TuesdayPrologue to Publish 7 comments · 57 views
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1w, 1dBefore I Regret This 16 comments · 98 views
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62w, 5dA Rhyme For Fimfiction. 13 comments · 62 views
67w, 2dOpinion 3, Clockwork related. 13 comments · 115 views
Clockwork’s eyes went wide as he struggled to keep the contents of his meal within his mouth. Unfortunately, his struggles were all for nought, and the shocked pegasus ended up spitting it out into the fire, sending thin wisps of steam upwards through the air. He coughed a few more times, thumping his chest as he did. When he finally regained his composure, he noticed that the rest of his friends had equally questioning looks on their faces.
Long Shot sighed. “She never reported back, did she?”
“Well,” Askari responded as he got up, adjusting his bow staff as he did. “she got herself caught, again. Want me to go get sis, sis?”
“Wait,” Clockwork tried to wave his forehooves, but his left shoulder, recently wrapped, screamed in protest. After a short grunt of pain, he asked “Mganga’s your sister? Wouldn’t that make her. . .” the pegasus trailed off as he looked to Zecora, raising an eyebrow as he did.
“Yeah, she’s Zecora’s sibling too. She also tends to forget that she’s a much better medic than a soldier. You get your leg blown off and she’ll stitch it back on and get you back on your hooves before you fall unconscious.”
“She seemed to be able to take care of herself when we first met her.” Long Shot pressed a hoof to his chin.
“Half a dozen grunts is foal's play, but any more than that and thins start to get difficult. Anyway, can we please go save my little sister?" Askari half-shouted.
“It’s going to be difficult finding her, since we have no idea where she is.” that trademark sarcasm in the commander’s voice had returned.
“Actually,” a grumbling voice said. Clockwork looked over his shoulder to find the dogs from earlier standing in the doorway, “We know where zebra is, maybe.”
The six soldiers were all either inside or on top of the diamond dog tank. According to Diesel, the current tank pilot who had ordered his companions to stay at the village for further questioning, the Consortium had a forward operating base set up not ten miles northwest. If Mganga or any other living zebra was anywhere this deep into enemy jungle, it was there. The group had been traveling for about an hour now, and they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. That is, if one’s vehicle didn’t have night vision capabilities. Since the tank’s windows were composed of a dozen or so tourmaline prisms, the vessel’s canine driver was able to see exactly where he was going. Despite the tank having room for six, it was still somehow crowded. The pegasus had to share the cabin with an attractive mare and a massive zebra who had to crouch down so his head didn’t hit the ceiling. After another few endless minutes, the tank came to an abrupt halt that nearly sent its occupants sprawling. Before they could ask just what the hay had happened, Diesel announced that they had arrived.
“What?” Askari maneuvered his way around the other occupants of the tank and peered out its dual viewports. Even in the enhanced light, there was nothing that looked remotely like a base. “I don’t see anything.”
“That’s because I have map. This farthest we can go without detection.”
“How can they see us?” Askari asked.
“Depends on definition. Bigger installations use sound waves to paint map of area.” Diesel explained. “Tank big enough to detect, but we behind large amount of plants, enough to hide, maybe.”
Askari rolled his eyes. “That’s comforting.”
“Commander, how do you suggest we proceed?” Charger asked.
“Well we’re not assaulting them head-on. A bullet in the head would be a much easier method of suicide.”
“Do you have a plan at all, night pony?” the massive zebra asked.
Long Shot readjusted his armor, which made a barely audible rustling through the squad's radios. “Not really. I enjoy making it up as I go along. It’s worked so far.”
With only a grunt, Askari pushed open the tank’s hatch, and the three equines inside shimmied out with some help from their comrades above. After they had all filed out, they grouped together at the side of the tank. Clockwork was a bit surprised; never before had he seen a night so dark. To make matters worse, it was a new moon, so Luna’s heavenly sphere wouldn’t be of any assistance tonight. He could barely see his teammates, which were only a short distance away. In fact, the only thing he could see clearly were his commander’s draconic, glowing yellow eyes.
