I later learnt that the pegasi who had ambushed us were aligned to the Spectrum Clan, founded by one of Twilight's friends as a response to her devotion to her mentor.
I think Twilight would use my hurt wing as an excuse to keep fighting the Spectrum Clan. Even if I tell her otherwise.
But the first pony I met on the ground... was not a pony at all.
Cadence couldn't feel anything, or see anything. An ever-present expanse of black surrounded her from all sides, and she couldn't even tell up from down.
A voice. A familiar voice. She struggled to turn to the sound, but couldn't find it.
Things started returning. First, the direction she was facing, which was up.
Then, the pain in her wing.
Her eyes burst open as she shrieked in agony, arching her back instinctively. When she could focus as best as she could, her eyes fell on a purple and green figure.
"Cadence!" The dragon yelled. "Are you ok?"
"God, my wing!" She fell back down, whimpering.
"Look, we have to get outta here! If the Clan or Temple catch you, you're screwed!"
"I-I can't move..." Ok, I don't know if I can or not, but I'm not going to risk it.
Spike groaned. "Fine, I'll carry you, but it's not going to be comfy."
Partway through the journey, she had slipped out of consciousness, and awoke to the sound of beeping. She found herself in a barn, lying on an annoyingly uncomfortable bed, wires running from her hoof to the machine making the beeping.
Looming over her was the dragon that saved her, and the pony she recognised as Fluttershy.
"Hey Cadence." Spike greeted her. "Welcome to Ponyville."
Cadence could only moan something. She was trying to ask why she was attacked, and what had just happened.
"Just rest a moment." The sweet, quiet voice of the timid pegasus soothed her. Enough, in fact, that her tongue started cooperating with her mind.
"Whu- What happened?"
"You were hit by some Clan pegasi, likely because you were in a royal chariot." Spike turned to Fluttershy. "Sharp Wings, I think." A nod from Fluttershy sent him back to the winged unicorn under him. "The single bullet passed through your wing, almost no shards stuck in."
"That means," The pegasus spoke again. "Your wing will heal at a good rate. But you must rest."
Cadence sat up, surprisingly with nopony making her sit down. "I'd love to, but I promised Celestia I'd find out what Twilight's up to."
She saw Spike tense up at the unicorn's name. "She's gone mad. The Clan's violent, yes, but the Temple's on the verge of becoming a cult. A cult devoted so highly to Celestia that it will tarnish her name."
Fluttershy moved on to another patient before Spike continued. "It's a bad time to be a winged unicorn. Temple's been taking them nearly by force as 'Chosen Ones' or something, and the Spectrum Clan has been shooting them on sight to stop them from reaching the Temple."
Cadence noticed that the other patient was, startlingly, one of her assailants. In fact, it was one of the ones she had hit with the chariot. The stallion gave a grin.
"You've got quite a kick with that magic, freak."
Her adrenalin surged again, but was stopped miraculously short by a smack on the back by Spike.
The stallion recovered from his defensive position to a more relaxed one. "Sorry, I shouldn't call you that. We shouldn't call you that."
"Good idea." She turned to Fluttershy. "Where exactly are we?"
"Y'all at Sweet Apple Acres." Another familiar voice. The farmer, Applejack. "The Hospital's in the Order's land."
She turned to see her farmer friend, standing next to her brother. He had similar weapons to the pilot who got torn to pieces, but larger. He also wore a big, thick suit of security armour with a shield painted on the front. Applejack herself wore normal-grade security armour, also with a shield.
"Ok, so whose side am I in?"
"Um," Fluttershy spoke out. "The Peacemakers. It's my own idea."
Cadence blinked. Fluttershy made a whole group? "And what's your role?"
"We're tryin' t' stop th' war." A lighter voice rang out from one of the corners of the room, she turned to see a blue-grey pony with a red mane, tied neatly back in a bun. When the pony stood up from the boiler she had been working on, she was not actually blue, but was wearing a suit of denim overalls, and had a lovely yellow coat and orange eyes. Applebloom. "Even if we havta do so at the cost'a lives." She didn't say that proudly.
Cadence's heart sank. The fillies have been dragged into this?
Applebloom walked up, not seeming happy to see her. "Heya Cadence."
Cadence remained silent.
"Ah bet yer wonderin'... Where the other girls have gone?"
"Applebloom-" Applejack started, before being silenced.
"I am, actually." Cadence looked around, instinctively.
"Scoot's with the Clan, and Sweetie Belle's with the Musician's Order." She hung her head low. "Mah best friends... Now enemies..." The earth pony fell into the alicorn's shoulder, wailing with despair. Cadence wrapped her hooves around her and pulled her close.
That's it. I have to stop this. Twilight is not as important.
Cadence flexed her wing. It was working fine and completely healed. It only took three days, but it was done.
She turned to Spike, who was resting on a bale of hay. "Hey, Spike?"
