The cast iron hoofcuffs clenched tightly against my back hooves. Even when I’m locked in the cells with nowhere to run, the Warden never removes them. Such is the way of prisons designed for dangerous inmates, I guess. And that wasn’t the only thing on me restrained, either.
My proud wings were clamped tightly to my sides by a similarly-constructed restraint, preventing me from flying at all.
I really, really want all these bloody things off, but considering that I had no choice in the matter in the first place, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
The cell is barren and unfurnished, save for an iron bedframe in the corner with a very lumpy mattress. The restroom is little more than a haunch-sized hole carved in the floor. All these meager accoutrements lay inside a reinforced stone building from which Discord, on his worst day mind you, couldn’t escape from. And on top of all that, the pony in the neighboring cell has the loudest snore I have ever heard.
My name is Silent Sword - ex-Royal Guard, Valkyrie Branch.
Oh, never heard of the Valkyries? That’s good, because technically, we don’t exist. We are like phantoms – invisible, never seen, never heard.
Usually we do simple recon and sometimes infiltration, but out of the blue, I was reassigned temporarily to guard duty. That doomed me, I might add.
About 4 days ago, I was assigned to guard some powerful ruby in the Canterlot Archives. Fuck if I know what it does, I just follow orders.
Also about 4 days ago, said Ruby was mysteriously stolen. The thief seemingly disappeared into thin air. Naturally, being a ‘mysterious’ Valkyrie that was equipped with a number of arcane items like a Stealth Amulet that could turn me completely invisible to pony eyes and magical senses short of a high-powered seer spell for a short while, a Rapier enchanted to be infinitely sharp enough to cut through steel, a number of non-lethal ranged weapons, not to mention being on duty at the time, I was a prime suspect.
Only one pony could vouch for my innocence and exonerate me – the Valkyrie CO at the time, Daring Dagger. Facing life in prison, I was relieved to know that she would free me. So… happy.
Until it came time for the actual trial yesterday.
Then it turned out that she had disappeared after the theft without a trace. Later evidence connected her to the plot, and even worse, definitively incriminated me.
My fate was sealed: Life in prison.
No escape. No appeal. No second chances.
No. Way. Out.
Hearing a rap on the bars of my cell, I look to my right to see the Warden, a Blue-maned aged Unicorn guard attempting to gain my attention.
“Oi! Silent Sword! It’s time for yer hearing.” I hear the Warden say through the bars.
I unconsciously swallowed with a loud gulp.
Celestia have mercy on my soul.
The presiding Judge over my trial was none other than Shining Armor, Captain of the Guard. Impartial, but gruff, this ludicrously attractive stallion (pity he was already taken) sat at his stand looking over a number of papers that I presumed were evidence dossiers and case notes.
“Silent Sword, you have entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty’, am I correct?”
Of course I did, jackass. I had nothing to do with the bloody thing.
I swallowed the potentially damning expletive I so wanted to yell out.
“Yes sir, I did. I was not involved in the theft of the so-called ‘Archer Ruby’.” I so eloquently said.
“And yet so many pieces of evidence point to the contrary, and you were on-duty, as well as equipped with arcane Equipment that could very well have produced the effects that the alleged thief was described as creating. Coupled with the fact that you had no alibi and could have very well stolen it, your case is not looking good.”
“Sir, I did not take the blasted ruby! I swear on my bloody honor as a Royal Guardsmare!!” I shouted, just a bit louder than I probably should have.
I don’t know why this is getting to me. In the field, I keep my emotions tightly in check. It seems that everything I’ve repressed is coming out.
Apparently the Prosecutor, a Public Lawyer by the name of Lawful Lectern, felt a need to speak up to my outburst.
“The plantiff is again reminded that any outbursts will be held against her with prejudice.”
I shutted up and fumed quietly. I hate Lectern. He’s more concerned with Rules and Regulations than helping ponies. To me, he’s just another Fukken bureaucrat that steps on good mares and stallions being accused of absolute hogwash.
Shining Armor spoke up again in his usual dignified voice.
“While your service record in Their Majesties’ Royal Guard up to a few years ago is upstanding and dignified, the more recent records are sealed by a Context-sensitive spell that for some reason, I am not authorized to break open. The spell is similar to that used by Valkyries, female Guards who operate above the auspices of the main branch of the Royal Guard, answering only the Princesses and their closest Aides. However, upon your recent incarceration, your Valkyrie status was revoked permanently, and you are once again under the auspices of the Main branch of the Royal Guard. While your service record is indeed honorable, the theft of the Archer Ruby simply has too much evidence against you, and the magnitude of the crimes is subject to the harshest punishments in the Land of Equestria.”