“Alright, here’s where we’re at.” the Nocturni knelt down, illuminating his horn as he did. Using a dpare sniper round, he quickly sketched a crude diagram of a large rectangle with six little X's to one side. “We’re a force of six going up against a base that’s likely got over a hundred dogs inside. Not to mention whatever these “fey” are. The odds are heavily in the enemy’s favor, but that doesn’t mean we can’t win. If we stay quiet and careful, then we should be able to get inside, grab Mganga, and get out before anyone notices us. Silent takedowns and melee weapons only. Guns are a last resort. If we do have to go loud, make each shot count. Got it?”
“The plan is sound, but what if the base is too large, and we must use firearms before we find my sister?” Askari asked.
“Base not big at all. Still under construction last I heard,” the dog exclaimed from within his makeshift fortress.
“Regardless, we shouldn’t take our sweet time,” Long Shot added. “Once we’re inside, we split so we can cover more ground in less time. Askari, you seem like you can handle yourself, so you’ll go in alone. Radio if you need any help, which I doubt you will. Charger and Clockwork will stick together. Switcher, you’re with me. We’ll stay in constant radio contact, but kept the conversations short. We clear?”
“Crystal, sir,” Charger replied.
“Then let’s move, we’ve got prisoners to liberate.”
Clockwork was a bit shocked at how quickly his eyes had adjusted to the night time environment. In what seemed like no time at all, he could see as though it were day, sort of. He would still trip on fallen logs or rotten stumps, and when he fell on his left shoulder he had to cover his mouth so any nearby dog patrols wouldn’t hear his cries of pain. However, those incidents were few and far between, and the team was making progress as a whole. They knew they were getting close, as they had to hide more and more often whenever a group of dogs appeared unexpectedly. Despite Askari’s immense size, Clockwork was amazed at how well his stripes helped him to blend in with his native environment.
Within minutes of the team beginning their journey on hoof, it had begun to rain. The water droplets were huge and fell rather slowly. So large in fact, that Clockwork often flinched when one hit him square on the nose. The rest of the team didn’t seem phased by the rain, but Charger was a different story altogether, for she had ceased all movement. Out of concern, the pegasus placed a hoof on her shoulder, lightly bringing her back to the situation at hand..
“Hey Charger, you alright?” he asked.
“To be perfectly honest with you, no.” the mare hung her head, rain pouring off of her drenched mane and tail.
“How come?” Clockwork tilted his head slightly.
Charger let out a short sigh. “Until we get inside of the base, I will be unable to provide assistance of any kind. Even then I may not be able to help.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I’ve thought about it for some time now, since we departed Mji Mkuu in fact. I cannot use my gloves against enemies at anywhere past close range. Furthermore, my aim is substandard for a High Risk Operations team and my abilities would only be hampered further by the rain."
“Quit putting yourself down like that.” Clockwork reached out a forehoof and touched it to her chin, lifting her head to look her in the eyes. “To be perfectly honest with you, I think you’re the most valuable asset this team has. Never think otherwise. If you do, then I’ll make sure to change your mind. You got that?”
Charger nodded. Her brilliant sapphire eyes still looked as beautiful as the day he had first seen them.
Clockwork smiled. He considered kissing her then, but he quickly realized that it most likely wouldn’t have felt right for either of them. They were in the middle of a war zone, in the dark, and most importantly, the mugginess of their surroundings made them both feel vaguely itchy. Well, that and the pegasus already had a marefriend. Instead, he settled on complimenting her. “You know, umm. . . ahem. You look great when your mane’s wet.”
The corners of Charger’s mouth turned upwards and she let out a small laugh. “Liar.”
Clockwork gave her an affectionate pat on the shoulder with his real wing, and the duo hurried to rejoin the group.
