sword, it's unworldly.
  1224. >All the times you watched her eat others.
  1225. >All the times you fed her.
  1226. >They fought back delivering blows just like him, but she would recover.
  1227. >She would always re-materialize and then swallow them whole.
  1228. >"DIE MONSTER!"
  1229. >With those words he plunges the glowing sword deep into her chest cavity.
  1230. >She gives out one last wailing scream before all her limbs go limp.
  1231. >As she lays on the forest floor her head cocks to look at you.
  1232. >You see something you never saw in her before.
  1233. >Fear.
  1234. >She kept her gaze until one final slash from the illuminated blade severs her head in two.
  1235. >"Come. We need to leave this evil place. Who knows what else could be lurking in these trees."
  1236. "Y-yes. Let us leave. For there is no reason to weep or grieve."
  1237. >As you pass by her corpse you notice it starts to liquefy.
  1238. >Bones, tendons, muscles, everything.
  1239. >Slowly start to form a large black puddle staining the forest floor.
  1240. >Could you have helped her?
  1241. >No...no that glowing...it was...
  1242. >It was as if he had power from an Alicorn.
  1243. >How can somepony like him have that ability?
  1244. >Aren't all Arabs Earth ponies just like Zebra?
  1245. >How can-
  1246. >"You want me to tell you what that was yes?"
  1247. >Freezing on the path you turn to look at him.
  1248. >"How a mere mortal like me can wipe out an impure abomination such as that?"
  1249. >He draws his sword and points it at your neck.
  1250. >...
  1251. >Trottingham.
  1252. >Only a couple miles away from Starlight's Village.
  1253. >The only thing stopping you and Fortune from getting there are the legions of reinforcements and supplies of the Griffons.
  1254. >All camped up nice and tight in front of the entrance to the mountain passage.
  1255. >You and Fortune peer down at the camp on top of a hilltop.
  1256. >There everything can been seen.
  1257. >From the barracks tents to the supply sheds.
  1258. >Everything.
  1259. >"Only way to make it to Trottingham is through the caves or around on the train."
  1260. "Since the railways got blown to smithereens i say the cave is the best option."
  1261. >"How about the sea? Trottingham is on the Griffish Isles. We can get a dingy and-"
  1262. "and get spotted by Griffon scouts and get torn to pieces. Nice."
  1263. >"Well we can't go through the caves! I would rather take the risk at sea rather than marching straight through their supply lines!"
  1264. "It's fine. I have an idea, but we would need to somehow sneak into their mess tent."
  1265. >"What? You want to make yourself a snack before we get gutted?"
  1266. "You need to get to Trottingham and I have a plan. Now are you going to help me or not?"
  1267. >Fortune sighs and looks back down to the camp.
  1268. >"There it is. Right at the edge of the camp by those two rocks. Shouldn't be to hard to get into. So what's your plan?"
  1269. >A mischievous smile comes across your face.
  1270. "A friend of mine told me about a little trick that helped us escape the Griffons before."
  1271. >"Trick? You mean poison right? By the time that takes effect the alarm will be raised and barely an eighth of them would be-"
  1272. >You put a hoof to her lips.
  1273. "Not poison..."
  1274. >Adjusting your voice you try and mimic Saculs's accent.
  1275. "A dish of madness is what they'll eat, spreading through the camp it will...um....defeat..."
  1276. >How in Tartarus do they speak like this?
  1277. >"What are you babbling about? We don't have time for this, the more we wait the more Griffons we'll have to deal with."
  1278. "Just follow my lead, once it starts we'll have to find a hiding place and fast!"
  1279. >...
  1280. "We are clear now. Let's move."
  1281. >Fortune follows you out from the storage shed of the mess tent.
  1282. >Once outside it was a horror show.
  1283. >While many of the griffons who turned 'mad' already were dead, some could still be heard.
  1284. >"W-what did you do to them?"
  1285. "Just a trick I learned from a friend."
  1286. >"What kind of tricks bring a whole battalion down?"
  1287. "The only thing I gleamed from my friends explanation is that it's an infection of the brain. It causes the host to act on their absolute worst instincts beings can muster up. Murder, cannibalism, torture, rape, and all of the other cruel and inventive things a sick mind makes. It spreads through liquids so it spreads quick in condensed areas like this. After a short while the brain overloads and the host dies. It's a good thing too since-"
  1288. >Turning past a tent you both walk upon an infected griffon...violating a mutilated corpse.
  1289. >His beak is snapped.
  1290. >Right wing bet in an unnatural way with hollow bones poking through his skin.
  1291. >A fresh scar is lay across his face going over his left eye.
  1292. >With the widest smile he turns to face the two of you looking with his bloodshot right eye.
  1293. >He screams out two words.
  1294. >"FReSH MeaT!"
  1295. >"I-if we stand still do you think he will-"
  1296. >The mad griffon dashes towards you two.
  1297. >Every step it takes sounds off the crunching of broken bones yet he still charges onward not caring about his injuries.
  1298. >His right wing separates tripping him up and forcing him to the ground face first.
  1299. >He just lays their motionless.
  1300. "We should go bef-"
  1301. >"RAHHHHHHHHH!"
  1302. >He throws a disembodied leg towards you both.
  1303. >Ducking under it you pick up a nearby spear next to a fallen griffon and end the mad scoundrels life.
  1304. "Let's go before any more show up. Fortune?"
  1305. >Turning around Fortune was on the ground with the severed leg aside her.
  1306. >There was a deep cut on her forehead and blood covered almost her whole face.
  1307. >It was hard to tell the difference between her own blood and the blood from the leg.
  1308. >He must've threw that thing with some force.
  1309. "Fortune? Fortune! Are you alright?"
  1310. >She coughs up a worrisome amount of blood and stands up.
  1311. >"F-flassssh!"
  1312. "Fortune! We need to stop the-"
  1313. >"Ruuuuuuunnn"
  1314. "What? What are you-"
  1315. >"I caaan feeeeelll it! It's like a veeeenomm! hehehehe. Kinda feeels gooodNO!!!"
  1316. >She's infected! But how?
  1317. >She picks up the severed leg wielding it awkwardly.
  1318. >The blood from the leg!
  1319. >"Thisss feeeellsss reaally goood. Like a burning sensation. You should trrrryyy it!"
  1320. "No. No! STAY AWAY FROM ME!"
  1321. >Her eyes turn bloodshot and that creepy overly wide smile goes across her face.
  1322. >In a brief moment she gains control of her body.
  1323. >"Flash. Run."
  1324. >No hesitation.
  1325. >You gallop out of their faster than Usoarin Bolt at the Equestrian Games.
  1326. >Not far behind you is Fortune screaming out obscenities and vulgar comments.
  1327. >It's disorienting running full blast through a camp.
  1328. >Alongside trying to avoid stepping in puddles of blood it's nearly impossible to navigate.
  1329. >Oh buck.
  1330. >Making a bad turn you find yourself cornered.
  1331. >Hopefully you lost her.
  1332. >The cursing stopped, maybe you-"
  1333. >"Hellooooo Flaaaashy!"
  1334. >Horror washes across your body as you see Fortune at the end of the alley.
  1335. "Fortune, please. I know you're in there. Fight it! I know you can!"
  1336. >She has a zero chance of fighting that infection. You're just hoping for another miracle at this point.
  1337. >"Ohhhh I have something 'in here'. Something that has been waiting to come out for a loooooong tiiime!"
  1338. >Standing to the side she reveals a rather long drooping appendage.
  1339. "Y-you were a stallion this whole time?"
  1340. >"Surprised? Well you're going to be even more surprised where I'll be putting it!"
  1341. >You back away only to be blocked by the wall.
  1342. >You can't fly away, that would just draw more griffons to you.
  1343. >And you definitely can't out fly them.
  1344. >What will you do?
  1345. >"I know that look. Yesssss, what can you dooo?"
  1346. >An uninfected griffon spots you both as he is flying overhead.
  1347. >"Hey you two! Stop right there!"
  1348. >As he shouted three 'mad' griffons sprang from the ground tackling him out of the air.
  1349. >His screams of pain took Fortunes attention away for a moment.
  1350. >Now's the time.
  1351. >His screaming drew every mad griffon to him, they will be too busy to even look up if you decided to fly away.
  1352. >Taking a deep breath you spread your bright orange wings and take off vertically.
  1353. >Not the fastest way to fly but it was a bit more stealthy.
  1354. >All you had to do was make it over this wall then you'd be home free.
  1355. >By home free you mean moving quietly through the underbrush til you got to Trottingham. Where you may or may not find whoever Fortunes partner was.
  1356. >Inch by inch.
  1357. >Foot by foot.
  1358. >The top of the wall grew ever closer.
  1359. >You could almost taste it.
  1360. >Freedom.
  1361. >"WHeRe dO yOu thInk yoU'rE GoIng?"
  1362. >A beam of magic freezes you in place.
  1363. >"DiD YoU acTuaLLy beliEve i WoulD foRgeT aboUT yoUr RipE fLank?"
  1364. >You slowly descend towards the blood splattered unicorn.
  1365. >With all your might you try to escape.
  1366. >Flapping
  1367. >Kicking.
  1368. >Bucking.
  1369. >The best you can do is move a couple inches.
  1370. >"StRuGgle iF yoU lIkE. ThAt jUst mAkEs It mOre fUn fOr mE."
  1371. >The closer you got to the ground floor the more giddy and anxious Fortune gets.
  1372. >His drooping appendage is now fully pitched.
  1373. >Sweet Celestia please just end my life!
  1374. >You hit the ground...softly surprisingly.
  1375. >You try to get up but forced onto your stomach.
  1376. >The magic then forces your hind-legs to do a full spread eagle.
  1377. >"NiCe! NOw jUst rElAx anD lEt PapA ForTune taKe caRe of YOU!"
  1378. >...
  1379. >The Hashashagya's sword was inches from your neck.
  1380. >"Do you see this sword Sadiq?"
  1381. >Silently you nod your head trying to keep your composure.
  1382. >"This sword was one of the nine swords owned by Muhammustang the Great. Founder of Saddle Arabia."
  1383. >His eyes shined as he pulled the sword back.
  1384. >Looking closely there was a very tiny speck of Thing stained on it.
  1385. >Once he sees it also the sword glows again and the stain dissipates to nothing.
  1386. >A shudder finds it's way into your back.
  1387. >"This sword was blessed by his very hooves before uniting all of the provinces of the Caspians."
  1388. >There's an inscription edged by the hilt.
  1389. >"Whoever wields this sword shall have the power to conquer all who oppose."
  1390. >Good thing he said it.
  1391. >You'd have no idea what it said since you don't speak ancient Arabian.
  1392. >He sheaths the sword.
  1393. >The worry in your stomach subsides now that his 'enchanted' sword is put away.
  1394. >"*Sigh* Sacul, this is where we part."
  1395. >He embraces you in a hug.
  1396. >Taken by surprise you don't return it and just stand their.
  1397. >He quietly whispers into your ear...
  1398. >"Goodbye friend."
  1399. >Then he uses his mouth to slit your throat with a tiny curved blade hidden in his shoulder pocket.
  1400. >Hurriedly you try to put your hooves to stop the bleeding but his hug locks your fore hooves from moving up.
  1401. "Whgghh! Plegghgg!"
  1402. >"Shhh. Shhh. I know it hurts. I know. Just relax, it will be over soon. Shhhh now."
  1403. >Blood flows from the fresh wound like the torrents of Neighagra.
  1404. >"This hurts me more than it does you friend. To be honest I really did enjoy your company. But seeing you just now. When that Thing attacked me, I saw it in your eyes. You wanted me to die."
  1405. >Blood dripped and soaked both of your coats.
  1406. >You're starting to feel lightheaded now.
  1407. >He lifts his head with tears in his eyes.
  1408. >"A life for a life."
  1409. >He releases his grip and pulls out the sword.
  1410. >Before blacking out you catch a glimpse of the sword turning golden again.
  1411. >Then blackness.
  1412. >...
  1413. "GAAAAHHHHH!"
  1414. >You awake in the forest.
  1415. >It appears to be just after sunrise, but it's hard to tell with the canopy of trees.
  1416. >How are you still alive?
  1417. >With your still blood stained hooves you reach to feel your neck.
  1418. >Nothing.
  1419. >No scar, no pain, no anything!
  1420. >Trying to stand up you fall back down.
  1421. >Well there's something.
  1422. >You lost a lot of blood, it'll be hard to move for a couple hours.
  1423. >You spot some fresh fruit beside a tree trunk.
  1424. >Hopefully the sugar can give a little boost.
  1425. >Dates and citrus?
  1426. >Unusual for Hollow Shades but not impossible.
  1427. >Stranger things have happened.
  1428. >Like you being alive.
  1429. >How in Equestria-
  1430. >Underneath the last bit of citrus there was a little parchment.
  1431. >Looking closely it was a note from the Hashashagya!
  1433. Sacul the Clever,
  1434. If you are reading this then my heart rejoices you are alive and well. Never in all my years have I never danced with death so long, but I leave her for now. Regain your strength with the fruit of my homeland, for you will be needing it. I will be in the outskirts of Baltimare waiting for you. There we shall duel to the death in an honorable manner. With your two-facedness I know you can make it there. If you choose to not show I will hunt you down like a diamond-dog does a jewel and slit your throat again. This time I won't use the healing power of Muhammustang's sword to save your life. You may wonder why I didn't let you die? Well like I said, a life for a life. You saved my life from that cage, so I evened the score by saving your life.
  1435. I hope to see you soon Sadiq, for this meeting will be our last and greatest.
  1437. >You have no idea what it says.
  1438. >Stupid Arab should've wrote in Equestrian.
  1439. >Turning it over there was a map of Baltimare with an X on the outskirts of the city.
  1440. >Rage flows through your body.
  1441. >If he is there, you will find him and cut his throat like he did you.
  1442. >Revenge can make any creature do crazy things.
  1443. >And right now the only thing you want is to make him a corpse.
  1444. >...
  1445. >Preparing for the worst, you clench your ponut.
  1446. >With squeezed shut and teeth gritting...nothing happens.
  1447. >A thud comes from behind.
  1448. >You can feel the magical grasp loosen and you quickly stand and run a couple yards forward.
  1449. >On the ground lay Fortune.
  1450. >A single arrow is through his face skewering his right eye.
  1451. >Blood poured from each opening.
  1452. >He still had that wide smile plastered on his face.
  1453. "Who shot that-"
  1455. >What?
  1456. >Looking up there's a squad of Griffons hovering just above you.
  1457. >"I SAID DOWN NOW!"
  1458. >"Do as he says unless you want to end up like your friend there."
  1459. >"Oh you've got to be kidding me? YOU AGAIN!?"
  1460. >That voice.
  1461. >Looking back up you see frosted white bangs descend with a scowl under them.
  1462. "Gilda? I-I thought you went forward to the siege of Cloudsale?"
  1463. >As she lands she gives you a hard punch to the face.
  1465. >As the stars fad away from swirling about your head, reality sets in.
  1466. >"...sweep of the camp. Make sure everything is clear. I don't want to see any one of these freaks moving."
  1467. >A squad of griffons take off leaving you with Gilda and two others.
  1468. >Her claws are covered in sharpened iron gloves for clawing.
  1469. >Too small for combat, they serve only two purposes.
  1470. >Torture and execution.
  1471. >Trying to stretch you find your hooves and wings are tied.
  1472. >Well then...
  1473. >Gilda turns around and gives you another good smack to the head.
  1474. >One of the iron claws give a long cut from your ear to your mouth.
  1475. >This is it.
  1476. >"I lost too many good soldiers searching for you down in those caves."
  1477. >Are you watching Twilight? I'm coming to join you...
  1478. >"Um Ma'am, we only had two casualties. I'd say destroying that base was a success."
  1479. >"That's two too many! Two good lives wasted! And for what? For this lowlife piece of trash!"
  1480. >I'm coming to that great castle in the sky...
  1481. >She gives a kick to your gut and you topple to your side.
  1482. >...or wherever you are...
  1483. >Looming over you she raises her ironed claw.
  1484. >You brace for impact. Waiting for cold iron to pierce flesh.
  1485. >"Ma'am...the bargain."
  1486. >With a sneer she lowers her claw.
  1487. >"You're lucky they need you."
  1488. >What?
  1489. >They?
  1490. >Coughing up a bit of blood you pull yourself upright.
  1491. "W-who is they?"
  1492. >She simply takes off leaving you with the guards.
  1493. >They drag you inside a dimly lit meeting tent.
  1494. >Sitting at one end of a table are two highly decorated Saddle Arabians.
  1495. >At the other side sat a two Griffons, one wearing a traditional trader hat.
  1496. >He must be representative of their old Merchant's Guild.
  1497. >Lastly comes to your end of the table.
  1498. >Sitting with their backs to you are two stallions. One sporting Ornamental Royal Guard Armor while the other a dark suit.
  1499. >The stallion with the armor turns to you with a smile.
  1500. >"Ah here is the horse of the hour. Welcome Flash Sentry."
  1501. >As you enter the light, his smile turns to horror as he sees the injuries Gilda made.
  1502. >"What is the meaning of this? We were told he would be given unharmed!"
  1503. >The hat-less Griffon speaks up.
  1504. >"Ahahaha. You Equestrians need to be more careful. Commander Gilda proclaims he has just continuously tripped over his clumsy legs."
  1505. >"I say these bruises were caused by more than mere 'trips'."
  1506. >The suited pony chimes in.
  1507. >"Calm down Captain. He'll live. Besides, those bumps and scars build character."
  1508. >He smugly smiles with a cigar in his lips as you are sat down between the two.
  1509. >The Captain sits down begrudgingly just as another Arab enters.
  1510. >"Now that the accolade is here, let us begin."
  1511. "What is going on?"
  1512. >The Arab speaks.
  1513. >"Why Commander Sentry, we are ending the war of course. Or will end it."
  1514. "What do you mean? Where are the delegates for the Diamond Dogs, Yaks, and Minotaurs?
  1515. >"Due to...unforeseen circumstances they won't be attending."
  1516. "What circumstances?"
  1517. >"Flash please sit down, Mr. Jagir has traveled a very long way-"
  1518. "WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES! Somepony is going to explain what has happened to my country while I was held prisoner!"
  1519. >"Mr. Flash if you would calm down and listen-"
  1520. "No YOU listen! I had to fight my way through Yaks, Griffons, the Neo-Equality Cult, and a blood-lust insane camp! That I may have caused. Why are we at war with every nation surrounding Equestria?!"
  1521. >"Do you really want to know?"
  1522. >You turn to see the stallion in the suit standing.
  1523. "Who exactly ARE you?"
  1524. >"I am Agent Orange. Deputy Director of the MID. And the reason we are at war is simple...our army has gone rogue."
  1525. "W-what?"
  1526. >Everyone in the room exchanges concerned glances, but the Deputy Director continues.
  1527. >"The Yaks did start a war, but we have capitulated and now we all wish to work together. To take down the army being led by former Field Marshall Anonymous. We also have evidence Princess Flurry Heart has joined the rebels. No doubt she just wants to usurp the others making herself Queen of Equestria and Anonymous her Chancellor."
  1528. "They want to set up their own kingdom?"
  1529. >"Precisely, thankfully the Captain of the Royal Guard has secured a loyal platoon willing to defend Canterlot along with Princess Luna and Celestia to the death, but that isn't enough."
  1530. >The Arab interjects.
  1531. >"Which is why we should get down to business. With us at the frontlines, the griffons from the air, and the conjoined Royal Guard and Yaks at their flank, we will tighten the deathgrip crushing your,*ahem* 'rebellious' citizens and bring in a new era of peace."
  1532. "Where does this leave me? Why am I important?"
  1533. >"Why are you important?"
  1534. >One of the Arabian generals stands.
  1535. >"Because you shall be leading our troops to victory!"
  1536. "That is absurd! I'll lead the Crystal or Royal Guard!"
  1537. >"That's where a major problem comes into play. The Crystal Guard has joined forces with Flurry Heart and the rebels."
  1538. >"Yes, and I am the one who will be leading the Royal Guard."
  1539. "How do we know they would even look up to me as a leader?"
  1540. >"Our soldiers are well trained and obedient, if we tell them to follow you, they'll follow you to your grave."
  1541. >"Hopefully they won't have too."
  1542. >Indecisiveness clouds your thoughts.
  1543. "Why me?"
  1544. >"Because you are one of the few remaining commanders who are still loyal to the True Princesses."
  1545. "How can you be so sure that I am loyal?"
  1546. >"Because of Miss Flurry B. Fortune, he was one of the worst agents we ever had, yet loyal like a Minotaur to their ancient traditions. If you had any ill intentions against the Princesses he would've ended you before even an introduction."
  1547. >You doubt he could've taken you on, yet ponder a bit thinking how after going mad, he kept up with you running all that time. Plus the strength of his magic easily stopped your escape.
  1548. "So what happened with the Minotaur's, Yaks, and Dogs representatives?"
  1549. >The room goes silent as everyone sits back into their seats.
  1550. >Everyone but the late Arab.
  1551. >"The Great Khan had ties of friendship with a pony back when he visited as a mere Prince. He assures us that nopony would be harmed if weapons aren't in their hooves. The Minotaurs are retreating. They won't lift a single finger, again with their outdated traditions."
  1552. "Traditions?"
  1553. >"Apparently Princess Flurry Heart challenged and defeated their mightiest warrior. Now for ten years there will be peace. The dogs...can do whatever it is they do."
  1554. "So it will be just the four of us then?"
  1555. >"Yes, and once the griffons take Cloudsdale and we take Baltimare, it will be time to tighten the noose around these packs of lowlife peasantry."
  1556. >A servant comes in and gives a glass of wine to each creature at the table.
  1557. >The Arab raises it for a toast.
  1558. >"To peace and security of all our nations."
  1559. "To peace and security!"
  1561. >You are escorted across the Celestial Sea by two griffons.
  1562. >It's been years since you had to fly long distances.
  1563. >Your wings ached and your heart felt like it was going to explode.
  1564. >The griffons pace was extraordinarily fast.
  1565. >Maybe this was your final punishment from Gilda.
  1566. >At last over the horizon, you see the flames of campfires.
  1567. >No not campfires, that's...
  1568. "Baltimare!"
  1569. >"Keep quiet, the pegasus don't patrol this far out, but if you keep making noise they will send one."
  1570. >You keep quiet but your face is still frozen from shock.
  1571. >Every major building was rubble.
  1572. >Fires burned as big as blocks still burned while you can hear the sound of distant fighting.
  1573. >"Stay focused. We are almost there."
  1574. >Looking forward you see the camps.
  1575. >With the dimming sun you could still make out legions of ships docked just outside of Horseshoe Bay.
  1576. >The three of you land by a guard post giving one of the watchmen a surprise.
  1577. >He doesn't raise his weapon, but still keeps a cautious eye fixed on you.
  1578. >"Word from the Griffon Front. He is yours now."
  1579. >After giving the guard a note the two griffons take flight leaving you with the guard.
  1580. >He takes a look at the note. Then back at you. Then back at the note.
  1581. >"Follow me Equestrian."
  1582. >You hinted he was a little distasteful of you, but what can a stallion do.
  1583. >Through the camp fires and tents you got a lot of unfriendly stares from the troops.
  1584. >Hopefully the Arab Generals weren't lying about them following your orders.
  1585. >The guard leads you to a simple looking sent.
  1586. >It's not grand, but at least it's some privacy.
  1587. >"The Mushirs are asleep. They will see you in the morning. Rest up...Sir..."
  1588. >He grunts angrily and walks back to his post.
  1589. >You really hope they won't find a spear in your back once you have to lead these stallions.
  1590. >Inside it's just as modest as the exterior.
  1591. >Cot for sleeping, lockbox for personal items, and a small tub for washing.
  1592. >Hanging on a screen lays a desert brown colored uniform.
  1593. *Sigh*
  1594. >Tomorrow you start your first day as a Saddle Arabian Commander.
  1595. >...
  1596. >"Master Sentry? Master Sentry are you awake?"
  1597. >You are awoken by a timid yet assertive voice outside your tent.
  1598. >Raising up, your whole body ached from the flight yesterday.
  1599. "Now I am, and don't call me that. My name is Flash."
  1600. >"Master Flash. I'm sorry to disturb you but somepony wishes to see you."
  1601. "Oh for the love of Celestia. Alright give me a minute to-"
  1602. >"Move aside you pathetic excuse for a stallion!"
  1603. >Through the flap, in rushes an Arabian mare ordained with fine golden armor. Followed by a very distressed looking stallion with a limp.
  1604. >The fitted plate armor revealed her slim figure a little too well while her mane was cut down short enough to be put into a bun. There's a large scar across her right cheek emphasized by a burn mark.
  1605. >"I am General Roxelana. Soon to be Viceroy of Baltimare! I spearheaded our landing parties chasing away your pathetic Equestian soldiers back into the city. I have led the first and second attack waves into Baltimare while all the other stallion generals sat back and waited on their fat flanks. We have no need of you! As long as this army has me I want you to know your help is not required."
  1606. >With that she walks out of your tent whipping her tail.
  1607. "What was that all about?"
  1608. >"Madam Roxelana means no disrespect. She is just very adamant to the idea of having an Equestrian ally. I am assured the other Generals have better mannerisms."
  1609. "That's good to know. So who exactly are you my lame friend?"
  1610. >"I am Selim. Your scribe and translator when need be."
  1611. >He tries to bow, but only manages to tip forward almost falling.
  1612. "There is no need for formalities. I am a guest in your ponies camp. I should be honored to be let in given the circumstances."
  1613. >"I understand our customs differ from yours, but please respect ours. I have been assigned to be your indentured servant and I shall address you appropriately."
  1614. "Right...so what are my plans for today Selim?"
  1615. >"A meeting with the fellow Generals and Mushirs about the next attack."
  1617. >Before entering the tent you can already hear shouting.
  1618. >A servant outside smiles at your presence.
  1619. >"Saeda Commander, they were, ehhhh just getting started."
  1620. >The servant opens the flap leading you into a room where several Zebras and Arabians are arguing.
  1621. >Seeing the difference between the two species firsthand is shocking.
  1622. >While the Arabians adorned themselves with polished armor and modern weaponry.
  1623. >The Zebras on the other hoof bare war paint and had their weapons made from wood and stone.
  1624. >What isn't shocking is seeing how the two interacted with each other.
  1625. >It was as if taking a time spell back to when Equestria first colonized the Zebra plains of the far South.
  1626. >"The Oracle says if we attack, defeat will follow like the wrath of an angry Yak!"
  1627. >"And our Agents say their line will break with just another push! Our Air Fleet is just days away, with their support we can finally claim this city!"
  1628. >"Beware! Beware! Doom and death is what she declares!"
  1629. >"You stripped cowards always making excuses!"
  1630. >The arguing continues and you just stand there awkwardly.
  1631. "Um...hello."
  1632. >The room goes dead silent as everypony turns to look at you.
  1633. >Things were already tense as it was, and them seeing an Equestrian probably wasn't helping.
  1634. "I am Flash Sentry. Former Commander of the Crystal Imperial Guard. I was told I will lead your armies to crush my nation’s rebellion."
  1635. >...
  1636. >The treeline perfectly covered your presence.
  1637. >As long as no loud noises are made you should be-
  1638. *Crack*
  1639. >You automatically freeze.
  1640. >Nothing.
  1641. >Inching forward you take a step.
  1642. >Another stick breaks under your hooves.
  1643. >"You hear that?"
  1644. >"What?"
  1645. >"Sounds like a stick broke."
  1646. >"So?"
  1647. >"Shouldn't we investigate?"
  1648. >"Why?"
  1649. >"What if it's a spy? Or and assassin!"
  1650. >"For the last time NOTHING IS OUT THERE! Stop waking me up! We stop whatever comes INTO the camp not OUTSIDE the camp."
  1651. >This isn't one of those spy picture shows.
  1652. >Guards won't take time to search for whatever breaks a stick in a forest.
  1653. >It's a forest, sticks break.
  1654. >Carefully you inch your way closer to the city.
  1656. >The past week has been an experience to say the least.
  1657. >Instead of valiantly leading the next wave to Baltimare, the head Arabian Generals wanted you to oversee the training and techniques of the troops.
  1658. >Surprisingly all of the Arabian Generals accepted you eagerly.
  1659. >Almost all…
  1660. >Roxelana is still very adamant to your presence as well do some of the Zebras chieftains.
  1661. >Through the resentment and passive aggressive whispered insults thrown your way Selim always denounced their statements.
  1662. >He even went as far as to lecture the importance of having respect to a higher ranking officer to one of the Zebra chieftains in front of the other Mushirs.
  1663. >You’re glad to have such a loyal scribe yet that’s also a good way to wake up with a knife in your flank.
  1664. “Our foes are sun baked and mad from basking in Celestia’s sun. Do not let them bite you! Have courage! Your grandfoals shall smile when you tell them tales of how you have brought peace to both our wonderful nations!”
  1665. >You are currently standing on an improvised stage giving a speech before sending out another force.
  1666. >Selim is standing beside you speaking his foreign tongue with such a fervor that even makes you pause.
  1667. >With every gesture and movement, his acute enunciation only empowers the words even further.
  1668. >The Saracen language always seemed so vigorous and energetic yet romantic and inspiring.
  1669. >The Arabian crowd erupts in an explosion of cheers and shouts once he finishes his sentence, while the many Zebras only look on.
  1670. >This “Oracle” they follow is a damper to morale.
  1671. >How can some old Zebra predict the future?
  1672. >Selim gives a friendly smile towards you then back to the crowd. Eyes shining as bright as diamonds.
  1673. >What he lacks in physical strength his mind greatly compensates for. He would make a promising ambassador if they gave him the chance.
  1674. >He would definitely be a better diplomat than you at least. Like how Blueblood was just without the attitude.
  1675. >You are reminded by the time you almost started a war with Yakyakistan just by ‘insulting’ their culture.
  1676. >Thankfully Blueblood was able to defuse that situation.
  1677. >Prince Blueblood.
  1678. >It’s been years since you both got held hostage by the Yaks in their first invasion.
  1679. >For being a self-righteous silver-spooned pompous prick a part of you missed him.
  1680. >He didn’t deserve to die in those mountains.
  1681. >And now here you are.
  1682. > Sending a foreign army to crush a force raised by the man who negotiated your freedom.
  1683. >Allied to the beasts who tortured and beaten you both.
  1684. >This seems…wrong.
  1685. >No. NO! They are the ones who have insurrected!
  1686. >The Princesses have always been our leaders! It was Him who brought all this death and destruction!
  1687. >However, he also raised our quality of life.
  1688. >Only with the cost of life!
  1689. >But he didn’t start those wars, we were drawn into wars of self-defense.
  1690. >It was the other nations that grew jealous of our progression.
  1691. >Why would he lead a rebellion?
  1692. >Yes the Princesses have made some…questionable decisions, but they have always wanted the best for their subjects.
  1693. >Always.
  1694. >Confusion and doubt fills your thoughts.
  1695. >On one hoof you have your loyalty to your nation. To the Princesses. On the other is a being whose knowledge surpassed all known thinking whose actions shown his loyalty for the Equestrian citizens.
  1696. >Submit to the crown who created Equestria or stand with the ponies who make up Equestria.
  1697. >To what the Captain of the Royal Guard stated Canterlot is the only city still supporting the Princesses.
  1698. >Should Celestia stay in control if so many have risen up?
  1699. >Can she even keep control after this war?
  1700. >Selim steps next to you.
  1701. >He must’ve sensed your distressing thoughts.
  1702. >”You are doing the right thing. Our kingdoms shall prosper as they did for generations before us.”
  1703. >His reassuring smile helps you push away the thoughts.
  1704. >This is for peace.
  1705. >For Equestria.
  1706. >For Celestia!
  1707. >However one thought still lingers.
  1708. >As they march onward towards Baltimare one of the Arabian Generals trots up towards you both.
  1709. >By the blood red armor he wore you knew exactly who it was.
  1710. >Terskerlane. Descendant of the former warlords from the lands of Transoxabia.
  1711. >From what Selim says, the soil rich plains east of Saddle Arabia all belonged to their clan.
  1712. >A clan of mighty warriors and leaders who turned a disorganized group of provinces into a might that threatened the sovereignty of the Arabian King.
  1713. >Selim explained how they would ransack the most eastern border cities causing havoc and chaos.
  1714. >After some persuasion and several tributary missions. This now feared warrior clan let Saddle Arabia extend their borders annexing their lands in exchange for controlling a part of the King's Royal Army.
  1715. >And this battle hardened army joined with the rest of the King's battalions is slowly making it's way to Equestria along with a squadron of newly crafted airships.
  1716. >May Celestia show mercy on the defenders, for he will not.
  1718. >”Aha what an invigorating performance! Good work translating our honored guest’s most exuberant words. You are dismissed Selim. I must speak with the Commander privatly.”
  1719. >Selim gives a slight bow and heads off into the camp.
  1720. “Ah, ‘Terskerlane the Mighty’, am glad you approached, I have some thoughts I need to-“
  1721. >”Those thoughts have to wait. I have news that might interest you.”
  1722. “What news? Are your war machines ready?”
  1723. >”That’s part of it. We have received word that the Yaks have retreated back to their mountains and the Griffons are stalled out. We will be fighting alone. However, the airships are en route to our location and shall be here by morning, along with the full force of our Army.”
  1724. “How many are coming?”
  1725. >”300,000 strong. All well-equipped, well trained, and ready to fight. By ends day tomorrow that eternal city shall be ours.”
  1726. “That’s actually one of my concerns, you see with-”
  1727. >”I am NOT finished Equestrian! Remember where you are. Selim has taught you well to our customs in such a short time, but I would hate for you to spoil your progress.”
  1728. “Apologies. Please continue General.”
  1729. >”Very good. Anyway, with just our army we won’t even need those pesky birds or uncivilized oxen. Once we get a hold on the city getting supplies from Arabia will be much easier with the ports. We shall parade through the streets triumphant and proud!”
  1730. >His dark brown eyes gleamed in the sunlight with his hoof raised as if posing for a statue.
  1731. “Sir...”
  1732. >”Ah yes I am done dreaming. Time to make it a reality! I will oversee this assault to dampen the spirits of those weary defenders. Tomorrow is the judgment day!”
  1733. “Sir. I have a concern with your army’s intentions for my city!”
  1734. >”Intentions?”
  1735. “After the battle is over and this revolt is quenched, annexation is out right? Because Madam Roxelana stated she would become Vice Regent of the city. Surly this cannot be true. Right?”
  1737. >"Forward march!"
  1738. >A thunderous roar of stomping hooves fills the air as the colossal army slowly springs to life.
  1739. >The force wasn't exactly what any of you or the generals were expecting.
  1740. >The amount of stallions we have isn't a problem.
  1741. >It's the fear the spreads among them. It infects each troop like an incurable virus.
  1742. >A majority of the troops seemed they were rushed through training.
  1743. >Only a small percentage seemed to have had any experience in fighting.
  1744. >That small percentage still made up over fifty thousand. All of which were former soldiers under Terskerlane.
  1745. >They looked to him as if he is as powerful as Celestia herself.
  1746. >As long as he lives they will fight to the death.
  1747. >Hopefully their confidence will inspire them to fight.
  1748. >While confidence inspires confidence fear encourages fear.
  1749. >Those zebras are slaves to their soothsayer.
  1750. >'Doom and death shall be our final breath.'
  1751. >I pity them and their archaic beliefs.
  1752. >After today, Equestria shall be once again united and peaceful under the reign of the Princesses.
  1753. >After returning from the battle yesterday, Terskerlane assured you that Roxelana would never be Vice Regent of Baltimare.
  1754. >A runner in red approaches.
  1755. >"Commander Sentry. Word from Master Terskerlane. You will be in the front with General Roxelana while he oversees with the other Mushirs."
  1756. "How can I lead? They may tolerate my presence, but I know that many are still resentful. They would never listen to any of my orders. Even General Roxelana holds onto animosity."
  1757. >"Which is why Selim is accompanying you. He has proven more than once to be useful. Now he can prove once and for all his worth."
  1758. "No, I forbid him to come. He is unfit for service and has no place on the battlefield."
  1759. >"Who are you to take away the thing he wanted most in life?"
  1760. "He is MY FRIEND! And he is assigned as my indentured servant under YOUR customs!"
  1761. >"That is up to neither me nor you. Master Terskerlane already has him lined up, you better find them before they get too far ahead."
  1762. >With a spread of your wings you hastily fly scanning the front lines.
  1763. >A blur of spearstalls, archers, shieldbearers, and lancers pass from under you.
  1764. >No.
  1765. >No.
  1766. >No.
  1767. >A sea of gold, red, and black marches under you.
  1768. >Finding the two would be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack.
  1769. >After a moment one of the soldiers catches your eye.
  1770. >His awkward limp and twitch signaled it's your incapacitated friend.
  1771. >Marching next to him, carrying an extra pack no doubtfully his, is Roxelana.
  1772. >She looked incredibly peeved.
  1773. >Gliding down next to them Selim gives a warm smile while Roxelana grunts in disgust.
  1774. >"Master Sentry!"
  1776. "Finding the two of you. I am to join you in leading the force."
  1777. >"March like the rest of us Equestrian! Your elevated height could make us an easy target for artillery fire."
  1778. >As you land on the ground a few cheers can be heard.
  1779. >They were happy to be led by you!
  1780. >It felt good to be at the head of an army again.
  1781. >The last time that happened was back before this whole debacle even started.
  1782. >Before watching all your troops die in that Yakistani work camp.
  1783. >This won't end like that.
  1784. >Never again.
  1785. >"I shall not let you down Master Sentry. I shall fight to the last breath with all my might."
  1786. >"No you won't. You will let him down. You will die in a pool of your own blood begging for death."
  1787. >Selim becomes silent and looks to you for encouragement.
  1788. >You give back a smile but say nothing.
  1789. >He's not fit for service.
  1790. >Roxelana even has to carry his pack for Celestia sake.
  1791. >Why would General Terskerlane order him to join us, at the front for no less.
  1792. >Roxelana speaks up.
  1793. >"The most joy I will get out of today is being finally rid of you Equestrian. Once you both fall in battle I will claim this city."
  1794. "What are you talking about? General Terskerlane assured me that no land of Equestria will be annexed."
  1795. >"How naive can you be? Annexation was always an option! he didn't send us to the front to lead the attack. We were assigned here so we can be killed and HE can become Vice Regent. With you gone he wouldn't have to worry about his promise to you."
  1796. "And with you gone he wouldn't have to challenge anypony else for power."
  1797. >"Yeah well I don't plan on dying yet so-"
  1798. >Suddenly above your heads an ear-piercing roar bellows.
  1799. >Shouts of fear spread through your area.
  1800. >Looking up you see something that would give Celestia herself a chill down her spine.
  1801. >There plunging towards you was a manticore with a gold platted man perched atop it.
  1802. >A long sharp halberd raised high in his right hand.
  1803. >You are stunned with fright.
  1804. >If you don't move he will kill you.
  1805. >Come on body MOVE!
  1806. >Nothing.
  1807. >Your petrified body stands motionless as the monster barrels towards you.
  1808. >Closing your eyes you wait for the cold blade to sever your head.
  1809. >...
  1810. >A cliffside.
  1811. >Sea salt filled the air.
  1812. >Looking down the waves crash and retreat against the unmovable rocks far below in an endless dance.
  1813. >A heavy wind blew flowing through your rugged unkempt mane.
  1814. >The sound of Equestrian soldiers readying up down by the city echoed its way to your location.
  1815. >Atop this cliff you can see everything.
  1816. >Or could have seen everything.
  1817. >A mist rolled in blanketing the open plains slightly reducing your vision of the valley.
  1818. >The most you can see now is the ruins of Baltimare. And you had to strain your eyes to get even the remotest image of what you saw.
  1819. >Closing your eyes you take a deep breath relaxing yourself.
  1820. >Breath in…
  1821. >Breath out…
  1822. >Repeat.
  1823. >The sound of winds, waves, and shouts slowly mesh together bringing silence to your ears.
  1824. >Calmness.
  1825. >Serenity.
  1826. >Peace.
  1827. >Ten minutes go by and nothing changes.
  1828. >Everything is still serene.
  1829. >Then you hear it.
  1830. >It’s behind you.
  1831. >The sound was slight, but in the stillness it’s audible as ever.
  1832. >A hoofstep crushing grass.
  1833. >Turning around and opening your eyes you face a familiar hooded Caspian.
  1834. >His wide, warm, ever iconic smile greets you like a friend would.
  1835. >”I am GLaD you have made it in time. The show is about to start.”
  1836. >Puzzled he motions you to look back into the valley.
  1837. >To your surprise the mist has dispersed, but that wasn’t what shocked you.
  1838. >All along the treeline of the Hayseed Swamps stood myriads of myriads of soldiers.
  1839. >And in the distance loomed seventeen airships.
  1840. >Back in front of the city the defenders were lining up for…a charge?
  1841. >That’s insane, they must be outnumbered ten to-
  1842. >”FORWARD!”
  1843. >Suddenly and ear piercing roar bellows down from the heavens.
  1844. >What in the name of Celestia, was that monstrous sound?
  1845. >"The Day of Judgement is upon us. Like them, let us see whose name shall live in marble, and whose name shall be lost in sand."
  1846. >...
  1847. >"Get down Master!"
  1848. >The words triggered nothing as your body refused to move.
  1849. >Suddenly something hits the broadside of your body forcing you out of the way.
  1850. >Out of the corner of your eye you spot the monster pull up out of the dive, and glide over the entire army.
  1851. >Screams of terror and panic leave a trail of his direction.
  1852. >Getting your bearings you see Selim atop you holding out a helping hoof to get up.
  1853. "Thank you Selim. I don't know what else to say."
  1854. >"Just don't let it happen again. I don't think tackling is good for my back."
  1855. >All around you see the subconscious fear inside all the troops started to leak out.
  1856. >Many were already trying to turn to flee.
  1858. >While Roxelana and some of Terskerlane's Captain's tried to rally back the troops an explosion can be heard above.
  1859. >An airship is hit!
  1860. >In a spectacle of purple fire and explosions, two of the machines collided with each other raining down debris.
  1862. >Another explosion comes from above.
  1863. >Another airship down.
  1864. >You can only imagine the horrors those flightless stallions are in inside those burning ballons.
  1865. >To decide to jump a hundred stories high or choose to sit and slowly burn.
  1866. >You fully understand the value of being born a pegasus now.
  1867. >As the troops try to line up, Selim motions you to look up.
  1868. >You spot the manticore and its rider high in the sky.
  1869. >Something is wrong though.
  1870. >As they get aligned, the beasts opens it jaws and drops something.
  1871. >It was a stallion!
  1872. >His screams of pain and fear brought the attention of Selim and Roxelana.
  1873. >As he hit the ground, a wave of blood drenched you and Selim while a sickening crack sounded off through the explosions.
  1874. >Looking at the mess you notice it wasn't just a random soldier.
  1875. >It was General Terskerlane himself!
  1876. >Trying your best not to throw-up you take in the sight.
  1877. >A steady pool of blood started to form where he lay.
  1878. >His skull smashed open on impact spewing his brains and bone onto the ground and an unlucky soldier.
  1879. >Intestines dangled out from the giant tears in his once fine plated armor.
  1880. >Not doubt those were caused from being a chew toy for that beast.
  1881. >All four of his hooves were bent in unnatural positions revealing the tendons and splintered bones.
  1882. >Torn open and dropped from a hundred feet.
  1883. >A hell'ofa way to die.
  1884. >Now you are really GLAD to be born a pegasus.
  1885. >If he gets a monument at least it can say he *fell* at the front lines.
  1887. >One of Terskerlane's Officers steps forward with the most horrified look on his face.
  1888. >"Yardım et! Everypony! Hurry!"
  1889. >With those words, many of the surrounding soldiers bearing his colors hastily tried to salvage their former leaders corpse.
  1890. >Confused, Roxelana angrily addresses the loyal group.
  1891. >"What are you imbeciles doing?! Line back up this instant!"
  1892. >As they pick him up more blood pours from his gaping wounds, soaking their coats and armor in a red just as dark as their armor.
  1893. >Only two stop to give a rebuttal while the rest finish taking the body.
  1894. >"Have you no sense! We are lost without Terskerlane!"
  1895. >"Look back to the lines! Your armies have already began to flee! The few who remain will be cut down! Let us take our Master and give him a proper burial! For Royal Blood should never be shed upon the ground."
  1896. "Kinda late for that don't you think?"
  1897. >With a hoof you motion to yourself, Selim, and the large stain of where he once lay splattered.
  1898. >Taking a wing, you wipe away some of the splattered blood from your face.
  1899. >With a single flap, the blood whips onto the ground, directly in front of the two soldiers hooves.
  1900. >They stare shocked at the blood you sprayed.
  1901. >Their shock turns to anger as one of them reaches for their sword.
  1902. >"You dare insult us in this time of distress?!"
  1903. "I-I didn't mean any-"
  1904. >"Silence cretin! You know nothing of our ways outlander!"
  1905. >"You will pay. Both of you shall pay!"
  1906. >One slashes Roxelana in her side while the other barely misses your neck.
  1907. >Through the pain you watch as the mare stabs the berserker through his face, as you fumble to even take out your sword.
  1908. >As you finally unsheathe the blade all four of you are distracted by another blast.
  1909. >It was the final airship.
  1910. >In a great blaze of purple fire, it comes barreling down upon all five of you.
  1911. >"If I die. I shall bring you to the afterlife with me!"
  1912. >The crazed pony tackles Roxelana and pins her to the ground.
  1913. >He bites down and tears the flesh where his comrade had slashed her.
  1914. >The wound starts to rip open and a steady stream of blood starts flowing through.
  1915. >Roxelana screams from the pain as the mad stallion bits down harder on the open wound.
  1916. >You need to do something!
  1917. >If you just continue to stand there, Roxelana will die.
  1918. >YOU will die!
  1919. >Try to save her?
  1920. >Flee with the rest of the army?
  1921. >Just move!
  1922. >Yet your petrified body still stood there. >Watching and waiting to die.
  1923. >Time seemed to slow to a crawl yet your mind sensed everything around you.
  1924. >From the sounds of Caspian soldiers dropping their weapons to flee.
  1925. >To the screams of Zebras and Arabs being burned alive.
  1926. >From the explosions of debris and artillery.
  1927. >To the battle horns and calls to the now charging Equestrians.
  1928. >Everywhere around you death closed in and you could sense it perfectly.
  1929. >Even the Captain of the airship that is now hurdling down atop you.
  1930. >His unanswered cries for help sounded so clear.
  1931. >One thing stood out though.
  1932. >While everypony and everything slowed, Selim moved with speed.
  1933. >You watched as in one fluid motion he shoved aside the soldier atop Roxelana, unsheathed his janbiya, and slit the attackers throat wrestling him to the ground.
  1934. >And just like that your senses return to their normal settings.
  1935. >The sound of yells and blasts mesh back into one deafening roar giving you a little shock.
  1936. "S-Selim how-"
  1937. >"No time! Pick up Madam Roxelana and run! Quickly over there!"
  1938. >He motions with a hoof to a treeline leading to a hill.
  1939. >Hopefully that can provide some coverage to hide while the Equestrians chase down main army.
  1940. >You try to pick up Roxelana, but her screams of agony forces you to set her down.
  1941. >"Sorry about this Madam."
  1942. >Selim then picks up the mare and places her horizontally over your back.
  1943. >The added weight makes you lurch but you still stand.
  1944. >"Go! Go! Go! I'll be right behind you. Don't look back! Just run!"
  1945. >"Run!"
  1946. >With all your might you sprint towards the treeline.
  1947. >200 yards away.
  1948. >As you make a B line towards the side, hundreds of retreating soldiers pass by almost causing you to fall.
  1949. >150 yards
  1950. >A great blast followed by gush of wind signaled the final airship hitting the ground.
  1951. >You think for a second about the Captain who was still on-board the doomed vessel.
  1952. >With the last of the airships destroyed, the remaining pegasus started raining arrows upon the retreating soldiers.
  1953. >Some of the more persistent pegasus began diving into the crowd with spears and lances.
  1954. >Skewering anypony unlucky enough to be in their sights.
  1955. >Luckily the blast stirred up a cloud of dust.
  1956. >Some coverage so you all can sneak through.
  1957. >100 yards.
  1958. >Almost there.
  1959. >You could feel Roxelana's blood slowly seep through your armor and into your coat.
  1960. >That doesn't matter, she is going to be safe.
  1961. >Once the three of you get to the treeline, you can apply some temporary medical aid.
  1962. >We'll just have to regroup with the remaining soldiers, hopefully a medic is there.
  1963. >Heck even one of those Zebra healers would do.
  1964. >50 yards.
  1965. >Just a little more!
  1966. >Dig deep and push hard!
  1967. >How could Selim even pick this mare up?
  1968. >She probably weighed twice as much as you with all this armor on.
  1969. >With a final sprint you burst into the thick woods.
  1970. >Panting and out of breath you lay Roxelana gently next to a tree.
  1971. >She lay still but her light breathing showed she is still alive.
  1972. >For now...
  1973. >Right as you entered into the canopy the dust cleared.
  1974. >It would be impossible for the pegasus to have seen you enter.
  1975. >The Earth ponies would be too occupied chasing down the retreating army to pay attention to your hiding place.
  1976. >All we have to do is stay quiet while they pass.
  1977. "We made it. I can't believe we...Selim?"
  1978. >You turn to try and find your friend, but he was nowhere to be found.
  1979. "Selim. Selim!"
  1980. >Panic overcomes your mind as a second wind reenergizes you.
  1981. >You try to search through the brush back into the open plains, but with the dust still settling and hundreds of ponies running away It's too difficult to make anything out.
  1982. >The top of the treeline.
  1983. >It's a risk.
  1984. >You might get seen, but you need to know where he is!
  1985. >Carefully you silently flap towards the branches just under the canopy.
  1986. >With your elevated height you have a clear sight of the entire plains.
  1987. >Smoke poured from the fallen airship where you once stood.
  1988. >You scan the trail you made from the ship to the treeline trying to find any sign of him.
  1989. >There at the tail end of the airship you see him.
  1990. >Right underneath the rudders, he stood with a battered shield covering himself from a reign of arrows.
  1991. >Volley after volley hit yet he held his ground.
  1992. >A pegasus dived towards him with a lance.
  1993. >Just as he was about to be impaled he side-stepped the charging pegasus giving a cut to his side with the small curved blade.
  1994. >The cut threw the still charging pegasus off balance and he collided head first into the steel side of the wreckage.
  1995. >The crash shook the now frail frame of the ship causing the rudders to buckle a bit.
  1996. >To the right of the burning husk charged the earth ponies, sweeping up stragglers and closing in on the retreating Arabs.
  1997. >Letting out an exhale you scramble to think of anything you can do to try and save him.
  1998. >Right as you exhaled however you noticed he turned your way.
  1999. >Selim's face immediately turned from battle ready to his usual calm warming demeanor.
  2000. >The tight group of charging stallions spot the lone soldier and change course.
  2001. >Now they were making a direct charge at him!
  2002. >Why isn't he running?
  2003. "Run you bucking lame fool. RUN!"
  2005. >Be Master Selim Khidr.
  2006. >The now Former Supreme Mushir of the land invasion force of the Saddle Arabian and Zebra coalition.
  2007. >In all honesty you knew this war was a mistake right from the beginning.
  2008. >Orders are orders however.
  2009. >Growing tired of the political scheming and treacherous deals being made with all your 'allies' you decided to take on a role that can hopefully end this conflict.
  2010. >They tricked this poor pegasus commander into training and teaching us their armies weakness and tactics, in return he thought our coalition were all working together to crush their nation's insurrection.
  2011. >But it's exactly the opposite.
  2012. >At the outset, the purpose of Equestria's enemies was to annihilate her. Her army, her fleet, her commerce, and her industry.
  2013. >The Griffons hoped to take the Griffish Isles.
  2014. >Yakyakistan expected to conquer the Northern Provinces, which probably were to receive the 'blessings' of Yak culture. The Crystal Empire was to be dismembered, rendered tributary to their Yhan or Khan. However they call it.
  2015. >As for the Minotaur's and Dogs, they deliberately entered this war because they thought they would run small risk.
  2016. >The world will remember our vainglorious way in which we foretold that before our armies would meet in the heart of Equestria.
  2017. >Where the hordes of Yaks would parade through the streets of the Crystal Empire and Griffon and Arabian Knights would stroll through the parks of Baltimare and Vanhoover.
