Ocean of Sand (WIP)

LukeDaDuke Mar 6th, 2017 (edited) 89 Never
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  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.”
  32. ***
  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 entirety of the 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 if possible.”
  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 black 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.”
  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 briefing 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.
  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-"
  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.
  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:
  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. >" 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.
  230. ***
  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. Maybe then..."
  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."
  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 sporadically.
  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 rear. 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 behind Onyx. Get whatever gear you feel comfortable with and lets move out."
  460. >"And what about them?"
  461. >Copper motions a hoof to the two Saddle Arabians who are idly standing beside everypony else.
  462. >With an eager smile the younger one gives a little wave to the group knowing they were being talked about.
  463. >The older one dons his keffiyeh.
  464. >It covers his stoic face leaving only a slit for his eyes.
  465. >He nods readily awaiting a new assignment while the younger half puts his head-wear on also.
  466. >Roadwind gives out a silent groan.
  467. "Ugh. We don't have time to foalsit two untrained rebels. Their kind were helpful causing havoc and confusion during the landings so we could disable those cannons, but they have no place in an infiltration. One wrong step and all this would be for nothing."
  468. >"Well we can't exactly send them home now can we?"
  469. *Sigh*"I have an idea, have them set up base here in the storage house. They can keep an eye on the courtyard and your precious gadgets or whatever you brought."
  470. >Copper gives out a small smile.
  471. >"That would be perfect."
  472. >As Copper goes to talk to the two Arabs, Light walks up beside Roadwind.
  473. >"Orders for me Sir?"
  474. "Ah right, you'll be scouting ahead of the main group since you are the most light-hoofed one out of all of us."
  475. >"Hmph! Barely."
  476. >Ignoring Velvet's comment Light listens on.
  477. >However a smug smile crawls on his face.
  478. "They are most likely going to keep our stallions in the lower floors so search for stairs. Direct us to take cover if there are any patrols. We'll be a good ten paces behind you if anything goes wrong. Stay out of sight and stick to the shadows."
  479. >"Yes Sir."
  480. >As Copper returns, he's wearing two large saddlebags and the same light leather armor you met him in.
  481. "That all you're wearing?"
  482. >"It would be hard to stay quiet with heavy metal plates stomping about don't you think?"
  483. "Not for my team. You'd be surprised how quickly ponies drown out the accustomed sounds of a barracks."
  484. >"Suit yourself Captain."
  485. >He motions a hoof to the entrance door.
  486. >"After you."
  487. >The two glare into each other's eyes for a moment.
  488. >Roadwind tries to get a read on Copper who stands there stone faced. Not letting anything show other than a small smile.
  489. >This lasts the entirety of ten seconds before Roadwind steps forward towards the door.
  490. "With pleasure."
  491. >Giving a nod to Onyx, he gives the door a nudge and it creaks open slowly.
  494. >A wave of dust falls from the door frame.
  495. >Down the side of it, a little spider scurries its way back up the door and disappears above it.
  496. >"This entryway seemed like it hasn't been used in months. Years maybe."
  497. "Good, that means this wing might be deserted. Alright file through."
  498. >As the team moves through the doorway, Roadwind looks back over Marble checking on the two Arabs.
  499. >While the older stands beside the window keeping watch, the younger is sitting by himself sharpening a jambia with a whetstone.
  500. >His keffiyeh is pulled down to make it more of a scarf.
  501. >Most likely so he can concentrate easier.
  502. >He notices Roadwind staring and he gives another cheerful smile.
  503. >Hearing the sound of stone striking blade stop, the older gives a call to the younger who then quickly returns to sharpening.
  504. >If Copper is scheming something, they definitely aren't part of it.
  505. >Roadwind ponders over his thoughts.
  506. >No.
  507. >Marble's paranoia is just getting to you.
  508. >Distrust with Copper is just because he's being so secretive.
  509. >But that's his job after all.
  510. >Keeping secrets.
  511. >He's just doing his job just like how you are doing yours.
  512. >Maybe after all this you can all share a cider together?
  513. >However, why does the Ministry even care about a couple of missing scouts?
  514. >"Sir, something wrong?"
  515. >The voice draws Roadwind out of his train of thought and he turns to see the source.
  516. >Marble is standing beside the door waiting for him to enter so he can take his place at the rear.
  517. "It's nothing Marble."
  518. >He gives a nod and they both leave the storehouse.