Eventually, the soldiers reached the top of a ridge. Long Shot ordered them all to drop to their stomachs, continuing the journey at a crawl until they managed to peek over the hill. Diesel didn’t lie, relatively speaking, the base appeared rather small, but it was nevertheless impressive to look at even if it wasn’t finished. The building was constructed of the same off-white steel as Diesel’s tank, and even at this distance, large turrets were clearly visible on the floor just below the roof. Clockwork silently cursed to himself, how the hay were they going to infiltrate that?
“Let’s see what we’ve got here. . .” Long Shot unfolded the bipod from his long rifle and set it on the ground just in front of him. “We’ve got dogs posted at major vantage points around the base’s perimeter. Snipers on the roof, heavy turrets on the next level down. Take a look.” he quickly removed a scope from one of his armor's pockets and moved away from the rifle after he had attached it, allowing Clockwork to look through the scope, which allowed for his comrades to see as he did.
Long Shot was right. It looked as though there were dogs posted every five or six meters away from each other. Snipers (if the length of those spears and the sights attached were anything to go by) that looked eager to use their weapons paced back and forth along the rooftop, gazing off into the distance every now and then. The turrets the dogs just below them occupied looked as though they could fire blasts the size of a pony’s torso, and probably turn anything smaller than a buffalo to ash. Clockwork relinquished control of the rifle and let Long Shot take it back.
“You know,” the pegasus said, “if we can get up against that wall, then the guards wouldn’t be able to fire even grazing shots. Getting to that wall will be the biggest problem. Wait . . .” Clockwork gazed across the base and noticed a few scant trees near the installion’s rear. “If we can get to that treeline, then we’ll have a straight shot, I think.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me.” Long Shot chimed. “We ready to move?”
The group of soldiers nodded.
“Then let’s go.” the commander shimmied back down the hill until he was at its base, the rest of the team following suit. It wasn’t much longer before they had circumnavigated the area, staying as far back behind the treeline as they could without losing sight of the doggish structure before them. They gradually crept up until the only thing standing between them and the base were a few trees and a lot of guns.
With only a few silent hoof gestures and nods, the team crouched down as far as they could while still on their respective appendages and hurried towards the base. Each soldier had to deliberately slow themselves to a crawl to avoid drawing attention, the slow pace rendering them undetectable to its sensors as well as helping them conceal their forms in the wet darkness. After about a minute of quite possibly the most tense atmosphere Clockwork had ever experienced, the group had made it to a back door. As they stacked up, Clockwork realized something.
“Commander, your rifle won’t be very wieldly inside a base this size, not to mention loud. We are on a stealth mission, after all.”
“Way ahead of you, kid.” the Nocturni unscrewed a portion of the rifle’s barrel, replaced it with a silencer, and stuck the bipod in one of his armor’s pockets. “Boom, now it’s a silent carbine that fires sniper rounds.” a smirk spread across the stallion’s face. “Commence standard breach maneuver.”
Clockwork let out a small laugh through his nose. “That’s cheating, commander.” with some discomfort, he smashed in the door with his wing. Switcher threw a vial through the entryway that emitted an extremely bright light before the team hurried inside, weapons at the ready.
A few dogs were inside, rubbing their eyes. One was barking something in doggish, so Clockwork had no idea what they were saying. Luckily, none were touching their radios. Long Shot went ahead of the team and, without so much as a breath, got the last dog on the ground before the first one was fully dead. After a half-hearted attempt to get some blood out of his mane, he gestured for the team to advance further.
After several dead dogs, Long shot had ordered the team to split up. Each group had gone their separate ways, and Clockwork believed that he and Charger had made very little progress, if any at all. They had breached over a dozen doors by now, and there was no sign of Mganga or any other zebra for that matter. They probably would’ve found her by now, were it not for Clockwork being unable to understand the doggish language. He’d get Diesel to teach him the basics when he returned, if he returned.
Clockwork was busy closing the terrified eyes of a recently slain diamond dog when his radio emitted a small ping! He pressed a forehoof to it. “Yes, commander?”