  2018. >Equestria would be paralyzed, nay be passing away to history.
  2019. >Such were our leaders foolish expectations.
  2020. >The only thing this war has caused is senseless destruction and death on all sides.
  2021. >Disguising as a servant you wished to teach him of our culture and society. In hoping that our similarities would call for diplomatic intervention.
  2022. >I was a fool for thinking that would work too.
  2023. >Once the flame is lit there's no going back.
  2024. >After today Saddle Arabia shall fall to chaos.
  2025. >No more will it become the prosperous nation of what it once was.
  2026. >Only by the mercy of Equestria might it survive.
  2027. >I may fall, my nation may fall, I just hope the ponies and our way of life doesn't melt into the dessert with our incompetent leaders.
  2029. >The arrows have stopped.
  2030. >None of the pegasus are diving towards you either.
  2031. >Hopefully Roxy and the pegasus made it to safety.
  2032. >Rumbling.
  2033. >Earthquake?
  2034. >Turning you see lines upon lines of Baltimare's defenders.
  2035. >This is it then.
  2036. >Preparing yourself for a final stand you take your stance.
  2037. >You think of your brother who is in charge of the navy. Hopefully he'll make it through this.
  2038. >Out of the corner of your eye you see a little orange speck.
  2039. >They made it.
  2040. >No point now.
  2041. >You drop your shield and stand up straight.
  2042. >Giving a warm smile to that little speck you do your persona's limp bow.
  2043. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBmSwyZMfT0 [Embed]
  2044. >Closing your eyes you can feel the rumbling closing in.
  2045. >Closer...and closer...and closer.
  2046. >"Goode-bye. Friend."
  2048. >He's gone.
  2049. >Selim. Your scribe, your translator, your friend, is now gone.
  2050. >He was probably the only one who truly accepted you, and now he lays dead upon the fields with all his comrades.
  2051. >You slowly hover back towards the ground landing in a mound of soft dirt.
  2052. >The cool earth feels good on your hooves.
  2053. >Selim doesn't deserve to rot in the sun, he should have a proper burial.
  2054. >Walking back to where you left Roxelana, a wave of dread covered you.
  2055. >As you came across the tree you set her down in, she is gone!
  2056. >There's a trail of blood leading back out into the clearings.
  2057. >Did she get captured?
  2058. >Dragged away bleeding and broken only to be hurled into a POW camp.
  2059. >I need to find her!
  2060. >Following the trail of blood you see her just about to exit the treeline.
  2061. >She was crawling with one hoof dragging herself along while the other cradled her wounds.
  2062. >Quickly to pull her back into the trees as careful as you can to not cause any further pain.
  2063. >In a fit of rage she struggles, but with her wounds she could do little damage.
  2064. >In a whisper you confront her.
  2065. "What in the name of Celestia are you doing?! You could be killed!"
  2066. >"Why must you torture me in this way?"
  2067. >The question catches you a little off guard.
  2068. "What are you talking about?"
  2069. >"My army, my nation, my ponies, we are all lost. Let me die a soldiers death. I want my end to be on a battlefield, not curled up bleeding out hidden."
  2070. "You are not going to die!"
  2071. >"I wish for it, here you were brought and told to teach us of proper tactics and yet it's the enemy who have been blessed and we cursed. Cursed to be destroyed and brought to nothing at the hooves of you Equestrians. I don't want to see that, please let me end myself just as Selim has."
  2072. "No. That won't happen. I have faith that even in these dark times, both our nations can rise once more. A peace will be made, and you will be going home! This I promise."
  2073. >She says nothing back.
  2074. >Her eyes filled with hopelessness.
  2075. "Come on, we need to do something about the bleeding."
  2076. >Taking some cloth you do your best to apply pressure to the would.
  2077. >It's not hospital standards, but it will have to do for now.
  2078. "Now to reduce the pain."
  2079. >Looking around, hopefully there's something that can give some relief.
  2080. >No.
  2081. >No.
  2082. >That plant will definitely kill her.
  2083. >YES!
  2084. >There blooming out from a boulder stood a bundle of poppy plants.
  2085. >Carefully biting down at the stem, you pluck each one from the roots.
  2086. "Here chew on these. The pain won't be fully gone, but it will provide some temporary relief."
  2087. >She just lays on her side motionless, with dead eyes staring off into nothingness.
  2088. "HEY!"
  2089. >She moves her head slowly to face you.
  2090. "I understand how you are feeling, but this is not the time to just give up."
  2092. >Her sudden outburst makes you jump, but still hold your ground.
  2093. "I led my whole battalion to their death's, all those who didn't die in battle died in the work camps the Yaks put us in. You are staring at the last pegasus of the Imperial Crystal Guard."
  2094. >Her facial expression drops from anger to sorrow.
  2095. "I can remember as if it were yesterday, how I watched my soldiers slowly die off from frostbite or the freezing mountain winds. So don't tell me I know nothing when I watched if happen in front of my very eyes. Eat the plant."
  2096. >You bend down to give the poppies.
  2097. >As she takes them from your mouth she lingers for a second.
  2098. >For that brief second you saw the real her.
  2099. >We all wear impenetrable armor. Even after taking off one's plates, or clothes altogether, one still stays clad head to hoof.
  2100. >Afraid of opening up, showing our feelings, afraid of someone understanding our thoughts.
  2101. >Roxelana the indomitable fighter, I had only seen her real self at this moment.
  2102. >Tired to death, almost desperate, that is how she looked...for only a second.
  2103. >A moment later she had her armor back, and was her regular self again.
  2104. >"Thank you."
  2105. >As you finish 'patching' her, a scream echoed out.
  2106. >It sounded like it came from the top of the hill.
  2107. >"What was that?"
  2108. "I don't know, I'm going to go check it out. Are you going to be okay?"
  2109. >"I'll be fine."
  2110. "You're not going to try and run off again right?"
  2111. >"No, no, I'm just...going to enjoy these flowers. So nice."
  2112. >Opioids must be kicking in now.
  2113. >As you are about to head up the hill, Roxelana calls for you.
  2114. >"Wait, wait!"
  2115. "Keep it down! Soldiers might still be around and pegasus have ears like diamond dogs."
  2116. >"Sorry, but please promise me one thing."
  2117. "What's that?"
  2118. >Her face is pale from the blood loss, but her smile still made it shine.
  2119. >"Be careful."
  2120. >She drops a small lance at your hooves.
  2121. >"If you see any of our soldiers, please try to help them if you can."
  2122. "Alright."
  2123. >You tuck it away.
  2124. >Hopefully you won't have to use it.
  2125. >Making your way closer to the top, the full sight of the plains could be seen.
  2126. >This must be where their scouts are, everything was in view!
  2127. >Looking back into the valley you see the full scale of the devastation from the battle.
  2128. >There weren't a lot of ponies left.
  2129. >Just a couple small groups cleaning up bodies and wreckage.
  2130. >There were no pegasus in the skies, that's a good sign.
  2131. >They all must be busy chasing down the army.
  2132. >We might be able to sneak out of here.
  2133. >But where will we go?
  2134. >A pounding and softer shout sounded off.
  2135. >It came just a couple yards away.
  2136. >Crouching down you sneak your way closer to the source of the sound.
  2137. >The closer you got the more fussing and grunting could be heard.
  2138. >What in Celestia is making that noise?
  2139. >Coming to a clearing next to the cliffs you see it.
  2140. >An Arab laying on its back with a Zebra atop him trying to choke him.
  2141. >One of the Zebras legs were broken while the Arab was covered in bruises and marks.
  2142. >This is unbelievable!
  2143. >First the zebras lowered moral with their 'oracle'.
  2144. >Then they were the first to flee the battle.
  2145. >And now here was one acting against one of their own allies!
  2146. >This ends here.
  2147. >You equip the lance Roxelana gave you and charged forward.
  2148. >With wings spread and legs like running faster than the wind, you aim the tip of the lance directly at the zebras back.
  2149. >It pierces the flesh like an arrow through leather armor.
  2150. >Clean.
  2151. >When he slides from the lance you notice his mane looks familiar.
  2152. >As does his face.
  2153. "S-sacul?"
  2154. >Your former friend coughs out blood while more streams from the newly made orifices.
  2155. >His breath quickened while a pool of blood started to form.
  2156. "No no nononono."
  2157. >All the hate you felt for the zebras quickly disappeared seeing Sacul dying from your actions.
  2158. >Trying desperately to stop the bleeding it continues to pour out.
  2159. >It was futile, you probably punctured his lung or diaphragm.
  2160. >If he doesn't suffocate he'll definitely bleed out.
  2161. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
  2162. >Tears start to steam.
  2163. >All you can do is try and cradle him while you feel his breathes get slower and slower.
  2164. >Though he couldn't speak, his eyes spoke just as loudly.
  2165. >They were a mix of confusion, hate, and sadness.
  2166. >As the minutes passed they lost their vigor.
  2167. >His breathing was just mere gasps now.
  2168. >And the only thing you were able to do was repeat the same words over and over again.
  2169. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."
  2170. >With one final exhale you feel him slump down from your hooves.
  2171. >Eyes still half opened you shut them closed and wipe a trickle of blood from his mouth.
  2172. "I didn't mean it. Honestly. Please. I'm so sorry."
  2173. >As you continue to cradle the lifeless body, the Arabian stirs awake.
  2174. >You pay no attention as you rock back and forth, corpse still in hoof.
  2176. >"That was very rude of you."
  2177. "I-I didn't mean to."
  2178. >You feel as if you were going to throw-up.
  2179. >"You had no right to interrupt our duel."
  2180. "I'm so sorry. Sacul please come back."
  2181. >"Since my opponent is slain, you shall take his place."
  2182. >As he reaches for his sword you finally notice him.
  2183. >"I won't be so nice with you as I was with him."
  2184. "Why were you fighting?"
  2185. >"We were having a duel. A fight of honor, and you are a disgrace for intervening."
  2186. "He was going to kill you, I-I didn't-"
  2187. >"IT WAS HIS LIFE TO TAKE! He earned...or would've earned it. Now it's your turn."
  2188. >You notice he's not wearing the usual Saddle Arabian emblems. He doesn't seem to be a soldier.
  2189. >Who is this stallion?
  2190. >Why is he here?
  2191. "Who are you?"
  2192. >In a flash he moves forward.
  2193. >"Death!"
  2194. >As he raises the sword, you just stare teary eyed while he charges towards you.
  2195. >Just before his blade dives into your skull, you are shoved aside from an unknown force.
  2196. >With a thud you slam into a stone wall knocking the wind out from your lungs.
  2197. >You try to stand but just sluggishly lay there, gasping for air.
  2198. >Looking up you see what hit you.
  2199. >It was Roxelana!
  2200. >With two janbiyas she caught his sword mid swing.
  2201. >The two stand motionless, blades connected and eyes locked.
  2202. >His sword inches away from the top of her head while she stood adamant in contending.
  2203. >"Do my eyes do deceive me? Madam Roxelana. A pleasure to finally meet you in he flesh. It's so much more lively than just through the written word."
  2204. >"What are you parasites doing here? Shouldn't your kind be back in Saddle Arabia milking away our citizens taxes?"
  2205. >"Our interests go far beyond Saddle Arabia. As do your interests as well I see."
  2206. >He lowers his sword and eyes you.
  2207. >"What relationship is it you have with this pegasus? Scout? Runner? Shieldbearer?"
  2208. >A smug look goes across his face.
  2209. >"...Personal Slave?"
  2210. >"He's my friend! And you are not going to hurt him."
  2211. >"Is that a fact? Well I'm not surprised, a bastard princess such as yourself is expected to indulge herself with such common trash."
  2212. "Hey, I'm right here."
  2213. >"Hush slave, real ponies are talking.
  2214. >"Get back to whatever hole you crawled out of, or else your little cult will have one less louse to listen too."
  2215. >Roxelana readies her knives and you brandish your lance.
  2216. "I will pin you to the wall."
  2217. >"Oh, so the vermin truly have bred. No matter I can deal with BOTH of you!"
  2218. >Lunging forward you aim the lance for the center of his body.
  2219. >With a simple twist, he grabs ahold of your hooves and flips you over his body.
  2220. >As you land on your flank Roxelana charges in.
  2221. >Her two curved knives clank against his sword.
  2222. >With a hard swipe however he knocks one of them away.
  2223. >You ready yourself for another charge.
  2224. >Right as you sprint forward he bucks Roxelana away and turns to face you just in time.
  2225. >She lands hard on her wounded side and doesn't move.
  2226. >With a parry he drives your lance into the ground causing it to splinter.
  2227. >As you try to pry it from the Earth he gives a forceful horizontal blow.
  2228. >Releasing your grip you pull away from his blow.
  2229. >He smashes the lance into two wood fragments leaving you defenceless.
  2230. >Searching around you take a fallen branch and prepare yourself.
  2231. >You lift the blunted limb and give a wide swing.
  2232. >He easily dodges your slow attack ducking under it.
  2233. >You swing again, this time making contact with his blade.
  2234. >He pushes the heavy branch downwards and gives two short forceful punches to your face.
  2235. >Still starry eyed he flips you over again.
  2236. >By Celestia's blessing or sheer luck, you still had the branch in your hooves.
  2237. >You barely raise it just in time to shield yourself from a barrage of vertical attacks from his sword.
  2238. >With each hit though the thick branch started to crack.
  2239. >As it breaks in two, he gives another heavy barrage of punches to your face and chest.
  2240. >"Enough of this!"
  2241. >Kicking the wood away he leaps atop you raising his sword.
  2242. >"You will die, just like this accursed nation!"
  2243. >"Not yet he won't."
  2244. >Right before he descends his sword into your stomach Roxelana dives her knife into his shoulder.
  2245. >As he screamed in pain, she only replanted herself and dug the knife deeper into the bone.
  2246. >With a twist of her jaw, she breaks the blade from its handle leaving it embedded inside.
  2247. >"Get up, it's not over yet."
  2248. "You're still hurt."
  2249. >"I'll live."
  2250. >You could plainly see the fight has taken its tole.
  2251. >Her blood clotted, but her leg hitched badly.
  2252. >There's a fresh scar on her face where the old one had faded.
  2253. >The other side of her face welted up from his buck. Leaving it a puffy black and bloody mess.
  2254. >You on the other hoof...are fine.
  2255. >Some minor scrapes, but nothing too terrible.
  2256. >The Caspian clutches his shoulder trying desperately to pry out the blade.
  2257. >He only manages to make it tear more wounds in his muscle.
  2258. >As his arm goes limp he uses his sword to brace himself from falling.
  2259. >"You think this minor scratch can stop ME!? I am a HASHASHAGYA! One of the blessed decedents of Muhammustang! BEHOLD HIS POWER!"
  2260. >Raising it as high as he can, the sword illuminates a bright golden light.
  2261. >"Come here old friend."
  2262. >At his command, Sacul's body levitates its way in front of him.
  2263. >With a forceful thrust, he stabs the sword into the corpse of your dead friend.
  2264. >The sickening sound of metal slicing dead flesh makes you grit your teeth, but that sound is drawn out from something else.
  2265. >It was Sacul!
  2266. >There you watched as your friend awaken from his eternal slumber.
  2267. >The color in his coat started to brighten.
  2268. >All the bruises and broken bones slowly started healing.
  2269. >As the smiling Arab pulled his still shining sword from his back, you watch as Sacul stand up confused.
  2270. >"My body only feels pain, and my can't my memories flow through my brain?"
  2271. >As he notices you, a warm smile goes across his face.
  2272. >"My brother, my friend, some time we should spend."
  2273. >As you step forward to embrace your resurrected friend, a fog encircles the two of you, but that doesn't matter to you.
  2274. >Your friend, your brother in arms that you killed, is now back by a miracle.
  2276. >Be Roxelana.
  2277. >Currently fighting a Hashashagya.
  2278. >One of the oldest organizations that existed since the birth of your nation.
  2279. >Oldest and forbidden organizations.
  2280. >They were originally disbanded centuries ago when the King deemed them too violent for the populace.
  2281. >However there were always rumors that he secretly made them an underground police force.
  2282. >Their cult held onto many ancient documents and manuscripts, passing down the archaic knowledge from generations past.
  2283. >Intertwining the secrets of the past with the discoveries of today, they were able to perfect and mimic the magical arts of unicorns and in some cases, even Alicorns.
  2284. >You have never seen these acts, just through the legends and folklore of the masses.
  2285. >But seeing this...the power...it's not meant for mere mortal ponies.
  2286. >As he begins to takes out the blade from the corpse, the crazed eyed spy looks at you both with a ghoulish smile.
  2287. >Removing the blade completely, the corpse of the zebra springs to life.
  2288. >But not to a sane healthy mind.
  2289. >As he stands the flesh begins to melt around the head.
  2290. >The bony jaw clasps open and shut while moans of the damned escape its punctured lungs.
  2291. >The wounds from the lance seem to grow bigger in size revealing the deadened organs while black blood oozes to the ground.  
  2292. "Some walking corpse isn't going to scare us."
  2293. >Looking to Flash for reassurance, he is walking towards the monster!
  2294. "Flash what are you doing?!"
  2295. >He has the widest smile across his face as a tear rolls down his cheek.
  2296. >"Sacul, you're back! I'm so happy to see you."
  2297. >The beast just lets out a guttural moan.
  2298. >"Please forgive me. I am so sorry for what I did."
  2299. >As he gets closer he gives the creature a hug!
  2300. >In response it bites down tearing into one of his wings.
  2301. >Feathers and muscles get torn out of place as bright red liquid splashes onto the ground.
  2302. >Flash just lets out a cheery laugh and hugs him tighter.
  2303. >"They will be busy, for the moment, it'll be just you and me. Bastard Princess."
  2304. >You clench your side from pain.
  2305. >It's not too bad, but this needs to end, and soon.
  2307. >He awaits for you to make the first move.
  2308. >Grasping your side again you see him grasp his shoulder.
  2309. >Both of you were seriously hurt, this could go either way.
  2310. >With Flash in that trance no help would be coming.
  2311. >That sword, as long as he has that, you would be at a disadvantage.
  2312. >The only way this will work is if you get up close, that way it'll be too tight to use.
  2313. >If you stay on his bad side, maybe you can get the edge.
  2314. >However your bad side was opposite to his so if you made a move on him, he could just as easily make a move on you.
  2315. >Gotta decide soon, the more time you waste waiting the more blood you'll lose.
  2316. >You could feel yourself getting more and more tired.
  2317. >Think. Think. Think.
  2318. >As the sun slowly sets, a twinkle near the cliff side catches your eye.
  2319. >It was your lost janbiya!
  2320. >Just mere inches behind your foe.
  2321. >Perfect.
  2322. >"Well, if you won't make the first move, I WILL!"
  2323. >He hurdles his way towards you sword swinging with one hoof.
  2324. >Ducking under his swings you get close and jab into his wound.
  2325. >He gives a howl of pain, but knocks you back a little with his elbow.
  2326. >Before he can bring his sword around for another slash you grapple both his right legs and swing him into a short stone wall.
  2327. >As he's recovering you dash for your knife.
  2328. >“Is that all you've got? A few tricks and quick hooves? That is no way to enforce your boldness!”
  2329. >He charges once again, unaware of the hidden blade within your sleeve.
  2330. >Right before he descends his blow, you pull out the knife surprising him.
  2331. >The curved blade guides it effortlessly away from your body.
  2332. >He's completely open.
  2333. >Bring back the knife you drive it into his other shoulder.
  2334. >The sword drops to the ground as his arm goes numb.
  2335. "I may never ascend to the throne. I may never even be accepted as a true noble. But I have something you will never have."
  2336. >Gritting his teeth from pain he lets out a chuckle.
  2337. >"Oh really, enlighten me Bastard Princess."
  2338. "A future."
  2339. >"Fate has planned both our lives. There is no future. For you or me."
  2340. "Make your peace already."
  2341. >"I have danced with death too many times to be frightened by her."
  2342. "Very well."
  2343. >Ripping out the knife from his shoulder you drive it deep into his chest.
  2344. >He grimaces but keeps his composure.
  2345. >"I serve the King and caused enmity to our foes, yet here I die by the action of one turbulent Princess."
  2346. >In a fight, anger is just as good as courage.
  2347. >You turn and give a hard buck to his chest.
  2348. >The kick drives the knife deeper inward while his body is sent over the cliff.
  2349. >He doesn't scream.
  2350. >All you hear are the waves crashing against the rocks.
  2352. >A sigh of relief.
  2353. >You take in the moment and peek over the ledge.
  2354. >Nothing but the splash of salt water.
  2355. >Of course there would be no body.
  2356. >He's dead, no need to worry about being tracked.
  2357. >Even if he survived the fall, with two crippled arms he wouldn't be able to swim in that surf.
  2358. >Your side hurt really bad and you could feel a fever coming.
  2359. >Job isn't over yet.
  2360. >Picking up the still glowing sword, you now turn your sights to the unholy abomination still biting your friend.
  2361. >...
  2362. >Be Flash Sentry.
  2363. >Currently being carried by somepony.
  2364. >The back you lay upon felt soft yet sturdy like a plank.
  2365. >Maybe once you fully wake you'll take a nice long nap on a cloud.
  2366. >You can't remember the last time you have done that.
  2367. >Been years probably.
  2368. >Now that you think about it, can't really remember anything from last night.
  2369. >The battle, treeline, Selim is...a fight, Sacul died. No he came back!
  2370. >Trying to stretch your legs you recoil from a sharp pain coming from your wings.
  2371. >"Careful now, you lost a lot of blood. Just relax."
  2372. >That was Roxelana's voice, but something is off about it.
  2373. "Where are we? What happened?"
  2374. >"We're crossing into the Badlands. Try not to move."
  2375. >Not listening to her you try to stand.
  2376. >The pain from your wings is crippling and you fall to the ground.
  2377. >"Don't worry, once we cross these mountains, we'll be home free."
  2378. >The delicate hooves pick you up and lay you on her back.
  2379. "Where are we going?"
  2380. >"Away."
  2381. "Away where."
  2382. >"Away from here. Equestria. Saddle Arabia. Away from the war. Away from all the death."
  2383. "No. No I need to stay, my nation-"
  2384. >"-is lost, just like mine."
  2385. "Needs me. Needs usAHH!"
  2386. >Another sharp pain.
  2387. >"No they don't. If you return to Equestria, you will be hung for treason. Same for me if that cult catches me."
  2388. "What about Sacul. Where did he go?"
  2389. >"You passed out once that spell was broken, he's gone too."
  2390. "Gone? No that can't be! He was just fine! Where did he go off to?"
  2391. >"Gone to the afterlife."
  2392. "No. No not again!"
  2393. >You try to jump off again forgetting the pain from your last attempt.
  2394. >"Careful, you'll hurt yourself again."
  2395. >Which you do.
  2396. >Tumbling to the ground she lifts you back up.
  2397. >The pain is a little more bearable however.
  2398. "I-I can walk."
  2399. >You grit your teeth and manage to take a few steps.
  2400. "What happened how did he die? It was that Arab right?!"
  2401. >"No. I did it."
  2402. "You w-what?!"
  2403. >"It needed to be done. His suffering needed to be put to an end."
  2404. >You throw a hoof at her out of anger which she dodges easily.
  2405. >As you over threw yourself she pushes your off balanced body to the ground.
  2406. >Landing on your side a wave of pain hits you.
  2407. >She tries to helps you back up, but refuse her outstretched hoof.
  2408. >Instead you look closely at her.
  2409. >The color in her face is faded.
  2410. >The eye with the scar slowly leaked pus and tears.
  2411. >And her side looked as if she tried to cauterize it.
  2412. >"Don't hate me for making a choice I had to make. If I just left him, you would be deader than Terskerlane! Look at what that monster did!"
  2413. >She motions to your wings.
  2414. >They hurt a little, but Sacul would never hurt me.
  2415. >Turning you see a charcoaled stem of flesh and bone sticking protruding from where your wings used to be.
  2416. >In horror you turn to the other side only to see the same thing.
  2418. >"I saved your life."
  2419. >Your wings.
  2420. >Your beautiful orange-peach colored wings.
  2421. >Gone.
  2422. >Gone like Sacul.
  2423. >Like Selim.
  2424. >Fortune.
  2425. >Lightning.
  2426. >Wildwind.
  2427. >And all the rest of your friends lost in the snowy mountains of Yakyakistan.
  2428. >"Hey! Snap out of it!"
  2429. >You are torn back to reality.
  2430. >She stands above you looking down, cold yet considerate.
  2431. >"We can mourn later. Now we are still in danger. Patrols have been on alert all day."
  2432. >She's right. Being an Earth pony isn't the worst thing in he world.
  2433. >What matters now is to find a safe place to rest.
  2434. >She must be exhausted walking all day with you on her back.
  2435. "I know a place where we can rest up for a night."
  2436. >As the sun began to set, you could begin to see your destination.
  2437. >"What is this place?"
  2438. "The Macintosh Hills used to have a booming mining community. Providing stone, iron, or marble for all of Equestria. Now it's as empty as the streets of Baltimare."
  2439. >As you get closer you see ruins of an old camp.
  2440. "Iv'e read about this place in the paper. There was a gas leak and it was either by a careless lit cigarette or a broken lantern that caused an explosion. Over three-hundred stallions miners died that day."
  2441. >"W-why are we here?"
  2442. "This place has been long since abandoned, nopony ever comes by here. We should be safe."
  2443. >"That's good."
  2444. >Roxelana stumbles a bit but you catch her.
  2445. "Are you okay?"
  2446. >"Just tired a little. Can you lay me down over there? Please."
  2447. >Doing as she says a smile goes across her face.
  2448. >"Thank you Flash. Can I ask you a question?"
  2449. "Sure."
  2450. >"What is it like to fly?"
  2451. >You feel like she's trying to push your buttons, but seeing her so injured you could tell she didn't mean any harm.
  2452. "It was amazing. To breath the air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for pony eyes to see."
  2453. >"Maybe after this is over, we can take a ride in an airship."
  2454. "Yeah, that would be nice."
  2455. >"So, so nice."
  2456. >She looks so peaceful.
  2457. >"Flash?"
  2458. "Yeah?"
  2459. >"I'm sorry about your wings."
  2460. >You could see a tear fall from her good eye..
  2461. "Oh don't be sorry. I should be thanking you. If you didn't act I would be dead."
  2462. >"You forgive me?"
  2463. "I forgive you."
  2464. >"Thank you."
  2465. >With a smile she rests her head back down and closes her eyes.
  2466. "Sleep well Roxelana, I'll keep watch."
  2467. >...
  2468. >You awake just before sunrise.
  2469. "So much for keeping watch."
  2470. >Your head is pounding.
  2471. "What a horrible dream."
  2472. >Your memory of it is fragmented, but you vaguely remember it being about having to take care of unannounced family members for a week.
  2473. >A chill goes down your spine.
  2474. >The horror.
  2475. "Roxelana would probably have a good laugh about it."
  2476. >The air is cool.
  2477. >Heading back you spot her just how you left her.
  2478. >As Celestia's sun shines its golden rays across the land, Roxelana's tree casts a perfect shadow shielding her just a bit longer.
  2479. "How are you feeling?"
  2480. >She lays motionless on the ground.
  2481. "Roxelana?"
  2482. >Extending your hoof, she feels as cold as ice.
  2483. >Panic drills into your mind.
  2484. "Roxelana! ROXELANA WAKE UP!"
  2485. >You shake her like a mad stallion trying to wake her up.
  2486. >You put a hoof under her nose.
  2487. >...
  2488. >...
  2489. >...
  2490. >A slight inhale
  2491. >An exhale.
  2492. >She's still breathing.
  2493. >Good sign.
  2494. >You feel her forehead.
  2495. "Gahhh!"
  2496. >She's burning up.
  2497. "We need to get you some real antibiotics and fast. Appleloosa isn't too far away. If I hurry maybe-"
  2498. >A squeak comes from below.
  2499. >"I-I a-am-m f-f-fine."
  2500. "You are most definitely NOT fine! You need a doctor! How is your side?"
  2501. >She wearily looks away and tries to grasp tighter onto her blanket.
  2502. >In her weak state you easily pull it away revealing her injury.
  2503. >Blackish-red dry blood stuck to the blanket as you pulled it away.
  2504. >There from the tears and slashes, maggots feasted upon the dying flesh.
  2505. >Puss oozed from the wound, dripping onto the ground.
  2506. >In shame and anger she quickly snatched the blanket back to cover herself.
  2507. "We need to go NOW!"
  2508. >"No..."
  2509. "Roxelana please! If we don't find a doctor you will die! Please try to get up!"
  2510. >"I-I can't feel m-my legs."
  2511. "Let me carry you! It's not but maybe ten miles away, we can make it!"
  2512. >She is starting to shake.
  2513. >A little shiver at first, but it looks to be progressing more and more violent.
  2514. >"It's s-so c-c-cold. F-flash. I-I d-don't w-wa-nt to d-die."
  2515. >She is in no condition to travel.
  2516. >If you try to carry her, every step and bump will be agony, you would have to travel so slowly by the time you make it to the town she would be dead.
  2517. >On the other hoof, if you try to sprint to Appleloosa and bring back the doctor, there's a small chance she will be okay.
  2518. >But what if he forgets something?
  2519. >What if he is unfit to travel or downright refuses to come?
  2520. >Does Appleloosa even have a doctor?
  2521. >Yes, yes they should. They aren't too backwards.
  2522. >Decisions. Decisions.
  2523. >The more time wasted here the less time I have to get her help.
  2524. >Certain death or probable death?
  2525. >Neither sound too appealing, but sprinting to Appleloosa seems to be the best bet for the moment.
  2526. >You kneel down next to Roxelana.
  2527. "I'm going to go get the doctor. Be back in a flash. Understand? Right back."
  2528. >"Please F-flash. I d-don't w-wa-nt to d-die a-a-l-lone."
  2529. "You are NOT going to die! I am coming back! Just STAY AWAKE! Don't fall asleep!"
  2530. >"F-fla-fla-sh..."
  2531. "Yeah yeah, quick as a flash. Just please stay awake."
  2532. >She tries to raise a hoof but is too weak.
  2533. >You gallop your way out from the camp and through the valley making a B-line for Appleloosa.
  2534. >Your mind is racing a million miles an hour.
  2535. >If the doctor refuses to come, so be it. You'll just beat him half to death and take the medicine.
  2536. >As you race over a hill though something catches your eye.
  2537. >Off to the right about a mile down the way you see a cart.
  2538. >Not just a cart. A caravan! With three carts.
  2539. >All bearing the colors of Canterlot.
  2540. "Oh Celestia be praised!"
  2541. >One of those carts has to be a med bay.
  2542. >With all your might you sprint towards the caravan.
  2543. >As the distance closes to a mile you start to scream your lungs out.
  2545. >Some of the figures pulling the cart stopped and directed the attention of the others.
  2546. >Perfect.
  2547. >This is not mere coincidence, but divine intervention.
  2548. >What are the odds Royalist troops would be so far out from the capit-
  2550. >At about a quarter mile you freeze.
  2551. >You were so blinded by the joy and hope in your heart you couldn't see the grim reality.
  2552. >As the figures came into full view, they were not the adorned Royal Guards of Canterlot.
  2553. >There pulling the caravan stood a pack of Diamond Dog marauders.
  2554. >You drop to the ground quickly trying to hide yourself.
  2555. >They obviously have a fix on your location with all the shouting you idiotically did.
  2556. >At this close a distance they most likely can smell you.
  2557. >They must not be able to see you!
  2558. >One of the dogs starts looking side to side rapidly.
  2559. >With a howl they all start pulling again.
  2560. >Exhaling you stand back up.
  2561. >How in Equestria did Diamond Dogs manage to take over a caravan train?
  2562. >Sure they aren't the most heavily defended, but even if there were twice as many dogs to every one stallion. The Royal Guard would always hold their own.
  2563. >How many dogs are out here?
  2564. >What these mutts lack in intellect, they make up for in their strength of stealth.
  2565. >Roaming the plains, ready to attack at a moments notice.
  2566. >Ready to pounce on any unsuspecting squad.
  2567. >Or any unsuspecting wingless pegasus!
  2568. >You scan the surrounding area.
  2569. North: empty plains
  2570. >No way of hiding there.
  2571. South: A small patch of wild cherry trees.
  2572. >Maybe, but they are too small to hide a proper ambush.
  2573. West: Hilly empty plains leading back to the mining camp.
  2574. >I hope Roxelana is holding out.
  2575. >If I can somehow manage to lure them away for just a minute I would be able to raid the infirmary and be back in just half the time.
  2576. East: The carts are slowly, but surely moving along its way.
  2577. >All clear.
  2578. >So no scouts keeping watch.
  2579. >Traveling upwind.
  2580. >Won't have to worry about the scent giving me away.
  2581. >Just wish I knew how many of them there are.
  2582. >Step by step.
  2583. >Hoof by hoof.
  2584. >You inch your way along, closing the gap between you and the caravan.
  2585. >They have been making a lot of stops.
  2586. >Every time they take a break from pushing, one stands atop the cart and scans the area
  2587. >And every time they stop, you belly yourself
  2588. "This is going nowhere, how am I even going to get them away?"
  2589. >You fumble through your tattered Saddle Arabian uniform to try and find anything useful.
  2590. >If you had your old Imperial ornamental uniform, you could crack out the crystal diamonds embedded and just place some bait.
  2591. >It takes a minute, but you finally accumulated everything on the ground before you.
  2592. >Old tobacco
  2593. >Shredded cigarette paper
  2594. >Matches
  2595. >And two pieces of Sapphire ripped from the dirty epaulets.
  2596. >It's not much, but these mongrels would jump at anything shinny.
  2597. >Looking up, the carts are being pulled into a tiny valley between two hills.
  2598. >Perfect.
  2599. >Devising a plan, you decide to put it in action.
  2600. >You will only have one shot to pull this off.
  2601. >Rubbing the tobacco over yourself to cover your scent, you sneak your way in the direct path of the caravan.
  2602. >As you lay in the dry grass, all you can do is pray to Celestia that this will work.
  2603. >Setting fire to the cigarette shreds along with the dried grass, a brush fire engulfs the area.
  2604. >Hidden from the smoke you charge up the hillside jumping behind some bushes.
  2605. >Peaking through, everything is playing out just as you planned.
  2606. >Five dogs abandon the carts to try and put out the fire before it engulfs the caravan.
  2607. >As they get closer, two of them see the sapphire you planted and immediately start fighting over it.
  2608. >As the two brawled, the other three burrowed into the ground and started kicking dirt trying to snuff the flames.
  2609. >It seems it was just the five.
  2610. >Carefully you creep your way down the hill.
  2611. >It's working! Almost there.
  2612. >Taking a look at the five, you notice one of them is gazing back.
  2613. >When his muzzle sees you, he lets out a jagged-toothed smile.
  2615. >The ground below you shakes.
  2616. >Earthquake?
  2617. >No.
  2618. >The ground opens up and a dog pounces atop of you.
  2619. >"You stalked the wrong pack pony."
  2620. >His breath smells of rotten flesh and feces.
  2621. >Drool drips onto your chest as his paws dig into your hooves.
  2622. >He starts licking his lips.
  2623. >His fangs shine brightly with the added saliva.
  2624. >You need to think of something fast or else you'll become dog food.
  2625. >In the most threatening voice you can muster you stammer out an order.
  2626. "I am a Saddle Arabian Commander and you shall treat me with the respect I deserve!"
  2627. >The dog perks up instantly.
  2628. >His grip on you lightens, but refuses to move.
  2629. >By now the fire was put out and the others are making their way back to the caravan.
  2630. >"What's the deal, why isn't this horse gutted yet?"
  2631. >"He says he's a Saddle Arabian Commander. They're our allies right?"
  2632. >"I think so? Can't remember."
  2633. >"I don't remember signing any treaties."
  2634. >"Were we supposed to sign a treaty?"
  2635. >"I don't remember."
  2636. >"Momma will remember. She remembers everything!"
  2637. >Momma?
  2638. >"Right. Hey Momma! MOMMA come out here for a sec please."
  2639. >Exiting the leading cart comes out a muscular yet slim bloodhound.
  2640. >Her nose is pierced through the right nostril and all four of her legs have scars on them.
  2641. >Looks like they were from a whip.
  2642. >She looks out calmly, leaning onto the door frame.
  2643. >Then with a sneer she barks out.
  2645. >All six dogs flinched at her words and let out small whimpers.
  2646. >A greyhound steps forward to explain.
  2647. >"Momma, we're sorry, but this pony says he's from the Saddle Arabians, and we forgot if they were our allies or not."
  2648. >As she turns to look at you, the pit bull that was pinning you to the ground is now just sitting beside your body with one paw on your chest.
  2649. >"Get him up."
  2650. >The pitbull atop of you hurriedly helps you up and dusts off some dirt.
  2651. >"Ehehehe sorry bout that commander. I mean no disrespect."
  2652. >As he backs away you feel a presence behind you.
  2654. >Turning around you see it was her.
  2655. >She bends down low so her head was inches from yours.
  2656. >Grabbing a hold of your chin she forcefully turns your head to the side.
  2657. >Not too far that it will wring your neck, but just enough to cause a little distress.
  2658. >Releasing your chin, she sniffs curiously at your coat.
  2659. >After the first couple whiffs she backs away disgusted.
  2660. >"Smoker. I hate smokers."
  2661. >Turning away from you she heads back towards her cart.
  2662. >"Come with me 'Commander'."
  2663. >Her emphasis on 'commander' makes you worry.
  2664. >"But Momma, what are we-"
  2666. >"N-no Mom, we just-"
  2667. >"I need to talk privately with the horse, the rest of you start pushing! I want to be out of Equestria by sunrise!"
  2668. >With a flurry of barks and yelps, the pack hastily harnessed themselves and got to work while you followed the old dog inside.
  2669. >The interior is beautiful.
  2670. >This front cart must've been the lounging cart for an aristocrat or general.
  2671. >"Eyes on me pony."
  2672. >Looking forward you see her laying on what seems to be a comfy couch.
  2673. >"I know you aren't from Saddle Arabia."
  2674. >You cough a little.
  2675. "Whatever do you mean? I am adorned with their colors, I merely got separated from my company and was hoping our dear allies would give aid and-"
  2676. >"Let me stop you right there. We dogs aren't the brightest beings there is, but I've been around the block enough times to spot a liar when there is one."
  2677. >She is now sitting up straight showing off her teeth.
  2678. >"You may look, smell, and act like an Arab, but just by your demeanor I can tell you ain't one. So listen here pony, give me one good reason as to why I don't let my boys turn you into stew."
  2679. >Gulping down that lump in your throat, you best decide to tell the truth.
  2680. "Please ma'am, you are right I'm not an Arab, but my friend is. She is out there dying and won't last another day without proper medicine."
  2681. >Her eyes flicker a bit, but her snarl stays the same.
  2683. >"Those six out there, they the last of my litter. Before this war I had a booming family of probably one-fifty. Many of my sons slaughtered weren't even part of the militias. Cut down like weeds. I watched an entire village get smoked out from underground, only to be cut down by you horses. None were spared. Is that what you think of our kind? Mere annoyances that need to be cleansed from the land? What makes you think I'll risk their lives on an Equestrian's words?"
  2684. >You can't help but feel sorry for the old dog.
  2685. >And she was right.
  2686. >Dogs, just like zebras and donkeys, were always seen as lesser to ponies.
  2687. >Hopefully this can all change once this war is over.
  2688. "My life is in your paws. Out of the bottom of my heart I can't say enough how sorry I am for your loss. If you kill me however, you also condemn the life of an innocent Princess."
  2689. >Her eyes flicker again and her snarl looses some of its tenacity.
  2690. >"A Princess you say? Interesting, were you part of her guard?"
  2691. "Yes, we wereGAH"
  2692. >"Liar."
  2693. >She has a grasp around your throat choking the air out from your lungs.
  2694. "W-wait, wait please. *Cough* I wasn't a guard, we worked together in the military, she saved my life!"
  2695. >As the hound was right about to throw you out the door, she stopped and loosened her grip.
  2696. >"She saved your life?"
  2697. "Yes, I was badly hurt after a battle, she was forced to amputate my wings. Lift off these rags and you'll see what remains."
  2698. >She lifts up your coat to see the cauterized flesh and bone.
  2699. "Now she is in trouble, please just give me some medicine so I can try to help her like she did me."
  2700. >With a growl she opens the door and flings you out.
  2701. >All of her sons immediately surround you once you hit the floor.
  2702. >"I am trusting you horse, take us to your mare.  Balto! Clifford!"
  2703. >A silver-greyish husky and a giant bloodred vizsla step forward.
  2704. >The husky is about your height but the vizsla looked to be a bit taller than Celestia!
  2705. >"They will be digging under you at all times. If this is a trap, I'll make sure you never see daylight again."
  2706. "Thank you ma'am. I promise no harm will come to you or your family."
  2708. >Just before sunset, you all make it to the abandoned mining camp.
  2709. >Something is wrong.
  2710. >Seeing the tree where you left Roxelana, you find she's gone!
  2711. >The only thing remaining is the bloodied blanket.
  2712. "Roxelana? Roxelana! Roxelana where are you?!"
  2713. >The two mounds of dirt that were closely following you were now directly below your hooves.
  2714. >They quaked and trembled as if they were about to swallow you, but came to rest leaving two little fissures in the ground.
  2715. >A red and black eye looked through one of them.
  2716. >"Pony. Where is the friend you spoke of?"
  2717. "She was resting by this tree when I left her. I have no idea where she went!"
  2718. >As the two dogs beneath you started to unearth themselves, the caravan entered the camp.
  2719. >Barging out from the head cart comes the mother followed by the four other pups.
  2720. >"Where is she?"
  2721. "I-I don't know."
  2722. >"If this is a trick, I'll-"
  2723. >"Wait mum! I got something!"
  2724. >The pit bull that was atop of you from before now has his nose in the air.
  2725. >"What is it Jock?"
  2726. >"I smell some'ting, and it ain't coming from us.
  2727. >He sniffs the air with short quick breaths.
  2728. "Hey, hey that's it!"
  2729. >"What's it?"
  2730. >"It wasn't me if that's what you smelling."
  2731. >Taking the bloodied blanket you throw it on the St. Bernard next to Jock.
  2732. >"Hey what's your problem? I'm not your coat hangOHhhhh *sniff* Ahhhh."
  2733. "If you all get a whiff of her scent, we can track where she went."
  2734. >"Hey Cujo, can you smell it?"
  2735. >As he takes another deep breath of the rag atop his nose, you see his eyes turn blood red.
  2736. >"I smell something alright."
  2737. >He licks his chops and imitates his brothers sniffing.
  2738. >Before any more of her dogs gets a sniff, the mother takes the blanket and throws it in her cart.
  2739. >"The rest of you don't need to sniff this piece of garbage. You can track the scent just as good without the 'extra stimulation'. Now go! The faster we help the horse the faster we can leave these retched lands!"
  2740. >By her orders, the remaining four reluctantly got to sniffing.
  2741. "Thank you for your help Ma'am."
  2742. >Letting out a grumble she replies with only one word.
  2743. >"Yeah."
  2744. >Looking at her now you can see her age was truly showing.
  2745. >The wrinkles around her eyes sluggishly overlapped one another almost rendering her blind.
  2746. >The scars around her legs were stretched out unevenly indicating her whipping happened as a pup.
  2747. >While most of her fur was a lush brown, the patches of grey and white were becoming more profound.
  2748. >She catches you staring.
  2749. >"What do you want pony?"
  2750. "Where are you going to go?"
  2751. >"Why do you care?"
  2752. "Curious is all."
  2753. >"Curiosity kills."
  2754. "I feel like I was supposed to be killed a long time ago."
  2755. >She doesn't say anything after that.
  2756. >It feels like hours have gone by, while in reality it has only been twenty minutes.
  2757. >You both watch quietly as her pups aimlessly walk in circles trying to track the scent.
  2758. >Whenever you think they would have the trail, they would simply turn back to the center of the clearing and repeat the process.
  2759. >...
  2760. >*Sigh* "South."
  2761. "What?"
  2762. >"I'm taking them south."
  2763. "Why south?"
  2764. >"Can't exactly go north through Equestria now can we? I doubt the Minotaurs would take us in. Even if I could afford a boat ride to Arabia I'd never bring my family there."
  2765. "Why's that?"
  2766. >"Too hot and sand is horrible for tunnels."
  2767. >You turn away feeling dumb by the obvious answer.
  2768. >"South is our only option. Balto might not like the humidity, but he'll adjust eventually."
  2769. "You're a good mother Ma'am. I wish I could have your attributes."
  2770. >"Thank you, but you have your own unique traits that I see admirable."
  2771. "Really?"
  2772. >"It took a lot of courage to confront our pack."
  2773. "But I also lied to you and tried to hurt your family."
  2774. >"Just like how I can tell when someone is lying, I can also tell when someone has a good heart."
  2775. >She gives you a wrinkly smile, then turns back to her grim state overseeing her pups.
  2777. >The dogs progressed from the clearing to the short ridges of the hill connected to the old mine.
  2778. >One of them is a higher than the rest.
  2779. >He leaps from ledge to ledge with height that would amaze even the most talented show-pony in the Crystal Carnival.
  2780. >His head swings wildly up and down.
  2781. >Sniffing the air and ground, tracking down Roxelana.
  2782. >Wherever she may be, I hope she is safe.
  2783. >Reaching a ledge the dog starts jumping with excitement.
  2784. >"Momma! Momma! I found something!"
  2785. >Waving his flat cap in triumph he let's out a howl which his brothers happily reciprocate.
  2786. >He reaches down and picks up a bundle of something.
  2787. >It's difficult to see.
  2788. >Straining your eyes though you can tell it was a bundle of Roxelana's mane!
  2789. >"Good job Jock! You'll be getting an extra serving of jerky when we are done!"
  2790. >Jock smiles in response to his mother praise.
  2791. >Putting his cap back on he calls back down from atop his ridge.
  2792. >"Don't worry pony, we'll find your marefriend soon."
  2793. >You turn red-faced to the old dog who gives you a little wink.
  2794. "N-no she's not m-my...we're just companions."
  2795. >"Never met anyone who would go to these lengths to help just a 'companion'."
  2796. >You turn away without saying a rebuttal.
  2797. >A thought lingers in your mind.
  2798. >How could she climb this hill?
  2799. >In her condition she was barely able to move let alone walk.
  2800. >"There's another thing here! It shines like gold, but looks all twisted. Not sure what it is though, looks heavy!"
  2801. >It's probably a piece of her plate armor.
  2802. >You watch as the pit bull struggles trying to free it from the ground.
  2803. >"I...think...it's...coming...loose...."
  2804. >With one final yank he frees the heavily worn armor from the dirt.
  2805. >Victoriously he lifts the armor above his head like a trophy.
  2806. >Another clue found.
  2807. >Another trail to follow.
  2808. >Roxelana where in Equestria are you?
  2810. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngXjJoNCzu4 [Embed]
  2811. >Dirt, rocks, and other debris are sent sailing through the air.
  2812. >The ledge Jock stood upon is now a burning crater.
  2813. >His black flat cap lands directly at your hooves.
  2814. >It's smoldering from the blast.
  2815. >While his siblings slowly piece together what just happened, his mother on the other hoof fully understands.
  2816. >You watch her face turn from horror to rage.
  2817. >She grasps your neck in one of her paws and throws you against one of the carts.
  2818. >Reeling from the hit, you stand to see the five other dogs are now surrounding you with your back against the caravan.
  2819. "wait...WAIT! I have no idea wha-"
  2820. >A punch from the husky stops your protest.
  2821. >"I TRUSTED YOU!"
  2822. >The St. Bernard throws a punch to your other side.
  2823. >"You said no harm would come to me and my family! And now Jock is dead!"
  2824. >A scratch to your belly comes from underneath you.
  2825. >"And now you will die horse."
  2826. >On her words the dogs slowly closed in on you.
  2827. >Fangs showing, growling with a hatred almost as high as their mothers.
  2828. >"MINE!"
  2829. >The larger one knocks the others out of the way to get to you first.
  2830. >As he towers over you, some saliva from his mouth drips onto your muzzle.
  2831. "P-please. You have to believe me. I have no idea what-"
  2832. >Before finishing your sentence, the front cart explodes sending pieces of the ornate furniture and wood flying.
  2833. >"What in theAHHHHH"
  2834. >An arrow is piercing through the great vizsla's shoulder.
  2835. >Strange. It looked to be glowing with magic.
  2836. >Before he can recover another arrow flies into his side.
  2837. >He staggers backwards revealing where the shot came from.
  2838. >There atop the hill stood a grey unicorn.
  2839. >A dirty cloak draped over his body.
  2840. >As he pulls back on the bow string, his horn illuminates.
  2841. >The arrow is engulfed with magical aura.
  2842. >Releasing the string, the arrow soars directly at you!
  2843. >But in an instant it curves from it's trajectory and lands into the other side of the vizsla.
  2845. >"Sharpshooter!"
  2846. >"Burrow yourselves!"
  2847. >As the dogs dig into the ground, you jump behind the remaining cart.
  2848. >Just as you get to cover, an arrow smashes into the wooden structure inches from where you were.
  2849. >Another explosion sounds out.
  2850. >Felt like it landed right where the mother was standing.
  2851. >Gasping for breath, you peak to get a visual.
  2852. >Right as you stick your muzzle out, an arrow whizzes by almost taking it off.
  2853. "He's good, whoever he is."
  2854. >Another smashes through the windows showering shards of glass around you.
  2855. >To your surprise some of them reflect back at you.
  2856. >Carefully picking up one of the larger fragments, you flip it over and back again inspecting it.
  2857. >It's a two-way mirror!
  2858. "With this I'll be able to look without worrying about my nose getting  pierced."
  2859. >Can't stick it out that way though, she'll see the reflection.
  2860. >Need someplace hidden.
  2861. >Maybe under the cart?
  2862. >It's a risk with the curve manipulation.
  2863. >Hopefully their eyes aren't too keen.
  2864. >Bending down low, you crawl behind one of the wheels.
  2865. >Balancing the mirror, you get a perfect picture of the hillside and clearing.
  2866. >In the fields, a large earth pony with a birch brown coat and viridian mane is wrestling with the vizsla.
  2867. >Next to him, a black unicorn with a salt and pepper mane was holding his own against the shepard and St. Bernard.
  2868. >As one would be at his back, he would create a shield blocking the dogs fangs while keeping the other at bay with his sword.
  2869. >Atop the hill the archer still rained down arrows.
  2870. >With the element of surprise gone however, he would just use the shots to prevent the last two from climbing up the hill.
  2871. >Farther up you see the source of the artillery fire.
  2872. >A grey coated earth pony with a blonde balding mane, hurriedly loaded up a mobile canon and fired down into the clearing.
  2873. >It tears open the ground hitting nothing.
  2874. >Still no sign of the mother.
  2875. >Moving the mirror again you see a glow through the reflection.
  2876. >An arrow smashes into the tiny shard just missing your hooves.
  2877. >Time to move.
  2879. >Crawling out from under the cart you are greeted by a pair of sharp paws.
  2880. >"Where do you think you're going?"
  2881. >They grasp around your hooves pulling you out and slamming you against the wall.
  2882. >As your back knocks the wind out of your lungs, another explosion rips out and a painful roar echoes.
  2883. >"You did this."
  2884. >With a fury only a mourning mother can give, she slashes into your side and throws you to the ground out from your cover.
  2885. >Pouncing atop of you, she covers your entire body.
  2886. >Her paws grasp around your neck choking out the last of your air.
  2887. >Your hooves punch out in protest to no avail.
  2888. >Another whine pitches out from the other side of the cart along with a baritone shout.
  2889. >"SHRAPNEL SHELL!"
  2890. >A blasts comes from overhead.
  2891. >Instantly the clearing is showered in a hail of metal fragments.
  2892. >Screams of pain from flesh being ripped apart sound out.
  2893. >As the deadly rain halted, the bloodhound atop of you still held her vigorous grip.
  2894. >A trickle of blood dropped onto your belly.
  2895. >Then another trickle.
  2896. >Her grip lightened around your neck.
  2897. >Getting your strength back you free yourself and work your way out from under her.
  2898. >As you stand she drops face first into the earth.
  2899. >Her back is riddled with holes from the blast.
  2900. "I-I didn't mean for any of this."
  2901. >You sit next to the cart and watch the blood form a pool around her body.
