Surrounded by tall peaks and vast canyons,The heroines begin the assault on the enemy base.Much will be revealed, for better or worse.But will the final reckoning truly end the war?Chapter 19“End of Deception”
May 11th1300 hrsThe Valley of Kings
The ponies had finally arrived. The sides of the nearby canyons were filled with griffin soldiers, who were waiting for their leader’s order to begin the battle. Twilight Sparkle thought that this could be an opportunity to see how they were truly loyal to Red Cyclone. She stepped forward, keeping the banner of Equestria in the air with her magic, with multiple griffin sights following her. The purple unicorn spoke with a very formal tone.
“Red Cyclone! We all come here in the name of Princesses Celestia and Luna, rulers of Equestria. We offer you a chance to stand down. It’s not too late to surrender. There is no need for any more bloodshed. ”
The crimson griffon’s reply was a roar of laughter. He sounded very confident.
“Why are you wasting our time, stupid equines? I
will decide when this war will end, and now is not the time, yet. There is no point in peace settlement. You better worry about yourselves. This is our turf, and we will fly as we please. Soldiers! Get to your positions! Let’s give those wretched ponies the punishment they deserve for killing our general!”
As soon as Red Cyclone finished his speech, no less than fifty griffin soldiers flew upward, ready to begin the final confrontation. The pegasi were not hesitating any longer. All of them headed to meet the griffons in battle. The whole battlefield had several anti-air turrets placed here and there. The plan was formulated for the ground forces and occasional pegasi to attack and destroy them while the winged ponies would be supporting those on the ground. Both earth ponies and unicorns were capable of defending themselves, but not against a large scale attack. Before Rainbow Dash and Spitfire headed into combat side-by-side, Gale’s voice sounded in every pony’s headphones:
“To all units. This is probably our final sortie. Unlike you, fighting on the frontlines, I sit behind the monitor and observe the battle. I’m in no position to ask you anything, but please allow me this one request. End this war and return to Equestria. That is all.”
“This is Spitfire, roger that. Let him talk as bold as he wants, this war ends now! Ain’t that right, Rainbow?” the fiery-maned pegasus spoke with determination.
“We’ll show him what we got,” Rainbow assured the Wonderbolt captain.
“Twilight, if you’ll need help, the other squadrons will provide air-to-ground support. But our main priority is to break through their defenses and take out Fortress Intimidation.”
“I understand. We appreciate your help, Rainbow,” Twilight replied. “Lead the way!”
“All pegasi, you are cleared hot! Engage!
” Spitfire announced through the radio.
In an instant, the skies above The Valley of Kings were filled with fighters from both sides, each of them fighting for their own cause. The griffins blindly trusted Red Cyclone and were still not aware of his true intentions. All the while, as the battle went on and he observed it from a safe distance, leaving the command over the army to Zeakros, the crimson griffon had another plan set in motion. It wasn’t just a few minutes after the battle commenced that the whole situation was going downhill for the griffins. Because the superior agility of the ponies allowed them to stay ahead of the anti-air turrets’ fire while keeping the majority of the enemy forces occupied, they had a great advantage. Zeakros turned to one of the soldiers who was whining especially loudly:
“Don’t be fooled by their numbers! Don’t make yourselves a target. Spread out!”
“Dammit!” the soldier’s reply was filled with angst.
“Don’t superior defenses count for anything? Sir, we’re losing!”
“Stop your whining,” Red Cyclone responded.
“Besides, I’ve got a little surprise for those meddlesome ponies... heh, heh, heh...”
He readjusted the frequency to contact the operators inside Fortress Intimidation.
Red Cyclone decided that the time has come. He was about to demonstrate them the secret weapon stored inside his fortress.
“Commence the operation!”
Focusing on their own duty, Rainbow Dash and her wingmares flew through several canyons leading to the location of Fortress Intimidation. These canyons were packed with some anti-air turrets as well, but, luckily for them, the Sweeper and Lancer squadrons offered to take those out. They had used a simple, but effective tactic: when one team drew the turrets’ fire, the other went in to destroy them. As the two squadrons were going ahead, all mechanical contraptions were soon gone. The route was clear.
The Garuda team and Mobius joined the Mirage squadron as well, curious to what this fortress looked like. Now that he thought about it, the blue stallion remembered a certain base he destroyed during the war in the west. Its design and placement he saw earlier was almost matching the one of Red Cyclone’s creation...
-----------------MEANWHILECloudsdale Command Center
“So, the battle has begun...” Sky Eye thought aloud.
“I only hope they will all make it back alive...”
He noticed Gale’s uneasy expression.
“Not really... I’m concerned about Red Cyclone’s behaviour... Didn’t you noticed that he’s acting like he has another ace in the hole?” the pegasus operator asked.
Though Sky Eye didn’t said anything, he agreed completely. There was something disturbing in Red Cyclone’s confidence... Just then, Gale received a call.
“Come in Gale, this is Hornet 1. Do you read me?” a voice of an adolescent colt asked.
“Yes, I hear you well. How’s the operation?”
“We’ve reached Asgard per your orders, just like we’ve planned. And there’s no one here. It appears all have left for Gryphus and its vicinity.”
“Acknowledged, Hornet 1,” Gale responded. “So, did you managed to find anything?”
"Wait, what's this about?" Sky Eye asked.
Gale told him that, knowing Red Cyclone’s way of thinking so far, there must have been some kind of secret behind his fortress. That’s why he ordered the Hornet squadron to investigate the weapon factory in Asgard in hopes of finding secret plans or blueprints or anything that would help. Sky Eye thought of it as “a smart move.” Gale again asked through the radio if they managed to discover anything. The answer nearly made Sky Eye fell from the chair the operator was sitting on.
“We did found some plans about Fortress Intimidation...” Hornet 1 started with a slightly ominous voice.
“But there’s something odd about them... they show some structures and a large object with a shell... or should I say, a warhead. It’s enormous... and it’s apparently called... wait... a ‘burst missile’ or something like that...”
Sky Eye’s expression appeared shocked. His irises widened when he heard that term. Gale noticed it and asked Sky Eye if he knew anything about those “burst missiles.” He explained to Gale in detail that a burst missile is a special type of weapon that can be launched from a long distance and is known for exploding multiple times in midair, capable of obliterating everything above 1000 and below 5000 feet. Sky Eye saw some of these missiles in action while he helped Mobius in tracking down some of Urusean rouges. Additionally, they were also used in a different war im the west, to a truly devastating effect.
The white pegasus told Gale to quickly radio all pony forces in to tell them about this new threat or else they will experience a horror beyond their beliefs...
-----------------1320 hrsThe Valley of Kings
So far, everything was going well for the ponies. Their desire to finally put the war to an end seemed to be giving them some sort of inner strength. Flare Star sent another griffon soldier to the ground with a swift kick to the neck. She wiped the sweat off her forehead.
“Whew, this heat is getting to me... Hey, Spitfire! When this mission is over, I’m ordering a first-class cold shower!”
“Sure, as long as you’ll come back alive,” Spitfire replied with a chuckle.