“Kid. We just got a tip from some now dead dogs that confirms Diesel’s earlier information. They’ve got more than just Mganga locked up here. If you find them, give ‘em your radio for a sec and Askari will talk to ‘em.”
“Did they know where the prison block is?”
“They were just grunts, so no.”
“Understood. We’ll keep at it until we-” the pegasus was cut off as his ears twitched. He heard pawsteps rapidly growing in volume as the dog that those paws belonged to ran down the hallway. With a few small nods, Charger shorted out the lights, and the two ponies were plunged into darkness. They retreated as far as they could into a small storage room, barely managing to keep their muzzles out of the hallway's emergency lighting. The dog came around the corner and looked into the room, his chocolate brown eyes widening as he did. Instead of screaming, which he should’ve done, he began rapidly sniffing the air. He barked at the shadows, and without a moment's hesitation leapt at Clockwork. The two struggled against each other without so much as making a sound, but the enemy quickly took the upper hoof by playing dirty. The dog pinned Clockwork to the floor and bit through his bandages and into his sprained shoulder.
The pegasus gave up his struggle almost immediately, instead focusing all of his energy on trying not to scream as he experienced the second most painful sensation he had ever felt.
His efforts were all for nought.
Clockwork screamed, not holding anything back. His throat went sore in moments and closed his eyes soon after, waiting for death to take him. Strangely enough, he never felt cold fangs slice into his throat. His eyes bolted open to both the sight and sound of his attacker screaming as Charger pressed both of her now glowing forehooves in between the dog’s shoulder blades. After a few seconds, the dog rolled off of Clockwork and huddled up in a corner.
"Clockwork, are you alright?!" Charger knelt at her friend's side, helping him to his hooves and letting him lean on her.
"Which answer do you want, the comforting lie or the really painful truth?"
Before Charger could answer, her radio emitted a few sharp beeps.
"What the hell was that?!” Askari asked
"That was Clockwork. He's been injured."
"He's got a good set of lungs, I'll give him that." Long Shot's voice came over the device. "How bad is his injury? Can he still fight?"
"I was bitten by a dog," Charger held the radio in front of Clockwork's muzzle, "and in my sprained shoulder of all places. I'm not using this leg for a while.”
“When we find Mganga, she’ll fix you up,” Askari cut in.
"Damn. . . I wouldn't want to see the dog," Long Shot replied.
"It's actually still alive, probably scared out of its mind though."
"Seriously? Huh. . . see if he speaks equestrian. If he does, figure out where the prisoner block is."
"How do you want me to do that?" Clockwork asked.
"Interrogation. How else? One last thing; the rest of the base knows we're here. Go loud." the commander's transmission ended with a gunshot. After taking a moment to collect their thoughts, the duo gradually made their way over to the whimpering pile of fur still huddled in the corner.
Clockwork set his radio to full sensitivity. Everything that his microphone picked up would be transmitted to his allies. "Do you speak equestrian?" Clockwork asked in a deadpan tone of voice.
The dog looked up, some of his fur (or at least the strands that hadn't been burnt off yet) still standing on edge from the jolt earlier. The canine's eyes were glazed over with fear, and was so scared that he was visibly shaken. It nodded.
"Then say so!" Clockwork shouted, his throat hurting as he did. The pegasus drew his pistol and aimed it directly between the dog's eyes, all while still leaning on Charger.
"I s-speak p-p-pony," the dog stuttered.
"Where do you keep your prisoners?" Clockwork said each word with a slight pause in between them so the dog would understand.
The dog nodded. "Close by. Only one prison block in base."
"Where is it?!" Clockwork shouted, pulling back his weapon's hammer to the halfway point.
"N-next hallway over, take right at first chance! H-has big red glowing sign over door! Can't miss!” the dog let out a few nervous laughs, but quieted down when he realized Clockwork hadn’t lowered his weapon.
