Chapter 12: Powder Keg
Perspective change - Celestia
"They'll deliberate? Are they serious? I just got three broken ribs and almost killed another dragon so that they can think about it? For all their age and strength, apparently giving a straight answer isn't one of their strong points."
The Obsidian beside me was ranting loudly as we walked through the halls of the palace, drawing a great many odd looks from the guards, especially with the fresh coat of blood that was caked to his armor and skin. After meeting with the Draconic Council, our answer from the ancient was less than satisfactory, but I understood his reasoning. As I did, he had to think of his people and what war would mean for them. Equestria's enemy was bearing down on her, and so we did not have a choice. I can only hope that with time the dragonkin will see that in truth, neither do they. War will come to all the races of Terra, even Equestria's enemies.
Perhaps in the chaos, alliances can be formed, even among mortal enemies.
"Sister!" called a familiar voice from in front of us. I looked up to see my younger sister galloping towards the two of us. She stopped and caught her breath before speaking again. "Sister, grave news has arrived from Zebrica - the Zebra nation from across the sea. Whoazambique has been completely obliterated!"
I was in utter shock, as this was much sooner than we had expected for an attack. I quickly composed myself and set my mind to wartime matters now. "Luna, contact Corporal Nightwing and tell him to prep his H.O.S. team for transport to Zebrica. They leave at oh-six-hundred hours tomorrow." Luna nodded and dashed back down the hallway towards the barracks.
Darkflight tapped my shoulder, causing me to turn to him, and when I did so he was smiling. "Tell the team to meet me at the steelworks today, actually. I've got a new weapon for them."
I couldn't help but feel more confident now, as I knew what he had been working on. I just smiled and looked at him for a moment before speaking. "Is it ready?"
He nodded. "It is...and our H.O.S. team is going to love it."
Perspective change - Frostbreaker
What was supposed to be a chilled-out day was instead hectic, as the news that Luna had passed on to me about Whoazambique put me into training overdrive. In all honesty, I had slacking on training both myself and the other recruits, but now all of us were there...including all my friends that would be fighting with me in this war. Things progressed slowly, to say the least. Right now was not fun for me, though it was necessary.
"I can't do it, Frost!" the violet unicorn screamed at me, tears in her eyes.
I grit my teeth and growled. "You better not give up, Private Sparkle! If you do, you'll be doing laps for the rest of the day, now MOVE!"
Twilight was currently dragging a five-hundred pound weight attached to a harness, while also levitating a quill, inkwell, and scroll and writing her name over and over again. She truly was gifted when it came to magic, but I knew for a fact that when it came to physical strength, she was the weakest out of all of us. That was something I was going to force her to overcome, whether she liked it or not...for both her safety, and ours.
I did warn her about committing, after all.
Luckily for her, fear of running laps for the rest of the day caused her to find extra strength, dragging the weight the last fifty feet to me, promptly dropping her levitated items and collapsing in a heap.
I leaned down to her and smiled, even though she was sweating profusely and even crying a bit. "What was that you were saying about how you can't?" I hooked the harness up to myself and proceeded to run, dragging the weight behind me. I stopped in front of her after taking a lap around the track, still smiling. "If you do what I say, how I say, and when I say it, by the time you're done training with me, you'll be strong enough to do that."
She shook her head and sat up, albeit a little sloppily. "I don't see why I have to do this anyway. My skill is with magic, not physical combat."
I promptly cast a magic inhibitor spell directly on her horn, then rushed at her, pinning her to the ground below me. "Well now you've got no magic. With a weak body, you're completely helpless...and you can't stop me from killing you." I then backed off of her and let her up. "That's why you need to train your body. Should something happen to your magic, you need to be able to still defend yourself. You're always going to be stronger in magic than you are in physical combat...but that doesn't mean you can't close that gap between the two." I then motioned towards the bench, where the rest of our friends were watching. "Go have a seat and get some water. Private Dash, you're up." The unicorn took a place next to Applejack while the new cyan alicorn stepped up next, in full armor. I donned my ice armor as well and took a fighting stance. "Alright Dash, you don't need to work on your strength or anything, because you've been training basically your whole life with that. As far as magic, we'll cover that later. For now, you're going to fight me one-on-one. I'm not going to use magic except to maintain my armor, so we'll be on even terms. Your job is to get me to give up or knock me out...got it?"