Many griffins were putting up fierce resistance. One of Rainbowshine’s wingmares was wounded in the left wing, making her flight unstable. Tornado Swirl and Overdrive were also under constant assaults, though their new companions helped them survive. It was at this moment that everypony heard Gale’s urgent voice:
“All allied forces, be advised! The enemy is preparing to launch a burst missile! All pegasi, increase your altitude to above 5000 feet!”
“Huh? A burst missile?” Thunderlane sounded confused.
When Sky Eye quickly explained the details, fear appeared on a majority of the ponies’ faces. Seeing everything from a save distance, Red Cyclone let out a diabolical smirk when he heard:
“Ready to launch, sir!”
“Good. Then launch it. Fire at will!” the crimson griffon ordered.
Gale got the reading of a huge missile leaving the fortress and slowly approaching the battlefield. Since the griffins were informed beforehand, they already flew above the dangerous radius. Meanwhile, the pegasi were also desperately trying to get away from the incoming explosion.
“Estimated time to impact: 20 seconds! Hurry! Climb! Go higher or you’ll be vaporized!” Gale exclaimed.
“Move it, everypony! Climb above 5000 feet! Go, go, go!” Spitfire hollered.
Unfortunately, despite the warning coming in the nick of time, some pegasi were unable to reach the designated height fast enough.
“This is Rainbow. We’ve just seen a big missile overhead! It’s coming in your direction! What the hay is going on?!” the blue pegasus was momentarily distracted.
But Gale didn’t had time to answer.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1, impact!”
A great, expanding wall of fireballs materialized in the region’s airspace. Screams of ponies could be heard. Those caught in the explosions could only be seen by their silhouettes slowly vanishing into thin air... Though the forces led by the bearers of the Elements of Harmony were apparently unharmed, the same couldn’t be said about the pegasi.
When the effect of the burst missile died out, many of them were still in the air. Gale was shocked to see such a destructive weapon in action. He radioed Spitfire in, hoping every Wonderbolt was alive. They were. Spitfire then asked for any casualties among the squadrons.
“I’ve lost contact with Sorcerer 3...” Rainbowshine replied.
“Burner 2 is down,” Tornado Swirl reported.
“Racer 3 didn’t make it...” Overdrive said somberly.
“I can’t reach Phoenix 3 and 4,” Sunburst reported.
“What on earth was that?! It looked like molten steel raining from the sky!”
Thunderlane was visibly shaken by the attack, as were his airmares.
“Watch out!” Sky Eye warned. “The power of the burst missiles is beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Don’t be caught in its range or you’re toast!”
Now was a good time to reorganize the ranks. But the ponies had very little time to regroup, as the griffin soldiers used this chance to attack them. This test of power boosted their confidence. Gale confirmed that the missile came from Fortress Intimidation, and the operators inside of it were planning to launch another missile soon enough. He and Sky Eye were still analyzing the situation, trying to find a way to stop this new, dreadful weapon as quickly as possible. It probably had something to do with the generators inside the fortress, but they weren’t certain about that just yet.
“So that’s his plan,” Flare Star ascertained.
“He wants to use those ‘burst missiles’ to wipe us out, so his soldiers can kill the ground forces. That Red Cyclone is one cocky bastard!”
“Sweeper squadron, Lancer squadron, get back here ASAP,” Spitfire ordered to Quick Chaser and Thunder Flicker.
“The enemy is launching another offence.”
Garuda team was also asked to return and aid the pegasi. Talisman and Shamrock, as well as the flight leaders, understood the request of support. They believed that Mirage squadron would make it to Fortress Intimidation without much problems now that the anti-air turrets were out of commission. Besides, they still had Mobius’ support.
And yet, the blue stallion was focused on something else... Sky Eye noticed it as well.
“Mobius 1, bandit at nine o’clock... It’s him.”
Rainbow Dash knew what the operator meant. Mobius glimpsed on a lone griffon to his right. Without saying a word, he turned sharply in that direction, leaving Rainbow and the others. But before he left, he briefly smiled at the pegasi, as if he was wishing them good luck.
When Echo noticed Mobius heading his way, he stopped in midair and waited for his rival to approach him. As soon as they were facing each other, the griffon let out a satisfied smile.
“There you are, Heavenly Ribbon... It’s time to put our battle to an end.”
“Do you really want to die fighting Mobius? Think this through.”
Sky Eye tried to reason with Echo once more, to no avail.
“I have no intentions of dying... not that easily, at least. I will fight him in the name of my fallen comrades... and those I’ve lost in Urusea... I didn’t knew you would actually appear in Equestria to begin with, but the only way I could face you was to pledge my loyalty to Red Cyclone. But no more!”
Echo pointed his talon at the blue stallion.
“If this is going to be my last battle, then I want it to be a great one. I know you can give me such battle, Mobius. Let us fight! Don’t disappoint me!”
“Seems like it’s unavoidable,” Sky Eye figured out.
“Mobius 1... engage!”
The silver-maned stallion now had his sight focused solely on Echo, squinting his eyes in concentration. The griffon remembered that expression well. For a brief moment both fighters were hovering in the clouds before they darted toward each other and clashed in a duel. Their moves were quick, decisive and fueled with desire to bring their opponent down. While Mobius had a superior reaction time, Echo was well-prepared for this fight. Dodging Mobius’ front punch, he attempted to strike him with his talons. But the stallion saw him move through and quickly avoided the attack, leaving Echo open for a counter. The ace flier delivered a powerful kick in the griffon’s chest. He recovered in a blink of an eye and retaliated by scratching Mobius’ face. His expression hadn’t changed, he still seemed focused.
Echo decided to attack Mobius from behind. Sky Eye wasn’t guiding him this time; he knew that this was a fight between the two aces. Using quick and daring maneuvers that would be impossible for a regular pegasus, Mobius managed to confuse Echo. He tried to follow up, but it was getting harder for him with every second.
One of these movements was especially difficult to execute, and it soon put the griffon in a very uneasy predicament. The blue pegasus started rolling effortlessly in midair, altering between a slight ascend and descend before suddenly halting his movement and facing Echo, who headed straight at him. Such sudden change of direction allowed Mobius to fly up. It was unexpected for the griffon. He flew directly below the pegasus. Mobius used this opportunity to finish the fight with a powerful and precise buck in the neck.
Echo knew it was over. He had lost. But his face was showing that he did not hold a grudge towards his opponent. There was a small smirk of gratitude on it. “Good fight, Mobius... Heavenly Ribbon. You are indeed worthy of your title. Gult 4... I am coming... wait for me...”
Echo’s eyes closed as he fell to the ground. Mobius looked at it with a stoic expression, and, even though he wasn’t showing it, he also praised his opponent. Their case was finally solved.
“That’s a kill. Great job, Mobius 1. Let’s go back and see if the other pony forces still need our assistance,” Sky Eye’s voice sounded in his communicator.
Mobius responded with a nod and flied back to the main battlefield. For some reason, he felt regret for ending Echo’s life... but figured that it was the best solution for his restless soul.
