Captain Lightning...no...the former Captain Lightning, now simply Spark Lightning, looked blearily around his room...well, it wasn't going to be his much longer. His rank, his position, his very way of life, all gone, and now his home (at least when he was in Canterlot) was soon to follow. It was enough to drive a pony to drink, which Spark Lightning did with a gusto. Even now, three empty bottles of cheap whiskey swam and blurred as he swept his unsteady gaze over his table and reflected on how his life had come to this point.
A dark gray pegasus, Spark Lightning's body was covered with a layer of lean muscle. His coat, normally finely groomed with parade-ground precision had grown thicker patches, a sign of a clear lack of care in recent days. His mane, striped with black and light-gray, was similarly neglected, although the short cut made its condition less apparent. Lightning's tail was frayed and tangled and clearly needed a good brushing while his normally bright-blue eyes were glazed and bloodshot with a combination of inebriation and insomnia. He was the very picture of a stallion that had seen better days.
Greengrass. It had all started with him, that sunspawn. In an effort to overturn a vote on, of all things, whether a building grant would be awarded to one noble, or another, Greengrass had gone as far as to arrange a deception that had led Lightning to urge Archduchess Nobility to change her vote in order to secure the outcome he desired. The Archduchess was not happy to learn that he and, by proxy, she had been taken in by Greengrass's gambit. It had taken her only a few days to strip Lightning of everything that he had worked long and hard for and reduce him to nothing.
Before long, Lightning would be kicked out of his abode. The division of the Northern Army assigned to Nobility's province would have a new captain and Lightning would be cast out into the world to fend for himself. At least he had some time. His dedication to his work had meant that he had little opportunity to spend the bits that were his due according to his position. Spark Lightning had a sizable sum stashed away, which would help him keep afloat until he could find new work.
But such good fortune gave him little comfort. What did it matter? After all, Nobility and Greengrass had stolen the few things that truly mattered to him, his honor and his duty. The army had been Lightning's life. It had been his aspiration from his earliest days as a colt. After years of hard work and dedication, Lightning had worked his way up to the position of captain in the Northern Army. He had been proud. He had used his new position to the fullest to support his men and the work they did. Lightning had been one of the most popular captains in recent memory, because he looked after his men. Their well being was everything to him. And now, all that dedication was the very thing that had taken everything from him.
It wasn't fair! The injustice of it all filled Spark Lightning with scorching anger that threatened to overwhelm him. Greengrass had taken Lightning's dedication, his sense of duty and used them to deceive him. And somehow, that made it Lightning's fault.
It hurts, doesn't it?
Lightning's head snapped up. Had the voice been in his head? Were his own thoughts simply tormenting him?
Those disgusting nobles and their little games. They take an honest and hard working pony like yourself and grind him down to nothing for a few political concessions.
No, the voice was not in his head. Lightning heard it clearly now, though, perhaps not with his ears. Its tone was cruel, but not mocking.
They couldn't care less about your efforts to protect your nation. They wall themselves away in their own little world and do whatever they like to get ahead. All your efforts, all your sacrifices, they make them meaningless. It wouldn't even matter if your replacement was ten-times the pony you were. To them, he would just be another piece in their games, to be used and thrown aside once they're done with him.
Fury built in Lightning's gut. The words ignited searing rage that made his blurring vision run red. Whoever was speaking, he (and it was definitely a he) was right. Who were Greengrass and Nobility to take everything that Lightning had worked and fought for, and throw it away for a trivial building grant? They didn't understand the weight of a life, what it meant when a pony might live or die according to your orders. To them, it was all a little game.
Yes. And it's not just those two is it? The entire Night Court is a den of vipers, presided over by none other than Luna herself. They claim to rule for the good of Equestria, but in reality are obsessed only with their own status and power. Any one of them would throw the rest of the nation to the wolves for a little political advantage. They care nothing for the ponies they are supposed to rule. They need to be taught a lesson. They need to learn what it feels like to have their lives at stake...
...They need to suffer.
"Yes," agreed Lightning, "They need to understand what things are like outside their ivory towers. They should taste for themselves what it is to have lives destroyed by their actions."
I can tell you and I are gonna get along just fine. Let's make a deal. I'll give you everything you need to show those high-bred cretins how much pain and suffering their very existence causes. In return, I'll be using you to run a little experiment.
"What do I need to do?" There was no hesitation. All caution was thrown to the winds as Spark Lightning let his rage swallow him whole.
Nothing. That's the beauty of it. I'll give you everything you need to do what you want and then I just have to sit back and see what happens. That's how this little experiment works. Great, isn't it? So, do we have a deal?
"Yes," snarled the angry pegasus.