She nodded and smirked. "Yep, I got it Frost. I'm not gonna go easy on you just because we're married, you know."
I smirked. "You better not, because the same rule applies for you. Ready?" She nodded and charged at me faster than I ever thought possible.
I guess they don't call her Dash for nothing.
Before I could even react, she slammed both hooves in a hammer motion at my head, instantly shattering my helmet and dazing me. I attempted to recover, but felt two rear hooves connect with my face, knocking me back a few feet and downing me. It was clear that she was much faster than I was...but then again, I was stronger and more experienced. I quickly got to my hooves just in time to dodge another hoof to the head, but I was then caught by another hoof to the face, followed by another one that swept out my front legs. This battle was clearly not going my way, and I was starting to fear I had vastly underestimated her.
I had to do something quick, or I was going to lose really fast.
I pulled back just in time to see both of her front hooves smash the ground where my head had been, but she was wide open for an uppercut, which I gladly delivered. She used the momentum and backflipped, kicking me square in the chin with both rear hooves, and knocking the lights out.
"You killed him, Rainbow!"
"I didn't kill him, Twi. He's still breathing, see?"
"Whooee, RD, Ah never thought you'd beat 'im on yer first try. Tha' was some mighty fine hoofwork there."
"Yeah yeah, I'm awesome. Umm...do you think he's gonna be mad at me?"
I opened my eyes to the blurry sight of AJ, Dash, Twilight, and Pinkie. My head hurt like I'd been hit by a truck, and I could taste blood in my mouth. I sat up and spit a mouthful of blood out, coughing a bit.
I then looked over at Dash and smiled. "No Dash, I'm not mad at you. That was a hell of a good fight. It's good to know that you've already got hoof-to-hoof fighting down, because that's one less thing I have to train you in." I quickly cast a minor heal spell to stop the bleeding, though my head was still in a massive amount of pain. I just stood up and smiled at the group. "Okay, it is now official that whenever I'm not around, you are to train with Private Dash, as it's clear that her hoof-to-hoof combat skills rival or exceed my own. That means that you, Private Dash, need to be every bit as intense on them as I am." I then patted the rainbow-maned alicorn on the shoulder. "In addition, you're being promoted to Private First Class Dash now, so you're going to lead the training with Captain Armor and Corporal Doo whenever me or Dark aren't around. Is that understood?"
Dash nodded and saluted. "Yes sir, thank you sir."
"Good. Now the rest of you start going through the obstacle course while Private Applejack and Private Pie spar. Get started and don't stop until you can't stand anymore, got it?" I bellowed.
"Yes sir!" they all responded unanimously before heading off to their respective areas.
Pinkie was a big surprise when it came to physical activity, as she was easily as strong as AJ…but then again with all the bouncing she did and how fast she could be, I guess she'd have to be. I had always noticed that she had a playful and youthful bounce in her step, which I always attributed to her personality. Now, however, it appeared that it was because of her hidden physical strength and ability.
The fun-loving Pinkie hated to fight, so in her mind she created an alternate persona that she dubbed "Pinkamena" – using her birth name. Contrary to the bubbly, giggling, fun-loving Pinkie Pie, this "Pinkamena" was highly focused, had a straight mane and tail, and could be downright scary. Using Pinkie's natural ability to stand and move about comfortably on only two legs, Pinkamena was able to learn martial arts from my brother, making her a much more capable fighter. During the few training sessions I'd had with her, Pinkamena's unnatural aptitude for combat – as well as her ferocious behavior when sparring – earned her the title "The Beast of Equestria" from the recruits. However, after training was over and she removed her armor, her mane poofed up and she became the lovable Pinkie Pie again.