  519. >As Roadwind makes his way to the front where Copper is, Marble carefully shuts the door.
  520. >*click*
  521. >Light is already up ahead looking about the hallways while everypony else stands in their respected positions.
  522. >As he gets to the front behind Onyx, he turns back to get a view of his team.
  523. >All stand ready and awaiting orders.
  524. >Turning back around he sees Onyx crouching down with his sword and shield at the ready.
  525. >His great Halberd slung over his back.
  526. >All fine soldiers.
  527. "Let's move."
  530. >Just another walk in the park.
  531. >Roadwind quietly thinks to himself as the team slowly make their way deeper into the castle.
  532. >The long corridors and hallways are almost pitch dark.
  533. >The many sconces that line the wall sit empty.
  534. >Only ash or old torches unfit for lighting remain.
  535. >Copper fumbles around with something in one of his saddlebags.
  536. >With an "Aha" he pulls out some funny looking glasses and carefully places them over his eyes.
  537. >He illuminates his horn engulfing them in his dark-red aura and the lenses begin to shine green.
  538. >"What in Celestia are those?"
  539. >Velvet cocks her head to the side staring at the spectacles.
  540. >"That's classified information."
  541. >"Oh come on, you can't just show off some secret techno-gizmo and not give us anything."
  542. >Ignoring her, Copper continues walking along, periodically stopping to look behind.
  543. >"Just a hint? Please?"
  544. "Velvet, leave him and his expensive toys alone."
  545. >With a hmph she silences herself and they carry on.
  546. >While walking, they pass by pairs of doors each opposite of the other.
  547. >Each time they pass a pair, they stop and Roadwind directs two ponies to inspect what's inside.
  548. >Every time the two come out, the respond with a quick hoof movement meaning 'clear'.
  549. >Coming up to another pair of doors, Roadwind nudges Copper.
  550. "Our turn. Get the right side."
  551. >Copper gives a nod and the two disappear into the opposite rooms.
  552. >Taking a look around Roadwind feels a bit underwhelmed at the sight.
  553. >Nothing too fancy.
  554. >Dresser.
  555. >Single-pony bed.
  556. >Candle-holder.
  557. >Desk.
  558. >Just a very plain ordinary room.
  559. >At least it looks well kept.
  560. >The only thing it would need is a good dusting.
  561. >Steping back outside he looks over Onyx's head down the hall.
  562. >The stone walls vanish into the darkness making it appear to go on forever.
  563. "All these must be either for the servants or guests."
  564. >"That's exactly what I was thinking also."
  565. >Nimble peaks his head looking back down the way they came.
  566. >"All these rooms look exactly like the servant quarters in my parents home in Canterlot."
  567. "Well I don't care if they're all the same, it will only take one pony hiding to blow our cover. We'll check every room. Speaking of which."
  568. >Roadwind knocks once on the right door.
  569. "Copper let's go."
  570. >...
  571. "Copper let's move it."
  572. >...
  573. "Agent Copper?"
  574. >...
  575. >As Roadwind is about to push inside, the door flies open.
  576. "What took you so long?"
  577. >Copper just gives a shrug.
  578. >"Just taking in the scenery is all."
  579. >He places a hoof on Roadwind's breastplate and lightly shoves him out of the way to get back in line with the others.
  580. >"Are we ready to continue now Captain?"
  581. >Roadwind stares daggers through the green lenses of Coppers glasses.
  582. "Yes we are Agent."
  584. >Making it to the end of the hallway, a little chirp from above makes them stop.
  585. >Roadwind looks up and sees Light perched on one of the rafters.
  586. >He has a hoof pressed up against his mouth signalling them to be quiet then he slowly hovers down towards them.
  587. >Roadwind steps closer and speaks in a hushed tone.
  588. "Report. Got a visual on something?"
  589. >"Staircase. Center."
  590. "Nice job Light, is he alone?"
  591. >"Yes, but something is wrong."
  592. "What's wrong?"
  593. >"I don't know, something is off. We should go another way."
  594. >Peaking out from the doorway, the grand staircase comes to view.
  595. >It's the main entrance!
  596. >The tinted windows show an outline from the carts parked right outside.
  597. >The great stained glass windows provide some dark colored lighting and one of those beams shines perfectly on a figure.
  598. >A Saddle Arabian.
  599. >He's exactly where Light said he is.
  600. >Just like the figure from the window, he fidgets and twitches about in place.