-----------------1345 hrsThe Valley of Kings, Fortress Intimidation vicinity
While crossing the canyons, Rainbow Dash’s squadron was slowly nearing the Fortress. Firefly kept turning her head to the left and right every now and then, looking for her adversary. Yet Black Star was nowhere to be seen. Finally, when Lightning Bolt reported that the designated area was only 500 yards away, beyond the canyon in front of the pegasi, Rainbow ordered her wingmares to increase altitude and fly past it. Just as they emerged outside of the canyon, they stopped flying and gazed at the huge complex before them. It could appear as small from the air, but the main base was enormous.
“Holy turnips... Look at the size of that thing!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.
“There are a lot of anti-air turrets near the tunnels. If we’re supposed to destroy them, we’ll have to be in constant movement or they will get us in no-time”, Lightning Bolt warned.
“This isn’t Fortress Intimidation, this is Fortress Intolerance
!” Medley ascertained, slightly upset. “Red Cyclone should’ve called it like that, it’s more fitting.”
“Maybe... but I’m afraid that name is already taken, Medley” Lightning Bolt remarked, unable to hold a giggle.
Rainbow called out to her friends to focus on the mission. Enemy reinforcements could have been on their way, so the operation had to be carried out quickly. Firefly wasn’t listening. She noticed a single shape appearing to her right. It was Black Star, she was sure of that. He waited for her. Exchanging glances with Rainbow Dash, Firefly parted way with her companions.
“Sorry for leaving you like this, girls... but you have your fight and I have mine. If I’ll make out of this alive, I’ll help you in taking that base down”, she promised.
Others didn’t try to stop her. When Firefly disappeared from their sights, Rainbow tried to come up with a strategy on how to get through the tunnels. She called Gale and told him their location. He reminded them of the details. One of the pegasi had to fly through each of the three tunnels to destroy the generators located inside of them. As they were protected by several anti-air turrets, they could only have one attempt. If they were to slow down, even for a split second, the turrets would open fire at the flier and undoubtedly kill her.
Rainbow figured that this feat could only be performed by someone who was both strong and fast...
“OK, here’s the plan,” she said.
“Lightning, Derpy, Fluttershy. Each of you will come with me. Fly next to a tunnel. I want you to draw the turrets’ attention away from me while I’ll destroy the generators. You don’t have to destroy those turrets, just focus their fire on yourselves. Cloud Kicker, Medley! You’re going to keep an eye on any upcoming enemies. If they show up, try to hold them off.”
The plan was very risky, but the six pegasi were determined to end the conflict. They all agreed to Rainbow’s concept. None of them knew they were being watched by someone... “So, you’ve made it, Rainbow Dash... Let’s see what you’re made of.”
Rainbow started flying at a fast pace toward the first tunnel, located to the right. Another burst missile was just launched at the main battlefield. Rainbow Dash asked Gale if destroying those generators would stop the missiles from being launched. He confirmed that after an analysis. That was more than enough reason for Rainbow to fly toward the generator. Lightning Bolt went ahead and flew dangerously close to the turrets which opened fire at her. Thanks to her good agility, she managed to avoid the bullets. Rainbow spotted the generator to the right of her.
As she increased speed, the blue pegasus pierced through the construction, rendering it useless. It exploded a few seconds later. Gale reported that the missile launching rate was reduced by 30%, allowing the pegasi in The Valley of Kings to get a short breather once they avoided the burst missile launched before. Rainbow was about to head for the second tunnel...
Black Star was already standing on the ground, his back turned and eyes closed. Firefly saw him from above and landed almost behind him. When the black-feathered griffon heard her hooves touching the ground, he opened his eyes and spoke slowly:
“So, you’ve come... having abandoned your comrades just to face me... How pitiful.”
He chuckled slightly before turning around and looking at the pink mare; her eyes were locked onto his.
“Fear not. I promise to give you a quick and painless death.”
“I haven’t abandoned them. Just because my friends aren’t here doesn’t mean I’m alone,” Firefly responded.
The griffon soldier seemed to be intrigued by Firefly’s words. He asked her to explain it to him, stating they have plenty of time. While the pink pegasus wasn’t certain what kind of game Black Star is playing with her, she said:
“During those last few months, I’ve come to realize how dear my friends are to me. Initially, I wanted to leave Canterlot and come here without telling anypony...”
“That would have been for the best,” Black Star interrupted.
“Friends are nothing but limitations that keep one from reaching its true potential.”
“No, that’s where you’re wrong! My friends are what gives me strength!” Firefly replied.
Her voice was growing in strength itself.
“Fighting together isn’t the only way they can help me. They can do it even if we’re apart. I understood that running away from my problems won’t make me feel better, so I told them everything. And whether I needed it or not, I’ve received their support! You can’t fool me! This time I’m not letting you go!”
“Then tell me... what makes you believe you can defeat me?” Black Star inquired.
“Because... I know that I’m not alone! That’s why I can fight by myself!” the blue-maned pony exclaimed.
A smirk has enlightened Black Star’s face. It seemed that this was the answer he was expecting from his opponent. Now they would finally see which of them was stronger.
“Interesting... Then fight you shall
He started flapping his big wings and flied upward, inviting Firefly to follow him.
“Come. Show me this strength you speak of. Let’s savor the moment.”
“Black Star... I’m not gonna let you have your way! You’re mine
For the first few seconds, they were both circling around in midair before they came closer. Firefly begun the fight with a series of rapid attacks, but they were mostly dodged by Black Star. He, too, had great reflexes. Compared to their previous fight over Gildsedale Plains, they were using their full strength, not backing down one bit. Noticing Firefly’s desire to defeat him, Black Star rushed toward her. They were exchanging blows for a while.
“Everyone fights for what they believe in,” Black Star remarked.
“For me, there is only one thing left worth fighting for in this world. And that is the future.”
He attempted to punch Firefly in the face, but she dodged it.
“Only by fighting you I can let my sins take reign.”
“What do you mean?” Firefly asked, trying to hit the griffon in the chest.
“I will tell you everything after this battle is over.”
Firefly had enough of Black Star’s word games. She was briefly engulfed by anger when she tried to punch him several times, but was unable to reach him. When Black Star got closer, he managed to parry one of Firefly’s attacks, leaving her wide open.
“Not bad at all... but still too weak!” he commented before using both of his legs to deliver a strong kick to Firefly’s stomach.
The pink pegasus grunted in pain. The intense force of the blow stunned her, made her gasp for breath. Black Star used the opportunity to knock her toward the ground. Before she crashed, Firefly managed to regain control of her wings, performed a backflip and landed on her hooves. Seconds later, she flew back up.
Upon reaching the griffon, Firefly stopped for a moment, breathing heavily. Black Star appeared to be having an upper hand in this confrontation.
“If it’s despair you seek... then I shall provide,” he said as he flied toward Firefly, trying to slash her with his talons.
But she was ready for him. She didn’t wanted it to end like this.
“The only thing I seek... is the end of this war!”