Spark Lightning's breath hitched as something streamed into him. It was as though he had been cast head first into ice-cold water. His rage was quenched and tempered and forged to an indestructible edge. At that moment, Spark Lightning became a pony driven by his rage and hatred alone. He would not be stopped, no matter what he had to do. Indescribable strength filled his body. Looking down at one of his hooves, Lightning knew what he had to do. He needed to pay a little visit to Duke Greengrass's office.
Greengrass wasn't there, of course. Neither was that insipid yes-mare that dogged his every step like the Duke's own damn shadow. Nor we're the two hulking stallions that acted as his bodyguards present. Greengrass, like all the other members in the Night Court, maintained his office in the wing of the Royal Palace adjacent to the Court. While many nobles, Greengrass included, maintained their personal estates out in the city, they kept their offices in the palace to have clerical functions close at hoof when Court was in session.
That was perfect for Lightning's purposes. He was a little miffed that Greengrass wasn't present, but teaching that depraved excuse for a pony a lesson in pain would have to wait. While this wing of the palace was regularly patrolled, the guards could hardly be called vigilant as most nobles included any number of competent bodyguards in their personal retinues. It would be a while before Lightning would have to worry about being bothered.
The door was locked. But that hardly stopped Spark Lightning. He simply slammed his hoof into and then through the knob of the door. The entire mechanism smashed, the door swung open to admit the stallion, who trotted into the outer room of Greengrass's office, which was staffed by his secretary.
It was all here, the records arrayed in this office contained the keys to finding the ponies that had carried out Greengrass's twisted schemes. It wouldn't be obvious, of course. Duke Greengrass was a long way from stupid. While his regular employees were documented through conventional means, the Duke, like all of the other nobles, would have developed a complex method of keeping track of his numerous agents and catspaws. But the keys to finding all those ponies lay in these records. If Lightning could just piece the puzzle together, he could find the ponies who had deceived him and use them to send Greengrass a lovely lesson dyed a brilliant vermilion hue. Perhaps his new friend could help.
Of course I can Sparky boy. Let's have a look at those papers and find the ponies that ruined you. Then we can return the favor...
Lightning turned to face the source of the voice, finding the exit to Greengrass's office blocked by a pair of formidable-looking earth ponies clad in silvery armor. The pegasus realized that he might have wasted too much time going over the records kept by Greengrass's secretary. The Night Guards had clearly realized that a gaping hole where the knob of a door used to be had not been the sign of legal entry. For a moment, Lightning froze, his two-toned tail swishing with indecision. His wings had already sprung open of their own accord, his subconscious decision being to retreat to the skies, only for his conscious mind to remind him that he was indoors and that the ceiling of the room in no way permitted flight.
Don't worry about them, urged the voice of his friend, I told you I'd give you what you need. You just need to use it. Remember, these are the ones that guard those parasitic nobles. Give them what they deserve.
The two Night Guards hadn't been sure what to expect when they noticed the break-in. It wasn't uncommon. There were plenty of nobles who clearly weren't above using a little espionage to get an edge on their rivals, although few attempts were so blatant. Seeing a ragged-looking pegasus pouring through papers in Greengrass's suite of offices, they had been ready to step forward and make the arrest, expecting little trouble.
For a moment, it looked as though the strange pegasus would come quietly. But as he faced them, a grin slowly spread across the intruder's face, revealing yellowed and neglected teeth. The grin continued to spread, growing wider with each passing second, becoming too wide for the comfort of the observing guards. They weren't sure a pony should be able to grin that widely. Confused and more than a little intimidated, they were caught completely unprepared when the pegasus let out a shriek that was neither pony nor animal and launched himself straight at them.
Shining Armor was not happy. Granted, happy was rarely a descriptor that applied to the Royal Guard captain, but neither was the idea that he was grim. The statuesque unicorn stallion was a stern figure, admired and respected by his companions and subordinates, as well as Princess Luna herself. His reputation had only swelled after he had led the defense of Canterlot against the return of Corona. But that was neither here nor there.
He should have been looking for Twilight. After the episode with an ursa minor in Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle had become a wanted pony. The thought of his younger sister living the life of a fugitive made Shining Armor cringe. While it was clear that she had to face the consequences of what she had done, he was more concerned about bringing his L.S.B.F.F. home before somepony really got hurt.
But now, here he was, standing in a hall outside the office of one of the dukes of the Night Court, seeing to the cleanup after some intruder had demolished a pair of his very well-trained guards.
"Where is the occupant?" asked Shining, examining the damage to the office door.
"Duke Greengrass returned to his home province for personal business after the last session ended," explained Lieutenant Blazemane. The young pegasus was a stand out among the Royal Guards with his bright yellow coat and dark red mane. Of course, a great deal of his recognition came from the fact that his older sister had just been named the youngest captain of the elite Wonderbolts flight squad in the group's history. It was a credit to Blazemane's character that he never seemed concerned with the exceptionally large shadow that his sister cast and simply endeavored to do his job to the best of his ability, which made him an effective assistant for Shining in times like these.