“You’re right, I can’t miss at this range.”
“P-please don't kill me!”
“Why shouldn’t I? You’ve already given me the information I need and you tried to end my life not a minute ago!” the pegasus spat through gritted teeth.
“I’m sorry! Just following orders!” the dog covered his face with his arms. “Have family back home, mate and three pups!"
Clockwork raised an eyebrow. He thought the dog may have been lying, but those beliefs were cast aside when he saw the dogs facial fur become matted with his own tears.
“Name. Now,” Clockwork demanded.
“Roughly translates in your language as Seastone,” the dog answered between ragged breaths.
Clockwork sighed and holstered his weapon. "Alright, Seastone, I won't kill you."
"Th-thank you, a thousand times thank you!" the dog’s voice was shaking, with more than a little pathetic whimper behind it, at which Charger gave a look to Clockwork normally reserved for puppy-punters. "You not regret decision to spare me, pony. I take you to prison block, I live. Yes?"
Long Shot's voice came over the pegasus' radio. "Let him lead you there. Worst case scenario is you end up inside of the prison. We’ll find it either way."
"Got it." Clockwork motioned for the dog to stand. "Lead the way."
Clockwork had apologized to Charger several times already for needing to lean on her, but she continued to say that she didn't mind. The other dogs that occupied the base were scurrying to and fro, and didn't seem to mind the duo's presence, but that was probably because they looked to have taken a major beating and were being led by a fellow soldier. Well, either that or the fact that there were four well trained hostiles carving through their base.
“We here,” Seastone announced. He definitely hadn’t lied about the entrance’s description. “Beyond door is prison block. Your friend likely in there. Never had access myself. Shouldn’t be problem for you.”
Clockwork tried to respond, but was cut off as he heard a loud combination of gunshots, dying screams, and Askari emitting zebrish battle cries. Clockwork motioned for Charger to lean him against the wall, and after doing so, drew his pistol. Charger nodded and brought her file to bear, a few sparks jumping over it from her gloves. Without another word, the earth pony mare approached a group of dogs that had their back turned to her and let loose.
Despite the situation he was in, Clockwork couldn’t help but think about how graceful Charger was. Sure, she had her clumsy moments, had being the key term there. Her concerns about not being useful to the team were humbling, as she moved like water when she fought. Diamond Dogs fell in twos and threes, sometimes they would run in fear, only to be shot dead moments later by either her rifle or Clockwork's LeMane. Even during the middle of a heated battle, she was beautiful.
After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only a minute, the team finally regrouped. Charger was sweating, Long Shot’s armor had a few dents; Askari's only noticable injury was a scrape across the bridge of his nose while Switcher-7 looked completely untouched.
“Who’s this?” Askari asked.
“Name Seastone. Am friend,” the dog explained, the tone of his voice also saying “please don’t kill me.”
“Beat it. You’ve done what you need. We won’t kill you, but I can't say the same for my brothers and sisters locked up in here.”
Seastone nodded, shook Clockwork’s hoof, apologized again for the bite, and sprinted away. The pegasus watched him go, silently wondering how many families he’d ruined over the short amount of time he had been involved in the war and taking solace that he’d saved at least one.
“Askari, if you would you do the honors?”
“With pleasure.” at the nocturni’s asking, the zebra behemoth holstered his bow staff and loosened up his hind legs before turning around and bucking the door. It bent inwards and was sent flying backwards a good distance, its journey stopping only when it crashed into the bars of a prison cell. The team entered expecting heavy resistance, but were greeted only by the sound of cheering as dozens of zebras applauded their rescuers. It wasn't long before every cell was opened, the zebras inside instructed by Askari to head for the armory, take the base by whatever means necessary, and head to Mji Mkuu as soon as they could.
“Something’s not right, where’s Mganga?” Long Shot asked.