Firefly quickly flew upward, avoiding the attack. When Black Star turned around to chase after her, the pink pegasus suddenly stopped in midair and turned around, surprising her opponent. Before he could react, Firefly zipped through the air twice, dealing two powerful hits. Black Star tried to get a grip on the situation, but she didn’t give him the time.
Firefly charged at the griffon, punching him several times before uppercutting Black Star in the beak, leaving the opening she needed. As she dived down, she had the griffon on her hooves, flying downward at high speed.
“I’m taking you down, Black Star!” she yelled.
When she was getting closer to the ground, she used her rear legs to deliver a powerful finishing buck, sending the griffon soldier plummeting down. He hit the ground hard. The fight was over.
Panting heavily, Firefly landed close to Black Star. When the dust from the impact settled, he was still breathing. The griffon soldier smiled dimly and whispered:
“A masterful blow... It appears... you have won.”
“You took everything that I held dear away from me!” Firefly exclaimed.
“But that made me stronger. Strong enough to take you down. You’re finished!”
Her moment had finally come. At last, she would pay him back for all the pain he caused her. Firefly rose her left hoof, ready to crush Black Star’s skull... The feathered soldier closed his eyes, he wasn’t resisting... but something was holding Firefly back...
She heard some voices in her head. Firstly her own, telling her: “Do it now!”, but then it was muffled by two others... “‘Tis understandable you seek revenge on their killer. But take heed, for defeating him may not take your pain away...” “Don’t let the anger overwhelm you. Defeat Black Star, but don’t kill him. Doing so won’t solve your problems, it will only make them worse...”
Firefly shook her head and screamed.
After a moment, she put her hoof down on the solid ground, right next to Black Star’s face. Surprised, the griffon looked at Firefly, imagining she was fighting her inner desire to kill him. Firefly was looking at him angrily.
“... Why?” he asked.
“Are you doing this on purpose? Why didn’t you finished me?”
“Killing you would be meaningless. Our battle is finished. I have won. My mom and dad had been avenged,” Firefly replied with a trembling voice.
Black Star chuckled loudly.
“Is that right...? But is that even your own decision... Or something others told you?”
“I’ve been struggling with what Princess Luna and Derpy told me... but my parents never wanted me to be a killer. I won’t let the anger turn me into a monster like you or Red Cyclone!”
Firefly turned her sight away from Black Star. Another smirk appeared on his face as he slowly got up from the ground, setting his yellow eyes on Firefly.
“Very well, then. As promised, I will tell you everything you should know. Listen closely. This entire ordeal... It all started years before the war...”
Even though Firefly wasn’t looking at Black Star, she was listening. Not only because she was curious about the true reason behind his way of thinking, but also because she wanted to learn why he allowed all of this to happen. He and Red Cyclone were partners after all...
“I was an aspiring officer. There was a single reason for me to serve with the other griffins: I wanted to bring honor and respect to my country. But under King Lightbeak’s rule, we’ve enjoyed years of relative peace. No serious incidents took place. Some of our comrades weren’t pleased by this situation... That was when I met Red Cyclone. He was already a good talker back then. He told me that he had great plans for the future... they would make our race proud and powerful. I was deluded by his words...”
There was clearly a sound of regret in Black Star’s voice as he spoke. Firefly moved her head around a little, but still kept her sight away from him. The griffon carried on.
“One day, I heard a rumor about a mutiny being staged against The Griffin Kingdom. As its loyal soldier, I was more than eager to put a stop to it. Red Cyclone, who received an advancement in ranks, becoming commanding officer of one of the griffin groups, figured that I would be the one to handle it best. So I went to the specified location and there... I found two pegasi ponies...”
Firefly turned around rapidly. She was staring into Black Star’s eyes. It was clear to her he was talking about her parents.
“After a brief discussion with them, I knew that they had nothing to do with the mutiny. It was very likely that it was entirely a fraud. But my sense of responsibility toward my country was more important to me than anything else...”
“So... You KNEW they were innocent... and you still
killed them!?” Firefly yelled.
“I had my orders...” Black Star started.
However, he was immediately interrupted by Firefly stomping her hoof against the ground. She seemed to be losing control over herself.
“I DON’T GIVE A FLYING FEATHER ABOUT YOUR ORDERS! YOU’RE PATHETIC!”
He understood her anger well and was prepared for the fact she could kill him. Black Star was looking quite miserable now, like someone feeling immense disgust toward himself. Firefly somehow managed to appease her emotions, though she was still looking upset. Black Star was allowed to continue his story:
“I had to kill them... otherwise I would be the one to be executed. In our community, obeying orders is the most important rule. Defying it is an equivalent to a death sentence,” he said morosely.
“As I was standing there, surrounded by the flames... I heard your voice. I saw your desire to fight... This was my chance. You were determined to avenge them, but you were brushed aside with ease. I knew that I did a horrible act by killing the ones you loved the most... And yet, I restrained myself from killing you. Can you guess why?”
Firefly tried to recall the memory of that day.
“You said that I need to become stronger if I was going to avenge them. So... you spared my life because you wanted to fight me again?”
“That’s not the only reason...” Black Star said.
“There was another. You see... Red Cyclone’s behaviour was very... combative. It was as if he was looking for an opportunity to start a conflict for whatever benefits he saw. Still, everything was fine; the incident with the mutiny was forgotten. But I could never forgive myself for that act. I despised myself... and I still do.”
Firefly didn’t knew what to think about this griffon before her. She looked bewildered. Black Star really was
feeling sorry. He lowered his sight and spoke again after a moment of uneasy silence.
“Then... in September, last year... Red Cyclone took action. He killed our king and placed General Silverbeak on the pedestal as the new ruler. I helped him in this act. I kept telling myself that it was for the betterment of my country... In the end, I was just lying to myself. Not sooner after you and your team destroyed The Burning Talon, I became suspicious about Red Cyclone’s methods and behaviour even more. I thought that he might be planning something on a grand scale... but it would have been a terrifying thing. And I was right.”
Firefly interrupted him again.
“But if you were suspecting him, why didn’t you tried to stop him? Don’t you understand? You could have prevented more bloodshed! Why the hay didn’t you lifted a talon to stop him?!”
“Because I wasn’t certain back then. My suspicions became true after he killed General Silverbeak. When I heard it from Edge, I had no doubt that he was going to put his plan into its final stage... But it was too late. I couldn’t foresee it fast enough. You must understand it, Firefly. If I had killed him at that time, it would cause a great havoc in the griffin community. It could lead into a civil war that would destroy our kind.”
“So instead you decided to play your role as his partner until the end, huh? Very convenient,” Firefly snorted in disgust.
“I know... I’m a coward,” the griffon was turning his head slowly.
“I won’t make any excuses... My part in the war has come to an end. But at least my goal has been achieved.”
This time Firefly had no idea what he meant.
“What’s your point?” she asked.
, Firefly. You and your companions from the Mirage squadron. However ironic it may seem to you, the fact I spared your life seven years ago ultimately led to you assembling those pegasi into a team that will put a stop to Red Cyclone’s atrocities.”
