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Heart of War- Act IV

By ThingPaste
Created: 2024-02-28 03:02:19
Expiry: Never

  1. >Everything is just… blank.
  2. >How are you even standing on a flat surface?
  3. >Your headache spikes.
  4. “Gah, where am I?”
  5. >And everything starts flooding back to you.
  6. >Your real life, and all of the dreams you’ve been going through.
  7. “Am… am I dead?”
  8. >”Not yet.”
  9. >You turn on your heel to face the origin of the familiar voice.
  10. “Discord. Where are we?”
  11. >”Oh this is still your mind. After this it’s back into the land of the conscious… But, I promised you an explanation.”
  12. “And you’ll be completely straight with me?”
  13. >”Everything on the table: no lies, and no antics.”
  14. “Well start from the beginning.”
  15. >”Good a place as any. Well, I regret to inform you that I may have not been entirely honest with you when we previously spoke.”
  16. >You open your mouth to ask for a clarification.
  17. >”In the real world, yes. You see, the Princesses weren’t the only ones… infected.”
  18. “What?”
  19. >”Don’t worry too much, yours reacted differently to you own brain. It was starved and went dormant for years.”
  20. “Then what woke it up?”
  21. >”It found something it could feed off of. My guess would be fear, more specifically: despair. For the first time it was able to wake up and feed. From then it started planting… dreams to encourage the emptions it could feed off of.”
  22. “Like the plane crash one.”
  23. >”Correct. And eventually as you fought against the hopeless scenarios, I was able to intervene more and more.”
  24. “You only gave some cryptic words of advice.”
  25. >”The entire time I was doing everything in my power to weaken it.”
  26. “So, why did one of the dreams reoccur?”
  27. >”Well for the most part they were a bit more than dreams, they were also part hallucination and part vision.”
  28. “Discord, don’t dodge the question.”
  29.  
  30. >”Fine, because I helped you!”
  31. “Why?”
  32. >”Because helping you now is better than the alternative if you lost the mental struggle; and you would have lost without a safe haven to rest in.”
  33. “There’s more to it that you aren’t telling me.”
  34. >”I have no idea why you would insinuate that.”
  35. “No lies.”
  36. >”Well maybe I just feel ever so slightly responsible for the entire thing, so I gave you a proverbial port in the storm.”
  37. “And why would you feel responsible?”
  38. >”The Butterfly Effect: You’re in Equestria due to my… you know. And that sent ripples into the world that were just as chaotic as the best of my own conscious decisions.”
  39. “Isn’t it all the same to you?”
  40. >”I don’t need to lecture you on my morality, no it isn’t. Let’s just say there’s a difference between simple reality warping and bringing an extra-dimensional being into this world.”
  41. “So you do have a conscious.”
  42. >”This was a onetime deal, understand. No more help from here on out.”
  43. “One last thing. Flurry and the others, I take it they go through something similar?”
  44. >”Every waking and non-waking hour. But much worse, I was only able to give you the edge because your little friend was stunted due to starvation. They feed on emotion amplified by some of the strongest magic know to ponies, you’re inherent lack of it is what kept it from immediately growing in strength.”
  45. “So how can I cure the others?”
  46. >”It’s not that simple, there’s more than just the bu-“
  47. >He gets a quizzical look on his face.
  48. >”You’re waking up, not much time left. Retrace Twilight’s steps and you might find the answers you seek. You’re on your own now, and for what it’s worth: good luck.”
  49. >Discord wishing someone good luck?
  50. “Thank you?”
  51. >…
  52.  
  53. >Your eyes open and you see the top of your tent.
  54. >Every inch of your body aches.
  55. >And you feel as if a horrible migraine completely ended in a moment.
  56. >You reach over for your canteen.
  57. >As you spin the cap off, you bring it to your mouth.
  58. >It feels like a good portion of the lower right half of your face has crusted over from dried saliva or mucus.
  59. >But still, the water was much needed.
  60. >After chugging about half of it, you set it aside.
  61. >And you just lay there on your bedroll.
  62. >You can’t take anything at face value, but you’ve just awoken from something more than a dream.
  63. >Because with normal dreams, they seem foggy even as they’re still fresh in your mind.
  64. >But you can remember everything that happened with crystal clarity.
  65. >It even felt more ‘real’ than your actual life, if that makes sense.
  66. >You crack you neck, then start to get up.
  67. >There’s just enough space in your tent for you to stand without brushing against the top.
  68. >Light is streaming in through the tent’s relatively thin material.
  69. >Inside, it’s just bright enough to see… something.
  70.  
  71. >There’s a white speck in the middle of a clump of what looks like fine black threads.
  72. >You get onto your knees to inspect the bedroll.
  73. >It’s just to the right of where your head laid last night.
  74. >Carefully you pick up the tiny white object.
  75. >It’s a bug of some sort.
  76. >A small round body with three legs on each side.
  77. >On the head, or what you assume to be the head, you can see what looks to be a pair of beady black eyes, directly below it are a pair of pincers that are pretty sizeable for the insect.
  78. >As you raise it, the black threads come with it.
  79. >It looks like they’re coming out of the bug’s body.
  80. >You touch one of the threads.
  81. >And it starts falling.
  82. >At your touch, all of the threads started coming out of the bug.
  83. >You watch as they impact your bedroll and liquidize.
  84. >There’s a small pool of shimmering black liquid, almost as it it’s moving but isn’t.
  85. >And it’s not being absorbed.
  86. >You don’t take your eyes off of it, but with your free hand you reach into your pack and fish out a pair of glass jars.
  87. >Into the first, you drop the dead bug.
  88. >Then you focus on the liquid.
  89. >Reaching over to the end of the bedroll, you lift it.
  90. >The liquid follows gravity and starts beading to lower ground.
  91. >It’s almost like mercury when it touches skin.
  92. >You open the other jar, and reach under the bedroll, working the liquid into the container.
  93. >Then you seal it back up tight.
  94. >You know of a couple of ponies back in Canterlot that should take a look at them.
  95. >But you still have things to do before that.
  96.  
  97. >It feels like so long has passed.
  98. >Your memory perception should be sorted out as you properly wake up.
  99. >You need some air.
  100. >After putting on your boots and a fresh shirt, you head outside.
  101. >The sun is incredibly bright before your eyes can slowly adjust.
  102. >It looks like it’s around noon.
  103. >Your men are sitting around a campfire, exchanging words with each other.
  104. “Why didn’t anyone wake me up?”
  105. >”Right about that…” One of the farther away men starts.
  106. “Well?”
  107. >Captain Thunder starts where the other stopped.
  108. >”We thought you just needed the rest, I knew that days have been long in the Capitol recently, so I thought-“
  109. >Code for: no one had the nerve to wake you.
  110. “It’s fine, forget it.”
  111. >Honestly, you couldn’t care at this point.
  112. “Strike camp, we’ve got a few hours of lost time to make up for.
  113. >Thus began your venture into the Everfree proper.
  114. >As soon as you started the hike, one of your men congratulated you on the ‘real spooky story’ last night.
  115. >You suppose that’s how it started.
  116. >A normal nightmare that brought up feelings of despair that you would never have in the waking world.
  117. >After that, the bug took you deeper into the rabbit hole.
  118. >It pains you to admit it, but against all better judgment you’re going to trust Discord… for the time being.
  119.  
  120. >As you walked through the Everfree, nothing dared try and attack your group.
  121. >The creatures here all have learned to fear man.
  122. >And they learned the hard way.
  123. >But you faced quite the dilemma.
  124. >Discord implied that to cure the others you’ll have to voyage to the east.
  125. >That in itself causes three issues.
  126. >First is the whole ‘most never return, those few who do have left their sanity behind’ reputation of the lands across the eastern seas.
  127. >Second is that the Ministry of Interior Defense is still in hiding and could be planning anything right now.
  128. >Third is Flurry.
  129. >If she has it worse than what you went through…
  130. >No.
  131. >You’ll cross that bridge when you’re back in Canterlot.
  132. >But when everything is boiled down, you’re needed both here and in the east.
  133. >You can’t just send some ponies in your place.
  134. >It has to be you.
  135. >It always has to be you.
  136. >Why does it always have to be you?
  137. >If there’s one silver lining to this entire ordeal, it’s that you no longer have any doubts about your life.
  138. >No more regrets, and no more second guessing.
  139. >The truth is out there.
  140. >And you’re going to find it.
  141.  
  142. >…
  143. >By keeping a soldiers pace, you managed to arrive at your safe house just before dusk.
  144. >Most of your men went about setting up camp, but a couple unloaded the weapons and armor that you brought from it for the war.
  145. >Meanwhile, you had somewhere to be.
  146. >The night’s sky was almost completely clear, so the moon and stars kept things rather visible.
  147. >A minute to the west was a small stream.
  148. >Seems as good a place as any.
  149. >You worked your way through the light brush towards the water.
  150. >Finding a large enough rock to sit on, you took in the land.
  151. >Anyone else would think it suicidal to sit next to a stream in the Everfree at night.
  152. >But not you.
  153. >Without all of the monsters trying to eat you, the forest is actually quite peaceful.
  154. >It’s effectively your own personal wilderness area.
  155. >You’ve been able to camp for recreation more than two or three times.
  156. >But still, hostile fauna notwithstanding, John Muir would have loved it.
  157. >The waterfalls, trees that are centuries old, views from the more mountainous regions.
  158. >To say that they’re breathtaking wouldn’t do them true justice.
  159. >Even something as simple as a stream.
  160. >Crickets chirping, the sound of owls on the prowl, the views of distant fireflies illuminating among the brush.
  161. >Moonlight reflecting off of the water, a refreshingly cool air, and the gentle sound of the stream flowing.
  162. >You reach over and grab the bronze urn that you set beside you.
  163. “You don’t deserve to be cooped up in there for eternity buddy.”
  164. >You remove the lid.
  165. ”Jetzt ruhen, Frederick. Ich werde Sie vermisse.”
  166. >Reaching over the water, you let Frederick’s ashes scatter into the stream.
  167. “Du hast gute Arbeit geleistet… besser als die meisten.”
  168. >As the last of the ashes fall from the urn, you put the lid back onto it.
  169. >You sit at the stream while holding the urn for a few more minutes.
  170. >Then you head back to the others.
  171.  
  172. >Like usual they’re sitting around a campfire.
  173. >But tonight you go past them and into your cabin.
  174. >You set the urn on the desk you’ve got in the cabin, and then head to brush the dust off of your bed.
  175. >Tomorrow and the day after, you’ll be retracing your steps back to the train tracks.
  176. >If you keep pace, you’ll get there an hour before the train will be going past.
  177. >After which, you’ll arrive in the Crystal Empire by nightfall.
  178. >You’ve still got a pony in custody that might be able to lead you to other MID agents, assets, or safe houses.
  179. >Assuming he actually knows anything, and is even the slightest bit cooperative, it’ll at the very least give you a starting point.
  180. >It’s hard to believe that only yesterday morning you were in Canterlot.
  181. >But as you tried to fall asleep, you remember the last thing that Flurry said to you the night before you left.
  182. >”Okay, but- just be back soon.”
  183. “As soon as I can kiddo.”
  184. >You say to yourself.
  185. “As soon as I can.”
  186. >You told her that it’ll be fine.
  187. >But you doubt that that’s possible anymore.
  188. >…
  189. >After you awoke at your normal time just before dawn, you prepared yourself for the hike back.
  190. >This was supposed to be a simple trip to drop off some gear and scatter Frederick’s actions.
  191. >But you weren’t prepared for this.
  192. >As the rest of your men got up and packed their things, you set out as soon as possible.
  193. >But today you weren’t very talkative.
  194. >You didn’t expect to get a taste of what Flurry has been going through.
  195. >And according to Discord, she has it worse.
  196. >AND she has to go through it alone.
  197. >She’s strong, but…
  198.  
  199. >But it’s entirely possible that when you return, it won’t be Flurry.
  200. >And you did this to her.
  201. >She wanted you to take full power, but you wouldn’t.
  202. >But you suppose that if you never made her take power, you wouldn’t be on this trip right now.
  203. >And that mean’s you’d still have a hanger-on in your brain.
  204. >But there’s no point in second-guessing.
  205. >This is the hand that you chose to play.
  206. >And you’re all in.
  207. >With the nation and the only family you have on the line.
  208. >…
  209. >The following day, you had reached the outskirts of the Everfree.
  210. >Without constant brush to work your way through, you made it to the rails quicker than expected.
  211. >Nothing to do but wait.
  212. >Soon, Captain Thunder took you aside to have words in private.
  213. “What’s this about?”
  214. >”Sir, you’ve barely said anything in the past couple days. You’re somewhat reserved to begin with, but it’s pretty drastic. Is something wrong?”
  215. “Something’s always wrong.”
  216. >”Can I speak frankly sit?”
  217. “Go ahead.”
  218. >”Honestly it’s freaking me out. I’ve been by your side for the entire war, and I’ve never seen you so… off.”
  219. “Hold.”
  220. >”Sir?”
  221. “Listen.”
  222. >In the distance a train’s whistle blows.
  223. “Good thing we made such quick time, the train’s early.”
  224. >You turn to head back to the tracks, but Thunder stops you.
  225. >”Sir.”
  226. “Meet me at the garrison tomorrow evening, if you’re that insistent, I’ll tell you then.”
  227. >As you got back to the others, you could hear the train’s brakes grinding to a stop.
  228. “Alright ponies, you can relax. You all know where to report once we’ve arrived.”
  229. >With that, you boarded and found the conductor.
  230. “Should be a suitcase here for me.”
  231. >”Ah, right this way.”
  232. >He leads you to a personal compartment.
  233. >As you enter, you find a single suitcase on the bed.
  234. >”We should be getting to our final destination around seven.”
  235. “Thank you.”
  236. >He slides shut the door as he leaves.
  237.  
  238. >And you go over to open the suitcase.
  239. >There was no sense lugging its contents through the forest.
  240. >So you get changed.
  241. >Fresh socks with more comfortable boots.
  242. >Clean underwear.
  243. >Beige fatigues that aren’t stained from dirt and the brush.
  244. >Your jacket, styled after the Desert Fox’s.
  245. >And your peaked officer’s hat.
  246. >You spent a good portion of the remainder of the train ride staring into a mirror.
  247. >The scar over your left eye.
  248. >Your large beard, and how where it meets your hair you’re greying.
  249. >The way the skin around your dark green eyes looks so tired.
  250. >In just over three months you’ll be forty-six.
  251. >The slight but constant ache in your knees.
  252. >You’re getting old.
  253. >To the untrained eye watching you fight in the past few months, you’re one of the greatest fighters this world has ever seen.
  254. >But you know that you’re past your prime.
  255. >And it’s only downhill from here.
  256. >You’ve been noticeably slower and weaker compared to how you’ve preformed historically.
  257. >You can only hope that you still have enough in you for the coming battles.
  258. >And you can’t harbor any more secret hopes of ending in a blaze of glory.
  259. >There’s too much on the line.
  260. >You can’t stop until your little soldier is safe.
  261. >Your little girl.
  262. >’Little’
  263. >She’s almost twenty-six.
  264.  
  265. >You suppose that she’ll always be your little girl.
  266. >And right now she’s in danger.
  267. >Whatever has leeched its way into her head has made it personal.
  268. >This can only end two ways.
  269. >There’s nothing you can do about it now, but this is a war.
  270. >You haven’t lost one yet.
  271. >And this won’t be the exception.
  272. >Eventually the train lurched to its final stop of the night.
  273. >Soldiers would be by to deal with the rest of your things, so you headed off the train.
  274. >The last time you were at this platform, you narrowly avoided a bomb.
  275. >The sun had just set, and lights began to illuminate the city.
  276. >And you set off into the streets.
  277. >Some of the crystal ponies were heading into their homes for the evening; others were leaving to enjoy themselves in the Empire’s night life.
  278. >Occasionally you would pass a military patrol that stopped to salute.
  279. >But for the most part, ponies you passed were quick to get out of your path.
