56w, 6dAussie Bronies
Author: Special announcement at the bottom of this chapter! Read the story before you read the message!
FIRE IN THE SKY
Rust carefully adjusted his position from where he was reclining in the shotgun seat of the General Lee. The bandages wrapped around his head covered his left eye... or rather, where his eye used to be. After the brawl in Las Neighas, they'd beat a hasty retreat back to the car, Trixie in tow. Only after they'd sped out of city limits had Rust permitted Fluttershy to give him medical aid, insisting that the others be taken care of first.
He could hear the careful adjustments Omnius made as he drove through the night. The Traveler had received a crash course in driving stick, and after only slightly damaging the transmission, he could manipulate the 8-ball gearshift like a pro. It was a good thing, too, because Rust was in poor condition to drive. He had sustained little injury with the exception of the loss of his eye, but it would take time for him to adjust to his new, limited depth perception.
A quick glance behind him was rewarded by the sight of Fluttershy sleeping soundly, curled up into a ball, alongside an uncharacteristically solemn Trixie.
The Great and Powerful Pain in the Ass had been reluctant at first to even get in the car, never having seen such technology before. Bargaining and pleading, as well as masterfully stoking her ego, the group had finally managed to get her to go with them. Rust had filled her in on what was going on; the rising darkness, Buck's blessing, and their mission.
In his usual quiet slang, he'd summarized her role and her reward in three sentences. "We're getting an elite team together to fight the Nightmare. Black Ops, unrestricted access to Royal Funds, and made up of Equestria's most dangerous inhabitants. Consider yourself a hero if you want, because if we make it work, there's gold, glory, and all the adoring fans you could ever want waiting at the finish line."
That had been more than enough to sway her over. Trixe might be an arrogant bitch, but she undoubtedly had talent. What she lacked in raw power, unlike her nemesis, Twilight Sparkle, she made up for in creativity.
Rust found they had a lot in common, in that respect. Not so much the hating Twilight part, no, he got along quite well with her when he bothered to visit the library. Trixie was an average unicorn who dared to think big, who had dreams of grandeur and worked damn hard at what she did.
She had the potential to be great, Rust could see that. He too, had once been like her, long, long, LONG ago. Over the years, he'd built himself up, mastering every spell he came across, one at a time, with the intensity that only immortality could bring. Originally, he'd barely been able to lift a feather. But now... Rust rubbed the door of the car fondly. Now he was the only one in Equestria who could create pure matter, and shape it as he sought fit. Not even the Princesses could do that.
He snapped out of his thoughts with a glance outside. "Turn right here, Omnius."
The Traveler complied, sending the car into a gentle skid across the desert floor. They'd headed west from Las Neighas for several hours, relying on nothing more than Rust's uncanny knowledge of Equestrian geography, something he'd memorized from his long years of existence.
"So where exactly are we going this time?" Omnius asked.
Rust absentmindedly rubbed his bandage, interested by the sensation of his hoof pressing into his hollow eye socket. "We're going to Gryphonica. To the capital, to be precise. The next member of our team is living there at the moment."
"Trixe is wondering, how many members will this team of yours consist of?"
"Not too keen on spreading out the fame, huh?" Rust turned from the window to address the two. Fluttershy was still soundly sleeping. "Our team will be made up of you, me, my dear companion Ragdoll, Omnius, and three others. So that makes seven."
Omnius made a quick adjustment to avoid a cactus that sprang up in the headlights. "Seven ponies to stop what could be an entire army of the forces of darkness?"
Trixie crossed her forelegs. "That's preposterous! Trixie plans on surviving this struggle, not sacrificing herself on the altar of stupidity."
Rust only grinned, leaning back again into his seat.
"Who said they were all ponies?"
Never once in Trixie's entire life had she thought to see this. It had never crossed her mind, not even a sliver of a hint of an inkling of what she was seeing.
They'd traveled far into the night, through the next day, and into the night again. Now, the strange contraption that the two stallions called a "car" was parked at the shallow peak of a small mountain, overlooking the capital city of Gryphonica. Known simply as The Roost, it had been the spiritual, ancestral, and cultural center of the Gryphon lands since time immemorial.
And now it was burning.