While this transition was unnerving to say the least, I understood that it was her way of coping with her past. Pinkamena might be dangerous, but she was also completely in control. She never put in more force than was needed to knock out a sparring opponent, and never intentionally hurt anyone. What I found odd with this skill, however, was the fact that she actually preferred to take orders as opposed to thinking on her own, causing me to assume she didn't trust herself. I only hoped that after this war we could all help Pinkie finally come to terms with what had happened those many years ago, but for now we had to focus on staying alive and making sure we would at some point have the luxury to get her the help she needed.
"Darn it Pinkamena, y'all are just too fast fer me…but thanks fer not goin' easy on me." AJ remarked with a smile, a small trickle of blood running down her face from a cut above her left eye.
The normally serious Pinkamena smiled as she dabbed gauze on her friend's cut. "Of course I'm not going to go easy on you, Applejack. I want you to be as strong as you possibly can. I do it because I want to make sure we all make it back from this thing...and if that means I have to give you some bruises or cuts, I'm going to do it."
I just watched as the two friends spoke softly, noticing the odd similarities between the pink mare's two personalities. Though she was different in nearly every way from Pinkie Pie, Pinkamena still shared her deep compassion for friends. What I found disheartening about it was that while Pinkie Pie loved me deeply, Pinkamena saw me only as her superior…nothing more.
I was just glad that somewhere in that body right now, my Pinkie Pie still existed.
My thoughts on the lovable mare were interrupted by a loud boom, one that sounded a lot like lightning, even though there were no clouds in the sky. This was followed shortly thereafter by the sound of rocks falling. I flapped my wings and shot up into the sky to see an entire mountain crumbling in on itself…along with an Obsidian standing next to it.
God dammit Mason…
"Dude, what the fuck are you doing?" I yelled from overhead, catching the attention of the two dragons, along with the twenty or so unicorns standing nearby.
The black dragon simply smiled up at me and beckoned me down. "It's a new weapon I've developed with Celestia. Come down here and check it out."
I did as he asked and landed, only to be shown a large device that looked like a gun of some sort. I eyed him suspiciously and asked, "What the hell is it?"
He smirked and mounted the device on my horn, then began clipping the multiple harnesses to my body. "This, my good sir, is a railgun." I gasped and he just nodded, chuckling. "Yes…I said railgun. The design has been modified for magic to be used as a power source, of course." He then finished strapping the device up to me, and I was surprised at just how heavy it was. The dragon pointed at the rubble that was previously a mountain. "What I want you to do is charge a projectile spell in your horn, releasing it at its apex…and then watch the carnage."
In all honesty, I wasn't as strong as I'd like to be with magic other than ice spells, but I did as he said and charged an arcane mortar shot in my horn. I lowered my head and aimed towards the target, and let the spell continue to charge. When I felt it was at its most powerful, I released the spell…and was surprised by a massive kickback and a loud crack of what sounded like thunder. I was forced to close my eyes as a great amount of dust was blown into my eyes by the force of the explosion…but when I was able to look again my mouth dropped open in awe of what I saw.
The rubble was no more…obliterated by the blast.
"H-how?" was all I could squeak out.
My brother chuckled and started unstrapping the railgun from my head and body. "Lots of experimentation, magesteel, and a lot of failed attempts." Once he took the device off, he started pointing to the multiple ridges inside of the twin open-face barrel. "The way I've set it up is so these ridges here amplify the power and speed of the shot. The downsides of this weapon are the massive kickback, as well as the danger of fracturing your horn if you charge the shot for too long. It also goes without saying that whoever's wearing one of these isn't going to be very mobile. Even with that being the case, this thing is going to come in handy for this war coming up, especially with what's going on in Zebrica right now." He then motioned to the other unicorns and a few pegasi that were watching. "These guys are part of the Heavy Ordnance Specialist team, or H.O.S. for short. It's formed of some of our elite unicorn guards, as well as a few choice pegasi for support. Corporal Nightwing is the leader of the unit."