  280. >It was obvious that you were deadest on a mission.
  281. >Before anything else happens, there’s a pony you’d like to have some words with.
  282. >…
  283.  
  284. “Leave.”
  285. >The two patrolling guards quickly shuffled out of the room, shutting the door behind them.
  286. “Hello, ‘Cadence.’”
  287. >”Anonymous.”
  288. >You approached the cell; Cadence was sitting in the center of it, almost as if she’s barely moved a muscle since being imprisoned.
  289. >”You think that what happened in your mind was a victory, but it is merely a… delay.”
  290. >Hmm, some sort of shared consciousness.
  291. >That changes things.
  292. “You’re in the Princesses heads, and you’ve been in mine. You know my reputation.”
  293. >”Of course.”
  294. “You have one chance, and that’s one more than most of my enemies get. Leave now, and go back to wherever you’re from. If you don’t then I give my word that I will personally hunt down and destroy each and every one of you.”
  295. >”Ha ha ha ha ha, such anger… You know that she isn’t really your family, after all: you can never have one.”
  296. “Family don’t end at blood.”
  297. >”A meaningless sentiment to help you sleep at night… does it actually work?”
  298. “Cadence, if you can hear this: I’m sorry.”
  299. >You swipe your hand in front of the sensor crystal on the concrete bar holding the bars in place.
  300. >And in response, the front of the cell opens to your left.
  301. >You take a step inside of the cell, and Cadence stands up.
  302. >Even if the door is open, as long as she stays within the confides of the cell, she won’t be able to teleport.
  303.  
  304. >Before she can do anything else, you grab her by her neck and slam her onto her back.
  305. “I know all of you can hear me right now, so listen up:”
  306. “Get.”
  307. “Out.”
  308. “Of.”
  309. “My!”
  310. “DAUGHTER!”
  311. >She tries to squeak out some words through your grasp.
  312. >”Even… If we are all trapped… Eventually the others will come… All of them.”
  313. “I don’t care if I have to march through each and every circle of Hell itself, I will find you and I will end you.”
  314. >”Hubris will be your downfall. You are a mere mortal fighting against that which has survived eons.”
  315. “Everything has it’s time, and everything dies. You’re no different, and I’ll see to it personally.”
  316. >”We shall see.”
  317. >You push away from her and exit the cell, swiping to close the door.
  318. >Cadence quickly gets on her feet, but crashes against the barrier as the cell closes once more.
  319. “You’ve signed your death warrant. When I find the rest of you, and I will, just remember that you could have ended this here.”
  320. >You turn to head out of the room, and hear one last “Fool!” as you leave.
  321. >It seems that Equestria was overdue for having some magical creature trying to destroy it.
  322. >But you won’t do any of that capture/reform nonsense.
  323. >This only ends two ways.
  324. >With you or them dead.
  325. >And you don’t make a habit out of dying.
  326.  
  327. >You need some air.
  328. >As you exited the spire’s dungeons, you ended up passing through one of the guard barracks.
  329. >You entered into the hazy room where a half dozen off duty ponies were sitting around a circular table.
  330. >Smoking cigars and playing poker.
  331. >They scramble to stand at attention.
  332. >One of them speaks up.
  333. >”Uhh… Sir, we weren’t ACTUALLY gambling.”
  334. >Right, that’s still technically illegal for active military members.
  335. “Look. I do not, nor have I ever, cared about that regulation… But give me one of those cigars and a match, and we’ll call it even.”
  336. >”… okay.”
  337. >The pony next to him elbows him.
  338. >”I mean okay, Sir!”
  339. >…
  340. >You stood on one of the many balconies that overlook the Crystal Empire.
  341. >Striking the match, you light the cigar.
  342. >You cough up the first puff of smoke.
  343. >The last time that you smoked must have been in college, but right now you suppose it’s better than drowning yourself in a bottle.
  344. >As you lean forwards onto the bannister, you just take in the city.
  345. >Conspiracy here and overseas you’ve got… it.
  346. >You don’t even know who you can trust anymore.
  347. >As you stood there in quiet contemplation, you realized something as you neared the end of the cigar.
  348. >If you keep on like this, you’ll just give yourself a heart attack.
  349. >One day and one problem at a time.
  350. >You take a final drag before tossing the cigar’s remains off the balcony.
  351. >As you squint towards a distant clock tower, you see that it’s only 8:30.
  352. >So you start making your way down the spire’s many stairs.
  353.  
  354. >…
  355. *knock knock knock*
  356. >You see the curtains on the door’s window move before the door is thrust open.
  357. >And a light hazel mare latches her front legs around you.
  358. >It’s almost hard enough to knock the wind out of you.
  359. >”You actually came back! I mean it’s good to see you again.”
  360. >She composes herself and lets go of you.
  361. >”And you brought a bottle in a brown bag.”
  362. >You slide the wine out of the paper bag.
  363. >”So how have you been, how was the war, and… everything?”
  364. “It’s been… eventful.”
  365. >She just stands there looking at you with a huge grin on her face.
  366. >”Oh! Please, come in, I’ll go get some glasses.”
  367. >After wiping your feet on her welcoming mat, you enter into the house, closing and dead bolting the door behind you.
  368. >You go towards the living room, and set your hat onto the coffee table in front of her couch before sitting down.
  369. >Amber soon enters, holding a pair of wine glasses and a cork screw.
  370.  
  371. >”You know, just a couple days ago I had the strangest dream about you.”
  372. >What.
  373. “What?”
  374. >”Yeah, and good thing that school is out and I didn’t have to go to work, cause I didn’t wake up till like noon.”
  375. >What.
  376. “What?”
  377. >”Strangest thing, I can remember it perfectly. I was… well I was like you, and we went on this vacation in this carriage thing that wasn’t pulled by ponies. We went to this lodge in some forested mountains.”
  378. >What?
  379. “What?”
  380. >”It was a really great time, and unlike most dreams, I can remember it perfectly. Then you went up some stairs and-“
  381. “And it ended?”
  382. >”Then this letter popped into my hands. It said: ‘hope you enjoyed the company’ and it was signed with the letter D. After that it ended.”
  383. >Discord…
  384. >”And we had a dog that was just adorable.”
  385. “He was a hunting dog; he was not ‘adorable’ in any way.”
  386. >”How did you know that?”
  387. “And there were four days in the dream. The first was on the road and we spent the night at a cheap motel. The second day of driving we got there. The third and fourth were entirely at the lodge. Every night we would… you know. I think we shared the dream.”
  388. >”That’s impossible.”
  389. “That’s what you said in the bath, but you were proven wrong.”
  390. >”Okay, seriously. I didn’t tell anypony about it.”
  391. “Is this the real life?”
  392. >”Is this just fantasy…”
  393. “Believe me now?”
  394. >”Is that really what your world was like?”
  395. “For the most part.”
  396. >”I just… wow.”
  397. >You reach onto the table to grab the cork screw.
  398. “I know.”
  399. >You set down the cork, and grab the glasses, filling up each of them.
  400.  
  401. >”How did we share a dream?”
  402. “Long story.”
  403. >You hand her one of the glasses.
  404. >”Tell me about it.”
  405. “Well, basically I was… sick. You know about Discord, right?”
  406. >”My students love when he come up in history lessons.”
  407. “Well I guess he owed me a favor, so he put me into a dreamlike state to heal… and I guess he gave me some company.”
  408. >He did call the reoccurring lodge dream a safe haven.
  409. >”But you’re okay now, right?”
  410. “Yeah.”
  411. >”That’s all that matters.”
  412. “Cheers.”
  413. >You clink the glasses together.
  414. >After a long gulp, you stop to speak.
  415. “Look, Amber. I’m only going to be up here for a couple days, and I’m here on business. I can’t say much, but after that I might be gone for a long while. I can stay the night, but beyond that…”
  416. >”You’re here now, and that’s what matters. I know it’s never come up, but today’s my Birthday.”
  417. “I would have got you something if I’d have known.”
  418. >”Well you did bring wine, but really that’s got to be THE most used ‘forgot till today that it’s your birthday’ gift in the book.”
  419. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. But really, Happy Birthday.”
  420. >”You’re here and that’s the best gift I can imagine.”
  421. “You know, I’m not going to lie, you were absolutely stunning as a human.”
  422. >”Oh, as a human?”
  423. >You give an exaggerated sigh.
  424. “I can never win, can I?”
  425. >”Of course you can’t, I’m the mare in this relationship.”
  426. “I guess some things are the same in every world.”
  427. >”Now grab that bottle and meet me in the bedroom, you’ve only got a few more hours to give me my real Birthday gift.”
  428. >She leans in to whisper in your ear.
  429. >”That’s an order soldier.”
  430. “Yes Ma’am.”
  431. >…
  432.  
  433. >As always, you awoke early the next morning.
  434. >You should be getting straight to business, so you carefully worked your way out from Amber’s grasp.
  435. >She was still wearing the officer’s cap that you left here previously.
  436. >After you had dressed, the sun was just starting to peak in through the blinds.
  437. >”Mmm, up so soon?” A groggy voice calls out as you were about to exit the room.
  438. “I always wake up before dawn.”
  439. >”Is that a-“
  440. >She yawns.
  441. >”pun about my name?”
  442. >Amber Dawn.
  443. “Well now that you bring it up…”
  444. >She sighs.
  445. >”Well, I know that you’re busy… Just stay safe, okay?”
  446. “I’ll try.”
  447. >You turn to take your leave.
  448. >”Anon.”
  449. >You pause and turn your head back towards her.
  450. >”I love you.”
  451. “I know.”
  452. >…
  453. >You stepped out into the cool morning air.
  454. >Part of you misses the dream.
  455. >It reminded you of what was taken from you.
  456. >Your family.
  457. >Your home.
  458. >Your girlfriend.
  459. >Readily available access to meat.
  460. >The internet.
  461. >Cars.
  462. >Mainly, you missed people in general.
  463. >Other humans.
  464. >You know that for all intents and purposes, she’s the same individual as she was in the dream.
  465. >And it’s probably petty to think of it like that, but her as a pony is just… different.
  466. >Which in itself is another issue seeing as she’s always been like that.
  467. >It’s just in a dream that she wasn’t.
  468. >Before a few days ago you had long since settled the issue of not being able to go home.
  469. >You suppose that it’s still settled.
  470. >This is nonsense, right now you have a job to do.
  471.  
  472. >…
  473. >Back in the dungeons.
  474. >Another magic proofed cell.
  475. >Home to one ex-Lieutenant Light Eclipse.
  476. “Take a break.”
  477. >The patrolling guards take their leave.
  478. >But as you spoke, the prisoner looked upwards at the sound of your voice.
  479. >His pale red coat was covered in dirt, his blackish mane was overgrown and coated in grease from the isolation, and you could smell him from here.
  480. >At least they cleaned the bucket out today.
  481. “You should know that the war is over. Celestia and Luna are imprisoned, and Flurry sits on the throne.”
  482. >”You’ve kept busy since the hospital.”
  483. “I’d like to say the same about you, but the reports show that you’ve not said a single word to any interrogator that dropped by.”
  484. >”They made boring conversation.”
  485. “That’s a lot of loyalty for a hired gun.”
  486. >”Is it?”
  487. “At least you can talk now. Who hired you?”
  488. >”Starswirl the Bearded’s ghost.”
  489. >You start to slowly pace around the cell.
  490. “I’ve been going over your file recently. Born and raised in West Fillydelphia. Before signing up you were pretty well off, but at the onset of the Second War of the Saddle Arabian Coast, you stepped forward to do your patriotic duty.”
  491. >”Your point?”
  492. “After the conflict’s conclusion, you went home. When you returned, you went back to being rather well off and with a hefty sum from war bonds. Fast forward until the recent conflict, and you show up to sign back on in the Crystal Empire of all places.”
  493. >You stop pacing to lean in and look through the horizontal bars.
  494. “You dropped everything and just left behind a two year old daughter, and a pregnant wife. She recently gave birth to a son, by the way.”
  495. >”She did?”
  496.  
  497. >His face immediately perks up at hearing that.
  498. “To the best of my knowledge. Now the way I see it, a well off family man with a spotless record wouldn’t be easily swayed by a sack of bits sent your way.”
  499. >”That’s… pretty naïve for you to think.”
  500. “What was it? Clandestine stallion in a suit visit the day care? A knife stuck into the crib you were getting ready?”
  501. >”I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
  502. “Remember what happened at the hospital?”
  503. >”You… you killed them all.”
  504. “All twenty-seven of them, by myself.”
  505. >”How do you even remember that number?”
  506. “I’ve got a good memory. It’s just us talking here, nopony is listening.”
  507. >”You can’t get to them before they do.”
  508. “Let’s say I can. It happens that I’ve run into more than a few estates. New names, new lives: living as a rich family on the banks of that lake outside Las Pegasus. Just another slightly well off family buying state-seized property after the war. All I need is information: names, aliases, locations.”
  509. >”You don’t understand, they’re ALWAYS following you. And they know I’m a prisoner, if you get within a square mile as my family, they’re dead.”
  510. “And what if I can have them safe and here by tomorrow night?”
  511. >”… Even if that was possible, they’d still find us.”
  512. “I’m bringing them down. All of them. You know my record, and you’ve seen my work first hand… well first hoof. What makes you think they’ll be able to?”
  513. >”I…”
  514. >He starts staring at off to the side.
  515. >”Get me my family, then we’ll talk.”
  516. >You set out of the room and leave the dungeons.
  517. >But he’s right.
  518. >You know that you’ve been being watched for months, maybe longer.
  519.  
  520. >…
  521. >You had just written and sealed a letter and handed it to a soldier.
  522. “He should be in the encampment by now. Take it directly to Captain Thunder, not anypony in his command, the Captain himself.”
  523. >”Sir!”
  524. >As he flies off, you start climbing the stairs.
  525. >And it’ll be a long climb.
  526. >In retrospect for your knees, you should have picked a different meeting location.
  527. >But you need to make sure it’s actually a one on one conversation.
  528. >Really though, the spire needs an elevator.
  529. >…
  530. >”Sir!”
  531. >A pegasus flies over to your position.
  532. >He stops to salute.
  533. >”From the Field Marshal.”
  534. >He holds out a sealed letter.
  535. “Thank you private. As you were.”
  536. >You start walking out of the training fields, letting the Lieutenants take over the training exercises.
  537. >Heading into the nearest tent, you open the letter- the seal is fresh but unbroken.
  538. >’Top of the Spire, post haste. Trust no one.’
  539. >It’s signed by the Marshal.
  540. >You crumple the letter, and as you leave the tent you crumple the letter, tossing it into the nearest fire.
  541. >And you made sure it burnt before leaving.
  542. >You’ve seen him in the Second Coast War, and have been by his side for the better part of a year.
  543. >And you have never seen him so distanced from the world.
  544. >You flew directly to the top of the Spire.
  545. >It’s time for some answers.
  546. >…
  547. >As you landed on the peak of the great tower, you saw the Marshal’s back.
  548. >He was overlooking the city with his hands behind his back.
  549. >”Were you followed?”
  550.  
  551. “I don’t think…”
  552. >He turns to face you.
  553. >“Alright, listen up because we’re only speaking about this once.”
  554. >Grim.
  555. >“What I’m about to tell you is only known by Discord, the Princesses, and myself.”
  556. >Equally as grim.
  557. >And what does Discord have to do with this?
  558. >“What do you know about the East?”
  559. “Isn’t it all just stories meant to frighten young flies and colts?”
  560. >”Over twenty years ago, Shining Armor and his expedition went missing. All hands are assumed dead.”
  561. >What does Cadence’s husband have to do with this?”
  562. >”Five years later Princess Twilight, his sister, went missing trying to find him. But returned after three more years, after a few days she disappeared once again.”
  563. >He reaches into one of his coat pockets and tosses a glass jar to you.
  564. >There’s some sort of small white bug in it.
  565. >”She brought back company: a handful of parasites that feed off of negative emotions when they’re amplified by Alicorn magic.”
  566. “And?”
