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Ocean of Sand (WIP)

LukeDaDuke Mar 6th, 2017 (edited) 31 Never
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  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_lOxKJRThk [Embed]
  2. >Far away in a sea of sand, a pony stands high atop a balcony.
  3. >A light breeze blows through his dark brown mane and light grey coat giving some relief from the heat.
  4. >The endless desert of Saddle Arabia extends itself for miles on end.
  5. >An old cobblestone road snakes through this dry ocean two separate ways.
  6. >West leads to the coast where the war rages.
  7. >There he pictures the destruction and carnage being fought over.
  8. >Where the blood and sweat of each nation falls with the determination to dominate the other.
  9. >The Equestrians have already overtaken much of the small provinces and are moving their way inland.
  10. >To the East the old road leads to the capitol, Meccaspia.
  11. >Where the Sultan sits on his throne of salt and sand.
  12. >It takes a three weeks journey to get to this fortress from either side.
  13. >Being this far out in the desert, the fighting shouldn't spread here for a long time.
  14. >A knock comes from behind.
  15. "Enter."
  16. >In walks a large Saddle Arabian wearing heavy chain mail.
  17. >An iron helmet shields his face from sight and a tabar is slung across his back.
  18. >In an awkward accent he speaks.
  19. >"Excuse me Doctor. My men gathered all that you requested and are ready to begin."
  20. >The grey coated pony gives out a sigh and still stares into the endless desert.
  21. >He focuses his sight on two little dots far away in the sky.
  22. >There the outline of ponies can be barely seen.
  23. >Pegasus Scouts.
  24. >A smile creeps across his face.
  25. “Very good Captain, I’ll be down in a moment.”
  26. >”One more thing Sir, a delegate from the capitol is here. He wants to make a detailed report abo-“
  27. “Say no more, show him and his entourage to the guest rooms and bring them some food and water. I will deal him later. Oh and make preparations for others.”
  28. >“Others?”
  29. “More guests are on the way and I would hate to be ‘unprepared’ for their welcome as well.”
  30. >”Yes Sir.”
  31.  
  32. ***
  33.  
  34. >A pegasus wearing heavy plate armor makes his way towards the center of camp.
  35. >A tent is stationed there along with a great flag pole that’s now raising the Equestrian national banner.
  36. >Two giant Earth ponies stand with spears at the ready just outside it.
  37. >Seeing the unicorn, one of them opens the flap letting him in.
  38. >Inside the tent sits a middle aged stallion with his back to the pegasus.
  39. “General Strider Sir. You sent for me?”
  40. >Hearing the voice, General Strider turns around and greets the pony.
  41. >”Captain Roadwind, I am pleased you were able to come at such short notice.”
  42. “When duty calls Sir. We always answer.”
  43. >”That’s what I like to hear. Take a seat.”
  44. >As Roadwind sits in one of the available chairs, General Strider brings out some documents and a couple glasses.
  45. >”Drink?”
  46. “No thank you Sir.”
  47. >”A pony of business I see.”
  48. >Setting the glasses back into his desk he motions his hoof to the documents.
  49. >”As you well know, we are making unimaginable progress against the enemy. We’ve taken control over the many ports and established a strong beachhead with supply lines stretching all the way to the front. Many predict this war will be over by this years end.”
  50. >Roadwind simply nods at the statement.
  51. >”However there’s two main cities and two dozen or forts in between us and the capitol, with over two-hundred thousand or so soldiers and militias stationed there as well. There’s going to be a lot of fighting and a lot of death for both sides.”
  52. “That’s how war is Sir.”
  53. >”Well that’s not how I want it!”
  54. >He slams his hoof on the table.
  55. >”Intel shows that there’s a road just South of here that can take us directly to Meccaspia with only one fort in our way. We will be able to circumnavigate the entire Saddle Arabian forces and be done with this war within the next two months.”
  56. “That sounds like a marvelous idea, so why hasn’t it been put into effect?”
