The Brünhild loomed over the facility like a massive predator closing in on prey, creeping forwards at a slow controlled pace as not to betray its presence. Several dozen blasts of steam bloomed from her underside, her large clawed anchors streaking out and grasping the specialized masts of the mooring station while the main mooring cables looped around the larger dedicated mooring masts. A muted mechanical whirling sounded as the airship drew itself down to the ground. Several hatches on the side of the ship’s ornate undercarriage flew open as cables dropped from each. A series of commands were barked out as several dozen figures began to drop down the ropes. They were organized and well equipped with plated armor and tough looking fabrics covering their bulky bodies. Slung over their shoulders were large metallic cylinders with handles and an expertly carved cyan crystal at one end. They were unmistakably soldiers.
The ramp on the under carriage opened an descended to the ground, Zeitgeist, Litigia, and their bodyguards already making their way down it before it even touched down.
One of the soldiers ran towards Zeitgeist and began to walk beside him. “Your orders, Excellency?”
“Sergeant Doppler, coordinate your efforts with the mine security team. Do as they say without question.” Zeitgeist said, removing his coat as he walked towards the complex’s entrance.
The soldier paused before nodding lightly. “…Yes Excellency, if we must.”
Zeitgeist spun around, a cold look in his eyes but a warm smile on his face. “Sergeant, I hope you appreciate the gravity of the situation. The future of this entire mine may depend on this mission succeeding. Now, if you allow your military ego and your rivalries with my security forces to compromise this mission, to cause it to…well, to fail…heh…I will have you skinned alive and thrown into a salt pit. Understood?”
Sergeant Doppler blinked and gulped. “Y-yes, your Excellency, clear as diamonds!”
“Good.” Zeitgeist said cheerily and turned back towards the complex. “Feist, contact Ansatz and tell him the grenadiers are here and ready for combat. Tell him to contact me the minute our forces are ready and in position.”
“By your command.”
Once all the soldiers and servants had vacated the airship, a small shape shimmied down the rope before setting all four hooves on the concrete. The light brown stallion straitened out his large brown trench coat and tugged on his tie, smoothing out his pinstriped suit.
“Steerage is never the best way to travel…” The Doctor groaned as he clapped dirt and grime off his cloths. “…But at least I got a good earful!”
The Doctor made his way towards the walkway to the facility; a tall well lit building of concrete and glass, its austerity something he felt to be very out of place in the gilded and fanciful land of Equestria.
‘Why would a mine need a whole contingent of soldiers? What is this mission and why is it so important? Where can I get a good cup of tea around here?’ The Doctor thought to himself before saying. “Well! This looks like a job for Time Line, Department of Health and Safety!”
He ran towards the doors of the facility, they were large and metal, almost dungeon-like with large blots and rivets studding the support brackets. The Doctor put his ear to the door, listening for anyone on the other side. Luckily, whatever had called in the soldiers appeared to have had the same affect on the security forces. The Doctor smirked and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. A brief buzz over the door and the lock leapt open with a mechanical click, The Doctor trotted in at a brisk pace. The corridors were well lit and clean, the use of metal and artificial materials brought back memories of his old universe. A far off and distant place, both cosmologically and spiritually; he hated to admit it, but this universe was beginning to cast his home-verse in a much darker light. Sure there were still dark patches here and there, but overall there was beauty and peace. Amazingly the big empires in this universe were surprisingly mellow, even the Minponi to an extent. Where there had been genocides in his universe, here they had been somewhat unpleasant occupations; where there had been wars in his universe, here there had been skirmishes; where there had been hate in his universe, here there was love. It’s like this universe had consciously dialed back the horrific extremes aggression could bring out in all its occupants, a decision he was in full support of. In six hundred non-linear years the dimensional walls would have healed, only then could he return to his own reality. Would he return? Of course, he had to. But would he want to go back?
As he made his way through the corridors of the building his feelings of suspicion and unease grew steadily. ‘I should have at least run into a rent-a-cop or something by now…whatever’s got the guns out also has all the available security…’
“Hey! You! Stop right there!” said a voice from behind him.
“Ah good! Just what I needed!” The Doctor said lowly, turning around to meet his discoverers.
He turned around to see two diamond dogs running towards him, long staffs holstered over their backs. They stopped directly in front of him, brandishing their 130-centimeter metal poles. As they got closer The Doctor could see two small knobs on the tips of each staff. One of the diamond dogs jabbed his staff at The Doctor, stopping just centimeters short of his face. Arcs of electricity spat and cracked from the knobs, casting the hall in a blue-white light for an instant.
The Doctor smiled widely. “Hello!”
(Dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da etc)
The Mines of Dragon Mountain: Part 3
Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Spike sat in their luxury suite, idly chatting amongst each other as enjoyed the splendor of their accommodations. Fluttershy and Zecora sat in a scented Jacuzzi as they read over the various guides, excitedly exchanging facts and anecdotes about the various plants and animals that populated the valley forest. Applejack helped Rainbow Dash stretch for her flight above Mount Calcipher tomorrow. Pinkie Pie was feasting on a bowl of chocolates, gourmet of course, and was laughing and giggling with Spike as she told him stories of their adventures in the TARDIS, her recollections of the events alone was entertaining in and of themselves. Rarity polished her hooves as she waited for her hair to dry within the mass of towels she had wrapped around it; she had enthusiastically accepted the hotel’s offer for their patented Ten-Minute Spa, the otherwise exorbitantly expensive treatment had put Rarity into a very agreeable mood. Twilight Sparkle sighed and stared off into the mid-distance, unable to shake the feeling that she had indeed seen The Doctor in the crowd grinning his encouraging grin. Their beds were arranged in a circle around a single crystal sphere. On it was the local news’ recounting of their arrival, at the moment the reporter mare was interviewing a thin-bodied and rather tall chestnut mare with long tapering legs and high-held head. Twilight could identify her as a member of native ponies called the Narragansetts.
“Hello I’m Cherry Ginjin and with me is Ruby Beryl, local correspondent of the Narragansett Heritage Society. Tonight visitors and residents alike were treated to a show when mining magnate Zeitgeist Stardust paid Dragon Valley Resort an unexpected visit. As seen in the footage, Zeitgeist’s personal luxury airship passed low over the roofs of Valley City and moored with the docking mast in the plaza. Upon landing, Mr. Stardust himself exited and personally bid farewell to seven mysterious mares and a single infant dragon. Needless to say the events of tonight have certainly piqued the curiosity of Valley City.”
“Ugh!” Rarity exclaimed. “If I had known that the press would have been there I would have put something fitting on. I guess they’ll just have to make due with simple beauty rather than perfection!”
Twilight rolled her eyes and smiled. “I think they’ll survive.”
“Indeed this is a great occasion for my people, Mrs. Ginjin.” said the tall chestnut mare on the television. “As Mr. Stardust’s arrival has brought excitement to the resort, the Narragansett elders sent my associates and I as a liaison to Spike, the young dragon accompanying the seven mares. Although our meeting was brief, we convinced Spike and his legal guardian to attend the Arrival Celebration.”
Cherry Ginjin nodded and inquired. “For our viewers at home, could you explain what are they hoping to gain by seeking his company?”
“That’s a very good question.” Ruby Beryl said with a smile. “As subjects of Equestria we natives of Dragon Valley acknowledge and accept the divinity of The Royal Sisters. However a point of pride amongst our people is the fact that our culture and history is what makes us unique. Ancient Narragansett lore has it that a magnanimous clan of dragons kept our ancestors warm with their magical flames during the Great Darkness brought by Nightmare Moon. They then led them to the warming embers of Mount Calcipher and the fertile valley soil of the valley. We have lived here ever since.”