  567. >”And they’ve completely taken over the minds of Cadence, Celestia, and Luna. Flurry is fighting, but we don’t know how to remove them without killing the host.”
  568. “There’s more, isn’t there?”
  569. >”Somewhere along the line one of them infected me. Only it didn’t take, probably due to my different brain chemistry. I spent that first night in the Everfree fighting for control of my mind in a dreamlike state. With a little… help from Discord, we killed it. That bug in the jar crawled out of my nose to die.”
  570. “But why are you telling me?”
  571. >”Because I need someone I can trust, and you’re the closest I’ve got.”
  572. >The closest he’s got.
  573. >The exact wording implies he doesn’t fully trust you.
  574.  
  575. >”I was intending to leave you in the Empire as commander of the local garrison, but I’ve got a job for you if you’re interested.”
  576. “What’s the job?”
  577. >”You’ve said before that you’re a strong flier, how long would it take you to get to Fillydelphia.”
  578. “I could be there by midnight.”
  579. >”Then I need you to think carefully. You can stay here, and go about your days like this conversation never happened. But I won’t lie, if you are in, then it’ll be far more dangerous than the wars have been.”
  580. “I…”
  581. >You suppose that this is good a time as any to tell him.”
  582. “Winter’s pregnant. She was on her cycle when we got married… and I’m gonna be a dad.”
  583. >”I understand. You can fly down right now, there’ll be a promotion coming up and you’ll be able to stay here with them. I’ll find a way to make do on my own.”
  584. “But, let’s say for a minute that I believe you. What would you need from me?”
  585. >He pulls out a sealed folder from his coat.
  586. >”I can’t do anything while the MID are still skulking about. I’m going to bring them down- all of them. If you take this folder, it’s the point of no return.”
  587. “I…”
  588. >You’d be involved in a personal war against the old Secret Police.
  589. “So is it just you and me involved in this… crusade?”
  590. >”Something like that. You know how influential they were, they’re in hiding but still there.”
  591. >That is his way of saying that your wife can and probably will be in danger if you take the folder from him.
  592. >Almost every soldier you’ve ever served with has said that they’d follow him to the gates of Tartarus if he asked.
  593. >And he’s asking.
  594. >Metaphorically, but the point’s still the same.
  595. >This isn’t what you signed up for.
  596.  
  597. >But you reach out and grab the file.
  598. >He nods over to a satchel a few feet from you.
  599. >“You’ve got your sword on you, and there’s a canteen and some rations in there. You’ll need to leave immediately. Everything you need to know is in the file.”
  600. >You’ve got a bad feeling about this.
  601. >”Wait.”
  602. >His head is cocked to the right, as if he’s listening intently.”
  603. >He puts one finger to his lips, and motions in a circle to keep talking.
  604. >”Before you go, how are things with the wife?”
  605. “Well, great.”
  606. >He starts slowly walking over to the south end of the spire.
  607. >You can’t even hear his footsteps as he moves.
  608. “She was really happy to see me, and when she told me the news I almost cried.”
  609. >In each cardinal direction the top floor of the spire has a balcony with a ladder leading to the top.
  610. >As a wind gust picks up, he gets onto his knees.
  611. “I don’t care if it’s a filly or colt. I’m just… It’s hard to describe.”
  612. >In a swift movement he goes prone and reaches down.
  613. >You hear a grunt of pain as he raises up a pegasus by his mane.
  614. >As the Marshal stands he tosses him onto the top of the spire.
  615. >Before he can take flight, you see the Marshal reach out.
  616. >Your own wings press against your body and you shudder as you hear the cracking of the bones in his left wing.
  617. >The stranger cries out in pain.
  618. >And the Field Marshal spins him around as he grips his neck.
  619. >The next thing you see is your superior reaching into the pegasi’s mouth.
  620. >He pulls out a tooth.
  621. >”Not so quick on the cyanide.”
  622. >He turns his face towards you.
  623. >”Go, get back here as soon as possible.”
  624. >You put the file into the satchel and toss it around your neck.
  625. >Then prepare your wings for flight.
  626. >”And remember, trust no one.”
  627. “Sir.”
  628.  
  629. >…
  630. “You know how to make it stop.”
  631. >The pegasus looks up to you, his face bloody and bloated.
  632. >”I… I won’t.”
  633. >You give another swift hook into his cheek, and he spits out a few more bloody teeth.
  634. “Names, now.”
  635. >He sprawls out on the top of the spire, unable to stand because you’ve broken two of his legs at this point.
  636. >He mutters unintelligible grunts of pain.
  637. “Alright, be that way.”
  638. >You brace your knee on his back, and grab his unbroken wing.
  639. >”You’ll hang, trait-“ He then screams in pain as the bone cracks.
  640. >They’ve trained him to resist torture, and they trained him well.
  641. “I can do this all day.”
  642. >”I won’t give you anything.”
  643. “A shame, and here I thought you might survive this.”
  644. >You stand back up and let him wallow in the pain for a moment.
  645. >Then you grab him by his tail, and drag him over to the side of the spire.
  646. >Hefting him over the side, he’s face to face with the distant ground, swaying slightly as you hold onto his tai
  647. >”AH, AHHH!”
  648. “You’ve got two ways off this tower; you’re looking at the express way. And I don’t think you’ll fly so good.”
  649. >”Alright, alright. Just pull me up.”
  650. >You drag the pony back onto solid ground.
  651. >He’s trying to sit up.
  652. >Trying.
  653. >”Grandma Sapphire’s, that place in the north side of town. We’ve got a safe house underneath it.”
  654. >Wait.
  655. “You have a secret base under a donut shop?”
  656. >”She’s on the payroll. Hiding in plain sight. For the love of Celestia, just don’t kill me.”
  657. “Oh I won’t kill you.”
  658. >”Oh thank-“
  659. “Gravity will.”
  660. >You kick him over the edge.
  661. >Then lean over the edge and watch until he impacts the ground.
  662. >You could hear the screams all the way down.
  663.  
  664. >As you went down the Spire’s stairs, you met a group of soldier as you were about hallway down.
  665. >”Sir! What happened up there, we’ve got a dead pegasi on the ground.”
  666. “Suicide. I tried to stop him but was too late.”
  667. >”But there’s blood on your hooves- err hands.”
  668. “I aggressively tried to stop him.”
  669. >Technically that’s half true.
  670. >He broke off a tooth to bite a cyanide capsule, but you stopped him.
  671. “Back to your duties. He tried to kill me, I defended myself.”
  672. >”Understood.”
  673. >You continued down the stairs until you reached the public records room.
  674. >There’s a copy of every construction and repair job that happened in the Empire for the past thousand years or so.
  675. >If there is a base under Grandma Sapphire’s Donuts, there will be something to substantiate the claim.
  676. >Assuming it was a recent addition, the actual records of the job and any schematics would have been hidden.
  677. >But that doesn’t account for things like increased power draw or water flow, or any construction related noise or traffic complaints.
  678. >Unless they were extremely thorough, there’s got to be something.
  679. >As you started scanning through documents, something occurred to you.
  680. >Just as all of this started, Flurry did something similar.
  681. >Back in Appleoosa.
  682. >She spent an entire day checking records to see if any of the townsponies writing matched the letter you found in the mercenary base.
  683. >God that was so long ago.
  684. >It was only at the start of spring, but it feels like an eternity has passed.
  685. >There’s a noticeable change of how much grey is in your hair since then.
  686. >Averting a war, plots against your life, discovering a conspiracy, fighting a different war, actual attempts on your life, toppling the government, more conspiracy.
  687. >And that’s setting the whole parasite ordeal aside.
  688.  
  689. >…
  690. >The sun will be down soon, so you might as well rest your wings and check out that file.
  691. >You’ve spent the better part of the day flying and making sure nopony was following you.
  692. >To the best of your knowledge, you haven’t been.
  693. >You perch yourself on a cloud heading roughly in the direction you’re going, and took a swig from the canteen.
  694. >With the remaining light, you started skimming the information the Marshal gave you.
  695. >An address to a house in Western Fillydelphia.
  696. >It belongs to the unicorn that was In charge of the attack on the hospital after the Marshal feigned being wounded from the attempted bombing.
  697. >Ex-Lieutenant Eclipse is ready to make a deal.
  698. >He says that the only reason he was involved is because the MID threatened his family.
  699. >A likely story, but who are you to question the Marshal’s judgment.
  700. >You’ve got to get the wife and foals safely back to the Crystal Empire ASAP.
  701. >Which will be problematic.
  702. >The wife, one True Love, is an earth pony
  703. >That rules out flying.
  704. >But where have heard that name before?
  705. >True Love.
  706. >Isn’t that?
  707. >Yeah, she writes romance books.
  708. >Winter loves them, has the full collection on her bookshelf.
  709. >Winter.
  710. >Your Gem.
  711. >She hates when you call her that.
  712. >But how are you going to keep her safe once the MID realizes what you’ve done.
  713. >NO.
  714. >You shouldn’t think like that.
  715. >The Field Marshal’s got to have a plan, he always does.
  716. >You go back to the file.
  717. >Unknown amount of hostiles.
  718. >Anypony could be one of them.
  719. “Well that’s just dandy.”
  720. >You say to yourself.
  721.  
  722. >…
  723. >After many hours, you couldn’t find a single shred of evidence that Grandma Sapphire’s Donuts is a safe house for the MID.
  724. >That’s to be expected though, torture rarely reveals the truth.
  725. >It more often than not just makes them say whatever it takes to make it stop.
  726. >He spun the best lie he could that would seem believable.
  727. >But why this shop, of all places?
  728. >He could have just as easily named any number of warehouses or less conspicuous areas in the city.
  729. >But to whatever extent he was telling the truth, it’s still the only lead you have.
  730. >So you’re currently walking through the streets, heading for Grandma Sapphire’s.
  731. >And you’re obviously asking to be attacked by whoever is stalking you now.
  732. >You’ve taken the sword and knife off of your belt, the only weapon on you is a brass knuckle you had made a couple decades ago that you slipped into your pocket.
  733. >A few years ago you wouldn’t even have brought it.
  734. >But your knuckles are aching a bit from the blows you placed on the unnamed pegasus earlier today.
  735. >Just as the sun started to set, you set your eyes on the donut shop.
  736. >Clearly a den of nefarious wrongdoing.
  737. >Really it’s the same as any of the other family run businesses across Equestria.
  738. >Quaint and rather innocent.
  739. >A bell rings as you open the door.
  740. >”You one of them mino-tar types? We don’t serve your kind here.”
  741. >An old dark blue crystal pony standing behind the counter shoots your way as she squints through an oversized pair of glasses.
  742. >Grandma Sapphire, presumably.
  743. >”No Gram-gram, that’s the general guy.”
  744. >A younger and lighter blue mare that’s also the counter says to the older one.
  745. >”Sorry about her, her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Take your time.”
  746. >Nice to see that elderly racism is alive and well no matter where you go.
  747.  
  748. >You inspect the interior of the building.
  749. >At this hour it’s filled with young couples sharing coffee after a long day.
  750. >You walk over to the counter.
  751. >”You’re… taller than your pictures in the newspaper.” The younger pony says.
  752. “I get that a lot.”
  753. >She whispers the next bit.
  754. >”Really sorry about Grandma, her mind started slipping a few months ago. But, she’s still pretty good at baking, so what’ll it be?”
  755. “Coffee, black. And information while you’re at it. You ever see a light-ish green pegasus in here? Light orange mane, late twenties to early thirties.”
  756. >She turns and starts fiddling with a coffee machine.
  757. >”Oh, that guy. Yeah, every day about this time he comes in to meet another stallion and talk over coffee. Never got their names, but they always take that booth in the corner.”
  758. >’The corner’ is rather secluded from the rest of the tables, the easiest to keep a conversation private.
  759. >Either she’s really good at lying, or she really is just a simple donut shop worker.
  760. >”There’s his buddy now.”
  761. >You turn to see a grey crystal pony standing dead still in the door frame.
  762. >Don’t do it.
  763. >He turns and runs out and immediately runs out into the street.
  764. >And you follow.
  765. >”Don’t you even want your coffee?”
  766. >Definitely a simple donut shop worker.
  767.  
  768. >As you step into the street, you see the grey pony a few blocks down.
  769. >You give chase, but he takes the next right.
  770. >As you reach the corner, you look down the street.
  771. >Just in time to see him dart into an alley on the left side of the street.
  772. >When you reach it, you see him struggling to climb a chain link fence maybe thirty feet from the mouth of the alleyway.
  773. >You start walking over to him, yanking the pony back to the ground by his tail.
  774. “Don’t know that your spy is dead? Shoddy work.”
  775. >”No, this was all part of the plan, he knew the risks.”
  776. >You hear five, maybe six sets of hoofsteps behind you.
  777. >It’s an ambush.
  778. >You kneel down beside the grey stallion to speak at eye level.
  779. “And this was all part of my plan.”
  780. >You reach out and snap his neck, before rising to face half a dozen ponies.
  781. >All of them are built a bit larger than the average pony: four have swords, one has an axe, and the other is a unicorn.
  782. >You slip your right hand into your pocket and around the brass knuckle.
  783. >You’ll have what you need in a day or two more.
  784. >And besides, the pegasus from earlier knew too much to let live.
  785. >With him dead, the MID know your focus has shifted to them.
  786. >This is thinning the herd.
  787.  
  788. >…
  789. “Officer, they’re the secret police and enemies of the state.”
  790. >”Nopony in this city will shed any tears over them, just following proper procedure. Anyway, I think we’re done here, do as you like. Not like we could do anything seeing as you’re Chancellor anyhow. But can I just know one thing?”
  791. “What would that be?”
  792. >”You only had that brass thing and your hands, how is the alley so bloody?”
  793. >You take a glance down it.
  794. >Blood has covered almost the entire ground, and splatters coat about half of the alley walls.
  795. >And that’s leaving out shards of bone and bits of brain.
  796. “You don’t want to know.”
  797. >”I suppose you’re right.”
  798. >And now you have to go get the blood out of your clothes before it sets in.
  799. >Crossing past the police lines, you head back to the Spire.
  800. >Today was certainly eventful.
  801.  
  802. >…
  803. >You peered over a cloud onto the streets below.
  804. >It was just past midnight, but the suburbs below were relatively well lit.
  805. >You’ve been scoping out the target house with a pair of binoculars for a few minutes.
  806. >Nothing seems that out of the ordinary.
  807. >Aside from the neighbor watering his lawn at this hour.
  808. >Or the pony that’s been ‘walking’ her dog around the same block for as long as you’ve been in the sky.
  809. >And it’s not even a little lap dog; it’s very clearly a bloodhound.
  810. >There were probably more inside of the target house, or the other homes in the area.
  811. >But seeing as there are ponies watching the house in question, there might not actually be any hostiles inside.
  812. >You need to get a message inside without any suspicion being raised.
  813. >Mail is obviously being read, so that’s out of the question.
  814. >But you have an idea that might just be crazy enough to work.
  815. >…
  816. >You soon found a pizza joint that was open twenty-four hours.
  817. >The cashier is the only one here.
  818. >And she’s currently asleep, not being woken by the bell.
  819. >You quietly head behind the counter, and around a corner.
  820. >Where are the…
  821. >There they are.
  822. >Taking care not to wake the employee, you grab one of the hats and put on a delivery jacket.
  823. >You weren’t wearing much armor, so it easily fit over it.
  824. >Unclipping your sword and sheathe from your side, you slid it into a delivery box.
  825. >You hear a yawn.
  826.  
  827. >”That you Twenty Minutes?”
  828. “…Yes.”
  829. >You say in as a generic voice as possible.
  830. >”Special order?”
  831. “Uhh, no.”
  832. >”There’s plenty being kept warm.”
  833. >You glance back around the corner, and see that the cashier has went back to sleep.
  834. >Grabbing one of the normal boxes, you stuffed a plain pizza into the box over your sword.
  835. >And you definitely didn’t end up eating half of it on your way back.
  836. >…
  837. >As you neared the neighborhood around the target’s home, you landed, and started walking towards it.
