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Heart of War- Act VIII

By ThingPaste
Created: 2024-02-28 03:06:48
Expiry: Never

  1. >…
  2. “You know Twilight, this is… nice. Why did we stop coming here?”
  3. >Flurry makes a large splash into the water.
  4. >You and Twilight are sitting on a picnic blanket a dozen feet or so from the water line.
  5. >”I don’t know. Time? You’re away more often than not, I’ve been taking on more duties, and Flurry gets busier and busier as she progresses in school.”
  6. “She really wants us to get married you know.”
  7. >”Think of the scandal.”
  8. “I’d rather not.”
  9. >Flurry continues swimming in the lake as you and Twilight it in silence for a while.
  10. >Eventually she breaks it.
  11. >”I took her to the Castle of the Two Sisters last month.”
  12. “How’d she like it?”
  13. >”She spent the entire time running off to play with old suits of armor.”
  14. “That’s probably my influence.”
  15. >”I tried to give her a lesson on its historical significance, but she just couldn’t sit still.”
  16. “She’s only a kid.”
  17. >”I know. After a few failed attempts I let her explore on her own… I was always close behind.”
  18. “You figured that she deserves some time just to be a kid rather than the Princess?”
  19. >”Yes. I asked myself what you would have done.”
  20. “You’re supposed to be the strict one Twi.”
  21. >”I am not strict, I’m structured. They are two entirely different concepts.”
  22. “Not to children.”
  23. >Twilight sighs before changing the subject.
  24. >”So how were the last positions you were posted at.”
  25. “They tried making me a Drill Sergeant for a while.”
  26. >”And how did that go.”
  27. “Complaints were lodged, and Celestia herself took me out of it after reviewing my methods. Apparently I’m too strict. I tried to explain the purpose of discipline, and that by my world’s standards I would have been the nicest drill instructor in the history of my species. But she still reassigned me.”
  28. >”Well this isn’t your world.”
  29. “I know. It just annoys me.”
  30.  
  31. >”What does?”
  32. “I shouldn’t speak ill of my superiors.”
  33. >”Speak freely Sergeant.”
  34. “Yes Ma’am.”
  35. >You each laugh slightly at the exaggerated formalities.
  36. “It’s just that all of the officers, all the way to high command have no idea what they’re doing. Almost all of them only got the job because they’re aristocrats. And I don’t think that any pony that holds the rank of Captain or above has ever even stepped onto a battlefield.”
  37. >”That’s probably a good thing.”
  38. “I’m from a cynical people. If you wish for peace, you must prepare for war.”
  39. >”Forgive me for saying, but I’m glad that we don’t have that mentality.”
  40. “Yeah… can I be honest for a second?”
  41. >”You mean you weren’t being honest before?”
  42. “Just a figure of speech.”
  43. >”I know.”
  44. “Honestly I’m thinking about retiring. Equestria doesn’t need an army, not really. And they certainly wouldn’t be lost without me.”
  45. >”Flurry would certainly like having you around full time.”
  46. “Just Flurry?”
  47. >”Well-“
  48. >”Excuse me. Your Highness. Sergeant.”
  49. >You glance over to the pony that is interrupting your conversation.
  50. >A pale blue earth pony with a short kept blank mane, and wearing the unadorned light steel armor of a soldier.
  51. “Lancer?”
  52. >”Sergeant Lancer now.”
  53. “How’d you ever make it past Corporal?”
  54. >Twilight coughs.
  55. “Oh, sorry. Let me introduce you two. Twilight, this is my friend Corp- Sergeant R.M. Lancer. We went through basic training together, but lost touch after that. Different posts and all that. Lancer, as you know, this is the Princess of Friendship, Twilight Sparkle.”
  56. >”I’m honored to make your acquaintance Princess Sparkle.”
  57. >”Please, any friend of Anon’s is a friend of mine. You can just call me Twilight.”
  58. >”With all due respect, I’ll stick to Princess for now.”
  59. “What are you doing here Lancer, last I knew you were shipped over to Fillydelphia.”
  60.  
  61. >You glance over at Flurry, who is busy playing on a swing over the water in the distance.
  62. >”I’m here to deliver this letter to you.”
  63. >He holds out a letter that he took from a satchel over his shoulder.
  64. “Have you doing mail runs now?”
  65. >You open op the letter and give it a quick read through.
  66. >Lancer then speaks as you stare at the page.
  67. >”Congratulations Lieutenant. I’m under your command now.”
  68. >Twilight then quips:
  69. >”At least there’s once good officer.”
  70. “I don’t know what to say honestly.”
  71. >Lancer’s tone then gets more serious.
  72. “You’ll be under the command of Captain Summer Soldier.”
  73. >Summer Soldier… based on the name you assume him to be a highly dedicated and decorated warrior.
  74. >Yeah, no.
  75. >Lancer continues.
  76. >”We’re headed up to Manechester.”
  77. “I’m on leave right now.”
  78. >”Not anymore. We’re headed up to Manechester. All of us. Every single pony in the army.”
  79. >Twilight is first to ask the obvious question.
  80. >”Why?”
  81.  
  82. >”Because we’re at war. Three days ago the yaks recalled their diplomats, and started moving their warriors. They entered Equestrian soil yesterday; their heading puts them on a direct line to Canterlot. Princesses Celestia and Luna are trying to keep things quiet in case a diplomatic solution can be found. But until then every soldier, all three thousand of us are heading to stop the yak advance at Manechester. It’s right on their path, and all of our troops should be able to arrive there before the yaks do.”
  83. “How many yaks are coming?”
  84. >”Estimates are between ten and thirty.”
  85. >”Hundred?”
  86. >”Thousand.”
  87. >Possibly ten to one.
  88. >And based on what you’ve seen of the Equestrian military, the yaks also have quality on their side.
  89. “When do we leave?”
  90. >”There’s a train waiting with a few dozen other soldiers heading that way.”
  91. >Twilight was about to comment, but you spoke up first.
  92. “Just… give me a minute. Head back now, I’ll be there shortly.”
  93. >He salutes.
  94. >”Yes Sir. Ma’am.”
  95. >As he gets out of earshot, you turn back to Twilight.
  96.  
  97. >This is it.
  98. >This is really really it.
  99. >A real, honest to God war.
  100. >Before Twilight can speak, you start the conversation.
  101. “Look, I know what you’re thinking. War isn’t the answer and many will die pointlessly. Sometimes the world needs pointless death, to remind themselves about why it doesn’t have any meaning. I’m a soldier, which means I’ll put myself in harm’s way so innocents don’t get caught in the crossfire. I have to do this Twi, even if it means I myself have to die in that battle.”
  102. >”What about Flurry?”
  103. “She’s a tough kid… and even if that happens, she’ll still have you.”
  104. >”With each passing day, her mother is getting more and more distant to the world. Flurry needs family that’s always there for her.”
  105. “I know Cadence is taking it hard, but that will pass eventually. Things can sometimes get worse before they get better.”
  106. >”Just… promise me one thing.”
  107. “I’m coming back, don’t worry.”
  108. >”I think that I’ll still worry.”
  109. “What else can you do?”
  110. >”I think I’ll head for Canterlot. Maybe I can help Celestia negotiate with the yaks; after all I do have some experience with them.
  111. “You do what you need to. Just stay safe.”
  112. >”Oh, I’m the one that should stay safe.”
  113. “Not being safe is in my job description.”
  114. >”That’s no excuse.”
  115. “The yaks are similar to the Mongols from my world’s history.”
  116. >”And what did they do?”
  117.  
  118. “They conquered indiscriminately and ravaged the land and people they fought. After the end of their conquests, due to either the fighting or plagues that they let travel, almost half of an entire continent’s population was killed. Around a fifth of my entire species.”
  119. >”That’s horrible.”
  120. “The worst part is that their empire didn’t last. Roman society lasted for two thousand years in some form and laid the entire basis for every civilization that came after them. The British built much of my modern political and economic world. Napoleon’s France was extremely progressive for the time and laid the foundation for the majority of modern law. The Mongols only cared about fighting and gold.”
  121. >Most of those statements are arguable, but you’re making a point to put her at ease.
  122. “If the yaks are even slightly similar, they’ll raid and pillage every town and city they go past. So if my orders are to stop them at Manechester, then I’ll do my part or die trying.”
  123.  
  124. >You’ve had many other philosophical and practical discussions with Twilight, but before today they were mostly theoretical.
  125. “I know you don’t agree, but it’s my duty.”
  126. >You stand from the ground you were sitting on.
  127. “I need to go… I’m sorry.”
  128. >You walk over to the water’s edge, and start heading north around the lake to where Flurry was playing.
  129. “Hey, kiddo.”
  130. >She swims over and exits the water, shaking off her coat.
  131. >”Yeah Uncle.”
  132. “I know I promised you the entire weekend, but I need to go.”
  133. >”What! Why?”
  134. >You kneel down to get closer to her level.
  135. “There’s battles that need to be fought.”
  136. >”Can’t they put it off just one more day?”
  137. >You chuckle slightly.
  138. “Look at it like this; I’ll have more stories to tell you. And these ones will be firsthand accounts.”
  139. >She makes a pouty face.
  140. >”Alright.”
  141. >She’s actually rather mature for her age.
  142. >She pouts and complains, but she knows that you have to go.
  143. >Even if she isn’t letting on that she does know that.
  144. >”Hey Uncle?”
  145. “Yeah kiddo?”
  146. >”Remember to stick them with the pointy end.”
  147. >You reach over and rustle her wet mane.
  148. “I haven’t forgot that.”
  149. >She lurches forward and hugs you.
  150. >Which you reciprocate.
  151. >”Don’t worry kid. If everything goes alright I’ll be back well before Hearths Warming Eve.”
  152. >- It turned out that you wouldn’t be back in time for that.
  153. [Hey Discord. You can end it here. I’ve seen all I need to.]
  154.  
  155. >…
  156. >Awaking in your bed, you glance around at your room.
  157. >The map on the ceiling, the hoof prints, and many of your old possessions from as a young filly.
  158. >Letting out a sigh, you start to stand up from your bed.
  159. >Your memory has to be the key to all of this.
  160. >Everything is fine up until Appleoosa, and then it all gets spotty.
  161. >Something happened and you received something.
  162. >Then a war, you were in the Crystal Empire.
  163. >Then Baltimare and Cloudsdale.
  164. >Then the Royal Palace at Canterlot.
  165. >Then… cold.
  166. >Followed by the void and then all of this.
  167. >The Crystal Empire Spire, a perfect recreation of it.
  168. >It has to be a recreation, because there is no way this is real.
  169. >You’re either dreaming in a coma, somepony is putting you through this, or…
  170. >Or you’re dead.
  171. >You really hope that isn’t the case.
  172. >Stepping over to your balcony, you go to inspect the city below.
  173. >No movement whatsoever.
  174. >All of the streets and buildings are devoid of life.
  175. >And the sun is stationary in the sky, putting the time around noon.
  176. >Huh.
  177. >Déjà vu.
  178. >Shrugging off the strange feeling that you’ve seen this sight before, you stretch out your wings and start flying down into the city.
  179. >Time to see how far this façade goes.
  180. >Maybe there’s some sort of clue.
  181. >You have to find something that can jog your memory.
  182.  
  183. >…
  184. >Well that’s interesting.
  185. >As you walk through the streets of the Empire, you notice an anthill peeking out in a crack in the road’s pavement.
  186. >But no ants.
  187. >There are also spider webs without spiders, wasp nests without wasps, bird nests without birds, dog houses without dogs, and (of course) normal homes without any ponies.
  188. >Each building you’ve been in is fully stocked and equipped, however has no occupants.
  189. >Maybe you should have a séance.
  190. >You nervously look around at the endless empty streets and buildings.
  191. >Maybe that’s not a great idea…
  192. >Looking up, you see the sun still high in the sky.
  193. >It’s been around noon for as long as you’ve been here.
  194. >In the few hours you’ve been wandering, the sun hasn’t moved an inch.
  195. “Wait…”
  196. >Haven’t you had this exact train of thought before?
  197. >As in exact exact.
  198. >Followed with your thoughts on why this has to be somepony or something making this entire fabrication…
  199. >And then…
  200. >Your eye is drawn to the spire.
  201. >You need to get to the top because…
  202. >Discord.
  203. >He said something to you there; maybe being there will help your memory.
  204.  
  205. >…
  206. >Oh God.
  207. >Your head.
  208. >Right, you did drink quite a bit before going to sleep.
  209. >”I think you have an apology to make.”
  210. >Discords voice pierces your ear.
  211. >But it isn’t disembodied anymore.
  212. >Glancing to the side of your cot, you see him leaning against a crate not too far from you.
  213. >As you start to sit up on the cot, you reach up and massage your temples.
  214. “Quit yelling.”
  215. >”I’m not yelling, you’re just got a hangover.”
  216. >You look up at his smug smile.
  217. “Thank you Discord.”
  218. >”Thank you Discord…”
  219. “For reminding me why I’m out here.”
  220. >Flurry.
  221. >Your little soldier.
  222. >The only child you’ve ever known.
  223. >And the only family you have left.
  224. “Why are you looking at me like that? Do you expect a full confessional?”
  225. >”I expected more than a sentence.”
  226. “How about this: after this is all over, I WON’T burn your house down or kill you.”
  227. >”I suppose that’s a start.”
  228. “Now go on, shoo. I’ve got a situation to deal with… somehow.”
  229. >”I’ll make a friend out of you yet.”
  230. “You sound like Twilight did when I first met her.”
  231. >Twilight.
  232. >Maybe you’ll find out what happened to her too.
  233. >And Shining.
  234. >This isn’t a suicide mission for you anymore.
  235. >This is a quest for the truth.
  236. >You’re going to save your daughter, and find out what really happened to her family.
  237. >And above all else, you’re going to come back to her.
  238. >No mission or war has killed you, and this will be no different.
  239. >”So deep in thought. Looks like my work is done.”
  240. “Discord, wait.”
  241. >”Hmm?”
  242. “Thank you.”
  243. >That time it was a genuine thanks.
  244. >He grins slightly before disappearing.
  245. >Now, let’s get up to the main deck.
  246. >The fog is nothing more than a battle.
  247. >A strange one, but a battle none the less.
  248. >And you win battles.
  249.  
  250. >…
  251. >You pace back and forth atop the Spire.
  252. >Some things are coming back to you.
  253. >The battle against the yaks.
  254. >Anon being injured afterword…
  255. >By…
  256. >Your mother?
  257. >Why did she try to kill Anon?
  258. >Why did she then try to kill you?
  259. >The way she acted and talked…
  260. >It’s like it wasn’t really your mother in the throne room.
  261. >But Discord.
  262. >What was it that he said?
  263. >You look angrily at the sun, which is still just standing stationary in the sky.
  264. >And then it hits you:
  265. >’Fine, I’ll give you a hint: You’ve got what your dear mommy has.’
  266. >But what?
  267. >What does your mother have?
  268. >What made her act that way?
  269. >… What do you have?
  270. >As you look away from the sky, an immense feeling of exhaustion overtakes you.
  271. >All of the memories and feelings coming to you are rather taxing.
  272. >Maybe a good rest will help you sort things out.
  273. >...
  274. >After you had flown down to your room and collapsed onto your bed, you almost immediately fell asleep.
  275. >But as your eyes drifted shut, you could have sworn you heart a scurrying coming from beyond the closed door to your room.
  276.  
  277. >…
  278. >Stepping out of your makeshift room, you feel the waves rocking the ship.
  279. >That’s good, with luck it could be a while before the next round of fog rolls in.
  280. >A lot of the crew has already been lost to it, but now your only immediate goal is to make sure that no one more soul is taken.
  281. >Whatever is out there in the fog has got to be the solution to it.
  282. >That dark mass that appeared just outside of visual range in an early round.
  283. >If you can get to that when it appears next, you just might be able to end this all.
  284. >If it appears again.
  285. >From your position on the lowest deck, you can’t hear a commotion from above.
  286. >Well, that’s to be expected.
  287. >It makes sense that the surviving crew would be quiet given the situation.
  288. >As you go up the stairs to the next deck, you glance in each direction.
  289. >Where is every-
  290. >No.
  291. >You begin jogging through the deck, and then check the gun deck above you.
  292. >After going through every room of that one, you step out onto the main deck.
  293. >The ship is empty.
  294. >Completely empty.
  295. >They’re gone.
  296. >Everyone.
  297. >Over two hundred people gone.
  298. >The sails are all rolled up, and the ship is just idling on the waves.
  299. >You just stand there for a minute taking in the ghost ship as every hope you had is crushed.
  300. >What the hell are you supposed to do?
  301.  
  302. >Even if you knew how to operate this ship, there’s no way you could do it alone.
  303. >With the supplies on board you could survive for quite some time.
  304. >But to what end?
  305. >It’s not like there’s a rescue ship coming.
  306. >You could stock a longboat with as much as it can carry and try to make your own way.
  307. >By rowing…
  308. >And as soon a brisk wave hits, you’d be capsized.