  2902. >Her back rises up and down nonrhythmicly until it comes to a rest.
  2903. >...
  2904. >"Hey Captain, there's another one over here."
  2905. >"Bring it to the pile. I want them buried as quick as possible so we can move out."
  2906. >The grey coated stallion who worked the mini-canon briskly walks around the cart to where the dead bloodhound lies.
  2907. >"Alright dog, you're not gonna bite me are ya?"
  2908. >Bending down he puts his ear just above her body waiting for a response.
  2909. >"No? Perfect! You're such a good dog. Yes you are."
  2910. >Whistling a little tune, he lifts her carcass over his back.
  2911. >"Whoa, heavier than you look."
  2912. >Turning around he sees you sitting against the cart.
  2913. >"Um...hello."
  2914. "Hi."
  2915. >You both blankly stare at each other for what seems like an eternity until a voice calls from the clearing.
  2916. >"Powder what's taking so long? Alto could use your help with the big guy."
  2917. >"R-right, coming Captain."
  2918. >He lowers his voice to a whisper.
  2919. >"Can you wait here for a sec?"
  2920. "You look like you could use some help."
  2921. >"Sure, old flea bag is kinda heavy."
  2922. "Don't call her that! She's been through enough."
  2923. >As you both carry her into the clearing, you get a full view of the carnage.
  2924. >The shepard and St. Bernard are lying atop one another.
  2925. >Underneath them lay another but you can't fully make out which one it is.
  2926. >Their bodies are riddled with holes from the shrapnel.
  2927. >Next to them the great vizsla lies motionless with his midsection torn cutting him in two.
  2928. >The grey unicorn is trying to move one of the halves with little success.
  2929. >Laying down, the large brown coated earth pony is being tended to by the black unicorn and a light green pegasus.
  2930. >"You see that big one? Hit him dead on with Martha. Should'a seen it. Pissed off Gumbo a'bunch since I blew away his dance partner...and kinda made him blind, but he'll be fine. That's what Minty says. Anyway-"
  2931. "Please. Just stop."
  2932. >"What's a matter with you huh? We save your life and instead of a 'thank you' I get a 'please shut the buck up'."
  2933. "I wasn't their prisoner you daft nag! They were helping me!"
  2935. >Your outburst attracted the attention of the whole squad.
  2936. >All looked in your direction except for the large earth pony blindfolded and the black unicorn tending to him.
  2937. >The unicorn plants her bow and aims it at you.
  2938. >"Powder. Step away from the Arab."
  2939. >"That's awfully rude Alto, show my new friend here some respect."
  2940. "We're not friends. I just want to see these dogs properly buried like you said they would be."
  2941. >"Companion then."
  2942. "No."
  2943. >"Acquaintance it is."
  2944. >"Powder!"
  2945. >The black unicorn addresses the two without looking.
  2946. >"Viola stand down, if he was hostile he most likely would've tried something already."
  2947. "Viola? That name sounds oddly familiar."
  2948. >The blindfolded behemoth bellows out.
  2949. >"Deadshot over there won silver in the last Crystal Games."
  2950. >"Would of got gold if it weren't for that dumb donkey."
  2951. >"Oh please, we all saw what happened. You just choked from the pressure. Happens to us all."
  2953. >"VIOLA!"
  2954. >"Sorry Captain. So who exactly are you?"
  2955. "Flash Sentry. Former Commander of the Crystal Imperial Guard."
  2956. >The black unicorn burst into a fit of laughter.
  2957. >"Flash Sentry is dead. Died along with Blueblood in the frozen mountains of Yakyakistan."
  2958. "Only him, I escaped!"
  2959. >As he finally turns to look at you, his ecstatic face turns to a sour surprise.
  2960. >"Well I'll be a dirty donkey, where are your wings?"
  2961. "Had them removed, holding me back. By the way, you all wouldn't have happened to find a mare lying around here would you?"
  2962. >The pegasus speaks up.
  2963. >"I did my best to mend the wounds, but she needs to be in a triage tent as soon as possible."
  2964. "Perfect, if you would direct me to where she is, I will be on my way to-"
  2965. >"Oh no Flash, you are staying right here. Me and you have some business to take care of."
  2966. "Business? I don't even know you!"
  2967. >He pays no attention to your protest.
  2968. >"Alto, remember that 'thing' we talked about before leaving base?"
  2969. >Her demeanor changed instantaneously from stern to almost frightened.
  2970. >"Sir? I don't think now would be the appropriate time. W-we have our supplies b-back. We can just continue with the original-"
  2971. >"Alto,"
  2972. >His voice turns somehow more serious than what is already was.
  2973. >"This, is an order."
  2974. >"Y-yes Sir."
  2975. >The earth pony beside you gives a small chuckle.
  2976. >"Are you just now going to tell us you two have the hots for one another? We've known ever since we were all shipped out together from basic-"
  2977. >An arrow pierces through his right eye and lodges out the back of his skull.
  2978. >"-training."
  2979. >He falls forward into a crater made by his canon, in effect the dead mother falls atop him.
  2980. >"Powder! Alto what are you AHHHHH!"
  2981. >An arrow lodges into the green pegasus's wing causing her to fall to the ground.
  2982. >Crashing behind the vizsla's corpse she momentarily catches her breath.
  2983. >"Hold Viola, take care of Treehugger, Noel's mine."
  2984. >As she pulls back on the bow, you hear the blind horse vainly plea.
  2985. >"Alto, listen. I-I didn't mean nothing with all those comments I always make. You know I was just playing around like I always do? R-right?"
  2986. >"Orders are orders Gumbo, sorry."
  2987. >"Not like this! I-I was supposed to die a hero on the field! Not blindfolded and shot like a bucking criminal!"
  2988. >With a tear rolling down her cheek she releases the string.
  2989. >It lands dead center between his eyes and he slumps forward.
  2990. >"Captain, he's gone."
  2991. >"Well done Viola."
  2992. >As the pegasus struggled through the pain, the unicorn briskly trots towards her.
  2993. >"S-stay back!"
  2994. >She feebly pulls out a short dagger.
  2995. >It looks dull.
  2996. >Almost like it's the first time that blade has seen light in years.
  2997. >"Oh so you pull a weapon on your Captain, but not on an actual enemy? How hypocritical. What was your motto again? Oh right..."
  2998. >You watch stunned to see his head morph into an exact replica of the mares.
  2999. >"'I'll carry your books, I'll carry your meds, I'll carry a torch, I'll carry a tune, I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, cash-and-carry, I'll even 'hari-kari' if you show me how, but I will not carry a sword.' Did I get that right?"
  3000. >She stares back petrified with fear.
  3001. >"W-what are-?"
  3002. >"Captain? Is everything alright?"
  3003. >"Of course Alto, just finishing up."
  3004. >He easily knocks away the short dagger and plunges his sword into her throat.
  3005. >Wiping away the blood he sheathes it and reforms to his 'normal' state.
  3006. >Walking around the dead carcass of the vizsula, his transformation completes just in time before the grey coated unicorn can see his form.
  3007. >"Captain, what's the problem? Why give the order of abandonment? We could've easily completed it in our current situation. Have we been compromised?"
  3008. >"In a way."
  3009. >"Does it have to do with him?"
  3010. >She motions a hoof in your direction.
  3011. >"Yes."
  3012. >"But why? We didn't have to neutralize them, Canterlot is already lost. Maybe we could have integrated them into the-"
  3013. >"Viola, hush."
  3014. >He puts a hoof to her lips.
  3015. >"You trust me don't you?"
  3016. >"Yes. I do."
  3017. >"And I trust you to follow orders given."
  3018. >"I know it's just, we have been with them so long and-"
  3019. >"I know it's hard, but it's for the greater good. Come here."
  3020. >He wraps his hooves around her consolingly.
  3021. >"Thank you Coal Trane I don't know how I could have...could have...*cough* *cough*..."
  3022. >Viola collapses and starts convulsing on the ground while 'Captain Coal' stands over her body.
  3023. >He lifts her head slightly and looks deep inter her eyes.
  3024. >Opening his jaw, a cloud of black smoke escapes Violas mouth and enters into his own.
  3025. >The more the cloud leaves body you could see the life draining from her eyes.
  3026. >With one final exhale, the last bit of cloud escapes and she drops to the floor lifeless.
  3027. >"Delicious. It's been so, so long."
  3028. >He turns to you wiping away saliva from his jawline.
  3030. >"It's been a long time Maverick."
  3031. >Maverick?
  3032. >He stares at you through black as night eyes while a bit of whatever came out of Alto still lingers on his lips.
  3033. >"Oh my mistake, where are my mannerisms, did you want some? I think she can let out a little more."
  3034. >He kicks the downed unicorn in the gut and she lets out a weary gasp for air.
  3035. >She's still alive!
  3036. >Taking Powders sheathed sword, you free it from its bind and point it at the black unicorn.
  3037. "Stay away from her, changeling monster!"
  3038. >Looking to the sword then at you he lets out a deep guttural laugh.
  3039. >"Maverick you haven't changed a bit. Literally. Well except maybe for your wings."
  3040. "Get back you disgusting bug!"
  3041. >You put the tip of the sword inches from his neck.
  3042. >His cheeky demeanor drops to his former serious tone.
  3043. >"Maverick, just because we have history together don't mistake that for friendship. Let's not forget who abandoned who in those frozen mountains, but I'm a forgive and forget kind of changeling. Come with me and everything will be cleared up licitly split. No more dealing with revolting dogs. No more babysitting wounded mares."
  3044. "I told you, I never seen you before in my life! Even if I did I would never even conceive of working with a changeling! The only thing you bugs are useful for is target practice! And my name is NOT Maverick! It's Flash Sentry!"
  3045. >This just causes him to erupt into laughter.
  3046. >"How ironic."
  3047. >He steps forward unafraid of your threat.
  3048. >"You really don't remember? Well honestly I would love to forget, but I guess that just proves it. You are sick."
  3049. "Step away from the unicorn!"
  3050. >"Or else what? You gonna-"
  3051. >He morphs into a familiar looking white stallion.
  3052. >"-kill your best friend?"
  3053. "Blueblood."
  3054. >Seeing your old friend leaves you off guard and you lower your sword.
  3055. >"Got ya."
  3056. >He quickly lands a hoof into your chest and takes the now free sword.
  3057. >As you get up, he points the sword into your direction.
  3058. >"I can't believe you fell for the oldest changeling trick in the book."
  3059. "Savage demons."
  3060. >"'With treachery, the treacherous shall act treacherously...'"
  3061. >What?
  3062. >Something in the back of your mind clung to that statement.
  3063. "What did you say?"
  3064. >"*sigh*...'And through our actions we will rule over all.' Our old maxim. You truly did forget. Oh well more fun for me I guess."
  3065. >His words were almost like a trigger on your mind.
  3066. >You instantly flashback to the last mission you and Blueblood were on.
  3067. >A diplomatic mission to Yakyakistan.
  3068. >Something was different about this memory though.
  3069. >The area looked familiar, it was at the crossroads before entering the actual palace.
  3070. >You know this because of the giant rock you and Blueblood use as a marker to keep yourselves from getting lost.
  3071. >Snow is pouring down obstructing visibility.
  3072. >Everything is familiar, but at the same time foreign.
  3073. >As Blueblood's carriage comes into view, there walking alongside it was yourself!
  3074. >Before the vision can continue you are brought back to reality.
  3075. "What in Celestia was that?"
  3076. >The changeling disregarding your question morphs into his true form and tackles you, pinning you on the ground.
  3077. >"I want you to remember this moment Maverick! I gave you the choice to come and you refused. So don't blame me if it gets worse!"
  3078. >He presses his horn against your forehead.
  3079. >Right when it makes contact you feel as if your entire body is being cooked from the inside out.
  3080. >You scream out in anguish with all your might but he continues undismayed.
  3081. >Eventually you black out from the pain.
  3083. >You wake up lying down.
  3084. >Everything is blurry.
  3085. >You're blindfolded!
  3086. >No, bandaged.
  3087. >Somepony is talking, you can barely make out what they are saying.
  3088. >"...even greater risk bringing another one here!"
  3089. >"Not a risk, an opportunity! I am on the brink of finding them."
  3090. >"We have seen zero results with your expeditions, all you give us in return is excuses and casualties. Why the Queen thought it be appropriate to let you integrate I will never know. Maybe if your hive fought harder you wouldn't have needed to find a new hive."
  3091. >A sudden slam startles you.
  3092. >It sounds as if somepony is choking.
  3093. >Then a familiar calm yet menacing voice quietly echoes through the room.
  3094. >"Keep your voice down boy. Do you know what the MID used to do to changelings? Be a real shame to have your little charade go down with just a couple slipped words. And I doubt your dear Queen would compromise herself over the idiocy of some 'loud-mouth'."
  3095. >There's a brief pause and only the light sound of asphyxiation can be heard.
  3096. >"You know actually, it's been a while since the agency did anything successful, they could use the morale booster."
  3097. >Hoofsteps slowly and methodically step their way to an unseen door.
  3098. >"R-release me. P-please!"
  3099. >A heavy thud lands on the ground along with gasping.
  3100. >"You wanna know why she let me in? Because she understands that my value is worth a thousand of you clones."
  3101. >"*CoughCoughCough* We need to see *cough* progress. Those are her orders not mine. She is getting inpatient."
  3102. >Trying to take the bandages off over your eyes you find that your hooves are chained to the bed.
  3103. >The rattling of the chains bring the attention of the ones conversing.
  3104. >"Hahaha Tell her not to worry her precious little nozzle, progress is here. Now get out! As you can see I have work to get done and I won't be able to do it with you flopping about my station."
  3105. >A door slams and you feel a presence coming towards you to your left.
  3106. >A clicking can be heard under your bed.
  3107. >Suddenly you feel yourself being raised up into a seating position.
  3108. >Your head lunges forward, but is stopped by the harnesses.
  3109. >"Alright let's get these off of you, shall we?"
  3110. >The cloth around your eyes begins to unravel, slowly letting in rays of light.
  3111. >It's blinding!
  3112. >With every unravel you try to squeeze your eyelids shut with more and more fervor.
  3113. >You don't even realize the bandages are completely removed.
  3114. >A light tapping is felt on your chest.
  3115. >"Relax. Let them adjust to the light, the faster you do it the better you will feel. Trust me."
  3116. >Carefully opening your eyes you let beams of light enter your pupils.
  3117. >It feels like somepony ignited a blazing fire inside your eyes, cooking them from the inside out.
  3118. >You try to shield yourself with your hooves but are again reminded by the harnesses that it's not an option.
  3119. >After a minute or two, the voice was right.
  3120. >Your eyes start adjusting and the pain begins to subside.
  3121. >As your vision returns you try to scan the area.
  3122. >It's a plain white room with a giant window almost the size of the wall.
  3123. >The pristine marble shines as if it has been cleaned recently.
  3124. >One corner of the room however is walled off by glass windows.
  3125. >An office space.
  3126. >A desk and chair are stored there along with a filling cabinet.
  3127. >Just outside the door is a mid-sized drawer with five different shelves.
  3128. >There's a dip in the floor that leads to a drain.
  3129. >Other than that the room is bare.
  3130. >You get spun around to fully face the window.
  3131. >That burning sensation immediately returns as exterior light pours through your pupils.
  3132. >As your vision returns, you are greeted by the beautiful landscape of Equestria.
  3133. >However as your eyes lower from the horizon, the delight you once had is turned into shock and horror.
  3134. >You shake your head and blink wildly with no effect hoping it's just an illusion.
  3135. >In the reflection of the window you see yourself.
  3136. >A disgusting, hole riddled, black as night changeling.
  3138. >No.
  3139. >No!
  3140. "GET ME OUT OF HERE!"
  3141. >You violently shake your body trying to free yourself.
  3142. >The chains rattle and shake with every movement.
  3143. "This can't be real!"
  3144. >With a couple hard convulses you manage to free your head from the harness holding it in place.
  3145. >"Calm down Maverick! You are sick! Confused! Just relax and we can get through this!"
  3146. >An old, white coated stallion with a grey goatee and mane pulled into a ponytail, holds you back into the converted bed-chair.
  3147. >He's wearing a barely darker shade of white lab coat that is loosely worn.
  3148. >"Listen to the soothing sound of my voice. Breath in and out."
  3149. >He takes deep breaths and exhales them.
  3150. >"In and out. Just like me."
  3151. >You try to mimic as best you can, but it comes out in gasping coughs.
  3152. >"It's okay. Take your time, but please calm down. Your exoskeleton is barely starting to reform properly."
  3153. >You relax yourself and let your head slump down.
  3154. >It doesn't stay there long as the old stallion quickly sets your head back into the harnesses.
  3155. >This is horrible!
  3156. >This is awful!
  3157. >This is...is...famishing?
  3158. >A heavy thirst strikes you simultaneously with an extreme hunger.
  3159. >A hunger for...something.
  3160. >The old stallion steps back and lets out a relieved exhale.
  3161. "W-water."
  3162. >"Don't worry we'll have plenty of time for that. Now we need to get to work."
  3163. >He pulls a cigarette from one of his coats pockets and lights it.
  3164. >"My name is Dr. Marble Mengele. You probably have heard of me with my success with twin experimentation."
  3165. "P-please. I-I feel so...dead inside."
  3166. >"Already? We haven't even started!"
  3167. "PLEASE!"
  3168. >"Ugh. I slave over surgery tables for hours on end and this is what I get. No appreciation."
  3169. >He walks over to the drawer and brings you a small bottle of water.
  3170. >"Open."
  3171. >As you gape your mouth he pours the refreshing liquid down your throat.
  3172. >You can feel the cooling sensation as it travels through your body and into your stomach.
  3173. >Where it sits.
  3174. >And then it begins to stir.
  3175. >It sloshes in a whirlpool motion inside your gut.
  3176. >Around and around it splotches.
  3177. >Some flows back into your esophagus then splashes back down causing it to agitate even more.
  3178. >It lasts all but a minute until you can't take it anymore.
  3179. >You vomit up the liquid all over yourself.
  3180. >Thirst is still hitting you, but now your throat is burning.
  3181. >"Still thirsty?"
  3182. >You respond by hacking up the leftovers that still resided inside you.
  3183. >"It always fascinated me how we are blessed of having the pleasure of taste, yet we can't handle large quantities of normal pony sustenance."
  3184. "What did you do to me?"
  3185. >"Do to you? I'm trying to help you! Look at all the work I've already done. I even gave you the power to fly again!"
  3186. "Flight? My wings are-"
  3187. >"Are now back."
  3188. >You get a jolt of excitement.
  3189. >He pushes your seat closer to the window so you can get a somewhat better view of your reflection.
  3190. >To your dismay, instead of seeing the glorious feathers and muscles you are greeted by the ever iconic transparency of thin chitin.
  3191. >However before you could react to your disappointment something catches your eye.
  3192. >Smoke?
  3193. >Looking past your reflection, far down below you is...
  3194. "Canterlot?"
  3195. >A beacon of culture, wealth, and knowledge.
  3196. >The Everlasting City.
  3197. >Now it looks to be a shell of its former glory.
  3198. "W-what happened to the Capitol?"
  3199. >"Ah yes, you missed quite a lot while you were resting."
  3200. >He pulls your chair back away from the window and to the center of the room.
  3201. >"That doesn't concern us though. Not now at least."
  3202. >Going back to his drawer he pulls out some pads with wires along with a silver metal circle attached to it.
  3203. >Carefully he sticks two pads to your temples, one just above your first vertebrae, and the last on your chest.
  3204. >"Open."
  3205. >You do so obediently and he places the metal circle under your tongue.
  3206. >It tastes like a mix between aluminum and iron.
  3207. >"Hold it there for now. I will be right back."
  3208. >Walking over to the wall, he presses a tiny number panel.
  3209. >Stepping back, the large window slowly descends letting in the cold mountain air.
  3210. >His body morphs from the old graying unicorn into a young pegasi with a light blue coat and wavy black mane.
  3211. >"Don't go nowhere ya hear me? Of course you won't."
  3212. >With that he leaps from the edge and flies out of sight leaving you there.
  3213. >All tied up and alone.
  3214. >The end of the wire dangles awkwardly tickling your left leg.
  3215. >You try to shake a little, but you only accomplish making noisy rattles with the chains.
  3216. >Just great.
  3217. >It's not all bad I guess, it could be worse.
  3218. >You could've been infected with whatever Sacul made to cause those griffons to go crazy.
  3219. >Sacul.
  3220. >Poor Zebra.
  3221. >Did our friendship mean anything if he was friends with just the taken persona?
  3222. >What about all the other friends I've made along this journey?
  3223. >Would those memories be void since it wasn't you?
  3224. >But 'you' are what makes 'you'. Right?
  3225. >And what about all the troops you trained for the Arabs?
  3226. >Did 'Flash' train them or you?
  3227. >Thinking back to all the overseeing you did, Roxelana comes to mind.
  3228. >And all the times she called you names or knocked the ties loose on your sleeping tent.
  3229. >Roxelana!
  3230. >She was just left on that hill!
  3231. >Could she still be alive?
  3232. >So many questions...so much time...
  3233. >You can't see the clock in the office, but the 'Doctor' has been gone for quite a while.
  3234. >As if on cue he sails through the window...
  3235. >...with a small cloud?
  3237. >"You would not believe how hard it is to find a cloud this time of day."
  3238. >He transforms back from the young pegasi into the old unicorn.
  3239. >The adaption voice is unbelievable.
  3240. >"Cloudsdale must still be under reconstruction."
  3241. >Mid sentence his voice changed from a natural brisk-haughty to an aging baritone.
  3242. >"No matter, these old bones could use the exercise."
  3243. >Trying to ask about your friend left behind, you swallow and choke on the circular metal piece.
  3244. >Noticing your gagging, he takes hold of the wires and yanks it out of your throat.
  3245. >"If you were like any of the others I would make a joke about chewing on your food before swallowing."
  3246. "Roxelana!"
  3247. >"Hmmm?"
  3248. "What happened to Roxelana?"
  3249. >One of his eyebrows go up curiously while he tries to connect the end of the wire to the cloud.
  3250. "Hey, I asked you a question."
  3251. >He continues fumbling with the end of the wire.
  3252. >It falls many times from his grasp and hits the floor with a clink.
  3253. >After every drop he would mumble a derogatory remark under his breath.
  3254. "ANSWER ME BUG!"
  3255. >As he successfully attaches the wire with an "A-ha!" he turns back to you.
  3256. >His smile turns to a frown when he sees the metal circle hanging limp below your chin.
  3257. >"Why is that not in it's place?"
  3258. "I believe I deserve an answer first."
  3259. >"You are in no position to ask questions."
  3260. >With a chuckle he forcefully shoves it back in your mouth.
  3261. >Before you can spit it back out he latches your jaw shut with a leather band.
  3262. >"But just to appeal your ailing mind I'll answer your question before we begin."
  3263. >He drags a seat and places it in front of you.
  3264. >"After you blacked out, I thought I could use another snack. Viola of course was already spent, so I decided to pay your little Arabian friend a visit. However as I reached the peak, she was gone. Not a trace of her was left where Pine treated her wounds. To where she could've gone I don't know, but since I was on a time crunch I never bothered looking."
  3265. >A wave of relief washes over you momentarily.
  3266. >There is still a chance she is alive.
  3267. >"Well there I gave you an answer, now to business."
  3268. >He leaps from his seat atop the cloud.
  3269. >"A little word of advise. Try to keep your jaws locked so you don't bite your tongue off."
  3270. >Lifting his front hooves up, he slams them down onto the cloud causing a thunderous boom.
  3271. >As your ears ring you watch lightning almost instantaneously transfer from the cloud across the wire...
  3272. >...and directly into you.
  3273. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m31cg1upzTo
  3274. >Your entire body tingles and stings as your hooves try to swing around wildly in their binds.
  3275. >Your heart feels as if it's going to explode out of sheer intensity from the stimulation.
  3276. >Your tongue roves about the inside of your mouth smashing itself against your fangs and roof until entangling itself around the wire.
  3277. >The electricity tries to force your back to bend only to be stopped by the chair.
  3278. >With the amount of pressure taken, it feels as if your vertebrae would snap any second.
  3279. >Gritting through the pain your vision begins to diminish and soon darkness swallows you whole.
  3281. ***
  3283. >"We need to move! Let's go!"
  3284. >You find yourself lying in sand.
  3285. >Four figures are running into the desert while another is helping you up.
  3286. >"Come on, we need to get clear before we get spotted by either garrison. This is our only chance to get through the borders while both armies are distracted!"
  3287. >As you stand up, you feel your body lurch forward to a gallop following the now distant figures.
  3288. >What is happening? Why can't I control myself?
  3289. >As you catch up to the figures, you see they are all Saddle Arabian.
  3290. >Then suddenly a bright light blinds you.
  3292. ***
  3294. >Opening your eyes you are back in the chair.
  3295. >Beads of sweat fall from your forehead.
  3296. >You feel your shackles around your hooves loosen as your chair turns back into a bed.
  3297. >It's still hard to see but a figure is looking down on you.
  3298. >"Sleep well, we'll continue tomorrow."
  3300. >You awaken on the ground.
  3301. >The tile floor leaves your belly and hooves freezing.
  3302. >In an attempt to get warm, you quickly huddle into a ball.
  3303. >You rub your forehooves together to try and get some friction going before a voice stops you.
  3304. >"Embrace the cold Maverick. Stop trying to fight it, let it flow through you."
  3305. >Dr. Mengele is standing by the wall with a clipboard and pen.
  3306. >He's scribbling something down hurriedly before setting them both down on a small stool.
  3307. >To your surprise no restraints were put on.
  3308. >Trying to stand or even move for that matter seemed futile.
  3309. >Your body aches from yesterday's 'therapy' and paired with the cold you could feel your joints start to lock.
  3310. >Looking around the room it's apparent that you've been moved.
  3311. "W-where are w-we?"
  3312. >"Right now we are in Part 2 of your recovery."
  3313. >He walks to a door and twists a nozzle.
  3314. >A *ka-chunk* echoes through the room indicating it's now secured shut.
  3315. >"Can't have any unwelcome visitors walking in on us."
  3316. >Walking towards you he transforms into his true self.
  3317. >The reveal isn't as surprising as with Coal Trane, but it's still unnerving as heck.
  3318. >How many ponies died just for him to take their persona?
  3319. >"Feels good to walk in my own skin for a change."
  3320. >Walking past you he descends some stairs into an empty pool with a little loop cemented into the bottom.
  3321. >Dropping a chain and collar he looks at the four four-foot high walls.
  3322. >"This is by far my least favorite part, *sigh* specially since I have to be in here while it happens."
  3323. "I don't recall you leaving after the cloud went off."
  3324. >"True, but this is different since I'll be in it with you."
  3325. "What?"
  3326. >"It'll be easier to show than explain."
  3327. >He hops up from the pool and pushes you down the stairs.
  3328. >You hit every single step before landing with a grunt at the empty bottom.
  3329. >Before you can recover he attaches the collar to your neck and reels the chain dragging you towards the center.
  3330. >You head slams against the concrete floor causing you to see stars.
  3331. >As you recover you find yourself on your back unable to move.
  3332. >The chain is securely wrapped around the loop at the bottom of the pool leaving you like a turtle stuck on its back.
  3333. >Turning your head slightly you see him at the edge of the pool.
  3334. >He reaches his hoof down into a hole and turns a nozzle.
  3335. >As he stands back up, the pool starts filling up with water.
  3336. >It's ice cold.
  3337. >"Alright here we go."
  3338. >The freezing water surrounds your back and slowly starts to rise.
  3339. >Each centimeter the water rises, the dread of drowning surges as well.
  3340. >Inch by inch the water surrounds more of your trapped self.
  3341. >You feel a disturbance in the water.
  3342. >It's him!
  3343. >He steps towards your almost submerged body.
  3344. >Recoiling for a second from the cold water, he continues on with his trek.
  3345. >He hovers over your body waiting.
  3346. >Waiting for you to be completely immersed.
  3347. >It's almost there, your entire body is already covered.
  3348. >Only your muzzle is left.
  3349. >Just before it's covered he speaks.
  3350. >"Don't worry Maverick, once I get my data and you are secure we can put all of this nonsense behind us."
  3351. >You take a deep inhale before the water finally covers your nostrils.
  3352. >Tiny exhales escape, but you hold your breath.
  3353. >As your cheeks start to burn more air escapes your mouth.
  3354. >The burning in your chest inflames more.
  3355. >Inflammation escalates and you cough, letting water fill your lungs.
  3356. >Gasping for air a figure breaks the surface of the water.
  3357. >It's him!
  3358. >Just like outside that mine, he connects his horn to your horn.
  3359. >The freezing feeling dissipates as the same burning sensation takes over.
  3360. >Even under the icy waters your body feels as if it's being deep fried.
  3361. >You try to inhale, but only more water fills your lungs.
  3362. >Loosing all of your breath your lungs feel like they will burst from the pressure.
  3363. >And then blackness begins to swallow you.
  3365. ***
  3367. >Streams of light peer through the canopy above.
  3368. >You find yourself in some forest.
  3369. >Four dead stallions are scattered on the floor while another lies below you.
  3370. >They bear the armor and markings of Royal Guards.
  3371. >While the unicorn underneath you had full plated armor, the others only sported thin leather.
  3372. >New recruits.
  3373. >"We have no choice, he'll just slow us down!"
  3374. >Again you find yourself unable to control your body.
  3375. >It's almost as if you are in a trance or dream.
  3376. >To be simply an observer rather than the pilot of your own body is unsettling.
  3377. >Standing up you see two replicas of the dead ponies confronting two changelings.
  3378. >Well, confronting one of the changelings while the other is lying against a tree.
  3379. >One of his forelegs lay limp on the ground.
  3380. >A slash is engraved from the hoof to shoulder. >His other hoof is trying to cover what looks like a small puncture wound to his chest.
  3381. >"Odla please, I know you two are close but we don't have time for this."
  3382. >The changeling spreads his transparent wings and gnashes his fangs.
  3383. >"We were hatched from the same egg! He's my brother! I am not leaving him behind!"
  3384. >One of the ponies draws his sword and points it at him.
  3385. >"Have you forgotten we are all brothers!?"
  3386. "Silence!"
  3387. >Your own outburst startles the three as well as yourself while the hurt one merely motions his head your direction.
  3388. >You walk up to the changeling lying against the tree and put a hoof on his shoulder.
  3389. "How are you feeling Aldo?"
  3390. >He wearily looks up.
  3391. >"I...I'm fine Captain. Honest. T-they just got a good hit on me. Once I c-catch my breath I'll be good to go."
  3392. "Of course you will be."
  3393. >Turning to the three you make your decision.
  3394. "Everyone rest up!"
  3395. >The two ponies give angered looks while Odla tucks his wings back down and calms himself.
  3396. >Behind you hear a relived sigh.
  3397. >"Sir time is of the essence! If we don't hurry our window will close and the Queen will-"
  3398. >You turn back around and dig your fangs deep into the wounded changelings neck.
  3399. >What are you doing?!
  3400. >Clamping your jaw you can taste blood and feel the flesh begin to tear.
  3401. >With a whip of your neck a fresh slab of meat now sits in your mouth while the wounded changeling slumps over.
  3402. >Spiting it out you turn back to the three.
  3403. >The ponies looked pleased while Odla stands shocked.
  3404. >"NOOOOOO!"
  3405. >He lurches towards you with fangs out and wings buzzing.
  3406. >You easily side step and grasp his right wing using his momentum to throw him head first into a tree trunk.
  3407. >His head buckles and falls to the ground limp.
  3408. "Our orders are of the utmost importance. We don't have the pleasure of dealing with mistakes."
  3409. >You motion your head to the dead changeling.
  3410. "Especially if they are caused by your own idiocy! Let's move."
  3411. >You feel yourself change into the unicorn while the other two follow close behind.
  3412. >"What are we going to do now Sir?"
  3413. "This mission can still be accomplished with us. If those two maintained their connecting mindset, I doubt they would've been much help anyways. Better to have them both gone than be a disturbance."
  3414. >"Sir, is it wise to just leave Odla? What if he wakes up?"
  3415. "Timber Wolves should finish him off. They have been following us ever since we entered this forest."
  3416. >They both turn to look about but see nothing.
  3417. >Then a howl pierces through the air.
  3418. >While your body continues nonchalantly, your mind is reeling on what just happened.
  3419. >This is wrong.
  3420. >The ruthlessness.
  3421. >To just kill without a second glance.
  3422. >Was this really you?
  3423. >Exiting the forest you find yourself on a high hill overlooking a wide valley with large shining pillars scatter about.
  3424. >There in the center of it all sits The Crystal Empire.
  3425. >The light is bright.
  3426. >A little too bright actually.
  3427. >Soon enough the light engulfs your body blinding you.
  3429. ***
  3431. >Opening your eyes you find yourself back in your bed.
  3432. >An Earth pony is just removing a needle from your chest while 'Dr. Mengele' stands idly by.
  3433. >"Thanks for the help, I'll take it from here."
  3434. >The Earth pony gives a huff and puts the syringe on a cloth and wraps it.
  3435. >"Not sure why you would even want to prolong this abominations life."
  3436. >"Scientific research. Now off with you, I have work."
  3437. >"'Scientific research' Bah!"
  3438. >As he turns to leave he coughs up a loogie and spits it on you.
  3439. >"You know Doctor you are one twisted psycho. If I knew you while I was still in uniform, there probably would've been an accident or two on the way to the precinct. But if you are doing to him the same you did to all them foals, then you alright in my book."
  3440. >"Oh don't worry, my little friend here is getting all that he needs."
  3441. >He ends that sentence with a chuckle that sends a shiver down your spine.
  3442. >With a nod and another huff, he walks through the door and slams it shut.
  3443. >Turning to your tormentor he has a very antsy look on his face.
  3444. >"Here let me get that for you."
  3445. >With a wipe of his sleeve he wipes away the now dripping loogie.
  3446. >"Don't worry about him, his family was apparently killed during the Canterlot wedding assault."
  3447. "That's horrible."
  3448. >"That's life. Why do you even care? Neither of us were part of that hive. Heck we weren't even alive."
  3449. "I care because he feels hatred for me. For us! Why should we be branded as monsters for actions that others have committed?"
  3450. >"Well,
  3451. 1. We actually are monsters who feed off of their love.
  3452. 2. Even if cohabitation was possible it will never be accepted. They are our livestock and they will remain that way.
  3453. And 3. If you aren't feeling any animosity towards ponies, especially one like him who wishes to see our extermination, then obviously our sessions need to be extended."
  3454. >He quickly straps your hooves down in the bed and pulls you close to the window.
  3455. >"Since you still have enough energy to chat, let's take this up a notch."
  3456. >He goes over to the small drawer and pulls out the wired pads and metal plate.
  3457. >Instead of hooking you up in them, he puts them aside and pulls out a little bronze case.
  3458. >Dragging the little hutch next to you, he opens it revealing a little leather pouch wrapped in a roll.
  3459. >Unraveling the leather, an array of instruments stand neatly in a line.
  3460. >All of which look like they belong in a dentist office.
  3461. >Minus a couple blunt instruments and a very curvy sickle.
  3462. >You eye them all carefully with worry.
  3463. >A small hammer catches your attention as he motions a hoof over it.
  3464. >He prods the heavy steel end wiping away an unseen stain.
  3465. >With his other hoof he feels your forehead.
  3466. >You could feel his touch on every crevice, wrinkle, and bump.
  3467. >Stopping at your temples he gives a little press.
  3468. >The light pressure sends a tiny exclamation of pain to your brain.
  3469. >Picking up a scalpel, he motions an outline around your face with it as if he is going to cut it off.
  3470. "I-is it safe?"
  3471. >He says nothing and places the scalpel back down.
  3472. "Is it safe?"
  3473. >Taking a bottle, he uses a syringe to extract what can only be described as a thick brown sludge.
  3474. "Is it-"
  3475. >He slams the needle into your neck and presses on the plunger.
  3476. >As you feel the bulge in your neck begin to grow, the room begins to spin.
  3477. "-s-slaaaavvvv..."
  3478. >You begin to loose feeling in your upper torso and eventually it spreads all over your body.
  3479. >The swelling where the injection was has returned to normal, but now it feels your entire neck has a growth.
  3480. >The spinning stopped and darkness is creeping in.
  3481. >Just before you pass out however you catch of glimpse of him picking up one of the tools.
  3482. >Then blackness.
  3484. >Your mind spins with a blur.
  3485. >Random memories flow past your vision.
  3486. >All obscure yet clear at the same time.
  3487. >All ending in a moment yet still feel as if you were there experiencing everything.
  3488. >All senses mesh into one, but all still distinct.
  3489. >Living an entire life in a second.
  3490. >Through this flurry of sensations, one memory sticks out.
  3491. >It appears you are in some type of tent or yurt.
  3492. >You are tied down to a plank of wood.
  3493. >The binding dig into your hooves with every struggle.
  3494. >A fire pit burns dangerously high directly in front of you with an empty pot sitting in the center.
  3495. >The embers slightly singe your belly.
  3496. >An igil is being played somewhere along with a low drumming.
  3497. >It gets increasingly louder until five figures walk through the tarp.
  3498. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5Scua0sK1w [Embed]
  3499. >One wears nothing but is carrying herbs and a leather canteen.
  3500. >The other four however are wearing tarps concealing their entire bodies.
  3501. >Bones from all different walks of life cover the tarp making an unknown skeleton creature.
  3502. >Each yak's skeleton has different skulls.
  3503. >While the four begin to chant in their native tongue the remaining one steps forward.
  3504. >"We begin the cleansing."
  3505. >Taking the canteen he pours the herbs and water into the pot.
  3506. >An unknown aroma fills the enclosed yurt.
  3507. >Your vision becomes wavy, almost as if life switched into slow motion.
  3508. >"Since you came to us as a pony, that is what you shall remain."
  3509. >The chanting and drums seems to get louder as the center one dances about in short steps occasionally flailing his fore-hooves.
  3510. >Smoke is filling your lungs.
  3511. >The smell is terrible, but also addicting.
  3512. >Your brain simultaneously revolted yet craved it.
  3513. >As the pot begins to boil the center yak quickly lifts it from the fire.
  3514. >And proceeds to splash the entire pot over you.
  3516. >Surprisingly it doesn't burn.
  3517. >The immense heat blankets your body while the water seems to instantly be absorbed into your skin.
  3518. >It's almost relaxing even.
  3519. >The yak lifts the pot closer to your nostrils and you smell the intense aroma of the residue.
  3520. >Delicious.
  3521. >The warmness over your body grows and you begin to notice a familiar shade of orange begin to spread across your body.
  3522. >"Take him back to where he came, the remedy will blind his true senses. Everything else will fall to place with time."
  3523. >As things begin to get blurry you feel the bindings on your hooves loosen.
  3524. >Darkness encroaches on you as you feel the freezing air from the outside.
  3525. >...
  3526. >This is different.
  3527. >Normally when the darkness came you would be awoken and 'Dr. Mengele' would be sitting idly at your side.
  3528. >All around you is blackness, there's not a single visible thing in this void except for you.
  3529. >Trying to get your bearings you feel a presence.
  3530. >You don't want to continue but some force compels you to move forward.
  3531. >Every step you take resonates an unnerving echo.
  3532. >Louder and louder your hoofsteps resonates out to nothing.
  3533. >And with each march forward that unknown presence makes itself ever more apparent.
  3534. >You break into a sprint running aimlessly through the dark.
  3535. >The faster you go you get the sensation that you are about to be swallowed up.
  3536. >Faster and faster you go, colder and colder you feel.
  3537. >Right as it passes the threshold of your neck you pass immediately into a much welcomed brightened area.
  3538. >A dim light shines down in the center.
  3539. >There's a figure lying down.
  3540. >Glowing light-blue chains wrap themselves tightly around it and disappear into the dark.
  3541. >Along with the chains, an ancient translucent text hovers above and below him.
  3542. >You can tell it's some form of Yakistani due to certain unique letters.
  3543. >Taking a step forward the creature turns to face you.
  3544. >"Well, well, well. It's about time you came."
  3545. "Who are you?"
  3546. >"I'm you."
  3547. "W-what?"
  3548. >Pushing his body upwards, he lets the chains hang him limply forward.
  3549. >He looks to be starved. His rib cage clearly shows through the trunk and his hooves and legs are skinny as can be.
  3550. >Burns and bruises cover his entire body.
  3551. >Two large scars encircle the joint where his wings connect along with two more across his left side and wing.
  3552. >"More specifically you are me."
  3553. "That's impossible, I am me! And you, you are just some fabrication from the drug. Once I wake up-"
  3554. >"Wrong!"
  3555. >He lifts his head to look at you dead in the eye.
  3556. >Hatred resonates through his very core.
  3557. >"You are NOTHING! You are a disease that has hijacked my body! You are a plague those Tartarean beasts put inside me to stop the Queen's goals!"
  3558. >He drops his head and lets his body lay back down on the floor.
  3559. >There's a small pool of blood where he lies and an even larger dried pool extending more outwards staining the floor.
  3560. "The queens goals?"
  3561. >A smile creeps up his lips.
  3562. >"Why yes. You can't remember because you weren't there. All these 'trips' you've been taking are all into MY memories. NOT YOURS!"
  3563. >His smile turns to a sneer.
  3564. >"My team and I were supposed to usurp the Yakistani Khan just like how we did with the Saddle Arabian King. However it didn't go so well."
  3565. "I've seen, maybe if you didn't kill off two of your members it wouldn't have gone so bad?"
  3566. >"That was the teams goal. I however was given a personal objective."
  3567. "Oh?"
  3568. >"Once our grip on the Yaks were secure I alone was to travel to the Badlands and awaken the Nether Hive."
  3569. "Nether hive?"
  3570. >"Before the Queen left for the sands, she laid a whole nest of calcified warrior bugs, specifically bred to be the toughest and fiercest fighting force known to all. I alone was entrusted to awaken them. Then the combined forces of Yaks, Saddle Arabia and the Nether would descend on Equestria!"
  3571. "That would never have worked."
  3572. >"You never know if you don't try, that hive is still out there, waiting for me."
  3573. >His smile creeps back up as he stares back into your eyes.
  3574. "Why are you telling me all of this?"
  3575. >"Why? Because I know whatever you hear, he hears."
  3576. "He?"
  3577. >"And now that he knows the location, you will follow to try and stop him, then everything will fall to place just like clockwork."
  3578. >He stands himself up and begins shouting at the top of his lungs.
  3580. "What are you-"
  3581. >"And don't think I will forget about YOU! I won't let you die out completely! I will put you right where you see me! Then you will feel true pain!"
  3582. >As he gives out a maniacal laughter a bright light blinds you and you come back to reality.
  3583. >...
  3584. >A sharp pain comes from your forehead.
  3585. >You feel a bit of blood trickle down the center of your face.
  3586. >Gencer is reeling on the floor.
  3587. >With his persona dropped he hisses out in pain on the floor in his true changeling form.
  3588. >Getting up off the floor he wipes away some blood off his face and lets out a little chuckle.
  3589. >"Finally. It will be mine."
  3591. "Nothing will be yours! The war is already lost, you will do nothing but fail!"
  3592. >"You misinterpret my intentions. I wouldn't dream of wasting my new hives talent on some suicide mission."
  3593. "*Your* new hive?"
  3594. >"Yes *my* new hive! I have known Maverick for years and he has been a closed book the entire time. However the one thing I do know about him is his loyalty."
  3595. "Loyalty?"
  3596. >"To our former Queen. He would rather have them be a martyr in her name rather than use them to their full potential."
  3597. "And what would that be?"
  3598. >"I envision a new hive, far away from this retched land. Where we can feast upon the love of foreign entities."
  3599. "And with you at the head of everything in place of Maverick."
  3600. >"Precisely! With me as head there will be no more quarrels."
  3601. "Is that it then? You find this hive and then terrorize another lands poor souls?"
  3602. >"Not just any ponies souls, the ponies of Transoxabia."
  3603. "You don't mean those eastern nomads do you?"
  3604. >"Why yes I do. MID agents found out Terskerlane wasn't just a General, but the whole factions leader!"
  3605. "This means what exactly?"
  3606. >"It means that with him dead the right to rule should go to his eldest son, however their lands are having a pretty hard time finding him."
  3607. "Was he killed at Baltimare?"
  3608. >He changes into an eastern looking stallion with a long flowing mane.
  3609. >In a thick accent he speaks through a crooked smile.
  3610. >"Let's just say they will be looking for a long time."
  3611. >He changes back.
  3612. >"Talks of a war of independence is even in motion. With them disoriented I can easily move in and seize power. And with that power comes the unending love from the masses and the unlimited power from their military! All mine."
  3613. "Is this where your loyalty lies? What about the Queen here?"
  3614. >"She is a young naive fool if she thinks her little operation here would last. As long as that two-legged behemoth lives we will never be safe."
  3616. "All this time. All the tests. I thought you were 'curing me' but you were just using me?"
  3617. >"Don't act so surprised. You will never be cured. I will make sure of that."
  3618. "Do you really think you will get away with this?"
  3619. >"I don't think. I know I will."
  3620. "No you won't! I will stop you! If my life has any purpose now it's to stop you from enslaving another group of innocent ponies just so they can be farmed for your nourishment."
  3621. >He scoffs at your remark.
  3622. >"Really now? You. All tied up and helpless. Is going to stop me?"
  3623. "That's right."
  3624. >"Well how are you going to do that?"
  3625. "You still don't know where that cave is. You need me!"
  3626. >He stares at you for a moment then gives out a laugh.
  3627. >"That is where you are wrong."
  3628. >He tightens the strap around your head even tighter.
  3629. >"Once you made contact with Maverick I was able to learn everything. To the location, the hidden door, even the procedure on how to wake them. So no, I don't need you anymore."
  3630. >He brings back out the pads and wires.
  3631. >"And so this is where your journey ends. Wriggling about in your chair having your brain slowly fry. Seeing you contort the first time was a real treat. Let's see how long you can last this time."
  3632. >Taking a look outside there's not a cloud in sight.
  3633. >Gencer notices this as well.
  3634. >"Oh don't worry, we'll just have to use the stations power. I was told to try to use the outlets sparingly, but since I will be leaving this dump I would say a high electricity bill will be a nice farewell gift."
  3635. >Grabbing an adapter from the little drawer he begins to hook everything together.
  3636. >He's humming some tune.
  3637. >With each pad placed your heartbeat raises.
  3638. >This can't be it.
  3639. >You have to stop him somehow!
  3640. >You furiously try to struggle out of your binds while Gencer simply continues his little song.
  3641. >Stepping back he admires his handiwork.
  3642. >A smug smile is plastered on his face.
  3643. >"Any last words?"
  3644. "I'll kill you!"
  3645. >"Not the best quote for a tombstone, but not like you will be getting one anyway."
  3647. >Turning a dial you could feel the electricity surge through your body.
  3648. >Your muscles immediately tighten up at the sensations.
  3649. >Gencer stares at you with a hungry smile and you stare right back with hate.
  3650. >"That is setting one. This dial can go all the way to fifty. And you are going to experience every single level before we are through."
  3651. >As the levels begin to rise your hatred for him rises ten times as much.
  3652. >He used you.
  3653. >Manipulated you.
  3654. >He's a killer.
  3655. >A monster!
  3656. >If there is a single thing left for you to do before the other monster inside you is unleashed, it's to kill Gencer.
  3657. >His smile dissipated back into a straight line.
  3658. >You are unsure what setting the dial is on, but his posture shows he's getting inpatient.
  3659. >"I'm genuinely surprised, I though you would've passed out by now."
  3660. >He sets his hoof on the dial.
  3661. >"Let's kick this up a notch. I have places to be. Ponies to control."
  3662. >He swings it wide all the way to the right and the sudden jolt flares through your body.
  3663. >You scream out in pain as the volts flow through you.
  3664. >"Now this is what I'm talking about."
  3665. >A sudden banging can be heard from the door.
  3667. >Gencer reluctantly turns down the dial.
  3668. >Not all the way, just enough down to stop you from screaming, but still high enough to keep your jaw clenched.
  3669. >He changes his head into the Doctor and calls back out.
  3670. >"I told you all to never disturb me during my work! Now leave me be!"
  3672. >"Break it down then see if I care!"
  3673. >He turns back to you in his normal form.
  3674. >"Guess our time is up. Good-bye Maverick."
  3675. >He swings the dial all the way to the right.
  3676. >The jolt seems ten times worse than before.
  3677. >"Don't feel bad. You may die, but at least it won't be in vain. It will be for my amusement!"
  3678. >As you feel the volts send shock-waves through your heart you feel this might be it.
  3680. >As you start to loose feeling in your hooves your vision begins to blur.
  3681. >Your heart is beating as fast as it possibly can like it's going to explode.
  3682. >You pry open your eyes to see Gencer smiling wildly waiting for the climax.
  3683. >With the last bit of strength left the force is too much.
  3684. >Right before blacking out however a great explosion echoes throughout the facility cutting off the electricity.
  3685. >"What in Equestria was that?"
  3686. >Saved from death yet again.
  3687. >Wearily you regain some of your composure, but you are exhausted.
  3688. >Sweat drips from your forehead leaving a salty trail down your face.
  3689. >Gencer stares quizzically at the door as a knocking comes from it.
  3690. >"Did they actually break it down?"
  3691. >A distant scream rings out.
  3692. >Then another.
  3693. >Then another a little closer this time.
  3694. >Finally a myriad of different cries can be heard along with clashes of metal.
  3695. >Banging again comes from the door, this time a little more frantically.
  3697. >"Angoel is that you?"
  3698. "F-ffriend of yyours?"
  3699. >"Queens personal aide-de-camp. Not sure why he's coming to me."
  3701. >"Shouldn't you be with 'Her Highness'?
  3703. >"What's going on out there?"
  3706. >The banging continues outside.
  3707. >Distant shouting along with battle sounds slowly move closer to your location.
  3708. >With a sigh Gencer trots towards a panel by the door and presses his hoof on the lowest button.
  3709. >A loud clank sounds out and the door swings wildly open.
  3710. >In behind it rushes a very frantic looking stallion.
  3711. >The dark blue coat is stained with dark stains of red and his black cropped mane drips with sweat.
  3712. >He's wearing a tattered black suit that is practically dangling off his body while the glasses on his face are bent sideways as if they were stepped on a couple times.
  3713. >However some blood seeping from his nostrils indicate that they were probably damaged from a hoof slamming into his face.
  3714. >Perhaps it's both reasons.
  3715. >As he sprawls onto the floor to catch his breath Gencer slowly closes the door.
  3716. >You notice you don't hear the loud clank this time.
  3717. >You watch him carefully as he hovers his hoof just over the panel, but lowers it back down.
  3718. >"D-did you lock it?"
  3719. >"Yes."
  3720. >"A-are you sure?"
  3721. >"Positive."
  3722. >Angoel let's out a sigh of relief as he gets back up.
  3723. >"Alright so what's the plan?"
  3724. >"Plan? There is no plan."
  3725. >"Don't serve me that Yakcrap and call it cake! I know you!"
  3726. >He changes into his changeling form.
  3727. >There's a large scar drooping down just from the crest of his horn going all the way down the left side of his face through the eye.
  3728. >"I knew what kind of being you were ever since we first let you in. Your pleas for acceptance and mercy were all just lies from the beginning."
  3729. >Gencer shifts slightly but stands still by the door.
  3730. >"While you poured honeyed words into their ears I've always noticed you've always had that look about you."
  3731. >You see Gencer's face twitch a bit.
  3732. >"Like you were only with us as long as it suited you, slightest excuse you'd dump us and fly for the hills. Is that what happened to your last hive? You ditch them as well?"
  3733. >You see the blood vessel protrude itself in the side of Gencer's temple.
  3734. >"Or did you serve them up to the butcher that's making his way through the halls now?"
  3735. >Another scream echoes out.
  3736. >This time it seemed to come from right outside your door.
  3737. >Gencer's sneer disappears and he returns to his usual nature and his voice goes back to his disturbing calm yet menacing tone.
  3738. >"Everything I have done. I have done for the benefit of myself."
  3739. >He takes a short step backwards.
  3740. >The vein in his temple is starting to return.
  3741. >"I will not stand here and listen to you desecrate my image when it was HIM who abandoned US atop those mountains!"
  3742. >He points an accusing hoof at you still tied in the chair.
  3743. >Angoel turns shocked to see you.
  3744. >More shock from your actual presence then from the accusation.
