Blood continued to slowly trickle down Thunder's face from the trauma he had received to his head. It ran down his chin and dripped onto the floor into a small recess where it had pooled.
"Don't bleed out out too quickly, Thunder," Skyfrost sarcastically suggested as he looked over the tools on the tables. He picked a few up and placed them to the side for later use, then walked over to where Thunder was tied up.
What's he going to do? Thunder thought as the pegasus approached. Skyfrost walked up to Thunder and pulled his army jacket open to reveal his underside.
"Now then, tell me, what are the R.E.A. trying to accomplish by attacking this section of the border?" Skyfrost demanded as he stared into Thunder's eyes intimidatingly. Thunder chuckled and shook his head.
"You think I'd just tell you what we are planning? That's not how war works you pinioned clip-wing," replied Thunder insultingly, his infallible will to survive evident.
"Well then, If you're going to be rude, I guess we'll use the traditional method of information acquisition. You know what that entails, right?" Skyfrost slammed his hoof into Thunder's stomach, causing him to groan in pain at the sudden impact. "Now, speak, or I guarantee that it will get even worse."
Thunder chuckled once more. "Nice try, but no." He spat at Skyfrost's face, leaving a mixture of saliva and blood dripping down it. Skyfrost wiped the liquid off his face and turned away from Thunder. In one quick motion he bucked his hind legs and hit Thunder again in the stomach, the impact causing Thunder to instantly cough up large amounts of blood that spilled onto his traumatised belly and the floor.
"You know, I was planning on using those instruments over there, but this is much more satisfying," Skyfrost said as he turned to face Thunder again. He gestured to the guards to leave the room. They obeyed the order and exited through a door opposite the ones they had entered with Thunder. "Now we can keep this private," stated Skyfrost as the door across the room closed.
Thunder choked and coughed up more blood which he spat onto the floor. "Try all you want, it's not like I'm going to tell you anything. You'll die of old age before you break my will," stated Thunder with a slight grin on his face.
"Well then, we'll see about that." Skyfrost raised his hoof in preparation for another punch.
* * *
Delta Team were nearing Canterlot. It was almost nighttime and they were exhausted from flying all day. Canterlot slowly grew bigger and bigger as they flew towards it. They eventually reached the area where they had left earlier that day and descended to land. After landing they headed inside the palace back towards the main room where Firecrest could be found.
"Now to find Firecrest. If you spot him, tell me," stated the team leader as they travelled down the hallways towards their destination. Due to the time, the hallways were fairly empty with only a few ponies running errands here and there. However, as the squad neared the room where they expected to find Firecrest, they could see many high ranking officers bustling around the room. They rushed into the room to see what was going on and spotted Firecrest sitting at the central table.
"What's going on here, sir?" asked the team leader as he approached Firecrest.
"There's been an advancement of the large unicorn force to the northwest. They're dangerously close to the border now and we believe they will attempt an attack within the next forty-eight hours," replied Firecrest as he pointed out a collection of flags representing hostile unicorns on the large map that lay before them.
"Should we be concerned down here?" asked a team member as he studied the map.
Firecrest indicated to a small group of flags situated near the previous hostile group of flags. "These are the forces we have situated at the border edge at the moment. As you can clearly see, the hostile forces greatly outnumber our own. Therefore, we need to plan our next actions quickly due to the sudden advancement."
"I see. However, I bring worse news from our expedition today," stated the team leader, a hint of remorse in his voice. "We flew far south, eventually coming across a small campsite. At first we believed it to be abandoned, however, what we found is serious. Within the tents lay the remains of Alpha Platoon, slaughtered in their sleep. What makes it worse is that we found no sign of Marshal Thunderhorse either."
Firecrest sat with a blank expression plastered across his face as he processed the information. However, he eventually snapped out of his thought-like trance and looked back towards Delta Team. "Are you sure it was Alpha Platoon? If there was no sign of Thunder then..."
"It was definitely Alpha Platoon because of their uniforms, and no, there were absolutely no signs of Marshal Thunder there," replied the team leader, interrupting Firecrest as he did so.
Firecrest rose from his seat and headed towards the constantly guarded door that led to some of the off-limit castle sections. "Come with me, we need to speak with the princesses immediately," ordered Firecrest, looking back as he neared the guards. The team followed and Firecrest gestured to the guards to open the doors. As he was authorised for entry, Firecrest could also bring other ponies with him that weren't authorised.
The group of five pegasi headed through the doors into the ornate corridor; the guards then closed the doors behind them. They walked quickly and quietly down towards the doors that led into Celestia's study. Firecrest approached a door an knocked a few times. After a few more silent moments, a reply came from inside the room.
"Come in," Celesta said, her words barely audible through the thick doors. Receiving the invite, Firecrest opened the doors and led Delta Team inside. Celestia was sat at her desk analysing a map of Equestria and reviewing documents and letters when the group entered. She looked up to see who had entered and, seeing Firecrest, awaited what he had to say.
"Princess, I bring terrible news. We now have an answer to why Alpha Platoon hasn't messages in days. Delta Team here found the whole platoon dead in their overnight camp. And to make it worse, Marshal Thunder is missing."