  309. >Let alone a storm hitting.
  310. >There is the possibility that Discord could help.
  311. >You’re not sure how to think about that.
  312. “Hey, Discord?”
  313. >No reply.
  314. “Yeah, I figured.”
  315. >Well…
  316. >You only have one option.
  317. >To stay on the ship.
  318. >But you sure as hell aren’t going to just sit here till you run out all the rations.
  319. >A single sail might be manageable by one person.
  320. >Any movement is better than no movement.
  321. >If you recall correctly, there should be naval manuals in the captain’s quarters.
  322. >Looks like you’re the captain now.
  323. >You begin walking over to the doors to the cabin.
  324. >It sounds incredibly eerie to only hear one set of footsteps on the main deck.
  325. >Opening the door, you’re met with-
  326. >”Figures you’d still be here.”
  327. >The voice catches you off guard.
  328. >Tiara is sitting at her center table, facing the doors.
  329. >A half empty bottle of what looks to be rum is sitting on the table directly in front of her.
  330. “What happened?”
  331. >”The fog came.”
  332. >She grabs the bottle and takes a swig.
  333. >”Everypony then started to feel the symptoms after it left. Well, not me, but the rest of the crew did. It only lasted a few minutes, and then after an hour of chaos, it came again. Nopony’s left now…”
  334.  
  335. >…
  336. >As your eyes start to drift open, you turn to lie on your back.
  337. >The painted map of Equestria is right above you, and you pause to inspect it.
  338. >Yesterday you ended up in this empty spire, identical to the one in the Crystal Empire.
  339. >And the outside city looks to be identical as well.
  340. >How did you get here?
  341. >You start tracing a rough route on the map above your head.
  342. >Appleoosa, where something happened… or you got something.
  343. >A war, leading you to the Crystal Empire with Anon, where he was injured.
  344. >Then Manehattan, Baltimare, and Cloudsdale.
  345. >Finally, you remember Canterlot… something about the throne room.
  346. >That is, until everything went cold.
  347. >After the cold you were in the void…
  348. >Are you dead?
  349. >No, you can’t be…
  350. >Right?
  351. >No, this has to be some sort of dream or hallucination.
  352. >You’ve got to be in a coma or somepony/something has you under some sort of spell.
  353. >But why do you get the feeling that you’ve had that though before?
  354. >It must have passed through your mind yesterday.
  355. >Shrugging off the notion, you begin to get out of bed.
  356. >After all, you’ve got to search through the city today.
  357. >You might find some clue as to where you really are or what this entire… thing is.
  358. >Well, there’s no time to waste.
  359.  
  360. >…
  361. >Well that’s… something.
  362. >You look through the repot once again.
  363. >Nope, that’s clearly what it says.
  364. >How?
  365. “Uhh, General?”
  366. >”I know.”
  367. >Wave replies.
  368. “There’s no mention of casualties, was anypony injured?”
  369. >”No, thankfully.”
  370. >The door to the meeting room opens as Offense enters.
  371. >”Sorry I’m late, got caught up giving a speech to a batch of recruits in basic training… what’s wrong?”
  372. “Well, apparently a steel mill in Manehattan reported that all of the steel they had on the line was…”
  373. >”Go on lad, spit it out.”
  374. “It was turned into gelatin… and much of it melted due to the heat, coating almost the entire factory in, and I’m quoting this from a first-hoof report: goop.”
  375. >Wave then continues.
  376. >”It will take weeks to get the factory cleaned out and back in working order.”
  377. >Offense begins laughing.
  378. >”Haha, oh that’s a good one. You two really had me for a second… Now what’s really the issue?”
  379. >Neither you nor Wave reply.
  380. >Offense pauses as you all sit in silence.
  381. >”You’re being serious aren’t you?”
  382. >Wave nods in silence.
  383. >”Oh for the love of… don’t tell me it’s…”
  384. >”Discord, yes.”
  385. >”Why?”
  386. >”Unsure, however…”
  387. >”What is it Red?”
  388. >Wave grabs a rather large manila folder.
  389. >”There have been a few dozen repots of smaller scale… incidents. And these are only the ones we know about.”
  390. >”Let me see that.”
  391. >Wave slides the folder over as Offense takes a seat.
  392. >As Offense starts skimming the folder, he mutters a few thoughts.
  393. >”A swimming pool turned into lemonade… disgusting… gravity reversed in a home… it rained confetti in Cloudsdale… this one involves three goats, a roll of duct tape, and a candelabra… Wow… Oh that’s… did they have to include pictures?... More pictures, oh I think I’m going to be sick.”
  394.  
  395. >Offense closes the file.
  396. >”I’ll just take your word on the rest of them.”
  397. >As Offense pushes the file back, General Wave begins speaking.
  398. >”Aside from a sprain here or there and a few ponies needing therapy, there haven’t been any injuries… yet.”
  399. >”He did release that chimera on the outskirts of Canterlot.”
  400. >”That’s why I said yet. These date back a week or so, but his incidents are getting more malicious.”
  401. >“And what are we going to do about it?”
  402. >”I’d kill him, but given that he’s immortal…”
  403. “But what’s causing him to act out?”
  404. >Offense answers you:
  405. >”That’s a good question.”
  406. >”At a guess, I’d say he’s testing the waters. Without any Alicorns able to put him in line, he’s getting audacious.”
  407. “But hasn’t it been years since he really did anything purposely malicious?”
  408. >Wave continues:
  409. >”After he was “reformed” there have been a few cases, but for the most part he fixed what he broke.”
  410. “So why don’t we just… you know… talk to him?”
  411. >Offense then blurts out:
  412. >”What? Ask him nicely to play nice with us mere mortals?”
  413. “Is there anything else we could actually do?”
  414. >Wave then speaks:
  415. >”We could try to get him in a magic dampening field, but after the Gala, I’m not sure he’ll fall into that trap so easily.”
  416. >Wave pauses for a moment, clearly detesting what he’s about to say.
  417. >”I’ll wait for Lancer to give the final word… but talking to Discord might be out only option.”
  418. >”Aye, and just hoping he doesn’t revert completely. What could possibly go wrong?”
  419. “You just had to say that, didn’t you?”
  420.  
  421. >…
  422. >Tiara was…
  423. >Well let’s not beat around the bush.
  424. >She was completely wasted.
  425. >After wrestling the bottle from her, you laid her into her bed, making sure to have her face on its side next to a bucket in case she needs to vomit.
  426. >And now you were in one of the chairs facing her, waiting for her to sleep off the rum.
  427. >While in thought, you poked through a few papers on her desk.
  428. >Eventually you found a ledger of the entire crew.
  429. >Two hundred sixty.
  430. >That’s including you and Tiara.
  431. >Six were taken the first time, thirty-six the next, and two hundred and sixteen the final time.
  432. >Exponential in sixes.
  433. >Leaving only you and Diamond Tiara.
  434. >Assuming that you are immune due to being human, that still leaves Tiara.
  435. >And there’s only a one in two hundred and fifty-nine chance that she was the last pony member of the crew by luck alone.
  436. >Why was she left while everyone else was taken?
  437. >The obvious answer is because she’s the Captain of the ship.
  438. >And that then begs the question of why the ship’s Captain was left for last.
  439. >You exhale a large sigh, not knowing the answer to that question.
  440. >But, in more practical matters, if the fog doesn’t take her, you might make more progress.
  441. >One could barely move the ship.
  442. >But two could barely move the ship slightly more.
  443. >Assuming she doesn’t die from alcohol poisoning that is…
  444.  
  445. >She is leader of the Royal Navy, so you’d assume she isn’t a complete lightweight.
  446. >You hear the sound of vomit entering a bucket.
  447. >But then again, she did get the posting due to political influence…
  448. >The Royal Navy was actually the last branch of the military that still put nobles in command positions regularly.
  449. >As soon as you made it up the ranks, you shifted the others into merit systems.
  450. >But the Royal Navy was an old institution, and Celestia was rather sentimental about changing it.
  451. >She left you do as you like with the others though, so you didn’t really care.
  452. >After all, the only time that sea based fleets were required was against the Saddle Arabians.
  453. >And honestly, you kind of liked the challenge.
  454. >They were the only group that could really give Equestria a run for its money.
  455. >The griffons are a close second, but lack the infrastructure to stand toe to toe with Equestria in a prolonged war.
  456. >The changelings have the potential to be the greatest threat, but once the queen is killed, the drones start breaking down as most of them can’t deal with not having a passive link to a hive mind.
  457. >Minotaurs and yaks are too single minded to pose a real threat.
  458. >The minotaurs are too few in number, and the yaks are near useless while sieging a fortified position.
  459. >And the dogs are a joke.
  460. >You could conquer all of their lands with twenty good men.
  461. >Hell, you could probably conquer them all by yourself.
  462. >You let out a sigh.
  463. >You’ve won battle after battle, war after war.
  464. >But everyone has their losing fight.
  465. >Someday you’ll reach your Waterloo.
  466. >Or you’ll pull an Alexander and die of a glorified cold.
  467.  
  468. >Why are you even thinking about this?
  469. >Are you so tied into war that you cannot even entertain the idea of peace?
  470. >You glance over to Tiara, who is laying half off of her bed.
  471. >Her face is right above the bucket that she threw up into.
  472. >She’s not quite asleep, but definitely not awake.
  473. >Oh that beautiful time when you’re half-conscious after getting wasted.
  474. >Well, nothing to do but wait for her to sober up.
  475. >…
  476. >”Alright kid, now sitting down and talking about our problems over tea might have its merit a few decades ago, but this isn’t a few decades ago.”
  477. >Offense is leading you out of the Royal Palace.
  478. >”As far as I’m concerned, if Discord doesn’t get his act together, then he’s just another monster to be put down.”
  479. “Are you even sure he CAN be put down?”
  480. >”Not with that kind of attitude he can’t.”
  481. “I just mean, what is he even? The only thing that’s worked historically was turning him into stone.”
  482. >Offense stops in his tracks, appearing deep in thought.
  483. “Sir?”
  484. >”Sorry, just entertaining the idea of locking him up with a cockatrice.”
  485. “What are the chances…?”
  486. >”Slim to non-existent.”
  487. “But…”
  488. >”Let’s file that as Plan C.”
  489. “What about Plan B?”
  490. >Offense continues walking, taking you out into the streets of Canterlot.
  491. >”Now look, I know one thing that will work and one thing that might work.”
  492. “And those would be?”
  493. >”The one that will work is getting him freindshipped with element of harmony magic.”
  494. “Your command of language astounds me… General.”
  495. >”But without Princess Friendship, that plan goes south.”
  496. “And that leaves…”
  497. >”An Alicorn might be able to go toe to toe with him.”
  498. “You don’t intend to release Celestia or Luna and hope that we all don’t get killed in the crossfire, do you?”
  499. >”Let’s call that Plan D.”
  500. “Why not Plan F, as in we are totally F-“
  501. >”I get the picture Thunder.”
  502.  
  503. “So what were you getting at?”
  504. >”You see Thunder, if an Alicorn might have been able to beat him, but we don’t have an Alicorn; then we need the next best thing.”
  505. “And that would be?”
  506. >”Come on Major, use those brain muscles.”
  507. “Starlight Glimmer?”
  508. >She is raising the sun and moon…
  509. >”You aren’t as stupid as you look.”
  510. >Offense says jokingly.
  511. “But do you really think it will work?”
  512. >”Probably better than Plan C or Plan D would.”
  513. “Fair enough.”
  514. >…
  515. >You hear a guttural moan.
  516. >”How much did I drink?”
  517. “Yes.”
  518. >”Of all the ponies to be left behind, it had to be you.”
  519. “Well I’m not a pony so…”
  520. >”I suppose I should thank you for the bucket.”
  521. “Just common courtesy when dealing with drunks.”
  522. >”I am not a drunk!”
  523. “Sorry, just common courtesy when dealing with alcoholics.”
  524. >Based on the look on her face, you’d guess that she’s almost ready to throw that bucket at you…
  525. >You rise out of your chair, and go to take the bucket off of the floor.
  526. >Then you take it over to the nearest window and dump it into the ocean.
  527. “Well seeing as you’re such a charmer while sober, I should have guessed that you’d be like this while hung-over.”
  528. >”What’s that supposed to mean!?”
  529. “There’s a joke about being a Diamond in the rough somewhere in here, but I don’t think I’ll make it.”
  530. >”Listen here you little-“
  531. “Tiara. We’re alone on this ship now. I’ve had time to think this over while you were out. If it really is just you and me, that means that I won’t be able to make it to the East. That also means that we won’t be able to make it back to Equestria if we turned around.”
  532.  
  533. >”Your point being?”
  534. “I can’t accept that the rest of the crew is dead. We have to find a way to get them back. Everyone is gone except for you. If you assume that I’m immune to the Fog because of my species, then it means you were chosen to survive for a reason?”
  535. >”What?”
  536. “Think about it. The crew was taken in exponential increments, increments that made sure that you were the last pony on the ship. I’m not sure if it’s because you’re the captain of the ship, or something else about you specifically, but there is no way that it’s random. Also, it could be that we just haven’t gotten hit again, but since I woke up this morning, the Fog hasn’t rolled in.”
  537. >”… Let’s say that for a moment I believe you. What could we even do?”
  538. “I don’t know, but we need to keep moving. We have to find something out here, and I don’t know how to make a ship move.”
  539. >”I… okay.”
  540. >Hmm.
  541. >That was easy.
  542. >With no one else to boss around, she seems to relinquish authority pretty easily.
  543. >You’ve seen it happen to officers before.
  544. >It could be because she needs ‘yes men’ around to keep that mentality in her mind.
  545. >Or she accepts that there isn’t really any purpose commanding around one individual, and is being practical.
  546. >Or she’s completely broken.
  547. >For both of your sakes, you hope it isn’t the last one.
  548. >The first option just shows an inner conflict of confidence, and the second is the mature possibility.
  549. >But if she is broken, then you’re not sure how long she can last…
  550.  
  551. >…
  552. >”You want me to do what?”
  553. >”Simple yes or no question, Ma’am, can you do it?”
  554. >”Well, I mean I would never use my magic to hurt anypony.”
  555. >”He’s not a pony.”
  556. >”I’m not a killer.”
  557. >”You don’t have to kill per say… maiming is good.”
  558. >There’s one for the book of Offense’s quotes.
  559. >Starlight is looking at him with a mixture of shock and disgust on her face.
  560. >You’re currently sitting in Starlight Glimmer’s office at the Royal Academy.
  561. >She’s at her desk, while you and the General are opposite her.
  562. >Many magical type artifacts and arcane tomes line bookshelves around the room..
  563. >If you had an entire life to spend on learning about magic, you still probably wouldn’t know what half of the items do or what any of these books mean.
  564. >You’re just fine with accepting that magic works because (by definition) it’s magic.
  565. >Offense’s voice brings you back into the moment.
  566. >”But I’d settle for just turning him to stone.”
  567. “Look let me just barge in here. I think what the Brigadier is trying to say, is that Discord poses a very real threat to the security of Equestria, and currently we have no real defense against him. You, as the strongest known magic user in the nation right now, could be key to stopping him IF he did end up relapsing into more historical tendencies.”
  568. >”Well said boy.”
  569. “I have my moments Sir. Anyway, Professor Glimmer, we’re not asking you to enlist or anything, we just want to know if you’d be open to assisting us should the need arise. I don’t know if you’ve met him personally, but if you have then you know just how unpredictable he can be.”
  570. >Starlight answers your plea before Offense can but in again.
  571.  
  572. >”Yes, I have had some experience with him over the years. In fact, the last time I saw him was quite… odd.”
  573. “How so?”
  574. >”He teleported next me as I was walking across campus to give a lecture. And he asked for me to hit him with a magical beam. As hard as I could. So I obliged him.”
  575. >When Discord did his spell to get a message to the Field Marshal, he teleported out and was thrown back to the mountain by a bright beam of magical energy.
  576. >And by ‘thrown back to the mountain’ you mean ‘thrown into the mountainside’.
  577. >His impact crater should still be there…
  578. “And you didn’t even hesitate?”
  579. >”He literally asked for it… besides, it’s Discord. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t take that hit.”
  580. “Fair enough. Good hit by the way.”
  581. >”… Thank you?”
  582. “I think he used it to help him do some sort of spell to communicate with the Field Marshal.”
  583. >”Using another’s magical aura to charge spells is esoteric and rather unused in more modern times, but it isn’t unheard of.”
  584. >”Sorry to interrupt this moment, but we do need an answer from you. So back to the initial question maybe…”
  585. >”What? Oh…”
  586. >She pauses for a moment and stares off to the side.
  587. >”I suppose if things do theoretically get as bad as you say they could, then I would be obliged to assist.”
  588. >”Excellent!”
  589. >”But don’t think that I’m volunteering for anything here and now. I am a scholar, not some tool to be used.”
  590. >”Not at all Ma’am, just trying to keep all avenues open. Recent reports indicate that more drastic steps might need to be taken if Discord continues acting this way.”