Shining suppressed a shudder at the name. He had heard of Duke Greengrass. While Shining Armor resolved to remain as distant as possible from politics, it was in the interests of his duty to have an at least passing knowledge of the nobles who made up the Night Court. There were even some, like Fancypants, who the captain actually liked. Duke Greengrass was not a name belonging to that category. Greengrass was relatively new to the court and had gained a great deal of recognition for his considerably rapid rise through the ranks, not all of that recognition good. In fact, there were a great many rumors that painted him as a stallion willing to resort to any means to advance his station. And as long as he did nothing overtly illegal or treasonous, Shining resolved to stay well clear of him.
"See that he is notified about the incident," said Shining before turning to examine the aftermath of the fight that had taken place in the hall outside the office. That is, if a fight could be used to properly describe the affair.
Both of the patrolling guards were lucky to be alive, their assailant having thrashed them within an inch of their lives before escaping. Shining shuddered as he saw the pony-shaped indentation in the wall, where one of his men had been imbedded after being bucked. The medics had had to carefully peel the poor private out of his resting place to get him onto a stretcher and his entire right side had been nearly crushed by the force of impact. He might not be able to stand with the guards ever again, that is if he was able to stand at all after this. The other guard hadn't been any luckier. While he hadn't been slammed into a stone wall, he had been thoroughly beaten with incredible force. Many bones had been broken and it would be weeks before either of them recovered.
"Were either of them conscious before they were carried out?" asked Shining.
"Yes. Corporal Butte was actually able to give us a description of the assailant before he passed out again," answered Blazemane dutifully before recounting the details, "We're currently searching for a match, but Canterlot's a big city and it might take a while."
Shining hesitated. While he was angry about the injuries to his men, he wasn't terribly motivated to go all out on what was probably another set of political games being played by the Night Court. For all he knew, this was some sort of ruse constructed to draw him into the political arena and set him up for manipulation later on down the road. Access to and control over the Captain of the Night Guard would be a major coup for anypony on the Court.
On the other hoof, sitting idle could be just as dangerous from a political perspective and any perceived inaction on his part could be used as a political tool almost as much as the opposite, if not more so. Shining Armor sighed, knowing that he really had no choice at all. Find the attacker, find out what he was up to, find out who he was working for, assemble the evidence and arrest the guilty. That was all there was to it.
And besides, somepony had to answer for the harm done to his men.
Lightning flipped through the records he had obtained: bills of sale, event notifications, correspondence on obscure transactions. It would be hard for anypony to find evidence of conspiracy in all of this. But that was the point of it all. Duke Greengrass could hardly be expected to keep exacting records of his various agents and catspaws and label them as such. They might be employees, but hired for obscure or non-existent purposes as cover for their real work. Otherwise he probably kept control of them through more indirect means...
Like this troupe of actors that Lightning was currently reading about. Greengrass had secured an opening for them at a prominent Canterlot theater for their latest performance, which would increase their prominence on the performing arts scene, leading to increased revenue and the contacts to acquire more lucrative contracts and the rights to more popular plays to allow them to boost themselves further. And in exchange for this, all Greengrass had asked for was a single private performance, a performance that coincided with the day and time of the deception he had pulled on Lightning.
On paper, the former army captain had to admire the cunning Greengrass had displayed. In a single efficient move, he had arranged for Lightning's deception, put the actors deeply into his pocket and obtained his alibi at the same time. The actors had knowingly participated in an act of fraud, which would ruin their careers if Greengrass released the information. Even as a simple maneuver to prevent them from ever selling out on him, it was effective. If word got out what Greengrass had done to affect the vote, the actors would find their reputations destroyed along with his. And, of course, Lightning now truly understood why Greengrass had been so blithe about the former captain's threat to expose his scheme. He had an entire troupe of actors willing to vouch for his whereabouts at the time the deception had taken place. The only way Lightning could thwart that was if he found witnesses that had seen him with the Duke that weren't already in Greengrass's pocket.
The one responsible for the fraudulent newspaper article was a much simpler pony to identify. Greengrass had a printer in his employ, charged with producing copies of the Duke's memos and other important paperwork, both for the Duke himself and the ponies in his employ in his home territories. Furthermore, the printing press that Greengrass had acquired for the purpose was a model also used by small newspapers for local dissemination. It wasn't able to supply newspapers for a prominent city like Canterlot, but was more than capable of providing a small stand's worth of fake headlines.
A fevered grin spread across Lightning's face. He had his next targets. These ponies would make the perfect fodder to send a message to Duke Greengrass, as well as the Duke's other employees. Lightning idly wondered how easily the Duke would be able to continue his plans to shamelessly use regular ponies to manipulate his noble rivals.
Not bad Sparky. But remember, we're just getting started. The Duke's small potatoes. Our real aim is to make all the nobles pay. This will only do for a warm-up. I want to see some blood.