Firefly felt like her brain was distorting after the sentence she just heard. Did he really had it all planned that long go? It sounded like an absurd... but... Black Star was right. If he had killed her back then, she wouldn’t be here now...
Then she remembered her friends, still fighting. She contacted Gale and asked him of her former wingmares whereabouts. Though he said the threat of the burst missiles was slowly decreasing, indicating that Rainbow Dash started putting the generators out of commission, there were many wounded, especially in the ground forces. When the pegasi were distracted by the missiles, the griffins were attacking earth ponies and unicorns from outside the explosions’ range, preventing the pegasi from helping them most of the time. Firefly suggested contacting Medical Corps to which the carmine pegasus responded positively. The pink mare then told the operator that she was heading toward Fortress Intimidation to assist Rainbow.
Firefly’s sight rested on Black Star again. She scowled, but didn’t seem to be willing to attack him. Despite her whole hatred for him, she was conceived that his gambit would still pay off. If only Red Cyclone’s base could be destroyed and his crimes exposed, the war would end... Black Star saw her trying to leave and chuckled again.
“You would pity me?”
“Call it what you want,” Firefly replied slowly.
She wasn’t looking at him.
“But this is my own decision. I won’t gain anything from killing you. Revenge has nothing to do with justice. Besides, there are more important things for me to do right now.”
“Then I guess I will have to live with shame for the rest of my life... So be it,” Black Star said.
He looked like he was searching for some words before he spoke again:
“...You’ve changed, Firefly. You are no longer a filly blinded by tears of hatred. You’ve grown... you’ve matured... you’ve become strong. Your parents... would be proud of you.”
Though the pegasus was slightly agitated by those words, she didn’t said a word. Then she heard Black Star again.
“Before you go, allow me to share one last secret with you.”
“What is it this time?”
“It’s about Fortress Intimidation... Surely you want to know how to destroy it without sacrificing yourself and your friends, right?”
Firefly turned to him, wondering what he meant by that last statement. He explained it in detail:
“The core of the fortress is located in its middle, deep below the surface. It’s the same room where the burst missiles are being kept. There are also many fuel tanks stored inside. One can get there using a long tunnel. It is locked down at the moment, but will be opened up when the three generators that power up the fortress’ defense systems are inactive. Said core also has a backup generator that serves as a safety device. If the core is destroyed normally, it will cause an instantaneous meltdown, leading to a chain of explosions from the burst missiles and fuel tanks. The resulting destruction of the fortress will wipe out anything within a range of one mile, including those outside. But, there is a way to prevent it. That backup generator must be destroyed before the core. Doing so will start a procedure that will result in the lockdown of Fortress Intimidation. All explosions will be concealed within the base and a countdown should give you enough time to escape.”
As Firefly was listening to Black Star, she noticed a bit of urgency in his voice. When he heard her speaking with Gale, he probably realized that Rainbow Dash was about to finish blowing up the generators... but she didn’t knew about the backup one.
“The location of this backup generator is known only to Red Cyclone and me, so your radars will not pick it up. But...”
Black Star tweaked in his communicator a little.
“This should fix the problem. I will send the necessary data to you, so the backup generator will appear on your radar as a bright dot. The easiest way to get to it is to fly into the same tunnel leading to the core, but from the opposite side of the fortress.”
“Why... Why are you helping me?” Firefly wondered.
“Unlike Red Cyclone, the thought of pony genocide has never once crossed my mind. My country was the only thing I was living for. I have betrayed it... You may despise me, but my eyes are finally opened. ...But there is no time for that now. Go! Get to Fortress Intimidation and destroy the backup generator if you want to save your friends.”
Firefly understood. She was about to spread her wings fly back to Rainbow Dash and the others, hoping to make it back in time. She seemed to be struggling with something inside her... then, she spoke with a shaky voice:
“I never thought I’d say this, but... thanks
. Thanks for telling me everything.”
“Don’t mention it,” Black Star replied.
“This is the least I can do for you after all these lies... this pain I’ve brought upon you. If it’s not too much to ask... try to stay alive.”
“I WILL survive!” Firefly assured him before taking off.
Black Star remained alone, seeing the pink pegasus flying away. He thought to himself aloud:
“I only wish for my country to survive. I have done many horrible deeds... but perhaps, there still a chance to atone for my mistakes...”
==========1418 hrsFortress Intimidation
While the main battle slowly shifted from The Valley of Kings to Fortress Intimidation due to griffins being ordered by Red Cyclone to prevent the Mirage squadron from destroying the generators any further, the pegasi and the ground forces of Equestria gave chase after them. Rainbow Dash easily managed to bring the second generator down and was just about to go for the third and last one, when she heard Cloud Kicker’s voice:
“Check your radars! Something’s coming from the south! I got bandits all over the place!”
“Great... Here comes the crowd” Rainbow remarked.“Can you handle them?”
“No way!” Medley exclaimed. “There’s too many of them. Looks like Red Cyclone called for reinforcements!”
“Then hold them off as long as you can, until our forces arrive. I’m going to the left tunnel to destroy the last generator!” Rainbow intimated.
“Rainbow, don’t!” Lightning Bolt called out to her. “That tunnel is completely surrounded by anti-air turrets! You can’t go there without support, you’ll be torn apart!”
Knowing her friend was right, Rainbow stopped for a moment to think about the best possible plan. She hoped that Fluttershy would aid her, but she seemed to be scared again for some reason. Red Cyclone’s reinforcements and Zeakros’ Northwind squadron made it to the area.
“Seems like they’re hesitating,” the orange-feathered soldier reported to Red Cyclone.
“Good,“ the griffin leader’s voice sounded.
“It’s time to get rid of them. Chief operator, what’s your status?”
“Though the second generator is down, we still have enough power to launch several more burst missiles.”
“Listen up!” Red Cyclone said with a demanding tone.
“Before you launch it, I want you to redirect the course of the missile. Make it detonate above Fortress Intimidation! You will be safe inside while those wretched pegasi will be blown out of the sky!”
Red Cyclone roared with laughter. But Zeakros didn’t saw anything funny in this situation.
“Wait... If the missile will detonate above the fortress, some of our soldiers will be caught in the explosions!”
“Like I care!”
“What... did you just say?” Zeakros was stunned to hear that.
“So what if a few griffins need to be sacrificed?” Red Cyclone asked casually.
“If it will mean the destruction of those pathetic ponies, then I’ll take that chance! Besides, they’re nothing but expendable pawns to me. I can replace them easily.”
Something in those words made Zeakros shiver. He felt the dread and seriousness behind them, but was unable to comprehend that order.
“You can’t be serious, Red Cyclone,” he said. “You can’t possibly...”
“What’s this? Are you questioning my authority, Northwind 1?” Red Cyclone interrupted him angrily.
“I don’t need you or your unit anyway. Chief operator, you heard my order, didn’t you? Execute it!”
There was a moment of silence on the other end, but the griffin operator acknowledged what Red Cyclone said and initiated the launch sequence, noting that it will take about two minutes for the missile to be launched. It would be detonated soon afterwards.
Rainbow Dash was visibly shocked when Gale patched this intercepted conversation to her.
