Flare's world was pain, he was barely conscious, and he couldn't tell where he was or if anypony was with him. Clanky and Zephyr could have been in the same room and he'd never know. He had been blindfolded since he got to where ever he was he had no idea how long it had been. All he knew was it was dark, cold and damp beyond the pain... the pain was always with him. Another blow landed on the side of his head, scattering his thoughts, desperately trying to find some sort of purchase to continue forming. He was no longer himself, no longer a pony just a sobbing pile of cuts, gashes, bruises, burns, hunger and cold.
He only rested when exhaustion overtook him completely and his body shut down, but a guard was along quickly to beat him and wake him again. They pumped loud sounds, music, and flashing lights in to his cell at random, disorienting him and at times driving him mad with odd sounds and rhythms. Or other... more "directed things" were the worst of it as far as Flare could tell when he could actually process anything. Barbs and hooks designed to tear in to the mind of any one who heard them.
The hook that finally broke him was crying of a little filly asking where her daddy was., wondering why he hadn't come home yet. Telling him things were horrible at home, and that bad ponies had hurt mommy. Flare never had a child and was never married, but deep down his primal instincts stirred, terrorizing him. A foal was being hurt. He could hear her, again and again, crying, explaining the horrible things happening to her and her mother, pleading for help, help Flare could only wish to give, helpless in his binds, far away from home. Flare’s uselessness tore at him, stripping away the last vestiges of his mental stability, until finally all that was left was an empty husk that used to be Flare.
They dragged him from his cell and threw him in to another room. A measured calm voice asked him a couple questions. Flare could barely understand what was going on and he sobbed out.
“I... I don’t know.”
Wrong answer. A brutally sharp set of talons grabbed him by the neck and shoved his head in a trough of ice water, pulling him out as he began to drown. Voices came at him from all sides, demanding that he talk, demanding that he tell them everything but Flare couldn't even process what they wanted. Back in to the water drowning again, the cold tearing at his skin just as brutally as the talons of the guards. Back out, the same demands, the same struggle and inability to comprehend. Back in to the water, again, and again... but this time Flare didn't come out the water, didn’t feel the air return to his lungs. Everything just... faded, to an even darker black.
Cell - Location Unknown
Clanky was trying to tend to Zephyr's nuemerous wounds. The female pegasus had taken the bulk of the damage for the two of them because she was an officer. They simply assumed Clanky didn't know anything useful and beat her merely to keep themselves amused. Zephyr, on the other hand, was now nursing a second broken wing. and a d half her body was bruised. What wasn't bruised was clawed and stabbed. They'd finally thrown her in with Clanky about what Clanky was thinking of as two days ago. She was trying to keep track by meal rotation but it was the same food every time the guard showed up... when they did actually bother feeding her.
She was starting to wear down even as she worked to dress Zeph's latest wounds with what little she had to hoof. Clanky knew her mental breaking point was coming. It was just one thing after another--the sleep, the food, the cold, the isolation before and now the inability to really do anything for Zephyr. She barely had enough filthy pieces of rag to dress her wounds, much less actually help her recover a little bit. Then there was Flare... what was happening to him? Where was he? Clanky would give anything to know... no matter how bad the news might be...
The key turned in the lock and Clanky's heart hardened. They were coming for Zephyr again, those hook-beaked bastards.
'Not this time.'
Clanky drew the wounded mare behind her and tried to compose herself, setting herself at whatever came through the door. Ready to at least put up a little bit of a struggle, a little bit of a fight. Anything to take some of the pain and focus off her friend, if only for a minute. The door swung open and instead of the expected guard, the broken orange body of a pegasus was flung through the door. A wracked sob caught in her chest as the door slammed closed again.
Clanky rushed to what appeared to be the corpse of her... friend, her heart falling.
"Oh please be okay, please Flare."
She nuzzled him tenderly but insistently, trying to provoke any kind of response from the shattered stallion. A groan of pain escaped his muzzle and his eyelids fluttered.
"Ugh... Cl...Clanky? Is that... you? My vision’s all fuzzy... they told me you were dead..."
Clanky pulled Flare tight to her.
"Well I'm not... we're here, Zephyr too, we're all..."
The word "safe" or "okay" died on her tongue as she gently rocked the pegasus in her arms. Willing the world to change for the better for them all.
"We're all here... and that's just got to be enough for now."