No. Please, No.
“Based on the evidence presented against you, I, Shining Armor, Captain of the Guard and being of sound mind and body, hereby strip you of your rank…”
The bailiff strutted up to me and tore off my Corporal’s Rank insignia from my dress uniform.
“And dishonorably discharge you.”
The bailiff tore off the Guardsmare’s patch, that denoted I was a guard at all.
“In addition, due to the gravity of your crimes, it is decided by somepony higher up that you are to be imprisoned indefinitely with no civilian visitors and in the Maximum Security prison Arkhoof Rock. Your sentence is to begin immediately.”
The thud of Shining Armor’s gavel blasted through my mind in a sense of finality, of fate cruelly stacking the last card against me.
“Alright, c’mon yeh criminal scum.” The bailiff said as he escorted me out in a gruff manner.
“I don’t blame you, Shining. I would have done the same.” I said softly.
I don’t think he heard me at all.
I glance over my haunches at Lectern’s stand. He should be looking at me with a smug look of malevolent victory. I saw nothing but a previously occupied patch of air at the Prosecutor’s stand.
He was gone. Odd. I guess he must really not have enough compassion to see it through to the very end.
Resigned to my fate, I went without a fight with the Bailiff.
Wasn’t my fault, but if it’s all the same, I’m sorry.
3 Months Later...
While Arkhoof is a little bit nicer than the cell I was in previously… Well, a prison, no matter how nice, is still a prison. Albeit one with a maximum security swimming pool.
For the first few days, I had contemplated various means to escape, and had formulated multiple plans only for them to be randomly defeated – switched cells, changed guard patterns, you name it. Arkhoof seems purposefully designed and operated to deter any escape plans.
Yeah. Afterwards, I resigned from my planning and just sat in prison. I’ve had a lot of time to do some thinking here, in the lonely nights. Like about what exactly happened that night, and maybe figure out something to help my case. I just don’t have enough information…
My bed is much nicer here. A little less lumpy. Currently, I’m laying back, reading Daring Do and The Cove of Candles. It’s a good book, if you like adventure and still-swashbuckling Zombie Pirate ponies.
“Pffft. That Three-Legged-Blackmane is a real card.”
“Just wait until you get to Chapter 12, Siley.”
I look to the bars keeping me prisoner and see an old friend peering within. And it’s not a civvie. No, this pink unicorn with an artsy Fleur-De-Lis cutie mark may present a frilly façade to the general public, but Fleur is anything but frilly.
I nonchalantly turned the page.
“What are you doing here, Fleur De Lis?”
“Oh, for the moment I’m technically not Fleur. I had to use my Valkyrie cards to get in.”
“Heh. Of course you did. So what d’ya want, White Widow?”
“Do I need to want something to visit an old friend?”
My book slammed shut with a resonating thud as I got off my bed and stood up on all fours to face Fleur.
“I suppose not, but I’m surprised you came to see me at all. Especially given the … incident … that happened last time, in Trottingham. Under the old oak tree on the edge of the forest. You remember?”
She fell silent. Then her cheeks emitted a bright red sheen. She pondered the floor, obviously embarrassed.
“That… That was a one-time thing.”
Sure, Once… Then again in the afternoon. Then the next day.
“But I think, said incident was not the first nor the last, Siley.”
“Ah, you judged me too quickly, darling. Some of my lovers were mares. Some were stallions. A few were somewhere in between. The point is there were a lot of them. But you were the most memorable.”
“I’m sure you say that to all of them.”
“Only the ones that I really remember fondly.”
“Well, flirting aside, I have something for you.”
The white unicorn’s horn glowed and lifted a book gently out of the saddlebags on her haunches. The title was clearly worn with age. The spine clearly was falling apart. Although the book had seen better days, the cover was still clearly readable. Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone was emblazoned on it.
“It’s a first edition.”
I oh-so-non-eloquently gave an unrefined, excited squeal.
“EEEEEEEEE! It must be worth thousands of bits! But, I couldn’t!”
The book immediately was rammed into my chest.
“I insist. If only for repayment of those many nights in Trottingham.”
“Well, alright. But I must give you something else in return.”
“Not necessary. Enjoy it, my friend. Oh, I tucked a little something to remember me by in page 42. Something special.”
She turned to leave from whence she came.
What did she mean by that?
I flopped back onto my bed and opened my prize.
Remembering her words, I started turning to page 42.