Spike looked up from the photo he was looking at. "Yeah?"
"Can I ask why you're not with Twilight?"
Spike visibly twitched. "As I said, she went crazy. Started spewing nonsense about Celestia being a goddess, which is close but not really accurate. She was bugging me about sending letters to her Goddess, and that's when I left."
Something was missing. But she went along with it. "And now you're with the Peacemakers."
"Actually," He stood up. "I'm not."
Spike sighed, and walked up to her. Spike was as tall as she was, and she was as tall as a full-grown stallion. "When I left the Temple, I decided to try not to get involved. But I couldn't leave, not with this mess still around."
Cadence tried leaning to see the photograph, but he snapped it back before she could see it.
"Anyway, Twilight's a lost cause. You'd be best leaving as soon as you can." He looked down, and sniffed.
Spike jerked his head up in surprise. "Wha-"
"You're staying here to stop this, but you can't go it alone. You'll need help. Whether it's from me or the Peacemakers is up to you."
Spike sighed heavily. "The 'win at all costs' attitude of the PMs doesn't suit my ideas. And you'll need a guide around Ponyville."
Cadence smiled. "Glad you can help."
"Besides," He leant back on the makeshift bed Cadence was sitting on. "We're both here for Twilight."
"Before we go, however," Spike said, taking Cadence to a further part of the farm. "You'll need to know how to fight."
"Well, I already know a bit, but only some defensive stuff." Cadence broke into a hover, making sure her wing was working fine, which it was.
"That's not going to really help, unless you learn a passive shield spell that triggers reflexively."
"You know quite a bit about spells for a dragon..." She broke into a grin.
"Blame- No, thank Twilight."
A short while later they had reached a firing range in an empty part of the farm. Spike handed Cadence a sidearm.
"We've got a variety of weapons, mostly mouthgrip but we have some hoofgrip and magic-only weapons."
The pistol was small, and designed to be held in the mouth. Cadence opted to use her magic, carrying it in a blue aura. It seemed almost repulsive to her.
"Here, I'll demonstrate." Spike pulled a weapon from his own holster, a talongrip sidearm, and held it with both claws. After a second a blast of fire erupted from the barrel and a new hole was made on one of the targets. "Now, you try."
Cadence's first few shots missed wildly. As did the next few. And the next one, before it stopped firing.
"Outta ammo." Spike muttered, grabbing the pistol and pulling the magazine out. "Make sure to aim, you don't have infinite ammo."
Cadence grabbed the gun once a new clip had been inserted. "So, just look down these bits?" She asked, pointing at the top of the gun.
"The ironsights, yeah."
Cadence looked down the steel weapon. It was easier to use a sword like Shining had taught her to, but she had to try at least. She squeezed the trigger, and the gun kicked back. To her joy, a new hole had been created on the target. Not where she was aiming, though.
"Nicely done." He pulled his own weapon out and looked over it. "Try it a bit more."
A few more shots were fired, and hit almost three other corners apart from the first shot. "This isn't so hard."
"That's because they aren't moving." He pulled his weapon out. "Just a tip, try to aim for the outer legs. That'll wound them."
"But isn't the point-"
"The point is to put them out of action. If it was a matter of just killing them, then we would. But wounding them takes not only the opponent out, but those that rescue him, the medical staff and so many more. It's effective and you don't feel as guilty."
Cadence looked over her pistol. "Hopefully I won't miss and hit them in the eye..."
"Hey Spike!" Cadence yelled from her resting spot.
A loud sigh. "Yes, Cadence?"
"Where'd my saddlebag go?"
"Oh, it's here." Spike walked up, carrying the familiar white bag with a shield fastener. He tossed it up to her, and she caught it with magic.
"Thanks, now I can work on this journal."
Over the past few days, she had noticed many familiar faces. The Cakes and their children, for one. Angel, despite the grave situation, had been a pest, but Fluttershy paid him no heed. A beige pony who she recalled being close friends with the mint-green unicorn Lyra. A drunken pony. Two ponies with the same mark; an hourglass. Practically half of Ponyville was here, though not part of the Peacemakers. The rest, she assumed, had moved out or were part of the other factions.
This was going to be a long journey...
Spike helped me recover from my events. Last time I saw him he was shorter than Twilight, but now he's as tall as I am! Amazing how little time it takes to change things.
He's also hiding his true intent for staying in Ponyville. I've noticed that he's almost always carrying a photo that he lets almost nopony see, though Applebloom seems to already know who it is, as it fills her with sadness when she is allowed to look.
A complication added to the objective is that Applebloom's friends are part of other factions. I feel her pain; I've been in similar positions. This is worse, though.
Anyway, our first goal is to check out the Temple to work something out, then quickly to the Spectrum Clan to stop them from attacking the Temple. Once the fighting's over, then the minor factions will disband and return to normal.
That's the plan, at least...