What had started as a small riot had somehow escalated into a full-on military coup. The extremist sect known as the Talons of Ra had made their move, and planned it well. Half the city lay in ruins as a tide of armed zealots still clashed with the Gryphon Guards. In the streets and in the air, carnage reigned supreme, with the lovely lady of death by his side.
"...And you expect Trixie to go in there?" she finally managed to squeak.
"Eeyup," stated the chocolate pegasus called Omnius. He seemed rather distracted by the scene below, and his movements were hindered, as though he were remembering a particularly nasty incident.
Rust leaned against the hood of the car, his bandages now replaced by a heavy eyepatch. "Fluttershy is in no condition to come with. She's still exhausted from the brawl in Neighas. Poor girl's rarely had to fight like that, so I don't blame her. We need a third member to come with us to help secure our target. I've seen what you can do with a rope and your fireworks, Trix, and for that you're coming with."
"You're both obviously insane, you know this, right?"
Rust and Omnius nodded enthusiastically, before they exchanged a solid brohoof, never once taking their eyes off the burning city below. They had gone into their own little world, talking quietly to each other as they stood side by side.
"You ready, man? Looks pretty heavy in there. I haven't seen action like that since the Dragon War."
"I fought with the Gears, remember? Now fighting the Locust, now that was some pretty nasty stuff. I should be fine. Why, you think you won't be?"
"I don't know. I thought I'd left this behind at Earth. It never gets old, when I see it here. It just seems... wrong."
"You still getting those nightmares?"
"Every time I close my eyes. Er, eye."
Earth? Gears? The Dragon War? Trixie had never heard of these things in all of her Great and Powerful travels. Who exactly were these two stallions? They obviously had royal connections, and were quite capable, if their mission and prior performance was to be graded. The mare was still pondering this when the order came.
Rust leaned up from the hood, his horn lighting up with renewed vigor. "Well, it's time. Let's boogie."
Trixe felt, rather than saw, the green flash of light that encompassed the trio. A teleportation spell. But to where?
Her question was answered when the flash faded, revealing the inside of an enormous temple. A high, vaulted ceiling stretched into blackness, and decorative stone columns stretched down into shaded cloisters at ground level. A thick, red rug, outlined in gold, ran up the center of the cavernous space, flanked by pews on either side.
Trixie gagged as she noticed that the area surrounding the altar was covered in mutilated gryphon bodies. Nothing but piles of feathers now, throats neatly slashed. On the altar itself, however, a score of gryphons wearing the blue armor of the Talons of Ra were poised to deliver the killing blow on a screaming, struggling female, held down by rope and talons alike.
"OY! FEATHERBRAINS! OVER HERE!" called the maniacal unicorn.
Trixe looked at him in utter disbelief, as did the pack of would-be executioners. There was a pause for a moment. Trixe hoped that neither side would move an inch, that nothing would happen. Her hopes were dashed almost instantly.
"I'm in the mood for fried chicken tonight. Omnius, what about you?"
"Eh. I'm vegetarian now."
"More for me, then. YAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAAAARRR!" Rust let out a fearsome battle cry as he sprinted up the aisle on his back hooves, two green, magical spinning disks against his forehooves, which he held out at the sides, carving up the seats as he ran. Omnius rocketed after him, wings pumping hard.
Trixie gulped, and despite every instinct that was screaming at her to run away, began forward as well, her horn shining brightly as her hat tilted back.
The following minutes were something out of Trixie's worst nightmares. The two sides met with a ferocious crash, blood already spurting into the air from the severed neck of a cultist. Several of them rose from the floor and took to the air, engaging in a furious dogfight with Omnius. Trixie dug deep, and managed to send out a concussive blast of force that literally blew the armor right off a gryphon, sending it flying back into the far wall.
Everything became a flue of noise and screams and fear. Trixie was suddenly running on autopilot; when something came at her, she put it down with everything -and anything- she had. Spells once used for impressing crowds were now lethal. Fireworks, formerly a stage prop, now served as incendiary grenades, lighting up feathers and turning foes into charred, smoking heaps. When she couldn't think of a spell, she simply unleashed her magic in desperation, bright bursts of power pouring forth from her horn.
Trixie suddenly found herself rushing back into consciousness, pinned against the floor by two very angry and very singed cultists. Before she could even move, even think, a chocolate blur dived down from above and drove the gryphon on the right straight through the solid stone floor.