“As such dragons are highly respected in Narragansett culture.” Cherry Ginjin said as she looked back at the camera. “So the Narragansett elders hope that acknowledgment from an actual dragon will be a boon to your cultural history?”
Ruby Beryl nodded in agreement. “Exactly, they hope that the actual participation of a dragon in one of our celebrations will make younger generations of Narragansett ponies interested in their heritage. We sincerely hope that our honored guests feel welcome and that this year’s celebration will be one for the history books!”
Twilight Sparkle looked over at Spike who was wearing a large, bright smile. He hopped down from the bed and laughed. “Y’hear that? Guest of honor at a celebration! I bet that means all the gems I can eat!”
“Ooh! Ooh! D’you think you could use your ‘honored guest’ status to talk them into letting me cook a few treats for the party? I’ve got some alien recipes I’ve been dying to try!” Pinkie said, hopping around the room excitedly.
Applejack chuckled and snatched one of Pinkie’s chocolates and popped it in her mouth. “Ah’m sure the local bakeries will be interested in getting’ their hooves on a few a’those recipes, Pinkie! You could make this celebration one tah remember! …Wow! Those blue-blooded sweets‘re great!”
Rainbow Dash swooped overhead, a confident smile on her face as she snatched a chocolate from Pinkie’s bowl. “I just hope you all aren’t too busy with your little celebration to watch me get discovered! I know at least one of the bored rich people here’ll be impressed enough to sponsor! …Oh hey, these are good!”
Fluttershy smiled as she soaked in the Jacuzzi. “I just hope I can see all the phoenixes and be there in time for both! Zecora says she can make some very useful medicines from phoenix feathers, so she’ll be with me.”
Zecora nodded enthusiastically. “With a poultice made from a phoenix’s feather, I could make even the dead feel better! Between Fluttershy’s talent and my stealth technique, we could make any potion that you seek!”
Twilight smiled and nodded, everyone was getting into the spirit of the vacation. “Okay, here’s the plan! We all head over to the celebration with Spike and split up from there. I’ll stay with Spike while you mares go off and do your things; Pinkie, you can tour the bakeries, I think the brochure said they bake until one in the afternoon. Zecora and Fluttershy, the largest gulch at the base of Mount Calcipher is where the phoenixes spend the mornings, so you’ll head down there with Rainbow Dash. Dash, tours run through Mount Calcipher at nine, eleven, and one, each one has about a hundred ponies in them so put on a show!”
Applejack stepped forward and gestured at Spike. “Ah’m not particularly interested in the birds and whatnot, so ah’ll just stick with you and Spike. See if ah can wrassle up some good publicity fer the Apple Family.”
Rarity shook off her towels and began to run a brush through her luxurious mane, a bright smile on her face. “After that news coverage, the media will be out in force tomorrow! I’ll put on my best ‘out on the town’ attire for the cameras!”
Twilight nodded, with a smile. “Then we meet up in the plaza at three and have some fun together! How does that sound?”
“Those tourists won’t know what hit ‘em!” Rainbow Dash said triumphantly.
“I can’t wait to meet all those wild phoenixes! Hopefully they’ll be a little less mischievous than Philomena.” Fluttershy said, excitement clear in her quiet voice.
“I need only ten feathers to make my wares, there’s no reason for them not to share.” Zecora said reassuringly.
“Right, so it’s all planned out! Let’s get some sleep, tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.” Twilight said as she looked out the window. ‘…Because we all know something strange is going on here. We should at least try to enjoy our vacation before getting involved. We never seek out adventure, but we never ignore it either…I wonder what trouble The Doctor’s getting into now?’
The Doctor flinched as a shock stick sparked on the wall on his right, a low growl emanating from the fatter of the two guards. The two diamond dogs were relatively tall for diamond dogs at over 160 centimeters. However, one was visibly middle aged with a pronounced paunch and the other was far too young, his innate adolescent ranginess exaggerated by his long thin arms.
The young one attempted a threatening growl, succeeding in a somewhat throaty squeak. “What’re you doin’ here pony? This is a restricted area!”
“Yeah! It’s, uh…” The paunchy dog said, trying to continue before realizing he had nothing to add. “Yeah!”
The Doctor stared at them with an underwhelmed expression, the fact that these two were patrolling the halls and not an even lower priority location gave him the distinct impression that the valued security forces were concentrated on that important thing, whatever it was.
“Normally you’d be right. But then…” he said before revealing his psychic paper notebook. “…There’s this. Time Line, Department of Health and Safety; I’m here to inspect the mine for safety violations. Word through the grapevine has it that Kaffelerram mine has been ‘cursed’! And a shock stick in my face isn’t a terribly good hoof to start the investigation on, now is it?”
The older dog grunted in surprise, stiffening like a board. “Ah! Oh, I’m sorry sir! We didn’t, uh, we-um-y’see-”
“Ain’t it a l’il late for an inspection?” The younger one said suspiciously.
The older diamond dog clapped the younger one on the head. “Saller! It’s never too late to accomy-date an inspector! Especially when that inspector can shut this mine down with a letter!” He turned back to The Doctor. “Sorry sir. He’s a good pup, justa l’il o’ereager to get his eyeteeth as a mine-sec! Makes him a touch blind to who his betters are. No offense?”
The Doctor waved a hoof and scoffed. “None! But, now that you know you best be on your way! I’ve got some inspecting to do!”
The older dog shook his head apologetically. “Sorry sir, part of our contract states that we escort all non-mine personnel through the complex. We have to stick to you ‘til Lord Stardust is available, an’ Sarg Ansty said that he’d be busy for a while.”
The Doctor sighed; this could be a minor impediment. “Very well…let’s inspect shall we?”
Nearly an hour later and the two guards were still with him, offering their anecdotes regarding their time at the mine as a way to break the silence. The Doctor ran his sonic screwdriver over the various panels and power cables. Not only was he being kept from finding out what was really going on, but this was also an uneventful inspection as well. The electrical systems in the complex were flawless, the safety systems responsive, and even the latrines were far less nightmarish than they had any right to be!
“Mr. Stardust runs a tight ship, I’ll give him that.” The Doctor sighed.
“You bet your fur!” young Saller said, admiration in his squeaking voice. “Duke Stardust never lets his employees down! Why, when Archduke Steinkopf exiled a thousand proles the Duke took ‘em in and gave ‘em jobs here! I’m alive ‘cause of him!”
The Doctor smirked; even the CEOs in this universe had a touch of sugar to them, if only a touch. “So he’s popular amongst his employees then?”
The paunchy dog named Desler nodded. “Oh yes! This mine and its town was drownin’ before he showed up. We’d dug up nearly all the gems we could out of the top layers, and there was no way to get through the diamond wall. But then he came along an’ his new drills blew clean through that wall, sixteen years later an’ we’s the best paid miners on the continent!”
The Doctor nodded before realizing. “…Waitaminute. He’s a duke?”
“’Course! Where have you been?” Saller said.
“And he’s Thin and White, this Duke?” The Doctor said, a smirk growing on his face.
“…Yes. Why?” Desler said curiously.
“Oh, no reason…” The Doctor said, suppressing a laugh. “…This is ground control to Major Tom…”
From outside the complex came an incredibly peculiar sound, something like a hissing thunder crack. The Doctor’s ears perked up and his head snapped towards the source of the sound. A moment later and the sound was repeated several dozen times, overlapping and blending into one another.