Turning past page 41, I found a tiny sheet of metal with a number of engravings and holes carved in it at seemingly random intervals. A card of some sort, about the size of a carriage driver’s license.
I picked it up from its resting place and examined it closer.
Ahh… That sneaky mare. You really know how to please a girl… in more ways than one, I might add.
This was an enchantment tablet. It stores a simple spell inside it and is able to be casted by anypony who uses it. It’s not as powerful as a gem, but a gem is harder to sneak into a prison. The guards, I might add, I’ve seen only search for gems. The tablets are incredibly outdated by at least 150 years.
In my fiddling with it, I accidentally snapped it in half, then realized that this tablet was actually 2 smaller tablets created together but enchanted separately.
I also found a note accompanying the tablet.
I need your help. I know we haven’t talked in a long time, and I know about your predicament. I’m giving you these to secure your freedom, and in return I only ask that you find the bastard that framed you and stole the Archer Ruby. I have a personal stake in this… but I’d rather not discuss it. The half-tablet marked with a circle will render you invisible. While the spell isn’t as powerful as Valkyrie Stealth Mare Amulets, it should allow you to slip past the guards unseen. It will last for 15 minutes. The other tablet, once bent will teleport you to a location that I’ve hidden a cache of Valkyrie equipment and survival rations. Use it as soon as you get out of the prison. Inside the prison there is a Teleportation Dampening spell. There is also (heavily redacted) information on the Archer Ruby itself. The information is limited, and unfortunately, I cannot help you any further since I will have to disappear for a while. A couple of hired guns will make a diversion and trigger a fire alarm, opening all the cells. Get out. Clear your name. Bring the Archer Ruby back to Canterlot. Above all, don’t get caught. The very second you escape, you’ll be Equestria’s #1 most wanted fugitive. As in, arrest on sight and assumed very dangerous.
Do this dear. For the sake of the times under the old Oak, yeah?
Beneath, she had signed her name in needlessly ornate calligraphy.
I giggled like I was a young filly at school.
She remembered the Old Oak after all.
Arkhoof’s warden, a stout Earth pony with a muscular build walked with purpose, biting his lip slightly. He may not look it, but he was livid.
In the last hour, there had been an airship attack on Arkhoof. While this wasn’t a large threat for the (admittedly overfunded) defenses and was actually a somewhat regular occurrence, this time they landed a fireflare bomb on the cafeteria, triggering the and starting a fire, starting the evacuation protocol. The main defenses were mopping up the ships while all the bloody cells opened, and a mass riot started. The pandemonium took a further 3 ½ hours to get under control. He came up on the head guard in charge of taking a headcount of the ponies there, whom was floating a clipboard in front of him.
“Sir, I’ve finished the headcount. Injuries to the Guards were minimal, zero deaths confirmed. 2 Prisoners were killed by other prisoners, and 67 were injured. We’re still tending to the wounded.”
“Good. And what of the high-priority inmates?”
“All except 2 unaccounted for, 1 of which was found unconscious a few seconds ago, goes by the name of Dead Money.”
“The mob boss? Alright. And the other?”
He flipped a few pages over the back of his clipboard.
“Err… An Ex-royal Guardsmare. Real name unknown, alias is Silent Sword. Disappeared in the riot, seemingly into thin air.”
“Sile- Oh Celestia. That’s the thief of the Archer Ruby. Shining Armor’s gonna have my head over this!”
A majestic oak tree waved with the breeze atop the vertical cliffs outside of Trottingham. The ocean crashed against the resilient rock, hoping to erode its many layers with time. The rock, in turn, refused to bow to the whimsy of the water. It is a familiar sight to me. I’ve been here before, with the exception of it bright and sunny back then.
Ah fleur, your choice of teleport location was uncanny.
Out into the ocean, I could see the island of Arkhoof, its spotlights shining into the air on an attacking airship. The airship was losing altitude because Arkhoof was firing powerful magical blasts at it, destroying its structural integrity. Arkhoof was on fire. Both literally and figuratively, as the attackers launched a firebomb into the cafeteria.
I have no idea how fleur set all this up, but she did an incredible job.
I direct my attention away from Arkhoof and to the old oak directly behind me. I trot closer to find something that had been left behind. A ‘gift’ from Fleur.
On the tree was a carved heart with an arrow shot through it, reading ‘Fleur + Siley 1983’ Incredibly clichéd as it was, it served a purpose.
I know this part.
Pressing my hoof on the heart itself, I heard a soft click and stepped back.