  57. >General Strider looks away in disgust.
  58. >”That’s the thing, all the scout teams we have sent never returned. I fear sending regular infantry would just cause more problems.”
  59. “So you want me and my team to clear the way for the main contingency.”
  60. >”Precisely! And hopefully find out what happened to the missing scouts.”
  61. “Do we at least know how long it takes to travel? I’d hate to lead my squad into the desert only to die of thirst.”
  62. >”From what we got from the prisoners and local maps, it should be a one-two week journey.”
  63. “Perfect. A nature hike is exactly what I need.”
  64. >”Captain, this mission is of the utmost importance. If you succeed you will be saving thousands of lives.”
  65. “When should we depart?”
  66. >”That is not up to me.”
  67. “If not you Sir, then who?”
  68. >”That would be me.”
  69. >Behind Roadwind in walks a unicorn with a reddish-brown coat and a short shaven mane.
  70. >His collar from a fancy button up shirt peaks out over his light leather armor.
  71. >”I’m Special Agent Copper of the Ministry of Interior Defense. I will be traveling with you and your team.”
  72.  
  73. "A pleasure Agent Copper, may I ask how you came to know of this 'highway' of ours?"
  74. >"That's classified I'm afraid, and that goes double for this mission. What I wouldn't mind is for you to gather your team. I will give you a brifing on what to expect in a couple hours in the Conference Tent, now if you will excuse us me and General need to discuss some private matters."
  75. >Giving a salute Roadwind takes his leave.
  76. "Prick."
  77. >Going back to the barracks, he finds only two members of his squad.
  78. >An Earth Pony is snoring loudly on one of the cots while a pegasus sits with his back to him, silently cleaning his spear.
  79. >Without looking the spearman speaks.
  80. >"Hello Captain. What is our next mission?"
  81. "Light Specter, I see you're cognizance hasn't diminished."
  82. >...
  83. Light Specter. Pegasus. Male. PoB: unknown. Family: unknown
  84. Master at hoof to hoof combat. Can move undetected.
  85. Formerly a Celestial Monk before they were dissolved by Her Highness Herself.
  86. Heightened Perception gives the illusion of having psychic powers.
  87. Austere. So uninterested in luxuries or beautification, has a manner that is overbearing and boorish.
  88. >...
  89. >"A blessing-"
  90. >A loud grunt and a snort from the stallion in the bed interrupts him.
  91. >*Nostril exhale*"-and a curse in some ways."
  92. >He begins to try and jab the sleeping stallion with the pole end of his spear.
  93. >"Onyx. Onyx! Wake up!"
  94. >Onyx simply brushes the pole away and turns over.
  95. >...
  96. Onyx Armor. Earth Pony. Male. PoB: Crystal Empire. Family: Wife and Colt
  97. Halberd expert. Crystal Guardsman
  98. Former Drillmaster to the Crystal Imperial Guard.
  99. Social Drinker. Not at all opposed to toasting to a victory, a good cause, or good company.
  100. >...
  101. >"Lazy drunk."
  102. >Roadwind gives out a chuckle at the situation.
  103. "Let him rest another half-hour. If he's not up by then you have my permission to dump a bucket of water on him."
  104. >Specter gives a sly smile and a nod and returns to shining his spear.
  105. >"The others are probably at the tavern. Onyx and I will arrive on time in the Conference Tent so you won't have to worry about us."
  106. "Oh and another thing, where are-"
  107. >Roadwind stares dumbfounded at the pegasus who now has his back to him again.
  108. >He gives another small chuckle to himself and heads out towards the bar.
  109.  
  110. >As Roadwind enters through the swivel doors, he is immediately washed into the crowd of revelry.
  111. >Cheers and toasting come all around from the soldiers resting after the hard won battle.
  112. >All trying to live it up before being shipped out East again for another huge battle.