Cell - Location Unknown
Time Unknown - Two Weeks (estimated) hence
Where Zephyr was shattered mostly in body, as time went on Clanky found that most of the damage to Flare's body was incidental. Perhaps because of how Zephyr had stood up to the purely physical methods of interrogation, they had focused on breaking Flare's mind. The nightmares were terrifying for Flare and for her as she held him, his body writhing and shaking, sobs coming out of nowhere. Zephyr didn't notice, though; she'd been sleeping a lot the past few weeks, whether it was to recover strength or because her body just couldn't support active function any more. Clanky didn't know but she was very worried about her friend.
Another couple days passed with the usual feeding and otherwise being ignored by the guards, who apparently didn't even find beating them as amusing anymore, but then something odd happened. Zephyr and Flare were both asleep huddled next to Clanky, the three of them doing their best to share body heat against the unfeeling northern winters. The guard's talons sounded on the stones outside, which seemed normal enough for a feeding time, but the guard called out for her-- which hadn't happened before.
"Psst... hey pony... come here."
Clanky wearily got up and walked cautiously towards the door.
'Wonder what cruelty they want to inflict on us now?'
A plate loaded with three or four times the usual rations was shoved through the slot, followed by a small, cloth-wrapped packet.
"Pony... you have no reason to trust me, but be ready."
Clanky was really confused now... what the hell was the guard doing?
"Ready for what?"
"You'll see, and soon. The rulers of our respective countries send their regards."
And with that, the griffon peered through the barred window and gave Clanky a little wink, vanishing down the corridor as if nothing out of the ordinary routine had happened. Clanky quickly opened the cloth packet, revealing an Equestrian-styled combat knife, a small SAR burst GPS transmitter like the ones used by ERSI agents in the field, a small bundle of medicines with easily destructible casings and most importantly a Lunar seal burned in to the cloth. Clanky was excited now and quickly roused her companions to apply medicine, inject some small doses of antibiotics, and share out the food. More important, though, was the seal, and the intent of their mysterious benefactor.
Flare was instantly suspicious of the whole thing. The battered pegasus was slowly coming back to himself after the long period of torture he'd been subjected to, but it took this small event to really bring him back. Clanky could tell his spirit was slowly rekindling, even though he was expecting it all to be a horrible trap.
"Clanky, we can't trust this bird brain... we need to escape on our own."
"Flare, he had a cloth with a magically inscribed royal seal-- Princess Luna's no less.Tthere's no possible way he could have gotten ahold of something like that with out being sent by somepony friendly to us..."
Zephyr spoke up from her corner.
"Ugh... he also greeted us for both nations’ monarchs... sounds like he's an intelligence agent or something...."
"Dammnit... but he's a griffon!"
"Don't worry about it for now. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
Clanky gestured to the cell around them.
"Not that we have much of a choice at the moment right?"
368th Night Fighter Wing - Major Windsheer’s Office
The major was pissed off. There was no better way to say it. It'd been awhile since Cloud Dancer has seem him quite this mad... well, not counting Technical Corporal Doo's vanishing act. The intelligence analyst was obviously terrified of the wrath of the large stallion across the desk from him.
"You mean to goddessdamn tell me intelligence has known where two of my pilots as well as one of my airponies, who were previously reported KIA and MIA respectively are not only ALIVE--which their Celestia-blessed families would sure as the fires of hell love to goddessdamn hear about after I had to write their goddessdamned DEATH NOTICES--but that you have been WITHHOLDING THIS INFORMATION FROM ME!?"
Windsheer's hoof hammered the conference table with some serious force and it looked like he was about to come across the table, pummel the analyst, and then work his way up the intelligence chain of command until someone finally managed to stop him. MSgt Ironheart watched as the analyst cringed in fear.
'Damn intel weenies... I knew we couldn't trust them!'
The analyst, for his part, swallowed his terror.
"Major, the decision was made well above my level... it was considered necessary for mission operational security.That's why you're being told now... your wing and it's attached Marine unit are being sent to get them."
Captain Stormhoof, the Marine company commander, punched a hoof on to the desk.
"Outstanding! ‘Bout time we showed you flycolts what real fighting looks like."
The analyst just looked nervous.