Desler fidgeted and laughed out loud, it was a hard artificial laugh meant to draw attention. “Oh those night-miners! Sometimes they like to activate their drills to signal that they’ve started work! Annoying, ain’t it Saller?”
The young diamond dog blinked before connecting the odd statement to Desler’s desperate expression. “…Oh! Uh, yeah! Those night-miners are a silly bunch! Ha-Ha.”
“Hm.” The Doctor said with an eyebrow raised. “I don’t know much about drills, so correct me if I’m wrong, but they don’t usually sound like 200-kilowatt anti-personnel electrolasers, do they?”
Saller looked over at Desler, who literally barked nervous laughter and said. “Ha! Yes, well, everyone makes that mistake! In fact, last day Pilsner said they sounded just like lecter-lazers! He-”
“You don’t know what an electrolaser is, do you?” The Doctor said flatly.
The Doctor spoke as he made his way down the hall. “Using a highly focused beam of light called a laser, a plasma channel is made in the air. Through this plasma channel a coherent beam of electrons can be conducted, effectively shooting lightning in a straight line: an electricity-shooting laser, electro-laser. They can either shock and incapacitate, or they can kill with excessive efficiency.”
The two diamond dogs nervously followed The Doctor down the hall, Saller snapping his fingers excitedly as he said. “Oh! You mean like a lightning gun!”
The Doctor smirked. “What’s that? Some kind of weapon?”
Saller rolled his eyes. “Well it sure as rubies ain’t a can opener!”
“So…” The Doctor said, approaching a window. “…What are lightning guns doing at a mine? Or in this reality for that matter?”
He looked down at the yard between the mines and the complex, it was lit with huge floodlights and as several dozen diamond dogs were milling about. They were carrying various strange looking objects and putting them into a pile in front of one of the three enormous machines on display in the yard. The machines were exactly twenty-five meters long by eight meters wide; their huge caterpillar tracks had sharp looking hooks and grooves on them for traction in any terrain. At the front of each of them was what appeared to be a huge disc; from the window it was apparent that the disc was studded with spell-stones and other such magic-technology, some kind of drilling mechanism?
“What are they doing down there?” The Doctor muttered as he put on his scanning glasses. “What are they…oh no…not that, not here…”
The diamond dogs were piling smoldering charred bodies in front of the business end of the machine. He couldn’t quite make out what species they were; the bodies were so badly burned. It didn’t matter what they were, what mattered was that there were at least three-dozen bodies in that pile, some of which were still twitching and squirming. One of the diamond dogs standing next to the machine whistled and signaled with his hand, prompting the pallbearer soldiers to hurriedly drop their victims into the pile and run. The great mining machine began to whirr and glow, arcane energies lighting up its insides as it charged up its massive instrument. The disc on the front glowed and arced as energy surged through it, the whirring slowly becoming a high-pitched shriek. As the rising sound hit its maximum pitch it abruptly dropped into an almost inaudible basso thrum, heard and felt in one’s bones instead of one’s ears. The flashing glowing lights emanating from the disc arced out and exploded into a single expanding sphere of light that promptly imploded with a low-pitched electronic sound. The pile was gone. No smoke, no flames, no vapor or debris. It was gone.
“Impossible…” The Doctor said.
A call of alarm went up amongst the soldiers as a single one of the creatures jumped up and made a beeline for one of the mineshafts. The Doctor could now clearly see what the creatures looked like when undamaged. It was big for this world, almost as tall as a human, with long ape-like arms that it used to propel itself forward in its desperate bid for safety. Its skin was a mottled green color with patches of jaundice yellow and sprouting from the top of its head was shiney coal black hair tied in a single long braid. Its face was somewhat human but with grossly exaggerated features like its long pointed ears, its large warty nose, and its protruding underbitten jaw.
“A troll?” The Doctor said in disbelief.
The troll almost made it to the mouth of the shaft before laser guided lances of blue-white lightning from two dozen different sources converged on it for a whole second, causing it to disappear in a blast of flame, smoke, and steaming meat. Four soldiers approached the shattered smoking remains of the troll, weapons raised. One of them signaled to his superior and pointed at the mining machine questioningly. The superior shook his head and brandished his weapon instructionally. The soldier nodded and spoke to his comrades; all four turned a knob on their weapons and took several steps back before brighter lances of red-blue-white energy obliterated the remains further, reducing them to ash.
“Th-they killed em?” said a squeaky voice from behind. “I-I-I thought they was only lookin’ to take prisoners!”
“They were.” Desler said in a disgusted voice, pointing at the single unconscious troll being dragged into the complex’s western wing. “See? A prisoner.”
“I’d like to have a talk with your manager…” The Doctor said, cold fury in his voice.
“My thoughts exactly.” Said a strong refined voice from behind them.
Standing in the hall were three hulking diamond dogs, two were dressed in soldier garb while the one on the middle was dressed in what appeared to be a business suit. He was undoubtedly a member of VIP security. The soldiers raised their weapons and charged them, a high electrical whine emanating from their emitters.
“And I’m afraid I must insist.” The bodyguard dog said with an unpleasant smile.
Fire Dazzler walked down the crowded streets, absent-mindedly shouldering his way through the crowd that had gathered to see the beautiful airship and were now patronizing the ‘late night establishments’ to drink and gossip. He sighed as he looked up at the clear night sky, the moon hanging in the blue-black of the star-studded abyss. ‘Who was that crazy pony?’
He realized that he was standing in the exact spot he had been when he noticed the strange ‘Doctor’ strolling out of the alleyway between his favorite bar and his favorite pub. Fire Dazzler felt an overwhelming urge to run into that alley, an urge he indulged. The alley was narrow and dark and smelled exactly how the space between two purveyors of alcohol should, still he walked in deeper, subconsciously ignoring the tall blue box that sat between the overflowing garbage can and the fragrant dumpster.
‘Maybe he was just a drunk?’ Fire Dazzler thought to himself as he strolled through the pungent alley. ‘Maybe he was just a crazy drunk?’
“…Maybe…” He muttered to himself, unaware of the two large shapes quietly walking into the alley.
“Maybe you should check your back before running into a dead end alleyway, eh Fire Dud?” said a dreadfully familiar voice behind him.
Fire Dazzler spun around to see two tall Narragansett stallions. They were taller and better built than him, sleek but by no means spindly; both had coats of the darkest carbon black, their blood relation obvious in their identical features and the innate cruelty within their bright yellow eyes. “Shock! Thunder! H-hey, what’s new?”
The two large stallions circled him, unpleasant smirks on their identical faces. They were slightly more observant than their quarry as the two only willingly ignored the blue box, their expressions that of mild confusion every time they looked directly at it.
Shock spoke first. “Oh not much…just that we may have to call in your debt for all those ‘unregistered’ chemicals we got for you. Five thousand bits, right?”
He stammered for a bit before Thunder interjected. “It was a rhetorical question, don’t answer.”
Fire Dazzler blanched and shrunk away from them. “No! I don’t have the money yet! My paycheck comes in next week!”
Thunder laughed and stomped his large hoof on the cobblestone, sparks flashing from his iron-shod hooves as they hit. “Well gee, that’s too bad. See, we really wanted that money today. In fact, you could say we was dead set on it!”
“But now…” Shock said from behind Fire Dazzler. “…We won’t get it ‘cause you don’t have it. And when we don’t get what we want from the deadbeat ponies who owe us…well, I guess you could say we get disappointed.”