  113. >Trying to see through the crowd, he spots Velvet Ace playing darts with a couple other somewhat sober soldiers.
  114. "Velvet!"
  115. >The outburst, although muffled by the sounds of the bar, shocked Velvet enough into throwing the dart hard into the wall next to the dart board.
  116. >As she turns towards the source of the distraction, she suppresses her anger at the sight of her superior.
  117. >...
  118. Velvet Ace. Unicorn. Female. PoB: Filly Delphia Outskirts. Family: Elderly Parents and Adolescent Brother
  119. Skilled Archer. Defended home from a Bug Bear attack with nothing but her wits and bow.
  120. Nocturnal. Known for using the cover of darkness to get a vantage on foes.
  121. >...
  122. >"C-captain! I didn't know you'd be back so quickly."
  123. "GLaD to see you are enjoying yourself Corporal."
  124. >"Just having a nice friendly game with the regulars."
  125. >She gives an awkward smile as if trying to hide something.
  126. >A burly Earth Pony walks up behind her.
  127. >"Hey! Where's my money unicorn? You lost fair and square!"
  128. >...
  129. Gambling Problem.
  130. >...
  131. >"I..erm..."
  132. >Roadwind steps between the two.
  133. "Gambling is prohibited Private."
  134. >The Earth Pony begins to back away.
  135. "Is what I would say if we were on base in Equestria."
  136. >Roadwind reaches a hoof into his pocket and gives the Private a small bag of bits.
  137. "Enjoy your victory soldier. That's an order."
  138. >With a relieving sigh and a nod, the soldier takes the bag and returns to the others who are now setting up another game.
  139. >"Sorry about that Captain."
  140. "Sorry shmaury, you're on double duty when we get back."
  141. >"Get back?"
  142. "New orders, there will be a briefing in a couple hours in the Conference Tent. Do you know where Metal and Spark are?"
  143. >Velvet puts a hoof to her chin in contemplation.
  144. >"Um...Last I saw them they were-"
  145. >"AND HERE'S TO THE BRAVE GELDINGS WHO KNOCKED OUT THOSE CANONS AND MORTAR PITS!"
  146. >Roadwind turns to see the last two of his squad standing on a stage along with a very soused regular combatant.
  147. >A roar of cheers and applause comes from everypony in the room followed by them turning their mugs topsy-turvy.
  148. >Roadwind gives out an annoyed grunt.
  149. "Go and get ready, I'll get them."
  150. >As Velvet leaves the tavern, Roadwind begins making his way to the front of the stage.
  151. >Marble Metal is standing on his hind legs while holding his forehoof around the soused soldier.
  152. >"AND LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE GREATEST ARMY IN THE WORLD! THE GRIFFONS CAN'T MATCH US! THE DOGS SCURRY AWAY IN FEAR AT OUR SIGHT! AND SOON THESE DESERT DWELLING HAS-BEEN'S SHALL BE BESTED BY US!"
  153. >...
  154. Marble Metal. Earth Pony. PoB: Baltimare. Family: All Deceased.
  155. Sword and Shield Expert. Notorious Brawler.
  156. Former Captain of the Royal Guard.
  157. Gregarious. More at home when surrounded with friends than alone.
  158. >...
  159. >Another great roar comes from everypony.
  160. >While inching his way closer to the front, somepony almost spills their cider atop Roadwind.
  161. >To his relief they catch themselves at the last second and quickly gulp it down.
  162. >As the cheers begin to die, Nimble Spark steps forward.
  163. >"Lets not forget of our brethren who are fighting now. Up in Fallujack. East to Damascolt. And all who fell in battle these past couple weeks."
  164. >...
  165. Nimble Spark. Unicorn. PoB: Canterlot. Family: Father, Mother, and two Adolescent siblings (Colt and Filly)
  166. Explosives Expert. Tutored personally by one of the Grand Scientists working in Canterlot's University.
  167. Well Spoken. Can rouse a group of downtrodden folk with words of strength and determination that are not too flowery or noble.