The team wandered through the surprisingly massive prison block, passing cell after empty cell. Just as the team was about to turn and head the opposite direction, they at last discovered a single occupied cell. Inside was a dirty beaten mass of striped fur, some of the white tainted faint red. Askari literally wrenched apart the cell’s bars to get inside.
“Sis! Sis! You alright?!” Askari lifted Mganga’s head and cradled it in his forehooves.
“Switcher!” Long Shot yelled. The disguised changeling rushed over, removed his hat, and placed his head to Mganga’s chest. After a tense silence, he raised his head.
“She is alive but her vitals are extremely weak. We must return at once!”
The team didn’t even need to speak, their silent looks agreement enough. Askari gently placed his little sister on his back and the group began to run. It felt like fire ants were crawling through his shoulder as Clockwork raced after his comrades, but he wouldn’t let something as trivial as a bite wound keep him down, at least for now anyway..
Eventually, the team made it back outside and to the tank. They didn’t encounter any plasma rain, suggesting that the freed zebras had already overtaken much of the enemy installation. Clockwork and Charger jumped inside of the cabin and helped Diesel reawaken the vehicle. Askari slipped inside shortly afterwards. He laid Mganga on the floor, keeping her steady as the tank roared to life. In seconds, they were on their way.
Greystone was not having a good day.
It certainly wasn’t because of the reports; he knew quite well that the Zebrican front was going to be difficult to obtain. He decided to promote a few good political enemies of his into a sub committee to oversee the actual arms distribution and war effort. If anything else went wrong, and surely something would, it wouldn't be a complete loss.
The source of his discontent wasn’t the condition of his personal dwellings, either. Admittedly, the high council meeting chamber was bare of anything that could be damaged by the average intruder, being mostly smooth stone and granite seats. There were no domestic issues on the metaphorical table here. All the maids were well compensated and his butlers bribed, as tradition demanded.
His problems were actually coming from his guest.
Empress Carapace sat one seat over from Greystone's personal chair, tapping her black chitinous hooves against the rock.
Those who listened for long enough would find that the changeling queen's voice was rather annoying.
“His barbarity! He talks of being a predator but knows not of what he speaks! He talks of culling the weak but attacks the strong! I can hardly believe we willingly agreed to take his side!”
Her voice, already a bit whiny, raised an octave more than it normally was, which made the dog’s head spin.
“I assure you, Empress, he is far more capable than he appears.”
She let out something between a hiss and a squeal, giving the dog a toothy look of mild fear. “What is he, anyway? He doesn’t even breath.”
Greystone crossed his arms, looking the changeling in the eye.
“Don’t give me that, Carapace, you know I don’t know. He's the most closely guarded secret in that damned feathered kingdom of his. Unless you can manage to spawn a drone who can change into griffon shape, we're both in the dark.”
She huffed at that. “I was told he was partly phoenix, but that can’t be true,” she muttered, “He’s not fey, undead, or mortal, but he’s certainly not divine.”
He groaned at the obviousness of that statement. “Enough of this, we need to focus.”
"Then I ask again, why do you insist on limiting the number of my subjects deployed to Zebrica? We have taken Appleloosa and are in the process of converting it. We could strip the jungle to the bone within weeks! So, why hold us back?"
"The zebras know the land, which matches them against our machine superiorty, and while my soldiers are having a dificult time terminating that stupid illicit operations team, we are gaining the high ground nonetheless. I intend to go forth with larger scale deployments of Battlefright."
"I distinctly remember the masked crone telling us not to poison the land we conquer."
"Sacrifices must be made for the good of the Supremacy. It cannot be avoided. Back to the topic at paw, the sheer number of carnivores alone would consume at least a tenth of your forces before they reach our base of operations, and we are still having trouble with the swamp demons."
Carapace let out a shriek as she slammed her hooves on the table, cracking it without even damaging herself in the process. "Do not speak of my people's damned waterkin."
Both leaders were silent for a long while, and then Carapace spoke once more.
"Perhaps I have an idea that would benefit us both."
". . . You have my attention, for the time being."