“Real disappointed.” Thunder growled. “Horn-collecting disappointed, if you catch our drift.”
“P-please! Not that! I can’t do my job without my horn!” Fir Dazzler said, panic clear in his voice. “I’ll get fired and I’ll starve before it grows back!”
Shock looked over at Thunder and nodded. “…I guess you’re right. See, we’re reasonable ponies Fire Dud. We won’t take your horn, or crack your hooves, or take that thing that looks like a cheese grater mixed with a power tool to your cutie-mark. In fact, we’s willing to drop the debt altogether so long as you do this one thing for us. This one. Little. Thing.”
“Reasonable, see?” Thunder interjected.
“Th-thuh-thank you! Oh Celestia bless you!” Fire Dazzler said with relief. “What is it? Anything!”
Shock said as he flicked his glossy black mane. “See, our boss has recently been contacted by an old friend. An old friend our boss owes a favor to. An old friend who holds dragons in high esteem.”
“What does this have to do with me?” Fire Dazzler said carefully, not particularly liking where this was going.
Thunder looked at Shock, who nodded in approval. “See, tomorrow’s the Narragansett celebration of our people’s arrival at Dragon Valley. Now, the tribe elders persuaded the little dragon that showed up here in the Grand Mutt’s blimp to attend and participate, as a publicity stunt y’see?”
“That’s where me ’n’ Thunder come in.” Shock continued. “We’ve been ordered by our boss to…‘unexpectedly escort’ the l’il drakling from the ceremony and deliver him to his old friend.”
Fire Dazzler barely suppressed a horrified gasp before working up the gall to say. “Where do I figure in?”
“Here’s the beauty of it. Our people can arrange for you to put together the pyro-display for the show. What we want you to do is make it a little less ‘fire’ and a little more ‘dazzler’.” Shock said with a suppressed chuckle, amused by his own ‘wit’.
Thunder tapped his nose with his hoof, making a clicking noise with his tongue.
“You in?” Shock said bluntly.
“If I’m not in it’s a date with Mr. Electric Cheese Grater, isn’t it?” Fire Dazzler said flatly.
Shock nodded. “Him, and another toy we call ‘Mr. Thingy’. You ever see a pony try to eat his own head? We have.”
“It’s horrible.” Thunder said with a laugh. “Take our word for it.”
Fire Dazzler cleared his throat and nodded. “Alright. I’ll do it.”
The two stallions smiled and made their way out of the alley, Shock turning around to say “We’ve got a bit of planning to do. Meet us at the stage in the plaza at seven in the morning, bring your things and don’t mess this up!”
Fire Dazzler smiled and nodded until they left, whereupon he promptly slumped, hind legs splayed as his head drooped. “…Oh Celestia…what have I gotten myself into?”
‘You know what you must do.’ said a voice inside his head.
Fire Dazzler blinked and looked around him. “Who…who said that?”
‘You know what you must do.’ It repeated. ‘To ease your soul.’
“Are you my conscience?”
“Ease my soul, eh?” Fire Dazzler said miserably. “You’re right. I need a drink.”
Fire Dazzler got to his hooves and entered his favorite pub through the alley door, calling out to those inside. “Hey! Shake’N’Stir! Poison, now! Grab the killingest thing you got and put it in a glass!”
The door slammed shut and the blue box with glowing windows dimmed a shade. ‘…P’tagh.’
Zeitgeist Stardust laughed as he entered his lounge, clapping his hands together in joy. “Brilliant!”
“Everything went according to plan?” Litigia said, stacking paperwork on his desk.
“Precisely!” Zeitgeist said happily. “No casualties, no damage, and a prisoner to pump for information! If things keep going the way they are I’ll see to it that everyone gets a 50% raise!”
Litigia bit her tongue as to the economics of that statement and said. “I see your little motivational speech to sergeant Doppler worked, hmm? What was it that you said? ‘I’ll have you skinned alive and rolled in salt’ or something.”
Zeitgeist chuckled and poured himself a drink of dark brown rum from a crystal bottle. “Salt pit. I threatened to skin him alive and have him thrown into a salt pit.”
Litigia shuddered. “What’s the difference?”
“The implication of the salt pit is that I’ll leave him there without his skin until he dies.” Zeitgeist sipped his drink. “Much more effective.”
“Why did you threaten him like that, Zeit? That’s not like you.”
Zeit looked over at her, his smile making way for a comforting look. “Look, ponies are inherently agreeable people, ask them to do something and there’s a good chance they’ll do it for the sake of being neighborly. Diamond dogs…not so much. One has to be domineering either physically or charismatically. Like the story with Ms. Rarity, she got through that ordeal through sheer force of personality. She spoke and acted with enough dominance that it shook them up, allowing her to pick apart their self esteem.”
“What about when she started crying?” Litigia said flatly.
Zeit shrugged. “There’s also evidence that when she goes into histrionics her voice hits pitches that hurt a diamond dog’s ears. Anyway, the point is that one must talk the talk to lead diamond dogs. I was merely speaking like an alpha to get them to work better.”
“What if he had allowed his rivalries with Mine Sec to sabotage the mission?”
“Then I would have had him shot for insubordination and incompetence.” Zeit said casually. “What do you think I am, a monster?”
Litigia scoffed as she made her way over to him. “I hope you don’t make that an official policy. The paperwork for a single firing would be a nightmare!”
“No, no…to my employees I’m Mr. Stardust: CEO and rich idiot. To my soldiers and vassals, I’m Duke Stardust: lord and master. I do try to keep the two separate.” Zeit said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Now, you’ve been biting your tongue for the past five minutes. What news do you have that’s going to spoil my good mood?”
“Our security systems detected a stallion here by the name of Time Line. According to the audio he claims to work for the Department of Health and Safety.”
Zeit paused and looked at his drink. “…Will my malpractice insurance cover me meeting this stallion while drunk?”
“No.” She said flatly.
Zeit sighed and put down the drink. He got up and walked over to his desk, activating his videoconference crystal ball. “Let me see his face first. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll be a soft touch.”
“He doesn’t look it.” Litigia said with a sigh. “It’s strange. I’ve made a point of knowing the face of every major inspector in the DH&S…and I’ve never seen this stallion before.”
Zeit simply stared at the face in the crystal, a decidedly unfriendly smile on his face. “That’s because he’s not with the Department of Health and Safety…” Zeit pressed a communications button labeled Feist. “…He’s an imposter. Restrain him and bring him to me.”
“By your command.”
The Doctor looked over to the soldiers as they waited in the hall outside a rather important looking door. The unpleasant smell of roasted meat coming off their armor making his herbivorous pony stomach churn. Whatever was going on at this mine he knew nothing could justify such a slaughter. Worse yet was that this world would not tolerate such violence, so he had to be covering it up. The soldiers were quite adamant on destroying the remains either through immolation or whatever recherché mechanism at work inside those huge machines. A small part of The Doctor still pined to poke around one of those brilliant-looking vehicles, but now was not the time. For the moment he merely had to content himself with picking the brain of the top dog. The door opened.
“Send Mr. Line in.” said a voice from within; it was the put-on-airs voice of his hulking captor, a rather unpleasant dog by the name of Feist. “His Excellency will see you now.”
“My honor.” The Doctor said sarcastically. As he entered the room he noticed that in stark contrast to the austere industrial look if the mine facility, this office was lavishly decorated. Carved mahogany, Impasto paintings, fancy rugs, all the fixings of a rich twit with too much time on his hands and delusions of culture. “Fancy. Must have cost a pretty penny.”