  591.  
  592. >…
  593. >Back in the inner workings of the ship, you soon arrived at the doctor’s work area.
  594. >Grabbing some aspirin for Tiara’s hangover.
  595. >As you turn the corner to enter the makeshift medical room, you-
  596. >”Why hello child. Here for a cure to what ails you? I just received a new shipment of leeches!”
  597. >Discord is standing in the corner dressed as a plague doctor.
  598. >The pointed mask and full robes, with holes for his wings and horns.
  599. “Why do you insist on these… farces?”
  600. >”Medicine is no mere farce.”
  601. >You stomp over to the corner he’s in, and rip the mask off of his face.
  602. “Discord. Help or leave. It’s a simple choice.”
  603. >”Never any fun with you…”
  604. >The robes melt off of him and dissolve into the air, as does the mask in your hand.
  605. >”I do mean it when I say I can’t help you with this. I have no idea what this supposed fog even is.”
  606. “Then help make the ship move.”
  607. >”Sorry, but my hands are tied.”
  608. >As he speaks the words, his wrists begin bending and weaving with each other to form a knot.
  609. “Why Discord? Just why. Why can’t you even lift a finger to help when I actually ask for it?”
  610. >”I could help you. I’m just not sure if I’m in the right mood to actually assist you right now.”
  611. “What does that even mean? You’re here and willing to banter, but too lazy to actually do anything?”
  612. >”Honestly Anon, I would help if I could. But sorry, because I can’t.”
  613. >Before you can say anything else, he takes a step backwards, phasing through the wooden wall.
  614. >What?
  615. >Why does he even stop by to be asinine and cryptic?
  616. >What purpose does any of it even serve?
  617.  
  618. >…
  619. >After you returned to Tiara, she began to give you a few pointers.
  620. >Naval terminology, what knots to use, et cetera.
  621. >It was too late in the afternoon to attempt to get sailing, so she stuck to the crash course.
  622. >Tomorrow you’ll have the pleasure of attempting to move the frigate.
  623. >Only two people to crew a ship that can hold over a hundred times that…
  624. >On the bright side, no new round of Fog has rolled in.
  625. >It’s almost sunset now.
  626. >So you figured that you’d turn in early to get plenty of rest for the upcoming day.
  627. >Theoretically you could have chosen whatever bed you’d like aboard the Avalon, but you decided to head back to your cot in the lowest deck.
  628. >The decision came partly out of habit, and partly out of respect- after all, you’re not some common vulture.
  629. >So now, you’re lying in your firm bed, letting yourself drift off to sleep…
  630. >…
  631. >Your eyes slowly drift open.
  632. >Huh.
  633. >Must have dozed off.
  634. >Reaching up, you reaffirm the position of your hat.
  635. >Damn is it hot.
  636. >Well, what can you expect from the West?
  637. >Looking down at your desk, you were going through a few telegrams from back east.
  638. >Before you can continue the train of thought, the door to the jail house is thrust open.
  639. >”Marshal! Marshal!”
  640. “What is it, Deputy?”
  641. >He’s standing in the door way just looking at you.
  642. >He’s a bit touched in the head…
  643. >But, he means well, and he ain’t that bad of a shot in a shootout.
  644. >You still can’t quite pin his accent though, some sort of British maybe?
  645. >He’s got some condition or something that makes the whites of his eyes a sickly yellow color, and he’s got that ridiculous beard that makes him look like a goat.
  646. “Well, you gonna stand there all day?”
  647. >”There was a fire over at the Robinson homestead; they lost eight of their best horses.”
  648. “Damn shame. Did any get out of the barn?”
  649. >”The barn wasn’t on fire.”
  650.  
  651. “Speak plainly son.”
  652. >”The fire was in a couple of shacks that their help lives in. While they all were trying to put ‘em out, eight of their horses disappeared.”
  653. “Horses don’t disappear.”
  654. >”I know that! It’s gotta be the work of the O’Neil gang!”
  655. “A week ago you were convinced that the O’Neil’s were behind the coyote that got in the Smith’s chicken coop.”
  656. >”You can’t prove that they weren’t!”
  657. “The O’Neil’s rob banks and trains; they aren’t in the business of rustling cattle or stealing horses. The Robinson’s barn was prob’ly left unlocked, and the horses prob’ly got spooked from the commotion. They’ll turn up soon.”
  658. >”But when the eight fastest steeds in the territory get stolen, what else are they gonna be used for other than robbin’ trains?”
  659. “And who told you that they were the ‘eight fastest steeds in the territory’?”
  660. >”Mr. Robinson did.”
  661. “Every homesteader’s got the ‘fastest steeds in the territory’ ya idjit.”
  662. >”Give me an hour and I can have a posse ready.”
  663. “To do what? Even if it was outlaws, the O’Neil’s were last seen over a hundred miles from here.”
  664. >Wait…
  665. >”But Marshal, we can’t just sit here all day!”
  666. >Son of a-
  667. “Get out of my head Discord!”
  668.  
  669. >Discord begins morphing into his natural form.
  670. >As he grows, his clothing is absorbed into his body, leaving only a belt for his six-shooter.
  671. >”Why can’t we just have fun?”
  672. “Why can’t you just let me sleep in peace?”
  673. >”You’re getting the same amount of sleep. You’re much more fun when you’re not self-aware.”
  674. >Wait…
  675. “Discord…”
  676. >”Yes?”
  677. “If people only remember a small fraction of their dreams, does that mean you’re in the ones I don’t remember?”
  678. >”Guilty as charged. A week or so ago we had the most amazing time when you-“
  679. “Discord!”
  680. >You cut him off.
  681. “WHY? Why do you drop into my subconscious every. Single. Night.”
  682. >”Well I don’t have anything else to do.”
  683. “What does that even mean?”
  684. >”Your simple mortal mind wouldn’t comprehend it.”
  685. “Bull.”
  686. >”It’s nothing you need to worry about. At least not until your job has been finished.”
  687. “Discord…”
  688. >You say in an agitated tone.
  689. >”Oh would you look at the time! I really should be going.”
  690. >As soon as he finishes his statement, his body turns into dust.
  691. >It remains upright in Discord’s form for a moment before collapsing onto the ground.
  692. >Leaving only a dust pile with a revolver and its holster on the ground.
  693. >Damn it.
  694. >One of these days you’re going to…
  695. >-
  696. >Your eyes shoot open as you awaken in your cot.
  697. >… murder him.
  698. >Until that day, you have a ship to get underway.
  699.  
  700. >…
  701. >Another day, another meeting in the war room.
  702. >Brairheart is going on about something related to road upkeep.
  703. >Honestly you haven’t been paying much attention.
  704. >”… To better facilitate the movement of goods and armies should the need arise…”
  705. >Yeah yeah, you get it.
  706. >The roads got torn up in the war, now they need to be fixed.
  707. >Nopony would probably notice if you just rested your head on the table… and… napped…
  708. >…
  709. >The next thing you know is that you’re falling onto the ground.
  710. >And everything is wet.
  711. >Like sopping wet.
  712. >Your face is on the stone floor, and you’re covered in water.
  713. >Getting to your feet, you see that the main table is gone.
  714. >All of the papers that Brairheart had distributed are now lying on the puddle that is the floor.
  715. “What happened?”
  716. >Wave calmly gives a response.
  717. >”Apparently our table turned into water.”
  718. >Brairheart is standing silent with a look of shock on his face, while Offense is sitting in his chair, visibly angry at the splash that just hit him.
  719. >You each stay still for a moment, processing what just happened.
  720. >Until the silence is broken by laughter.
  721. >But not from anypony in the room.
  722. >The distinctive cackling is coming from no direction in particular.
  723. >”Discord! Show yourself!”
  724. >Offense yells.
  725. >When the laughter dies down, nothing else happens.
  726. >Brairheart is next to speak:
  727. >”We really need to do something about him.”
  728. >”How about murder?”
  729. >Offense asks.
  730. >To which Wave replies:
  731. >”If only it were that easy.”
  732. “You know, it’s a shame really.”
  733. >”Why do you say that?”
  734. “I liked that table.”
  735. >Brairheart and Offense chuckle at the statement, and you could swear you say a slight upturn on the side of Wave’s lip.
  736. >Offense then quips:
  737. >”So who exactly do we report this to?”
  738.  
  739. >…
  740. >You’re standing next to Tiara, who is at the wheel.
  741. >It took a few hours, but you got a couple sails in proper order.
  742. >You’re moving, albeit slowly.
  743. >She was about as able-bodied as her crewmen were, a bit lacking in physical strength but still very adept.
  744. >And for someone who barks orders so regularly, she barely tried to order you around.
  745. >As you brought down sails and tied rope together, almost all pretenses of command were dropped.
  746. >It’s not pretty, but so far you have the ship in working order.
  747. >If you unfurled anything else, then making adjustments would be too problematic.
  748. >Right now it would take a half hour or so just to get everything back up, so your response time is…
  749. >Well you’ll eventually have a response.
  750. >Eventually.
  751. >Right now you were telling Tiara the story of the battle of Manechester.
  752. >The topic of early battles that either of you were personally involved with came up, and it was fresh in your mind after the trip through memory lane that Discord put you through.
  753. >You had just finished talking about the hours of street to street combat that occurred as the yak horde advanced through the city.
  754. “So the pitiful amount of men we had was dwindling, but the superiors wouldn’t sound a retreat. Once the battle was finished and the bodies were counted, we lost about twice what they did. If the yaks didn’t sound their own retreat, every soldier in there would have been killed and the city sacked.”
  755.  
  756. >”And why did they sound their retreat?”
  757. “The yak’s general was leading from the front lines, and eventually he found me. Without their leader, the yaks retreated to reconvene and choose a new war chief from their clan leaders.”
  758. >”Killed him in single combat did you?”
  759. “I had one of my unicorn friends collapse a bell tower atop the general. A couple quick magic beams and it came down into the street right atop him. Still though, killing the leader only worked because it was in a city. In the open field the chiefs would have found a nice hill overlooking the battle to decide upon a new leader, they still get to view the battle and give orders. But in a city, sight lines are obstructed and they can’t coordinate from afar as easily. That and they’re always uneasy in confined spaces… And most likely a bit of luck added into their decision to retreat.”
  760. >You pause for a moment to catch your breath.
  761. “After that, we had enough time to properly fortify the city and make bottle necks that would trap the majority of the horde when they attacked again the next month. After that battle they retreated back to their homeland to review their attack plan, but that’s a story for another day. So what about yourself, what’s the first proper battle you were in?”
  762.  
  763. >”Despite what you’d assume, I wasn’t just given my position based on my family’s status alone.”
  764. “I don’t think I said anything like that.”
  765. >”No, but you’re thinking it.”
  766. >You did assume that she has almost no practical experience.
  767. >”I only became a captain through status alone.”
  768. >”You’re unsure whether she said that as a matter of fact, or as a joke.
  769. >”I received that commission… seven years ago now.”
  770. >That puts it as she was in her mid-twenties.
  771. “A bit young to be the Captain of a ship.”
  772. >”And you were a bit young to make general, your point?”
  773. “Just stating an observation.”
  774. >”Well, my first actual engagement didn’t come for another couple of years, in the Second Coast War.”
  775. “Please go on.”
  776. >”I was just about to!”
  777. >She coughs to clear her throat.
  778. >”I was in command of the HMS Celestial Vigil, a hundred and twenty gun First Rate ship of the line, she had a crew of eight hundred seventy-three including myself. At the onset of the war, I was a part of the main expeditionary fleet to test the waters to the south. Initially there were a few minor skirmishes as their fleets tested ours, but no real damage was made to either side.”
  779. >She stops speaking and holds the wheel tight as a gust of wind flares up.
  780. >It quickly subsides and she relaxes her grasp once again before continuing.
  781. >”But when you’re that far away from Equestria, weather patterns sent out from Cloudsdale are effectively non-existent. The fleet was hit by a horrific storm and many ships were blown far away from the others. The Celestial Vigil was one of those ships. We ended up blown all the way to the coast, but we were far away from where the larger Saddle Arabian fleets were patrolling.”
  782.  
  783. “The opening stages of each of the Coast Wars weren’t good for any of us.”
  784. >Back during the start of the first one, you actually ended up stranded alone in the desert for weeks.
  785. >”About half of my sails were completely useless from the storm damages, and the morning after we saw three ships on the horizon, all belonging to the Saddle Arabians. Two frigates and a third rate. We were too damaged to try and retreat, so the frigates rushed ahead and kept us occupied, by the time we had sunk them, the third rate was coming in for a broadside at point blank. The Celestial Vigil was a sturdy ship, and would have been able to withstand the onslaught.”
  786. “But?”
  787. >”But, when we exchanged broadsides, we hit their powder hold. Their ship was blown apart and our own was severely damaged. We were taking on water and had to abandon her. My surviving crew swam or flew to shore, where we engaged the surviving Saddle Arabians that went to shore as well. Because most of the ponies on that shore were unarmed, the fighting was mainly with bare hooves. At the end, five hundred and seven of my men survived.”
  788. “So you don’t ascribe to the captain going down with the ship?”
  789. >”Not when it’s meaningless.”
  790. “So what happened on land?”
  791. >”With our ship at the bottom of the sea, and the survivors with no real provisions, we started making our way along the coast. After night had fallen, we reached an enemy fort on atop a fifty foot cliff side overlooking the shore. Thanks to the darkness, we weren’t detected. The fort was on the west side of a small bay, and we arrived from the west. To the east, it overlooked a small bay with a dock. At that dock was a frigate.”
  792.  
  793. >She makes a slight adjustment to the wheel.
  794. >”Under the cover of nightfall, we hugged the coast and decided on a plan of action directly under the fort. I would lead a hundred men to secure the ship, while some pegasi would infiltrate the fort to open the gates for the remainder of the men and access the armories to equip them. Long story short, at the break of dawn, we controlled the fort and the frigate, losing thirty-six men in the process.”
  795. “How many did the Saddle Arabians lose?”
  796. >”I forget the exact amount, six hundred plus another hundred and fifty from the frigate.”
  797. >Well done.
  798. “I’d say that was a fair trade.”
  799. >”Now the frigate wasn’t large enough to fit all of my men, but we found a set of orders in the fort commander’s quarters.”
  800. “And?”
  801. >”They were attempting to make it look like the fort was abandoned, their plan was to lure an Equestrian fleet into the bay. Further to the east, they had a fleet waiting to spring the trap. Once our fleet was around the bay, the fort would spring alive as their fleet cut off any route of escape.”
  802. “So what did you do?”
  803. >”Soon after we discovered the orders, one of my men saw sails on the horizon to the west, an Equestrian fleet. It was made up of half of the expeditionary fleet that was trying to regroup with any other ships thrown about by the storm. So, I sent the signal to spring the trap.”
  804. “What?”
  805.  
  806. >”A black banner was ready to be unfurled next to the gate facing inland, where runners on the horizon would send word to the fleet to move in. I took my best hundred and fifty men onto the frigate, including a then-Lieutenant Port, the highest ranked surviving officer and my new second in command. The others were just out of sight in the fort, ready to rush to the cannons. The Saddle Arabian fleet came around from the east, and ended up battling the Equestrian fleet just to the west of the entrance to the bay. I suppose they still went in because the fort was still just above the battle, ready to fire down.”
  807. “Well don’t stop now.”
  808. >”I had my crew dress in enemy robes to disguise our appearance, and sailed out to join the Saddle Arabian fleet. I delivered a surprise broadside to the rear of the enemy flagship, signaling the fort to start firing on the fleet. I’ll spare you the details, but I spent the rest of the battle dodging enemy fire. In our own twenty-two gun frigate, barely more guns than a sloop, I managed to sink a thirty-eight gun frigate. At the end of the day, half of the Saddle Arabian fleet retreated, but we sank three second rates, a third rate, and five frigates. We lost only a single ship, the HMS Radiance, a third rate.”
  809. “Well done.”
  810.  
  811. >”We then placed explosives to destroy the fort as we left, we wouldn’t have been able to hold it against a proper land based attack. The men I had manning the fort filled in where the ships in the fleet took casualties, and I kept the surviving hundred and thirty-eight men on the frigate we stole. Before we left and destroyed the fort, we renamed the frigate the HMS Resolute. I chose to command it for the next few months until I was ordered to command the sister ship of the Celestial Vigil, the Lunar Vigil. I made sure to keep most of my crew from the Resolute with me. And then, I only left the Lunar Vigil to command the Avalon for this voyage. Before the Fog started to take them, ninety-nine survived with me since then.”
  812. “And you make a hundred that survived since then.”
  813. >She nods.
  814. “I can’t say that I’d do dissimilarly in your position.”
  815. >”I’m sure you would have stormed the fort and killed all of the enemies personally.”
  816. “A joke? Really? Wow, there is a person in there.”
  817. >She gives no response.
  818. “What ever happened to the Resolute?”