The black pegasus was brother to the late Celestial Guard, Brightwing. I was honestly surprised to see him again so soon, but I knew why he was doing this. Both him and his brother held great love for their home, and even though Brightwing was gone, the charcoal-colored brother was going to make sure his brother's death was not in vain. I could see the pain in his neon green eyes, but I could also see a drive to overcome it.
Selfish as it is, I hope I never have that look in my eyes.
Perspective change – Luna
The progress of the day thus far has been rather exciting, which is putting it mildly. This would be the first time I would be side-by-side with my sister during a war, and I could not put into words how wonderful it felt that the enemy was not me. All the same, however, I was afraid.
The last time I was in a war, I was the aggressor…and I could not remember it because of Nightmare Moon. With that being the case, this would be my first real conflict to be a part of.
'Fear not, Luna. I will be with you, as will our sisters. I will atone for my past transgressions…that is a vow I will not break to you, or myself.'
It was still unusual for me for what was once the bane of my sanity was now my greatest ally…and a lost part of myself. Even after the months that have gone by, I still found myself becoming accustomed to the very idea…but it was nice to have another that knew me so well. In many ways, Night knew me better than I knew myself, and I appreciated her guidance and confidence in me. It took some getting used to in order to not look at her as a nemesis, but the ancient being took it all in stride, which I was thankful for.
Something about her had been bothering me lately, however. More and more I had begun to notice that whenever the subject of Frost came up in any way, a small pang of longing and guilt could be felt coming from the avatar housed within me. I knew without a doubt that she had loved Winter deeply…and the loss of him had wounded her, much as how the loss of Veroxzhar had wounded my sister. The longing, however, came from the change that she and Day enacted upon Frostrender and Steel. The "ritual" fused the two beings into one, effectively making their two spirits into one. This meant that while Frost was still the young human man I met over a year ago, he was now also the timeless avatar of winter…and with it, he inherited Winter's memories, experiences…and love.
Being a timeless being myself, I was well aware of just how important relationships were between the immortals. Among billions of sentient beings on the planet, there were only a hooffull of immortals, and so each connection – of friendship or otherwise – was treasured. With that in mind, I was often confused as to why Night kept her emotions silent from Frost. I would not be so foalish as to say it would not feel somewhat awkward for me at first…but she loved Winter long before I was even born into this world…and she deserved a chance to feel the love that I felt.
'Night…why do you not simply tell Winter how you feel about him?'
'I cannot, Luna. Winter no longer exists for me. He is Frostbreaker now.'
Her stubbornness was a trait we both shared, and I couldn't help but grin at the thought.
'Frostbreaker and Winter are one and the same, Night. The Winter you love is still there…and I am sure that if you make your feelings known to him, he will respond. In fact, I am curious as to why he has not asked about you yet.'
The avatar was silent, and I began to get impatient.
'Night, I will not simply stand by and watch you forsake your happiness because of some misguided belief. If you will not tell him, I will.'
'Luna no, you cannot! Please, stay silent! I…'
'Night, why do you do this to yourself? I know for a fact that you loved Winter…what has changed?'
The avatar of night was silent for a moment, and I could feel her apprehension grow.
'Nothing has changed…and that is the problem.'
'I do not understand, Night. How could nothing changing cause you to be so reticent towards the one you love?'
'Because he no longer belongs to me…he is yours now.'
This confused me, as I had never thought the once Nightmare Moon could be so…self-sacrificing.
'No Luna…I will not. I have robbed you of a millennium of your life…I will not rob you of your mate as well.'
This was yet another emotion of Night's that I was unfamiliar with – regret. She regretted what she had done to me…and since I felt what she felt, I could tell it was sincere. The very fact that I could now actually feel sympathy for this being attested to just how much our relationship had changed. Without saying any more, I began to charge a spell of Frost's into my horn…one that he used on Frostrender once.