“I don’t believe it! He’s willing to sacrifice his own soldiers? How low can he go?!”
In a matter of seconds, the remaining pegasi forces, with the Wonderbolts as the leading unit, made it to the fortress to keep the griffins occupied. Time was running short. Gale contacted Rainbow again.
“There are two minutes left to launch! You must destroy the third generator. This will cut off the power for the fortress and prevent the launch. Otherwise...”
“I know!” Rainbow turned to Fluttershy, asking her for help.
She was breathing quickly.
“Come on, Fluttershy, get a hold of yourself!” the blue pegasus shouted.
“I need your help! If we don’t take out that generator, we’re all going to die! Everything we’ve done so far will be in vain! Red Cyclone will win! You don’t want this to happen, do you?”
This was the straw that made Fluttershy determined again.
“No... I won’t let him get away with his crimes!”
She then started flying toward the outside of the tunnel to draw the turrets’ fire. The remaining pegasi from Mirage squadron offered their support as well. Spitfire and the others assured they would do their best to ward the griffins off as long as it will take, putting their trust in Rainbow’s skills. Seeing the pegasi advance, Red Cyclone grew impatient, demanding to stop them at all costs. Lightning Bolt helped Fluttershy by destroying some turrets with her Shining Spark while Derpy, Medley and Cloud Kicker made some griffins follow them, leading to several feathered soldiers being gunned down by their own artillery fire.
Rainbow Dash entered the tunnel, accelerating further to reach the generator. She glimpsed to the right, seeing her companions fighting the griffins off, but also going away from the turrets’ range... The chief operator inside the fortress announced only thirty seconds to fire the missile... Making an instinctual move, Rainbow darted toward her target and increased speed even further... In a bright flash, she pierced through the steel construction which exploded moments later. Rainbow flew out of the tunnel, safe and sound. All remaining turrets ceased fire.
“Gale, this is Mirage 1. Target has been destroyed.”
“Mirage 1, we confirm. The generators are out of commision. Looks like the threat of those burst missiles is over now,” Gale responded with a relieved voice.
The chief griffon operator couldn’t take the risk of missile’s detonation inside the base.
“Power is out! We can’t continue the sequence! Abort launch!”, he ordered.
“ARRGH! Damned Mirage!” Red Cyclone roared. “That’s it! Carry on the fight!”
But it wasn’t over yet...
Medley suddenly noticed steel doors—an entrance to another tunnel—opening in the middle section. Gale inspected it along with Sky Eye.
“Looks like this tunnel leads inside the fortress, to its core section. It’s quite long and barely big enough for
a pegasus to fly in... We have only one chance.”
Rainbow Dash knew what must be done. She took two deep breaths before turning to and asking her friends:
“I’m going in, girls. Don’t worry, I will be back. Just don’t get killed.”
The five other pegasi followed their sights after Rainbow, wishing her good luck. But a sinister voice behind them caused a cold shiver to run across the fliers’ backs.
It was Red Cyclone, in the flesh, wearing a bright vest with a symbol of a red tornado on it. With him, there were twenty of his most loyal soldiers. He suddenly rushed forward, passing by everyone, the surprised pegasi and his troops alike.
“Kill those cursed pegasi,” he ordered them. “but that rainbow-maned one is mine
Seconds later, he entered the same tunnel Rainbow Dash flew into to pursue her. While Rainbow’s squadron was ready to fight and even give their lives, they were left on their own, virtually without a leader... Fluttershy attempted to delay the battle by suddenly adjusting her communicator and using a broadband frequency to contact the feathered soldiers. Her voice was eminently louder than usual.
“Do we really have to fight? You saw Red Cyclone’s cruelty and how he treats you! He wouldn’t hesitate to kill you. Do you really want to serve under him? There must be another way to end this conflict... You are not mindless animals! You are proud, noble warriors! Haven’t we seen enough death?”
Some of the griffins, especially those who were fighting from the beginning, like Jet and Zeakros, looked at each other, pondering over Fluttershy’s words. Red Cyclone’s last statements were especially disturbing, and there was some truth to what they heard... Many were actually tired of the war and uncertainty of tomorrow...
Zeakros then heard a familiar, slightly monotone voice, speaking in his headphones.
“I believe that filly is right... Northwind 1, there is something you should know...”
Another observant, hidden among the clouds, was focusing on something else... “This is the moment of truth, Dash... Don’t let me down...”
When Rainbow entered the facility through the tunnel, the light slowly started to die out as she was going deeper. Stopping for a moment to allow her eyes to adjust, she noticed the tunnel actually had some lights installed on its walls. The tunnel wasn’t completely straight; it was quite winding with a few smaller ones branching off to left and right. They were all leading in the same direction, though. Additionally, there was very little place for maneuvering, so Rainbow had to slow down to fly through it safely.
Then she heard a voice echoing behind her:
“I’m impressed you’ve made it this far... Unfortunately, this is as far as you go!”
Rainbow Dash stopped in midair and turned around. She saw the griffon soldier coming closer.
“I was wondering when you would show up. Red Cyclone, I presume?”
“I’ve made a mistake by underestimating you... Who would have thought that a small group of pegasi could cause so much damage...”
The griffon made an impression as if he was talking to himself, ignoring Rainbow’s presence.
“Oh well, it doesn’t really matter. You are all going to die here anyway. Take a good look at your grave...”
“Sorry, I die hard,” Rainbow replied with confidence.
“Now I’m gonna pay you back for starting this whole war. This isn't your day.”
“Hah! As I thought—a fool to the end,” Red Cyclone laughed.
“You fell straight into my trap. Now the only way for you to leave is to die in a blaze of my glory.”
“What the hay are you talking about?”
“You don’t know anything... HA HA HA! So much the better. If you destroy the core generator located in the central section of this fortress, you’ll cause an explosion powerful enough to destroy anything within a mile! Don’t tell me you didn’t know that?”
Rainbow gaped her mouth. This sudden revelation made her feel like she was falling into an icy abyss. He's bluffing... he must be bluffing, she thought. Red Cyclone watched her reaction with a derisive expression.
“That look on your face... priceless. Well, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and destroy the main generator! That’s what you came here to do, right?”
He tried to provoke Rainbow, but she was still hesitating. He laughed again.
“Well, if you’re not going to do it, then I will!”
“WHAT?!” Rainbow Dash yelled.
“But... if you’ll do that, you’ll die as well.”
“You’re forgetting one thing: besides me, there is still Black Star. I’m sure he will be more than willing to take over my position. He’s the only capable soldier to fit in. He’s probably already finishing your friend off...” Red Cyclone added maliciously.
“You and your squadron have been nothing but a nuisance to me through the whole war, but it all ends here! After conquering the remaining parts of Equestria, my soldiers will expand our territories over the whole world! This will be a new beginning! The era of the mighty Griffin Empire will begin!”
Rainbow Dash couldn’t believe those words. He sounded like a complete lunatic. She had no doubt now; he must be stopped and she must leave this facility alive.