  819. >”She survived the war, but with the downsizing that Celestia ordered, only twenty frigates would be kept, and all of them under twenty-eight guns would be scuttled.”
  820. “I’m sorry.”
  821. >”So I had it reclassified as a ‘Great Sloop’, and the orders mentioned nothing about scuttling Great Sloops. She’s still docked in Shipbreaker.”
  822. “You made a new classification to keep a ship?”
  823. >”The alternative was buying it, I could have but there was less paperwork involved with reclassification.”
  824. “Ah the joys of bureaucracy.”
  825. >You could have sworn that she smiled at the quip.
  826. >You can learn a lot about people from their war stories.
  827. >It says a lot about her that she remembered the number of dead from each step of that battle.
  828.  
  829. >”So when are you going to start going all kissy kissy?”
  830. >Son of a-
  831. >You look to the aft end of the ship, where Discord is sitting on the guardrail.
  832. >”What? I approve! I mean there is that poor mare you left in the Crystal Empire, but hey, what happens at sea stays at sea.”
  833. >How does he even know about that?
  834. >You take a couple of steps towards Discord.
  835. “Why are you even here?”
  836. >Tiara starts to say something by you talk over her.
  837. “Look, either help, or leave. Tormenting is neither helping nor leaving. And I really don’t want to put up with you right now. Have you helped me before? Yes, I can’t argue that. But the vast majority of our dealings have not been helpful in the slightest. So I’ll ask one more time- no, I’ll beg: either help me, or leave.”
  838. >Discord chuckles a bit while Tiara gets your attention.
  839. >As you turn back to face her, she asks:
  840. >”Are you okay?”
  841. “Yes, I am.”
  842. >”But who are you talking to?”
  843. >You glance back to the aft end of the ship.
  844. >Discord is nowhere to be seen.
  845. “You didn’t see him?”
  846. >”… see who? You just turned around and started yelling at the horizon.”
  847. >What?
  848. “Discord was just there. You know about him right? Well he probably made himself invisible to you as a joke.”
  849. >Right?
  850. >That’s the only logical answer to the situation.
  851. >Right?
  852. >”Do you need to lie down?”
  853. “No, I’m fine.”
  854. >She doesn’t look convinced…
  855.  
  856. >…
  857. >It took most of the day, but the cleaning staff finally cleared up all of the water from Discord’s prank.
  858. >After an otherwise uneventful day, Brairheart insisted on finishing his report on the status of the nation’s infrastructure.
  859. >So currently you’re all sitting in your chairs, around the space that your table used to be.
  860. >It’s all rather awkward.
  861. >Soon it’ll be sundown, so hopefully Brairheart won’t keep you much longer.
  862. >”And in conclusion, If we allocate just one additional percent of the budget towards rebuilding our roads, they should be fully back in working order by next spring.”
  863. >Before anypony can give a response, all attention is pointed to the door as it slams open.
  864. >”Something has got to be done about Discord!”
  865. >Lancer storms into the room, covered in what looks to be white paint.
  866. >Wave is first to speak:
  867. >”Sir?”
  868. >”What happened to the table?”
  869. >”Discord.”
  870. >”That son of a-“
  871. >Brairheart cuts him off:
  872. >”What did he do to you?”
  873. >”See this?”
  874. >Lancer points to the paint spilled atop his head.
  875. >”This is just recent. Hit me as I was coming into the Palace. I had to cut my vacation with my family short because of the soulless cur!”
  876. >”Sir, calm down.”
  877. >”I will not calm down! He decided to animate a pair of trees that played catch with my son! They hurled him through the air, and it was luck alone that he only got a broken leg from it!”
  878.  
  879. >Before Lancer can continue, a soldier appears in the doorway behind him.
  880. >”Sirs. You should come quickly, the throne room…”
  881. >…
  882. >You followed Lancer and the others as he rushed to the throne room.
  883. >On your way you had passed a unicorn janitor that quickly used magic to clean the paint off of Lancer’s coat.
  884. >But now, you’ve reached the entrance to the throne room.
  885. >As the main doors are opened up, you can make out Discord lounging in the throne.
  886. >He’s leaning back in it, with one leg crossed over the other.
  887. >Through the windows you can see the sun go down as the moon is raised.
  888. >You’re standing behind the others, and you see Offense lean over and whisper something in Lancer’s ear.
  889. >Lancer pauses a moment before nodding, prompting Offense to take his leave.
  890. >As he runs off, Lancer begins making his way towards the throne; Brairheart and Wave are close behind him to his right and left flanks, respectively.
  891. >You follow closely behind.
  892. >When Lancer is in the middle of the room, Discord speaks.
  893. >”Why hello. Good evening los generales.”
  894. >Lancer remains silent as he approaches, you can’t see his face, but the anger in his step is palpable.
  895. >About ten paces from the foot of the throne, he stops.
  896. >”Alright Discord, you’ve got one chance to explain yourself. Why are you doing this?”
  897. >”Well, I just thought that I’d drop in to check up. But now that you bring it up, with what’s-his-face off on his adventure, you’ve got an open position; I’d like to apply as a General. I can start immediately.”
  898. >”I don’t care if Tartarus itself opened up, you will never hold rank in the military.”
  899. >”I suppose there are too many regulations. In that case, I’ll take the Chancellorship.”
  900. >”Get out before I throw you out.”
  901. >”I have plenty of experience with statesmanship.”
  902. >”This is your only chance, and that wasn’t I wasn’t giving you a choice.”
  903. >”Funny, neither was I.”
  904.  
  905. >You could cut the tension in the air with a knife.
  906. >Each of them is set upon not blinking first in this contest of willpower.
  907. >Eventually Discord speaks:
  908. >”So, I think we can all see that everything is coming up Discord. Go on and rest now, I’ll have orders for you all in the morning.”
  909. >To which Lancer replies:
  910. >”You are not our leader. You will not be our leader. And you have never been our leader.”
  911. >”Do I need to teach you your history?”
  912. >”And you know how that ended.”
  913. >”I would barely have to lift a finger to destroy you.”
  914. >Lancer lurches forward, but is unable to move.
  915. >As you glance at his hooves, you see that they appear stuck to the ground.
  916. >A glance shows that Wave and Brairheart’s are as well.
  917. >You test your own to find that they are stuck as well.
  918. >It’s like the floor is a sticky rubber, you can move a bit but it bends out as it sticks to your hoof.
  919. >Lancer begins to speak against Discord:
  920. >”You will never lead us because you are a tyrant, and a tyrant is not a leader. They boss and command others, but they never lead. And that’s why every tyrant fails, because for every tyrant that suppresses, there is a leader who will liberate. You-“
  921. >Lancer falls silent as Discord snaps his fingers.
  922. >”You can have your voice back when you decide to play nice. Anypony else need to get anything off of their chest?”
  923.  
  924. >Brairheart immediately picks up where Lancer was cut off:
  925. >“Countless generations have grown up free, and the current generations know war. Even without a being that can rival your own power, you will never rule us. Because-“
  926. >Discord snaps his fingers again, and Brairheart goes silent, his lips still moving with no words coming out.
  927. >So Wave continues the dialogue.
  928. >”There are millions of ponies in Equestria and we will never surrender. Do you will to us, but you can’t control them all. From the smallest hamlet to the largest city we will fight. Every individual, from the oldest stallion to the youngest foal will deny you. Even if you disarm us, we will toil with our blood, tears, and sweat. Even if in a thousand generations we cannot gain victory, we will guarantee that you shall never gain dominion over us. If-“
  929. >Discord silences Wave.
  930. >”You have anything inspiring to say?”
  931. >He’s talking to you…
  932. “Even if you can get every single pony in Equestria to submit, someday the Field Marshal will return. And when he sees what you’ve done, I don’t think that anything that has ever existed or ever will exist will be able to save you from retribution. And that’s not even me trying to be profound, that’s a simple fact.”
  933. >”Well now that that’s all out of the way, we can get to the real business. My first order back as head honcho will be to-“
  934. >Discord stops speaking as the distinctive pop of teleportation fills the room.
  935. >As you glance over, you see Professor Starlight Glimmer standing not too far to the right of your group.
  936. >Discord lets out a laugh.
  937. >”Oh that is adorable! They think a single middle-aged unicorn can best me.”
  938. >Starlight’s horn glows for a moment, and she looks legitimately confused.
  939. >”Discord, what’s happened to you?”
  940. >”I’ve got my groove back, that’s what Glim-Glam.”
  941. >She looks visibly agitated at the nickname.
  942. >Wait.
  943. >Where’s Offense?
  944.  
  945. >The sound of shattering glass behind you provides that answer.
  946. >Offense broke through the stained glass window, and is hefting a massive crystal, glowing blue, and almost the size of the average pony.
  947. >He flies over Starlight and drops it as she grasps it with her magic.
  948. >He then hovers to the side of Wave, and speaks to Brairheart:
  949. >”Borrowed it from your ship, hope you don’t mind.”
  950. >Discord begins frantically snapping his fingers and waving his hands around, but to no avail.
  951. >Because there’s a glow coming from Starlight’s horn, you’d assume that she’s putting out a magic dampening field.
  952. >and that field is being powered not only from her own magical abilities, but from one of the largest weaponized magic amplification crystals ever made by ponykind.
  953. >As this happens, you can feel your hooves coming free of the ground, and you hear chatter come from the others as their voices return.
  954. >Discord then begins to plea:
  955. >”It was all just a joke, I swear. Honest, I’m just having a laugh.”
  956. >Lancer glances over to speak to Starlight:
  957. >”As you were.”
  958. >”With pleasure.”
  959. >She moves the crystal to a place directly between her and Discord, then releases a beam of magical energy.
  960. >The beam hits the crystal and stops, for a few seconds the glow inside of the crystal gets exponentially brighter- to the point where it is blinding to look at directly.
  961. >A low hum emanates from the crystal, until a loud crack fills the room.
  962. >As it does, a beam of almost pure white light, roughly a yard in diameter is shot from the crystal towards the throne.
  963. >Towards Discord.
  964.  
  965. >You could have sworn you heard a scream of ‘NO!’ come from his direction, but the sound of the magical onslaught being unleashed overshadowed all other sounds.
  966. >When the noise and light subside, everything looks undamaged.
  967. >Aside from the window that Offense broke, the room is completely untouched.
  968. >And Discord is still sitting in the throne.
  969. >Well, a statue in the shape of Discord is sitting in the throne.
  970. >The room falls silent…
  971. >Until Offense breaks it:
  972. >”It actually worked!”
  973. >He flies over to the statue and taps Discord on the head.
  974. >As he does, it falls off.
  975. >Slides right off in the direction he applied pressure.
  976. >As it hits the ground it crumbles into a fine dust.
  977. >”It’s hollow.”
  978. >Offense says as he looks down the exposed neck of Discord’s statue.
  979. >Lancer then asks:
  980. >”So is that it? Is he dead?”
  981. >Starlight stammers for a moment.
  982. >”I… I… I didn’t mean to. It’s possible that it could have destroyed him, but I just tried to emulate the energy levels that had previously turned him to stone.
  983. >Offense then yells over to her:
  984. >”So he’s dead?”
  985. >”I… Maybe?”
  986. “What does maybe mean?”
  987. >”It means that I read his magical aura when I first arrived here. It felt… off. Different, malicious, almost as if it were missing…”
  988. >Starlight teleports out of the throne room, giving no more explanation.
  989. >Offense flies over and lands near you all.
  990. >”Whether or not he’s dead, this calls for a celebration. Drinks are on me.”
  991. >Is that even possible?
  992. >Did you really just kill Discord?
  993.  
  994. >…
  995. >After a good night of rest, you awoke and were ready to get the ship under way once again.
  996. >Today, Tiara didn’t need to spend as much time explaining things to you, so you put an additional pair of sails down.
  997. >She had complimented you on your retention.
  998. >It was around noon by the time you could take a break, so you were with Tiara as she steers the ship.
  999. >Each of you is remaining relatively quiet this day, waiting for something to happen.
  1000. >But since the crew was taken, you had not been subject to the Fog.
  1001. >Theoretically that’s a good thing, but it could mean that you are leaving the missing crew behind.
  1002. >What if you were out of range of whatever caused the Fog and now the crew is doomed?
  1003. >The idea had probably crossed her mind as well…
  1004. >You shouldn’t think line that.
  1005. >It’s just as likely that the Fog left you and/or her behind for a reason.
  1006. >But…
  1007. “What’s that?”
  1008. >”What’s what?”
  1009. “On the horizon.”
  1010.  
  1011. >You point to the starboard side, roughly forty-five degrees off the bow of the ship.
  1012. >”Take the wheel.”
  1013. >You swap places to keep the wheel steady as Tiara goes to get a telescope.
  1014. >Meanwhile, you study the speck on the horizon.
  1015. >It could be…
  1016. >”Sails.”
  1017. “How do you know.”
  1018. >”I know the shape even from this distance.”
  1019. “Is it coming towards us?”
  1020. >She pauses a moment to watch.
  1021. >“Can’t tell. It looks like it isn’t moving towards us, or away from us.”
  1022. “Let me see.”
  1023. >She gives you the scope as you let her take the wheel back.
  1024. >Looking through the spyglass, you see a vaguely box like figure.
  1025. >You suppose that it could be a set of sails when viewed from the back or front.
  1026. >But which is it?
  1027. >As you look at it, you blink.
  1028. >And when your eye opens once again, the object is nowhere to be seen.
  1029. “Did you see that?”
  1030. >”I did. What do you think it means.”
  1031. “Well, it has been the only thing we’ve seen on the water for over a week…”
  1032. >”We should change course.”
  1033. “Looked forty-five degrees to starboard.”
  1034. >”Only forty by my guess.”
  1035. “Either way we’ll still have some of the wind.”
  1036. >”Last chance to stay the course, are you sure you want to investigate?”
  1037. “What choice do we have?”
  1038.  
  1039. >…
  1040. >After you Tiara had adjusted course, you continued on.
  1041. >It only happened rarely, but a few other times that day you say the sail on the horizon.
  1042. >Every time it appeared was when you had fallen off course.
  1043. >It’s almost as if it appears specifically to guide you.
  1044. >But that brings up the question…
  1045. >Where is it leading you?
  1046. >…
  1047. >Ugh.
  1048. >You hear a pony walking next to you, and the noise that his hooves are making against the marble floor is ear-shattering.
  1049. >Why are you laying on the floor anyway?
  1050. >Right.
  1051. >Wave sure can mix drinks… and Offense demanded to see if you could out drink him…
  1052. >You open your eyes to see a janitor cleaning the Palace’s bar.
  1053. >Brairheart is asleep on the pool table.
  1054. >Lancer is passed out on a bar stool.
  1055. >Offense is…
  1056. >Where is he?
  1057. >You look up to see him asleep on the chandelier.
  1058. >And Wave is standing behind the bar, cleaning a glass.
  1059. >He doesn’t look any worse for wear.
  1060. >Even though he out drank everypony else…
  1061. >And he out drank the others one at a time…
  1062. >That is something you remember, because that only came about after more than a few hours of casual drinking.
  1063. >And you were the last one to go against him.
  1064. >By the time you got to Wave, the sun had already risen.
  1065. >You look at the General as he goes about helping clean up.
  1066. >That pony scares you.
  1067.  
  1068. “What time is it?”
  1069. >”Five.”
  1070. >Wave responds in his ever calm and collected voice.
  1071. “Well that’s-“
  1072. >”In the afternoon.”
  1073. “What?”
  1074. >”I took care of today’s day to day issues while you all slept.”
  1075. “Anything important?”
  1076. >”Not particularly. A few more reports on Discord came in, although they all date to before our meeting with him last night. News takes time to travel, but if within a few days we stop getting reports in…”
  1077. “Then he really is gone.”
  1078. >”Hopefully. Come over here.”
  1079. >You make your way over to the bar, and sit a few stools down from Lancer.
  1080. >As you came over, Wave turned around and poured a cup of coffee from the maker at the end of the bar.
  1081. >”Hope you like it strong.”
  1082. “Only for hangovers.”
  1083. >You take the coffee cup as it is offered, and proceed to take a sip.
  1084. >Wave wasn’t lying when he said strong.
  1085. >You see the General grab his own cup and take a drink.
  1086.  
  1087. >”I was speaking with Brairheart the other day.”
  1088. “And?”
  1089. >”He intends to set out the day after tomorrow. Given that he’s effectively lost a day, I’d assume that he’ll push it back another day.”
  1090. “So two, maybe three days before setting out.”
  1091. >”Enough time to head home and visit your wife.”
  1092. >Sounds nice, but as head of the Old Guard, you have quite a few day to day duties.
  1093. “I’ve got drills to run and reports to go over. Actually I’m falling a bit behind on that, my men make up the majority of soldiers watching Celestia’s loyalists that are in the PoW camp, and I haven’t touched one of their reports for a few days.”
  1094. >”I’ll take care of your duties for you. There’s an express heading for the Empire at six, and it would do you good to see her before heading on your mission.”
  1095. “I- Thank you General.”