  838. >Making sure to obviously check each house’s address before continuing down the street.
  839. >The mare with the bloodhound passes by you.
  840. >She gives a quick once over with her eyes, and the dog sniffs at you, but they soon continue.
  841. >As you passed the ‘neighbor’ watering his lawn, he gave you a strange look, but didn’t take any action as you knocked on the door.
  842. >A mare’s voice answered the knock.
  843. >”Come in, it’s unlocked.”
  844. >Reaching for the door knob, you open the door and enter the house.
  845. >There isn’t a wall between the entrance and the kitchen, and you see a pink mare with a short and bright yellow mane.
  846. >Matches the description perfectly.
  847. >She’s currently cutting up a few vegetables with a large knife.
  848. >Strange hour of the day to be doing that, but you’re not one to judge the midnight snack.
  849. >You close the door before speaking to the mare.
  850. “Hi, I’ve got three cheese and a calzone, for family by the name of: I’m here to rescue you.”
  851.  
  852. >She gives you a wide eyed stare.
  853. >”Really?”
  854. “I’m with the military, here to get you and your children out.”
  855. >”Well that-“
  856. >You hear the sound of hooves banging against a door, and a muffled:
  857. >”That’s not me!”
  858. >It’s coming from further inside the house.
  859. >As you glance back to ‘True Love’, you duck as you see a knife in the air coming towards you.
  860. >It lodges itself into the door right where your head used to be.
  861. >And the imposter is now charging straight at you.
  862. >Reaching into the delivery box, you grab the first thing your hoof feels.
  863. >Throwing the pizza box at the mare, it opens in midair and half of a pie lands into her face, giving you enough time to fish out your stashed weapon.
  864. >The remaining pizza is thrown off of the pony as she erupts into a bright green flash.
  865. >What’s standing in front of you…
  866. >Well that’s what changelings looked like in the old slideshows they’d show at boot camp.
  867. >You draw your sword.
  868. >But as soon as it’s free from its sheathe, a bolt of green magic shoots it out of your hoof.
  869. >Whatever spell it used caused the sword to completely shatter as it hit the ground.
  870. >You then get shoulder rushed as the changeling takes flight and bashes you against the door.
  871. >Your front right leg is pinned, but with the left, you reach over and grab the kitchen knife imbedded into the door.
  872. >She-err he, sees this and attempts to knock it away.
  873. >But noticed too late, and the knife embedded itself into the side of the changeling’s neck.
  874. >Pushing the body aside, you shed the delivery hat and jacket, and head towards the direction of the voice.
  875. >You have a maybe a minute before other agents bash down the door.
  876. >At the end of the hallway, you can see a door that’s been fitted with a chain lock.
  877. >”Hello?”
  878. “Just hold on.”
  879.  
  880. >You slide open the lock, and open the door.
  881. >Inside is an identical mare to the one that the changeling was impersonating, as well as the two foals who are resting their respective cribs.
  882. “Wait, how do I know you’re really you?”
  883. >”How do I know you’re really you?”
  884. >The sound of wood being broken stops the quick impasse.
  885. >You turn to face back down the hall to see the ‘neighbor’ approaching.
  886. >He’s unarmed, but so are you.
  887. >He opens with a wide right hook, and you quickly duck under it.
  888. >But you soon feel an impact into your jaw as he follows with an uppercut from the left.
  889. >You’re then slammed into the door on your right.
  890. >The door gives way, and you’re shot into a bathroom.
  891. >You’re lying on the ground with your back to a toilet, slightly dazed by your head’s impact to the ceramic.
  892. >The attacker enters into the room, and gets on his rear legs.
  893. >He reaches over the sink and rips the mirror cabinet off of the wall, turning towards you.
  894. >He’s intending to bring it down onto you, but he drops it as you give a swift kick up into his crotch.
  895. >The cabinet falls against the sink, and you hear the shattering of glass as bathroom products are scattered onto the floor.
  896. >He’s currently back on all four legs, reeling from the blow.
  897. >So you grasp at a nearby spray can of air freshener, and start spraying it into his eyes.
  898. >Getting back to your own feet, you grab the attackers head.
  899. >And slam it into the sink.
  900. >Between the sound of crashing doors and glass, you can hear a baby start to cry.
  901. >The ‘neighbor’ attempts to punch into your side, but it impacts the armor that you have on.
  902. >You slam his head into the sink once more, and a good portion of the ceramic breaks off as he stops moving.
  903. >He’s unconscious so you let him fall into the rubble.
  904. >As you step out of the bathroom, you hear an aggressive bark.
  905.  
  906. >You were unprepared for the attack, and the dog knocks you to the ground.
  907. >Operating entirely on instinct, you reach up and snap its neck.
  908. >As you’re starting to push the body off of you, you receive your own sharp kick to the crotch.
  909. >You bite down to alleviate the pain, but are soon pushed onto your back by the dog’s owner.
  910. >She attempts to punch at your face, but you grab the hoof.
  911. >Using all of the strength you can muster, you flip her onto the ground.
  912. >You then grab the leash that was still on the dog’s collar, and wrap it around her neck.
  913. >She tries to elbow you in the face, but due to positioning, can’t get a good angle.
  914. >Her back is against you as you lie on the ground and hold the choke.
  915. >You hold it until she stops struggling, and then some to make sure she isn’t feigning.
  916. >As you look up, you see True Love at the side of a crib, attempting to calm her younger child.
  917. >You start getting up, and as you do you start to unstrap the armor that you do have.
  918. >It’ll just make you easier to spot.
  919. >”Oh my… Are you alright?”
  920. “I’ll live, but we need to go now, there’ll be more coming soon.”
  921. >You enter into the room, and see her holding her youngest.
  922. “Here, give the other one to me, we’ll be able to cover ground quicker that way.”
  923. >”I… just be careful with my little Sunshine, okay?”
  924. >She goes over to the other crib.
  925. >”Mama?”
  926. >”Hey, this nice stallion is going to carry you for a bit dearie, just try and sleep some more.”
  927. >You’re not sure how much of that the three year old filly understood, but it’s more of a reassurance to the mother.
  928. >She bundles up the small red unicorn in a blanket, and you take her with your right hoof.
  929. “Come on, we should leave through the back.”
  930. >…
  931.  
  932. >You return from a trip to the corner drug store.
  933. >It’s a cheap motel, but the owner didn’t seem the type to ask any questions.
  934. >The mother looked visibly startled, and instantly relieved as she saw it was you entering the room.
  935. >You toss the bag to her.
  936. >”What’s this?”
  937. “Black hair dye for the mane and tail. It should make things slightly easier in the morning.”
  938. >”What’s happening in the morning?”
  939. “We’re getting on the first train to Canterlot. After about an hour, we’re going to ditch it. Don’t worry; I’ll take turns flying each of you off of it so there won’t be any jumping involved. After that, it’ll be a bit of a walk, but if we head west for about an hour, we can get to a refueling station for the trains heading north from the capitol to the Crystal Empire. Once we get there, you’ll be safe.”
  940. >“Thank you. I didn’t get to say it while we were cutting through back yards and alleys, but thank you.”
  941. ”We’re not out of the woods just yet.”
  942. >You stayed up long enough to let her dye her hair without being needed to watch the children.
  943. >The filly was fast asleep, but the little one was absolutely fascinated with your wings.
  944. >A little grey earth pony with a yellow tail and starting of a mane called Half Eclipse after his father.
  945. >This is a taste of what you’ve got in store.
  946. >Just hopefully with less running.
  947. >In fact, no running at all would be preferable.
  948. >It took an hour before she was ready to let her now black mane dry, so you opted to get as much sleep as you could.
  949. >It’ll only be a couple hours, but it’s better than nothing.
  950.  
  951. >…
  952. >You sat in the throne of the Crystal Empire.
  953. >Earlier in the day, you had bought a box of cigars, and you flicked off the ash on your current one into the tray you rested on the arm rest of the throne.
  954. >It can’t be good for your health, but seeing as here they leave out the seven thousand or so chemicals in earth tobacco products and that you’re getting old to begin with, you don’t particularly care.
  955. >The sun should be up in a couple hours, but you couldn’t sleep.
  956. >So here you are, sitting on an uncomfortable slab of crystal, smoking in an empty hall.
  957. >But, of course, even at this hour of the early morning, your peace was disturbed.
  958. >A trio of soldiers that you recognize from your Old Guard enters the hall.
  959. >They’re dragging a yellow pony that has obviously just taken quite the beating.
  960. >”Sir, we found this pony trying to pick the lock on the house that you had us start watching a few months ago.”
  961. >That’s the benefit of handpicking the best, and more importantly, most loyal few thousand soldiers to be in your personal forces.
  962. >They don’t question tailing and setting up in an apartment across the street from whomever you ask them to protect from enemies.
  963. >You’re just surprised that it took the MID this long to make an attempt on Amber.
  964. “Tell me.”
  965. >You say to the pony they throw to the ground beneath the throne.
  966. “Was it my recent actions that provoked this?”
  967. >”I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a petty thief.”
  968. “That would make you the one petty thief to ever call themselves a petty thief.”
  969. >”It’s the truth. I didn’t expect to be beaten by a half dozen soldiers.”
  970.  
  971. “Oh for cryin’ out loud.”
  972. >You half mutter to yourself in an aside.
  973. “Keep playing the game if you must, but I’m not going to kill or imprison you. Not today at least.”
  974. >You reach into your jacket pocket and pull out a sealed letter.
  975. >”What’s that?”
  976. “Something for somebody much more important to you.”
  977. >You toss it down to the prisoner.
  978. “Send that up the line until it gets to the director, inquisitor, or whatever your top leader is called. And do me a favor; get it there as soon as possible. For what it’s worth you won’t be followed, I know that won’t stop you trying to dodge non-existent tails, but it’s the truth.”
  979. >The letter is an ultimatum of sorts calling for them to turn themselves in.
  980. >The whole ‘bend the knee or be destroyed’ deal.
  981. >Purely a formality, but twenty to one odds say that everyone between this pony and the top of the chain will read it.
  982. >The leaders won’t pay it any mind, but rumors will hopefully spread amongst the underlings.
  983. >He slowly picks up the letter.
  984. “Go on then, shoo.”
  985. >You focus on the soldiers.
  986. “Let him go. And good job, keep up the good work.”
  987. >Soon, you’re the only soul in the hall once more
  988. >It’s Flurry that’s really on your mind right now.
  989. >This is all just one big diversion from the real task at hand.
  990. >And your patience is quite obviously running thin.
  991.  
  992. >You take in a deep drag from the cigar.
  993. >This is all nonsense.
  994. >Nothing was supposed to turn out this way.
  995. >But then again, how did you want it to turn out.
  996. >What do you even want?
  997. >Not in the ‘what do you currently want achieved’ way.
  998. >What do you, Anonymous: the individual, want in life?
  999. >You honestly can’t say.
  1000. >Ever since you got into this world, it’s always just been about survival.
  1001. >You needed a job and got involved with the military.
  1002. >Ever since then, it’s just been about the next battle and the next war.
  1003. >For almost twenty-six years, it’s always been about your ‘duty’.
  1004. >Maybe during the first few years you tried to have your own life.
  1005. >But all that disappeared.
  1006. >Flurry, you suppose.
  1007. >At this point, the best you can hope for is that she doesn’t get trapped into a life like yours.
  1008. >And a good job you’ve done at that.
  1009. >Despite her pleas, you forced her into running a country.
  1010. >Some father you’ve been.
  1011. >Huh.
  1012. >The other day, when you were talking with Cadence- well, whatever’s got control of her- you called Flurry your daughter.
  1013. >And right now you thought of yourself as ‘father’.
  1014. >In over twenty-five years, you’ve always thought and called yourself ‘Uncle’ or even a ‘father-figure’, but never as the actual one.
  1015. >She’s always been ‘kiddo’ or ‘your little soldier/girl’ or ‘kid’, but never just ‘daughter’.
  1016. >You’ve almost always felt this way, but you suppose it’s taking this… circumstance to just call it like it always has been.
  1017. >You might not be blood, but you’re her dad.
  1018. >And all you want is to go rip the still beating heart out of whatever is hurting your daughter.
  1019. >Even if it’s the last thing you ever do.
  1020. >Especially if it’s the last thing you ever do.
  1021. >All you ‘want’ is for your child to be safe.
  1022.  
  1023. >You extinguish what’s left of the cigar, and leave it in the ashtray.
  1024. >Rising from the throne, you head to the quarters you’ve got in the Spire.
  1025. >As you enter the room, you toss your hat on the desk, and hang up your jacket.
  1026. >You then unbutton the top of your fatigues and toss it onto the bed.
  1027. >The white t-shirt you have underneath it soon follows.
  1028. >You then just look at yourself in a larger mirror.
  1029. >You’re still in better shape than most men your age would be.
  1030. >But setting experience aside, the you from twenty years ago would have snapped current you like a twig.
  1031. >Maybe a third of your muscle mass remains.
  1032. >You’re getting soft.
  1033. >Not anymore.
  1034. >Leaving behind the clothes that you shed, you left the Spire and headed for the walls surrounding most of the city.
  1035. >Running flat out, you were only able to get around the walls twice before getting tired.
  1036. >That’s pitiful by older standards.
  1037. >The remainder of your day was mostly split between building your endurance back up, and at a gym trying to build back as much muscle as possible.
  1038. >Most of your days from here on will be like that.
  1039. >You’re past your prime, but you need to be at your peak.
  1040. >But for today at least, you turned in around noon.
  1041. >You’ve been awake for almost thirty hours, and you’ll need your rest for when Thunder comes back.
  1042. >Assuming he’s here at the time you ordered him back by.
  1043.  
  1044. >…
  1045. >You were in private compartment inside of the train For Canterlot.
  1046. >In a hushed voice, you spoke to True Love as she tried to keep her youngest child asleep.
  1047. “Alright, I want to scope out the rest of the train. Lock the door behind me, when I get back I’ll knock quickly three times and say ‘couldn’t find any’ to the door. If you here those two things, then it’s safe to let me in.”
  1048. >…
  1049. >The other passengers seem to be more or less harmless.
  1050. >Only a few stood out.
  1051. >An old officer in dress uniform.
  1052. >An earth pony reading a newspaper in the corner of the dining coach.
  1053. >And, based on the conversation he was having with his colleague, a private detective with a strange accent.
  1054. >The rest just seemed like honest train goers.
  1055. >But that doesn’t account for anypony in their own private rooms.
  1056. >Before heading back to the others, you wanted to check out the caboose.
  1057. >The train car separating it from the rest of the train was just filled with crates that were bound for Canterlot.
  1058. >And the caboose itself was empty.
  1059. >”What are you doing back here.”
  1060. >You jump slightly, and then turn to face a conductor.
  1061. >”Dining is at the front.”
  1062. >Just a fairly normal orange stallion.
  1063. >Wearing a conductor’s vest that was unable to button up the front because it was at least four sizes too small.
  1064. >And it has a small blood splatter on the collar.
  1065. >And his cutie mark is a closed folder with [CLASSIFIED] stamped on it.
  1066. >And he notices you sizing him up.
  1067. >”What can I say, didn’t have a lot of time for the disguise.”
  1068. “At least you tried.”
  1069. >”So, this going to be the hard way?”
  1070. >As he fixes his posture, he’s got an easy six inches on you.
  1071. >You give the strongest punch you can, and hit him square in the chest.
  1072. >Not so much as a flinch.
  1073. >”I’ll take that as a yes.”
  1074. >He reaches out, grabs your neck, and slams you onto your back.
  1075.  
  1076. >You attempt to replicate an early trick, and kick upwards into his crotch.
  1077. >Attempt being the operative word.
  1078. >He winced, but wasn’t otherwise fazed by it.
  1079. >He then grabs you by your chest, and throws you into the wall.
  1080. >Your head shattered one of the caboose’s windows.
  1081. >As your attacker approaches you, you reach back and grab a sizable shard of glass.
  1082. >He stops in his tracks and you start to circle each other.