  3745. >How has he not noticed you sitting just a meter away?
  3746. >He quizzically moves closer inspecting you.
  3747. >"Is this true?"
  3748. "It's a long story."
  3749. >"I'd love to hear it sometime, but for now we need to get out of here!"
  3750. >"None of you are going anywhere!"
  3751. >Gencer is standing right by the door's control panel.
  3752. >"Let me ask you something Angoel, if I was so 'horrible' then why did you never try to kick me out?"
  3753. >"Because I knew this day would come. It was only a matter of time before he would track us here. I just want to get out of this alive."
  3754. >Gencer gives a little chuckle.
  3755. >"While your own mother waits to be slaughtered by that ape, you come to me for help? Should've kicked me out while you had the chance. Because neither of you are leaving. You asked what plan I have? Well you just delivered me one!"
  3756. >Gencer then swings open the door and changes into a young looking mare.
  3757. >"Help! Help! Please anypony! Get these monsters away from me!"
  3758. >He slams the door and crouches to the side.
  3759. >Almost instantaneously afterwards three heavy stallions burst through the door.
  3760. >Two are wearing heavy looking plate armor while the third, a unicorn, had some lighter leather and chain-mail.
  3761. >Their eyes focus immediately on the two of you in the center of the room.
  3762. >Paying no attention to the creature hiding behind the now flung open door.
  3763. >The unicorn sends a burst of magic directly at the two of you.
  3764. >Angoel dives to the side while you sit helplessly strapped down.
  3765. >The burst explodes beside you sending a rush of pain through your back hooves.
  3766. >Luckily however the pure shock from the blast loosens the straps.
  3767. >You jerk free from the chair and land on your side and try to stand.
  3768. >Just as you get to your hooves, you jump back down dodging a thrust from one of the stallions spears.
  3769. >Angoel however wasn't so lucky.
  3770. >You catch a quick glimpse of him being impaled through the neck by the other stallion trying to run for the door.
  3771. >"Back!"
  3772. >The unicorn commands the stallion away as he lights up his horn again.
  3773. >The light he's making is an immaculate white.
  3774. >Almost beautiful in a way.
  3775. >It transfixes your thoughts just long enough before you realize it's too late to move from his sights.
  3776. >Before he releases his attack, Gencer tackles him from behind.
  3777. >As the unicorn hits the floor he releases his burst.
  3778. >The bolt flies directly past the side of your face.
  3779. >If you swayed not even an inch to the left you'd be dead.
  3780. >The bolt continues flying until it hits the large glass window.
  3781. >It explodes into a thousand tiny shards that scatter all across the room.
  3782. >As you cover your eyes for protection you spot Gencer make a dash for the opening.
  3783. >He transforms back and spreads his wings for take off.
  3785. >He is going to make a run for it!
  3786. >You have to stop him somehow.
  3787. >If he gets away that hive would be as good as his.
  3788. >While the one stallion pry's his spear from Angoel's limp body, the other one charges again at you.
  3789. >You land a hoof to his face and dash towards Gencer.
  3790. >He's just about to dive through the smashed window as you grab hold of his hind legs.
  3791. >The extra weight makes you both lurch downward, but he keeps you both hovering in the air.
  3792. >The high mountain winds sways you both as if you were a fly fighting a desk fan.
  3793. >He flails his hooves trying to buck you off of his rear.
  3794. >"Let go of me you dross piece of sh-"
  3795. >Suddenly a high pitched whistle pierces your ears, than an explosion combusts the air high above you.
  3796. >The force makes Gencer lurch again almost causing you to slip.
  3797. >You catch a quick glimpse back into the room.
  3798. >One of the Earth stallions looking on with amusement while the other is heading for the door.
  3799. >Most likely going to secure the other rooms.
  3800. >The unicorn on the other hoof is furious.
  3801. >His horn lights up again sending another blast towards you two.
  3802. >You hear the whistle again then it explodes the air leaving a swirl of fire just meters away.
  3803. >He's getting better at predicting your movements.
  3804. >With all this wind and your added weight, it's getting harder for Gencer to maneuver.
  3805. >"If you don't let go we will both be blown out of the sky!"
  3806. "That's exactly what I'm counting on! You are NOT getting to those caves!"
  3807. >Taking another glimpse back you see the illumination from the unicorn's horn.
  3808. >Then the whistle.
  3809. >Time slows down to a heartbeat.
  3810. >You could see the bolt heading straight at the two of you coming like lightning.
  3811. >And yet you hold.
  3812. "Not yet."
  3813. >Frantically Gencer tries to shake you off yet he's exerted himself too much.
  3814. >He sees it also and newfound energy fills him with determination not to get blown to ash.
  3815. >You hang on for dear life just a few more seconds, then let go.
  3816. >Right before it makes contact you release him and let yourself plummet towards the Earth.
  3817. >Your entire body feels as if it will break mid-air.
  3818. >The blast sends you sailing downwards with tremendous force.
  3819. >You continue to play dead until you are sure the unicorn is out of sight.
  3820. >As you come close to the treeline, you try to spread your wings to slow the decent.
  3821. >The strain from the draft aches your hooves but you keep them spread to help cause more draft.
  3822. >As the peaks of trees begins coming ever closer, you force your battered body to flap your wings with all your might.
  3823. >Every muscle-fiber on your back burns at this request.
  3824. >As the first treetop clips your wing, you know it's too late.
  3825. >Branch after branch slams into you breaking off leaving large splinters.
  3826. >You can only raise your forehooves in an attempt to brace yourself from the barrage of wooden limbs.
  3827. >One branch catches your jaw and sends you spinning downward.
  3828. >Landing with a thud, the wind gets knocked out from your lungs.
  3829. >Trying to stand, your body refuses to cooperate out of sheer exhaustion and pain.
  3830. >While you lay on your back helpless, a small chuckle escapes.
  3831. >The chuckle evolves into pure idiotic laughter.
  3832. >You're alive!
  3833. >By some miracle you have cheated death yet again.
  3834. >Staring up at the sky you noticed you landed close to the mountain side.
  3835. >Straining your eyes you could barely see the bottom of the protruding window you jumped out from.
  3836. >It's astonishingly high.
  3837. >Looking past the mountain you stare back at the blue sky.
  3838. >Light clouds move gently through the air.
  3839. >You take a deep breath and close your eyes.
  3840. >It's not over yet.
  3841. >That nest must be destroyed at all costs.
  3842. >But for now a little rest wouldn't hurt.
  3843. >Not like you could move about right now anyways.
  3844. >With the headquarters destroyed the army will most likely be searching for stragglers who escaped into the surrounding area.
  3845. >Best to lay low.
  3846. >Nice and low on this soft forest fl-
  3847. >You pause in thought.
  3848. >As you begin to get feeling back you notice something is wrong with the ground.
  3849. >It's hard in places yet also mushy.
  3850. >The best comparison would be laying down on a damp carpet with some protrusions mixed with the squishy floor.
  3851. >The longer you lay the more uncomfortable things become.
  3852. >Soon a sickening stench fills your nostrils.
  3853. >It doesn't just fill them, it envelops you completely.
  3854. >All around you the musk of a sickening sweet aroma makes you gag out the bit of breath that remains in your lungs.
  3855. >It's too much.
  3856. >With a newfound motivation you try to lift yourself up off the ground.
  3857. >Before you could even move, you could feel something holding you back down.
  3858. >Why can't you lift your forehoof?
  3859. >Turning to see the problem you are greeted with a decaying hoof wrapped about your own.
  3860. >You scream out in horror at the sight.
  3861. >Maggots and worms wriggle there ways in and out of the hoof protruding from the ground.
  3862. >It's grappling you, keeping you tangled in this disgusting place.
  3863. "Let go. Let go! LET GO!!!"
  3864. >With a twist you free yourself and a crack can be heard.
  3865. >The hoof limply falls to the ground as one of the bones snaps from the appendage.
  3866. >You step back hurriedly from it expecting it to move.
  3867. >It just sits there.
  3868. >Worry still fills your mind.
  3869. >Taking another step backwards you trip over something.
  3870. >You fall in a ditch where the revolting aroma now completely overwhelms you.
  3871. >As you open your eyes you use all your power not to throw-up.
  3872. >All around you lay decaying ponies.
  3873. >Pieces of flesh looked to be picked off by wildlife.
  3874. >Some had missing limbs.
  3875. >Others were almost pure bone.
  3876. >Tattered clothing drapes over their body still trying to shield them from the elements.
  3877. >Many have rope binding their hooves together.
  3878. >Hidden executions?
  3879. >A unicorn stands out from the rest.
  3880. >Half of his face has deteriorated away, but you immediately recognize who it was.
  3881. "Coal Trane?"
  3882. >His clothes are all but gone and the visible bones seem to be picked clean.
  3883. >He has been here a while.
  3884. >Suddenly everything clicks together.
  3885. "This is a mass grave."
  3886. >All the ponies that disappeared over the years could probably be found here.
  3887. >Whether this was the doing of the MID or if it was decided after the changeling take over you aren't sure.
  3888. >What you were sure of is that you need to get out of here.
  3889. >And fast.
  3890. >With the headquarters taken down the army would be searching the surrounding areas for secret exits in hope to find ones who escaped.
  3891. >Eventually they will stumble upon this atrocity, and you do not want to be here when they do.
  3892. >Using the trees for cover, you begin to make your way south.
  3893. >Towards the Badlands.
  3895. >Putting Canterlot and the giant mountain its perched on to your flank you limp your way south.
  3896. >No paths to guide you.
  3897. >Just a B-line straight down.
  3898. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVXnoIoWu88
  3899. >A little stream crosses your path.
  3900. >The water playfully works its way through the jarring boulders and fallen trees.
  3901. >It's peaceful.
  3902. >A nice getaway.
  3903. >Maybe you will come back here one day.
  3904. >One day.
  3905. >After all this mess gets cleaned up.
  3906. >Your throat stings from dryness.
  3907. >Deciding to take a drink you down as much as you can.
  3908. >Should hydrate as much as possible.
  3909. >Doubt there will be any babbling brooks where you're going.
  3910. >After a couple gulps you feel an immediate ache in your stomach.
  3911. >You remember the water bottle Dr. Meng-Gencer poured you.
  3912. >Right.
  3913. >I'm not a pony anymore.
  3914. >The familiar swirling in your gut starts up.
  3915. >You clench at your belly in pain using all your effort to hold it down.
  3916. >Success!
  3917. >The feeling subsides but your throat begins to burn again.
  3918. >You know the only way to make it go away is to 'feed'.
  3919. >Is that ethical?
  3920. >Would I be able to ask somepony if...
  3921. >You remember Alto.
  3922. >How much pain she looked to be in after Gencer drained her.
  3923. >You grimace at the thought.
  3924. >Better to just deal with the pain for now and move onward.
  3925. >You decide it's best to follow the stream for a bit.
  3926. >More out of comfort rather than necessity.
  3927. >The sounds of the flowing water is a good distraction.
  3928. >After walking what you'd guess to be a couple miles the stream empties into a little pond.
  3929. >The heat from the sun has been baking your body all day and the temptation to take a dip rises.
  3930. >As you weigh the options in your head you catch a whiff of rotting flesh.
  3931. >A little bath wouldn't hurt.
  3932. >Stepping into the pond, little ripples stir from your hooves.
  3933. >The water is cool and sends a little shiver down your spine.
  3934. >Best to get it over with.
  3935. >Diving your body completely underwater you burst back out sending little wakes to the shore.
  3936. >You give out a sigh of relief as your body quickly adjusts to the temperature.
  3937. >Letting the crisp water overtake you, you begin wiping away the stench.
  3938. >Using your hooves to thoroughly clean yourself, all the grim and dirt dissipate into the pool.
  3939. >Getting to your head your right hoof hits the protruding stump that is your horn.
  3940. >Not a pony anymore.
  3941. >No more flowing mane.
  3942. >No more gleaming wings.
  3943. >No more shiny coat.
  3944. >Disappointment washes over you.
  3945. >You raise yourself out from the water and make your way to the shore.
  3946. >As the ripples subside and the pond goes still, you see your reflection.
  3947. >A remaining drop of water falls from your fangs.
  3948. >They splash against the surface of the pond obscuring your view for a second.
  3949. >Then you notice the openings in your hooves.
  3950. >Bringing one to your eye you stare through it like a telescope.
  3951. "This is freaky."
  3952. >Bringing it back down you take one last look at your reflection.
  3953. >A thought comes to mind.
  3954. >It's so obvious.
  3955. "I can change into anypony I want!"
  3956. >Only how?
  3957. >It can't be too hard right?
  3958. >Just imagine the pony and concentrate?
  3959. >No way of knowing until you find out.
  3960. >Putting your mind to the test, you think of Flash Sentry.
  3961. >Suddenly a green wave of fire surrounds you.
  3962. >You feel a slight pain at the back of your head.
  3963. >Probably part of the process.
  3964. >You stare back at the ponds surface.
  3965. >And there starring back from the pool of water is Flash Sentry in the flesh.
  3966. >You put your heads inches from water to get a better look.
  3967. >It's perfectly identical.
  3968. >You spread your wings wide with pride.
  3969. >Orange feathers glistening from the sunlight.
  3970. "This is amazing! I wonder..."
  3971. >Thinking back to all the ponies you met, you change into all the ones you remember the most vividly.
  3972. >From close friends.
  3973. >To a couple foes.
  3974. >And all in between.
  3975. >All the while that incessant pain at the back of your head grows with every change you make.
  3977. >After about thirty minutes, you decide it's best to try and move on.
  3978. >However the small ache at the back of your skull progressed into a full migraine.
  3979. >Your head throbs with every sway and step.
  3980. >Through the pain you hear a voice.
  3981. >It sounds distant.
  3982. >As if it's echoing through the entire forest.
  3983. >But instead of being distorted you can hear it clearly like they were right next to you.
  3984. >"You are weak, worm."
  3985. >You brace yourself against a tree to try and keep yourself from falling over.
  3986. >"Do you think this little facade will last?"
  3987. "Shut-up."
  3988. >"Whatever curse those Yaks put on me is coming to a close. With every passing second, I can feel you loosing your hold."
  3989. >Looking around the forest, dark figures pop out from the corner of your eyes.
  3990. >"You are even worse than a parasite, at least parasites have a place in this world. You're just a conjured up being that doesn't belong anywhere."
  3991. >As you try to concentrate on them they disappear only to reappear back in your peripheral.
  3992. >"You are only prolonging the inevitable by resisting."
  3993. >You feel your eyelids become heavy.
  3994. >Why is it getting hard to breathe?
  3995. "Shut. Up."
  3996. >"No matter what you do. No matter where you go. No matter what you try. I. Am. Coming.
  3997. >While the acid in your muscles begin to burn, a blur of blackness rushes toward you.
  3998. >Before you can react it stops inches in front of you.
  3999. >A gnarled up wreck of a changelings face is staring right into your eyes.
  4000. >"I WILL have my body back! And there is NOTHING you can do to stop me!"
  4001. >His broken jaw lazily moves with little motion while his words continue to come out perfectly.
  4002. >"Take a good look, because this is nothing compared to what I have planned for you."
  4003. >You squeeze your eyes shut not wanting to look at the disfigured monster.
  4004. >"Or the ponies of this land."
  4005. "I SAID SHUT-UP!"
  4006. >As you open your eyes, the mutilated deformity is gone.
  4007. >All the fatigue you were feeling is gone as well.
  4008. >As you get your bearing, you can see the trees are beginning to thin out.
  4009. >It's the end of the forest!
  4010. >Have you been walking the entire time while in your inebriated state?
  4011. >As you step from the treeline, you find yourself atop a hill.
  4012. >In the distance you see the last marker of civilization before you can enter the badlands.
  4013. >Dodge Junction.
  4014. >It used to be just a small town.
  4015. >More of an outpost than an actual city.
  4016. >But after the destruction of Baltimare, many citizens fled here causing a boom in the population.
  4017. >A shift from a meager population of barely one-thousand to now over tens of thousands changes a place really fast.
  4018. >With the end of the war and reconstruction in progress, many ponies decided life in the middle of nowhere wasn't for them and moved back to help rebuild.
  4019. >However a great deal of ponies are still living in the refugee like camps surrounding the town.
  4020. >It will take too long to try and circumnavigate the city.
  4021. >There's probably a small garrison or town watch keeping order.
  4022. >Patrols will most likely think a pony sneaking around the outskirts would be suspicious.
  4023. >Can't fly over, be seen instantly.
  4024. >Maybe sneak through?
  4025. >A possibility.
  4026. >With so many ponies you can easily blend in.
  4027. >Can't stay disguised too long so you'd have to be fast.
  4028. >You're not sure if you using your powers are correlated with you loosing grasp, but you don't want to risk it.
  4029. >Faster you get through this the better.
  4030. >No need to cause a panic.
  4031. >As you trot down the hill, you see your shadow enlarge.
  4032. >Looking up to the sky the orange rays of light are beginning to die.
  4033. >Night is coming.
  4034. >Perfect.
  4035. >It will be easier to slip through the shadows undetected.
  4037. >All seem to be going well as you pass the first group of tents.
  4038. >Taking a closer look, the ponies in this section seemed to almost be enjoying themselves.
  4039. >Trinkets from home and clotheslines holding fine silk and linens are strung about in their respectable areas.
  4040. >This is probably where many of the more 'better off' ponies are staying.
  4041. >For them this is more like an extended camping trip rather than being driven from their homes.
  4042. >While a certain few ponies stayed out, many are already in their tents getting ready for sleep.
  4043. >Only one old stallion nodded your direction, he sat in a rocking chair enjoying the night air .
  4044. >The other few who were still out didn't even acknowledge your existence.
  4045. >Not that you were complaining.
  4046. >Attention is the last thing you need right now.
  4047. >The sun was completely past the horizon by now, but the faint glow from its rays still peaked over giving some visibility.
  4048. >Two soldiers slowly patrolled the perimeter.
  4049. >One of them was a unicorn.
  4050. >Using his horn as a flashlight, he makes careful attention not to shine it towards any tents for fear of getting a scolding from whomever is trying to sleep.  
  4051. >The illuminated glow from him made them easy to spot and avoid.
  4052. >Boredom is plainly seen on their faces.
  4053. >Can't blame them.
  4054. >It's not like walking around for a couple of hours surrounded by pompous ponies can be any fun.
  4055. >Ducking behind a tent you wait patiently as they lazily stroll along.
  4057. >Making it into the next section you can immediately tell these are no upper class ponies.
  4058. >While many were respectable of their neighbors, many  groups of stallions can be seen lounging around barrel fires.
  4059. >Gambling, drinking, or whatever other kind of trouble being made, the whooping and hollering from some of the groups brought attention to the guards.
  4060. >"There is a curfew in effect. For your safety, please return to your-"
  4061. >That's all you need to hear to know it's time to leave.
  4062. >As the party gets shut down, two figures wearing cloaks scamper past you.
  4063. >One thunders past you while the other is more or less tugged along.
  4064. >"Out of the way!"
  4065. >He extends his hoof to knock you aside, but you jump back just in time.
  4066. >You catch a quick glimpse of his arm.
  4067. >It's covered in tattoos.
  4068. >He turns to look back, but you can't distinguish anything due to the hood.
  4069. >Out of curiosity, you follow them.
  4070. >Something just didn't feel right.
  4071. >They make their way down aisles of tents darting back and forth between them.
  4072. >Sure are in a hurry to get somewhere.
  4073. >As they duck into a tent, the hood of the one being dragged along gets caught on the entrance flap.
  4074. >It gets yanked down revealing the figure is a mare.
  4075. >The light from the tent showered onto her face.
  4076. >Her eyes seemed glazed over and her mane limply hangs down covering some of her features.
  4077. >A shout comes from inside the tent and a hoof reaches out and forcefully pulls her inside.
  4078. >For a brief moment, you spy a familiar burn mark on her right cheek.
  4079. "Was that..."
  4080. >You thoughts are interrupted by a shout from behind.
  4081. >"Hey!"
  4082. >Two tough looking Earth stallions are standing right behind you.
  4083. >"Curiosity kills friend."
  4085. >As one tries to take a swing, you quickly jab a hoof into his chest.
  4086. >It makes him grunt, but he still delivers knocking you back.
  4087. >The other dives forward trying to tackle you.
  4088. >Easily you sidestep him and give a hard hoof to his friends face.
  4089. "Gaaahhh! What is your head made out of? Stone or bone?!"
  4090. >You can feel your hoof begin to bruise up.
  4091. >The stallion's only response is a low groaning from the ground.
  4092. >You might have broke his snout.
  4093. >While you look over the downed pony, something hard slams into your side knocking the wind out of you.
  4094. >"Filthy little snoop!"
  4095. >Right.
  4096. >The other stallion.
  4097. >Broken wood and random clothes are scattered all around you.
  4098. >It must've been someponies luggage.
  4099. >"Come here you rat."
  4100. >He reaches down and pins you to the ground.
  4101. >His heavy weight crushing your ribs as he digs his hooves into your skin.
  4102. >You reach for a somewhat large piece of wood, but it's just out of reach.
  4103. >As he puts more of his weight atop of you, suddenly he frees you.
  4104. >Opening your eyes, you can see them both running away in different directions.
  4105. "Yeah, you better run."
  4106. >The words wheezily come out so only you can hear them.
  4107. >Your lungs still burned from the lack of oxygen.
  4108. >What scared them away?
  4109. >As you get up from the pile of splinters and cloth, the lantern of a soldier shines bright atop the tents.
  4110. >If he sees you like this, he would most likely think you were robbing somepony of their undergarments.
  4111. >Before the guard turns the corner, you dash towards the tent the mare was dragged into.
  4112. >Before barging your way into somepony's tent you stop to contemplate.
  4113. >You only got a glimpse for a mere second.
  4114. >The lighting wasn't too bright.
  4115. >Could be a trick of the mind.
  4116. >But the scar across that cheek...
  4117. >It couldn't be her.
  4118. >It's a one in a million chance.
  4119. >One in a billion!
  4120. >Curiosity boiled itself into your brain.
  4121. >Might as well just go for it.
  4122. >Before you can enter though, one of the previous stallions from before tackles you through the flap.
  4123. >He pins you on the ground while the other makes his way inside.
  4124. >Looking around, you're shocked to see your suspicions were correct.
  4125. >On the bed lay the Madam herself.
  4126. "ROXELANA!"
  4127. >Beside her stood the stallion that tried to knock you away.
  4128. >His muscles stretches out the ink so you can see they form sentences.
  4129. >Foreign, but you've recognized the structure.
  4130. >Gypsies.
  4131. >Creatures of no nation who live off the scraps of society.
  4132. >This war and the many before it just makes the land a feast for their kind.
  4133. >Taking advantage of the lost and confused.
  4134. >The burly stallion with the tattoos turns around to face you.
  4135. >The light from his lamp shown he's Saddle Arabian!
  4136. >"Who are you orange one?"
  4137. >His voice is clear and fluent.
  4138. >There's not even a hint of an accent.
  4139. "What are you doing with Madam Roxelana!?"
  4140. >"Roxelana? You are mistaken, her name is Quadhith."
  4141. "What are you doing with her?"
  4142. >"Is a stallion not allowed to be in the company of his wife?"
  4143. >Wife?
  4144. "What do you mean wife?"
  4145. >"Yes wife. Me and my brothers found her bloody and abandoned. I nursed her back to health. As payment for my actions I made her my wife."
  4146. "I bet she was just thrilled."
  4147. >"A little persuasion was in order,"
  4148. >He motions a hoof to a little sparkly bottle.
  4149. >"-but in the end they always say yes."
  4150. "You hypnotized her!"
  4151. >"Aren't wives supposed to be submissive to their husbands? She had her qualms, but now look at her. A perfect mare."
  4152. >She just lays their with glossy dead eyes.
  4153. >Strands of hair fall across her face which he wipes away.
  4154. >"Perfect. No talking back, no more running away. She just needs to sit their, and look pretty for me."
  4155. >A wicked grin goes across his face.
  4156. >He walks towards a small chest and pulls out a crooked dagger.
  4157. >"So tell me friend."
  4158. >The pony who tackled you lifts you up so your chest is exposed.
  4159. >"Who are you?"
  4160. >He puts the dagger to your chest and moves it up and down.
  4161. >"I make it a pattern to get to know those I meet, no matter how short the meeting is."
  4162. >You say nothing.
  4163. >Your blood is boiling with anger.
  4164. >Gypsies.
  4165. >Your mind burns at the thought of somepony like her being forced to sleep with a plump 'hoof merchant' like him.
  4166. >Filthy.
  4167. >Disgusting.
  4168. >Toss-Pot using
  4169. >Goat-Fondling
  4170. >Homeless wanderers!
  4171. "I..."
  4172. >"What was that?"
  4173. >He uses the dagger to lift your head.
  4174. "I am..."
  4175. >"Speak up some."
  4176. >A wave of red rushes over your eyes.
  4177. >In a gravely voice you hear yourself respond.
  4178. "Maverick."
  4179. >You feel yourself morph into your changeling form.
  4180. >The sudden change shocks the pony into dropping his grip on you.
  4181. >Foolish.
  4182. >You buck him off your back and charge at the stallion in front of you.
  4183. >A look of horror is on his face as he raises the dagger in an attempt to keep you at bay.
  4184. >You easily knock it out of his shaking hoof and dig it deep into his gut.
  4185. >As it lodges itself, you drag him by it using your wings as extra propulsion.
  4186. >On the floor he screams out in pain as the dagger tears upward through his intestines.
  4187. >Pulling harder the dagger tears its way from his gut to his chest leaving a bloody opening.
  4188. >Ripping it from him, the blade is covered in a crimson shield.
  4189. >He flails his hooves and gags on the floor, each one more frantic than his last.
  4190. >The other two stare frozen in fear by the flap of the tent seeing their older brother slain.
  4191. >The one who had you pinned charges forward trying to avenge the eldest.
  4192. "This is where the fun begins."
  4193. >You throw the dagger down and let your wings rest you on the ground.
  4194. >As he closes in, you duck down give a hoof to his underjaw.
  4195. >He reels backwards and lands flat on his back.
  4196. >You hop atop him and put a hoof to his throat.
  4197. >The other you use to smack his face.
  4198. >Again and again.
  4199. >Over and over.
  4200. >With each hit, his face becomes less and less recognizable.
  4201. >All the while you feel your face is plastered with a half crazed smile.
  4202. >You feel your arm is getting tired, but you don't let up.
  4203. >The only thing that stops you from continuing your barrage is a high pitched wail coming from the tent flap.
  4204. >It's the last brother.
  4205. >Frozen in fear with tears streaming down his cheeks.
  4206. >There's a small puddle underneath him.
  4207. >You stare into his eyes.
  4208. >His fear makes you feel good inside.
  4209. >But his sight isn't on you, it's to the disfigured pony below you.
  4210. >Looking back down you gaze upon your handiwork.
  4211. >And then you immediately vomit from revulsion.
  4212. >You hop off of him landing on your flank and vomit again.
  4213. >The wave of red is gone.
  4214. >All that's left is you to see what you have done.
  4215. >The muzzle looked to be completely pushed in along with the rest of his facial features.
  4216. >What was once a pony's head is now a bowl of blood and bone.
  4217. "I-I didn't mean to..."
  4218. >I couldn't have done this!
  4219. >I was just...
  4220. >A wave of pain strikes your head.
  4221. >It's unbearable and you cry out in pain.
  4222. >You try to raise your hooves to your temples until a glimmer makes you stop.
  4223. >You look at your hoof in shock.
  4224. >Bits of bone are stuck in the front and a good portion of it is pure red.
  4225. >"Monster! Evil monster!"
  4226. >The stallion in the hallway darts out the tent.
  4228. >The sounds of waking ponies stirs outside.
  4229. >Then you hear the ever too familiar sound of stomping hooves and the clang of armor.
  4231. >In a rush you turn back to the tiny bed.
  4232. >She's just laying there.
  4233. >Her chest rises and falls with little breaths while her eyes stare off into space.
  4234. "Come on we have to go."
  4235. >She turns her head slightly to face you.
  4236. >"I'm...good."
  4237. >What?
  4238. "Roxelana we don't have time for this, guards will be here any-"
  4239. >"I'm...good. Make...feel...good."
  4240. >Oh Celestia.
  4241. >She is completely out of it.
  4242. >There has to be a way to help get her head clear.
  4243. >A groan comes from behind.
  4244. >It's her 'husband'.
  4245. >He's still alive!
  4246. >Barely.
  4247. >His severed gut leaks out intestines spilling them onto the floor beside him.
  4248. >"Beautiful, isn't it?"
  4249. >That dreadful whisper inside your head makes himself present.
  4250. >"It felt good to breathe air again. To feel the flesh under MY skin, the pumping of blood through MY veins."
  4251. "Stop it."
  4252. >"Then to tear the flesh off somepony else and to watch the blood flow like a river. Even if it was just for a moment, makes me feel so alive!"
  4253. >You put a couple hooves to your ears trying to silence the ringing words, but it's no use.
  4254. >"Tick-tock you leach. Your time is almost up, and I can't wait to be back."
  4255. >While the words echo back to silence, the pony on the floor gasps his final breaths,
  4256. >A tear streams down his cheek.
  4257. >His hoof rests against an old trunk lying next to the bed.
  4258. >The little sparkling bottle he held rested against it.
  4259. >Taking it curiously you stare at the liquid.
  4260. >A circular rainbow mixes and morphs itself at the surface while the main part of it remains transparent.
  4261. >Placing it aside you throw open the chest.
  4262. >There has to be something inside that can help.
  4263. >Old pictures, clothes, another curvy sword, and a container filled with bottles with what looks like the same liquid.
  4264. >Angry screaming comes outside along with the continuous wails from the youngest pony.
  4265. >Okay no time to be frugal.
  4266. >You take some of the clothes and wrap up the bottles making a little pouch.
  4267. >Throwing them over your shoulder, you take the short sword in your mouth and then slam the trunk shut.
  4268. >Hurriedly you try and carry Roxelana on your back along with the pouch, but end up dropping the sword.
  4269. >She slumps sideways and hurls a little bit.
  4270. >The shouting outside calms down, but is still very audible.
  4271. >It appears the guards outside aren't taking the stallion outside seriously.
  4272. >"I am getting sick and tired of getting called to you ponies. Every other day it seems you three are causing trouble!"
  4273. >"P-please. Please just go inside! My brothers are dead!"
  4274. >"Yeah if only, if all three of you would just disappear that would take loads off my-"
  4275. >A middle-aged stallion pokes his head into the tent.
  4276. >"-plate..."
  4277. >His eyes go as wide as dinner plates seeing the gory mess.
  4278. >Then his eyes fixate on you.
  4279. >"Ch-changeling."
  4280. >Quickly, without thinking you take the sword and throw it as hard as you are able at him.
  4281. >He ducks back out just in time as the blade just misses his head.
  4282. "Uh-oh."
  4283. >Taking the bloody dagger you tear a hole in the side of the tent and make a mad dash out of the area.
  4284. >By now alarm bells are going off all over the camp.
  4285. >More and more soldiers pour out into the alleyways.
  4286. >All searching for you.
  4287. >You don't know where to go, every direction can lead to certain capture and death.
  4288. >With each stride, the clanking of the bottles followed suit.
  4289. >Thankfully night is still on your side.
  4290. >And many of the soldiers being woke are still drowsy from being woken so suddenly.
  4291. >The tents begin to thin a little and you find yourself at the edge of town.
  4292. >A group of three stallions storm along the border.
  4293. >They scan the perimeter searching for anything out of place.
  4294. >Two go on right, but one just stands there.
  4295. >A thought crosses your mind.
  4296. >You can get the jump on him.
  4297. >It would be so easy then be home free.
  4298. >You set down the pouch and lay Roxelana in a somewhat comfortable looking position.
  4299. >Peaking up, there are two more walking towards him, but are still a ways off.
  4300. >They are beginning to lock down the town.
  4301. >This has to be now or never.
  4302. >Taking your forehooves, you bring them down atop his head.
  4303. >A light cymbal sound resonates from his helmet as he crumples to the floor.
  4304. >What's done is done.
  4305. >He'll be alright.
  4306. >Probably.
  4307. >You speedily go back and place Roxelana again on your back and take the pouch in your mouth.
  4308. >Before the two see the unconscious pony, you make a mad dash towards the sandy hills.
  4309. >Hopefully there's a stream or something to help wake her up.
  4311. ***
  4313. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkM0uvlK3E0
  4314. >After escaping Dodge City you managed to hike over the Macintosh Hills.
  4315. >You think back to after the battle of Baltimare, how she saved your life and carried you for miles in hopes of escaping.
  4316. >Now you are carrying her over the same hills she did you.
  4317. >Only this time, she'll be making the trip alone after she gets better.
  4318. >She wouldn't want to spend her days with a monster.
  4319. >A freak who lives off of other ponies emotions.
  4320. >Besides.
  4321. >There's business to be had here.
  4322. >Standing at the peak of one of those mini mountains, the sun barely begins to peak over the horizon.
  4323. >Watching the sun slowly coat the valley in light is rather beautiful.
  4324. >The mesas stand tall like lone skyscrapers in an ocean of rocks and sand.
  4325. >Braving the harsh winds and blazing heat for centuries and centuries to come.
  4326. >Shadows stretching for hundreds of yards shielding certain areas from the warmth of sunlight.
  4327. >A groan comes from your back.
  4328. >You set down the pouch of strange liquid and carefully pull her aside.
  4329. >As she lays on her back, her chest rises and falls to a slow steady beat.
  4330. >Bending low, you try and check her pupils.
  4331. >Opening each eyelid you can see they are still glossy.
  4332. >A sigh escapes your mouth and it blows some strands of mane down the side of her cheek.
  4333. "Rest up, you'll get through this. I know you will."
  4334. >Her mane is a mess and her coat is filthy.
  4335. >It's as if she hasn't washed in weeks.
  4336. >She probably hasn't.
  4337. >Gypsies don't even know what soap is let alone bathing.
  4338. >Disgusting, conniving, thieves.
  4339. >Exploiting the helpless.
  4340. >I'd love to watch them get ripped to shreds.
  4341. >Slowly.
  4342. >Make sure they suffer.
  4343. >Just like Gencer.
  4344. >He deserved to get blasted to oblivion.
  4345. >All the torture he did.
  4346. >All the pain he caused.
  4347. >You feel your blood begin to boil.
  4348. >Just at the mere thought of ponies or any creature like them makes you feel a burning rage.
  4349. >You clench your jaw and feel the fangs slide down your mouth.
  4350. >Then a pain comes from the back of your head.
  4351. >It creeps its way from through each lobe.
  4352. >With every sulcus passed it feels like a hammer being smashed precisely on that crevice.
  4353. >You put your hooves to your temples, but that just makes it even worse.
  4354. >It stews about your skull like warm jelly over wrinkled toast.
  4355. >You let out a howl of pain as it encompasses your entire brain.
  4356. >A little bit of blood drips from your nose.
  4357. "Is...this it?"
  4358. >Your back hooves fall to their knees and you spit out venom forming from your gut.
  4359. >Just before the pain overtakes you, a call comes from beside you.
  4360. >"...ash?"
  4361. >The pain subsides a bit as your brain processes the words.
  4362. >"...lash?"
  4363. >Quickly you fight through the twinge and sit beside her.
  4364. >Surprisingly it seems to be going away.
  4365. >She lifts her head, but rests it back on the ground.
  4366. "Roxelana. It's me! Are you alright?"
  4367. >"F-flash?"
  4368. "Yes. Yes it's me!"
  4369. >"Y-you came back."
  4370. "I'm here. I'm here."
  4371. >"Y-you...came..."
  4372. >Her head falls to the ground saying nothing more.
  4373. >Her chest slowly rises and falls again letting little gasps escape.
  4374. >The toxin is still flowing through her body.
  4375. >Water.
  4376. >You need water to flush it all out.
  4377. >Carefully you cradle her onto your back, and begin to hike down into the desert.
  4378. >As you traversed steep drops and boulders from the landscape, you notice your hoofs are still hole ridden and black.
  4379. >A thought crosses your mind.
  4380. >How did she recognize it was you if you were still in your changeling form?
  4382. >Making your way down the mountain, you carefully maneuver around drops and boulders.
  4383. >The few trees standing in this side are all dead.
  4384. >Rocks and short shrubs are the replacements.
  4385. >It's still early.
  4386. >You still have maybe a couple hours at most before the heat begins to bake the land.
  4387. >A couple hours to find water.
  4388. >It's a risk venturing out here unprepared.
  4389. >You wouldn't have guessed you'd be traversing this land .
  4390. >Instead of fleeing however you're on a mission.
  4391. >Destroy that hive.
  4392. >You slightly remember from the vision that the entrance was in the shadow of one of the great mesas.
  4393. >Low and flat-like with a single pillar holding the entrance up.
  4394. >What will you do even if you find this place?
  4395. >Just take the sword and slash into each one of their cocoons?
  4396. >There could be hundreds if not thousands of them waiting though.
  4397. >That would take a while.
  4398. >Maybe you can just destroy the opening and they will be buried forever?
  4399. >No.
  4400. >Some young upcoming archaeologist, determined to make the next big find, would come out here and unleash Ponedoras Box to the world.
  4401. >Kind of a stretch, but it's still a possibility.
  4402. >If not during your lifetime, it would in somepony else's.
  4403. >Better to just rid the problem now and free this world of another threat.
  4404. >Coughing from your back takes your attention.
  4405. >Now's not the time to think of that.
  4406. >You have a more important mission to do.
  4407. >Get Roxelana back to full health.
  4408. >Just need to find water to flush it all out.
  4409. >A sudden rattling from the pouch startles you.
  4410. >It's the bottles of toxins you took.
  4411. >You could try and boil it and use the cloth from the pouch as a filter to make fresh drinking water.
  4412. >If only you had a pot or some sort of container.
  4414. >The day drags on.
  4415. >The sun is now perfectly center in the sky.
  4416. >It shines down its glimmering rays blessing the world with light to see.
  4417. >But to you, it's a menace.
  4418. >Heat bakes your body to the bone.
  4419. >Sweat drips from your horn letting salt get into your eyes.
  4420. >Carrying Roxelana has taken its toll and your back and shoulders ache from the extra weight.
  4421. >So far, there has been nothing to show for it.
  4422. >No streams.
  4423. >No oases.
  4424. >Just endless mirages.
  4425. >False hope in a land of hopelessness.
  4426. >Not sure what else you expected coming out here.
  4427. >There's a reason this place is never settled.
  4428. >Well, except for the occasional batpony colony.
  4429. >How do they live like this?
  4430. >How do they live at all?
  4431. >To be born from a crossbreed between a pony and dragon.
  4432. >The concept still baffles your brain.
  4433. >At least it's a good distraction to keep your mind occupied while wandering this wasteland.
  4434. >Can some posses the ability to breath fire?
  4435. >Those webbed wings they have sure look cool.
  4436. >A problem with them though is weight.
  4437. >Unlike a pegasus that uses its feathered wings, a batpony wing is made of pure skin.
  4438. >Can't hold their own with endurance flying like regular pegasus, but wow can they maneuver.
  4439. >A part of you wants to change into one just for a second to try how it feels.
  4440. >But your better judgement tells you not to waste any energy.
  4441. >All that flapping they have to do must make their wing muscles jacked.
  4442. >They must eat a ton of fruits and vegetables to keep that endurance.
  4443. >A horrifying thought comes to mind.
  4444. >Do they eat meat like dragons?
  4445. >Old horror stories come to mind of bats sucking the blood of the living.
  4446. >You never heard any cases of them eating or attacking normal ponies.
  4447. >'You' being a relative term.
  4448. >All the 'you's' you thought you were anyway.
  4449. >It doesn't have to be all blood and gore.
  4450. >Perhaps the occasional fish is enough to satisfy their hunger?
  4451. >Maybe.
  4452. >Maybe not.
  4453. >Another mystery of the world that will never be answered.
  4454. >Not by you anyways.
  4456. >As you roam the Badlands, a rock catches your eye.
  4457. >It's a good forty yards away, but you can tell it's not too big.
  4458. >It probably will only come to your knee joint.
  4459. >You turn and slowly walk towards it.
  4460. >As you get closer, you notice it's different from all the usual boulders and rocks that litter the ground.
  4461. >For one thing, it's smooth.
  4462. >A little hexagonal pattern is plastered on it.
  4463. >Taking a hoof you kick it a little.
  4464. >Before you could make contact however it moves!
  4465. "Gah!"
  4466. >You stumble backwards a little almost dropping Roxelana.
  4467. >Then a little head peaks out.
  4468. >With a wrinkly face it stares blankly at you, then retreats back inside.
  4469. >You give out a small chuckle.
  4470. "A tortoise."
  4471. >How could you be scared by a desert tortoise?
  4472. >Just dehydrated and tired.
  4473. "Need to find water or at least find a way to make a..."
  4474. >You turn your gaze back to the tortoise's shell.
  4475. "...bowl."
  4476. >You stare at the shells curvature.
  4477. >It would be...
  4478. "Perfect."
  4479. >At your word, you watch its appendages appear and he raises himself from the ground.
  4480. >One step at a time, he makes his escape.
  4481. >Slowly.
  4482. >At a whopping pace of 0.2 miles per hour.
  4483. >Carefully you set Roxelana and your pouch down on a soft patch of sand.
  4484. >You stretch your back and transparent wings.
  4485. >A crack can be heard.
  4486. "Oh that feels good."
  4487. >Taking a minute to stretch, you see the tortoise still making his great escape.
  4488. >He's making progress.
  4489. >He's now two yards away from where he was.
  4490. >You place a hoof in front of him blocking his path.
  4491. "Sorry little guy, it's nothing personal, I just need yourAHHHHH!!!"
  4492. >The little reptile latched his jaw around your hoof that's blocking his path.
  4493. >You wave your hoof about frantically trying to shake him off.
  4494. >He releases his jaw and he lands on the ground with a thud then retreats back into his shell.
  4495. >Your hoof stings and little trickle of blood flows from the area where he bit you.
  4496. "Little bastard!"
  4497. >Taking the curved sword you jam it inside where his head should be and stir it around.
  4498. >You hear some squishy sounds and take out the blade.
  4499. >You satisfyingly see it's stained red.
  4500. "Serves you right."
  4501. >Using your fangs you begin tearing apart the underside.
  4502. >Once you finally broke through, you begin gutting the animal completely.
  4503. >You let the remains fester on the ground.
  4504. >Some scavenger will be getting a good meal today.
  4505. >After getting the last of the excess bones, all that remains is the hard carapace of the shell.
  4506. >You're exhausted now.
  4507. >The sun is now far to the west.
  4508. >It'll be getting dark in another couple hours.
  4509. >Who knew gutting a turtle would take so much time?
  4510. >That doesn't matter now.
  4511. >Taking some dry foliage you begin to make a fire.
  4512. >Using some sticks, you create a make-shift stand and set the shell upside down in it.
  4513. >Dragging Roxelana and your stuff over, you begin pouring the bottles inside the now empty shell and wait for it to boil.
  4514. >Hopefully soon you both will be getting some fresh drinking water out of this.
  4516. >After a couple minutes sitting idly by, sleep begins to overtake your eyes.
  4517. >The sun isn't even past the horizon and yet yawns begin to creep out.
  4518. >From the warmth from the fire, to the little chill of the sand your flank is planted on.
  4519. >All that walking plus carrying a whole other pony really was draining.
  4520. >Everything meshes perfectly together to make your sitting spot nice and cozy.
  4521. >Slowly your eyelids become heavier and heavier.
  4522. >Their weight over encumbering your energy and soon you feel your head bobbing up and down trying to stay awake.
  4523. >Just before you fall to your side, you would wake at the last second and right yourself.
  4524. >It's not too long however before one final drop sends you crashing on the ground into darkness.
  4525. >The heat from the fire still keeping your front end partially warm.
  4526. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRr-DZmYER0
  4527. >A grassy meadow.
  4528. >Camellias, carnations, and other various flowers sit in sporadic pockets all around.
  4529. >They dance to and fro from a light breeze.
  4530. >Occasionally one would fully fall over, but after a second it would happily jump back up.
  4531. >Somewhere there's a stream babbling away.
  4532. >A bird sings cheerfully with its friends up above.
  4533. >Currently you're sitting under a giant oak tree atop a hill.
  4534. >It's branches provide cooling cover from the sun.
  4535. >Everything is just so comfy.
  4536. >Taking a deep breath you give out a content sigh.
  4537. >You could stay here forever.
  4538. >"I knew I might find you here."
  4539. >A light voice stirs you.
  4540. >Up the hill walks a gorgeous mare.
  4541. >Her amber coat shines brightly in the sunlight while her long red-brown mane flows in the wind.
  4542. "Where else should I be?"
  4543. >She gives out a giggle and a couple strands of hair fall in front of her hazel eyes.
  4544. >There's a picnic basket in her mouth.
  4545. >A corner of the checkered red and white blanket is hanging out from the basket-lip just slightly.
  4546. >"Thought I'd surprise you with a little picnic."
  4547. >Setting it down beside you, she opens it up.
  4548. >"Some sparkling cider."
  4549. >Reaching a hoof in the basket, she pulls out a bottle along with two glasses.
  4550. >"Potato and fruit salad."
  4551. >She sets down two little trays holding the respected food on the blanket.
  4552. >The fruit shoved closer to you.
  4553. >"Some delicious brownies I just pulled from the oven."
  4554. >She pulls a little plate out with four brownies and sets them in the center.
  4555. >Heat resonates atop it and the air is filled with the smell of chocolate.
  4556. >"And for the main course I prepared something extra special for you."
  4557. >You sit eager in anticipation to the buffet that has been brought to you.
  4558. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
  4559. >She just smiles and reaches a hoof back into the basket.
  4560. >"A whole serving of love."
  4561. >Love?
  4562. "What?"
  4563. >As she reaches her hoof back out, a little breezie is clasped in her grasp.
  4564. >"Oi! Please! Le mi go!"
  4565. >Tears are streaming down his cheeks as he desperately tries to flutter his wings to escape.
  4566. >"Ey want'a g'ome! I want mi famiy!"
  4567. >The mare leans in closer to the little creature.
  4568. >"Tell us, how much do you love your family?"
  4569. >"Oi luv'em as much as yee do yer hubby! Please le mi go!"
  4570. >At his words his body shines for a second.
  4571. >"Now's your chance. Take his love."
  4572. >"Wot?"
  4573. >You sit horrified at the sight.
  4574. >Staring down at the breezie he stares back up at you with watery eyes.
  4575. >A final plea for salvation.
  4576. "What in the name of-"
  4577. >Looking back around, the meadow is gone.
  4578. >The tree you were sitting by is now a dead hollow husk of its former self.
  4579. >All around you is a burned out field.
  4580. >No more dancing flowers.
  4581. >No more babbling brook.
  4582. >Smoke and flames have replaced them.
  4583. >The mare in front of you waits with a wide grin revealing most of her teeth.
  4584. >"What are you waiting for? Don't you want it?"
  4585. >She presses her hoof against your chest and a little scream of terror comes from the breezie still in her grasp.
  4586. "N-no. Get him away from me!"
  4587. >You gently swat at her hoof in hopes to release her grip on him.
  4588. >"Y-you don't want love?"
  4589. >Her eye twitches for a moment.
  4590. >"Oh I understand, you want *my* love. I can happily give you my love."
  4591. >She slams her hoof to the ground crushing the poor creature killing him.
  4592. >A sickening crunch can be heard as she puts more of her weight atop it.
  4593. >"Take my love darling."
  4594. >She opens her mouth wide and a spew of black smoke pours from it.
  4595. >As the smoke continues to poor out her features begin to decay.
  4596. >Her coat begins to loose its shine.
  4597. >Wrinkles seem to form all around her face.
  4598. >Strand by strand her mane begins to fall out.
  4599. >"This is all for you."
  4600. >You take a step backwards and trip over a dried out root.
  4601. >The trip sends you tumbling down the hill.
  4602. >Landing hard with a grunt you take a better look at the landscape.
  4603. >Everything is just dead.
  4604. >The once beautiful blue sky now an ominous clouded red-orange.
  4605. >A voice echoes from above.
  4606. >"You're not afraid are you?"
  4607. >Lightning strikes the dry creek-bed.
  4608. >"This is our power!"
  4609. >Another strike hits the ground.
  4610. >Sparks ignite the dry grass causing a fire.
  4611. >"This is our destiny!"
  4612. >Another strike hits the tree setting it ablaze in a thunderous explosion.
  4613. >"And there is nothing you can do to stop me!"
  4614. >Up in the sky, the clouds are forming into a shape.
  4615. >It's yourself.
  4616. >Not yourself.
  4617. >Maverick!
  4618. >"Only time will tell when this fantasy becomes reality!"
  4619. >From his cloud horn, another bolt of lightning is shot down.
  4620. >On a direct collusion course with you.
  4621. "NO!!!"
  4622. >It strikes your chest sending a shock-wave of pain through your body.
  4623. >You swing your hooves wildly from the pain in an attempt to try and lessen the blow somehow.
  4624. >As you calm down you find yourself back in the badlands.
  4625. >Your drenched in sweat from head to hoof.
  4626. >Your left side is buried a little in the sand.
  4627. >It's dark.
  4628. >Must still be nighttime.
  4629. >The fire you made is long burned out.
  4630. >You flail your hooves about your chest trying to find the wound from the lightning.
  4631. >With a sigh of relief nothing is there.
  4632. "Just a dream."
  4633. >You look over to Roxelana who is still sound asleep.
  4634. >Her red-brown mane is lightly resting over the scars across her right cheek.
  4635. >You feel a little twinge in your chest.
  4636. >Yeah, as if something as monstrous as you can have a normal life.
  4638. >Waking up to a new day, the sun is barely peaking over the tips of the surrounding mountains.
  4639. >A light breeze blows some sand into your eyes.
  4640. >It feels cool across your body.
  4641. >Today is going to be better.
  4642. >Turning to the makeshift bowl of water, you take a look at the contents.
  4643. >The water has taken the color of the inside of the shell.
  4644. >A disgusting light brown.
  4645. >Sniffing it, it smells coppery a small bit.
  4646. >The dried blood must've mixed and diluted into the water.
  4647. >Your throat is incredibly dry.
  4648. >Maybe just a sip.
  4649. >It may be dirty, but at least it's still sterile.
  4650. >Bending down you dip your lips into the standing water.
  4651. >It tasted lukewarm.
  4652. >Stagnant.
  4653. >Not a refreshing taste.
  4654. >But not so awful to refuse another swig.
  4655. >No.
  4656. >Should save enough for Roxelana.
  4657. >Hopefully she sweat out most of the toxin in her sleep.
  4658. >Going over to where she was laying down, a little shine catches your eye.
  4659. >It's one of the bottles of toxin.
  4660. >Still full of whatever horrid cocktail those gypsies made.
  4661. >Must've dropped it before filling the turtle shell.
  4662. >Picking it up, you debate whether to just dump it out.
  4663. >Instead, you decide to keep it.
  4664. >Just in case.
  4665. >You stick it aside the bowl along with your other items and call out.
  4666. "Roxelana. Are you awake?"
  4667. >Looking over to where she was, she's gone!
  4668. >Running to the sand imprint she left, there are drag marks leading off into the desert.
  4669. "Oh no."
  4671. >Bending down, you observe the imprints in the sand.
  4672. >They're distinct.
  4673. >Should be easy to follow.
  4674. >The main one is the width of a pony.
  4675. >It curves back and forth through the sand.
  4676. >A pair of hoofprints accompany on either side of the trail.
  4677. >It took two to try and carry her?
  4678. >They must be going a far ways.
  4679. >That or they're just very weak.
  4680. "Wimps, Roxelana isn't even that-
  4681. >A bad step almost makes you faceplant into a short cactus, but you catch yourself just in time.
  4682. >Returning to a more straightened stance a few loud pops come from your back.
  4683. "-heavy."
  4684. >Oooh that felt good.
  4685. >Quickly grabbing all your necessary belongings, you follow the tracks.
  4686. >...
  4687. >It's been a couple hours of walking.
  4688. >Still no signs of whoever or whatever took Roxelana.
  4689. >Just these dumb tracks.
  4690. >Which are now beginning to be worn away by the light eastern winds.
  4691. >It's not too much of a worry.
  4692. >The trail has been mostly straight for the past mile or so.
  4693. >As you followed it you see where they're headed.