  1096. >”Don’t mention it. She’s due when? Late winter?”
  1097. “Early spring.”
  1098. >”Hold the family close while you can. Never know when work might take you from them.”
  1099. >You’re unsure if he means that as in just being away, or being killed.
  1100. >Probably both.
  1101. >Wave motions towards Lancer.
  1102. >”He’s got two. A girl of nine and a boy of four. Brairheart has a son of seven and a girl of two. Offense has a seven year old girl, and his wife died in childbirth five years ago, neither her nor her son made it.”
  1103. “I never knew. That’s terrible.”
  1104. >”Brairheart’s wife offered to help watch his girl while Offense was away. Brairheart’s son and Offense’s daughter are quite close, not that either of their fathers like that idea much. Offense can be incredibly protective of his daughter.”
  1105. “I don’t think they could survive being in-laws.”
  1106. >”Neither do they.”
  1107.  
  1108. “What about you? If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
  1109. >”I never married. Never had much interest in it. I did adopt a son though. Back in the Griffon War eleven years ago, I led a squad through Griffonstone. The city was hit badly by bombardment. I led a squad through the city, and found a house that was hit directly by a mortar shell. Hit right in what would have been the living room. Inside the wreckage were two bodies, a male and female, both dead. From an adjoining room I heard crying. Miraculously, an infant survived the explosion in his crib, completely uninjured; he was the one thing in the entire house that was intact. I couldn’t just leave a baby in the warzone, so I took him. On my way out I saw a broken picture frame, inside was a relatively intact family picture, the phrase ‘Gregor at one month’ was written on the back. Soon after when the war was won, I tried to find his next of kin. He didn’t have any surviving family, so rather than leave him as an orphan in a war torn city; I adopted him as my own. He’s twelve now and going through a bit of a rebellious phase, but still calls me dad. I have an apartment in the same town as Lancer’s family, so his wife drops by to check on him when he can.”
  1110. >You’ve never seen Wave talk as much as he just did.
  1111. >And you would guess that he either doesn’t like or isn’t good at speaking in larger statements.
  1112. >Rather than speaking in a narrative, he spoke in individual statement or thoughts lined up after each other.
  1113. >But the important part is that he even spoke at all, that he trusts you enough to talk about family.
  1114. “That’s actually very kind of you.”
  1115. >”The point I’m getting at is to take every chance you have to be with family. Now go on, I’ve kept you long enough and you have a train to catch.”
  1116.  
  1117. >…
  1118. >”So.”
  1119. >You take a sip of wine.
  1120. “So what?”
  1121. >After a long day of work, you and tiara had rolled up the sails.
  1122. >You had just finished dinner, and the sun just set outside.
  1123. >Now you’re each sitting on opposite ends of the table in her cabin, splitting a bottle of wine that you busted out of storage.
  1124. >”The ship we’ve been getting glimpses of. Good or bad?”
  1125. >You swirl around the wine in your glass.
  1126. “Well, if it’s unrelated to the Fog, then it would be bad… or worse.”
  1127. >You glance over to the window, seeing the stars reflect upon the water.
  1128. “But, I think its timing was too good to be a coincidence. And it’s been trying to guide us; it is the first thing we’ve sighted on the horizon for quite some time. It has to be leading us somewhere; but it remains to be seen if it’s leading us to salvation, or into a trap. What do you think about it?”
  1129. >It does have to be guiding you; it appears on the horizon periodically to let you adjust your course.
  1130. >And if that ship has more than two crewmembers, it would easily be able to outrun the Avalon.
  1131. >”Other than a bad gut instinct, nothing that you haven’t covered. Whether it’s the key to all of this or a trap, it’s not like we have any other options.”
  1132. >You don’t give a response.
  1133. >She sits in silence as well, sipping from her own glass.
  1134. >This entire situation, no- this entire voyage is out of your comfort zone.
  1135. >You like a straight up fight, not this ‘adventure’ where everything you encounter is an unknown.
  1136. >It’s absurd, why can’t anything be simple anymore?
  1137.  
  1138. >You haven’t felt this out of your depth since your first year in Equestria.
  1139. >God, that feels like a lifetime ago.
  1140. >Almost twenty-six years…
  1141. >You’ve spent the majority of your life here.
  1142. >And what have you done with that time?
  1143. >Sure there’s the wars, and if you wanted to you could probably have conquered the known world, but what is there beyond that?
  1144. >There are your friends.
  1145. >Lancer
  1146. >Offense
  1147. >Brairheart
  1148. >Wave
  1149. >All of them are like brothers to you.
  1150. >Together you make one big semi-dysfunctional family.
  1151. >But the only thing that you personally have is Flurry.
  1152. >Isn’t that something?
  1153. >The reasons why you fight are varied.
  1154. >But she’s the only reason why you survived.
  1155. >With her father missing, her mother reclusive, and her aunt missing as well, the last thing Flurry needed was to hear some report about how soldiers pulled your bloody corpse out of a pile of rubble.
  1156. >And she’s still keeping you alive now.
  1157. >But now it’s different.
  1158. >Now you’ll soon be directly fighting for her personal survival.
  1159. >Your own survival comes second to that, but you can and will not die until you know that she’s safe.
  1160. >If you have to die to keep her safe, then so be it.
  1161. >Until that moment comes, nothing can or will stop you.
  1162. >Not even God himself.
  1163. >And definitely not a bit of fog.
  1164.  
  1165. >”I know that look.”
  1166. >You glance back at Tiara, still sitting opposite you.
  1167. “What look?”
  1168. >”The look that says you have nothing to lose. That you’ve made your peace and will welcome death.”
  1169. “Setting aside natural deaths, in the past millennia I have killed more than every other individual and plague combined.”
  1170. >”Orders don’t count.”
  1171. “In the first real war I was involved in, I personally killed over five thousand yaks.”
  1172. >”Wait, how?”
  1173. “Caused an avalanche over their encampment.”
  1174. >”That doesn’t count either.”
  1175. “Well over my career I’ve killed over a thousand with my bare hands alone. And you know my sword? Over a hundred thousand with that. Hell, I’ve effectively genocided the changelings.”
  1176. >”I don’t think you really care about those numbers.”
  1177. “Then what do you think I care about?”
  1178. >”The recollection of casualties is just a way you justify your mentality.”
  1179. “You didn’t answer the question.”
  1180. >”You’re bored. You have nothing better to do, so you just keep on going. But on some level you know that, and that’s where the brooding pseudo-guilt comes from.”
  1181. “I do not brood.”
  1182. >”If one says ‘I do not brood’ it usually means that they do.”
  1183. “Well spare me the armchair philosophy.”
  1184. >”And now you deflect the topic of the conversation.”
  1185. “What is it that you even want?”
  1186. >”Why do you even fight?”
  1187. “I fight so that all the fighting I’ve already done hasn’t been for nothing!”
  1188. >”Well that struck a nerve.”
  1189. “And who are you to question my motives? The ENTIRE known world invaded Equestria, and you just sat in a fort and watched!”
  1190.  
  1191. >”No need to raise your voice.”
  1192. “How many died because you let the navy sit on their asses?”
  1193. >”After downsizes, the Saddle Arabians severely outnumbered our fleet.”
  1194. “You didn’t even TRY!”
  1195. >”And let hundreds of my men go needlessly to their deaths?”
  1196. “So that thousands of civilians might live. Do you know how many died in Baltimare? Hmm? If even one enemy supply convoy could have been disrupted, their army would have slowed down, and in that time how many civilians could have gotten away from the frontlines? How many children lost their parents because of your inaction, and how many parents lost their children for the same damn reason? But no, you sat in your comfy position and let the storm pass.”
  1197. >”So you never sat anything out?”
  1198. “When outnumbered ten to one, I fought the yaks in the streets of Manechester. When I was separated and alone, I fought my way through a changeling hive against thousands of drones. When shipwrecked, I forced myself through the desert because that was my job. When the Saddle Arabians and zebras brought the single largest army from the latest war to finally break Baltimare, even though I was still recovering from a coma caused by my deathbed, I personally led the charge against the most advanced weapons they have developed to this day.”
  1199. >She changes topics, maybe to keep you on your toes, maybe because she knows she won’t win from this angle.
  1200. >”You overthrew the government. You deposed Celestia herself.”
  1201. “Even if you don’t believe that she’s under the sway of an outsider, take a look at what she did. Secret police, mass arrests, work camps; she had become a tyrant. Was that Equestria the same one that you loved as you grew up?”
  1202. >”No, but I didn’t start a civil war to change that.”
  1203. “And I didn’t blow up a third of Canterlot because I lost a battle.”
  1204. >There is a pause in the argument as tension builds to what you feel will be the climax.
  1205.  
  1206. >…
  1207. >You step off of the train car.
  1208. >Last stop: The Crystal Empire.
  1209. >You inhale the cool evening air.
  1210. >Must be around midnight, based on how dark it is.
  1211. >You stop there a moment to take in the city’s skyline.
  1212. >The way it shines in under the moon and stars is quite beautiful.
  1213. >But what’s all the commotion about?
  1214. >You can hear ponies shouting in the distance, and you can see them running through the streets.
  1215. >And all of them are running in the same direction.
  1216. >You glance up at the skyline once again, and see an illumination that is different than the normal light pollution from a city.
  1217. >Instead of a pale white, the sky has an ambient orange in it.
  1218. >What in the name of-
  1219. >It’s a fire!
  1220. >You start moving your wings, in order to get an aerial view.
  1221. >As you start to get higher, you see the city stretch out below you.
  1222. >It’s not just one…
  1223. >You count five separate blazes, each engulfing multiple city blocks.
  1224. >There are a couple pegasi in the air, all trying to use the clouds to douse the fires.
  1225. >But there are so few that it’s like trying to use a garden hose to put out a single house on fire.
  1226. >Wait…
  1227. >You look at one of the fires that’s further out from your position.
  1228. >That’s about where Winter lives!
  1229. >Just as you were about to go full speed towards her house, you stop.
  1230. >On account of the world-shaking boom.
  1231. >The sound leaves you shell-shocked, and it takes all you’ve got to stay in the air.
  1232. >Everything is blurry, but you can see the source of the explosion.
  1233. >It came from the Spire.
  1234. >And it’s falling!
  1235.  
  1236. >The entire damn thing is collapsing down onto its foundation.
  1237. >Stunned from the sight and still shell-shocked, you lose stability in the air as an immense dust cloud starts to engulf the city.
  1238. >The dust blinds you, and you soon feel yourself falling.
  1239. >A jolt of pain shoots through your back as you hit the ground spine-first.
  1240. >Forcing your eyes open, you can barely see a few feet in front of yourself, and the dust is getting into your lungs, making breathing an issue.
  1241. >What’s going on?
  1242. >Why- how is this even happening?
  1243. >”Last stop.”
  1244. >What?
  1245. >-
  1246. >”Come on Sir, this is the last stop.”
  1247. >You open your eyes.
  1248. >You’re sitting on a bench inside of the train while leaning against the window.
  1249. “What?”
  1250. >The conductor is standing in the isle next to your seat, and a quick glance shows nopony else in the train car.
  1251. >”Last stop: The Crystal Empire.”
  1252. “Right. Sorry.”
  1253. >”Not a problem, after all-“
  1254. >He pauses to take a look at his watch.
  1255. >”After all, it’s five till midnight. There’s usually a sleeper or two on these late night rides.”
  1256. >You start to stand from your seat.
  1257. “Thanks for the wakeup call.”
  1258. >”Don’t mention it, just part of the job. You have a good night now.”
  1259. >You nod at the elderly pony before taking your leave of the train.
  1260. >Weird dream…
  1261.  
  1262. >As you step off of the real train, you take in the real skyline of the real Crystal Empire in the real night.
  1263. >For real.
  1264. >You chuckle at the thought.
  1265. >Everything seems to be in order.
  1266. >No rush of ponies, no fires, and the Spire is standing tall like always.
  1267. >Still though, a quick check wouldn’t hurt.
  1268. >You begin walking through the quiet streets, every once and a while you pass another pony or two on the road.
  1269. >But for the most part it’s nice and empty.
  1270. >As you make your way to the Spire, you start planning for tomorrow.
  1271. >You should sleep at one of the spare bunks at the soldier’s barracks there.
  1272. >That way you can shop in the morning and properly surprise Winter.
  1273. >Also because you don’t want to spook her, and seeing as it is past midnight…
  1274. >But what to get her?
  1275. >Alcohol is out of the question due to her pregnancy.
  1276. >Flowers?
  1277. >No, too stereotypical.
  1278. >Flowers are the ‘I had no idea what to get you’ gift.
  1279. >The park is also out of the question.
  1280. >You’ve gone there with her a lot, and you want this visit to be special.
  1281. >Arriving at the tower, you focus away from your thoughts.
  1282. >A pair of soldiers are posted outside the main entrance.
  1283. >”Sir!”
  1284. >They both salute.
  1285. “At ease… notice anything out of the ordinary?”
  1286. >”Been quiet since the Field Marshal left for the south.”
  1287. >He means when you had issues with the MID.
  1288. >That feels like a lifetime ago.
  1289. >It seems so surreal.
  1290. >With a single word, you could have remained in the Crystal Empire to command the garrison here.
  1291. >But instead, you decided to go headlong into danger.
  1292. >And you’re about to be going headlong into MORE danger…
  1293. “Well of you don’t mind, I’m gonna take a quick look around. Got a weird vibe.”
  1294. >”Understood.”
  1295. >…
  1296. >Long story short, your mind was put to ease.
  1297. >Everything looked to be in proper order, and you ended up slinking into an unoccupied bed.
  1298. >Hopefully you don’t have any dreams.
  1299.  
  1300. >…
  1301. >You step out onto the main deck, wearing fresh clothes.
  1302. >Another day alone with Tiara.
  1303. >You had already eaten this morning, and she should have as well.
  1304. >So it’s straight to work.
  1305. >Looking over, you see her standing at the wheel.
  1306. >”That was some night, huh?”
  1307. “Let it go, we’ve got more important things to focus on.”
  1308. >”Alright, be that way. If you look ten degrees to port, you’ll see a set of sails just on the horizon.”
  1309. >You glance over towards the ship.
  1310. >And just as she said, you can see the distant object at the edge of view.
  1311. “At least now we know it’s waiting for us.”
  1312. >Aside from the occasional order, you both started working in silence.
  1313. >She mostly kept on the poop deck, and you stayed down on the main deck.
  1314. >So, you were left to your thoughts.
  1315. >And one thing stands out in particular.
  1316. >Where’s Discord?
  1317. >It’s been over a full day since he popped in to give his opinion on things.
  1318. >And you’ve gotten two nights of sleep without him invading your dreams.
  1319. >The sudden radio silence is not comforting.
  1320. >Although it probably should be.
  1321. >Maybe he finally just gave up and is letting you do your job in peace.
  1322. >Or… he could be the one making the ship appear on the horizon.
  1323. >You doubt that it’s actually him, because it’s too normal.
  1324. >If Discord is helping, it isn’t in such an obvious way.
  1325. >But whoever (or whatever) is in charge of the ship on the horizon, is leading you somewhere.
  1326. >But where?
  1327. >It’s been a straight heading, for the most part.
  1328. >And if it’s been leading you somewhere for a reason, then what is that reason?
  1329. >And more importantly: why has the Fog stopped?
  1330.  
  1331. >…
  1332. >You knock on the door.
  1333. >A moment later Winter opens it.
  1334. “Honey, I’m home!”
  1335. >She remains still for a moment, processing the sight.
  1336. >Then she launches forwards, pulling you into an embrace.
  1337. >No words are spoken, she just holds you tight.
  1338. >And you reciprocate.
  1339. >You stand there in her warmth for a solid minute or two before she pulls her head back to speak.
  1340. >”You don’t know how happy I am to see you.”
  1341. “Probably as happy as I am to see you.”
  1342. >”Your letters didn’t mention anything about a visit.”
  1343. “It was short notice. I’m only in town for a night or two… Also I wanted it to be a surprise.”
  1344. >”Well consider me surprised. Come on, I want to show you her room.”
  1345. >She breaks her hug, and grabs you by the hoof, leading you towards the nursery.
  1346. “It’s still early, it could be a him.”
  1347. >”We went over this already. Maternal instinct- it’s a her.”
  1348. “Whatever you say dear.”
  1349. >You joke condescendingly.
  1350. >It’s good to be home.
  1351. >Home…
  1352. >…
  1353. >”So I like the crib against this wall.”
  1354. >Winter says while standing on the north facing side of the room.
  1355. >”Good view out of the window.”
  1356. “Yeah but the angle would put the sun in her eyes too much. What about that corner? If we move those dressers over, then she’ll be completely free of the glare.”
  1357. >”But then she won’t be able to see the city’s skyline.”
  1358. “I didn’t know that infants put so much value on their view.”
  1359. >”Haw haw. Very funny.”
  1360. >You don’t think she’s being serious…
  1361. “We can move her over to have a view out of the window when she’s old enough to know not to stare at the sun…”
  1362.  