Below the heart, I heard mechanical gears clicking. 2 sections of the tree’s trunk popped outwards and slid aside, revealing a black case within.
I reached in with my left forehoof and pulled out the (admittedly heavy) case. Opening it, I found the field kit I was promised, holding within itself a Stealth Mare Amulet, a small silvery jumpsuit with strength and speed-enhancing enchantments, and a stun-crossbow with a number of dart magazines.
But there was one other thing, wrapped in a light silk. It was rather small, only half the size of my hoof. I unwrapped it slowly, revealing the object protected within.
My sword. My namesake.
It was in its collapsed form. I held it away from me and activated the magical latch. Before my very eyes, a 3 foot-long blade extended from the grip. The blade was extremely thin, able to cut light and medium armor easily. Etched on the blade itself were a few words in Old High Equestrian. Roughly translated, it read “Be swift, be stealthy, be silent.”
There was also a Magipad, a miniature handheld computer, a veritable fusion of magic and science, loaded with maps of the surrounding area and some data on the Archer Ruby. Of course, it also had basic sensors for Electromagnetic waves, radiation sensors, thermal data, and biological scans. They were sturdy and reliable as well – no moving parts.
Checking the map program for nearby settlements, I found Trottingham. I needed some information, and some of my old contacts were bound to be there. But... It was listed as an industrial city, a far cry from the last time I was there, when it was largely an agricultural city.
I guess technology is really changing everything.
Trottingham. The “pride of Northern Equestria”. Over 1 Million ponies were crammed into this sprawl of steel, concrete, and glass. The lowest levels of this metropolis are largely darkly-lit, populated by down-on-their-luck ponies who are either drunk, penniless, or both. Higher levels are largely for the elite and middle-class.
The lowest level is not only where the lower-class and destitute ponies are, it’s also the place where many, many criminals call their home.
Of course, that’s where I need to be. The only contact I could find in the directory was Deadbrook, an ex-mafia Enforcer, now a big name on the black market network. If so much as a pinch of gunpowder sells through less-than-legal channels, he knows about it.
The streets smell of sulfur and refuse – pungent fumes permeate the air, giving the whole place an impure and disgusting feel.
Colts and mares alike crowd the streets, a Technicolor menagerie of the destitute and diseased. Each of their stories is more depressing then the last.
I try not to think about them, and keep trotting to Deadbrook’s flat.
“So, what’s this big emergency?”
Shining Armor was in a priority meeting when he was pulled out by his secretary, a white-coated, lemony-maned mare called File Finder. She was understandable nervous, especially given the news she was about to deliver.
“Uh… Sir, an incident occurred earlier today at Arkhoof. A relatively trivial airship raid resulted in a hostile firebomb landing in the cafeteria. The emergency protocols were activated, and cells were automatically unlocked. The situation was eventually contained, but… well, just take a look at this Automated report from Arkhoof’s Magiframe, as well as the personal note from the Warden.”
Shining Armor’s horn glowed with his trademark blue sheen, and the scroll his assistant was holding floated eerily toward his eyes. He used his telekinesis to unfurl the parchment.
>>> PRIORITY 5 NETWORK TRANSMISSION <<<
ORIGIN DOMAIN: ARKHOOF.HIGHSEC.MIL.NET
DESTINATION DOMAIN: SA.COMMAND.MIL.NET
ARKHOOF PRISON INCIDENT REPORT A-310-451
1500 :: Pirate raid begins. Automated defenses activated.
1517 :: 2/5 Pirate ships terminated. No casualties reported thus far.
1535 :: Firebomb ignites cafeteria supports – secondary explosions detected in Natural gas storage. Fire-control crews deployed.
1603 :: Fire has spread to nearby cell block. Emergency Protocol Delta-5 activated by Warden Strongarm. Prisoner evacuation commencing.
1617 :: Fire under control. Prisoner headcount commences. Inmates 6007, 7309 reported missing.
1625 :: Inmate 6007, [>>Dead Money<<], found unconscious, heavily injured. Sent to infirmary for medical care. Inmate 7309 still missing.
1703 :: Inmate 7309’s mana signature detected leaving Arkhoof Island via Medium-range Teleport. Recovery team deployed.
1803 :: Recovery team unable to locate inmate. Priority 5 communique sent to SA-Command.