“Not really Mr. Time Line.” Said a voice from behind him. “It’s all quite cheap. Monetarily and sentimentally.”
The Doctor turned around to see a tall thin diamond dog pouring two glasses of alcohol, his bright white fur a stark contrast against his dark silk suit. The Doctor smirked; this dog may yet be a challenge. “Before we carry on appraising the decor, let’s get this identity thing over with first. Sound good, Mr. Stardust?”
“Indeed.” He said flatly. “You’re an imposter. I saw you yesterday in Trottingham. You appeared and disappeared with a teleportation method I am unfamiliar with in a box I strongly suspect to be impossible. You are not from around here, are you?”
The Doctor nodded and smirked. “Yes, yes, yes, and no.”
“Right, now back to appraising each other’s character with false repartee. My office is cluttered with tacky low value garbage.”
“Yes…low quality ebony, mass produced materials clearly used in the rug, and duplicate or mediocre original paintings.” The Doctor said with a sniff. “Your cologne is nice, though.”
“Eau De Méchant Loup, a personal favorite. My office furnishings, on the other hand, are not. A gift of ‘good faith’ from a rival noble, given to me through gritted teeth and bristling fur.” The diamond dog said coolly, his silver eyes locking with The Doctor’s. “Like his gifts he was bland, superficial, and gauche.”
“Ah, feudal rivalries are always good for a lark!” The Doctor said with amusement. “Mass murder on the other hoof…”
“I take it you don’t approve of my methods of business preservation?” Zeitgeist said, sipping his drink and setting the second glass down on a table near The Doctor.
“Looking out for your business is one thing. It’s the slaughter that I’m inimical to, Ziggy.”
He nodded and shrugged. “I suppose it wouldn’t change anything if I told you they started it?”
“Oh what? Did the nasty troll people pull your tail and call you a doodyhead? Or did they take your favorite toy and push you down in the schoolyard?” The Doctor exclaimed, making no effort to hide the disgust in his voice.
“They’ve been murdering my miners!” He said hotly, slamming his empty glass onto the table. “I knew all about them the second I set up security cameras fifteen years ago! They broke my machines, compromised minor operations, and cost me millions a year! I didn’t care because until six months ago they weren’t hurting anyone! Since then I’ve had to sign off almost two hundred death certificates! Face two hundred families! Don’t try to play this as a petulant noble out for revenge or a CEO concerned with returns! People. Have. Died!!”
“Yes they have. Over three-dozen people died just ten minutes ago. You think those creatures are just attacking you for giggles? They must have a reason! Everything has a reason! But you just get your guns down here, roast them alive, and dispose of the evidence without even trying to talk to them!!” The Doctor shouted back.
“What makes you think I haven’t?!” Zeitgeist retorted.
“You’re too sure of yourself.” The Doctor said quietly. “You’re clever, I know that now, and the thing about clever people is that they’re smart enough to not be absolutely certain about anything involving conflict. I’ve seen enough situations like this to tell when a dialogue has been attempted; any reasonably intelligent person would be able to entertain the other side’s point of view long enough to put at least a hint of doubt in their souls. You have none.”
“You’re half right…we attempted a dialogue with a prisoner roughly fifteen hours ago. He bit his own tongue in half and choked to death on it before he’d tell me anything of value. I do not take that sort of willpower lightly.” Zeitgeist said steadily. “We have a new prisoner. A dialogue will be attempted with him. Can you help us?”
The Doctor grinned widely. “That’s the smartest thing you’ve said all day!”
Shock and Thunder entered the clearing in the forest, the trees and plants taking on an almost ghostly appearance in the unusually bright moonlight. A stray wind rolled through rustling the leaves and bending the branches, creating a sound not unlike omnipresent whispering and ominous moaning. It was the sound of ghosts.
“Can we get out of here, Shock?” Thunder muttered. “This place is freaking me out!”
“Oh shut up you big foal! The boss told us to meet our contact here tonight and tomorrow, y’know, to coordinate.” Shock said before jumping at a loud snapping sound as a branch broke in the wind. “…But yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Surface walkers do not like the darkness,” said a high-toned voice that seemed to be everywhere “They do not trust what they cannot see, or will not see.”
“You our contact?” Thunder said, trying to keep his voice steady.
“…What is word…? Ah, yesssss…” The voice said slowly. “For a millennia our peoples have been working together. From the early days of darkness to today, our peoples have been friends without ever facing one another.”
Shock laughed nervously, just what was this thing? “Yeah, looking out for us and ours, right? We valley folk, we oughta stick together! So, when d’you want us to show up with the dragon?”
“As soon as you have him.” The voice hissed. “He is to be brought to us here and he is to be undamaged. He is very important to us, be sure to handle him with care and respect.”
Thunder cleared his throat and stepped forward. “If you don’t mind me asking, just what’re you gonna do with him? I mean if he was a full-grown dragon…yeah, definite uses there! But I’ve seen the sprog and he’s just a baby! Hardly eye-to-eye with my flank!”
“He is perfect as he is.” The voice croaked. “He is young, his mind malleable, easy to turn to our cause. You need not worry yourself with the details, just deliver him to us alive and unharmed.”
Shock nudged Thunder and hissed quietly. “We’re getting paid good for this T, remember that!”
“Here. Tomorrow. You will come with the infant dragon, or not at all.” The voice said coldly. “I stress, he is to be unharmed.”
“We got it, we got it!” Thunder said dismissively. “By Luna’s rump you’re worse than the boss when it comes to the damn dragons!”
“…Here. Tomorrow. Unharmed.” It repeated throatily.
“Here, tomorrow, and not a scale out of place.” Shock said smoothly. “I hope you guys deliver on your end.”
“We will.” The voice said with a loathsome chuckle. “In 48 hours your organization will become the wealthiest in the valley. The resort itself will be within your grasp, to do with as you wish.”
Shock smiled broadly. “Oh yes, we’re getting paid well indeed!”
Zeitgeist and The Doctor made their way to the holding cell, flanked by an increasing number of soldiers as they neared the holding cell.
“Just how many toy soldiers did you bring?” The Doctor said with a snort.
Zeitgeist appraised the stallion’s reaction to the military presence here, he held the air of a person who abhorred violence but was by no means a pacifist, someone who had seen more than enough soldiers to not be impressed by them. “Two hundred, I could have brought three times as many but I wanted to keep this thing on the down low.”
“Yes, setting your ship down in the middle of a resort populated by vapid gossipy snobs is a surefire way to avoid attention.” The Doctor said with a roll of his eyes.
“If they had simply seen my flagship land at the mine they would have been curious, so I dropped off a few guests to redirect their attention. Gossip and media regarding my social life is sure to eclipse anything business related.” Zeitgeist said with a smile.
The Doctor sighed, even here the tabloids ruled. “Very shrewd, Mr. Stardust.”
“Thank you Mr…you know, I don’t think I ascertained your real name, Mr. ‘Time Line’.”
“Oh, it’s Time Line…” The Doctor said as he produced his psychic paper and flashed it. “Agent Time Line, Celestia Secret Service. She’ll be wanting to have a word with you after all this is done, Mr. Stardust.”
Zeitgeist stopped and looked at the paper, eyebrow raised. “I say Mr. Line, I do believe someone’s pocketed your I.D.”
The Doctor blinked and looked at the psychic paper. “…Huh. Clever boy, aren’t you?”