  1363. >”Well then you can move the dresser. I’ve got to take it easy.”
  1364. “You’ve barely been pregnant a few months.”
  1365. >”Big strong soldier afraid of a bit of manual labor?”
  1366. “You’re setting me up for a ‘labor’ trap aren’t you?”
  1367. >”Well the male does have it easy…”
  1368. “I’m not touching this topic; I’ll live longer that way.”
  1369. >She laughs at the statement.
  1370. “Do you work today?”
  1371. >”Tonight. I’ve been taking a few night shifts her and there because it’s been easier for me to sleep in the early morning instead of at night. I know it’s all in my head, but I guess it’s better just to do whatever’s more comfortable for me.”
  1372. “When do you head in?”
  1373. >”Eight.”
  1374. “Good that leaves us plenty of time.”
  1375. >”To do what?”
  1376. “Well, you know how you’re always saying that I’m ‘uncultured’?”
  1377. >”Not uncultured, you just don’t properly enjoy the finer things in life.”
  1378. “What’s the difference?”
  1379. >”Politeness.”
  1380. “Gee, thanks. Anyway, I was thinking that we could go to that art museum over on the east side of town.”
  1381. >”Only if we can stop to get ice cream on the way. I’ve got a craving.”
  1382. >Or she just wants ice cream, and now has a justification.
  1383. >It’s probably a bit of both.
  1384. “That little place a few block away.”
  1385. >”Look at you remembering what’s around my house.”
  1386. “Just keeping situational awareness... Also if you ever get angry that’s the closest thing I can fly to with the purpose of bringing back an appeasement.”
  1387. >Winter gives a playful punch to your shoulder.
  1388. >”You’re terrible.”
  1389. >She jokes.
  1390. “Love you too honey.”
  1391.  
  1392. >…
  1393. >Many hours later, you sat on a bench.
  1394. >Currently you’re in the art museum, waiting for Winter to get back from the bathroom.
  1395. >This is one of the rooms in the museum that has more modern paintings in it.
  1396. >All of them are about the wars of the past two decades.
  1397. >You aren’t a connoisseur, but it doesn’t take a trained eye to note the stylistic changes.
  1398. >Most works from before the wars were brightly colored and stylized.
  1399. >But in this room, all of the paintings look like real ponies.
  1400. >Some of them almost look like photographs.
  1401. >The paintings in here, and in similar rooms, all focus on armored ponies or battlefields.
  1402. >One of the plaques on the wall mentioned how the modern style is called ‘Realistic Romanticism’ but many just refer to it as ‘Modern Romanticism’.
  1403. >You’re currently looking at a painting that depicts griffons manning the walls of their capital back during the Griffon War.
  1404. >They tried to annex the cities just south of their border.
  1405. >By the time the armies had gotten out that far to the northwest, the griffons had already taken over all of the territory they set out to.
  1406. >There weren’t many troops in the area because relations were good at the time.
  1407. >A few years before the Griffon War, Equestria had come to their aid when the yaks attacked them.
  1408. >The yaks had figured that Equestria was too strong to attack, so they turned to their only other neighbor.
  1409. >But when the yaks attacked the griffons, their queen came straight to Canterlot and begged for assistance.
  1410.  
  1411. >You forget the queen’s name, something with a G.
  1412. >But when she came to the capitol, Celestia ended up forming a bit of a friendship with her.
  1413. >Thus the alliance was born.
  1414. >A few years later, the griffon queen died when a minor plague hit Griffonstone.
  1415. >If you recall correctly, she was infected while trying to help the sick.
  1416. >But when she died, the designated regent just happened to ‘trip’ while going down some stairs.
  1417. >He was found dead, with eight different stab wounds.
  1418. >The replacement regent then took power and quickly mobilized the undefended northwest.
  1419. >Vanhoover and Las Pegasus were overrun within the month.
  1420. >And then they started digging in.
  1421. >They fought a defensive war through heavy forests, cities, and mountains.
  1422. >Until they were driven back to their capitol.
  1423. >This painting shows an army of the old, sick, or young.
  1424. >All of them visible afraid and physically unfit for combat.
  1425. >In reality, the griffons had plenty of adult men fighting; the war didn’t hurt their manpower that much.
  1426. >Their ability to fly makes it so more casualties are able to flee the field rather than being captured.
  1427. >It’s similar with pegasi.
  1428. >If you can’t fly off the field, you can walk off it.
  1429. >If you can’t walk off the field, you can fly off it.
  1430. >It’s only when both of them go that you’re done for.
  1431. >Also armies that have to stay on the ground disperse when broken.
  1432. >But armies in the air can use their mobility to organize retreats much more effectively.
  1433. >”Boo!”
  1434. >You feel a hoof poking into your side.
  1435. >Faking a lurch, you appear to look surprised that Winter is back.
  1436. >You know her hoofsteps, and they’re kind of loud given that the room is otherwise silent…
  1437. “You okay?”
  1438. >”Thought I was going to throw up, pregnancy sickness.”
  1439. “Sorry.”
  1440. >”It’s just a side effect.”
  1441. >She sits down next to you.
  1442. >”And besides, it’s worth it.”
  1443. >She kisses you on the cheek.
  1444.  
  1445. >”What are you looking at?”
  1446. >You point over to a different painting.
  1447. >It’s also one of the Griffonstone walls, but in this one the defenders proudly stand strong, and are alongside ponies.
  1448. >It’s from the when the yaks attacked the griffons, and you thought it was interesting how that when you were allied, the griffons were depicted as tall and strong, but when they were enemies they are shown as old and weak.
  1449. “My dad died in that battle.”
  1450. >”I’m so sorry. I know he died on duty, but I didn’t know where.”
  1451. “It was a long time ago. Besides, you grew up in a military family; you know what it’s like. Growing up knowing that dad might not come back when he leaves for work.”
  1452. >”It’s just that you specifically talked about how your mom died a couple years ago from a heart attack, but you were never specific about your dad, so I assumed you didn’t want to go into detail.”
  1453. “Oh, no. It’s fine; it was a long time ago. I guess the specifics just slipped my mind when I brought it up before.”
  1454. >”Hey Thunder?”
  1455. “Yeah.”
  1456. >“When you have to go off to fight, you come home safe and sound. Our daughter is not growing up without a father.”
  1457. “I promise.”
  1458. >”I wasn’t asking for a promise. That was an order.”
  1459. “Yes Ma’am.”
  1460. >You reach over and kiss her cheek.
  1461. “Besides, Discord himself couldn’t keep me from coming home in one piece.”
  1462. >After you said it, you realized the irony in it.
  1463. >Seeing as Discord is out of the picture.
  1464. >”I love you.”
  1465. >That seems unprovoked.
  1466. >You lean in and kiss Winter.
  1467. >This time on the lips.
  1468. >After ten seconds or so, you pull your lips away, keeping you head in the same position next to hers.
  1469. “I love you too.”
  1470.  
  1471. >…
  1472. >More hours have passed.
  1473. >After the art museum, you stopped to get dinner with Winter.
  1474. >Now, you were walking back home in the late afternoon.
  1475. “So I probably won’t be needed tomorrow.”
  1476. >”Probably?”
  1477. “Most likely.”
  1478. >”Thunder. You can’t just force the entire army to push back their schedule just because you want to spend another day with me.”
  1479. “Trying to get rid of me so soon?”
  1480. >”You’re a Major. You started this year as a Sergeant.”
  1481. “My dad never made it past Corporal. If he could see me now…”
  1482. >”He’d probably tell you to do your job.”
  1483. “I come back after weeks, and this is what I get.”
  1484. >”Thunder.”
  1485. >She says in a firm voice.
  1486. >”I know what I got into when I agreed to marry you. I know that there will be times that you’ll be away for quite a while, and then there will be times of peace when we can be together day to day. Both your career and the safety of the Equestira rely on you and every other soldier actually showing up for work.”
  1487. “I suppose if I get the eight thirty train, I could be back in Canterlot before sunrise.”
  1488. >”I’m not angry at you or anything, but if the generals want you personally to do something…”
  1489. “Yeah, you’re right.”
  1490. >”Also it would be good for us. For our kids.”
  1491. “Kids. Plural?”
  1492. >”I want three or four total. Maybe five. Why? Is that a problem?”
  1493. “No, not at all… I guess I’d like a few kids. A big family to make up for me being an only child.”
  1494. >”Great, then I think in a couple of years we should look at getting a bigger house. My place could barely hold two kids.”
  1495. “Them maybe a summer house in the south by a lake somewhere.”
  1496. >”Sounds nice.”
  1497. “Yeah… it does.”
  1498.  
  1499. >…
  1500. >Waking in the middle of the night, you feel incredibly cold.
  1501. >From a lantern’s light, you can even see your breath fog the air in front of your mouth.
  1502. >Goosebumps cover your shirtless body, as you feel the cold air against your skin.
  1503. >You’re not sure what, but something is definitely wrong…
  1504. >As you rise from your bed, you grab your sword and unsheathe it.
  1505. >Taking the lantern with your free hand, you start making your way to the main deck.
  1506. >As you step away from your cot, you start checking the corners around you.
  1507. >You’re not letting someone or something get the drop on you.
  1508. >With each step you take, you carefully avoid making noise.
  1509. >Every instinct you have is telling you ‘ambush’.
  1510. >But as you start ascending the stairs, you don’t encounter any disturbance.
  1511. >Only an empty ship.
  1512. >On the next deck, you continue ascending slowly.
  1513. >You do notice that while it is still unusually cold, it is no longer as freezing as it was when you woke.
  1514. >If Discord is just messing with you, you’ll kill him.
  1515. >Eventually you reach the open air.
  1516. >Setting your lantern down on a nearby crate, you adjust to the light from the stars and moon.
  1517. >You’d guess that it’s around two or three in the morning.
  1518. >As you scan the ship, you don’t see anyone on the main deck or the poop deck.
  1519. >That’s when you see it.
  1520. >A ship.
  1521. >Just slightly larger than your own.
  1522. >All of the sails on the other ship are up.
  1523. >But it’s still moving across your field of vision.
  1524. >It’s maybe a hundred feet out, moving parallel to your ship.
  1525. >As it moves towards the stern of your ship, you note that a single broadside from it would effectively destroy the Avalon.
  1526.  
  1527. >The last thing you notice about it before it disappears into the darkness of the night is that you can’t see any crew members on deck.
  1528. >Is that another ship that has lost all hands due to the Fog?
  1529. >Or maybe it’s the ship that has been showing you the way?
  1530. >Is this a dream?
  1531. >You speak in a quiet voice:
  1532. “Discord?”
  1533. >As you wait on the deck for a reply, you feel the temperature start to rise to a normal level.
  1534. >You should check on Tiara.
  1535. >Walking over to her cabin, you keep your sword at the ready.
  1536. >Your eyes have adjusted well enough that as you enter her room, you see that she is sleeping soundly in her bed.
  1537. >Her blanket and fur must have let her sleep through the cold.
  1538. >You hear a slight snore from her.
  1539. >As you turn to exit the room, you stop at the door.
  1540. >You’re starting to understand why on the rare occasions when people do come back from the East, they don’t come back fully sane.
  1541. >You’ve never been so…
  1542. >It’s hard to find the exact word.
  1543. >Spooked?
  1544. >This is the most unsettled you’ve felt in a long time.
  1545. >You glance back at Tiara.
  1546. >And then sigh.
  1547. >Walking over to the table in the center of the room, you pick up a chair.
  1548. >Then take it to the corner opposite of her bed.
  1549. >After setting it into the corner, you sit in it and rest your sword atop your lap.
  1550. >You aren’t going to be able to sleep anymore tonight.
  1551. >And if anything else happens, you want to have a witness at hand.
  1552. >Also you should try and protect the only other soul on the ship.
  1553. >You lean back slightly and get ready to wait for the morning.
  1554.  
  1555. >…
  1556. >Eventually you see movement from Tiara.
  1557. >As she groggily moves her head to inspect her surroundings, you see her eyes shoot open as they look at you.
  1558. >She also let out a little ‘eek’ and jumped a bit.
  1559. >”What are you doing in here?”
  1560. >As she spoke, you could hear her voice shift from shock to agitation.
  1561. >”And where is your shirt?”
  1562. “We need to talk.”
  1563. >”What?”
  1564. “We’re not alone out here.”
  1565. >…
  1566. >After a night of sleeping on the train, you arrived back in Canterlot.
  1567. >When you got off of the train, you decided to fly straight to the palace.
  1568. >You should only be slightly late for today’s meeting.
  1569. >…
  1570. >As you open the door to the meeting room, Brairheart greets you:
  1571. >”Glad you decided to join us, Major.”
  1572. >Wave immediately speaks up:
  1573. >”Like I’ve said already, I gave him the time.”
  1574. >You walk over to an empty chair.
  1575. >You do notice that the table has been replaced.
  1576. >It’s a (hopefully temporary) folding table, but it works.
  1577. “So, where are we?”
  1578. >Lancer answers:
  1579. >”The meeting room.”
  1580. >Offense lets out a disgusted sigh at the joke.
  1581. >Lancer then continues:
  1582. >”We’ve dealt with everything for today. Nothing you need to worry about.”
  1583. “Then does that mean…”
  1584. >Brairheart speaks:
  1585. >”We’re ready to leave whenever you are.”
  1586. “What about Call?”
  1587. >”The Corporal is already packed and aboard the airship.”
  1588. >Well then.
  1589. >Looks like this is it.
  1590. “I can be ready in ten minutes.”
  1591. >”Then I’ll see you on the Prydwen.”
  1592. >Lancer then addresses you two:
  1593. >”I hope you enjoy her maiden voyage.”
  1594. >He then looks directly to you
  1595. >”And I hope that you enjoyed your R&R. But I don’t have to remind you that if you’re discovered and captured, then you will be disavowed and left to the Saddle Arabian ‘justice’ system. This mission could be the start of a lasting peace, so I expect you to fulfill your duties to the best of your abilities... Good luck.”
  1596.  
  1597. >…
  1598. >Tiara found your encounter with the other ship to be disconcerting, but she did believe you.
  1599. >But even if it was just a dream or other construct of your mind, you still have only one way to go.
  1600. >To follow the ship on the horizon.
  1601. >Wherever it might be leading you.
  1602. >After you brought her up to speed with what you saw in the night, you went to get a shirt.
  1603. >You also attached your sheathe to your belt, a habit you have fallen out of the past few weeks.
  1604. >With a white t-shirt over your chest, you went back to the main deck.
  1605. >And after a few hours, you and Tiara had managed to get the Avalon underway.
  1606. >You’ve been led around by this ship for days.
  1607. >How much longer will it be guiding you?
  1608. >You know it isn’t leading you in circles, because it’s always been on a northwestern path.
  1609. >But you can’t help but shake the feeling that this is like an angler fish.
  1610. >The ship could be leading you straight to the slaughter.
  1611. >However that possibility is just that- a possibility.
  1612. >Taking a deep breath, you walk over to the starboard side of the ship.
  1613. >You inspect the horizon, watching the endless ocean.
  1614. >It’s pretty cloudy today; sunlight only rarely peeks out,
  1615. >But the waters are fairly calm.
  1616. >It’s actually a bit beautiful.
  1617. >In a ‘deadly uncharted expanse’ kind of way.
  1618. >You let out a small sigh, and prepare to turn back to your duties.
  1619. >Need to make sure some of the knots are secure.
  1620. >But you immediately stop as your surroundings start to change.
  1621. >Fog is rolling in.
  1622.  
  1623. >…
  1624. >Your eyes slowly start to open.
  1625. >Rolling over, you look at the map of Equestria on your ceiling.
  1626. >As you look up at the cities and roads, you get a strange feeling in your gut.
  1627. >You shuffle yourself over to the side of your bed and start to get up.
  1628. >As soon as you get onto your hooves, you feel dizzy.
  1629. >Pacing around the room a bit helps you to find your legs.
  1630. >As you go over to look out of your window, you feel a terrible headache surface.
  1631. >It feels like somepony just shot a cannon off inside of your skull.
  1632. >You don’t really feel up to it, but you have to go check out the city.
  1633. >This is your first day in this fake Crystal Empire.
  1634. >It can’t be real.
  1635. >You’ve got to be in a dream or a coma.
  1636. >… or you’re dead.
  1637. >But you don’t think the dead can get headaches, so that’s a plus.
  1638. >As you look down into the city below, you get a strange feeling.
  1639. >It’s like you’ve walked those streets already.
  1640. >Not the streets of the Crystal Empire, you feel like you walked the streets of this fake one before.
  1641. >But this is your first ‘day’ here.
  1642. >You wandered an empty void for who knows how long, and arrived here before you went to sleep.
  1643. >You’re not sure exactly how much time has passed, because the sun hasn’t moved an inch.
  1644. >It’s sometime around noon.
  1645. >And it has been for weeks.
  1646. >What?
  1647. >Why did you just think that?
  1648.  
  1649. >You shake your head.
  1650. >Probably just the headache.