"Ah yes... we've located the facility that Lord Claw styles "The Eagle's Nest". NGK Intelligence has one of their best field agents on scene-- he's going to assist our pilots in escaping. Your mission is to cause as much damage to the facility as possible, rescue our ponies on the ground, and effect the extraction of the NGK field agent. Killing Claw wouldn't break anypony's heart either."
The major's eyes sparkled.
"Hot damn! That's what I like to hear! Captain Cloud Dancer, round up the senior staff. Stormhoof do the same with your officers and SNCOs."
The ponies quickly rushed out of the room, grabbing up every bit of intelligence nearby. Ironheart could already be heard down the hallway, screaming at some hapless airpony to get a couple pots of coffee on the burner and go out for some doughnuts or something like that from the mess hall on the double. The intelligence analyst slumped against the wall and breathed a long sigh of relief. His part in this was finally over and he could get out of the way and back to the safety of his office.
"Celestia's hooves, they don't pay me enough for this..."
Marine Corps Barracks
Junior Enlisted Squad bay
Muck raced in to the squad bay at a dead sprint. He had the let the rest of the junior enlisted know what he'd just heard.
"Hey! Hey everypony! They’re alive!"
SSgt Reckless looked up from the military education class she'd been giving the assembled junior Marines and reached out, hooking the young lance corporal by the collar. He was obviously quite surprised that a SNCO was standing in the middle of the squad bay at this time of night
"Aww crap... err good evening, Staff Sergeant! What brings you to the squad bay?"
"A PME course you're half an hour later for Muck, now spill! I already heard you say that the Lance Corporal underground* has some gouge so we all can hear it, and it better be good for once."
Lance Corporal Muck, commonly lengthened to Schmuckatelli** in deference to a legend of the Corps, had a reputation around the wing for being a font of information. It was also estimated that his accuracy with that information was about as good as a weatherpony outside of Equestria's controlled climate.
"Aww darn it, Staff Sergeant..."
"Spill, before I have you cleaning the head with a toothbrush for a month! The rest of you get over here"
"It's straight from the horse’s mouth, Staff Sergeant! The command staff just got a briefing from intel--Clanky and those aviators are alive and we're gonna go buck some flank and get'em out!"
Reckless stomped the deck.
"Hot damn devil! I hope that's legit gouge! Alright fillies, surprise combat gear inspection in an hour, not a word about this to Gunny or the sirs till AFTER they tell us, you got it? Anypony lets on that we know before we'll supposed to and I'll stomp you myself. Everypony got it? Outstanding, now hop to it, I wanna see amphibious green blurs! Move it ponies!"
The squad bay turned into a blur of motion and Reckless quickly got out of their way. She quickly headed upstairs, she had her own gear to prep and check. The grin on her face was wide as could be. Clanky and her friends were alive and they were going to get her.
"Buck me, it's a DAMN good day to be a Marine!"
*Legends of the United States Marine Corps #2: The Lance Corporal Underground: Lance Corporals (E-3) is the most senior junior rank in the Marine Corps and is notoriously difficult to get promoted past. Lance Corporals are literally everywhere and as a result paranoid SNCOs thought up the Underground. The idea that all Lance Corporals everywhere are working together to pass information and rumors (a.k.a “gouge”) to dodge or prepare for surprise inspections, PFTs, piss tests, actual work and just about everything else. Allowing said Lances to skate as much as humanly possible. This paranoid delusion is of course completely true. We are legion, we are watching... when we aren’t napping in the head, checking facebook, or planning an elaborate suicide during a SNCO’s umpteenth story about “The Old Corps”.
**Legends of the United States Marine Corps #3: Lance Corporal Schmuckatelli: This legendary individual is the exact opposite of the “Names of the Corps” men who embody the values of the Corps in every way shape and form, they are remembered as heroes, saints almost to be emulated. Not so for Schmuckatelli, probably originating with an Italian-American recruit or Marine who had a habit of fucking up around the first or second world war. His enduring legacy is being every Drill Instructor and NCO’s go to example of what not to do or how to be a fuck up. “I swear to god if you pull a Recruit Schmuckatelli and go unq (fail to qualify with the M-16A2 service rifle) on my range I will quarterdeck (punitive physical training) you till your heart pops!” or out in the fleet: “Hey yoohoos, it would behoove you to not act like goddamn LCpl Schmuckatelli and go out, get hammered, smoke spice and otherwise set yourself up for me shoving my boot up your ass monday morning good to go?” Both of those are direct quotes.