Celestia was shocked and upset to hear this, but her regal expression didn't convey any of these emotions. She couldn't let her subjects see any weakness from her; it was bad for morale. "Do you have any clue as to where Marshal Thunder is?" Celestia asked as she looked towards the fireteam leader for an answer.
"None, my princess," the team leader replied as he slowly shook his head. "If we did, we would have been able to track him down easier, but that isn't likely at this time. He could be anywhere in the southern half of Equestria by now."
"I see. In that case, Firecrest, I am leaving it up to you to gain any information to Thunder's location, whether he's dead or alive. For Equetria's sake, I hope it's the latter," Celestia ordered, hoping that Firecrest would be able to successfully complete the task.
"Of course, princess. Also, if I may ask, where is Princess Luna?" asked Firecrest as he looked around the room.
"She's has gone to the northwestern border to lead the defence against the unicorn forces. With her help, we may be able to stop the enemy from compromising it and entering our territory. Our forces that are heading out there are in much lower numbers than the enemy’s is estimated to be; so with Luna’s magical abilities, it should even the playing field or even give us the advantage. It’s up to her now, I’m hoping that she will lead our side to victory, because if not, the enemy territory will grow whilst ours will shrink.
"I hope she'll make it back okay. What would we even tell the public if she died while fighting? They would probably be distraught to hear that one of their princesses had died on the battlefield," asked Firecrest, concerned for Luna's safety.
Celestia pondered or a moment before replying. "I'm not too sure, I'm hoping something like that would never happen to my dear sister. If the worst came to the worst, I'd probably have to make something up. Like she went to the moon, or something crazy along those lines. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to attend an important talk about the hostiles at the northwest border." With that, Celestia, Firecrest and Delta Team all headed out of the study and back towards the main hall where they would attend to matters of their own.
* * *
Blood dripped from multiple wounds on Thunder's body. Skyfrost had badly beaten him in an attempt to get information from him, however, Thunder's strong will allowed him to resist the urge to give in. By this point, Skyfrost was becoming annoyed at the lack of information received. His face started contorting with anger and it was as if there was a raging fire of pure anger in his eyes.
Looks like he’ll break before I will... Thunder knew that Skyfrost was inexperienced at torture, as evident by his consistent use of physical violence just for the sake of self-enjoyment, rather than utilising other torture methods which are far more effective.
"You just don't give in, do you? It looks like I won't be getting any information from you today," growled Skyfrost with a harsh tone to his voice. "Guards! Get in here!" he shouted in the direction of the door where the guards had exited through earlier. After a few seconds the door swung open and the two guards walked back into the room, closing the door behind them. "Take this dirt mule back to his cell," ordered Skyfrost.
"Yes sir," replied the guards in unison as they headed towards Thunder. They unshackled his back legs first, then his front, letting him drop to the stone floor and into the small pool of his own blood. They then proceeded to drag the severely weakened marshal back down the corridor and into his cell, locking the door shut again.
"You'll come in handy in the future, but for now you can lay there and rot," jibed one of the guards, eliciting a haughty laugh from his partner. The two guards then left the room and locked the second metal door shut, ensuring Thunder couldn't get out no matter how hard he tried.
Thunder was laid on his back looking up at the stone ceiling. His body and jacket were covered in blood and bruises and his overall morale was very low. What do I do now? I'm messed up and a prisoner of war. How do I expect to try to escape if I don't even know what time of day it is, or what day for that matter... The nihilistic thoughts plagued his mind once again. He knew too well that in his state there was very little he could do.
He rolled onto his side and sat up. He refastened his jacket to cover his exposed belly and to take his mind off of the many wounds that covered it. He then stood up and slowly walked over the the cage door, his belly paining him with every step. Looking around the room he noticed that his supplies and sword were still on the table. A previous thought returned to his mind as he reconsidered potential escape plans.
"Maybe, just maybe. I'll need to rest up and recuperate my energy first, but it might just work..." he quietly mumbled to himself as he thought over the plan. After a few minutes he walked back over to the small hay pile and laid back down onto his least bruised side. The day’s events eventually took it's tole on his body, so he laid his head down and slowly drifted off to sleep, his plan fresh in his mind.
* * *
Celestia entered a small room in an private section of the palace. Within the room was a table with many high ranking R.E.A. ponies seated around it. Firecrest was not present as he had been given separate orders from Celestia moments before. Celestia approached the table and took her seat.
"Welcome princess," greeted an Earth pony R.E.A. general at the head of the table. "With everypony present we may begin."
The general unravelled a large map and placed it in the centre of the table. The map was marked with the locations of the hostile unicorn forces and R.E.A. forces near the northwest border. The general indicated to the hostile forces that were marked on the map by small red flags. "These here are the enemy forces. Now as previously mentioned, due to their movement over the last few days, we have reason to believe they will attempt to cross the border within the next forty-eight or so hours. Their size is estimated to be at least one battalion, with numbers also estimated between six and eight hundred unicorns. The forces we have in that area are a lot smaller than theirs. We have about three hundred unicorns gathered there, so immediately we're at a disadvantage. However, with Luna's presence giving morale support, the playing field should be evened out, or even tipped in our favour. There will be losses, many losses, so I ask you all, do we agree to give the go ahead for the counter-attack, or do we pull back?"