"You okay, Trixie?" grunted Omnius as he whirled about and grappled with the second one.
"Trixie wants to go home! This is utter madness!" The magician shrieked, rolling around to avoid the combatants.
"Madness?!" Omnius shouted back, before headbutting the gryphon in the throat, and as it staggered back, gargling and clutching at its windpipe, he spun and cocked his powerful hind legs back, muscles tensed like coiled springs. Trixie imaginined she could hear a faint chk-chk noise as the legs reached the apex of their pullback.
"THIS. IS. EQUESTRIA!"
His legs moved in a blur, and he bucked the gryphon so hard it actually flew right across the cathedral and out a window.
Rust, a whirlwind of motion nearby, fending off attacks from no less than five other gryphons at once, gave a hearty cheer. "Now that's what I can a one-liner!"
The unicorn sprang upwards, locking the cultist in front of him in a powerful scissor-hold with his rear legs. Now dangling from its neck, he lashed out his forearms, the spinning discs taking two others in the neck simultaneously, while a powerful bolt of lightning surged out from his horn, taking another in the chest, and the gryphon dropped like a sack of bricks. With a violent twist of his body, the gryphon he was choking had its neck quickly broken, before its limp form was sent flying at high speed into yet another foe, both collapsing heavily on the tiles.
"Five at once? Man, I think I'm getting... rusty?" He chuckled maniacally, glancing around. There were no enimies left to fight. They had won.
"Dude, leave the witty stuff to me, 'mkay?" said Omnius.
Rust sighed, and adjusted his eyepatch. "Everyone's a critic..." He paused and noticed a rather charred corpse on the ground. "Oh, freakin' awesome! Grub's on!" He then proceeded to walk over to the body and tore off a hunk of cooked flesh with his mouth, and a dreamy, faraway look came to his eye as he ate it.
"Uh. Just like mom used to make," he stated matter-of-factly.
Trixie barely managed to pick her jaw off the floor, gaping at the both of them in utter disbelief. Who were these two? They had just wiped out... destroyed... annihalated an entire squad of heavily armed rebels. Not even the Royal Guard were this effective. And the orange one ate meat. Just clopping perfect.
Omnius, in the meantime, had proceeded to the altar and was busy releasing the captive gryphon. Trixie approached on shaky hooves, eyeing her with interest. This was the object of the horrible mess she'd been through.
With a flourish, Omnius removed the final strap, a thick band covering her beak. The gryphon's maw snapped open, hungrily gasping for air. She eased herself off the altar, massaging the life back into her formerly-bound limbs.
"Gilda," said Omnius. "Long time no see, eh?"
The gryphon shot the pegasus a skeptical glance. "Yeah. Nice to see you too, featherbrain. Thanks... for... you know. Rescuing me."
"Thank him, not me." Ominus pointed a wing toward Rust, who was busy voraciously devouring another hunk of meat. He looked up, suddenly aware of the attention, a morsel of flesh dropping out of his mouth.
Gilda gave him a very hard, evil stare.
He scowled and spat out his mouthful of roasted avian, pouting. "I never get to have any fun. Oh, hey, Gilda! Hello, Rust. How are you doing today? Oh, you, not having any fun." He wiped a hoof across his mouth, and stood up, striding over to where the three were. "So, you want the long story or the short story?"
Gilda cocked an eyebrow and smoothed down the crest of feathers running across her head. "Short."
Rust took a deep breath, before speaking very rapidly. "Well... One-thousand years ago Princess Luna gave this guy named Buck a super-powerful blessing but it turned out she ended up infusing him with a piece of her soul which at the time was under the influence of the Nightmare you know that crazy psycho bitch who tried to throw Equestria into eternal darkness anyway Buck got turned into a statue and was recently thawed out but he's still got the corrupted peice of Luna's soul inside him and it's calling out to the nastiest ugliest motherfucking-est baddies in the world to rise up and destroy everything but I'm putting a special team together made of beings with their own touch of darkness to fight them back and that's where you come in would you like to join?"
Gilda thought for a moment. "So..."
"It's the end of the world as we know it."