  601. >It's still too dark to see, but he doesn't appear to be wearing armor or holding any weapons.
  602. >A cloak rests covering his body leaving his head exposed.
  603. >We can take him.
  604. >Giving a quick whistle Roadwind hopes to lure him over.
  605. >The pony doesn't even flinch.
  606. >He just keeps twitching.
  607. >Roadwind gives out another whislte. This time a little louder.
  608. >Nothing.
  609. >"Sir please, something isn't right here."
  610. "It's one pony right?"
  611. >"Yes."
  612. "Alright then. Psst, Velvet."
  613. >"Yes Sir?"
  614. "Hard shell. Knock him out."
  615. >Giving a nod she replaces her pointed tip arrows with one that has a heavy circular metal piece at the head.
  616. >Non-lethal in theory.
  617. >They were designed to quietly knock-out ponies from a distance without hurting them.
  618. >Not "lethally" hurting them anyway.
  619. >Whoever get's hit by them will wake up with an awful headache.
  620. >Taking her stance, she plants her bow on the ground.
  621. >She bites down at the end of the bowstring and pulls back hard with her mouth.
  622. >Adjusting for fall she aims just a smidgen high.
  623. >Then she releases her jaw and the arrow goes flying.
  624. >It sails through the air at an incredible speed.
  625. >Then it smashes directly into the pony's right temple.
  626. >His head jerks hard to the left and a sickening crack could be heard.
  627. >While his head reacted normally, his body is still planted to it's spot.
  628. >Unperturbed with the blow the head just received.
  629. >Aside his hoof lay the arrow.
  630. >The metal ball at the end is completely destroyed.
  631. "By Celestia Velvet how hard did you pull that?"
  632. >"I-I don't know, that's never happened before, normally he would've-"
  633. >She stops mid-sentence at the sound of cracking bones.
  634. >Looking back to the Saddle Arabian, they watch in horror as his head slowly moves back in place.
  635. >With one final crack it relocated itself back into place.
  636. >Then he freezes.
  637. >No twitching.
  638. >No spasms.
  639. >He completely just stops it all.
  640. >Then slowly turns his head towards the hallway.
  641. >His blood-red eyes staring directly into Roadwind's.
  643. >He takes a step forward off the stairs.
  644. >The light reflecting from the stained glass windows sends a dimmed shimmering light engulfing his body.
  645. >Each step closer his coat changes color from the windows spectrum.
  646. >He slowly opens his mouth and let's out a guttural moan.
  647. >A blotch of something falls from his jaw and it hits the ground with a disgusting splat.
  648. >As the Arab gets closer to the trio, a blur flies by Roadwind's head.
  649. >Before he could see what it was, a grisly crack comes from in front of him.
  650. >The that was pony shambling towards them is crumpled on the floor.
  651. >Rising up to a sitting position he uses his right hoof to cover the left, cradling it slightly.
  652. >His left front leg is bending inward.
  653. >The bone where the joint was is completely split.
  654. >Small bone fragments are scatted around while a small pool of blood starts to pool around the hoof with the wound.
  655. >In that pool lays a freshly shot blunt arrow.
  656. >As he sits there, he begins to mumble to himself.
  657. >Small, short, unintelligible mumbles.
  658. >Roadwind is furious.
  659. >As he's about to give Velvet his mind, he turns to see Copper holding the bow.
  660. "What in Celestia's mane, was that?!"
  661. >Copper cocks his head to the side.
  662. >"What?"
  663. >Roadwind swipes the bow out of his hooves and shoves it back to Velvet.
  664. "A wound as serious as that is going to kill him!"
  665. >"And?"
  666. >AND?!
  667. "I specifically said before all this, 'SUBDUE with force' when we see a civilian. Do you see any weapons on him?"
  668. >Copper gives out a snort.
  669. >"Captain if I may, I'm going to share with you a little info."
  670. >He takes a step towards Roadwind.
  671. >"We are invaders. Interlopers. You lucked out finding that little band of rebels willing to help you and your taskforce, but I can easily assure you that every other pony living in this wasteland will fight with the utmost ferocity and barbarity to defend their homes and Sultan."
  672. >"Besides how can you tell if he wasn't just hiding a weapon underneath his-"
  673. >He motions a hoof towards the maimed Arab.
  674. >"-cloak."
  675. >The Arab was no longer sitting idly on the ground.
  676. >He is standing normally on all four hooves, with the third still being broken.
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