  168. Academy Trained. Been given proper training in the traits of logistics and tactics.
  169. Knowledge of Herbs & Medicine. Knows basics on what to do when he or comrade gets injured.
  170. >...
  171. >A hush comes over the audience.
  172. >"If I am to die, I will die content knowing that I have fought beside the finest soldiers this world has to offer. I would rather be in no other place, and have no other friends than you good soldiers of Equestria."
  173. >Roadwind spies a couple stallions wiping tears from their eyes.
  174. >"But less talk of death! I doubt our brothers in the afterlife enjoy seeing us in such a downhearted mood. Rejoice my fellow Equestrians! Rejoice! TO VICTORY AND THE MANY VICTORIES TO COME!"
  175. >At his words the entire room explodes with the stomping of hooves and cheers.
  176. >It feels as if the whole buildings foundation is shaking.
  177. >Nimble gives Marble a slick look which he just brushes off.
  178. >While the soldiers are distracted, Roadwind jumps atop the stage.
  179. "I see you both are enjoying the spotlight."
  180. >"CAPTAIN! Ahahaha!"
  181. >Marble's voice booms through the room alerting everypony his direction.
  182. >As they take one look at Roadwind they give a hoof-stomping applause.
  183. >Through the stomping Nimble speaks out.
  184. >"Well we're happy to share it Sir."
  185. "There's no time for that now. Come on, we need to get ready."
  186. >Marble turns his head quizzically.
  187. >"Whuda ya meean, 'get reedy' EYam reedy! Reedy to git mere CIDER!"
  188. >At the mention of cider another, thankfully softer, cheer comes again.
  189. "Oh Sweet Celestia go get some water!"
  190. >As Marble stumbles away, Roadwind turns to Light.
  191. "At least you aren't too far gone."
  192. >He also has a puzzled look on his face.
  193. >"Sir, although I am in the right mindset and ready, we earned this break! We were promised a two week rest for our actions on these beaches."
  194. "Yeah, well I hate to break it to you, I just got orders from High Command, we are headed back out starting tomorrow."
  195. >Light Specter looks very distraught, but doesn't say anything.
  196. "There's a briefing in the Conference Tent in another hour or so, cast a sobriety spell on him and be there. That's an order."
  197. >"Yes Sir."
  198. >Light gives a quick salute and goes to try and pry Marble away from a barrel of cider, where many of the soldiers surrounding him are edging him on to try and chug it.
  199. >Giving a sigh, Roadwind makes his way for the exit.
  200. "Once we get back I'm going to find whoever assigned us this and shove the report down their throat."
  201. >...
  202. Rock Roadwind. Pegasus. PoB:           Family:
  203.  
  204.  
  205.  
  206.  
  207. >Agent Copper's eye twitches when he sees the black bars covering the page.
  208. >"General Strider there seems to be a problem."
  209. >Special Agent Copper slides aside the personal documents of the taskforce and picks Roadwinds up.
  210. >"What seems to be the problem?"
  211. >Copper sets Roadwinds records down on the table in front of Strider.
  212. >"Why is Roadwind censored out, I am very particular with my words when I make requests."
  213. >"Those papers contain sensitive information that is unavailable to anypony and everypony other than me or him. We made an oath together many years ago when-"
  214. >"Tsk Tsk Tsk that won't do. The Ministry cares little about your archaic acts of chivalry. Besides it's not like you take oath's seriously."
  215. >He picks up an old antique figurine of a soldier holding a spear off of Strider's desk.
  216. >Strider shifts uneasily in his chair.
  217. >"I can let this little instance slide, the paperwork is merely for formalities really. Just need to know next of kin and whatnot."
  218. >Strider squints his eyes looking suspiciously at the pony.
  219. >"Oh don't worry, I would *never* lay a hoof on any of them..."
  220. >Copper then smashes the figurine on the ground where it crumples into several distinct tiny pieces.