Zeitgeist scratched his chin and grabbed a nearby soldier. “You. Tell me what that paper says.”
The soldier leaned in and lifted his flash-protective goggles. “It appears to be CSS identification, sire.”
Zeitgeist patted the soldier on the shoulder and sent him away before turning back to The Doctor. “Interesting. Tell me, how did you do that?”
The Doctor looked around at the soldiers, each one ready to ‘persuade’ him into answering. “Reactive imaging article connected to a passive PKE matrix.”
“Psychic paper?” Zeitgeist said with amazement. “It shows what you think?”
“More to it than that, but yeah.” The Doctor muttered. “Doesn’t work on certain people though.”
“Evidently.” Zeitgeist turned to his soldiers. “I think I’ll take it. It will be a fascinating technology to expand upon.”
The Doctor chuckled and put the paper away. “Sorry Ziggy, no deal. Handing out my tech isn’t in my job description”
“Allow me to rephrase that.” Zeitgeist said coldly. “Grenadiers, search him. Confiscate any items you find.”
The dogs quickly encircled The Doctor and restrained him as he began to protest; they removed his trench coat and patted down his suit. “What are you doing?!”
Zeitgeist chuckled unpleasantly, a smile on his face. “My duty as a law abiding citizen. You have claimed to work for two Equestrian federal agencies, since you work for neither you are not only a fraud but a trespasser as well. According to the law you are a felon and will be detained by my security forces until further notice. Any unique items on your person will be confiscated as evidence.”
“You’re making a big mistake Zeitgeist.” The Doctor growled.
“Excellency.” One of the soldiers searching The Doctor said, producing his sonic screwdriver.
Zeitgeist reached out and took the metal cylinder, tapping the blue crystal on the end with a claw. “Fascinating. It’s some kind of…molecular oscillator? No…impossible. This device cannot exist…” he rotated the nodule and pressed the button, sending a high-pitched whistle through the air, causing every door in the hallway to pop open at once. “Amazing! I-I can’t even put to words the mechanism behind this device! And with all these settings it could conceivably do anything!”
“Except wood.” The Doctor mumbled.
One of the guards yelped in alarm and jumped back. “Demon! He’s a demon!”
“What are you talking about?” Zeitgeist demanded. “Oh don’t be so superstitious! It’s only technology.”
“H-h-his coat! Th-the pockets! They’re-they’re-they’re-” The soldier sputtered.
Zeitgeist signaled to one of the other soldiers who then approached The Doctor. He lifted up the trench coat and slowly reached for one of the pockets, he slid his hand in up to the wrist, then to the elbow, and finally to the shoulder. The soldier looked at the other side of the coat. Nothing. He looked up at Zeitgeist. “Sire?”
Zeitgeist stared incredulously at the spectacle; the soldier had his entire arm inside the pocket, but there wasn’t a sign of it on the inside of the coat, it was gone. “Im-impossible! It’s bigger on the inside? I can’t even… Who are you? What are you?!”
The Doctor wriggled free of the stupefied soldiers and patted his wrinkled suit. “I’m The Doctor and give me back my screwdriver.”
He watched them coldly as they walked away. These particular equines put an unpleasant feeling in his stomach. They looked like any other pony, soft features, large eyes, funny little tattoos; but these ponies held an unpleasantness in their souls, a deep rooted mean streak that may or may not endanger the dragon. Sensing such things was his kind’s special ability, ever since their creation during the days of battle and conquest; they had been hurriedly fashioned by Calcipher to sense His evil magic within seemingly innocuous creatures. In those days whole species were corrupted by Him, perverted into armies of evil slavering beasts. The Corruptor could only do this through his signature possession, The Source of Darkness; a moldering sack pulsating with dark elder magics. With it he would craft any evil within a creature’s soul into a hideous living armor, encasing and enslaving the creature within to His whims. Once enveloped with the physical manifestation of their own evil, the poor being would be tortured by it, producing terror and despair on which the armor and The Source fed. It was with the help of his people that Calcipher learned of the nature of Tirac’s magic, information valuable to him and his allies the Equine Gods. Tirac had eventually been defeated but only at a great cost, the dragon god sacrificed his life to weaken and imprison Him. The Equine Gods mourned his passing, marking his grave with a beautiful valley filled with life, a constant reminder of the world he helped save. For their pivotal role in Tirac’s eventual defeat, his people were offered a place astride the gods for all eternity. They had respectfully declined, not only were they unwilling to leave the side of their creator even in death, they knew that their services were still required. For only his people, only the Grundels, were immune to His corruption. They would maintain his prison, they would keep him starved of evil, they would protect the world from a force it would be unable to resist, and they would do it by any means necessary. With the employment of the two equine mobsters, his means to this end had just begun to form.
He sank into the ground, the malleable dirt giving way to his weight as he mentally altered its consistency. He fell through the roof with a loud thud, his eyes adjusting to the blue light of the tunnel.
A young Thinker Grundel approached him with an anxious look on his face. “Brother Gabbro, news from tonight’s sabotage attack!”
Gabbro smirked internally, outwardly donning an expression of grim concern. “What news do you bring, Son Pellet?”
Pellet looked at the ground, barely containing a torrent of sobs. “…Dead.”
He blinked, somewhat surprised. “Which ones?”
Pellet looked up at him, tears streaming down his young face. “All of them! Thirty-eight Grundels, all killed! It was a trap, the Duke brought soldiers! Weapons!”
Gabbro was taken aback, he had known it was a trap when he ordered the attack, hoping the inevitable casualties caused would advance his plan with the Grundel Elders, but he had not foreseen this. “Even…”
Pellet nodded fervently, sobbing. “Brother Cheppu too! I’m so sorry Brother Gabbro!”
Gabbro clenched his fists, rage and joy building in him in equal amounts. A total loss would no doubt cause the Elders to grant him full freedom to combat the hated dogs…but Cheppu had been his favorite Worker, he had raised him from a hatchling! He had loved him. “I’ll see to it that this sacrifice will not be in vain! No more will we content ourselves with delay tactics! I will see to it that no diamond dog breathes air within a hundred kilometers of this valley!”
Pellet looked up at Gabbro, hope in his large eyes. “What are you planning, sir?”
Gabbro smiled and patted him on the head. “It will all be clear soon, Son Pellet. All I need is a key, and I expect to have this key by tomorrow.”
The Doctor and Zeitgeist once again walked down the halls, the soldiers were keeping their distance however, leery of the strange stallion now. Zeitgeist however, was not one to be intimidated, his curiosity getting the better of him. “Am I to understand that your box is also bigger on the inside?”
The Doctor sighed; the revelation of his otherworldly status had brought the eager curious creature out of Zeitgeist. There was no doubt in The Doctor’s mind that Zeitgeist had absolutely no intention releasing him now, but at least this curious puppy was less likely to have him dissected than his predatory business-dog persona. “Yes. It has a pool.”
“Really!” Zeitgeist said, excitement clear in his voice. “Can you tell me how that is possible? Dimensional transcendentalism, not even as a child did I entertain such a thing was possible!”
“You must have been a boring pup.” The Doctor muttered under his breath.
“Nothing.” The Doctor said quickly, wishing to steer the conversation away from him for the time being. “D’you think you could answer a few of my questions?”
“Of course. What do you want to know?”
The Doctor cleared his throat. “There’s something that’s been bothering me that I’d like cleared up. How is it that an industrious bunch like you diamond dogs haven’t spread farther than you have? You have all sorts of neat technology, and yet this world is decidedly lacking in canine influence.”