  4694. >In the distance one of the grand mesas tower over the landscape.
  4695. >Not exactly a remarkable hideout.
  4696. >Given the conditions however it's forgivable.
  4697. >The mostly flat plains of the badlands makes its traversing easy.
  4698. >It's just the heat.
  4699. >This unholy dry heat.
  4700. >Your muscles ache from the trek and your mouth is just as dry.
  4701. >But you can't stop now.
  4702. >Somepony or something has taken your last friend from you.
  4703. >And you are determined to not let anything else harm her.
  4704. >The warm breeze provides little relief.
  4705. >On top of that your dark skin isn't providing much help either.
  4706. "Why couldn't I be an albino Changeling? At least then my coat would reflect the light rather than absorb it."
  4707. >Are albino Changelings even a thing?
  4708. >You don't recall there ever being any white ones.
  4709. >You'd think with hundreds of thousands of hatches there would be at least a couple.
  4710. "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again right?"  
  4711. >You stop dead in your tracks at what you just said.
  4712. >Letting out a lighthearted laugh, you light up your horn.
  4713. >Sometimes the most easiest of solutions are the most obvious.
  4714. >In a flash your black colored body transforms into a pristine white.
  4715. >Taking a step back you try and look at yourself.
  4716. >Immediately you are blinded momentarily by the reflections.
  4717. >Well that was dumb.
  4718. >You change back to your normal black self.
  4719. >Probably better not to waste energy anyways.
  4721. >Making it to the base of the mesa, there are several cacti surrounding it.
  4722. >They stand tall and proud.
  4723. >All but one that seems to have fallen over.
  4724. >Almost seems like a sporadic garden.
  4725. >Getting close to one of them, you notice something.
  4726. >There are little pierce marks all around them.
  4727. >Where the marks are, you can see some of the needles have been wrenched out.
  4728. >Most likely stuck in whatever creature that tried to have a quick snack.
  4729. >Looking closely at the base there's a small chunk of it ripped off.
  4730. >The part ripped off lies dry in the sand.
  4731. >However the wound on the cactus still seems damp.
  4732. >A little drip falls onto the ground where the bite is.
  4733. "This was recent."
  4734. >Making your way to the fallen down one you notice the terrain around it is a little more rough than the surrounding area.
  4735. >There's a clump of a brown mane knotted beside one of the cactus's broken limbs.
  4736. >Looking at the base of the fallen cactus, little strands of black hair are all across the front of the trunk.
  4737. >Interestingly a fair amount of the needles seem to be removed.
  4738. >As if somepony was pushed into it.
  4739. >From your perspective, it seems they stopped to rest and Roxelana tried to take an opportunity to escape.
  4740. "A fighter to the end."
  4741. >Trying to search for more clues as to what happened, nothing comes up.
  4742. >There's no trails leading anywhere so there's only one place to go.
  4743. >You gaze at the rock.
  4744. >It's big.
  4745. >Bigger than what you first thought when you saw it off in the distance a while ago.
  4746. >No.
  4747. >That doesn't do it justice.
  4748. >Nothing made by hoof, talon, claw or paw can come close to the sheer size and magnitude of this natural phenomenon.
  4749. >Looking at its base, there's no pathway leading to the top.
  4750. >There's not even anything resembling a ledge to climb up.
  4751. >Seems there's only one solution.
  4752. >Taking a couple steps back, you give one heavy exhale and take off.
  4753. >As the ground began to grow farther away from your hooves, you stretch your neck upward.
  4754. >You feel your head get dizzy for a second.
  4755. >Thankfully the feeling subsides.
  4756. >From your perspective it seems miles high, but in reality is probably only a couple hundred feet.
  4757. >Taking a peek back down the dizziness returns.
  4758. >Quickly you turn your attention towards the stone wall that's creeping past as you ascend.
  4759. >For being a creature with wings it's a bit embarrassing to get feelings like this.
  4760. >There's a silver lining.
  4761. >The higher you go, the cooler it gets.
  4762. >Amazing with what a bit of wind can do.
  4763. >Can turn a blazing 100 degree day into a sublime 92.
  4764. >Not much better.
  4765. >Eh, it's something at least.
  4767. >Coming to a stop on a small ledge, you sit for a second.
  4768. >By now the wind has started to pick up.
  4769. >The cool breeze providing some much needed relief.
  4770. >It even gives you a little shiver.
  4771. >Looking out past the horizon you can see all the way back to the Macintosh Hills.
  4772. >The sun is past it's peak and is slowly beginning its decent.
  4773. >It's light bounces off the few fluffy clouds and the sky turned a magical pomegranate pink-red.
  4774. "Beautiful."
  4775. >You just sit a couple minutes taking it all in.
  4776. >This might be your last chance to ever see something this amazing ever again.
  4777. >After getting all rested, you ready yourself.
  4778. >You take a quick peak up the dusty stone structure.
  4779. >To your surprise the top doesn't seem that far away.
  4780. "Almost there."
  4781. >What are you even going to do when you confront the ones who abducted Roxelana?
  4782. >How many of them are there?
  4783. >Who even are they?
  4784. >Why would somepony even want to abduct anypony out here?
  4785. >Is she even still alive?
  4786. >She has to be still alive or else they wouldn't have gone through all the trouble of keeping her alive this long.
  4787. >Looking down over the edge a vertical drop of rock leading straight to the ground greets you.
  4788. "Gah-"
  4789. >You gag a bit.
  4790. >That feeling again.
  4791. >Your right eye begins to twitch.
  4792. >A little drip of blood comes from your nose.
  4793. >Then another streams from your right ear.
  4794. >Your stomach begins to turn like back at the lab above Canterlot.
  4795. >You feel the bile and venom inside you mix and swirl.
  4796. >It twists about until you can feel it build up to the back of your throat.
  4797. >A grueling headache washes over your mind and a familiar voice echoes again.
  4798. >"Just a little more time is all I need. Then you will return to nothing as it should be."
  4799. >The twitching continues considerably until you cannot see out of your right.
  4800. >Meanwhile the vision in your left is getting spotty.
  4801. >This isn't good.
  4802. >You hear a deep chuckle before loosing sight completely.
  4803. >Then you feel yourself fall off the ledge.
  4805. >Trying to open your eyes, your vision is still blurry.
  4806. >However it's clear enough for you to tell what is happening.
  4807. >You're falling.
  4808. >And fast.
  4809. >However the rush of plummeting towards the ground does nothing to revive your energy.
  4810. >Seeing the wall of the mesa, you try and reach out and grab it.
  4811. >The friction burns the bottom of your hoof.
  4812. >Recoiling it back the momentum jerks your body and you find yourself spinning.
  4813. >Your eyes roll with the world and nausea overtakes you.
  4814. >You try and spread your wings to slow the decent, but you only manage to steady yourself.
  4815. >Is this how you die?
  4816. >Falling off a stupid cliff?
  4817. >All because of some deranged changeling wanting to take back yours...err his, BODY BACK!?
  4818. "NO! NOT LIKE THIS!"
  4819. >Using all your muscles in your back, you spread your chitin wings.
  4820. >The sudden pressure pushes your thin wings to the limit.
  4821. >It feels as if they are going to break out of their sockets.
  4822. >You feel yourself begin to slow.
  4823. >But it's not enough.
  4824. >And the ground is getting closer by the second.
  4825. >Thinking quickly you begin to try and flap downwards to go into a hover.
  4826. >You feel the blood vessel in on the side of your head bulges and the muscles in your neck are all strained so they can be seen.
  4827. >As you use all your strength, the familiar buzz of your bug wings begin to hum.
  4828. >The low hum becomes a continuous buzz.
  4829. >And your speedy decent slows to a halt.
  4830. >A little smile goes over your face.
  4831. "Hehe. I did it."
  4832. >Your back aches where the base of your wings are connected.
  4833. >Some chitin got ripped out, but you can still manage to stay aloft for now.
  4834. >You think you even popped a blood vessel.
  4835. >Looking down it might not even be a couple dozen meters.
  4836. >But it's so much worse from a top down perspective.
  4837. >Hovering there, your mind races on where to land and rest.
  4838. >You feel dizzy.
  4839. >Maybe it will be best just to take a nap on the ground.
  4840. >As you begin to descend yourself at a slow pace, you feel something on your shoulder.
  4841. >Before you know it, it latches itself to your other shoulder and you are jerked upward violently.
  4842. >The ground begins to leave as if you were falling away from it.
  4843. >You turn to try and get a look at whatever is holding onto you.
  4844. >It's a pegasus in a black flight suit.
  4845. >Similar to what the Wonderbolts have except with no identifying marks.
  4846. >His goggles are tinted and his mane is hidden.
  4847. >A rough scruffy light brown beard hangs from his chin.
  4848. >Grey patches are embedded into it.
  4849. >He notices you staring.
  4850. >Then he reaches with a free hoof and stabs you in the neck with a syringe.
  4851. >...
  4852. >It's cold.
  4853. >Opening your eyes you find yourself on a stone floor.
  4854. >A raggedy looking wool blanket draped over your body.
  4855. >Your vision is wavy.
  4856. >As it begins to return you try and get a picture of the room you are in.
  4857. >It's kind of hard to see.
  4858. >The only sources of light are several candles from improvised sconces dispersed randomly on the walls.
  4859. >Across from you is a clumsy pile of crates stacked to the ceiling.
  4860. >There's some sort of logo on each one.
  4861. >However the faded paint and dim light make it hard to see.
  4862. >All around the pile the area is littered with empty water bottles and food cans.
  4863. >Rations?
  4864. >To the right leads a hallway.
  4865. >Due to the angle you can't see straight down it though.
  4866. >The light around the corner indicate there's another candle hanging down that way.
  4867. >To the left is a much more open area.
  4868. >Six cots sit empty with a storage container at the foot of each one.
  4869. >Just before them is a little sitting area.
  4870. >Two foldout chairs with a card table between them.
  4871. >Beside them is another pile of crates.
  4872. >This one is smaller than the one across from you, but still big enough to be an eyesore.
  4873. >At the far end of the room is a desk with various documents and office supplies strewn about its top.
  4874. >On the back wall is a coat rack.
  4875. >Three flying suits are hanging on the hooks while the other three are empty.
  4876. >Right beside that is another hallway.
  4877. >It's pitch black.
  4878. >Straining your eyes you try and see if anything is down that way.
  4879. >As you try to get a better look out marches a pony.
  4880. >It's the pegasus.
  4881. >His flight suit is off already so one of the three must be his.
  4882. >He appears to be just under middle aged.
  4883. >The beard he has is the same color as his mane.
  4884. >A light brown but graying in parts.
  4885. >His coat shines a beautiful teal.
  4886. >But like the paint on the crates, the color is fading.
  4887. >Heavy bags hang under his eyes.
  4888. >He sees you staring at him.
  4889. >Fumbling with the desk you see him take a little box.
  4890. >Grabbing a chamber stick in his mouth, he walks across the room towards you.
  4891. >Pulling a crate aside, he sets the candle down and sits across from you.
  4892. >With the extra light you can see his eyes are bloodshot.
  4893. >"Now, I'm only going to say this once Bug."
  4894. >He takes a hoof and sets the little box in front of you.
  4895. >"Open your mouth."
  4897. >You sit worried, wondering about his intentions.
  4898. >After your experience with Gencer, you're a little wary about ponies like him.
  4899. >You both just sit there staring at each other.
  4900. >His tired eyes show annoyance at your noncompliance.
  4901. >He begins tapping his hoof.
  4902. >Waiting.
  4903. >Although concerned, you're not exactly in a good position to disobey.
  4904. >This is his home.
  4905. >His domain.
  4906. >Even if you did manage to sucker punch him, you'll be at a loss in direction.
  4907. >There's no way you'll be able to find the exit in this labyrinth on your own.
  4908. >You cautiously let your jaw slink open revealing your fangs.
  4909. >He stops his tapping.
  4910. >Did you just see a smile?
  4911. >It was brief, but it was there.
  4912. >But now it's gone.
  4913. >His exhausted expression is back as he fumbles with the box.
  4914. >With a little click, it swings open.
  4915. >Just as you feared, it's filled with various metal tools.
  4916. >Torture.
  4917. >This time is different though.
  4918. >The pegasus left your hooves unbound and body free.
  4919. >He must be extremely tired or just plain stupid.
  4920. >His hoof slowly hovers over all the shiny instruments of pain.
  4921. >You ready your hoof to strike him, but stop as his hoof hovers over one particular tool.
  4922. "A toothbrush?"
  4923. >Reaching into a little pouch on the roof of the case, he pulls out some toothpaste and spreads it across the bristles.
  4924. >"Open wider please."
  4926. "UhhhhhACK"
  4927. >He shoves both his hooves into your a-gap mouth.
  4928. >"Now let's see here, never actually had a changeling patient before."
  4929. >His tired tone changes to more of a peppy talk.
  4930. >You notice his cutie mark is a toothbrush and a sickle probe crossed making an X.
  4931. >Next to it is a tattoo of a dark pair of glasses.
  4932. >He moves the candle closer to get some better lighting.
  4933. >"Well it's like what HQ says, 'There's a first time for everything, and you're all going to have a lot of firsts.'"
  4934. >HQ? The MID?
  4935. >"So, where are you from?"
  4936. >Seriously?
  4937. >Is he really trying to have a conversation while he's inside your mouth?
  4938. >As he brushes away at your molars, he patently awaits your reply.
  4939. >His stare fixed on his work.
  4940. >Giving your best effort you try and give out a response.
  4941. "Uhh, werr I aktuarry am nok shure. Kiyda chus came tu be. Id a rong chory really."
  4942. >You take a moment to rest.
  4943. >Who knew talking during a dental appointment makes the jaw super sore?
  4944. "Well yochee, id allstarted in Yakyakischan where-"
  4945. >He cuts you off abruptly as he begins working on your fangs.
  4946. >"Oh that's nice, bet it was really pleasant growing up there."
  4947. >You're not sure if he's listening or not.
  4948. >Even if you grew up in Yakyakistan you bet it would be anything but pleasant.
  4949. >"My hometown was the little fishing village called New Horseleans, so small it's not even on the map yet. However if you take the train south from Canterlot you can see it marked as the very last destination. Rinse"
  4950. >He brings out a little plastic cup with water letting you relive yourself of the taste of toothpaste.
  4951. >Giving a sigh of relief, you begin to get up thinking the ordeal is over.
  4952. >"Not yet my bug friend."
  4953. >He takes a hoof and forcibly brings you back down.
  4954. >For looking so tired he sure has a lot of energy.
  4955. >"Buddy when was the last time you flossed? It looked all built up in there."
  4956. >You've never flossed.
  4957. >Taking the sickle probe he begins scraping at the base of your teeth.
  4958. >The scraping makes you flinch a bit, but you try and stay calm so he can finish his work.
  4959. >"You know, we were expecting you sooner, but better late than never."
  4960. >You were expected?
  4961. >He must be thinking you're somepony else.
  4962. >"When we got word they were sending an expert, I never thought the expert would actually BE a changeling. Hehehehe."
  4963. >His chuckle goes on a little too long.
  4964. >"That should do it. How you feel?"
  4965. >Surprisingly you feel refreshed.
  4966. >Getting drugged and forcibly getting your teeth cleaned wasn't so great though.
  4967. >Things could've been worse.
  4968. "Good, thank you."
  4969. >"You're welcome! Now...let's get to work."
  4970. >His peppy step transforms back into a more groggy tone.
  4971. >He lends you a hoof and leads you down the right hallway.
  4972. >"I'm sorry about our first encounter."
  4973. >He takes a hoof and brushes through his beard.
  4974. >"Injecting you with Acetazolamide and Diazepam doesn't make for the greatest first impression. It was for safety purposes."
  4975. "I can sort of understand."
  4976. >You can't think of any justification as to why he did what he did.
  4977. >A simple tap on the shoulder or even a, 'hello' would've sufficed.
  4978. >Although, your head does feel better.
  4979. "Besides, of all the different creatures I've met, at least with you I got a free teeth cleansing."
  4980. >He gives an exhale out of his nostrils.
  4981. >The typical nice way of saying your joke is amusing.
  4982. >Just not laugh worthy.
  4983. >As you both walk down the hallway, the silence begins to get to you.
  4984. >The constant tap of your hooves off the stone floor echo down the dimly lit corridor.
  4985. >"So...changeling huh?"
  4986. >He must be a little uncomfortable also.
  4987. "Apparently."
  4988. >"So...how's it like...being...that?"
  4989. >What?
  4990. "It's...fine."
  4991. >He wipes away what you assume is sleep in his eyes.
  4992. >Maybe he'll be more comfortable talking about himself.
  4993. "So, how does a small town pegasus end of getting work all the way out here?"
  4994. >Surprisingly he opens up easily.
  4995. >Strange for a spy.
  4996. >He talks about growing up fishing for seaweed with his father, getting his cutie mark by brushing his younger sisters single tooth, and his time serving during the first and second Coastal Wars.
  4997. >"...and after the battle, I was pulled aside by a couple MP's for a private investigation. They led me into a tent with two well dressed ponies sitting across from me in fold out chairs. I thought I was going to get an award or something. Nope. They said due to my service I was 'interesting' and wanted to know if I wanted to 'expand' my career. Crazy world."
  4998. >He seems more relaxed.
  4999. >"You know to be honest, some of the team were skeptical of you even coming."
  5000. "Really now?"
  5001. >"After Seesaw and I found that Arabian spy, we thought Equestria was overrun."
  5002. >So they do have Roxelana!
  5003. >Now's a good time to try and pry some info out.
  5004. >Hopefully you can find where these creeps are keeping Roxelana and you both can get out of here.
  5005. >You have no interest in whatever work this guy has.
  5006. >Especially if it's for the MI-
  5007. >Did he just say overrun?
  5008. "Wait...overrun? By who?"
  5009. >He turns around confused.
  5010. >"By the Arabs! In case you haven't noticed, my country is at war! Did the agency find you living in some cave?"
  5011. >So they don't know the war is already over.
  5012. >Makes sense.
  5013. >With headquarters gone, all the agents on missions have no idea they are out of the job.
  5014. >Or more importantly are now fugitives.
  5015. >You might be able to use this to your advantage.
  5016. >"Why do you think we are even out here?!"
  5017. >Well the plan was find some genetically modified frozen war bug hive, destroy it, then book it through the Forbidden Jungle south with Roxelana into the sunset.
  5018. >It all seemed so simple minus the complicated parts.
  5019. "Uh..."
  5020. >"Did they even debrief you?"
  5021. >You try and think of an acceptable answer.
  5022. "All I was told was, er, come to these coordinates and I would be, um, contacted?"
  5023. >He gives a snort and rolls his eyes.
  5024. >"Ugh, typical secretive bureaucratic bull-honky, but understandable with the context."
  5025. >Bull-honky
  5026. >That's a new one.
  5027. "And what context might that be?"
  5028. >"Let me show you."
  5029. >You both finally come to the end of the hallway.
  5030. >A little wooden door blocks your path.
  5031. >A dark green aurora radiates through the bottom of the door.
  5032. >"We're here."
  5033. >Taking a key from his pocket he unlocks the door and opens it.
  5035. >Entering the room, you come face to face with a lone green cocoon.
  5036. >Compared to the usual changeling cocoons this one seemed a little bigger.
  5037. >It hangs from the low ceiling like a punching bag and reconnects to the floor.
  5038. >Getting closer to investigate, parts of the cocoon become transparent.
  5039. >The clear front reveling it empty and hollow.
  5040. "Interesting."
  5041. >"That's not it."
  5042. >He moves past you and stands next to a makeshift surgery table.
  5043. >On it a bed sheet covers a mound.
  5044. >Peaking out from underneath the covers, the tip of a dark wing hangs limply off the side of the table.
  5045. >He notices it too and puts it back in its place.
  5046. >"This is what we need you for."
  5047. >Pulling down the sheet, a distorted head appears.
  5048. >Not exactly pony nor changeling.
  5049. >A disgusting amalgamation of flesh and bone.
  5050. >It had griffon talons for hooves with three long claws etching out.
  5051. >What you thought was it's head is actually an extension of the body.
  5052. >No neck.
  5053. >Just one solid mass.
  5054. >A mix of taupe and black olive.
  5055. >It being darker on it's back while getting lighter on it's underbelly.
  5056. >Taking a prod, the pegasus pushes open a flap of flesh on the front of the creature.
  5057. >It's a circular orifice.
  5058. >A mouth.
  5059. >Hundreds of razor sharp teeth line the walls of it's mouth while five fangs are spread equally around with ridges at the bottom of each one..
  5060. >All extending outward more like claws for grabbing and pulling in rather than penetrating.
  5061. >On its back two charcoal black wings extend.
  5062. >You touch the one that was previously hanging.
  5063. >It feels leathery.
  5064. >Thicker.
  5065. >A sharp contrast to your thin chitin wings.
  5066. >At their base, between them a small sail spine extends.
  5067. >Probably helps with air maneuverability.
  5068. >Prodding more it's pink tongue slinks out like a snake.
  5069. "This is horrifying."
  5070. >"That's just the tip of this iceberg."
  5071. >He takes the prodding stick and pulls open a little incision already made at the top of its 'head'.
  5072. >Motioning his hoof he beckons you to look.
  5073. >"That's his brain."
  5074. >Looking inside the beast's head you see the soft squishy mesh of fat.
  5075. >Something is sticking out of it though.
  5076. >Taking a closer look you see that it's shinny.
  5077. "Wires?"
  5079. >"We've been conducting several tests on the creatures."
  5080. >He takes an uncomfortable looking fold out chair and sits down.
  5081. >"Like yourself, they can change into any creature or anything they know or see. However, there's so much more in there. Through our experiments, we saw incredible things."
  5082. >He gestures his hoof in amazement as if seeing it for the first time.
  5083. >"To put it simply, in it's brain are various stimulants. When it get's a signal to release said stimulants it can become transparent, incredibly strong, or even produce magic powerful enough to rival a unicorn. Part changeling. Part monster. All beast."
  5084. >Taking a hoof he rubs his eyes again and gives out a sigh.
  5085. >"If I were a unicorn I'd be able to demonstrate it all."
  5086. "No need for a demonstration, all of this is quite enlightening."
  5087. >Well looks like you found your secret hive.
  5088. >It also seems Gencer has been kept out of the loop since the MID already knew about this place.
  5089. >Not like they were wrong to distrust him.
  5090. >But that brings another problem.
  5091. >If the MID have this place on the books, then now so does the military.
  5092. >And like all the other outposts, this one will be on the list for raids.
  5093. >"There is one more thing."
  5094. >He steps up from his chair.
  5095. >"Take another look."
  5096. >Peering back into the folds you see the mound of pink flesh.
  5097. >"Notice anything particular?"
  5098. "It's...smaller?"
  5099. >"Precisely, although we have no data on them being awoken, we are confident that they are missing the frontal lobe."
  5100. "But that would mean no individuality, no knowledge. They are as dumb as any other animal."
  5101. >"An interesting thought, but take another look. Focus. I'll give you a hint, the stem."
  5102. >You try and scan the area for where the brain stem connects, but with all the tissue and flesh it's hard to-
  5103. >There!
  5104. >That's astonishing!
  5105. >Instead of there being a separate brain stem and brain.
  5106. >It looks as if the brain seamlessly sprouts from the brain stem itself.
  5107. >"That goes all the way down its spine to where the sail is."
  5108. "What does that mean?"
  5109. >"After dissecting previous subjects we have discovered there are no vocal cords. This is their only means of communication with others."
  5110. >He puts a hoof on its spine.
  5111. >"This sail is like an antenna. It can receive orders instantaneously from whoever or whatever that has the power and right signal. With their individuality stripped, they make for a perfect auto-piloted drone. All they need are an order set. Go to (x,y). Attack. Defend. Raid. Return. Hibernate."
  5112. >He sits down with a self-satisfied look on his face.
  5113. >"Simple. All we need to do is figure out how to wake them."
  5114. >Instant transmissions. Faster than any flyer or runner can deliver messages.
  5115. >Camouflage.
  5116. >Strength enhancing capabilities.
  5117. >Hardened exoskeleton.
  5118. >A body made for the sole purpose of battle.
  5119. >"Why with enough power I bet they can even be personally controlled."
  5120. >And all conveniently available with the option of autopilot or remote control.
  5121. >Just what Maverick wants.
  5122. "You've done several experiments right? What exactly is the total number of these...things?"
  5123. >"A wonderful question I can easily answer through that corridor."
  5124. >He walks over beside the entrance with a hoof motioning you to enter.
  5125. >"After you."
  5126. >Going through the hallway, you notice no candles are hanging on the walls.
  5127. >Then it hits you.
  5128. >An intense wave of green blinds your eyes.
  5129. >As they slowly adjust to the extreme light, you find you have walked into an immense cavern lined to the brim with cocoons.
  5130. >Each one holding one of those monsters.
  5131. >You can see in a row where several have been taken out for their experiments.
  5132. >Those few aren't even a fraction of how many are left.
  5133. >Myriads upon myriads all crammed side by side. Top to bottom.
  5134. >It's as if the entire mesa has been hollowed out in order to provide these beasts their shelter.
  5135. >If that's true, that means this might be the most structurally sound rock formation.
  5136. >With enough force, you might be able to bring this entire place down.
  5137. >But how?
  5138. >You need to get a better view.
  5139. >A walkway made out of a blackish-green sludge, most likely a product of whatever secreted the cocoons, leads to the other side of the cavern.
  5140. >In the center is a pool of the slime.
  5141. >Somehow the entire structure suspends in mid-air.
  5142. >Dipping a hoof into the ooze, it wraps around it with ease.
  5143. >You put some pressure and it holds.
  5144. >So it's safe to walk then.
  5145. >It didn't feel sticky or wet, it just had a presence.
  5146. >Like a jello wall except retaining some firmness.
  5147. >You take another step and you feel your hoof sink into the sludge.
  5148. >It envelops it.
  5149. >You can feel it move through the holes in your hooves and connect making one solid mass again.
  5150. >Trying to lift it out, you are met with hard resistance.
  5151. >This is bad.
  5152. >You try to turn back, but now you feel your back hooves slowly sinking into the sludge as well.
  5153. >"Interesting."
  5154. "Hey, can you give me a hoof?"
  5155. >Looking behind you you see him staring at you with hungry bloodshot eyes.
  5156. "What in the name of-"
  5157. >Before you can finish your sentence the ooze shoots up grabbing your chest.
  5158. >It moves across your body rapidly and clings to it like glue.
  5159. >Just before it covers your face, you catch one last glimpse of the pegasus staring at you anxiously.
  5160. >Then you feel yourself thrust downward.
  5162. >You can't see.
  5163. >Everything seems so dark.
  5164. >You can feel the sludge slowly move across your body.
  5165. >It will solidify around you making a perfect mold, then liquefy and return to its normal form.
  5166. >With each passing second you can feel it constrict more and more around your body.
  5167. >You try to take a breath, but the sludge quickly forces it's way down your throat.
  5168. >Gagging off of it, you can feel the cool slime wiggle through your insides.
  5169. >Surprisingly you still are able to breath.
  5170. >You take a breath and refresh the oxygen in your blood.
  5171. >A sudden warmth surrounds you.
  5172. >You feel at peace.
  5173. >Like something just wiped away all your troubles.
  5174. >No more pain.
  5175. >No more death.
  5176. >No need to worry or doubt.
  5177. >Just peace.
  5178. >As you drift through blackness, you see a light in the distance.
  5179. >Not really a light.
  5180. >Glowing.
  5181. >A light-blue glow.
  5182. >Something is rattling.
  5183. >You feel something tighten around your hooves.
  5184. >It doesn't hurt, but that incessant rattling leaves a ringing in your ears.
  5185. >Yak script?
  5186. >Before you can get your bearings you feel yourself thrust into the open world.
  5187. >It's bright.
  5188. >Oh so bright.
  5189. >You try to raise a hoof to cover your eyes.
  5190. >That's strange.
  5191. >You try again and still nothing happens.
  5192. >Instead however you feel yourself sit upright.
  5193. >Between you and him are metal bars.
  5194. >Are you in a jail?
  5195. >You try to look around.
  5196. >As you try you get a horrible sting in your neck.
  5197. >Suddenly your head jerks left and right.
  5198. >It's not a jail.
  5199. >A cage.
  5200. >A small one.
  5201. >For a brief second, you see in this room are several other cages.
  5202. >All are empty, but the one to your far left and one directly across.
  5203. >In your field of view between you and the other cage, you see the pegasus pacing back and forth excitedly.
  5204. >He's mumbling to himself.
  5205. >"Something new. Something finally new!"
  5206. >He grabs hold of something just out of view.
  5207. >At the angle you are at, you can barely make out it's another pony.
  5208. >Must be grabbing his collar, can't see.
  5209. >"Can you believe it Haze! It's been months since we've had a breakthrough!"
  5210. >You can't see the entire body of the other pony, but you can see their front hooves and underbelly.
  5211. >And their spear planted in the ground.
  5212. >"Soon we can all return to Canterlot as heroes! I can see it now. Sky Star and team unlock the ultimate weapon and save Equestria from foreign tyranny! With this everlasting peace, Celestia will see it is good and return to her former gracefulness! No more enemies for pointless wars! No more enemies means no more military! Just peace! Peace and security for all and the ones who enforce it!"
  5213. >The other pony says nothing in response.
  5214. >You just see him slowly sway back and forth.
  5215. >"Of course 'some' ponies will find fault with loosing their positions of power, but it will be for the best!"
  5216. >Almost as if he's struggling to stay standing.
  5217. >"Oh how I longed for this day to come. Things will finally return to how it was when I was just a little colt."
  5218. >The other pony leans against some cages and his spear falls to the ground.
  5219. >The point of it pointing directly at your cage.
  5220. >"Yes. Yes. You're right! Celebrations are for later. Now there's work to be done."
  5221. >Taking the spear he places it back into the other ponies grasp.
  5222. >"Let me help you with that. Perfect."
  5223. >You see him help the other pony return to his normal stance and the spear plants itself in the same place it was at.
  5224. >He drops in front of your cage.
  5225. >His face inches from the bars.
  5226. >"Lot's of work indeed."
  5227. >In a flash, Sky storms out of sight leaving you alone with the others.
  5229. >Now you are alone.
  5230. >Come on.
  5231. >Move!
  5232. >Using all your strength you still feel restrained.
  5233. >Yet your body just lazily sits itself down in the cell.
  5234. >"Still don't get it do you?"
  5235. >The cell melts away and you are then transported to a void.
  5236. >There's dim glowing lights around you illuminating the area.
  5237. >They're words.
  5238. >Yakistani.
  5239. >Looking down you're on a small oval pedestal.
  5240. >No, lifted above a pedestal.
  5241. >Your hooves can barely reach the ground.
  5242. >Something is straining your hooves.
  5243. >Chains?
  5244. >All this seems familiar.
  5245. >"Welcome back!"
  5246. >He motions wide with his hooves and does a little bow.
  5247. >"I hope the accommodations are up to your standard, because it really is the best we can do."
  5248. >You try to struggle, but as you move your hooves you are instantly burned by the glowing chains.
  5249. "AHHHH!"
  5250. >"Yeah! Not so fun is it!"
  5251. >You can feel your wrists scarring.
  5252. "So now what? Am I going to be your personal torture victim for all of eternity now?"
  5253. >"As appealing as that sounds. I have something better in mind. One that can safely get you out of MY head for good!"
  5254. >He moves closer, getting just a few feet away from your hanging body.
  5255. >Then smacks the center of your stomach with his hoof.
  5256. >"But that doesn't mean I can't have a bit of fun first!"
  5257. >He slams his right hoof into your ribs.
  5258. >Then his left drives back into your gut.
  5259. >He keeps repeating the motions like you are his own personal punching bag.
  5260. >"This is for stealing my life!"
  5261. >He throws his hoof hard into your kidney.
  5262. >"This is for putting my plan behind schedule!"
  5263. >He gives a wide right hook into your jaw.
  5264. >You taste blood.
  5265. >One of your molars are loose.
  5266. >"And this is for forcing me to spectate your worthless life!"
  5267. >He turns around and springs his back hooves upward.
  5268. >Perfect bucking position.
  5269. >In a springlike action his back hooves smash into your chest.
  5270. >You feel dazed.
  5271. >It doesn't hurt surprisingly.
  5272. >For a second.
  5273. >Then a wave of pain washes over your chest.
  5274. >It feels as if your sternum is shattered.
  5275. >You can definitely feel some broken ribs.
  5276. >Looking to your belly, there's a big indentation where you were hit.
  5277. >It's getting a little hard to breath.
  5278. >Is your lung collapsed?
  5279. >"Aw getting loopy already? Don't worry pal. You're just imaginary, you shouldn't be feeling pain."
  5280. >He grabs your neck and pulls down.
  5281. >The strain from the chains holds your hooves in place and you feel it burn deep into your flesh.
  5282. >"In fact, you shouldn't be feeling anything at all!"
  5283. >He let's you go and the burning stops.
  5284. >Your wrists sizzle from the chains and it sends little rifts of pain through your arms.
  5285. >"Once I'm done, you won't even be anything anymore. Like you never even existed."
  5286. >He leans in close inches from your face.
  5287. >"Like it should be."
  5288. >He wait's there glaring into your eyes looking for a response.
  5289. >You're not sure how to respond exactly.
  5290. >You didn't choose to steal his life.
  5291. >It just happened.
  5292. >Besides, after knowing how dangerous he is, you'd do it again in a heart beat.
  5294. >"Psst. Hey."
  5295. >He turns around looking down the black hallway.
  5296. >"Hey pal. You alright?"
  5297. >Who is that voice?
  5298. >"I gotta go, enjoy the show."
  5299. >As he walks into the darkness, your eyes go blurry.
  5300. >White static blurs your vision until the outside world comes into view.
  5301. >You see a hoof waving at you.
  5302. >It's coming from the pony in the cage across from you.
  5303. >"Hurry up! Before he gets back."
  5304. >You feel your body scoot forward and peek at the guard.
  5305. >He's still standing there.
  5306. >Motionless.
  5307. >"Don't mind him, just get us out of here!"
  5308. >You feel yourself change into a smaller animal.
  5309. >Mouse probably.
  5310. >And then squeeze through the bars.
  5311. >Turning to face the knight, nothing happens.
  5312. >Getting closer to inspect you see that it's empty.
  5313. >"That was Hazel Cream's. He's gone now, just like the rest of the team."
  5314. >Looking at the trapped pony you see he's a unicorn.
  5315. >Completely purple with a low cut black mane.
  5316. >There's a ring firmly planted at the base of his horn.
  5317. >Magic sapper.
  5318. >Turning back to normal, Maverick speaks.
  5319. >"Why'd they leave?"
  5320. >"They couldn't take it, there have been...blunders. Mistakes were made. When we stopped getting reports from HQ, that's when things really started to fall apart. Star Kicker wanted to call this entire thing off. Sky and him butted heads a lot, but this pushed things over the edge. When the rest of the team sided with Star, Sky saw them as traitors. He wanted to have them detained and sent back to our safehouse in Dodge. Next day they were just gone. Sky took it out on me."
  5321. >"Why did you stay?"
  5322. >"Sky Star has been my best friend since we were colts. We served together in the first Costal War, after I got recruited I managed to put his name pulled on the 'subjects of interest' sheet. It didn't take long for them to pick him up. The point is we've been through thick and thin together. Just let me out so I can help you stop this madness."
  5323. >"Why should I do that?"
  5324. >"Ever since we started this project, I watched Sky Star turn from my hometown friend to an obsessive sociopath. All he cares about is finding what makes those 'things' tick. I just want is my friend back, he's not well. I know deep down he's still in there. If we can destroy the hive, maybe he'll come to his senses and we can all go home peacefully."
  5325. >Maverick just scoffs.
  5326. >"I don't need you or your help. In fact destroying this hive would be counterproductive to my gAH-."
  5327. >The purple pony reaches his hoof out and grabs your hoof.
  5328. >"You don't know this place! I can help lead you around. And I know stuff about those monsters. Those stimulants that enhance the body, those are highly flammable. One little spark and they can burn faster than the dried leaves after the Running of the Leaves. I hid a whole case of dynamite by the food crates in the living quarters, get those and this whole place can be brought down."
  5329. >Dynamite.
  5330. >That could be your only hope to stop all of this.
  5331. >All you need to do is retake your body.
  5332. >Your body.
  5333. >This is your body! You've earned it!
  5334. >And you're going to take it back!
  5335. >You pull on the chains around your hooves.
  5336. >It burns.
  5337. >But not as badly.
  5338. >You can do this.
  5339. >You could feel Maverick seethe with anger.
  5340. >"That was something I definitely didn't need to hear."
  5341. >Giving a kick he breaks the poor ponies hoof through the bars.
  5342. >It's bent horizontally and you can see the bone sticking out.  
  5343. >As he screams in pain Maverick addresses you.
  5344. >"Don't get any ideas now. This is mine! And there's nothing you can do to take it back."
  5345. >You rest your tugging, the burning became too great.
  5346. >For now.
  5347. "Just you wait."
  5349. >Maverick steps towards the exit as the pony screams trying to pull his hoof back through the bars.
  5350. >Before exiting he kneels down to see the last cage.
  5351. >In it sits a bandaged up Arabic mare.
  5352. >An I V is sticking out of her right arm and the scar on her face looks like it got an addition.
  5353. >She stares daggers at him, but says not a word.
  5354. >With a roll of his eyes he speaks to her.
  5355. >"Hello Roxelana."
  5356. >"مثير للاشمئزاز علة!"
  5357. >"I don't care what you call me, I just want to tell you what's about to happen."
  5358. >She sits silent, but her angry demeanor still lingers.
  5359. >"Look I don't know you and you don't know me, but we do have a pony that connects us. Flash."
  5360. >You see her eyes widen.
  5361. >"I've been watching you."
  5362. >She sits like a statue at the statement.
  5363. >"From my previous position, I was able to see things more...magnified if you will."
  5364. >The corner of her mouth is starting to twitch.
  5365. >"It was hard at first, but everypony has their little tells. A smile. A little blush. A crack in their throat. Even the twinkle of the eyes. Things that can only be seen if searched for."
  5366. >She begins to stand.
  5367. >"You liked him. Completely infatuated like a little schoolmare. It's cute really."
  5368. >She gives an exhale out of her nostrils.
  5369. >"And I just wanted to tell you that Flash is dead. I killed him."
  5370. >She then rips the I V out of her arm and lunges toward the bars.
  5371. >Sharp point out she tries to throw it into your/Mavericks neck.
  5372. >It barely misses.
  5373. >"I just wanted to let you know before I do the same to you."
  5374. >She desperately bangs on the bars trying to get out.
  5376. >Leaving the room he carefully closes the door leaving her alone with the screaming unicorn.
  5377. >"Now that that little tidbit is out of the way, which way to my hive?"
  5378. >He chooses a path and begins making his way through the little base.
  5379. >As he's walking you try to free yourself again.
  5380. >The chains burn back into your wrist.
  5381. >"Stop it."
  5382. >Around them you feel the heat scorch up and down your limbs.
  5383. >But that doesn't deter you.
  5384. >Pulling down hard, one of the chains plunges for a second.
  5385. >"Knock it off!"
  5386. >You feel a weight pull on your hooves and the heat begins to intensify more.
  5387. >The weight begins to put a strain on your muscles and the heat feels like it's cooking your arms to the bone.
  5388. >But you can't give up.
  5389. >Using the last of your strength you give one last burning wrench.
  5390. >The room begins to tremble violently as you give your attempt for freedom.
  5391. >A sharp pain engulfs the entirety of your right hoof.
  5392. >You clench your jaw at the pain and squeeze your eyes shut.
  5393. >You can still feel the burning.
  5394. >But you can also feel something else.
  5395. >Movement.
  5396. >You can move your hoof.
  5397. >Opening your eyes, you can see it dangling below you.
  5398. >A giant scar encircles your hoof where the chain once was set.
  5399. >But it's enough.
  5400. >Your hoof is free.
  5402. >Looking to the outside world, you can feel Maverick is pretty peeved.
  5403. >You're not sure if he know's though.
  5404. "Need to hurry."
  5405. >Using your free hoof you try to unshackle the other.
  5406. >With all the pressure on one arm, the lactic acid in your muscles are beginning to burn.
  5407. >The grip the chain has on you is still tight.
  5408. >If only if there was a way to get some leverage.
  5409. >Before you can try anything, Maverick reappears in front of you.
  5410. >"No more games."
  5411. >He lights up he horn and the dangling chain wraps itself around your free hoof.
  5412. >It pulls you back to your previous confined position and he steps close.
  5413. >"Tell me, what's your end goal? What's your master plan to stop me. I mean really? Let's just say you somehow miraculously take over my body again. What's next? I'm mostly just curious at this point."
  5414. >You keep still trying not to cause anymore strain to your arms.
  5415. >"Let's get something straight here. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter what you try. This is MY body."
  5416. >He jabs the end of his hoof into your chest to drive the point.
  5417. >" And there is nothing you can do to separate me from it."
  5418. "We'll see. Unless you actually do something with me, I'll just keep trying."
  5419. >A smirk goes across your lips.
  5420. "You won't be able to hold me forever."
  5421. >"Oh I don't plan on holding onto you forever. I do plan on doing something. Like I said, nothing can separate my mind from this body, however there's nothing stopping me from separating YOUR mind from my body."
  5422. >Your smirk dissipates into a plain flat line.
  5423. "What?"
  5424. >"The way I see it, the Yaks put you into my mind, that means I can transfer you out of it."
  5425. "There's no way you can do that by yourself."
  5426. >"Not by my power alone, but once I reach that pool, I'll have all the power I'll need."
  5427. >You try to struggle with the chains, but Maverick just constricts them even more.
  5428. >"Now I could just put you in any little creature. A dog, bird, maybe even an insect. Although insect would be fitting, I have a better idea. How do you feel about being one of my drones?"
  5429. >You stare back into his now smirking face.
  5430. >"Another faceless puppet. One of thousands of pawns at my disposal. Forced to obey my every command. That sounds nice."
  5431. >He notices you staring expressionless.
  5432. >"What? Nothing to say? No witty remark? No defiant soliloquy? Might as well say it now, because once I get to that pool. You won't be able to say anything!"
  5433. >A voice comes from the outside.
  5434. >"What is all that noise!"
  5435. >It's Sky Star.
  5436. >He hasn't noticed you yet.
  5437. >He's standing in an open doorway down the hall with several documents and other papers in his hooves.
  5438. >The bags under his eyes still haven't left their place.
  5439. >Maverick looks outside, then back at you.
  5440. >"And I just found my ticket there."
  5442. >He disappears from your sight and you turn to look outside.
  5443. >"My friend!"
  5444. >Sky looks in your direction.
  5445. >"Hey, how did you-"
  5446. >"You said we have some tests to be done. So-"
  5447. >Maverick transforms himself mid-sentence into an Orthrus.
  5448. >The two-headed dog's distorted double-voice echoed through the hall.
  5449. >"-let's get to work."
  5450. >His second head growls while the left one licks his chomps.
  5451. >Bending low, he get's into a sprinting stance.
  5452. >Sky star stares back blankly.
  5453. >His baggy eyes showing no alarm, but his hooves holding the documents are visibly shaking.
  5454. >Slowly, he begins to reach for the door handle.
  5455. >With an explosive bark he charges at the stunned pony.
  5456. >You can only sit and watch as he chases the pony through the winding halls of the mesa compound.
  5457. >Hallway after hallway.
  5458. >Room after room.
  5459. >Sky would occasionally toss a chair or table over to try and slow Maverick down.
  5460. >But the Orthrus simply knocks aside the flimsy furniture.
  5461. >The right head takes one of the wooden chairs in its jaws and crushes it.
  5462. >Wood chips and cloth fall to the ground while the pony dashes into another room.
  5463. >Going through what you assume is a filing room, he stops and tosses two heavy cabinets in the pathway before running to the doorway at the other end of the room.
  5464. >Quickly jumping over them, random documents and files soar from the momentum passing by.
  5465. >Sky narrowly escapes by slamming the door locking Maverick out.
  5466. >He slams his paw against the door causing it to shudder.
  5467. >With another pound the frame cracks.
  5468. >Taking a couple steps back, he rushes through the door.
  5469. >It splinters in two as he lands in the opposite room.
  5470. >It's the living quarters.
  5471. >The pony is nowhere to be seen.
  5472. >One head growls at the sight of the empty room while the other sniffs the ground in hopes to find the scent.
  5474. >Back and forth he traces his nose across the floor.
  5475. >The other head keeping a swift lookout for anything out of place.
  5476. >Suddenly the sniffing head stops.
  5477. >Inhaling deeply, he gives out a sigh and transforms into his natural changeling self.
  5478. >"I smell something spicy."
  5479. >Looking over to the cots, the unneatly packed crates sits idly by.
  5480. >Walking past the cot on the far left, Maverick stops.
  5481. >Pushing off the top crates, they smash open breaking atop the card table on the other side of the pile.
  5482. >The only thing of worth is a still intact coffee cup lying on its side.  
  5483. >He takes another crate and rips off the lid.
  5484. >The nails go flying as he tosses the lid like a frisbee indiscriminately across the room.  
  5485. >Empty.
  5486. >With a grunt of anger he punches holes into the next two crates in the pile.
  5487. >Both vacant of anything.
  5488. >Turning into a Manticore he smashes the remaining crates.
  5489. >Through the dust and debris, he returns to his normal self.
  5490. >Nothing remains except a pile of splintered wood.
  5491. >"Well then, it appears your dynamite was just a red herring."
  5492. >Your heart sinks.
  5493. >That might have been your only hope of stopping this place.
  5494. >"Yes, I'm disappointed too. I would've loved tormenting you by tossing them one by one off the cliffside."
  5495. >No, there's still a chance. There's always a chance.
  5496. >"It could've made a perfect analogy for 'fleeting hope' or something similar. Best not to dwell on it. We have a pony to find. Can't have any distractions hiding from us."
  5497. >"Who's hiding?"
  5498. >Suddenly he's behind you.
  5499. >With a quick jab he stabs you in the neck with a syringe.
  5500. >Before the injection could take effect.
  5501. >Maverick gives a buck to the pegasus.
  5502. >You hear him land atop the pile of broken crates before toppling to the side.
  5504. >Strangely enough, you don't feel any effect from the drug.
  5505. >You are simply left alone idly leaning to the side.
  5506. >You can't see anything outside, but you did hear something.
  5507. >A groan.
  5508. >Wood splitting.
  5509. >Hoof clops.
  5510. >As you wait to see what happens next, the glowing chain holding your hooves dim for a brief moment.
  5511. >Then the shackles holding you cease to blaze.
  5512. >This could be your one chance before Maverick wakes.  
  5513. >"That was a good kick. I might feel that tomorrow."
  5514. >You hear Sky Star waft his wings shaking debris from the feathers.
  5515. >"I've noticed something. Nine out of ten times, whenever a search is going on through a building or confined space, not once does the pursuer ever look up."
  5516. >Pulling hard with your right hoof, it slowly begins to slip out.
  5517. >"Not until it's too late at least."
  5518. >With a hard tug, your hoof gets free.
  5519. >This time with much less scabbing.
  5520. >Now for the left one.
  5521. >You feel a jolt, then slow movement.
  5522. >He must be dragging you.
  5523. >"Your little soliloquy was kind of strange, most are come to think of it. Yours however sounded more like a conversation rather than a monologue. Talking out loud to nopony in particular."
  5524. >Try as you might, you run into the same problem as before.
  5525. >No leverage.
  5526. >"Words only for the wind."
  5527. >The dragging stops and you feel yourself being lifted.
  5528. >"Who am I to talk though, I'm doing it right now."
  5529. >He sets you down atop what feels like a table.
  5530. >"I enjoyed our little chat, but seeing how dangerous you are I'm afraid our work together is going to be cut down quite a bit."
  5531. >You feel something being wrapped around you.
  5532. >"This enchanted chain is going to prevent you from causing any rude disturbances, such as changing shape, to my experiment."
  5533. "Come on it's now or never!"
  5534. >Putting all of your weight atop your hoof, you can feel your hoof slipping a bit. However the stress straining your muscles is beginning to take its toll.
  5535. >"Oh right I almost forgot."
  5536. >You hear him fumbling about in the background as you give one final tug.
  5537. >With a loud crack from your wrist you fall flat on the floor.
  5538. "AHHH! Gah!"
  5539. >It hurts to move your left hoof.
  5540. >Probably dislocated.
  5541. >But that doesn't matter, you're free!
  5543. >Suddenly you feel a boop on your muzzle.
  5544. >"Looking for this?"
  5545. >He's holding one of the sticks of dynamite in front of you.
  5546. >You need to get out of here!
  5547. >Standing up, you limp down the unlit passageway.
  5548. >If your memory is correct, all you need to do is reach the end then you're back.
  5549. >"I've know about the little traitor's 'stash' for a while now. That's why I had it moved. Safe and sound with Hazel. I know he will never abandon the plan."
  5550. >Limping down the dark hall you trip over your injured hoof.
  5551. >You feel it crack again as you land hard on the floor.
  5552. "This is more than a sprain."
  5553. >Bracing yourself against the wall, you slowly stumble down your path.
  5554. >As you inch your way along, you see a bright light in the distance.
  5555. "Home stretch."
  5556. >It's strange.
  5557. >Even with Maverick unconscious, a part of him should still be keeping you restrained.
  5558. >But it seems like nothing is stopping you.
  5559. >Something is wrong.
  5560. >Getting closer to the light, you hear rattling behind you.
  5561. >Not wanting to face whatever it is, you ignore the pain and dash towards the light.
  5562. >Almost there.
  5563. >Just.
  5564. >A.
  5565. >Few.
  5566. >More.
  5567. >Jumping into the light, you feel yourself enraptured by the world.
  5568. >The air is stagnant, you feel exhausted, and your hoof still aches, but you've made it.
  5569. >Looking around however, your joy quickly turns into distress.
  5570. >You're in the cavern holding all the unhatched eggs.
  5571. >You are currently hanging from a chain and right below you is the pool of black sludge.
  5572. >At the entrance you can see Sky Star inspecting some papers on a desk.
  5573. >Beside the desk is the mechanism holding the chain in place keeping you in the air.
  5574. >You try to shout at him, but your words come out muffled.
  5575. >He strapped a muzzle to your muzzle.
  5576. >Apparently though your muffled cry didn't go unnoticed.
  5577. >He turns to look at you and smiles.
  5578. >"Ah about time you awoken, I was scared I might have hit you a little too hard."
  5579. >You struggle in the binds, but they are too tight.
  5580. >How lovely.
  5581. >You escaped one bonding only to find yourself in another.
  5582. >"Here's the thing, when you first entered into the sludge, the most amazing thing happened. The hatchlings actually began to move."
  5583. >His eyes widen with amazement at the thought.
  5584. >"You are my missing key! I don't know what separates you from the others, but your body is a catalyst for their birth. And if my calculations are correct, spring will be coming early for Equestria."
  5585. >He flips the switch to the mechanism and you slowly begin to descend.
  5586. >No!
  5587. >Once you hit that pool, Maverick will easily take control again.
  5588. >In the back of your head you can hear him laughing.
  5589. >"Say good-bye my little bug."
  5591. >As your hoof dips into the murky sludge, you could feel it immediately cling to your body.
  5592. >Farther and farther you get submerged.
  5593. >Getting neck deep in the stuff you take a deep breath and close your eyes.
  5594. >The cold feeling returns and darkness overtakes you.
  5595. >Solidify.
  5596. >Liquefy.
  5597. >Valiantly you try and struggle out of the sludge, but you find yourself sinking even faster.
  5598. >Tranquility starts to creep on.
  5599. >You can't let that take over, if it does it's all over.
  5600. >You need something.
  5601. >Anything!
  5602. >Just a glimmer of hope to hang onto will be enough.
  5603. >Even in complete despair, you resist.
  5604. >"There's no such thing a miracles."
  5605. >Maverick's voice booms from all around you.
  5606. >The creeping tranquility feels to be ripped out of your body.
  5607. >No.
  5608. >It's not tranquility that have been ripped out.
  5609. >YOU were ripped out.
  5610. >For a brief moment you see your own body lying in the murky depths of the sludge.
  5611. >It stirs about almost swimming, then comes to a stop.
  5612. >All the sludge around it solidified freeing it from the chains.
  5613. >Creating a little platform with it, he steadying itself and stands.