  221. >"...as long as they listen."
  222. >With a final stomp on the last stable piece, Copper turns to leave.
  223. >"Oh by the way, you should write your daughter sometime. Little Shirley Temple misses her father. It's *amazing* you even have a filly considering your wife is barren."
  224. >Strider sits back with his jaw agape.
  225. >"H-how do you-"
  226. >"Now if you'll excuse me I have a briefing to give."
  227. >As the Agent takes his leave, Strider can only sit idly by with anger, all the while a wave of guilt washes over him.
  228. >After some contemplation, he takes out a parchment and a quill.
  229.  
  230. ***
  231.  
  232. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C5mhTcFT2g
  233. >"Working. For. The Spooks."
  234. "Can it Marble!"
  235. >Roadwind barks at Marble while still hushed enough not to let Copper hear.
  236. >Everypony is on edge.
  237. >It's been four weeks since they left the coast and still no sign of the fort.
  238. >What's been slowing them down is Agent Coppers personal little guard.
  239. >Two Saddle Arabian turncoats.
  240. >They were part of the local contingency that helped Roadwind and his team take out the main guns so the invasion force can land safely.
  241. >Can't speak a word of Equestrian but Copper insisted on bringing them along anyway.
  242. >Mostly so they can just lug everypony's equipment.
  243. >By everypony, mostly his.
  244. >Thank Celestia at least one of them understands Equestrian.
  245. >Wish strict rationing, there's enough food and water to last another week.
  246. >Three if the turncoats are cut off.
  247. >Plenty for now, but not enough to last if the troop is forced to turn around.
  248. >In a diamond pattern; Roadwind is in front Center, Onyx a couple paces back to the left, Marble a couple paces back to the right identical to Onyx. Behind them on each respectable side is Light and Spark. In the Center between everypony is Velvet.
  249. >And a good twenty yards ahead marches Agent Copper along with the turncoats and their carts.
  250. >"Working."
  251. "Marble."
  252. >"For."
  253. "I am warning you."
  254. >There's a pause as everypony marches on.
  255. >"Come on dude, I'm getting tired of hearing it too."
  256. >Onyx pleas land on deaf ears.
  257. >"The Spooks."
  258. >Roadwind turns around a strikes his subordinate.
  259. >Marble's head reels to the right, but he still stands.
  260. >Everyone else stops in shock.
  261. >Marble swishes his mouth with his tongue and spits out some blood.
  262. >"Nice hit Captain."
  263. >Roadwind turns back around and continues the march.
  264. >In a hushed stern tone, Roadwind glares into Marbles eyes and asked a question.
  265. "What's your deal? This isn't like you."
  266. >Marble shrugs and says nothing.
  267. >He puts a hoof to his jaw.
  268. >Slowly he begins rubbing it in tiny circles where Roadwind struck him.
  269. "Light."
  270. >"Yes Sir?"
  271. "Go aerial, see if you can get a visual."
  272. >"Of?"
  273. "Anything!"
  274. >He takes off straight upward.
  275. "Everypony else keep marching. Me and Marble need privacy."
  276. >They all continue and get a good thirty paces ahead before Marble and Roadwind begin walking.
  277. "Talk."
  278. >The two walk on silently.
  279. "If you won't talk, I will. What do you have against the Ministry?"
  280. >With eyes convicted to staring straight, Marble keeps walking.
  281. "I've been watching you. The little quirks. The quick sneers. The eye twitch..."
  282. >As he said that Marble's eye twitches.
  283. "Since you first set eyes on him in the Conference Tent you changed."
  284. >Marble let's out a grunt.
  285. "And right from the start of this trek you've kept your eyes fixed on his every movement."
  286. >There's a slight pause.
  287. "I'm going to ask you again, and you are going to tell me what's wrong. Understand?"
  288. >Marble opens his mouth as if going to say something, but then closes it again.
  289. "What happened?"