“Would you try and challenge the devout subjects of a physical god?” Zeitgeist laughed. “Ever hear of the Dark City of Tambelon?”
“No.” The Doctor said. “Should I have?”
Zeitgeist shrugged. “They aren’t in the normal pony educational curriculum. A couple thousand years ago it was the single dark spot on all of Equestria. One day its inhabitants took it upon themselves to enslave the entire equine race, for a lark I guess. Long story short: they live on the sun now.”
“Celestia killed them all?” The Doctor said incredulously.
“Worse.” Zeitgeist shook his head. “They live on the sun now.”
“Oh.” The Doctor muttered before clearing his throat. “Anyway, you lot have zeppelins, vehicles, and laser weaponry. But…”
“A third of the pony population can fly, some of the more talented ones can go supersonic! Yet another third has a natural PKE crucibles growing out of their faces!” Zeitgeist winked at The Doctor. “Not only that, but each and every one of them is technically a genius.”
“Their cutie marks…” The Doctor murmured thoughtfully. “Each pony has a single field of study in which they absolutely excel, as well as several dozen or several hundred related areas of expertise in which they are more than competent.”
“A single pony in a moment of innovation can outperform an entire taskforce of scientists with a budget in the millions. Many of the magitechnologies I did not create myself were constructed in my stead by specifically chosen unicorns, Equines whose talents pertained to whatever spell I was trying to graft onto a medium stone.” Zeitgeist said proudly. “Some of them even innovate beyond my designs! True brilliance!”
“So that’s why you picked up Rarity, hmm?” The Doctor inquired. “Her gem finding spell?”
Zeitgeist cleared his throat, his face suddenly very serious. “That’s confidential.”
The Doctor shook his head, they all had to make it difficult didn’t they? “I’ll deal with that issue as it comes. For now, this little war of yours is my primary concern.”
They stopped in front of a heavily padlocked and guarded door. The myriad locks and bolting mechanisms covered the right side of the tempered steel door, keypads, combination locks, card swipes, and key locks. The works.
The Doctor gave an impressed whistle. “Let me guess…”
“We’re here.” Zeitgeist said. “Inside this room is our ambassador. If we can communicate with him, reason with him, we may just end this conflict before it can escalate further. Can you put aside your anger with me long enough to facilitate this?”
“I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” The Doctor said in a condescending tone.
“…I detect sarcasm.” Zeitgeist growled.
“Good, for second there I thought I’d have to draw you a map.” The Doctor said gesturing at the door. “Does this thing open, or is it just for show?”
“Yes, just a moment. Unlocking it may…” Zeitgeist looked down to withdraw his multi-key for the door, looking up at the sound of a high-pitched buzzing. “…Take a while.”
The door swung loosely on its hinges, the sharp clopping of hooves echoing out of it as the stallion traipsed in, humming a jaunty tune to himself as he did. Instantly a guard brandishing a shock stick set him upon. “Halt right there! Who are you?!”
“I’m The Doctor.” The Doctor said with a smile. “And you?”
“Pilsner, sir.” The diamond dog said returning the smile, before regaining his posture. “And you’re not permitted to enter!”
“He’s with me.” Zeitgeist said as he entered the room. “Permit him to enter.”
The guard instantly straightened out and shot a salute. “Of course Your Excellency! However, I must insist that his device be confiscated. We’ve restrained the creature beyond its ability to harm itself, and don’t want to take any risks with foreign objects.”
“Have you immobilized the jaw?” Zeitgeist said as The Doctor reluctantly handed over the sonic screwdriver.
“No sire.” The guard said before adding. “It’s got no tongue to bite, sire.”
Zeitgeist turned to The Doctor. “Still think you can help?”
“Watch me.” The Doctor said as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, as they did a shape in the corner became clear. He was enormous compared to him, at least 180cm tall if it were standing, his huge arms and upper body thick with solid muscle. But even through his intimidating size and troll-like visage, The Doctor could detect strong undercurrents of fear and distress from the creature. As he approached the creature recoiled and attempted to pull itself even further into the corner, the chains binding its arms and legs clinking and clacking as it did so.
“Hey now. I’m not going to hurt you.” The Doctor said soothingly.
The creature raised his head, surprise and something close to hope on his features, The Doctor saw this and smiled. “Yes, that’s right. You understand me, and I understand you. Now, tell me what happened, start with yourself.”
The creature motioned at The Doctor, his hands moving in smooth intricate patterns punctuated by grunts and low vocalizations.
“Pleased to meet you Cheppu. I’m The Doctor.”
A questioning gesture.
“Just ‘The Doctor’.”
Another gesture, this time somewhat amused.
“Oh, all the time! I say ‘just The Doctor’ so much you could shout out ‘Just’ and I’d probably turn my head!” The Doctor said with a laugh.
“I see you two have already become friends.” Said Zeitgeist as he stood in the doorway. “Ask him why they’re attacking my mine.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “It’s not that easy, Ziggy! He’s a sensitive creature who’s been through a traumatic experience, he’s going to need a bit of tenderness.”
A series of harsh, forceful gestures from Cheppu followed.
The Doctor sputtered and cleared his throat. “Now, I hardly think you need to bring his mother into this! Oh, that’s just-oh-no! Cheppu! You’re better than that!”
“What did he say?” Zeitgeist said, neck bristling.
“Nothing Your Excellency needs to hear.” The Doctor said quickly, turning back to Cheppu. “So, tell me about yourself. And do try to keep the expletives to a minimum.”
Cheppu signed and gestured, his movements fluid and flowing, practiced over his many years of life. The Doctor nodded and muttered in response to Cheppu, occasionally exclaiming in alarm and shoot Zeitgeist dirty looks. Cheppu’s movements suddenly degraded into jerky, panicked motions, the transition not unlike a person breaking into hysterics midsentence.
“Cheppu! Please, just-what? No, there’s no one evil here-who? Please slow down!” The Doctor pleaded. “What’s a Tir-”
Cheppu shrieked and gestured frantically, causing The Doctor to flinch back. “Okay! Okay! I won’t say it! What does it mean?”
“What? What is he saying?” Zeitgeist exclaimed. “Doctor!”
“Be quiet!” The Doctor snapped. “Look, Ziggy. This is going to take a while, he’s very confused, very emotional, and has absolutely no desire to work with you! We may be here all night.”
Zeitgeist sighed and rubbed his eyes, it had been a long day and his patience was wearing thin. “…Can you at least tell me what he’s said so far? I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense; I just need something to go on.”
The Doctor scratched his head with his hoof. “Something about a prison that you and your mine are breaking into. He keeps repeating a phrase, a word that doesn’t make sense. I think it’s a name.”
Zeitgeist stepped forward. “Tirac?”
Cheppu squealed and donned an expression of abject horror, trying to lift his hands to his ears as though the mere utterance of the word hurt them in some way. The Doctor turned around, eyes blazing. “How do you know that word?”
Zeitgeist aimed a glance at set of empty chains on the wall. “The other Grundel we captured…he spoke of something called Ti…The Great Corruptor.”
“Did he say anything else?” The Doctor whispered.
“Something similar, something about releasing The Holder of The Source of Darkness. Then he bit his own tongue in half.” Zeitgeist said grimly. “I don’t think they like to say or hear his name.”
“Observant, aren’t you?” The Doctor muttered.
“Doctor…” Zeitgeist growled. “I need more information, plans of attack, future events, anything!”