“You know what? I’ve met many psychos and weirdos in my life, but you... You are downright insane
!” she exclaimed in disgust.
“That’s your opinion,” Red Cyclone shrugged, completely unmoved.
“I’m not gonna let you get to the core, no matter what! I’ll stop you and end this war!”
“So you want a race, is that it? That’s fine with me. Come! Hurry up and catch me!”
Roaring with laughter, Red Cyclone darted forward, leaving Rainbow behind.
She initially tried to reach her friends outside the fortress and inform them of the possible threat, but the jamming was too severe. Rainbow couldn’t contact anyone on the outside. She looked at her hooves and started to ponder on what she just heard from her foe.
Could it be possible? Was that supposed to be the end? There were still many things Rainbow wanted to do in her life... and there was a dream she wanted to hopefully realize one day...
But she was also a soldier. A bearer of the Element of Harmony. She was prepared to put her live on the line if it meant saving Equestria and her friends. Rainbow made her choice
“Face forward... I can’t go back,” she said to herself quietly before she started flapping her wings to chase after Red Cyclone
Rainbow yelled his name out, catching his attention.
“Come, come! This will be a true death race!” he sounded excited.
Rainbow paid no attention to him, she was murmuring to herself with her communicator turned on, even though she knew no pony could hear her.
“Girls... Firefly... I wish I could tell you... but I guess this is goodbye. At least I hope you’re still alive...”
“Of course I’m alive! And don’t you dare give up or die on me!”
“Firefly!” Rainbow cried, hearing the voice of her friend. "Are... are you...?”
“I’ve entered the fortress from the other side, and I’m heading for the backup unit! When it’s destroyed, the core can be taken down without much risk! But I need your help! Try to slow Red Cyclone down for as long as you can so I can get to the central section before him!”
“But...” Rainbow was baffled. “But how do you know...?”
“Let’s just say I learned about it from a very reliable source... We’ll talk about it later! Rainbow, I know that I’m not the squadron leader anymore, but... please, do as I say. Trust me!”
Rainbow was silent for a few seconds, but Red Cyclone’s cackle filled her anger. She increased her speed to catch up to him.
“I trust you, Firefly. With all my heart. I don’t care if you’re a leader or not! We’ve come too far to lose now! Let’s just wrap this up and go home... all of us!”
“Yeah... Let’s get them!” Firefly responded before she switched to broadband frequency.
Her voice was trembling with emotions.
“To all griffins still being inside the fortress! If you don’t want to get your butts roasted, I suggest you leave now! This place is history! Once the backup generator is destroyed, the core one will be blown up moments later! So... GET OUTTA HERE!”
Red Cyclone was stunned to hear that voice. Firefly’s presence would mean that Black Star was defeated. He was never expecting the events to turn out like this.
“What? You’re alive?! But... how do you know about the backup unit? Did Black Star told you?! No... he couldn’t... That’s not possible...” he was mumbling angrily.
“Too bad, Red Cyclone! Your friend
told me everything!” Firefly exclaimed.
“I also know that you forced him to commit every single inglorious act he did. You’re so going to get it!”
“DAMNIT! I’m surrounded by cowards and traitors!” Red Cyclone roared furiously, accelerating even more.
“No matter! I’m not through yet! You’re going to fly straight into your deaths!”
Rainbow Dash approached Red Cyclone from the side and smashed him in the head, making him slide to the side of the tunnel. The griffon grazed his left wing on the metallic construction of the tunnel, slowing down.
Trying to shake Rainbow off, he returned the attack. Dash persisted in her assault; the two were exchanging blows for a while. Firefly soon reported that she reached the central section and managed to take down the backup generator. A few seconds later, Rainbow Dash and Red Cyclone flew into the central section where the fuel tanks and burst missiles were stored. Firefly flew straight at the griffon and smashed him in the head. Rainbow was now in a clear position to attack the core.
“Your ambitions are coming to an end, Red Cyclone! Say goodbye!”
With a powerful uppercut, Rainbow hit the griffon in the beak, making him fall down. She turned toward the core immediately and kicked it together with Firefly. Sparks started flying around from the construction, it became unstable. The two pegasi flew back a bit due to impact force when the generator exploded. Not a few moments later a computer-generated voice sounded loudly:
“FORTRESS REACTOR CORE DAMAGED! ESTIMATED TIME TO DETONATION... THREE MINUTES!”
“Come on, Rainbow,” Firefly hailed.
“Let’s get the hay outta here! Follow me!”
Rainbow nodded and flied after her. They didn’t noticed Red Cyclone getting up from the ground until they heard his roar of anger.
“DAMNED PEGASI! You’re not going anywhere!”
“Geez, that guy doesn’t know when to quit,” Rainbow commented.
“Well, he’s always been pretty serious,
heh. Forget about him, just keep going...! WHOA!”
The shutter leading into the central section had suddenly closed behind the two mares. Red Cyclone was trapped inside. They stopped and heard him banging on the door, screaming.
“What just happened?” Rainbow asked.
The entire fortress started to shake violently. The facility was collapsing!
“No time for that! Come on, we gotta get out!” Firefly reiterated, urging Rainbow Dash to follow her.
Red Cyclone kept yelling to release him, turning his attention to the room where the griffin operators responsible for the missiles were supposed to be. But the room was deserted. They had already fled. The crimson griffon was about to fly into rage. That was when he suddenly heard a voice in his communicator. The jamming coming from the core was already turned off.
It was Zeakros.
“Red Cyclone. Your reign is over.”
“Northwind 1, what is the meaning of this?!” he said with a demanding tone. “Did you closed the shutter? What do you think you’re doing!?”
“Black Star told me everything,” Zeakros replied in a low voice. “We were fools for obeying your orders until now...”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Red Cyclone yelled. “You’re being deluded by those ponies! Bring the rescue unit with yourself, the fortress is about to explode!”
“I’m not obliged to follow your orders anymore. I have already ordered all soldiers to stand down and cease fighting,” Zeakros said calmly.
“And who are you? You have betrayed the very principles of our country. What did you gained from discarding your honor? I will tell you. Your reward is nothing but death!”
Zeakros’ voice was building up with every word he spoke.
“For numerous crimes you have caused, for betraying your country and your soldiers... Red Cyclone! As the chief commanding officer of the Griffin Army, I hereby sentence you to death! A fitting end to a monster such as yourself... You will die in the very same monstrosity you have created. Farewell!”
Zeakros cut the link. Red Cyclone started smashing the shutter again, screaming loudly.
“NO! No... This... This cannot be! NO! I... so... so close... I was SO CLOOOOOSE—!!!”
Red Cyclone’s scream, along with himself, had been consumed by the explosions that were caused by the overheated fuel tanks. They soon spread to the missiles, starting the chain reaction aforementioned by Black Star.
There wasn’t much time left.
“FORTRESS REACTOR CORE DAMAGED! ESTIMATED TIME TO DETONATION... TWO MINUTES!