  290. >There's a pause.
  291. >A long pause.
  292. >For a while the only sound made was their hoofs marching along and the slight wind at their backs.
  293. >Then Marble responds.
  294. >"The 209."
  295. "What?"
  296. >"CCETS Ponyville209 Express Train."
  297. "That horrible train crash."
  298. >"The crash my family died on!"
  299. >The snap brought the attention of Roadwind to scold.
  300. >As he turned to face Marble, he halted the thought.
  301. >A tear is streaming down his cheek.
  302. >"You remember how it went? How that toss-pot of a Prince wanted to 'experience Equestria'."
  303. "Yes I remember, and he was just an emissary not a prince."
  304. >"Whatever."
  305. "He wanted to see Equestria like how any of us would. Riding the train, walking the streets. See with his own eyes how different we were from them. At the end of the day, he was to head back to Canterlot to sign some treaty of some sort."
  306. >"But he never made it back. Want to know why?"
  307. "Because the train jumped the tracks crashing into the Everfree Forest."
  308. >"Not only that, that treaty he would sign gifted the Griffish Isles and Trottingham to the Griffonstone Kingdom as a measure of good faith."
  309. "And?"
  310. >"The Ministry assassinated him to prevent that signing using the crash as a cover."
  311. >Roadwind squints his eyes at Marble.
  312. "You sure know a whole lot of information."
  313. >"I have done, a lot of digging in my off time and have found numerous inconsistencies with all the reports made public. My wife and two fillies were on that train and I wanted to know the truth."
  314. >He tenses up a bit.
  315. >"Peaches took the little ones to Dodge Junction to see her Mother. I stayed behind. She decided to leave a day early to come home to surprise me, If I had just gone with her she'd..."
  316. >Marble sniffles a little.
  317. >"I should've went with them."
  318. "You couldn't have known."
  319. >The two walk in silence as Marble gets some sand out of his eyes.
  320. >As he regains himself Marble breaks the silence.
  321. >"The Ministry is bad news. I don't trust any of them! And now seeing *him* here, leading us only Celestia knows where. I have a bad feeling."
  322. >Roadwind pats Marble on the shoulder.
  323. "I understand what you're feeling, but right now I need you to focus on the mission. Agent Copper is just doing his job, let him for now. I want you to know if he does turns on us, I'll be the first to give him a hard hoof, and I'll make sure you will be the second."
  324. >Marble gives a smile and nods.
  325. >"Yes Sir."
  326. >But he's right, something just doesn't seem right about this. Copper is definitely hiding something.
  327. >Roadwind ponders his thoughts as they close the distance with the group.
  328. >The two are right about to catch up with the rest of the group when a gust comes from overhead.
  329. >It's Light.
  330. "Report?"
  331. >A look of awe is on his face.
  332. >"We're close. Just over that ridge and you can all see it."
  333. "Distinctions?"
  334. >"It's...big."
  335. >His emphasis on big gives Roadwind a questionable look on his face.
  336. "Good work, go tell the others."
  337. >...
  338. >As everypony marches closer towards the fortress, its true form begins to make itself known.
  339. >It seems it was carved right out of an ancient mesa with only certain parts and specific buildings made from other foreign stones.
  340. >If anypony were to pass by, it would look to be abandoned.
  341. >The old watchtowers and ramparts remain empty and many of the bastions and buttresses have large cracks from neglect.
  342. >At the very top, old rusted flagpoles stand alone in the baking heat.
  343. >The old banners that once flew from them have been taken down leaving the pole to defy the elements alone.
  344. >The fortress's towering presence blankets everypony in a cooling shadow.
  345. >A crumbling wall surrounds the fortress and a lone portcullis blocks the path of the group.
  346. >Roadwind steps forward to investigate it.
  347. >Unlike the walls, it seemed to be in good condition.
  348. >There is almost no rust along any of the crossed bars.
  349. >The old chains used to lift the heavy monster almost even shined.