  1651. >Well you better get down there.
  1652. >Reaching out to open the door to the balcony, the feeling of having done this before returns.
  1653. >You stop your hoof before it can touch the door.
  1654. >No.
  1655. >There’s no proper through process as to why, but you don’t open up the balcony.
  1656. >Instead, you turn and begin walking to the door to your room.
  1657. >You’ll take the stairs.
  1658. >Stepping out into the empty hallway, you begin heading for the stairs.
  1659. >Something feels wrong.
  1660. >On an incredibly base level.
  1661. >Like you’ve upset some kind of cosmic order.
  1662. >Stepping into the stairwell, a sense of immense dread overtakes you.
  1663. >It’s almost palpable.
  1664. >Without thinking, you move towards the stairs leading downwards.
  1665. >Wait.
  1666. >The top of the spire.
  1667. >You don’t know why you are thinking about it, but the thought of it provokes a vague feeling of importance.
  1668. >But the stairs downwards are almost calling to you.
  1669. >Like you NEED to go walk through the empty streets.
  1670. >Like that is the only thing you ever have to do.
  1671. >You slowly start to turn around, and you can feel your body lurch slightly backwards, towards the stairs downward.
  1672. >The first few steps towards the upward stairs are incredibly slow.
  1673. >Almost like you have to wade through a pool of syrup that’s up to your ears.
  1674. >And with each step, you feel yourself more open to moving away.
  1675. >But with each step, you feel your headache flare slightly.
  1676.  
  1677. >After getting past a floor or two, you feel yourself freed entirely from the pull downward.
  1678. >Also your headache died down slightly, and you no longer feel dizzy.
  1679. >Overall, you feel reinvigorated.
  1680. >Stretching out your wings, you prepare to fly up the rest of the way.
  1681. >…
  1682. >You’re here.
  1683. >The top of the spire.
  1684. >But why?
  1685. >Then it hits you.
  1686. >It isn’t your headache, but a shock shoots through your skull.
  1687. >And you remember everything.
  1688. >Everything.
  1689. >All of what happened leading up to your imprisonment.
  1690. >And every single day that was lost in this fake Crystal Empire.
  1691. >But then a distinctively different feeling goes through your head.
  1692. >Less of a shock and more of a crush.
  1693. >And then it was all gone…
  1694. >You’re here.
  1695. >At the top of the spire.
  1696. >But why?
  1697. >Nothing comes to mind.
  1698. >A wave of exhaustion hits you, and your eyes start to droop.
  1699. >You desperately need rest.
  1700. >Well, time to start the walk down the stairs to your room.
  1701. >…
  1702. >At long last, after a long day of walking through the city, you are back in your room.
  1703. >You had over to your bed, and let yourself collapse into it.
  1704. >It was so strange.
  1705. >All of those empty houses.
  1706. >But it wasn’t just ponies missing.
  1707. >You saw dog houses without dog, wasp nests without wasps, and ant hills without ants…
  1708. >Only you didn’t…
  1709. >Today you went up to the top of the spire.
  1710. >Then you got tired.
  1711. >But weren’t you only awake for an hour or so, if that?
  1712. >Your eyes slowly begin to close.
  1713. >And you hear a strange scurrying noise coming from the hallway.
  1714. >But that is all forgotten as you drift off to sle-
  1715. “NO!”
  1716. >Not this time.
  1717.  
  1718. >…
  1719. >You just stood there on deck.
  1720. >Looking at the fog.
  1721. >it’s just normal fog.
  1722. >The ship is still moving, the waters below have not become still, and although visibility is drastically reduced, you still have a couple hundred feet of vision.
  1723. >It’s not ‘The Fog’ it’s just fog.
  1724. >Okay…
  1725. >It’s just weather, right?
  1726. >But it did come in rather quickly.
  1727. >Dare you say, too quickly?
  1728. >You glance over at Tiara, who seems to be completely paralyzed.
  1729. “Hey.”
  1730. >She doesn’t move, her eyes just locked in a thousand yard stare into the distance.
  1731. “HEY!”
  1732. >She shakes her head back into reality.
  1733. >”Wha… what?”
  1734. “What do we do?”
  1735. >”I… We should bring in some sails. Keep moving but slow down.”
  1736. >Makes sense.
  1737. “Alright.”
  1738. >She remains at the wheel, attempting to keep the heading more or less the same.
  1739. >And you…
  1740. >You get ready to do more manual labor.
  1741. >You’re too old for this.
  1742. >…
  1743. >Your hoofsteps, as well as many others echo through the well-lit yet metallic hallways of the Prydwen.
  1744. >Fires would be too dangerous to use as a light source, so the interior of the ship has areas in the ceiling that hold (non-explosive) crystals that unicorns enchanted to produce light.
  1745. >You heard an engineer say that they should last for over two decades before needing replacements.
  1746. >In areas that need to be darkened, such as crew quarters, there are shutters that can be closed to darken the room, but the hallways are always lit.
  1747.  
  1748. “This entire ship is a technological and magical marvel.”
  1749. >”It certainly is… something.”
  1750. >Call responds as you walk alongside him.
  1751. “And to think that it takes a dozen specially trained unicorns just to keep it in the air.”
  1752. >There are over a thousand crewmembers, although around seven hundred are dedicated to the ship’s operations.
  1753. >The remainder of the crew is dedicated soldiers, but around five hundred more could be packed in if a ground force was needed in a strategic or tactical location.
  1754. >If she had a full complement, the Field Marshal could conquer a nation with this ship alone.
  1755. >Well it’s the Marshal, bad example.
  1756. >The point is that it’s ludicrously well-armed.
  1757. >The introduction of it onto the battlefield will either lead to peace in our time, or spark an arms race.
  1758. >You sincerely prefer the former.
  1759. >”Well, here we are.”
  1760. >A large set of double doors lie at the end of the hallway.
  1761. >The forward observation room.
  1762. >You see eight unicorns and four pegasi sitting at benches on either side of the hall next to the door.
  1763. >If you recall one of your talks with Brairheart, these are runners.
  1764. >They either fly to or teleport to different areas of the ship to relay orders from the ship’s commander.
  1765. >Anything from a broadside to a full stop is always just a teleport away.
  1766. >Well, time to see the Admiral.
  1767. >You approach and open the door.
  1768. >Stepping into the room, you see that about half of it is windows.
  1769. >The glass panes angle upward so that the ponies inside can have a one eighty degree view of the horizon and land below.
  1770. >”Ah, Major.”
  1771. >Brairheart looks at Call.
  1772. >”Thank you Corporal, you can wait outside.”
  1773. >”Sir.”
  1774. >You wait until the door is closed before speaking.
  1775. “She seems like fine ship, Sir.”
  1776.  
  1777. >”That she is. Although, I’m sure that Anonymous would use this room as his main bridge, I will not be. It’s a good view, but being one of the most forward areas of the ship, and protected by glass alone…”
  1778. “All it takes is a lucky shot to kill the commander.”
  1779. >”Still, it works well enough when in friendly skies.”
  1780. “It is quite the view.”
  1781. >”Personally I prefer the feeling of the wind. The enclosed space makes things much more…”
  1782. “Detached?”
  1783. >”Exactly.”
  1784. “I’m sure the combat performance will be well worth the lost romanticism.”
  1785. >”You know, that when Anon had me start construction on the air fleet, he prioritized this ship.”
  1786. “Wouldn’t it have been quicker to put a few older style ones together?”
  1787. >”It certainly would have been quicker. But when the order was given, he later came to me in private. At that time, we were assuming the worst: that against so many nations, the war would drag on for years. So we started work on this ship instead. A few older airships wouldn’t make that much of a difference, we thought that a new and vastly superior model, although there would only be one of them, would be much more effective in breaking the will of our enemies.”
  1788. “Then he went and won the war in a couple of months.”
  1789.  
  1790. >”Excuse me a moment.”
  1791. >Brairheart goes over to the door, and opens it before speaking to a runner.
  1792. >”Get us moving on the pre-established heading. Move quickly, but don’t push the unicorns too hard, we have plenty of time to ease into higher speeds.”
  1793. >He then leaves the door open as he moves close to the front facing windows.
  1794. >Outside, you hear a pop as a unicorn teleports away.
  1795. >”It’s funny actually.”
  1796. >You walk over next to him, looking at Canterlot below.
  1797. >”We build the greatest weapon of war ever imagined, only to have it completed at a time it might never be used for that purpose. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing, but it is still rather ironic.”
  1798. “I suppose it is.”
  1799. >You feel the ship lurching to life, as the view starts shifting from Canterlot to the valley below.
  1800. >Smooth ride.
  1801. >Well, smoother than expected.
  1802. >This is it.
  1803. >You’ll be back into the fight soon enough.
  1804.  
  1805. >…
  1806. >You start to rise from your bed, fighting off the immense urge to sleep.
  1807. >No matter what happens, you can’t allow this cycle to continue.
  1808. >As you start walking away from your bed, you feel the desire to rest drifting from you.
  1809. >You attempt to make as little noise as possible, carefully setting down your hooves as you step.
  1810. >What is that noise?
  1811. >As you reach the door, you stop to listen.
  1812. >At first you could hear a slight tapping against the ground.
  1813. >But that stopped once you approached.
  1814. >Now you can hear a kind of whispering.
  1815. >You can’t pick out any specifics, it’s just sounds.
  1816. >But the tone is what frightens you.
  1817. >It doesn’t sound like a pony’s voice, instead it’s semi-disembodied.
  1818. >Like it’s speaking directly into your ear.
  1819. >And it sounds almost melodic, less like a voice and more like the sound of waves hitting a beach.
  1820. >You have a bad feeling about this.
  1821. >Reaching out to grab the handle, you open the door.
  1822. >The hallway is empty.
  1823. >You peek out your head and look both ways.
  1824. >Not a soul to be seen.
  1825. “Hello?”
  1826. >Stepping out into the hall, you hear the door slammed behind you.
  1827. >You jumped at least five feet forward as it impacts.
  1828. >You also may have let out an incredibly undignified scream.
  1829. >Turning back to face your door, you approach it and try to open it.
  1830. >It won’t budge.
  1831. >You have a very bad feeling about this.
  1832.  
  1833. >In the corner of your eye, you could have sworn you just saw movement.
  1834. >Though when you turn, the hallway is as empty as it always is.
  1835. >But you thought you saw something right in that doorway…
  1836. >And that doorway is the access to the stairs.
  1837. >You walk slowly towards the stairwell, taking care to listen for any noises other than your hoofsteps.
  1838. >You even glanced over your shoulder a few times.
  1839. >But you can hear and see nothing.
  1840. >Stepping into the (empty) stairwell, you stop and listen.
  1841. >It’s very distant, but you can hear voices echoing up from below.
  1842. >Actual voices.
  1843. >So you begin following them.
  1844. >They lead you down many flights of stairs.
  1845. >With each step you take, you hear your hoofsteps echo through the stairwell.
  1846. >It’s only now that you realize how loud the spire was.
  1847. >Back in the real world, that is.
  1848. >At any hour, you could hear hoofsteps and voice echo through the crystal structure.
  1849. >It was an ambient commotion that was always constant.
  1850. >To have it so quiet is just wrong.
  1851. >It’s unsettling.
  1852. >There’s no other way to describe it.
  1853. >…
  1854. >The voices led you down, and eventually you stood at the entrance to the throne room.
  1855. >The double doors are shut, and you can hear voices coming from behind them.
  1856. >You still can’t pick out any words though.
  1857. >Well, you’ve come this far.
  1858. >There’s no turning back.
  1859. >You open up one of the doors and look into the throne room.
  1860. >At the far end of the room, in the throne itself, you see-
  1861. >”Flurry!”
  1862. “Mom?”
  1863.  
  1864. >…
  1865. >The fog has cut off your view of the sun, but as time passed, you could tell that it was nearing sundown.
  1866. >For the better part of the day, you’ve been inching along.
  1867. >Neither you nor Tiara has said much in the past hours.
  1868. >After you got most of the sails tied back up, there wasn’t much more to say.
  1869. >All either of you can do is to watch and wait.
  1870. “It’ll be dark soon.”
  1871. >”Keep going, just a little longer.”
  1872. >That was the most conversation you’ve had since the fog rolled in.
  1873. >You were standing on the poop deck, leaning on the starboard side railing.
  1874. >Deciding to get a better view, you start walking down the stairs in front of you.
  1875. >Once on the main deck, you make your way to the bow of the ship.
  1876. >As you pace over the empty ship, you look into the fog directly ahead.
  1877. >When you reach the front of the ship, you stop to listen.
  1878. >You hear nothing but the sound of waves against the ship and on the open ocean.
  1879. >No…
  1880. >There’s something more.
  1881. >The waves sound like…
  1882. >Like they’re crashing against something more than the side of the ship.
  1883. >Kaw.
  1884. >Was that a-
  1885. >You see a seagull land on the tip of the ship’s bow.
  1886. >And the sound of crashing waves is getting closer.
  1887. >You can just make something out in the fog ahead.
  1888. >CLIFF.
  1889. “HARD TO STARBOARD!”
  1890. >You yell down the deck to Tiara.
  1891. >She stays motionless for a moment, and then realizes what’s happening.
  1892. >As she starts cranking the wheel, you feel the ship lurch to the side.
  1893. >You can do nothing but watch as the ship approaches the jagged rock face.
  1894. >If more sails were open, you would have already crashed into it, but even with how slow you were going, it’ll be close.
  1895. >You watch as the ship starts coming around, still moving towards the cliff from momentum.
  1896. >Due to how the ship was tilted while turning, you hear the end of one of the masts scrape against the stone.
  1897. >But, the ship soon settles out parallel to the cliff side.
  1898. >And you let out a sigh of relief.
  1899.  
  1900. >Turning back to inspect the cliff, you see that it is about as tall as your ship is.
  1901. >And it only seems to be a couple hundred feet long.
  1902. >You can see either end of the cliff through the fog.
  1903. >The odds of hitting it are… improbable.
  1904. >To say the least.
  1905. “Keep going, I want to see what’s on the other side!”
  1906. >”Alright, but after that we need to drop anchor until the fog clears! We don’t know if there are any other outcroppings we could hit!”
  1907. “Agreed!”
  1908. >As the ship starts peaking around the corner of the cliff, you hear Tiara call out:
  1909. >”What do you see?”
  1910. >Looking to the island, you see a rocky beach.
  1911. >A small strip of sand with lots of rocky outcroppings.
  1912. >You can slow see what looks to be the mouth of a cave.
  1913. >And bits of shattered wood.
  1914. >Wreckage to be exact.
  1915. >Someone’s ship wasn’t as lucky as yours.
  1916. “A beach with some wreckage from a ship scattered about it! There’s also a cave!”
  1917. >”Get over here, we need to drop anchor!”
  1918. >…
  1919. >With the anchor down, and the remaining sails tied up, you spoke to Tiara:
  1920. “Prep a longboat; we’re going to explore the island tonight.”
  1921. >”Why should I prep the longboat?”
  1922. “Because I need to get properly equipped. We don’t know what could be in those caves, and I’d rather not sleep while anchored so close to them.”
  1923. >With that, you went below deck to take a look through your things.
  1924.  
  1925. >…
  1926. >Your sword was already on your left hip.
  1927. >Breast plate, check.
  1928. >Dagger next to your sword, check.
  1929. >Left boot knife, check.
  1930. >Right boot knife, check.
  1931. >Kukri under your left arm, check.
  1932. >Machete over your right shoulder, check.
  1933. >Bowie knife on you right thigh, check.
  1934. >You think you can go without the hatchet.
  1935. >But just to be safe…
  1936. >Hatchet on your right thigh, check.
  1937. >Before you head out of the lowest deck, you grabbed a torch from the ship’s storage.
  1938. >Time to get back to Tiara, there’s precious little daytime left.
  1939. >…
  1940. >You find her ready to enter a longboat.
  1941. >She’s wearing her ornately red naval officer’s coat.
  1942. >And she has a gilded cutlass at her side.
  1943. >She takes a look at your equipment.
  1944. >”If you really try I think you could lug a cannon with you.”
  1945. “Don’t tempt me.”
  1946. >You offer your hand to help her into the longboat.
  1947. >Then once she’s settled, you work your way into it as well.
  1948. >You don’t like leaving the ship alone.
  1949. >But when it’s either that or splitting up…
  1950.  
  1951. >…
  1952. >You feel a strange wave overtake you, and you stagger slightly.
  1953. >Why were you surprised at seeing your mom in the throne?
  1954. >She’s always there.
  1955. >You glance behind yourself to see a cleaning pony mopping an area of the floor.
  1956. >To either side of you are two guards.
  1957. >”Did you sleep well last night?”
  1958. >Your mother asks from the other end of the throne room.
  1959. >You begin walking towards her, past the other on duty guards.
  1960. “I suppose I did. My bed is a bit too soft for my liking.”
  1961. >”I thought you loved soft beds.”
  1962. “Yeah, but it feels too soft now. My back would feel a lot better if my bed was firmer.”