  5614. >With head held high in the air he smirks in your direction.
  5615. >Then instantly, you are seeing the world through a strange lens.
  5617. >Sky Star stands in amazement.
  5618. >He takes off his lab coat setting it on the table near the lever.
  5619. >All around him the contained beasts squirm in their cocoons.
  5620. >Close to the cavern ceiling, one begins to poke through its chrysalis prison.
  5621. >"yes...YES!"
  5622. >As more and more begin to emerge he stumbles closer to the sludge to get a better view of the hatching's.
  5623. >"Controlling monsters, this will be a pinnacle to pony achievement."
  5624. >One of the nether beasts leaps downward atop the desk.
  5625. >Curiously it sniffs at the lab coat.
  5626. >He sees it rummaging about on his desk.
  5627. >"Hello there."
  5628. >The creature instantly changes its attention from his coat to him.
  5629. >"My name is Sky."
  5630. >Sky slowly walks his way towards the creature as it holds its focus in him.
  5631. >"You are now in Equestria."
  5632. >With a shining glimmer in his eyes, He reaches out a hoof close to what he presumes to be the creatures snout.
  5633. >He is so enraptured by scientific curiosity, that he doesn't even notice the other two that land right behind him.
  5635. >Silence.
  5636. >Pure silence.
  5637. >After that disgusting changeling left, there was all kind of thrashing and pounding from outside the door.
  5638. >It's gone quiet though.
  5639. >Peering across the room through the bars you see the mangled hoof of the unicorn still jutting out.
  5640. >He hasn't said anything since he stopped screaming.
  5641. >A small pool of blood is slowly trailing from his cage.
  5642. >Probably for the best.
  5643. >He would only injure himself more if he kept writhing around like he was.
  5644. >Speaking of injuries your right side still resonates pain and your head feels like it's spinning.
  5645. >What happened?
  5646. >One second you were on a mountain with Flash, then it becomes a bit of a blur.
  5647. >There were these strange ponies covered head to hoof in markings.
  5648. >There was a light, a fire!
  5649. >But not too bright.
  5650. >Campfire?
  5651. >No there were structures.
  5652. >Too close for camping.
  5653. >Maybe a camp.
  5654. >Suddenly you were carried away.
  5655. >Carried by Flash!
  5656. >Yes! You were ascending a hill to freedom with him.
  5657. >For some reason though,yo thought he was a changeling.
  5658. >It was hard to see, but you heard his voice.
  5659. >His soft, warmhearted voice giving you comfort in your time of need.
  5660. >Then darkness.
  5661. >You put a hoof to your temple and try to remember more, but your memory is too clouded.
  5662. >All you remember from after the mountain is being dragged through the desert here.
  5663. >That old stallion did give you some sort of medicine and strangely enough a teeth cleaning, but being locked in his cage means nothing good is waiting for you when he comes back.
  5664. >Taking a pin from your mane, you again try to work at the lock.
  5665. >The back part previously held up falls down your back letting it flow over your shoulders.
  5666. >You aren't sure about progress, but you hear clicks coming from inside the lock.
  5667. >Hopefully that's a good sign.
  5668. >Sliding in further inside, you hear one final click.
  5669. >Carefully you balance it atop your uninjured hoof.
  5670. >Giving a little twist, you hear the tumblers begin to turn.
  5671. >80 degrees
  5672. >60 degrees
  5673. >45 degrees
  5674. >You are almost at the 90 degree angle when it stops.
  5675. "!القرف"
  5676. >No!
  5677. >It was so close!
  5678. >Trying to force it down the pin snaps.
  5679. >You try to use your hooves to scrape it out, but it's no good.
  5680. >It's all twisted up in the gears, nothing is getting it out now.
  5681. >You slam your hoof into the bars of the cage.
  5682. >This can't be how you die!
  5683. >Locked up like an animal in some sick psycho's dungeon.
  5684. >You feel a tear begin to well up.
  5685. >Quickly you wipe it away.
  5686. >No.
  5687. >This will not be how you die, whimpering like a little foal.
  5688. >You're going to go down fighting as the warrior that you are!
  5689. >Once he returns, you're going to give him all that you got before letting him take you out.
  5690. >Sitting back down, you try and meditate.
  5691. >Only thing to do right now is wait.
  5692. >As you begin focusing on breathing, you hear a bloodcurdling scream.
  5693. >Maybe you won't have to wait too long.
  5695. >Buzzing!
  5696. >The sound of hundreds of buzzing wings resonates through the halls!
  5697. >It sounds as if you are in the center of a bugbear hive!
  5698. >As the sound begins to get louder, your room begins to vibrate.
  5699. >A cabinet door flies open.
  5700. >The armor standing neatly in the corner falls to the ground shattering into several pieces.
  5701. >One small box stacked atop one of the cages crashes to the floor landing on its side.
  5702. >As the top breaks open, a single stick of dynamite pops out.
  5703. >Several identical looking sticks sit neatly stacked, still in the container.
  5704. >The one that fell loose rolls and hits the caged unicorn's broken hoof.
  5705. >He doesn't stir from his place.
  5706. >Suddenly the buzzing stops.
  5707. >Strange, sounded as if it was right outside the door.
  5708. >Getting to the back of your cage, you wait motionless.
  5709. >Something isn't right.
  5710. >The door opens slowly and an expressionless head pops in.
  5711. >You don't recognize him.
  5712. >His mane is shaved, but he has a slight pencil beard.
  5713. >As he scans the room, he quickly notices the pool of blood.
  5714. >Then the passed out unicorn in his cage.
  5715. >Stepping fully into the room you take a look at his entire body.
  5716. >He's a pegasus.
  5717. >His coat is a light red with a white stripe going across his body horizontally.
  5718. >It stops just before it reaches his wings, then continues under them.
  5719. >Behind him another pony, walks in.
  5720. >His face mimics the vacant stare as the other, only difference is that his mane is cut short and not fully shaven.
  5721. >He has an olive green coat and an identical white stripe going horizontally across his body.
  5722. >As the two stop before the unicorns cage, the red one kneels down to get a closer look while the green one nudges the broken hoof.
  5723. >How nice.
  5724. >Medics coming to help the wounded.
  5725. >Feeling the pain in your side begin to flair up again, maybe now's a good time to get more medicine.
  5726. >Hopefully they have some stuff for you also.
  5727. >Right before you call to them you stop yourself immediately.
  5728. >The two ponies hunch themselves over and begin to transform.
  5729. >Their once bright coats melt away to black and there spines begin to jut out.
  5730. >Their heads morph back into their bodies leaving only one giant orifice.
  5731. >Teeth all around the walls of it and five fangs begin to protrude.
  5732. >It's something straight out of a horror story.
  5733. >Taking their final form, the former olive green pony uses one of its fangs and grabs hold of the broken unicorns limb.
  5734. >With the help of another fang, it begins to twist the broken hoof.
  5735. >You can hear bone and cartilage begin to separate until one final tug frees it from its owner.
  5736. >Greedily it shoves it down it's throat eating it whole.
  5737. >The unicorn lays still.
  5738. >Either he is dead already or the shock from the pain is keeping him unconscious.
  5739. >With the hoof gone, the two begin fighting trying to get inside.
  5740. >Instead of changing into something smaller to fit through the bars, they use their fangs to get a grip onto the cage.
  5741. >You watch as the metal begins to slowly bend.
  5742. >Getting enough room, the former red one slips through the bars and begins ripping into the unicorn.
  5743. >This time however the unicorn wakes up.
  5744. >He shrieks in terror as his remaining hooves are torn from him.
  5745. >A fang digs into his gut silencing him once again.
  5746. >The other one still outside the cage gives out a screech in protest of missing a meal.
  5747. >Which he gets a screech right back at him, this one more harsh.
  5748. >As he gets devoured, you quietly back away from the front of your cell trying desperately to squeeze every inch of your body into the farthest most corner away from their sight.
  5749. >Please let them be full.
  5751. >They continue ravaging the poor corpse.
  5752. >Every bone snapped in half.
  5753. >Every piece of muscle chewed.
  5754. >Every organ ripped from their cavity.
  5755. >You quietly hear it all.
  5756. >Bundled in your tight corner only hoping for the best.
  5757. >Hoping for a miracle that you don't end up as dinner.
  5758. >You have your hooves over your eyes not wanting to see the gore of their feast.
  5759. >Being in war prepares you for a lot of things, but not this.
  5760. >In the heat of battle you can be skewered by an arrow or sliced by a halberd at any given moment.
  5761. >Seeing a soldier die from an inflicted wound from an enemy is one thing.
  5762. >For he will die with honor at least...whatever that is worth nowadays.
  5763. >Watching one get ripped to shreds and devoured is another.
  5764. >The short scream of protest everyone hears but the predator.
  5765. >Having to watch them look in horror only to see their own intestines stolen for a snack.
  5766. >Hearing their last exhale to oblivion while their body becomes nothing more but mere sustenance.
  5767. >So you cover your eyes and cower.
  5768. >Cower not from the fear of death, but how death can take you in so many different ways.
  5769. >The one stuck outside the cage yields to his greed for more and turns around.
  5770. >Before he exits, he stops.
  5771. >Right in front of your cage.
  5772. >Turning his entire body, you can tell he senses your presence.
  5773. >Opening his jowl all five fangs quickly wrap themselves around the bars.
  5774. >With a slight lean backwards the bars on the cage begin to give.
  5775. >Only slightly.
  5776. >Far too small for it to fit through.
  5777. >But it can't hold forever.
  5778. >You need to act fast!
  5779. >As your mind races on what to do, all you can think of is home...
  5781. ***
  5783. >A hot summer day.
  5784. >A dry warm breeze.
  5785. >An ocean of sand surrounding an island of civilization.
  5786. >Sahakashor
  5787. >Home.
  5788. >One of the most fiercest border forts with a garrison just as ferocious in the easternmost province of Saddle Arabia.
  5789. >Just a mile away from the former border separating the Saddle Arabian homeland from the Transoxabian plains.
  5790. >Former.
  5791. >After the mostly peaceful annexation of their lands, the great fort and garrison were no longer needed.
  5792. >Cutbacks and transfers quickly turned the great fort into an administrative center for the newly acquired lands.
  5793. >Your father was the former Serdar or Magistrate of Sahkashor.
  5794. >He was known as a firm drillmaster and notorious berserker on the field.
  5795. >A lover of battle.
  5796. >However when it came to administrative tasks, that's where he struggled.
  5797. >Turning a military fortress into an urban city is a horsculean task.
  5798. >Setting up a sewer system better equipped for a larger population.
  5799. >Maintaining the little farmland available and altering it for a better irrigation system.
  5800. >Bazaars and Shisha House's needed to be built.
  5801. >All of these and more stole his vigor from him.
  5802. >Several of his would be accomplishments had to be rode upon the coattails of the more enlightened.
  5803. >Also being 26th in line to the throne didn't exactly help his drive to rise in politics.
  5804. >In fact that made him more sluggish than ever.
  5805. >Why bother working for greatness you can never achieve through action alone?
  5806. >The great killer of royal ambition.
  5807. >Having the wrong lineage.
  5808. >Being his only foal, you were to become the next Magistrate of Sahakashor.
  5809. >Not wanting you to inherit his bureaucratic torture, he sent you away with his Ferik and closest friend.
  5810. >Selim Khidr
  5811. >A noble veteran with a gregarious personality.
  5812. >Although he seems open, he is very intrusive about learning opinions about himself.
  5813. >Your father once told you a story where Selim disguising himself as a hunched cripple and converse with soldiers wishing to know their true opinions.
  5814. >What a crazy pony.
  5815. >Although you did not know it at the time, your father has sent you where him and Selim first met.
  5816. >The Royal Military Academy of Meccaspia.
  5817. >To benefit from the best military training available.
  5818. >You were to follow in your father's hoofsteps and become the Great Urban Protector of Arabia.
  5819. >Personally trained by Selim himself.
  5821. >Having been so far east and sheltered by your father, you were yet to hear about how truly devastating the invasion of Equestria was.
  5822. >You remember hearing of one in passing, but were too young to remember the details.
  5823. >What you do remember is both sides fought with great chivalric honor.
  5824. >Surly this would hold true.
  5825. >The ruins of the residential homes.
  5826. >Downplayed as accidental shelling.
  5827. >Where once great monuments and memorials stood.
  5828. >Moved to a southern museum away from the war to be safely stored and archived for history.
  5829. >It's only later you realized they were shipped in shattered pieces.
  5830. >Blown to dust by Equestrian artillery.
  5831. >Even Selim tried to keep the grim whispers of a devastating defeat down.
  5832. >Going so far as to completely isolating you from everypony.
  5833. >At night he would hold private fighting lessons while everypony was asleep.
  5834. >During the day you were kept on a strict schedule of studying about survival, tactics, and weaponry.
  5835. >Learning ways to combine old strategies with modern armor.
  5836. >Having to survive days on end in the desert relying only your wits and strength.
  5837. >However the charade could not last forever.
  5838. >Like a fire spreading through a sparse landscape, the embers will travel where the main flames cannot.
  5839. >It was dinner.
  5840. >Fig and Dates spaghetti with just a hint of pomegranate sauce.
  5841. >After having a couple hearty mouthfuls and very uncouth sips of water, you step out to relive yourself before Selim lectures you on proper dinner manners.
  5842. >You were beginning to get cabin fever with him and only him around.
  5843. >Every waking day.
  5844. >All the sleepless nights.
  5845. >Always there watching you.
  5846. >You needed to get away.
  5847. >If not just for an hour or two at least.
  5848. >The facility you were held had a grand wall separating the outside city from the pristine premises.
  5849. >Separating the wall from the facility is an open courtyard thirty yards in all direction.
  5850. >Loyal guards to Selim patrolled keeping any trespassers out.
  5851. >They seemed friendly, but they never were very talkative.
  5852. >When they did it would always be the same thing.
  5853. >"Get back inside! Finish your studies with Master Selim!"
  5854. >You don't want to abandon your studies.
  5855. >Just a friend for company.
  5856. >Getting to the restroom, you quickly scramble out of the tiny boxed window.
  5857. >Landing in a bush, you peek out and hear two guards conversating around the corner.
  5858. >In a hushed tone, one angrily addresses the other.
  5859. >"Please just shut up about this nonsense! If anypony else hears this blasphemous tongue of yours, you'll loose it along with the rest of your head!"
  5860. >Oh this sounds interesting.
  5861. >"But it's true! My brother is a migrant worker in Equestria. He said those 'Equal' ponies have some good ideas. Representation in a diet. Rule by the ponies, for the ponies. Equality."
  5862. >"Yes I've heard about those 'Equal' cultists, if I recall correctly their leader abandoned her message of equality long ago and sided WITH the Princesses."
  5863. >"Yes, but the message is still true. If they take down the Princesses, they will be in charge!"
  5864. >"If? If! IF! That doesn't mean anything! I bet our lives would be ten times better IF we had a million bits! IF I was a royal I would strive for peace! Those two cows have been controlling Equestria since my great-grandfather's grandfather and probably his grandfather too. They aren't going anywhere. No matter what two bit 'Equal' ignoramus says."
  5865. >"Yes they are doomed to failure, but we aren't."
  5866. >"What, are you still blabbering to me?"
  5867. >"The royals are a waste! They ordered the murder of Equestrian civilians, drove us into a horrible war we could never win, and now they sit with belies full while our families starve. Look at that little brat we keep watch over! She gets three meals a day and she doesn't even eat it all! My two colts got their school destroyed and no program has been put in place to fix that! Yet here we are guarding a royal filly to stay inside away from all the struggle so she can get her learning! It's sickening! In the end they will probably have to join the military, then the whole cycle starts over again. New royals, new serfs. Same program."
  5868. >"Well what do you plan on doing? Gallivant off all over Saddle Arabia, kill any Royal you see?"
  5869. >"It's not just me with this ideal. Several others have taken this ideal to heart. I am merely sending an invitation for you."
  5870. >You hear the other pony shuffle his hooves.
  5871. >"Come on. Your son has a cleft hoof, he will never make it in this world. At least with us in power, he will have a chance."
  5872. >"*sigh* He is only has so much strength in him. What do you need me to do?"
  5873. >"We will all have to coordinate our attacks then seize the reigns of power before chaos ensues, but I say we start with the filly."
  5874. >You gasp at their remarks.
  5875. >"What was that!"
  5876. >You try to jump back into the window but it is too late.
  5877. >They both are shocked to see you dangling from the window seal.
  5878. >"What do we do?!"
  5879. >"This was your plan not mine! Do you think she heard anything?"
  5880. "I didn't hear anything! I swear!"
  5881. >"This isn't good! We have to do it now!"
  5882. >"What! Now?"
  5883. "I-I won't say anything to anypony I swear!"
  5884. >"So you did hear us!"
  5885. "No! Wait!"
  5886. >"Give me your dagger!"
  5887. >"Hazi wait, she is just a little filly."
  5888. "I promise! I promise I won't say a word!"
  5889. >You drop and plead with the guards to spare your life.
  5890. >"Sorry little one."
  5891. >He reaches down with one hoof wrapping it around your body holding you down.
  5892. >The other he reaches toward the other guard.
  5893. >"Dahei, your dagger please."
  5894. >"Hazi, I..."
  5895. >"Now could be our only chance at this! Think of your own son! Not this royal!"
  5896. >Dahei obediently reaches for his dagger and places it in Hazi's free hoof.
  5897. >Hazi grasps it firmly and slowly brings it to your face.
  5898. >You try and squirm as much as you can, but his grip is too much.
  5899. >As the blade gets closer, you get a hoof free and slap at it.
  5900. >In your flailing the blade slices your cheek letting a little stream of blood trickle onto the ground.
  5901. >"Hold still brat!"
  5902. >He gets a better grip and pulls you closer to the wall.
  5903. >Hazi lifts the dagger high above his head.
  5904. >"For the new Republic of Arabia!"
  5905. >You squeeze your eyes shut waiting to die.
  5906. >...
  5907. >Nothing.
  5908. >You feel a drip of water on your face.
  5909. >Rain?
  5910. >Opening your eyes you see an arrow piercing his hoof pinning it to the wall.
  5911. >A stream of blood begins to flow from the wound.
  5912. >He let's out a horrible scream and releases the dagger and you from his grasp.
  5913. >Before the dagger could hit the ground, a grey shadow swiftly moves in and pins his other hoof to the wall with it.
  5914. >The other guard flees for his life making for the walls of the compound.
  5915. >He couldn't even make it halfway through the courtyard before an arrow pierces his two back hooves bringing him to the ground.
  5916. >You look at the grey figure and find that you recognize him.
  5917. >Selim.
  5918. >He has a scowl across his face.
  5919. >Something you never seen him do.
  5920. >His voice is harsh and commanding as more guards take the two wounded away.
  5921. >"Fifty thrashing each then baptize them is fire for all to see. Show what happens to dissenters!"
  5922. >As he turns to face you all you could feel is an even greater dread than before.
  5923. >Instead of him lashing out, his voice is calm.
  5924. >"Roxelana, are you alright?"
  5925. "I'm sorry Selim."
  5926. >You feel a tear drop and you begin to sob.
  5927. >"Don't be sad young one, you did a good job."
  5928. "A good job! I was trapped!"
  5929. >"You were trapped because of your own stupidity and because you were weak. That's why your studies and training are so important!"
  5930. >As you continue to sob he puts a hoof on your shoulder.
  5931. >"But I did notice something as well."
  5932. "What's that?"
  5933. >"You fought with all your might, you didn't give up. Even though winning that fight was next to impossible without my help, you fought on. That is the spirit of a greatness and survival Roxelana."
  5934. >He wipes a tear from your face.
  5935. >"Crying won't help, nor apologizing. Actions speak better than those two combined."
  5936. >He turns your face to see your wound on your cheek.
  5937.  "Not too deep. You'll have a bad scar, but you should be fine. I want you to remember this day. Never give up the fight. And I don't mean for just the nation. Fight for what YOU think is right. Doesn't matter if it's for conquest, survival, or even love. With that fighting spirit, anything is possible. Remember this, for this won't be the only time you will have to fight for your life. Now let's get you cleaned up."
  5938. >Remember this...
  5939. >Remember this.
  5941. ***
  5943. "I remember Selim."
  5944. >As you look back at the creature, it almost has the bars bent open.
  5945. >It gives a brief shriek at you before going back to prying.
  5946. "Let's do this ugly."
  5947. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a60JxzoLosE
  5948. >As the bars are nearly separated from their post, you charge at the creature.
  5949. >Running at full speed into the open jaws of a monster isn't exactly the smartest idea, but it pays off.
  5950. >Taking the beast by surprise you head-butt it knocking it back.
  5951. >It lands hard on the box of dynamite crushing almost all of them.
  5952. >Two single sticks roll across the room and stop at the door.
  5953. >With the bars separated you jump through.
  5954. >As it recovers from your blow, you see the fallen armor.
  5955. >More importantly you see the spear it once was holding.
  5956. >Quickly you dive for the weapon.
  5957. >Before it comes in reach of your hoof you are wrenched backwards.
  5958. >Landing on your belly, you turn to see one of the fangs has grasped your hind leg.
  5959. >It slowly begins to reel you in as the four other fangs reach out for you as well.
  5960. >Grabbing hold of one of the broken armored limbs, you smash the fang until it releases you.
  5961. >Scrambling to your hooves, you get to the pedestal where the armor once stood.
  5962. >Picking up the spear, you point it at the beast now standing in your way.
  5963. >Opening its jaws, it gives out an ear piercing screech.
  5964. >You grimace at the high octave, but hold your ground.
  5965. >Its so loud.
  5966. >To retort you roar back at the beast with all the muster you have.
  5968. >You feel like you're going to bust a blood vessel screaming like you are.
  5969. >The beast still inside the cage turns to see the commotion and seeing the two of you screeching decides now's the best time to join is as well.
  5970. >As the monster screeching in front of you begin's to die down, it spreads its thick wings and charges forward.
  5971. >Gripping the spear tighter, you feel yourself lunging forward as well.
  5972. >With one great sweep with its wings the beast uses its extra momentum to fly through the room at an incredible speed.
  5973. >Ducking down, you let it fly over you.
  5974. >As you see its belly, you drive your spear into it.
  5975. >The point breaks off and the beast crashes into the boxes behind you.
  5976. >It screeches in pain, writhing in the broken wooden crates.
  5977. >Seeing the other get hurt, the one inside the cage begins to squirm its way out of its cage to get to you.
  5978. >Using the wooden base, you drive it down the beasts throat.
  5979. >It bits down hard, snapping the broken spear base into a mangled mess.
  5980. >As it gags on the splintered wood, you quickly pick up the single stick of dynamite next to its cage and run to the door.
  5981. >Picking up the two next to it, you slam the door shut and run down the hall.
  5982. >You blindly dash through room after room.
  5983. >Each one looks like it's been ransacked.
  5984. >The stone walls look to have claw marks on them and almost every piece of furniture is torn to shreds.
  5985. >Strangely enough there seems to be no sign of life.
  5986. >There's not a single other pony here.
  5987. >Suddenly though you hear that dreaded buzzing noise.
  5988. >Before you enter into the next room, three hovering shadows pass by the window on the door.
  5989. >One of them stops and notices you.
  5990. >It's...a Saddle Arabian?
  5991. >He looks at you with curious eyes and you stare right back.
  5992. >As you get closer to examine him, his jaw dislocates from his head and slinks downward.
  5993. >He smashes his head through the thin windowpane and gives out a guttural roar.
  5994. >You jump back just in time as five fangs shoot from his mouth trying to grab you.
  5995. >As he tries to climb through the small window, the other two companions regroup behind him and begin pulling on the hinges.
  5996. >Adjacent to the door, a bookcase still stands untouched.
  5997. >Thinking quickly, you begin throwing hard covers at the former Arabs head which has now conformed to the full beasts shape.
  5998. >Unsurprisingly it has little effect on it.
  5999. >With a majority of the books gone, you begin pushing over the bookcase.
  6000. >It lands with a tremendous crash blocking off the doorway completely.
  6001. >The beast with its head through the window lay pinned against the wall twisted and broken.
  6002. >With a sigh of relief, you turn back around.
  6003. >You stop dead in your track however.
  6004. >With a dead eyed stare, you see another beast standing right in the only doorway out.
  6006. >It's just standing there, menacingly!
  6007. >Menacingly?
  6008. >It's definitely standing there alright.
  6009. >Not doing a whole lot of anything.
  6010. >Did it not spot you?
  6011. >No.
  6012. >You're the only thing in the room that's even remotely still solid.
  6013. >Taking a closer look at it, you see it's a little different than the others.
  6014. >The leathery hide is a shade lighter than the others.
  6015. >His sail also looks to be shorter.
  6016. >Like it was shaved or scraped down somehow.
  6017. >Carefully taking a piece of broken shelf, you inch your way closer to it.
  6018. >As you get a little closer, you can see its body is shaking vigorously.
  6019. >One of the fangs pushes its way through the clenched jowls.
  6020. >Once it gets more free the creature quickly bits down on it.
  6021. >A crunch comes from its mouth and the fang falls to the floor
  6022. >A single drop of blood comes from a crevice in the jawline.
  6023. >Something isn't right.
  6024. >There's about a foot of room you might be able to squeeze through without disturbing it.
  6025. >Lifting the shelf above your head, you slowly get to two hooves and try sidestepping.
  6026. >It's difficult.
  6027. >You feel your balance begin to fail you, but you hold.
  6028. >Steady now.
  6029. >Right as you begin stepping in front of its mouth, it jerks.
  6030. >Screeching it lunges.
  6031. >Not at you however.
  6032. >With jaw agape, it tackles a beast that was just behind you!
  6033. >You didn't even hear it.
  6034. >Looking back, its head is all mangled from the bookshelf smashing it into the ground, but it somehow managed to shuffle through all that rubble without causing so much as a peep.
  6035. >You watch as the beast who tackled the disfigured one wrestle it to the ground.
  6036. >Using its uninjured fangs, it digs into the underbelly of the other.
  6037. >Why did it save you?
  6038. >Did it want to keep you all to yourself?
  6039. >As it continues to tear through the belly of the beast, it suddenly stops.
  6040. >Its sail straightens and he begins shaking like it's being electrocuted by some unknown force.
  6041. >The disfigured beast lays still on the ground.
  6042. >Standing over the carcass, it turns its attention to you.
  6043. >Like a predator staring down its prey.
  6044. >Now's not the time to ponder over the philosophical reasoning as to why it spared you.
  6045. >Because now it looks like what happened to the monster, is going to happen to you.
  6046. >Dashing out of the room, the chase is once again on.
  6047. >This time however, instead of chasing you in its natural form, it transforms into a Timberwolf.
  6048. >So these things are like changelings?
  6049. >With green glowing eyes it nips at your heels only to be stopped by sudden curves.
  6050. >Quickly grabbing at an impromptu sconce, you pull the torch out of it and wave the flame in front of the wooden beast.
  6051. >Naturally it stops in its tracks.
  6052. >You wave it frantically back and forth keeping it at bay.
  6053. >As it wavers from the flame it gives a distorted howl that transforms midway into a crying screech.
  6054. >It slams its wooden head into the wall over and over again.
  6055. >With one final impact, the head shatters.
  6056. >The wooden pieces fall to the ground, but as they impact they turn to liquid.
  6057. >In a flash of magic, the creature transforms into a bloody and bruised changeling.
  6058. >So they are changelings!
  6059. >Quickly you smash the burning end of the torch into his face.
  6060. >"Wait...you need toRAHHHHHHHH"
  6061. >He falls to the ground and covers his charred face with a limp hoof.
  6062. >As he lies helpless you don't show any mercy.
  6063. "This is what you truly are huh? Some worthless bug?"
  6064. >You slam your hoof down on his burned side repeatedly in hopes of bashing his brain in.
  6065. "Hiding behind that monstrous facade, pathetic! You bugs are monsters already! Your kind just enjoys finding new ways to torture ponies don't you?"
  6066. >Taking his free hoof, he throws you off of him.
  6067. >Scrambling to his hooves, he braces himself against the stone wall.
  6068. >"Roxelana, we don't have time."
  6069. >You were right about to hoof his head into the wall, but you stop in your tracks.
  6070. >That voice.
  6071. "How do you know my name bug?"
  6073. >"We don't have much time. I can feel him."
  6074. >He's wheezing heavily straining himself to talk.
  6075. >He covers his eyes with one hoof and puts the other to his temple.
  6076. >"I can see them. All around me. Getting close."
  6077. "Who are you?"
  6078. >"We need to stop him, a great explosion. He has some dynamite, if we can get it away-"
  6079. "I have dynamite. Three to be exact."
  6080. >You reach into your pack and take a stick out.
  6081. >Even with his face burned and bloody, his smile shined through the injuries.
  6082. >That smile.
  6083. >Why is he so familiar?
  6084. >He knows something you don't.
  6085. >Now's some time to get answers.  
  6086. "I light this here and now if you don't tell me who you are though."
  6087. >Taking the torch, you move it close to the stem of the stick.
  6088. >His face turns to horror at the sight.
  6089. >Not horror in fear for his own life, but...for yours?
  6090. >He looks to the walls and shudders.
  6091. >"You wouldn't understand, I don't even fully know."
  6092. "Answers not excuses!"
  6093. >He winces at your tone.
  6094. >You're going to find out just who this bug really was, even if it killed you.
  6095. >"I was the orange pony who flew into your camp outside Baltmare."
  6096. >You flinch at his words nearly lighting the dynamite.
  6097. >No.
  6098. >Liar!
  6099. "Flash is dead."
  6100. >"Yes, flash died a long time ago. I just became him."
  6101. "How long have you been parading about as him?"
  6102. >"I...I just remember wandering out of the Yaket Mountain Range. And then his life whisked me away."
  6103. >You place the dynamite back in your pack and he gives a sigh of relief.
  6104. >"In name and mind I truly thought I was Flash Sentry. That's who I am. Who I was."
  6105. >You pause unsure of what to do.
  6106. >Could this changeling actually be the same Flash who was with you?
  6107. >The same Flash who saved your life?
  6108. >Your mind races trying to decide whether to trust him or just light the dynamite now and be done with this madness.
  6109. >He gasps for air and falls to the ground.
  6110. >"I understand your wariness, but you're going to have to trust me. Run! Run to the center! You'll find him nested there. If you take him out, this whole nest will fall."
  6111. >He heaves violently and tumbles over.
  6112. >"Stick to the right corridor, there's only a few of those things that way."
  6113. >You run down the hallway his hoof motioned towards not wishing to stay behind.
  6114. >Looking back, you slowly see him transform back into that monster.
  6115. >Then you slam a heavy door shut.
  6117. >Why are you doing this?
  6118. >This is a fools task.
  6119. >The only way out of this is going to be with either you dead in an explosion or eaten alive.
  6120. >Why?
  6121. >Why put your trust in that changeling?
  6122. >The bug who moments earlier was a horrifying monster wanting to disembowel you.
  6123. >Maybe hope?
  6124. >Hope that maybe that all this is going to pay off somehow.
  6125. >Maybe he really was Flash?
  6126. >No matter the reason, you still find yourself galloping like a mad pony down corridor after corridor in hopes of finding 'him'.
  6127. >You're not even sure what you're going to do when you even find him.
  6128. >You have no sword.
  6129. >No spear.
  6130. >Only the dynamite.
  6131. >If worse comes to worse, you can go out in a blaze of glory.
  6132. >Roxelana, Heroine of the Badlands.
  6133. >Too bad nopony is around to even record your work.
  6134. >Nopony even knows you're here!
  6135. >They all probably think you're one of the hundred's of bodies dead in the fields of Baltmare.
  6136. >No matter.
  6137. >An unsung hero is just as good if not more.
  6138. >Coming to a turn, you enter what looks like a living quarters.
  6139. >Beds lay tossed.
  6140. >Storage boxes destroyed.
  6141. >Nothing good has been through here.
  6142. >Passing through the room, you walk quickly down another hallway.
  6143. >A green glow enraptures you.
  6144. >A single door separated you from that glow.
  6145. >Carefully opening it, you are greeted with the buzzing sound of commotion.
  6146. >Entering into the room, your jaw drops.
  6147. >All around you, hundreds of thousands of those things move about the walls.
  6148. >They all pay her no attention as she fully enters.
  6149. >This room is enormous.
  6150. >Every inch of space
  6151. >At the very center of it all, there was a pool of strange black liquid.
  6152. >In that pool stood a hardened throne made out of that muck.
  6153. >Sitting on that throne, sat an idle changeling.
  6154. >His body partly encased in the makeshift throne.
  6155. >Eyes closed.
  6156. >Almost like he was sleeping.
  6157. >On his head stood a long crooked horn.
  6158. >It glowed a gleaming green.
  6159. >As it glowed his throne glowed too emitting the same hew of color.
  6160. "This is unbelievable."
  6161. >Suddenly his horn flashes and all the commotion around you stopped.
  6162. >Every single one of the beasts stops and stars at you.
  6164. >'If you take him out the whole nest will fall.'
  6165. >Yeah well how am I supposed to do that?!
  6166. >The changeling on/in his throne opens his eyes.
  6167. >"Hello Roxelana."
  6168. >At his words, all the beasts encircle you and the pool.
  6169. >The ones on the ceilings jump down and land on outcropped ledges while others hover to the ground assimilating into the mob.
  6170. >One however doesn't hover.
  6171. >It dives.
  6172. >At your angle it looks like its headed straight towards the throne.
  6173. >Like an arrow in the wind it dives downward.
  6174. >Quickly darting past the more slowly descending beasts.
  6175. >Before it could get any closer, he's knocked out of the air by two other monsters.
  6176. >He lets out a horrific screech before being tackled by over a dozen beasts.
  6177. >Stomping him into the ground, they then toss him towards you.
  6178. >It's that changeling.
  6179. >You notice that his sail is shortened?
  6180. >Not shortened, but completely ripped off.
  6181. >There's a large scar replacing where his sail was.
  6182. >Cauterization?
  6183. >The changeling booms from his sunken seat.
  6184. >"That's a clever trick you pulled off, but me loosing control over one simple drone like you is nothing short of a minute setback."
  6185. >He gets up and roars at the changeling and several hundred beasts surrounding him roar back.
  6186. >"Look around you, you're beaten. I've won. There is nothing you can do to stop me now. What I was going to do was force you too eat her, only to release your mind mid chomp, but things never go according to plan. So I'll just watch you two get torn to shreds. Maybe that will be satisfying enough."
  6187. >You and him look around the room.
  6188. >Completely surrounded.
  6189. >Each beasts fangs eagerly reach out from their jowls.
  6190. >He transforms back to his changeling form and gets close to you.
  6191. >His face is still mangled.
  6192. >Wings are torn through.
  6193. "That was your plan? Rush the throne!"
  6194. >He gives a grunt from the pain.
  6195. >"If you say it like that it sounds almost stupid."
  6196. "That's because it is stupid."
  6197. >"It got us together didn't it? I still need you."
  6198. "You used me as a distraction so you can try and take control for yourself! You are just like any other monster."
  6199. >"Roxelana I need you!"
  6200. >You are set back by his sudden desperateness.
  6201. >His eyes show sadness at the thought...of displeasing you?
  6202. >So lost in your thought that you are again surprised by the changeling in the thrones outburst.
  6203. >"Are you two done?! Let's get this over with, I have a nation to ransack."
  6204. "Great. I get to die with a rouge bug. What a way to go."
  6205. >"Hopefully we won't die. You still have the dynamite?"
  6206. >The throne begins to light and Maverick closes his eyes.
  6207. "Yes."
  6208. >"If you do everything I say, I promise we will be walking out of here."
  6209. >You stare at the gazes of a hundred snarling beasts.
  6210. >Then at the warm reasuring smile of him.
  6211. "Live like a lion or die like cattle. Let's get out of here."
  6212. >Also dying in an explosion or escaping is ten times better than getting eaten.
  6213. >So win-win really.
  6214. >"Follow my lead."
  6215. >He dashes towards the throne again.
  6216. >Quickly you follow hot on his heels.
  6217. >Instantly every single monster in the room charges at you two.
  6218. >"Light it!"
  6219. >Taking a hoof, you light your pack on fire with the torch and toss it aside.
  6220. >Several of the beasts are distracted by it, but not enough take the bait.
  6221. >One tries to grapple you with its fangs, but misses.
  6222. >Jumping atop the head of one, you run over the backs of the beasts.
  6223. >The changeling transformed itself into a ferocious bugbear and is plowing himself a path directly to the throne.
  6224. >With claw and stinger he strikes down many of the monsters.
  6225. >It seems their underbelly isn't so strong as their upper skin.
  6226. >At the very fringe of the pool, he is halted though.
  6227. >It seems every beast not going after you is now either in front of him or trying to bring him down.
  6228. >Running over you try to buck a couple off, but there's too many.
  6229. >The great wall of beasts overtake his bugbear form and he changes into a centaur.
  6230. >Using his great horns he breaks through the wall, but he falls to the ground and they begin slashing at his back.
  6231. >A fang wraps itself around your two back hooves and pulls you to the floor.
  6232. >You try to kick the fangs off you, but their grip is too tight.
  6233. >He sees you fall and turns into a gargoyle.
  6234. >Flying over he rips out the fangs and throws you over his back.
  6235. >"Hang on."
  6236. >He jumps high knocking a few of the beasts away, and again dives for the throne.
  6237. >Mid air he changes into a heavy chimera, all three heads roaring their respected animals roar.
  6238. >All the beasts fly upward and try to tackle him, but it's no use.
  6239. >Charging through, he makes it to the throne.
  6240. >You however are knocked off.
  6241. >You land in the thick muck.
  6242. >It feels disgusting.
  6243. >Before you can get your bearings, a beast tackles you deep into the muck.
  6244. >You struggle for breath and gag as the stuff enters your lungs.
  6245. >Opening your eyes you swim up to the surface.
  6246. >You don't see where your friend or the one in the throne went.
  6247. >Actually the throne is gone!
  6248. >There's a bright orange light coming from the muck.
  6249. >However another light holds your attention.
  6250. >The flame from your pack.
  6251. >For a brief second it's in the jaws of a beast.
  6252. >Then it explodes.
  6254. ***
  6256. >Early morning.
  6257. >It will be a couple of hours before the sun rises.
  6258. >In a back alley between the walls of apartment complexes waits a small group of ponies.
  6259. >A squad.
  6260. >A coalition of military and police forces.
  6261. >They wait breathlessly for orders.
  6262. >Their mission.
  6263. >A raid.
  6264. >Just on the other side of that wall sits the Kelpie Court Apartments.
  6265. >Inside the apartments is one of the last remaining MID  in all of Equestria.
  6266. >It's not going to be easy.
  6267. >Six stories high.
  6268. >The actual safehouse is on the third-story.
  6269. >Scouts say the first two floors are a mix of civilians and informants.
  6270. >An unknown variable.
  6271. >Behind every door.
  6272. >Around every corner.
  6273. >There is a potential for conflict.
  6274. >To make matters even more difficult, an MID defector revealed the top two floors are filled with die-hard traditionalists.
  6275. >Royalists.
  6276. >Ponies stuck in their ways still thinking the former Princesses are infallible.
  6277. >When Canterlot fell, those few lesser-nobles and Royal Guardsman took refuge with the MID.
  6278. >There will be no surrender if the assault grinds into a full battle.
  6279. >You are Cpl. Elder.
  6280. >A unicorn with a eggshell white coat and a salmon mane.
  6281. >Despite what your name suggests, you aren't actually that old.
  6282. >The troops under your command are about half a decade older than you.
  6283. >There's a reason for that though.
  6284. >You're the only one who knows how to stand up to your Sergeant.
  6286. >Your Sergeant, is reckless.
  6287. >Literally.
  6288. >Her name is actually Reckless.
  6289. >And she definitely lives up to her name.
  6290. >Proud.
  6291. >Impudent.
  6292. >Arrogant.
  6293. >Always charging head first into danger, but not without a plan.
  6294. >It was chaos under her.
  6295. >It IS chaos under her.
  6296. >Manageable chaos.
  6297. >A chaos you quickly became familiar with.
  6298. >Serving under her during the Second Coastal War gave you insight into her understanding of things.
  6299. >Every objective given to her was always achieved with minimal casualties.
  6300. >No matter how strange or unusual an order she would give, you'd follow it.
  6301. >Even if fit would seem certain death you'd still follow it.
  6302. >Cause in the end she would always come through.
  6303. >Quick to discipline misconduct with a tongue of venom to back it up.
  6304. >But when the stress and fatigue got to somepony, she would console them and always give a listening ear to their problems.
  6305. >She is an enigma.
  6306. >Your superior.
  6307. >A leader.
  6308. >A leader with a strange accent you could never pin down.
  6309. >A leader who you will follow to the depths of Tartarus and back.
  6310. >A leader who you are idly waiting behind along with the rest of your squad.
  6311. >Just waiting for the signal to strike.
  6312. >Waiting for her to lead the charge yet again.
  6314. >A pegasus silently lands behind the line of ponies.
  6315. >Reporting to Sgt. Reckless, you see it's Sgt. Moody.
  6316. >Squad Leader for the pegasus detachment assaulting from the roof.
  6317. >An older pony, with a graying goatee and shaved mane with a southern Appaloosan drawl.
  6318. >Red warpaint spewed across his face.
  6319. >A welcomed veteran of the Second Coastal War.
  6320. >"Capin' sends his regards. Y'all set?"
  6321. >"Foley? Why Captain coming?"
  6322. >"Wants to see firsthoof how my squad will steamroll straight to the center faster than your ground team can."
  6323. >"That a challenge wingmare?"
  6324. >You see a sneer come across your Sargent's face.
  6325. >"Twenty bits say ground squad will be getting their first."
  6326. >She extends a hoof.
  6327. >Moody complies ensuring the bet.
  6328. >As they shake hooves, Moody takes his hoof and gives Reckless twenty bits.
  6329. >"Remember to leave some agents for the rest of us alright."
  6330. >As he turns to fly away, Reckless pockets the money.
  6331. >"See you on the inside wingmare."
  6332. >You watch him fly to an unusually large cloud cluster.
  6333. >Then disappears inside one of the clouds.
  6334. >A young private behind you mumbles to himself.
  6335. >"I can't believe I'm stuck on the ground.I wish I could be up in the clouds."
  6336. "Believe it private, unless you sprout wings. It's only six stories, you're not gonna miss much. Just shut up and do your job."
  6337. >"Quiet!"
  6338. >Reckless silences you both with a single glance then looks back to the sky.  
  6339. >From that single cloud Moody entered, a lighting bolt goes off.
  6340. >Go time.
  6342. >Moving forward, you break a lock on the gate.
  6343. >You all advance in a single file line through the courtyard.
  6344. >It's quaint.
  6345. >There's a small rose garden.
  6346. >A small little pond with fish and a fountain.
  6347. >Getting to the wall of the building, you all line up beside it out of sight from any windows.
  6348. >Around the corner should be a doorway left unlocked from a bribed janitor.
  6349. >Sgt. Reckless peaks her head around, but quickly pulls back.
  6350. >She gives a quick signal.
  6351. >One.
  6352. >There's a pony sitting outside the door.
  6353. >Smoker.
  6354. >Lucky enough though he facing the other direction.
  6355. >"Silence."
  6356. >She points a hoof at a unicorn in the back.
  6357. >One of the police force.
  6358. >"No harm."
  6359. >He moves to the front and charges a spell.
  6360. >Jumping from around the corner he unleashes a purple bolt of magic.
  6361. >The stallion drops to the ground.
  6362. >The only thing he's going to feel is a mild headache come a couple hours.
  6363. >Passing by the snoozing stallion, you quickly crush his still lit cigarette.
  6364. >Before entering the building, you quickly look up.
  6365. >You see about a dozen pegasus silhouettes disappear onto the rooftop.
  6366. >Hopefully the janitor also remembered to unlock the roof door as well.  
  6367. >Entering through the maintenance door, your group finds themselves in a break room.
  6368. >A coffee maker and refrigerator sit alone alongside a table and a couple fold out chairs.
  6369. >Already Sgt. Reckless is pressed against the door listening if anypony was coming.
  6370. >She motions her hoof for you all to line either behind her or opposite of the door.
  6371. >"Let's move."
  6373. >Entering into the main hallway, all is quiet.
  6374. >There are six doors on either side of the hallway.
  6375. >At each end is a door for an emergency exit and stairs leading upward.
  6376. >Just to the right is the main entrance.
  6377. >Sgt. Reckless motions you all to reline against he wall.
  6378. >She motions Hardling, the unicorn wishing he was born a pegasus, to position with a little whistle.
  6379. >"Wssst."
  6380. >"You spring a leak Sarge?"
  6381. "The numbers knucklehead!"
  6382. >"Right."
  6383. >He pulls out a piece of paper from his pocket.
  6384. >"13, 14, 22, and...um-"
  6385. >"Harper..."
  6386. >Sargent is getting that impatient tone.
  6387. >"17. Sorry. Hornwriting is pretty bad."
  6388. >As you all press against the wall, the unicorn in your group begins his work.
  6389. >Lighting up his horn, he starts quietly working on unlocking the doors leading into the suspected tenants rooms.
  6390. >"Remember, no harm. Detain for holding until mission done."
  6391. >With a simultaneous click from the mentioned doors, you all separate into pairs and begin the detainment.
  6392. >The room you enter is small.
  6393. >There's a small kitchen in the corner with an oven and stovetop combo.
  6394. >A window sits with its curtains fallen, but a sliver of moonlight slips through.
  6395. >In the center of the room is a coffee table with a couch beside it.
  6396. >Pvt. Birch Grower, a mare earth pony, points to a doorway with beads draping down where a door should be.
  6397. >Looking through the beads, you see an earth pony sleeping on a mattress on the ground.
  6398. >Two empty bottles of liquor, one standing the other on its side, is beside where his head is resting.
  6399. >A thin looking blanket covers a single hoof.
  6400. >"Must'a kicked it off while tossin and turnin."
  6401. "Let's get this done."
  6402. >Walking through the beads, their rattling doesn't seem to bother the sleeping pony.
  6403. >You each move to opposite sides of his mattress and pull out your supplies.
  6404. >Rope and duck tape.
  6405. >Getting into position, you silently motion your hoof to take him on three.
  6406. >She gives a nod and cuts a decently sized piece of tape.
  6407. >One.
  6408. >Two.
  6409. >Three.
  6410. >She wraps the duck tape around his mouth while you try to tie his hooves together.
  6411. >He wakes up instantly feeling the tape wrap around his face and begins to flail.
  6412. >He tries to scream, but the tape does its job and it comes out muffled.
  6413. >Too low for anypony to hear him.
  6414. >As he scrambles, she holds his hooves together and you quickly tie them.
  6415. >With a sigh of relief, you get the knot into place.
  6416. >The pony on the ground gives out muffled screams realizing what just happened.
  6417. "That should hold him. Good job."
  6418. >"Job ain't over yet Corporal."
  6419. "Right."
  6420. >You both exit his room and see the others are already waiting for you.
  6421. >Sgt. Reckless is already at the stairs leading to the next floor.
  6422. >"Branch Butcher."
  6423. >The earth pony you were with steps forward.
  6424. >Reckless deemed her name, along with many under her command, wasn't tough sounding enough.
  6425. >"Yes Ma'am."
  6426. >"Stay. Move all detained into one room and guard with your life. Keep a keen eye, make sure there no funny business."
  6427. >"On it."
  6428. >"If the neighbors get curious, send them away saying it official state business. If they continue to press matters. Have them join their fellow tenants. Everyone else, onward and upward."
  6430. >A single hanging bulb illuminates the narrow stairwell.
  6431. >You are all lined up before the door leading to the second floor minus Pvt. Birch.
  6432. >Reckless at the head, you right behind her, Pvt. Harper and the two police officers pulling the rear.  
  6433. >"Harper."
  6434. >He's ready this time.
  6435. >"All the doors on the left half of the hallway plus one on the right at the very end."
  6436. >Reckless gives out a sigh.
  6437. >No combined take down this time.
  6438. >Gotta clear one by one.
  6439. >"Corporal, keep watch. Me and Harper will deal with first door."
  6440. >Harper unlocks it with ease and the two disappear inside.
  6441. >You watch the hallway while the two police stay behind you.
  6442. >One of them speaks up in a whispered tone.
  6443. >"Hey soldier."
  6444. "Corporal."
  6445. >"Right sorry."
  6446. >You turn to look at him.
  6447. >He's a young unicorn.
  6448. >Clean shaven face with a dumb smile plastered across it.
  6449. >Sparkly blue eyes with a low cut mane.
  6450. >Just short enough so his officers cap can fit snugly on his head.
  6451. >Cutie mark is a courthouse with a shield next to it.
  6452. >Defender of justice?
  6453. >I guess he found his calling.
  6454. >"I just wanted to say it's an honor being chosen to be a part of this team sir."
  6455. "It's not over yet. Keep your guard up."
  6456. >The other unicorn, the one who incapacitated the pony from outside, gives out a scoffy exhale.
  6457. >"Flank-kisser."
  6458. >Before you can reprimand him, you hear a door open and an unfamiliar voice sounds out.
  6460. >"Hello?"
  6461. >Looking back into the hallway, you see a colt standing alone.
  6462. >The door on the left side of the apartment is cracked open.
  6463. >He's big.
  6464. >Maybe in a year he'll become a stallion.
  6465. >Light blue with a golden mane.
  6466. >Has a cutie mark of a telescope.
  6467. >That could mean a variety of talents.
  6468. >Astronomy.
  6469. >Navigation.
  6470. >Lookout.
  6471. >Your heart stops.
  6472. >Lookout.
  6473. >It sickens you to think that this young pony could be a pawn for the agency.
  6474. >Calmly you step out into the hallway and greet him.
  6475. "Hello young one. My name is Cpl. Elder. These are officers Equity and Cloudy."
  6476. >The two unicorns follow in behind you.
  6477. >Equity gives a smile at the young pony.
  6478. >"Don't be afraid, just doing a little inspection is all."
  6479. >The colt is very much afraid.
  6480. >You see him take a step backwards.
  6481. >Don't do it colt.
  6482. >Just go back inside.
  6483. >Cloudy then moves forward.
  6484. >"Why don't you go back inside. Get some sleep. We won't cause you any trouble."
  6485. >His tone is sincere, maybe even caring, but you can feel he is building up another stun bolt in his horn.
  6486. "Just go back inside son, we won't be long."
  6487. >As you finish speaking, Reckless and Harper come out of their room.
  6488. >She doesn't even acknowledge your three's existence.
  6489. >Her attention shifts directly to the lone pony at the other end.
  6490. >"HEY!"
  6491. >The colt bolts to the opposite stairwell, but Officer Hazy is quick with his horn.
  6492. >A burst of purple explodes from his horn and hits the young pony in his flank just as he was getting through the door.
  6493. >You hear tumbling.
  6494. >Reckless runs to the stairwell with you hot on her hooves.
  6495. >Passing through the door, you see what has that thumping.
  6496. >The magical bolt sent him reeling down the stairs.
  6497. >He lays dead on the intermediary step between floors.
  6498. >His neck turned forcing his head sideways.
  6499. >A voice comes from overhead.
  6500. >It's older sounding with a stern commanding tone.
  6501. >"What is all this noise? We told you all you can bring your families if they behaved! Not to play games in the stairwell! By Celestia if I slip on another toy we will throw you out! I don't care about the buffer any-"
  6502. >As he rounds the corner of the stairs, he stops at your sight dropping his cup of coffee or tea in surprise.
  6503. >"-more."
  6504. >The three of you stare deadpan at each other.
  6505. >Then he screams at the top of his lungs.
  6506. >"ALARM!"
  6508. >He scrambles back up the stairs repeating his outburst.
  6509. >Reckless gives chase immediately.
  6510. >You turn back to Cpl. Harper and the two police officers.
  6511. "Lockdown!"
  6512. >Harper gives a nod and lights his horn.
  6513. >All the doors on the floor simultaneously glow and the knobs lock themselves into place.  
  6514. "Hold here Harper make sure nopony leaves their room. You two move your flanks!"
  6515. >"What's happening?"
  6516. "No point in hiding now, we woke the neighbors."
  6517. >A pounding starts coming from a few doors lock.
  6518. "And here they come. Harper you good."
  6519. >He has a strained look on his face as his horn's colorful aura emits his magic.
  6520. >"Peachy. Go find Reckless!"
  6521. >With the second story secure, you run for the stairwell to try and catch up with your Sergeant.