I needed to speak with Night face-to-face.
I charged the spell in my horn, letting it get stronger and stronger. I then focused on Night's essence within me, and used the magic to bring her out of my body. A black orb of energy settled on the ground in front of me before growing and forming the tall body of an alicorn. The coat was solid black, and her mane was as mine, save for a violet tinge to it. Her eyes were a piercing blue, and she had the most confused expression on her face.
"L-Luna, what is the meaning of this?" the avatar of night asked, a panic evident in her eyes.
I smiled at what was once my worst enemy, instead feeling worry and compassion for her. "I simply wished to speak to you face-to-face, Night. You can thank Frost for this spell."
Quickly regaining her composure, Night's face became impassable. "Very well, what do you need?"
Skating around the issue…I was more like Night than I originally thought. I stepped forward with a look of concern, looking into the blue eyes of my avatar with care. As I closed the distance between us, her expression became one of confusion at first, until I reached up and pulled the taller pony against me in a hug. She instantly tensed up and her breathing increased in a panic.
"L-Luna? Wh-what…" she stuttered out.
I simply held her tighter and smiled. "Night…I have forgiven you. We all succumb to greed, fear…and even hatred. Please…please forgive yourself."
The larger figure held tense against me for a few more seconds before extending her large black wings around me as well as her forelegs. Her shaky voice was barely a whisper when she responded, "Thank you, Luna…"
We held the embrace for a few more moments before breaking away, but when we did so she was smiling. I smiled back and nodded. "The ponies of Equestria all forgave me before I could forgive myself. I believe that in atonement for our sins, we seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Well Night, you have wronged me…but I forgive you. So please, forgive yourself and move on."
A single tear dropped from her icy blue eyes, but she smiled. "Thank you, Luna. I…I needed that."
I nodded and was silent for a moment before continuing. "You must speak with Frost at some point soon."
"But Luna-" she attempted to respond, but I cut her off and continued.
"You are not robbing me of my mate, Night. Winter was yours far longer than Drew was mine. With that being said, we are in many ways the same pony, as Frost is also the Winter you love. So you see, no pony is robbing anypony…he belongs with both of us. It is only fair that you have a chance to feel the love that I feel. Frost is the first stallion I have ever cared for this way, and I am aware of just how powerful the feeling is." I explained. I then placed a hoof on her shoulder with a smile. "To allow you to keep yourself from this wonderful feeling, I would be robbing you. As your host, it is my responsibility to make sure you are taken care of. You do not require food or sleep as I do, but every entity with emotions requires love."
The elemental avatar smiled softly and nodded gently. "You are far wiser than I ever thought possible, Luna. It appears I have vastly underestimated you."
I nodded in return. "Just as I used to believe you were my inner evil, waiting to pounce and take control at every turn. It appears both of our impressions of each other were inaccurate."
"I…I will speak to him tonight, if you would allow it." the black pony whispered, looking away with a slight blush.
I couldn't help but smile warmly, realizing her shyness was exactly the same way as I had felt about Frost when I first met him. It seems we are more alike than I ever knew.
Perspective change – Spike
Training with Darkflight had yielded pretty impressive results. His hand-to-hand combat was incredible, and with my strength and agility, I became the most deadly fighter on the ground. My body's maturity had caused my once-flimsy claws to become harder than diamonds, and this allowed me to tunnel through the ground at great speed with ease. My heightened dragon senses also allowed me to feel and pinpoint where enemies were while underground, and my magical fire training with Dark had allowed me to adapt to any situation. By what Dark had told me about our enemy, I was going to need to be as dangerous as possible…and had to be ready to destroy anything around me to keep from getting myself killed. I was afraid at first, but over the last two months I had that fear trained out of me. With Rarity or my friends, I was Spike – the lovable dragon that loved to joke around.
On the battlefield, I was a monster.