  1963. >”Well it should be easy to get a new mattress for you. We’ll talk about it later.”
  1964. “So, what’s on the schedule for today?”
  1965. >”Oh nothing you need to worry about sweetie. Just some day to day stuff.”
  1966. “You know I can help with the paper work.”
  1967. >”Yes, but you deserve to live your own life. You’re still young, enjoy it while you can.”
  1968. “Oh are we both still going on that trip to Canterlot in a few weeks?”
  1969. >”Unless something big comes up, yes.”
  1970. “Great, when I was down there last I went to this restaurant that you would love.”
  1971. >A side door to the throne room is opened and you hear a voice call out:
  1972. >”Where’s my little girl?”
  1973. >Was that…
  1974. >For the slightest moment, you are shaken free of the role that you’re playing.
  1975. >You realize that this isn’t real.
  1976. >But why would they now add in other ponies?
  1977. >Why your mother?
  1978. >And why…
  1979. “Dad?”
  1980.  
  1981. >…
  1982. >”Sir, the next shift has just taken over.”
  1983. >A runner says after entering the observation room.
  1984. >Brairheart responds:
  1985. >”Good, let them and the next shift continue to move at a comfortable pace. Once every team has had a go with it, we’ll be accelerating to proper speeds.”
  1986. “Sir.”
  1987. >The runner teleports out after a salute.
  1988. >After a day of exploring the ship, you were with Brairheart in the observation room.
  1989. >He had a table brought in close to the front most windows, so you are currently sitting with him.
  1990. >You have a cup of coffee, and the Admiral is sipping at some tea.
  1991. >The sun should be setting any minute now.
  1992. >”So.”
  1993. >Brairheart starts.
  1994. >”What do you think of the ship?”
  1995. “It’s certainly a sight. A bit cramped in certain areas, but most ships are anyway. Really, words don’t properly do it justice.”
  1996. >”No they don’t.”
  1997. >He takes a sip of his tea.
  1998. >”Well, we should reach the ocean in three more days if the unicorns have the endurance.”
  1999. “And how far past that are you willing to risk taking us?”
  2000. >”I’ll go halfway across the ocean, but no further. Anything past that you’ll have to fly yourself.”
  2001. “Understood.”
  2002. >”Oh, and If you haven’t already seen it, at the very stern of the ship’s third deck, there is an officer’s lounge tucked away at the end of the hall.”
  2003. “I’ll be sure to drop by. I spent hours exploring the ship and barely covered two thirds of it.”
  2004. >”It’s at the very end of the hall, to the right of it is a small library and on the left is a gym.”
  2005. “So she was built for the long run? Figured the ponies on board would need their own facilities for R&R?”
  2006. >”Something like that.”
  2007. >He glances out the window, and then offers a toast with his mug.
  2008. >The sun had just set over the horizon.
  2009. >”First day of her maiden voyage.”
  2010. >You reciprocate the toast.
  2011. “Cheers.”
  2012.  
  2013. >…
  2014. >After rowing the longboat to the small and rocky shore, you got out and lugged it onto solid ground.
  2015. >Don’t want the waves taking it away.
  2016. >While Tiara exited the boat, you grabbed your torch.
  2017. >Reaching into your pocket, you grab a matchbook and start to light it.
  2018. >”Anon.”
  2019. “What?”
  2020. >Once the torch is lit, you look over to her.
  2021. >She’s looking behind a rock.
  2022. >When you walk over to see her point of view, you see what’s behind it.
  2023. >The boulder stopped you from seeing it from the ship.
  2024. >A pony’s skeleton.
  2025. >An old and rusted axe is lying next to it.
  2026. >You approach to check the bones for any signs of injury.
  2027. >Cuts, cracks, or teeth marks.
  2028. >But at a quick glance, it looks undamaged.
  2029. “Starved, maybe dehydrated.”
  2030. >”How do you know?”
  2031. “I don’t, but there are no visible wounds.”
  2032. >”So what now?”
  2033. >You look to the mouth of the cave.
  2034. >It lies up a ten foot high glacis, leading into the rock.
  2035. >It’ll be close quarters.
  2036. >You start to unlatch the kukri under your shoulder, and heft it into your right hand.
  2037. “Now, we go the only way there is.”
  2038. >You approach the mouth of the cave, looking at the dark brown of the stone.
  2039. “Walk next to me, and stay in my peripheral vision at all times.”
  2040. >You glance over your shoulder to watch as Tiara takes a position on your left.
  2041. >Then raising the torch in your left hand, you begin to enter into the darkness.
  2042. >You had prepared yourself for a long night of tunnel clearing.
  2043. >But not even five steps into the cave, and you could see a light at the end of it.
  2044.  
  2045. >You continue down the cramped corridor before coming into the opening.
  2046. >It’s open to the sky, and you can see the dark orange of sunset clearly.
  2047. >With no fog in the way.
  2048. >The opening is built like a crater, with a small lake in the center at the lowest point.
  2049. >It’s a steep decline, made mainly of small mesas that form flat areas in the rock.
  2050. >You’re maybe halfway between the mouth of the crater and the pond at the bottom.
  2051. >The cave you came from seems to be the only entrance.
  2052. >Carved into the mesas are narrow staircases that connect them.
  2053. >One many of them you can see old crates and barrels.
  2054. >And even more skeletons.
  2055. >You don’t have time to check them all, but easily over a hundred.
  2056. >As you turn around to look at the side above you, you notice something.
  2057. >At the top of the south side of the crater, you think you can see a doorway carved into the rock.
  2058. >”What is this place?”
  2059. >You take note as the last vestiges of sunlight go from the sky.
  2060. “I don’t know. But I don’t like it.”
  2061. >You begin tracing the quickest path up to the doorway.
  2062. >As you begin making your way to the nearest set of stairs, you look over to Tiara.
  2063. “Stay close and watch your step.”
  2064. >The sky looked to be completely clear, so once the moon peaks over into the crater, you might not need the torch.
  2065. >Until then, its warm glow is what guides you up the steep climb.
  2066. >Strange.
  2067. >The stairs are tall, even for you.
  2068. >Ponies usually make stairs slightly shorter than you were used to.
  2069. >That means that ponies likely didn’t carve them.
  2070. >Or they were just very tall ponies.
  2071.  
  2072. >When you arrive at the top of the stairs and mesas, you look into the doorway.
  2073. >No actual door.
  2074. >The ceiling is about eight feet high, and it’s around six feet wide.
  2075. >Raising the torch up to the top of the arch, you see several letters carved into the stone.
  2076. >It looks vaguely like a mix between Latin and Cyrillic script, however like in Sanskrit, the letters are tied together with a line atop them to differentiate individual words.
  2077. >”What is it?”
  2078. >Tiara asks as she sees you studying the text.
  2079. >”What language is that?”
  2080. “It looks like Old Minotauric, but I don’t recognize the dialect. Older than anything I’ve studied, you can tell the age by how angular the letters are and that they still have the line stringing words together, they dropped the line seven or eight centuries ago.”
  2081. >”How do you even know that?”
  2082. “No, it was nine centuries ago they stopped using lines.”
  2083. >”Hey!”
  2084. “Sorry. In my first decade here, I made it a point to study other languages.”
  2085. >”Why?”
  2086. >Back in the day, you planned to be a historian.
  2087. >It’s what you were going into back on Earth.
  2088. >The army was just to earn a wage, and seeing as there was almost no conflict you thought you’d be able to retire quickly.
  2089. >Well that was part of the reason you joined.
  2090. >The real reason you ended up as a soldier was because…
  2091. >Well that’s a story you’d rather not get into now.
  2092. >That is something you never actually told anyone in this world.
  2093. >But you studied languages in your spare time to help further that eventual goal.
  2094. >Then conflict became a reality of this world.
  2095. >You glance at Tiara, who is waiting for an answer.
  2096.  
  2097. “I don’t like to rely on translators when we capture enemy documents. Back in a conflict with the Minotaurs they had a general who sent his orders exclusively in a thousand year old version of their language. They had hoped that if any orders were intercepted, they would take a considerable amount of time to translate before having their codes cracked. That’s a story for another day, but in that conflict I studied the history of the language, and once it was over I did similarly for other languages.”
  2098. >”So what does it say?”
  2099. “Like I said, I don’t recognize the dialect. In order I can pick out ‘temple’, ‘holy, and ‘to have given up always’. But that’s only a few of the words.”
  2100. >”To have given up always?”
  2101. “That’s what the suffixes equate to. Also there might also be an ‘eternal’ in there, but it could also mean ‘never’ or ‘toilet’.”
  2102. >”Eternal, never, or TOILET?”
  2103. “Depending on the exact region it predates, yes.”
  2104. >”So we found their holy bathroom?”
  2105. >You can’t tell if she was joking.
  2106. “One way to tell.”
  2107. >You begin to walk through the arch.
  2108. >The hallway’s walls, floor, and ceiling are all perfectly flat.
  2109. >Whoever carved it out obviously spent a great amount of effort to make it perfect.
  2110. >After twenty or so feet, the hall opens up into a room.
  2111. >On the far side of the room, some moonlight is coming in to it.
  2112.  
  2113. >You begin pacing around the room, observing its build.
  2114. >There is a rectangular opening that lets you overlook the horizon.
  2115. >Two pillars, both made of un-carved rock identical to the cliff side, are five feet from each other look to support the opening.
  2116. >They are tall though, you would place the opening’s dimensions as eight high by fourteen long.
  2117. >And it’s only a foot or so off of the ground, that doesn’t leave much room for error if you were to trip into it.
  2118. >The ceiling looks to be twelve feet high, and the walls are all roughly thirty feet long.
  2119. >And maybe seven feet from the window lays an altar.
  2120. >A solid slab of rectangular stone.
  2121. >Completely unmarked.
  2122. >And in the northeast corner of the room, another pony skeleton can be seen.
  2123. >This one has a tattered coat around it’s bones.
  2124. “What strikes you about this room?”
  2125. >”Good vantage point for overlooking the ocean. Might be for a religious purpose. No toilet…”
  2126. “What about the ocean?”
  2127. >”What about it?”
  2128. “There’s no fog.”
  2129. >”Just like in the crater…”
  2130. >You return to the entrance to the hallway.
  2131. “We should head back to the ship and get some rest. It would be better to look around in the morning, now that we know there’s nothing lurking in the caves.”
  2132. >…
  2133. >The trip down the crater was uneventful, and you soon got back to the cave leading to the exterior.
  2134. >As you stepped out of that cave, you could see the ship and your longboat.
  2135. >Both untouched.
  2136. >But, you can also see the Fog.
  2137. >Not normal fog.
  2138. >The Fog.
  2139. >It’s much thicker, and you can see that the water is completely still.
  2140.  
  2141. >…
  2142. “So, I think that whatever caused the Fog and took the crew originated from here.”
  2143. >You continue to remove the weapons you had equipped.
  2144. >”It’s been too long since the Fog had set in… I think it wanted us to come here.”
  2145. >”It wanted us here?”
  2146. >Tiara asks from the other side of the cabin.
  2147. “Whatever caused it does. Back during one of the earliest times that the Fog rolled in, something large could be seen just out of visibility. Then I saw the empty ship go past more recently. I think that the first object was the ship, and that it’s the same ship I saw, and that it’s the same ship that led us in this direction.”
  2148. >Tiara points to where she keeps the copies of all know reports from the East.
  2149. >”That still doesn’t explain why nopony has ever encountered anything like this. At least two dozen ships had returned from going through this region, and no mention of any fog beyond what is natural.”
  2150. >You unhook your armor and set it down on the ground with your weapons.
  2151. “You haven’t been feeling any symptoms like the others felt, have you?”
  2152. >”No.”
  2153. “Well, you should get some rest.”
  2154. >”You aren’t?”
  2155. “Someone should be on watch. And I can go three or four days before feeling any serious fatigue. Go on, I’ll be fine.”
  2156. >At your insistence, Tiara agreed to rest.
  2157. >Leaving you in the corner of the cabin.
  2158. >As she settles into her bed, you take your sword off of your belt.
  2159. >You draw the blade, and set the sheathe to stand against the wall next to you.
  2160. >And you then sit in the corner chair, leaving your hand on the grip of your sword as you place the point against the ground.
  2161. >At a moment’s notice you could flip your sword around and be ready to go.
  2162. >Hours start to fly by as you sit, waiting for anything to happen.
  2163. >While you wait, your mind starts going through possibilities.
  2164.  
  2165. >You think that you can safely rule out that the Fog is a natural phenomenon.
  2166. >Someone has got to be behind it.
  2167. >Or something…
  2168. >But let’s go off of what you have been able to gather from this island so far.
  2169. >From the inside of crater at the center of it, no fog is visible: neither normal fog like you encountered today, nor the unnatural Fog that has been plaguing the ship for the past week.
  2170. >The writings you found carved into the rock would seem to indicate that ancient minotaurs once were here.
  2171. >But it’s unclear if they actually carved the structure out of the rock; there isn’t much in the way of architecture to indicate who actually built it.
  2172. >Either way, they still used the island for something religious, the text and the presence of an altar collaborate that theory.
  2173. >Speaking of the altar, it was a good enough size to hold a body on it for sacrifice…
  2174. >Could this all be some sort of ancient spell?
  2175. >An archaic curse placed on the island by the minotaurs?
  2176. >It’s possible, but you’ve never heard of any kind of minotaur magic.
  2177. >And all of the skeletons here are of ponies.
  2178. >There’s no evidence that any minotaurs died here.
  2179. >What happened to them?
  2180. >And why would they want to steal the crew of a ship through magic?
  2181. >You still have no idea what’s happening here.
  2182. >But why?
  2183. >Over the centuries, dozens, maybe hundreds of ships have passed close enough to here to get caught in the Fog.
  2184. >Why is there no record?
  2185. >Either they never made it back after being caught by the Fog, or…
  2186. >Or something about this particular ship is unique.
  2187.  
  2188. >The thing that is most obvious is you.
  2189. >You are unique to the world.
  2190. >But how could some age old curse specifically target you?
  2191. >And besides, magic doesn’t work on you.
  2192. >That leaves Lady Tiara.
  2193. >But what’s special about her?
  2194. >Nothing as far as you know.
  2195. >She isn’t the first pony in the navy to get a position due to family connections.
  2196. >What could possibly set her aside from any of the hundreds of ponies that went through this area over the years?
  2197. >If that question doesn’t have an answer, then you need a new question.
  2198. >Could it be something with the ship itself?
  2199. >As far as you know it’s just an ordinary frigate.
  2200. >Something it’s carrying?
  2201. >You’d have to check the full manifest, but you don’t think there are any artifacts or something similar that would get targeted.
  2202. >You lean back in your chair slightly.
  2203. >It’s well into the night now.
  2204. >As you listen, you find it to be silent outside.
  2205. >Well, aside from the odd seagull call.
  2206. >Letting time go by, your thoughts soon shift towards more personal matters.
  2207.  
  2208. >You’ve made your peace.
  2209. >You don’t come back from this voyage.
  2210. >But if that’s the case, why do you keep telling yourself that you’ve made your peace…
  2211. >You’d suppose that’s because there isn’t much to do other that reiterate old thoughts.
  2212. >Not much else to do after all.
  2213. >You came out here to protect your little girl, and that’s what you’re going to do.
  2214. >You wonder what she’s going through right now.
  2215. >Is she even aware that her mind has been overtaken by… something.
  2216. >Once she’s free, will she remember anything past when her mind was fully controlled?
  2217. >Or will she remember every moment she laid in that cell- all that suffering?
  2218. >God, you hope that she doesn’t.
  2219. >Well, you should probably try to think of something else.
  2220. >At a guess, it’s around midnight.
  2221. >Normally when waiting through the night, you would listen to your surroundings.
  2222. >To crickets chirping or waves crashing against a beach.
  2223. >But here on this ship, there’s nothing.
  2224. >No, it’s not nothing.
  2225. >You can hear something.
  2226. >What is that noise?
  2227. >You stand from the chair, and walk over to the door.
  2228. >There’s definitely something in the air.
  2229. >You open up the door and inspect the deck.
  2230. >The ship is empty and Fog obstructs your view.
  2231. >But when you listen very carefully, you can hear…
  2232. >Is that singing?
  2233. >Not an individual, it’s a group.
  2234. >And it sounds eerily familiar.
  2235. >It sounds almost like a ship’s crew is singing a sea shanty in the distance.
  2236. >You can’t make out any words though.
  2237. >Glancing back to Tiara, who is sound asleep, you weigh your options.
  2238. >Investigate and leave her alone, or stay with her.
  2239. >You sigh lowly.
  2240. >Before closing the door and returning to your seat.
  2241. >You can’t risk her disappearing too.
  2242. >As you sit down, you prepare yourself to endure the unknown noise in the distance.
  2243. >You’re getting the feeling you’d get while waiting for an enemy to charge in the night.
  2244. >And much to your discomfort, the singing would remain in the air for hours to come.

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