  1083. >You feign a couple of thrusts with the improvised knife.
  1084. >Each time he takes a step back before getting closing the distance once more.
  1085. >When he gets directly between you and the open end of the caboose, you stretch out your wings and start a flying bull rush.
  1086. >Your shoulder impacts him, and he’s forced back by a single step.
  1087. >As you attempt jabbing him with the glass shard, you graze his chest.
  1088. >But he soon knocks the bloodied glass away from your hoof.
  1089. >The following jab hits your jaw.
  1090. >The impact made you bite down on the side of your tongue, and you start tasting blood.
  1091. >You push back with your wings to get some distance from him.
  1092. >Right as your hooves touched the ground, he charged.
  1093. >You try and dodge to the right, but he picks you up.
  1094. >Running into the train car, as you’re punching and kicking him as best you can, he slams you down into the first wooden crate he can see.
  1095. >It breaks under the force.
  1096. >You don’t think any of your bones have been injured, but you’ll be picking splinters out of your wings for a week.
  1097. >The crate looked to be filled with teapots.
  1098. >Grabbing the closest intact one, you strike the attacker in the face with it.
  1099. >He reels slightly, and you follow by spitting blood into his eyes.
  1100. >Taking the opportunity, you get out of his grasp, taking apposition further into the car.
  1101.  
  1102. >As he clears his eyes, he starts approaching you.
  1103. >You flip a crate over into the walkway between you.
  1104. >He places his front hooves on it and starts pushing it towards you.
  1105. >Before the charge hits you, you take flight and give a swift kick into his face.
  1106. >Landing behind him, you turn to face him.
  1107. >The tip of his muzzle is slightly off center, presumably broken.
  1108. >You start backing up into the caboose.
  1109. >You get maybe hallway through the car, and see him start to charge.
  1110. >Your wings are battered and splintered, but you start flying as fast as you can towards him.
  1111. >The impact occurs between the cars.
  1112. >Flying low, you grab onto his torso, getting him into what would look like a bear hug.
  1113. >He’s a heavy load, but you manage to slam him downwards, onto the metal that connects the two cars.
  1114. >You see his mane start falling down towards the tracks.
  1115. >And his head jolts back with a loud crack as it gets caught in the caboose’s wheels.
  1116. >His grip immediately goes limp, and you flap your wings to hover before his body falls off of the side.
  1117. >He trails beside the wheel before the hair on his mane snaps.
  1118. >As that occurred, his body was allowed to fall to the ground.
  1119. >But not before at least one of his legs was caught between the wheels and track.
  1120. >You immediately start heading for the family, clearing a path back through the cargo car.
  1121. >It’ll be a slightly longer walk, but you’d rather not be on the train when they find that the conductor your ‘friend’ presumably killed hasn’t been seen for a while.
  1122.  
  1123. >…
  1124. >You purposely woke up after only a few ours so you could get back into your proper sleeping pattern tonight.
  1125. >It was around four in the afternoon, and seeing as you shouldn’t overly strain your body by working out, you headed down to the Spire’s library.
  1126. >And once you arrived there, you started doing something you haven’t done since college.
  1127. >Archival research.
  1128. >You need to know everything you can about the East.
  1129. >Attempted expeditions, survivor reports, even myths and legends.
  1130. >Especially myths and legends.
  1131. >Back on earth they usually contained some basis in historical fact, but here they have a habit of turning out to have varying degrees of truth behind them.
  1132. >As you look throughout the room’s considerable size, you can’t help but miss computers.
  1133. >You’ll have to search the old fashioned way.
  1134. >The real negative of not having access to databases, is that you have no idea what works containing relevant information are located.
  1135. >There could be an incredibly important book written by some scholar that has been forgotten by history, and the only copy of it is located in the depths of some random library, private collection, or college.
  1136. >Even the collections in the Crystal Empire’s Spire or the Royal Palace in Canterlot might not have what could help you the most.
  1137. >And you certainly don’t have the time to scour Equestria hunting down every scrap of information that could help you.
  1138. >Such is life as a historian.
  1139.  
  1140. >…
  1141. >After a couple hours have passed, you’ve picked out about three dozen books.
  1142. >As you sat at a table, about to crack one of them open, a soldier entered the library.
  1143. >”Ah, there you are. Sir, Captain Thunder has returned, he’s in the throne room with three guests.”
  1144. “Good, as you were soldier.”
  1145. >You set the book down, and make your way for the throne room.
  1146. >Stepping into the large hall, you see the family.
  1147. >All safe and sound.
  1148. >Thunder looks a bit bruised, but nothing too serious.
  1149. “Ma’am, I’m Anonymous, and I’m glad to see that the three of you are safe. I trust that the trip wasn’t too stressful.”
  1150. >”I’m just glad that my children are safe.”
  1151. >You whistle off to a side room, and a few members of the Old Guard come into the room.
  1152. “These ponies are some of the best we have, they’ll be nearby at all times incase anything happens, but I’d ask that you remain in the Spire for now. I’m sure that you’ll be in need of a proper meal, why don’t you let them take you to a dining room. I’ll bring your husband by soon.”
  1153. >”I… thank you.”
  1154. “And you.”
  1155. >You approach Thunder.
  1156. >Part of you wasn’t sure if he was up to it.
  1157. >You took that gamble and it paid off.
  1158. “Good job. Take some time to yourself before giving me a report; I’ll let you know when you’re needed… And you might want to get checked out by a medic.”
  1159. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather just go home and sleep for… a long while.”
  1160. “At least get an ice pack.”
  1161. >You pat him on the shoulder.
  1162. “You’ve earned the rest.”
  1163.  
  1164. >…
  1165. >As you enter into Eclipse’s cell, he looks up at you.
  1166. >You slide your hand over the crystal that controls the door.
  1167. “Come on, I’ve got three ponies that are expecting you.”
  1168. >”They… they’re here?”
  1169. >He picks himself off of the cell’s floor.
  1170. >And the stench of weeks of isolation hits you as he approaches.
  1171. “You might want to clean up a bit first.”
  1172. >After leading him to a bathroom so he can shower, you took him to his family.
  1173. >As soon as the door opened, the husband and wife immediately ran over to embrace each other.
  1174. >You kept your distance to let them have their moment.
  1175. >And so he could see his daughter once more, and meet his son for the first time.
  1176. >…
  1177. “Alright, you’ve got your family, now I need to know everything that you do.”
  1178. >”I’m sorry but I don’t have much. While I was in this city, I would regularly meet a grey stallion. He never gave his name, and the meeting would always be in a different place.”
  1179. “But?”
  1180. >”But, while I was on-duty I had the same patrol for a couple weeks. Every morning at exactly seven, I would see that same stallion go into an office building. He was always alone and about half of the time carried a briefcase.”
  1181. “Where?”
  1182. >”Four story building a few blocks from the western gate.”
  1183. “And there’s nothing else?”
  1184. >”I… yes, a couple mornings he would hold the door open so a light green pegasus could enter behind him.”
  1185. >Not many pegasi in the Crystal Empire.
  1186. >Matches the description of the pegasus who was following you, and the grey one who led you into the alleyway.
  1187.  
  1188. “Alright. Now, your family will be staying under protection here in the Spire until further notice. After that, you’ll just be another family moving into one of the homes the government seized. You’ll all need new names. Eclipse, you’ll probably need to dye your mane as well to be on the safe side.”
  1189. >You turn to his wife.
  1190. “You should avoid writing; at the very least avoid anything near to any genera you’ve ever published.”
  1191. >”Actually, I might have an idea for a spy novel. Don’t worry; I can shift my writing style enough.”
  1192. “I’m going to set up a couple soldiers I trust to be reassigned to the garrison where you’ll be at. We’ll deal with the details later, but if anything so much as seems out of the ordinary, tell them. While you’re here now, there will always be at least half a dozen men in the closest room to you. Until things blow over, you’ll be safe.”
  1193. >With that, you left the family to their own devices.
  1194. >Deciding to turn in, you stopped by the library to move the books from earlier to your quarters.
  1195. >In the few hours you had before heading to sleep, you started running through possible plans of action.
  1196. >You’ll have quite a bit to do in the following days.
  1197.  
  1198. >…
  1199. “Ahh.”
  1200. >”Oh quit being such a baby.”
  1201. >Winter rips another splinter out of your wing.
  1202. >It’s not the wood shards themselves that hurt, but some of the larger ones have left some considerable openings that she’s dousing with rubbing alcohol.
  1203. >Still though, the benefits of having a nurse for a wife are becoming apparent.
  1204. >But on your way over here, you heard something… disconcerting from one of your lieutenants.
  1205. >And by piecing it together with what you saw on the top of the Spire before leaving, it gets worse.
  1206. >The pegasus that was spying on the Marshal was found dead at the bottom.
  1207. >But the wounds reported on the body were… improbable for a simple fall, even from that height.
  1208. >And so long ago when you found the Field Marshal after the hospital attack.
  1209. >The good guys aren’t supposed to torture or even make that threat, right?
  1210. >You were ready to dismiss it.
  1211. >But then you heard about the alleyway.
  1212. >He beat half a dozen ponies to death with little more than his bare hands
  1213. >At least two of the attacker’s heads were reduced to nothing but shattered bone and scattered brain.
  1214. >You know better than most what the adrenaline of a fight can do to a soldier, but that’s just plain excessive.
  1215. >You guess that he’s trying to send a message, but doesn’t that just put him on their level?
  1216. >You’re starting to wonder if he would threaten the families of his enemies if it would give him the upper hoof.
  1217. >”Hey, you okay? Your back feels really tense.”
  1218. “I’ll be fine. Just need some rest.”
  1219.  
  1220. >…
  1221. >The following morning you brought Thunder in to give his report.
  1222. >The only thing that stood out was there was a changeling posing as the wife.
  1223. >The implications could be… problematic.
  1224. >But with nothing else you needed from him, you sent him back home.
  1225. >You even made it an order to ‘relax a bit’.
  1226. >With the Captain gone, you summoned the other officers of your Old Guard that were in the Crystal Empire.
  1227. “Alright, listen up cause I’m only saying this once.”
  1228. >…
  1229. “And remember, time is of utmost importance. Every second the building isn’t secured, is a second that more vital information will be destroyed. If they try to surrender, let them. But if they as much as look at a weapon, do what you have to. You have your orders.
  1230. >With that you started climbing the spire.
  1231. >…
  1232. >You looked to the west.
  1233. >Standing amid the one or two story buildings by the western gate was a large mound of concrete and glass.
  1234. >It was just about noon, any second now the bells will start-
  1235. >You hear bells start ringing in the city below.
  1236. >Soon after, you see a hundred or so pegasi descending on the office complex.
  1237. >They’ll be leading the attack, breaking through windows on every floor of the building.
  1238. >On the ground another hundred earth ponies and unicorns will be storming the ground based entrances.
  1239. >As your men break through, you can see isolated bursts of magic light up some of the rooms.
  1240. >There will be casualties, but somewhere in the building there will be a link back to their headquarters.
  1241. >Then you can cut the head off of the snake.
  1242. >After a few minute or so of watching the distant fighting, a pair of pegasi pulling a chariot land on the top of the Spire.
  1243. >They take you over to the roof access, as one of your bloodied unicorns blasts it off of its hinges and steps out to give his report.
  1244. >”Sir, building secured.”
  1245.  
  1246. “Situation report.”
  1247. >”The first three levels belong to an insurance firm, no resistance was met and the civilians are being held for further questioning.”
  1248. “And the fourth?”
  1249. >You begin going down the stairs, exiting on the top floor.
  1250. >”According to the secretary downstairs, it’s only registered under royal authority. We met heavy resistance, mostly unicorns. Half of the pegasi wave was dead before ground forces could reinforce. Wounded are being sent to the hospital, and we’ve got the surviving prisoners rounded up and under guard.”
  1251. >As you step out of the stairwell, you can see the damage to the floor.
  1252. >Overturned desks, broken glass, blood spatters, impacts from physical and magical attacks, and the bodies of the MID forces as well as your own.
  1253. >A single room made up the core of the fourth floor, with smaller rooms ringing a hallway that goes around the main area.
  1254. >Half of the larger room is made up of various cubicles, while large (now mostly shattered) panes of glass separated a larger conference room.
  1255. >In the conference room you can see tables with maps of the city, the Crystal Empire, and Equestria as a whole atop them.
  1256. >Old propaganda posters and seals of the Ministry of Interior Defense line the solid walls.
  1257. “And you’re sure the entire building has been cleared?”
  1258. >”Down to every cubicle, bathroom stall, and janitor’s closet. Over there is a smaller meeting room where we’ve got the prisoners at.”
  1259. >He says as he points across to a door flanked by flag poles, one flying the national flag and another of the Ministry’s.
  1260. “Good job Lieutenant, keep them there while I take a look around.”
  1261.  
  1262. >…
  1263. >In the morning you gave your report to the Marshal.
  1264. >You don’t think he said anything aside a variation of: ‘go on’.
  1265. >Well, aside from ordering you to ‘relax’ that is.
  1266. >As soon as you left, you passed a group of officers entering the debriefing chamber.
  1267. >Every other officer from his personal forces in the city was there except you.
  1268. >And you’re theoretically the highest ranked member of it aside from the Field Marshal himself.
  1269. >But maybe you’re just looking into things too much.
  1270. >You are still pretty bruised up from your previous mission.
  1271. >And once you got back to the Crystal Empire, Winter took off work for the rest of the week.
  1272. >Maybe he really just wants you to take some time off and spend some time with your wife.
  1273. >So you did just that.
  1274. >You found yourself in a park, sitting next to a pond with Winter.
  1275. >After a bit of assorted small talk, a pair of ducks swam past with a few ducklings following closely.
  1276. >This prompted the million bit question.
  1277. >”So… what do you think we should name her?”
  1278. “Or him.”
  1279. >”It’ll be a filly, call it maternal instinct.”
  1280. “Is that code for: start painting the room pink?”
  1281. >”Now that you mention it, there just happens to be a few cans of paint in my shed.”
  1282. “Oh is there now?”
  1283. >”Come on, names. Give me your best one.”
  1284.  
  1285. “I don’t know. Purple… Rain.”
  1286. >”That’s… an idea.”
  1287. “Come on, I’m terrible with names. When I was five, my parents got me a dog and let me name it. I came up with ‘Dog’.”
  1288. >”Really?”
  1289. “There was also Cat the cat, and Fish the goldfish. And yes, Cat ate Fish after a week. He was replaced by Fish 2… and Fish 3, then Fish 4, and it went like that for a while. In retrospect I should have just put a lid or something atop the fish bowl.”
  1290. >”Oh stop it, you.”
  1291. “Really though, I think that once we see her for the first time, we’ll just know.”
  1292. >”Oh! While I remember it, I was going to stop by to pay a surprise visit to my sister a few days ago, and you’ll never guess who I saw-“
  1293. >Winter is cut off as a nearby clock tower starts ringing.
  1294. >Noon.
  1295. >”Hey, what’s that?”
  1296. >She nods over towards the Spire.
  1297. >As you turn you see at least a hundred pegasi flying in formation, heading westward.
  1298. >You can just make out that they’re wearing armor.
  1299. “I should-“
  1300. >”Go.”
  1301. >Before you can leave, your wife pulls you in for a kiss.
  1302. >”And let your wings rest, you’ll just injure them more.”
  1303. >Nice to see her nurse instincts are still working just fine.
  1304. “Yes dear.”
  1305. >With that, you started galloping towards where the soldiers were headed.
  1306.  
  1307. >…
  1308. >Although you couldn’t see where the soldiers were actually going, the growing crowds helped you find your way.
  1309. >A four story office building with most of its window’s shattered, presumably due to the pegasi.
  1310. >Ground forces were holding back civilians from getting to close to the building, and by the time you arrived; it sounded like any battle that had taken place had ended.
  1311. >As you work your way out of the crowd, a soldier tries to stop you.
  1312. >”Back up, sir. Oh, sorry Sir; didn’t recognize you for a second.”