Having finished his speech, many glances were exchanged around the room. The overall ambiance given off was a positive and determined one. One by one each pony in the room gave their verdict, including Celestia. The final verdict reached was that the counter-attack would go ahead, should the enemy attack the border.
"Well then. With that settled, I'll get a message sent out to Luna immediately," Celestia announced. She was met with many approving looks from the rest of the ponies in her company, agreeing with her choice of action.
With the meeting over, each pony left the discussion room and headed back to their previous jobs. Celestia headed back to her study sat back down at her desk. She used her magic to write the important letter that was to be sent to Luna immediately.
"Luna, The overall verdict was positive, the counter-attack will go ahead as planned, should the enemy attack. Please be safe out there.
She used her magic to roll the letter up and seal it closed. She then teleported it to Luna many miles northwest, again using her magic; the letter disappearing in a shimmer of gold light as it did so. I hope it all goes well. If we lose this particular fight it will cause a lot of damage to morale, but worse yet, it will also mean that the enemy will have compromised the border. Please be safe, Luna...
Having sent the letter, Celestia's work was finished for the day. It was now late and night and the days events had tired her. Receiving news about a possible attack to the northwest, Alpha Platoon's slaughter and Thunder missing was enough for one day. She knew that it would most likely get worse over the course of the following days, but for now all she could think about was rest. By now, most of the palace had finished the majority of the operations for the day and had left for sleep. Celestia decided it was her turn for some rest too and subsequently left her study and headed for her bedroom chambers. On her way through the palace towards her chambers she passed a pegasus dressed in a dark cloak with his face mostly obscured. She stopped to find out who it was.
"Excuse me, what is your business in this section of the palace at this time of night?" Celestia asked the cloaked pegasi. The pegasus stopped and turned to face Celestia.
"Apologies my princess, I was sent on an errand by one the generals and I am just returning from it," replied the shady pegasus. Celestia wasn't convinced with the story.
"And what errand would that be? And what's with the cloak?" asked Celestia, the scepticism showing in her tone of voice.
The pegasus shifted about somewhat, as if he felt awkward about answering the question. "I am merely a personal messenger for the general, princess. I was asked to deliver a message a little while ago. As for the cloak; it is cold outside, it keeps me warmer when I have to travel about to deliver messages. Will that be all, princess?"
For some reason, Celestia didn't feel that the story was entirely truthful, but seeing as the pegasus was in the restricted sections in the first place, she accepted his story. "Yes, that is all. Carry on," Celestia said, ignoring the odd thoughts about the pegasi in her mind.
"Very well, my princess. Rest easy," returned the pegasi, bowing to Celestia before he left. Celestia and the pegasi both departed their separate ways down the hallway without second glance back at each other.
Celestia eventually reached her chamber and flashed the two guards outside a formal smiles she passed them. Using her magic she opened the large ornate doors and entered the room, then closed the doors slowly behind her.
I should keep an eye on that cloaked pegasus if I see him again. For some reason, he just strikes me as shady... Celestia thought to herself as she removed her crown and climbed into her large bed, settling down to rest after another hectic day.
* * *
Hours passed as the night went by. It was now the very early hours of the morning and everything was silent except the light crackles of a burning sconce. Thunder stirred in his cell, drifting in and out of sleep constantly. The room was cold and his wounds pained him, but his exhaustion was just as great. The factors both warring against each other affecting his ability to sleep. Eventually his pain got the better of him, causing him to sit up unable to sleep. This is absolute hell; exactly how I though it would be. I'm exhausted but I feel like I can barely sleep. And to make it worse, I'm starving. I really have just been left here to rot.
Thunder shifted and felt his belly tighten from the trauma it had received. It pained him greatly but he knew he would have to put up with it, after all, it could always be worse. What am I going to do? I need to get out of this cell, but I don't have the key. Thunder examined the lock closely, searching for anything about it that he could exploit or manipulate to open it. He was no master lock-pick, but he definitely knew some tricks. He examined the door closer to see how it was constructed. It was attached to the bars by standard barrel-hinges and was locked by a thick deadbolt. Without the key, getting out would be nearly impossible.
Doesn't look like I'll be able to open this easily. I can't pick the lock as I don't have anything on me to use, and trying to break it open would very difficult. Besides, it's not like I even have the energy to attempt to break it open... Thunder turned to face away from the door and bucked one of his hind legs up to hit the lock. The whole set of bars shook slightly, but very little had happened to the lock except for gaining a scratch or two.
Thunder paused for a moment as a fresh idea came to his mind. Maybe, just maybe. I'll have to get it exactly right though, but for now I should fully rest, this is going to need all of my energy and I'm in no state to try and escape right now... He walked the few steps back to the hay pile and settled back down. He mulled over the thoughts of his plan as he slowly drifted back off to sleep, ready to execute it once he had properly recuperated.