ADDITIONAL DATA FOLLOWS:
One “Silent Sword” escaped from Arkhoof today. She had help, too. This mysterious benefactor signed in under a fake name, and what’s more, is that our Gem-Cams picked up little more than a shimmering blur when this pony entered the FOV of any one of them. Somepony has gone to serious trouble to keep their identity a secret, and also to help this ‘Silent Sword’ escape. In addition, the so-called “Pirates” were found to actually be mercenaries working for the SPIRAL Company, upon examination of their bodies and some airship wreckage. Seems to have been a False Flag op to distract us from her escape. Somepony very high up wanted her free. Fuck if I know what for. I’m just the damn Warden. Just thought you should know.
Warden Gatling “Fuck’n Fireflare Bombs” Strongarm
It took all of Shining Armor’s resolve to stifle the inevitable giggle provoked by the Warden’s letter. He had a certainly… unique sense of humor and one hell of a cursing streak.
Shining Armor still knew this was very bad, though. He magically lowered the scroll, and his eyes returned to meet those of his quaking secretary.
“Any further reports?”
“None so far, sir. Arkhoof is in proximity to any number of cities, each of which she may have flown to. Trottingham comes to mind, but she could also have flown across the border to one of the Griffon Kingdoms, but given the tight border control they have, it’s not likely.”
“… Alright. Get a message to the Trottingham Detachment. She’s priority one, engage on sight. Take her alive if possible, but should she present a clear and present threat to the livelihood of other ponies, lethal force is authorized.”
“I’ll send word immediately, sire!”
They took my damn sword. I’m not happy.
Well, my stun crossbow too, but that’s not as important.
I guess Deadbrook is really worried about security, because the second I said ‘I want to speak to Deadbook’, two Earth Pony goons that I didn’t see sneaking up behind me stuffed a burlap sack over my head, scuffing up my mane. They then searched my clothing and bag for weapons and gear, finding it all, even the holdout knife stuffed in my… well, let’s call it a rather uncomfortable location.
The burlap mask stayed on for a while, and I could feel the two stallions pushing me towards… something.
I was blind – helpless. I was pretty strong for a mare, mind you, but I trained for agility, not brute force. These two Earth Ponies were essentially masses of muscle with tiny heads propped on their bodies.
If I saw them coming, I could have neutralized them, but I wasn’t on my guard.
It’s… been a while since I’ve been in the field.
Basically, they have the advantage here, and I know it.
I hear a door opening and closing, and the two goons push me into a room.
“Vell, Vell, Vell. If ‘t isn’t Silent Sword. ‘ees been a Vile, darling.”
The burlap sack was pulled off, and I see a dark-blue tinted unicorn Stallion wearing a newspony cap, a sort of beret.
“Deadbrook. Your Germaneighic accent is strikingly thick, as always.”
He neighed playfully.
“Feh, I heard hyu vas in Arkhoof – und dot hyu stole de Archer Ruby. If dots true, und hy know it is, Vot’s hyu doing out, den?”
“Half right - I was in Arkhoof. But I didn’t steal the Ruby. More to the point, however, I need your help.”
“Hoy! De great Silent Sword needs de help uff vittle old Deadbrook! Zo, vat do hyu need, darling? Explosives dot make de booms? New armor? Zum uff de vittle girly pishtols?”
“Information. Of a less-than-legal nature.”
“Ahh, Zo hyu come for dot service. Vell, I ken tell hyu vhatever hyu need.”
“And in return…?”
“Ah, nuffing too taxing, hy hope. Zum information I vant.”
“You haven’t even heard what the information I need is.”
“Because hy alvedy knows. Hyu vant to clear hyour name – zo hyu needs to find ze ruby, prove hyu didn’t steal it. Unfortunately hy know nuffink about who actually stole it – but hy do have a few leads hyu may be interested in.”
“Alright, Deadbrook. I’ll bite. But only because I somewhat trust you after all we went through in Stableside.”
“Ho! Hyu makes my heart fuzzy ven hyu says shtuff like dot. I ‘vember it too, deep in vebel territories. No shupport. Ve ran into each odder in de Broken Saddle hotel. Hyself a fugitive on de run, hyu a Valkyrie in disguise. Ve found and destroyed de vebel operation togetha, hyu and hy.”
“The information you need in return, then?”
“Oh, dot is easy! Hy just need hyu to be schneaky-like, and sottil, retrieve zum shipping vanifests from a local buz'ness.”
“Uh huh. And what’s this ‘Vestricted Area’?”
“De local distwibution zenter for Veet Apple Zider.”
“Ho yez! Hy vants to hijack zum o’ der shipments! De ztuff is popular down ‘ere! Hy could make a vortune!”
“… Fine, Deadbrook. You’ll get your Manifest.”
…What have I gotten myself into?