  1313. “What exactly happened here?”
  1314. >”Head on inside, I’m sure somepony that’s higher ranked would be better suited to explain it.”
  1315. >As you enter through the main doors, you meet a reception are.
  1316. >Soldiers surround a few dozen civilians that are sitting on the ground.
  1317. >”Why can’t we just go?” One of the prisoners says as he starts to stand.
  1318. >He’s met with a pair of raised spears being pointed his way, they stay fixed on him until he sheepishly sits back down.
  1319. >Seeing you enter, one of your Lieutenants approached you.
  1320. >He gave a basic rundown of the operation.
  1321. >Civilians on the first three floors, and what looks like an MID center of operations on the fourth.
  1322. >They met heavy resistance when they stormed the floor.
  1323. “Wait, you were just sent in without any prior intel? And the Marshal didn’t even take part in the battle?”
  1324. >”Affirmative to both. Down here the civies are being held until the Field Marshal gives the all clear, and we’ve got the MID prisoners under watch upstairs. That about covers it.”
  1325.  
  1326. >Taking your leave, you started up the stairs.
  1327. >You have a few words for the Marshal…
  1328. >As you reach the top floor, you ask one of the soldiers up there for his location.
  1329. >He points you towards one of the offices.
  1330. >You enter the office and you see the Marshal sitting at a desk, skimming through files.
  1331. >”Didn’t I order you to rest up?”
  1332. >He says without looking up from the file.
  1333. >You close the door before saying anything.
  1334. “Sir, can I speak frankly?”
  1335. >”You’re going to with or without my permission. Sit.”
  1336. >You pick up an overturned chair and sit across the desk from your superior.
  1337. >There’s a gentle breeze from the broken window.
  1338. “What are you doing?”
  1339. >”Reading through files, but I don’t know why you need that tone of voice to ask.”
  1340. “Ever since that first night in the Everfree, you’ve been different. Torture, excess brutality; and just sending two hundred ponies to attack a civilian structure, on the word of one prisoner, AND without any other intel. You didn’t even lead the fight.”
  1341. >“Is there supposed to be a point in that rambling?”
  1342. “Come on, you’re acting like one of our enemies!”
  1343. >Before you can continue he reaches across the table and slaps you.
  1344. >It… caught you off guard.
  1345. >He tosses the file aside, and leans forward.
  1346. >”Need I remind you who we’re fighting? The MID were a secret police that kept the populace subservient through blackmail, threats, and torture. But fine, set aside the countless nationwide crimes. In this year alone, they’ve: tried to start a war in the frontier just so they could more easily assassinate Flurry and myself, bombed a train to kill me (and had it been successful, you would have been in the blast radius as well), laid siege and caused significant damage to a hospital, most likely assisted in the destruction of a third of Canterlot, threatened a pony’s wife and children to make him do their deeds, spied on me, and attacked me in the streets.”
  1347.  
  1348. “Sir, that’s not what I mean-“
  1349. >”If you want to compare me to them, then I suggest you take an actual look at the situation. Yes, it was a risk sending in these men. But if I have to send them in blind, I rest comfortably in that they’re the best soldiers in this army. Each member of my Old Guard volunteered to be part of my personal forces; they all know what that means. And each one of them would do the same, because if a few deaths here stop hundreds from dying in a bombing or lets dozens of families sleep easier, every one of them would take that risk.”
  1350. “But does that justify torturing them and bashing their skulls open.”
  1351. >”Listen close, cause I’m only saying this once. I don’t care that they tried to have me killed; I deal with that risk almost daily. But when they threaten the only family I have, it gets personal. If you can honestly say that if they tried to kill your wife or unborn child, that you wouldn’t act the same way, then you’re lying. When I spoke to you atop the Spire, I laid out everything I know. Don’t make me reevaluate that trust.”
  1352. >He pauses, and you find yourself at a loss for words.
  1353. >”Now go home. This will be the first and last time we speak of this. You are a soldier and an officer, I expect you to act like one. Such naivety is unbecoming.”
  1354. “…Yes Sir.”
  1355.  
  1356. >…
  1357. >After hours of searching through files and interrogating prisoners, you got what you needed.
  1358. >The location of the MID headquarters.
  1359. >And of course, it’s built into the mountainside overlooking Caterlot.
  1360. >It is after all, the main base for a shadow organization.
  1361. >But what other clichés could be contained within: a waterfall, or a restraining table hooked up with a bisecting laser?
  1362. >Or maybe a shark pool?
  1363. >Anyway, you had released the civilians, sent the MID prisoners to cells in the Spire, and left some of your more trusted men to go over the remaining documents at their base.
  1364. >This will be your last night in the Crystal Empire for the foreseeable future.
  1365. >Tomorrow yourself, Captain Thunder, and about a hundred members of your Old Guard will be on the first train bound for the Capitol.
  1366. >You’ve been gone for about a week.
  1367. >Hopefully General Lancer has kept it standing while you were gone.
  1368. >That night you continued into your research on the East, picking out a small handful of books to bring with you.
  1369. >…
  1370. >Early next morning, you did just that.
  1371. >Sitting in a private compartment, you got out the books you brought and continued reading.
  1372. >After all, you won’t arrive in the capitol until nightfall.
  1373.  
  1374. >As you sat on the train, your thoughts drifted to the conversation you had with Thunder yesterday.
  1375. >It was probably the result of rushing him through the ranks so quickly.
  1376. >He’s just going through what every officer does.
  1377. >The realization of the cold hard facts of war.
  1378. >Sacrificing for the greater good, and how to make the hard decisions.
  1379. >He’ll work it out in his own way.
  1380. >But this isn’t the time for him to have a crisis, for his own sake he should work out his moral issues as soon as possible.
  1381. >…
  1382. >But eventually you arrived.
  1383. >Letting your offices go to ready the troops, you had a stop before joining them.
  1384. >As the train grinded to its final stop, you put your hat back onto your head.
  1385. >Feeling the weight of a pair of jars in your jacket, you headed for the part of the city closest to the Palace.
  1386. >That required walking through the rubble of the destroyed section of the city.
  1387. >Some progress was being made to clear it, but Canterlot won’t look the same for a decade at the least.
  1388. >But soon you passed into the wealthy side of the capitol, only to find that its nightlife seems unchanged.
  1389. >You passed the buildings that make up the School for Gifted Unicorns, and soon say the proper campus of the Royal Academy.
  1390. >If your memory serves correctly, and you have a very good memory, the large central building is the one devoted to magical studies.
  1391. >After a bit of wandering, and some directions from a janitor, you fond the office you were looking for.
  1392. >According to the schedule posted, the pony you’re looking for currently is teaching a night class.
  1393. >And it should be getting over in about ten minutes, so you started through the halls to the room that was listed.
  1394.  
  1395. >You soon arrived at room 221; the note next to the door lists the room’s usage schedule. The current class reads:
  1396. >MGP 1000: Introduction to Advanced Magical Theory
  1397. >The door is open, and you hear the Professor speak to their students.
  1398. >”Now, come having read Starswirl’s Notes on Short Range Teleportation. And practice outside of class because we’ll be going into live trials after the lecture. Class dismissed, I’ll see you all this time next week.”
  1399. >As the last of the young first year college students shuffles out of the classroom, you enter.
  1400. >”Anon?”
  1401. >You see a now middle-aged purple unicorn sitting at the desk gathering her notes.
  1402. >Her dark purple mane seems a shade lighter, and a solid grey streak now flanks her light blue and off-purple streaks.
  1403. >There is a visible wrinkle on the side of each of her eyes.
  1404. >It has been what? A decade or so years since you’ve last seen her.
  1405. “Hello Starlight. Sorry, that should be Professor Glimmer.”
  1406. >You start walking over towards the desk she’s sitting at.
  1407. >”For you it’s just Starlight… Field Marshal, or do you prefer Chancellor?”
  1408. >You pull over a chair and sit opposite her, taking off your hat and setting it on the desk.
  1409. “For you, it’s just Anon.”
  1410. >”Wow, it’s been what? fourteen years? You look… greyer.”
  1411. “Looked in a mirror recently?”
  1412. >She laughs slightly.
  1413. >”I’ve been trying to avoid them for the past nineteen or so years, never know when you’ll fall through it.”
  1414. >That joke is lost on you.
  1415. >”So what brings you back after so long?”
  1416. “Well I’ve got a bit of a magic problem. Also congratulations on the promotion, I saw that you’re listed as the department head for Magical Practice.”
  1417. >”The congratulations is thirteen or so years overdue, but what’s the problem?”
  1418.  
  1419. >You pull out the jar with the bug inside of it, and set it on the table.
  1420. >An aura surrounds it as she levitates it closer for inspection.
  1421. >”You do know that I’m not an entomologist, right?”
  1422. “Yes, but you’re the probably the best unicorn out there at magic, and that little thing feeds off of it.”
  1423. >”Well it’s not unheard of for organisms to survive off of magic, just look at changelings. Do you know what type of magic this insect feeds off of?”
  1424. “Alicorn.”
  1425. >”… Does that mean?”
  1426. “Unfortunately. And I have no idea how to remove them.”
  1427. >”Then where did this one come from?”
  1428. “Me.”
  1429. >”That doesn’t make sense; you’re void of all magics, let alone Alicorn.”
  1430. “Well I have it on an incredibly reliable source that they do.”
  1431. >”And who exactly is this source. Given the sarcasm I’m not sure I even want to know.”
  1432. “Discord.”
  1433. >”Discord?!”
  1434. “You’re one to talk. Besides, I think that he’s telling the truth on this one. At least half of it.”
  1435. >”Just… start from the beginning. Tell me everything you know about it.”
  1436. “Well, it all started through some cryptic half statements from Discord himself. Long story, but after all was said and done, the things were brought back from the East by Twilight. They then infected each of the other Princesses. He said they survive off of the background magic that Alicorns produce, and is amplified by negative emotions. So they started amplifying those emptions, which led to Celestia, Luna, and Cadence’s recent… mood changes. He also said that any attempt to surgically remove them would kill the pony they’re in.”
  1437.  
  1438. >”Go on.”
  1439. “Now I’m not sure if feed of the magic or emptions, or both. But, one was also inside of me for an uncertain amount of time. But it was dormant, again I’m not sure if was starved from lack of magic, or lack of emotions it needed to feed off of. It ‘woke up’ after I felt fear from a nightmare. I’m assuming it has to do with whatever chemical my brain produced from it, because it then planted various dreams to provoke feelings of fear and despair. With some help from Discord, we managed to kill it. I don’t know exactly how, maybe from starving it so quickly after it had woken up.”
  1440. >You reach into your pocket and retrieve the jar of the black liquid.
  1441. “I woke up, and the bug was next to my bedroll with these black strings sticking out of it. When I touched them, they liquefied. But they weren’t absorbed by the fabric of the bedroll, it just beaded, so I funneled it into the jar.”
  1442. >She takes the jar with her magic and brings it closer for inspection.
  1443. >She just sort of stares intently at it while swirling it slightly.
  1444. >Looking into the strange void it forms.
  1445. >”Do you mind if I keep these for further study?”
  1446. “Go ahead, that’s why I brought it.”
  1447. >”I think that after some tests and with Sunburst’s help, we might be able to get some answers from it.”
  1448. >Sunburst.
  1449. >You’ve got some… grievances with him.
  1450.  
  1451. “What ever happened between you two?”
  1452. “It’s… a long story. He’s actually now the head of the Magical Theory department here.”
  1453. >Well good for him.
  1454. “Sorry, but I’ve got a tight schedule to keep tonight. One last thing. Say hypothetically…”
  1455. >You stop yourself.
  1456. >Better to not sugar coat it.
  1457. “Look, Flurry has one of them in her head. I’m not sure how long she can hold out. Problem is, she’s the only thing keeping the sun and moon going, and the other Princesses aren’t an option. You’re probably the strongest known unicorn, could you raise them?”
  1458. >”I… I don’t think even I could do that.”
  1459. >She looks off to the side in thought.
  1460. >”Well… maybe. You know those amplifying crystals used in magic cannons? What am I saying? Of course you do. If I had one the size of, I don’t know, this desk or so, maybe.”
  1461. “Maybe will have to do.”
  1462. >You stand from the chair, and grab your officer’s cap.
  1463. “I should go.”
  1464. >As you start heading out of the room, you her Starlight’s voice.
  1465. >”Wait, Anon.”
  1466. >You turn back to look at her.
  1467. >”You’ve put a lot on my plate; but for what it’s worth, it was good to see you again.”
  1468. >With that, you turned and started making your way to the rendezvous point you set up with your troops.
  1469.  
  1470. >There were a small handful of various account depicting where their main base of operations is located.
  1471. >On the mountainside overlooking Canterlot, a single pine tree grows.
  1472. >And under said tree is a cave that leads into their base.
  1473. >Some notes referenced that the pass codes change regularly.
  1474. >But who needs codes when you’ve got explosives?
  1475. >If the MID have even half a mind, the door will be resistant to anything they’ve ever seen.
  1476. >Which is why you instructed one of your unicorns on how to make a shaped charge.
  1477. >Sprinkled with unstable magic infused crystals for that little extra kick.
  1478. >That’s also one of the reasons you are hesitant to introduce new technologies, you never know just when you’ll need an ace in the hole.
  1479. >On the outskirts of the city, you met up with your strike force.
  1480. >This one you’d be leading personally.
  1481. >You’ll be assaulting the entrance with two hundred battle hardened veterans at your back.
  1482. >And another hundred pegasi will be circling the area in case they try to flee from any hidden exits.
  1483. >Once inside of the complex, the men will split off from you and take care of sweeping the majority of it.
  1484. >You on the other hand will be searching for their leader’s office.
  1485. >Not only to cut the head off of the snake, but also because that’s most likely where you’d find detailed logs of their personnel and safe house listings.
  1486. >With the last of your men gathered, you addressed the troops.
  1487. “Alright ponies, we’re going in blind. It’s not ideal, but we haven’t got much of a choice. Each of you knows the MID’s record over the past few years, but we need to act fast. If all goes well the entire organization will be little more than a memory after a week or so. It’ll be a tough fight, but you’re the best. Stick together and fight how I know you can, and you’ll make it through this. Now move out, on me!”
  1488.  
  1489. >Leading your men out of the city, you began the ascent.
  1490. >It was a bit steeper than the average glacis, but nothing that made the journey perilous.
  1491. >Canterlot is built on a relatively flat area; the pine tree marking the cave entrance was located just where the mountain proper continues poking into the sky.
  1492. >Sure enough, the tree and cave were there.
  1493. >Otherwise completely conspicuous, but the grass around the mouth looks relatively well traveled.
  1494. >Signaling for the main force to hold, you enter the mouth of the cave with a handful of unicorns, which use magic to light the interior.
  1495. >It’s maybe thirty feet deep and thirty wide.
  1496. >Seemingly, it looks like just a normal cave.
  1497. >But at the farthest end, there’s a slight indent into the wall.
  1498. >Like the rock there was pushed back a few feet.
  1499. >You whistle at your men and point to the wall.
  1500. >They open fire, throwing a wave of multi-colored magical bolts into the rock.
  1501. >As the dust clears, you see a solid steel pane of metal standing where the stone once did.
  1502. “Corporal.”
  1503. >One of your men slings a bag off of his back, and gives it to you.
  1504. >”I didn’t have a lot of time, but it should meet all the specifications you gave me.”
  1505. >You reach into the bag and pull out a large tube with a sizeable end.
  1506. >One magical panzerfaust, per your sketches.
  1507. >You may have done a little more than just read on your train ride to Canterlot.
  1508. “And you burned the schematics, right?”
  1509. >”Yes Sir.”
  1510. >The last thing you need is for them to be mass produced.
  1511. “Clear the area!”
  1512. >Your men retreat behind you.
  1513.  
  1514. >”Uhh Sir, what exactly is that?” One of your other men asks.
  1515. >You pull up the sight/safety mechanism.
  1516. “This is a panzerfaust. It fausts panzers.”