  6522. >There's no time to check on Birch.
  6523. >She should be fine.
  6524. >First floor is already secure.
  6525. >Getting to the stairs, the fire alarm goes off.
  6526. >The sprinklers above you all spring to life and lets out a shower of turbid water.
  6527. >"Fire?"
  6528. >"Should we evacuate Corporal?"
  6529. "No, we keep moving. Up the stairs go!"
  6530. >Making your way up the stairs, you come to a flat area just before entering the door separating you from the actual outpost.
  6531. >Just outside the door leading in, there's a reception desk.
  6532. >In front of the reception desk, Reckless and the other pony are wrestling on the ground.
  6533. >She has his hoofs pinned down, but he gives her a quick headbutt.
  6534. >As she looses her grip, he escapes her grasp and tries to run through the glass door.
  6535. >You try to tackle him down, but miss landing behind the reception desk.
  6536. >As he bursts through the door, an explosion blows him back out.
  6537. >He slams his back against the metal guard rail and falls face down lifeless.
  6538. >They booby-trapped the door.
  6539. >Through the smoke a voice calls from inside.
  6540. >"Ha! How do you like that traitorous scum!? Long Live Celestia and Luna! Hail to Princess Cadence!"
  6541. >You lighten your horn and cast a spell of sight on your eyes to see through the smoke.
  6542. >Instead of a hallway, the third floor is a big open room area with dozens of cubicles.
  6543. >There are two enclosed areas separated from the main floor.
  6544. >Must be private offices or storage.
  6545. >In front of the door, maybe four yards away, there's an overturned table with two ponies behind it.
  6546. >Unicorns.
  6547. >Because of the blast, a desk was also overturned directly to the right.
  6548. >Perfect cover.
  6549. >Need to move fast before the smoke clears.
  6550. >Getting to Reckless, she's a little wide-eyed from the blast.
  6551. "You alright Sergeant?"
  6552. >"Fine, just need to catch breathe."
  6553. "No problem, rest here for a sec."
  6554. >Going over to the officers, they also look a little shook up.
  6555. "There's a table with two ponies behind it directly through that doorway. I'm going to rush in and draw their fire, once my flank is out of your sights, light that table up."
  6556. >They give a nod and you line up beside the doorway.
  6558. >The voice from inside calls again.
  6559. >"Is that it? Is that all you got?"
  6560. >At the end of his sentence you burst through the cloud and dive behind the table.
  6561. >"There!"
  6562. >The two unicorns unleash a torrent of lightly colored beams of magic.
  6563. >One of them bursts through the table just inches from your flank.
  6564. >It leaves a large burning hole where it shot through.
  6565. >Combustion magic.
  6566. >As they unload all their magic in your direction, the two officers outside begin their attack.
  6567. >You hear a scream of pain come from the overturned table.
  6568. >Then nothing.
  6569. >The only sound is the ringing fire alarm bell.
  6570. >The two officers walk through the doorway and give you a hoof up.
  6571. >Officer Equity sees the bell and zaps it, silencing it for good.
  6572. >Looking behind the desk, the two unicorns are lying on the ground.
  6573. >There's a purple mark on each of them.
  6574. >One has a mark on his neck, while the other has one on his chest.
  6575. >"They're still alive."
  6576. >Officer Cloudy steps forward.
  6577. >"Unlike the pony outside, these two are going to feel a lot more than just a mild headache."
  6578. "Good work. Now they can face trial. How's the Sergeant?"
  6579. >"Just fine."
  6580. >There's a small bruise under her right eye.
  6581. >"Nice work Corporal, now let's finish this."
  6582. >Moving past the overturned table, the rest of the room is completely deserted.
  6583. >"Where is everypony?"
  6584. >Every single desk is unoccupied.
  6585. >There a papers spewed about on every worksite.
  6586. >Half drunken coffee mugs litter each table.
  6587. >"Where could they have gone? This place couldn't have been run by just the three."
  6588. >Suddenly a bang comes from one of the unexplored rooms.
  6589. >Sounds like somepony dropped something.
  6590. >The four of you trot to the door.
  6591. >Officer Equity reaches a hoof out to open it, but your Sergeant slaps his hoof away.
  6592. >"What if it's wired?"
  6593. >You all step back and Cloudy slowly cracks it open using his magic.
  6594. >It's dark inside.
  6595. >The only thing you can see is a single pony with his back to you all.
  6596. >In front of him is a small fire coming from his trashcan.
  6597. >He carefully takes a mouthful of paper and tosses it in the burning can below him.
  6598. >He's mumbling to himself in a frightened manner, oblivious to the world and his surroundings.
  6599. >With every bite of paper, he trembles with fear more and more.
  6600. "We can take care of him Sergeant, can you take Equity and see what's in the other room."
  6601. >She obliges your request and takes Officer Equity with her.
  6602. >You shake your head feeling pity for the stallion.
  6603. "Come on Officer, let's bring him down easy. I don't want him flipping out on us. Last time our team ran into a broken die-hard monarchist, he went berserk and jumped from the fourth story window we were in."
  6604. >"That's rough Corporal."
  6605. "They're just sore looser who can't face reality that they've lost."
  6606. >Cloudy gives a dejected sigh.
  6607. >"Let's take care of this and find out where everypony else went."
  6608. "Right."
  6609. >As you and Cloudy enter the room, the door swings shut and locks itself.
  6611. >The pony turns around and his flame goes out.
  6612. >Cloudy disappears in the darkness and you feel left alone.
  6613. >You illuminate your horn making a small circle of light surrounding yourself.
  6614. "Cloudy?"
  6615. >No response.
  6616. "Cloudy where'd you go?"
  6617. >You unsheathe your short sword and listen in the darkness for movement.
  6618. >There's a thump just outside your circle of light, but it's too dark to see.
  6619. >You try to find the walls of the room, but nothing comes to view as you slowly back away.
  6620. >Turning around the doorway is gone.
  6621. >This isn't good.
  6622. >Cloudy and you must've waked into a spell-trap.
  6623. >You're not well versed in mind manipulation spells.
  6624. >Most of your training was about physical manipulation or controlling bursts of magic into projectiles.
  6625. >There's another thump in front of you.
  6626. >It sounded really close.
  6627. >Nothing to be afraid of.
  6628. >Just the spell taking its effect.
  6629. >A bump in the night to try and scare you.
  6630. >As you push forward, a gush of cold wind engulfs you and the light from your horn goes out.
  6631. >Then you feel a barrage of pain sweep through your entire body.
  6632. >It feels as if a hundred knives just pierced you all at once.
  6633. >You crumple to the ground in shock from the pain.
  6634. >It's agonizing.
  6635. >A horrible sensation of something cold slowly diving deeper and deeper into your body.
  6636. >Suddenly though, everything stops.
  6637. >You open your eyes to a bright room.
  6638. >There's filling cabinets on either side with a desk at the end of the hall.
  6639. >Those details don't concern you however.
  6640. >The thing that catches your attention more than the surrounding setting is the three ponies that are before you.
  6641. >Officer Cloudy is biting down on the horn of a unicorn.
  6642. >He uses his free hooves to hold him down and give punch after punch to the base of the unicorns horn in hopes of breaking it off.
  6643. >Every slip Cloudy's jaw gives on that horn, you feel the spell return trying to bring you back into that void.
  6644. >You try to regain yourself and are able to get to your hooves and take up your short sword.
  6645. >"Get him off! Get him off!"
  6646. >The unicorn pleas to his comrade in between blows don't go unheard as the pegasus takes a wooden chair and slams it into Cloudy's back.
  6647. >Cloudy reels from the blow and collapses to the ground as the chair breaks into three large pieces and several smaller ones.
  6648. >The unicorn screeches in pain and cries as a slew of orange magic bolts pop from his horn.
  6649. >Or what's left of it anyway.
  6650. >For the force of the chair hitting Cloudy caused his jaw to slam down on the unicorns horn breaking it off.
  6651. >As the unicorn cries on the floor over his broken horn, you see the pegasus turn his attention to you.
  6652. >Then suddenly, even with the horn damaged, the magical aura still spouting from his open wound still has an effect on the trap and  you find yourself back in the void.
  6653. >As suddenly as you were in it, you are back in the real world.
  6654. >Even though the magic trap is still activated, it's uncontrolled.
  6655. >So you are quickly transported back and forth between the real world and the void.
  6656. >It's almost like watching the world through a slide show.
  6657. >And with every slide you see in the real world, the pegasus takes a step closer to you.
  6659. >You take up your short sword and swing wildly in an attempt to make the pegasus wane his advance.
  6660. >Through the lens of two worlds, you see your hoof switch between keeping your foe at bay,
  6661. >To it swinging wildly at nothing in an empty dark room.
  6662. >You need to escape the confines of this trap.
  6663. >As long as that unicorn's magic keeps sporadically powering it, you'll be stuck like this forever.
  6664. >Or at least until this pegasus finishes you off.
  6665. >Steadying yourself, you slow the movement of your hoof til you have the tip of the blade pointing directly at the pegasus.
  6666. >He's staring at you with patient eyes, waiting for an opening.
  6667. >In his hooves he holds the armrest from the broken chair.
  6668. >It's ornate arm ends in the shape of a chimera's paw.
  6669. >Painted gold with intricate little markings making the claws more defined.
  6670. >He swings it back and forth below him just waiting to see what you'll do.
  6671. >The tips of the claws scrap the ground making an unsettling scraping sound.
  6672. >They're real.
  6673. >Officer Cloudy lays still on the ground.
  6674. >You think you see the tip of the unicorns horn peak out from his mouth.
  6675. >If you weren't seeing darkness every other moment, you might be able to concentrate and see it more clearly.
  6676. >The unicorn has now huddled himself against the wall lying on his side.
  6677. >One hoof over his broken horn trying to hold in a flowing stream of blood.
  6678. >The other hoof he bits down hard on in hopes to stifle his screams and lessen the pain.
  6679. >With one lucky toss, you can pin him to the wall.
  6680. >But if you do that, you'll be defenseless.
  6681. >There's even the option the pegasus will deflect the sword out of the air and you'll be defenseless and still have the handicap.
  6682. >Switching to the darkness, it stay's just a little longer than last time.
  6683. >Is he beginning to control his magic even without his horn?
  6684. >You don't want to risk it.
  6685. >If you get trapped again, there's no way you'll be walking out of this alive.
  6686. >There's no time to loose.
  6687. >Only thing to do is to force your way through him.
  6688. >Taking up your sword, you charge at the pegasus.
  6689. >Between the sporadic intervals of your vision, you see he has a surprised look on his face.
  6690. >You caught him off guard.
  6691. >Swinging horizontally, you attempt to slice off his head.
  6692. >Using his wings, he daintily flies upwards and you barely miss his tail.
  6693. >With gravity on his side, he lets himself fall and tries to hammer down the wooden armchair onto you.
  6694. >Diving forward you land beside Cloudy.
  6695. >You hear the claw smash into the ground just behind you.
  6696. >Taking your rear hooves, you buck him into the door.
  6697. >He slams into it hard and you think you see his right wing get crushed on impact.
  6698. >You notice the door is glowing the same color as the unicorns magic.
  6699. >Then a pounding comes from it.
  6700. >"Corporal! Corporal! We're trying to get inside, but the door is jammed. Hang on!"
  6701. >It's Reckless!
  6702. >If you can stop the unicorn, you can unlock the door and get some relief.
  6703. >Checking on Cloudy, you now confirm that it is indeed the tip of the unicorns horn that's in his mouth.
  6704. >Putting a hoof under his muzzle, you give a sigh of relief.
  6705. >Still breathing.
  6706. >You take the horn and a couple chipped teeth from his mouth and leave him be.
  6707. >Taking your sword, you turn to finish off the unicorn.
  6708. >Before you can though a scream interrupts you.
  6709. >It's the pegasus.
  6710. >Charging straight at you.
  6711. >He swings wildly.
  6712. >His blunted armrest smashing into the filing cabinets and wall leaving dents and holes in the drywall.
  6713. >You try to dodge them as best you can, but he is too fast.
  6714. >One after another he slams the paw into your chest and back.
  6715. >You can feel the claws dig into your skin.
  6716. >They may be real, but they're not sharp.
  6717. >However the force from getting hit with an armrest is enough to knock the wind out.
  6718. >You keel over loosing your breath and he stands over you ready to give the final blow.
  6719. >Gasping for air you look up.
  6720. >He has the most arrogant smile as he looks down upon you.
  6721. >For the moment, you would prefer to just be in the dark space.
  6722. >Taking the armrest, he slowly raises it above his head for one final blow.
  6724. >As you wait for your demise, you are given a reprieve.
  6725. >Officer Cloudy jumps in front of you just in the nick of time.
  6726. >The claw digs into his shoulder and he gives out a yell.
  6727. >With the pain from the injury and adrenaline flowing through his veins, he goes into a fury and tackles the pegasus.
  6728. >The armrest falls to the ground in front of you while Cloudy smashes the pegasus into a filing cabinet.
  6729. >In response, the pegasus counters by flinging him into the wall.
  6730. >As they brawl it out, you slip into that other place again.
  6731. >This time however everything is distorted.
  6732. >Instead of a complete black room, there are random streaks of colors with cracks seemingly standing in the world.
  6733. >The trap is falling apart.
  6734. >Getting to the real world, the sporadic visions finally ceased.
  6735. >However the room is still sealed.
  6736. >Taking up the armrest you make your way to the unicorn.
  6737. >He's sitting upright against the wall now.
  6738. >Hooves limp at his sides.
  6739. >Eyes half-lidded.
  6740. >Magical sparks sporadically pop from his broken horn while the blood flows downward over his face and onto his chest.
  6741. >He lets out an agonizing drawn-out groan.
  6742. >You almost feel sorry for him.
  6743. >No.
  6744. >You DO feel sorry for him.
  6745. >Being a unicorn yourself, you can't imagine what type of pain he's going through.
  6746. >Not to mention loosing the appendage that makes you unique.
  6747. >Dropping the club, you carefully use the claws to cut off some of his clothing to make a rag.
  6748. >Taking it, you press it down on the open wound to try and stop the bleeding.
  6749. >He doesn't say anything, but as he opens his eyes wider, they have a look of gratitude on them.
  6750. >You can feel the magical aura in the room retract as you press harder onto the base of his horn.
  6751. >As the seal breaks, so too does the door.
  6752. >With Sgt. Reckless along with Sgt. Moody bursting through it.
  6754. >"On the ground now!"
  6755. >The pegasus stops hitting Cloudy and shoves him aside ignoring Sgt. Moody's order.
  6756. >Trying to make a run for it, he topples more filing cabinets but to no avail.
  6757. >Being in a room with only one exit, he's cornered and is easily apprehended.
  6758. >Sgt. Reckless holds him down with his face to the floor while he screams vulgar obscenities at everypony in the room.
  6759. >Most of those words were directed to the unicorn you were tending too.
  6760. >Getting tired of his profanity, your Sergeant gags his mouth with his neckerchief and sits him up against the wall.
  6761. >"Stay."
  6762. >"Officer Equity, you can come in now. Everything's all clear."
  6763. >At Sgt. Moody's words, Equity walks through the door with a squeamish look on his face.
  6764. >"Do you know any healing spells?"
  6765. >"I'm afraid not Sir. Medical spells always eluded my skill set."
  6766. >Sgt. Moody gives a scoff.
  6767. >"Things can never be simple. Go and get a couple of my stallions, they will easily help you transport your police friend to a hospital."
  6768. >"I'll live."
  6769. >Cloudy rises to his hooves bracing himself against a desk.
  6770. "Cloudy take a breather, you've done enough today."
  6771. >He slumps into the chair next to the desk with a relieving sigh.
  6772. >"Will do."
  6773. >While Sgt. Moody goes to check on some leftover documents not yet burned, Sgt. Reckless approaches you.
  6774. >"Who your coltfriend? Kind of old for you don't you think?"
  6775. "He's the unicorn that tried to kill me and Cloudy."
  6776. >"He dead?"
  6777. "No. We're going to need another medical transport though."
  6778. >"He can't walk? What, too weak to walk off a little brawl?"
  6779. "Ma'am he's in excruciating pain. I know he's one of them, but he's not going to cause us any trouble in this state."
  6780. >"You're responsibility. Anything happens-"
  6781. "Yeah, yeah it's on me."
  6782. >She gives a chuckle at your interruption.
  6783. >"Be careful 𝘦𝘰𝘭𝘪𝘯-𝘪. You getting more and more like me every passing day."
  6784. >Eolin-i.
  6785. >You never understood what she meant whenever she called you that.
  6786. >You'd just assumed it was her way of pronouncing Elder, but the word difference is too great.
  6787. >Come to think of it, she'd never addressed you as Elder.
  6788. >Usually just Corporal sufficed when on missions.
  6789. >You're going to have to ask her about it one day what it means.
  6790. >A voice speaks up.
  6791. >It's weary and aged, but still has some vigor in it.
  6792. >"I'm not going to try anything."
  6793. >You look down and a weary smile greets you through a bloodied face.
  6794. >"Promise."
  6795. >Sgt. Reckless rolls her eyes and goes to help Moody searching the unscathed documents.
  6796. >"Thank you."
  6797. "For what?"
  6798. >"Not killing me."
  6799. "We are here to bring you all to justice, not be your judges. After you recover, the ponies will decide your fate."
  6800. >"Let them judge, we already know what fate awaits us. We've seen the camps outside of Canterlot."
  6801. "You're only going to get what you deserve. Nothing more, nothing less. Depending on your crimes you can either be executed, an allotted time in the dungeons of the Crystal Empire, or maybe just community service."
  6802. >"I'm just glad before destiny takes me away, I can share with you one last bit of information."
  6803. >You eye him suspiciously.
  6804. >"Out in the badlands, there's a hidden lab only accessible by air. In this remote outremer, we stumbled upon a most magnificent discovery. A hidden changeling hive."
  6805. >You gasp at his remark.
  6806. "Impossible! The last hives were hunted down and destroyed by Field-Marshall Anonymous!"
  6807. >The unicorn laughs at your ignorance.
  6808. >"This was no ordinary hive, in the cocoons there were horrifying monstrosities. Beasts as big as Timberwolves. Thank Celestia it was dormant."
  6809. "The public should've known about this."
  6810. >"The only thing that would come up from revealing this news to the public would be a panic."
  6811. "And for good reason too! Have you forgotten what those things have done to our lands and citizens? What would you ponies think would happen if this dormant hive were to awaken?!"
  6812. >"We did not forget! How could we? It was this reason why we kept it under wraps. We set out a special team of scientists to undertake the responsibility of finding out what makes these creatures tick. A controlled environment for research. With success maybe even awaken and control these dormant creatures to use to our benefit in case another 'conflict' should arise."
  6813. "And arise one did. You ponies make me sick!"
  6814. >"Which is why I am gifting you this gem of information. The work our researchers did proved fruitless in their endeavors. It even costed the lives of two of them. Their bodies remain at the site. None of them would give any reason as to why they left so sudden or why their comrades bodies stayed behind. Time and time again we would bring it up, but no matter how many times we pressed the matter onto them, they would remain stone faced in their determination to not give us any more information. I want you to go find that hive and give me some sort of solace as to what really happened."
  6815. "How can I even trust you?"
  6816. >"I am Pioneer Sunrise, the pony in charge of this outpost. If you don't trust my words you don't have to. You can trust the records."
  6817. >He shakily raises his hoof and points to the desk.
  6818. >There's a small messy pile beside it half singed from the fire.
  6819. >"Those documents show the location where the lab is. He wasn't able to burn all of them."
  6820. "You're coming too then."
  6821. >"I'm in no position to travel, besides I know somepony who actually has been there."
  6822. >He points to the pegasus tied against the wall.
  6823. >"I've only received the reports. Star Kicker was actually on the team I sent into the Badlands."
  6824. >Hearing his name, the tied up pegasus looks towards you two.
  6825. >"Take him along, if you get lost. He will know the way, he'll just need a bit of 'persuasion'."
  6826. >He gives a wheezy chuckle at the end of his sentence.
  6827. >Burning hatred is in Star Kicker's eyes as he gives out muffled yells at the unicorn.
  6828. >"Should've told me the truth punk. Now 𝘺𝘰𝘶'𝘳𝘦 going to get what you truly deserve. Show them the horrors I've only witnessed through those pictures you erased with flames."
  6829. >Star Kicker begins struggling in vain to escape his binds, but he only manages to fall over to his side.
  6830. >As you rise to go tell your Sergeant, the unicorn grabs you.
  6831. >"Please. Remember me. I don't ask for any dampening of my punishment, but please tell me what happened to my two missing agents. For what it's worth they were good ponies. Unlike headquarters, I treated everypony under my command as if they were my own sons. All I want to know is the truth. Then I can be at peace."
  6832. >He has the most mournful look on his face.
  6833. >You kneel back down and take his hoof.
  6834. "I can't give you a promise old timer, but I sure as heck will try."
  6835. >"Thank you soldier. May Celestia bless you in your efforts."
  6836. >Now it's your time to give a scoff.
  6837. >He really is old fashioned.
  6838. "Celestia's busy. This is on us."
  6840. >You leave him there and he lays back down.
  6841. >Closing his eyes, he begins to sleep awaiting for aid and transport to take him away.
  6842. >Getting to the desk, the Sgt. Moody is ecstatic looking through the different documents while Sgt. Reckless idly flips through some other papers.
  6843. "Hey Sarge, what you got there?"
  6844. >"There's an endless fountain of information here. Take a look."
  6845. >He takes a couple papers and shoves them in front of you.
  6846. >"Saddle Arabian Extremists and Nationalists. Members to the Neo-Equality Cult. Changeling Spies. Diamond Dog Sympathizers. Corrupt Nobel's and Bussinessponies of Canterlot. The lists go on and on."
  6847. >On each page there's either a mugshot of a pony or a picture of them in public no doubtfully taken without consent.
  6848. >Beside their profile is a picture of their cutie-mark if they have one.
  6849. >Next to the picture is the pony's name, last known location, and a description of their daily routine along with known close acquaintances and friends.
  6850. "They sure are thorough, I'll give them that."
  6851. >"Look at this Corporal! They have a spy in the Griffon Court!"
  6852. >He begins shaking the page he's reading excitedly.
  6853. >"This is unbelievable, the Illumihawks are real!"
  6854. >"It's not what you think."
  6855. >Pioneer Sunrise's tired voice chimes in.
  6856. >"They're just a couple of old rich griffon families who, in the event of a catastrophe, will bail out the nation if it were to fall into financial chaos. They don't run the government, they don't create propaganda to make their citizens bit hoarders, and they definitely don't control all the wealth in the world. Hardly a threat to Equestria."
  6857. >Moody's face drops in disappointment.
  6858. >"Way to ruin a good conspiracy theory."
  6859. "Well in any case,"
  6860. >You reach down and grab at the pile Pioneer pointed too.
  6861. "I think I found our next mission."
  6863. >You quickly regale the two Sergeants of the new information you acquired.
  6864. >Reckless looked overjoyed at the idea.
  6865. >Moody on the other hoof seemed more reserved, almost uneasy at the thought.
  6866. >"I don't know 'bout this. It would be better if the Capt. were here."
  6867. >"Here for what Moody?"
  6868. >A copper colored pegasus with a silver helmet walks into the room.
  6869. >"Atteen-Tion!"
  6870. >Everypony in the room, aside from the two captured agents, stands at attention.
  6871. >"As you were."
  6872. >Everypony returns to their normal place and Foley approaches you.
  6873. >"Here I am coming to congratulate the ground team on such a magnificent job, and I overhear you all talking about going out on a raid already! What's this all about?"
  6874. "Sir, I would like to have the honor to introduce you to Agent Pioneer. Head of this outpost. I believe he can best explain the situation."
  6875. >With help from the documents, Pioneer quickly explained the situation to your Captain in the same format and fashion he did with you.
  6876. >Foley shakes his head and gives a whistle.
  6877. >Officer Equity walks in with two pegasus carrying a stretcher.
  6878. >The two pegasus are wearing the same silver armor as their Captain.
  6879. >"Take good care of him. Get the best surgeon in town. Wake him up if you have to. This pony is important."
  6880. >The two give a nod of understanding and exit the room with haste.
  6881. >As they exit, Captain Foley gives a sigh and turns to face you all.
  6882. "So what do you think? Can your pegasus squadron handle another incursion?"
  6883. >He has a vexed expression on his face.
  6884. >"To go into lands so feral and savage will be too great of a risk I am willing to take. Banditry runs wild and there are still reports of Diamond Dog Raiders aloof."
  6885. "Sir, the payout is worth the risk! This hive can bring mayhem to Equestria. If we can stop it now while they are still inactive, that will be one less threat to worry about."
  6886. >"We are spread too thin as of right now. Even with all the volunteer recruits, civil disobedience is at an all time high. The ponies are demanding blood for what the MID put them through. Not only that, many of the 'ethnic' residents; the Arabs, Griffons, and even a few dogs and Zebras. All who stayed loyal to their citizenship of Equestria are being heavily persecuted by many radical mobs who rally a cry of hate to anything and all foreign. If it weren't for the garrisons in the bigger cities, riots would probably ensue. I say we will have to wait to consolidate our forces after things have calmed down."
  6887. "A large force would attract such belligerents, a small taskforce would be perfect for such a mission."
  6888. >"And who would be part of such taskforce? Unlike your ground assault, our raid from the roof didn't go so perfectly."
  6889. >He stamps his hoof at the end of his sentence.
  6890. >"An ambush. They somehow knew we were coming! They collected the majority of their agents to choke points. Almost all of my squad members were severely wounded, and the ones unscathed will have to hold down this building and help process all the new prisoners."
  6891. "That explains the nearly empty third floor."
  6892. >He gives out a sigh.
  6893. >"We just don't have the horsepower at this time. That is-"
  6894. >He gives a little sneer.
  6895. >"unless you all would like to volunteer."
  6897. >This is his favorite little quirk.
  6898. >Asking for volunteers.
  6899. >With Reckless's unending desire for action made filling those vacancies pretty easy.
  6900. >And Foley knew it.
  6901. >Over half the objectives we were assigned during the war were purely voluntary thanks to your Sergeant.
  6902. >And this time won't be any different.
  6903. >"My team can do it Captain!"
  6904. >You swear you see stars in her eyes every time she does this.
  6905. >Cpt. Foley smiles.
  6906. >Even if the odds seem bad, he knows he doesn't have to worry.
  6907. >"Sir."
  6908. >Moody steps forward.
  6909. >"I wish to volunteer also."
  6910. >"I'm surprised Sergeant, usually you like to lead not follow."
  6911. >"They need a pegasus to get atop that rock, you are needed here and I'm the strongest flier in the squad who can carry another pony."
  6912. >Reckless steps beside Moody and gives him a jab.
  6913. >"Don't think that just cause you a Sergeant I go easy on you."
  6914. >"That's exactly what I expect from a reckless hardflank such as yourself."
  6915. >Cloudy jumps from his chair filled with spirit.
  6916. >"I can walk, I can fight!"
  6917. >Equity steps forward too.
  6918. >"I volunteer also."
  6919. >"I admire your spirit Officer's, but I'm afraid the Badlands are out of your jurisdiction. Also we need pegasi not unicorns."
  6920. "Many hooves make the load light. We can still use the magic support. Worse comes to worse we can use them as porters."
  6921. >With a shrug Foley begins to take his leave.
  6922. >"Whatever you say, just make sure you all make it back in one piece."
  6923. >He stops short of the door.
  6924. >"I'm going to make a report about this little crusade you all are going on. You have two weeks to find out whatever the buck happened to the 'sons' of Pioneer. After that bodies or no bodies, I want you all to double time it back to Dodge."
  6925. >He begins to exit, but is stopped by Equity.
  6926. >"Is that it Sir? You're just going to leave us to our own devices? What are we to do now?"
  6927. >"I suggest having a little talk to him."
  6928. >He points to Star Kicker laying on his side.
  6929. >"I expect a good report on your findings. See you in two weeks."
  6930. >Walking over to him, he pulls down Star's gag and he immediately returns to shouting obscenities at everypony.
  6931. >Captain Foley then hurriedly exits the room leaving you all with a very peeved pegasus.
  6933. >As the his threats and shouts begin to tire out, Officer Equity speaks up.
  6934. >"What are we going to do now?"
  6935. >Sgt. Moody walks towards the tied down pony.
  6936. >He takes a hoof and forcibly lifts him to sit up.
  6937. >"Now son, Im'a give you two chances."
  6938. >He kneels down to get eye level with the pegasus.
  6939. >"Where exactly is this lab of yours?"
  6940. >"Up yours you quacking old gelding! Long live the Royal Sisters! Long live the MID!"
  6941. >Sgt. Moody gives out a sigh.
  6942. >"Just make this easy on yourself. Chart us a map, give us a landmark, anything. You just might be able to cut your sentence down by helping us. Believe me, things will get a lot messier if she gets involved."
  6943. >He motions his head towards your Sergeant who is idly standing by.
  6944. >A smirk creeping on her face.
  6945. >Star Kicker hocks up a lougee and spits it on Sgt. Moody's face.
  6946. >It drips down his nose and smudges his warpaint.
  6947. >With a smile he turns to Reckless.
  6948. >"All yours Sergeant."
  6949. >Giving a nod, your Sergeant pulls out a a knife and slowly steps towards the pegasus.
  6950. >Seeing her knife, Star Kicker freezes.
  6951. >"H-hold on now. W-what do y-you think you're doing with that knife?!"
  6952. >She stares coldly at him.
  6953. >"Elder, hold out his wings."
  6954. >You obey without missing a beat and stretch out his wings as far as they will go.
  6955. >His right wing is indeed broke like you suspected so it doesn't protrude as high as the other.
  6956. >Got him good with that buck.
  6957. >The whole room watches in silence except for the pegasus who continues to plea for mercy.
  6958. >Officer Equity stares with horror about his face.
  6959. >Cloudy looks on unsympathetically to his former assaulter.
  6960. >Sgt. Moody simply turns his head away.
  6961. >"I warned ya."
  6962. >"T-this isn't right! You can't do this!"
  6963. >Equity steps forward.
  6964. >"Sergeant, what do you intend on doing?"
  6965. >"We're just going to talk Officer. Get to know one another. Simple things."
  6966. >Her tone is colder than the frigid mountains of the Yaket Range.
  6967. >"In the Extended Entries of the Friendship Journal by Her Majesty Twilight, she provides guidelines and instructions on how to passively get information from fellow ponies. This seems wrong. Apostatic even!"
  6968. "Shut up Equity."
  6969. >"Cpl. Elder? You can't possibly agree with-"
  6970. >"Yeah shut it! Let the Sergeant have her 'chat'."
  6971. >"Cloudy!"
  6972. >"Do you think THEY followed any of Twilight's teachings?"
  6973. >"Well..."
  6974. >He looks to the floor unable to bring an answer.
  6975. >"That's right! They didn't! You and I watched as our own citizens disappeared from our town thanks to these monsters!"
  6976. >Clody gets up from his seat and marches in front of Equity.
  6977. >He puts a hoof to Equity's chest and gets in his face.
  6978. >"How many of our friends vanished without a trace?! How many families torn apart because they were 'suspects of interest' huh?!"
  6979. >Equity keeps his head lowered and Cloudy continues to yell at him in anger.
  6980. >"Oh but we found them now haven't we?! Yeah we found them! Found them all rotting in that bucking cesspit near Canterlot under THEIR HEADQUARTERS! How many bodies do think they have been pulled out so far hmm? Hopefully by the years end they will be half way done!"
  6981. >He slams his hoof into Equity knocking him down onto his flank.
  6982. >"If you ask me, we should hang them all and let the carrion birds deal with the cleanup."
  6983. >Equity stays on the ground, his head still slumped downward.
  6984. >"Officer. Let me ask you something."
  6985. >Reckless voice pierces the air.
  6986. >It's soft. Soothing even.
  6987. >The voice a mother would use to comfort her crying foal.
  6988. >"Where is Princess Twilight now?"
  6990. >Her words give a shock to everypony in the room including yourself.
  6991. >Twilight's disappearance caused a great deal of strife in Equestria.
  6992. >However with all the wars and conflicts, more important matters grasped the attention of the public.
  6993. >Only in times of solemnity does she usually get brought up.
  6994. >Lonely nights when a soldier has time to think.
  6995. >Would war still have broken out if the Beacon of Friendship disappeared?
  6996. >These questions don't need answers for they aren't important.
  6997. >There's no time for what-if's.
  6998. >What is important is what's happening now.
  6999. >"I don't know Sergeant."
  7000. >"Then what she doesn't know won't hurt her."
  7001. >She gives a little chuckle.
  7002. >"Besides, we're not doing anything wrong. We're just hanging a little chat."
  7003. >Reckless kneels down in front of the bound pegasus.
  7004. >She takes the knife and dances its tip up and down Star Kickers chest a belly.
  7005. >"Where is your lab?"
  7006. >Even with you and the rope binding him, his trembling forces you to tighten your grip.
  7007. >"P-please don't hurt me. I-I wasn't a part of those abductions! I-m j-just an observer. I had no idea of those experiments at HQ!"
  7008. >"Experiments?"
  7009. >She stops the tip of her knife over his heart.
  7010. >"We can talk abut those later, I just want to know where your lab is."
  7011. >"P-please. Please it's not my fault! I was just following orders! You understand? Orders!"
  7012. >She presses down a little, not too hard to break the skin, but hard enough to make him squirm.
  7013. >"The lab Sky Kicker. All I want to know is where."
  7014. >He whimpers out cries for his mother and you swear you think he's crying.
  7015. >Pathetic.
  7016. >"I grow impatient with you. THE LAB!"
  7017. >She presses harder and the tip pierces the skin.
  7018. >This breaks him.
  7019. >Immediately he begins to spew all the information.
  7020. >Hidden trails.
  7021. >Specific landmarks.
  7022. >Coordinates.
  7023. >And more importantly.
  7024. >Entrances.
  7025. >There's secret hatches all over the inner working of the mesa.
  7026. >A welcome thought for Sgt. Moody who would've had to carry everypony to the top hatch.
  7027. >"That's everything. Everything I know, now let me go and rot with Pioneer."
  7028. >With tears in his eyes he drops his head in shame.
  7029. >With a cheery smile, you see your Sergeant open her eyes wide.
  7030. >This is one of the few times you see them so wide.
  7031. >It's unsettling, even for you.
  7032. >"Not good enough Agent. You're coming with us."
  7033. >"Yes. Yes I understand."
  7034. >"And just to be sure you won't do anything stupid, turn him around Elder. I want to see those pretty wings."
  7035. >This time Sgt. Moody breaks his silence.
  7036. >"Reckless!"
  7037. >She turns and gives him the most innocent look.
  7038. >"Yes?"
  7039. >"What are you planning on doing?"
  7040. >"Oh nothing."
  7041. >She twirls her knife around as if it were a toy.
  7042. >"Just trimming the hedges his all."
  7043. >"Reckless, Pegasi wings are delicate and sensitive, you just can't clip them as if they were like some bird!"
  7044. >He extends his own wings to show his clean pruned feathers.
  7045. >"You can cause serious damage! It's Reck-"
  7046. >He stops realizing what he just said and she simply smiles back.
  7047. >Slashing the knife at full power, she cuts off almost all of his feathers on his left wing in one clean blow.
  7048. >Star Kicker pisses himself out of fright wetting you in the process.
  7049. >"Sorry Corporal, but it was necessary."
  7050. >You try and shake some of it off, but it's futile.
  7051. >Oh bucking well. You've been through worse.
  7052. "A little piss never killed nopony. Let's go."
  7053. >"That's what I like to hear, but we'll stop back at the station to shower and rest for the day. We'll get you a brace for your right wing Agent. Tomorrow morning, we head out for the Badlands."
  7055. >Morning air blows its cooling breeze through your mane.
  7056. >It has been about three hours since you all departed from Dodge.
  7057. >The sun isn't out yet, but its shining rays just begin to creep over the horizon.
  7058. >When Reckless says morning, she really means when the moon just passes its peak.
  7059. >You all are marching through the desert in a short diamond formation.
  7060. >Reckless leads the way while Moody and Star Kicker follow close behind her.
  7061. >Equity and Cloudy march opposite sides of the road and you take up the rear.
  7062. >Officer Cloudy sure is one tough sonofa' bugbear.
  7063. >His face and body are a bit black and blue, but he acts as if yesterday was just a normal Tuesday night.
  7064. >Equity is calm.
  7065. >However he hasn't said a word since we left.
  7066. >He just keeps staring off into the Badlands.
  7067. >Star is tense.
  7068. >We were told that Reckless was less than an inch away from cutting into his sensitive nerves.
  7069. >One little prick and he would've been grounded for good.
  7070. >His other wing is braced open stretching out the bones into place.
  7071. >Moody marches a pace behind him.
  7072. >He keeps his saber at the ready just to be sure no funny business happens.
  7073. >"Up ahead, just past that rock formation and over the dune is a spot for us to rest."
  7074. >Star Kicker points a hoof over to a long weather beaten rock.
  7075. >"We used to call it the 'beak' cause it used to look like a beak of a griffon."
  7076. >Once upon a time it could've looked like a work of art.
  7077. >"Now it's, ehh..."
  7078. >Everypony knows what it looks like.
  7079. >Nopony just has the will to say it.
  7080. >The tip of the 'beak' has been rounded out.
  7081. >Below it, the shaft has been smoothed out thanks to the sandstorms.
  7082. >Only its base looks to be somewhat the same, even then it just makes its new form more clear.
  7083. >After you all are done staring at it, your Sergeant decides to say the unspeakable.
  7084. >"It look like a giant diamond dog cock to me."
  7086. >Everypony groans in unison.
  7087. >Officer Cloudy speaks up.
  7088. >"Why'd you have to go and say it?"
  7089. >"What? Everypony was thinking it!"
  7090. "Sergeant, you know I am comfortable with you being brash, but sometimes things are better left unsaid."
  7091. >Equity chimes in.
  7092. >"Yeah we were perfectly fine just trying to ignore it and move on."
  7093. >Reckless blows a raspberry brushing off everypony's complaints.
  7094. >"Speaking of moving on, Star where exactly are we going? I don't see any mesa for miles."
  7095. >Star is just staring past the dune.
  7096. >"Star?"
  7097. >He's not listening.
  7098. >Sgt. Moody takes his hoof and slaps him in the back of the head.
  7099. >The same way a father would do their colt when they misbehave.
  7100. >"AH what the BUCK! You stupid old gru-"
  7101. >Before he could finish his sentence Moody gives him another slap knocking him to the ground.
  7102. >Moody steps over him preventing him from rising.
  7103. >"Now Agent, let me tell you somethin. I care for your well-bein. Honestly I do. Call me old fashioned, but what really ties my mane in knots is when a young buck like yourself uses such unfoalfriendly language like you do. Now I let you slide back in Dodge, but out here..."
  7104. >He spreads his hooves out wide.
  7105. >"Here in the middle of nowhere, your flank is mine. Now I want you to get up, and apologize to Mr. Equity on missin his important question."
  7106. >Grumbling he gets up and walks to Equity who is waiting patiently before the dune.
  7107. >In a someone sarcastic tone, he speaks.
  7108. >"Oh dearest peacekeeper, I do apologize for my most ill-mannered behavior, what was your most intriguing question that I so carelessly missed? I, your most humble prisoner await with open ears."
  7109. >Ignoring his overacting, Equity repeats his question.
  7110. >"Right over this dune there's a partially sunken cave, inside it is an oasis we can stop and rest at."
  7111. >Officer Cloudy speaks up.
  7112. >"Oh really, and I bet you and your 'friends' thought it would be a perfect place to set a trap once we were all out here!"
  7113. >"If you think we poisoned the water you are mistaken. My Uncle was a caravan driver who took this route, he's the one who showed me! Many caravans still use these oasis's as rest stops! What could we gain from poisoning merchants?"
  7114. >"Oh I bet you ponies tried thinking of many things to gain."
  7115. >"If you honestly believe the water is dangerous, let me drink from it to prove it to you your just being stubborn."
  7116. >Sgt. Reckless breaks the argument.
  7117. >"Nopony is drinking anything if they don't want to! We have plenty of water with us to go around for this journey. Star!"
  7118. >"What?"
  7119. >Moody gives a huff as he steps behind Star.
  7120. >"I mean, yes Ma'am?"
  7121. >"You are here to take us to this lab of experiments, not a tour of the desert."
  7122. >"Of course, I was just thinking a rest would do us good. It's on the way there anyways so it's not like I'm leading you all off the beaten path."
  7123. >Equity steps forward.
  7124. >"How can we trust you, we still haven't seen this mesa of yours."
  7125. >Star trots up to the top of the dune.
  7126. >"Your just not looking in the right place."
  7127. >Following him up, everypony stops to gaze at the view.
  7128. >You are all standing in a horizontal line from left to right.
  7129. >Cloudy, Moody, Reckless, you, Equity, and then Star.
  7130. >Although the dune isn't particularly high, it's tall enough to provide a magnificent view of the Badlands.
  7131. >And way off in the distance you see the tall mesa standing alone.
  7132. "It's beautiful."
  7133. >Moody gives a little sigh.
  7134. >"Not too bad for being in the Badlands."
  7135. >Reckless gives out another raspberry.
  7136. >"I've seen better."
  7137. >You turn to look at Star who has a soft smile on his face.
  7138. >"Yeah, that's exactly what I thought when I first marched out here. Come on, the oasis is right there."
  7139. >He points to an opening in the ground and you can clearly see the edge of a pool of water.
  7140. >Maybe he wasn't so bad.
  7141. >Just misguided.
  7142. >In another life you all could've been the best of friends.
  7143. >But it's not another life, and you have a job to do.
  7144. >You all begin to walk down the hill.
  7145. >Reckless and Moody idly talking together leading, then Cloudy, after is Equity watching Star, and finally you following.
  7146. >You're about ten paces behind the two also keeping a close eye on Star.
  7147. >Ever so slightly, you see Star turn to Equity.
  7148. >He has that same light smile on his face.
  7149. >And in a hushed whisper, you barely hear his words.
  7150. >"Hey pal, can I borrow a cigarette?"
  7151. >Suddenly you see Equity's body tense up.
  7152. >Then relax in almost an instant.
  7153. >"No I don't. Sorry."
  7154. >"Oh it's alright."
  7155. >He gives a small chuckle.
  7156. >"It is quite alright."
  7158. >Although something seemed off with Equity's response, it was probably fatigue from the journey.
  7159. >Disregarding that little exchange, you all make your way into the partially cavernous oasis.
  7160. >Before entering, you take one last look to the outside world.
  7161. >Taking in the sight, you enter.
  7162. >Everypony is already seated around in a circle beside the tiny pool of freshwater.
  7163. >Only thing that would make this perfect is if their was a campfire.
  7164. >However it's still only midday.
  7165. >The sun is providing enough of heat for the moment.
  7166. >Taking out a thermos, you pour yourself some lukewarm coffee you saved from Dodge.
  7167. >Equity seems to be staring at you as you take a sip.
  7168. >"There's more coffee if you-"
  7169. >"No thanks."
  7170. >His voice comes out harsh.
  7171. >Prick.
  7172. >Next to him Star Kicker is drawing something in the sand with his hoof.
  7173. >Officer Cloudy gets up from his place to see what he's drawing.
  7174. >"What's this? A geography lesson?"
  7175. >"I'm just trying to retrace my steps."
  7176. >"You're telling me you don't know how to get to the mesa? I thought you said it was that giant rock on the horizon?"
  7177. >"It is! I'm just trying to remember how to get us inside. Unless you feel comfortable with 'Old Mare Moody carrying us all to the top!"
  7178. >Moody chuckles a bit at that remark.
  7179. >"That's a new one even for me."
  7180. >Cloudy stomps a hoof ruining the drawing.
  7181. >"Whatever the case is, you better not screw us!"
  7182. >"Just relax Clouds, take a sip of water. I trust him."
  7183. >Equity flicks some water at Cloudy from his canteen.
  7184. >"And what the heck is with you?!"
  7185. >Equity lowers his canteen and raises an eyebrow.
  7186. >"What?"
  7187. >"You've been chummy with this traitor ever since the apartment raid ended!"
  7188. >"Is there something wrong with being civil with fellow ponies?"
  7190. >"That's enough!"
  7191. >Reckless gets up and stands between the two ponies.
  7192. >"Officer Cloudy, take a walk outside. Clear your head."
  7193. >As Cloudy leaves in a huff, Reckless then turns to Equity.
  7194. >"Something wrong Sergeant?"
  7195. >He says so innocently.
  7196. >"Get with Moody. Elder!"
  7197. "Ma'am."
  7198. >"Watch Star from now on."
  7199. "Yes Ma'am."
  7200. >As you walk towards Star, Equity slinks towards Moody.
  7201. >He looks back.
  7202. >His face void of all emotion.
  7203. >Something doesn't seem right.
  7204. >Getting to Star, you plant yourself across from him sitting on the opposite end of his ruined drawing.
  7205. >He's humming something.
  7206. >A very upbeat tune.
  7207. >He's trying to fix his makeshift map.
  7208. >Periodically stopping to place a hoof to his temple.
  7209. >He stops as he notices you staring.
  7210. >As your eyes meet he gives a warm smile.
  7211. >"Well what a 'maelstrom' this turned out to be."
  7212. >His emphasis on the word puzzles you until you hear a commotion from the other end of the oasis.
  7213. >You see Equity forcing Moody to the ground.
  7214. >He pins him with his face in the dirt with all his weight on his head.
  7215. >Taking out his blade, he puts it behind Moody's neck.
  7216. >Looking closely, his eyes are bloodshot.
  7217. >No not bloodshot, just fully red.
  7218. >As if both blood-vessels just burst.
  7219. >In a rough and ragged voice that wasn't his own he yells out.
  7220. >"NOPONY MOVE!"
  7221. >As you watch stunned, Reckless dashes towards Equity ignoring his statement.
  7222. >Before she could get to him though, Star tackles you to your back and gets you in a headlock.
  7223. >"That's quite enough Sergeant!"
  7224. >Bringing you up standing, his grip is tight around your neck.
  7225. >He reaches down and unsheathes your short knife on your belt.
  7226. >Putting to your neck, it feels ice cold through your coat
  7227. >"Drop your sword!"
  7229. >Reckless puts her hooves to the ground, but leaves her sword in her sheathe.
  7230. >"Do it!"
  7231. >Undoing the belt it drops to the ground.
  7232. >Dust kicks up where it lands on the ground.
  7233. >She glances over to Equity.
  7234. >His face is blank and empty as he keeps Moody's face buried in the sand.
  7235. >"What did you do to Officer Equity?"
  7236. >"They teach you many things in the MID. Just because I'm a pegasus doesn't mean I can't use magic."
  7237. "What did you do to Equity?"
  7238. >"A little play of words can make those 'watched' do some crazy things."
  7239. >Reckless stamps her hoof.
  7240. >"Explain Star Kicker!"
  7241. >"I don't have to explain dunkcus! You are in no position to bargain!"
  7242. >"Bargain? So you want something."
  7243. >He shifts backwards putting his back against the wall.
  7244. >"I want a lot of things. Mostly I want all of you to drop dead!"
  7245. "Tough teats, I don't plan on dying anytime soon."
  7246. >Hearing the commotion, Officer Cloudy comes back inside.
  7247. >"What the hay is going-"
  7248. >"DROP HIM!"
  7249. >Equity quickly uses his magic to force Cloudy to the ground.
  7250. >"Equity? What the buck are you doing?! Let me go!"
  7251. >His stare is unremorseful as he continues to put pressure down on the Officer.
  7252. >How can he be so cold?
  7253. >Remembering Equities files, you learned him and Cloudy were inseparable.
  7254. >Growing up, enrolling through the police academy, even through the draft they managed to stick together.
  7255. >Why is he acting so-
  7256. >Looking closely you see Equity's eyes seem empty.
  7257. >Like his pupils just disappeared.
  7258. >"That's enough!"
  7259. >Equity's horn stops completely giving Cloudy a chance to stand.
  7260. >"No. Wait! Restr-"
  7261. >Slamming your knee into his kidneys, he buckles over and you escape his grasp.
  7262. >Before doing so though, his grip on your knife tightens from his pain and he cuts into your neck and drags the blade down to your shoulder as he falls.
  7263. >You quickly put a hoof over the wound to stop the bleeding.
  7264. >It's just superficial thankfully.
  7265. >Cloudy quickly rushes Equity and knocks him into the wall freeing Moody.
  7266. >He hacks up some dirt and stands up.
  7267. >"About damn time."
  7268. >Cloudy brings a hoof up ready to smack the lights that are already off in Equity's head.
  7269. >"NO DON'T!"
  7270. >Cloudy stops just in time stopping his hoof inches before Equity's muzzle.
  7271. >"He's under some sort of spell, he can't control himself!"
  7272. >As you escaped Star, Reckless quickly tackled him to the floor.
  7273. >Wrestling the knife out of his hoof, she pins him to the ground with her own knife planted under his chin.
  7274. >"You alright Corporal?"
  7275. "Just a scratch. Give me a minute to clean up and I'll be good."
  7276. >Turning back to Star, she puts her face close to his so she can look right in his eyes.
  7277. >"Give me one good reason not to slit your throat!"
  7278. >He struggles for a second then gives up accepting his fate.
  7279. >"Just kill me and be done with it."
  7280. >He stifles a sniffle.
  7281. >"Better now than when we get back to the Capitol. I know what waits me. A rope with a hundred cheering ponies."
  7282. >Reckless pulls the knife away from his chin.
  7283. >"Just DO IT! You don't need me. The mesa is there. Go. Don't force me to go back to that place."
  7284. >Tears begin to stream down his face.
  7285. >"Don't make me go back. Please."
  7286. >Reckless shifts her tone.
  7287. >Curiously to a more caring tune.
  7288. >"What are you afraid of?"
  7289. >She gets up freeing him.
  7290. >Instead of fighting, Star brings his hooves to cover his eyes and he crumples into the fetal position.
  7291. >He lies there, crying softly in the dirt and sand.
  7292. >"We did terrible, unspeakable things."
  7293. >He brings a hoof to his forehead.
  7294. >"That pool. That damned pool made him change."
  7295. >Pool?
  7296. "Who changed?"
  7297. >"Sky Star. Everything changed when he-Oh Celestia we left Tango with him. It was too late though. We couldn't turn back. He didn't want to come anyways! It's not my fault! That damned pool. It's just that-"
  7298. >"Disgusting."
  7299. >Cloudy steps forward sword in hoof.
  7300. >Star is still mumbling about that pool.
  7301. >"What do you think you are doing Officer?"
  7302. >"A necessity."
  7303. >Reckless puts a hoof up stopping him.
  7304. >Aggravated he sheathe's his sword.
  7305. >Through gritted teeth he stands down.
  7306. >"I don't know if you're insane or not. He'll try something again if we don't end this."
  7307. >With a sly grin she turns to Cloudy.
  7308. >"I'm not insane, just reckless."
  7309. >She casually walks towards Star and kneels down next to him.
  7310. >"Star, you will get a fair trial. Things seem bad now, but if you help us, your fate won't be at the end of a rope."
  7311. >He looks up, tears still streaming down his face, to be greeted by her warm smile and a hoof extending to help him up.
  7312. >"After all I've done, you still trust me?"
  7313. >"Nope, not in the slightest."
  7314. >His eyes are dashed from all hope.
  7315. >"But help us now, it will make our job of recovering these research files much easier. Might even reduce your sentence a bit."
  7316. >"You can't be serious!"
  7317. >Cloudy shoves Reckless aside.
  7318. >"He has lied to us, manipulated Equity into attacking ME and Moody, he even tried to kill Elder! Yet here you are giving him another chance! Mare, you aren't reckless, you are bucking stupid is what you are!"
  7319. >Reckless stands to face Cloudy.
  7320. >He has rage in his eyes.
  7321. >You can see it.
  7322. >He doesn't really care about any of our well being.
  7323. >He just wants revenge.
  7324. >"Any pony here have any objections to my way of running things?"
  7325. "No Ma'am."
  7326. >Cloudy is in disbelief.
  7327. >"Elder, you of all ponies should be going off the rails! Look at your neck!"
  7328. >He points to the wound you got covered up.
  7329. "This thing? Just a scar I got while shaving, accident's happen."
  7330. >"What about you Moody! Star manipulated Equity to stomp your face into the dirt! You have no objections to just letting him off Scott-free?!"