  350. >It's been used.
  351. >And recently.
  352. >Onyx sits down with his mouth agape.
  353. >"This isn't a fort, it's a castle!"
  354. >Spark sits down to rest right next to him.
  355. >"What's the difference? Both are used for defense."
  356. >"I was thinking more along the lines of a Motte & Bailey the Saddle Arabians usually made. I didn't think we would be infiltrating the Sultans damn vacation home."
  357. >While the rest of the group settles down, Roadwind tries to look through the gate.
  358. >Peering through the square openings, he could barely see some carts parked inside the courtyard.
  359. >They are partially sunken into the sand, but the tarps look fairly new.
  360. >The crest of a black falcon with its wings outstretched is printed on the side of one of them.
  361. >"See anything Captain?"
  362. >Copper is suddenly standing beside Roadwind staring through the gate also.
  363. "You have some light hooves just like Specter."
  364. >Roadwind doesn't turn and keeps scanning the courtyard.
  365. >"A true trait I learned to care for when going on missions like these."
  366. "How many missions 'like these' have you been on?"
  367. >Copper gives out a little chuckle.
  368. >"Strange don't you think?"
  369. >He's ignoring the question.
  370. "Yes it is. All the guards are missing."
  371. >"Not a single soul in sight for miles. No weapons, clothing, not even corpses."
  372. "They must've went inside. Take a look over there."
  373. >Roadwind motions a hoof to the carts.
  374. >"The Crest of Saddle Arabia. So at least we know somepony important is staying here. It doesn't look to big of a caravan, probably only four or five guards at most."
  375. "And whoever that is we'll find out what they did with our scouts."
  376. >"I'll get my things ready, go and get that Monk and fly atop to see if you can raise the gate."
  377. "You're insane, they'll hear the chains! I suggest we just climb the walls, they aren't too high and we can just carry your stuff over."
  378. >"If they knew we were here, they would be charging at us by now. I don't need any of my tools to be damaged by your clumsy hooves! Now call your subordinate and get this gate open now!"
  379. >He turns back to the two turncoats and calls them to harness back up.
  380. >Roadwind flies up to the wall and carefully peaks over to get a view of the entire courtyard.
  381. >A broken fountain lays on it's side half sunk in the sand that has overtaken the bowl.
  382. >Old clay pots are covered in cobwebs or are broken on the ground.
  383. >It's completely empty other than the two carts.
  384. >Roadwind hovers back to his team who are all checking on their equipment.
  385. "Alright listen up, Me and Light will fly up to open the gate for you all. Nimble I want you to carefully guide it with your horn to prevent as much noise a possible. Once it's open sweep the courtyard and make sure it's clear, you know how much I hate surprises. When that's done we'll move our way to those storage houses, they're connected to the main building and we can use it as a stealthy way inside rather than those heavy front doors. Stay vigilant, we don't have eyes on any hostiles, but that doesn't mean they don't have eyes on us. Watch the windows, watch the doors, watch any opening for movement. Any questions?"
  386. >Nimble looks hesitantly at the towering castle.
  387. >"Sir, what will we do when we're inside?"
  388. >Roadwind makes a glare at Copper who is looking over his things while the two turncoats wait idly by.
  389. >Their keffiyehs cover their facial expressions, but Roadwind could tell they seemed uncomfortable.
  390. "We're going to find our missing scouts."
  391.  
  392. >Flying up atop the rampart, Roadwind and Light enter the gatehouse.
  393. >A windlass sits in the center with the end of the chains connecting to it.
  394. >Roadwind sets himself on one side of the wheel and Light the opposite.
  395. >Giving a great heave, the chains strain at the pressure.
  396. >For a second, it seems they are too weak.
  397. >There are four sections for ponies to push and only two are filled.
  398. >Roadwind's hooves begin to shake from the exertion, but he still endures.
  399. >Through grinding teeth he gives Light an order.