  1517. >You place the weapon over your shoulder, and line it up with the door.
  1518. >And pull down on the firing mechanism.
  1519. >The rocket propels itself towards the steel door.
  1520. >The impact itself has a shockwave of blue energy from what was added to the payload.
  1521. >As the dust settles and your ears stop ringing, you can see a sizable hole in the steel door.
  1522. “And doors.”
  1523. >Tossing the tube aside, you draw your sword.
  1524. >Inside you can hear ponies shouting orders.
  1525. >You approach the breech, and see that the door was a few centimeters thick.
  1526. >You turn to see your men just standing there.
  1527. “What are you going to do? Stare them to death?”
  1528. >Working your way through the breech, you’re met with a concrete hallway about fifty feet long.
  1529. >A few unicorns were standing in it, and they open fire at you.
  1530. >It’s good to know that magic still doesn’t affect you.
  1531. >Not for them though.
  1532. >With only bodies remaining, you stepped out of the hall.
  1533.  
  1534. >Stepping to a guard rail you see that the structure was built around an eight story rotunda.
  1535. >You were on the fifth level, below on the lowest; you could see an ornate fountain in the courtyard.
  1536. >So they don’t have a waterfall.
  1537. >On each of the levels you could see countless pones scrambling about, most heading for your level.
  1538. >Your own men were starting to spread out, keeping you from conflict.
  1539. >As you scan upwards, you see a large glass window on the top floor overlooking the entire complex.
  1540. >That’s where you’d assume the leader is at.
  1541. >Just three flights of stairs between you and your target.
  1542. >An arrow flies past your head from below.
  1543. >You’re wasting time.
  1544. >Some of your men were assaulting the closest flight of stairs heading up.
  1545. >By the time you reached it they had broken through.
  1546. >As you reached the sixth level, you could see the next staircase.
  1547. >As you ascended it, a pegasi flew towards you with a spear.
  1548. >A spear that you easily knocked aside before slashing at his side.
  1549. >Behind you, you could hear him impact the ground, but you don’t have time to finish the job.
  1550. >Reaching the top of the stairs, you met another pair of ponies trying to stop you.
  1551. >’Trying’ being exactly what they did, as each of them soon lay dead on the ground.
  1552. >To your left you could see a hallway where three ponies stood with weapons ready.
  1553. >But they slowly just backed away and went into another room.
  1554. >Smart.
  1555. >You turned back to see the final flight of stairs, spiraling towards the top floor.
  1556. >No pony was in your way.
  1557.  
  1558. >You reaffirmed your grip on the sword, and started going up the stairs.
  1559. >Below, you could hear the sounds of battle.
  1560. >At the top of the stairs after a short landing area, was a simple set of wooden double doors.
  1561. >The wall adjacent to it was decorated with a national flag and one of the Ministry’s.
  1562. >A bronze plaque next to the door read:
  1563. >[Director Drops]
  1564. >You brace your stance and kick in one of the doors.
  1565. >The room is rather plain.
  1566. >The right wall is mostly taken up by the window.
  1567. >The back wall was mostly bookshelves.
  1568. >To the right was a large portrait of Celestia and Luna, facing each other rampant with the sun and moon behind their respective Princess.
  1569. >Facing the door was a desk.
  1570. >On your side, a pair of chairs faced it.
  1571. >And sitting at it was a middle-aged mare.
  1572. >Earth pony with a cream colored coat, light teal eyes, and a curled indigo and light purple mane and tail that remind you a bit of Flurry.
  1573. >She’s just sitting at the desk, leaning her front hooves onto it.
  1574. >”I’m sure we can be civil about this.”
  1575. “We both know you only got two ways out of this.”
  1576. >”I’m quite aware of that.”
  1577. >She pushes her chair back and heads over to the window, looking down at the battle.
  1578. >Giving a sigh of defeat, she reaches over and lowers a set of blinds.
  1579. >Then she turns to you.
  1580. >”Why?”
  1581. “You know the answer to that.”
  1582. >”WHY!”
  1583.  
  1584. >As she screams, she erupts into a bright green light, revealing her true form.
  1585. >A changeling.
  1586. >A Queen.
  1587. >But still young, barley larger than the average sized pony.
  1588. >So they did infiltrate the MID.
  1589. >”Why do you personally always hunt us down!”
  1590. “Until just now I had no idea a queen still survived.”
  1591. >”Likely, why else would you be here? Hive after hive, clutch after clutch, you always go out of your way to exterminate us like common pests.”
  1592. “Your agents have been trying to kill me for months; you know damn well why I’m here.”
  1593. >”Don’t use that tone of voice. Don’t judge me! You would have done exactly the same. Preventative measures.”
  1594. >She starts walking towards you slowly, and you ready your sword in response.
  1595. >”To the best of my knowledge I’m the last Queen.”
  1596. >That’s what intelligence reports have been saying for decades, but another always springs up.
  1597. >”Go on then.”
  1598. >She turns and reaches out her neck.
  1599. >”Enjoy your genocide, monster.”
  1600. >You see her eyes close.
  1601. >”I hope you can sleep eas-“
  1602. >Her words stop as your sword swings cleanly down through her neck.
  1603. >If it was some gambit to make you let her live, it failed.
  1604.  
  1605. >Heading to her desk, you start going through drawers.
  1606. >The first one contains some newer reports, and various documents requiring the director’s signature.
  1607. >Wait.
  1608. >You stop ruffling through papers.
  1609. >There it is again.
  1610. >It’s muffled, but you can hear a pony.
  1611. >”Back here!”
  1612. >It’s coming from the bookshelf.
  1613. >You walk over to the farthest one to the left, where the voice seems strongest.
  1614. >Because it would fit with the cliché, you pull back on a bust of Celestia’s head.
  1615. >And lo and behold, the bookshelf opens up towards the wall.
  1616. >Inside you can see a dimly lit room of solid concrete.
  1617. >And a set of iron bars separating the back half of it.
  1618. >Inside the cell lies a pony identical to the one the Queen was impersonating.
  1619. >”Well it’s about time.”
  1620. >She says incredibly sarcastically.
  1621. >”I think the key is in the desk.”
  1622. >You return to it and start searching through it.
  1623. >”She’s had me locked up for almost two years now. What tipped Celestia off to them?”
  1624. >If she’s been out of the picture for that long, she doesn’t know about the coup.
  1625. “Assassination attempt.”
  1626. >”Figures. Also figures that she’d send you.”
  1627. >You find a key underneath a stack of papers, and head back into the cell room.
  1628. >”Nice place, huh? Had it custom made to keep me close by. She was weak and needed me in close proximity to have access to my memories. I tried to fight it best I could, but it didn’t work.”
  1629. >You reach down and unlock the door, sliding open the cell door.
  1630. “Listen very carefully; we’re not sure how far they’ve spread in the organization.”
  1631. >”Way ahead of you.”
  1632. >She brushes past you and goes over to the large painting.
  1633. >She grabs the right side of it, and it swings outwards.
  1634. >Behind it is a large safe.
  1635. >”This is where I kept lists of active agents and our locations.”
  1636. >She starts spinning the combination lock.
  1637. >And you paid close attention to the code.
  1638. >16, 45, 07.
  1639.  
  1640. >”I’d bet that she’d include lists of whoever one of her changelings are disguised as.”
  1641. >If she’s been out of the picture for only two years, that’s still plenty of time they were acting as a brutal Secret Police under her leadership.
  1642. >She grabs large stacks of files from the safe and brings them over to the desk.
  1643. >Laying them out, some of them are quite thick, and many of them are clearly labeled:
  1644. >Safe Houses.
  1645. >Regional Headquarters
  1646. >Ponies of Interest
  1647. >Non-Ponies of Interest
  1648. >Potential Threats to National Security
  1649. >Contingency Plans
  1650. >She opens one of the safe house files, and starts flipping through the pages.
  1651. >”Here, personnel listings… I’d say that the names with that green stamp next to them are changelings. Thank Celestia there are only a few of them… here at least.”
  1652. >Everything you need.
  1653. >You take a step back.
  1654. >”You’re awfully quiet…”
  1655. >As she turns to face you, you thrust your sword into her torso.
  1656. >She looks deep into your eyes, a slight look of shock on her face.
  1657. >”I… did my duty.”
  1658. >The last thing you need is for whatever survivors there are imprisoned to have a leader.
  1659. >You pull out the blade and let her sink to the ground.
  1660. >As she falls, see something in the corner of your eye.
  1661. >Captain Thunder is standing in the door way.
  1662. >He takes one look into your eyes, then turns and walks away.
  1663. >You head back over to the desk and start collecting the files.
  1664. >It was necessary.
  1665.  
  1666. >…
  1667. >After gathering the files, you left your men to finish up.
  1668. >Well, you were.
  1669. >But as you got back down to the entrance, a lieutenant notified you that the fighting was over.
  1670. >About half of the defenders surrendered.
  1671. >So you were joined by your officers as you made your way to the royal palace.
  1672. >At your order, most of the Officers in the Old Guard were summoned.
  1673. >You then started going over the files and setting up orders.
  1674. >By the end of the night, every base of operations the MID has was assigned a detachment from your personal forces.
  1675. >They would begin splitting up the men immediately.
  1676. >They’re only about half the size of your Old Guard, so the Palace wouldn’t be left defenseless.
  1677. >But starting with the first trains out of Canterlot, your forces would be spread out across Equestria.
  1678. >Only the bases furthest from the capitol would survive for more than twenty-four hours.
  1679. >The planning had concluded by first light, and you set your men to their tasks.
  1680. >As you left the meeting room, you met General Lancer, who apparently had just woken up.
  1681. >When he saw you he almost dropped his cup of coffee.
  1682. >”Sir! I had no idea you were back.”
  1683. “Not ready to give up power, huh?”
  1684. >”It’s the opposite. I would have written to you, but it only just started.”
  1685. “What’s started.”
  1686. >”Sir… the Princess.”
  1687.  
  1688. >Flurry.
  1689. “What’s happened?”
  1690. >”She’s locked herself in her room. She won’t see anypony, and only takes food if it’s left alone at her door.”
  1691. “Out of my way.”
  1692. >You begin rushing through the halls of the Palace until you find yourself at her door.
  1693. >As you reach it, you try at the handle.
  1694. >But it’s locked.
  1695. “Flurry!”
  1696. >You start knocking at the door.
  1697. “Flurry, it’s me.”
  1698. >The lock shines with an aura as magic unlocks it.
  1699. >And you rush into the room.
  1700. >She’s laying on the ground, curled up and leaning against her bed.
  1701. >You run over to her, and get onto your knees.
  1702. >”Hi Uncle.”
  1703. >She says sheepishly as you put your arms around her.
  1704. “It’s okay baby. I’m here.”
  1705. >You put your head to hers and kiss her forehead.
  1706. “I’m so sorry.”
  1707. >”It… it hurts so much.”
  1708. >You put your hands on her shoulders and look her in the eyes.
  1709. “I know. And I’m so sorry for putting you through this.”
  1710. >”You- ah- you didn’t know.”
  1711. “Look, I had one of them in my head too. I know you’re in a bad place right now, but I’m going to make it better.”
  1712. >”Don’t you always?”
  1713. >She tries to laugh, but you can hear the pain in it.
  1714. “Flurry, sweetie. I need you to stay strong. I need my little soldier to stay with me.”
  1715. >”I’m trying… Uncle. Anon, you need to lock me up while you can. Before I hurt anypony.”
  1716. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
  1717. >You say as a tear starts forming in your eye.
  1718. >”Yes- AHH- yes you can.”
  1719. >Begrudgingly, you pick her up.
  1720. >She rests in your arms, and you grab a pillow and blanket off of her bed that you carry with her.
  1721. >The walk to the dungeons was the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
  1722.  
  1723. >This goes against every fiber of your being.
  1724. >She’s your little girl; she doesn’t belong in a cage.
  1725. >You were supposed to protect her.
  1726. >She was pure, that’s how it was dormant for so long.
  1727. >Then you dragged her into a war.
  1728. >And if you had just done as she wanted, and left her without the weight of a nation on top of everything else, she might not be this far gone.
  1729. >She never deserved you as a parent.
  1730. >As you reached a magic proofed cell, you motioned for the door to open.
  1731. >Laying out the blanket and pillow, you set her down.
  1732. >Then sat next to her.
  1733. >”It’s not your fault.”
  1734. “I should have listened to you. I should have trusted you.”
  1735. >”Anon. It’s not your fault.”
  1736. >She coughs.
  1737. >”You’ll win. I know you will. You always do.”
  1738. “Flurry… I promise that I’m going to find that things home, and I’m going to end it. I’ve got to go East. After Shining, after Twilight, and I swear that I’m coming back with a cure.”
  1739. >She was silent for a while.
  1740. >And so did you.
  1741. >You just sat there with your arm around her.
  1742. >Eventually you got the courage to say what you needed to.
  1743. >You turned to face her.
  1744. “Flurry, I know I never said it, but you need to know.”
  1745. >”Know what?”
  1746. “I never had a proper family. I never got to, it never lasted. And while I was here I could never have kids. But I adopted a daughter, and she is the most amazing person I have ever had the honor of knowing. I love you kiddo, and I’m not saying this as an Uncle, I’m saying it as your Father: I will make sure you’re safe.”
  1747. >She reaches out and hugs you.
  1748. >”I love you too… Dad.”
  1749. >You then sit in her arms as a few tears roll down your eyes.
  1750. >”I… I need you to do something for me.”
  1751. >You pull back from the hug, and look her into the eyes.
  1752. “Anything.”
  1753.  
  1754. >”Once you close this cell, don’t visit me anymore. I can hold on for long and… and I don’t want you to see me like the others are.”
  1755. “I…”
  1756. >”Please.”
  1757. “… Okay.”
  1758. >”Anon.”
  1759. “Yeah kiddo?”
  1760. >You say as tears openly stream down your face.
  1761. >”Go now. I can feel it pushing.”
  1762. >Per her wishes, you stand up and leave the cell.
  1763. >As you reach over to activate the crystal that closes the door, you pause.
  1764. “I swear to you that I’m going to fix this.”
  1765. >”I know you will. I trust you.”
  1766. >You slide your hand over the activating crystal, and the door slides shut, then the force field becomes visible for a second as it completes itself once again.
  1767. >Closing the cell then became the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your life
  1768. >You start walking out of the room, but as you’re in the door frame, turn back to Flurry.
  1769. >”I love you.”
  1770. “Love you too kiddo.”
  1771. >Closing that door then became the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your life.
  1772.  
  1773. >…
  1774. >You ended up passing through the hallway with all of the historical stained glass.
  1775. >And a bottle of whiskey that you grabbed from the kitchens was in your hand.
  1776. >You found yourself staring at one of the panels depicting Discord
  1777. “DISCORD!”
  1778. >You yell at the empty hallway.
  1779. “Discord, you bastard I know you can hear me!”
  1780. >Nothing happens.
  1781. “You get in here and fix my girl, or so help me God, I will end you!”
  1782. >The glass is just there, with that condescending smirk.
  1783. >You throw the bottle towards its face.
  1784. >Whiskey splatters and glass shatters, but the stained glass panel is barely chipped.
  1785. “Burn in hell.”
  1786. >You stomp out of the hallway.
  1787. >…
  1788. >Next you were in the castle’s gym.
  1789. >You had tossed aside your sword, hat, jacket, and shirt.
  1790. >It must have been an hour or so you spent beating up a punching bag.
  1791. >Eventually you had enough of it, and went over to unsheathe your sword.
  1792. >Letting the rage overcome you, you cut cleanly through the side of the bag, as half of it falls to the ground and its contents spill out.
  1793. >You then went over to a bar and started doing pull ups.
  1794. >You’re still weak, and you need to be strong.
  1795. >You need to make sure that that thing and all others like it will pay for what they’ve done.
  1796.  
  1797. >Eventually you found yourself at a bench press.
  1798. >You needed to find your limit.
  1799. >Incidentally it was around 325.
  1800. >For a man of 45, pressing about a hundred pounds more than your weight would be quite the achievement.