Rainbow Dash and Firefly were still inside. Firefly kept yelling to Rainbow to follow her, trying to shout over the constant rumbles. They both heard the expanding explosions behind. Dodging obstructions to the sides and trying not to crash while doing so, the two pegasi were flapping their wings at a very fast rate. Rainbow was trailing behind Firefly the whole time, but fairly close, instantly reacting to any ascent or descent. Tremors were getting larger.
Suddenly, a large wall of fire appeared before the pegasi. Increasing their speed and covering faces with their hooves, Rainbow Dash and Firefly broke through it. That small gust of air around them protected the two mares from the fire. They heard the electronic voice again, it was counting down the final minute to detonation. Firefly spoke to Rainbow:
“You know... this is probably the most intense flight I’ve had in my life! Hahaha!”
“Yeah... but we gotta make it out of here, so we can live to tell others about it!” Rainbow reminded her.
“Let’s speed up! Now it’s only a straight way out! There’s a light in front of us!”
“I hope it’s not a passage to the other world!” Rainbow snickered with laughter.
Firefly accompanied her. The two pegasi were thrilled, being used to danger. Thirty seconds... Firefly was now flying over Rainbow Dash. She was leaving a small trail of rainbow behind her due to the immense speed. Firefly’s trail was letting out small sparks of electricity. Both had smiles on their faces. Fifteen seconds...
Outside, the entire fighting stopped. Everyone, ponies and griffins, were anxiously waiting for Rainbow and Firefly to come out. Just then, two small silhouettes flew upward at a great speed.
Seconds later, a huge wave of fire streamed from the opening. The fortress was shaken by numerous orange-yellow explosions. It then went offline. Lightning Bolt exclaimed:
“T-Target destroyed! There she is! We’ve got Mirage 1 on radar!”
“Is she all right?” Gale asked.
“Yes! Yes, she’s fine! I’ve got visual on her right now! And... Firefly! Firefly is there, too!”
Initially frozen, all those in the air and on the ground slowly started cheering louder and louder until they all finally burst into an explosive delight. Griffins and ponies alike were roaring with joy, but none of them were cheering as loud as the pegasi from the Mirage squadron and Rainbow’s best friends.
“Rainbow! You’re the best!” Medley screamed.
“Way to go, Rainbow! Firefly!” Cloud Kicker made an air flip from exhilaration.
“Wow! That was just...I can’t even describe it! Just unbelievable!” Lightning Bolt was nearly speechless.
“Rainbow! She did it! WOOO!” Fluttershy and Derpy were dancing together.
“That was beyond awesome! You rock, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie yelled at the top of her lungs.
“YEEHAAW! Way to go, sugarcube!” Applejack cheered.
“That’s going out in style!” Rarity commented.
“Alright, Rainbow Dash! Great job!” Twilight kept jumping in place.
Other pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies were either clapping their hooves, giving each other high-wings or stomping the ground. Even the griffins started applauding for the two ponies. Firefly and Rainbow Dash heard everything while floating in the air, panting from the great exertion they’ve just went under. But the looks on their faces were that of delight as well.
“Rainbow, you hear them?” Firefly asked.
“They’re cheering for you. You’ve done it!”
But Rainbow shook her head and flied a little closer.
“No, Firefly. We've
done it. We did it together... as a team.”
“Heh... I guess we did. Good job, Mirage 1... Rainbow Dash!”
“Thanks, Firefly. You were great, too.”
Both pegasi clashed their hooves together and embraced. They were clearly relieved. Finally... This destructive conflict has ended.
Gale and Sky Eye were observing everything on the monitors. The situation of the pony units wasn’t all that bad, even though many of them were wounded. Firebolt complained about her back scratched up. A lot of others ended up with mild scars. Thanks to Mobius and Garuda team’s support, as well as Fluttershy’s delay, greater bloodshed was avoided. The carmine pegasus looked at his fellow operator.
“Hey, Sky Eye... What do you think? Did we win the war?”
“I don’t know,” the white pegasus answered.
“History determines the winner. But... there’s one thing I can say for certain. You guys have some real heroes here, in Equestria.”
He smiled, feeling like he said something similar once before. Gale spoke with a gruff voice.
“But... you know, now that I think about it... I can’t help, but feel sorry for the griffin soldiers. They were fighting for the wrong cause... failed to see they were nothing but unwitting pawns in Red Cyclone’s malicious game...”
“Well, it’s game over for him,” Sky Eye remarked with a satisfaction.
Gale nodded. He believed this entire nightmare had finally came to a close. Adjusting his frequency, Gale contacted the remaining pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies. Out of over eighty units, there were still more than sixty remaining. Though the price was high, the battle ended.
“Ponies of Equestria. Pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies. Congratulations on a job well done. It’s over. The war is over. It wouldn’t be possible without you, Mirage squadron. We are all in your debt. Everypony, head back... back to Equestria.”
“Hold on... Wait!”
“What’s wrong, Sky Eye?”, Gale asked.
“That’s strange... I’ve got a single contact on radar... It’s coming fast.”
“Do we have an ID?”
“Negative... but something tells me it’s not friendly... and it’s heading toward Rainbow and Firefly.”
Sky Eye turned his attention to both mares.
“Warning! Unknown contact approaching at high speed! Break! Break!”
Rainbow Dash was surprised to hear the call. But Firefly was vigilant. Without a second thought, she pushed the blue pegasus away.
“WATCH OUT, RAINBOW DASH...!”
Barely a split second later, Firefly was struck by the unknown attacker. She squeaked “Oh...”, almost like it surprised her and started falling down, unable to regain altitude...
Rainbow’s ear-splitting scream ripped through the sky. Everyone noticed what had happened, but the shock was too severe for anyone to move and prevent the pegasus’ fall. Firefly crashed onto a nearby peak, hitting it with her right wing before tumbling down. She lied motionlessly on the ground.
“Flash? Flash! Respond! Firefly, come in! Come in! Blast! What happened there?”
Gale and Sky Eye tried to figure out who was responsible for the attack, but it happened too fast for them to register anything that would help identify the assailant. Who could have been fast enough to deal such a powerful, almost invisible blow... to knock Firefly down with just a single hit...?
The increasing panic did not allowed Rainbow to gather her thoughts. “Firefly... no... Please, don’t be dead... Don’t be dead... If she’s dead, it’s my fault...”
She was trying to lower her altitude and see if Firefly was alright from the fall, but then...
“Stupid dweeb! Serves her right for getting in my way!”
That voice... it sounded so familiar. A cocky and pugnacious squawk. Rainbow slowly turned around, and then... she saw the one who attacked Firefly. A half eagle-lion creature, only slightly bigger than the blue pegasus. The afternoon sun that was piercing through dark clouds shed some light on it.
It was one individual Rainbow hoped to never meet again... even though she knew that she would eventually run into her. Rainbow focused her sight on the one who hurt her friend, squinting her eyes in anger. Even though the war had finally came to an end, the most important fight was still ahead of Dash... That one well-known individual came back, seeking trouble.
Nothing else mattered to Rainbow now. Her face turned furious. She saw the attacker baring its teeth and letting out a self-confident smirk.
“So, have you found your reason to fight yet? Dash...”