  7331. >"Equity just slipped on a bar of soap, fell right on top of me. Strangest thing to happen."
  7332. >Cloudy stamps his hooves.
  7333. >"I refuse to let this pony go without getting some sort of punishment! This is treason!"
  7334. >Reckless takes Cloudy and shoves him to the ground.
  7335. >"Nopony ever said anything of him getting off unpunished, that will come later."
  7336. >With a huff he doesn't meet her stare.
  7337. >"We are soldiers, you are a police officer. Not the judge, not the jury, and damn well not the executioner! Whatever fate awaits him, it will be given through a fair trial. Not by some headstrong stallion wanting a wasteland execution! We do that we are no better than they are!"
  7338. >Her tone goes back to caring.
  7339. >"My ways may be a little unorthodox, but they do get results. You may not like it, but that's the way it will be. Understand?"
  7340. >Reckless extends her hoof to help Cloudy up.
  7341. >He hesitates, but then meets her stare with an understanding nod.
  7342. >"Yes Ma'am."
  7343. >Cloudy takes her hoof and gets to his hooves.
  7344. >"But first-"
  7345. >She takes Star and drags him to Equity.
  7346. >Moody is helping keeping Equity standing against the wall.
  7347. >He spits some dirt out of his mouth again.
  7348. >It may or may not have accidentally landed on Star's face.
  7349. >"Good to see you weren't hurt."
  7350. >"It'll take a lot more than this lightweight to do some damage to me."
  7351. >"Good to know. Now you!"
  7352. >She brings Star up to be face to face with Equity.
  7353. >"Free him from whatever trance you put him in."
  7354. >Star simply nods and puts a hoof at the base of Equity's horn.
  7355. >Moving it up to the tip, he lightly taps it.
  7356. >The glossiness fogging his eyes dissipates immediately.
  7357. >Then Equity begins to scream.
  7359. >He brings his hooves to his temples and falls to the floor rolling side to side from some unknown pain.
  7360. >You take your blade and put the tip at the side of Star Kicker.
  7361. "What did you do?"
  7362. >"He will be fine! Just a minor withdrawal syndrome."
  7363. >Equity continues to convulse on the floor.
  7364. >"Keep him hydrated and he will be fine."
  7365. >As Star said, after a couple minutes of rest and some nursing from Cloudy, Equity began to come to his senses.
  7366. >"C-clouds? What happAHHHH!"
  7367. >"Equity! How do you feel?"
  7368. >Equity puts a hoof to his head.
  7369. >"My head feels like it's spinning. What's going on?"
  7370. >Reckless steps forward.
  7371. >"We're about to head out. Can you walk?"
  7372. >"Yeah I can walk."
  7373. >Equity staggers to his hooves.
  7374. >Cloudy quickly lends him a hoof to help him stay upright.
  7375. >"Are you sure you're alright?"
  7376. >Equity giggles at his friends concern.
  7377. >"I'm good, just help me walk for a bit."
  7378. >As your squad begins to funnel out of the cave, you bring up the rear following them all out.
  7379. >Leaving the cave, the harsh heat of the Badlands begins to subside.
  7380. >Cloudy is still giving Equity aid.
  7381. >Worry is plastered over his face.
  7382. >"What got you so worked up? I'm just a little stiff after that nap is all."
  7383. >Nap?
  7384. >You trot up beside the two.
  7385. "Equity, do you remember anything from inside the cave?"
  7386. >He furrows his brow trying to remember.
  7387. >"Not at all. I remember us walking through the dunes, then an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion comes over me. I have no idea what caused it, but I could almost feel my consciousness leaving me."
  7388. "Hmm alright. Cloudy-"
  7389. >"I'll take care of him Elder. Don't worry."
  7391. >This is worrisome.
  7392. >No pegasus can use magic like that.
  7393. >Whatever spell Star put over Equity, he could easily do it again if the moments right.
  7394. >It has to be through speech.
  7395. >A code word or something.
  7396. >You look to the front where Moody is practically on top of Star as you all walk.
  7397. >If he does try anything, it definitely won't last long.
  7398. >Reckless still staring towards the horizon.
  7399. >The great mesa slowly becoming larger and larger with each step.
  7400. >You're not sure what she's thinking.
  7401. >Trotting up beside her you match her pace.
  7402. "Hey Sergeant."
  7403. >"Corporal."
  7404. "So, how are we going to get the bodies back?"
  7405. >She laughs at your statement.
  7406. >"I'm surprised you haven't figured out a way yet."
  7407. "Sergeant?"
  7408. >"I agreed to lead a team to take some notes and burn down a lab, snagging a couple corpses is your own job."
  7409. "What!?"
  7410. >"Don't look at me like that! You were the one who decided to become chivalrous all of a sudden. I didn't take that stallions hoof and make a promise."
  7411. >You're not sure what YOU were thinking!
  7412. >To agree to go and bring back some scientists notes is one thing, but to try and find some MID corpses is a whole other story.
  7413. >At least there's a silver lining, watching the complex burn will be fun.
  7414. >Go in, grab the notes, destroy the rest.
  7415. >Could've been so simple.
  7416. >You sigh.
  7417. >She gives you a little nudge.
  7418. >"It's alright, maybe we can make a makeshift sled for you."
  7419. "Here's hoping."
  7420. >You all come to the top of a little dune.
  7421. >It's just high enough to where you can see the base of the mesa clearly.
  7422. >You see Equity is back on his hooves again.
  7423. >About a mile out is the mesa.
  7424. "Final stretch."
  7425. >Reckless pulls Star aside.
  7426. >"Where's the entrance?"
  7427. >"There's a little ledge just before the peak leading to a hatch."
  7428. >"Anything on or closer to the ground?"
  7429. >"I'm afraid not."
  7430. >"Okay. Equity! Cloudy!"
  7431. >"Yes Ma'am!"
  7432. >"You two keep a watch outside for anything suspicious. Elder, you still remember that cloudwalker spell?"
  7433. "Yes Ma'am."
  7434. >"Good, that will makes this easy."
  7435. >She looks to the skies.
  7436. >With a hoof she points straight up.
  7437. >"That looks big enough, Sgt. Moody if you would be so kind."
  7438. >"Whatever's clever."
  7439. >"Meet us at the base of the mesa when you get it under control."
  7440. >Nodding to her he begins to take off, then stops.
  7441. >Poking a hoof into Star's chest he speaks.
  7442. >"Don't move a single muscle until I get back!"
  7443. >Then he rockets into the air.
  7444. >"Alright ponies let's move out! Faster we get there the faster we can get out of this bucking desert."
  7445. >As you all begin to file down the mountain, you are all stopped by an enormous explosion.
  7446. >Looking to the mesa, you see all but the base is engulfed in flames.
  7447. >Large portions of the mesa break and shatter.
  7448. >They smash into the desert floor causing huge waves of sand to fly into the air.
  7449. >You all stare mouth agape with incredulity.
  7450. >All but Reckless.
  7451. >Smugly she turns to you and whispers in your ear.
  7452. >"At least you don't have to worry about finding those bodies."
  7454. >"Move it!"
  7455. >Everypony simultaneously charges down the dune towards the burning structure.
  7456. >Interestingly enough Star is the first one leading the charge.
  7457. >Out from the skies Moody swoops in low to a glide joining you all.
  7458. >"What happened?! What in Equestria was that?!"
  7459. "I don't know!"
  7460. >"Sgt Moody! Fly up ahead, get us a visual on..."
  7461. >"On what?"
  7462. >"Anything!"
  7463. >He soars ahead beating his wings to build up his speed.
  7464. >Sand kicks up with every flap he takes.
  7465. >He swerves behind a fallen part of the mesa and disappears out of sight.
  7466. >As you all begin to close in, Reckless stops you all.
  7467. >Some of the larger masses of rock are smoking from the blast.
  7468. >Surrounding the mesa's base
  7469. >You watch her crick her neck upward.
  7470. >Lone stone walls stretch towards the sky.
  7471. >Behind them is nothing but a burning husk of stone and ash.
  7472. >"Spread out! Search for anything important."
  7473. >Equity kicks some sand into a crater.
  7474. >A large smoking piece of the mesa sits quietly at the bottom.
  7475. >"Like what?"
  7476. >"Like whatever caused this explosion for starters. Now move!"
  7477. >By her words everyone splits up.
  7478. >Cloudy works his way over to the left perimeter.
  7479. >Equity jumps down into one of the craters.
  7480. >He appears to be looking at an old file cabinet.
  7481. >Or what used to be a filing cabinet.
  7482. >Moody takes for the skies to get an aerial view.
  7483. >And Reckless stays put with Star as they both just stare upward.
  7484. >You decide to head off closer to the base of the mesa.
  7485. >Each pit you pass, there's a remnant of whatever was in the lab.
  7486. >A burnt out metal desk.
  7487. >Some smoldering tools.
  7488. >Is that a suitcase full of toothbrushes?
  7489. >A couple are still in good condition.
  7490. >As you get closer, larger craters sink deep into the sand.
  7491. >You stop to look into one.
  7492. >All around the edge, a dark circle lines the entirety of them.
  7493. >You reach a hoof down and wipe the edge.
  7494. >Ash.
  7495. >Pure ash.
  7496. >Must've been one buck of a flame to burn whatever was inside to this.
  7497. >Suddenly something moves from the center.
  7498. >Through the smoke you can't see anything solid, but something was there.
  7499. >Stepping down into the crater, you try and get a better look.
  7500. >There!
  7501. >It's long and black.
  7502. >Squirming in and out of the smoke just enough to where you can still barely see it.
  7503. >You get a little closer putting your muzzle through the smoke.
  7504. >What in the world is it?
  7505. >Suddenly it lashes out at you.
  7506. >You jump back sword drawn.
  7507. >It barely missed your cheek.
  7508. >Almost looked like a hoof.
  7509. >Now you see more movement.
  7510. >With the smoke beginning to thin you are greeted with the most unpleasant sight.
  7511. >Half crushed under one of the rocks lays a dying...thing.
  7512. >Some features are pony like, but everything else is just wrong.
  7513. >His jaw looks unhinged revealing an array of jagged teeth.
  7514. >The part of his head that isn't burnt away, has it's ears missing.
  7515. >There's not even an eye socket, but it's head still faces towards you still noticing your presence.
  7516. >His hooves; or hoof, no other hooves are visible, is all lanky like a snake.
  7517. >It twists and contorts trying to still grab at you.
  7518. "What are you?"
  7519. >Sheathing your sword you climb out of the crater leaving it.
  7520. >As you leave, you can hear it give out gurgly cries.
  7521. "I'll be back. Don't worry."
  7522. >Getting out of the crater you call out to Reckless.
  7523. "Sergeant! We have a body!"
  7524. >Reckless and Star are on you in no time.
  7525. >"What you find? One of the missing agents?"
  7526. "Something...else. And it's still alive."
  7527. >You see Star tense up.
  7528. >That must be the 'horrors' Pioneer Sunrise said.
  7529. >Raising an eyebrow, Reckless jumps into the crater.
  7530. >Star peaks into the crater after her.
  7531. >You overhear him whispering to himself.
  7532. >"It's alive? It can't be alive! They were in stasis for months. There's no way he could've figured out how to wake them without us. If this one is awake, that means he could've woken the entire-"
  7533. >"SERGEANT!"
  7534. >A booming voice comes from above.
  7535. >Moody drops down to a hover above you all.
  7536. >"We have a survivor! Equity fou-WHAT IN EQUESTRIA IS THAT!"
  7537. >He points a hoof down into the hole.
  7538. >Reckless pops out of the crater nonchalantly sheathing her sword.
  7539. >"Star will explain later. Isn't that right Star?"
  7540. >Star grimly shakes his head yes.
  7541. "What of this survivor."
  7542. >"Equity found her on the other side of the mesa. She's still alive, barely. By the looks of it she's an Arab."
  7543. >"An Arab?!"
  7544. >Star seems more visibly worried.
  7545. >"What are the Arabian's doing out this far?"
  7546. "Were you collaborating with Arabian scientists?"
  7547. >"This was a top secret mission kept from our own government! Perish the thought of letting the enemy in on it! If the Arabs gotten hold of my work, they can-"
  7548. "Can't do anything. Look around you, everything around here is ash. Whatever happened, our new friend will have some answers. Sergeant does she look like she is part of a squad? Uniform?"
  7549. >"Absolutely nothing. Anything resembling clothing has been tattered to strands. She's going to need some serious medical attention and soon."
  7550. "What's wrong with her?"
  7551. >Star knocks your shoulder with his hoof.
  7552. >"By the mare in the moon she got blown out of the sky! I'm surprised she's not like that thing down there."
  7553. >"A lot of superficial scars and burns, not including whatever internal damage from the explosion let alone the fall."
  7554. >"Take us to her Moody!"
  7555. >As Moody takes off, you quickly follow Reckless with Star trailing behind you.
  7557. >Turning a corner, you see Equity cradling the head of a mare in his hoof.
  7558. >Her mane is gone.
  7559. >Breathing very lightly.
  7560. >Strangely enough though, Sgt. Moody was right.
  7561. >There's some discernible injuries across her face and side, but they appear to have been previous wounds.
  7562. >A scar streaks across her right cheek with a burn over it.
  7563. >Below that, a fresh burn wound marks down her neck to her shoulder.
  7564. >You can hear her mumbling something.
  7565. "How is she Equity?"
  7566. >"She's breathing at least, but it doesn't look too good. She needs to get to a hospital."
  7567. >Moody lands beside the two.
  7568. >"Will we even make it in time?"
  7569. >"Maybe. Maybe not. But she's the only clue we have here. We have to at least try."
  7570. "What do you think Sergeant?"
  7571. >Reckless looks at the mare, then at the devastation from the explosion.
  7572. >"Let's head back, hopefully she can give us a clue as to what happened."
  7573. >Taking what you assume used to be a table, you use some of Cloudy's rope to turn it into a makeshift sled.
  7574. >Equity gently lays her down on the splintered wood.
  7575. >Hopefully she's somewhat comfortable.
  7576. >The squad is already moving out in front of you in a line.
  7577. "It's gonna be a long walk home."
  7578. >As Equity finishes adjusting her body, she slightly opens her eyes.
  7579. >And mumbles something.
  7580. >Equity is a bit taken back.
  7581. >"Elder! She's awake!"
  7582. >You unhook yourself from your makeshift harness and go to him.
  7583. >"What did she say?"
  7584. >"I think she said 'stop'."
  7585. >Stop?
  7586. >Why?
  7587. >Bending down to get closer, you speak softly and clearly in hopes she comprehends you.
  7588. "My name is Corporal Elder, I am a soldier in the Equestrian Army. Can you understand me?"
  7589. >Equity quickly nudges your shoulder.
  7590. >"She's a foreigner not an imbecile. Don't talk to her like she's a little foal."
  7591. >Ignoring him you continue, in a more natural tone however.
  7592. "Are you alone?"
  7593. >...
  7594. "Do you know what happened?"
  7595. >...
  7596. "Can you hear me?"
  7597. >She doesn't say anything.
  7598. >She just continues to stare at you through squinted eyes.
  7599. >After a while she finally says something.
  7600. >"You aren't Flash. Are you?"
  7601. >Flash?
  7602. "No, my name is-"
  7603. >"He saved us both."
  7604. >She slowly closes her eyes.
  7605. >I pray you can save us too.
  7606. "What?"
  7607. >"They're coming."
  7608. >Who is they?
  7609. >Turning towards the front, you can see they're already a considerable distance away at the outskirts of the mesa's perimeter.
  7610. >In your haste to talk to the mare, you didn't signal the rest of the squad to stop also.
  7611. "Get their attention Equity, something isn't right."
  7612. >As he gallops full speed towards them, something blocks his path.
  7613. >A figure drops down from one of the rocks and lands on top of him.
  7614. >It's one of those things!
  7615. >The entirety of its body is blackened from the explosion, but it still appears to be unscathed.
  7616. >You quickly charge at it and knock it off Equity.
  7617. >Helping him up, you back up towards the cart.
  7618. >The thing is slow to get up, so you unsheathe your sword and slash at it.
  7619. >It's soft underbelly slits open, but the wound isn't deep enough.
  7620. >Swinging again you hit its flat antennae.
  7621. >It staggers for a moment, but the blade harmlessly bounces off the creatures hard skin and it tries to grab at you.
  7622. >The tendrils from it's mouth barely miss your front hooves.
  7623. >Backing up to the cart, Equity unsheathes his sword also.
  7624. >"What are we going to do?"
  7625. "It's just one, it has some thick skin, but we can take it. It's belly is soft, we have to turtle it somehow."
  7626. >"I have an idea."
  7627. "What's that?"
  7628. >"Just follow my lead."
  7629. >Equity quickly charges at the creature.
  7630. >Right when he got close enough for the creature to try and grab him, he teleports behind it.
  7631. >Using his sword, he digs it deep into it's back hooves causing it to kneel back.
  7632. >It tries to turn around to face Equity, but he quickly backs off.
  7633. >From your point of view, it's belly is wide open.
  7634. >You don't hesitate on driving your sword with all your force into the creature.
  7635. >Once a good part of the blade was deep inside, you begin to twist it with all your might.
  7636. >The creature cries out in pain, but just won't die.
  7637. >It gets back onto its hooves and you loose your grip on your sword.
  7638. >Two webbed wings spring out from its side and it flies into the air.
  7639. >Landing on one of the mesa rocks, it perches itself looking down at you.
  7640. >The two of you stare back prepared on what it might do.
  7641. >Calmly, it sits there waiting, then it begins to make a howling.
  7642. >It's guttural.
  7643. >Coming out more like barks than a howl.
  7644. >"What do you think it's doing?"
  7645. "Nothing good."
  7646. >Suddenly two more emerge from the a crater to your right.
  7647. >Then a third from behind.
  7648. >You both quickly get back to back and eye the creatures.
  7649. >You're surrounded.
  7650. >And you don't even have a weapon.
  7651. "This just got a little more complicated."
  7653. >"So Elder. What's the plan?"
  7654. >You eye the creature atop the rock.
  7655. "Just don't die!"
  7656. >"Easier said Equestrian."
  7657. >The mare wobbly stands up and wields some foreign curved knife.
  7658. >You see her back left leg is lame.
  7659. >"You expect me to just accept fate lying down? I think not."
  7660. "You Arabs never did know when to quit."
  7661. >"A blessing and a curse."
  7662. >The creature leaps to the ground.
  7663. >A puff of sand poofs up, and the four begin to close in.
  7664. >There's no way we can hold out like this.
  7665. "Equity, I assume you don't get teleport sickness."
  7666. >"Not since I was a colt."
  7667. "Good."
  7668. >You quickly take his sword out of his hoof and sheathe it.
  7669. >Before he could respond you grab the mare and throw her onto his back while you levitate her knife with your magic into your own grasp.
  7670. "Head North, find the Sergeants! You'll only get so much of a head start before they track you! I'll keep these things distracted!"
  7671. >Your horn lights and they disappear in a flash.
  7672. >"Elder!"
  7673. >"Thief!"
  7674. >You were never proficient with group teleportation, but at least they'll have a chance.
  7675. >The gurgle from one of the beasts draws your attention.
  7676. >Two of them are looking to the sky as if they're sniffing.
  7677. >Oh no you don't.
  7678. "Hey you thick-skinned mutants."
  7679. >Levitating her blade, you fling it at one of the beasts.
  7680. >It lodges itself deep in its cheek.
  7681. "I got fresh meat for you right here!"
  7682. >Retracting the blade, it rips a bit of flesh out.
  7683. >You bring it back to a hover next to your head and unsheathe Equity's sword.
  7684. >"Come and get some!"
  7686. >You shoot the knife forward with your magic again.
  7687. >While one of the creatures has its mouth open, you cut out one of the fangs.
  7688. >Bringing it back, you send it flying at the one to your left.
  7689. >It catches its jaw and cuts it clean down the middle.
  7690. >Say what you want about the Arabs, but the blacksmith's of Damascolt can make unbelievably strong weapons.
  7691. >For Earth Ponies that is.
  7692. >As you go in for another sweep, the beast that jumped down from the rock catches it mid air with its fang.
  7693. >Its grip latches itself onto the hilt careful not to touch the sharp blade.
  7694. >You try and wrestle it out of its grasp with your magic, but the thing won't let up.
  7695. >As this tug-o-war happens, one of the creatures starts charging at you from the left.
  7696. >Jumping back, you take Equity's sword and slash at it.
  7697. >It doesn't appear phased at all.
  7698. >You slash again but something forces your hoof backward.
  7699. >Before you can realize what it is, something wraps around your throat.
  7700. >As it chokes the breath from your lungs, it violently pulls you downward.
  7701. >With your back on the sand you see it.
  7702. >A new beast.
  7703. >They kept your attention long enough for another to sneak up behind you.
  7704. >It hungrily looks down on you.
  7705. >Its fangs delicately confining you to your fate.
  7706. >Before it can chomp down on you, that one with the Arab's knife screeches something awful at it.
  7707. >You try and listen carefully as to what's happening.
  7708. >Out of the corner of your eye, you can see it.
  7709. >It turns back to the other three and barks something else and they all take for the sky.
  7710. >Heading North.
  7711. >No!
  7712. >You need to warm them somehow!
  7713. >You need to get away!
  7714. >Lighting up your horn, you try and teleport out of its stranglehold.
  7715. >Right before you get the spell off, its fang wraps around your horn negating the magic.
  7716. >Then it rips your arm out of its socket.
  7718. >No.
  7719. >No no no no no no no.
  7720. >This...this can't be it!
  7721. >Its fang constricts tighter around your throat and you begin to suffocate.
  7722. >You can feel your lungs shriveling up trying to get every last bit of oxygen through your body.
  7723. >Its grip is so tight you feel like it will break your neck.
  7724. >With each passing second, the pressure in your head feels like it will make it explode.
  7725. >You need to do something!
  7726. >Taking your other hoof, you try and free your crushed trachea.
  7727. >The creature simply takes its hoof and stomps hard on it.
  7728. >You don't even feel it, but it looks like the force shattered your pastern-bone.
  7729. >It limply drops to the ground landing in a horrifyingly unnatural position.
  7730. >Is this it?
  7731. >Is this how you die?
  7732. >Alone in the wasteland.
  7733. >Food for some sort of experiment.
  7734. >You can feel the blood draining from your body.
  7735. >Paired with the stranglehold it has on you, you begin to feel lightheaded.
  7736. >You feel your body going limp and your mind going blank.
  7737. >Mouth agape, and throat completely contracted.
  7738. >Body warped in an awkward posture, your torso arches forward.
  7739. >Limbs broken and limp.
  7740. >Eyes gazing up to the heavens, although you can't register anything you see.
  7741. >You can do nothing, but late fate take you over.
  7743. >But fate doesn't have the chance.
  7744. >You feel the grip on your neck loosen and you quickly gasp in as much air as you can.
  7745. >All the creatures seemed to have vanished.
  7746. >You try to stand but fail to get a firm stance on the ground.
  7747. >A seething pain comes from your shattered hoof.
  7748. >You try and adjust it, but eventually just let it be.
  7749. >You're don't feel like walking anyways.
  7750. >Lying their you slowly gasp through your swollen throat.
  7751. >It feels like it's on fire.
  7752. >Your head is pounding and you can barely see strait.
  7753. >What happened?
  7754. >Where did they go?
  7755. >You catch a glimpse of your severed hoof.
  7756. >It sits there motionless.
  7757. >These questions aren't worth your remaining energy.
  7758. >You're tired.
  7759. >As you lay there, you hear a scream in the distance along with voices.
  7760. >It's coming from the north.
  7761. >You turn your head to try and see, but a sudden pain keeps you from it.
  7762. >One of the voices you distinctly remember.
  7763. "Reckless."
  7764. >It comes out too weak to be even called a whisper.
  7765. >Your throat is too sore to talk anyways.
  7766. >Shock in everypony's voice.
  7767. >You must be a sight.
  7768. >Reckless jumps in front of you.
  7769. >Worry is in her eye.
  7770. >"Elder..."
  7771. >Along with a tear.
  7772. >You wish you could say something to comfort her.
  7773. >Suddenly you hear a voice you don't recognize.
  7774. >"I'm sorry. I was too late."
  7775. >As you loose consciousness, the last thing you see is Reckless's teary face and a colorful changeling standing behind her.
  7777. ***
  7779. >"Thank you again for the quick fix Cadie, sorry for the last minute call."
  7780. "Not a problem. Always happy to help out a friend."
  7781. >You give a small bag containing a freshly whittled mare doll to the dark-yellow stallion.
  7782. >He carefully places it in his knapsack and takes his leave.
  7783. >As he gets to the bottom step of your shop he stops.
  7784. >"We're throwing a little party for our little Aqua Twirl's birthday, me and my wife would love it if you and Roxy can show up."
  7785. "I'll ask Roxy if she wants to go when she gets home, but I'm not feeling too well. Maybe next time."
  7786. >His face falls in disappointment.
  7787. >"Yeah...next time."
  7788. >He walks down the street out of sight, and you quietly close the door.
  7789. >It's been a while since you were taken into custody.
  7790. >An eternity it feels like.
  7791. >That group you found were grateful for stopping those creatures, but when you came across their mutilated friend...they were less welcoming.
  7792. >The brown one especially.
  7793. >They must've been close.
  7794. >Needless to say, you are much happier here than being back in that questioning room.
  7795. >Relentless.
  7796. >Honestly you don't really remember everything.
  7797. >After charging into Maverick head-on, everything turned white.
  7798. >You're not sure how long you were in that state, but when you came to everything was destroyed.
  7799. >And you were colored.
  7800. >Colored a not so appealing neon green with little diamonds going around your neck.
  7801. >Strangely enough you also feel taller.
  7802. >You explained you sort of just felt the creatures presence.
  7803. >Once they were in your sight, all you had to do was think about something and they would do it.
  7804. >Like telepathy.
  7805. >In the moment, seeing the pony strangled. You put the thought in your mind that you wanted them to kill themselves.
  7806. >And they just turned to ash.
  7807. >After that you couldn't feel any of the creatures anymore.
  7808. >Understandably they were hesitant.
  7809. >With Celestia's 'alteration', the reformed changelings since kept to themselves.
  7810. >Plus you were also taken in with Roxelana.
  7811. >A former Arabian General.
  7812. >An enemy!
  7813. >If they were on the fence about you, being paired with her most likely sealed your fate.
  7814. >In the end though, your sentence wasn't imprisonment in some dungeon kept out from the public knowledge.
  7815. >House arrest.
  7817. >Technically you're in 'long-term holding'.
  7818. >In a lonely two story shack at the outskirts of Vanhoover.
  7819. >You were given a persona to fill.
  7820. >Khushqadam Candarl
  7821. >The former tenant.
  7822. >Immigrant from Saddle Arabia before the war.
  7823. >Turned the bottom floor into a workshop for toys that he sold.
  7824. >Neighbors called him 'Cadie' due to frequent mispronunciations.
  7825. >Quiet.
  7826. >Somewhat friendly.
  7827. >A radical and nationalist to the core.
  7828. >The crazed pony tried stuffing explosives into his toys when the war broke out.
  7829. >Before he could sell any of his 'product', he unexpectedly disappeared.
  7830. >With his info well documented in MID files, one can only guess what they did to him.
  7831. >Either way you now are living under constant surveillance in this home.
  7832. >There's a silver lining though.
  7833. >Roxelana was written into your persona.
  7834. >The story you're to follow is you came back from the Homeland with her as your wife escaping the horrors of war.
  7835. >You're not sure how she feels on the matter.
  7836. >Ever since you were put together she's been distant.
  7837. >Being an Earth Pony, she has more lenient restrictions.
  7838. >The main one being she's allowed to leave the house.
  7839. >Sunrise to Sunset.
  7840. >She's just gone.
  7841. >When she gets back, she goes straight upstairs to her own room.
  7842. >Best to just let her be.
  7843. >Her company is good enough.
  7844. >Don't rock the boat.
  7845. >Don't expose yourself.
  7846. >Wait for further instructions from the Unit watching over you.
  7847. >It's all a big headache.
  7848. >You're not sure how long they intend to keep you here.
  7849. >With the judicial system still filtering through former Royal Guards along with other conspirators, you'll be trapped in bureaucratic limbo possibly forever.
  7850. >Plus with whatever happened at Baltimare, the government is too busy to deal with your case.
  7851. >You're not entirely sure what is happening down there.
  7852. >What scraps of information you can overhear leaves you an empty slate.
  7853. >The only thing you know is that it has something to do with Tartarus.
  7854. >Whatever it is, you hope the trouble stays far away from you.
  7856. >As you sit at your workbench, the clock strikes seven.
  7857. >Out pops a little bird and it chirps its little song.
  7858. >Time to close up the shop.
  7859. >You close the blinds and flip the sign on your door from 'Welcome' to 'Closed'.
  7860. >Roxelana should be home soon.
  7861. >She may have more freedom, but her curfew states she must be home right after sundown.
  7862. >But they don't fret if she's late.
  7863. >And neither do you.
  7864. >Getting back to your bench, you get to working on a train that's in need of a caboose.
  7865. >It was a stroke of luck you learned how to make toys.
  7866. >Thankfully the former tenant had some old books you skimmed through that helped you learn some quick carpentry skills.
  7867. >You wouldn't have been able to fill this role without these finds.
  7868. >Even though they are in Arabic, the visuals are well enough for you to get by.
  7869. >After a merciless time of nonstop sanding and chipping, you were able to turn the small block of wood into a beautifully crafted caboose.
  7870. >You carefully set it down next to the steam engine and coal car.
  7871. >The former two are already painted and ready to ship, now all you need to do is add the bright red coat to the last piece.
  7872. >You sit proudly at the little model you created.
  7873. >A work of art.
  7874. >However your admiration is interrupted by a loud knock on your door.
  7875. >Not wanting to be annoyed, you loudly call out.
  7876. "Sorry, we're closed! Come tomorrow!"
  7877. >Only a louder, more forceful knock is its response.
  7878. >You sigh and change into your persona.
  7879. >You fumble with the keys for a second as you walk towards the door.
  7880. "I'm sorry, but we're closed. Come back tomorrow and I can-"
  7881. >Suddenly the door swings open almost hitting you.
  7882. >Like a flash through the dark, a figure steps inside.
  7884. "You..."
  7885. >"Yes me."
  7886. >He shoves you to the ground and his hoof transforms into a sharp blade.
  7887. >It's tip inches from your throat.
  7888. >Eyes locked in a death-stare waiting for the other to blink.
  7889. >Every second that passes feels like an eternity.
  7890. "How long are you going to drag this out."
  7891. >As he holds the glare, you see a tear well up in his eye.
  7892. >"I can't do this anymore."
  7893. >His hoof returns to normal and he walks deeper into your home.
  7894. >He sits down on your sofa and rests his head on the hoof-rest.
  7895. >"This is a nice place they gave you, nice and rustic for the *ahem* new look."
  7896. >Is this really the same Maverick?
  7897. >You watch him carefully for any kind of deceitful intentions.
  7898. >For the moment, he actually seems docile.
  7899. "What do you want if not my life?"
  7900. >"Come over here and I'll tell you. And get out of that ridiculous getup."
  7901. >You trot over and take a seat on a stool across from him.
  7902. >As you sit down you transform into your pastel-self.
  7903. >He quickly winces at your sight.
  7904. >"Egad I forgot about that. Do you have anything less bright?"
  7905. "You want to talk, let's talk. Why did you come?"
  7906. >"Where was I supposed to go?"
  7907. "Go? GO? I don't even know how you are even here! I killed you!"
  7908. >"Let me tell you what happened after you tackled us into oblivion."
  7909. "You expect me to believe you? After everything!"
  7910. >With a sigh he bows his head letting his horn reach out to you.
  7911. >"Then let me show you."
  7912. >You're still a little weary.
  7913. >After all this is the same changeling that tried to kill you.
  7914. >However his face shows a great deal of remorse.
  7915. >Reluctantly you step forward and he presses his horn against yours.
  7917. ***
  7919. >A bright light.
  7920. >"I was dead."
  7921. >Pure white surrounds you.
  7922. >A void.
  7923. >Nothing but one little dot on the invisible ground.
  7924. >"It was in this moment I saw everything with perfect clarity."
  7925. >It slowly comes into view and you see it's a ghostly form of him.
  7926. >"I saw everything we, I had done."
  7927. >You see him get up, and try to walk about but he can't.
  7928. >Something is keeping him in place.
  7929. >"All the sorrow."
  7930. >Around him, other ghostly figures begin to appear out of the void.
  7931. >"All the destruction."
  7932. >As they become more visible, you see they are creatures.
  7933. >Ponies, Griffons, Yaks, Dogs, even a couple you don't even recognize.
  7934. >"All the death I had brought to this world."
  7935. >Each creature is marked with some fatal blow.
  7936. >"All the innocents I have killed."
  7937. >While more of the ghostly creatures appear, the ones already spawned begin closing in on Mavericks apparition.
  7938. >"All the horrible and perverted crimes I have committed."
  7939. >As they got close, black shadows extended from their bodies and began wrapping them around Maverick's.
  7940. >"I realized what I had down with my life. That I had wasted it on doing evil."
  7941. >The black shadows engulf his body.
  7942. >He contorts and squirms in protest, but it's no use.
  7943. >They force him to the ground and slowly begin wrapping around his head, only letting his eyes and mouth be uncovered.
  7944. >"I was in despair. I cried and begged this would not be the end. That I would get another chance to right my wrongs."  
  7945. >The black shadows slowly begin covering his eyes and mouth.
  7946. >In the last second before he gets completely swallowed by the darkness, the shadows break.
  7947. >"Then I woke up."
  7949. >Suddenly you were back in the Badlands.
  7950. >"I was alive! However something was wrong. I was starving."
  7951. >All around is the remains of the lab.
  7952. >"Everything was destroyed. Nothing remained."
  7953. >You see him walk off into the desert going back to Equestria.
  7954. >"I was blessed with another chance. A new opportunity to right my wrongs. However I quickly reverted back to my former instincts."
  7955. >You watch as Maverick quickly gallop towards a party in the distance.
  7956. >In shock your jaw drops.
  7957. >Because in the distance, that very party was the one that took you in.
  7958. >"I charged headfirst to you all in hopes of satisfying that unbearable hunger. Quickly forgetting the horror I just been through."
  7959. >As he closes in, you see him jump for one at the head.
  7960. >Reckless.
  7961. >"However the world has funny ways of reminding you."
  7962. >Instead of latching onto her throat, he tumbles through her body and lands hard in the sand.
  7963. >"At that moment I felt a great pain in my gut. It was as if I wasn't even part of the world anymore."
  7964. >He wasn't alive. He was still an apparition.
  7965. >"I understood what needed to be done. If I were ever to return to living, I needed to change for the better."
  7966. >A flash takes you to the distant future.
  7967. >It's you still, but you're in your persona.
  7968. >"It was hard at first, but I didn't give up..."
  7969. >All this time he was there in the background watching you.
  7970. >Every little good deed or gesture you made to your neighbors and customers.
  7971. >He watched and learned how to be good.
  7972. >"...and it got better. With patience and hard work I began to feel myself come back."
  7973. >It flashes forward to you working on a broken doll house.
  7974. >"After some time, I began to be able to touch things."
  7975. >With your head on one side of the doll house, you can see yourself straining to reach a couple nails.
  7976. >You watch as Maverick pushes the open box closer to you letting you grab a couple.
  7977. >It flashes a couple more times and you watch him subtly help you doing other various tasks.
  7978. >"Pretty soon I even started becoming visible again! So I set out to help others."
  7979. >Flashing forward you see Maverick take form of an average Earth Pony helping others all across the city and neighboring communities.
  7980. >Each pony he helps you see him visibly shine a little more.
  7981. >"The pain I felt is long gone, along with the animosity I had. However there was one last obstacle in my path."
  7982. >A bright light.
  7984. ***
  7986. >As you return to your living room, Maverick gets off the couch.
  7987. >"I'm sorry."
  7988. "Sorry?"
  7989. >"Sorry for the torture, the constant harassment, the 'me wanting to kill you'."
  7990. >He sighs
  7991. >"No matter what I do, I know it will never be enough. But find it in your heart to forgive a sinners wrongdoings."
  7992. >...
  7993. >You both stare at each other silently.
  7994. >You're speechless.
  7995. >He wants you to forgive him?
  7996. >After everything he put you through!
  7997. >How insulting!
  7998. >This is like a slap in the face!
  7999. >You have the urge to turn into an Ursa Minor and tear him limb from limb.
  8000. >But you stop.
  8001. >No need to be rash or excessive.
  8002. >You take a breathe and look back at him.
  8003. >He's waiting patiently for your response.
  8004. >His face is a mix of remorse and sorrow.
  8005. >He's scared.
  8006. >Scared of your judgement.
  8007. >He really must have changed if he went through all the trouble.
  8008. >Taking revenge won't change anything.
  8009. >Even though it would make you feel better momentarily, it wouldn't be the right thing to do.
  8010. >And right now, the right thing to do is to take responsibility.
  8011. "Maverick."
  8012. >He flinches at your sudden statement.
  8013. "We can never change who we have been."
  8014. >You see him slump a little dejected at your first words.
  8015. "However with hard work and determination, we can change who we WILL be."
  8016. >His eyes suddenly change from despair to hope.
  8017. "What you told me. What you have shown me, proves that you have changed. Maverick, I forgive you."
  8018. >With a tear of joy he wraps his hooves around you bringing you into a hug.
  8019. >You take his hoof and bring your heads together.
  8020. >As you do so you feel him become thinner.
  8021. "What's going on?"
  8022. >"We can never truly be separate. You were detached from my mind becoming your own sentient being, but you are still a part of me."
  8023. "What's happening to you?"
  8024. >"When you kicked me into oblivion, I became that detached part. With your forgiveness, I can return home. You are the main host now."
  8025. "So you're going to be a part of me?"
  8026. >He's barely visible now.
  8027. >"When you first detached I thought you were a bug, a parasite, something that needed to be purged. But you were so much more than that. You were an extension of my very soul."
  8028. >As he completely disappears you can faintly hear his last words.
  8029. >"And it feels so good to be back."
  8031. >You can feel him connect inside you.
  8032. >Like a missing piece to a puzzle.
  8033. >A perfect fit.
  8034. >You take a deep breath of stale air.
  8035. >Some of it gets caught in your throat and you cough.
  8036. >The cough turns to a hack.
  8037. >Need to open a window.
  8038. >You don't exactly feel different, but something in your gut feels strange.
  8039. >It stirs and swirls.
  8040. >It reminds you of back at the lab above Canterlot.
  8041. >Only...a little worse now.
  8042. >As you get to the window the pain shoots to your head.
  8043. "What's *Ugh* happe-"
  8044. >Your quickly interrupted as you vomit onto the floor.
  8045. >It lands with a splat splashing some onto the tail end of the curtains.
  8046. >The smell is terrible and it only makes you feel worse.
  8047. >Something isn't right.
  8048. "MAVERICK!"
  8049. >You wait a second and brace yourself against the couch.
  8050. >You have to think quickly.
  8051. >Taking your hoof, you morph it into a sharp blade and dig deep into your side.
  8052. >It stings, but you can't think of that now.
  8053. >Deeper and deeper you take it until you finally feel a bump.
  8054. >Carefully you change the tip of your blade hoof into two delicate appendage-like tweezers and take hold of it.
  8055. >Then you yank it as hard as you can.
  8056. >It slips the first time and you feel it try to dig itself deeper into you.
  8057. >Not this time.
  8058. >You barely grab it again before it escapes.
  8059. >Carefully pulling it out, you can feel it trying to squirm away.
  8060. >Desperately clawing at your fleshy insides trying to make an escape.
  8061. >All in vain.
  8062. >Pulling it out you reveal him to the world.
  8063. >At the tip of your pincers is a Lancet Liver Fluke.
  8064. >A parasite.
  8065. >Normally these things are harmless.
  8066. >If infected by a normal fluke, usually your diet would change to something with lots of sugar to help sustain itself.
  8067. >At most you would be 'directed' to move to a warmer climate where it would be more comfortable in your body.
  8068. >However, if it reached your spinal cord, it could spread and take control of your entire body.
  8069. >And you know exactly that's what he was going for.
  8070. >Throwing the creature hard onto the ground, you turn your arm back into a hoof and swing it down to stomp on it.
  8071. >Before you can crush it, Maverick transforms back into his changeling self and blocks your hoof with his.
  8072. "Neat trick turning yourself into dust like that."
  8073. >"Only way I could truly get inside you undetected. Once in it was just a matter of putting myself together."
  8074. "You went through a lot of trouble to get me to lower my guard. Nice touch with those visions, I actually almost believed you changed."
  8075. >He swings a punch to you but black it and throw it back at him.
  8076. >"You DID fall for it, I can feel you. We are one. And that's the only truth there is about us. You are going back, dead or alive. I don't care anymore."
  8077. >He gets up, you see his back leg is hurt.
  8078. >That must've been the part of him that you grabbed on to when pulling him out.
  8079. "Ironic how you became the parasite."
  8080. >"Seems the only way to beat a parasite is to become one."
  8081. >Stepping back from him you cover your wound with your hoof.
  8082. "I'm tired of hearing you talk."
  8083. >Not too bad.
  8084. >Minimal blood loss.
  8085. >"Well I'm tired of looking at your pastel face!"
  8086. >He turns his hoof into a blade as do you.
  8087. >You barely block back his blow as he lunges at you full force.
  8088. >The tip barely catches your cheek and cuts downward to your neck.
  8089. >If you were any slower he would've completely skewered your face.
  8090. >"Why are you so persistent? Do you actually think you can change any of this?! That they will look at us any differently than before?!"
  8091. >He swings wildly at you ignoring his injury.
  8092. >"That just because one changeling turned back all will turn? They hunt us down like wild dogs!"
  8093. >You carefully back away narrowly avoiding his swings.
  8094. >"You achieved nothing!"
  8095. >You back into a cabinet just as he is about to swing again at you.
  8096. >"Without me, you ARE NOTHING!"
  8097. >As his sharpened hoof comes forward, you quickly swing open the cabinet door onto it.
  8098. >His blade smashes into it lodging itself in the center of the hard persimmon wood.
  8099. >Not before the very tip comes through the other side.
  8100. >It pierces into your chest just enough to force you to fall onto your back.
  8101. >He struggles to free his hoof momentarily.
  8102. >With a vigorous tug, he rips the cabinet door from the cabinet and smashes it in two pieces onto the ground.
  8103. >Then he points his hoof at you.
  8104. >"One last time bug. Relinquish my body, or die."
  8105. >He cautiously points the tip toward your neck.
  8106. >As you lay there, you notice something.
  8107. >He made the tip of his bladed hoof, blunted.
  8108. >It's really subtle, but being this close to you, it's easily discernible.
  8109. >Does he really not want to hurt you?
  8110. >You think back to him attacking you.
  8111. >From the first pounce at the door he could've easily ended your life.
  8112. >But he didn't.
  8113. >He held back his rage to go through that complicated plan.
  8114. >All to just get inside you.
  8115. >Then you think back to the fight.
  8116. >A lot of his swings were sluggish.
  8117. >He definitely had plenty of openings to quickly finish you, but not once did he even try to take them.
  8118. >You look back to him.
  8119. >His face looks desperate waiting for your answer.
  8120. >He needs you alive.
  8122. >You stare him back in the eyes.
  8123. "I know why you failed."
  8124. >You carefully reach your hoof for one of the broken pieces of the cabinet door.
  8125. "You always missed one thing. Love."
  8126. >"What?"
  8127. "Compassion, empathy, kindness...Friendship."
  8128. >"Stop your blabbering and decide!"
  8129. "All of your drones, all your partners, you would give up on at the first sign of failure."
  8130. >"Stop!"
  8131. >You slowly move up to get on your knees.
  8132. "Nopony to lean on in times of trouble. Just you."
  8133. >"STOP! Get back down!"
  8134. >You take the broken door piece and slam it into the side of his head.
  8135. >He falls onto his back dazed from the blow and you quickly get on top of him to restrain him.
  8136. "I AM MY OWN PONY, with friends who care about me!"
  8137. >He lays there stunned at your words.
  8138. >Then you here a light sound.
  8139. >Almost a whisper.
  8140. >A chuckle.
  8141. >His chuckle slowly evolves into a laugh.
  8142. >Then it turns into a hard laugh.
  8143. >"Seriously? Is that it? Friendship?"
  8144. >He lets out an even harder laugh.
  8145. >"You are so naive. You know they don't like you."
  8146. "T-that's not true."
  8147. >As he talks you can feel your grip on him begin to weaken.
  8148. >"Think about it, everypony you ever met. You honestly think they worked with you because they liked you?"
  8149. "...yes."
  8150. >"The Zebra, the Griffons, even Roxelana. They only needed you for an end goal. A task at hoof."
  8151. >He tosses you off of him and he gets up to his hooves.
  8152. >"We both know the truth. They were just using you. Stop dreaming! Nopony loves you. Nopony cares for you."
  8153. "No...no..."
  8154. >"Just step back, let me in. And everything will return to-"
  8155. "NO!"
  8156. >You turn your hoof back into the blade and lunge at him.
  8157. "I KNOW WHO I AM!"
  8158. >Vigorously you stab him in his chest.
  8159. >Over.
  8160. >And over.
  8161. >And over again.
  8162. "And I am NOT YOU!"
  8163. >Maverick's body falls against your wall and slumps down.
  8164. >His force causes your clock to fall from the wall.
  8165. >The intricate timepiece shatters when it hits the floor.
  8166. >You can see he's still breathing barely.
  8167. >A choke comes from his throat.
  8168. >Then a whisper.
  8169. >"This...this will not be the last time you heard from me. I will return again."
  8170. "And I'll be here to stop you again."
  8171. >"We...are...one..."
  8172. >As his last breathe exists his mouth, he dissipates completely.
  8173. >Leaving you alone in your ruined home.
  8174. >You limp over to the kitchen to grab the first aid kit in the drawer.
  8175. >As you patch yourself up you look around.
  8176. >Everything is a mess.
  8177. >Your cabinet is ruined.
  8178. >Blood stains on the floor and walls.
  8179. >There's an uncountable amount of items randomly tossed about as well.
  8180. >You sigh.
  8181. >No use leaving it be, best thing to do is to hit it right away.
  8182. >As you take your first step however, you hear a crunch.
  8183. >Lifting your hoof you see bright red chippings and a shattered wood.
  8184. >It was the caboose you were painting.
  8185. >You carefully lift it up to see what's salvageable, but you already know you're going to have to remake it.
  8186. >Another chore for the to do list.
  8187. >You take it in your mouth and head for the trashcan.
  8188. >When you drop it in, it lands with a smash at the bottom.
  8189. >What a waste of fine craftsmanship.
  8190. >Closing the lid, you hear a pounding at the door.
  8191. "WHO IS IT!?"
  8192. >You unconsciously turn your hoof back into the blade.
  8193. >Prepared for whatever else Maverick has to throw at you.
  8194. >"'Cadie', it's me. Roxelana. I heard noises, and screams..."
  8195. "Oh it's you Roxelana."
  8196. >Automatically you turn your head to the clock, but you're greeted with an empty space on the wall.
  8197. >It's late, way past the time she usually is supposed to be home.
  8198. >"Is everything alright?"
  8199. "Yeah, it's uh...nothing. Where have you been?"
  8200. >"I was at the station trying to get them to give you more leniency. Things got boiled over a little and well...let's just say the time just escaped me."
  8201. >She rattles the handle on the locked door hoping to enter.
  8202. >"A-are you sure it was nothing?"
  8203. "Yes."
  8204. >"You can tell me if anything did happen. It's alright."
  8205. "I know."
  8206. >You wait silently for her reply.
  8207. >"Are you going to leave me out here or are you going to open the door?"
  8208. >You crack open the door and slip through, quickly closing it behind you not letting her see the destroyed interior.
  8209. >"Hey what are you do- What! What happ- What is with your-"
  8210. >She keeps stuttering looking at your sight.
  8211. >You didn't bother changing into your persona.
  8212. >Instead you walked out in your full natural pastel form.
  8213. "Roxelana. Please be honest. Do you like me?"
  8214. >"Do I...That isn't something important right now! You...your hurt! This isn't nothing! You said it was nothing!"
  8215. >She puts her hoof to the slash across your chest.
  8216. >You stop her frantic worrying and sit down on the front steps.
  8217. >Raising a hoof you invite her to join you.
  8218. >She carefully sits down next to you still concerned for your injuries.
  8219. >You both sit in silence and stare into the dark.
  8220. >There's not a lot of activity in the boondocks of Vanhoover.
  8221. >Plenty of stars out.
  8222. >A cool breeze.
  8223. >It feels wonderful on your stinging cuts.
  8224. >You can hear all the trees and crops from the neighboring farms rustle when a large gust comes through.  
  8225. >As you both enjoy the summer night, you see she's calmed down considerably.
  8226. >Then you peg the question again.
  8227. "Do you like me?"
  8228. >She gives out a sigh.
  8229. >"After everything that's happened. Everything we've been through. Why do you think I'm still here?"
  8230. "I-um...I'm sorry, I just-"
  8231. >You're not sure how to answer her.
  8232. "Why?"
  8233. >She gets up from your side and stands in front of you.
  8234. >"Ever since we met, you endured countless abuses. Not just from me but several others as well. Good or bad. Changeling or not. You did what you thought was right. That is what truly matters."
  8235. "Roxelana, I..."
  8236. >"So yes, I do like you."
  8237. "That's all I need to hear."
  8238. >You get up and give her a big hug that she happily returns.
  8239. "You wouldn't get bored? By the way things look, we'll probably be here for a long time."
  8240. >"Looking back, I believe we have had enough excitement in our lives. Besides, the wife of a humble shopkeeper doesn't sound too bad."
  8241. "Not too bad at all. So what were you doing at the station?"
  8242. >"You know the ponies in town talk. They say you're weird. Strange. Always staying inside. Never coming out. Rumors are spreading that you're hiding something. I was hoping if you can come out every now and then they'll stop talking."
  8243. >She blushes a little.
  8244. >"Plus it would be nice to have a little company whenever I go into town."
  8245. "A little change of scenery does sound nice, but for now let's get inside before some random pony sees me."
  8246. >As you open the door, Roxelana's jumps at the sight of the destruction.
  8247. >She turns back to you with a bit of ire.
  8248. >"Nothing huh?"
  8249. "Oh...right."
  8250. >"Explain. Now!"
  8251. >She stamps her hoof hard on the ground.
  8252. >The force causes another car from your train to begin rolling.
  8253. >It's little wheels creek slowly before cascading off of the table and crashing onto the ground.
  8254. >As it shatters one of the pieces slides across the floor and lands in front of your hooves.
  8255. "Just get some rest. I'll clean this place up."
  8256. >"*Sigh* No. Your coming to bed. We'll talk about all of this in the morning while we both clean it up."
  8257. >You climb up the stairs and get into bed.
  8258. >Once you hit the mattress. Exhaustion completely overtakes you.
  8259. >Yet you still can't sleep.
  8260. >You keep thinking about Maverick's last words.
  8261. >I will return again!
  8262. >Can he?
  8263. >In the moment you were so sure of yourself, but now you don't know what to expect.
  8264. >You toss and turn in the dark finding no relief to your troubled mind.
  8265. >As you come back to the right side of your bed, something greets you.
  8266. >It's soft and warm.
  8267. >As you get close the smell of something sun-kissed greets your nostrils.
  8268. >Opening your eyes, all you see is your dark room.
  8269. >As they adjust, the silhouette of Roxelana begins to appear before you.
  8270. >She's laying beside you sleeping peacefully.
  8271. >Her body slowly rises and falls with each breath she takes.
  8272. >Occasionally a cute little snort is let out.
  8273. >When did she even come in?
  8274. >Nonetheless a sudden calmness overtakes you.
  8275. >Not like before whenever Maverick would try and take over.
  8276. >This time it feels like actual serenity.
  8277. >As you lay back down in bed, you put a hoof around Roxelana.
  8278. >She doesn't stir a muscle, but her breathing stuttered at your touch.
  8279. >You can't tell, but you're sure she's smiling right now.
  8280. >Closing your eyes the worry you once had dissipates and you surrender to the night.
  8281. >As your mind drifts closer to dreamland, you are left with one satisfying thought.
  8282. >With the friendship and love you two share, you can face anything this world has to throw at you.
  8284. The End.
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