  1801. >But it’s slightly misleading.
  1802. >Equestria has a slightly lower gravity, and a bit more oxygen than earth.
  1803. >That means that while your strength is considerable, the environment is helping you along.
  1804. >And in your prime you always hovered around 500 as your max load.
  1805. >You never broke it though.
  1806. >Physically exhausted, you sat up on the bench.
  1807. >At the far wall was a mirror.
  1808. >You stood up and approached it, taking yourself in.
  1809. >Nothing but an angry old man.
  1810. >What’s happening to you?
  1811. >Your eyes never looked so tired, and the grey in your hair has almost doubled in size over the past few days.
  1812. >Ever since you woke up from your dream, almost every one of your thoughts has been on killing or how to arrive at killing.
  1813. >And almost anything that didn’t play towards those thoughts you brushed past with an almost blatant disregard.
  1814. >If Flurry had seen what you’ve done in the past week…
  1815. >It’s disgraceful, plain and simple.
  1816. >Torture, brutality, executing an unarmed prisoner.
  1817. >It’s all strictly against what you’ve been working for all these years.
  1818. >You’ve become a mindless brute, a blood knight on a rampage of vengeance.
  1819. >”Excuse me… Sir?”
  1820. >You turn as you hear Thunder’s voice.
  1821.  
  1822. >He’s standing in the doorframe.
  1823. >In his front right hoof, he holds a folded piece of paper.
  1824. >As you start to approach him, you notice that he’s not in armor or uniform.
  1825. >Nearing him, he starts to close the distance, holding out the paper to you.
  1826. >”I figured this is something that I should do in person. My letter of resignation, Sir.”
  1827. >Staying silent you take the paper, opening it and giving it a quick glance over.
  1828. >Then you just sigh in disappointment.
  1829. “Walk with me for a moment.”
  1830. >You head out of the gym and start walking down the hallway.
  1831. >The sound of hoofsteps is a constant behind you.
  1832. “For what it’s worth, you were right.”
  1833. >You hang a left.
  1834. “I lost sight of myself. Since I woke up that afternoon, I convinced myself that my only purpose was to fight. Every waking hour it was in the back of my mind.”
  1835. >At the end of the hallway was an ornate set of glass doors that led to a balcony overlooking the valley below Canterlot.
  1836. >The wind hits against your bare chest as you open those doors.
  1837. >You then go to lean against the balcony.
  1838. “I didn’t bat an eye when doing things that a few months ago I would court-martial if I saw one of my men doing.”
  1839. >You look straight down to the sheer drop.
  1840. “And I enjoyed it.”
  1841.  
  1842. >You look at his letter once more, looking at the signature at the bottom.
  1843. “I stopped being both and officer and a gentleman, something I held myself to throughout my career. I was warrior- no, no even that. I was rabid.”
  1844. >You glance over to Thunder, unsure of what you’re getting at.
  1845. “I’m the only one that can face what’s ahead. And I used that as a justification. That it was all necessary for the greater good, for the good of the realm.”
  1846. >You look back down the cliff side.
  1847. “I woke up from something that was trying to corrupt my mind. And I acted no better than they would. What’s the point in fighting the darkness if it overtakes you anyway? Why fight if you lose your soul in the process?”
  1848. >You pause.
  1849. “And in my years here on the battlefield, I’ve done worse. Without me, the concept of total war would never have taken root in the nations here. So would mass artillery usage, targeting infrastructure, and that’s just concepts of war, not the actual actions taken during it. How many of the deaths in the past decades can be attributed to me?”
  1850. >A deep sigh escapes your lungs.
  1851. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds… but there’s something worse out there. In the East. And it overpowered the closest things you’ve got to gods themselves. I have to go to war, one last time. And I have to go alone. Not because I want to, or even because it’s my duty. Not even because it’s the only way to save the Princesses, to save Flurry. But because I’m the only one that can, because I’m the only one left that even has a chance. I expect to die in the process, but that won’t stop me. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Why? Because it is.”
  1852.  
  1853. >You look back to Thunder.
  1854. “Tell me, out of all the soldiers in the army, and all the ponies in Equestria, do you know why I chose you?”
  1855. >”No.”
  1856. “Because you remind me of myself at your age.”
  1857. >You look back out to the horizon.
  1858. “Young, hopeful, plenty of ponies around you as friends and family, but most of all, the strength and will to continue to protect what’s yours. You were a pony that I could fully trust to help keep this nation running in my stead.”
  1859. >You sigh.
  1860. “But look where that life’s got me. Flurry… Princess Heart is all I’ve got left. And I had to lock her up like some animal.”
  1861. >You push away from the balcony and stand up straight.
  1862. “This job has taken everything from me.”
  1863. >You turn fully to face him.
  1864. “I’ll fight to the death to protect what little I’ve got left, but I’ll do so keeping whatever honor I might have left. Maybe then I can redeem myself… maybe. A wise man once said ‘a good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad the good’. Someday I’ll pay for my sins, one way or another. But you, you have an out. You can leave here and now before the job takes what you’ve got as well. Go on, I won’t stop you. I owe you that much.”
  1865. >”…Sir?”
  1866. “Hmm?”
  1867. >”I… wish to withdraw my resignation.”
  1868. “If you’ve ever taken anything to heart, it’s this: you should save yourself while you can.”
  1869. >”I’ve never been one to do what I should.”
  1870. >You hold out the paper to him
  1871. “Is this or is it not your signature, Captain!”
  1872. >”It is Sir.”
  1873. >You look at the letter once more, and sigh.
  1874. “Well it doesn’t look like it to me.”
  1875. >You tear the paper down the middle before placing the pieces atop one another and tearing them again.
  1876. >Then you let them float down off the side of the balcony.
  1877. “As you were, Captain. Wait.”
  1878. >”Orders?”
  1879. “I need the largest piece of magical artillery we’ve got brought to the front of the Palace.”
  1880. >”Yes Sir!” He says with a second wind.
  1881.  
  1882. >He takes flight, and leaves you alone on the balcony.
  1883. >Just then something occurs to you.
  1884. >You’re still shirtless.
  1885. >So you headed back to the gym, and put the rest for your clothes back on.
  1886. >As you head back into the hallways of the Palace, you soon spot a clock.
  1887. >It’s barely an hour till sundown.
  1888. >Walking over to the nearest guard, you give him orders.
  1889. “Private, Captain Thunder should soon be bringing a cannon to the front of the Palace, see to it that it finds its way to an open area in the gardens.”
  1890. >Away from prying eyes of the entire city to see.
  1891. >You continue down the hall to the next guard.
  1892. “See to it that General Lancer is summoned to the gardens within the hour.”
  1893. >Finally you stop at a third soldier.
  1894. “Find one Starlight Glimmer, a Professor at the Royal Academy and get her to the gardens ASAP.”
  1895. >And so, you head for the gardens and wait.
  1896. >…
  1897. >The General was the first to arrive.
  1898. >Followed shortly by Starlight, as the solder escorting her left, you broke the silence.
  1899. “Listen very carefully, because we’re in dangerous territory. The Princesses are all under guard, this is now fully a Junta. The official story will be that Furry is young and having trouble with the stress of raising the sun and moon, so she’s spending most of her time resting away from the public. General, this is Professor Starlight Glimmer.”
  1900. >”Ma’am- err, Doctor.”
  1901. >”General.”
  1902. “She’s going to be filling in for Flurry to raise the sun and moon, see to it that she gets whatever amplification crystals, or whatever other equipment she needs.
  1903. >”Understood.”
  1904. >”Anon, I said I’d try.”
  1905. “Do or do not.”
  1906. >”What?”
  1907. “There she is.”
  1908.  
  1909. >You say as you nod towards the massive cannon being levitated towards you by no less than a dozen unicorn soldiers.
  1910. >‘Big Bertha’ is spray painted on the side of the barrel.
  1911. >This was the gun you had made to smash through the strongest walls in Saddle Arabia.
  1912. >The name was also of your doing.
  1913. >Seeing the soldiers struggle, Starlight’s horn lights up as she takes the Bertha and sets it down near you.
  1914. >You hear more than one ‘wow’ from the soldiers who could barely carry it.
  1915. “As you were, we won’t need you anymore tonight.”
  1916. >Because of the change in management, your personal forces are the only ones in the Palace.
  1917. >So the only ponies that would even see Starlight doing Flurry’s duties would all be members of your Old Guard.
  1918. >The truth won’t be spilled on their end.
  1919. >As your men enter back into the building, the cannon shines with Starlight’s aura.
  1920. >Each and every bolt, rivet, and band that made up the beast of a gun simultaneously comes undone.
  1921. >All of the metal is stripped away and put off to the side.
  1922. >Leaving only a slightly glowing crystal the size of a small boulder behind.
  1923. >You see General Lancer check his pocket watch.
  1924. >”It’s time.”
  1925. >Starlight nods solemnly.
  1926. >She approaches the crystal and bows her head, placing her horn directly onto it.
  1927. >You see her horn light up.
  1928. >So does the crystal.
  1929. >But it fades.
  1930. >Starlight tries again, audibly grunting.
  1931. >Again the light of her aura encompasses the crystal.
  1932. >There is a slight hum.
  1933. >Quicker than you can blink your eyes, the light turns a piercing white and the hum becomes an ear piercing screech.
  1934. >It leaves you temporarily both blinded and deafened.
  1935.  
  1936. >As your vision returns, you’re rubbing your temples.
  1937. >The first thing you see is Lancer with his head in his elbow.
  1938. >Then you see the crystal, shattered into a fine dust.
  1939. >Next is Starlight, thrown away by a few feet and laying on her back, her mane visibly frazzled.
  1940. >You go over and offer a hand to help her up.
  1941. >As you take her hoof, she mouths a few words, but your ears are still ringing.
  1942. >That’s when you notice the sky.
  1943. >That’s when you notice the night.
  1944. >The moon had just peaked over the horizon.
  1945. “Congratulations.”
  1946. >Her mouth moves again, a distinctive “what?”
  1947. >…
  1948. >As your hearing returns, the first thing you hear from Starlight is:
  1949. >”I think I can stop that from happening again.”
  1950. >”I would hope so.” Lancer sighs.
  1951. “You did it, that’s what matters.”
  1952. >”Sir?”
  1953. “Yes?”
  1954. >”Request permission to down a copious amount of aspirin and go to sleep.”
  1955. >You chuckle.
  1956. “Granted.”
  1957. >”Sir. Doctor.”
  1958. >He then takes his leave.
  1959. “Congratulations Starlight, I don’t know what to say.”
  1960. >”That’s a first.” She mutters below her breath.
  1961. >However with her hearing still slightly off, it came out rather audible.
  1962. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
  1963. >”Thank you. Frankly, I’m amazed that it worked.”
  1964. “You’re free to use a washroom here to clean the dust out of your mane and coat.”
  1965. >The front half of her is layered with tiny shards from the crystal.
  1966. >”That bad?”
  1967. “I think it’d be easier to see for yourself.”
  1968. >You beckon an arm out back to the Palace
  1969. >You lead her to the nearest mirror.
  1970. >”Yikes.”
  1971. >Her horn lights up as all of the dust falls off of her, and her mane returns back to normal.
  1972. >Right, magic.
  1973.  
  1974. >”You should come by the Academy tomorrow around two in the afternoon. Room 112 in the same building as my office, it’s a lab and I think we’ve made some progress.”
  1975. “It’s only been a day…”
  1976. >”I said ‘some’ progress not ‘tons’ of progress.”
  1977. “Well, if you’d excuse me, I’m sure you can find your way out, and I need rest. Just make sure you’re back at the gardens for sunrise, a new crystal will be waiting for you whenever you need it.”
  1978. >”I’ll be there.”
  1979. >The two of you just stand there for a moment.
  1980. >”So maybe… for old time’s sake-“
  1981. >You’re quick to cut her off.
  1982. “I haven’t slept in almost forty hours.”
  1983. >”Right. Of course. I’ll be going then.”
  1984. >She disappears in a flash as the distinctive sound of teleporting fills your ears.
  1985. >And so, you start walking through the dark hallways.
  1986. >Heading for your quarters.
  1987. >As you eventually reach it, you reach down and open the door.
  1988. >You throw your hat onto your desk, followed by your jacket and the top of your fatigues.
  1989. >Sitting down, you remove your boots, getting a good whiff of the smell from the past days.
  1990. >Pulling off you socks, your feet can finally breathe after going nonstop for so long.
  1991. >You undo your belt, lean your sword next to your bed, and pull off your pants.
  1992. >Then fall backwards onto your bed, almost immediately falling asleep.
  1993.  
  1994. >As your eyes start to open, you notice that the sun has been risen outside.
  1995. >Seeing as no bang woke you up, you’d assume that Starlight had managed to somewhat dampen the side effects.
  1996. >Looking up, you see the hour hand of the clock on your wall was just shy of eight.
  1997. >Getting onto your feet, you stretch your arms, the joints aching from your rage induced work out session yesterday.
  1998. >Still though, seeing as how you pushed your body the other day, you’re lucky to have avoided actual damage.
  1999. >You do need to try and get into as best shape as possible, but you do need to tone it down.
  2000. >The last thing you need is to head East after a torn ligament.
  2001. >That being said, you started the morning off with fifty pushups and a hundred crunches.
  2002. >If you get some time later you might work cardio.
  2003. >But for now, you headed over to your drawers.
  2004. >Picking out a clean pair of underwear, socks, pants, and a black t-shirt that you lay out on your bed.
  2005. >You then stripped, and went into the bathroom you have attached to your bedroom here.
  2006. >Long ago it was renovated to fit amenities that more closely match your size.
  2007. >Thankfully, it wasn’t changed after you were sent out to Appleoosa.
  2008. >First you sat down on the toilet to relieve yourself.
  2009. >With that dealt with, you stood up and went to the sink to brush your teeth.
  2010. >Finishing up, you rinsed with antiseptic and then headed into the shower.
  2011. >For the first time in quite a while, you took a warm shower.
  2012. >As you washed out your hair and beard, you started thinking of what needs to be done today.
  2013. >First you should meet with Lancer, you have a week of state matters to be brought up to speed with.
  2014. >You remember that Starlight will need you at two.
  2015. >Aside from that nothing really springs to mind.
  2016. >Huh.
  2017. >If this whole ordeal with the Princesses wouldn’t have happened, you might actually feel relaxed.
  2018.  
  2019. >Stepping out of the shower, you grab a towel and start to dry off.
  2020. >Once you are, you hang the towel back on the rack to dry.
  2021. >Then you head back to the sink.
  2022. >The fog has obstructed the mirror, so you wipe away a section of it with your hand.
  2023. >You just stand there, staring at your face in the mirror.
  2024. >The scar over your left eye, how weary your eyes look, your greying hair and beard.
  2025. >You’re old.
  2026. >Old and tired.
  2027. >This last war was likely your penultimate battle.
  2028. >But the East will likely be your final achievement, your last stand, your ninth symphony.
  2029. >Even if no one knows how it happened, it will be your greatest mark on this world.
  2030. >For better or worse…
  2031. >Reaching up, you opened the cabinet the mirror is attached to.
  2032. >And pulled out something you haven’t touched for over twenty years.
  2033. >Shaving cream and a straight razor.
  2034. >And you got to work.
  2035. >It took a considerable amount of time, but your beard was considerable.
  2036. >But soon your face was smooth and bare.
  2037. >A deep cut across your right jawline was revealed as well.
  2038. >But fresh and ready, you went out to dress.
  2039. >You didn’t tuck in your t-shirt, and left behind your officer’s cap, jacket, and the top of the fatigues you would normally wear.
  2040. >Looking back, you took one look at yourself in a larger mirror in your bedroom.
  2041. >Then attached your sword’s sheathe to your belt, rested your left hand on its pommel, and headed out into the Palace.
  2042. >Ready to face whatever might be ahead.

Heart of War- Prologue

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act I

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act II

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act III

by ThingPaste

Heart of War- Act IV

by ThingPaste