  400. "Wings!"
  401. >Light looks over at Roadwind, but still puts force on the wheel.
  402. "Put your wings into it!"
  403. >The two begin flapping their wings tirelessly in hoping it would provide some additional pressure.
  404. >The gate shudders.
  405. >Then it slowly begins to rise.
  406. >Spark's magical green aura surrounds it as the two slowly watch it rise into the gatehouse.
  407. >Once it got halfway up, the two lock it in place.
  408. >They both lean on the windlass wheezing.
  409. "Nothing like a *cough* workout to end a long march."
  410. >"Couldn't have said it better myself Sir."
  411. >Regaining their composure, they exit the room and join the others in the courtyard.
  412. >The two Saddle Arabians already parked their carts behind the storage houses out of sight.
  413. >Copper digs through one of the carts while they sit idly in the shade of the building.
  414. >One of them takes off their keffiyeh and fans himself with it.
  415. >He's...young.
  416. >Looks to be barely past the colt age range.
  417. >Roadwind watches as the other one takes out a canteen and let's the younger sip from it.
  418. >Probably his older brother or father maybe.
  419. >Continuing with the sweep, Velvet motions him over.
  420. >She is standing inside the fountain next to the toppled statue.
  421. >"Captain, take a look at this."
  422. >She points a hoof to the base of the statue.
  423. >Looking carefully, there's a torn piece of cloth.
  424. >A majority of it is a faded white, but the bottom part where the tear is has a bloodstain.
  425. >Turning it over, the tips of black wings and the end of a golden spear peak over the ripped part.
  426. >It's only half of the crest, but Roadwind recognizes it.
  427. "This is from a scout uniform."
  428. >He turns to face the castle doors.
  429. "They were here."
  430. >"They must've went inside, but why? Scouting missions consist of 'Report and Return' right?"
  431. "Something isn't right about this."
  432. >A harsh wind blows the cloth from Roadwind's grasp.
  433. >It flies upward and lands against one of the high windows on the upper level above the doorway.
  434. >A whistling can be heard.
  435. >Looking for the source, Roadwind sees his team getting behind cover.
  436. "Get down."
  437. >The two duck under behind the base of the fountain and keep their heads low.
  438. >Lifting his head from the sand, his sight ends on Light who is taking cover behind a couple barrels beside another building to the right.
  439. >As their eyes make contact, Light stops his whistling.
  440. >He motions his hooves upward in a square motion and mouths out some words.
  441. >Window. Third row. Far right. Drawn curtain.
  442. >Peaking over, Roadwind sees what Light was warning him about.
  443. >The windows are tinted slightly to block out the sun, but the silhouette of a pony leaning against the glass can be easily seen.
  444. >It stands there motionless.
  445. >Front hooves pressed against the glass as if trying to push it open.
  446. >"Did he see us?"
  447. "No."
  448. >If he did alarm bells would be going off.
  449. >Why is he just standing there?
  450. >The figure stands for what seems like hours before moving.
  451. >But something is wrong.
  452. >As it walks past the other windows, the pony would twitch its head.
  453. >Each movement made seem jankey and forced.
  454. >Similar to how a puppeteer contorts a marionette.
  455. >Getting to the end of the windows it disappears behind the stone walls.
  456. >Roadwind looks to Light who gives an all clear.
  457. >Shaking the sand from his coat, Roadwind gives out a whistle and everypony returns behind the storage house.
  458. "Okay, Onyx and Marble. Get your full plates on. Onyx is on point Marble cover the end. Velvet and Nimble will provide cover fire if things get hot, we're going to work our way room to room and see what this place is hiding. If you spot anypony or anything do NOT engage. This may be a fortress, but that doesn't exclude there won't be any civilians, if compromised subdue with force, maybe we can get some information as to what happened here. Dead or alive we are getting our soldiers back. Copper, you're with me. Get whatever gear you feel comfortable with and lets move out."
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