That seemed to ruffle her feathers a bit, and she fluffed out her wings a few times. "What do I get for helping?"
"Booze, bitches, and bits. Unlimited, of course. We'll be fucking heroes, after all."
"And this... darkness. It's going to cover the whole world?"
"That's a ten-four, good buddy! And it looks like it's starting with Gryphonica, if the madhouse outside is any indication."
Gilda took a glance out the window, at the searing red sky and the burning buildings of The Roost as the city fell. "That is seriously not cool." She looked back at Rust. "If it wasn't you telling me this, well. I would have laughed and flown off. But I still owe you for getting me back on my feet after I went to Ponyville to try and find a place to live... So yeah. I'm in."
Rust slapped his hooves together. "Excellent! Then we'll be off!"
Omnius interrupted him with a polite cough. "Um, you might want to see this." He pointed around to the other side of the altar, where a small trapdoor was being hammered on from underneath.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
"Those must be the other prisoners!" gasped Gilda. "Great! If they're trying to get out, that means he's got them loose..."
"Could somepony please explain to Trixie just what the actual hay is going on here?" cried Trixie.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
"I'm getting a bad feeling about this..." mumbled Omnius.
"Ditto," said Rust.
"Or that could be from the several pounds of lightly cooked gryphon you just ate."
BOOM! BOOM! CRASH!
The small trapdoor suddenly blew off it's hinges, and a large, bipedal form sprang out from the hole, traveling several feet in the air before landing neatly some distance away. A stream of gryphons quickly followed wheeling around the cathedral before making their getaways out through various broken windows.
"No way! Is that who I think it is?" asked Omnius.
As if in response, the creature turned around and padded toward them on two legs, similar to the way Rust occasionally moved around.
Trixie cautiously observed the newcomer. It was tall and lean, with a brown coat streaked with red, accentuated by creamy highlights on it's chest and neck, across which ran a thick gleaming scar. Two tufted ears poked out of slits in the ragged green hooded vest it wore, one notched in a deep V-shape, twitching this way and that as powerful, massive paws made for digging calmly clenched and unclenched. A short tail wagged back and forth, making a swishing noise in the air. It smiled, its wolf like face parting, revealing a mouth full of predatory, oversized fangs.
It held up one enormous paw to Rust and made a fist, twisting it around so that he was seeing the back of it. One finger, the middle one, was raised, as if in a proud salute to Celestia herself.
Rust began to laugh hysterically. "HA! Wha-hahaha! Oh, this is great! Omnius, we got a double kill! He was here this whole time, in Gryphonica! A Diamond Dog in Gryphonica, can you believe it? AND he's still funny!"
Omnius smiled. "Hey, Echo. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
The Diamond Dog nodded, and reached out to pat him fondly on the head, mussing up the Traveler's already-messy mane.
"So, I take it you know what's going on? You're usually so well informed."
He nodded again, then pointed to himself, and then to the group, before raising an eyebrow questioningly.
"Yep. You're our final member."
The canine smirked and crossed his massive arms, as if to say, awwwwww yeah!
Omnius turned to Rust, who was still recovering from his fit of laughter. "Allons-y?"
"Haa... ha-ha... Hoo! Yeah... let's go. We've gotta get to Canterlot, pronto. The last member should be arriving there right about now, and we need to get Fluttershy there as well to meet up with the other Elements."
The entire group, minus Trixie, began to stroll towards the massive doors barring the way out of the ruined cathedral. The solitary unicorn simply shook her head in honest defeat. She was done trying to figure out what was going on. Nothing made sense anymore. In the span of two days, her entire world had been knocked upside down by these ruffians. She picked herself up and trailed after the group, wondering whether or not she'd died, and this was her hell.
Nopony noticed as Rust quickly bent down to scoop up a bit of his abandoned meal. The unicorn grinned to himself. He took a swift bite, before hiding it from the group. Now THAT's what I call good cooking, he thought.
Author: WOW! It's been a while hasn't it? A combination of injuries, new job, schoolwork, and massive cases of writer's block seriously decided to screw me over. I have an important announcement, as well. I currently have no idea where to take this story, and as a result, I shall be marking it as "On Hiatus" until otherwise. Anyway, I'll still be working on my other work, "The Ballad of Echo the Diamond Dog" in the meantime.