Dark had also forged me a brand new set of armor that looked just like his, except mine was green to match my spines and eyes. Mine also had bladed shoulders and a helmet that was made to allow me to more efficiently dig through the ground, as we quickly found this ability would be really useful for a surprise attack.
It actually bothered me a bit that no one wanted to fight me save for Venn or Moonfang, but that was only because a normal pony was too physically weak to hold up against me. Moonfang – while no longer the wooden behemoth he once was – was every bit a ferocious wolf in a fight. Venn and Moonfang had originally opted for a sword-and-shield armor set, but then changed their tastes due to Darkflight's training. As opposed to a block-and-strike battle style, he instead chose to train them in a dodge-and-counter style, using their superior reflexes and agility to wreak havoc on anyone they fought. They had full armor much like me, but with claw enhancements on their hands and feet. I knew immediately that this worked better for them when Darkflight sparred with Venn and didn't land a single strike, while Venn ended up putting Dark in the infirmary for a day.
Rarity worried about me of course, but Venn, Darkflight, Moonfang, and Frost all assured her that we would all look out for each other. This put her more at ease, but it didn't stop her from holding on to me for dear life, like she was today as we relaxed in the park after she finished her orders from Canterlot. Not that I minded, of course. After all, I'd waited almost six years for her. Besides the obvious of wanting to be close to my marefriend, it was always fun to see the few stallions in Ponyville giving me the stink-eye for landing one of the most desirable mares in all of Equestria.
Well they can suck it…I was here first.
The ivory unicorn in my lap looked up at me lovingly and smiled, sighing happily. "I do wish every day could be this lovely, Spike." She then pouted. "But of course, winter will be here soon…"
I chuckled as I ran my hands through the styled violet mane. "Don't let Frost hear you talking about winter like that. He'll drop a blizzard on top of the boutique or something." She then looked up at me in shock and I shook my head with a grin. "I'm kidding, dear, that was a joke. We both know Frost isn't that petty…not with us, anyway."
She raised an eyebrow and smiled mischievously. "Sibling rivalry, hm?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I remember Dark thought it'd be funny to put liquid rainbow in Frost's morning coffee. He woke up the next day with bright pink skin, complete with an hourglass figure. Frost turned him into a dragoness for a day. Imagine my surprise when the new dragon that I can't help but stare at is actually Dark."
Rarity giggled softly and smiled. "So, Darkflight made quite the attractive dragoness, did he? Well now, I have some ammunition should I feel like having a laugh with him."
This was one of the things I loved about Rarity. In public, she was prim, proper, and well-mannered. When we were alone, however, she was every bit as mischievous and devious as I was. She had a youthfulness and playfulness that defied her years, and I enjoyed it a lot…which would make this next question so much more important for me.
"Rarity, I have a question I'd like to ask…and it's kind of important." I breathed out in a smooth voice. She looked up at me as I reached into my satchel and pulled out an item. I then got on a knee, forcing her to stand up and gasp…as I'm sure she already figured out what this was about. I then looked into her eyes and smiled warmly. 'No going back now, Spike.' "Rarity, I love you more than I could ever express. You mean the world to me, and so much more. You are my sun, my moon, and my shining stars of the night. Would you do this humble dragon the great honor of becoming my wife?" When I finished, I revealed what was behind my back – a golden horn ring. It was the first and only thing I'd forged that I actually kept…and only because I wanted it to be perfect. Dark guided me of course, but the work was mine…and as Rarity's eyes started to well up with tears of joy, I knew I had made the right choice in doing it myself.
"Spike…" she whispered, as if saying my name too loud would break her out of a dream. She then looked up at me and tackled me in a hug, kissing my face repeatedly. "Yes, yes, yes…a thousand times yes!"
Physical attraction became a crush, and then a crush became love. A friendship evolved into romance…and now I was getting married to the mare of my dreams. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could make this day any better.
"Spike…you know, Sweetie Belle is staying the night at Applejack's tonight…" my fiancée seductively breathed into my ear.
I stand corrected.