“It doesn’t work that way!” The Doctor retorted. “You can’t force these things, especially from such a sensitive creature!”
“Sensitive?! These things have been killing my staff for months! Don’t tell me they’re just misunderstood!” Zeitgeist roared.
The Doctor made a disgusted noise and turned away from him. “If you want my help, you’ll do things my way. That is my only condition.”
“Very well…” Zeitgeist sighed and turned to one of the guards. “Send a message to the Brünhild, tell them to prepare the Aurora Chair.”
“B-by your command, Excellency.” The guard said with unease clear in his voice.
“What’s that?” The Doctor demanded.
“Belay that order.” Zeitgeist said to the guard before turning back to The Doctor. “The Aurora Chair is the first device the Emperor ordered me to construct. Ten PKE taps are placed at predetermined areas on the skull of a subject, usually to target specific areas of the brain. A charge is then run through them, causing them to pull the energy patterns straight out of the section of brain they are attenuated to. A set of vocoder and auto-imager spell stones then translate the data into images and sounds. Thus far it has only been used on those found guilty of treason, as a punishment and as interrogation. I have been told the experience is…unpleasant.”
The Doctor stepped back, a horrified look on his face. “That’s barbaric!”
“Indeed, but then plan B is always the less favorable option.” Zeitgeist raised his hand to signal the guard. “…Unless of course you think you can conjure up a more merciful form of extraction?”
The Doctor galloped forward, placing his hooves on either side of Zeitgeist’s head, touching their heads together. Zeitgeist gasped as the words ‘After everything is said and done, you and I are going to have a serious talk.’ Raced through his head, bringing with them cold fury and damnation from the alien pressed against his forehead.
“Merciful enough?” The Doctor said as he pulled back, looking as though he had a bad taste in his mouth.
“Aah!!” Zeitgeist gasped and nodded, hand against his forehead. “Y-yes! Guards, cancel that previous order! Just…ah…just don’t do that again!”
“It wasn’t fun for me either.” The Doctor said, turning back to the Grundel. “Cheppu, I‘m going to do something that may feel a little strange, but don’t panic.”
Cheppu smiled at the shaken look on Zeitgeist’s face and nodded, gesturing a question.
“No, I’ll be gentler with you. I just wanted to take some air out of that pompous windbag.” The Doctor said with a smile, moving in closer. “Now, just open your mind.”
The Doctor placed his head against Cheppu’s, his brow creasing. As the two minds became one The Doctor exhaled and spoke, his voice taking on a reverberating quality. “…Thinker Gabbro, boss Grundel…with plans-attack plans. So sad…don’t want to… but must kill. Must stop them. Why? Thinkers send us, make us kill. Don’t want to…The Evil One, from the before time. The Creator gave his life to imprison Him. The dogs dug, for so long they dug…The Duke, The Duke breaks the walls of His jail. The Duke must stop. Must stop. Must stop but will not. Thinkers know, no…say he will not. Talk? Workers not talk. Thinkers talk. Thinkers don’t want to talk. Want Workers to kill. New attack. After new machines are broken, new attack will…will…be…”
The Doctor pulled his head away, shaking it violently. “Aah! Worst possible time!”
Zeitgeist gave an exasperated sound. “What? You were so close!”
“I know!” The Doctor said. “The link broke down, I need to reestablish it.”
“How?” Zeitgeist said desperately. “Anything you need!”
“I’ll need my sonic screwdriver and a lot of space.” The Doctor said.
Zeitgeist turned around to the guard holding out his hand. “Give it to me! Now!”
The guard tossed the small metal cylinder and Zeitgeist snatched it out of the air, rushing over to The Doctor excitedly. “Here it is!”
“Thank you.” The Doctor said, taking it in his mouth. “Now I just need to…” He turned his head to see an excited looking Zeitgeist hanging over his shoulder. “…Get a little space.”
Zeitgeist took several steps back as The Doctor made shooing gesture, The Doctor smiled and looked at the screwdriver. “Say Ziggy…before I get you this information, there’s something I want to tell you.”
“Yes, Doctor?” Zeitgeist said impatiently. “What?”
The Doctor smiled widely. “Allons-y!!”
He held the screwdriver high into the air, the tip glowing as the device trilled. At that moment, every single active light crystal in the building cracked and popped, casting the entire facility into darkness.
“Flash light!” Zeitgeist bellowed in the dark. “Flash light now!!”
Feist burst into the room with a now-active light crystal. “Your Excellency! Are you hurt?”
Zeitgeist turned to see the source of the voice before swinging back to the corner where his prisoners had been standing, now empty. A low throaty growl built up in him and turned to Feist and the dumbstruck guards, his voice low. “Search the building, they can’t have gone far. Bring them to me alive and unharmed.”
Feist nodded and bowed. “By your com-”
“NOW!!!!” Zeitgeist howled, the tight concrete walls of the small room turning the howl into an explosive demonic sound.
Feist and the guards bolted out the door like scared rabbits. Zeitgeist was left in the dark room, panting in rage. “This means war.”
The Doctor and Cheppu raced across the now dark courtyard, the distant shouts of diamond dogs and the sweeping circles of flashlights heralding their pursuit. Blue-white lances arced from the darkened complex, obliterating rocks beside them as they passed and igniting trees in the forest ahead of them.
“Those were warning shots!” The Doctor shouted. “They’ll be firing to hit next!”
Three arcs passed over his head and touched the ground around them, kicking up only small tufts of dust. “Stun shots! They’re trying to take us alive!”
The Doctor felt a huge hand wrap around his midsection as he was hoisted off the ground. Cheppu signed to him to hang on and dived forward. The Doctor instinctively shielded his face as the two pushed through the dirt like it was air, landing solidly inside a blue-tinted tunnel.
The Doctor looked around in the tunnel, snorting dust out of his nose. “Where are we?”
‘In the outer tunnels of the Grundel city, they lie beneath every square meter of the valley, extending a little beyond as well.’ Cheppu signed and grunted. ‘Grundel magic allows us to push through the dirt and rock lining their walls.’
The Doctor whistled, before turning to the hulking Grundel. “Cheppu, you know what your people are doing is wrong, don’t you?”
‘Yes.’ Ceppu nodded. ‘But the Thinkers tell us to attack. As Workers we must, even though we cannot abide killing or violence.’
The Doctor sighed and kicked at the ground. “There’s always some person who thinks they’re so clever that they can decide who goes off to war! Ordering you lot to kill and die for them!”
‘It is our duty. Workers obey Thinkers, that is how it is.’
The Doctor nodded and turned around. “Would I be correct to assume that there are tunnels leading to the resort city?”
‘Yes.’ Cheppu said slowly. ‘Why?’
“I need you to take me there, it’s important.”
‘But in your thoughts I saw that you were going to help us, why go to the resort?’
“Cheppu listen, I’m not going to help just you and your Grundels, I’m going to help the diamond dogs too. Now, I know your Thinkers believe they have a good reason to be doing what they’re doing, but people have died and I cannot allow that to continue.” The Doctor said in a low serious voice.
‘What’s in the resort that can possibly help?’ Cheppu said inquisitively.
“My task force.” The Doctor smirked. “Friends. Seven of the most talented ponies I’ve ever met. It pains me to pull them out of their vacation, but I need some extra hooves and no others will do.”
‘They’ll help?’ Cheppu said hopefully. ‘They can stop the killing?’
The Doctor nodded. “If they can’t do it, I can’t think of anyone who can!”